RT Bookfair, Aspiring Authors, the end of the World, etc.

So, the RT Bookfair just occurred in New Orleans. It’s one of the deals where booksellers and authors and readers show up to mingle and meet and buy and giveaway and all that sort of thing. The indie authors and smaller presses with nonreturnable books (ie., books sold on consignment) were put in one room and the traditional pressers were put in another. A lot of indies have been grumbling about this, particularly in light of an RT staffer who referred to them as “aspiring authors.”

Well, you know what? Who cares. It’s not the end of the world. At least you haven’t been kidnapped by Boko Haram thugs in order to be sold into slavery via a forced Muslim marriage. Heck, it could always be worse. The Spanish Inquisition could start up again, right on your lucky little doorstep.

Speaking of the end of the world, I’m starting to grow a bit weary of all the dystopian novels. I realize trends are things that people jump on (like: flying carpets, trolleys, and spiders that stroll across your kitchen floor), but the trendification of publishing is starting to become a Sight to Behold. A trend begins and then a vast wave of similar widgets surge their way across the landscape, singing in chorus and all painted the same color (see: have I seen those abs before?).

It would be fascinating if someone did a study of publishing and analyzed trends. Did trends occurs in the Ye Ancient Dayes of Yesteryear like they do now? Twilight…instant vampire trend! Hunger Games…instant dystopian trend! Some book with abs on it…instant New Adult trend! When Tolstoy published War and Peace, was there an instant Massive Russian Novel trend?

I’m thinking…no.

Okay, back to the Seal Whistle. 109 pages so far. I’ve noticed something interesting while writing this story (and, by the way, if you haven’t read my Tormay trilogy, the Seal Whistle takes place in that same land…go read The Hawk and His Boy if you don’t know what I’m talking about; it’s free). I started out with a specific plot in mind, specific characters who are from the Tormay trilogy or related in certain ways to those books. The characters have strongly asserted themselves in the process and are basically demanding page time to do what they want. Even if it really has nothing to do with the plot. I realize that authorial wisdom says one should edit and prune out such passages. However, these characters will probably beat the stuffing out of me if I do that.


How Does One Write Epic Fantasy? Black Widow Spiders!

Woops. I almost suckered myself into writing on that topic. Not gonna happen, because my insurance policy is simply not adequate enough. The battle between Tolkien’s moral vision and George Martin’s bleak nihilism is a deadly one, fraught with many stories found on the continuum between those two poles. Many a farmboy has come to grief on that battleground. One day, perhaps, I’m going to write a doctoral thesis on the foundational philosophies of the genre, but not today.

Actually, that’s a bit of a dream of mine. Back to school for a doctorate. I’d love to study literary theory. Not the lame marxist critique or feminist critique that most blockheads teach in academia (sorry, I have no pity or patience for such ivory tower chowdermumblebrains), but a critique theory that actually delves into the aforesaid moral vision of the oldsters (Tolkien, Chesterton, etc) versus the post-modernism of Martin, Cook, and others. One’s vision and understanding of the world shapes one’s stories. There’s no getting away from that, and there’s no getting away from the moral or amoral responsibility (can I say amoral responsibility?) that goes hand in mailed glove, regardless of the careless and shallowly constructed excuses of many of my contemporaries.

So, me for a doctorate and my wife would tackle a master’s in Jane Eyre. She’s currently re-reading Jane Eyre for about the twentieth time right now. I’m definitely the fifth wheel out when Jane and Mr. Rochester are in the house. Cambridge, perhaps?

Yesterday, I drove onto a work site where we were tearing down some old fences and replacing them with new ones. I arrived just in time to see one worker suddenly break into a frenzied impression of Michael Flatley doing his Lord of the Dance (Riverdance?) routine. Only, I doubt Flatley could’ve done such fast footwork as this fellow. There was a certain lack of rhythm and grace in his movements, but, boy, was he fast. He was also doing a lot of hollering at the same time. Turns out that he had just flipped over a large masonry block and uncovered a nest of black widow spiders. Several adults and about forty Barney-aged youngsters (Barney and black widows–now that’s a perfect combination). They all came boiling out like the four horsemen of the apocalypse (well, the forty-four horsemen, if we must be precise). Hence, the dance impression accompanied by the frantic yodeling.

Spiders as terrifying as those that planned to sup on Bilbo and the dwarves. It just goes to show you. You never know when life might become epic, fantasy or not.


Rare Interview of Master Criminal Greg Downs

I first met Greg Downs when I was serving in the French Foreign Legion in Namibia. We were taking fire from a heavy platoon of British tourists. Ladies, mostly named Hortense or Mabel, elderly and wearing those  tight compression stockings that assist in varicose-vein sublimation. They had the usual assortment of mortars and 6-inch recoilless rifles and RPGs. Plus, they had a sniper the Namibians called the Suet Death Pudding who could shoot the cigar out of your mouth from three miles out. We were pinned down, outgunned, out-womaned, and in need of backup. I remember Greg well because he had the foresight to bring a cooler of pastrami and stone-ground mustard sandwiches on a nice marbled rye, and a few bottles of cold beer. He was a good man. We lost touch, however, when he went to work for the Chinese Tongs in Macau. Mostly smuggling guns and pharmaceuticals and misfortune cookies into Belgium.

Anyway, I ran into him recently at a performance of Swan Lake at Carnegie Hall. Mikhal Gorbachev was dancing lead, along with Al Gore as the Prince. It was a hard thing to watch, but that’s why I always bring along a flask of the even harder stuff. We got to talking during the intermission, while people were running out, screaming about the end of the world and hollering stuff and looking nauseated.

While I know Greg, I’ll pretend I don’t, for your educational sake.

So, while I know you, for the sake of discussion, who are you?

My name is Greg, but who I am is rather difficult. I think the answer has to do with writing, at least somewhat, or I wouldn’t be here, would I? It started in highschool, when I wrote and published some short books on Kindle, my Song of the Aura series, which is when I met Mister Christopher here.

To date, I have published three books: one, a collection of novellas and short stories, two, a novel reimagining King Arthur’s world through the eyes of the (guy you thought was the) villain, and three, a big hulking fantasy epic compiled from that series I mentioned. Nowadays I mostly just doodle, write poetry, blog a little, and go to college.

One day I’ll know who I am, too. Then I’ll tell you.

Speaking of King Arthur, what are your thoughts on modern education and its role in either encouraging or stifling creativity?

I just read Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, where the kids are given more and more information in school, are schooled earlier and earlier, and learn less and less of what will actually give them meaningful lives. I think we’re on the threshold of that. Creativity is not killed by modern education, not judging by all the creative public-schoolers I’ve met, but it’s giving it its best try.

Ray Bradbury was a good man. I have fond memories of that evening he shot up a Taliban bar in Kabul. Good times. Speaking of the Taliban, what are your thoughts on the self-pubbing/indie movement?

I think it’s a great way to encourage people to write more, read more, and generally get involved. It does have a tendency to create a swamp of various amateur books, but I think 50 Shades shows us that everywhere is a swamp nowadays. So really, we have a lot to gain by people taking their writing and their careers in writing into their own hands.

I’m with you there. 50 Shades is to books as Robespierre is to democratic rule. I’ve even heard that those geniuses in Hollywood are in pre-production on a film version. Do you think Hollywood is maintaining its creative edge or losing it?

I think a lot has been lost from a thematic point of view, but a lot has been gained in a visual sense. We have a lot of really good ways to portray events and characters that we didn’t have before… but we don’t use a lot of that potential. Instead we just blow more things up. And then more. I am watching less and less contemporary film nowadays so I think I’ll stop there.

Contemporary film seems to be all about the big name actors and actresses who, frankly, seem to be mostly several noodles short of a bowl of Vietnamese pho. Lately, that’s exemplified by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” end of their marriage. The subtext in that is they are crazier than mercury-addicted loons. Speaking of marriage, do you think marriage should be arranged by the State?

No. See 1984 for details.

Ah, yes. 1984. Every year is 1984 these days. So, what is creativity and how do we access it and are we truly individual with it?

Got to admit this is my favorite question and I was waiting for it the whole time. So naturally instead of answering it directly I want to go on a tangent. Plato, in his Ion, reckons creativity as a sort of inspiration that begins in a Divine Source (the gods), and proceeds down in a chain from the gods themselves, to the poets and artists, to the performers of poetry. I find that idea a lot more interesting than calling creativity a mush mix of social/political/historical/psychological sources that kind of bubbles up from us every time we put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it now were). Think about it. What if creativity was not brainwaves, but a Divine Light we could tap into? What if our creativity, what you might call our artistic self, is like a crystal that the light shines through? When we hone our artistic craft, we chisel at, refine, and polish the crystal. We determine its shape by the life experiences and art experiences we have, and this shape, whatever it is, will reflect the Divine Light in a different way. So if this were true (I don’t know if it is, but it’s worth thinking about), then creativity is something beyond us, which we nevertheless have a good amount of individual control over. So, yes and no, as the elves say.

Very wise of you to retreat to the elves. I’ve always admired their thought processes, but not their sartorial sense. Too many tight pants. Speaking of tight pants, do you think the government is hiding information from us on things like extra-terrestrials, etc?

I could answer that question, but then I would have to kill you to protect my employers.

I trust they’re paying you well! Thanks, Greg, for taking the time to come on by and chat. If anyone wants to learn more about Greg Downs–the man, the writer, the cheese expert–stop on by his blog and spend some quality time.


Tall duck and handsome

tall duck and handsomeWhy? Because we can. That’s why. After all, lots of people seem to be interested in such qualities in their personal ads. With the alteration of a few letters, of course, but language is fluid these days…so, what does it matter?

At any rate, this just goes to show you that if you can’t pronounce the letter R, you might be in trouble in many different ways, not the least of them your love life. Or your culinary life. Or you love of culinary things.


Manhattan Cocktail Parties

Manhattan Cocktail PartyFor some odd reason I’ve had this image stuck in my head for years. I’m not an illustrator by any stretch of the imagination, but I finally scribbled down my mental rendition. I don’t know why, but the scene makes me laugh. Snooty cocktail party at some Tribeca loft, young financiers glad-handing over drinks, and one guy turns to his girlfriend and introduces a couple he’s just met… File this one under Random, that’s for sure.


Delayed by disappearing airplanes, etc.

One of the laws of thermodynamics states that higher temperature always flows toward areas of lower temperature. Something like that. The same idea can be applied to custard. Or culture, I suppose.

I’ve been meaning to write something for this here blog of mine (not to be confused with Guns and Roses’ sweet child of mine/Axl Rose), but I’ve been delayed by life. Disappearing airplanes. Kendo lessons with Offspring #1. Gophers. Troublesome hot water heaters. Tax returns. The entire state of California, which I think should be sold on Groupon at a big discount.

My latest manuscript, Rosamonde, is currently in the hands of my editor (the inimitable Jen Ballinger–what does inimitable even mean? does it matter? do words matter anymore?). It’s not novel length. It’s a novella, which places it somewhere in between a very long story and a novel. 1/3 of a novel, perhaps.

Never again will I write a story from a girl’s perspective in first person. Rather difficult for me. My writing has limitations and, one of them, besides declining to write New Adult, erotica, romance, historical fiction about Canada, and cookbooks, is that I cannot write from a girl’s perspective. At least, not in first person. First person is quite different from omniscient. I wrote quite a few female characters in the Tormay trilogy, but it was always from an omniscient perspective. That’s a great deal easier for me.

Speaking of easy, what is with the hordes of people who think they’re going to win the Voice and become happy ever after? Life does not work that way. That said, I think Blake Shelton is going to win this year. He’s a canny guy, and he’s from the midwest.


Curse you, Costco!

I went into Costco today in order to buy a bag of shredded cheese (yes, I realize industrially shredded cheese sometimes contains sawdust particles in order to mitigate clumping; I appreciate the extra fiber). I left sometime later with a hundred dollars worth of goods. Dazed, no doubt, by the cornucopia of free samples. I’m pretty sure they lace the free samples with some insidious drug designed to induce consumerism. Curse you, Costco! Your wide and high aisles are so beguiling with their stacks of goods and their white-smocked attendants skulking behind their stainless steel carts.

I never realized I needed a combination power-washer barbecue snow blower. Very handy. Though, it doesn’t snow where I live except perhaps once every hundred years. When it does, I will be ready to clear my drive and cook up some hamburgers at the same time.

Speaking of snow, we need some here in California. Why is the rest of the country getting dumped on in spades and we have nothing except sunshine? California is in serious drought. However, Governor Jerry Brown (why is his nickname “Moonbeam”?) has just declared an emergency and says he has set aside 600 million dollars and change in order to solve the problem. I think he’s going to spend most of the money on funding gender studies classes at all the Cal States and U of California campuses. That should solve the drought.

Speaking of crazy people, I’m highly tempted to write a novel about California bureaucrats. My day job requires me, nay, forces me, to interact with them fairly regularly. Nice people as individuals, but the system they exist in (and enforce on us poor yokels) is stark raving mad. As in Mad Hatter (see: Alice in Wonderland and the old fashioned process of making felt with mercury). I’ve plenty of material to write such a novel, but I’m afraid nobody would want to read such a rabbit hole of a story.


The Edge of Everything

We all live on the edge of everything. And I mean everything. Death, life, love, hate, happiness, misery, annihilation. We are tight-rope walkers, blindly and blithely unobservant to the abyss falling away beneath our feet. We are reluctant to open our eyes.

Everything crowds up around us, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. The tiny engines of cellular industry, invisible to our eye and rarely ever considered by us, industriously whirl and churn away inside our cells, RNA and DNA and mitochondria, as busy and busier than even the most sophisticated factory man possesses. Their minute movements preserve us from millisecond to millisecond. By their industry we stay alive.

And on the far side of the ruler, the universe looms in massive and ponderous majesty. I once wrote a passage about the boy Jute, the beleaguered main character of my Tormay trilogy, that he dreamt he lay upon the ground, staring up into the night sky, and soon found himself fancying that he was on the prow of a ship, rushing through an incredible and endless darkness. Our planet is like that. We stand upon its surface and it rushes through the solar system at frightening speed, swinging about the sun. And our solar system itself, bounded and baling-wired about with gravity, rushes through our Milky Way galaxy, turning on the spiral arm. And our galaxy, a modest one of billions, in turn hurtles through the dark corridors of the universe. While all this is happening, all this speed and distance and darkness and time, we continue on our way, puttering off to work or school or the store, oblivious and mostly content.

The edge of everything is everywhere else as well. Electricity flows down the lines, keeping us lit and warm. Tankers roll across the miles to bring us fuel. Semis haul in food. Countless worker bees swarm about the cables and ones and zeros of the internet, bringing us our daily consumption of news and not-news and Justin Bieber. Our money still works, blithely again, mostly due to trust and assumptions and some good will and a great deal of greed.

Even the starlight shines on the edge of everything. When we look up into the night and see those stars, what we see are not the stars themselves, but the memory of stars. The remembrance of them. That light has traveled millions of miles to get to our eyes and, perhaps, by the time we look up and see them, the stars have already died and gone cold and dark. They fell over the edge of everything and we can only enjoy their lonely light, their memories.

All of this teeters on the edge of everything. Fine-tuned, but teetering.

And our very own lives balance on that same precipice. This is the same for christian or for atheist, muslim or self-absorbed hedonist. One minute we are happily examining the annual return on our 401k, the next minute the thin wall of an aorta gives out in a pulse of exhaustion and we are flat on our back on the floor, staring up at the final glimpse. At that point we either tip over into heaven or hell or into nothingness, if the atheist’s hopes are real. Both options, regardless of final destinations, are still the edge of everything.

It is either a brave or foolish thing to create, to writes stories or make films or carve sculptures, when one is standing on the edge of everything. All those writers who wrote before, Steinbeck and Hemingway and Camus and Dickens and all their kin, they all fell over the edge and are gone. Their words have remained for us, but we are soon to fall as well. The words stay balanced on the edge, but for what purpose?

Some physicists believe that a dark matter binds the universe together, an unseen material that moves with purpose and power between those atoms that are known to us. Those atoms that also teeter along with us. Christians believe that it is God himself that binds existence into form, that his word, much more powerful and lasting than Steinbeck’s writing, weaves meaning out of chaos and keeps things balanced on that knife-edge.

Whichever belief is true, regardless of what we think, we truly do live on the edge of everything. And everything is crowded up around us, the past, the present, and the future. Everything a moment away.


Contraptions

Do something creative today. I don’t mean practice acts of random kindness. That’s just, well, random. I mean go bake a cake or write a story or build another Notre Dame cathedral (good luck finding worker serfs).

The act of creativity is one of a short list of things that confirms our humanity and also affirms the spark of the divine that is reflected in all of us, despite our deliberate stupidities. It keeps us more alive than simply living.

For me, creativity is an important step of hope that can be taken and should be taken each day. Most days, due to my tiresome health, I feel as if I’m a contraption of broken pieces of crystal, all carefully balanced together, sharp edge on sharp edge, always on the verge of collapse and shatter, covered over with a thinly stretched expanse of skin. That is me, and, as such, there is usually little concentration left over for creativity. Despite that, it is still important, even if there’s only a teaspoon-full of adenosine triphosphate left over.

So, create…we are the children messing about in the wood shavings of the carpenter’s floor. Make a contraption (but do not make me). There are tools and materials available. Just open your eyes.


Frozen floating over the Marianas Trench

Saw Frozen with the kiddos. Other than some overly-quick plot movements and an odd choice in a Lion King-style piece of music, it’s quite a nice film. Lovely animation, endearing plot that focuses on the value of family love. There’s a romantic sub-plot in it between one of the princesses and a fellow she meets, but it’s secondary to the loyalty and affection between the two princess sisters. I wish Hollywood would make more kiddo-friendly movies like Frozen (and Tangled), but they don’t. Of course, John Lasseter had his hand on the ultimate helm, credited as executive producer. His story tastes are decidedly more family-friendly than the typical Hollywood hyena.

Speaking of kids, it seems like most of pop culture is arrayed in battle formation against me in the war to raise children. Slutty clothing? Check (the junior high girls walking down the streets these days seem ready to enter the Trade). Trashy music? Check (see: Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, pretty much any rapper, etc). Violent video games? Check (from Grand Theft Auto and Halo on down). Depraved movies? Check (see: The Wolf of Wall Street–that’s the latest piece of gold-plated garbage to have oozed out of Hollywood). Mindless books? Check (compare most new youth books with those of yesteryear; I rest my case).

The thing is, it’s hard enough to raise kids in general. They’re strange little beasts at best. They talk a mile a minute, they have the energy reserves of a Tasmanian devil that’s been drinking espresso by the gallon, they have little perspective on the concept of safety (no, you may not have a flame thrower for your birthday, and, no, you may no climb on the roof of the house), and they think the baby is the perfect target for their nerf guns.

So, in addition to trying to shape and control their innate freakiness and power drive, I have to also combat pop culture’s attempts to influence my kids. I’m not complaining, because raising kids is a great honor (and my kids are insanely awesome), but, you, pop culture, can go take a long walk off a short pier over the Marianas Trench, your feet in concrete boots and a ten-ton millstone around your neck. May the hammerheads and barracudas attend you on the way down. Though, I suppose your teeth are just as sharp as theirs.