Wednesday, February 4, 2015

back from the dead? maybe for the money

I'm considering reviving this blog, mainly to post thoughts on books I'm reading. I recently signed up for the Amazon Affiliates program, which pays royalties whenever someone clicks a link I've posted and then buys something on Amazon after that. I'm thinking about trying to add some of those links to the posts I make, to see if any money results. Yes, it's money-motivated.

"But isn't Amazon the Devil?" you ask. Whatever. We're already in hell. You think it'll matter whose matches we use while we're here?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

“It’s quiet,” they say.
“Sort of dull,” they say.
“Feel free to work on your own projects,” they say, “we’re all multi-tasking all the time around here.”
What they mean is: “look busy.”
And so you start trying to look busy.
Reading a book won’t do—you’d been reading before, when they started commenting on how quiet it is.
Sitting there with your thoughts won’t do, either.  Each time they catch you doing that, they ask:  “Is everything all right?”
You’re not allowed to randomly browse the web, or to check personal email.
So what should you do?
You decide to open up Word, create a new document, start writing.
There is some concern that people will see what you are writing, realize it’s not connected to the work, and disapprove.  Much of what motivates you is fear of disapproval.
But they told you to “feel free to work on your own projects,” and writing is the one project you’ve got that seems most likely to satisfy their desire for you to look busy.  You’re guessing that sitting at the computer, typing, will look more productive in their eyes than reading a book or sitting with your thoughts seemed to look, to them.
But what should you type?
You’ve been working on a mystery novel, about a homelessalcoholic in Waikiki who is investigating the murder of his sponsor ( Dry Shores: A Hawaii Crime NovelMuch of the book involves scenes of violence, of drug and alcohol abuse, of generally degenerative behavior.  The characters use foul language freely.  They sit in the park drunk and belligerent, or sprawl in alleyways and doorstops, in various states of disarray.  Such material doesn’t seem entirely appropriate for the office environment in which you are presently trying to look busy.
So what should you type?
You open Word, create a new document, and sit there with your fingers poised on the keys.
 You start typing:
'"It's quiet," they say.'

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

SKAGBOYS, by Irvine Welsh


Skagboys (Mark Renton series Book 1)

I read TRAINSPOTTING shortly after seeing the movie.  I liked it, and went on to read ECSTASY and MARABOU STORK NIGHTMARES and YOU'LL HAVE HAD YOUR HOLE (his first play, which I read standing up in a bookstore) in the next few years.  I also saw the movie version of THE ACID HOUSE (which Welsh wrote the screenplay for), though I thought it was a bit of a letdown after TRAINSPOTTING.  And then, after a few years without Welsh, I came across PORNO in the limited English-language section of a bookstore in Madrid, and I bought that and read it too (and buying a book brand new is a rare thing for me).

For a while, in a fairly formative period of my life as a person and as a writer, I considered him a favorite author.  When I think about it now, he remains one of the authors I've read the most words by.  And he's influenced my view of certain things in a way that persists to this day.  I lived in Scotland for about seven months (mostly in Edinburgh, but also several months in Perth, and I traveled to nearly every little town during my days off from that Perth job--not much to do in Perth itself, you know), and despite the fact that the Scotland I experienced rarely resembled the Scotland Welsh depicts in his writing, it's still his version that some how feels more real to me.

But that was a while back--seems like ages--and I was living a different life then.  I moved countries every six months or so.  I gave little thought to careers or a long-term future.  I dreamed of writing important literary works, but spent more time dreaming than actually writing.

And, gradually, I settled into a more stable life.  I stayed in one city (San Francisco) for nearly a decade--long enough to get a University degree and waste a few years with one employer (before that I'd always quit jobs every few months--as soon as I had a bit of cash saved up).  I even got married recently--though I quit my job and left San Francisco before doing so.  Still, I'm in a much different place now than where I was when I was reading Welsh.

But a few days ago I saw a copy of Welsh's new book SKAGBOYS in the library, and I checked it out.  I've been reading it, and I wanted to write about that here.  I wanted to write about what it's making me feel.

Frankly, for the first 150 pages or so, I felt like I was coming home.  I felt such an affinity for the world Welsh creates in his books, such a connection with the points of views of the characters, that it almost made the last ten years of my life seem like some sort of dream.  It made me feel like the life he writes about was more real than the life I've been living.

And then, gradually, that feeling started to fade.  The gritty realness started to feel exaggerated, cartoon-like.  The characters started feeling fake.  And I started feeling like Welsh, instead of creating something true and authentic, was just trying to push buttons.

I think it's sort of related to the plot.  Welsh sets up the start of the novel with finesse, but halfway through he's already torched it all.  For an example, look at the sordid drama Welsh creates for Sick Boy.

*SPOILER ALERT* (for anybody that actually cares, which I usually don't)

Sick Boy notices his 15-year-old neighbor is "blossoming into hotness" (Welsh doesn't use those terms, but that's the general idea).  He decides to bond with the girl's alcoholic dad in order to get at the girl--buying dad drinks, helping him along the path to his own destruction.  And then, once the dad gets (accidentally) killed in a bar-related pummeling, Sick Boy moves in on the dead drunk's wife.  Okay, Welsh; I'm still with you.  But then, after taking advantage of the mom's vulnerable state in order to get laid, Sick Boy helps her decide to commit fraud--not reporting drunk dad's death in order to keep collecting his pension checks.  Promptly after that she get's thrown in jail, and Sick Boy moves in on the girl.  Get's her hooked on heroin.  Starts her turning tricks for drug money.  And finally, to end this little melodrama, pimps her to the man who murdered her father (who uses the opportunity to deliver the line "I'm your daddy now.")

Through every imaginable level of disaster, step by step with no delays or detours or moments of characters stopping for a second to try to go anywhere else, Welsh takes us to the very bottom.  And this is less than halfway through the book.

It goes that way with other characters.  You've got Begbie face-fucking some girl in front of her father--under the mistletoe on Christmas, might I add--and then threatening the dad with violence.  You've got Renton giving his severely handicapped brother a handjob--fair enough, Welsh; maybe you could make this work--but then the surly older brother busts in... and catches the cumshot on his face and across his military uniform!

We've gone from tragedy to childish farce, and from dark to just plain dim.

Which has me wondering, in the end, about the interest I felt for Welsh's writing in my more youthful days, my days of international travel and passionate avoidance of the status quo.  Was he writing better stuff, then?  Was I more in touch?

Or was I just more immature?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Blood Brothers now available on Kindle


I've finished my first novel, and it's now available for download on Kindle (or on Smartphones with the Kindle app, or on computers with the free Kindle reader program installed).  It's a sword and sorcery novel with weird metaphysical and pantheistic elements.  Here's the description:

Ostracized by society because of the birthmark that mars his face, Grillis Bloodborn has lived all of his short life in a cottage in the forest, cutting wood and tending pigs. Upon the death of his grandmother, the only family he has ever known, he sets out on a quest to find favor with the Gods for her soul. Grillis’s travels bring him to a city where a young trash-picker named Athemon has just begun to discover the power to punish the men who have made his life a hell. As fate draws the two youths together, they learn that payback comes with a price of its own. Meanwhile, in the depths of the unconquered wilderness a young mystic named Verlvik begins to experience a series of miracles and visions… and the visions lead toward Athemon.

You can go to the Amazon page by clicking this link.

Please take a look, and consider buying a copy.  Thanks!


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Every Step Deliberate now on Kindle

I've put another book up on Kindle.  This one is a series of poems I wrote while walking the Camino de Santiago last fall.  It'll be available for free download on Friday, January 4th, and Saturday, January 5th.  Check it out by clicking here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Paul Auster, a self-deluding author?

http://mettebassett.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/paul_auster_invention_of_solitude.jpg
The Invention of Solitude

I like Paul Auster's writing.  He always seems dogged in his efforts to clearly explain thoughts that a lot of us take for granted.  He comes across as very rational, very focused on reason.  And sometimes, reading between the lines, his predilection for the rational seems to push him toward remarkable levels self-delusion.

Here's an example I came across in his book THE INVENTION OF SOLITUDE (I should mention, for those who aren't familiar with this book, that it's autobiographical in nature; when Auster mentions "A." he's talking about himself):

A. returned to the apartment overlooking Columbus Circle, [...] his marriage now at a permanent standstill.  These were probably the worst days of all for him.  He could not work, he could not think.  He began to neglect himself [...].  Lying on the couch, smoking cigarette after cigarette, he would watch old movies on television and read second-rate mystery novels.  He did not try reach any of his friends.  The one person he did call--a girl he had met in Paris when he was eighteen--had moved to Colorado.
One night, for no particular reason, he [...] walked into a topless bar.  As he sat there at his table drinking a beer, he suddenly found himself sitting next to a voluptuously naked young woman.  She sidled up to him and began to describe all the lewd things she would do to him if he paid her to go to "the back room."  There was something so openly humorous and matter-of-fact about her approach, that he finally agreed to her proposition.
Maybe it's just me, but I don't think Auster agreed to pay the woman for sex because of the "openly humorous and matter-of-fact" way she approached him.  And I don't think he walked into a topless bar "for no particular reason" either.  I think he went to a topless bar and paid a woman for sex because he was horny.  Or maybe I'm crazy.

But when I encounter something like the above in Auster's work, I find myself wondering if he really doesn't realize what's actually going on.  Does he actually think he just wandered into that topless bar by accident?  Is he really surprised to find a naked woman sitting beside him once he's in the bar?  Is he deluding himself?  Or is he just trying to delude the reader?  And if he actually knows all along why he went to that topless bar, why put on pretenses?  If he's worried of being judged, why mention the encounter at all?

In any case, where Auster goes next also serves as an example of why I like his writing so much.  After the "voluptuously naked young woman" seals the deal with her "openly humorous" manner, we get this:

The best thing, they decided, would be for her to suck his penis, since she claimed an extraordinary talent for this activity.  And indeed, she threw herself into it with an enthusiasm that fairly astonished him.  As he came in her mouth, a few moments later, with a long and throbbing flood of semen, he had this vision, at just that second, which has continued to radiate inside of him: that each ejaculation contains several billion sperm cells--or roughly the same number as there are people in the world--which means that, in himself, each man holds the potential of an entire world.
Far out, man.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

THE NO HELLOS DIET, by Sam Pink

The No Hellos Diet

I read this book today at work. It took me about three hours, and would have taken less time but I kept making myself put the book down for a minute, to slow down, so as not to miss things. Part of the quickness of the read is because the book keeps you turning pages. Part of it is because the book is very short--81 pages of text, probably like 30K words--too short in my mind to be considered a true novel. And part of it is because the level of language is pretty basic--short sentences, minimal description, limited vocabulary--you never really have to work hard to understand anything.

That said, I think it's a great book, with occasional moments of brilliance, and just a few fumbles. I've read three books and one chapbook by Sam Pink, and I think this is the best of them all.

Basically, it strikes me as a well-crafted existential novel, reminiscent in places of The Stranger by Albert Camus, but effectively capturing the typical existence of today. The protagonist--a vaguely sketched "you"--goes through month after month of meaninglessness, often wondering whether being alive is appreciably better than being dead. He gets no particular joy from anything, and feels no sense of connection with anyone, but isn't particularly lonely or sad, either. He works a low-pay, un-fulfilling job, but he doesn't suffer from it because there's nothing he'd rather do with his time, anyway. He's too apathetic to feel oppressed, and therefore there is no meaning in his oppression. He's just there, passing time.

While that might sound like a boring premise, the book is actually pretty amusing. Sam Pink has an excellent eye for the absurdities of our daily lives--somehow he clearly sees the relentless, glaring stupidity that we take for granted--example: a candy wrapped in a "neon-colored package with a small monster--eyes coming out of its skull--looking at the words 'MEGA STICK'". He's also got a bizarre/perverse imagination that leads to some stunningly original thoughts--like what would happen if the taffy candy in that MEGA STICK package was so sticky it pulled all the teeth out of your head, and then you'd "just stand there holding a drooping piece of taffy studded with teeth". And his ear for dialogue is wonderful, capturing a variety of dialects and accents, revealing conversations that are completely ridiculous and utterly believable. You might even LOL once or twice while you read this book; at the very least, Pink is way funnier, and funner, than Albert Camus.

The main downside is that, for the most part, the novel never goes anywhere. There is a hint of development in the protagonist's physical condition--his ear infection that get's worse, his developing dizziness and discomfort with bright lights and blaring sound--but it isn't pursued to any significant extent. Then again, in a book that focuses on the meaninglessness of life, having a plot that never really goes anywhere might just be the whole point.

P.S. On a different topic: might be a bit prudish or oversensitive of me, but the name of this press makes me leery.  If you're a sheltered young American who's never had the misfortune of actually dealing with authentic fascists, the word "fascist" might seem like a fun word to use lightly.  But for the millions of people in the world who've had immediate family killed by fascists, the word has very real significance.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Map of Fog featured on SF Zine Fest blog

The people behind the San Francisco Zine Fest are getting things rolling for Zine Fest 2012, and they've been putting up new posts on the official SF Zine Fest Blog.  Today's post features my zine Map of Fog.  You can check it out here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

self-publishing and self-doubt

Having decided to self-publish some of my personal, literary work on the Amazon Kindle, I've been struggling with something that seemed like less of an issue in traditional publishing: self-doubt.  Before putting Suck Nectar Vomit Honey and Within Our Bones up on Kindle, my main approach to getting my poetry and fiction in front of an audience was publication in literary journals.  It takes a lot of work to get something published in a literary journal--a long time ago I heard that the average submission got rejected 16 times before finding a home, and I wouldn't be surprised if the average is a lot higher than that now--but at least, when your poem or short story does get accepted, that acceptance carries with it the implication of some sort of approval.  When you self-publish, you're on your own.  And so putting up intimate, personal work, work where you dig deep to expose emotions and experiences and ideas that are crucially important to you, can become an exercise in agonizing self-doubt.  It's made all the worse by the fact that potentially millions of people can read your stuff once you put it up on Kindle--as opposed to the old literary journal model, where chances are only a few thousand copies of the issue with your work would be printed.  So I've been squirming a bit, recently, worrying that someone I know would pick up a copy of my poetry or story collection, see my intimate thoughts, condemn me as some disgusting little monster, and I won't be able defend myself with the excuse that "I didn't publish it, the editor did.  She's the one that thinks it's worth publishing."