Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Kindred

Octavia Butler, dead at 58. Butler didn't drive. She took the bus like me, or walked. She died walking. Too soon, but walking.

I recieved some more contributions for the zine today. One was an extraordinary poem from Doug Powell, a piece of riveting non-fiction from Mandy Hurley, and a great cartoon from Matt Hanneman. I forgot to mention I got a great poem (and a call!) from Polly Brewster. I spent a couple hours working on the zine and discovered I'm actually very close to filling out its pages. I should have the final contributions for the first issue soon, as well as that pesky cover...

I'm up to 117 pages on the new novel. Don't go in dark basements.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

21st Century Writer

Slipstream ain't what it used to be, ain't what it used to be...

A really good review of Ali Smith's new novel The Accidental spins off larger questions about life in the age of public narrative, and also, if the book is slipstream or not, and just what is slipstream nowadays. Read Bruce Sterling's 1989 essay for sure. Slipstream is more or less what I've been calling 'deep-dish lit' here on the blog; writing that inhabits a strangeness that isn't orthodox in either literary or genre terms. I consider myself that kind of writer. I don't particulary appreciate the term 'post-modern'. It's outdated, and I have issues with it. I'd rather just say I'm a 21st century writer. I'm a writer coming of age in a century very young and undefined, that changes exponentially every year. Our art and the means of its delivery to the public changes every year. It's very hard to define things that can't be or aren't meant to be defined.

Went out last night with Ben and friends from the Metro Arts Guild, Kyle and Osie. It was a lot of fun. We meant to go to the new Irish pub, but it won't be open to the public until Monday, so we went to the Lava Lounge instead. Osie designed the logo for the zine, which I just realized I've never showed here. Now that the title has changed, and Osie is graciously amending the logo, I present the original:



I love it and I'm sad there was another Other. Big thanks to Osie for his time and hard work, I really appreciate it. As for the cover... so, next week for sure.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Don't Worry About Security

Your president in action.



Maureen McHugh's Hodgkins may have returned. I wish her all the best.

So I promised the zine cover this week. Mmm... the week technically isn't over yet. So we'll see. I may have found a new title for it. I'm up to 110 pages on my novel. And I was in a car accident today. Nothing major. But the other guy was perhaps the biggest asshole I've met in quite some time. Aren't they always, though? We had pulled over to the side of the road to avoid an ambulance (as you're supposed to) and who comes flying out of a driveway? Asshole. We honked the horn for like five seconds and he just kept coming. He told me 'it didn't matter.' It was a generally crappy day. What can I say.

But I found out Mandy watches Project Runway too!



I'm so addicted it's not even funny.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Like Ghosts

The blurry line between YA and adult fiction. I think about this sometimes. When I was a teenager, I graduated into 'mature' comic books before I did novels. At the time DC was in the early days of what would become Vertigo; Alan Moore was doing Swamp Thing, Neil Gaiman was just starting Sandman, and comics weren't comics anymore. I started reading more 'adult' books, at first things like 'The Stand', and then 'The World According to Garp.' I think about this because some of my fiction straddles this line, the same as it does genres. I don't think books should be labeled YA or OA or whatever, anymore than they should be shoe horned into categories and genres. It helps for young readers to have a realm of books all their own, but the best books, as they quickly find out, live there like ghosts; they're there, and they're not.

Went to the doctor again today. Same old story, except I've now lost 80 pounds. It's sort of hard to comprehend that this time last year I felt so big -- I was so big -- and ugly and shipwrecked and lost. I'm only a little over half way to my goal (half of my former self) but I know now I can do it, and more.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Conversations With: Molly McNett

This week I'm proud to present an interview with Molly McNett. Molly is a former teacher of mine from Iowa, and she was very supprotive and encouraging to me way back in my tadpole days. She teaches at Northern Illinois, and she's a graduate of the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop. She was a finalist for the Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Award, and her story "Catalogue Sales" appears in the 2005 editon of The Best American Non-Required Reading.

Q: What was your first literary crush?

A: I'll answer this literally- my husband. Because he was much better read than I was--still is--and writing seriously already when I met him. I hadn't read anything to speak of. And my husband's family was a wonderful thing to me, because they are all readers, and my mother in law is a writer.

But to answer the real question: Mary Gaitskill. I still have a literary
crush on Mary Gaitskill. Part of it is her language. She has such style
and control. And I remember Two Girls Fat and Thin was one I read with the dictionary at hand, looking up every big word and memorizing some of the phrases. (I still like that simple pleasure of a writer who uses a word I don't know, or complicated syntax, though I can't pull off anything close to those styles I admire the most.) And then of course there is the darkness and eroticism, especially of the stories in Bad Behavior, etc. There was an ugliness in those stories like nothing I'd ever read before them, and yet when I would finish reading them, I'd always feel uplifted, strangely. Well, they're beautifully rendered. Maybe that transcends whatever is ugly about them.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your story 'Catalogue Sales'?

A: Let's just say that I don't have a very good imagination. I believe in wholesale invention, but I haven't ever practiced it.

Q: You graduated from the Writer's Workshop at Iowa. What advice and perspective would you offer writers wanting to pursue their MFA?

A: I have two thoughts on this, and they contradict each other. First, go to an MFA program and try to go to the very best ones, not because there is any true difference, exactly, in what you'll be taught, but because you don't want to be the best writer there. It's like playing tennis with someone who's worse than you are- there's not as much incentive to improve. (I don't participate in sports of any kind and can only imagine this, but that's what I've heard.) Raising the bar- is this some kind of track and field metaphor? Well, those are some well worn cliches I've given you there, but it's a fact that there's some kind of group momentum that occurs when a great piece is turned in for workshop. The next people who write respond to that, and it's like a great, heady conversation. And you have to read a lot when you're in MFA programs, so you don't want to have to read crap. There's probably a lower crap factor the more selective you are, but of course, crap can be found anywhere. But there is the other thing I wanted to say, and I think it's more important: stay away from anyone or anything that discourages you. My hero is this regard is Lily Briscoe, the painter in To the Lighthouse. Somewhere in the book she says she doesn't go to museums because there is too much great art there. "One might never paint again," she thinks, or something like that. In other words you have to know yourself and protect yourself and don't go too early or when you're too fragile. Or if you go anyway be vigilant and stick with yourself. It's the impulse to write that's the most important and its worth a lot more than the trappings of being a writer...even more important than being well-read, or being published, for example. Or going to Iowa.

Q: Is there a book or a story you really want to write but haven't yet?

A: Yes. I'd like to write a 3,000 page, six volume, first person critique of capitalist culture. It would deal with the nature of time, memory and its reliance on the senses, travel, jealousy, snobbism, and the way technology (telephone vs pneumatic tube, etc.) has changed the nauture of human interaction. Has anyone covered that yet?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Novel To Darby: Write Me Or Die

Spent a lazy Sunday afternoon working on my novel-in-progress. I usually don't write in the daytime, but the little cage I keep this one in has been rattling very, very loud, and so rather than upset the neighbors, I fed the beast. I brought it up to 101 pages, which was a big goal for me. Normally 100 pages isn't a big deal; that's about a month's worth of solid work, but this one has been challenging in many ways. It also came along at a turbulent time. I suppose I'm a third of the way there, then; I always saw this as one of those slim puply newstand books that you could fit in your backpocket.

On the zine front, I'm very proud and humbled to say I'm going to have contributions from Caitlin R. Kiernan and Steve Almond. I'm also very happy to have a comic from Matt Hanneman, an all around great guy, and one of the luckiest guys in the world.

Check back tomorrow; I'll have a new conversation with Molly McNett.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

On The Rocks

It. Is. Freezing. It's 30 below right now with the wind. The coldest it's been all year and it's not going to let up anytime soon. I went to an open mic night at the Center for the Arts tonight. I hadn't read in public since Iowa City, so it was a little nerve-wracking, but I had a lot of fun. I read a couple newer poems, "The New Girlfriend", and "Surface", which I wrote for an art project my brother and I plan to do. There was another wonderful poet there named Pat King, who read all sorts of style poetry, Slam, some rap, some sermons, it was great.

The trap of the bottle rocket writer. Because they take off and then go "BOOM!"

"Look, if she's bludgeoned to death, I want to make sure we see some blood."

I got back on the novel horse Thursday night. What else to do but write a big fat novel when there's half a foot of wind driven snow on the ground, right? I think I've decided to go ahead with the space-noir thing; I think I finally cracked the voice of this piece last night. Sometimes I will listen to people talking, especially if they have a beautiful voice (this woman on Project Runway from South Africa, Kara, has the sexiest accent I have ever heard; I really only listen to the show while I'm working, just for her). And then sometimes that voice catches in your head. They just start talking. So you listen. It takes on its own patterns and inflections, its own tones, and you've discovered a hybrid-demon baby voice that works gangbusters for your novel.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Slice Of 'Loo II



This image, like the last one, also appears in my brother and I's poster project, though in an altered form. I call this one 'Flames.'

Green With Anticipation

So we got hit by about six inches of snow today. It was nearly 60 degrees two days ago, which only goes to show that Iowa is really just a big tease. It's okay, though, since in one month's time it's St. Patrick's Day, and many of my dear friends I met in Ireland are coming to Waterloo - to Waterloo! - to celebrate. I cannot wait. The friends I made from that summer in Dublin and Belfast are some of the most special people in my life and I'm grateful to know them, much less them have them in my town. The new Irish pub downtown, Jameson's, will be open just in time for us to christen it in true IWP style.

A while back I emailed a wondeful poet, D.A. Powell, to contriubte to my zine. I first met Doug when he gave a reading in Iowa City several years ago at Prarie Lights; he encouraged me to have faith with my writing and always keep going, and I've always remembered what he said. So I'm very, very glad to say he's planning to contribute a poem to the zine. I can't wait to see it, or the other pieces coming down the pipeline. I'm aiming, tentatively, for an early summer street date. I promise to have the cover up very soon -- next week at the latest.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Secret Writer Advice

The world is crazy. People are crazy. There's no advice for how to deal with it, regardless of what Dr. Phil says. If a big bald guy ever wants to sit behind a monitor and watch you go on blind dates and then talk about it on TV, you are not getting advice. You are getting more crazy.

Luckily, there's a secret book for writers with juicy bits of writerly advice. Caitlin Kiernan divulges a little bit of this super secret info on her blog today:

One thing it takes to be a working author, one thing that is absolutely requisite, is the ability to accept at least one grievous and unwarranted insult each and every day from a perfect stranger. There are no exceptions.(from pg. 15)

So I sold two stories the other day. I also recieved a rejection letter that partly dismissed the story in question because it might be considered intolerant toward gays. Get this: the story is about people fingering people who advocate intolerance toward gays. And Charlie Brown says "UGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!"

Here's a review of Fantasy Magazine #2 which contains a new story of hers.

Spent the day writing, revising, reading, editing, submitting, which is what a lot of my days have been like lately. I feel a little wobbly without a novel to work on, and slowly I feel the desire to want to get back into one thigh deep, which is good. Especially for my thighs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

This Damn Love Day

Some love poems. I have nothing much to say on the subject. Usually I spend the day listening to Fleetwood Mac's "Sara." Yeah. "In the sea of love, where everyone would love to drown." Okay.

My brother has designed an incredible cover for the first issue of the zine, which I think will now be called Other Than. I also got a new story from a former teacher of mine, Molly Mcnett, which is really incredible. One of her stories was recentely selected for the Best American Non-Required Reading, edited by Dave Eggers.

My brother also took a photo of me for one of the magazines I sold to yesterday. It caught a lot of detail, like my razor burn. Need new razor...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Doing The Peanuts Happy Dance

My life is feast or famine. Ask anyone, they'll tell you. Good things in clumps, bad things in clumps. Today, this year hopefully, considering the last, seems to be the start of a good clump. I learned today I sold two short stories (commences with Peanuts Happy Dance to celebrate selling two stories in one day).

The first, "Paper Man", will appear in a forthcoming issue of Shimmer. The story is about a young blind woman named Millie who sees the world through the things she makes of paper.

The second is "Black Eyed Moon," about best friends who go in search of fallen moon rocks after an asteroid strikes the moon and the debris falls to earth. This will appear in the summer '06 issue of Fantasy Magazine. I want to take a moment and thank E. Sedia for her confidence in me and this story, and all her help. I really appreciate it.

Back to happy dance...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Snow Fair

It's the second Sunday in Feburary. There's a blizzard in New York. That can mean only one thing: Toy Fair. You're never too old to be a kid, and plus, some of these damn things are practically works of art:

Kong.

Star Wars.

Buffy. Wow.

Sideshow Mace Windu. Obi Wan.

Animated Star Wars statues. These seem styled after the Clone Wars cartoon, and they are really cool. Especially Leia & R2.

Battlestar Galactica.

For Sugu and Ben: Transformers.

Mostly all this stuff is just a reminder to me of how poor I am. The really expensive stuff interests me more as I get older, mostly because they're not really toys, but replicas and statues that are virtually film props. I can always dream...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Shopping For Direction

Spent the day doing a little clearance shopping. First, it was the book sale at the library, where I got a copy of Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days and Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run The Frog Hospital? Then it was the mall to get some new clothes on those really cheap post-holiday prices. I got some new jeans and shirts and such to replace the puffy stuff I've been wearing. It was nice, for the first time in my life, not to have to shop in the big and tall section.

And I've been shopping, sort of, for which novel to write next. I have competing ideas and interests here, as I'm sure lots of writers do. My choices are:

Novel A: The third book in the sci-fi trilogy, which is a multi-character, multi-arc archetectonic doorstop kind of book. There's no real incentive to write it right this moment, as the first two books aren't published, and maybe more than that, I've lived with this story for over ten years and I'm reluctant to let it go.

Novel B: A meta-space pulp-noir type thing, that has a little to do with the trilogy, and came out of the novel in a month thing. It presents the most challenges from a technique point of view, and makes more sense I think, for a bunch of reasons, to proceed with right now instead of more trilogy stuff.

I just can't get my hooks in to either one. It's frustrating, but I think I'm at a crossroads of sorts in my writing. I'm feeling a little in a rut, a little anxious for new experience, new blood so I've been writing a new story and revising others lately, working on the zine, the Arts Guild, flexing the old muscles in new ways.

Friday, February 10, 2006

'Loo Slices

Now that the exhibits are over, I wanted to keep the Friday pic tradition going. I was inspired by the poster project my brother and I did for the Main St. Anniversary to present snapshots, segments, of how I see Waterloo. I'll call 'em 'Loo Slices.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

In The Cold

A cousin of mine showed up out of the blue last night. He's been 'out of sorts' let's say for a year now, and this is the first time I've seen him since my uncle's funeral. My cousin had a fight, I guess, with his folks. I ended up having to walk him home at four in the morning, in like zero degree cold, because no one would come get him (I don't drive). These things always make me anxious, because there's nothing to be done. I hate that feeling of helplessness, which seems so pervasive. It's starting to lift though in regards to downtown, to the community, and I'm taking a more active and hopefully constructive role in the Metro Arts Guild, trying to contribute to the downtown revitalization.

I've been working on the zine, the new short story, which is for a really interesting anthology about genetics, and of course, waiting. Always waiting to hear about submissions. Now, if waiting were a paying job...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Bus Stops Here

If for some reason you haven't heard by now, the Bus, Cowher, Big Ben, and what is probably the classiest set of guys in pro sports won the big one on Sunday. You could not have written a better ending for Bettis' career, or a better start to Roethlisberger's.

Another classy person I know, Mandy, writes about the lulling safety of Iowa. A lot of what she says is right on. The good thing about Iowa: insulation. The bad thing: insularity. I go back and forth with myself every single day, and have for years now, about whether to stay or not. There's always a reason to, and the problem is, there will always be. At least now the current reason is a good one. If I left now, I feel like I'd be turning my back on my city, right when it woke up, and right when it needs people like me the most. If Waterloo has a future, if Iowa does, it's in people my age, my brother's, all the people I've met downtown that see something better and are poised to do something about it. I don't like it here. I'm not happy here. I haven't been, ever, and I doubt I ever would be. A lot of it has to do with my family, and not so much Iowa, but I want to go to grad school, get my MFA like Mandy does. I want to reclaim the courage and confidence college gave me to take chances, like going to Ireland for a summer. I felt like I could have done anything in the world back then, and now I feel like I'm out of the Army, out of prison back in 'civilian life', and nothing makes sense.

But this is where I am. I feel very torn. I don't owe Waterloo any thing. It's taken more out of me than I could ever give back. I feel like I have to give back, though, something, whatever it may be; what can I do? How can I contribute? I don't know.

Monday, February 06, 2006

You Don't Know Where You're Going...

...but you wanna talk. Good post from Matt on dialogue, with lots of links. He said basically everything I would about dialogue. I'd like to respond here (as I did on his blog) to a comment left there, regarding the idea that dialogue in a literary novel would be completely different from a sci-fi or mystery novel. Why? Because the former is supposed to be good, and the latter bad? The dialogue in Samuel R. Delaney's fiction is literary-caliber, as is Kelly Link's and a host of other writers too many to mention. My own fiction has always been a blend of what I suppose would be classified as literary elements, and also what I supposed would be genre elements; to me it's not blending high and low art. You should always want to tell the best story possible, and write it the best you can.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Exhibit Z

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And last, but not least, Monica Bellucci. I rest my case. God exists.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Columbia



Just a couple of days ago it was the anniversary of Challenger, and here we are, not accidentally maybe, at the anniversary of Columbia. Both were ultimately brought down by cold tempratures and bureacracy. I watched the very first lift-off of Columbia in April of '81. It's still probably the coolest thing I've ever seen.

And we remember also Coretta Scott King, and Wendy Wasserstein.

Bigger than Pluto.

Conversations With: Martin Roper

This week I'm happy to have an interview with Martin Roper, author of the novel Gone. Martin recieved his MFA from the University of Iowa, and presently teaches at NYU, and also the Irish Writing Workshop at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, which is where I first crossed paths with him almost six years ago now.

Q: What do you make of all the fuss lately about the scandal involving James Frey, or JT Leroy? At what point do you draw the line between fiction and fact in a piece? When is creative non-fiction just fiction? Is there a line?

A: There is a simple difference between fiction and nonfiction and it’s fairly clear. When you write nonfiction there is a tacit agreement between writer and reader that the truth is being told. It’s that simple. There are facts to be told. (How those facts are told is the creative part of what we’ve come to term “creative nonfiction”) This is why we write and read nonfiction, for the thrill of the known. Fiction is invented and we read it for the thrill of the unknown. That sounds like a bit of a trite aphorism but I do think that’s the gist of the difference. Fiction allows us to get to truths that are impossible to get to in nonfiction, to imagine the other more fully. As for the line between fiction and nonfiction, any normal, non-psychotic person knows what this is, the differences between facts, opinions, and fantasies.

Q: What boundaries remain in writing today? Have all the forms been played out? Has the culture immunized all things taboo?

A: Yes, I think all forms have been explored, and they have been explored for a very long time now. Between James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, I think prose writing had been well and truly stretched to its limits. I’ve just been re-reading Ulysses and the enormity of what he did has struck me anew. I’ve been reading Ulysses for twenty five years and it’s still an astonishing experience. I’ve also, for the first time in my life, been seriously trying to read Finnegans Wake. I’m inclined to agree with his brother, Stanilaus, that it is a “rout of drunken words”. Still, it’s fun to be trying to read it. It’s like picking up the entire language (rather, languages), firing it all into the air and seeing what happens. It has the effect of reminding me that I should strive to be a little more limber. There is one thing that Joyce says about language when he is explaining Finnegans Wake : “One great part of every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot.” I love that comment. I think Joyce would have made a great movie director. However, at the end of the day all that’s left is story, and that is all that matters.

As for the second part of that question. Do you mean has American television culture immunized all things taboo? I’m not being glib. I think often when we talk about culture in a very general way, we are in fact talking about what is being filtered through American television stations. To do that, is to greatly underestimate America. I recently went to a showing of Van Gogh’s drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and it was almost impossible to see the drawings, there were so many people in line. That’s part of America. I’ve recently started watching television. I used not have a television and I am freshly aware of its effect. It has an enormous effect on the human being in so many ways I hardly know where to start. You might think Americans are a profoundly stupid people. They are not. The news shows are insulting to our intelligence. They are both unethical and immoral. They are damaging the fibre of society as much by what they decide not to talk about as what they do talk about. I think television does a marvelous job of constantly reinventing and reinvigorating taboos. I’m waffling here. There are no taboos in books today because books do not have the collective power on the whole culture, books have an effect on the individual and the individual rarely changes society. I am not being pessimistic here, simply honest about my perception. I could go on and on about this but I’ll stop now.

Q: You live in both Ireland and America; do you find yourself writing about one more than the other?

A: I live here (in New York) ten months of the year and the other two months in Dublin so I live far more here than there. I am writing exclusively about America, about characters in this country. America fascinates me. In fact, it’s inaccurate for me to say America, even to say New York. I live in Brooklyn. Even that is inaccurate. I live in a tiny section of Brooklyn. I sit at a desk in an apartment slightly below ground level. When I look up from my desk, I see feet pass by. We all live in villages. At the end of the day, our view is probably a lot smaller that we imagine, especially the view of those of us living in big cities.

Q: There's been some criticism lately over the idea of MFA's being factories; as a graduate of one of these programs, and as a teacher, what's your take on it?

A: I suppose there has always been criticism of MFA programs and I imagine some of it may be justified. As a graduate student at the University of Iowa I had a wonderful time. I think the years I spent in school there are the happiest memories I have. I was extremely lucky. I had always wanted to go to university and I never had, so when I got the chance to do a Masters at Iowa it was heaven to me. I can think of nothing better to do in life than to read books and write and listen to intelligent professors talk about the art of writing. I didn’t want to leave university. I wish I was there right now.

For years I’ve heard people say universities are factories. Only people who never set foot inside a factory would make the comparison. I worked in a factory for two years when I left school. It was the worst time of my life. There is nothing, absolutely nothing harder in life than the brutality of factory life. It’s tremendously insulting to the dignity of the person who works in a factory to compare their day to the tremendous luxury that is the life of the average student or teacher.

Teaching is a noble calling. Universities are a little hampered by consumerism. We buy our education here in America. That is unfortunate. Despite that, a university education is a tremendous gift. Some students could take it all a little more seriously; teachers too. There is one particular challenge when it comes to the MFA in writing. The art of teaching writing is a somewhat elusive skill. Many writers are not very good teachers. There are lots of sound reasons for their inability. The art of teaching writing demands two very different skills (at least): one is the ability to teach the nuts and bolts of writing. The other is the ability to take the considerable imaginative leap into the mind of the student, the ability to understand what the student does and does not know. This last skill takes tremendous effort and intelligence. Few are capable of it, even fewer can be bothered to even try. I’ll stop on that cheerful note.

My thanks to Martin for his time and answers.