I started the year thinking I would have my Shabazz collection (80,000 words) complete by December, or at least nearing completion. The idea was to write a long story each month/six weeks, and when I did sit and write it … Continue reading
A few months back I was sent (by Carin Makuz) a jpg of some random trash, all part of a project called The Litter I See (in support of Frontier College), and which promotes literacy and has, of course, an anti-trash objective as well. The image was of someone’s ‘new balance’ and the word ‘withdrawal’ was prominent. So I wrote a poem, a kind of numb, flat poem about a decision on the cusp for years.
You can find it here (or click the image):
Not sure if I’ve had a poem published before. Don’t think so.
In spring 2014, just before heading to Banff, I started a long story, one of my ‘man and woman and animals getting all confused together’ stories, with the idea that it would fill out (conclude, edify, rectify, flex hard or burnish) a themed collection entitled “Why Do Birds?”. It goes like this: have a story collection but it’s too short (i.e. under 50,000 words) for publishers? Just end it with a long story. But on my way to writing a (not successful!!) grant request, that new story (“Mouth Human Must Die”) led to other ideas and soon a new collection was pulled out of thinning hair. The writing of this new collection is going slowly, because I didn’t get the grant (these rejections actually affect the creation of the project, who would have guessed?) but the second story in the collection, “A Survivor’s Guide to Engine Failure at 35,000 Feet”, all 9500 words of it, will be in the marvelous online library at Numero Cinq this fall. There aren’t many publication venues for long stories, but online journals are ideal.
It’s been an odd spring/summer/life, what with the stresses of trying to make a living as a literary editor/book designer/translator/web designer/writer/beggar/impressario, so it’s nice to have some work accepted. I am a writer, dammit.
Damnit? Damn it?
Back to editing.
After 18 months of knowing I needed one, I made one: a website for my editing services. Happy to have clients both big (publishers, corporations) and small (you, the Average Writing Human). Is this an easy way to make a living? No. But it’s a satisfying one. Check it out:
I don’t often write full-on book reviews* (the pay ain’t great), but I admire those who do. It’s an important service to the literary arts and writing a good review is not easy. Anyway, Douglas Glover at Numero Cinq asked me … Continue reading
Paper. Hate it. Hate the way it sounds, paper on paper, and the way it feels under my skin. Hate the sound of paper tearing, hate the dry whisper of a turned page. Hate that other things sound like this. Take off my shirt and, cloth on skin, there’s the paper sound. Touch my hair and there’s the paper sound. Breathe in and there’s the paper sound. I’m not making this up.
It started early in life, though I don’t remember exactly when. In school, the sound of my hand moving across paper was bothersome, but tolerable. I found that if I kept my nails long, it helped. I wouldn’t explain why I kept my nails long, though. I can’t explain why it still helps (lessens touch sensitivity, I presume). I hated the sound of pencil against paper, I hated the sound of the worn-to-nothing end of a pencil, the eraser end, rubbing its nub and tin against the paper (I shudder). At its worst, in my pre-teens, it affected my dental hygiene – brushing my teeth created a paper sound throughout my entire skull. Horrible. I also couldn’t stand the feel and sound of nylon on nylon. Or snowsuits. Pillowcases. Maybe I worried that one day I wouldn’t be able to touch anything at all?
And then it went away, mostly. And I forgot about it, mostly. Thirty years dormant. And then two summers ago, while tearing a sheet of parchment paper, it was back: shivers up my spine, hair standing on end. Why? Did stress trigger it? What part of my brain was reactivated? And why is there a part of my brain that makes the world sound like its being channelled through dry, paper tubes? (“That’s a really crazy description; don’t tell people that,” R. told me when I tried to describe it.)
Since the Parchment Terror it’s expanded, to toasted or old bread, to feet on carpet, and to nearly all forms of clothing (except microfibre and silk). Some days it seems every other thing has this dry, shivery sound, and I can’t see any evolutionary reason for this. Paper cuts just aren’t that deadly. (Yes, it falls under some kind of hypersensitivity disorder. Surely there are others out there.)
So, that’s the irony. I’m a writer and editor who hates paper, who is surrounded by paper, who’s had constant paper contact his entire life (you’d have expected me go into aquaculture and something similarly moist). But I’m a writer who’s never had much of a paper fetish, obviously, or a sharpie or pen collection.
Yet, somehow (praise the angels and their shivery wings), I still love the feel of books, and don’t own a Kobo or Kindle.
That says something.
PS – But I love the feel of polymers. The new plastic money? Awesome.
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.)
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
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
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 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.
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.