Friday, December 19, 2008

And the Bad Drives Out the Good...

I know that for all practical purposes, I should really leave my self-promotional entry for Carpathian Shadows, Volume 2 up through the holidays. But I really just can't resist posting this recent spam email I got, and beside you can always scroll down. I seem to have a weakness for this stuff, so I'm very much afraid that it may crowd out all those pieces of writing actually worthy of praise. Ah, well. You read the title.

This email comes from "Froebe Lewellyn" and it's subject is "Christmaas Night". Doesn't this already sound like a lovely European Felix Noel sort of scene?

True, the tone changes somewhat with the opening line "Girls will drop underwear for yyou!", followed by the appropriate link. But then this might be the best Christmaas gift that many could hope to receive, and far be it from me to judge.

And then we have a short cryptic--what?--poem? paragraph? story?

It was most touching to see how some of the rubber us a great
advantage, of which we did not fail the night after the
did she talk to you at all when she reached the carriage.
good morning, mrs my brother was killed, painlesslyi quite

Don't you feel somehow that if you studied this long and hard, you might eventually render it comprehensible? Okay, you don't, but that's just because I gave you the heads up that it was spam.

"It was most touching to see how some of the rubber..."

"a great advantage, of which we did not fail"

"Did she talk to you at all when she reached the carriage?"

"Good morning,Mrs., my brother was killed, painlessly--quite painlessly."

There's a story in the gaps, I promise you.

Where do they get this stuff? And why? Does anybody know?

In any case, Feliz Navidad, Froebe Lewellyn, whoever and wherever, and I suppose I should add whatever you are. You will pardon me if I don't respond directly...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

And now for a bit of shameless self-promotion

Updating to say that I do promise that this post will not remain prominent, though frankly, I can't see that I'm going to get around making a big change before the New Year, the holidays being what they are. So, in the meantime, I'm posting the link to Fictionwise, where you can get the anthology at a discount, and then rate it if you are so inclined.

Press Release:

"Carpathian Mountains, ancient castle, and unexpected overnight lodging creates havoc for some foreigners.

Carpathian Shadows: Volume Two follows the haunting aura of Lord Erdely from the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania, Romania, and his mysterious castle.

Lord John Erdely lived in the 17th century and date of death never confirmed since no body has ever been found. It is rumored he dealt in black magic to suppress the ongoing collaboration of the churches to bring a unified religion to all people, a Greek Catholic practice.

Enter the present time…

All visitors staying in Cornifu Hotel are surprised with a mystery invitation for a one-day excursion to Erdely Castle. Befuddled but amused at the same time, they accept, unaware of the events to follow."

For the purposes of this post, the name of this blog should temporarily be "Things You Most Certainly and Without Any Doubt Have Missed", but it can't be helped. I recently submitted a story for the above named horror anthology. This, the second volume, which includes my story, came out on Halloween. It's in e-book format at the moment, and is available through, but will be available in print form in the very near future.

I'm editing this to add the Amazon link for the print version, should anybody be so inclined. It's here

The thing that makes this post a little less self-serving than it might initially seem is that there are five other writers, an editor and a publisher who have all worked hard on this book, and I'm happy to be in their company. My own story isn't the scariest in this collection, but I think it's all right in its way, and there are a couple of others that are more bone-chilling. A nice review was posted here:

Chris Chat

What I like about this review is that it recognizes the special qualities of each story. I'll post the ISBN for the printed version of the book here when it's out, but meanwhile do check out Rob Preece's excellent website,especially if you're interested in sci-fi, horror and/or romance...

Oh, and if the idea of this intrigues you, I expect you'll also want to check out
Carpathian Shadows, Volume One, also from, featuring four more authors tackling the same premise.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Reginald Shepherd

Reginald Shepherd, poet and critic, passed away on September 10th. He was 45. Although I am a relative newcomer to his life and thought, I found it compelling from "first contact" in an article he wrote for Poets and Writers about his biography early this year. To understate it, the odds were always greatly against him, and yet somehow he overcame to be a voice in the culture.

You can find his always stimulating blog here:

There are two great poems and one incisive critique right there at the top, which is of course the very end of things. Many thanks to his partner, Robert Philen, for his work in posting last thoughts and for keeping this blog open so that people can grieve their loss communally.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bach at Leipzig

I went last night to Shakespeare Santa Cruz, our annual summer play festival up in the redwood groves on the UCSC campus. (And if you think that sounds like an unreal experience, well, yes, it is.) Itzmar Moses recent play was held in the indoor theatre, which is just as well, as this more intimate setting is necessary for the total concentration it requires.

Now this may be a spoiler folks, but Bach is not actually a character in the play. He, or rather his music, is the atmosphere of the play. Among the many interesting things the play attempts to do, is to help the audience understand what a fugue is. In my opinion, it succeeds brilliantly.

Six--or is it seven?--musicians are hoping to acquire the post of organist of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. That is probably all you need to know about the basic plot structure of the play. Everything else is elaboration.

It has had a great success here in Santa Cruz, deservedly so. This is the second play this year I have seen with an ensemble male cast, the other being the equally enjoyable The Seafarers and against my feminist instincts, I find this five or six person male ensemble idea a sound structure. It is not that there are no women in this world--but they are all addressed, mostly in fear and trembling, in absentia.

I think you could read this play and enjoy it. But it is a little like reading a score of music, and much more so in this instance than in the reading of other scripts. Reading can only take you so far--you have no idea of it's effect until you see it performed.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

As Time Goes By

Well, it's been awhile. I am trying to keep this blog really focussed on things I feel that extra attachment to so I suppose it's bound to be more limited. Perhaps it will be surprising that this post mentions a television series. But I watched it again tonight and thought, no, it's right up there in the "things I love" category.

Although I do occasionally get addicted to unlikely TV series, I don't think there are really many apologies to be made for loving this one--not with Dame Judi Dench aboard. The premise of this one, for anyone who may have missed the frequent reruns on your local PBS affiliate, is that a man returning from life in Africa is reacquainted with a woman who runs a secretarial agency, and soon discovers that she is the same person he fell in love with when he was a young officer during WWII and she was a young nurse. Although there is a bittersweet note of lost chances running through this, it is essentially a comedy, and played by two actors with very great comic gifts, it inevitably leans in this direction.

I have tried to think what makes this rate a post here. I have mentioned it to friends who I thought would like it--they haven't. But I suspect they haven't seen it in the same light I have. People find each other again, certain misconceptions are patched up, love is rekindled, and there are a host of charming or eccentric secondary characters. The acting level is very high, the writing is up to the highest mark, and the timing is superb.

But all this is really secondary. What I really fall for is the reality of this little world of Jean and Lionel, and her daughter Judy, employee Sandy, publisher Alistair and so on and so on. It is convincing and complete, and a life that I would be happy to be invited into. It isn't everyone who gets a second chance at love in their senior years, but it is so nice to think of this household in their very comfortable London home, and wish that life for everyone had such a happy ending.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Mystery Guest

For those of you who have never worked in a bookstore, which, owing to the rapid decline of a once vigorous industry, must be most of you, there is a process in the book business know as 'returns'. One of the oddities of our trade is that you can actually return much of your merchandise to the publisher if things don't pan out quite as well as you'd hoped. And in fact, this works to the publishers' advantage as well, because a buyer is much more willing to try something unknown on spec than if he or she had to shoulder the whole risk.

But after a certain interval, inventory must be brought under control and some books, a great many in fact, must go back to their places of manufacture. The period they have to make it in the cold, cruel and increasingly indifferent world shrinks steadily--in our store, for instance, this generally means about six months. Mostly we pull blithely and unfeelingly--it's a tedious and not altogether happy job, and we want to get it over with. But every once in a while, you see something that you really haven't had a chance to get to , and you save it out of the pile, and decide you'll read it, and then maybe help promote it in some way. Usually, you don't end up reading it any more at that point than you did when it first came out, but every so often a book will jump to the top of the pile in this way.

Hence, The Mystery Guest: an account by Gregoire Bouillier. It's a very slim volume, so not at all taxing, and put out by Mariner Books with a gold cover and what I think of as a sort of Jazz age font, which, while attractive, doesn't necessarily work to its benefit because it is a little hard to read. It is an account for the most part of a very specific evening in the writer's life, though the build up to and consequences after are a large part of the text. The author receives a call from an old love who had dumped him without giving him a single reason. Now, out of the blue, she invites him to be the mystery guest at an annual party for someone else. She doesn't even refer to the break up. The author writes an extensive, absorbing analysis of his state of mind as he prepares to attend this party, and what happens next.

If you have ever read Thomas Bernhard, and like him, I am pretty sure you will like this. And there is a little bit about changing a light bulb that I expect to stick with me for the rest of my life, although I would like to talk to the author about his theory on this. But he is French and this is a work in translation, so that is probably impossible. Sacre bleu!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Believer

As may be clear by now, I have access to a fair amount of literary magazines, working at a bookstore as I do. And I may love one or several articles, stories or poems in any given issue. But there is currently no magazine or literary journal I love as much as a whole as The Believer. And this has been the case pretty much from its inception. Originating out of that same group of ultra-cool San Francisco writers that brought us McSweeney's, it is in all senses the distaff side. It's emphasis is literary yet non-fictional, and is edited by McSweeney's founder Dave Eggar's wife, Vendela Vida, along with Heidi Julavitz and Ed Park. Yet to my sensibilities, it partakes of little of the McSweeney's flavor.

The way I start to read an issue of The Believer: I'm working at the front cash register, and Joe, our go-to periodical guy (and also a member of an outstanding Cuban music band, Bailongo), hands me a copy hot off the presses--or at least hot out of the shipment. I jump for joy for a few seconds, ring up a few more sales, and then, in the next lull, start in. I always start at the same place--with Nick Hornby's column, Stuff I've Been Reading. I always want to know what he's been reading, and what he's been doing instead of reading as well. If you've missed the magazine so far, you can still catch up on Hornby's columns by looking at his first collection, The PolySyllabic Spree, or his second collection Housekeeping Vs. The Dirt. Hornby is extremely funny, yet serious about the books he's reviewing at the same time, and that's not an easy feat.

After that very necessary beginning, my wending my way through the thing is pretty much up for grabs. The magazine's index is on the outside back cover, which is pretty much a stroke of genius all by itself. This month, I thrilled to see that there was a new poem by Ilya Kaminsky, who I learned of at his thrilling AWP conference reading in New York this January, and an article about a long time deity in my pantheon, Elizabeth Hardwick. But there is always something like that--things you thought you had discovered they are already on to, and the writers you revere but fear are too old guard for them turn out to be in the next issue. This month, I devoured the Julie Hecht interview ahead of much else I am intrigued by. Hecht has been interviewed quite rarely, given her level of success, and it's a tribute to the magazine and to Hecht herself that this took place,thorny as the conversation was.

I sometimes read the magazine at our information desk, and wonder what the people who haven't heard of this rag must think. That despite our liberal surface, a zealous religious spirit reigns within? Certainly the cover of the magazine does not give much in the way of a clue, although given the illustrations, it would have to be a very odd sort of a cult.

I hope people who would respond to it with the same thrill of getting news they didn't even know they needed to hear will find this magazine. By way of aid, the link is here:

You can read quite a lot on line before you even have to hunt it out.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Finding One's Subject

Purely by chance, my next post will be about a submission to the Missouri Review as well. This one is in the current issue, Spring 2008. It's a lovely, poignant essay by Jarald Walker, and it's called "The Mechanics of Being." It's about his blind father, but it's also about finding your material as a writer, as well as the proper use of that material. Good luck to him, and good luck to us all.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Three-Sided Penny

My next post will be about a short story published in the Missouri Review in the Winter, 2007 issue. It's set in Ireland and is written by Dennis McFadden. It's a simple tale of human acquisitiveness for material things and where that leads, and has the pure cautionary notes of a folktale, but there is a lively, new energy to it. You can check out the excerpt the Missouri Review provides (very brief) here for the flavor of the thing.

I was compelled to look for more work by McFadden after reading this, hoping there was an anthology of some kind, but, though he has published in other literary journals, no such luck on a book. Yet.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


So, although I've thought about doing this off and on for awhile, the impetus to actually start came from reading a beautiful poem in the latest Paris Review, which, in case anyone happens to be reading this in the future, is the Spring 2008 issue. It is called 'Badger Disguised as a Monk--a netsuke', and is written by Elizabeth Spires. In case you aren't familiar with the word, a netsuke is a toggle that closes a purse or bag, worn on a cord hung from the sash or obi of a kimono. Often these were (and are) carved as tiny figures, and a whole tradition of artistry evolved over time. If you ever get a chance to see a netsuke collection, by all means go see it, as you can spend hours marveling over the intricacy and charm of these miniature carvings.

Spires' poem takes a popular subject for netsuke carvers--the badger, who disguises himself as a monk for his own nefarious ends--and imagines an inner life for him. This wise little poem evokes much of the Japanese folk tradition that inspired it, yet inflects it to Spires' own ends.

Seek it out.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Brief Introduction

The idea for this blog came to me after reading a couple of pieces in literary journals. One was a story, one was a poem. The only discernable similarity between the two were that both invoked a certain feeling in me, which I suppose I would describe as love. I would not want these pieces to be lost. This is my small contribution toward preventing such loss. I can't predict in advance what the limits of this blog are. The next post or two are known, but after that, who knows?