Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

squash borers taking what's theirs

An abundance of squash the last two weeks has thinned with the rise of squash borers after a huge rainstorm. I pulled one plant that was so devoured it wasn't even connected to the ground anymore. Another, I pulled from the flimsy threads that remained while the plant was clearly dead. I expected this, but I couldn't do anything during the storm. And, after the storm, I knew the bugs would rise. Mosquitos come for all blood, all flesh. Squash bugs mate unchecked, and there's nothing I do to stop them. I pulled a potato vine from the ground devoured inside-out by insects too numerous to name. The Tycoon tomatoes, so immensely productive a week ago are nearly dead. One of the pumpkin vines has already died. The other pushes on, without a plant upon its stalks, seeking out more good soil, more light.

Gardening is seasonal. There is a time when the plants have done the best they can and they fade. It's time to clear out the dead, clear out the weeds, prepare the soil, and plant again.

Short stories are seasonal things, I think. They grow hard like little radish seeds, pushing up from the mental detritus of the soil of the mind. They grow infectious, pushing until they flower and seed and die away. Distractions come to devour them, and many die before they flower.

Novels are long-season crops, at worst, with one harvest at the end of a long, long season pulling weeds, and perennials at their very best. They grow slow from young seedling, and then when they finally - finally - mature, the fruits come, and come again and come again. Watch the tree, weed around it, and mulch it now and then. Fertilize the soil a while, and spread some word to keep people knowing, and seeking, and devouring what comes from all that old labor done and just maintained in shape and best growing condition now.

Even then the borers come to dig into the trunks of the trees, sometimes. Hopefully not today. I'm watching my little peach trees close. I pore over the spreadsheets and see what's happening to the novels, wonder what to do next.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Night Shade Unknown

We still do not know the outcome of the pending thing with Skyhorse/Start, so we still do not know what will happen to our lovely books. In the mean time, might I suggest now is a great time to pick up a copy or two, if you were so inclined but putting it off for some reason? There's no telling what will happen if bankruptcy court steps into the picture. Also, frankly, it's not like Night Shade knew what they were doing to promote the books. Even if the deal goes through, they will likely not be long for this world without a lot more support from the world.

Thank you, and happy Monday.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Growing Experiments

I've been attempting to grow an Asian Pear tree from seeds that came from the store-bought fruit. This is how the stuff is supposed to be done, after all. Johnny Appleseed wasn't out spreading scionwood, but seeds. I've got these four seedlings in a pot, from the four seeds at the heart of the fruit. What happens next is I wait until they're six inches tall. Then, I carefully re-pot them into gallon pots from the garage. Then, next year or the year after, if they've survived, I've got these trees on their own roots ready to go in the ground somewhere. Or, I can use their whips for grafting. Pears are supposed to be the easiest thing for beginning grafters. I could pick up a common flowering pear, which is a preferred rootstock around here and inexpensive at the hardware store, and graft the whips that way, to propagate full-size, commercial-quality trees of whatever variety results.

Some fruit is best not done this way. Apples grown commercially are interplanted with crab apples, and take on the crab's characteristic during pollination. Oranges grow true from seed, sometimes, but sometimes they don't, and they're a challenge to get to an age when they can fruit. Lychee trees are beautiful, but they can't handle dry weather below 40 degrees, so unless I had a really, really big greenhouse... Everything that's alive wants to live and to keep living.

It's the sort of thing that's fun to do with your kids, I guess. It's a children's game, to start a tree from seed and keep it alive.

Asian pears often come true, or close enough, from seed. The crisp, apple pears need only another of their kind to fruit. There isn't a crab-pear, or a flowering pear, or any other inedible variety that will pollinate them with their finicky early bloom. Cherries, plums, and peaches can be done this way, and especially apricots, but keep them in pots as long as you can because the rootstock will not be safe in the ground. Avocados and Mangoes can be easily grown this way, too, if your climate is warm enough. Oranges and lemons often grow true from seed, though it might take 15 years to see fruit without grafting onto mature rootstock.

Nothing wrong with that, mind you.

It looks like we don't see a lot of trees grown on their own rootstock, in part because it's so much easier to graft a whole lot of a quality variety than it is to root cuttings carefully. In the regions where they grow well, things like apples and jujubes and persimmon can be grown on their own roots, straight from seed. Fruit quality will be interesting to discover, though. And by "interesting" I mean wait a few years and discover how very likely it is to be no good.

It's a fun project, though, particularly for the young people and young at heart. And it gets a little extra value out of that 4 dollar Asian Pear I bought on a whim, which was really expensive but tasted amazing.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I blogged over at APEX about Weird Fiction and Furniture

I really liked the Book of Cthulhu, and it's sequel, but I also don't think of them as Weird Fiction anymore, since the feeling of Weirdness is lost in repetition.

Lovecraftian is it's own thing, now, right? It's not Weird so much as it is just another tradition of Dark Fantasy with all the furniture of genre that entails. 

Explicated here:

Also, if anyone's writing about Weird Fiction in this moment in time, you have to talk about the awesomeness of Weird Fiction Review, which has very quickly become one of the best on-line venues for the strange. It wasn't so much that I was writing about Lovecraftian Weird Fiction as I was writing about How Weird Fiction Review Has Changed my Perspective.

Anyway. Comments here will be ignored. Go comment over there, and check out some awesome Apex titles while you're at it. For example, did you know the latest issue of Apex Magazine has a story by Joe Lansdale in it?

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Cleanest Phone

Unbeknownst to me, my cellphone was jammed deep in a pocket of some gym shorts, that were gross and needed washing. The phone was pretty gross, too. But, at least it functioned. Now, it does not. The phone is dead. It is clean, and dead. 

We heard it bang-bang-banging in the dryer, and couldn't figure out what it was until we also noticed my phone was missing, and I went digging way down deep into the unholy depths of those gym shorts. Why are the pockets of gym shorts so much deeper and easier to lose things in than regular pockets? If I was a smurf looking for a place to hide, that'd be the place to go. No one would even notice me if the gym shorts were blue. I'd hide there, until such time as the laundry pile started to move, and then I'd be shocked to discover I was trapped deep in a pocket, unable to escape from the unexpected flood.

The phone is dead. I will be poking around and seeing if I can't find something else to jam into my ear and mumble at.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Let's See How Books are Made

This man has blogged for the day, which promotes his books, which are visible to the right.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Get Off Of My Lawn, Screaming At Clouds, etc.

I recently revealed my passionate disgust with the category of "New Adult" that seems to be the talk of genre marketing people all over the place.

The premise, if I understand it correctly, is that a lot of young people who are not yet 30, thereabout, read a lot of YA novels, and do not find books that tell their stories as adults, who are not yet full adults, and don't see a lot of books about them and their needs on the market, written by people like them.

That's not necessarily wicked. Of course, plenty of these books exist if you bother to look around a little, and most people know that. So, it's not really a category that seems necessary at its face. But, no category really is, is it? There wouldn't be anything in here to trigger my gut disgust response, without the influence of a new marketing category and how marketers are selling us this new category.

First, I want to separate the books from the category that is being invented to house them on the shelf. I will not be discussing the books, just the premises of the category I'm pulling off marketing materials and discussion in the sphere of books. For instance, THE GREAT GATSBY carries all the markers of this new category, and it's an amazing masterpiece of American literature, when you think of it as Nick Carraway's novel, and not Gatsby's.

But, let's talk about this category that's being invented before us. "New Adult" they say. A category to feature the coming-of-age stories of young women and men who are in college or recently out of college and looking for their place in the world. Firstly, I have a strong suspicion that the "Coming-of-age" aspect is a front for something else entirely. These are books designed and packaged to sell to a demographic. They are a quest for the next 50 Shades of Gray. This is not a quest to find the stories of this generation so much as it is to find the Next Big Thing for Money! Not necessarily a wicked thing to do, sure.

But, what a strange period of life to focus on, and what strange reasons to focus on it. It speaks to a culture that is privileged to have time to discover the self and obsess over our first loves. You know, when I was permatemping in data entry for a year as a young adult, or slinging coffee at Starbucks, I was a little bit busy trying to find my way out of the menial, poverty-stricken end of the job-market to be concerned about finding my true self in adulthood, and honestly I couldn't have cared less about my first failed love, because that sort of obsession comes from a place of great privilege. If you have time for that, pat yourself on the back. I still don't have time to romanticize life's transitions. I've had to work too hard through all of them.

I see this as a genre of privilege, in so many ways. Questioning your life in this language of finding your place in the world, your sense of self and identity is a luxury that comes from knowing that you can change jobs, change lovers, and still find security and new hope. You're looking for your "place in the world" instead of just receiving your place from your situation as is. The less money you come from, the less choice you have. New Adult, if you expand it to include Lena Dunham's work and others like it in the current zeitgeist, seems to be a literature category of young people who feel hobbled by too many choices, and perceive that as a great struggle. Lack of choice is the actual struggle. Finding choice when there appears to be none is the actual struggle. Too much choice is the self-made disaster of buying into the myth of a true self. You are you are you, and nobody can take that away from you. Happiness is something you can work towards, or it is something you have stumbled upon. Knowing what makes you happy is a myth, because it presumes a choice. Happiness comes from being able to make the choice, period, and being in a place where you can make choices.

Adulthood isn't a series of status symbols or a sense of happiness or making good use of ambiguous choices. It is a number, nothing more. Maturity is what we're really talking about, and the way this is being handled in the category of New Adult is a slap in the face of the great YA protagonists... More on that in a minute.

Feeding into that myth of self-discovery, though, is a marketing ploy to convince you that you need to buy into consumer culture to find your true self. Buy this book, and it will speak to you - yes, you! - and help you find your true self. Buy this product, to signal to other consumers that you aren't a girl, but aren't yet a woman, aren't a boy, but aren't yet a man. Try to hang onto your youth as long as you can, because you will be cool. Being cool is important. Buying cool things is important.

Finding self is a series of luxury goods that marketing departments are selling you.

And what of this category of books is so different than the many, many texts like THE GREAT GATSBY, which seem to be exactly like a New Adult book in every way - a coming-of-age tale about a wealthy-enough young man (Nick Carraway) that turns 30 during the novel and has the time and space to find himself as an in-betweener, not a boy and not yet a man? What about Girl, Interrupted? What about Middlesex? These sort of books mostly exist already. It's just marketing packaging that suggests they don't. If you can't find these books, I don't really know what to tell you except that maybe you could start a group on GoodReads and see what turns up.

Actual voyages of self-discovery begin by learning and reading about people and places that are not just like you.

Ultimately, when people say they want "New Adult" books, that are like YA books except for adults, they are also sort of pooing on the great YA books that aren't even really anything but amazing books that happen to have young protagonists. Harper Lee's amazing American classic, and Sandra Cisneros' House on Mango Street and Paper Towns by John Green and hundreds of other amazing books, are as deep and powerful and incredible as any book anywhere. They just happen to feature young protagonists. This is to say that adult books are already like YA books except they're about adults. That's not a new thing. That's the way things have been since forever. And vice versa.

Maturity is what we should really be talking about, and what makes someone mature, when we talk about adulthood. Here's where my hackles are up in this new category: One of the great themes and points of YA is that maturity comes at a young age, and courage and good decisions and all the responsibilities of the adult world happen whether we're ready for them or not. Pushing against that and reaching back into childhood and feeling like you're still a kid inside with this new marketing category ignores the greatness of Harry Potter, and just about every YA and MG protagonist I ever rooted for, who had to be more adult than adults despite their young age. YA is often about how quickly we all have to grow up and mature, and how wonderful it is to do so. NA seems to be about the awkward transition, or something, where we're not ready to be a grown up? But life is always awkward and the transition and growth and first moments don't stop until you're dead. Plus, the transitions only get more awkward as you get older. If you think your first love is awkward, imagine having your first kid! You can break-up with your first love, but it's much, much harder to break-up with your first kid! The transition into a retirement home, into dementia, etc. may be the most awkward transition there is, in fact. Transitioning through life in all its awkwardness and all its phases is what general fiction has been talking about forever and ever. This is not worthy of a new category of fiction, particularly with the gift-wrapping of a cynical marketing guru talking down to readers.

My Lawn, you should get off it, I guess. Down with corporate marketing-department-driven art. Something-something read more and better books, read wider and learn of yourself by reading widely in every genre, living curiously, and ignoring the identity that comes from purchasing power. You new adults get off my lawn!

I'm ranting. This is a rant. It changes nothing and will only serve to confound and diminish me if I continue. I stop now.

Art is like Being Haunted: a spoiler-free review of WHAT MAKES YOU DIE by Tom Piccirilli

Delirious artistry comes down to us, as it always does, from Dionysus. Take two of these and write until tomorrow morning, so to speak. Tom Pic, the character who is also a screenwriter is no stranger to the demons that walk the edges of the page. His latest book decides to let the demons step into center stage and walkabout, and merge and blend with all the people and places that populate a page under the best and worst of circumstances. In some respects, one question comes to mind, if this character is as bad news as he seems to be, and as bad news as everyone says he is, are the people who put up with him real or a hallucination?

WHAT MAKES YOU DIE is a hallucination of a novel, with a narrator so unreliable, you never know who is living or who is a ghost, because he never knows who is living or who is a ghost. The whole work is reminiscent of the drug-addled, psychosis of the late 60s. It could just be a dream of a bum, talking to himself, and stumbling from one abandoned building to another, clutching at drugs as if they were the dreams of Hollywood, flickering in the dark on the screen, and not the other way around where the drugs create the dreams.

He has written a screenplay. Or, rather, he has written part of one. It is a very exciting screenplay. There's a dead body on the roof. There's a leg in the bathtub. It might be the leg of the character who is missing a leg. It is an amazing screenplay for someone climbing their way up to the top, or struggling on their way back to the bottom. It is apparently so good, even the deadbeat Hollywood agent can see that something is special, here. Something is different. Money can be made with it. Go forth, then, Tommy, and figure out how to finish.

He has no memory of the script, and was locked up in a psychoward for attempting to carve a komodo dragon ghost out of his stomach. Here is a moment where we can delineate the horror genre from the fantasy one: The narrator does not believe there's really a ghost inside of him, and prefers to stick to the knowledge that he is hallucinating. Do you believe him? Is this the way a hallucinating man interacts with his world? Is this what it takes to create great art? Do you have to carve the art out of your gut like excising a parasitic demon?

Hollywood hands over all proceedings in the text. He stumbles through his own memories, glories and failures, while stumbling between his mother's house and all the places the wasted man shamble when they are procrastinating.

Hallucination, then: Beside this haunted man's agent's office, where he had gone for a meeting, there is a store that sells witchcraft supplies and he meets a white witch who wishes to help. Which is it, then? Which side is the hallucination in the convenient coin toss? Is the agency real, but the Wiccan a lie? Is the Wiccan real, and did it draw him there under the pretext of the agency contract, because deep down, poor ol' Tom needs to be healed? My advice is trust no one, and try to stay focused on what feels real, because feelings don't lie in fiction. If it feels real, then it might as well be real. If it is real to Tom, it's real.

There's so much to get lost in here. The memories of Hollywood seem hyperreal, and we suspect they aren't true early in the book. No one is that lucky. But, we suspect they might be true, because Hollywood and art is a world of nothing but luck. Is the Laurence Welk show really playing in the other room for the sister that never changes the channel? Is it even on TV anymore? Which of the phantasms that pass through these pages is alive, and which is dead? The author is not interested in answering that question, and merely drops clues like the Welk music, that something isn't right.

Okay, so let's move on to other things. There's a missing girl deep in the past, and a father that died young from cancer. Both seem to be things that broke the main character off the normal path, and into the writing path. It's as if their ghosts haunt the man. The absence haunts him. Literally, perhaps, he is haunted. A young boy was hit by a car, dragged to his death across the blacktop. All these accumulated ghosts weigh him down; he writes to them. He's trapped inside the veil of the phantasms, wandering the streets lost in his own head. He knows there's this amazing screenplay inside of him, if only he can cut deep enough, and dig out the damn dead dragon that's curled up in there.

Fiction is only a lie if you refuse to hear the truth. Komodo dragons in the belly, and a maze of confusion, uncertainty, failure, and strong liquor, then. Feel something. Do something.

Read this book.