Style and the Twenty-First Century

November 26, 2015

I am sorry to drag political writing into this, but it happens to be where the example arises. In truth, you can ignore the politics, inasmuch as that is possible. Writing for Salon, Heather Digby Parton notes:

Huh?The CNN story goes on to interview various scholars who all say that to one degree or another Trump is, indeed, fascistic if not what we used to call “a total fascist.” Historian Rick Perlstein was the first to venture there when he wrote this piece some months back.

It’s hard to understand why this has been so difficult to see. On the day he announced his campaign, Trump openly said ....

As long as I have been aware of Digby, it has been through electronic media. And in the question of the ever-growing online world, I have tended to compare the reading experience to paper; this might well be the wrong context in the twenty-first century. She is good at what she does, but this is a quirk of the new era that continues to defy me.

That truncated second paragraph is not a quote; it is the next paragraph of her narrative. As one raised on paper, the last sentence of that first paragraph just reads strangely to me; without the embedded hyperlink, it makes no sense.

Historian Rick Perlstein was the first to venture there when he wrote this piece some months back.

Or … am I being pedantic?

Maybe I’m just too accustomed to the idea of the Martian eye, or alien anthropologists. Even as we find the internet today, hyperlinks can break. Imagine trying to put the record together sometime in the future.


Digby Parton, Heather. “The unprecedented nightmare of Donald Trump’s campaign: We’ve openly begun using the F-word in American politics”. Salon. 25 November 2015.

Perlstein, Rick. “Donald Trump and the ‘F-Word'”. The Washington Spectator. 30 September 2015.


Happiness, Recalled

November 23, 2015

Ray BradburyIt occurred today that an associate recalled a particular thought experiment, which in turn sent me searching for a Ray Bradbury story. The Saturday Evening Post has been so kind as to offer an electronic copy of their 1957 presentation of the maestro’s story, “The Happiness Machine”, from Dandelion Wine.

Read. Enjoy. Be well.



The Shadow Over Lovecraft

November 23, 2015

It is true I hold a soft spot for H. P. Lovecraft; his stories are among those that made me want to write. It is an unfortunate history, then, fraught with caveats; this is the problem:

First, Lovecraft―who wrote “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Colour Out of Space” and other influential tales of madness and “sentient blob[s] of self-shaping gelatinous flesh”―is one of weird fiction’s most celebrated authors. He is enshrined in the Library of America.H. P. Lovecraft Stephen King calls him “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” The author of the novel “Psycho,” Robert Bloch, once wrote, “Poe and Lovecraft are our two American geniuses of fantasy, comparable each to the other, but incomparably superior to all the rest who follow.”

Second, as Lovecraft’s letters―and, to a lesser extent, his stories―reveal, the guy harbored a fierce loathing for almost all non-WASPs. Blacks were “greasy chimpanzees,” in Lovecraft’s words. French-Canadians were a “clamorous plague.” New York’s Chinatown was “a bastard mess of stewing mongrel flesh.” And so on.

Phillip Eil’s explanation, for Salon, of the final distribution of Howards for the World Fantasy Award does, indeed, follow the gravity of the tale. It only goes downhill from there.

We can try making what excuses we want; he was a misanthrope, he was crazy, he was an extreme product of something whatnot whonow … er … right. It’s possible to do the five stages; I recommend skipping tracks to acceptance. Then again, neither do I know how many of the generation that comes after me even bothered with Lovecraft, so maybe my own years of reflecting on the question really are as useless as they have always felt.

Still, though. Sigh.

No, no, I’m not fretting for the trophies. It’s just, you know, it’s just one of those, This is why we can’t have nice things! feeling. Lovecraft, Koestler, Cosby. Sometimes it just hurts to face up to what all goes into the art we love, y’know?

But it’s true, he was a miserable, sickly, repulsive sort of genius.



Image note: H. P. Lovecraft in undated photo via Wikimedia.

Eil, Phillip. “The ghost that haunts American literature: The genius & the repugnance of H.P. Lovecraft”. Salon. 21 November 2015.


Familiar Desolation

July 23, 2015

Detail of 'Bug Martini' by Adam Huber, 22 July 2015.Ever have one of those days?

Okay, here’s another one. Ever have that urge to do the old Bugs Bunny bit with Yosemite Sam, the one about okay I’ll shut up because I’m not the type of guy who keeps on blabbing after someone tells me to shut up … Shut up shuttin’ up!

It was that or the bit about doing the Whatchamacallit advert, and you do the “What’s right?” part, except do it in Scooby Doo’s voice. You know, one of those random things that comes up during the set break at a Phish show. Never mind.

Sometimes writer’s block is best. Just ask Adam.



Huber, Adam. “Writer’s Blockhead”. Bug Martini. 22 July 2015.


The Story, and the Stories Behind the Story

May 8, 2015

Alright, easy enough. In no particular order, except, well, it seems a reasonable enough order:

'My Life Is a Joke', by Sheila Heti (Illustration by Mark Smith for The New Yorker)“My Life Is a Joke”, a short story by Sheila Heti, published in The New Yorker, 11 May 2015.

“Sheila Heti’s Short Story in the New Yorker This Week Only Exists Because of Hugo House”, by Christopher Frizzelle of The Stranger, 6 May 2015.

“Good Writing Matters: A Conversation With Tree Swenson, the Director of Seattle’s Hugo House”, by Russell C. Smith and Michael Foster for Huffington Post, 9 December 2014.

“Seattle Dispatch: The Richard Hugo House”, by Ming Holden for Huffington Post, 9 July 2010

• And after all that I would be remiss if I didn’t point to Hugo House itself.

True, this one’s up in my corner of the world, but remember that good writing is everywhere, and always waiting. And something goes here about a village, or how it could be you, or … or … er … right. Anyway, have fun.



But How Could I Not Mention It?

April 29, 2015

Raymond Carver

So here’s a question: Do I promote a contest with an entry fee?

Or perhaps the entry fee ($15-17) isn’t so substantial for the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest via Carve magazine.

Six-thousand words, maximum, with prizes ranging from $125 to $1,000. Deadline is 15 May.

Right. Have at it. I have no affiliation with this magazine or contest, but won’t mention this sort of thing again if people object. Meanwhile, it’s Raymond Carver. It’s short stories. It’s a contest. It’s a chance.

Go. Do. Write.



Stick Figures and Stories

April 23, 2015

Randall Munroe.  "PermaCal".  xkcd #1514.  19 April 2015.It is not unheard of to sit motionless in a moment of private dazzle over the most ridiculous of details, thinking, somebody had to draw that! And, yes, it is true that better writers can give animators a reason to draw pretty much anything. Never mind.

Meanwhile, when one’s business is drawing stillframes of stick figures, it almost makes sense that somebody took the time to draw it. To wit, a metajoke from Randall Munroe:

The flood of PermaCalNTP leap-second notifications was bad enough, but when people started asking for millisecond resolution, the resulting DDOS brought down the internet.

So, yeah. The cartoon itself is obviously one of those ideas that strikes a writer, and if his medium happens to be stick-figure cartoons—one-panel wonders welcome!―the only remaining question is why would he not do the bit.

Yet, this is also one of those occasions when it seems like the whole point is the metajoke. As in, you know, that whole cartoon exists so he can deliver the DDOS joke.

Maybe. It’s as good a speculation as any other. But consider the stories we tell.

No, really. Consider the world that goes into that joke. Consider the users―the consumers, the people―who could make that happen. And, well, what is up with their stories? What does life look like in that condition?

Really, even the metajoke was inevitable, one way or another. The rest is just luck of the draw. Somebody thought of it, and somebody had to draw it. Even stick figures tell stories. Pretty cool, eh?



Munroe, Randall. “PermaCal”. xkcd #1514. 19 April 2015.


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