Monday, April 30, 2007

Two Writing Paths, plus Another One Bounces Back

The always insightful (He really is - his blog even says so.) Trent Hergenrader has some really interesting thoughts on two paths writers of speculative fiction can pursue: the Clarion workshop and a university creative writing program. I can attest to everything Mr. Hergenrader says about the Clarion experience and trust him that the rest of his findings are probably accurate not only for his university, but for most places as well. Again, very interesting reading.


A nice rejection letter for my newest completed story "The Probationary Period" was waiting for me when I got home from Texas, so we'll just send that sucker back out into the world and see if it sticks somewhere else. Plus I started a new story this morning (1100 words so far).

Back from Texas

Had a great time in Texas this past weekend. Travis and Libby's wedding was just about perfect in every way. It was very exciting to see them start their new life together. I also got to see some family that I don't get to see as often as I would like. Very enjoyable.

Alas, while in Texas, I fell to the temptation of too many great book stores. Two Arlington Half-Price Books locations (Collins, Cooper) and the mothership - Recycled Books in Denton. I came away with a total of eight or nine books, which I guess could have been a lot worse. I'll share the titles in tomorrow's April Books Read/Books Purchased report. (I know, the antipication is just killing you.)

Arlington hasn't changed too terribly much, but man, has Denton exploded! I don't know if UNT has grown that much or people are simply moving further north, but Denton is absolutely crazy now. When Cindy and I lived there it was a nice, sleepy little college town with a couple of good Mexican restaurants and a bad mall. Now they have just about everything you could want (except maybe a football team at the university).

I'd forgotten how wide open everything is in Texas. The roads, the land, everything. And the reverse sticker shock: I saw a billboard with a photo of a large two-story house. The sign read "Starting from the $140's." I just about wrecked laughing so hard. Maybe I should have been crying? We could sell our house in Maryland and buy 2.5 of those.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ah, Texas!

No posts for the next few days - yeah, I know, it's not like I've been lighting it up lately, but at least I'm giving you fair warning. My nephew Travis is getting married this weekend, so I'll be in the great state of Texas, where I lived for 4.5 years, more specifically in Arlington where I lived and taught for 3.5 years.

I'm looking forward to the trip, but...what do I take to read???

Possible candidates:

The Dark Descent - huge horror anthology edited by David Hartwell. Maybe too huge (1000+ pages).

The Perfect Host - Volume V: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon Been meaning to read some Sturgeon lately. Not as big (or heavy) as the Hartwell.

Dark Forces - 1989 horror anthology edited by Kirby McCauley. This one may get the nod - It's the only mass market paperback under consideration.

Cast your votes! See ya soon.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Playing Favorites, Installment # 4

"Rio" (Michael Nesmith) – Michael Nesmith (1977)

I've never really understood why Michael Nesmith wasn't embraced more warmly as a solo artist after the end of The Monkees. Maybe because he made such an issue of not wanting to be a part of any reunion projects for several years when nearly every band from the 60's was launching reunion concerts. That's not to say Nesmith wasn't successful – he certainly was both as a musician and an innovator in music videos in the late 1970's/early 1980's. Some even refer to Nesmith as "The Father of the Music Video," which isn't quite accurate, but I'm willing to give Mike the nod.

I first encountered "Rio" as a music video thirty years ago on HBO. (You can see the video here.) By today's standards, it looks a bit cornball with wanna-be Carmen Mirandas, low-budget special effects and goofy comedic touches. Yet it's a charming video, full of nostalgia, whimsy, and fantasy. Nesmith was no doubt influenced by the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film Flying Down to Rio (1933), its dances, sets, and carefree atmosphere. "Rio" is a throw-back to a simpler time with a simple concept – daydreaming of what it would be like to spend a little time in an exotic location, dancing the night away before coming back to reality.

I'm hearing a light from the window
I'm seeing the sound of the sea
My feet have gone loose from their moorings
I'm feeling quite wonderfully free
And I think I will travel to Rio
Using the music for flight
There's nothing I know of in Rio
But it's something to do with the night
It's only a whimsical notion to fly down to Rio tonight
And I probably won't fly down to Rio
But then again, I just might

I know I've talked a lot about the video, but since that's how I first encountered "Rio," it's hard to divorce the music from the images. I guess that's a large part of what the video revolution was about. You can certainly see in "Rio" one of the techniques that would be later used in countless music videos – the blending of fantasy and reality by character costume changes via camera cuts. Music videos soon progressed rapidly from Nesmith's early efforts, but I don't remember very many MTV videos that were as much fun as "Rio." Even the last (spoken) lines of the video are fun:

Nesmith (playing a lighting man on a movie set): "Reno? Why Reno?"

Woman dancer: "Not Reno, dummy, Rio. Rio de Jan-eir-o!"

"Rio" isn't a great song, but it's certainly fun. Sure, it's only a whimsical notion, but sometimes that's exactly what we need to get us through the day.

"Rio" appears on Michael Nesmith's From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing CD and the DVD Elephant Parts.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

New Directions?

Lately I've read a couple of books that are making me reconsider how I think about several things. In Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture, author Walt Mueller talks about how teenagers in his country have largely been abandoned by most of the adults in their lives, whether they be parents, teachers, employers, whatever. Often, says Mueller, the adults realize that this gap exists, but just don't know how to go about bridging it. Mueller's answer is simple: Get to know teenagers. Spend time with them, talk about what's important to them, not you. But carrying that out isn't easy.

The leadership of our church is seriously looking at ways we can help people who aren't getting help. Key word: help, not beat them over the head with a Bible. We've got so many people of all ages around us that need help and we can't expect them to come to us. After all, the church as a whole often does a pretty lousy job of actually helping people who need help.

The other night I was talking to some of the guys in our church's men's group. Somebody said, "What do you think's gonna happen the first time somebody brings a drug addict to church? Or takes a homeless person to lunch? We've got people in this church who'll freak!" He's probably right. But nobody's caring for these people. And the church has two choices: we can sit in our pews inside our nice white walls and talk about theology or we can be more Christlike and help people that need help. The book I'm reading now, The Ragamuffin Gospel, talks about this a lot. And it warns that many people in the church will not be on board with this plan.

What does all this have to do with writing? A few weeks ago, our youth minister announced that he'd met with all the kids from our church and asked them to list all the things they're interested in, no exceptions. They came up with all sorts of stuff: skateboarding, laser tag, paintball, scrapbooking, soccer, art, video games, cooking, rock climbing, movies, poetry, camping...nearly forty different categories. The youth minister said, "Okay, for every category you listed, we're going to provide a forum (with an adult leader with some expertise in that area) for you to do that activity." He hopes the kids will see that there are adults that are interested in the same things they are. And that they're interested in them.

I offered to lead a forum on writing. Participants can do poetry, journaling, fiction, whatever. This is the sort of thing that I did with Writer's Way. I never led a workshop with only teenagers, so that will require a little adjustment, but probably not that much. Writing is writing. And I worked with teenagers for 15 years as a band director, so I know a little about them.

But what can writing do for adults who are hurting, for someone hooked on drugs or someone in deep depression? I led a Writer's Way session once at a DC halfway house where all the guys were recovering from some type of addiction. We wrote a lot and those guys came up with some incredible stuff. More importantly, they talked about what they wrote, talked about how hard it is to walk past a liquor store and not go in, how much it hurts to come home high and have your children greet you grabbing you by your legs because they've missed you, not knowing where you've been for the past three days.

Obviously this is a different type of writing from what I normally do. But as any writer knows, writing can show you things inside yourself you never knew were there. And that can open people up to all sorts of things leading to all sorts of healing.

I'm not sure where any of this is going to go, but it's caused me to examine a lot of things. I used to think I was helping people when I was a teacher and I probably did help a lot of people. But there were many kids I didn't know how to help. I wanted to, but just didn't know how. Or was scared to.

Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe the leadership in our church is crazy. But maybe we can help some people who need help. That's not so crazy.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Yeah, I'm Still Here

Busy, nutty, crazy. Writing, reading, getting a sick Cindy well, getting whatever she had, shipping books, Dog-whispering the hound, all sorts of stuff. Coming soon: thoughts on books, more favorite songs, the secret of the universe, etc.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Swimming Through/Wading Through/Drowning in Faulkner

I'm slowly working my way through several of William Faulkner's short stories and am starting to (starting to, mind you) understand a little of the Faulkner universe (or more accurately, Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi).

Sometimes you have to read Faulkner a few times to get it and sometimes even that doesn't help much. My second favorite Faulkner quote - Faulkner was being interviewed in 1956 in the Paris Review:

Interviewer: Some people say they can’t understand your writing, even after they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them?

Faulkner: Read it four times.

That's pretty much what I've been doing this week with "That Evening Sun." There's so much going on in this story that you really have to filter it all through the opening paragraph, in which Faulkner (through narrator Quentin Compson) informs the reader that progress and technology have had a drastic (and not necessarily positive) influence on the town of Jefferson (county seat of Yoknapatawpha). Quentin speaks of events that took place fifteen years earlier when he and his siblings were children, seeing the world through children's eyes. And it's quite a frightening world.

As several as the pieces of the story come together, you get the feeling that not only "That Evening Sun" but all of Faulkner's tales and novels are just one part of the massive universe of Yoknapatawpha County with its history, its characters, their history, etc. As I'm reading, I understand with equal measures of pleasure and woe that to truly understand Faulkner, one must read all of Faulkner.

For right now, I need to take Faulkner in small doses. I imagine that after I've studied "That Evening Sun" I'll take a little vacation from Faulkner. Yet I know no one describes my home state quite like he does. Faulkner knows the wonders and horrors of Mississippi in particular and the South in general. It's all summed up in my favorite Faulkner quote:

"The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Getting It Out There

I'm determined to get more stuff out to markets this year. Looking back at my "Stories Sent" file, I was stunned to see that in 2006 I only sent stories out twenty times. (One got published.) That's not very much. So far in 2007 I've sent out ten, and for the last five weeks, one a week. Now if I can just keep that pace going. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

This is Sooooooooo Tempting....

Although I only own three or four of their books, I love the Library of America series. The quality of the books themselves is outstanding, the content is excellent and the ones I own have held up extremely well through the years.

Well now you can get all 189 volumes from Amazon for the price of.........

$3,992.97 (Amazon will even give you free shipping.)

That comes to about $21 per volume, which is really pretty good, considering the retail price for most individual books is $35. But do you really want them all? (Hey, they're on my Amazon Wish List. You buy 'em for me, I'll take 'em...)

If you don't want all 189 volumes, you can subscribe directly from the Library of America. Subscribing from the source carries several advantages:

You purchase only the titles you want.

Each clothbound volume comes in a slipcover.

Each volume (including shipping) comes to $30.45. (These are of an even higher quality than their "regular" volumes.) This price reflects a 45% savings over the retail price.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

March Books Bought and Read

If I was bad in February, I was very bad in March. Out of control, insane...



The Man Who Turned Into Himself (1994) – David Ambrose

Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer (NF 2002) – Bruce Holland Rogers

Three Days to Never (2006) – Tim Powers

In the Penny Arcade: Stories (1986) – Steven Millhauser

Watson and DNA: Making a Scientific Revolution (NF 2004) – Victor K. McElheny

Count Down: The Race for Beautiful Solutions at the International Mathematical Olympiad (NF 2005) - Steve Olson

The Killer Inside Me (1952) – Jim Thompson

Burger Wuss (YA 2001) – M.T. Anderson

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party (YA 2006) – M.T. Anderson

Mississippi Sissy (NF 2007) – Kevin Sessums

Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers (NF 2006) – Michael Connelly

A Handbook of American Prayer (2004) – Lucius Shepard


The Keyhole Opera (2005) – Bruce Holland Rogers

A Short History of Nearly Everything (NF 2003) – Bill Bryson

Otis! The Otis Redding Story (NF 2001) – Scott Freeman

Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy (NF 2002) – Jane Leavy

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. I: The Pox Party (YA 2006) – M.T. Anderson

Plug Your Book (NF) – Steve Weber (2007)

I'm pretty amazed that I read so little fiction in March, but I read several short stories from magazines and collections I haven't finished, and only finished books are included here. But back in January I said I wanted to read more non-fiction, so there you have it. Once again, highly recommended books are linked.