Thursday, April 28, 2005

That's a heck of a one-two punch

I just finished reading Paradise by A. L. Kennedy. This books kicks off my series of "Oh holy crap, now that I'm reading all these lit-blogs, I'm being inundated with book recommendations, except these books are all brand new and still out in hard-cover so there's no way I can possibly buy them all, how am I to choose, oh wait I know, how about I take advantage of the wonderful resource that is the Cleveland Public Library, because after I settle my slightly high amount of fines I'll be able to borrow all these books for free and read them all for free and while I feel bad about not being able to buy all these books right now, right now I'm poor and I really want to actually be able to take part in or at least be able to read the discussion of these books that is going on all over the internet right now" books.

This one was a recommendation I stole from Maud Newton's blog some time ago and probably some other places too though damned if I can remember where. I slap these books on my Amazon wish list to keep track of what someone somewhere said I (you) should read and lose track of where they came from and who I should thank. So, I thank Maud Newton for this recommendation, and anybody else anywhere who's had a kind word to say about it.

Again, noting I suck on the whole book-reviewing thing: it's a book about a woman who is an alcoholic; it's wickedly funny at points, though in a sort of sad way throughout the story; it's really really good right up until the last 20 or 30 pages or so, and then...then, just, damn. Damn. I was kind of tired when I was in the home-stretch but the book woke me up and had me reading slower and faster and. It's just. I. After. After I finished, after I finished reading, and flipping back through the last 20-30 pages and re-reading large chunks, I got up and I was doing the business of being a 20-something guy in his apartment, boiling water for rice, grabbing something to drink out of the fridge, looking at the random piles of mail that have built up on the counter and...I wasn't quite there. These banal things of life, for a while, after a book like Paradise, they don't quite seem right. Or maybe they do seem right, but they're just seen in a different light, like maybe there's sunglasses around your brain, sunglasses made out of an ever-so-slightly skewed world-view, and the boiling water and the rice, they're still out there, just, filtered. The transmission's changed on its way up to the brain. Like looking at straws bent in a glass of water. Something. I don't know.

Point being I wasn't prepared for the one-two punch of Cloud Atlas then this, and here I am, finally actually taking advantage of the wireless access in my apartment, having moved the laptop from the kitchen table to the couch, because this feels right, somehow: it feels right to be slumped back, offering up ill-conceived reactions that don't do the feeling of finishing this book true justice. I guess all I can say is all I can say about any book I like: if you're the kind of person who likes books that I do, then, maybe, you might really like this book, too. I did.

If you check the sidebar or this first link or this second link you'll find some more information, probably more lucid than my own bumbling attempts at clarity. That first link goes to A. L. Kennedy's web site. The FAQs are good. Also on her site, she keeps track of reviews: the good, the bad, the odd. She has an excellent sense of humor, it seems. The other link is an interview conducted by Maud Newton. I'm sure there's more, and better, praise for Paradise on Maud Newton's site, but, my search-fu is weak, and the slumping feeling of being sucked deeper into my couch is strong.

Next up: Darby ditches the whole "reading good books" idea because it's emotionally taxing, and begins forming his own personal empire of smut. Or maybe he forges on ahead to A Changed Man by Francine Prose (the recommendation for which he has long since forgetting the location and identity of). Who's to say.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Addendum to previ...awww, shit

I just had to press my luck, didn't I? I just had to keep piddlin' around on the internet after writing a perfectly nice blog post about how emo-tastic I am. I just had to load up Booksquare and then I just had to go read this post on Booksquare and then I just had to go on from there and read the article that was linked to from Booksquare and you know what? You know what?

Hell. Beats me. Here's a quote from the article.
Kaavya Viswanathan is set on becoming an investment banker when she graduates from Harvard University in 2008, but a phone call that the 17-year-old freshman received from a literary agent might just cause a change in her plans.

The agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh of the William Morris Agency, told the Franklin Hills, N.J.-born Ms. Viswanathan that Little Brown & Company, one of the oldest and most prestigious American publishers - now part of the Time Warner Group - agreed to a two-book deal with the teenager. The sum approached $500,000, a staggering amount for an unpublished writer, let alone someone who'd barely left home for college.
You see what's so...oh, so grr-ighteous about this, is, whenever I get a rejection letter in the mail--which I did, yesterday, though it wasn't my fault: the lit mag in question was going out of business, so, you really can't take that personally--I chalk it up, no, not to the fact that I'm a crap-tastic writer, no. I chalk it up to the fact that I'm young. I'm young and that means I don't know anything and therefore I shouldn't get published. I'm not worthy of publication yet. So I don't see it as a big deal or anything, because, you know, I'm young.

Which of course begs the question of, how will I feel when, seven, ten years from now, wife and mortgage and 2.3 kids in tow, how will I feel when I'm no longer young and publications are still beating me off with sticks. It's a question I care not to consider.


But, oh, now. Now! Now that I've read this article! On the Internet! Now! Oh, piddle, me. I'm young and I'm old and. Oh, oh...

I desperately need to go play the saddest round of hop-scotch.

(We'll just go ahead and neatly purge all memories from our mind of the fact that our first rejection letter for our first novel's query letter came from the William Morris Agency. Really, no good can come of such memories in dark days like these.)

The great thing about blogging is that when you're not getting your real writing done you can at least pretend you're still really writing

Having started reading Paradise by A. L. Kennedy last night and having seen my April short story turn quickly into a huge pile of sopping wet crap in the last 24 hours, I've realized in that time that I really miss working on a novel.

Now, it's not that I'm about to drop this year's worth of short stories project and start working on a novel. Far from it. I'm probably more committed to this short story project than I was when I started it. That's part of the problem. Now that I'm working on a story that pretty significantly seems like it desires to suck, really bad, I'm feeling this thing called the pressure of responsibility, even as I take any opportunity I can to dodge it. I've got the rest of this week to take this story and turn it into something I won't feel bad about sending out, and I've got the pressure of knowing I've managed to get three stories out in three straight months, and those were wintry months when the desire to exist let alone produce is at its lowest--surely, April, the month that single-handedly brings us May flowers, a month of fertility and warm spring rains, a month that has the first two letters of the word "production" right there inside it--surely, April isn't going to be the month I choke, is it? No. Won't be. Won't let it be. I'll be at least tentatively happy with this story by the time the clock strikes done Saturday night, even if I have to spend every moment between now and then being unproductive and angry at life to do it.

It's not just that pressure that's keeping me in this. I mean in the long run I'm the only one who will notice if the string of months gets snapped into pieces at some point. I'll be the only one who will realize it when every single other story I write this year gets published on the backs of birth certificates. Everything truly wrong that might happen here and now will be only and most felt by me, and I've already got enough reasons to take umbrage with myself, which I freely capitalize on at just about any given moment of the day, occasionally for the humor and delight of those closest to me, so really, having one more reason to distrust myself isn't going to hurt anything.

No, what else that's keeping me going on this story--or, talking about how I'm going to keep going on this story--is the knowledge that, this being the story I feel the least connection to--the story that I feel is the least story-ish of the stories I've written so far this year--means--the way "one" means "uno" and the way "Sleater-Kinney is playing live in Cleveland in June" means "Darby's mind will be filled with happy thoughts for the next four months straight"--is, is that this story, above all the others, the stories I felt pouring out of me like pieces of my soul, will be the one that gets published first. The logic of this is inescapable and beyond the attacks of logic and luckily for all of us, the complete proof goes well beyond my abilities to cram HTML tags into the mark-up of Advanced Footnote Technology, so you're mostly going to have to take my word for it on this one. But just let me say: superscripts that shine like stars and derivatives first served at the Last frickin' Supper, man.

Of course for it to get published I'll have to leap the hump of this week and, like, finish it. What can I say. Even Jesus had to wave his hands at the water when he wanted to turn it to wine.

Well, not that he had to. But he did, anyway, I bet you.

I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned there.

It might not be so much that I miss working on a novel as that I miss working on something that I'm so completely sucked into that two years can pass without much fuss to it. I guess that might mean it's more of a psychological game than a matter of what I'm writing or how I'm writing it. The last two short stories--the current one and the one before--I've hit points where it's like, "Yeah, okay, that's nice. Hey, I thought you were going to finish yourself for me while I nipped outside for a spell of fresh air and a couple bottles of joy at the local bar? You little bastard."

At heart, I know what it means, when the accusation or claim is thrown, that some people enjoy having written more than actually writing. That some people want to be a writer without doing the writing. Or so forth. There's all sorts of levels to that. You can make it as sardonic or as innocuous as you wish. But the truth is though is I actually enjoy the writing itself very much. I mean, there's lots of other ways I could be spending my time. I go through my video game phases. I admit. I enjoy beating up hookers and casting magic missile and stomping out evil mushroom people as much as the next guy who's named Darby. But that's a different sort of enjoyment than I get from writing. I really do like sitting down at the laptop and making something appear on the screen. I enjoy taking that something and turning it into something else, making it into something better than it was when it started. I like the process, I like the time I spend on it. It's a good thing to be doing. I'm cool with it. I don't feel the need to skip steps.

Of course I'm speaking in terms of the "usually". Sometimes it really would be nice to just, you know, be famous already so I can hire ghostwriters while I have deep intellectual conversations with my groupies while playing Tetris on my extremely loud and incredibly close wide-screen high-def television set. And sometimes, after as much as I've done, which I know on the grand scale of things isn't really all that much, and by isn't all that much I mean is like absolutely nothing, I think this would be so much easier to keep doing if I could just have some kind of tangible proof in my hand, like, say, a nice acceptance letter that happens to be wrapped around a huge fucking stack of hundred dollar bills. I'm no sell-out or anything but I think that would spark the whole believing-in-myself fire that sometimes seems to want to sputter out. But, usually, though, everything's cool, and I'm content to haggle over commas with myself, to debate the value of introducing religion into a story, to wonder if my female narrators sound at all like women or if they sound more like People magazine photographs, to wonder at the value of a well-placed single-sentence paragraph, to stretch that climactic scene to the breaking point, to make like Jerry McGuire and snap the straps on that story's black dress and know with sudden Bruce Springsteen-soundtracked clarity that this is true love, baby.


Mostly, right now--er, hang on, telephone.

Sorry. The Gilmore Girls just called. Wanted their witty-snap dialoguish pop-culture referencing routine back. I said a vaguely po-mo bloggerus interruptus probably wasn't the way to prove the point, and they were all like, nu-uh, and I was all like, but, hey, really, rock on, Lauralai & Rory, I'll catch you next time I'm visiting my girlfriend. Really. Rock on.

Anyways, where was I.

Mostly right now--today, here, now, this instant--I feel like I'm falling into the trap of looking ahead while the ground beneath my feet turns to broken glass and flowers. Give me an ounce of knowledge of the publishing business and suddenly I'm all oh-crap and uh-oh out the ears. But I figure it's tough to regain the naivete one once had. Not that that's a bad thing. I got enough naivete to go around. Seriously. Drop me a line. I'll give you a great deal.

But yeah. Looking ahead. Wondering when this story will end so I can move on to the next one. Wondering what all the stories from this year will look like when I'm done with them and I've got them all printed and waiting in envelopes, ready to go out the door and into the mailbox the moment an older copy of themselves gets dismissed, returned. Wondering, if when this year's done, published or not, I'll start working on a new book, which the tentative plan seems to be. Wondering how it'll feel to finally get something accepted, to have that chance to feel like this isn't all a joke I'm playing on myself. Not, mind you, that a punch-line would cause me to stop. I've never been one for stopping bad behavior.

Looking ahead, when there's a clinically depressed woman in my care; her husband just took her off the meds, rather suddenly. But I guess there isn't so much wrong with that. I mean, it's all about the dreaming, really, right?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

76 brief views of Cleveland: #6


He moved here from Oregon last year. "Lovely spring day, huh?" he says.

"Yeah," I say. "Last weekend of April."

He laughs. "I was talking to some friends of mine out in Oregon and California. I asked them how it was where they are. Guy from Oregon says, 'It's raining.' Of course. It's Oregon." I nod. He goes on, "Guy from California says, 'Oh, it's 85 and sunny! What's it like out there?' I said, 'Oh, it's snowing.'"

I laugh. "Obviously." Then I offer what consolation I can: "Really, this usually doesn't happen."

"This is messed up," he says. "I just hope it stops by July."

"I'm pretty sure it will," I say.

But, really, I'm not.

Hell, I can't even juggle one ball properly

Finally, just now, finished Cloud Atlas.

I know some of you well and others of you less, but for all of you this much I believe: you could find a worse way to spend some of your time than wrapped up in the sentences and pages that comprise this book. It will surprise you often and it will keep you up past your bed-time; you'll wonder where it's going and when you've got there you'll wonder how it got there and when you're past that you'll wonder where it's going from there and how it'll happen. It's a damned amazing piece of work. For every sentence I read that activated sparks in my brain there were sentences to either end of it I'm sure will have that same effect next time--because, already, I can see this being a book I'll come back to, again, someday. There aren't many...well, all that many books that have had that effect on me.

I've offered up a loose comparison to Infinite Jest and to clarify it goes something like this: David Foster Wallace and David Mitchell are both jugglers of prose and story. But, where David Foster Wallace throws a multitude of balls into the air--balls which fly in every which way all at once sometimes falling into his hands to be tossed back up again, sometimes disappearing completely, sometimes appearing about thirty inches behind him, sometimes crashing into each other somewhere a billion miles above your head, the punkish bravado of his routine almost fatiguing merely to watch--David Mitchell juggles with a mere six balls, each describing finely-calibrated arcs through the air, between himself and yourself. But watching each ball slip from his fingers and up through the air, one after the other following each other until they reach their apex where, one after the other they slip back down through the air and back into his hands--watching it happen is a thrilling experience in itself. Except when you look close, you realize they're not balls he's juggling. They're entire worlds, each as finely crafted, as intricate as the next. It's when you realize that--and not realize it in the way that I just told you that, but realize it in the way that you're feeling it, deep inside your brain when the ideas happen and down in your gut where the emotional resonances and what-have-yous happen--that whole new avenues of significance begin to open up before you with each passing page. At the risk of rambling too long--I'd suggest this isn't merely an exciting book, but an important book; yet it remains on this side of the "literature for people" line, rather than the "literature for snobs and classrooms" line. Which is pretty much totally sweet, as far as I'm concerned.

Or, in short, what are you waiting for?

Friday, April 22, 2005

76 brief views of Cleveland: #5


Near the airport, there's fairly clear lines-of-sight in all directions. Maybe it's just a trick my mind plays on me each day--getting out of the office and into my car the skies feel relatively open compared to how they'll seem when I get back out of my car near the apartments along the lake shore. Maybe it's something more than an optical illusion, though. Or maybe I'm just tired.

What I know it means is that it's not that I can see a storm cloud brewing to the east early Thursday evening that surprises me--it's something about how the cloud looks awfully dark, the fact that it's almost tangible, as touchable as smoke off a bonfire. Maybe I'm just tired; maybe it's been raining all day. Clouds, in Cleveland, generally fail to surprise. I drive and forget.

Later I learn about the building that was being renovated that burned to the ground. Someone inside made a mistake, and miles away, someone else mistook the results for something else entirely. Something closer to flowers than fire.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Cloud Atlas malarky and a link for Clevelanders interested in...well, anything, I suspect

I haven't finished Cloud Atlas yet and yet I've managed, by sheer force of will and enthusiasm, to force one friend into buying it, which excites me to no end. I like being a pusher: I find music and I push it on anyone with ears, I read a book I love and I need my friends to read it. You know, generating the good karma ahead of time and all. I've already told several people they have to read the book, one of them being my girlfriend, who I know will love it, but who, over a late weekend diner breakfast, just had to ask me super-difficult questions about the book, like, "What's it about?" and "Where's it set?" and "What genre is it?" I'm not sure my answers, which ranged from "Uhhhhh" to "Errrrr" were really all that satisfying or inspiring, nor was my loose comparison to Infinite Jest all that factually correct, per se, but none of that matters since once she's got the time to spend reading books I beg her to read, I'll force it into her hands, having coated the cover in quick-drying superglue, which I'll refuse to provide the anti-glue for until she's read enough of the book to admit that, yes, it's a really exciting book. My guess: it'll take her about 60 pages to say so.

It's just one of those books that the less you know going into it, I suspect, the more colorful its wealth of mental fireworks will be.

Like I said, the Infinite Jest comparison is way off base, but I don't know what else to compare it to. I'm woefully under-read so there's probably lots of great comparison points out there, I just suck and don't know what they are. There are a few points of similarity between the two books though, one of which involves a super-clever descriptive metaphor or simile I've been cooking up which I'm saving for once I've finished the book, just to make sure that the whole thing doesn't fall apart by the end. I mean, I don't know, maybe the last hundred pages are photocopies of David Mitchell pointing and laughing at a horribly awkward photograph of me. It could happen. The one thing I will say, though, is that Cloud Atlas and Infinite Jest are similar in that they take a certain number of pages for the book to lock into place in your brain and not let go. When Maureen told me to read Wallace's book oh so long ago, she said what someone had once told her: you have to give it 200 pages. Which, you know, when someone gives audacious advice like "Give this book an entire book's length of pages and then you'll start to adore it" you kind of raise your eyebrow even as you pull out your credit card and head to Amazon. Mitchell's book, as hinted previously, I suspect, requires about 60 pages of reader's patience. 40 pages for the confusion to set in and 60 for your mind to melt into the words and the words to coagulate in your arteries. But oh man, when that happens. Look the hell out.

In other news, I offer up the following link, which hit me through my RSS feed on the site-wide "Cleveland" tag. Looks interesting and highly promising. The site seems a little incomplete right now but I chucked my e-mail into their mailing-list form and am curious to see what comes of it. I don't know much about it, though it looks like they're looking for artsy-type people, and I've half a mind to see if they'd be interested in writerly-readings, but I'm not sure what interest they'd have, what with big names like NASA and everybody else in the city in there, in a no-name writer like me reading stories about whatever I write about, which, lately, I don't even know what that is, from month to month. Anyways, check it out. The Flash (if that's what that is) is actually pretty cool, which Flash, usually, is not. I mean, it got me to stay on their page for longer than two seconds.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The entry that was never meant to be

I had an entry nearly completed earlier but Blogger ate it. The entry included references to rejection, humor, neurochemical imbalances, Jonathan Safron Foer, my girlfriend, nuclear reactors, the postal service, John Fogerty, baseball, the tendency for rejection letters to appear on Mondays, hideously deformed monsters, a rejection letter named Clyde, inconsistent capitalization, Saturday night, the death of post-modernism, and a piano-playing walrus. And that all only involved three footnotes, none of which could be considered the longest paragraphs of the entry.

Okay, so I lied. There were no piano-playing walrus references.

Suffice it to say I got a rejection for a story last week, on Monday, and today, Monday, I prepped the story for submission elsewhere. I know why I only send out stories on Mondays--once upon a time I never sent anything out until I dubbed Monday night, which is, like, one of the more worthless nights of the week, to be my own personal Paper Chase Night, wherein I sit down, address envelopes, prep and print stories and cover letters, and eat food I'd normally eat anyways but without feeling guilty about it, and thus I became a Submitting Machine--but I'm baffled as to why the rejection letters have been landing in my mailbox on Mondays and only Mondays, for at least the last four rejection letters. I wonder if it's sort of a corollary of the whole "offices only fire people on Fridays" but I mean, I dunno. It's probably just mass coincidence.

Also I've been slacking off a bit too much on the April story so I've got to get down and dirty with it this week and turn that little bastard out. If I'm going to maintain my schedule I guess I've got this week and next week to finish it so I can send it out the first Monday of May. I think, I don't know, I feel weird about the story. It's not a particular easy story but writing it has been easy, at least compared to the March story, but. There's this sparseness thing it's got going on that I guess I'm finding mentally daunting. I hesitate to say the story's a "mis-step" just yet, but I'll insinuate such an accusation, in order to motivate myself to take the next two weeks to make this story not be the year's mis-step. Nevermind the fact that in 20 years I'll look back and look at this whole year's out-put as one twelve-month streak of mis-steps but nobody's listening to future-me anyways right now so future-I can just go suck it.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

It's not that I've got nothing to say, which I don't, it's just that I've got no way to say it

Okay. I think I'm done dicking around with layout stuff. Or at least I'm going to stop for a week before I find out some other neat trick that I just have to try out. Damn you, Mandarin Design, for showing me the beauty of CSS fun. Also worth a plug is stock.xchng which is where I've been finding some of the background images I've been playing around with. Lots of more-or-less free goodies. (The current image to the side, if you go there and do a search for "abstract" and go a few pages in, you'll find the smoke images someone does, and they're all really neat.)

Okay truth is this "layout and sundry meta post" was just a cheap excuse to post the one good thought I did (and still do) have about The Age of Wire and String which is that I suspect that were one to make a film version of that book--and believe me this is strictly a hypothetical--the only possible soundtrack one could use would be the album F#A#oo by Godspeed You Black Emperor. Just a hunch.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Addendum to previous post

Yeah, I know, I probably typoed, or left words out of that last post, much like I'll probably do in this one. Don't tell me. The irony, you can imagine, would not be lost on me. But I've got to got to got to get back to Cloud Atlas pronto. I'ven't got time for silly things like "proofreading my web site missives that nobody reads anyways because they're dull and god damned pretentious anyways with the footnoting and the froofy froo froo transparent sidebar and I totally need a stiff drink". Froofy froo froo. Foo.

See I've already called it elsewhere that The Dresden Dolls show over the weekend was the best concert of the year (though a friend of mine did beat me by calling it the best show of the year before we even got to the show which just makes me feel like a loser for not having the fore-sight to call it the best show of the year before we even knew who The Dresden Dolls were) and now I'm going to call something, here: much like The Dresden Dolls disc was the CD I made every man, woman, and child within a 400 square mile radius listen to and love the way I did, I'm probably going to be making every friend I have who knows how to read, read Cloud Atlas. And I'm not even half-way through it. Lit-bloggers who don't suck and who don't need to encourage themselves to read books for fun are probably all like "Yawn, Thumb Drives and Oven Clocks is so yesterday" as they pick up packages from the mail that contain advanced copies of novels written by authors who haven't even been born yet but I don't care. I'm a yesterday kind of guy. And I like it. Froofity froof kafroof!

Editor's note: no lit-bloggers who don't suck were harmed in the composition of this post.

I thought about moving every comma from the body of this post into the footnote but figured that would stretch the bounds of good taste

Part of the reasoning behind my decision to attempt a story a month for the duration of this year is that it should, in theory, force me to try to differ the style of the text in drastic ways, when possible, within certain limits. One limit being, for example, that these stories have all, so far, been first-person narratives. That might not be so much a limit as an impetus to shift styles from story to story. If these are all, indeed, supposed to be different narrators, they should all have unique, differentiable voices, voices that do not sound quite like my own. I'm not sure how successful this has been or will be as the year progresses, or how enjoyable it would be to read were these stories to be grouped into the strictly-hypothetical collection I envision them being shuffled into at the end, after the New Yorker kindly tells all other authors to go to hell for a while and publishes each of my stories one by one by one.

I suppose to some degree the stylistic shifts have been quietly straight-forward. I tried to give each narrator a few odd words they'd sprinkle throughout their stories that none of the other narrators would use. The one word that comes to mind right now is "upchuck," which I suspect was so blatantly inappropriate for the narrator who used it, that I was forced to make him use it, and I still find myself perversely and self-satisfyingly thrilled with having done so. As I've falteringly progressed through this project I've realized that's kind of what I'm trying to force myself to reach for: the things that I wouldn't normally do, that normally wouldn't sound quite right, the odd off-beats in the dance-punk disco tracks. It probably borders on gimmickry, and I'm really trying to avoid gimmickry, but I'm starting to suspect all writing is about gimmickry at some level, and that the trick is to make your tricks feel as little like Shyamalanesque hammer-clunkers as possible. (1)

The March story, it got away from me, and it became long, and it took a lot of effort to get it to be less than obscenely long. My natural tendency is probably towards wordiness. Or, long sentences. Or, complex, rhythmic language. Something like that. Why use two sentences, I find myself typically asking myself, when I can join them together with commas and conjunctions? That really wasn't the main problem with the March story, the main problem was probably that I couldn't stop thinking of new things to put into the story and that I had a lot of trouble finding things I liked less than I did other things, but I'm sure it was a contributing factor. The April story is a sort of direct retaliation against the March story, both in that it shoots for a dedicatedly-focused plot-line with little room for additional material or asides or expansions of detail, and in that I'm trying to pare back the language as much as possible. I don't naturally subscribe to the Hemingwayish school of thought, as any reader of any online-writing of mine could probably attest, and neither am I sure this story is my attempt to try out that mode, but that's probably as close as I can come to describing what it is I'm trying to do, stylistically. Keep the sentences short. Declare things. Let the little sparks of comma-joined thoughts shine as appropriately and as vibrantly as possible. Use no unnecessary words. Not that my usual fiction writing makes use of unnecessary words, mind you. I mean, if you're going to write a 3,000 or a 5,000 or an 8,000 or a 120,000 word story, those are going to be the only words you'll get to tell your story worth, so they should all count towards the ultimate goal of telling a really good story. It's just that I typically use more necessary-words, and now, this time through, I'm trying to fewer such words. If that makes sense. All things said, it's interesting, on my end, at least.

All of which, by the way, means: hence, advanced footnote technology enabled footnote number one, above. I've got extra words in my daily allotment. Use 'em or lose 'em.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Yeah, well, "love" and "death" are single syllable words and not even eighth graders know what the hell those mean. And hey, so is "jest"

I can't tell you how many times I've wondered how many words are in Infinite Jest. I mean, I know there's a lot of words in there. It's a big book and there's no white space and the font sometimes gets tiny. But short of sitting down with a pen, a pad of paper, a copy of Wallace's boat anchor, and an otaku-like love of tick marks, I've had no way of getting that stat. The question of whether the book was, truly, you know, infinite, was doomed to remained unanswered, until the end of time or my rise to "Hey Dave, can I buy you a beer"-levels of fame and importance, whichever came first.

Until now. Now, thanks to this post at, which I got the link to through some other blog, though I've forgotten which one, so I'm overcompensating by making this link REALLY big, I now know that Infinite Jest has 479,198 words in it. (I've left undetermined whether that includes the end-notes. I suspect not.) I can also tell you that you're getting 25,287 words per dollar spent on the book, which makes it, as far as I'm concerned, the best, ultimate, and final value for your hard-earned literary-minded dollar. Also, Infinite Jest barely edges out Me Talk Pretty One Day on the "Persons under this grade level must be accompanied by a legal guardian" Flesch-Kincaid Index, with IJ scoring a 9.3 grade level to MTPOD's 9.2. Because, you know. That makes sense.

Were I a big famous published author, I think this feature would scare the hell out of me. I'd be forever worried that readers would decide that they weren't in the mood for my 7.2 grade level book; really, they were feeling a little bit more 6.8-ish that day. I'd probably be worried that my concordance totally sucks or that I'm not giving the reader enough of a workout in terms of words-per-weight. I'd probably get nothing done anymore, certain my future were doomed to low F-K scores and poor word counts.

But right now I'm a total nobody and so I can check stats to my heart's content. Like, The Corrections isn't even half as long as IJ but you do get close to the same words/dollar value. By way of comparison, Pamela Anderson's novel is worth one quarter of Franzen's and only one fifth of Wallace's! Whodathunk? (Though all three have almost exactly the same average number of syllables per word. Hey, someone find me a 1.5 length syllable, eh?)

Okay, maybe I overstated the case when I said IJ is the best possible value; this book (which, yes, I linked earlier, no, you're not experiencing deja vu) offers almost twice as many words for each dollar you spend on it. Of course quantity means a sacrifice in quality--you drop about two grade levels if you make the switch. (Completion of potential jokes is left as an exercise to the reader.)

Vurt by Jeff Noon, a personal favorite, is one-fifth the value of IJ. I've made up for that by reading Vurt at least five times by now. Of course, then I noticed that Vurt, by grade, is written for the mentally handicapped. Fuck me. Did I call it a personal favorite? I meant, uh, big words rule, little words drool. Yeah, yeah. The real lit-bloggers are gonna blackball me before I even get started.

Then there's Crooked River Burning by Mark Winegarnder, which only reached the 5.6th grade. I mean, obviously, he had to dumb things down for us Clevelanders. But he also recognized that us Clevelanders got better things to spend our money on and he cut us a deal; 21,000 words on the dollar. What happens to the math if I admit that I only read half the book before I quit, not because the book was bad, but because I liked it too much? And what if I admit that the opening section is still one of my favoritist things ever? How's THAT add up, Mister Fancy Pants Amazon Web Site Thing? Huh? Huh? Where's your concordance now, bitch?!?

I digress. I have to stop this. I've got to get back to Cloud Atlas which I'm loving immensely, enjoying the weird dizzy stay-up-past-bedtime feeling it's giving me. I paid a dollar for each 15,902 word chunk, damm it, and I intend to get my money's worth.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Now I really have seen everything happen on the Internet

Let's say you're at the store and you'd like to buy a snack, and you've got a taste for something chocolatey, but you're also craving some peanut-buttery goodness. Let's say you live in a parallel universe where the Reese's Cup hasn't been invented. And let's say you go down the aisles and you pick up a milk chocolate Hershey's bar in one hand, and then you pick up a jar of creamy peanut butter in the other. And let's say that you're about to walk towards the self-check-out registers, because the lines for the non-self-check-out registers are out the door, this being a parallel universe where the grocery stores are only open for a single hour a day, when you look down, and you've got your two snacks in your two hands, and a thought strikes you dumb, and you fall to your knees in confusion and madness; for the thought that struck you was that the two snacks, which should never meet, would soon meet, once you've paid for your items, and you step out into the parking lot, where you'll dip your chocolate bar into your peanut butter, and eat the resulting combination, and know the true bliss of candy truth.

Okay. Now. Now let's pretend that peanut butter and chocolate are web sites, and you'll understand the strange wave of emotion that just passed through me when I found that a feature on the McSweeney's web site (a chipper indie hipster humor hang out known for being associated with that Dave Eggers guy) was today linked to by a feature on the Something Awful web site (which calls its forum members "goons" and is currently in the throes of legal battles with "The Ultimate Warrior," a faded, washed-up former professional wrestler) and that the latter web site (which sometimes features contests involving anime porn) had a favorable opinion of the former web site (which is, you know, where cool's too cool for sunglasses school).

Yeah, that's how weird the Internet just got.


Okay, maybe the candy metaphor didn't work so well. Let's try this one.

Let's say your name is Lloyd Dobler...

Thirteen possible reasons why I will not be blogging today

  1. Read eight pages of Cloud Atlas, decided there's nothing left to be said. About anything.

  2. Read an article. Finally realized "Internet" is sometimes silly.

  3. Saw girlfriend's new wide-screened laptop. Sight of own thin-screened laptop too depressing to contemplate.

  4. Received rejection letter for short story in mail. Am saving overdrive gauge for worthy foe.

  5. Finished reading the Internet today. Am afraid of inadvertently spoiling the ending.

  6. Content-shcontent. Have discovered background images, CSS opacity tricks. Too busy to be bothered with mundane task of "updating".

  7. Never learned how to read.

  8. Saw (and briefly met) The Dresden Dolls last night. Verbal/linguistic processes still non-functional.

  9. Have no broken teeth to report this week. Also, am not Maud Newton.

  10. Overcome by belief that sometimes you got the snark, sometimes the snark's got you. Have no idea what that means.

  11. Too busy wondering if it's too late for coffee.

  12. Got nothin'. Also, am not a reporter. Or, for that matter, important.

  13. Suspect lists schtick over used. Too busy sending e-mail to self reminding self to see if anyone's blogged about that.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The beauty of the web is that when you don't know what to say someone else is probably already saying it for you

There's probably a lot of things to be said about Ben Marcus's The Age of Wire and String. Unfortunately, I don't know what any of those things are, so I'm going to take a bye on this one. A quick Technorati search suggests that there's plenty of other people out there who do have things to say about the book (or about Ben Marcus, who, I gather, is an interesting fellow): you might try this Tight Sainthood post, or perhaps these thoughts from the Sisyphean Task web log (which makes use of the word "mind cum" which I think might be my newest most favorite descriptive term ever), this snippet from The Occasional Blecher, or (from the TDAOC-approved web log Conversational Reading, as if that's a gold star you really want to go and put in your permanent record) some links to further reading on The Ben Marcus. Or you can click on the word Technorati back there and just go search for more stuff yourself--don't let me hold you back.

On to Cloud Atlas, which I'm really pretty excited about.

Snap, Crackle, Lit

I spent most of last night and then most of this afternoon reading The Invisible Circus, which felt nice, like I was doing Jennifer Egan's work some justice, since I remember Look at Me taking me far too long to get through, not due to any lack of captivating qualities within that book, but due to me being a tool about reading at the time, hence this whole year and my unofficial taking up of the 50 book challenge, which, with the completion of The Invisible Circus, I'm now one-fifth of the way through, if I count correctly. That, my friends, was a long sentence.

I enjoyed Circus a lot, though I'm not sure it resonated for me quite as much as Look at Me did. And I feel bad reviewing a book by saying, "Yeah, it was good, but not good like the other book," but that's kind of how it is. The book was better than I thought it would be, though, if that makes sense; reading Egan's second novel first kind of left me wondering if I'd feel like I was reading a beta-version of her work by going back to her first novel, but that wasn't entirely the case. (Which is kind of why I've held off from reading Jonathan Franzen's first novel for so long, because after reading Strong Motion and then reading The Corrections and seeing the leaps-and-bounds improvements between the two, well, yeah, you can fill in the personally emotional blanks, there, I suspect.) I think comparing the two books does show her growing and strengthening as a writer--while showing certain concerns that lingered and/or intensified between the two books--so maybe comparisons aren't all invalid. Circus felt a bit more...smooth, somehow, maybe, please don't take this as gospel?; I guess in record-industry parlance you might say it felt a bit more slickly produced. Maybe. I don't know. I'm probably wrong.

I think what it comes down to is: Look at Me threw a bunch of elements at me that I didn't think I'd feel much interest in--a fashion model, a teenaged niece (again, me, with the books about teenaged girls, I swear I don't seek them out), the world of facade and appearance as being more important than what lies beneath--and somehow made it all seem or feel critical and vital to me, like the words reached up from the pages and grasped me by the throat and throttled me senseless until I needed to know more about the world Egan was constructing, and reflecting, since it really is a novel of our time. Circus didn't quite do that...but I'm still speaking of the book as lacking something and that's not what I mean to do.

What I mean to do is this: I mean to say that I really did like this book a lot, and that Egan's a writer I'll be looking forward to seeing more from in the future, and that's got to be pretty high praise, right? The Invisible Circus was a thoroughly satisfying quest/journey narrative with several moments of metaphorically jaw-dropping beauty--the sage advice given to the main character by a drug dealer in Amsterdam, right before everything in the room goes to hell, made for the kind of shocked contrast that left the book dangling in my hands for a minute before I could push forward; and the sparseness and tone of the opening chapter was just damned brilliant. Egan's got a book of short stories out there I'll read eventually, though I'll probably put it off for a while because I don't want to feel like I've run out of things of hers to read just yet.

So: "Yes, and if I knew how to do it that way, I probably wouldn't still be an unpublished hack."

Next up, for the something-completely-different book, I think I'm going to pick up The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus, because it's short and it looks deliciously strange, then I think I might tackle Cloud Atlas. Any teenaged girl type characters in either book, I will mentally replaced them with the Rice Krispies elves, because I don't want to come off like I'm some kind of weirdo.

Friday, April 08, 2005

So this is what happens when all the cool kids get together and decide to play nice with each other:

The Litblog Co-op: "Uniting the leading literary weblogs for the purpose of drawing attention to the best of contemporary fiction, presses, and authors that are struggling to be noticed in a flooded marketplace."

It's an interesting experiment in using the Internet to do what the Internet was designed to be used for. We'll have to wait for a month or so to find out what they're first book selection's going to be, which is kind of sad, but hey, that's cool. It'll be interesting to see what they come up with.

"Yes" is several hundred words long, in my language

I'd make a lousy book reviewer, since once I finish a book, I mostly just want to point at it and say "Yes" or "No" or "Uh". Not that I probably won't try writing real book reviews here in the future, but for right now, I'm pretty much sticking with what I know and how I know to do it. If you crave in-depth plot summaries and critical analysis and such, go click on "Maud Newton" to the right and then click on "Links" and then just keep clicking. You'll find something worthwhile out there. Then tell 'em I sent ya. Also, note that I'll probably limit my public "No" responses, since I hear that writers have learned how to use the Internet, and I've got no urge to burn off karma I haven't built up yet.

So: How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer: Yes.

The yes/no dichotomy is kind of lame since the reading I've been doing lately, I've mostly been reading it while relating it to my own writing with some sense of "I want to do this" or "I don't want to do this" in mind. Those probably loosely map to the yes/no split but I think there's more shading. Like when I think of Infinite Jest I might think, "Yes; but I don't want to do that". Or when I think of The Corrections I might think, "Yes; and yes, I do want to do that; but, different." (I'm completely blanking out on any books that get an unqualified "Yes; and yes, I want to do that. Period.") Which is funny, incidentally, if you'll pardon the non-footnoted sidetracking, which will connect to what I say next: which is funny, since last year I did try to "do that," though well after I'd read Franzen's book. Mostly I "did that...horribly!!!" and have run screaming away from the writing of (or thinking about the writing of) novels to the safe though personally still somewhat foreign and forboding harbors of short story writing.

So--and here's where I "connect" with myself--in an effort to, you know, read a few short stories, I borrowed the Julie Orringer book from my girlfriend, who is cooler than me, and my reaction to it, in more detail, is something like: "Yes. And I want to do that. Maybe not the content of that, but the style or the feel of that. Yeah. Cool."

The majority of the stories gripped me, and most of them had me shifting in my seat with "Uh oh" and "Oh no" feelings throughout. In the good way. That might be the highest compliment I can offer to Ms. Orringer, so I think I'll leave it at that, because if I keep going, I'll blow it. "Yes."

So, on to The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan, in order to complete a completely accidental trilogy of books for the "finished it" pile that deal with teenaged girls. I swear I honestly didn't plan that, and only realized it tonight when I fished the Egan book out of the unread pile, and read the back cover, and set it down, and walked away, and a few hours later thought, "Oh crap, I'm stuck in a theme." After Circus I feel obligated to read something completely unrelated. Like, Naked Lunch, maybe.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Twelve alternate definitions of an acronym, one of which has been scientifically proven to kill 99.79 percent of undesirable household bacteria

I don't know about you, but when I'm out meeting my legions of fans, I get tired of repeating the blog's full title over and over again. "Thumb drives and oven clocks," "Thumb drives and oven clocks," over and over, it's "Thumb drives and oven clocks," the kids, they love it, they crave it, they need it. Don't get me wrong--I like the title. It's come to sort of mean something, vaguely, in a shadowy half-thought fashion. For me, at least. And it's not that the title doesn't roll off the tongue in a sing-song fashion. Go ahead: say it out loud a few times: pretty soon you'll find yourself inventing entirely new musical notes for each syllable as you skip through a field of daisies and tall, whispery grasses, the sun beaming down on your delirious, smiling face as you sing to yourself, over and over, "Thumb drives and oven clocks! Thumb drives and oven clocks! Oh oh oh how I do so love me some Thumb drives and oven clocks!" You will feel in tune with the world, you will feel your bank account stabilizing and rising of its own accord, small children will appear alongside your path to hand you small cups of sports drinks as you race towards your own beautiful oblivion; indeed, Thumb drives and oven clocks will help you find inner peace, outward beauty, and ultimate, unsurpassable joy, and ye shall weep at the thought of your own being in perfection!

It's just that, you know, being someone who writes sad stories about sad people, I haven't got time for obscene bliss. So it would be nice to have a simplified version of the title, some short-hand version that I could use in conversation. For my own protection. But there's danger, there. If I refer to the site as "Thumb Drives" people will falsely assume I write a technology blog. And if I refer to the site as "Oven Clocks" people will falsely assume I blog about your grandmother's country-themed kitchen. Neither contains the truth of the full title, which neatly and accurately portrays my blog as a storehouse of wisdom related to the clockwork robots that cook your grandmother's breakfast.

So then we turn to the corporate solution: the acronym, that ultimate alphabet-soup shortener of word-spaghetti cake. Acronymize the title of this blog and you get "TDAOC" and all my problems are...

Crap. By which I mean, uh-oh. Yeah, say it out loud. "TDAOC." You'll see what I mean. Did you hear the birdies warble their song? Can you smell the Gatorade in the crystalline air?

Henceforth, I'm forced to conclude that the only solution to this mind-bogglingly non-existent problem is to generate alternate--yet related!--versions of the blog's title. Related, because they're based off that bubbly-gummily snappy acronym, alternate, because they are guaranteed not to leave you in a state of euphoria. You'll want to memorize the following list before you attend my upcoming public appearances, as I'll certainly be using them in an effort to keep myself grounded in reality, and you won't want to be one of the uncool kids left out in the cold, scratching ineffectively at the in-joke's locks. (I'll be appearing next week at the grand opening of Dinky's Car Wash in Ashtabula. I'll be the guy in the oversized car tire costume. Sexy.)
  1. That Door Ain't Ours, Chad!
  2. Toilets Do as Ogres Couldn't.
  3. Tired? Depressed? Angsty? Opiates, Crybaby.
  4. Trying Dimes and Other Coins.
  5. Tongue Dad After, Old Chum.
  6. Two Dogs Ate Our Classmate.
  7. TAA-DAA! Another Olfactory Confession!
  8. That Darby Ate Our Classmate.
  9. Teens, Displaying Affection, Ogle Cops.
  10. Time Displays and Outing Ciphers
  11. Ten Didn't Actually Occur, Certainly?!?!
  12. True: Darby's An Oversized Clutz
(Feel free to groan at number ten. I know I did.)


And in other news, the story I've begun working on this week, I find it terribly exciting, and I think it might take me less than 50 hours to finish it. Maybe.

Oh, that's where my masterworks went

I'm a third through How to Breathe Underwater and I can already tell: Julie Orringer writes stories the way I want to write stories, but she actually writes the stories that way and I still write the stories I write like I've got aliens inside my fingers that always make me type the wrong words at the wrong time. Already several times I've read a sentence of hers, and it doesn't even have to be a special sentence, it could just be four or so words, maybe more maybe less, but there's something about that sentence appearing where it does, when it does, and it will be constructed so perfectly and effortlessly, like someone once just said it and it appeared on the page and the story bloomed outward around it in all the graceful directions, and I read those sentences and I think, "That's a sentence I want to have written; that's a sentence I'd never have written," and I'm simultaneously depressed and inspired by it, and it's all confusing and fun.

Which is a long-winded way of saying I'm enjoying the book and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

I mean, unless the little aliens got to her fingers, too, for the last six stories of the book. I'm guessing she's immune, though.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Everybody loves statistics! And statistics love you!

I've found some interesting statistics about my writing. word processor (and other stuff--I've only recently begun to use the spreadsheet program) productivity suite of choice, due to its a) cost [none!] b) stability [it works!] c) ease of availability [no need to find those damned Windows CDs!] and d) lack of registration key [no need to find that damned sticker that came with your Windows CD!]--keeps pretty good track of the amount of time spent working on a particular document and the number of times a given file is saved; the stats even carry over nicely when you do a save-as to a new file, which I tend to do when I'm nervous that I'm about to ruin everything. (Though I honestly almost never look back. I figure that'd be like saying, "Yeah, I had my life right the first time--let's start over from puberty." Yech. No thanks.)

So out of curiosity--and to confirm my theory that the last story was...insane, somehow--I checked the stats for the three stories I've completed this year.
  • "Blasted". This story, which I did entirely with no save-as-es, clocked in at eleven hours of editing time, with a total number of 15 saves. "Gosh," I think, looking at the numbers; "that seems like a nice, pleasant amount of time to spend on a story."

  • "We Were Calm" reached four save files. Hmm. Document properties suggest I spent about 18 to 19 hours on the story, with a total of 92 saves. "Gosh," I think, looking at the numbers; "that first story must really suck."

  • I know there was something goofy about March the very moment I open the folder for "Gravel Chords" and find 14 save files. Either I made a lot of mid-stream critical changes, or I was feeling extremely in-touch with my knowledge of my own ability to destroy my newest masterwork. Opening up the final file, I learn that, somehow, during those blurry weeks, I burned off approximately 47 hours saving files-in-progress, which I did 309 times. "Gosh," I think, looking at these freshest numbers. "Just...gosh."
Judging by the arc those numbers begin to form on the imaginary graph in my mind, I can safely extrapolate that, by the end of the year, when I'm fulfilling my currently rapidly deteriorating commitment to produce a new story each month, I'll be living entire lifetimes inside each month, each story requiring progressively more and more save files that, come December, I'll need to convert most of Ohio into a server farm the likes of which will leave the Weta Workshop shaking and quivering in pure awestruck lust.

As long as we've got some numbers in front of us, let's play: imagine that third story gets published after I spend three more hours of my life printing cover letters, addressing envelopes, standing in line at the post office, crying my guts out over rejection letters, and being anxious. And lets say the lucky publishing literary journal pays its authors in contributor's copies. If, say, that journal is 100 pages long, then the ultimate hourly rate paid out for my work will be two pages of literary journal per hour spent on the story.

Pft. And people think there's no profit in this business.

Of course, the math gets a bit more testy once you introduce "bespectacled literary groupies" into the equation...though I bet the powers-that-be classify them as "job perks." I hope that doesn't play havoc with my tax forms when I'm famous.