On February 10, a book blogger wrote a post dissecting some of my reviews at Locus, mostly of books by people of color. She discerned a pattern in my reviews that indicated racial prejudice. I believe that she called me out usefully on some mistakes, and that she otherwise selectively read and quoted me in ways that misrepresent my body of work.
This was all ignited because I reviewed the second volume of an epic fantasy series without reading the first volume. That choice infuriated readers and book bloggers, whose attitude toward books differs in significant ways from that of book critics. One blogger decided to look closer at my work, and these two issues - my purported racial prejudice and my choice to start with book two of a series - got conflated, when I'm not sure even the blogger intended that.
There's a great deal to be said about all this. The question of whether it should be a requirement to read books in series from the get-go in order to assess later books is an interesting one, when I stand back from it. Up close, the philosophy dissolves. For a few days I was a useful strawman for a lot of necessary arguments on Twitter about book criticism, even though I don't believe everything that's been said about my work and my critical posture is accurate or even helpful. I'm glad that my work has stirred up conversation about diversity in publishing, even as I'm devastated about being the subject of so much wrath.
I think I became a target for everyone who is mad about authority imbalances in book criticism. I respect that, but given how little I'm paid and how little I'm known, I find this silly. Hitting me is not really punching up for almost anyone.
I drafted a very long blog post explaining what I think and feel about this whole incident, how painfully it hits me given my history with race and racism, and some of the personal and professional aftermath. Ultimately, I don't think it's useful to make public. The above is all I want to say for now.
Also, there's a lot more for me to tell you.
Electric Dreamhouse Press, a UK publisher headed by my friend Neil Snowdon, is going to publish my second book this year as part of their line of Midnight Movie Monographs. My monograph is about Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space. I wrote this short book in the space of about six weeks in mid-2020, and I haven't had such fun writing a book since Highbinder (which still languishes, alas). I'm really pleased about joining the small but scrappy field of Ed Wood studies.
The book contains my central arguments about why it's worthwhile to study bad film. I've been building on those arguments to write a series of essays that I hope will be a whole book about bad film, eventually. I've written about Ruby (1977) and about a series of 1940s films starring "the Teen-Agers," and up next is Death Bed: The Bed that Eats. Other essays will be on Cop Rock, Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, and a tricky dual piece about Showgirls and Staying Alive. I'm ahead of the schedule I made for these essays, which feels good.
However, I keep getting intuitive signals to work on the Casablanca novel, which has been at a bare simmer in the back of my head for years. Last night I attended a reading with Lance Olsen and Lidia Yuknavitch, and something Olsen said temporarily turned up the heat on that burner. I've made a very tentative plan to write that book once I'm finished with the bad film essays - sometime in the fall, ideally - but if this keeps up, I'll have to pause the bad film essays and set to the novel. I simultaneously feel excited about the project (I haven't written a novel in years) and preemptively annoyed. It's going to be so much work.
Anyway: the Plan 9 book represents pure joy for me, as it was an intellectual problem which I got to solve to my satisfaction. That the result will be a book (and a beautiful book at that, given EDP's past performance) is extra whipped cream on an already-nice sundae. I found out about the Midnight Movie Monographs series around three years ago, and idly wondered what movie I could write about for 100 pages. My mind supplied Plan 9 from Outer Space, and even though it was a weird choice, the more I thought about it, the more I supposed I could do it. How would I write 100 pages about Plan 9? Well, last year, I wrote until I found out. Thankfully, Neil was interested in what I produced.
Both of my first two books, as it turns out, will be about weirdnesses my mind picked up and played around with, private obsessions I never thought would go public. Of everything I've written, these two books are the most fringely me, and I'm bemused that they are the two going out to bookstores in bound form. I think this means you ought to write what you love, or at least that I ought to write what I love.
As for the third book, I recently made a (digital) handshake agreement with Blue Arrangements to publish my conceptual novel, Victorian Spam. It's a tee-tiny press, just two people, and all of us are burdened by lives and jobs and other projects, so we are all taking a relaxed attitude to the timeline of this book. I estimate that it'll appear in 2022, and it, too, is super weird. Yay!
None of these three books has anything to do with any of the others. Ceremonials is lyric fiction, Plan 9 is straight nonfiction, and Victorian Spam is...other. All of them are ekphrastic in some way, and I created all of them, but those are the only two elements I can think of that they have in common.
As for the fourth book...I finally, finally, finally finished the Misfits essay back in December. A couple of weeks later, I got an important blessing from one of the real-life characters in the essay. Thus, Weird New Shit, my book of hybrid film essays, is really truly completed. It's taken me four or five years to write and assemble these essays, which is four or five times longer than I usually work on a book, so I'm thrilled to be done. I'm shopping it to a few presses I think will like it before I try agents, and have consequently racked up a few rejections.
I don't think there'll be news on that one for some time yet. My expectations for it are so large and unrealistic that it's probably better to let it settle as a project before it goes into the world, anyway. But I do suspect it'll be the fourth book. Mostly I'm glad to be done.
Somehow I never put it on the blog that an essay of mine was published online at Conjunctions a few months ago. It's called "All Cities Burn" and when I shared it in November, I said I thought it was the best thing I've ever written. These days, with so many different projects coming to fruition, I don't really know if that assessment has meaning. Read it and let me know what you think. Maybe the most arresting thing I've ever written? Either way, being in Conjunctions is an honor.
While I was struggling through the emotional aftermath of the February 10 incident, I started cross-stitching tiny portraits of the horses I work with. I've made about a dozen, using various patterns and editing them as needed to communicate what the horses look like (and act like), and have a couple more to go. My plan is to give these to the owners of these horses as parting gifts; I've given my notice at the barn, and will be stopping work there within the next month or so, I hope. I'm sorry to go, but the work is tearing up my body, and I'm turning 40 this year - too old to withstand another summer like 2020's.
The one portrait I can't seem to settle on how to make is for Quinn, a gorgeous Friesian cross who is smart and eager and generally a lovely horse once he gets out of his anxious head. But he almost never succeeds in doing that. I love him so much and will miss him so much and I don't know how to capture him in cross-stitch without doing a massive, photorealistic portrait, much bigger than 3 inches wide. I don't have time for that. But how can I sum him up in such a small space?
How can any of us, horse or human, be reduced to summary?