210 posts categorized "writing"

July 10, 2009

Fight the Power

It was Lita's favorite movie when she was 16 and, since she did herself in on her 17th birthday, it had to do as her favorite movie for all time.

Menny didn't feel any guilt for being bratty to her, or for her last words to Lita being "I hate you!" because they had fought about Menny being too little to go on the excursion Lita had planned with her friends and Menny had stormed out and slammed the door, and Lita had offed herself late that night before Menny got to see her again and receive her apology. What she felt guilty for, all this time, was how she had told Lita a few months before that her loving that movie was stupid.

"You're not even black!" she told Lita, sneeringly, and Lita said, "You don't have to be black."

Menny didn't like saying "black." But it was true. And that made the whole argument all the more disturbing.

For their friend Angela's eighties-themed, fancy-dress 35th birthday, Robin suggested that, since it was also the 20th anniversary of the film, they go as Rosie Perez and Radio Raheem. Robin could get love/hate rings made and carry a boom box, and Menny could learn the intro dance and go in satin boxer shorts, boxing gloves, and a black jog bra. Menny had never not wanted to do something so much in her life, but she had no words for why. She had no words for it at all, not "yes," or "no," so Robin took it as a given, and got Menny the shorts and gloves the next day. Two days later, the film arrived on netflix.

Menny got started learning the dance as she did with all projects, right away. From the opening squeal of "Fight the Power," through every thump of the break, down to the flicking hips at the end, she felt like she was one gyration away from throwing up. After the second run-through, she could no longer remember what Lita was actually wearing, or how she actually did her hair. Lita's face was now framed by Rosie Perez' fluffy, layered do. Lita was now standing in her room in a shiny blue leotard, over shiny, electric blue leggings, and warmed by a severely cropped black pleather jacket. She was running-manning out the door, thrusting her entire body, incrementally, through the door with shoulder pops.

Okay, this is obviously the beginning to a longer story, which I got stuck on. I'll just post it as is.

July 07, 2009

What I Did Today

What did you do today?

Oh, I just ran around a bit, then hung out in the yard.

Ran around doing what?

I'm not really sure. I mean, I was chasing this other car, but first it was chasing me, then I hid. Or something. Then I chased it. It was weird.

Weird.

Yeah.

Then it exploded.

Really? Why?

Dunno.

Wow.

Yeah.

Weird.

...

You got a bullet hole.

What? Where?

In your windshield.

What? Lemmesee ...

I can't believe you didn't notice.

Well, I was busy.

Running around.

Damn. Damn! It's gonna take days to fix. Days!

Me, it takes weeks. ... It doesn't look that bad.

Shut up.

No, I'm serious, it doesn't look that bad. It looks kinda cool. In fact. It's cool damage. Not like losing a hubcap or something ...

...

...

Shit. Shit! Shit shit shit!

Oh, I didn't notice before.

Fuck!

Seriously? I didn't even notice!

Goddammit!

It's not that noticeable, I swear. It's only 'cause I said it. It's not like you have those fancy hubcaps or anything ...

I used to!

... Well, I'd be more worried about the dents.

What?

Seriously? They're not that bad.

Where?

On the side. The bullet hole side. They're not that bad.

Argh! Then why did you say you'd be worried about them?

Well, you know, even little dents can end up nasty if they don't fix right away.

What do you mean?

Well, you know ... rust.

What? Argh!

Seriously? That's, like, the one thing I got over you. Only the one thing, but ... you know ... anti-dent paneling and anti-rust treatment probably sounds pretty sweet right now, huh?

Argh! Shut up!

Sorry. ... But seriously, you look cool.

Shut up!

Sorry.

July 06, 2009

Iz Finish

Phase One of Draft Three Iz Finish.

That was the easy part: editing a printout of the MS, and noting the places where I need to rewrite. Now comes Phase Two, otherwise known as THE HARD PART, i.e. actually rewriting.

Onward!

A Fable of Washington D.C.



The lonely phallus said to the lights, "What art thou?"

"A bright-living, fast-dying phenomenon," the lights said, "neither male nor female. With pretty hair. No, you can't fuck me."

The lonely phallus sighed. "How did you know I wanted to fuck you?"

"Everyone wants to fuck me," the lights replied. "Women want to squeeze the brightness and heat between their thighs, want to have  radiant scorch-marks. Men want to dive in, as you do, head towards the light, go back to death, and not forward, irrevocably. I don't know what the transgendered want to do. It's probably not categorical. Children want to give me a wet willy or the chills, depending. Or they want to see how to hold a shifting ball of light between their hands, before swallowing it."

The lonely phallus said, "I am true to my own nature. Nothing else."

"As am I," the lights said back.

The lonely phallus asked, "And what is that nature?

"The essence of light, it is a great secret," the lights said, "but I'll tell you if you give me your mirror."

The lonely phallus looked as pleased as a phallus can look when it is already fully erect, "I was already considering giving you my mirror, it said. "To double your pretty hair."

"Then listen closely," the lights said. But they had already faded by this time.

July 05, 2009

Updatingss

Okay, so I've finished Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens, which is an extremely mediocre book. Waaaay overrated. Both Pratchett and Gaiman are much better on their own. Also finished Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which is the melancholy, literary, zombie YA nov. It's good, only ... somehow Ryan manages to flub the writing of the key moments and scenes. Like, where a scene turns, somehow the transitions tend to falter, so I don't know the scene has turned and have to go back a couple of paragraphs to figure out what the new situation is again. Argh.

Also, been stuck for a week about a dozen pages from the end of da nobble. Next time I get to it I'll finish it, and then Phase One of Draft Two will be done. I also might have found a novel writing group. Yay! More good news forthcoming in upcoming weeks.

July 03, 2009

How Al Franken Won Minnesota

In those days, Marilyn earned her last name. She was a dove of a woman, sitting outside your window uttering plump, satisfied sounds while a scrap of paper whirled uncatchable around your making-waffles kitchen floor.

In those days we couldn't imagine Tom and Al apart. They each had a tattoo: Al on his left buttock of Tom's name in lowercase with "A-L" in blockletters in the spaces between; Tom on his right buttock of exactly the reverse. They eddied in love on the window sill, puddled in love on the kitchen floor, humped big piles of laundry love on the living room carpet.

They were blank walls to one another tAoLm and Marilyn. She couldn't hear him past the glare, and he could see nothing sexy in her. The muffs of her side-hairs dampened sound, bent rainbows around her head. All beautiful men were gay; all beautiful women wore four-inch heels and pony tails. The afternoon was solid; the night was silver, the mornings gold.

That day of taping she lost two sequins at once in the dressing room; looking for them on the floor she saw them configured together with the gash of a stargazer lily stamen like this:

:|

and she knew something was going to happen. In the hallways, as the young clipboard women called "time!" and "time!" and "five minutes please, everybody five minutes!" a breath of ice touched her clavicle and a man walked by her, free and free. Three sequin-shapes wriggled down the left leg of his tight pants and fell out onto the floor. She stood over them, reading an "o," an "m," and a "t."

June 30, 2009

ID This Book!

Hey guys,

My sister was given a book as a young teen by a friend, which I read, and I just now remembered. Can anyone tell me the title/author?

It involved a beautiful, dark-haired princess or chieftain's daughter, who was a spoiled brat and had an affair with some dude and got pregnant. He bailed and she shamed her family with her bastard son. The son had red hair, which was a sign of magic, and punishable by death. I can't remember what happened next, but they both ended up as slaves under the protection of some other chieftain and she had to dye the son's hair dark to hide his magic. She ended up becoming the chief's concubine. Meanwhile, there's another slave there (male, of course) who also has magic and he starts teaching the boy.

Don't remember most of the plot, but at some point it comes out that she herself is the one who passed magic on to her son (not the dude who bailed on her) and, if she would only learn it, she could become a powerful magician herself. Or something.

Any clues?

Did a little work on da nobble over the weekend and got through quite a bit today. I only have the last two or three chapters to go now, and these'll go fast. I've noticed, actually, that the beginning third and the end third don't need a lot of work (just minor edits), but the middle third is a mess and I'm going to have to go back in after this pass and rewrite a whole bunch of stuff. Argh. But good. I'm progressing.

June 27, 2009

Reading Update and Check In

Argh! My writing time yesterday was hijacked by a FIVE HOUR MEETING that wasn't supposed to start for another two hours when I arrived at the cafe. ARgh.

I did finish reading Timmi's Alanya to Alanya two nights ago, and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next installment. Awesome (that is a comment, not a review. No-review rule holds.)

June 25, 2009

Cell Phone Assholes

I did not work on da nobble today. I was in my favorite cafe during my writing time, and there was one too many assholes talking on their cellphones. Yes, inside. Yes, in a room in a cafe where people mostly sit and work, not talk. I can manage to ask people to take it outside at most once a day. Today the third cell phone user drove me outta the cafe. When I got home there was netflix. Argh.

However, I did go to netflix and put myself on vacay for two months, to see if I can do without. If I can, I might just cancel it altogether. It should at least get me reading more.

June 24, 2009

Check In

Didn't work on the MS yesterday, but it's okay, because I spent my writing time thinking about what I posted about in my previous post, and that was a really, really important realization for me. I've been able to get granular about what setup I need to have to get writing again.

Really got rolling on the MS today and worked through probably about 60 pages (I didn't count) including the most sticky chapter of all, the one I know is completely wrong and out of character, but which needs to happen in some way for themes to get played out and for the character to get moving across the geography again. I figured out, in general, how I'm going to rewrite this, and it's good. It'll kill about three birds with one stone. I been killin' lotsa birds today.

I'm starting to get excited about finishing the editing phase and getting back into rewriting. Hope it's soon.

Good writing day. And now a friend is coming over with wine and we're going to have the awesome dark rye/fig/olive/nut crackers I got at Whole Paycheck and it'll be a good evening as well.

June 23, 2009

Creating Writers: MFA Industrial Complex

Via Barb, this article in the New Yorker, by Louis Menand, about the creative writing program.

One thing I've been realizing lately -- as I've been tamping down temptation to apply to a creative writing PhD program, despite my contempt for, even hatred of, creative writing programs -- is what the real purpose of a creative writing workshop is. In the past I've been too caught up in my anger at the workshop's uselessness to notice that the point of the workshop is not what happens in the workshop, but the existence of the workshop in whatever form. The lack of a universal program or vocabulary or set of concepts isn't the point. The existence of the workshop is the point.

Which is all by way of saying that the reason we have workshops is to give apprentice writers the structure to write.

That sounds simple, but it's immensely complex. When I was in my MFA program, I seemed to write enormous amounts (I estimated that in 3.5 years I probably spent about 5000 hours writing.) Being able to -- simply and easily and without thinking or agonizing -- sit down and write appeared natural and effortless. It has now been 3.5 years since I graduated, and the enormous difficulty I've had just sitting down and writing regularly has been ... instructive.

The MFA program is compelling; i.e. it compels you to follow its dictates. You've paid for it, you've applied for it, people are expecting things of you, and you must deliver. It is also immutable: it is what it is and it's up to you to fit yourself to it or get off the pot. So -- in subtle and blatant ways -- you reshape your life around the MFA program. You don't necessarily notice yourself doing this ... particularly if you're a single woman with no children who is changing jobs and apartments (for separate reasons) right around the time she starts school, as I was. But you do it.

You organize so that you have time to do your homework (which is writing). You organize so that you have time to do your reading for class. You organize traveling time to and from classes. And you find, slowly or quickly, ways to structure your working day so that the thought that goes into work doesn't interfere with the thought that goes into reading and writing. In doing so, you organize your world so that you can think about writing, or write, throughout most (or the majority) of your waking hours ... not to mention your sleeping ones.

My living/working situation during my MFA program was a perfect storm for writing. Everything I did after my MFA program was -- unintentionally -- a perfect storm of cluelessness. I took myself out of the Bay Area and away from any friends, support network, or artists community for six months, basically situating myself in a cultural and social desert for a half year, and somehow expected myself to be able to produce. I didn't produce.

When I returned, I moved to the East Bay, where my social and professional network wasn't, thereby ensuring that I wasn't surrounded by the inspiring presence of other people doing creative work. I took on a full-time office job that had nothing to do with arts or creativity, in a sector that had nothing to do with arts or creativity, thereby ensuring that the largest portion of my day was spent thinking about anything but writing, and doing everything but writing. I also, in the name of freeing up more time to write, cut myself off from most of my volunteerism and freelance work in creative and arts organizations, thereby ensuring that I had no easy and natural contact to creative communities, except what I cobbled together, meeting by meeting, through my social life.

My life in the 3 years after graduating from my MFA program was basically the opposite of an MFA program ... and the opposite of a writing life. And I did not write.

The one aspect of my former writing life that I could have slipped easily and unobtrusively into my nonwriting life was a weekly or monthly writing group or workshop. I had many opportunities to join a workshop, and did not: becausse of my contempt for workshops and the writing they produce, because of my need for a long break from group dynamics, after seven solid years of working in creative and cultural collectives and seeing those pitfalls firsthand. I was looking, as I said above, at what happened within a workshop. I wasn't looking at what happens around a workshop.

And what happens around a workshop is very simply that you write around a workshop. It gets you writing. It gets you to write.

MFA programs can't work without workshops because, for people to learn to write, they have to actually be writing and have recent writing to talk about. So the MFA programs have to have a way to ensure that everyone is actually doing constant, steady writing. Otherwise the discussions about writing will be silly and hollow.

But it's more than that. Because, more than anything, you learn about writing in an MFA program because you spend the whole time writing. Enormous amounts, in fact. Even if all your teachers are assholes and idiots, all your classmates are cretins, you'll still learn a lot from doing so much writing (and reading.) And the MFA program has to make sure you're doing that.

So a few conclusions:

  • MFA programs are still the best way we have to make sure that people who want to become writers shut the fuck up, sit down, and spend a couple, three years writing a lot. That means something very important.

  • Creative writing workshops are a great opportunity to do something cool with learning, but they don't have to take that opportunity. Because the classroom opportunity is not the point of the workshop: the outside-the-classroom coercion is the point.

  • If almost all writing -- that is, almost all writers -- come through creative writing programs, that simply means that we've found a really effective, regularized, and reliable way of creating writers. If the workshop seems a ridiculously simple way of conquering American letters, all I have to say is that it so obviously works that we need to stop yammering about it at that level. (And by that I mean that I have to stop yammering about it at that level.)

  • As Barb points out, the discussion around MFA programs loves to ignore the other structures and communities writers develop for themselves. I tend to think, based on nothing but anecdotal, personal evidence, that the writers who continue to write after their MFA programs are over, are the ones who use the MFA program to learn how to set up their lives to facilitate writing. They can do this by recreating the structure of their lives during the MFA, after the MFA. They can do this by connecting with a community in the program and keeping that community together after the program. Or they can do it by using MFA certification to join academia and make The Writing Life their paying job. However they do it, the MFA offers tools to create The Writing Life, which tools then become invisible after the MFA program is over.

    Writers like myself -- who indulged in magical thinking about MFA programs or MFA periods as times when The Writing Just Flowed like manna and ambrosia, and other things that rain from heaven without effort on the part of recipients -- are left gasping for air on the shore, refusing to just jump back into the water a few inches away. That is to say: I am mixing metaphors. That is to say: we stop writing when the MFA is over.

  • I need to get myself a writers group. Stat.

June 22, 2009

Write-A-Thong

I'm not participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon because I do other fundraising among my friends and family throughout the year and need to choose where I spend that energy.

But I think it's a great idea, both as a fundraiser, and as a writing initiative. So I made a private commitment to write every day during Clarion West-time. Today was my first day. Officially it started yesterday, but Clarion West officially starts the night before classtime starts when the first instructor is introduced, and NOT when your writing needs to start. So I took advantage.

Anyhoo, I'm going through a printed out MS of da nobble right now, editing. And by "editing," I mean both line-editing and hefty, more structural stuff. When I'm done with this phase, I'm taking the heavily marked up MS back to Scrivener and doing the rewrites there. After this rewrite, I think I'll actually be ready to show it to some first readers.

I'm hoping this phase will be done by the end of the Write-A-Thong. But I'm not holding my breath. Will make an effort to post daily about my progress but, again, no breath-holding.

June 20, 2009

Up(Yours!)Dike's Rules for Book Reviewing (And Why They Suck!)

John Updike's Golden Rules for Book Reviewing, via (you'll have to catch this link quickly, since it forwards after a few seconds):

  1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.
  2. Give him enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.
  3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.
  4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants' revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)
  5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?
  6. To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author "in his place," making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end."

Okay, let's just be clear here: these are "golden rules" insofar as they are John Updike wishing reviewers would do unto him as he would have them do unto him. I know he wrote reviews himself, but he was primarily a fiction writer and had no benefit coming to him for developing a reputation as a strong and honest reviewer. Rather, the opposite: he had a stake in not pissing anyone in the industry off and in building goodwill among writers, publishers, and other folks with cookies.

I'm a writer as well, though a barely published one (no book yet, so no nasty reviews yet, so grain-o-salt it.) I also write reviews for my blogs and for more ... er ... legitimate venues. And I, openly, thoughtfully, and advisedly don't follow Updike's rules (with a few exceptions), even though I know it could hurt me as a writer in the long run. Here's why, point for point:

  1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

    Really? So if we've seen -- in the past decade -- twenty, or fifty, or two hundred debut novels by white, male writers in their late twenties about rediscovering their and their family's place in the universe by backpacking around ________ (fill in foreign locale here), we don't get to blame the 201st writer for not attempting anything different? That's bullshit. Book reviews are part of a larger conversation analyzing our culture by examining artistic and artificial products of that culture. The writer's choice of subject is absolutely fair game. If we're bored by a book not because it's horribly written but because it's the five-thousandth iteration of that particular subject -- stale, clichéd, and unoriginal -- the reader needs to know ... and we need to say so.

    Or to get more granular: if a writer chooses something hot-button and difficult as a subject and displays her huge blind spot in doing so, do we not get to point that out? Say she's writing about prejudice against the disabled in a city like, say, Oakland (to get really blatant) but there are no characters of color anywhere in her narrative. In Oakland. It's bullshit to say "she didn't want to address race so she left the POC out." You can't address anything in a mimetic scenario that in real life would include X, if you don't include X. And reviewers get to call writers on this.

    Maybe I'm laying too much weight on reviewing, but I consider it part of cultural criticism, which I consider to be something of a sacred trust (or a profane trust?) I consider cultural production itself a sacred trust: people talking to other people about what they think is important; telling stories about what it is in our society we should be paying attention to. If they leave stuff out, ignore stuff, or choose not to address stuff, they get to be called out for it
    , one hundred percent, you betcha.

  2. Give him enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

    Ar to the Gh. Seriously? This explains a lot about Updike and about how MFA lit fic is written. It's written so that it can be quoted, sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph, in reviews! Think about it, folks. What's the point of writing (or reading) a 80,000-word work of prose if you can get an adequate "taste" of it in 50 words? Doesn't that basically tell you that the 80,000 words are written in (bo-ring) equal, like increments of 50-100 words? Why would anyone wanna read that?

    A book is long-form prose. It should not be quotable, that is: it should not be tastable via quotation. It should be so integral and complete a piece that you have to read the whole fucking thing to get a real "impression" of it. This is not to say that enjoyment -- "mouth feel" -- of the language is unimportant. It is, however, to say that insisting that a quotation be included will disadvantage books that were written as wholes, and not as excessively long and plodding and plotless prose-poems by people whose prose poetry would never be accepted as such by the poetry industrial complex. And, in my not-humble opinion, all books (excepting collections) should be written primarily as wholes, with the lovely language taking second priority to the integrity of the piece. (Unless, of course, the writer specifically chooses a project that deconstructs novel or book structure and focuses in on the moment of language, in which case the writer should be prepared to be called out for it.)

  3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.

    Again, this means that you can only describe the language of the book, and not character, structure, plot point, theme, setting, action, thought, or that indescribable something that animates (or fails to animate) the whole and makes it a living piece of art. The only things that are quotable in a review are small increments of language. You can't quote a plot, or confirm a plot by quotation. You can't quote a character, or confirm a book-length characterization by quoting a phrase. And, let's be clear: a characterization that can be confirmed by quoting a phrase? My people call it "stereotype."

    And "fuzzy precis?" Eat me, Updike. The typical review is 500 - 1000 words. You can't give anything but a general summary of a novel or book in that space. You just can't. The succinct precis is the reviewer's most basic tool, you tool. In fact, I would even say that the "art" of the review is being able to convey a sense of the book without having to hack up the book into pieces to do so. Casting contempt upon this "art" by referring to it as a "fuzzy precis" doesn't do anything. Reviewers won't, and can't, stop using it, and whole books will become no more quotable thereby. Asshole.

  4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants' revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)

    I mostly agree with this, but want to point out that Updike gives only the example of his own books being spoilered, and not having his experience of reading another's book spoiled thereby. That's pretty revealing.

  5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?

    No and no! Comparisons are odious! This is the one, specific place where what Updike said above -- about not calling out a writer for failing to do what he didn't attempt -- applies. My rule number one: DO NOT COMPARE INDIVIDUAL WRITERS AND DO NOT CALL OUT A WRITER FOR FAILING TO ACHIEVE WHAT ANOTHER WRITER ACHIEVED. This is the best way to encourage people to imitate one another: by implying that there is a correct way to do something and an incorrect way to do something. Saying "this writer's way of addressing the subject is correct, yours is incorrect" only sets up an orthodoxy. Writers should rather be critiqued purely on the successes and failures of their own projects, and not on how their projects compare to those of others. If someone tries something and fails, yes, say so. But with an eye towards how THAT SPECIFIC ATTEMPT could have been more successful, rather than with an eye toward how that specific attempt is wrong, but hey, look at this one!

    The only thing I agree with is this: "
    Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?" That goes double for me.

  6. To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author "in his place," making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end."

    Yeah, yeah, fine. I can't really disagree with any of this. But I have to say, if a book fails to relay the "joys in reading," that needs to be said. Readers must become more discriminating through reading reviews. Readers must learn over time what makes a book ordinary, and what makes it challenging or interesting. They must be given a vocabulary they can use to talk about books. They must understand that some joys of reading, the ones they are always seeking, are not the only joys. They must learn that simply because a small joy may be discerned in a book, it doesn't mean that the book is worth reading. And they must ultimately learn that every mediocre book that is published, reviewed, bought, and read, means very specifically that another, much better book will not be published, much less read. Readers must learn how to improve the publishing economy for good writing, and poison the publishing economy for bad writing.

May 16, 2009

Outrage, Pullback, Punishment: The Structure of One Common Antiracist Post

ETA: Please note! This is my personal blog and, although I draw on my experience with the organizations I work for, I write on this blog as a private citizen, and not as a representative of any organization! In these posts it's especially important to remember that I'm not speaking for the Carl Brandon Society, but only for myself.

So, to kick off my out-loud consideration of if and how to "break up" with the antiracist blogosphere ...

I'm going to start with organizing some observations about how racism is talked about on the POC antiracist blogs I've been reading for the past six years and laying out the basic structure of one type of typical antiracist post.

First, most POC A/R blogs rarely take the bull by the horns, that is to say, they rarely take the initiative in introducing topics of discussion and setting the terms for the discussion. Instead, most POC A/R blogs are reactive, that is, they keep watch on what is happening in the world and especially in the media, and respond to incidents or discussions initiated by people out in the world, or by the media.

The way this works is what I call "Outrage, Pullback, Punishment" (and yes, it is a plus that it compresses to "OPP"). How it works is as follows:

Outrage: something racist happens in the world. A blogger or group of bloggers pick up on it. They note it in their blogs and express outrage at it. The item gets passed on from blog to blog.

Pullback: of the bloggers who post on this topic, less than half will express anything other than outrage. But a subset of these bloggers will spend a little time pulling back from the outrage to contextualize this incident of racism and explain why it's a problem. They will go into the history of these types of incidents, they'll go into academic theories of X, they'll give talking points on why this sort of thing is bad for people of color, bad for justice, and bad for the world in general.

Punishment: of the bloggers who pull back and contextualize, an even smaller subset will propose or initiate action. This action is dual: it proposes advocacy of a particular view, action (usually apology and some sort of remediation), and threatens punishment if this action isn't taken up immediately. I call this step "punishment" because punishment is advocated at two places: often the remedial action is punishment of the original offender (as in asking a radio station to fire a racist DJ), and the action threatened if this remedy isn't taken up is usually a punishment as well (official complaint up the chain of command, formal boycott, or bad publicity, and the hanging of the "racist" label on the totality of the offenders.) The action is then picked up by the other bloggers and passed around.

Lest anyone think I'm trying to hurl accusations from a glass house, I'll give an example from my own oeuvre. (I'm actually critiquing all of POC antiracist blogging, including my own, which is part of the whole and speaks the same language.) The recent example is the Avatar casting controversy:

You'll notice here that the structure not only makes the information easy to understand and assimilate, but it also makes the basic conveyance of the information easy to adapt to each blog. Each new blogger who picks the story up simply gives a spin to the same blog post and passes it on.

This structure of communication has been effective in the past for specific purposes. The best example would be the Jena 6 controversy in 2007 where a group of black teenagers were unfairly prosecuted for an assault on a white teenager that was provoked by a series of racist incidents. Originally ignored by the mainstream media, outrage in the POC blogosphere contributed heavily to the story being picked up nationally. Additionally, the "punishment" phase of this story advocated action that was less punitive and more justice-oriented, and resulted in large demonstrations in Jena and all over the country, that have succeeded in bringing about a more just resolution for many of the defendants than would have happened otherwise. Here's a post from the Angry Black Woman which demonstrates OPP and links to other posts you can check out as well.

An earlier example was the Abercrombie and Fitch controversy (2002/2004), which involved first a series of t-shirts with racist images of Asians on them, then a lawsuit (later settled) that alleged that A&F gave visible jobs to white employees and restricted POC to the stock rooms. The online campaign against the t-shirts -- organized with a speed that surprised even participants -- led to real-world protest outside the stores, which in turn caused the company to withdraw the shirt and issue an apology. The t-shirt protest was actually organized via email, list-servs, and discussion boards, more than via blogs. But if you look at the discussion boards link, you'll see one of the origins of OPP structure. The continuing online scrutiny of A&F's racial attitude helped keep pressure on them that contributed to the favorable settlement of the lawsuit.

As has been rightly said since the Jena 6 protests, online social networking has created a world in which effective protest can be organized quickly and nationally to address even local injustices. OPP is a great launching point for these kinds of effective protests: OPP informs and arouses a sense of outrage very quickly, and creates a sort of information tree or hierarchy which people can follow back to a source of organization if they wish to get involved. People are no longer dependent on being reached by recruiters, they can recruit themselves to act. And POC communities, if they know how to leverage the hinges of the Tipping Point, can control to a great extent the spread of their mobilization effort.

This structure of communication also makes it easy for the mainstream media to pick up on POC responses to national incidents. Reporters don't have to dig through a lot of discussion and process its implications to know what POC bloggers are thinking. They just aggregate the most popular bloggers and do a keyword search for the controversy du jour, and bingo, insta-quote. So in this way, POC can come closer to the mainstream media.

All this is great. But.

The negative result of this is that POC A/R blogs tend to accept, without thought or discussion, that the white-dominated media and mainstream culture gets to initiate action and discussion, and the POC A/R online media's role is merely to respond to this discourse, and not to control it or be a partner in shaping it.

This is fine when an injustice happens -- as in Jena -- and must be addressed quickly. These sorts of things happen all the time, so having a structure in place to deal with these things -- to remedy actual injustices as they happen -- is important. But it does not move the discourse on race forward. It unconsciously takes for granted that POC have no initiative in the world. In the call and response of the mainstream media discourse, POC have only a response, not a call. And as we all know, whoever calls, rules.

I say _________, you say "racist"

Mr. Patel!
Racist!
Airbender!
Racist!

If you look back on any effective movement of the 20th century (suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam) their communication structure all had these things in common:

  1. A clear, articulated overall goal towards which all participants were willing to work for years.
  2. A set, but evolving discourse and vocabulary, which the movement controlled.
  3. Media: alternative media organs (papers and magazines) dedicated to promoting this message and discourse; and, over time, allies in the mainstream media dedicated to promoting this message and discourse.
  4. The necessity of responding deliberately and thoughtfully, owing to the lack of instantaneous communications technology. Because everything written was printed and had to be edited and proofread, everything broadcast had to be accepted by media corporations and could be heavily controlled, the message and discourse were very polished, thoughtful, respectful, and carefully tailored to appeal to listeners who may have held a differing opinion.

If you think about it, OPP simply cannot exist in a movement in which the above conditions obtain. Chaos and Freedom are the twin faces of the same internet beast. The viral responsiveness and speed of protests like Jena 6 and A&F owes to the Freedom face. The lack of a goal, a message, a discourse, and deliberate or thoughtful response owes to the Chaos face. Although there's more than one argument to be made here, I would contend that the POC Antiracist blogosphere is not a movement, it is merely a community.

As such, it can facilitate the creation of temporary movements (like the Jena 6 protest movement), but it cannot change, or even affect, the national discourse on race. All it can do is respond to it.

In my next post, I'm going to talk about initiatives that do shape, or attempt to shape, national discourse on race, and how these work together with online OPP.

May 06, 2009

Today's Linguistic Pet Peeves

predominately: I've been seeing this one in newspapers! Folks, it's predominantly. Two different words: to predominate, which is a verb, and predominant, which is an adjective. You get the adverb by adding an "ly" to the adjective. I don't know how to make this one any clearer; it gets to the heart of the logic of parts of speech. "Predominately" makes no grammatical sense. That is all.

shrunk and sunk: used as past tense, as in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, or My heart sunk. (The correct setences are Honey, I shrank the kids. and My heart sank.) Shrunk and sunk are past participles. The past tense form of each word is shrank and sank. Shrink shrank shrunk. I shrink the kids every day. Yesterday, I shrank the kids. In the past, I have shrunk the kids, but that time is over. Why does this bother me so much? No idea.

May 05, 2009

Kathleen Duey Twitter Novel

Oh dude.

Oh dude. I know what's going into my aggregator, like, NOW.

Kathleen Duey -- of the awrsome YA novel Skin Hunger -- is writing a Twitter novel live. You can read it on the blog here, or live on Twitter here as it happens.

Already the text has developed a rhythm that comes across similarly to blank verse: you can tell the rhythm's gonna hold up, and it gives the text a stability most prose doesn't have. It'll be interesting to see what kind of content acrobatics she allows that stability to give her.

This whole thing is so exciting I want to pee. Or do one myself.

Via Gwenda.

April 05, 2009

Weekly Roundup: March 29 - April 4


My folks were in town for a while but left this week. And I've been having trouble getting to sleep, which is making me tired and bad-memoried.

I had to scramble to finish my Asian American women profiles for Hyphen blog this week, before Women's History Month was over. It was a good project, but a lot of work. I asked the readers for suggestions, and most of the suggestions were for artists and writers, which tells you what kind of readers we have, but wasn't terribly helpful. So I had to curate the profiles for age, ethnicity, and field of endeavor. That also meant I had to do some research to actually find a range of women to profile. But I'm glad of the result. You can see all the posts here.

By the way, I'm going to be asking Asian Americans to send in 200-word family histories for me to post on Hyphen Blog for May, which is API Heritage Month. Spread the word!

Also, currently working for Kaya Press and putting together book tours for Australian novelist Brian Castro and Japanese documentary filmmaker Kazuo Hara. We've been watching Hara's films lately, and I have to say, although I would never have sat through one otherwise, I'm glad I was forced to: this guy's a genius. For writers out there, you HAVE to see A Dedicated Life (which you can get on Netflix). It's a documentary about a Japanese novelist, famous for one particular book, who used to be a member of the Japanese communist party and was excommunicated for kicking off his novel writing career by writing a book criticizing it. But that's not what the film is about. The film, an amazing 2.5 hours long, is about narrative and how people build their lives. That's all I can tell you, because it's the kind of film that does what only film can do ... so you can describe it. Watch the film and if your jaw isn't on the ground after the first half hour, and STILL on the ground two hours later, I'll buy you dinner.

I didn't really like his Goodbye CP, which I think was his first film, and which is basically about forcing the audience to watch endless footage of people with cerebral palsy moving through public space and being ignored by others. But definitely see The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, which is about a super-crazy protester in the 80's who tries to kill his former WWII commander for reasons best understood by watching the film.

Katherine Mieszkowski, probably my favorite writer at Salon, has an article about a couple in Berkeley who acquire most of their stuff by scavenging. It's really interesting and has some tips for down 'n' out East Bay Areans. The irony here is that this couple has written a book about scavenging, which you have to buy new, because presumably most people who buy it aren't going to toss it out.

My friend Jaime said last weekend, after the funeral of the four Oakland policemen, that he thinks a city can reach a point where its reputation is just broken, and there's no coming back. I've been watching The Wire on netflix these past few weeks, and Oakland feels like that right now: broken beyond repair. The anger that Oscar Grant's killing unleashed was one side of the violence coin -- and the police DO have a lot to answer for, over the years and right now. But these killings are the other side, an indication that when violence gets this out of control, no one is safe. The one thing everyone can agree on is that Mayor Dellums is an asshole. The feeling in Oakland right now is sadness just on the edge of despair; there's no real anger, just shock. And the violence continues.

I saw the William Kentridge show at SFMOMA last weekend and highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend it. Don't wanna talk about it right now, though. Also saw the Nick Cave show at YBCA. Candylicious!

And I've started revisions on Draft 3 of da nobble. And started writing dates with other writers. If this works out, I might have a way of sticking to it. I have to get this sleep issue resolved, though, because I don't have much brain power this week.

Saw Amber Benson, who played Tara on Buffy, on BART last weekend. At first I thought she was someone I knew down the way, so familiar did she seem. I stared a little, but tried not to bother. She was with a group of geek girls, which is cool.

Been watching the first season of 21 Jump Street on Y*O*U*T*U*B*E. Yeah, it's cheesy (the music is truly horrible), but the storytelling is actually pretty decent. I remember LOVING this show back in the day: it started the year I went off to college. I was still seventeen when I first went: still a teenager in a lot of ways. So I watched it off and on until Johnny Depp left. The gender and racial dynamics are so clear in this show, it makes me understand the 80's much better. Holly Robinson's character is the only woman on the force (there are no female extras in uniform). She's depicted as being just as capable as the men ... but she never has to fight anyone. Whenever there's a shooting or an accident that she's involved in, all the men get this look of concern on their faces and touch her shoulder and ask if she's alright. God, I remember that.

As far as the racial dynamic goes, the only black characters on the show so far are bad guys, except for Robinson and the captain. There's even one episode where a rich white kid gets hooked on smack and is forced by his black dealer, also a teenager, to rob stores to pay for his dope. The black dealer gets put away and the white junkie gets off scot free with no explanation. Everyone feels sorry for him. And yet, there's some sophistication in the way the individual characters interact racially. In the pilot, Johnny Depp's character is surprised that Holly Robinson's character owns an MG. She laughs at him and asks him if she should have a pimpmobile instead. No pretty-boy cop-show hero nowadays would ever be allowed to make racist assumptions like that.

Pireeni gave me Proust Was A Neuroscientist for my birthday (very belatedly) and I've started reading it.

Will do a sleep study next week.

That is all.

April 01, 2009

Bad Book Reading Consequences


Awrsome.

Via.

March 22, 2009

BSG Finale. Yawn.

Talk about no bang and not much whimpering.

Apparently BSG is finale-ing, (today? tomorrow? I don't know) and I don't even care. I'm behind two episodes as it is, and I'm certainly not going to watch it at the time of broadcast. No spoilers, please, even though I don't care. I'm going out on a limb though: it's gonna suck.

In other news, I'm writing again. I had a good writing day today. If this keeps up, I won't be blogging much. But then, I've been so busy the past month, I haven't been blogging much, anyway. So let it be for a good reason I'm not blogging.

That is all.

February 19, 2009

Nobble Update

Things looking up!

I printed draft 2 out and am reading it through and put it down because I was so bored. Yes, BORED!

This is good news because Orwell said that:

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

Which I feel to be true in my case to a certain extent (minus a little hyperbole.) I've been working on da nobble for 6.5 years now and I've felt actually possessed by a demon which is essentially the spirit of the nobble. The "horrible" part was the year I spent NOT working on it ... but still being possessed by it, and stung, and taunted, and told I was worthless by it because I wasn't paying it its due attention.

The possession feels like infatuation or love, and very easily turns into hatred, contempt, loathing. So my boredom with the (boring parts of the) MS is like a light at the end of the tunnel. My infatuation wanes! I see a way out! All I have to do is cut away the chaff and preen up the rest and I'll be free of this ... thing.

And free to be possessed by the next thing. Sigh.

January 23, 2009

Readin' Update

Nisi Shawl FILTER HOUSE

A book of short stories from a fabulous writer who is my friend so the no-review rule holds. Awrsome.

Ernest J. Eitel WHAT IS FENG SHUI?: THE CLASSIC NINETEETH-CENTURY INTERPRETATION

Just what the title says: an 1873 publication from an English-language press in Hong Kong. Eitel was a German Protestant missionary -- apparently with a gift for languages -- who spent his career in China and ended up becoming something of an expert in Feng Shui, Buddhism, and Cantonese, writing texts on the first two and a dictionary of the last. He has his own form of Romanization for Cantonese, apparently.

Anywho, the book is extremely valuable not just for helping me to cut through all the latter day, Westernized, interior decorating crap that fills most feng shui books I can find, but it also teaches 19th Century feng shui and conveys the attitude of an educated and enlightened Western man towards feng shui.

Eitel is alternately contemptuous of and fascinated by feng shui, condemning it as "rank superstition" at the same time that he claims it as legitimate Chinese natural science. He makes the point that I've had to make before, that although the art/science of feng shui is infused with hoo doo and superstition, and doesn't follow the strict rules of western empiricism, there has been a science to the manner of study of feng shui; there is a form of empiricism and experimentation involved -- only it isn't "pure."

Perfect research item for da nobble.

January 13, 2009

2009 Goals, Take Two

Wow. I just looked over my 2009 goals and they're entirely selfish and internally focused. All about me, me, me. Of course, that's what personal goals are about, but I have other goals this year. Let me reorganize and add to these.
  1. BALANCE: Find and maintain balance. In 2008, I was able to start identifying some elements of life that are essential to me that I've been neglecting, and I was able to start putting these back together. I'll continue that this year. In other words, do the things that keep me stable and happy. This includes all of the below categories, and can include some combination of side things like:
    1. Regular dinner parties, game nights, and other relaxing, small social events at my house. Yes.
    2. Going dancing or taking dance exercise classes. Dancing in general.
    3. Taking singing lessons (can anyone recommend a teacher?) or joining a choir. Singing in general.
    4. Learning recorder again, maybe taking lessons?
    5. Getting into taking Cantonese lessons again. Or maybe Spanish.

  2. WRITING:
    1. Get writing again. Of course. This needs little explication; writing is both my big problem and my raison d'etre. I need to find not the perfect balance, but sufficient balance to enable writing again, so that's the big goal here is to get to that balance and get writing again. Specific objectives:
      1. finish da Nobble by August: I actually think I can do it, once I find the adequate balance that enables writing. I'm almost there.
      2. get started on second novel.
    2. Work on two publication projects, which I will not specify here. Also, get some of those stories published in journals, i.e., continue sending them out.
    3. Work the blogs. This one, atlas(t), and Hyphen.

  3. READING: Read more challenging and inspiring material. In general. Specifics:
    1. Finish my research reading for da nobble
    2. Do the reading I've set for atlas(t)
    3. Knock off some of my pile of classics

  4. HEALTH:
    1. Get on the insulin pump, which will require me to test four times a day for six weeks straight and go get my results downloaded every two weeks. Huge pain in the ass, but not impossible. In fact, I'll set a date to start: next Monday. Let me go put it in my calendar.
    2. Exercise 5 minutes a day. I know, that sounds lame, but I can do that more easily than 20 minutes five times a week, and the 5 minutes a day actually makes a difference in my mood, which is the whole point.
    3. Lose that 15 pounds.
    4. Continue getting regular massages.

  5. SERVICE: I really haven't been doing community service at all in the past two years. It surprises me that I didn't notice. But that needs to start happening again now. Some possibilities:
    1. Working more regularly with Moveon.org to advocate for particular positions with Congress and the new administration. I'm trying out Moveon right now to see if it's a good fit. If it isn't, I'm ... er ... moving on to something else. But what I'm looking for is a grassroots political organization that addresses national politics in a comprehensive manner, not just one issue or issue area.
    2. Finding a local (Oakland) homelessness org and volunteering. This can't happen right now, but in a couple of months I'm going to be looking for an org to volunteer for. By then, perhaps the issue I'm interested in will change, although I doubt it. Yes, I'm being vague.

December 29, 2008

10,000 Hours

I got a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers for Christmas and read it in one day. One of the things he talks about in the book  is the idea that, to achieve mastery over any field, you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice.

I'd heard theories like this before, but Gladwell unpacked it in a particularly enticing way. So naturally, the first thing I did was to calculate when I would have hit my 10,000 hours. I wasn't the only one.

It's hard to do, because I write, and have always written, everything: fiction, plays, poetry, screenplays, essays, articles, letters, journals, online discussions, and most recently, blogs. And I count all of this together. Although I recognize genre differences, and differences of purpose, as far as mastery of writing -- including the use of the imagination that is so necessary in fiction -- every kind of self-expressive writing that I do contributes equally to my development. I accept that other people may write differently, and may process their different kinds of writing differently. But I don't.

It's also a difficult calculation because I haven't written at a steady rate. There have been years when I would come home and just write for hours every day, and other years when I would write for a few hours maybe once a week ... and to no "productive" purpose. There were years when I wrote nothing "creative" at all, but rather handwrote letter after letter to friends who never received any of them. You know how it goes.

Anyroad, I decided to go conservative and average ten hours of writing per week. Starting at fifteen (the year I bought my first journal -- as opposed to my first "diary" which was bought for me when I was maybe 8 -- realizing that I could write down what I was ACTUALLY thinking rather than some boring YA version of "Dear Diary, this is what happened to me today ...") this would take twenty years; subtract four years (conservatively) for the long stretches when I was writing thirty hours a week, and that would put me at 31 when I hit my 10,000 hours.

I got very excited when I figured this out because 31 was, of course, the age at which I finished the first draft my "breakthrough" story, "Pigs in Space," the one that got me into grad school, got me into Clarion West, and then got published in McSweeney's. (McSweeney's subsequently asked me to record it for an audiobook, which you can download here.) It remains my sole big story publication, (although I'm sure that will change this year ;) ) so take that as you will.

More importantly, though, I remember writing that story, and it took me a while. I wrote the first part and it was a good idea, like a lot of "first parts" I had written before. But this good idea actually brought together a lot of social and political concerns that had been on my plate for a long time, but that I hadn't found a way to put into a story. I couldn't figure out how to end it, though, for a few months. After processing it internally, the solution popped into my head one day and I wrote the rest of the story. I then spent the next two years revising it, putting it through nine drafts, never quite satisfied that it was ready to go.

I turned it in as a writing sample for grad school, got in. Worked on it some more. Workshopped it in class. Wrote 20,000 words of backstory. Used it as a writing sample for Clarion West. Got in. We were supposed to workshop it the first week but I asked to do a new story, since I was sick of "Pigs." Fortunately for me, our first week instructor, Nancy Kress, had read and prepared a critique and gave it to me in our one-on-one session. It was a substantial, but simple, structural rearrangement that she suggested, and she was right about it.

It still took me a few months to see that she was right, but when I went over the story for that last draft, the scales almost literally fell from my eyes and I understood not only what Nancy had said about the structure, but why. It was a small moment that hid a huge transformation. After that, I could actually see story structure in my head: an amorphous, not quite solid, three dimensional shape.

When I look back on it, I think what I was doing was taking the last steps towards understanding story as an integral -- a living -- organism. Not thinking about it as a living thing, which is the same as saying "asking a question," but understanding it a such, which is the same as saying, "having an answer." Just one answer, of course.

That was also the point at which I realized that I had been struggling, without knowing it, toward an end goal which I had reached without ever defining it. And, in reaching it, I realized that it wasn't an "end" goal. The way I explained it to my students at the time was that writing is like running up a steep flight of stairs to a locked door at the top. You bang on and push against the door until it finally gives way ... and then you find yourself on a landing, at the foot of another steep flight of stairs with another locked door at the top.

What changed at that point for me was confidence in what I was doing, and in my ability to do it. This transformation actually took two years, but it started right around the time I would have hit 10,000 hours, and ended in the middle of a four year period where I increased my writing time to over thirty hours a week, adding over 5,000 hours to my total.

Okay, now you: when did you hit your 10,000?

December 16, 2008

Writers' Rooms

IMG_3318

I've seen photos of writers' rooms before and didn't care that much about it except to envy them.

But I'm right in the midst of considering how to rearrange my workspace so this (via) was a very good thing for me to see, for on-the-ground ideas.

I don't have a whole room for the writing, just one wall of my "bedroom", which is a bedroom, study, and sitting room in one. (The other large room in my apartment is living room and dining room, and I have a kitchen, bathroom, and walk-in closet.) The way the room is laid out, I have little choice about where to put my bed, which gives me little choice about where to put my desk. So I'm stuck with this one particular wall. (the white crumple in the foreground of the photo above is my bed.)

 It's kind of a weird and uncomfortable place to sit, but it's the longest wall in my apartment, and pretty much the only place I can put my table short of transplanting the two rooms. I solved the problem of storage by raisinIMG_3319g the table up high (it has IKEA screw up and down legs) and getting a draftsman's stool to sit on. Problem is, this isn't comfortable, and I simply stopped using the table. So I've decided to lower it to a normal height again, but now I have to consider a number of things:

  1. What do do with all the crap stored beneath it. Should I install wall shelves over the desk? Put organizers on top of the desk? Invest in storage containers for under the desk?
  2. Should I create some kind of mild barrier between the end of my desk and the doorway right next to it, as a kind of psychological boundary marker? And if so, what?
  3. Which of my current organizers aren't working? What should I keep, what should I build out, and what should I get rid of?

Any detailed responses or principles would be welcome. Sigh.

December 01, 2008

What To Give Writers As Gifts

In the spirit of Tayari Jones' list last year, here are some holiday (or general) gift suggestions for the writers in your life, both do's and don'ts.

DON'T buy your writer books unless they are young, beginners, or you know they're poorly read. Writers--real writers--are voracious readers and must be given the freedom to self-direct. Also, unless you talk to them about books all the time, you don't know what they've read. If there's a particular book that you really want them to read that you don't think they know about, go for it, but don't buy them something because you heard it was good and thought they might like it.

DO buy gift cards to book stores, or a LibraryThing or PaperbackSwap account.

DO pick an art form that you know they don't experience enough of (dance, or music, or theater) and buy tickets to see a really hot show. Be sure to include drinks afterward, so they have someone to talk to about said show.

DON'T buy pens, paper, or (especially not!) notebooks. Writers are VERY particular about their writing implements, and unless you know specifically what type/brand they want, don't buy implements for them.

DO get a gift card to a stationery store, or if they write on their computers, find out what software they use and buy them something new, like Scrivener. If you buy a disk from a store, be sure to get a gift receipt so they can return it.

DO get them a gift card to a computer store (esp. the online store they use), especially if you know that their computer is dying. If they're getting ready to buy a new computer, they can put your gift towards it.

DON'T buy them books on writing or publishing. If they know what they're about, chances are, they've already looked into these books and have already read the best and ignored the mediocre ones.

DO invest in something career related ... what that really means is, give them a home-made gift certificate for a specific amount of money you will invest in some career development opportunity, like a writers conference, or a class, or a workshop, or a writing contest. These things are expensive (weekend conferences can cost hundreds of dollars before you figure in travel or accommodation costs; submitting to a writers contest can cost $20 or $40 or more).

This is a wonderful gift that says both that you take them seriously as writers, and that you're willing to give them money toward developing their careers. But be sure to pay up when they decide what to spend it on!

DON'T stress about trying to occupy a writer's mind or give him/her ideas. That's part of their JOB, and you don't have to help out with that.

DO worry about their bodies. Give them a year's gym membership, or a gift certificate to a public bath, or a massage (or series of massages!) Give them things that will help maintain or improve their health.

DO arrange a spa date! Especially if you go with them.

DO give them a gift certificate for manicures. I don't know about other writers but I'm very dependent on my hands (for typing) and bite my nails to keep them short enough to type. As a result, I suffer from hangnails. If someone bought me a manicure a month for a year, I would bless them forever.

DON'T waste your money with joke gifts or junk.

DO, for a writer who is trying to write for a living, give money. Freelancing is hard.

DO, If you have a nice guest room in your lovely home, or a vacation house, tell your writer friend that they can use it for a week or a month (or however long) when they're ready and they need it, for a writing retreat. This may not seem like much of a gift to you, but to a writer who  is desperate for some quiet me time to push out that draft, this could be the one thing in the world no one else can give them.

Also, unless you have that kind of relationship with the writer, just saying "you can use my guestroom/house anytime!" might not be enough. The writer might be hesitant to take advantage, so formally giving an amount of time as a holiday gift might make it easier for them to actually take you up on it.

I've suggested a lot of gift certificates, so here's a shopping list of gifts at different amounts:

  • $10-15 will buy a decent writing notebook, like a moleskine.
  • $15-20 will cover a decent manicure in your writer's neighborhood.
  • $20-40 will cover the entry fee for a writing contest.
  • $25 will cover the cost of  one new hardcover book (most of 'em, anyway). These are the books hardest for a working writer to get ahold of, but also the ones they might most want to read.
  • $40 will buy Scrivener, the hottest writing software right now for book-length projects. It's a download, not a disk, and you can find it here.
  • $40-60 will cover the application fee for a fellowship or an MFA program. (If they're talking about doing either of these.)
  • $60-75 should be enough to buy a massage for 45-60 minutes, depending on where you go.
  • $75 will buy a month's membership at a 24 Hour Fitness Gym. I imagine other low-cost chains are comparable.
  • $130 will upgrade their Mac operating system. Undoubtedly, Windows will cost less.
  • $150 will buy them the new MS Office Suite.
  • $240 will buy a year's worth of manicures.
  • $350 will buy a year's membership at a 24 Hour Fitness Gym. I imagine other low-cost chains are comparable.
  • $750 is the cost of a week at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, not including housing or travel.
  • $2345 is the cost of a week at the Breadloaf Writers Conference, not including travel.
  • $3000--30,000 will cover tuition for one year of a master of fine arts program at most universities.
  • $30,000 should get most writers with no chronic illnesses through one year of life in most areas of the United States (but maybe not so much for San Francisco, New York, and LA).

November 03, 2008

NaNoFiMo Update

Finished two small items today. Third day of NaNo and I'm already behind. But I was traveling today! (said in a whiny voice.)

November 02, 2008

NaNoFiMo Update

Well, NaNoFiMo (National Novel Finishing Month) isn't going too smoothly so far. Yesterday I was busy and didn't do anything. Today I tried for two hours to manage a tiny detail: I needed to put in what Christian sect one of my main characters grew up in (he's no longer religious, so it's important, but minor.) I needed a non-communitarian, abolitionist but not pacifist sect. I spent two hours looking online for such a sect before I realized that this was a detail that I could let go. Do we really need to know exactly what sect he belonged to? It won't be referred to again. Seriously.

Then I looked for other small things to handle and decided that we didn't need to know how they mark trails to clear after dust storms (who cares?) or need 100% to hear that mention of a transport line to Alba Patera (I don't even remember what that refers to, but I'm sure it's unimportant.)

Then I figured out that a small detail I need to seed in there so it will bear fruit later is actually already part of a larger fix. Then I moved two small fixes to the medium fix column because I don't know what I was thinking, they're going to take longer than that. And that's about three hours of work right there.

Welk, I guess this is the job. I guess a lot of revision is planning and then planning again, and then getting disgusted with your obsession with unwanted detail and revising your PLAN, all without actually touching your text. Arg. I have only eleven items in the short fix column now.

Tomorrow, a few short fixes in the airport, yes?

November 01, 2008

American Indian Heritage Month Book List

I know, I know, you were told to say "Native American," or "First Nations." But the official name for the month is American Indian, so just deal with it, okay?

As you all should know by now (after three of these lists) the Carl Brandon Society just started a heritage month book advocacy program this year in which our members have selected ten speculative books in English, in print, by writers of that particular heritage, for each month.

We've been sending and posting these book lists far and wide, trying to get them into libraries and bookstores to promote the writing of writers of color during the months that they are featured. PLEASE distribute this list even farther! We're relying on word of mouth, folks! Post it on your blog! Email the list to your reading friends and family! These are good books!

*****

The CARL BRANDON SOCIETY recommends

the following speculative fiction books by writers of First Nations/Native American heritage

for American Indian Heritage Month:

THE WAY OF THORN AND THUNDER trilogy, Daniel Heath Justice
This trilogy speculatively re-imagines the Cherokee history of removal and relocation and redefines European fantastical tropes using Cherokee-centered imagery and worldviews.

GREEN GRASS, RUNNING WATER Thomas King
One of the best books I've ever read: a funny, sad, gorgeous story that ties together a contemporary narrative about 
Indians living on Canada's prairies with slightly skewed creation myths and accounts of the historical horrors endured by First Nations people during the continent's European colonization

THE BALLAD OF BILLY BADASS AND THE ROSE OF TURKESTAN, William San! ders &nb sp;
A wry love story that also incorporates critiques of nuclear testing and dumping on Native lands.

EAST OF THE SUN AND WEST OF FORT SMITH, William Sanders
A collection of short stories from Sanders' entire career. You can see some of his best here, including the alternate history "The Undiscovered," in which a shanghaied, shipwrecked Shakespeare is trapped in 16th Century Appalachia and must stage his plays among the Cherokee, and the near-future "When the World is All on Fire" when climate change and toxic waste have caused Indian reservations to become prime property again.

ALMANAC OF THE DEAD, Leslie Marmon Silko
Silko uses magical realism to chronicle numerous characters' journeys ! toward t he prophetic, violent end of white dominance in the Americas.

TANTALIZE, Cynthia Leitich Smith
A departure from Smith's previous, realistic Indian YA stories, this YA novel jumps onto the vampire bandwagon, this time in a vampire-themed restaurant in Texas.

THE BONE WHISTLE, Eva Swan (Erzebet Yellowboy)
The Bone Whistle is about a woman who discovers her true heritage. She is the child of a wanaghi, one of the creatures of Native-American folklore.    

THE NIGHT WANDERER, Drew Hayden Taylor
A gothic young adult vampire story.

THE LESSER BLESSED, Richard Van Camp
A coming-of-age story of a native Canadian boy obsessed with Iron Maiden. Has elements of magical realism.    

BEARHEART: THE HEIRSHIP CHRONICLES, Gerald Vizenor
Perhaps the first Native American science fiction, this is a journey through a dystopian future United States destroyed by the collapse of the fuel supply. 

NaNoFiMo & Diabetes

Hey chicks 'n' chickens! It's November!

It's National Novel Writing Month, National Diabetes Awareness Month, and National American Indian Heritage Month. All three.

For National American Indian Heritage Month I have a book list fer ya, which will follow in the next post.

For National Diabetes Awareness Month, I pledge to find out three new and important thing about diabetes (Type One) and post about them.

And (drumroll please) I will be half-assedly participating in NaNoWriMo, but, as usual, in my own imitable way. Namely, I will be using this month to knock off my To-do list for draft two (or draft three?) of da nobble. Call it National Novel Finishing Month or NaNoFiMo. To wit:

  1. I have 15 "short fixes," things that should only take a few minutes to an hour or so.
  2. I have 17 "medium fixes," things that'll take a whole day.
  3. I have 9 "long fixes," things that require me to rewrite whole sections, or change the style of a narrator's entire text.

So my pledge is to do one short fix and one medium fix every day until they're done. That'll leave 13 days for the nine long fixes. I'll try to knock off one long fix every day, but we'll see how that works out.

That's the plan, Stan.

October 23, 2008

Mono Lake Materials

Just a quick check-in: I'm up at my cousin's (bless him!) house on Mono Lake for a week (I'm halfway through the week now.) I had visitors with me the past five nights: Patty until yesterday and Sam the past three days until today. The next three nights I'm on my own. That's good, in its way, but it does mean that I'm not going to be reading Turn of the Screw in this phase of the retreat ;).

Patty was working on some sketches for her new calendar project, and Sam did some work yesterday on residency applications. I do not envy her. I've been working on an essay for Timmi, which I have no idea if it is good or not. (I also have no idea if I structured that clause correctly.) I'm hoping to get that done today so I can get at least two good days of work in on da Nobble, but I'm not sure that'll happen. This essay is a monster and it's killin' me.

Anyway, last night, after Patty was gone, Sam and I brainstormed. We are both looking down the barrel of Kearny Street Workshop's 10-year APAture retrospective (called Shifted Focus), part of which will be a reading and a performance night at the de Young Museum in conjunction with their Asian American art exhibition (called Shifting Currents, see what they did there?). I'll be doing a reading on December 3 and Sam will be doing a performance on January 23.

Anyway, we agreed a few weeks ago to a) both present new work created specifically for this event, and b) collaborate on that work by c) coming up with a set of "materials" from which we would both create our pieces. By materials, I mean characters (and names), concepts (like "fossil"), locations, (like "rooftop"), activities (like "two fisted drinking"), words, phrases, etc. The idea is that we'll come up with a short set of things--one in each category, perhaps five or less--which we will both be constrained to use in the pieces we create. (The examples I used above are probably not the ones we're going to use, by the way.)

So we're still brainstorming, but we'll have the set ready by next week. I don't think I'll post them here. I think, instead, I'll encourage you all to come to the reading (maybe I'll post a video of it on YouTube) and the performance and see the results for yourselves. Itsth an ecthperiment!

October 01, 2008

Reading Update

Just finished re-reading E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. I read it the first time in college, when I was going through my Forster phase. I didn't think much of it at the time, but for completely different reasons than those making me not think much of it now. I'm reading it now as an example of decolonization-process novels for something I'm writing. So I'm looking at it critically that way, and don't have much to say about it now ... except: what a load of hooey!

Was Forster always that annoying? This is what bugs me about the stupid stupid lit critic expression "closely observed." No writer worth her salt puts things in her novels that aren't closely observed. Why praise a novelist for doing what their art form requires? It's what they DO with the observations that count. And Forster uses his, here, to bolster a half-baked, half-formed idea of the coldness of the universe and its intentions. Through all the bizarreness of his method, you can see many, many moments of close observation. They ring true, like the right kind of metal, in a way that his explanations of the natives don't. But it's all part of a net of insufficiency.

It made me kind of sad. This is a great novel--a piece of writing by a brilliant writer at the height of his powers--about an impoverished set of ideas that the writer evidently found grandiose. It also made me kind of ugh. I'm going to have to read Howard's End again, the book of his I found the most brilliant. Perhaps trying to understand "India" in the mid-twenties was beyond him, but maybe understanding England wasn't? Who knows? All I know is that if Howard's End fails the re-reading, Forster's getting demoted.

September 18, 2008

Reading Update

I can't believe I haven't reviewed this yet!

I just read E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, I think at Gwenda's recommendation. Despite my absolute moratorium on "The BLANKITY BLANK OF NAME-ITY NAME NAME" titles, I have to say ... Wow. This is a book about a wealthy-ish (not super wealthy) girl at a top board school discovering sexism and acting out. And it's amazing.

When I first started the book, although I enjoyed it, I was disgusted by the Gossip-Girl-esque fascination with the unattainably rich and the assumption that what concerns the rich will somehow be universal to us all. This girl doesn't really have any problems, and her bratty distress at being treated like a child (at all of 15 years of age) by adults and older kids is a really extended boo-fuckin'-hoo moment. Plus, she suddenly grows good looks and becomes arm candy for her crush, the most popular boy in school. So what's the problem?

But then, as I read on, the real sexism that even privileged women are subjected to started leaking in to the scenario. Unlike what this book would be in the hands of a lesser writer, Lockhart doesn't turn Frankie into a sudden, total, feminist heroine. Frankie doesn't quite get what's happening to her when her new boyfriend starts ignoring and excluding her in favor of his guy friends. She doesn't really understand why it upsets her, especially when she looks around her and sees all kinds of examples of relationships where it either isn't happening, or where the girl lets it happen. What's never mentioned here is that this is exactly what happened in her (divorced) parents' marriage and her mother set her the best example of how to handle it: leave.

So Frankie starts acting out in a typically (for women of this class) passive agressive way. That is to say, she takes over, by email, the all-male secret society her boyfriend nominally runs, pretending to be another boy, the other secret-society "king" (who gets so much credit, he doesn't dare out her), and ordering the rest of them to commit culture-jamming pranks the quality of which the society hasn't committed since its inception. In the process, she starts to recognize qualities in herself that she simultaneously likes and dislikes. She is clearly an alpha (like the boy she's impersonating, whose actual nickname is "Alpha"), with all the concomitant desire for attention and control, and also the ability to think for herself and to synthesize others' opinions. She also has creativity, a sense of humor, physical courage, and a profound, motivating, egotistical irritability.

It's entirely to Lockhart's credit that she never comes down on the side of "good? or evil?" with regard to Frankie's alphaness. It's neither and both. It's a force of human life; a social force, and ultimately, that's what Lockhart is examining in this book: power. I know, it sounds crazy that a  boarding school book about a prankster girl could be the best novel in this election cycle about sources of socio-political power and effective dissent. But that's exactly what this is.

Lockhart doesn't fail to make those connections increasingly througout this book. She shows us Frankie thinking through the implications of all these ridiculous high school hijinks. She notices that more than one former member of this secret society has become President. Frankie's father, also a former member, is shown in his circle of high-powered professionals, who are not only at the top of their professions, but also at the top of mainstream society. The silliness of these boys' games is there, but their importance to society as a whole can't be gainsaid. This is truth that exists in the real world: a three-month-long high school rivalry or friendship will have more effect on world politics than decades of community activism. We all know this, but we like to let ourselves forget. And by the end, Frankie can say to herself that, as much as she is excluded, she still needs to be near to the sources of power so that she can express her alpha personality in the ways she wants to later in life.

Reading this book has helped me to understand Hillary Clinton better than a thousand magazine articles and pundits' pootles. Of course, Frankie is idealized and likeable as a teenager, but I can easily see her turning into another Hillary: compromised, hard-edged, cynical, and still a little idealistic. This book is clear-eyed, but essentially optimistic, with the understanding that, beyond high school, our society has many mansions.

The book is, in more than one way, the anti-Chocolate War, looking at a privileged, attractive girl's secret fight against a prankster secret society, as opposed to the dark and pessimistic look at an underprivileged, unattractive boy's public fight against a bullying secret society. The two books should be read together, really. In school. And then A Little Commonwealth, The Education of Henry Adams, and The Second Sex should be read.

September 05, 2008

My Own Personal Muse

And you wonder why I love Jay Smooth.

Just a little something to remember going into my next phase (or draft, whatever.)

September 04, 2008

*Triumphant Screech!*

I have finished Draft Two of da nobble!

\o/

I did it by employing a little trick. I was in phase two of three phases of Draft Two. Phase one was a major revision of a problematic area of the book and fixing the outward ripples of this revision. Phase two was then going back and writing in all the peripheral material I had always wanted to include but didn't in the first draft (which was about creating a coherent novel, without necessarily the richness of a complete thing.)

Phase three was going to be going back in and fixing all the fixes I had noted throughout draft two.

BUT. Draft Two has now taken a year all told (although that year was spread out over two calendar years). And the list of fixes now comprises about ten pages in Word. This is not a Phase. It is its own draft. So the list of fixes is now Draft Three, which shall commence next week.

Woot!

Also, Draft Four will be me going back in and doing chiropractic work. (Structure and deep character fix.) Then there will be a spit and polish and we're done. I have until August 2009.

Deep breath.

ETA: oh, ... uh ... and actually, there's that little matter of cutting out 50 or 80 thousand words. The MS at this moment is 203,036 words. I shit you knot. I'm gonna hafta rethink the whole draft numbering system. Maybe I'm back to Phase three of Draft Two. Sigh.

September 03, 2008

Oh My oG

I'm so close to done with phase two of draft two I can TASTE IT.

September 02, 2008

Naomi Novik Is The Best Writer Working Today

Hyperbole? Absolutely. And I really mean: one of the best writers. And I know very few of you will agree with me. And I don't care.

I grabbed Victory of Eagles when it first came out and finished it in one day. I am humbled, truly. And  I don't say that easily.

I am not overtaxed with humility, despite the purity of my lack of literary accomplishment ... as anyone who reads this blog with regularity knows. I don't claim--or feel--humility when I read most of the "literary" works most heralded as "genius" by the snob-squawkers. I applaud artistic ambition, the more so when it is at least somewhat achieved. But too many of the most praised novels aren't truly ambitious: achieving their ambitions is little more than a matter of maintaining a less-than-natural style without seams, producing a consistent melancholic mood, completing an emotional arc that produces catharsis without sullying itself with an apparent plotline, and proving the ultimate spiritual beauty and likability of their autobiographic protagonists.

What's lacking among these writers is:

  1. energy: it seems as if lit fic writers are mostly children of older mothers, born from aging ova that lack vitality ... which would also make sense given the fact that they have so much free time on their hands to write worthless stuff: their mothers postponed conception until they had lots of income (yes, I'm joking, bitterly).
  2. the possession of a real pushy story that insists on being told: you'd be shocked--SHOCKED--at the number of idiots in creative writing programs who complain in public among other writers that they "don't know how to finish a story"or "have trouble knowing what happens next" or "can't see very far into the story" when they begin and trust to their ... whatever (muse? talent? god forbid: imagination?) to supply material as they go along. I can think of no more direct way to say "I have no real story to tell." This also explains why their "stories" are all about people exactly like them in situations exactly like theirs: it's not their imaginations supplying them with material, it's their lives.
  3. balance: the ability to make every element of the story serve the story, each in its proper measure, rather than placing undue emphasis on one element (say, "poetic" language) to the detriment of other elements (say, imagination, plot, velocity).

Naomi Novik has all of these in spades. On top of that, she's a great writer because she does the following:

  • Fits her writing tactics and style to the purpose of her writing project
  • Balances the different modes of writing--action, description, exposition, dialogue, internal monologue, image and metaphor--relying on none to the exclusion of any others, and making all vivid, fresh, and fully integrated. This is to say that nothing she does draws attention to itself as writing; it's all there in the service of the story, and you can only see what good writing it is if you pull yourself out of suspension. (Yes, I already mentioned this above, I'm restating it slightly differently here. Get over it.)

  • Employs conciseness, which is neither economy, density, nor understatement, but rather precision (if precision was about providing meat as well as being exact.) Look at this one-paragraph battle scene:

"Signal the attack," Laurence said, and Temeraire roaring plummeted with the rest; the Chevaliers panicked and flung themselves aloft, instinctively. One leapt only to meet Maximus's full weight upon her back, and bellowing dreadfully was driven down, straight down, into the ground again, and with a snapping crack went silent. Maximus staggered off and shook himself, dazed by the impact; she did not move, and her captain crying her name flung himself heedless across the field toward her.

Novik's a bit profligate with the semicolons and stingy with the commas (and somesnob versed in "should-be's" would call her out for excessive adverbiage), but this is a perfect scene otherwise. In one sentence (that should have been punctuated as two) we see the movement of the attackers down, and the defenders up. We see a vivid kill, and you don't need to know that Maximus is a heavyweight to get how the deed is done. You hear the bellowing of the dragon and know that it was her spine that was snapped. You see the whole story of her relationship with her captain in the clause that has him crying her name, and flinging himself after her, heedless (ly?).

I can scarcely think of another writer that wouldn't be betrayed by grandstanding impulse--or sheer, unacknowledged awkwardness--into stopping the action and giving us a brief glimpse inside the head of the bereft enemy captain, or at least having Laurence internally monologuing about what the captain must be feeling. Novik only gives us two more images of him in later pages, one of him being led away from the dragon, weeping, and the other of his hands bound to a stake in the ground. That's all we need for a minor character whose main purpose is to give texture to the corps' exploits in this part of the novel, and create emotional complexity around their very ethically compromised mission.

  • Permits the necessities of plot to drive the action, and the necessities of action to drive the plot. In other words, she doesn't force nifty scenes onto the book, or measure out her structure carefully. What happens is organic, and yet the shape of the whole is harmonious, part flowing into part.
  • Over the course of the series she allows the situation of her characters to become increasingly ethically compromised ... and allows them, increasingly, to see it. This is true to life and false to most fiction: our conscience troubles increase the older we get, though so does our ability to ignore or manage our guilt. Temeraire and Laurence are heroes because they don't merely manage their guilt; they act upon their consciences. In fact, we get a long sequence in Victory of Eagles in which Laurence does simply manage his guilt, and it becomes clear that it is Temeraire's presence in his life that forces him to deal with his conscience and behave heroically. Sure, this is satisfying--heroism is always satisfying--but the way Novik deals with it is above all interesting, and she's willing to risk some of Laurence's stature to make him a more interesting hero.
  • Continues to be a master of characterization. All of the above weave in together, of course, and all contribute strongly to the characterization, which is perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this series. The characters are consistent, but consistent in the way that people are consistent: moods take them, the vagaries of life begin to weigh on them. They behave in ways recognizable to their characters, but over time, the accumulated burden of their experience begins to warp their characters into new shapes, and much of their struggle--as is our own--is to find their way back to the best parts of themselves. Victory of Eagles is, more than anything, about this struggle in the adult Laurence. It is also about the struggle in the adolescent Temeraire to achieve adulthood and take on the mantle of leadership. He is both helped and hindered by Laurence's terrible, and often selfish, conflict in this book.

I believe I've written and talked before about the power that speculative fiction can bring to representations of reality. It's the power of diagonality: not a mirror reflection but a distorted reflection; an image created moving diagonally out of mimetic reality into a world that reflects ours by changing important things. The paradox is that this diagonal reality is only effective if its creator commits to it completely, commits to making the illusion of its separate reality complete.

There is no real relationship in our reality like the captain/dragon relationship in the Temeraire series. It is a marriage, a best-friendship, a lover configuration, a parent/child relationship, a dog/master, ship/captain, actor/manager, warrior/quartermaster relationship. It is this relationship, and not the existence of dragons, that is the biggest difference between Temeraire's world and ours. And yet, the existence of this complex and unique relationship illuminates all of our relationships. It's the sort of friendship we all desperately hope for ... and have no chance of acquiring; there are no people as loyal and strong as dragons, no beings whose friendship can make us more loyal and strong than we humans naturally are.

This potential for the perfect relationship is thrown into a world only slightly better, and more honorable, than our own. (The secondary characters tend to have too much consistency, too little complexity, but that's as it must be.) The perfect relationship is thrown into war and left to make its way through the impossible ethical binds that war, and the world in general, creates. And it is only a perfect relationship that can show us so clearly the way these slings and arrows strain and distort love, loyalty, and responsibility.

Okay, enough writing. Loves it. That's all.

August 13, 2008

New Deadline

Not that my deadlines ever hold up, but I've just decided--with Susan's help--that I will be going to WorldCon in Montreal in August 2009 and by then I will have a finished MS of Da Nobble to bring with me.

Just registering it here.

200K

Yikes. Draft Two of da Nobble has reached 200,000 words. That's around 800 pages.

Don't worry, it will be cut. In Draft Three.

Onword.

August 08, 2008

Holy Moly! It's 080808!

This is velly, velly auspicious date! Eight is lucky to Chinee!

Anyway. I'm off to a cafe--in this crappy weather--to start on the last leg of da nobble. No better day to do that.

Have a lucky day y'all!

July 07, 2008

These Kids Today

The aesthetic of choice these days is the aesthetic of exploratory excess. It sets before the reader a world featured as a swirl of competing energies and stimuli; it searches patterns, connections, instances of psychological complexity. The old gestural muteness won't play in these halls.

To some degree, of course, this is a necessary and healthy compensation—fiction suddenly feels enfranchised again. With a new tolerance for ramified expression come new subjects, new perspectives. The dense fabric of contemporary life—its changed ways of doing things, of interacting—is brought more clearly into view. The evolving cultures of science and technology become available, as do more of the vagaries of our destabilized modes of living. Carver's tamped-down narration, guiding us from streetlamp to barstool to sparsely furnished apartment, could never hope to take in the burgeoning culture of virtual simulation (Powers), the domains of science (Goldstein), the endlessly branching nuances of psychological self-awareness (Antrim, Foster Wallace, Eggers), or indeed, scarcely anything of the noun-deprived and process-worshipping way we now conduct our lives.

What is sacrificed, perhaps, is a certain emotional force. Thrilling and dark and expansive as so many of these new expressions are, they have a hard time generating a strong emotional charge. The language, mental and nuanced—like the prose structure itself—often serves a bemusedly ironic sensibility; life is more spectated than suffered. When tragedy does occur, it is more often than not given a black-comedic inflection—as in works by Wallace, Antrim, Eggers, and their ilk—not because the authors can't do powerful conflict and emotion, necessarily, but because the hyperconscious self-reflexiveness of their style is hard to turn off. The seductive cerebral-ironic style, which allows so much, doesn't seem to permit the shift to a full frontal seriousness.

---Sven Birkerts, "Carver's Last Stand" in the Atlantic Online

July 06, 2008

Book Throwin' Update

Thank Og somebody said it so that I don't have to.

After the seemingly universal lovefest for Valente's Orphan's Tales, and owing to the fact that I got In the Night Garden as a very sweet present from badgerbag, plus the fact that I never finished it because the tenth time I threw the book across the room it got badly injured and I had to take it to the book hospital and leave it there forever and never come back ... well, I didn't have the heart, and by that I mean the balls, to say how much I didn't like (i.e. hated) that book. (sorry, badge! Let's still have dinner and talk about it!)

It wasn't just the overheated, nonsensical "lyricism," which vito_excalibur mentions here. It's the fact that she keeps starting stories and never seems to finish them. Everyone's got a limit for nested stories and she surpassed mine with a vengeance. Because of the cheap language, I didn't care about the first characters in the first place. And layering character after situation, after story, after character on top of them just made me forget them only to be reminded of how much I didn't care about them when they came back.

I get what she was trying to do, but if your reader leaves the room before you do it, can it really be said to be done? (That was the sound of one hand clapped to a forehead.)

Plus, I love that vito_excalibur is quoting "A Reader's Manifesto". Everybody needs to read that whole fucking thing right now. When I read it a few years back, I couldn't believe that Myers had managed to attack every lit writer that I had serious isshooz with: McCarthy, Proulx, Delillo, Auster. Gotta love that.

Plus, this lolcats is hysterical:

Oscarwao

In other news, I devoured J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians and take back everything I thought about how boring Coetzee must be if everyone is always on about how great he is. The deal with him is sheer density of storytelling. Barbarians is a short novel, but he covers a lot of ground simply because he doesn't waste words thinking or meditating out loud. When a character thinks something, Coetzee states that thought in a sentence or two and moves on. Yet, the whole novel gives a very slow, meditative mood. I haven't quite figured out how he does it, but it's a huge writing lesson for me for when I go back in and revise da nobble.

Speaking of which, I have three letters to catch up on today. Off to the races ...

July 03, 2008

My Entertainment Blog!

Hey all,

I know posting has been spotty 'round here lately. Partly because my outrage machine got broke when Obama won the nom. Now I'm keeping my mouth shut while I try to work up more than nominal (get it? nominal?) enthusiasm for his cause.

But it's also because I've been working hard to establish my new entertainment blog. It's called "EnterBrainment" and is my usual thinks-too-much maunderings, except this time, unrepentantly, about the trashiest trash trash.

I'm being paid, you see, to be a featured A & E blogger on a new blogging site called PNN, the personal news network. The innovation of this site is that you can lay out your blog to look like a newspaper, with different pages and sections. The result is halfway between a website and a newspaper, with columns and captioned photos, and headlines, and the works. You kind of have to see it to get it. The way the blogging software works is different from more "traditional" blogging software, and should appeal to people whose minds work in a more modular fashion. The software also rewards multitasking, unlike traditional blogging software, which pretty much restricts your blog posting to one track. Again, you have to see it to get what I mean.

What this all means for my blogging is that I'm getting an excuse to turn my formidable bitchiness on the lightest of pop subjects. It's pretty cool. It is, however, also taking time away from my other blogging.

So please go over and check out EnterBrainment (yes, I know, but I'm old enough to enjoy puns now) and slip me a link if you want. I'm still trying to decide if I'm going to have a blog roll or just a page of feeds. Feel free to make your entertainment blog known to me.

Yay!

July 01, 2008

Pledge

I'm going to Panama at the end of July and I still have a bunch of new stuff to write on da nobble before I can start the long, cantankerous process of cutting out the old stuff. So my pledge is to work my ass off on the new stuff and get all new text filled in before I go to Panama on July 25. That means writing every day.

I have 24 days, starting today, and 25 new letters to write (da nobble is epistolary, dig?) These letters are from the peripheral correspondents and aren't required to move the central story forward. They're also much shorter letters because these correspondents have to be brief for various reasons: one is illiterate and has others write for him, one is a child, and one is simply writing an introductory note to the other letters. So these are very brief letters, but they do need to be coordinated to the longer letters.

So, basically, I need to write at least one letter a day, every day, until I leave for Panama. So that's my pledge. At least one letter at day from here on out, and the whole thing done by the time I leave for Panama. Panama will be a vacation and I will let the whole thing rest then, for two weeks. Basta.

June 19, 2008

wordle

Wordlenobble
Via Justine, this wordle word cloud of the most used words in da nobble.

Finish This Year

It's also occurred to me today that da nobble was conceived and drafted entirely within the Bush administration. That's why it's so damn dark. I need to get it finished before the election so I can maintain the proper mood.

Because, you know, McCain won't win.

June 18, 2008

Wow

Da Nobble is about to hit the 200k word mark.

That's a lot. In traditional pages it's between 670 and 800 pages. That's a lot.

Wow, that's a lot. And I still have more to add.

June 07, 2008

Reading Update

I'm currently reading The Wandering Unicorn by Manuel Mujica Láinez. Why had I never heard of this writer before I stumbled on this paperback translation in a used bookstore? He was apparently one of Borges' cronies (Borges wrote a brief foreword in this book), and a real devotee of both medieval romance and the Borgesian meta-encyclopedic view of the world.

He's also a kickass writer. Observe this passage, which describes the viewpoint character, an immortal fairy, watching over an unusual medieval family at rest. The fairy is the knight Ozil's ancestor. The family are a stonemason (Pons), his minstrel brother (Ithier), his wife, a former camp follower (Berthe), her son with Ozil (Aiol), her daughter (Azelais), etc.:

By moonlight and candlelight I saw the soft contours of the sleepers, pale as ghosts. Only the toil-worn Pons had a night-cap on. Beside him Berthe was a curving mound of generous hips and full breasts, voluptuous from her years of erotic exercise. Every immature line of Azelais, even in sleep, was wary and defensive. Her skin was marble-white, translucent, and her beauty almost too perfect, with something frightening, feline, and ambiguous about it. The servants were stocky peasant-girls with fetching dimples and dusky armpits, veins knotted in their legs by drudgery. Then the three tall forms of the boy, the knight, and the minstrel. The skin, taut across the bones, revealed the muscles beneath the matted grey hair on Ozil's chest; showed Ithier skeleton-thin from his courtly employments; showed Aiol, fifteen years old, like a statue in bronze. The soft glow on the brown skin, the relaxed sprawl, the absolute grace and proportion, belonged to the art of a later age than the twelfth century with its stern, compact creations of craftsmen such as Pon.

I loitered above them until it was late, partly from love of Aiol and partly to savour the knowledge that I was not alone. Instead of vegetating in the tower at Lusignan I was here, sharing their joys, doubts, and despairs; here with their breathing, their murmurings, snores and snuffles and broken words, the grinding of teeth and the smell of humanity in an overheated room. As I had felt that Aiol, sitting by the window, saw into the future, I felt that here, with these sleeping, vulnerable mortals, I was close to the deep, strange roots of the world; that the entire essential world was here, growing like a splendid plant with separate leaves and flowers in the fertile shelter of an inn at Poitiers.

Now that's what fantasy should be. The usual youth-and-beauty-worship is there, the romantic virgin/whore suspicion of women, the artisan/knight dichotomy alive and well here too, and the strange feminization of male beauty in the eyes of the emasculate witch/fairy. But Láinez writes all of this in supreme consciousness of what he's doing. He makes the archetypes complex, comments upon them, and connects the whole with the sublime purpose of fairytale and, by extension, literature. Well, the above is more fairy tale, and the below more literature:

These unpredictable human beings! Observing them in public, you would never suspect, unless you were unusually astute or cynical, the things they do in private. Much of the famous tension of today arises from anxiety as to whether some door which should be shut may have been left open. Admittedly, inadvertent revelations, shattering though they may be, add their spice to life---they provide new vistas, energize it enormously ... But enough of that. The reader will have gathered, I am certain, what was happening in the cowshed.

Indeed.

May 09, 2008

More Affirmative Inaction Damage

As I go through this 21st Century, post-Ward Connerly world, I stumble now and then upon statistics--from all walks of life--that amplify for me not just the potential for disaster, but the actual manifestation of disaster that is the legacy of anti-affirmative-action.

The latest example is from an article on baseball's Barry Bonds, and the Oakland black journalist and editor Chauncey Bailey, who was shot last year for what he was writing (in BeyondChron.org, a Bay Area alternative news source). The article makes it clear that affirmative action provided two moribund Bay Area papers not just with a talented, diverse staff, but also with their first taste of journalistic excellence. Since then, far fewer journalists of color have been developed or supported:

Before Maynard took control of the Tribune, it was a second rate paper owned by the right-wing Knowland family that did not have any Blacks in the Tribune newsroom. Maynard increased the number of journalists of color at the Tribune to the point where Blacks, Latins and Asians made up the majority of the newsroom staff. During Maynard’s 13 year tenure as editor and publisher, the Tribune won every major award in Journalism, including the Pulitzer for the paper’s coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Although Bailey was hired at the Tribune a year after Maynard sold the paper, Bailey was part of Maynard’s legacy and vision to recruit and train Black journalists. A similar effort by the Knight-Ridder chain to increase the number of non-white journalists at the chain’s flagship Mercury-News transformed the Merc from a sleepy small-town paper to one of the best newspapers in the United States.

Bailey, an Oakland native, was part of a corps of Black journalists hired by mainstream media outlets in the early 1970s from programs to recruit minority journalists at Columbia University and UC Berkeley. Efforts by anti-affirmative critics like Ward Connerly have resulted in the demise of most of the 1970s programs created to recruit Black journalists. Most of the Black journalists hired from these affirmative action programs are nearing retirement age or are being forced out of the newsroom because of media consolidation, while many other African Americans with great writing and broadcasting skills have opted to work in non-journalism related fields.

Latest surveys of the nation’s newspapers and broadcast newsrooms indicate that today fewer than five percent of the nation’s journalists are African American; many newspapers and broadcast outlets have no African Americans in their newsrooms. The Chronicle has gone from having nearly 30 African American reporters, columnists, editors and other editorial staff right after the Examiner-Chronicle staff merger in 1999 to less than five today.

May 07, 2008

My Wiscon Sked

Is as follows:

Carl Brandon Society Update
Join the Carl Brandon Society Steering Committee for some brainstorming, some celebration of people of color in SF, and an update including information on the Awards and the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship. The gang will mostly be there: Nisi Shawl, Victor Raymond, Candra Gill, Bryan Thao Worra, 'n' moi!
Saturday, 10:00-11:15 A.M.
Conference 5

Red Beans and Rice
A reading, starring Alaya Dawn Johnson, Doselle Young, Bryan Thao Worra, 'n' moi!
Saturday, 4:00-5:15 P.M.
Fair Trade

May 02, 2008

What I'm Reading for API Heritage Month

Okay, having posted the CBS API Heritage Month list, what am I gonna read for it?

Well, I've already read:

  • Ted Chiang STORIES OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS
  • Haruki Murakami HARDBOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD

Yes, it's sad. That's all I've read.

I'm going to read:

  • Sesshu Foster ATOMIK AZTEX: I've actually read about half of this book but got distracted and didn't finish. So I'm going to start over and finish it.
  • Cathy Park Hong DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION: I've got it, I've started it, and I'm going to finish it.
  • Bryan Thao Worra ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE EYE: I've got it, I've started it, and I'm going to finish it. By the way, go order this book! Bryan is a member of the CBS Steering committee and decorated the envelope he sent this to me in with a personal poem. Cool.

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