Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Packaged Deal

First, plot and character. Then, find an author. You can imagine a struggling writer being intrigued by the prospect of quick, good money, until you read even more excellent insight into the world of 'book packaging.'

Despite all the behind the scenes intrigue in this story (who wrote what?) I keep thinking about is the whole Mary Sue thing. After the fiasco of the person who published and attempted to sell their own SW novel the other day, the fan fic thing has been on my mind, and it just seems this particular book reeks of Mary Sue, as do a lot of these 'packaged' books discussed in the articles.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden has a great article on the history of Mary Sue, but its reach not just into mainstream publishing, but -- gasp -- literary theory. Now, before you start laughing (or, when you're done), I have to admit that I find the Mary Sue trope compelling, theory wise. Normally, this trope provides a mechanisim for the fan to insert themselves into the pre-existing world of their favorite characters (Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy, etc.), and usually in such a fashion that those characters can't imagine how they ever got on before without you. You're the long lost son/daughter of Somebody Important, Somebody's lover, you have infinite power and you make Obi Wan Kenobi look like the kid from the lightsaber video who didn't know he was being taped.

There was a little of this in the X-Men stories I mentioned before, that I wrote as a teenager; I had characters, not so much like me but like the person I'd like to be, who got the girl, who could wipe out everybody, etc. Except the whole THING was a Mary Sue, because it was me imposing a new reality on that of existing characters. What I find most interesting is that idea; the mallebility and fabrication of realities. It happens in our everyday life (don't take my word for it) and our entertainment leads us down a path toward a day when literally inserting ourselves into a fictional world may be possible.

My novel -- the one that hates me -- deals with these ideas. Which makes it so difficult. It's like being inside out of a novel, writing it, the truth and authenticity of each moment, each character suspect and it's such a f'ing fragile thing, a house of cards type book and I don't know if I can pull it off. Maybe I'll just hire a packaging company to get a writer to do it for me. Maybe someone else has already written just this type of book, and I can 'borrow' it, but forget I did! Maybe I'll write a book instead about a young, beautiful aspiring writer named Mary Sue who meets and befriends a 31-year old struggling writer and through her love and staggering talent, gets him to finish the great American novel.

Except she actually wrote it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Win Me!

I won this cool contest today at JD, scoring some neat Star Wars stuff. I never win anything. That's not true. My brother and I won the Main St. poster contest. And the poster is forthcoming, in some shape or form. Also, I found out today that Main St. is also going to incorporate the images of our poster design into their website also. That sounds pretty cool.

Speaking of things I hope to win: I'm applying to this great program in NYC that gives artists and writers space to work in for nine months. It sounds absolutely perfect to me. I go back and forth on the should I stay or should I go thing that I get sick of it myself, and lately I've been feeling so morose about this place. I daydream about being other places, about lives I'll never have. Stories I'll never publish. I got a rejection letter today from a mag. My work doesn't suit them, but they keep asking me to send more, because they like how I write (just not what I write) and I got to thinking, I don't have anything that suits them. If my stories don't involve the fantastic in some way, they involve violence, fear, intolerance in one form or another. I write many different types of stories but looking at them I see they're all wedded not just in theme but in vision. My stories are strange, violent, and often flooded.

No jackpot there.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


So I've been incermentally increasing how far I go on the bike, going a little further each week from the norm (10 miles, round trip) to where now I'm going roughly 14. By the end of the summer I want to be able to bike to Cedar Falls (roughly 20 miles, round trip) without suffering some sort of ambulatory episode. So I take precautions. But I don't wear a helmet, or pads, despite how fast I go (pretty fast). I had a dream the other night about being in an accident on the bike (which followed another odd dream where someone broke into my house in the middle of the night, but I shared it with someone I know [I think we were married], but not that well) and then today, I'm going down the trail, and this guy walking past points to this scar on his face and says, "This is what happens when you don't wear a helmet." So, somebody is trying to tell me something.

I've been putting the finishing touches on the zine. I've found all sorts of mistakes and pagination errors, and I'm sure I'll find more once it's printed. Never fails. I still need to figure out why the pictures aren't printing right, but other than that, we're ready to roll on issue #1. I'll have lots more info on that in the days ahead, as well as news about the zine's very own web site.

I have to figure out where I am with my novel. I spend most of my time piecing together another in my head, and this one only shows up to shame me with guilt. And tempt me with the possibilites, which are endless, and exotic, and sometimes I just want to sit down and spit it out all at once, or throw it out the window.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Writer Beware!

The worst 20 literary agents, and the absolute worst of them all.

When I was a teenager, I wrote all these stories in this little branch of the X-Men world I made up for myself, mainly because I couldn't draw them as comics. And sometimes when I'm really bored, I think of how I would have done the new Star Wars films. 'Fan fic' is fun, it's harmless, but this, this is Olympic-caliber stupidity.

Actually, now that I think about it, a lot of concepts that were embryos in that old X-Men thing ended up in the trilogy monster, in different forms. One character, for sure, and that was deliberate. Once I get my hooks into an idea, I guess. My novel has fled me. I've been away from it too long (over a month), busy with the zine, with life, and when I am writing, it's a short story. I've been infected by the short story virus. Never used to write them. NEVER. Now I'm more liable to have an idea for one of those than a novel, which is a little strange for me, since I've always written big, huge ridiculous things, all the way back to that deformed X-Men baby I locked away up in the attic.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hunting Season

So about a hundred or more Army National Guardsmen come charging up the dike onto the bike trail this afternoon, out of nowhere. It was an odd moment. They're there, and then they're gone, into the trees. Those deer didn't have a chance.

I got the revised logo for the zine from Osie today. Things will pick up a lot on the zine front here very soon -- I'll have a couple announcements to share.

I'd write more, but I'm beat.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Old Things Passed Away

And all things became new and terrible.

From the SF earthquake of 1906 to Katrina to the tsunami to little ol' Iowa City -- it makes you think going into yet another hurricane season, every scientist telling you that even if we significantly curbed our greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, the global temprature will still rise 4 to 5 degrees anyways -- that we live in a state of constant disaster. My aunt Charlene will read my stories and sometimes say, you write an awful lot about diasters (or floods, apparently, to be specfic, but I'm an equal opportunity employer of catastrophe). Maybe I do. We live in disastrous times. Hell, the modern age is the age of the disaster, dating back to the Titanic, the Hindenberg, even the Triangle Shirt Factory; you tire of it. You grow immune to it and the only way it can affect you is by humbling the disasters that preceeded it in size and scope. Writing about it, removed from it as I am here in Waterloo (though, increasingly less so) helps navigate the way through, and helps keep the insult and onslaught of it all alive, and real, and appreciated.

Lots of IC tornado pics and accounts from Babies Are Fireproof.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Red Head Blues

Kelly Macdonald now a red head? God... have you no mercy or shame? The heart of the red head prone man is a fragile thing. Ask Sugu. He'll tell you. So clearly I am bored, and possessed of too much time. Oh, what the mess.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Imaginary Cities

I love the history of cities. That's why some of the damage in IC makes me sad (all those beautiful houses, you just know are going to be replaced with ugly apartments). You can pass through a century's worth of architecture in the neighborhoods I bike through. Sometimes I'll be walking around downtown and I'll just stop imagine what it looked like back in the 20's, or the 50's, when this place was really happening, or what it will look like in the future; where new buildings could go, what shape the city can take. Some cities have obvious destinies; New York was never going to be anything but a second generation city of the world.

I went out to the pub last night with Ben, and we were talking about writing, and building the imaginary worlds of our stories, and I talked a little about the fun I get out of building imaginary cities. You start with this idea of a place you like, and you then have to justfify why things are the way they are, which provides the material for developing your fictional society. Walking home, I may as well have been walking through the streets of the imaginary city; I discovered a part of it I never had before, and right away, I knew I had found not only a trivial piece of imaginary architecture, but probably the single most important image in the entire story I'm writing. Instantly, I knew how it functioned as a symbol, how it developed in each of the three books of this trilogy monster, and how it relates to each character that comes into contact with it. As soon as I got home, I started adding it into the story, being extremely careful with the words I chose to describe it, making sure the words themselves developed in each of its three appearances. Afterwards I had this buzz all night, this sheer exuberance over this feeling I'd finally unlocked something in this story, and my own writing as well.

Muriel Spark, dead at 88.

Great article about 'writer's block'.

Birth was the death of him.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Iowa City Tornado

UPDATE 2: Tornado stories and pics from Earthgoat. Also, the NY Times article. Except for the damage, which is extensive, it sounds like things could have been a lot worse.

UPDATE: Coverage from the IC Press-Citizen (thanks to Andrew for the link). The tornado was an F2, and one of 17 that hit Iowa last night, and just one of five that hit Johnson County alone. Burlington St. and Iowa Ave. downtown were hit really hard, as was Riverside Dr.; the roof to the court house is gone, as is the roof to St. Patrick's Church. The important thing is no one seems to be seriously hurt, and for that we can all be thankful.

I know a lot of my friends and the people that read this blog have connections to Iowa City, so I thought I would let everyone know: I just learned that a tornado struck the city earlier tonight, and did a lot of damage. Apparently it went down Riverside Drive, which is where my friend Andrew and I shared an apartment; my understanding is the Dairy Queen across from the apartment was destroyed. I don't know about the apartment or any of the other buildings on that street, but Hillcrest (I think that's the name) was also damaged. I haven't heard about any deaths or serious injuries, thank God. It apparently touched down by the Wal Mart out by the airport, and continued on into Coralville and North Liberty. They're asking people to stay away from Iowa City, and all classes have been cancelled.

I'm going to try and find out as much as I can, and try and get down there if possible. I know the Red Cross is already there, and I'd like to do anything I can.

Good Friday Flashback

Well, since the Loo Shots became a casuality of being too sick and having too much to do at the same time (I do want to get back to them, though, since I do like a little photography now and again) here's Gretchen Mol, who should have been an Exhibit, but wasn't only because I forgot, but would be, if I do them again:

I finished a new short story tonight. Actually, I was going through the pile (you know the little stack of ideas you have and write down, in case you have a night like tonight, where you just want to write, no matter what) and came across a story I half wrote, about a disgruntled dog catcher named Terry. I think I may have told Ben about this once. I like it, because it's so different for me. It's funny, and messed up, and relies entirely on voice. Terry has problems keeping his tenses straight when he's recounting his tale, but then, most people do; a lot of people relate things that happened to them in the present tense ("So I go up to the door, right --") and I try to capture that here. I don't know. I also incorporated a little bit of childhood lore into this. My friend Mike will recognize it immediately (how many sticks of dynamite was it?).

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I'm Gonna Fly One Of Those

25 years ago today, I stayed home from school to watch the space shuttle lift-off for the first time. Back then the fat external fuel tank was still painted white, so it looked like some giant ivory tower blasting off into the air with an airplane attached to it. Columbia was as incredible a piece of human effort as the Spirit of St. Louis, and it belonged in a musuem. Unfortunately it belongs to the ages now, and when the shuttles are retired in 2010, it will be before their time, and too long past. The future of space flight is obviously in the domain of the private sector, and if I ever have an extra million bucks lying around, I'll buy myself a seat on one of these upcoming space planes. But it won't be the same as the flying on the shuttle, which I still wish I could do.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Looks Like Its Mother

I mailed the manuscript of the second novel of the sci-fi trilogy to my friend Conan today. It weighed over seven pounds. I had a father's pride.

The zine is also due any day now. I'm essentially done with it; all that's left are a few bios and the final logo. I'm so out of touch with my novel (it's been weeks) I'll have to go back and read from the beginning to get back in the mindset of it. I've done this before with previous ones, it's not so unusual. I feel very strange not being neck deep in writing a novel, having spent so many of the last few years doing nothing but. I'm glad for it, and at the same time, I feel a strange guilt. My novels are emotionally abusive. What can I say.

A humid, breezy, but beautiful day. The water is up higher. Damn floods.

Monday, April 10, 2006

When A Duck's A Duck

Nick Mamatas asks that you please kill him.

There's nothing worse than people who appoint themselves to graduate lowly genre fiction into the exclusive court of literary or 'serious' fiction, and that's what the editors of the anthology he reviews appear to be doing. It's the same thing when the New York Times discovers, for the fifth time, that comics aren't just comics anymore, but serious works of art. Thanks, but we've known that for 20 years now. And we all know quality writing is quality writing. It's not an endangered species in need of protection (okay, maybe it is). It's not in need of affirmative action, either.

It got to nearly 80 degrees today, so you know I was on the bike. Unfortunately the trail is still flooded over. I'm making due with laps in the cemetary. Working hard on the zine, assembling it without directions, cutting, pasting, more or less screwing up every five minutes and learning from it. I'm also putting the finishing touches on the new story, and then I'm going to send it to some readers for some feedback before I submit it anywhere. And then I have novels like forgotten children. There is no mercy like the mercy on neglected art. Sigh.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Got It Covered

Via The Millions: Penguin Classics continues its way cool line of Graphic Classics that feature books like Gravity's Rainbow with comic style covers by folks like Frank Miller. That's almost the coolest thing ever. And yesterday at the book store I saw a new book called Wolf Boy that has a comic book woven into it. And speaking of weaving art, I've fallen in love with an artist named Kettle whose work is on display at my brother's gallery. Here's a sample:

His work is really original and unique, and tonight I asked him if he'd like to contribute the second cover of the zine, and he said yes! Color me happy. Speaking of the zine, I got a wonderful poem from Amy Doherty -- or is that AJ Doherty -- which means I have all the contributions for issue one in hand. Now comes the hard part. Getting it printed. I plan on having it out on the street by early May.

I also finished my new short story tonight. 26 pages. I'll let it simmer a few days while I work on the zine (and neglect my novel even more) and see if I like it then.

Friday, April 07, 2006

White Space

Kevin Brockmeier on the use of white space. This is pretty neat.

The Gospel of Judas.

NBC snubs morning show cutie Campbell Brown to replace Katie Couric! Bastards. I'm so not getting up early on weekdays now.

It's just like the old days... From Caitlin R. Kiernan.

Close to finishing this new story. Endings used to be so easy. They usually came hand in hand with the initial idea for a story, and never changed much. Now they're invisible. It's like that game of trust. At some point you have to put your faith in the notion that when you fall backwards, the person behind you will catch you. Endings are the same. Sooner or later, you have to stop yanking on the reins and even let go, no matter how scary or confusing it might be.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Pieces Of The Puzzle

Here's the final cover art of the anthology JIGSAW NATION, which includes my story "The Switch", along with many others by very good writers, like Paul G. Tremblay, Doug Lain, and Jay Lake:

The hardcover edition will be out in May, and I'll certainly let everyone know when and where if it interests them to get a copy.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Flyover Fiction

Jessa Crispin talks about Midwest fiction, and the lack of attention it gets. Part of it is that fiction has always been about going to places that weren't familair (Dorothy didn't go from Oz to Kansas) and I think that most people consider the Midwest boring, comfortable, and somewhere people want to leave. I know from living here all my life the Midwest is about as unfamiliar as you can get. The only difference between the eccentricities of the coasts and middle America is that in the former, the buildings are bigger.

I always write about Iowa (unless I'm writing about outer space, or that story in The Angler, where I flood nice, innocent Chicago). I'm writing a new story now that takes place in this fictional town I've made up. It just sort of happened. A lot of my short fiction (and the Angel Book) take place there. This new story gave me nothing but fits until the last couple days, when I happened upon the right approach (really experimental for me) and now it comes out in these great gushes. I'm trying to hold on for dear life when I'm writing it.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Roof on the Lake

My story "Roof on the Lake" is now up at The Angler. Give it a read and let me know what you think, if you want. You may hate it. A lot. In which case maybe you should just not say anything. Unless you're the type that lets things get bottled up. Then you should say something. For your own sake.

Well, It's About Time

Fantasy goes literary. Really interesting article at PW (via Matt Cheney) on the growing acceptance of liteary works of the fantastic, led by Kelly Link and others. I remember thinking when I was a little younger that when I published, I'd participate in this kind of 'revolt' -- you know, "I'll show them!" -- looks like it might be over by the time I get there. Wouldn't be the first time. Sigh.

The flu refuses to go away. I haven't been able to get any writing done, which is like a smoker going without a cigarette for a week. It's ugly. I've done a little bit here and there, even resorting to writing things out long hand (which I never do) because I'm so damn dizzy sitting in front of the computer makes me want to toss my cookies. Like right now.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Still Coughing

Happy to say the online alternative literary mag The Angler accepted my story "Roof On The Lake." It will appear in the upcoming 'hallucination' issue. This is a flash fiction piece about a girl stranded on a rooftop in Chicago after the lake level rises and floods the city, you know, in the future of global warming that George Bush assures us won't happen. Also, you can check out my new bibliography page over on the side.

Lucasfilm announces 'adult' line of Star Wars books.

Matt has some more Waterloo doodles on his blog of karoke devotees at the Tymes. I bet you could make an entire little strip out of these guys. They're great. He also has one of his pieces included on the postcard art of The Human Pixel Project.

John McGhahern died on Thursday. I want to say we saw him read in Ireland. I can't remember for sure.