Saturday, July 31, 2010

Story Every Day #9: Love Blossom

I'm right now on the west side of Florida, the farthest west I have ever got in this state. What is it like here? It is like this: the moisture in the air rushes to your skin and doesn't leave. The palm trees sprawl bright in the sky and half the roads are torn up and marked with construction tape. I'm in the guest room of someone else's rented house and the DVD player just unexpectedly threw its tray out at me, then sucked it back in.

Here's a story for you. It's called Love Blossom.

Each time he fell in love a new appendage sprouted. The dogs he kept as a child didn't mind or even notice but his first high school girlfriend fingered the fingers coming out of his back and never again asked him to pull off his shirt. By the time he got it off again, in college, an entire tiny leg hung from his ribs. He usually kept it duct taped to his side but still, you could tell. At his wedding the next year he was lumpy in his tux next to a woman who had seen all of him. He thought this was the worst of the curse but the worst of it was to come in the following years, when he'd come home from meeting the IT woman with a new thumb behind his knee, and later from a week-long training in Dallas with something he didn't recognize lumpy on his foot. His wife would draw back in bed and he would guide her hand to the one she'd given him, on his shoulder. This is the only one that matters, he'd say, but even he wouldn't believe that was true.

Saturday Mixtape

Songs I'm digging:

Friday, July 30, 2010

In Bb

In some ways, "In C" ruined college for me. Before college I was home-schooled, all the way through high school. I didn't have any friends by the time I was done, except through the Internet, and even there not many; everyone I knew had moved on to other things, or had already grown up, or had been, in fact, too narrow-minded and weird for me to ultimately care about them anymore. (There was the guy who ended up in a private Christian school, who once found himself in a fight over where he was sitting, and had a glass pushed rim-first into his cheek, and twisted, leaving a large, jagged scar. Later he went to Iraq. His brother, probably a Calvinist, threw a shoe at my brother once. Same brother wanted to do a play about Vlad the Impaler, who, whatever you wanted to say against him, was a Christian.)

I went to Butler, which is in many ways a school for the rich, and becoming more-so. There were events designed to get us jazzed about where we were going. What was I doing there? I had scholarships, and my family was poor enough I got the maximum amount of available government aid, which was just enough to allow me to go there as long as I stayed home. It was widely perceived as a good school, and indeed in many ways it was a good school. At the time I thought I would be a journalist because I thought that was practical.

The school hosted events wherein students and parents could meet each other. My parents couldn't make it -- they had the wrong sort of jobs. I went to all the incoming freshman events out of hope I would meet someone interesting, find a friend, find something out about what I would do there, and for the rest of my life. I still talk to several of the faculty from Butler and almost none of the students. People in college are, as it turns out, about the same as people everywhere else. But at one of the orientation events we were invited to a musical performance by the school's orchestra, which is really top notch. (This is yet another reason I will always half-wish I was a musician instead.) The program explained about "In C," and so did, I think, the conductor -- they told us how it was written (projecting the music on the wall, in fact, though of course I couldn't read it) and how it would be performed. I was sitting next to a girl from Saudi Arabia, if memory serves. This was before the freshman class had a chance to segregate itself and so briefly my social circle was not entirely white. She was very pretty. The music was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. It may still be.


Being both chronically slow and suddenly busy, it's taken me this long to get around to linking Mike's post on teaching Intro Creative Writing and Roxane Gay's post at HTMLGiant ("Is Reading Really the Most Important Thing?") to what is really a wealth of thought about that exact thing at Shome Dasgupta's blog, The Laughing Yeti. There are entries there from (most recently) Aimee Bender, John Madera, Paula Bomer, Johannes Goransson, Matthew Simmons, the list really and truly goes on and on (I'm way down there, back in May, along with Matt Bell, Brian Evenson, Shane Jones, Adam Robinson, Amelia Gray; really, just go read and click through for a while).

(More about me after the break)

Smaller Projects and Knowing What to Send Into the World

If you're looking at this blog you presumably look at other blogs like it and so must be aware of all the discussion lately on the great glut of writing rushing into submission queues every day. Even if you're not one of the publishing people fretting about or defending all the work coming in every day, every day, the rush of envelopes and emails stacking unopened, you're probably aware that a lot of words exist unprinted or unelectrified. Anybody who writes has thousands or hundreds of thousands of words in their hard drives or drawers that they probably don’t even send out, and anybody who knows other writers knows how many stories and novels and poems are homeless and wandering, screaming for attention.

I used to work for The North American Review and I edited fiction for Flyway for a while and so I'm very aware of the mass of work that comes in and of the mass of work that gets rejected. A lot of it is very strong and gets judged too quickly even if the reader spends long stretches agonizing over it. A lot of it is great and vibrant but not right for the journal, or comes in at a time when the roster is already stuffed. When my own projects come back unloved from agents and editors I try to remember what it's like on the other side of the conversation, for that person stuffing the RJ notice into the envelope or pasting it into the email.

This kind of thing has me thinking lately too about the nature of writing, about why we bother when the odds of anyone reading and enjoying what we put out are so long. Earlier this week Nick Antosca asked on HTML Giant how important it is for writers that their work be read or published. While I don't consciously dwell on the hope of finding homes for stories or novels while I'm knocking them out (I think that kind of obsession would trip up a lot of stories), if I were certain that no one ever would touch the things I'm putting together I would probably focus my energies in a different direction. I would become an excellent rock climber or alligator wrestler. At the very least I would become a visual artist. I am a terrible drawer and painter and have been jealous always of my friends who can put out even something awful (by their standards) and still have a vibrant and interesting object to hang on their walls and enjoy. A writer who produces anything less than amazing, by contrast, has at best a stack of scratch paper to use for future notes, or to use as the plate for a pair of microwaved pizza slices, or to fold into airplanes to launch at a cat. And a lot of times even the projects we love find these same uses.

This is the kind of thinking that lead me to start my current project, writing a (very) short piece each day on my blog. I'd been looking around for an idea around which to organize a blog, and this seemed like one that would also give me an outlet for the ideas that I usually toss away, flashes of fiction that I usually skip in favor of the longer or somehow "fuller" projects that demand more time and attention. I'm thrilled to be invited to share some of them here.

What about you? What do you do with the ideas that animate your thoughts briefly but that don't have a place in your larger schedule, or that you don't want to hector the world about while you focus on the projects that are more important to you? Is it enough that these things exist fast in our heads, or do they need to be created, and if they do need to be created do they need to be thrown out into the world at all? What criteria do you use to decide? And if you don't plan to send it out, do you still create it?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hello, internet; Tony O'Neill's Sick City

Hello, internet. It's me, Tim, and I'm shouting into you from a new booth, perched not behind the purple-and-white screen of my own blog, Moonshot, but inside this one. Tracy and Mike generously invited me to post here some of the stories I'm writing every day at Moonshot, and also to post some things that aren't stories, or at least aren't stories of the fiction-y sort.

To start off, I want to say a few things about Tony O'Neill's new novel, Sick City.

You may be thinking to yourself, man, that book looks familiar. Maybe the garish ghostly face on the cover strikes a memory in you. Maybe you, like me, saw this thing mentioned on HTML Giant a couple weeks ago or maybe you just live close to better bookstores than I do. Maybe you have one of those valuable friends who keeps intriguing trade paper backs on the end table and likes to press them on you after some tequilas. Whatever, I guess. The idea here is that if you have someone recommending you this type of book you should be thankful.

I'm slow to gush over literature and I won't gush too thick over this set of pages but I read Sick City over the past few days and it's the kind of narrative that slithers comfortably into a dark recess you didn't realize hollowed out your mind. This is a caper story where the MacGuffin is a sex tape and the primary characters are sympathetic hardcore drug addicts who are sometimes sympathetic hardcore drug zombies and the side characters are the kind of people you can imagine smelling from a few bar stools over. Sometimes the women have penises and sometimes the blood stains on the bathroom walls are almost older than memory.

All that said, O'Neill's book doesn't read like a straight crime novel or drug story; there's an electric current animating the characters so that you'll care more about what's going on inside their heads than about the guns pointing at them. The writing jumps fast, and you get the sense that while O'Neill pays attention to his language, he's more concerned with what's going in the story than with picking the perfect poetic word. When you finish the last pages it'll be sooner than expected and you'll be wondering what you can pick up next that will carry the same sort of unpredictable weight.

More Stumbles


But that's my mouse.

The "secret law of page harmony."

Wish I had one of these.

I am childish enough that I still enjoy watching stuff like this.

I am easily absorbed these days I guess.

New Contributor Tim Dicks

We loved the story we received recently from Tim Dicks. In it, he writes with humor and love about a guy with great intentions who keeps digging himself deeper and deeper into trouble. It is a story we're really excited to share with you in the first issue.

For a preview, you can find some of Tim's work at PANK, Prick of the Spindle, and Thieves Jargon. He blogs and writes short fiction at Moonshot. He seems a man of stern yet gentle spirit. He does not mind writing about a blow job. He may know or own a cat. There is maybe a picture of him on the Internet but you will have to find it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Structure and Teaching Creative Writing

As Mike said in his post on teaching creative writing, I'm also teaching this semester, though mine is a prose workshop. My focus has thus been a bit less on helping students feel out creative writing and more on helping them practice doing it and talking about it. Which sounds really simplistic. But I think a fair amount of creative writing teachers don't really think about what it is they might want to do for their students, as teachers--I think sometimes it's more about what they want to do for their discipline, and for themselves, as writers. At the very least, I'm not sure creative writing as an academic discipline talks about its goals enough at different levels of instruction. Being an almost-certified teacher (I quit, surprise!--to pursue writing) I do care a lot about goals, and all my courses are pretty carefully scaffolded to support learning objectives and meet various learning needs.

But enough of that. There's one aspect of teaching creative writing that's really driving my course creation right now. Very simply, it has to do with storytelling.

Most creative writing courses I've been in--even some at the graduate level--have focused first on language. This, we're told, is our set of fundamentals: diction, syntax, style, rhythm. Sentences are our fundamentals. And this makes good sense, in that, well, what do we have if we don't have sentences? Can't tell a story without them. And generally, you can't tell a good story without sentences that are well constructed.

But, to return to goals, why is it important that writers write well-constructed sentences? To my thinking, this objective is unexamined. The logic is often left implicit, so forgive me if I grasp at straws here. Given that such instruction is usually accompanied by a fair number of exemplary texts--things written by masters of language like Faulkner, Joyce, Munro--it seems that the objective is to teach students of literary writing to, first, and above all, to write like the masters of language. With the implicit warning being that, whatever else they struggle with in writing, if they forget their language, the whole house will fall down around them.

What this translates into, to me: The purpose of creative writing, particularly prose writing, is primarily realized and its effects made manifest through language. The goal in teaching creative writing, then: For students to improve their command of English prose. The related objectives: For students to study the various kinds of language that make stories worth telling, to identify what principles such writing has in common, and to use those principles in their own writing. Bloom's Taxonomy levels addressed, for extra nerd points: Knowledge (to study, recognize, and repeat information gained from these texts and from instruction in these texts), Comprehension (to identify and describe the principles of good English prose), Application (to use characteristics of acknowledged "good" language in one's own work).

I use Bloom's pointedly. These are the first three "building blocks" of knowledge. Using only the first three building blocks is typically the sign of an introductory course--therefore, there's nothing, as far as theory goes, to say that these goals are inappropriate for beginning students. However, as the name suggests, creative writing involves a significant amount of creating. Creation is covered in the upper levels. In Analysis, you create knowledge of texts in relation to other texts, perhaps by comparing and contrasting, perhaps by appraising them. Analysis in creative writing--any writing--requires creating one's own understanding of the choices involved in that other text (and one's own), the process undertaken, the effects of these choices and these processes, rather than naming features. Synthesis requires creation--the internalization of many different parts and elements of a field of study, such that one can plan, manage, and craft a new thing from an understanding of the already existing things. Evaluation requires creation--the creation of criteria, of arguments and counterarguments, for the judgment of one's work and that of others.

If we think the creative aspects of writing are important, are indeed part of the point of writing in the first place, I think our objectives as teachers have to be constructed to more thoroughly include these levels of learning. Many, many teachers, in all fields of study, maintain that they want to make students independent thinkers and creators of knowledge. But on examination, the objectives just don't line up. To think independently, students must retain choice. And to create, they must be free to make decisions. Including the decision of evaluation--of judging by a well-defined set of criteria how a particular text, no matter how exemplary in the eyes of the teacher, meshes with the choices they want to make. (I'm not saying that intermediate students should be encouraged to simply accept or reject exemplary works--that's actually not really judging. Rather, I think that at this level, it should be a goal to get students further invested in the act of creating, and further acquainted with the type of thinking that's required, and that type of thinking requires making decisions and evaluating--generously, but rigorously.)

This is why I think it's a mistake to make bare, classic construction of sentences the focal point of a creative writing class. I think we might have the fundamentals upside down.

I want to try rearranging them. I want to prioritize storytelling, an art which requires acts of creation from top to bottom. And the top is not language--it is structure. Beginning, middle, and end. Conflict, climax, resolution. This is arguably the hardest act of creation--but I'm curious if it only seems this way because we've been taught from the bottom up. First language--syntax, style, detail, description, imagery, setting--then character, then plot. A story is not a story until it has a story structure. And that structure doesn't work well until it's attached, entwined with, a character. Language is a set of decisions just as complex, just as creative. But not until it's working in service of the character, and in service of the plot.

I believe that already puts me quoting from Vonnegut. I'm going to be teaching from some of Vonnegut's essays on structure, where he draws out plot arcs in terms of character (Cinderella is in a low place, she gets what she wants, then she loses it all step by step, then she gains everything back and more, into infinity. A plot arc and a character arc, intertwined). We'll then be reading Breakfast of Champions, which, to be honest, is a book I love but not a book I think is fantastic for its language, plot, or character. I'm not teaching it because I want them to write like it (though they certainly can if they want). I'm teaching it because I want them to read something by a writer who obviously also thought about what he was doing, to model for them the different levels of thought and decisionmaking that go into creating something from scratch. To teach them you have to think about it--you have to think about what your choices will do on the page, what your choices do for you as you're reading you, and what they might do for someone else. Not to outright adopt someone else's choices, but to pick and choose between many different possible approaches, always thinking of how you're going to have to write to achieve your goals--not Joyce's, not Flannery O'Connor's.

I see my main goal in teaching creative writing as returning the process of decisionmaking to the writer. Writers make decisions, millions of them, in order to create. They don't just always make sure to use the pretty words, and always make sure to make the most compelling characters. Those prescriptions will never yield anything but okay writing. Great writers have to prioritize, and finagle, and game things out, and change habits, and add and cut. I'm hoping the Vonnegut essay combined with the novel, early in the class, will help students start to take control of and develop a process--a beginning one, sure, but a creative one, and theirs.

Another reason I want to start with structure is simply that I think it's essential to storytelling, and very very few of my classes at any level have ever talked about it. A story is a wonderful thing. A plot is necessary undergirding for a story that wishes to be meaningful and engaging. Things have to happen. Those things have to be important.

The worst thing we ever did as a community of writers and teachers was to make "plot" a dirty word.

More at HTMLGiant

There's a neat conversation partly in response to my post about teaching intro to cw over at HTMLGiant started by Roxane Gay. Take a look if you're interested.

Some time spent with Stumble Upon

Trying this out for the first time. May make this a regular feature if it keeps being interesting.

Man in the Dark dot Com.

ENVISION : Step into the sensory box from SUPERBIEN on Vimeo.

The Scribbler.

Hand-drawn clock.

Doodle God.

Cartoon characters made real. (Love Stewie, Homer, Charlie Brown, Popeye.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A few notes on teaching intro to creative writing

This semester I'll be teaching an intro to creative writing class at NMSU. I am conscious of the possibility this will be the only class in writing I ever get to teach. I want to make it great. At the same time, I hope to experiment with approaches to CW pedagogy that I think will improve upon the standard strategies. I'll be posting here throughout the semester as I learn from the experience, sharing what I do with my students and how the semester progresses. (I think also that Tracy will share some of her thoughts, as she'll be teaching a fiction workshop this semester.) For now, here are a few of the premises I'm working from in planning the class:

1. Intro to CW should be more about ways of reading than ways of writing.

There are essentially two goals in an intro class: waking students up to the possibility that they might enjoy writing, and teaching them a critical vocabulary through which they might become better readers in their own lives and, potentially, in future (workshop-oriented) classes. It seems to me that the best way to accomplish both of these goals is to emphasize reading over writing. If they're going to be great writers, they'll need to be great readers first. And if they don't ultimately decide to go on writing, as most of them won't, they'll still benefit in the long term from skillful, broad, and deep reading. If they do go on to workshop, they'll need to be skillful readers to help each other. If they don't, it won't hurt any. And of course the main way to find out if you want to write is to see what other people are writing.

We will do writing prompts, but those will take up less time in class and out of class than our (considerable) course of readings.

2. Reading in an intro course is not about introducing students to canonical works, but giving them a broad survey of what's happening (and what's happened) in writing.

Lit classes should be concerned with reading "great works" of literature. In my experience, creative writing classes often find themselves in an awkward place between emphasizing what the instructor likes from the present and works that have generally been considered great in the past, without much concern for what students might actually want to write themselves. I've got a lot of ground to cover, as intro at NMSU requires three genres (in my case fiction, poetry, and plays) but the idea of my reading list is to survey a broad range of times, styles, and genres in writing, with some extra weight on currently working writers, in order to engage students in a literary conversation they will find not only engaging and accessible, but urgent and open to their contributions. Thus our first readings in fiction will be from The Things They Carried, but we will quickly move on to Daniel Wallace, Shirley Jackson, Brian Evenson, and eventually writers chosen from online magazines by the students themselves. We'll spend four weeks on Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai.

Poets will include Hart Crane, but also Saul Williams (including his rap) and Abraham Smith, whose book Whim Man Mammon will be our primary poetic text and first longform reading.

3. As that reading list may suggest, I think intro reading should be challenging.

There is a natural tendency to assume beginning students will be bored by or incapable of appreciating the writers we love most. I think this is a mistake, and I find it condescending. Students will be most engaged when their instructor is most engaged, and while it might be a mistake to start them off with Finnegan's Wake, ferinstance, I don't see a way to engage people in writing except to show them what they can accomplish. It's not that I need them to produce or aspire to a certain kind of art, but I do think you've got to show them greatness and complexity if you want them to think of writing and reading as something worth real time in their lives.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, I think reading on the next level should be more manageable -- when you want students to start mastering small bits of technique, you've got to break it down into more recognizable pieces. But intro is, as I see it, largely about provocation, about opening up, about imagining potential. If sometimes the students feel frightened by the work they read, or intimidated, that's all for the better; we should sometimes be scared of our own potential, because this is the only way to understand how much we really have.

4. I am not interested in promulgating a coherent theory of literature or writing.

In fact I aim to do something like the opposite. I'll write another post explaining this in more detail, but I don't find it useful when instructors attempt to create one unifying theory of art. I can come up with my own ideas about what writing is -- what I need from them is practical advice about how to do what I'm doing better, and also opportunities for doing other things. My idea is to focus on how writers create different pleasures in reading -- the pleasures of character, of structure, of language, of plot, and so on -- and how we can create and intensify those pleasures in our own work. Each discussion of each text will come from the open-ended question of what brings us pleasure in reading it -- not so much "what makes it work" as "what makes it great."

This will lead, I think, to an eclectic but powerful style of reading and thinking about writing. Students, rather than searching for a way to construct the ideal text, will be required to construct their ideal text. The question of how pleasures and intensity can be found in a work is, though not really a system for the production of any sort of art, my preferred framework for understanding all art. How can we be awesome? How can we be more awesome?

5. I'll do the work the students do, and they will see my work.

I think writing instructors derive a lot of authority from creating mystification around their own writing, and also often forget to foster a discourse that they themselves would find beneficial as students. They practice authoritarianism when they should be collaborators. As such I will do all the exercises I assign my students, and when they share their work, I will share mine. I'll talk about my writing with them. I'll share the frustrations and what I know about how to get past them. If they can imagine me as a perfect source of knowledge, I will be less useful to them. If they understand that there is no point of mastery, they will better understand the work of writing and reading, and they will learn more. I don't want my students to substitute my judgment for their own.

6. Students can fail this class.

While harsh grading for its own sake is a plague on the CW course on those rare occasions where it crops up, I do expect students to treat writing with the same respect they would treat biology, chemistry, or law, as a legitimate field of knowledge and expertise to be studied diligently. Students will be graded on reading, participation, and not success, but effort in their writing. Not everyone will get an A.

I will advise those who took the course in hopes of an easy A to withdraw.

How would you teach CW? How have you done it in the past? Have you had a particularly effective instructor?


I almost didn't blog about this because it seems like everybody is blogging about it, but hell, why not. It's fun to think about.

I'll do the stuff I can talk about without spoiling anything first and then I'll get into some more specific things below the fold.

I should say at the outset that I enjoyed the movie. I found it absorbing and engaging. The bit where the kid from 3rd Rock is scrabbling around on the walls is the tops. I especially liked when the movie would cut to him in the van on the next level up, muted smile like a baby, his arms sort of drifting up like one of those wacky wailing arm flailing inflatable tube men. Leo isn't distracting, and I like how weird his head shape is starting to look as he gets older. (Kind of like mine, come to think of it.) There are some pretty good shots. I wasn't sorry I spent the money or the time.

But it did, in part because of its strengths, help me figure out why I don't generally get along with big budget movies very well, and also big budget action in particular.

The thing about dreams is that they're repetitive. Some people have complained about the lack of sex in the film, and I'm somewhat sympathetic to that, though I would focus on the absence of shame and embarrassment -- probably not everybody dreams about sex as much as we do, you minx ya. But I'm absolutely willing to spend some time in a dream with somebody who is totally asexual and just really interested in architecture and guns, which is sort of how it works out in Inception. But because Christopher Nolan can essentially spend as much money as he wants he never has to repeat himself. As such, the film never develops a proper obsession. As such, it never really feels like a dream. All this cool stuff happens when Ellen Paige (Juno) is figuring out the rules of the dream world and you think, "Okay, sweet, these visual themes will define the movie," but generally it never comes up again.

It's little things. Why do we never see the same extra twice? I read somewhere the human mind has room for something like a hundred fifty people. We can care about, empathize, and generally keep up with about that amount of people. This may explain why I get antsy and clear my Facebook out every time it gets too far over a hundred. Anyway, I figure my dreams probably have like fifty faces in them on any one night at the most. We should be seeing the same people over and over in the movie, maybe with different hairstyles and big moles and missing limbs and stuff. And the same should be true of the sets -- they should all be built from the same seven elements, or whatever. One tube of toothpaste should keep showing up. One particular gun. One kind of tank with a really distinct shape or whatever.

And perhaps to the extent that you want your fiction to feel like a dream, this becomes a problem for high budget movies in general. When someone is doing something on a limited budget they have to use the same sets, they have to use the same props, they have to use extras from the same actor's family, over and over. There develops therefore a sort of vocabulary, and the placement of the different nouns and verbs of the film within different scenes and between scenes, and through them, takes on an emotional significance. When we watch a high budget film we are seeing the perfect, polished output of several hundred overlapping minds, and this can be a pleasant experience -- it's nice to boggle and goggle from time to time. But what I like better than this is the weird beauty that comes from limitation. The best part of Waiting for Godot, at least the production I've seen, is when they need the moon to rise and instead of building a moon and painting it and hanging it on a wire and pulley system and hiring a guy to operate the wire and pulley system and hoisting it up and then everybody in the audience says "Hey, the moon," they just turn on the spotlight, which they had lying around anyway, and make it climb the wall, which isn't usually where it belongs. And then the audience thinks, simultaneously, "That's a spotlight," and, "That's the moon." For me that moment is what art's about, most of the time. Inception never has to do that. Every time, they build the moon. Same for Lord of the Rings, which I enjoyed the first time but will never willingly sit through again. The King Kong remake works because the actors sort of play this role -- the special effects are as expensive as they need to be, but the actors' performances are sort of wonderfully rickety. Jack Black has to say that ridiculous line at the end and he has to sell it even though he isn't the right person and he can't possibly sell that godawful line, and that makes it pretty good.

There is, relatedly, such a thing as high budget fiction. Isn't there? This is fiction that has been polished to the extent that the mind can find no purchase; fiction that never uses the same word twice. Some readers delight in reading writers who always have just the right word, but I have an enduring affection for writers who often use the wrong word because it's closer at hand, or more beautiful than getting it right. When someone doesn't give himself all the time in the world to write a sentence, when he forces himself to use what's available to him then, he often gets the best, most surprising results. (This is not to say that I dislike revision -- only that I believe in revision that respects the original impulse, especially where it seems mystifying, embarrassing, or impolitic.) For a concrete example of this, look at (contributor) Blake Butler. If you've read a few things by Blake you have a working knowledge of his vocabulary. It changes from story to story of course but there are words you can count on. They show up again and again. They get better the more often he uses them. The repetition is what makes it. Or here is a quote about Peter Markus from a review by Paste Magazine:

Peter Markus is obsessed with a few words: brother, river, mud, lighthouse, fish, moon and star. From this sacred vocabulary springs a body of work—three books of stories and now a novel—that is sometimes confounding, often beautiful, starkly spare and totally unique. Bob, or Man on Boat is an authentically avant-garde work, refreshingly absent of any trace of pretension or irony. It is pure incantation and fable: prayer by any other name.

The story: A man named Bob sits on a boat, fishing. Another man, Bob’s son Bob, watches him and fishes, too. That’s about all that happens.

Like Gertrude Stein, Markus uses an elementary lexicon and recursive prose to make the mundane strange. 'Look at Bob’s hands. His knuckles are rivers. The skin on Bob’s hands, fish scale covered, they look like they’ve been dipped in stars.'

Some would call that repetition an error. Those people probably like high budget movies the best. But if you want a really beautiful and dreamlike experience -- if you, like Tracy and I, thought the biggest problem with Inception was that the seams needed to show, then you are my kind of reader. The cycle of perception and creation emphasized by Cobb within the film is not represented in the film. But the act of dreaming and perceiving one's own dream and continuing to dream is precisely the act of writing fiction.

I guess what I'm saying is the best way to watch Inception is to read a novel instead.

Relatedly, my problem with high budget action films: the guns only miss when the writer and director want them to. I watched this awful movie the other night where a guy sniped three dudes literally hundreds of yards away with one round each from a little uzi sort of machine gun. They were up on these big towers and it looked windy out, but he did it. Awful, awful film, but at least the rules were consistent: the main characters could shoot anything from anywhere. The rule in Inception is that the bullets miss until it's time to advance the story, at which point they hit. It's like the way that watching anime gets old when you figure out the hero will triumph over any + all obstacles when he really wants to. You stop caring about how he gets there. He'll do it, even if it makes no sense, unless the creators decide they don't want him to do it this time, in which case he won't. Internal logic is specifically forbidden. And this is, again, the problem of the high budget movie: since literally anything can happen next, for all it matters to the budget and the time and energy of the hundreds of worker bees on the product, it matters less and less what actually does happen. Some big budget movies can escape this problem (No Country for Old Men had as much money as it needed, but it followed its own rules to the end, and the same goes for Children of Men, which should be but never quite becomes a Rube Goldberg machine because you can tell how bad that guy's feet are hurting every step [main problem: he dies at thematically convenient/redemptive moment]). Batman: The Dark Knight becomes sort of like Metal Machine Music eventually because you realize Batman could be punching anyone at any time and Joker can plan anything ten years in advance. They needed rules.

Now for the spoilery bits. Yes, there's more.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Follow-up to Tracy's Post

This live feed of "Let Me Google That for You" searches is pretty incredible. Could inspire some amazing poetry.

Passive Aggressive Googling

Mike follows Shane Jones on Twitter. I don't because I have a thing about following too many famous people. Yet following famous people is pretty much what Twitter is about. You don't exactly get to see or talk to them, but, if they use Twitter right, you can find out that they are nostalgic for Queen or The Spice Girls or Coldplay, that they think timber wolves are the noblest animal, or that they hate the side braid. These are also things you'd probably learn about them if you were actual friends. It's highly similar to hanging around a person in real life, but they don't (usually) know you're doing it, and they don't have to hear back about it from you unless they want to.

Anyway, Shane Jones tweeted the following:

On train. Almost googled if I had soup in cabinet back home.

Mike was privy to this; I was not. Mike shared it with me. Now we both know. Mike has never done or considered this peculiar usage of Google.

I absolutely have.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Things to read

At Rick Magazine, Roxane Gay's Baby Arm.
I’m dating a guy who works as a merchandiser for a large department store and one of his duties includes designing window displays. He tells me this on our third date. We have already slept together, twice. I’m not a hard sell.  When he tells me about his job, we are at a sleazy bar, drinking beer from the tap in frosted mugs. I tap my foot against his. I say, “I’m ready to go back to your place whenever you are.” I am anxious about all the “getting to know you” conversation we are having. I’ve never enjoyed sitting through previews at movies. It always seems like such a waste of time. ... A couple months later, he comes over to my apartment in the middle of the night because we’ve long abandoned any pretense of a mutual interest in anything but dirty sex and he’s holding a fiberglass baby arm, painted the color of flesh. He hands it to me and says, “I thought you might like this,” and I take the baby arm and tell him if he’s not careful, I will fall in love and he says he would be fine with that. 
At Dark Sky, the first chapter of Shane Jones' Failure Six.
The messenger was given an address by way of pushed note under his wooden door.
The messenger had been dreaming of owls and capes. In his dream he saw a revolver go off inside the owl’s cape. The revolver made a coughing sound and the wounded owl opened his mouth and made a sound like paper being pushed across a floor.
The messenger woke, blew out the candle on his nightstand, and saw a white pamphlet inside a large sheet of brown paper on the floor.
The person outside the door had a dream the night before too. It was of rainbow colored blobs falling from a pea-green sky.
Antun was the messenger’s name. Two pastel blue-colored triangles were stuck on his face.
The message read:
Enclosed pamphlet, please find necessary information to relay to seamstress — Yours Truly.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Stick Pink

Our friend and fellow MFAer, Carrie Murphy, has been doing awesome things for a while now. But here is a link to a new awesome thing: Stick Pink, an e-chapbook from Gold Wake Press.


If I were a woman with a beard, I would be the bearded woman.
I would wear charms tied to my beard all the time, even to bed.
Maybe unicorns.
Maybe a tiny teapot.

I have never listened to music while I shaved my legs.
I do have baby hairs on my knuckles but I don’t think I’m ape-like.
I am scared of cavemen so I never studied anthropology but
I once had sex with a hairy barrel while it rolled down a hill.

There's more, but this was enough to draw me in. I honestly love her poetry. Sometimes I feel bad about myself for not liking or reading more poetry, but then someone comes along who consistently seems to knock it out of the park and I wonder what's wrong with being picky after all. Maybe all the other poets just need to step up.

Anyway. She'll be mortified when and if she reads this, so check it out if you have a mind to.


I'm currently revising the novel that will be my MFA thesis. It's a bit of a monster -- 125,00ish words, some 400 pages. The longest I've written. It's very difficult to manage.

When I've got specific feedback for a book -- as I do for some portions of this one -- I like to read the work through these readers' eyes and imagine what led them to say what they said, and how I might alter the structure to please them better. I also tweak the sentences constantly.

When I don't have specific feedback for a section I prune a lot and change words and images, and prune more, and maybe add one sentence, but it's harder for me to perceive the work holistically enough to make larger structural revisions. I tend to write fairly complete drafts (in part because I fuss with them so much as I'm writing my "first" draft) so that explains this in part, as well. But it's frustrating! I want to transform my work. I want to take quantum leaps. Etc. But maybe that's something I do more in-between texts than within them. I'm not sure.

How do you revise? Does it feel good? I try not to feel anything about it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Madeleine is Sleeping

Probably the only exciting thing about the New Yorker's 20 under 40 list was Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum's inclusion. One can't help suspecting they were attracted to her largely for her more conventional work (the excellent but thoroughly mainstream-friendly Ms. Hempel Chronicles) but then I like that stuff too, so all's well.

We might also talk, with some frustration, about the use of our literary leadership of the "fairy tale" category to sanitize the strange things they like. Magical realism, fairy tale, fable, have all become styles in the Gucci sense; these are not, as constituted by our community, so much genres as a register. A little sweet, a little sour, full with empty menace, sentimentality masquerading as beauty, easy insights dressed up as wolves and little talking animals. I guess I'm saying I'm tired of these things. I am tired of the attempts to cordon everything strange and beautiful and exciting in a cutesy ghetto of toothless categories that cheerfully adjunct themselves to the self-consciously literary dreck that is supposed to be our primary fiction. I am tired of restraint -- or rather, I am tired of restraint that is masochistic rather than erotic, restraint that punishes writer and reader alike for their passions and hungers rather than indulging them in careful, quiet ways.

Part of what attracts me to Madeleine is Sleeping is the way in which it reveals the language we use to talk about story as largely meaningless. The story has been called a fairy tale. It has, I'm sure, been called magical realism. And while it may use some conventions of fairy tales, and elements of such, but to focus on this element is to obscure the whole: what people are really saying when they call this a fairy tale is that they don't understand its logic and they can't be bothered to try. Insofar as magical realism is concerned, give me a break -- there's nothing real here. The book is about a girl who, while sleeping, dreams of herself stroking off the village idiot, and, having told her parents what she's done, is punished gruesomely. This also really happens. She dreams of a very fat woman named Matilde, who one day grows wings, and thereafter studies her own droppings for signs of what is to come. (She is a woman of science.) This also really happens. What are the rules of her dreaming? Does she have two bodies out and about in the world? The answers are, as I understand them, that the rules are not for us to know, and that yes, she may sometimes have two bodies.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blake Butler is our newest contributor

We're very excited to announce that Blake Butler will be contributing a fairly long, truly weird piece to our first issue. 

Many (most?) of you already know Blake's work, but for those who don't, he is the author of two books, Scorch Atlas (Featherproof) and Ever (Calamari). His novel There is No Year will be coming from Harper Perennial in April of next year. He is the mother of HTMLGiant, he is the father of Lamination Colony, he is the brother of No Colony, he is the blogger of his blog.

Here is his story "The Copy Family." Here is his story "The Gown from Mother's Stomach." There are links to many other stories at his blog.

Here he is reading from Ever.

Hope everyone is getting all revved up.

To Read: JMWW

Hey Mike,

I'll bite (and apparently I'll be the first, though I hope not the last)-- want something to read? Click and enjoy, without undue dilatoriness, new editor John Madera's impressively compiled Flash Fiction section of the Summer JMWW. Top to bottom, great. Alphabetically, then, if you need further convincing: Andrew Borgstrom, Kim Chinquee, Robert Coover (! an excerpt from Noir), Jeremy M. Davies (whose Rose Alley should long ago have joined the queue of my personal, offline reading list, and has, emphatically, done so now), Luca DiPierro, Brian Evenson, Lily Hoang (whose The Evolutionary Revolution I've only just started, but can already without reserve recommend), Tim Horvath, Joanna Howard, Jamie Iredell, Brian Kiteley, Norman Lock, Robert Lopez, Sean Lovelace, Stacy Muszynski, Ken Sparling, Terese Svoboda, and J.A. Tyler.

I might have linked the individual pieces, but the whole thing is fantastic. Read it all.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On Soliciting Women

We've noticed something, and we bet those of you in publishing have noticed it too. Though we actively solicit the work of women in putting together our journal, and not just here but at the other magazine we work at, Puerto del Sol, very few submissions seem to result from that solicitation. Most disturbing to me is that we often never even get a reply. This strikes me as something to open up conversation about, not just for our purposes as editors but for the further identification and promotion of excellent female writers.

This is a big issue for the publishing community to tackle, and it's an important one. A few months ago, at HTMLGiant, there was a heated argument over the publication and subsequent promotion of an all-male issue of a journal--not an issue that was meant to be all-male, or that was labeled as all-male; the explanation was that "it just happened." One of the main arguments that emerged was that, regardless of the stated intentions of beliefs of the editors, such an occurrence should alert people in publishing to the possibility of blind and buried inequities in their reading, solicitation, or submission processes. Once the issue was examined in more depth, though, in a series of conversations with a mixed panel of writers and publishers, the issue became reciprocal--not just an issue of editors seeking out women and minorities, but an issue of contacting and encouraging submissions from these diverse groups of people to begin with. Roxane Gay's comment really hit home for me:

You are absolutely correct that it is not hard to find female poets and writers who are doing fantastic work but as an editor of a magazine that has a reputation for being open to work from women and diverse populations, we still only receive about 30% of our submissions from women and we’ve received fewer than 20 submissions from writers of color, ever. This issue of gender equality and encouraging diversity is far more complex than knowing that these fantastic women writers or writers of color or queer writers are out there. The real problem is finding ways to connect with diverse writing communities and that’s something I’ve personally struggled with. We cannot publish that which is not submitted.

This is our experience as well--when we try to connect with these authors (generally by publicly available e-mail addresses) it seems that we get one of two responses. The first is "I don't have anything right now." The second is no response--a blank. I have never myself been solicited directly, so I can only imagine what my reaction would be. I think about the amount of work I have ready to submit or near ready, the kinds of work I have (genres, lengths, subject matter, etc.), and how I might interpret the request (depending on the journal, the editors' aesthetics, the wording used, and so on). This leads me to some potential theories, but really, I'm just asking questions. What happens when, as a writer, you receive a solicitation? How does the equation change, if at all, when you are a woman writer, a writer of color, a queer writer? I'll speak mainly of women for simplicity and directness, but the question, I hope, applies broadly.

Is there something in the interaction between publishers and authors that turns women off rather than energizing them to submit? Do editors, intentionally or unintentionally, make women writers feel as if they are being solicited mainly for their gender? By soliciting, do editors place added pressure on women to submit work before it's ready, to adhere to an aesthetic, to commit too much time to preparing an appropriate submission?

Do women spend more time on getting their work ready for submission than men, on average? Do women write as much, as often? Do women more often write "for" a publication specifically? Or more for themselves, disregarding particular editorial tastes or visions? (These sound like stupid questions, but I ask them honestly, given the number of times women have told me they simply have nothing available, whereas male writers will usually send something right away. I myself write slower and more, er, deliberately perhaps, than Mike. I edit much more slowly.)

Do personal time or priorities factor in--like the fact that women still, on average, spend more time on housework than men, or that they are still more often the ones to take point on caring for children? Do women writers put more energy and time into their non-writing careers than men--is it indicated to them that they must, in order to keep those jobs or make themselves valuable?

Is it actually that women are too visible in the writing community, too "desirable"--that they are tokenized? Or that the number of visible women is so small, comparatively, that the women who are solicited are in fact oversolicited?

Ultimately, I suppose my question is what we can do as editors to make the relationship a positive one, an encouraging one, as often as possible, and how we can behave in order to make it clear to more marginalized groups of writers that we are sincerely interested in their work, and that this is a place we'd like them to feel welcome.

And beyond us, if there's something larger, more sociological, that's discouraging certain groups of writers from writing as much, from writing as freely, or from submitting to publications at all, I think the literary community needs to work together to push the conversation, to repair attitudes and behaviors, so that we can really mean it when we say we have open submissions.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Uncharted 2 Reviewed

Should I mention at the outset that I know and am close with one of the guys who made this game? Is that what's called full disclosure? Doesn't the FCC have a rule about this? Well, whatever.

Uncharted 2 is the game I have spent the most time with other than Fallout 3 in recent memory. Fallout 3 is designed to be a time sink. You spend about half your time walking from place to place in a wasteland, listening to your radio, waiting for something interesting to happen. There are almost no "cinemas." You play a cipher whose appearance and decisions are entirely defined by the player (within a set, and indeed often limiting, range). You talk to people often. The shooting is not very good.

Uncharted 2 is pretty much the polar opposite of Fallout 3. It's long for a high budget action game, but not very. It's meant to be cinematic, which is to say that it imitates an action movie. You have a character named Nathan Drake, who is like Indiana Jones + Ryan Secrest. He runs around in gorgeous environments (easily the most attractive/impressive I've seen in a game yet) and climbs on things, shooting and occasionally punching guys. That's pretty much the game.

Simple, joyful commerce

Putting this behind a cut because it gets awful navel-gazey.

A thing to read.

Kyle Minor's piece in the new PANK is pretty incredible:
He kept a catalog of women’s eyes. Not just green, brown, blue, or hazel, but the shapes of eyes, almond or hooded or deep-set or Oriental, and how evenly spaced they were or weren’t, and how long the eyelashes, and how thick the eyebrows, and plucked or not plucked.
 What cool stuff have you read recently? Link us up!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Missing the Trees for the Forest

I've seen the same idea presented about three hundred times in the last five hours, so I feel like I should say something; people seem worried that the rapid growth of people who consider themselves writers is making it less likely that good work (read: their work) will find the audience it deserves. This is another situation where it seems like people are speaking more from fear than from knowledge or experience. The incarnation I've chosen to highlight comes in an otherwise good post from Submishmash, because it's the least obnoxious version I've seen.
Submishmash would add only that “the basic capability” to publish is itself no longer so basic, thanks also to oversupply. The surplus of choice that afflicts audiences also afflicts publishers. There is an oversupply of writing both published and unpublished, an ever-present risk that as readers both amateur (in the bookstore or on the internet) and professional (trying to filter our submission stacks), we are missing the good stuff amid the surplus of output from (often charming) eight-year-olds.
Navigating the twin challenges of oversupply—how to attract and maintain an audience with too many choices, and how to filter an ever-expanding mass of submissions effectively—constitutes the central struggle of the publisher in the digital age. It will take inspired curators, certainly, to thrive under these conditions. It will also, we believe, take new technological tools and ways of thinking.
A couple things. First, when you've got a hammer -- and especially when you want to make sure other people go get their own hammers, everything tends to look like a nail. Or, in other words, when you've got an online submission management system, the challenges your system is meant to deal with will probably tend to look like the biggest, most important issues in publishing. I don't mean to pick on Submishmash -- they provide an incredibly useful service, for free, with tech support that's downright aggressive in its attempts to help (I've gotten e-mails from them making sure I'm comfortable with the program, etc., simply by virtue of using it), and I appreciate that tremendously. But when they say that dealing with the problem of too many submissions is on par with the problem of attracting readers, it seems to reinforce the publisher-centric model advanced (unsurprisingly) by most people in publishing. In this mindset, it's the writers' and readers' faults that this oversupply has what sometimes feel like distressing results. It's not that publishers need to do their job better, it's that writers and readers need to this. This mindset leads to exploitative relationships with writers and a failure to attract readers.

Secondly, I don't know how anyone who's read slush can seriously worry that great writing is being passed over because of a surfeit of crappy submissions. If there's a remotely decent piece of writing that fits the aesthetic priorities of the magazine I'm reading for, you'd better believe I find it. All the other stuff? The stuff I don't care for? It makes me that much more grateful for the good stuff when I find it. I will seize instantly on any clue that there's a piece I like in the pile. Every time I see a title I like, a writer whose work I've enjoyed in the past, a competent opening sentence, a strong first paragraph, I get excited. I think, Maybe this is the one! If you're sending us good work, you can be sure there are at least three or four seconds of joy in the reading of it. Does everything good get accepted in any one place? Of course not. But it's not because of the lack of quality work. When that happens, it's because of a surplus -- if I can afford to turn your great story down, it's only because I've got thirty more great stories right over here that I like even better.

To be sure, there are some places where I think mediocrity holds sway, but even there it's not the excess of submissions that leads to trouble, it's the poor taste of the editors. If, meanwhile, you're convinced your own work is in this category, let me propose a few possibilities: 1) You haven't been doing this long enough. I've written six novels and dozens of stories. Only recently have I started to find publishers receptive to my work, and some of my favorite material seems unlikely to ever find a home. It takes a long time to get good enough! 2) You're not being fearless enough. If your work is easily mistaken for bad work, it's a good sign you haven't found a unique voice yet. The pieces most likely to be buried under mediocrity are mediocre -- they're imitators of Raymond Carver that don't have the courage to be something more than that. They're poems written in pursuit of trends rather than greatness and passion. 3) You're just having bad luck. The math is on nobody's side. Personally I think it's exciting to live in a time with so many great writers doing great work -- a period that I think students of literature will look back on with something like awe. And I'm fairly certain this energy comes from the increased accessibility of community, education, and publishing.

Honestly, I suspect most good work is finding a home these days. There's such a broad range of venues sharing such a wide variety of work. Sometimes not as quickly as we might like. Sometimes, maybe, never. But I think the biggest reason this happens is that writers give up. They fail to keep chipping away at their work, they fail to learn as much as they could learn from each story. My advice then would be not to give up as long as you still love writing. But this advice will, of course, if followed, lead to more "bad writers" persisting to swim amid the slush. That's fine by me, of course, and I wish we could accept it more generally.

Some seem to find it more comforting, though, to blame their challenges in running a publisher, or their challenges in finding a publisher, on the writers who only want to be a part of their world. It must be those "bad writers." Who are these bad writers? Not me, of course. Not you. But they're out there! And it's all their fault.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Heavy Rain reviewed

The second-best part of Heavy Rain is the first scene. You're a guy. You wake up in your underwear. The game tells you how to get out of bed. The camera angle indicates that you might want to go outside on your balcony and look at your back yard, and it's a nice day, and you're feeling pretty good, so why not? You walk outside. You lean on the rail if you want. You breathe. There's some nice music. It's quiet. Eventually you remember your day is about to start, and so you go shower.

You groom yourself. If you want to pee you can do that. In fact your characters can always pee on command, any time you see a toilet. I always made mine go. They looked like they could use it.

This section is a tutorial in how the game works, but it's mainly about being this guy. You can listen to his thoughts for clues about different ways to pass the time if you want, but don't do that. Instead just walk around the house.

You're a husband and a father. You can play with your sons' toys. You can work in the garden. You can walk around in the yard, breathing. You can do some work. You can watch television. Eventually your wife comes home and if you're watching TV instead of doing something productive you'll feel like a lout. Help her with the groceries. Set the table. You can walk around while you talk with her. You can take a drink. You can watch more TV, if you want to be a shit all your life.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Write Like H. P. Lovecraft?

No cutting comparisons or lofty praise here, just a piece of prose (your choice as to what to submit-- I used something from the story I'm working on; more on that below) "statistically analyzed" to produce some vaguely astrological answer to that burning question: What writer do I most write like? As the site itself somewhat inelegantly puts it:

Check what famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them to those of the famous writers.

My own answer you will have already gleaned from the title to this post, but if you must have proof, here it is. H. P. Lovecraft, commonly adduced a not merely baroque writer, but frankly something of a windbag and a buffoon as far as grammar and diction go (to say nothing of his peculiarly vaginal creatures, natch). For much of this year, I have been writing a novel not merely about Lovecraft, but as the man. I might thus be more pleased with the result of this Cosmo-quiz if the particular piece under consideration by I Write Like's algorithms were part of that manuscript. But alas, it was instead the first paragraph of a short story I have spent the last few weeks writing and rewriting. Anyone familiar with the plotline of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward? Only partially vindicated by the fact that Margaret Atwood writes like Stephen King.

Update, 7/14/10: I seem to have missed a trick, not submitting "An Interpretive History of Addition," the story that will appear in Uncanny Valley 1. Here is a page-by-page breakdown by way of apologia:

Page 1: Edgar Allan Poe
Page 2: Kurt Vonnegut
Page 3: George Orwell
Page 4: Stephen King
Page 5: Dan Brown
Page 6: Stephen King
Page 7: Raymond Chandler
Page 8: H. P. Lovecraft
Page 9: Kurt Vonnegut

Now, doesn't that sound like an exquisite exquisite corpse?

Enrichment vs. Creativity

Via Reuters:

With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.

Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”…

It’s too early to determine conclusively why U.S. creativity scores are declining. One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.

It's a good thing to talk about, definitely, but I share others' guarded skepticism. The link above has some good rebuttals. From the first quoted paragraph, though, I started to wonder about another possible culprit, one perhaps more plausible than the ever-scapegoated TV and video games. "Enriched environments are making kids smarter." Could enriched environments also be making kids less creative?

Angband Reviewed

Here is another review of Angband. I've eschewed screenshots because posting screenshots of a text-based game in order to spice up this block of text seems inane.


The general principle of RPGs, and the reason everything will be “an RPG” by the Year of Our Lord 2020, is the joy of watching a bar fill up. It's irresistible. Look at this bar:


See how empty it is. Just two stars.

For geek college students, who were the audience for and creators of the original Rogue, the closest experience to leveling up has been passing from one grade to another. You get marginally more capable with each year, the challenges ramp up a little more slowly than your abilities, and by the end you're barely paying attention, but there isn't much else to do. You are, after all, a geek college student.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thanks, the Internets!

This is neat. Apparently a Toronto book blogger, Shaun Smith, has picked up on both the HTMLGiant controversy over Tin House's trial show-us-the-receipt submission policy and Mike's response to it on this blog. What's funny and flattering is that, apparently, in the scope of the whole wide Internet, we look like a "rival lit mag" next to Tin House. We might have pretensions! Of course, we do like Tin House, wish them well, wish they'd rethink their bad ways of doing good things, et cetera...

He is absolutely right about being able to touch the Stanley Cup, however--I myself have access to a recent picture of a friend with his arm wrapped loosely around it, as if taking an old buddy into confidence. I take no responsibility for the error, as I was out of town. (Sorry, honey.) But we'll change the guideline anyway. Here is the revised version:

Anyone submitting a manuscript accompanied by a picture of their bare foreskin touching the surface of the Stanley Cup will be automatically accepted.

Try to get that past security.

Fallout 3 Reviewed

I originally wrote this for Action Button Dot Net, but I suspect they're too busy developing their video game (which will probably be super awesome) to read unsolicited submissions right now. A couple more will be coming.


You begin Fallout 3 with your mother's still-hot blood on your face. Your father looks down on you with loving eyes, a medical mask, and a lot of bright lights situated behind him. He has Liam Neeson's voice. Liam Neeson's voice asks you a series of questions that define you as a person. Your gender, your appearance, and your name – which no one will ever say – are here selected. This also has the effect of defining your father, whose appearance is partly determined by yours. The question is more or less how ugly you'd like to be, or more accurately which kinds of ugly you find most appalling. Most players probably prioritize avoiding what they hate most about their own appearances. Because I think my chin too soft, I always give my avatar a strong one.

In the next scene, you use a baby book to choose your statistics, and maybe, if you want, you kick around this really beautiful red ball. I always work on this for as long as I can – kicking it into corners, kicking it back out, and so on. The beautiful red ball doesn't matter at all, which makes it the most important and lovely thing in the entire game. If you press the talk button, your character makes a baby sound. I like to time this so that it seems I'm responding to the events on the screen – I goo when my father talks to me, I gaw-gaw when I kick the ball, and so on. This doesn't matter either.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


It's our first anniversary! We celebrate with movies, pizza, and cuddles. We're just jealous for time together, really, since I was away for quite a while. Today is all ours.

Enjoy some pictures, if you like.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Laura LeHew, our third contributor

We've just confirmed Laura LeHew as a poetry contributor for the first issue of Uncanny Valley.

Laura LeHew has been crazy busy. I wish I had encountered her work earlier. She's published in about a million journals, including A capella Zoo, Gargoyle, PANK, as well as several collections/anthologies, including Eating Her Wedding Dress: A Collection of Clothing Poems, out from Ragged Sky. Also, her chapbook Beauty, published by Tiger's Eye Press, is now in its third printing. She's done so much that her alma mater has done some serious bragging about her.

She's also an editor; Uttered Chaos seeks to expose new poets and bring their chapbooks to audiences, operating under the contention that poetry is something everyone can enjoy. So she's a woman after our own heart.

What we like about Laura's work is that it plays with language and the page without being coy or show-offy. No quiddities, no esoteric musings on the higher meaning of mundane things. In her poetry, mundane things seem to be just the object under consideration. A sister's health problem is a serious thing unto itself, and it takes center stage in a frenetic, dodgy poem you'll see in our issue. The same is true of an act of remembrance and forgetting after a father's death. The story is never all that's going on in the works, but there is no embarrassment about or shying away from the heavy weight that her subjects--family, health, love, death--carry. We appreciated their straightforwardness coupled with their precision, energy, and often humor.

Her poem at PANK really shows off one of the forms that her linguistic and formal experimentation can take. And here's a video of her reading "Snakes in a Bowl," for an example of that humor and insight into family dynamics.

Welcome aboard, Laura!