Hey folks, if you happen to be from St. Louis and reading this, I’ll be reading there tomorrow at 7pm with some other folks as part of the Exploding Swan reading series. It will be at a farm. In the city. Precisely, Slow Rocket Farm on 1944 Cherokee St. So I do hope you can make it and swing by!
As noted on my Appearances page (quick, look above you), I’ll be reading w/ three other fabulous writers under the aegis of “The Ways We Come of Age”, 6:00 at the UVA Bookstore. I’ll be around all weekend in town, and at the Author’s Reception for the VA Festival of the Book, so feel free to say hi. This is an honor and privilege for me, having received my MFA at Virginia when I was a wee lad of 23; I’ve grown (well, I hope) a lot since then, but I’ll always treasure that time in Charlottesville and the mentors and friends I had there. And it’s great to be back again.
On the Appearances page, you can see where else I’ll be roaming next week: Richmond, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Asheville! Also, starting in Richmond one other thing that I wanted to do is a real-life extension of what I’ve been doing online and that is fundraising for Mercy Corps. This blog post here talks a little bit about the online efforts, but essentially: Mercy Corps is a fantastic organization that works all around the world to better the lives of ordinary people. (In particular, you can read about what Mercy Corps is doing in Haiti: http://www.mercycorps.org/countries/haiti).
So anyone that happens to come by the reading in the flesh and makes a donation of at least $5 will receive an impromptu micro-story written for them, then and there, set in the world of Total Oblivion, More or Less. I’ll also take requests–if you want a few sentences about your uncle, your dog, whatever…I can do that. And you don’t even need to buy a copy of the book (although if you DO, I’d be more than happy to inscribe it in the pages therein). Of course I’m still fundraising online as well, so if you can’t make it you can still participate and I will send you a little story either by email or postcard!
It’s been a really busy month, so I thought I’d do some small-batch catch-up:
Total Oblivion got a great review from the LA Times.
I also partook in the Big Idea out in John Scalzi’s blogosphere, where I delved into some of the ideas of oblivion that informed the book. Very fun.
The novel also made the 2009 Locus Recommended Reading List!
I updated my reading itinerary; coming to quite a few places, so check out the Appearances above.
Music-wise, go download the new album by Colombian musical collective Systema Solar–it’s free from their site. But if that’s not enough, their video will force you to fall in love with them!
I’m absolutely in love with the Reebok Basquiat shoes. It’s just good to know they’re out there:
Be well, everyone.
They’re replacing the furnace in our house, so as the living room gets colder and colder, I’m typing faster, as if that will provide some heat. But before I set up some space heater contraption, I thought I’d post this, before the new year: a relatively short outtake from Total Oblivion, More or Less. Consider it apocryphal! (But then again, most of the novel is anyway.)
Wishing you all a safe and happy new year.
The Watcher’s Journal
[note: journal entries of Imperial signal corps vision-engineer Nike Proclus, stationed in Transocean gulf watchtower (ex-Shell coat-of-arms), equidistant from Lafayette to Nueva Roma. Nike’s journal, written on palm-sized scrolls, was transmitted to Nueva Roma via carrier kingfisher to the Emperor himself.]
Dolphin’s Month 2
Bats chase seagulls. I don’t know where the bats have come from. Is there a cave that I don’t know about in the vicinity? No. I am two days sail from Nueva Roma. And north of me… I look for islands and signs, but I haven’t found them yet.
The bats are white.
Dolphin’s Month 4
I do have a little garden, with vegetables I have brought from the swamps of Orlando, on the aft of my platform. The red squash and kelp do well in this climate. I had wanted to bring chickens to the watchtower—for companionship besides the ethereal gulls, but it was vetoed by the signal corps. Perhaps it’s just as well. The bats have taken to harassing the gulls, and I can only dare to think what they would have done with flightless birds. This evening, I found a gull in my garden with one of its wings gnawed off, presumably by the bats. I suspect that they are hiding somewhere in the watchtower.
Dolphin’s Month 7
Am I only imagining the bats? I haven’t seen them since I had found the one-winged gull.
Cool wind. Then rain that lashes the platform. The tower rocks. I hear the groaning of the sea and imagine serpents coiling around the foundations of my lonely post.
Dolphin’s Month 9
Bats are back, like they have never left. I think they are watching me when they think I’m not looking.
I leave a plate of succotash for the bats on the opposite end of the platform from the garden. They are uninterested.
Dolphin’s Month 10
Perform a full inventory of my storehouses and quarters. They have been undisturbed. I miss land for the first time in a year.
How many days until the supply boat? Five.
At sunset, witness gull and bat spar. Gull loses and drops into the sea. I’m tempted to fish the carcass out, but it would require unfurling the ladder and readying the raft, and I’m too tired. The gull sinks soon enough anyway.
Dolphin’s Month 11
Sore throat. Mist. I can’t see the bats, though I can hear their wings, and the gull shrieks. I keep to my bed, only taking to the watchtower twice for the customary reconnaissance. Which is futile anyway.
The sea is phosphorescent as I write this. The mist hasn’t cleared, either. All I can see is gray and green.
Dolphin’s Month 12
Mist’s cleared. The platform is littered with gulls, in various forms of severance. All is quiet. I take the morning to clean their carcasses and the blood.
When night comes, in a fit of inspiration (or madness?), I do, in fact, drop the raft into the water and roll the ladder down. I row underneath the platform. It’s shadowy. Hanging underneath the platform on the beams are scores of the white bats. They are not the same as the bats I have known on land–they seem to hunt only in day and sleep at night, like any person would.
Dolphin’s Month 14
Black speck on the horizon. Is it really there? I check again with my lens, calculate the distance. Impossible to tell without knowing the size of the craft. So it’s pointless.
Perhaps a whale?
I make a trap for the bats, involving canned meat, box and string. But they don’t trigger it. Smart.
Dolphin’s Month 15
Supply boat arrives late in twilight. Crew of two seems none too pleased. They bring a lordly kingfisher. Wine. More succotash. Bundle of letters from my wife.
(My Emperor, if you read this, don’t think that these details have no use to the Empire. I stand vigilant here to protect her, and those like her.)
I tell them about the speck, but they have no use for it. They think the vision-engineers are strange on account of their exceeding loneliness. Yes, well.
The kingfisher is caged and is agitated.
Dolphin’s Month 16
The sailors seem eager to go. They eye the swooping bats with great apprehension. I tell them they haven’t harassed me, but they are suspicious, as if I’m colluding with them. I don’t tell them about the bats’ resting place. The sky is empty of gulls.
The speck remains the same.
I consider telling the about the speck, but the evidence is still too inconclusive.
They leave, sullenly.
I miss them, and yet I’m glad when the bats, two leagues out, swarm on them. I watch.
Dolphin’s Month 17
It’s too much.
Dolphin’s Month 18
The speck grows larger.
Dolphin’s Month 22
Bats are in the kitchen.
The speck has turned into a boat.
Why haven’t they killed me.
Dolphin’s Month 23
So, the trap. I have set it every day but it remains unsprung. The bait, I realize, has been insufficient. I realize that now.
My wife, I say to myself, I hope you forgive me, that you’ll be able to kiss my missing finger, my ghost digit and make it better.
The trap works. I’ve listened to a bat screech for five hours inside the box. The ship hasn’t revealed its heraldry.
The kingfisher looks ashamedly at my mutilation. I’ve named him Rufus.
Dolphin’s Month 24
Right before dawn, I extract the bat and dissect the bat in my quarters.
Only it’s not a bat.
At least it’s not the kind that I have been familiar with.
The fur is like a whale’s bristles. The eyes are covered by a membrane. Tiny webs along the legs.
I toss it back.
[The next page’s script is blurred beyond recognition. Whether this occurred during the kingfisher’s transit or beforehand is impossible to say.]
Egret’s Month 2
I see twenty-two craft now.
Gave them many signals, in every code I know.
Rufus is restless.
Egret’s Month 3
Have watched their first volley with a deck-side trebuchet. Two hundred yards shy. They are testing me. It won’t be long. I extinguish the tower fire. I’m writing this at my own perch, the kingfisher beside me. When I am finished writing this, I tie the scrolls around Rufus’ leg. And I will wait. Rufus will speed past the bats–I know this. Its heart racing as he makes his way to Nueva Roma.
He has a head start.
Hi folks, for those in town, I’ll be signing (and chatting and the like) at Uncle Hugo’s in Minneapolis, this Saturday from 1-2 p.m. The last week, I know, has been full of these little semaphores as there’s been much busyness and much afoot, but I hope to get back in the blogging swing of things very soon!
I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants this week, but wanted to let everyone know that I’m going to be on KFAI in the Twin Cities, on the Write On radio show that runs from 11-12 am Central (not sure when exactly I’ll be on during the show). You can listen live right at kfai.org, or the show will be archived there as well (I’ll come up with the more specific link when I have it available). That’s 90.3 Minneapolis and 106.7 in St. Paul if you are in town.
Also! the book release reading is tonight at Common Good Books (Selby and Western), St. Paul 7:30 p.m. You’ll need a passport from either the Empire of the Agreeable Lands or the Scythian Confederation to attend but if you don’t have one on your person, one will be provided for you. A reception and signing follows. Please come by!
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 (adeniroATgmail.com) 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.
It’s a bit belated, but Total Oblivion, More or Less received a starred review from Booklist:
TOTAL OBLIVION, MORE OR LESS by Alan DeNiro:
For 16-year-old Macy, the whole world has gone crazy, quite literally. Barbarians from antiquity have invaded America, while bizarre plagues and impossibly shifting landscapes ravage her Minnesota homeland. Together with her parents, sister, brother, and a possibly evil dog, Macy sets out down the Mississippi on an adventure that takes her into the smoldering ruins of St. Louis, aboard a wooden submarine that’s bigger on the inside than outside, and finally into the stone-skyscraper capital of Nueva Roma. All the while she dodges oil-men turned slavers, plague-instigating wasps, an albino bounty hunter, and, perhaps most dangerous of all, her scheming younger brother. DeNiro (who flaunted a knack for offhand SF oddness in Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, 2006) makes sure never to do anything as dull as explaining what the heck is going on—we simply accept that the world has become a surreal, historical landscape come to life and move on. He drops in so many tantalizingly inspired touches—the new (old?) empire considers Post-it notes a precious natural resource—that leaving his inside-out America at the end is almost painful. There aren’t many writers who take weirdness as seriously as DeNiro does, and fewer still who can extract so much grounded emotion, gut-dropping humor, and rousing adventure from it. A dizzying display of often brilliant, always strange, and definitely unique storytelling. — Ian Chipman
There was also a strong review by Faren Miller of the book in the most recent issue of Locus. Some parts:
Their journey south…sometimes resembles a stressed-out teenage Ballard’s take on an American classic like Huckleberry Finn: hallucinatory madness laced with more blatant social satire…but also with scenes of genuine poignancy. Total Oblivion offers more than just an antic apocalypse or a non-SF writer’s sidelong approach to dystopia. Like the people who survive its trying times and the river tha runs through it, beneath all the madness there’s something to be gained, something that endures.
From Publishers Weekly:
As this peculiar but entertaining first novel begins, geography and cosmology have shifted. Natural laws work unpredictably. The U.S. government has disappeared and plundering bands of Goths and Scythians roam the Midwest. Sea serpents close the shipping lanes, and oil companies convert their tankers into slave ships that cruise the Mississippi. Clear-eyed, tough-minded teen Macy Palmer flees St. Paul with her family for the illusory safety of an island in the Gulf of Mexico. As they travel through a wavering postapocalyptic landscape, her relatives undergo upsetting personal metamorphoses. DeNiro has attracted attention for his short fiction (especially the Small Beer Press collection Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead), and this longer story’s energy ebbs a bit as Macy gets some of the oddness under control. Nonetheless, it’s an impressive debut from a promising writer.
After Minnesota is overrun by ancient Scythians and a wasp-borne plague, 16-year-old Macy and her family embark on adventures of ever-escalating weirdness as they make their way down the Mississippi toward safety that no longer exists.
DeNiro (stories: Skinny-Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, 2006) opens his debut novel in semi-comic register, as the family struggles to adjust to a weird new order involving soldier-looters in Lakers jerseys, the shuttering of all non–fast-food businesses, SUV chassis towed by mules and a scar-faced guard at the family’s riverside internment camp who sends Macy a looted necklace via her younger brother Ciaran. “I had a disfigured stalker with a sword,” she wisecracks. “This made going stag to junior prom look like a joke.” The mood grows steadily darker and grimmer. First Ciaran gets involved in intrigues among factions of the anachronistic warriors who have overrun the entire country and are battling for turf from coast to coast. The family manages to escape on a boat that limps south toward St. Louis, where Macy’s father, an astronomer, keeps insisting that a university job awaits him. Along the way both Macy and her mother are stricken with the plague; Macy’s sister runs off and is sold into indenture; they encounter elephants and giraffes, a wooden submarine and a talking dog. Eventually Ciaran is captured and sent south to Nueva Roma for trial and execution. Their father, now thriving in the former St. Louis as an astrologer, dispatches the recovered Macy to the grand delta capital to see if anything can be done to help her brother.
A fast-paced, suspenseful dystopian picaresque, part Huck Finn and part bizarro-world Swiss Family Robinson, with the latter winning out—to the benefit of those reading for plot and perhaps the disappointment of those looking for literary ambition.
Really very happy with the way it’s turned out. Many thanks to the art department at my publisher.
Hey folks, the novel — eek, the novel! It’s coming out in November, which is, like a blink. So things are continuing apace in preparation of its release. I’ve set up a Twitter “news” feed set in the world of the novel. Highly apocryphal, but would you expect anything less from Jack Anubis Enterprises? Anything you want to know on the upper Mississippi — troop movements, festivals, strange sightings, etc. — go ahead and follow.
And another blurb!
“Wow! This is a wonderfully weird, fun, touching, heartfelt and memorable novel. Imagine if Huck Finn had been living in post-apocalypse America, and Terry Pratchett had been promoted to God, with George Saunders as his avenging angel. The world of this book is a little like that. In this case, the role of Huck is played by a sixteen-year-old-girl named Macy, whose smart, mordant, utterly convincing voice grounds our journey through this crazy landscape. Macy reminds us that no matter how surreal things get, there is still resilience and hope in the human spirit. Alan DeNiro has created a hilarious and terrifying dream world, but his real genius is that he’s peopled it with characters we come to love.”
–Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply, You Remind Me of Me, and National Book Award finalist Among the Missing.
Much more sooner rather than later!