Author Events, Fantasy, Fiction, Sci-Fi, Uncategorized

An Evening With George R.R. Martin and Kim Stanley Robinson in Review

I have to start out this review by saying Tylar, you’re the real MVP! I can’t believe I was actually able to attend this event. It sold out so fast, but my friend Tylar was able to score tickets for this great event at our alma mater, UCSD.

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Before the event, I was wondering what it was going to be like. George R.R. Martin was clearly the main event and why most people bought their tickets. I wondered how Kim Stanley Robinson felt about that. I imagined that maybe they were going to bring Stan out first and then have George talk.

What they did was actually even better. They had both authors sit down with one of the professors from the UCSD literature department (not a professor I knew from when I was there) and they discussed various topics for about 45 minutes before answering questions from the audience.

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I’m sure you’re reading this to hopefully a) find out when the next Game of Thrones book is coming out or b) find out spoilers for the new season of Game of Thrones. And I’ll get to some of the more specific answers George gave, but first I want to talk a little more about the evening in general.

George definitely dominated the evening. He talked much more than Stan and always had a ready answer for the moderator. But I think that’s a difference in personality. Stan was much more reserved, but seemed like such a nice guy. Like the type of guy you wished was your own grandfather because you just wanted to give him a hug and hang out with him.

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I’ve only read one book by Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt, and sad to say, I didn’t like it very much. But after this event, I think I’ll check out the Red Mars trilogy and the Three Californias trilogy, one of which I guess he wrote while he was a student at UCSD. I had also added his new book, New York 2140, to my book wishlist before the event when I saw it on a list of upcoming dystopian novels. I had no idea Stan was a UCSD alum before this event – super cool!

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I will say I surprised by how smart and how well-read George was. I mean, I know I shouldn’t have been surprised. Game of Thrones is fantastically complex and clearly the man behind it is a genius. I guess I didn’t expect that to translate to verbal ability. Color me impressed. George knows the history of literature as well as any professor. He keeps up with the awards and who’s writing this or that. It was really amazing to hear him speak, he is a brilliant man.

In no particular order, here are a few tidbits I got from the evening:

-A big topic of the evening was the discussion of genre fiction and its place in relation to literary fiction. George was obviously representing the fantasy genre and Stan was representing the science-fiction genre. George told an interesting story that I’d not heard before. It concerns Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson and basically sets the stage for the distinction between genre fiction being seen as not “serious” literature. You can read that Henry James essay here.

-George and Stan talked about movie and tv adaptations of their writing. George said that Peter Jackson and several others had approached him previously to turn Game of Thrones into a movie, but George always wanted Game of Thrones to be a tv show. He’s very happy that HBO picked it up. He wishes he could have gotten 13 hours per season like most HBO shows prior to Game of Thrones, but the sheer cost of the production is what kept all of the previous seasons to just 10 episodes.

-George talked about why it’s taking him so long to write the next Game of Thrones book and just finish the story in general. He said that it’s due in part to his age and also due to the fact that he feels enormous pressure to complete the story in a way that fits with everything that has come before. In short, he’s struggling against his own perfectionism. He does consider Game of Thrones to be his magnum opus and he wants to do right by his millions of fans.

-Also, George is only 68 guys. He looks older, but 68 is positively spry.

-As you can see from my pictures, George wore his George R.R. Martin uniform: cap, suspenders, and jacket despite the fact that it was mid-80’s all day and no cooler in the ballroom.

-George has got jokes guys. He’s a funny, funny man. The audience asked him whose death he most regretted. George: JFK

In short: If you get the opportunity to go see George R.R. Martin talk, take it. If you get the opportunity to take Kim Stanley Robinson out for a cup of coffee, take it. Thank you to UCSD, Clarion Writers’ Workshops, and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for organizing a great event!

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Fiction, Poetry, Reviews, Short Stories

Bodies

Bodies by Osmond Arnesto

The first printed collection of the author’s poetry and prose. Also featured is a short story on the joys of accounting. For the lonely, the lost, and everyone who has ever known the feeling.

I met Osmond in a few of my writing classes at UCSD. He always impressed me with his comic and heartfelt way of dealing with deeply icky, deeply uncomfortable, and deeply taboo subjects. A mix of theatre actor, stand-up comic, and all-around nice guy, his writing sparkles with that unique something you sadly can’t bottle and sell.

Recently, Osmond self-published his very first work, a collection of poems and short stories. I was delighted to see the short story included as one that had been work shopped in one of my classes.

His poetic voice and style is very well established; his unique way of putting poems together reminds me perhaps of what it might have been like to read a young William Carlos Williams or Juliana Spahr. If you’ve never read those two poets, I highly recommend checking them out.

At 54 pages, my main complaint with this collection was that there wasn’t more. I admire Osmond’s ability to attack difficult subjects and break them into something comedic, however squeamish, while displaying impeccable talent, poise, and extreme breadth of knowledge. There are easter eggs scattered throughout his work for the careful reader, some of them denoted with foot notes. While the ease of movement of the work suggests a hasty dash-off, bearing that beautiful fluidity of stream-of-consciousness, further examination reveals how meticulously every line and sentence have been constructed.

Osmond is off to teach English in Japan for a year, which I’m sure will prompt many more hilariously wonderful poems and stories that I for one can’t wait to read.

His book is available through Amazon or as an e-book through Lulu’s.

Fiction, Reviews, Uncategorized

Tinkers

Tinkers by Paul Harding

An old man lies dying. Propped up in his living room and surrounded by his children and grandchildren, George Washington Crosby drifts in and out of consciousness, back to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in Maine. As the clock repairer’s time winds down, his memories intertwine with those of his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler and his grandfather, a Methodist preacher beset by madness. At once heartbreaking and life affirming, Tinkers is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, illness, faith, and the fierce beauty of nature.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Paul Harding read from his debut novel, Tinkers at UCSD. Though I didn’t buy my own copy that day, the book stayed with me. At the beginning of summer, I found a copy of it in a used bookstore in one of the San Diego beach communities.

On whole other topic today, I stumbled across this article about Peter Stothard, the head judge for this year’s Mann-Booker Prize (previous winners include The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes). In the article, Stothard describes how book bloggers could harm literature by making literary criticism obsolete. While I’m not delving into that topic today, one of the sentences from the articles really stood out to me as I went into the living room and finished reading Tinkers. In a comment on last year’s judge’s priority to pick a readable story, Stothard remarks “readability can be a very interesting thing, great art for the most part resists it to a degree”.

When Paul Harding came to UCSD, one of things that came up was how the book didn’t have great ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, despite being a Pulitzer prize winner (2010). One of the things that comes up the most is how Tinkers isn’t particularly readable. On yet another tangent, I was clicking back through my e-mail today while wasting time waiting (after finishing my book) and came across this article by Joe Bunting at The Write Practice entitle “How to (Nearly) Win a Pulitzer Prize in 5 Steps“. Bunting discusses how the Pulitzer was not awarded this year to a work of fiction. (If you ask me, the committee saw Fifty Shades of Grey dominating the best-seller charts and went, Fuck It). One of the last pieces of advice Bunting gives in the article is to “Write Beautifully”. He gives advice to make sure every single line is beautiful. And this is exactly what Harding does with Tinkers.

UCSD has a very experimentally-minded literature department. Perhaps this has opened my mind up to great works that tell (or don’t tell) stories in conventional ways. Perhaps not. What I do know is that Tinkers is a fantastic read. It’s less a story than it is a memoir and even that is fuzzy. The concepts of time and disorientation muddy the waters too much to say this is really even a fictional memoir. It’s just beautiful.

Tinkers clocks in at just under two hundred pages. Maybe if it was longer, I wouldn’t be singing the same praises. I don’t know. At any rate, I feel this is a work that will stand the test of time. After all, who hasn’t suffered through pages and pages of clunky, abstract prose in Doestoevsky or Tolstoy? (Don’t get me wrong, I love my Russians!) I think Tinkers hits a good balance. It’s abstract, but it comes in such a small package that it’s likely to hit a home-run with a greater portion of the market. Anyone can read two hundred pages. Really.

The first line of the novel is “George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died”. Harding uses these time markers to progress the story forward. We get a countdown in hours. Because I had a used copy, the person before me had decided to go in and note what those hours amount to in days. I’m not sure I would have paid much attention to this neat, story-telling convention otherwise.

Maybe the best way to explain this novel is to give you a taste of the prose. That’s what got me hooked. Hearing the author read a portion of it aloud.
One hundred and thirty-two hours before he died, George awoke from the racket of the collapsing universe to the darkness of night and a silence, which, once the clamor of his nightmares had faded, he could not understand. (28)

And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. (72)

Let those grassy crafts be listed alongside the iron hulls that cleave the sea, for they are all improvisations built from the daydreams of men, and all will perish, whether from ocean siege or October breeze. (78)

What if it is clear and the sky brimming so full of stars that the light overflows the earth and transforms into luminescent white flowers along the bank, which sparkle and disperse without a trace the moment the planet passes the deepest meridian of night and begins turning back toward the sun? (145)

This novel took me a couple of days to finish because I was determined to only read it when I could focus on it. Some novels are for entertaining, for whiling away time. Some are for changing your life and giving you a greater sense of the world. Some are for impressing upon you the beauty of language.

Have you read Tinkers?

UCSD, Uncategorized, Writing

You Can’t Teach Writing

You can’t teach writing. So why even bother going for a degree in it, or to any workshops or conferences at all?

Because you can’t teach writing to people who don’t love it, who don’t have any talent for it, who don’t want to lose themselves in it every time they set a pencil to paper. And for those talented writers willing to live and die by their pen, you can refine them, shape them, mold them, guide them. I’m going to use the super-cliche “diamond in the rough”. Because that’s what you do in writing courses–you help those with potential reach a fuller potential.

And perhaps, even more importantly than all that, you give these fledgling writers a community they can lean on. And friends they can go out with and grab a drink or two. Friends they can bounce ideas off of and refine. Friends who support you every step of the way.

To my friends:

To all my friends, who inspire me always:

Sahar A., Gwen L., Mina R., Jamelle J., Becky H., Will R., Kariana R., Ryan L., Will R., Natasha G., Paul Y., Catrina M., Rachel K., Allie M., Mika K., Natasha S., Andrew H., James D., Lauren F., Mary D., Dennis L-C., Steve B., Pial H., Rebecca O., Tylar P., Jenny L., Danielle M., Julie R., Hannah S., Brian E., Sara M., Elena C., Daniel H., Johnathan N., Alina D., Tania S., April D., Leelah M., Anthony M., Emily K., Osmond A., Alex C., Caitlin F., Jackie Y., Elizabeth F., David V., Carolyn C., Katie V., Paul F., Shannon N., Katie M., Sarah K., Brianna B., Frederik B., Justin C., Rose Q., Amy L., Kaisa D., Janet C., Tifany M., Tammy H.

(Hopefully I didn’t miss anyone)

Fiction, Local San Diego, Poetry, UCSD, Uncategorized

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.

Fiction, Local San Diego, UCSD

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

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, Reviews, UCSD, Writing

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.