the cold, hard $$$ (updated)

Jeff Ford reacts to Jonathan Lethem’s geniushood and Matt Cheney’s reaction to it:

He feels that, although Lethem deserves the recognition for his fine work, the Award would do better to have been bestowed on a writer who has not yet “made it” and could better use the money. I congratulate Lethem. He’s written some terrific fiction through the years, and it heartens me to see someone with one foot firmly planted in the literature of the fantastic get due recognition from one of these “literary” groups. I think Matthew misses the point here, though. The 500,000 dollars is kind of a red herring, all be it a large red herring. Shit, who couldn’t use 500 grand, but I thought the whole idea of the award has to do with good writing. No amount of money is going to make you write any better. You could stack a million dollars in a writer’s room, and it’s not going to make a damn bit of difference as to whether she’s going to write a better story or not. Mary Rickert, Andy Duncan, Lucius Shepard, Howard Waldrop(or dozens more writers I could think of), won’t be getting 500,000 dollars, and I’ll bet we’ll see some terrific fiction from them in the coming year. I’ll bet Lethem will write some terrific fiction this year, but it’s not going to have squat to do with the 500 grand. At one point in our lives, Lynn and I lived on 300 dollars a month. We had a walk-up apartment in a shitty neighborhood and I kept a big stick behind the door all the time because I thought the drunk downstairs was going to go crazy and come up those stairs some night and try to kill us. We ate a lot of cheese, and these hot dogs, Pilgrim Franks, that were 79 cents a package — bright red, and the red dye would come off on a paper plate. During that time I wrote a lot of stories – all of them lousy. But the fact that they were lousy had nothing to do with my measly salary. It had to do with the fact that I didn’t know whether my asshole was punched or bored when it came to fiction writing. I make a lot more money now, and I’ve written some stories I’m satisfied with and some readers have said they liked, but I still have a file drawer full of lousy ones I stoke on a continuous basis. For christ sake, let’s let the guy enjoy the money. Hey, Matt, you have to read more of that Thoreau.

I think lots of people forget too, that it’s $500,000 over five years. Nothing to sniff at, for sure, but not Buy a Jet and become a Scientologist kind of money. But yeah, it’s not about the money.

Updated: Jeff expands his thoughts in a new post after Matt clarifies his in the comments to the post linked above.

Thursday Hangovers

  • Over at the new and improved Strange Horizons review section (which has an RSS feed even), Greg Beatty praises Kate Wilhelm’s Storyteller. Oh, but this is a lovely book. Everyone who wants to understand science fiction as a community will want a copy. Many people who want to become professional writers, or better writers, will also want copies, and that’s because this book blends two genres. On one hand, it is a memoir. In these 190 pages of honest, often poetic prose, Kate Wilhelm recounts the story of how the Clarion Writing Workshop came to be; the many struggles she, Damon Knight, Robert Scott Wilson, and a host of other dedicated teachers, administrators, and volunteers faced; and the lessons they learned along the way in close to three decades of shaping Clarion into its present form. I’m really looking forward to reading this one.
  • Weather Underground in Rita watch mode, and Ed has some invaluable link gathering. Too horrific to contemplate.
  • OGIC reveals her LBC nomination, the last one for this round. Discussions and author appearances to come. If any of the books look like your kind of thing, read along and participate in the discussion weeks. (Or just participate!)
  • Cory Doctorow points to new James Patrick Kelly goodies on the web: Periodically, Jim goes into a studio and records himself giving spellbinding readings of his stories, which he then releases gratis on the Web, under a Creative Commons license, with a tipjar for donations to pay for more studio time. Jim has just posted three more stories: "The Edge of Nowhere," "Barry Westphal Crashes The Singularity" and "Proof of the Existence of God (And an Afterlife)."
  • Carl Zimmer at The Loom on puzzles and creationism. (And he reveals that his brother is a consultant for the Oxford English Dictionary, which seems like one of the coolest jobs In The World.)

Inscribed Semi

Attention: consuming any of the following material may make you a target of chicken haulers.

So, yesterday on the drive home from work, I hit town and some slight rush hour traffic with it. I’m a car behind a semi, but the car in front of me isn’t very tall and so I have a good view of the large decal blazing across the dull gray back of the flatbed semi. It says: "Ain’t No Feelin’ Like Cow Mobilin’."

Now, I did what anyone would do. I called my cow expert immediately.

Christopher (who grew up on a dairy farm) agreed it was a curious phrase. We discussed for a bit whether this message meant that it feels good to cow mobilin’ or just unique. He popped a google window and searched on the phrase. And found the most awesome thing about chickens on the intarweb EVER at Oilburners.net. Apparently, there is a longstanding feud between cow haulers and chicken haulers, which is all you need know. And I quote from the mini-essay kicking off a long thread there:

There must be a secret school somewhere that teaches the fine art of chicken hauling. I say that because of the recent influx of chicken haulers on the road today. I suspect many of them came from this secret school. They all seem to have the same characteristics. They all drive the same, they all say the same things on the CB radio, they even all have the same accent. I would even go so far as to say they speak their own language. You can usually spot them by the rubber chicken sticking out of their back door, looking as though the door closed on it, while trying to escape.

Chicken haulers are much easier to spot at night. They pass you by like the sun – a yellow, hot ball of light, glowing in all directions. If it weren’t for the fact that they’re usually going eighty miles per hour, you’d be blinded for sure. Thankfully, they pass quickly and are soon out of sight. But, just in case you blink and miss one, don’t worry; just turn your CB radio on. They are sure to be talking, non-stop, especially if there are two or more traveling together. They like to do that – travel together as one, like an American road-train. In Australia, they hook five trailers up to a tractor, but here, they travel so closely that they often look like one long vehicle.

I suggest you read the whole thing. This is two feet away from great American literature. And I don’t know why Christopher would try and disguise the origins of such a fantastic link. Unless he’s afraid of retaliation.

(Link obviously completely snitched from UnCommonwealth, soon to make the great Typepad migration.)

Two Little Things (REupdated)

I’ve put in a ticket with Typepad because the RSS feed doesn’t seem to be working (any tips from Typepad users appreciated), but hopefully that will magically right itself soon. Also, there’s now a new Livejournal feed, courtesy of the industrious JEL (much appreciated), which you can find by scrolling down on the lefthand column to the Friend Me heading (or this is it).

Updated: Nevermind on the feed. I had to unsub at Bloglines and then resub for it to show up, but it’s working now. (Thanks, Richard!) I apologize if I in any way tarred Typepad’s good name with this post; they are AWESOME — I had both my questions to tech support answered within a couple of hours today.

REupdated: Bloglines is not picking up the feed for some reason, after the first four posts (and those only on the Atom and RSS versions; the RDF version is stuck with the original unupdated first three posts. However, the feed is working in everything else. I’ve emailed Bloglines, as the Typepad people were relatively sure it was on their end. Again, any suggestions/tips/tricks welcome.

OKAY: Last update to this post hopefully EVER. Overnight it miraculously seems to be working in Bloglines. I’m signed up to the RSS feed (rather than Atom or RDF, but I would assume they work too) and it’s showing all posts now. So, try that and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday Hangovers

Guest Essay: Cars and Katrina

Mr. Christopher Rowe recently went back to college, as many of you know. Yesterday morning he had to get up early to write a one pager of thoughts on Hurricane Katrina for his anthro class. He saw fit to include one of my favorite CVR anecdotes and I asked him if I could run it here. He had little choice but to say yes.

Here it is:

When I was sixteen I made the first and only trip I ever took to New Orleans. I traveled with my late stepfather, who was a used car salesman possessed of a deserved "colorful" reputation in matters of business. It was also the first time I ever flew on an airplane, and when we took off from the Nashville airport I was carrying $30,000 in cash in the pockets of my jeans. My stepfather explained that it was best if we split up our money in case we were mugged.

We were going to buy "sinkers," which was used car terminology for the considerable number of automobiles that are pulled from the waterways of Louisiana, Mississippi and even extreme southeast Texas following accidents or storms. There’s nothing illegal about it, actually. We bought dozens and dozens of cars at various lots in the city dedicated to the "rehabilitation" of sinkers. I remember that the lots weren’t paved with gravel, but with crushed seashells, because on the Gulf, it’s easier to find shells for grinding than the limestone we use here. Eventually, we arranged for the cars to be shipped back to Kentucky on freight trains, where my stepfather would resell them to car lots throughout the Commonwealth. When I asked him if the dealers who sold the cars to new owners would admit that they’d once been submerged in swamp water, my stepfather replied, "What do you think?"

I think that in the next year or so, a lot of sinkers will be making their ways to car lots all over the country. I think that sales of the smaller, more fuel efficient cars will outstrip those of SUVs and trucks, because I think that fuel prices–corrected to something approaching half the world average for end users in the wake of the destruction and obstruction of much of the USA’s domestic production capability–will continue to rise.

Revealed by Katrina’s winds as having been a thin scrim of a First World vacation town resting atop a Fourth World city teeming with poverty and desperation even before the storm, New Orleans may or may not rise again. The city’s location in the Delta was not chosen by caprice at its founding almost 300 years ago, however, as a deep water port is crucial at the mouth of the Mississippi if the vast center of the nation is to continue to engage in international trade. Further, Bourbon Street and the Quarter did not develop and maintain their reputations as destinations for Midwestern burghers and their college aged children to engage in a few extra-Christian activities far from the eyes of their neighbors only to see the bars shut down because the people working in them no longer have homes.

I believe it can be said, then, that the Port of New Orleans and the French Quarter will definitely be rebuilt in fashion that serves the business and social needs of the ruling plurality. Whether the city itself will be rebuilt is another question.

The best kind of con: The Girl in the Glass

Girlintheglass

You may assume I’m predisposed to like a book like The Girl in the Glass. It features some of my very favorite things–both as pieces of reality and fictional constructs–including but not limited to the Spiritualist movement, Coney Island freaks, magicians, butterflies, stylish con men, a witty girl, at least a few monsters, a murder mystery with powerful men at its heart, and language alternating between soft and rough poetry. Actually, though, I’m the opposite. A shoddy treatment of any one of these things is enough to engender immediate hatred and at least some ranting. All these things bring so much weight with them; they’ve been done well and they’ve been done terribly. To tackle them all, and to try to do so in a way that honors the historical moment the book is set in (1932), and be funny and dark at the same time–that’s damn hard.

Let it be known: Jeffrey Ford has done more than accomplish the damn hard, he’s made it seem effortless.

This book is as sweet a read as any magnificent con in action, and isn’t all real storytelling a con of some kind anyway? The story is anchored by the relationships between three scammers working together to bilk the wealthy bereaved: aging con man, Thomas Schell; a Mexican teenager adopted from the streets and playing the part of Ondoo the Mystic, Diego; and good-hearted heavy, Antony Cleopatra. During a con, Schell sees a ghostly little girl reflected in glass, which ends up landing the three in the midst of an investigation into the ritual murder of a rich family’s young daughter. The book is dedicated to the author’s own son, to me tellingly appropriate, as I read this as being very much about fatherhood–and add to that family, in the larger sense of the word. Vonda the Rubber Lady doesn’t help out for nothing, nor does Hal Izzle, or Belinda bring her pigeons; likewise, Merlin protects Morgan for reasons that seem instinctive. (Not that those are the only things Girl is about. One of this novel’s great virtues is that it manages to be about many things, as all good novels do.)

I hesitate to give away much more, because I don’t want to deprive anyone of the pleasure of reading this book. A couple of words though, for the darker side of the novel. The Klan and eugenics figure prominently, as does the mass deportation of Mexicans during the time period, and the backdrop of other people’s poverty in contrast to the rich living of our main characters as they live off the obscenely rich. This balances out the novel’s humor and prevents it from ever seeming slight. And the ending, the ending is perfect, absolutely right in the way so few endings are–and especially considering that the ending takes place much later than the conclusion of the story’s main action, with Diego looking back late in life on these events.

I’ll leave you with an excerpted exchange between Antony and Diego that comes not long after Schell sees the little girl in the glass. The novel is told through Diego’s eyes and here he’s puzzling over Schell’s dark mood with Antony:

"Look, Diego," he said, putting a hand on my shoulder as we walked along. "This ain’t fuckng geometry. It makes sense that when he goes loopy he sees a kid. He had no childhood. That’s why he took you in. Why’s a guy without a wife, a con man no less, take in a Mexican kid off the streets? He’s making up for what his old man didn’t do. Makes sense, right?"

"It does, actually," I said.

"When you see things, when your eyes play tricks on you, what you see is what you want. Maybe Parks is a screwball, but in a way Schell wants his mother too. Or at least he wants his childhood, get it? He grew up hard and doesn’t believe in anything but the con, or so he says. He’s taken people six ways to Sunday for years. So he sees a little girl. What’s a little girl?"

"What?" I asked.

"Innocent," he said.

"Antony," I said, "you should move to Vienna and hang a shingle."

"Hang my ass," he said.

Related links:

Jeff Ford’s blog
Austin Chronicle
NYTimes
The Globe and Mail

newsflash

When Alex Trebec drops a "Git R Done" at the top of Jeopardy, the phrase has officially "jumped the shark." (Unless on your TV it actually continued into the bizarro world edition where all the questions focused on Redneck Lore.)

In happy/sad news, on the way home I heard a song unmistakably sung by Rob Dickinson, front man of the much-lamented Catherine Wheel (and possessor of the sexiest singing voice within several solar systems), and it’s off his new solo record "Fresh Wine for the Horses." Sad for the solo part, happy for a new album–the song I heard was "My Name is Love" and it was very much in line with Catherine Wheel’s sound circa Wishville.

GilmoreGossipCircle

That’s right, it’s Tuesday. (Thinking about doing something similar with Veronica Mars, btw; anybody in?) This week’s episode is "Fight Face." Sez the WB:

Rory (Alexis Bledel) begins serving her 300 hours of community service and finds that life on a road crew is not pretty. Lorelai and Luke try to decide whether they will fix up Lorelai’s house or buy the Twickham house. Luke’s sister Liz (guest star Kathleen Wilhoite) begs him to hire her husband T.J. (guest star Michael DeLuise) as a contractor. When Rory pays Luke a surprise visit at the diner to find out how Lorelai is, he feels obligated to tell her that he and Lorelai are engaged. Afterwards, Luke confronts Lorelai about her estrangement from Rory. Feeling lonely, Lorelai adopts a dog at the Stars Hollow pet fair. Finally, during a chance meeting, Lorelai and Rory have an angry confrontation about their mutual hurt feelings.

Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann also star.  Daniel Palladino wrote and directed the episode.

Adopts a dog: maybe it’ll be a George.

Also, I forgot to mention last week that I was very excited they played one of my favorite songs from the summer, Graham Coxon’s "Freakin’ Out," during the felon party. And this week, I plan not to take three days to weigh in.