Wow

Who knew that such a shitty day would provide such good material? Oh my goodness. I haven’t been this driven to write since February 20th, at least.

More detailed description later. Just know that it was a really bad day, but because of it I have a really good outline for a nonfiction piece, sitting in my head, and now written down in brief points in a newly minted Microsoft Word document.

Sidetracked

I love television shows. I especially like good television shows, of which there are few and far between. One show you may not have ever heard of or seen is “Life,” starring Damien Lewis. He’s one of the many recent British-actors-who-star-in-shows-with-American-characters and he pulls of a southern-californian accent very well. He’s also a great actor, and the show is extremely well-scripted.

The show is set in Los Angeles, and follows a detective who was falsely imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit. The show begins after he is released, and follows him and his very sexy partner (played by Sarah Shahi, of “The L Word” fame), as they solve cases.

One of the great things about the show is its commitment to good writing, exemplified by a structure we’ve seen a lot throughout episodic TV shows: the throughline. For example, “Life,” like “House,” focuses on individual cases, but also follows the relationships of its major characters. Lewis’ character becomes a practitioner of Zen, and is constantly expounding on Zen principles. Sounds tacky, but in all actuality, it is a great narrative device that gives the character excellent quirks which Lewis manages to make very interesting. It is toned down somewhat in later episodes, or possibly becomes less obvious as we watch the show and adapt to the character, but Rand Ravich (the creator and head writer), does a spectacular job of maintaining character development throughout each episode.

Besides character interaction, there’s another overarching plot theme: the hunt for those people who caused Lewis’ character’s imprisonment. I won’t say much else, except that the cast is great, and Lewis is exceptional. I first saw him in “Band of Brothers,” and even there he was amazing. He’s better here. Watch the show.

I don’t know, man

I was just reading my fiction, and it sucks. Like, I have to rewrite most of what I’ve written because it’s stylistically tacky. Good ideas, poor execution. But maybe that’s just because it is 3am and I’m reading everything now after more than 6 months of not writing fiction. That could be it. I have to start writing full-time again, instead of whenever I feel like it. I have to write 10 pages this week.

New goal: 10 pages of fiction/nonfiction a week. Preferably 10 pages of both.
New goal: stop thinking about being lonely
New goal: pay my credit card bill so my credit score isn’t ruined
New goal: find my mother a job
New goal: go to sleep before 4am
New goal: revise 3 pieces of nonfiction before June 10th
New goal: submit to 3 literary publications within the next month
New goal: finish Murakami by next week

That should do it.

Influence Peddling and Narrative Magazine

*Disclaimer: I have been previously rejected by Narrative Magazine – twice in fact – once for poetry, and once for nonfiction. This post has nothing to do with those rejections.

I have a problem with Narrative Magazine and its editors. Now, Narrative has been around for a little while, and I believe that I first discovered it last October. It is an online-only publication, created by Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian, whose bios you can find here.

I guess my overall problem with Narrative is that they are very very inconsistent, but when you have 120, count ’em, 120 various editors, it isn’t a surprise that something as bad as Nicole Criona’s short short “Your First Date” appears as Story of the Week. For those of you who haven’t read Narrative before, their Stories of the Week are eligible for annual inclusion in Narrative’s Top 5 Stories of the Week. Some previous Stories of the Week have included Barry Gifford’s “Portrait of the Artist with Four Other Guys,” a wonderful short short story, as well as Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour.”

I don’t believe Nicole Criona has any business being mentioned with those two names, let alone with many of the writers who have been featured in Story of the Week. Regardless of her use of the second person, which she does not manage to pull off, and the horrifically pedestrian ending, the story doesn’t do anything. It just sits there, expecting you to enjoy it, awkwardly trying to say, “this is what happens on first dates, and I’ll try to explain, but in the end you’ll have to do most of the work.”

What else has Criona written or published? Not much, judging from a quick Google search. Sure, she runs the LA Writers Group, and sure, she has produced 3 short films, one of which has screened at some random film festivals, but apart from that, what has she done? This just feels like Narrative’s plug for the struggling-screenwriter/producer-turned-writer-who-runs-a-writers-group. Sorry, not good enough. Not when you compare this story to Gifford’s. Also, Gifford has a long history of publishing major works, including “Wild at Heart,” which was later adapted by David Lynch into a screenplay for the film of the same name. Gifford also wrote the screenplay (with Lynch) for “Lost Highway.” I guess what I’m saying is this: people published by Narrative should have qualities such as some prior publications, and even if not that, at least some decent writing to ensure that they are worthy of inclusion in Narrative’s self-styled collection of “well-written stories from talented writers.”

I mean, come on, their statement on their selection process for Story of the Week is this:

“The focus of the Story of the Week feature is on new works; however, on some weeks we will select a classic story or a notable story from our Archive as the Story of the Week as a way of indicating a level of quality and interest that we seek in Stories of the Week and as a mark of continuity with long-standing literary values.” (emphasis mine)

Do you think Crione’s story indicates a level of quality and interest, or is a mark of continuity with long-standing literary values?

My second problem with Narrative, which is related to the first, is its editorial staff. I have a feeling that Jenks and Edgarian don’t personally read and approve everything that is posted on the site. I’m not sure they could, anyway, but could they at least hire some competent editors? And who in the world decided that Eliza Frye deserved her own series of bland graphic stories? Now, I have no problem with UCLA or CalArts, as I grew up down the street from CalArts, and suffice to say, UCLA is a decent school, but if you’re going to choose someone on the basis of their writing maudlin graphic novels, you better choose someone good. Also, your editorial staff, even if they are from Yale, should probably, if they’re getting paid for this, refrain from such sentimentalizing as Jake Keyes is prone to doing in his editorial comments about Frye’s piece:

“In Eliza Frye’s latest graphic story, we’re confronted by three bodies. Man, woman, and horse constitute the images of the story, with the curves of shoulder, haunch, and sloping nose appearing almost as if without frame or containing panel. The bodies provide the visual structure. The story is of lovers, and in the heroine’s averted face we see the first bite of lovesickness. In the curl of her body and in his languid arm across her, we feel the peacefulness of the lovers at rest. In the sinewed shadow of the horse, whose energy threatens to disrupt the structure, there’s the drive of passion.
Frye lets the images do most of the work. We don’t hear the courtship dialogue or grow used to the cowboyish stranger. Lightly touching our literary senses, Frye all the more arouses pleasure in all our other senses.”

I think what Keyes means by “lightly touching our literary senses” is that Frye’s “stories” are pretty much the most cliched thing I’ve ever read. Lines like “But I knew that this kind of heart-wrenching love was different from all the others. It was the kind that never lets go” kind of destroy any literary senses I may have had before reading her story, after which, I’m literally senseless.

And finally, I’m not one to beat a dead horse, but the “Dickman phenomenon,” very nicely summarized and repudiated by Michael Schiavo (no relation to Terri btw), should probably be stopped now.

Anyway, I’m done now, except to say that Narrative is grossly inconsistent and should consider hiring or publishing some of my former Berkeley classmates, whose work, achievements, and potential far outweigh what I’ve been seeing on their website lately.

Murakami continued

I got to page 113 in “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” today. That’s 78 more pages read. There’s a bit more exposition within these 78 pages: we finally find out the significance of the wind-up bird, Toru Okada (the protagonist) finds his long-lost polka dot tie, talks to the Lolita-esque girl who is his neighbor, documents stages of baldness on the Tokyo subway, and has a wet dream. He also meets another mysterious woman.

I’m not too excited by the book at this stage. Frankly, it is quite boring. After 113 pages, absolutely nothing has happened. Literally. He’s still looking for his cat, only now some complications are introduced. I wish something interesting would happen. I want to see more subplot with May Kasahara (his Lolita-esque neighbor). That is the most interesting character at this point.

I’m kind of disappointed right now, but I’ll keep reading since I’m already one sixth of the way through the novel.

Murakami

I began reading “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami this afternoon at Borders. I got through about 45 pages or so before I had to leave. Even in translation, the novel is amazing, but more on the translation later.

What I find most interesting even after only 45 pages of the novel is the sense of dread and menace that is prevalent throughout. After all, the novel is essentially about a lost cat. The protagonist is a man who has quit his job at a law office to live at home, while his wife (who may or may not be having an affair) works as a graphic designer. There’s an interesting Lolita-esque moment when the protagonist meets a 16 year old girl who has been thrown from the back of a motorcycle, and falls asleep in her yard while searching for the lost cat. Then there’s a mysterious phone call from an anonymous woman. I’m not giving very much away.

Murakami creates a very dream-like state. Nothing is really concretely described. I got confused by the spatial description of the “alley that is not an alley” and the houses surrounding it. Particularly impressive are the chapter headings, which have a main title, and two or three sub-headings. For some reason, this works really well, because throughout the chapter, all the titles are elucidated or glanced over. This gives the feel of uncertainty and some ambiguity.

The title of the novel in particular is curious. “Chronicle” implies some sort of detective story or noir. The wind-up bird does make an appearance in the first chapter, but it’s just a set piece, and isn’t of any importance for awhile, at least from my reading. I mean, it’s definitely thematically important, but it isn’t obvious, if you know what I mean.

The translation is good, but apparently the translator, Jay Rubin, who translated the “only official translation,” reduced the original novel by 15-20%, source: Amazon user review. The wikipedia article about the novel states, “Two chapters from the third volume of the original three-volume Japanese paperback edition were not included in the English translation. In addition, one of the chapters near the excluded two was moved ahead of another chapter, taking it out of the context of the original order,” sourced from this 2000 roundtable between Philip Gabriel, Rubin, and Gary Fiskjeton (Knopf editor).

How can you reduce a work by 2 chapters, when Murakami’s chapters are at least 20 pages long, and not consider how much of a change in pace and thematic control you’re creating? I’d rather read the Russian translation, which is apparently the full version. It’s true that the novel is now, in its abridged version (which is implied by the copyright page as being “adapted by Jay Rubin”), at 642 pages. It’s also true that abridging a work is a slap in the face to readers who want uncompromising quality. Why would you want an abridged version of anything? “The Brothers Karamazov” was recently (1990 being relatively recent) translated again, and there is no abridgement. By the way, that translation comes out to around 740 pages, so even if Murakami’s original text were translated, it would still be shorter than Dostoyevky’s masterpiece.

2 chapters matter, even in a 640+ page work. Simple as that. I hate reading works in translation anyway, as it just contributes to the belief that English is the most important language in the world. This also brings me to the issue of canon, but more on that in a later post. Even though I don’t speak Japanese, I speak Russian, so I can read that translation.

Tomorrow I’ll go back to Borders and finish the novel, and then maybe I’ll start on “Infinite Jest” or something.

Literary Fiction

52 Faces suggested that she doesn’t like “literary fiction” and hates literary magazines and short stories, as well as MFA writing. I have to say that in some respects, I disagree. While I may not be impressed with this year’s StorySouth Million Writers Award nominees, largely because all of these stories are pretty boring, even if they are good, I think there are some amazing short stories out there. As for the StorySouth selections, I don’t see the point of several of them, such as Steinur Bell’s “The Whale Hunter,” and Nadia Bulkin’s (a very Russian name) “Intertropical Convergence Zone.” After finishing these two, I didn’t feel inspired or interested in what I just read. In contrast, reading Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” is a constant reminder of the power of the short story. In 4 pages, he creates something incredible. Nabokov also creates something amazing in “That in Aleppo Once…”.

To address the issue of MFA writing: it’s been said by many people, so I don’t recall whom I’m quoting, that people who get an MFA end up publishing stories that are structurally sound, but boring. They’re all the same. That may be true, but there are writers who have completed their MFAs who are amazing. John Irving is one of them. Michael Chabon is another. Maybe they are exceptions, because there are many many writers out there who have MFA degrees and are struggling to publish, or are published but not renowned. These people may be the ones who are talked about as structurally sound but boring. I don’t know. All I know is that I applied to MFA programs so that I could meet other writers and write for 2 years. I didn’t apply to MFA programs for the degree or the prestige (I mean the cachet one gets in the teaching industry from graduating from a place like Iowa).

Yes, most of the fiction I’ve read in literary magazines lately has been dull.

What a day

California Supreme Court upholds Prop 8, at the same time upholding the same-sex marriages that took place before. Talk about ironic contradiction. In Berkeley and SF, people are probably rioting in the streets.

I can’t stop playing this song, which seems so very appropriate at the moment.

Etta James – At Last