Sunday, December 23, 2012

On "The Hobbit"

"The greatest adventure is what lies ahead. Today and tomorrow are yet to be said..."

I saw The Hobbit while in Athens. It was good. Not so good that I'd like to see it again, and sometimes painful to sit through. Some points:

-Definitely should have been one movie. Sooo much bloat, and I felt the length. Simply put, you cannot string an epic story out of this material. Every story beat takes too long. I think Tolkien himself would have stopped in the middle of writing the Silmarillion to tell them to wrap it up. Towards the end, when I'm watching trees fall down and dwarves throwing pine cone grenades and dwarves hanging from the legs of other dwarves and Thorin slo-mo battling some main antagonist they made up for the movie, I'm thinking, "Really? All this to get to the eagle rescue? Just have the birds pick them up from the trees."

-There are a lot of callbacks to the first trilogy. This can be cool, as the Lord of the Rings movies have been around long enough to have their own mythology. I loved the Frodo cameo (until it went on too long), and geeked out when Saruman showed up. Certain motifs in the musical score come along at just the right moment, like that choir when the eagles come, and it works.

(Speaking of that council scene, I loved how, while Elrond and Saruman and Gandalf are taking their meeting super serious, Galadriel is just walking ethereally in a circle, looking at them out the corner of her eye and having side conversations with Gandalf. Screw this second coming of Sauron stuff, she just wants to pose. And I love how Gandalf is the quintessential employee, kowtowing to his middle manager Saruman while engaging in telepathic gossip.)

On the other hand, a lot of it is lazy filmmaking. That part where Radagast is outrunning the orcs on his rabbit sleigh? Arwen already did that. The Goblin Town fight? The Mines of Moria. Walking on the side of a mountain in a nasty storm? Just like the first movie. The party getting surrounded by possibly hostile horsemen? Taken from the second movie. There was no reason to have an orc hunting party chasing the heroes, yet here they are, like in Fellowship. It's not a good sign when a filmmaker starts homaging himself. There has to be a balance to these things. For instance, I enjoyed the part where Bilbo falls on his back and the ring falls on his finger. A clear callback to Fellowship that visually links Bilbo and Frodo. Other times, it seemed like Jackson wasn't trying. Using the same upshot as when the hobbits were hiding under the knoll in Fellowship does not work because an orc on a warg is NOT AS SCARY as a Nazgul.

Yet there's also comfort to these familiar scenes. Going into LOTR, I already had a general outline of how the trilogy would pan out. With The Hobbit, I REALLY knew how the story would pan out, so there's no suspense. Add this to the fact that so much of it is retread, it makes for an altogether comfortable film, with familiar faces doing familiar things. And it was great to see my old buddy Gollum show up like no time had passed since his epic fall into Mount Doom. In the ever-capable hands of Andy Serkis, he still has that mix of pathos and menace that made him so compelling. But I'm not sure this makes for great filmmaking. I am comforted to see Hugo Weaving show up, but Elrond doesn't do much of anything in the story. Meanwhile, Jackson keeps treading familiar territory. It's sad that an Oscar-winning director hasn't progressed at all in ten years.

Unlike any LOTR film, I felt the length. For instance, the scene with Frodo. The two Bagginses discuss the Sackville-Bagginses and the party for what seems like five minutes, and I could swear I saw this same scene in the extended edition. Then I wondered if Jackson had simply cut out an EE scene and stuck it in a theatrical film. That's not the case, but it felt that way. This whole movie felt like one of the extended editions. They work great as home DVDs that you can pause every once in a while, but as movies they are bloated and redundant. I swear, that goblin chase was, like, a page in the book. The whole affair needed at least a half hour cut off.

-The part where they're on the rock giants was beyond stupid.

-Martin Freeman is great. I'd never heard of the guy before, but he's definitely got the everyman thing down. I'd say he's well-equipped to be the focus of this trilogy.

-They nailed Riddles in the Dark. This was the one I was worried about, as its a battle of wits/dialogue scene between two characters, without special effects to really on. Serkis and Freeman were great, and Gollum had a palpable menace. Goes to show that, at the end of the day, it's about the actors. The scene where Bilbo spares Gollum was easily the most emotional part of the film for me. The way Bilbo kept holding his sword in different ways, as if any of them would make the kill easier, was spot-on. And Gollum just looked so sad and human. A perfectly executed version of one of the best things Tolkien wrote.

-Another wonderful scene: the morning after the 15-hour "Unexpected Party." Bilbo is walking through his house. Everything is back where it was, other than an emptied pantry. He can continue with his life like nothing happened. Then he sees the dwarves' contract. Right then and there he is faced with a choice. On the one hand is the life he knew; on the other hand is the unfamiliar. Jackson perfectly captures that call to adventure that the best stories have. It's there when Taran decides to chase Hen Wen. It's there when the Pevensies go through the wardrobe. It's there when Matthias decides to find the Sword of Martin. Every time, the hero makes a choice, and Jackson nails that decision. Enchanting scene.

-I'm going to be in the minority, I feel, but I liked Radagast. When I go to see a fantasy movie, I want fantasy. I want little gnome guys with blue orb-y things in their wizard staffs nursing hedgehogs back to health. And i don't mind the rabbits sleigh, because I'm sure he does enough for those rabbits that they don't mind dragging him around. That he doesn't work tonally with the rest of the film goes back to problems with them trying to squeeze an epic trilogy from a children's story. Sooo...really all they needed this whole time to defeat the orcs were rabbits? Those suckers could have ran circles around the Uruks at Helm's Deep.

I really don't know why they couldn't just film it as a kids' flick. I'm more interested in seeing a quality children's fantasy film than a kinda-kids'-flick-kinda-LOTR-retread at this point. For instance, I saw Wreck-It Ralph a few weeks ago. That movie was confident in what it was, and was pretty much better than Hobbit in every way.

-In the end, I did get one thing I missed from my beloved trilogy: high-octane male bonding! That hug Thorin gave Bilbo in the end? Waterworks. Give me more, please.

Anyway, there were some thrilling parts, and some emotional beats that worked, and some of the trademark Tokien "quaint" that I found charming. But Rankin-Bass has nothing to worry about. Their Hobbit is still the gold standard. I have no real urge to see the second one. This first one already drew too much from the Appendices, so I can only guess the next will have a major case of appendicitis in order to fill three hours. It's a shame del Toro dropped out, because this is a franchise that needs new blood. Jackson's not challenging himself at all. Anyway, I'll probably go see the third because, you know, dragons. Ugh. It was George Lucas who started this bloat thing, designing a whole trilogy of prequels where only the last one mattered. Now it's a fixture of how Hollywood goes for the geek dollar. Doesn't make for good storytelling at all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Jules Bentley's blog has some awesome articles.

Read it NOW.

Tour update--New Orleans

I've had a great time in New Orleans, going to parties and meeting new people. Hanging out with various queers, crusties, and hobos. I'd forgotten how nice it is to hang out with people who are pozy, which is the majority of folks Ben and Dziga surround themselves with. I'm also realizing how small the world is. My tourmate Dziga had not only heard of Camp Butchinson, the movie I extra'd in back in August, but knows some of the actors. And who do I see at a party in New Orleans, but one of the founding members of the hippie house I used to live in. And who did I read with on Wednesday but Ben Kopel. He toured this year with Kim Vodicka, who I toured with last year. The United States is starting to feel like a city block. No wonder I've been getting the travel bug.

New Orleans has fast become one of my favorite cities. It's so beautiful, and I love that there's MUSIC everywhere. I was just walking around a lake today, passed by one of those gorgeous old-time houses and heard trumpet coming out the window. Or those kids I saw in the French Quarter, singing Christmas carols with trumpet and tamborine. It's been a nice stay, but I'm ready to hit the road. We finally--FINALLY--booked Atlanta, so starting in Pensacola it's going to be a reading per day.

The reading at Fair Grinds was easily the best-attempted reading I've ever done. Standing room only. 40+ people. My book launches in Pittsburgh and Oakland might have been as well-attended, but I doubt it. It was also one of the most effortless shows I've ever done. No hitches. Smooth transitions. I read from "When the Law Come," and found out I have a large amount of the story memorized. Once again, smooth. Dziga's friend Gorgios was good. Ben Kopel was good. Everybody was good. It's interesting doing shows on the other readers' home turf. Even though I'm the headliner, nobody came there for me. It kind of inspires me to step up my game.

At some point, an audience member asked about the title of the tour. As I came up with the title, I gave an eloquent explanation as to why the blues is still relevant in this day and age, maybe more than ever. After which, New Orleans literary luminary Jules Bentley yells out, "What about Dusty Rhodes?" After which, I not only admitted I took the title "Hard Times Blues" from a Dusty Rhodes promo, but began to act out said promo.

Speaking of eloquence, at one point Dziga, who was MCing, spoke about why he wanted to do this tour so much. He told how people, when asked about our respective fields--poetry, comics, and fantasy--speak about them as something that other people are into. And maybe, in seeing our shows, they'll feel comfortable saying that poetry, comics, and fantasy are something they're into as well. Deep.

After the show, we hung out with Ben, and a few of Ben and Dziga's friends, and the nice chaps from Maple Street Books, who sponsored the event. We went to a bar. I learned that a deep fried jalapeno is just that. A jalapeno. Ouch.

For more depth from Ben and Dziga (I can't speak for myself), here's our interview with Savannah Now:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tour update

Right now I'm in New Orleans, in a warehouse/punk house. What's the technical term for such a place? A werepunk house? This is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous collective spaces I've been in. Two stories, multiple rooms, alcoves, high ceilings, posters from as far back as the 90s on the wall, random things everywhere, lumber, screenprint studio, Books to Prisons HQ, an NES system, a treasure trove of VHS tapes. There are windows that lead into hallways and doors converted into shelves and hidden stairways. Describing it does no justice. I had a communal dinner with the residents last night, in which we broke bread and had a lengthy discussion about the politics of the X-Men. Everyone except me was well-versed in the mythology. Still, good times. I hear it's closing down at the end of the month, as the person who owns the property wants to do some kind of land trust thing with it. Maybe that'll be a good thing, but as of now, it rocks as a collective space.

We had a good show in Lafayette. Small crowd, but they were feeling it, and it worked nice as a dress rehearsal for the rest of the tour. It even felt like a dress rehearsal, as we were in a theater, with a stage and furniture and vases of paper flowers. Both Ben and Luka are cool folks, and Ben's music/comic presentation was super polished.

But it is not tour without disasters big and small. My tourmates rented a car from one of their friends, and drove it to Lafayette. At some point before we went on, Luka went to the car, tried to open it, and the key broke off in the door. I didn't know a piece of metal could just snap in half. This left us stranded in Lafayette with a car we couldn't move.

As disasters go, not so bad. It could have happened in the middle of the tour, when we had less down time. Instead, it happened right at the beginning, during the days we set aside in case we got Baton Rouge or Austin. As there was 15 hours left on their Kickstarter, Luka put up an emergency "we're fucked" message on Facebook. We got a little extra change off of that. For our troubles, the owner of Cite des Arts gave us a drink each, on the house.

Here's how this went. Ben and Luka could not just walk into a locksmith and ask for a duplicate key of a car they don't own. So the person who owned the car had to borrow someone else's car, drive three hours from Nola to Lafayette. They had to have the car towed to the Chevy dealership. Once their friend arrived, then they got a new key, then they got the car, then we went to New Orleans. I spent the whole ride down to Nola grading student papers, and got grades in right at the 9 o'clock deadline, thus gratefully ending the longest semester of school I've ever had. All's well that ends well. I got my papers done. Ben and Luka got a nice long vacation in Lafayette.

I've been homeless for over a month. That is not bragging about how tough I am, or trying to elicit sympathy. It's just reality. I was renting from somebody who basically had a mental breakdown, and one consequence was they kicked my black ass out in the literal cold without explanation. Having to move for the thid time in three months felt pretty disgusting, but there was nothing to be done about it. As I could not find housing in the middle of October, I came back from Canada with nowhere to live, and spent much of November dragging luggage between different temporary shelters. I still went to work every day and did my job. I am grateful that eventually one of the professors put me up for long enough to get done with whatever was necessary, and get things situated for tour. It's funny that, being on the road, I feel more secure than I have been for the last several months.

I want to try out some new material on this tour. All of the stories in Hard Times Blues are ripe for reading. Until I find a printer, it's JDS. Tomorrow I'll read "When the Law Come." We've got two other artists on the bill. And everybody who comes out gets my kudos for bravery, because goddamn it's cold down here. Winter, you have arrived.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tour News!

I just slept for seven hours through a massive thunderstorm. You never realize how much you miss something until you finally have it. Sleep, my friend. It's good to see you again. And sleep is always best with a thunderstorm in the background. You wake up and it seems like the world is ending, and that's oddly comforting. The impending apocalypse becomes a lullaby. Thunder and lightning and sound of rain in leaves are all very soothing sounds, when you're not out in the open. They remind you the Earth is still working.

I'm going on tour in less than a week! Hitting the road with Ben Passmore and Dziga Daedalus, who is going under the alias of Luka Miro. Ben's a killer graphic artist, Dziga's a killer poet. Here's the flyer Ben dreamed up.

Awesome. You would think he did this for a living or something. Dziga arranged for us to drive a friend's '97 Toyota Camry. Good gas mileage. We'll see how it tackles the Blue Ridges. Anyways, here are our dates.

December 9th--Lafayette, LA--Cites des Arts
December 12th--New Orleans, LA--Maple Street Books
December 14th--Pensacola, FL--Open Books
December 16th--Athens, GA--Flicker Bar
December 17th--Savannah, GA--The Sentient Bean
December 18th--Chapel Hill, NC--Internationalist Books
December 19th--Boone, NC--TBA
December 20th--Asheville, NC--Firestorm Cafe
December 21st--Memphis, TN--Java Cabana

We tried hard to get Atlanta. Really hard. I don't know if I've ever contacted so many people for one city, but, alas, the booking gods did not smile on us. It looks like that'll be our day to go see The Hobbit. And there are gaps in there that I'd hoped would be Texas dates or Baton Rouge, but they all fell through. Oh well, no sense angsting. I'm excited to finally get all bardic in the South. Tour ends, appropriately, on the End of the World. I can't think of a better way to go out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chapter 93: In Which I Re-Assert That My New Book Is Coming Out In July

The new book's coming out in July. This is not a setback. It's a benefit. The proper window to send a book out for blurbs is four months. That gives your reviewers time to read. We were rushing the book to print and did not allow ourselves that window. I'm glad the folks at Six Gallery were smart enough to slow down and consider this. Also, much congratulations to my partner-in-crime Christine Stoddard, who recently signed a deal for a collection of articles from her magazine, Quail Bell. So by the end of 2013, it's possible we'll both have two books. Onward and upward.

Everybody who contributed to the Kickstarter will get their incentives. And the books will be at their absolute best quality, which is ultimately what matters most. That said, there is still cause for (immediate) celebration.

New edition of Jacks Daniels Sessions!!!!!!1111111

As was promised, as is delivered, and just in time for tour. Improved resolution on Rachel's beautiful illustrations, and some additional bits from myself. I am not George Lucas. I did not add Gungan celebrations or ghost Hayden Christensen to my book. But there's some small stuff here and there, mostly additions to "Assistant." One of these additions involves the African folk tale of "The Cow Tail Switch."

"Assistant" is a very personal story for me, and I'll be brief, because authors describing how their work should be read is obnoxious. But these are my intentions. It is a story about an African-American discovering Africa. It is not comfortable for him. Africa is represented by the orisha Mr. Redbone, who is an ambiguous figure. He is wise, but not all-knowing; he is capable of comfort, but also capable of causing deep discomfort; he has answers, but not all the answers. He is Africa to a black American. In meeting Mr. Redbone, Elijah starts to learn about his heritage, and it is not a comfortable tutelage. In this story, I wanted to capture that degree of apprehension and unfamiliarity that comes from learning about the motherland, and I hope I did.

There is a trick that is played on black people. We are not taught about our history. We're not taught about Ife and Benin. Hell, we're not even taught about Egypt, which is universally considered one of the greatest cultures this world has ever seen. We go to school and learn about Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare as if that's our history. Our culture is established as something that began with slavery, but here's the catch: you can't talk about slavery either. Nobody wants to talk about how black people were human chattel 140 years ago. That raises too many uncomfortable questions about our current position. I live in Louisiana, and recently I was talking to some Swedish backpackers at a hostel I was staying at. They were telling me about some plantation tour that has actors in knickers and gowns, but absolutely no mention of slavery. As if all that cotton and tobacco just picked itself. The very idea is absurd, and even insulting. My ancestors who built the country are apparently unimportant, but these assholes who spent all their time riding around in coaches and having debutante balls get represented? Absolutely deplorable. But that's the way things are.

Many black children are nihilists. I fully realized this when I lived in Oakland. I'd listen to them on the bus, in the classroom when I taught. I got a face full of it when I was doing social work.  They've grown hard from a world of violence, and as such, all that both boys and girls think about is violence. They brag about their ability to fight. They openly talk about killing other black people. And sometimes I wonder if things would be different if, at some point, somebody told them that everything the Europeans had, we had also had. Kings. Queens. Princesses. Armies. Battles. Slaves. Castles (what else do you think a pyramid is?). Empires. The only thing we didn't have was a convenient location right next to Asia so we could learn about gunpowder.

Our histories as Africans, and as American slaves, are erased. As far as your average black kid is concerned, our entire race began with the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And what has been the legacy since then? Drugs. Poverty. Violence. I just wish somebody would point out that there's more to our culture. A lot more.

But I digress. When I was a boy, I was very much like Elijah. My views on Africa were informed by popular culture, what I saw in Bugs Bunny cartoons. I learned the truth through reading folktale books around the house, and an early one I read was "The Cow Tail Switch," a very short story that is, at its root, about mortality. What does it mean to die? How do humans achieve a sort of immortality? From there, I read stories about Tortoise, and Anansi, and Osiris, and moved onto American myths like High John de Conquer. In doing so, I gained a view of African as a diverse, dynamic continent that birthed a diverse, dynamic race.

It is the same for Elijah, a character growing up in a culture of violence. His introduction to the African is distressing, as it is for any person brought up to think of Africa as a backwards, homogeneous place. The folklore serves as another inroad for him. I'm glad I got to include these tales as an aspect of his education. For the character development, but also because they're just damn good stories, and I have a hell of a time retelling them.

Back to writing.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Chapter 92: In Which I Discuss the World Fantasy Convention

Amazing. Inspiring. Four days long and way too short. The World Fantasy Convention 2012 was everything I wanted and more. Getting there was a hike, and a process in itself (I had to file for a new passport), but everything was worth it. I grew from a creative and social standpoint. Met old friends and made new ones. Sigh. So sad its over.


My connecting flight out of Newark was cancelled due to something about a hurricane, so the day beforehand I called United to change flights. They hooked me up no problem with a flight straight from Houston to Toronto. (Thanks, Sal! You're a quality customer service rep!) This begs the question: why didn't they give me the straight flight in the first place? Why two layovers? Ah well. So United earned my appreciation, a trust they would shatter on the return trip, but I'll get into that later.

A colleague was kind enough to drive me to the airport at 2 in the morning, October 31st. The airport was closed until 3am, so we went to a diner where all these people were absolutely shitfaced. I wondered where they found all these Tuesday night bars/parties in Lafayette, Louisiana, because I sure as hell haven't seen any. I talked with my colleague about writing, and my writing process. We also talked about this apparently awful teen flick called Project X, some drugged-out party movie Animal House knockoff. This in itself is not cool. The fact that it has inspired teenagers across the country to break into foreclosed homes to throw massive keggers is very cool. I am all for such activism, whether they know it to be activism or not.

Spent my now customary hour in the Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Touched down in Toronto at noon. Freezing cold, miserable weather. I was lucky my rescheduled flight got me in early, because I got a chance to go to the hotel and drop off some complimentary copies of Jack Daniels Sessions. And I needed that time. It was four hours round trip from where I was crashing in Toronto to the hotel in Richmond Hill. Two subways, two VIVA buses. And my dumb ass got confused on directions, to the point I called 411. Yes, an international 411 call. My phone is going to get charged a million dollars. On the subway I saw many awesome costumes. I saw a dude wearing an Arab headdress and a Darth Vader mask, and his buddy wearing a V for Vendetta mask, and got nervous they might stick-up the train. That's how I know I've been living in paranoid-ass America too long: I now fear Darth Vader cosplayers.

All that aside, I made it to the Sheraton, where a team of volunteers was working like Santa's elves to pack an ungodly number of books. The most I could afford to bring was twenty, but that's hopefully twenty new readers. Much respect to all the volunteers, because they were working night and day, and they pulled off the convention beautifully.

Toronto looks like America. It sounds like America. It smells like America. They cuss each other out in the subway like in America. It's certainly as diverse as America. But it's not America. It was like I'd stumbled upon some long-lost Midwestern state, a cross between New York and Milwaukee. I regret to say the most Canadian thing I did was try some maple syrup whiskey during my stay.

All the news would talk about was the U.S. election, which I expected. There was also a horrible story about a girl with mental issues who killed herself while in the Canadian penal system. That was after they shipped her from institution to institution, and did some pretty invasive shit to her. Apparently, the to-do was that somebody released footage of her getting duct taped in a chair, then forced to sit in her own feces. So, yeah, Canadians send their mentally ill to prisons, too. And make life suck so bad they kill themselves while in solitary, too. Here's your kinder, gentler nation.

Institutional monstrosity aside, I met some fine people while up there. I stayed in the city with a friend of one of the Cyberpunk Apocalypse visiting writers, who was just super nice, and even offered me materials for a Halloween costume that I never wore. I had this grand dream of partying it up, Toronto-style, on my favorite holiday, but when it came time to go to the club I was in a deep slumber. I hadn't slept since 7 am the day before, so I slept through Halloween, and it was glorious.


A fantasy convention calls for some Rhapsody, methinks.

What makes this particular con unique is that it is for professionals. The World Fantasy Convention is nothing but writers, agents, and publishers. People with an in-depth knowledge of the genre and an interest in where it's going. In that way, it's an interesting contrast to the other major convention I moderated at this year: Fanime. Fanime took over the entire downtown area of San Jose and populated it with thousands of otaku, half of whom were in elaborate costumes. One convention was sprawling, the other small. One was fandom-based, the other literary. One was twenty-four hours, the other ended programming early. Both celebrated imagination to the utmost. Both left me with a feeling of belonging to a community, a tradition, and both gave me a burning desire to create.

It's so crazy to see some older guy walk by and be like, "Oh, hey, it's Charles de Lint." Or, "Oh, hey, Charles Vess." Pretty cool. I should add that both Vess and de Lint were rocking their respective ponytails. Celebrity worship aside, I've never met so many just straight up delightful people in one place. Thanks to the hurricane, there was kind of a celebratory feel to the first day, like, "Hey, you made it! I didn't know if I'd make it either! Hug me!"

After the usual sitting around doing nothing that occurs until about 2pm on the first day of every con ever, I went to the "Wendigo and Others" panel. The convention ran only two panel tracks, and two reading tracks, and cut off both around five. Very tight, very structured, and focused on the topics: Northern Gothic and urban fantasy. Made me realize a genre convention doesn't need tons of panels, especially once you cut out all the Buffy and Firefly stuff. The tight focus was nice, for a change. There were panels on the Gothic, translation, publishing, and the industry itself.

The wendigo is sort of an Inuit cannibal spirit that possesses people and makes them eat others. Of course, defining it as a monster, as it is often called, is colonialist. I know little about the Canadian indigenous culture, so I found the wendigo panel pretty captivating. They discussed how so much of the lore around it completely mistakes the indigenous origin (of course) and just settles on the wendigo being a vampire. They talked of how the stories, like the Northern Gothic itself, evolved from the idea of cold, the need for survival in an inhospitable land. If anything, it is a spirit of the arctic. I appreciated that the panelists were upfront about not speaking for the indigenous perspective, and that their take on the wendigo was inspired purely by individual research.

I ran into my friend Patty Templeton, a kickass writer from Chicago who does some pretty cool Americana stuff, and she introduced me to Black Gate editor C.S.E. Cooney, and we sat on the floor and talked. Almost made me wish I lived in Chicago so I could have taken an awesome 9-hour road trip. It was nice to meet Patty face to face, after being Zuckerberg-approved friends for a while. On our way to the opening ceremonies, I stopped to talk to Cat Rambo, whose a great writer, and one of the first authors to blurb JDS, and, to add to her delightfulness, hosted me and Kim Vodicka when we toured through Seattle. I got to catch up with her mom, as well. In other words, I was entering the family reunion portion of World Fantasy.

I couldn't get a seat for opening ceremonies, which was fine in hindsight because I heard it was only ten minutes long, so I went to The Bar. As in, "Meet me in The Bar." "I'll see you at The Bar." "Such-and-such writer is in The Bar right now." If straight edge fantasy writers exist, they did not come to this convention. To add to my overall swagger, I paid for Canadian beer on debit card, and got thoroughly confused on how to use the little card machine.

At The Bar, I met Claire Humphrey, Scott H. Andrews, and Mike Deluca, among others. Claire is a "gay wizard" story writer extraordinaire and we had a delightful conversation about the sword & sorcery we wrote when we were in high school. We jawed about Lovecraft (who I don't like), Gormenghast (which I never finished), and de Lint (who I love). I got to use my line that de Lint is the Stevie Wonder of fantasy fiction. I stand by this. Both artists fundamentally believe in the goodness of man and have an optimistic view on life. That's what I take from de Lint's work, more than any magic element. And I loved that I could throw out the name Gormenghast and have instant recognition from everybody there.

Everybody I met at The Bar had recent publications. Needless to say, I was very jealous, as they were putting out all these stories in these cool magazines and anthologies, and I hadn't been published since, um...well, that very day.

I'm a huge fan of Liz Hand, so it was awesome getting to write about her for Weird Fiction Review. "The Boy in the Tree" is a tremendous story, and an indication of the brilliant writing yet to come, so I suggest you read it. The Weird is a killer anthology overall, and the Vandermeers got a well-deserved World Fantasy Award that weekend. Anyway, yeah, my lack of publication credits is something I need to not complain about. That and getting older. Any time I grouse about being 28 and losing my hair, people tend to get angry at me. Like, they tell me that I'm nowhere near old and I need to shut up.

We went as a group to Fox & Fiddle, a Hooters-style grill with an appropriately fantastical mascot: an anthropomorphic fox playing a fiddle. I was in Canada, so of course I had to try the quesadilla. It was good. We discussed Mitt Romney or whatever, then moved onto the important things: Disney's 4 billion dollar acquisition of Star Wars. I gotta give Disney props: they know what pop cultural icons will make them money down the line. Buying up Marvel, Star Wars, the Muppets, etc. is right up there with their tweensploitation stuff, as far as smart business. All us fantasy writers agreed that an adaptation of Heir to the Empire would be cool. Just recast the characters, and a kickass story is ready-made for you.

After a while you have to just sit back and enjoy being surrounded by people with intimate knowledge of the Star Wars Holiday Special. Like, maybe two people at that table hadn't seen it. We reminisced on the joy of Wookie porn and Carrie Fisher so fucked up on coke she couldn't even stand. I told them how I see things: saying the new management will ruin Star Wars is like saying the new pope will ruin Catholicism. It's just too big now. Even Lucas couldn't ruin it. With Disney in charge, some of it will suck, and some of it will rule, as always. I have a deep appreciation for place, so I enjoyed rapping with my compatriots about their respective cities, what their neighborhoods are like, what they do for a living. It was good we got there early, because a horde of WFC attendees showed up while we were eating.

I went to the fantasy art panel, which was cool. A bunch of successful artists talking very seriously about what makes for a good cover, and the minute details of illustration. Charles Vess had a neat presentation of covers he thought were good. They also made a good point about covers that make you do the work; it's one thing to have an artist do a photorealistic cover, but far more engaging when the reader has to fill in details with their imagination. I never thought of that. I think that's why Dan McCloskey's cover for JDS works so well.

I liked Charles Vess' admission that he cannot stand to look at bad cover art, and puts a big black dot on the covers of such books in his library. The panel was titled "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," but when somebody asked about "the bad," the panelists were pretty dismissive of the concept. They straight up didn't want to talk about bad art. One of them said there are websites and blogs full of examples of dated fantasy covers, but the fact is they were cool at the time. Everything gets old and its easy to laugh at old things. In fact, there were no "let's laugh at this" panels. Very little talk about Twilight, or sour grapes over J.K. Rowling making more money than everybody, or anything I feared would happen when you lock up a bunch of fantasy writers in a room.

I honestly remember very little of Thursday. Met up with Patty in the lobby, where she and her friends were sprawled out on divans like the Muses, acting boisterous. She had just finished writing a book about ghosts.

PATTY TEMPLETON: So, tell me about e-publishing.
ME: Um, my book's print.
PATTY TEMPLETON: Wow. Totally thought you e-published.

I also told the heavily-tattooed Chicagoan about my own tattoo, which I got from a coworker back in 2006. I went to his house and got it done while watching his DVD of Clone Wars.

ME: You know, Clone Wars. Like, Star Wars. Like the prequels, and Anakin and Obi-Wan are fighting robots...
PATTY TEMPLETON: I meant your tattoo.

Good times. I met Nicole Kohrner-Stace, and Amal Al-Mohtar, and spent some time talking childhood reading experiences with Caitlyn Paxson. I waited until I went home to grab my fifty pound bag o' books. Any convention that gives you piles of books as a perk is the kind I want to go to. Two hour commute. Sleep.


I'm starting to feel bad for anybody who reads this post expecting a report on the World Fantasy Convention. "I talked to this person. Then I talked to that person. I hung out with an old friend. The con was AWESOME!" But it was awesome, and it sucked that U.S. calls were now international calls, because I wanted to call everyone I knew and tell them it was awesome. As much as I wanted to go to panels and readings, half of the convention was just a succession of awesome conversations, so that's what I remember.

Okay, Friday. Panels and readings day.

Hiromi Goto--SO GOOD! Horror and suspense. And apparently she's writing a graphic novel featuring an elderly protagonist. This lady's mad cool.

Charles de Lint--SO GOOD! Fairies!

Lisa Hannett--SO GOOD! Vengeful moths!

Ben Percy--SO GOOD! Werewolf terrorists! Dude's voice was so deep I could feel it in my chest every time he spoke.

Genevieve Valentine--SO GOOD! Ghost cars!

Or maybe these readings took place on Saturday. It's a blur. I made sure to attend as many readings as I could, particularly those of authors I was unfamiliar with.

Did I mention that, instead of an ordinary lanyard, they gave you this giant black pouch for your nametag. With secret pockets in it? And the nametag had Richard Kirk art on it. Craziest badge design I've ever seen.

Speaking of Richard Kirk, he's an ill artist. I saw some of his panel before mine started. Impressive stuff, what with the biomechanical madness, and I was digging it, then he revealed that he'd done the cover for a Korn album and I fanboyed. I wanted to go to the nearest Best Buy and get that CD so I could get his autograph. Apparently, his most high-profile gigs lately are illustrating metal albums and Clive Barker books, a.k.a. best life ever. Later on, I was hanging out with RPG campaign creator Amber Scott, and we discussed this.

ME: And I love Korn but I can't remember the name of the album at all.
AMBER SCOTT (whips out smartphone): The one with the bird-thing on the cover? It's called Untitled.
ME: Maybe that's the reason.

The definite highlight of my con was moderating the Gothic Fantasy Noir panel. It went better than I could have hoped for. I love literature, and I'd been prepping for about a week, re-reading old and familiar texts. I had about twenty questions for the panelists. My two moderating rules: no silence, and make sure nobody talks too long. Here's what my note sheet looked like.

All of the panelists were insightful, opinionated, brilliant. I admit I don't read much in the "kickass heroine" genre. My experience of urban fantasy is more along the lines of de Lint, Hand, and Lieber. I agreed with Rhiannon Held that we should move away from violence as a means to solve problems in our stories. However, the current popularity of UF heroines who combine "masculine" traits (violence) and "feminine" traits (romance) does say something about our current gender discourse. That was just one topic we touched on in a panel that could have gone way longer. Another was the slow apocalyptic moment that we find ourselves in, our climate crisis, diseased planet inspiring the same themes in fiction that came out of the revolutions in the 1700s. My questions mainly focused around class, race, and gender, because that's what interests me about urban fantasy.

We were discussing the Gothic and noir influence in UF. So, not one, not two, but THREE broad-as-a-barn subgenres to squeeze into an hour. We only had time for two audience questions. Gothic and noir are two separate genres with different rules, so it was an interesting scholarly challenge to explore how they've intermingled in urban fantasy. I hope somebody was taking better notes than I did, because the panelists were saying some really interesting things about the nature of cities, and the cities where they live specifically. And I got positive feedback as far as my moderating skills. I got to spend some time with Dana Cameron and Gemma Files later on, and they're very nice, cool people. I also spent some time with Guest of Honor Liz Hand, who was on the panel. She came up to me beforehand:

LIZ HAND: Hi, are you Elwin?
ME (thinking): Are you Liz Hand? How are you the one recognizing me?

Liz is a lovely person, so kind, so positive. I don't require that authors I admire be good people, as well, but that certainly makes things better. She introduced me to some people (like Patricia McKillip!), and to her family, and was just generally awesome. She also let me know that my piece on "Boy in the Tree" was one of the best essays she's read on it, which meant a lot. Liz is a writer who changed my perspective on what a fantasy story can look like, feel like. The texture of her writing informs my own, as well as the courage of her subject matter. So it meant a lot to talk craft with her and where we're going with our respective writing. And she liked my book. To hear such from an author of her caliber means everything. It makes me want to work harder, write better, create more. It lets me know I am on the right track.

It's interesting to me how many of my literary heroes I discovered late in life. I read de Lint's Tapping the Dream Tree based entirely on the cover, when I was maybe 22. I learned about Liz when I was doing story times for the Carnegie Library back in 2008, and was told that her book Saffron & Brimstone was a game-changer. It certainly was for me. By the time I graduated college, I had plenty of imagination, but these were the writers who showed me the shape it could take. I got into genre writing because of Beloved, but, unfortunately, Toni Morrison never wrote another fantastical book. I found other writers who were using that language to say something real.

One thing I noticed: saying you're a PhD student still earns you respect, even from people who've published a bunch of books. The fact that everyone seemed so impressed by this was ironic, as my experience in PhD has been, so far, pretty goddamn awful. I've learned some things, and there's some nice people in the program, but I did my best not to talk about the personal setbacks I've experienced since getting here, or that finishing up my PhD (at this particular school, at least) is a point of serious debate. When I came back from Canada to Louisiana, it was such a dive from high to low that I literally got sick. I spent the week with a nasty cold.

What else? I met Adam Mills, current editor for Weird Fiction Review, whose just a lovely bloke, and complimented me on my hat. WFR was celebrating a successful year, and I'm happy to have contributed to that success, in my own small way. I checked out part of the John Clute reading. He was interviewed by another cranky old fellow, and it was highly entertaining, as well as informative. He acknowledged that he was one of the last survivors of his 1960s Brit crew that included Michael Moorcock, and talked about his early years as a fantasy scholar. It's good to learn more of the history. Then I was off to the de Lint reading. I got my regularly scheduled dosage of FAIRIES and I was content. Love him. At some point during the con I got a chance to thank him for inspiring me to write urban fantasy.

Went to "Bibliofantasy" with Patty. It was cool. The whole panel was sort of based around this antho that came out of stories about books, and the panelists talked about books within books. Princess Bride, Neverending Story, that sort of thing.

BOOK EDITOR ON PANEL: We thought, ok, we might get some cheesy submissions. Like, stories about post-apocalyptic underground cults that worship books.
PATTY TEMPLETON: That sounds awesome.

The most chill panel ever. Nobody was interrupting each other. In fact, they were tremendously cool about letting each other speak and keeping it low-key. It was like watching an NPR recording. At one point I had a realization.

ME: Patty! Whose winning the election?
PATTY TEMPLETON: Election's next Tuesday, dude.

A far cry from when I was driving around Pittsburgh in '04, having woken up at the buttcrack of dawn, thinking every little action I took could somehow help John Kerry win.

Seeing as how the 10th floor con suite was crowded, I ate in the hallway outside what seemed to be an honest-to-God invitation-only industry party. It looked like a fashion show was going on or something. I talked with the editor of On Spec Magazine, who encouraged me to submit. I think I will, and hope they don't notice I'm not Canadian. Or maybe they'll let me be honorary Canadian. The best part was talking about our early comic experiences, and how we both read the Archie Comics version of Ninja Turtles. And the Mighty Mutanimals spinoff. That was what got me into comics as a kid; my little sister started reading them, and I snagged her copies when she wasn't looking because I was absolutely forbidden from touching her stuff, and then I was the one asking Dad to buy it every month. At the time, the Mutanimals fighting that evil insect queen seemed like the most epic storyline ever. Does anybody ever think about how weird the the whole Turtles universe was? A bunch of mutants fighting inter-dimensional aliens. Also, while in the hallway, I met Grace Ogawa. Killer fantasy artist. That hallway was really good for meeting people.

I wish somebody had told me about the con suite the day before. They hooked you up. Coffee and breakfast in the morning. Snacks all through the day. Buffet-style lunch and dinner. I talked a while with the bartendress Angela, who was a huge fantasy fan and could talk to me about hella books, in addition to her community work and the ins and outs of art curating. On Friday night I was eating Greek food, with olives and stuffed leaves and all sorts of things. It felt excessive, until I remembered I paid over $200 for the ticket. This is, in fact, how they should hook you up for that kind of money. Good job, World Fantasy.

Everybody ran off to the autograph signing. I did not go, because autographs are no longer my thing. That's not me being pretentious. I have tons of autographs from my con-going days, some of which are quite precious to me, a reminder I met someone I admired. But, I dunno, it's such a weird interaction. Which is not to say I don't get autographs every once in a while, as it is a viable way to show respect to someone, but not too much.

I think after that I got drunk and went back to the city.


I didn't see a single copy of JDS on the table. At first I thought, "Yay, nobody's swapping my book!" Next thought: "What if they weren't put in the bags!"

I brought a digital camera but didn't take a single picture.

Everybody's married. Or at least in the serious relationship thing. I was in a serious relationship that ended a few months ago. I don't talk about much personal stuff on this blog, but it's a strange feeling. It feels like you have so much, and then you're back at square one.

Met a nice chap named Yuri, who was attending entirely as a fan. We talked about documentaries, of all things. He told me about an interesting set of 1960s Swedish newsreels he'd seen about the Black Panther movement, and how their interview with Angela Davis helped him contextualize that time and place.

Went to see Jeff Vandermeer interview Liz Hand. Really interesting stuff. Among other things, she talked about how she tried to write Generation Loss as a fantasy book before realizing there was no approach that worked but the straight literary. Generation Loss is the book all good writers get to: the deeply personal one. The one you write by going through Hell, and once you're there, you keep going. In confronting the darkness, she removed both her own safety net and the readers', and this unfiltered darkness turned off some people. She talked about how an encounter with the sublime is something a human being would not be prepared for, and there is potential for trauma. This makes Liz, in just one way, the anti-de Lint. Let me rephrase that. The other side of the urban fantasy coin. I find it fascinating they were both guests this year. In his books, magic is integrated into the setting, easily accessible. Hand's books are the decided opposite. Her fantasy is so dark, so rife with tragedy, so complex and unidentifiable.

One of her points was that she doesn't believe that all narratives have to lead to self-improvement/actualization for the character. This is a very "American" way of looking at the world, and not necessarily real. She talked about how her Catholic upbringing made her open to myth and folklore, and how art is the only way we as humans can really access these liminal places.  I remember asking her a question about "The Least Trumps," a story from Saffron and Brimstone. I phrased it as "What was your early experience with children's books?" What I really wanted to ask was, "How do you configure your brain to write a story like that?" Liz is very funny, and talked about how a certain kids' book about a pig lead her to Animal Farm ("Hey, this has pigs in it, too!")

If I got a second question, it would have been: "How can I, too, get a gig writing Star Wars books?" I'll write a Boba Fett book. I'll even shoehorn Donald Duck in there, if they want.

Her talk also included, thankfully, the con's only discussion of Twilight that I witnesses. Liz told how the story's notoriously awful message to girls was what made her break her "err on the side of kindness" policy for reviews. She then did a pretty intelligent takedown of that seminal piece of millennial American trash.

I attended the Banjo Crinoline Apocalypse Troubadours. In one of the few cases of bureaucratic WTFery at an almost eerily well-ran con, TPTB decided last minute that the young women couldn't play music in their reading room, but hooked them up with a 10th floor suite instead. It was standing room only. I grabbed a piece of wall. The Troubadors were Patty, Cooney, Al-Mohtar, and Paxson. If I had to describe each one, it would be:

Patty Templeton: Funny.
Claire Cooney: Bardic.
Caitlyn Paxson: Atmospheric.
Amal Al-Mohtar: Sad.

Everybody's was good, though the American folklore nerd in me leans towards Patty's story about snake oil salesmen and magic potions and bandits. She has such an ear for period dialogue, and humor, and action-filled scenes. I honest to God want to write stories like she does, and maybe someday I will. My favorite part: the painted backdrop falling halfway off the wall and Cooney just ripping it down the rest of the way.

It was a mix of the theatrical, poetry, prose, and song (with friggin harps). I really loved Paxson's song. And Al-Mohtar proved why she's one of those writers everybody talks about. Patty's friend Shawna gave out cookies. As a bit of a performer myself, I appreciated seeing the bardic tradition alive and well.

I also appreciated that there were so many younger people in attendance. It's good for emerging writers to mingle with the more experienced ones, which is what went on. And I had a ball seeing what my contemporaries are up to, doing all this inspiring work. If I got one lesson from WFC, it is this: Elwin, get your shit together. Before the whole genre passes you by.

So I was having a ludicrously good time. I am seriously wondering if I could swing a trip to next year's convention, which is in Brighton, England. The name Brighton makes me think of that Queen song with the 10-minute long guitar solo,, and that's the extent of my knowledge on the place. I guess I could wait until 2014 when it's in DC, but 2014 is just so FAR from now.

At The Bar I talked with this cool dude whose name I can't remember but he writes education books. Scott Pilgrim was on the TV. That movie's actually pretty fun with the sound off. And speaking of England, I had a few drinks with Clarion alum Tiffani Angus. We talked about our respective PhD programs. She's also doing a PhD in Creative Writing, in England. As stated, mine is not going well at all. We mostly discussed Clarion. She convinced me to reapply (didn't get in last year's), and she stood by the experience as a game-changer in her life. So I'll apply. I'd also decided at some point to get a gift for my host in the city, and thought maybe I could get her an autographed copy of one of Liz's books.

TIFFANI ANGUS: The dealer's room closes in twenty minutes.

In what had to be my most adorable con moment, we RAN to the dealer's room to, like, omigod, get the new Liz Hand book. And I wanted Saffron and Brimstone, but they're like, "We don't have it," so I'm like, "Whatever, I'll get Illyria." But they totally didn't take American money! Like, who doesn't take American money? Where do they think they are, France or something? So I RAN to the ATM because I spent all the cash my mom gave me-I know, I know, I like buying nice things, just listen, ok--then RAN back and got the book, like, just in time.

It was a total throwback to when I was 15 years old, running around the dealers room at Otakon, then have a "Eureka!" moment at finding just the manga I was looking for. And yeah, I could probably get it somewhere else later, but nothing beats the discovery.

I've read a few writeups online talking about how there were only two bartenders onhand for this 800+ convention, and how that caused all these hangups. I didn't really notice, considering at no point did I have a problem getting access to alcohol.

Suggestion: play this during reading the next segment.

Oceans of booze. I met up with some of my new acquaintances, who introduced me to the home brew of Mike Deluca, henceforth dubbed the "beer angel" at this particular convention. I tried out the Canadian brands, but mostly kept myself to red wine. And white wine. And cocktails. And vodka shots. I believe it was the ChiZine party that had four ice boxes of beer, plus a fully stocked fridge.

While sitting in the hallway, I met Amber Kimmerly, a killer artist, an anime fan, and a cosplayer on top of that. Somehow we ended up talking about our ages. She said she was born in 1994. I told her I remembered the '80s and she really didn't miss anything. We went to the art reception, where I checked out one of my favorite things: fantasy art. I manned her booth while she checked out the spread.

And it was a spread. I had just eaten in the con suite, but I had some shepherd's pie when I was there. And some other kind of pie. So much good food. It was like being at a feast in a George R.R. Martin book, only nobody got killed, or a feast in a Redwall book, only nobody called me a "vermin" 'cause I was black.

I met up with Liz and several others at the WFC launch party for Karen Tidbeck's book. My memories are pretty spacy, but it involved Jeff Vandermeer, and I'm pretty sure his hair was purple, giving away chapbooks by tossing a stuffed rabbit with a little rabbit penis into the crowd. Then I think people got up and read, like, a paragraph from their books. Then I spent about an hour screaming at various people, good-naturedly. I realized, in talking to folks, how so much of my recent history sounds like a crazy story. Hippie houses, tours, drug dealers, addicts, homelessness, and assorted blues record material. Sometimes I wonder how I've held together as well as I have. The answer is writing. The art is what has kept me focused through these trials. It would be nice to finally have some stability, and I had a semblance of that in the Bay, but it's gone now and not coming back any  time soon.

World Fantasy was a celebration. A celebration of the art, of the genre, of everyone's accomplishments therein. Being in a community of writers was incredibly inspiring; it energized me to go write fantasy, and now I'm committed to finishing Motley & Plume Players, to show I can write a fantasy novel. It also made me want to cut out going to cons for a good long while. I listened to people talk about which cons were coming up, and what panels they were doing, and it seemed like a bad cycle you can fall into. Writers go to conventions to do self-promotion. I think self-promotion is grand. Sporadically, I'm even good at it. But it doesn't mean a thing if you have nothing worth selling. After this next tour in December, I'm going to take the time off from all promo to work on craft.

Which is why I was not upset when I talked to my publisher the next week. He wants to release Hard Times Blues/Once Upon a Body in July. A month ago, I might have objected to this. Not anymore. We were coming down to the wire editorially, and you should never be down to the wire. Everything needs to be tight long before you print, and that's what they're doing now. The reason why I wanted it out this year was because I didn't want to take three years between books, and that's exactly what happened. I want a greater output. Now I realize that, in order to have this output, I need to be writing. That's the only way. I have many stories to tell. Releasing my first book in 2010 was the start of what will be a long adventure.

Back to WFC. I had a piece of cake. Said goodbye to some folks, including Patty, and drank a shot of something with her. She and her friend Shawna brought crazy energy all weekend. I regret we never had that parking lot dance party we talked about. I ran into Genevieve Valentine in the lobby and had an arm wrestling match with her. No, I don't know her. I won. Mary Robinette Kowal was there. The Crawford Award winner and the Hugo Award winner had an arm wrestling match. I think they should have put the awards on the line, but that's just me. Karen Lord was there.The Carl Brandon winner didn't arm wrestle. I told them they were awesome and left. Convention over.


I went to brunch with the lady I was crashing with. She's so cool. We had the best geek conversation of the whole weekend. She encouraged me to watch the new Battlestar Galactica and I sparked her interest in the 1970s Captain Harlock series. We also jawed about Avatar. Anybody who can geek with me about Avatar: The Last Airbender is alright in my book.

Pain in the ass getting through customs. I saw Writers With Drinks founder Charlie Jane Anders in line but didn't say anything to her because we don't know each other. Delayed flight to Houston. Weather forecast: God is pissing all over us. Remember how United hooked me up with a straight flight to Toronto? Well, on the way from Houston they couldn't land in Lafayette due to fog (which I'm sure their radar detected hours before), so they landed us in Baton Rouge. I was waiting until 2:45 in the morning for a Yellow Cab. I got to Lafayette, slept three hours, then resumed with the gaping vortex suck that has so far defined my doctoral career.

On the plus side, I come back home to a country that took this election cycle as opportunity to strike at the oppression of homophobia, theological rule, and racist drug laws. To strike for women's rights and celebrate the diversity of our nation. I could care less about Obama. A day after getting re-elected he was doing his drone attacks on Yemen, as usual. But I'm not so cynical I don't get joy from the reforms made in states such as Colorado, Maine, and my beloved Maryland, where I spent much of my childhood, and could not feel prouder of. A bunch of white people jumping on Twitter after the election to call the president a nigger was expected. A far larger group of people voting for progressive policies was unexpected. Change cannot be stopped, only delayed.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

World Fantasy Convention schedule

Next week I'm moderating one panel at the World Fantasy Convention, but i's a good one. The WFC is literally a gathering of writers and I fully expect to have my mind blown. Here's the writeup on my panel.

Friday 1:00 p.m. GOTHIC FANTASY NOIR
In the Encyclopedia of Fantasy(1997) Mike Ashley writes: “The 
cityscape has replaced the old castle, and Urban Fantasy is the new Gothic.” As counter-intuitive as that may read, it can be a
rgued that this is true. And there’s a type of Urban Fantasy that could be termed Urban Fantasy Noir, with the popular “huntress” theme a variant of this: down these mean streets a woman must go, armed only with edged weapons and a wit as dry as the pavement is damp. Phillippa Marlowe, Boogen Hunter, still the knight errant. The panel will examine the evidence of a reversion, in Urban Fantasy, to older forms of literature, whether it be the despair of the Gothic or the bleakness of noir. And is the growth and popularity of Urban Fantasy—with its mean streets, grim realities, modern attitudes, and contemporary settings—a response to High Fantasy, with its emphasis on Arthurian-style legend and faux-Medieval settings? With more people living in,
or on the fringes of, cities than ever before, what’s the attraction of going to a darkly fantastic world under their streets or above their rooftops, as opposed to a distant past or an unknown kingdom?
Elwyn Cotman (M), Dana Cameron, Gemma Files, Elizabeth Hand, Rhiannon Held, Nicholas Kaufmann.

Who is this "Elwyn" Cotman? I look forward to meeting him. In the meantime, I'm brushing up on my Walpole and Hawthorne.

I look forward to seeing some old friends at this convention, in addition to making new ones One of the best things about publishing The Jack Daniels Sessions was entering a world of fantasy writers. Wondeful, beautiful, imaginative people. It's been a gift.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chapter 91: In Which I Discuss Going to a Concert

New Orleans is some serious shit, my nigga.

I've been greatly stressed lately. There's too much to do and I'm not doing any of it to my full potential. It's that metaphor from Peter Jackson Tolkien come to life, "feeling stretched, like butter over too much bread." But music never fails to lift my spirits. At this moment I'm listening to "Princess Lily's Chant" by Jerry Goldsmith. It's a gorgeous song from the original soundtrack to Legend, the more classical OST they were going to use before the studio decided to be more "modern," replacing it with the now horribly dated Tangerine Dream soundtrack (for the record, I love both soundtracks [hate the movie (for the record ) ] ).

I found out pretty last minute that one of my favorite bands, the mighty NIGHTWISH, was playing at the House of Blues on October 11th. After a short debate with myself as to whether I should spend the money and time, I went on Ticketmaster, winced through their surcharges, and got a Greyhound ticket. Thus began my first Louisianan adventure.

I hate riding Greyhound. They charge you the most for the worst service. They also left me at a truck stop once, and refused me entry on the next bus because my precious ticket was on the last bus. You know, the one that left. Hate them. Megabus all the way. Nevertheless, there was no choice. The pricing was ridiculous as usual: 70 bucks for a 5 hour round trip. I should have walked. Anyway, while waiting in the station, I saw an electrician replace the old and broken Cruisin' USA game with a new Capcom Marvel Heroes game. This makes the Lafayette station the most impressive Greyhound terminal I've ever been in, because I've never known them to even fix their arcade games, let alone order new ones.

Nightwish is one of those bands who give me escape. I can listen to a song like "Sleeping Sun" and forget life for a while. Very few bands can do that for me, and very few power metal bands, despite the genre's mythic and fantasy content. I'd learned a few days before the show that Annette Olzon had left the band, so I wasn't caught off-guard when this giant woman strolled onstage with the band. The last time I was going to see Nightwish was in Batimore, but Annette got the flu. Now she leaves the group. I'm starting to suspect Annette was never real, but some kind of weird Japanese virtual idol. I've never seen her in person, so it's true.

Sometimes I feel embarrassed to be a Nightwish fan, because they have to be the biggest drama queens in all of metal fandom. You've never seen so many fits thrown over lineup changes for a band that has had THREE lineup changes in SIXTEEN years. Everything turns into some knockdown, drag-out flame war over Annette versus Tarja and it's tiresome. They also love to speculate about the members' personal lives. "Tarja acts like a diva." "Toumas is a dictator and he backstabbed Tarja." "Annette couldn't cut it." "They fired Tarja in such a mean way!!!!!!!111111" Obsessed with backstage interpersonal crap, like they're commenting on an episode of Vampire Diaries. And seriously, bands like Styx and Journey have had ten different lead singers. It happens. All that matters to me is the music, and Nightwish has maintained incredible quality over a long period of time.

The rumors say Annette left to start a nursing career. I'd be pretty impressed if the nurse treating me was a multi-platinum selling rock star before she found her true calling.

But I get ahead of myself. I got to see some of the Louisiana landscape.



The marshland is very interesting geography, and got my writerly mind imagining. That's always the best part of going somewhere new. After a dreary stop in Baton Rouge, I wound up in the Cresccent City.
The sight of the Superdome scared me. I don't know how your average New Orleanean relates to the thing, but I could only imagine people lying in their own filth, abandoned, forgotten, murdered and raped in the stinking football field. The story of the Superdome always stood out to me among the horrors of the hurricane. I kind of wish they'd torn it down.
Hurricane Katrina is easily the American tragedy of the 21st century. With 9/11, the fall of the towers precipitated a Genghis Khan-like rampage of justice, retribution, revenge, whatever you call it. We've murdered uncountable civilians in the Middle East, littered the sand with Muslim dead. Anybody who felt sore over the World Trade has a mountain of corpses to salve their victimhood. What did the gulf get for their troubles? An oil spill.

Heavy metal pigeons: "We come for your soul, and your bread crumbs."

New Orleans is one of those places you have to see, because explaining it to someone doesn't work. Your average American has no frame of reference because there's nowhere else like New Orleans on the continent. It reminded me of Havana. It looked like Havana. It smelled like Havana. (That's the smell of waste, btw). I arranged to meet with some folks at Petit Espresso to discuss touring in December. Turns out Petit Espresso closed six years ago. Thanks, Google. Anyway, I finally caught up with them and had a business meeting in New Orleans. That's about as official as it gets. I'm like Donald Trump in here.

"For the New Orleans native did chafe at what he deemed the effrontery of the Yankees, with their inscrutable ways , tres etrange, and the manner in which they unfurled red and white banners that said 'Coca-Cola' over the streets, until their presence seemed less an invasion than a virulent plague..."
                                                                                                    -George Cable, Old Creole Days

The concert itself was badass. Such gifted musicians. And it felt wonderful to be surrounded by my fellow Nightwish fans.

Overheard dialogue: "Wouldn't it be cool if somebody had a show with real live bats? Not like Ozzy, though. No biting the heads off."

I've decided to unleash bats at me next reading, just for that kid.

About a Korn concert : "People were even moshing to the dubstep." "
"How can you mosh to dubstep? It's like rock 'em, sock 'em robots."

I had a mind to tell the kid that I find even non-heavy metal dubstep mosh-worthy. It's great sex music, too. Man. Korn. That's a band I haven't seen live in ten years. I must rectify this.

Oh, yes, and this one kid sounded like he was from Long Island. Apparently, a New York and New Orleans accent sound just alike. I guess there's only so much you can stretch people geographically before the inflections start sounding alike.

This was a power metal crowd, as evidenced by the tiny teenage girls standing next to me. And I love that power metal shows don't have that moshing shit. I go to shows to enjoy the music, not participate in athletic contests. In fact, people were saving each other's spots in the crowd--not saving seats, but standing room--and just generally being respectful of each other's space. On this night I was not ashamed to be a Nightwish fan. I rocked the fuck out with my fellow fantasy nerds and it was glorious.

The hell?
Favorite audience member: that girl with the really long, high scream. Second favorite: the guy who who randomly yelled "bring it!" when the Kamelot singer was about to belt out a ballad. That earned him a well-deserved wry look from the singer.

Kamelot opened. I don't have a single picture of them that's remotely good. It was a quality set. The lead guitar's a real old school rock guy who did a lot of solos. They had two girls wearing black wings playing marching drums, and a girl who came out in a masquerade mask kinda thing, and the dudebro whose their new lead singer looks like that "Moves Like Jagger" guy but can actually sing, and at some point a girl in an S&M corset who looked like she stepped off the cover of Heavy Metal came out and started screaming. There were more people onstage than a Slipknot show. Good times.

After a musical introduction that seemed to last an hour, Nightwish came onstage. They are professionals, every one knowing how to work the stage, even those stuck behind drums and keyboards. Oh Nightwish. How you made me dance. I got to hear my favorites: "Dark Chest of Wonders" and "Ghost Love Score." Danced with my fellow fans. Did a do-see-do with one guy. I'm pretty sure at some point during the acoustic version of "Nemo" we folks in the middle got an obnoxiously long kumbaya sway going.

The band only sang songs off Once, Dark Passion Play, and Imaginaerum. This is the unfortunate part of having a new singer: the Tarja songs get jettisoned from the setlist. They've spent years gradually working those songs back into their live shows, making them suit Annette's voice, and now it's another do-over. "Ghost River" sounds great live, as does "A Song of Myself," even if they skipped the 7-minute long spoken word part (just kidding: I know that would've been awful live). I would have liked if they played "While Your Lips are Still Red," but no complaints. Surprisingly, they played the blues song "Slow Love Slow," not the kind of song I'd ever expect them to do live, yet fitting for the setting. That's what I love about Nightwish: they actually embrace the freedom that power metal provides to incorporate other genres. A song like "Slow Love Slow" shows their versatility more than any keyboard bombast.

People complain abut Tarja leaving the band when it was going in another direction anyway. Toumas was bored after so many albums of opera metal, and it's cool seeing him branch out.

Even in a state of calm, Marco Hietala rocks so hard a black hole opens from his very being

The giant blue woman reaches to high five the hand of God.


Eventually I stopped taking crappy pictures and watched the band. They had a bagpipe player who was going crazy on these pipes. Playing them like they were electric guitar. "Lasts of the Wilds" was just fun and I jigged my ass off. Jigging, headbanging, and swaying with my fellow Nightwish fans.

An amazingly clear picture of Floor. Don't get used to it.

I knew nothing about Floor Jansen, Nightwish's beautiful Dutch angel replacement singer, but that lady has some serious pipes. The audience was eating it all up, especially those guys behind me who kept yelling at Floor how much they loved her. Floor: I think you got the job.

Other notes: Toumas is very tall in real life and makes the funniest "I'm rocking so hard I'm in physical pain" faces. Marco has the thickest damn Finnish accent. I couldn't understand a word that came out his mouth. I also love the seven-man long devil horns some guys made (just kept adding fists), and all the dudes making hearts at Floor.

FLOOR: This has been a magical night. But, like all magical nights, it must come to an end.
GUY: Nope! Nice try.
OTHER GUY: Rewind!

Nightwish was doing autographs outside afterward, but I don't really care about such things, and already have their autograph on a copy of End of an Era somewhere. I had some time to kill before the Greyhound station opened. I killed it on Bourbon Street mostly. Everything people told me about Bourbon Street, well, I thought they were kidding. But no. It really is some disgusting shit. Drunk tourists stumbling around with giant drinks in their hands, grinding on each other in the middle of the street. Because New Orleans is where you go to to drink and fuck, not experience actual culture. I like that sexuality is open, with the myriad strip clubs and tranny hookers, because fuck that Puritan shit, but this nonsense was the kind of thing that makes me never want to have fun again. Just curl up in my monastic cell and live the ascetic life.

But damn, that city picks up at night. You wanna talk about never sleeping. My favorite part was the group of black women in the SUV, one of whom starts screaming at some white lady with a baby: "TAKE THAT BABY HOME! IT'S TOO LATE TO BE DOING ALL THAT! DON'T YOU LOOK AT ME, MUTHAFUCKA! WHO THE FUCK SAID YOU COULD LOOK AT ME!" After, you know, calling attention to herself. Bon temps.

Toumas triumphant

No encore

Other News

I recently ran into the guy who does the OTAKUAssemble Game of Thrones reviews, entirely randomly. Apparently dudebro goes to my school. I talked about the show with him a while, which was kind of crazy, because it was like watching one of his Youtube reviews, only right in front of me. Cool guy.

Other news? Eh. Something about a book, and a tour, and all my friends having books, and an international fantasy convention. I'll get to that.


All that great heart lying still
In silent suffering
Smiling like a clown until the show has come to an end
What is left for encore
Is the same old dead boy's song
Sung in silence

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chapter 90: In Which I Discuss Recent Developments and Living Colour

Currently listeninig to Living Colour. God, I love this band. Love love love. They are so tight musically, and lyrically, and are still kicking ass well into their 40s. When they first came out, everybody was golly-gee-willikering about a black hard rock band. As if, you know, Jimi Hendrix hadn't redefined rock just 20 years earlier. In turn, critics ignored that this was a hugely talented group of musicians. Guitarists don't come much better than Vernon Reid (if you remember the "Cult of Personality" video, he's the one in the tie dye Zubaz pants), and Corey Glover (neon yellow wetsuit) is a legendary frontman.  And they weren't just rock. They dabbled in every genre. Country, calypso, soul, whatever. From the very onset, they showed a versatility few bands even think of.

But what I find most amazing is that they were commercially successful, while at the same time being conscious. Decades ago, they were fighting gentrification with "Open Letter to a Landlord." My personal favorite of theirs is "Wall," a screed against prejudice. Think about the giants of the late 80s hard rock scene. Metallica. Megadeth. Guns & Roses. Motley Crue. Living Colour were making political music at a time when rock was dominated by drug-addled, narcissistic sociopaths. Have you ever read the Motley Crue biography? Even with music to calm their destructive tendencies, they still managed to kill one or two people. Living Colour was actually on some grown man shit, talking about issues relevant to the world.

Found this awesome rendition of "Bi" the other day, from an early 90s episode of the Tonight Show. You can tell it's the early 90s because it doesn't have Kevin Eubanks barking like a circus seal in the background. Watch Corey Glover tolerate the presence of Roberto Bennini.

Is it just me, or is Leno trying to make out with Corey? I can't say I blame him.

Hard Times Blues/Once Upon a Body

Ten days into this most magical month of October, and we're revving up for hard times. The release date is scheduled for December 8th, just in time for my book launch in Lafayette. With this settled, the small press gears are in motion.

Pre-orders. We discussed whether to handle pre-orders through Kickstarter or Indiegogo, which, though few seem to grasp this, are pre-order sites. They are ways to simultaneously take pre-orders while judging the actual demand for the product. Ultimately, Christine and I chose to cut the middle man and do pre-orders through her site,

This ultimately puts more work on us, as far as keeping track of who orders the book and ensuring they get a copy. Six Gallery is a small operation that is currently doing overhaul on their online presence. Doing pre-orders through Amazon might have once been an option, but this book is not being printed through Createspace, Amazon's printing arm.

As I said in previous blogs, Createspace, being lame, doesn't do upside-down print. Apparently, some issue arose with the Pittsburgh-based printer we were going to use, which created all kinds of annoyance for my colleague Dan McCloskey (whose book comes out this month). The new printer is up in Massachusetts, and there's a possibility Dan can pick up his books while he's on tour in New England. I've been talking with my editor about possibly having the Hard Times Blues/Once Upon a Body galleys ready for him to pick up as well. So what we have is an adventure across Massachusetts to manually pick up our books. I wish I was coming along.

The number of books ordered depends entirely on availability of funds at any given time. Sometimes it's been the press' money, lately it's been my own. As I haven't toured lately, I've been ordering books for scattered readings (like the few I just ordered for World Fantasy). That said, there's never a ton of books to go around. Dan paid for his books out of pocket. and I will most likely have to drop cash for my own tour in december, at 2 dollars and change per book, if I want an adequate quantity. The small amount of books proved an issue with my first tour, in which I ran out of merchandise. A flattering problem, but still a problem. The count for December tour looks to be between 100 and 500. Again, this depends on the press' funds and how much I can chip in.

Which makes budgeting essential. I'm no longer putting any energy behind consignment, since I don't sell books from brick and mortar stores anywhere but Pittsburgh. And the corners I could cut in the Bay (such as using Bay Area Alternative Press to print hundreds of fliers, most of which I didn't need) will not fly now that I'm in the south. Hell, putting together CDs for when the audiobook comes out will probably have to go on an order by order basis. The good part about that is that nobody is bottomlining the auiobook but me. It's fun to be the sole actor on a creative project, and all the variables, good or ill, lie at my feet.

So my focus for gettting this next book out is word-of-mouth and online sales. As we are no longer printing through Amazon, the press has to ship them a number of books to sell, as opposed to the perpetually in print status of Jack Daniels Sessions. The downside: more work. The upside: we keep more of the profit, small as it is.

As you can tell, we're playing everything close to the hip. Christine handles presales. Cover illustrator picks up galleys directly from printer. Hell, Christine's book was written in the same coldass house in coldass Pittsburgh where I wrote my first book. That's one of the upsides: there's honesty and forthrightness when the people on your team are your friends.

All this talk of printing and distro only goes so far, as none of us are making tons of money. I mainly see this newest publication as an impetus to tour and perform, which is how I reach people, and connect, and make the most of this opportunity that's been given to me. I've been speaking with some New Orleans-based writers about doing a southern tour, and booking those dates is going on the list of 15,967 things to do between now and December.
I've seen the .pdf for the book and it's beautiful. Christine's section is more beautiful than minie, as it has a cover. A hell of a cover, actually. But mine is getting there. Okay, I don't have a cover yet. Maybe, in keeping with the retro theme of the project, I'll just have no cover, like an old beat-up copy of Dune you find in the used boosktore, the psychedelic cover ripped off so you're looking on grainy paper, a title, and "$3.00" penciled into the upper right corner. Anyway, as soon as I have a cover, I'll put it up.

I regret that one thing I've had no time for is new work. Charles de Lint once said that, as soon as he finishes one book, he starts another. Sound advice. Well, I finished one book, and I'm kind of floundering in short story land, adding phrases and sentences to stories that are simultaneously long and aimless. Not a good sign. Idid manage to get ine piece in for an anthology, and I'll tell which anthology it is after it gets accepted, because to start crowing and then find out it was rejected would be embarrassing. I plan on starting my next doomed NaNoWriMo novel on November 1st, so I guess this is my between-book rest period.

It's been a pleasure working with Christine through all the ups, downs, transcontinental communication, drugged-out hippie house shenanigans, and blown deadlines. If you check her site, I think we've had this book scheduled for release every month of the last year and a half. My own personal Dance With Dragons. But the ultimate pleasure is seeing such a talented young artist publish her first work.

In fact, a few of my friends are becoming first-time authors this year, with bigger presses than the ones I run with. One of my Mills sisters is putting out her first,, and one of my IWL sisters also put out a book,!contact/c1et. I know they worked very long on these projects, so it's even cooler when I can say I know these Published Authors. Dan's book is waiting for him in Massachusetts, and Kim Vodicka put out a book as well. Maybe times aren't so hard after all.

Oh, yeah, and tomorrow I'm seeing Nightwish in New Orleans. Nightwish. My first time in Nawlins. Yes!