Thursday, November 30, 2006

Evacuation of the Self

The poetry of Mark Strand, identified in this VQ article as self-annihilating. I love Strand; I suppose it's not odd to hear a writer who went to college in Iowa City say that, but I do. I found him early on, through a friend and poet named Kevin, and that first collection I read, Reasons for Moving, really made an impact on me. It formed a lot of ideas I would have about how to approach the Angel Book; in several of the poems, the narrator speaks to someone else, like in "The Suicide", where he's trying to jump off a building, but meets resistance, and more specifically for me, "The Man In The Mirror," where the narrator speaks to a lost loved one, of his grief and turmoil:

Buried in the darkness of your pockets,
your hands are motionless.
You do not seem awake.
Your skin sleeps

and your eyes lie in the deep
blue of their sockets,
impossible to reach.
How long will all this take?

These poems gave me the kernel of the idea of a narrator (the dead party in my novel), talking to a loved one still alive. It took my years to figure out how to do this - if I have - since my dead voice is able to speak, think, and yet observe and know the thoughts of others. She can flow through 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person in a single sentence, and it's like riding a wave; it's exhilirating, and then it crashes down on you.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I went down to see John Edwards at the Chicago Public Library today. He was there to talk about his new book, Home, but spent most of the time talking about politics. He says he's thinking hard about running in '08, and he sounds like a candidate; I hope he does run. He's the type of leader we need in this country; I would very much love to be able to contribute in any way I can to helping him become the next President. Outside, the DNC was hitting people up for money. I would have liked to have given, but I'm one of those poor people Edwards talks about; I couldn't afford the book, so I had to schelp my way into line to say hi to him. His handlers were very strict about signing rules and numbers and protocol, a little too strict, but I told him how much I appreciated his work and he was very nice.

Still no job. Running out of cash. The make or break line fast approaches, and I am terrified of the prospect of failure; I don't know what I'll do if I can't make it here in Chicago. My life would pretty much be over. I have zero prospects and zero means to get myself out of the hole I've dug myself in the last few years. I can say I tried and failed, but I tried; I'd rather say I made a go of it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Novelist Thrives On Breakdown

Absolutely wonderful piece on John Gardner and his The Sunlight Dialogues by Charles Johnson. Gardner's gravity snagged me, too, a couple years ago when I first read Grendel and then The Art of Fiction; he's become one of my brightest guiding lights, blinding sometimes in the glare.

The difficulties of Kelly Link. She's one of my favorite contemporary authors, and someone I think Gardner would enjoy very much.

Inside the writer's brain. A panoramic view of Will Self's office.

Dave Cockrum, dead at 63. At least he went out in style.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Fountain

I went downtown to see "The Fountain" tonight at the AMC ridiculously grandiose cineplex downtown. Some reviews I read had the film coming off cold, but I found it beautiful. It wasn't user-friendly, that's for sure, but the interweaving of the three plot threads was inspired in places, and after a while the disjointed vertigo of the first ten minutes or so disapates. I actually thought some of the ways Darren Aronofsky leapt from one thread (one each in the 1500's, present day, and what I assume is the far future) to the next were similar to what I've attempted in one of my novels, where the characters migrate from past to present tense, 1st to 2nd to 3rd person; I really loved this aspect of the film and it comes together wonderfully toward the end. The 1500's Spanish sequence mainly emerges from the manuscript of the contemporary Izzie (Rachel Weisz) and I began to wonder if it was imagined; the resolution of that sequence leads me to believe it is, since Tomas 'dies' in the shadow of the Tree of Life. It provides inspiration, and a warning, I think, to the Tom character, who ultimately does achieve immortality.

Hugh Jackman really shines as a man seeking a higher purpose that ultimately consumes and emiaciates him spiritually. The film isn't so much a quest for eternal life - it starts out that way - as it is a quest to accept death. Life is death, death is life; it's the ultimate subject in some ways, and no work of art will ever summit it, so you can forgive the film its shortcomings there. I had been looking forward to this film ever since I first heard of it (when Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were supposed to be in it - can't imagine it now) and I wasn't disappointed in the least.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Buffy's Back!

Sort of. Check out the interview with Joss Whedon about the new comic book series.

Interesting link (via Maud Newtwon) regarding the lineage of Pynchon (who I've never read, actually) and his debt, along with other big book writers, to George Eliot.

Ten years of LCRW, the zine co-created by one of my absolute favorite writers, Kelly Link.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

To Ground

Robert Altman died today. One of the greats of American cinema. Nowhere near as tragic, but disappointing to say the least, is the news that Peter Jackson will not be directing the adaptation of "The Hobbit", apparently because New Line likes all that money they made off him from "Lord of the Rings" too much to give some to him.


It's been a struggle finding work here in Chicago. That probably sounds absurd, but I've yet to make any headway. I've gone blind from submitting applications and resumes (and also from my dwindling bank balance) and when all you have is time, it's very easy to go to work on yourself. Frustration sets in, and so does the fatigue that comes with it. It's too soon to be discouraged, but I did jump without a parachute, and the ground, it's getting closer and closer all the time.

Monday, November 20, 2006

His Clay And His Congregation

It should be mentioned that some characters occasionally levitate. Great story on the development of the new series "John From Cincinati" by the incomprable David Milch.

I finished a new short story last night. I'm not sure what to make of it yet. I was inspired by the wonderful music of Regina Spektor, and also my friend and cousin Ben. who said he was writing about the toys of our youth - Star Wars, GI Joes, Transformers - and the nostalgia associated with it. I share the same love of those toys. I still have many of them, and like many people my age, I still collect them. But whereas Ben is writing about his experience, I had this weird idea about a fictional character overly obsessed with the toys of his youth, and somehow I took those that and the idiosyncratic bliss of Regina Spektor, and molded them together, and made something very crazy.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Little Children

Last night Matt and I went downtown to see the new James Bond movie, which (surprise) was sold out everywhere. There were only a few hundred thousand people down on Michigan Ave. for the annual Festival of Lights, and after enjoying a parade in some light drizzle, what folks really wanted was some Bond. That was more than okay. We decided to see Little Children instead; I had wanted to see it anyway, since I live and die for Kate Winslet, and I'm very glad I did, because it was by far the best film I've seen all year. The film takes an unvarnished look at its characters, variously trapped in their suburban, post-joy lives, as they try to find little routes of escape. The many strands of the story at first don't seem to mesh - adultery, a child molester on the streets - until the end, which is extraordinary. The narration also seems out of place at first, but it gradually builds a connection with you in that it at once makes fun of the characters, and endears you to them. Go see it, if you can find it. It's excellent.

Maud Newton posts about The Book of Y and now I'm dying to check it out. Like the film last night, when you find a stimulating work of art, you're energized to write and dreadful of your talent at the same time. My work all seems awful, unrefined and middling and yet you can't help but keep slogging through. The author, Scarlett Thomas, has a website with some fun notes on beginning writers and beginning novels.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Applications Away!

So I've spent the last two days carpet bombing greater Chicago with my resume. I've walked all over downtown, following the advice of my good friends Matt and Lisa, and I've also been firing shells online (which is where most employers tell you to go anyway - but hey, at least I'm getting excercise). It's been a little overwhelming, like the city, but I've been here quite a few times before, so I'm not too freaked. My biggest concern by far is the I have no money issue.

Today I walked two miles or so to a grocery store, and got lost again on the way back. But you find things when you get lost, so no damage. I found the library branch, a K-mart, and lots and lots of little art galleries. I'm also going to get back on my writing horse after a few days off. I have a new short story that needs finishing, and a novel that needs to be laying down as much fire as my resume. You just have to do it, even though some books just don't get published. (Link from Matt Cheney.) You have to put it out there, though. I feel like mine is ready, finally, to suceed or fail.

And so am I.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Live From Chicago

Today I packed up some of my things and made the leap to Chicago. It had been coming for a long time. I desperately needed to do something and it wasn't going to be in Waterloo, as much as I may have wanted it to be. My good friends Matt and Lisa are very kind to let me stay with them while I get on my feet. I'm taking it one step at a time. I have zero money and I sort of feel like I'm jumping without a parachute, but I was falling anyways.

After I got into town Matt and Lisa introduced me to their dog Howie (so cute), the neighborhood, and Chicago cuisene. As in pizza. She also baked me a cake (since it was my birthday), which was very nice of her. I'm nervous but excited, and here's hoping I can make this work.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

My Eye On You

The creepiest and coolest storm in the solar system:

Cassini spotted a new storm about two thirds the size of Earth on Saturn. What sets it apart from the Big Red Spot on Jupiter and some of the other similar storms on Neptune is the eye: none of them have one so well defined.

Ed Bradley, dead at 65.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I Entered The Haggis

Irish style with Ben last night down the pub and when I emerged on the other side, the Democrats had won back congress, and Donald Rumsfeld got his pink slip. But this is not all cause for celebration. No, sir. In fact, today should be considered a national day of mourning. Next time I go to the pub, I expect to come out rich and married to Kate Winslet.

Mercury transited the sun earlier today:

That little dot there. I really wanted to see it, but missed out.

The future of Cassinni (orbiting Saturn).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

E - TS (Eliot)

With a whimper:

Tens of billions of years from now, the Milky Way will be the only galaxy we're directly aware of (other nearby galaxies, including the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Andromeda galaxy, will have drifted into, and merged with, the Milky Way).

By then the sun will have shrunk to a white dwarf, giving little light and even less heat to whatever is left of Earth, and entered a long, lingering death that could last 100 trillion years—or a thousand times longer than the cosmos has existed to date. The same will happen to most other stars, although a few will end their lives as blazing supernovas. Finally, though, all that will be left in the cosmos will be black holes, the burnt-out cinders of stars and the dead husks of planets. The universe will be cold and black.

But don't despair: Brooklyn is not expanding.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Force Is With Him

More Tegan:

The blog of Jane Espenson, an Iowa native and writer of much good TV, including but not limited to Buffy. That alone would put her over the top, but the Iowa thing is neat, too. In the post I linked to (check 'em all out) she talks about giving the audience/reader what they want at the same time as giving them their worst fear (a Buffy/Angel hallmark from the title characters to Willow and Tara to Wes and Fred). This happens in the second book of the Big Damn Trilogy in about the worst possible way, and as hard a thing it is to write, to injure your characters, it feels good to (hopefully) pull off something pretty darn dramatic.

The art of Sparth. I found him browsing concept art, and discovered he loves gas masks and blimps just like me. I'm a visual person; I see what I write in my head as a film, it cuts like a film and in words I try to capture the rhythm and music of what John Garder called the 'vivid and continuous dream' - I'm making a movie, just for your head. That's no different from any other writer, ever, but we live in a visual age. I love images literal as much I do figurative and I would love to incorporate the visual side of cinema art, concept art, into my book a little more inventively than say simple illustrations. There's a little of this in a new book I saw called "The Looking Glass Wars" - Doug Chiang (Star Wars) does some neat concept work for it and I would love to do something like that. Maybe a little more ambitious. The web is a great place to bridge that gap and I have a few ideas - all I need now is someone blessed with the ability to draw since I sadly can only doodle laughably.

Friday, November 03, 2006

They Built A Statue Of Us

My new crush.

Reviews of the anthology Jigsaw Nation, in which my story 'The Switch' appears, here, here, and here.

I did my small part to help get John Kerry elected in 2004, as did a lot of other people, so it pained me to see him misspeak so badly the other day, and then run over his apology a few times before actually giving it. But the galling thing - not because it's surprising - is the conservative response. First, cover your nose; the desperation is pretty toxic. Second, consider how silent these same voices were when Rish Limbaugh didn't botch his pathetic, blatant accusation that Michael J. Fox was faking the symptoms of his Parkinson's. Maybe they figure no one takes Limbaugh seriosuly; maybe they just don't care about people with diseases, unless it serves their purpose to.

So. I've been off the radar a long while. I'll be in and out but while I'm in front of a computer I thought I would pump some life back into the beast. I'm in the middle of a major revision of the Big Damn Trilogy right now, and have been for a few months. I'm very proud of how the books are coming along, but I still have a lot of doubt and dread about the third one, which looms large on the horizon.

From Ben: Six word short stories. I love these. Six words from Whedon? Gaiman? Are you kidding me?

My contribution: Osama woke up in a freezer.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Failte Tegan

Big BIG welcome to Tegan Dennis Doherty, born 10/19:

With dear old Dad Conan (view askew):

Congrats to Amy and Co and all the best!