Saturday, December 8, 2012

sometimes they don't stop for anything

Kurt Vonnegut was kind of a dick, as it turns out. A new biography by Charles Shields paints a picture of Vonnegut as a bitter, depressed man with a vicious temper born from survivor's guilt and family trauma, and it's really rattling the agreed-upon perception of Vonnegut as Literature's Frumpy Grandpa.

Or not. I mean, most of the authors we love, or have heard of, are famous for being complicated and dark. Roald Dahl, for example. Flannery O'Connor, although that's not much of a surprise to anyone familiar with her work. W.E.B. DuBois was a major-league asshole, and yet his work has endured and the world is better for it.

What bugs me about these kinds of discussions is the underlying assumption that the darker elements of someone's personality are the only true ones, and that everything else about them is a lie, and/or a shallow attempt to win us over for some other (usually financial) reason. I mean, look, Vonnegut was a POW during the Dresden firebombing, and he was part of the prison labor that collected and disposed of the bodies. Is it really a huge shock that he had trouble getting close to people, that he was depressed, that he was angry? Add in the difficulties of being a working writer, even back then, and whatever darkness Vonnegut had in him makes total sense.

I spend a lot of time thinking about art's ability to redeem. James Brown, for example, was a pretty terrible person--abusive husband, drug addict, temperamental workaholic--but his music was the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement and he prevented a riot in Boston after MLK was shot by performing a free concert there. His artistic legacy was ultimately positive, despite what a fucked-up guy he was on a personal level.

So what is the truth about James Brown? Was he a deeply flawed man who still managed to leave the world better than he found it, or was he a mean, sexist shitsock who just happened to write some good songs? And how does all this apply to Vonnegut, or anyone else whose public face contrasts so sharply with his/her private one? Clearly I have no idea, but I think it's worth asking those questions before joining the rush to judge and feel betrayed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

do away with being liked

Welp, NaNoWriMo is over and I reached my 35k word limit, so I'm feeling proud of myself. Kinda wish I'd made it to the official 50k mark, but whatever. I didn't have that many words, which is okay. Again, if Ken Sparling can get away with topping his novels out around 35k words, so can I.

Also, it looks like I'm being published in both Seltzer and Expresso Ink in the coming months, which is pretty awesome. I'll supply links when those things are made official, of course.

I'm also thinking about Twitter and whether or not I should join up. My buddy Justin Sanders is having a lot of fun with it, and so are plenty of other writers, but they also lead much more interesting lives than mine. I briefly considered a Tumblr account as well, but don't worry, I won't be getting one of those any time soon. Tumblr's social justice community is a living nightmare and I'm getting sick of all those .gif blogs run by selfish alcoholic grad students.

I might sign up for Twitter, though. We'll see.

Monday, November 26, 2012

a small group of guys with limited resources

Since I'm working on a short novel right now (well, two short novels), I was pleased to see someone rise to their defense. Specifically, a Bookslut review of César Aira's The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira isn't really about that specific book as much as short books in general.

The reviewer sees long books, which he doesn't pin down to a concrete measurement but let's just say they're anything above 500 pages, as either overpopulated, overwritten perversions of Dostoevsky or "endless, sentimental, middleclass novels of domestic interaction," and goes on to say that "often you see material perhaps sufficient for a five-page story stretched to six hundred of the soporific best." Ouch.

I do agree though, at least for the most part. A lot of long books seem artificially long, as if they're a result of the author showing off more than actually crafting a narrative, and a lot of them tend to hold the reader's hand through the plot and character developments, which requires pages of summary and exposition and people sitting in chairs remembering things. Not that those are automatic signs of poor storytelling, but in the wrong hands they can be boring as hell.

My friend Timmy Reed has said that he enjoys shorter books because he can reread them and keep learning from them, and Michael Kimball told Moonshot that short books are more tense, and that his latest book, Big Ray, was short because he "decided to cut out lots of unnecessary material and description—all that set up and explanation," and that he "didn’t want any of the filler that [he] read in so many other books." The last Ken Sparling book I read was only around 35k words, and that guy's awesome, and both Timmy and Michael are at their best (which is damn good) when they employ minimalism.

Unfortunately, the Bookslut review ends up beating the anti-MFA drum by saying that MFA programs encourage bland, conservative writing and that only a few writers can be truly great and blah blah blah, but their defense of leaner books is still one worth reading and considering.

It's also worth noting that even short novels take a long-ass time to write. Just saying.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

not always pure blacks and whites

Finished Justin Sirois' and Haneen Alshujairy's Falcons on the Floor a couple of days ago, and I must say, I have to applaud them for writing a war novel that, much like Chimamanda Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun, isn't a polemic or a Dad-was-right confirmation of the status quo. To quote the Rumpus' review, Falcons has a "single-minded focus on the damage done to civil life by war, the negation of the social."

Actually, you should go ahead and read what the Rumpus had to say about this book, because their take on it is far more articulate than mine. All I will add is that this book, through the characters of Salim and Khalil, captures what it's like to try and keep one's life simple and small and coherent when extenuating circumstances (war, in this case) stretch it into something big and impersonal and complex.

I'd also like to say that Sirois is a meticulous writer who doesn't employ much of the vivid or poetic language one might expect from a novel about war in a foreign country (foreign to America, anyway), and parcels out moments of serenity in such a way that the reader has to work for them, but this works in his favor for a novel as stark and focused on the personal as this one needed to be. This book can be bleak, but it is not without rewards.

Now then, I've still got Ken Sparling's Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall and Michael Kimball's Big Ray to finish, and a ridiculous NaNo project on my plate until the end of the month. Onward to glory!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

stay in the safety zone

First of all, this article. Read it. It's about theatre, but it's good for everyone in the arts to be reminded that they can work at their own pace, and that it's okay to try big and fail.

In other news, I read Garrison Keillor's Homegrown Democrat towards the end of the recent presidential election, and I came away from it not liking Keillor as much as I did. He wrote Homegrown Democrat in an attempt to get people to vote for John Kerry instead of George Bush, and more generally to extol the virtues of the Democratic Party: decency, modesty, charity, and an overall appreciation for the common good. Republicans, he argues, are paranoid racist soreheads with an Oedipal hatred of government.

I can't disagree with his assessment of Republicans, but there are times when his Baby Boomer smugness exposes itself. Women, for example. His narration spends the better part of one chapter ogling young girls at a cafe (while patting himself on the back for spending an afternoon among the commoners), and declaring that the gender gap is closed thanks to his generation's Democrats, so anyone who still sees problems with the system is a pisspants malcontent who needs to get over it. Given the past few months of baffling pre-election rapechat, not to mention the constant unpleasantness surrounding the issues of abortion and birth control, I think GK's self-congratulations were a bit premature.

And of course, given his marital history, statements like "a world that is perfectly safe from sexual harassment is a world without flirtation" sound way creepier than they otherwise would.

He also takes a moment to slander former MN governor Jesse Ventura for the unpardonable sin of being a professional wrestler 20 years ago (as opposed to a lawyer or an ex-lobbyist or Stewart Smalley), and compares Grover Norquist to Sid Vicious, declaring that Norquist was an example of "pure punk politics." One gets the idea that Keillor's political beliefs aren't much more than a reflexive dislike of anything that makes him uncomfortable. As he adds more things to that list, he's bound to get a lot crankier and even more absorbed in his own myopic sense of averageness, so I hope Obama doesn't inspire him to write another book like this.

Speaking of books, I'm doing NaNoWriMo again this year because I am a stupid idiot who is now trying to write two novels at once. Someone stop me before I hurt myself.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

become unsettling in fantastic ways

Just finished Jessica McHugh's PINS, and thought I'd share my thoughts about it here, especially since I haven't updated this blog in almost a month. In my defense, I've been hitting the gym and trying to get a steady exercise routine together, which the recent hurricane screwed up by shutting down city streets for two days. But I digress.

PINS is about Eva Finch, aka Birdie, a 21-year-old college dropout and frequent job quitter who decides, after breaking up with her over-serious boyfriend Scott and realizing that she's flat broke, to become a stripper. She ends up working at a strip club/bowling alley called Pins (of course) and befriending a few of her coworkers, who introduce her to the lifestyle, such as it is. Birdie grows to like stripping and even starts dating a hunky customer, but she's naturally put off from her new life when someone starts brutally killing strippers in the area and gloating about it on Twitter. The murders, the drugs, the subsequent relationship troubles, and the intrusions of her bourgie mom send the already unsure Birdie into something of a tailspin.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

my dreams for big book shelves

Blake Butler wrote an interesting piece for Vice Magazine, which is not ordinarily interesting, about modern literary realism and how sick of it he is. I agree with most of it, and I was particularly pleased by his raging against "the obvious and mindlessly repeated unanswerable question that seems to run through all safe, traditional narrative fiction: what is it to be human?"

When I read that, I was reminded of what Steve Albini said about early punk rock: it wasn't about writing the ultimate love song or capturing the human experience. Punk songs about sniffing glue and etc. were taking small, probably insignificant, but still comprehensible moments and making them something worth celebrating. I think they still commented, in some way, on the human experience, but not through the usual middle class coming-of-age channels; they didn't try to cover everything in a big, pretty sweep.

AD Jameson's response to Blake's article is a good read, too - I still say Blake's making better and more needed points about what literature needs, but it's important to understand that realism is a broad playing field that can be accessed (sometimes very effectively) by experimental work.

Friday, October 5, 2012

saying yes is too simple

Just a quick update to link to The Committee Room because they chose "How to Adopt a Cat," the opening story from stone a pig, as their Story of the Month for September. Cool, huh?

The novel, by the way, is starting to pick up steam. I've swapped out the laptop for writing with pen and paper on my living room floor, and it's done wonders. About time, I say.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

calling out to the aether

Baltimore poet and literary mainstay Chris Toll died last week, and I went to his memorial service yesterday. Seeing how many lives he'd touched, and how many of us learned something new about him from this, was illuminating. The Baltimore writing community already misses him. Adam Robinson put it very well last night: "I don't want to remember him at all. I want him here."

In fact, I kept expecting to see him during the reception at Thai One On in Towson, because everyone else was there and he never missed a reading/event/anything.

I have two important Chris Toll memories, both from Artichoke Haircut readings. Chris was there, of course, when I read a telegram poem in public for the first time, and told me he thought it was funny. He also said that there was a real poem in there, even though I didn't see it yet, and to not let it get away once I found it. I didn't know what he meant at the time, but later I would realize that he was saying he had faith that my work would grow and develop. I still take that as a big compliment.

At a later Artichoke reading, I wrote a poem during the intermission and read it when my name got called for the open mic. Chris thought that was really cool, and told me so, and said doing that stuff was important. That was a big compliment, too. Chris was exceptionally generous with his time and talents, and I think a lot of writers in Baltimore have similar stories.

There's a tribute to Chris over at HTML Giant, in which a lot of writers talk about him and his work and how much we valued them both. You should read it, and then read some of Chris' poems afterward.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

today ends at midnight

A conversation I recently had with someone about life as an artist/writer/creative type reminded me of Salon's Art in Crisis series, specifically this article about the lack of sympathy for, or even coverage of, how the "creative class" is handling the shitty economy (i.e. we're all going broke).

I don't think too many artists are looking for sympathy, per se, but the least America could do is not go into apoplexy about "useless liberal arts majors" every time it's mentioned that we're struggling as much as farmers and tradesmen and everyone else. Even business and hard science majors can't find work these days, and those were the fields of study that were celebrated as examples of sober-headed longterm careerism when I was in undergrad, which wasn't even all that long ago.

What's weird about America's Puritanical disdain for the arts is that our hegemonic entertainment industry (born, of course, from the performing arts) is the only thing about us that the rest of the world actually likes, and one of the few remaining things we really like about ourselves, to be honest. Our music, films, literature, and the culture surrounding them have done a better job talking up the best parts of America than any politician or policy in the last 30 years, and mass-distributed entertainment is raking in money. And yet there's still this huge disconnect between pop culture and the very artistic, unquantifiable processes that bring it to life.

What's really frustrating is that any discussion on art, even my take on it, is based on potential profit, on upfront cost and possible return, rather than art's actual value. There's no other dialogue you can have on this topic that will be taken even halfway seriously, which sucks. I think that has to change before anything else can.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

other compounds act on molecules

More press! The lovely, talented, and alliterative Lavinia Ludlow (author of alt.punk) was kind enough to interview me about stone a pig, and followed that up with a very complimentary micro-review. I feel like I flubbed the "what's your writing process" question, but the real answer would have been way too long and my process isn't a consistent one anyway.

It's interesting to hear which stories individual readers liked best, too - it's quite the wide range. I had some idea of which stories were my hardest hitters when I was done editing the manuscript, but I've gotten a lot of praise for stories that I didn't think people would notice as much (namely "Bohemia," which is linked in my Published Works alongside "The Experiment").

On the subject of writing, Citypaper's Best Of issue just hit the streets, and Laura Lippman won Best Local Author. I was going to argue this and offer it as more proof that Baltimore is ignoring its own thriving indie lit scene (Michael Kimball and Justin Sirois could have easily won this), but I really can't. Laura lives here, even though her neighborhood is the yuppified devil's asshole that is Federal Hill, writes in a local coffeeshop all the time, and teaches at Goucher, so she's a part of the community in addition to being a best-selling mystery writer. It's not like she can help being the obvious winner for what amounts to a popularity contest, and she shouldn't be given shit for it. I admittedly haven't read any of her books, but I think I should, just to see what all the fuss is about.

Friday, September 14, 2012

everyone thinks it's a terrible idea

CL Bledsoe, who is a regular at the Artichoke Haircut reading series and might be the funniest writer I know, was kind enough to review my book the other day, and said some pretty awesome things about it.

I'm also going to be featured at The Committee Room pretty soon, because they picked "How to Adopt a Cat" (published in Cobalt, as we all know) as their story of the month for September, which is immensely flattering. I'll link to that when it goes up, of course, but check out their site in the meantime. They've got good taste.

All this stuff about the short story collection has me itching to return to the novel again when I have some time, but I need to do what I did for NaNoWriMo and just turn off that part of my brain that second-guesses creative decisions right away. That was super easy back in 2009 and nearly impossible to do now, although it could be argued that I know a lot more about writing now than I did back then. Still, I need to put myself back into Draft Mode and forgive ideas/sentences that aren't perfect right off the bat, because I'll never finish this damn thing if I don't.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

we means us

My buddy Goodloe Byron drew this caricature of me for my birthday! This picture would also work as a caricature of my dad, and it actually looks more like him than me, but I was touched by the gesture. And he NAILED my crazy eyebrows.

Friday, August 31, 2012

who exists in the shadow of flashy

It would seem that Emily Giffin, author of Something Borrowed, Something Blue and Heart of the Matter, has a posse, and some poor lady on the Internet found this out the hard way after giving one of Emily's books a not-positive review on Amazon. Here's the full account of what happened, and if nothing else it's a pretty damning account of an author who is a huge mark for herself and obviously never got any advice about responding to reviews that aren't drooling praise.

Here's my advice on the subject: don't. Just don't. You're not going to magically convince someone to like your work by slinging barbs at each other in a comments thread, and it makes you look like a college freshman who can't stop crying after his or her first real workshop. I mean, look what happened to Kevin Smith's creative output after he started obsessing over what the critics thought and inserting petty responses to them in his movies, or try reading Melville's Pierre or the Ambiguities, written after Moby Dick and barely readable due to Melville's poorly disguised bitterness about Moby's critical reception at the time.

Now, this doesn't mean you have to be endlessly chipper and stiff-upper-lipped about bad reviews; you can certainly complain to friends and colleagues about feeling misunderstood in your own time like every writer does at some point. And if someone says something extremely personally nasty or libelous about you in the context of reviewing your work, you're allowed to call them on it. But getting your spouse to patrol Amazon's user reviews and shout down anyone who doesn't like your book, which Emily did, is total horseshit. 

Frankly, begging your fans to get your book to #1 on the NYT bestseller list and then passive-aggressively complaining when it only reaches #2, which Emily also did, seems a bit classless. Luckily, I think anyone who would support my writing is also the kind of person who would tell me to go fuck myself if I ever tried something like that.

Monday, August 27, 2012

just the right ticket for a cold

Good grief, how do I keep neglecting this thing? Oh, right. Laziness. And pride, to a certain degree. I mean, I know I'm supposed to be hanging my life over the balcony for all to see, but do you all REALLY need to know how often I sit around the apartment, eating onion dip out of the container with my fingers? Frankly, once is too often for that, but here I am.

But in any case, I just found out that the Chicago Center of Literature and Photography (aka CCLaP) is putting together a serialized audiobook of short stories called Podcast Dreadful (a play on the term penny dreadful). Davis Schneiderman and my broseph Ben Tanzer are going to be involved, apparently, which is enough cause for me to say that this thing will be awesome.

Also, I didn't mention this before, but I'm going to be in Cobalt's first-ever print issue! Hooray! I'm in really good company for that issue, too. You can buy them here, I think, and I strongly suggest that you do.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

the space and quiet that idleness provides

Working on a short story today, and it's similar in tone to one that I published in You People Disgust Me. I'm posting that little story here, just because.


Once upon a time, a statue loved a painting.

The statue lived in the Native Folk Art exhibit next to fertility totems and beaded canoes and hand-carved miniature villages. The card next to him said that he was South African. He'd been carved from a single block of wood, just like Michaelangelo had chiseled David from a single piece of marble, struggling around each natural flaw in the medium, and embellishing each advantage. The statue's hands rested on his hips, his knees bowed, and museum visitors would pass him and think that his face looked like a monkey. This made them feel bad, to say something like that about what a black man had made.

The statue's tiny feet sloped into an irregular base that had been chipped on one side, leaving the curators no choice but to lean him to one side in a corner of the room, just across from a row of African shields.

One day, the statue saw a couple of volunteers carrying a painting through the room to the elevator. It was Reubens' portrait of Anne of Austria, throned in a gilded hall to which her back was turned. She stared out into the world with eyes as pursed and cautious as her bow lips, in a gown so extravagantly baroque that she barely took shape in it. Everything she saw in the Native Folk Art exhibit had a purpose, either ceremonial or practical, but they were odes to form. Form that occasionally got blood or mud spattered all over it, but form all the same. There was a keen and obvious aesthetic linking her graceful flesh tones and delicate hands and faithful adherence to the ideal with the simply hewn rounds and edges of the statue, of its considered body and her invisible one.

His base had been chipped. She had nearly been dropped out of the truck by someone rushing to cover a sneeze with his load-bearing hand.

They fell in love.

They sent messages to one another through criticism. Men wearing fashionable jeans and timeless beards, and women in neutral colors and sensible shoes, stood around them, passing notes through their mouths. He was graceful and elegant, a symbol of authority put into wood by a reverent craftsman. She smirked at her flaws; her round baby face, her long arms, the costume - detailed to the last stitch - that hid her body and directed the eyes to the face that suggested yes, she did have a body. A very nice one, in fact. And his body, they would say, puffed out with a swelled chest and arched back, a well-fed belly.

Hers was a six month residency. When it ended, she and the other portraits were loaded back into a truck and driven into another city. The statue's un-communicated love grew so humid that it split a hairline fracture from between his toes to just under his left hand.

She fell off her new wall and onto her empty face. The scrollwork at the bottom of her frame was damaged, and the new museum's rough carpeting scuffed one side of her face.

They're both in a restorer's temperature-controlled storage room now, waiting to be mended and shipped back out. And brought back in. And shipped back out. Catching glimpses of each other when the door opens. Each shard of light between them is a kiss. The restorer's hands on them, dabbing and sanding, might as well be gloves.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

the horrors which where written of him

So the literary parts of the Internet are all up in arms about Jacob Silverman's Slate article condemning the "epidemic of niceness" in online book culture, and Roxane Gay's response in Salon, in which she says Silverman is totally full of shit.

Feel free to read both articles and come to your own conclusions, but I'm siding with Roxane because, let's face it, the idea that the Internet is too nice is so demonstrably wrong that it almost doesn't need a response. I mean, really. The Internet is the biggest open cattle call for douchebags since the invention of Rush Week. Has he never read any Amazon user reviews? Or any popular blog or YouTube comments in the past five years? Maybe I should send him some of the Adfreak hate mail I've gotten since I started writing for them.

He's not wrong to snipe at literary culture for becoming "mired in clubbiness and glad-handing," but literary culture would be a disingenuous hugbox without the Internet, and if he ever wants to leave the warren and observe non-literary online book discussion, he'll find all the nastiness and acrimony he wants. If anything, this article felt like a excuse for Silverman to lament his own fading relevance and bitch about how popular Emma Straub is.

Roxane's response to all this is as well-reasoned and observant as we've come to expect. "If literary culture is a school ... social networks are the cafeteria," she writes, adding that "what you find there will be loud and gossipy, amusing but not very satisfying." Basically, Silverman needs to look elsewhere if he's trying to find the root of literary culture's problems because, again quoting from Roxane's response, "social networking has never been and never will be a medium for thoughtful criticism." Silverman's insistence that it is undermines the rest of his argument.

One minor quibble with Roxane's piece though, if I may. She asks, as a way of advancing her argument that the Internet isn't particularly nice to women/minorities/the LGBT community, whether a man writing in the public sphere ever been called fat, ugly or a whore within the context of his writing. The answer is yes, and it happens a lot. George R.R. Martin takes a lot of shit about his weight and appearance from online discussions of his work, as does Charles Stross. It's sadly common in genre fiction for authors to be judged by, and mocked for, their physical appearance, whatever it may be. Granted, a lot of us are unfashionable nerds who don't publish with bigger houses (who often pick attractive authors because they're easier to market), but still. I understand what Roxane was trying to say, and she's right, but white guys aren't as protected from that as one might assume.

Speaking of genre fiction, I have some that I should be writing. Ta.

Friday, August 3, 2012

something is taking shape

Thought I'd report in to report that there's not much to report. The novel is slow-going. I keep doing that thing where I start exploring an idea and then immediately second-guess it until I lose interest. It's probably a symptom of depression, which I've had periodic bouts with since I was a kid, but it's also part of the writing process, and easily the part I hate the most.

In her interview over at Cobalt, Jane Delury mentions a chemical that women secrete during childbirth that dulls memory, ostensibly so they forget the pain and continue having babies, and says that the same chemical must be released during novel revision. If that happens to me, I'm getting too much of it, because between projects it's like I forget everything I ever learned about writing and I have to essentially remind myself how it works whenever I start anything new. Something very similar happened after I finished Gouts of Angry Mist, so maybe it's just what happens after I write stuff that's particularly emotionally draining.

Because of this, I am awed by people like my friend Jessica McHugh, who must have a perpetual motion machine in her head that just churns out ideas and inspiration all the time (I just started one of her books and it's a fun read so far). I don't know how they do it, and I can't get my brain to work at any pace faster than sluggish, it seems.

Or maybe this is kinda normal and American artists are just neurotic about how hard they think they should be working because any idle moments in their lives contribute to the stereotype that artists are just lazy and trying to do an end-run around the Protestant work ethic that defines our workforce, often to its own detriment. Who knows, really. I'm just fastballing here.

What I should be doing is going for a walk, but I pulled a muscle in my foot (how does that even HAPPEN) so I'll find something to read instead. Carry on.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

do my job if i had some disease

Wow, I've been gone a while. Like, almost a month.

Well, I can explain that. I took an extended Vermont vacation after the Fourth of July to recharge my batteries and hang out with some friends in a part of the country that isn't a disgusting swamp come summertime. Been working on the new novel a bit, but not as much as I'd like, and I've also been reading a lot, mostly one of George Fraser's Flashman novels and Heinrich Boll's The Clown.

By the time I got back from Vermont, it was just about time for Artscape, which meant another weekend in the booth running lights/projector for High Zero's Worlds In Collusion festival. I also helped the Baltimore Rock Opera Society with prop build/painting for their Artscape show, and probably sweat off ten pounds in the process - what better way to endure triple-digit heat than by working in a theatre with no AC? It was still fun though; I love helping those guys bring their ideas to life.

But yeah, I guess I should have posted here during some of that. It was kinda nice to not have much of an Internet presence for a bit - not that my posting schedule is very demanding, but it was good for me to disconnect for a while. I think everyone should; I mean, my audience (to the extent that I even have one) doesn't need to know where I am and what I'm doing and what my breakfast looks like (and christ, are those people insufferable - congratulations, you made an omelet! Now shut up and eat it) every twenty minutes, right? Right.

Anyway, no use going off on that rant again. Back to work. I'll post more when I have more to say.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

largely unquantifiable in business terms

Baltimore got rocked by a pretty brutal storm last night - to quote a friend of mine, the aftermath looked like "the giant Monty Python foot had stepped on my city." That's pretty much it. My car was thankfully not crushed by falling trees or their limbs, but it is completely blocked in by storm debris and a downed power line. Of course, the last time I saw my car was around 7:45am, so it could have been crushed into a cube by the elements by now.

Which is a long way of saying that I'm in UB's business school lounge charging various appliances and thinking about the books I've read lately: Amberly Hyden's Piano Lessons, Abigail Higgs' Hit the Ground Laughing, and Bil Wright's Sunday You Learn How to Box.

I graduated with Amberly and Abby, who both write memoir, which has always been a hard genre for me to stomach because a lot of it smacks of people trying way too hard to seem cooler and more interesting than they really are. It's like watching a high school sophomore cycle through false personae to try and find a clique that will put up with him/her.

Amberly and Abby, however, are as earnest and unpretentious on the page as they are in real life. Amberly has a knack for observation and a graceful sense of narrative that a lot of fiction writers would envy, and Abby's ability to transfer humor to the page is most admirable. It's hard to write things that make people laugh out loud as they read them, because that kind of laughter is generally a public phenomenon. That Abby can do it so well says more about her gifts as a writer than dissections of craft or whatever the hell actual book reviewers do with their time.

Bil Wright's book, which is about a gay black kid's coming-of-age in the late 1960s, was also an enjoyable read. The tone is way more understated than I expected, and Louis (the protagonist) has a refreshing sense of who he is, even if he doesn't often understand other characters' hostility (and even if, as the New York Times pointed out, "[his] episodic adventures are disjointed and never pick up much momentum"). Boxing doesn't really occupy much of this book, though: an alternate title could have been Holy Shit My Mom Is Insane, because every scene Louis shares with her is equal parts surreal, painful, and darkly funny.

Man, I never know how to end blog posts.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

an evanescent sense of grandiosity

First things first, I picked up my diploma from UB earlier today. I'm officially a Master of Fine Arts! Yay! Not that it really does me any good career-wise, but yay! I still feel accomplished.

Second, I reviewed Deviant, a novel by my buddy and fellow UB alum Austin Wall, over at jmww. Austin managed to finish that and his short story collection thesis in the same semester, which just boggles my mind. I mean, I don't even put on pants unless I absolutely have to leave my apartment, so Austin's work ethic is almost an alien concept to me. Still, it has borne fruit in some fine writing on his part, and he doesn't seem to be slowing down.

Third, the EMP Collective's talk show was awesome. Ken and Nolan were great hosts, the other guests were fantastic, and I don't think I came off like too much of an asshole. I even sold a couple of books. Talk shows are a weird limbo between amiable conversation and public performance, and I'm hardly a natural at either one, but I still enjoyed the experience.

Finally, all this stuff at UVA is bringing the corporate sector's influence on higher ed. into sharper focus, which is good. The idea that everything should be run like a contemporary American business is a popular one, but it barely works for contemporary American businesses, let alone public universities that should have much different goals.

To quote from the end of the article linked above, which is an excellent read, "whatever good intentions that the University of Virginia Board of Visitors may have had were quickly overwhelmed by its parochial anxieties. Apparently, they were afraid that their beloved alma mater might not be able to compete with rich private universities in enrolling undergraduate classes comprised exclusively of rich legacies, ruling class trainees, and students whose remarkable talents reflect well on the Board of Visitors. They were worried that revenues would be used to support money-losing subjects like classics instead of recruiting “star” professors who never teach undergraduates. That the task of teaching young people might distract from the pursuit of status competition with rival universities on whose boards their fellow plutocrats sit. That the university would be forced to get by with $5 billion in the bank, and remain entangled with the needs and desires of the state citizens whose two centuries of labor built the place, brick by brick. In other words, they saw a future where the University of Virginia might be forced to operate as an actual public university, and were terrified by the thought of it."

Now back to work.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

returned to life in a crumbling body

Geez, it's been two weeks since my last update. That's not good. And I actually have some stuff to talk about, even.

Firstly, the response to stone a pig has been great so far - the opening story from the book has been published in Cobalt (look for the link in my Published Works sidebar), and I'm going to be a guest on EMP Collective's Late Night Talk Show this Saturday. I guess I'll be talking about my book and maybe some telegrams, which is a good enough excuse to bust out the black suit and the monocle again unless the triple-digit heat persists into the weekend.

But really, the feedback I've gotten from readers has been wonderful. I've probably said this before, but the enthusiastic audience my book found has caught me off-guard. Baltimore is an odd place to be a writer, because our performing arts community is so large and active that it can feel a bit unimpressive to be a writer, a solitary artist in a city full of people encouraging each other to work together.

That's not a slight against the performing arts by any means - I love all the community art happening here, and I'm happy to see that it does involve actual community members and not just college-educated transplants performing to other college-educated transplants. It's just that writing isn't nearly as dynamic because to do it (and enjoy it), one must ultimately crawl into one's own head. Even though book discussion can be very lively and engaging and controversial, that's still only one half of the equation that the performing arts enjoy as a default, in that both doing it and responding to it are active.

So with all that in my head, it's a delight that people are enjoying my book and passing it along or recommending it to others. I'm trying to drum up some more press for it now that I have more copies, so we'll see where that goes. I'm pretty sure I can land it in What Weekly, and I have some other longshot ideas about where to send it while I work on my novel. So much to do. This is excellent.

Friday, June 8, 2012

parallel to one coordinate plane

From Michael Bourne's April 30 essay on The Millions about what the death of newspapers means for writers: "I fear we are creating a generation of riff artists, who see their job not as creating wholly new original projects but as commenting upon cultural artifacts that already exist."

Yep. I worry about that too, and about whether or not I've taken on too much of the generic MFA writing style, defined by Bourne as an "insular, navel-gazing style that has more to do with a response to previous works of fiction than to the world most non-writers live in." I don't think I have - I have a teeny bit of journalism experience and the sense of urgency that comes with freelancing for a living - but I also really, really don't want to spend my entire artistic career rearranging puzzle pieces, so I'm a little defensive about the possibility that it might happen despite my best efforts to avoid it.

I feel like this graduation speech where the kids were told they weren't special ties into this issue somehow, but I can't find the words to explain it at present. All I know is that if I hear one more goddamn person talk about participation trophies I am gonna respond in a hyperbolic manner.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

identify compelling stories and showcase them

A recent Urbanite article about the Baltimore media ignoring Baltimore's literary scene is pinballing its way around social media, and for good reason - the stereotype that Baltimore newspapers are run by petulant wannabe New Yorkers might very well be wrong, but it sure is easy to bring up in this context.

What pricked my ears up, though, was not the generic advice about writers needing to "put their stuff out there" (even if there's no designated "out there" to put their work into) or the comparisons between participatory arts and writing, which is by nature a solitary thing. No, it was the Baltimore Sun's Dave Rosenthal, who blogs for Read Street, claiming that book reviews and such are "a hard market to hold on to, as people seem to be reading less."

Um actually

people are reading more

thanks to e-readers and similar technology 

So yeah, that doesn't really work as an excuse.

That said, the arts community in Baltimore has this issue from time to time. Up until the recent change in leadership, Centerstage had this weird bias against using locals in their productions for anything besides grunt labor, but they were more than willing to truck in producers/designers/directors from New York whether they were worth the expense or not.

That's not the only reason why writers here get ignored by local media (deadline crunches and overworked staffers can lead to some truly bizarre prioritizing), but it's a citywide self esteem issue that I've noticed before, and that probably exists in other cities too - if you're still here and not in New York, then you don't matter. Considering the creative and conceptual talent this city has to offer, that attitude needs to go away, and soon.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

anxious to be recognized as one

Started a new novel recently. Don't know if I'm ambitious enough to participate in the unofficial June NaNoWriMo thing, but I'll certainly work on it every day this month and see how far I get by the time July rolls around. I've got some short story ideas too, finally, so this might be a productive month for me. It needs to be. I've been idle for too long, creatively speaking, and whenever that happens I feel like I've forgotten how to write altogether.

My buddy Gavin St. Ours is working on a novel, too - I have his short story collection since he was in my MFA graduating class, and it's damn good. Gavin's most obvious gifts are his ear for dialogue and his smooth prose that feels both effortless and full of energy. The title story of his collection, "Soothsayer In Aisle Five," reminds me of the crazy religious lady subplot from "The Mist," but minus all the heavyhandedness King employs when he thinks he's being socially relevant. Order Gavin's book and give it a read - you won't be disappointed.

I'm also reading this Jacket2 article about poetry, New Sincerity (a term I'm really starting to hate), and the aesthetics of failure. I guess poets are embracing the fact that no one reads poetry anymore and rolling with it, and/or they're making a big show of straightforwardness and simplicity in their work, which the article calls "a simultaneous abandonment and seizure of authority," because it's no fun being ironic anymore and writing in dense chunks of abstract, representational language has run its course. I'm okay with that - language poetry gets really New Age and touchy-feely after a while, which makes discussing it a nightmare if you're like me and you think astrology is bullshit and the importance of poetry in 2012 is really insanely overestimated by poets. If this new crop of writers is letting that attitude fall to the wayside and trying to really communicate with people again in a way that TV and most movies haven't even attempted in at least ten years, more power to them.

But I digress. It's a nice day outside, so I'm gonna go stand in it for a while.

Friday, May 25, 2012

step into the butt closet

Oh hey look I was interviewed in Vouched

Pretty cool. Thanks to Adam Robinson for asking good questions. I had to think pretty hard about the responses to some of them. I also had to condense some of those answers, which was a good exercise in not prattling on forever when someone asks me about my work. I'm not Kevin Smith, after all.

Speaking of talking, I'm going to be a guest at EMP Collective's Late Night Talkshow on June 23rd, along with some chill bros from Stillpointe Theatre and Shocked & Amazed's James Taylor. I'll probably read some telegrams and talk about the book and other things. Should be a good time.

Now onto more important business - why do the readers for Dave Barry's audiobooks always suck? I have a bunch of them, being a huge Barry fan, and they're just awful. The guy doing Dave Barry's Money Secrets tries way too hard to be as wacky as the source material (he's not the only offender there, just the worst one), and the guy doing Dave Barry's Guide to the Millennium sounds like an autistic robot. Dave himself read Dave Barry Turns 50 and he, uh, shouldn't have. If only John Ritter was still alive. Now there's a guy who could read an audiobook.

I think I'm out of links, so I'm going to get back to one of my books now.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

paint me a word picture

Man, I have nothing to say, but I am involved with the Baltimore Rock Opera Society's current show, Valhella, and so far people have said this

and this

So proud to have been a part of such an awesome thing.

I'm also helping out the editorial staffs of NOO Journal and Artichoke Haircut, respectively, and I just finished outlining a novel that I'll probably start here in a day or two. I have a couple of short stories in the works as well.

Wow, I guess I did have stuff to talk about. Cool.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

dress up and have a photo shoot

Well! Now that I've paid off my student fees, I am officially done with grad school. All I have to do now, I think, is sit back and wait for UB to mail my diploma. If they seriously think I'm getting up in the single-digit morning hours to sit through ANOTHER graduation ceremony, they're crazier than a wet bag of cats.

While we're on the subject, Stone a Pig is selling like hotcakes and the big MFA reading/bookfair was a massive success for me. I gave what I thought was one of my better reading performances to a packed house, and made back my printing costs over that weekend. Plus, I got some of my classmates' books, which I'm looking forward to reading. I graduated with some really talented people.

I will also be published in Cobalt sometime in the near future - their fiction editor was at the reading and requested one of my stories from the book, so be on the lookout for that.

Oh, and I finally finished David Cookson's The Best of Thunder Johnson, which was apparently a NaNoWriMo project that he stapled into a 'zine book and sold at Atomic Books. You know, it's really good. Messy, in that some character details arrive too late and some of the dialogue is a little convenient, but I really like the premise, and the space that the characters and setting occupy is a very interesting one. The book deals, albeit in the background, with the sad reality of public-access television in an area full of mentally-ill people, and the way that impacts the characters is really interesting. Dealing with Baltimore's blue collar eccentricities on a daily basis makes it all oddly familiar, too.

And now there is bed, my oldest friend. More later.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

huge news a little bit ago

Whoa, new Blogspot UI is new. This will take some getting used to, but whatevs. The thing I actually logged in to say is that MY BOOKS ARE IN. Woohoo! 75 copies of Stone a Pig just arrived via UPS and they look fantastic.

I'll be reading from it on Friday at my MFA program's graduate reading, and will hopefully sell a lot/a whole lot of them. I have some pre-orders too, which is certainly nice. The response from my friends and colleagues about all this has been surprising and encouraging, and I'm grateful to have any kind of audience for my work, even if it is a small one for now.

Anyway, I have a poster to design, but I'll be back later. Now that I've taken this hill, I may have more time to update this poor blog - there's some stuff I'd like to talk about on here, but there are only 24 hours in a day, ya know? I also finished a book recently, so at the very least I should review it or something.

For now though, back to work!

Monday, April 23, 2012

excavations of his own psyche

I can explain my absence.
  • thesis proof was a week late and needed last-minute changes.
  • internet at home is the suck.
  • work is not always the suck, but does require me to leave my house for long, irregular periods of time without regular computer access.
  • i'm helping with set build for the Baltimore Rock Opera Society's next show, Valhella.
  • locusts. swarms of locusts.
  • i'm looking for a new job, preferably in university tech/audio-visual support. 
In the meantime, here's a review for the book I was supposed to read for book club, but didn't.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

in the spirit of art she agreed

My book officially has a cover! Huzzah! Now to gather it all together and send it to the printer.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

too big for business again

I talked about Ben Tanzer's new story collection at the Lit Pub recently, and I have a lot of other things I'd love to talk about, but I don't have the time (damn you, thesis book!) and my wireless connection at home sucks eggs, so that's why things have been so quiet over here. How do people update their blogs every day? Man. I'll never understand it.

In the meantime, here's the new B.O.D. logo, drawn by me in Scribbler Too:

Friday, March 16, 2012

walk with one foot in front of the other

Laying out an entire book is hard. Reading entire books is much easier, which is why I have a couple to blog about today while InDesign lurks behind my browser window, laughing at me and my human frailty.

I finished Cat's Cradle a couple of days ago, which I'd meant to do when I originally bought it for a Banned Book Week reading. I can't say I liked it as much as Breakfast of Champions, but it was really good. It's one of those books that is driven by the plot and the concepts thereof, but none of the characters feel like disposable stock. I'm also a fan of the amused-yet-despairing tone Vonnegut uses throughout the book. It reminds me of Rodney Dangerfield's struggle with his own darkness, only more sophisticated.

I will say, though, that novelists like Vonnegut bother me sometimes because they make novel-writing look so easy and it really isn't. Not at all.

I'd also like to mention my friend Tracey Vaccarella's book of poems, Chasing the Moon. Tracey graduated from my program last year, and went to undergrad at Virginia Tech. Her book is a reaction to/way of processing the 2007 shootings, which lends every poem a certain weight right off the bat. But her collection isn't bleak or maudlin in tone - rather, it sustains the voice of someone trying really hard to figure something out. 

What's important, though, is that Tracey's book is full of really good poems with lines like "if my troubles are going to find me/then I will be ready/in thick rubber galoshes" and "how fortunate/to always be held/and admired." I'm really glad I snagged a copy when I did, and while I'm a little embarrassed that it took me this long to finish the whole thing, I'm also glad I took my time with it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

why old people are the way they are

Sorry for the radio silence last week - big things are happening over here. I'm in tech for The Exonerated and, for god's sakes, I've got a thesis going on. Absolutely nothing about my life makes any sense right now. The same can be said for my blogging schedule.

Anyway, I'm up super early for whatever reason, so I reorganized one of my bookshelves and found my copy of Fritz Leiber's The Silver Eggheads, which I thought had been lost during one of my bajillion moves between 2006 and 2008. Leiber's a familiar name in sci-fi circles, but that book, I've come to find out, is somewhat obscure.

There's a reason for that, of course. A lot of the humor in it hasn't aged well since its original publication, and the dialogue is terrible; the male characters all sound like late-60s Playboy editorials. It's one of those books where the author is having more fun than anyone else involved with the book, which might explain the hokey, Vaudevillian narrative voice used throughout.

That said, parts of it are good, and oddly observant. The basic plot is that writers have been replaced by super-computers, called "wordmills," that churn out shitty books with alarming speed. After a union of writers destroys the wordmills, the publishing industry responds by deploying the brains of classic writers, which have been preserved in silver canisters that link them telepathically, to crank out books. Also there are robots that have sex. 

Aside from the obvious parallels between wordmills and the almost Dickensian ghost-writing factories that guys like James Patterson employ today, I thought the treatment of writers in The Silver Eggheads was really interesting, in that almost no one trusted them to do their jobs properly, many of them were just actors hired to live weird lifestyles as sort of a public face for the wordmilled books published under their names, and their union collapses under the weight of disharmony and childish bickering.

Unfortunately, that sums up how a lot of non-writers view our little community. I'm not sure if that's because of anti-intellectualism, America's utilitarian view of the arts, or the fact that a lot of writers really are insufferable pains in the ass. Or all three, maybe. We do overestimate ourselves a lot (particularly during Paris Review interviews), but that's precisely because no one else takes us seriously at all unless we make money somehow. It's a chicken/egg conundrum that The Silver Eggheads reproduces quite well.

Oh, and I also found my copy of Heinlein's Have Spacesuit Will Travel, which I was pleased about. All I need to do now is find my copy of Gordon Dixon's Mission to Universe and I'll be set.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

a knock on her name

Is it weird that I don't like Flannery O'Connor? Because I don't.

I almost feel compelled to, because the MFA end of the literary/publishing spectrum is in sappy drippy love with her, as were most of my professors in high school and college, and I never understood what all the fuss was about.

I mean, “Good Country People” is okay enough - religious hypocrisy, the distorted body, etc. - but "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" Most of the story is the grandmother saying BOY I HOPE THE ANTAGONIST DOESN'T SHOW UP, so of course he does, but his arrival is telegraphed in such an obvious, hamfisted way that it takes me out of the story.

That kind of irony isn't a bad thing, even in doses as heavy as O'Connor's body of work, but I don't get the sense that her characters were meant to be anything but dumb and hopeless. Relatedly, I never got any sort of narrative signal that her characters were created with any sense of sympathy or recognition - it's as though they existed just so their author would have things to bully and feel smarter than ("Revelation" comes to mind here). There's a basic sense of humanity that I never found in her work, so reading it is mostly a flat and numbing experience for me.

Am I missing something here? Are there stories I should re-read, or pieces of criticism I should find that puts O'Connor's joylessness into some kind of larger context? I feel like she's been put on this pedestal where you're not allowed to question what a genius she was (hence all the looks I get when I voice this opinion), and I'm not really trying to pick a fight here, but I think that's really unhealthy.

Anyway, time to get to work. More later.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

octaves are stacked vertically

Read at Town Square (a monthly Baltimore reading series) on Sunday and did pretty well, I think. Now I'm gearing up for Last Rites on the 26th and trying to figure out what to read.

Someone in the audience on Sunday who'd seen me read before told me that he'd like to hear my more serious work, i.e. what I considered to be literature rather than the goofy poems and fake telegrams I usually bust out at readings. Poetry isn't a serious endeavor for me - it's more of a space where I can break rules and ignore the language requirements and narrative restraints of fiction, and it's also a holding tank for my dumber, sillier ideas that don't have a place in my short stories/novel/whatever. It's also, especially recently, a mechanism through which I can entertain and get my name out there.

That said, I wonder if anyone else is curious about how I write when I'm not dicking around and trying to make myself laugh. I may very well try out something from my upcoming MFA book (assuming there's something short enough to read in there) and see how audiences respond to work that isn't intended, first and foremost, to amuse them. It would also be a test for me to see if I can read that stuff and still be engaging.

Before I go, I should also mention that I read Hoa Nguyen's Hecate Lochia for book club this month, and liked it way more than I thought I would. The blurbs all describe it as a book of poems about motherhood, which is hardly uncharted or interesting territory, but instead it's a book of poems about how, in the context of war and economic instability and famine and political implosion, suburban American motherhood is a symbol of safety and stability and privilege. There's other stuff in there too, of course, but that stuck out to me immediately, given the book's marketing.

All right, gotta eat. Ta.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

inspire rousing choruses

Oh man, I almost forgot that I went to a reading on Monday night - Stephanie Barber and Barbara DeCesare read some poems at UB and schooled us on how performance and literature can intersect. Barbara is just hilarious, and her short play was notable for causing Adam Robinson (one of the audience members chosen to read it) to yell "let us cast our penises into the sea," and for its mostly accurate depiction of Robert Bly as a pompous old fartbag.

Stephanie's poems are quieter, less bombastic, but still funny in a sly kind of way, and she's very good at engaging readers through small interactions - eye contact, facial expressions, etc. I generally do the token eye contact when I read, and have trouble working with the room with my eyes in a way that isn't jarringly obvious, so hopefully I can pick up some of her mojo through osmosis or something.

Both ladies understand and accept that they are performers when they read their work for an audience, which a lot of writers shy away from to their own detriment. I can't tell you how much good poetry has been ruined for me because the poet is contemptuous (or afraid) of being entertaining instead of highbrow and literary and whatever. It doesn't make sense. If you read your work flatly like you don't care about it, then no one listening will care, either. You don't have to try super hard to put on a show in an artificial, not-really-you sort of way (that's almost worse than being boring), but you do have to accept that, whether you want to be or not, you're a performer when you read your work aloud to an audience. How you embrace that and make it work is up to you.

Relatedly, I also teched a poetry slam last week - Temple and Gayle Danley were the hosts, and man oh man. Those performers were fearless, both in delivery and subject matter, with none of the almost-obligatory forced awkwardness that makes other kinds of readings such a chore sometimes. Slangston Hughes, who won the slam contest portion of the evening, had his ass-kicking boots on that evening, and is someone more people should know about.

Speaking of teching, I need to get to work. While I'm gone, feel free to read this article about how to date a writer, which reads more like a guide to dating a beret-wearing writer stereotype from an early-90s sitcom.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

chronological age is not a consideration

Revising short stories is hard, so I'm going to look up fellowships and ramble about art for a second here.

Went to the BMA yesterday and stumbled into their Print By Print exhibit, which the BMA describes as "an epic tour of serial printmaking." I bet that's not a phrase they use very often. In any case, there are some awesome print series on display in there, particularly Piranesi's "Imaginary Prisons," which I'd never seen before. Holy crap. If there was ever a group of images that captured the essence of my upcoming thesis book, it's "Imaginary Prisons." The prints are smoky and dark and distorted, and full of weird, purposeless machinery. The visual effect is very Kafka-esque, or like the menace behind the redundancy of a French farce.

And with all that, what you have are some very cool and inventive pieces of art that challenge you and make you work a little bit, but they're enormously rewarding once you put the time in.

Here's a link to the full series. The website is in Russian, but I think the click-the-thumbnail UI is pretty straightforward. And hey, on the off-chance you can read Russian, what a great time to practice.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

shocking pens webs websites

So today is Charles Dickens' birthday, hence the Victorian Google banner and what I'm sure is no shortage of Facebook statuses complaining about how bad Great Expectations is. I hope that's the case, anyway. That book sucked.

But Channel 4 has a neat article up that takes some guesses at what Dickens would be writing about if he was alive now. Turns out all the problems he was exposing then are still issues today, which is kind of depressing, and some of them (like child poverty) are actually on the rise now because of austerity measures in the UK. I'm sure the same is true for America as well.

It's a good list, but I don't know why they left off things like the Occupy movement and the increased militarization of police, both of which would challenge Dickens' progressive-but-not-radical take on social issues. It would also be nice to see a Dickensian take on the modern entertainment industry, which has thus far almost entirely ignored his ideas about the "little people" being as interesting and attention-worthy as the rich and beautiful. Seriously, Fox should just call Bones something like Hot Rich Supergeniuses and drop the insulting pretense that theirs is still a show based in the same universe as its audience. The same could be said for most stuff on TV. Yes, I am bitter.

Oh, and the Artichoke Haircut reading went well. They've listed some other readings coming up this month on their blog, so you should look at that while I return to cleaning and writing and such. Or you can read yet another polemic about how there are too many MFA programs in the shadow of Penn State kiboshing their writing program due to lack of funds. Up to you.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

for printing out or reading on your computer screen

Oh cool, more stuff about introverts.

Don't have too too much to say about this article other than to applaud their recognition that being an introvert doesn't mean you're a socially awkward misanthrope - rather, it means that you prefer low stimulation environments. That needs to be clarified way more than it is.

Workplaces need to be de-extroverted too, and really, professional life as a whole needs to calm the hell down. It's reaching the point where there's nothing for you in this world if you're not a natural salesperson or a type-A business school graduate, and it's especially frustrating that being an artist now depends on the ability to spend most of your time and energy turning your life into reality television, to paraphrase Bobcat Goldthwait. People claim that writers don't understand that, but we do - we just hate it because it's draining and it takes time away from our craft and it's often a convenient excuse for publishers to not spend money on promoting their authors because they think the Internet equals free money.

Ironically, the preceding paragraph makes me sound like a socially awkward misanthrope, and a bitter one at that. But I will be promoting myself with three readings in the next four weeks, so I think I've got a ways to go before I go completely Salinger and start peeing in jars.

Monday, January 23, 2012

but we need to care

The final semester is almost upon me! Dear god. On Wednesday, I will begin putting my first by-God book together. Part of me wishes it was a novel instead of a collection of short stories, and another part of me wishes it was being published by someone other than myself for reasons other than finishing grad school, but those parts of me can get bent. This is a big occasion. Besides, I can take what I've learned here and apply it to my novel, which has yet again been shelved so I can work on school stuff.

I'm feeling good about the manuscript. I wasn't before, but I am now. It's not perfect, but it's becoming the kind of writing I want to put into the world; funny when it needs to be, gloomy when it needs to be, moody, atmospheric, all that fun stuff.

I also have some readings coming up. Artichoke Haircut's Spring 2012 issue release party is on Feb. 2nd, and since I'm in that issue, I'll be reading. I'll also be reading at Last Rites again on Feb. 26th, and at the Town Square Reading Series in mid-Feb., although I'm not sure what the exact date is. I want to say the 19th, but I could be wrong. Fun times! I'm trying to get some other readings together for when the book comes out - hopefully I'll be able to attend AWP so I can network my way into a little book tour.

I thought I had more to say, but I don't. To bed with me, then!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

rough suggested daily search volumes

Oh man, I forgot to mention that I went to MAGfest a little bit ago! For the unaware, it's an awesome music and video games convention that, at least this year, took over the Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor. Being something of a music and video games enthusiast myself, I went down there on the 7th to see what all the fuss was about. Turns out I'm as bad at Mortal Kombat and Bad Dudes now as I was when I was in middle school - there was a whole room full of arcade consoles, and an Atari hooked up to an old TV in front of the sort of couch that must have been in every grandmother's basement between 1975 and 1980. The attention to detail won me over immediately.

I also found out that video game culture pretty much means Nintendo games, specifically the Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy series. Being a Sega Genesis/PC gaming fellow in my younger days, I honestly felt a little out of my depth at times, and even the NES games I liked as a kid - Rygar, Chrysalis, The Punisher, all the cool wrestling games, etc. - are outliers. I think what happened is that I played video games in complete ignorance of the culture surrounding them because, as a pre-Internet young person, I didn't know where to find it, or even to look for it. I also played video games to escape from people anyway, much like I do now, so even if I'd known of a larger video gaming community, I might not have wanted anything to do with it.

Extrapolating from that, I think most of my nerdier hobbies developed the same way - without much guidance from other people with similar interests, I kinda went my own way. Which is fine, but it is weird when I figure out that there's an entire shared canon of books/games/whatever that I've missed out on. The one exception is punk rock - I may not have had access to the scene right away, but I knew it was around pretty early on, so my tastes aren't quite as slapdash there as they are for other things.

So that's that, then. Back to the manuscript!

Monday, January 9, 2012

you can't accomplish everything you need

A picture of Mel Leopold, ostensibly taken during his rebellious years. His neck is huge. Thanks to Andrew Keating for inspiring this.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

these things don’t happen by themselves

Merry new year, everyone! May 2012 be less of a disappointment than 2011. Hopefully we won't all be subject to bullshit Mayan calendar predictions that won't happen.

Chuck Wendig's 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing was a good article to read at the start of the new year - even though four or five of the entries on his list are basically the same thing, it's all very inspiring. Since I have a manuscript to bang into shape this month, Wendig's list floated across my transom at a fortuitous time. And he's right - writers can get too caught up in outside perceptions of what we should be doing, so we lose focus on what we could be doing. There are many possibilities in this line of work.

And while I'm here, my list of the best books I read in 2011 is due! I didn't get to read as much as in 2010, which is a shame, but hopefully this year will make up for it. Now then, in no special order...