Monthly Archives: August 2005


(Not that the three of you who check in here on a regular basis don’t already know this stuff, but here goes.)

In addition the the Red Cross, NPR has a list of other places to make cash donations here. BoingBoing has a gazillion useful posts. Terry Teachout and Our Girl in Chicago have compiled a huge list of hugely helpful links here, everything from news to craigslist NOLA to this thing.

Addendum: This thing has been extended for the whole weekend. Laren is lending her support to Second Harvest. A NOLA friend also pointed out just how incredibly important Habitat for Humanity is going to be in the coming year, or years.

Finally, Maud has another post of helpful links; go here, scroll down.

Dear New Orleans,

I’ve been worried sick about you all day. I haven’t visited in two years now, and I miss you terribly. The last time was for the second NOLA Book Fair. That weekend R. and I went to Fiorella’s, like we had the year before, to hear Bingo! play. We’d gone originally with J. and H., and I loved everything about them, the whole act, the dingy garish Tom Waits back room smoky David Lynch Weimar sideshow Lotte Lenya cabaret on mushrooms theatricality of it: the scantily clad girls with their feather boas and hand-held spotlights; the gorgeous violinist, with her enormous blond dreadlocks; the bald carny barker with his greasepaint face, reeling along the top of the bar, nearly decapitating himself on the ceiling fan. The local kids we met at the fair said they were sick to death of hearing about Bingo!—it’s a small town, after all—but for R. and myself, it was a must-see.

I was hoping they’d play their Halloween song again, and they did. The chorus began like this: “Halloween!” sung, almost whispered, over the major fourth, the lyric slowly crawling up from the third to the fifth, and then again, “Halloween!” all languorously stretched out, the same climb, but now over the minor fourth. I can’t do it justice, but I swear, having heard this song only twice ever, it sounded like something Cole Porter could have written. The last line, if I heard it right: “New Orleans in the fall is enough to make you cry.” The words look plain written down, but that lyric played in my head all weekend long, from Napoleon House to Mollys at the Market, The John to Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge, the Backstreet Cultural Museum to the Popular Ladies second line parade, the Bywater to the Quarter and back again. I believed the lyric’s sentiment to be completely true. I wrote in my notebook: “How many cities make you love them so badly in such a short span of time?”

Will I ever hear this song again? It’s not on the band’s eponymous album, which I bought at Louisiana Music Factory three years ago. I asked Clint Maedgen (lead vocals, organ, guitar, saxophone) at a party that same weekend at the ARK (small town) if they had plans to record it, and he said it would probably be on their second record. I went so far as to e-mail Clint to suggest that they put live versions of as-yet-unreleased songs on their Web site, and he kindly wrote back to say that sounded like a good idea. But that second record, as far as I can tell, never materialized. And then J. said last year that Bingo! had broken up. And their Web site doesn’t exist anymore either—but then, New Orleans, I suspect your artists and musicians rarely bother tinkering overmuch with something as unreal as the Web. You traffic in much more sublime forms of ephemera.

I’m so sad to read of so much destruction and damage and death today. But I’m relieved to hear that although you’ve been badly battered, New Orleans, you’ve survived. Get well soon. We all need you something awful.

Addendum: I wrote the above late Monday night, during what I’m now sickened to realize was only a brief window of modestly good news—after Katrina had passed, but before floodwaters started breaching levees. Now I fear “badly battered” doesn’t begin to describe the damage, and “survive” (link via Maud) feels like a horribly relative word. New Orleans, as Terry Teachout wrote, our New York hearts are with you.

The Fabulists

I’m so excited. I just got tickets to this New Yorker Festival panel discussion:

When Reality Fails
Fantasy and invention in fiction.
Deborah Treisman, moderator. With Martin Amis, Judy Budnitz, A. M. Homes, Stephen King, and George Saunders.

I’m a little worried, though. These five writers all on stage together could mean a completely fascinating discussion, but on the other hand, might it not be dangerous to have such wildly, viciously creative minds all in such close proximity to each other? Will the blood of adulterous suburban medical professionals leak from their microphones? Will the table they sit at transmogrify into a giant hell-pony? Will Ms. Treisman have to fight off an army of tiny red demon-babies, disgorged from the jaws of the hell-pony, armed with letter openers, dirty needles, sporks, and dildos? Will each of the five writers spontaneously sprout enormous fiery wings and wrench the New York Public Library from its foundations, up into the stratosphere, through a wormhole in the time-space continuum, and back to Shakespeare’s London? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Misc., Etc.

Some photographs from the past year, that didn’t fit into the scheme of any particular sequence, but that I like, and that make a nice sequence themselves.

The drawing on the chalkboard, if you’re curious, is of Jackson, the Underpants-Wearing Dinosaur. (I accidentally cropped the title underneath the drawing.) One of my students drew it, right before class was about to start, in the creative writing workshop I taught this past spring. To the best of my knowledge, this was a character of his own invention.


Do you know this feeling of serendipity, when your reading list starts talking to itself, books doing a tango in your brainpan? I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes right now (which is awesome), and in the story “Family Affair,” I read this passage:

We talked for a while about airplanes. Having just read several books on the crash in the Andes, I brought up that topic.

“When they ate human flesh, they would roast it in the sun on pieces of aluminum from the airplane.”

My sister stopped eating and glared at me. “Why do you have to talk about such awful things at the dinner table? Do you say things like that when you’re eating with girls you’re trying to seduce?”

Ordinarily I would simply think oh, one of the books he’s talking about is probably Alive. But then I just finished Amy Hempel’s The Dog of the Marriage (which is also awesome), so reading the above immediately made me go back to a passage in the story entitled “Reference #388475848-5,” which goes like this:

I’m not like the guy at the film festival yesterday who asked the French director in the Q and A after his film was shown, “Are we going to get our money back?” I hadn’t even wanted to see the film; before we went, I told my date what I did want to see, and he said, “They stole the idea from that other one, the one where they ate each other.” And I said, “No, that was the plane crash; this is the two guys who had the mountain-climbing accident. It’s a documentary.” And he said, “What isn’t?”

This made me so happy, in spite of the grim subject matter. I love the connectedness, the overlappingness, not to mention the smart dry humor. I also love the thought of something like Touching the Void, a movie that came out only a couple years ago, slipping so easily into a book of short stories that came out only a few months ago.

The analog-hugging side of me is also pleased that it seems highly probable that no computer, no matter how sophisticated, will ever be able to get such references, such oblique citations, or experience pleasure at such correspondences. Probably won’t, anyway. Right?

Some Notes on Rejection

1) I just went through the speediest version of the writing and publishing process I’ve ever experienced. It was like a lit journal sub on crack. As follows:

Last week I noticed that Hobart is having a special themed issue; the guidelines, which are here at the moment (but most likely won’t be for more than a few weeks longer), ask for “stories about midgets, dogs (not small ones, unless something funny happens to them, sorry), ninjas fighting samurai warriors, battle axes, whiffle ball, las vegas, lawn darts, fireworks, things getting blowed up!, sharks,” and so on (you get the idea). I thought, what a great assignment! How inspiringly restrictive! And so Friday evening I started writing a short piece according to these oddball criteria; Saturday morning I finished it up; Saturday afternoon I e-mailed it to Hobart; Sunday morning I received a rejection letter (which had been sent late Saturday night). Amazing! I don’t think it should always go this way, any more than I think anyone should try to survive only on a diet of sugar cereals. But it was cool to zoom through the entire process all compressed like that, compared to the usual months or even years that it takes—and I got a great story out of the deal (one that addresses the question, why are the myths of space-traveling dogs so haunted by their fear of dinosaurs?). Which is the most important thing.

2) This past spring I congratulated a writer friend of mine on her acceptance to a highly competitive writers residency; she wrote in her reply: “Thanks! I’d forgotten I’d even applied.” This, I think, is an excellent rule of thumb. I don’t mean being one of those writers who simply send everything they write to everywhere that publishes—as going that route means spending so much money on postage that you’d do better to blow it on your own vanity press operation. (You’re also wasting the time of potentially hundreds of other literarily minded folk—bad karma!) What I mean is, rather, doing your homework; reading widely and voraciously; keeping tabs on the current journal scene, not just as a writer and submitter, but also as a reader and subscriber and enthusiastic fan; sending work out smartly and savvily, and also consistently and persistently—i.e., to have enough of your writing out there that you forget where it is—while maintaining a detailed scratch sheet keeping exact tabs on where it all is, of course. (As another writer friend of mine once remarked, “A week I’m not being rejected is a week I’m not being read!”) And doing all this while never forgetting to always, always be polite, brief, gracious, thick-skinned, and professional, and to say thank you, and mean it. No one trying to succeed as a writer or literary journal editor is in it for the money; everyone is in it for the love. Don’t forget to spread it widely as you go!

3) For a more articulate take on what I’m trying to say here, I recommend reading Felicia Sullivan’s recent post on how to annoy a literary journal editor. You might also want to read the equally kickass and brilliant Ms. Shanna Compton’s notes from this past spring on how to save poetry (all of which apply to fiction too)—and why not look at what Shanna had to say about rejection slips? And I swear I saw something in the past year in Poets & Writers on the necessity of doing research and submitting more savvily (and never forgetting to be polite); however, all I can find is this piece on writers’ myths, which is a good thing, though, because it’s also helpful stuff to remember. And in poking around the Inter-Webs trying to find what I thought I’d read, I stumbled on an interview with the editor of Other Voices on Bookslut; as she put it, “a writer is obligated to do some homework.” Which sums up what I’m trying to get at here nicely.

4) Finally, here is a note I jotted down in workshop this past spring:

“Steel yourself against rejection; get right back on that horse. Remember: not everyone’s going to ‘get’ you—but then, why would you want them to? There’s no authority out there. There’s just a bunch of folks, and some of them are in a bad mood.”

A good thing to always keep in mind—and not just for the writing life, I think.

Back to work.

Author Web Site

Now live: the site I designed for Colson Whitehead. It uses Movable Type as a content management system, but is it a blog? Assuming the term means a vehicle for frequently updated, self-published content—or content for its own sake—I don’t think you could call it that, no. (Even using that definition, some balk at the word; note David Byrne’s comments in re. his online journal.) Rather, this is a way of exploiting the technology to have occasionally updated news about readings, events, and the like for fans, without having to deal with either HTML, or any kind of intermediary. It’s an author site, elegant and spare—and with an RSS feed. And I think it looks pretty damn good.

In related news, I’m so psyched to read Apex Hides the Hurt.

Have I Got an Act for You

Years ago, when I first started this site, I was horrified to discover, looking at my site stats, all the appalling search terms visitors had used to end up here at (I imagine most new URL owners must experience the same horror.) The search term rankings were an astounding list of orifices and organs, fluids and solids, food items and celebrities, and all the ways in which they might be perversely combined. It read like a mostly legal version of The Aristocrats.

I decided to try to exploit the Robot Exclusion Protocol (which is also the subtitle of that new Star Wars movie, right?), thinking I could just steer the perverts away. (To do so seemed to be as much for their benefit as mine; once they got here and found that there were, in fact, no photographic images of ladies doing unseemly things with bodily fluids, tobacco products, flavored gelatin, and each other, it’s not like they were sticking around very long anyway.)

For the most part, the strategy worked. But nowadays, no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, visitors keep ending up here looking for cats hanging in there. And I’m not sure which is more depressing—the stinky navel fetishists, or the cute inspirational poster seekers.

Sometimes there’s just no stopping people.