Sunday, March 30, 2008

Writings and the writers who write them

Doubt. Frustration. Discouragement. Hey! I know this feeling! I must be working on a novel!

Oh, but seriously, I almost killed it, because I fell way off the horse for a few weeks there. One good reason after another to spend time not writing. Those good reasons occasionally sandwiched some bad reasons not to write. It's hard to help yourself when you don't actively help yourself. Then when it came time to run out of reasons, I felt like the novel I'd started writing sucked ass, and I didn't like where it was going, and I didn't know where else to take it, and when you combine all that nonsense with the whole "I just reached 30 and I don't have a single publication to my name" whine party I threw for myself, I began to feel like I might as well just give up and become a missionary or a shoe salesman or a pornographer or anything that might actually make some kind of an impact on somebody somewhere someday. The worst part being when I realized it would be a perfectly legitimate choice, to turn my back on this life, because all that all the litblogs and all the book reviews have ever taught me is that "making it" is goddamned well nearly impossible. At best. Because there's always something else, somewhere else. So you might as well go mow the lawn or feed the baby or care about your day job or something. Something practical. Something that will make you money you can pour into the open and hungry mouth of your shiny new Nintendo Wii.

Then, I dunno, I guess I started working on the novel again. No reason, really. Which must make me completely friggin' insane. But whatever, right?

Today, I shall choose to blame Cormac McCarthy. Part of my problem with the novel I'm working on is that I think there's a violent act at the core of the story. Or at least at the core of the portion of the story I've hesitantly figured out so far. It's a senseless act of violence taken by a character who is probably insane for taking it, however well-placed his intentions are. It's an act that needs to be sold, though, for the story to work. I have to sell it to the reader, make it real. Make it, in my best Tim Gunn, work. But I haven't even sold it to myself yet so how can I sell it to someone else?

Then I start reading Blood Meridian in which McCarthy describes an army of indians attacking a group of warfaring Americans in a two-page orgy of violence and scalpings. Like: scalpings. Like, you read that portion of the book, and suddenly the whole "scalping" concept becomes far less of a concept and far more of a terrible awful no-good thing you never ever ever want to have happen to you. Ouchie. It's one of the most vicious scenes I've ever read, and it freed something up in me, because now I'm perfectly ready to throw this one character into the meat grinder of the story without worry about what it means or making it real. It'll make itself real, once I figure out the rest of the story. The rest of the story being the "Here there be dragons" stuff beyond part one, which I think is pretty well outlined in my brain. By which I mean I have a one-sentence prompt written for each of the next few chapters that I've got to expand into full-blown plot-and-story stuff. Writing anything beyond chapter 11 scares the hell out of me, but whatever. Dragons are there to be slayed. Or to eat you.

But yeah, so I'm working on a novel that I think probably sucks, and I'm not blogging enough which definitely sucks, and I'm playing a lot of Guitar Hero and I sort of suck, but whatever, it fills up the time between writing sessions with something sensibly insensible. It's either that or I go out and get myself a mortgage. And paying your mortgage on time is far less impressive at a party than creaming some poor Internet sucker's ass on battle mode in Guitar Hero.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Read this!

Writing about reading (or not reading) about books about writing (or not writing) about reading (or not reading) about books about writing or reading (or not writing or not reading) is so totally the new writing about reading about not writing about not reading. Camera one, camera (with meta bonus points) two.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The co-op is dead; long live the lit-blog

The LBC's done. Post-mortems here and here.

So now then: who's going to organize the sequel?

But no Infinite Jest?

In this PDF, the American Book Review gives away the ending of 100 novels. OMG! Spoiler alert!

But for real, I was glad to see the last line of Graham Greene's The Quiet American on there. I just read the book this week. OohMuhGuh. How is it I'm just now discovering Greene? I'd give up an arm to write like that.

So yeah, seems like I've got a new author to obsess over. There's a copy of the collected short stories coming my way next week...along with a certain something else for which I've long waited..

Take the plunge.

Kill the cliché.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Then We Came to the End of last year's hardcover season

Endings are elusive, middles are nowhere to be found, but worst of all is to begin, to begin, to begin.

- from "The Dolt" by Donald Barthelme

Last year's unobtainable hardcover hotties are becoming this year's softcover take-home dates. I've got Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris and The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño on my bookshelf. I think I saw The Raw Shark Texts in paperback, too, though that is not on my bookshelf, because only so much is enough, and the book stack is tall, tall, tall. Plus I think Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union and Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke and some others come out in paperback in the next couple months. The stack, it grows. Though actually the Ferris book is on my couch now, next to me, where it may remain for a while, because I'm a quarter through it and faintly bored. Maybe I'm just tired, maybe I'm more irritated with the plural third person narrative than I let on to myself, maybe what I expected to happen (not wanting to read about work while not at work) is, in fact, happening. Maybe all, maybe none. I think it's not what I want right now. What do I want, anyway?

What I want right now is to be able to write essays the way William H. Gass writes essays. The man's a crack in a dam meant to contain genius. Splish, splash, splurt, sploosh. I found a copy of Tests of Time at the half-price store the other night, nice shiny new hardcover, had to grab it, along with the Delany I just read. Read the essay "I've Got a Little List" last night and over lunch today and I want to be able to do that, myself, damned if I know how. Though I suppose it begins by having better ideas, blast. (I need some ideas.) Essay ought to be required reading by all book columnists in November as they prepare their end-of-year lists, and all book column readers in December who like to bitch about lists. Lists are--can be--passionate things, see. Like that Barthelme quote up there. It's a list. It's a good list. It's true, too, at least, according to my largely stalled latest attempt at writing a novel. Damn doubt. Excuses a mile long.

But yeah, that Delany book, man, it's been a long time since I've touched a copy of Mythology by Edith Hamilton and my memory sucks but I might have to grab one and review, refresh, reprise, renew. See, Delany's book is about myth, and I know this because he says so in the middle of the book, in an extract from one of his notebooks, written during the composition of the novel, a novel which does a good job of informing me that, oh hey yes, he wrote books that aren't Dhalgren, and some of them might be pretty good things to read.

Whatever's good to read is never best picked an hour before bedtime. Novels are always a little too much, around this hour. Sleep, though, is never enough.

Desire is never dampened by its dampening, but only grows greater, and its object is not consumed by its consumption but is multiplied, and pleasure is not lessened by its repetition but enriched and revered. None of this is true in life, another reason why the page is to be preferred.

- from "I've Got a Little List" by William H. Gass

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Where we're going, we don't need purpose

Camera one. From Stephen King's The Paris Review interview:


Cujo is unusual in that the entire novel is a single chapter. Did you plan that from the start?


No, Cujo was a standard novel in chapters when it was created. But I can remember thinking that I wanted the book to feel like a brick that was heaved through your window at you. I've always thought that the sort of book that I do--and I've got enough ego to think that every novelist should do this--should be a kind of personal assault. It out to be somebody lunging right across the table and grabbing you and messing you up. It should get in your face. It should upset you, disturb you. And not just because you get grossed out.

Camera two. From The Einstein Intersection, by Samuel R. Delany:

There is a hollow, holey cylinder running from hilt to point in my machete. When I blow across the mouthpiece in the handle, I make music with my blade. When all the holes are covered, the sound is sad--as rough as rough can be and be called smooth. When all the holes are open, the sound pipes about, bringing to the eye flakes of sun on water, crushed metal. There are twenty holes. And since I've been playing music I've been called all different kinds of fool--more times than Lobey, which is my name.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Liveblogging our survival

I turned thirty a couple weeks ago.

Today, I played in the snow.

Maybe you can say it means something. But I'm not sure what.

Also, I took advantage of the snow-in (and in, and in, and in) yesterday to do some more damage to the blog layout. It remains, as always, a work in progress. (That's an as-of-yet highly unstable Tumblr thingamaroo off to the right. More on that later.)

Before the white stuff started falling out of the sky I finished It by Stephen King, which I liked. I needed that--sort of an extended cleansing of the mental palate. With bugs. Now I'm reading The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany because I need something short and impressive and, so far, I like it, too. I think I'm going to want to say a lot about it that I'll never quite get around to saying. In the meantime, I'm going to go read some more of it now before I pass out or my arms fall off.

Playing, you see, is hard work.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Well, there is a Hellmouth in Cleveland, too, you know

Things you don't want to see happening in your own city just before you read the last 100 pages of It by Stephen King include.