Thursday, December 30, 2010

almost as long as the dinosaurs

Readers, make a note to yourselves to never, EVER be sick over Christmas. Given the choice, I would have preferred coal in my stocking to the sinus infection I got this year. On the plus side, the forced downtime made me read a lot more than I would have, and I'm within 100 pages of finishing Kafka On the Shore. This is big-time stuff, and I'm definitely going to read more of Murakami's work after this. I'll have a proper review here once I'm done, though.

I also got some new books to kick off 2011 with style. Here are some of the highlights

-Two more books in the Flashman series (Flash for Freedom! and Flashman and the Redskins)
-Ishmael Reed's Yellow Back Radio Broke Down
-Volume one of Gordon Dahlquist's The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

I also got Night Heron, my buddy Danny Glenn's newest volume of poetry, and fellow MFAer Joe Sheehan gave me a copy of his chapbook, Reflections In a Crystal Riot, that I already like because I got to read his work every week of the fall semester and he's great.

I've also got a new chapbook in the works for a January release, which will hopefully precede me reading at Last Rites at the end of that month. In fact, I should be working on the chapbook now. Sigh. No rest for the wicked.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

technology crusader formation


Since my November column for the Gettysburg Times got lost in the shuffle last month, I got their permission to repost it here. The column is basically an excuse for me to research obscure historical trivia, so I'm awfully fond of it, and I think this was a good one. Enjoy!

Now that I'm officially down from the sugar high I've been riding since Halloween, it's time to sit down and write this November column. But where to start? November's a weird month, hosting both Thanksgiving and American Indian Heritage Month, which makes for some awkward holiday mingling on the calendar. Like, middle school dance awkward. And speaking of sexless misery, November is also National Impotency Month and National Novel Writing Month (colloquially known as NaNoWriMo). I participated in the latter event last year and, the way my health is going, will be eligible for the former at some undetermined point in my life.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

drug-addled antisocial dickheads

Questionable Content's Jeph Jacques made a list of his favorite albums of 2010, and it's interesting reading. Jeph's a music nut and his comic began as an excuse to make jokes about indie rock (it has since become an excuse for jokes about anime), and while I don't share his tastes for the most part (Salem and GRUM excepted), he's good at explaining why he likes what he likes. So even if I hate, say, Fang Island (which I do), I can at least sort of respect his reasons for liking them because I think they're filtered through how they affect his artwork, at least to some degree.

So with that in mind, I'd like to present my list of the best books I read this year. They weren't all published this year, but they are books that I read cover to cover between Jan.1st and right now. They were chosen based on how good I thought they were in terms of plot, character, and observation, what I learned from them, and the effect they will have on my own work.

Monday, December 13, 2010

how characters react to their environments

Lots of talk about genre fiction lately, by which I mean two people are saying words on the Internet about it. Charles Stross' harsh appraisal of steampunk is here, and Beth Woodward's defense of genre fiction as a whole is here. Stross joins in the drum-beating about steampunk not doing enough to acknowledge how nasty the Victorian era was for people who weren't white property owners (a topic which the steampunk community itself is fiercely discussing) and Woodward makes the case that genre fiction and proper big-L literature are blurring together much more than either side of the argument cares to admit.

I like both posts - Stross (who designed the lovely image in the left hand corner up there) is a little harsh on the steampunk community (and doesn't mention that Blaylock's work is as ignorant of class as the stuff that followed him), but it is easy to get caught up in the trimmings of the genre and ignore the nastiness behind it, which is often more interesting than yet another story about brass-goggled inventors killing zombies from the observation deck of their airship. That grit is something my work needs to be more attentive about, actually, so Stross' griping served as a good reminder. Of course, his own' work, namely the Laundry series, has its own issues with trope satisfaction (I thought The Jennifer Morgue was underwhelming because it took the government techie protagonist I liked and turned him into a less interesting James Bond homage), but Stross is a solid writer and generally knows what he's trying to do, so I trust his observations most of the time.

Woodward's post provides a welcome return volley against the hordes of whiners who use literature as a pedestal for their own perceived enlightenment. Her strongest point is that the best of genre fiction and big-L Literature should be compared, instead of holding up carefully-chosen Nobel Prizewinners to sci-fi/fantasy authors picked at random and declaring the superiority of the former. She's also absolutely right about genre fiction and literature holding hands a lot these days (providing examples like The Road and Never Let Me Go), and reminding us that even shitty pop-fiction proves that there's still a market for fiction itself, which may very well broaden as e-reader technology takes off. Granted, access to that market requires a huge marketing engine and other intangibles that are by no means easy to get or fairly distributed, but that's not the argument she was trying to make.

Interesting reading, for sure. But enough dawdling - back to work!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

i am the busiest bee

I just signed up for the AWP Conference and Bookfair next February, meaning that I need to get those business cards made and also print up some CVs and chapbooks to hand out. I'm hardly the best or most willing networker out there, but I am a carny at heart and will submit to shameless hucksterism without much hesitation. Plus, there are going to be some cool people there - Chimamanda Adichie, Colson Whitehead, and Claudia Rankine are just a few writers who will be on hand. I will try to contain my awkward enthusiasm.

I am also signing up for The Fiction Project - since I like fusing text and visual art, this is right up my alley. And, y'know, I need something ELSE to do on top of all my other responsibilities. My theme will be Dirigibles and Submersibles. Awesome.

And I will also be reading at Baltimore's Indie Lit Roadshow on Sunday, which will be a good time. I may make a sign for the 'zines I'll be selling, but that will depend on time and energy.

That's all for now, I think. Oh, no it isn't - I stole a wall clock from school today. Machines, I rage against them.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

here in my yellow house

Just a quick note that there's an interview with yours truly up at !?Y-Art?! - Kimberley Lynne sat me down in a very comfortable piece of modern furniture to ask me heady questions about writing and art and the importance of both. I fear that I babbled like a cretin at the poor woman, but I'll let you people be the final judges of that. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

the rolling hills and vast skyscapes

Man, look at me being all Posty McPosterson over here. But I have to promote the newest issue of The Light Ekphrastic, because I'm featured in it: my stories "The Experiment" and "Bohemia" are paired with artwork by Karen Steele. It's super cool and a direct link to my entry is under Published Works.

TLE is a journal that pairs writers and artists up to collaborate on new stuff, which is a really cool idea that I wanted every part of. It's based on the concept of ekphrasis, which I'll let the website explain:

Ekphrasis, or ecphrasis  is the graphic/dramatic description of a visual work of art. In ancient times it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience. The word comes from the Greek -ek  and -phrasis, verb ekphrazein, to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name.

Cool, huh? Now go ye forth and read.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

we can control how we ride

My food coma seems to have lifted, at least for the moment, so I finished Timothy Sanders' Orange Juice, a collection of very short stories that shamelessly begs to be judged by its cover (there is a cute kitten). It's a pretty good read, though - some of Sanders' work is "indie" to the point where it comes off as an annoying affectation (awkward dialogue pacing, repetition of characters' names, lots of brand/pop-culture references, etc.), but he is startlingly good at characterization. In fact, he makes it look really, really easy in "Cat Stuff," the third story included here; Jared's kleptomania, which is mentioned almost passingly but often enough to factor into how readers perceive him, totally works as an earned element of the character and doesn't seem like a random flailing attempt to rivet-gun a personality onto him. A fair amount of indie/alt-lit is guilty of the rivet-gun effect, so I'm glad Sanders avoided it.

I can learn from this. Again, Sanders (at his best) makes the tedious and frustrating process of developing characters and making them interact seem effortless. Steve Matanle talks about using chance during the creative process and just trying things, just to see what they do to one's characters and settings. His theory is that, when it's done well, it creates suspense by piquing the reader's curiosity and defying their predictions. I think Sanders pulls this off more often than not in Orange Juice.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

i do get the sofa

Currently reading Syrup, Maxx Barry's first novel. Recently finished Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? by Thomas Kohnstamm. I'm beginning to realize that the words "hip" and "scathing" and "biting," in conjunction with "funny," are semi-subtle book review codewords for "every character is attractive and witty and sarcastic." Occasionally the protagonist lacks one of those traits, but never more than one.

Not that Syrup or Travel Writers are bad books, mind you. They're both engaging and full of wry observations, and Syrup delves into the marketing industry with smirking enthusiasm. But they're both cinematic to a fault, in that each story is paced like a movie and contemporary Hollywood aesthetics are maintained throughout. It's numbing after a while, and abrasive in the same way that watching Van Wilder was abrasive - none of the "underdogs" are risking anything in terms of social capital. There are real moments in each book where the narrators experience real uncertainty, but those moments don't linger. Which is unfortunate, because it's hard to maintain what's supposed to be a suspenseful, roller-coaster plot if there's no energy in the plummets.

Since I'm editing a novel as we speak, this is all good to keep in mind.

Friday, November 19, 2010

his heart had resumed its normal frenzied pattern

God help me, I'm finally editing the novel.

As we all know, I wrote a novel last year and have been avoiding it ever since. I just didn't have the time or energy to fix everything that was wrong with it, and I had no idea where I wanted it to go. Well, now I do. Sort of. I'm chopping out all the dead wood and focusing on the three most interesting characters (according to reader feedback). I'm also simplifying the plot as best I can, and I might cut out some of the interludes until I have a chance to actually lay them out properly. It's a bit like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, only I had to throw half of it away and make new pieces myself.

What inspired me is the fact that local Baltimore writer/flash fiction genius Joseph Young wrote a vampire novel, titled NAME, in a month to pay his rent - I plan on getting a copy pretty soon, and it reminded me that I have what could turn out to be a decent novel if I got off my duff and put some time in. So I am. Once it's worth showing to people beyond the small core of advance readers I assembled, I'll shop it around to see if anyone wants to publish it. And if absolutely no one does, I'll do it myself.

Speaking of, I'm also assembling the new poetry/short fiction chapbook, which will probably make landfall in January. The extensive winter holiday will interfere with me getting to readings and such. But since I'm reading at Last Rites in January, that'll time itself rather well. Projects, ahoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hodges had lost all comportment

Just (quite literally, just) finished Larry Doyle's Go Mutants! and enjoyed it immensely. I'll get into more specifics of plot and so on in the next paragraph, but the key to this book is what a progression it was from I Love You, Beth Cooper in terms of language, content, and risk. From what I understand, there's a movie in the works for this book too, but I hope they don't change too much of what's here for the screen adaptation. It's too good for that.

I don't want to bore people with exhaustive details about a book they have or haven't read, but Go Mutants! exists in a world where B-grade horror and sci-fi movies are actual history, the aliens/mutants/monsters they brought to the horny and stoned elements of our parents' generation really do exist, and their children are old enough to attend high school. Doyle plays fast and loose with the conventions of genre fiction; his focus is on justifying the weird and improbable setting enough to give his characters a heartbeat. Or beats, depending on how many hearts they have. In this way, Doyle forced himself to take much greater risks with language, both pseudo-scientific and conventional, and the result is a sharper, funnier, and strangely denser read than I Love You, Beth Cooper, which was a sharp and funny read in and of itself.

Humor is hard to do in writing. It's an art of the immediate, and most literary humor isn't dry so much as parched. Still more of it is toothless and absurd, which gets tiring in the wrong hands. Doyle is skilled enough with wordplay to keep his exposition interesting, and much of his humor has an angry-nerd bite to it that I really like. Being an angry nerd myself, I suppose that's natural. But disregarding all that, this book is funny and observant, and takes a scattering of pop-cultural musings to their logical extreme.

Still to read: The Wraith, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell, Cold Snap (short fiction collection), The Intuitionist (second, more attentive reading), and about 100 other things. Egad. I'd better get back into my garret, then.

Friday, November 12, 2010

the staff watched the birds in their eerie meditation

In honor of NaNoWriMo 2010, I am working on a new fiction project. I'm not really trying to get to 50k words this time around, since I don't think this story can support it, but I am trying to finish within the month. This November is much more complicated than last year's - I'm working more (in fact, I began this month in tech for The Laramie Project) and have been dealing with some health problems. Nothing serious, just expensive. And unlike last year, I didn't outline or prepare in advance for NaNo this time around because I had/have a few story ideas swimming around the ol' brainquarium and didn't know which one to pursue. I've got some idea now, and so far it's extremely rocky, but I'm hoping my newfound appreciation for transgressive/bizarro literature will breathe some new life into this project. Actually, it's odd that I'm trying to explore that John Waters-esque celebration of weird now, since this project is the first thing I've ever written where I had any kind of social commentary planned out ahead of time. That's normally not my style, but I wanted to try it just this once because I've been thinking rather a lot about two things:

1) People have this weird idea that terrible, sensationalist media is a new thing. It's not. We've always been like this. The only reason it's worse now is because the news is literally a 24-hour medium. That's one thing I'd like to explore with this project - another is the jumble of progress, how innovation is never neat and orderly. It all comes crashing out at once and it takes years to properly make sense of it and apply any kind of discipline to its use.

2) With the rising importance of social media; people are being encouraged to "sell" themselves in an incredibly obvious way to others, and alter their identities based, in part, on similarly obvious public opinion. Not that people don't do this anyway in smaller, unconscious ways, but I think marketing oneself as a commodity just to engage in the public sphere is kinda dangerous for our culture longterm. Sadly, it's not a new concept by any means. It's just become more direct and focused with new technology.

Now, how I'm going to fit ANY of that into a western is beyond me, but by thunder, I'm going to try.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

i'll give you certain specifics at a certain time

Ah, MST3K. I'd almost forgotten how funny you were. Conversely, I'd completely forgotten how dorky and awkward all of your skits were.

Anyway, I have to possibly expose my own pretentious fuckwittery here by admitting that I hate it when people ask me to make my work easier to understand in workshop. One reason for this is because I really do try to keep the reader in mind when I write, so it suggests that I've failed in that mission. Given my unreasonable standards for my own work, that's kind of a downer. Even if a piece I'm working on is supposed to be irrational and incomprehensible at points, I want it to at least be interesting enough to keep the reader engaged until it ultimately makes sense.

The other reason why I don't like hearing people demand that my work be easier to read is that it never comes off as a genuine criticism. Especially if that's the only thing they have to say about it. Now, I will accept that suggestion if it comes along with other observations, because that means the reader at least made a go of it and just couldn't get a foothold. That's something I can fix with careful editing, and it says to me that the language or structure I've employed is getting in the way of potentially valuable content.

But more often than not, phrases like "this is too hard to read," or "this needs to be more understandable" stand alone. Which, in a workshop full of other writers, is weak sauce. To me, that sounds like "I'm lazy, do my work for me," and I refuse to enable that bullshit. In fact, my natural write-from-spite instincts usually tell me to make my work even more difficult, just to annoy people with shallow complaints. But that's not a good use of my time, or theirs.

Just had to vent for a second. I feel cleansed. Now, back to television.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

a tribute to the great legs

a) I've added a new page onto this thing for testimonials, aka people who love my work and bask daily in its wisdom...aaaaand here's two quotes in it so far. Literary stardom is JUST over the horizon, I swear.

b) I linked "Harrison Ford Is Naked" in my Published Works column because, uh, it is a published work. Thanks to ULA for running it! I'm glad it has a home.

That said, here's a lightly edited cross-posting from the Comm. Design wiki about Dr. Steve Matanle's lecture about intention v. chance.

...I've had Steve Matanle as a professor for a couple of classes, and while his lecturing style can take some getting used to, he's a brilliant man with a lot of knowledge to pass on. Fun fact: he drinks maybe a billion cups of coffee a day. His caffeine intake is truly heroic.

That aside, I liked what he had to say about the differences between craftsmanship and artistry, and his support of chance and coincidence in the creative process. I've heard him touch on those topics before, but not in this much detail. His definition of artistry as an exercise of skill that isn't rigidly goal-oriented makes a lot of sense, and is one of the more concise divisions between art and craft that I've ever heard. It also generated quotes like "mastery is a dead end," which is still funny to me days later.

The photography and eyes-closed drawing exercises were fun, and liberating, and a form of experimentation that I think more designers need. One thing I've noticed about the design community (not specifically at UB, but in general) is how finicky they are about method: you have to use the Adobe suite, you have to have a Mac, etc. There are a lot of rules. Not suggestions, flat-out rules. Which makes a certain amount of sense - marketing or corporate design has to be consistent and sharp - but it's also stifling and inhibits their drive to try new stuff just to see what it does. Of course, I'm not a designer and I work largely on impulse, so what do I know, but it's fun to experiment. And really, what's the point of an artistic career if you're not having at least some fun with it?

Just my two cents, anyway.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

i don't think there's any way to get away from these facts

News! I am getting published in two e-journals next month - The Light Ekphrastic (in which my writing will be paired with visual art) and the recently-restarted ULA. Literary stardom is surely just around the corner; this time next year, I'll be lighting cigars with other, more expensive cigars. Seriously though, both journals are awesome and I'll have the respective links up here when the time is right.

Second item! Not sure if anyone's been keeping up with the Juan Williams controversy, but he was let go by NPR, where he was apparently an independent contractor, for anti-Muslim remarks he made during a conversation with Bill O'Reilly on Fox News. All sorts of pondwater has been stirred up about whether or not NPR was justified in kiboshing Williams' contract, but the funniest part to me is, given how much pro-management legislation Republicans have pushed through wherein employers can basically fire people for no reason, how much the right is bitching about someone they like getting shitcanned for violating the terms of his contract. Ha ha ha. As an independent contractor myself, that made me chuckle.

As for what Williams said, I think he came off like an asshole bigot. It's one thing to admit prejudicial thoughts/opinions with the admission that they are irrational and unfair, but it's quite another to bask in them and fall back on one's own racial identity to deflect criticism. Fox's response to the whole thing has been typically classless - they are Fox, after all - but for once they aren't alone in handling it badly. Just one big *facepalm* all around.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

unbelievable but it works

Missed a reading at school tonight to read at the Moaning Pipe Open Mic, which went well enough. I was workshopping some new stuff by judging crowd response, and hung out with a couple of the other participants afterward, which was nice.

My buddy Angela Horner announced her website, which is linked in the sidebar, and was almost embarrassed by having one at all. I kind of understand that, since self-promotion is awkward and makes one feel more like a carnival huckster than a genuine artist when done to excess. But any marketer will tell you that people don't buy products, they buy a strange jumble of intangibles radiated by that product. The same goes for artists, albeit not as blatantly. I've probably mentioned before that the wisdom now is to develop a camaraderie with readers - reach out to them, establish your personality, communicate with them for reasons other than outright begging them to buy stuff from you - so they will cozy up to your brand, as it were, and support you of their own accord. Of course, since the pressure is on to be cool and interesting, this often means crafting a persona that you'll need to slip in and out of for any and all interaction with the public, which means exaggerating an aspect of your personality that you think will attract people. Not all writers do this, but a lot of them do.

If I had my druthers, I'd opt for the Thomas Pynchon approach of reclusiveness to the point where everyone thinks I'm dead until a new book comes out. There's much less pressure there, and it's also kinda cool to know an author primarily by their work instead of the bajillions of social networking tools they use to spam your life for their own roundabout gain. But I wonder if his being able to disappear is even possible, let alone personally or financially wise, in today's media landscape. It was a lot harder to keep track of people back in the 70s, after all.

Anyway, I'm starting to ramble, so I'm going to shut up and go to sleep, but I might continue this a bit later.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

a radically different concept of success

Cross-posted from my Comm. Design class blog:

I've had Jane Delury for a couple of classes, so I know her and her tutorial on submitting to journals pretty well. I started submitting to online journals right after I graduated from college, so I know the process, but I still learned something from Jane's lecture. I also appreciate her honesty about literary journals, how they're edited, and how, shall we say, tight their readership is.

She also gave the class a chance to interact in small groups, which was a neat idea. Given that this is a lecture series, we don't often get to do that, and it's nice, speaking as a writer, to commune with designers every so often and see things with their eyes. I'm still very much a novice when it comes to determining how things look, and there's a whole vocabulary to design that I'm missing. Besides, picking apart the numerous layout and typeface errors in literary journals is fun! There's definitely a "look" to lit. journals that I've never liked, but I'm learning to explain what it is I don't like, and how I would change it if given the chance. Hopefully the designers in the class won't roll their eyes at my obvious questions too much.

The writing exercise was also fun - I generally give stories more of a chance than the first paragraph (in fact, when I edited a journal in undergrad I read everything all the way through), but Jane's right about grabbing people from the beginning. And pooling minds to rewrite opening paragraphs badly is both a great way to bond with classmates and a reverse-osmosis method of learning what makes a good sentence and a good paragraph.

Like I said, I learned a lot. Jane's a good representative of the CWPA program, and I'm glad she was able to share her time and knowledge with us.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

the relative importance of price and environmental virtue

Went to a pretty awesome reading in midtown Balmer tonight - the Artifice Magazine folks were in town on their book tour (they're based in Chicago), and brought fun with them, plus all the readers were fantastic. Being around people like them always fires me up, because they're very good and very involved in what they're doing, and that lights a fire under my ass to keep working and getting better. Tonight was also just what I needed after a somewhat lackluster poetry workshop. Not that my classmates aren't smart and perceptive, or that my poem for this week was a gem, but no one really had anything to say about it, which was weird. One would think they'd have come up with something. It was a letter poem that I wrote as a telegram, and I may post it here sometime. I don't think it was that odd, all things considered, but it clearly wasn't effective if it didn't engage any readers. I dunno. Maybe I'll try it out at a reading or two and see how it's received.

At some point I need to cross-post my response to Jane Delury's guest lecture from last week's Comm. Design class, because she talked about literary journals and the submitting process, which are perfect topics for this blog. But it's also 1:30am and I need to sleep, so it'll have to wait for another time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

ah my public. how they love me.

Re: my take on a kinda fucked up and unappealing Snickers Halloween commercial. (here's the ad itself)

"[DK], when will you understand advertising? The fact that the kids are 'not right' is because, 1) it's Halloween, 2) it's the odd humor of Snickers, 3) I'm guessing you'd rather have formulaic sit-com comedy. 'Who let the kids in the store like that?' Did you really ask that? Really? No, serious, really? You'll make a "great" client someday.
And what you failed to notice is that the only thing wrong with it was it wasn't funny enough. Maybe it was bad casting. Or bad writing. But being 'not right' wasn't one of the reasons. Sorry. You fail on so many levels."

Wow. You'd think I called his mom fat or something. But this is a prime example of why UB's uber-supportive writing atmosphere still takes some getting used to - out in the real world, there are plenty of crybabies who want to punch holes in your boat over trivial crap.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

he's the best in the world at listing things

Looks like I'll be part of the next issue of The Light Ekphrastic, which pairs writers and visual artists for the betterment of everyone involved. Good times. Karen Steele will be creating a new piece of visual art based on a short story of mine called "The Experiment," and I will write a new piece based on something of hers. I think I've got one picked out, so we'll see how that goes. Good times.

Now then, here's a cross-posting from my Comm. Design class wiki about a presentation on historical photo fakery by Dr. Nicole Hudgins:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

GIT R DONNE

Busy week so far, and I have precious little energy to spare for some reason, but I ended up attending Last Rites at the Baltimore Hostel on Sunday, and good times were had! Laura van der Berg read, and she apparently taught at my alma mater not too long after I graduated. She teaches at Gilman now, where my dad went until he, ahem, left for greener pastures at Boy's Latin. Smalltimore, indeed. Anyway, the Last Rites crew are a fun bunch, and they invited me to read in January, so hopefully I'll have something half-decent prepared by then.

I also read from Cat's Cradle at a Banned Book reading on campus, which was sparsely attended but still fun. It's not often that I get to use the phrase "wide open beavers" in a public forum (I was referring to a different book of Vonnegut's, but it still seemed appropriate), and I need to do so more often. I'm going to make a real effort to attend more open mics/readings in the future, as well; I'm not normally a joiner of things, but there's a weird energy in parts of Baltimore's literary community that I like, and I need to put my work out there more than I do. I keep saying that, I know, but that's because if I don't constantly remind myself of my promotional failings, I will continue to spend my free time watching Netflix in my underpants instead of making a name for myself. There are a couple of readings this month that I'll do my best to make, schedule permitting, and a rare Buzzov-en show on the 1st that I'm rather excited about.

But before all that happens, I've got homework to finish. Ta.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

2×f 3×f 4×f 5×f etc.

I braved the heat today and took in the Baltimore Book Festival, which clots downtown with literary ephemera and street fair grub every September. I'll be heading back tomorrow, most likely, but today was notable for hearing Larry Doyle read from Go Mutants! (which I recently started and already like), hearing Kimberley Lynne read from Dredging the Choptank (I make a cameo in the promotional vid), and meeting Goodloe Byron, whose free books pop up all over Baltimore, The Wraith being his newest one. Goodloe's a literary weirdo in the finest Bawlmer tradition, and I like his work.

I'm also, as today's picture suggests, reading at a Banned Books event next Tuesday (the 28th) at UB's Langsdale Library. It starts at 11 and runs until 2, and is basically a handful of UB staff/faculty reading excerpts from controversial books. I picked Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, so I'll be reading from it and explaining why it was banned. Cat's Cradle has to be the most innocuous book Vonnegut ever wrote (not intended as an insult), so I'd really hate to meet the article of weaponized anti-fun who found something in it to ban.

That said, I'm going to go watch Silver Streak and write poetry. Back later.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

if i'm not X to everyone, they will stop liking me

Cross-posting this from my Comm. Design class wiki because it fits the scope of this blog nicely, and because I have enough to do without writing two separate posts on the subject.

Jim Astrachan's lecture on copyright, though information-dense and not nearly as cursory as he implied it would be, was fascinating stuff. I realize how much that statement makes me sound like an apple-polisher, but it's true - I learned a lot from him and appreciated his candor and attention to detail. Copyright is a divisive issue thanks to how quickly people can access (and steal) information with the Internet, and it's usually reported in very square, monolithic terms, often from the point of view of miserly entities like the RIAA and Disney and their Congressional supporters. Astrachan's lecture was more specific and, obviously, geared towards what we as creators could do with our work.

His digression about working as a freelancer was also quite welcome. I've been freelancing since I graduated college 4 years ago (and it turns out Jim wrote a column back in the 80s for one of my steadiest contracts, Adweek), but I'm still in the larval stage when it comes to finding work and building a name/reputation/career, so his comprehensive approach to contracts and what separates a freelancer from an employee, and what rights each party has, was really helpful to me. I feel better prepared to keep from getting screwed down the road - sadly, freelancing means you spend as much time harassing people about money as you do actually working.

Finally, it's good to know that Creative Commons licensing is recognized under copyright law. I use CC a lot for my creative work because I like advancing the notion of making art for everyone, but I did occasionally wonder if I had any legal recourse against people who abused the terms of my license. I do, as it turns out, which makes me a very happy man. Jim is a little too mercenary to use CC (his words, not mine), but I admire their aims. Plus, I'm still young - there's plenty of time for me to age into rapaciousness and demand that copyright protection on all my work be extended into perpetuity throughout the Universe.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

on the next episode of...

Made some changes to the BoD Publications! page, mainly because I settled on a title for my next project and, while I don't know the exact release date yet, I do know the season. So there's that. Skate on up to that page to find out a little more info.

Tuesday brought a very interesting lecture on copyright law from Jim Astrachan, who's something of a bigwig in the field, and tonight's poetry class was fun enough to shake me out of the terrible mood work had left me in. All the positivity in that class will take some getting used to, but that's another topic for another day. As is everything else I've mentioned here, sadly, because I need to get some real writing done and go to bed. I'm OLD. But I will go into more depth on these topics when I have the time and energy to do so. But since it's bad form to let the blog stand idle for too too long, I figured a general update was in order.

Friday, September 10, 2010

ruiner is breaking up

Just returned (a little early) from the unofficial SPX pre-party over at Atomic Books. I was the awkward guy there by himself because people flake out whenever I invite them to anything, but it was cool to people-watch as some of the indie comics glitterati read their work, accompanied by Powerpoint slides of their comics. I don't remember who any of them were, sadly, but they were all good. SPX will be a fun time this year, although sadly I'm not going because a) I'm working all weekend, b) it costs money, and c) driving to/being in Upper Marlboro is the pits. So I think I'll skip it this year. Besides, Netflix just sent me something fun to watch.

But before I run off to watch that, I'd like to announce that I HAVE FEELINGS ABOUT POETRY. Specifically, that I don't care for the "disregard the reader" attitude currently in favor among poets these days. Frankly, not considering the reader is part of the reason why no one reads poetry any more - to paraphrase David Foster Wallace yet again, reading poetry feels like being a little kid with adults having a conversation over your head. Coming from a fiction background, that's inexcusable. Readers can be frustrating, of course, and shallow, and demanding, but they're also important (and not just in terms of sales, either). Poetry is a way to really converse with readers in a way that fiction - since it has characters and plot and such to navigate - often struggles with, and yet a lot of poets prefer academic navel-gazing, or passive-aggressively yelling at ex-lovers, that turns off everyone but other poets.

Granted, I'm new to poetry so what the fuck do I know, but I'd like the stuff I churn out this semester to be more than just a smart guy jerking off. I'd like reading it to be a rewarding experience for people. So while I don't have a methodology more complex than "consider the reader" going in, maybe that'll be enough.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

it's been a long time since somebody read to me

Working again, so this'll be a short post. My birthday was the 4th, and celebrations continued into the 5th, followed by a glorious amount of doing nothing on Labor Day. Tuesday night was my Perspectives in Design class, where Citylit founder Gregg Wilhelm gave a talk about the industry and his role as a publisher/editor. He's more optimistic than most about the future of the business, and the point he often came back to was that content is king. No matter how one interacts with literature - be it actual books, hardbacks, audiobooks, e-readers, telepathic projection, etc. - the format doesn't affect the quality. If the book sucks on the page, it'll still suck as an e-book or .pdf file. That's an important message to get across, because writers and designers are so afraid of tech advancements that they forget how useful their skills really are. Not to mention, as e-readers grow more sophisticated, things like varied typefaces, margins, and good illustrations will retain their spot in the marketplace. Hell, they might even revitalize alongside the new technology. Now, the question of whether anyone will be able to make a decent living at it is still unanswered, and publishing is still on shaky ground, so don't think I've completely given myself over to optimism. But it's nice to meet someone in the business who isn't a doomsaying sad sack.

Okay, enough slacking. I'll share my thoughts on modern poetry, and maybe even one of my terrible new poems, next time.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

people send me away

Welp, looks like my poetry workshop is going to be fun, too. I'm at work, so I can't unleash my scattered and uneducated opinions about modern poetry (lucky you), but those are on tap for a future posting. So are a few of my poems, if I deem them not-terrible enough to make public. You've been warned.

In the meantime, my short story "Trail of Sawdust" is up at 5923 Quarterly - the link is in my Published Works sidebar. And I have a new Banners of Death project to get excited about - a friend of mine over at Kent State wants me to publish an edited, abridged, and salacious version of her doctoral thesis once she's done with it. The world will soon discover just how many dirty jokes she and I can squeeze out of liquid crystal research. And yes, there will be illustrations. The idea of a literary physics text is just the sort of weirdness I like, and I think putting it together will be fun. A challenge, certainly, but fun. The sciences have a rich vocabulary that's added a lot to fiction. and literary writing in general, so I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of this.

All right, time to make the donuts.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

is it fall yet

There. Never let it be said that I can't be nice when I want to be.

So another semester has begun, which means more scintillating academic jabbering from me over the next few months. Most of it will come from my Tuesday class, best described as a lecture series on various ephemera of writing and publishing. Should be a good time, and the copyright and branding lectures are worth taking this class all by themselves, in my opinion. Once the class blog is set up, we'll all be writing responses to said lectures, and I may republish my entries here if time permits. They'd be topical enough for this blog, and it's an easy source of updates since, as I'm sure any remaining readers have noticed, I don't update unless I have something specific to impart. Facebook and Twitter can encourage us to broadcast every mundane occurrence in our lives all they want, but I'm not doing it - my thoughts are directionless enough when I'm trying to make a point, so God only knows what would happen if I started wasting everyone's time with what kind of sandwich I ate today or how I can't ever find hats that fit.

Luckily, I'm not that desperate to brand myself yet, so I'll end here and get to class, since I've got a bus to catch. More later.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

truth is like the sun

Well, the impossible has occurred - my grandmother asked for a copy of GoAM. I had some misgivings about actually giving her one, but I relented and left a copy with her last week. Do other writers have to go through this? There's some pretty fucked up stuff in there, and the poor woman's almost 90. Good thing I'm almost 30 or she'd probably have me committed to some delinquent home for Satanic teenagers or something.

Anyway, the radio silence here is due to me taking a short vacation to TN, where my lifelong dream of visiting Graceland was realized. I've seriously wanted to go there since I was 10, and it didn't disappoint. Say what you want about Elvis, but he put together the most ridiculous house in Christendom; shag carpeting everywhere, themed rooms, a racquetball court with a bar and no actual racquetball court, animal print furniture, you name it. All told, it looks like a schizophrenic bordello. But I found myself admiring Elvis' horrible taste, not laughing at it. As tacky as everything was, Graceland still felt like someone's home, like it had been lived in. As I went through the exhibits, which included a showroom of his cars and a display of his many hilarious outfits (and silk pirate shirts fitted at the elbows), it dawned on me that Elvis was insanely wealthy from a very early age and just surrounded himself with things he liked. I can respect that. I'm pretty sure I can even understand it.

I brought a souvenir back, too - a black bowling shirt with blue paneling and "ELVIS" written across the back in glittery capital letters. Awesome.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

caterwauling flibbertigibbet

Welp, Gouts of Angry Mist is printed up and I've been assembling copies like mad all weekend. I got more pre-orders than I'd expected, so I might have to do a second printing if it's well-received at readings. Here's hoping. This being the era of Etsy stores and Paypal, I'm sure my 'zine process sounds low-rent and quaint, but I'm fine with this approach for now. Call it my first stumbling steps into outsider art, or something.

Hey, that almost sounds like a segue. I've been thinking about outsider art a lot lately, probably because Baltimore is a hub for the stuff. Weirdo/folk art is big here - we've got everything from 'zines to painted screen doors to John Waters movies to AVAM, not to mention how many writers/students/hobbyist poets there are in this town. There are a lot of open mics around here, some of them weekly. A lot of the more active writers are more conventional, yes, but there's nothing wrong with that. A lot of them are quite good, in fact.

What interests me, though, is that outsider art still has a stigma attached to it. Even though it has taken on more prominence in the past 10-15 years than ever before, in almost every artistic medium (visual arts, music, etc.), it still unnerves people. It's almost slotted in with anime, punk rock, and heavy metal as something that only freaks and losers and antisocial manchildren can enjoy. Hipsters may think those attitudes are dead, but they really aren't - I see them crop up a lot in my interactions with the local literary community, anyway.

Hell, even I catch myself holding those attitudes from time to time, as if to say that something is only as valuable as it is respectable (thinking specifically of anime stigma here, since the stereotype is that everyone into the stuff is a fat, awkward otaku with poor hygiene). And that's not really true. Even if it was, the freaks and losers and antisocial manchildren of the world need some element of society to speak to them. Denying that is effectively saying that only certain elements of society deserve to be entertained/represented, which is horse shit. Of course, all this leads into a huge discussion about how outsider art is co-opted and made safe for general consumption, one that I don't have the energy for right now, but luckily the Internet provides a nice end-run around that familiar cycle if you're patient and willing to dig up some fun on your own.

Anyway, Christ, I'm rambling. Is this what I sound like when I talk? Half-smart gibberish bubbling out of my mouth like sea foam? Clearly I need to get back to work, or read Charles Stross' blog more often so I can see what happens when someone organizes his thoughts instead of just shitting them out through his fingers. Ta.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

caramel corn for president please

Zine update! Yesterday's test printing was a success (eventually) and copies will be made tomorrow or Friday to be assembled over the weekend. I've got a couple of open mics to attend next week, so maybe I can unload a few copies on Baltimore's literary scene before school starts.

The 'zine, as you may recall, is Gouts of Angry Mist, and I have some photos of the prototype, which needed larger print and lighter photos (some of the pictures in the second piece smudged during reproduction). The cover is still the same, though, and the basic layout hasn't changed much. It's just easier to read now. I should probably paste my author bio in there somewhere too, now that I think about it, but for all intents and purposes, it's done. Hooray!

I'm actually putting together another 'zine as we speak; the new one's a more traditional mix of poetry and short stories, but it'll be a while yet before that one's out of the formative stages. Besides, I'd like to take a minute or two and bask in the completion of Gouts. Summer projects are great when they actually turn out the way you want them to, aren't they?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

brace face i love you

"Don't take this the wrong way, but your poetry is really...strange."

Best review I've gotten in weeks, courtesy of a fellow reader at Minas, a vintage clothing boutique and art gallery on the Avenue that hosts poetry readings from time to time. The first part of it was an open mic, so I read a couple of newish poems. I don't write much poetry - I'm not very good at it and it's not a form I particularly like - but some ideas are stubborn and won't come out any other way. I'm sure you all understand.

I've had a lot on my mind lately that, when I have the time and energy to write it up, will make its way here in due time. Until then, uh, here's part of a Weyes Bluhd set that features her creepy-yet-beautiful balladry.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

you stay with bruiser i stay with bobo

So for the first and last time in my life, I braved the heat and crowds to attend Otakon, a huge anime/nerd convention that books the Baltimore Convention Center every summer and makes navigating the Inner Harbor an amusing, if otherwise impossible, experience. I'm not much for anime, but I went as a favor to a friend and honestly enjoyed myself more than I'd anticipated.

For one thing, the attendees weren't as smelly and pathetic as they're often made out to be, and a lot of them were actually quite nice. There's a real overriding sense of community there that took me by surprise. It shouldn't have, given the shared obsession that guides Otakon (anime/manga/Asian pop culture), but the general mood was very welcoming. People seemed happy to not only be there, but to be sharing the experience with other like-minded nerds.

For another thing, there was a panel on freelancing for RPG companies (meaning tabletop gaming like D&D, White Wolf, etc.), which is something I sniffed around getting involved in until I realized that it's too much work for not enough money or opportunity. But still, some of the panel discussion applied to freelancers in general - the most useful tidbit was that when you're a gun-for-hire, you're writing for whoever signs the checks. Much of this panel was an attempt to dissuade the sperglords in the audience from including 40-page character bios with their submissions to Wizards of the Coast, but the digressions on being an adaptable writer observant of house style/formatting were well taken, and it's good to be reminded that you can be a genius under your own masthead, but not necessarily someone else's.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

make it hot in this party

Saw Inception with some friends on Sunday and really enjoyed it. More than I was expecting to, in fact. Jeff Somers makes an excellent point about the previews/marketing creating unapproachable expectations for the film itself, but since I almost never watch TV, I didn't see any of them. Of course, I haven't seen any of Bones Season 5 or the new Futurama either, so there are considerable drawbacks to never watching TV.

I also don't know enough about film to give Inception much of a coherent review, but it was a) the best Leo DiCaprio flick I've seen in ages, and b) tense. Tense in ways that thrillers/heist movies aren't usually tense. I felt it in my brain instead of my heart or gut, and it was consistent throughout. It's also a movie that people can argue about and dissect for ages, which in my mind is a good thing.

I'm sure it will also spark up discussions on the nature and importance of dreams; in fact, it probably has already. I don't dream, at least not that I can ever remember, and I'm as skeptical of the writerly preoccupation with dreams as I am of astrology, and basically for the same reason: it all sounds like pop-psychology gibberish to me. I guess I'm just drab when it comes to phenomena like dreams or planetary alignment. But Inception was based on a good idea which was implemented well, I thought, and it made me think about the subject on more objective terms.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

how is it that an ex-special ops guy becomes a nanny

Well! Artscape and the Exotic Hypnotic Festival - a three-day celebration of experimental/noise music - were quite insane. Triple-digit heat, hundreds of thousands of people milling around with no discernible foot traffic pattern, and frustrating work conditions were the order of the day, but we all survived. Plus, I got to see The Hammered, Weyes Bluhd, Yoshiko Ohara, and a few other really good acts. There was also a screening of Death Race 2000, which is always a fun time.

Now that it's over, I can get back to work. The novel is still in editorial limbo and I have another story incubating, and I wanted to say something about irrational voice and humor.

A lot of people in the writing community think there's no place for offensive/edgy humor, or humor that exploits political/social/ethnic stereotypes, and I'm sympathetic to that position. Minorities of any stripe are subject to myriad forms of cultural alienation, especially in the media, and are often represented as broad, generalized archetypes that do little to address the complexity of their communities and individual identities. Therefore, the call to explore and develop a wider appreciation for art/writing is one I support - after all, Langston Hughes means as much to American literature as Poe or Whitman.

However, the radical end of this viewpoint can't appreciate anything that isn't a wooden morality play perfectly mirroring their specific beliefs, and can be humorless, pedantic, and uncivil in their rejection of material that isn't the vanguard of whatever revolution they're interested in. Which is where I get off the bus - I think that offensive humor works when the voice is irrational.

For example, I was once in a parody radio play called Sorry, You've Got My Wrong Number, in which some of the comedic material came at the expense of the handicapped. While all of it was funny, in the sense that it was cleverly phrased and well-timed, it certainly edged the line of good taste. What made it work was the very clear authorial intention that every character making fun of handicapped people was incompetent, crazy, or otherwise not to be taken seriously. Their beliefs and statements were ultimately to be laughed at, mocked, etc. The book A Complete Guide to Racism is another good example, in that it is a hilarious book-length jab at modern racist attitudes, complete with a chapter on Merpeople to make sure the reader understands how loopy the narrator is. Hell, Stephen Colbert has made himself a very wealthy man doing pretty much the same thing. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Understand, too, that this is a very limited window for making this kind of humor work, and that it is different from "ironic" racism, which is much shallower and less effective. It's also a tricky balance to pull off, but gifted satirists (i.e. not Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern) can still do it. My point is that being able to challenge, to offend, is an important function of humor, and art in general. Not the most important one, of course, but it is nonetheless a vital part of the human experience and a fantastic release valve that, to a certain extent, reaches across cultures.

Friday, July 16, 2010

significant formalization efforts in any area

Finished a short story on the train back to Baltimore yesterday! Good times. I'm my most productive when I'm not in my apartment, it being full of shinies that distract me from fiction.

It occurred to me, as I wrote, that I haven't written a literary essay for journal publication in almost two years. Maybe even longer than that. I was a full-blown essayist when I graduated college, and thought that was my path until I decided to throw myself into grad school. I've gotten a few essays published - some of them are linked in the sidebar - but ultimately chose fiction as my MFA concentration because I felt like I had more to learn there. Like I said, I'd been writing essays/non-fiction for a while, and had gotten published, so I felt like any more learning I had to do on that front could be done on the job, so to speak. I hadn't seriously pursued fiction for ages and, to be honest, I missed it. I missed writing stories, and the rush of creation, and the satisfaction of completing a draft. It's entirely different from completing an essay, which is also satisfying but not as much. I still read non-fiction because I think it helps my voice, but I don't miss essays. Besides, I have my Adfreak/Brandfreak work and my monthly column in the Gettysburg Times (link) to carry any lingering essayist ambitions for me.

I'm also nearly done with The Alienist - I tore through it in NC and on the train, and it's a thumping good read. Like all plot-based thrillers, the characters are familiar and archetypal, but they don't feel stock to me. And Caleb Carr does an excellent job handling Teddy Roosevelt, even quaintly maintaining the facade that he was a human being instead of a clockwork tin robot. That aside, there's a very organic feeling to this book - a heartbeat that comes through in the sometimes overly analytical dialogue, the setting details, the characterization, everything. And it's a real page-turner, on top of everything else. I'll agree with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's criticism that the protagonists' views of gays and black people is too immediately tolerant for the period, but that isn't really something I have a problem with - aside from the Flashman novels (in which Harry Flashman's various prejudices are spoken through his own irrational voice), Victorian novels with period social outlooks seem to indulge that era's intolerance a little too much.

However, the Post-Dispatch's dismissal of the female lead as too modern and feminist ("a tough-minded career woman who's unafraid to pack a pistol and spout a bit of scatological English") doesn't hold water. Women back then, much as now, were as tough and resourceful as their circumstances demanded, and if Ma Barker could exist, then so could Sara Howard.

Anyway, I still have a long day of Artscape to contend with, so I'd better go get ready for work. I'll have more about irrational voices later on.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

needs to have more track time


I write like
Mark Twain
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Well, THAT certainly wasn't the result I expected. Cool, though. I do like me some Twain.

Currently vacationing in NC for a few days, relaxing and writing and venturing out into the heat on Tuesday to tour the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, located in the building where the Woolworth's of 1960 sit-in fame used to be. It was pretty cool, and our tour guide was deeply taken by the subject matter, so this wasn't so much a dry lecture as it was a performance covering a few generations' worth of struggle for equality.

I also picked up The Alienist, which I am thoroughly enjoying, and finally, officially started Kafka On the Shore, which I am also liking quite a lot. As books, they couldn't be more opposite, but as we all know, I like it when narrative voices clash in my brain. I'll have a nice long train ride on Thursday to spend writing, as well. At the moment, life is peaceful. My return to Baltimore on the 15th will restore insanity and sleep deprivation, but for now I'm enjoying the relative calm.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

he actually believes this horseshit

Here are some photos of paperback books/'zines that I've made so far. Pictures 1 and 3 are of my summer project, the aforementioned Gouts of Angry Mist; 2 and 4 are of a book (titled For the Love of God, Montressor) that I made for my Literary Publications class. I'll be selling them at my open mic/lit. reading  appearances at some point, I'm sure.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

stop look listen to your heart

Made a promo copy of my book (which I really should take pictures of to post here), which needs some formatting changes and lighter pictures, but every impromptu test reader I forced the book upon over the weekend really liked it. I'm also going to expand a short story I wrote during NaNo 2009 into a novel for NaNo 2010, because writing truly is the juncture between stupidity and masochism.

Speaking of, I was talking shop with another writer buddy of mine and the topic became how often we pull in our weirder ideas and narrative impulses. I do it a lot, partly out of the fun contrast that comes from conveying said weird ideas with gravity and straight-faced earnestness, and partly because I don't want my work to become a series of tiresome pratfalls and wacky faces. But more to the point, I think it has to do with the disappointment I feel upon seeing superficially weird/quirky characters attached to a conventional story with a rivet gun, but without any real effort to take them anywhere interesting. Which of course ties in with the latent fear that my own work suffers is derivative and forced. Being quirky and dark is chic these days, as the bajillions of YA magic vampire series out there deftly illustrate, and I don't want to get lost among the bandwagon-jumpers now that it's suddenly cool to have a morbid sense of humor and like Edward Gorey.

However, crossing my arms and pouting because I did X before it was popular is a lame and immature (and self-defeating) response to changing demographics and trends, and I shouldn't allow it to undermine my own creativity. So I'm going to honor some of my more ridiculous concepts from here on out, and continue developing my voice/language/style to avoid being overlooked. And I honestly don't begrudge the YA magic vampire novelists anything; they're just doing what I'm trying to do, which is make a living at this. I'm just stubborn and I want to do it my way, with as little bending to market pressure as possible.

(Oh, and the surly latte drawing is courtesy of Ellejohara).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

we have embraced change

Like the picture? My friend Ellejohara drew it at my urging. She rules.

In other news, Opium rejected me again. They liked the piece I sent, but it wasn't quite right for the issue I sent it for, which is what they've said every other time I've submitted there. Frankly, I'm not sure what is right for them. But the beat goes on. The really frustrating part of this business is determining where you can publish and, once you've got some credits to your name, finding your audience/niche. I guess that's why people with the money hire publicists.

Meanwhile, I'm still struggling with writing from character. I've probably mentioned the tendency for genre writers to start from setting or concept and pour all their creative energies into that, which is fine, but it often leads to their awesome worlds being populated by stock characters. Which is fine too, but my ambitions extend beyond that, so I decided to play with some stock concepts a little bit in a piece I'm working on now, in which every main character is based on a Chinese astrological archetype - the ox, the rat, etc. I've had the concepts for some weird, absurd craftsmen swimming around in my brain for a while now, but I couldn't think of how to tie them to the page without being overly cartoonish. Blending those rough mental sketches with the Chinese astrology idea has borne fruit, and might be the answer I was looking for. I'm often hesitant about fully committing my weirder ideas to the page, which is a topic I'll dig into next time, but I should really learn not to be.

Friday, June 25, 2010

it's two twenty, dickbrain

So I'm reading Lipsky's Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which is a collection of his transcribed recordings from David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest book tour. It's fascinating stuff, and also a sobering insight into just how insecure and human DFW really was. He's gone now, so we of course all knew that already, but this book offers the full extent of it.

It feels weird to describe writers as "human," and I'm sure part of DFW's folksy groundedness was a show - he all but admits it outright at various points - but it also explains how his work was simultaneously dense/complex and readable.

Anyway, DFW and Lipsky talk shop a lot, and DFW says that avant-garde fiction has gone the way of poetry, i.e. that it has forgotten the reader, and that both genres (for lack of a better term) exist as a plaything for other writers and people who like decoding books. Further, DFW asserts that poetry/experimental fiction will "come awake again when [writers] start speaking to people who have to pay the rent." I'm not sure what that means, but Ben Marcus has echoed that; his biggest regret about The Age of Wire and String was that there wasn't enough of a coherent narrative, and that he also wants an audience beyond academics and hipsters.

The trouble I have with statements like that is the unspoken operational definition of "real" people - it's often a backhanded and generalized condemnation of the lumpen masses who need to be milked for book sales, but who aren't sophisticated or smart or perceptive without guidance. They're authentic in that they aren't rich and over-educated, but there's not much respect in these discussions of "real" people.

That said, I agree that a lot of poets don't provide much reward for the stylistic/linguistic/thematic demands they make on readers, and that experimental fiction sucks out loud when similar demands aren't matched by good characters or plot or keen observation. People who mostly read mass market fiction and aren't used to those demands will entertain them, I think, if there's a payoff to make that effort worthwhile. I've probably made that point before, but it's good to remind myself of this - I don't always write experimental work (steampunk and sci-fi mostly adhere to traditional storytelling, albeit with different props), but when I do, I want it to be good, and I want people, real or fake or whatever, to read it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

hat still in hand

Finished a couple more books! Add Light Boxes and Homunculus to the "read" pile, and not a moment too soon. I've got a lot of stuff to finish, and of course I keep accumulating more books because I have a problem.

I really enjoyed Light Boxes; complex and unsettling imagery was created from very simple words and structure, and I didn't get the sense, as some reviewers did, that it was precious or pleased with itself. I'll concede that there was some kitsch appropriation in the writing, but so what? That's totally fine as long as you do something cool and thoughtful with it. More to the point, Light Boxes occupies that weird space of not being a dense literary tome or an effortless popcorn book - it's somewhere else on the spectrum. It's a short book, with lots of white space in the layout, but the language and sensory images are challenging. And it's nice to see otherworldly settings celebrated in a literary scene that's often too obsessed with understated, detached realism.

Homunculus is another matter. It's an early work of steampunk and a Philip K. Dick prizewinner, but it's also way too busy and cluttered with neat ideas (secret societies, religious doomsaying, a dirigible piloted by a skeleton, etc.) that aren't developed enough. A lot of steampunk fiction does this. It took a while to get going, which is fine, and the language streamlined into less of a hyperactive Dickens homage as the plot progressed, but I didn't feel like the central characters really changed anything. That said, the often-confusing plot still kept me gladly turning pages to see where it went, and one character (the shiftless and high-strung Bill Kraken) went against type into interesting territory. So I can't say that I didn't like it. I can actually say that, warts and all, it was an enjoyable read. But it was also frustrating because of its pulpy, self-imposed genre limitations.

That said, I've got some ideas rattling around for a few steampunky yarns. I've also got a fun little book project, tentatively called Gouts of Angry Mist, coming together. More on that as it develops.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

thunderbolts and lightning

Well, Annalemma rejected the piece I sent them. C'est la vie. But their rejection was nicer and honestly more flattering than a lot of the acceptances I've gotten.

Thanks for submitting [title withheld] to us. I'm going to respectfully pass on this piece. You got a great voice here but the story isn't firing on that emotional level for me. However, I meant what I said about your voice, some truly brilliant things happening there. I'd like to invite you to submit again in the future.

It's hard to even be disappointed after hearing something like that. I think I will submit again once I've written something better.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

there's an old geezer in our neighborhood

So I finished Inherent Vice yesterday - it turned out to be a really fun, engaging read, if somewhat lighter than what Pynchon is generally known for (Gravity's Rainbow, V, etc.). Granted, I also don't read a whole lot of postmodern detective novels, so it's not like I would know if IV was a totally by-the-numbers affair.

I've been reading reviews of it since, and it strikes me that no one is really interested in looking at this book on its own merits. Good or bad, all the reviews put it into the context of Pynchon's legacy as an author* and either laud this turn towards the comprehensible or lament the gradual dumbening of a once-great novelist. Here's a list of reviews to parse through, if you like, and to consider as a reference point for this blog post.

If nothing else, reading them has been an unintentionally hilarious look at academic paradox. People were mad at Pynchon (and still are to this day, in lessening numbers) for writing big slabs of post-modern brainfuckery that went off on unpredictable genius tangents at the expense of plot and/or character development, and now they're mad at him again for writing, to use a tired phrase, "beach reading." IV is not a mountain to conquer or a hill to die on, it's just a novel. A good one too, for the most part, with a lot of wonderful line-by-line writing and imaginative description, often in period lexicon. One of my favorite passages from early on in the novel is description of a touristy beach painting on the narrator's wall as a window into a California that never was. Where other late-60s nostalgia pieces focus on more general shifts in the national mood during that time, IV is very localized, to the point of exposing just where the realities of Nixon-era California diverged from the myths.

My hypothesis is that a lot of reviewers, especially those who consider themselves Literary, are pissed because reading this book doesn't make them look smart. Carrying it with the cover facing out won't impress anyone on the metro. There's a certain feeling of accomplishment one feels after finishing a Pynchon novel, particularly if one understood a single word of it, and that is lost with IV because it just isn't that kind of novel. It's challenging, yes, and immersive, but it doesn't wring out your brain like a sponge. Maybe Pynchon decided that he just wanted to write something fun, since he's old and feels like he's earned it and all the books that everyone hates/seeks intellectual validation from are still in print.

In any case, IV is done. I've still got Light Boxes and The Left Hand of Darkness and a bajillion other books of varying rigor left to finish, so I'm gonna quit jabbering and get back to work.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

there's a wall. around me.

Fun facts for your consideration:

- Learning that Hunter S. Thompson was basically every cranky old man who wrote furious letters to the editor ever should be sad, but isn't because of how savagely he owned people in so doing. Anyone not reading The Gonzo Papers right this instant is a fool.

- Likewise, anyone not reading Matthew Simmons' A Jello Horse is a fool. It's as funny as it is short, and anyone who enjoys jabbing at the Midwest and public access television as much as he does is fine by me.

- Inherent Vice is one of Thomas Pynchon's, erm, more accessible books, but it's still good. I get the feeling that he just wanted to indulge himself in something fun after decades of cranking out reams of brain-eating prose. He succeeded - if Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas is the result of countercultural collapse, Inherent Vice captures the moment when the supports began creaking.

- French garage rock, neighbored in musical content only by cavemen who banged rocks together and shouted into clay pots, is great.

- Touchstone Theatre Company is putting on The Tempest at Theater Project here in Baltimore, and they've got another whole weekend to go. Thurs-Sat. at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm. It's great. They're great. Go see it or I will come at you with a pressure washer full of Harbor water and shitmist.

- I am gathering intelligence as we speak so that I may hunker down in my garret next week and get some good solid writing done. Waiting for the Muse is a terrible habit I need to break, but when I force myself to write, it comes out as brutal gibberish that I have to rewrite anyway. I haven't stumbled upon the happy medium yet. But since I am still in the dawn of my writing career, such as it is, I may yet find it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

this is what i want, is what i want

Getting a story published in 5923 Quarterly in September. This is good, because I'd been trying to move that piece for a while and now that it's found a home, I can get off my ass and start writing more new stuff instead of endlessly and ineffectually tinkering with drafts. 

And for the first time in ages, I'm trying to read the market and pick out some places I'd like to send stuff. Beneath Ceaseless Skies is one possible spot, plus they pay. Opium is another - I've submitted there before with no luck, but I might have something they'd like this time. It's probably bad form to look up journals and then write with them in mind, but on the other hand I'm pretty sure a lot of writers do it and I'd like to see how different stylistic/editorial restrictions affect my work. And, of course, I'd like more publishing credits and more sales. And a solid gold toilet, as long as I'm tossing wishes into the void. Not sure what put me in this headspace, but I'm feeling much more confident about my work than usual and I'm curious to see if there's an opening in the genre/spec. fic. market for it. 

At the same time, I'd like to continue with my more experimental style and see where that leads. I'm thinking about turning my midterm and final project into a handmade book, too - it'll make for a good summer project if nothing else, and maybe I can make a few and sell them. Don't see why not. There's still a fairly vibrant 'zine culture in this town, and I've seen/bought plenty of weird stuff from Atomic Books. I've still got someone's NaNoWriMo novel in the bathroom, even. But now I'm babbling, so I think I'll shut off here and go sleep. And plot.