Hey, Internet: Vol. 6

I’ve actually been writing lately, so expect some kind of process post in the near future.  In the meantime, more links, including some 2011 lists that you can read from the comfort of early 2012.

The Alternative, The Underground, The Oh-Yes-That-One List of Favorite Books of 2011

A roundup gleaned from The Millions’ excellent Year in Reading series.  I loved the Year in Reading series, partially because it focused on favorite books read, not favorite books published, in 2011.  I should really get around to posting a similar essay.  Unfortunately, I only recently started tracking my reads on Goodreads again after a long hiatus and it turns out I can’t place my readings in time at all without some kind of record.

Kill Screen’s High Scores: Best of 2011

Kill Screen writes about video games differently than most other place write about video games, so it makes sense that their “best of 2011” ranking system and results would also be a little different.  Includes links to all of their lovely reviews.  The game itself didn’t make their list, but I found Kirk Hamilton’s review of L.A. Noire to be particularly great.

The Ghosts of Sex and the City

I find the idea of real places merging with or being superseded by fictional places to be exceptionally interesting and creepy.  There’s a good metafictional existential horror story lurking in there.

THE LONELY VOICE #14: Isaac Babel, Every Grief Soaked Word 

I’ve been working my way through the archives of The Lonely Voice column over on The Rumpus.  It is about short stories, and, as you may know, I really like short stories.

Red Cavalry is one of my favorite collections anywhere, in any language.  Read Babel in Russian if you can, but many of the English translations are okay.  “The orange sun is rolling across the sky like a severed head.” That is a good line in every language.

William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211

As always, I am endlessly fascinated by other people’s processes.  And, of course, William Gibson.

 Tina May Hall’s “Visitations”

My friend J. recently encouraged me to reread this story, and I did, and I was reminded of how much I like it.  It’s a good story to read when you live in a small, freezing house and keep trying to stay warm by drinking innumerable cups of coffee and restlessly cooking things on your gas stove.

Hey, Internet: Vol. 5

Full disclosure.  I’m probably not going to be linking to many stories in Hey, Internet for a while.  This is because I may (may) soon be contributing to a column about great story finds on the web for a particular publication that I just finished interning for.  Maybe.  Essentially, I’m going to be hoarding all the good stories for myself for a while, in the off chance I want to write about them elsewhere.  Sorry.  In the meantime, have some very interesting essays.

Leave Luck to Heaven

Brian Oliu has completed his collection of lyric essays about video games.  I read a few of these essays when they appeared in Hobart, and I’m quite excited to find out that there are more of them.  Oliu links to the ones that have appeared online, so go read a few for yourself.

Towards A More Complete Measure of Excellence

Roxane Gay points out that major presses rule the “best of” lists.  As usual, she is super astute. Small presses are often razor sharp.  They give your brain paper cuts.  I get really excited every time The Collagist comes out.  Or PANK.  I’m submitting my short shorts to Wigleaf.  I’m saving up for a subscription to Hobart.

Poems about Superheroes

Stephen Burt talks about superheroes as poetic subject and point of cultural reference.  A wonderfully well-researched, insightful piece.

An Interview with Lore Segal

Lore Segal’s “Reverse Bug” is one of my favorite short stories. In other places where you’ve discussed this, in the interviews excerpted in Into the Arms of Strangers, you say that for years you replaced the statement (and it is a statement), “Isn’t this intolerable?” with “Isn’t this interesting?”

VQR Fall 2011: The Soviet Ghost

The Virginia Quarterly Review commemorates the twentieth anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union with a themed issue.  Ed Ou’s essay “Under a Nuclear Cloud” is one of many excellent pieces of writing to be found in it.  There’s also short fiction in there.  But, shhh, you didn’t hear about it from me.

Defunct Girl Gangs of North American Drive-Ins

All right, one story.  Just one.  I can’t resist.  Luke Geddes’ latest is one of those stories that I really wish I had written myself.  The title says it all.

Hey, Internet: Vol. 4

BERG Cloud Little Printer

As seen above. This reminds of the internet with things essay I linked to a while back. I’m still forming opinions on the whole papernet concept.   On one hand, working with small presses has gotten me into the idea of texts as tangible, beautiful objects.  On the other hand, I feel like I would end up with lots of little bits of paper cluttering up my house. Either way, I’m still in love with the Little Printer’s design.

The Disappointment Author: Lethem vs. Wood

Metacritical smackdown!  There’s not much I can say about this article besides, “Oh, snap!”  Also, I love this quote. “When the critical work is at its finest, the audience is like a crew of medical students standing around a doctor at work — even when we disagree with the way things are being handled, we can still see the body of evidence and draw our own conclusions.”  Yes!

Unpacking My Library Six different authors discuss their book collections. I’ll admit, I mostly read this for the Gary Shteyngart stuff. “I’m big on sniffing books.” What a dreamboat.

Reasons Not to Self-Publish in 2011-2012: A List I’m leaning heavily on The Millions this week, but my excuse is that The Millions publishes a lot of really great stuff.  I’m always fascinated by the shifting possibilities and markets in the publishing industry, both as a writer and as someone who works for small presses.  Edan Lepucki tells it like it is.

David Foster Wallace’s Syllabi More neat stuff from the Harry Ransom Center’s archive. Can it just be a running joke that every time I post a bunch of links, at least one of them will be about DFW?

Things I Ate in Skyrim Lovely.  Good writing about video games always warms the cockles of my withered, cynical little heart.

SPEKTRMODULE 01: Fire Axes in SpaceWarren Ellis made a little musical audio show broadcast thing recently.  I’m really enjoying it.  It makes me want to write about space ships.  Ghost ships.  Ghost space ships.

Words, Words, Words

I might be fictional.

“You look like a character in a book,” said Bethany.

I blinked, taken aback. I felt like somebody had just cracked open my skull and was divining signs from the twists of my brain tissue. “What?” I said.

“I don’t know. The tea. The blazer. The New Yorker magazine casually placed to the side,” continued Bethany.

“Yeah,” agreed Kassandra, “I could totally see someone writing a book about you.”

I wanted to ask, “What kind of book?” I didn’t because I was afraid of the answer. If they said “a 19th century Russian novel” then I’d spend the rest of my life as a bureaucratic cog suffering from existential paranoia. I said, “Maybe I’ll write a book about myself. Nah, I won’t. I feel like that’s too… vain.”

“No, it’s not. It’s okay, because somebody else said it.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. I take a sip of hot black breakfast tea laced with milk. Since when did I take milk with my tea? “Everyone is always writing about themselves anyways.”

A book, she said. Not just a character. A character in a book. I am leaking literature.

The secret to happiness is to reconcile the internal image with the external self. I always wanted to become my own protagonist.

I had a friend help me re-edit a reportage piece I was working on for my Creative Non-Fiction course. In between correcting my excess verbiage and woefully faulty knowledge of Japanese rope bondage, we got into a conversation about the place of reality in non-fiction. James Frey, of course, came up.

“I just don’t understand why people felt so betrayed by it. Why was it such a big deal? If people researched all the stupid memoirs out in the airport bookstores right now they’d find lots of things that were just completely made up!” I said. I was getting angry and I didn’t know why. No, I did know why. I was getting angry thinking about all those poorly worded, heavily fictionalized, best-selling memoirs. I was getting angry thinking about the lying hacks who made a living off of their writing, something that I’m certain I could never do.

“He pissed off The Oprah,” piped another friend. True.

“I have to admit, the story becomes more interesting to me if I know that it’s true,” said my current editor.

“But why? I don’t get it, It’s all the same! Most of fiction, of good fiction, is taken from the writer’s life or their observations of other people’s lives. They take life and make it better. Rearrange the events, put words in other peoples’ mouths, have their characters say the things they wish was said. And memoirists do the same thing. Life doesn’t have snappy dialogue. If somebody took all their dialogue verbatim from life then nobody would want to read it. It’s all the same fucking thing. Who cares if it’s true as long as it’s good?”

I catch myself yelling and stop. I realize that as I was ranting I was also bouncing aggressively. This odd behavior may have been caused by the fact that my proofreading friend is much taller than me, or it may simply have been an unconscious effort to get rid of some of my buzzing physical rage. I had never realized that the expression “hopping mad” could have some factual basis.

There’s got to be a beginning. First lines are always the ones they quote for posterity.

Allison Rebecca Werner decided she would buy the flowers herself.

I am a sick girl. I am a spiteful girl. I am an unattractive girl. I think my liver is diseased.

As Allison Rebecca Werner awoke one morning from a troubled dream, she found herself changed in her bed to some monstrous kind of vermin.

That’s not even mine. I stole it. I have to be careful, sometimes, when I’m writing, that I’m not unconsciously pilfering a character, a phrase, an image from somewhere else. It’s hard to separate what came from inside of my head and what came from outside it. How can I write something new? How can anyone? I read something and I absorb the ink through my fingertips. The words run up my veins, lodge themselves in my brain and dissolve into my grey matter. My thoughts are not my own. I’ve become a literary amalgamation; even my dreams are clichéd pastiches. I haven’t been real since I learned how to read in 1994.

“If you don’t dress up like Tank Girl for Harvest Ball next year I’m going to be very disappointed,” he said.

“Why?” I asked, looking up. I was looking up because the boy I was conversing with was much taller than me. Most people are. When I asked a small sampling of friends and acquaintances to describe me in a series of adjectives the responses ware varied and often contradictory, but “short” was used fairly consistently. The word “short” can mean both “having little height” and “abrupt”. It can also mean “lacking in a necessary quality”.

“You have a Tank Girl aura about you,” he explained, waving his fingers vaguely. I have the aura of a post-apocalyptic antiestablishment drug-addled superheroine? Of course I do. I read the comics and the character became a part of my collective unconscious.

I might be fictional. Sure, I’m Tank Girl. I’m Sal Paradise, Katurian Katurian, Enid Coleslaw, Ivan Illych, Laurie Juspeczyk, K., May Kasahara. I’m–

Allison Rebecca Werner drank her tea slowly. She neglected to remove the tea bag from her paper cup, instead letting it seep until the brew was astringent and bitter with tannin. Every so often she turned a page of a magazine and it made a sound like the movement of dead leaves.

“Hey.”

Through a haze of text she became aware of someone setting a lunch tray down across from her. Allison made herself present. She looked up, dark eyes clicking into focus, absorbing the rays of light reflecting off alien topography before the facial features registered as something familiar. She smiled, quickly and automatically. She tried to act like she would much rather talk to this girl than continue to read about linguistic anthropology studies in the Amazon. She did it well.

Allison closed her magazine and slid it outside the range of her peripheral vision in order to avoid giving it clandestine glances while making necessary conversation. She brought up the easy topic of their shared class and let the words run from there. Every so often she made eye contact and smiled. Every so often she took another sip of her tea.

She liked people. At least, that was she repeated in her head every once in a while, as if to remind herself. It was just that, at this particular moment, she would obtain much more enjoyment from reading her magazine article than making small talk with the girl sitting across the beige cafeteria table.

“You look like a character in a book,” said the girl, apropos of nothing.

Allison’s smile wavered imperceptibly at the edges. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” she replied lightly. It was not a compliment. It was a sentence. Those strange, simple words confirmed Allison’s underlying sense of doom. She looked like a character in a book because she was a character. She’d absorbed defining details from too many other personas and now there wasn’t anything original left. She’d finally ceased to be a real person.

That night, as she lay in bed with her eyes screwed shut, she heard terrible, decisive clacking noises, like someone in the next room was pounding on the keys of a giant typewriter. She was terrified by how resolutely final the typing sounded. A panicked, claustrophobic feeling overcame her, the feeling that her life had already been plotted out for her by some inescapable, unseen force. A few strokes of the keys and her personality would change. A few strokes of the keys and she might be scrapped entirely and cease to exist. Her mind raced and spit out nightmares.

I am being cut out of reality and soon I’ll be nothing but a blank white cut-out with crisp new edges. Cut me and I’ll bleed ink. I am being cut out of reality I am I am I am

I look like a character in a book.

——

An older piece. Written in the spring of 2007 for a Creative Non-Fiction course with Jean Thompson. The italicized portions were originally in a typewriter font. A bit gimmicky, but effective. Unfortunately, I couldn’t for the life of my figure out how to transmit the font changes into blog form. Ah, formatting. This piece still does a remarkably good job at summing up my feelings as a reader/writer and a person/character.

An Introduction To Your Sputnik Sweetheart

I am A. This is a place to collect my writing. I like to think that it looks more professional than a LiveJournal.

This is a place for things that are somewhat finished. No rambling personal angst, no proto-prose. Fiction. Non-fiction. Essay.

I mostly write short fiction. Some people seem to like it. I’ve been told that my work reminds people of everything from Haruki Murakami to David Lynch. That’s higher praise than I rightfully deserve.

I consciously and unconsciously emulate the writers I love.

There is an icon of Franz Kafka pinned to the inside of my rib cage and there is a candle besides it that is always burning. He is the central figure in my canon of literary saints.

There is something about the Russians that never fails to tug at me. There are many, many greats, but Dostoevsky is a particular favorite of mine. Notes from the Underground is a mirror.

I desperately admire the claustrophobic loneliness of Jean Rhys novels.

My contemporary writers are Haruki Murakami and Michael Chabon.

I like pulp. I like science-fiction. I like the transcendentalism of Philip K. Dick and the prophetic nature of William Gibson. I like comic books. I like Alan Moore and Warren Ellis and the mystic, manic Grant Morrison.

A lot of my writing falls under the vague category of “speculative fiction”. It is difficult for me to write straightforward fiction, though I try from time to time. I have too many dreamy ideas. I am always thinking about what could be.