More Books, Less Problems

I’ve been acquiring a lot of books recently. This is unusual for me, and I blame the temporary homelessness. Books are my portable home. I curl up in them much like a hermit crab wriggles into a shell. When I move into my new place next week, hopefully I’ll go back to being an unapologetic library rat.

About a month ago, I picked up William Wallace Cook’s insane/awesome Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I traded Wild for a copy of Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, which a friend got signed for me at the book’s launch party in San Francisco.

I just returned from a trip to Portland. I arrived back to East Coast with six more books than when I had left.

After spending a late night in Powell’s, I emerged with used copies of the following:

  • Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned – Wells Tower
  • Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Boy Detective Fails – Joe Meno

My friend then lent me three more books:

  • Accelerando – Charles Stross
  • Hyperion – Dan Simmons
  • Ringworld – Larry Niven

So if you ask me what I’m reading at any time during the next few months, the answer will almost certainly be science fiction or contemporary fiction. But isn’t it always?

I do feel like I should balance out this list with some ladies, though. Jo Walton’s Among Others has been calling my name, as has Edith Pearlman’s short story collection Binocular Vision. I’ve also never read a whole Kelly Link book, which seems like a terrible gap in my reading history. Any other suggestions?

Why Are You Ashamed of Being A Writer?

Ben Mirov asked this over on HTMLGIANT.  So.

I keep putting off real life and real jobs in order to have “time” to “write”, but I don’t use that time to write.  I then complain about not having any money.  I steal stories from other people’s lives.  I write speculative fiction and feel embarrassed about showing it to anyone.  I write realistic fiction and it’s not very good and I feel like a sell-out.  I have long, inappropriately bitter e-mail conversations with my mentors about the publishing industry.  I inexplicably feel like a washed-out failure at the age of 23.  I will never be as good as the writers I admire.  I write about sex and then my relatives want to read my stories.

And you?

Luke, I Am Still Dead

I must say, I do love when the internet combines two things I love into one thing.

A real post coming soon, perhaps. I’ve been playing Dragon Age II and it’s rekindled my desire to write about the narratology of video games.

Llamas, Ect.

I’ve been in Peru recently, hence the lack of updates.  I do occasionally have internet access here, but it is very, very slow.  I’ve seen a lot of llamas.  They aren’t nearly as dangerous as Monty Python told me.

I’ll be back in Stumptown around August 4th.  Then I’ll start posting chunks of thesis again.

Until then, adios.

Blast Off

And rays of yellow paper light shone down upon me...

I turned in my thesis Monday.  I was given a shiny golden hat and tomorrow I get a parade.  Really.  The PoPoPo will be there to celebrate too, but I’m not particularly worried about that.

After I attend my orals board next week, I’ll finish my final edits and then start uploading stories here.  I’m not sure if I’ll publish the entire thing as a PDF or post the stories piecemeal over a period of time.

On Wednesday, May 7th, I’ll be giving a reading along with other creative thesis students on campus.  I’m still trying to decide which story I’ll read.

Things are happening.  Eras are ending.  I’m going, going, gone.

This Bird Needs Books

Like the feathered occupants of my reoccurring dreams, I’ve flown south for the winter.   For the next three weeks, I’ll be staying with family on the coast of South Carolina.  I stepped into the PDX airport around noon yesterday.  I arrived in Charleston, SC at 3 PM today.  Thanks to strange holiday delays, I spent over 24 hours straight in airports.  While it was certainly an experience, it was not an experience I particularly want to repeat.

The last month has been the sort of time period that zooms forward with little chance for, say, updating one’s half-assed fiction blog.  I did manage to finish a draft of “Champ”, but right now it holds itself together so tenuously that I’m loathe to post it here.  This blog has been helpful as a fiction repository, but not so much as a feedback generator.  I think I’m going to stick to publishing more polished pieces.

While pining for Portland and a particularly sweet distraction that lives there, I’ll probably be doing a fair bit of writing over this vacation.  Mostly, though, I’m interested in reading.  Now that I’m out of class, I can go back to self-edification.  I have a few books that I’m already set on reading, but I could always use more suggestions.

A Reading List

  • The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, edited by Tobias Wolff – I bought this one on sale in at the PDX Powell’s when I realized that I was going to be the next day in airports and panicked.  The purchase of this book, which is 552 pages long and contains 33 stories, immediately calmed me.  It turned out to be a very worthy investment.  I’m currently about 400 pages in.  Very good stuff.
  • Kafka, by Robert Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz – Given to me as a gift right before I left town, this appears to be a biography of Kafka illustrated by R. Crumb.  So, basically, this is one of the most perfect gifts that I have ever received.
  • The Road, by Cormac McCarthy – I’ve been meaning to read this one ever since I heard that a post-apocalyptic novel won The Pulitzer.  The existence of the movie, which right now I’m not particularly intending to see, had the happy effect of reminding me that I needed to read the book.
  • Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, by David Foster Wallace – I’ve read all the other DFW shorts collections besides this one.  It’s time.  I’m pretty sure they’re making a movie out of this one as well.  The idea of a film version of DFW fiction kind of squicks me out.  I don’t think they’ll attempt to make a cinematic representation of the footnotes.  But what if they did?


Other People’s Art

I went to a Dirty Projectors concert last night.  It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while.  I left feeling like somebody had trepanned me with a golden drill.  In a good way.  Those girls, yelping like machines!

I often have a musical loop of some sort feeding through my ears while I’m writing.  Usually an entire album set to repeat.  I don’t know if the music colors the writing, or if I select the music to reflect the story’s mood.  Maybe I should try experimenting with it and see what happens.

I’ve become very interested in Simon Evans over the last few days.  I’m fascinated by how he subjectively organizes the world through lists, graphs, catalogs, and diagrams.  I really like Symptoms of Loneliness. Also a piece in which he illustrates the process of a love affair via bar graph.  I want to steal titles from him.

I didn’t do any work at all last night, so I’ll be scrambling to catch up until Thursday.  But I do have a draft of “Gainful Employment” sitting on my hard drive that I’ll publish here in the near future.  Pinky swear.

Collaboration and Creative Cross-Pollination

Pinky out!

Pinky out, for the classy kind of groping.

One of the many nice things about WordPress is that it allows me to follow the popular search terms used to find this blog.  Most of the time it’s easy to tell that people came here by accident.  “Halloween costume”, for example, seems to be a common one.

But here’s the weird thing.  Lately, it seems that people are actively looking for the story “Goodbye, Invisible Man“.  There are search terms like “invisible man bicycle packages drugs” and “gloria stuart bandages bar” and “the invisible man doesn’t have much of a face when I first meet him”.  It’s as if someone else told them about the story and they wanted to go find it.  Or they read it, vaguely remembered it, and wanted to find it again.

I find this fantastic and mildly unsettling.  “Goodbye, Invisible Man”: the terrible sensation that’s sweeping the nation.

Dear reader, this might be as good a time as any to discuss collaboration and creative cross-pollination.

The doodle above was drawn by my highly talented friend, Sarah J.  (She drew it before she actually read the story, hence the cheeriness.)  You can read Sarah’s science news portfolio blog thing here.  Sarah J. and I like to draw together.  I cartoon as a way of fixing fictional people, places, and things in my mind.  Sarah J. draws to draw, and she’s much better at it than I am.

Sometimes she draws my concepts.  And sometimes her drawings actually change the concepts I thought I had.  It’s an amazing process.  Working creatively with other human beings gives my mopey muse a swift kick in the ass.

Sometimes people ask me if I’d like to help them write something, usually a short film.  The answer is tricky.  “I’d love to, but I don’t have the time.”  Right now I don’t have time to do much besides attend class, write stories for my thesis, and occasionally get out into Portland proper to have a beer.

That doesn’t mean I’m anti-collaboration, though.  Do you want to make a short film based on one of my existing stories?  Draw a comic book?  Write a song?  Wonderful.  Just ask me about it first.  I’ll probably say yes as long as you agree to credit me and send me a copy of your finished product.

There’s a little Creative Commons license in the sidebar of this blog.  It means you can copy and distribute any of my existing works as much as you want, as long as you don’t alter it and you make sure to give me credit.  Including my name is perfect, and additionally including a link back to this site is even better.  You want to paper a bathroom with pages from “Nova“?  Go right ahead.  You want to make little booklets of “Goodbye, Invisible Man” and distribute them to friends and jilted lovers?  I think they’d make lovely Christmas gifts.  You don’t have to ask me before embarking on any sort of distribution project, but I’d love to see what you end up doing with it.  So feel free to drop me a line.

You can contact me through this site, or at a.werner.writes@gmail.com.  And not just about collaborations.  Give me private feedback.  Ask me what my favorite animal is.  It’s really up to you.

No draft this week, because “Win” just keeps getting longer and longer.  I’ll be working, working.  Maybe I’ll post the opening page to whet your appetite.  Though at this point it’s going to be hard to live up to “Goodbye, Invisible Man”.

Thematically Speaking

There's at least a few themes right there.

There's at least a few themes right there.

I finished my first full draft of “Goodbye, Invisible Man” this afternoon.  Once I had solidified the narrator in my head it came pretty easily.  It’s far from done, but I feel like I’ve got a lot of good material to work with.  I’ll probably post it at some point this weekend after I run it by a few people.

As I was re-reading this draft, I starting thinking about themes.  Certain elements pop up in my fiction again and again.  Some of them are large, common themes, like love, loneliness, and the nature of reality.  But others are a little more unusual.  Here are some of the things I’ve noticed.

teeth
men who look like werewolves
the past is a myth
the future is a lie
machinery
birds
androgyny
automobiles
physical violence
terriers
unrequited affection
satellites
Russia/Russian/Russians
suits
unattractive people who are actually kind of sexy
cigarettes
escape

Seriously, go back through the archives a read a few older works.  They’re there.

This looks unsettlingly like a map of my unconscious.  I bet Jung would have a field day.

There Is A Thing Called A Process

Actually, it's because David Lynch told me to.

Actually, it's because David Lynch told me to.

Pete Rock asked me to take notes on my process.  So that’s what I’m doing.

I’ve been meeting with Whitney Otto once a week, turning in drafts and batting around ideas.  Yesterday I talked about how I wanted to be funny.  Or, at least, funnier.  She recommended Lorrie Moore, which brought me back to “How To Be A Writer” for the first time in years.  It’s still good.  I’m also reading the David Foster Wallace collection Girl with Curious Hair.  It gives me the creeps and I love it.

We’ve been talking about structure.  Even when I try to write discrete stories, I end up leaving little trails of breadcrumbs between them.  Familiar phrases and faces turn up again whether I want them to or not.  The overall collection will be loosely threaded together, but certain stories will hang together in particular little clusters.  The theoretical little clusters have the following working titles: “The Desperate Man Appreciation Society”, “Low Country”, and “Satellites”.

I’ve been a good little worker, pounding out a few pages a week.  Soon I’ll have my first complete story draft. I feel almost hyper-productive, driven by bottomless cups of coffee and the pursuit of impossible objects.  These sorts of muses probably aren’t great for me in the long run, but they’re sure making me write.  I like to think that they build character.

I’m working mostly on “Goodbye, Invisible Man” and a little on its sister story, “Win”.  They are both about love and the lack of it.  Some of the characters are a little monstrous.  (The female of the species is more dangerous than the male.)  “Goodbye, Invisible Man” started out horribly true and then became more and more fictitious as I continued to write it.  “Win” started out entirely fictional and later came true.

Life is strange like that.