29 December 2010

April in Paris Goes Fourth

As long as I'm still in the 2010 catch-up mood, I noticed this in the queue: Number four in a series of thoughts and meditations on the words of some of my favorite writers from their interviews in The Paris Review.

Bow your heads as we read from St. Raymond's epistle...
The fiction I'm most interested in has lines of reference to the real world. None of my stories really happened, of course. But there's always something, some element, something said to me or that I witnessed, that may be the starting place. Here's an example: “That's the last Christmas you'll ever ruin for us!” I was drunk when I heard that, but I remembered it. And later, much later, when I was sober, using only that one line and other things I imagined, imagined so accurately that they could have happened, I made a story—“A Serious Talk.” But the fiction I'm most interested in, whether it's Tolstoy's fiction, Chekhov, Barry Hannah, Richard Ford, Hemingway, Isaac Babel, Ann Beattie, or Anne Tyler, strikes me as autobiographical to some extent.

The Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 76, Raymond Carver

28 December 2010

Philcon, Part the Third

Yes, yes, Philcon was a month ago and by this point there isn't too much to do except give a panel report.  Call it part of my year-end catchup.

I attended a lot of the same panels as Carrie and her general views about the con in her write-up would read more or less the same as mine.  But I do have pictures.

I remember it juuuust like it was yesterday...

08 December 2010

Philcon, Part the Second

Forgive me Father, for it has been nigh on three weeks since I should've posted this.

So, in this part of my trip down Philcon memory lane, I'm going to focus on the things I gleaned from Peter S. Beagle's GOH speech based on my week-old memory of the event, which is fuzzy from the constant squee of that day.

He basically went the "advice to aspiring writers" route.  I had no complaints.  And through his speech, I confirmed that he was yet another example of a writer whose work I admire who has similar views about writing as I.

The main points of his speech were, as I remember them...

26 November 2010

Philcon, Part the First

It's been a few days, so I thought I'd better get on with a Philcon write-up.  My year would've been complete having met one of my literary idols, Howard Waldrop, at Readercon in July.  The chance to meet a second idol in the same year, Peter S. Beagle, was just too good to pass up.  So, here's what happened...

25 November 2010

"It's what you felt, it's what you said, what you said, what you said"

Between Philcon (I'm working on that write-up, don't worry!) and Thanksgiving, I forgot to look for my Cthulhurotica writer interview, which was posted the other day.

So, here it is: everything you wanted to know about how "The C-Word" came about.

Oh, and check out the revised cover with my name on the list, there.

16 November 2010

"And now it's time for a breakdown."

I'm taking a day off from the Paris Review Interviews thing to play a little bit of catch-up and braindumping.  So no, I'm not talking about a nervous breakdown (that's coming soon enough), but a breakdown of what I've been up to lately.  There are a lot of folks to whom I owe emails, critiques, apologies, etc.  This is not meant to be a replacement for those.  It's just a little something for someone asking, to quote Marvin Gaye, "What's Going On?"

Aside from the dayjob which I constantly bitch about this time of the semester, the Fall's been awash with activity...

14 November 2010

April in Paris, Part the Third

Number three in a series of thoughts and meditations on the words of some of my favorite writers from their interviews in The Paris Review.  Actually, this week you'll get two for the price of one.
That’s why I like short stories. You’re always trying to keep the person interested. In fiction, you don’t need to have the facts up front, but you have to have something that will grab the reader right away. It can be your voice. Some writers feel that when they write, there are people out there who just can’t wait to hear everything they have to say. But I go in with the opposite attitude, the expectation that they’re just dying to get away from me.

The Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 176, Amy Hempel

13 November 2010

April in Paris, Part the Second

Here's the second in a series of thoughts and meditations on the words of some of my favorite writers from their interviews in The Paris Review.
It turns out it’s not that I hate to write. I hate, simply, to work. I just hate to work, period. I am profoundly slothful. Practically inert. I have no energy. I never have. I just have no desire to be productive. Now that I realize I don’t hate to write, that I just hate to work, it makes writing easier.

The Paris Review - A Humorist at Work, Fran Lebowitz

11 November 2010

April in Paris, Part the First

As promised, the first in a series of thoughts and meditations on the words of some of my favorite writers from their interviews in The Paris Review.
The short story, if you really are intense and you have an exciting idea, writes itself in a few hours.  I try to encourage my student friends and my writer friends to write a short story in one day so it has a skin around it, its own intensity, its own life, its own reason for being.  There’s a reason why the idea occurred to you at that hour anyway, so go with that and investigate it, get it down.  Two or three thousand words in a few hours is not that hard.  Don’t let people interfere with you.  Boot ’em out, turn off the phone, hide away, get it done.  If you carry a short story over to the next day you may overnight intellectualize something about it and try to make it too fancy, try to please someone.

 The Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 203, Ray Bradbury

10 November 2010

"April in Paris"*

What you're supposed to do is act like a fucking professional.

-Mr. White, Reservoir Dogs

You know how folks would get excited knowing that their favorite TV series were on, say, Hulu, in their entirety?  I felt exactly the same way when I read that The Paris Review has put all of their writer interviews online.  After years of passing up on purchasing the interview compilations, I gouged on them like a starving man.  I found--in a couple of cases, rediscovered--some real gems, which I've posted on my Tumblr.

You want to know how some real professionals get shit done?  Then you could do worse than to peer into the brains of the likes of Dorothy Parker, Raymond Carver, Barry Hannah, Amy Hempel, and--for us genre folks--Ray Bradbury!

So I think over the next few days I'm going to post bits of their interviews, along with some accompanying thoughts.  Meditations, I guess you could call them. 

*Sorry, I'm still on the Count Basie Orhcestra tip from a few weeks ago.

09 November 2010

"'Cause whatever you do, oh, you've got to do your thing"

Like a lot of things in my life lately, this post is 9 days late.  Still, it's the thought that counts, right?

This was going to be my "Why I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year" post.  But reading posts like that over the years, I've noticed that it seems difficult for me to write one without looking like a condescending jerk.

This isn't where I'm going to turn up my nose at the NaNo, or go into my rationalization of why it just doesn't fit in with my writing goals right now.  I only bring it up now because, despite my resolve to not even fool myself into thinking it was a possibility this year, I reupped my account anyway and found out that somehow, some of my peeps found and added me to their friends list. 

So, to them: You do your thing!!

Of course, the best part of reupping my account: the pep talks from famous writers in my email box.  I squeed when I saw Aimee Bender's!

28 October 2010

Showing Fools How It's Done for 75 Years

Few things give me as much satisfaction as watching a consummate professional, in any field, at work.  Last Sunday night, I saw and heard a group of them--the 17-piece horn section, 4-piece rhythm section, vocalist, and conductor of the legendary Count Basie Orchestra.

29 September 2010

"God give us the blood to keep going"

I've had a bit of trouble getting a handle on my current work-in-progress.  It had such a promising start, judging from the critiques the first two acts have received.  But I struggled with the third act, so I took some time away from it to write other things.

This story's for a closed anthology, and it's due in about a month.  Time to get cracking again!  So after doing another round of hack-and-slash copyedits, I decided the piece needed a soundtrack.  So I picked some songs to mirror the sort of mood evoked from the picture above, and a couple of songs for different characters' motivations.

Take a listen:
  • Chicago, "Prologue, August 29, 1968"
  • --, "Someday (August 29, 1968)
  • --, "While the City Sleeps"
  • --, "State of the Union"
  • --, "Dialogue (Pt. 1 & 2)"
  • --, "All the Years"
  • Depeche Mode, "Walking in My Shoes"
  • Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, "Battle of the Species"
  • Manic Street Preachers, "If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next"
  • Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, "I'll Take the Long Road"
  • Sons of Champlin, "Light Up the Candles"
Yes, I know there are a lot of Chicago songs on here, but at least it's their cool '70s and/or Robert Lamm-written stuff.

19 September 2010

"Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours"

My story "The C-Word" has been accepted for the upcoming anthology Cthulhurotica from Dagan Books!

Look for it December 15, 2010!

17 September 2010

"Come have one little warm death with me tonight"

Check out this incredibly awesome book trailer for the upcoming anthology Rigor Amortis, with my story "Sublimation," coming out in October from Absolute XPress

11 September 2010

"I'm on fire/ On the playground, love"

Last Tuesday, I attended the first of this year's Distinguished Visiting Writers Series at one of the local colleges, featuring author Jeffrey Eugenides.  He read an excerpt from his as-yet-untitled latest novel, which appeared in the June 7th New Yorker under the title "Extreme Solitude." If you've had a college love affair of any kind, there's a lot that's familiar about the story.

08 September 2010

"All the little kids growing up in the skids are goin' 'Cleveland rocks! Cleveland Rocks!'"

Over the holiday weekend, I made a long overdue trip to see my family who live a mere 20 minutes down I-90 from the front door to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Of course I've always been fond of my hometown.  Make all the jokes you want about it, but at least we're not Detroit.

Aside from ten years of stuff my folks have accumulated since I left, not a lot is different.  For instance, my old bedroom.  Some of the things tacked to the walls have been there for... Christ... 15 to 20 years.

24 August 2010

"...going back to my old school."

I never did buy into the whole "shit happens when Mercury is in retrograde" thing, but today I came close. 

Lots of stuff actually did go wrong today, but it started off badly from the jump.  I get up, get out of the house, and make it to my morning writing spot with a good hour and fifteen minutes before work.  And my beloved netbook, which worked fine before I left my place, refused to turn on.  I heard the hard drive doing... something... whenever I hit the power button.  But it just refused to boot up.

This is the point where, in the past, I would've gone off in a rage.  Actually, I'm not sure why I didn't.  Still, I had a few options.  I had a similar problem sometime last year, which I fixed by flashing the BIOS.  I had a "rescue USB" drive with me, but I'd forgotten how to use it.  I could've gone back home, gotten online, and looked up how to fix what I thought was the problem--which would've eaten up my writing time--or, I could just take it back old school with an ancient method known as "longhand."  And, that's what I did.

Because, that's how writers do it.  With a red-eye and no fucking excuses.

19 August 2010

They're Coming to Get You, Barbara

Check out Robert "Nix" Nixon's cover art for the upcoming anthology Rigor Amortis.  I'm not ashamed to say that I did stare at it for several minutes before typing up this entry.

What's in store for you, the reader?
Maybe a tender love story is your thing, a husband doting on his wife’s rotting corpse. Or perhaps a forbidden encounter in a secret café, serving up the latest in delectable zombie cuisine, or some dirty, dirty dancing in the old-time honky-tonk. Voodoo sex-slaves and vending machine body-parts? You’ll find those here, too.

Whatever your flavor, these short tales of undead Romance, Revenge, Risk, and Raunch will leave you shambling, moaning, and clawing for more.

Rigor Amortis, with my story "Sublimation," drops on October 1st.  Order yourself a copy.  You know you want to.

18 August 2010

"14 karat love, you are my jewel of the Nile"

If I didn't feel guilty enough for not taking the time to spotlight more of my favorite writer-friends, like Regan Leigh, I do now.  Especially since she threw the spotlight on me in her eighth installment of Writer Love!

Her kind words seriously made me blush...
Don is a great friend and very talented, but his dedication is just as impressive. I can’t tell you how many times I see him (via Twitter) writing in his spare minutes, no matter where he might be.

The best part is, she dedicated a song to me.  The other night, for some god unknown reason, I had Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force on the brain.  And Regan made sure they stayed there, with this dope, funky fresh tune from back in the day.

You have my eternal gratitude, Regan. But, it begs the question--were you even alive when this song came out? :D

17 August 2010

"For the love of a(n Elder) God, you say, Not a letter from an occupant"

It's one thing to take my roller derby nom-de-guerre from H.P. Lovecraft without having read any Lovecraft.  But trying to write a story based on the mythos without doing so could end up making me look like an asshat. 

The story I'm writing concerns a tidbit I happened to read about The Deep Ones.  No, I'm not gonna tell you which tidbit--that'd spoil the story.

15 August 2010

"Their features are changing. Their bodies dissolve, and I am alone"

My current short story in progress is headed (Elder Gods willing) to Cthulhurotica - An Anthology of Lovecraftian Lust, which will be published by Dagan Books.  I worked out its soundtrack, just like I do for most of my stories, to help me figure out which emotional pulses I want to hit in different scenes.

Take a listen:
  • The New Pornographers, "Failsafe"
  • Eleni Mandell, "Bigger Burn"
  • Manic Street Preachers, "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough"
  • Arcade Fire, "Ocean of Noise"
  • Air, "The Word 'Hurricane'"
  • Cassandra Wilson, "A Little Warm Death"
  • The Blue Nile, "Body and Soul"
  • Genesis, "Domino, Pt. 1 - In the Glow of the Night/Pt. 2 - The Last Domino"
The lyrics to "Domino" are about as Lovecraftian as I've ever heard Phil Collins sing, which should be proof that anyone who thought Genesis just plain sucked post-Peter Gabriel wasn't paying enough attention.

11 August 2010

"Signed, sealed, delivered/ I'm yours"

Thanks to the hard work of editors Jaym Gates and Erika Holt, it's official: My flash fiction piece "Sublimation" will appear in the anthology Rigor Amortis, to be published by Absolute XPress!!

28 July 2010

"...an emperor without a stitch of clothes on"

He thinks that he's bad, when his shit is so sad
But he's taking the bows for what he's never had
(And he never will)
-Bill Champlin, "Stone Cold Hollywood"

That song lyric kept running through my head as I simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded Readercon.

Cross-reference my list of literary idols with Readercon 21's guest list, and you'll see a great many names in common.  The thought of sharing oxygen with those writers just blew my mind.  I did my best to prepare for a war against my shy, introverted nature.

For awhile, it was a war of attrition.

24 July 2010

Readercon, Day the Fourth

Here it is, the last entry in our time travel adventure back to my fourth and final day at Readercon. So hard to believe it was a mere two weeks ago. To say it was an inspiration is a massive understatement. I'm glad I already know next year's dates--as soon as I rebuild the cash reserves, I'll be booking my registration as soon as it opens.

So, let's open the TARDIS doors and walk out onto Day the Fourth...

23 July 2010

Readercon, Day the Third

Continuing my ridiculously overdue recap of my Readercon memories, we dial the WABAC Machine to Day Three, which I didn't think could possibly be as awesome as Day Two.

I was wrong.

21 July 2010

Role Modeling

Role ModelsRole Models by John Waters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An informative memoir, full of practical (in a Waters sort of way) tidbits of advice, some of which resonated very, very well with me as anyone who read this blog entry would know.

View all my reviews >>

Readercon, Day the Second

Sorry for the interruption of blog posts. I had my second geek weekend in a row, this time out in the woods where internet access was even more prohibitive than the Burlington Marriott's $12.95/day WiFi rate. It did give me a little more distance from the squee-worthy events of my second day at Readercon.

This was a long day, so smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Thinking back to Day 2, I remember...

15 July 2010

Readercon, Day the First

It's taken me a week to fully process my Readercon experience, partly because I think part of me would rather just sit back for the rest of my vacation and just live inside my memories. But as the saying goes, "After the ecstacy, the laundry." Time to move this stuff out of my head, so I can move on with the rest of my life. So, here's a rough synopsis of my first day:

03 July 2010

Chapter XXXVII

Today, Chapter XXXVII of my life begins.
"I'm 37. I'm not old."
-Dennis, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I'm starting this chapter off right with a two-and-a-half week vacation from my dayjob, a trip next week to Readercon, a camping trip with friends the following weekend, and after that, my next NSO gig at the next home derby bout.

Role ModelsFor the past couple years, I've tried to obtain writing-related birthday gifts. This year, though, I dusted off my Audible account, and treated myself to Role Models by John Waters.  I quoted it a lot recently, having read snippets from it and heard various podcast interviews and readings.

I'm listening to the first few chapters now, and thinking about my own role models.  I'll blog about them some other time.  But this book is making me give some thought to who's influenced, not just my art, but my life as an artist.  In Waters, I think I've found a new one.  Just look out the quotes I've used recently as well as the links below.  If you've been paying any attention to how I feel about writing and how I pursue it, I'm sure you'll understand why. 

18 June 2010

"What's my name, fool?"

I should apologize for the ratio of roller derby posts to writing posts lately, but you'll probably see that ratio continue to skew just a little bit more in the coming days.

Last night at a scrimmage, I had a crash course in the art of penalty-box timekeeping, making me a Non-Skating Official (NSO) in my local derby league. My first bout will be in two weeks.  Unfortunately, I'm out most of July, what with Readercon and the "annual camping trip"* with friends.  But I'll be around for their bouts in August and beyond.

The only thing missing, they tell me, is my roller derby name.  So, I'm taking suggestions.  Tell me something good in the comments.  Or if you're one of my tweeps, you know where to find me.

13 June 2010

"Come to see victory/ In the land called Fantasy"

Apparently, I just can't seem to get enough of the Ithaca League of Women Rollers and watching home bouts. I drove to an away bout last night to watch the Sufferjets play the Utica Roller Girls.

12 June 2010

"Let her go, let her go, God bless her/ Wherever she may be"

One D.O.A., One on the Way One D.O.A., One on the Way by Mary Robison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Mary Robison's prose is as dense, sparse, and evocative as ever. You might call the snippets of text disjointed, or gripe about a lack of obvious plotline, but there's still a narrative to be followed.

The main character is certainly the sort who might reveal a lot of the facts of her life to you, but still keep you at arm's length. Indeed, Robison's prose seems to purposely keep me at a distance. I know a lot of people who would complain about that too, but it was a curious experience for me. It's almost as if I had a front-row seat in the theater of the main character's life, but with a splatter-shield in front of me.

And believe me, with everything she goes through, that's a good thing.

View all my reviews >>

10 June 2010

Functional Freakiness

I made a small effort toward getting back in the writing saddle after my weekend adventures. I confess, I haven't had much luck. This is how I've been feeling for nigh on two weeks...

Reading between the lines of those blog entries, you can probably detect a tinge of guilt.  It was fed, in part, by this quote I'd read (and posted to my tumblr) from filmmaker John Waters in his "10 Best Pieces of Advice for Functional Freaks."
I’m a fascist about my work habits and I expect you to be, too. Never have a spontaneous moment in your life again. If you’re going to have a hangover, it should be scheduled on your calendar months in advance. Rigid enjoyment of planning can get you high. Militant time-management will enable you to ignore how maladjusted you would be if you had the time to notice it in the first place. Discipline is not anal compulsion; it’s a lifestyle that breeds power.

07 June 2010

"Everybody needs a little time away..." Part III

I took one final day yesterday to relax from the stresses of life, the dayjob, and my writing. I know what most writers say about needing to write every single day and the thing is, I agree 100%. It's just that I've come to the realization that I can't do it.  I should, and I should keep working toward that.  But if I treat writing like another job, then like any other job, I need a break.

Yesterday was the third and final day of the annual summer festival. Whereas Saturday was sunny and hot, almost to the point where I was worried about heat stroke, Sunday was gray, drizzling at times, and about 20 degrees cooler. I thought all I needed was a thicker polo shirt, but I was wrong. Still, some hot chocolate warmed me up enough to enjoy what I saw: People dancing to a circle of drummers, folks doing Yoga in the cold, and a local group of bagpipers which includes a sci-fi writer who is a frequent contributor to Analog as well as Asimov's Science Fiction and other places.

If nothing else, I've got a third day's worth of potential character sketches, here. 

Now, I'm getting slowly back on the wagon. I'm finally getting the first draft of my story for Rigor Amortis together, building it around the skeleton of an unrelated flash fiction I wrote about 6 or 8 months ago. I figure if Carol Emshwiller can include "Acceptance Speech" and "Report to the Men's Club" in the same collection, then I can make a story "the same, but different" than one I've previously written (not that I'm 1/10th of the writer she is, but still).

05 June 2010

"Everybody needs a little time away..." Part II

It's actually taken a lot for me to realize just how much I needed a break from this year of hell at the dayjob, even after an extra-long long holiday weekend.  My writing suffered.  I'm not talking about how much I haven't been writing lately, but the fact that I was convinced that somehow I could get it done if I'd just whipped myself a little harder.  But I think I was, literally, beating a dead horse.

So, I went for another day of frolicking in the sun at the annual summer festival, the one time and place in the year when I don't mind running into coworkers.

And again, the best part is that this batch of photos is ripe with character ideas!  I've already begged off critique group tomorrow to go to the festival's last day.

04 June 2010

"Everybody needs a little time away..."

As if my "wrojo" (i.e. "writing mojo" -- brought to you by Regan) wasn't low enough, there's been so much more to distract me this past week. There's been an upsurge in work in my dayjob capacity as the Special Projects Bitch. To unwind, I've been taking advantage of the nice weather conciding with my town's annual summer festival. But hey, sometimes you need some time off from writing and to recharge. And it's only recently that loafing is only a small part of recharging. The other part, at least for me, is being charged with something--in this case, the energy that drew me to live here in the first place.

Traditionally, the festival starts off with a Thursday night parade.

My favorite part of the parade was the Ithaca League of Women Rollers and their Chia Skate float!

The best part is, there's at least a half-dozen character ideas in just these photographs.

More to come, as I've just spent most of my Saturday. And I plan to spend some of my Sunday, as well.

01 June 2010

Taking the First Step

If I had any brains, I'd just junk my Twitter account now.  Spend enough time on it, and eventually your true self is revealed to all.  Case in point...

Names have been omitted to protect the *snicker* innocent.

Oh, and "wrojo" = "writing mojo."

Wrojo: I has it. At certain times.

@Crossed Genres

"Combat Stress Reaction" is up today in CG's Gadgets & Artifacts issue.

Now, you could click the links and read the stories in the issue for free, but you know you want to support this fine, paying market.  Luckily, they have several ways for you to do that!

29 May 2010

Tough Love

I didn't post last Sunday's critique group evisceration due to sheer exhaustion.  But the hardest two weeks of the academic year are behind me at the dayjob. I took an extra day off for the holiday weekend and I pretty much wasted yesterday (on purpose).  So, I figure looking at these crits would be a good way for me to get back into writing today as I (try to) keep live audio and video feeds of Roland Garros in the background.

It occurs to me now that I've only looked at the story once or twice since then. I was temporarily seduced by a couple of flash fiction projects, one for a prompt on Zoetrope, and the other by a Twitter joke gone too far, with further yet to go.

Anyway, I brought the next bit of the short story I brought last crit group session, which is for a seekrit project.  The group read the first part of the second act.  With scalpels and machetes out, here's what they said.

23 May 2010

@Everyday Weirdness


This was a flash fiction piece I wrote, prompted by and workshopped in a private office of the Zoetrope Virtual Studio, not to mention my face-to-face critique group

Nice to know I'm going 3 for 10 for my latest round of story submissions, eh?

17 May 2010

Tough Love

It's been over two months since my last confession piece was eviscerated by the critique group.  Almost forgot what it was like.  Luckily, I picked it up again pretty darn fast!

I'm writing and submitting, even got two publications in so far.  I've also trunked two longer writing projects this year that just weren't working for me.  I hate doing that because it means violating Robert Heinlein's #2 Rule for Writing: You must finish what you write.  But I was prompted to start a new story by--well, I can't tell you why, not yet.  It's a seekrit.  Suffice it to say that this is the first time in a long time I was so excited by an idea.  In one morning, I had a rough plot outline of all the major points I want to hit.  By lunchtime, I had a title.  I almost never have a title until the end.

I spit out Act I in time to submit it for vivisection by the critique group.  And, vivisect it they did!

05 May 2010

"Signed, sealed, delivered/ I'm yours"

The contract is signed and in the mail, and the editors announced it, and so I will, too. My story "Combat Stress Reaction" will appear in the Gadgets and Artifacts issue of Crossed Genres on June 1st, along with work from Wendy Wagner, Daniel José Older, Michael Underwood, and Timothy Murphy.

I have nine other pieces currently in circulation, so at least I know I won't be going 0 for 10, whatever else happens.  I just know that it's been too long since I signed a story contract and now that daddy's had another taste, daddy wants more!

26 April 2010

"...snatching laughs and love between amputations and penicillin."

My Sunday started out with brunch with some friends and mimosas! I think I've found something to replace my love of riesling.  But that wasn't why I made a two-hour drive.

As part of a benefit for the JCC of Greater Rochester, actor Elliott Gould was in the region for a 40th Anniversary Screening of the film MASH, one of my all-time favorite films.  Seemed like a good reason for a roadtrip.  One of my friends from overseas even (jokingly) threatened me with death if I squandered the opportunity and didn't go.

Gould did a brief introduction before the screening.  His presence was definitely worth the price of admission.  I'd have paid double if Donald Sutherland would've been there, too.  After all, my favorite line in the film was about his Hawkeye Pierce.
Hot Lips O'Houlihan: "I wonder how a degenerated  person like that could've reached a position of responsibility in the Army Medical Corps."

Father Mulcahy: "He was drafted."

During the Q&A afterward, Gould (justifiably) credited the series for keeping Altman's film alive. Now, if I wasn't so tired, I'd go on about how much more I like the film than I ever liked the TV series. I understand that film and TV are two completely different animals, and how some of what I liked about film just wouldn't translate.  Still, the film's tone was more my speed.

I'd made jokes beforehand about how I was going to ask lame questions like, "Gee, did you realize 40 years ago that you were making a classic?"  Or the sort of stuff Chris Farley would ask: "Remember... that scene... when you punched out Robert Duvall?  Remember?  'Cos he made that kid cry.  Remember that?

"That was awesome."

I think that by making those jokes, I'd realized, at least on a subconscious level, that those are the sorts of questions that always get asked whenever you open a forum up to "the general public."  It happened when I saw writer Joyce Carol Oates speak last year.  She was there to talk about a non-fiction project she was doing at the time.  Now, as disappointing as that was--I'd wanted to her about her fiction, of course--it would never occur to me to ask the question most writers dread hearing, "Where do you get your ideas from?" 

Now, not every question Gould was asked was at that level, but it was pretty close.  As a result, I didn't hear Gould say anything I didn't already know from watching the MASH DVD extras--except for the fact that apparently director Martin Scorsese didn't understand the game of football until he watched the football scene in MASH.  

I know that must make me sound like a total snob.

Still, the opportunity just to be present at an event like this, honoring a piece of art with one of the people involved in making it was pretty breathtaking.  Just the thing to get my creative juices flowing....

18 April 2010

Sunday Brain Dump

Last night, I went to the season opener double-header for the Ithaca League of Women Rollers, i.e. our two local derby teams, the SufferJets and the Bluestockings.  Great bout!!  A comment was made by one of the announcers, giving me an idea for a short story.

Came up with another idea for a short story a couple of days ago.  I think it's a killer idea.  I don't have a character in mind for it.  Which means, I don't have any scenes in mind.  It's frustrating, because until I come up with one or the other, the idea's useless to me.

I used to keep a monthly scorecard of my short-story submissions, but explaining why I didn't submit any stories for a given month got old.  I got back on a submissions kick this month, putting out 5 previously rejected stories and 3 new ones.  I've already gotten 3 rejections back.  *sigh*

Gotta keep pushing!

It's taken me two years for me to follow my own advice and start reading Ben Tanzer's book Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine.  You know how it is.  You intend to order something that's not available at your local bookstore, and you just put off doing it.  And then, it does appear at your local bookstore.

Yo, Ben -- I started it and I'm liking what I'm reading so far.  Sorry it took me so long!

Ben Tanzer, Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine

This is part of a push on my part to read more novels in 2010.  How else am I ever going to learn to write one...?

It has its flaws (which I understand are soon to be remedied), but I'm still in love with mint.com.  It's given me something I've needed for a long time, namely a way of GTD-ing my money management.

I cannot tell you how much I'm enjoying the 2010 series of Doctor Who.  I wasn't up in arms about David Tennant leaving the role, because I'd learned my lesson.  I remember ranting in 2005, "What do you mean Christopher Eccleston's leaving?"  I had no idea how good Tennant was going to be.  Well, I looked forward to Matt Smith's performance, and so far, so good.  And I admit that he rocks the tweed jacket better than I do.

Not only that, but so far the new head-writer/producer Steven Moffat has delivered, too, AFAIC.  The BBC made the right choice, giving the show to the writer whose episodes have won Hugo awards.  No, the episodes haven't been perfect but I'm very, very impressed with what he's done with the show's tone.  Everything people say about the fairy-tale/fantasy tone is all true.  The first two episodes, especially, seemed like a sci-fi version of Pan's Labyrinth.  The only to make them better would be to have had them directed by Guillermo Del Toro.

I really need to do something about my home office.  I'm fighting the clutter lately, and losing.  The trouble is, the only solution is hard for me to face.  I need a new desk with more tabletop real estate, which means taking the time and trouble to empty out and junk my old desk.  Dammit.


I think that's it for now.

07 April 2010

"These dreams go on when I close my eyes"

Madeleine Is Sleeping (Harvest Book) Madeleine Is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I first read Bynum in Tin House: Fantastic Women. I thought "The Young Wife's Tale" was nice story with nice writing, but it didn't prepare me for what I'd find in this novel.

Bynum's writing style is simply hypnotic. It's as dreamlike as just about every other reviewer says it is, but that shouldn't put you off. Just don't get too tied up in the dream logic of these interconnected vignettes. Don't worry about the line between the real and the dream. Just go with it and be absorbed.

View all my reviews >>

04 April 2010

Practical Magic

Let me tell you something
I've met men in jail who had more style
than the people who hang around colleges
and go to poetry readings
They're bloodsuckers who come to see
if the poet's socks are dirty
or if he smells under the arms
Believe me I won't disappoint em

-Raymond Carver, "You Don't Know What Love Is (An Evening with Charles Bukowski)"

I did not to a poetry reading last Friday night, but I did go to a Paint Off--an annual fundraiser featuring local artists who had one hour to create artpiece which would be auctioned off to benefit a local summer festival.

I wasn't the only one gawking at them and taking pictures, and I admit going with some romanticized delusion about watching a piece of art being conjured out of thin air from nothing but the Muse's direction.  I'm willing to bet I wasn't the only one doing that, either. Then I gave the matter a second's thought and I finally realized that these weren't "artistes" whose socks were dirty or who smell under the arms. They were artists who were working.

I saw people with their sleeves rolled up, sweating, scrambling, and getting their hands dirty.  I saw noses put to the grindstone. 

This is the real magic of art to me, whether it's painting, sculpting, music--or even writing.  This is the level of professionalism I want to attain. 

This inspires me.


03 April 2010

One Good Turn, &c.

So, I may not be sure exactly where I fit into the whole social-writer-networking thing, but I at least know to return a compliment.  I'm a little late, but let me return a shout-out to Medeia, who gave me The Picasso Award last week.

The idea is to post seven truths about myself and invite others to do the same.  Now, in the interest of bandwidth conservation, I don't like pressuring people into playing along.  But by all means, any and all comers are welcome to.

So, here goes.  But, caveat emptor: I share the same views on truth as Obi-Wan Kenobi.

  1. One of my mutant superpowers is the ability to hum along with the horn lines from any Chicago song on any Chicago album.
  2. If an object can cut a person, I can probably use it effectively as a weapon.
  3. I'm a caffeine abuser. Always have been.  And even though I struggle to moderate my use, I really don't have any plans to cut it out completely.  
  4. While I like the idea of turning the other cheek, I don't do it as much as I should. I treat my emotional and verbal battles like physical altercations, i.e. I counterattack while I'm defending myself.  In both cases, that response was developed after years of training.
  5. "Plan Z" (aka "My life plan if all else fails and falls apart") is to take my trumpet and wander the earth like Caine in Kung-Fu, playing and finding adventure.
  6. It's been too long since I've played a table-top role-playing game.
  7. My writing owes as much to jazz musician Chet Baker as it does to Raymond Carver.
Any questions?

27 March 2010

My Branding Motto

I see lots of Twitter discussions and blog entries on the importance of social networking and branding for writers. I have my share of sites (just look at my sidebar), and have given some thought to what my "brand" might be (or should be), so I certainly don't knock the idea.  

Yes, publishing's moving. Yes, a writer (any artist, really) should be online somehow. But, how much time and energy do I spend doing this?  Where do I spend it?  More importantly, what about the writing?  Makes me wonder if I have to be Don Draper to figure this all out.

Alan DeNiro (author of one of my favorite short story collections, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead) has also tried to ponder these mysteries, partially spurred on by a presentation at SXSWi, at which the assertion was made that...
An author is no longer an individual working in a room alone, but the leader of an online “tribe” of followers –- the people who comprise the author’s audience. Several example kept coming up, wine guy Gary Vaynerchuck, author of Crush It!, business guru Seth Godin; and Kroszer’s favorite example, The Pioneer Woman, who “could organize a tour on her own without the help of a publisher.” The consensus, from another panel –- “Scoring a Tech Book Deal” was that a potential author needed a minimum of 5,000 Twitter followers.

Now, I have no intention of being John the Baptist in sackcloth and ashes, crying out in the wilderness.  I'm not going to rail about art vs. commerce.  I'm just saying that as I look at my "writers" list on Twitter and the Google Friendconnect bloggers I'm following on the sidebar--which accounts for only a third of the writer blogs I follow on my RSS feed reader--I see exactly the tribalism that's being talked about.  Book and story reviewing, writers of every level interviewing other writers of every level, guest blogging, group blogging -- and I honestly have no idea where I fit in yet.

Until I figure it out, though, I feel I'm doing two things absolutely right...
  • I'm writing what I want to write, and I'm putting it out there.
  • I'm connecting with "the right people."
Mystery Science Theater 3000's Joel Hodgson said his crew was never worried if not everyone would get their arcane references, because "the right people will get it."  Who are "the right people?"

First, I'll talk about how I collect them. I collect them the way I collect comic books after the 90s when people realized they just didn't need 8 variant covers of the same damn first issue of every book with an X in the title.  I invest in the books I want to read.  The ones that interest me.  Same with the folks I follow on any given social network I belong to.  I follow them 'cos I want to.  Because they pique my curiousity, or enthrall me with their points of view, or they're doing exactly what I want to be doing, the way I hope to do it.  And, I strive to be equally interesting to them.  And I accomplish this by putting myself out there, and responding the best I can to what these people put out there.

I read an interview with--well, I forget if it was Ricky Gervais or Eddie Izzard.  To paraphrase my favorite bit of that interview, I'd rather be 1000 people's favorite writer than 10,000 people's 10th favorite writer.  The way I see it, my chances of accomplishing that are better when I develop--okay, a tribe--of people who "get" me.

i.e. "The right people."

I guess you could say my branding strategy so far can be best summed up in the poem "Motto" by Langston Hughes...
I play it cool
And dig all jive
That's the reason
I stay alive.
My motto,
as I live and learn,
Dig and be dug
In return.

Now, I did say "so far."  So, tell me -- am I missing anything?  What else should I be considering?  I want to hear especially from my peeps that have blogged about this in the past (don't make me go back through all the Read items in Google Reader, pleeeease?).  Am I thinking too hard about all this?  Or not hard enough?

Educate me.

17 March 2010

Hail to the King, Baby

Two songs and two thoughts went through my mind as I sat in this chair, getting this picture taken at a local winery.
I've got to keep my image while suspended on a throne
That looks out upon a kingdom filled with people all unknown
Who imagine I'm not human and my heart is made of stone
And I've never had no problems and my toliet's trimmed with gold

Spencer Davis Group, "I'm a Man"

What that idiotic smirk on my face doesn't show is the inner realization that if those lyrics resonated with even the smallest part of me, then I have only myself to blame.  If I do portray this image, it's because I've developed a Game Face.  I wondered if the Game Face may be part of some psychological defense mechanism that may or may not be needed anymore.  I wondered if maybe, just maybe, there's a chance that my life might be better off without it.

But then, I remembered the words to another song...
I was the king of the world
I had every thing thrown at me,
That the judge and jury could hurl
I was the man of the hour
I would claw and scratch my way up,
To the very top of the tower

-Toto, "King of the World"

Then I realized there were reasons I was the way I am.  No, I haven't been severely traumatized or anything, at least no more so than your average Joe.  But somewhere along the way, I decided the Game Face became a handy tool for helping me get back up whenever I was knocked down.  I decided that maybe it was the price of doing business in life.  I decided that it wasn't making me hard or calloused in the way people don't like - the way that makes you slow, closed-off, and numb.  I decided that it made me stronger - like a fighter who's not only conditioned to take a hit and get back up, but is willing to step back into the ring and tell the next chump (read: bit of disappointment) who wants a piece, "Come get some."

I decided it's good to be the king.

14 March 2010

Tough Love

Been awhile since I've attended the literary vivisection that is my biweekly critique group with something to read.  This week, I brought in a 996-word flash fiction piece, written to a story prompt I found online--sorry, but due to the rules of the forum, I can't post the prompt here.

Anyway, here's what the gang had to say...

  • I was unsatisfied with the working title I gave the story, but at least one reader thought it fit just fine.
  • As usual, at least one reader called my story "intriguing."
  • People liked my description of "bad college behavior," especially in regard to one peculiar substance.
  • That certain peculiar substance didn't click as much for a couple of readers as much as for the rest.  They understood how I used it; just didn't resonate, it seemed.
  • Only one reader out of eight seemed completely satisfied with how I ended the piece.  Most, even those who understood the implications, still thought the ending could've been "stronger" or "more clever."
A short critique for a short piece.  Sometimes, though, I don't feel I deserve the praise I sometimes get for my flash.  Flash seems to cover a multitude of sins, where my writing is concerned.  It makes sense--the more I write, the more that can go wrong.  But sometimes, I feel like the success--or lack thereof--of my longer pieces is more representative of my current abilities. Oh, well...

05 March 2010

Getting Things Done, For Longer Than I've Been Alive

Jim Lehrer, host of the PBS NewsHour (formerly known as, among other things, The MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour) for over 35 years, is one of my biggest writing influences. During his long and storied career in journalism, he's written and published nineteen novels. This makes him one of my writing heroes, despite the fact that I haven't read word one of his books.

So what makes him my influence? He wrote those books while he was anchoring, reporting in, and producing award-winning news shows. And he's not some Johnny-Come-Lately who decided to "follow his real dream" once he got the NewsHour gig and after getting a bit of fame behind him. His first novel Viva, Max! was published in 1966, seven years before he teamed up with Robert MacNeil, at the beginning of a career that would garner him numerous awards for excellence in journalism.

Do a thought experiment with me. Lehrer's books get fair-to-middlin' reviews but let's assume--purely for the sake of argument--that each and every one of his novels is utter crap (Again, I don't know this, because I haven't read any of them). Imagine how much work it would take to produce and publish nineteen bad novels, and you'll see why I'm impressed.

In short, he's a guy who gets his writing done, and in the interviews I've seen over the years in which he talks about his fiction, he gets it done anywhere and everywhere he can, every day.

I've met writers who hold down day jobs and/or are parents (some, of kids with special needs), and/or who are adult caregivers, and/or who are dealing with their own or someone else's medical/mental/emotional problems. And I look at these folks, and at Jim Lehrer, and ask myself, "What the fuck excuse do I have?"

Does it make you ask the same?

18 February 2010

Pants on Fire

So my friend Jess passed on the Bald-Faced Liar Creative Writer Award to this here blog. THANKS, JESS!! Not just for the award but for another fun game to play along with.

Here are the rules:
  1. Thank the person who gave this to you. (see above)
  2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog. (see above)
  3. Link to the person who nominated you. (see above)
  4. Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth. (see below)
  5. Nominate seven “Creative Writers” who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.
  6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate. (Umm... well...)
  7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them. (Uh, yeah...)
Anyway, let's start with the outrageous lies and the one outrageous truth. Can you guess which is which?
  1. Clevelanders are famous for lying about this, but I really was an extra in the parade scene in "A Christmas Story." I was one of the folks standing right in front of Soldiers & Sailors Monument.
  2. I once got a standing ovation singing "Sweet Transvestite" at a karaoke bar, embarassing another singer the way Huey Lewis did in the film Duets.
  3. I lost my left big toe in a childhood bicycle mishap, finding out the hard way why there are always supposed to be guards around the chain.
  4. I made it through two rounds of interviews for The Real World: San Francisco. Yes, the one with Puck. So glad I dodged that bullet.
  5. Fourteen years ago, I embarassed myself backstage at a Chicago concert by telling the trumpet player, Lee Loughnane, that he was my idol and I wanted to be just like him.
  6. When I was twenty, I once slept with a girl who would eventually become an actress who, until recently, co-starred in a famous network TV police procedural drama. She'd originally planned to be an engineer. (No, I won't tell you which show.)
  7. As I child, I had dreams of me being a sub in BDSM scenes before I even knew what BDSM was.
Anyway, the real truth is that while I occasionally break my rule of not spamming other people's blogs, I'm a little wiped to think of seven folks who might be kind enough to play along. How about, I pick... you? I'd only ask one thing, which is that you leave a comment with a link if you do play along.

08 February 2010

How Don Is About to Get His Groove Back

As I slogged through my horrendous backlog of Google Reader items last week, I read one of the best writing-related posts I'd ever seen from io9.com entitled "12 Secrets to Being a Super-Prolific Short-Story Writer." I actually know some of these...
  1. Know how your story ends before you begin it.
  2. Don't just write the same story over and over again, or you'll bore yourself.
  3. Start crude, then work on refining.
  4. Have a bunch of stories on the back burner, and keep rotating.
  5. Don't be afraid to stare at the blank screen for a few hours.
  6. Write a bunch of stories in a shared world.
  7. Some stories are just the turning point in the story, not the whole story from beginning to end.
  8. Try creating a character study, or a collection of potent images, instead of just a series of plot twists.
  9. If you're getting bogged down in a particular story, you probably haven't found what it's about yet.
  10. Try an exercise, like rewriting a well-known story from a different viewpoint.
  11. Don't be afraid to take crazy risks.
  12. Write for different markets.
It's no secret to anyone that I'm weeks overdue on delivering my Four Horsemen Contest story, for a number of reasons I won't go into here. But every inch of the teeth-pulling progress I've made on the damn thing thus far was made by re-learning these two pieces of advice.
5) Don't be afraid to stare at the blank screen for a few hours. Sometimes you gotta spend some time chewing over the turning point in your story. Sometimes the ending you thought was so crystal clear when you started out has turned mushy. Sometimes you have to throw out a thousand words of perfectly good story because it rang false and didn't feel like the direction the story should be going in. There's no substitute, on occasion, for sitting and sweating it out. Think about the characters, and what they're actually thinking and feeling in the situation you've set up. Think about the themes you've established and what sort of resolution they're leading to. Take the time to visualize the right ending for this story, or put it aside...

I've seriously forgotten how to just sit and sweat it out. I'd sit and get frustrated that nothing was coming. I'd make myself scribble some words down. Then I'd hit the backspace key and delete. Then I'd hit Ctrl-Z and put it all back. Rinse and repeat.

It's a life issue, really. I've never had any trouble bleeding, sweating, or crying to keep my momentum going. I've had stuff knock me down, and I've had to get back up. But when something just stalls? When I'm working and working, and I'm just spinning my wheels? That's often when I want to give up.

But I'm getting better.

9) If you're getting bogged down in a particular story, you probably haven't found what it's about yet. This is sort of an extension of tip #5, I guess. Maybe you're trying to make your characters care about what you want them to care about, instead of what it makes sense for them to care about. Maybe you're focusing on a supporting character, while your main character is wandering around just outside the frame. Maybe the real theme or idea of your story is something you've only touched on in passing. The power of storytelling is so great, that when you find what your story is actually about, you may feel it propelling you forward with its unstoppable logic. The characters will be motivated to move forward, the mysteries will feel more and more urgent until someone solves them, and the underlying themes will get clearer and clearer until they form into some kind of potent image. That's the idea, anyway.
And, I'm almost there.

Part of the problem (and no, I don't really count the hell my work life has been the past few weeks) is that my writing process has moved soooo far away from starting with an idea. There's absolutely nothing wrong with "First contact with mutual attraction between the species." But I had a hell of a time starting with that because that idea, in itself, said nothing to me at first. Given the right germ of a scene, maybe a character interaction or a piece of dialogue, that idea might've occurred to me.

But, I'm not bitching! It took a bit of struggle, but I've actually found something resembling a theme, related to the "First contact with mutual attraction between the species" idea, that I can sink my teeth into, based on the characters and situations that have already presented themselves in the puke draft. And that's what I've been working on, trying to hammer it into shape in the Forge of Vulcan (i.e. my netbook).

Yep, I can feel my groove coming back, slowly but surely.

01 February 2010

Tough Love

Wow, last week was a shitty one for writing. I'm not making excuses. Just stating the plain fact that between the crazy shit going on at my dayjob and life in general, I just couldn't pull the end of this story together like I'd planned. Of course, being fixated on the Australian Open didn't help, either. What can I say, I'm a sucker for Grand Slam tennis, plus it was my escape from dayjob hell.

I did manage to pull together Act II of my story, and that's what I brought to the biweekly crit group vivisection yesterday. Here's what they said:

For the Win
  • This section was "intriguing." (I get that a lot these days)
  • Good character details: e.g. being a member of MUFON; scene on the train ride in; what she wears to work
  • Apparently, the way I wrote a section showing "The Battle of the Moon" was 95% win, in terms of its description and most of the details of how my protagonist came upon it.
  • Good question on one reader's part: I never described wtf MUFON was.
  • I ended Act II with a confusing situation. Out of seven readers, only one verbalized what was going on, and even that was only a guess on his part.
  • One thing I apparently failed to fix from the last section I brought, my character still isn't showing enough of her alleged skepticism. She's still taking what's told to her at face value.
  • The 5% of "Battle of the Moon" fail had to do with exactly how the MC stumbled onto it.
I probably will not be bringing Act III to group. I'm behind, not only in terms of my personal goal of finishing and sending off one new story per month, but because the deadline to submit this story as the opening salvo in my contest with the other Four Horsemen is today. I did get some plotting help from the other members of my crit group, and I already have one of my trusty beta-readers on what I already have. The plan is to finish this bitch and fire it out to the rest of my beta readers today or tomorrow. Okay, Wednesday. After all, Mercedes has already drawn steel.

17 January 2010

Tough Love

It's been way too long since I've had an example of my critique group's biweekly vivisection of my writing (Holy shit--August? Really, Don?). If you'll recall, the latter portion of 2009 was spent rewriting. But, one of my 2010 goals is to write a story a month, so I had to have something to bring this time around.

I brought Act I of the story that I hope will make people dance for me.

Here's what the group had to say...

For the Win
  • One reader was drawn to the main character. She "loved her voice."
  • Another liked the description of the internet communications between the main character and the supporting character--an alien.
  • A few readers liked the opening hook, which let them know what kind of story this was, and more importantly, what kind of story it wasn't.
  • One commented on the "pop culture/sci-fi mix" I worked into the story. cf. the film Contact, except for the immediacy of the meeting between human and alien in my story.
  • Everyone thought one aspect of the story--which I'll keep secret for now--was a really good device.
  • Overall, the story was called "fun" and most of my descriptions "good."
  • The main character had a bit of skepticism in her, which she should've shown during her first alien encounter...
  • In particular, one piece of evidence I invented for the alien to convince the MC that he was an alien wasn't all that convincing (this is why I hate writing sci-fi ;)).
  • One reader had a different opinion of the way I wrote the initial internet communication between the MC and the alien (emails and chats). He saw what I was trying to do stylistically, but wondered why I just didn't write the emails like emails, and the chats like straight up chats.
  • My description of the alien, while generally clear--except for the alien's clothes--raised questions as to certain mechanics (especially regarding the aspect of it I need to keep secret right now :)).
  • There were some beats missing in the last scene of Act I--readers questioned the way things escalated between the MC and the alien.
I don't mind telling you that the whole thing went a lot better than I thought it was going to go. I was able to come up with (what I believe to be) quick fixes for most of the problems the group pointed out to me. In the end, though, I'm glad the problems seemed to be in the details, rather than in any fundamental story flaw.

There's a first time for everything, huh? :)

14 January 2010

Up a Slipstream Without a Paddle

Because I'm perpetually behind on my blog-reading, I only just found out that the proprietor of Lobster and Canary is going to attend Arisia at Cambridge, MA, the largest sf/f convention in New England.

The items on L&C's particular schedule are of particular interest...
  • Non-Standard Fantasy
  • The Undefended Borders of SF
  • Interstitial Fiction: Dancing Between Genres
  • Inherent Darkness of Fairy Tales
  • The City as Character
  • Myth and Folklore in Fantasy
Of course, Daniel is scheduled to read as well, but I wanted to focus on the panels listed (I assume they're panels).

(Oh, and yes, Calista -- I now regret not coming and will plan to come out next year.) :)

Anyway, picture the sort of fiction that comes to mind when you hear those topics--love it or hate it--and you'll have a good idea of the sort of stuff I aim to write. Aim, and still fall quite short of the mark. Still, unless the "please feel free to send us more" is part of certain markets' form rejections, I remain hopeful. In any case, it brought to mind a conversation I had yesterday which dislodged a memory of a blog post from writer Steven Barnes...
You should read ten times as much as you intend to write. Want to write 1000 words a day? Read 10,000 words. Furthermore, this reading should be BETTER than your current ability, and BETTER than your intended goal, if possible. Want to write comic books? Read pulp fiction. Write pulp fiction? Read popular fiction. Write popular fiction, read bestsellers. Write bestsellers? Read classics.

And you want to write classics? Well...pick your grandparents very carefully.

I've internalized this advice to the point where it actually took me a second to remember where it came from. But it begs the question, what do I read that's "better" than my intended goal if I want to write what I say I want to write?

Now, I've done or am doing most of the "required reading" -- Feeling Very Strange, Interfictions and Interfictions 2, Conjunctions 39 and 52, Tin House 33, The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, (edited to add:) Trampoline, and most of the individual short story collections published by Small Beer Press, and others. But there are times when I feel like I'm being shown how to do the breaststroke before being taught how to properly do a front crawl. Don't know where the swimming analogy came from, but it's as good as any.

And I guess the main reason I'm thinking about all of this--assuming it's not a symptom of the Andromeda Strain I've been fighting off the past few days--is that I seem to be feeling a bit of existential angst about my writing. I don't even care about, Will this pay off in the end, or not? I care more about, Am I doing this right or just spinning my wheels? Are my goals reasonable? What am I doing as a writer?

Also, Who the hell am I as a writer, anyway?

13 January 2010

Motion in Poetry

Last Sunday night, I attended a poetry workshop by the current Broome County (NY) Poet Laureate, Andrei Guruianu at Buffalo St. Books. He did a reading from a few of his collections, including his latest, and nothing was sacred anymore, and then guided willing attendees through an exercise.

Guruianu did a brief lecture on poetic elements, which was very useful. Up until now, I had no criteria for judging any piece of poetry other than, "I know what I like." And Guruianu's words about the elements of what he considers to be good poetry gave me at least one way to evaluate the poetry I read from now on. To him, the best poetry uses words to depict an environment or invoke images that are concrete, significant, meaningful, and which resist the mind's tendency to go off on tangents and lean toward abstractions.

Afterward, I went back through the five or six books that I laughingly call my "poetry library" and I'll be damned if I didn't go back to the ones listed as my favorites and found just that. Not one poem about "war" or "time" or "space" or "that girl who broke my heart." Poems on those sorts of topics, yes. But not about the abstract concepts.

And of course, I went back through what I laughingly call the "poems" I've written thus far. Now, I knew most of them sucked, but now I know at least one reason why! And the few (well, one... okay two or three) that "worked," did so because they generally had more concrete elements.

So, to answer the questions that are undoubtedly on your mind...
  1. Yes--I'd like to write more poetry. Maybe see if I can salvage the stuff I've written so far. Maybe write something like the work I heard at the poetry panel I attended at Astronomicon 11.
  2. No--I'm not posting any of it here. Maybe at Fictionaut, but even then probably not for public consumption. Because I care for you all, far too much. Maybe once I've learned a few more things.

06 January 2010

"Too Many Voices"

I like song lyrics. Sometimes, they get me thinking and then I like to dissect those thoughts like the Zapruder film.

I don't wanna wait
For our lives to be over.
Will it be yes, or will it be
Let me tell you something about my Muse, the little shit.

My relationship to it is best expressed on the Tumblr I use as a notebook of the things I feed it. I call it the place...
Where I strap my muse to a chair like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, pin its eyes open, and force-feed its brain until it does what it's fucking told.

Yes, I brainwash my Muse, typically by waterboarding it every so often. Not too much, though. Like Nice Guy Eddie says in Reservoir Dogs, "If you fucking beat this prick long enough, he'll tell you he started the goddamn Chicago fire, now that don't necessarily make it fucking so!"

Some might say that's harsh. I know there are folks who feed and care for and cradle their precious Muse. They are not wrong to do so. And if it works for them, I'm very glad! But call me as delusional as the folks who think the "enhanced interrogation" techniques at Gitmo actually work--I'll be damned if they don't work on my Muse, at least as well as cradling it ever did!

I've made a lot of progress with my Muse over the past few years. It does need a bit of "encouraging" every now and again, but it seems to be spitting out ideas when I want them, and a lot of times, even when I don't want them! The important thing though is that I do not wait for my Muse to give it up before I write. That'd be stupid.

As Octavia Butler noted, "...habit is more dependable than inspiration." I've learned that ideas really are a dime a dozen and that what my Muse will not do most times is form those ideas into actual stories for me. Once in awhile, maybe. But the hard truth is, my little bastard of a Muse really doesn't care if I finish my stories or not! No, that's squarely up to me, and the only way that's done is by sitting down day after day and writing, with my Muse's waterboard right next to me, pouring and writing, whether it gives me reliable and actionable intel or not!

Because I absolutely do not want to be one of those writers who bitches and moans about being uninspired and who get no writing done because of it.

04 January 2010

Any Given Sunday

I was drunk enough to agree, but not drunk enough to deny remembering I agree. Leave it to Mercedes to strike at exactly the right time! She wanted a throw down with the loser to re-enact one of my fantasies: to be Jesus, serenaded by Yvonne Elliman, complete with jazz hands:

But that wasn't enough. Oh, no. The more, the merrier, we said, so we invited Harley and Jason.

Yes, we Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are going to be engaged in mortal combat, with a theme chosen by a neutral party, one Boudreau Freret.

The Theme: A sci-fi/fantasy short story describing, "The first contact of two species with a mutual attraction betwixt them."

Story Deadline: We have until February 1, 2010 to come up with an original story based on the theme, to be simultaneously submitted to a SFWA-approved market.

The Stakes: First person to be published in the chosen market wins.

The losers will video themselves performing a song of the winner's choice ("Everything's Alright" in my case), complete with jazz hands!!

These are all worthy adversaries. I don't underestimate a single one of them. I've read their words. We're all at various stages of our writing careers, and yet a contest like this--well hell, a lot of publishing in general--has an "any given Sunday" feel to it. It could very well be me on video, jazz-handing along to someone else's tune.

This is going to be a first. I've never written to avoid humiliation before! :)


Edited to add: Harley's and Mercedes' understandably skewed opinions on the matter.