by Carl Shuker, December 8, 2006 11:40 AM
RIDE OUT BOY AND SEND IT SOLID. FROM THE GREASY POLACK YOU WILL SOMEDAY ARRIVE AT THE GLOOMY DANE.
This was Tennessee's telegram to Marlon Brando on the opening night of A Streetcar Named Desire. I was watching, tonight, Brando as Mark Antony in 1953's Julius Caesar, standing on the senate steps over Caesar's body and seeming by his very vacillations to manipulate the crowd into revolution. And then he cries:
For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men's blood.
The irony was stinky. There was a Caesar. When comes another? It's the rage in his face, and the pleasure in his power, and his sophistication and the way Brando gets that Mark Antony is a great rhetorician and aware of it and even skeptical of it, his own gift, and aware that to be a great rhetorician he must also deny it ? it all got me thinking of the unkindest cut of all: not getting to see Brando do Hamlet. Can you imagine it? Circa 1954? When in possession of the most beautiful male body of the twentieth century?
To quote David Bowie: I would give someone else's left arm to see that.
It's been a hell of a week. Carlshuker.com is live and updated and though small, looking superb. The cover image is used in part on the cover of The Lazy Boys and is the work of a genius Russian photographer named Yuri Kozyrev, who is right now in and out of Iraq, and was in Afghanistan, and Beslan as it happened. The photo was taken in a Russian prison for a story on overcrowding, and I've been in love with it since 2000. It is now framed and on my wall. The video on the Method Actors page was directed and edited by a friend mentioned yesterday, Ryan Skelton, a filmmaker living in Tokyo.
It features some method actors from around the hood, so a shout-out of thanks to Anna K., Ryan, Anna S., Jun, Blake and Steve Ryan, who all read therein. If you have incredibly sharp eyes, you might detect your author holding a dark rug behind the readers as they read, which is perhaps an apt if slightly unpackable metaphor for a novel writer.
A lot of author web sites are goofy. So sincere and ugly, like it's a badge of authenticity. Perhaps more likely poverty. Some are unintentionally amusing. Clivejames.com has a brilliantly titled video section: "Talking in the Library." But he means what he says. Clive and a guest, erm, talking. In his library. As Clive confides:
Our production facilities, incidentally, consist of a couple of digicams hired for the night and an editing suite that fits under a bed. Guests are paid with a takeaway Chinese meal.
Actually it's rather good, especially the Martin Amis, who's one of the great conversationalists.
Not to mention, all other items listed on Monday's to-do list have been completed. For every wild mood swing the new book is showing hints of a final shining form. Have drunk and not drunk to excess. I have booked flights to St. Malo for new year at which time, God willing, I will collapse with a completed manuscript, sip cognac, and watch the storms.
And the mention of storms compels me to bring to your attention the fact that a tornado hit London this morning. A tornado, for crying out loud. Coming from Tokyo, and a fourth floor apartment built before the earthquake laws were put into effect, I have only now relaxed from the sort of eternal hypervigilance/constant superanxiety the frequent earthquakes and typhoons engendered in me the second time around. I was expecting a stolid, damp, and bracing England winter. When first in Tokyo, every earthquake was just exciting. A great surprise, like storms are. Then I gradually came to realize just exactly how stoic and fatalistic Tokyones are about the Big One. How the whole city is predicated on the fact that the Big One (sigh) is inevitable, and massive fatalities (shrug, helpless grin) are inevitable, and let's just accept that and stop whining. That's part of what it means to be a Tokyo-ko, or Tokyo child. Three generations born and bred and utter contempt for fear of death. In the aforementioned apartment my heart would pound every time the wind rattled the windows. But tornadoes! (An interrobang is warranted really, but I can't find one.) In London? Kensal Rise? Does this not sound alien? The BBC then says confidently, tornadoes are actually common in England, citing one in Birmingham a few years ago, another somewhere else. Also a few years ago. Freak weather occurrences in the last few years therefore warrant the adjective "common". Don't read of many tornadoes in Dickens through, do you. The whole world is the United States of Amnesia.
Apparently, Brando told Johnny Depp that by the time he had got to the point where he felt he could do Hamlet, it was too late. So he said, "Do it now, do it while you can."
So to sign off, I'd like to thank Powell's for their indulgence and their invitation to blog and say do it now, do it while you
by Carl Shuker, December 7, 2006 11:52 AM
Ah, it's a happy day of direction rediscovered, and vision restored.
Watching: that terrible tortured talent, Mike Figgis, The Loss of Sexual Innocence. Worth every misstep and over-reach for those moments of visuals and audio in perfect play: a blind woman's seeing-eye dog is attacked by a pack of dogs and, in a panic, and as she alone comes forward to help, she lashes Saffron Burrows in the face with her white cane.
Listening to: REM, I Remember California: just for that lyric: "the ocean's Trident submarines, lemons, limes and tangerines." Timo Maas, Pictures: A Brazilian friend of mine said to me, playing this song, a huge grin on her face: "This is the most disgusting song I ever heard in my life! Listen, listen!" Hitomi, There is… J pop is Japanese pop and is a genre unto its own for saccharine and repetition and the inducing of a glaze in the eyes of foreigners of every kidney all over the country. This song, though, this song…. My best and bilingual friend, Ryan Skelton, who took that rather dramatic author photo just above these words, quietly and gravely appalled at my obsession with this song, once offered to tell me exactly what she was singing about. "Oh god, no," I said, wisely.
Reading: the new book printed out on paper in toto, which of course now looks and behaves completely differently than it does on screen. I planned The Lazy Boys on twelve A4 sheets of paper pinned on my walls, which, each piece, got longer and longer as additions were made and further A4 sheets got stapled on the ends of the extant till it resembled some kind of medieval tapestry sewn in milieu-specific teenage insults. I wrote The Method Actors until I got lost in it, then carpeted the entire floor of my room with it in manuscript, divided by episode. It was as big as a Jackson Pollock, and I walked around and around it and through it, moving it, shaping it like it was sculpture. It was like I was living inside of it. This new one has a very rigorous structure and I'm working on fine resonances, on kinky interlinks and echoes and mysteries, dreamy repetitions and inner visions. It's like making a suitcase full of folded dreams.
Also reading: inspirational books for where I'm at right now: Richard von Krafft-Ebing's seminal study of nineteenth-century sexual deviance, Psychopathia Sexualis, which is simultaneously one of the most fascinating, comical and moving books I've read ? constantly sad despite a clinicism in the prose that can only be described as cheerful, especially in the reproofs of the time.
When Mrs. X removed the wig she lost at once all charm for her husband. Mrs. X recognized this as a hobby, and readily yielded to the wishes of her husband, whom she loved dearly, and whose libido depended on the wearing of the wig. It was remarkable, however, that a wig had the desired effect only for a fortnight or three weeks at a time. It had to be made of thick, long hair, no matter of what color.
The result of this marriage was, after five years, two children and a collection of seventy-two wigs.
I recommend reading it to Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings."
Crash, J.G. Ballard. Italo Calvino's incomparable Invisible Cities. Japanese and Francophile Kuki Shuzo's The Structure of Detachment, from 1930. Christopher Benfey, in his absolutely brilliant book on Americans discovering Japan, The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan, recognizes Kuki for seeing the happiness of Sisyphus in his endless task well before Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus. The Structure of Detachment is translated from Iki no Kozo, meaning literally "iki's structure". "Detachment" is the translator's judgment call and I don't like it, as a good part of the book is spent trying to define what the qualities of this elusive and (in English) indefinable thing ? variously translated elsewhere as chic, elegant, cool ? called "iki," are exactly. Kuki Shuzo spends pages and pages of beautiful, restrained and detached prose, saturated with examples drawn from literature, fabrics, pottery, ceramics, hairstyles, nature, architecture, and body language, in the definition of this single aesthetic category. It's dense, detailed, obsessive and totally, totally iki. Basically an encyclopedia of elegance.
When it comes to the sense of hearing, the natural form of iki as a physical manifestation shows in ways that language is used or certain words articulated. Examples come by way of situations described in terms like this: "The way she talks to a man is alluring, without a hint of sweet talk." Another example would be "No word or inflection is yabo [blogger's note: a rather onomatopoeic word for "boorish"]." This type of iki is also encountered in pronunciation or inflection at the ends of words. A word said slowly, in a drawl, suddenly cut short with an inflection at the end ? that is basic to iki in language use.
So it's also a sort of encyclopedia of self-control and self-consciousness, two very Japanese concerns we may benefit from in small and judicious portions.
by Carl Shuker, December 6, 2006 11:49 AM
Most everyone's read The Art of Fiction
and everyone's read Grendel
and most everyone's read On Becoming a Novelist
, but John Gardner's superb Mickelsson's Ghosts
is not much talked about. When I did my MA we read a transcript of Bill Gass and Gardner arguing their positions on narrative fiction, which I'll viciously paraphrase thusly:
Gardner: Writing of fiction builds a 747 that must obey certain physical laws in order to fly. I like Bill's stuff, and even when he's mean he writes so nice it don't matter. Bill's stuff, though, is so ornamented and the 747 so encrusted with jewels and finery and shiny trinkets it doesn't get off the ground.
Bill Gass: Yeah, but the reader believes it does.
I disappeared inside Mickelsson's Ghosts for a glorious week, made even more glorious if in a very impure way by the the inside scoop from The Art of Fiction on Gardner's manifold and intense struggles to make the book work. As does Gardner, Mickelsson the Nietzsche philosopher cools off from intense writing, thinking and desk-jockeying by making cabinets and tables and other pretty deeply involved woodworking. I'll grant that it doesn't really pan out for Mickelsson in the end, sanity-wise, but for every working writer, something physical and unabstract and at one with the warp and woof of the earth is highly recommended. I painted my sister's entire house while writing my first book. It helps. Both to keep you real and to remind you of what you don't want to do for a living.
So I was turned on to thoughts of Gass by blogging yesterday and then fortuitously this article on the audio version (all forty-five hours) of The Tunnel, brought to my attention by Powells. I had a chillingly expensive import Dalkey Archive copy of the book when Gass came to Wellington for the book festival, which I couldn't afford to attend, having spent all my quidlings on aforesaid, but I was determined to get it signed. I lurked outside to catch him leaving the Embassy (the theater, Peter Jackson-restored and -beloved of and venue for Wellington's book festival), and when he did, with his young and glamorous handler, I ran, like a dirty little fan, ran and ran, and caught him and declaimed, breathlessly: "I've read the first hundred pages and I think it's just the most amazing thing. The most incredible thing."
And Bill Gass said, "Oh you'll get over that." And signed it William H. Gass on that silky Dalkey paper.
And so it turns out as well as St. Malo for new year I'll be spending a few days upriver at a town called Saint Suliac. Here's how my friend describes it:
"If I understood it well, you will stay in an old farm where my grandmother used to get the milk when she was five. They were 9 brothers and sisters and as the older daughter, she was in charge of filling the bottle of milk at the farm. Saint Suliac is a nice little village. The weather is stormy, pouring. That is my favorite weather when you can enjoy the rain and the crazy sea from your window drinking a little cognac and imaginating how sailors used to go to Terre Neuve for six month in rough condition and brought back hareng and money to feed the kids and get drunk the most they could before leaving."
by Carl Shuker, December 5, 2006 11:27 AM
St. Malo a go go! Cf. yesterday
, I'm booked and good to go.
Ah, hatred! Failure produces hatred, I am convinced. "Having learned my lesson I never left an impression on…anyone…" ? A great Morrissey lyric, pre-the National Front flirtations. So I'm booked to go to St. Malo, so why am I distressed. 950 words of pre-edit trash is why. So bad it sits on the screen and sniggers. O hateful! Bad work makes for bad everything. I write in my room beside a park, and every day four or five people meet there to walk their dogs, or more correctly to let their dogs joust and jostle and try to roger each other. There's one dog, a pit bull terrier named Baloo (I like to think), or (David) Malouf (I also like to think, but can't quite discern). He's a wild one, and every day, seemingly just prior to me getting anything written of any quality whatsoever, I hear his owner in shrill tones call out, "Ba-looo, Ba-looo"; in this horrible, high, interrogative and yes, entitled iamb I've come to detest. It's every day, and Baloo won't listen. I know it's not a train or a jackhammer, but goddammit, Baloo, turn! Turn on her! Or leap the bounds of that tiny park and fly! Nietzsche at the end: "I wrote nice books, didn't I?" I've been thinking of Gass on his thirty years of The Tunnel ? that in writing a novel every possible motivation, positive and negative, is drawn upon, and that, for anyone who's read that book, is palpable. The bottle calls.
It's the Primal Scream! The last time I saw the Scream was in Tokyo, circa-the "XTRMNTR" album, and that was amazing, lighting and VJing, a crazy, aggressive, utterly self-assured and powerful and inspiring thing, a total and complete reinvention, and throughout Mani, ex-bass player for the Stone Roses, played in his prototypical, leaned-back-into-a-strong-wind stance, wearing a truly superb Clash "Combat Rock" T-shirt. Dear readers, it was I! Dear readers, it was I, who, after Mani stripped that T-shirt at the close of the concert and hurled it into the crowd, it was I who wrestled with several wiry and well-built young Japanese girls for possession of that T-shirt, which to this day I wear and carry everywhere (and have washed a few times). Mani's a bit older now so perhaps it's okay no such souvenirs were taken at Saturday night's gig at the Academy. It was a stripped-down gig ? no visuals, no frippery, but thankfully no straight-out Stones devotion either ? they played everything from "Screamadelica" to "Vanishing Point" to "XTRMNTR" to the new album. Because I was concerned. In the last few years I've had the opportunity to see several heroes in reprise live, and it's been sobering. At Summer Sonic in Tokyo, Ian Brown of the Stone Roses in a lime green shell suit monkey-walking his way through no less than five Roses songs before playing something new. I know he's tuneless but that's just charmless. Duran Duran on a different stage, and the formerly svelte and beautiful Simon le Bon horrifically bloated, churning out "Girls on Film." Line-up-wise, the Scream now have a young and beautiful reincarnation of Bobby Gillespie on guitar (with a gorgeous Gibson ES-355 that eerily resembled BB King's Lucille) who is named, apparently, "little Barrie" and is replacing legendary guitarist Throb live, but otherwise are relatively intact. And relatively rocked. So I considered myself justified in throwing sobriety to the wind and paid hideously the next day.
The best line I wrote today was someone else's:
"Le feu couve encore sous la braise," they say. "The fire still burns under ember." I love that.
A bad translation of a journalist on the Paris riots. On a related note, I'm kind of a David Fincher fan and was thrilled when in Cannes to discover the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité or CRS. This photo was taken shortly before the man beyond the officer stole the officer's phone. And then got shot. Kidding. Anyhow, in Fincher's The Game CRS stands for Consumer Recreation Services among many other things. There were so many of them in Cannes I sometimes felt I was moving through a filmic netherworld, where the riot police were recruited from the extras for action films that never got distributed. Never got "foreign berths." Well, I was thrilled and then oppressed. I'm the kind of guy who stares helplessly at police with machine guns at airports until they start to stare back. And I'm always carrying a stupid anonymous brown box.
And which the mention of a filmic David brings me to Mr. Lynch. I'm gagging to see Inland Empire. Literally gasping. There's some great video at http://www.davidlynchfoundation.org/, which is, yes, a real foundation founded by the real David Lynch, and devoted to the modest aims "of Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace," where in the Q and A at Emerson College the loveable Mr. Lynch refers to something or other as being "a hair absurd."
It is a hair absurd to hate the world when really you hate yourself. Hate failing.
Chip Kidd again: "Perhaps drinking and crying will reveal the answer." Read, if you are a writer, immediately, dfw's essay On the Nature of the Fun. He understands there's so much stress and self-beration and infant-coddling and infant-despair, especially in the last third of something, it's easy to forget about the fun part. Like, you chose to do this, why are you doing something that feels like total despair and second-rate silliness, time- and money- and energy-wasting trauma-collation, etc…. But I feel that as for the first third of a book, like Lynch says, though it is an unresolved trauma to have it unfinished (he was talking about Mulholland Drive when the network zapped the TV series) there's still all that room to dream ? and there are things to be constructed, so much stuff to do. Work to do. Then comes the last third of a book: you start to realize that this thing that you've made now has its own demands, its own constraints, for better or worse, and it's all almost over. But if you don't get the ending right then all the potential you saw when you started is doubly let down; not only is the beginning and the middle a sort of sorry betrayal of the dream's Platonic shape but the ending that was a vision and that would redeem the foregoing faults and warps and sags (and not to mention the sort of sophomore, predictable, goofy idea that gave the whole thing shape in the beginning anyhow, and the characterization you sacrificed for pace and the pace you sacrificed for characters that now don't go anywhere or if they do they go there really slowly, not to mention the actual first choice you made, the first goofy dream [or did I mention that], and let's not even talk about the title, and not even contemplate thinking about how it meshes with what came before and what's going to come next and there's an
by Carl Shuker, December 4, 2006 12:21 PM
London, England ?
The most exciting news of the weekend is that I'll be in St. Malo, France, for New Year. Anyone who's read The Method Actors knows I'm a Twelfth Night fanatic, and I'm a huge fan of Trevor Nunn's film from 1996, not least for Richard E. Grant, Mel Smith, and Ben Kingsley as Feste. It's a sweet, innocent, unassuming version of a fairly little-known play, but for me has a surreal, ominous edge ? marginalia-ed with the Japanese World War II atrocities I was reading about in depth at the time of the writing of The Method Actors. It tastes like cheap Chardonnay, feels like danger and irresponsibility and consequences coming. When you're writing a book and you're deep inside its world, what feel like coincidences arise from nowhere constantly. Along with Twelfth Night, Marlon Brando, pretty obviously, was an obsession during The Method Actors, and one of those coincidences was the discovery that Brando at age twenty played Sebastian at a production at the Long Island Sayville Summer Theatre. It's these coincidences that in your sober, clinical, detached moments are simply fortuitous, but in your wine-drunk, prose-drunk moments seem to suggest you're in tune with some deeper Potsage/W.A.S.T.E.-style conspiracy of the subconscious. Which I like.
Apparently Nunn's Twelfth Night was shot in Cornwall, and Olivia's house is a Victorian country house named Lanhydrock, but I can't confirm the exteriors for Orsino's castle ? some kind of beautiful little rocky island-castle connected with a cobbled path to the mainland, but separated at high tide. It's astonishing, and sort of imprinted in my mind from the period of writing that book. So through a friend I have this invitation to St. Malo, which I'd never heard of, for New Year, and a little preparatory research this afternoon turns up it's a walled city, isolated on an island in the mouth of the Rance River through most of the Middle Ages, where it watched over the estuary and the open sea (Corsairs and such raiding English ships passing by) and also turns up this picture of the place.
My first response being something like, Oh. My. God. My second being this is sort of almost exactly like my warped dream version of Orsino's castle, that déjà vu-type feeling that you know this place, and you've always known you were going to go here, and it's been waiting in your subconscious to be realized for more years than you can possibly know without some kind of in-depth psychoanalysis that would turn up all kinds of other evil, hideous stuff. It's a great, great feeling for a secularist whose own private god is a kind of spirit of creativity, and it bodes well for the book I'm working on now. I hope.
Because I'm writing about France, or Cannes in particular, and the film festival to be even more particular. From the perspective of a young woman who has lost her memory. This being the third part of a novel in three linked and interdependent novella/21st-century horror stories, about predation, memory loss and memory bleed, identity loss and identity bleed. And I can't say any more or some awful curse will be laid down, the matter expressed, and I will run out of why and how to say it. But I've Photosoaped (dfw-geeks ref alert) my own cover for the book, and no one will ever see this on a real book, so what better chance to show it off than here. (The logo rather blithely assumes my current publishers, the wonderful Shoemaker and Hoard, will want to publish me again.)
It's a writing cliché that every book is harder than the last, that it just gets more and more difficult, but it is sickeningly, chillingly true. So let's skip past that unpleasant part and say that even while your new book is that much harder and you're that much more frantic, anxious and inept than you were or felt you were last time, there is a certain accretion of confidence, a certain accumulation of memories of having shown will in the face of insurmountable difficulties in the past that after a certain and unspecifiable period of time you can begin to feel at your back, and that gives you something from which to push off. I often used to think fondly of Professor Ramsay in To The Lighthouse, trying to get to J out there on the water where no one has gone before. That gives you the adolescent cojones and the inflated self to get you moving. Then you think of Mrs. Ramsay, and that great maternal power, and the Prof.'s plunging beak of brass, his weakness, his need for her sympathy. And that gives you the restraint and the steadiness to control the urge to frantically set down the first thing that comes to mind (you know, just to get writing again today). And then of course, the bigger picture: just think of Virginia, think of her genius, think of that line in The Waves:
They say, Yes; they say, No; they bring their fists down with a bang on the table. But I doubt; I tremble; I see the wild thorn tree shake its shadow in the desert.
There's all the how and why in that little line.
So I saw Primal Scream at the Brixton Academy Saturday night and I'm hung-over and my ears are still ringing. Tomorrow I'll blog on seeing your heroes ten years on.
Stole this idea from Chip Kidd ? what do I have to do this week?
1. Write at least 800 words of the novel a day.
2. Start thinking about the screenplay for The Lazy Boys.
3. Book flights for St. Malo.
4. To quote the wonderful and clearly crazily busy Chip Kidd (Hey Chip, check out my cover): "Drink, drink, drink."
5. Not drink, drink, drink.
6. Update carlshuker.com.
7. Not overcompensate for worrying about what to write by overwriting.
8. Write at least 800 words of the novel a day.
9. Write at least 800 words of the novel a day.
10. Damn it, write at least 800 words of the novel a