Portland here I come.

I am going to concentrate on getting ready for the conference today. It’s called Tin House and it’s in Portland, Oregon. And although I was born in Ca, I live in Sydney, Australia, and I haven’t been to the Northwest since I was a baby. It’s a big thing. Not just the travel, but also going to my first writers conference. Most of the delegates will be younger, more familiar with conferencing. I’ve never read to an audience before. When INK was launched I had a band play instead of reading from the book. But I’ll be reading from my story next Thursday. It’s real. Today I’ll get all my material together. The eight or ten stories from the workshop I’ve been assigned to. My e-tickets and maps and information on Reed College, where the conference is being held. I’m familiar with the work of many of the instructors there, and I’ll familiarize myself with the rest of them before I go. I’ll clean my office and get everything ready to write about this and other things when I get back.

I’ve never travelled alone. I didn’t backpack or do a student exchange. I met my husband when I was nineteen and have been more or less glued to him ever since. The glue has expanded to include my work now, and the world upon which it is based.

Which is to say that I’m shitting myself. I had to get new glasses. Here they are. I had to buy a conference outfit because I mostly work in my sweats or my pajamas. Do I need to get new pajamas? Will there be somewhere there I can hide when I need to apart from the bathroom? Will I make friends?

But mostly, will I come home bigger and smarter and better than when I left? Will I come home with new work, a new story, a start to my next novel? I don’t need to come back with an agent, because I already have Himself, and I’m thinking now that I’m writing this that I don’t need to come back with anything, really. It’s not a hunt and I don’t want a trophy, a piece of horn or hide to nail up on my wall because that would be the death of something other than myself, and I don’t want that on my hands. Yeah, I think that what I need more than to come back with something is to have left something behind. Shed something. Leave a piece of me there, something I don’t need anymore (but will always be there waiting maybe, growing old and hoary with time and waiting, tempting me) and come back pared down and ready for the fight. Which is to say that whenever you do something big like this you have to be in it not for the trophy, not the badge of honor or dishonor but to prepare for, be okay with, even grateful, for something in yourself to die.

Fixed picked up by Prick of the Spindle

The agent busy getting American Monster out; Tin House conference in Two Weeks; I DIDN’T win THAT contest; ‘The Box’ is with readers; Prick of the Spindle has picked up ‘Fixed’. Such a fine magazine, so it’s an honor. I’m really proud of this story, not only because it’s part of American Monster, but because it’s part of me. I pulled my own eastern past into it, the smell of the woods and lake water on shaggy pelt, wheeling hawks and the first time coming back to Ca. I was born in Berkeley. But when I came back west for the first time, yeah, when I was twenty, oh the carved-up land. It’s still beautiful though, and I can’t wait to go back to the North west in a couple of weeks. My cousin and I are going to hit the woods and the coast, where my American Monster is from.

Writers on the Web: Philip K Dick, Neil Gaiman, William Gibson…

I have been longer and later getting to this post than I meant to. Some of this stuff may seem a little old already. But here it is anyway: Philip K Dick sees a giant fish emitting a golden light, Neil Gaiman talks about exploding cats, William Gibson remembers ray guns, plus Georg Heym and zombies from Lee Williams.

In this first of a three part series called ‘Philip K Dick, Sci-Fi Philospher,’ Simon Critchley of the NYT, revisits '2-3-74', the seminal events of February and March, 1974 that began with Dick seeing a giant glowing fish and that led to Dick's own 'total recall of the entire sum of knowledge' that he attempted to put down in the Exegesis, (pictured) a 8000 page scrawl on mind, art, God and the universe.

Now, was this just bad acid or good sodium pentothal? Was Dick seriously bonkers? Was he psychotic? Was he schizophrenic? (He writes, “The schizophrenic is a leap ahead that failed.”) Were the visions simply the effect of a series of brain seizures that some call T.L.E. — temporal lobe epilepsy? Could we now explain and explain away Dick’s revelatory experience by some better neuroscientific story about the brain? Perhaps. But the problem is that each of these causal explanations misses the richness of the phenomena that Dick was trying to describe and also overlooks his unique means for describing them.

What I think is really interesting is that Dick described himself as a ‘fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist.’ Which is so Platonic it’s not funny. Western philosophers have been fictionalizing since forever. Plato made shit up. Or rather he made shit up about Socrates making shit up. The Republic, in which Plato formulates his theses for and against mimesis (representation) is hyper-mimetic, a performative dream of performing in an impossible world where men dream in caves and poets are the ultimate confidence men. Dick’s point is that philosophers make stuff up to prove their point.... to get at the truth. Which is what novelists try and do too.

William Gibson, in the recent and much hyped sci-fi edition of the New Yorker, talks about his own Golden age of Science Fiction, and the ‘otherness of [his] adolescence joining up with the wider tributary of literature, the mother of all otherness.’ The mother of otherness. I like that.

The zeitgeist was chewy with space-flavored nuggets, morsels of futuristic design, precursors of a Tomorrow whose confident glow was visible beyond the horizon of all that was less wonderful, provided one had eyes to see it.

Gibson’s article reminds me of the story, ‘The Gernsback Continuum,’ in Burning Crome, his 1995 collection that had a profound influence on me.

And Neil Gaiman, fresh from his lovely interview with Stephen King gives the mother of all commencement speeches to the University of Philadelphia Arts Class of 2012.

When things get tough. This is what you should do. Make. Good. Art. .... The moment when you feel that just possibly you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, showing too much of yourself... that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

And just in case the 'good art' bit had you stumped, here's some to chew on. Zombie vs Ninja, a story by Lee Williams at Smokelong Quarterly.

Desmond watches the telly and draws a cross over the face of anyone he would like to assassinate with a red marker pen. By lunchtime the whole screen is red and he is forced to guess at the presenters from their voices.

"Jonathan," he shouts. "Jonathan."

Finally, I was going to talk about the Georg Heym story, Dissection, in Anne and Jeff Vandemeer’s Weird Fiction Review. But that will have to wait until next week.

Moby Dick and me

I can’t believe I’ve lived without this book all this time. It is amazing. Hallucinatory and daring in a way that is impossible to conceive of now. Like, The Sermon chapter with father Maple. Woah! Truly freaky stuff. I know ‘freaky’ doesn’t say anything, but what I mean is off the charts, and what I mean by that is, well, staunch I guess. Unselfconscious and free and rigorous. And dreaming, always dreaming. Naked and dreaming.

‘Like one who after a night of drunken revelry hides to his bed, still reeling, but with conscience yet pricking him, as the plungings of the Roman race-horse but so much the more strike his steel tags into him; as one who in that miserable plight still turns and turns in giddy anguish, praying God for annihilation until the fit be passed and at last amid the whirl of woe he feels, a deep stupor steals over him, as over the man who bleeds to death, for conscience is the wound, and there’s naught to staunch it; so after sore wrestlings in his berth, Jonah’s prodigy of ponderous misery drags him drowning down to sleep.’

‘Prodigy of ponderous misery’? ‘Drags him drowning down to sleep’? Hacktastic, Herman!

Dead Snow

I finally got to see Dead Snow (dir Tommy Wirkola), and from start to finish, it could not have been more fun. Nazi Zombies, creepy-horny med students, Ski-Doos, out-house gross-out. Lots of intestine.
Dead Snow
Four guys in one car and three girls in another head out to a cabin in the Norwegian alps. The forth girl, Sara (Ann Dahl Torp), dating the token cutie (Vegar Hoel), has gone on ahead, and, unbeknownst to her friends has met a grizzly end. The gang settle into the cabin—cue snow-fights, beer-guzzling, and a truly disgusting sex-in-the- shitter scene—to wait for Sara to join them. One dark and stormy night, a grizzled hiker calls by and tells them a tale of Nazi torture and pillaging in years gone by. Although played for laughs, the subtext for this scene, like that of the entire movie, is the brutal German occupation of Norway and the country’s spirited resistance.

Heil to the yeah. The undead platoons close in on the cabin, picking off the students by one in a frenzy of flying limbs, buried war chests, and dead-cherry snow. Did I mention bowel? Lots of bowel. The action scenes are tight and the Nazi Zombies are fully sick in their SS drag. Upside-down teeth, Francis Bacon eyes, green skin. The kids are good too, more realistic than your average Hollywood fare. Chubby, boring, and inarticulate. One’s allergic to blood, another has a thing for erotic asphyxiation. Your typical med students. But in their own way perhaps more interesting than the interchangeable paper dolls we’ve come to expect in US B-ville fare. So, you know, we almost care when they get bit.
Dead Snow, Review by J.S. Breukelaar
Yeah, you can drive a Panzer division through some of the plot holes, but the Colonel Klink Zombi (Orjan Gamst) is a trip, and some of the shots are superb. A hoard of trench-coated undead push through the surface of the snow like crocuses in the devil’s garden. Spring-time for Hitler? Some memories will never die.

Writers on the Web

Welcome to the first installment of a new series called WOW (Writers on the Web), a title so bad it’s not even good, which is good enough for me. It will cover what some writers are doing and saying on and around the web. This week, Stephen Graham Jones, Kris Saknussemm, Ian McEwan, Chuck Palahniuk, and Darwin. Some line-up

LitReactor previews Ten Obvious Truths about Fiction, an essay on craft by the category-defying Stephen Graham Jones.

Really, any scene that’s only getting across what’s happening on the surface of that scene—two guys loading boxes into a truck, say—then that scene’s dead. Instead, let those two men load boxes, but only one of them knows the other’s tranquilized pet is in one of the boxes. It changes everything, for the better.

Annie Murphy Paul at The New York Times finds fiction readers have better brains.

A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind — an effect that was also produced by watching movies but, curiously, not by watching television.

But even more interestingly, or obviously, this article offers a scientific explanation for why we sometimes remember fictional characters as real. To our brains, they are.

There is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

Back to LitReactor, and Zanesville author Kris Saknussemm joins an illustrious line-up of instructors for a workshop starting in April. Saknussemm, fresh from his Reverend America Tour tackles place, a subject dear to the heart of this oft-displaced writer. Tell him I sent you.

Over at The Cult, Chuck Palahniuk is offloading the faux Yin Yang table from The Fight Club to raise money for a Portland Dog shelter. If you live in Portland, he’ll even come over and help you assemble it, so get out your Allenkeys, people.

And finally Ian McEwan at The Guardian draws parallels between science and literature over issues of originality, not nearly so much an anachronism in this digital age as you’d think.

[Darwin’s] reluctance to upset his wife Emma’s religious devotion, or to contradict the theological certainties of his scientific colleagues, or to find himself in the unlikely role of iconoclast, a radical dissenter in Victorian society, all were swept aside for fear of another man taking possession of and getting credit for the ideas he believed to be his.

Rear view mirrors of the mind.

Let Me Tell You About My Mother

My latest nervous breakdown is about my mother, but it’s also about monsters, in a good way. Hence the title snipped from Bladerunner:

I think about the instability of polarities, how to be at our most human and alive is paradoxically to resemble an exquisite corpse. Remade at every turn, scarred and burned, and fuck you very much, here I am.

read more, here.

Happy Birthday, Jules Verne, 2/8/1828

I’m having trouble getting to these posts lately, what with finishing the novel, trying to organize some teaching for myself, updating my writertopia page for the Campbell Award, trying to submit stuff on a regular basis and the usual insomnia. But today is Jules Vernes’ birthday, so happy birthday, Jules. There is a nice write-up here at Wired magazine.

What’s interesting among other things is that the electric rifles used in Twenty Thousand Leagues… were later (1969) revisited by Thomas Cover when he invented the TASER, which is an acronym for Thomas A Swift’s Electric Rifle. Tom Swift (Swift by name and nature!)being the teenage hero of the juvenile scifi book series launched by Victor Appleton (a pseudonym) in 1910, and obviously referencing Verne.