Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Purchasing and Reading, with a Nod to Nick Hornby

After reading Nick Hornby's Housekeeping vs. The Dirt: Fourteen Months of Massively Witty Adventures in Reading, I decided to steal his monthly book format. Each month, Hornby lists all the books he purchased, followed by the books he actually read. Of course, he's a reviewer and I'm not, so his motivation is a little different from mine. I'm just trying not to buy so many blasted books.

I should also mention that one of my goals for 2007 was to read/study more short fiction. I'm doing that, but it's not really reflected here, since many of the stories I'm reading/studying are in magazines and books I haven't yet finished. All of the novels have been audiobooks.

So here's my list of Books Purchased and Read for January 2007:

Books Purchased:

An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (2006) - Tremper Longman III & Raymond B. Dillard

The Perfect Host: Volume V of the Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon (This one wasn't much of a purchase - 25 cents at the local library sale.)

Books Read:

Chasing the Dime (2002) - Michael Connelly

Stardust (1999) - Neil Gaiman

The Chocolate War (YA 1974) - Robert Cormier

The Cement Garden (1978) - Ian McEwan

The Gambler (1866) - Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Ocean and All Its Devices (2006) - William Browning Spencer

American Morons (2006) - Glen Hirshberg (started in 2006)

Housekeeping vs. The Dirt (NF 2006) - Nick Hornby

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Confound Dan Simmons...

This afternoon I was in the library, minding my own business looking for a new audiobook for the car, when I noticed Nick Hornby's new book Housekeeping vs. The Dirt: Fourteen Months of Massively Witty Adventures in Reading. Well, how could I resist a quick look?

In the Preface, Hornby talks about reading, reviewing and many other related topics. He says readers shouldn't agonize over trudging through certain books just because "educated" people have labeled said books works a cultured person is "supposed to" read, but should instead read...well, whatever they want. Says Hornby:

Read anything, as long as you can't wait to pick it up again.

Which brings me to my beef with Dan Simmons.

Yesterday I was in the same library, again minding my own business, when I see the new Dan Simmons novel The Terror. It's a book that's captured my interest ever since I heard some buzz about it late last year. I figured I'd pick it up somewhere along the way, especially since I'd told myself I was only going to listen to novels while driving and spend my reading time in early 2007 with non-fiction and short stories.

Of course it didn't help that Jeff VanderMeer reposted his comments on The Terror a couple of days ago and that got the Simmons fever into my blood stream.

So there I am in the library, minding my own business, mind you, when I'm face to face with The Terror. Well, it won't hurt to, like, pick the book up, see how heavy it is, read a blurb or two...maybe just the first paragraph...

Captain Crozier comes up on deck to find his ship under attack by celestial ghosts. Above him - above Terror - shimmering folds of light lunge but then quickly withdraw like the colourful arms of aggressive but ultimately uncertain spectres. Ectoplasmic skeletal fingers extend toward the ship, open, prepare to grasp, and pull back.

Confound Dan Simmons...

Needless to say, I checked the book out. And when I've had to put it down, I can't wait to pick it up again. Nick Hornby would be proud.

I'm so weak...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Two things bother me about musicians from the 20's, 30's and 40's:

1. I don't know that much about them.
2. Not many other people do either.

I just discovered Sister Rosetta Tharpe via Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour*. I'd never heard of her before, but her influence is pervasive. Sister Rosetta (1915-1973) was possibly the first true crossover artist, moving from gospel to jazz, but also wielding a powerful influence in rock n' roll circles. Such names as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Isaac Hayes and others have called Tharpe an important figure in their musical development. Rosanne Cash once stated that Tharpe was her father Johnny Cash's favorite singer.

Tharpe was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, but moved with her mother to Chicago in 1921. Rosetta learned how to play blues and jazz on her guitar, an instrument she normally played to accompany her evangelist mother. By 1938, Tharpe had recorded several songs for the Decca label and was soon playing The Cotton Club with Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman. Her gospel fans cried foul, upset that Rosetta had dragged the church into "dens of iniquity," but the club-goers loved her.

For the next several years, Tharpe couldn't be stopped. She recorded a whole slew of songs (several she wrote herself) and was one of only two gospel singers whose discs were shipped overseas to troops during WWII.

During the 1950's, Tharpe settled firmly back into gospel music, but couldn't hold onto the popularity she'd enjoyed with the clubs in the 30's and 40's. Europe was kinder to Rosetta, offering her solid audiences for several tours in the 50's and 60's. In 1970, while touring Europe with Muddy Waters, Rosetta took ill and later suffered a stroke. Even with distorted speech and an amputated leg, Rosetta planned to enter the studio on May 8, 1973 to record a new album. She never finished it. The next day, another stroke put her into a coma from which she never awakened.

The 4-disc boxed set Sister Rosetta Tharpe – The Original Soul Sister from Proper Records (UK) contains 81 tunes that are nothing short of astounding. Tharpe's blues influences are evident in both her guitar playing and her powerful, yet pleasant voice. Don't let the "gospel" label prevent you from experiencing this outstanding artist. This is music that shouldn't be forgotten from an artist who is timeless.

Several of the Proper Label recordings are available here at very reasonable prices. I'm thinking my next purchase may have to be Doughboys, Playboys & Cowboys: The Golden Years of Western Swing.

* Here are some of the other acts I've heard on Theme Time that I plan to investigate:

Warren Storm (The Godfather of Swamp-Pop Music)
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell
The Swan Silvertones
Roy Brown
Sonny Boy Williamson
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Letting Go

I got a story rejection back yesterday and decided to put a little work in on it before sending it out again. I spent an hour with it, basically trying to make it into a better story. After that hour I realized, "This just isn't a good story and nothing I do to it is really going to make much difference." It wasn't a good feeling, but I think it's an accurate assessment of the story. The payoff is weak, the protagonist makes his discovery too easily (after 4700 words) and the progression of events just feels wrong.

It's just a bad story. Nothing to feel bad about. People better than me write 'em. (They probably just don't send them out.)

I've been studying a lot of published stories lately and maybe that practice has opened my eyes to some of the not-so-good stuff in my own work. I know I've got other older stories still in the pipeline that need to be retired as well. It bothered me at first, but I have to look at it this way: I'm learning what makes a good story, what good writers do and what they avoid. If I learn to see weaknesses that I haven't seen before in my own stories, that can't be a bad thing.

So what did I do with this realization?

Started a new story, of course.

Now Playing = Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Original Soul Sister

Friday, January 19, 2007

Another One Down (But a Good One)

Great birthday yesterday on all counts! Great gifts, great meal at the local Japanese steak house, great birthday cake coming this afternoon (German chocolate - my fave), just a great day overall.

Actual age: 45
How old I feel: Around 31 or 32
How old I act: Depends on who you ask
What I would do with 45 more years: Read more, write more (maybe finish my YA novel?)
What I would do differently if I could go back in time: Check back tomorrow - I've got a whole list of stuff.


Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books - Maureen Corrigan

Visions of Jazz: The First Century - Gary Giddins

Collected Stories - William Faulkner

Bringing it All Back Home - Bob Dylan (I'd lost my original copy in a move several years ago.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


There's a moment in the second half of David Lynch's Blue Velvet that has never left me. It occurs when Laura Dern's character Sandy comes to the brutally shocking realization that not only has her friend/boyfriend Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) kept secrets from her, but her safe, ordered world is not as she thought it was and will never be the same. The combination of pain/horror/anger/helplessness on Dern's face is a microcosm of the entire film. It's also extremely effective.

But as effective as Dern is in that scene, it's like a speck of sand on the beach compared with her performance in INLAND EMPIRE. If you see INLAND EMPIRE for no other reason, see it for Dern's performance. You won't see another like it anywhere else. Lately I've read a lot of speculation that she'll be nominated for an Oscar for this performance. (Nominations are announced Saturday.) Such talk is both unrealistic and immaterial. This is not hyperbole: Dern's performance in INLAND EMPIRE transcends awards. Go see for yourself.

Having said that, not everyone should see this film. It is about as far from mainstream American filmmaking as you can get. If you haven't experienced David Lynch's work before, this is NOT a good introduction. Even if the only other Lynch film you've seen is Mulholland Drive, it still can't adequately prepare you for INLAND EMPIRE. Nothing can.

Describing the plot would be pointless and I don't want to give much away. Instead, here are a few of the things I've heard/read about the film with my responses.

Critics have said INLAND EMPIRE is Lynch's most ambitious film.

True. It has a tremendous scope and Lynch takes lots of risky chances.

The film is three hours long.

It is. (Actually it's about 2 minutes short of the three-hour mark.) For some, it will fly by. For others, it will seem like an eternity.

The plot is incomprehensible.

False. You won't get it all the first time and maybe not even the second time. I think I understood about 25% of the film last night. I didn't understand Mulholland Drive the first time either (and I certainly don't understand all of it now), but that film is a first-grade Easy Reader compared to INLAND EMPIRE. That's not to say INLAND EMPIRE does not have things in common with Mulholland Drive – it does. Both are about actresses and Hollywood, both use similar editing techniques, lighting, sets, similar Lynchisms, etc. In both films, you have to pay very close attention to what happens (and what is said) early in the film.

Lynch shot the film on digital video, which looks terrible.

I didn't think so. It certainly looks different, providing different textures, which Lynch loves. It takes awhile to get used to the look on the big screen, but after the first several scenes, I didn't think about it much.

This film is nothing more than three hours of self-indulgence.

I absolutely disagree. What about this film is self-indulgent? Has Lynch proclaimed himself Emperor or something? No, he has a story to tell and he tells it in his own way, a way that goes against the grain of mainstream film producers and studios. That's not being self-indulgent.

I saw the film last night and I can't stop thinking about it. How many movies that you saw last year – or any year – have had that effect on you? This is a tremendous, challenging film that I highly recommend. (And I recommend that you not wait for the DVD, but see it in a theatre if at all possible.)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Buy This Now!

Andy Duncan's Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winning story "The Chief Designer" is now available on audio on two CDs or as a downloadable file from Audio Text. Check it (and other great stuff) out here.


I've been studying Glen Hirshberg's "American Morons," one of my favorite stories from last year. If you haven't read it, you can find it in Hirshberg's new collection (see "Now Reading" in the left margin) or in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 19.

I'm always impressed with Hirshberg, but reading his work is a great way to study how sentences and paragraphs do more than one thing. Hirshberg builds a very linear structure that advances the story with each paragraph, yet tells us everything we need to know about the two main characters, their relationship with each other (where it's been as well as where it's going), and how their immediate environment provides elements of both comedy and horror.

I guess it's his timing that impresses me the most. Kellen sees each event of the story unfold the same way his girlfriend Jamie does, but with each instance, Kellen feels the growing unease of an American stranded in a foreign country (Italy) balanced with the fear that he's losing Jamie. And the reader's not entirely sure if he should laugh or feel terrified. Again, the timing is perfect. Hirshberg knows exactly how long to play on then sense of comedy and how long to dwell on the impending nature of Kellen and Jamie's situation. Excellent stuff.


I've decided to go see INLAND EMPIRE this afternoon instead of on my birthday, since I had doubts that Cindy would want to see the film. We'll see if I'm too freaked out to write about it afterward.

This weekend's Fortune Cookie:

Do not be afraid of competition.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

My Wish for This Year is....

Cindy always asks me about this time of year, "Well, what do you want for your birthday?" (which is next week). My first response is usually "How about books?" to which she lifts her eyes to the heavens and mutters things I'd probably rather not hear. Then I'll usually say, "Okay, how about a big cake? Like a whole sheet!" as I spread my arms out as far as they'll go. Before the words are even out of my mouth, her head's shaking, about to deliver the "You don't need a big cake," lecture, which is true, but hey, it is my birthday and she did ask.

But this year, I think I know what I want. I'm ashamed to admit that I've never been to the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD, which is less than an hour away from where I live, but I'd like to change that this year, especially since the new David Lynch film INLAND EMPIRE starts there in a few days. (Lynch says he wants this film title to appear published in all caps. Hey David! How about this: inland empire, inland empire, inland empire, inland empireinlandempireinlandempireinlandempireinlandempireinlandempire...)

I could kick myself for not checking the AFI schedule sooner, since Lynch himself is going to be appearing at AFI on Jan. 14, but the event is sold out. You think if I just stood around with a big sign with INLAND EMPIRE in like a 1500 font, he'd let me sneak in? How about if I could make my hair do that Eraserhead thing? That's what it usually looks like in the mornings anyway.

I'd love to see the movie with Cindy, but I don't know if she's ready for the weirdness that is Lynch, to say nothing of three hours of it. She'll probably want me to go anyway, since this movie is all I've been talking about for months and she just wants me to have a great time on my birthday. (She's cool like that.) If I go, it'll be the first Lynch film I've ever seen in a theatre. I might leave the theatre so freaked out I won't be able to find the car. (Of course these days that happens no matter what I've seen.) I might be so out of control I wind up at some place like The Cheesecake Factory or something, ordering a triple German Chocolate. With Lynch, you just never know. Even if you did know, would you know that you knew? And how would you know?

Ya know?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Complete List

Fellow Clarion dudes Eric and Trent have posted their list of books read in 2006, so I thought I'd include my complete, unexpurgated list. The astute reader will notice a few books on my Best of 2006 list that aren't included in the following list. Explanation: I hadn't completely finished those books, but I'd read enough of them to know they'd make my Best of 2006 list. So there. Cheating? Naw! Remember, my list, my rules.

Also, don't be too impressed. 100 books really isn't that much, especially when you consider that several of them are YA or juv. books and others were Books on Tape/CD. I still count 'em, though. I drive around a good bit on my book rounds, so it just makes sense to listen to stuff as I drive. So 100 isn't really all that impressive. (I sure ain't no Harriet Klausner.)


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (YA 2003) – J.K. Rowling
Crispin – The Cross of Lead (YA 2002) – Avi
No Country for Old Men (2005) – Cormac McCarthy
Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop (NF 2005) – Kate Wilhelm
Diary (2003) – Chuck Palahniuk
The Colorado Kid (2005) – Stephen King
Cell (2006) – Stephen King
Vellum (2005) – Hal Duncan
To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998) – Connie Willis
Only You Can Save Mankind (Juv 1992/2004 reissue) – Terry Pratchett


Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (NF 2003) –Azar Nafisi
House of Leaves (2000) – Mark Z. Danielewski
Orchard (2003) – Larry Watson
The Handmaid's Tale (1985) – Margaret Atwood
Horror: Another 100 Best Books (NF 2005) – Stephen Jones & Kim Newman, eds.
Life of Pi (2002) – Yann Martel
Orphans of Chaos (2005) – John C. Wright
The Lincoln Lawyer (2005) – Michael Connelly
Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) – Zora Neale Hurston
Cold Hand in Mine: Strange Stories (1975) – Robert Aickman
The Thief (YA 1996) – Megan Whalen Turner


Saturday (2005) – Ian McEwan
Understanding the Bible (NF 1999) – John R.W. Stott
The Bottoms (2000) – Joe R. Lansdale
Night (NF 1959) – Elie Wiesel
Bankok 8 (2003) – John Burdett
Southern Comfort: A Charitable Anthology (2005) – S.A. Parham & W. Olivia Race, eds.
So You Want To Be a Wizard (YA 1983) – Diane Duane
Coldheart Canyon (2001) – Clive Barker
The Brief History of the Dead (2006) – Kevin Brockmeier


Air (2004) – Geoff Ryman
The Witches (Juv/YA 1983) – Roald Dahl
Midnighters 2: Touching Darkness (YA) – Scott Westerfeld
The Shadow at the Bottom of the World (2005) – Thomas Ligotti
Tuck Everlasting (Juv/YA 1975) – Natalie Babbitt
The Two Sams: Ghost Stories (2003) – Glen Hirshberg
Leo: A Greyhound's Tale (YA 2003) – Cindy Victor


The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (NF) – Ken Sande
Blood Meridian (1985) – Cormac McCarthy
X-Men: Dark Mirror (2006) – Marjorie M. Liu
All You Need Is Ears – The Inside Personal Story of the Genius Who Created The Beatles (NF 1979) – George Martin with Jeremy Hornsby
Blue Like Jazz (NF 2003) – Donald Miller
Don Quixote (1605) – Cervantes, trans. Edith Grossman
The Thief Lord (YA 2000) – Cornelia Funke
The Empire of Ice Cream (2006) – Jeffrey Ford
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) – Mark Twain
1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry (NF 2005) – Andrew Bridgeford
The Keys to the Kingdom – Book 1: Mister Monday (YA 2003) – Garth Nix


The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1: The Field Guide (Juv/YA 2003) – Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
1776 (NF 2005) – David McCullough
The Amulet of Sanmarkand (YA 2003) – Jonathan Stroud
Cold Hit (2005) – Stephen J. Cannell
His Majesty's Dragon (2006) – Naomi Novik
Armageddon Summer (YA 1998) – Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Eighteenth Annual Collection (2005) – Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, Gavin J. Grant, eds.
The Home-Based Bookstore (NF 2006) – Steve Weber
A Drink Before the War (1994) – Dennis Lehane
Cover Story – The Art of John Picacio (NF 2006)


The Book Thief (YA 2006) – Marcus Zusak
lost boy lost girl (2003) – Peter Straub
The Jaguar Hunter (1987) – Lucius Shepard
Prince Caspian (YA 1951) – C.S. Lewis
Jane Eyre (1847) – Charlotte Bronte
Horror: 100 Best Books (NF 1988) – Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, eds.
By a Spider's Thread (2004) – Laura Lippman
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904) – M.R. James
Shadow Touch (2006) – Marjorie M. Liu


In the Forest of Forgetting (2006) – Theodora Goss
Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave (NF 2001) – Edward T. Welch
The Crying of Lot 49 (1965) – Thomas Pynchon
True History of the Kelly Gang (2001) – Peter Carey
When Life and Beliefs Collide (NF 2001) – Carolyn Custis James
Gun, with Occasional Music (1994) – Jonathan Lethem
Shadows and Silence (2000) – Barbara Roden, Christopher Roden,


The Last of the O-Forms and Other Stories (2005) – James
Van Pelt
Manhunt (NF 2006) – James L. Swanson
The Husband (2006) – Dean Koontz
Rosemary's Baby (1967) – Ira Levin
Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales (2002) – Stephen King
When People are Big and God is Small (NF 1997) – Edward T.
The Eyre Affair (2001) – Jasper Fforde
Midnighters 3: Blue Noon (YA 2006) – Scott Westerfeld


Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales (2005 reissue) - trans. Tiina Nunnally
No Good Deeds (2006) – Laura Lippman
James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (NF 2006) – Julie Phillips
A Scanner Darkly (1977) – Philip K. Dick
Never Let Me Go (2005) - Kazuo Ishiguro
Shriek: An Afterword (2006) – Jeff VanderMeer


Kafka on the Shore (2005) - Haruki Murakami
The Road (2006) – Cormac McCarthy
London (NF 2004) – A.N. Wilson
The God Who is There (NF 1968) – Francis A. Schaeffer
The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (NF 2005) – Thomas L. Friedman
The Five Love Languages (NF 1992) – Gary Chapman


Twilight (YA 2005) – Stephenie Meyer
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (NF 2006) – Francine Prose
Best New Fantasy (2006) – Sean Wallace, ed.
Sharpe's Prey (2002) – Bernard Cornwell
Searching for God Knows What (NF 2004) – Donald Miller
Lolita (1955) – Vladimir Nabokov
To Own a Dragon (NF 2006) – Donald Miller & John MacMurray
Echo Park – Michael Connelly (2006)

Monday, January 08, 2007


Just for fun, here are our two new cars, both in need of a wash.

My Toyota Matrix

Cindy's Honda Fit

Another Look

Still revising my YA novel (Chapter 9 out of 25, not 20 as I incorrectly stated in an earlier post) and making some interesting discoveries. I'm sure every novelist faces this, but since this is only my second attempt (and the first one anyone will ever see beyond the confines of my house), it's a real eye-opener for me. Of course what I'm talking about is the realization that the novel might not be about what I originally thought it was about.

That's both exciting and unsettling. It's exciting in that I'm discovering deeper themes, more complexities in my characters, making for (hopefully) a stronger story. But it's a little unsettling knowing that maybe this great scene/confrontation/battle I wrote into the first draft might be drastically changed or maybe even scrapped. In a way, I guess it's like the old adage about sculpting David from a block of marble. How do you sculpt David? Cut away everything that's not David. Even if that means cutting away a pretty cool piece that looks exactly like Paul or Moses.

But save that piece of Paul, that bust of Moses. They might come in handy some day.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Research, Getting Distracted and the Demise of the Public Library System

I'm in the middle of revising my YA novel (Well, not quite in the middle --- I'm on Chapter Seven of twenty.) and found I had to make a decision regarding on how much technology I wanted in my story's setting (specifically in this particular kitchen scene). Although my novel is not set in Colonial America, I found lots of helpful information in William Chauncy Langdon's Everyday Things in American Life 1607-1776. There's also a companion volume that covers 1776-1876, which I also own. Both include great information and are also fun to read.

They're also hard to find. Your local library may have them, or then again, they may not. I bought both copies for fifty cents each at my local library's ongoing library discards sale. (If I ever find this Langdon title, I can buy one of those big-screen TVs I've been drooling over.) For more on the current state of libraries in general, check out this from John's blog.

And speaking of books, one of the more dangerous parts of selling used books is running across books that you thought you were going to sell, but decided you just can't part with. (What if I never see the book again? TRAGEDY!) So yesterday I picked up The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World's Most Astonishing Number and decided to keep rather than sell it.

Now I don't know spit about mathematics, but I figured a whole book devoted to the number phi, or 1.6180339887 and counting (not to be confused with pi, which is 3.14159 and counting. Both numbers might even have as many digits as there are Nora Roberts novels.) must be worth a look. So I read the first sentence, including a quote from British physicist Lord Kelvin:

When you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind.

Well, that flew all over me.

So I started reading the thing.

What can I say? I love my job. I'll get back to you in, oh, about 1.6180339887 days.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Catching Up/Catching Cold

Cindy, Bullet and I had a great trip to an unseasonably warm Chicago to visit Cindy's sister Jan and her husband Pete (and their dog Sammy). Cindy's parents were there too and lots of loot was exchanged. We also had a great New Year's at John's house (Thanks, John!).

But once all the hoopla ended, I got sick. But at least that gives me a little time to catch up on reading, movies, etc.

More stuff to follow including a full loot report.