Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chapter 70: In Which I Ruminate on Tears and Laughter

Right now I'm sitting on a plane from Denver back to Oakland. Or as the kids say nowadays:

Oh my god I'm in the cloudz they hella fluffy yo lol #Nothingtodofortwohours

And by "right now" I mean "as I type." By the time I actually publish this post I’ll be in Oakland, passed out somewhere. So far it's been leisurely travels and I should touch down with enough time to hit the ground running on all the stuff I put off over break. Listening to the new Nightwish album. Maybe I'll post a review when I'm done. Just found out recently Imaginaerum or however it's spelled was released. In my dotage, I went a whole month and a half without knowing one of my favorite bands had released their new album. Nightwish are one of the most solid acts in heavy metal. Seven records in and they have yet to release a bad one, or even a mediocre one. Symphonic metal is not everyone's cup of tea. But if it is your cup of tea, then it doesn't come much better than Nightwish. And all the people on Youtube are still arguing over which singer is best. Argh. It's been, what, six years since Tarja Turounen was fired. Move on. The band is so good that they could hire Sammy Hagar for their new singer and I'd still be down for them. Though Hagar would not rock the evil Snow White costume as well as Annette:

A few months ago I did the Works in Progress reading at Mills. It's their bi-weekly MFA showcase where you go up and read your current project for five minutes. Seeing as how it's Mills and the audience had a year and a half of familiarity with my fantasy stuff, I decided to try something different. I expanded a memoir piece from my Multicultural Young Adult Lit class. I don't write memoir. Part of it is that I just have a bad memory. If I were to write a memoir, it would end up being half fictionalized anyway. That, and all writing is autobiographical. That stuff about characters having a mind of their own and speaking through you. Nonsense. It's you. I could write a story about a Sherpa in the Andes and it would still be filtered through my views and experience. And since all writing is autobiographical, why not add dragons? The Jack Daniels Sessions? That’s my life, that's my memoir, that's my therapy, all of it.

So the piece, which I put together just for the reading and will never be published anywhere, was short and pretty dark. Dealing with a period when I was eleven or twelve and intensely unhappy. The kind of stuff that years ago I would have been uncomfortable to share with a room full of acquaintances. As I usually do when I have some kind of time limit, I sped through the reading like the Micro Machines Guy in the old commercials. And about halfway through the first page, I hear a sound.


Uneasy laughter. Gradually, they got into it and were laughing outright. This surprised me. For some reason, I expected everyone to be grim. If only because that's what you do when someone is Baring His Soul. You take that pain and you treat it with love and respect like a sick puppy left in your care. And here they were, laughing at it all like a bunch of sick perverts.

Here's the thing...the story was funny. I think some of my best stuff was in there, albeit in a dry, black humor kind of way. They were laughing because it was funny. Which was my intention. And when the really serious parts came up, they listened. That grim look people get on their faces when they're at a reading means they are listening to the reader.

I left Works in Progress with an altogether happy feeling.

In my work I strive for that balance between light and dark. It's proven to be the greatest challenge, trying to be true to life's hardships while also being true to the fact that life is pretty damn funny. Even in its darkest moments. There's a story in my book called "How Brother Roy lost His Dog, Twice." It's one of my few attempts to write a straight-up humorous story. The first time I ever read it was at my last TerPoets feature. Afterward, everyone came up to me saying how sad it was. but they were laughing during the reading. Uncomfortable laughter. I liked that feeling. And I pride myself on the fact that I don't write for shock, and have my characters say things purely for controversy. Just telling the truth, as I see it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chapter 69: In Which I Talk About Dancing

"Gimme all ya got! Gimme all ya got!"--Al Pacino, Heat

I've been dancing a lot lately. Thursday was 80s Night at Belvederes' four-year anniversary, dancing til 4 in the morning (I clocked out at 3:30). The next day I had coquitos with some old Pittsburgh friends and went to Pandemic, the international dance night at Brillobox. Day after that was 90s Night at Belvedere's. I didn't intend on dancing three nights in a row, but people invited me. Gotta love surprises. Gotta love being home.

Since then I've been a boring homebody working on job applications and the Hard Times manuscript. Making up for lost time. Looks like I'll be too busy on the work to visit New York City like I wanted to this winter. I tell myself: accomplish one thing each day. One concrete goal. And so far it's been a good week.

On Monday my article about Yoshiaki Kawajiri went up on Weird Fiction Review The VanderMeers' website has only been up about three month's and has a glutton's feast of material on the bizarre. And such a pretty looking website, as well.

Tuesday brought even bigger news...The Jack Daniels Sessions EP e-book is up on Smashwords! It's been a lot of work, formatting and going over the book (again) with the proverbial fine-toothed comb. Now, for only $4.99 you can enjoy these stories on your favorite futuristic device. Most of the credit goes to my editor Nathan, who reformatted the whole book for Smashwords. It's approved for the Premium Catalog and should appear on the Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Amazon, Apple & Diesel sites within two weeks. Smashwords is awesome and I'm happy to have my e-book on such an author-friendly site.

I do promotion for my work, but I've never felt particularly good at it. I've never had the bold brazenness to do huge rounds of publicity. I'll usually work really hard at it and then level off after a while. Right now I'm thinking of ways to promote Hard Times and coming up with what fits my comfort level and what doesn't. Now here am, with my very first e-book online, and not so much as a giveaway to let people know it exists. I'm not really angsting about it. It's out there in the world. It exists.

Looks like I have a few reasons to be dancing. Let's see what Wednesday brings.

I love crime capers movies. Can't get enough of them. Michael Mann is one of my absolute favorite directors. I don't know anyone who can balance style with realism like he does. I rewatched Heat recently. Still great. Still has the best shootout with Val Kilmer wrecking everybody. And Mann realizes the point of restraint. He could have had a whole movie of DeNiro and Pacino chewing the scenery at each other. Instead he keeps them apart, giving them scenes to play off their different strengths, and surrounds them with a stable of character actors to play off of. Lots of great '90s faces: Tom Sizemore, Wes Studi, William Fichtner, Henry Freakin' Rollins.

What I love most about the movie is that, even though DeNiro's team are supposed to be this crack team of super-criminals, they fuck up the whole movie! They do four or five jobs, and every one ends with them either retreating or having to kill a couple dozen people shooting their way out. Hell, there's a scene in which the whole gang of murderers meets at an expensive restaurant and dines together IN PUBLIC like a bunch of self-congratulatory investment banker buddies. Naturally, Pacino's able to stake them out, because how can you miss them? It's hilarious. I'm supposed to buy DeNiro as some sort of mastermind foil to Pacino's high-strung cop, but I just don't see it. He gets away through most of the movie because he's extremely lucky.

And I love that Mann lingers on the small moments. It's a crime epic, but the only really thing epic about it is the length (and that shootout). The film's basically about some cops, some perps, and the complications of their domestic lives. The fact that he would dwell on the Allstate Guy trying to lead a clean life working at a grease spoon demonstrates his empathy for all his characters. And I like the fact that the cop's home life falling aparts adds nothing to the main plot. Mann avoids Hollywood stuff like having DeNiro kidnap Natalie Portman or something. But it all makes the movie that much richer. Still don't like the obligatory "old guy hooks up with young girl" side-plot DeNiro has, but it's Hollywood, so I guess it had to be in there somewhere. And I'm pretty sure Jon Voight's in there as some sort of long-haired cowboy. Still don't know the point of his character, but the ridiculousness of that visual just does it for me.

I just can't get enough of Mann's films. And he's been in the business so long people are starting to copy him. Watch The Dark Knight. Tell me the whole movie, even down to the way it's shot, isn't a love letter to Mann. It's a superhero movie dressed up as Heat.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

On vacation

And loving it. Tightening up the first couple stories for the next collection. Also working on a horribly belated Xmas card for my friends and family. I promise that as I gear up for the new book release that I'll be blogging fast and furious. Looking forward to it. Right now, I'm all about the creative writing.