look at those faces just look at those faces

Hello, readers.

Yesterday happened to be Thanksgiving. I say happened to be because when you are an American in London sometimes certain holidays seem to happen without much involvement from you. Almost as if you were not at all essential to the process. Imagine that.

Here are some things I am excited about.

Thing one.

tillie walden, whose name I have only ever seen written out in lowercase and whose gentle and ambitious hand I have been admiring, of late, in such comics as The City Inside and On a Beam of Sunshine, is really quite amazing and you should go look at all the things.

Thing two.

In honor of Thanksgiving, here is one of my favorite films. It happens to be about Thanksgiving. It is called Home for the Holidays and it was directed by Jodie Foster and I want to hug it to death.

Thing three.

Yesterday I thought about how Thanksgiving used to mean television marathons. Like that one Buffy marathon that one year called Slaysgiving, or some such. There was, I think, also an X-Files marathon, once, of all the mythology episodes. Remember when programming was not just for museums, and concert halls, but for television? Do they program television anymore, or do the machines do it? I don’t know. I don’t live there anymore.

Thing four

These photos by Randall Slavin of 90s icons in The Hollywood Reporter are beautiful. There is something unremarkably remarkable about them. Almost as if movie stars were just people. like everyone else, trying to find their way to something real in an increasingly unreal world. Or maybe that’s just me. Also. Look at those faces. Just look at them.

Also, also. Don’t worry, readers. I was just kidding. There’s no such thing as an unreal world. This is all really happening.

That is all.

Happy holidays, reader. And, of course, by holidays I mean whichever holidays are closest whenever it is that you might be reading this.

 

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one that might best be described as askance

Hello, readers.

This is Wednesday. Which you probably already knew. This is Wednesday in American Gods,

and this is Wednesday Addams from The Addams family.

You can see they share a similar view on things. One that might best be described as askance.

I’m uncertain as to why I so often start these things with some comment on the day of the week.

Thing one

It turns out that Wal-Mart lets people sleep in their parking lot. Not all Wal-Marts are so open to this activity. But many of them are. And this article has many pictures of this activity which are at once terribly ordinary and fantastically beautiful.

”Overnight in Walmart Parking Lots: Silence, Solace and Refuge”

Thing two

At a website called The Root, there is this: ”A Guide to Fantasy and Science Fiction Made for Black People, by Black People.”

Among many other wonderful things, there are many wonderful short films for to watch and ponder.

Thing three

”How Facebook Figures Out Everyone You’ve Ever Met.”

I think this one probably explains itself. But, you know, you should still read it. It contains the phrases “shadow profiles” and “networked privacy.” I think those are the kind of phrases we need to know about.

 

Happy Wednesday, readers.

 

 

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only this time it’s true

Hello, readers.

Welcome to Tuesday. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Here are some things of note.

Thing one.

The Paris Review, that redoubtable publication neither based in Paris nor particularly known for their reviews, has launched a podcast.

It does not seem to be a podcast, in the way of the New Yorker Radio Hour, that is all that interested in contextualizing its stories, so much as it seems interested in letting, as editor Loren Stein says, “the writing speak for itself.”

Its first episode includes, among other things, bits of an interview they did with Maya Angelou and a reading by Wallace Shawn of the Denis Johnson story “Car Crash While Hitchhiking”.

I loved it.

Thing two.

Michael Palin has been writing a diary, on and off, since 1969. Here is something he wrote on July 21st, 1969.

At 3.00 this morning I woke Helen, and we both watched as the first live television pictures from the moon showed us a rather indistinct piece of ladder, then a large book, and finally, at 3.56, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the lunar surface. He said the ground beneath his feet (I almost wrote ‘the earth beneath his feet’) was composed mainly of dust—for a moment one felt he was in danger of falling into a kind of quicksand—but soon he was reassuringly prancing about and telling us that the one-sixth gravity conditions were less hazardous than in simulation.

To bed at 5.00, with the image in my mind of men in spacesuits doing kangaroo hops and long, loping walks on the moon, in front of a strange spidery object, just like the images in my mind after reading Dan Dare in the old Eagle comics—only this time it’s true. A lot of science fiction is suddenly science fact.

I received Michael Palin’s diaries from 1969 to 1979 as a gift. I think it’s going to be an amazing gift.

Thing three.

Manohla Dargis wrote an article in the New York Times called “Louis C.K. and Hollywood’s Canon of Creeps.” It is an article of great clarity and rage in which, among other things, she points us back to her earlier review of Louis C.K.’s film I Love You, Daddy, and then reviews her review of that film, and then, in the end, reviews the act of reviewing films. It’s brilliant.

I was 18 when I saw “Manhattan” and I despised it because I knew that its reveries were built on a lie that few adults, including film critics, seemed willing to acknowledge. Perhaps that’s partly why I appreciated “I Love You, Daddy” the first time I saw it. Louis C.K. seemed to be pointing at Mr. Allen with a queasy homage that was getting at the truth of “Manhattan” even as “I Love You, Daddy” circled — and circled — its own creator’s complicity in female exploitation.

When I watched “I Love You, Daddy” a second time, the jokes no longer landed; its shocks felt uglier, cruder. But for once a filmmaker seemed to be admitting to the misogyny that we know is always there and has often been denied or simply waved off, at times in the name of art.

Thing four

Storyological is back.

In our latest episode, LANTERNY FILM TYPE MACHINES, we talk about stories by Jean Rhys and Camilla Grudova. You might know Jean Rhys from her novel, Wide Sargasso Sea. You might know Camilla Grudova from her recent win at the Shirley Jackson Awards.

In either case, I hope you enjoy this episode.

Happy listening, readers.

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all good art is about something deeper than it admits

Hello, readers.

From time to time, I go back and read old reviews of the films that I love. It reminds me of why I loved those films, and it teaches me how to see those films in new ways.

Also, I love reviews, both reading them and writing them. There’s a sort of alchemy in the way the best reviewers learn to conjure both the spirit and the truth of their subjects.

Here are some of my favorite reviews.

Stephanie Zacharek, reviewing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The essence of romanticism, said the German writer E.T.A. Hoffman, is “infinite longing.” With the marvelous “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” J.K. Rowling’s work has finally gotten the romantic filmmaker it deserves.

Roger Ebert reviewing Shawshank Redemption. The last paragraph is a revelation.

Darabont constructs the film to observe the story, not to punch it up or upstage it. Upstaging, in fact, is unknown in this film; the actors are content to stay within their roles, the story moves in an orderly way, and the film itself reflects the slow passage of the decades. “When they put you in that cell,” Red says, “when those bars slam home, that’s when you know it’s for real. Old life blown away in the blink of an eye. Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it.” Watching the film again, I admired it even more than the first time I saw it. Affection for good films often grows with familiarity, as it does with music. Some have said life is a prison, we are Red, Andy is our redeemer. All good art is about something deeper than it admits.

Anthony Lane, god bless him, reviewing in the same review both Brokeback Mountain and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

“Brokeback Mountain,” which began as an Annie Proulx story in these pages, comes fully alive as the chance for happiness dies. Its beauty wells from its sorrow, because the love between Ennis and Jack is most credible not in the making but in the thwarting.

And, if there is Deep Magic, as Lewis called it, in his tale, it resides not in the springlike coming of Aslan but in the dreamlike, compacted poetry of Lewis’s initial inspiration—the sight of a faun, in the snow, bearing parcels and an umbrella. That is kept mercifully intact in Adamson’s movie, its potency enriched by the shy, unstrenuous rapport of his two best performers: Georgie Henley, as Lucy, and James McAvoy, as Mr. Tumnus the faun. The dark joke is that Mr. Tumnus invites Lucy to tea only because he must turn his guest over to the enemy. Thus does Lucy, over toast and honey, learn the lesson known to the heroine of every horror flick: Don’t answer the faun.

 

Happy Wednesday, readers.

 

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a tokyo noir fairy tale

Hello, readers.

Here we are again, where we’ve always been.

Happy Halloween.

I’m reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. This is a book I’ve read before, and a book I will probably read again.

I read this book for the first time in Oxford, Mississippi, as part of a class on literature from the Pacific Rim. Possibly in the spring of 2008. Possibly in another season of a different year. At the end of the course, I wrote a paper about the novel called:

“A Tokyo Noir Fairy Tale History of War and Identity: Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and the Age of the Mashup”

Which is the sort of thing you call academic papers.

For some reason, if there’s not a colon, no one takes you seriously.

I presented this paper at a conference in Baton Rouge the year after I wrote it. So, someone liked it. Which is cool. I liked writing it. It was fun thinking about Murakami’s book in the context of The Long Goodbye, Sleeping Beauty, and A Stroke of Genius.

Here are some other things.

Thing one.

My Clarion class has just launched The Green Volume, our fourth in an ongoing series of yearly fundraising anthologies to raise money for the Clarion Foundation. I’ve contributed the first story I ever published. It’s called “Monsters and Virgins.” It was published in Fiction Weekly, which isn’t around anymore. This means the story’s no longer available online. So, if you want to read it, this is your one shot.

Here’s the press release:

The students from Clarion 2012 (a.k.a. ‘The Awkward Robots’) have brewed an eerily bubbling concoction of fiction for imbibing this Halloween! The Green Volume brings you stories of gnome-killing boy scouts, hologram-assisted self-interrogation, epic Norse monsters and the librarians who fight them, horrors both tentacled and branched, and more.

For fans of Sam Miller’s The Art of Starving (Junior Library Guild Selection, Kirkus Starred Review), there is exclusive interview content from the Storylogical Podcast and the short story Allosaurus Burgers, about Matt’s life before he learned the Art. For fans of Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough (the sequel to which, Armistice, drops March 28, 2018), there is a never-before-seen cut-scene from backstage at the Bee.

All proceeds (after hosting fees) going to The Clarion Foundation.

Go here to check it out.

I’ll write more about all of this later in the week, but I wanted to put it out there now. That way you have it.

Thing two.

Apparently, Quantum Leap creator Donald Bellisario has written a Quantum Leap film.

There’s nothing that says this will get made. But, it reminds me how so much of the iconography of Quantum Leap affected me as a kid. I loved that show. It taught me to fear windowless vans, devil women, and stepping foot into untested time travel machines.

Okay. I guess that’s not entirely true.

I was not unattracted to the devil woman.

Also. I’ve just realized how much Quantum Leap has in common with Doctor Who. Time traveling do-gooder. Inscrutable, but lovable, technology. A desire for home.

Thing three.

I loved Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s book, Harmless Like You.

I wrote her a fan letter after I finished it. It’s still in my notebook somewhere. I should probably send it to her. Who doesn’t love mail?

Here’s something else she wrote. It’s a short piece. And wonderful.

Happy demon-hunting, readers. Or whatever, you know, one does on Halloween. I don’t know. I’m in England. There’s a pumpkin impaled on the fence around the square. I don’t think that means what they think it means.

 

 

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things of an almost preposterous nature

things of an almost preposterous nature

Hello, readers.

As often happens, it’s Friday. I haven’t done the math1, but almost every time you turn around. Bam. Friday. Put on your raincoats and dance. Or something. You know. Friday stuff.

Some things.

Thing one

I interviewed Carmen Maria Machado for Storyological.

Carmen is a wonder. And also a recent National Book Award finalist. I met her at Clarion. That thing I attended back in 2012, in San Diego, where also I met many other amazing people 2. The thing I remember about Carmen is that I love her. There are other things, I remember, but that’s the first thing that came to mind. Here are some of the other things I remember:

  1. We ate a lot of avodado and eggs. Or maybe we did that once.
  2. One morning, we drank coffee and talked about life in a way that made life seem like the scariest most awesome thing, but I don’t remember anything about what we said only the feeling of feeling connected to something that we were inventing or discovering about the way everything fit together.
  3. We collaborated on a story together about how to be a man. It was in the shape of a list. I remember at least two sex scenes, a single Twitter bio, and several hearts in peril. Part of our collaboration involved wandering off into the woods in search of a talking tree. I believe we settled for a mysterious assortment of furniture on which we sat and wrote about the aforementioned imperilled hearts.
  4. An LA Times reviewer described Carmen’s collection of stories, Her Body and Other Parties as an example of “almost preposterous talent.”
  5. Preposterous is probably one of my favorite words.
  6. But only when it is deployed in the spirit of love and wonder.
  7. In that spirit I would probably describe Carmen Maria Machado as an almost preposterously magical person.

Thing two

EG, partner in adventure and professional creative type, has gone and got herself long-listed in the Information is Beautiful Awards for this visualization of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

I have not read many of these books, but I will.

I am looking forward to spending time with Death most of all.

Oh. Also. Of note. EG did that illustration of Carmen in which BAM!.

Thing three

The seventh volume of Phantom Drift, in which one can find my story Maemi, has a cover and everything.

I wrote “Maemi” during the third week of Clarion in answer to Delia Sherman’s challenge that I do that thing people do sometimes which is to go and read a bunch of fairy tales and then select one with which to muck about.

I spent several days in the UCSD library, sitting at the window and reading many fairy tales. On the ledge outside my window, a crow would come, now and then, and sit and hop and look at me curiously. As much as I might have wished, the crow and I never said more than a few words to each other, and, most of the time, I was doing most of the talking.

The fairy tale I chose involved a little girl, and a lion, also a bird, and no small amount of magic or betrayal. It turned out this was “Beauty and the Beast.” It wasn’t called that in the book I read, and I didn’t recognize it, but when Delia told me that this was the true nature of the story I had chosen it made sense. At least, that is, the kind of sense one finds in fairy tales. Which is a sort of inscrutable sense that tricks you into understanding something altogether different and more important than whatever thing you set out to understand.

I combined this fairy tale with the story of a little girl in Korea who was sold by her father into sexual slavery during the second world war.

I lived in Seoul for two years and, while there, I taught English at an all-girls school. One weekend, during my second year, I went with a group of friends (some of whom were part of a group called Durebang), to the House of Sharing in Gyeonggi-do. We walked through a museum and an art gallery and, later, met several of the women who lived there and who are called, sometimes, “comfort women.” A large group of kids showed up, at one point. A school trip, I think. One of the old women, through some manner I never entirely understood, instigated a K-pop dance-off among the kids, the teachers, and some of the group that inclued me. Roly Poly3, I believe, was the song of choice. I’m pretty sure Roly Poly will always be, because of this, my favorite K-pop song. All of those kids and everyone dancing. And the old woman who danced for a bit and then sat, chuckling at the gorgeous mayhem she had created 4.

There are many books about that time in Korean history. I have read many of them. Two that I remember, in particular, both by Nora Okja Keller, are Comfort Woman and Fox Girl. Here are some others.

As it turned out, there were no lions in the story I ended up writing, but there is a bird, a heart in peril, and no small amount of magic or betrayal.

I added a bit of music, as well. It seemed the right thing to do at the time.

Happy Friday readers.
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  1. Actually, I have done the math. Approximately 14.2857% of the time, it’s Friday.
  2. Including my partner in adventure, E.G. Cosh, who was recently longlisted in the Information is Beautiful Awards for her visualization of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. You will read about this in a moment in thing two. 
  3. This is the video of Roly Poly. The long version. If you are only interested in the music, I would suggest skipping to the four minute mark or so. And then again to the eight minute mark. I have the whole thing on in the background right now. It later became a musical. Because that’s how things work in Korea.
  4. Some of all of this came back with me to Seoul. And I talked about it with my students, one day, in an after school class in which there were only maybe eight of us. I talked about what they knew about that part of Korean history. I talked with them about how it felt that week in school, seeing every classroom full of girls the same age as those taken during the war. It was a fairly advanced conversation class that day.

some things about interviewing sam j. miller for storyological

some things about interviewing sam j. miller for storyological

Hello, readers.

Here are some things about one thing.

The one thing being the latest episode of the Storyological podcast in which I interviewed Sam J. Miller about, among other things, growing up gay in upstate New York, struggling with body image and an eating disorder, transforming some of this experience into his first novel, The Art of Starving, transforming lies about the plot of Jaws into a career in fiction, loving Sense8 more than anything, loving love more than anything, loving justice more than anything, and exploring in fiction the ways in which love can be naive and ignorant and even the most evil motherfucker believes the evil shit they do is justified.

So. Yeah. Here are some things about that one thing.


Thing one.

Sam’s first novel, the aforementioned The Art of Starving, comes out this week. Here’s what people are saying.

A dark and lovely tale of supernatural vengeance and self-destruction.

…this book hurts in all the best ways…it takes on the tropes of speculative fiction and YA armed with fire and anger and hunger.

Shirley Jackson Award winner Sam J. Miller’s YA contemporary debut novel is unlike anything I have ever read before, and combines magical realism, dark humor, evocative imagery and prose, and a deep, huge heart to tell a story of loneliness, addiction, body image, first loves, coming out, and self-acceptance. Funny, haunting, beautiful, relentless, and powerful, The Art of Starving is a classic in the making…

All of these people are not wrong.


Thing two.

Sam is a very funny man. You will laugh a lot during this interview.

You will also probably feel inspired.

Sam is a very inspiring man.


Thing three.

I interviewed Sam in Madison, Wisconsin. Both of us were there for WisCon, the feminist SciFi convention.

I had this idea that we should do the interview outside. So, we met in the con hotel lobby and walked down the street to the state capitol building. We sat, leaning against a granite facade, literally in the shadow of state power.

Very early in our conversation, it began to rain. But we kept going. Because I am clearly a horrible person and wanted Sam to suffer 1.

You can’t hear the rain in the interview, though. Or see it, of course. It’s a podcast, not a video.

You’ll just have to imagine it, I guess.

Rain is like hope in that way.

It is kind of amazing.


Thing four.

I met Sam at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in San Diego, back in 2012.

Here is a blog post Sam wrote about our experience called CLARION 2012: EVERY BRILLIANT PIECE OF WRITING ADVICE.

If I didn’t already love Sam with all of my heart, then doing this interview–and listening to him talk about grief and shame and art and hope with such care and conviction–would have done the trick.

It is possible that, after listening to this interview, you will also love Sam.

I imagine you might.

If you do, then share that love with other people in your life. Tell the world about Sam and his book.

If you don’t share that love, that’s also okay. Maybe don’t tell the world about it, though. 


Thing five.

For my part, having met Sam and gotten to know him over the years, I didn’t think it was possible to love Sam more.

But it turned out it was.

Love is nothing if not surprising.

So. Seriously.

Go read, or listen to, the interview.

Get inspired. Discover a new author you will love. Or discover more about the man you already love.

Now’s as good a time as any to start resisting the world’s tendency to fall apart.

Happy Tuesday, readers.

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p.s. That awesome illustration of Sam up there is by E.G. Cosh.

  1. This isn’t actually true. Well. The rain is true. How could rain not be true?