I have a new audio story out from The Drum: A Literary Magazine For Your Ears. Check it out! You can also read it in texty version over on the Stories page here.
It occurs to me that not everyone follows me on Facebook or Twitter, so I should mention this here too: a couple weeks back Richard Fulco asked me to write something for his blog about music in Soap and Water, so I did, and here it is. It was fun to write and is about how Merle Haggard is a big, awesome asshole.
As many of you know, a couple of years ago I finished my second novel, Soap and Water, and have since been trying to get it out into the world. It tells a story of civil war in a near-future American West, arising from today’s tensions based on things like ideology and water scarcity, and echoing our decade-long occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. More specifically, it tells the intersecting stories of five people stuck in that civil war, but instead of giving you a full outline I’d rather invite you to read the thing yourself.
See, recently I was invited to join Red Lemonade, a new social publishing venture created by the former editor of Soft Skull, one of America’s best independent presses. The idea is that authors who succeed in getting a community of readers excited about their work might be a good bet for actual book publication.
Here’s what I’d like to ask you all to do: read my book and help me get it noticed. If other readers there don’t love it, them’s the breaks, but with your help I hope at least to get them to give it a try. Red Lemonade is still a new community, so I honestly believe you guys could make that difference.
Step 1: Go to http://redlemona.de/ and register for a user account.
Step 2: Find the book at http://redlemona.de/joshua-malbin/soap-and-water. Read the first chapter, which I’ve already posted. Leave a comment.*
Step 3: If you like what you read, please invite your friends to join Red Lemonade too. Post this link on Twitter or Facebook or Google+ or whatever you do, or email it around to anyone you think might dig Soap and Water. Ask them to do the same.
I know it’s a drag to read long manuscripts on the internet. That’s why I plan to serialize Soap and Water at the rate of about 10 pages a week over the next couple months. New pages will always be posted Sunday night, with reminder emails going out concurrently .
I am so, so grateful to all of you who have read my stories over the last couple of years. I hope you’ll be willing to try out Soap and Water. I like it a lot.
* It doesn’t have to be praise. If you see a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole section that should be rewritten, leave a note saying so. I will take all editing suggestions seriously. As a new user your comment might be held for moderation. Don’t worry about it.
I’d like to read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, because I loved The Corrections and because everyone’s talking about it. But it’s clearly more important to read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, which is probably better too. Yet I own neither of those books, and I have a really nice pile of books at home. My friends have been hocking me to read A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin and one of them lent it to me; I’m guessing that if I get a good afternoon alone with that one it might become a problem. Someone online recommended The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley so I got that out of the library, and if no one else puts a hold on it I can have it for three two-week periods. (I also have four books of plays out of the library but those don’t count because they are for research.) I’ve been halfway through Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer for three years, which I feel OK about because it’s about frustration or distraction or diversion. (I’m six years into being three quarters of the way through Getting Things Done by David Allen.) I should probably finish it before I start Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varansi, which I bought at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books mostly because I wanted to have a conversation with the author about our mutual friend Ty. I picked up Elif Batuman’s The Possessed along with Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby (they’re in the n+1 family — got a couple of those to crack too) and read a few stories in each but could read a few more. I bought Nina Revoyr’s Wingshooters that same weekend because I had just finished Southland and loved it, and she was doing a reading at Stories in Echo Park. I started Witz by Joshua Cohen but that’s going to have to be a project. I actually finished a book — Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy, but I want to reread it for the purpose of writing an album in response to it, like Liz Phair and Exile on Main Street. Recently I pulled down A History of God by Karen Armstrong and No God But God by Reza Aslan off the shelf and read a few pages, because reading Kathryn Shultz’s Wrongology and an interesting thread on Unfogged put me in mind of The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, which I’ve never read. I’ve also cracked George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Lawrence Sterne’s Tristam Shandy in the past few years and I should really get back into one of those. I pulled the Sterne off the bookshelf to show HJ the drawing that my friend A White Bear based her tattoo on, so that one’s in reach. And one of these days I’d like to get into the Vollmanns — Europe Central, uncracked, and The Atlas, unfinished. Did I mention the fairy tales? I downloaded the Blue Fairy Book to read aloud off my phone in waiting rooms, and I picked up Italo Calvino’s Italian Folk Tales to read aloud in bed. There are a lot more tales than tales I’ve read.
This is all by way of saying yes, I’d love a copy of the new David Foster Wallace. Everyone lives like this? It’s a thing?
UPDATE: Oops. I forgot that I am actively reading The Ask by Sam Lipsyte. It’s so good.
I’m tickled by the news that Baz Luhrmann is preparing to shoot The Great Gatsby in 3-D. It made a great video game, so why not?
I liked Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are, but I also wished at the time that it hadn’t been the definitive take — even that they’d have let a couple of other writers and directors use the costumes and sets to film their own takes on the material.
The industrial strength of a film adaptation has a way of establishing itself as the canonical vision of a printed work. It’s healthy for a print work, especially a classic, to be allowed more than one crack. Imagine how great it would be if, some years down the line a Watchmen adaptation came out that was as different from Zach Snyder’s take as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight was from Danny Elfman’s?
Given the giddy pasticheworks of Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, and given the prima facie senselessness of telling a muted work like Gatsby in 3-D, I can’t help but be optimistic about this. Maybe, perversely, it will even have a touch of Hemingway’s apocryphal rebuttal in it.
x-posted at Alyssa Rosenberg.
Philosophical Sweep: To understand the fiction of David Foster Wallace, it helps to have a little Wittgenstein by James Ryerson in Slate.com:
In an interview with the literary critic Larry McCaffery published in 1993, Wallace explained that as a philosophy student he had been “chasing a special sort of buzz,” a flash of feeling whose nature he didn’t comprehend at first. […] It was really an experience of what I think Yeats called ‘the click of a well-made box.’ The word I always think of it as is ‘click.’ ”
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams:
- Brick: Somethin’ hasn’t happened yet.
- Big Daddy: What’s that?
- Brick: A click in my head.
- Big Daddy: Did you say “click”?
- Brick: Yes sir, the click in my head that makes me feel peaceful.
- Big Daddy: Boy, sometimes you worry me.
- Brick: It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.
- Big Daddy: Boy, you’re, you’re a real alcoholic!
- Brick: That is the truth. Yes, sir, I am an alcoholic. So if you’d just excuse me…
- Big Daddy: [grabbing him] No, I won’t excuse you.
- Brick: Now I’m waitin’ for that click and I don’t get it. Listen, I’m all alone. I’m talkin’ to no one where there’s absolute quiet.
- Big Daddy: You’ll hear plenty of that in the grave soon enough.
Wallace’s writing about drug and alcohol addiction forms the moral core of Infinite Jest, using addiction as a lens through which to view tennis and visual entertainment as well. Years before his suicide, he checked into rehab and asked to be put on suicide watch. It’s no surprise that he would approach thought itself as a desperate search for ‘a special sort of buzz’ or ‘the click’.
At a reading for her book of poems Earthquake Season, Jessica Goodheart read a new poem, an elegy for Jdimytai Damour, the Wal-Mart worker who died in a 2008 Black Friday stampede on Long Island. Of course there was a clear note of anger in the poem, but it wasn’t by far the loudest sound; the consumer megalith behind Damour’s death was too easy a target for the poet. (Which came as a nice surprise, because I know Jessica through economic justice work.) The poem looks past capitalism to look directly at the atavisms and animal currents it organizes.
Time and time again in these poems, the organizing fictions of civilization come to seem like a thin fence around the jungle. (Jessica lives near me in a woodsy corner of Northeast Los Angeles where coyotes regularly dine on cats.) Consider the concise, hopeless decree that opens “Caesarean”: “What’s inside must stay inside/what’s outside should be smooth.” The voice often seems like it is on the verge of abandoning the pretense that wildness can be suppressed from even the simplest interactions. “Instructions for the House Sitter”:
Refill the dog’s dish in the evening.
But do not walk him unless
you are prepared to go as he does,
on all fours, weathering hours of solitude
Until the very end, it’s a funny, charming picture of wildness, a child’s game; but for me, “hours of solitude” uncovers something terrible and unseen. That moment, deftly underplayed, of looking past the veil into the darkness comes up again and again in Earthquake Season.
I found Scott’s article interesting and informative. I do not think he will care but just in case he is the type of person who does believe in lifelong learning and collegiality, I thought I would share my thought about why I was offended. I would think a historian would understand the concept of trigger words that offend groups of people and indicate prejudice. Such as when he wrote, “gun nuts.”
–from the 11:30am Steve Parscale comment on “Amazing Disgrace”, Scott McLemee’s review of Michael Bellesiles’s latest move.
Say you have a character you want to invest with mystery. You might start by having another character mention him ominously:
But she had made a previous stoppage on the second floor, and had silently pointed at a dark door there.
“The only other lodger,” she now whispered, in explanation; “a law-writer. The children in the lanes here, say he has sold himself to the devil. I don’t know what he can have done with the money. Hush!”
We can learn his name indirectly too, through mail left lying around:
…announcing that a respectable man aged forty-five wanted engrossing or copying to execute with neatness and dispatch: Address to Nemo, care of Mr. Krook within.
Then forget about him for eighty or so pages. When he comes back, have yet a third character remark that “Nemo” is Latin for “no one,” and try to go see the mysterious copyist against more stern warnings:
“You know what they say of my lodger?” whispers Krook, going up a step or two.
“What do they say of him?”
“They say he has sold himself to the Enemy, but you and I know better—he don’t buy. I’ll tell you what, though; my lodger is so black-humoured and gloomy that I believe he’d as soon make that bargain as any other. Don’t put him out sir. That’s my advice!”
Then apply the atmospherics with a trowel.
Mr. Tulkinghorn with a nod goes on his way. He comes to the dark door on the second floor. He knocks, receives no answer, opens it, and accidentally extinguishes his candle in doing so.
Naturally. Time for the pathetic fallacy.
The air of the room is almost bad enough to have extinguished it, if he had not. It is a small room, nearly black with soot, and grease, and dirt. In the rusty skeleton of a grate, pinched at the middle as if Poverty had gripped it, a red coke fire burns low. In the corner by the chimney, stand a deal table and a broken desk: a wilderness marked with a rain of ink. In another corner, a ragged old portmanteau on one of the two chairs, serves for cabinet and wardrobe; no larger one is needed, for it collapses like the cheeks of a starved man. The floor is bare; except that one old mat, trodden to shreds of rope-yarn, lies perishing upon the hearth. No curtain veils the darkness of the night, but the discolored shutters are drawn together; and through the two gaunt holes pierced in them, famine might be staring in—the Banshee of the man upon the bed.
The stage is set. The mystery man revealed at last.
For, on a low bed opposite the fire, a confusion of dirty patchwork, lean-ribbed ticking, and coarse sacking, the lawyer, hesitating just within the doorway, sees a man. He lies there, dressed in shirt and trousers, with bare feet. He has a yellow look, in the spectral darkness of a candle that has guttered down, until the whole length of its wick (still burning) has doubled over, and left a tower of winding-sheet above it. His hair is ragged, mingling with his whiskers and his beard—the latter, ragged too, and grown, like the scum and mist around him, in neglect. Foul and filthy as the room is, foul and filthy as the air, it is not easy to perceive what fumes those are which most oppress the senses in it; but through the general sickliness and faintness, and the odor of stale tobacco, there comes into the lawyer’s mouth the vapid taste of opium.
“Hallo, my friend!” he cries, and strikes his iron candlestick against the door.
He thinks he has awakened his friend. He lies a little turned away, but his eyes are surely open.
“Hallo, my friend!” he cries again. “Hallo! Hallo!”
As he rattles on the door, the candle which has drooped so long, goes out, and leaves him in the dark; with the gaunt eyes in the shutters staring down upon the bed.
Are these tricks crude? You betcha. But they work.
Iris Murdoch demonstrates how to write about rationalization:
Another elderly lady, struggling through the crush, reached the door of Dora’s carriage and addressed her neighbour. ‘Ah, there you are, dear, I thought you were nearer the front.’ They looked at each other rather gloomily, the standing lady leaning at an angle through the doorway, her feet trapped in a heap of luggage. They began a conversation about how they had never seen the train so full.
Dora stopped listening because a dreadful thought had struck her. She ought to give up her seat. She rejected the thought, but it came back. There was no doubt about it. The elderly lady who was standing looked very frail indeed, and it was only proper tat Dora, who was young and healthy should give her seat to the lady who could then sit next to her friend. Dora felt the blood rushing to her face. She sat still and considered the matter. There was no point in being hasty. It was possible of course that while clearly admitting that she ought to give up her seat she might nevertheless simply not do so out of pure selfishness. This would in some ways be a better situation than what would have been the case if it had simply not occurred to her at all that she ought to give up her seat. On the other side of the seated lady a man was sitting. He was reading his newspaper and did not seem to be thinking about his duty. Perhaps if Dora waited it would occur to the man to give his seat to the other lady? Unlikely. Dora examined the other inhabitants of the carriage. None of them looked in the least uneasy. Their faces, if not already buried in books, reflected the selfish glee which had probably been on her own a moment since as she watched the crowd in the corridor. There was another aspect to the matter. She had taken the trouble to arrive early, and surely ought to be rewarded for this. Though perhaps the two ladies had arrived as early as they could? There was no knowing. But in any case there was an elementary justice in the first comers having the seats. The old lady would be perfectly all right in the corridor. The corridor was full of old ladies anyway, and no one else seemed bothered by this, least of all the old ladies themselves! Dora hated pointless sacrifices. She was tired after her recent emotions and deserved a rest. Besides, it would never do to arrive at her destination exhausted. She regarded her state of distress as completely neurotic. She decided not to give up her seat.
She got up and said to the standing lady ‘Do sit down here, please. I’m not going very far, and I’d much rather stand anyway.’
Show, don’t tell, can even apply to thought processes.