Looking up

There is a bird in the tree outside my window, singing the same two notes over and over, and I’m beginning to see green appear in patches as the snow melts.

On Twitter, I can practice Japanese in small bites, which keeps me fresh.  Letter writing, at this point, takes too much out of me.  So, Japanese friends, if you are on Twitter, we can tweet in Japanese.  It’s the perfect way for me to keep my Japanese while I’m too busy with teaching and taking classes and book writing to write long letters.

I wrote a story for a new Young Adult anthology that is being edited by Holly Black of Spiderwick fame, and Ellen Kushner of Swordspoint fame, eventually to be released by Random House.  The anthology is called Welcome to Bordertown, and is based on the 80s and 90s series set in that world that the amazing artist and writer and editor Terri Windling invented.  The story is called “We Do Not Come In Peace” which involves an act of terror/revolution by a group of angry folks and a case of vengeful blackmail.  I can’t wait to read the rest of the stories from the other contributors.

Life is good.  Back to work and writing.

Attention Seattle (once more)

For those readers out and about in Seattle, I recently mentioned I’ll be reading at University Bookstore on March 12th at 7PM and hosting a one-day workshop at Richard Hugo House on March 14th from 10-5. If you click the link below, you can find a pdf flyer for the events. Please feel free to distribute it to anyone you think may be interested in attending the reading or the workshop. I’d love to meet Seattle, so please come out!

Reading and Workshop Information

Attention Seattle

Attention Seattle readers/writers.  In March, I’ll be in the city in conjunction with Northwest MediaArts to give a reading at University Bookstore on March 12th at 7PM, and a day-long writing workshop at Richard Hugo House from 10-5 on the 14th.  It’s all part of Northwest MediaArts’ Fantastic Fiction Workshops & Salons series.  If you’re interested in the reading, in the workshop, or both, please visit their website for more information.

This will be my first time in Seattle.  Looking forward to seeing the city and meeting cool people.

Good times

Tonight I was looking through some old posts in this blog on writing.  I’ve been so immersed in work and school for the past year and a half that I forgot how much I used to write on this blog.  And the kind of conversations I was able to hold on it.  Reading some of those old posts, I realize the difference in my contact with the online world that I once had and enjoyed having.  I have another semester to go before I finish my degree, which means I will probably be sparse in writing here as I have been for the past year and a half, but I’m looking forward to when I have a bit more free time on my hands to write here again, and hope that there will still be people around with whom I can hold these sorts of conversations:

Jump to blog nostalgia-inducing post by clicking here.

When we are like Anne

“Despite everything, I believe people are good at heart.”

I’m so glad Anne Frank could believe this.  It’s a testament to her own goodness.  It is not a testament to human nature itself, though.  It tells us more about Anne than it does about ourselves.

I don’t believe it.  I don’t attribute my disbelief to my own goodness, but to what I have seen of humanity, including what was going on around Anne, after the fact, and would like to say, You know what?  People are still very eager to do away with other people who are not like them.

Anne, you are a beautiful star.

But people? In general?  They are not.

When we are exceptional, when we see those unlike us as ourselves, despite our differences, THEN we are as beautiful as Anne.

When we are unable to do that?  We are ugly, inhumane, and disturbing.

I speak about this in relationship to the writing of fiction.  Is it worthwhile to speak of that which is good about us?

It is.

But there is a stronger push against, a resistance, to writers who speak about our ugliness, that which is disgusting in human nature.  And the more we resist it, the more I wish to represent our ugliness.

It should not be forgotten.

It should be the thing about which we are most uncomfortable.

It should be the thing we talk about more than anything.

Until we have done away with it.

Then, let us speak of our goodness, as Anne would.  But when our goodness has been won, an earned virtue.

Okay, we can speak  of our goodness, which we would not want to lose.

But not at the expense of acknowledging that which comprises our darkness.

Otherwise, we are living within an ideal, what we would like to think about ourselves, not about reality.

And even when we write fantasy, we should be speaking to reality.  The reality of the story.

Otherwise, we are making ourselves feel good about ourselves without reason.

Earn it.

That’s all.

Earn it.

The Ghost Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter

In the October/November issue of Asimov’s, on magazine shelves now, you will find a new story penned by me, entitled “The Ghost Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter”.  It’s set in Warren, Ohio, just a twenty minute drive from where I sit in my office on the North Side of Youngstown, an old floundering steel town with a richly beautiful courthouse square that serves as its downtown, and wonderful old mansions and churches from a time when the region was prosperous.  Every year in the month of October, a local community theater, along with a local church, puts on a Ghost Walk through Warren’s historic district.  When I was a teen in high school, a troop of friends and I would always go on the Ghost Walk, which is more history oriented than it is interested in horror and frightening anyone.  The lives of former residents in the historic district are recounted, at least those who have a bit of a thrill in their family histories.  It’s always something I look forward to each autumn.  For this story, I wanted to set a scene at the Ghost Walk in Warren, which seemed appropriate since I was writing a ghost story.

As an aside, this is the first time a story of mine has been published in Asimov’s, over which my teenage self, if he could know about it, would totally be geeking out.

You can get a taste of the story over at Asimov’s right now, actually.  Just click here. And, if you like it, go out and buy a copy to read the rest of it, or order it online.  I hope you enjoy it.

We’re getting ready

If you’ve managed to forget that the second volume of Interfictions is being released later this fall, I certainly haven’t.  We’re getting ready to start posting our Annex stories online, as we lead up to the publication date of the book itself, but today, over at the Interstitial Arts Foundation’s website, you can already take a look at the introduction to the book, written by Henry Jenkins, the Provost’s Professor of Communications, Journalism, and Cinematic Art at the University of Southern California.  Previously, and very recently, he served at the co-founder of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT.  Henry’s written a really great intro to the book, which I will excerpt here:

“Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”

– Groucho Marx

Let’s start with some basic premises:

  1. I do not belong in this book.
  2. The contributors also do not belong.
  3. You, like Groucho Marx, wouldn’t want to belong even if you could. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t have picked up this book in the first place.

Let me explain. The editors of most anthologies seek stories which “fit” within prescribed themes, genres, and topics; the editors of this book have gone the opposite direction – seeking stories that don’t fit anywhere else, stories that are as different from each other as possible. And that’s really cool if the interstitial is the kind of thing you are into.

At the heart of the interstitial arts movement (too formal), community (too exclusive), idea (too idealistic?), there is the simple search for stories that don’t rest comfortably in the cubbyholes we traditionally use to organize our cultural experiences.”

Why not go over to the website to read the rest of it, and see if you don’t belong either?

Towards the end of something

One of the things I’ve become conscious of after writing two books and being in the latter stages of a third one is when I’m nearing the latter stages of narrative.  I’m not a plot outliner; I write forward, sometimes at a charge, sometimes groping in the dark.  This makes for an organic, non-linear process, but I prefer it to planning everything out prior to writing a book.  I’ve tried that; books I’ve planned I’ve never been able to get off the ground, because by the time I’ve figured everything out in terms of the plot and the language for the telling, among other things, I feel like I haven’t really left myself any of the fun stuff to do, and what’s left is work.  I abhor work, and have no qualms about complaining about it.  Work is what anything is when there’s nothing fun in something.  But as long as I’ve got something fun to look forward to, I can manage to do a lot of what other people might traditionally call work.  It’s a state of mind, I suppose, that distinguishes activities that might look very similar from an objective perspective.  It’s the subjective feeling of play, and what conditions must exist for that feeling to exist, that colors work so that it does not feel like work, for me.

But because I am not a planner (in terms of knowing absolutely everything before I go into writing a novel), I sometimes find myself at stages in a book that I had not anticipated, because it’s very much like turning a corner and suddenly the hallway with the door at the end–the one you’ve been searching for–is right there in front of you.  You might surprise yourself with what you find behind that door, it may open up onto a vista you hadn’t expected, but you know that it’s most likely the last door you have to walk through.  I’m at the beginning of that hallway, and I’ve got a long hallway to walk to make it to the door, but it’s there.  What frustrations and annoyances I may encounter from taking a more spontaneous and intuitive journey through a book rather than a planned itinerary are made up for by my own encounter with surprise and an ability to receive new ideas about the story I’m writing as I go along, rather than trying to control it from the beginning, to beat it into submission, to fit it into a preconceived form.   Afterward, of course, I tend to do a lot of the controlling stuff; taking out what no longer needs to be there, putting in things that must be there, because of some strange growth the story took on that I had not anticipated initially.

One of the things that I realize now, as I approach a novel’s last corridor, is that it is probably coming when I begin to want to go back to the earliest chapters and start the pruning and shaping of the story, to tear out whole sections and replace with something new.  Lately I’ve had that impulse, and it wasn’t until I turned the corner the other day and realized where I was in this book–in the last leg of it–that I realized the feeling of wanting to go back and start revising is inherently linked with being near the end.  It’s obviously the next step in the process, and because I can see the end and know it, I know what I have to do in the revision stages already.  Now my biggest problem is curbing myself from jumping ahead to revision, so that I can finish that last leg.  And despite it being the last leg, it’s still a long run to make.  It’ll be very satisfying when I reach it.

And even better when I can start in on those revisions I already want to make.  Some people hate revising and rewriting, but I have learned that it’s the best part of writing, because it’s the stage when you know exactly what you’re doing, and you’ve got the general item itself there, right in front of you, so no complaints.  At least not from me.  Revising and rewriting means I’m more than halfway done with making a book.  It means you’ve reached a stage of the creative process that feels, to me, very close to seeing the thing you’ve been making as something more and more apart from you, about to take on its own existence.  And that is an event that feels mysterious and amazing.

Summer Stock

It is now August, and I’m at the tail end of what has been a very busy summer.  I managed to move forward a bit with the novel, wrote two short stories, and an essay, and also took two classes toward my MFA degree and will be taking a third one beginning at the end of next week.   I sold one of the stories, and am still tinkering with the other, but have high hopes for it.  It’s a much weirder story than I’ve written in a long time, and so I’m still sort of interested and intrigued by it, because it’s a different sort of weird than I tend to write, hence my own interest in it.  And then I was invited to read at Thurber House, and will be reading at the residency period at Chatham in Pittsburgh this month, too.  Also, like a cherry on top, One for Sorrow was optioned to be made into a film by the director Carter Smith, who won the Sundance Film Festival’s short film category in 2006 with “Bug Crush” (You can watch it by clicking here).  He went on to make his first feature film with The Ruins, based on the horror novel of the same name, and seems to be about to make a film based on the novel, Come Closer, by Sara Gran (loved that book).  He’s also optioned Troll: A Love Story, by Johanna Sinisalo (also loved it), so I feel like his option on One for Sorrow makes a lot of sense, considering the sensibility of his other selections.  There’s never a guarantee that an option on a film will eventually become a reality, but I would be absolutely crazy thrilled if this does go forth some day.

Aside from these literary movements, household renovations and restorations are afoot: a new front porch to match the original (the foundation beneath the porch/patio was eroding due to some factors the original builders, 80 years ago, hadn’t thought of) and plans for a restoration of the bathroom to something along the lines of its 1930s design, much of which was there, just totally screwed up by previous owners who had absolutely no idea what they were doing to beautiful old decor.  Front garden was gorgeous all summer, though the back gardens still need to be redone.  Everyone says that when you own a house, there is always something coming up that needs to be done.  And they are correct.  I wish I were fabulously wealthy, so I could just get it all done and be finished with it for a while, rather than this plodding one-project-at-a-time pace.

Back to Pitt next Friday for a residency period.  Looking forward to being in the city again, though I probably won’t have as much time to explore it as I did during early July when I was there.  The residency schedule looks like it will be keeping me busy for most of the time.  I will make sure to still get out and eat Ethiopian, Indian, (good) Japanese, and Thai as much as possible, though.  I could be made easily happy as a lark, as they say, if someone here in Ytown opened up one of each of those and I no longer had to cook them all myself.  Food options are the source of my happiness.

Even though all of August is still before me, it feels like summer, free time, is over now.  Ah, well.  It was a good run while I was able to run freely.  Next year, it should be even a bit more freer.  Till then, onwards and upwards.

One resolution accomplished

Back around New Year’s, I made one writerly resolution.  From that blog post:

“One of my goals for the year is to write something joyful instead of melancholy, extroverted instead of introverted, playful instead of serious.  I suspect I will have to change some of the ways I perceive things to do so.  But that could be a good thing.  Fingers crossed and intentions set.  Full steam ahead.”

And finally, in May and June of this spring and summer, I think I’ve done it, in a short story.  It’s a more irregular way of writing for me, but it was definitely fun.  My only worry about writing a playful, joyful, less serious story is that there is less heft to such a story.  But then I wonder why play and joy may equate with less importance.  I think it may be more difficult to write this sort of story and also make it feel like the sort of story that lingers with a reader afterward for a long time, because the emotions aren’t the sort that pin a person down to something heavy.  Or this may not be a general issue at all, but simply one of my own issues.

That said, it was fun, and now it’s time to look it over one last time before sending it out into the world.  

One resolution down.  Now, back to trying to finish this third novel by end of 2009 at latest.  Puh-lease, Writing Gods, shine your benevolent light upon me (for an extended period of time). Thanks!