Category Archives: Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead

John from Cincinnati

“I’m just saying give me the weight. That’s all I’m saying. I’m here. Let me take it.” –Mitch, episode 10

One of the best shows I’ve ever seen, even though the last few truncated episodes (out of only ten) definitely have the echoes of the HBO executives screaming off screen: “Pencils DOWN! Pencils DOWN! Uh…You are weird and unprofitable!”

And, despite the weirdness, it’s not about esoterica but rather is an exploration of the exoteric. John (from Cincinnati, kind of, depends on what you believe the city of Cincinatus) appears in Imperial Beach and sets about letting, and showing, everyone that the end is near. It is. John is the end, and also the beginning. He shows that the need for community is plain and simple, and the signs and wonders that bring the disparate characters together Love your enemies, even if they’re the fuckers who you think have ruined your life. John’s foibles and miracles creep upon the Yost family, broken beyond almost any recognition. But they heal. The show does an amazing job of letting the fantastic elements (the levitations and resurrections) work asymetrically–you think that the characters don’t realize what the heck is going on, until they start postulating on the nature of the supernatural events. For all of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez-like surfing-town antics, this isn’t a work of magic realism. It’s much more of a Dantean allegory. The Yosts start at the bottom, but hope rises with each episode. Hope becomes incarnate. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe. Many reviewers of the show decried the fact of this allegory:

In “John,” you get the feeling that Milch is using the characters as hooks on a pegboard, on which to hang his philosophical wares. The writing in the series just has no pleasure in it, not as it hits the ear or in terms of getting us any closer to these people and their problems, mundane or existential. (source)

A matter of taste is one thing, but to say that the language of this show doesn’t “hit the ear” is that mainstream trick of ignoring all types of non-realism that don’t fit your definition of appropriate, well-measured non-realism. It’s also fucking daft:

“Bill: Sweet enough look to his mug, “I got my eye on you”. [What John constantly tells Bill, a retired cop, played by Ed O’Neill] When he restrains himself from running his mouth. (Bill has an apple, he motions to Zippy to keep it a secret from the other birds) Far as him being stabbed, I’m not doubting it could have been a hoax, I don’t subscribe it definitely was … (He’s slicing up the apple) being I and a bird of my acquaintance know a boy who survived fatal injury, following the bird’s own resurrection. Sole change from what I said to you previous, Zip: Last overlap between me and the Yosts, Butchie asking my help with that search. A P.S., my assistance. An end to the concluding chapter, and final completion and finish. (He’s handing some apple slices to Zippy. Suddenly he reacts to something he has “heard” coming from Zippy) That is senseless and offensive. I deal with that shitbird only to put him in bracelets. And I’m surprised you’d need me to say so. (We see Zippy bobbing on his perch, then squawks)

Is what you envision, relative to those people, I balance the Hawaiian’s bad influence? Well that, Zip, would outstrip by a full triple-somersault every previous unlikely set of circumstances. (He turns, grabs his jacket and leaves)”

Likely makes no sense, I realize, if you haven’t seen the show, but perhaps the greatest conversation between man and bird ever. (Seriously, Zippy the parrot is a wonderful character.)

Same review, different day, in other words.

And so what are we left with? A little less than 10 hours of an uphill climb to redemption. A warning and a promise. Big waves on a border town that humble all surfers, even the ones that manage to catch them. Maybe especially so. Derelicts and criminals and prostitutes building bonds, aware of these times of desperation, and willing to come together to do something about it in the spirit of prophetic imagination.

Oh, and Luke Perry.

Weekend + other

The weekend in Milwaukee and its general metropolitan environs was outstanding this weekend. Two street festivals! (Of very different, city mouse/country mouse characters.) A fun reading With People I Didn’t Know in attendance (always a good thing). Wonderful hosts (thank you, Mary and Bill). A visit to Woodland Pattern, where my jaw hit the floor. Picked up some poetry books that I’d been having my eye on for awhile (diving into Degentesh’s The Anger Scale, and having said mind blown).

In other news, this blog is almost five years old. WHAT?

LBC and mapping

Lots of A&V material at the Lit Blog Co-Op from last week. Probably more than I blogged than any other time in my life! But it was a fun week there.

Also, in Google Print, there is a cool map feature that shows the “pushpins” for places mentioned in a book. It was kind of interesting to see the places mapped out in mine.


Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead week at the Lit-Blog Co-Op. (I nearly typed that “Coin-Op”.) Will be posting there this week, but the content is already starting to come in! There will be a podcast and other material later in the week, so check it out!

Juniper Festival

Whirlwind. Landing in some miserable rain in Boston, driving through that rain, nearly accidentally sideswiping someone! Which was unnerving. Walking through Northampton after said rain running into Holly and then Kelly quite accidentally. At first reading of the night, ran into Kelli from my MFA program, who I hadn’t seen in 10+ years. Experienced readings throughout from such books as Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf and Structure of the Embryonic Rat Brain and Everyday Psychokillers, etc. etc. Was part of a panel at the Emily Dickinson homestead in a very tiny room. Encountered secret libraries behind secret doors (not in Emily Dickinson’s house, btw). Spent time, along with good hosts/publishers, with Matt and Meghan. Read from “Home of the”. After reception, went to Holly and Theo’s house, where some a******e was consumed. And heard, perhaps, the greatest drinking song bequeathed to humankind by drunkards. Had Swedish pancakes in the morning and departed back to the Loon State without incident. Whirlwind, but definitely worth it.


Off to Northampton/Amherst. See you, with any luck, at the Juniper Festival.

Review & News

First, a review of the book on the online edition of Rain Taxi. Check out the rest of the online issue–includes a fascinating review/pointer for Clark Coolige’s Bond Sonnets…espionage poetry from 1965!

Second…Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead has been chosen as the Read This! pick for Spring 2007 by the Lit-Blog Co-Op. I’m thrilled to be in such good company with the other finalists, and am really, really looking forward to the ongoing conversation, which will include much podcasting and blogging goodness. Stay tuned.

In Print report

Had a really fabulous time at the In Print festival at Ball State. The creative writing community there, teachers and students alike, was really hospitable, and there was a lot of fertile ground for thoughtful discussions. Flying there was pretty miserable (damn you, O’Hare); I only got into Muncie about a half hour before my reading which was…cutting it close (I only managed that through catching a standby flight). Once there, it was all aces. Fellow travelers Sharmila, Tracy, and David were fun to hang out with. Didn’t even mind the rain because it was so warm (at least compared to what I was getting way too used to in the Twin Cities). There were 150 people at the reading, which, having read mostly at venues (albeit great ones) in the 2-20 in the crowd variety, was very humbling. Thanks, everyone.

Now…it’s 75 degrees out and I think I’m going to take a walk now.


Two travels to speak of, so far this year.

Really excited about the In Print festival at Ball State. March 21-22. You can get all of the info there, if you happen to be in MUNCIE or ENVIRONS.

April 27th and 28th is the Juniper Literary Festival at the University of Massachusetts–2nd time in Amherst in a year! A great line-up of about 20 people whose first books recently came out. Besides the reading on the 28th, I’m part of a roundtable discussion on “Weird War: The Politics of Whimsy.” So if you’re in the area, swing by/up/down.


It was a busy week, so I was remiss in posting this exciting news: Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead has been chosen as one of three nominees for the Spring “Read This!” pick at the LitBlog Co-op. The other two books on the list seem really intriguing, and I reeeeaaally want to pick up Wizard of the Crow.

There will be textual/audio content about Skinny Dipping at LBC in upcoming months; will keep you posted.

Oh, and it’s 36 degrees outside, as opposed to minus 36 windchill, so it actually, kinda, feels like “spring”!

award news

Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead was named a finalist for the Crawford Award, for best first fantasy book. The winner will be announced at ICFA in March. Check out the rest of the finalists; it really is a thrill and honor to be in such good company.

two readings

I’m giving readings that are coming up that I’m very excited about, since they’re in my old neck of the woods:

Erie, PA
Saturday, Dec. 30, 2 PM
Erie Bookstore

Cleveland Heights, OH
Thursday, January 04, 2007 at 07:00 PM
with Sean Thomas Dougherty and Chris Barzak
Mac’s Backs

Please drop by if you’re in the area!

More Reviewage

Two thoughtful reviews of Skinny Dipping: at Green Man Review and DIAGRAM.

The Fourth in The Rake

One of the stories in my collection, “The Fourth,” is appearing in the September issue of The Rake, a great, great Twin Cities (I guess you could call it) alt-monthly. It’s free and can be picked up at tons and tons of places in the Twin Cities. If you don’t live in Minnnesota, however, you can still read the story free online at the Rake’s web site. It’s probably the most overtly political story I’ve written, and it’s sadly become less speculative and more mimetic with each passing year of this administration.

And, I’m probably sounding like a broken record, but I’ll be reading at Dreamhaven at 6:30 tonight.

Radio Tomorrow

I’ll be on the radio, KFAI, tomorrow around 11:30ish-noonish. That’s 90.3 Minneapolis and 106.7 St. Paul for those in town, OR you can listen online here. I’ll be reading an excerpt from one of my stories and talking about the book.

Also, a friendly reminder–I’m reading at Dreamhaven at 6:30 on this upcoming Tuesday!

more reviews

Two more reviews of the book are online: at Strange Horizons and Venus.

It’s stopped heatwaving outside.


The reading at Magers and Quinn was a lot of fun. There were indeed prizes for everyone, and some beverages were consumed. Afterward, a group of us went to the Uptown to watch A Scanner Darkly. And I had read “The Fourth,” so it was a paranoiac double-header!

And, btw, love that movie. It was pitch perfect with the novel. I was a bit leery of the cast but everyone came through, esp. Robert Downey Jr.

Book Release

Just a friendly reminder: Book release party for Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead is tonight, 7pm, Magers and Quinn, 3038 Hennepin in Minneapolis. Prizes for everyone and a reception afterward. Hope you can make it!

book’s notes

John Scalzi, over at his AOL journal By the Way, has interviewed me. Good and thoughtful stuff all around.

And, secondly, a review of the book from Time Out Chicago.

Readercon report

Started writing a longish con report.

Saved about halfway through.

Saved post nowhere to be found in my wordpress. noooooo!

I was barely holding it together with the con report to begin with. So now I’ll have to regroup a bit. Suffice to say, it was a fantastic time, and I met, and re-met, some of my favorite people in the world.

Post-Readercon in Northampton/Amherst/Cambridge was also a ton of fun. There are some amazing bookstores in that neck of the woods. I read with Ye Olde Lady Churchill’s Intern Players at Amherst Books, and I was deeply honored to do so. Equally honored to read with Dora Goss and Kelly Link at Porter Square Books the next night. Good and thoughtful crowds both nights. Besides my Readercon reading, which was also a blast, there was the Twenty Epics reading Saturday night with 5 other contributors (more on the anthology soon). I attempted, in Evil Knievel fashion, to read snippets from 15 stories from the Twenty Epics anthology. Whether I made it to the other side of the ravine/the twenty schoolbuses lined up end to end, or crashed n’ burned somewhere en route, is up to the audience to decide. And apologies to Dave Schwartz for attempting his accenty thing during my rendition of the story. Kristin was bemused/horrified but she is the real Minnesotan deal, so I couldn’t fool her.

More later.