Category Archives: Life Studies

Doggerland design notes

So about a month ago I entered a new Twine piece of mine, called Doggerland, into the Spring Thing competition, run by Aaron Reed. (And there are other great works of IF there that you should totally play!)

This is easily the most autobiographical work I’ve ever written, in any form. With this blog, when I’ve delved into personal matters, it’s usually been in the realm of writing–fears about writing, desires about writing.

But I’ve never really been one to delve into family too much.

The original poem, though, called “Why We’re Not in the Streets”, is one that I wrote with family obliquely in mind (about a year before the twins were born), after a few days I had spent at my wife’s family cabin on the edge of winter. I had posted it on my blog, actually, a few years ago, so you can read it there if you’re interested.

Even though the narrative flow of Doggerland eventually veers far away, content-wise, from the original poem–which keeps it pretty close to the scene of the cabin–I still think that, however imperceptibly, the piece hews close to the original intent of the poem.

Lorine Niedecker’s own Wisconsin wilderness–living almost her entire life in remote rural areas– also looms as an influence in this poem. Besides being one of my favorite poets, Niedecker described her own poetry as a “condensery”:

Poet’s work

    advised me:
       Learn a trade

I learned
    to sit at desk
       and condense

No layoff
    from this


–and I think of her work as a kind of lighthouse for not only what poetry can do, but also other forms of writing can do, particularly ones that can ebb and flow, like Twine is capable of.

Doggerland was in its first draft much more of a (perhaps early 90s style?) hypertext “maze”. That wasn’t working at all, upon much later reflection; I winnowed it down to two branches. It’s still hard for me to “know” how much choice to give to a reader, especially in a piece like this which is so personal. What are they navigating? What would be the purpose of a maze?

Instead of a maze the idea of “dredging” became the primary way to investigate the text, and so the hover replace macro in Twine became my dear dear friend.

I had no idea that Doggerland–the land bridge between continental Europe and Britain–even existed until I started working on this piece. And the historiography of Doggerland, as we understand it now, is definitely informed by climate change. (For example.) Incremental sea rise over thousands of years–with perhaps one giant tsunami giving a nudge–isn’t quite the same what we’re facing now, which is much, much faster and, of course, precipitated by our own actions.

Time is strange. On a geologic scale, even a couple of thousand years is nothing. The climate change we’ve experienced in, say, the last 30 years or so is less than an eyeblink. Yet when in the day-to-day, on a personal, human scale…sure, it can be hard to experience. That is to say, we do experience it, but the mind tangles up “weather” and “climate” all the time.

For my kids, though, it might be a different story altogether.

Finding PDFs of Barron County, Wisconsin topography maps: finding just how close the cabin was to the edge of the glaciers. Really close.

geological map of Barron County, WI

Choices winnow down when you’re in solitude for a few days. When you have children, they pretty much explode. And bringing this explosion of choice into our lives was…also a choice. At the same time, you make that choice having no real idea of what you’re getting into, and, frankly having every possibility of failure (the figures for IVF are readily available for any clinic. You are playing the odds.)

I think about my childhood all the time–how much is life as a child replicated in life as a parent?

There are no easy answers to this.

There’s more than one Sand Lake in Wisconsin, but I like to think that Niedecker had made this note-poem when coming across the Barron County lake she may, or may not, have visited in her travels and included in her Superior Notebook:

I’m sorry to have missed
   Sand Lake
My dear one tells me
   we did not
We watched a gopher there

Welcome to the Club

It’s hard to know how to either quantify or qualify universalism, because so many communities make a claim to at least a cultural universalism that obscures interconnections with other communities. Truth (although the word “truth” is rarely used) becomes the cornerstone for an enclosure for–to put it in vernacular–a fandom. This also includes the fandom of a professional or semiprofessional activity, a fandom of making: books, games, short films, whatever.

The truth claim is a limitless resource (endless fields of possibility–newness and surprise and innovation).

The time/attention paid to a given subject of a fandom/subculture is a limited resource (the sorter’s dilemma, particularly in the early 21st century). There is only so much one can get to.

These two work in a push-pull to mark differences between different truth claims. And in the realm of personal attention, there are of course winners and losers.

In the business world, they call it “siloing”. Vertical structures of knowledge–which then lead to control and access toward certain lexicons about that knowledge. Which in itself can be gatekeeping.

Of course the difference between apprenticeship and overspecialization needs to be emphasized. The former, a knowledge and practice of a craft; the latter, a way to control a larger narrative as to what’s important and thus cultivate barriers.

Trying to move between subcultures can create a situation where your credit is only good at the company store of a certain genre or field of expertise. And I do think that social media can exacerbate this issue; where people have a larger quantity of information to sift through, time becomes an even more precious resource. This might be slightly tautological but I think it has the possibility to accelerate overspecialization as a way of “standing out.”

Here’s a few examples of what the hell I’m talking about.

Pro tip: You see this in poetry a lot, since poetry has little else except cultural capital to traffic in, so various poetry communities create exotic mechanisms of exchange, much like a variance swap in finance.

This is more of an inverted example but when Jeff “I Assassin Down the Avenue” Tweedy or Billy Corgan or whatever semi-famous musician wants to publish a book of poetry, there is no apprenticeship to speak of. This is an example of a press using famousness as a way to garner any type of attention for a book buyer (both on the level of a reader and a bookstore). And, well, fair enough–one can understand now-defunct Zoo Press trying to grab the brass ring with Tweedy (this is the press, you’ll remember, that didn’t pick a winner for a contest but kept all the money). Even Faber and Faber (re: Corgan) needs to gain any advantage they can. This however requires the world pretending that Jeff Tweedy is a poet. I mean, yes, in a technical sense, sure. But in terms of the hundreds of other poets out there hunched over laptops, churning away at a vocation and life-calling. None of this is to disparage Tweedy’s talent as a musician and songwriter, by the way. But cutting to the front of the line happens all the time because it’s easy, and most people don’t care–because of readers’ overspecialization in things that are Not Poetry.

With fiction, you see this push and pull on a macro scale with the endless “genre vs. mainstream” discussions that still go on. (Still.) There are still some arenas (like the Minnesota Book Awards!) that treat realism as normative, yet at the same time show attention to literary works that use genre tropes. Actual SF/F genre stories can still create bewilderment. This is why you will find, say, an MFA program that will kinda accept work and writers that traffick in “weird” fiction, but only of a certain type, ones that accept and not question the truth claims of the subculture and that does not contain spaceships therein. It has to be weird in the right ways; i.e., in ways that reflect the tastes of “realism subcultures” of the literary world. (You will find this in different reading strategies: to grossly generalize, a person in the genre and an AWP goer can read the same science fiction story in very very different ways.) Conversely, the SF/F field can sometimes (although not always) be reluctant to embrace interesting work that, while clearly SF’nal or fantastic, doesn’t push the correct buttons (scientific, mythopoetic, or otherwise). A complaint you might hear is: “this literary writer didn’t know how to world build!” Which might not have been what the writer was interested in; but again, we are dealing with a game of expectations when there is limited time to parse through differing writing strategies. And it goes beyond mere tropes–it is ultimately about world-view, or even an ideology as to what the purpose of writing is in the first place.

Before this devolves into yet another session of “Hey, why aren’t there more things written that I like?“, it’s important to ask: Why does this matter anyway? For me, two things come to mind. it First, frustration when I see different subcultures reinventing each other’s wheels. From a post on a somewhat different issue, Emily Short here talks about contemporary game designers from the persepctive of the interactive fiction community:

I see the value of our past. At GDC I heard more than one talk that presented as new information observations about choice, consequence, narrative, and puzzle structure that have been well-discussed here for nearly two decades. There is a great deal of experience and craft knowledge about IF that deserves to be carried forward from this community, not lost, even if the community itself is changed beyond recognition.

This is a great example of “apprenticeship” (the care taken in craft, accreted through many different people as a form of collective knowledge) as mentioned before. Taking the time to go into the “archives” of another culture does take time, but it can be immensely rewarding (and humbling).

Secondly, it sucks to be ignored. It sucks to be ignored when you think you have something to say. It sucks having to prove yourself and to jump through hoops that have little to do with the cultural endeavor at hand. Again, this isn’t about not learning the ropes and one’s craft–that does take time, and patience. I think it’s more about opportunity to begin that journey in the first place, and recognition that people who are “outsiders” have their own skills and talents to offer. And that it’s important to encourage younger writers not to overspecialize, to be able to wander, to not have an action plan and an “official website” and a chipper yet PR-focused Twitter account right out of the gate. In fact it’s okay not to have any plan at all–aside from doing exactly what you love, which might not be one single thing at all.

So in the midst of this, what would an actual universalism look like? Is that even possible? How do we make this subcultures more porous? And how do we innovate in our writing without having to rely on a (modernist) paradigm of avant-garde rupture, or a postmodern paradigm of denying that there are truth claims in literature, however provisional they may be?

LATE EDIT: I know I have to unpack more what I mean by “universalism”, or a “truth process” for that matter. Bear with me.

update, with twins

Our children, Tobias Sebastian and Alessandra Veronica, were born on December 2. This has obviously put a dent in my blogging. 🙂 Although they have spent some time in the NICU, particularly Toby, they are doing great now. Eating tons, gaining lots of weight. It’s been a complete paradigm shift for me–not just the lack of consistent sleep (although that is a biggie). Fatherhood is both extremely natural and utterly alien at the same time, and the parts where those mix aren’t always easy to discern. Kristin is, also, an amazing mother, and our relationship in its sleep deprived state has also grown in these short 6 weeks since they were born. They were some trying circumstances when they were in the NICU, but seeing them happy and healthy has been one of the greatest joys of my life–and we’re only getting started.

I probably won’t be blogging too much about parenting here. But my son and daughter have already changed me in both inperceptible and seismic ways, and that will continue to grow as they grow.

Gemini dreams

My wife and I are expecting twins sometime in December, a boy and a girl. I am so ready and thrilled for them to come, but at the same time feel spectacularly unprepared. This unknowing and slight abyssal edge (What are we getting ourselves into?!) is probably healthy. I know my life will change irrevocably, and I am ready for that as well. Sometimes the choices we make change us, but sometimes the changes themselves open up a new array of choices.

(My sleep doctor keeps telling me that I’m “doomed.” At least when it comes to sleep.)

Kristin has been an amazing mother already–they have been kicking up a storm of late. She has been taking it day by day with the constant nausea. Some days are better than others. Parenthood is one more lens to see our relationship through, and it’s a nuanced one, with chroma and hue that I’ve never seen before.

Sunflow’r Affixed to a Bee

We had a cold stretch here–not a surprise, but a bit early. And part of that wild unpredictability that seems to be the ‘new normal.’ (Last week we had a high of 90; this week we had a low of 38). And one of the sunflowers I had planted in the spring came (at last, at least) to bloom. It was an unimaginable surprise then, on a cold morning, to see two plump honeybees motionless in the center of the flower. It was perhaps my ignorance, but I thought they had frozen in the middle of the night.

They hadn’t. Sensing a tragedy writ small (yet who am I to say what the scale of two bees dying of frost should be?) I touched one of them, ever so slightly, with my fingertip. And it stirred to life. Just slightly. But enough to know they had not died.

The next day, one was stirring and gathering pollen, and another was still. So again I touched. It stirred more vehemently (the sun was quickening and the air was warmer) and scraped its back leg against its body, where I had touched it, before it too began to gather pollen.

Which was perhaps a sign that I should stay out of the way, and trust the communiques between sun, sunflower and bee.

Meekness and Introversion

For a long time I had willingly confused the two. It was a defense mechanism to confuse the two. I had considered in much of my childhood the biblical necessity of humility, meekness and poverty of spirit to be other phrases to describe shyness!

I’ve often wondered where the shyness has come to begin with. For many of my early years I certainly wasn’t. I would be rough and tumble with the best of them. But sometime in 3rd or 4th grade (of St. Boniface School, I might add) I developed another layer of interiority that was some form of fear and resentment on one hand, and imaginative foundation-building on the other.

These two seemed to go hand in hand. And thus, I saw my sense of being “nice” as a fair virtue. I wanted the world to be fair, too. The everyday cruelties that involve, well, just being a child–much less an introverted one–were overwhelming, and I had trouble engaging with them for many years. This only exacerbated itself in high school, earnest in Catholic prep school, fully ensconced in genre-land with science fiction and fantasy, and woefully lacking in the social skills needed to navigate the tauntings and lonliness that tended to form my almost-daily existence in those years.

Still, I thought that my “niceness” was a virtue, if not a form of power. I was nothing if not stubborn. That must have been the form of “meekness” talked about in Christianity!

Well, no, on two counts. The first count was that it was only a mask for deep, abiding (and honest, in its way) anger. It wasn’t very productive anger–since I was still paralyzed socially to do much to improve my conditions. It seemed impossible–but more than that, it wasn’t something on a base level that I WANTED to do. The abyss was too terrifying.

However, there was also something very passive aggressive about this “meekness.” I had used it as a way to hold back from others. It was a very convenient way to live for most of life, as it didn’t require me to ‘get my hands dirty’ with engaging with other people in (sometimes) uncomfortable ways. This was the flaw: I had used this sense of introversion as a source of pride. There was a desire for the abyss. (Zizek says here: “One would expect that fantasies are defenses against traumas. We have a traumatic experience, we cannot endure it so we build up a protective fantasy web of fictions. I claim that we invent, as a protective web, trauma itself.”) I had put myself above others, that the very fact that I had difficulty talking to others or making eye contact was a sign of specialness. A sign of my “niceness.” It was precocity, of course, but more than that. It was a sense of judgment, and anger born out of despair. That it was others’ fault for my own shyness.

This continued for many years. Beyond childhood. Beyond adolescence. In many ways it’s only in the last few years that I’m really beginning to untangle these threads. And also learning to forgive myself as well for living with this, and through this.

The promise that “the meek shall inherit the earth” appears in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:5). At times as a teenager I earnestly put stock in this, that there would be a reversal of fortune, somehow, within the confines of high school (with strangely did start happening in my senior year). Needless to say the vagrancies of a highly structured adolescence–indeed, the entire idea of introversion–wasn’t exactly on the minds of anyone in the midst of Second Temple Judaism. But, as was most often the case, Jesus was drawing on much earlier traditions. He was tugging on a much older thread; specifically in this case, Psalm 37. Here’s the first 11 verses (NRSV):

Psalm 37

Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,

for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil.

For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.

But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

The idea of meekness arrives full bore with the idea of abiding in the face of great evil and injustice. Our culture does put a huge emphasis on using aggression to correct perceived slights. This exhibits itself as a violence of spirit that I myself have fallen into–a shortness with people (if anything, an overcorrection of me perceiving myself to be “nice.”)

And the push and pull gets more complex. Certainly it does with writing. So much of one’s writing identity does not come from meekness (though it may come from an introversion that’s allowed to inverse itself online, into a vortex of bluster). False humility is the last refuge of the braggart, believe me, I’ve been there in moments of weakness and frailty. St. Diadochos (5th century) defined humility as “attentive forgetfulness of what one has accomplished.” Such an act is literally impossible in the sphere of cybernetics and information management.

But meekness isn’t weakness. And it’s not introversion. The “inheritance” is one of justice. It’s interesting that so much of the verses quoted above talk about meekness as an antidote for anger, not brashness per se. I feel that dejection in the fabric of the world, in the pockets of fascism rising up, in the equivocations of democratically elected leaders who seem incapable of steering the ship of state, in the ecological disasters that seem to be the next generation’s lot. The meekness I am beginning to uncover and open up inside of myself–as a project if nothing else–is that (1) gentleness towards others goes a long way, (2) my writing can only embody the grammar that is necessary for me, (3) introversion is one layer of who I am, but not the only layer, and any attempt to move beyond it is a good one, even if it fails, (4) there is fierce peace in patience.

Walking Stick Fires in Asimov’s: Infernokrusher Lives

Soooo much to cover of late–we were in the Czech Republic and Austria for 2 exhausting but glorious weeks and immediately afterwards I came down with the flu (and it looks like Kristin is going through the same opening salvos of the disease that I was a few days ago…grrr…). I also thought I should mention that “not a lot of blogging” during my trip was a feature not a bug. First, I didn’t want to announce to the entire world that we were vacated for quite so long, you know? Second, as the years roll on, and this blog enters its almost-ninth year, I’m just not feeling the need or the pressure to chronicle every instance of my life as it happens. Of course I’ve been thinking a lot about how online identities are constructed and intersect with “reality” for quite a while and I’ve been finding that…I’m just not a good chronicler. Or a cautious chronicler. Some of that function has been fulfilled by Twitter to an extent, but even there I’m feeling less urgency to publish myself, to make public my thoughts. These things go in waves, naturally–but anyway.

I do have a story out in the June issue of Asimov’s! It should be to subscribers by now and hopefully on newsstands fairly soon. The story is called “Walking Stick Fires” and it was written within the loose confines of the nascent and/or semi-existent genre known as “Infernokrusher.” For me it was less about the content per se than the writing process; that is, whenever I got stuck in the flow of the story, I moved forward with the insertion of:

(a) an explosion
(b) a car chase
(c) Toby Keith

Failure to adhere to these simple principles led me to get stuck on the middle of the story for months–the roadmap was there, however, right in front of me. (Why can’t all fiction be that easy?)

So you might notice that the activation of the writing process–something of a semiautomatic prompt–IS actually inherently tied to the content of the story, and that is one of the core tenets of Infernokrusher, and can make it so fun to write. Form not only defines function–form is the breeder reactor that burns off the waste material of function. (For more on Infernokrusher’s pleasures and uses, I refer you to the link I posted above, and also Hal Duncan’s seminal conflagration about the subject (and a few others). And I had a few notes on this blog about the subject as well.

At any rate, that’s just context In Case You Need It, but the story has Camaros, kickboxing, planet-eating aliens, a weird guy named Sharon, and yes Toby Keith, in case you need him. Subscribe, pick up a single issue, or download for your e-reading advice!

Blood, Trapped Under the Nail

About 6 weeks or so ago I slammed the porch door into my thumb while I was letting the dogs back in. Though the pain subsided after a few minutes, I’ve had since then a little demarcation of blood underneath my fingernail, pressed flat like a rose in the pages of a heavy book.

Time is very very slow underneath my thumb. The dissipation is happening, but it will still be awhile. A few weeks ago it still had that dark violet tinge to it; now it’s more like a scumble of red paint, a bit fainter around the edges and in a few interior spots. It’s very odd to carry this mark; it’s like an amateur temporary tattoo that nonetheless was made of strong, deep, almost uncontrollable ink.

I could say it’s a nice reminder of my own clumsiness but actually I think it looks cool. It does on occasion remind me of that door, this house, which we’ve almost lived in 10 years now, which is pure unreality. Talk about time moving very very quickly anywhere except underneath my thumb. And yet it’s a struggle sometimes to have the house feel like a home. Even after 10 years. The snow and ice have been particularly vexing–problems with the vent to the hot water heater, a tiny leak over the sink (and our roof is only a year and a half old).

These are just domesticities, though. We have a roof, we are lucky, we do not have to take to the streets for cruel injustices. I worry though about suburbia (and I would have never thought I’d ever ever live 10 years in suburbia). This type of place–even an inner ring suburb–is such a historical anomaly fueled by low fuel costs and the nightmarish utopias of land developers and car dealerships, who certainly had their hand in altering American culture after World War II. These were not stupid people, though, however manipulative they were of both aspirations and geography. And so, 50+ years later…well, it’s taken some time for their vision of America to stick, to really stick. The older neighbors we have, first or second generation in this neighborhood, are really awesome; but those of my generation are disconnected, rootless, incurious. In that sense it is only half a neighborhood–and I am certainly not absolving myself on this front. Oh, sure, you go into the core cities’ neighborhoods and it can be different and well-meaning and sincere and the neighborhoods treat National Night Out seriously. But–and this trend will only be accelerating, fast–the core city neighborhoods just cost more, you will pay a premium to have that “experience”, and when gas hits $6 a gallon the people who can’t afford it are going to be living in the places they can least afford, in the outer rings, subletted McMansions, no buses, abject schools least-common denominator public services, old cars with bad gas mileage… this is the working class wasteland, this will happen when the suburbs cease to be embedded in dreams of development and merely become places to survive in the middle of nowhere. Those tipping points are all around us.

All are my brethren–of late I am trying to live by this credo and treat it as an almost physical law. But the biggest challenge for this has been out here, when it’s so easy for me to construe people as sallow, rude, clannish. Are these essences or defense mechanisms brought about by pains I don’t understand and can’t articulate? (At most I can reconstruct and write along the edges, which in the end are my own edges.) In the day-to-day it’s so easy in my own rush and bluster to respond with my own defenses. But I bank on–I have to–on the latter.

Meanwhile, spring will come, the yard will be spruced, the blood will continue to dissipate…

Later that year…

I’ve been a bad blogger but I’ve been busy! Very busy. Things have been germinating, things have been transcribed. It’s also been a month of soul searching and some measure of tranquility, which can’t be attributed (either way) from writing, from a good or ill perspective. But I still am writing, hither and tither.

In writerly news:

+I have a story coming out in Asimov’s sometime in the spring, called “Walking Stick Fires.” It’s solidly in the nascent tradition (or “tradition”) of infernokrusher fiction. (BTW, where is the original infernokrusher post on the Wayback Machine?)

+I’ll be visiting my alma mater The College of Wooster in a couple of weeks from the 27th to the 29th. I’ll be reading at Tuesday at 4…somewhere in Kauke Hall. Which will likely be completely unrecognizable to me. Needless to say this is a thrilling and humbling experience for me, to go back where I cut my teeth. I think it’s hard to overestimate how…uncouth and needlessly precocious I was when I ventured to C.O.W., and the place really gave me the tools I needed to write and think and be a better human being. I’ll also be at several classes, and teaching two master classes on speculative fiction.

+I’m also reading at Magers & Quinn in Uptown Minneapolis on October 8 at 7:30, with Adam Golaski and John Cotter.

+The kind folks at Parking Lot Confessional did an interview of me which just came out–thoughtful questions afoot!

Be good, people.

liontoothseed & blackberrytattoo

The dandelion is a noble flower, mimicking the tooth of a lion. It is not its fault that there are far too many of them, populating my lawn in their multitudes.

A commonality doesn’t have to destroy beauty.

It’s also a shame that on de-weeding chemicals, on the labels, blackberries are considered “weeds.”

The Caged Tulip


While gardening yesterday, I came across a vegetational oddity that was both grotesque and poignant. I was weeding the lower tier of our terraced garden, where our radiant tulips are in full apotheosis. However, near one of them, a suet feeder (i.e., a small rectangular cage) somehow had fallen into the garden thickets. Lost in the snow, most likely. And many of the leaves of the particular tulip that was closest to the feeder had sprouted into and through the cage, so that they were packed inside the narrow confines.

I did my best to extract the leaves with a minimum of damage, but my hands were clumsy. It was like extracting a vine through a keyhole. Some I got out, some I didn’t. The tulip lived, but it wasn’t pretty–or rather, one set of its leaves weren’t pretty.

When I was in high school, my main form of writing switched from fiction to poetry. Most of my works of fiction were self-aggrandizing fantasies involving myself and classmates in interplanetary adventures of one sort or another, or based on whatever ideas I could crib from the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide (hey, nothing wrong with that!). I would daydream alot and concoct and sometimes write down what I concocted. But it was all escape, and escape wasn’t solving the problems of high school I was having, which were numerous and seemingly insurmountable. Painfully shy, imbued with pretty much no self-confidence, and in an all-male Catholic prep school that was absolutely merciless in its bullying towards those in the first two categories…well, you can do the math. It was absolute hell–I was in the wrong place in the wrong time, and didn’t have enough guts to extricate myself from the situation and go to a school with peers who wouldn’t seek to destroy me every single day. I was stubborn and stuck it out, trapped.

It was in this pressure cooker that I really started to write poetry for the first time in my sophomore year. I honestly don’t know how I got through freshman year without it. This pain directly transferred itself onto the page in a direct relationship. I got out a blank notebook and started addressing my tormentors, the captors of my spirit; address the walls and blockages , to say what I couldn’t say to anyone else. Was the poetry horrible? Oh yeah, of course. It couldn’t have been any different. I had read Yeats, came across a few others in whatever random oratorical speaking event or English class I had stumbled across, and of course song lyrics from New Order, The Replacements and the like. But–and I don’t know if it was any different for anyone else–the lyric mode of address managed to reorient how I saw the world, and allowed me to create hope (I miswrote this as “home”, which works too) when there was none in sight.

Of course, things did get better, slowly and surely, and I started to accrue craft and some measure of experience and confidence. And then, sometime in college, the Rilkean decision to commit my life to writing, come hell or high water. With lots of both since then–not there haven’t been other torments, and other painful and spectacularly bad choices, but I was fighting for my soul in high school.

And I guess when you actually fight for your soul do you come to believe that the soul exists.

In that sense, then, deep down I’m still that same kid–vulnerable, using the sentences at my disposal to try to unlock the cage of my own insecurities and gently extract the leaves. And I do suspect that a lot of us in this particular field (let me know if this is being presumptuous, or not applicable to your situation!), with our own adolescent cauldrons that are only remembered in glimmers, such as right before falling asleep or stumbling upon one of your tormentors on Facebook. But these are our creation myths, the common soil that we have planted our roots in, the lyric of struggle and flowering in the spring sun. I can’t pretend for a second that I’m not who I’ve been.


OK, hopefully this will help.

I found this snippet on a book panel re: SXSW that I thought was illuminating in regards to some of the attendant issues of authorship and culture that I’ve danced around in previous posts:

# An author is no longer an individual working in a room alone, but the leader of an online “tribe” of followers –- the people who comprise the author’s audience. Several example kept coming up, wine guy Gary Vaynerchuck, author of Crush It!, business guru Seth Godin; and Kroszer’s favorite example, The Pioneer Woman, who “could organize a tour on her own without the help of a publisher.” The consensus, from another panel –- “Scoring a Tech Book Deal” was that a potential author needed a minimum of 5,000 Twitter followers. [this social calculus is pretty funny –ed.]
# For non celebrities, social media is the way most authors will get this tribe. This can be difficult for some traditional authors. [emphasis mine]

This goes far beyond paper book vs. digital book. This is a fundamental change in the way text (to use the broadest sense of term) is constructed. We are indeed entering a true post-Romantic era, with many attendant positives and negatives that come with any seismic change. And these changes will absolutely change the content of fiction, as well as other disciplines. This is, in itself, nothing that revelatory. Probably thousands of others have said this is happening, or will happen, over the last 15 years or so.

The problem is that the tribe isn’t always right. God knows I love engaging with readers and other writers, but what, exactly, are the parameters of these pseudo-nano-states? I don’t want to take this metaphor too literally (obviously, unless we are in the real of interpersonal writerly experiments, most writers are still going to be “individuals working in a room alone.”). We are not in a troubadour era of oral culture. This interdependence for the written culture of reading silently (and in relative spatial isolation) is a drastic change.

And yet, to move it into the realm of fiction, and partic. speculative fiction (of all stripes) what does this entail for the content of stories? The subject matter? (Looking at the matter as a living, tactile thing?)

In other words, can the thoroughly modernist concerns of our fiction be served by this new world of tribalism?

Because, like it or not, the structures and “information embedding” of the stories themselves are still thoroughly Modernist. Ideally, the stories and novels that are brought forth as “the best and the brightest” in our field pay at least lip service to concerns such as, but not limited to: characterization, emotional resonance, the elicitation of surprise, immersion, perhaps even a sense of the secular numinous. This is where the Romantic bleeds into the Modern (using Poe as the pivot): the crucible of our fictions that have beginnings, middles, and ends.

And yet, the delivery of these stories is increasingly brought about by a play of surfaces: social media juice, buzz, and linkage; for a purely mundane example, I think about the open calls by people to nominate their story or novel on their blogs, tweets, etc. This is purely on the realm of horse trading, which has always existed–but it’s existing, perhaps for the first year ever in the SF/F field, in a completely different way than ever before in 2010, and the reason why this is the case is perhaps illuminated by the quote from the beginning of this post.

Perhaps it’s just a lagging indicator, and our storytelling forms will, in time, embrace different ways to deliver prose that matters in different ways than we thought possible. Perhaps. And this would indeed be a recalibration of the field that somehow manages to find the sweet spot between narrative depth and structural uncertainty. But until then, it’s “old wine in new barrels.” And the writer’s relationship to his or her materials–i.e., the space of a social media–is one of crucial importance. But as of now, in this time of transition, it’s really the “worst of both worlds”–the two worsts being:

1. the 1930s-1940s Golden Age notion of being a “pro”, which entails churning out quantitative work at all costs, cultivating status of being a “pro”, being ruthless toward aesthetic indeterminism.

2. the early 21st century branding of “self” in the hyper-public sphere of cyberspace (which very might look and feel like a real Self!), inculcating oneself with favors through the social network, embracing conglomerations and alliances of various tribes together to affect short-term gains in the field.

Finally, it has to be asked–what is the ultimate goal of the self-described digerati with literature in the first place, as a class? What is their use with literature? I honestly don’t know, and perhaps it is my bewilderment, or my own density of this issue, that drives me to explore this.

Maybe I’m writing this because I have deep misgivings which are my own and mine alone. I see, along the edges of sight, this ruthlessness creep up and pounce. I see takedowns and pettiness and it isn’t pretty. There have even been occasions when throughout the years I haven’t been on my best behavior myself. Writing isn’t necessarily a field in which to “feel justice” or equanimity. I do, however, think that this aforementioned tribalism gives a sense of false equanimity, false democracy. Which isn’t the same as community or truth. Where I do feel the need for truth is in my own voice–and that is certainly my “early Renaissance humanism” at work. (It took me many years to realize that I’m not a postmodernist. Imagine that.)

And I want other writers, especially ones just starting out, to realize that there are other ways to go about becoming a good writer besides getting 5,000 Twitter followers (okay, this is a metaphor…mostly), or getting one’s tribe up and running before going deep inside oneself and finding out what you need to say–what you really need to say, with gnarled persistence, and, yes, plenty of alone time.

Total Oblivion, More or Less released today + Announcement

Well, at the end of a long day, two dogs sacked out next to me and our oldest cat somewhat skittishly on the arm of my couch, I have to look back at it and really try to take stock of it. The book came out today, and I did, in fact, see it “in the wild” on a shelf (well, on a dolly waiting to be shelved), which was needless to say very exciting. It also is kind of odd that there’s a calmness to this excitement, mixed with a large part of gratitude and introspection regarding all the people who helped bring this book into being. I’ve come to realize that, with any production of writing into a public medium (a book, online, wherever), there are a whole host of people who helped it along its way. We take this for granted with movies–that it’s never one person’s work that springs from his or her forehead, but with novels–when it makes the transferrence from writing into a book (if that makes sense), I think the culture kind of assumes that it’s that singular person carving a block of wood into a statue in the middle of the woods. OK, weird metaphor, but I think you see the point. The point is, there are a ton of “producers” and “editors” and “set designers” that bring a book into being. It’s truly a collaborative effort. What’s going to be interesting, I suspect, in the next ten years is how these interrelationships are going to change with the advent of more fully digital book distribution. But that is another blog post…

So if you get the book and you read it and want to drop me a line, feel free to. Would love it. Even if you don’t like the book or have mixed feelings about it–that’s okay; no one is forced to like everything.

Also, if you can’t buy the book, libraries are truly awesome and your friends! Request the book at your friendly local library. That way, you can think of it as regifting it for someone else who might stumble upon it on the shelf…

FINALLY, I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how the writing we do intersects with the political realities we are faced with in our current day. Some of my latest stories (such as the one in Interfictions 2–speaking of a great assemblage of collaborative energy!) and of course Total Oblivion delve into these issues as part of their fictional underpinnings. But if there’s the opportunities for something more, even in a small way–the tiniest platforms that our writing affords us–then we should do our best to seize them.

And in particular, regarding families around the world who are uprooted as refugees, in dangerous, frightening situations — this is something that isn’t a fictional abstraction, but something that happens every day.

Mercy Corps is a charity that I really believe in, and have for years. They do amazing work with refugee and displacement crises, among a host of other complex issues. I’ve set up an online fundraising page for them. I do hope that, if you’re passionate about these social justice issues (and I know you are!), you’ll make a donation to Mercy Corps here. Even a small amount would be absolutely superb.

But wait, there’s more! In order to provide a more direct engagement with the book, if you make a donation on this page, drop me a quick note ( and I’ll send you something extra: a one-of-a-kind paragraph of ephemera and apocrypha set in the world of the novel, made just for you! It could be a snippet of a travelogue from a city unwritten about along the Mississippi, an Imperial naturalist’s description of strange flora and fauna of Middle America, a postcard from a soldier in the Bemidji Irregulars back home to mom. Anything and more. And I can send it by post or email. I’m easy. (River transport of mail post is forthcoming.) Just let me know which you’d prefer and I’ll get it out to you in about a week. So hopefully we can, in some small way, assist others in making an impactful change.

Because the most important piece of the puzzle I described above, in terms of a novel as a collaborative effort, is the reader. Without the reader, the work doesn’t live and breathe. And perhaps this is a way we can together make the work live and breathe in a real-life way.

And thanks out there. For everything.

The Seventh and a Half Floor Elevator Operators’ Union

Let’s talk about the persona. Which is nothing new. The face I present to you isn’t my own face. How close? It’s hard to say.

What the writer in the 21st century networked economy offers is “face time.” Access and ease of use with the materials of one’s life. A small door, like the one on the seventh and a half floor in Being John Malkovich. (A prescient movie about the court of minor celebrity if there ever was one.)

There is always ejection, though, if not rejection (and maybe not as gracelessly as next to the NJ Turnpike). The openness is almost always a closed system. The “life of the writer” is offered as a secret system. Biographical material–whether whimsical or serious–are ice floes going forward on a madly rushing river. One blink and it’s farther downstream.

Writing, and by extension reading, is supposed to teach us how to pay attention. But is it valuable to pay attention to our own distractions? No matter how charming they may be? Why are particular tones taken as opposed to others?

The flesh and blood of interior thought. The rising motions and crestfallen frustrations. Their revelations are only another way to hide them. In plain sight.

It’s silly, for one, to think that fiction writers aren’t cultivating their personas as fictions. It is, after all, what they’re good at. None of this is a cause for chagrin, really. The essaying rumblings still can move us. But it’s good to wonder whether the writer is the incarnation or the persona? Which gives birth to the other?

In other words, reader, I can’t give you what you already possess. It’s already yours. “In a letter from the 1970’s, JH Prynne compares himself to a tree in a forest and asks why he should give the reader an axe.” (source) The power to create whatever meaning you choose has always been in your hands, and this is true no matter what the type of sentence.

really can’t fathom a title for this.

What is geekier on the part of my early nineties self?

1. Writing fanfic based on Moria (a Roguelike)

2. Playing Magic the Gathering with others over a TELNET BBS. (honor system in describing the cards textually).

Both on a VAX/VMS system.

You decide!

on 9/13/03

5 years ago today, Kristin and I married. I don’t know what’s more surreal or harder to believe–that we’ve been married for 5 or together for more than 10. I mean, seriously, where has this time gone?! I am one lucky guy to have the partner, best friend, and wife that I do; breathtakingly blessed–every day I’m reminded of that.


You see it in sports events more now, how the cheering is more orchestrated. The fun is more and more at the mercy of the venue. Signs are handed out with pre-printed messages of support (Ravens support Phelps, in Baltimore, during a meaningless preseason NFL game). You also saw at the DNC how well this was timed–at one point the delegates are holding signs depicting one message, but then they will suddenly be holding signs saying BIDEN. Or whatever. The camera cuts help syncopate this–we are on the train, and the billboards change, but before we can see the final billboard flip over we go into the tunnel…

…and on the other side of the tunnel we are under siege in the Saintly City! I don’t really put too much faith in the orchestration of these protesters, these kids seem so cliched in their confusion as to be Republican plants! St. Paul is a knot to begin with, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see the noose tighten. One of the real stories in America, of which this RNC militarization charade is only one part of, regards relatively small police departments like this one:

The Richland County (S.C.) Sheriff’s Department has acquired an armored personnel carrier complete with a turret-mounted .50-caliber belt-fed machine gun for its Special Response Team.

Sheriff Leon Lott told the Columbia State newspaper that he hoped the vehicle, named “The Peacemaker,” would let the bad guys know that his officers are serious.

“We don’t look at this as a killing machine,” Lott told the paper. “It’s going to keep the peace. We hope the fact that we have this is going to save lives. When something like this rolls up, it’s time to give up.”

Ok, I really don’t have anything more to say.

Sequence–these really discrete packets of “posts”, like trading posts along a trail–doesn’t really work as a paradigm when you want to say 50 things at once.

But real life is not an abacus.

It was our 10th Wiscon (!) and it was great as usual. Very mellow for me, except for the karaoke party, of course, which was a ton of fun admist all the planning chaos–

–this movie on IFC now? Kontroll? Very strange. A rave, inside a subway station?–

and well worth the effort. I didn’t do any paneling or readings. I observed and was a participant and that was all good. That will undoubtedly change next year.

Was surprised how many people thought I had still stopped blogging–

no, that was a mere 24 hour certainty!

–which made me a bit sad, because I do need to spruce up this place, a lot, I had tried to upgrade to the latest version of WordPress but no dice…

The dog is using my elbow as a pillow. Nothing wrong with that.

I need to go to bed; I’m still not entirely caught up on sleep from the New Mexico trip, I think. More soon, very soon…


In Taos for the Rio Hondo workshop, where Kristin and I have been having quite the blast. Building small cairns inside hollowed out logs, approaching steep waterfalls, watching blizzards fall, fiction, Fat Tire, friends new and old. Back on Sunday, and then–Wiscon…where I’ll probably see 80% of you.

Trying to place what can be placed with my writing inside of my own head, and letting go what I can’t. I don’t quite know what that means, yet.


Many times have I started writing this. My iBook is gimped and I still haven’t figured out comments on this fucking blog. It kind of dampens the “exchange” part of this exchange. You have to register on this site to comment, which I want no one to have to do. I can’t find the right toggle, and I don’t have the wherewithal on aforementioned gimped computer to upgrade the WordPress. It’s a holding pattern. And on the other hand, it doesn’t really matter. My cell phone is 3 years old too–I need a new one (the pause in the words appearing after my hands hit the keys…that is the creaking machinery, I see it); omg it’s hard work keeping up…up with being relentless! I could use those things but I don’t need them. No one’s starving here.

In other news, God hates our coffeemaker. The….what is it called? Beaker? Beaker shattered when Kristin dropped it, and then a few days later one of the cats went on the stove, toggled one of the burners to ON, and the cord of the coffeemaker also went ON, as in, caught on fire, which spread to the coffeemaker. 2 foot high flames ensued and Kristin was quick and calm and put it out (foam everywhere for a few days…still everywhere, really, in the nooks). That was at 11:30 at night about a week ago, we were very lucky because Kristin was out earlier and I was asleep. She just happened to be at home and not asleep at a very odd time of the day. So it might have been very very bad. God 1, coffeemaker 0.

Whirring and stalling, whirring and stalling…

Oh this frustration–when “it just has to work!” Oh, this frustration is so…damn frustrating!

Time to drown ourselves in gadgetry.

I just came across this nugget from the Wilderness Survival Guide (AD&D, 1st ed., p. 103, don’t ask):

But if you create a world where “mountains” are made of wood (for instance), your players are going to ask questions and you’re going to have some explaining to do: Are these wooden mountains slippery? Do they burn? Can the characters get splinters if they’re not careful?

To which I say, yes, yes, and yes!!!!

I think I figured it out.