Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Year's Miscellany

Most years, at their end, seem to carry in their outline a theme, or at least a loosely discernible shape, but maybe that's just a narrative gloss we drape over top of our dwindling days to convince ourselves that we haven't wasted our time. Who knows? Last year most definitely had a theme for many people, myself included: Uncertainty. Of course, Uncertainty is just another way to say Reality, and it's probably not been a bad thing for us to become reacquainted with the fact that there are no guarantees from minute to minute, let alone day to day, month to month, or year to year. Still, it gets old when you're being bludgeoned with the same message five days a week and twice on weekends. As for 2010, it's too early to call a trend, and the only reason to try would be in the hope of proactively coaxing the year into a personally beneficial orbit. Nothing wrong with that, but since I believe very strongly in the jinx, I'm not gonna do it here in public. Instead, I'm going to do what human beings have generally done when other humans are around to listen (or read), in times of peace and plenty, in times of war and famine, whenever the big, important issues have become tiresome, or glaringly self-evident, or just plain overwhelming and unappealing:

I'm going to engage in small talk. Here goes.

About four days ago, I finished the first draft of a novella I've been working on, a work that I mentioned in this post, and in finishing it I discovered a new use for Print On Demand technology- creating manuscripts. I have two on the way, printed and bound, for the same cost or less than going to a copy shop or using my own printer. On top of that, the manuscript is now stored on the printer's server, where I can access it at any time. For people like me who like to play at being real writers (insert big sh*t eating grin) this abundance of inexpensive technology is the bee's meow. Art for its own sake has really come into its own, and I for one couldn't be happier.

Now, on to what I've been reading. Following my friend Kyle Hague's recommendations, I've recently finished three graphic novels, Garth Ennis' War Stories, volumes 1 and 2, and The Filth, by Grant Morrison. Up until now I've never really liked Garth Ennis. It seemed to me that any time he saw a chance to go over the top, he would indulge his worst impulses and go way over the top, and that always turned me off. But it turns out that what everyone says about him is true: He's the best writer of war fiction in comics today. War Stories is unbelievably good, as good as nearly anything you'll find on the page, be it prose or comic. Nothing in these stories rings false or contrived or over the top. They are masterful, and I have a newfound respect for Mr. Ennis.

As for The Filth, I'm really not sure what to say. It's going to take me at least two more readings before I decide whether I need to punch Kyle in the face or kiss him hard on the mouth. It's probable I should do both, but the order of operations (Punch, kiss, or kiss, punch?) eludes me. He's right about this though; the story Grant Morrison lays down in the pages of The Filth is untranslatable into any other medium. Absolutely. Untranslatable. Whether it works or not (my gut says it does but my brain says give me two more reads to be sure) it is without a doubt one of the most ambitious comics I've ever read.

So, here's a question. What's more satisfying than teenage vampire romance? Why, young wizards coming of age in an English boarding school, of course. But what's better than that? Really. Honestly. I'll tell you what's better- Forty-two junior high schoolers on an island killing the crap out of each other, that's what. Battle Royale, baby, six hundred pages (yes, six hundred!) of mayhem and carnage by writer Koushun Takami, that against all odds manages to have and to keep a heart and a soul. Battle Royale isn't really a teen book, it's more like a teen book's older angry brother, but I know a few YA lit fans who are thirty years old going on thirteen that could use the shock back into adulthood. This is a unique book and well worth the read.

I'll leave you now with what I'm reading at the moment. It may surprise, knowing how rabid a fan of Planet of the Apes I am, that I have never read the actual novel by Pierre Boulle. In another fifty pages or so, that gap will be bridged. The edition I have is a British one, published by Penguin and translated from the French several years before the movie was made. The English title is Monkey Planet, an illustration of just how flexible translation can be. I'm enjoying it quite a bit. It's lighter in some ways than the movie, but there are also many more touchpoints between the two than I expected. Below is a cover of the book, but not the edition I have, unfortunately.

And with that, I bid you good day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Kickin' It Old School

Well, it's a new year, and by popular consensus a new decade, and my family and I have appropriately turned over a new leaf. We've ditched the desert and returned to the promised land. For me that means one very, very, important thing.

Surf's up.

Does that sound trite? Well, if it does then there's nothing I can say that will change your mind, and I wouldn't want to waste my time trying. For me, however, riding waves is one of the three legs of a well balanced life, and my stool has been wobbling for several years now. I'm eagerly anticipating the regular cycle of check the beach, grab the gear, suit up and paddle out.

What's that? You want to know what this has to do with writing? Maybe the zen of the wave frees the mind, or the fresh air and nature releases the inner creative spirit? Bulls**t, I say. I actually wrote less when I was in the water all the time. But I did do one thing religiously: I kept a surf journal.

A surf journal. A record of every wave session, good, bad, and ugly. The animals I encountered (an angry mating seal springs to mind). The memorable waves. The frustrations and the joy, and the time I almost drowned. I ended it just before I moved to the desert, and now that I'm back I've started a new one. It would make a great blog- I write these things for public consumption- but there's only one way you can read it, and that's by picking it up, opening the leather cover, and thumbing through it, page by page.

Some things just can't be done any other way.