Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chapter 88: In Which I Reprint a Letter

I've started working on my story about New York in 1906 once again. It's a really freewheeling kind of tale, and I'm honestly not sure where it's going to go. Well, I know how it ends, but the getting there is hard, hence why it didn't go in the new book. The most fun part is doing research into the time period, and I've been reading old issues of the New-York Tribune on the Library of Congress site. Loving it. It really teaches you a lot about the time period, like how so many advertisements, articles, and editorials are about banks. Gilded Age, for sure. Also a Golden Age of invention. Here's a letter to the editor that I just had to share.

To the editor of the Tribune,
     Sir, I have for many years been interested in the problem of navigating the air. I know its history, and have witnessed many balloon ascensions and parachute descents. I believe inventors will in some way ultimately imitate bird flight, as they have imitated the swimming of fish. Having neither time nor money to enter the lists of experimental aeronautics, I have yet dreamed dreams, and have constructed an intellectual airship on lines of seeming simplicity and stability, which, I believe, offers better promise of success than any others before the public.
     I submit it to experimenters in the field for what it may be worth, only stipulating that he who may realize my dream "will remember Joseph."
     A balloon, dirigible or otherwise, is cumbrous and imperfectly under control. An aeroplane offers attractive possibilities as imitating a soaring bird. But no stable invention has yet been made known in that line. A properly constructed parachute dropped from a balloon drift with the wind in a graceful and not rapid descent to the earth. It is the nearest approximation to a successful aeroplane known.
     My air castle airship consists of a car, with motor and propeller suspended at the centre of gravity from a large modified parachute. The parachute should be forty or more feet in diameter, according to the weight of the car. It should be slightly concave with an air vent, about two feet across, at the top. The hande should be a sufficiently strong tube about twenty feet long. The rim of the umbrella should be stayed to the handle at its middle point. The lower half of this handle should fit into a larger tube with ball bearings at either end, so that it could revolve and not slip either way. The outer tube should be fastened to the car like a mast, and securely guyed from its upper end to the car's rim.
     The parachute handle shoud terminate in a gear connected with the propeller shaft. The parachute could thus be revolved.
     Another essential feature of the parachute is to build it on lines of a modified windmill or propeller. I would have the circumference a light but rigid ring a foot or so high. Then I would run stout wires from the hub to both the upper and lower edges of the tire, just the reverse of a bicycle wheel. The cover I would put on in this way: Start with an upper spoke and carry the material to the lower spoke 120 degrees to the right. Then begin again with the upper spoke 60 degrees to the first one, and carry that to 180 degrees from the start, and so on round the circle. This will give a six-leaf, flat propeller, with greatly overlapping blades.
     The action of this ship when properly rigged would seem to be as follows: In ascending start from a state of rest by revolving the parachute propeller alone, and pulling the ship into the air. Having attained a suitable height, couple on the propeller proper and with it and the rudder go where you please. Either disconnect the motor from the parachute and use it simply as an aeroplane, or reduce its revolutions to a point where the ship would maintain a given altitude.
     The descent would be accomplished either by using the upper propeller simply as a parachute, applying a brake to resist any tendency of the propeller to revolve by the outrush of air, or by using the motor to retard the fall to the gentleness of a bird alighting.
     If the parachute were covered with canvas, because of the overlapping of its sections, it would probably act as a sufficient safeguard, should the motor break down, then land the operator without accident.
     The application of the clutches and speeds of the modern automobile should solve the minutiae of working the two propellers in varying combination. The weight of the car well below the parachute would prevent the possibility of turning turtle in any gale.
     On lines something like these, aerial navigation, I believe is possible, is feasible.
     Having pictured my air castle, I shall be glad to aid further any one inclined to experiment on these lines.
Charles L. Newbold
Manhasset, Long Island, Nov. 10, 1906.

First off, I can say the mental image I had while reading his description looked nothing like any airplane I've ever seen in this world. I was envisioning some kind of steampunk air balloon while reading this. Such a wonderful letter. I don't know if Mr. Newbold ever got his idea for an "air castle airship" off the ground (no pun intended), but this letter just brims with passion. We take it for granted that we can fly above the clouds, sitting in a chair and reading magazines. A hundred and six years ago, it was the stuff of marvel tales. The sky was an undiscovered country like the ocean once was. Faced with such a lofty goal, it makes sense that he would refer to his plane as a "castle," and that the description sounds so fantastical. Look at his language, "I have yet dreamed dreams," "the gentleness of a bird alighting."

He is not thinking "I want to take my shoes off to get through security, take some Valium and snore into my own shoulder for five hours." He's thinking, "I want to see the world as a bird sees it." That was how they viewed flight back then. I love it. Men like Mr. Newbold paved the way for the Wright Brothers, no doubt. Every failure was a step closer to success.

I wasn't looking for anything on aeronautics when I was reading the Tribune article. I just chanced upon it. It's always nice to be reminded that we didn't always have the amazing things we have now. It all started with somebody staring at the impossible--and taking that leap.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reasons why I love my editor

The parts from my story "Graveyard Shift" are in quotes, followed by his comments:

"You had to be efficient to run a store that size."

I'd lose this, as it is patently untrue. Ever been to the Walmart in Mount Pleasant?

" . . . in a scared shitless manner."

Hyphenate “scared shitless”.

"Thank God he had no idea."

Capping "God" now? How religious/irreligious are you, man?

"NA ZDROWIE! said another sign. RYBKA LUBI POPLYWAC!"

Googletrans suggests “RYBKA LUBI PŁYWAĆ!” (“Fish likes to swim!”) Huh?

"McDonalds, Wendy’s, Bob Evans."

“McDonald's”. “Bob Evans” should have a fucking apostrophe too, you ask me, but it doesn't.

" 'Hop in,' Red said Red."

Pick your favorite “Red”. Mine's Ken MacLeod. That chick from Fraggle Rock is cool too, though.

"Half-price on arthritis in Specimens."

Needless to say, we are on the same page.

Chapter 86: In Which I Discuss An Ancient Reading and Not-so-Ancient Editing

Currently listening to: "Pippi Longstocking is Coming Into Your Town" from The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.

Yes, I have had a little wine. Inevitably puts me in a nostalgiac mood. The 1980s Pippi movie was awesome, even if the actress playing her was 17 years old. Closer to a nymphette than a moppet. What I love is how Swedish people HATE the American movie. Look up clips on Youtube. The comments are all a bunch of Swedes ranting about what a disgrace it is.

One of the first featured readings I ever did was October 22, 2008. The Space Inside Reading Series. At that point I was looking for venues to exercise my newfound interest in performance, and was sending out emails to people. Some of them even answered, despite my email address being Felicity4evr. Yep, same one I had when I was 14. Monica Jacobe, who ran the series, was super nice and accomodating, and all sorts of friends showed up. Writing group friends, College Park friends, Food Not Bombs friends, high school friends, my buddy off the Elfquest fanpage. It was a cramped bookstore with high shelves, the aisles so narrow you could barely walk. One of those magical kind of bookstores, the kind that smell of old paper. I had an armchair to sit in, Masterpiece Theatre-style, but I chose to stand. All in all, a good night.

Monica told me she read my work online and liked it, and that was why she brought me onboard even though I was a novice writer. At that point, I had two published stories. One was called "Flight," which was about a teenage girl who loses her virginity to a professional wrestler. The other was "Sacred Duty," about a teenage girl who loses her virginity to an old classmate. At Space Inside, I read an early draft of "Dead Teenagers"...

...which is about a teenage girl who nearly loses her virginity to a ghost.

Nobody said I wasn't consistent. At this point, I could probably publish Cherry Blossoms: A Collection of Teenage Girls Losing Their Virginity Stories by Elwin Cotman. Anyways, it was a lovely time, and I left with one solid conclusion.

Okay, two. One: I needed to write about new topics. Two: if I was going to do these readings, I'd need a book to sell. So that became the next project.

Speaking of the next project, we're currently editing the galleys for Hard Times Blues/Once Upon a Body. "Galley" is publishing-speak for the early manuscripts you send out for review. My heroic editor Nate has been working tirelessly to get our off-kilter fonts in .pdf format, even as he edits Dan McCloskey's book. "Revelation of John," my King James Bible-inspired prose poem, was the hardest for him. But the galley's complete. Yay! We just need a few more edits here and there. And we're on-schedule, which is even better. As I've said before, editing is a sucktastic process. It's boring, and tedious, and the more you do it the less you have to edit, which makes it even more tedious.

And speaking of edits, I'm editing my audiobook now. Mostly it involves deleting silent parts so the text goes faster. When recording, I'd take long pauses, thinking that's how you paced audiobooks. Then I started listening to some audiobooks. Those guys are going a mile a miinute. Nicol Williamson doing The Hobbit? You've never heard Gollum sound that manic. Less than a second between every utterance. It's actually refreshing to know these things have a faster speed. I certainly think it makes the story more engaging to listen to. So I've been editing, and I'll literally spend an hour on one section of "When the Law Come," just doing timing. Ugh. So tedious. But I'm hyped for the end product. I've always wanted to have a record. And here I am. Didn't even have to learn an instrument.

I think I'll go edit the audiobook right now. Where's that wine?...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chapter 87: In Which I Discuss A Month

It's September 15th. That means I've been in Louisiana exactly a month.

I have no idea when life got so frantic. The day I touched down I moved to a horse farm. Next day was English department orientation. Four days later school started. Fifteen days later, I moved from the horse farm to somewhere closer to campus. Started taking three classes. Started teaching two classes. Yes, I am a bona fide college prof now. Pretty cray-cray. I made progress on my audiobook. Did an editing job, wrote an article for Weird Fiction Review, renewed my passport, and somehow found the time to watch massive amounts of Leiji Matsumoto anime.

BTW, nicest people down at UL. When was the last time your office mate gave you a bike? When was the last time the head of your department gave you sheets for your bed?

For some reason, I thought moving down South would make life less of a marathon. It's the same hustle as always. I've come to figure out that's just the way I work. It doesn't seem a lot as you're doing it, but looking back, there's much you can accomplish in a month. Even with school taking up so much time, I made progress on all sorts of other things.

I'm trying to pace the different projects I work on. I have an anthology submission to be completed in the next 15 days. October will be dedicated to a short story and a novella. November? I guess we'll see.

What else did I complete between August 15th and Septembr 15th?

Hard Times Blues


Let me repeat that.


Just turned in to my publisher the completed manuscript for HARD TIMES BLUES, my second story collection. Two years (or more, in some cases) of short story work. 69, 171 words. It will be released in December in double novel format with ONCE UPON A BODY by Christine Stoddard. Expect all sorts of promotional goodness down the line.

Ghosts. Elves. Dragons. Prophets. Sorcerors. Zombies. This new book definitely ups the fantasy quotient from JDS, which was itself pretty fantastical. Now that I think about it, JDS also had dragons. I think the tagline for my bibliography should be: "Expect dragons." You'll never go wrong.

This new book is stories of high adventure. High stakes. High emotion. My characters go through some pretty intense scenarios, but there's always that element of the sublime. These are stories about anger, dissatisfaction, about not fitting in. About finding what you value in a society that wants to prescribe your values. It's also my most experimental work, dabbling into poetic forms here and there.

There have been so many blown deadlines on this project. So many false starts and dead ends. And what do I have at the end of the day? Another book. So worth it. I can't wait to go on tour.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Chapter 85: In Which I Discuss a Purple Rain Sing-a-Long

Two or three days before I left San Francisco, I went to a Purple Rain sing-a-long at the Roxie. That's a theatre right at the corner of 16th & Mission. There was a certain bittersweetness to it, as I had plans to go see it with my girlfriend. She broke up with me two weeks before. Sad. But, nothing would prevent me from seeing this movie in front of an audience.

I'm a huge Prince fan. Nobody in music has such a combination of talent, work ethic, and pure swagger. This is a guy who wanted to hook up with Susannah Hoffs, so he just gave The Bangles "Manic Monday." He had so much swag he was using hit singles for booty calls. I did not get into him through Purple Rain. My entryway was Diamonds and Pearls, the best of his New Power Generation albums. From there, I had a whole backlog of records to listen to and movies to watch. His breakthrough film Purple Rain is pretty much a perfect movie. I genuinely believe this. Starring Prince and his entourage, directed by his agent or whoever, there was no reason for the film to be as good as it was. Nevertheless, they ended up making a movie that not only integrated his songs to perfection, but had heart, humor, dramatic weight, and captured a time and place. From the moment Prince starts "Let's Go Crazy" and the camera cuts between all the glitter-faced New Wavers, I am thoroughly in this world of glamor and music. I stay invested for the whole 90 minutes, caught up in the young musician's battle with his demons.

I'm not going to write an essay on the film. One day I will, and it will be very long, and I'll post it on this blog. Let's talk about the experience. It was a membership drive for the Roxie, because I guess the economy's hitting them hard. The young girl who organized it told a story about how her mom had cancer, and it looked like she wouldn't make it, then they went to a Purple Rain sing-a-long in Arizona and mom got better, so we should buy memberships (the guy behind me cynically dubbed this the "cancer guilt trip"). Afterwards there was a costume contest. I gotta give props to the two young men who dressed like Prince and Morris. I think they were brothers. They put love into it and it showed. The Prince guy got a membership. The runners-up got...

Okay. There are some signs that you might have lived in San Francisco too long. That the culture has just seeped into you so totally that you lose sight of reality. These two ridiculous hipsters in velour tuxedos come onstage. Apparently, they run a company that delivers organic poop to people. Duck poop. Goat poop. That kinda thing. I remember the name of their store but I don't feel like giving them publicity. I'm pretty sure they were friends with the girl who organized, who thought it was so funny and charming to give a tupperware container full of animal shit to her runners-up. I'm not going to say "only in San Francisco." I say: only in the Mission. Because, you see, sending people poop is ironic, and being able to say that you genuinely run a poop delivery service will surely get laughs as you drink Pabst at the next 80s dance party. Yeah, I can see how it's a joke and I'm sure there are people who use their services to play good-natured pranks on friends, but, girl, do not reward somebody for entering your constume contest by handing them a pile of shit.  I mean...fuck. Anywhere other than the Mission, people actually consider that disrespectful. Anyway, that whole thing put me in an awful mood.

Then the movie started and I was good as gold. Again, not talking about the movie. Just the experience. That lady behind who knew the film beat for beat and would call everything out a few seconds before it happened: "Wendy got her period reversed!" "Get your puppet, Prince!" Ohhh, that ain't Lake Minnetanka!" "Ooh, he mad now!" Singing and dancing along with other human beings to Dez Dickerson and the Modernaires. Yelling along with The Time as they make fun of the Revolution. "Lets gey cray-zaaaaaay! Let's get nuuuuuuuuts!" Watching folks dance in the aisles. Realizing that I do, in fact, know the words to every single song, to the point that I could correct the lyrics playing at the bottom of the screen. Shrieking my head off during that part in "Darling Nikki" where Prince stops speaking English and starts screaming and humping the stage. The deafening chorus of boos every time a woman gets smacked around. It's interesting: I've watched that movie so many times, and all the domestic abuse never registered for me. I know it's a horrible thing, but it's a whole other thing listening to a couple dozen people in the back scream at Prince to knock his dad's head off, and cheering when Appolonia throws Prince's earring back at him. And yeah, there were some idiots who thought the abuse stuff was funny, and other audience members would tell them to settle down, and there's just this electricity of people interacting with the movie and each other. Then we get to the triumphant climax of "Baby, I'm A Star," and I just lose my shit.

Every time I watch Purple Rain I find something new. Latest revelation: there's mad sexual chemistry between Prince and Jerome. It's palpable. I'm sure all sorts of queer theory has been written on this movie, and I want to add some more to it one day. Maybe a hundred-page paper about representations of masculinity versus femininity in the Reagan Era.

God, I love this movie so much. A perfect way to finish my time in the Bay.

To be around you is so alright
You're sheer perfection
Drive me crazy, drive me all night
Just to wake up your connection
Don't care where we go
I don't care what we do
Don't care, pretty baby
Just take me with you

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hard Times Blues update

So, in the midst of starting a new job, more grad school, moving twice in the span on a month, breakups, and hurricanes, I have managed to work on my next book. I'm waiting for the next round of notes from my editor, then a final draft due on September 11th. I feel more comfortable about this deadline than any other looming over my head right now. This project's been gestating a long time, and it's just about time for it to see the light of day.

Six Gallery and I are playing it smarter than my first book. We're doing a December release, for a few reasons. One: that gives us time to send out ARCs to different publications. Four months is usually the best timeframe between mailing them and going to press, so we're still kind of cutting it close.  Better than not sending any at all. Two: actual time to do promo, with all sorts of swell literary propaganda coming your way. Three: Dan McCloskey's book is coming out in October and the press needs to put their resources behind one writer at a time. Four: This book is just a bear to edit. Both Christine and myself experiment a bit with format. And there is the tiny thing of printing upside-down text.

Another thing: I managed to squeeze in a fifth story called "A Song For the Yellow Prince." It's short, and strange, and kind of sweet in it's own way.

So *drumroll* the stories in Hard Times Blues are:

The Elvis Room
The Revelation of John
Graveyard Shift
A Song for the Yellow Prince

"Pulp" was my submission for the Interdisciplinary Writers Lab antho last year. "Revelation of John" is the story I was originally going to submit, before formatting a bevy of formatting issues had me running around Redding, California, during the night, looking for anywhere on Earth with Wifi, until I just said screw it. "Graveyard Shift" is the most implausible damn story I've ever written. It started out as a commision for my friend and fellow Terp Leo Svirsky (and by the way, Leo, congrats on the new album! Check out his stuff:  www.leosvirsky.com). It was about a topic I had little interest in, meaning zombies. For a long time it seemed just a blow-off thing to me, lke a workshop exercise, then I started seeing the potential. It originally seemed like it would never see the light of day, then it was publshed twice in one year. In rewrites, it's gotten progressively longer, and bloodier, and weirder, and it's one of my personal favorites. I hope you'll like it as well.

So we have five stories, three of which are seeing the light of day for the first time. And Dan McCloskey's doing the cover again. Good times. I almost want to hire Rachel Dorrett and just make it a full-blown JDS reunion.

Did I mention I'm going to the World Fantasy Convention this year? Yay! Time to activate my Wonder Twin powers of self-promotion and schmoozing. Form of: a bookmark! Form of: a martini! Form of: a manuscript shoved in an agent's hand!

Oh, and I'm doing the 101 Weird Writers series for "Weird Fiction Review." I'll be doing scholarly work on Elizabeth Hand and George R.R. Martin, among others. When will I get the time to do my homework during all this? Hell if I know.

Anyways, book's coming along. Things are cool. I'm not dead. That is all.