Wither Ambition?

Too few fiction writers write like they enjoy the process, like they’re having blast and are taking you along with them, like they have absolute command and are conducting you. So much of what I’ve read lately (published work, not my editing work) is stolid, plodding, boring.  It knows nothing of how sounds, images, rhythms work together to create something more than just plot-puppet A meeting plot-puppet B. It’s soggy white bread with the corners cut off.  Yet it’s published and marketed as great literature, stunning, original. It’s all over the cover. Welcome to sublurbia.

Where’s the ambition? Shrinking expectations? Even if there’s no play, where’s the depth, where’s that unique spark each of us has? ( We all have it, don’t we?)

What fiction has seemed masterly me in the past year?  Not much, but then I’ve read many friends’ books, nearly two dozen unpublished books, and too few on my must-read list. Michelle Butler Hallett was in command of her material in Double-Blind, and Lynn Coady’s stories in Hellgoing showed an easy, subtle control, but perhaps only my favourite fiction of the past year, Tamas Dobozy’s Seige 13, had that range I seek. Now I consider all three of these authors to be friends.  Would I have read these otherwise?  Don’t know.

Time to dive into what I want to read, shelves of urgently-purchased, waiting-for-the-right-moment titles, and what spurred this surly entry is a book I opened this morning, Gilbert Sorrentino’s The Moon in Its Flight. There’s mastery here. It doesn’t feel like a chore to pick it up.

(For the record, the book that impressed me most this past year is Kerry-Lee Powell’s poetry collection Inheritance. Is she a friend? Yes, and a good one. But more on that in a future entry.)

Till Light Video 4

Every now and then I’ll take some random video I have (in this case from a shuttle between Banff & Canmore) and see how it works as a visual backdrop to one of my songs.  Then I add the lyrics because it’s pretty boring without them. There’s actually a second layer of video here, flowers in a field moving in a slow wind. Anyway, “Russell” is one of my favourite songs.

Other videos from Till Light:

https://leedthompson.wordpress.com/he-makes-music-too/

Reading Uniqueness: Books that Boldly Go Beyond the Known

This is what I search for, why I read. Books that most publishers won’t touch, that most editors would have nightmares over, that aren’t necessarily great books but reflect something that’s uniquely of the mind of the author. What do they have in common? Ambition? Yes, in the way that a challenge is tackled head on. A strangeness? Yes, oh yes, oh yes yes, these are strange books. Humour? That generally goes with the strangeness. A non-linear structure? Absolutely, absolutely. Tasking language? For me, this is a must: there are lot of unique books out there, but do they have the language – the diction, the rhythm, the metaphor – to match that vision. And they are all moving, affecting, human books. It’s easy to be odd but so much harder to be uncanny. So here are a bunch that have never left me, that are by and large under-read and unknown to the general reading public (which is why some of the other authors whose books have influenced me, such as Pynchon, Beckett, Faulkner, Joyce, Kafka, aren’t here). Clicking the images brings to Goodreads links.

Plus, Joseph McElroy
The Stones of Summer, Dow Mossman
The Journal of Albion Moonlight, Kenneth Patchen
The Dead Father, Donald Barthelme
The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brien
Wittgenstein’s Mistress, David Markson
JR, William Gaddis
Log the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine, Stanley Crawford

Joseph_McElroy,_Plus,_coverstones of summerTheDeadFatheralbion-moonlight

ThirdPoliceman20121129-203833 - CopyJRnovelunguentine

I’m sure there are many others I’ve forgotten, such as (thinking):

Hawthorn and Child, Keith Ridgway
Ice, Anna Kavan
Genoa: A Telling of Wonders, Paul Metcalf
Housekeeping, Marilyn Robinson
Les Chants de Maldoror, Comte de Lautréamont
Journey to the End of Night. L. F. Celine
The Crock of Gold, James Stephens

Any recommendations?

Upgathering of thought

Oh, poor neglected blog that no one never reads, what ails thee? Time, time is the sickness… and also the cure. And furthermore, croaked the ravin’ mad lunatic.

What’s new over here? A long story has been started, about an aircrash, another in my Dr. Shabazz collection (a new project). An agent is reading my sheep novel (we think). I’ve read four consecutive books written by women  – Double-Blind (Michelle Butler Hallett), Hellgoing (Lynn Coady), The Town that Drowned (Riel Nason), Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel) – and am now reading Keith Ridgway’s Never Love a Gambler. Ridgway’s Hawthorn and Child was one of my favourite books last year. Tense, periscopic, and a kind of weirdness that had me smiling ear to toe.

I’ve seen the publication of a book I edited for Boularderie Island Press (Get More Power from Your Brain, Eileen Pease) and added a copy of Becoming Fierce to my publications bookshelf.

I am editing my 13th and 14th books of the year. One of those recently-edited books just became this.

There were two launches of the latest Breach House Anthology,  a writing group I’ve been deeply connected to since 2000. This was our third anthology. I also provided music at each launch, including a song based on one of the members’ lyrics (click here for that ditty).

I’ve edited, set-up, and now sent off for publication the revived Galleon.

I want to record another album soon. My reading series needs a new home. I continue to shed pounds (23 since July).

Lastly, it’s been a year since I had an underpaying overworking job, one I apparently left to focus on my writing career (insert raven laughter).  And how has that gone, you ask? The twitching has gone, I respond.

Mis-guided

A late night rant, that’s what this is. Rant against evil guiding hand. It’s the one thing that drives me bat-shit loony when I see it in published work.

I recently read a local, award-winning novel and was constantly slapped by its guiding hand. Here, let me explain what I’ve just shown you, and in case you didn’t know how to feel, let me explain that too. It’s all innocently done, the reading equivalent of a pat on the back. The book leads to a climactic scene, the author has set it up quite nicely, we’ve inferred what may very well happen next, but hey now let’s have the narrator tell you everything you’ve inferred.

Grrr and shame on the editor who skipped alongside, hand in guiding hand.

Lee, reaching for a New Directions, or a Dalkey Archive to numb the stinging.

Three Recent Songs

Yes, I like to think I’m a musician sometimes, though I’m not always convinced it’s true. Many other things feel more natural to me, but I’ve always had songs and melodies in my head and can hardly have a conversation with someone (I know well) without starting to sing a response.  Am I much of a singer? Shoulder shrug. Lyricist? Head nodding side to side. Guitarist? 30 years of strumming casually does pay off a little.

I stopped making music for a spell, started again seven or eight years ago and it does feel a part of me…

I completed a few songs while in Banff, and here are three:

Lunch Date

 

Dance with the Dead

 

Long Ago

 

It takes me forever to complete a song. Lyrics are the culprit – they always fall short. Having a Banff music hut for two weeks was a boon, certainly.

 

What does the crow know?

A killer is on the road and when I leave R.’s place early that morning, half-dream haunted (having slept haltingly under a bay window, shadowed lilacs moving  in the wind), a crow swoops down madly squawking. It’s five a.m. and there’s a chill in the morning air and all the way to my apartment, which is only a parenthesis away, the crow follows, swooping when my back is turned and never shutting up. Others have woken, crows and not crows. Is this a message? Has the killer climbed to my second floor balcony and slipped in through the open door? I wasn’t expecting to be out long but when the news of the shots came I stayed over. So who knew where he was. So who knew if he’d slipped through the police noose and made it to the dark park and the path that leads to me. Does the crow know?

I’ve always found it fitting that trauma comes from Traum, the German word for dream. “Es war kein Traum,” Kafka writes early in Die Verwandlung when Gregor wonders what has happened. It was hardly a dream. Read any post-catastrophe interview – after 9/11, for example – and all you see is, ‘It was surreal.’

We live in a safe world. Mostly.

There was no killer hiding in my bathroom shower, nor in the bedroom closet. These things aren’t far-fetched, and yet they are. When I checked my balcony door (chain-locked, right), the crow was out there, on the wires, waiting. “So this crow followed me all the way home,” I told R. later in the day while the killer was still on the road (in the bushes, really). “It was very annoyed with me,” I said, also stating that I thought it might have brain damage. “Maybe it’s the one you chased out of the yard last week,’ R. said, and she was right, I had done that, darted into the driveway in my silver Fusion and leaped from the thing to chase a crow from the torn trash.

A grudge. An obsession. Wronged when the wronging was not what it seemed to be. We’re not so different from crows.

Banff: Three

I could spend my days taking in the sights here, and by that I mean taking them into my camera. There was discussion yesterday about the camera robbing one of the experience of seeing (tourists flocking to a sunrise, 2000 cameras out), but I felt that wasn’t fair, at least not to all who wander with camera. A counter argument was made that the camera asks you to see, to stop and frame and focus. I agree with the latter, of course.

Bow River

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am here to write.  Do the images (does the landscape) help my writing?  Quite likely, but this isn’t an essay on seeing. Below this window is a story waiting words.  I did wonder, during yesterday’s discussion, what taking photographs and my desire to write have in common, what thing am I trying to achieve/attain/accomplish with each.  I like the ooh and the aah factor. A deeper part of me says, quietly, something about illuminating the nature of being. See the here while we’re here and see it in new ways.

DSC06660

 

 

 

 

 

 

One week left to take more pictures and try to write.  Photos are easier. Talking about writing, art, philosophy is easier. I’ve edited “One for the Master” (sheep novel), made minor changes throughout, and have passed it along to Dionne Brand. I will read from it on the 20th.

Banff Springs Hotel

Shuffling off to Banffalo

Yes, I am, in 36 hours, and how quickly I’m realizing four weeks is little time to work on anything.   The blog should blossom, and Galleon should see wind in its sails during that time. But I’ve plenty to work on:

The Slow Loris story – a long story, a work in progress.

My sheep novel, for which I’m there for (which forever needs a tweak or two).

My fish novel, the Council-funded once-contracted weirdo that needs to be in print years ago.

Multiple wanting short fictions, near misses that would raise the collection from damn to dayumn.

And a first foray into my northern novel, which exists in short form.

 

Meanwhile, I’ve had a story (A Serpent) accepted by Douglas Glover for his fine online venture Numero Cinq (which has published several of my favourite authors, including Joseph McElroy) and looming publication in an anthology to be released later this year.

More soon, mountain time.