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Showing posts from 2005

Documenting and Perceiving

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Teachers stay teachers because they are addicted to the occasional joys, the joys that overshadow the common and continuous frustrations (mounds of things to grade, recalcitrant students, angry parents, obtuse bureaucrats). One of the greatest joys is to see students go off into the world and seize the opportunities they encounter.

When Ramsay de Give was a student at the school where I teach, we all knew he was a talented photographer and an intelligent and compassionate human being. For various reasons, we weren't exactly sure what would become of him in the world, though. It was a great pleasure, then, when he sent me the address of his website, because there were the fruits of his past few years' work as a photojournalist, and the results are, in my entirely biased opinion, extraordinary.

Ramsay uses his images to tell stories about the world, stories that might not otherwise be told. I found the "stories and essays" section of his website particularly moving a…

I Hate What You Love

The most interesting message board discussion I've seen recently concerns Lucius Shepard's film reviews, particularly his review of King Kong ("Jackson, once an edgy, intriguing filmmaker, has fallen prey to the same ethos that underscores the films of his immediate predecessors, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas: To make a mark, a movie must play as though to an audience of children...and not especially astute children at that").

Some of Shepard's reviews get reprinted in F&SF, and a reader poses the question to editor Gordon van Gelder: "Why do you continue to publish film reviews from a man who hates every film ever made by Hollywood?" It turns into a pretty good conversation, because the reader is not entirely pigheaded about his opinions, Shepard joins in later, and lots of good issues are raised and bounced around.

Yesterday, I happened to read critic James Wood's essay in the third issue of N+1, written in response to the editors of the jo…

A Conversation with Maria Dahvana Headley

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First, we need some context.

Maria Headley and I have known each other since the late '90s, when we were both struggling, semi-idealistic aspiring playwrights attending the Dramatic Writing Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. I was a couple years ahead of Maria and destined soon to flee Manhattan for the coziness of the University of New Hampshire, while Maria was destined to embark on the ... experiment ... that would lead to her new memoir, The Year of Yes.

What was the experiment? Quite a simple one: She said yes to everybody who asked her out on a date. Everybody.

I haven't yet read The Year of Yes, but I know there's a happy ending to it all, because Maria married Robert Schenkkan, the Pulitzer-winning writer of The Kentucky Cycle plays, as well as Lewis and Clarke Reach the Euphrates, currently playing at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. He's not just an accomplished writer, but, by all accounts, a marvelous human being.

Mari…

Gifts from Elsewhere

LitFic for People Who Hate LitFic

Cheryl Morgan has posted Emerald City #124, which includes a feature article by me, "Literary Fiction for People Who Hate Literary Fiction", a piece I'm rather fond of because it ended up taking a lot more work than I had thought it would, and got me thinking about some assumptions of my own that I hadn't adequately questioned. I'm not sure much of that comes out in the article, which is pretty straightforward, but the process of revising it a few times for Cheryl forced me to have to consider some things I hadn't about the differences between readerly expectations within marketing categories. These ideas still feel vague and inchoate, but eventually I will probably explore them here or at Strange Horizons or elsewhere. We shall see. For now, though, there's the article, which is not comprehensive at all, but is, instead, an invitation for people to explore writers they might otherwise think are not their sort of thing.

Happy Holidays

And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim's Aunt, Miss Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said, "Would you like anything to read?"

--Dylan Thomas
A Child's Christmas in Wales

"Bone Women" by Eliot Fintushel

The response in the peanut gallery to Eliot Fintushel's masterful "Bone Women" is not surprising, though it is sad. With any luck, the compulsive carpers do not represent the majority of Strange Horizons readers, but rather a little cabal of jerks with knees. Their anger when presented with stylistically and intellectually complicated writing is frustrating enough to make me want to solder their tin ears together.

What is it that compels people to speak out against a story? It's not just that they didn't like it -- unless they think the world revolves around them, I doubt such people are strolling up and down every message board to issue their complaints against all they read. Were I to post about every story I gave up on, I'd have to write about hundreds. Most such things, we read, abandon, and forget. Not my thing, we think. No big deal. It takes something more to get us to express our opinion in public, some grudge or frustration, some little nit ac…

A Number of Things

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Toronto's CanStage Theatre will be producing Caryl Churchill's play A Number from January 9 to February 11. Why do I know this? Because in the program they're using an adapted version of my post about the script. I just saw the finished copy, and the design and layout of the piece is beautiful, with an evocative, mysterious, and sexy illustration that would be perfect alongside a lot of things I've written. The '05/'06 season looks to be extraordinary, and even includes a one-man show about one of the great American singer-songwriters, Tom Lehrer. They just finished Edward Albee's marvelous The Goat, and will later be doing Doug Wright's I am My Own Wife. It's enough to make me want to move to Toronto!

A lot of books have been coming in recently, many of them quite exciting. My favorite so far, and easily my favorite book of the year, is Laurence Senelick's collection of Chekhov's Complete Plays. This is published by Norton, and it in…

Sunday Morning at the Linkdump

Ruben Dario: The Bard of Nicaragua. (When I was in Nicaragua six years ago, I was amazed to discover ordinary people, some of them barely literate, who could recite line after line of poems by Dario from memory. More than once, someone would say to me, "I can't explain this to you, so let me tell you what Dario said--")

The shared jargon of science fiction.

Global warming: A random walk?

"Analysis of Women's Publication Rates in Asimov's, Analog, and F&SF for the Years 1987 to 2001"

Everybody's an expert!

Next from Studio Ghibli: Tales of Earthsea, directed by the son of Hayao Miyazaki. (If, um, anybody out there wants to buy me and a friend a plane ticket to Tokyo to see it when it opens in July, just let me know...)

John Scalzi, local science fiction pusher, started a discussion of gateway SF. Hal Duncan offered a truly brilliant reply, even by Hal's high standards of brilliance.

King Kong: Gwenda loved it, Ed hated it, Ron Silliman loved Nao…

Brokeback Bravery

For your consideration, "It's Very Brave of Them":When I look at Brokeback Mountain all I see is fear. In the story, I see the fear of two obviously gay people too afraid to actually commit to their love, so they run off and marry women and live a life unfulfilled out of fear.

I see the fear in two major stars of actually admitting they played gay, as they downplay in the press their characters' sexuality.

I see the fear of movie studios too afraid to make the movie with Gus Van Sant years ago.

I see the fear of countless Hollywood actors who wouldn’t take the parts.

I see the fear of a still-homophobic corporate press, which grabs onto the stars' sexuality instead of the script's quality. A press that gives these stars an outlet to gauge their "comfort level" with playing these roles. A press that throws around words like bravery and courage when referring to pampered stars playing well-scripted roles.

I see the fear of theater owners, who already are h…

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia

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For once, a summarist almost got it right with the jacket copy:
Amidst disillusioned saints hiding in wrestling rings, mothers burnt by glowing halos, and a Baby Nostradamus who sees only blackness, a gang of flower pickers heads off to war, led by a lonely man who cannot help but wet his bed in sadness. Part memoir, part lies, this is a book about the wounds inflicted by first love and sharp objects. Except there's so much more. Instead of The People of Paper, they should have called this The Book of Extended Metaphors, to go along with one of the books between its covers, The Book of Incandescent Light. They should have called it The Book of Heartbreak or The People of Sorrow. They should have equipped it with warning signs and seatbelts to protect those of us naive enough to get caught up in the fairy tale first pages, those of us who ignored for a moment that this is a book for mature adults, people with scars, people who should not expect a book about a childproof world.…

The Nine Muses

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The Nine Muses is a new anthology edited by Forrest Aguirre and Deborah Layne, published by Wheatland Press, that collects thirteen stories by writers who are women, plus an essay by Elizabeth Hand. One of the nice things about the book is that it presents work from writers associated with various sorts of writing, writers who have published in places such as Strange Horizons and Asimov's as well as writers who have published in Agni, Black Warrior Review, Ms., and Best Women's Erotica 2001. The quality of the stories varies as widely as the content, but I found four of the pieces to be notable and compelling.

Ruth Nestvold's "Scraps of Eutopia" is a bit of a literary in-joke, a vehemently recursive alternate history, but it involves Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot, so it pleased me tremendously, because it is a fiercely smart story, and it sent me back to various biographies, literary histories, and encyclopedias to track down every reference I could find. The st…

Underrated Writers

At Syntax of Things, proprietors Jeff and TJ have put together a list of underrated writers based on a poll of various bookbloggers. Some people made lots of recommendations, but I find it difficult to figure out who is and who isn't underrated, so I pointed to just one writer: Tamar Yellin.

A Conversation with Joe Hill

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Joe Hill has been quietly publishing short fiction for the past few years, with each new story causing more and more people to say, "Who is this guy?" The release this fall of his first collection, 20th Century Ghosts, brought a lot more attention, because the book included some excellent original stories and some other stories that had been published in obscure places. With all of these tales gathered together, it became clear to any reader that Joe Hill's work is thoughtful, subtle, vividly imaginative, and yet grounded in an emotional reality that can be remarkably moving, but not sentimental. The best of his tales are models of what can be accomplished with the short story form.

You've been pegged at times as a horror writer, though clearly you've written all different sorts of fiction. Is there a label you like for the kind of writing you do? I was having dinner with some publishing people and one of them, an editor, asked me how I'd describe what I w…

To Link is Divine

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Cleaning out the bookmarks...Meghan McCarron dared to dive into the treacherous waters of the question "Why aren't more women published in SF magazines?", and the results were, as she says, more a brainstorming session than a debate.

Dan Green on Kafka and detective novels.

By the way, I'm currently reading the new Kafka biography that Dan references in his post (via Steve Mitchelmore), and it's easily the best literary biography I've read since Hermione Lee's bio of Virginia Woolf. It's so much more than just a chronicle of the events of Kafka's life -- it weaves in fascinating discussions of all sorts of different things, from the various uses and meanings of personal correspondence through the ages to how the advent of the telephone affected people's relationships, to previous critics' interpretations of Kafka's relations with his family and friends and lovers to the exact circumstances of Kafka's daily life. Extraordinary, and …

Robert Sheckley (1928-2005)

The news of Robert Sheckley's death is sad, indeed. Sheckley's work brought so much laughter, so much joy for so long.

Other people will have much more to say than I, because Sheckley's career was a long one, and his influence tremendous. The man is gone, but his stories remain, and they can continue to make us smile and chuckle and think.

Europeana by Patrik Ourednik

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There are times when Europeana: A Brief History Of The Twentieth Century sounds oddly like something a bright-but-confused student would write in a high school class about world history. There are other times when it sounds like Vonnegut, others when it sounds like David Markson, and still others when it sounds like the sort of thing someone might ramble after waking up from a nightmare. Except so often the nightmare is true. Except so often truth is just a portrayal, a nightmare of itself.

Patrik Ourednik was born in Prague but has lived in France since 1984. We should not be surprised, then, that the items he returns to repeatedly in Europeana involve Communists and Nazis, neither of whom he much likes. The narrative also swings back to World War I, because it was supposed to end all wars, and to ideas of eugenics and perfection, religion and belief, science and progress. For instance, this passage from the beginning:Some historians subsequently said that the twentieth century …

Holiday Gifts

Look no farther than the Rain Taxi 10th Anniversary Charity Auction to find remarkable gifts for the booklovers in your life. Signed and rare editions by everyone from M.T. Anderson to C.D. Wright.

(I looked through the list and kept saying, "Omigod! Omigod! Omigod!" until my cat came over, rubbed against my leg, and asked me if there was any particular reason I'd become religious.)

Workshop Hacks

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While there are things I agree with in the latest attack on writing workshops, the author, Sam Sacks, builds his argument from some strange assumptions. First, he assumes that Best New American Voices 2006 edited by Jane Smiley is a representative selection of the best work from the best workshops in the U.S. He assumes that people who enter writing workshops aspire to be the best writers who ever lived. He assumes that great writers can be great teachers and poor writers are inevitably therefore poor teachers. He assumes great writers have enlightening wisdom to impart to young writers. He assumes that his experiences are typical.

All of these assumptions are at least weak, if not flat-out false, many of them for multiple reasons.

There are two basic values to good writing workshops in my experience: they teach people to pay closer attention to what they read, and they give them ways to think about what they write. Any loftier claims are horse effluent. The only real way to lear…

Reviews Elsewhere

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I just posted a review of Paul Park's fine new novel, A Princess of Roumania, at MetaxuCafe. I could cross-post, and probably will with future Metaxu posts, but I like the site and want to send some traffic over there...

Speaking of reviews, over at The Quarterly Conversation there's quite a negative one of one of my favorite novels of this year, Lydia Millet's Oh Pure and Radiant Heart. Of course, I think the reviewer's wrong, but he makes his case well, and I can certainly see the book hitting some people as it did him. Nonetheless, Millet's novel has made Best of the Year lists at (so far) about eight different places, including the science fiction, fantasy, and horror list at the St. Louis Dispatch, alongside, among others, Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, and Lucius Shepard. With accolades like that going around, it's good to have some negative reviews to keep things in perspective. After all, there's somebody to hate just about everything...

Kore-eda Hirokazu

A secret agent in a Mumpsimus bureau outside Tokyo brought the films of Kore-eda Hirokazu to our attention, and we here at Mumpsimus Central have now screened the three available in the U.S. with delight and admiration.

Kore-eda began as a documentary filmmaker for television, and some of this background is apparent in the features he has made, particularly After Life, where characters who have died are given the opportunity to keep one memory with them for eternity. Many scenes are filmed with a hand-held camera, and these scenes alternate with static shots of various characters telling their memories and trying to sort through the lives they are about to forget. (Ten of these characters are, reportedly, not actors, but rather ordinary people interviewed as if for a documentary.) It is a touching and surprising film, one that it is difficult to describe without making it sound more trivial or sentimental than it is.

Before After Life, Kore-eda made Maborosi, his least documentary-li…

MetaxuCafe

Bud Parr (of Chekhov's Mistress) has created a new clearinghouse for litblogs, MetaxuCafe. It aggregates posts and headlines from members, lets members post original posts, offers a forum for people to talk about books and blogging, and is really quite beautifully designed. It's a new endeavor, so I'm sure various things will change in the coming weeks and months, but already more than 50 bloggers have signed on as members, including me. Membership is open to anybody who wants in and runs a blog about books that has an RSS or Atom feed. I've already discovered lots of blogs I didn't know about before, and some good discussions have begun in the forum.

Getting the Links Out

The NY Times posted a new profile of one of my favorite American playwrights, Christopher Durang, who is apparently more given to spirituality than might be expected of the author of "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You" ("He was a bad boy," Sister Mary says of one child. "Some of them should be left on the side of a hill to die, and he was one.")

Ron Silliman: "There is a horror at the heart of Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire that comes far closer to [What's Eating Gilbert] Grape & [Spanking the] Monkey than it does to LOTR or Star Wars. That horror is the secret & heart of this film." Well, that's going a bit far, but it was certainly nice that the movie wasn't as long as the book.

Ron Silliman: "Perhaps nothing could be further from the swell of extras, computer-generated effects & dizzying pace of Harry Potter than Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring..." Very few films of the last fiv…