Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road–
Only wakes upon the sea.
From Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities”
“Also in Raissa, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence.”
Three Reasons Why People Should be Reading Steve Aylett
1. A shop with its own weather, the Thousand Spiders was a place of gut-turning symmetries and the slap of palpable etheric manipulation. In fact it was impossible to tell whether you really wanted to buy what you bought there.
2. In the past everyone had feared Dumbar because his head was actually a chrysalis for another animal. In recent times his face had been almost transparent and they could see something bustle and shift behind it. Finally he’d stopped short in the middle of a conversation and opened his mouth, from which a bunch of fiddling spider legs fanned. Everything else followed and he was speechless and shaking, the only one without a scream to offer as the dog-sized bug quivered into a corner and stayed there to dry off.
3. ‘Oh I heard the voice of God once,’ Edgy told him. ‘Yeah, I was at a buffet, you know? And I was going for the chicken, and this voice from above said, “Take the ham.” So that’s what I did.’
‘Take the ham? And that’s the only time God ever chose to give you advice?’
‘Correct. I can only conclude that in every other area of my life I’ve been right on the money.’
– All from Only An Alligator by Steve Aylett
The Joke by Milan Kundera
This one got passed to me by someone in Korea. My wife is a fan of Kundera. Or was, before I ruined her taste with comic books and Fritz Leiber.
The Joke details several “jokes”, none of which are the haha kind. The first one is a postcard written by Ludvik Jahn when he was a student that caused him to be sentenced to the coal mines. This event propels the plot in so much as the plot is about Ludvik’s quest for revenge fifteen years later. In the ways his plan gets fulfilled and in the ways others react to it provides the rest of the “jokes”.
“When it is postponed, vengeance is transformed into something deceptive, into a personal religion, into a myth that recedes day by day from the people involved, who remain the same in the myth though in reality (the walkway is in constant motion) they long ago became different people: today another Jahn stands before another Zemanek, and the blow that I still owe him can be neither revived nor reconstructed, it is definitely lost.”
Ludvik’s a rather unpleasant and bitter guy, but in him we can see a thwarted hero. His path suggests an anti-bildungsroman where the youth does not mature by overcoming adversity but instead grows cynical when he encounters the injustices of the world. For awhile I was at a bit of a remove while reading it, waiting for it to transcend its “Soviet-style bureaucracies are never good” message. But by its end The Joke is less about any particular course of action or desire the characters have and more about the way history (and historic events) undermines all our expectations — and discovering redemption despite this. It’s a great book as long as you don’t mind your existentialism mixed with a blend of male chauvinism.
Being Offended Is the Natural Consequence of Leaving One’s Home
“Being offended is the natural consequence of leaving one’s home. I do not like aftershave lotion, adults who roller-skate, children who speak French, or anyone who is unduly tan. I do not, however, go around enacting legislation and putting up signs. In private I avoid such people; in public they have the run of the place. I stay at home as much as possible, and so should they. When it is necessary, however, to go out of the house, they must be prepared, as I am, to deal with the unpleasant personal habits of others. That is what “public” means.”
– Fran Lebowitz
Arthur Machen’s “The White People”
While drinking my beer in an empty bar this weekend I read Arthur Machen’s “The White People”. That’s a creepy book. CREEPY. Once you get past the standard Machen frame of two Victorian weirdoes talking about “evil” and get into the found manuscript, the story gets weird.
Very, very weird.
That part, The Green Book, is written by a girl remembering her encounter with “the White People”. (And yes, haha, I get it, funny funny, but even that joke might make for an interesting postcolonial story riffing on this story.) Who or what the White People are is left confused. Maybe they’re fairies, maybe they’re Roman statues hidden away in the English woods, or maybe they’re her nurse and others using/abusing the girl. You don’t know, and the girl isn’t specific. But something happened, and, what’s more unsettling, the girl is in collusion with it. She’s not a passive victim, nor a dupe, but a willing victim, working with these unknown forces, and you’re swept along by her rambling, run-on narrative, and lost within it.
All these are most secret secrets, and I am glad when I remember what they are, and how many wonderful languages I know, but there are some things that I call the secrets of the secrets of the secrets that I dare not think of unless I am quite alone, and then I shut my eyes, and put my hands over them and whisper the word, and the Alala comes. I only do this at night in my room or in certain woods that I know, but I must not describe them, as they are secret woods. Then there are the ceremonies, which are all of them important, but some are more delightful than others–
It’s a disturbing little story no matter how you read it. You can see it as mundane sinister (the nurse “corrupting” the girl) or as supernatural sinister. Either way it’s well worth a Halloween read.
You know what I forgot sucked? Puberty.
Here’s a Wednesday check in. My hay fever is raging fierce and mean so don’t expect much in the way of segues.
You know what I forgot sucked? Puberty.
Holy shit does puberty suck. You go from playing with GI Joes, drawing rainbows, and unicorns to crying uncontrollably for five hours and breaking out in zits all in the span of one week. And that’s just the early stages. Give it a few years and you’re a sanctimonious twit outraged because the book kiosk in the mall doesn’t have a copy of Naked Lunch.
But anyway, I bring this up because right before my Tuesday afternoon class (the one I teach alone) the 6th grade alpha couple (he’s a dope, and she’s a smart bully) had a big fight and broke up. Then it came time for my class. He’s not in it, but she is, and, well, the tears, my friends, the tears and I’m the “adult” in the room who, you know, has a lesson plan and wants to teach some English—but fuck all if that gets done when the season finale of Dynasty is going on in the classroom.
You know what’s really popular in Korea? “The North Face” athletic gear.
It’s so popular there are tons of knock off North Face gear. My dress sweat pants have a The Novella Face logo on them and my sneakers are The Red Face. Which only means I think of the Gas Face whenever I put this stuff on:
If I had a segue to the next part it would be here.
Mary Renault’s The King Must Die is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read this year. No fooling. First, there’s the language:
“Then I saw why Apollo had sent a bard. Cretans do not know everything, though they think so. They know how to raise stones, but not men’s hearts. The people were afraid. So I understood why I was there, and called upon the god; and he put the power on me, to feel the work and make it music. I sang his praises, and gave the time. After a while, the seven kings with their sons and barons came forward and pulled for Apollo’s honor, standing among the people. Then the stones rose up slowly, and slid into the beds the Cretans had made for them. And they stood fast.”
Second is the world building, which is Ancient Greece seen through the eyes of a person who believes himself the son of Poseidon. If you’re a fan of Gene Wolfe or Catherynne Valente it’s worth checking out. Even if you always thought Theseus was a bit of a douche for leaving Ariadne on Naxos after she helped him escape the Labyrinth. It’s still worth it.
Five Authors / Five Questions: The End
Last week Shimmer magazine posted the fifth question on their blog. This time we talked about endings.
5. How do you craft the perfect ending for a story? How do you keep an ending from falling flat?
I didn’t say this, but thought it was pretty spot on: “I’m always a fan of stories that leave the reader in the mystery, in the wonder. Which means risking not explaining everything, thus (hopefully) leaving the reader the space to make it perfect.”
Use these links to catch up with the whole series:
4. How do you decide whose story is being told? Do you have a favorite POV to work in?
3. How do you keep a story from slumping in the middle?
2. How do you go about choosing a title for the story? Do titles present themselves before the work begins, or when it’s complete?
1. How do you begin a story? Does it start with the idea, a character, an image, a line of dialogue, or are all stories different?
Thanks again to everyone at Shimmer. It was great fun being part of the series. (I’ll spare the Internets the dollop of self-denigrating out pouring… but, yeah, thanks!) Also it was great fun reading the answers from my co-interviewees: Luc Reid, Krista Hoeppner Leahy, Don Mead, and Vylar Kaftan.
Gerard Jones on Finding Your Story
Oh no, this is my third post in a row on writing (!) after I’ve said how much I hated writing posts (!!). But it’s true I do hate writing posts, only this is from an interview with Gerard Jones. I loved Jones’ Killing Monsters and Men of Tomorrow. Read them. They are great.
“The more I looked at the usual ways of breaking down a story, the less sense most of them made. What’s this “beginning, middle, and end” business? Isn’t the end implicit in the beginning and the beginning still continuing to the end? How do you separate the “middle” from either? Once separated, how do you keep it from becoming just a receptacle for narrative miscellany? And what’s all this about the “character arc”? Why does a character have an “arc”? Does it go up in the middle and then back down? In a story of midlife fullness and senile decay it might, but that’s hardly every story. I don’t see my life as an arc. A line, a road, a river, or a tree, fine. But not a parabola.”
“At its heart, every coherent story is a single event. A single transformation or revelation. It isn’t made up like a brick building of its component parts; its parts are manifestations and demonstrations of its essence.”
(Thanks to pal Jay Ridler for sending this my way and absolute stranger Meghan Ward who conducted the interview.)
The Secret To Writing
From the movie adaption of Charles Willeford’s The Woman Chaser. I can’t remember the exact quote from the book, but I think this is close. Possibly the best piece of writing advice you’ll ever find in a misogynistic 1950s smut novel.