Tag Archives: literature

Happy Father’s Day: “The Day Daddy Died”

Today is Father’s Day, and S&R would like to wish a happy one to America’s dads.

At the same time, and in the contrary spirit that often typifies what we do around here, I’d like to be the one who acknowledges that our relationships with our fathers are often less than we’d hope for. Frankly, some dads are complete bastards, and in many cases they’re probably at least a complex mixed bag. And why not – being a parent is hard, I’m told. This basic reality makes the guys who get it right even more worthy of our love and respect.

It’s no worse than fair to say that my own father lived his life out between Mixed Bagville and the untamed Bastardlands, and truth be told I have a hard time remembering him as more good than bad. Continue reading Happy Father’s Day: “The Day Daddy Died”

WordsDay: It’s World Poetry Day 2013

CATEGORY: WordsDayMarch 21 is the UN’s World Poetry Day, and we here at S&R invite our readers to celebrate the event along with us. Hit the comment thread and offer up a bit of verse – something you admire, something you wrote, whatever.

I’ll go first, and I’ll do a bit of both. In my latest (as yet unpublished) book, there is an homage to my hero, William Butler Yeats – an homage that also manages to be painfully autobiographical in a way. So here is my poem, “William and Maud,” and the Yeats poem it’s riffing on, as I imagine the conversation they had there by the sea on the cliffs of Howth, as she spurned his proposal of marriage (for the first time of four). Yeats first.

THE WHITE BIRDS

WOULD that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea!
We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee;
And the flame of the blue star of twilight, hung low on the rim of the sky,
Has awakened in our hearts, my beloved, a sadness that may not die.

A weariness comes from those dreamers, dew-dabbled, the lily and rose;
Ah, dream not of them, my beloved, the flame of the meteor that goes,
Or the flame of the blue star that lingers hung low in the fall of the dew:
For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!

I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a Danaan shore,
Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow come near us no more;
Soon far from the rose and the lily, and fret of the flames would we be,
Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea!

Now my dramatization.

William and Maud

            I am haunted by numberless islands... – WB Yeats

Walking by the shore at dusk, air 
leaden with a faith in words.

William looks up, says
Maud, the sky is full of dragonflies.

She stares beyond the sea. 

            That's nice, Bill. But I've a kingdom to burn.
            Your bugs will be dead by morning.

Words are a piper, he says. When we die,
our ghosts will haunt the waves and
young men will lift a pint to 
wandering beauty.

            We're inside-out, says Maud.
            I want to drown Dublin in 
            English blood and you,
            so much like a woman with 
            your poetry and your mysteries.

I will summon ancient warriors to your heel.
Then you will love me.

Maud stares beyond the rim of the sea.

            Summon me powder and horses, Bill.

His study quiet as dust, 
a candle's nub
races the dark to dawn.
William sits, vanquished by the 
sacred rose and the guns of love.

Happy Poetry Day. Your turn.

_____

“William and Maud” originally appeared in Pemmican in June, 2011.

ArtSunday: Are we seeing more character development in genre fiction?

Not long ago a good friend asked me if I’d take a look at this novel he was working on. He felt it was one of the best things he’d written, but was getting no bites from publishers. He was committed to making it work, and he wondered if I had ideas about what might be missing. So I read it.

The novel set out to be a genre piece – sort of a mystery story with a little bit of thriller thrown in at the end – but I could see why nobody wanted it. Truth was, the plot and action didn’t crackle like a successful genre novel, and while it had some very promising characters, none of them were sufficiently developed to stand the book as a “literary” work.

He was caught in the no-man’s land of contemporary publishing, and as our friend Jim Booth has suggested, that’s no place to be in 2012. My observation was that, the perversions of the publishing industry notwithstanding, what this particular novel wanted was to be more literary.

If you don’t follow what I mean by my opposed usage of the terms “genre” and “literary,” here’s the short version. Genre literature encompasses things like murder mysteries, adventure thrillers, horror, science fiction, fantasy, romance, etc. They’re driven by plot, and the characters tend to be static, not really evolving or growing a great deal during the course of the narrative.

Literary fiction is more or less the opposite. It’s all about character development, and in some cases you can read hundreds of pages without anything noteworthy actually happening in the way of plot. And we find ourselves in a place economically where not only are publishers not generally interested in manuscripts that are caught in-between, the culture of writing itself is divvied into opposed camps. I think back to my creative writing program. At the risk of over-simplifying to illustrate the point, the lit types regarded the genre types as little better than $5 whores working the docks while the genre types sneered at the self-indulgent navel gazing of the “serious” writers. The mutual contempt was palpable.

Hopefully not all writing programs are like mine was in this respect, but the general tendency I describe will serve us for this conversation.

What I told my friend, then, is that there wasn’t enough in the way of action to sustain a true genre novel, but if he spent some time fleshing out the characters – especially a couple of the female protagonists – he might have something with significant literary depth to interest potential literary publishers.

He has now conducted a major revision and I’ll be diving into the manuscript right after I finish Christopher Moore’s Bite Me: A Love Story.

I found myself thinking back on the literary/genre discussion recently as I read Mark Todd’s Strange Attractors: A Story About Roswell. This book sets out to be a science fiction tale that, as the title might suggest, reimagines what went down in the New Mexico desert back in 1947. Todd follows an unusual path getting to Roswell, to be sure, and in the process forces us to think more closely than we might like about the implications of certain kinds of biotechnical research being conducted in the here and now. I won’t spoil the twist – instead, I’ll encourage you to read it for yourself. (Be patient – the first part of the book was driving me nuts because I couldn’t get a grip on what had happened, but then the wheels caught, as it were, and from that point on it got more and more interesting.)

In other words, Strange Attractors is a successful genre novel, mining the increasingly untenable terrain of science fiction. Intriguing premise (doubly so, given that it engages with real-world events), solid continuity of scientific plausibility, a narrative strategy that keeps you driving in the direction of revelation, unanticipated twists, etc. (One of the things I didn’t see coming was especially gratifying in that it explicitly violated some of the conventions of genre and forced me to question how formulaic sf can be. Loved that.)

But. I found myself repeatedly noticing, as I read, that much of what was most compelling wasn’t baked into the plot, per se. Yes, the mystery pulls you forward, but you find yourself diving ever deeper into the two main characters: research scientist Morgan Johanssen, who is unwittingly a critical pivot in human history (if you know the language of Chaos and Complexity theories, she is an archetypal strange attractor) and the odd alien ingenue, Gamma Ori. As with my friend’s novel-in-progress, I found myself drawn more to character than is perhaps common for genre lit.

All of which set me to thinking. The truth is that the genre novels I enjoy the most tend to have the most interesting characters. Neal Stephenson comes immediately to mind (not for REAMDE, of course – that’s a roadtrip into the heart of pure thrillerdom), but for the assortment of Waterhouses and Shaftoes (and the Baroque Cycle‘s divine Eliza) in CryptonomiconQuicksilverThe Confusion and The System of the World. Then there’s the cast around which the remarkable Anathem revolves. These novels are unarguably genre – very much plot-centered and not even remotely averse to bursts of intense action – but the characters are far from static. As the books unfold, the characters grow and our understanding of them deepens. Not only that, when you consider the conjoined saga of the Waterhouse and Shaftoe families, which spans centuries, we’re past character development and into the intricate evolution of bloodlines.

William Gibson, my other genre hero, also enjoys getting inside a character’s head (especially if it’s a female protagonist) and he does so in ways that extract all kinds of resonance from the dynamic between personality and material culture (a la Cayce’s phobia of labels, logos, trademarks and other trappings of consumer brands), which is as quirky a hook as you’re likely to encounter in the world of mainstream genre fiction.

Maybe I’m imagining things. Or maybe not. For sure, none of the works I’m talking about here are Salingeresque in their character obsession. And as I admit earlier, the literary/genre divide is abstracted to make a point. I mean, it’s not like nothing exciting happens in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

Still, I have hated for years the kinds of sniping I saw in grad school and the ways in which those kinds of ideological rivalries balkanized literature. That the publishing and marketing landscape reinforces this artificial stratification of literature only exacerbates the problem. I mean, I’m not sure that Twain thought of what he was doing in these terms. He probably imagined that a good story and interesting characters sort of naturally went hand in hand.

In any case, don’t take this as an attempt to pronounce anything conclusive about The State of Literature at the Present Time®. Rather, consider it more something that I think I’m noticing and that I like, if in fact it’s really happening. Also, as always, take it as an invitation to comment and enlighten me if I’m missing something.

The incompleteness of the soul: an insider’s non-review of Completeness of the Soul: The Life and Opinions of Jay Breeze, Rock Star

I’ve been thinking about Completeness of the Soul: The Life and Opinions of Jay Breeze, Rock Star, the third novel from my friend and fellow scrogue Jim Booth. I finished reading it a few days ago, but for me it’s been a slightly disjointed experience because I’ve seen most of it in its pieces before: chapters like “Fins” and “The Balcony Scene” have been previously published as standalone short stories and there are sections (the “Rock Star Handbook”) that Jim originally developed as an offering for an SMS entertainment company in which I was a  partner. So I’ve been familiar for years with the component elements, but this was my first encounter with the unified book in context.

After several days of reflection, I find myself musing on things that many readers and reviewers might not have twigged on. Continue reading The incompleteness of the soul: an insider’s non-review of Completeness of the Soul: The Life and Opinions of Jay Breeze, Rock Star

ars poetica: Reflecting on what exactly poetry is (after completing my latest book)

As I Facebooked last night:

After more than three years of writing, editing, revising, and of course enduring the emotional agony that engenders so many of my best ideas, I have finally arrived at what I’m choosing to call a 1.0 version of my new book, tentatively entitled The Butterfly Machine.

Now, like any business-savvy poet, I’m on to the business of auctioning off movie rights and booking venues for the impending world tour.

[aherm] [cough] [ahem] Continue reading ars poetica: Reflecting on what exactly poetry is (after completing my latest book)

Mary Shelley LIVES! (Romantics, Luddites, runaway technology, science fiction and the persistence of the Frankenstein Complex)

Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming. – Dr. Ian Malcolm

Mary Shelley spent the summer of 1816 at the Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva, Switzerland with her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their close friend Lord Byron “watching the rain come down, while they all told each other ghost stories.” Thomas Pynchon says that by that December Mary Shelley was working on Chapter Four of her famous novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.

It was the challenge of writing ghost stories to amuse each other that set Mary upon the idea of a different kind of horror story – one not based in the supernatural, but in science.

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. Continue reading Mary Shelley LIVES! (Romantics, Luddites, runaway technology, science fiction and the persistence of the Frankenstein Complex)

Happy Father’s Day: “The Day Daddy Died”


Today is Father’s Day, and S&R would like to wish a happy one to America’s dads.

At the same time, and in the contrary spirit that often typifies what we do around here, I’d like to be the one who acknowledges that our relationships with our fathers are often less than we’d hope for. Frankly, some dads are complete bastards, and in many cases they’re probably at least a complex mixed bag. And why not – being a parent is hard, I’m told. This basic reality makes the guys who get it right even more worthy of our love and respect.

It’s no worse than fair to say that my own father lived his life out between Mixed Bagville and the untamed Bastardlands, and truth be told I have a hard time remembering him as more good than bad. Continue reading Happy Father’s Day: “The Day Daddy Died”