Grow, Baby, Grow!

Literary journals come and go. Some are glossy and smooth; they exist in the corporeal world. Others are comprised of code, existing on the Internet in an organized cloud of neutrons. Some pay well and are widely read. Others pay nothing at all and exist in obscurity.

I have a longish story that is better than a year away from being published. When the check for this one comes (if it comes, which will be another post altogether), I've been considering using the proceeds to pay ten writers $50 each for stories. I might solicit two or three and then open a call for submissions in a short window for the others. I'd pay for some cover art and set the anthology up myself. It's not much money, but whatever it amounts to, it would probably just be scattered on the wind.

I'm under no illusions that it would be a profitable venture. But I think I'd like to try it, all the same. If these were funds coming out of our savings account, that's one thing. But proceeds from a short-story sale are all together different...

I bring this up because I haven't been writing or submitting short fiction. I have a little folder on my hard drive where I lock up these misfit children. Although my file is called "retirees," so it's actually a bunch of obnoxious elderly folks, hitting each other with their walkers and fondling one another with wrinkled tentacles.

I wonder what life is like in that file?

I digress. These stories, maybe one day, will be infused with life. More than likely they won't.

There are thousands of journals, anthologies, magazines and digests on Duotrope. They need content. So why don't I keep making the rounds with these stories?

Many just aren't that good.

I think, at some point, every writer has to look at the less-than-successful work (which, in his or her eyes, once gleamed like a new bike on Christmas day) more objectively as practice. When that happens, it's time to expand your inventory.

Read the magazines upon whose covers you would like to see your name. Explore creative angles on universal themes. Grow the inventory, and try the markets you admire again.

Because the alternative is probably not optimal. It's nice to have a long list of credits, but quality should be the endgame. It's like that theme song to Cheers, right? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name (or will, if you are writing the kinds of things you also admire).

Writer and editor Rajan Khanna offers a useful insight into the editorial process

An excerpt: As far as the reading slush part goes, it can be trying of course. I think sometimes the hardest to take are the stories that have such promise, but don’t manage to deliver on that. Or those that start out with an interesting premise and then go in the direction of well-worn cliche.

I keep a file on my desktop of story ideas I'd like to explore, but I'm committed to working on the novel at this point. I'm tempted to blast older submissions out into the world, just because it's a little odd not having irons in the fire, but I think it's going to get crowded in that old folks home on my hard drive. The plan will be to complete the novel prior to Halloween, then grow the inventory again later in the year.


When It Rains...

Okay, so my dearth of writing and maintaining any semblance of a web presence is, I hope, coming to an end. There are many old adages about bad luck; a couple even seem to have some teeth to them.

In the last week, the water heater threw up the white flag, I lost some of my data on my computer and my wife's Volkswagon went into the shop. Add that to teaching a full load, taking Lyla to swimming lessons, trying to remain reasonably healthy through exercise and working on the house in 100-degree temperatures...

The blogging, needless to say, has been a little lower on the list.

This has been the busiest summer of my professional life. From committee work at the college (I had a hand in hiring seven new employees this summer) to teaching seven courses and trying to help Jeanne out around the house and with Lyla, I've never felt so stretched. I've put much of that on myself, and Jeanne and I are proud of what we've accomplished since 2005. Every year, we've both worked as much as we could (I taught fifty-five workload units this year; my contract calls for thirty) to make extra money. Jeanne's always worked in the summer, and I've taught at night and online.

I think, moving into next year, I'll be scaling back a bit. I need to focus on making the doctoral program in American Studies at the University of Florida the center of my agenda for 2011/12. I need to maintain my time with Jeanne and Lyla, and with any future blessings that might come into our life. And I need to shift some of my attention back to creative works: be they scholarship or fiction.

Like I said, the extra work has paid off. We paid down a lot of debt and we worked hard to improve our quality of life. This spring we painted the house, put in a new back lawn and replaced the dishwasher.

But the time has come to focus on other things, and not on staying late at work and clocking overtime.

Now that I have my computing access back up to speed and one of my summer classes is drawing to a close, I even hope to write a little fiction later in the week.

If you've dropped by and found the website in stasis--my bad. Do come back in the future. For the last few months, I've had some great ideas for blog posts, but no real time to get to them. I'll try to amend that in the near future...


I Got Nothing...

If you are a student at the college and you're trying to reach me via e-mail, please accept my apologies. The IT department dropped a nuc on my laptop (eight years of data is actually missing) and I have no access to Outlook unless I'm on campus and connected to the LAN. I will respond as quickly as I'm able, as soon as we get things sorted out...


Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is a very good series.

Critics have lavished praise on this series, and rightfully so. From casting to pacing (it's pretty neat to watch the series wane from the pilot to the later episodes; clearly, it struck a chord), this series is wholly captivating.

Bryan Cranston is simply sublime as Walter White.

He is a very under-utilized actor. His W. White is a high school chemistry teacher with a death sentence.

He has lung cancer, a son with a disability, and another child on the way.

He has months; maybe, he has years. But he is resolute in his attempt to raise money for his family.


He'll cook meth.

The casting is spot on. Aaron Paul plays Jesse Pinkman, his high school hook-up that sells the drugs. Jesse is the connection. Unfortunately, the connection is also a loose end.

This is an artistically impressive show. The series is shot well (lots of interesting perspective shots), and it's also interesting in terms of narrative. The pilot starts off with an inferno--the worst situation ever--and then it backtracks and connects the dots.

It's a non-linear plot that is well played by the cast and superbly framed by a series of directors.

It's funny. I watch Entourage and I'm bored after two episodes. How much of that can you take?

I watch two episodes of Breaking Bad, and I can't wait to hit the well again...


Happy Birthday, Linda!

Linda turns the big six-four today. Love her stuff.

I also love the homage videos on youtube. You can't beat the velvet painting of the half-naked couple, hugging, with leaping dolphins in the corner in the video above. It's at 1:33!

You just can't beat it (I'm daring you to try...).


The Bad Thing I Did

When I was a sophomore at Linfield, I made a pair of nacho pants. I took an old pair of jeans and sewed a potholder on the inside of the front left pocket, to protect my leg. I sewed a heavy-duty plastic liner on the inside of the pocket and stapled an old Cool Whip tub to the waistband. I filled the tub with corn chips, filled the pocket with gooey cheddar and went strolling.

While I never did secure the patent on those little beauties, my love for the good stuff hasn't dissipated over the years. When most opt for popcorn at the cinema, I'm reaching for the nachos. I remember covering the Greater Oregon League as a sportswriter for the Gresham Outlook. Jeanne and I almost always split an order while she kept stats and I started writing the story.

And the last four years, I've shopped at Costco and always seen that Que Bueno in the industrial foods aisle. You know the aisle I'm talking about--it's loaded with vats of mayonnaise and barrels of vinegar.

And wondrous cans of gooey goodness.

If your Costco is like mine, and you stick to the perimeter to avoid the crowds like I do, you know where the Que Bueno is. It's not in the center of the aisle, but it's not at the end, either. I can always see it when I pass, but it's a ways down there. It takes a commitment to go get this cistern of yellow gold.

I always pass, but every time I can feel the Que Bueno watching me, that little smile on its can. C'mon! that smile says...C'mon and have some nachos! All the nachos you could ever want, right in the comfort and privacy of your own home!

I had my moment of weakness this afternoon, and that big daddy you see above is now in the back of my refrigerator. No, I'm not coaching a kids' soccer team, or volunteering at the local little league. I'm not selling nachos so the kids can take a trip to Washington, D.C.

I bought the can, and I can already see the error of my ways. It's a lot of cheese, folks. It's a damned lot of cheese.

Still, I have until next May. Progress reports as news warrants...


Splice (2009)

Outside of the distinction of having directed a segment of the excellent Paris, je'taime (2006), writer and director Vincenzo Natali delivers a break-out vehicle with Splice. I see that he is in pre-production on a project called High Rise and, if it's the film companion to J.G. Ballard's fantastic novel, I'm excited for this filmmaker's future.

This film has a lot to recommend it, not the least of which is the fact that it's an R-rated horror film with very strong actors at its core. I'm not as crazy about Sarah Polley as many of the critics whose work I admire, but she does manic well and she does driven well. She gets a chance to show both in this one.

It also stars Adrien Brody, who is one of my favorites. Strangely enough, after doing films as diverse as Harrison's Flowers, The Pianist, The Jacket and The Darjeeling Limited, he does this one and is in the summer gorefest Predators. He's got great chops and clearly is comfortable going the chameleon route on us. I admire the choices he's made, and in this one, he does some stuff on camera that is...well, it's an awfully strange movie.

Brody's Clive Nicoli and Polley's Elsa Kast are brilliant, dedicated young scientists. They're toiling in the corporate labs, synthesizing enzymes and proteins and what-not and occasionally messing around with complex human-animal experimentation. When they decide to go rogue and take their experimentation to the next level (the threat of a lab closure is the pretext), they go where they shouldn't.

The film dabbles in a few cliches. It has the obligatory close-up on the scientists eating Chinese take-out and pizza. They work long hours, floating stuff and looking at the computer. It's all very scientific. They proudly where their geek creds on their sarcastic t-shirts.

And it's not until about forty-five minutes into the film that we see some real humanity in the whole thing. Nicoli and Kast are romantically involved. He wants a kid, she's scarred by her mother's mental illness. So when they can't decide for sure on whether they want a kid the old-fashioned way, we get Dren (nerd backwards--get it?)...

Dren is a curiosity--a partially human, partially bestial creature played by Delphine Chaneac. Chaneac is awesome. She emotes in a few scenes in a way that is just heart-breaking. You see, the crux of the film is not the experiment on the creature, but the experiment on the creators. How will they behave, these scientists with their ethical lines and human conceits? Nicoli and Kast have to reconcile their roles as creators and parents in this one and, despite her bizarre characteristics and deadly tail, Dren is a sympathetic character. She is what she is, and it's hard not to want to love her. It's hard not to feel sad for her when she wants to roam the woods outside of her prison. It's hard not to feel a moment of pride when Kast uncovers the drawings she's made of them in her spare time.

I had no idea about the sex. It came out of left field for me and, when it started, the audience was laughing.They laughed because they were nervous. It's unsettling. That's the mark of, at the very least, an interesting and memorable film. You don't know how or why it's happening, but it surely is, and it makes for a hell of an interesting third act.

It's nicely paced and nicely played. A solid 'B' on this one, with the obligatory sequel nicely prefaced in the final sequence of shots. Splice is that rare Hollywood gem: a horror movie that delivers the goods, delivers them for adults, and does it with style and craft.

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...