Saturday, September 24, 2011

Chapter 63: In Which I Let the World Know We Have Distro

The Jack Daniels Sessions EP has distro! Small Press Distribution as a matter of fact, my good neighbors in Berkeley.

Just spoke to Nathan at Six Gallery. They've requested 60 copies to sell through their distro. With the deadline for submission extended to November, it should be available for order in their spring 2012 calendar. Yay! SPD has been championing independent publishing for over four decades. Read their catalog. A lot of weird stuff in there, and I'm happy to add mine to the mix.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chapter 62: In Which I Rant About College

So I'm in grad school. Mills College. I'm in grad school because I want better job prospects. I go to Mills because I got rejected by my other two choices. This was a choice I made. Its astoundingly expensive and I had to take out mad loans to do it. Fine. I'm told the twenty grand I owe (after cutting every possible corner) is modest by loan standards. The economic prospects for my generation are so dead that everybody's in the same boat anyway. All of us who aren't inheriting money are going to be working two jobs for the rest of our lives. When I asked the people at the school about grants and that sort of thing, they told me there was nothing out there. The whole published author deal didn't mean anything to them; they let me know pretty firmly that it was my privilege to be there. Fine. Some people are just hard to impress.

Is it just possible to eat the food?

Today was the convocation/inauguration of the new president. I'm told she is the first black president in the history of the school, which means just as much as it does any time a black person becomes president of something. This is the post-racial America, meaning we are now aware that having people of color at the head of racist systems has little significance. African nations learned that a long time ago, by the way.

Anyway. In case you don't know what a convocation is, its where the trustees, alumnae and graduating class of the college are shuttled around to different events and have this sort of "pre-graduation" ceremony. At least, that's what I got out of it. There was tons of catered food for the Mills community, wine and exotic foreign foods like quesadillas. One stipulation: you have to RSVP. To RSVP, you have to be in the procession. To be in the procession, you need the cap and gown. To afford the cap and gown, you have to make far more money than I do. Sure, plenty of students got around the food situation. I chose not to, as I kind of stand out (only black male student on campus, as far as I know) and don't like dealing with lots of bullshit. It feels surreal to me that the “Mills community” taking part of the festivities is mostly comprised of rich people people who haven't seen a lecture hall in twenty years. Because I can't afford it, I am not allowed to eat a sandwich next to them.

Nobody's fault but mine. I chose to be in the academy and reap the career benefits. I chose to watch them eat right in front of me.

It's hard not to be bitter sometimes. What I find interesting is that the staff at the school is aware of the dynamics. Of course they are; it's a women's college in the Bay. Everyone in the Bay is "aware," the question is whether they care or not. Because they are aware of it, that makes everything okay. “Yes, this is a wealthy, exclusive campus in the middle of the inner-city. All the workers are people of color and the student body is white. It's awful and problematic.” And they leave it at that.

The first time I ever came to Mills, security literally trailed me across the whole campus. Like, right up to the admissions department. Like most servants around campus, they were people of color who internalized certain rules about who should be allowed. One thing I find aggravating about racism (as opposed to the non-aggravating parts, I guess) is how infantilizing it is. There's a reason they call us “boy” in the South. Anybody who looks at me can see I'm in my late 20s. Do you seriously think I'm coming here to fuck with teenaged white girls? Seriously? Never mind the fact that the only available English faculty I talked to, when asked what opportunities were available for poverty-level students, said maybe I should consider not going to grad school.

Which is fine. Again, I chose to come here. It's just hard to be in such a place and not feel like I've fallen somehow. There was a time I took what I wanted and didn't care whether someone said 'Hands off the food.' There was a time I got a full ride to a school based on the quality of my work, a quality which has multiplied exponentially in the last few years. The older I get, the more inclined I feel to follow rules. Today I went to People's Park and joined the other poor people in the Food Not Bombs line. A wonderful, beautiful and encouraging way to spend the afternoon. That food was free. I pay to go to Mills and feel alienated.

And that's fine. They are who they are. I've looked at the prospects of teaching college when all this is done. After all, it's a job and I'm qualified. Whatever enables me to keep writing. Would I then be the asshole telling a hungry person they can't eat?

And I know it's college. I know everybody else figured this out years ago and dropped ut to go ride trains. I know you'd get the same bullshit at Stanford or anywhere else. There's a certain amount of responsibility that comes with self-alienation. People who choose to come to academia should not bitch because its elitist. People who vote should not complain when the politicians do things they don't like, such as escalating the Middle Eastern wars. Man, you surrendered your agency to this person, sothere you are. And this is the last time I'll bitch about my own choices. Many essays have been written about the plantation-style aspect of higher education. I don't want to write another one. I just want a fucking sandwich.


I want to be a detail-oriented writer. I'm not saying I am. It's what I want. Sometimes I get so caught up in writing that I skip all the juicy little things that make a world come alive and just jump into the plot.

Which is why I need to go to a jazz concert.

The characters in my novel like jazz. I don't, but they do. They're currently at a jazz festival. When I think of jazz, I think of Count Basie. But when I go on the SF jazz festival website, I see all kinds of things. All the different musical genres blended together, which I guess is the essence of jazz. Certaibly not just the New Orleans or New York or Chicago stuff that developed in the 20th century.

One of my sisters from IWL is doing a show with Brenda Wong Aoki next month. Brenda's performance consists of Noh-inspired storytelling, accompanied by jazz/traditional Japanese taiko drum. I can't even begin to fathom what this looks like, but it sounds awesome. I need to know what modern jazz looks like. Where it happens. Who goes to see it. What do the musicians look like? What is the between-song repartee? It's time to learn some specifics. That's my next field trip for this book.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chapter 61: In Which I Discuss A Reading in Buffalo

One day I'm going to find out how Google ranks what comes up on its search requests. Right now I'm simply too lazy to google the answer.

I google myself evey once in a while. Vanity is naturally the reason. Googling has become annoying since my laptop picked up a virus that keeps redirecting me to spam sites. "Congratulations! You've won..." Shut the fuck up. It's interesting and validating to see that record of what I've accomplished. It's also interesting to see the strange places my name turns up (AAEA Hollywood, I'm looking at you). And there are nice surprises, such as the fact that the JDS Amazon page is no longer a giant block of text. We'll see how long that lasts. The top-ranked site is this blog, which makes me do a happy dance.

A site that has has without fail, consistently, for over a year been in the top five is the reading Dan and I did at Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo. A reading that the owner warned us would be sparsely attended, and it was. Four people came. Two of them were journalism students at the college who were required to review a reading, and left right after Dan, presumably to write about how dirty his clothes were in detail. Then there was a friend of Dan's. Then there was an enthusiastic young lady who told us we inspired her, and thank goodness for people like her. I'm an emerging artist and don't expect large crowds. Just one person, one in the audience with enthusiasm for the written word makes it all worthwhile.

Was Talking Leaves a good reading? Sure. I think we were up to the task. Afterward we stayed with Dan's friend, had dinner, drank 40s, and watched Steamboy and Legend back to back. A viewing of Steamboy will make any evening just right.It's like Akira with all the brain cells taken away.  If you have trouble sleeping, Legend with its ultra-soothing Tangerine Dream soundtrack will do the trick.

Today I google myself (sounds so dirty) and find that the Buffalo reading is number two in the search. Seriously, how are these ranked? Is there just posthumous interest in the lost Elvenslaughter reading? Or does the store pay to bump up their site like BP pays to bump up sites about their lackluster cleanup efforts in the gulf?

Much love to Talking Leaves, by the way. Friendliest people and so accomodating. The next stop (Cleveland) was our only real bullshit stop where I could tell they put no effort into it. Seriously, people, promote your readings. At least let the employees know there's going to be one. If an audience shows up, they buy things and you make money. Or don't promote. Get swallowed by Barnes & Noble for all I care. Argh.

I've been reminiscing a lot about my first tour. Time for another "Music of the Elvenslaughter," methinks.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Quick update

So Christine and I made our Kickstarter!!!! Thanks to everybody that contributed. We have a nice chunk of change to work with next year. I've also bee nlooking into travel grants for next years tour. It would be nice to ease the gas burden a bit.

Next up on the agenda: making good on our incentives. And I will. Everybody will get what they were promised on the Kickstarter. I've been busy as of late. Three grad classes and a TAship that by itself takes up 12 hours a week. The main challenge in following on incentives will be editing the audiobook tracks to send to people. Audacity, here I come. Did I mention I just did some studio time for the audiobook? Yeah. Chapters 3 and 4 of "Assistant." It's all coming together.

I am very much about revising as I go along. I've learned this working on Motley & Plume the last few months. I'll do 5 pages, just freewriting and inserting ramdom bits. Then I'll go over those same five pages again. And again. And send them out for critique. The first 130 pages have been laid out for a while, and I'm about to give them another once over.

I've never been much for outlines, so I'm discovering this story and these characters as I write it. The process is magical. I won't lie. I've got a good 400 pages of material. About a third of it is loose notes, and it's all way more than I'm going to use. The goal is to cut it down to 300. In other words, the real challenge will be once all is on the page.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chapter 60: In Which I Discuss True Blood Again

The problem with my favorite guilty pleasure is that it's a dumb show written by smart people.

Two episodes left and I'm enjoying this new season for the junk food it is. There are still too many storylines, but at least they're integrated better. The vampire vs. witch storyline is being handled decently, and thank god Bill has something to do other than moon over Sookie. Stephen Moyer's been a jem this whole season, but a lot of the actors are doing great. At this point in the story, the vampires are suited up in their black leather to go lay the smackdown on the witch Marnie and her group of human hostages. Other than Marnie, all of the witches want out, but the vampires, as usual, don't give a shit. And we're supposed to root for them and cheer them on as they blow everyone to Kingdom Come.

And I would, but the show is too smart for it's own good. What makes it smart is that the vampires aren't a romanticized group like, say, pirates in a Douglas Fairbanks movie. Or those sparkly vampires everybody keeps talking about. The True Blood vampires are vampires. And that's what I like about it. Bill being king has allowed him to indulge the slimier impulses he only used to get out occasionally as Sookie's love interest. Pam's rotting curse and subsequent vengeance quest has revealed that, under the witty oneliners, she's completely, irredemably evil. I like that King Bill is basically operating a Blackwater-style paramilitary organization that kidnaps his enemies. I like that puppy-dog amnesia Eric will still rip the heart out of a defenseless woman. There is no sparkle to these vamps. Kill, kill, kill all the time.

Which is where the complications arise. We're supposed to root for them, and they are often compared to an oppressed minority. Never mind that, four seasons in, the Academy Award-winning writing crew still hasn't figured out what minority the vamps are supposed to stand for. Comparing murderous, immortal cannibals with no impulse control to any real world group will always be problematic. In the first season they were unsubtly hinted to be analagous to homosexuals, "coming out the coffin" and all that, which I'm sure made gay people happy. In the second season, I guess vampires were supposed to be blacks, with the Southern fundie-style Fellowship of the Sun standing in for the Klan. Sorry Alan Ball, but I'm black and I don't eat people. In season three, I'm guessing they were Muslims, what with the "vampire terrorist" Russell Edgington messing things up for hard-working, honest serial killers like Bill and Eric. I actually like that one. In current American society, a Muslim might as well be a vampire.

By season four, I'm of the mind that vampires are supposed to represent the southern planter aristocracy. Let's see. They live in the South. Check. Overpowered bullies who pull strings in politics and the media. Check. Hold the upper hand in every confrontation. Check. Prone to acts of random and sadistic terrorism and are completely above the law. Check. As with the aristocracy, you have some who are image-conscious (David Duke/Nan), some who are image-conscious but handle it poorly (Strom Thurmond/Bill), and some who are just murdering thugs and rapists (the Klan/Russell/Lorena/Eric/Pam/Jessica/Franklin/ Luis/the Magister/the Texans).

Their claims at oppressed minority status echo current white supremacist doctrine, especially the kind coming out from the zenophobic elements in Scandinavia. And in case you don't think the show makes such an analogy explicit and I'm just pulling this out my ass, watch those scenes from last season where Tara's running for her freedom from Russell's plantation home wearing a 19th century chastity gown. This shit could not be more obvious. I wonder if somebody made a show about sexy Klansmen suiting up in black leather to go burn a colored church in Shreveport whether it would go over.

So the writers are aware of this analogy they've crafted, and at least aware that they don't portray the vampires as your typical heroes. I will watch this show to the end. Why, you ask? I could care less about the romance stuff. I will endure the substandard worldbuilding, too many subplots, inconsistent characterization and horrible main protagonist just to see what the POINT is. Another running theme of this show is that humans aren't so great either. While the vampires hold the monopoly on sadism, a lot of the non-vamp characters are murderers. Jason's first instinct when seeing his friend threatened was to blow the black assailant's brains out. An honest reaction and very telling for that character. Will that be the final message, that a vampire is just a human with super powers and no consequence? Or will the message be that we've all been duped by a species of sexy ghouls who want to eat us? The problem is that I don't know if there's an endgame. They might just be running all these plots without thinking it through. Which would not be a surprise, but would still be disappointing.

Nobody is claiming that True Blood is a masterpiece. The show gets campier every season. But it's also not completely disposable. If this were just a Twilight level shitfest I wouldn't watch it. There is a level of awareness of human nature and contemporary society that informs the show and keeps it interesting. Alan Ball crafts complicated characters like Bill Compton, Sam Merlotte, his brother Tommy, Eric, Terry Bellefleur, Lafayette, Tara, even Jason (that's mostly the acting, though). The relationships between them are the best part of the show. The down-to-earth elements, while they get repeatedly stomped on by scene after scene of vampire sex, are what make the show what it is.

Ball&Co. chose an edgy path by creating a world where it would actually make sense to be scared of vampires. Even then, they pull their punches. All the vampire opponents on the show are raving ultra-conservative lunatics. Never mind that an ordinary person, like Terry or Arlene, would be smart to be wary of them. The show paints Arlene as a bigoted redneck. I get it, Alan Ball. Conservatives are bad and should be mocked. Now can we actually explore what a world with supernatural creatures in the open would look like?
Think about it. The Great Revelation causes new religions to pop up. The police investigate unsolved murders that could be vampire-related. Makers go on trial for killing their progeny. Special government forces are trained specifically to deal with vamps. The whole world is turned upside-down by myth made flesh. The show raises these possibilities but never follows through. Just thinking about it makes me sound like a shitty fanfic writer, but how awesome would it be to have some kind of look at these possibilties? It doesn't have to be realistic. It can be halfway realistic. Instead we get fundies waving "BLOODSUCKERS SUCK" signs and, well, vampire sex. Why is their imagination so limited?
There is a lot of crappy writing on the show, as I've mentioned. There's also a haphazard magic system and a frustrating unwillingness to delve into the most interesting storyline, i.e. vampire politics. Characters hint at vampires pulling the strings, Illuminati-style, and a schism between the American Vampire League and the Authority. The time to pull the trigger on this plotline was yesterday, and instead I'm subjected to literally hours of Anna Paquin and Alex Skarsgaard stinking up the screen with their lack of sexual chemistry. Oh yes, and halfway through season three they decided to turn the show into Heroes, introducing a flurry of new supernaturals, more than can be developed in an hour-long episode.

Which would not be so frustrating if the writing was crappy all the time. It is not. I loved the intervention scenes between Terry and Andy last week. And you have a character like Jessica, whose evolution from cute innocent to bloodthirsty vamp has been handled naturally (absentee maker, early influence from Eric and Pam, realization of her physical strength, discontent with a domestic life she can never really have, kills two humans without repercussion). When she gets gung ho for Bill's kill squad, I buy it. Hell, even her romantic storyline with Jason and Hoyt has been good. You have a character like Tommy, who, in all his frustrating ways, was one of the most realistic depictions of an abused youth I've seen on TV. I even like how he died just as his story was getting interesting. Happens in real life all the time, and will have serious repurcussions for Sam's storyline.

The quality of these individual scenes/characters does not change the fact that Terry, Andy and Sam, the very definition of supportng characters, should NOT HAVE INDEPENDENT STORYLINES. Sam's two season-long sideshow has yet to intersect with the main plot. It brushed up against Jason's terrible werepanther storyline but that's it. Jessica can have a storyline or two because she is a VAMPIRE. The werewolves on True Blood suck. The fairies on True Blood suck. The only mythological creatures they do any justice to are vampires, and even their story is not as compelling as it can be. These writers are skilled. They can craft sympathetic characters and nail the small details, but they pick and choose when to do their job, so I don't know if there's a point. Underneath the trainwreck style camp, there are hints of an actual compelling show. Can somebody please write that story?

Rant over. It's Sunday. Time to go watch.