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.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Long, Strange Week In Which The Best American Short Stories Came Out, Among Other Things

This will be a week long remembered. It has seen the deadline come and go for the Barry Hannah and Yellowwood Poetry contests, and it will soon see the end of many sleepless nights spent combing through manuscripts for those finalists to send on to the judges.

Also, the latest edition of The Best American Short Stories rolled out on October 8th, which seemed strange to me, as I remember seeing it in bookstores a month ago. Perhaps somebody cheated, or perhaps the space-time continuum experienced a brief tear. That might explain why everybody's acting of late like the world's about to end. Contributors this year include T.C. Boyle, Karen Russell, and Kevin Brockmeier, among others. A few reviews have already popped up. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes of "how good Rushdie was at assembling this anthology: a variety of writers, famous to first-timers, sifted from major magazines and little reviews, grand and little worlds." Kirkus called it "bleak but brilliant." Also, check out Adventures in Reading and their on-going series of blog posts in which they look at each story in turn.

Others things happened this week, I'm sure. Continuing collapses of one kind or another. A debate or two. And then there was the big fundraiser for The Yalobusha Review thrown on the Oxford square at Southside Gallery. Pictures and gratuitous self-congratulation forthcoming.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Next Generation of Storytelling: Podcast Novelists, Cellphone Stylists, and the "Twiller"

It's the future, ladies and gentleman, has been for several years now, and if more proof was needed, then Shaun Farrell writing over at Strange Horizons has offered it to us in the form of podcasting novelists. "Hundreds of authors have entered the podosphere," Shaun, a podcaster himself, writes, "as an avenue to an audience and perhaps professional publication. Their audio productions feature pro-level recording quality, tantalizing vocal performances, music, sound effects, and, in some cases, accompanying PDFs, images, and videos." Listenership is in the thousands for these novels, 4,000 in fact, tuned in for the initial installment of Mur Lafferty's, Playing for Keeps. For comparison sakes, in 2004, of the nearly million books tracked by Nielson Bookscan, only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. Publishers have taken an interest, of course, in authors with such built-in audiences, and whether or not podcast novelists can become successful in the print market, is the major question of Shaun's article. It's fascinating stuff, full of fun new words like podiobooks and cool acronyms like ARG (Alternate Reality Games). Check it out.

Reading Shaun's article, got me to thinking about how technology changes the way we tell stories. In Japan, for instance, cellphone novels, called "keitai shousetsu," continue to rack up big sales. Originally texted in chapters of around 70 characters or less, these novels, republished in book form, accounted for 5 of the top ten bestselling books in Japan in 2007. Twitter, a microblogging application, of which yes I'm a part, has also become a distribution format for fiction. While readwriteweb wrote an article earlier in September saying they weren't, as of yet, big success stories, they still acknowledged that considering the success of such textual endeavors in Japan, and the growing popularity of Twitter, it's possible such fictional forms may catch on here. Something Matt Richtel must be counting on, considering he's twittering his latest thriller in real time: a twiller, as it were.

Welcome to the future, readers.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

American Melancholy

America's been taking it on the chin of late. There's the impending possible collapse of the economy and it's contribution to an already plummeting opinion of the U.S. in the world. And if that's not bad enough, a few days ago the permanent secretary head of the Nobel prize committee, Horace Engdahl, called the literature of the U.S., "insular" and "isolated". He went on to say, in a completely non-insular way, that "Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world, not the United States." Enghdal has since reiterated that an author's nationality factors not at all into the Nobel panel's decision. Sigh. For a nice commentary on the literary awards season, check out Elizabeth Renzetti's article, wherein novelists, publishers, and literary judges are compared to weasels and thin-skinned tomatoes.

In despairingly related news, io9 recently published an article, "America: It Had to End Sometime," which offers up some of the best American apocalypse stories, whether it be alien invasion, economic catastrophe, or Rothian alternate history. The goal being to help us prepare for the aftermath of the coming American apocalypse. Hmm, American writers writing about the end of America, maybe Engdahl had a point...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Kelly Link Interview

What a day yesterday. Cubs lost, felt sad. Read at Broken English, felt happy. Came home and found out that Kelly Link had agreed to an interview with us for the upcoming issue, felt absolutely scrumtrilescent.

If you've been paying attention, readers, you may have already noticed Kelly Link's name popping up in this blog before: here and here, for example. She's the author of a new collection of short stories for young adults, Pretty Monsters, as well as two previous short story collections, Stranger Things Happen (a Salon Book of the Year and Village Voice favorite) and Magic for Beginners (winner of the 2006 Locus for Best Short Story Collection). Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories. They've won the World Fantasy award, the James Tiptree, Jr. award, a Hugo, and three Nebulas. Salon described her writing as "an alchemical mixture of Borges, Raymond Chandler, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Michael Chabon said her books were evidence the world was worth saving. Neil Gaiman offered up the suggestion she be protected at all times by a cadre of marines.

In her spare time, Kelly co-edits Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, edited an original anthology, Trampoline, and co-founded Small Beer Press.

Go here to watch her appearance with Karen Joy Fowler in the Authors@Google series. Check out The Boston Phoenix's just published profile of Kelly here. And also, you know, read her stories if you haven't before. Many of them are online, and so are you. Get to work.