Monday, October 28, 2013

Gone to Soundcloud and Exploring Trunked Work

So, I took an afternoon and voice-recorded a short story of mine, "Gone to Earth," about which I have been proud and happy since I originally wrote it a few years back. It won honorable mention in a Writer's Digest contest (although I have this sneaking feeling that WD contests are just profitmongers and it's actually a meaningless honor), but nooooobody wants it. It's been submitted something like 15 times. Every so often I get fed up with it and move it to my Retired folder, but then after a year I'll read it again and go "Dammit, this thing is good," and dust it off for another round of rejections. No more. I recorded it and that's how it's going into the world.

A bit of backstory: The idea is mine, but I stole the title from a book by Mary Webb, which was pretty successful in its day but has fallen almost entirely into obscurity. This book contains the worst, most incomprehensible dialect of any book I have ever read. And the story feels a little, er...obsolete. But I loved the title, loved what it implied. In the book, the title is something of a metaphor about the main character, her pet fox, and her eventual self-sacrifice, but in my story it's slightly more literal.

"Gone to Earth" is about 4,500 words, and that turned out to be 25 minutes of audio and a whole afternoon's work in recording. I trimmed it a bit, and it's down to 22 minutes, but I don't blame you if you don't click below. Even 22 minutes feels too long to me.

So I'm looking for shorter pieces to record. I have a couple of little nonfictions that I'll probably try, but I want to do a sprinkling of both, fiction and non, and so I looked at some of the longer pieces I've written to see if I can scalpel out stuff that's 3K or less. Seeking excerpts that stood on their own, I ended up skimming two novels I've written and decided to trunk - the time book and the Greenland book - and boy, was that a strange trip.

Both books are probably better trunked for now. I don't like some of the characters in the time book enough to rewrite it with the same people, and it simply won't do as it is. I might rewrite it with the same kind of fantasy-universe rules, but with different characters and a different situation. Kind of taking patches from what exists but sewing a whole new quilt. Some of that book does stand on its own, and there's a short piece from it that I'm probably going to record. There's also a 14,000-word patch (Clara's journal/story, for those of you who've read it) that is one of my favorite things that I've written, but which I'm pretty sure no one but me can love.

Meanwhile, the Greenland book...oh, brother. I'm astonished by the scope of that book and by how inadequately I executed it. It contains reams of Victorian-style exposition text, all of which should have been translated into actual scenes where things happen rather than telling the audience all about it after the fact.

Thing is, I'm kind of dumbfounded by the extent of the universe I created in this book. I made a whole language! Seriously! And I'm still so compelled by the characters. Maybe it's a rookie move to fall in love with your characters as you're writing them, but it's what I do every time I write something worth reading, and that love was still so strong for all three of my main characters as I skimmed over the Greenland book.

I don't think I'm ready to rewrite it yet, but I am determined to do so someday. I think it will wind up very long in its eventual incarnation. Epical. There are well over a dozen secondary characters, all of whom have specific roles to play. I definitely did not make each of these characters clear in the version that exists, and I don't want the reader to get (too) confused, so I might build whole storylines for them and end up with an opus of Game of Thrones length once I'm finished.

What else is happening...I still haven't found time to set aside for writing new stuff, and it's starting to wear on my well-being. I have more story ideas than I know what to do with. Some good friends are moving away from L.A. for new adventures, leaving me and Matt pretty bereft. My group won a poetry contest in my English class, and as a prize, I got a sticker that looks like this:

Artist: Peter Nevins. More good stuff at

I'd be best served by sticking it over my computer screen, I think - particularly to block out Facebook, if such a thing is possible - but I might put it on my car.

Got a painful rejection yesterday, but the less said about it the better. All part of the cycle. Find new market, resubmit, rinse, repeat.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Interlude Containing Zebras

About a quarter of the people who visited the last post answered the poll. Sheesh, y'all. There's still time, if you want to vote.

The recordation idea of the poll springs from the same place as today's post. Certain stories of mine are unsaleable, either according to mountains of rejections or for other reasons, but are still worthwhile in my eyes. I thought that recording these pieces in my own mellifluous voice [laughter] and posting them on my website might be interesting for all of us. I'll wait a bit longer for the poll to tell me whether or not there's interest enough in this idea to make it worth my while, but in the meantime here's one of those pieces in prose form.

This is nonfiction, after a fashion, and I wrote it at Esalen within the parameters of a writing exercise related to the alphabet (see if you can pick up on it, she said dryly). I got compliments on it while I was there, and I think it's pretty okay for a flash (I don't write flash especially well), but it's too gimmicky and a bit too self-centered for me to feel right about sending it anywhere. So you get it, instead, all 640ish words of it. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Back to the Point...Eventually

I am easily distracted from the purpose of this blog.

On Friday night, I drafted a post about taking solace in Star Wars after a difficult day last week, and I was all ready to post it today, but it's just not right. This is a writing blog. It's about my life, too, but the rule to which I try to hold is only to write about non-art-related life episodes if I can turn them into writing exercises, after a fashion. My last post, about Zoe - that was good news that I was bursting to share, but I also tried to make it an exercise. To write it in the most artful way possible.

Anyway. Star Wars provided solace after a difficult day. Also, I got a [second] tattoo, see:

It's the lamppost that marks the northwestern border of Narnia, drawn by my talented friend Kathleen and carved on my arm forevermore by Katelyn Crane at MD Tattoo Studio. You can't see it from this picture, but the line work is amazing. After epic waffling, I got it, and I love it.

And that's enough of my life. Answer this poll, would you? Neither response will hurt my feelings.

If I created audio recordings of me reading my work (fiction and nonfiction), would you want to listen to them?

In the last couple of weeks I've had some very disappointing rejections. There've been a few that didn't matter much, but there were others where I felt that the piece and the mag were just right for each other, and the rejection said things like "We loved it, but we don't want it. Send us something else." Intellectually, I realize that this is the best possible kind of rejection to get - it means (crucially) that my work is getting better, and (less crucially, but a nice consolation) that I might get into the mag in the future. But in the act of reading the e-mail, or at night before I go to sleep...these rejections are NO FUN.

And yet.

I got an acceptance, too, recently. An LGBTQ publication called Wilde Magazine is going to publish a short story of mine called "The Hands of Men," in which something really awful happens to a nice closeted young man. The magazine will be out before the end of the month, if I'm not mistaken. This is great news. While I'm less googly-eyed about this story than I am about others I've written, I really wanted it to have a home. And now it does. Hooray!

Here is a short list of the projects swirling around my head to work on:
-Airplane story
-Weird hypertext story that I don't know how to write because it requires web development skilz I don't have
-Cee story #2
-Noir story #2

And here is a complete list of the projects I have managed to get my butt in my seat and work on:


Did I mention I got a tattoo?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I Think I'll Throw a Party


Lemme splain.

The apartment building I live in is shaped like a long U, and I live on the inward side, which means I can see a lot of other balconies from my balcony. Kind of like Rear Window. My desk sits next to the glass balcony doors, but even if it didn't, even if it was anywhere else in my apartment, I still would have been able to hear Zoe and her owner all day, every day.

Zoe is a little Bichon-type white fluffy dog, and until this past weekend, Zoe resided with her owner in an apartment across from me and over one. And Zoe barked incessantly. If Zoe's owner was on her balcony, Zoe was with her, and if Zoe was with her, Zoe was barking. And Zoe's owner was on the balcony nearly all day, from 8 or 9 AM until 2 or 3 PM. A lumpy woman with bad taste in pajama pants and (in the afternoon, once she got dressed) makeup thick enough for me to see her eyeliner from my desk, she sat out there and chain-smoked and talked on the phone, alternating between Spanish and English, for hours on end. I still have no idea what she was on about, nor how, if this eternal talking was somehow part of her work, her clients/boss/whoever put up with the sound of a dog barking nonfuckingstop in the background. Her balcony was too far away for me to understand what she was saying. But it was not too far away to hear Zoe.



I could think of nothing that would stop this. Even if the management office could be arsed to deal with such a thing, what would they do? You can talk about nuisance codes and whatnot, but I knew I was pretty much stuck with Zoe via official channels.

I thought about leaving a note at Zoe's door with cut-up magazine letters: STOP THE BARKING OR THE DOG GETS IT. But how would I follow through? I also thought of leaving a $75 gift card to PetSmart at the door, with an anonymous note saying BUY A DAMN BARK COLLAR ALREADY. If I thought she'd've taken my suggestion, I would gladly have spent the money. But I know there are people who object to debatably cruel measures to keep incredibly poorly trained animals from irritating everyone in the vicinity. Perhaps this particular woman was one of them.

In recent months, Zoe's owner had started trying to curb the barking (I guess?) by snapping "Zoe!" after every bark. Like so: *bark* "Zoe!" *bark bark* "Zoe! Ssh!" *bark* "Zoe!" *bark bark* "Zoe, stop!" Needless to say, this did not work. It just meant I learned Zoe's name.

Last weekend, I was going up the stairs next to my apartment, which gives me a more straight-on view into Zoe's apartment, and I saw that the decorative wall sconce at the back of the dining room had been taken down. Large packing boxes were open in there.

Oh, be still my heart.

I did not dare to hope.

But on Monday, the white plastic lawn chairs and the little table with the cactus on it had been removed from Zoe's balcony. Inside, the blinds were open and the lights were off.

And all this week? No Zoe. No "Zoe!" No talking woman with her two cell phones and unfathomable schedule. NO BARKING.

Oh, the blessed silence.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Re: 11/22/63 and a Certain Surprising Thumbs-Down

This post is spectacularly full of spoilers. 

I have been reading Stephen King since before I was 10 years old. I've read 45 of his books, which according to this problematic list is about half of his output. After finishing Ulysses, I must have decided that my taste for long books had not abated, so I set in on 11/22/63. I hit what was in essence the first plot point and did something that I know is a sin, something I never thought I'd admit to doing in a public place. I read ahead. After gathering intel on what happened in the middle and the end of the book, I decided provisionally to keep going. My bookmark is currently placed between pages 358 and 359, and now I'm thinking of doing something else I've never done before: give up on a King book before I'm finished.

Friday, October 11, 2013

All Perfume

The workshop on Wednesday night was not what I expected. Everybody [who talked] was more engaged with my story than I thought they would be. An aspect of the story that had never occurred to me (and probably never would have), but that I consider a major problem, was brought to my attention, so YAY for that. Overall the experience was less scary and frustrating and a good deal weirder than I thought it would be, based on prior workshoppings in which I've participated.

After I finished the Greenland book and gave it to Matt to read, and we talked about it, it was truly, genuinely funky to hear my characters' names coming out of his mouth. I'd e-mailed about the book with other people, but there's no substitute for hearing names spoken aloud that you've made up and endowed with meaning yourself. The same freaky feeling happened here. (Especially since the names in this story are odd: Shawnboy, Cee.) I don't remember this happening when Matt talked to me about Highbinder, but I don't know if that's because I'm used to him being part of my internal writing world now, or because Berra's realer to me than anyone else I've created.

Not for the first time, I wish I had a workshop group. After hearing from these ladies and gents, I wanted to know what they'd make of some of the other stories of mine that need work. Alas, alack, Alaska.


Guess what I did yesterday?


This is not me; it's a German fencer named Peter Joppich in 2010.
But it might as well be me.
I listened to the very last "yes", the absolute final one, read by dear Marcella, and I put down my iPod and breathed an enormous sigh of relief. Done. And, unless for a class, probably NEVER AGAIN.

Don't get me wrong. There were parts of Ulysses that I loved. There were things about it that tickled my intellectual fancy, and aspects at which I marveled. I kept finding little corners where other high-literary books I've read have called back to it, which was interesting. But holy hell was it a slog. And the more obtuse sections were as exasperating as anything I've ever read, even Infinite Jest (which, in truth, I had an easier time with, although I don't know what that means).

I hugely enjoyed Molly's soliloquy, and it reminded me that before about episode 12 (the damned Citizen), there were parts where the book clipped right along for me. It lost me pretty much entirely during episode 15, the longest, which was written in the format of a play. But all throughout, the characters of Bloom and Stephen and Molly were as real as real humans, as risible and endearing, which is an accomplishment indeed.

I'd love to sit down over coffee (or shots) with somebody about this book, because I feel quite clueless about it and my reactions to and interpretations of it. It'd be nice to pick the brains of others. I read over the SparkNotes for it, and although I think a lot of fans of Ulysses would say this is the worst way to enjoy it, I found them incredibly helpful.

And now I can read other stuff! The pile of books I want to read is tall and teetery indeed. I hardly know where to start.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Upcoming and Downgoing

I woke up on the wrong side of the week, but I have some administrative stuff to address and a few other things to say, so here's a post anyway.

1) I referred to a secret project a few posts back. Tomorrow, that project debuts: I helped to copy-edit a series of comics for the creator of Ctrl+Alt+Del, one of my two most favorite webcomics. While labor-intensive, this project was so much fun that I am having a hard time adjusting back to my normal copy-editing job. If you somehow got here from there, welcome!

2) I mentioned it on Facebook and in a group e-mail, but not here: Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #45, with my story "Kingdom Automata", aka the crazy robot story, which I have written about at great length in this blog, is available here. For free in electronic forms, and for a nominal fee in paperback.

3) Opera season started on Saturday. Get ready for opera posts for the next several months! Woooo!!!!1!

4) I was the only one to volunteer a story during the first week of workshop in my UCLA class, so one of my stories is going to be drawn and quartered workshopped by 17 other students tomorrow night. I agonized over the choice, and spent most of the last four days regretting the story I picked, but there's nothing for it now and I must have had a reason to select that one in the first place.

The instructor got the class to give me a round of applause for being brave enough to volunteer during the first week, before we know anything about each other. I waved it away: "I'm just a show-off." Because I am.

5) One of our assignments for this class is to find a paragraph or two of fiction that we love and bring it in at some point to read aloud. I am stumped. I looked at all my best-loved books and realized I love them in macro ways; because the story connects to itself, and the characters shift over time, not because one paragraph stands out. (This is not so for movies - I know plenty of movies where just one shot will send me to heaven.) I'd do Chandler or Leonard, because they're masters at the level of the sentence, the paragraph, but our instructor has mentioned that he's going to bring in some Chandler, so.

The one I'm considering right now is Rebecca, some of the first chapter: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." Rebecca emerged from my youth as my Fahrenheit 451 book - the one I'd choose to memorize, to become, in the event that books went extinct. Rereading it last year, I realized it's really not a perfect book, but I still stand by it as one of the most evocative books I've read, and one of those books calculated to make you fall in love with itself. So, reading from that first spell-setting chapter seems to fit in with the point of the exercise, even if the book isn't one I can defend on the whole. Maybe I'll figure out something else before it's my turn.

Wish me luck with the rest of the week.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Betwixt Thee and Me, Cronenberg, an Unbridgeable Gap

Last week I watched David Cronenberg's 1996 film Crash. (NOT Paul Haggis's 2004 ensemble piece about racism in Los Angeles.) This film has been on my tentative watch list for years now, ever since I heard about it, but I generally delay watching Cronenberg films for far longer than necessary, for reasons that I shall illuminate at length.

The topic of Crash is symphorophilia - a sexual fetish centered on car accidents. To oversimplify the film to its most lurid elements, a group of characters change partners and dance repeatedly to get their jollies before, during, and after car wrecks; while watching crash-test footage; inside previously wrecked cars; in the course of replicating famous accidents such as James Dean's and Jayne Mansfield's; and in other situations as well. If you want to watch James Spader fuck every possible cast member of a movie, rent this one.

So, although I posted on Facebook that my reaction to Crash was essentially this

, that's sort of tongue-in-cheek. I'm not a prude, and even though car-crash-iphilia does seem a little weird to me, different strokes for different folks, y'know.

I thought many other things about Crash, too. The film was fascinatingly distant, and near-perfect in a sub-Arctic kind of way. Even though I didn't enjoy it on a thumbs up/thumbs down level, I'll be thinking about it with intellectual interest for a long time. So this seemed like a good occasion for me to talk about Cronenberg for a bit, hopefully drawing in a larger point about creators and audiences somewhere down the line.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Nerd or Dunce

In my literature class, we've moved from short stories to poetry. The way my textbook is set up, it's pretty easy to read a plethora of other poems in the course of reading just the poems for class, and hence I'm reading a lot of poetry lately.

One poem that I read for the first time just a few weeks ago is "Ozymandias", potentially Percy Bysshe Shelley's most famous poem, and a poem that is...not obscure in wider culture. Here's the text, and here's Walter White reading it:

(I don't watch Breaking Bad, and in fact I lament the loss of the zany Cranston of Malcolm in the Middle, but this is an exquisite reading.)

I find myself wanting to read this poem approximately once a day. It has broken me open. It has given me An Experience.

Obviously famous poems are famous because they strike some kind of essential chord among masses of people, but I still get a little embarrassed whenever this precise thing happens: when I stumble across some super-famous work of art, am uncommonly moved by it, and then have to come to terms with the fact that it's special to me, too, just as it's been special to legion English majors across time. This is the kind of new discovery that's cute when 17-year-olds make it, but I feel like by now, I should have already read and become familiar with "Ozymandias". I've read Watchmen, after all. (I think I thought the reference was to antiquity, not to a poet as relatively recent as Shelley.)

When I stand back from it, of course, this is idiocy. No one can read the entire Western canon (aside from Harold Bloom, the git), and a few things are bound to be left by the side of the road here and there while I try newly published books and reread old loves. And we are all having new experiences all the time. If we're not, what's the point? So it isn't anything to be ashamed of.

Yet as I mix with different groups of writers, I feel like one of two things happens: I feel either as if I'm not well-read enough, both in terms of the classics and in terms of litmags, news in the writing/publishing world, and knowledge of up-and-coming literary stars - or I feel the opposite way. As if I've read too much, way more than the average; as if my involvement in literature is too extreme, and I'm reading more and working harder than I need to in order to keep up. I wonder how you can have gotten through life without reading The Portrait of a Lady, or I wonder how you can possibly know about so many books without your brain leaking out onto your collar like an overfilled glass. Either way, the sense is that I'm not on an equal footing with the writers around me, whether I'm the nerd or the dunce, and it is a savagely uncomfortable feeling.

Again: from far away, this doesn't matter at all and is sort of awful of me to notice and care about. Everyone is different! With different lives and experiences and roads paved with books stretching back unto childhood. And that's awesome! It means I can rave about Henry James and share The Chronology of Water with every writer I meet who hasn't read it. And they can chastise me for not reading Middlemarch or Junot Díaz (or Piers Anthony, for that matter). And maybe, when I do finally reread One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or read "Ozymandias" for the first time at almost-32, I can feel it in my bones in a way I might not have at 17.