Sunday, December 30, 2007

History of Violence

For me, a top movie from last year was Cronenberg's A History of Violence. Loved the clash between rural (almost pastoral) atmosphere and mobster violence. Great premise: small town diner owner defends himself against armed robbers and inadvertantly reveals a sordid past that bears no relation to his present-day life. And then that past comes to claim him.

Core of the movie is the relationship between the husband and wife and how it's tested by these revelations about his past. Yes, the violence is kick ass and shocking, though Tom/Joey tends to be more of a superhero than seems believable.

But the scenes that hit truth are those between husband Tom and wife Edie. Especially a sex scene on the stairs that starkly reveals how powerful and non-gratuitous sex scenes can be. Two minutes of coitus covers every theme in the story. And the very last scene at the dinner table, the last two shots of husband and wife meeting eyes with each other--just great cinema. No dialouge necessary, like in the stair-sex scene. In fact, one of the few flaws in the film is the rather wooden dialogue that seems culled from the rustiest bits of Andy Griffith and the The Sopranos. What makes this movie brilliant is that it could well be a silent film.

Knew since I saw it--maybe before--that it was based on a graphic novel of the same name. Liked the film, but only found the novel this afternoon at the bookstore. Skimmed through it and noticed quite a few images I never saw in the film. So, what the heck. Bought it, read it this evening in one sitting.

Meh. Certainly a lot more story, but all the changes the filmmakers made were good ones. I didn't need all the mobster backstory I got in the novel. Not to mention: the novel's backstory paints "Joey" as a kind of good-guy vigilante out to get surgery money for his dear old grandma. He's a hero all along. The film Tom/Joey fascination is the mysterious killer that lurks inside of him, this past that's all the more sinister because we know so little about him.

In the movie, he's actually related to the big mobster, which raises the issue of past family versus present family. In the book, he's got to go back home to rescue an old friend. I admit, the final showdown and the fate of Joey's friend Richie is far more inventive and compelling than the climax of the movie version, but it's the silent dinner scene at the end that makes up for all that.

In the book, Tom/Joey's last words to his wife are "it's over." Meaning, the violence. But that's not at all the case in the movie, and the movie speaks the emotional truth. It's not over, and it never will be. The physical threat might be gone, but this family is changed irrevocably and forever.

The book version provides very little depth and complexity of characterization for any of the characters. Mucho backstory, but backstory is not character. Character is the handling of dramatic conflicts in the present tense of the story. In the book, Joey is generally a powerhouse who shows a little resistance to his past but not much ambivalence about it. Once it's out in the open, he's cool with it.

Worse, Edie is cool with it and even goes with him to New York (Philly in the movie) to do some shopping while he kills mobsters. Granted, she doens't know he's off to kill mobsters. The book Edie cares about his well-being, but she's not beautifully conflicted the way Maria Bello's character is. In the book, she doesn't ask "was I available" or "what about our name?"

In the book, the son gets almost no characterization. In the movie, his high school bully showdown scenes are somewhat contrived, but he becomes a much more important part of the family conflict and the threat of violence being passed on generationally.

My point? I don't know. Movie's better than the book, which is a rarity. Course, we much take into account that the book is a graphic novel. One might argue that graphic novels are more like movies than they are like novels, at least some. But what strikes me is how what's left out in the movie is what enhances it. Cut backstory, cut dialogue. The novel's got more clever set pieces and situations, but all this can't beat complex and morally conflicted character. That's what truly compels.

Also: prevailing wisdom says novels are better because of the depth of explanation and detail, the inner monologue. But sometimes--sometimes--the silent gesture and expressions of a great actor can say more, and speak more deeply, than a few paragraphs of plodding prose. Least in this case.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Anatomy of Melancholy

I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it’s true—
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate—a Throe—

The eyes glaze once—and that is Death—
Impossible to feign
The beads upon to Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.
—Emily Dickinson

I teach college. Lit, writing, movies. I don’t teach schlock, so I’ve done my fair share of defending what I teach against students who’d rather not have what I’m teaching taught to them. It doesn’t burn me out, this tireless defending. I thrive on it. I thrive because every semester a handful of students get it. As for the rest: I tried, so, hey, shove off.

I’d be here all night if I listed what sorts of arts I defend against the forces of kitsch and mediocrity. I’m not saying I don’t fall prey in my own writing. Mediocrity is seductive, especially when you’re burnt out and over deadline. I’m talking here about the books and stories and movies I teach. Students hate surrealism, for instance. When did that start?

Gen-Xers loved the surreal. We watched MTV when it still played videos, almost all surreal. We watched Ren And Stimpy. We grew up on Twin Peaks and listened to They Might Be Giants. Natural Born Killers and David Lynch movies. Maybe it’s just me and my friends I mean. Shit didn’t have to make sense. These kids, they call it “random” and dismiss it. No logical sense equals no value. One wonders what these kids think when they see SpongBob Squarepants or almost all the shows on Adult Swim. I got a lecture on the virtue of surrealism, but I’ll save it.

I’m more concerned with Melancholy. Not concerned with the word’s literal meaning, just its sense in art. Melancholy is a basic human need. A defense mechanism. In this age of self-help and The Secret, of born-again Christianity and depression medication, Melancholy is in danger of going extinct. Fine: Melancholy won’t go extinct as long as there are humans to brood, but I fear it’s losing its respect as a viable mood. Melancholy in my book: the artful shaping of depression, sadness, pessimism, loneliness, spiritual doubt and all other quietly negative moods so as to give a positive charge.

Think most of Ingmar Bergman or Lars von Trier’s films. Think Wes Anderson and Woody Allen’s brand of cinematic humor (when they’re at their best). Think P.T. Anderson in Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love. Think nearly every great writer in the history of English, but especially Thomas Hardy, Dickens at his gloomiest, Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare in his sonnets and in Hamlet. Some of the great noir writers, like Horace McCoy in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? or Dave Goodis in Down There (i.e., Shoot the Piano Player) have built whole worlds out of Melancholy. Heck, noir’s another word for the same thing, ain’t it?

Think Edvard Munch’s or Edward Hopper’s paintings. Think all the great shoe-gazer bands of the last twenty years, like Joy Division, The Smiths, The Cure, Bright Eyes, Radiohead, Coldplay, Interpol, The Eels—too many to list.

Literary graphic novels have a corner of the Melancholy market. Ex: Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Persepolis, American Splendor, and Fun Home. Seems almost paradoxical, the medium made for bright flexing action heroes could be so still, silent, contemplative. But one page of Chris Ware’s work will convince you that “comic” panels were custom-made for Melancholy.

I have trouble getting students to accept that Melancholy is a beneficial emotion, that aesthetic brooding is a worthwhile pastime. But if not for Melancholy, I’d be depressed. When confronted with Melancholy, some people say, “This is depressing,” a statement meant for dismissal, for banishment. Luckily, they listen to reason if you reason well enough. Melancholy is about emotion but sometimes it takes reason to get there, a new perspective on what art is for. I’ve actually convinced people born after 1985 to enjoy Bergman’s Persona and von Trier’s Breaking the Waves.

Good Melancholic art takes the raw formless blue of depression and molds it into something beautiful. We have words for depression that imply nothingness, shapelessness: dark, gloom, dumps. But Melancholy shapes depression the way meter shapes raw language into verse, the way novels and movies shape raw experience into pleasurable structure, the way musical notes shape noise into song. In fact, Melancholy uses these very techniques to help shed light on the darkness of a foul mood.

The Dickinson poem at the start of this post. Her hymnal meter helps shape the dark sentiment, as does her unique view, the truth at which she arrives. She takes charge of ugliness and gives it beauty, tells us she “likes” a look of agony and we believe her. We like it too, when we see it through her lens. Melancholy still has the power to shock us, not with extravagance or spectacle, but with epiphany. Our dark emotions we keep private because we think they’re our personal burden, until Melancholy art holds up a mirror and calls it truth.

When Hollywood movies and pop songs and bestseller books tend to press experience into saccharine little cakes (Eat, Pray, Love, for instance), the right kind of Melancholy art is a cool blast against our overheated culture. It helps fortify us against the forces of blind conformity, blind faith, medicated numbness and cultural superficiality. What is temporarily satisfying and “escapist” has rarely ever felt authentic.

The virtue of Melancholy is not that it heals us, because we can’t be healed—not unless we want to stop feeling altogether. Melancholy teaches us how the bear the pain, how to make it drive us in our thoughts and experiences. This is what all good art does, I guess. Happy endings cheat us out of that possibility much too often.

I’ll admit Melancholy doesn’t work for everybody. Those who are truly, medically depressed have pain too strong for art to shape. Same with those who’ve seen real trauma, especially if it’s recent. On the other hand, if you’ve lived a Disney fantasy your whole life, your sense of truth will always be skewed, even a little deadened. God help you when the pain arrives. But the rest of us, I think, can benefit from a vitalizing walk in the gloaming every now and then.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Best of 2007

End of year. Everybody else is doing it, so why not?

Here's the thing: I don't get around to reading many brand-new books. Student budget doesn't provide much disposable income. Ditto going to see new movies at the theater. New music I can do, as it's not so expensive. And, yes, I actually buy my music. What a sucker, right? Plus, music is not an extravagance. It's a life necessity.

BEST BOOK '07: Songs of Innocence, Richard Aleas. Actually, I'm a bit surprised by my own chocie. I'm a sucker for lyrical language, innovative narrative forms, depth of character, etc. Songs of Innocence didn't have any of that. What it had in spades was the spirit of noir running through every sentence. Can't get any more despondant and pessimistic than this. It's a quick, brutal read, but in its brevity it manages to crush the virute of detective narrative itself. I'm not the first person to say the last page is a killer. I knew it was supposed to be a killer before I read the book, so I was waiting to be let down. I was not.

Again, great books came out in '07, many of which I've not yet read. The Road was brilliant and brutal and deliciously written, but it came out in '06. I'm a little behind. I hear Then We Came to the End is hilarious. I know Jeff Parker's book Ovenman is hilarious because I read it. And of course I can't wait to read Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke.

The best book I read in '07 was The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. I dind't like the movie much, so I was skepitcal about the book. But the book is so full of brilliant imagery and unique sentiment. Not to mention the book is formally daring in the thrilling way that Nabokov's books are. My friend Joshua Furst's book The Sabotage Cafe --which came out this summer--is another provocative Formalist puzzle with some serious sentiment, a tough combo to pull off, but Furst does.

BEST MOVIE '07: Seen a lot more new movies than I've read new books, but this one is easy. No Country for Old Men. Love Cormac McCarthy, but I never read the novel. Love the Coen Bros, couldn't wait for this team-up. And it's a perfect film. Rare that a movie can deliver surprises one the level of, say, Psycho, but this one delivers a few times. Brilliant acting, unbelievable pacing and camerawork. That cellophane uncrinkling. The light and shadows under the door. The car exploding in the background. And this movie is seriously dark, brutal, honest. I loved the "literary" ending--like a great French New Wave film--but I was in a theater packed with bunches of philistines swearing at the screen, asking for a sequal, not getting at. On the way out, woman asked me--perfect stranger--what was the point of that. Wanted to say, "First, art doesn't have to have a point. Second, this art does have a point. Third, it's your regular Will Smith popcorn flick that doens't have the point, lady. This one speaks loud and clear if you'd listen." Didn't say that.

So many enemies of the gorgeous ending of No Country. Makes me wonder, why? Why do I love it? Am I that out of touch with what people want from narrative? Should I be worried, being that I'm a writer? Will neighbors call the cops if I howl in the backyard at night?

BEST MUSIC '07: Two of my longtimes faves, Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, came out with new albums this year, and both are great. Still, Year Zero can't quite match the NIN Broken/Downward Spiral heyday. And as good as Radiohead's In Rainbows was, the"experimentalism" was the same kind of experimentalism they've been experimenting with over the last three albums. Radiohead has made us expect total reinvention with every album, so nothing hit me like "Paranoid Android" hit me the first time I heard it. Still a brilliant album, In Rainbows, regardless.

Naw, for me it was Interpol's Our Love to Admire. Lots of folks see Interpol as a Joy Division ripoff without the honest lyrics. Fair enough. Interpol's lyrics are impressionistic and sometimes even comic ("My best friend's a butcher/he has sixteen knives/he carries them all over the town/at least he tries/oh, look, it stopped snowing"). Lots of folks think Interpol has a static sound that doesn't change from song to song, much less from album to album. I'd debate the subtleties, but they are indeed subtleties. Takes a few listens to hear the musical depth in an Interpol tune. But Interpol taps into a personal nerve of mine, hits that melancholy sensibility just right. They take a dark mood and make it shine. Download "Pace is the Trick" and you'll see what I mean:

You can't hold it too tight
These matters of security
You don't have to be woud so tight
Smoking on the balcony

Well, it's like sleaze in the park
You women, you have no self-control
We angels remark outside
You are known for insatiable needs
But I don't know a thing

I've seen love
And I follow the speed in the starlight
I've seen love
And I follow the speed in the star-swept night

Yeah, pace is the trick
And to all the corruption in man...

I see you as you take your pride, my lioness
Your defenses seem wise, I cannot press
And attention's at demise, my lioness,
Can't you hurt it some, think I hurt it some...

Soundtrack to the coming gloom. Without the music, the lyrics don't cry, so listen. Lyrics don't make sense, no, but the mood... that's what it comes down to.

Runner-up is Bright Eyes' Cassadaga, but that's about pure songwriting prowess there. Kid's a lyrical genius. Have to admit, I'm a pop culture goon with music. I'm sure great jazz and opera and classical brilliance was unleashed this year, but I wouldn't know. I don't get it. I'm rock, pop and folk. Sorry.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas Eve

Jacob Marley rattling his chains. Phoebe Cates in Gremlins, telling her story about dad dressed as Santa, breaking his neck and dying in the chimney. Jack Skellington kidnapping Santa and delivering shrunken heads to kids. Tis the season.

Actually, I love Christmas. And you can get too irreverent. Christmas slasher movies are way out of line, for instance. That's sick. So is "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." Sick.

I don't have much to give. So here's my version of fruit cake: links to a couple interviews I did recently, or not so recently. Just thought you might like a good eye-roll.

Here's one from Chris Well's website, Learning Curve.

Here's another with Sandra Ruttan's wonderful magazine Spinetingler, JB Thompson interviewing.

This one isn't online, but it's a Proust Questionairre I filled out for my English Department's graduate student newsletter, Codeswitching.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I’m not particularly interested in happiness, and the perfection of it seems frightful.

What is your greatest fear?
Death, of course, though not necessarily mine. Okay, mine.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Edvard Munch.

Which living person do you most admire?
I would’ve said Ingmar Bergman, but he died in July.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Waiting vainly for artistic inspiration to strike.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Predictably, books. I have entombed myself with stacks of them. Please call for help.

What is your favorite journey?
Physical or metaphysical? Through Prague and through Melancholy, respectively.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Which living person do you most despise?
Kirstie Alley.

Which talent would you most like to have?
Acoustic guitar playing, or oil painting.

What is your current state of mind?
Quiet desperation, current and perpetual.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
Skeletal remains.

If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
Well, it’d be nice to try this particular life over again, with complete foreknowledge. Starting from scratch would be too daunting—plus, can self and consciousness be transferred from one entity to another? Would I still be me if I wasn’t who I am?

What is your favorite occupation?
Benevolent dictator. No, I’m kidding. Tyrannical dictator. Did I say dictator? I mean “director,” as in movies.

What is your most marked characteristic?
Timid iconoclasm, enacted half-heartedly, merely for the sake of Devil’s advocacy.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

To quote the Eels, “I like a girl with a dirty mouth, someone that I can believe.”

What do you most value in your friends?
Healthy organs for potential emergency donation. If not that, then intellect.

Who are your favorite writers?
Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Hardy, Joyce Carol Oates, Cormac McCarthy, James Ellroy, Denis Johnson, Franz Kafka, Toni Morrison, John Berryman, Philip Larkin, Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, Raymond Chandler, Dave Goodis, Dashiell Hammett, Charlie Kaufman.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Jude Fawley, of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. You asked.

Who are your heroes in real life?
See the above list of authors, and include these film directors: Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, John Cassavetes, Lars Von Trier, Carl Th Dreyer, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino. Musicians: Stuart Murdoch (Belle and Sebastian), Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), Sufjan Stevens, all the guys in Sigur Ros, Ian Curtis (Joy Division), Robert Smith (The Cure), Radiohead. This list has probably annoyed even the most patient reader by now, so I’ll stop. Suffice it to say that none of my heroes are heroic, except maybe Sufjan Stevens. How disappointing.

What is it that you most dislike?
Kitsch without self-consciousness, blind optimism and idealism, pandering, absence of personal accountability, politicians of all types, Kirstie Alley, self-righteous posturing (particularly of the religious stripe), grown adults who still believe in “fairness." Oh, was I only supposed to pick one?

How would you like to die?
Am I placing an order? Because I’d rather not, thank you. I’ll tell you how I’d rather not die, but you only have so much column space.

What is your motto?
It used to be a quote from Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert, “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.” But there are undesirable implications to quoting H.H. So now it’s from the Scottish indie band Belle and Sebastian: “I’m not as sad as Dostoyevsky/ I’m not as clever as Mark Twain.” For the record, I only have a motto because my MySpace page requires me to have one. I mean, who goes around with his own motto?

Sunday, December 23, 2007


I'm a writing addict. Wish that meant I can't stop writing. All it means is I go through withdrawls when I don't, I'm high when I do it well, and I'm gollum when I do it badly. Other writers are like this, I hear. Not all, but some. Some could take it or leave it and sometimes I envy them. Might've left it myself years ago after piles of rejections--if not for the need. The need is a killer and a lover like any good femme fatale.

Some folks envy writers. I envy CEOs of large companies who like their jobs. They do what they like and get paid a few cool mil. I take a year to get a short story right and sell it for $100-200 bucks. Or, more often than not, don't sell it at all. Still, I love writing the way crack addicts love crack. I don't imagine CEOs love CEOing that way. Maybe they do.

People have asked me when I knew I wanted to be a writer. Age nine, which is true. What that means: at age nine, probably earlier, I began to get these stories in my head, slight variations on movies I'd seen, particularly Red Dawn, which I must've rewritten ten times at least. Mom didn't allow me to watch R-rated movies, so when I saw one at Dad's or a friend's house, it haunted me for months. Red Dawn, Friday the Thirteenth: A New Beginning, Creepshow, Conan the Barbarian, Jaws 3 (okay, Wikipedia says Red Dawn was PG-13, but I still wasn't allowed to watch it). These head-stories: they were obsessions. Had to get them down on paper or they'd torture my mind when I was supposed to be learning times tables.

In fact, the storytelling urge started before I could put pen to paper. I'd play out tales with my GI Joes, Transformers, Start Wars and Masters of the Universe action figures. Even timed them for two hours so they'd be as long as a movie. No action figure ever played himself. I always made up characters to fit the outcomes. Had a whole repertoire of gun-blast sounds. Love scenes tested what ways the figures could bend.

So some writers start early. These I think are the addited ones. Joyce Carol Oates is like that, though she's lucky enough to have the drive to write write write. She didn't play action figures as a kid. Instead, she copied down Faulkner novels word-for-word. Addicted writers get envied because we've always known what we wanted, what career--but that's bunk.

Being a writer is a job if you're lucky enough to get paid. Being a writer is a job if you do it to get paid (which is the worst occupational idea in the history of humankind). Being a writer is an addiction if you do it to keep yourself from short-circuting in response to all this longing to be other characters and know their hearts through narrative.

You fall in love with fake people and you dog them till you know what their souls look like. Then you fall in love with new ones. You fall in love with their jobs and ache to have their jobs. You're desparate to know what everybody is doing in private and you'll make up fake lives just to find out. "Choose" to be a writer at age nine and you're not choosing shit except a lifetime of having to want other people's lives--their souls, their jobs, their desires, their defeats. Not a choice.

I'm obsessed with telling stories, which ain't a choice either. Got to find new ways of telling all the time. Short stories give you options, novels more. But anything with that narrative drive can take hold of me. Had to spend a few years to learn how to write screenplays, though I've never written one I'd try to sell. Stoked by the idea of video game narratives, even though I've not actually owned a game player since the original Nintendo. Don't want to get sucked into playing a Playstation RPG for hundreds of hours, but I'd love to write one. Correction: I'd love to learn how to write one, figure out all the intracies of non-linear narrative and world-building. It's not the way I write, but I damnit I want it to be.

Heard about ARGs? Alternative Reality Gaming. I'm a Luddite about these technologies, but ARGs came to my attention when one of my favorite bands, Nine Inch Nails, released an ARG in conjuction with their (well, his) newest album, Year Zero. YZ's a concept album, so it's got this whole futuristic dystopia backstory to help explain the songs. Problem is, the age of MP3s makes explanatory album liner notes a no-go. Instead, NIN frontman Reznor employs a company to create an ARG for him. Story unfolds gradually to a large group of curious "readers" who decipher clues on concert t-shirts and mysteroiusly placed USB flash drives, clues that lead them to numerous websites that revealed bits and pieces of the narrative. Again, a non-linear narrative played out through an interactive readership, sometimes modified as the "game" progresses. NBC's The Office has its own ARG, Dunder Mifflin Infinity, in which you get to join your own Dunder Mifflin branch.

I can't pretend to understand, but I want to. My need for narrative fix is on overdrive with this. Mystery stories, spy stories, conspiracy stories. True, ARGs seem custom-made for tales driven by plot. Not a lot of hope for depth and complexity of character there. But who knows what new technologies can bring. So far ARGs have been used mainly for marketing purposes--not particuarly complex storylines--but it's a cutting edge area. Least, it is to me.

Comics and graphic novels, novelistic televison shows like The Wire. The Wire is better than a lot of novels I've read (I'm Netflicking my way through Season 2). I'm enticed by them all, not just to watch but to explore through creation. Voices calling out to me.

Wanted to be a writer since age nine, but that's not choosing anything. I'm writing a novel but I'm holding down the urge to seek out other character's lives, other types of narratives. It's a constant fight to stay focused. I supposed that's the human condition. Drives some of us nuts.

Friday, December 21, 2007


The pleasure's all mine.

Been blogging with my compatriots down at Killer Year near about a year now. The lot of us are scribes of noir, thriller, crime. A ragged bunch. But the Killer Year is winding down. Sure, we've got an ass-kicker of an antho dropping first thing 2008: Killer Year: Stories to Die For. It'll be our collective legacy. We've got our solo careers to sow. We've got to make it on our own.

So here's this blog, all me. Don't ask why because I don't know. Things to say from time to time and nobody to say them to. I contented myself at Killer Year with once-a-month essays of sorts. It's the academic in me. But round here I won't burn myself out on long-winded musings. Quick jabs, maybe. The occasional autopsy.

So who the hell am I? My book Pyres came out this year from St. Martin's Minotaur. Blurbs from Joyce Carol Oates, Marcus Sakey, Ken Bruen, Wendy Brenner, Duane Swierczynski.
Great reviews from Kirkus, Pub Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist. Not to mention sweet reviews from such luminary rags as the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Omaha World Herald, and the Wilmington Star-News. Book's about a punky teenage girl Luc who's life gets upended when she witnesses her dad's murder. The crime gets the poor kid all mixed up with some dangerous folks who maybe want to see more of her family go down. Up to Luc and police detective Greta Hurd to keep things from going up in flames. Or not. It's got bits of police procdural, noir, and even some fabulist turns for the literary types. Takes place in Rochester, NY and surrounding environs, my own wintery teenage haunts.

Grew up outside Rochester, went to school at a SUNY, then down to Wilmington, NC for my MFA in creative writing. Wilmington's on the beach, beaut weather, but my mind drifted back to the cold and dark and I invented a place called Hammersport. Western, New York. Amalgam of Brockport and some other Erie Canal towns. Hammersport's been home base for all my published short stories and for the debut novel, too. Said stories have popped up in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, The Ontario Review, Chelsea and The Pedestal Magazine.

Down in Atlanta now, chipping away at a PhD because I can't seem to get my fill of the hallowed halls of academe. Writing novel two on the sly, crawling inside a woman's head yet again. Some say write what you know, but fuck it: write what you're desparate to undestand (somebody else said that first, can't remember who). Fall on your ass maybe, but you've got the "transport of the aim," as Dickinson said. Emily's a woman to strive to understand. She'll slice your soul up. Try this Dickinson quip:

"I shall know why--when Time is over--
and I have ceased to wonder why--
Christ will explain each separate anguish
In the fair schoolroom of the sky."

I'm a sucker for great poets: Ms. Dickinson, Thomas Hardy, G.M. Hopkins, Philip Larkin, and my man John Berryman who supplies the quotation affixed to the front of this blog in "A Sympathy, A Welcome." Poem writ in 1958 on the occasion of the birth ("fall") of Berryman's son Paul:

"Feel for your bad fall how could I fail,
poor Paul, who had it so good.
I can offer you only: this world like a knife.
You'll get to know your mother
and humourless as you do look you will laugh
and all the others
will NOT be fierce to you, and loverhood
will swing your soul like a broken bell
deep in the forsaken woods, poor Paul,
while wild bad father loves you well."

It's that splice of noir and heart that slays me, every time. Berryman, you know, threw himself off a bridge when the knife-world stabbed too hard at him. Not a tale for the festive season, but few true stories fit the bill. If you're looking for answers, I got only questions here, dear.