Monthly Archives: September 2010

Ear in Chute

I love the part in Blue Velvet where Special Agent Dale Cooper walks by the chute that reads, “Deposit Parking Violations Here” while holding the human ear in a bag. (In this video, it’s 7 mins in.) I always think he’s gonna put the ear in there and he never does. The chute is not quite a red herring, it’s something less pin-downable than that.

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Fun Camp Mega-Post

Fun Camp. Fun Camp is a novel-in-shorts about a week at a summer camp called Fun Camp.

“I KNOW, Gabe. Fun Camp. I know about Fun Camp. Shut up about Fun Camp. Stop saying Fun Camp.”

Yeah, good point, but the other day a friend told me that he clicked over to a couple of shorts and didn’t know what to make of them.

So, for the casual reader on the go, jet-setting to the board meeting, go-go-juice in tow : Context. Orientation.

Plotwise, pretty loose. Most of these shorts were built to stand alone. There is not an overarching plot other than “a week at camp,” but instead each short (monologue, soliloquy, letter home, intra-camp note, speech, sermon, list, comment card, activity explanation)  has its own mini-plot. To learn more, you could read this conversation between me and Lydia Conklin about our camp books.

By now, there’s a pretty hefty sample of Fun Camp shorts that you could read online right now, so I’m going to link to all of them.

Why not start with Apology + Opportunity? This one was taught in a COLLEGE CLASSROOM the other day!

Your are feet wet now, good, so it’s time to try the motherload: 8 from Fun Camp in FriGG. So much on one page, i know! But maybe one day these will be in a book and each will be granted its own page. So picture that, maybe.

This one has a picture! Hello Clone, I Will Say

Which, OK, now you’re starting to notice: Not all of these are as explicitly about camp. 5 from Fun Camp

These are more tangentially related. Like: “A description of a new game.” Basics and Hard Year for Everybody

Or: “The musings of an incoherent cook.” Peek Here, Progeny

Or “the cook again, plus other stuff”: 4 from Fun Camp

Or: “A groundskeeper’s remembrances of a past long past.” Sure, I Remember Guns

(“Seems like with some of these he just wrote the short he wanted to write and then found a way to tie it in.” Wink.)

But then we’re back at camp and it’s all good: 3 from Fun Camp

and then Perk

and then (creepier when located at a camp) One About Circles.

And: A PDF! For printing or just clicking 100% then 125% then back to 100%, over and over. Largely Jamie Iredell (Book of Freaks) on this PDF but also Fun Camp.

More. There are still more.

Flight of the Boring (TLB 7 preview)

and Speak Up for a Treat and Thanks Brother Dave

and 5 from Fun Camp (featuring an autobiographical music review)

and Remember to Breathe.

Are there still more? There are. But they’re printed in in print journals (un-online), such as Hobart, Nano Fiction, Quick Fiction, The Lifted Brow, Saltgrass. Or they will be out but not yet: Dark Sky, Gargoyle, NOÖ. Or are on my hard drive, in wait.

Incredulous America: Things We Can’t Believe Nobody Has Brought Up (Part Two)

Culled from the web. Unedited for spelling, grammar, syntax, or taste.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned RUSH yet! Great band. Hard to believe it’s only three guys doing the whole thing.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned the episode of Angel where he got turned into a muppet!

Well, I can’t believe nobody has mentioned that one Hippo contains 20% of your RDA for calcium!

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles yet. Easily the best webcomic out of everyone mentioned in this thread.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Stevie Nicks yet

I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned Ice Ice Baby!!

I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned “Big Bottom” by Spinal Tap! Don’t read the following if easily offended.

I can’t believe nobody has brought up the Flying Spaghetti Monster

I mean, come on, I can’t believe nobody has brought up the final fight scene in the ruins of the Roman Colosseum between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris!

I can’t believe nobody has brought up “Big League Chew” yet. It’s bubble come shredded and put in packs to look like chewing tobacco. Blood bad is pretty tame by comparison.

I can’t believe nobody has brought up the “A-Roid” part of the puzzle.

I can’t believe nobody has brought up potato vodka. I think vodka is nasty so I wouldn’t endorse it, just kinda surprised none of you drunkards have mentioned it.

I can’t believe nobody has brought up I’m my own grandpa yet.

I can’t believe nobody has brought up the growing problem of illegal aliens coming into this country, filling these unpaid internship positions that were at one time filled by college students.

I can’t believe nobody has brought up Swans – now they were a fucking down-in-the-mouth bunch. Bloody good though.

I can’t believe nobody has brought up who pays for boob jobs in our glorious new socialized health care system.

I can’t believe nobody has brought up the more important discussion in this debate – is that Rebecca Morelle girl as hot as she looks like she could be in those pictures?

I can’t believe nobody has brought up Margaret Cho, though. I love her.

I’m amazed nobody mentioned that this reminds them of Dante’s Inferno.

even though it’s just two weeks on from its BBC4 début, I’m amazed nobody’s mentioned the amazing moonwalking manikin bird yet.

I’m amazed nobody mentioned the removal of Bert And Ernie

By the way, I’m amazed nobody’s mentioned Madonna’s rumoured plans to remake Casablanca, updated to present-day Iraq – with herself as Ilse.

I’m amazed nobody mentioned the enormous water conservation–especially with no-flush urinals.

I have to say I’m amazed nobody mentioned Kung Fu Hustle.

I’m amazed nobody mentioned Final Fantasy XI Online.

Had to bump this thread, ’cause I’m amazed nobody mentioned Free Willy.

As regards worst Irish accent ever, I’m amazed nobody mentioned Kevin Spacey in Ordinary Decent Criminal.

I’m amazed nobody’s mentioned that O.J. Simpson was one of the actors considered for the part of the The Terminator.

I’m amazed nobody’s mentioned Harvey Pekar yet!

I’m amazed nobody mentioned “The Muppets Christmas Carol”. And I’m deadly serious.

I’m amazed that nobody mentioned D70 start with ISO200, so in fact, it loose any avantage of sync at 1/500.

I’m amazed that nobody’s mentioned noncommutativity of the quaternions here.

Also, I’m amazed that nobody’s mentioned Barack Obama yet.

I’m amazed that nobody mentioned that one of the cast was convicted for pedophilia. I am 90% sure it was Rooney, but feel free to correct me

I’m amazed that nobody’s mentioned General Dyer’s crawling order after the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre in 1919.

I’m amazed that nobody mentioned Nemesis, one of my all-time favorite cyberpunk movies.

I’m amazed that nobody mentioned Pong.

I’m amazed that nobody mentioned the most bitch-ass sneak bastard tactic that would only ever be used once in Starcraft.

i’m amazed that nobody mentioned Hot Chip in this post.

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New Fun Camp Short Up at Wigleaf + Dear Wigleaf: Special Edition

A new Fun Camp short, Perk, is up at Wigleaf alongside my own Dear Wigleaf, a postcard I drafted before noticing the part in Scott’s email that said to keep it under 250 words. So I cut the postcard down to comply but was sad to let go of the chattier elements. So here I give you the indulgently long Director’s Cut of of my postcard:

Dear Wigleaf,

Nashville’s still hot. This dog keeps barking. My new job has Fridays off. This evening, I almost got caught in traffic for the Titans game. “And this is just pre-season,” someone warned me. “You wait.”

A family friend told me the story of a guy she knows who moved to New Orleans and couldn’t figure out why his trash wasn’t getting picked up. He asked a neighbor about it. The neighbor said, “Have you paid the guy twenty dollars yet this month?”

Another friend and his new wife went to Costa Rica on their honeymoon and daytripped in Panama. That evening, the same Costa Rican guard who’d let them into Panama made up a law: “You can’t come back into the country so soon,” he said. “You have to stay in Panama for three days.” My friend said, “I’ve heard that there is a ten-dollar fee I can pay.” “Yes,” the guard said. “There is a fee.”

I was reading submissions for a magazine and thinking, “What if the people who sent their stories also sent me money?” (I love receiving money.) One solution is the trash collector’s: Stop responding to submissions until folks figure it out: “Durham doesn’t get back to you until you mail him some Cracker Barrel gift cards.” But it’d be faster to make like the border guard and tell them myself. “Dear Sir or Madam, We’re delighted to inform you that we’ve made a decision regarding the stuff you emailed us. To find out what that decision is, please paypal one chicken soft taco to gabe (dot) (diggity) donnovan @ errolsinternet (dot) com. Happy to let the decision fester on the curb until you do.”

But look at me, writing my way to insidery submission jokes. Let’s end on a better note: Last week, my dad called my grandmother’s cell and when she answered, there was music and laughter and loud chatter. He said, “Mother, where are you?” She said, “I’m at a hokey-pokey lesson.”

Love to yours,

Gabe

Read “Perk” here.

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More of a Real Post about The Illustrator by James Robison and then also Legacy and Fame and Word-Spreading

I ended last week’s Internet/Franzen smackdown post with a bit about James Robison’s The Illustrator, knowing already I wanted to talk about the book outside the context of “good books that don’t get as much attention as The Corrections.” Which is really almost any good book. So let’s back up.

A few weeks ago, I had my first visit to the fiction stacks of the downtown Nashville Public Library, a big impressive room where Dawn Raffel graces the new releases shelf and where people actually seem to be reading stuff. I hit the R’s looking to see if they had the new Mary Robison (they didn’t), but they did have The Illustrator (1988).

And I thought, “James Robison, that guy who said a something nice about one of my pieces on Fictionaut?” (I have a special talent for remembering people who compliment me.) The full-sized author photo on the jacket’s back proved it was the same guy, just younger and with more hair. In a blurb, Donald Barthelme called the novel “a brilliant piece of work” and “a remarkable achievement.” I was sold enough to check it out. I just didn’t expect for it to be so good.

The Illustrator follows Ash, a middle-aged artist who falls for an almost-legal high schooler named Q (whose actual name is Erin, whose actual-actual name is Pauline). He takes a job in South America and tortures himself with thoughts of Q, then returns to Boston and remembers what she’s actually like and kinda loses interest. And starts painting big weird anti-paintings. And his ex-wife, Lucia, shows up. Then Lucia, Q, and Ash form a weird little pseudo-family based mostly on Q and Lucia trash-talking Ash. Then they all go to Vermont and he rides his motorcycle too recklessly.

The plotting is loose and natural while each short scene is a like tightly constructed flash, ready for Quick Fiction, often complete with punchy/mysterious last lines. Examples, ripped from context: “Fuck the hotel bill.” “You still have all your teeth?” “I like the void. I do.” The looseness and Ash’s obliquely cool temperament gel nicely. At any point in the book, it feels both as if anything might happen next and as if Ash doesn’t care one way or the other what will happen. And yet the difference between this book and slackery “the point is that not much happens” books is that his actions do affect him, again and again, and usually for the worse. If Ash had a stake in himself, he might save himself, but doesn’t, so won’t.

One of the book’s enormous pleasures is its dialogue, and it’s never better than when Q is talking or letter-writing. Young and eager-to-impress and language-lax, but smart, too smart to dismiss, Q’s voice gives me the zap of recognition that goes, “Sometimes pop culture makes me forget that teenagers in the late 80’s basically sounded exactly like teenagers today and like teenagers always will until the end of time.”

Lucia, too, is one of the book’s big surprises. She’s barely mentioned in the book’s first half, but when she shows up (“Hello, Ash. You could hug me, I guess.”), she arrives with so much nuance and emotional baggage that Ash has to be reconsidered in the light of her arrival.

“Look at your oeuvre,” she says in the same scene, looking over his paintings for the first time. “My, my. Aren’t you weird. You know, I never minded that we both had sex with so many others while we were married–I thought that was fine. But what I minded, minded purple, was that you didn’t love me, Ash.”

“I minded that too,” Ash says, “but you were terrible, just terrible awful. You’re not awful anymore probably, isn’t that so?”

All the language feels real and fun: This is the kind of minimalism that uses telling and concise details to point outward to the big lived-in world. By the end of the book, so much ground has been covered that it makes for a jarring return to the opening pages after a first read.

James Robison’s only other book, Rumor and Other Stories, came out two years before The Illustrator. I bought it on Amazon for $.01 + $4 shipping and haven’t finished it yet, but here’s a preview: it’s good too. The opening story, The Line, pushes the observational people-watching story as far as it will go, waiting until the last minute to point to any sort of meaning, a neat trick he later repeats to even greater effect in “The Indian Gardens.” Even with its subversive touches, Rumor is more of a classic book than Illustrator, less of its time, still minimal but working closer to the tradition. My favorites so far are, “Envy,” “Eleven,” and the title track, “Rumor,” all of which slow-build their loss and longing and end pretty hopefully.

Eventually, the web helped me put this together: James was married to Mary Robison, hence hence hence. (Pretty perfect, then, that I found him while looking for his wife.) The Illustrator is dedicated to Mary.  They’re now divorced.  If you go looking for stylistic parallels, the book has more in common with Mary Robison’s more-recent Why Did I Ever than with the stories she was writing when The Illustrator came out.

But really, James Robison’s style (circa Illustrator) is closer to Frederick Barthelme’s than to his then-wife’s. And surprise! They went to grad school together. In Barthelme’s famous & fun article “On Being Wrong,” there’s a great long paragraph in which Barthelme characterizes the “beyond irony” writer scene of the John Hopkins MFA, 1976, in which Barthelme and his colleagues grew to suspect that “a plain sentence, drab as it may seem, might be more powerful by and large than the then standard-issue clever sentence.” He characterizes the teachers: John Barth, Charles Newman. Then continues: “And the students were good too. Mary and Jim Robison were there; everything in Mary’s stories ‘snicked’ -any time any object hit any other object it ‘snicked.'”

It’ll be a shame, though, if this passing mention is going to be James Robison’s legacy: A good writer who was present for a scene in which his then-wife had a starring role. Mary Robison herself, in an interview with BOMB, praised her ex-husband’s prose while simultaneously burying him: “[Being labeled a minimalist] did a lot for me (laughter) in that I received some attention other deserving writers did not. Patricia Geary, Moira Crone, Liz Inness-Brown, Steve Barthelme, or even my late husband, James Robison. Joke, my little joke.” Ha?

One exciting thing about my time in an MFA was getting to be in a community of readers who passed books around like secrets. Noy Holland taught The Log of the S.S. Mrs. Unguentine to a class I wasn’t even in, and in a couple years we’d all read it and Stanley Crawford was guest-teaching a workshop, just riding the wave of Western Mass enthusiasm for his beautiful strange book.

Not that I need to cite examples of ways word can spread. Just saying it’s exciting when it does, and that a smart friend’s recommendation has a better batting average that playing the Nashville Public Library Stacks Lotto, and that it’s easier to beef up somebody’s “critical standing” than it used to be, and that it’s easier and cheaper to get semi-obscure books than it used to be, and that it’s fun to do the open node thing.

And that’s the flip side to my attempt to approach Jonathan Franzen’s writing openly EVEN THOUGH he’s really popular–in many ways, it’s just not as fun to champion a dude who’s getting so much love from The New York Times that they’re sending a personal sushi chef over to his house to express their praise via Rainbow Roll. The NYT sushi chef would be a wedge between me and Freedom, going, “Isn’t this a succulent scene? Aren’t you having an enormously well-wrought time?” The clamor isn’t conducive to immersed reading.

Beginning a book like The Illustrator only noise in my head is the blurbed praise of a dead master. But then the voice crops up that goes, “If this book is as good as I think, won’t it be fun to tell people about it?” and then, “Maybe you just like this for its obscurity,” and then, “Won’t it be embarrassing when you get behind this book on only the strength of your own taste and then other people hate it?” Which is maybe not so conducive either.

The lucky part is: if either book is doing its job, those voices tend to fade away as the book takes over.

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Incredulous America: Things We Can’t Believe Nobody Has Mentioned (Part One)

Culled from the web. Unedited for spelling, grammar, syntax, or taste.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Eddie Murphy. Back when he did Raw, nobody could touch him.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned “Pet Rocks”. What a stupid craze that was. I was not alive at the time it occurred, but I did read about it.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Scorpions – Rock You Like a Hurricane.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned the chopped off feet yet!

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned your dancing skeletons. How did you make them?

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned the old Saddle Club for pizza memories from way back. I loved watching them toss the dough threw the air while making those pizza’s when I was a young buck.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned The Beastmaster. Sweaty, oiled up Marc Singer, and Tanya Roberts boobies. And ferrets. C’mon, people.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned, “oh yeah, you’re my asian Lois” and when Quagmire went through Peter’s trash because Lois clipped her nails – funny stuff.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned this yet; The desecrate spell. It gives undead in the area of effect a +1 to hit, damage(?), and saves(?), and +1hp per hit die I believe, and also gives a -3 on attempts to turn undead in the area. If it is in the area of a shrine dedicated to an evil diety or somesuch, the bonuses are doubled!

homemade brown bread, butter and a squeeze of lemon is certainly the simplest way to appreciate the full flavour of good smoked salmon, but I can’t believe nobody has mentioned a sprinkling of cracked black pepper!

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Jane Austen. My fave of hers is pride and prejudiced but they are all good. And what about the Bronte sisters?

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Vince Gill yet. It dosen’t have to be soul music to be souful.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned anything about those not wanting to stand in line at the pearly gates… they wanted to take the express line on the way to Hell, by stealing tables from a church.

So I can’t believe nobody has mentioned: 1. Get Your Stuff (very touching film about a couple of gay men struggling with parenthood) 2. Eating Out (Lighthearted and funny) also has Ryan Carnes (sp?) from Desperate Housewives in a scene where you get to see well… watch the movie to find out… it will be worth it!

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned The Lost Boyz. …What the FUCK?

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Cheri Oteri! Not only does this list need more women… Cheri was CRAZY, but versatile. Anyone agree?

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned the biscuit scene. I thought it was one of the best scenes in True Blood history.

I’m a bit long in the tooth, but I can’t believe nobody has mentioned RUN-DMC!!! I could extoll their virtues, but do I really need to?

First I can’t believe nobody has mentioned this, and second I thought it was obvious: You put the lime in the coconut and drink ’em both together, put the lime in the coconut then you’ll feel better.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned the “no shoes in the house” thing yet.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned the best, and SAFEST response to all the shaming tactics: laughing… Remember, the woman HATES YOU as a man and wants you to SUFFER. If you laugh, that sure ain’t suffering. And if SHE laughs too, YOU laugh again!!! Out-laugh the twit!

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned the riots of 2005. Violence, arson, and looting done by young Muslims, (YES I said it, MUSLIMS!)

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned this, a crossover with Coraline and A Nightmare on Elm Street. It would raise the stakes for her especially since in the remake, Freddy is a pedophile.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned that the other person in that picture is Craig Hockenberry,

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Eye of The Tiger by Survivor yet.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Amadeus! Some people love that movie and some people hate it. I neither loved it nor hated it.

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned THE ORIGINAL Roberto’s Taco Shop. Man, when those first came out – whoa nellie!

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