Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Meme

From Shaken & Stirred, I've learned of an end of the year meme--memes being questionnaires or activities (or other units of cultural transmission) passed along from blog to blog--in which a blog reprints the first sentences from the first posts of each month.

Welcome to the Yalobusha Review blog, a place to check back for YR updates, literary oddities, and the occasional rant, or song of praise, from the editors about whatever it is that editors get excited about. What a day yesterday. The World Fantasy Awards have been announced over at Science Fiction Awards Watch. Hello, readers, it has been far too long.

It is a short paragraph of first sentences this year, this year being the first year in which this blog existed. Next year, hopefully, will see many more sentences. Sentences are such lovely things, after all, quite capable of being as alluring and terrifying as any Cylon female*.

Happy Sunday-That-Was, readers.

*Battlestar Galactica's last ten episodes begin airing January 16th, and at the moment, I'm experiencing the peculiar sort of anticipation and dread which accompanies the ends of most of my favorite stories. As such, the occasional frak or Adama reference, may filter into this blog over the coming weeks. So say we all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Home for the Holidays

Hello, readers. It's December 20th, and this little blogger has gone whee, whee, whee, all the way home. The wonderful thing about home is that there's cookies. The sad thing is that there's no broadband. As such, posts may be scarce, but they will still be heartfelt.

For example, my heart longs sometimes for Dickens, and at the BBC, there's a game called the "Dickens Game," in which players can pick pockets and dodge urchins. I've not actually played the game myself, due to the dial-up situation, but in my imagination it's delightfully Dickensian.

The Wall Street Journal has a list of books on the evolution of Christmas and it's traditions. Topping their list, The Man Who Invented Christmas, which is about Dickens and the ways in which his life informed The Christmas Carol. Also, there's a book or two about the legend of Santa Claus and how a drunken holiday got tamed into a quiet family affair.

Goodnight from the slow lane, readers. I'm going to eat a cookie.

Have a happy weekend.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday Links, or This Is Where We Live

Hello, readers. Here are things you can read about on the internet.

Annie Leibowitz lists the 15 photography books that most influenced her.

Maud Newton also lists things, in this case her favorite readings of the past year. She hopes you'll buy them as a means of bailing out troubled bookstores.

Speaking of trouble, the publishing industry is having problems with not firing people, serious problems.

NPR has a small bit on some of the best volumes of collected correspondence written by literary types. Some of these correspondences are actual, such as Words in Air, the letters of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, and some are not, such as Dear American Airlines, which is a work of fiction written in the epistolary style.

The Lady's Murder is a sexy, cool graphic short story written and illustrated by Eliza Frye. It reminded me, for some odd reason, of Aeon Flux. It is perhaps NSFW, being as there's some silhouetted murder and occasional nudity. You can read it at Narrative Magazine, though, if you sign up for a free account and are okay with that sort of thing.

Christopher Barzak has a new book with fox maidens and suicides clubs. It's called The Love We Share Without Knowing. Here's a review.

Ever wondered what a city made out of book covers would look like? Wonder no more. Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins, has produced this stop-motion walk through a town of Corrections, Diving Bells, and Butterflies. It's slightly whimsical, a touch sublime, and wholly awesome.

Also, Mr. T has a comic book.


Friday, December 12, 2008

There Was No Way I Wasn't Going to Post This

But in other more serious news, there's a new literary magazine being born and it is called Kitty Snacks.

Also, here's a discussion of David Foster Wallace's unpublished undergrad thesis in which he deconstructs Fatalism, at least Fatalism as proposed by one Richard Taylor (not WETA Richard Taylor mind you, but a fatalistic Richard Taylor with far more bees and far less ability to conjure Orcs and Oliphaunts). It turns out that fatalist Richard Taylor was an internationally known bee collector.

Listen and watch an audio slide-show of writers' rooms.

Read about James Wood's angled modifiers( such as "royal fatalism"), his unfortunate bias towards realism, and why it'd be nice if critics sometimes criticized in the old ways of Edmund Wilson or Elizabeth Hardwick, i.e., thought about the worldly and human context of literature instead of "treat[ing] the novelistic canon like one giant Keatsian urn, a self-sufficient aesthetic artifact removed from commerce with the dirty, human world."

If you ever wondered what would happen if Buffy Summers met Edward from Twilight, now you can find out. [via Shaken & Stirred]

Have a sparkly weekend, readers.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Writerly Reading Habits

Generally, successful writers make reading a part of their routines. Several blogs and websites have lists of what books writers have enjoyed this past year. Here are two:

The Millions updates each day with a new list from a writer. So far, Charles D'Ambrosio has raved about Jonathan Ames' somewhat autobiographical graphic novel, The Alcoholic. Nam Lee re-realized how awesome Beloved is. And writer of horror, Peter Straub, wondered, When Will There Be Good News?

SF Signal has writers discussing their favorite genre discoveries. Here you'll find Jokers and Wastelands, Fables and Peanuts, a few Well-Built Cities, and the occasionally tragic Ghost in Love.

Happy Thursday, readers and writers. Be well. Do good work. Try to make a routine of it. It really does help.

Writerly Routines

The Schedule of One Benjamin Franklin

Are you a writer? Do you have a routine? Benjamin Franklin and the government of Oceania both advocated that slavery and freedom were not so oxymoronic as one might suspect. I myself have found that a rather absurd level of self-imposed discipline broken up by occasional bouts of whimsy works best, which is to say that generally I wake and write and read during the same times each day unless something remarkable happens like an Arrested Development marathon on G4*.

io9 has posted the routines of science fiction writers. Kingsley Amis discusses pajamas and nicotine and drinking tea until the bars open up at 6. He finds afternoons to be a dreadful time to do anything. Haruki Murakami believes that his routine is perhaps as important as the writing itself. Repetition mesmerizes him into a deeper state of mind.

For more writerly routines, make a habit (oh, humor, you rascal) of visiting daily routines, a repository of how people more famous than you organize their days.

*This isn't entirely true. It's a complete lie in fact. I only ever watch Arrested Development marathons on holidays, such as this past Thanksgiving. Or the Christmas before that. Or the Thanksgiving before that. You might call it a rou--(oh, enough of that already).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Strange and Sometimes Wonderful World

In the wonderful news department, in my searching of web content related to the previously mentioned contest finalists, I ran across, "Creative Writing for Extraterrestrials." At the University of Wyoming, it seems, there's a class in which students ponder different ways of introducing humanity to extraterrestrials. It's called Interstellar Message Composition. The cosmically inclined Professor, a man named Lockwood, drives his students to come up with new ways of expressing what it means to be human. One student sculpted an alien cellphone. Another, a four word poem about birth. Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela, Barry Hannah Contest finalist, summed up the experience saying, "Birth came up a lot, death came up a lot. We found out what's left when you take away all the minor stuff."

Bart Parodies NirvanaIn other strange, but perhaps less wonderful news, an Australian judge has ruled that possession of an illicit Simpsons illustration--in which some creative ne'er-do-well has depicted Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, knowing each other in the biblical sense--is equivalent to possession of child pornography. The article quotes the Judge as saying, "If the persons were real, such depictions could never be permitted. Their creation would constitute crimes at the very highest end of the criminal calendar." He goes on to say that "the mere fact that they were not realistic representations of human beings did not mean that they could not be considered people."

So, erm, does this mean that Homer Simpson has the right to vote in Australia?

If you're thinking that sounds rather silly and makes the kind of sense that doesn't, then you'll probably agree with Neil Gaiman, who said, "The ability to distinguish between fiction and reality is, I think, an important indicator of sanity, perhaps the most important. And it looks like the Australian legal system has failed on that score."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Barry Hannah and Yellowwood Contest Results

What with the 2009 issue going off to the print people today, it seemed a good time to take a moment and congratulate the winners and finalists for the 2009 Barry Hannah Fiction and Yellowwood Poetry contests.

Here are those lucky talented writers:

Barry Hannah Contest
Judge: Padgett Powell



Yellowwood Contest
Judge: Ann Fisher-Wirth


  • "Late" by Heather Cousins
  • "Lines for a Thirtieth Birthday" by Mark Wagenaar
  • "Step-Brother" by David A. Moody
  • "The Agency of Trust" by Katrin Talbot
  • "Something Happens to a Place" by Raegen Pietrucha
  • "Autumn" by Sara Fetherolf-Lier
  • "Hearing the Listeners" by Terri McCord

Congratulations to all, and thank you to everyone who submitted. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for profiles of some of the contributors who will be featured in the upcoming issue, which should hit reality in February 2009.

Monday, December 8, 2008

On Magazines and Presses

Hello, readers. It's Monday and there's a small rabbit next to my monitor who's whispering secrets. I would tell you what he's saying, but it's a secret.

It has to do with turnips and velcro.

Also, for those of you interested in the world of literary magazines and small presses, here's a couple of cool links.

Gavin J. Grant, editor at Small Beer Press and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and also a co-editor of the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, talks at length with Bibliophile about matters of editing and publishing, including the money to love ratio of small presses and the impact of internet things like podcasting and the creative commons license. Chocolate gets a brief mention as well. Gavin loves the Maya Gold from Green and Black.

Elsewhere, a tweet from largeheartedboy led me to Perpetual Folly and their 2009 Puschart Prize Rankings. The site is run by one Clifford Garstang, who every year scores literary magazines based on the number of Pushcarts or Special Mentions in Fiction they have received since 2000.

Here's the top 5 (hit the link for the rest).

1) Ploughshares 118
2) Zoetrope: All Story 75
3) Conjunctions 71
4) Paris Review 67
4) Southern Review 67

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Laura Miller: Lover of Narnia, Culler of Libraries, Possible Eater of Cheerios

Laura Miller writes for Salon, among other places, about television and books and such. She came to my attention as an early supporter of Buffy and it's importance to the universe. I've also run across her blurbs on books by Kelly Link. But I've never really had any idea about her. In my mind, I suppose, she has always seemed like a fairly young woman who might wear hip, but not trendy glasses and who might also eat cheerios from the box while reading Charles Dickens and watching Battlestar Galactica. I suppose I have a fairly high opinion of her abilities.

Today, I ran across two Laura Miller things. Thing one was this excerpt in the Wall Street Journal from her new book, The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia. It's a memoir/literary critique/treatise on reading and wonder and childhood and what happens when you grow up. It revolves around Ms. Miller's encounters with C.S. Lewis and Narnia.

The excerpt from the first chapter tells of a Wilanne Belden who loved The Hobbit as a child, of how thirty years later she placed the first chronicle of Narnia in the hands of a young and impressionable Laura Miller, and of how much that book, and that series, has meant to her and countless others. She cites Neil Gaiman (who seems to keep popping up in this blog, perhaps because I'm reading Sandman) as saying that, "I would read other books, of course, but in my heart I knew that I read them only because there wasn't an infinite number of Narnia books." In thinking of young Wilanne's passion for Middle Earth, Ms. Miller questions whether "children who prefer books set in the real, ordinary, workaday world ever read as obsessively as those who would much rather be transported into other worlds entirely?"

It's wonderful reading and it reminded me of being in my own school library. I'm not sure of my librarian's name, though Mrs. Brown comes to mind, but I remember her directing me to Madeleine L'Engle and Jean Craig-Head George, and eventually and with much glee, to Douglas Adams. And I remember believing in those stories as true. Not true in any sort of metaphorical sense, but true on some deeper level. As though they were, as Gaiman describes Narnia, "reports from a real place."

There is something special about those first worlds we disappear into as children. And maybe there's something unique about those of us who crave stories of worlds entirely different from our own. I don't know. It's quite possible that children who read books about the real world experience a similar visceral thrill, or maybe it's just that those children are given the wrong books. In any case, I hope that some amount of that wonder and surrender which I experienced as a child will remain with me. I hope that every book I read might be the book that changes my life.

I said there were two things, and this was true. In an essay on the New York Times website, Ms. Miller writes of culling her library--of figuring out, in the great number of books she has collected over the years which are the ones she needs to cling to, and which are the ones she can do without. It's a topic near and dear to my heart. I've experienced very recently someone going through the same process, and I myself, will be going through it once I move from Oxford to points abroad. Books are heavy things and they do not travel easily. Except, of course, for the ones that exist securely and intangibly within your imagination. In which case, perhaps, it's not all that necessary to carry their glue-bound pages with you.

Forgive the contemplative tone, readers. It's Saturday and we all know how Saturdays are. I realize I haven't really ever answered the question of who Laura Miller actually is. Does she, in fact, even like Cheerios? I began this blog post with the idea that I would, here at the end, insert some warm and funny truths which I had discovered about Ms. Miller. But now it seems much more appropriate to leave her, and her eating and watching habits, to the imagination. At least, that is, until one reads The Magician's Book.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday Gift Ideas

It's the holiday season, and this means that many, many websites will be bombarding you with gift suggestions on which you can spend all the money that you had previously been saving for frivolous things such as gas or food for the kids.

Here's a few:

Bookpassage breaks books into nine or so categories, including the somewhat indecisively constructed "Art, Architecture, Photogarphy, Fashion, & Travel" category.

Borders Wonderland of Perfect Gifts, which besides breaking gifts into a number of categories slightly less than infinity, also plays music while you browse.

Comic Books Resources is the place to go for people who like books with pictures. According to them, " the best, ultimate, and most achingly brilliant gift one human could possibly bestow unto another during this most festive of seasons."

The Barnes and Noble Book Review, in a matter not entirely related, but somewhat so, has asked many famous writers, like Neil Gaiman and Jamie Lee Curtis, to name their three favorite books and write a sentence or two about them. It's possible they do this in other months besides December, but this still seems a pretty foolproof place from which to steal gift ideas. After all, if your young son loves Anne Rice, for example, you could get him a book from Anne Rice's favorites and if he didn't like it, you could say. "Well, it's what Anne Rice likes. Are you saying that your favorite writer Anne Rice doesn't know a good book when she sees one?"

Happy reading, readers. Remember that the very best gift you can give to a friend or loved one this season is a hug. Or possibly a time machine so that they can go to the future and get January's winning powerball numbers.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

On Books, Lists of Books, and Also John Hodgman

There's been another salvo fired in the war over whether books as we know them are dying. In an Op-Ed column for the New York Times, James Gleick writes about why he sees the physical book as surviving the coming digitization of everything. "As a technology, the book is like a hammer. That is to say, it is perfect: a tool ideally suited to its task. Hammers can be tweaked and varied but will never go obsolete... It is significant that one says book lover and music lover and art lover but not record lover or CD lover or, conversely, text lover." [Via Shaken & Stirred]

Also, if you love lists, especially end of year best books lists, then largeheartedboy has just the thing to fill your time this holiday season. In an impressive bit of scouring, he's compiled a collection of dozens upon dozens of end of year best lists, ranging from such obvious stalwarts as or the New York Times, to the St. John's Telegram list of "best Canadian cookbooks."

And in more information than you require news , check out this interview at the New Yorker with John Hodgman about, among other things, his new book, More Information Than You Require.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

We're Back And Sillier Than Ever

Hello, readers, it has been far too long. How have you been? Things have been busy here, what with visiting home for Thanksgiving and wrapping up our new issue of the YR, plus, you know, the normal end of year school stuff. It's become clear, though, that the more or less every other dailyness of collating and commenting on interweb materials is a rather rewarding activity. One to be abandoned at much risk. Which is to say that when you find something you love doing, don't stop doing it, unless what you love doing is sprinkling dead people's ashes at the Jane Austen Museum, in which case, the museum curators politely ask that you please refrain from said activity.

Apparently, in the same manner that sailing enthusiasts might want their remains scattered off Puget Sound, it turns out that die-hard Jane Austen enthusiasts often ask to have their ashes dumped in the garden of the Jane Austen Museum. More and more of late, mounds of human ash have been discovered about the grounds by staff and gardeners, as well as some visitors, who have been known to remark, "Verily, I was much disconcerted." The staff themselves, though, seem to take a more practical stance towards the bits of dead people left on their garden, saying "[i]f it enriched the soil we wouldn't mind so much but the ashes have no nutrients at all." [via Maud]

In other somewhat absurd news, Shaken & Stirred put up a link today to a weird little add-on for Firefox. It's called Tumbarumba and it proposes to insert sentences from stories into your web pages as you view them. If you discover the sentence and click on it, then a whole story will spring to life in your browser. I've yet to try it, mainly because I'm on a public computer at the moment, but the whole thing sounds a little strange and pointless and therefore wonderful.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Things, Also More Things

Thing Number One: Chinua Achebe, author of the generally considered masterpiece, Things Fall Part, stops by Harvard and proceeds to be wise and funny and name drop Queen Elizabeth II.

Thing Number Two: Proof that, however awesome you thought Nathan Fillion was, you underestimated. He took part in an all-star read-a-thon celebrating the release of Andrew Porter's The Theory of Light and Matter.

Thing Number Three: Jonathan Lethem reads from Whitman and The Fortress of Solitude, then does some Q&A. All part of his being the inaugural speaker for the Walt Whitman series at St. Francis College.

Thing Number Four: Somewhat depressing quotes from high schoolers discussing the non-literatureness of graphic novels.

Thing Number Last: Over at the New Scientist they've got an article on the old: is science fiction dying/dead/evolved into a bird from it's previous dinosaur incarnation question. It's a tiresome question, true, one equivalent to asking if romance is dead, but the article includes good stuff about the nature of science and fiction in the past two centuries, and it puts the question itself in perspective by bringing up Lord Kelvin's bold, if somewhat ill-considered, statement in 1900 that, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Zombies Versus Unicorns, Part Deux

In an earlier post, we reported on the ongoing feud between zombies and unicorns, but recently things have gotten out of hand. What was once a small skirmish restrained within the civilized and intangible discourse of blog posts and YouTube videos, has now escalated into book form with the announcement of the upcoming anthology, Zombies Versus Unicorns, edited by Justine Larbalestier (pro-zombie) and Holly Black (pro-unicorn). The collection will be published in 2010 and feature about half zombie stories and half unicorn stories, plus one story in which the supernatural competitors battle it out AVP style***. According to Ms. Larbalestier, the line-up of writers is composed of "more best-sellers, award winners, and all-round geniuses than you can poke a stick at."

It's all enough to make one wonder if, perhaps, this long-running feud on the interweb wasn't a very clever bit of advertising. But then again, it's not all that hard to imagine such arguments taking place as I know my friends and I have argued over similar matters, such as the great Ninja Vs. Robot feud of '98 which resulted in the loss of a good friend's ear. In any case, I'm excited about this anthology. Despite i09's concerns over the difficulty of "keep[ing] zombies fresh" (oh, the beauty of unintentional puns) or the lack of unicorns in contemporary science fiction or urban fantasy, it seems to me that there are plenty of cool metaphorical and narrative possibilities out there for aspiring writers. Nazi snow zombies in Norway, anyone?

***Two things of note. One, I've never actually seen AVP. Two, I have no idea if such a story exists, or will ever exist. But wouldn't it be cool?

National Book Awards Announced

I've been busy, the blog's been somewhat abandoned, but now that's all behind us, and we can celebrate by reporting that the winners have been announced for the National Book Award.

Fiction: Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen

Nonfiction: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed

Poetry: Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems by Mark Doty

Young People's Literature: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

If by some chance you missed the ceremony, you can wait for the videos to be uploaded here, or you can read the National Book Award's twitter feed and use your imagination.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hello Weekend

How was your week, readers? Mine was fine except for that brief moment where I was terrified that my life had no purpose. I should know better than to watch Heroes after midnight.

Here's things:

The always enlightening and entertaining Sarah Vowell, possible imp and definite author of such books as Assasination Vacation and The Wordy Shipmates, has written a wonderful introduction for Nick Hornby's latest and last collection of Believer essays. Everyone who doesn't hate laughing should read it.

Smart advice for writers from Mathew Cheney. Included: the secret that there is no secret plus several good quotes, including, "Read. Find out what you truly believe. Distance yourself from the familiar."

Seth and Chester Brown have sent an open letter to the Governor General's Literary Award regarding the shortlisting of the graphic novel Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. While happy to see the work on the list, Seth and Chester wonder why only the writer, Mariko Tamaki, is recognized, considering that one of the defining characteristics of graphic novels is that the "words and pictures together are the TEXT."

Finally, in one of the more inspired bits of literary lunacy I've seen in a long while, Stephen Colbert mashes up Jane Austen and baseball in his latest segment of Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger (Austen shenanigans begin around the 1:40 mark). Be advised, though, this video contains strong punnage.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Of China Rabbits and Adventurous Chickens...

Kate DiCamillo writes children's books, and she writes them well. For example, The Tale of Desperaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, not only has an unstoppably whimsical title, but it also won for DiCamillo the 2004 Newberry Medal. Other of her books include Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tiger Rising, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which as it turns out, from my experience anyway, just so happens to be one of the very best presents you can give to someone if you desire them to spend an entire Saturday in bed, crying. Her latest is Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken, and the Canadian Press has a very nice article about Kate and the "terrible dark decade" of her twenties, relocating to Florida from Minneapolis, and the importance of simple, yet profound language.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Poetry Instead

Readers, the deadline for us Yalobushers to go to press approaches. November 20th. Ten days, and then it's out of our hands, quite literally. Funny how close literally comes to literarily. Almost makes one want to check the epistemology, but we'll leave such matters to another time.

Yesterday, on To the Best of Our Knowledge, many poets who write poems, along with at least one who, along with poeting, spends a great deal of time writing about poetry, stopped by. Guests included Patricia Smith, author of Blood Dazzler, nominee for the 2008 National Book Award. She read a poem or two, one of which took on the persona of a skinhead and did dazzle with it's brutal sort of empathy. She's a four-time champion of the National Poetry Slam, and there's something of the way she becomes the skinhead as she reads that's unsettling in the best of ways. And by the power of YouTube, you can watch her perform "Skinhead" live. Be warned, there be offensive language here.

The second guest, Jay Parini, is a poet who sometimes is a scholar that publishes books like, Why Poetry Matters. In his segment, he paraphrased, I believe, Robert Frost as saying that if you don't know how to live in a metaphor, then you're not prepared for life. Chew on that one for a while, readers. Let it stick between your teeth. Be surprised when a few days later, after you've forgotten about it, something bitter and true pops out on your tongue. But seriously, such a sentiment struck a deep chord for me, one who tends to believe in metaphors the way some people believe in Tuesday.

Les Murray rounded out the guests yesterday. An Australian considered by many critics to be the greatest living English poet. In the interview, he talks about writing through depression and reads many of his poems with one of those voices that sounds like what you think a bear would sound like if it could talk and also had an Australian accent.

See you next time, true believers.

Friday, November 7, 2008

For the Weekend

Dear readers, it's Friday and it's a new world, but people still seem to die a lot.

Here's some stuff to look at this weekend.

John Leonard: editor, critic, sentence exploder, and person I've never read but may now become obsessed with, has died. Matthew Cheney at the Mumpsimus, along with Edward Champion and Salon, have written wonderful tributes.

In the young adult world, few feuds engender more passion and lost friendships than the one between zombies and unicorns. John Green has more.

Amazon has announced it's Best Books of 2008, which is funny considering, you know, there's still a couple months left, but I guess the "best of" year is kind of like the "fiscal" year in that it ends somewhere around October. Top ten lists include: Fiction and Literature, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Comic Books and Graphic Novels, Mysteries and Thrillers, and Romance, among others. It occurred to me to comment on the fact that there's one category called, "Fiction and Literature," and then a bunch of other categories, a demarcation that seems to imply that the other categories are neither fiction nor literature, but then I got lazy and decided just to comment on the thought of commenting.

Sometimes women writers choose, or are asked, to hide the fact that they don't have man parts. It's a topic this blog mentioned once before. Io9 has a list of "Women Who Pretended to be Men to Publish SciFi Books", a list which includes the likes of JK Rowling and the ever-present James Tiptree, JR. who, as it turned out, was neither a James, a Tiptree, or a Jr.

Enjoy the weekend. Say hello to a squirrel.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Book is Always Better

My sister and I read a lot growing up, and sometimes those books got made into movies, or sometimes we read the books after we saw the movies. Things like Neverending Story. Princess Bride. Dune. No matter the order in which we encountered a story, though, we had an axiom that never seemed to fail.

The book is always better.

Even if the movie adaptation has Robin Wright or Sting. Even if it's directed by Steven Spielberg, as was the case for Jurassic Park, one of those movies that gets watched almost every time I stumble across it. And yet I remember, after seeing the movie in theaters, my sister and I finishing the book by Michael Crichton, fascinated by the fractal designs at the start of each chapter and the story's discussion of the science of chaos. Our conclusion was, as always, that the book was better.

Michael Crichton died Tuesday at the age of 66. He wrote many sorts of books: historical adventures, like The Great Train Robbery or Eaters of the Dead, international thrillers, like Rising Sun, and of course, many science-y type novels in which the science inevitably seems to go awry. Books like Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain, or Sphere (talk about a book being better than the movie). Sometimes people wondered a bit at the accuracy of the science in his fiction. He wrote a book in 2004, for example, called State of Fear, in which a group of eco-terrorists attempt to create a state of fear in order to advance their agenda regarding global warming. Scientists took offense at this for some reason.

Many of Crichton's novels very often got adapted into movies, sometimes with Crichton himself directing, such as on The Great Train Robbery, and many more where he didn't. Occasionally, he directed movies he didn't write, things like Coma or Runaway, or wrote movies he didn't direct, like Twister. During Jurassic Park, on which he was a producer, he dreamed up ER with Steven Spielberg, so if you're a fan of George Clooney being awesome, you owe Mr. Crichton a thank you.

I'll start. Thank you Michael Crichton, and I promise if I ever discover the secret to reanimating the dead or cloning myself into ever-more cool iterations, I'll stop and wonder about whether maybe sometimes just because you can do something, doesn't mean that you should.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Not Totally Depressing Thing Concerning Politics

So tomorrow we do the thing where we elect a president and nobody knows what's going to happen. Will it be Obama? McCain? Alien invasion? Rogue Palin and the Alaskan revolution? For these, and other more unlikely but somewhat possible scenarios, check out Five Dials No. 4, in which writers imagine what happens on the day after the U.S. presidential election. Imagineers include, among others, Michael Martone, Lydia Millet, and Kevin Brockmeier--who puts his money on, of all people, Tom Hanks. [via Guardian]

Sunday, November 2, 2008

World Fantasy Award Winners

The World Fantasy Awards have been announced over at Science Fiction Awards Watch. Winners are as follows:

: Ysabel, Guy Gavriel Kay (Viking Canada/Penguin Roc)
: Illyria, Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing)
Short Story
: “Singing of Mount Abora”, Theodora Goss (Logorrhea, Bantam Spectra)
: Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, Ellen Datlow, Editor (Tor)
: Tiny Deaths, Robert Shearman (Comma Press)
Artist: Edward Miller
Special Award—Professional: Peter Crowther for PS Publishing
Special Award—Non-professional: Midori Snyder and Terri Windling for Endicott Studios Website

Random notes about some of the winners: Robert Shearman has written for Dr. Who and penned the surprisingly touching and reinventy episode, "Dalek," in which we got to see what sort of creature lives inside a Dalek's metal casing. Guy Gavriel Kay is Canadian. And Elizabeth Hand, winner of Best Novella, will be teaching at Clarion this summer--Clarion being a six-week science fiction and fantasy writer's workshop/boot camp that has been known to change people's lives and sometimes even their anatomies.

Check out Adventures in Reading for some commentary and thoughts on the winners and other nominees.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Novelists Writing Comic Books

In the latest Onion A.V. comics panel, there's a brief review of the new hard cover collection of Jonathan Lethem's 10-issue revival of Marvel's Omega the Unknown, a 70s comic that focused not so much on the caped Omega, as on an unusually mature twelve year old boy named James-Michael Starling. The Onion gives Lethem's take a B+ and calls it "winningly peculiar." Back in the middle of last year, Newsarama interviewed Lethem about translating his skills as a language loving novelist to the predominantly visual form of comics. One of Lethem's more important realizations? Comic book panels don't hold all that many words.

If you're wondering if other novelists and literary types have swung their way into comic books, the answer is yes they have, and their number is many. Some you might expect, like Michael Chabon, writer of the very pulpy and comic-centric, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, and some you might not, like Ian Rankin, the Scottish crime writer best known for his Inspector Rebus novels. His debut graphic novel, a Hellblazer story, Dark Entries, hits next year. For more examples and discussion, check out these articles from the New York Times, Newsday, and the London Times.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday Links

Hello, dear readers. It's Monday and suddenly very cold everywhere. Here's a few things to look at and play with during this Halloween week.

The Global Network of Dreams: More evidence of the impending, "technological singularity," that point at which Sky Net goes online and Linda Hamilton becomes an action-star, this website, acronymed "gnod"--which comes suspiciously close to "god"--is a self-adapting system that allows you to map your favorite authors and movies. For example, go here, type in G.K. Chesteron, and whole constellations of authors will explode from his name and you'll see that Louise de Wohl hangs near Chesterton's corner of the literary sky. It's a nifty way to find other authors you might like, plus it's just cool to watch.

If you're in need of something to scare the kiddies, never fear, there's not one, but two new articles of "macabre" and "spine-tingling" book recommendations for children and young adults. From across the pond, there's Amanda Craig writing in The Times about such writers as Vivian French and Korky Paul, and closer to home, in The Seattle Times, there's Stephanie Dunnewind writing about Kevin Emerson and Rosemary Clement-Moore, among others. Both articles make mention of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, which, if I haven't mentioned it before, you can watch Gaiman read at the Mouse Circus.

And finally, a battle with wizards, goblins, and a sprinkle of fairy dust on the one side, and atheist extraordinaire Richard Dawkins on the other. Apparently, our Mr. Dawkins wonders of the negative effect of "anti-scientific" fairy tales. Perhaps he's never heard of that mathematical story of Jack and the Beanstalk, which, if I remember correctly, taught children about the relative economic scales of magic beans and cows.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Remembering Ted Hughes

My familiarity with Ted Hughes springs mainly from his having written in 1968 the children's story The Iron Man, upon which Andrew Bird's brilliant 1999 animated film, The Iron Giant, was based. But the man, of course, did many other things throughout his life, including writing the sort of poetry that garnered him a place among the best poets of his generation, serving as the British Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death, writing many other children's books, and also being married to Sylvia Plath.

He died of heart failure on October 28th, 1998. In West Yorkshire this week, the Elmet Trust celebrates his life with the Ted Hughes Festival, an annual event held in Hughes' possibly made-up hometown of Mytholmroyd. This year's festival will see the debut of, Dreaming of Foxes, a play based on Ted Hughes' childhood. Other events around the UK include readings of his work in London by Seamus Heaney, Alice Oswald, and Simon Armitage, and on November 6, the University of Exeter hosts "The Artist and the Poet", a sound recording, set to images, of Hughes' 1988 conversation with the artist Leonard Baskin.

If, like me, you don't happen to be currently residing in Britain, there's always YouTube tributes like this one--which includes interview excerpts, discussion amongst critics, and a reading from The Iron Man--to get you in the spirit.

Friday, October 24, 2008

In Praise of Interviews...

Remember in Catcher in the Rye when Holden said a really good book made you wish that as soon as you had finished it that you could call up the author and chat with them? Well, that's sort of what authors interviews are like except generally you aren't the one asking the questions or having that charge of personal connection. Still, there's always the chance of feeling that muted charge of indirect connection upon recognizing yourself in an author as they talk about their loves and hates and general feelings concerning the world and how best to live in it.

Several options exist on the internet for your Q&A needs, you have your print kind, your podcast kind, your video kind, and your overheard at an event kind, which can be sometimes read, listened to, and/or watched.

Falling in the overheard category, over at Elegant Variation, they've posted the highlights of Marilynne Robinson's appearance at the Los Angeles Public Library's ALOUD program. The author of Housekeeping (that would be the book, not the magazine), Gilead, and Home, talks about her love of sermons and her lesser love for plots and James Joyce.

Meanwhile Hannah Tinti talks with Maud Newton about her new book, The Good Thief, and her appreciation for plot and things happening in stories, and Kelly Link, resident of Northampton, MA, talks with the New England journal, Meeting Houses, about her book, Pretty Monsters, and having faith that one day you'll discover your superpower. The topic of burial grounds come up in both.

If you like your interviews of a more auditory nature, check out the Bat Segundo show and their archives of podcast interviews with authors from all over the literary map, from Andre Dubus III to Thomas Disch. Their most recent interview just happens to be with Marilynne Robinson. Other cool places to go for podcastic interviews: Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing, for, well, you can probably guess, or listen to the amazing archive of Don Swaim interviews at Wired for Books, which aren't really podcasts, but they are of the listenable sort.

For video interviews, there's the Google, and their Authors@Google series featuring presidential candidates, neurologists, and rocket scientists alongside Salman Rushdies, Elizabeth Gilberts, and Leslie Changs. If Google's not your style, there's bookwrapcentral, and their own rather staggering list of present and past interviews to watch and awe at.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New Fiction Tuesday

Sometimes it's nice to pause and look around at what's hitting the bookshelves, so, in a completely arbitrary and slightly whimsical manner, here's some books that look interesting:

First up, a new novel from Geoff Ryman, writer of fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, and the occasional Wizard of Oz-ical fiction. His new book, The King's Last Song, is a historical novel set in Cambodia. In my experience, Ryman's writing possessess a certain humane ruthlessness, a trait I would imagine well-suited to the subject of this book. It's gotten some rather ecstatic press from The Boston Globe.

Recently reviewed in The New York Times Books Review, but actually not all that recently released, are outings from Los Bros. Hernandez, better known as graphic novelists, Jamie and Gilbert Hernandez. Jamie's graphic novel, The Education of Hopey Glass, continues in his particular brand of compassionate cynicism, the sort of book that has a forty-year old aging punk rocker, the titular Hopey, trying on glasses for the first time, along with a bit of hopeless love and murder on the side. Also, last month saw the release of a new collection of the brothers work in the Love and Rockets series. Rolling Stone calls the comics "American fiction's best kept secret."

Also, a new edition of the first Twilight book will be, erm, resurrected, on October 28th. I can't say as I've ever read these books, but I did at one time have the book on a shelf in my apartment before lending it to an interested friend (pssst. our resident managing editor has a taste for the pop-lit). But, what I have read is this list of Some things Twilight says are awesome but they are not awesome at all, which I found by way of Shaken and Stirred. It's awesome.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Philip Pullman's Birthday

Philip Pullman, scholar, humanist, supposed killer of God, a deep admirer of polar bears, and the author of the sometimes controversial, but deeply considered and spiritual, His Dark Materials trilogy, (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) was born on this day in 1946.

Here's what he says about things:

"We don't need lists of rights and wrongs, tables of do's and don'ts. We need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but once upon a time lives forever."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Strange Mash-ups of the Literary Sort

Sometimes strange combinations set our brain on fire. Take for example, the new book by Leonard Cassuto, Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Fiction. Cassuto makes the argument here that the oh so manly cynical gumshoes of the past hundred years or so--Marlowe, Spade, Archer--can be traced back to the oh so quiet but angry women of the nineteenth century sentimental novel. Both, it seems, are in search of home and domesticity in a society that's failed them. Sarah Weinman has a nice look at the book over at the LA Times.

And in a very direct bit of hard-boiled sentimentality, check out an excerpt from "The Pooh Also Rises," by Alan Coren, a brilliant and, sadly deceased, humorist for the Times. As you might guess from the name, it's a mash-up of sorts between A.A. Milne's Pooh characters and the prose stylings of Ernest Hemingway.

‘Do you hear the guns?' said Pooh.

‘Yes,' said Piglet. ‘I hear the guns.'

Is your brain burning, yet?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

National Book Awards, plus a thing or two about Civil War Generals and Science Fiction

Yesterday morning, the National Book Award finalists were announced. If you need another reminder of how sad everything is all the time, check out the non-fiction category which features such uplifting entrants as This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War and The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order.

Speaking of the Civil War, November 26th sees the release of a graphic novel about a Civil War general from Arkansas named Patrick Cleburne, named simply enough, Cleburne: A Graphic Novel. The tag line: "some stories have yet to be told." Interesting story not told about Mr. Cleburne, he wanted to free the slaves to fight for the Confederacy.

Fantasy and Science Fiction has a pretty cool article up about the role of gender in science fiction, both in terms of readers and writers. Did you know that in 1969 Playboy attributed an Ursula K. LeGuin story to a U.K. LeGuin? It's common practice for some women to use their initials to avoid the supposed marketing dangers of being recognized as a woman, but for a magazine to do it of it's own accord? Good brain firing stuff here, especially the responses to a questionnaire on gender and sci-fi sent to fifteen or so women working in the business. Also, if you've never heard of The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, now's a good time to listen.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dennis Lehane Reading

Last night, Dennis Lehane, author of such moral tangle boxes as Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, stopped by Off-Square Books to sign and read from his latest novel, The Given Day. Born and raised in Boston, Lehane's made his mark exploring that city's people and politics with a wicked good ear for dialogue and a compassionate sort of ruthlessness that doesn't flinch from ethical impossibilities that twist a reader's gut. The Given Day follows in that tradition, telling a story of social and political upheaval set, for the most part, in Boston at the end of the first World War: a time when the Spanish flu raged and the police in Boston went on strike, a time Lehane described at the reading as a moment when "power and fear" joined together and resulted in a police state, as that combination always does.

The chapter he read focused on a character named Luther, a character that Lehane felt overlooked in many reviews, and one he thought deserved a little more exposure considering he appeared in about half the book. Here we see Luther in Tulsa, before coming to Boston, as he learns to run numbers for Deacon, a wheelchair bound gangster with a surprisingly good singing voice. Luther's introduction to the world of lawlessness, of that little bit of crime that lets you feel the law doesn't own you, becomes our introduction as readers to the world and it's people. The chapter had a rollicking feel, Luther hitting the streets and poolhalls, other characters flashing by, speaking themselves to life and fading, as Luther gets immersed in the culture and learns that some people skim a bit for themselves, who's gonna know? God? The Deacon ain't god...

As outstanding as Lehane's reading was--and it's pretty cool to watch an author's face take on the personality of his characters--his Q&A managed to be outstanding-er. Highlights include:

When asked if he liked historical writing, he said that he'd noticed in his last two books he keeps going back further and further to the past. "When I try to write in the present right now," he said, "I just freeze. Feels like if I wrote a present day novel it'd be 600 pages of 'Indict, Dick Cheney,' 'Indict Dick Cheney,' and that'd be boring to write and boring. It'd be a polemic. I'm a oblique writer," he said. "I don't write autobiographical stuff."

A story about the first time he heard the letter 'r' pronounced--a cah accident on his street which he and a buddy visited and so overheard a blonde woman talking about what happened to her car. That stuck with them all day. They kept saying it to themselves, "car?", "car?", in a sophisticated sort of accent, "Did you come by car?", "Is that your car sir?"

The admission that despite his doubts over whether one could really fall in love with research, it was in fact very possible, and he had found himself near the end of a solid year of reading about 1919, asking himself if he really needed another book about Woodrow Wilson. "If there's a Trivial Pursuit game about 1919 I'd get all the little triangles and make it to the center first."

Worst part of writing about 1919? No evidence of a certain beloved curse word until 1955 or so.

The toughest question though concerned baseball. Upon being asked who he was rooting for in the Boston/Tampa playoff series--Lehane's been living in St. Petersburg for the last several years--he displayed a sort of sports fan schizophrenia, acknowledging that as of late he'd been a closet Rays fan, and now in the playoff series he found himself cheering both on, quietly. "Boston has a thing for David and Goliath stories," he said, "It's who we are, and now we're Goliath and I don't know what to do, I just don't."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What It Is: Lynda Barry Interview

Happy news, readers! Cartoonist, novelist, playwright, and friend to collages everywhere, Lynda Barry, has agreed to an interview for the forthcoming issue of The Yalobusha Review. She's the creator behind dozens and dozens of comic strips which, in the eighties, gained her a cult following and led to the occasional appearance on "Late Night With David Letterman." Strips of her syndicated comic, Ernie Pook's Comeek, have appeared on Salon and been collected in, The Freddy Stories and The Greatest of Marlys. She's also the author of several sorts of books. The kind with pictures, like Cruddy, named one of the top ten books of the year by EW in 2000, or The Good Times Are Killing Me, winner of the Washington Governor's Writing Award, and the kind with more pictures, the "autobifictionalographic" One Hundred Demons, for example, or the combination memoir/activity book/storytelling manual/all-around paen to images, What It Is.

Lynda Barry allows her characters and drawings to be squiggly and frantic and vulnerable. Her stories are silly and serious, funny and resonant. But you don't have to take my word for it, listen to what these people say:

EW called her "America’s leading cartoon artist of childhood angst." From the San Francisco Chronicle: "Barry is not just a storyteller, she’s an evangelist who urges people to pick up a pen—or a brush . . . and look at their own lives with fresh, forgiving eyes.” And Dave Eggers, writing in the New York Times Book Review, said, "Lynda Barry has no peer," and in discussing her work, "we're approaching a word not commonly employed when talking of cartoons, oeuvre." Cartoonist as auteur, indeed.

Check out other reviews and examples of Lynda's work at Salon. Head over to myspace and learn about Lynda's traveling workshop, Writing the Unthinkable. Learn how to draw. Have fun.