Sunday, September 30, 2007

What's a-matter, short story?

Stephen King has a column in the NYTimes book review today about the state of the short story (you might also want to check out Tom Friedman's scathing column, an excellent read). While King can always make me cringe with his crudeness, he's put his finger on a serious problem: bad writing. Much of it, although he doesn't identify the culprit, is the crap writing created by the plethora of MFA programs that churn out graduates. I am breathing a sigh of relief because our department has decided not to pursue developing an MFA program despite the administration's encouragement. However, there are those whose attitudes provoke this kind of cookie-cutter spineless writing: writing instructors. In particular I mean the kind who think "good writing" only fits into a tiny category (i.e. the realistic setting, the tiny epiphany, the morose tone) and ridicule students who chose not to follow that model.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote a wonderful piece on writing and writers' workshops (but then, he was often full of good advice) that you can find in Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons. It is called "Teaching the Unteachable" and in it he says:

You can't teach people to write well. Writing well is something God lets you do or declines to let you do. Most bright people know that, but writers' conferences continue to multiply in the good old American summertime. Sixty-eight of them are listed in last April's issue of The Writer [in 1967!]. Next year there will be more. They are harmless. They are shmoos.

He's right, but don't tell my creative writing students that. They're still under the illusion that I am teaching them to write. I am only helping them to write better if they choose to pursue it. Most of them won't. They'll get their feet wet here and then decide it's just too much work. They're right: it's too much work, but some of us can't help ourselves.

They'll miss too the words of Brenda Ueland (which I will give them at the end of the semester, along with Octavia Butler's "Furor Scribendi" which ends with the most important word of all: "persist"). Ueland says: "Everybody is talented, original and has something to say." I'll say it, but most of the them won't hear it.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Another one falls prey...


Miss Wendy now has a blog -- hurrah! Why am I so happy? Is it just because I'm avoiding work (oh no, not that) or is it because I have another way to learn about one of my friends? Well, as we say, a little from column A, a little from column B. The last part of the paper is always the worst and it's making me a bit crazy at the moment (but at least it's within hailing distance of the end). But I'm glad Wendy has a blog because it's another way to keep up with her. Phoning is good (although I'm not particularly good at doing it -- where is my phone? at the moment, it's anyone's guess) but writing is different. It lingers, it's visible. The ether absorbs much verbal conversation; and what chances to linger in the mind gets affected by that passage. But words on the screen have the illusion of permanence (an illusion easily adjusted) that lends them greater weight. So it's good to know some of Miss Wendy's words will be lingering in the ether a bit longer.

In her honor, here's Sailor Pluto!


Apologies for the low content levels of late: my time has been taken up with a lot of writing that, with luck, will be back to normal levels by next week. Deadlines to meet always make for extra stress. At least these are pieces that have a home already; things have been more than a tad frustrating on the fiction front with rejections aplenty. Of course, there are always news stories that add insult to injury, too. Ah well, the life of the writer: if you can do anything else, you should.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Publication: Up on the Roof

I was pleased to find my latest publication in my mailbox after the end of a very long day today. I have most of the latest Societas Magica newsletter to myself for my essay "Up on the Roof: Understanding an Anglo-Saxon Healing Practice." This is part of the longer project on women as witches in Anglo-Saxon England, which I hope to be done with very soon -- which, of course, means that I am sick of working on it. This is mostly because I have been working on it piecemeal for so long. It was the project I developed while I was on the job market so I was not able to move quickly on it (teaching 4/4 and job hunting already taking up most of my time). So many other projects crowd together at the gate (still looking shiny and interesting) that she seems too familiar and less exciting. But she deserves a proper send off and with luck, very soon she will be in someone else's hands rather than mine.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Calling All Quite Interesting People!

Those of you not willing to avail yourselves to (cough, cough) illegal downloads or low-res YouTube videos can sign a petition here to get QI here in the States. Sign up!

Welcome, Autumn!

Autumn is here and so are the in-laws! It's great to see Jane and Gene Sr. and they are spoiling us with eating out every night. We're full and the fridge is full of leftovers. We have a new favorite restaurant, too: Karavalli in Latham. Great food -- and such a variety! Superb service, too, which is always welcome, but best when it accompanies great food. We started with the veggie sampler and had a few things we'd never run across before. For my entree I got the Lamb Torkari which had the most exquisite sauce. We all tried it and loved it. Everybody was pleased with their choices, although Pops requested even more heat for his Vegetable Tandoori and got a little chili sauce that made it just right ("hot enough for ya?"). Such large portions! We have the leftovers in our freezer. Saturday we met Robert down at Bard to look at the campus and the Fisher Center, then lunched at Cappuccino by Coppola's restaurant. How was it? Quite good -- and again with the big portions. I'm still eating the leftovers from my "personal" pizza. Then we stopped by Larry & Bernie's house to admire the garden. Once again we missed the lotus blooming, but as it was a hot day, the frogs were out of the pond -- one on the table, one sitting on a bench, a couple others more picturesquely on lily pads. We went home laden with peppers, tomatoes and more. Thanks! Last night it was Emperor's Chinese -- and you guessed it, more leftovers. All good dishes, but I think I liked Gene's curry a little more than my pork and green beans (although that was good, too). Where tonight? Well, I guess I better figure that out!

N.B. This post features no videos or large picture or sound files, in honor of those with dial-up modems ;-)

Friday, September 21, 2007

British Humor

How did a gal from the midwest develop such a love of British comedy? I blame our local NPR and PBS channel. The radio played not only the Goon Show, but also I'm Sorry I'll Read that Again. On tv they introduced us to Monty Python, the Goodies and Doctor in the House. It all came at a vulnerable age when I was also besotted with the Beatles and somehow it all fit together, all around that sense of the absurd (if you don't know anything about how funny the Beatles could be -- especially John and George [AKA Pirate "Bob"] -- well, you'll have to wait for my book [currently about fifth in line among my projects]). We've been watching episodes from the Comedy Connections series which makes clear just how inbred the world of British comedy is.

Another recent acquisition as the 40th Anniversary Reunion of the Bonzo Dog Band. They're also wrapped up in that same ambience with ties to the Beatles, the Who and the Pythons. Because frontman and genius extraordinaire Vivian Stanshall died in 1995, his place was taken by comedians Paul Merton, Phill Jupitus, Stephen Fry and -- perhaps most enthusiastically -- Ade Edmondson. Yes, it takes four people to play Vivian because he was always larger than life. Below find a video from Do Not Adjust Your Set where the Bonzos were part of the cast.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Double Blurbed!

I just opened my review copy of the next beautiful volume of Tove Jansson's Moomin Comics from Drawn & Quarterly. I really don't think they're capable of making an unattractive book. The cover of the second volume looks more mysterious than the first and has such rich blue and green and pink hues. Just getting it was a nice thing, of course -- even better was to see that I was blurbed twice in the promotion materials. There's a band slipped around the back cover with pull quotes from Neil Gaiman and Jeff Smith, then me -- although identified as Finlandia Weekly, since I'm not a big name like those two. Inside there's a press release that also features a quote pulled from New World Finn -- that's me, too. Cool -- with luck, my copy of Tove Jansson Rediscovered will arrive soon, too. Then I'll be rolling in Moomins! If only I had more time to read right now, but deadlines loom. Somehow it will all get done... [lather-rinse-repeat]

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Arrrr! Yea, it be nigh once more -- so make like Black Ethel and show yer yar! Stir ye'self to gabble like a pirate today, if you know what's good fer ye! Why not read piratical adventures like The Mangrove Legacy?

UPDATE: A fetching photo of this year's version of Black Ethel! Stop by and tell her how you admire it. I'm so envious -- I swear Cheryl cannot take a bad picture.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Publication: Jodorowsky Box

The much delayed issue of Up Against the Wall 8 is up with my review of the Jodorowsky box set. Read fearless Phil's editorial for more on the good and the bad news that pushed the issue off track. Read Jason Quinn's review of the new bio on Iggy (she says, seething with envy because she didn't pick up the book when she saw it in London because it was too expensive -- probably due to all the glossy photos).

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Beowulf Bait-n-Switch?

In my continuing duties as web-flogging-master for the forthcoming Beowulf film, I have obtained new information. This did not come from the official website, but by way of Previews, the monthly bible of forthcoming comics and, increasingly, all the other things that get flogged with comics. A two page spread introduced us to the action figures (mach 1) from the film. Huh -- they offer a very different picture than the trailer.

As you can see, rather than a gold bikini-clad Angelina Jolie, we have Grendel's mother looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon as a unidexter. Grendel, too, looks far less Gollum-esque than in the preview (rather more like Frank in Hellraiser). Ray Winstone's titular character looks much the same, and there is a dragon, so that's streets ahead of most adaptations of the poem (identified in the ad copy as "written by an unknown author in the seventh or eighth century" -- take that Colin Chase!) which end with the first monster fight about a third of the way through the poem.

Curioser and curiosier!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hit & Run Holiday

(Apologies, of course, to My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult; that album has provided the soundtrack for many a road trip.) We took off on Thursday after my last class -- I even let them go a few minutes early, to their shock. We were hoping we could make it to the first gas station on the Masspike (gas can be as much as twenty cents cheaper in MA), but the needle was getting a little too close to the red, so we stopped at the last station in NY. We made good time after that and got to Wendy's just after 7.

She showered us with yummy food right away: brisket, salmon, matzoh ball soup, kugel -- and of course, while waiting for the main courses to heat, plenty of pâté! Mmmmm. The hard part is not completely filling up on that. While we wolfed down the food, Miss Wendy told us more about her adventures in Los Angeles this summer with the short course for advanced students (ages 13-15) where she taught them about popular culture, including a healthy helping of comics. We stayed up nattering on about this and that and watching Zodiac, but I nodded off before the end of the movie, so it was time for bed.

Wendy went off to temple for the day, so we slowly got ourselves up and packed, then headed over for quick visits to Cheryl and Marko (both conveniently located at Eastern at least on Friday mornings). Fingers crossed for the potential good news that we are certain will be forthcoming!

Back on the road once more -- this time filling up on cheap MA gas -- we got home in the late afternoon, ready (if not too willing) to get back to work again. Lots to do before next weekend, when Gene's folks will be making a visit. That will be great -- hopefully the weather will be good. While the leaves are just beginning to get touches of gold here, in the Berkshires and in Connecticut more have turned. There are already bright shadings of red and gold along the highways, particularly at the highest point of the pike. The most beautiful time of the year -- and Halloween's just around the corner!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Remembering Molly Ivins

A lovely story at the New York Observer.

Happy Birthday, Susan!

Spike, Chelsea and me

In other words, I failed to get a card in the mail on time, so here's Susan with Spike and Chelsea. For those of you who don't know her, she's our host every year at Trinoc*coN in North Carolina where we always have so much fun (and who hosted Gene a little longer than expected this year -- thanks again!). Hope you have a great day.

We're off this afternoon to Miss Wendy's house for a belated Rosh Hashanah dinner -- whoo hoo! on the road again.

At least we're not driving in Houston!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Publication Updates

Happy Rosh Hashanah, Miss Wendy! Wish we could be there tonight, but we'll be there tomorrow to devour the leftovers. Mmm -- kugel! Mmmm -- pâté! Or as we like to pronounce it, "pate"!

I'm happy to announce that my Blake-inspired short story "Eating the Dream" will be appearing in an upcoming issue of Femspec, but I'm not sure when the issue will be out. I'm not having luck with the 10k zombie western because it's too long for almost every magazine that I know might be interested. Perhaps I can hunt down an anthology -- or give up and let it (eventually) become the novel it would really like to be. But it's behind several other projects (as always). If I didn't waste time at the speed of light, I would get more of these things done. But I squander.

Blogging, I suppose, is one of the ways I do waste too much time. Back to grading now.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Publication: Corrections to the Rules of Fimble Fowl

After some delays, the new issue of Wild Violet is online with my latest publication, a short humor piece called "Corrections to the Rules of Fimble Fowl (for 3 players or 4)" (with a quite suitable illustration). Stop by to see a wider variety of pieces than you find in most literary magazines. As you might guess, my piece is inspired by the sort of thing Carroll and Lear do (or to be strictly temporal, did). In my modest way, I trail along in their footsteps. I'm trying to do a little more of this lately -- humor writing that is, not trailing along in other's footsteps (although that is perhaps unavoidable). So far there's this and a kindly rejection from McSweeney's that, nonetheless, asks for more. I shall endeavor to comply.

Madeleine L'Engle

People the world over mourn the loss of L'Engle. I can still remember the awesome impact of reading A Wrinkle in Time and beginning to think about philosophy and cosmology in my childish way. Oddly enough, one of the most strangely touching paeans to the writer comes from the usually churlish and snarky Gawker. Get under someone's skin at a vulnerable age and you are forever in their heart.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Flogging Beowulf

Using my new powers as a Beowulf webmaster, I inflicted the trailer on my students in both the freshman course and the (junior-level) film class. It's odd enough to be teaching the text to two different classes with two different translations (let me gripe once more about the Crossley-Holland version being replaced in the Longman Anthology with a far inferior one). But upon being presented with the trailer, they all responded with "That's Grendel's mother?!" Referring of course to the golden bikini-clad Angelina Jolie with the prehensile hair, which you can see for yourself by going to the official website and clicking on the "Video" link (you don't have to watch the video, she's the image on that page, but if you click on that link I get webmaster points!).

The clip goes by really fast with a lot of quick cuts, so you might miss Grendel's mother telling Beowulf she could give him a son -- say what?! Are they suggesting that Grendel is Beowulf's son? Or that she's going to give Grendel a brother?

I would say the trailer was met with stunned silence, but that so quickly turned to laughter it's hard to make an argument for that. In the film class, I tagged the images as we saw them ("um...frozen ship, uh...bridge of fire...") which only made us laugh more. One student argued in favor of the success of computer enhancement using 300 as an example, but it's not the creepy motion-capture that Beowulf is. Perhaps we should rely on superior special effects of a true master:

I'll have to carve out a few minutes to listen to the podcasts available only to us webmasters (I think?) and see what the story is on the, er, story.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Publication: Review

My review of Laura Stark's The Magical Self:Body Society and the Supernatural in Early Modern Rural Finland is available on-line at the Journal of Folklore Research (so, yes -- it's a peer-reviewed journal which helps the CV). Now I need to find a minute to update the CV and bibliography (in my abundant free time).

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Missing Octavia Butler

While looking for another quote by Butler, I ran across this quote as well:

Writers use everything. If it doesn't kill you, you probably wind up using it in your writing.

So true. It's a habit that becomes part of your radar. Even in the midst of something horrible, there's that thought -- hmmm, how can I use this?

[Photo by Beth Gwinn]

Who: Are You?

Over at the Guardian blog there's wild speculation about the next Doctor Who. In their usual style, there's a breezy, written-on-the-tube-on-the-way-to-the-office starter and then the barrage of comments varying from the rabid fan to the surreal humorist. Well worth a read if only for the catty in-fighting.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Promoting Beowulf

I've signed up to help promote the Beowulf film via my website. This is the Roger Avery/Neil Gaiman version with Angelina Jolie in a golden bikini as Grendel's mother.


Click on this link to learn more about the film. It's come along at a convenient time while I am teaching the medieval texts on film class. Maybe it can be a class outing! The film opens November 16th. Be there and get medieval! In the meantime, I'll be passing along interesting insider tidbits as I get them.

Dressed in a Bohemian Fashion

Alerted by the folks at my favorite quiz show, QI, I find that Big Brother was indeed watching Mr. Orwell:

It has been revealed that MI5 spied on "Animal Farm" and "1984" author George Orwell for over 10 years, as they suspected him of being a communist. Papers released by Special Branch have shown that they monitored Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair) since January 1929, when he began working as Paris correspondent for the "Worker's Life" (later the "Daily Worker"). It goes as far as January 1942, whilst he was trying to recruit Indians to work for the BBC's India Service. One Sergeant Ewing wrote that, "The man has advanced communist views ... He dresses in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours."

Well, there you go. [Full story at the Guardian.] By that measure, I must assume I'm already under observation.

Gene alerted me to the QI page and their home at Oxford, where they have a vodka bar -- swank! I'll be dropping by QI headquarters next time I'm in Oxford.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Good Eats

Thursday night we celebrated the end of the first week of teaching with a few friendly colleagues. First stop: adding to our passports at Mahar's. The wide variety always makes choices difficult, but I went for the Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest (just to be seasonal). It was great. I'm working toward that personal mug (only 123 beers away). I'll get there, albeit slowly. We hemmed and hawed about eating and finally decided to go next door to eat. Mahar's: great for beer, not so much for food and we were a bit hungry by then.

I had thought that most of the restaurants very near campus were all student-oriented low budget affairs. Not Café Madison: apparently it used to be, as the only reviews I could find on-line were for its previous incarnations (our more experienced colleagues mentioned it having burned down twice before). Perhaps, like Swamp Castle, the third time is the charm.

The prices were a little higher than we were expecting, but the service was amazing and the food wonderful. I had a flank steak that was cooked to perfection and like buttah. When I got up to use the ladies room mid-meal, the waiter came over and covered my plate with a warming dish. Swank, eh? Everyone seemed quite delighted with their meals and, naturally, great conversation ensued.

Yesterday we packed up the car and headed down to Robert's for a picnic. It's always such an extraordinary experience to be surrounded by the profusion of flowers and plants that fill the yard at Larry and Bernie's house. Dahlias as big as your head! Purple basil and huge stalks of rosemary. We had just missed the blooming of the lotus in the koi pond, but the gigantic koi were swimming restlessly around in hopes of food. Someday I need to have a garden like that.

We headed over to Anna's and decided to just stay there for our picnic. The Celtic Festival was on that day and Kingston was packed with people, so it seemed quieter to chill by the pool, play with Buddy and eat our way through cheese and satay and ripe red tomatoes and cheesecake and everything else. A very relaxing day -- good for Robert as he has to work today because Bard does not recognize Labor Day (indeed).

Back to writing!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Getting Lowe

Yes, it's true -- Nick Lowe will be on a Prairie Home Companion September 29th.

Or if you'd rather wander down amnesia lane:

"Goin' to see the Rollers, going to see the Bay City Rollers..."