Wednesday, December 28, 2011

walk into my web

Merry holidays, everyone!

I've been watching a lot of Curious George with my niece, and it has become clear that the show was written by subversive geniuses. A lot of children's programming is written with special over-the-kid's-head stuff for the adults who will be watching these shows over and over and over and over and over again, but the Curious George writing team is especially bold. When 98% of the show is innocuous and helpful and completely free of tension, lines like "George and Jumpy Squirrel played nut hockey all afternoon" and "George couldn't sleep; he kept thinking about Mr. Pasketti's weed problem" come at you like jump scares in a modern horror movie.

I'm also reading The Manual of Detection, which I will post about once I'm done. There are a couple of other books on deck once that's done, but they can wait until I return to Baltimore.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

anti-perspirant is different

Since I've been making it a point to advertise this blog in other projects I'm working on (sound design for Glass Mind Theater, for example), I should also make it a point to update this blog more often. Of course, waiting ten days between posts lets me beat myself up for waiting so long, which isn't a bad opener.

In any case, I'm trying to prepare myself for the upcoming holiday trip to NC by getting as much writing done as possible. I've sent in stuff for Artichoke Haircut, will be writing stuff for TSB and the G'burg Times and Adfreak, and managed to get a reading slot at Last Rites in February. Not bad, considering how crappy my personal life has been over the past two weeks.

I also finished Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton, which is sort of about a disgraced grad student's search for her true father as time and tourism warp her hometown and a legendary monster's corpse is dredged from the lake near her mother's house. I say "sort of about" because the book has ten jillion subplots that don't really go anywhere; it's the classic problem of too many cool ideas struggling for attention, so none of them get it. To quote the New York Times review, “does the town really need a monster and ghosts and eerie family portraits?” My slip may be showing here in terms of what I like to read, but it bothered me that a wealth of surrealism and weirdness just waiting to be explored got passed over for a much less interesting, or credible, slog through the narrator's family tree (one of the novel's many twists is that the narrator's mother knows who her real father is, but won't tell her because she has to find out for herself, which serves no purpose beyond enabling the plot).


Okay look, it's nearly 3am here. I'm going to sleep. I'm going to see Adam Robinson and Joe Young read tomorrow afternoon, so I'll probably blog about that afterwards.

Friday, December 9, 2011

absurd sexuality violence and profanity

I made it to the end of the semester! Hooray! Now all I need to do is edit my manuscript over winter break and figure out a title and then go about the process of laying out and designing my book and then auuuurrghglkoetoiqerijghkldjfvnmqxwflkjsdnalkkklllll *dies*

Maybe that was a little dramatic, but I have tons of crap still to do before this short story collection drops in May, just in time for my graduate reading/bookfair. I'm also figuring out how to do a little mini-book tour of Baltimore, NYC, maybe DC, and maybe Philly or someplace nearby. Why not? I'll have enough books, so I might as well walk them around. It'll be weird though, because I make it a point to read funny/entertaining stuff at events and so far most of the stuff in my book is pretty grim. That's not automatically a bad thing - those stories need to be what they are - but reading fiction is soporific enough without the added challenge of the stories making people sad.

But! One or maybe two of my telegrams will be in Artichoke Haircut's February issue, and I have a story about being young and stupid and going to an ANTiSEEN show in last week's LOOP. And I still have the clown novel to work on once my MFA book has been put to bed. Somewhere in there I'll have to start sending things out to journals again, but for once I feel like I actually have time for that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

relevant quote of the day

"The writing workshops that have proliferated in the last 20 or 30 years—and there have been so many of them in universities in America now—that this workshop culture makes it easy to talk about a story if it precedes in a way that demonstrably similar to stories past.  If it actually has sort of rising action, climax, emotional epiphany, satisfying humanist conclusion, then it’s really easy to talk about in a workshop and it’s easy to organize the workshop to talk about it.  That just means that the story sits right smack in a kind of demographic or intellectual mean.  It’s not challenging us in any way.  So the really great fiction and the really horrible fiction gets sort of pushed out to the margins in a workshop setting and it’s not easy for us to come up with a vocabulary to talk about them, nor to figure out how to fix them if they need fixing."     

--Rick Moody, from his interview at Big Think

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

there aren’t too many bars

Hey, so um sorry about the lack of pictures with the latest updates. I like having regular visual elements on the blog, even if I didn't come up with them (which is often the case), but looking for cool pictures that don't look like crap on here takes time that I haven't had lately.

Also, sorry about the lack of updates. I've probably mentioned this before, but my life is really boring most of the time, and I'd rather not update this thing just to do it - I'd like to have something at least vaguely substantive to post, ya know? This attitude is either an example of good self-restraint or bad marketing instincts, I can't decide which. It reminds me of the Bobcat Goldthwait interview I read recently where he denounced social media as a pain in the ass. His specific complaint was that social media, and the excuses it gives various industries to cut back on marketing costs, forces writers to turn their lives into reality television in the hopes of building any kind of audience. He's kinda right. I wish I could find it so I could link the whole thing.

Anyway, I went to a reading last weekend and heard Edward Mullany (who is touring his new book of poems), Barbara DeCesare, and Karl Taro Greenfeld read their stuff. They were all great, and I had a chat with Karl about Japanese youth culture and what really killed American hardcore punk in the 80s. I also asked him if he was in Japan when Antonio Inoki and the Great Sasuke were respectively elected to the Japanese senate, which outed me as a pro wrestling fan, but he was cool with it.

Tomorrow night is Steve Matanle's reading and book signing at my school, and then I need to get started on sound design for And Underneath The Moon, Glass Mind Theatre's upcoming production. Egad. So much to do. No wonder I never blog.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

a remarkable fit of understanding

We've been reading some really cool stuff in my advanced fiction workshop class this semester. My classmates have taste. The excerpts from Lorrie Moore's Swamplandia and Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned have been my favorites so far, but I think this week's selection - a selection from Victor Lavalle's Big Machine - made me think the most about my own work.

Along with the selection, I read this interview with Lavalle about narrative voice, and found it to be very revealing. Lavalle has a Colson Whitehead vibe to his narration, but with more of an earthy straightforwardness than Whitehead (or at least, more of a willingness to use it). Lavalle's definition of voice as "personality" informs his work a lot, I think, and his anecdote about a writer's work not sounding like the writer him/herself is something I struggle with a lot. My personality is such that people often think they can predict what my work is going to be like, and so I try to throw them curveballs and take them places they don't expect. Thus, I'm probably guilty of the "dry third person omniscient tone" Lavalle talked about, that distance on the page.

I'm trying to remedy that somewhat with the short story I'm working on now, which is my way of saying that I need to get back to work.

Monday, October 31, 2011

that's what life is all about

Happy Halloween! I'll be celebrating America's best holiday by working (sigh) but my advanced workshop professor did send me this Daily Beast article about "respected" literary authors crossing over into "genre" work, specifically horror. It's a good, if short, article, but I'm chuckling at how the literary world is scrambling to reassure people that this is okay. The article quotes editor John Freeman, who reminds us all that "to quarantine horror in a genre is to ignore how much of the culture revolves around things we’re afraid of." And don't worry, "the ubiquity of horror, and the crossover of literary writers into the genre, is nothing to despair over."

Is all that really necessary? Are literary/indie readers that freaked out because writers with critical acclaim might take a break from writing about the dissolution of white middle class relationships? I'd like to give the masses a bit more credit than that. Besides, genre sells these days and none of the writers discussed in this article are stupid - they want to write things that sell (and get optioned for movies, etc.), and I think their readers understand that.

Not that I'm happy about the prospect of yet another wave of goddamned zombie books, but at least guys like Colson Whitehead have enough pride in what they do to not blatantly write pulp for a paycheck - if he's writing a zombie book, chances are it's going to be a really good book with zombies in it and not one of those stupid Jane Austen parodies.

So yeah, don't worry - Joan Didion and Philip Lopate won't be writing lamp monster novels any time soon. Relax and eat some dang candy. Geez.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

how we lived, ate and didn’t wash

I was reading letters home from soldiers at work today (for an official Job Task, no less), and stumbled upon this collection of letters from Paul Hills, who served during WWI. He wrote his mother frequently, and the contents of his letters are some of the best writing I've read in months. Holy crap. Every comfortable first world author who thinks his work is dark (i.e. me) should read through some of these and see what real literary chiaroscuro looks like. Some of his passages go from funny to sad to heartbreaking and back to funny in a paragraph's time. My friend Justin calls that WW1 period "the peak of the highly literate middle class (in the sense of being well read and caring about writing)." 

Here, I'll paste in an example of what I mean:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

never apologize to fiona apple

Oh dear god I'm guest-editing LOOP this week. The usual editor, Lauren Passell, is visiting her boyfriend's entire family in Taiwan (where she went to see his brother's jug band), so I was charged with soliciting and editing stories in her place.

I'm also going to be contributing some artwork to my buddy Ian's Lunar State Radio program, based on his experiences at Evergreen State. He describes the show as "a punk rock Prairie Home Companion," which sounds about right. It'll be a good time.

Other than that, I've been focusing on classwork - The Book (the final project/thesis for my MFA program) is peeking up over the horizon at me, laughing as I feebly attempt to reach it with my rough drafts and neophyte design skills. But I did have time to make a telegram for Artichoke Haircut, which they will publish in their next issue. Come to think of it, I should mail that to them already. Time flies when you're stressed to the point of manic insomnia.

Friday, October 7, 2011

some of the drunks at the couch

So I volunteered some months back to be recorded for the 100,000 Poets for Change project (here's a relevant Baltimore Sun article), and now all the Baltimore-area recordings are up! There are some fine people reading their work here, and I'm honored to be listed among them. I'm not sure if my reading - recorded at a particularly rowdy Artichoke Haircut event - really defines "what it means to be human in an inhuman time," but it certainly was fun. And I like being part of larger-scale projects like this, anyway.

Click here for a full list of the Baltimore-area recordings - I'm listed as, of course, Dave K. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

i'm 840 years old

Two things!

First, I wrote a review of Kimberley Lynne's Dredging the Choptank over at The Lit Pub - go read it. Class issues and my own pirate heritage are discussed.

There's also the matter of this article from More Intelligent Life about writers who drink, and what happens when they sober up. It's an interesting read, especially if you're me and you think that the romantic notion of the frustrated drunken writer is goddamned stupid. To paraphrase Stephen King (a drunkard at one point himself), alcoholic writers don't drink to dull the pain of channeling life's miseries into art - they drink because they're drunks. Whether MIL intended to or not, they illustrate this key point rather nicely.

Maybe it's because I don't drink at all, but it's irritating when other artists claim that, because they're artists, they aren't supposed to be functional or have their shit together. Even when they're joking, it still comes off like an excuse to be irresponsible and blame it on the creative temperament. And since writers are understandably more verbal than other artists, they express their addictions louder and more often, as if being a shambling drunken mess makes one's work more authentic.

Anyway, no sense getting preachy - the article is far more coherent on these points than I am. Instead, I'll leave you with Henry Rollins advising against doing meth.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

this is the internet

Good lord, it's been nearly two weeks since my last update. The workload in my final year of grad school has joined forces with my job to throw me off my schedule for just about everything. At this rate I'll be turning in assignments via throwing them into the street while shrieking obscenities. I'm also applying for new jobs left and right, which is stressful and disheartening for reasons we all know.
But last weekend saw me dressing up like a heavy metal Viking to perform with the Baltimore Rock Opera Society at the H Street Festival in DC. Being a Viking, it turns out, is death on the back and knees, but it was insanely fun and will have to happen much more often. They're an extremely cool group of people, and their creative energy did wonders for my mood.

I also read Michael Bible's Simple Machines, which is literally a collection of sentences. While I don't understand the Cult of the Perfect Sentence that propagates itself through certain avenues of indie lit, it's possible to connect dots in Bible's book and make your own versions of stories with what he provides. Also, some of them are accompanied by illustrations, and I wish the entire book had been done that way. I will also say that  Simple Machines ends with one of the best sentences ever. I won't spoil it here, but it's really good and, in an odd way, more satisfying that the endings to a lot of traditionally-written books I've read this year.

Speaking of books, I need to return to Murakami. Ta.

Monday, September 12, 2011

my number's on the stall

So one of my first assignments in my advanced fiction workshop was to compile a list of 25 books that I haven't read yet, but that I should read to further my craft as a writer. Three of them will factor into my specific class experience somehow. I also finished Michael Bible's Simple Machines recently, which I'll talk about next time, but this should be a good lengthy post to make up for the radio silence on my end recently.


Thomas Pynchon – Against The Day
David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest
Michael Kimball - Us
James Ellroy – American Tabloid
Michael Chabon – The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay
Paolo Bacigalupi – The Windup Girl
Philip K. Dick – The Man In the High Castle
Jules Verne – From the Earth to the Moon
Matt Bell – How They Were Found (collection)
Walter M. Miller – A Canticle for Leibowitz
Thom Jones – Cold Snap (collection)
Upton Sinclair – The Jungle
Ekaterina Sedia – The Secret History of Moscow
Michael Ondaatje – Anil's Ghost
Colson Whitehead – Sag Harbor
HP Lovecraft – Dreams of Terror & Death (collected stories)
Haruki Murakami – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Ekaterina Sedia – The Secret History of Moscow
Neil Gaiman – Anansi Boys
Sinclair Lewis - Babbit
Deborah Kay Davies – True Things About Me
Manu Joseph – Serious Men
Gary Shteyngart – Super Sad True Love Story
Grace Krilanovich – This Orange Eats Creeps
Lauren Groff – The Monsters of Templeton

Friday, September 2, 2011

buttons on my lips are popping at the seams

Well! Last night's Artichoke Haircut reading was a huge success. Got a great response, and heard some really cool stuff, both from the open mic participants and the other featured reader, Marion Winik.

I also started the final year of my MFA program - this semester is the advanced fiction workshop, for which I have to compile a list of 25 books I haven't read. Three of them will factor into assignments during the semester. Once I get that together, I'll probably post it here.

Oh also I read this, among other things, last night:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

a scripted move that failed

More fan mail!

In response to this Adfreak post

Why am I reading something in "Adweek"? Oh, yeah it was about Kathy Griffin. I'll take her "horrible screech" over this guy's boring prose anytime. At least she's talented!     

I'd make fun of him, but if he's white-knighting Kathy Griffin in response to a paragraph-long item on an advertising blog, he's clearly enough of a fan to have made it through one of her excruciating stand-up specials. I can't compete with that.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

advertising is rocket science

In response to this Adfreak post

That's it? Really, [DK]? That's your grand conclusion here? That this 3-minute clip - which although forgettable isn't nearly as insufferable as you attempt to paint it - proves only that Paul Rudd should be a sidekick?

You, uh, you know, wanna expound and perhaps offer some marketing insights here? Maybe some musings on the new ways Hollywood is marketing its movies, juxtaposing successful attempts with their failed counterparts?

Instead, we get an uninspired and utterly irrelevant "Rudd should just be a sidekick"? Guess maybe you got a little sidekick in you as well, [DK]. Though I must commend you for accomplishing one remarkable thing here: You unwittingly succeed in combining lame marketing criticism with lame movie criticism all in one lame paragraph.
     

Wow. Um. Sorry that Paul Rudd's unfunny commercial for his unfunny movie wasn't funny, guy. Maybe make yourself some tea when you're done crying and try to calm down.

Now then, go read my Christmas story over at LOOP. It's funnier than dudes getting butthurt on the Internet, I promise.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

limited to residents only

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education has been making the rounds, so of course I only just got around to reading it.

The main point is that long-form reading, i.e. the study of literature that we all remember from high school/college literature courses, is unsustainable beyond "a self-perpetuating minority that we shall call the reading class." It sounds snootier than it is, but not by much.

What bothers me about this article, and others like it, is the double-standard it perpetuates. You'd never read something like this about math or science - in fact, conventional wisdom is that students absolutely NEED to learn them, no matter how boring or difficult that process may be. Those skills are important, and they take effort.

And while I don't disagree with that, it sticks in my craw when that same educational culture turns around and declares that literature (and to a lesser-but-still-implied degree, the humanities) is a garnish; that the same rigor applied to learning math and science is both unnecessary and impossible to apply to books. Perhaps this is because we're not competing with other countries over who can produce the best sonnets, but there's still a condescension here that casts a sour light on my entire profession, and I can't just let it sail by without comment.

Besides, if I had to write papers about The Once and Future King, then so should everyone else. I hate suffering alone.

Monday, August 1, 2011

LT'S NT WRT VWLS

The reading was a success! I may even post a picture from it at some point. I read three short stories, two of which can be found on the sidebar to your right under "Published Works," to about 20 people or so (oddly, very few of them were among the 20 or so people who RSVP'd on Facebook), and they asked some really good and thoughtful questions. One of them said afterward that she felt like she was in a surreal version of Inside the Actor's Studio, due to the set (a comfy cubist chair and a plastic plant on the Spotlight UB circle rug) and the creepy preshow music I put together for the occasion. That, and I kinda look like James Lipton.

Really though, I learned a lot and it was nice to hear those stories out loud. Not even the untimely death of my passenger door's power window regulator could spoil my weekend - the whole thing was quite lovely. Once I take my car to the shop tomorrow, I may bring the new lappy to campus and see if I can get some writing done. If not, I'll bring it down to the local coffee shop and make use of their free wi-fi, since mine can't be counted on these days for some reason. Masons, I suspect.

Up next is the Artichoke Haircut open mic on Thursday, and then cranking down on the sound design for Muldoon. So I'd better sleep now, methinks.

Friday, July 22, 2011

knock me your lobes

Firstly, to promote myself: I'm writing a new column for TSB Magazine (my first installment is here), and I've got a reading coming up next Thursday, the 28th, at the University of Baltimore at 7pm.

Second item: new laptop is here! I am the proud owner of a new Dell XPS, which is a huge improvement over the last Dell I had. The backlit keyboard is taking a little getting used-to, and some of the keys are in weird places, but it's a welcome addition to the home office, that's for sure.

I finished two books during my computerlessness; Mykel Hansen's Help! A Bear Is Eating Me and Ishmael Reed's Yellow Back Radio Broke Down. Both of them were short but fulfilling experimentalish works that are well worth your time.

Help! A Bear is remarkably straightforward: a high-level executive gets trapped under his SUV during a company wilderness retreat and gets partially eaten by a bear. The novel, therefore, is a surreal monologue from said executive's POV as he pops painkillers and rants about his observations, philosophies, and pain-induced hallucinations. When people I know see the cover, they always ask what the book's about, and are always surprised by my response - there's no winking irony here, only a delightful sort of lunacy that would make George Saunders proud. It's also a satisfying read, as the narrator is an unlikable yuppie asshole who gets exactly what he deserves on nearly every page, and yet somehow his physical endurance and obvious pathology make him sympathetic. Much as you may dislike his hyper-capitalistic misogyny, it's hard to really hate someone who, to judge by what he remembers of his childhood, never had much of a chance to be a decent human being.

Yellow Back Radio is a little more complicated. If Cab Calloway or Lord Buckley had written a western, it would have been this book. It concerns a voodoo-practicing black cowboy named the Loop Garoo Kid and feud with the murderous, greedy white landowner Drag Gibson. The story is told in a combination of black jazz slang and hilarious anachronism - Thomas Jefferson and Lewis & Clark both appear (as violent drunks and rapists, respectively) alongside closed-circuit television and helicopters. It's a little hard to explain. The Harvard Crimson said that the book "works the way a poker game does, depending entirely on the player's tricks, timing, and style," which is pretty accurate, so we'll go with that, but Reed is as witty as he is scattered, and his novel is one that confuses, but that's okay because the payoff is worth it.

So that's that. Back to sound design!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

is it even broad-spectrum

New laptop should be coming in tomorrow! Thank god. Having to schlep over to campus every time I need to type anything is getting old, old, old. And yes I know, first world problems etc., but it's doubly annoying when you need reliable computer access to make a living. I can't exactly send handfuls of scribbled-on notebook paper and coffeeshop napkins over the Mojo Wire in 2011, you know.

Anyway, I've been busy with tech work, first for a one-act festival at Load of Fun here in B'more, then for High Zero's Worlds In Collusion experimental music festival at Artscape. I had a nice chat with HZ organizer John Berndt about how he finds performers to book - he told me that he looks for people who cut through his cynicism and sweep him up into whatever they're doing. He likes being a fan, I think, and I just got done listening to the audiobook of John Waters' Role Models, a volume entirely dedicated to his numerous deviant fandoms - Johnny Mathis, outsider pornography, Tennessee Williams, etc.

But then Max Garner's "Sphere: The Thelonious Monk Story" has a section where Thelonious is laughing at his beatnik fans who thought he was "their Dalai Lama or something." Would he have had more respect for his white, beret-wearing fans if they'd been more detached, less obvious about how much they respected his music? Do all performers look down on their more dedicated fans, even as they feed on their support?

Speaking as an artist and a fan of other artists, I'm with the two Johns (and Patton Oswalt, who's been championing nerdery for years) - I like it when my interests excite me, even to the point where I come off looking like a mark or somehow (gasp!) uncool for it. And I think jadedness as an affectation is boring, really, even if it is considered more appropriate for working artists/writers these days.

Anyway, time to log off here and get back to my book. I finished a couple of books yesterday, and will be posting about those next time.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

fish for prizes

So I got my first bit of screenplay feedback from the Creative World Awards, and they...liked it. I don't think they completely understood it, but I got a 7.9/8 out of 10 on their scorecard and I might have a shot at advancing beyond the prelims. Go me!

I must say, the feedback I got was an interesting mix of bewildering, hilarious, and flattering. I've never gotten any kind of Hollywood insider take on my work before, so it was worth it just for that, but some of their observations were just odd, and really funny due to their neutrality. "There [is] sarcastic banter and some funny lines, which suggest this is a comedy, but then Nora gets shot in the face and this quickly becomes anything but a comedy" is a line I wish I'd written - I've been laughing about that one for days. They did give me some truly helpful advice about what to add (an extra 10-15 pages) and where, though, so I'm not just making fun of them.

My screenwriting prof was more upset than me about their inability to pin down what genre I was writing in (they think I should up the comedy, since "the author clearly has a grasp for writing that genre"), and compared it to studio suits scratching their heads about Pulp Fiction, which could be described as a dark, violent comedy. It was also written by a guy with industry cred, so I think the studios feel like crossing genres is something you need to earn.

But who cares? This was not the brutal rejection I had expected; in fact, they compared it to Smokin' Aces, which I took as a huge compliment. I loved that movie. Let's just see what happens from here.

Friday, July 8, 2011

free printable mailing labels

Been a while since I updated, eh? In my defense, my laptop died (I'm typing this on a rental from school), and I'm teching a show at Loads of Fun here in B'more, plus I've been listening to Darkbuster non-stop. My mind has been elsewhere.

But! I submitted my screenplay to the Creative World Awards, which I may have mentioned already, and my novel revision is circulating among a handful of carefully-chosen readers. With any luck, I'm not far from hurling it at publishers. In the meantime, I've started a new project that I might have time to actually work on between Artscape next weekend and my big reading on the 28th.

I'm also, sadly, beginning to understand why so much of Hunter S. Thompson's correspondence was about chasing money and settling debts. Sheesh. It's rough out there.

Friday, July 1, 2011

several things happened

As promised, here's my article about Japanese pro wrestling for Shinpai Deshou, in which my sad nerdery is laid plain for all to see.

Also, speaking of nerds, here's a tidbit from George R.R. Martin in which he talks about editing the enormous books in his current series. He refers to editing as "sweat." As unpleasant as that mental picture is, I found this passage rather useful:

"...I did my sweat. That's a technique I learned in Hollywood, where my scripts were always too long. "This is too long," the studio would say. "Trim it by eight pages." But I hated to lose any good stuff -- scenes, dialogue exchanges, bits of action -- so instead I would go through the script trimming and tightening line by line and word by word, cutting out the fat and leaving the muscle. I found the process so valuable that I've done the same with all my books since leaving LA. It's the last stage of the process. Finish the book, then go through it, cutting, cutting, cutting. It produces a tighter, stronger text, I feel. In the case of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, my sweat -- most of it performed after we announced the book's publication date but before I delivered the final chapters -- brought the page count down almost eighty pages all by itself." -- full post is here.


Now then, back to my book.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

CAPITAL LETTERS YOU GUYS

I have been guest blogging like a FIEND lately. So much so that there's no need for a picture to accompany this post because it would only distract from how IN DEMAND I am.

Over at jmww, I review Chella Courington's Girls & Women.

I have two articles up at The Lit Pub; one talking about The Chronology of Water's book trailer, and another talking about unreliable narration in Ofelia Hunt's Today & Tomorrow.

And on Friday, I'll be talking about Japanese professional wrestling over at Shinpai Deshou, a blog for both graduate and undergraduate students in the field of Japanese Studies. I'll link that post here when the time comes.

Phew. There's no shortage of me on the Internet, it would seem. There is an absolute dearth of me in the gym, however, so I'mma go rectify that now.

Friday, June 24, 2011

trying to pick out something cultural

I was going to post about the "life experience" criticism of MFA programs, and whether or not they make writers out of people with nothing to say, but I think I need to organize my thoughts a bit more before moving forward with that idea. But I do want to point out that not everyone in an MFA program is a 23-year-old urban hipster. Lots of working professionals go to grad school. My program (which, admittedly, is something of an outlier) has tons of them; I'm almost 30 and I'm on the younger end of the spectrum. Maybe that's because UB's program is a mixture of writing and graphic design, and the latter element draws from a wider pool of applicants than a place like, say, Iowa, where you're not even allowed to mention Twitter in class. Maybe more MFA programs should offer writing in conjunction with "practical" skills to draw more older people who want to write as much as they need to broaden their skillsets.

Or maybe companies that employ writers should actually pay them what they're worth, so more of us can learn through professional, instead of academic, experience.

Speaking of writing, I've got a novel to finish, so back to it. I'm so close I can almost feel the rejections in my hands, still warm from the printer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

after a detailed presentation

Wow. I got kinda political in that last post. I guess I had some things to get off my chest. And like any good hypocrite, I shall descend from my soapbox to point derisively at someone who just ascended to theirs - Ruth Fowler just fucking unhinges on the fact that a young MFA graduate's boring novel won the Orange Prize. It's a pretty brutal write-up. Tea Obreht might want to change her locks or something.

The basic gist of Fowler's rage is that Obreht is too young and mediocre and academic to win contests, and that this state of affairs is almost an insult to "writers like Nabokov: those who hadn't spent five years learning how to put a fucking sentence together, but instead wrote with their guts." Uh.

First of all, Nabokov's writing was boring and overly technical and all about engaging the brain, which puts him in direct conflict with the point Fowler is trying to make. Steinbeck is a better example of the gut, if she's looking for writers who probably died before she was born and are therefore permissible appeals to the Canon.

Second of all, how does she know Nabokov didn't spend five years learning how to put sentences together? I've said before that MFA programs have become a popular, if controversial, way for writers to blossom because all the other ways of learning it - advertising, journalism, publishing, etc. - aren't hiring nearly as much as they used to, and in some cases are actively declining. Blame them before you shit on an entire generation of kids who just want to get better at what they love to do. Is Fowler's own MA in English Lit. more valuable or earned because she had to strip for a while in Manhattan?

Not that everything Fowler says is invalid. "Astonishingly pretentious bullshit" and "fawning idiocy" both abound in the literary sphere, and first novels by young authors who've been in school for their entire adult lives thus far are always rocky efforts. Mine probably is too, despite all my efforts in revision to not come off like a know-it-all, and I at least spent a couple of years freelancing in the real world between college and grad school. But that's not even where the focus should be. The Great Novelists of Yesteryear didn't pluck ideas out of the aether - they had to learn through seeking out guidance just like the rest of us, and they often had better ways of doing so available to them. Fowler's either ignoring that or she's too high on her own bitterness to see it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

which distractions of the common man do you enjoy

David --

Gah! You scared me!

I've set aside time for four supporters like you to join me for dinner.

O...kay.

Most campaigns fill their dinner guest lists primarily with Washington lobbyists and special interests. We didn't get here doing that, and we're not going to start now. We're running a different kind of campaign. We don't take money from Washington lobbyists or corporate PACs -- we never have, and we never will.

No, you just give them jobs in your administration. All the dirt you've been kicking up around Elizabeth Warren has made that painfully clear.

We rely on everyday Americans giving whatever they can afford -- and I want to spend time with a few of you.

...is anyone else getting a sex vibe from this? I half expect him to appear over my shoulder and refill my wine glass without asking.

So if you make a donation today, you'll be automatically entered for a chance to be one of the four supporters to sit down with me for dinner. Please donate $75 or more today. We'll pay for your flight and the dinner -- all you need to bring is your story and your ideas about how we can continue to make this a better country for all Americans.

Pfft, I'll give you those right now. Regulate the banks and health insurance companies (price controls for the latter), forgive student loan debt, allow states to enforce their own usury laws, and roll back the "state secrets" expansion you've been abusing for the past couple of years. It's a longshot to ask you to raise taxes on the obscenely wealthy (even a Nixon-era tax rate would suffice), but I sure would appreciate it since trickle-down economics is total bullshit that doesn't work. Oh, and blowing less money on defense contracting projects that no one wants would sure put a smile on my face. Not that you'd ever see it, because a) you won't do any of that, and b) even if I got to have dinner with you, I wouldn't be allowed to bring up any of this stuff without the Secret Service boxing up my food and tossing me out on my face.


This won't be a formal affair. It's the kind of casual meal among friends that I don't get to have as often as I'd like anymore, so I hope you'll consider joining me. But I'm not asking you to donate today just so you'll be entered for a chance to meet me. I'm asking you to say you believe in the kind of politics that gives people like you a seat at the table -- whether it's the dinner table with me or the table where decisions are made about what kind of country we want to be.

Yep, definitely getting that sex vibe. This is the sort of phrasing you hear from husbands taking their wives out because they feel guilty about cheating on them. Which, honestly, is pretty apropos of the Left's relationship with Obama right about now. He seriously thinks we're all one champagne flute away from forgiving him for jailing all those whistleblowers.

It starts with a gift of whatever you can afford. Please make a donation of $75 today, and we'll throw your name in the hat for the upcoming dinner. I've said before that I want people like you to shape this campaign from the very beginning

Oh really? You could have turned your Team Obama campaign centers into organizational hubs for Democratic community service projects and actually put all that energy your campaign generated to good use. Or you could have kept them all open as campaign centers, since you've spent your entire first term as president begging me for money and giving high-level government jobs to every banking executive in your Rolodex, presumably to shore up campaign funds for 2012. Buy your own votes, you rich asshole.

and this is a chance for four people to share their ideas directly with me.

Hope to see you soon,
Barack

Fuck you. Sir. I'll see myself out.

Monday, June 13, 2011

the purchasing, renting and building of furniture

So now that I've finished my screenplay, I'm going to enter it into some contests once I pull some submission fee money together. I also made a movie poster for my screenplay, just because. I'm not Saul Bass or anything, but I think it turned out okay.


Monday, June 6, 2011

welcome to the dahl-house

Interesting discussions going on at The Lit Pub these days - Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water is not only a work of nigh-unprecedented emotional openness, it's inspiring some pretty revelatory feedback from the people commenting on Molly Gaudry's conversations with Lidia. I joined in on a different conversation about pen names, in response to Ofelia Hunt talking about whether or not her pen name is just a pseudonym or another persona entirely (link is here).

My point, which I accidentally posted twice because I'm an idiot, was that names strike a really peculiar chord with people. Using a false name can make them feel tricked, having a "writerly name" (especially if it's a first-middle/middle initial-last name combo) encourages them to take you seriously, and having a non-writerly name (like Dave K., for instance) apparently tells the world that you need to change your name to something writerly, and that they should convince you of this. That's what my experience has been, anyway. And I know people mean well, but (paraphrasing from the TLP discussion here) do I really have to bend my own goddamned name to the whims of marketability instead of just going by what’s comfortable for me? That's a level of opportunism that even I'm wary of, which is saying a lot.

On a different topic, it seems as though Roald Dahl was something of a Jew-hating, racist lunatic. People never react well to the personal failings of children's authors, but my generation seems particularly unwilling to accept Dahl's lesser qualities, to judge by the comments. Frankly, I'm not surprised - Dahl clearly had a screw loose, which is what made his writing so much fun. That and, according to the article, careful editing.

But seriously, have you read Boy? Dahl spent his formative years getting the shit caned out of him by sadistic weirdos in boarding school. Between that and the abysmal social attitudes of the 1920s, it's a wonder he turned out as well as he did. Fact is, deeply screwed up people often produce great art, sometimes for audiences completely at odds with their personalities. That's one of the frustrating and wonderful things about art, ya know? I shake my head at what an awful person he was, yes, but I don't see the point in getting too upset about it otherwise since he's been dead for years now.

All right, enough chatter. Back to work.

Monday, May 30, 2011

now you're on the trolley

My typically scattershot media intake has led to an unusual connection between David Foster Wallace and professional wrestler/comedian Colt Cabana - cabbaging free food. DFW spoke highly of the practice in his "Up, Simba" essay about McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, and also in his Harper's piece about the Indiana State Fair (the point-proving quote having to do with using his press credentials to stop by the Dessert Tents and eat free samples until he was carried out on a gurney). Cabana, a professional wrestler by trade, lives on the road and is well-known for his money-saving carnyisms, which include selling literally everything he possibly can at his merch table, stealing toilet paper from hotels and airports, and soliciting Subway gift cards from fans of his hilarious podcast, The Art of Wrestling. He brings it up a fair amount with the guys he interviews, and anyone who was on Wrestling Society X with him fondly recalls abusing the neighboring show's catering (pretty sure it was Monk).

I too know the appeal of free vittles thanks to years spent in theatre and A/V support. People in certain lines of work, namely the arts and the low-end service industry, don't get a lot of perks. Lousy pay, no benefits, no real job security, precious little respect from anyone higher up the food chain even if they're depending on your help, and so on. We're made to feel utterly expendable and simultaneously reminded that we're lucky to have jobs at all. Which is true, and sad. It also explains why a lot of artists, especially touring ones, stoop to levels of thrift and hucksterism that are as ridiculous as they are kind of admirable. Not that I support outright stealing from people, but I do understand that unstable jobs require a certain amount of imagination - one must make one's own rewards at times. Punk rock's DIY ethic was built on this very thing, albeit with a stronger moral foundation. And even then, Get In the Van shows how far some guys were willing to go to save money.

I'm rambling, so I'll end here before this post becomes completely rudderless, but I guess the point is that I've been semi-consciously collecting and enjoying tales of undignified thrift, perhaps to lend some credibility to my own. And as research, most likely.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

no picture will fit this post

I wrote another piece for the always-excellent LOOP e-newsletter: this one's about one of my college roommates. I think Lauren's introductions to each issue are getting funnier every week, and it's nice to exercise the ol' non-fiction voice a bit.

And now, a short snippet from the novel:

 “I don't read that shit,” the cashier replied.

To be followed by a slightly longer snippet from my roommate story:

Living by yourself is seriously the best possible set-up. If you think otherwise, it’s because you’re some kind of weird mutant extrovert who should be biting the heads off chickens in the circus.

Elsewhere, Blake Butler talks about music and drinks gin.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

of great value to the community

"We don’t need critics obsessed with the real, or with whether the novel is alive or dead. We need critics willing to look at the novels that are already out there, going about their business, quietly making the future of literature, whether “we” like it or not."
--taken from Jess Row's The Novel Is Not Dead

"In order to prevent the fabric of elite art society from being torn apart by the rampant proliferation of the contemporary artist, a specific modus operandi must be introduced into the institutional framework of art schools so as to control and shape the former’s behaviour and functional purpose. That is, through systematic inculcation of the institution’s ethos contemporary artists are manufactured en masse as purveyors of meaninglessness, instruments of obfuscation that safeguard and conceal the locus of the elite from the bewildered eyes of the vapid, homogenous masses."
--taken from David McGill's The Death of Modern Art

Have fun with all that. I got some very encouraging feedback on the finished draft of my screenplay (and considering what inspired it, that's no small thing), and the novel is humming along nicely. Creatively speaking, life's pretty good right now.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

those twin engines of all

So yeah, I finished Jane Borden's I Totally Meant to Do That recently, and because my own life is incredibly dull and full of apathy and pantslessness/frenzied productivity that I can't put into words, I will talk about this book. I actually bought it from her when she read from it at Atomic Books, and was pleasantly surprised to find that she's from my hometown. My write-up of the event kinda turned into a book review, so I'll try not to pull too much from it.

Jane's book is pretty much a memoir based around the transition from her debutante North Carolina upbringing (where my Catholic family wouldn't have been welcome) to her current semi-hipsterish life in NYC. Books like this get written all the time, but Jane is actually funny, which makes the familiar premise much easier to get into. It's also amusing to me that her parents wouldn't let her go anywhere near UNCG or Guilford College, while I spent a lot of time in those areas as a sullen black-clothes-wearing asshole teenager. Anyway, DigBoston.com's review of this book calls it "a crisis of location," which is exactly what's happening here - Jane spends a lot of time trying to figure out which culture she belongs to, searching for pieces of one in the other, and interestingly presents NYC as a city full of classless hedonists compared to the more elegant South of her youth. Given the South's cultural legacy in this country, that's a nice inversion of stereotypes on Jane's part.

I also, finally, finished The Intuitionist, which I skimmed in college and always wanted to go back and read again. It was Colson Whitehead's first novel, and it's excellent, creating an urban noir atmosphere fueled by the labyrinthine politics of elevator manufacturing and inspection, which are also an allegory for racial uplift. Whitehead's talent is creating a truly speculative setting that feels strange and unreal, but also plausible. In a world where speculative fiction = gimmicky nerd-pandering most of the time, his approach is really nice to see. He also commands a lot of vivid imagery throughout, even in sections that feel a little expository or overwritten - rush hour traffic doesn't always need a metaphor, ya know? But that's a minor quibble, and I think I'll be reading Sag Harbor, his most recent novel, once I get through some other ones.

And, y'know, once I bash my own novel into shape. It's getting there - a few troublesome characters are smoothing out, and I've gotten some good work in this week, with more to come. Progress!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

glass under human teeth

My semester is done! The screenplay is turned in, the final graphic design project has been graded, and now I have the summer to finish revising the novel and get some other projects doing. Finally. I was beginning to think I'd never see this day.

I also contributed some more artwork to The Light Ekphrastic, where I was paired with awesome experimental poet Catherine Maire. I'm not what you'd call a brilliant artist, but I did the best I could and messed around with two different styles - the first image is hand-drawn (and badly photographed), while the second is a digital collage.

Also, I sent my buddy Lavinia Ludlow a .pdf copy of Gouts of Angry Mist - her response-blurb is on my Praise... page with the others. And I might be a featured reader at Artichoke Haircut's next reading here in Harm City - I read during the open mic portion of their last event, and they must have liked me, because one of their editors offered it to me on the spot. More updates on that as they occur.

Now then, sleep! I'll post about Jane Borden's book, which I just finished, next time around.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

no photography please

I attended, by way of teching, my MFA program's graduate reading last night. It was awesome. There were 18 of them reading selections from the books they put together this semester, and not a single time did my attention stray from the stage. Same with the audience - we were all riveted because they're all so good. They've set a high standard to meet, for sure. I also bought some of their books, which I'll be reviewing here as I finish them.

Now then, back to entertaining my mother, who's visiting for the weekend, before tromping into work on Sunday of all fucking days to do lights for the Heifetz Institute. Joy.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

just how the fragments work

Books! I have finished some while procrastinating on editing my own.

The Disinformation Phase, Chris Toll.
Great stuff here. Chris' poetry is full of addictive word games (lots of "who put the [word] in the [larger word]") and odd/charming images. I kept picturing the scenic artwork from Machinarium while I read this book, which is a pairing I don't fully understand yet. Maybe it's because Chris' poems hint at a communicative dystopia without losing the twinkle in their eye. Or something. I could just be weird.

alt.punk, by Lavinia Ludlow
Be warned, there is a lot of barf and semen in this book. Not physically in the book itself, but in the story of a germ-phobic suburbanite whose journey towards independence (for good or ill) means unshackling herself from the various controls over her life - her mother, her job, her fears. Naturally, this process has to involve numerous bodily fluids. Like any punk band worth remembering, alt.punk plays too fast and too hard and exhausts itself at points throughout, but the book's charm lies in all that effort, that sheer cussedness. And the parallel stories of the main character's developing self-reliance and her budding rock star boyfriend's plummet into complete dependence don't get lost in the telling - rather, they shine because of it. I really enjoyed this, and I'm proud of my friend for writing it.

Hush Up and Listen Stinky Poo Butt, Ken Sparling
Bought this at AWP and had a couple of false starts before diving in - I think the micro-episodic scene structure intimidated me or something. I also know jack all squat about parenting, which is the focus of this book. But Sparling knows how to build tension in small, subtle movements, and the main character's mounting frustration with having to be "on" all the time, his distant relationship with his wife, and his ranting private arguments with the author/himself assemble themselves as a surprisingly riveting narrative. The ending is a little sudden and flags in comparison to the middle and near-end of the rest of the novel, but this is still one of the most interesting books I've read in a long time, both for style and content.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

contrary to the others

Apologies for the lack of updates - this semester is dragging its belly towards the finish line, leaving me with precious little time to do much more than homework and empty my cat's litter box. But I do have a few random thoughts that I may expand in future postings if I remember/feel like it/am not dead or crazy from exhaustion by then.

People have FEELINGS about memoirs. It's probably a bad sign that whenever I hear the word memoir I think of vacuous celebrity ghostwriter jobs or boring hipsters waxing on about their bad relationships and wacky relatives. Especially because there are a couple of memoirs that I really like, namely Mick Foley's 500-page whale of a book that I bought the day it came out and still revisit today. Good/bad memoirs and good/bad novels share a lot of the same characteristics, so maybe the issue is that I find "memoirists" in writing programs to be extremely off-putting and just project that feeling onto memoirs as a whole.

This future/death of the novel stuff needs to stop for a while. It's just navel-gazing at this point, since no one really has any idea how to answer the question beyond a few limp intellectual poses.

Chris Toll's The Disinformation Phase is a damn fine book of poems. I'll definitely have more on that later, but yeah. Good book.

I thought I had more than this. Oh well. Back to the screenplay, I s'pose.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

the decor is almost comically bad

Yup, another poem. I think it's getting weird too. But I misheard some song lyrics in the car on the drive home tonight, and this came out.

title: kissing is weird

when every pressure point
engages close to your lips
from your toe tips
lifting your heels
off the tile and your
abductor hallucis stretches
medially along the border
of the soul as those
flexors wax and wane
you think we shouldn't
but we do
and we can't
but we do
and we don't
but we do
we do
we do
we do
we do
we do

Friday, April 15, 2011

i love my generic liberal paradise

Since I have nothing of substance to post right this second, but feel the need to update after a week of silence, here's a little something in honor of Poetry Month, to which I have contributed jackshit up until this moment. Also, no goofy picture this time, since nothing I have will format properly. Such is life.

title: i bet it's hormonal

went downtown on a friday
walking around with my head
hung down eating burgers
like i feel like steve mcqueen
would have: low labor jacket
left unbuttoned, lean stomach
howling like the wolves at
his doorstep.

fleet street's wet. i like
how night light spreads
across water, across the
standing puddles that ripple
to the rhythm of our feet. the
stereo signal indicators of
modern urban living.

walked into a pizza place that
looked like a homeless man's
mouth but their pizza was the
best i'd ever put into mine.

back wandering the halls of the
night time, leaning on a lean railing
over the water. salt presses the air
well and the pier lights form amoebas
in the tide as it projects its winnings.

i caught a quesadilla cart as it was
withdrawing from fell's point and ate
a quesadilla. it had chorizo and
cheese and mushrooms in it. each
mushroom was a balloon bursting on
my tongue.

i watched two blond people
hold hands and
watch the water and
i wondered why i was
so hungry all of a sudden.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

like a smudged nose orphan

Quick update: my good buddy Lauren, who went to Gettysburg with me, has started up an online newsletter/journal called LOOP (the name makes fun of Gwyneth Paltrow somehow), and the first issue went live today. I'm in it, telling a 200-word "first" story about my old car. The story right after mine, written by Nikki Metzgar, was hilarious enough to be the source of this post's title.

In other writing news, I finally made a breakthrough on both my novel and my screenplay, which had each been stalled for too long. The screenplay needs to be done next month for class, so that's the priority at this point, but I've been saying that I want the novel ready to shop around by the end of this year, so it's nice to finally make some progress towards that goal again.

Off to work.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

i am trying to connect

What Weekly's write-up of this month's WORMS reading, in which I participated, is up on their website. Huzzah! I included a very nice thing they said about me in the Praise section of this blog, but do read the whole thing. Rupert, Chris, and Buck are very good writers and readers and people. What Weekly runs a professional ship too, it seems, so hats off to them as well.

I think I promised to talk about why I love Baltimore so much, despite its inescapable numerous glaring flaws, and WORMS gives body to part of what I like about this place - the very real and artistic weirdness that grips the entire city. Baltimore is not a place of false neuroses, so pretense is really obvious here. Artists here seem very keen to start things - readings, showings, galleries, unorthodox living room music spaces, etc. - and give themselves and others an opportunity to display their craft. Which is impressive in a city whose lines between good and bad areas are notoriously abrupt, whose resources in general are scarce, and whose reputation doesn't provide much incentive for other people to take us seriously. There's a lot of art and literature here, folks, and the community behind it is the first anything I've actually wanted to join in years.

So there, that's one reason I love it here. And I think it's a pretty good one.

Monday, March 28, 2011

the definition of ugly

So it seems that Baltimore is a depressed, ugly, angry city. That is to say, it ranks highly on lists measuring these qualities within cities - we usually lose to Detroit, but once that poor 'burg rejungles itself into marshland, Baltimore will officially be a miserable place to live. Joy.

While I do love this place, I admit that we're not a sterling example of community spirit. Many people who live here are crazy, or scared of the crazies, and there's no shortage of asshole DC commuters who only live here because it's cheap. Many city residents hate the taxes, and I guess I'm with them, but only because we don't see much for all the nickel-and-diming we have to endure. In fact, the only real evidence that our money isn't just being shoveled into a giant hole is road construction that takes forever and screws up traffic patterns for months on end.

A lot of this anger gets channeled into our driving - Maryland has some of the worst drivers in the country, which I again credit to DC commuters who overestimate their own importance and drive like they're chasing the Duke boys across county lines. Lots of aggressive merges, lane changes without signaling, tailgating, coasting in the middle lanes of three-lane highways, etc. It's awful. I've gotten to the point where I slow down in highway merge areas because I'm expecting at least one car to spit out in front of me as soon as the lines breaks apart. This has not made me a popular motorist in states like Pennsylvania, where people generally observe the social contract of driving and don't understand why I'm so paranoid.

None of this has anything to do with writing or literature or design, but I do live here and I do like it most of the time, so I felt like I had the right to throw in my two cents. Perhaps in my next post, I'll explain why I like living in this godforsaken post-industrial carcass. But for now, I have opera to tech.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

i just walked in on this

Spring break is chugging right along. I am sleeping late and spending many pantsless hours working on various projects. Actually having time to catch up with my own schedule is rather nice.

The always-insightful Roxane Gay posted something about self-publishing, which is obviously of interest to me, over at HTMLGiant. She makes the case that a lot of self-published writers go that route because they dislike the traditional publishing industry and, perhaps as a symptom of their distrust, cannot accept the risk of hearing "no" when they submit their work. There's certainly truth to that, and to her later comment that some writers are more impatient in getting a book out there than they are willing to make sure it's a really good one. It's always weird to see people try and figure out largely self-published authors, though, because they're always discussed like some weird species of butterfly pinned under glass. Where did it come from? What did it eat? etc.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

an aesthetic appreciation for bad taste

Wednesday's WORMS reading was a big success! The crew from What Weekly were on hand to take pictures and such, and they'll be writing it up soon - I'll link their article here when the time comes. I read "Harrison Ford Is Naked," which was a good foot to put forward. That piece benefits from being read aloud, and a couple of people in attendance thought it was real, which is not an uncommon response, believe it or not. I'm amused by that, but also very complimented. There's a real sense of community at WORMS, which I think is a dual product of the crowd and the setting (the Bell Foundry is an unlikely spot for literature, but a very welcoming one).

I also need to talk about Mike Topp's Sasquatch Stories, since I've read it a few times now and have some idea of what to say about it. Sasquatch Stories is basically a collection of miniature poems, one-liners, and jokes whose components are all dependent on one another. It's kind of like Harryette Mullen's Recyclopedia in that respect; the pieces in Topp's book all need the context of the entire collection to be fully understood.

That said, Sasquatch Stories is really funny, devoid of pretense, and alternately goofy and witty when the situation calls for it. It's fun in a way that literary work often avoids, but still showcases Topp as a guy who thinks all the time and applies that gift to his observations. I'm also a big fan of the cover illustration, supplied by Tao Lin. In the interests of full disclosure, I did the initial layout for this book (Topp and Adam Robinson took it from there), so I have a somewhat unique relationship to the work, but I liked it then and I like it now.

Right. Now to write some and then go to sleep.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

a running partner in dog form

Bolstered by the fact that I didn't get raked over the coals in graphic design class, I post! But not about graphic design. I went to see Jessica Blau read at my school. Her agent, Joanne Brownstein Jarvi, came along to answer questions about how a book gets from a weird itch in an author's head to an actual physical object, with a cover and such. There really needs to be a song covering this process. I mean, half the reason anyone knows how a bill becomes a law is because of Schoolhouse Rock.

Anyway, Jessica read some sex scenes, which sounded like bad/hilarious porn, from her latest book, Drinking Closer to Home, and then joined her agent for the Q&A. One story that stands out is Jessica being invited out for drinks by her publisher, which turned out to be her introduction to the sales team behind her first book. Awkward.

For the most part, people were curious about how much publishers actually read and how possible it is to squirm into the business as a new author, which is the standard line of questioning for events like this. It's good stuff to know, and Joanne was engaging and honest, but the whole process of big-league publishing comes across like a huge NYC cocktail party nightmare (and for the record, so does graphic design). For all of the small press community's warts, I'm really glad it exists to somewhat counteract that kind of atmosphere. Given that the odds of me actually succeeding at this line of work are, uh, slim, I'd much prefer a casual atmosphere in which to fail, instead of the desperate corporatism that major-house publishing inherited from the music industry.

WORMS reading tomorrow night. Working all goddamned day before that. It can be done, amigo.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

someone has sent me a bowel movement

Quick update: I was the projectionist for a John Waters double feature last Friday, and Mink Stole hosted it (for the unaware, she's been in all of John's movies, most notably as Connie Marble in Pink Flamingos). I was pretty sure that Mink was either going to be a real delight, an utter lunatic, or a delusional B-movie superstar, but I did not expect her to be as nice and welcoming as she was. She answered fan questions between films and was just the nicest person on Earth, and very proud of the work she'd done with John and elsewhere. Most people, even the cool ones, would have been embarrassed in Mink's shoes, looking back at some of the stuff she'd done, but Mink totally owned it and was just awesome.

She also, upon seeing the "I <3 Vaginas" shirt* that I wore for the occasion, told me that "oh hey, I have a vagina!" Sometimes my job is great, is what I'm trying to say.


*My alma mater's Women's Center had them made when they put on The Vagina Monologues one year, and I bought one. I kinda had to, ya know?

Monday, March 7, 2011

human centipede was terrible just fyi

Antibiotics are the best thing about being a privileged first-worlder. My sore throat is gone, so now I feel human enough to let it be known that on March 16th, this will happen:


















More info here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

there's a perception of what the writers are

Siiiiiiiiiiick. I'm working my way through a cold right now, hence my silence - all I've done for the past few days is go to class, sleep, and pack my face full of medicine while begging the universe to kill me. So far, nothing. Damned indifferent cosmos.

Anyway, I also redesigned Weak Creature Press' logo, so go to their Facebook page and sing your praises to Winston, the WCP bison. Also buy their books, because WCP puts out some cool stuff.

On the subject of writing, Dave Lagana's Formerly Creative podcast is a real treasure - Dave used to write for the WWE, and he has a lot of interesting discussions with other ex-creative team members that chronicle the most demanding, stressful writing job on the planet. Despite the specific focus of his podcast (writing for the largest professional wrestling organization in the world/working for an insane out-of-touch megalomaniac), Dave and his guests have a lot to say about professional writing and writing for television, which are two ways for writers to make a living that lie beyond academia. They're not often part of the endless dialogue about the future of American letters, but maybe they should be.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

mort, the fern from neptune



Man, busy busy busy over here. But not with anything terribly interesting, just schoolwork and reading when I can and redesigning Weak Creature Press' logo. I've hit a snag on that last item, so I'm taking a break to watch The Human Centipede and recharge. In the meantime, since I have nothing meaningful to post but still need to show initiative and update, here's a video that has changed my life.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

they did at this one

Finally broke some new ground on The Novel two nights ago, and bought some new movies to inspire this semester's plunge into screenwriting. I got a set of four Steve McQueen movies and a mammoth box set of cheap exploitation horror movies. I also found out that Seven Doors of Death is an alternate title of The Beyond, a legendary Fulci gorefest that I only recently pulled off the shelf and watched. I'll admit to not having a huge investment in horror films beyond thinking they're fun and entertaining and often extremely stupid, so I liked Seven Doors/The Beyond on a much more superficial level than someone with actual opinions about Fulci vs. Argento. At some point I'll have to see The Human Centipede to sate my horrible, horrible curiosity for things that no human being should see.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

a variety of services

It occurred to me, as I was writing up my review of Kafka on the Shore, that I'd forgotten to mention another book on here that I'd finished earlier, and that I have a special relationship with - Mike Young's We Are All Good If They Try Hard Enough. I proofread this book, to the extent one can proofread experimental poetry, and snatched up a copy at the Indie Lit Roadshow back in December. It has enjoyed a place of honor in my toilet-side book basket since then, which is meant to reflect positively on its quality.

Young's work can best be described as "goofball poetic rants," composed as if he had so many awesome sentences pouring out of his brain that he couldn't arrange them into any kind of logical order. What I'm saying is that his poems don't often make sense, at least not to me, but I'm also saying that he's good enough at shotgunning ideas to get away with it. As a fiction writer, I try to keep a certain amount of weird abstract poetry around for inspiration, and We Are All Good If They Try Hard Enough is exactly the kind of book that does the trick. Since I met Young at AWP, I figured I'd better say something about his book here since I got such a kick out of it.

I also recently finished Ben Tanzer's You Can Make Him Like You, a novel that shares its name with a song by the Hold Steady (I think). I can't say much about the Hold Steady, but I did really enjoy this book, and it reminded me that you don't have to beat people over the head with purposely difficult language to get them invested in/challenged by your work. I do take issue with the reviews mentioning how saturated with pop culture the book is, because it's much more genuine than that. "Pop Culture" books are usually insufferable, brand name-dropping turds that laugh at their own jokes too much, and You Can Make Him Like You is miles above that classification in terms of delivery and content - in fact, it makes the incredibly difficult process of developing and maintaining a character arc look easy and graceful, in the same way that Timothy Willis Sanders does when he's on point.

With those done, I've started Ishmael Reed's Yellow Back Radio Broke Down, which is like a Western told by Cab Calloway, and I'm sure I'll start another book before too long. But before I get carried away, I should go move my car before it gets ticketed.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

reading is pretty basic stuff

So AWP was awesome. I went down to DC with some friends from the program on Saturday and spent an entire day among fellow lit. nerds, publishers, and aspiring authors, to the point of getting both dehydrated and lost in AWP's cavernous bookfair, which took up the entire lower level of the Marriott Wardman-Park Hotel. I did get a lot of cool swag out of it, though, including lots of discounted books from people who marked out over my impressive mustache. I really should have grown this thing out years ago. I also met, and got books signed by, Chimamanda Adichie, Colson Whitehead, and Claudia Rankine, who also got a copy of Gouts of Angry Mist from me since it was partially inspired by her book, Don't Let Me Be Lonely. All three of them were really nice and seemed genuinely happy to be there.

Also worth noting: the first journal that ever published me - Front Porch Journal - had a table at AWP and gave me a free tote bag when I told them who I was. I think both sides of that conversation got warm fuzzies.

I also finished Kafka on the Shore yesterday, and am still processing it. Murakami's style is an interesting synthesis of magical realism and plainspoken slice-of-life routine, and he has said that this book needs to be read more than once to fully understand it. That actually makes sense, and I may pick it up again later because I'm not fully satisfied by it just yet. Murakami is notoriously fuzzy on the details of his books and rarely answers questions about what they mean, which is fine, but in some ways I think that's his way of covering his ass for not always putting much effort into resolving loose plot/character ends. Some of the characters' "ah-ha" moments in Kafka just don't feel earned, like they run parallel when the narrative claims they intersect.

But it's also true that Kafka hooked me on Murakami's voice and tone, which are as approachable as his content is dense and dreamlike. His pacing is slow, but he makes it work by drawing the reader into his characters' routines to the point where we become invested in them, and we care when things change. In artistic terms, he's not so much a precise pen-and-inker as much as a loose, cerebral watercolorist, creating just enough of a distinct image to draw the eye while leaving plenty open for interpretation.

Right then. Time to get myself together in time for tonight's Super Bowl party, in which I shall root against the Steelers and play B-Movie Card Game with my friends.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

no stopping in the white zone

So I finally got an idea for a screenplay. I have to write a 110-pg. spec script for my Screenwriting class over the course of the semester, and I was initially worried because I had nothing to bring to the table. The textbook for this class, The Screenwriter's Bible, wasn't much help, but reading through some screenplays and seeing the formatting put me in the right headspace for it. There's a much greater, more immediate visual element to a screenplay than there is to a novel or a play, and balancing that with more traditional storytelling elements like plot arcs and characters will be a challenge.

Also helping me out is a clear idea of what I don't want to write. I find a lot of creative inspiration in B-movies and cult films, which sounds like a hipsterish thing to say, but hear me out. A movie like Project: Kill, for all its warts, is much more inspiring than Shawshank Redemption (which I also like) because the latter had every advantage going for it - money, equipment, star power, etc. It's hard for me to root for something that has so many blessings. B-movies are made from what's left over; older, has-been stars, veteran character actors, grotesques, and new actors who haven't met the right people yet. It's a much more interesting dynamic than mainstream Hollywood movies where everyone is blandly pretty and often rich to boot. That doesn't make me want to create the way The Warriors or even Surf Nazis Must Die does.

Oh, and I'm closing in on the end of Kafka On the Shore, so I'll post a review when I get there. The book itself is very flawed, but it's hooked me on Murakami's writing.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

they are lost to us now

Apologies for the delay - school and work started up again this week, so my time has been limited. Or was until today, when the snow got me out of a meeting and might get me out of class tomorrow.
Tuesday night was my first proper graphic design class, and I think I'm going to enjoy it. It's a mid-level course, so expectations are higher than they have been, but I think the other classes I've taken (namely Typography) have prepared me to meet them.

Anyway, I finished Flash for Freedom! this week, and overall it was good, but the ending was a little abrupt. A few of the novels in the Flashman series have this issue, but this one was in a huge rush to wrap things up, speeding through what could have been a really funny courtroom scene and depriving the reader of a confrontation between Flashman and his shitheel father-in-law that had been building throughout the entire book. Maybe Fraser was under a deadline or something, but it felt cheap in the way that the ending to Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym felt cheap.

Oh well. Win some, lose some. It's not like I don't have jillions of other books to occupy me this winter. Speaking of, I have to write/edit two of them. Back to work!