Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm Not American But I'll Say It Anyway


To what? To Inklings Bookshop. As this American Holiday kicks off my little bookstore is running down. This is it. The last weekend.

But it's been a marvelous ride. A four year adventure in books. Four years of shelves and dust and booksmell. Four years of stories. Four years of books.

Each book a bridge, a connection between worlds. Between a reader and a writer, but between readers, too, as connection points for shared conversations, for shared visions and dreams and memories. Bridges, too, between customers and bookseller. The girders made from the spines of books, the cables from woven pages, and the road itself from words, from sentences and paragraphs layered to a paved sturdiness.

So thank you, Inklings Bookshop. You did not pay well, at least in money. But you gave so much else.


Friday, November 20, 2009

How Tolkien Got Lost In My Spare Bedroom

So, yeah, my Blogging the Rings has sort of been missing that whole blogging aspect. Um, yeah. Okay, but I have lots of excuses! Good ones! It mostly comes down to the fact that Blogging the Rings takes a fair bit of time and effort and my resources of such have run pretty thin. But! Not forever! Blogging the Rings shall return. Soon. I hope.

The other reason for the delay, of course, is that I lost Tolkien. Yeah. More precisely I lost my copies of The Lord of the Rings. Oops. But with endless boxes of books coming to and fro... I think I sold one paperback set to a customer and then sent my 3 in 1 version home with other books for my new and improved home library. So it's stuck in a box somewhere in my spare bedroom, which has become sort of a waystation of books, a book repository for literature in transit. A veritable terminus of books.

But it's hard to kill Tolkien. He's a tough man to keep down.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Memory Hold the Door

Caught in the flush and rush of life it can be difficult to remember, to stop and reflect. I think that's one of the powers of story, to be able to hold you and carry you along in a memory, a thought, a moment of the past. A story can hold the door for you so that it does not swing shut and lock you out.

This post is slightly belated, but I wanted to write it nonetheless. It was Remembrance Day two days ago, and that's an important holiday for me. Not for any hugely personal reason, but for a deeply felt cultural reason. It's a reminder of that need for reflection. It's a pause in the ongoing rush of the year.

And what helps me in this reflection is to engage the past through story. I listen to the stories of a friend who served in Korea. I pick up The Things They Carried or This Way For the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen and leaf through the pages. I watch Band of Brothers, appreciating the experience of a few as a symbol of the many.

Story here as transformation, as connection, as substitute memory. A proxy for experiences I cannot know myself, nor wish to. A moment of thanks, where story can serve as ritual. I try to do this every year, story providing a way to make an abstract idea concrete, to provide a vivid and felt reality that can embody the emptiness of a day marked so loosely on a calendar.

So... story as ritual - anyone else have quirks like this? How do you use stories to commemorate or remember something?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Neverending Difficulty of Story

Believe it or not, this isn't a complaint. I'm fascinated by difficult things. Easy is so easily boring. I'm the sort of person who likes a challenge. Things that I can win easily, or master easily... usually offer little interest to me. If I know I can do it, why bother doing it? The endeavor will lack drama or interest.

Videogames might be an example for me... I've never really gotten into videogames, though I know many people are obsessed with them. But I don't think the typical video game pattern is very amenable to me. You pour a ton of early time into playing, quickly learn how to operate the game and then master the functions and win the game. It's sort of a burst. It can certainly take skill and effort... but that sort of short term fixation doesn't usually draw me. The conclusion is in sight - in a short and somewhat undetermined time in the near future, I will win. And if I were ever to get caught up in a videogame I'm guessing it would be one that veers from this pattern, an online game, say, that's always changing because it's open to the individual actions of many gamers. It's a more continuous and shifting investment.

And here's where I come to writing. It's hard. It's bloody hard, at least to do it well. To be great. And I like that. It draws me on that I won't have complete mastery by next Tuesday. The farther you go, with writing, the more you realize how much you have yet to explore. It's expansive and shifting, and your goals will change even as you change. Aesthetic shifts can match shifts in experience and interest.

Writing, in a sense, is a limitless pursuit. There's nothing finite. No clear ending. You can't reach a point and say "Hey, I won! What should I do now?" It's that old idea that perfection is an unreachable goal but the only one worth striving for.

So what does the difficulty of writing mean to you?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How the Literary Agent Killed Zombies

I put this in for a contest over at The Rejectionist's, but thought I'd put it up here, too. Because, hell, it was fun to write and this is the Halloween season. Which lasts two weeks. Nobody tell me otherwise. Yes, I have free rein to eat chocolate for that period. It's Halloween. Oh, and props to my collaborator on this one, Dr. Seuss. Kind of a nutty fellow, but fun to work with.

How the Literary Agent Killed Zombies

Every Ghoul down in Boo-ville likes Zombies a lot…
But the Steve, who lived just North of Boo-ville, did not!
The Steve hated zombies! The whole zombie season!
Now please… ask us why, we quite know the reason.

It seems there was once a query quite right
But the novel itself was a disappointment, all right!
The Zombies had pompadours just a little too small
And heaped zombie adjectives up like a wall!

Yes, that was the reason he barfed on his tools!
And so he sat there a-reading and hating the Ghouls
Staring down from his office with a sour, Stevie frown
At the orange-lighted windows below in their town
For he knew every ghoul down in Boo-ville beneath
Was busy, just now, hanging a black, glossy wreath

"And they're plotting their sequels," he snarled through his beer
"Tomorrow they'll query, it's practically here!"
Then he growled, his red pencil nervously drumming.
"I must find a way to keep queries from coming!"

For tomorrow, he knew, all the ghoul girls and boys
Would start typing away on their bright Macintosh toys
And then they'd do something he liked least of all
The ghouls down in Boo-ville, the tall and the small,
Would all gather 'round for group therapy writing!
And yes, in each story, there would be zombie chaps biting!

Then he got an idea, an awful idea!
The Steve got a wonderful, awful idea!
"I know just what to do," the Steve laughed in his throat
And he made a quick skeleton skull and a boat

"All I need is a paddle…" The Steve looked around,
But since paddles are scarce there were none to be found.
Did that stop the old Steve? No! The Steve simply said
"If I can't find a paddle, I'll make one instead."
His assistant, a fox, he wrapped in black thread
And he tied a big board on top of her head.

Then he pulled on a black cloak, peered at his clock
Fetched up his assistant and pushed off from the dock
Then the Steve said "Ahoy!" and the boat started down
Toward the homes where the Ghouls lay a-snooze in their town

All the homes were dark, quiet groans filled the air
As the Ghouls were all dreaming dead dreams without flair
"This is stop number one," the old skeleton hissed
And he climbed to the roof, red pen in his fist

Then he slid down the chimney, like an arm through a sleeve
If Santa could do it, then so could the Steve
He never got stuck, not for a moment or three
(There was little to him but some old bones and one flea)

And the little Ghoul keyboards all sat in a row
"Those keyboards"," he grinned, "are the first things to go."
Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile almost daft
Around the whole room, and he took every draft!
Zombies! And Vampires! Apocalypse drums!
Werewolves! And Chick Lit! Articulate bums!

Then he slunk to the cabinet. He took the plot feast!
He took the chapter titles and giant squid beast!
He cleaned out that cabinet as quick as a flash
Why, that Steve even took the last can of Ghoul-Rash!

Steve snatched up the drafts, and he started to slash
When he heard a small sound like the kiss of a lash
He turned around fast, and he saw a small Ghoul
Little Cindy-Lou Ghoul, who was eating a stool!

The Steve had been caught by this little Ghoul hood
Who'd got out of bed for a bite of cool wood
She stared at the Steve and said "Skeleton, why?
Why are you cutting our manuscripts? Why?"

But you know that old Steve, he was so smart and so slick,
He thought up a lie and he thought it up quick
"Why, my sweet little rot," the fake skeleton lied,
"There's a verb in this draft that I just can't let slide.
So I'm taking it home to my study, my dear,
I'll edit it there, and then I'll bring it back here."

And his fib fooled the child. He patted her head
Then got her a drink and sent her to bed.
And the last thing that he did was to light up the fire
And he threw on every manuscript, oh what a pyre!

Then he did the same thing to the other Ghoul houses
Leaving ashes too small for the other Ghoul louses!

It was quarter past dawn… all the Ghouls still afloat
All the Ghouls still a-snooze when he packed up his boat
Packed it up with their hard drives! Their iPhones and wrappings!
Their post-it note memos! Their sketches and flappings!

Three thousand feet down, down the length of Lake Slumpit
He rowed and he rowed to the middle to dump it.
"Ha Ha to the Ghouls!" he was Steve-ishly humming
"They're finding out now that no stories will be coming!
Their mouths will hang open for a minute or two
Then the Ghouls down in Boo-ville will all cry Boo Hoo!"

"That's a noise," grinned the Steve, "that I really must hear!"
So he paused. And he put a hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the glow
It started in low. Then it started to grow.

But the sound wasn't mad! Why this sound sounded merry!
It couldn't be so! But it was merry! Very!
He stared down at Boo-ville, the Steve popped his eyes
Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Ghoul down in Boo-ville, the tall and the small,
Was typing! Without any stories at all!
He hadn't stopped the zombies from coming! They came!
Somehow or other, they came just the same!

And the Fox paddle stopped in the midst of a row
Steve puzzled and puzzled: "How could it be so?"
It came without outlines! Came without speech tags!
It came without realism, but, yes, yes, with great bee plagues!
And he puzzled three hours til his puzzler was sore
Then the Steve thought of something he hadn't before
"Maybe zombies," he thought, "don't just come from a bore
Maybe zombies, perhaps, are a little hardcore!"

Well, what happened then? Well, in Boo-ville they say
The Steve's in-box shrunk three sizes that day
And the minute his inbox shrunk right out of sight
The Steve sat back in his chair in the bright morning light
And he penned a form letter as black as the night
For just such a moment as this, quite right!
He penned it with venom and vitriol spite
(So hoping you'll jump from a very great height)

Yes He, He Himself, signed the grim form
Because zombies, yes zombies, are only lukewarm.