Exhibit 1.8.18

On Editing a Novel #24

 Ball Room Guide


ADDING A BALL SCENE TO YOUR NOVEL. Look, after 23 of these, it’s probably time we admit the only novel we’re familiar with is Pride and Prejudice and even then we’ve only watched it, not even that long one with the hot Darcy but the one with Guinevere from that King Arthur movie where everyone was dirty and not Richard Gere. Wait, is King Arthur from a novel? So we’re familiar with between one and two novels and here’s what we know: in between 100% and 50% of cases there’s a ball scene.

The presence or absence of a ball scene is therefore one of the best ways to tell if you’ve got a novel on your hands or something else, possibly a cookbook or spec script for Reba. Those are equally valid projects, but they aren’t in any way in need of a ball scene (unless it’s an episode where Reba goes to a Victorian-themed dinner party and feels out of place being just a countrified divorcee making ends meet in which case, yeah, maybe there’s a ball scene but you know what there will definitely be: a compelling through-line with the opportunity for a strong B-plot about Barbra Jean).

This is just off the top of our head, but the thing about a ball is that it’s a large social gathering from the Greek ballizein first used in English around 1639. So that should probably get you somewhere. Greeks, 1639, etc. It pretty much writes itself. Also, large. You get the idea. Social. American actress Lucille. Blah blah blah.

This Reba script is really where your focus should be if you can find a way to keep most of the action in one room because with the wardrobe alone we’re going to be stretching the budget. They’re going to want to know that not only can you write good lines, you can write good line budget, am I right?

No, seriously, am I? Who writes the line budget? Sometimes I think I should have gone to that workshop at the UCLA extension. Greg would have loaned me the money if I asked Mom to make him.

But the important thing is that if you want your novel to be a novel you’ve got to find a way to get characters in a room where they dance in this way where they change partners and I don’t know it’s never really made sense to us why anyone does what anyone does in those scenes but maybe if Reba’s dancing with handsome guest star Martin Mull–or maybe just Martin Mull, like, he’s there at this thing because he knows the host–meta!–and then they switch and suddenly he’s dancing with Barbra Jean–O no!–and it’s like will the swirling winds of ball fate bring them back together again–ball fate!–and no it can’t because there’s no money in the budget to add Martin Mull to the cast or maybe he’s already on the show because honestly we’ve never seen but let’s check–

Reba was cancelled in 2007. Huh.

Comment / Posted in Dancing, Editing, Television

Exhibit 1.8.17

Collateral Light




Julia Cohen’s poetry flows so naturally from a personal language and logic that it’s difficult–for me at least–to talk about without falling back on what are I imagine some pretty cliche terms in poetry. It’s raw? Tortured? Full of the hurt and allure of fractured moments not meant to be puzzled together? There are poets like this who I feel ill-equipped to talk about. Those are typically the best poets.

My favorites here are the longer poems, mostly toward the end of the book, where I feel like I’ve been given  access to a world to fascinate and trouble. There’s little comfort here, subtle violences and betrayals, none more than in the language itself which refuses to coalesce into the illusion of explanation. It’d be too tempting for a lesser poet to insert easy meaning here, but Cohen resists and instead has given us a book of precise uncertainty. If that’s a thing. It feels like a thing here, the only thing we’ve got.

Why not go read a couple of sample poems at Notnostrums here then pick it up from Brooklyn Arts Press here.

Comment / Posted in 2013, Lights, Poetry

Exhibit 1.8.16

One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses


One Hundred Apocalypses Corin


I’m reviewing this book for somewhere so I’ll just say two things:

1. It’s great.

2. My review no longer uses the word eschew.


Comment / Posted in 2013, Apocalypses, Fiction

Exhibit 1.8.15

The Verificationist




I remember reading Antrim’s The Hundred Brothers on a plane some years ago and almost immediately deciding two things 1) Antrim is a genius and 2) I  shouldn’t read more Antrim lest I hurt myself reenacting his stunts. Well, the first has been recently confirmed by the MacArthur people and the second I knew was a promise I couldn’t keep.

There was just something so captivatingly effortless about that hilarious, impossible novel. I think a lot of authors probably have ideas for these sorts of novels but only Antrim can actually pull it off. And thank god. He did it again in The Verificationist, setting himself an even higher bar–not only one night in one room again but with substantially fewer characters. O, also the narrator spends most of the night at the pancake house held in a bear hug.

“Don’t let go of us,” I pleaded to the man holding me. By then I think I realized he had no intention of releasing me, that there was, for Richard as well as for me, something significant–something movingly, vividly pornographic–taking place.

“I love you, Tom,” he whispered…

Yeah, it’s pretty great.

I guess if you had to sum the book up in a rhyming cliche–and you don’t–you’d say it’s about paralysis through analysis, the struggle to comprehend something as volatile as one’s self let alone a wife, a colleague, a past and how more effort leads to fewer results. But it’s silly to reduce the bear hug to such a clear metaphor for our narrator being stuck. That move isn’t about him, it’s about Antrim and what art can do and what it can’t do, which is to say what a mind can do and what a mind can’t do. In the bear hug is life at its deepest and shallowest–striving futilely, comically for something you can imagine but can’t create.

Sooner or later you’ll be set back down in the world and then where will you be?

Comment / Posted in 2013, Donalds, Fiction

Exhibit 1.8.14

We Are Anonymous




This is the first book-length investigative journalism I’ve read in years, and it surprised me. What was I expecting? I’m not sure though I suspect I was looking for the continued bleed over of creative nonfiction into something more openly author-driven. It was there on some level–imagined scenes, real scenes arranged by the author–but for the most part Olson is content to line up her facts to walk the reader painstakingly through an organization without any organization just as she would a tech startup. Of course, there there might be structure (or at least the illusion of it). Here we have a particularly postmodern “collective” and Olson’s exploration is almost charming in how it struggles to force order on the confusion. Names change, get reused, are fought over, hide the truth. Maybe. Olson simply charts along, holding back information to make the unmasking drive the book’s momentum though, of course, it matters little. It’s the group, not the names.

Nothing might be more indicative of this struggle to slap identity onto a decentralized and shifting collection of screen names than that this is a book about LulzSec. LulzSec isn’t Anonymous. But it’s Anonymous as much as anything is Anonymous. Which is to say only sort of. Unlike WikiLeaks which has a leader, Anonymous has only Olson to hold it together for as long as she can. Undoubtedly whatever was true when she started was less true by the end. Who knows what Anonymous is now. Despite the bow she has to put on the story of her sources, the group remains as nebulous as ever (there are at least two major twitter feeds who represent the group. Maybe). Those who claim to speak for it openly seem certain to be those who know the least about it.

Which means we might need a critical theorist or a cultural critic more than a journalist.

Still, Olson does admirably–it’s a smart, thorough book and I don’t envy anyone having to write so many lengthy descriptions of bouncing around IRC rooms–and it’s great for understanding how little there is to be understood about certain cultural movements the internet allows. It’s also often surprisingly tense for mostly taking place in chat rooms, never more so than in the opening unraveling of a man’s online life who dared to claim that he could unmask the group’s leaders. But the fact that he was attacked not because he was a threat–there aren’t leaders–but because a bunch of kids were bored is the important part of the story. One imagines Olson didn’t fear reprisal because she knows this is history long written over by new names for new reasons.

Comment / Posted in 2013, Investigations, Nonfiction

Exhibit 1.8.13

Dan Chelotti’s x


Dan Chelotti X


Clever, funny, and sweetly earnest, Dan Chelotti’s first book of poems found the perfect publisher in McSweeney’s who, whether they like it or not, will probably continue to hold copyright on those terms in the literary world. That they’ve been branching out into poetry is exciting and, in Chelotti, they too have found something like a perfect partner. The poems here are adroit, moving fast from highbrow references to urban angst, from the non sequitur to the earned sentiment, and it’s in these transitions that the book really impresses. To read these poems is to be in the back of a station wagon driven by your favorite uncle. You don’t know where you’re going. You know it’ll be fun. You suspect one of you is stoned.

Or maybe I should just show you. Here’s the end of his poem “The Man in Me”:

                    The little Pavarotti
smoking anisette cigars in my soul
gestures and says, Don’t worry, kiddo.
No one really gives a shit
anyway. And because
for a moment there
is nothing more truthful at hand,
I do not enjoy reading
about baseball on the internet.


That’s a bit more of a punchline than most of these poems end on, but it’s a good one. It’s a good book. Pick it up from McSweeney’s here.

Comment / Posted in 2013, Poetry, Xs

Exhibit 1.8.12

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe


How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe


So I’ve obviously given up on writing about books I’ve been reading, but I’ll make an exception solely to push my nonsensical drawings further down the page. Also, it would be nice to start again even if just a paragraph or two.

So, this book by Charles Yu which I picked up last week at The Strand–as excellent a bookstore as its reputation promises–and read on the plane home. It should be difficult to be objective about something so in my teenage wheelhouse–and from an author whose stories I enjoy as much as Yu’s–but there’s something really fascinating about certain aspects here that I’ve been thinking about them almost as much as the book as a whole (even if as a whole it’s smart, funny, and often touching). But as a book divided along certain axis–to get all Yu–it’s sort of interestingly, even if mostly harmlessly at odds with itself.

Yep, there’s more than a little Douglas Adams here in the world building (sadsack people! sadsack computers!), a little Vonnegut in the casual metafiction (Yu is our author and our protagonist), and something Philip K. Dick-y about the whole thing serving as one big allegory (time travel as memory and the reclaiming of a father-son relationship). It is, as Colson Whitehead says in his blurb, “Cool as hell.”

And that’s maybe the most interesting thing to talk about. The parts that are “cool” in the sense of 13-year-old-me’s wheelhouse are mostly front-loaded in the description of this science fictional universe which, ultimately, become irrelevant halfway through when the “time loop” starts and the metaphor takes over. Up until the narrator shoots his future self–it’s in the first sentence, don’t worry–we basically are getting the Douglas Adams novel–complete with nerdy references and jolly satire–then after the Philip K. Dick novel (there’s probably a better way to describe a metaphor-heavy scifi made personal but he’s the best reference I’ve got). The metafictional stuff doesn’t really matter except, like meeting Luke Skywalker’s kid, it gives us a wink. It is, like much here, totally cool.

And I like the cool stuff, but the rest of the story isn’t cool. It’s better than that–personal and heartfelt and very much of our world. So it’s an interesting book, one without cohesion but still with purpose (or maybe a sense of the short story writer’s “Am I doing enough?” panic) that drives it toward these beats it doesn’t seem to need to hit just long enough to get us to the real story which still gets told in this interesting scientific and mathematic language for human emotions that is where the work really stands out on its own terms. That, more than the sci-fi world building, is where the cohesion is here but the book doesn’t seem to think that’s a selling point. Maybe the book is right. It’s certainly easier to describe as a metafictional romp through a sci-fi world than it is as a book about family but… it might not be a better book. It’s not, I don’t even think, the book we have after page 89.

None of this is to say it’s not completely enjoyable–it is–or that I wouldn’t recommend it–I would–but it’s the kind of book that ultimately might make a better case for Yu than for itself.

Comment / Posted in 2013, Fiction, Yus

Exhibit 1.8.11

In Which I Give Up Writing


To commit fully to my crudely drawn online comic series about an aspiring hip hop artist/organic ne’er-do-well.


HeaderEpisode One – “Tight”

Rap Scallion Two



Also sometimes he solves crimes:


HeaderEpisode Two – “Pancake”

Rap Scallion One


Editor’s note: Rap Scallion has been cancelled.

Comment / Posted in Comics, Detectives, Rap Scallion

Exhibit 1.8.10



* I’ve got another short short up at SmokeLong right here and answered some questions about it here. This piece is mostly notable for having come from an old note I don’t remember making and, in the interview, give you a glimpse at the note next to it, too. I possibly have too many notes.


* I also have a few Sire Lines pieces up at a new journal called The Collapsar which you should read and submit to because those guys are going to do great stuff. My pieces come from the beginning and, well, that’s pretty much it. America!


* The Cupboard is open to submissions until the end of September so you’ve only got a little time left to get something together. So get something together already.

Comment / Posted in Fiction, Links, Writing

Exhibit 1.8.9

Initial Portland Doings








Not Pumping



Comment / Posted in Coffee, Kitchens, Portland