Saturday, December 31, 2005

What Lasts

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My uncle Jon, 1949-2005

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Pepper, 1991-2005

So help me, Love, you and I,
Paper into pulp, and our words last
as ashes to cool the sun.
The pen lasts in stories by the fire,
the ink bubbles, the word is cremated
and spreads dumbly as in our lungs.

I wanted to speak it now. And how
the explosive sound of the lungs,
collapsing as they give back air --
we have had that energy, burning,
we have been at the throat of the world.
We have had a lifetime.

'What Lasts', Marvin Bell

Friday, December 30, 2005

Short But Sweet

Sugu made it into town this morning. He was only here for a few hours, but we had a good time. We visited my brother's gallery, where I took pictures of Sugu taking pictures of pictures:

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I gave him a little tour of downtown and all the new goodness going on down there. He got to meet some of the people that frequent the gallery, and we ended up having lunch at the Boardwalk. There wasn't much time, but we made the most of it.

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He gave me these very cool Star Wars Pepsi bottle caps that I've been wanting, and I'll have a picture of them in the next day or so (forgot to snap them with my brother's camera). Sugu is headed back to Japan on 1/4, and hopefully I'll be able to visit him there someday. After I win the lottery or something.

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Christmas In Indy

In which a disturbing puzzle emerges:

Amy and Co's dog Dharma appears to be possessed...

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...allowing Dharma to turn snow into stars:

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Dharma next commands Amy to dress her in bizzarre, ritualistic clothing:

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And little does Co know, he is her next victim...

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Happy Holidays to Amy Co & Dharma!

Exhibit T

Sugu takes over for this week's installment, in which he offers up for proof God exists (remember, Sugu is a card carrying atheist -- thus causing a horrific schism in the space-time continum with this very action) his own girlfriend, Tiffany:

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Sugu is done bragging now.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Holiday Blues

Well, the prospect of Sugu's visit has gone quickly from a welcome repreive in a wantonly shitty year to fair to middling, for reasons I don't care to get into. It bums me out because I'd been looking forward to it for months, especially since my uncle died, and I've just lost all patience with having the rug pulled out from under me. I should say this isn't anything Sugu has done. He's as bummed/pissed as I am. I hope it works out in the end (i.e. the next 48 hours) otherwise I'm going to be one sour Irish bloke come New Year's.

Matt Cheney suggests literary fiction for people who hate literary fiction.

In the hallways of MFA programs everywhere, the rebellion begins.

Against my better judgement, and all rational thought, I've completed the prologue of the third book in the sci-fi trilogy. Pray for me.

Monday, December 26, 2005

God Hangs Lights Out, Too

The Christmas Tree Star Cluster.

When you're a kid, Christmas is only about what you're going to get (or what you didn't get). This year was definitely about what you had lost. I always look back on this year as the year I lost my uncle, my dog, a cousin to mental illness, and intangible things: trust, confidence, hope at times; and then I think of the people in New Orleans, in Biloxi, in Bande Ache, where there's very little good to balance the bad. And there has been good this year. My brother opened his gallery, Waterloo seems to have woke from its long deep sleep, and I'm making tiny little steps of forward progress with my writing. I lost a ton of weight. I put down a lot of bad habits, for good, and picked up some good ones.

When I look back on 2006, will it be any better? I hope so.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

As you can see, the blog has a new address. I hope you all found it okay. I've been changing the title around for a while now, since 'the terminal optimist' just doesn't do it anymore, and I've settled on this.

So, without further ado, I wish everyone a big happy Christmas. It's going to rain, because that makes about as much sense as anything, so I'll be sloshing through the snow this time around. And I'll be warming myself by the heat of my computer, since the Republicans canceled heat.

I was listening to some Tom Petty yesterday, "Running Down A Dream" in particular, and it occured to me that the next time someone asks me why I wanted to be a writer, I'll just say "I'm running down a dream / working on a mystery..."

Peace, love, and all that.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Exhibit S

The etheral Cate Blanchett. Next week, Sugu takes over.


My aunt Charlene is in town for the holidays. She's doing a little browsing of for sale signs around town, nothing major, and looking forward to cooking goodies for Christmas dinner. No presents this year. I've been lobbying for this for a couple years, and this year, no one is in the mood, so it's just dinner and conversation.

I printed out the second book in the sci-fi trilogy today, for the first time. 670 pages weighs a lot. It constitutes a weapon, and possibly building material. It got me thinking about my output this year, which got me thinking about other writers' output. I suppose I fall somewhere between Joyce Carol Oates, who writes a novel every few months, and Marylene Robinson, who writes one every twenty years. in 2005, I wrote:

The second book in the sci-fi trilogy, 670 pages
8 short stories
I revised the Angel Book, substantially
and also the first book in the trilogy, modestly
and a partridge in a pear tree

After Christmas I'll do a year-end cap of my favorite books, and films, too.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bono Vox Populi

Bono didn't win the Nobel Peace Prize, but he is one of Time's Persons of the Year.

So is Darth Vader. This doesn't seem so ridiculous. Though the PT disappointed on a cinematic level, it did in the end cement the myth of Darth Vader in popular culture. The enduring success of Star Wars goes to how much these films exist outside themselves: the story and characters belong more to our society than they do the films that delivered them.

Still freezing out. I finished the short story I mentioned the other day. It ended up being 5,000 words (20 pages) and reads much faster than that, which I kind of like. Another deep-dish type of story. It also takes place in the same fictional town in Iowa that a number of my shorts do, including the Angel Book, so it shares a character from another story and does a little to expand the geography. I enjoy writing about this small, sleepy city where lots of strange things happen; I have ideas about writing a novel set in it, and I even have thoughts about expanding the moon rocks story into a novel, which everyone seems to think it should be.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Freedom Rings (It's the NSA, On Line 1)

People who would give up a little freedom for a little more security deserve neither. - Benjamin Franklin

John Spencer, dead at 58.

I'm working on a new short story. It just sort of came to me the way shorts do, which is fine, because I didn't feel like starting up the mountain again on anything major. And I've been wanting/saying that I'd like to write something other than prose for a while now, so maybe before I tackle the third book in the sci-fi trilogy, I will. A screenplay, or maybe a play; something different.

My aunt Charlene will be coming up to stay with us in Waterloo in the next few days. I think it's only for a week for right now, but she's thinking about moving back home to Waterloo. I go back and forth about staying/leaving, too. I had plans to leave before my uncle died, but now with all this opportunity here, with the prospect of bringing the kind of artistic community to Waterloo that I'd be leaving it for, I'm very conflicted. It's the only reason I would stay, and I go back and forth daily over whether it's enough. I would like to contribute here, do something constructive with my life and for this town, but I'd be risking continual exposure to the family BS that has all but driven me out of here.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

'It's Not An Adventure Story'

That's what the 'Jimmy' character in Peter Jackson's King Kong says in one of its many meta moments, and it's true. I got out to see Kong today, taking my chances with the cold and the local transit system, an adventure in its own right. There are SPOILERS in this, but you all know the story anyways... Kong isn't perfect, but it's definitely a visual masterpiece. The scenes at the end on the Empire State Building and of 1930's NYC especially are staggering. The Skull Island stuff, which was what I was looking forward to most, is where Peter Jackson lets his imagination run free. That's a good thing, because he's got an Olympic-caliber one; the brontosaurus train wreck is UNBELIEVABLE, as is the 3 on 1 Kong/V.Rex battle royale, but it all goes on too long. The movie does, too, a half hour really longer than it needs to be. That's odd, considering how much time is spent at the top setting up the characters. Once Kong shows up, it stops being a character piece (which is fine) and by the end, entire characters and arcs are dropped (Jimmy adds up to nothing) and you wonder why they bothered with them in the first place.

There were some spotty moments of underwhelming compositing, where you have live action people running in front of or around CGI stuff in broad daylight that looks pretty bad considering how amazing most of the rest of it is. Kong himself is a bigger achievement than Gollum, a real character. He may be the biggest achievement in effects ever, but I'd point more to Andy Serkis' performance than the CGI. The thing that kicked me in the gut is Kong has my dog's eyes. That old, cloudy brown, they're the same eyes. It really got me at the moment of Kong's death, when his eyes are really all we see of him.

He's spoiled by love, by human interaction the way humans spoil paradise (if you can call Skull Island paradise) and you're left to wonder what the film wants to say about that. Setting the film back in the 30's is an inspired choice, because that's really when the last time there was still mystery in the world. Stories of exploration and lost worlds are impossible in today's world, where we've taken all the romance and mystery out of our lives and replaced it with endless, mindless minutae that everyone knows without really knowing. The only lost worlds left are the ones we find in the cinema or on TV, but even then we commercialize them the way Denham does, squeeze all the life out of them before moving on to the next big thing.

Some are already comparing 'Kong' to 'Titanic' and while I was watching it, I certainly had the same feeling of being swept up in that old fashioned Hollywood grandeur as I did with 'Titanic.'

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Deep Dish Sci Fi

Deep dish sci-fi? Actually, that's what I'm going to call the kinds of stories I write. I've heard lots of names for stories that don't exactly fit into 'sci-fi' or 'fantasy' or anything else, ranging from 'slipstream' to 'batshit.' Yup, batshit. I like deep-dish. Lots of stuff in there. Gooey and all melts together.

New Kelly Link interview.

I didn't get to see 'Kong' today. I did get to shovel lots of heavy wet snow. I wasn't too bothered in the end; I had some exciting conversations about a downtown project I would love to see happen and be a part of. There's so much happening down there right now, every day you wake up and it's something new; possibility and opportunity are in the air, like the snow. Well. A much more likeable snow.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Buffy The Vampire Planet

Scientists have found a strange new object WAY out there beyond Pluto and nicknamed it 'Buffy.' If you'll remember, the 'tenth' planet that was recently discovered was nicknamed 'Xena' and its moon 'Gabrielle.' Clearly, a trend is emerging here. Actually, I was reading an article in Discovery magazine (I think it was) that identified as many as six Pluto like objects out there in no man's land. There could even be much bigger ones within in the Oort Cloud we can't see.

I shaved my head today. All by myself. Not down to the skin, as I'm sort of leaning towards more and more, but still, I don't recommend doing this without assistance.

My plan tomorrow was to treat myself to King Kong. Was, because the snow and rain and otherwise 'ugh' inducing weather we've been having is back, AGAIN. Not to mention the film is playing on one screen in Cedar Falls, and since it's apparently three hours long, is limited to about four shows a day. This will be interesting.

My brother's storefront these days:

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Spent the evening going over the PDF galley of the anthology "Jigsaw Nation", which my story "The Switch" appears in. I made a few minor corrections, nothing on the order of F. Scott Fitzgrald, who was rewriting "The Great Gatsby" at the printer. The story can always be better. As soon as I sent the Angel Book out, I had all these thoughts and ideas on how to improve it, how to make give this scene more clarity or that one more resonance. Nothing inspires like a deadline, except a reciept from the post office. Sigh.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

We Will Not Give In To Mondays

I talked to my friends Amy and Conan last night (the honeymooners). I interrupted their Sunday night movie to take a break from things, and I hope I wasn't too bothersome or scattered (I always get so scattered when I get on the phone, why I don't know). I've been pretty lonely the last couple weeks. It's so odd to be alone in grief when your entire family is hurting, but everyone withdraws into their own hurt, and it's been so cold and snowy, just snowed in. Since I'm absolutely broke, I'm not able to distract myself with any books or films (not that I could, easily, since our theater won't open now until May, maybe) or any of the usual ways I do.

Holidays, Mondays, they're always so blue anyways. I will make the effort to go see King Kong, treat myself maybe. The writing, I'm just tired. Too tired even to do that now, which must be a first, or sign of some disturbing vitamin deficency. I am excited about all things downtown, though. I have designs on doing a lit zine still, and some readings, and something else I'm cooking in the back of my head.


Scientists have discovered how cancer spreads.

New Aimee Bender at Nerve.

Pretty hard-core take on short story collections and their general purpose. The author seems to support them in general (I think). I love short story collections. Some of the best fiction I've read this year has been in collections, by Kelly Link, Aimee Bender, Maureen McHugh, M. John Harrison, the Chabon edited Best American edition.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The View From The River

The artists group that has taken shape here in Waterloo now has a name, the Metro Arts Guild. A lot of exciting things have already come of it (including the 10th Anniversary Main St. Waterloo poster contest), and I imagine plenty more will as time goes on. Waterloo continues to enjoy its resurgency, which now includes more development downtown at the river. I'll continue to make the progress downtown part of the new focus of the blog.

Oh, brother.

Ben pays homage to John Lennon, which I failed to do the other day, despite my great, enduring affection for him. I was tickled pink when earlier this year I wrote Yoko Ono for permission to use lyrics from "Imagine" at the top of the Angel Book, and she agreed (or her lawyer did, for her). I'm going to frame the response letter here eventually.

Matt Hanneman, AKA Lisa's husband, AKA Luckiest Bad Word In The World, now has a blog. Check it out.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Exhibit Q

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This is Wendy Hughes; I had a HUGE crush on her as a teenager, when I first saw her in the film this is taken from ("Careful, He Might Hear You"). She's an Austrailian actress who never really caught on here unfortunately, which is a shame, considering how extraordinary she is in talent and beauty.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

You're A Good Girl, Patty Hayes

So the sub-zero crap continues with impunity. You know it's cold when you step outside and in less than five seconds the inside of your nose freezes over. Ah, Iowa. I stood in Wal Mart today (because it's almost safer to stand still) and looked at a bunch of new DVD's that came out. I contemplated how wanting so many films are it seems lately, even good ones. I contemplated fiscal insolvency. And I contemplated girls who ride the kinds of bulls that don't throw you. If ever you are in the market for a girl, you should hope for one that isn't thrown by bull.

I don't know what to do with myself when I'm not writing. That much is obvious now. It all just wants to get out of me, regardless of how tired or bored I am. Like it has a deadline it has to meet or something. I was jotting down some notes for the third book in the sci-fi trilogy last night, when suddenly what was the broad strokes of a scene that was getting too big to keep in my head turned into what is probably the first chapter. And then I went back at it tonight.

It makes me kind of happy, actually, playing in my little sandbox again. I was thinking about the new King Kong movie, and one of the running gags in the trilogy is Kong references. Why Kong and not Star Wars I've wondered, but in each of the three books there's one explicit Kong homage and the third one features the best one, right at the top. For now, the third book is very very embryonic, but I like how it so far seems to lay down lots of foundation for what promises to be a fat book at the same time it moves with a ferocity I didn't expect. I'm not really hip to plunge into it right now (or anytime soon), so I'll see what comes of this first chapter and then see if I like it before doing any more.

Monday, December 05, 2005


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Amy and Conan sent me pics of their honeymoon in Mexico. It looks so warm, and fun, and warm... did I mention warm? Lucky.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Genre, Genre, Genre!

(after Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!)

I forgot to mention this blog is a year old, which makes it the longest kind of journal I've ever kept in my entire life.

I really like this post at the Mumpsimus about Alexander Irvine's book "The Narrows" (concidentally the name of a place both in my own Angel Book, and in Gotham City). It got me thinking about my own book (the Angel one, the dead lesbians) out there in some mail truck somewhere, making the journey to the big city. He talks about defining genre, and whether or not it's even possible, or necessary. The lead character in The Narrows is an Everyman, a character who isn't heroic but understandable, someone we all identify with, and so it's almost incidental the story involves the fantastic.

I wouldn't know how to categorize the Angel Book. It's not sci-fi or fantasy in any traditional sense. No space ships or ray guns or elves or dwarves. Since nearly all the characters are dead, and as a result possess abilities they didn't have in life, it involves the fantastic. But the lead character, Teresa, is someone I'd consider an Everyman. Everywoman. Everyperson. Something. She's a waitress, an adoptive parent with one year of college and lots of bills. A lot of the book takes place in the living world, where gas prices are high, where grief prohibits families from moving on or coming together; in the world of the dead, things are more uncommon, increasingly so, but I hope it's recognizable at least.

I prefer stories that resist categorization. Sometimes I think some people use genre as a dirty word, a way to dismiss a work without really having to judge it on its own merits. Genre has its purposes, most of which are self-evident, but sometimes you wish the whole idea would just die. And then maybe genre could come back as Everygenre, where everyone understands it, and no one really notices.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Exhibit P

It's Friday, and it's been too long, so on with the show: