Saturday, July 30, 2011

the grown ups also knew

They all knew it was ridiculous to expect this one poor little candy bar to have a magic ticket inside it, and they were trying as gently and as kindly as they could to prepare Charlie for the disappointment. But there was one other thing that the grown ups also knew, and it was this: that however small the chance might be of striking lucky, the chance was there.

The chance had to be there.

This particular candy bar had as much chance as any other to have the Golden Ticket.

And that was why all the grandparents and parents in the room were actually as tense and excited as Charlie was, although they were pretending to be very calm.

From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

we're supposed to be in charge here

We can't believe the house is on fire. It's so embarrassing first of all, and so dangerous second of all. Also, we're supposed to be in charge here, so there's a sense of somebody not doing her job. From In Zanesville, by Jo Ann Beard
Photo by Olivia Bee
(Olivia Bee also shot the cover of In Zanesville)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

17 reasons why

A few reasons why it's good to leave the house

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

the tuesday interview: ben jahn

Ben Jahn is a kick ass writer. I'm not sure what else to say. You've got to read his stories. It's like each has its own private language.

From Ben:

I’m working on a novel about a man who lives near a large public rock. He installs fake grass for a living, so it’s about that, and it’s about the people who come to the rock, and, lately, it’s about doll shopping (the guy has young children). What do I like about these characters? I like that there’s still some language left in them. I like that the main character uses his imagination—uses it publicly, I mean. He trusts it, allows it to affect change in his life. I think a lot of people go around making up dialogue, imagining fight scenes, talking out little scenarios while walking the dog; I think a lot of people do this, and I think that it actually effects how they interact with others—if I’m wrong about this, then I’ll just call it semi-autobiographical and sit back and wait for the psychotic break.

Art that’s influenced me. Yeah, I like to see what people are up to. “Influence” is a hard one for me, since real influence probably happens below the level of consciousness. But I’ve recently enjoyed Will Rogan’s pictures. He has a photo of a minivan parked beneath a concrete staircase so that it fits just right (the angle of the stairs is the angle of the windshield—at least this is true in my memory). Also, Kelly Reichardt. Her film Old Joy. I went to a “screening” where Reichardt did a Q &A afterward. There’s a scene in the film at a hot spring in the woods where these two old friends are drinking beer and soaking and enjoying the water sounds. After the movie Reichardt said all those water sounds were dubbed in later—recorded at her friend’s house in New Jersey (I think she said they poured water from buckets off his roof into his pool). It is now my favorite scene of all time, but only because I know where the water sounds came from.

I return to Ray Carver’s Fires. I have an old Capra Press paperback version with a close-up picture of flames on the cover, and a slightly out-of-focus author photo on the back. Fires has a little poetry, some personal/craft essays, and a few short stories (“The Pheasant” among them, the best of the roadkill realism subgenre). The book takes its title from an essay on influence, and so, in a neat (but not too neat) way, the stories and poems become evidence. It’s the only book you can’t borrow.

There are other books that, when I was reading them the first time, I thought: I will read this every three years until I die. But, ten years later I haven’t made it past page 6 in most of those books. There are hundreds of individual short stories that I re-read, and some of these are in books that I feel very strongly about but can’t see taking up again because big-N Nostalgia lurks in the margin notes.

Now I’m reading Speedboat, by Renata Adler; Sprawl, by Danielle Dutton; and Florida, by Christine Schutt. I want to like the Adler book, I really like the Dutton, and the Schutt is Schutty (which means “good-in-small-doses” in my house).

Photo: Pocket by Will Rogan

Monday, July 25, 2011

if these are not our concerns

Abortion. Absent fathers. Alienation. Apathy. Awareness. Barriers. Bibliography. Blackness. Bullets. Bureaucracy. Card catalog. Complacency. Condescension. Corruption. Courage. Despair. Discrimination. Distrust. Dope. Defiance. Draft. Employment. Feminism. Freedom. Hate. High prices. Homelessness. Hopelessness. Hunger. Horror. Ignorance. Illegal police acts. Imperialism. Indifference. Injustice. Insults. Liberation. Librarians. Lobbies. Love. Machismo. Manhood. Media. Middle class. Mobility. Music. Open door. Oppressed mothers. Paranoia. Peace. Peoplehood. Poetry. Police brutality. Politics. Poverty. Power. Pride. Prisons. Rage. Rats. Reading. Red tape. Reference. Respect. Revolution. Riots. Segregation. Sexism. Small children. Squalor. Strength. Struggle. Study quietly. Survival. Teachers. Teargas. TV. Violence. War. Welfare. Whiteness. Womanhood. Working class.

If these are not our concerns, why do we profess to be librarians? —Bill Hinchliff, 1972
Revolting Librarians
by Celeste West, Elizabeth Katz et al.
San Francisco: Booklegger Press, 1972. Via Reference Library

Monday, July 18, 2011

the tuesday interview: francesca lia block

Francesca Lia Block's writing is everything everyone says it is: lush and punk and poetic. But, more than that, her stories say: if it's important to girls, it's important. Her novels thrum with this: if you feel it, it's real. When I found her books, I found the weight she gives to the interior lives of girls, startling. I understand why we carry her books in our bags and pile them next to our beds.

RQD: What are you working on now?

FLB:I'm waiting to receive editorial notes from editors on two projects, an adult psychological fantasy/murder mystery and a young adult paranormal. The Weetzie Bat prequel, Pink Smog, is coming soon. I'm currently editing an online anthology called Love Magick, with stories by my friends, colleagues and students.

I'm very involved with the characters from the adult book and have been trying to write their story for years. My main character, Ariel, is in love with the beauty of words and uses words and imagination to try to escape the reality of her mother's cancer and her best friend's disappearance. Until she can't any longer. Or maybe she can...

RQD: What other artists influence you?

FLB: Kahlo, Arbus, Fellini, ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman and Asian art, 1980's Los Angeles punk rock, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey etc etc.

RQD: What book or story or poem do you return to over and over?

FLB: The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell

RQD: What are you reading now?

FLB: Daniel Handler’s The Basic Eight

RQD: What were you reading as a kid?

FLB: Everything I could get my hands on. I was most influenced by poetry, fairy tales and mythology.

Photo: Diane Arbus

I missed you before we met

"...we were photo negatives of each other, together making the perfect image of a girl." Violet and Claire by Francesca Lia Block
Photo: The goddaughter

tomorrow: the tuesday interview

with Francesca Lia Block. A writer who believes in girls.

Friday, July 15, 2011

and possibly much more wonderful

"Art ought to be a troublesome thing and one of the reasons for painting representationally is that this makes for much more troublesome pictures." David Park

Monday, July 11, 2011

the tuesday interview: kat asharya

I've known Kat Asharya for a few years as blogger at the fantastic style and pop culture blog, No Good for Me, and am super excited about the young adult novel she's working on.

RQD: Tell me about the novel. What interests you about these characters?

KA: I'm working on a novel, a love story about between a girl skater and an insanely great one...who happens to be a werewolf. I call it my "teenage skater werewolf" book, and everyone's amused by that, but it's true. It takes place during the height of the Reagan era near Chicago, around the outskirts of the punk and skate scenes at the time. It would be shelved in the YA/fantasy section of a bookstore.

Because I wrote essentially a romance, I was really interested in the relationship between my two main characters, the process of bringing these two wary, self-contained, reserved people and discovering why they fall in love and what keeps them drawn together, and how their love for one another fits into their larger arcs as people. My main character had been so emotionally self-sufficient, so almost impenetrable, that she needed the mystery that was central to my skater werewolf to intrigue and draw her out -- and she needed to find someone whose nature was inherently expressive, volatile and passionate to provoke that in her as well. And as I wrote, I realized that I was writing a love story that took place between two essential equals -- that both of them become intrigued and attracted to one another because of an innate respect they have for one another's talents and strength. That was really great to write and explore.

RQD: What artists were you thinking about in relation to this work?

KA: I am definitely influenced by music; for this particular project, music was definitely the strongest non-literary influence, particularly the very early alternative era in the late 80s, just when that subculture was beginning to emerge. Stuff like the Replacements, New Order, the Smiths, early R.E.M., but also records on SST and stuff like Bad Brains and the Dead Kennedys. I was also really influenced by the photography of Ari Marcopoulos, who has shot skaters in a really lyrical, poetic, almost dreamy way over the years. That was a feel that I tried to capture in my writing and in the visuals I had in my head.

I'm a filmmaker as well (I have my MFA in screenwriting and directing) and that's a big influence on me always. For this novel, I referenced "River's Edge" a lot, for the time period and a kind of strange teenage Reagan-era nihilism, a fascination with darkness in places that seem to have nothing to offer for the people who live there. I also was inspired by Lynne Ramsay's films a lot, particularly "Morvern Callar," especially in reference to a very silent, very self-contained character. My main character isn't catatonic, but she is quiet and inward-looking, and I looked to the Samantha Morton character to see how to dramatize that a bit. I looked at old episodes of "Headbanger's Ball" and "120 Minutes" and early issues of "Sassy" as well, just as a touchstone for pop culture. (All those old Maybelline and Natural Wonder makeup ads really pulled me back!) I also did my best to recreate a top 40 radio station from 1988 on Pandora: Madonna, Belinda Carlisle, Motley Crue and Depeche Mode was the magical combination.

My werewolf is an artist, and I imagined his work a bit like Egon Schiele's, so I looked a lot at his paintings and sketches a lot. I think something of Schiele's darker, slightly sinister eroticism got into my novel, albeit in a very muted way. And it's not an artwork, really, but the Midwestern landscape -- epic stretches of horizon, rolling fields, stark forests intercut with streams and rivers -- is a really big influence on me.

RQD: What books do you return to over and over?

KA: I actually tend to re-read books often; I like to read my favorite books at least once a year. I think I do it not just for the stories, but because they keep me in touch with the things that made me fall in love with words and reading and books and stories in the first place. But there are definitely some stories that you read again and again that seem to reveal something new about themselves with each reading. For me, it's The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James and The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. One's a truly splendid Arthurian/witchy fantasy epic, the other's a decorous yet spiky epic of psychology, but I never get tired of being in those worlds with those people.

RQD: What are you reading now?

KA: I'm working my way through Emile Zola's work this summer; I just finished The Ladies' Paradise, which I loved as a window into the beginning of consumer culture in 19th century Paris, and I'm on L'Assommoir right now. Zola's such a master of action and setting; he would've been a filmmaker if he'd been alive now, his scenes have such movement in them, and they're so dense with detail: the way he describes gestures, fabrics, expressions is so rich. On a less antiquated tip, I also have A Game of Thrones going! High fantasy is kind of my guilty pleasure. And I'm wending my way through St. Lucy's School for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell and it's so truly marvelous.

RQD: What were you reading as a kid? How did those books impact the writing you do now?

KA: The books I read a lot as a kid were big, epic fantasy stories that transported me to a whole different world, made me feel big, wide emotions, and made me believe that I, too, could save my kingdom, travel time or restore peace to the world. Robin McKinley's "The Hero and the Crown" and her Beauty and the Beast retelling were particular favorites, and I also loved "A Wrinkle in Time." That book was one of the first that truly transported me as a kid. I remember being profoundly disappointed that you couldn't tesseract in real life! Like, seriously, totally broken-hearted! I also loved mythology, and would check out D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths and the one on Norse Myths from the library all the time. I also really, really loved Little Women. If I was a kid now, I'm pretty sure the His Dark Materials trilogy would be my favorite thing ever.

My early reading definitely had a huge impact on the writing I do now. It sounds weird, but I felt this strange internal pressure for so much of my writing life to be more "literary," and being an Asian-American, another strange pressure/guilt for not doing work that was more Asian-American or somehow dealing with that aspect of my life. I would try and try and try in my fiction to write something that I felt I should be doing, and of course, that never works. In the end, I looked at the books that I truly loved, the books that I felt had a hand in shaping something of my spirit and sparking my imagination, and they were the fantasy and sci-fi books I loved as a kid, and stuff like William Gibson, Francesca Lia Block, Angela Carter and Neil Gaiman now. It was like a big, obvious wake-up call of where my heart truly wanted to go. Those are the kind of stories that gave my imagination wings as a child, and that's what keeps me going now.

Photo: Ari Marcopoulos "No Cause"

tomorrow: the tuesday interview

Featuring: Kat Asharya of No Good For Me talking about her teenage werewolf skater book.
Photo: Ari Marcopoulos
Cairo, Sonoma, 2008
Photocopy unique, Carbon pigment print

Sunday, July 10, 2011

without finn, there would be no story

But most of all what I wanted was to see myself through his eyes, to define myself in relation to him, to sift out what was interesting in me (what he must have liked, however insignificant) and distill it into a purer, bolder, more compelling version of myself.

The truth is, for that brief period of my life I failed to exist if Finn wasn't looking at me. And so I copied him, strove to exist the way he existed: to stretch, languid and graceful when tired, to move swiftly and with determination when not, to speak rarely and with force, to smile in a way that rewarded the world. From What I Was by Meg Rosoff
Painting: Cy Twombly,
Note 1 (from Three Notes for Salah) 2005-7
On view at SFMOMA

Friday, July 8, 2011

pond farm pottery

And, a summer list:
fire pits
picnic tables
outdoor showers
secret swimming holes
river rock
creek walking
faeries that live in the forest
outdoor concerts
fresh bread
redwoods and ferns

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I think of it on grey

I've got to tell you
how I love you always
I think of it on grey
mornings with death

in my mouth the tea
is never hot enough
then and the cigarette
dry the maroon robe

chills me I need you
and look out the window
at the noiseless snow

At night on the dock
the buses glow like
clouds and I am lonely
thinking of flutes

I miss you always
when I go to the beach
the sand is wet with
tears that seem mine

although I never weep
and hold you in my
heart with a very real
humor you'd be proud of

the parking lot is
crowded and I stand
rattling my keys the car
is empty as a bicycle

what are you doing now
where did you eat your
lunch and were there
lots of anchovies it

is difficult to think
of you without me in
the sentence you depress
me when you are alone

Last night the stars
were numerous and today
snow is their calling
card I'll not be cordial

there is nothing that
distracts me music is
only a crossword puzzle
do you know how it is

when you are the only
passenger if there is a
place further from me
I beg you do not go
"Morning," Frank O'Hara

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

the tuesday interview: lucy corin

Lucy Corin is the author of The Entire Predicament (Tin House Books) and Everyday Psychokillers: A History for Girls (FC2). She's currently at work on a novel about a hundred very small apocalypses and a novel about the brain. Her stories have appeared all over, including American Short Fiction, Ploughshares and Tin House Magazine. I'm pretty thrilled she's RQD's first interview.

RQD: What are you working on now? What's interesting to you about these characters?
LC: I'm writing a novel. Just yesterday, actually, I started a "character chart" to track the things I know so far about the characters, b/c I don't get interested in already-imagined characters so much as who they start being as I accumulate pages. So what interests me about these, is that I am developing them in relation to each other (trying to see how they counter and balance each other in the story) and struggling with fully imagining them the way I am writing them (rather than what in my life they spring from). I'm focusing on 2 characters who are obsessed with two possibly mad people, and trying to find the personhood within the context of madness is the point of writing the novel. There's a way that even including madness in the world of a book can dehumanize people/characters, and that's what I'm struggling with.

RQD: Who are some of the visual artists you're thinking about now in relation to your work?
LC: I spent some time looking at Marcel Dzama last year, and James Casabere photos of models of housing developments, and Simon Evans' maps. Going to SF MOMA today!

RQD: Is there a book or story or poem that you return to over and over?
LC: White Noise, Lolita and "A Good Man is Hard to Find," are probably the "most reread" things.

RQD: What are you reading now?
LC: Zeno's Conscience and Promethia

RQD: And as a kid, what were you reading? Did they impact your work? How?
LC: Incredibly important. My mother read me wonderful inappropriate things as a kid: James Dickey (The Sheep Child-- very formative!), Poe, Sylvia Plath, Dylan cummings (here is little effie's head whose brains are made of gingerbread...) she read me things she was into that were musical-- I remember how important musicality was both to her sense of what would appeal to a child and what the point of literature was. She also told me stories about British Royal history... the Stuarts and the Tudors and Anne Boleyn. It was great melodrama. I didn't learn to read until I was maybe 7 (dyslexia) but as soon as I could read I read intensely. Anne Frank was the first whole book I read by myself- I think I was 8. I wrote a poem about it. Z for Zaccharia (sp? author O'Brien?) was an important YA book for me. At 13 it was all about Jim Carroll's Baskeball Diaries.

Friday, July 1, 2011