Thursday, December 26, 2013

Books On Deck / Up Next

"Codex Seraphinianus" by Luigi Serafini

"An extraordinary and surreal art book, this edition has been redesigned by the author and includes new illustrations. Ever since the Codex Seraphinianus was first published in 1981, the book has been recognized as one of the strangest and most beautiful art books ever made. This visual encyclopedia of an unknown world written in an unknown language has fueled much debate over its meaning. Written for the information age and addressing the import of coding and decoding in genetics, literary criticism, and computer science, the Codex confused, fascinated, and enchanted a generation.

While its message may be unclear, its appeal is obvious: it is a most exquisite artifact. Blurring the distinction between art book and art object, this anniversary edition-redesigned by the author and featuring new illustrations-presents this unique work in a new, unparalleled light. With the advent of new media and forms of communication and continuous streams of information, the Codex is now more relevant and timely than ever. A special limited and numbered deluxe edition that includes a signed print is also available."

"Make Good Art" by Neil Gaiman

"In May 2012, bestselling author Neil Gaiman delivered the commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, in which he shared his thoughts about creativity, bravery, and strength. He encouraged the fledgling painters, musicians, writers, and dreamers to break rules and think outside the box. Most of all, he encouraged them to make good art.

The book Make Good Art, designed by renowned graphic artist Chip Kidd, contains the full text of Gaiman’s inspiring speech."

"Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes" by Maria Konnikova

"No fictional character is more renowned for his powers of thought and observation than Sherlock Holmes. But is his extraordinary intellect merely a gift of fiction, or can we learn to cultivate these abilities ourselves, to improve our lives at work and at home?

We can, says psychologist and journalist Maria Konnikova, and in Mastermind she shows us how. Beginning with the “brain attic”—Holmes’s metaphor for how we store information and organize knowledge—Konnikova unpacks the mental strategies that lead to clearer thinking and deeper insights. Drawing on twenty-first-century neuroscience and psychology, Mastermind explores Holmes’s unique methods of ever-present mindfulness, astute observation, and logical deduction. In doing so, it shows how each of us, with some self-awareness and a little practice, can employ these same methods to sharpen our perceptions, solve difficult problems, and enhance our creative powers. For Holmes aficionados and casual readers alike, Konnikova reveals how the world’s most keen-eyed detective can serve as an unparalleled guide to upgrading the mind."

"The Hundred Headless Woman" by Max Ernst

"Max Ernst's early-twentieth-century collage-novel calls upon the reader to interpret captions and surrealistic illustrations—created from old picture books and journals—to create a story."

"Maidenhair" by Mikhail Shishkin

"Day after day the Russian asylum-seekers sit across from the interpreter and Peter—the Swiss officers who guard the gates to paradise—and tell of the atrocities they’ve suffered, or that they’ve invented, or heard from someone else. These stories of escape, war, and violence intermingle with the interpreter’s own reading: a his­tory of an ancient Persian war; letters sent to his son “Nebuchadnezzasaurus,” ruler of a distant, imaginary childhood empire; and the diaries of a Russian singer who lived through Russia’s wars and revolutions in the early part of the twentieth century, and eventually saw the Soviet Union’s dissolution.

Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair is an instant classic of Russian literature. It bravely takes on the eternal questions—of truth and fiction, of time and timeless­ness, of love and war, of Death and the Word—and is a movingly luminescent expression of the pain of life and its uncountable joys."

"The Obscene Bird of Night" by Jose Donoso

"This haunting jungle of a novel has been hailed as "a masterpiece" by Luis Bunuel and "one of the great novels not only of Spanish America, but of our time" by Carlos Fuentes. The story of the last member of the aristocratic Azcoitia family, a monstrous mutation protected from the knowledge of his deformity by being surrounded with other freaks as companions, The Obscene Bird of Night is a triumph of imaginative, visionary writing. Its luxuriance, fecundity, horror, and energy will not soon fade from the reader's mind."

"S." by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

"One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace, and desire.

A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.

The book: Ship of Theseus, the final novel by a prolific but enigmatic writer named V.M. Straka, in which a man with no past is shanghaied onto a strange ship with a monstrous crew and launched onto a disorienting and perilous journey.

The writer: Straka, the incendiary and secretive subject of one of the world’s greatest mysteries, a revolutionary about whom the world knows nothing apart from the words he wrote and the rumors that swirl around him.

The readers: Jennifer and Eric, a college senior and a disgraced grad student, both facing crucial decisions about who they are, who they might become, and how much they’re willing to trust another person with their passions, hurts, and fears.

S., conceived by filmmaker J. J. Abrams and written by award-winning novelist Doug Dorst, is the chronicle of two readers finding each other in the margins of a book and enmeshing themselves in a deadly struggle between forces they don’t understand, and it is also Abrams and Dorst’s love letter to the written word."

"The Box Man" by Kobo Abe

"In this eerie and evocative masterpiece, the nameless protagonist gives up his identity and the trappings of a normal life to live in a large cardboard box he wears over his head. Wandering the streets of Tokyo and scribbling madly on the interior walls of his box, he describes the world outside as he sees or perhaps imagines it, a tenuous reality that seems to include a mysterious rifleman determined to shoot him, a seductive young nurse, and a doctor who wants to become a box man himself. The Box Man is a marvel of sheer originality and a bizarrely fascinating fable about the very nature of identity.

Translated from the Japanese by E. Dale Saunders."

"The Machine" by James Smythe

"Haunting memories defined him. The machine took them away. She vowed to rebuild him. From the author of The Testimony comes a Frankenstein for the twenty-first century.

Beth lives alone on a desolate housing estate near the sea. She came here to rebuild her life following her husband’s return from the war. His memories haunted him but a machine promised salvation. It could record memories, preserving a life that existed before the nightmares.

Now the machines are gone. The government declared them too controversial, the side-effects too harmful. But within Beth’s flat is an ever-whirring black box. She knows that memories can be put back, that she can rebuild her husband piece by piece."

"The Suicide Shop" by Jean Teule

"With the twenty-first century just a distant memory and the world in environmental chaos, many people have lost the will to live.

Business is brisk at The Suicide Shop. Run by the Tuvache family, the shop offers a variety of ways to end it all, with something to fit every budget.

The Tuvaches go mournfully about their business until the youngest member of the family threatens to destroy their contented misery by confronting them with something they've never encountered before: a love of life."


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013 Reading List

If you keep up with this blog, then you know I post up the books I read all year long. This year felt particularly anemic until I see that I read the exact same number of books this year as last year. Apparently I've found my yearly average. It could definitely be better.

I took some big chances on authors this year, more so than previous years. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and hopefully find some new favorites, which happened with Matt Bell, Brian Evenson, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and Amber Sparks. I returned to some classics from my childhood like "Ender's Game," "A Wrinkle in Time," and later loves like "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." I was not disappointed with my return to these works.

I opened up more to the world of non-fiction. Einstein, the life of Joy Division's bassist Peter Hook, the graphic novel of Bertrand Russel's descent (ascent?) into philosophical madness, the dissection (track by track) of Coltrane's classic album "A Love Supreme." All excellent, all compelling. So...without further ado, here's this year's list.

2013 Reading:


01.) Madeline L'Engle - "A Wrinkle in Time" (245pgs)
02.) Rick Moody - "Demonology" (306pgs)
03.) Blake Butler & Sean Kilpatrick - "Anatomy Courses" (126pgs)
04.) Diane Williams - "Vicky Swanky Is A Beauty" (118pgs)
05.) Brian Evenson - "Fugue State" (205pgs)
(1,000 pgs)


06.) Blake Butler - "Sky Saw" (248pgs)
07.) Blake Butler & Lily Hoang - "30 Under 30 Anthology" (289pgs)
08.) Witold Gombrowicz - "Cosmos" (166pgs)
09.) Witold Gombrowicz - "Pornografia" (191pgs)
10.) John Barth - "Lost in the Funhouse" (201pgs)
11.) Ricardo Piglia - "The Absent City" (147pgs)
(1,242 pgs)


12.) Donald Barthelme - "Come Back, Dr. Caligari" (183pgs)
13.) Walter Moers - "The City of Dreaming Books" (461pgs)
14.) (reread) Robert Pirsig - "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (540pgs)
(1,184 pgs)


15.) Bernard M. Patten - "The Logic of Alice: Clear Thinking in Wonderland" (336pgs)
16.) Carlos Ruiz Zafon - "The Prince of Mist" (200pgs)
17.) Carlos Ruiz Zafon - "The Shadow of the Wind" (487pgs)

 (1,023 pgs)


18.) Carlos Ruiz Zafon - "The Angel's Game" (528pgs)
19.) Carlos Ruiz Zafon - "The Prisoner of Heaven" (278pgs)
20.) (reread) Jedidiah Berry - "The Manual of Detection" (278pgs)
21.) Matt Bell - "How They Were Found" (238pgs)
(1,322 pgs)


22.) Amber Sparks - "May We Shed These Human Bodies" (147pgs)
23.) Dennis Cooper - "The Marbled Swarm" (194pgs)
24.) David Markson - "Vanishing Point" (191pgs)
25.) Joshua Mohr - "Fight Song" (250pgs)
(782 pgs)


26.) Rajesh Parameswaran - "I Am An Executioner: Love Stories" (260pgs)
27.) Neil Gaiman - "American Gods" (588pgs)
28.) Nick Bantock - "Sabine's Notebook" (48pgs)
29.) Nick Bantock - "The Golden Mean" (46pgs)
30.) Nick Bantock - "The Gryphon" (58pgs)
31.) Nick Bantock - "Alexandria" (58pgs)
32.) Nick Bantock - "The Morning Star" (60pgs)
33.) Nick Bantock - "The Museum at Purgatory" (128pgs)
34.) Nick Bantock - "The Forgetting Room" (106pgs)
35.) Nick Bantock - "The Venetian's Wife" (132pgs)
36.) Nick Bantock - "The Egyptian Jukebox" (48pgs)
37.) Apostolos Doxiadis/Christos H. Papadimitriou - "Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth" (344pgs)
38.) Peter Hook - "Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division" (370pgs)
39.) (reread) Blake Butler - "There Is No Year" (401pgs)
40.) Ashley Kahn - "A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album" (224pgs)
(2,871 pgs)


41.) Cormac McCarthy - "Blood Meridian" (351pgs)
42.) Juan Carlos Ortiz - "Shorts" (143pgs)
43.) Brian Evenson - "Dark Property" (132pgs)
44.) Matt Bell - "In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods" (312pgs)

(938 pgs)




45.) Brian Evenson - "Altmann's Tongue: Stories & a Novella" (278pgs)
46.) Albert Einstein - "Ideas & Opinions" (377pgs)
(665 pgs)


47.) Orson Scott Card - "Ender's Game" (226pgs)

(226 pgs)


48.) Marisha Pessl - "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" (514pgs)
49.) Martin H. Greenberg - "The Further Adventures of the Joker" (462pgs)

(976 pgs)

12,229 pages for the year


Friday, December 6, 2013

8 Ways to Unblock the Creative Mind

* Share new work through voicemails with another writer friend, especially one that writes differently than you. Fiction vs. poetry, traditional vs. experimental, verbose vs. minimalist, etc. If nothing else, you’ll have new work to listen to at the end of a long day. My good friend Karen over at Conceptual Reception and I have done this a few times recently and my work has been inspiring hers the way her work has been inspiring mine. Plus, hearing the written word spoken aloud gives it a special kind of energy.

* Find two or more friends. All of you write a paragraph on a particular topic. Once everyone’s finished their paragraph, trade them around and add to the piece, giving it your own voice. Depending on how many people are involved, do this until everyone has added their own paragraph to every piece. Read the results out loud.

* Via email, give your writer friends a writing prompt (a story based on a single word, the inclusion of certain phrases, focus on a single color, etc.) and have everyone share them. Allow each person involved to create their own prompt for the next round, so on and so forth. Create word limits, page limits, formats, whatever. The sky's the limit here, but I've found that the more constraints there are, the harder I have to work at a piece, which makes the end result much more worth my time. And typically, the story ends up being fairly interesting.

* Take a day out of your normal routine. Visit a park with a bottle of wine and simply converse or air out creative grievances with other creatives whether they be artists or musicians. The creative mind gets blocked the same way, no matter the medium. Luckily, it can be unblocked just as easily given the right circumstances. Every creative needs an outlet that doesn't involve their primary focus. For instance, visiting a museum for a few hours tends to unblock me the best.

* Watch a movie by a more out of bounds/experimental filmmaker (Lars Von Trier, Terrence Malick, Darren Aronofsky, Ingmar Bergman, etc.) and deconstruct it with each other after. Discuss what worked and what didn’t, what was confusing and what made perfect sense. Honest critiques of other work can lead to more honest critiques of our own while giving us ideas on how to improve stories. The goal here is to get out of your wheelhouse, submerse yourself in something with which you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable.

* Write in a group. This may sound weird, but I know that I’m almost shamed into writing if there are others around me writing as well. Not to mention, you’ll have a built-in critique session once everyone’s reached a good stopping point with their work. I found this incredibly vital during my first two years of grad school. 

* Cross-pollinate with other disciplines. Find a photographer or artist or musician whose work you admire, see if they’d like to collaborate; your words inform their art or vice versa. Superimpose both creative halves to create one supra-whole.

* Take classic passages from timeless books and rewrite them with different and iconic characters from other novels. How would Ender Wiggins act in the time of Huckleberry Finn? How would Gregor Samsa fare in the Hunger Games?

There are obviously thousands upon thousands of ideas that can be beneficial in breaking down creative blocks, but these are just a few that have worked for me. When I first started taking writing classes in college, I would shrug off the idea of brainstorming exercises or things that would elicit story ideas, firmly believing that I didn't need them. Now, 15 years later, I utilize them all the time. Maybe it's because I take this discipline more seriously than I did as a 19 year old sophomore, but I think it's because they've simply worked.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

You Need to Disconnect

Maybe it's that I live in a "tech" city where every other person works in an industry that creates an iPhone app or works for Google or Yahoo or Apple or [insert heavyweight tech company here]. Maybe it's that I've simply become more of a recluse and don't go out as often, so when I do, I notice how attached people are to their handheld devices. Maybe I've just been a Luddite this entire time and didn't realize it. There was a period of four or five years where I didn't have a cell phone - and it was GLORIOUS.

And honestly, it's gotten to the point where I would laugh and laugh and laugh if I saw someone, eyes and fingers glued to their phone texting like mad, walk into the middle of the street and get smooshed between two city buses. Terrible, I know, but the number of times I've had to swerve out of someone's path on the sidewalk because they were too busy to look up is an astoundingly infuriating number.

Earlier this year, I was nearly assaulted outside of my work early in the morning. I had just gotten my coffee and began crossing the street. As I crossed the street, I noticed a man acting erratically. He wasn't dressed as if homeless and he didn't seem to be completely mentally disturbed (you get to having a pretty good barometer for these things in San Francisco), but I loosened the top of my coffee cup regardless. Just in case a'la Jason Bourne. Sure enough, as I walked past him, he tried to swing a rock at my head. Instinctively, my hand went up, splashed him with my coffee, and I bolted.

Now, a year or two prior to this, I had been wearing my headphones while traveling into the office in the mornings. A little music of one's own choosing can certainly make or break how the day goes. But I had given up on that practice, realizing exactly how much of the outer world I was missing by focusing too intently on the music being pumped through my headphones. I heard nothing but the music and this was a bad thing. Eventually, I gave it up and simply started reading a book on the bus...because really, who steals books over iPods or iPhones or e-readers? No one.

This is a little tangential, but remains relevant to my point: disconnect. Do it for a week and see what happens. I frequently deactivate my Facebook account in order to clear my head of the digital clutter (because I'm an ACTIVE user of Facebook). I get so much more done in terms of writing and reading and furthering where I need to be in my life when I'm not wasting my time on social media. I've gotten more writing done with this last period of deactivation than I'd seen in months (part of which is due to writing prompts being sent from my friend Surya). Regardless, put the phones down for an evening. Turn them off when you're at dinner with people. Quit taking pictures of your food and start living in the moment like you actually want to be there. You'll find an enrichment in your life you didn't previously realize and you won't soon forget it.

There's very little your electronic device can do that outweighs the benefits of realizing you are in the middle of living a life. That Facebook notification? It'll still be there when you finally get home. That email from a prospective client? Same deal. We're a people that have gotten so used to getting what we want immediately that we've forgotten how to be patient, how to enjoy the silence between moments of noise. The longest amount of time I deactivated my Facebook for was three months. The first couple of weeks were rough, but the ones Productivity like whoa.

So yourself a favor and disconnect. Do it now. The digital world will still be there when you return and you truly won't have missed anything.

(Plus you'll just end up being far, far less mentally frazzled. Trust me on this one...)


Friday, October 18, 2013

Passion + Creativity = Success

Seems simple enough a concept, no? Too often we find ourselves mired in the nature of trends or hot topics that the general public seems to be obsessed about rather than the ideas and concepts we ourselves are obsessed with and, personally, I usually hate "trends." I shied away from the uproar around the Harry Potter books for a few years until I saw the first movie. Liked it enough that I gave the books a chance and found myself really enjoying the whole world that Rowling had created. I ignored the uproar surrounding "Twilight" and the "50 Shades of Gray" series of books. I read a single page of each of those and wanted to throw the books across the store purely because the writing was absolutely terrible. If I had ever written anything like that and put it up for dissection in my workshop classes, my work would've been eviscerated by my peers and rightly so.

This idea of passion and creativity has been at the forefront of my writerly mind for the last few years. Once I realized that writing is where I wanted to take my life (or at least make the main focus of my future), it became important to me to put out the writing that I wanted and that I wasn't the least bit ashamed of. Maybe this idea sounds obvious, but I've met plenty of people happily willing to reach the status quo without pushing themselves, which, at best, confuses me. I'm not satisfied with simply doing the bare minimum and expecting grand results from that.

For many years, I've been a huge fan of certain television shows that showcase a kind of creativity that can't be bottled up or sold. Shows like "Work of Art" (reviewed by me HERE), "Top Chef," and pretty much anything that Anthony Bourdain involves himself in ("No Reservations," "The Layover," and currently "Parts Unknown").

Despite these shows being "reality" television, there is this undercurrent of idea sewn throughout the fabric of each show. "Work of Art" is simply showcasing the artistic process of people who already make art. "Top Chef" showcases the culinary skills of chefs either up-and-coming or already making waves in the culinary world. Anthony Bourdain, especially in his latest show, does some fantastic cultural analysis in regards to the culinary palette. Of particular note, episode four of the second season when he visits Denmark is the reason I write this entry.

Unlike most episodes, he's not focusing on the country he's visiting...he's focusing on one chef, Rene Redzepi, executive chef at Noma in Copenhagen. Throughout the episode, the idea of exceptionalism (widely panned by most Danes) is made out to be a bad thing in the country; when someone draws attention to themselves intentionally for whatever reason, it's frowned upon. And yet, Chef Redzepi has gone beyond the status quo to grow a restaurant that serves up food that, at first glance, feels foreign and alien in ways that have nothing to do with nationality.

Not only has he unintentionally grown his restaurant to worldwide acclaim, he has a culinary laboratory on a house boat where one (or several) of his employees are constantly pushing the envelope with new ingredients: larvae, mummification processes, insects, rot. Some experiments turn out great results, others turn out lukewarm responses, but Redzepi's philosophy is "never be afraid to fail." This philosophy is made apparent in the way he treats his kitchen staff when allowing them all to make different dishes for all the other kitchen staff to try out and critique. While some executive chefs might take the best dishes and put them on the menu, Redzepi leaves the control of the new dish in the hands of its creator rather than superimposing it upon the vision of his kitchen. The dish is theirs to make and mold. The kitchen is a live and bustling laboratory all its own for new chefs to try out ideas. And this is how we should approach creativity in general - never be afraid to fail; try everything; never discount the foreign simply because it is foreign.

If I've learned nothing else during my short 34 years on this planet, it's that I need to do things on my own terms while still understanding (and remembering) the past that came before me. Without knowing the past, I cannot make my mark on the future in my own distinctive way. Will I ever see massive success? That's up to the future to decide. But until I find the answer to that question, I have to just keep doing things on my own terms and no one else's, otherwise the finished product will ring false and hollow, not only to me, but to the public in general.

I have been blessed to know a small number of people who have been more than happy to give me feedback on my writing experiments. I've also been blessed to have them give me the straight truth rather than sugar-coating their responses. This is absolutely key for an artist of any sort. If the product isn't good, it's better to know that and continue pushing forward to make it better than to sit on some turd of a project assuming it's wonderful. I, personally, will continue giving the same kind of honest response to those that ask me of my opinion as well. I'd rather see a friend fail and struggle and keep trying than one that takes mediocre responses as perfection and settles. Every time.

"If you don't have a clear sense of tradition, then how can you honestly go about reinventing it?"


Monday, October 7, 2013

New Publications & The Value of Prompts

So I've had a couple more pieces published. They aren't nearly as strange as some of the previous ones (and one of them is even shorter than my usual fare), but they're pretty quick reads.

"Puzzle Peace" can be read over at Crack the Spine. It's a digital issue, so you'll have to manually click through the issue to get to it, but it's near the front. You can read that one HERE.

"Sympathetic Magic" has been put up in the "Seven Deadly Sins" issue of Penduline Press's latest publication. You can read it HERE.

My friend Donna Laemmlen also has a piece up in that same issue called "Thank You for Everything," which is a fun piece. It can be read HERE.

*     *     *     *     *

I took a trip to Napa this weekend to stay at my friend Surya and his wife. I find that spending too much time in San Francisco makes me feel claustrophobic, closed in. I feel like a rat simply going through the motions of riding the train into the city, going to work, clocking out at the end of the day, riding the train home, repeat ad nauseum, ad infinitum. There's plenty to do here, don't get me wrong, and it's an incredibly literary city, but I've somehow got this notion that being in San Francisco translates directly to "work" rather than "play."

I took the ferry across the bay (as I tend to do when not roadtripping up there with my friend Carla). One gets pretty fantastic views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge when heading north up to Vallejo, the city due south of wine country. I normally get reading or writing done during the hour-long ride, but this time I simply listened to music and tried to ease into relax mode.

I haven't written anything new in months and, for a writer, this isn't a good thing. Not for lack of ideas really, but I've been so busy at my day job that I'm simply exhausted by the time I get home and by the time I find myself relaxed enough from the work day to focus on something, it's time for bed.

This isn't really a conducive schedule or frame of mind for good output. So after a weekend of swimming, literary and political discussions, and fantastic food at the Fremont Diner, we stood outside smoking and chatting. He gave me a single word prompt to get me writing. That word was "factory" and I ended up knowing exactly what I wanted to write about within seconds. Perfectly weird and perfectly sensible (sort of), I wrote a good three pages on my Novel Idea app on the boat ride home. It's a piece I'm hoping to return to this evening as I like its current skeletal structure. It needs fattening up of course (it's only a first draft after all), but I think it'll be a pretty good read when it's done. Here's an excerpt for the curious:

Eight factories exist, each with their own sub-wings based on physiology. This final one, the eighth, creates not only toes, but fingers, noses, ears, thick muscled tongues, strips of eyebrow and scalps of hair or non-hair, eyelids, and the complex eyeball (made by the eldest and most experienced of craftsmen). These are the final touches, the accoutrements that turn the Gepetto Corporation's fully fleshed ideas into partial-flesh realities.

Factory 8 is the last in a long line of factories built to create each separate body part. This one in particular is where the toes are made, built of discarded ligament, "bone" made of firm but pliable rubber, skin made of skin donated from those no longer living, topped with toenails made of blended shale (for strength) and abalone (for shine). 

Having said all this, should any of you readers out there want to toss a word or phrase my way to get some new writing out of me, feel free to leave it/them in the comments.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Books On Deck / Up Next

"Father of Lies" by Brian Evenson

"At the urging of his wife, Provost Fochs reluctantly agrees to see a therapist, Dr. Feshtig. Through the therapist's detailed notes, correspondence from the church, and the provost himself, the provost's sickness emerges and the reader is drawn into the disturbing inner workings of a violent pedophile. The provost relays his crimes in excruciating detail. 'God told me that where evil made its mark, good must follow, burning evil out and purifying the body.' Fochs describes a dream in which he sodomizes two boys from the parish in an effort to exorcise their sins. Soon thereafter, two boys come forward accusing Fochs of that very deed. In another dream he strangles and dismembers a young girl in the woods near his house, where a child from his parish is later found."

"Altmann's Tongue" by Brian Evenson

"The spirit of Edgar Allan Poe inhabits this collection of violent and mysterious stories that recall not only that master of the perverse but also the seamier side of the nightly news. Death seems to arrive inevitably, often quickly, in these tales; in the title story, a man contemplates the justice of the two murders he has just committed, and, in the concluding novella, a detective relentlessly pursues a trail of bodies that leads ever closer to himself. Despite the horror present in each story, Evenson's blend of wit and shock, which plunges readers into the minds of his often demented protagonists, serves to create acceptance even as it generates repulsion; in "Stung," for example, a boy seemingly kills his stepfather for no apparent reason but then is seduced, languidly and ineluctably, by his mother. Many of these tales, particularly the short-shorts, remain enigmatic, resistant to any explication; yet even they are told in such a compelling fashion that one reads not to understand but merely to witness."

"A Compendium of Collective Nouns" by Jason Sacher

"This illustrated guide compiles over 2,000 collective nouns and brings them to life in stunningly colorful, graphic artwork from the design dynamos at Woop Studios. Chock-full of treasures of the English language, the diversity of terms collected here covers topics from plants and animals (a parade of elephants, an embarrassment of pandas) to people and things (a pomposity of professors, an exultation of fireworks) and range from the familiar (a pride of lions) to the downright obscure (an ooze of amoebas). Pronunciations, definitions, etymologies, and historical anecdotes make this beautiful book an entertaining read, a standout reference, and a visual treat. Language lovers and art appreciators alike will be captivated by this gem, rich in word and image."

"In Heaven Everything is Fine: Fiction Inspired by David Lynch"

"Featuring Thomas Ligotti, John Skipp, David J (of Bauhaus), Ben Loory, Nick Mamatas, Amelia Gray, Kevin Sampsell, Blake Butler, Matthew Revert, J. David Osborne, Cody Goodfellow, Violet LeVoit,  Sam Pink, Jeffrey Thomas, Garrett Cook, Jeff Burk, Andrew Wayne Adams, Edward Morris, Zack Wentz, Laura Lee Bahr, Gabriel Blackwell, Michael J. Seidlinger, Suzanne Burns, Jarret Middleton, Matty Byloos, Chris Kelso, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., M.P. Johnson, Kirsten Alene, Jeremy C. Shipp, Jody Sollazzo, Liam Davies, Jeremy Robert Johnson, Kris Saknussemm, Mike Kleine, and Nick Antosca."

"The Serialist" by David Gordon

"Harry Bloch is a struggling writer who pumps out pulpy serial novels—from vampire books to detective stories—under various pseudonyms. But his life begins to imitate his fiction when he agrees to ghostwrite the memoir of Darian Clay, New York City’s infamous Photo Killer. Soon, three young women turn up dead, each one murdered in the Photo Killer’s gruesome signature style, and Harry must play detective in a real-life murder plot as he struggles to avoid becoming the killer’s next victim.

Witty, irreverent, and original, The Serialist is a love letter to books—from poetry to pornography—and proof that truth really can be stranger than fiction."

"Special Topics in Calamity Physics" by Marisha Pessl

"Structured around a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class, this mesmerizing debut, uncannily uniting the trials of a postmodern upbringing with a murder mystery, heralds the arrival of a vibrant new voice in literary fiction."

"Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting" by Syd Field

"A generation of screenwriters has used Syd Field’s bestselling books to ignite successful careers in film. Now the celebrated producer, lecturer, teacher, and bestselling author has updated his classic guide for a new generation of filmmakers, offering a fresh insider’s perspective on the film industry today. From concept to character, from opening scene to finished script, here are easily understood guidelines to help aspiring screenwriters—from novices to practiced writers—hone their craft. Filled with updated material—including all-new personal anecdotes and insights, guidelines on marketing and collaboration, plus analyses of recent films, from  American Beauty to Lord of the RingsScreenplay presents a step-by-step, comprehensive technique for writing the screenplay that will succeed in Hollywood."


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

August Publications

August has been pretty good to me. I found out earlier in the month that my story "Moon Noir" will be published in an upcoming issue of the Criminal Class Press. You can check them out and all their previous issues at the link. 

It's a dark story (like most from the collection) broken up into three sections: the point of view of the kidnapper, the point of view of the kidnapped, and the point of view of the moon. While there is an underlying violence to the story, I don't know that I would actually call it violent. It's definitely hinted at, however.

Yesterday, I had the good fortune of hearing about two more publication opportunities within hours of each other. This had never happened before. One or two in a month has been (thus far) a rarity for me, but two in one day? I'm still reeling a bit, but it's emboldened me to seriously carve out some time and do nothing but focus more than I have already.

Yesterday morning, the good folks over at Crack the Spine Magazine let me know that they really enjoyed my piece called "Puzzle Peace," about a shut-in of a woman who ends up receiving mysterious packages full of pictures and words every day. She starts plastering these images all over her house until one day...well, you'll just have to check it out. Things get a little strange as they are wont to do in my fictional worlds.

Then, yesterday afternoon, I heard from Bonnie at Penduline Press that they wanted to publish a shorter piece called "Sympathetic Magic." I don't remember where I originally heard the phrase, but I remembered loving the explanation behind it when I looked it up. From the Wikipedia page:

"If we analyze the principles of thought on which magic is based, they will probably be found to resolve themselves into two: first, that like produces like, or that an effect resembles its cause; and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed. The former principle may be called the Law of Similarity, the latter the Law of Contact or Contagion. From the first of these principles, namely the Law of Similarity, the magician infers that he can produce any effect he desires merely by imitating it: from the second he infers that whatever he does to a material object will affect equally the person with whom the object was once in contact, whether it formed part of his body or not." – Sir James Frazer from The Golden Bough

Something about this phrase rang true for me and I instantly saw it as a way to tell the story of a family (from the matriarch down to the son and his wife, down to their daughter, so on) by focusing not on the people or their actions, but instead focusing on the objects with which they surrounded themselves (clothing, jewelry) or placed importance on (books, photographs). I was really happy with the outcome and I'm glad to hear the folks at Penduline were as well.

So...August has been good to me thus far. These pieces may not see actual publication for a bit, but they're forthcoming. Until then, you keep writing and I'll do the same.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Looking for a Literary Agent

So the short story collection is done. It's been revised and edited over and over, and while 13 of the 18 pieces are still out for possible publication at a large number of places, "Scaring the Stars into Submission" is ready to be birthed out into the world...assuming anyone wants to publish it.

Luckily, I've got a couple friends who have already gone through this whole process so I was able to ask for their advice, which I'll impart here as it's important and will streamline the process for you as well. I think. Since I haven't actually acquired an agent yet (or published anything larger than a 53-page story), this may be more akin to me trying to teach Barry Bonds how to hit a homerun; laughable.

First and foremost, that manuscript you think is ready to go? Make damn sure it is. That old shampoo commercial gifted out some great advice when they said "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." If your manuscript ain't up to snuff the first time out and it's flat out panned by everyone you submit it to, you're not going to get a second chance to sell it to those same people. The likelihood of that happening is pretty infinitesimally small anyway. So take a month to go through the whole thing, check for simple grammar errors that spell-check won't pick up on (improper homonyms, etc.), and make sure that you're happy with the final product. If you've got any doubts at all, hold off. Your gut is almost always right and waiting another month or a year isn't going to make the work any worse.

Let me take a moment to freak you out and explain to you the enormity of the pond in which you're about to dip your literary toe:

Thanks to the findings at Worldometer, by the time I publish this blog, AT LEAST 1,462,402 new books will have been published. This year. By August of 2013. August 10th. That's some serious competition you plan on running up against and chances are good you're not going to get hitched to a large publishing house or have a bestseller on your hands. By December, that number will be close to 3 million unique books. Yours, should it get published, will simply be one in an ocean of millions, so...good luck with that.

Now forget all that. Put those daunting numbers out of your head and focus on your work and your work alone. If it's indeed done and ready to be birthed out onto real page and binding, here's how to start. Or at least how I've been going about it recently.

There are tons of independent presses that don't require you, the author, to have an agent to deal with them. Chances are good that if you read (and hopefully you do if you call yourself a writer), you've got some books by authors you enjoy that have been put out on some of these smaller imprints. Find the books that you've enjoyed or that have a style similar to yours. See if the corresponding independent press accepts manuscripts or query letters and send out accordingly. The benefit of the more independent presses is that more people are reading them now and they tend to fill certain niches that aren't being filled by the bigger publishing houses. I can think of six or seven presses right off the top of my head whose works I tend to really enjoy.

Another benefit of these independent presses is that they'll almost have a built-in fanbase. This isn't a guarantee that people will like your book, but like some smaller music labels, people know and come to expect a certain kind of aesthetic from an independent press that's built a good name for itself.

Some presses don't do manuscript readings except through contests. Don't be afraid to enter these and definitely don't hesitate to pay the $15-$30 entry fee. At worst, you're out $15-$30 and you need to submit the manuscript elsewhere. At best, you're out $15-$30, but you've found someone who likes your manuscript enough to publish it. Huzzah!

Supposing you've reached your limit on the independent presses that you're familiar with and all of them have politely declined the manuscript you've bled and sweat tears across for the last year. it's time to reach out for a little help. Time to find an agent.

There's a pretty fantastic site out there called Agent Query. It's free to sign up, but of course there's the paid option that offers up more access to more parts of the site. The really beneficial thing, however, is that you can search for agents based upon what kinds of fiction or non-fiction they deal in.

Do you write Chick Lit? There's an agent for that.

Do you write Offbeat/Quirky Lit? There's an agent for that.

Do you write German Oompah-Based Poetry? There's probably not an agent for that, actually, but you get the idea. Pages upon pages upon pages of agent information (do they accept query letters? do they accept emailed queries? where are they based?) are at your disposal. What literary agencies they work for, their email addresses, mailing addresses, whether they specialize in the short story form or novel or non-fiction forms, so on and so forth.

Use this resource; it's fantastic and will, at the very least, put you on a forward-moving path to getting published. You'll have to send out some emails to find the agent that works best for/with you which will take some time, but my friends who have gone through this process explained that potential agents were pretty good about getting back to their queries in a really quick fashion.

Now, having not gone through this whole process entirely myself yet, I'm pretty unqualified to talk about it, but it's where I'm currently at with my own work. I'll keep posting up little bits of information as it comes to me or if I find a particular bit of utility with any of my decisions. Best of luck to you!


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Books On Deck / Up Next

Vladimir Sorokin - "The Ice Trilogy" 

"In 1908, deep in Siberia, it fell to earth. THEIR ICE. A young man on a scientific expedition found it. It spoke to his heart, and his heart named him Bro. Bro felt the Ice. Bro knew its purpose. To bring together the 23,000 blond, blue-eyed Brothers and Sisters of the Light who were scattered on earth. To wake their sleeping hearts. To return to the Light. To destroy this world. And secretly, throughout the twentieth century and up to our own day, the Children of the Light have pursued their beloved goal.

Pulp fiction, science fiction, New Ageism, pornography, video-game mayhem, old-time Communist propaganda, and rampant commercial hype all collide, splinter, and splatter in Vladimir Sorokin’s virtuosic Ice Trilogy, a crazed joyride through modern times with the promise of a truly spectacular crash at the end. And the reader, as eager for the redemptive fix of a good story as the Children are for the Primordial Light, has no choice except to go along, caught up in a brilliant illusion from which only illusion escapes intact."

 Italo Calvino - "Letters: 1941-1985"

"This is the first collection in English of the extraordinary letters of one of the great writers of the twentieth century. Italy's most important postwar novelist, Italo Calvino (1923-1985) achieved worldwide fame with such books as Cosmicomics, Invisible Cities, and If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. But he was also an influential literary critic, an important literary editor, and a masterful letter writer whose correspondents included Umberto Eco, Primo Levi, Gore Vidal, Leonardo Sciascia, Natalia Ginzburg, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Luciano Berio. This book includes a generous selection of about 650 letters, written between World War II and the end of Calvino's life. Selected and introduced by Michael Wood, the letters are expertly rendered into English and annotated by well-known Calvino translator Martin McLaughlin.

The letters are filled with insights about Calvino's writing and that of others; about Italian, American, English, and French literature; about literary criticism and literature in general; and about culture and politics. The book also provides a kind of autobiography, documenting Calvino's Communism and his resignation from the party in 1957, his eye-opening trip to the United States in 1959-60, his move to Paris (where he lived from 1967 to 1980), and his trip to his birthplace in Cuba (where he met Che Guevara). Some lengthy letters amount almost to critical essays, while one is an appropriately brief defense of brevity, and there is an even shorter, reassuring note to his parents written on a scrap of paper while he and his brother were in hiding during the antifascist Resistance. 

This is a book that will fascinate and delight Calvino fans and anyone else interested in a remarkable portrait of a great writer at work."

Ben Jonson - "Volpone and Other Plays" 

"In this collection of plays, now with a new title, Ben Jonson created in Volpone and The Alchemist hilarious portraits of cupidity and chicanery, while in Bartholomew Fair he portrays his fellow Londoners at their most festive—and most bawdy."


Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson - "Mo' Meta Blues"

"Mo' Meta Blues is a punch-drunk memoir in which everyone's favorite Questlove tells his own story while tackling some of the lates, the greats, the fakes, the philosophers, the heavyweights, and the true originals of the music world. He digs deep into the album cuts of his life and unearths some pivotal moments in black art, hip hop, and pop culture.

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson is many things: virtuoso drummer, producer, arranger, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon bandleader, DJ, composer, and tireless Tweeter. He is one of our most ubiquitous cultural tastemakers, and in this, his first book, he reveals his own formative experiences--from growing up in 1970s West Philly as the son of a 1950s doo-wop singer, to finding his own way through the music world and ultimately co-founding and rising up with the Roots, a.k.a., the last hip hop band on Earth. Mo' Meta Blues also has some (many) random (or not) musings about the state of hip hop, the state of music criticism, the state of statements, as well as a plethora of run-ins with celebrities, idols, and fellow artists, from Stevie Wonder to KISS to D'Angelo to Jay-Z to Dave Chappelle ever seen Prince roller-skate?!?

But Mo' Meta Blues isn't just a memoir. It's a dialogue about the nature of memory and the idea of a post-modern black man saddled with some post-modern blues. It's a book that questions what a book like Mo' Meta Blues really is. It's the side wind of a one-of-a-kind mind.

It's a rare gift that gives as well as takes.

It's a record that keeps going around and around."

Nick Bantock - "The Museum at Purgatory" 

"Nick Bantock's many fans have come to expect strange and wonderful experiences as they enjoy his beautifully illustrated books, and this newest work will not disappoint. An otherworldly mixture of surreal drawings, photographs of invented and actual objects, fake documents, altered engravings, and fictions, it follows the post-death journey of Non, the museum's curator, as he gathers together artists and collectors - narrating and analysing their lives - in a desperate attempt to escape Purgatory and enter either Heaven or Hell. Bold, brilliant, and profound, The Museum at Purgatory is yet another shining example of Bantock's unique gift for combining word and stunning image to craft an extraordinary tale. Chronicle Books will publish The Artful Dodger: The Art of Nick Bantock in Fall 2000."

 Nick Bantock - "The Forgetting Room" 

.".. to my grandson, Armon Hurt, I leave my house in Ronda, Spain and the uncertainty of its contents. May he discover his belonging." -- From the last will and testament of Rafael Hurtago.

So begins Nick Bantock's latest novel, in which readers are invited to delve into the journal of Armon Hurt, a sad, discontented man who discovers his inner fire. When his artist grandfather dies, leaving him the family home in Spain, Armon travels to Andalusia with the intention of selling the property. Once there, however, he finds a sealed cardboard case containing a small oil painting and a surreal booklet.

As he examines these mysterious artifacts, Armon realizes that he is holding both his grandfather's last communication to him and a puzzle. He begins to decipher the conundrum, and as each new answer leads to more questions, Armon finds himself painting furiously in his grandfather's old studio strangely compelled to create a picture that is somehow linked to his legacy. 

Featuring paintings, drawings, collages and paper foldouts, this in no ordinary novel. Captivatingly imagined and genuinely memorable in its deeply personal account of a man in search of himself, "The Forgetting Room" is a handmade treasure, a seamless blend of artistry and language and a tantalizing read."

Nick Bantock - "The Venetian's Wife"

"Nick Bantock's illustrated novel, The Venetian's Wife, is part love story, part mystery, and part ghostly tale—and an altogether bewitching brew of sensuality and lost treasures. Thoroughly bored with her job at the local museum, Sarah heads to the gallery to take another look at that new drawing, the one she can't stop thinking about, the one of the Hindu god Shiva, who dances...That's when it all begins. The next day, an e-mail message brings her a job offer: to find the few remaining pieces of a 15th-century adventurer's renowned collection of Indian sculptures. Her employer, curiously, wishes to communicate only by computer. She has no idea who he is or why he wants her. But other mysteries soon preoccupy her, such as the meaning of an enigmatic illuminated manuscript—and the sensual transformation that seems to be overtaking her. Through her quirkily decorated diary and the artful e-mail exchanges between Sara and her mentor, Nick Bantock has conjured up a richly illustrated tale of a relentless quest, an amorous legacy, and the resonating power of art—a lush, romantic adventure of the soul that tantalizes the reader to the last line."