August 30, 2005
A quick one, this: Michael and I are sequestered on Cape Cod, where for the past three days I've been writing, writing.
Sunday, prior to the Cape, we headed up to Portland (Maine, not Oregon) to visit Michael's mom--Happy Birthday, Janet Lowenthal--and I got to spend some time with my great friend from my days at Kansas University, Liz Woodbury. Liz, her husband Mark, and their kids Zoe and Isaac run a bookstore / coffeehouse in Portland: Casco Bay Books. They're also reconfiguring to add Milo, a clothing store with a lot of cool independent clothing designers. If any of you are in Portland soon, I highly recommend stopping by. Some of the friendliest, coolest, smartest people I've ever known.
(In addition: three friendly, cool, and smart new books: The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas by FOUND Magazine's main man Davy Rothbart, The Wild Creatures by the late great Sam D'Allesandro (edited by one of my favorite writers Kevin Killian), and God Jr. by Dennis Cooper.
Movies. If you aren't easily offended, go see the film directed by my pal Paul Provenza, The Aristocrats. Totally, massively hilarious. I especially loved the scenes with Sarah Silverman and Bob Saget.
And only two more weeks until SIGUR ROS.
August 24, 2005
Two New Sigur Ros Songs!
TAKK..., the new album from one of my all-time favorite bands Sigur Rós, is coming out in September. The band's previous album, ( ), is my favorite record of the past five years. The band will play here in Boston on September 15th (and it's obviously super important to me because I'm going to miss the premiere of SURVIVOR to go to the show). Their concert a few years back at Berklee was the greatest and most sublime live show I've ever seen... honestly, words can't describe it. Sigur Rós have just released two songs from the record on iTunes-- "Glósóli," which is available on the UK site and can also be heard by visiting here, and "Saeglópur," which is available on the US site.
If there's a heaven, I think this could very well be the music that plays as we tromp through its supposedly pearly gates.
August 22, 2005
20 Short Stories
As a bit of a follow-up to my "Alice Munro" posting: a couple of people have written me asking for more short story recommendations. I decided I'd make another list. This time, it's 20 short stories that I feel are utterly amazing--they're stories that I've either taught in classes I've done, or will plan to teach someday, and all are stories from which I've learned a lot. (I often think that writing short fiction is more disciplined, and difficult, than writing a novel; writing a story is like trying to break out of a cramped jail cell, whereas a novel is like finding your way around an unknown, but limitless, field.)
Anyway. Admittedly, these 20 don't have any real connecting link--stylistically they're kind of all over the map--and they probably aren't my all-time favorite 20 (looking over it again, I realize there's no Faulkner... no Nabokov... no etc, etc, etc). And there are still zillions of stories, both classic and contemporary, I haven't read and probably never will. But I think these 20 are all excellent nonetheless, all memorable, and brilliant. Oh, and these are all stories written in English. And since I could have stuck 20 Flannery O'Connor stories on here alone, I made myself a final rule: only one story per author.
MY ANTHOLOGY OF 20 GREAT SHORT STORIES (in alphabetical order):
(1) Rebecca Brown, "Bread"
(2) Truman Capote, "Children On Their Birthdays"
(3) Dennis Cooper, "Container"
(4) Mary Gaitskill, "The Girl On the Plane"
(5) William Gass, "The Pedersen Kid"
(6) Shirley Jackson, "The Lottery"
(7) Denis Johnson, "Car Crash While Hitchhiking"
(8) James Joyce, "Araby"
(9) D.H. Lawrence, "The Horse-Dealer's Daughter"
(10) Doris Lessing, "To Room Nineteen"
(11) Alice Munro, "Meneseteung"
(12) Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried"
(13) Flannery O'Connor, "Everything That Rises Must Converge"
(14) Grace Paley, "A Conversation With My Father"
(15) Jayne Anne Phillips, "Lechery"
(16) Annie Proulx, "The Half-Skinned Steer"
(17) Wallace Stegner, "The Sweetness of the Twisted Apples"
(18) David Foster Wallace, "Little Expressionless Animals"
(19) Joy Williams, "The Blue Men"
(20) Richard Yates, "Oh Joseph, I'm So Tired"
August 17, 2005
Hard to believe it's mid-August already. Diligence continues on We Disappear... I've been furiously trying to work out some kinks in my fifth chapter, though, and when these kind of frustrations kick in, there's nothing better than reading a master writer for a little inspiration.
Sometimes, though, reading another writer can be equally frustrating. Alice Munro, for instance-- she's so brutally fantastic, so wholly head and shoulders above so many other writers in her ability to pack an entire novel's worth of material, character development, and emotion into a short story.
Michael and I have started this little habit of reading Munro aloud. When we drive from Boston to the Cape to visit his dad and stepmom, that Highway 3 time span is often the approximate length of one of her stories, beginning to beautiful end. For instance, I just read "Differently" to him as he drove; a few months back, he read "Family Furnishings" to me. If you're an Alice Munro fan, you're probably getting a little thrill right now just hearing these titles.
The difficulty in reading Munro's stories orally is that they are often so completely, devastatingly sad. They're deceptive, too, because at first glance they seem rather tame, stories concerning ordinary people living their lives-- but then they achieve incredible and surprising things (like take leaps in time that shouldn't work but do).
Here's an Alice Munro quote about her own work that I found on a Random House site:
"I seem to turn out stories that violate the discipline of the short story form and don't obey the rules of progression for novels. I don't think about a particular form, I think more about fiction, let's say a chunk of fiction. What do I want to do? I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way--what happens to somebody--but I want that 'what happens' to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness. I want the reader to feel something is astonishing--not the 'what happens' but the way everything happens."
If you haven't read Alice Munro yet, pick up any of her books of stories and start. (There are still many stories of hers I've yet to read, which is exciting-- I want to spend a long, long time savoring them.) My personal favorite, out of all the stories I've read so far, is "Meneseteung" from Friend of My Youth, which seems to me not only a mystery about a forgotten woman in a past forgotten town, but also a meditation on what it means to be empathetic, what it means to love, and ultimately what it means to be a writer or creative artist.
August 08, 2005
More Than a Feeling
Thanks, everyone, for posting comments to this site. It's great to meet new people this way, and to hear from a few old friends. Also, I can't even begin to explain how much it means to hear people say nice things about the books and movie.
I'll try to address the comments individually when time allows. I've been rattlingly busy the past couple of weeks with some heavy-duty progress on We Disappear-- good news for me and the book, but a black spot on my abilities to stay in touch with people and answer emails and letters and etc.
I haven't ONLY been working, though. Last week Michael and I spent five days in Vermont at a lovely resort place near a little town called West Dover. Our good pals Tommy and Michael got married-- my first "gay wedding"-- and I had really wonderful, relaxing time. Instead of gifts, they just had a huge group of their best friends rent out this huge house in the mountains for a week. We played a lot of MAFIA (tipsy, of course) and went swimming at a rather eyebrow-raising nude beach on the Rock River. I made a bunch of cool new friends. And I still owe Mark ten bucks for not knowing my "Amazing Race" trivia as well as I thought I did.
The movie, by the way, did NOT get banned in Australia. Cool. I think it opens there in a couple of weeks. The film also just won an award at the Brisbane International Film Festival, so we're all elated re: that.
(Here's a pretty cool interview with me about the movie, which recently appeared in the Kansas City STAR. The photos aren't too bad, if you can get 'em to load.)
Just saw MURDERBALL. Fantastic. I heart Mark Zupan.
I'm going to steal blatantly from a common practice on Dennis Cooper's weblog and start making random lists of things, because, like him, I'm obsessed with doing that. Here's one now.
Ten Favorite Female Voices
1. Elizabeth Fraser
3. Kate Bush
4. Nina Simone
5. Sinead O'Connor
6. Harriet Wheeler
7. Debbie Harry
8. Iris DeMent
9. Caroline Crawley
10. Beth Gibbons
11. Karen Carpenter
12. Lisa Gerrard
13. Alison Goldfrapp
14. Nicola Hitchcock
15. Clare Grogan
Speaking of music.... Today on the drive to the gym, my iPod was playing a nice string of my usual stuff-- My Bloody Valentine's "No More Sorry"; Talk Talk's "New Grass"; New Order's "Everything's Gone Green"-- when it then started playing "More Than a Feeling" by Boston. What a kickass song. Folks in the cars next to me were staring. I was reminded of when I was 17 and a total new-wave freak, listening to Ultravox and Gary Numan and the Psychedelic Furs, and how I would sometimes sneak off with my friend Shannan in her car and listen to stadium rock with her as though it was something dangerous and forbidden. Therefore I am now listening to the debut Boston album in its entirety, as well as another of Shannan's 1983 favorites, Heart. Which makes me think, I could have almost put Ann Wilson's voice on that little list, too.
Can anyone name a singer who can hit high-scream notes like Boston's Brad Delp could? (Maybe that singer from the band Muse...?)
Okay, my end-of-summer resolution, I think, is to update this blog more often, but write shorter and sometimes trivial entries. All while working on my novel, I mean. I'll start that practice next time.