Monday, February 28, 2005


Holly Phillips, in the smoky backrooms and internet dives I hang out in, might just be the hottest name in genre fiction, based on reactions to her first short story collection. I hate to deal in hype, but at the same time, having sampled some of Holly's writing, I find it compelling and interesting. Not to mention, Holly's Canadian, which, at this particular period of time, makes her way cool.

Asked not only to walk the plank composed of the Five Questions, but to provide a short bio note and book description, Holly writes:

"Holly Phillips is a Canadian woman who just this year has had to reluctantly concede that she can no longer claim to be in her 'early' thirties." I'm not one of those Canadians who gets all defensive about the virtues of her country, except when in the presence of arrogant Americans who try to take the piss, but I would rather live here than anywhere else. The beer -- believe me -- really is better north of the line. I read manuscripts for On Spec, the Canadian SF magazine, about which I am never defensive, not even when I possibly should be. I read too many of the wrong kind of books, and try very hard to write some of the wrong kind of stories, with occasional success. In the Palace of Repose (Prime Books, 2005) must have a bunch of them, because 6 of the 9 stories are exclusive to the collection. There's just no accounting for taste. I like most of them quite a lot (or at least, I did before proofing the galleys dented my enthusiasm), for in most of them I danced the slipstream fandango. The litrachoor of the fantastic, my dear!

Walking the Plank with the Five Questions

Why should readers pick up your new book as opposed to, say, just about anybody else's book?
Oh...curiosity? Because it's got a pretty cover? Because of the slightly blood-thirsty fascination we all have when watching someone walk a tightrope? The tightrope being, for me, stretched between honest-to-god fantasy on the one hand and literary pretensions on the other. A long fall with many toothy critics at the bottom. Whee!

Does your book have any socially redeeming qualities? If so, what are they?
Lord, no. What book does? Except inasmuch as it's hard to read a book and wreak havoc on one's unsuspecting society at the same time. The moment after one puts the book down might be tricky, though. I'm certainly not going to brainwash anyone into being a saint or a bureaucrat, or even an upstanding citizen. Kick over those traces! Escape the drudgery of the real! Which come to think of it, might actually be a socially redeeming quality. Damn!

Does your book have any medicinal or mental health value to readers?
Only by virtue of contrast. As in: "Hey, my life is actually fairly sane and comfortable compared to those poor slobs'. Who knew?"

Assume your book has been filed under "Ages 8 to 12" in the children's section, perhaps by mistake, perhaps not. How horrified do you imagine a child would be after reading your book, and why? How many years of therapy would the child take to recover from the experience?
I don't know about horrified. What does it take to horrify a child these days? Though I admit, I'm fond of several of the stranger -- okay, creepier -- images in my stories, and would be moderately pleased if they showed up in some innocent child's dreams. Actually, the more I think about it, the better I like it. Mwah-hah-hah! Wake the little buggers up screaming. Parents would love me not so much. I also doubt many parents would thank me for the dubious light I shed on several parent/child relationships, but then, that light gets shed on most relationships sooner or later -- it's called adolescence. How many years of therapy does it take to get over that?

If no one buys your book and you are unable to continue publishing your fiction due to the intense vilification that occurs in the media, what line of work will you go into?
Writing reviews. Either that, or marrying a major league ballplayer. Whichever seems easier and/or more fun at the time.

"We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers -- thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams." Peter S. Beagle

Sunday, February 27, 2005


Matthew Cheney, who has certainly written glowing things about my work (Secret Life) and also written a mixed review of my work (Veniss), and who I met at WorldCon this year, and who I correspond with quite regularly (all in the interests of disclosure), has written a concise and true entry about the importance of truth in reviewing within the SF/F field. My favorite part is the quote he pulls from a John Clute collection:

Reviewers who will not tell the truth are like cholesterol. They are lumps of fat. They starve the heart. I have myself certainly clogged a few arteries, have sometimes kept my mouth shut out of this "friendship" which is nothing in the end but self-interest. So perhaps it is time to call a halt. Perhaps we should establish a Protocol of Excessive Candour, a convention within the community that excesses of intramural harshness are less damaging than the hypocrisies of stroke therapy, that telling the truth is a way of expressing love: self-love; love of others; love for the genre, which claims to tell the truth about things that count; love for the inhabitants of the planet; love for the future. Because truth is all we've got. And if we don't talk to ourselves, and if we don't use every tool at our command in our time on Earth to tell the truth, nobody else will.

I couldn't agree with this more. At the same time, I have so much scar tissue from writing mixed and negative reviews--even to the point, as detailed in my nonfiction collection Why Should I Cut Your Throat?, of getting really shafted for doing a negative review of a year's best collection--that you have to wonder if it's worth it after awhile. (You know what they say about speaking truth to power.)

You write a mixed or negative review not because you want to "get" someone or to make anybody feel bad or to expose the soft underbelly of the genre, but because you read a book and it didn't satisfy you, and there are some interesting things to say that may speak to the general as well as the specific. And because, hey, maybe you got the book assignment and you're locked into it and would feel like a jerk if you lied in your review just to avoid recriminations. And, also, because if you're going to review a book, you have a responsibility to readers to tell the truth about it.

I've only written one negative review to redress an imbalance, and that was of Thraxas when when it won the World Fantasy Award, because the book was so bad, and held up so poorly when compared to the books it was nominated with, that somebody had to offer a corrective.

But, again, is it worth it? As a writer, I feel as if every time I write a mixed or negative review, I'm opening myself up for a world of hurt--and that my own books may suffer at the hands of others as a result. I love book reviewing, and I love writing about books I'm totally in love with, but it just doesn't feel right to only review books that I love--it seems unbalanced, and it's also a constraint; I don't like feeling as if I'm being forced into silence before I even write a single word. (I should note that when I wrote a mixed review of one of Mieville's books, he was a prince about it; same goes for Jeffrey Ford.)

That said, I've mostly done year's best articles and reviews of books I love in recent years because I don't have the time to go through the kinds of battles that sometimes occur when you do write a negative review. So it's entirely possible that I'll stop reviewing genre books for formal review publications altogether over the next few years; I'm not really sure yet. I just know that my current policy of only formally reviewing books I really like feels like bullshit to me. As Cheney says in his blog entry, how wonderful it would be if we could have open and honest discourse about books within the SF/F community. What we have now falls far short of that ideal, unfortunately. (As a result, for example, we get new author after new author being overhyped, which not only hurts the field but can damage the author's later work and stop them from ever reaching their full potential; the writers who have fallen prey to their own press releases and review clippings are legion.)

Now, as for this blog--the rules are slightly different here. A blog, to me, is the perfect forum to push books I love without (usually) talking about books I don't like--because it's "semi formal," because it's not an official review magazine or website.

I also feel I can use this forum to alert you to interesting writers whose books I may not have read. I'm about to post an interview with Holly Phillips. I haven't read enough of her work yet to have an informed opinion about it, but that's not a criteria for doing an interview of the five questions nature. Here's somebody who is getting a lot of attention and who is talented, according to people I trust. Would I ever interview a writer I hadn't read much of for a more formal forum? No. But, for me, blogs allow me to extend myself a little more leeway, to not be as stringent in my requirements as for formal reviews. It doesn't mean that I don't speak to the truth here, but that this forum is a little more relaxed. And it will continue to be that way. This blog is for the moment; whatever I do in a more formal setting is permanent.


(This will be the last time for awhile that I respond to or point you in the direction of an entry on another blog. Otherwise, this blog will become what some other blogs have already become: lazy links to other people's words, or a continual counter-puncher with no offense not generated by other bloggers.)

(Evil Monkey: "Hey--Adam Roberts did a number on your collection Why Should I Cut Your Throat? over at Alien Online. Still like the idea of negative reviews?" Jeff: "Yeah, I was so upset by that review I almost threw up. But after the initial shock and sadness over it--because, you know, it's true, you can feel it in your belly when you get slammed like that--and in the fullness of time, I did and do in fact much prefer Roberts' response to the book to any review that tries to shade the truth as the reviewer sees it. And Roberts and I have had quite a cordial and even friendly correspondence since. I read his short story collection and enjoyed much of it, and said as much in my year's best article at Locus Online, and have his novel Snow on tap." Evil Monkey: "So it was a good experience?" Jeff: "In that it ultimately opened up a dialogue between two writers who didn't correspond before, yes. And the review itself toughened me up a bit." Evil Monkey: "So no nightmares anymore?" Jeff: "I have nightmares about the Bush presidency, not about bad reviews." Evil Monkey: "What can a writer do to negate the personal effect of bad reviews of their books?" Jeff: "Read Bruce Holland Rogers' book on writing. He deals with it effectively. Or, you can do what Alasdair Gray does, and put 'Very' and 'Not Very' columns of reviewer quotes on the back covers of your books. I think that was Gray's way of putting the importance of it into perspective.")

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Some might think Charlie Stross a little cold-blooded in his approach re his Family Trade series, and toward writing in general. What? Write a book-and-a-half every year?! What? Map out a whole series and then have to follow through with it for a decade? What what?!

But mixed in with what I would call either blatant commercialism or clear-eyed pragmatism is solid information on how good writers operate--including "steal" (don't borrow) and how ideas form (cross-referencing different genres or approaches).

What I can't buy into is the idea of "series fiction", though. This may seem ironic, given that I'm writing several novels set in my fantastical city of Ambergris, but there is a difference. I'm not writing a story arc. I'm writing several independent novels with the same setting. I can quit any time I like and Ambergris will still seem "finished". Stross may not have that luxury. (Perhaps he does and I've mis-read his blog post.)

In any event, I thank my lucky stars that I'm not locked into a series. And that I'm not looking to produce a novel every year. Every writer is different and any approach can be valid for a given writer. Stross is clearly happy with his approach, and that's great. But there is also something to be said for letting ideas and characters age until they acquire the depth, breadth and level of detail that turn them from the ingredients for a perfectly adequate novel into the ingredients for something more lasting.

I generally try to stretch myself (sometimes severely) with each new novel, so having time to reflect isn't just a matter of organizing my thoughts and developing enough of the story in my head before I get it down on paper. It's also a matter of acquiring enough mastery of technique to write the new novel. Shriek: An Afterword took years to write not just because of lack of time to work on it, but also because I needed time to develop certain writing skills in order to do the novel justice.

Luckily, the next Ambergris novel, Zamilon File, won't take six years to write, delays or not, but it, too, will be a learning experience. And sometimes that takes time.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Australian author Anna Tambour has her first novel out from Prime Books in April, in paperback and hardcover. It's called The Spotted Lily. Intense blog following enthusiasts will remember that I was really fond of Tambour's first story collection.

Here's a brief description of the novel.

Angela Pendergast, escapee from the Australian bush, grew up with the smell of hot mutton fat in her hair, the thought of her teeth crunching a cold Tim Tam chocolate biscuit — the height of decadent frivolity. Now, though her tastes have grown and she knows absolutely what she wants, her life is embarrassingly stuck. So when the Devil drops into her bedroom in her sharehouse in inner-city Sydney with a contract in hand, she signs. He's got only a Hell's week to fulfil his side, but in the meantime he must chaperone her — or is it the other way around?

God knows, I'm not a big fan of deal-with-the-Devil stories, but Tambour's such a unique writer that I'm curious to read her approach to the idea.


Anna was kind enough to answer the infamous five questions.

Why should readers pick up your book as opposed to, say, just about anybody else's book?
'Should' is such a liver-cleansing diet, prescribed reading list sentiment. I'd rather readers think, 'I really shouldn't, but . . .'

Does your book have any socially redeeming qualities? If so, what are they?
Horrors! My book would never expose itself to the public in so brazen a manner. It thinks, and I agree, that its qualities or otherwise are best explored in a private relationship between book and reader.

Does your book have any medicinal or mental health value to readers?
Health benefits have been claimed, and felt, from Bunyan's Progress to colonic irrigation and holding metal balls in one's hand. So readers must be their own physicians.

Assume your book has been filed under "Ages 8 to 12" in the children's section, perhaps by mistake, perhaps not. How horrified do you imagine a child would be after reading your book, and why? How many years of therapy would the child take to recover from the experience?
Children are tough as dried gristle. They have to be to survive witches, anti-smoking graphics, and the prospect of being turned into a lump of salt for disobeying a nonsensical injunction. It's adults who get tenderized, their sensibilities thin and frail as a piece of rice paper--who can tremble with horror at the very thought of a book they often haven't even read. Therapy? Useless. Cure? Perhaps a strong dose of water.

If no one buys your book and you are unable to continue publishing your fiction due to the intense vilification that occurs in the media, what line of work will you go into?
Intense vilification has been the lifeline to many a book. Indifference is the great drowner. But to answer your question, if my living depended on what I've made in fiction sales, I couldn't answer your question directly. You'd have to ask a medium.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


I was going through old files tonight and found a series of interviews I'd conducted with various editors in 1998. The purpose was to start a clearing house for the independent press, and to provide documented knowledge that could be carried forward to the next generation, so as to help avoid common mistakes while starting out (and helping to ensure a higher percentage of successful ventures). Unfortunately, after I'd finished, with the help of an accomplished web guy, compiling the information from a uniform series of questions and then cross referencing it online in some very creative and useful ways, the company hosting the site went belly-up without notice, the site disappeared, and no one could find the html files. Yeah, that was fun.

Anyway, I found the original interviews and thought reproducing two of them here might be of interest, as a snapshot of Wordcraft Press and Wildside Press back in 1998, since both are still around. Wordcraft is run by David Memmott, and you can find out what they've been up to since 1998 here. Wildside is run by John Betancourt, and you can find out what they've been up to since 1998 here. It's worth noting that in 1998, Wordcraft was one of the best indie presses willing to look at surreal and magic realist literature, while Wildside, now a POD (and increasingly off-set) juggernaut also doing some pretty out-there stuff through its imprint of Prime, was pretty much doing more traditional genre material. Given the interest in cross-genre material in the indie press these days, I find these little snapshots of once and future cross-genre publishers rather fascinating.

I'm going to leave any outdated info as-is from the time of the interviews, just to completely preserve the interviews in amber. (I love the mention of "doku-tech". How quaint. And in 2015, someone will say that about current interviews on the book industry...) I'm also not going to edit down some of the longer answers. You'll have to sift through it like a homo sapiens.

Admittedly, though, this is a long post. Buck up--what doesn't kill you makes you...not dead yet.

(Coming up soon--a mini-review of Clare Dudman's new novel, 98 Reasons for Being, and whatever else pops into my fragmented brain.)


David Memmott, editor/publisher of WordCraft Press

What is your particular editorial slant or philosophy? In other words, what makes your press different from other presses?

Most of the presses in the Northwest were of the regional realist school so Wordcraft of Oregon purposely set out to extend the range of literary work represented in the region by focusing on a personal interest in a Literature of the Fantastic. Since I was already editing and publishing a magazine, Ice River, which focused on speculative writing, it was quite natural to extend this vision to book publishing, beginning with many of the writers who appeared in the pages of the magazine. I wanted to promote literature that celebrated the imagination and valued its role in helping us achieve wholeness and balance. I was forced to ask myself, as an editor, how humanity can achieve wholeness and balance if we live in a world wanting to limit our experience to "Leave It to Beaver." How can we ever perceive depth or a sense of substance without shadow? It seemed to me that too much light or too much darkness results in a condition of blindness, the end result tending to be a dissolution of the self and a subsequent loss of form. So I sought a middle way. Just as literary art would lose its power by ignoring the shadow, it would also lose its appeal without form. I think of this in terms of a lower, upwelling energy of the Dionysian impulse refined by an Apollonian process culminating in "forms of feeling." Art is the marriage of vision and craft, intuition and reason, imagination and reality -- a whole-brain activity helping us to first define our Self and then the Self in relationship to Other.

Wordcraft books defy easy categorization, often crossing genres, taking readers into
some new territory while the author attempts to objectify a state of mind or a feeling or an awareness which cannot always be rendered in linear or realist fashion. These books are often ambitious, perhaps even attempting the impossible. They reaffirm, at least for me, that we really live in a "fantastic" world, a multi-dimensional world, a macro-quantum reality of surprises and paradox and yet interconnected in a kind of relative holism which ultimately reveals a universe of inherent meaning. Wordcraft books often confront absurdity with a sense of humor or strike deep with a scathing social satire, or present a startling image or metaphor which rings true in your mind on some transpersonal level long after you put the book down. These books are also at times perceived by some as "obscene" or "dark and depressing." But what they all have in common is their celebration of imagination and a sense of wonder with the world, perhaps the realization that if we were to attempt to create a "realistic" sense of human consciousness in forms of fiction we would end up with something nonlinear and spatial which moves both forward and backward in time (for time in fiction as in dream is essentially psychological), a fiction which moves in and out of various states of consciousness (revery, dreams, fantasies, moments of astounding clarity, disturbing memories, the often inexplicable,) yet uses this awareness to reveal character and explore what it is to be human. These books give form to our experience of the remarkable journey of life (which is of course a journey of the soul). This kind of fiction lends itself most readily to a "Literature of the Fantastic" but most of the features highlighted here would deal any prospect of NY publication a cold and quick death blow.

What have been your biggest critical and popular successes and what differentiates them from your less successful projects? (Which brings us to another question--How do you define success for your press?)

Burnt by Lance Olsen has probably been the biggest critical and financial success to date. That is, it has been the most widely reviewed, i.e. Publisher's Weekly, American Book Review, The Bay Guardian, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Texas Quarterly, and has moreover earned a profit for the press. The success of this book can, in part, be attributed to the author's efforts in promoting his work through readings, interviews, his webpage, and the contacts he's made as the result of being selected as Idaho's Writer-in-Residence as well as being a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award (Tonguing The Zeitgeist). Close behind Burnt is The Book of Angels by Thomas E. Kennedy which, in spite of receiving few reviews to date, has sold well, again largely due to the author's efforts in setting up reading tours, teaching workshops, doing interviews, etc. Less successful projects are generally those that do not break even, yet may be noteworthy for other reasons. The hope, of course, is that the more successful books will help pay for the less successful books.

In looking at the major professional houses (Harcourt Brace, etc.) what, in recent years, do you perceive as their strengths and weaknesses--what do they do well, and what do they do poorly?

Censorship of the marketplace extends far beyond the SF/Fabulist field as corporate
boards in every human enterprise seek to limit our choices and force consumers to buy only their products. Small presses may exist as alternatives, may even help new voices into print, but cannot at this point really threaten the big money boys. Successful small press publications do not garner enough of the market to cause any CEOs to sweat too much. If independent publishers of a literature of the fantastic are to make their mark in the marketplace, there will certainly have to be some kind of collective, an effort to combine resources while perhaps maintaining the diverse nature of individual tastes and editorial perspectives so central to the survival of independent presses.

I should make it clear that I don't believe that NY is incapable of publishing good books or that the Clarion school of SF produces "bad fiction" -- I mean to suggest that what they offer is limited by conditions that do not always promote good art. Recognizing the limitations does not mean we must reject what they do well, only that we could benefit from knowing what they don't do well, that there may be more to the world than can be contained in their formulas or descriptions. Science is such an example. We do not throw out scientific method just because we recognize the limitations of its descriptions. We often turn to religion or spiritual disciplines to gain insight into certain human experiences not readily verified by scientific investigation. Why should NY publication be the only description for the value of literature? More and more NY is beginning to resemble a McDonald's. There're choices on their menu, but its all fast food. It's okay to consume fast food now and then but what happens if it becomes your whole diet?

What I see happening to publishing in America is a microcosm of the corporate values
which strip us of diversity, narrows down our options, takes away our choices and concentrates the wealth in the hands of a powerful few who would control our destinies. There is plenty of wealth in the world; there is simply not enough humanity. The palaces are not being built by kings and queens or even malevolant dictators with total disregard for their subjects, but by CEOs pursuing the American Dream. This dream means nothing if it leaves so many behind.

If the truth be known, as a writer and publisher, I would love NY (and Hollywood) to notice my worth, though ultimately they need me more than I need them. So what does NY do well? One could argue that NY is strongest at marketing, advertising and distribution, setting up tours and promoting those books they most want to succeed, but the truth is that what they do well cannot easily be separated from the trends I find so disturbing -- the mass paperback fastfood mentality cranking out pulp to be consumed mindlessly without any promise of sustaining the soul. It's like the government's attempts to convince us that irradiated and genetically altered food should be allowed under the definition of "organic." The stylistic minimalism with its formulas for honed-down pageturners and media spinoffs is a money machine which views literary merit as a drawback. Imagine Joyce trying to publish Ulysses today? I can just hear a NY agent or editor say, "James, you obviously are a talented writer, but this is too wordy. You're not writing poetry here." Wouldn't it be a university press or independent press that would put it out? And we're told the NY publishing conglomerates are only putting out what the public wants. Do you believe that? These same conglomerates own the publishing companies, the movie studios, the software design firms and even the chain bookstores so one fastfood trend like McRib is run through every possible commercial venue until it's totally and irretrievably ground into a digested and regurgitated mash and force fed to the starving masses looking for nourishment and wondering why they end up with gas. NY has become a producer of "Soylent Green."

The proliferation of chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, at the expense of independent bookstores, has been criticized quite a bit in recent years--although B&N, for example, does deal with small presses. What, exactly, are the advantages and disadvantages of dealing with the chains. And have you had to change the way you do business?

In "Godzilla's Children" (New Pathways #4), in talking about living with nuclear energy plants and radioactivity, my metaphor of Godzilla is pertinent to the proliferation of these "giants:" "Those of us who do not wish to identify ourselves with these giants nevertheless still become their servants. We may rattle our chains from time to time, but we still follow behind cleaning up after them and making excuses. The traditional euphemisms of growth and progress have wormed their way into the moral fabric of our society and reduces, by compromise, the most honorable men. The easy fix for every problem is to beef up the scale and promote a bigger and better version. Godzilla's Children loudly assert the immediate benefits of increasing the taxbase and payrolls but avoid discussing the long-term costs. They willingly surrender their critical faculties to large concerns and bend over backwards trying to catch the eye of some clumsy giant. The public seldom realizes the effects of Godzilla's favor until it begins to experience them firsthand."

Wordcraft of Oregon does receive orders from these chains and dealing with them hasn't really changed the way we do business. However, when considering the loss of
the independent bookstore, one must look at the larger picture, i.e. mainstreaming of cultural life, censorship of the marketplace, loss of diversity, loss of local control, the concentration of power, the widening chasm between rich and poor, the breakdown of community. Independent presses should do what they can to help sustain independent bookstores so our communities don't become extended family for Godzilla.

According to statistics recently released by the Child Welfare League of America, while the Dow Industrial average went from 805 in January 1, 1979, to 7,067 in
February 18, 1997, the number of children living in poverty increased from 9.7 million to 14.7 million. The United States accounts for 73% of homicides among children 14 and younger in the 26 richest nations (1993), 54% of the suicides (1994). The number of children reported as abused and neglected has risen from around 2 million to about 3.3 million over the past ten years. The number of children in out-of-home placements has risen from something like 275,000 to over 500,000 in the same ten year period (1986-95). Births to unmarried mothers has increased from 5% in 1960 to 30% in 1993. Percent of all teen births to unmarried teens has risen from 18.0% in 1963 to 71.8% in 1993. Children maltreated or seriously injured in homes earning less than $15,000 a year is 10, even 20 times higher than in homes earning over $30,000 a year. In comparing how many children live in poverty after receiving government assistance, in the United States 26% live in poverty before assistance and 22% after assistance; in France, of 25% living in poverty before assistance, only 7% live in poverty after assistance. Britain is able to reduce the percentage living in poverty after assistance from 30% to 10%. It's also interesting to note that the U.S. prison population has increased 456% from 1970 to 1996. Even though it has been shown that parent training, home visits, early childhood education, health and other services cut delinquency by 90%, and even though preschool and home visit programs save $7.16 dollars for every dollar invested, these social service programs and educational opportunities are underfunded and always under attack. The same culture that gives rise to billionaires like Bill Gates who can afford a $100 million home and still complain about his property taxes cannot rescue its children from getting their brains blasted by drugs like methamphetamine and crank. The same culture that sends a million people to gatherings on the Whitehouse lawn seems unable to perceive how much could have been done if they'd only donated the cost of the trip to those efforts or organizations they were lobbying for in the first place. A whole generation is self-destructing for want of human contact. This is not only a failure of compassion, it is an obscenity. Yet artists, reflecting this culture (as they cannot fail to do), are having to fight for their civil liberties every day because their art is too graphic, too obscene, too unsettling, too reflective of the culture in which they live.

All our advances in technology, communications and transportation mean nothing if it
does not help us learn and teach compassion, to extend a human hand to the least privileged among us -- the poor, the homeless, the sick, the old, the drug-effected, the learning disabled -- and elevate them, allow them to discover the dignity of self-worth and creative expression, free them to follow their bliss instead of looking forward only to a life of premature ceilings on potential, doors of opportunity slamming in their faces at every turn, and virtual imprisonment in minimum wage jobs or segregated from mainstream society in ghettoes, reservations, refuges or behind bars -- Godzilla's Children growing up in the shadow of the American Dream.

Relatedly, perhaps, what are some of the biggest problems you face as an independent? Please share some of your more creative solutions.

The biggest problem Wordcraft of Oregon faces as an independent publisher is consistency in the quality of design and printing for a reasonable cost on small runs of 500 - 1000 copies. The next few years will determine our future as we attempt to stay abreast of technological changes, learn about electronic publishing and webpages, while working toward increasing our audience and building a reliable revenue base. We hope to do more chapbooks which can be produced inexpensively using docutek technology in small runs of 150 -200 copies. This would allow us to publish more emerging writers. Finances are always a problem, so we must confine the number of projects we take on to what we can realistically afford. I've seen too many independents get in too far over their heads and collapse. Some attempt to do it all and cannot sustain the expansion of their activities. Others find themselves too far in debt because they were tempted to use "plastic" to pay for a book. Others become dependent on grants. Wordcraft of Oregon won't commit to publishing a book until we can guarantee enough capital to produce it in a timely manner (generally in about one year) and we have not, thus far, sought any public money. This means we can only produce about three books a year and maybe a couple of chapbooks.

Based on your own experience and knowledge, what role do you see independent presses playing in the next 10 years, and how does this role relate to trends among the large publishers?

I see the role of independent presses in the next 10 years as continuing to pick up the fringe writers who can't find publication in NY because their work is not deemed commercial enough or their subject matter is not mainstream enough. Many literary writers fall into this category, also most writing which is innovative and experimental. But electronic publishing will also play in important role in the future of independent publishing. It is already possible for a writer to design a book and send it on disk to a service provider who maintains the electronic file, catalogues the book on a webpage, prints and binds copies on demand, fills orders and sends the author a royalty check.

Large distributors like Ingrams are already offering titles that can be printed on site and shipped, requiring less warehouse space and reducing their overhead. Once the technology is refined enough that authors will be able to run their books through a standard industry template, then such distributors may deal directly with the authors and bypass publishers altogether. There are many other variables to even producing a hardcopy book such as paper costs, access to quality printing, costs of shipping and postage, the health of independent bookstores, the number of people who value reading in their lives. These are, indeed, times of change; you send up the weather balloons but you're never able to retrieve them because they're torn away by a whirlwind.

But perhaps the most important function of independent publishers in America over the next 10 years will be to safeguard our freedoms against those forces attempting to narrow down our culture, attack our civil liberties and direct our lives back into the values of the 50s. I don't see any way around the fact that independent presses and independent bookstores and independent anything must become more interdependent and stand together in defense of the Bill of Rights. Government and religion and coporate values are becoming more and more intrusive as the power becomes more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. When you're standing in the way of a rampaging Godzilla pursuing the American Dream, you're not going to be enjoying an environment which promotes freedom of expression.

What projects are you currently working on, and what can we expect to see from your press in the next year?

Two recent releases will keep me busy for awhile, THE EXPLANATION AND OTHER GOOD ADVICE, stories by Don Webb, and THE WINTER DANCE PARTY MURDERS, a novel by Greg Herriges. THE WINTER DANCE PARTY MURDERS just recently earned an advance review from Booklist. I already have two or three potential projects lined up for 1999, depending on circumstances, and will be taking off the rest of 1998 to do my own creative work, meaning I won't be reading for publication until January 1999.

Is there any topic not covered by this interview that you would like to share your views on or have all of the other interviewees share their opinions on?

I am convinced that a national cooperative effort between independent publishers of a
literature of the fantastic should include some kind of reading circuit. This reading circuit could possibly network efficiently through emails so an author can set up a tour of readings, booksignings, workshops, etc., to promote an independent press book. I recently worked with Thomas E. Kennedy and found it quite a stimulating and inspirational relationship in that Tom set up an itinerary of paid readings and workshops along with unpaid readings and booksignings usually at bookstores. The paid readings, appearances, workshops and performances could help subsidize the unpaid appearances and booksignings. Recently, I read with Lance Olsen, Thomas E. Kennedy and Brian Clark in Portland and Seattle. These were unpaid readings, but they helped promote our books and we were invited back to read again. Kennedy's paid gigs made it possible for him to participate in Portland and Seattle even though these were unpaid. We are thinking about planning a West Coast tour for the spring of 1999 and hope to follow such a strategy. It seems to me that independent publishers of fabulist literature could form a cooperative where perhaps readers or teams of readers could develop their territories then swap regions. A couple of presses, for instance, in the Pacific Northwest could set up a
network of venues and buddy up a Northwest writer with writers from other regions. The Northwest writer can appeal to his readers and help expand the audience for a writer from another region. Then a cooperative effort by independent presses from another region would make a similar arrangement so the Northwest writer might be reading with a writer from the Midwest or from the Atlantic states, etc. I would like to know if there are other fabulist literature presses who'd like to embark on such a journey? Is it possible to organize something like this?

The other issue is that of cooperative publishing and distribution. Does anyone have
ideas about what a cooperative publishing project looks like? What would the contract say? How do you share reponsibility for the whole project? Who does the day to day job of filling orders, running ads, sending review copies, etc.? How would an independent press maintain it's own distinctive vision without being swallowed up by a group vision?

John Betancourt, publisher of Wildside Press

What is your particular editorial slant or philosophy? In other words, what makes your press different from other presses?

I do books which interest me. It's led to some oddball projects like an anthology of stories about heroic science fiction, fantasy, and horror editors (Swashbuckling Editor Stories!), but also some worthy titles which no one else would do, like the first collections of stories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman and Bradley Denton. (Our set of two Bradley Denton collections won a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection of the Year, so we must be doing something right.)

What have been your biggest critical and popular successes and what differentiates them from your less successful projects? (Which brings us to another question--How do you define success for your press?)

It's a hobby; I don't have to measure success in financial terms. Success for me is selling out an edition of a book--it means we found a project we loved and readers loved it, too. Biggest critical success? Probably the Bradley Denton collections, which won a World Fantasy Award. Biggest popular success? Any of our Anne McCaffrey books, which remain our most popular titles. Favorite project? Our Mike Resnick novels, which have used increasingly esoteric binding materials. The most recent is a hardcover bound in Spanish cork. (Yes, the same stuff they use in bulletin boards.)

In looking at the major professional houses (Harcourt Brace, etc.) what, in recent years, do you perceive as their strengths and weaknesses--what do they do well, and what do they do poorly?

What they do well: get their books into the hands of readers. This is the most important part of the economics of publishing--a book can't really be judged successful unless it's accessible to anyone who wants to read it. Weaknesses? An unwillingness to experiment. In a fair world, there is no way a small press publisher like Wildside should be able to publish books capable of winning World Fantasy Awards. Books these good should be coming out from the "big guys."

The proliferation of chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, at the expense of independent bookstores, has been criticized quite a bit in recent years--although B&N, for example, does deal with small presses. What, exactly, are the advantages and disadvantages of dealing with the chains. And have you had to change the way you do business?

Well, the science fiction buyer at Barnes & Noble talked me into putting 10,000 copies of one of our books into his stores. It nearly destroyed the company when the distributor he recommended went bankrupt owing us $35,000.00. Since then, I've learned to appreciate the advantages of being small! Direct-mail and especially our internet site ( give us a solid marketing presence.

Relatedly, perhaps, what are some of the biggest problems you face as an independent? Please share some of your more creative solutions.

My single biggest headache is with production--it's increasingly difficult to find reliable printers and binders who can work affordably at small print runs. (Our typical print run is under 350 hardcover copies.) One bindery I'd worked with for 7 years kept 2 books in limbo for almost a year and a half, with promises that "the books are being shipped" or "the books went out" or "we sent them to the wrong address and they just came back." Why they would choose to ruin such a long-standing relationship is beyond me. Their lies unravelled when a UPS shipping date they gave turned out to be a Saturday (UPS doesn't ship on Saturdays), and when caught they had to admit the books weren't quite done. Luckily I found another bindery 20 miles away, and I paid them to drive over and rescue my books.

Based on your own experience and knowledge, what role do you see independent presses playing in the next 10 years, and how does this role relate to trends among the large publishers?

I think we will continue to do books which larger companies are too timid to publish. I note that St. Martin's Press just brought out a Bradley Denton collection which contains about half the stories in the two books I published. Too little, too late, St. Martin's! They're following trends, not making them...and this is only going to get worse.

What projects are you currently working on, and what can we expect to see from your press in the next year?

More of the same...which is "whatever interests me." New collections from Esther Friesner, Morgan Llywelyn, and William F. Nolan. The sequel to Swashbuckling Editor Stories, which is Two-Fisted Writer Tales. Anthologies like The Best of Weird Tales: 1924 (We did 1923 last year.).

Monday, February 21, 2005


From Barth, who got it from others...


Ten Things I've Done (not that I'm proud of most of them)

10 - Said "I thought you'd be taller" (like, 10 feet tall) upon first meeting my then-idol S.P. Somtow in 1993 (doh!).

9 - Ran from a Chuckee Cheese with kids in tow after my stepdaughter's friend kicked the giant rat mascot in the balls (rather than face the music).

8 - Attempted to help haul a very large tank-top-wearin' drunken disabled veteran back into his wheelchair on a highway intersection, only to lose traction on his sweaty armpits and fall back into the road--at which point he got up and put himself back in the wheelchair. (Related to this experience, only in terms of futile highway mercy missions, tried to help a large snapping turtle off the road only to have it projectile shit all over me whilst trying to bite my hands off; I did hold on in this instance, although the whirling shit dervish we combined to become amused many onlookers.)

7 - Helped my sister tail one of our mother's boyfriends (who we found nefarious and who later turned out to be a criminal) whilst wearing wigs and other disguises.

6 - Had a hallucinogenic experience involving hummingbirds at the age of 8 while on oxygen for my asthma in Cuzco, Peru.

5 - Rode an elephant up to the palace in Jaipur, India.

4 - Reached into a monkey cage in the Calcutta Zoo and was bitten on the wrist a month after being evacuated from a movie theater in Thailand showing Cinderella due to a bomb scare (said bomb going off the next day). And this a week after seeing Planet of the Apes in Singapore dubbed into Chinese with German subtitles (one of the most confusing experiences of my life). It's all related...

3 - Attempted to walk across burning ash in a Fijian trance dance while wearing a grass skirt.

2 - Sent a metal message pellet to a former employer for a laugh and was brought in by the sheriff department's bomb squad unit for questioning.

1 - Banned from a small Florida town for yelling at the printer (who was also a sheriff's deputy) who had totally f---ed up our g--d--- motherf---ing Ministry of Whimsy magazine, already five f---ing months late (I was very young and stupid).

Saturday, February 19, 2005


The lettered 26-copy limited-limited edition of Secret Lives is sold out. The 500-copy limited edition is selling briskly, and I cannot guarantee that it will be available after March. I'd rather not devote blog entries to imparting information of this kind. However, since I haven't even turned in the book and it's not yet available through most book catalogs or online services like Amazon, I thought it wise to let my readers know now. Because by the time it might be available through Amazon, et al, it'll probably be sold out.

Go to Prime Books' website if interested.

I can't guarantee this, but given interest from certain quarters, the limited editions of Secret Lives should climb exponentially in value over the next two or three years.


Friday, February 18, 2005


In the rather awful movie Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, one character explains to another that to "buckwheat" someone is to, without getting into the really disgusting details, shoot them in the intestines so they die slowly, in terrible agony. Since then, Ann and I have rated movies as "buckwheat" or "not buckwheat", or containing certain percentages of buckwheat. If you feel like you were gut shot when you left the theater, that movie was buckwheat…So, without further ado, as the Oscars descend upon us with all of their unintended pretentiousness and camp, here are the First Annual Buckwheat Awards for Best and Worst Movies of the Year. (Most of these mini-reviews are culled from a year’s worth of VanderWorld Reports. To subscribe to the VanderWorld Report, please visit my website and click on the link in the lower left hand corner.)


#1 - ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. Wow. I can't think of a movie this structurally complex that also got to me emotionally. I was crying by the end of this one, and not because of anything sappy or sentimental. Jim Carey and Kate Winslet play the two main characters--caught in a relationship that may be fated to follow a decaying orbit. The movie mostly plays out in reverse, as both Carey's character and Winslet's opt for the services of Lacuna, a company that erases select memories. In this case, they both decide, at different times, to erase their memories of each other. What follows from this conceit--a conceit that in the hands of almost anyone but the writer of Adaptation and Being John Malkovich (both emotional deadwood next to this new movie) would be utter crap--is brilliant, moving, and, in many ways, sublime. Carey's performance is of particular note, in that for once we don't ever see the actor behind the character. The way that Lacuna is brought in without explanation and the way in which the memory erasure occurs is accomplished so naturally that it doesn't derail the movie in any way. Again, in lesser hands the whole SF element would have been awful. But here, it's different. In this movie--the title from a poem by Alexander Pope--even the subplots have poignancy. Stunning, stunning work. One of the best movies I've ever seen. (No buckwheat)

# 2 – A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT. This new movie by the director of Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, and Amelie combines the horrors of war with a tough-minded yet moving story. Set during World War I, the movie follows a group of men condemned to die for trying to escape the trenches through self-mutilation and other means. Sent into the no-man’s land between the French and German lines, their fate seems certain...or does it? To Mathilde, played with great flare and grace by Audrey Tautou, it isn’t certain at all—and she sets out to discover what happened to her fiancee, one of the condemned men. The resulting love story, detective yarn, sweeping war saga, what-have-you, is one of the greatest feats of sustained, convoluted storytelling we have seen in a very long time. As it twines and intertwines toward its ending, you keep thinking that there’s no way it can end in a way that avoids cliche and sentimentality. And yet, the movie achieves an absolutely perfect ending nevertheless. Unfairly overlooked for awards and panned by The New York Times in a review that also dismissed the sublime Amelie, it is, nonetheless, a near-perfect movie, with great performances (including a revelatory cameo by Jodie Foster) and amazing cinematography. (No buckwheat)

#3 - NAPOLEON DYNAMITE - If you went to this movie based just on someone telling you the plot, you might not be expecting much. Napoleon Dynamite is a "nerd" in high school, and the movie shows him trying to get a date to the prom, helping his friend win a school election, and trying to deal with his crazy uncle. Sounds typical, no? Well, no. Napoleon Dynamite is anything but typical. Whereas hip, trendy movies like Garden State had echoes of other movies, almost every scene in ND is something you've never experienced before. This is a comedy based on the main character's resolute defiance of reality--a nerd who doesn't think he's a nerd and has no need to fit in with his classmates. In the process, we meet characters and experience situations that are drop-dead funny, in highly original ways, and in part because of the characters' deadpan reactions to those situations. A bit about a time machine will have you rolling around on the floor, cramping up with laughter. The crazy uncle's videotaping of his football prowess will do the same. We saw this movie in Boston after WorldCon and at first we were puzzled, because everyone around us was laughing about thirty seconds before the joke. We soon realized everyone in the theater had seen the movie two or three times. I think this movie might be my favorite of the year. We were literally sore from laughing when we left the theater. (No buckwheat)

#4 – SIDEWAYS. Featuring the lead actor from American Splendor, Sideways is a funny, absurd, sometimes poignant road story, in which a friend takes a has-been actor on a tour of California wine country in the last week before his wedding. The scenery is gorgeous, the situations fresh, and the pain and black humor well-earned. However, my favorite scene involves a discussion about wine that is mind-bendingly sensual and satisfying. At times over-the-top, but never boring. (1/100 buckwheat)

#5 - THE INCREDIBLES. Part homage to the Sean Connery-era James Bond exotic-island-eccentric-villain movies and part tip of the hat to superhero comics, The Incredibles is a stunningly funny and oddly touching movie. The director and writers have invested a tad more care in the characterization of the family of superheroes at the core of the film than others have for many live-action flicks. The result is a movie in which you care about the characters even as you're laughing hysterically at the many sight gags and such inspired bits as scenes with a fashion designer who specializes in superhero outfits. The animation style is retro and futuristic at the same time, the voice-overs expert. This is a near-perfect animated feature. (1/100 buckwheat)

#6 – HERO. I've heard this Jet-Li movie about an assassin and an emperor called "reactionary" and "supportive of the Chinese government's position" too many times. Let's get one thing straight--this is a fiction about a long-ago time in Chinese history before the unification of a bunch of small feudal states into an empire. Anyone who thinks those small feudal states were any less ruthless or any more benign than what replaced them is living in a dream world. Yes, the movie is convenient for the Chinese government because it can be interpreted to mean that the current situation--including repression--is for the greater good. But what I find interesting is how the fictive elements of the movie actually subvert the usual "ragtag bunch of rebels taking on the establishment" structure we've grown accustom to in movies. Jet-Li is magnificent as the would-be assassin. The cinematography dazzles, with different color schemes depicting different versions of the same events. Structurally complex, vivid, and with excellent acting and direction, this is a marvelous, sometimes gritty, often poetic martial arts love story. (1/100 buckwheat)


THE AVIATOR. Fueled by two excellent performances—Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes and Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn—Scorsese’s epic about the famous Texan follows Hughes as he makes movies, builds and flies airplanes, and, finally, the beginning of his decline, wherein he is set upon by enemies and by the betrayal of his own mind. DiCaprio’s performance seems more nuanced than in the past, while Blanchett turns in the best female performance of the year by managing to capture Hepburn’s essence by using part of what in Hepburn increasingly became caricature and mixing it with her own approach to the famous actress. There are sections of The Aviator that don’t seem relevant to the whole, but in general the movie stays focused on Hughes’ various airplane obsessions and his increasing difficulty with some form of mental illness. (1/64 buckwheat)

KINSEY. Liam Neeson is great at showing the clinical, obsessive-compulsive nature of Kinsey, whether studying wasps or human sexuality. The movie's single-minded focus on Kinsey's studies and their affect on his human relationships saves the movie from some of the fuzziness of other biopics. A scene in a forest with a doe late in the film is somewhat sappy, but otherwise this is a very sound sometimes daring and sometimes emotional movie. (1/64 buckwheat)

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Shot in a tense documentary style, this account of an Odessa, Texas, football team's drive toward the state championship is based on the unsettling book of the same name. The movie can't provide the depth of the book, with its haunting expose of a town that has nothing left to cheer about but football, but it does a nice job even if it does at times seem superficial. Billy Bob Thornton, who has been awful in many recent films, redeems himself with his performance as the coach who must stoically listen to conflicting bits of advice from the team's often retarded boosters. A nice performance also from the boy from Slingblade, now grown up and showing no residual effects from having been a child actor. (1/64 buckwheat)

SEAN OF THE DEAD - This funny zombie flick in which the main characters don't realize at first that they're surrounded by the undead is kind of a one-joke movie. Once you experience that joke, it's still amusing, but it's no longer classic. The first twenty minutes of Sean of the Dead are a riot. After that, the movie shifts into a different gear, alternating between ha-ha and serious. Personally, I would have liked the movie to have entered Monty Python territory at some point. Still, this is definitely funny stuff. (1/4 buckwheat) (1/32 buckwheat)

SPANGLISH (1/16 buckwheat) - A lot has been made of the noble-maid-WASP-bitch set up of this movie, but we found a lot of individuality in the characters in Spanglish, rather than stereotypes, and lots to like in Adam Sandler's performance as the husband. This is an enjoyable movie experience, with strong performances by all of the characters. It's possible this movie will sour on us with time, but at the point of viewing, we found much to like about it, especially since the ending seems more mature than most Hollywood movies.


THE GRUDGE. Let me just say that if I visited a house that turned out to be haunted by the spirits of two vengeful ghosts and I learned over time that they were going to seek me out and kill me no matter what I did, I wouldn't hide in my bed or hide in an empty office after hours or go back to the house in question for no particular reason, or go from an empty office to an empty apartment building; no, I WOULD FIND THE BRIGHTEST, MOST CROWDED OPEN-24-HOURS PLACE IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE AND I WOULD STAY THERE FOREVER WHILE REMAINING PLEASANTLY INTOXICATED. Alas, no one in this sad excuse for a horror flick shares my sentiments. And they pretty much all die. And the ones who don't you begin to wish would--and more quickly, too, so maybe the movie would end sooner. Please? (3/4 buckwheat)


LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS This crapulous sneer-fest posing as a legitimate Gorey-like delight is like finding a dog turd in amongst your Godiva chocolates. Not a pleasant experience. Not only does Jim Carrey mug for the camera so much that you find yourself wondering if he's ever seen any of Peter Sellers wonderfully nuanced comic multi-character performances, but there's a grievous waste of Billy Connelly, the marvelous Scottish comedian. The child actors in this movie are fine, but with the exception of Meryl Streep, the movie is hideously mis-cast, with good actors badly used. I really wished someone would have tasered Carrey in the middle of this movie. I'd have paid ten bucks just to see that. Then, add in settings that are right off of the Hollywood back lot and make no causal sense when put together, and you have a completely flat, noxious mess. Please stage interventions for people who think this is delightful Gothic fare. This is just another crappy Hollywood movie. Afterwards, Ann and I asked ourselves what wonders might have been revealed if the director of City of Lost Children and Amelie had directed Lemony Snicket, and that just clarified for us how awful what we had just seen really was. (3/4 buckwheat)


THE LIFE AQUATIC. Here's a movie that doesn't quite hang together, no matter how desperately it tries. Taken as a series of disconnected scenes, there's much to find humorous or even moving in this movie. But when you throw the awkward father-son relationship scenes in with the documentary-style pirate attacks scenes and then add the goofy Cousteau parody scenes and, for good measure, throw in animated sea life sequences, you wind up with a well-intentioned, beautiful mess. You have to give the director credit for trying, but he's gone too far this time. Oddly, we wouldn't have wanted to miss this film, even knowing how messed up it was, but it's still messed up. In short, it's not a bad movie in the conventional sense of "bad". It's still very watchable. (1/2 buckwheat)


HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS Ann and I expected a lot more from a movie directed by the same director who created the wonderful Hero, especially since all and sundry have been calling this one a great movie. Instead, what we got was an inferior form of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with long, awkward monologues intended to fill in information the audience won't know otherwise and characters whose indecision creates long moments of boredom, to the point that Ann and I almost fell asleep during parts of this movie. (Afterwards, we both thought it should have been called The House of Indecisive Lovers.) The final fight scene is both wonderful and retarded at the same time. The government soldiers after the doomed lovers are an inept as Keystone Kops. The sets are beautiful but ultimately repetitive and dull. A wonderful scene involving a bamboo grove is undercut by illogical fight sequences. In short, this all seems like a trial-run for the effortless magic of Hero. At least, we hope this was made before Hero, and not after. (3/4 buckwheat)


THE VILLAGE. Once you realize that almost every element in this movie has been set up for one reason and one reason only--to support the heinous twist ending--you want to strangle the director with your bare hands. In short, the director has twisted the story to fit his Twilight Zone needs and as a result created all kinds of tears and rips in the fabric of his narrative that only become apparent after you learn the truth about the dumb-ass village. One reviewer called it "The Village of the Idiots" and I don't think they are far wrong. The horrible thing about all this is that the acting has a certain gravitas to it, the cinematography is excellent, and the scares in the early part of the movie are superb. But everything--and I mean everything--is undermined by the ending. (Two-thirds buckwheat; the first half is 25 percent buckwheat and the last half is 150 percent buckwheat.)


REX THE RUNT. We rented this DVD of episodes about four odd clay-mation dogs not knowing what to expect. It's by the same people who brought us the movie Chicken Run and the Wallace and Grommit series. Except it is a thousand times stranger and more surreal. In one episode, a character gets put through a sausage grinder by mistake and goes around as little more than a coil of intestines and two eyes and a mouth. In another episode, the dogs build a time machine, with disastrous results. In another, they deflate the Earth by mistake and use it like a balloon slowly losing air to get to a space lounge that only serves chicken, which is delivered to them, one chicken for each dog, alive, only to have the alien waiter use a flame-thrower to burn the chickens black. At which point, each dog starts to nibble on an incinerated head. Then they get sucked into a black hole that opens up into a weird alien church. In yet another episode, they explore the inside of one their compatriots' bodies by miniaturizing themselves. And in another episode, they collect cities like Birmingham and set them up in their kitchen in miniature form. And yet there's nothing I can say in summary that can really do justice to the surreal humor and oddness of it all. It's the strangest, most grotesquely beautiful clay-mation (on a conceptual level) that we've ever seen.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


He has questions. I have simple answers.

“Then what is style?”
Style is the arrangement of words in a story by a writer. If the writer is said to have a “distinctive” style it is because the writer’s voice has found expression in a way unique to the writer. Inasmuch as a story has depth, it is because the style can multi-task and function not only as how a story is told but contain the subject matter of the story. Some styles cannot multi-task. This is not a function of the simplicity or complexity of the prose, but a function of the simplicity or complexity of the layering the writer wishes to achieve; some writers have no choice but to operate at a simple level, while others can create simple and complex layering as they choose. Sometimes, the inability to multi-task is due to the banality of writer’s worldview. Sometimes, it is due to audience pandering. Sometimes, the writer hasn’t yet matured to the point where his or her style can carry the weight (or carry it in an effortless fashion).

“What is character?”
Character is the arrangement of those particular words in a story that create an image of a construct, which, for the duration of the reader’s suspension of disbelief, appears to share some of the attributes that we believe constitute a human being, even though the only truly empirical evidence we possess in this regard is the anecdotal evidence of inhabiting our own skins. For all we know, everything around us is a construct of a rapidly decaying mind and our body lies upon a fever-sweated cot in the corner of some mental ward in another reality altogether. Thus, our suspension of disbelief while reading a story is a micro version of the faith we have in the people who inhabit our real world, since we have no way of truly verifying anything we think we know about them other than the most basic of banal facts. (This is why those who read only “realistic” fiction can fool themselves into believing that what they read has more relevance to the real world than fantasy. However, it is a false barometer of relevance.)

When DG writes:

I would propose that in the very best fiction, genre or otherwise, character is actually just an illusion created by the use of language in a particular way--by a writer's style, although the illusion thus created may be more or less a conscious act, may in fact be simply an artifact of the stylistic choices the writer has made to begin with.

he articulates the fact that writers are like painters, in that they have a palette of colors to work with, which they then deploy to create a painting using brushstrokes. These brushstrokes are dictated by the types of brushes they use, and their personal approach to creating the brushstrokes. How they mix and layer the paint. The resulting image of a person will seem to exist independent of the brushstrokes, but it has no such autonomy (like a golem). This is unimportant to a reader to consider; it may not enter into that person’s thoughts about why they liked or disliked a story, even though, were that person to view a painting, such thoughts would come to mind almost automatically. However, it is important in discussing fiction from the inside looking out.

The mistake in DG’s post is to concentrate on character as if character were separate from setting separate from situation separate from theme separate from... Character is style, true, but this is like saying a person is made up of atoms. Yes, well, so is this chair I’m sitting in right now. What’s your point?

Implied question: What is voice?
“Voice” is the totality of the effect created by the writer through the writer’s style. In a sense, it is the breath of life infusing the body of the work (said body composed of words; see definition of “style” above). Voice is not the mix of style and point-of-view, unless by point-of-view one means the point-of-view of the writer not a character in the story—or, more specifically, the way in which the writer infuses the story, on some level, with his or her point-of-view.

“...if style were character, bringing in four authors should bring in four powerfully distinct characters, right?”
Bringing in four authors for one story generally results in mediocrity, should be avoided whenever possible, and definitely should not be used as anecdotal evidence of anything.

I have (a few) (pointless) questions. Does he have answers?

He writes

As the how of a story, the style merely lays a patina over how the story will be interpreted—which is not unlike POV in its effect, although POV is the storyteller’s [potential] bias while style evokes the mood. Style can influence how the reader sees character (and plot, setting, POV, theme, etc.), but cannot substitute for it.

Interrogatory #1: Which of the following definitions of “patina” do you mean to invoke above?

1 - a thin surface layer which develops on something because of use, age or chemical action.

2 - something which makes someone or something seem to be something which they are not.

3 - a blue-green layer that forms on copper, brass or bronze

If you mean definitions 1 and 3, you are assuming style is something that encrusts a story, that forms on top of it. Instead, style permeates. It inhabits. It exists at the particle level, in each word as strung into a phrase, into a sentence, and, in some writers, in the syllable. (If you are Greer Gilman, it doesn’t exist just in the syllable, it exists in every meaning and derivation of the word from the beginning of time, and thus as you read, each word creates layers of association that constitute a special kind of style. This is a special kind of madness, true, but beautiful nonetheless.)

If you mean definition 2, then perhaps you mean that most styles make constructs seem to be something they are not: actually alive?

Interrogatory #2: Since style always affects how the reader sees character, plot, etc., isn’t style, in effect, story?

He writes,

Third, if one writer had a superior style to another, then the character(s) of the superior style should also be superior.

Interrogatory: What is a superior style? Superior to what? And how do you judge? Each and every story must be told in the style best suited to it—whether simple and unadorned, or convoluted and ornate; some stories require both, or some hybrid. Most writers work in variations of one voice, but within those variations whole different worlds of meaning shift into focus, so this idea of “variation” is actually rather wide in its effects—and, thus, multiple styles.

(Evil Monkey: "That was...interesting." Jeff: "You think so? 'Cause as soon as I wrote it, it all seemed so falsely academic. I remembered how I start a story: a character, a situation, an associated image, and some sense of an ending. Then I work on the tone, the style, writing and rewriting beginning paragraphs until I've got the 'mix' right. Only then do I write the story. And I sweat, bleed, and laugh with that character all the way through. I don't know how that relates, but that's how it is in 'real' life." Evil Monkey: “It's okay. Two seemingly opposing ideas can, sometimes, both be true." Jeff: "It's a relief that you feel that way." Evil Monkey: "You know, I might not be the best educated monkey in this here tree, but I’m starting to worry about you. First you share your weird dreams and now you engage another blogger in ‘dialog.’ Are you feverish?” Jeff: “Does talking to an imaginary monkey automatically mean one is feverish?”)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


My sleep cycles have been off a bit lately. I'll fall into deep sleep almost immediately, but then wake up at around 3:20 or 4:05 in the morning. I mean, quite literally, at one of those two times. Then I'll get up, get a drink of water, go back to bed, and fall into a more shallow sleep. I don't have any trouble getting back to sleep, but it's not the same kind of sleep. However, it is the same kind of dream. I've been having dreams that track across the whole night, picking up where they left off when I get back to sleep. In the morning, they're very vivid in my waking mind. And completely ridiculous. If they weren't, I wouldn't bore you with them. I don't know about you, but when a blogger writes, "I had a weird dream last night," it's my cue to close my eyes.

The First Dream: Whiling Away the Hours in the New Weird Wing of the Old Folks Home

Variation #1
China Mieville, K.J. Bishop, and I are sitting in moldy lawn chairs amid a sprawl of yellowing grass. In front of us is a paint-peeled white picket fence, beyond which curls a road that looks like it came out of toad's wild ride in Wind in the Willows. Beyond that is some kind of sickly looking river. It's not much of a view. We're all ancient. China's bald and so am I. We've both got big beer bellies, are wrinkled as hell, and are wearing discolored white tank tops and Bermuda shorts. Kirsten has the mannerisms of Katherine Hepburn, which is beginning to grate on both China and me, and is wearing a huge white hat with a yellow flower design embroidered around the brim. She has a cane that's got a huge fake emerald in the pommel. At our back is the New Weird Wing of whatever old folks home we're in. But it's not much of a wing--I know in the dream it was built by some reader benefactors and apparently they didn't have much money, because it's a bunch of muddy tents adjunct to the main old folks home, which is made of marble, and is strictly Off Limits to us.

I'm grousing about the New Weird, something along the lines of, "I never wanted to be New Weird--fought it, actually, and yet here I am, China. Wonder how that happened? Fossilized as a Old New Weird. In a stinking old folks' home."

China says something like, "Oh, fuck orf, will you. How many fucking decades do I have to hear this inane prattle? I said I was sorry!" And then goes on with his own rant--which is about how he invested in stock in publicly-traded Marxist communes, and when they all went belly up, he was reduced to near-poverty conditions.

And then I say, "How many decades am I going to have to hear about Marxist communes? How many times have I told you I could care less about Marxist communes?"

Kirsten breaks in with, "My, my, you're almost like an old married couple. How cute. And takes a sip from a huge mint julip that has magically appeared in her hands. Then says something like, "But just you wait. My memoirs are coming out this month, and that'll make me rich--again--and I'll be out of here, and I won't have to listen to either of you for any more decades."

So we're all really kind of pissy and out-of-sorts, just sitting there in our dilapidated lawn chairs, waiting to expire, when we see a car coming up the road. It's a really old-fashioned car, although not a Model T, and as it comes closer, puffs of smoke rising up behind it, we can see that Cheryl Morgan (recent Hugo Award winner) is driving it. It's a stick shift, and in the dream at least, Cheryl Morgan simply cannot drive a stick shift--the car's spasming like a cat about to give up a hair ball.

She comes to a chugging stop right across the fence from us. She's wearing a huge freakin' hat just like Kirsten's. She wipes the sweat from her brow (it's a hot day), and says, "I just thought I'd look in on you dears and see how you're doing. Oh my--I say, you don't look too good. Perhaps you might want to get out of the sun."

I say to her, "Why the hell aren't you in here, Cheryl? You were part of New Weird, too, on the reviewer side. How'd you escape from this fate?"

Cheryl says, "That's a very unkind way to speak of the largesse of your admittedly dwindling pool of readers. Why, you'd all three be out on the street panhandling or busking if not for the New Weird Wing of this fine establishment."

"How did you escape from all of this?" China asks.

"I invested in [she says a word I don't understand; I want to think it's "mainstream literary" but I think that's just my conscious mind interpreting - JV) with M. John Harrison. He's got quite a posh place up the Thames."

China sighs and mutters something like "fucking New Weird" and pops open a huge can of Foster's and starts chugging. I follow suit. Kirsten says, "Why are you really here, Cheryl? I sense a trap. I sense something untoward."

"I'm thinking of conducting tours, that's all. Raise a little more money for your upkeep. Thought I'd pop by to plan it out."

"Why, how thoughtful of you, Cheryl," Kirsten says. "I think I'll put that in my memoirs, too."

"Love 'n' hugs, everyone," Cheryl says. "Love 'n' hugs. Love 'n' hugs."

It's about now that the dream begins to fade away. There seems like there might be more to it, but that's all I remember.

Variation #2
It's almost exactly the same, but it's Kirsten roaring up in a convertible made of gold and Cheryl who's in the New Weird wing with China and me.

Second Dream: Working and Living in Tor Headquarters in the Flat Iron Building

The second dream I've retained only in flashes of bits of scenes.

Flash #1
I'm in Tor Books headquarters in the Flat Iron Building in New York City. The building is one of the narrowest in the world, but in the dream, no matter how narrow it is on the outside, on the inside it's very, very wide. So wide that one of the administrative assistants actually walks to Argentina to hand-deliver copy edits to an author, without leaving the building at any time. My editor, Liz Gorinsky, is running around with an AK-47 under one arm, wearing an army uniform and a green beret. I don't know exactly why she's running around. David Hartwell appears around a corner, wearing a beret that's paisley. I say, "What can I help with?" And they both shout out, "NOTHING."

Flash #2
Liz and David are loading writers into a truck. The truck is down below and Liz and David are on the third floor and just literally throwing the writers through a window and down into the truck. None of them seem hurt. When it's my turn, I say, "No thanks, I'd rather stay here." But then I see that the whole inside of the building has turned into a volcano and I realize they're not loading writers--they're saving books. And when I look down into the truck, it's full of books with writer's faces on the front cover, with various looks of dismay on them.

Flash #3
I have been hired as a medium by the entire Tor editorial staff. I am to walk back and forth through the corridors, and any time any one of them needs a medium, I am to help them. I'm now wearing both Liz's beret and David's beret. They're itchy. Patrick Nielsen Hayden pokes his head around a corner, beckons me into his office. There's a huge orange the size of a medicine ball on top of his cluttered desk. "Tell me what the hell this is? Tell me where it came from. Tell me what it's going to do." I say, "I don't know where it came from. And it has already done what it was going to do." Patrick says, "That doesn't help me. Try to focus. What-is-it-going-to-do?" I say, "It is going to explode." Patrick says, "Really?!" I say, "No. I really don't know what it is going to do." Then it explodes.

Flash #4
It's a war zone outside and we've all been issued automatic weapons. I don't know who is out there and why we're shooting at them, but it's very important that we hold out. [I'm tempted to say here that in the dream David Hartwell was wearing belts of ammo and manning a mounted machine gun, but that didn't happen in the dream. - JV] Liz is running spy missions through the front lines and coming back breathless and with information like, "They're low in the weeds, but high on the fences. They're down with the law, but up with the clouds." Crazy stuff. It doesn't make any sense to me, but Patrick and David nod like it means something, so I nod like it means something. Then I jump out of the building. I jump and keep jumping and re-jumping. No matter how much I jump, I'm still in the building. It gets to be fun. I'm laughing as I'm jumping. Liz and David and Patrick are looking at me like I'm a moron. "I am a moron!" I say to them. "I am a moron!"

Flash #5
The entire interior of the building has been transformed into a lake and we're all hanging on to desks. Patrick and Liz and David (and now Jim Minz appears, for a few seconds, clinging to a desk, too) keep working as if nothing weird has happened, but we're floating in a lake, with the shore far away, and there are things in the water--like crocodiles and sharks and eels and all kinds of nasty things. But they take no notice. They just keep editing and talking amongst themselves. I'm bobbing on top of a desk and trying to write, but I can't keep as cool as them. I keep wanting to say, "Don't you notice we're ON A LAKE?" But I don't dare for some reason. Finally, David looks up at me and says, "Where there's no fear, there's no love." "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" I say. He says, "You're the medium. Figure it out." Then we're all swimming, abandon desks!, and the scene dissolves in the water.

There's a sixth flash, but it's just nonsense stuff--flying cats and floating heads, and probably stuff left over from reading the Murakami book.

So, there are my dreams of late, with all apologies to the real people mentioned. If anyone takes offense, I can delete my dreams with the click of a mouse...


(Evil Monkey: "What about that last series of dreams, from a couple of years ago?" Jeff: "Which ones?" Evil Monkey: "The super model dreams." Jeff: "Oh yeah. I'd forgotten about those. Every night for a week, I drove a different super model in a beat-up truck down to the convenience store to buy groceries, and then drove her back." Evil Monkey: "What do you think it meant?" Jeff: "Remember the title of this blog entry." Evil Monkey: "True, true...")

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Hawk Alfredson has done the artwork for my book of micro fictions, The Day Dali Died, and the cover to Robert Devereaux's Fungicide, experimental music inspired by City of Saints & Madmen. (I'd love to post some of his work here, but his site seems protected against my using URLS to the jpegs to reproduce them here.)

In fact, if you look closely at some of the paintings here, you will notice definite, unmistakable signs of Ambergris…)

Hawk's web site has a wonderful display of his mysterious, subtle yet bold artwork. I consider Hawk to be one of the most talented artists I've had the pleasure of encountering, and marvel at the way in which he allows his subconscious free rein, while demonstrating great technical precision.

My wife and I were fortunate enough to meet him and Mia Hanson (a talented photographer whose work graces the dust jacket of my Secret Life collection), his partner, in New York City last year, and I've just now gotten around to doing a short interview with him. He prefaced the interview with a quote: "An artist cannot speak about his art [any] more than a plant can discuss horticulture." – Jean Cocteau.

What excites you about painting?
To get totally lost in the painting and yet find myself completely home in there. To watch myself grow, mature, and evolve as an artist. Getting more in control of the different technical aspects but at the same time leaving enough room for the spirits, the aliens, the angels, nature, and God to do their part of it.

What do you most love about the process?
The detail work. The glazing process. Thin transparent layers of paint. Sometimes I do up to 10 to 15 intermittent layers of glaze in a painting. I enjoy watching the painting organically grow whichever way it decides to go. To paint with my fingers.

What's the hardest part of painting for you?
At the moment I don't have an adequate sized studio but rather a tiny room here in the Chelsea Hotel and it's like trying to paint in a huge mural in a matchbox, with the matches still left inside. Visitors, especially artists, who drop by wonder: "So this is where you live, but where do you paint?!" Other than that, the first two to three layers of paint, before the image is starting to reveal itself, I find quite boring…The hardest part about painting is not becoming Henry Darger.

If you were not a painter, what would you like to be?
A musician. The aural landscapes close to my third ear sound like Brian Eno meets Hawkwind meets Gong meets Brannon Hungness on a spiral planet in another dimension underneath your hat.

What's the best advice you've ever gotten from someone about painting, and who gave it to you?
I'm still waiting for that advice, I think. The only thing that comes to mind is something I read in a Salvador Dali book where the last and most important advice or demand he gives for becoming a master painter was that your hand must be guided by an angel.

What role does your subconscious play in your art?
I think most creative people dive into the subconscious ocean and dig up Heaven and Hell and everything inbetween, whether they are aware of it or not. Sometimes the spirits transfer their visions onto the insides of my eyelids. From there, I convey their imagery as best I can. I also met a couple of psychic women over the years who said that I'm channeling spirits.

Anything else to add?
This is something a friend and I came up with one night, a late night, in a bar…

"What do I like about painting?"
Holding the brush between thumb and fingers.
Taking a piss between sessions.
Not knowing what the fuck to do next.
Riding the subway to the art store.
Staring at the people on the subway.
Unscrewing the cap of the paint tube.
Squeezing the paint tube.
Spilling the paint on the floor accidentally.
Getting drunk and not remembering what I painted.
Painting the same painting over and over.
Worrying about whether anyone will buy this painting.
Worrying if the painting sucks.
Worrying about whether or not I'm a psychotic idiot.
Worrying about whether other people will think the painting sucks and is a cheap sell out.
Worrying about what I can sell to buy food.
Thinking I am the best painter ever.
Wondering about whether the Mother Ship will come back before I finish.
Wondering if I will ever finish.
Wondering where the paintings will end up if I disappear tomorrow.

If anyone has a question for Hawk, please do post it in the comments field and I'm sure he'll respond.

Monday, February 14, 2005


Although this blog is supposed to be about the writing life, I've never blogged about the nuts-and-bolts day-to-day details of that life. Probably because, while it's how I get things done, it's not necessarily interesting. Still, here's an average week for me, showing how writing and writing-related activities fit into it.

7:00 to 8:00 am – Exercise bike, crunches, weight lifting (M/W/F)
8:00 to 8:30 am – Breakfast and commute to day job
8:30 to 11:30 am – Writing English passages for an education web site and monitoring the evaluation process
11:30 am to 12:30 pm – Writing at least three days a week, lunch out two days a week
12:30 to 5:30 pm – Writing English passages for day job
5:30 to 7:00 pm – Aerobics (four times during the week) and weight lifting (three times during the week); writing/PR the rest of the time
7:00 to 9:00 pm – Dinner, additional writing or, more probably, dealing with PR and other issues related to forthcoming books
9:00 to 11:30pm – TV and reading and answering emails

8:00 to 10:00 am – Mountain bike and weight lifting, then breakfast
10:00 am to 1:00 pm – Writing
1:00 to 2:00 pm – Lunch and break
2:00 to 6:00 pm – Writing, PR for forthcoming books
6:00 to 10:00 pm – Dinner and movie or other activity
10:00 to 12:00 pm – Watching boxing on TV, if on, answering emails, etc.

8:00 to 9:30 am – Jogging 6 to 10 miles
9:30 to 10:00 am – Breakfast
10:00 am to 1:00 pm – Writing
1:00 to 6:00 pm – Errands, dealing with PR issues, food shopping, writing, etc.
6:00 to 7:00 pm – Dinner
7:00 to 9:00 pm – Reading, dealing with PR issues, answering emails, etc.
9:00 to 11:00 pm – Watching television

This would be a pretty typical week for me. You'll note that there's still time for leisure activities and that a lot of time is built in for exercise. Having been very out-of-shape and realizing how much it affected my writing endurance, the best thing I can do to optimize my writing time is eat right and exercise a lot. Then, when I do write, I am alert and on-task much more than in the past. It used to be, for example, that I either wrote in the mornings or not at all. Now I have energy even after a hectic day at work, and can write whenever.

I might do less or more writing after work than indicated (writing herein defined as "writing or editing or revision"), depending on whether I was on a roll or not. But you'll notice that I write pretty much every day. Even if it turns out to be only a few lines here or there. Or I'll be working on nonfiction, if nothing else, or answering questions from a translator wrestling with City of Saints & Madmen, or a blog entry, or a VanderWorld Report. This keeps me fully immersed in writing and allows me to be loose and confident when I write because it's something I do all the time. There's no moment of indecision any more, no sitting there looking at the blank piece of paper for long minutes, because I don't have the time for that. (It does help that I always have about a dozen story or novella or novel ideas percolating at any one time. If I get blocked on something, which is rarely, I just go on to the next thing, since the only ideas I retain for more than a couple of minutes are the ones I feel passionately about. I also do a lot of writing in my head before I set anything down on paper, so, in a sense, a rough draft has already played itself out in my thoughts beforehand; what I'm getting down on paper is a second draft.)

That said, I deliberately don't have a specific schedule for writing because I feel like a schedule is a trap. I need to steal hours and minutes wherever I can find them. So I don't need to be at my desk at home to write. I don't need a special pen. I don't need special paper. I don't need the computer. Whatever time I have wherever I have it whenever I have it, I'll write. This is how I manage to write as much as I do despite not having that much time to write.

My weekly schedule feeds into monthly and yearly plans. The yearly plan feeds into a five-year plan. For example, right now my five-year plan could be dubbed "consolidation and expansion"—consolidation of my position in the English-language markets and expansion into foreign-language markets. That's the PR/marketing five-year plan. It has nothing to do with the five-year plan for my writing itself—all of which is about improving this or that facet of my writing, whether working on an aspect of handling dialogue or improving my ability to write scenes in which more than three or four characters interact. It also includes a list of techniques, approaches, and effects I've seen other writers use that I'd like to deploy in my own way should the opportunity arise organically, in addition to ideas for novels that I've decided not to write until I'm ready, from a technical point of view or research point of view, to write them.

For this reason, the ratio of "writing" to "PR/marketing" will change from week to week and month to month, based on the needs of both. If I veer off too much into PR/marketing, though, I tend to pull back for a month and focus on the writing entirely.

It sounds more organized than it is in reality, but I find that having specific (or even general) goals helps me focus and means that I make far better use of my time than I would otherwise. Most days, I know exactly what I should be doing and when I should be doing it. This structure is very comforting, given the way in which creative writing is by nature and need unstructured, epiphany leading to a leap of faith, leading to being somewhere totally different than you expected to wind up. A short story becomes a novel. A promotional offer becomes a book of secret lives, etc.

And, I find that breaking down my broad, five-year goals into bite-sized monthly chunks makes them manageable and forces me to articulate them in terms of specific, realistic tasks or steps. It's no good saying, "I want to learn French and conquer the world" but not breaking down your macro goal into micro goals with a timeline.

The two most important things in trying to sustain a writing career, I feel, are discipline and endurance. But these two traits can be weakened over time by a lack of systematic planning and organization. In a perfect world, writers wouldn't have to worry about anything other than the writing itself, but this isn't a perfect world, and for every hour I spend in that delirious non-critical state of just writing for its own sake, I spend an hour down in the sweaty trenches of the nitty-gritty decision-making that is more about perception and networking and marketing.

And I guess that means I write because I love the act of creation (I write because I have to?), but also that I must write because I love to connect with readers. Otherwise, I'd sit in a hut by the beach like a hermit and just cover loose-leaf sheets of paper with my scrawlings, and let someone discover them and publish them after my death…

Friday, February 11, 2005


I write because I have to. Or do I? Consider the numbing number of people who write because they have to, as evidenced by this Google search (initiated one evening by my good friend Paul Larsen).

It begins to become the mantra of the indoctrinated, the litany of the rosary-bead-counting priest, the tick-tock of some literary clock. I-write-be-cause-I-have-to. And the gears lament their way through another mechanical rotation of the inevitable. (I sure didn't write that sentence because I had to. Unfortunately, you had to read it.) Let us examine these claims of "writing because I have to," without naming names--they're public enough as it is. And I, at heart, may be one of them, horrible though it is to admit to joining the Army of the Trite...

More than anything I write because I have to
because I want to make a difference to someone~ to anyone~
because I want people to listen to me
and to understand.
I write because
that's who I am.


Why do I write? Because I have to. God gave me a talent. HE gives me the words. HE is my inspiration. HE called me to write. I was always taught that if I didn't use the talents God gave me, I would lose them. Well, I refuse to lose a gift from my Lord.


I write because I have to, because the urge is almost physical in nature. I see a couple fighting in the supermarket, geese flying overhead as I walk, my daughter's smile when she opens a new box of crayons and my heart and mind jump to attention. Together, they hatch a plan and before I know it, I'm at the keyboard.


I don't know about you but I write because I have to. I've been writing for so long that it is imbedded in my genetic code


I write because I have to write. It's my therapy, my way of stating the truth as I see it. Truth is something I've been somewhat consumed with for some time now. To speak the truth or better yet be true.


Why do I write? I write for many reasons, but most of the time I write because I have to.


I write because I have to write, because the writing comes - not all the time, by any means, and not very often. I tend to write in spurts, with months of no writing at all in-between.


But I don't write, primarily, for political reasons. I write because I have to.


I write because I have to. There’s no way around it—believe me, if there was, I would have found it by now.


I write because I have to. It's what He put in me. It's what He called me to do.


I WRITE BECAUSE I HAVE TO. Like a musician, I’ve found the ability that The ONE has allowed me to voice. Like a blowhole I can express myself. Others are still trying to find it. I'm afraid that others may never find it, but I have.


I write because I have to do it. That is a voice in my head.


I don’t write to be happy or to receive any sort of satisfaction, I write because I have to, because for me writing is like breathing.

[Must fight attempt Oh what the heck: that one is this pompous son-of-a-bitch.]


I write because I have to or else I'll go crazy. Some writers (like me) feel like Paul Revere. We have to alert the world that something's coming - evil, good, death, life. We can't get off the horse because we know the truth (or our version of truth) and we have to share it. No lie.


Do you call a shark brave? I write because I have to.


I would have killed for luck. And hope was something I lost somewhere during book four. I write because I have to write; it’s who I am.


[I can't go on. I must go on.]

Being a poet is like having two marriages. I write because I have to. If I don’t, I become physically ill. It is something like breathing, eating, or drinking water.
[And that pompous son-of-a-bitch is also a poet! What? Do they Have a monopoly?!]


But I have another terrible affliction, too. I'm a writer. Anyone who doesn't think
that this is an affliction has no idea what they're talking about. I don't write because it's a bit of a laugh. I don't write because it seems like an easy route to a middle-class lifestyle. I write because I have to. I don't get any say in it - if I don't write, the words build up, they strain at the edges of my brain, and I cannot concentrate. Without a word of exaggeration, I have trouble focusing on the simplest things. Even at the best of times, the odds are that whatever I'm actually doing, there'll be 30% of my brain that's juggling words, plots, characters, concepts and methods of execution.
[Talk about smug!]


I write because I have to. Do you ask a dolphin how it swims?

[And oh my god, that pompous ME...]

And...oh, but I can't go on. You'll have to investigate the rest yourself.

Whether young or old, Mingus or unknown (and can you tell which is which from the above?), Derek Walcott or unpublished (and can you tell them by their syntax?), crippled or whole, insane or sane, religious or not religious, it seems that almost 1,180 web pages express the notion that we write "because we have to."

I sense conspiracy. I sense a vast CIA thought experiment or an alien abduction crisis.

At the very least, I have been forever cured of the notion that I write because I have to. I think now, having been super-saturated with the romantic notion of writing because one has to, that I write because I want to. I write because I want to. It doesn't matter what I want to. Just that I want to want to. (Certainly, now, with the Wagnerian chorus of voices rising in my memory, next time I'm asked why I write, I will most definitely provide an answer other than "er, because I have ta? what was the question again?"

And another thought: Too bad most readers don't read because they have to...

"I read because I have to. If I didn't, my imagination would shrivel to the size of a pea and my brain would explore ways to leave my boring body."

I write because I have to. This blog entry is proof. It had to exist or I would not be happy or fulfilled or satisfied or satiated or contented or joyful or joyous or epiphanized or metamorphosized or...All your motivation belong to us...

(Evil Monkey: "You follow up your thoughtful Kafka on the Shore post with this...this drivel?" Jeff: "I write because I have to." Evil Monkey: "I listen because I have to. How sad is that?" Jeff: "Oh my god. I can't get it out of my head. I write because I have to. I write because I have to. I write because I have to. I write because I have to. I write because I have to.")