edward scissorhands (dir. tim burton, 1990)

Hello, readers. Every Saturday I publish a selection from a monthly newsletter I’m writing for Storyological patrons called, CHRIS REVIEWS EVERYTHING. If you’d like to receive this newsletter, and so receive more of my reviews, visit the Storyological Patreon page to sign up. Thank you. That is all.

edward

We begin with an Avon lady. A woman who sells the modern ideal of beauty—or, more precisely, the appearance and means of achieving that beauty. When she meets Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp)–a leather-shrouded man locked away in a dark house on a tall hill with, literally, scissors for hands–she meets her greatest challenge. A person immune to the means of beauty, but deeply in touch with the meaning of it.

The Avon lady, Peg (Dianne West), takes pity on Edward and brings him home. She attempts to acclimate him to normal life. She begins by getting him to look the part. A fresh, white shirt, an old pair of trousers, snappy suspenders. She dabs his scars with concealer. At dinner, Edward struggles to use his knife and fork. The son, Kevin (Robert Oliveri), struggles not to stare. Peg tells him it’s not polite to stare. The daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder), struggles to hide her frustration and embarrassment at everything. Peg asks her husband how it went at work. There’s nothing so lonely as being surrounded by people pretending that you might be something other than what you are.

Edward Scissorhands has, for a long time, held a special place in my heart. Not for what it meant to me so much as for what it meant to someone I loved. She grew up in Florida, where the film takes place, and she saw in Edward Scissorhands, I think, a mirror of herself. A grotesque creature in love with, and shunned by, the idea of beauty. A tender, if awkwardly assembled, creature who believed themselves unable to touch anything without destroying it.

Edward is a great artist because of his awkward assembly. As a creature constructed from a hodgepodge of curious hope and industrial machinery, Edward knows what is to construct beauty from the humdrum materials of our world. Women from all over town fall in love with his ability to recognize the beauty tucked away beneath the surface of things. They see him turn hedges into art sculptures and, before long, they get him to style their hair. They hope, I suppose, that as go his skills with topiary, so go his skills with women. They hope that he might cut free the beauty trapped inside of them.

It is the mission of Tim Burton, I believe, to transform fear into tenderness. Edward is not a natural being. Like all of us, he is a constructed one. And, like all of us, he is unfinished. He wears in his body a permanent state of incompleteness. No amount of make-up will make him appear more beautiful. He already contains all the beauty he needs. We hope he understands this. We hope everyone else does even more. It is a hopeless hope. Most hopes are.

Peg brings Edward down from his dark house atop that tall hill, but she is not really interested in him so much as she’s interested in what she can make of him. She wants to force him into a role that doesn’t quite fit. She is either unwilling or incapable of engaging with Edward as he is. This is true of almost everyone in the film. No one seems capable, or willing, to grapple simultaneously with the horror and pain and tragedy and beauty and rage and love and gentleness which comprise Edward’s life and heart. See how the husband imagines that Edward can just go to the bank and get a loan. See how the son imagines Edward a kind of deadly cool monster thing worth bringing to school for show-and-tell. See how that one neighbor sees him as an exotic creature destined to unleash something warm and dark from inside of her.

Depp plays Edward as an innocent in the way a child is innocent, which is to say not all that much. He wants and feels and loves and when betrayed, when the world, or a person he cares about, fails to live up to his expectations, he goes into a rage. He lets go of all the safeguards that have kept him from destroying himself. In these rages, he confirms his worst ideas of himself. He destroys. He destroys. He destroys.

For most of the film, Edward is happy to play along with what people ask of him. He cuts their hedges and their hair and their dogs. He tries to eat with a fork. We laugh and we cringe and we cry because this doesn’t seem like the life for him or for us. But it does seem to be what we’ve built for ourselves. It seems to be all that we have.

Kim’s boyfriend, at one point, wants Ed to help him break into his own house and steal many of his father’s fine and beautiful things. Kim knows this is wrong. But, she asks Ed for help anyway. It all goes wrong, of course. It was always all going to go wrong. Kim asks him why he ever agreed to do such a thing if he knew that it wasn’t going to work out. Ed has a very simple and heartbreaking answer for her. Because you asked me, he says.

This is, I think, Burton’s most delicate, and perhaps saddest, film. It is the story of a creature perpetually misunderstood and doomed to solitude. In that way, I suppose, it is–like all great art–a description of someone so individual as to contain within them the plight of everyone. Who among us isn’t doomed, in one way or another, to being perpetually misunderstood and, for the most part, entirely alone? If there is any hope here–in this film anyway–it is that Edward experiences a moment of love and connection with Kim.

Still. I’m not sure whether to think of this as hope or tragedy.

I think often of the end of the film. Of how, it turns out, Edward lives on, forever honoring the memory of that moment of love, carving its image over and over, but never finding his way back to it in real life. He is always, and forever it seems, kept separate from the reality of love. He can only ever imagine it. Maybe this is true of all of us. I like to think not, though.

Kim is the teller of this story. She is a grandmother at the beginning and end. The story belongs to her, in this way, more than it has ever belonged to Edward. For most of her life, she has been afraid to go and visit Edward. She arranged his “death” to protect him, and so, perhaps, at the start, she left Edward alone because she needed to protect him from the town. But, now, when her granddaughter asks why she doesn’t go visit Ed, Kim says that she is too old. She doesn’t want him to see her like this.

Has she forgotten, or has she never really known, what Edward was like? Out of all of them, he was the one who could see the hidden shapes inside of bushes. He could see their true form. That she refuses to go and see him, and that she imagines, or truly believes, it is because of how she looks–well, that breaks my heart. I imagine this was Burton’s intent.

I have had trouble with Burton, from time to time, as one can only have trouble with an artist, or lover, or family member, who seems to struggle with many of the same questions as you, but who seems to have made of their life some very different answers.

Where in my own work and in my life, I have worked to see everyone, including monsters, as people, in that they are made of a mess of good and evil and sin and innocence. Burton often works to see monsters as innocent of good and evil and people as monsters of both. I think, at one time, I thought this was too cruel in regards to people and too simple in regards to monsters. I have changed my mind.

Monsters are, for the most part, only symbols. They don’t really exist. And so, by definition, they exist outside of our ideas of good and evil. People do exist. And, in the way that Edward cuts beauty from the heart of the world, people cut good and evil. People aren’t the real monsters. But they are the only species of life, perhaps, capable of creating them.

Of all the monsters here, only Kim seems to have glimpsed something of the true nature of Edward’s soul—and in so doing, perhaps something of her own and of life’s true nature, as well. I like to imagine when she tells Edward, “I love you,” that it is a love that will sustain for her a new way of seeing. That she tells his story to her granddaughter means that perhaps it has. That she refuses to visit him makes me doubt. There is no answer here. I don’t know what Burton meant. I don’t know if I am right. I love this film for so many reasons. It took me a long time to come to terms with that love.

some things about ‘on the way down’

Hello, readers.

It’s been a while.

Here are some things.

Thing one:

A story of mine came out this month. It’s called “On the Way Down.”

You can read it, along with many other wonderful things, in the eleventh issue of  formercactus. They are cool. Look at this cool art, for example:

 

Thing two.

Here are some things about “On the Way Down.”

It can take a long time for a story to get published. People say this all the time. So much so that you probably forget sometimes that it’s true. I bring this up now because “On the Way Down” took about ten years to get published.

I wrote the first draft not long after a friend introduced me to the amazing Stuart Dybek story, “Pet Milk.” My story is not as good as that story. If you only have time to read one yearning, bittersweet short story then you should probably go read that one.

In “On the Way Down,” I wanted to capture something of the way Dybek played around with time in “Pet Milk.”

I wanted to speed it up and slow it down and generally make a mess of it. This is where I began thinking about a story of a couple in a hotel room standing at a window and thinking about the different paths their lives took to get them to this moment.

This is not at all what my story ended up being about. Or, well, this is exactly what the story ended up being about, but not at all in the way that I thought it would be about it.

This is how stories go when they really go. They get away from you. A poem that ends up being about what it started being about is not a very good poem. The same is true of stories.

While working through that first idea of the story–of those people in the hotel room–I heard one of the characters telling the other character about a dream they had where they jumped off a building and ended up floating in front of a woman’s window. I thought this was neat because it would sum up the character’s emotional state—mid free-fall.

But, then, I wondered: why am I writing about someone’s dream in a story when I could just write the story as a dream? Isn’t that what stories are anyway? Shared dreams?

So, a night came when I sat down, and I wrote the dream. I wrote the story of a man who fell off a building and stopped, mid-fall, in front of a woman’s window. I let that moment of magic stretch and encompass everything I felt about time while reading “Pet Milk.”

It was the first time in my writing life that I had that feeling of a story arriving, more or less, complete. This wasn’t really the case, at all, of course–since I had been thinking about it for weeks, but this was how it felt.

I sent it to many places. And I showed it to many people. No one wanted to publish it, and this was sad. But, two people who really enjoyed it told me how to fix it so that it would be the best version of itself, and this was wonderful.

One of these people was a teacher. The other an editor at The Paris Review. Both said the same thing. Alas, I didn’t figure out what they meant, though, until ten years later.

At which point, I sat down one afternoon, and I rewrote the story.

The version I wrote that afternoon is the version you can read in formercactus.

I hope you like it.

 

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sometimes things

Hello, readers.

Sometimes I post things. This is one of those times. Here are two things.

Thing one.

I have a new story in Bourbon Penn 15 (available now in e-book or paperbook) called SOMETIMES THINGS ARE TRUE.

If you’re a fan of ninjas, zombies, werewolves, pirates, or epiphanies in which a character stares up at the stars and realizes some truth about life, then this is the story for you. Also there’s a killer unicorn.

You can read a fairly long sample of the story here.

Here’s a fairly short sample.

“It’s not true what they say about werewolves, you know?” Lucy said to Jack. “You can’t become a werewolf by kissing. That’s just a myth. You can’t get it from sex either, unless it’s a very particular kind of sex. There are probably a few days out of the month when you’d probably rather not kiss one, or have sex, I guess. Sometimes things are true.”
 
“Am I even needed in this conversation?” Jack said.
 
“I enjoy listening to you listen,” Lucy said. “The sound of your breathing is very comforting.”

Thing two.

I’ve just sent out the February edition of CHRIS REVIEWS EVERYTHING, a monthly newsletter for Storyological patrons.

In February, I watched and reviewed: seventeen films, four television shows, three podcasts, two soundtracks, a book, a handful of short stories, Natalie Portman’s career (as inspired by her rapping on SNL), a play starring Carey Mulligan, a Bon Iver concert, a quote from John Keats, and two Instagram videos posted by Chloe Bennett, star of Marvel’s: Agents of Shield.

I include a handy, clickable list at the start of the newsletter. This is a picture of that clickable list. Don’t try to click on it. It won’t work. I promise.

Here is a snippet of the introduction I wrote for the newsletter:

I’ve written these reviews, more or less, however the fancy took me. Some of them are silly. Some serious. My favorite manage to be both. My highlights for this month include: The End of the Fxxxing World, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Pride and PrejudiceLady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, Chloe Bennett, and Bon Iver. These might not be your highlights. You’ll have to read them all to find out. The reviews in which I get the most personal are probably: Atonement, Phenomena, and Bon Iver.
 
Maybe don’t try to read it all at once. Maybe save this email in a special folder. Or print it out, even. Stick it on your writing or reading desk. Fold it up and put it in your notebook. Carry it close to your heart. That sort of thing.
 
It’s up to you, really. So many things are.

I’ll be posting samples from this newsletter every Saturday. Here’s a review of Lady Bird I posted a bit ago.

I’m having a lot of fun with this newsletter. I hope you do, too. Emma seems happy with it. ^-^

Happy Wednesday, readers.

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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.
ttfn.

 

  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.

ttfn.

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?