intertribal: (tongue)

Dude: Letting people down is my thing, baby - find yourself a new gig, this town ain't big enough for two of us
I don't have the right name, or the right looks, but I have twice the heart
Dudette: If I spilled my guts, the world would never look at you the same way
And now I'm here to give you all my love... so I can watch your face as I take it all away
Both: I know I'm bad news, I saved it all for you.  I want to teach you a lesson in the worst kind of way -- still, I'd trade all my tomorrows for just one yesterday.

I have no idea what's going on in this video, but I've always loved this song.  When I heard it I immediately associated it with my "super-couple," the one I've been writing about since middle school.  For a while I was going to have their first book be my first book - I had worked exhaustively on the outline, written sizable chunks of the story, was living and breathing the characters - and then earlier this year, I decided I couldn't write their story now.

You see, my "super-couple" have always started off as best friends.*  The exact details of their unconscious coupling has changed over the years.  In the first version (the middle school one), the guy had always had feelings for the girl, and she is eventually convinced after some dangerous encounter to give the relationship a shot.  In the second version (written while I was in college), there was mutual unspoken tension that was never acted on because the girl was afraid of intimacy and the guy was afraid of commitment, and when it finally is acted on, it's when the guy has a girlfriend an ocean away.  In the third version (drafted last year), they start a FWB relationship that emotionally destroys the girl and initiates a cycle of jealousy/revenge/sabotage.  Their relationship has gotten progressively darker each time - I almost wondered if I overdid it with this last version, because the guy is such a selfish asshole and the girl is so pathetic.  Her friends stage interventions repeatedly and they never work.  Anyway, the thought of writing about these two right now is just like "NOPE NOPE," - I am just not in the right emotional state.  I know some writers are all about "spin that angst into writing gold!" but I need writing to function at least a little bit as an emotional escape for me.

So I'm writing the story about Americans studying abroad in Indonesia instead.  It's going well so far.

Other songs I've associated with my super-couple over the years (they have a lot of problems):

  1. "Limp" - Fiona Apple: "You feed the beast I have within me/ You fondle my trigger then you blame my gun."

  2. "Suspension Without Suspense" - No Doubt: "Now that I've/ forced you off, do you hate me?  Do you want revenge?"

  3. "Nothing Better" - Postal Service: "Don't you feed me lines about some idealistic future."

  4. "Push It" - Garbage: "I was angry when I met you.  I think I'm angry still.  We can try to talk it over."

  5. "Paradise Circus" - Massive Attack: "It's unfortunate that when we feel a storm we can roll ourselves over cuz we're uncomfortable."

  6. "Slide" - Goo Goo Dolls: "I wanna wake up where you are, I won't say anything at all."

  7. "Closer" - Nine Inch Nails: "I wanna fuck you like an animal."

  8. "Ways & Means" - Snow Patrol: "Maybe I can do it, if I put my back into it.  I can leave you if I wanted, but there's nowhere else that I can go.  Maybe I won't suffer, if I find a way to love her - I'd be lying to myself, but there's no way out that I can see."

  9. "Drowned World / Substitute for Love" - Madonna: "Traveled round the world, looking for a home, I found myself in crowded rooms, feeling so alone/ Should I wait for you, my substitute for love?"

  10. "Sometimes It Hurts" - Stabbing Westward: "God, I hate myself when I try to get over you."

  11. "Filth Noir" - Zeromancer: "Sometimes you just have to risk it all to get what you want."

  12. "Leif Erikson" - Interpol: "You come here to me, we'll collect those lonely parts and set them down."

  13. "Teardrop" - Massive Attack: "Love is a verb, love is a doing word."

* Same first initials too.  Same last initial as well, on his part.
intertribal: (city)
I watched Norwegian Wood a few months ago (haven't read the book, I know, a thousand suns of shame).  I didn't think that I would ever be in the position of relating to the girl described as "outgoing and lively," but man, I was definitely Team Midori.  Maybe because like Midori, I've been hurt too much in the past and I just want to be happy now.  So Midori is in love with the main character, Toru Watanabe, who is depressed and attached to this suicidal girl Naoko who's off at a resort-sanitarium.  And I have no idea how it is in the book, but in the movie it comes across like he's just kind of like, man, I know Midori likes me, but I don't know what to do about it, so I'm gonna do nothing and just sit here quietly with my dark thoughts, blahrghgh. So there's this part where Midori finally tells him, "I'll wait, because I trust you, but when you take me, take only me"... fuck it, I'll just post it.

I'm reading through the Goodreads quotes from the book and they're a little eerie.  Especially this and this.  And this letter is from here (I guess this is from the book?  It almost made me cry though):

midori toru
intertribal: (leather)
Reading this obituary of Fred Phelps Sr., founder of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church --

Fred Waldron Phelps was born in Meridian, Miss., on Nov. 13, 1929. After his mother died of cancer, he was mostly raised by an aunt. His father, a detective for the Southern Railway, was often away on business. He was ordained as a Baptist minister at 17 and bounced around as a street-corner preacher while taking classes at various colleges.

-- made me think that maybe this guy is the all-grown-up version of Francis Tarwater, from Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away.

Truly, would explain a lot.  Don't let the door hit you on your way out, mister.
intertribal: (meow)
New Year's Resolution #1: Get serious about writing.  It's put up or shut up time.  Those novels are not going to write themselves.

You may have been wondering what the hell I've been doing for the past two years (aside from getting a Master's degree and working almost full-time). Well, I've been mulling.  I've been outlining.  I've been making playlists.  I've been reading (not enough).  And now, I am absolutely ready to make a serious go at a novel.  But I'm at a crossroads: where do I start?

Option #1: Novel 1 out of 3 of my "American fascism" trilogy.  Set in a contemporary city in a slightly-alternative, highly-corrupt and "materialistic" America, it's more in the vein of Lewis's It Can't Happen Here than Roth's The Plot Against America.  One of my main characters, in law enforcement, is a "winner" in the current social landscape; the other one, a journalist, is struggling.  A new religious movement, and a new political party, sweeps the nation with the promise of transformative, transcendental change.  Now I love this story.  I love the messy, desperate, self-deceiving characters.  I kind of live and breathe them, actually - I stay up late tinkering with the outline, writing random scenes.  I've spent so much time planning this story, and am so excited about this story, that I could probably write it fairly quickly.  This is, hands-down, the option with the most momentum and passion behind it.  But: it's pretty political, obviously.  No John Galt speeches, and hopefully it's not a polemic - it's way more focused on characters' inner lives than the grit of political issues - but it's political.  It might piss people off.  And I worry that a potentially "controversial" book isn't the right choice for a debut.

Option #2: A stand-alone story about young Americans studying and working abroad in a fictionalized Indonesia.  The overarching theme is self-discovery: discovering what truly matters to you, what you'd be willing to do to get it, and who you really are.  The other theme is the interaction between the (naturally) self-absorbed post-grads and the politics of the foreign country that's hosting them, which is experiencing Sukarno-style turbulence.  So we've got a few overlapping stories: an ambitious scholar falls in love with the girl of his dreams, but she's heading toward a psychotic break; a rich kid with poor grades finds his calling with the military general who knows his father; one dude turns into a prophet and starts his own (very small) religion.  Now I "know" far less about Option #2 than Option #1.  I know the contours of the plot and the way each character develops, but I haven't spent as much time processing it.  I just came up with the title today.  I don't know the characters as well, and except for the girl on the verge of a psychotic break who becomes convinced she's possessed by the mask she's studying... I'm not as enthusiastic about this story.  On the other hand, I feel like it would make more "sense" to start here - it's a stand-alone, I too just finished grad school, I don't think it would be at all controversial.

Both of these stories are concerned with the way the personal snake wraps around the political axis (or sometimes, vice versa) - it's by far my favorite thing to write about.  Both flirt with horror (psychic powers in Option #1, evil spirits in Option #2), though that's not the main focus of either.  But they otherwise feel very different.

If I had my way, I'd keep going full-speed ahead on Option #1.  But I worry that that's not the strategic choice, right now.

intertribal: (meow)
"Miles and miles of perfect skin, I swear I do, I fit right in.  Miles and miles of perfect sin, I swear, I said, I fit right in, I fit right in your perfect skin."
- Hole, "Reasons to Be Beautiful"

This is an issue near and dear to my heart, so I'm actually going to respond to it: Can Male Writers Successfully Write Female Characters? Rod Rees defends his female characters in a way that makes you really appreciate Cormac McCarthy's refusal to write female characters, because he just knows he can't pull it off.  Because if there's one thing worse than a man who claims all women are incomprehensible, it's the man who claims to understand all women!

The old adage is write what you know and living in a house with two hi-achieving, confident and very ambitious teenage girls and having an intelligent and thoughtful wife (who happens to be beautiful to boot!) gave me, I thought, something of an insight into the female mindset.

Beautiful to boot!  I'm sure that makes her easier to try to understand.  Based on his descriptions of them, his female protagonists tend to be young, feisty, and ready and able to market themselves to men.  They admire their breasts in the mirror, use their sexual wiles to get themselves out of a tight corner (the backseat of a Volkswagen?), and call themselves "a lush thrush with a tight tush."  Rees protests that women do, indeed, objectify themselves.  And yes, many women do - many women are constantly preoccupied with their bodies, but about 80-90% of the time, such preoccupation comes from a very scary place of self-hatred and envy.  Even my most confident friends say things like, "bad news, I got fat :(" and when they tell their mirror selves, out loud, "I look hot," it's to combat the years and years of negative internal dialogue, their relatives' nitpicking, their boyfriends' secret stash of porn featuring women that look nothing like them, and of course, that ol' bugaboo, the media.

Rees also protests that women - grown-up women, that is, in the "visceral world of adult fiction" - use their sexual wiles.  Yeah, also true; some women do.  But again, it's accompanied by a whole host of other issues: flashbacks to uncomfortable/negative/non-consensual sexual experiences, fear of "something going wrong," and of course, the above body shame.  There's also the issue of personality shame: "I'm too awkward," "I scare people away," "no one likes me," "I'm not popular."  I'm not saying guys don't have this too - they do - but that this is a real insecurity experienced by many, many women (pretty much every woman I know) who are under pressure to be the kind of socially-adept coquettes that Rees apparently thinks is standard adult female behavior.  And as I argued in my essay on Shirley Jackson, women who fail to play the social roles assigned to them rarely if ever appear in fiction, and almost never as heroines.  This doesn't mean there's not a hunger for them, among both men and women, which is why fucked-up, maladroit women like Kara "Starbuck" Thrace and Lisbeth Salander have proved so popular, and why I've got high hopes for Sonya Cross on "The Bridge."  The issue, for me, isn't that Rees writes about women who don't exist.  I'm sure they do, somewhere - there's a lot of women in the world - and they're probably fucked-up in ways that Rees can't imagine.  The issue is that female characters like his are so obviously a male fantasy, and all they really do is contribute to the huge pile of excrement that is The Portrayal of Women in Media.

What it comes down to is this: spending your life looking at women does not give you insight into what it's like to be a woman, to think like one, to act like one.  All it does is enable you to create avatars who fetishize themselves.  When temporarily transformed into a woman for a movie, Dustin Hoffman came to the astonishing conclusion that the world was full of interesting women that he had not deigned to talk to, because they didn't meet "his" standard of beauty - because he had been brainwashed.  This is a really important discovery that more men need to make.  To some extent, it goes both ways, but men have more social tools at their disposal: wealth, power, seniority, wit, or even just being "not creepy."  By in large, women are still defined and judged by their physical characteristics.

Once female writers venture into the more visceral world of adult fiction they find this stereotype doesn’t work and hence struggle. Just a thought.

The stereotype, by the way, is the "ideal" heroine who doesn't "see herself as an object of male sexual interest" and doesn't "use her sexual charisma as a means of achieving an objective."  This is probably the most woeful, enraging assertion of all, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Rees hasn't read a lot of books, or stories, or songs written by women.  I mean, if he's really suggesting female writers write female characters who have no idea they're objects of male sexual interest, he really needs to listen to Courtney Love's entire ouevre, for one, and Catherine Breillat's, and Sylvia Plath's.  Believe me: we know.  And actually, there are female writers who write his type of self-fetishizing female characters: teenage girls writing bad fanfiction, copying what they've seen in some romance novels, some erotica, and male-gaze sex scenes.  He's got plenty of company. 
intertribal: (smoke)
I'm starting to think that writing about contemporary politics (a political thriller!) from the liberal perspective is like trying to analyze security and war from a constructivist perspective: goddamn near impossible.  Like a fish trying to ride a bicycle.  Etc.  My roommate says I will have bombs delivered to my mailbox if I publish this story, and I said nobody tried to bomb Margaret Atwood, but then again she could hide her true ambitions in extreme dystopia elements, which I'm not doing. This article suggests I take my cues from David Baldacci, whose ads I sometimes see on the metro, or apparently turn to legal thrillers (also check out the conservative author's covers sometime.  They are really very macho.)

Needless to say, I'm an Idiot Writer that does not think about readership and marketability until it's too late.

As you can tell from the novel's playlist, it's mainly a love story.  It's about the power of ideology, after all.  Really more It Can't Happen Here than anything with big block letters and the Capitol building engulfed in darkness and flames.  It's not really about the people with fancy titles trying to stop plots - I don't even know what the President's name is, and anyway, can anybody really imagine me writing something where a politician is portrayed as anything but a half-cocked, rambling lunatic?  House of Cards, this ain't.  None of the main characters have any real national power, although the protagonists are Johnny-come-lately political activists.  I also spend way too much time on interpersonal drama - I've been watching The L Word and goddamn if that isn't the best relationship drama I've ever seen, although I am not surprised at all that the only thing that's come close for heterosexual relationships is the psychotic and unpleasant Nip/Tuck - and rape culture and depression for this to be a true political thriller, I think.

  1. "Filth Noir" - Zeromancer: Sometimes you just have to risk it all to get what you want

  2. "Sometimes It Hurts" - Stabbing Westward: I hate myself when I try to get over you

  3. "Hey Man, Nice Shot" - Filter: I wish I would have met you, now it's a little late

  4. "Tensioning" - Sparta: The sky could fall, the bliss of beginning replaced with an ending

  5. "Not in Love" - Crystal Castles (Robert Smith): And we were lovers, now we can't be friends

  6. "Weapon of Choice" - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: I won't waste my love on a nation

  7. "Is Your Love Strong Enough?" - How to Destroy Angels: Someone I could die for, there's no way I could ever leave

  8. "Bodies" - Smashing Pumpkins: Love is suicide

  9. "We Are The Lust" - Death in June: Hold the knife, bloodied, to the throat of love

Also, Glenn Beck's written another novel, and it's a (surprise!) dystopia - as far as I can tell, the UN appears to be committing genocide in the name of protecting the Animals of the Earth.

 photo jwowwwhatdoisay.gif
intertribal: (Default)

I promised Lindsey I would write this entry.

I recently decided to re-write a series of books I first wrote in junior high and high school (I wrote one book a year).  They were really quite terrible in too many ways to mention, but I was also a teenager.  I wrote most before I read anything truly good.  I decided this mostly because I think I had some really fun ideas in those books, especially pertaining to politics and religion, which are my favorite subjects, and like I "owed it" to the skeleton of this seven-novel series to not just let it crumble in obscurity (born in lust, turn to dust).  I think I also decided to do this because these characters were people I knew, long-forgotten friends who saw me through my most hormonal, unstable years.  And I missed them.  We've been through a lot together.  I named the series after Walton Ford's "Sensations of an Infant Heart" (this is the only thing I've ever written to Harper's Magazine about - I emailed the woman in charge of the art department and said, "So I have this picture from your magazine of a chained up monkey strangling a parrot and I have no idea who it's by, please help?" and she wrote back, "Oh, it's Walton Ford.  What a picture, amirite?").  I think I knew while writing it that it was juvenile and half-baked and that I wasn't ready for the story I was trying to tell.

I started publishing short stories a couple years after I finished the last book of this series.  I don't feel very much for my short story characters.  This enables me to do to them what I could never have done to these first proto-characters, my Adam and Eve.  It enables me, supposedly, to view them objectively.  There are some that have stayed with me more than others, like Lizbet from "Pugelbone" and the unnamed narrator from "Intertropical Convergence Zone," because they were drawn from places close to me emotionally - Lizbet was drawn from my blood, the army guy from, well, my dad and Suharto and other larger-than-life Indonesian men from my childhood.  But most of them are pawns.  I like to think they're reasonably well-rounded, but it's entirely possible that they read a little cold and distant because of this wall I put up.  I put the wall up for reasons that I thought were good: I was way, way too invested in my proto-characters, it got in the way of the story, and in the end their characterization suffered for it. "Are You Hurting The One You Love," indeed.  I know that Kill Your Darlings refers to words, but after this series I decided to use it with my characters.  These characters' next permutation were still near and dear to me, but much less so.  Because I was also becoming a better writer throughout this whole process, I associated the technique with good writing.

And I think this affected the way I read other books and watched movies/television, too.  I stopped getting emotionally involved with other people's characters.  I had gone through a period where I was very involved in fictional characters - incidentally, at the same time I started writing my overly-emotional series - and I was embarrassed by that side of me.  Sure, there were characters I liked, a lot, like Dale Cooper and Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks and Starbuck and the Agathons from Battlestar Galactica.  I think I only ever fell in love with Billy Budd, of all characters, after the calamity of The Song of Roland (and yes, they all end up dying, always), and maybe a little bit with Yossarian.  It took me a long time to find a female character I genuinely liked, and then I found myself much more sympathetic to a whole host of them: Eleanor Vance from The Haunting of Hill House, the narrator of The Bell-Jar, April from Revolutionary Road, Lily from Run, River.  But for the most part I appreciated these books and movies for other reasons - words or stories or ideas.  A lot of my favorite stuff, like A Sound and the Fury and The Violent Bear It Away and almost everything I've read by Cormac McCarthy, were populated entirely by noxious, terrible people. I wanted to see their worlds collide, I wanted to watch them climb over each other and go up in flames, but there was no visceral attachment.

Then I decided to rewrite this series.  Around then I started watching The Tudors (I know, I know), and I got all invested in the tragic queens.  I've gotten invested in television characters before though - I think it's an effect of spiraling melodrama, it catches you up the way sports catch you up - so that in and of itself was not worth much.  But I did end up writing a story based on Jane Seymour and Anne Boleyn, because they wouldn't get out of my head.  And then when I came back to DC this semester, I started watching that free Netflix series, House of Cards.  And I "met" Peter Russo.

Everyone I know who watches that show - and my sample size is all male, for what it's worth - loves the main character, Francis Underwood, because he's "boss" and callous and cool and is in control of everyone.  I think Francis is evil and horrible and shitty, but I totally fell in love with Peter's character.  I would start episodes being like, "Peter, you'd better not [insert stupid thing here]."  And Peter is a terrible judge of character and an addict, so there's a lot of "Oh Peter Russo no" in the show.  Peter is weak, while Francis is strong.  Peter has big dreams and really deep lows, while Francis is always level-headed, rational, logical, focused on the prize.  At the time I wasn't sure why I loved Peter so much.  I decided later that he reminded me of who my male proto-character was turning into, and man, I always loved/hated that guy - and it recently occurred to me that my proto-character evolved this way because he's like the id version of myself: the volatile, angry and depressive mess driven by resentment and self-hatred.  Starbuck is the female version of this, which is I think why I like her.  And my female prototype, the stoic good girl, is my super-ego side that most people see on a daily basis while I work and study and listen to people's problems.  This is a surprising realization, to say the least (and not one I was at all expecting), but may go along the way toward explaining why I keep writing this duo over and over, until the end of time.

Organizing and planning the rewrite is like a drug to me now (the outline for the first book - thankfully I scaled it down from seven to three).  I do think that the edited/overhauled version has a lot of potential.  I think it reflects how much older I am now - the characters and their relationships and the context they operate in are all vastly changed, having been boiled down to their core and seen for what they really are: damaged people, in many ways, the full extent of which I couldn't quite fathom as a high-schooler.  I also think it picks at a raw nerve in me, and I've always picked at wounds.

I still can't shake the feeling, though, that real writers don't write this way - not the ones that end up living relatively healthy, balanced lives, anyway.  I know that Caddy was Faulkner's heart's darling, but Caddy was barely ever on-page and never heard from directly - which mitigates, I would think, the detrimental effect of an emotional attachment to one's own creation.  Because writing is business, right, it's politics and nothing personal?

intertribal: (i hate love)
So hey!  asakiyume is making me do this meme.  It's going to be terrible because I am not actively working on this novel (all I can manage are little short stories, and even those I can't really manage).  Nonetheless!  I am committed to the effort of someday writing this story, and I continue to modify it ever so slightly in my sleep.  Also I am totally re-doing the series of books I wrote as a high school student and turning them into a treatise on the religious right.  You heard right.  But first, after-the-apocalypse.

What is the title of your book?

Junction Rally, followed by Pleading the Blood and On Fire for God (again: this is not the religious right trilogy). 

Where did the idea for the book come from?

You don't want to know.  In its current permutation, however, it came from stories about non-white children who are taken away from their parents and raised "white."  Also: from being intrigued by post-apocalyptic scenarios and then confused as to why none of them went in the direction I would have gone in.  Also: being angry at humanity, and this song: "Wield it wisely, and wield it ruthlessly."  Fun fact: that's how I strive to wield that sword.

What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy.  Horror?  Probably some kind of Fantastic Horror, but I'm sure it would be put next to the other grim, ashy post-apocalyptic books with lonely men carrying guns in a bookstore, never mind that on my cover the man would be pointing the gun at himself. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I am actually one of those annoying TV-generation writers (when I first started writing I saw everything as a movie, which is why my writing was so terrible and why my mother was like, "uh, are you sure you don't want to be a cinematographer?) who has a whole cast sketched out, but they would all be either dead or old or in rehab by the time this gets made.  Nonetheless, I would want my main character to be played by someone like Joaquin Phoenix in Signs, managing to be earnest, passive, and dopey all at once, and my main antagonist to look like Channing Tatum pretty much at any time.  Oh, and my morose primary female character to look like Eva Green in Womb

What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

Trapped in one of America's last villages, a young "demon" tries to be "good" in the hopes of being accepted as a human.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I would want an agency, but this is so far down the road, I don't even...

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About six months of pretty solid devotion to writing (and schoolwork).

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Well, this is my never-ending problem, because I basically read literary fiction, and usually non-contemporary literary fiction at that (1920s-1960s precisely), and I have a lot of issues with most post-apocalyptic fiction especially.  I can tell you that despite the social conservativeness of many of the more loutish characters, it is the anti-Under the Dome.  That said, of the books I love, I would say it aims for something that harks closest to O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away, the Ibsen plays An Enemy of the People and Ghosts, and McCarthy's Outer Dark.  I can't emphasize enough that I am not saying I can write like they can.  If we can go to other media, though, it's kind of 100% Battlestar Galactica set in a small town in Nebraska, then smashed together with Twin Peaks

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I have no idea.  I felt it was an important story to tell, for whatever reason.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Exorcisms (fake and real), cannibals, small-town politics, baby-ghosts, wolves, (heavy) gender politics, moonshine, mundane evil, social analysis, moral conundrums.  That's just in the first book!  Even more shit guaranteed to go down in books two and three, including but not limited to angels, demons, "dragons," California, decapitation, dysfunctional families, and true love.

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

Any writers who see this are welcome to do it.
intertribal: (hey i heard you like the wild ones)
I've been all about the doomed marriage/suburban collapse stories lately.  I don't really have an explanation other than some sad attempt at self-education.  I read Revolutionary Road this summer, and just finished Run, River by Joan Didion - and need more like them.  The titles do not have to start with Rs.  An older-set, psychedelic variant that has stayed with me: The Sheltering Sky.  I also read The Slap this summer, which is a little different compared to the first two, and in a way the most depressing because the characters were drawn much less sympathetically with the least self-awareness (or so it seemed to me) compared to the first two.  But seriously, I am not one to care about sympathetic characters.

Also, Run, River is so good!  I almost gave up on it while reading the first part but once the story goes back into the past it improves by leaps and bounds.  I think it's really about women operating in society than doomed relationships, although there's plenty of those - Lily is the inept, broken one, whereas Martha is the emotional, normal one.  I think some of the most interesting segments take place when Everett, the repressed and order-obsessed man (Lily's husband/Martha's brother), is out ignoring problems at home and Lily and Martha, who start off disliking each other, are flailing at each other.  At one point Martha tells a guy she meets at a wedding that he is disgusting and she is just as bad as Lily for sleeping with him, and when he asks who Lily is, she replies that Lily is her sister and he isn't fit to say her name.  Lily marries Everett basically because he is the first to ask and she thinks it's what she's supposed to do, and so ends up with a guy she can't actually "talk out loud" to; Martha falls so recklessly in love with Ryder Channing that she's essentially crippled from being able to accomplish anything else.  Then I guess there's Francie.  Francie gets druuuunk.

intertribal: (maybe you're right)
Internship aside, I have truly learned a lot this summer, by virtue of sheer lived experience: about family, relationships, parenting, leadership, development, happiness, and just what it means to have sifat baik - a good nature, treating others well.  Most of this has truly had nothing to do with my internship or even my academic program in Malaysia and Vietnam.  I hope that I will be able to internalize at least some of what I've learned.  I'll be lucky if I can.

"Fix You Up" - Tegan & Sara
And what do I need to do to see myself in a better mood?
And what do you need to do to get yourself in a better mood?
Well, there's not a lot for you to give if you're giving in.
There's not a lot for you to feel if you're not feeling it.
What I wanted most was to get myself all figured out.
And what I figured out was I needed more time to figure you out.
Cuz this love is all I have to give.

"All I Really Want" - Alanis Morissette
And all I really want is some patience, a way to calm the angry voice
And what I wouldn't give to find a soulmate?  Someone else to catch this drift?
And what I wouldn't give to meet a kindred?
Enough about me, let's talk about you for a minute.
Enough about you, let's talk about life for a while.
Why are you so petrified of silence?  Here, can you handle this?
Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines?  When you think you're gonna die? 
Or did you long for the next distraction?

"Your Legs Grow" - Nada Surf
If you were here, baby, we'd increase the dosage.
Call me anytime you've got a ghost. 
And you're the only person in the world I feel that way about.
If you move off to the side, I'll get swept back out.
And there's a light that rises up from the bottom of the lake.
And its beam has hit me hard; now I'm wide awake.

"Save Me" - Aimee Mann  <-- this has always been my song, btw
You look like a perfect fit for a girl in need of a tourniquet
But can you save me from the ranks of the freaks who suspect they could never love anyone?
(Except the freaks who suspect they could never love anyone)
Cuz I can tell you know what it's like: the long farewell of the hunger strike.
intertribal: (like a thought touching up against a sig)
One of the little joys in my life is staying at other people's houses and reading their books.  For some reason it comes much more easily than reading books I bought for myself - it's like they're just there, free, weightless, "read me or don't read me, I don't care."  It's how I read The Quiet American and The Bell-Jar, and now it's how I've read Revolutionary Road (in the span of three nights) by Richard Yates.

It's the kind of book that I can imagine readers (especially today's readers) picking up, saying, "I hate all the characters, they're all so annoying and unsympathetic," and putting down.*  That's their loss, though.  And yes, everyone is portrayed almost in the worst light possible, which makes the recurring line from The Petrified Forest spoken by the female lead, April, "Wouldn't you like to be loved by me?" all the more ironic.  But they are human beings, and when I described the plot to my mother - "it's about this couple that considers themselves sort of 'above' the 50s, and they're always going on about the 'hopeless emptiness' of suburbia so they have these dreams of moving to Paris but when the wife tries to actually make these dreams reality, so that the husband will have time to 'find himself,' he gets cold feet and starts to be happy about his mundane job because he gets offered a promotion" - she said, "sounds like life."  And those are my favorite kinds of books.  Nobody here is extraordinarily anything, but they are so life-like in their concealed fucked-up-ness that I read compulsively. 

A lot of books try to do similar types of stories with life in suburbia today, but I have found that they usually descend into sentimentality and/or feature "darling" characters who the writer identifies with or, worse, admires, who get elevated treatment of a sort.  The only person in Revolutionary Road who sort of gets spared the quiet handsawing of Richard Yates is Howard Givings, the old husband of the real estate agent who just stays "steady down now" and turns off his hearing aid to drown out the world around him.  A strong sense of fatigue runs through these people, despite (or because of, more likely) their dreams and masks and plays and vestiges - one of the habits we witness from our main character Frank is the constant rehearsal in his head of what he's going to say to April about events still taking place at work in order to make himself sound like the most interesting man she's ever met, or what he's going to say to her to repair damage from a fight, so that you have to read very carefully to figure out if this is a projected future event or current reality - and it's like Howard is just tired of all this.

For me, two things stuck out: how much the 1950s reminded me of Lincoln, Nebraska (and 1950s New York is apparently what girls who go to Barnard still seek), and how great Richard Yates is at structuring plot and character development, and how extremely readable he is without sacrificing depth.  Everything just flowed with the sense of inevitability (and dread), from tense but mundane beginning to horrific end (see Stewart O'Nan's assessment).  I hate to sound so hallmarky, but it is pretty inspirational from a writing standpoint.

I think if I were to pick a song for this book, it would be one that has no sense of the 1950s at all:

* A couple chapters in the main character accuses his wife of acting out something from Madame Bovary, another book that was condemned by many of my AP Lit classmates as having no sympathetic character (as I recall they were happy when Emma finally died, in a "good, bitch is dead" sort of way).
intertribal: (i could never speak anyway)
Years ago, while interning in Surabaya, I read an op-ed titled "Tremble, Burn, Die."  It was about terrorism - Indonesian newspapers like to take dramatic license with their titles - but the title stuck with me, and I planned to use it as the title of a hypothetical final book in a hypothetical "Nusantara" series about Americans in Indonesia that I would hypothetically someday write.  It was going to be the big, crashing finale to what would have been a slow burn in the previous two books - when the forces of democratization, terrorism, and natural disasters are finally unleashed (and a former human-rights-violating-general sings a love song at an independence day party -> based on something I witnessed, btw).  Not that I've written any of this, of course.  It lives on the back burner.

I'm in Indonesia again, Jakarta this time, and last night talking to my uncle I was struck by how many times he mentioned people burning things down.  "People are out of control," he said, "and they just want to burn everything.  Even the governor's house, in Papua."  The Lady Gaga concert that got cancelled?  An Islamic fundamentalist group threatened to gather dozens of people from around the region and burn down the stadium if it went on - and the cops backed down.  Companies leaving Indonesia?  "When the workers want to raise the minimum wage, they just get people together to burn down the factory." 

It's creepy.  Everyone here has decided that Indonesia lacks strong leadership, all but wishing for the days of Suharto - my other uncle (who I hadn't seen since literally the mid-90s, and it turns out he's awesome, so that's cool) - was like, "Yeah, that is the sadness of Indonesia, that the people need a leader that is pretty much a dictator."  It's what made my dad so depressed about the country.  Speaking of my dad, apparently someone at the Jakarta Post knows who he is and thinks it's sad that he died and his ideas were ahead of his time.  His thesis posited that Indonesia needed to build a middle class to challenge authoritarian rule.  I wonder now if he lost faith in that solution.

Looking at the article again, this is where the title comes from, by the way: an Afghan poet named Khalilullah Khalili: "Out of pain and sorrow destiny has molded me. What, alas, has been my joy from the cup of life? Like a candle burning in the blowing wind, I tremble, I burn, I die."
intertribal: (i could never speak anyway)
A meme lifted from [ profile] barry_king: The Rules: Go to page 77 of your current MS. Go to line 7. Copy down the next 7 lines/sentences and post them as they’re written. No cheating.

It's not really that "current" of an MS at this point (last touched August 2011, before I moved to DC for grad school), but it'll have to do.  It's Junction Rally.

“Hey, Rodriguez,” said Paul when Team Gold paraded past.  “Thanks for switching with me.”  He grinned crookedly and ran to catch up with Jason, who was wearing the flag like a cape and staring straight ahead with the focus of a bullet.  Other people just slid off Jason like water.  Sam knew that the smart thing to do would be to get in Jason’s good graces, because that kid was clearly going to inherit everything.  Marcus hadn’t done that and he was treading water, always getting the shittiest assignments – taking the injured to the clinic, disposing of corpses.  And Sam, being the idiot his sisters always told him he was, had just traded in a spot on Jason’s team for a chance to be around a demon.
intertribal: (if i had a heart)
Dear F-list, any recommendations for a place that might be receptive to a story that is: (a) minimally "fantastic," and definitely not science fiction, (b) dark, (c) contemporary?  It's also political, but you probably could have guessed that.  And while I wouldn't call it "experimental," it's not really traditional and straight-forward either.  It's a little ~obscure~. 
intertribal: (can we forget about the things i said)
I published two stories this year that were "the kind of thing I want to write," by which I mean, more in line with my mission of being informed by socio-political concerns: "Princess Courage" at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and "Absolute Zero," in Creature!  Thirty Years of Monsters (reprinted in Fantasy).  Francesca, thank you for your thoughtful emails.  I'm just very bad with emails, and online communication in general, these days.  If I see that an email is not related to work or school, it goes way on the back burner.  I did really try to make "Princess Courage" not about "imperialists = bad," although of course I do think imperialism is a scourge upon the earth.  Reading Charles Glass's interview/list of books about Americans abroad yields this wonderful-yet-simplistic truism:
So what is the fundamental error of colonialism?

That’s another subject and not really literary but I suppose its fundamental flaw lies in telling other people what to do in their own countries.

When I was writing "Princess Courage" I had a whole playlist called "Current Story 2" that I never got a chance to share - I'd like to do so now.  Here are the songs, in actual order (I don't think the zip file put them in order, because it's awesome/I can't be bothered to figure out how to fix this):
  • "Das Tor" - Faun
  • "Proven Lands" - Johnny Greenwood (There Will Be Blood OST)
  • "Runes and Men" - Death in June
  • "Lament for the Wild Geese" - Cruachan
  • "Death and All His Friends" - Coldplay
  • "Violet" - Hole
  • "The Quest I" - Tomandandy (The Hills Have Eyes OST)
  • "Scar" - Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica OST)
  • "Yesterday's Hymn" - Queen Adreena
  • "Low Five" - Sneaker Pimps
  • "Take Your Time" - Low
  • "Horrorshow" - Bat for Lashes
I didn't make a playlist for "Absolute Zero."  But this is the song that I quote in the beginning:

In the interview that I did for "Absolute Zero," I mentioned something about being biracial, I believe, contributing to how I wrote this story.  I totally stand by that, and this song reinforces that.  Of course I don't want to imply anything so pathetic as one-of-these-cultures-is-monstrous (jesus christ), but the sense of belonging/un-belonging, the where-the-fuck-did-I-come-from, the hiding in plain sight in Nebraska, the if-I-join-your-kingdom-can-I-feel-less-bad... that's all there.

There is also a playlist for "Current Story (1)" as well - that story is "Endless Life," which I recently sold to Laird Barron at the new mag Phantasmagorium (huzzah).  I'm doing edits for that beast now.  Just like "Absolute Zero" was inspired by mishearing a terrible SyFy movie, Carny (yes, really), "Endless Life" was inspired by the rather terrible SyFy program Ghost Hunters International - specifically, the one where they go to South America in search of Hitler's ghost.  A lot of my stories seem to be an attempt to explain/extrapolate from some absurdity on SyFy.  "Endless Life" has a fantastically appropriate playlist, if I may say so myself - either that, or I have creepy/disturbing/sad taste in music.  These are probably the most appropriate songs off that playlist:
  • "Now Now" - St. Vincent
  • "If I Had A  Heart" - Fever Ray
  • "When I Am Queen" - Jack Off Jill
  • "Bela Lugosi's Dead (Bauhaus cover)" - Nouvelle Vague
"Endless Life" is kind of set within the same world as "Intertropical Convergence Zone" and "Red Goat Black Goat," even though those two are much more obviously set in Indonesia and refer - in passing, in the case of the latter - to Suharto's regime.  "Endless Life" isn't really identifiably Indonesia, and I name that General, but it does fit into the whole critique of authoritarianism. 

Speaking of Indonesia, I'm working on a new novel (yeah...) about a group of young Indonesianists called The Crew.  Trying not to put too much pressure on myself to make it perfect this first time around.  Trying not to falter under the weight of my own expectations.
intertribal: (cuz every now and then)
Also, I'm totally going to write a story based on Germany's so-called "recognition" of the Principality of Sealand. Google that shit. Micronations. And I think I will call it "The Democratic Peace."

intertribal: (this land)
I'm Ludvig II, the Swan King of Bavaria!
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?

Born with the name of Otto, you became Ludwig at the request of your grandfather, King Ludwig I, because you were born on his birthday. You became Crown Prince at the tender age of 3, and soon after stole a purse from a shop on the basis that everything in Bavaria belonged to you. Tragedy struck when your pet tortoise was taken away; relatives thought the six-year-old prince was too attached to it. Your childhood was lonely and formal. Once, you were prevented from beheading your younger brother by the timeous arrival of a court official. From the age of 14 you suffered from hallucinations.

Despite striking an imposing figure with your great height and good looks, your speeches were pompous to the point of incomprehensibility. You became even more of a recluse, often spending hours reading poetry in a seashell-shaped boat in your electrically-illuminated underground grotto.

You are most famous for building three fairytale castles - Linderhof, Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee - at tremendous public expense. Declared insane and confined to your bedroom by concerned (and embarrassed) subjects, you escaped on 13 June 1886, but were later found drowned with your physician in Lake Stamberg in mysterious circumstances.

intertribal: (pro nails)
My story "Princess Courage" will live at Beneath Ceaseless Skies!  I've known about this for a while (there have been revision requests...) but I wanted to wait until Scott Andrews put it on his latest Recent Acceptances post, because that's when it felt official.  This is the story I mentioned in this post with "White Wedding" and all.  I'm a fan of BCS and rarely write stories that would fit their parameters, so it's exciting.  "Princess Courage" was inspired by my recent contrarian reading of Lord of the Rings and ended up becoming kind of like that movie W. except for William McKinley and except not in our world.

Here are two more songs used in the writing of this story - both by Hole.  As they contributed to the story they're less about gender and more about power in general (in particular invasion/colonialism and leadership/hero worship, but I see that in everything).

You should learn when to go
You should learn how to say no!
When they get what they want, they never want it again
I told you from the start just how this would end
When I get what I want, I never want it again


I'm Miss World, somebody kill me
I'm Miss World, watch me break and watch me burn
No one is listening, my friends
I made my bed, I'll lie in it
I made my bed, I'll die in it

intertribal: (this land)
He was one of the very few "YA" authors whose books I liked as a middle-schooler.  Also some of the first sci-fi and fantasy I read.  Interstellar Pig was assigned by an English teacher in 7th grade.  I read several others (Blackbriar, I sort of remember).  The one that made the most impact on me, though, was The Beasties, because of the whole pro-"monsters" angle.  I should re-read it, in fact.

Apparently he died in Thailand
intertribal: (luna)
My two library books are due tomorrow and can't be renewed again for whatever reason, so I just spent the last three and a half hours finishing them: The Priest by Thomas Disch, and Tik-Tok by John Sladek.  Both turned out to be pretty weird books, in different ways.

I've been wanting to read Disch for a while because he seemed like an interesting guy, but I only picked this book because the library had nothing else by him (I was looking for The Genocides).  The Priest is about - I guess - Father Patrick Bryce, a priest who also happens to be an alcoholic with a fondness for teen boys.  He's not the most likable dude, but he's also not the least likable dude.  The really bad guys are Nazi-homages, unfortunately, obsessed with a German saint and with holding young pregnant women hostage in a grotesque shrine to keep them from having abortions.  Father Bryce is blackmailed by a whole number of people and suffers strange flashbacks to the Dark Ages, where he's a nasty Inquisition-supervising bishop named Silvanus.  I enjoyed some of the writing and the complexity promised by the plot, but my interest/enthusiasm waned.  I'm not sure why.  I didn't get how all of it was going to tie together, and I disliked everyone.  A lot of the content just tasted like vomit - noxious people, medieval torture, catacomb prisons, murder, Satan tattoos.  And unfortunately, as the plot clumsily wraps up it starts feeling more like The Da Vinci Code.  I was okay "spending time with" Father Bryce - he was a well-grounded, complicated character who I felt bad for - but then the reader is splitting time between him and Silvanus, who's just ick, and then with a bunch of other characters who become "action heroes" out of nowhere.  I'm like, "Wait, where the fuck is Father Bryce?  Oh yeah, still trapped in the Dark Ages.  Damn it!"  I am perfectly willing to concede that I was not the right audience for this book, because I can't say that I "got it," and my feelings toward it are very... meh.  I kept forgetting who the hell all these damn people were and all the horrible things they'd gotten away with and how they knew each other.  What may stop me from trying more Disch, though, is the dialogue.  Oh man.  All his characters sound the same, and none of them sound like people.  It's surprising in a book that is otherwise competently written.  You've got a 12-year-old girl sounding the same as a middle-aged male priest - and this is a Just No for me. 

Tik-Tok I wanted to read because of the premise: in the foreseeable future, the incredibly misanthropic and cunning robot Tik-Tok goes from being a servant of various bizarre households to an acclaimed painter to a healthcare CEO to Vice Presidential candidate - killing humans as the whim strikes him on the one hand and playing to whatever vision of robot-hood humans want from him on the other.  I loved this book.  It reminded me of darling Catch-22, which I incidentally thought was science fiction the first time I read a snippet of it.  Sladek clearly had a blast creating an absurd vision of the future - starting with Ridiculous and Bad Situation 1 and just making it worse and worse.  But Tik-Tok doesn't go down like vomit, because it's very funny (to me, anyway) and it doesn't waste time getting you to care about anyone.  Children, pets, love interests - forget it.  They'll probably all end up in the grinder.  This is one of my favorite passages (it reminded me of the Canadian pipeline project currently being pushed through Nebraska):
The USS Leviathan would not be anything like an ordinary carrier.  It would be a monster platform, some fifty miles across and equal in area to the state of Delaware.  It would launch both missiles and planes of all types, and it would be capable of fast movement around the countryside.  

In the first design, Leviathan was to run on wheels, thus promoting the interests of a large rubber company.  But the number of tires required turned out to be 135 million, plus spares (a tire change would be needed every hundred yards).  Unless a complete rubber factory were taken on board - one of the alternative suggestions - the entire ship would have to hover.  Grumbling, the rubber company settled for a contract to provide the giant hovercraft skirt required.

Both houses of Congress shoved through the necessary legislation.  There were objections that Leviathan would cost too much, would be a sitting duck, would devastate any land over which it happened to hover.  But by now the Army wanted it as badly as any of the dozens of states, thousands of companies and millions of workers.  The combined force of industrial, political, military and commercial arguments rolled the project over all opposition as one day Leviathan itself would crush down anything in its path.  One junior Senator who continued to oppose it was sent on a fact-finding mission to Antarctica while the bill was railroaded through.

From the start, there were problems called "teething troubles".  The fans which were to lift the craft were at first too weak, then (redesigned) so powerful that they blew away the topsoil for miles around the craft, created dust storms and buried small towns in soildrifts.  A computer company suggested expensive monitoring equipment to regulate each fan, but this never seemed to solve the topsoil problem.  A chemical firm then went to work on a binding agent to hold the topsoil in place; Leviathan would spray the stuff out before moving.  After months of experimentation with expensive agents, they found the best to be ordinary water.  The Leviathan was now redesigned to accommodate huge water tanks holding whole lakefuls of water.  Even so, it would never be able to stray more than fifty miles from a major water source (though thousand-mile flexible pipelines were considered).  
The truth is, I was interested in Tik-Tok because the whole robot-slaves-in-a-human-world thing seemed like it might strike the same chords as my novel, and it sort of did - Tik-Tok himself is a lot like my character, Peter, just way over the top, and at one point the political group American People First comes up with a Keep America Human slogan, much like my disenfranchised villagers come up with Keep Junction Human (I kid you not - I cracked up when I read it).  So I felt real conceptual kinship with this book, even though my novel isn't satirical, and was sad to see it end.  I'll definitely read more Sladek.

But apparently fans of The Priest find it hilarious and ironic, so maybe what all this means is that humor is subjective. I think I felt like The Priest didn't go far enough for it to really be funny to me, whereas Tik-Tok functioned entirely in the realm of the absurd. 
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