3.27.2015

Finished

Finishing a book is like being in the shower for a year and a half. You hear this constant stream of rushing water, no sounds outside of it really seem to matter, even if you have other fleeting thoughts or hear sounds from the apartment above you.  The shower is your only reality.

And then you turn the shower off.

And it's silent.

And you wonder: "Why the fuck did I just take a shower for a year and a half?"

At least that's how it feels for me.

I just submitted my first ever novel to a publisher. Do I expect anything to come out of this? Of course not. Even right before I clicked submit, I hesitated, wondering if I should even bother. It's nerve-wracking. Worse than being rejected is being accepted, and then actually allowing people to read all of these inane thoughts that have been cultivating inside of my head, especially the real weird stuff within the past couple months. And hope that I was able turn these thoughts into a literary format at the same time.

Either way, it's done. When it's inevitably rejected, I get to submit and submit and submit again. Eventually, I'll start a new one and start the whole process over. Gee. Can't wait...

In the meantime, I'm glad to finally have enough time to read someone else's work. Maybe start posting on here a bit more again. I'm proud of what I accomplished, but I just read the same damn book four times in a row. From now on, instead of editing so much, I think I'll just do it correctly the first time. Makes sense, right?

And don't worry, when it's ready, you can read it. I won't shut up about it. I'll make sure this thing, in whatever final form it ends up in, will end up in the hands or tablets of every last one of you.

3.04.2015

Size Doesn't Matter

You know what's fucked up? I've been working on this book for over a year and a half. I'm almost at 64,000 words. I entered super hibernation mode and ignored the entire world for three weeks to write the bulk of this. I've grown narcissistically insane thinking about what a great fucking writer I'm turning into and how this thing is going to change lives.

And this whole document, all of it, all of my random and twisted thoughts, all of the name-dropping and cultural references, all of my pseudo-philosophical meanderings on how technology is threatening (dismantling?!) free will, a fuckton of obscenities, all of it occupy an open office document of 175 KB.

That is such an incomprehensibly tiny speck of data on this machine that can hold 500 GB.

It's nothing.

Now that's what I call an ego killer.

I think I needed that.

Anyway.

Back to editing.

2.27.2015

Jami Attenberg - 'The Melting Season'

I feel conflicted. Not about the book. I liked the book. Attenberg is a great writer and I was engaged in this story all throughout.

I'm conflicted because it was a good book and I don't know why. Which is a good and bad thing. It's good, for Attenberg, because it means she writes so naturally and effortlessly that its just second nature for her to create a unique work of narrative fiction (which is not to say this required no effort; I know that's not true for any writer). It's a bad thing, for Attenberg, because I wasn't stirred as much as I'd hoped to be.

It's a good thing, for the reader, because it's an effortless read. You can fly through this thing, not being able to turn the page fast enough. It's a bad thing, for the reader, because you're not sure how to describe why this is so good.

The story involves a woman, Catherine, who is running away from home in Nebraska. She took all her husband's money, over six figures, and is driving, and eventually hits Vegas. Her marriage was falling apart (not just because her husband has a really small dick), her life itself was falling apart. Her little sister, a teenager, is pregnant, and her alcoholic mother beats on her all the time. Sheltered Midwest people living sheltered Midwest lives (Catherine comments more than once about how her family is trailer trash). But they have complex feelings and complex relationships that inform their complex feelings and cannot be reduced to issues such as pregnancy, or alcoholism, or domestic abuse, without taking into consideration the whole story.

2.25.2015

Aleksandar Hemon - 'Nowhere Man'

This was Hemon's first novel, published in 2002. It's the third book of his I've read but it's the first that has really showed me how brilliant of a writer he is. Within the first few pages I was hooked and didn't want to put it down. There are so many great lines. Here's a few that stick out from just the first few pages:
  • "...listening to the mizzle in my pillow,"
  • "The blinds gibbered..."
  • "The toilet bowl was agape, with a dissolving piece of toilet paper in it throbbing like a jellyfish."
  • "The faucet was sternly counting off droplets."
  • "Smashing the boxes was my favorite part, the controlled, benign destruction."
  • (about a cat, eating a mouse)..."patiently exposing its crimson essence."
  • "...a grimace of perplexed horror..."
  • "...despair was my loyal ally."
  • "...on a steel beam high up above perched a jury of pigeons, cooing peevishly."
His use of similes, adverbs and other modifiers, particularly with smell, offer a unique perspective, often accompanied by a morbid Eastern European sense of humor. Even without context, his sentences spring to life.

2.05.2015

Uki Goni - 'The Real Odessa'

Reading this book, and certainly writing about it, takes me a little bit out of my comfort zone. I'm used to reading and writing about fiction, yet this is non-fiction. The subtitle for the book is "How Peron Brought the Nazi War Criminals to Argentina." Which tells you exactly what the book is about. And while it may not be fiction, I still have many thoughts about the book, not to mention having learned some of the more atrocious secrets of Juan Peron's regime and Argentina's shameful complicity with saving Nazi war criminal and the real Odessa*.

First off, this story is thoroughly well researched. It's an amazing story, hard to believe at points how various governments of the world (including the USA) were complacent in the transfer of Nazis from post-WWII Europe to South America. That said, I thought the writing was a bit stiff and hard to follow at points. To that point, the book may have been too well-researched for only being 326 pages (not including the Afterward added to the second edition).

Another issue I had was how little mention there was of Eva 'Evita' Peron. She is mentioned numerous times throughout the book, sure, but is barely mentioned in the index when trying to find references to her. But, to be fair, this book is meant to focus on the war criminals. The book leaves her sympathies ambiguous: she did stand up to a Nazi war criminal when she refused to fire a Jewish employee. Yet, she was very welcoming and apparently charmed by multiple Nazis that visited la Casa Rosada.

But enough about the issues. The story is fascinating and I recommend it to any history buffs out there. Here are some of my major takeaways from the book:

2.01.2015

Kazuo Ishiguro - 'Never Let Me Go'

This book's been on my shelf for awhile. Finally got around to reading it. I think it's the fastest I've ever read a book that just made me go 'meh' at the end.

I'd been looking forward to reading something by Ishiguro for awhile. I see a lot of other authors I respect drop his name as a writer they appreciate. I can't quite put my finger on what it was but the book just didn't do it for me.

The story follows three main characters. Kathy is the narrator, retelling stories from the Hailsham, a vague prep school of sorts where she grew up with her friends Ruth and Tommy. Today, Kathy is a carer, while the other two are donors. It's ambiguous what this means, but as the book goes on, we learn it has to do with cloning (oh yeah, if you don't like spoilers, turn ye away now; probably don't watch the movie before reading the book either). These clones exist for the sole reason to be raised into healthy organ donors. Cancer and various diseases are a thing of the past in this world. So in this respect, I can understand the questions the book raises. Do clones have souls? Is it ethical to raise sentient beings for the purpose to save other sentient beings, without regards for the feelings of the former?

1.30.2015

James Tadd Adcox - 'Does Not Love'

I read this book in less than a day. That itself doesn't mean it's a great book, but there are other reasons this is a great book.

Save for the fact that so much good stuff is coming out on Curbside Splendor and that apparently Adcox knows my fellow Front Psych warrior Keith Meatto, I was excited to read this book. Mostly because it got compared to Don DeLillo, whose White Noise I'd finally read a few months back and thought it was brilliant. This book does indeed carry a similar vein of storytelling, taking jabs at pharmaceutical corporations, contemporary domestic life, and is written with so many jumpcuts that Godard himself would get dizzy reading this book.

Most of the chapters are 1-3 pages, offering multiple glimpses into the two main characters lives, the married couple Viola and Robert. After their third miscarriage, their marriage is falling apart. While predictable Robert is accepting of the state of things, Viola wants change. And Robert isn't as predictable as Viola makes him out to be. And Viola may not be able to handle the change she so desires.

The pacing of this book is perfect. The brevity of the chapters make the book feel like a flash fiction collection of loosely related plots. There are bits of surreality, with ghosts and empty spaces that can talk back to Viola and Robert. Yet it's still rooted in just enough reality to make one think that pharmaceutical guinea pigs could be forming and underground society while an FBI agent is fucking the brains out of a woman with the intent to ruin one man's life.

Never convoluted, often funny, and always kept me wanting more. It's a shame this didn't end up on more year-end lists. A truly contemporary debut novel that shows a sharp, satirical wit that will hopefully only continue to cut.

1.18.2015

Hibernation

Experiment: Take six weeks off of work. Start date: January 19th, 2015.

Objective: Write.

Hypothesis: Failure. Complete and utter failure (in the most optimistic way possible).

Tools: Laptop. Pen. Paper. Various works of already written fiction. Brain.

Procedure:

  • Week One: Outside of any emergencies, avoid all social contact. Avoid the news. Sleep a lot. Sleep very little. Writing above all else, even eating. No entertainment, except reading fiction, which is still work. No Twitter. No Facebook. No Netflix. No Groupon. No Skype. No Instagram. No Grubhub. No Spotif...who am I kidding, I'm keeping Spotify, but rocking that private mode.
  • Week Two: Keep writing.
  • Week Three: Are you deaf? Just. Keep. Writing.
  • Week Four: Escape To NYC aka "Where's Waldo" but in Brooklyn. All the museums. All the Chinatowns. All the coffee. All the beer.
  • Week Five. Escape to DC.
  • Week Six: Recover.
  • Week Seven: Reality.

Outcome: ???

I've been thinking about doing this for awhile. The closer it came to actually pulling the plug, the more nervous I got to thinking that I made a really stupid decision. Now that it's finally here, I have to follow through and see what happens. Two recent tweets by two brilliant minds serendipitously boosted my confidence in my decision:

"I went to the woods becuase I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." - Henry David Thoreau (not currently on Twitter)

A couple people have compared this excursion of mine to Thoreau and Walden. It's not quite that intense (pretty sure he didn't have a laptop), and it's only a week as compared to two years. But a week without any human contact must seem pretty bizarre, unrealistic even, especially living in a city. But this is my woods. Sometimes, it's best to revert into oneself, especially for someone who makes it a point to explore these urban woods so entirely and enthusiastically. For now, I want to make writing the essential facts of life, to write deliberately, and to learn what it has to teach.

How does one define human contact? I will still probably keep up with the news. I'll still read books that others have written. I'll listen to music others have recorded. I might even send out an email or two. But as far as physically seeing, touching, or hearing the natural, unelectronically amplified vibrations of sound from another person's mouth, I'll have no contact with any of it.

I read advice for writers constantly. I read about the habits of famous writers. I read the tips from the woman who wrote 90,000 words in six weeks. Have a routine they say; don't have a routine say others. Have word goals. Don't have word goals. Frankly, I don't give a shit about any of it. There is no one way to write or to type. Even Henry Miller's advice is contradictory. I want to conflate writing and typing (Capote be damned). I want to type pages and pages of material that can eventually be sculpted into a final product. And there may never even be a final product. That's a risk I'm willing to take. That all of this could be for nothing.

I just quit working two jobs six days a week, but this will arguably be the hardest work I've ever had to do. Probably because I've told so damn many of you of my plans. Well, make no small plans right? So, bon nuit for now. Time to hibernate (and if you're still reading this far, you can probably bet on catching me at Yonatan Gat at the Empty Bottle on Feb 2nd).

5.13.2014

Poems About Bars: The California Clipper (09.30.11)

I only write poetry about bars. This is from a few years ago. I promise my next poem about the Clipper will be more David Lynchian.

via Bars Without TVs

'The California Clipper (09.30.11)'


A bubbling sewer
A blue light flashes
A moped in the distance
               and a bicycle bell rings at the stoplight

Time to mask my breath
              with a stiff drink

5.09.2014

Joan Didion - 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem"

Finally introduced myself to Joan Didion. This book is a collection of essays written between 1965-7, primarily taking place all over the West Coast, including a reminiscence of her childhood in Sacramento, following John Wayne to a movie set in Mexico, an in depth look at the Haight-Ashbury scene in San Fran, an essay on self-respect and more. I might have glazed over one or two of the twenty collected essays, but for the most part I was quite captivated in subjects I didn't think I held much interest in.

The title of the collection (and my favorite essay of the bunch) comes from a Yeats poem, quoted in the epigraph. I was almost turned off there since Romantic poetry ain't my jam, but I kept an open-mind. But the first essay, describing the trial of a husband's alleged murder by his wife, gripped me from the start. Didion was quite enmeshed in the West Coast culture; she understands it on a more personal level than Thompson's drug-punctured mind, though their comparison may only be apt in regards to the Haight-Asbury essay. In 'Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,' Didion talks about the appeal of the West, how in 60s (and probably still today) it still holds the illusion of frontier. "The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past."

Other out of context yet aphoristic lines that shimmer like gold as I, the reader, pan through her prose like a 49er:

"...the revelation that the dream was teaching the dreamers how to live."

"But Durango. The very name hallucinates."

"The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself."

"Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question."

"Perhaps in retrospect this has been a story not about Sacramento at all, but about the things we lose and the promises we break as we grow older."

On fiction vs. non-:

"...not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters."

And more proof that any online thinkpiece you read about the "death of the novel" is bullshit:

"Right now he is talking about Marshall McLuhan and how the printed word is finished, out, over." (written in 1967)

If there's one thing I want to hate Joan Didion for, it's for spreading the secret that only those of us that wield language as our weapon formerly knew. "Writers are always selling somebody out." It seems like one of those romantic and generalized notions of writing that I read all too often on pretentious twitter accounts, but I can't say I'd want to read a story where nobody got hurt.