Showing posts from 2006

And We're Back

I am now home, having returned safely from two weeks in Kenya. My friends up here in New Hampshire very kindly ordered a big snow storm for my return -- a few days ago, I was in the intense equatorial heat of Lamu Island , and yesterday I drove up from Boston and saw one car after another off the road, felled by snow and ice. (Indeed, a friend of mine was in a big pile-up that closed a section of the highway for two hours. He's not hurt, but his car was totalled.) I've been trying to figure out how to write about all I did and saw and learned in Kenya, but right now it's such an undigested mass of experience in my head that I distrust much of anything I might say about it all, for fear of generalizing too much, for fear of blathering on, for fear of ranting. I've been dreading the inevitable questions such as, "How was your trip?" because there is no way to sum it up succinctly. The best thing to come up with is to say that if I were able to go back in a

A Few Resources

I'm here in Nairobi, having an amazing time with all sorts of writers from around the world, learning so much that it's going to take me weeks and months and years to sort through it all. For now, though, and while Njihia formulates his next guest post, I thought I'd share a few resources from people who are here, are associated with the Kwani LitFest, or are just particularly interesting: Kwani LitFest Blog A Kenyan Urban Narrative Chimurenga magazine Transition magazine African Bullets & Honey Women of Uganda Network That's all I have time for at the moment. Once I get back to the States at the end of December, I'll have much, much more.

Guest Blogger: Njihia Mbitiru

I'm getting packed up and ready to head to Kenya for a couple weeks, and while I'm gone I will try to post an occasional update, but I also thought it would be fun to try something I've never tried around here -- a guest blogger. And it only makes sense that while I'm in Kenya the first Mumpsimus guest blogger should be Njihia Mbitiru, who is in the same masters degree program as I am in at Dartmouth, is a Clarion Workshop graduate, and is originally from Kenya. In fact, my participation in SLS Kenya owes a lot to him, because he stopped me one day at the Dartmouth library and said he'd just read an amazing Kenyan story -- "Ships in High Transit" by Binyavanga Wainaina. That put Wainaina's name into my head, I read up on his literary organization Kwani , and started paying more attention to Kenyan writers. When I chanced upon a reference to SLS Kenya somewhere, I was intrigued, and when I saw Wainaina was involved, I decided to apply. So please

"Words Can Mean Anything"

EURYDICE Orpheus never liked words. He had his music. He would get a funny look on his face and I would say what are you thinking about and he would always be thinking about music. If we were in a restaurant, sometimes I would get embarrassed because Orpheus looked sullen and wouldn't talk to me and I thought people felt sorry for me. I should have realized that women envied me. Their husbands talked too much. But I wanted to talk to him about my notions. I was working on a new philosophical system. It involved hats. This is what it is to love an artist: The moon is always rising above your house. The houses of your neighbors look dull and lacking in moonlight. But he is always going away from you. Inside his head there is always something more beautiful. Orpheus said the mind is a slide ruler. It can fit around anything. Words can mean anything. Show me your body, he said. It only means one thing. (She looks at her father, embarrassed for revealing too much.) Or maybe

Duotrope's Digest

Via a discussion at the Metaxucafe Forums, I discovered an amazing tool: Duotrope's Digest , which bills itself as "Markets for Writers", but I can also see it as a useful tool for readers who are curious to find magazines, journals, and publishers they haven't encountered before. For writers, indeed, this is a treasure-trove, providing detailed information on a stunning variety of publications. It's also got a great search engine that lets you filter results by all sorts of different criteria, including genre, length, media, payscale, submission type, country, theme issues, and even what awards the publisher nominates for. The site claims to update daily, with every market checked at least once a week.

The White Diamond

After reading Tom Bissell's appreciation of the films of Werner Herzog in the December Harper's , I decided to use the wonders of Netflix to catch up with Herzog's documentaries, because though I revere many of his feature films, of the documentaries I had only seen Grizzly Man and My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinski . Now I have added The White Diamond to that list. It is an astounding film, strange and powerful, filled with rich imagery and immense, subtle depths of emotion and philosophy. It presents many of Herzog's favorite themes and character types, making it feel like a cousin to Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo , but it is a gentler film, more hopeful and less corruscating in tone, but no less powerful in its portrayal of obsession, vision, and nature. The White Diamond tells the story of Dr. Graham Dorrington , a British aerospace engineer who created an airship to fly over the canopy of the rainforest in Guyana -- rainforest canopies have been mostly unexplored terr

Quarterly Conversation

My essay "What is Appropriate" , about literature and high school and sex, is now live at The Quarterly Conversation , where lots of other interesting stuff is also available -- despite my appearance there, it has become quite a strong webzine, a place for enlivening and enlightening discussion of books and writers, as well as various other cultural arts and artifacts.

Katherine Min at The Happy Booker

Here at Mumpsimus Central, we love it when our friends hang out together, and so we're having a little party* to celebrate Friend of the Mumpsimus Katherine Min guest-blogging for Friend of the Mumpsimus The Happy Booker . As Hero to the Mumpsimus Col. John "Hannibal" Smith used to say, we love it when a plan comes together. Or something like that... In any case, we loved in particular these sentences of Katherine's: I come to fiction from the premise that reality isn't so great. Reality is what we're stuck with. Fiction is compelling precisely because it takes us beyond what is merely real. *What is a little party at Mumpsimus Central? All I'll admit is that it usually involves archaic words, obscure books, and shotgun shells.

Salon Fantastique Giveaway

Update 12/2/06: The contest is now closed, because we have three winners: Aaron Hughes, Livia Llewellyn, and Mario Milosevic! Many thanks to everybody who responded. I have appended the correct answer to the question below. I have come upon some extra copies of the new anthology Salon Fantastique edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and so it's time for a giveaway. The first three people who email me the correct answer to the following question will receive a free copy of Salon Fantastique : Who established the salon at the Hotel Rambouillet? Answer: Catherine de Vivonne, Marquise de Rambouillet Here's the table of contents for the book: "La Fee Verte" by Delia Sherman "Dust Devil on a Quiet Street" by Richard Bowes "To Measure the Earth" by Jedediah Berry "A Grey and Soundless Tide" by Catherynne M. Valente "Concealment Shoes" by Marly Youmans "The Guardian of the Egg" by Christopher Barzak "My Travels

Fragmentary Utterances

I'm too busy at the moment to write at any length about a bunch of things I'd like to write at length about, so instead I will make fragmentary utterances and hope that they suffice for the moment... Fragmentary Utterance #1: I've been reading through some of the stories in Elizabeth Hand's new collection, Saffron and Brimstone , and they are the sorts of stories that make me feel like all my adjectives are inadequate: evocative , lovely , beguiling , masterful -- yes, they are all that, but more, and differently, and not exactly, and... The collection is subtitled "strange stories" and I think it's both perfect and wrong, because it's not that they're just strange , or that strange encapsulates all that they are. Instead, it's more a kind of placeholder, a way of saying "this, at least, is something", and it's true, because they are strange, but marvelous, too, and... Fragmentary Utterance #2: The new 3-CD album from Tom W


Sez Jonathan Lethem to Mark Sarvas : ...I'm helping preside over the utter and irreversible canonization of one of my (formerly outsider) heroes, Philip K. Dick : I'm writing endnotes for The Library of America , which is doing a volume of four of his novels from the sixties, which I also helped select. Here's a USA Today (actually, Associated Press) article about the upcoming book.

"Quitting Dreams" by Matthew Cheney and Jeffrey Ford

I just received Electric Velocipede #11 , and though I'm sure it contains many excellent stories, the only one I have read (well, skimmed) so far is the collaboration between Matthew Cheney and Jeffrey Ford, "Quitting Dreams". What the reader will notice first is that the story's title and byline are printed on a label attached to the paper. While Mr. Ford's lawyers have requested that I not spread what they call "vile, malicious lies, untruths, and stuff", I would like to note that many a message-board is abuzz with the rumor that Mr. Ford has initiated a suit against the corporate fatcats at EV in what has so far proved to be a fruitless attempt to have his name removed from the story. Apparently, the lawyers for all sides came to a compromise solution, and now readers can tear the title and both names off the story for themselves. Nonetheless, "Quitting Dreams" is a truly extraordinary piece of fiction, and not merely because it contains

From Oregon

Here's a photo from Thanksgiving day in Yoncalla, Oregon. It has been suggested to me that this would make a fine publicity photo. I'm not sure for what sort of publicity. It certainly does seem appropriate, though, to the author of "Blood" ... (The item in my hand, by the way, is a leg crook used on sheep.)

Robert Altman (1925-2006)

I was shocked by the news of Robert Altman's death. Despite the fact that he lived a wonderfully long and productive life, he was one of those icons I always thought would be around, because how could we live in a world without Robert Altman? I could praise his genius, his willingness to experiment, his determination, his ... well, you name it. But as I've been absorbing the news of his death, what I've been thinking about is that he is the one director who has produced movies I have loved for all of my life. When I was a little kid, Popeye was my favorite movie. I thought it was the funniest, most delightful, most emotionally satisfying film that could ever be created. (Yes, you could probably say that only an 8-year-old would feel that way about Popeye , but still...) In high school, Vincent & Theo was my favorite suffering artist movie. I had a grainy VHS tape of it, a tape I must have watched 20 or 30 times before finally getting the DVD when it finally cam

Julie Phillips Interview

It's Thanksgiving week here in the U.S., and I'm in an undisclosed location in the wilds of rural Oregon visiting friends, so it's unlikely there will be many updates this week. I did want to direct your attention, though, to Strange Horizons this week, where there are many things worth looking at, and where I have an interview with Julie Phillips , author of James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon .

Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila

Waiting for An Angel is Helon Habila's first novel, although it is also a collection of interlinked short stories, one of which won the 2001 Caine Prize for African Writing. (Though each story can be read separately, it is their resonances with each other, particularly in the order Habila has presented them in the book, that provides the most emotional power, and so I will refer to the book as a novel.) The events of Waiting for an Angel are not presented in chronological order, and this choice strengthens the book's effect. It is seldom confusing, and is, in fact, in many ways clarifying -- by the second half of the book, whenever we encounter a character, place, or situation, we often know something of its past and future, and so casual actions or phrases that might have otherwise meant little instead take on significance. The first chapter of the book, in fact, is the last chronologically. It begins: In the middle of his second year in prison, Lomba got access to a pe

Holiday Books

The busiest shopping days of the year are coming up soon, which means a couple of people out there might be looking for good books to give as gifts. Here are some that have delighted me over the past year and thus are on my list to give as gifts for readers looking for intelligent and entertaining reads: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson. This is simply an extraordinary novel, regardless of the fact that it's being marketed as a book for "young adults". It's one of those books I'll probably always try to have extra copies of, just to give away whenever I encounter someone who hasn't read it. My favorite novel from last year, The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, is now out in paperback . I loved the hardcover just for its shape and weight and design, but the paperback has preserved most of the interior design, and so now an inexpensive and easily-available copy is ready for a whole new batch of readers

A Well-Deserved Award

M.T. Anderson has won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for his novel Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation; vol. 1: The Pox Party . I don't usually note award results around here, but in this case I am thrilled to see such an odd and extraordinary book honored, and it also gives me a chance to note that Jenny Davidson (of Light Reading ) recently wrote a fine review of the book for the NYTBR. Update: Here's a great interview with Anderson about the book.

Rules for Writing

If you use adjectives in your prose, do not use nouns. If you use nouns, you must not use verbs. If you use verbs, try to avoid verbs that specify a particular city. When specifying particular cities in fiction, do not use cities that have been specified in poems. Poems have so few things left of their own anymore that we should let them have their own cities. When writing poems, use many different points of view. Poems without multiple points of view are too strident. Prose is allowed to be strident on certain political holidays, but poems that are strident tend to resemble over-ripe fruit, and nobody likes that. Bad writing is usually caused by over-ripe fruit, but often enough there is too little rain during the season, and that isn't any good, either. More good writing is produced by rain than by drought. Do not write about the thing that annoyed your brother the last time you wrote about it, because he's bigger than you and he's got a mean streak and there are p

Some Notes on Invitation to a Beheading

I've been subjecting my Advanced Placement students to Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading , and it's been fun to see their responses, because many more of them enjoyed the book than I expected. I introduced it by having them read Azar Nafisi's memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran , which most of them found engaging, and it helped give them a grasp of some of what Nabokov was up to before they plunged into the bewildering world of Cincinnatus C. and his prison cell. Inevitably, there were students who were convinced Nabokov was insane or a drug addict or both. This accusation comes up all the time when we read anyone who is not among the hardest of hardcore realists, because imagination is something that has come to be associated only with the stimulus of drugs or madness. That someone could think up a story like Invitation to a Beheading -- where a man is imprisoned for "gnostic turpitude" in a fortress of porous walls and fake windows and rules against im

On Being Ill

I had not planned to completely stop posting things around here, but in the middle of last week I began to get a fever, and that fever steadily progressed into the full-blown flu by the weekend, causing me to be able to do little other than moan and sleep. Today is the first day in the past five when I have been able to function at, if not full capacity, at least something resembling it. I haven't been this sick in many years, and it was a bizarre, agonizing experience to be completely unable to do anything I wanted or needed to do at a particularly busy time of life. I tend to want to pretend I do not have a body, or at least that it doesn't have much control over the "real" me, but now and then that body does something to remind all the me's, real and imaginary, that it is, indeed, in charge. In any case, this is not a plea for sympathy -- I'm fine, and millions and millions of people suffer through worse every day -- but merely a note to say that I expect

Strange Horizons Fall Fund Drive

The Strange Horizons Fall Fund Drive has been extended to Nov. 12, meaning you still have a chance to give some of your ill-gotten gains to them before you're thrown in prison. Please don't blame them for things like my latest column . They also publish good stuff, like a week of Tiptree-related reviews . (And yes, I know I've been a lousy blogger recently. I've been a lousy everything recently, what with work, thesis, deadlines for various writings I promised to people back when I had a delusion of spare time, etc. I probably owe you an email. I probably forgot to do that thing I said I'd do for you. I probably ruined your childhood. I apologize for the first two. With luck, things will get a bit more lively around here soon.)

The End of ManBug Week

ManBug Week has wound down over at the the LBC with a podcast interview with George Ilsley created by the great and glorious Carolyn Kellogg of Pinky's Paperhaus and the tenebrous, ranting denizens of The Bat Segundo Show . I haven't been on a fast enough internet connection yet to listen to the interview, but Carolyn told me she enjoyed talking with George and that he said plenty of illuminating and amusing things, so I'm looking forward to listening to that part of the interview. I'm more wary of the beginning, because Carolyn and I talk about the book for a moment before introducing George, and I expect I sound like an idiot. Ignorance is, perhaps, bliss.

Fresh Links

I rely on NetNewsWire for RSS feed reading, but have begun to experiment with Google Reader as an online alternative. As part of that experiment, I'm trying out the sharing capabilities, so you will now see (I hope...) a "Fresh Links" section of the sidebar. This offers some recent links to weblog posts that I've found in some way or another interesting. You can connect from there to my public page , which also has its own feed if you want to receive it all in your own reader*. I'll keep playing with it see how it works out. Ideally, it could be an easy way to keep some fresh content going, and reduce some of the need for big linkdump posts. Note: If the "Fresh Links" section has disappeared, that means I'm fighting with it or am abandoning it. If it looks funny, that means I haven't gotten the code to integrate well with this site's template. In other words, this is all a test. *I've only been able to get the feed to work in Go

ManBug Week Begins

Things are likely to be slow here this week, as I will be the ringleader of ManBug Week at the LitBlog Co-op . There should be lots of provocative discussion of literature, sex, and entomology...


And now for some big news, or at least something that counts as big news around here: I'm going to a writing workshop/conference in Kenya from December 14-28. It's run by the Summer Literary Seminars program, about which I've heard good things from a friend who went to their St. Petersburg program. I entered the fiction contest, and though I wasn't one of the top 3 finalists (alas), I did manage to do well enough to get a significant reduction in tuition, and so it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. I've an interest in African literary culture and have been trying for a few years to remedy my considerable ignorance of both African literature and history; this program seems like a good way to continue that exploration. With luck, I'll be able to do a bit of blogging from Kenya, but I won't know until I get there what time and resources will allow. Between now and then I hope to write a bit about some African fiction, and I'm sure that af


A Curious Singularity: A group blog about short stories. (via Out of the Woods Now ) Mark Thwaite's "Brief Thoughts on To the Lighthouse " . A description of "Writing the Unthinkable" , a workshop with Lynda Barry. (via Gwenda Bond ) A comparison of William Gass and E.L. Doctorow by Garth Risk Hallberg. William Gibson's typewriter . Classic Film Preview on Fritz Lang . Chris Barzak on M. Rickert and on failures of imagination . Invented Usage on postmodernism and jargon . 25 Years of Weird Al : "Somehow, at an age when Weird Al's early pop muses have died or retired or been charged with pedophilia, he still has something to tell us about youth culture." Hauntology . Lauren Cerand on bloggers and publicists . A plea for science fiction that "opens up the world rather than closing it down" . A conversation about "the best science book ever written" . Paul McAuley : There’s no one right way to write a novel. There’s no one c

The Limits of Rhetorical Negativity

Today's happy thought comes to us via Ben Marcus, writing about Thomas Bernhard in the November Harper's : Bernhard's language strained the limits of rhetorical negativity: if his prose were any more anguished, it would simply transmit as moaning and wailing. Building interest in the grief experienced by people who look at the world and find it unbearable was a dark art of Bernhard's, and his characters do not resist the long walk to death's door but run to it and claw at the surface, begging for entry. After all, says Strauch, the agonized painter in Bernhard's first novel, Frost , "there is an obligation towards the depth of one's own inner abyss," even if meeting that obligation destroys you. Note that in addition to Frost being released in the U.S. for the first time, Bernhard's Gargoyles and The Loser have also been re-released in paperback.

Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation; vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

My experiment in reading YA novels did not begin particularly well. I got 60 pages into A Drowned Maiden's Hair and found myself resenting the book because it was such a slog to get through, and any time I feel this way, I know that a combination of the book's qualities and my mood are leading toward nothing good for either of us, and so I stopped. It may be a perfectly good book for kids, but it was definitely not a perfectly good book for me. I then looked at The Black Tattoo , but it didn't really catch my attention, so I didn't read far, and instead moved on to other books. I may return to it, I may not. Then Meghan McCarron borrowed the advanced copy of Octavian Nothing that I've had since Kelly Link and Gwenda Bond insisted I pick it up at BEA , and she insisted I would enjoy it. Meghan was right. The book fully titled The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; vol. 1: The Pox Party is among the best books I've read in

People Collection

Because there is very little I would not do at the request of Clare Dudman, I shall continue the following meme-questionnaire-thing, which she tagged me for... This seems to have originated here and requires the responder to list 5 personal qualities not generally known to readers of the blog it's being posted on. The idea, apparently, is to collect things that would be interesting attributes to draw on for characters in fiction. Here's a required paragraph: PLEASE LEAVE THE FOLLOWING IN ALL ‘PEOPLE COLLECTION’ POSTS Remember that it isn’t always the sensational stuff that writers are looking for, it can just as easily be something that you take for granted like having raised twins or knowing how to grow beetroot. Mind you, if you know how to fly a helicopter or have worked as a film extra, do feel free to let the rest of us know about it :-) We are all, apparently, interesting in our particularities. Since I don't tend to put too much personal stuff up here, this should


Things are a-hoppin' at the LBC, with Jeff Bryant proclaiming his passion for the book he nominated for this term, Sideshow by Sidney Thompson and me singing the praises of my nominee, Manbug by George K. Ilsley . Of course, Sam Savage's Firmin was the book that got the most votes, and it's a fun book well worth your attention, but don't neglect the other two, either. (And no, even though Jeff, Ed, and I are known in certain circles as The Boyz of the LBC, we did not agree beforehand only to choose books with one-word titles written by men.)

Lit'ry Magazines

My favorite benefit so far of being series editor for the upcoming Best American Fantasy is getting to read things I wouldn't otherwise know about or have ready access to, including a wide variety of magazines generally considered part of the literary mainstream. Inspired by these two posts from other bloggers, I thought I'd highlight a few that I have been looking through recently -- not an exhaustive list by any means, but rather a little sampling. Agni is a magazine I used to subscribe to, but because I try to scatter my subscriptions, I let it go, and now I regret it. I haven't read a recent issue, but I have enjoyed some of the web-only content they've posted, and I expect the journal itself is as varied and high-quality as I always found it to be. I know I'll spend a day at the library catching up with this year's batch of fiction, in case there's something appropriate for BAF , and I look forward to it. Gargoyle is a genuine find, a journal I


Thursday will mark the 86th anniversary of John Reed's death, and today Paramount released Warren Beatty's romantic epic about Reed, Reds , for the first time on DVD in honor of the film's 25th anniversary. I will not pretend that Reds is a Great Film, much as it wants to be, nor will I proclaim it a brilliant work of political popular art. But I love watching it, because part of what it does is what the best romantic epics do -- it presents us with a world that seems like a wonderful place to live and characters who are tremendously passionate, idealistic, and much larger than any life I, at least, know. It makes art and politics seem like things worth living for. It is, in many ways, then, a movie designed to appeal to adolescents. I adored it when I was 16. After watching Reds then I went out and found books about Reed, about Emma Goldman , about Eugene O'Neill (whose birthday, by the way, was yesterday), about socialism and Bolshevism and all the wonderful


There are things in the world. Some of them include: Firmin , the Fall 2006 LitBlog Co-op Read This! choice. Much more to come in the next few weeks about Firmin and the other two nominees. I got my contributor's copies of One-Story today. That means they should be heading out to subscribers this week... Electric Velocipede #11 is now ready for pre-order . This issue includes my collaboration with Jeff Ford, "Quitting Dreams", as well as some things you might actually enjoy reading. Theodora Goss has posted the TOC to Interfictions , the anthology of "interstitial" stories being published by Small Beer Press, edited by Dora and Delia Sherman. It's an interesting mix of authors, and particularly nice to see some translated fiction there. It's Fall Fund Drive time at Strange Horizons . At SH the staff are all volunteers, but the writers get paid. Go give them money so no more editors get arrested for armed robbery of NPR stations.

The Lack of Conclusion

From "Kierkegaard and the Novel" by Gabriel Josipovici , in The Singer on the Shore: Essays 1991-2004 : As Kierkegaard puts it: all we ever have in life are gossip and rumours; our world is the world of the newspaper and the barber-shop, it is not the world of Jesus and his Apostles. A person seduced by our culture's admiration for art into becoming a writer embarks on a more dangerous enterprise than he or she may realise. If they embark on a work of fiction they imply that they have escaped the world of rumour, that instead of living horizontally, as it were, they live vertically, in touch with some transcendental source of authority. And we who read them do so because we feel that this must indeed be the case. But the closer they get to the end the clearer it becomes that there is no vertical connection. And should they try to bring their work to a close the contradiction between what it implies and the truth of the matter will become quite obvious. The only way


One of my favorite things to do when directing a play is to put together the soundtrack, and sometimes when writing I will try to manipulate how I write by what music I select for the background (or don't select -- silence has its own effect). Thus, I was immediately interested in the new "soundtrack to your life" meme that Gwenda Bond and Elizabeth Bear did. For fun, I put iTunes on shuffle and looked at what the songs would correspond to. I didn't intend originally to write about it here, but the songs that came up created a strange sort of narrative, with some spooky syncronicity, and I immediately began trying to think of a story to build from most of them. I'll probably try to write the story, so am recording here the initial impulse... IF YOUR LIFE WAS A MOVIE, WHAT WOULD THE SOUNDTRACK BE? So, here's how it works: 1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc) 2. Put it on shuffle 3. Press play 4. For every question, type the song t