Tuesday, October 24, 2006

When Fantasy Moves Into History

If I were still a grad student or given to writing essays on literary trends, I think right now I'd be interested in looking at the infestation of dragons and faeries into historical narratives and period dramas. It feels like that's what's occuring in Naomi Novik's and Susanna Clarke's fiction when I read them. What other authors are working this vein? I understand the commercial interest of it of course, but think it would make for an interesting cultural studies or literary essay as well. Sadly, though, I think someone else will have to write it.

Reading Hannah Arendt's "Between Past and Future"

"In this version of deriving politics from history, or rather, political conscience from historical consciousness--by no means restricted to marx in particular, or even to pragmatism in general--we can easily detect the age-old attempt to escape from the frustrations and fragility of human action by construing it in the image of making. What distinguishes Marx's own theory from all others in which the notion of 'making history' has found a place is only that he alone realized that if one takes history to be the object of a process of fabrication or making, there must come a moment when this 'object' is completed, and that if one imagines that one can 'make history,' one cannot escape the consequence that there will be an end to history. Whenever we hear of grandiose aims in politics, such as establishing a new society in which justice will be guaranteed forever, or fighting a war to end all wars or to make the whole world safe for democracy, we are moving in the realm of this kind of thinking."

"It is obvious that these reflections and descriptions are based on the conviction of the importance of making distinctions. To stress such a conviction seems to be a gratuitous truism in view of the fact that, at least as far as I know, nobody has yet openly stated that distinctions are nonsense. There exists, however, a silent agreement in most discussions among political and social scientists that we can ignore distinctions and proceed on the assumption that everything can eventually be called anything else, and that distinctions are meaningful only to the extent that each of us has the right 'to define his terms.' Yet does not this curious right, which we have come to grant as soon as we deal with matters of importance--as though it were actually the same as the right to one's own opinion--already indicate that such terms as 'tyranny,' 'authority,' 'totalitarianism' have simply lost their common meaning, or that we have ceased to live in a common world where the words we have in common possess an unquestionable meaningfulness, so that, short of being condemned to live verbally in an altogether meaningless world, we grant each other the right to retreat into our own worlds of meaning, and demand only that each of us remain consistent within his own private terminology? If, in these circumstances, we assure ourselves that we still understand each other, we do not mean that together we understand a world common to us all, but that we understand the consistency of arguing and reasoning, of the process of argumentation in its sheer formality."

Published in 1961, but still feels like it's hot off the press.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Failure of the Imagination

Lately I've been thinking off and on about literary scandals. This past year or so, there have been several. James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" was revealed to be highly fictionalized, though marketed as memoir. JT LeRoy's mysterious identity was unveiled to be a complete and utter lie altogether--"he" was a "she" and the woman who made public appearances as LeRoy wasn't even the woman who was actually writing the books under LeRoy's name. Then there was the upset over Kaavya Viswanathan's first novel, "How Opal Metha Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life" when it was discovered to have a great many passages of plagiarized material from other authors' novels making up parts of the book. There was a backlash on the authors and their publishers for all of these novels, and perhaps that backlash was deserved. I don't know for sure if it was, and really I don't think it's something I feel a need to judge. What I do sometimes feel about these events, beyond a "How Stupid Could You Be?" reaction to the authors and publishers who knew what they were doing was a straight up con job, is a deep disappointment also in the public readership, a readership that places so much emphasis on the importance of "real life" stories that it has affected the world of, for lack of a better word at the moment, commercial narratives in such a way that publishers and authors are fictionalizing identities to present to those readers in order to sell books.

Now of course you can take the noble road and choose not to go this way at all. Practice humble, honest representation and hope your book sells even if your private life isn't as interesting as the books you write. Really it should be about the books and not the author, but in a world where "Reality TV" has spread a viral need among consumers to believe what they are viewing or reading is "real", how can we be surprised when authors spend more time inventing themselves than their books? Even though representations of anything cannot truly be "real"--are forged in some way through the process of the imagination and an individual creator's shaping intelligence, changing any story in the process--whether the story occurred in the public world or in the private realm of the imagination alone, audiences clamor for authenticity, and that demand has created an interesting sphere in the world of books where an author's identity has taken a place of importance over the work they've created. There are plenty of examples of this that have occurred in the past--Hemingway is the author who most easily comes to mind--but never with such a scathing reprimand by the public for giving them what they want in the first place: someone whose story is larger than life. And when the illusion is discovered, you're now scourged publicly by Oprah on an international television show. It all feels a bit...oh, I don't know, carnivalesque.

I feel what happened in the case of Viswanathan's novel was more reprehensible than what took place in the LeRoy and Frey cases. In Viswanathan's case, it feels more like a failure of the imagination for her to have written a book and taken shortcuts through other author's language and character and plots rather than developing her own. There's been some speculation that she might have been influenced by individuals in her publishing company and guided, in some ways, to do this, and if that's the case, it's even sadder, because a young person who might have had a career doing something she wants to do was taken advantage of. I don't know what happened to cause her to make the choice to plagiarize, so that ends my take on her.

In the LeRoy and Frey cases, though, I wonder if the failure of the imagination isn't with the general reading populace. (I'm not saying *everybody*, of course, just a general trend sort of assessment). Here you have two authors who created alter egos under which their work was presented in order to sell their books. And it worked for a good amount of time, particularly in the case of LeRoy, who stayed out of the limelight as much as possible and made reclusivity part of his/her identity. Frey, on the other hand, was boastful and arrogant, which is always a sort of challenge that others will pick up in order to humble a braggart or poser. Despite how or why their alternate identities were defrauded, there still remains a question in my mind concerning the audience, the reading public. Weren't their books loved and adored by many before they were discovered to be fictionalized accounts? Why, afterwards, were they so publicly shamed for delivering stories that people enjoyed, whose lives in some cases were changed by their invented lives? Have we lost the ability to learn from our imaginations? When did fiction become substandard to "reality" books? Or should we call it "Reality Fiction" and at least put an acknowledgement of what's really occuring in the non-fiction section of the bookstore in more books than those by these authors? Why can't we admit that we seek a suspense of disbelief in every story we read? Why must those stories have "actually occurred" in the public world in order to have any credence? Aren't the lives we live in our imaginations as important? Don't those affect us just as well, and as powerfully? If a book like Frey's can change the lives of drug abusers and alcoholics, whether it's fiction or not shouldn't matter. If JT LeRoy is a person invented by American culture's mythologies, why can't he serve as a functional symbol as any "real" person might? People responded to these figures in the first place. Aren't we cutting ourselves off, then, if we retract any of the responses we had to them before we knew they'd been invented? That is the crux of the problem for me. Not whether or not I was lied to. I pick books up, both fiction and non-fiction, expecting to be lied to. Hopefully in a way that will be both entertaining and insightful, thought provoking at the very least. Why is the imagination considered substandard to the life that exists in front of our eyes every day?

I can't say I have any answers to what I'm thinking about here. I'm still thinking. But I do worry sometimes that the human imagination is atrophying in a particular way, that we have become "reality consumers" because we have no reality to our own lives anymore. Because perhaps just maybe the most human thing about us originally was our ability to imagine, to have an inner life that not only was affected by our outer lives but also aided us in shaping our outer lives. I consider that a characteristic that is perhaps more pragmatic than any other aspect of being human. If we can no longer acknowledge the reality and importance of the imagined, how will we eventually come to live in this world, which in the end is created by all of us, our cultures and social structures and even the daily routines of our small lives dictated and limited only by what we're able to conceive in our imaginations?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Two Items

Saw "The Prestige" last night. It's really well made and beautiful in many sections, weird imagery, and poetic in some ways about a rivalry between nineteenth century magicians. I loved it. Want to see it again. In fact, want to see it again at the theater, which is a rarity for me.

Also, Kristin forwarded this review of our latest edition of Rabid Transit to me, and I thought it was amazing, the work that's gone into creating a review page for an issue of Rabid Transit, with a whole sort of history of links to various people involved with our project, the editors as well as writers from past issues, etc. Take a look at this review and sort of be amazed at how thorough it is. I was really impressed.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Map of Dreams

I am soooooo excited about M. Rickert's first story collection, Map of Dreams, finally being published. Mary asked me a while back to write the introduction for the book, and I was both amazingly excited to do so, because from the publication of her very first story, "The Girl Who Ate Butterflies", in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, I've been in love with her writing, and since the time she and I both attended The Blue Heaven Novel Workshop together, she's come to be one of my closest and most treasured friends. While I was in Japan, I often heard from Mary through email and once through a large box of wonderful books that she'd sent me, and through our emails I shared quite a bit of my experiences in Japan, the way I was feeling at various times, that I never wrote about in this journal. I think I didn't realize it as I was doing it, but Mary had become one of my most important confidantes over that time. When I got back from Japan, though everything looked and felt familiar, I was bewildered in a really odd way, too, not sure of why I was home again. I think I spent the first month in a sort of shock, not really emotionally engaged with the world around me so much. And then I went to Wiscon, and as I was checking in at the front desk of the hotel, Mary saw me and walked up to me, and me, carrying about five huge bags I'd traveled with, dropped them all on the floor around me and hugged her for about five minutes and found myself crying without knowing why. It was the first time I'd actually cried since coming home. I think seeing Mary, who is someone who defines what home is for me, finally woke me up from disorienting dreams of coming back to a country that had become a stranger to me while I was away from it. Each time I read one of Mary's stories, the same thing happens. I come home all over again.

You should definitely, above all else, get this book as soon as possible. (The cover image on the Amazon.com and Powells.com pages are different from the one shown here. But the cover image I've posted is the one you'll get when you order this gorgeous book.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Eventually You Will Have to Submit

Rabid Transit will soon be accepting submissions for Rabid Transit #6.

Submission time period and other notes: November 1-December 15. All submissions received before or after this time period will be discarded unread. Additionally, please only send one submission–that means (a) no multiple attachments of stories in a single submission and (b) only one story during the reading period.

Finally, we’re not looking for stories from people who have already published in Rabid Transit. Though, seriously, we love you all.

Length: 7,500 words and less.

What we’re looking for: The best way to figure out what we’re interested in publishing is to read a copy or two of our back issues.You can order copies directly from the Rabid Transit web site or from ProjectPulp.

There isn’t one particular type of story that we’re looking for–we’ve published stories that are completely gonzo and experimental, and stories that are more or less traditional. Most have included fantastic or speculative elements–but not all of them. What the stories HAVE shared is an attentiveness to the way that language shapes the reading experience–whatever the parameters of that experience might be. If you have a story that has just been too weird or off-kilter for other magazines, we just might like to see it.

Payment: $20 (on publication) for first North American serial rights.The issue will debut at Wiscon 31, May 2007, so expect to hear about your submission some time in the winter/early spring.

How to send the stories: Please send a story in Rich Text Format (RTF)to: rabidtransit@gmail.com. Please include in the subject line of youremail your full name and the title of the story.

Please email rabidtransit@gmail.com if you have any questions!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jenny Diski

Jenny Diski is so smart and honest. I only found her blog recently. Her most recent entry is about awards in publishing, and publishing practices in general. Not fun for writers to read, I think. But good to read nonetheless. Even if only in a sort of bucket of cold water over the head sort of way.


I read Christopher Priest's novel, "The Prestige" ages ago, it seems. I'm so excited to see the movie version of it. I hope they do it justice. I like the trailers, at least, but trailers are supposed to make you want to see the film, of course.

I also heard Peter Jackson is directing "The Lovely Bones". I'm sure he'll do a great job. Apparently he's writing the script too. I hope he changes the way Suzie Salmon disposes of her murderer, which was just too easy and convenient in the book, in my opinion.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Usually October is my favorite month of the year, but this October is going to be an exception. This morning my oldest friend Ron's father died. Ron and I have been friends since we were fifteen years old. We weren't immediately the best of friends. Actually, at first, we really didn't like each other at all. For a time he and his father lived on the road where I grew up and where my family still lives and during that time we'd ride the same bus home from school. I can still remember the first day we met. He was arguing with some kids in the bus a few seats back from mine and was using all kinds of false logic and misinformation to get at a point--it was a good point, I remember, but I didn't approve of the false logic and misinformation to get at it--so I turned around in my seat and corrected him in front of all the other kids. This, I realized much later, wasn't a really nice thing to do, as he was the new kid at school, but still, he wasn't doing himself any favors by starting arguments with his new classmates. For the time that he lived in our school's district, he often got into fights with other people, mostly the type that got him suspended from school. Somehow over that period of time, though, even after our first few bitchy encounters with each other, we became friends. I came to see that anytime he fought with people, he was usually actually defending some other kid from being bullied, or standing up for some other sort of injustice. He saw at a very early age the injustices certain people who stand on the outside of the circle of normal suffer. His father was a peculiar man. He was an ex-biker who had done prison time. After they lost the house on the street where I grew up, they moved to the other side of the lake that divided our town, into a rundown trailer that didn't really look livable. There was always rusting vehicles outside of it, and inside the meanest Doberman Pincher I'd ever met, until you were introduced to her as friend, and then she was nothing but a lover. This was all a very exotic world to me. It felt full of danger and like anything could happen at any minute, and often it did. It's why Ron understood a lot of things about the world at too young an age. His father, despite his dubious background, was one of the most generous and caring men I've ever known. Ron and I have been through a rollercoaster ride over the years in our relationship, sometimes inseparable, other times not speaking to one another for various reasons. Even at the times when Ron and I have had difficult times with each other, though, his father, whom everyone called "Crusher", his old biker nickname, was always there for me, not just his son. For a while Ron and I lived together in a falling down house that made the house in the Fight Club movie look posh. There came a time when I had to go my separate way from Ron and when I left that house, I moved into my first apartment and was going to live alone--without a friend or roommate or significant other--for the first time in my life. Even though Ron and I weren't getting along at the time, his father went out and found me all the furniture I needed for my living room and showed up on my doorstep with it. He said moving out on your own for the first time is hard enough, so he thought I might need some help fixing my place up. He had a bad knee and back, but he insisted on helping me carry everything up the three flights of stairs to my old attic apartment on the North Side of Youngstown anyway. After we got the couch and chairs and coffee table and bookshelves arranged, we sat down together and talked about ordinary things. And then eventually after a silence he told me, "You and Ron are having some problems right now, but you do know that this is temporary? You two love each other, and sometimes even people who love each other have problems, but because they really care about each other it won't be forever. You two just need some time to figure yourselves out." Sometimes it was odd for me to hear things like this from a scary looking ex-biker but by then I'd had years to not only just get used to Ron's dad but come to love him like a family member, so I nodded and agreed, but mostly didn't know what to say. It was a big problem we were having, and we had a long period of time ahead of us to live through on our own without really talking to each other much. Years, really. It wasn't until I got back from Japan that, after hearing from numerous people who knew us both how much Ron missed our friendship and regretted our problems in the past, that I decided to finally go and see him during this summer. After we'd talked and apologized to each other and caught up on each other's lives, he told me that his father had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and that he didn't have much time. We thought we'd have him till around Christmas, but he wasn't able to make it that long, and that's probably a good thing because he was in a lot of pain and wasn't able to eat and had lost so much weight it hurt to look at him. With my other oldest and best friend, Regina, I drove out to the hospital last night and we were able to say goodbye to him. He was still lucid, somehow. And then this morning he was gone. I've spent most of the day with Ron and his family and am home now for a shower and a rest before I go back to Ron's dad's place to help him pack up his father's life. Before I left for Japan, Regina's father died suddenly, and now, though it wasn't sudden, Ron's. I never would have guessed years ago that the more people you love in your life also makes you susceptible to so much loss. But the older I get, the clearer that fact of living becomes. Ron's going to take his father's ashes out to Farmington, a little farm town where he grew up, and spread them in the woods he hunted in as a boy, where he had his happiest memories. I'll miss him, but right now, even though there was a long period of time when I didn't see Crusher while I was in Japan, he still feels like he's right here with us. I'm glad more than anything that, before he left us, he was able to see me again and know that what he told me years ago was true.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Over Downtown Y-town

You can't take that away from me.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Walk Out

Display the above image on your blog if you agree that the passage of the new Torture & Detention Without Trial BILL has seriously undermined American principles and taken us a few more steps down the road to Nazi Germany. Now the president has the ability to detain anyone without trial, without charging them with anything, and to torture them while they are in custody. You know, if we had someone in charge in this country who was intelligent and honest, this bill would still be an outrage. Consider the administration's batting average with detaining the right people -- the fact that the large majority of detainees at Abu Graib and Gitmo were never convicted of ever having done anything wrong, and things start to get a little chilly. As Ivins points out in her article -- that's 10 out of 700 at Gitmo. This is as much a cover your ass bill for future law suits against government officials as anything else. Despicable. Molly Ivins on the subject. Walk Out On the Bush Regime October 5th. And Slate on the subject.

Thanks to Jeff Ford for all the links and actually, all of the concise and quotable words above.