Friday, November 30, 2007

Into the Quagmire

No, not that one: Facebook.

My pal and colleague, Kim Middleton, blogged on the topic and I thought well, I ought to try it. It is (or was) an academic networking site, so perhaps it would be useful in that way.


Blogging seems to some folks a kind of time suck, but it's not a patch on Facebook. The latter seems all about the constant connection, because the default is not only to record everything you do, but everything your friends do, too. Yes, of course you can ignore them, which I do for the most part (sorry to everyone who invited me to become a slayer, partake of movie trivia, or share what I'm reading).

At least it's not as unremittingly ugly as MySpace.

It's simple enough that anyone can figure it out; in fact it's probably easier for someone who knows very little about how the web works. The content doesn't have to be self-generated like a blog. Blogging is great for people like me who never run out of things to write; it's less useful for people who prefer interacting with others more.

However, that's also one of the things that gives me pause: that interaction. Do I want my professional and personal lives overlapping that much? I have a professional website and a personal one. I originally envisioned Facebook as a part of my professional life, but as friends link up and interact that boundary gets more and more porous. Not sure how I feel about that. I have chosen to make my profile available but to hide certain parts from casual viewers (i.e. non-friends in the Facebook universe). Do I really want all my students to know me 'personally'? Not really. But is it avoidable in the interconnected world of the intarwub? Probably not.

Not that this connectivity is a bad thing; I treasure the multitude of friends that I have gained from the web, some of whom are very close to me now and all of whom add so much to my life. Besides, I like being able to have a conversation about canned laughter with Graham Linehan or watching an old video I have longed to see for years. That wouldn't be possible without the 'net.

But I am still wrestling with the issues involved and probably will for a while. We all will be, I suspect. The weight of information is the best protection -- you have to go out and find information for the most part and this will only increase as we approach full steam.

My experience has been that the web is wonderful on the whole: without it I wouldn't be heading to WAMC Monday morning to tape a piece on yuletide celebrations in Anglo-Saxon England.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Happy Natal Day, Mr. Blake

I still have my WWWBD? page with the red dragon pinned to my bulletin board. It's good to remember how filled with pain and rejection his life was, yet he soldiered on, confident in his vision. My co-editor and I have finally received a thumbs down on our Old English charms volume from the publisher who has been reviewing it since May, so we begin the slow process of submitting it to a new academic publisher and then once again waiting, waiting. So it goes.

...A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for Joy and Woe;
And when this we rightly know
Thro’ the World we safely go...

Every Night and every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight.
Some are Born to sweet delight,
Some are Born to Endless Night...

(from Auguries of Innocence)

Just in Time for Holiday Shopping!

It's Endless Halloween, the latest rip-roaring collection of those wild 'n crazy Goth Scouts! The "Crazy Mama" herself, Elena Steier, will tickle your funny bone with this all ages book. Flying monkeys! Surfing Cthulhu! Merit badges! There's something for everyone.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Catch Up

Mmmm -- cake! Yes, not one but two cheesecakes figured in our T-Day celebrations. I made the chocolate chip one on the right, Robert made the one on the left. Both were declared delicious. So was the turkey Robert grilled (yum!) and the real mashed potatoes. Mimosas and bounteous red wine meant we were extremely logy the rest of the day. And the following day, which was all right with Jordan (he doesn't get around as much anymore). His appetite, however, is as good as ever and he was eager to have some of that tasty turkey. The weather was so nice that we could wander around the gardens and see the koi gobble up their food, too, and see what was left of the late blooming flowers. The tide was in when we got there. We were comatose the rest of the time after all that food, but we finally stirred ourselves to get up again on Friday to see the Coen Bros. new film, No Country for Old Men in Woodstock (which strikes me as a tad ironic, that being the home of good vibes and this film being all about the bad). There were a lot of folks in attendance, so I guess the irony didn't bother anyone. If I can find the time this week, I'll write up a proper review, but suffice to say "highly recommended" as long as you're not squeamish (although much is implied rather than seen, an awful lot is seen), allergic to laconic men, or too freaked out by Javier Bardem's haircut. He was amazingly creepy -- and who'd ha' thunk James Brolin's son would be so good? Of course, you do expect the best of Kelly Macdonald (AKA the only sizeable female role in the film) but it was also nice to see the always dependable Tess Harper, too.

Forgot to Mention: Raptorama! On the way back from Robert's we must have seen about twenty hawks and falcons right near the Thruway. We saw half a dozen before we got to the Saugerties exit. Wow!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

To Kingston

Away we go to feast on the usual banquet with Robert, watch movies and relax (if we can remember how...) If you need entertainment, why not watch this?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Publication: Raising Lempi

This is a two-fer! Not just a story of mine, but with a gorgeous Elena Steier drawing as well. The Winter issue of Circle Magazine will feature my story "Raising Lempi" and Elena's drawing of the four characters in a sauna. I have had the picture hanging on my bulletin board since she sent it to me. Originally this joint venture had been planned for another magazine, but fell through, so it's nice to know it's finally coming out in this fine venue (Circle is carried by large chains like Borders).

Yes, this is one of the Unikirja stories and since you're all probably tired of hearing about this project, I'm glad to say that the collection is finally just about done. I'm taking a week off during the break to have my own mini-writer's retreat to try to finish the last part (a play) as well as a couple of other things. It will feel good to send off the manuscript.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oxford Bound!

My paper on Moira Buffini's Silence has been accepted for the conference "Bone Dreams: Anglo-Saxon Culture and the Modern Imagination" next April at the University of Oxford. Do I hear the QI bar calling?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Prose at the Rose: Tramontano

The latest episode is now on the air. Check out my interview with Jan Tramontano. Her work has appeared in Poet's Canvas, Chronogram, Mom's Literary Magazine, American Intercultural Magazine, Knock, The Culture Star Reader and Women's Synergy to name a few. She is currently working on her first novel and is a member of the advisory board for the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and is a member of the International Women's Writing Guild. Jan reads her story "The Landlady."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Happy B-Day, Mr. Moore

(Look at lucky bugger James with Mr. Moore at the London Lip event). What better way to spend your birthday than with a guest shot on the Simpsons? It worked for Moore, who appeared tonight along side fellow cartoonists Art Spiegelman and Dan Clowes. It was great to see the Lost Girls poster behind him and to see him seethe over the Watchman Babies: V is for Vacation book that Millhouse wanted him to sign. As he raved about the corporate leeches, Spiegelman leaned over and said something like, "lighten up, teacup!"

That's when Moore took out a Little Lulu comic and began to croon, "Little Lulu, I love you, Lu, just the same" and I just about had organ failure from laughing. Of course when the three of them stood together saying, "Oh no -- the store is in trouble!" then ripped off their shirts to become the League of Extraordinary Freelancers and promptly flew into action (yes, flew) I was helpless with giggles. I think I risked another organ when Spiegelman put a Maus mask on and said "Maus in the haus!" Oh my god, too funny.

Thanks to Gene for the screen captures and MP3!

(Yes, I will get around to the Springsteen review -- too many deadlines this weekend.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Review: Beowulf

Two word review:

utter pants

Why have a movie about heroics where there is not a single person who embodies the supposed ideal? It may have been meant as a critique of the concept, but if so it failed miserably. The script was a mishmash of half-articulated ideas. A barely developed theme of the effects of storytelling on the truth ought to have been heeded. The poem has kept its resonance over the years because it deals with timeless topics like heroism, mentoring, honor and ambition. This one has Beowulf roar the ultimately meaningless words, "!" What does that name mean? By the end it seems that his life's supposed to be a legend, but we know it's all lies, so what can we have but contempt for those who believe it?

What was the point of all the pneumatic breasts other than adolescent wank? In case we had any doubt, we know now for sure that modern Hollywood film makers have even less regard for women than Anglo-Saxon monks, because at least the latter actually thought women had a purpose beyond sexual titillation. Not so this team. Women are only of interest as sexual prizes. We even have the suggestion that wives and mistresses would get along if they just had a chance to chat heart-to-heart (naturally with the suggestion that perhaps this will lead to a guilt-free three-way for the husband). Wealtheow in the poem sets standards of behavior, commands the men and reins Hrothgar in when he steps beyond propriety, deftly balancing both his honor and Beowulf's. With all the digital breasts on display, it is likewise ironic that the other subtext is all about impotence. This script robs the father figure Hrothgar of most of his offspring and all of his glory. He's a buffoon from start to finish. Jolie as Grendel's mother (as designed by John Bolton) is an adolescent dream of sexless Barbie doll sexuality: smooth, hairless, flawless and dipped in gold with stiletto heels actually part of her body (heel spurs gone wild?). Robin Wright-Penn's lovely face is turned into a bland approximation of Hollywood "beauty" and loses any sense of attractiveness.

The effects: yawn. They worked on the eyes, but motion capture still looks like a video game. While playing a video game at least you actively insert yourself into the action, but it's harder to do with the passive movie viewing experience. Sure, the dragon episode looked cool enough (about like the dragon sequence in Goblet of Fire), but the people look like pudgy wax work balloons bouncing along, hands never quite touching what they pick up. The ridiculousness of the naked fight scene (mistakenly believed to be "in the text") required exposing Grendel's lack of genitalia (which they tried to "explain") and, as Variety's review put it, resorting to Austin-Powers-esque techniques to hide Beowulf's alleged genitalia. He probably has none -- the movie was rated PG-13 despite outlandish violence. It's the American way: violence good, sex bad (although endless teasing of a sexual nature is okay, thus endless balloony bosoms on parade).

Minor quibble of interest to few but me: really, they couldn't make the harp look like a Saxon harp?

Anachronistically they inserted Christianity into the narrative (in the poem, the narrator is a Christian looking back on his ancestors) only to identify it as the killer of the age of heroes. Far be it from me to defend Christianity, but that's pointless as well as reductively simplistic. But really, the less said about the violence to the source story or the era the better (a ginormous stone the 6th century? not a wooden mead hall?). You'd have thought they would at least replace the original with another story -- not just 3D arrows and swords. Ironic then that the whole exercise seemed entirely pointless. I thought it would at least be fun. Nope.

I'm curious to see what my students think: they're probably going to the big mall tonight. Maybe they will find it more fun -- they have said that their friends seem to think it looks like a kick ass movie. We shall see. The film is clearly meant to capitalize on the popularity of 300, a trifle I did enjoy because 1) it had a much smaller amount of adolescent male-oriented sexual titillation [and a great deal more adult female sexual titillation!] and 2) it gave us characters who were real actors if digitally enhanced (e.g. David Wenham's six pack abs) and had character! It wasn't all bombast and cool fight scenes.

The nadir of Beowulf adaptations still remains Lambert's Beowulf, only because it lacks even technical competence. This one nearly challenges it on most other points.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Publication: Eating the Dream

My short story "Eating the Dream," a mash-up of Blake, urban fantasy and the great seedy American on-the-road story, will be coming out in the journal Femspec, specifically issue 8.1 which seems to be scheduled for later this year. Somehow that has led to my becoming their web manager, too (payment? punishment? you be the judge). I'll let you know when it's available. Check out the current issue: is that a great cover or what? It supposed to be Ceres, but I love how it also looks like a big eyeball. A really striking image!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Review: Rock 'n' Roll

No more mid-week matinées.

You know how we're always hearing about "kids these days" -- they have no respect, they're far too familiar, casual, thoughtless, etc.?

They're not a patch on their grandparents.

I have never experienced a more rude theater audience in my life than the elderly folks in the Jacobs Theatre last Wednesday. I am including high school and junior high theater performances. They wouldn't sit down, shut up or turn off their cell phones. There were two warning tones for the curtain and still they blabbed on, standing in the aisles. The music started and still they bickered about which seat to sit in. The actors began to speak -- in that all important scene that sets up the theme of the entire play -- and still they talked, although they were nearly drowned out by the well-meaning, but endless and loud shushing.

And it was all repeated at the interval. Fortunately the grumbly people right in front of us stalked out then, never to return -- why? Who knows! They were offended by something. The language? The music? Hey, it's called Rock 'n' Roll!

So I'm sure the actors were likewise peeved by this terrible audience. Theater is a symbiosis. The audience, the actors, the crew all work together with the magic of the script to bring something to life for a short time (three hours in this case). When any of them fail, they all suffer. So if the performance fell short of magic, I know where to point the finger.

The cast were excellent. Brian Cox inhabited the gruff Cambridge professor with a mixture of dogged stubbornness and whimsical romance. Sinead Cusack played both Eleanor -- the classics professor with quick wit, slowly defeated by cancer -- and her daughter Esme later in life. While Eleanor is full of authority and confidence (appearing with a tea cosy on her head at one point, but still looking magisterial), Esme wanders uncertain and somewhat wounded -- and with completely different body language. Rufus Sewell takes a break from playing thunderous villains in film to embody Jan, the Czech student in love with rock-n-roll, who can't get interested in politics until his favorite band gets imprisoned. It was uncanny how he reminded me (physically) of Rik Mayall especially as time went on; he became more and more abject as he was beaten down by the increasing political crack-downs.

The story -- like most Stoppard plays -- weaves together a number of themes. Chief of course is the rock-n-roll music, set up in that crucial first scene as the voice of Pan in the modern world. Jan's refusal to engage with the political maelstrom around him rests in his tacit confidence that the music will prove more lasting, that it's more important than the political posturing (a hint perhaps at Stoppard's own apparent political disengagement?). Esme's slow disintegration into despair connects directly to the fate of her personal Pan, the late Syd Barrett. I didn't really know much of Barrett's music, so I was pleasantly surprised (I don't much like Pink Floyd, so I assumed I wouldn't like his solo stuff -- I've been wrong before).

It's hard to convey all the complexities of the play: arguments about whether communism's ideals could ever be realized in the world, whether we are more than the material from which we are made, and when to make a stand against oppressive political forces (and whether the opposition creates the dialectic necessary to keep those forces in power). There was even an extra insert in the Playbill with a précis of Czechoslovakian history, a page on the Plastic People of the Universe and a list of all the music that played between scenes.

Did it work? Well, not entirely. The first act in particular was so episodic that it was impossible to feel close to the characters. The music, which ought to have infused the performance with jangling energy, instead seemed to make the quieter moments feel flat. The second half worked better with fewer breaks and more continuous interaction. Perhaps if the music had been integrated into the action it would have become more of a character itself, embodying that rebellious spirit. But when it comes in at the end for a final moment of triumph, instead the climax feels like a sudden ending without resolution.

Yet less-than-top-notch Stoppard is still head and shoulders above so much else on stage at present. The cast was superb -- I should also mention in particular Alice Eve who played the young Esme and her daughter Alice, moving from sixteen to about thirty in the second act. I enjoyed the performance, even if I would have changed the script and pacing if I could.

At least I kept myself from doing violence to elderly people -- just barely.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Jane Quiet rocks the world!

Elena Steier is ink queen of the world! Stop by the Goth Scouts pages and check out the latest inks of our joint project Jane Quiet. Is that a fabulous monster or what?!

Beowulf: PG-13

Money talks! Violence is okay after all, but no sex! That would be bad. Prehensile hair, computer enhanced breasts and stiletto heels: the lure of sex without the actual act, apparently. They paid a lot of money for Jolie: gotta get their dollar's worth!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Old Git

Here's what none of the glowing encomia seem to mention about the plagiarist, Mr. Mailer. If you're famous enough, your crimes will be forgotten -- especially if they're against women.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Magister Class

At the invitation of Crispinus, I came to his class to speak to the students about my novel Pelzmantel. It was my first experience of the kind; I've spoken about my writing on panels at conferences, but never in front of students (except incidentally in my creative writing classes). So it was a nice ego-boost, as well as a paying gig (thanks!). I have been so busy that I didn't really have time to think about it, so I didn't bother getting nervous until fairly close to class time.

Beforehand we discussed the aim of the session and the fact that the students were supposed to be running the show (yay!) which took the pressure off me. I would only jump in if they seemed to run out of things to say. It was strange to be in a classroom without some plan, but I knew the topics they had been running with -- myth and fiction -- so I had touchstones that I knew would be familiar.

The odd thing is that it all seems so long ago: I wrote the novel while working on my dissertation. It came out four years ago, so I was glad they didn't ask anything too specific. I tried to get at the balance of inspiration and planning that is part of most writing projects; there are always things you intend to do and things that surprise you, the happy accidents. One of the students asked if I would sign his book (of course!) while others were interested in the publishing process itself, including whether the author has input on the cover art (not usually) and how much editors change a manuscript once it has been accepted (it varies).

Afterward we went out to Sushi Thai with the Crispinus clan and Dan's peer mentor for the course, Julia. Great food and highly entertaining conversation made for a terrific evening. We even stopped off at Ben & Jerry's at Kaitlin's suggestion (or was that begging?). Much fun -- and next week Gene will talk to the same class about comics, although I'll miss it because I'll be teaching. Pity. It would be fun!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Opening: LitGraphic

[I'm working backward from today which is the first day I've had any time to write.]

We headed out bright and early (well, for a Friday, i.e. my non-teaching day) to hit the road for Massachusetts and the LitGraphic exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum. We had our press credentials in hand and a wide open freeway before us. No bats, though; and our only stimulant was Gene's travel mug of unleaded coffee. But the passes got us into the unopened exhibit for a free preview and press schmooze.

It's quite a good collection -- a real nice mix with a few classics (Ditko, Eisner, Masereel and Ward) as well as a variety of newer artists like Marc Hempel, Sue Coe and Lauren Weinstein, as well as the guest artists in attendance that day: Peter Kuper, Howard Cruse and Dave Sim. (The freebies were nice, too including the book of the new traveling exhibit for Rockwell's art).

We were welcomed and told us a bit about the exhibit, then Peter Kuper gave a little talk discussing his own work and World War 3, as well as life in Oaxaca at present. Howard Cruse spoke about his work in Stuck Rubber Baby and his drawing techniques. I would tell you what Dave Sim had to say, but I don't want to be accused of devouring his light.

The museum also provided a very nice lunch and we happened to sit with both Kuper and Cruse, which gave us a chance to chat a little with them and some of the other journalists there. In fact, we ended up talking with Howard for some time. I'm hatching a scheme to get him to campus for a grad class I'll be teaching in about a year.

I'll be writing this up in more detail for publication, so more soon. The exhibit runs through May with a lot of events planned. See the schedule and check it out. Like you need an excuse to go to the beautiful Berkshires?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Plug: House of Black Wings

Cool Chicago filmmaker David Schmidt gives a scoop to, the Lovecraftian horror film site. Scroll down this page to see exclusive photos from his latest production, the eerily creepy House of Black Wings. Because I had a peek at the script prior to filming, I can let slip that it's a fantastically suspenseful story with great characters (there's a novelty!) and all kinds of spooky happenings.

Inadvertant Amusement

Mrs. Malaprop strikes again: a student in one class wrote on a quiz that Julian of Norwich desired to experience the "wombs of Christ," while another student described a happily married couple living in a house that was "white with blue shudders."

I'll be writing up our NYC experiences (including a review) later, but it's all teaching today, then being a literary guest at Skidmore tonight, so it will be a while yet.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Some how the ninth issue of Up Against the Wall went up without much fanfare. It may have to do with "Hollywood" Phil being incredibly busy. I just have a wee list of Halloween faves in the issue, but cruise on by for some terrific reads from other regulars.

Beowulf: Now it's Educational!

In my continuing efforts to flog the Beowulf film as an official webmaster, I think it important to keep up with the latest goings-on. That includes a new handout for teachers to use the film as a kind of educational tie-in. This handy guide helps students look at how heroism has been identified in Beowulf's time and our own, presumably leading to lively discussions of gender, ethics and the importance of movie tie-ins. No doubt the "Monsters: A Case Study" assignment will allow students to identify other favorite movie monsters and to think about renting those favorite DVDs again. There are also two tie-in books: a script book and a mass market paperback novelization. I faxed Harper Collins to see whether I might get promo copies. Fingers crossed!

While this seems at times to be pointless silliness, let me remind you that anything that popularizes the Middle Ages is good for medievalists (even if it requires endless patient explanation of why it wasn't like that) and I am writing a book on masculinities and medievalisms, so this fits perfectly. And don't forget: it's educational!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Award Winning

Silly me: I missed the International Horror Guild Award ceremony Thursday night at WFC, and thus, missed that a book I'm in received one of the awards. Icons of Horror and the Supernatural, edited by S. T. Joshi, received the accolade for best non-fiction work. Whoo hoo! It's a bit expensive for individuals, but shouldn't your library own it?

This week will be even busier than the last, so I'm slowly adding links to the WFC post when I have a minute or so. Grading today, advising tomorrow, Rock-n-Roll Wednesday, Skidmore Thursday, and the Norman Rockwell Museum Friday. Yikes!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

World Fantasy


We started the night with geeky wonder at the two-pronged badge holders we received at registration. Swanky -- they even have a pocket for business cards. The program has a wonderful Moebius illustration on the front and selection of images on color plates inside. We ran into a few people we knew right off. The first panel of the night featured artists Donato Giancola, Shaun Tan and Bob Eggleton (although Bob was running late -- he and Marianne arrived straight from dinner). They drew. It was wonderful. It’s fascinating to see a picture take shape with three completely different styles. Donato was drawing from a photo of a woman, but turning it into a fantasy image with her in an elaborate dress with white birds flying by. Shaun started with some lines from the photo, but turned them into a large-eyed creature clutching its large eyed child. It was equal parts creepy and cute. Bob drew an elaborate dragon, red and scaly. They also answered questions about technique, habits, training and working with editors on book covers. Interesting that both Bob and Donato talked about comics as their first influence, including artists like Steve Bissette.

After that came the one and only comics panel. Fortunately the panelists dispensed with the lame topic (can comics be as “serious” as novels?) efficiently (or in the words of Doselle Young, “Fuck yeah!”) and got onto interesting questions about collaboration and the particular strengths of the word/image combinations. Featured were Mike Dringenberg (who seriously needs a mute button, or at least a reminder that there were other people on the panel who might also have something to say), the fabulous Charles Vess (who didn’t talk nearly enough), chair Andrew Wheeler, editor/writer Alisa Kwitney Sheckley, Doselle and Matthew Smith. Yes, they should have had Gene on the panel—he would have clarified a lot of the issues quickly. The panel was great fun. Alisa and Doselle had the audience in stitches a good bit of the time. With luck Gene will blog about the panel in greater depth.

It was a long day, so we headed to the domus Crispinu and shared a bottle of wine and some chat with the magister himself. We tried to refrain from abusing his hospitality too much, but it can be a struggle (easy target and one who reads this blog, so he should expect to get teased mercilessly). This morning as I write this first entry, his long-suffering uxor, Krista, is laboring over breakfast; to be fair, Dan did boil water for my tea, so that’s something (for the whitest man in the world). He’s now trying to figure out the password for their wireless network so I can log on. Otherwise, I’ll just save this post for later [which is what happened, as you can see].


Another busy day: after our delicious breakfast of home fries, bacon and eggs (thanks, Krista!) we headed in and I caught most of the Terrible Women panel while Gene checked out the Art room and the Dealer’s room. I hadn’t known about Persephone ( so I was glad to hear about the group even if I was already familiar with the writers they were trying to bring back to attention, terrific writers like E. Nesbit, Vernon Lee, Carson McCullers, Charlotte Perkins Gillman, Octavia Butler and Shirley Jackson.

GOH Kim (no waistcoat?!) Newman talked about his early publishing career, including sessions brainstorming with Neil Gaiman and Stefan Jaworzyn about ideas for low-budget films after a young reporter named Phil Nutman alerted them to a producer planning to make B-movies. While the films never materialized, one of the film ideas became Newman’s “B-novel” Orgy of the Blood Parasites. We learned about all kinds of obscure works in the prolific Newman’s past. There was also a porn film script he had written: “How sad a person are you if you fast forward through the sex scenes to get to the characterization?” We also heard about the musical, written as a parody of Rock, Rock, Rock and called Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock, (+ 27 or so repetitions of the word) which sounded like a hoot. He’s recently sold a radio play to the BBC and working with Christopher Wicker(?) on film scripts, so there are exciting things ahead. It’s a pity the interviewer a) didn’t speak audibly b) wasn’t very lively, and c) paid no attention to the time, so the panel not only ran over the time allotted, but did not give the audience any opportunity for questions.

M.R. James panel: Within minutes of panelists recalling their first time reading James, Ramsey Campbell mentions the Four Yorkshiremen, adding, “I was only six years old when I first read…” Christopher Roden countered with “Well, I wasn’t even born when I first read James.” The James gang -- a great way to refer to the folks inspired by James. He became a sort of guiding spirit for the con, mentioned in one way or another at most of the panels I attended. Makes me wonder if anyone has looked into the effect of medieval texts on James’ stories… hmmm. Not that I need another project.

Moebius: At the end of the panel, someone behind us said, “Wow, he talks just like he draws.” So true! It was terrific to see a lot of his art projected large. I got to ask him what it was like to work with Jodorowsky. He said, “Do you know Castaneda? He was my Don Juan.” Even though they are both so busy that they only talk via phone of late, he said the influence was and is huge. A teacher, a gentle man, a friend—and “dangerous,” he said with a smile. He used Jodorowsky’s analogy of the artist as alchemist, too, finding a great deal of resonance in that image. He even said that shamanism is the original religion of everybody (naturally, I agree).

Art Room: argh. It is to weep, as they say. We ran into Marianne who had a bunch of her Daub du Jour paintings up as well as a greenman that I immediately lusted for (if only my pocketbook matched my tastes). So many wonderful images I could not afford: Vess’s of course -- even sketches are out of my price range, and let’s not even begin to discuss the Moebius works. If I thought they looked wonderful projected large, they were amazing up close where the painstaking details were vivid. Then there was the work of Catherine Crowe, Imago Corvi. I could feel the money trying to leap out of my wallet as I gazed on her enamel work, much of it inspired by medieval designs. Not surprisingly, the raven and the crow drew my eye right away, but I was completely captivated by the owl pendant which, apart from being an amazing piece of work, also connects to one of my current projects perfectly. She had a number of larger framed images as well including an image from the Sutton Hoo burial.

We joined the Crispinus clan—including Kaitlin this time—for dinner at the Stadium Café which was far better than the banks of televisions filling it seemed to predict. I had a Black Forest sandwich and a Stoli Vanil martini that really hit the spot. Afterward we wandered down to Borders, where I read the first few pages of the new Hunter S. Thompson book put together by Rolling Stone, with an introduction from “Colonel Depp.” Add it to the list of must-gets.

Signing session: you really get a picture of the hugeness of World Fantasy when you see writers who are swamped with fans at smaller cons (e.g., a bunch of the Necon folks were sitting together) actually waiting for people to come by with books to sign. Gene was first in line for Moebius and I snapped a picture of the two of them together. He drew a nice sketch in one of the books, too. I had a chance to stop by and introduce myself to S. T. Joshi, for whom I have written a couple of essays but had never had a chance to actually speak with face to face. Little did I know that ealier in the con the International Horror Guild had given the Non-Fiction award to Joshi for Icons of Horror and the Supernatural, the most recent collection for which I wrote (the essay on “The Sorcerer”). Then I geeked all over Charles Vess, who had just barely sat down, gushing about his illustrations for Peter Pan as he signed it and lamenting as he signed (and drew a cat!) A Circle of Cats that the other Charles and his wife Maryann weren’t there to sing. I wish I’d known Ramsey Campbell was going to be here, too; I would have brought a couple of books for him to sign, but oh well. I will see him read tomorrow. We finished the night with more wine and more torturing of Crispinus (naturally).


Another great breakfast to kick the day off: mmmm, pancakes and sausage! We had a leisurely start and still got there in time for the Charles L. Grant tribute panel filled with memories of his generosity, his skillful and astute (and merciless) editing and of course the heartfelt grief at his absence. A fixture at both World Fantasy and Necon, his presence continues to be much missed.

Afterward we ended up chatting with pal John Douglas for a good bit (hadn’t seen him since Necon) then I headed off to the Ramsey Campbell reading. Always fun -- he read two stories, the first a sort of very modern ghost story called “Respects” which uses the impromptu roadside memorial sites as a starting point, and “Digging Deep” which likewise updates the premature burial theme with the added complication of a cell phone. Creepy and hilarious by turns -- I loved how the first story had a family whose kids were clearly named after celebrities (Keanu, Brad and Angelina) just like Cletus’s brood on The Simpsons.

I went to the pre-Christian ghost panel after that, which was less interesting than I’d hoped, but I did run into Michael Kabongo whom I had met at Pi-Con, so that was good. The Survey of the Field panel followed with some very strong opinions, such as Stephen Jones’ comments that there were far too many “best of” anthologies, that there were too many Anita Blake-style female investigators, that the rebranding of Weird Tales was the worst thing ever to happen to the magazine and that the Shocklines discussion board was the Al-Qaeda of horror. Paula Guran of Juno books disagreed that their sister publication Weird Tales was anything but wonderful and commented that it was good to see the fantasy and horror lines expanding, bringing in new readers with things like paranormal romance. Ellen Datlow mentioned that a lot of the year’s best horror was once again coming from magazines which had not been the case in recent years. Among the recommendations: Liz Hand’s Generation Loss and Will Elliott’s The Pilo Family Circus.

We headed back for Kaitlin’s special chili and a relaxed dinner, then returned to the hotel for evening programming. We tried to get into the dramatic presentation of M.R James’ stories, but were told the artiste was not allowing anyone to enter after the start. Well, sucks to him. Instead we headed over to see Native American storyteller Joseph Bruchac and it was the right choice. Bruchac had the audience in the palm of his hand and kept them there the whole night (despite making a lot of them jump!). In fact, when he ended, many immediately followed him out into the hallway to buy books and learn more about his work (nice flute playing, too). We were going to stick around for the New Weird panel but a) Ginjer Buchanan wasn’t there and b) there was the Art Show Reception calling (mmmm, white chocolate cookies). We ran into Catie Murphy whom I’d also met at Pi-Con and who seemed to be having a great time although suffering from a sore throat. In the art show awards had been given out and we were not at all surprised to see Bob Eggleton’s painting of Teddy Roosevelt with a Martian had won a purple ribbon. I finally got to meet the woman whose enamels I had so admired and had finally made up my mind to splurge on one, when I turned back to see someone else pointing to it and taking it out of the case to try on. Argh! Well, I left my card for the next time she casts a similar piece. Exhausted, we headed back to chez Crispinus for a relatively early night.


What better way to start the day than potato scones? Mmm! Off to the convention center again, I caught the Taboos in Fantasy panel with John Grant, Tom Doherty, Lucienne Diver, Steven Erikson and the always entertaining Sharyn November of Firebird Books. The long and short of it: taboos change and taboos get broken, but new ones always seem to form. Among the stories Sharyn told was coming across a line of Christian YA novels with pretty good covers, so she was tempted to buy the first one and read it, although, she commented, “I’m still Jewish.”

Right after that was the ghost story panel with Ramsey Campbell, Jane Yolen, Toni Kellner, James Maxey and Julianne Lee. It was a fun discussion and I can’t really reconstruct the free-floating conversation which led to Ramsey saying to Jane, “You can jump me any time,” and Jane retorting that it was the best offer she had had in a long time. Okay, so they had been talking about the differences between telling a story and reading one, and the unlikelihood of hiring someone to jump out at a reader (although the possibilities of GPS technology were discussed), but it’s funnier without that explanation. One misheard title gave me an idea for a story, so we’ll see if that develops.

I headed over to hear Esther Friesner’s short story “The Really Big Sleep,” an hilarious pastiche of Lovecraft, film noir and Vassar-bashing full of her trademark humor which had the audience chuckling right up to the final pun (d’oh!). I stopped by the dealer room to buy a copy of Scream for Jeeves, the Lovecraft/Wodehouse mash-up, but the seller ran away just as I walked up (I don’t think I looked that scary) so no go on that. One more trip to domus Crispinus, a leftover chili lunch (mmmm!), and a quick game of Boggle ("yearnette?!"), then we were on our way home once more – where I discovered that I had left the papers I needed to grade on campus. I’m sure it wasn’t a subconscious desire to avoid work, surely not. Looks like an early morning tomorrow – and a long day: there’s a meeting of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild tomorrow night.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Whirling toward World Fantasy

Non-stop craziness! Yesterday was a day of printing up multiple copies of three different plays for various submissions before running off to our lovely anniversary dinner. I just hope I got the right version in the right envelopes. There's one full-length play and two ten-minute ones; the latter are an easier way to get a foot in the door. The full-length play is Fiasco, which you can download and read (link at the right). The two short plays were written last June in London. They're both somewhat influenced by Beckett and Cook, so who knows what anyone else will think of them. They're the first two parts of a trilogy, so who knows what the third will look like? I'm reading a bio of Spike Milligan at present, so perhaps the answer lies there.

Off to World Fantasy in Saratoga tonight after teaching. The difficult thing will be to figure out how to choose between the embarrassment of riches. With luck we'll be catching up with a bunch of friends and seeing writers and artists we greatly admire. Best of all, we'll be staying with the Crispinus clan.

I'll probably bring my computer because I'm starting chapter 7 (of a projected 13) of the new novel and I can't be away from it for too long. As John Irving wrote, "You have to get obsessed and stay obsessed." True enough.

Thanks to all who wished us kindly thoughts for our anniversary! Much appreciated.