Monday, January 28, 2013

Chaoter 97: In Which I Discuss A Nalo Hopkinson Reading, Among Other Things

Thank Pan and all his nymphs for the second amendment. All I hear about on the news is that crazy people are taking to the streets wielding assault rifles because of a paranoid fantasy that Obama wants to take their guns. I hear they've got so much ammo they're actually shooting themselves at gun shows. I know what all these guns are for, of course. The additional paranoid fantasy that black people are going to invade their homes. They're afraid of the mongrel hordes, which is why they have weapons made specifically for killing humans. Every last one of them is a Zimmerman in the making, a Minuteman in the making, and I'm glad the second amendment enables me to arm against them. Maybe then I can safely walk around wearing a hoodie.

I opened for Nalo Hopkinson at UL on Saturday. It was a good reading, and an honor to be her opener. I read from a Hard Times Blues story titled "A Song For the Yellow Prince," a Gothic story that has, surprisingly, proven a good read-aloud piece. It's more poetic than my usual stuff, with less dialogue and more mood-setting. This audience and the audience in Chapel Hill dug it. As I get older, I find myself drifting back to my first love, which is poetry. Three of the five stories in HTB are pretty lyrical, and I just got a poem accepted to The Southwestern Review.

Nalo read from her last book, and her upcoming book, and of course it was great. I'm going to have to read her book The Chaos, which, from the excerpt she read, sounds like just that. In a good way. Volcanoes in Toronto and Baba Yaga's house fighting off cops. Very anime. She also read from her new book, which sounded interesting, about twine girls who are raised by their uncle, who is some sort of angel of death.

The audience asked intelligent questions, specific questions, and you could tell they'd read the books. Many of them were teaching these books to college and high school students. Makes me wonder when I'll get to teach a fantasy class.

One person asked the old chestnut, "What is your advice for beginning writers?" Nalo's response (paraphrased): "The fun is in the revision. If you are afraid to write it, it is worth writing. And if you feel a piece is too personal, establish off the bat that you don't have to show it to anybody."

There was also a good question about how she incorporates patois into her work, something I've dealt with myself as a writer. Yes, patois can be alientating to certain readers. She said she never writes it as dialect. Sometimes she'll give an explanation for a term after using it, but rarely, as it breaks the flow. And she will never do footnotes, as people have Google and can look up things. I agree with this. No footnotes. You hear that, Mills College Advanced Writing Workshop? I will not footnote that story! Also, she refuses to itlaicize "foreign" words. It was interesting to see her rationale, as I do write in dialect, and I sometimes italicize in some stories to mark that shift for the reader (though I'm trying to wean myself off of that). Anyway, good reading. +5 points for fantasy.

 Afterward, we went to dinner, where everybody was talknig in-depth about Xena and Buffy. I never watched Buffy, but I'm a big Xena fan. I didn't really contribute to the conversation, because I generally don't contribute to conversations. I've always had crippling social anxiety, and being unable to talk to others makes me feel very lonely sometimes, but I find myself content to listen. I really enjoy listening. I enjoy it more than interrupting people when they're in the flow of conversation. I genuinely love hearing the way people talk, how they reinterpret the things they see and experience. On the other hand, I obviously have things to say, so being unable to say them feels confining sometimes. But I digress. Last year I got to introduce Nuruddin Farrah, and this year I opened for Nalo. Spending time around amazing artists is simply my life now, and I would have it no other way.

Hard Times Blues
The ARC for Hard Times Blues is done. Six Gallery is printing out twenty review copies, at a price of $120. The printing company is giving us a deal of 10 for $60. As funds are limited, we have to be pretty selective in the people/places we query. I query for blurbs personally, contacting writers I've read who I feel would appreciate the slipstream nature of my work (not just fantasy writers). Though time-consuming, it's one of the more fun parts of working without an agent, because sometimes they write back! And sometimes they can't take a look at the book, as they are busy, but they're always very gracious about it, and I have to step back and think about how I'm dialoguing with an author I respect, about writing, and that in itself is amazing.

Hard Times Blues is looking nice, by the way. It's shorter than Jack Daniels Sessions, clocking in at 137 pages, with a pretty wide range in length between stories. The longest is a novella, and the shortest is three pages.

Speaking of writing, I'm going to AWP this year. Yay! UL is leading a team there, and I feel up for a vacation to Boston. The workshops look amazing, and there's a good rate for students.

Current projects: The Piper's Christmas Gift, a Christmas card story I've turned into a novella. I think of it as my "pagan Christmas" story. Also editing the audiobook.  I'm currently on "How Brother Roy Lost His Dog, Twice."

Next project: Sometimes you have to wonder at serendipity. I have a radio project idea I've been kicking around for almost ten years. It's about a group of anarchists in the year 2003. I anticipate having to do a lot of research to capture the time period.

I was at my dad's place over the holiday, and he asked me to go through a bag o' stuff he had lying around, to see if I wanted to keep any of it. So I go through this bag, and among the Warped Tour photos, anime programs, and various other bits of nostalgia, is a PILE OF NEWSPAPERS from 2003. Pittsburgh local papers I must have gathered in college. I didn't even know I kept papers from back then. It's an archival treasure trove, and I plan on going through every article from The New People, the Post-Gazette, even that college paper The Pitt News in order to prepare.

Also, I signed up pretty late for classes this semester (though on time, thank you very much). A professor got back to me saying he would not have me in his class becasue I'd already missed two meeting and assignments. "What do I do?" I ask the department. You need at least nine credits to keep your assistantship. They tell me I can do dissertation hours, i.e. work on my dissertation for credit. After the initial shock that I'd actually be doing creative writing as part of the UL creative writing program, I felt pretty jazzed to work on my dissertation.

What is my dissertation? You guessed it.

These are what we call "signs." It's safe to say this is a project I have trepidation about starting, as it's so expansive and will involve so much time. I've been putting it off for ten years. In the meantime, I moved between three cities, taught creative writing, graduated two colleges, published two books, and traveled pretty extensively. And this project was always at the back of my mind. The universe is tellnig me it's time to climb this mountain. Here goes.

Summer Tour
Two years ago Christine Stoddard and I ran a kickstarter to raise promo money for our book. We got some cash out of it, and when I met up with her we discussed how best to spend the money. We settled on putting it towards a summer tour through the northeast. Pittsburgh is a definite, of course. DC. Baltimore. Philly. NYC. Boston. Touring is a wonderful time, and exhausting, and something I think I might back away from over the next few years. I've been touring once a year for the last three years. Organizing them takes up so much time and I want to focus more on writing. But if this is my last tour for a while, I want it to be the best, most performative, most ambitious storytelling I've done. Stay tuned, in other words.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chapter 96: In Which I Expound A Little Bit More on Tour

A lot of people bought merch in Pensacola. Pretty cool. At one point, a fellow was having a conversation with Dziga about Pensacola, a town he described as similar to some other southern city, only "without the blacks."

DZIGA: That's what they say?

DUDE: Yeah.

DZIGA: That's really racist.

I didn't know if it was racist under the circumstance, as I barely caught it, and his perspective towards "without the blacks" can be construed two ways. Either positive, as in the town has less crime and drugs, and other vices stereotyped on blacks. Or negative, as in it physically resembles this other town, but is unwelcoming toward minorities. Dzig pretty much killed that conversation, and lamented the fact that gay white men feel it's okay to say such things to him, imagining he'll agree for some reason.

There was a similarly awkward situation in Savannah, which was as a whole maybe the weirdest night of the tour. First of all, Ben was weirded out by how much it had changed since he went to college there, and how it was gentrified and so many cool people had left. Second, the downtown area itself is strange, as everything is packed together. It feels like the soundstage for some old MGM musical. All the college kids were gone, nobody was out other than some locals, and the place felt sleepy. Third, the crowd was pretty unresponsive. It was a good turnout, and there's certainly no problem with people simply listening, but it was odd to not have the usual back-and-forth of energy. They were so quiet. Also, the room was dimly lit, and the tables were far from the stage. It felt like doing dinner theater or something. My solution to the set-up was to read part of "Assistant" in the audience, walking among the tables. At one point we asked how the audience was doing.

RANDOM LADY: Speak for yourself.

Dude. Crazy. But, yeah, good show. The folks at the venue were super cool. Gave us a free meal and a drink. I met this older lady who, when I told her I wrote fantasy, proceeded to talk my ear off about how she loved those old 80s films. Labyrinth, Dark Crystal, Ladyhawke, all the classics. The fellows met these two young ladies who seemed nice enough, and we met up with them at a bar. The kind of spot with a neon-lit counter and a DJ spinning soul records, yet, inexplicably, a death metal show going on upstairs. I'm not nearly as social as Ben and Dzig, and spent my time nursing a hot totty to help with this nasty cold I'd acquired. My energy was flagging, which was unfortunate, as Savannah ended up being the 24-hour party people, never go to sleep, rock star night of the tour. We talked about anarchy and our future plans and the mrits/demerits of putting mellow music on the same bill as death metal, which was what they were doing upstairs. Conversation eventually went to one of these girls asking Dzig if he had a "weakness for Latin flavor," partner-wise.

Oh my god, I'm thinking.

It was interesting to watch, as he very patiently told them that he doesn't consider attraction a "weakness," and tries not to tokenize his partners, and he can't speak to anybody's "flavor" as they're human beings and not ice cream. And both of these girls--both!--instead of admitting she said something problematic, proceed to just dig the hole deeper, talking about how Hispanics are "spicier," and I'm pretty sure at one point one of them screamed, "Gooooooooool!"

Fuck, I thought.

I never thought about how often Latinos get described with food metaphors. Hot. Spicy. Flavor. That's some weird vore shit to me. As these girls weren't my recently-acquired friends, I stayed out of it. Dzig saw it as a "teachable moment," I guess. We went with them to some bar, walking down a succession of Savannah streets that were horror movie empty, and one of them managed to fit in some dumb statement about how easy it is to convert to Judaism, and how she might do that, and no, she did not sound sincere, or cognizant of the fact that she was speaking about a whole ethnicity. That killed the mood.

As I was trying to save my money, I wasn't really drinking. That and I'm wary of getting drunk in strange towns where I'm not sure of my sleeping arrangements. I found it best to stay sober. We hung out at the bar where Jimmy Carter announced his candidacy for president, and were there mad long, and I wanted to go sleep, or kill myself, whichever was easiest at the time. I just wasn't up for a pub crawl. We left at, like, 12:30, and the girls hung out with some other guys, and we met up with Ben's friend who worked at the pizza parlor. This pizza parlor was also, of course, where we ate dinner earlier. He offered us a place to crash. I called it a night and slept a few hours in his loft apartment, while the other two cats continued their bar crawl. I woke up in the middle of the night with extreme acid reflux, despite the fact I barely drank anything. In the morning we went to the Waffle House. It turned out that Ben and Dzig had stayed up another two or three hours, during which they injured Dziga's hand play-fighting in the street. We big goodbye to Savannah. The lesson: you can't go home again. Or something like that.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Chapter 95: In Which I Expound a Little More on Tour

I realize the tour updates stopped around my exciting trip to see The Hobbit. That's because I got sick in Pensacola, and by the time we finally chilled in Athens, I was bedridden. Tour colds certainly happen, though I got my butt out of bed for every reading, thank you very much. Our Pensacola reading was better-attended than I could have hoped for, especially for such a muggy day, and much love to the organizers for getting the word out. The space was also just a cool radical spot, with all their sales going to the local Books to Prisons. Ben and Dziga were on point, as usual. I did a cold reading of "Dead Teenagers," which is an intense story to just start reading the middle of in front of strangers. I don't know if it went over too well, honestly, but it was worth a short. Super receptive audience, overall.

Afterward, we hung out with some established Pensacola punks. The kind with jobs and kids. We caught pizza at this restaurant that was in the basement of an old insane asylum. The upper floors were supposedly like a horror movie set, with gurneys and wheelchairs and cells. The middle floors were also pretty scary; rooms rented out to artists, filled with surreal paintings of puppy dogs. Or so I'm told, as a description of the place was enough to keep me downstairs, drinking my beer. A trip to the bathroom was enpugh to creep me out. WHY IS THERE A CELL WITH BARS IN THE BATHROOM?!? Needless to say, this old spot was a popular hangout for the Pensacola punks we were rolling with, back in their youth. One of the guys had this super-cute kid named Ignacius, who showed Dziga his karate moves. The walls of the pizza joint were covered in pictures of pizza slices that little kids could color with decorations. About a third of them were from kids, but most were done by adults. I liked the Kimbo Slice (decorated to look like the famed backyard brawler) and the Vanilla Slice (decorated to look like the reviled rapper). But the absolute best was the two slices put together and made into a Spy vs. Spy drawing. It looked just like something out of Mad Magazine. I wish I took a picture. Ben made his slice into a mutant monster pizza slice threatening New York or some such city. The waitress loved it, and put it up, and told us how she was constantly having to take down stuff like Slutty Slice and Crackhead Slice.

Speaking of pizza, our breakfast dinner itinerary was literally Waffle House in the morning and pizza in the evening. At every stop. That is not an exaggeration. Ben and Dziga love diners and pizza.

The folks we crashed with were cool. They lived in a real-ass punk apartment, filled with all sorts of monster movie and serial killer and vampire ephemera. I opted out of drinking beer until dawn with everybody else, as we had to drive and all. I will be honest: I wasn't too jazzed about sleeping on a couch with no blanket, my face buried in a Chester Cheetah pillow, while some random goth dude in a Skinny Puppy shirt decides the best course of action is blare his industrial music at two in the morning. I woke up sick and not rested at all. But you don't slag people who show you hospitality, so I won't. Just, y'know, it was two in the morning.

We left at noon for Athens, but didn't factor in the time change. Ben drove pretty much the whole way. We didn't factor in the time change and ended up rolling into Athens an hour late and reeking. We needed showers badly. The Athens reading, which was in a bar, was small but good. I read part of "Assistant." We hurried through it, as we were already late, and we had to clear by 8 so a band could set up (band didn't show up until 10, by the way). Athens is a gorgeous little town, filled with all sorts of boutiques and shops, and the college kids were out in full force, serenading us with arbly renditions of "Kiss From a Rose" at the karaoke bar.

The lady hosting us was, I believe, an Anthropology PhD, the wife of one of Ben and Dzig's friends in New Orleans. We had pizza with some Anthro majors. Two of Dzig's friends--a couple who lived in Athens--came to the reading, and I overheard them telling him about how they watched wrestling, and how Vince McMahon is an amoral scumbag, and the hilarious faces he made during his wife's concession speech after she lost the Connecticut senate race, and blew $90 million of his money.

And this shit is hilarious: Oh my god, look at Vince's face! The big, tragic sigh is gold. The eyeroll is gold. But I think my favorite part is Shame McMahon on the side, trying hard not to bust a gut at his dad. They literally wasted $90 million of their personal money. Hilarious.

And thank Zeus, Hera, and Demeter she lost. Can you imagine that old carny Vince having a hand in politics? Sometimes prayers are answered.

But I digress. I heard them talking about wrestling and had to jump in with: "OHMIGOD I LOVE RASSLIN! THE AMERICAN DREAM DUTH-TAY RHODES! RICK FLAIR! THE FOUR HORSEMEN! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Then me and this dude tag teamed telling Dzig the last thirty years of pro wrestling history.

Best part of the night, hands down.

More reminiscences soon.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Chapter 94: In Which I Review the Year

Made it through 2012 safe and sound. Yes, people, there are no gods. Neither the Jewish ones nor the Mayan ones will give you convenient Armageddons to justify your faith. We might just have to live for the day. Oh well.

2012 was a year of extreme ups and downs for me. Here are some highlights:

January--Location means everything. I moved from the hippie house, which had become a wretched hive of scum and villainy, to a spot in West Oakland with a fellow Millsie named Logan, a lady named Charisse, and her 1-year-old daughter. Awesome folks. I finally had the time and space to focus on what I needed to get done, while being around positive people. I didn't live with them long, as I eventually moved in with my girlfriend. But finding that spot--and so soon after I got back from Pittsburgh--was very fortunate. In other news, I published a piece in the Weird Fiction Review that I was pretty proud of.

February--My girlfriend took me to a hot springs in Napa Valley for my birthday. There's nothing like being on a mountain to remind you that the sky is really full of stars. We went on a few walks, and chilled in the pool with the other naked people. So relaxing.

March--Focused a lot on my thesis, The Motley & Plume Players. Sent out resumes for jobs. Generally acted like a responsible adult. Also workshopped some of the stories that would go in Hard Times Blues. Published "The Lucky Ones" in Writing Without Walls.

April--Reworked a performance piece I did for Rebekah Edwards' class for the Low Lives 4 Festival. Rented out a room in Mills College, reading the script while my girlfriend handled the background visuals. It dealt with the Tulsa Race Riot, and was sure as hell intense to research. I still need to go back and watch some of the other videos from Low Lives, which I'm sure were amazing, but I didn't see them, as I spent the whole day stressing about my performance. When all was sad and done, we went to the bar, 'cause we'd earned it.

May--Did Fanimecon and Baycon on the same weekend. Never again. Both cons were inspiring and wonderful, but I didn't get the full experience of either of them. Had a ball doing panels on Yoshiaki Kawajiri and Leiji Matsumoto. Even more excited to do academic scholarship on them. So I'm leaning towards doing Fanime. Also: Finished recording my audiobook! A two-year project, and just as significant as completing my thesis. Graduated Mills, a school I still have a complicated relationship with.

June--I'm blanking. Mostly just worked on the stories for Hard Times. Was living with my girlfriend. Drank a lot of wine. Watched a lot of The Tudors. I have a feeling this month was awesome.

July--Worked as an ESL teacher. Published my essay about Dreamchild in Cabinet des Fees. Love the movie. Loved writing about it.


Girlfriend broke up with me, thus ending the longest, most intense relationship I'd ever been in. So it goes. The breakup also meant I had to get out of her apartment. The upside was crashing with my brother in San Fran for my last week in the Bay. Went to a reading in Golden Gate park, saw Purple Rain in the Mission, saw Beasts of the Southern Wild, went dancing as often as I could. Helped a little bit to fight foreclosures in Oakland. Not only was it good (and necessary) to have that alone time, but it was good to reconnect with my brother, who I barely saw when I was doing grad school. That is one relationship that I know is solid.

August--Moved to Lafayette. Survived a mellow hurricane. Finished a story for Hard Times Blues called "A Song for the Yellow Prince," of which I'm very proud. Also: had my star-making role as an extra in Lauren Soldano's Camp Butchinson, a film where a bunch of sissies are sent to a camp to be trained how to be butch lesbians. And then they kill the counselors.

September--Knee-deep in PhD classes. Didn't accomplish much else. My favorite course was Research Methods, a mandatory class designed to weed people out of the program, focused around how the academy is a desolate, depressing, and hopeless career with few benefits, financially or otherwise.

October--I had my freshmen comp class analyze the rhetorical strategies in Dr. King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail." Learned how depressingly little kids from the South--the SOUTH!--know about the Civil Rights Movement. So I got to teach them. I consider that a highlight. What was even more of a highlight? Nightwish. In New Orleans. Oh yeah.

November--World Fantasy. 'Nuff said. WFR printed my piece on "The Boy in the Tree." This was also my first month being full-fledged homeless, having failed to find an apartment in Lafayette on the short notice I was given. Read lots of student papers. Felt miserable for the most part. Ate Thanksgiving dinner at the department chair's house, didn't mention the homeless thing despite the fact we all knew about it, went back to my hostel.

December--Oh my god, tour was so good. Invigorating and exhausting, often at the same time, like tour should be. Spent lots of time around radical, talented anarchists. Had many political and philosophical discussions. Got to stay with my friend in Asheville who I taught ESL with over the summer. Rounded out my year partying in the Williamsburg area of New York, pretending I was Lena Dunham.

Some of the highs and lows from a crazy year. 2013--let's get it on!