A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

JUST BECAUSE YOU FEEL IT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S THERE

Finished Gravitations 3 last night. It had another wordy short story at the end, but this one was actually kind of fun. It had a guy chasing after a young girl and insisting he wasn’t a Humbert Humbert--sort of like how none of the boys in the main story are gay when they kiss. Ironically, the author had a note about how the short story wasn’t very good. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

*

I had a couple of great teachers in college. I hated my academic experience overall, but there were a handful of classes that really made a difference for me, and it was usually down to the teacher. In fact, I learned quickly if you found a good teacher, you should stick with him or her. Stephen Cooper and Charles Webb were two writing teachers who pushed me in the right ways; I forget the name of another who unwittingly did the same. You can take two semesters of novel writing, and he was teaching what was to be my second. Only he wasn’t going to allow me to continue the book I started (Cut My Hair) because it didn’t “interest” him. I went and sat down at my desk, stood back up, and walked out. My only regret is that I had taken the first week and had been forced to read not only The Firm, but a completely useless textbook on how to write a novel (tip: they're all useless).

Another great teacher was Dr. David Peck. He was particularly helpful in talking about 20th century American literature and the novel of initiation—which is kind of what I was working on. (He even wrote a book on the subject.) His colleague was Dr. Charles May. May’s specialty was the layered nature of fiction, how story exists on many planes at once and can be sliced up and peeled like an onion. (He also wrote a book, Fiction’s Many Worlds, that is excellent, but for some reason very expensive.)

He came back to me as I rewatched Adaptation this weekend. This movie that seems to confound so many (or cause them to declare it pretentious and boring) seems so natural and obvious to me, and I am guessing it’s all down to what I started picking up from Dr. May.

For me, the key to Adaptation is to approach the many possible layers, the worlds that exist simultaneously and parallel. We begin with (1) the real world Charlie Kaufman, who is a screenwriter hired to adapt (2) the fictional world of Susan Orlean’s book, which actually also could cause (1) to intersect with (3) the real world Orlean. Ultimately, what he hopes to create is (4) a motion picture version of (2). The difficulty of that task causes (4) to mutate and splinter, creating more layers: (4a) the fictional world of Charlie Kaufman, where he is writing (4b) his version of The Orchid Thief. Within that is (4c), what he imagines as the real world of Susan Orlean (something that might have stuff in common with (2) and (3), but not necessarily, just as (4a) is only a representation of (1)). Further, we get (4d) the life of Donald Kaufman, his brother, and (4e), the screenplay Donald relates to Charlie, The 3. Midway through the film, we also get (4f), which is where Donald takes over the screenplay (after Charlie sees Robert McKee and calls his brother to New York), taking it to his own conclusion, scooping up (4a), (4b), (4c) and his own (4d) along the way--and with the brothers singing “Happy Together,” even incorporating (4e). (In fact, aren’t Charlie, Donald, and Susan really a reflection of the multiple personality character Donald has created for The Three?). By the end, we have (5), the actual film Adaptation, a combination of all of those elements.

Not stopping there, we also have (6), the viewing public. This is the story we create just by trying to peel the onion, and to pierce the mythos crafted around the film—such as wondering whether Donald Kaufman is an actual person or not. I would argue that the discourse around the film, that the people loudly questioning the fabric of it in the theatre when I saw it, added another layer to the metafiction Kaufman and Spike Jonze created.

But, it’s important to remember, even in discussing (1), (3), or (6), that there is no reality, per se. In trying to decipher what did happen and what didn’t, keep in mind that what is actually on film is all story, all crafted by an author. It doesn’t matter what “really happened,” but what triggered each onion petal.

A lot of DVD collectors have avoided buying the Adaptation DVD out of the fear that there will be a better version later, featuring special features, not just the bare bones release we have now. I actually hope that doesn’t happen, unless what they present only serves to obscure the onion’s construction further. A serious commentary on this movie, at least if presented by the filmmakers, would destroy the experience. Adaptation shouldn’t be explained, only deciphered. And trust me, the second time around, it makes even more sense. Every screenwriting trick Donald and Charlie learn along the way sets up the final act, and so many of the other elements end up foreshadowing or reflecting others.

I have no idea if this will make sense to anyone but me, but I was mainly writing this to run through the gears in my own head anyway.

Current Soundtrack: Tricky, Vulnerable (currently being streamed at anti.com)

cut_my_hair@hotmail.com


Monday, May 26, 2003

HERE COMES THE MUSIC

NOTICE: Wearing backpacks to concerts is a bad, bad thing. If you’re that guy, the one who shows up to general admission shows with a backpack full of crap, I have news for you: there is nothing in your nerd bag of tricks you need! You wandering through the crowd bumping people because you have no clue how big that hunch on your back is just makes everyone hate you.

NOTICE #2: If you’re going to need more beer every second or third song, pick a place near the bar. Being on the opposite end of the club from the bar, and having to push your way back and forth every time you need to get your drink on will make everyone hate you.

NOTICE #3: If you can’t get there on time, stand in the back. If a band has been playing for an hour, chances are the audience has worked out a system where everyone is comfortable and can see. You haven’t earned the right to be as close as we have, and frankly, you should learn a little etiquette. No one likes going from having a perfect view to only being able to see the singer’s head. This is why everyone hates you.

These are the things I learned at the Ash concert last night. I also formulated a plan for world peace. I—and I alone—will be issued a billy club, and if you commit any infraction against what I think is right and proper, then I will club you. I will have to answer to a weekly committee and explain my actions, just so I don’t go around willy nilly clubbing people unchecked—but my power is absolute and fighting back only gets you in more trouble. I recommend buying stock in razor companies, because bad beards are going to get people clubbed left, right, and center, and I imagine many will be shaving after I take over.

The Space Twins opened for Ash. This is the side band for the guitarist from Weezer. It was decent stuff, but exactly what you’d imagine. Like Weezer without the melody. It was one of those bands where the players were so incredibly competent, that they were also incredibly bland. Their technical skill superceded any emotion or power. I hate to put it this way, but it’s generally the same sound you hear with any band formed by guys with money. It’s like a trust-fund kid band, where everyone has great equipment, knows how to use it, but has no charisma or anything to really say. Super Deluxe were a NW band in the mid-‘90s that very much typified that. Most recently, I’d say Phantom Planet is the shining example—Hollywood kids who make a passable Beach Boys meets the Byrds sound, but who ultimately bore.

Ash, however, delivered in a big, big way. It didn’t matter to them that they were playing a tiny club, they gave it everything they had. Tim Wheeler was all over the stage, and his guitar playing skills in particular impressed in comparison to Space Twins. He really knows how to play, but yet, the guy has such a magical knack for a tune, it’s astounding. They focused primarily on material off of 1977 and Free All Angels, deviating only for “A Life Less Ordinary” (yay! this was the one song I went in thinking if people shouted for requests, it’s what I’d shout for! (something you always should decide on before going in)), a surprising “Jack Names the Planets,” and the opener was a B-side whose name escapes me (maybe “No Place to Hide”?). They closed the set with an amazingly fun version of “Kung Fu,” and the encore was a raucous “Burn Baby Burn.” They also did two new songs that, as expected, kicked ass. “Evil Eye” is going to make a great A-side.

There is just something about Ash that is so true. The local paper wrote in their preview of the show that Free All Angels had five honest singles on it, and that’s pretty accurate. Just about every song they make would be at home on the radio. It seems a crime given all the crappy punk rip-offs making waves in America right now that these guys aren’t selling billions of discs.

I even bought a T-shirt, if for no other reason than my old school “Three Boy Hardcore Action” shirt from 1996 has contracted cancer and needs to go to T-shirt heaven.

Current Soundtrack: Ash, Intergalactic Sonic 7”s

cut_my_hair@hotmail.com


Saturday, May 24, 2003

YOU, WHO DO YOU HATE?

This is such a pet peeve of mine. I get one of these e-mails every couple of weeks:
what's an unsolicited submission, and how do I give you a solicited one?

Seriously, this is like, the most basic of information. If you're thinking of entering any creative field, if you can't tell the difference between a submission that has been asked for and one that hasn't, then you shouldn't try. At least spend some time with a dictionary and see if you can't figure it out on your own, so that if you ask how to get solicited, you know what you are asking for. Then again, if you have to ask how you can get solicted, then the answer is likely that you won't be. I can't be any less blunt then that. The thing is, too, the person who sent this e-mail got the e-mail address off the contact page of the Oni website, which has the Oni FAQ, which tells people how Oni looks at work.

I am not sure why I chose to put that in here, but given all the articles I've been involved in lately talking about the submissions process, it seemed to make sense.

Current Soundtrack: people talking outside my window

cut_my_hair@hotmail.com


SMOKESTACK LIGHTNING

Don’t worry. Today I am a mixture of unawake and chipper. It’s a get-up-and-go Saturday. It’s 8:30 a.m. and I just booted up and I am a third into my bagel and just a couple sips into my iced mocha.

Joy Division, The Complete BBC Recordings

When I got here, there was someone I worked with over five years ago at Dark Horse getting ready to leave. I spotted him, but he didn’t spot me. He’s a nice guy, but really, I have no interest to play catch-up. So we have to switch on. The game is appearing less aware than you are. Always know where your avoidance target is, but always manage to be looking the other way. Turn and go off in a different direction when he nears you. Hide in plain sight, but always be prepared for it to go south. Have plausible deniability at the tip of your tongue. “Oh, I didn’t see you.”

I’ve been known to shop, go through whole stores, always staying just out of sight of someone I know. How invisible can one become? Usually, it’s pretty easy to do, just because in general people aren’t very alert to their surroundings. We’re too comfortable in our public lives, and you can easily take advantage of a situation just by paying attention to what is around you. Then again, who is to say they aren’t running the same game on me?

*

Before I left the house, I managed to catch the new Sugar Ray video for the second time. What is up with that? I mean, beyond Mark McGrath’s hideous hair crime (bleached and shaggy? Whaaaaa? Buy a comb, millionaire!). Are they trying to be Pink now? Are they coming up to get my party started? They’ve always had armpit stains of desperation forming on their career, witnessed by how quickly they settled into pattern, going from lame rock band to lame soft rock band to churn out a couple of extra hits that closely resembled their first hit—but this, this is just sad. Next single will be about how McGrath is his own worst enemy.

Massive Attack vs. Mad Professor, No Protection

I’m trying to listen to as much electronic music as possible when working on Gravitation. Shuichi’s band, Bad Luck, is kind of an OMD-type band—electronic with guitars. A little Gary Numan, perhaps. There is also a bit of overly emotional poetry in the smattering of lyrics we’ve gotten for his character—so good, moody stuff like Joy Division also helps out. Gets me in the right place to do whatever it is that I do. (And actually, OMD’s Organisation is next in the stack (I had to bring CDs with me, since no MP3 player). It’s cold and pretentious, arty and distant—perfect for Gravitation’s confused romance. And the Dandy Warhols new, electro-driven album, Welcome to the Monkeyhouse cued up right in time for a performance section.)

And speaking of the MP3 player, perhaps the greatest tragedy is not being able to get into the drive and remove the files. Not that I am losing anything I don’t have on disc (as far as I know), but more for some of the folders I had built. Collections of Geneva, Suede, and Paul Weller, in particular, where I gathered all the b-sides and compilation tracks I had, creating folders with 40 or more songs—not impossible to rebuild, but still frustrating.


Current Soundtrack: cable radio, new wave station (currently Oingo Boingo's "Weird Science")

cut_my_hair@hotmail.com


Thursday, May 22, 2003

IN MY TIME OF DYING

Carrot cake is a dangerous disease.

Martin L. Gore, Counterfeit 2 + “Stardust” single

I’m rolling on Gravitation volume 3. Got to get back in the manga swing. Gravitation volumes tend to be pretty fat, often stretching beyond two-hundred pages. CLAMP stuff is comparatively shorter, and tends to have more action—which is the rewriter’s carrot cake. It’s all smooth frosting and fluff. A good action sequence has full-page panels, maybe even double-page spreads, with a lot of sound effects and at the most, people shouting. CLAMP always puts their big fights at the end, so when I’m about to run out of steam, I get a good clip where I get several low text pages in a row, jamming right through.

I probably should have started on this a couple of days ago, but didn’t get around to it. I did about twenty pages last night, which wasn’t a good quantity for the amount of time it took me. So, I went straight from my day job to this job and am not taking the time to pause. It’s due in a week, and I need to take a break tomorrow or Saturday to work out the basics of an idea for the first chapter for the pitch of the previously hinted-at book series. I’d do that now, but this time was already set aside.

I am thinking of ditching my car. I am not sure. It needs several hundred dollars of work on it, perhaps a grand. I am almost thinking I’d just donate it somewhere, get the tax right-off and start saving money on gas and insurance. Oni was the main reason to have a car, as we had so many errands to run, and Joe Nozemack used to drive a little silver death bullet that barely fit him, much less packages and things. But now he and Dame Lucas have sensible cars, while my Civic is an embarrassing piece of shit that is falling apart. Just two weeks ago Rebecca was trying to get out the back door and the interior handle broke. Plus, every door creaks with rust every time you open it, so much so that if I park outside your house you will know I am there just by the sound it makes (Greg Rucka made fun of it just last night; I should have bent his Frodo poster that I was retrieving from said creaking vehicle and asked him what he thought of that sound (Greg, I kid—go back to being mad at the President, honey; you know me and a cheap joke, it's all love). The back hatch won’t open, and it turns out that the faulty brake light that used to go and off willy nilly and then finally stayed on for good—well, when it started to stay on for good, it didn’t indicate a problem just then, and last time I was at the mechanics, getting the turn signal fixed (and it wasn’t fixed right), they said they thought it might actually indicate a problem now.

I hate property that is expensive to maintain and difficult to replace. I like cheap machines that serve their function and then cost hardly anything when you need another. Or stuff that comes with warranties, like this computer, even if the service people are cocksuckers with no regard for exactly why someone might need a machine to do his or her work, how four weeks repair time is not acceptable. (And then after the four weeks for the service man at your local Best Buy to tell you it would have been cheaper for them to replace it, but that they were stupid.)

Maybe it’s because I look at myself as cheap and easy to maintain and imminently replaceable. Which is sure to elicit a few e-mails from people who want to pet my back and say, “Oh, no, don’t be so sad, you change people’s lives.” Uhhh, yeah, what the fuck? Get off me. I’m Gemini and today I am dramatic. There is another me standing behind me laughing at myself for saying such things, and cracking wise about the fact that I even consider how the four of you that read this might react.

*

Somewhat ironically…or not…a couple of hours later, my MP3 player, which has been increasingly finicky, may have finally bit the dust. It won’t boot up, instead just coming on and showing the name of the player and just sitting there. Plug it into my computer, and the laptop doesn’t even acknowledge that it’s an external drive. Then I open Windows Media to play something on my hard drive, and the computer decides it doesn’t want sound right now, stranding me to the music in Starbucks. The world hates me, and you know what? I hate it back!

*

Driving home, my sputtering car refusing to tell people I was turning left, I started to wonder why these missives are always so bile-infused when I write them from my remote location in corporate coffee land. I fear they end up being the same after a while, and some of that can be blamed on the environment…but I also think we need to consider when in the evening I write them. I usually do these entries first, before I start writing—because after 80 pages of Gravitation, do I really want to do this? So, really, these have a lot of anger because it’s the keyboard equivalent of revving my engine. I’m just getting warmed up, getting the energy flowing.

And now I just want to shut down.

Current Soundtrack: High Fidelity dvd

cut_my_hair@hotmail.com


Wednesday, May 21, 2003

WHEN I'M DRUNK I DANCE LIKE YOUR DAD

Havent been doing a lot of serious writing lately, but just for the hell of it, wrote a couple of reviews on Amazon.

*

Tinka by Rainy Dohaney (aka Renee French)

[five stars] Sweet as can be, and gorgeous to look at..., May 18, 2003

Reviewer: Jamie S. Rich from Portland, OR USA

This is that rare and special kind of children's book that doesn't play to any particular age or audience, instead choosing to exist in a world where every breathing soul can enjoy its simple message and its fun delivery.

Dohaney's theme isn't new. Her young lamb Tinka follows her dreams, finding the courage to accept her own individuality and seeing life beyond the confines of the tiny farm where her family lives. What's special is that the discovery of this courage does not come at the expense of that family unit--in fact, it enhances Tinka's place amongst the herd (and not in some scary conformist way, either, but in a warm and fuzzy good way).

Adding further to the specialness of the book is Dohaney's unique vision. Tinka's world is not a conventional one. It's filled with oddball characters and a vivid imagination that allows a field of flowers to be seen as a giant spider by those unwilling to look beyond their fenced-in pens. The illustrations have a loving depth of detail, with small touches like ever-present insects used to add an extra dimension to Tinka's farm, bringing it all to life. Dohaney's soft colors are gorgeous, too, and you'll want to spend a good amount of time looking at them even after you're done reading the words.

All in all, a special debut. I plan to buy a couple of copies and give them to friends who have some children on the way, so that they can share the delight I've found in TINKA.

*

The Libertines, Up The Bracket

[one star] Don't believe the hype. Really., May 12, 2003

Reviewer: Jamie S. Rich (see more about me) from Portland, OR USA

If you run across this in a store, you'll see some pretty astounding declarations of praise for this record on the packaging sticker, and those declarations are all complete and utter ....

This disc is a collection of some of the most tuneless, half-baked songs I have heard in a long while. It's one thing to put on a leather jacket and strike the poses of drugged out rock 'n' roll party boys, but you should probably make sure you have the rock 'n' roll first.

The first couple of songs, "Vertigo" and "Death on the Stairs," start the album out okay. You can hear Mick Jones' production influence, as they sound a bit like ramshackle Clash demos. But then it all goes awry. There are no melodies, no wholly formed songs, just a big drunken mess. The bonus track of UK single "What A Waster" redeems it a little near the end there...but I'm not sure you'll even want to be listening by then--even at the album's extremely short running length.

So, pass on this. If you need modern rock with a little old-time jangle, try The Strokes or something. Yeah, they're big fakers, but at least they give it a bit more effort.

The Libertines page is interesting, because it's almost like a war is going on. It seems every review is getting "unhelpful" user ratings, and you have to wonder if the fans are beating up the non-fans. If I'd bothered to read other people's reviews before I posted, though, I'd have avoided the hype headline and the reference to The Strokes.

Current Soundtrack: Robbie Williams, The Ego Has Landed

cut_my_hair@hotmail.com



Thursday, May 15, 2003

THE LORD IS MY SHOTGUN

J. Torres gets me to talk some more about submissions, which most of your should be sick of by now.

Current Soundtrack: Primal Scream, Evil Heat

cut_my_hair@hotmail.com


Saturday, May 10, 2003

KNOCK DOWN THE OLD GRAY WALL

So, interesting things are happening.

A writer friend of mine has approached me about developing a series of genre-related YA novels to pitch to a big deal publisher. We’re in the midst of working on that right now, and I don’t really want to say much more, but it could be quite an opportunity. Being paid to write is always a bit of a holy grail-type thing, and if we’re building from the ground up, even if it’s not the sort of thing I would do on my own normally, there will be ways to make it interesting and fun. Plus, it doesn’t end my work on The Everlasting, and will even allow me to kickstart my relationship with an agent I’ve known for a bit of time—meaning even if it doesn’t roll (and who ever knows with such things), there could be fringe benefits.

Current Soundtrack: Badfinger, The Very Best of Badfinger

cut_my_hair@hotmail.com


Friday, May 09, 2003

YOUR LOVE IT LIES

Will it ever happen?

Current Soundtrack: Placebo, "Bitter End" CD2

cut_my_hair@hotmail.com


Wednesday, May 07, 2003

THERE'S SOMETHING IN THE AIR

Just to follow up from old journal entries, Pete Townshend has been cleared of all child pornography charges. Read the story.

Current Soundtrack: Thunderclap Newman, Hollywood Dream (produced by Pete)

Thursday, May 01, 2003

YOU'VE GOT YOUR HEAD SCREWED ON

I got my haircut today, so I am in an understandably good mood. I already want to go back and get it cut again. Before it was my turn, Jennifer actually had a guy come in for a shave. I had no idea they did that there. I almost wish I had the patience to grow a beard, because I'd do it for next time just so I could see what getting a shave is like.

*

I put up a new Big Talk column at the Oni site. It focuses on how to prepare your comics material for showing an editor at a convention, or sending in a submission.

Current Soundtrack: Travis, "The Beautiful Occupation"

cut_my_hair@hotmail.com