Saturday, May 17, 2008

My favorite phrase in recent memory

has to be this one:

"with a baby's head hidden inside mounted on a pneumatic arm."

Wow. I've written some sick stuff, but that's way out there.

Actually, of course, it's not. Context is everything. The phrase appears in this New Scientist article about a French robotic childbirth simulator that helps physicians practice using forceps during births.

Can't you just imagine, though, the robot going wrong and the doctor, bent over and focused on grabbing the baby, suddenly being pelted into unconsciousness by a baby head thrusted pneumatically into his skull?

Or maybe that's just me.

In other news of the strange, tonight at C&C we watched Karaoke Terror, a particularly odd bit of Japanese film strangeness. I can't say I recommend it, but several scenes, notably the scooter-riding thirty-something woman attacking a young man with a lance she made from a kitchen knife and a broom, really worked well. If you're really into violent Japanese sick video, I recommend this DVD with reservations, mostly because it's not sick or violent enough to cross the weird barrier into the truly amazing. If you're not into that sort of movie, give this one a wide pass.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Why no short story collection?

A few readers have asked me why I don't publish a short story collection. They point out that various books and magazines have contained enough of my short fiction to easily fill a fairly hefty book, so what's the hold up?

The flip answer is to point out that I don't publish books; I just write them. Other people publish books.

The more honest answer, however, is what my publisher said: doing so could hurt my sales. I believe she's right. Here's why.

I'm very much in the early stages of my career as a novelist: first novel out, second one due in a few weeks, third still in progress. The book chains and even the sales force are watching to see what sort of trajectory I take. Do my sales climb? If so, at what rate? If not, am I stuck on a plateau, or are my numbers falling? Their hope--and mine, of course--is that my sales grow (and grow and grow and grow).

Now, put a short story collection in the mix. For almost all authors, and certainly for all the ones on which I have data, collections sell worse than novels. So, if my publisher put out a collection of my stories, my trajectory might appear to the casual observer to be downward.

You might reasonably point out that it would take only a few moments of analysis to note that the collection should not be on the same trajectory chart as the novels, but that's a few moments more than many bookstore buyers are willing to give to my personal situation. After all, they're swamped with book options, and their time is limited.

An alternative is to seek a small press to publish a collection, but that has two problems: it would cut out my publisher, which I don't want to do, and it would take effort on my part, which I'm not currently willing to expend.

So, my hope is that one day I'll sell well enough that both someone will approach me about publishing such a collection and doing so won't hurt my novel sales.

Until then, my short fiction will remain uncollected.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

We can buy Jamon Iberico!

Jennie pointed out to me that the famous Spanish ham is now available for online ordering here. If you don't know the ham and simply check the prices, you may believe this is a con game designed to separate rich fools and their money.

It's not. This ham is amazing and, though more expensive than I'd like, worth the cost.

I've eaten Jamon Iberico three times, all in the same restaurant: L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in the Roppongi Hills district of Tokyo. Each time, I opted for the same basic dish: half a dozen unadorned slices arrayed on a plain plate, each slice so thin you could almost see through it. The taste every time was the same: wonderful, like the best ham you've ever tasted turned to 11. Wow.

I'm thinking now about the right excuse to order some and prepare it. Yum.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Noise, noise, noise

In the past day and a half, I've encountered a variety of loud events related to writing: a major review (mixed), a royalty statement (good), and some other almost news (good). These are exactly the sorts of things that distract me, churn me up inside, and make it hard for me to write. Similar, albeit lesser, events, such as a critical comment or a rejection slip, once could stop me from writing for a year or two at a stretch. Correct that: I reacted to them by not writing. I am the only person who can stop me from writing.

What I've learned is that all of these things, good or bad, are just noise, complex wave patterns assaulting the brain space where writing needs to live. Sometimes they feel good, because they do, after all, represent attention, but even then they are fundamentally damaging.

The work is the thing. My desire, my job, my passion, what I must do is write the best work I can, put it through a reasonable number of drafts, and move on to the next piece. If the result attracts a huge readership and makes me as wealthy as King or Rowling, I'll be stunned and happy indeed--but I'll still need to write the next book. If the result instead appeals to no one, if I stop being able to sell anything I write, as painful as that would be, I'd still need to write the next book.

I must do a better job of remembering what matters and what is merely noise.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Do you want to know?

If a bit of information is going to hurt you, really upset you, but you don't need to know it to keep on living, do you want to know? Your partner cheated on you, but it was a long time in the past; do you want to know? Your friend lied to you; do you want to know?

I do. I wish I didn't, but I do. I'd rather have to cope with the truth than not know it, even if the coping is terribly hard.

The trickiest part of knowing, of course, is knowing not just the one thing but also enough related information that you can put the action, comment, or event in its proper context. If someone you love is really hurting and screams something awful at you, did that person mean what he said? The truth is probably, yes, in that moment, he meant it, and maybe he partially means it all the time, but overall, on most days in most moments, he doesn't mean it.

I have friends who very much don't want to know such things, and I respect that position. I often consider it better for their mental health. I just want to know.

What prompted all of this is my obsessing over a review, on which I may perhaps write more tomorrow--or maybe by then I'll have been able to let it go. I'll hope for the latter but expect the former.

Monday, May 12, 2008

One Jump Ahead is out in paperback

on Amazon, and I'm pleased as punch to see it there. I received my author's copies a bit ago, but because it's officially a June book I didn't expect to see it for sale anywhere for a little longer.

[Begin shameless self promotion]
Looking for a beach treat? A summer read? An inexpensive present? Consider this lovely paperback--and then pick up the hardback of Slanted Jack, the second book in the series, just a few weeks later.
[End shameless self promotion]

In related news, I have to say I'm not happy with my own speed on Overthrowing Heaven. I am enjoying the book as I write it, but I need to do more of it. I long to go away for three or four weeks and write many hours a day on it, but that's just not going to happen. Maybe someday.

For now, though, I'll get in the time I can, starting with the next little while.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Visitor

Dinner tonight was at an old favorite, Zely and Ritz, a tapas place that features locally sourced ingredients. Much of what you eat comes from a farm owned by a guy with whom I worked many years ago. Small world. The food tonight was flavorful, fresh, and generally good enough that we all agreed we had to put the restaurant in heavier rotation on our list.

We then headed up the street a bit to see The Visitor, an art house film by Thomas McCarthy, who also directed The Station Agent. The Visitor delivered everything one might expect such a picture to provide--strong performances by character actors, a solid story line, genuine emotions resulting from complex situations--and also held back what you would expect: there was no happy ending. I very much liked the movie, found its characters extremely engaging, and recommend it highly.

I left, however, pondering why it was that happy endings are rarely the hallmark of art house films. (Yes, I know there are many exceptions, but I think the point stands.) I suppose it's the fact that life seldom deals us perfect endings, so when we are truest to life we must reflect that reality. I'm not convinced, however, that we must be true to life to create art. Quite the contrary: sometimes I think the greatest art can come from being larger than life, more perfect or more dreadful or more wonderful--more something--than life.

Ah well, regardless of what you feel about that issue, go see The Visitor. It's a lovely piece of art.


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