Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Other Other

Sigh.

So imagine my disappointment today when I go into the Cigar Store around the corner from my brother's shop to check out their magazine rack (as I've been doing since I was 12 years old) and discover copies of a magazine called Other, with nearly the exact logo I planned on using, and having nearly the same sensibility. Ugh. So it's back to the drawing board for a new title. I think I have one; I discovered it by accident as my brother and I were putting the finishing touches on our poster project, trying to find the right title for that.

The poster turned out very nice. I'm very happy with it, and it was a lot of fun collaborating with my brother artisitically, which isn't something we've done very much.

Ilona Mon Ami

No 'Oh, dear' here: my very dear friend Ilona now has a blog. I notice she also lists another good friend Erika Friday as a contributor -- the blog virus claims another.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Jigsaw

I have an update on the JIGSAW NATION anthology, which features my story "The Switch": the anthology will be published in May under the Spyre imprint of Wilder, in hardcover (!) -- the paperback is scheduled to follow in faraway 2008, when Hilary takes over the world -- I mean, when all is set right in America.

I continued to work on the poster project with my brother, which is another sort of puzzle. We spent a while trying to make the various pictures we took fit together in one cohesive whole (not as easy as I thought it would be) and tomorrow we'll finish up. Which is good, since tomorrow's the deadline.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Other

A very good essay by Pam Noles on the 'whiteness' of a lot of SF, reaction to it, and a great post by Matt Cheney dealing with this and the larger issue of 'the other' in fiction. What fascinates me as much as the racial aspect is the bit in Matt's post about male writers never thinking to write a dialogue scene between two women, and women writers never thinking it odd to write a similar scene between two men. I never thought it odd not to write women talking absent of men; growing up, this was pretty much all the talk there was, and these scenes are replete in my own fiction to the point I can think of very few scenes that are just between men.

All this is occassion to talk about my forthcoming zine, Other, a dream of mine for a long time and a real labor of love. It's early yet, but it's starting to come together (my good friend Co gave me a pair of wonderful poems for it tonight) and I have hopes to see it in print this winter yet. I want for Other to be a place for writing that doesn't fit in anywhere else, that doesn't lend itself to any category or genre, and that includes both form and content. The execution may be simple (but earnest), but the writing won't be. It will include fiction, poetry, non-fiction, mixed media, everything in between, the stuff that goes homeless.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

20 Years

I can't believe it's been twenty years since the Challenger disaster. It doesn't seem possible to me at all, the way it didn't seem possible to my mother in 1983 that it had been twenty years since she was a young girl on the floor in the living room in front of the TV as Walter Cronkite came on to tell her Kennedy was dead. I stayed home some mornings from school back then to watch the shuttle launches, since they always took off so early. I didn't that day, because the flight had been delayed several times already. I suppose it was a good thing. Our principal calledthe teacher out of the room to tell her. I remember this look of shock ooming over her face, and she came bac in, her hands in her pockets, and said "The space shuttle blew up in space." At first I thought it was in space, I thought of something more cinematic, something more 'Star Wars.'

Of course it wasn't like that at all. Watching the playback, it was clear to me, 11 years old, something was wrong right away, that kettle fire burning under the pot belly of the external tank, and the image of the shuttle exploding was as traumatic for me then as the sight of a plane crahsing into the World Trade Center. It simply didn't compute, not for a kid who thought he was going to be an astronaut, who ran around with toy spaceships all day long. The space program never really recovered, either. As many achievements as its made since, man spaced flight in the last two decades has regressed, and after the Columbia, the space shuttle may never fly regularly again. It has no replacement, and NASA has no real plan for the future that involves manned missions. I hope that twenty years from now that the crew of the Challenger will be remembered from the moon, or from Mars. I hope that it will seem less impossible then.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bumblebee Semaphore

I spent the day walking around downtown taking pictures for the poster project my brother and I are working on. I went down to the old train station, wanting to capture some of Waterloo's railroad history, and was shocked to find the old semaphore that had been there ever since I can remember fallen over in the grass:

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It made me kind of sad actually. I did get a few decent pictures, and I'll put them together with what my brother shoots to hopefully make something better. The zine -- progress, finally. I seem to have solved most of the formatting issues, and now I'm on my knees humbly before contributors for the first issue. The execution will be minimalist, simple, very underground, which is exactly what I want. It will be a mish-mash of fiction, poetry, art, non-fiction, and everything in between.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

From Pulitzer To Plush

The new Powell's interview is Marilynne Robinson. Also, an interesting take on a reading she gave while she was in Portland. Mandy misses Portland.

Matt Cheney gives his deep-dish best-of list.

The best thing really about the Star Wars prequels was the cartoon, and the best thing about the cartoon was the 'flying shark' gunship, a take off of painted up WW2 planes. I take that back. The coolest thing about Star Wars is the toys:

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GEEK.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Full Irish

My old IC roommate and fellow Irish alum Andrew now has a blog. He leaves comments on Mandy's, but not on mine. Really deep, thoughtful ones, too. I don't really like him any more.

Narrative Dreams

More narrative vs. non-narrative battles, all in one tidy place. Definitely give Narrativity a read.

Spent the night revising and submitting. I had a run last year where I wrote a lot of short stories, submitted them all, and sold none. Looking over some the last few days, I guess I see why; a lot of them are flabby and inconcise. Others just can't find good homes. I write lots of homeless stories. So I've put the flabby ones on a diet, and I'm making the rounds again to places I haven't considered in the past.

I had the most pleasant dream I think I've ever had last night. It was about a friend coming to see me, surprising me, rewarding all these wishes you store up over time; a day dream sort of thing but not deliberate, not designed, just there.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Space... MADNESS!

I flipped back and forth this afternoon between the Steelers-Broncos game and this great documentary of Dickens on PBS. It wasn't so much a documentary as a faux-60 Minutes kind of thing where they conducted 'interviews' with Dickens, the people in his life, as if they were back in 1855 with a video camera. I enjoyed it as much as watching the Bus take the Steelers to Super Bowl Xtra Large.

I was on the couch watching all this because I was flat on my back in pain all day. I get these episodes every once in a while where the pain just overwhelms me. It started a couple of days ago and today the tide came in. This medication they have me on now does nothing but make me naseous. I can live with being in constant pain, I have for almost six years now, but the flare-ups get more and more spectacular, like they're in some race to top themselves, and life, work, everything becomes difficult.

Kat Sedia did me a big favor this weekend, reading my novel in progress. It's a tricky experimental sort of thing that I worried might fly apart on take-off, but she took the risk anyway, and I thank her. Her comments were very helpful, even if it did induce space... MADNESS!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Waiting

Sometimes Waterloo feels like a giant terminal. People waiting for their ride out of here, waiting for someone or something to show up. It's always been that way as long as I've been here, and it seems it always will, no matter what progress is made. There's never been enough patience to allow things to happen instead of forcing them, and now, flush with my own ambitions, I see why. The starving will kill themselves in feast if you're not careful with the food.

Both my new novel projects frustrate me. I can't seem to solve the riddles of either. I get bored of one and turn to the other, and I end going back and forth without making any real progress anywhere. I should pick one and concentrate on it, but then I think I'd love to do anything but write a novel right now. When Lance Armstrong wakes up in the morning and goes, "Yep, I'm gonna ride another tour," that's the commitment you need to writing novels, and I just feel so tired and out of ideas. My problem is I start fitting if I'm not writing. I literally have to be writing something all the time, so letting the batteries recharge hardly ever happens. I hate it.

The Exhibits

Here they are now all in one place, the exhibits that prove the existence of God for all you naysayers out there. Case closed.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V X Y Z

Friday, January 20, 2006

Exhibit X



Kitty Pride, every single comic book geek's first crush, and inspiration for every super-girl that those geeks grow up to create.

Chris Matthews is a dupe. This can't go overlooked. I would have thought someone of Matthews' intelligence would be able to distinguish between Michael Moore and Osama Bin Laden. I would have thought he would not be able to succumb to the adolescent pandering in Bin Laden's latest video, in which he not only calls for a 'truce' (in which we surrender) but attempts to play on the political divisions in this country.

Osama: You will die as ignorant as you are of us right now.

Chris Matthews: Shame on you. You embarrass yourself.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Experience: Priced To Sell



The site for my brother's art gallery is now up and running.

Is it 10 years already?

The lost art of narrative. Great article by Catherine Gardner on the decline of short stories in England, which manages to touch on Walter Benjamin's essays (experience has lost all value, information has replaced narrative), the unique relationship in the U.S. between short fiction and film, and the art of adaptation. People have largely forgotten how to tell stories, even in fiction, where 'traditional' narrative has been under attack for a century now' it startles me that in Britain this is percieved as worse than here in the States. I would have thought it the opposite.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Conversations With: Ekaterina Sedia

This week I have an interview with Ekaterina Sedia, a deep-dish writer if there ever was one. She is the author of the novel ACCORDING TO CROW, and her fiction appears in Analog, Aeon Magazine, Lenox Avenue and Poe's Progeny anthology. She's also the editor of the anthology JIGSAW NATION, in which a number of writers (including myself) imagine an America split in two.

Q: What compelled you to put together an anthology based on such a provocative topic as a 'divided America?'

A: I cannot take credit for that idea. It actually happened right after 2004 election, when the internet was rife with maps of "Jesusland" and "United States of Canada", and variations thereof. Talks of the secession were all over the place, and a few people at the SFReader.com forum started talking that the Blue State Secession was a good fictional premise. Ed McFadden volunteered to edit an anthology based on that premise, and I volunteered to help.

The reason I got involved was because as many others I was angry – not just at that election, but at the whole two party system, at the indifference of American people to suffering of people elsewhere, at those who don't pay attention and are so easily fooled by empty rhetoric, at those who believe that evolution is somehow 'controversial', at those who presume that they have a right to decide who is allowed get married… need I go on? Editing this anthology allowed me to do something constructive with this anger.

Q: Do you consider yourself a political writer? What's your take on the state of politics in fiction?

A: Yes, inasmuch as anyone who writes speculative fiction is. As far as I am concerned, you cannot write about the future and ignore the environmental disasters all around us, the Global Climate Change, rising ocean levels, horrible globalization that robs people of their livelihoods and dignity, modern-day slavery, the growing disparity between rich and poor nations. There isn't going to be a future to speak of unless the world is radically changed. On the other hand, when I write fantasy set in the past, current politics still informs the sorts of themes I'm interested in.

As for fiction (I will talk about speculative fiction) – there is much explicitly political fiction written today that is quite good; Nick Mamatas and Douglas Lain write excellent political fiction. There's also some that is mediocre. Like with any other fiction, if you have something interesting to say, the story will be interesting. If it's a rehash of slogans, it'll be boring.

Often, fantasy (especially heroic fantasy) is blamed for being apolitical or reactionary. Well, SF is guilty of that too – white men subduing alien planets and solving problems with state-of-the-art technology is still a staple today. I feel it is no less reactionary than fantasy about restoring the rightful heir to the throne – both are based on preservation of status quo, and resistance to change. Not that there are no good stories written in either of those milieus, but many are drivel – precisely because the authors do not examine the truthfulness of the underlying assumptions. The belief in humanity's ability to solve any problem with technology is still very persistent, despite the fact that many of the problems we face today are not solvable by technological means. It's just one example of societal belief system influencing writers, and no one is outside this system. You can either ignore your assumptions, or acknowledge them, or question them. In that sense, all fiction is political.

Q: You're both an editor and a writer of short stories; has seeing it from both sides given you any perspective on the trials of writing/selling short fiction you didn't have before?

A: Certainly. The process is inherently inhumane – in the sense that no editor sits down with a stack of stories, intending to give every single writer a chance. Editors look for stuff they would like to publish, and if it doesn't look like what they want on the first page, into reject pile it goes.

Many writers produce perfectly competent stories, which completely lack any distinctive characteristics – they've been polished to the point of removing anything that stands out, and end up like those pebbles you find by the sea, smooth and identical. I was in a writing workshop some time ago, and I noticed that there was a strong trend to remove any hint of individuality from writing, striving for bland prose. This extruded fiction product is something I avoid as an editor. As a writer, I started to pay more attention to voice – something that makes a story different. Having a point also helps.

Q: What question do you wish interviewers would ask you for crying out loud?

A: Uh… "Where can I buy your fiction?"

Many thanks to Kat for her time and answers!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Regrets

I was sitting at my computer, working on some writing, and my mind wandered as it often does. The day my uncle died, I got word from an agent who wanted to see the Angel Book. I told him about it, and he asked me what the book was about. I told him it was the sci-fi one, because he knew about that one, because I didn't want to tell him that it was a book about death, about dead people. Now I wish I had had the courage to. I was brave or fool enough to write it. My uncle was actually on his death bed. I don't know why I'm thinking about it tonight. Writers revisit things, follow strings and threads, imagine possibilities, script entire lives in moments. You're always 'on'; you're like an antenna, always recieving, always relaying information. You feel like a beacon for all the random noise in the universe, and it's your hopeless job to decipher it.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Trespassers Will Be Vaporized

The pesky issue of invading a planet. So often in sci-fi stories, the bad guys invade a planet when they could just as soon bombard it from space (I wondered myself in films like Star Wars why no one ever bothered to establish air superiority; they just sort of throw the whole thing at you, all at once). I've been thinking about this myself lately, only because such an invasion takes place in the third book of the sci-fi trilogy. There's a legitimate reason as to why the bad guys don't simply nuke the planet from orbit (which they clearly have the means to do), and it causes lots of dramatic ripples between the characters (bad guys disagree, big time) which I like, and it forces to think of ways to present an old trope in new and innovative ways.

I had a very good, busy weekend writing/working on writing stuff. I conducted an interview which will be up soon, I revised a new story and submitted some others. The workshop is a little closer to happening, though the zine still frustrates. I'll need some outside assistance on that one.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

After Hours

The gala at my brother's gallery for Paco Rosic was very successful. Probably around 500 people showed up. I drank way too much wine, which caught up with me later, when I out with a bunch of folks and then proceeded to drink too much Captain & Coke. My mom went out with the party for a while to Monica's, and reminicised with Senator Dotzler about the good ol' days (my mom actually ran for city council back in '82); I'd met him during the campaign last year, and last night he invited me to visit the State Capitol in Des Moines sometime as a VIP guest, which was very nice.

I also got to see a dear old friend of the family, Mary Rudd, who's been to Italy and Greece in the last few weeks, and is going to Africa (!) next month. There was actually a guy from Africa at the bar, and my mom mispronounced his name all night (I don't even know what it was, I never heard it right) as she's want to do. She still calls Sugu 'Subaru' despite my best efforts. And despite the fact my head was spinning terrible, I got up very early this morning to help put together a set for a play at UNI. I really enjoyed it. I hadn't done anything like that in years, since my old playhouse days, and I miss it. I also made some progress on the workshop I'm putting together, the lit zine (which requires only me figuring what the hell I need to do) and even the prospect of readings at the gallery.

The arts group that has formed downtown now has a website, so check that out.

And Sugu updated his site with stories and pics from his trip back to the States, like this one:

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Exhibit V

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Sophia Myles, who you probably remember vaugely from "Underworld". So this is interesting: she's in this new movie "Tristan & Isolde", which opens today completely out of the blue. No hype on this, and I would have known because I would have been excited to see this; the old myth is one of my favorites. I named a character in the Angel Book after Isolde, and if ever there are movies of the sci-fi trilogy, I kind of had Sophia in mind for a character in the second book who becomes the very quiet (but determined) third in a triangle involving the main characters.

I Want To Ride My Bicycle

I want to ride my bike... and I did today, since it got up to 50. So I broke it out of storage, where it had been since after Thanksgiving. I was getting stir crazy, so it was a very good ride. I have the excercise bike indoors, but I love getting out. My health has sucked of late, and the writing frustrating, so it was a very nice afternoon diversion. I just doubt everything about my writing lately. I feel like I've gotten better, but everytime I sit down in front of the computer lately, I lose faith/confidence/interest what have you. I don't like where it's going, I don't know how to fix it, and it gets harder to climb the mountain each time.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Conversations With: Dr. Daniel Dahlquist

Here's what I hope is the start of a new weekly (or so) feature on the blog: a mini-interview with writers about the craft. My good friend and teacher Dr. Daniel Dahlquist inaugurates the series.

Dr. Dahlquist is a wonderful poet; his poetry has appeared in respected literary journals such as Prairie Schooner, New Virginia Review, River Styx, Kentucky Poetry Review, and the Louisville Review. He graduated from the University of Iowa's storied Writer's Workshop and holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Southern Illinois University. His first book, SPEECH TO THE DEAD PEOPLE, was published in 1997 by Cedar Creek Press. You can read an excerpt from the book (and my favorite of his poems) here.

Without further adieu:

Q: What poets or other writers do you consider influences?

A: The apocalyptic poets appealed to me when I was very young. I started writing poems at age sixteen, on my grandfather's 1928 L.C. Smith typewriter, largely to impress my English teacher. I had a terrific crush on her. Dylan Thomas was a great favorite, although I couldn't claim to "understand," with my conscious mind, all that much of what he was saying. The music appealed to me, the lush language, and of course the romantic image of Dylan the performer, boozing and broading his way across America, I liked this image very much! ee cummings was another great favorite. I was distancing myself from the conformists I saw all around me, as were many young people in my generation, and cummings is one of those poets eternally young, always being "discovered" and re-discovered by new generations. Although it has been said that virtually every one of his poems is "flawed" in some way (don't ask me, I probably couldn't find the flaw), and sometimes he gets a bit carried away in trying to set himself apart by his goofy typeface and punctuation, etc., I still love him, and the permission he gives to young poets. But my greatest influence when I was young was the west coast poet, Kenneth Patchen. I was reading a lot of Henry Miller at the time, and Miller had written a wonderful essay called "Patchen, Man of Anger and Light," and when I read this essay I sought out Patchen, and his intensity fitted my mind and temperament beautifully. (If one finds a writer one loves, it is sound advice to look at the authors that writer loves...one turns up one great book after another this way, and it saves a lot of time). Patchen is often associated with the Beats, but it is an uneasy fit, I think. He was one of the first poets to read with jazz. He made "poem-pictures," a marvelous wedding of poetry and graphics, that he published and sold seperately. Today I can't read much of his surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness poetry and prose, but his righteous anger, and his love poems for his wife Miriam, still ring true to me.

But the greatest influence of my youth was James Dickey. His star has been somewhat eclipsed in these feminist times, but in the sixties and seventies, especially when his novel Deliverance was made into a movie, he was the "King of the Cats." He is often compared with Hemingway, of course, but his range is greater than Hem's, to my mind. I met Dickey when he gave a reading at Southern Illinois University in the seventies, and I gave him a magazine with a few of my poems in it. He liked my stuff, and for some reason took me under his wing, and spent time with me, even during the stress of this public performance...We began a correspendence. He made me feel that writing poetry was not only okay, it was the highest and finest thing a human being could possibly hope to do with his life. I ended up traveling to Columbia, South Carolina to study with him, and the two years I experienced in his classes were the best of my life.

Q: There's Southern writing; is there Midwestern writing? Iowa writing? If so, how would you describe it?

A:All writing is regional, to my mind. There is Faulkner's Mississippi, Mark Twain's Hannibal, etc., but the world loves these writer's because they have dug their particular wells so deep that they have struck what Jung calls "The Collective Unconscious." To be honest, I am not often aware, these days, of a particular "region" speaking through a poem, but I am very aware of how deeply observant a poet is, in whatever locale her or she writes from. Poetry is an act of attention, and one can pay attention to a cityscape or a rural New England landscape. One good poet can do both, although there is usually a preference. The genius of the poem is in what the poet chooses to praise. God or the Devil is in the details.

I might add that during the last few years I have been conducting poetry workshops in the south (one in Memphis, one in the Ozarks). Here a group of locals have come together to form a community of writers. In a world that is largely indifferent to poetry, it is a beautiful idea, on the surface. Their goal I think is to encourage one another, to offer constructive criticism, to give praise when praise is due. When these workshops "work" there is the possibility for true growth. I find that the poets whose work has grown the most from year to year have gone beyond the group, however. He or she is reading the best of the nationally known poets. He is aware of what is going on outside of the warm and familiar home front. Alas, when I return in a year's time I find that some have not grown at all, though they might have won some prize or another in one of their state contests (regional writing groups seem to absolutely love contests...contests make one feel good, when one wins, of course). In other words, I think the notion of "regional writer" can be a trap, a trap that recycles the cliches of the particular region: calico, rivers, grandma's quilt, etc....

Someone once said, of the poems that come from the Iowa Writer's Workshop each year, that there are many ruined cornstalks. Well, you look out your window, and if you see ruined cornstalks, you put them in a poem...if the poet is doing his or her job, one could have ten "ruined cornstalks" poems in a single workshop, and each would be startlingly different. Each cornstalk would have been transformed by the poet's individual sensibility. The weaker poet would ride the cornstalk image for what is immediately available to everyone about cornstalks in winter. He wouldn't follow Richard Hugo's famous advice to let the cornstalk transform itself within a few lines, it would not find its true triggering subject (not cornstalks, but something from the poet's unique, interior life). I am confining my remarks to poetry here, because I don't read enough prose to speak about it.

A final thought. I have heard many musicians decry the fact that everyone is "influenced" now. We will not have a Mississippi John Hurt, for instance, playing for five or seven field hands in the Texas Delta, isolated, improvising on his own, going his own way, perhaps "doing it wrong" because he doesn't know any better. Thanks to the internet, cable television, etc., everyone has heard everyone, and I can't help but believe that this would make true innovation, true individuality more difficult. The same argument is made for the proliferation of writer's workshops. Many claim that the workshop poem is instantly recognizable as a small, predictable poem. Workshop poems suffer from sameness (although, in defense of workshops, every great teacher I have known has told his or her students that their best poems would come after they left the workshop) [read about the problem of the 'workshop short story' here] Robert Lowell urged any would-be poet to read everything written in the English language, and then start writing. This would be impossible for me, and for most people, but his principle is strong. One can tell how many poems a poet has read in the first four lines of his poem, regardless of "location." Dylan Thomas didn't know the difference between a turkey and a turkey vulture, or so he claimed. Dickey said he didn't know the names of plants and wildlife the way a Thoreau did, for instance, but this meant that when he went into the wild it was all wondrous, all unknown, all open to his imagination. In this sense, knowing the particulars of a region, or rather not knowing them, may be an asset to a poet. He will be Adam in the garden. Poetry is a naming activity, and one needn't be literally "correct."

I have been told that many songwriters today in Nashiville work in "teams," and this may explain why so many country western songs sound alike. Orson Welles was asked, when he was in his forties, why he hadn't made a film as great as Citizen Kane, which he created around the age of 23, if memory serves...he answered that he "knows too much now." His point is that art involves risk-taking. A life preserver around the neck of an artist eventually sinks him. So, this is the danger of writer's groups that fashion themselves as southern or midwestern this or that. My first teaching job was in Somerset, Kentucky, in the worst educational district in the continental United States. In a year's time I got very tired of hearing about "our Appalachian heritage," and "our Appalachian pride." People who speak of pride in this sense only indicate that they have had reason to feel ashamed. To try to write with such brainwashing going on would be a hindrance, I think, to a serious young poet. James Wright's love of blighted Ohio produced poems that are much truer, to my mind, than any attempt to "lift up" a particular region. Intentionality, in this sense, is death to creativity.

Marvin Bell said that we poets should be "less and less embarassed about more and more." This is the truth about writing well, I think, wherever one lives.

My thanks to Dr. Dahlquist for his time and thoughts.

Frey Up That Memoir

So James Frey maybe fibbed some on his absolutely real, gritty as all get-out, Oprah endorsed memoir. Oprah is quiet. Oprah is probably pissed (first Franzien, now Frey! F them all!) And so did a lot of other folks, and it got me thinking: what areas can I embellish when it comes time to deliver my own memoir someday?

1. I saw Jesus at the age of four and briefly pursued a life in the priesthood, until I was pursued right out of it.

2. I saw the original 'Star Wars' on opening day in 1977. Knew it from the start, yo.

3. In Ireland, U2 was recording their album "All That You Can't Leave Behind" TWO FUCKING BLOCKS from our dorm at Trinity. One night, I went to Mahaffey's and there was the Edge, in for a pint. He was down in the mouth, and after some chat he took me back to the Windmill Lane where I listened to the rough tracks. I set him straight about some things, and thus saved U2 and rock n' roll in the process.

4. My formative sexual experience was with an older woman, a lesbian, which more than likely accounts for why they show up so much in my writing.

5. Sugu and I not only broke OUT of the Kodak Theater the week before the Oscars, the night before the Iraq war when there were National Guard in the street, but we actually broke back IN to get back to his car.

Actually, some of these are true. Mostly. Prove it. I dare you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Mouse, The Mouse, The Mouse Is On Fire

Don't mess with mouses, yo.

I had a pretty good night writing. I've been alternating a little between my two projects, and tonight I feel like I cracked some of the problems I was having with Chapter 1 of the third book in the sci-fi trilogy. Basically it was how the hell to start it; the narrative scope of this one dwarfs the preceding two books. The first book had a single narrative thread, the second book two, and this one four. The books all start small and broaden out, though, and what I was trying to do here was start with a God's eye view and work my way down. It's just not the way of these books. I went back to the intimate, let it carry me down the river to the big mouth of the ocean. The burdensome exposition you have to carry around starting with the macro comes easy, painless, and instead of bludgeoning the reader over the head with a captivating image at the top, they come on you, gradually, relentlessly.

The Iowa Writer's Workshop should no longer be considered a top ten program'. Wow.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Diagnosis:SNS

So I go to the doctor today, because my neck is all of a sudden swelled up. Lumpy things on either side of it. It's my lymph nodes apparently, and it may be completely harmless, but they did some blood work to make sure. They don't what causes these things (naturally) and it might just go away on its own. Apparently this happened when I was really little, too, so I'm somewhere between being optimistic and being very, very, very tired of coming down with things that people cannot explain or treat, or both.

Good news: I've lost 70 pounds since I started my diet last year.

One thing I hope never to come down with: SNS disease. You see this sometimes; I think it happens more to folks who toil away on one book for years. They may only have one story to tell. And it's just as likely for this to happen:

The second published novel is often one that was started and even finished before the first. What the critic praises as the brilliant first book, long in gestation, inspired and innocent, may well be novel No. 8 by that writer; and the condemned second book, "pumped out too quickly", "too conscious of an audience", "a disappointing follow-up", is in fact novel No. 4 that took several years longer. Unless you know the novelist's working method intimately, you can't make assumptions.


My advice to staying healthy and free of SNS: have one in the chamber.

Got 200,000 years?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Queen's Eyes Were Light-Yellow

I started reading Virginia Woolf's Orlando for the first time, but in a casino, which is about as nuts as it sounds. It was so loud and smoky inside, and packed, just ridiculously packed, that I read aloud. Nobody could hear me. "The Queen's eyes were light-yellow!" "Bingo!" I had lunch with Ben the other day, and that wasn't nearly as haywire an experience. We talked about the workshop I want to get going, and when is the right time to get off the Star Wars toy train.

Besides the workshop, I'm very eager to get my lit zine project going. I'm having trouble finding the resources and info I need, and I go back and forth between wanting it to be a print project, and a web project. Another thing I go back and forth on is the next writing project. Third sci-fu book? New sci-fi book? There's nothing really to stop me from doing a little on each at the same time, but that's never really worked for me in the past, and the work only gets more complicated; the notes of the third book in the trilogy could constitute a book in their own right.

So the London Times had a bit of fun and sent out samples of previously published works, some that garnered a lot of critical acclaim, to literary agents to see what kind of response they'd get in today's market. The response was predictable, but not so much the real 'reality' of what the 'experiment' may have uncovered. The commentary that follows below is eye-opening, too.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Four Things

Here's a fun little meme excercise I cribbed from the blog of a spec-fic writer, Margo Lanagan:

Four jobs you've had:
1. Newspaper reporter
2. Customer Service Represenative for Medicare
3. Member of the clean-up crew at the bowling alley
4. Children's activities assistant for the YWCA

Four movies you could watch over and over (strangely, not ones I'd put on any sort of all time best list):

1. Ronin
2. Breathless
3. The Girl in the Cafe
4. Jackie Brown

Four places you've lived:
1. Waterloo, IA
2. Iowa City, IA
3. Dublin, Ireland
4. Places I choose to forget

Four TV shows you love to watch:
1. Deadwood
2. Battlestar Galactia
3. The West Wing
4. Newsnight with Aaron Brown, but they took it off the air and sacked Brown for that paragon of righteous indignation, Anderson Cooper

Four of your favorite foods:
1. Chicago style pizza
2. Panchero's
3. Oranges. Always oranges.
4. Inevitably something involving chicken, since it's all I eat in the line of meat.

Four places you'd rather be:
1. The Antrim Coast on a foggy day
2. Wrigley Field
3. Somewhere tropical
4. Cape Canaveral on launch day

Lawn Chair Mandy

My good friend and fellow Iowa writer Mandy now has a blog, so check that out. I met Mandy in Dublin almost six years ago now, along with Sugu, Amy & Co, and some of the other people you've seen in a variety of pics here. Mandy is about as smart, talented, and warm a person as you can imagine. Plus, she likes to wear furniture.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bottle Cap Wars

I promised pics of the goodies Sugu gave me from Japan. First up is the very cool set of bottle cap characters from Star Wars that are only available in Japan, from Pepsi:

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Sugu gave me all 12 in the set, which was very nice of him. And he didn't stop there: he also got me these very neat little keychains from vending machines over there.

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1, 2, 3, 4, I declare a thumb war!

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Speaking of very cool Japanese things, TCM is running a tribute to Miyazaki every Thursday this month, starting tonight. Once I get out of tonight's art group meeting, I know where I'll be.

Resolved

Reading resolutions for 2006. My new year's reading resolution? I think I want to pick a writer (maybe Chekov, somebody I haven't read too much and should have) and read all of their work. As much as I can find. And also, I plan on starting a local writing workshop. I want to get Ben and whoever else is willing to get together and beat each other senseless.

The connection between Kong and Heart of Darkness, which I wrote about a little in my review of the film.

The new novel. It's a bitch. Most of them are. This one feels like a dare you've lost. "Ha! You thought you could experiment successfully in point of view! Fool! Now drink the Draino!" And it goes back and forth between Casablanca in space, and The Great Gatsby in space. You may wonder how that's supposed to work. You and me both. I suppose I should show the first hundred pages to folks before I get too far out in the wilderness.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

In With Thunder

So 2006 began ominously. First there was the thunder and lightning (admist the sleet) and now there are about a thousand black birds perched in every tree in the neighborhood. Alfred Hitchcock would have shit himself for footage of these guys. Every time I open the front door, it's like the beaches of Normandy out there.

The writing frustrates me. Not because I'm not doing any, but because I'm not sure what to do. I feel like I need a challenge, I need to do something outside what I've been doing, and even though the third book in the sci-fi trilogy presents a staggering challenge to me, it's not the one I'm looking for right now. I started that novel in a month project before my uncle passed away, had about 80 pages of stuff to work with, and now I think I want to pursue that first. Like the Angel Book, it's a collision of genres, a literary riff on the fantastic, and much more challenging to me than the trilogy; if I wonder how the hell I'm going to do something, then I usually break a lot of shit until I do.

Happy 30th to my brother Aaron.