Wednesday, November 30, 2011

this story irritates the hell out of me

The title of this post is from the notes to myself that I made last week regarding the fifth chapter of the new novel. In truth, this story irritates me. It fills me with great discomfort and I am tempted often to walk away from it and work on something else, which I take as a sign that I'm on the track of something good here and I should keep writing this book. My best work--by which I of course mean my favorite work--has always come out of my areas of discomfort, because I'm picking away at something of real meaning to me. Very likely this irritation is also felt by the reader, which is why I am not a published author. But still, it's what I do so I'll keep doing it.

I'm not working at any great pace on the new book; I think I'm getting about 500 or so words a day onto the page is all. But last night's 500 words are pretty good. They're almost all dialogue, which is one of my strong suits. I credit my facility with speakybits to having read all that Shakespeare. When all you have is dialogue, you have to do everything with it: mood, backstory, plot, character, and all the rest. Likely all my reading of Shakespeare also explains why my novels are such talky things.

I recently read somewhere about a young writer who hates dialogue. I forget her name, but I have to say I think she's being a dope. She needs to read more Shakespeare, and some Chekhov wouldn't come amiss either.

Monday, November 28, 2011

G.K. Chesterton: And Then I Woke Up

I read a lot this weekend, which is My Kind Of Weekend. I finished Kate Chopin's The Awakening (which had a satisfyingly unsettling tragic ending and it's a shame Chopin only wrote the one novel), read fifty pages or so of Lydia Davis short stories (uneven in both length and quality but when she's good, Ms Davis is great), and read the entirety of G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday (a nightmare). This is the only Chesteron I've ever read, and I am now chary of picking up anything else by him, though possibly TMWWT is an anomaly.

The thing about this book is that the first two thirds of it are pretty great, but the ending (despite Chesterton's warning in the subtitle) is a cheat, I think. Here's the story, in brief: a "philosopher detective" from Scotland Yard infiltrates a worldwide anarchist organization, getting elected by the local anarchist branch to a seat on the president's council. There are seven members of the council, and the council members go by the names of the days of the week. Our hero is Thursday, hence the title of the book. The president of the anarchists, a Moriarty-like arch criminal, takes the name of Sunday. They are planning, as a first step toward world anarchy, to blow up the President of France and the Czar of Russia (the novel was written in 1908). Intrigue and hilarity ensues, including various unmaskings to reveal surprise secret identities, flight across the Channel and pursuit by an anarchist army, a duel fought with swords and oh, so much more. There is a lot of funny metafictional stuff about police work and detection and the ongoing discussion of who would really benefit from the pulling down of government is very lively and possibly timely as well ("The poor will resent that they are governed wrongly, but the rich will resent that they are governed at all").

Chesterton is funny and the wordplay is very very good, harking back to the comedies of Shakespeare. The protagonist's riffing about which words should be included in a secret code is priceless, as he argues in favor of terms that are poetic and have a beautiful sound, rather than for words that might actually apply to the case at hand. There's a later bit where he plans a dialogue between himself and an enemy, writing down the 43 verbal exchanges he assumes will come to pass. Alas, at the crisis moment he is forced to improvise.

So this is all great stuff, and plotwise Chesterton turns the spy story on its head and his reader has no idea why anything is happening or who Sunday really is or how the story will all work out and things build to a fever pitch and then...[SPOILER]...we are presented with a fairy tale Christian allegory centered around the week of Creation (hence the days of the week trope) and we learn that the whole thing was a dream and on the last page of the novel, the protagonist wakes up. I cry foul, I do. Deus ex machina most foul. Horrible, horrible, most horrible. You get the idea. But before someone tells me that Chesterton had the right to craft whatever story he wanted to, I will say that the most foulness was that the last chapter was not well written. Had not Chesterton lost all his sense of fun and playful language, I might accept his bait-and-switch. But he did, so I don't.

Right now I'm reading Shakespeare. There is no bad Shakespeare.

Monday, November 21, 2011

True Grit: Not Just For Breakfast Anymore

“Who is the best marshal they have?'

The sheriff thought on it for a minute. He said, 'I would have to weigh that proposition. There is near about two hundred of them. I reckon William Waters is the best tracker. He is a half-breed Comanche and it is something to see, watching him cut for sign. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking. He loves to pull a cork. Now L.T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now and then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake. Also the court does not pay any fees for dead men. Quinn is a good peace officer and a lay preacher to boot. He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner. He is straight as a string. Yes, I will say Quinn is about the best they have.'

I said, 'Where can I find this Rooster?”

According to the New York Times, “Charles Portis, the reclusive author of the 1968 novel True Grit, is a cult writer's cult writer, cherished by a small but devoted following.” Portis is not exactly a household name. I saw the original “True Grit” film when it first came out in 1969. I was a wee lad and my family was packed into a station wagon to watch the film at a drive-in. Possibly it was the first movie I ever saw at a theater of any kind, and as such holds a special place in my heart, though I believe I’ve only watched it once as an adult, maybe 20 years ago. Anyway, if I have a point with all this rambling, it’s that from the time I saw the movie as a kid until Portis was awarded The Oxford American's Award for Lifetime Achievement in Southern Literature in April of 2010, I never once thought of there actually being a novel on which the film was based, and so I never once gave a thought to a novelist named Charles Portis. And that’s my loss.

True Grit is a pretty good novel, and I say this as someone who doesn’t read westerns. The prose pulled me in right away; the story is told by Mattie, the teenage daughter of Frank Ross who was shot down in cold blood by “the coward Tom Chaney” and Mattie’s voice is stern and formal, lacking in contractions and chiding the reader who disagrees with her opinions, pointing to scripture to support her views and digressing here and there into the partisan politics of Arkansas.

I had hated these ponies for the part they played in my father's death but now I realized the notion was fanciful, that it was wrong to charge blame to these pretty beasts who knew neither good nor evil but only innocence. I say that of these ponies. I have known some horses and a good many more pigs who I believe harbored evil intent in their hearts. I will go further and say all cats are wicked, though often useful. Who has not seen Satan in their sly faces? Some preachers will say, well, that is superstitious "claptrap." My answer is this: Preacher, go to your Bible and read Luke 8: 26-33. ["The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs..."]

It’s a ripping yarn, as they say, and it’s damned funny. The comedy is almost always ironic and subtle, a lot of it coming out of dialogue. I’d quote some here, but the way Portis sets up the jokes is by carefully crafting scenes where the meaning of facts is batted back and forth between two verbal combatants and the punch lines would make no sense out of context. But the three or four pages where Mattie settles with the horse trader who sold her father six ponies is brilliant, as is the testimony of Marshal Cogburn at the trial of a man whose father and several brothers were shot dead by the marshal during his arrest:

MR.GOUDY: I believe you testified that you backed away from Aaron Wharton.
MR.COGBURN: That is right.
MR.GOUDY: You were backing away?
MR.COGBURN: Yes sir. He had that ax raised.
MR.GOUDY: Which direction were you going?
MR.COGBURN: I always go backwards when I am backing up.

My only problem with this book might be that I don’t necessarily believe Mattie Ross is a 14 year-old girl. Certainly there could be (and maybe there are) 14 year-olds with the business acumen to outwit a horse trader and the ramrod spine to outtalk and bully a 40 year-old Federal marshal who spent four years in the Confederate army and more years after that as a highwayman, but the only reason we believe Mattie is a girl is because Portis has her say she’s one. Otherwise, True Grit is sort of your basic story of men on an adventure. If you make Mattie into a 14 year-old boy, you don’t have to change more than a few dozen words in the book. Certainly you don’t have to make any changes in Mattie’s character. I do not know what conclusions to draw from this observation. I also can’t say that there are any differences between 14 year-old boys and 14 year-old girls that aren’t entirely learned behavior so maybe Mr Portis is a wiser man than I am. If anyone has read the novel and has an opinion about this, do tell. Especially if you also have direct experience with/as a 14 year-old person.

Portis' other novels look pretty good. I plan to read Norwood sometime soon.

This weekend I also read the short novel The Life of Insects, by Victor Pelevin. It’s a postmodern or whatever comic novel about Gorbachov-era USSR, where the characters are presented as either insects or humans or some vacillating state in between. The dung beetles claim that every insect (and therefore every person) is a dung beetle even if he doesn’t know it, and that there is no difference between the dung and the beetle. That might serve as Pelevin’s statement of theme. The moths fly into the light, but there is no point to it. The mosquitoes suck the blood of whoever’s around, but their avarice gets them no happiness and it’s a dangerous game. A lot of this feels like Beckett in Waiting For Godot, but while the action is plenty violent, the humor is perhaps more gentle than in Beckett. Anyway, it’s good that TLoI is just a novella, because Pelevin’s idea just about overstayed its welcome at 176 pages. Though the chapter towards the end about the cicada was really gorgeous and sad.

I haven't decided if I'm going to read Pelevin's novel Omon Ra, which is apparently about a cosmonaut in a training program that bears a strong resemblance to Kafka's castle.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Enough of That, Mister Mann

I'm nearly finished with Death In Venice and Seven Other Stories, the collection of Thomas Mann works I've been reading. This is my first exposure to Mann, and I have to admit that the stories are pretty uneven. "Disorder and Early Sorrow" may be the best thing I've ever read, but it's hard to say because I read it in the context of other Thomas Mann stories so critical distance isn't perfect. But it's a damned fine story. "Death in Venice" is a technical marvel, showing absolute control over the formal elements of the narrative and for a few hours after finishing it, I was sure it was the best thing I'd ever read. "Tonio Kroger," "The Blood of the Walsungs" and "Felix Krull" fare less well, being not as focused on character or possibly they're just too self-consciously symbolic and pedantic for my tastes. "Mario and the Magician" is a violent, mean-spirited tale that made me laugh all the way through it. "Tristan" is sad and quite fine. "A Man and His Dog" should be required reading for all students of writing, as a teaching tool for how to properly write a digressive story and how to write about nature.

Anyway, if you are interested in reading some Thomas Mann, the stories I recommend are "Death In Venice," "A Man and His Dog," and "Disorder and Early Sorrow." They are all on the longish side. Did I mention that Thomas Mann won the Nobel Prize for literature? Some day I'll read The Magic Mountain or Doktor Faustus.

I hope that this exposure to Mann has an influence on my own writing. Certainly I feel the urge to make my prose more like his, though really what I like about Mann is his observing eye and the way he lingers over expressive details. I'd like to steal that, though Mann knew a lot more natural history than I do.

Even so, I'll be glad to put the volume back on the shelf this evening and pick up something else. God knows what that will be. I have a surfeit of unread books at home and every time I look in their direction I am convinced that I have nothing to read. Possibly some Faulkner, though. Or some Camus. Or MacMurty. Or the last book of Beckett's "Malloy" trilogy. Or some Paddington Bear stories. Or I could start making an effort on my Variations on a Theme story, now that I've got a (fabulous postmodern) idea for it. Time will tell, etc.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It Won't Write Itself

It suddenly strikes me that this is November, NaNoWriMonth and all, and while there are thousands (or tens of thousands) of folks feverishly churning out novels, I'm not so much pushing as hard as I could on my current work in progress. Which is fine, actually, because even though I'm not ratcheting up the word count on a daily basis, I've been thinking a lot about the story and I count that as writing time and effort. All of which is a long wind-up to the pitch, which is that I worked my way through a tricky passage at lunchtime today, and my heroine is back in the DR Congo after a detour through a confessional at St. James' cathedral. What larks for Miss Lark! By the end of the week I will have this chapter finished, by gum. Because if I don't do it, who will?

Recently I've given thought to a couple of ideas regarding my writing. First, it becomes ever more clear that each of my novels is going to be quite a bit different from whatever I've written before, and I doubt very much that I'll settle down and write a particular type of book in a particular way. That would be dull, I think. I'm less interested in showing what I can do with a novel than I am in discovering what's to be done with one, if you see the distinction.

I've also been thinking about the idea I have that what I attempt in novels is to say something true (though not necessarily factual, if you see the difference). I begin to wonder if, like Flannery O'Connor, I am limiting my observations to a certain narrow field of truths and if, having recognized that, it is incumbent upon me to broaden my horizons in some way, and if so, I wonder how and how much. I don't have any answers to that one. My plan is to let the answers arise through the course of the writing, while I continue to doggedly pursue whatever ideas interest me and attempt to say nothing dishonest. If nothing else, it's a plan.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Weekend In Books

I'm a little over halfway through Death In Venice and Other Stories, the Thomas Mann collection I'm reading. "A Man and His Dog" is the current story, and it's pretty good. I'm not sure where all the symbolism is leading (some stuff about expectations versus reality and reality being pretty fine even if it falls short of expert opinion), but I like it so far. The stories here are a bit uneven in quality, by which I mean that sometimes Mann could be pedantic and that's not so enjoyable for this reader. "Death in Venice" is a well-crafted story but I think that it's become a standard text because of Mann's (perfect) formal control over the narrative elements, not because it necessarily is his most beautiful or human effort. Because it's not. "Disorder and Early Sorrow" gets my vote for that, today at least. It is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read, and I was tempted to quote passages of it but really you must read the whole thing because every line of it is sympathetic and lovely and true. "Tonio Kroger" started out as a heartfelt character study but degenerated into a long series of monologues about Art and I was glad to be shut of it. "Mario and the Magician" proves that Mann had a healthy sense of humor and could laugh at himself. The bits about the protagonist and his family facing off with the locals is hysterically funny. I'll be interested to read the rest of the stories in the collection. Will I go on to read Mann's novels? I haven't decided yet.

I interrupted my reading of Mann for an impulse reading of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, which I've not laid eyes on since about 1978. I just wanted to read something escapist, you know? Anyway, what surprised me again and again was how good the book is. The writing is pretty solid and even knowing, actually, and I was struck by the fact that Tolkien's protagonists aren't forced to carry out the climax action of the principal conflict. That is to say, Bilbo doesn't kill the dragon (and in LOTR, Frodo doesn't destroy the Ring). You could not get away with that in today's publishing marketplace. I amuse myself with imagined conversations between Tolkien and his agent.

Some books also somehow found their way into our house: Nabokov's Pale Fire to be reread sometime in 2012, a couple of Camus titles (The Fall which I love and which was the first Camus I read, decades ago; and another novel I've not read yet and whose title escapes me), The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier because it got good reviews and has an interesting premise (the dead enjoy afterlives only as long as they are remembered by living people on Earth and so souls will eventually fade away from Heaven or wherever it is and dead folks are desperate to be remembered; all of which sounds very sad so Right Up My Alley). An armload of new books from Mighty Reader's employer, as well. I also recently bought Marina Neary's historical novel Brendan Malone, The Last Fenian because it's about an Irishman and because Ms Neary emailed me and told me I might like her books. So we'll see, Ms Neary. I hope I do like it.

I made no progress on the first draft of Go Home, Miss America but I did have a great idea for the middle section of the upcoming Antarctica novel that's got me very excited. Now I need a great idea for the third section of that same novel. This week I plan to finish Chapter 4 of Go Home, Miss America and begin work on Chapter 5. That should put me about 25% of the way through the first draft, I think. I'm not sure how long the middle of the book will be. It depends on if I want to include the Violet chapter, which will maybe be something like the Addie episode in As I Lay Dying or maybe something like the Molly Bloom chapter in Ulysses. I have not decided yet, but it seems like an attractive idea for now.

Also, I should say something about how my agent and I have parted ways, and that seems sufficient enough for now.

Monday, November 7, 2011

V Nabokov and H James in Venice

Last night I read Thomas Mann's long short story Death In Venice. I admit to having never read any Thomas Mann before. I can't account for it, but it's true. Anyway, DiV last night.

It's the story of an aging German writer named Aschenbach, famous and beloved since his youngest days, who gets the sudden idea (planted in his imagination by Death, who appears thrice in the tale in different guises but always played by a thin man with a snub nose*) to travel in an effort to reinvigorate his passion for writing. Our hero has loads of technique but no longer really has the fire in his blood. Aschenbach ends up in Venice, where the authorities are keeping a cholera outbreak as secret as they can so that the tourist industry won't be harmed.

In the dining room of his immense beach side hotel, Aschenbach sees a Polish family. They have two daughters and a son, named Tadzio. Tadzio is a perfect specimen of European male youth, a little carven Greek god come to life. Aschenbach, who has long abandoned sentiment and irony and the passions of youth for a deliberate and careful classicism, a regimented art and life, finds himself drawn to Tadzio. So drawn to him that he begins to stalk him on the beach and on family outings in the city. A few days of this and Aschenbach wants to speak to the boy, wants the boy to speak to him, and our hero realizes that he's in love, and not in a purely aesthetic way either. Things progress from there.

About halfway into the story I got the strong impression that I was reading a sketch of Lolita as written by Henry James. An old writer lusting after a youth, with layer upon layer of symbolism and irony. The entire story is a symbol for itself, a large irony about irony, a reckless joke about art not being life which is pulled off by art becoming lifelike. It's a fabulous machine, at once self-conscious and proud of its artifice while also being both bigger than and more subtle than all the formal and symbolic games. A nice piece of work, in other words. Not at all what I was expecting. Much much better.

* Each of Death's appearances mocks Aschenbach by being an exaggerated and comic version of our hero. In fact, everything in this story is a mocking, ironic symbol of one sort or another.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sweet Mother Goose in Her Bordello

I'm halfway through Angela Carter's short collection of revised fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber. For a while, after a startling paragraph in the title story, I was worried that the collection would go off into The Story of O territory, but Carter followed the premises and characters and let the eroticism simmer in the background rather than boil over as the primary design.

A couple of things about these tales (which, by the way, I recommend):

1. You can see how people like Kate Bernheimer build on Carter's work, unless there was already a tradition of fairy tale detournement, if I'm spelling that correctly and I see that I am. Take that, Situationists Internationale! Where?

2. The first three stories in the collection concern virginal young girls being sold off or otherwise traded like commodities. Each time, however, the young girl takes control of the situation and comes out happier in the end.

3. Carter's language is constantly surprising, even at this late date. My favorite phrase right now is "tintinabulation of cut-glass chandeliers." It works just as well for tinkling glass as it does for bells bells bells. You'd think nobody could get away with "tintinabulation" after Edgar, but you'd be wrong.

4. These stories are more about the promise of violence than about actual violence. Carter isn't out to shock you so much as to twist you up in tension and then let you go, a little careworn and exhausted and maybe more wary than you were. But there's not so much blood in The Bloody Chamber. Though perhaps why these are considered to be feminist stories is that the promises of violence are made about young women, and the voice promising sexual violence is the loudest voice in the room. There is actually a lot to be said about the threat of rape in this collection, but others have addressed that with more intelligence and patience than I've got. And then, see point Number 2.

5. Also regarding point Number 2, I have to say that each of the stories I've read so far ends pretty sweetly for the protagonist and her allies. They are clearly more the tales of Perrault charged with sexuality, than they are the tales of the Brothers Grimm. Mother Goose as madame in a swank Parisian bordello. There is almost, I dare say, a gentleness to these tales: below the blood, below the threat of violence, below the sexuality, below the threat of sexual violence. A layer of honey that Carter gradually exposes is possibly a weak metaphor I can use here. Yes, I seem to have done.

It's fine that I don't find these stories shocking, and that once I saw what Carter was doing I found the stories pretty and sweet. I didn't come to Angela Carter to be shocked or to be taught a lesson in the power of women over the hoary old tropes of male-dominated culture or for titillation. I picked up the book because I had heard that Ms Carter was a good writer, and I'd been peripherally aware of the collection for a good while and it seemed like it was time to read it. And I'm happy I am. Angela Carter is a good writer. Her sentences are gorgeous pieces of ornate jewelry, brilliant and hard and glittering away, and no matter how bizarre the sets and costumes in the tales, no matter how many beasts and perverts, you see after a short while that Carter is writing about humanity and vulnerability and how good it is, after all, to be good and brave and pure at heart. Which is, come to think of it, exactly what Mother Goose was trying to tell us in the first place.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Illustrious House of Ramires Part 3

Last night I finished Jose Maria de Eça de Queirós' novel The Illustrious House of Ramires. It's not a great novel, but it's a darned fine novel and the more I think about the third act, the better I think the book is. The third act essentially turns all of the symbolism and characterization of the first two acts on its head; you realize that you've been marvelously set up. The Tower, which represents the ancient authority and strength of the family? Forget about it. The election? The novel? Whatever you thought they stood for, you were right and you were wrong.

This is a moral book, and while it has a message or two at the end, it's not a book with a moral and Eça de Queirós isn't moralizing. What I mean by that is that the author has a definite point of view, definite opinions about people and society and politics, but he doesn't editorialize. So I'm fine with him ending on a sweet and sentimental note. It's not quite Chekhov though some of the humor is there; maybe it's more like Cervantes but I only grasp at Cervantes. Certainly it's not like Thomas Hardy (hurrah for that). By which perhaps I mean The Illustrious House of Ramires keeps a grip on Romanticism while resisting a lot of the grittiness of Naturalism. Eça de Queirós' wealthy landowners are not D.H. Lawrence's wealthy landowners, either.

What am I saying? I don't know. If you like your stories to have dirt under their fingernails and to offer up a believable everyday reality, this is not the book for you. But then neither is Shakespeare, so you can fuck off. This is a good book, and I had a blast reading it. It's well crafted and funny and sad and the final chapter is very interesting from a formal perspective, especially considering that it was written in 1900. If this was an English-language novel, literary historians would be pointing to this final chapter and calling it a precursor of Modernism, maybe.

Also, The Illustrious House of Ramires has a book-within-the-book, and I really like the way Eça de Queirós handled the transitions into and out of that interior novel. Also also, I clearly don't know how to talk about books except as a writer; I focus on technique and so you aren't getting a feel for why I think this book was worth my time and why you should go read it. But it was, and you should. Honest.

The Bloody Chamber and the Bloody Chapter

This morning I started Angela Carter's collection of rewritten fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber. Carter's work is--it probably doesn't need to be said--quite different from what I just finished reading, Jose Maria de Eça de Queirós' novel The Illustrious House of Ramires.

Ramires is a 19th century novel, a traditional 3-act hero's journey story which ends on a sweet and sympathetic note despite the fact that the big reversal at the end of Act 2 is so violent and bloody. I plan to read more Eça de Queirós in the future.

But let's get back to Ms Carter. I got well into the title story of the collection on the bus this morning. It was clear from a few pages in that this is a retelling of Bluebeard's Castle, and so of course I'm wondering now if Carter will take the story in one of the two traditional paths trod by rewriters of this tale (the wife either becomes her husband's next victim or she somehow takes control over him in a surprising twist). Hopefully Carter is going to surprise me and do neither of these things. Really, though, how she ends the story is the least important thing. I don't read for plot.

Carter's prose, possibly because it's so different from that of Eça de Queirós, is exhausting me. Maybe I'm just in that "getting to know you" phase through which I always labor whenever I begin reading a book and things will settle down after another couple of pages. Maybe not. Bloody Chamber is so far told almost entirely in summary, by which I mean that there are no dramatized scenes. The writing is rich and the language is alive with imagery, but it's all held at a distance; we are never inside the story even though it's a first-person narrative. Carter has a lot of ground to cover so her use of summary makes sense, but I'm hoping that she puts me into the story present soon. I hope the entire book isn't written at this narrative distance.

Carter's prose also exhausts me because it is so thick and imagistic. The sexual metaphors come constantly: the train's "pumping pistons," the husband's "leathery scent," the causeway "rising from the sea," et cetera. Those are the least of them. Try this excerpt:

Even when he asked me to marry him, and I said "Yes," still he did not lose that heavy, fleshy composure of his. I know it must seem a curious analogy, a man with a flower, but sometimes he seemed to me like a lily. Yes. A lily. Possessed of that strange, ominous calm of a sentient vegetable, like one of those cobra-headed, funereal lilies whose white sheaths are curled out of a flesh as thick and tensely yielding to the touch as vellum. When I said that I would marry him, not one muscle in his face stirred, but he let out a long, extinguished sigh. I thought: Oh! how he must want me! And it was as though the imponderable weight of his desire was a force I might not withstand, not by virtue of its violence but because of its very gravity.

I should quote Carter about the collection's dark eroticism: "I was taking ... the latent content of those traditional stories and using that; and the latent content is violently sexual."

I had no idea when I picked up this book that "violently sexual" retellings of fairy tales had become Carter's thing and that "The Bloody Chamber" is taught in almost every modern fiction class in the English-speaking world. And possibly because of my deeply-ingrained prudery I wouldn't have purchased the book had I known all this, so it's good that I was ignorant in the store and all I thought when I saw the row of her books on the shelf was, "Hey, she's supposed to be a pretty good writer. Isn't she dead or something?"

But enough about Angela Carter. Maybe more tomorrow; maybe not. I also wanted to say that I'm continuing, with some difficulty, to write the first draft of my new book and the absolute disorganization of what I'm putting onto the page is driving me mad. It's all coming out of any order and for the life of me I can't figure out what goes where, so I'm just for now trying to capture all of it, throw it all up onto the canvas as it were, with the hope that I'll be able to make sense of it later. I don't like working this way. I like to have a more deliberate process, even during a first draft. This book is not cooperating. It's much harder work than I like.