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.

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