Music vs. words, smackdown! Monday, Nov 30 2009 

Titles, titles, titles, who’s got the title fight tonight?  Is it Heart, You Bully, You Punk vs. “Anotherloverholenyohead”?  Is it “Editions of You” vs. Book of Longing? Living in Ether with Confessions of an English Opium-Eater vs. “Both Ends Burning” and “Plastis Wafers” – actually pretty much anything Of Montreal will kick your ass.  Getcher front row seat, turn it up loud, louder, loudest. Kulchuh!

Bow wow times two Wednesday, Nov 25 2009 

This is nice to see – straydog barks again!

And this is wonderful to see – the Michigan Humane Society gives us all a way to help the forgotten and the lonely and the cold.

What we talk about when we talk about writing Saturday, Nov 21 2009 

So there we were, Cornelius Fortune and I, talking about writing, and comix as an influence, and workshops, and writing, and genre as playfield, and why Shirley Jackson’s advice is the best, and writing.  And the street was busy and the store was a haven and we were surrounded by the words and pictures of those with something to say, to tell, to show, to give.  And we talked and talked … Thank you, Leopold’s, for the ambiance, and for the company of friends.

Coming Up Taller, or saffron and meatloaf Thursday, Nov 19 2009 

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a celebration of Citywide Poets, recipients of a 2009 Coming Up Taller Award, an initiative of the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities – an award conferred by Michelle Obama (swoon!) in a ceremony at the White House in early November.

Back home, at the ceremony hosted by MOCAD, we the people got to hear from poets Myriha Burton, Robyn Arnett, Lena Cintron, Joseph Verge, and Andrew Hawkes, whose poetic conflation of meatloaf and saffron, the immigrant experience meets meat’n’potatoes USA, was one of the evening’s  highlights; and there were many.  Shout out to young Detroit poets! You made me laugh out loud, you made me go silent, you made me feel your energy, your imagery, your passion.  You make us all proud.

(Photo from InsideOut.)

In the dark woods Saturday, Nov 14 2009 

Here’s a fairy tale: Once upon a time, a girl, poor but ardent, armed herself with a basket, two stout sticks, and a hooded cape (not red), and set out from her little hut into the dark woods. She traveled alone, for that was the way she was used to walking, that was the way she was.

At the first turn of the path she met a poor old creature, man or woman it was hard to tell and how could it matter?  “You’re all bent in two,” said the girl with curiosity.  “However can you walk that way?”

“I can’t,” said the old creature.  So the girl gave away one of her stout sticks, and the creature hobbled contentedly off.

The woods grew darker.  Then – in a patch of brilliant sun, a clearing ringed by oak and linden – the smooth trickster stepped from behind a tree, man or woman it was hard to tell and how could it matter? “What do you carry, so carefully and so close, in that fine basket?” asked the trickster.

“It’s mine,” the girl said.

“Until it’s mine,” said the trickster, making a leap and a lunge. But the girl was ready, and struck out with the second stout stick. The stick broke in two, the smooth trickster disappeared into a shower of grit and ash.  The girl journeyed on.

It grew cold in the dark woods, it grew late; the girl covered herself with the hooded cape, not red but the colors of the forest floor, a patchy brown and cinnamon and grey, a drift of leaves and litter.  She slept curled carefully around her basket.  In the morning, it was gone.

Dumbfounded, the girl felt the emptiness where the basket had been.  She searched everywhere, but it had disappeared. The girl missed the burden she had carried; without the burden, what sense was there in carrying on? The girl lay down in the drift of leaves and litter, and covered her face with the cape. She slept a sleep so deep it was like dying.

When at last she woke, it was to the sight of the cape hung on a bent nail, the two stout sticks, crossed and waiting by the door; the basket.  It was but dawn, she had dreamed it all, she had yet to begin her journey. The girl lay watching the sun draw shadows on the wall. Knowing what she knows – for the dream was a true one – does she get up, put on the cape, take up the basket and the sticks, and set out into the dark woods? If she does, she will be robbed by some unknown circumstance of everything she holds dear.  If she does not, the old creature will have no aid, the trickster will remain unvanquished. What should she do? What would you?

The sun rises higher, the shadows dance merrily on the wall of the hut.  It will be a fine day, for walking or not.

Have YOU achieved maximum readability? Wednesday, Nov 11 2009 

From a newsletter stylebook:

How to calculate readability:

Count the total number of words in the story.

Count the total number of words with less than five letters.

If 70% of the copy has words of five letters or less, it is very readable!

Italics mine.  Also mine is the four-letter word expectorated (read: spit out) after absorbing this advice.  I guess it works OK if you’re a jar of pasta sauce or a stop sign, though.

stop

Picking up where we left off Friday, Nov 6 2009 

This review of straydog (originally published in the Manila [Philippines] Bulletin, was written by Carlo Cordova, and encapsulates a reader’s emotional response to a writer’s voice in a way so direct and so lovely that I gave up trying to adequately paraphrase, and am just reposting it (with Mr. Cordova’s permission). Thank you, Carlo, for putting that emotion into words we can share.
THERE GOES MY HERO
straydog by Kathe Koja

People who affected me in the past, I find, turn up in my present in the strangest ways.
It was in 1992 when I first read Kathe Koja’s sexy “Angels in Love,” a girl-next-door horror story of searching for something to transcend a drab day-to-day existence. Ms. Koja’s debut novel, The Cipher, would later be the initial offering in Dell Books’ “Abyss” line of psychological horror novels. I bought her next three novels too: Bad Brains, Skin, and Strange Angels. I read a few more of her stories, including one in Omni, “Queen of Angels,” which put me on the verge of tears, and which I then passed on to the poetess Karen Kunawicz.
Most likely, I failed to convert Karen but my admiration for Ms. Koja was not without good reason. Her characters did not lead ideal lives. They eked out a living (as record-store clerk, or metal sculptor, etc.) and then something would happen – life would get worse and their lives would change forever. Looking at Ms. Koja’s photo at the back of each book – she’s wearing a leather jacket and that look in her eye – just gives one the idea that this woman knows what she’s writing about, that she’s been through a lot, but then she came out ahead. Who wouldn’t believe in someone like her?
Somehow, though, I never found a copy of her fifth novel, Kink. My admiration, as years passed, was transferred to persons who were accessible to me. Then I started seeing Kathe Koja’s name again in young-adult books. I was dumbfounded: Was this the same Kathe Koja who once wore a leather jacket, and taught me that death could be sexy?
It’s not the only time, though, that a well-loved horror writer turned her back on the genre and tried her hand at something else. … The question is, whatever she chooses to write, can a writer still impress with her style, with whatever it is that separates her from other writers? …As for Kathe Koja, I was a bit hesitant to buy her first young-adult book that I found, especially since it’s about — a dog? But surprise, surprise, surprise: Koja’s characters in this book are as similarly endearing as the ones in her adult novels.
Teenagers Rachel and Griffin are both social misfits. Rachel, especially, seems always headed for arguments with her mom and dad; and with Melissa, her supervisor at Brookdale Shelter, where she volunteers.
One day, a feral collie is brought into the shelter. When Rachel sees this collie, whom she names Grrl, she forms an attachment to the dog which will later result in her learning a thing or two about life.
Koja’s writing is as dramatic as it used to be, especially near the ending. Although straydog was meant for younger readers, Koja doesn’t spare us the brutal facts about stray animals’ existence. The book ends with a high degree of emotion, and with even adult readers knowing they are not being fooled. This is not a book that will get turned into a Walt Disney animated film.
The dialogue between Rachel and Griffin, after they’ve gotten close to each other, seems so beautifully natural. It’s like the first time I heard a song by my favorite band, where every word in every line counted and made a direct connection.
I knew, just looking at her old photo, one ordinary day in 1992, that there was something special about Ms. Koja. Now of course she looks different, more like a teacher, and she’s chosen a different genre. The messages, however, like this line from straydog, remain priceless: (p.39, “It’s like the pain is a splinter in the joy…but only both of them together can teach you how sweet joy really is.”)
Reading straydog, my feeling was like being reunited with someone I danced with at prom night, finding out that the music had merely paused,  and she and I could pick up where we left off.

All saints Tuesday, Nov 3 2009 

I remember a saint I once knew – I can’t remember his name, sadly, but he was a teacher of writing, and I was a wary lump at the back of the classroom.  And he gave us an assignment, a writing exercise, and we did the assignment, and the next day he stood in front of the class and said, “Everyone here completed the exercise the way I suggested.  One person did not.”  That was me.  He read my story and praised my story with its unorthodox POV, and his praise was so whole-hearted that I remember it still.  I wish I knew his name.  I wish all our saints, living here or in memory, all the ones who did us good, or helped us most by keeping hands off when we needed to do it alone, I wish for all those saints a dazzle and a rest commensurate with their achievements, unseen and unsung, maybe, but still reverberating.  Thank you, teacher of writing in the St. Clair Shores school district, thank you very, very much.