Friday, December 31, 2010

2010, Adieu adieu adieu

Year-end roundup:

Books Read:
Henry James The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Novels
Ernest Hemingway The Old Man And The Sea
Elizabeth Strout Olive Kitteridge
Peter H. Wood Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America
Carl Bridenbaugh Myths and Realities: Societies of the Colonial South
Richard Hofstader America at 1750: A Social Portrait
C.S. Lewis On Stories and Other Essays
Michael Bond A Bear Called Paddington
D.H. Lawrence Women In Love
Stephan Budiansky Her Majesty's Spymaster
Joshua and Anne-Lee Gilder Heavenly Intrigue
Cormac McCarthy The Road
Federico AndahaziThe Anatomist
H. Porter Abbott The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
Michelle Davidson Argyle Monarch
Michael Bond More About Paddington
Jhumpa Lahiri Interpreter of Maladies
David Benioff City of Thieves
Mary Ann Samyn Beauty Breaks In
Victor LaValle Big Machine
Chinua Achibe Things Fall Apart
Haruki Murakami Sputnik Sweetheart
Colum McCann Let the Great World Spin
Agatha Christie Murder on the Orient Express
Mikhail Lermontov A Hero of Our Time
Rick Daley The Chronicles of Christmas
Agatha Christie Evil Under the Sun
Edgar Allen Poe Collected Poems and Stories
William Shakespeare Hamlet
Agatha Christie Halloween Party
Jorge Luis Borges Labyrinths
Nadine Gordimer Get A Life
Michelle Davidson Argyle Cinders
Jonathan Franzen Freedom (abandoned at pg 350)
Richard & Florence Atwater Mr. Popper's Penguins
Paul Harding Tinkers
Davin Malasarn Bread
Helene Hanff 84 Charing Cross Road
Laurence Sterne The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Michel Houellebecq Atomised
James Woods How Fiction Works
Roy Peter Clark The Glamour of Grammar
Richard Rive (Ed.) Modern African Prose

That's only 43 books, and I whine constantly that I have No Time To Read.

Only 9 nonfiction books are listed here, but I know that I've done a lot more factual reading than that in 2010. So huh. But a lot of my reading/research comes from JSTOR (an academic online periodicals library), and none of those materials are listed here.

Books Written:
In February I finished the first draft of a novel called Cocke & Bull, which I'm currently revising. In October I finished the complete rewrite of my Shakespeare-meets-scientific history novel Killing Hamlet. In November I wrote a basic outline of my next novel, tentatively titled Nowhere But North, which I'll be writing in 2011, good Lord willing.

Publishing Stuff:
I wrote some short stories but made no real effort to get any of them published. Why? Because it's a lot of work and my focus is on novels and if the five literary journals I actually read pass on a story, I stop shopping it around because why would I submit to a journal I don't even read? It's not polite.

But better news is that in November I got a new agent, the fabulous Weronika Janczuk. Weronika is patiently waiting to see some version of Cocke & Bull.

I wrote some good stuff over at the Literary Lab blog, and so did my colleagues Davin Malasarn and Michelle Davidson Argyle. Some day we'll pull together an anthology of our best writing tips, but for now we're all too busy and we keep revising our own ideas of what good writing is anyway. So don't hold your breath.

Other Stuff:
Progress was made toward finishing the upstairs of the house I share with Mighty Reader. Progress was interrupted when it became necessary to spend great gobs of money on a new furnace and having the fireplace rebuilt. Progress will continue in 2011 and I swear that at least the north room--the planned New Designated Writing Room--will be finished (complete with reclaimed cork flooring) by the end of 2011.

Progress was also made on learning some nice Mozart works for violin. We did not manage to buy a piano this year. Mighty Reader managed to alphabetize all of our books (no small feat), which means that my "to be read" stack is now scattered all over the house and I no longer remember which books I bought but haven't read. So some flaws in that plan, but it's nice to know that all the Hemingway is shelved together and that we know where it is.

Progress was not made on planting a tree in the front yard nor on building those raised beds I promised to construct. But we did get a ping pong table, thanks to the quick work of Mighty Reader.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Anachronistic Images

An anachronism is something that is chronologically out of place. For example, a woodstove is out of place in most modern kitchens, just as a microwave oven would be out of place in Renaissance Italy. As writers, we must be careful to keep things where they belong, relative to the calendar, unless we're doing some sort of Jasper Ffordian time-travel or being postmodern. It would not do to have your Regency heroine text her besties about how beastly her beau has been.

But it's not just technology--not just stuff used as set decoration or props--that we have to watch out for. We also have to keep an eye on the images we use in our narratives. We have to make sure that the way we illustrate our story suits the period of the tale.

This weekend, Mighty Reader and I went to a wetland to look at birds. The weather was capricious and at one point as we walked across a field toward a stand of tall trees, the wind came up and the noise of it through the trees was immense and I thought right away of a locomotive. It sounded as if some huge machine was rushing past us and I wondered if I could use that image. Right now I'm revising a novel in which the characters spend a couple of memorable chapters in a wetland/swamp during a period of storms. "This must be," I thought, "Exactly the sound that William heard as the wind blew through the swamp before the hurricane." O, brilliance! O, inspiration!

Too bad I can't use it. My story takes place in 1749 in America, and the first full-service working railway system wasn't built until 1804, in England. Which means that my characters would never have heard a locomotive, and the simile would be meaningless to them. Yes, it would have meaning to my readers, but I believe we writers should show a certain fidelity to our story worlds and that we should restrict our language and images to things which belong to the world of our characters. We need to be careful. To say that Polyphemus threatened Odysseus and his men, raising his great club like a baseball bat, is maybe to use a strong and specific image, but it is not an image that belongs in a story that takes place thousands of years before baseball was invented. It's lazy, authorial sloppiness (though the reverse--a ball player raising his bat like Polyphemus threatening Odysseus with his great cudgel--is fine). So watch it; that's all I'm saying.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Ghosts 2010: A Story

The following bit of story is my entry into Loren Eaton's Shared Storytelling event for Christmas 2010. Go read the other stories!

"Christmas Eve" by Scott G.F. Bailey

The power was out, and had been for days. We stayed by the hearth, wrapped in sweaters, scarves and gloves, as close to the fire as we could get.

"We’ll run out of firewood soon."

"The roads are impassable. That should keep them away. Maybe there’s something in the basement we can burn for heat."

There wasn’t. After dark, under a thick overcast, the world was black and shapeless. The fire went out after midnight. We huddled by the dead ashes and waited. That was when we heard them, scrabbling down the chimney.

"Oh, God."

I reached for the hatchet.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dear Sprint Corporation

Thank you, Sprint Corporation, for selling me a new LG Rumor Touch(tm) cell phone. Thank you for letting me purchase it over your website, and thanks also for not making me pay the full $279 (plus shipping and tax) suggested retail price for it. The phone is quite fine in appearance and I look forward to using all the features, including "a touch screen and a full, sliding QWERTY keyboard and access to the most dependable 3G network, mobile e-mail, Web browsing and social networking." It will be really, really, really cool as soon as you guys figure out how to transfer my service from my current phone to this new LG Rumor Touch(tm).

For the low standards of customer service you have, and for the hours of my time wasted talking to your customer service representatives, I most emphatically do not thank you, Sprint Corporation. Last night your service rep told me that I'd be able to use my new LG Rumor Touch(tm) today, if I called you and gave you the phone's serial number. Alas, that was a lie. Today I am told that I'll be able to use my new LG Rumor Touch(tm) in, maybe, 48 more hours, if I'm available if and when your service rep phones me back. I made certain to mention to your service rep that I live in the Pacific Time Zone and not in New Delhi where your call center resides, so she or her proxy should take that into consideration on the off chance she or her proxy is actually going to phone me and let me know that my phone can be switched. Of course, she or her proxy will call me on my current phone and ask me to call her back on a different phone, and of course my cell phone is my only phone, but I'm sure that somehow I'll manage. Because, as I say, the new LG Rumor Touch(tm) looks like quite the rocking machine and I'll be pleased as Punch, no doubt, to use all its features once you knuckleheads manage to actually switch it on in your infinite wisdom. Season's Greetings, Sprint Corporation, and don't forget that you're already billing me for my upgraded plan even though I can't actually use the upgrades yet.

Also, you have got to tell your service reps to stop saying, "But don't worry!" every time they tell me there will be more delays to my service. Really, just stop it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sorry, Jimmy. We'll Try Again Next Year

I have put James Joyce's Finnegans Wake back on the shelf after reading about 100 pages. But this is just a temporary break; Jimmy and I will get back together again after the holidays. Finnegans Wake didn't turn out to be a good choice of reading during this time of year. There are too many real-life distractions and not enough time for me to sit and read. So back on the shelf FW goes until the New Year when things will--I pray--settle down a bit.

In the meanwhile, I do not plan to read any fiction other than my own. I'm revising the first draft of Cocke & Bull so that I can set it aside for a while again before revising it further. The MS presents some interesting problems that will require quiet reflection before a solution presents itself. That's all I'm saying about that.

A lot of non-fiction is on my "to do" list: books about Greenwich Village and New York Harbor and the Progressives before WWI, books about ships and sailing, books about explorers and madness (likely a re-read of Geoff Powter's fabulous Strange and Dangerous Dreams, also known outside the US market as We Cannot Fail) and all of this will lead up to a rough draft of another book whose working title is Nowhere But North. I plan to structure that novel as three parallel novellas which act as framing stories to each other. It will be massively cool and the fore- and backshadowing possibilities excite me just thinking about them.

Anyway, Finnegans Wake is just too complex a work to be read in little snips here and there; it requires sustained effort and that's something I can't give it right now. But next year I'll reacquaint myself with Mr. Earwicker and friends.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Tycho Brahe

Today is the birthday of Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer (1546-1601). He's 464, if my math is correct. His gold nose has yet to be found.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hamlet Scissorhands?

Johnny Depp to play Hamlet in 2011? He may be too old already. Who'd be cast as Ophelia, then?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sham and Shem (Finnegans Wake, Day 13)

There are times when I pick this book up and am baffled, defeated and irritated by the narrative. I have no idea at all what I'm supposed to be reading and I lose track of the subject of the sentence before it reaches a verb and I read the same line over and over and my eyes begin to glaze and I think about napping. This book is about nothing! It's all surface without meaning! It's a sham! Damn you, James Joyce! And then I immediately hit a stretch of amazing and wondrous prose that expands the worlds of language and human nature and I am filled with joy and curiousity and I keep reading. Thank you, James Joyce.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Famed Astronomer Murdered! News At 1601!

Something rotton in Denmark, or possibly in Prague. Or possibly only in our imaginations. But still: makes you think.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lyle Lovett and Will Shakespeare: Together At Last

Much Ado About Lyle Lovett

If I was an actor, and I could play any Shakespeare character, it would be...Hmm. I'll have to think about that one.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Weronika Janczuk, D4EO Literary

I am pleased to announce that I am now represented by the fabulous Weronika Janczuk of D4EO Literary. In 2011, Weronika will be submitting my novel Killing Hamlet to publishers of fine literary fiction, and will be representing my future works as well.

Weronika is really smart, really funny, really cool and has (obviously) exceptional taste in writing. I've known her via the internet for a couple of years, and it's exciting to be working with her now. I hereby retract every negative comment I've ever made about the internet.

As everyone knows, literary fiction is a tough sell, especially in this market. I intend to remain quietly hopeful about Killing Hamlet finding a publisher, and I will keep working away on my other books (which rock like hurricanes, you).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Everything Is Happening (Finnegans Wake, Day 7)

I realize that the level of reader interest in these Finnegans Wake posts is small, but them's the breaks. It's the book I'm reading and so it's what's on my mind and possibly only a handful of people on Earth are also reading it and the odds of them stumbling across this blog are slim, so this is a one-sided conversation and I know it. Yet, if nothing else, I sort of promised a few people that I'd write about reading this difficult text, so this is what you get for now.

I am at the end of the second chapter, and I realize that I'm reading this book very slowly--more slowly than I usually read--because a lot of the meaning (or at least the immediate impact) of the text results from the sounds of the words and so I am pronouncing each word in my head as I go along, sometimes more than once with stress on different syllables because often enough the words are puns, when you find the proper accent, and the sentences sort of unlock themselves and their meaning. So the book is a slow-moving puzzle for me.

Though I'm not exactly reading at a snail's pace. After a hundred or so words I usually manage to catch the rhythm of the prose and I can read along quickly enough, though the feeling is less that of reading a book than riding a roller coaster or being tossed about in a little boat by a heavy sea of alliterative verse. I never quite know what's happening in the book; there is a story in there, but Joyce is giving me impressions more than exposition. People are talking, a rumor is spreading, HCE has done a Bad Thing, but there are so many other things going on with the narrative, right on the surface, that the story is fairly obscured.

Which gives the narrative a weird sense of having no motion, of time having stopped and Joyce is not describing action to us so much as he's minutely describing photographs or portraits or murals, maybe. Things stand still, the narrative rolls along and over and under and through these frozen moments and everything in those moments is cast into high relief, but there is so much everything that your eye doesn't know--to continue the photo metaphor--where to settle and what to look at. Everything is happening.

So when I pick the book up to continue reading, there's no real way to see right off where I left off, because asking "what happened last in the story?" is a hard question to answer, because "next" and "last" and "now" and "then" are all meaningless in this narrative, which is a loop in time anyway, where Finn is about to come back again but not quite yet and though the book has a first page, the story doesn't and the sentences are so long that your grammarian nuns in parochial school would sooner become bawds than diagram them.

Anyway, I am enjoying the book, but I must say that I'm experiencing it more than reading it.