Monday, May 30, 2011

Guitar Dreams II

And make sure to check out Guitar Dreams I below... simply for its awesomeness.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The leap from the lion's head

When one’s not writing poems — and I’m not at the moment — you wonder how you ever did it. It’s like another country you can’t reach.

May Sarton

Is anyone else like this? I have marching orders in hand (edits on my novel from the King of San Francisco), I've thought them over and know what I want to do... and now I just have to jump back in. But this is always the hardest thing for me. Starting. In terms of story, and also in terms of the simple mechanical process. Opening up a file. Hitting those keys. One, two, three...

It's hard to get back in.

I always look for clues, but sometimes you find yourself at the edge of an abyss, standing on the cliff's edge, the wind pulling at you and singing of the stones far below. And that's when you have to fall back and trust in the wisdom of Indiana Jones. The leap from the lion's head...

Sometimes it's simply a matter of faith. You have to jump. You have to believe there really is a bridge there, even if your eyes deceive you.

Leap from the lion's head. The cup of life lies beyond.

And having a big whip helps, too. Just in case.

Blogger is a Voracious Beast

My post has been gobbled up, crumbs and all. Why, blogger, why?

I'm totally hoping that Blogger's heart will grow three sizes this day and my post will be returned to me.

Off to remember the true spirit of Christmas...

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Tyranny of the British Empire

Being part of the British Commonwealth hasn't given us much, but it has given us Victoria Day! Huzzah! Holiday! So happy Victoria Day!


Do you see that look? Give her some lip and she'll grind you beneath her steel-toed boots.

Must go and celebrate! Plus, the Vampire Infants are biting each other. If you would like further posts, please send garlic and holy water via email. A large smiting cross would also be appreciated. Or send Queen Victoria.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Hangman Never Smiled So Sweet

by Janet Russell

The Hangman Never Smiled So Sweet

Fox approaches two birds, broken-winged.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Joy to the World (via books, of course)

There are some truly fantastic things in the world. Winning the lottery, organic rootbeer, hitting the winning jumpshot as the buzzer sounds...

And there's this:

There's nothing like getting books in the mail. And, what's more, free books. Booyah. One came from Jessica Bell, while the other came from:

There's something about heading out to the mailbox and finding a package... a book-shaped package. Paper! Possibly twine! The friendly smell of pages upon opening.

Maybe ebooks of the future will come with 3D holograms of mailboxes and packages that can recreate this experience. But I shall miss using my Moroccan knife to open the packages, splitting paper and tape to give me that first view of the treasure inside.

Anyone else here in love with getting books in the mail? Please say yes or I will feel strange. I find the truth is very flexible in these situations.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Change of Direction

So, I've been thinking about making a few changes around here. This has been percolating for awhile, and coincides with a few minor life changes I'm trying to make.

The idea, basically, is to open up this blog to all sorts of random topics and see what falls out of my brain. Writing, of course, will still be central, as that is what I love. And I'm hoping to continue with the flash fiction (please submit!). But! All sorts of other oddities! Perchance!

I know this goes against one of the prime Blogging 101 rules: base your blog on a specific topic, and stick to it. But, well, I've never written this blog with any idea of it being a "platform", or that it would in some way help my writing career. I do it because I like to write, and I do it because I enjoy talking with like-minded (and, for that matter, non-like-minded) people. The blog, for me, has always been the end, in and of itself. I've never wanted anything from it, except for the basic experience of doing it, of writing something and entering into interesting discussions.

So, if I do this, it will probably mean a few changes. First off, the blog might be a little more erratic, and I'll be less concerned with writing at a particular time, or to a particular schedule. And, the odd thing is, I think I may actually write more. But I'll mostly be writing when I want, and writing what I want. Strangeness may ensue!

It comes down, in the end, to meaning and motive. I've been thinking lately about why I do certain things , trying to scrape off the dirt and find the real roots, the ones buried way down deep in the dark. What are the meanings of my choices? And if I'm not really concerned with having a blog as a platform, why am I trying to write one as if I am?

It's a bit like that ol' writing chestnut: do you write to trends and publishers wants, or do you simply write what you want, what calls to you? I'm more of a write what you want type. The writing, in the end, is primarily for me. Selfish, I know! But that's the way of it. I want an audience, of course, but my first and primary audience is always me. Blogging to the rules, blogging to build a platform, is a bit like writing to a trend, writing to meet outside expectations.

So the plan is simply to write, instead, what I want. And hope it's interesting enough that a few people will follow along and join in the conversation.

Any thoughts? Concerns? Suggestions? Letters to the editor? Questions? Chinchillas? (Just cuz)

And, yes, this might mean I don't actually know where the hell I'm going. But sometimes those are the best sorts of road trips.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Jacob Wonderbar and the Launch Day Laser Blast!

Okay, there are no actual lasers in this post. Sorry.

But today is the day! Nathan Bransford's Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow is out in the world!

Shop Indie Bookstores

See? See?

For real. As Dr. Frankenstein once said, It's alive.

I had the great privilege of reading an ARC of Jacob Wonderbar, and it has my seal of approval. What's more, it has my kids seal of approval. Well, not the Vampire Infant's, whose tastes are still more feral than literary. The most common response from the elder two, however, was "More! More!"

Also, you can win a copy at the fantabulous blog of Tahereh Mafi! Which is a wonderful place to go, even without free books.

Blast off!

I'm keeping the corndog, though. Yes, insider joke. Read the book.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Is self-publishing too easy?

What is the value of difficulty?

It strikes me that self-publishing and traditional publishing, in terms of what these processes demand in terms of writing, are at opposite ends of the spectrum of difficulty.

Traditional publishing is all about difficulty—so much so, at times, that it seems designed to be difficult. You’ve written a book… and now you must query agents, and win an agent, and then that agent has to submit to editors, and then editors who like it have to submit to editorial boards, and editorial boards have to get the publisher to sign off, and the whole publishing company has to get excited about it and make the book, and then they have to sell it into bookstores in order to get it on the shelves… all this before a customer/reader ever sees the book. Jumping through hoops, some call it, and I’m sure we all sometimes feel like circus monkeys, leaping ever higher for that juicy banana.

But the basic fact is that there are far more writers than there are slots available in the traditional publishing world. There is a winnowing, and that winnowing is difficult and painful (though not always rational). Every step of that process, every new hoop, puts pressure on a writer. And the writer must meet these challenges, must jump through higher and higher hoops, if they want to be published.

The self-publishing process, on the other hand, is easy (again, just in terms of what the process requires of the writing; self-publishing brings a host of other difficulties into play—I mean, the formatting alone would probably kill me). There are no hoops in self-publishing. You have a piece of writing, and you decide to publish it. The end--assuming you have the money, chutzpah, and determination to go through with the process.

But what does this mean for writing?

I ask this because I think difficulty is important. I think difficulty is what pushes us. I think it’s uncommon to get to Great along the wonderful road of Easy. Not impossible, certainly, and some people will do just that. But not many. I think greatness is most often found on that ugly detour through the Town of Hardship and Toil.

Now, this is important: I’m not trying to say anything about the value of self-publishing, or the talent of self-published writers. Self-publishing is important, and perhaps vital and necessary. Traditional publishing is flawed. Frankly, a lot of people like to rake it over the coals, but it’s a human endeavor, and, like every human endeavor before it, traditional publishing is imperfect. We have to continue to make it better. And yet we also have to find a way for important voices to be heard, voices that have been missed or ignored by traditional publishers—voices that, without another option, would be lost to time, drifting in those dim places where dead voices gather and whisper of their what ifs.

Self-publishing is vital. My friend Renee has a book, and it tackles controversial subjects in a way that's possibly controversial . Would it have a chance with a traditional publisher? I can imagine how some of those risk/reward analyses might go. Self-publishing, on the other hand, offers an avenue into the public discourse (or a potential avenue, anyhow—audiences certainly aren’t guaranteed).

Or Neesha Meminger, who wrote what everyone said was a great book, and whose next book was not picked up. Suits, sitting in offices, fiddled with cuffs and collars and expensive shoes, fearful of low sales, fearful, perhaps, of books about brown people, and too lost in dreams of blonde vampires to see the audience out there, wating, waiting, waiting...

Traditional publishing is flawed. There are important voices that need to be heard, and self-publishing can give voice to silenced songs.

Yet I worry.

Some self-published writers will push themselves. They will push their craft to its limits, and find a way to write the best things they can.

But human nature, in general, is often like water: it seeks the path of least resistance. Why face rejection? Why face up to the No and the Not for me? Why try to push through a wall when a door is already open? How many writers, right now, are deciding to skip the traditional process? And how many of them will fail to live up to the possibility of their own stories?

Because there’s a reason we should face the rejection. It’s not nice to hear that No. But, if you listen really carefully, in the silence of your own head and heart, you will hear another No. And this is your own No. This is a No deep inside you, saying No, my book isn’t ready, it’s true, I can do better. It won’t be easy, but I can do better. And I will. Yes, I will.

That No leads to a Yes. A Yes inside, and perhaps, at some point, a Yes outside, too. A Yes to one hoop, and then another. But that first Yes is the most important. That one that says Yes, this is what I meant to write, and Yes, this is the best I can write it.

This, to me, is the value of difficulty.

It’s like with running (because I like running): you decide you want to be in the Olympics. You go out and you train for six months, running hard, three days a week. You get fitter and faster. You fly. You feel great. And then you go to a race full of Olympic hopefuls. You’re going to run the 1500m. You’ve been training for it. You’re fast.

The gun goes off, you run, and run, and you cross the finish line. You’re fast! You ran it in five minutes. The problem, of course, is that the other hopefuls all ran it in under four minutes. One guy even broke three and a half…

So what do you do?

The next week you hear about another race. Last year, no one ran this race under five and a half minutes. You can win this race. And you’re fast. Not many people can run 1500m in five minutes. You feel great. You’re healthy. Picking up this running thing was the best thing you ever did. You’re happy running.

What do you do?

Do you go to this other race? You’ll be successful. You’ll be fast and happy. Why not? There’s nothing stopping you. And it’s a great choice.

But maybe you’ll always wonder what it would be like to be in the Olympics.

And, the thing is, it’s not even about being in the Olympics. It’s not about winning a medal, or some idea of glory, or a tag you can put on your chest, or the title you put after your name on a business card. It’s about a simple question: how fast can you run?

You can go to the second race. You’ll be happy. But you could also look at those runners heading to the Olympics. Why were they faster? Were they simply better and more talented than you? Or are they going to the Olympics because they did not train for six months, but for sixteen years? Because they did not run three days a week, but seven? Because, perhaps, they put everything into their running, studying and training and endlessly searching out, step by step, the perfect biomechanical rhythms?

There are no wrong paths, no wrong choices. And it is not about self-publishing or traditional publishing. These are, in the end, rather fickle determiners. It’s about the writing. That, in the end, is all that really matters.

And perhaps, for some, it’s a moot point. Different writers have different wants for their writing. Not every writer will want to face the hardship and toil involved in learning to write the very best thing they can write. Many people will write something, love it, and simply want to share it.

There’s something wonderful about this, and something pure. This is the heart of writing: the desire to communicate, to share something.

And yet I believe, too, in writing as an art. I believe in the power of difficulty. Every year, running records are broken. We go faster and faster because something is pushing us, hurling us past our boundaries, past all the things that once held us back. We have something to reach for, a chance to find the best of ourselves. It is difficult, and perhaps impossible. And yet we run.

We do not know our potential until we try. Until we push ourselves. Until we find out what lies on the other side of difficulty.

I worry, in a world of self-publishing, that many writers capable of greatness will settle for good, or pretty good, or good enough. Some, certainly, will find greatness, will push themselves regardless of the influence of the worlds in which they move and write. But human nature is human nature, and it’s oh so easy to run downhill, oh so easy to settle, perhaps, without even knowing we're settling.

And yet a lot of writers in the traditional system, perhaps, would never reach this point. They would run that first race, see how far behind the other runners they were, and hang up their cleats. No Olympics, no local race. Just a few beers, more time on the couch, and those moments, in the silence of memory, when they recall the feel of the ground beneath their feet, that sense of floating, of flying, of running.

Perhaps self-publishing can keep dreams alive, can keep these people writing. But how will writers push their writing to new heights when it’s so easy to run downhill and the world is tilting ever southward?

What about you? I know some of you have self-published, and I’d love hear your thoughts (whatever the path you’ve chosen). What led to your choice? What has it meant to your writing? How do you push yourself, or is that even important? What does the difficulty of writing mean to you? And are you better for it?

And how fast can you run?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Everybody Knew

by Bryan Russell

Everybody Knew

Emilio was nine, but he had a good arm. He could throw. Better than Chris and Juan, and he always had to throw first, otherwise nothing would happen. They never threw until he did.

They had some good stones, and when the cops' car pulled around the corner he was ready. It was unmarked, the car, and they weren’t in uniform, but everybody in the neighborhood knew they were cops.

Emilio threw, yelling as he did so, and Chris and Juan threw after him. His friends missed, but Emilio’s first stone made a metallic chunk sound against the fender, and his second throw hit the windshield, leaving a white mark in the glass.

The cops were jumping out of the car. They had beer bottles in their hands. Emilio ran. He could hear his friends behind him, their breathing, the sound of their shoes hitting the ground. Down the alley they went. The cops were shouting and chasing, all four of them. Chris ran past Emilio. He couldn’t throw worth shit, Chris, but he could always run.

Chris split left down an alley, and Emilo and Juan went straight ahead, and then right down another alley, and then left, and right.

And then they stopped. They’d come this way a thousand times, where an old chain-link gate had once stood to block the alley, but had rusted away years ago. But somebody had put up a new gate, an ugly thing made of old boards. And it was high.

Emilio jumped, tried to climb, but a big hand grabbed him and threw him on the ground. His breath left in a big whoosh. There was pain, and he tried to breathe.

“Hey, fuckers,” one of the cops said. He punched Juan, and Juan fell down.

There was blood all over Juan’s face, and Juan started to cry. Snot smeared down over his mouth.

A hand hauled Emilio up.

“You gonna cry too?”

“Fuck you, cop,” Emilio said.

The cop laughed. He had nice clothes, talked around a cigarette in his mouth. He turned and kicked Juan, who cried even harder. “Your friend’s crying.” The cop looked back at Emilio and then backhanded him across the face.

Emilio staggered, but stayed up. His face went hot. His uncle had hit him like that, once. It was like an iron had been pressed to his face. His Nan’s old steel iron, the one she used to press her Sunday dress. He never thought she was strong enough to lift it, but she always did.

He felt hot and numb, but he didn’t cry.

Emilio watched as two of the cops kicked Juan, and a third one unzipped and pissed on him. Laughter, beer bottles raised in an ironic toast.

The cop that had hit Emilio looked at him closely. He laughed, handed Emilio a half-full beer.

The cops walked away. Emilio drank the beer. Something inside him went as numb as his face. It was a slower numbness, but just as deep.

Juan was crying. He was wet with piss. His lip and chin were covered in snot.

After awhile Chris came down the alley. He looked flushed, but he was breathing easily. “What happened?”

“Juan balled,” Emilio said. He turned and kicked Juan. Then he kicked him harder, and Juan’s crying grew louder. Emilio kept kicking, and Chris joined in. They kicked for awhile, until Juan stopped crying and just whimpered.

Emilio threw the beer bottle at the wall and it exploded. He’d always had a good arm. He looked back down the alley.

Someday he was gonna be a cop.