An expression only has meaning within the stream of life.
I only took two English classes in college—ENG101, and business communications (I did MBA, not MFA)—and that quote was the favorite of my 101 teacher. He was a thin, hippy-type guy, bald on top with a long ponytail, an exuberant man with flapping arms who made it dead clear that he was willing to consider GPA bumps for sexual favors. Creepy. Probably unemployed by now. He repeated that phrase so often that it’s stuck in my head some fifteen years later.
An expression only has meaning within the stream of life.
Simple, but true. Words have power and meaning, but only in context. Words without context are dictionary filler.
That, I submit, is the core reason why the plan to revise Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is so ridiculous. No, not ridiculous: dangerous and stupid.
New South Books, an Alabama-based publisher whose charter is to reflect the culture and history of the Southern US, made the announcement this week that they plan in releasing a revised version of Twain’s book, replacing two “hateful epithets” with softer words. They cited the support of a “Twain scholar” for added justification, and stated the purpose of the removal was to “…counter the ‘preemptive censorship’ that [Twain scholar] Dr. Gribben observes has caused these important works of literature to fall off curriculum lists nationwide.”
So, the stated goal is to appease those who would censor literature by (wait for it) censoring literature.
An expression only has meaning within the stream of life.
The words in question are “injun” and “nigger” (as in Nigger Jim, one of the main characters of the book). Hateful words? Yep. Outdated epithets of ignorance? You betcha. Do they have context within the story Twain set out to tell? Absolutely. Does it change the story to replace them with nicer words? Yes.
Those words shock. Even typing them into this post somehow feels wrong. I’ll type “fuck” all day long, but to type those words just feels dirty, especially the latter. With all of the discussion on them, I’ve not seen a single person actually spell it out. And that’s the point, today even more so than when Twain wrote it.
It’s been a long time since I read the book, but here’s my read on it. Huck befriended Jim, a runaway slave, and traveled with him on a raft. He seemed pretty oblivious to Jim’s official status as a sub-human servant (by the standards of the townsfolk and society-at-large). Huck befriended Jim because he liked him as a human, not caring about his “official” status; but, at the same time, he called him by his “epithet” name and treated him like a lesser person, because that was what society trained him to do—treat blacks like animals. Hence the importance of the word: through Huck’s innocent eyes, Jim was a person, but society’s biases had already tinted how he saw/treated blacks/indians. It reminds us of the dangers of poisoning the well of youthful innocence and compassion with hate.
Here’s the end-game: the revised book gets ignored by most of the world as a misguided revisionist work; at the same time, conservative school systems and municipal libraries adopt it as the “accepted” version of Twain’s classic. Children in Kentucky, Texas, Alabama, etc are only given access to the revised version, and aren’t even aware that there is a “real” version until they are older, if ever. Other publishers catch on and offer whitewashed versions of other oft-banned books. Big Brother becomes the good guy in the War on Terror™, Heather’s two mommies are platonic friends, and non-revised books are burned for the good of the children in a non-ironic way in Fahrenheit 451.
Twain’s works are in the public domain, and New South are well within their rights to do this. Which is fine. In a perfect world, nobody would take this seriously; but we know that’s not the case. We live in a country where the textbooks are being revised to have a strong theist slant based on the biases of one large state, and libraries still ban books becasue they think that certain words, if read by youngsters, will be damaging. They forget that
An expression only has meaning within the stream of life.
Life has ugly in it, and pretending otherwise doesn’t make it go away. Understanding the ugly and discussing it openly does, eventually. Words are not the problem. Making them into something they are not is.
The holidays are over, and everything can return to normal. Any minute now. Please.
After a few out of state trips, I’m back in the saddle…
A month or so ago, I said that I was torn between two stories: either a potential commercial project with lots of formulaic hooks and repeatability and Patterson-esque tummy-warmth; or a long, difficult, intellectually challenging book that will make enemies and enrage critics and probably cost me a bunch of the hair on my head? And remember how I said that I had chosen the easy book?
Yeah, I fucking lied. Well, not lied, exactly…I got fed up with that story. It wasn’t fun to write. I was phoning it in. It was not interesting to me, so I quit and went back to the difficult story.
If you have read Amity, it’s much, much different. The narrative voice will be familiar but of a different timbre, and the setting is about as far from the gritty streets of Las Vegas as you can get. More as the story develops.
And it is difficult…and it is going to take a long time…but I really like it. I like where it comes from, because it’s a story designed to ruffle feathers and make the reader either hate the story for the message, hate me for telling it, love it for being honest, or hate themselves for not being honest. At least, I hope. If all anyone tells you about your book is that it was great, you haven’t tried hard enough to tell the truth. IMHO. YMMV.
I guess I feel I didn’t go deep enough with some of the material in Amity, and I hope to make up for it in this one. Argue it all you want, but books are art, and art should disrupt.
My final trip of 2010 was to San Diego, where I and my two daughters saw the Dresden Dolls in concert. Great show. The Gaslamp Quarter is full of nutjobs (real ones, not just zany, fun people…people with real mental illnesses roaming the streets ranting and screaming and chanting all hours of the day), which added to the mystique of the trip. (Also: I saw Neil Gaiman there…I just missed him at the merch booth, though)
I’ve seen YouTube clips, but it’s really hard to capture the energy of a Dresden Dolls show. Brian Viglione, drummer/guitarist, has an amazing presence and talent; and, of course, Amanda Palmer is a great, powerful musician. They didn’t leave a goddamn dime on the table that night. Nor did their opening act, Jason Webley. I’ve been known to be wrong about musicians before, and I was less than excited to drive 350 miles to watch an accordian player. But, I was dead wrong about that guy…he plays alone on stage, alternating between a guitar and a squeeze box, and he rocked that crowd. Hard. I’m a convert.
As hard as it is to capture their energy live, I took a shot at it, using my brand-spanking new iPhone. This was (according to Amanda) the first time they have performed this song: I Am the Condor…it came out pretty good. Enjoy, and Happy New Year…
I want to give you a copy of my novel AMITY
Yes, you. But first, an info dump.
It’s been about 2.5 months since the release of Amity. I am breathlessly grateful to all of the folks who have picked up a copy in paperback or ebook, and even more so to those who have taken the time to review it. Literary busking is a tough gig, to be sure, but I had absolutely no illusions about it being easy when I decided to write a novel. Your support makes it easier.
I promised to keep everyone up to speed on the progress of Amity as a self-published project. I’ve talked to quite a few of you one-off and I think I’ve popped out some random tidbits of info here and there on Twitter and this blog. But, for those of you dying to know how well (or unwell…?) the book has been selling sans publisher support:
As expected, it is selling re-e-e-eallly slow. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I can estimate pretty close to the pin:
About fifty paperback copies via Amazon, ten ebooks via Amazon, zero ebooks via Smashwords (although somebody told me they bought the Nook edition, but it’s not showing up in the report) with 30 samples downloaded.
Again, this is nothing unexpected. If the long tail feeds authors in perpetuity, I guess I’m in the Shrew’s Muzzle. The moral of this story is patience, and realistic expectations. There are a few super-success stories floating around right now, but the equation doesn’t work for every author or every book in every genre, and it certainly isn’t a quick process. I’ll spend more time on what I’ve done (and not done) in some posts here soon. Promise.
So, to the free book part.
The brief and shallow history of successful independent authors shows clearly that the key is a broad fan base. Success doesn’t come on the first or even second or third wave of readers; it seems to depend mostly on later waves of readers who pick up the book based on reviews and word-of-mouth—maybe not even an author’s first or second book, even. If there is any amount of success to be had, that’s where it starts. Everything prior is getting the word out (as much as many of you don’t like the word, this is Marketing, plain and simple), and that very much matches the results of my self-publishing experiment so far.
To that end, I am making AMITY available as a free ebook for a limited time. I want people to download it, read it, and share it with friends (or delete it in disgust). I’d really love people to leave comments and reviews on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, Goodreads, or on their own blogs or Twitter feeds. I may never make any money on Amity, but I still want people to read it. I’m needy that way.
You don’t need to sign up for a newsletter, you don’t need to give me your email address, credit card, or shirt size, and you don’t need my permission to distribute it. All you have to do is select which version you want, click to download, and drop it into your favorite ereader or handy-dandy computing device.
**The ebook giveaway has expired…thanks to everyone who grabbed a copy and shared it! If you missed out, check out the Amity page for info on getting a copy…**
MOBI (for Kindle, Kindle DX)
EPUB (for Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, iPad)
PDF (for any PC or Mac, most smartphones)
I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it and, to kick my dead horse one last time, I hope you’ll help spread the word (and the file).
After hours of driving across mountain passes in blinding snow while fighting a cold and fever, I remembered why, despite my constant griping, I moved to the desert. No goddamn snow.
But, I’m back in one piece, no dents on Amy’s new car, and all is back to normal. Although I’m still sick. Poor me.
And, as a bonus, I made it back in time for Barry Napier to post my interview in a new segment he’s starting called The Pub Interviews. Bring your favorite lampshade and pull up a stool.
Barry Napier asked me a very timely, deceptively simple question last week: What are you working on? I’d been thinking about that a lot, pretty much every time I opened up my WIP folder—which story folder to open?
After finishing Amity earlier this year, I’ve started and abandoned a lot of projects; mostly novel ideas, a couple of short stories. The question almost became existential as a writer…
- A difficult, lengthy, potentially very satisfying book rooted in philosophical skepticism and politics.
- Another book set in the same world as Amity…familiar ground, but I don’t know if I feel the need to do this yet.
- A lighter book with potential commercial appeal, fun and potentially less emotionally draining to write than the other two choices.
After a couple of weeks of knocking around all three manuscripts, outlines, and character sheets, I’ve decided to take on the last option: something that I may have a chance in hell to sell. Or not. Who knows anymore. Regardless of it would end up being a mass marketed work or self-published, it’s structured to support an ongoing series of books and short stories, and, of course, t-shirts, coffee cups, mousepads, and breakfast cereals (adult breakfast cereal, the kind you open with a bottle opener).
I just broke 21k, and it’s been fun so far.
Is it just me, or is everybody pissed as hell at the new TSA procedures?
To put it plainly: I fly 8-10 times a year on business, and I really don’t want to have to choose between being photographed nude or having my genitals fondled by a government stooge. I very much dread the next time I have to take my kids on an airplane and have to make that decision for them. This is a strip search, plain and simple.
Yes, the world is a dangerous place full of nutjobs who will gladly kill themselves to take a few of us with them.
No, these scanners don’t make us safer. There is no evidence to that effect.
No, the TSA has not stopped any terrorist threat since 9/11, unless you count dumbasses who try to bring pistols in their carry-on luggage (there’s a procedure to find those) or nefarious authors trying to smuggle marmite Australia. The types of threats that this was designed to catch–underwear bombs, etc–have all originated from outside of the US. The UK, incidentally, has deemed the photographs of children taken on this scanner as child pornography. Think about that shit for a second.
No, this would not find explosives hidden in a body cavity. Nor would the “enhanced pat-down”.
Yes, a crazed jihadist would gladly stuff his rectum with C4 if it meant doing right in the eyes of his leaders.
Yes, former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff is a lobbyist and heavy investor in the company that makes the scanners. He’s the guy who originally pressed the Congress to allow and fund these devices. It doesn’t take a political scientist to see why they are being placed in every airport in the US. Your nude pictures are making Chertoff rich, which kind of makes him like Hustler Magazine’s founder Larry Flynt…right?
If you’re flying next week (or, really, anytime in the future), consider opting out of the nudie-scan, and letting the public see what the TSA considers reasonable treatment of US citizens. Or, join the kilt-n-freeball protest.
I’ve emailed my Senator…how ’bout you?
The lovely and talented writer and co-contributor to the Hint Fiction anthology Jenn Alandy captured video of some of the readings at the Pasadena Hint Fiction reading at Vroman’s Books, and was kind enough to post them on YouTube.
I present, for your edification and amusement, a short clip of me stammering through a five minute dissection, history, and making-stuff-up regarding the short form writing known as Hint Fiction.
(also: remember to “Like” the Hint Fiction page on Facebook so you can see more pix of the event)
I wrote a poem in May of this year in response to a contest hosted by Team Chaos—Amanda Palmer’s team of magical elves who keep her chaotic life on some sort of order. I’m going to post the poem below, but first you need some background details, or this will make little sense.
Amanda, singer for the Dresden Dolls, solo artist, and fiance to one Neil Gaiman (who, I understand, is some kind of writer) released a coffee table book a year or so ago (probably more) called Who Killed Amanda Palmer. With passages written by Gaiman and Kyle Cassidy’s photographs of Amanda in various post-mortem poses, it was a companion piece to the album—wait for it—Who Killed Amanda Palmer. The theme, obviously, is that someone killed Amanda, but nobody knows who or why.
So, the contest: Amanda gets tons of fan art, but didn’t really have an outlet for the short list of fans who produced written art paying homage to Amanda, the Dolls, or the WKAP project. Team Chaos came up with the idea to have a short story contest for fans to write a short based on one of the pictures from the book, the top three of which would win Amanda Palmer swag and possibly “…an even bigger prize…”
(note: I’m a fan of Amanda’s music, but not much of a writing contest person; but when Neil Gaiman’s fiance holds a writing contest promising something big and mysterious to one of the winners, you are damn fucking skippy that I am going to fire up my word processor and submit)
Long story short: the contest was to be voted on in early June, winners announced shortly thereafter. Amanda got caught up in several big projects, including starring in a musical and reuniting with the Dresden Dolls. Five months overdue, the contest fell flat, the forum discussions turned kind of ugly, and Team Chaos said “sorry, we blew it, but screw it, we’ll pick three at random for t-shirts, do whatever you want with your stories.”
That, dear reader, is my explanation for why I’m posting a psychotic stalker poem for Amanda Palmer on my website. It’s called
All We Found Was a Note
To be your love, Amanda Dear
To be the one that you adore
I cauterized my fear with flame
Prepared, at last, to try your door
Requests for friendship, @ replies
All went unanswered, damn your eyes
But faith says neglect can be love in disguise
They say: in love, you must hold gently
They say: impatience is a sin
They don’t know how it rips my heart
Because my Dear won’t let me in
But Dear, oh Dear Amanda know
My vigil stands, I will not go
I’ll stay and tilt against the snow
Sipping jewels from crystal goblets
Rubies drip and stain the floor
I know—I know—I heard my name said
Though, from outside I can’t be sure
You, through the window, caught my eye
An ivory hand against his thigh
I knew at once: my Dear must die.
I warned you—remember? I told you I’d do it
I cannot be blamed for your horrible fate
My nostrils are tickled by ashes from pictures
You pluck and you tease like a whore on a date
I’m burning inside like my heart has been tore
But the pain that I’ll give you will surely hurt more
Your last guest departs, but you don’t lock the door
I can now close the book on the question of When
But forever I’ll wonder and never know Why
I can see very clearly the What that he sought
And I’ll answer your Where—also his, by and by
In a beat of your heart, Dear, my work will be through
Once your chilly heart stops, Dear, your life starts anew
And your friends will have lifetimes to ask themselves Who?
Had a great time at the Hint Fiction signing at Vroman’s Books in Pasadena Wednesday night (regardless of the mad dash from Vegas to Pasadena and back so I didn’t miss any work…you do whatcha gotta do).
I’m nothing short of a social misfit, but hanging out with people that I have this one huge thing in common with always feels…well, right. It’s a rare opportunity to discuss the things that I spend so much of my time thinking about and doing but never really get to discuss with anyone in person.
It’s like the early-90’s grunge video where the chubby little misfit bee-girl one day wakes up a a field of other bee-people and realizes that maybe she isn’t the only striped, anntannaed misfit in the world. Well, not quite that dramatic, but…you know what I mean.
We told stories at the podium to a crowd of about 30, signed a big pile of books, and told stories over nachos at a little cantina across the street. In addition to Robert Swartwood, whom I had met in Vegas earlier this year, I got to hang out with antho contributors and fellow bees Andrea Slye, Jenn Alandy, Gay Dagani, Robin Rozanski, and Daniel Olivas.
Thanks to everyone who came out to see us, thanks Robert for pulling it all together, and thanks to Vroman’s for hosting (and for being such an awesome store…seriously, one of the coolest bookstores I’ve been in.)
I have a giveaway up on Goodreads for AMITY…stop by and enter to win one of three paperback copies!
Next: Fun stuff.
The haunted house was chaotic, loud, and messy. In all, a success.
The layout worked just like I planned, but the details almost killed me during the setup…plus, I had one fogger and one timer fail in the first hour, one corrupted audio file, a dead speaker system, and I dropped a blacklight an two hours before dusk (my wife found two replacements at Walmart, by some All Hallows Eve miracle).
My neighbor tallies all of the visitors to our houses on a ticker. I didn’t catch him for the final total, but based on his early count, I’m guessing we had close to 725.
Fun, but holy crap am I glad I only do this once a year.
It’s almost getting to be too much for me to set up and break down, though. I need to figure out something new for next year. Something like striking it rich so I can buy a warehouse to keep decorated all year round. Yeah, something like that.
I was so busy that I didn’t get any pictures, but I did take ten minutes to do a walk-through with my video camera. I did one pass in natural light (or lack thereof), and then a second pass with the infrared mode on (which shows way more detail than a visitor would see, but you can see the props in place).
The Hint Fiction anthology is out, and you can get it here…
It features ultra-discrete stories layered with subtlety and baiting by over a hundred authors, including Pulitzer winner Joyce Carol Oates, horror icon Peter Straub, and award-winning novelist Ha Jin; solid mid-listers like Joe Konrath and Jack Ketchum; and scores of emerging writers, such as Mercedes Yardley, Barry Napier, and me. It was edited by Robert Swartwood.
It’s pocket-sized, thought-provoking, inexpensive, and unlike anything you’ve ever read. You have no reason not to get a copy.
But first, lock your eyes on this swinging coin…watch as it moves side to side…side…to…side. You’re getting sleepy…sleepy…eyes heavy…eyes dry…
Also: when you hear the word “cat”, you will ask the nearest person to switch socks with you.