Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again" by David Foster Wallace

"A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again" by David Foster Wallace

Seven essays. First one was about peaking in Tennis at age 14. It was okay.

Second one was about TV, written in 1990. I learned some things. To whit:

  • Malignant addiction is defined by two things: an addiction that causes problems in the life of the addicted person, and that purports to solve the very problems it causes. In his essay TV is a malignant addiction. Written before the internet.
  • The success of TV is based on everybody having both highbrow and lowbrow tastes. Everybody's lowbrow tastes are the same, and everybody's highbrow tastes are different, which explains why everybody I know can sing "Hotblooded" by Foreigner, but I'm the only one who knows who David Foster Wallace is. It also explains the "long tail" marketing thing about the internet and kind of predicts its hockey stick shape.
The funny thing about that essay was it quoted extensively an article which seemed (from a future perspective) to be predicting the internet, except that it forgot all about copyright. Like, we're all going to be taking TV shows and recombining them to create something unique... except that then Fox or the comedy network will sue us. DFW seems to have thought the whole thing was BS anyway.

Third one was about some literary theory I managed to avoid remembering, even though I have an English degree. Fortunately it wasn't too long.

Fourth was about a trip to a midwestern state fair. I didn't care that much for it, though it did have some amusing moments.

Fifth was a 60-odd page preview of David Lynch's Lost Highway, which I quite enjoyed. DFW went to the set for a few days, and Lynch's house, and his production company's office. I haven't seen the movie, or most of Twin Peaks, or Firewalk With Me, or anything else since Wild at Heart, which I liked (except for the Diane Ladd lipstick scene, which I found profoundly disturbing).

Sixth was another story about tennis, this time about a player I've never heard of at the Canadian Open. It was funny to me because it talked about Canada stacking the qualifiers with Canadian players, etc. as if the US and every other country doesn't do that.

The last one was what I got the book out for. It's the title piece, and it's about going on a cruise. I got this book out of the library because in the story I'm working on, the characters have to write a "what I did on my summer vacation" essay. One of the characters writes about going on a cruise, and another character accuses her of making it up, because many of the details indicate that she has never been on a cruise. Well, I've never been on a cruise either, so I needed some details to get totally wrong. I'm not plagairizing from DFW; pretty much the opposite. And this essay didn't make me want to go on a cruise, either. In fact, it didn't make me want to be a tourist at all.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Which sci-fi crew would you best fit in with? (pics)
created with
You scored as Serenity (Firefly)

You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.

Serenity (Firefly)


Moya (Farscape)


SG-1 (Stargate)


Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Heart of Gold (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


"Magic for Beginners" Kelly Link

Must have read a review or something, I don't remember where. It was on order at the library forever. For months and months.They ordered eight copies, I was 9th of 11 when it eventually arrived.

It's short stories. I hadn't read any stories by her before (I don't read whatever magazines short stories are published in) so it was all new.

I loved "Stone Animals", which has one of the best openings I've ever read. I was happy to see it on someone's top-10 list of opening lines, I forget where. "Some Zombie Contingency Plans" had a fabulous ending. I loved "The Hortlak", though I had to go online to find out what the title meant just now (maybe when I go home later I'll check and see if it ever turns up in the story in the phrases that I mostly skipped over). Reading it while listening to Joanna Newsom was extremely disturbing.

Not so much "The Great Divorce" and "The Cannon".

And then I lost the book, I think at a band concert at Mel Lastman Square back in July. This was doubly lame because there's a library at Mel Lastman Square, so if someone had come across it, they could have just stuck it in the book return slot. Anyway, so that happened with two stories left, one of them the title story. So, after a sufficient mourning period, and after paying for the book, I requested it again so I could finish it.

I loved the title story. There was a line in it that that I sort of stole to explian myself to people: "Amy wasn't that much stupider than everybody else, it's just that she thought out loud." I'm writing that from memory, but I think the nuance is there.

The last story, "Lull", is a whole bunch of stories within stories, and they all wrap up within about three pages. This amused me, but it might not amuse other people who don't write short stories. Like, I explained it to Ed and he thought it sounded stupid. Which led me to wonder if perhaps the only people who read short stories are people who write. I rather like reading short stories, but the thing is, if you have a collection of short stories, you have to come up with ten endings, whereas someone who writes novels only has to write one. And endings seem to be the hardest part of a story to write for most people. So especially those 12-book "fat fantasy" series that I read sometimes are a bit of a cop-out, because you never have to write an ending anyway, and then you die (not that I'm thinking about anyone in particular...)

I liked this book, I liked it a lot. A lot of people might not have the patience for the unexplained self-contained worlds the stories take place in, but if you just go with it, well, for me these stories were like really good chocolate.

There's a Kelly Link story online right now here:

It's not in the book. I don't know how long the link will work.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Just a comment

Last night at band practice, I told the 1st clarinet who sits next to me (who was fretting about how he freezes up when he has to play a solo) that when you're playing a solo, people are rooting for you. They don't want you to fail. When you're playing a solo, the room is totally on your side. Music is the opposite of car racing, where the audience only watches to see cars crash and burn.

And then this morning I remembered Britney Spears performing at the 2007 MTV Music Video Awards. Yeah, right.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Artemis Fowl" Eoin Colfer

This is the first book in a series, and introduces 12-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis and the fairies he takes on. He's the only person to ever get away with fairy gold, fair and square. Well, not exactly fair but you have to start somewhere.

The fairy society that lives underground is well developed, and the rules of their magic seem well thought-out. The technology that Artemis employs seems modern, not dated (which seems like a risk when you write a book these days, it taking so long to get a book into print from when you write it).

It was funny, too. I read this with the boy, and the next day we started the next book in the series, so I guess he enjoyed it, too.

It seems strangely appropriate to me to be thinking about this book right now, because my coworkers have taken to calling my green jumpsuit my LEPrecon outfit, thinking it's some kind of a joke or a dig or an insult, I guess. However, I think I won't be dressing up as Holly Short for Halloween. I suspect I'm the only one in my immediate team who knows about the Lower Elements Police Recon unit (LEPrecon) after all. And once you make a garment part of a costume, it's always going to be part of a costume, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Smell It" Hal Niedzveicki

Because he's the Writer-in-Residence at the TPL this quarter, I thought I should read something by him.

This is a collection of extremely short stories. Some of them seemed like poems, especially in the way that they required me to think about them to even have a clue what they were about. Smetimes the title gave a hint. I had to put the context to them, figure out what was going on that the people would hurl insults at each other that way. Not that I minded. It was like doing a crossword puzzle in a way. I'm just not used to that in a book.

The longest was 10 pages. I found the longer ones easier to deal with, actually. The smaller ones I had to use up energy trying to figure out what they were about. I was thinking it was a good thing probably that I got it out of the library, because that meant I had to bring it back eventually (and on time) which provided a motivation to finish it. Short stories are a catch-22. They're great for reading in short bursts, but often there's nothing to draw you back once you've set it down, and especially when the stories individually aren't that palatable, seeing as most of them seemed to have, well, a penis fixation. At the same time, I found them much more enjoyable when I read a bunch in a row, like 40 pages. So I read the entire collection in I think four sittings.

There were some really priceless moments, though. It was a library book, so I don't have it any more to look up titles and such. But there was one about why the couple aren't married, where the guy says to the woman, "I don't want to be buried next to you. I don't know why, I just don't." Man, that was beautiful. It sums up a relationship with so much quiet complexity. Like, 50 years I can handle, but eternity, no.

It made me want to write something short, though. I am so easily led. When I'm reading kidslit, I want to write kidslit. When I'm reading short fiction, I want to write short stories. When I'm reading extremely short stories...

Well, maybe I'll post something sometime.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Circle Opens: Book 2 "Tris's Book" by Tamora Pierce

The first book can't have been that bad, because when I was at the library the next weekend, I picked up the next book in the series.

The problem is, I don't feel like there was a grand plan. Nothing is set up in the first book in order to make the second book work. What I"m looking for here is a JKRowling-esque preplanning where there are characters mentioned in passing in book three that become features of book six, (like the thief I forget his name who is always ripping off the order of the phoenix). We never hear about Tris's cousin in book 1 (that I remember anyway). Right before she needs to be able to see magic, the concept is invented. JKR would have put that in book 1.

I think this may be the nature of being a professional writer who is making a living off your books. I think she writes one and then has to get it published, and then has to write the next one, in some kind of a madcap schedule.

Did I mention before the "about the author" bit at the back? Robin Hobb's has got to be my favourite. "Robin Hobb lives in Washington State." How's that for "It's none of your business!" Well, Tamora Pierce totally goes the other way. It may be the only one of these things I've ever seen that was longer than a page. And the acknowledgements are hidden in the front with the ISBN number. It's totally shocking.

Why I read this: well, right now, my 1st draft project is a story about four young adults at a boarding school. It's definitely different than Winding Circle, this school they're at, and different from Hogwarts, too. But I'm curious about how other people handle the situation. Maybe I should talk to other people who have gone to boarding school, such as Ed, his sister, and my mother, about conventions. Does every school have students organized into houses? Are friendships the same as at Hogwarts, where three or four kids basically do everything together and seem to have no interactions other than classroom ones? I mean, Ron has no hobbies, he's in no clubs. He has no life except when Harry is around. I don't want my characters to be like that.

Second library book I've lost since August, though. This is getting expensive. I have to start carrying around my own books, I guess, and reading library books at home.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Stephen Fair" by Tim Wynne-Jones

It was an entertaining read with a good amount of suspense. I read all the way through because I wanted to find out why Stephen was having the nightmares and what Brenda was hiding.

It was exactly the same as the other TWJ book I read in so many ways. (That other book was "A thief in the house of Memory")
Main character male, approximately 15
Has younger sister, approximately 7
Lives in an architecturally wacko house
Family was abandoned by one of the parents
Figuring out why that abandonment happened is the main quest of the book
Small exurb town (I take that word to mean that it's farther out than a suburb, with farms around, but is still like a feeder community, but I could be wrong)
School friends who are outrageously precocious (in this book Stephen writes whole poems out of only the letters in a person's name, and another person's name; in Memory a girl spends whole days only using words that don't contain the letter e)
Coffee shop scenes
This left me depressed, and here's why. I want to be a writer. I write things--long things, short things, novels, stories, computer manuals to pay the rent, little rants. Clearly TWJ writes to make a living (other than the money he makes as WIW and teaching a MFA program in Vermont). I really want each thing I write to stand apart from each other thing. When I read even books by authors I really like, sometimes I feel like I'm reading the same book over and over. This particular book seemed like an extreme case -- same main character, same minor characters, same plot. But for example, the relationships between the main character and her love interest each Ann McCaffrey novel all seem the same after a while. And they're all set in the same world.

When you're a writer, in order to have an audience and a market, do you have to keep writing the same thing? Is that somehow required by the genre you're trapped in? Do you really have to always write in the same genre if you want to keep getting published? If you write a vampire book, are you always doomed to write vampire books, and maybe every once in a while a book about a demon instead, or a fallen angel (since those are pretty much the same genre)? Why do people stick to genre so much? I've always thought of myself as a warrior-mage, doing lots of different things (some might say it's more of an excuse for not finishing stuff). And it takes longer to develop a warrior-mage than a specialist, but when you're done, it's way more useful.

And while I'm writing ranting questions, are series really the way to go, and the only way to make a real living in genre? Because I don't think I have the attention span for three or twelve books. In fact, I don't think a lot of the other people who write them do either.

Wow, I don't really think it's fair to dump all this on poor TWJ's shoulders.