Wednesday, September 17, 2008

May 12, 2009

Just so you know this whole thing hasn't been a hallucination. Nor is the plan to reissue Carter Beats the Devil as my Collected Works (though that would rock).

Details here.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


As soon as you're done telling yourself what you need to, maybe the choices are to put it in a box and tape it up, or to toss it out there and see if anyone else wants to play. If someone you trust likes some of it, your choice then is whether to start letting it go. Because a lot of this is about calling out from your heart and then hoping someone else out there recognizes what you're trying to say. (This is obvious, I know, but today is Obvious Day.) So after that personal, painful, vulnerable, personal gesture, it's time to start cutting the strings that bind you.

So now I'm doing the things I would never have thought of on my own, and this is liberating. Sweeping away the failed gods (you just know there are gods that never caught on -- there have to be) and tired details. Two things that should be obvious (because it's Obvious Day):

1) The benshi? Couldn't fit it in.
2) Tatiana the witch? Likewise.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Now the re-building. I'm finding this interesting: if you have a scene written (say) three years ago, you have re-read certain paragraphs without questioning them for awhile. And then, without warning, they lose meaning. Either because what you intended for them to convey is no longer necessary, or you've forgotten what crucial thing they do. The hope is to not cut through arteries, obviously, but to stay awake to what's actually still on the page.

Friday, April 25, 2008


For those of you taking bets, my hunch is that number will drop again in the next week, then start climbing up again. Then stop on June 1.

Monday, April 21, 2008


I'm noticing two types of re-writing: one is lightning like. You make a cut or you totally reconceive a scene and it's different. The other is a war of attrition. You make small, subtle changes and modifications and eighteen drafts later a hero is a villain. Or a nuance is a totally different kind of nuance. Or something that was foggy is now clear. You hope.

Friday, April 18, 2008


For those of you who are fans of integers, integers have returned. It should be a wild ride.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Okay, just this once

Normally, I don't do this kind of thing...but I find the above cover to be so very very cool I wanted to share. Plus: the homegrown Russian moire on that photograph is sort of wonderful. Is that chinless fellow the devil or Carter? I think -- given the Domino mask above -- it's the former.

Plus it's exciting to see footnotes, one of which (I'm guessing) explains the nuances behind the cry "This is for Custer! This is for the Alamo!"

Back to serial opacity.

Friday, April 4, 2008

-- 0 --

  • Fewer red herrings. Unless they justify themselves. "Hey, cool! A herring! Gang, come over here -- it's a herring. It's red. Whoo-hoo!"
  • Where does everyone go by the end?
  • Benshi. As God is my witness...
  • My scarecrow is still as wooden as ever.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

-- More Intermission --

I can't read. I had one novel in mind, I felt it would make sense to start there as soon as my own work was out of the way. And I kept getting up from my chair. Book on armrest. Book back in hand. Being hyperaware of words in my ear, bees buzzing. What do words mean? How is it that pictures start forming in your head, or is it never that pictures form but you learn to shake hands instead and form an agreement with the author?

There is some kind of cognitive dissonance going on, and I think it has to do with being receptive to story telling.

In the meantime, I've gone back to a mainstay. Much like Homer Simpson and his six-foot-sandwich, I am taking years to gnaw on a very long and companionable memoir that one of my best friends recommended long ago. I find I can just open it up where I left off, even if I put it down six months before, and pick right up (in this case in Paris in 1750 or so).

-- Intermission --

Having finished with the War, I am learning to read again. More about this as I figure it out.

Sunday, March 2, 2008



Marking a moment of optimism:

His mother introduced him to starfish and abalone, and how to pry them away from the rocks with a hunting knife, which he wasn't allowed to touch. And here were hermit crabs and there were fiddler crabs and sea anemones ("If you put a finger in there, they will suck it in and it will never come out" "Could you get it out?" "I could. But it would be very dangerous.") and sea urchins, the last of which he was allowed to take home if the spines were falling out, for that meant they were dead.

He grew up believing that the world was a very dangerous place that invited his mother's rescue. And between the ages of six and ten, he touched hermit crabs, put his finger in sea anemones, removed living urchins from their beds, and even stole the hunting knife from its hiding place in the broom closet.

And I figured out how to use the benshi. That's something which has wanted to be in a story since 1984.

Friday, February 29, 2008


Hey! Salvation Army lassie, where are you? We need donuts here! We're working all night!

Thursday, February 28, 2008


There is now, in the distant background, an escaped canary on a gravestone next to a broken sundial.


This is by Tom Gauld, who does illustrations for The Guardian.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


“My childhood wasn’t so bad. I was hungry, but isn’t that what America is all about? Hungry young men who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps? And then ate them?”


From an early age, he never cried. It wasn't worth it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


For sixteen frames -- a second -- the frame is empty except for the transient landscape. In the background oak tree leaves reflect like tiny mirrors when the breeze runs through them.

Friday, February 15, 2008


“To serve you is my pleasure,” Hugo said.

“You serve us in more ways than one,” Anna replied. “You help us observe Lord Chesterfield’s rule that a dinner party, excluding one’s self, should not fall below the number of Graces, nor exceed the number of Muses.”

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I am particularly fond of a story about a Russian witch named Tatiana (based on an academic's analysis of how a North Russian peasant folktale was told). I am trying to see if liking the story is enough excuse to tell it in the book. Likely answer: nope.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


"Your reward is to kill."
"Oh, everyone says that," he said, "but they don't really mean it."

Saturday, February 9, 2008


"Until nightfall, he still walked and held it aloft, calling out 'paper hat, paper hat' and no one bought it and finally, exhausted and hungry, he had taken a bite from it and that night he slept in the park."

I'm at that place where I can see where it hangs together and otherwise; there's one specific problem and if I can fix it, I fix about 75% of the problems.

Oh, and if I can't fix it, I don't fix about 75% of the problems.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


"He doubted that the sailors, dashed upon the rocks, thought it had been worthwhile. He imagined a small community of them, bruised, shaking their heads, feeling like saps, looking from face to confused face, and asking "You, too?"

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I keep thinking the part which is currently the most problematic will become, through editing and rewriting, the best part. And then I think: Oh Yeah, that would necessitate me writing it. Damn.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


...I suppose I can confirm that the new one isn't Carter Beats the Devil II: Assignment Miami.

Let's say that when I finish a draft of a story, a friend reads it and points out that it's fine, and the last few paragraphs, which are indispensable, tie up the piece nicely but also only work if I, the author, am also arguing that blueberries are a vegetable.

(Just stick with me.)

The best fix, probably, is to rework it so that I am no longer making this argument. But damnit, sometimes I'm stubborn. "Of course I'm saying that," said with exasperation. "It's thematic."

And then I run to the front end to buttress support for the blueberry-as-vegetable idea. Or to make a comment on the nature of taxonomy, so that the mistake I've made will look like really smart -- what's the word I'm looking for? -- writing. Or to say the character believes blueberries are a vegetable, and that's important because -- well, that will involve more rewriting.

I'm trying really hard not to do that as much anymore.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Wilton Barnhardt says you risk irony or you risk sentimentality. Part of this hinges on a really dangerous thing: declaring what you actually find sympathetic. This came obliquely the other day, as I was thinking of rock lyrics used in fiction. When I see a real song quoted in a story, I always think of a warrior covering himself in the skin of a lion as if that will give him the lion's abilities. Music is totally unfair compared to writing novels, in that an audience is only one good chord away from excitement or tears. (Of course music has to earn that reaction, too, but when done well, it happens a LOT faster than with fiction.)

Then there's identification. A writer throws, say, Steely Dan into the story. His character is driving down the freeway, listening to Steely Dan. That's a detail that can only invite distance and mockery on some level. Even if the author loves Steely Dan, and is introducing it in the hopeless idea that it's a universal bonding measure, as if Steely Dan is a pair of frolicking puppies at the world's birthday party, and no one is immune to their charms, even then time and distance will make the reader feel like he or she has to judge the character. "He's driving? And listening to Steely Dan? That BASTARD!"

It is a humbling process, lining up character traits you find sympathetic, and realizing that other people don't feel that way. "He loves to steal from old people! C'mon, don't you just love that? He takes their medication and gives it to deserving school children! He clog dances -- and he's modest about it! Even though he's a champion -- love him!"

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Commercial Interruption

Last night I put up a plug for something I'd written, but I woke up in the middle of the night and thought "nawww." So instead let's enjoy the pretty work here by an artist named Eduardo Risso.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Doing battle with narrative tension. Don't worry -- there are flamethrowers and everything. But how long can you stay with one set of characters before the others need to show up again? You can quick-cut every five pages, but then the scene never gets a chance to build. You can do 30 page segments, but that means you'll spend 60 pages away from a character (too damned long, unless that person is so well defined the reader won't forget).

I think it's about seeing how things layer together until an overall mood sets in. And here's the mood: Hoo-ray Hoo-ray. Thank you.

The next book will be 22 pages long. With one main character and lots of drawings of bunnies.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Years ago a friend from a writing class scared the hell out of me with a problem of what seemed like insoluble distance. Like this: when you write you draw on specific images that should be evocative. And they're evocative to you. I remember his example was something like this, "And by my childhood bed was a thick blue book with gold leaf lettering. Its spine was cracked 2/3rds of the way through and it smelled like coffee."

And you present that to a reader for whom that has no association whatever. Or blue book equals blue book. No emotional content. They can tell it's important to you but there's no reason for them to make the leap. So, on the next draft, you go on, "the dustjacket was long gone, the cloth of the cover was worn at the edges so that hanks of fabric hung down and the cat batted at the threads. The text was in German for some reason. I never read the book, and it had no pictures in it." And -- well, for you, that's it, no one has ever evoked a specific feeling so well.

And no one gets it. Why should they?

I am currently sweating that little spark between God's finger and Moses's. Is there one? And if so, can I have some? I read (or I'm making up) that analogy is one of the best measures of intelligence. By that, I think they're counting those tests that say "Catnip is to a kittycat as Politics is to ________" and you put in "the disenfranchised" or "chocolate Easter bunnies" or "Amy Winehouse" and then food pellets come down a slot or something. But it also speaks well of the human desire for metaphor and seeking to close an open thought. "Electricity is to stereo equipment as Gatorade is to __________" Shriners? Sallie Mae? Utopia? The rebel alliance? Stereo equipment?

How do you trust that gap? I know: you just DO, but still, it's a mystery. Every so often, you throw yourself into a heartache of an image and it ends up being that blue book by your bed. You know, the one with bunny rabbits on it and no one ever felt about it the way you did. And, apparently, you aren't very good at explaining it yet.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

-- 1144 --

Seeing all the territory you're responsible for. Sure there are coyotes howling at its perimeter. Sure some idiot decided to plant turnips in the middle of the barley field. And why is there a burning pile of automobile tires where the plans clearly called for a sedan chair piloted by mermaids? But it's all yours, congratulations.


Thursday, January 24, 2008


Getting close. This photo was taken on La Brea, facing north from the east side of the street. It was taken with color film rather than being hand-colored after the fact, as far as I know.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008


This image is by Mervyn Peake and I find it hypnotic. And so metaphorical you can't actually get all the way to its end.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I don't mean for these posts to sound cryptic -- or not. This has been an experiment in using the form as a kind of bridge. I think that your first draft is for you and your final draft is for the world, if all goes right. A blog seems like something in between, a curiosity I'm trying to understand. While I've been finishing a novel these last months, daily (or almost daily) notes are helpful as markers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I have just thrown the containment boom upon the sound. The first 3/4th of this seems to have its own gravity and momentum, as does the last 40 pages. In between is a shaky sort of place where my eyes seem to have rolled back in my head, and that needs to straighten out. But for the first time I see the whole oil slick and I know where it went and where it didn't go, which is a milestone.

I can think about shape. A little. Here, it's early, start with that little bit:

It begins with landscape and ends with a smile.

Friday, January 11, 2008


A: Causing, via omission, the reader to participate.

Reinforced today, by actual readers.


Potentially urban legend, but maybe otherwise: Back when there was this mysterious thing that the kids liked called "grunge," the New York Times sent someone to Seattle to penetrate the in-crowd. And they printed a lexicon of all the hip stuff the youngsters were saying. But reporters got -- what's the word -- jived. As I remember, one clue to this was that the Seattle informers claimed that when something bad happened, lovers of grunge were said to cry "O Evil Planet."

Friday, January 4, 2008


I don't know how the other 260,000 are working, but these words made me laugh: "Shooting at the truth will not stop the truth, comrade." But that's just me.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


A calm. Reigning things in a little, a thousand-yard sailor stare, not because he is empty but because he is roiling and has learned not to let it show. "I never cried. It wasn't worth it."