Thursday, March 31, 2005

What the!

I was supposed to start a new story tonight. I've been meaning to start a new story the last few nights, but, uh. Er. Hey! What's that shiny thing over there that will distract you from my failure?! The upside of this, for you, dear reader, is I got those lists of links in the sidebar off the sidebar and on to their own dedicated page. Which means if you come back every four hours looking to see if I've added a new blog or article to my links, you can now go straight to that particular page without having to load up all this annoying blog crap. The rest of you beautiful people who come here for the wit, the conversation, the dazzling view, and oh let's not forget the hors d'oueuvueuvueres, the blog should take less time to load. Which means more time for fun, fun, fun.

Reading-wise, I read straight through Issue #1 of the Land-Grant College Review over the weekend. It was cool. If I'm doing the 50 books thing, I guess that counts as number seven, maybe; I'm counting it as a book because it felt like a book. But a very small, slender, easily held book, compared to Fuc--er, Frog. (1)

That's the thing--I've never been much of a short story reader, though I'm working on that now. (2) After reading Frog, the LGCR was a spot-hitter. Mostly. There were one or two stories near the end that I was kind of ehhh towards but for the most part it just felt so damned profound to be reading things that were complete within a couple thousand words. Plus as I was reading I was noticing things I'd like to do and things I don't do and things I won't do and so forth. (3)

Now I'm working on--or at least, over the weekend, I started--Rowing in Eden, by Elizabeth Evans. Which seems nice so far. I've read thirty pages. It's a novel. It's 340 pages. It uses paragraphs that are less than a page long.

I was planning on reading The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan next, but, I was in the kitchen instead of the living room when it came time to pick up the next book, and well that's my story. (4) I read Look at Me by Jennifer Egan sometime last year and loved it; if I had a shelf where I put the "special books" it would be up there with The Corrections and Infinite Jest and the rest of 'em. I of course don't have it in front of me right now and my memory sucks so I can't go into much detail but it was one of those books that the experience of reading it was the way you want every book-reading experience to be. So now I'm going to read her other book out of curiosity.

What made Look at Me all the more fun, I think, was that it was one of those random-buys: night out at the bookstore with the girlfriend, who was the one who found it; she decided she liked the cover, thought the story seemed interesting, but she didn't buy it. So I did. Because I am a nice guy. Then I read it. Now it's buried somewhere, waiting for the girlfriend to have the chance to read it. I just hope, when her time to read it comes, that she's as pleasantly surprised as I was. (5)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

76 brief views of Cleveland: #3-4


My friend says I'm going to be published soon. He says he can feel it. I hope he's right, and secretly I know I've felt it too. Odds are, that's me wanting to feel it.

We talk about fame. The three of us, we've never been this masculine before: guys watching basketball in a Detroit Road restaurant, one of those places that place the televisions just so so that wherever you look there one is. It's Saturday night and the place is a mere quarter full.

I don't know either team but I root for the team friend number one roots for. It's an amazing victory. Friend number two drinks his beer slowly; it's a boy's night out, and we agree: there's something the final minutes of a basketball game got that no other sport's got.

We watch the last of the Cavs game and chuck masculinity-pretensions out the window by using words like "passion" and "oh!" when we talk about the famous female singers we'd like to meet. We're not sure where to go next so we sit. That's a perpetual weekend problem, here.

The Cavs fall way behind. This is why I don't have cable: I'd never leave the couch.

Eventually we leave. But not until an opponent tosses up an unnecessary shot in the final second of the game, perhaps a joke. Either way, he sinks it. Cleveland loses by 31.


Give this city a dash of sunlight and less-than-frigid air and everybody decides it's time to go mailing. The line in front of me at the Lakewood post office is four deep with four customers at the counter and four bored-looking clerks behind it whose faces I know almost by heart by now, have been starting to learn their faces ever since I started mailing stories off to literary journals earlier this year. A moment after I walk in there's four more people behind me in line. I've just got one envelope that I could slap a random number of stamps on and be assured it would get where it needs to go, but what's the fun in that? You can thank Kurt Vonnegut's talk at Severance Hall a couple years back for inspiring that in me.

It's sunny in Cleveland for the first time in years and everybody's going mailing. The girl behind me who can't be more than sixteen but is probably much older than that and the old woman in front of me who forgot her purse in the car. I hold her place in line for her while she runs back outside to get it. Everyone else has something to mail that looks more interesting than what I'm here to mail: odd-sized packages that require special services, stacks of bulky yellow envelopes and bags that can only possibly be holding sweaters that are getting shipped off to northern climates. We got sun now and we won't need the sweaters anymore. Everyone's patient though they look bored. I'm the only idiot who has to fight the urge to crack a smile. You can thank Kurt Vonnegut for that.

My turn comes and goes, the easiest of anybody's, and driving back to work, I notice for the first time, you can't see the river from Rocky River Drive.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Four down, a billion more to go

Seeing as I have more to say than I know how to say coherently, let's cut to some bullet points.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

76 brief views of Cleveland: #1-2


I'm in my car. I realize I've lost touch with night. Anymore, night is less a flirtatious mistress than a regular partner, someone to take to parties where she knows everybody and isn't afraid to say she's bored, she'd like to go to sleep early, this music is killing her--what, is this supposed to be high school again? There was a point neither of us noticed, when romance gave way to comfort, and so much for the afterglow.

I'm driving north on I-271, towards I-90, which I've driven before, plenty of times, and the highway lights between the north and south lanes are familiar: steadily floating forward before hooking off at the end into a squiggled approximation of a question mark, an unanswered query. But before that, just a straight line, running north and south.

It's funny. Though this city is split by a river that runs roughly parallel to that line of lights, this city seems dimensionless to me in that direction. For me, this city's defined by it's east-west roads. Lorain Avenue and Cedar Road. Mayfield Road and Detroit Avenue. The north-south roads, the Warrensvilles and the Clagues, they never really seem as existent as I-90, or the shoreway.

Much is made of the city's split, but maybe it's more of a continuous sentence than we think. Maybe there's something left of me in the night after all; maybe the city's the question the lights on I-271 mark.


I was walking down Lake Road when I passed an older lady. She was maybe in her sixties. She was wearing a coat with the hood up around her head, and there was a furry runt of a dog a leash's-length in front of her.

The lady was staring at me.

The lady was not happy with me.

Being a nice guy, and being the kind of guy who likes to assure older ladies that I am not a mugger or a psychopath, I met her steely gaze with my own innocent one, put on my best "I'm not a mugger or a psychopath" smile, and said, quietly and without a hint of menace or threat in my voice, "Hi."

I took another step--I sometimes walk fast, by the way--and she didn't crack the slightest hint of an "I'm walking past another person on the sidewalk" smile. Instead, she grunted, and said, "You're so friendly you're sickening!"

Another step, and I was past her. Another ten steps, and I was starting to laugh.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Simultaneously spiraling and towering

You remember Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead? You remember Christina Applegate's stoner brother? Do you remember him on the roof, friends nearby, plates flying through the air, exploding over the lawn? Do you remember what he said? I'll tell you what he said: he said, the dishes are done, man, and that's stuck with me, ever since I saw that, the first time, a long time back.

Replace the roof with my kitchen table, a table I did almost every stitch of high school homework at, which I've come to be reacquainted with over the last handful of months, writing, reading, working; replace the open space under the sky with my brain; replace the stoner brother with me; replace Christina Applegate, don't replace her, let's bring her into the fantasy, because she got really damned adorable every time I've seen her since the last time I saw her on Married With Children. Replace whatever else you need to make the metaphor work. Frog's done, man.

I marathoned my way through the last 170 pages tonight. I'm dizzy. The book towers, the book spirals. It races. It takes its time. It's looking at the sun through a microscope, an ant hill through a telescope. Sometimes it loses you. It always takes you back.

Its protagonist is a man. (A male. Horrid and normal.) Its antagonists: life. death. living.

There's a conscious stream of consciousness narration throughout but it goes beyond that: it reaches down, it becomes less literature than a deep primal force, a guttural series of utterances speaking of and to everything that's great. everything that's fucked up. everything that's.

It's rounding a corner, meeting yourself reflected in someone else, wishing you had started carrying a pen the whole time so you could underline the moment and come back to it. But it's too late for pens and the moment's stuck in you. it's buried in you. it's four words in 769 pages.

It's loving bafflement. Its heights. It's heights.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Whoa-oa, we're five-sevenths done, whoa-oh, readin' Stephen Dixon

I got myself deep into the sky-scraping mountainous ranges of Frog last night, leaping the 60-page 1-paragraph chapter 19 in a quick bit of bounds. I got myself somewhere into the mix of chapter 20, too; called "Frog Fragments". (You can either take fragments to be the noun with Frog as an adjective, or Frog as the noun with fragments being a verb. Either's appropriate.) Chapter 19 was overall brilliant and made me squirm a lot--this is a good thing--and chapter 20 is confirming for me that there is a structure to the book; while the chapters themselves all seem almost independent of each other, you can't just read them in any whichwhateverway order you want. There's order and purpose here, and it's subtle, and it's good. The book really picks up steam after chapter 18 (where I'd left off, halfway through, last time) though I guess steam is a relative term, perhaps.

I can't think of a book since Infinite Jest that I've felt justified in patting myself on the back for just getting through it. Hence the, ah, patting-myself-on-the-back tone of these posts. Also I don't know if I can think of any book I've ever read with such a potently odd yet insidiously natural (at least, it becomes natural once you've consumed 550+ pages worth of it) cadence to it, any book so strong in that department that I've found myself often replacing the usual tones of my internal-monologue with the rhythms and timbre of said (previously unexperienced by me) book. I don't think I could write it to save my soul but it's there, in my head, at odd moments, and, it feels kind of cool. Oddly.

I think I'm committing myself to reading The DaVinci Code next, which I might even say nice, intelligent things about. For a book that 25,000,000 people have bought, nobody in the lit-blog-osphere (that I've found, at least) does that. So maybe that can be the thing I do on the web that nobody else does. And maybe it will keep me from writing any more high-concept self-interview posts for a while. (Unless, you know, someone, say, requests them...)

Speaking of services: I've added an RSS feed of my "blogposts" category to the sidebar-with-the-evergrowing-brain-that-saved-the-world. (See also, The Flaming Lips.) Mostly because I remembered that, since this is a blog, I'm automatically subscribed to "Bring Down The Media Magazine" and I've got obligations to keep. So you know, if the very thought of someone saying nice things about The DaVinci Code sickens you so much that you feel like hurling your monitor through space-time at my head, you can now find additional links to get you off this site to the right. I'm sure if you keep clicking long enough, you'll find someone swearing that they'll never wear the color brown again, in protest. Also, to lull you into a false sense of security in regards to your conviction that you are currently visiting a blog generated by someone who knows what he's doing, I've touched up some colors across the site: no more faded, washed-out post headlines for you fine folks; only the biggest! baddest! brightest! boldest! greens for you. And there's some blues, too. Well, one blue. But it's a very pretty blue, I think.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Long winded and short of breath; past the halfway point and into the mountains of Stephen Dixon's Frog

Big leap forward tonight: passed the point of Frog where I gave up last time, and finished off that chapter entirely. Which means I'm well past the halfway point, which is exciting. Now I've got the 60-page 1-paragraph chapter 19, the 200+ page several-paragraph chapter 20, and then the last chapter, which seems closer than it's ever been, yet still so far beyond the horizon.

If I plan on jumping retroactively into the 50 Book Challenge this year (which I learned about from The Girl Detective--who, incidentally, made me want to finally get around to reading Empire Falls after having seen it on multiple occasions after which I'd always thought, "Huh, yeah"--who I believe learned about the challenge from the Bookslut blog, who in turn I think swiped it from somewhere in LiveJournal-land but my desire to backtrace links ends here) I'm going to have to not read much more Stephen Dixon. And, like, not spend the next two months reading the last 300 pages of this book. Which is okay, since, as breathless as his books are (from the limited judgement I can muster after what I've read of his), damn, they're tiring. And slow. I've got the winner of the Tournament of Books (Cloud Atlas, and gosh I hope I didn't just spoint the tournament for anybody) due to hit my mailbox sometime this week though, which might spoil my plans to dive into some...ah...lighter fare. A'ell. I've little hope to reach 50 this year (even with retroactive reading taken into account) but it might be fun to see just how bad I fail.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Your CSS-fu may have won for now, but my browser-inspecific interpretation shall live to fight another day

Go me. The pretty-like title bar up top should now work in both Firefox and IE6. I think. Correct me if I'm wrong.

If you're using some other browser, and it looks like crap, and you look at the source for what I did, and you can tell me how to fix it, without breaking it for anyone else, and I use your suggestion, and it works, I'll give you a cookie.

Long winded and short of breath; some thoughts on process

The current story--which is titled "Gravel Chords" mostly because that's the temporary title that's stuck for the longest time--is finally under control. I think.

It's a difficult story. It's been difficult writing it, and revising it, and editing it, and comprehending it, and figuring out what the story is meant to be. Hopefully none of that shows through in the final draft (which I haven't arrived at yet). Hopefully, the final draft just reads well, and talks well with readers. Well, talks well first with journal and lit-mag editors, then goes on to find some good conversation with readers afterwards. I've lost absolutely all sense of perspective on it, so I don't know whether it will--or can--achieve that, but we'll see when I start sending it out places. Probably in a week or so. Ok, well, I'll send it out places in a week or so, and then we'll see--one to six months after I send it out.

I have reservations about sending it out. But I need to reach some kind of closure with it, and throwing it out there for editors to reject seems like a good way to do that. I have a weird, tiring relationship with this story, one that's been developing over the last two to three weeks. I like to think that my next story will be the literary equivalent of a pop song--quick and easy and like candy--but then I remember that's how this story started, before it grew out of all proportions. This story started out as little more than a goof and a riff, and it went on to be a heady head-trip into all sorts of unusual places. For me, writing it, at least. Whether the contents of the story reflect that, I'm not so sure.

I'm on a rough pace to complete a book's worth of short stories this year. I've fallen into a coincidentally-enough story-a-month rhythm and now that I'm on that rhythm I figure I might as well stick with it. I'm not in the mental space right now to tackle a new novel, and I still want to focus on writing short stories so I can have more material to submit to lit-mags in the hopes of getting published there so my lit-agent cover & query letters read like they've been written by someone who might actually be able to sell some books down the line, so this plan seems pretty acceptable. It should keep me focused on the work at hand, while reminding me that any one project is not the end of the world, and shouldn't exact all of my attention forever (as I was growing afraid the current story would do).

The January story ("Blasted") was a mere 3,000 words in its final draft, which was a shaved-down nugget's worth of maybe 4,000 words worth of story; the February story ("We Were Calm") clocked in at 3,750 after a maybe 5,000 word high. This story--the March story, and I use the month only for classification purposes, not to suggest agendas within each story that aren't present--is now sitting pretty at about 6,200 words...after ballooning out to 9,000 words at its high-tide point. The story should never have reached even 6,000 words, what with my hopes to keep the drafts nice and short each time, but. Something happened. Things got more complex than I'd intended for them to be. When an author says a story or a novel is meant to explore some ideas, I'm growing convinced that it's not the novel or story they're talking about; rather, it's the drafting process behind it, where the exploring happens. Not that stories and novels are all destination and no travelling, but. Maybe the completed pieces are more like signposts?

Either way, this thought comes straight out of my experience with the process of making this story into a final draft. The Janurary and Februrary stories, I had pretty good ideas for each of them, where exactly they were going. Not pretty good ideas--I knew. Each story was meant to reach certain points, plot points or otherwise, and writing the stories was the process of reaching those points. This story--well, first:

Thinking far ahead. Like, way down the line here. These stories I'm writing this year (plus the story I wrote a few years back) are intended to be part of a close-knit yet loosely-directed collection. Each successive story draws characters or events from the story before it and expands on them, or comments on them, or just kind of loosely brushes up against them before going in their own special directions. At least, this is how I conceive of things panning out. It's a convenient way for me to have some spring-board into the next story when I'm finishing work on the previous story--look at the previous story, find something in there that a new story could launch from, shake, stir, do with it as you please. I don't want the "final" collection to be too gimmicky--I'm rejecting the idea of circling back to the first story in the last story or anything too potentially hokey like that. I'm also not too concerned with any sort of over-lying all-encompassing direction or theme or anything, either. Reading the final collection of stories should be an interesting experience, but it shouldn't feel too forced or directed. They're still short stories, and they're still stand-alone pieces; but if you bring them together, they should generate...something else, for the reader. Something additional. That said, I realized tonight that that might make things difficult, when trying to pitch a completed book of stories--of which many, I hope, will already be published--for publication? If, say, an editor or agent or what-have-you suggests nixing stories, or what-not? But I rush ahead of myself.

This story, back to the point, didn't have that sense of direct direction the prior two stories had. This story was more of's a chance to show another side of parts of the previous story, but where it went from there, I wasn't really sure. Where it did go, I didn't see coming. The links to the previous story, which were meant to be at most tangential, became major themes and plot-points. The goof idea the story started with became more serious than I'd originally thought it would be, and hence demanded more serious attention. Where I'd thought was sex, I found love; where I'd thought was meaningless death, I found reason to stop and think. And think. And think...and in the end, after all that thinking, I still didn't know where the story went. So I had to think some more. And some more. And some more.

And maybe it's still a gimmick, but I think the story came to reflect that idea of process more than I'd meant it to. Maybe the story itself is an actual act of exploration--for both the narrator, and the reader, as well as for me, above and beyond the process of writing and drafting it in the first place. Ultimately where I was seeking definite direction, I had to acknowledge there couldn't be one yet; where I was looking for an ending, I could only find a horizon, always just a bit out of reach. The narrator had to reach that point along with me, and while it's not an easy ending, I also hope desperately it's not a cheap one.

So. Because if you've made it this far, you at least deserve some kind of firm statements to take home with you. (Though expect none from the story, if you get the chance to read it.) Am I happy with the story? Yes and no. Yes because I think it is interesting, and complex, and in places funnier than anything I've ever written and in places more thoughtful than anything I've ever written; no, because, I don't even know if I know what the story is, anymore. Will I consider re-writing or re-visiting it down the line, after a handful of rejections? Yup. Do I think it might actually have a shot at getting accepted? Maybe. And is it ultimately just a stepping stone towards something else, or is it a stepping stone worth considering? Time will tell. I suppose.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Your flying CSS crane attack is impressive, but it is no match for my IE crouching tiger counter-attack

Having recently been handed reasons to learn as much about web design as I possibly can, I've been more willing of late to spend a few too many minutes past my bedtime fiddling around with the blog-look, you know, for research. Hence the new header up top. Which looks really gosh darned awesome right now in Firefox but looks like unholy crap in IE. Which, well, I'm sorry about. The easiest way to fix this is for everyone on the web to start using Firefox. The slower fix is for me to spend more time past bed time another night, figuring out where I went wrong. Until then, please, IE people, don't hate me. And download Firefox. Because it's cool.

Handy things used in the creation of the header include the Mandarin Design blog which offered up some code for something that looked cool which I then stole and butchered to match my own under-developed and flawed aesthetic, and really there's just more tips & tricks over there than you can shake your CSS stick at, and the VisiBone Color Lab which lets even an uncoordinated hack like me pull some colors together that don't look completely awkward when held up together side by side.

The background image to the left is kind of temporary. I wanted to see if it could be done. It can be. Now I have to figure out if there's actually something worth putting over there, for real. I was thinking of manipulating the Cleveland image to the right into something more wickedly cool that might work in the background. But that sounds like a lot of work and I have no real skills, so.

Oh, and, uh, yeah. I, uh, took tonight off, from the story. Which is okay because I worked on it for the preceding 8 days straight. And I'll probably log another 12 hour s on it over the weekend. And I really, really wanted that 2.5 hour nap I took tonight. Oh, unholy good, naptime.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Things I think while revising any of my stories; or, stories don't like it when you answer their questions with, "Yes. Yes I am your daddy."

(Read an earlier, related list by clicking this sentence.)
  • Dude. This is the best thing I've ever written.
  • Dude. This is the worst thing I've ever written.

Five lesser-known facts about rejection letters

In honor of me receiving a fresh hot new rejection letter for one of my short stories today, I thought I'd present some of the results of my web research into the rejection letter phenomenom. Doo doooo doo doo doo. Phenomenon. Doo dooo doo do! Phenomenon...anyways.
  1. Much like enemy attacks in Final Fantasy games, rejection letters actually cause you a certain number of hit points worth of damage. Lucky for you, this boosts your overdrive gauge which, when full, will allow you to unleash an ultimate attack, such as a stream of meteors, or really big tears that can strike down multiple foes.
  2. In the movie National Treasure, Nicholas Cage found invisible ink in the Declaration of Independence that pointed him towards a vast underground treasure trove. Your rejection letters also come laden with invisible ink! The clues will lead you directly towards that stash of ice cream in your fridge that you get to break out just for special occasions, such as, the receiving of a rejection letter.
  3. Rejection letters make great stocking stuffers.
  4. Despite the seeming differences in the quality of the paper that rejection letters are printed on, all rejection letters are cut from the same wood from a secret tree in a magical forest that is constantly fed by the tears of rejected writers. Literary magazines meet at the tree once a year to pay homage to its bountiful, infinite harvest, and to bring home a fresh basket of pulp.
  5. If you stack all of your rejection letters into a neat, tidy pile, and stand upon them, and gaze out from your newfound height, you still won't be tall enough to play in the NBA, so you might as well not quit your day job just yet, shorty.
(File under 'Snark', of course.)

Monday, March 14, 2005

Infinte Jest, my ass

Now THIS is the shit that'll help you solve the case:
Privately, without anyone knowing it -- between jobs and visits to church -- from 1913, when he was 19, until 1972, the year before he died, Darger wrote and illustrated the immense, all-encompassing and all-but-unread Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. This 15,000-page tome, or hallucination, amounts to Darger's "potboiler to the world" -- a kind of Mahabharata, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and Wizard of Oz all rolled into one. This melodramatic epic is a hybrid western, nursery rhyme, military handbook and holy-war story.

While Darger's drawings are simply breathtaking, his narrative, as captivating as it is, is hard to track. As with Rabelais, hyperbole is the rule; logic goes out the window; fantastic things occur continuously. Suffice to say, Darger's 59-year fever dream unfolds on a planet 1,000 times larger than Earth and populated by "hundreds of thrillions" of people. Nations include Angelinia, Abbieannia, Creetoria and Glandelinia. The good guys, or gals, are the sweet Vivian Girls; the bad guys are Glandelinians, who are predatory adults. There are little lasses with penises (Blengins), who protect the Vivians and assorted fabulous dragons. Destruction reigns; millions die; multitudes are taken into captivity or are subsequently freed. It's the Civil War by way of the Big Rock Candy Mountain. Everything comes out OK in the end, but, again, don't look to Darger for coherence. Look to him to be dazzled.

And here I was, calling my old lame self bad-ass for reading Frog. Shyeah. Whatev. Why does anyone even bother to give me the time of day?

A simple status update goes horribly awry on this edition of Thumb Drives and Oven Clocks

So a long time ago (ok, two months ago) I posted a post (namely the post linked to between these parenthesis) that included a list of things I've written and completed and things I'm writing now. And I intend to update that list when it's worth updating. Like, when I can, because things have happened. But that seems really tiring right now, so I'm just going to talk about this weekend.

This weekend, I did a lot, and maybe, some of what I did was good.

Thanks! Good night, everybody!




Okay, tiring or not, I'm incapable of posting something to the internet that's anywhere between like five words and 27,000 words. One extreme or the other, s'gotta be.

So this weekend, I think I logged about 12 hours at the laptop and hit three different coffee shops doing so. (The formerly-was-but-I-still-call-it-the-Lakewood Arabica, Common Grounds, and the CWRU Arabica, for the obsessively curious, the locally minded, and the rest of everyone else.) That's a pretty busy weekend's worth of writing, and was probably more time writing than I'd spent in the last week before that, total.

The story I'm working on's a trip. Since the beginning of this year I've completed two short stories, which is one more short story than I managed to complete in the previous three years combined, but is also one fewer completed novels and one fewer completed drafts of a second novel, and it's been a while since I took a calc class so you'll have to do the math yourself. In fact, the math here haunts me to such a great extent, that I must move on to a new paragraph, and leave the math boxed up in here for all eternity, never to be visited again by me. Ever.

The two short stories I completed before this month, one was 3000 words, and one was 3750 words, which both seem like nice numbers for word counts for short stories, albeit smaller than I'd ever tried to do with pretty much anything. The story I'm working on now, despite the "keep it short" momentum I had coming out of the prior two stories, currently clocks in at 9000 words, and it lacks an ending. It's a difficult story to end, because it's more's not so much a story in that things happen and they reach some conclusion; what happens is that a guy spends his day thinking about stuff that's happened to him, and I think the conclusion I reached tonight, driving home from a visit to my girlfriend's after spending the afternoon writing, is that the conclusion of the story isn't so much some plot element that happens, but some kind of emotional resolution--the guy having to take everything he's thought about during the course of the day, and decide what he's going to do with it. This is tricky because, well, it is. Because I made a lot happen in 9000 words. I think.

I say I think because I also wrestle with the potential that this story is a huge bloated descent into self-indulgent twaddle with no point or purpose for being. Like maybe everything in this story is as good as I feel it could be if I could just make it all reach a point of some kind of emotionally satisfying "ending" for the reader...or maybe it's just me not growing up and getting a real job, like becoming a coal miner or a CEO or something. The damned thing is, I don't know which it is.

But lucky for me, I think I also came to another sort of conclusion tonight, and that's that it's time to just make the story end, and make it end as well as it can, or at least as well as I think it can, and then let it go out there to the maybe two lit mags that might not mind reading through 10,000 words of potential twaddle, and let them reject it, then I can come back to it in four months with a fresh perspective and the willingness to cut it in half, which I don't think I have right now. Or maybe it gets accepted (which I alternately think is likely and impossible) and then I got nothing left to think about but where I'm going to put my trophies when they start coming in by the truckload.

I also figure this story would be so much easier to finish writing if it wasn't a love story, because I now spend a lot of time thinking things like, "Aren't I too old to be writing stories about girls?" and "You know, if you would just break down and buy cable television, you could totally go watch Trading Spaces and blow off writing for the next twelve years." That latter thought is relevant, in that, my love for Trading Spaces knows no bounds, and if I could figure out how to package that love up into a 10,000 word short story, I'd be a much better writer, I like to tell myself. In truth, I recognize that the story's about a lot more than love, but when you've got a guy and a girl and they might love each other, well, they get all obnoxious with it and start crowding the room, and pushing thoughts of "death" and "depression" out the windows, and pretty soon you're asking them to stop please stop making out on your counter.

Do you know what I'm saying?

You don't?

Then please, allow me to explain:

This story's either hack shite or mature shite. Now it's just about figuring out which adjective's going to be left when I make the word "shite" disappear.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Things I've thought while writing and revising my current story; or, you can't tell a story "I Don't Know" because green slime will dump on your head

  • Is she too goth? She's too goth, isn't she.
  • Yeah! This is totally a "long paragraph" story!
  • This narrator is obviously not me. Look. He hates new wave. He totally disses New Order.
  • They get naked.
  • No you dolt. They don't get naked. Getting naked is cliche.
  • Oh hell, she left her boots on in bed.
  • She left her boots on in bed! Obviously! That's so not cliche!
  • When did all the paragraphs get so short?
  • Oh right. It's all dialogue now.
  • She's not goth enough.
  • Eyeshadow. Is that eyeshadow? When it goes like all over and not just on the eyelid? Fuck, why do I have to be such a boy all the time?
  • Why are you writing about Independence, Ohio? You know nothing about there. Er..oh, right, you don't need to. It's just the building that's interesting.
  • Oh no. The narrator. Did he just confess his belief in God? I can't deal with that.
  • Okay! Alright. He's going to drive to the lake and throw the tape into it. NO YOU IDIOT! Not the big melodramatic throwing away the past ending! Oh my Lord.
  • She's way too goth. He'd never give her the time of day.
  • Did he just use the word "ostensibly"? What the hell? He's a bank teller!
  • Yeah, you better make her 23, you are so not trying to write Lolita.
  • You're so writing Lolita, you know that, right?
  • Do goth girls have freckles?
  • When the hell did she become a goth? Why is she a goth? Isn't it bad enough she's only 19? Or well that she claims she's 19? Yeah, better make her 23.
  • This is all swell set-up material but you're no Lebron James and you'll never slam-dunk this home in the end, you know, you know.
  • They've been going out for six months and they haven't had sex yet? What the hell? Is this guy, like, a eunuch or something?
  • When the hell did I start writing a love story? I thought this was about death and pain. Er, oh. Right.
  • You forgot the black lipstick again, you moron.
  • Ohhhhh yeah, this is just workin' like gangbusters, now. Dolt.
  • Dammit, this isn't a love story, this is one of those "he's here and she's strange and mysterious" stories, you dolt. Make her less interesting! Yeah! That's it! LESS interesting!
  • So wait, if the washing machine is over there, and the fridge is over there, this basement twice the size of the house above it. Dammit.
  • Ok...take away the piercings...put a tattoo on her back...and...yes...Yes! Yes. Just goth enough.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Excerpt, nowcerpt, formercerpt, cerptading

Still reading Frog...
"You know, after all I've gone into about myself and my relationship with him--what the hell he continues to mean to me, for christsakes--you're taking an offensively insensitive approach to me and him and his work." "Did he just whisper that to you to say, to sort of start the great nudge away from me?" "I think that remark's uncalled-for also." "Oh, you don't say? You do tell? Well, pip pip, have a hot toddy and tip-tip-erary and all that, old chap, and here's his herd of doorstoppers for the next unfortunate who comes to you wish fresh earsto be chewed off. Mine, let me apprise you--" "Fuck you too, dildo, and that comes straight from my mouth only." "So you say. So you say."

- Frog, Stephen Dixon, p237
...and that's one of the many reasons Stephen Dixon rules, IMHO.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Revision? Fine! But: is it Art?

An interview with the self, Part Two of ?. Read the (mostly unrelated) Part One here.


Q: But his aren't the types of books you really want to write, are they?

A: Uhm. Beg your pardon?

Q: Stephen Dixon's books. You wouldn't honestly want to reproduce them, now, would you?

A: Come again?

Q: Ahem! Your last few posts have referred to Stephen Dixon, and how you're currently reading his novel Frog--or, at least, how you're supposed to be reading the book, when you're not getting yourself distracted with the frivolous act of tinkering with style sheets and blog layouts--

A: Er, oh, oh. Wait. You can't do that.

Q: Do what?

A: Refer to posts from the blog outside of the interview series. I walked in here thinking you were going to pick up where we last left off--working our way through the definition of revision I offered near the end of the previous interview segment. Allow me to quote the segment in question:
Q: Okay, on to the topic at hand. Revision. To give us a base to work off of--could you maybe loosely define revision?

A: You weren't much paying attention to my answer to the first question, were you. [grin] Reivision, right now, to me, is the act of taking a draft of a story, or a novel, or something, and making it better.
And then you asked me to break that up into pieces and I went on to talk about the act or actions-ness-based nature of revision. Revision as an act that is.

Q: Oh, right.

A: But lucky for you I don't want to pick up there right now. It was probably a silly idea anyways. What I really want to talk about is the story I'm working on right now. And how the revision of it is sucking my soul out through my eyeballs and bouncing it across the table like old silly putty.

Q: Bugger you. Who's conducting the interview?

A: Did we use that gag last time? I can't recall.

Q: Screw off. Talk about your story. It's you're bloody damned forum anyways. Don't know why you had to bring me into it just to cut me out of it.

A: Tension, my friend, tension! Readers dig tension and since I haven't got the urge to go out and disagree with lots of people out there--

Q: You've done that once, a few posts ago. Something about some other blog and slush piles.

A: --right and it made me feel very bad afterwards. So, tension. You. Me. Us. This "I" that is we.

Q: I find this all very depressing.

A: That's cool. So this story I'm working on now, it's in the heavy revision stage. Which is to say, it's changing a lot. It's kind of weird. Ask me about that.

Q: Insert insightful question here.

A: Don't pout. This story, it's been a weird one. As you might know I'm working on a loosely collected or connected chain of stories, one influencing the next and so forth, I could draw a really pretty Venn diagram of the ways they overlap, the three completed stories and the fourth current draft-form story. Actually today I realized there's a character who appeared as a random piece of fluff in the second story who has now appeared in some form in each of the two stories that's followed. Well, appeared, being a relative thing. She only gets a speaking part in story number three and she's dead before they all begin.

Q: That's kind of depressing.

A: I know, but she's got a lot of life in here, but I think after this story, if and or when I ever finish it, I'm really going to have to put her to rest for good. In peace, I hope. Though, not so much. She's really troubled a lot of people by living and dying, the way she did. But that's not the point: the point is, the previous two stories to the one I'm working on, they plotted out very nicely. They were an odd mix of character and plot based stories, which shouldn't be so odd a mix, but anyways that's something I've been thinking about lately since I was prompted by a friend towards the issue, and there's a whole post about that to come--

Q: You say that a lot.

A: This is true.

Q: You'll never do them.

A: Probably not.

Q: And if you do, leave me out of the plot versus character one, because it sounds dreadfully dull.

A: Well, no. It's not.

Q: Bugger.

A: Anyways. This story, it's not plotting out so easy. I think it tips towards the character-driven end of the spectrum, but there's a lot of things that still happen, still. It's not the type of story where someone sits in a coffee shop and lots of things happen inside their head. It--

Q: From what I've seen it seems like a story where a character sits in a bank and a lot of things happen inside his head.

A: Hush. He's thinking a lot about things that happen. Have happened.

Q: See also, that memory versus current events post you're meaning to write.

A: Right. Anyways point being. I wrote a lot of stuff for this story and it got rather long, it was maybe 6500 words or so, which is longer than the previous two stories combined, and I just hit this point yesterday, well, I fully realized a point that I've been hitting the last week or so--I just don't know how to end it. I don't know what happens in the right-now that brings all this stuff together. Like, it's some kind of revelation, or a direction the character's about to go in, but I haven't got it yet. And

Q: ...

A: ...

Q: Allo?

A: ...

Q: What the fuck.

A: ... Sorry. Pizza came. Can we continue this later? I'm dreadfully hungry and this has been long enough as is.

Q: Just wrap up your last point.

A: Okay point is I got this story full of stuff and now, just now, tonight, I gave it a major face-lift. I took everything and rearranged the order things happen in. I...sorry, dreadfully good pizza.

Q: Is that italian sausage? Girlfriend must be out of town tonight, huh.

A: Shut the hell...yes, you're right. Anyways I even took something from later in the story and made it the first paragraph because I think it might have the most damning final line of a paragraph in the entire story so far. And I think maybe it just opens things in a more creative or attention-grabbing way, more of an up-note before all the depressing downer-notes that follow. And what's funny is I usually resist this kind of thing. I mean, I do revise everything heavily, but I tend to get stuck on certain things. Like once I write an opening paragraph though it gets edited a lot in practice it's still the same thing, same idea underneath; the same plot element or idea or whatever is there just in different, better words.

Q: Right.

A: But this time I've been forced to see that the story's stuck somewhere and I think maybe the ending is actually in what's already there, buried up near the front where it might be losing out on the impact it could have, when it follows the rest of the story, and has all that other stuff leading up to it. Which required a new opening, based on something later in the story, and...see, I don't want to pat myself on the back yet, but it feels good, like this is what I'm supposed to do. And there's always that fear that what you had was actually right and what you're doing when you revise is wrong, and that's why we save different versions of the file before crucial changes like these, and--

Q: Hold up. Is that fucking Josie and the Pussycats in your playlist, playing right now?

A: No. It's Kay Hanley. Her solo album. It's good.

Q: And she--

A: Shut up. Shut up. Point being: maybe I had a breakthrough tonight or maybe I ruined everything I've done. But I'm challenging myself and I'm trying to make it better, and if that's not the heart of revision then what is?

Q: ...

A: ...

Q: Poser.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


You caught me.

Instead of reading Stephen Dixon for the last hour, like I'd intended on doing, I've Fiddling with layout stuff.

Eventually I'll destroy everything in sight and have to start all over. I just know it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

John Ashbery: Exposed!

Meghan O'Rourke at Slate offers up a reading of reading John Ashbery's poetry.
It is hard to talk concretely about Ashbery's poetry, because his subject is, so often, aesthetic consciousness—what he calls "the experience of experience." On the one hand, the poems have the dashed-off look and feel of pop culture-inflected postmodernism, inspired by the radical innovations of Dada and French Surrealism. On the other hand, at their heart is a kind of high Romantic yearning for wholeness: In a sense the poems are simply about being unable to give up that longing. At the center of an Ashbery poem isn't usually a subject (à la Philip Larkin) but a feeling (à la Jackson Pollock). That feeling is conjured up by the interplay between aesthetic conviction and amiably bland bewilderment; amid all the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life is the enduring hope that, as one speaker puts it, "at last I shall see my complete face." The best thing to do, then, is not to try to understand the poems but to try to take pleasure from their arrangement, the way you listen to music. It's only then, for most readers, that the meaning begins to leak through.
Once, I had it on pretty good authority, by the way, that John Ashbery was a huge fan of Dude, Where's My Car? Not that I'm saying anything, or anything. I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Booklist: Ernest Hemingway down, Stephen Dixon up

I finished A Farewell to Arms tonight, which means I can now direct all my reading-time energies to tackling Stephen Dixon's Frog.

I may have mentioned Interstate already but just in case I haven't: oh holy! It was probably unfair to decide that Stephen Dixon was one of my literary idols after reading one of his novels out of the, what, 20? 30? 40? novels and 400-odd short stories he's published, but there you have it. The book picked me up, turned me over, slapped me around, then dropped me on my head. And I think that was after the first chapter. I could probably discuss the book, and might actually do so if I could find my copy somewhere in my apartment, but let's leave at: somehow, by telling the same story eight different ways in eight consecutive chapters, Stephen Dixon redefined the very idea of "plot". And it does it without being pomo about it. It's all just: here's how it is, and here's how it is, and again, and still you need to know what happens next. That's such a broad notion and a broad way of looking at the book: you could dive into the sentences and paragraphs, the breathless dialogue and the rampant self-corrections and -revisions, and you could not come up for air for weeks. Months, maybe. It's not an easy read but it's a rewarding read. Sometimes you just want to drop the book because it's heavy--even at a mere 374 pages--and sometimes you do. Then you come back. And it just keeps going. And I could keep going because I just found my copy near the window, but I'm going to put it down now and push it away. Otherwise there will be no bed tonight...

So, of course, being quite taken with the book, I looked to the rest of his writings, and picked up a copy of Frog, his 769-page from-what-I-gathered magnum opus. And got about halfway through it before the fatigue set in and I dropped the much-heavier book for good. If Interstate is an eight-lap race that threatens to blow a cylinder at any moment, Frog starts with a walk through the foothills before slamming you in the face with mountains that are glued to comets that streak at you from out of the sky. In other words: heavy.

But now some time's passed and I'm ready to give it another go. It's just not fair to describe the guy as a personal savior without having read at least more than one of his books. I've bit off the first four (out of 21) chapters easy enough which has me to page 60 and each of those chapters is brilliant each in its own peculiar way. But there's a marathon of biblical proportions ahead and getting through even the first 17 chapters doesn't mean much because that gets you less than halfway through the book. Like I said, comet mountains. Did I mention that those 100-to-200 page chapters near the end might be comprised of 3 or 4 paragraphs apiece? I didn't? Comet mountains in funhouse mirrors, kids, and it's time to put the coffee on.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The links, oh god, they're everywhere

Just a note here about the new extended Advanced Link Technology sidebar to the right. I became a pretty big advocate of shortly after I started using it. I was never one for bookmarks before I started using it. Mostly I just knew the handful of websites I'd visit on a regular basis, and what with browser upgrades and things going wrong sometimes and having to import bookmarks and all that jazz, it never made sense to much use the bookmark function on my desktop browsers. But, now, as someone who occasionally uses different computers to check the web, as someone who might occasionally see a longer article which I don't have the time to read the moment I find it, and as someone who has come to want to get something out of the web other than amusing flash animations and links to so-called hilarious news stories about crap, was like a revolution of the mind in which nobody died and instead of weapons everyone used candy, oh sweet candy. (1), by allowing me to post links to my account on the fly which are then listed in browser toolbar bookmark folders wherever I put them, is one of two fundamental technologies that have changed the way I use the web for the better, the second being tabbed browsing, thanks to Firefox. This article/post/whatever does a much better job than I can or have of explaning how cool is, plus it goes into some of the step-by-steps of how to actually use it to get something out of it, so you should probably go there and read it and then come back and read the next paragraph of this post, much as if that entire page were just one big footnote to this post.

Thanks for coming back! So, then, somewhere in my travels, in my readings of other sites which make use of "blog rolls" and stuff like that, I found that I have a nice neat way of including such an active/live list of links in my sidebar, without having to sign up for another online linking service, thanks to Every page can be tapped via RSS feeds, which I don't really understand but since they've let me do cool things so far, I'm all for them. RSS Digest, though not designed specifically for but it works pretty damn well for it, allows you to use the RSS feeds that spits out so that you can put those links, you know, elsewhere. Hence why now if you scroll down a bit you can find a couple lists of links that are stripped out of my page. Right now I think I have blogs, litblogs, and articles there; for the first two I can have up to 100 links in either of those categories, so I ought to be good to go for a while, and the articles feed will always list the last 15 article links I've posted to And what's great is those will be updated by RSS Digest every couple hours or something like that, so I think if you just sit here and hit refresh on TDAOC for 24 straight hours, not only will you cause my web server to wonder what the hell you're doing, you also might get a fresh link or two to an article that I found interesting enough to save both for later and for you. How exciting! (2)

Friday, March 04, 2005

And if you thought my posts were epic-length

Let's start off with footnote zero, which is probably the longest paragraph of this post and also probably the most humorous, if, that is, we share a similar sense of humor. (0) And now that that's out of the way:

This Grumpy Old Bookman has written a 72-page long treatise on what's wrong with the publishing industry today. It's called "On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile". He's posting chunks of it to his blog or you can download the PDF of the entire thing.

From his introduction to the essay:
This essay has two principal aims: first, to help writers, literary agents, and publishers to understand the full scale of the difficulties that face them; and second, to suggest strategies which will enable such participants in the book trade to survive and perhaps even prosper.
Which is a nice set of aims. Admirable, even. Except, well...okay, I admit, I haven't read all of it, but it looks like you could pretty much summarize the argument of the essay and the contained advice to struggling young naive writers such as myself thusly:
Man, the slush pile sucks ass. It's all totally random and there's no way to guarantee that good stuff makes it through and that bad stuff doesn't. So you know what? Don't even bother, you fool, because you're not going to make it anyways. Instead, you should give up now, and try self-publishing your stuff. But only if you really absolutely must.
Maybe someone who's read the whole thing can correct me if I'm wrong there but I think that pretty tightly sums it up. Two big problems with this have come to mind immediately, based off what I've read.

One: there's a pretty big jump between the essay noting that much of what does make it into slush piles is all crap, and it going on to suggest that everyone should go on to act as professional amateurs, self-publishing at professional levels and picking up little devoted followings along the way. To which I guess I can only say, yeah, all the middle-class white people are already doing that anyways, and it's called "blogging" and who's wants to pay for that? (1) (2)

Two: even with self-publishing, the essay only begrudgingly admits it as an option. Like, you know, even if in the face of the fact that trying to write a book might give you an ucler and you might get sad when nobody reads it, you still decide to write a book? Then you best consider this other option. Am I alone in thinking that's pretty unhelpful? (3)

So, while there's plenty of helpful information that I've found in the essay so far--it's good to have it re-affirmed that yes it's a tough industry to crack, no there's no guarantee of huge (or small) financial (or personal) success, and that yes, it really really is a tough industry to crack--what's not so helpful is to be told that these are all reasons, you know, not to try. Bollocks. (4)

All that said: the self-publishing thing has been brought up to me both by this essay and by a friend recently, and I know I'm just not interested in it, right now. (Outside of this "web" stuff at least.) I mean, I figure there's a reason they call it the "vanity" press, but if anyone out there cares to remind me of the other reasons to raise an eyebrow towards it, I'm all hears. Or eyes. Or whatever.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Revisiting the classics; or, I never knew it wasn't a Tesla original until right now; or, what the hell, did I accidentally load up McSweeney's?

In which the word "sign" is replaced by the word "blog" in the song "Signs" which I always thought was by Tesla but was actually by some band called the Five Man Electrical Band; somewhat in the style of "Quotes From the Movie 'Jaws' in Which 'Shark' is Replaced by 'Jimmy Page'" but probably not nearly as funny

And the blog says "Long-haired freaky people need not apply"
So I put my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine outstanding young man, I think you'll do
So I took off my hat, I said "Imagine that, huh, me working for you"

Blogs, blogs, everywhere there's blogs
Fuckin' up the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the blog

And the blog says "Anybody caught trespassing will be shot on sight"
So I jumped the fence and I yelled at the house
Hey! What gives you the right!
To put up a fence and keep me out, or to keep Mother Nature in
If God was here, he'd tell it to your face, man, you're some kind of sinner


Oh, say now mister, can't you read
You got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat
You can't watch, no you can't eat, you ain't supposed to be here

And the blog says "You got to have a membership card to get inside" - uh!


And the blog says "Everybody welcome, come in, kneel down and pray"
But then they passed around a plate at the end of it all
And I didn't have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own fuckin' blog
I said, "Thank you Lord for thinking 'bout me, I'm alive and doing fine", oh

[Chorus 2x]

On first person story-telling and on retrospective story-telling: a very special Thumb Drives and Oven Clocks Twofer

So I'm writing this chain of stories and now I've got three of them complete and out the door and in the mail and off to literary publications where they will likely be rejected because that's the way this works. Not that I don't have hope for them--I think each of these three stories is pretty darn okay in my book, and if someone else wrote them, I'd probably happily read them, and enjoy them with one hand, even while cursing them for stealing stories out of my head with my other hand. Oh, in the event that other people write the stories and books that I wish I'd written, my hands are busy indeed, what with their forehead-slapping exclamations of joy and their fist-shaking furious table-pounding all going on at once. It's an awful lot like rubbing your stomach and feeding the baby at the same time, when you come to think about it: takes a certain amount of skill, no? I'll say this much, if I had a baby, I'd do some clinical research, just to find out how true the comparison is, because that's how much I care about you, my devoted reading audience. Yup, all two or three of you who haven't gone out the back door to catch the late showing of CSI because it's addicting like crack with half the negative health and social benefits. Not that I blame those who did leave already, mind you, because, hey: crack.

Ah, so I'm writing this chain of stories--and, well, this chain really needs some kind of official title, so I can refer to it idly by a proper name when I'm discussing my projects and the current weather with idle passers-by who are more interested in the latest exploits of Law and Order: SVU's Eliot and Olivia than the are about the inner-workings of the mind of some jackass writer-wannabe from Cleveland. I was for a while calling it The Dildo Cycle because that was very appropriate when there was only one story and not much of a cycle to speak of (in that that one story deals with a pet rock named Dildo, and no, I'm giving nothing away there, because I mention the oddly-named odd pet in the first sentence of the story, which pretty much removes this factoid from the Shyamalanesque realm of "not another blasted twist ending") and mere dreams about the rest of the stories that would make up said at-the-time nonexistent cycle. Now, though, with three actual stories in this cycle--I'm not even calling it a cycle anymore but a chain--I see that to label the entire thing as "The Dildo Cycle" is quite inappropriate, and might cause people to read more into the stories than I ever intended. But I'm at a loss for an official title just yet because I'm not ready to make a premature choice and besides the cycle or chain or knotted-rope ladder might end at any moment and then how much of a joker would I look like? So I guess you've got no choice but to bear with me as I refer to it, the braided watchband of stories, as "that bunch of stuff I'm doing to give myself something better to do at night than order cable and watch Trading Spaces all the time". Or, I guess, you do have a choice--you could order cable and go watch Trading Spaces instead of listen to me refer to anything at all. You know. Your call.

So I'm working on these stories, which I someday envision becoming a sort of collection, were I to survive long enough to write the standard minimum number of stories that can be lumped together to be considered a collection, which I haven't done the current conversion rates on so I've no idea what that number is, and I've got enough written now that, though I shouldn't because the soon to be mentioned activity could potentially be as distracting and as momentum-crushing as a series of false-start realistically parenthetical paragraphs at the beginning of an already too-long blog post which has yet to reach the points promised by the none-too-alluring title, I do look back at them now to see what I'm doing, what I've done, and where I might go from here. I ask myself a lot of questions about these topics, most of which I answer with shoulder-shrugging and a vague desire to go out and buy some ice cream--chocolate, with candy in it--to distract myself from further consideration of the big issues I've landed myself in the midst of as skillfully as a parachutist dropping into the middle of a bullfight. I promise like hell my fiction is more carefully written and considered than that last simile, which is about to be unfortunately and probably inaccurately extended into the following paragraph.

Watching the bullfight of issues and thoughts take place around me, I have noticed two of said issues that stand out clear amongst the fray of bull sweat and clown pants, which I would like to address here. These two issues are, first, the fact that, in my fiction, I default to telling stories in the first person, and second, that most of the characters I've written in this series so far, including to some degree the narrator of the fourth story in the series that I'm currently working on, aren't so much going through things right now, but are thinking a lot about stuff that happened to them some time ago, sometimes on a meta-level of thought about thinking about the past. These topics and/or issues will probably not be covered in full in the following portion of this post, because it is late and I am tired, but I will come back to them again to further pluck out the hearts of their depths and expose them for the world to see, but hopefully without any gross stuff like you might see on E.R., because man, I've got a queasy stomach when it comes to medical drama, or just medical things in general. So I guess you can toss this onto the heap of posts that start series of posts on issues and topics I'm concerned with that you might also be concerned with which will hopefully spark fascinating discussions over coffee with attractive girls who wear glasses and/or nice boys who don't seem like total dickheads. Take your pick, and be honest, because nobody's keeping score around here.

The First Person

So I tend to write my stories in the first person. But it's not so much that I'm trying to be those characters--I'm not writing them as if they were me or I were them. Rather, it's like, they're them, and I'm me, and they're trying to tell stories, and I'm the one in charge of making them do that. I write for them, but I am not them; I feed them lines of my own hopes and fears, but then they take them and go with them to their own places; they are the ones who tell the stories, and I am merely trying to make the stories they tell as compelling and as fascinating as possible. Sometimes I think about trying to switch out of this gear and write stories in the third person, especially now at this point in this chain, when I've written three first-person stories, hopefully through narrators who are all distinct, recognizable characters that yet maintain a certain non-obvious consistency of voice--my voice. It's a little weird, but I want them all to sound like themselves, yet I want the writing to all be of me.

What's interesting though is that I once read through a series of comments on Slashdot--I was bored--that dealt with the topic of first-person perspectives in video games. Somewhere buried within the thread I read a comment by someone who said that nobody writes in the first person anymore because it's too hard, because it limits the amount of material and perspective one can bring into the story, novel, whatever. You can go ahead now and make that horrified face again--I know I did.

The Retrospective View of Events

This one, I'm more concerned with. Not so much that telling stories about things that happened before now is at all bad--in any given day, we spend approximately seventy-seven percent of our time thinking about things that happened to us before right now, and yes, I did just make that number up, but if I hadn't admitted to this little bit of deceit, you probably would have nodded and agreed with me, because, hey, it sure does seem right, doesn't it? We live lives and part of those lives is to look back at where we've come from and compare it to where we are now and thank whatever deity in whatever remote or nearby plane we worship or don't worship that we're not back in high school anymore, what with the whole being awkward and not having any friends thing going on; really, seriously, I think that's what memory gives us first and foremost: the right to feel better about ourselves because at least we're not going through puberty anymore. Yech. Bleah.

But I come to fiction with the perception that it's all made-up and when you make stuff up you can do pretty much anything you want, however you want, whenever you want, except not when you're driving on the highway, because if you thought cell phones were bad, wait until you see people writing novels when they're driving 65. This doesn't mean all fiction should be experimental and it doesn't mean that straight-forward fiction can't be risk-taking; one of my favorite novels ever is Interstate by Stephen Dixon, which, if you haven't read it, you should, because it's beautiful and heartbreaking, and it's a formal experiment wrapped around some of the most lovely straight-forward story-telling I've ever read, and the ending of the book made me want to lie down on a mattress and stare at the ceiling and stop writing forever because I'll never be that perfect.

What this means is that, when you write one story one way, there's nothing stopping you from writing another story another way, just because you can. So while I'm pretty comfortable with first person for right now and feel no need to roll the dice there just yet, what I do want to do is try to pull characters out of the retrospective mode and start shifting them into current events mode. I think there's been a sort of motion towards that through these stories, and it's a motion I'd like to continue. The first story--it was all about the back then. The third story? Mostly back then, but then all the meta-retrospective stuff got pulled it, and things got a bit weird, yet deliciously fun to write. This fourth story: I think things are going to be evenly balanced. The now sparks memories of the then, and the then has a direct influence on the right now, and somehow, this is going to work. But we'll see.

And In Conclusion

A friend of mine, who shall be forced here to go by the pseudonym "Chris C." so that women don't walk up to him on the street asking him to give me their underthings because they're just so in love with me and they would just die to be my friend too, told me tonight that he's quite excited at the prospect of someday getting rejection letters for his stories, too, so that he too can refer to it as being "Mr. Dixoned". (The root of that joke can be found at which is where I keep loving and excited track of how often I get rejected by people with better taste in slush than I do.)

And In Conclusion, Too

I really have no graceful way to end this post and I was hoping I could distract you from that fact with the previous conclusion. Consider this my apology for such a dirty trick. I hope you won't hold it against a court of law. DTHUNG-DTHUNG!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Some preliminary thoughts on genre

So I wrote this book. This entire book. It's made-up so it's a novel. I spent two years writing it. I finished writing it one year and four months ago. I've sent out five query letters to agents (1), asking them if they'd like to read some of it and maybe represent me in my quest to sell it, and they've all declined to ask for sample chapters. (2) And while I'm not giving up on trying to sell the book, because I think it's a good book and I think people might enjoy reading it, enough time has passed that I can say with some honesty that, though I figured when I wrote it and I figured when I was sending out my query letters that it was going to be tough to get this book published, now I know it's going to be tough to sell it. (3)

It's a matter, in some part, of genre. I'm not saying I've invented a genre with this book. I'm not even saying I'm blurring the lines between genres. I'm just saying that it's not a book I feel comfortable labling with a genre tag. (4) In my query letter I pitch it as a "literary" novel, but it's not literary the way Hemingway or Byatt or Eco or Franzen are literary. It's mainly that I'd rather think of this as a literary novel and pick up whatever novel-baggage that entails than think of this as a science fiction novel--which it could be classified as--and wind up picking up that set of associated baggage. (5)

There's a lot of things happening inside my novel, each of which might lend itself to certain genre or cultural classifications. Like, for instance, my novel deals with twenty-somethings who have problems, mostly related to sex, alcoholism, and friendship. There's a certain market out there that that portion of the book could probably handily be marketed towards. But then, my novel also deals with the mother of the narrator (6), who thinks she is a psychic, but the novel strains to make her not seem silly, but to seem quite likeable. I'm not so sure that fits into the twenty-something novel genre--is there a market classification for psychic mother novels? Then there's the narrator's father, who is a brilliant scientist (7) who is obsessed with the Cold War (8) and is who is hip to pop culture and who likes to make references to movies like Heat or Ghostbusters while discussing Game Theory. If there's a pop-culture loving scientist novel market, baby, I've got it cornered. Then there's the fact that the novel deals with a six-mile-wide perfectly cylidrically shaped cloud of smoke whose properties seem to change and which might be the key to ending war forever by replacing the nuclear bomb as the newest, hottest weapon on the block, the one that all the nation states are going to be standing in line for, with their pre-paid pre-order ticket stubs eagerly clenched in their tight fists. I can't even guess what the hell market this shifts the book into, and, certainly, it's times like these, when I think about what I threw into the book, that I remember why writing up my query letter was such a pain in the butt, not to mention why I always had such a hard time answering the question that everyone asked back when I was telling everyone in earshot that I was writing a novel: "So, what's it about?"

Well, see, it's about...