there are so many things to say about

so many different things.


I was interviewed by the awesome Janice Lee at HTMLGiant about Noir: A Love Story
. It’s sort of a peculiar interview and playful in structure and tone. It reminded me of who I was when I wrote that novel way back in 2010, just out of university and on my way to Korea. In it I talk about strangers, myths, dying, and living.

Anyrate, Janice Lee is awesome. She’s the Queen behind Entropy and so many other things, including awesome books of her own. Check her out.

Speaking Noir: A Love Story, you can check out the Goodreads Giveaway. Only a few more days for that and I’m giving away three copies, so your chances are pretty good!

 

 

What else? Lots of things to share from Entropy. I’ll just list them.

  • Rosa by Jesús Orellano – Perhaps the best short film I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely brilliant in every conceivable way. Some of the best fight choreography I’ve ever seen in an animated film, and he’s currently making it a full length film, so wait for that. Orellano is a man to watch. I talk about ecological collapse and posthumanism.
  • Last Breath by Mak Ying-Ping – Not my typically animation style, but this little film covers a lot of interesting ground. I talk about totalitarianism and americanism.
  • Carn by Jeff le Bars – I maybe already posted about this here, but it’s a very cool film about wolves and capitalism and imperialism. Or, those are things I talk about. It’s really just about choice and wolves and dying.

That’s probably everything.

on writing books no one wants

I’ve written several novels now. Six in their final form, and I have a few others in various states of disrepair and incompletion. Two of my novels have been published, with another one coming out in a few months. It’s hard to say if anyone actually wants any of these books, though.

Mostly I want to talk about Twilight of the Wolves, which I knew would be a hard sell at first, which is why I’m offering a free novella to those who buy a paperback edition, and why the kindle version is currently $2.99. Even with all that, it looks like no one’s biting, which is, admittedly, quite disappointing. I think there are a few very big reasons for this.

I think part of it has to do with my built in audience, which is made up of the indie lit crowd. I deeply love these people and I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, and I’ve made some great friends within that community. The issue is, I suppose, that it’s a pretty small market, and that few of them have the money or desire to buy everything that comes out. But, I mean, who can do that? But the real point is that no indie authors are making a living off their words, which is why so many are also professors or currently in programs that will lead to them gaining teaching positions. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but it means that your audience is ridiculously small, and largely in conversation with itself. This means very little of what’s published by and within the community reaches past it to casual readers, or even the larger arena of readers, which is a small market to begin with. So what we have, in a sense, is the smallest market within a very small market. It means that very few, if any of us, are selling that many copies of our books. There are exceptions, I’m sure, and there are those who get a lot of great critical attention, especially lately. But I’m not sure how that translates to sales, but I’m sure Two Dollar Radio sells better than most publishing houses of that size because of how much attention their books get, which is a testament to the authors there and to the Obenaufs.

Part of the indie community’s mentality is the importance of high artistic appeal, which typically means that most of the books fall into the experimental or literary genres. Often times both. We love strong prose that plays with form and structure. I think many of the readers within the community don’t have much interest in genres like science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and horror. There are exceptions, of course, but many of those writers who write genre but are critically beloved are considered transcenders–those who reach past the shabby limits of genre fiction and tap into the literary genre. Thinking of people like Brian Evenson and Matt Bell, though there are certainly others. By and large, the indie community is interested in literary fiction, which is exemplified by the presses associated with the community. I can’t think of any publishing houses that actively seek SF/F, though a few want horror. And it’s not that they necessarily discourage SF/F, but that’s not their audience, and they don’t really want to be a part of that conversation.

Also, before I get too far, I’ll just say this is all how I perceive the community [which should be obvious] and is in no way meant as a definitive description. If there are indie presses doing SF/F, I’d love to see them! Mixer Publishing is one, but I’m not sure how many others there really are. And that’s not to say that there aren’t indie genre publishers. It means that they’re not really a part of the indie lit community, as I understand it. Also, I’m not going to talk about journals or magazines, because that’s absurd to even discuss. For every ten writers, there’s a journal that exists.

Anyrate, moving past the community–which is the audience I can tap into most readily because I’m a member of the community–let’s take a look at the genre readers.

One peculiar thing I discovered when trying to mail ARCs to different magazines and websites for review or interview opportunities, I largely met a wall of disinterest. Most genre publications won’t even look at a book if it’s not published by a SFWA publisher, which puts a huge limit on your ability as an indie author to tap into that market. Beyond that issue, many genre readers are looking for more commercial fiction, something fun and exciting that’s also full of big ideas and complex morality. What they’re typically less interested in is difficult prose. What genre readers want is an open door that leads to a headlong race, a house of mirrors, or a labyrinth. I disagree with everyone who says that genre readers don’t want to be challenged by their books, because that’s just completely untrue and absurd. It is true, however, that they’re less interested in how you can play with the structure of a sentence. They want clear and clean prose that allows them into the complexity of the world you’ve created, where they can wrestle with the philosophical, social, and moral implications of your narrative. A Song of Ice & Fire isn’t difficult to read, but it’s an incredibly complex series of novels. The same is true of MalazanThe Book of the New Sun, The Dispossessed, and Neveryon. And even despite the disinterest in complex or experimental sentences, I think you’ll find few writers more talented than Gene Wolfe, Ursula K Le Guin, and Samuel R Delany, even on a sentence by sentence reading.

Anyrate, so these are the two worlds that Twilight of the Wolves is dealing with. In one, there’s a small built in audience, but the word fantasy cast a dark cloud over the novel. Then there’s the genre audience, which is huge, but is largely disinterested in books published by independent literary presses.

And Twilight of the Wolves very much falls between these two worlds. It’s an experimental novel with sometimes very caustic and aggressive and lyrical prose. It’s rooted in the postcolonial and surreal, and is a subversion of the fantasy genre while being firmly and definitely in dialogue with the fantasy tradition. It’s postmodern and it has a tricky structure with lots of surrealism and difficulty to overcome. It’s a book that demands you learn how to read it and rise to the challenge it presents.

Both of the reviews published about Twilight of the Wolves very much misunderstand even what happens in the novel. Both reviews didn’t even realise that a third of the novel is narrated by a character because of that character’s inability to use personal pronouns or speak aloud. I was grateful for both reviews and it made me proud that both of them loved the book so much. It didn’t even bother me that they missed what I think is a very important part of the book. The novel, though I often think of it as being very straightforward [lying to myself, surely], presents many challenges to the reader, and because of the thickness of the prose, it makes discovering the actual narrative a challenge I wasn’t expecting. And I’ve received only very positive feedback from the novel. People who read it and give themselves to it seem to truly love what’s happening.

But on the otherside of this literary/experimental/postmodern leaning, there’s the fantasy. This is very much a fantasy novel. I stand firmly by that. This is a world I’ve been dreaming my whole life, and it’s purely genre, despite the literary tricks and the playing with form. It’s a reaction to the tradition, but also a continuation of the tradition. I believe people who love George RR Martin, Gene Wolfe, Samuel R Delany, Joanna Russ, Ursula K Le Guin, and China Mieville will really love this novel. And while it’s silly for me to compare myself to any of them, I think I learnt a lot from each of them. Kyle Muntz once told me that the novel reminded him of Thomas Pynchon, but I always think the novel is much closer to Earthsea and Neveryon, and sort of the flipside of Game of Thrones, in that we’re only looking at the people at the bottom. The focus isn’t on kings and knights and ladies and prophecies. We’re looking at orphans: a eunuch, the only survivor of a plague, and a man cursed by a god. They’re powerless, and they don’t rise through the social or military ranks of the world. Instead they try to escape it entirely.

But this isn’t escapism. I didn’t think of it while I wrote it, but this book is very much influenced by Edward Said, Eduardo Galeano, Noam Chomsky, Taoism, Shintoism, and transcendentalism. Though this novel takes place on a different planet, in a very different solar system, it’s rooted in humanity, and its only real question remains: what does it mean to be human?

This, more than any of my other novels, is about what it means to live, which was the original title, and it’s the title I still think of it having. To Live.

And so I’ve written a difficult book that very few people want to read, but it’s the most perfect artistic expression I’ve yet created. It’s the novel that is perhaps most deeply me, most deeply autobiographical, most deeply everything I’ve ever loved and hated.

It will challenge you and perhaps it’s not worth it to you, but this is the book I had to write, and there are many more books set in this world, and they’ll likely all hit this same nebulous inbetween. Being both literary and fantasy, but belonging to neither.

I always knew this was going to be a difficult sell, but I really am disappointed with how it’s selling, and maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe I should be focusing on how those who read it love it. But I guess I expected more for it. It’s difficult putting your whole heart and life into a book and then watching it struggle to stay afloat in the ocean.

I stepped into this year hoping to become a full time writer. I’ve given up on that, I think. It’s very unlikely that this will sell much better. There’s a huge market for it, especially since Game of Thrones entered our television screens, but tapping into that giant market is no easy task, and it’ll likely be a few more books till I’m there, but this is where my heart is, which is sometimes strange to think about. I walked so deeply into the indie lit community only to realise the books I wanted to write didn’t belong there. I mean, I have a few books that still fit quite nicely there, and I think Noir: A Love Story is perfect for that crowd, so look for that in a couple months. July.

But I am disappointed, and I think that I may be shrugging off a lot of this extra stuff I’m doing and just get back to writing. My time has become split by a thousand obligations, and I want to cutoff most of those, and probably will soon. I need to focus back on the words and fight for these books.

So, for now, if you’re still reading this, there’s the promotion I’m doing for the month of April where you can get a novella with Twilight of the Wolves for free. After April, I think I’ll be going underground for a while and just focusing on what really matters with this whole writing business: the words.

25 influential books

This is going around facebook but I don’t think I could stick it to just ten so I’m going to give myself this larger but equally arbitrary number for my list. These are books that stayed with me/changed me/on and on. There’s no specific order beyond the first two.

1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky – This may not be Dostoevsky’s best, but it’s my favorite, and it’s the first one I read. It literally changed my life. It changed every bit of me. It changed the way I saw the world, the way the world felt, the way I thought and still think. I think it’s the novel that caused me to give up my anger. It taught me how to live. It taught me everything I know about life. It broke my heart over and over and I wept into the pages. Not cried, but wept big alligator tears as my heart sort of fractured and disintegrated in Russia so long ago. It tore me apart and broke me to pieces for so long and then it rebuilt me slowly. Raskolnikov is so deep inside me, so fused to my life that I think Dostoevsky’s still building me, still trying to get me right. I read it twice the first week I held it in my hands. I read it four times by the end of that year, and I’m afraid to even pick it up. I have a few different translations of it but can never make it past the first couple pages. Not because I don’t like it anymore, but because I’m afraid of what’ll happen.

2. A Season in Hell / Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud – You’re only sixteen once and so you only get to discover the perfect books for you at that age once. This, along with Crime and Punishment defined my sixteenth year, and just about every year after that. This is when I still thought I was a poet, or at least when I was desperately trying to write the perfect line, and then Rimbaud disemboweled language for me. Everything I thought I knew about what words could do and what they could be shifted radically, and, still, every year I reread these, discovering more each time it drains into my brain. It invigorates me and it’s one of those cures for when I get absurdly depressed about the world I exist in.

3. The Waves by Virginia Woolf – Like Rimbaud, this just radically changed what I understood language to be and what it could do. It transformed narrative for me, and I still consider it maybe one of the only perfect novels I’ve ever read. It’s sublime and untouchable and she writes so beautifully that it makes you want to quit, but it’s also endlessly inspiring, pushing me harder and deeper.

4. The Magus by John Fowles – This is the novel that taught me that language needn’t be difficult or overpowering for a novel to be absolutely brilliant. It transformed what I understood about narrative once more, and it broke my heart. It’s beautiful and nearly perfect. And it begins so quietly, so unassumingly. The first 100 pages took me about a week to read and the next 600 took me about two days. It’s like falling into a kaleidoscope and hoping to never find your way back out, and even when the novel ends, you’re still trapped in the whirlwind, just hurting, just loving. And then the world shines, but from a new light. One you didn’t know could exist.

5. Moby Dick by Herman Melville – I don’t even really have words for this novel. It’s unstoppable. It’s one of the few perfect novels ever written and I could live in that language, in that world forever. It taught me so much about what a novel can be. Forget narrative and character and the language. It taught me that a novel can be so much more than just words or even just an experience. A novel can be this grand neverending world that exists nowhere but feels realer than the world around you.

6. A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin – Like many people in love with literary fiction and its genre constraints, I rarely read any genre fiction, which is a huge oversight in my reading that I began correcting a few years ago. That’s when I fell into this. Read the first five novels, all 5,000 pages, in about three months. If you want to see what plot can do, just pick one of these up. The writing’s not perfect, but he creates a world so profoundly complex and large and characters so real they drip off the page. But the greatest achievement, I think, even beyond all the mythos and legends and so on, is the unrelenting pacing of these novels.

7. Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas – I’ve been talking about this novel so much for the last two years it’s strange to think that I might have even more to say. But it’s perfect. It’s perfect in every way, even in the ways it fails. And Nadas does so many things that shouldn’t work. He takes a moment, literally a single moment, and stretches it over fifty or one hundred pages, and it’s somehow never boring. It’s invigorating. I generally dislike sex scenes in fiction because I think they’re pretty boring, but he writes these enormous scenes centered around just a minute of sex and cast over so many pages, and it’s the greatest writing I’ve ever read. Nadas is a master. Maybe the only one at his level living, and his enormous crumbling cathedral of a novel is absolutely sublime.

8. Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian – Imagine a Chinese Milan Kundera, and imagine him doing what Kundera does, but somehow better. Honestly, I used to always say that no writer writes like Kundera because no one could possibly pull off what he does, and then I fell into Soul Mountain. Part memoir, part ethnography, part history of the Cultural Revolution and Maoist China, part political treatise, part ecological report, part mythology, part noir, part travelogue, part mythology, part metaphysical exploration of the self and nation. It’s enormous and so beautiful, so readable, so perfect.

9. Our Ecstatic Days by Steve Erickson – Ever since I’ve read Erickson, I’ve been preaching his name to whoever will listen. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the greatest living american author, and my favorite writer maybe ever. He changed me in ways that haven’t happened since Dostoevsky, and so maybe this should be at the beginning of this list too. And, really, I could put any of his novels here. People had been telling me about Erickson forever, telling me how much I’d love his work, but I always just sort of wandered off to some other book. And then I discovered his first novel, Days Between Stations, at a secondhand shop in Dublin. Everything’s been different since then. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without him. I wouldn’t have ever been able to write a novel without him. His writing taught me that I could be the writer I wanted to be. I didn’t need to fit into a niche or some other well-trodden path of literature. I could carve my own way, write the stories I wanted to read and live in. I read most of his books twice the first year I found him, and I think this is his best. But it also only works at this level if you’ve read all the novels published previous to this one. It’s a gargantuan achievement, how he ties all of his novels together into a single world constantly in flux. Steve Erickson is a giant and we’re lucky to have him and you should read him now.

10. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu – If Crime and Punishment taught me how to live, then Lao Tzu taught me how to be human.

11. The Stranger by Albert Camus – Along with the Tao Te Ching, this novel taught me how to be human. Its influence is still felt today, and, outside of that, it’s just a great novel. It’s another book I discovered at the right time that led me to read everything he ever wrote. I think The Fall is probably a better novel and maybe even taught me more about what it means to be ydde, but I’m sticking with The Stranger because of what it opened up to me.

12. Factotum by Charles Bukowski – I actually don’t think Bukowski is very good anymore, bu he was extremely important to me when I was younger. Back when I was hating the world, drinking way too much, so angry and depressed about existence, he was the one who sort of tempered my anger and pushed me towards creation. I wouldn’t be the same person without Bukowski but I find him one of the hardest writers to return to.

13. The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin – This is a brilliant novel by one of the greatest novelists around. Read this while I was simultaneously seriously studying anarchism and it sort of opened up the world to me. Not only that, but it opened up the ability in me to dramatise politics in a way I never thought possible before. From here, I’ve read a great number of her books, though there are still many more to read. That’s one of the delights of discovering a prolific master.

14. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata – Taught me what beauty really is. It fell so perfectly into my head and my constructs of reality that, rather than shift who and what I was, it crystallised aspects of me. And ever since reading this, I’ve chased after his delicate beauty, that brilliance. It’s not my favorite of his books or even his best, but I think it captures this aesthetic best.

15. Bird is Gone: A Manifesto by Stephen Graham Jones – This isn’t Stephen’s best or even my favorite, but it’s the one that does things I can still barely wrap my head around. It’s a novel I didn’t even begin to understand until I read it the second time, and every read becomes better, fuller, more rich. It taught me the importance of rereadability, and how important that is to a novel. Ever since reading this, I’ve always sought to get that subtlety and shifting quality that he captures here. And I could put so many of Stephen’s books here. Especially Ledfeather. Always and forever. My whole life caught in that little book, which also has the unique quality of being unputdownable. If I read that first page, I’ll be reading the last page in a few hours. I’ve read it four times, all of them in one sitting, the last three times accidentally, usually way too late at night.

16. Collected Stories by Amy Hempel – I don’t think you can read Hempel and return to writing the same way. I read this around the same time as I read Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson and Thom Jones’ short stories, and while I think all of these are pretty similar, I think Hempel does it best. Her aesthetic is so strong and so near perfect. If you want to learn how to write a sentence so full it’s nearly bursting, pick up anything by Hempel.

17. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link -Read this at a time when I forgot how great short stories could be. Such a unique and brilliant imagination, and just unstoppably great. Link is definitely one of the best around. Should probably put Yiyun Li here, too, since I read it around the same time, and though it’s unbelievably different, it captures that same kind of brilliance. Yoko Ogawa, too.

18. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card – This was the first novel to make me cry. I read it when I was, like, eleven, or something, and I just started bawling. I’d tell you at which part, but that might ruin things. I didn’t know books could do that to me. I didn’t know words could effect me like that. It changed everything I knew about art [which, at that point, was not very much] and I’ve read this book several times, always loving it, always learning from it. Card may be a reprehensible person, but he wrote a near perfect book about 25 years ago.

19. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – I don’t even know what to say about this novel. It does so much and so perfectly. I still think about it quite often and there are scenes here that will never leave me. It influenced a great deal of my writing without me every really even realising it. Especially, maybe, my obsessions with circles.

20. The Female Man by Joanna Russ – Just brilliant and visceral. Should probably include Kathy Acker’s Empire of the Senseless and Samuel R Delany’s Nerveryon here, since they’re all so related in my head. They talk about gender and identity in ways that I never really thought about before, but that also fit so perfect and right in my head, in the way I had always looked at the world. It wasn’t so much as a revelation like having your eyes opened but more like someone turning on the light and realising you’re not alone in the dark with all these thoughts. And they’re all just brilliant books, too.

21. Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa – Just read these stories and discover how great short stories can be. Each one is so different and so perfect.

22. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes – Just unbelievable. Right when I was getting past how perfect language could be, I fell into this and sort of wanted to live there forever. Djuna Barnes writes like she’s on fire and the apocalypse is everywhere, but it’s also hilarious.

23. Girl with Oars and Man Dying by JA Tyler – I don’t understand why more people haven’t read this novel. It’s a fairytale and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking, and maybe my favorite JA Tyler novel, which is really saying quite a lot. It’s perfect, in every way, and it gave me that open eyed awe sensation that art’s meant to give you, but that I had almost forgotten about.

24. The Tempest by William Shakespeare – This, of all Shakespeare’s plays, influences me the most on a day to day basis. I think about it more than I can really explain. It’s so full of ideas and wonder. It’s literally bursting with awesome, and I still just want to live in it. It does everything so well, and it’s probably his best play for its versatility and depth.

25. The White Hotel by DM Thomas – Like Erickson, discovered this in a halfpriced bookstore after hearing about Thomas for a long time. It’s absolutely brilliant and on fire. It captures life in brutal and hallucinogenic tones and shades and hues. I’ve read several of his novels and this is still the best, I think, and also the most unique and perfectly realised.

So that’s the list as it stands today. It’s surprisingly western. I think if I had made this list last year or even the year before, you’d see a lot more asian and latin american writers on there, but I guess that’s why I’m allowed to make lists whenever I want. There are also few women on here, but that’s just the way the list happened. All kinds of people I forgot to make room for, too, but I’m sticking with my list and I’ll defend it to THE DEATH!

Maybe I’ll make one every year just to see what happens. Dostoevsky and Rimbaud are so fused to me that they’ll always be on here. Same with Woolf and Erickson, but a lot of the rest is probably up for grabs.

All right. Off to do other things.

Oh, also, wanted to mention my indigogo campaign again.

It’s insane what we’ve raised already, but there’s still a long way to go. Lots of great rewards still available and my eternal gratitude, always. And thank you to everyone who’s donated and contributed. I’ll be saying this many times over the coming weeks, but I’ll always mean it just as much.

neveryon

Return to Nevèrÿon (Return to Nevèrÿon, #4)Return to Nevèrÿon by Samuel R. Delany
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fitting ending, bringing us back to where this all started, literally, by repeating the initial tale in the series.

Again, very concerned with language and power, but so much more.

This series is just beyond brilliant to me. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re interested in the way language shapes and constructs and orders civilizations and peoples and where power comes from, the forms it takes, and deep, erudite plunges into the psychology, not only of sex, but of desire, of lust.

The series is a hall of mirrors, infinitely reflecting itself, and, in this way, it is ever-expanding, partly because it doesn’t end. While the series very clearly deals with certain characters, it is not so much about those characters as it is about the nature of language and narratives. That’s not to say we don’t feel connected to the characters. Nothing could be further from the truth, really. It’s engrossing, not only for its ideas [which are monumental and numerous], but for the sheer pleasure it takes in telling its stories, in giving us these characters, who are drawn meticulously. These are powerful stories in their own right, but, more than that, they’re beautiful. But then when combined with the ideas present: it’s similar to Dostoevsky despite being so obviously different from him in every imaginable way. I think the comparison’s useful. Dostoevsky was a writer of profound ideas, and that same kind of brilliant mind is behind these stories, though maybe more academic, and certainly more playful and lighter in tone.

The series is a constant critique and exploration of itself, too, with the stories deconstructing one another, commenting on one another, even completely undercutting and subverting each other. And, really, it is a retelling of the world we live in now, and so Neveryon is our mirror that we look into, watching our reflection fragment and deconstruct and reconstruct itself endlessly.

It’s truly an amazing literary feat, to do so much philosophically while remaining entertaining. Though, to be fair, these are not the kind of stories that will excite you with action and adventure and daring [though there is that here, too]. More than that, they are very real stories about very real people doing very real things in a world that’s almost real but feels, somehow, realer.

Too, these stories, individually, are much less than them combined. So while one story or the other may miss for you, the overall effect is dazzling. It’s for this reason that I’ve refrained from giving the books five stars, individually. Now that I’m finished and the whole shape is in my head [or at least the small amount I’m able to keep there], it becomes so much more. The stories are good by themselves, but, together, man, they’re truly just something else entirely. And it’s important to count every page of these books together, from the quotes that introduce each story, to the appendices and afterwords and acknowledgements, which are, oddly enough, just as much a part of the overall narrative of the series [which, I mean, even though it’s a reflection of our world, it also exists in our world, so the lines really start breaking down to the point that the reflection becomes what the object is, and vice versa: a mirror is a reflection but it is also a mirror] because they all add up, all form a greater whole, something that reaches towards an almost perfect novel, despite, essentially, being a collection of eleven stories over four books.

Highly recommended.

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