Monday, October 16, 2017

Fail Better: Learning To Let Go as a Reader and a Writer

Tonight I begin again on a book I'm writing that may have no ending at all. And no hope for one.

It's doesn't even have a title. Or a narrative thread. It has characters and lovely sentences and insight and fun and things I find interesting or peculiar. It has death and love and immortality and no discernible purpose. It was started a year and one month ago and have swelled at one time to more than 200 pages and now rests at a much more slim 78. If it gains no more or loses or deepens again to beyond 3,000 pages is something a care not one bit about. Length means nothing, not in literature.

You certainly wouldn't know this to be the case, though. Books like Infinite Jest, In Search of Lost Time, The Instructions, 2666, and on forever are held in the very highest esteem. They are called Opus and genius and all manner of flirtatious nonsense. They are fundamentally good books. That is all. And that is enough. Page number has nothing to do with it. Just as The Great Gatsby or To the Lighthouse or Of Mice and Men or Invisible Cities or The Catcher in the Rye or Coming Through Slaughter. I could go on.

All that matters is the fun and the interesting and the peculiar. At least in my world. And I mean all of these points as they pertain to the writer, not the reader. That's right. Entertain yourself, of course. For instance, I'm writing a short story at the moment that is about a homunculus. I'm having a blast. I think that because of that when other people read it they'll have a good time, too. And that's all I want.

But what of this insane anti-narrative book without a title and with no clear purpose? Oh yes, that's fun, too. No worries. And it will translate to a reader. If (and this is important) they give in to it. That's vital. It's the only way to enjoy a book like 2666, for instance. Or something by Gaddis or Perec. Give in, let go, enjoy. Stop taking everything so seriously. 

It's fun to open your mind as a writer and let the thoughts go where they might without planning, allowing one second of prose to build into the next second of prose and then see what happens. I do this with nearly all my work. The stories in which I have not done this are stories that were never completed. You'll never read them. They went bust a quarter through or half through. That's the risk of writing without a safety net. The project ain't always going to pan out. Big deal. Start another. Fail better, as the old boy said.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Reading is Writing and Writing is Reading

Some reading jots.

I'm reading Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle (checked out from the library because it was too damn expensive to buy everywhere I looked) Unruly Creatures by Jennifer Caloyeras (this one for American Book Review with my review draft due by Nov. 15) and Unpacking the Boxes by Donald Hall (a cool memoir about his life as a poet. Kinda short and it started off a little slow but it's getting better).

Those are the hard copy books I've got working right now in the world of reading. On audio I'm knocking out Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, while on my Kindle phone app I'm reading Get in Trouble by Kelly Link. Which reminds me: I just bought her first collection Stranger Things Happen on Kindle for a mere $1.95. Here's the link to get that, if you're interested:


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tackett Named New Editor-in-Chief at The Airgonaut

Jereny Tackett, Editor-in-Chief
My goodness am I happy to be making this announcement.

The Airgonaut will be continuing and, in fact, growing in wonderful directions with my great friend Jereny Tackett taking up the mantle as Editor-in-Chief. Jereny is a creative mind like no other I've known, and I've known him for more than 30 years, so that's saying a lot.

I've talked with him over the past month about possibility stepping into this role with the journal and it's now a reality. During those conversations I can tell you that he has shared some exciting ideas he plans to put into place. Videos, music, artwork, photography. With his creative vision at play, there are truly no limits.

And Jereny plans to make the transition very smooth. Nothing will change as to how you can send your work in for consideration, and he intends to keep innovation at center stage, hoping to encourage artists from all walks of life and style a place for the unique view of the world.

I can tell you without reservation that I could not have hoped for a better, more suited person to see take over things at The Airgonaut. Jereny has been and will continue to be a selfless patron of the arts in the truest sense of the word.

Stand by for exciting times and please drop by and say hello to Jereny when you get the chance. He's for sure one of the good ones. But you'll learn that for yourself, and very soon.

CLICK HERE to read Jereny's Letter from the Editor at The Airgonaut.

Monday, October 9, 2017

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Bakadewin (Hunger) @ Live Nude Poems

This one continued my preoccupation with the Wendigo. I'm still preoccupied, but this was when I was, too.

Read the poem, and thanks to my friend Rusty Barnes for publishing it.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Oui, mademoiselle Hamilton, je suis ici aujourd'hui.

Learning French. I'm trying. I feel like I've not learned a thing (been studying about a week with an app called Duolingo. I know I've absorbed some of it, but words like are, have, etc. are getting me sideways right now. Sometimes are is somme and sometimes it's etes, or something like that. I need words to be consistent. One word can mean fifty different things and still be spelled the same, but I need the word itself to be static. I need that in my life.

What it is, is I'd like to Baudelaire in the original. In particular Paris Blues. Really that's the only thing I'm interested in with Baudelaire right now. Prose poems. I've had a look at his lyric poems and, as you'd expect, things lose focus real fast.

Charles Baudelaire is not playing around with you. This is effing serious.

But I took some French during my freshman year of high school and somehow a bit of it stayed around. Not more than a few sentences, but it was some at least. I think I'll have a better chance to learn another language now that I've been studying English for many more years now. At the time, I'd only been writing seriously for about two years, so my understanding of the relationship between words (no matter the language) was really limited.


I'm tired of writing about learning French, but I want to keep writing this post so I'm switching subjects in a jarring sort of way.

I'm back to reading southern literature again for the time being. William Gay, in particular. He has these moments when he's describing nature where he gets really poetic and you can just tell he realizes that he's already described the chalky purple of twilight spilling into a copse of firs about four hundred times and doesn't care. I like that part. The part where he didn't care. He liked writing those scenes about that stuff in that way and so he did it. I want to see writers be a little more selfish. Break a wall and step right in as Ondaatje did at the end of Coming Through Slaughter. Describe the sky fifty times in the first half of a novel. I'm not always expecting writers to be perfect, but I do want them to be writing for themselves more than they're writing for me.

An example that has to do with titles:

After the success of Fight Club, Chuck Palahnuik's editors and publishing house, for some reason (I guess because his novels Choke and Survivor did well) wanted him to do only one-word titles. They wanted it contracted. Publishers do that kind of horribleness, press a writer to make all of his or her titles sort of similar so that the way average reader can spot them on the shelf in Rite-Aide or whatever. That's at least one reason. Who knows the rest of it. But he did, Chuck. Lullaby. Rant. Haunted. Snuff. It made me sick to see. It made my writer heart hurt a lot.

So Palanhuik and writers who are doing this thing with titles are not writing for themselves. A title is one of the most important things about a book. No one can deny this. And writers are allowing publishing houses to impose on them these limitations that make it theirs and not the writer's. It's seriously hard to watch.

Okay so I'm off to write my new books The Same Terrible Rain, Brown Glass, and Where Chimpanzees Sleep. You guys have a good one.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

I Grew My Mustache Out and Now I'm Thinking About Westerns

Javier Bardem in the best role of his career as Anton Chirguh in No Country for Old Men.

I've got this really good mustache. I mean, I'm going to have to trim it at this point, but it's pretty fantastic. Think Wyatt Earp. Think Wild Bill. Think Sam Elliott. Well, maybe not Sam. But it's trim time, I think.

I'm a mere inch or so from being the dad on American Chopper. It's become a thing. When something steps out of the general realm and becomes a thing - something others would take note of, say, in Food City - it's time to fade back into the obscure. I'm not on the run from the FBI, but it's okay to keep in practice.

But all the Old West thoughts that my mustache has been stirring up in me had me eager to share my list of favorite contemporary westerns. Yes, contemporary. It's time we retire High Noon, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and begin embracing more recent westerns to place within the canon. Here's some of mine.

Unforgiven - Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood. This is one most people are familiar with. It's brilliant.

Wild Bill - One of my all-time favorites. Jeff Bridges plays Wild Bill Hickock and does it in his own special fashion. Historical inaccuracies, but who cares.

Open Range - Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall. It has all the classic tropes and invents some more along the way. And the show down, it has maybe the absolute best initiation ever, cutting away the usual drama connected with that moment.

Deadwood - An HBO series that ran only three seasons and never let me down, not a single episode. Packed full of amazing character actors and written as well as anything on television, Aaron Sorkin included.

No Country for Old Men - Very familiar, most likely. And, yes, it is a western. A damn good one. Bardem owns the world in this one.

There Will Be Blood - Not a western in the shoot 'em up sense of the genre, but set during a time close to the Old West and certainly full of white hats and black hats, both which often blur into gray often enough to be perfect. Daniel Day-Lewis's best performance, and that's saying a ton.

The Proposition - I probably have a bias I should acknowledge in including this one. The screenplay was written by one of my favorite musicians, Nick Cave. But here's the thing...Nick can write. No one should have doubted it to start with. Listen to one song and you'll see that. All the good stuff is in this one, and Guy Pierce is a power house.

Tombstone - A lot of people won't agree with me on this one, but Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday takes this one into the stratosphere. And it's just crazy fun.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - I'd put this one on the list even if it didn't have the most artfully shot and scripted opening of any movie in the past ten years. If you watch that and stop, you're probably not breathing.

Django Unchained - I love a good guy winning big in the end, and Django wins big big in this one. The bounty hunting scenes takes it over the top, though.

Bone Tomahawk - Simultaneously my favorite western and horror movie of 2015. Scenes that will burn themselves onto the surface of your eyeballs. And one of two excellent westerns Kurt Russell starred in that year, the other being The Hateful Eight, which almost took The Proposition's place on this list. Bias, like I said.

Fail Better: Learning To Let Go as a Reader and a Writer

Tonight I begin again on a book I'm writing that may have no ending at all. And no hope for one. It's doesn't even have a tit...