Saturday, February 25, 2012

Where We'll Be at AWP

No table this year--we'll be running a mobile operation. We'll have limited copies of the first issue with us, which you can purchase for a discount $10 if you find us. We'll give you a cereal box prize, too. More importantly, just find us and say hi; we can't wait to see everyone! Any given afternoon, you have decent odds of finding us wandering the bookfair or helping out at the Puerto del Sol/Noemi Press table. (Update: Oops, we lied. Noemi Press is sharing a table with Belladonna Collaborative as part of the Table X co-op, and that's where we'll be!) Other that that, we're going to try to be at these locations (updated throughout the week):

Thursday, March 1

Panels we like:

1:30pm: Beyond Pulp: The Futuristic and Fantastic as Literary Fiction
Subtitle: Someday They'll Believe Us.

Basically every year we try to go to one of the panels where Brian Evenson talks about genre fiction as it relates to literary fiction. Usually we don't hear anything we don't already know -- that there is great genre fiction being written every year, that literary writers would benefit from opening themselves to it, and etc. -- but sometimes we like to indulge in nodding our heads to things we already believed.

Turns out we got in late and couldn't make it to this one. But know that Uncanny Valley shall continue to stand a beacon in the genre fight, until it is no longer a fight.

Readings and Events:

7:00pm: Mud Luscious/Annalemma/PANK Present: Convocation in Chicago

Where we hope to run into contributors Laura Ellen Scott, Brian Oliu, and Roxane Gay, among other wonderful people.

9:00pm: AWP 2012 Karaoke Idol

Sorry we missed these as well. Hope to catch many of you somewhere today.

10:00pm: Action Books/Birds of Lace/Kate Durbin Present: An Evening of Intimate Readings in the Bathroom of a Goth Club

One of us in each bathroom, I suppose. Contributor and pal Carrie Murphy will be reading in the ladies' room, where Mike will not be able to see or hear her. Maybe this is political commentary. (Mike says he really wants someone to use the toilet while they read -- not because it would be a good idea, at all, but because why else are we in a bathroom?)

This was eventful. Four people crammed into a bathroom, doing call and response poetry to the sound of others at the club angrily peeing. Eventually, from what I'm told, they got kicked out of the bathroom and the cops said no more readings in the alley. But they persevered! I didn't get to hear many of the readings, but Mike and I danced to fun music with writers and goths who I think, by the end, came to accept us as kindred spirits.

Friday, March 2

Panels we like:

9:00am: Literature and the Internet in 2012

Contributors Blake Butler and Roxane Gay will be here talking about online publishing, as well as Stephen Elliott and James Yeh. Seeing these folks share their enthusiasm is always encouraging.

This was a really great panel in that everyone came to the topic with slightly different online lit experiences and priorities, so there was a lot of productive disagreement and discussion. It also had the serendipitous effect of correcting a lot of audience members' bad online behaviors.

4:30pm: The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House: Organizations Supporting Women in the Literary Arts

We are big fans of VIDA and their work drawing attention to gender disparities in publishing.

But it turned out the numbers were all we needed to know this year. And, it turned out we were tired.

11:00am: SECRET BRUNCH at the Artifice table.

What is SECRET BRUNCH? We're not sure. But their blog advertises it, so apparently it's not a very closely guarded secret. The Artifice folks are obviously great pals to us, and we buy their magazine every year at AWP. It is a Tradition.

A tradition with, apparently, orange juice! It was good to meet the editors and share some high fives over Exits Are.

7:00pm: A reading. We don't know which one. We will probably decide based on the number of postcards we are handed. SO EVERYONE GIVE US ALL YOUR POSTCARDS OKAY.

We received VERY FEW postcards and so went to no readings. Your own fault. No. I lie. We are just really, really lame. We are sorry for how lame and bad at partying we are. We had a great time, though, having Thai food with Gabe Blackwell.

10:00pm: Somewhere else. Drag us by the arm to somewhere where we can dance. Or back to a hotel, where we will give you horsey rides around the pool.

I said, "Return to the hotel room and watch Downton Abbey," didn't I?

Saturday, March 3

Panels we like:

12:00pm: Making Room for the Graphic Narrative

Comics! These panels never work out as well as you'd hope, but we'll keep trying.

Ohhh, noon! I couldn't find this panel in my schedule. Wandered the bookfair instead, where I got to chat with Kate Bernheimer of Fairy Tale Review and Danielle Dutton of the Dorothy Project about the growing number of homes for fairy tale and speculative writing, especially writing by women. And I filled my sack with books.

Tortas, caldos, and Mexican hot chocolate TBD at XOCO. Meal companions are very welcome!

Deep dish pizza at Pizano's. The walk and probable forty-minute wait at XOCO did not seem workable since Mike needed to get back to the Noemi table, where he spent the afternoon. I spent the afternoon having crowd-induced panic attacks and hiding on the fifth floor. :( Seriously. I have never had that happen before and it makes me question my fortitude for future AWPs. I've got to work on this. Gathered masses of writers are not mortal threats. They're not. Right?

6:00pm: Silver Tongue and Orange Alert Present the Unstuck Group Reading at AWP

Contributor and Noemi Press author Gabriel Blackwell will be reading here, along with lots of other cool folks. We'll stay as late as we can manage, but we have to drive home after this!

We stayed the WHOLE TIME. It was a great group of readers, all of whom are doing really fun work. Unstuck is a magazine I am very excited about, a new favorite to be sure. Love their work, love their editorial philosophies. I would like us to be sisters someday. Or cousins. Family.

Did you know that this part of Chicago shuts down most of its carry-out places at 8:00 on Saturdays? We didn't. Burger King in EmptyTown, Illinois it was. We arrived home around 1:30 to a cat so needy and buzzed she didn't remember that humans pass out for prolonged periods every night and aren't available for play. This is a picture of our cat, for A.D. Jameson, who asked:

Thank you all for your company, your high fives and hugs and smiles, and your conversation. It was so good to see (meet) so many people we care about. Till next time!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Exits Are in Alt Lit Gossip

So the Alt Lit Gossip tumblr took a break from posting videos of Noah Cicero and Tao Lin's photoshop art to mention Exits Are. Is Alt Lit Gossip growing up? Are they finally covering real literature? Does this mean they're mainstream? Or was it just a boring day at the office? Or, more importantly, is Uncanny Valley officially Alt Lit enough? Is Titanic the best poker movie of all time???

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Exits Are

Hey guys. Guys! Guys. Ladies.

I'm really excited to announce the publication of my free, online, serialized ebook, Exits Are, written in collaboration with many players. The first game, posted today, is called "Your Brother Isn't Talking." I made it with Blake Butler. You can find out more about how I play the games here, but the short version is that we take turns making up a story over gchat. I usually act like a text adventure (think Zork), and the other player can pretend to play one of those adventures, or they can do other, stranger things. It's up to them. The results are wild, improvisational, weird, and sometimes uncomfortable -- all in the best way. And you can play too! You just have to go here to find out how. Uncanny Valley is publishing the "book" cooperatively with Artifice Books, who have been kind enough to host it.

A new game will be posted every Wednesday, as well as the occasional extra game or bonus material. I'll remind you occasionally to check it out. I've already played games with cool folks like Tim Dicks, Aubrey Hirsch, Brian Oliu, Elisa Gabbert, Robert Kloss, and A D Jameson, with many more on the way.

I hope you'll have as much fun with this as I'm having making it. Go check it out.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Why (When) Subtlety Doesn't Matter

I saw Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close this weekend. As the reviews have said, it is not a masterpiece. It is not a very special or important film. It is nominated for an Academy Award probably by default--nothing else hefty enough to stand up to their kind of recognition.

I do not think, though, that this movie is an F, a fanciful failure, or a manipulative mistake. I think that EL&IC is as sentimental and contrived as any other movie that could stomach Tom Hanks cast as a dead father, and as sit-throughable. Again, it's no masterpiece. But the things that are getting attacked about it seem really artificial.

Many people call out the annoying obsessiveness of the main character, his insistence on doing things a certain way, his histrionics when the emotions catch up with him. I think that the movie is aware that his behavior is objectively annoying, and that it spends most of the film trying to get us to acknowledge that this behavior is sort of necessary and that we need to be able to understand it and forgive it. The movie is kind to him, but it doesn't take pains to always view him through the most loving lens. It does sort of conveniently forget that minor characters in the story have independent lives and that this kid's force of personality wouldn't necessarily occasion the kind of outpouring of kindness and acceptance it gets. But this is a common fault among ostensibly artier, more subtle films. I'm supposed to believe that an entire town actively and with the utmost kindness encourages the relationship between Lars and his real girl? Ryan Gosling's believable sweetness and need does not make the contrivance here any less believable. You must choose to overlook this much if you want to even finish the movie. Is a kid developing an intricate system for decoding what he thinks is his dad's last message for him any less of a stretch? Is that kind of obsession really so unbelievable?

In my MFA program, obsession in fiction was typically viewed through a bifocal lens. On the one hand, people noted, a character has to want something pretty bad to even get a story to happen. On the other hand, people don't usually go to the kinds of lengths that, say, Oskar Schell goes to, and so, the argument went, care should be taken not to strain the audience's credulity too much. But this argument often hinged on the idea that real people do basically nothing about anything, that humankind's true state of being is just a kind of extended sitting on the hands. This led to a lot of stories about nobody doing anything, the kind of strict domestic realism that most of us who want to consider ourselves innovative strive to avoid. The trick for an intelligent artist was, I think, supposed to be to maintain a very tentative balance, where there was some essential sort of wackiness or whimsy, contrivance, about the story's conceit but the execution of that conceit was roughly as difficult or messy (or, if you really wanted to capture the slow, grinding machinery of society, plodding or inconvenient) as it would have been in real life. Oskar Schell's efforts are not really ever hindered by time, distance, practicability, or interference from others. But I really don't think that makes them less real as an expression of grief, anger, confusion, and bereavement. I think the real thing about EL&IC that's sticking for artists and critics is that it does not subscribe to the notion that the truth is subtle, undramatic, and hard to access.

Fiction, it bears repeating, can never be reality. It represents reality. And the challenge for a writer of realistic fiction is how to represent reality in the most honest and appropriate way. The representation that many critics have taken issue with is the film's direct use of images from 9/11. This strikes them as dishonest, calling up already existing emotions rather than creating its own fictive ones. And it's true that for many audiences, the simple act of reshowing the famous footage of 9/11, of reproducing that day, is creating what can fairly be called a false catharsis. Many people are crying in the theater because of a collective emotion that was quickly and insistently attached to those images by others: These are the towers that represented our prosperity and achievement. These are the towers that stood for our strength and perseverance. This is the day we learned what it was to feel unsafe, violated. When our icons were injured, we all were all injured. This is the day we mourned as a nation. And of course (though usually more distantly), these towers represented real lives, abruptly and needlessly ended.

It would be naive to say that the movie does not rely on and intend to call up those associated meanings. But I don't think it spends near the time on calling up our collective meanings for those images that it spends drawing new, extremely specific meanings for them. For me, all the emotional value of the film came when Oskar Schell crumbled, not when the towers did. For him, the towers falling meant a very particular, very visceral, very final loss. In that moment, they meant the loss of the single most important person in the world, and an indelible, lifelong guilt. The weight of that loss was more incredible than the loss we felt as a nation, and it was humbling, heartbreaking to have this new meaning of the disaster drawn, and to feel even the fraction of its intensity that a story allows.

For the majority of us far from New York City the day of September 11, without loved ones there on that day, the measure of a "good," truthful 9/11 story can only be in its ability to provide a window into the very real terror of a city and the very real grief of any single one of its victims. The art born of tragedy can only deliver lasting comfort on the level of individual characters--they may figure out how to move forward in life, but we, collectively, the human race, will never feel "satisfied" by a Holocaust treatment; we will never feel like it's been settled. It is too big to be settled. Especially for our comparatively less tortuous, less decimating, less protracted national tragedy, I do not think it's fair to ask any art made about it to operate subtly, broadly, with the intent of representing our much quieter feelings of collective grief and terror. If we can't derive enough meaning from glimpsing the depth of one person's suffering--and suffering is a loud, sloppy, pathetic, unsubtle thing--if we demand that stories put words to how we all actually feel instead of how individuals might feel, we'll miss a lot of what fiction can do for a society. The only truth worth telling about 9/11 is its cost in individual human suffering. The only lesson worth taking from a story about 9/11 is to become generous in our response to individual suffering--generous enough to break our taboos about letting people into our houses, about participating in their rehabilitation. The argument that this is not what really happens is a weak one. Some of the most valuable fiction is about what could happen. What should.

This movie is saccharine, and it probably won't change your life. It is missable. It probably doesn't deserve a major award. But it's a working story. It's affecting. And if you set aside the notion that truth is by necessity quiet, private, hidden, it carries some valuable truths--easy to name, but also easy to forget.