Saturday, May 31, 2008

Novel update

For those of you keeping score, I have now re-started my novel for the fifteenth time. (OK, that's actually a guess, based on all the fragments of chapters in my "novel" file dating back to 2004. Many of these are from the point of view of the former main character, who currently does not exist.) As Andrew Altschul said in the class I took with him last year, a story or novel that keeps grinding to a halt usually has a problem with point of view. For me, the solution seems to be the omniscient narrator who is conceived as a character. He or she may or may not play a minor part in the story itself, but the primary role is as a kind of liaison to the reader. It's the best of both worlds--I can create a distinctive, untrustworthy and loopy voice, which I can't seem to do without in my fiction. However, I can also, by fiat, see into the thoughts of any character at will, and make sweeping pronouncements about the world, a la George Eliot. I can even get away with bad writing! (It's not me, it's my narrator!) So far, I'm not seeing a downside.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New word

First heard at the "Legal Frontiers in Digital Media" conference here at Stanford:


It does not mean "of or pertaining to a Three Musketeers bar"--but "of little value." I suppose we did need a single word for that concept. So the word itself probably isn't, you know, nugatory. Time will tell.

At the conference I realized that I've never been in a room with 150 lawyers before. I'm rarely in a room with more than one lawyer; in the rooms I'm in, there are almost always zero. I'm pretty sure my colleague and I were the only ones cracking up and passing notes about "nugatory."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cat, by robot

Here is a picture of Bella, taken by Trev's new SRV-1 Blackfin Robot, the Open Source Wireless Mobile Robot with Video for Telepresence, Autonomous and Swarm Operation.

As you can see, Bella is somewhere in the middle on the "impressed with robot" scale.

That's me in the background, not working on my novel.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Alaska Quarterly Review

Good news! I've had a story accepted by the Alaska Quarterly Review. It will be out sometime in the next year.

Monday, May 12, 2008

On Speed Racer

As a child, I did not grasp the concept of camp. I remember being extremely annoyed at the styrofoam rocks of the original Star Trek, to the point where it ruined any interest I might have had in the storyline.

The same went for Speed Racer. The crappy, repetitive animation and the un-synched soundtrack caused me to wave my little fist in the air and shout epithets. But more than any of these aesthetic failures, I hated Spritle. I hated his concentric-circle cap, especially the fact that it matched the chimp's, which I found inexplicable and somehow gruesome. I hated his stupidity (half the plots, as I recall, revolved around Spritle and the chimp getting into some kind of trouble from which Speed had to rescue them--like he had nothing better to do!). And--above everything--I hated Spritle's voice. God, how it grated. To this day I curl up like a potato bug when I even think of that voice.

Interestingly, I watched a lot of Speed Racer. It never occurred to me to Turn It Off if I didn't like it. It must have been between two shows that I did like, or something. But I'm afraid this says something about me, and possibly about the well-trained young TV viewer.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Cynthia Gregory, winner of Glimmer Train's most recent Very Short Fiction contest, advises writers to keep a journal.

Your journal isn't about you. No offense, and as important as you are, your journal is not an extension of you. Rather, it is like a Polaroid camera that you aim at everything around you and with which you snap a photo. This café. That conversation. That wide, beautiful coastline with clouds hovering over the water like cotton candy and the smell of the surf pushing spring toward the dessert on a mission from God.

For the life of me I have never been able to grasp this concept of a journal. Exhibit A: this blog, which is about me, me, me. If I make a written snapshot of "this cafe," it's "this cafe" with the back of my head in the foreground. You can see me looking.

I suppose this has something to do with my resistance to "show, don't tell"--the dictum to do every part of the story in scene and not summary. In telling, I, the author, can be more present, as in "look at me telling you this." Whereas in scene, one has to efface oneself, become a window through which the reader looks. Bleh.

The best example of the Polaroid style of journal that I can think of is Yuri Olesha's No Day Without A Line. It really is a book of snapshots, written with surreal visual clarity.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The only film I have watched during which I was genuinely worried about having a seizure:

William Gibson: No Map For These Territories.

The film is an extended author interview, and Gibson has interesting things to say. As IMDB puts it, however, "you see Gibson talking in the backseat of a car, often with a cigarette in his hand, while the world goes by. Interviews are spliced with quickly edited footage of modern day life and the effect, for the most part, works." Works, if by "working" you mean inducing seizures, an endeavor which I suppose could be valuable in some military or scientific context. Plus, dissonant background music by The Edge makes it impossible simply to shut one's eyes and listen.

This movie literally is out to get you.