Friday, February 29, 2008


Andrew Vacchs, not a man known for pulling punches, offers his opinion on the business of writing in an interview with Pulp Pusher:

TONY BLACK: You've described success in writing as a 'crap shoot', would you care to expand?

ANDREW VACHSS: Bottom line: this nonsense of "cream always rises to the top" is crap. Look anywhere you want: there are better musicians busking on the streets than you can find on major labels; actors who have ten times the talent as major stars, but you'll never see them in a movie. And unpublished writers who are better than plenty of those who are published. Everyone knows some boxers who could put the current "champion" to sleep will never get that chance -- that "sport" is all about connections. When it comes to the arts, it's even worse... some of the most talented never even get to step into the ring. Of course "success" in writing is a crap shoot, because you can't succeed if you're not allowed to compete. Remember, just about everyone on earth believes they can write; and all they have to do is walk into any bookstore, nose around a bit, and they'll find absolute proof that they can write better than someone who actually has been published. How else to explain the self-publishing empires that have sprung up? If I hadn't caught lightning in a bottle, I never would have been published in the first place -- equivalent to throwing the hard eight a dozen times in the same night, so what else would you call it?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Publication: Bell

My short play Bell will be appearing in the next issue of Mused, the literary magazine for the site BellaOnline. They advertise themselves as the second largest online site for women, which (perhaps somewhat randomly) makes me think of Casablanca. A table of folks comment on Rick's high-handed attitude, i.e. refusing to drink with them:

Woman: What makes a saloonkeeper so snobbish?

Banker: Perhaps if you told him I ran the second largest banking house in Amsterdam...

Carl: Second largest? That wouldn't impress Rick. The leading banker in Amsterdam is now the pastry chef in our kitchen.

Banker: We have something to look forward to.

The funny thing about this play is that I know exactly when I first composed it. Often I know when I started a thing (I can look at the Word document and see when it was created), but this I know from writing it in my journal -- specifically at 11.03 am GMT on May 27, 2007. This piece sprang almost Athena-like from my skull on a rainy day walking down St. Martin's Lane, pausing just past the Duke of York's Theatre to sit on some steps and write it all out. Across the street were signs for Kismet, the English National Opera production at the London Coliseum.

Elsewhere on the same page where this piece begins is a reminder of what joy I find in sneezing loudly in the British Library Reading Room, as well as a note on a BBC news story about shin kicking in the Cotswolds (in white coats, no less) with the comment, "I love England!" The presenter asked the roving reporter, "Does it hurt to get kicked in the Cotswolds?" (yes!) and himself said, "Only in England."

Keeping a journal pays off in so many ways!

Happy Birthday, Cheryl & Birdie!

Pay your homage to the fabulous women of the day: Perilous Cheryl, host of the New England Anomaly, and Birdie, master gardener and voice of reason. Sing their praises, give them gifts and celebrate their lives -- you're lucky to know them!

As Black Ethel might say, "Arrr, it's a great day!"

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Spring Break!

Whoo hoo! I'm on spring break -- but I won't be lounging on a beach in Brazil. Admittedly, I'm not much of a beach lounger anymore, so it's not actually that tempting. The thought of idleness is probably more pleasurable than actual idleness, or so I'm trying to convince myself. Much to do, but at least it doesn't have to be done quite so early in the morning!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Kit!

Happy Birthday, Marlowe, the voice that launched a thousand riffs. I seem to always be looting from him, whether it's something like my short story "Fear and Loathing in Deptford" or random bits from passages like this one (part of which just ended up in my latest novel [first draft creeping toward its end, hurrah]). Sic semper geniis, eh?

I must have wanton poets, pleasant wits,
Musicians, that with touching of a string
May draw the pliant King which way I please.
Music and poetry is his delight;
Therefore I'll have Italian masks by night,
Sweet speeches, comedies, and pleasing shows;
And in the day, when he shall walk abroad,
Like sylvan nymphs my pages shall be clad;
My men, like satyrs grazing on the lawns,
Shall with their goat feet dance the antic hay.
Sometime a lovely boy in Dian's shape,
With hair that gilds the water as it glides,
Crownets of pearl about his naked arms,
And in his sportful hands an olive tree,
To hide those parts which men delight to see,
Shall bathe him in a spring; and there, hard by,
One like Actæon, peeping through the grove,
Shall by the angry goddess be transformed,
And running in the likeness of an hart,
By yelping hounds pulled down, shall seem to die:
Such things as these best please his majesty...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Weekend Round-up

Friday night we headed out with friends to celebrate a birthday and a new job (yay, Maryann!) at Koto Japanese Steak House. They have a great koi pond and the decor is simple and restrained. Everyone seemed eager for hibachi, but I was looking forward to sushi -- it's been ages since I had any. Our chef put on the usual show, which might be the same in every J-steak house across the country, but an energetic chef can make it fun. The food was fresh and tasty. Afterward we headed over to Dee's to hang out and chat. Gene was in rare form, leading Allan to ask, "Have you ever done stand-up?" Hee hee -- he should.

Yesterday, we were off to Saratoga to meet Crispinus and his long suffering uxor, Krista, for the Home Made Theater presentation of Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound and the Fifteen Minute Hamlet. Having looked at the company's website and having been to the Saratoga Spa State Park, I thought it would be a breeze getting there. It turned out to be clear as mud (I thought it was part of the performance center...nope).

Once we finally found ourselves in the right place, the next challenge was finding a place to park. Making a run for the theater, we found that the line was so long for picking up tickets that there was no way the play could start on time anyway. Dan and Krista joined us on line as we snaked our way slowly to the box office. There was a big group of Red Hats in the audience, all chatting excitedly. We were down in the second or third row, so right on top of the action.

The oddest thing was realizing that Stoppard's playful meta-narratives have become mainstream. I suppose it will always be the case with what was once innovative and strange. The cast seemed to be having a good time; they have a difficult challenge in Hound playing melodramatic "types" and repeating scenes with new partners. I was distracted at times by the coincidental similarities some actors had to other actors: Chris Cook looking just a little like Eddie Izzard, Phil Sheehan looking a bit like Spike Milligan (especially during Hamlet) and Winnie Bowen looking rather like Jane Curtain disguised as an elderly woman. Bowen had a good sense of comic timing -- she had to carry a lot of the physical comedy, although I have to say I really admired the way Lauren Cognato went all out for the prat fall with her Ophelia in Hamlet. You can't go far wrong with Stoppard.

After the show we headed over to the Crispinus domicile for a fantastic meal (mmmm, orangey-beefy stew and tasty antipasto) and the usual abuse of Crispinus (a game for the whole family). Thanks guys, that was great! We came home and watched the Oscars while I finished some grading. Best speech? Tilda Swinton's!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What Punctuation Mark are You?

You Are a Comma

You are open minded and extremely optimistic.

You enjoy almost all facets of life. You can find the good in almost anything.

You keep yourself busy with tons of friends, activities, and interests.

You find it hard to turn down an opportunity, even if you are pressed for time.

Your friends find you fascinating, charming, and easy to talk to.

(But with so many competing interests, you [sic] friends do feel like you hardly have time for them.)

You excel in: Inspiring people

You get along best with: The Question Mark

We'll ignore the fact that the image is not actually a comma...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Midsummer in Late Winter

Yesterday I ran over to HVCC's Maureen Stapleton Theatre to see Shakespeare & Co's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Conveniently close by and better yet -- it was free!

It's a nice little theater, although the acoustics weren't brilliant. The theater slowly filled up with students and other theater junkies (well, maybe they were faculty). They announced that there would be a talk back session after the performance, which was nice. From the start, this was an energetic and athletic performance from the company of seven -- yes, seven, so there were a lot of quick changes.

They began with several of the cast members using sticks like Morris dancers to beat out a vigorous tattoo. At first I thought, cool! A little percussion is always fun. But then Theseus and Hippolyta came out to mime their romantic backstory, which normally gets buried behind the plot of the happy lovers. As readers of Chaucer's Knight's Tale know, they marry because Theseus has defeated the amazon queen at war. It worked well and they bring the music back by the end.

More than that, there was tumbling and vigorous fights, chases: when Puck is chasing Demetrius and Lysander through the woods, they grab variously homey implements like mop handles and even a "wand" (leading to a big laugh when its wielder shouted "expelliamus!"). The costuming -- often a selling point for this play -- was sacrificed for the portability of travel (this was their 20th of about 70 performances on this tour), but Oberon's costume was cool, more like a goblin king than a fairy one (which of course I liked).

After the play, the cast asked opinions of the audience as well as questions, then let the audience ask questions, too. Students talked about how much easier it was to comprehend Shakespeare's language in motion, which led one older guy to grouse about how it's been "turned into literature" and ruined. Nonetheless, everyone seemed to be energized by the performance. I, of course, can never have enough theater -- more this weekend, too. I filled up on cheap Troy gas (a dime cheaper than on our side of the Hudson) and then headed home, a little fairy dust still lingering in my head.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Did you see it?

NASA, of course, has great coverage of the terrific show last night, including this stunning image. It was a cold night, but it was worth braving the chill for such a beautiful sight. We laughed on the way to campus yesterday morning because the digital billboard near Everett Road had an ad for the lunar eclipse -- "One night only! Admission free!" -- so maybe a few more people decided to look upward last night.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Chronicle Bump

No, not that Chronicle; the Saint Rose Chronicle. One of my good students told me about there being a piece which featured members of the English Department -- including me. It's too late to get a print edition, but there's an on line version of the story. No quotes from me because, well, I didn't know about it.

They did publish the link for my personal website, about which I feel a bit uncomfortable. In academic email or on Facebook, I always list my Saint Rose website (although there is a hidden link to my regular website). I have tried, perhaps artificially, to keep a wall between my personal writing and my professional. That's one of the reasons I don't link this blog to Facebook. Maybe it's foolish, maybe it's an endeavour that will inevitably fail, but for some reason, I have felt the need to maintain that barrier.

Maybe I should give up...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

PCA etc

Miss Wendy reminds me I need to be planning for San Francisco. The final schedule for PCA is up online (with my strange paper title correct, hurrah!). Suddenly so much to do -- and always less time in which to do it. Somehow I'm going to get loads of writing done over spring break, right? Deadlines loom!

Good news: one of my students just got accepted to the Master of Arts in Teaching at Bard. Go, Annie!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What Fred Said

Fred Vargas, archaeologist of the Middle Ages and crime novelist, interviewed in the Guardian:

Since the 1970s, Vargas argues, serious literature has regarded stories as "slightly silly", forcing them to become "refugees" in the crime novel. "It has been a literature of narcissism about 'me and my family', 'me and my problems', 'me and my lover'. I'm sick of it, especially as Proust did this perfectly all those years ago. But when he spoke of himself, he spoke of the whole world. Most writers today just speak of themselves. And Hemingway's language is precisely the opposite of Proust in that it feels rougher, and while Proust could deal with the infinite smallness of life, Hemingway has the infinite hugeness of it."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

No Respect

The other day we watched the television show "The Comedians' Comedians" hosted by Jimmy Carr. It counted down the top 50 comedians according to, well, comedians. While it was a British show, they did include a number of Americans like Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Joan Rivers, Bill Hicks (long lionized in Britain) and Robin Williams. I suspect an American show would fail to list any British comedians -- perhaps Eddie Izzard, just because he has made such successful inroads into American pop culture. Of course, that's unlikely to happen because Americans don't on the whole have the same appreciation of comedy that Britons do. You can't imagine a critic here writing, as Brian Clover did, that "Arguably, comedians are the true artists of the troubled Twentieth Century." Obviously, I agree. We enjoyed the show leading up to the satisfactorily anticipated top spot going to the genius that is Peter Cook.

But one thing really disturbed me: in the top ten was Eric Morecambe without Ernie Wise. For those of you unfamiliar with them, Morecambe and Wise (pictured above) were an institution. Check out some of their classic clips like the breakfast sketch or their version of "Singing in the Rain" to see the physical side of their comedy. Watch more clips to get a feel for their playful sense of dialogue. They define the classic double act.

So why is Morecambe there near the top without Wise?

I suspect it's because so many of the young comedians they spoke with are solo acts. They don't understand the dynamics of the duo, unless it's someone they know (contemporaries Vic & Bob and French & Saunders all make the list). The straight man is a thankless role. Eddie Braben, who composed many of the sketches for which Eric and Ern are so well-known, wrote, "In his own way, Ern was every bit as talented as Eric, he underlined his comic greatness. Even at their peak I don't believe Ern's contribution was fully acknowledged. Eric was probably his greatest admirer" (98).

So here's to Ernie Wise! and all the overlooked straight men and women in the world.

Gene forwarded a link to an NPR story on the play Ying Tong: A Walk with the Goons, that's playing in Philadelphia. I'm resisting an urge to look at the Amtrak schedules and jump on a train to go see it. I may have to console myself with getting a copy of the script. I can't help but wonder how it will go over with an audience unfamiliar with Milligan and the Goons. The website for the production offers all kinds of background links, so perhaps it will help educate the audience. Hope it goes well -- wish I could be there!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Birthday, Elena!

Yep, another day of celebrations: our pal Elena celebrates her birthday today and her anniversary with Rod -- four kids and umpteen years later, they're still like a couple of teenagers together. Inspiring! [but incorrect -- Elena reminds me their anniversary is in May. My PDA led me astray; but that doesn't mean it isn't a great day to celebrate their marriage!]

Happy Valentines Day, folks -- I always think of it as Chaucer's holiday, because he's the first one to connect the day with love and romance in his Parliament of Fowls. I got a beautiful card from my sweetie :-) with vintage art. Love you, mine sweetie!

On less happy news, Up Against the Wall is ceasing publication. Waah! I liked having a regular gig to write, of course, but I really enjoyed reading all the other writers, too. I don't know if the pieces written for issue 11 will go up; if not, maybe I'll post mine here. Sigh.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Happy Birthday, Pops! and Happy Anniversary

Hey, it's Gene Sr.'s birthday as well as Gene Sr. and Jane's Anniversary. Hope you're having a great day -- and not too much snow. I have a snow day -- whoo hoo! I had already moved my morning classes on line instead of in class, but planned to go in for the 1.15 class. Then I got the phone call from our new automated alert system telling me that campus was closing:

At 2.30pm.

Uh... well, I guess it's better than not at all. Nonetheless, it seemed pointless to go in for the 1.15 class, so I told them to take the day off and curl up with some hot chocolate and a good film. At least that's my plan!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Which British Romantic Poet are You?

Well, duh!

What British Romantic Poet are You?
Your Result: You are William Blake!

Like Blake, you believe in the union of opposites: "Without Contraries, there is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence."

You are John Keats!
You are George Gordon, Lord Byron!
You are Percy Shelley!
You are William Wordsworth!
You are Samuel Coleridge!
What British Romantic Poet are You?
Create MySpace Quizzes

Viva le Vegas

We've been indulging in a Johnny Vegas smörgåsbord of late, everything from the oh-so-accurately named 18 Stone of Idiot (by the by, U.S. readers: 1 stone = 14 lbs.) to the Johnny Vegas Guide to Evangelicals (far more interesting than it sounds), with stops off at Room 101 and various random tidbits. I think it all started with watching old episodes of Vic & Bob's Shooting Stars. From the third season Vegas was a regular along with wordy-wordy-wordsmith Will Self and Ulrika (ka ka!) Jonsson. But he's also made the transition to "real" acting in things like Bleak House, The Libertine and the series Happiness, which we're finally getting around to seeing. So the upshot is Gene and I go around talking in our Johnny Vegas voices to one another. Yet another thing we do that no one understands...

My students in the film class (Writers in Motion) -- normally the uplifting moment of my teaching day -- deflated me yesterday by declaring writing to be devoid of cachet in our time: Who doesn't have a blog? Anyone can be in print with Lulu! Everybody's a writer, they tell me, so there's nothing special about it. Ouch. However, they always have interesting opinions and thoughtful responses, so I'm content.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is my creative writing students, who seem to have decided that they don't need to bother doing the readings assigned. They had nothing to say about Beckett's "Not I" -- no, really. I can understand being confused (of course!) or irritated, but shrugging? Working in class, it became apparent that they simply didn't read it. So, first, we watched this version; then for their workshops on Wednesday, they are writing little dramatic scenes about two students discussing their assignment -- Beckett's "Not I" -- and how they can make sense of it. Meta!

Saturday, February 09, 2008


Here's the final cover for Jane Quiet. Elena got the proofs and inevitably, we noticed a few things that we need to change. Argh -- editing is not my strength. Gene, of course, has a careful eye and spotted a few things that could be improved. The process of publishing is a lot of hurry up and wait; at least comics publishing is a little faster than book publishing.

Nonetheless, it's exciting to have it so near to hand. I can't wait to see the actual comic in front of me. We're already looking into signings at local places. Of course, we'll let you all know when the details are firmed up.

I can't wait to see what Jane does out in the real world!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Insert Dramatic "Noooooo!"

I pulled a Sunday 8am panel at Kalamazoo. At least I'm only presiding, not speaking, but argh! After the Saturday night dance, Sunday panels are killer -- you're tired and there's often little audience. Sigh.

In the Great Grey Beast

The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive. Here he was, buried in the belly of that smothering month, wondering if he would ever find his way out through the cold coils that lay between here and Easter.He didn't think much of his chances.

        Clive Barker, The Thief of Always

Everyone seems to be in the jaws of the great beast lately, sounding gloomy and keeping to themselves. February usually seems to have that effect. Snow yesterday with a bit of ice -- more snow to come Monday, I believe. This time of year, snow has lost its charm and we dully turn to shoveling with grim persistence. Sometimes we just have to hunker down to work and wait for the first signs of spring. But would spring be as sweet without the bitter days of February?

By a river in a green meadow, where there is at all points so much sweetness, I saw a garden, full of blossomy boughs, with white, blue, yellow and red flowers; and cold fountain-streams, not at all dead, full of small shining fish with red fins and silver-bright scales. On every bough I heard the birds sing with the voice of angels in their melody. Some busied themselves to lead forth their young. The little bunnies hastened to play. Further on I noticed all about the timid roe, the buck, harts and hinds and squirrels and small beasts of gentle nature. I heard stringed instruments playing harmonies of such ravishing sweetness that God, Maker and Lord of all, never heard better, I believe. At the same time a wind, scarce could it have been gentler, made in the green leaves a soft noise which accorded with the song of the birds above. The air of that place was so mild that never was there discomfort for heat or cold. Every wholesome spice and herb grew there, and no person could age or sicken. There was a thousand times more joy than man can tell. And it would never be night there, but ever bright day in every man's eye.

        Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls, Translated and Edited by Gerard NeCastro

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Who's Better?

As Father Dougal might say, who d'you prefer? Oasis or Blur?

I got my head checked
By a jumbo jet
It wasn't easy
But nothing is, no

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Mardi Gras/Year of the Rat

Down in New Orleans, they're getting the floats ready. I can enjoy the pleasant thought of the fun without much regret, as the crowds alone are enough to keep me away.

Chinese New Year is coming up and it's my year! Yes, I was born under the sign of the rat -- a better thing in Chinese culture than in American, I suppose. According to at least one site:

Clever and quick-witted, the Rat of the Chinese Zodiac is utterly disarming to boot. Possessed of excellent taste, this Sign flaunts its style at every turn. Its natural charm and sharp, funny demeanor make it an appealing friend for almost anyone. The Rat likes to know who is on its side and will treat its most loyal friends with an extra measure of protection and generosity.

Of course on the other hand, it also says:

Behind that sweet smile, though, Rats are keen and unapologetic promoters of their own agendas. This Sign is motivated by its own interests, which often include money; greed can become a problem if the Rat isn't careful to keep its priorities straight. This Sign's natural powers of charm and persuasion can definitely come in handy!

Okay, so something to watch out for, I guess. Although as I work on the promotional materials for Jane Quiet I figure I can let my inner rat run wild.

Of course, I'm disappointed to once again miss the Gorillaz's "Monkey: Journey to the West" which will be performed this week at the British Museum (one of my favorite places in the world). Waah! So, listening to the Gorillaz now (and thinking about the irony of being in Britain while Monkey is in Charleston).

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Jennifer Saunders: Looking Fab

Jennifer Saunders on life at 50 (pictured here with her daughter, Freya):

You reach a point when you realise your capabilities. You go through life feeling you don't know quite as much as other people, then you get to a certain age and think, “Actually, I do! I probably know more.” So you start driving yourself to do stuff. I don't care so much what people think of me. I'm not so self-conscious, but I'm not so tolerant, either. You can rationalise: “I'm still here; I can't be that bad.” So, if I'm out of a job, I'm out of a job, and if not, keep going.

Plus, she's going to be on tour with Dawn French! (Thanks, Gene, for the link.)