An Evening With Neil Gaiman in Review

In an effort to become a better writer, I’ve been doing a lot of things lately that are kind of outside my comfort zone:

1. I joined a writer’s group. I’m still not sure why they like me, but I’ve spent enough time around horses to know not to look a gift horse in the mouth!

2. I went to a writer’s conference. Which I realized I still need to review on the blog. More on that later then.

3. I signed up to go to a second writing conference in May.

4. I got tickets to go see Neil Gaiman speak in San Diego.

The last one is notable because I bought a ticket without finding out if I knew anyone who wanted to go with me. At the time I was thinking I’d probably find someone to go with and we could carpool. Which did not happen. So I’m super proud of myself that I didn’t flake especially because I had to drive myself downtown to go.

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Anyway, back to the event. I really had no idea what to expect. It was billed as “An Evening With Neil Gaiman” which is all I really needed to know. What I didn’t expect was how many other people find Neil Gaiman as cool as I do.

Earlier that day I was explaining to someone how the event I was going to was at the San Diego Civic Center. To which they pointed out that it’s an enormous space for an author to book. I looked this up later – The San Diego Civic Center seats 2,967 people. While not every seat was filled, the majority were. And that is just so cool for an author to fill that many seats with booklovers and wordnerds. I’ve been to concerts and sporting events, but there is just something so uniquely magical about gathering a crowd of overly excited introverts together to talk about books.

The setting itself was just as dramatic: a single podium on that massive stage. No signs, no backdrop, no video screen. The whole evening was blessedly free of pomp and circumstance. Just Neil and a microphone.

As could be expected, he did some reading of his work. Nothing I had actually read before so it was nice to experience it for the first time being read by the author. He read a story from his book Norse Mythology and he also read a short story about a genie.

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Apparently Neil had also been accepting questions prior to the event. I didn’t know about this, but it was okay. He had quite a stack of questions up there on the stage which he picked from. Some of the questions required longer answers, some just a few words.

Overall, I really liked how the evening was unscripted and fun. It ended up feeling like a very intimate event, despite the fact that perched high on the balcony I had to squint to see the tiny figure on the stage. My only real complaint was that 90 minutes was over much too soon.

If you get the chance to hear Neil Gaiman talk, I highly recommend! He’s as lovely and entertaining as all the Twitter posts have led you to believe.

Speaking of Twitter, this happened the next day:

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Life. Made.

 

 

 

Local San Diego: Judy Reeves & Jim Ruland

Judy Reeves & Jim Ruland presented by the reading series at the San Diego Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park 6/21/12

Some of you have seen my Open Mic Etiquette post on The Dark Globe. The event that inspired that post happened at this reading. The reading series put on by MOLA features an Open Mic after the featured reading. Below are my thoughts on the actual reading, which unfortunately got overridden by the very rude behavior of a reader during the Open Mic.

This was the second time I’d been to MOLA for a reading. Jim Ruland read first. He is the author of a short story collection, The Big Lonesome, and curates another Los Angeles/San Diego reading series, Vermin on the Mount, which I intend to check out in the coming months. He is also on the board for San Diego Writers, Ink. At MOLA, Jim read a lengthy short story about short stories and short story writers. That should already tell you something of his personality. The story was very engaging, about a short story writer on a deadline who receives a package containing a book of his work translated into Czech, except he didn’t write the work. Short stories are hard to pull off at readings. I know. I usually read poetry, but occasionally will throw some flash fiction at the audience. It’s very hard to keep an audience’s attention during a piece of fiction, so that they won’t get lost or confused. Ruland accomplished this in an exemplary manner. His writing is littered with such powerful witticisms as “the purloined story”, “a prose technician”, “a coffin in miniature”, “succulent groupies”, and “the details needed massaging”. Looking back, I think one reason why this particular story worked so well for a live reading, is the way it was structured. It was a neat, compact story, but it didn’t get too overblown and lose the reader. It wandered off into anecdotes and tangents as writing is want to do, but always he’d include a little grounding tidbit, something to the effect of “but now here he was, staring at the package on the table”. Little flags like that are helpful in a live audience. If you zone out a little, once you hear a grounding flag like that, you can jump back into the story with ease.

The second reader was Judy Reeves, the author of A Writer’s Book of Days. She is a teacher and author, as well as the co-founder of San Diego Writers, Ink. She runs a number of workshops and groups at San Diego Writer’s Ink. At MOLA, she read a series of flash fiction pieces. Her work (or at least the pieces she read) are very focused around women and women’s issue, such as sexuality (straight or gay) that is often tabooed in American culture. One of the stories she read was based around the Chinese Legend of the Moon Mother, who had twenty-eight houses in which she kept a different consort. Reeves took the legend and translated it into the American West, telling the story of a cowgirl on a farm full of cowboys and ranch hands, a cowgirl dancing by light of the moon. One of my favorite descriptions from this piece was “the tips of her boots a bright constellation”. She read a couple pieces. from which I collected the lines “one-light towns”, “silos like fat, silver fingers of God”, and “men with sunburned necks and flinty eyes”. I have Reeves book, A Writer’s Book of Days, which I got her to sign for me when the evening was done. I read a short piece of fiction during the Open Mic, which she liked.

My signed copy!

Local San Diego: 2012 UCSD MFA Graduates Read

UCSD Presents its 2012 Graduating MFA Literature Class, 5/16/12

It’s always lovely to hear talented new artists. It makes me feel hopeful for them, wondering when we’ll see their books out on the shelf. An MFA is something I’m strongly considering for myself in the future. Many of these MFA graduates were my TA’s or friends.

I’ve included a link to the sound recording here. At the time of writing, it still is not up. UCSD records all of its writing series, but I usually don’t link back because they are published authors. At the moment, the work of these MFA grads exists nowhere else. I jotted down some thoughts during the reading and posted them below. Take a listen and let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessments.

Amy Forrest:
Amy read some excerpts from her novel project. I found her writing to be very conversational and correct. It’s not showing, it’s not trying to make you oohh and aahh, but is involved in communication. The parts of the text she read were very straightforward and precise. It’s almost Hemingway-esque.

Ryan Luz:
Ryan was my TA for introductory poetry and he’s an awesome writer and all around cool guy. Check out his blog here. Ryan has a particular gift for seeing the beauty in the tiniest things, in noticing all the details of his world. In one of the poems he read, he described a spider spinning a web on a bike, making ” a tiny anchor in the wind”. His poems are short and compact, which I enjoy. I enjoy writing poetry that way as well, because my other writing occupation is fiction. And I enjoy the way both forms can be so far form each other in form and length, but still beautiful. Ryan posts a ton of poems up on his blog. He’s also a photographer, musician, and makes videos.

Kara Ford-Martinez:
Kara was my TA for introductory fiction and later, my peer in a grad level film studies course I took. Kara read some pieces from her project, which is a collection of intertwined stories. Her fiction is also straightforward and conversational, very much in the contemporary mode. But there’s something sad and melancholic about it. The words express a strong desire for reminiscing. It could be just the work she read, but I think it’s more of her style. There’s a deep poetic longing underneath it all.

Lester O’Connor:
If I could describe Lester’s work in one word, it would be “packed”. He’s very much like Gabriel Garcia Marquez in that way. He notices everything and leaves nothing untouched. His sentences are well-constructed and filled to the brim with beautiful diction. It almost sounds like a flarf construction, but I don’t think it is. Or else it’s incredibly well-curated. His work is rich and deep and beautiful. I imagine if you were reading Lester’s work, you’d read it a few pages at a time, in order to fully digest the intense beauty of it.

Nikolai Beope:
Nikolai shared some of his fiction. Right away, I noticed his work as being a bit darker and grittier than the previous speakers. It came across as tough and unapologetic, precisely the attitude of the characters whose story he was relating. He displays a real talent for finding beauty in the unbeautiful. His work also included some sections of what came out as spoken word/rap, though I think it’s supposed to be some other type of art form that I missed the reference to. Either way, his work showed great versatility.

K. Lorraine Graham:
Lorraine seemed to be the most interested in experimenting with form and language in her poetry. She also makes use of methodology as a means to create art. Her work is very juxtaposed: things fit together precisely because they don’t. Her writing is extremely emotional and comes across that way, as a torrent of feeling. In the manuscript she read from, I didn’t so much get a sense of a theme binding together the prose poetry, so much as a feeling. She uses language to evoke emotional responses rather than cognitive response.

Allie Moreno:

Allie is the current editor-in-chief of Alchemy, the translation journal that I also work on. She has her blog here. Allie is such a sweet and laid back individual, who balances school, work, and a child! When you talk to Allie, she seems rather mild-mannered and sedate, but when you hear her read, it’s ferocious. She definitely packed a punch closing off the reading. She has a background in spoken word and it really shows in her poetry. Her art is fierce. Allie has a profound understanding on the way in which we can use sound and silence in language to express something beyond mere words. Her work is rhythmic and focused on tonalities and the musicality of language.

Local San Diego: Paul Harding

UCSD New Writing Series Presents Paul Harding, 4/11/12

You have to love an artist who can poke fun at himself. Paul Harding was introduced by his friend and UCSD Professor, Ben Doller. Professor Doller started off his presentation by reading from some of Harding’s worst reviews on Amazon.com. Apparently, some people found his novel, Tinkers, boring, without plot, and a waste of time.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2010.

A self-deprecating Pulitzer winner? A God among men, yet the humblest of the humble? Perhaps you are calling shenanigans on me from your computer screen. But ladies and gentlemen, it’s all true. I cannot tell a lie.

Okay so, Paul Harding. He’s smart, he’s humble, he won a Pulitzer, and a lot of people didn’t like his book. So where does that leave this review?

I’m going to borrow Tinkers from my friend as soon as my workload lightens up. Harding read from Tinkers at the reading yesterday afternoon, along with an excerpt from his new novel that will be released soon, and part of a short story he wrote, Speed of Light, which is set in Nigeria.

While listening to Harding read his work, I was struck by the same feelings I felt listening to the poem Howl being read aloud. It’s one of those things where the words you’re hearing don’t fade out of your mind as soon as you process them, but collect until their is a bottleneck of beautiful prose in your brain, the pressure mounting until it all comes out in a rush when the story is done.

Harding certainly had beautiful, precise, prose. It’s very lyrical and bears a strong resemblance to poetry. Harding used to be a drummer, which seems to contribute to this feeling of musicality. He explains that he seems to hear the lines in beats and phrases, trimming a syllable hear and there to fit this sort of rhythm he has in mind for his work.

My favorite line I picked up on at the reading, was fromSpeed of Light. Two characters are looking up at the stars, and one is talking about them to the other. He says, “Our own history is in the sky, preserved for us in light”.

In the Q&A, discussion of Harding’s writing process inevitably came up. I really enjoyed his answer though. In essence, he said that writing processes are never normative and should never be thought of as such. He also went on to state that “the right way for you to write is whatever gets the words on the page”. Another of his thoughts about writing is that a writer should know his language to the fullest extent possible so that everything is as precise and perfectly articulated as it could possibly be.

I’ll close this off with another gem from Harding’s writing. In Tinkers the title character goes searching for his father. In it, he climbs trees and is described as “tasting for traces of my father in their sap”.

Local San Diego: Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Ferris

Ilya Kaminsky & Katie Ferris presented by the reading series at the San Diego Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park 3/23/12

I’m breaking out of my UCSD bubble and attending readings in the larger world! Tonight’s event featured husband and wife Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Ferris, both professors at San Diego State University. The event took place amongst the paintings and photos and other art that lines the walls of the museum. The museum is housed inside the sprawling acres of gorgeous that is Balboa Park.

Katie Ferris read first, choosing some selections from her book BoysGirls. Described as fairytales for adults, she presented a couple of short stories including such topics as a girl with a mirror for a face and a girl who couldn’t shit on the devil’s face. It’s very deliciously Aimee Bender in that way. Her short stories are definitely short- at least the ones she read couldn’t be more than a page or two in length. But all were quite quirky and beautiful in their own ways. The close of the story about the girl with a mirror for a face says something to the effect of, “I’m not only empty, but I contain multitudes”.

Her husband, Ilya Kaminsky read next. Now, if you’re the type of person who gets up in the morning, thinks about how much your life sucks, and proceeds to throw yourself a pity party, take note. Ilya is a deaf poet. He lost his hearing at the age of four. Some time afterwards, his family moved from Russia to the US. Not only does Ilya speak and understand English well, he’s a professor. Still think your life is hard and you should give up now? Keep walking.

Listening to Ilya read is quite the experience. For one thing, he passes around copies of his work for the audience to look at while he reads. I would love it if more authors did this. I consider myself to be a visual, not auditory person. As such, I sometimes get lost listening to people speak because I spent too long trying to puzzle out a word. Ilya passes the books around I suspect so that the audience can get more enjoyment. Though I suppose that enjoyment is relative. Ilya is hard to understand, but he’s hard to understand because when he speaks, it sounds like English, Russian, and music all at once. Really. All at once. That description doesn’t even really begin to adequately describe what’s happening. This is poetry that transcends poetry as we know it.

The evening was followed up by an open mic session. There were a good amount of students from SDSU there and it was clear how much they love Katie and Ilya. As I attend a good amount of open mic nights, it was interesting to check out the scene at this one. It definitely has a different sort of a flavor. While many are skewed towards the young, this one featured equal representation from the opposite end of the age spectrum. Very interesting to hear and experience, especially as for many of the speakers, this was their first time.

There was one poet who came up who had an interesting premise. Apparently, he spent a year “quitting stuff” and is now spending a year “doing stuff”. The poem was the response to all that. But it was interesting to think about what that looks like. A year of quitting and a year of doing. I want to take up such an experiment.

Local San Diego: Poetry International Publishing Fair

SDSU Publishing Fair presented by Poetry International 3/19/12

This is going to be a bit of a shorter post, just sort of a summary of thoughts presented by the panel. The panel was composed of five representatives, including members from Cooper Dillon Press, Calypso Editions, and City Works Press.

The fair was put on as a congregation of small, local presses. It was exciting to see different organizations run by undergraduates, graduate students, and people who love literature. One of the most interesting points of the panel was how quickly the talk devolved into discussions about markets and in particular, e-books. Among the most interesting thoughts (no accreditation because I’m not sure who was talking), was the idea that e-books don’t replace actual books. Most of the people buying e-books are readers already; thus, they buy real flesh and blood books because they love reading. In this light, e-books are more a convenient companion to the paper book.

Another interesting idea (again no accreditation) is that the e-books as we see them now are a very primitive form of what they’re going to be in the future. There’s a lot of cool things you can do with technology; people who work in digital poetics and media as visual artists and writers can attest to that. E-books as they are now are essentially fancier PDF files. But they have the potential to be completely interactive, with sound and voice components, differences in color, etc. One person even brought up how cool it would be if the text faded off an on the page or changed colors. Now that is an entirely different beast than we’re seeing now. The technology isn’t there at the moment to support that, but it will be. And when it does, in my opinion, e-books will be even less competition to regular books because they will have evolved into something completely different. It’s like the difference between theatre and film or film and photography- they have the same roots, but now they’ve gone their separate ways and become mediums all of their own accord. They’re each supplementary to the overall artistic experience that is part of culture and society as we know it.

Participants (in no particular order):

Alchemy: Journal of Translation

Red Hen Press

Fiction International

Poetry International

Calypso Editions

Cider Press Review

Brick Road Press

Cooper Dillon Press

City Works Press

Pacific Review

California Journal of Poetics

Writers Ink Literary Center

Acorn Review

Puma Press

Border Voices Poetry Project

San Diego JCC Literary Series

Museum of the Living Artist Literary Series

Denver Publishing Institute

San Diego Poetry Annual/ Garden Oak Press

Haiku San Diego & Haiku Society of America Anthology

Black Crow Reading Series

Local San Diego: Eileen Myles

UCSD New Writing Series Presents Eileen Myles, 3/12/12

This is the image they used to advertising Myles’s reading. To me, it kind of sums her up perfectly. As an artist, as a writer, as a poet, she is incredibly human. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to her read at UCSD three times now and every time I am amazed by how utterly normal she is. She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s kind, she’s the sort of person I’d want to narrate my life if my life was a movie. And above all, I find her to be quite humble. There are those people who you know think highly of themselves even if they’re not saying anything to that effect. Some of them deserve it, some of them don’t. But Eileen Myles isn’t one of them. She’s quite well-known, but she’s the humblest famous person I’ve ever encountered.

I can’t decide if I like hearing Myles’s work or her stories about her life more. It seems she’s been everywhere, done everything, met everyone worth knowing. She even ran for President once.

There are some people whose actual voice and their writing voice, don’t jive. For whatever reason, they seem like separate parts of the same individual. It’s hard to imagine them reading their own work. Myles isn’t one of those people. When she’s reading poetry, reading fiction, talking about her life, it’s all the same. There is no boundary between Eileen the artist and Eileen the person.

My friend once pointed out to me that in my writing, the word/image of “dust” always sneaks in. I always found that interesting, but considered it to be sort of weird quirk I should probably try and get rid of; I’ve never heard it/seen it in another. But tonight, for whatever reason as I was listening to her, all sorts of words and ideas kept popping out over and over. Chief among them is the idea of water, of wet, of the ocean, of things that flow. I don’t know Eileen as a person, but after hearing her several times, I would say this concept is important. The idea of something that exists everywhere with the power to calm and to destroy and to mold everything around it. Yet water is innocuous in that we need it to survive just as we need the food we eat, masticating it between our teeth and destroying it beyond recognition. When we take in water we reduce it to its most primitive level and strip it of its power.

Eileen finds meaning and beauty everywhere around her, even if it’s as mundane as a box of Tampax sitting on a window ledge (actual inspiration for a poem). Eileen Myles isn’t your grandmother’s poet; like a lot of the writers I’ve been profiling here through my Local San Diego series, Eileen is a modern poet, someone young readers and writers can connect to. You won’t find a Shakespearean sonnet in her work (at least, I don’t think so. But if you did it’d be a Shakespearean sonnet like you’ve never heard it before). Like Charles Bernstein, Eileen is a thoroughly accessible poet. She told us she’s sixty-two, but like Bernstein, she might as well be a thirty year old with thirty-two years of experience. I sort of had a thought as I was sitting there: Does writing keep us young?

Someone asked her a question about her writing process. While she didn’t give a straight answer, she did impart us with a little gem, however unintentional, in reference to a pencil that captivated her attention: “I wrote until that pencil had no more poems”. I think that’s something we can all aspire to as writers.