Tuesday, January 29, 2008

COOWEESCOOWEE 2006


In a previous post I mentioned the trouble I'd been having with a journal that accepted a piece of my writing back in 2006. At the time of its acceptance, it was the first piece I'd managed to find a home for. As time ticked by, I landed spots for a few other pieces, and one by one they were each published, but the first piece still hadn't come out. I called the editor more than once asking for updates, and she kept saying it was on the verge of publication. Eventually, two years passed, and I lost hope that the journal would ever be released. I started thinking about telling the editor that she'd lost her chance.

Finally, after I'd already given up hope, the journal did come out. Yesterday my contributor's copies arrived in the mail. (The picture above is actually for the 2007 edition, which came out simultaneously; I couldn't find images of the 2006 online.) I've only had a chance to glance at it so far, and to read through my own piece. What stood out first and foremost was the number of poems published. There are 25 poems in this issue, compared to five fiction pieces. That's a lot of poetry.

Other than my surprise at the poetry/fiction ratio, my feelings have been mixed. In certain ways I'm happy and relieved that my piece has finally seen the light of day. In other ways I'm a bit irked about it coming out two years late, at the same time as a more recent edition. It makes me feel like there's much less potential audience for the work. Then again, little mags like this one don't ever have much of an audience, so how much could have been lost?

I'm also upset that the formating of my piece wasn't maintained. I wrote it as several separate sections, but they published it all run together, with only two of the section-breaks left as I'd intended. It gives the piece a disjointed, confusing quality, jumping from one topic to another without any obvious rest.

Also worth noting: the editor mispelled two things on the envelope she sent my copies in. The first spelling error relates to my name, which is understandable (lots of people mix up Marcus with Marcos), but the second error is harder to let slide. She wrote San Fransisco instead of San Francisco. This woman is the head of the English department at Rogers State University; you'd think she'd be able to spell the name of a city as famous as San Francisco.

Besides the contributor's copies, the envelope contained a letter asking if I'd like to submit to the 2008 issue. Needless to say, I'm not planning on doing that.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

OTHER magazine


About a week ago I went to Makeout Room for a reading, but the place was sold out so I couldn't get in. I was just tagging along with my friends and didn't even know who was reading (the most I can tell you is that the majority of the people waiting in line were upper-middle class lesbians, predominantly around 35 years of age--it could have been an Indigo Girls concert for all I know), so I wasn't too bummed out about not getting in. And as a bonus, the club owner gave out free copies of this issue of OTHER magazine, and I managed to get the last one. Score!

I'd never heard of OTHER before, but it turned out to be a pretty good read. This issue (number 13) focused on the end of the Independent Press Association, and the magazines that perished along with it. I've always been excited by the independent press (which encompasses everything from no-budget zines to bigger mags running without corporate support), and it was really cool to get a taste of some of the titles I'd missed out on. Probably my favorite part of the magazine was a question-and-answer session with the editors of several deceased magazines, like CLAMOR and PROCESSED WORLD. Some of these magazines ran for years, and built up subscriber bases of more than a thousand people, and they managed it all while maintaining independent status, which is awesome.

Indie mags, especially zines, have captured my fascination and imagination since I was in my early-teens. The idea of communicating directly with people you wouldn't otherwise come into contact with, of having a chance to say what you want to say to people you've never even met, and to hear what they're thinking too, is at the root of my obsession with writing, and I've always seen zines as the purest way of pursuing that. Zines and Indie Mags are also a lot of fun to read, because you get the feel of the people behind them, without those people having to filter their identities through the influence of big corporations. There's a directness, a sense of intimacy and connection, to this type of writing that you can't get from the big glossies (which are primarily oriented toward selling you shit; it's amazing how nefarious and underhanded titles like Esquire and Vanity Fair can be, not only in the obvious ways--like dedicating more pages to advertisements than actual content--but also with sneaky tactics like focusing their stories on celebrities releasing films owned by the same corporations that own the magazine).

The issue of OTHER that I read has that same sense of intimacy that I got from my favorite zines, but it also showcased pieces that were much more eloquent and thoroughly researched than the typical zine article. The range of tones you get in this issue is remarkable--from a personal and unassuming account of working in bookstores to a scholarly, extensively footnoted narrative of the history of BITCH magazine (the old "Women in Rock" BITCH, not the new "feminist responses to culture" BITCH). You'll never see that much variety in a bigger, slicker magazine, which is part of why these independent magazines are so cool.

So OTHER manages to combine what I love about zines (that sense of intimacy and directness and connection) with the bonuses offered by magazines (namely having a larger pool of skilled people working together toward the same goal). And this issue was a particularly great find for me, because of its focus on defunct indies I wouldn't have heard about otherwise. I'll be keeping my eye out for OTHER, and for remaining copies of the dead and gone mags I read about here.

And to think that I might not have ever stumbled onto this if I'd managed to get into that club!

Monday, January 14, 2008

COSMICOMICS, by Italo Calvino


Another laborious plodder, for me. I found it abandoned with a pile of books on a street corner, and picked it up because I remembered IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT A TRAVELER (another Calvino book) as a fairly intriguing read. This book, a collection of stories based on individual scientific statements regarding the nature of the universe, had moments that pulled me in, but plenty of other moments that I slogged through in hopes of getting on to more enjoyable stuff. In the end, there was more slogging than enjoying.

Like WINTER'S NIGHT, this book launches past logic and into the realm of abstraction. Most of the stories are told by Qfwfq, an average bloke who's been present since the dawning of time, when all of the Universe was contained within a single point. Sometimes he's anthropoid in form, othertimes he's a dinosaur or a mollusk, but throughout it all Qfwfq relates completely impossible situations in a way that emphasizes the humanity of the characters involved (their yearnings for love, their jealousies). At its best, in stories like "The Distance of the Moon" (in which the moon orbits closely enough to earth to allow people to leap up onto it), the stories are delightful fantasies, with whatever crazy idea the author comes up with getting the "real" treatment, no winking involved. At it's worst, the stories fall into a sort of neurotically-conscious description of the that which is unknowable. Here's an example:

"In short, there were no limitations to my thoughts, which weren't thoughts, after all, because I had no brain to think them; every cell on its own thought every thinkable thing all at once, not through images, since we had no images of any kind at our disposal, but simply in that indeterminate way of feeling oneself there, which did not prevent ourselves from feeling equally there in some other way."

Ambiguous and convoluted enough for you? Yes, very.

Apparently Calvino finds this sort of thing, this tedious rationalization of a contradiction that can only be accepted by forsaking logic, to be a jolly good time. I don't find it to be such. My favorite part of this book was the end, not because it was particularly good, but rather because it was particularly final.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

LOCAS, by Jaime Hernandez


I wasn't aware of the Love and Rockets series during it's first run, and only really found out about it after moving to San Francisco and joining a dyke-rock group as the only male member. The singer and the guitarist, both serious comic book fans, turned me on to L&R, and lent me a few random issues. Sort of like a group of soap opera stories delivered in comic book form, Love and Rockets combines the efforts of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, with each issue featuring separate story episodes by each artist. The story that most brought me in was that which centered on Maggie and Hopey, two friends/lovers from a mostly Latino neighborhood in LA. But with just a snippet of their lives here and there, gleamed from the random issues I borrowed, I didn't have a solid idea of their history.

Imagine my excitement when I found this massive tome, collecting all of the Maggie and Hopey stories from the first run of Love and Rockets into one 710 page book, at the Irving branch of the SF Public Library. I snatched it off the shelf, barely able to believe my luck, and dove into it the moment I got home.

But 710 pages is no quick-read; I waded through this book for a week before I finally finished. The amount of time I spent with these characters, and the engaging portrayal of them, made coming to the last page feel almost like a break-up.

That's what's so amazing about this work. It's incredible the way it captures the sense of the passage of time, and the effect that such passage has on relationships, and the nostalgia and melancholy that accompanies it. It's amazing how emotionally sharp-shooting this book is, hitting readers right in the heart, making them feel connected to the characters.

It's definitely a crucial read, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a good soap-opera style comic, with L.A. Latino influences, and a punk obsession, and wrestling women. It does take a while to get into it though (the first 100 or so pages didn't really sink the hook into me), but once it catches hold, it's as engaging as a new infatuation.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Middlesex



MIDDLESEX, by Jeffrey Eugenides

It took me a long time to get through this book, only partially because of the length of the book itself. I think my slow pace resulted from my lack of connection with any central character, and that resulted from the books jump-about fashion. Although it purports to be a book about the life and times of a hemaphrodite, the book in actuality more closely resembles a half-hearted family epic. It starts with a brief intro to the narrator himself, Cal Stephanides, but then drops into a detailed telling of the narrator's grandparents flight from Greece, and resettlement in America. The story of these greek immigrants, who also are brother and sister and eventually husband and wife, is told with such great attention that it upsets the balance of much of the rest of the novel. After we've gotten the whole convulated, involved story of the grandparents, we drop into a relatively abbreviated, incomplete version of the story of Cal's parents, and then on to the story of Cal herself. Because Cal's hermaphroditism is posited as the focus of the story, I found myself reading in expectation of getting to the main course, but Cal's genetic condition is only vaguely hinted at until the final sixty pages of the book, whereupon it assumes (too late) center stage. That's the problem with this book: lots of nice scenes and good writing, but a general lack of balance as a whole.