Monday, December 20, 2010

Your Monday Morning Mock Playlist #6

Christmas and New Year's are right around the corner, Fauxyalists, and to celebrate the holidays, your Fauxst has a special "Christmas" edition for your faux-listening pleasure. Don't know about you, but we're going to drink a lot of Drambuie and champagne and chill out at work until after the new year! Until then, enjoy.
This day in history Richard the Lionheart is captured; Djibouti and Vietnam become part of the United Nations; Queen Elizabeth celebrates being the oldest living monarch in the UK; South Carolina secedes from the Union - it is the first state to do so; and Sandra Cisneros has a birthday.

1. The White Stripes - "Candy Cane Children"
2. Sufjan Stevens - "Amazing Grace"
3. Beach House - "I Do Not Care for the Winter Sun"
4. Harry Nilsson - "Remember (Christmas)"
5. The Magnetic Fields - "Everything is One Big Christmas Tree"
6. Kanye West - "Christmas in Harlem"
7. Bright Eyes - "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"
8. Galaxie 500 - "Listen, the Snow is Falling"
9. Lee Greenwood - "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
10. Yo La Tengo - "It's Christmas Time"
11. The Beatles - "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Ringo"
12. Belle & Sebastian - "O Little Town of Bethlehem"
13. Bob Dylan - "Pressing On"
14. Johnny Cash - "Blue Christmas"
15. Arcade Fire - "Jingle Bell Rock"
16. Jackson 5 - "Frosty the Snowman"
17. Frank Sinatra - "Whatever Happened to Christmas"
18. Weezer - "The First Noel"
19. Bruce Springsteen - "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town"
20. Sex Pistols - "Punk Rock Christmas"

This Mock Playlist brought to you by:

Friday, December 17, 2010

HOT TOWN (A Serial): #2 DEAD DOGS

HOT TOWN
#2: DEAD DOGS
by Dustin J Monk

A blast-pistol fired.
            I saw the waitress fall forward.
            She hit the floor.  It was worst sound ever.
            Her silver nose ring shined.
            Dark red blood covered the back of her head.  A cavern in the back of her head—the shifting of plates—the earth opened up.
            I waited for the second shot.  (Every moment of all of my life, I realized then, I’d waited, never choosing a course, never moving forward in any direction.  And the waitress, dead on the Hubcap Tap’s dirty floor, had tried to save my life, the life of a man she did know or had any interest in before the goons came in shooting.  She made a choice and it got her killed.  What did I do?  I cowered behind the counter.  I was a coward.  According to the Judiciary Hearing that convicted me and put me in this tulip-shaped ship, I still am.  Perhaps they are not wrong, but I can say I have made choices since that moment in the Hubcap Tap.  I have not remained a passive actor in my life.)
            I didn’t know what to expect of death.  Would I feel the laser-bullet enter the back of my head?  Would I feel my skin part and my skull crack?  Would my brain register an enemy breaching its walls?  How long would I remain conscious, half-alive, after the shot?  Would I die instantly?  Would I even hear the shot that killed me?
            I watched the waitress from my periphery.  Her head was twisted in a most awkward way.  Her eyes stared emptily at the leg of a barstool.  Blood spackled her cheek like city lights seen from space. I wanted to cry, seeing her like that, but no tears would come.  I squeezed my eyes shut, uncomprehending my final moments.
            Then, the sound of gunfire and the tap exploded in white light.  I saw it behind my closed eyelids: white light—the flash of a camera, of lightning.  A rumble of thunder sent me to the floor.  I fell hard, scraping my face, tearing open my lip.  Was this death, I wondered?  This is how it feels?
            But, no: I hadn’t died.  I opened my eyes.  The shooters were down; their blank faces blanker in death.  I didn’t move; I couldn’t.  The Hubcap Tap was quiet.  The waitress, I surmised, must’ve switched on the tap’s internal security system during the original firefight.  The weapons would’ve identified the threat and promptly set off a blinding flash and then, using lasers, zapped the threat.  (This kind of security system was, of course, illegal.  I was surprised the tap had it: it certainly didn’t look like the kind of place able to afford such high-tech weaponry. Part of the problem with this kind of technology was that it didn’t always perceive the threat correctly and, when it was first on the market, many innocent people were killed.)  I didn’t know if I could move or if I was also perceived as a threat.  I’d have to wait until the police arrived and shut the security system off.

<<<

(Lying on a dirty taproom floor next to the waitress who tried to save you and the goons who tried to kill you and several dead strangers is not particularly heartening.  I remember making a vow to find out who the waitress was: her name, her age, if she had a lover, a husband or a wife, or children, what sort of things she liked to do outside of work, where and why and when she got her silver nose ring.  It was the only thing keeping me from going completely bonkers in that room.  Thinking of the waitress kept me from noticing the bits of her brain on my forehead and in my hair, and the blood all around me.  It kept from dying.
            In this tulip-shaped ship, my prison cell, I do have access to many things.  I’ve found the waitress in the archives.  Her name was Lena Sanders.  She was twenty-two; she had four brothers; her father was a bricklayer and died nine years ago from a heart attack.  Lena’d been sent to a juvenile detention center when she was twelve after running away from home and helping rob a grocery store.  She was a suspected trafficker for the Soldiers of Orange, which may be the reason for the shooters in the Hubcap Tap.  I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.  The SofO is a small organization dedicated to helping refugees from the devastation of the Koreas into the United States.  For all I know, though, the shooters could’ve been looking to kill someone for the sheer fun of it.
               Anyway, it was because of Lena I had an epiphany.
            Let me impart this story to you so that you might, in some way, understand my actions from this point on: when I was nine years old I was walking home from school when I saw two dogs wandering in the street.  One was bean brown and one was wheat yellow.  A car came fast around a curve in the street.  The bean brown dog looked up for a moment, its tongue lolling.  It tried to run, to get out of the way, but it wasn’t fast enough. The dog was hit by the car.  The wheat yellow dog did nothing and was, of course, hit a second later.  The car skidded to a halt and a distraught man got out.  He was saying, “No, no, no,” over and over again.  I watched this happen from the sidewalk.  First, the man checked the bean brown dog: it was dead.  Then the man checked the wheat yellow dog.  The wheat yellow dog was injured and bloodied, but it was alive.  It barked and scrabbled to its feet and tried to limp away.  The man caught it, picked it up, and carried the dog to his car and put it in the backseat and drove, I presume, to the nearest veterinarian’s office.  What I saw that day may have affected my life without my knowledge until that moment in the Hubcap Tap when I was lying on the floor next to the waitress and the shooters and the strangers, waiting for the police and that understanding is this: the bean brown dog made a choice to run, to escape its fate, and was killed anyway; whereas the wheat yellow dog did nothing and was hit head-on by its fate and lived, at least for a little while. Perhaps my subconscious interpreted the incident thusly: No matter what you do, you'll end up exactly how you were meant to be.  That moment may have made me passive, but the moment in the tap—my survival—remade me.  What I realized lying on the floor was the bean brown dog had been right: it was better to move forward and fail than to remain motionless and still be injured.
            The epiphany on the floor of the Hubcap Tap was a metaphorical rebirth, but I do not consider it a true rebirth.  Not when I’ve actually been reborn in a readingtube and then in this tulip-shaped ship.  If anything, the epiphany was like waking up from a deep sleep.  I had the waitress to thank for it.  Lena was the first person to save my life, and if I admit it, the only person who ever did without a vested interest.)
            The police came and shut the illegal security system off.  I was questioned at length and then taken to the hospital for evaluation.  I spent the night on a hospital bed beneath heavy yellow lights feeling like the holographic programs I worked on.  The next morning I exited through the hospital’s double glass doors and, though the sky was still blue and most of the buildings downtown still in disrepair, I knew everything had changed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Favorite Songs of 2010

Some songs stick with you.  They burden your shoulders, weigh on your heart, put a bounce in your step, raise your eyebrows, have equal parts hope and desperation.  Some songs kill you while keeping you alive; some keep you alive while killing you.  The best part about it: every song is different for everybody.  Here are my 10 favorite songs of 2010.

The Arcade Fire - "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"
The Arade Fire have danced with disco before, but this is the first time they've fully embraced it.  But this is no Saturday Night Fever.  This is disco underwater, dark and murky and menacing.

Andrew Graham & Swarming Branch - "Take It Easy On Kathy, At Least She Can Dance"
The carelessness with which Graham speaks "I'm gonna getcha, Kathy.  Here I come," speaks to the carelessness of the song.  It almost seems thrown together on the spot, completely free of any structural restraints.

The Walkmen - "Juveniles"
"You're one of us or you're one of them," sings leadsinger Hamilton Leithauser and it seems this might be the anthem of the year.

Panda Bear - "Slow Motion"
This is Noah Lennox at his cloudy best.  Sounds like the melody was flipped on its head and thrown on a danceable beat.

Distractions - "My Gold"
The deep baritone of Tom Owens cuts through on this track.  Sounds like an Arthur Russell or Bill Callahan song fermented - I mean that in the best possible way.  These grapes have become wine.

Kanye West - "Runaway"
I've never been a big fan of Kanye, but he outdid himself with this record and with this song.  The auto-tune at the end of this 9 minute song is worth the emotional buildup alone.

Women - "Eyesore"
A shame these kids like to fight on stage because it gets in the way of this awesome music.  "Eyesore" is a behemoth of change.  It works through various verses, loud/quiet parts, and a lilting melody that sticks in your head.

Local Natives - "Sun Hands"
Local Natives don't take themselves too seriously most of the time, methinks.  Listen to the "boos" at the opening of the track "Airplanes," and you'll see what I mean.  "Sun Hands," on the other hand, is pretty serious and the breakdown is not only moving, but I'll be damned if you don't want to clap along too.

The Morning Benders - "Excuses"
This song is everywhere for a reason.  It has that familiar melody and chord change.  It sounds like an old song rehashed as something new and fresh.

Sufjan Stevens - "Djohariah"
Seventeen minutes of mostly one word: Djohariah.  A psychedelic guitar solo.  That background choir.  That techno-ish beat.  Sufjan destroys all sense of pop and reinvents it as his own.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

News of the Day: Give the Gift of Booklife

For those of you who are writers, aspiring or professional, and those of you with friends who are, I offer you this book as a holiday gift: Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff Vandermeer.

What Booklife isn't is a how-to-write-the-perfect-story book or how-to-set-up-a-blog book or how-to-live-the-writer's-life or anything like that; what it is, however, is an invaluable resource for managing your brilliant story and your awesome blog.  Booklife also offers useful tips on creating goals for your writerly life, networking with other writers and publishers in the business, maintaining your connections as well as your online presence; it has insights to help you cope with rejection and acceptance; and Booklife makes a distinction between "habit and process" that many writers are afraid to make.

I've used Booklife to help define what this blog, The Spiral, was going to be about and how best to go about it (in fact, Chapter 1 is highlighted in its entirety).  I've also used many of its tips to set a writing schedule which I adhere to pretty strictly. 

The publishing world is constantly changing and Booklife gives you the organizational skills for you to find a place in it.  You can also find updates and more information about Booklife at http://www.booklifenow.com/

Vandermeer was an instructor of mine at the Clarion Workshop this past summer and I know firsthand the passions he has for writing and writers in general.  With Booklife, you're in good hands.  I highly recommend this book.

The link at the top will take you to Amazon.  For those of you who'd like it on a kindle, go here.  For other places to buy the book as well as checking out an interesting blog, visit http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/

Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Your Monday Morning Mock Playlist #5

Your Fauxst was trapped in blizzard country over the weekend with only seven records to get him through the long, white days and the iced, dark nights.  This mock playlist is in honor of his record player for keeping him busy and the miniscule space heater for keeping him warm. Those of you traveling any snow-covered roads to work, good luck; and to all - let's listen to these records in their entirety!

 
This day in history the first active repeater communications satellite goes into orbit; the Chinese river dolphin, the Baiji, is declared extinct; The Republic of Malta is established; Sir Francis Drake sets out on his journey to cross the world; and Taylor Swift has a birthday.

1. Bruce Springsteen - Darkness on the Edge of Town
2. Randy Newman - 12 Songs
3. John Coltrane - Giant Steps
4. The Budos Band - The Budos Band
5. Boston - Boston
6. Harry Nilsson - Nilsson, Schmilsson
7. Neil Young - On the Beach

This mock playlist brought to you by Snappy Comebacks Ex Post Facto.  We'll think of something snappy to say later.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hot Town (A Serial): #1 The Hubcap Tap


What follows is the first installment in a planned weekly serial*.  It's going to have explosions and firefights and love scenes and spaceships and rock concerts and drawings and political meanderings and crybabies and more than a few cupfuls of coin and whatever dribbling philosophy is musterable...but mostly explosions and firefights!  This is Tom Willow's story (somewhat) and his exploits with the a cappella group, The Moonstrels, as they make a living roving and singing (and a few unseemly "ings" on the side).  So.  Sit back, put on your reading glasses, and enjoy!

*Essentially, this is part of the NaNoWriMo project I was involved in during November; though I've revised a number of things for the serial.  Essentially, I split the project in two: the serial you'll read below and the other half is my "working novel."

HOT TOWN
#1: THE HUBCAP TAP
by Dustin J Monk


(Start at the beginning.  It’s a pretty simple rule, but if the story you’re trying to tell has several beginnings, where, then, to begin?  I could start at the very beginning: my birth.  I could tell you how I was born in a bathtub and, ten years later, reborn in a readingtube, and then born again, at the age of twenty-six, the age I am now, in a ship shaped like a flower and falling endlessly through space.  I could progress through each year of my life, detailing the big events until this latest, but that might get tedious.   But even my birth isn’t the beginning: if I started there I’d have to go back further, tell my mother’s story, my father’s, and my mother’s mother’s and father’s, and father’s mother’s and father’s and so on until the beginning of time, which even then, isn’t really the beginning.
What if I started at age ten in the readingtube?  You might like that beginning: there are all kinds of strange tests done to my body; there is even a manikin of me floating in a giant pool of jelly-water, waiting for my consciousness to inhabit it.  I almost want to start there, except that there are several years of little adventure, little movement.  Needless to say, there isn’t much to do in a readingtube.
I could start at the end, in this tulip-shaped ship.  It’s a varied dimensional color of red, quite beautiful to look upon I’m told, though unaffected human eyes are unable to see the differentials because the colors occur on a quantum level.  I’m not a scientist and, anyway, this ship isn’t beautiful to me: it is my prison cell.  No, I won’t start at the end or, at least, not at the very end.  I want you to listen for a little bit and judge for yourself if my sentence was warranted.  Maybe you can do something about it.  Maybe you can set me free.
There are other places to begin: my thirteenth birthday party when my mother collapsed from an aneurysm in front of me, her face burying itself in the angel food cake on the table; the moment I knew I was in love with Oh! My, the alto of the Moonstrels; waking up as my apartment building burned down around me.  You get the idea.  I could start anywhere.
How about this?  My name is Tom Willow.
Even my name isn’t enough, not quite.
Instead, I choose the Hubcap Tap because it is there, at that place, I can pinpoint as the moment everything began unraveling.)

<<<

The Hubcap Tap was a nice place, a clean place, the kind of place you could sink your teeth into, drink the night and your paycheck away.  It was the last place you’d expect to find yourself cowering behind the counter in a shootout.
            But that’s exactly what happened.
            It looked like a slow night: only five other patrons when I walked in.  Three were drinking in corners, alone.  The other two were playing fizzlepool, the table shimmering and sputtering as the signal faded and returned.  A waitress shambled between the occupied tables.
            I was in a sour mood despite the coziness the Hubcap Tap offered.  It’d been a long day working with incorrigible holograms refusing to acknowledge a blip in their systems.  (This is what I did: I revamped holographic programs for a software company in Peoria, Illinois until that night in the Hubcap Tap.  I never actually quit the job—I just stopped showing up.)  I ordered a pint of whatever was on special and two shots of muskrat from the bartender, a tall woman with a big gap in her teeth.
            (Most of my nights in those days were simple and unadorned.  I didn’t drink much, nor did I smoke the popular kaleidoscopic drug, ohuuuyyafla.  Usually, I ate a little dinner at a cafĂ© two blocks from the street where I lived and, once home, retired to the easy chair where I could flip through current news events on the chip.  On a whim, purely coincidental and completely out of character for me, though, I found myself walking by the Hubcap Tap, as I did most nights on my walk home from the office, and decided, just this once, a quick stop, two shots and a pint, were in order.  It was the biggest mistake I ever made.)
            The jukebox—an antique thing in the corner—began playing music.  I thought it might be a Chuck Berry song.  As if the song was a signal, the instigators of the shootout wandered into the tap: two men, both unassuming.  (If you’d asked me then or if you ask me now what their faces looked like or what color of shirts they had on or even the type of blast-pistols they’d used, I couldn’t tell you.  I still don’t know why they shot the place up like they did, except that it led me to do everything I’ve done since.)
            It wasn’t even a moment before the first shot was fired.  I had the muskrat to my lips, about to shoot the glass when, instead of warm and spicy liquor at the back of tongue, there was bile as the sound of the blast-pistol’s shot echoed in my ears.  I threw the glass across the room, possibly aiming for one of the shooters but more likely just scared shitless and reacting badly, and hopped over the counter to hide from the shots.
            Somebody screamed.  The bartender went down in a heap beside me.  Blood dribbled from her gap-toothed mouth.  I closed her eyes and whispered I was sorry.  There was commotion around the fizzlepool table.  I peeked over the counter.  One of the shooters had one hand wrapped around a fizzlepool player's throat while his other hand held the blast-pistol pointed at the player's cheek.  Then the shooter shot the player.  Blood and brains went everywhere.  I tried not to throw up.
            The waitress snuck behind the counter.  She said, "Way out through the backroom," and motioned for me to follow.  She had a silver nose ring that sparkled like salvation in the dim tap.  (I remember the waitress’s nose ring, but not the shooters’ faces.  It is odd what details the mind deems important.)
            Then the shooters spotted us.  One of them told us to stand up, slowly.  We did.  The waitress looked at me and I looked at her.  I didn’t know what she was trying to convey with her look, but I thought my look said, I don’t even like muskrat.
            The shooters took us to the middle of the room.  Everybody else had been killed: they lay in pools of blood and spilled beer.  The shooters pushed me and the waitress to our knees.  “So this is an execution then?” said the waitress. (I thought then and I think now she knew these men or had an inkling this might happen.)              
            Everything was quiet for a moment.  I felt silence stuffing my ears, as if the Hubcap Tap was taking in a deep breath, its walls contracting, the fizzlepool table shimmering and sputtering and dissolving, waiting for the shots from the blast-pistols, waiting for two loud pops, and then whatever followed.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Your Monday Morning Mock Playlist #4

Because it's that time of good cheer, your usually humbugged Fauxst is bringing to all of his faux-loyal (heretofore known as: fauxyalists) listeners an early holiday treat: a mock playlist of local/friendly bands! Many of these good folk are unknowns to the world at large, but here at WFOE 91.1, we don't discriminate.

This day in history Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery, the first human heart transplant was performed, the earliest known recording of the human voice is put to tape (singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb"), Hugo Chavez is elected President of Venezuela, and Judd Apatow was born.

This one's for all of the Fauxyalists!

1. The Black Fortys - "Dark Horse (big guns)/DEMO"
2. Distractions - "We Were Better Off in the Rain" - We Better Off in the Rain 7"
3. Nighty Night - "Abraham" - Nighty Night
4. Young Loves - "Violent Kiss" - Wake Up Teenage
5. Netherfriends - "Friends With Lofts" - Calling You Out EP
6. The Kissing Club - "Dirty Feet" - Hooks EP
7. The Nothingheads - "Gerhard and Ernie"
8. Legs Like Straw - "Out in the West" - Out in the West EP
9. Evro - "Ready to Go" - Evro
10. Secondary Modern - "Burned to the Treeline" - Vaudeville Ghosts
11. Tin Tin Can - "Funeral Waltz" - Confetti Machete
12. Mana Kintorso - "Queen of the Neighborhood"
13. 100 Monkeys - "Arizona" - Grape
14. Darling - "Brown Autumn Sunlight" - The Night in Bloom
15. Barilium - Rough Night
16. Drew & the Medicinal Pen - "Paper Rockets" - dream, dream, fail, repeat
17. Himalayas - "...a hole in the wall let's the devil in" - Yeti Slang
18. Root Shoot Leaf - "Horseface in the Flames" - Live at Hanger 9
19. Adam Faucett - "Look Out Below" - Show Me Magic, Show Me Out
20. The Stevedores - "Hardwired" - Tamuawok

This Mock Playlist brought to you by Late Nights With Manischewitz.  When you're down and out, Manischewitz's got your back: she'll sit with you and keep you warm on that lonesome back porch step.

*The artwork is, again, from Mandy Monk's collection.
+Your Fauxst has linked every band this morning to their myspace accounts; though he in no way condones the use of myspace or facebook during work hours (wink wink, nudge nudge, elbow to the sternum, whoops, sorry).

Saturday, December 4, 2010

News of the Day: pa-rum-pa-rum-DRUMS!

Pierce is recording some serious drummage for the centerpiece of our record. The song is called, tentatively, "Bandwagon (Wrecking Ball)" and in an earlier post on this here blog, I uploaded the lyrics. Unfortunately, there's no video online (to my knowledge) to accompany the song because it is fairly new. Regardless, we're extremely proud of this song and can't wait for everyone to hear it.

While Pierce beats the toms and the snare, Chris, Justin, and I are all having a wonderful time with Fat Tire. Later on today or tomorrow we'll be putting down acoustic guitar, bass, and lead guitar for the song.

The songs on the record, also tentatively titled "Bandwagon," are coming along nicely. Some of the songs in the bag so far are: "Bandwagon (Abducted by Aliens)," "Helena, Helena," an as-of-yet untitled instrumental, "Brand New Blue Jeans," "What Fireworks," and "My Red Ant." Once we get 12-13 songs recorded, we'll decide which ones will make the cut and which ones won't, of course.

In other news: for those of you who enjoyed the moleksine stories my sister, Mandy, and I wrote, there will be more coming soon. After the New Year, we hope to set up a section in the Prospero Records online store where you can order these unique items from us online as well as purchasing them at shows. We're also working on a comic book series that we hope to unveil sometime next spring (more info on this later).

Mandy and I will also be recording a new Root Shoot Leaf record over Christmas and the New Year.  It's a mostly spontaneous affair with crunchy acoustic guitars, fuzz bass, and wildly hypnotic drums.  Oh, and words: probably lots of them.


In the politial arena: I think everyone should take a moment out of their day and sneak a peak at Wikileaks, if you haven't already. Feel free to agree or disagree with the leaked government cables as you will, but read them, at least, and judge for yourself, before this story is buried beneath which celebrity gets kicked off on the next Dancing With the Stars.

Until later, kiddos, let it snow, let it snow, bah humbug, etc.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell - A Review

Even after several books of inventive and epic speculative fiction, David Mitchell has outdone himself and written his most epic and ambitious work yet.  The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is set in 1799 on the island of Dejima, just off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan.  The story follows a clerk in the Dutch East Indies Trading Company, Jacob de Zoet, as he accounts for suspected fraudulent activity by many of the employees at the warehouses on Dejima.  Because de Zoet knows no Japanese, he and the other Dutch employees must rely on the Japanese translators in conducting the day-to-day business of trade; this, of course, can be a sticky situation when words are misconstrued. 

De Zoet also falls in love with a Japanese woman learning the art of midwifery, Aibagawa Orito.  Though Orito seems inclined to return de Zoet's favors, she is sold to a nunnery by Lord Enomoto, a powerful Japanese businessman, to pay for her father's debts after he dies.  There's something dark and mysterious happening at Shiranuai Shrine, where Orito lives, and it gives the story a powerful fantastical element.  Could Lord Enomoto be over 600 years old?

It's not really the question Mitchell's novel wants to answer, but it makes for an intriguing turn of events.  Japan was an isolated nation during this time with Dejima as its single European trading post; because of this, Japan's customs and her people seemed strange, otherworldly, certainly un-Christian, to the Western World.  Mitchell has stated that he wanted to give the reader both the West and the East ample points-of-view because, too many times, a story like this concerning both sides is too narrow.  He does this by breaking the novel into parts - the first and last half are seen through mostly de Zoet's eyes, with a few other narrative points-of-view thrown in from the Dutch and English; the middle section follows Orito and Osawa, the Japanese translator who had asked for Orito's hand in marriage but was denied by his own father.  Even before Orito is sold to the nunnery, Ogawa and de Zoet become friends, but afterward, their relationship takes on a deeper meaning, when Ogawa asks de Zoet to hide a scroll detailing the strange and wicked tenants of Shiranuai Shrine and of Lord Enomoto's great sins.  By the end, there is a certain understanding, a kind of familiarity, despite what is lost in translation, between de Zoet and Ogawa, as if the bridge between East and West, between the island of Dejima and the city of Nagasaki has been traversed.

The Thousand Autumns...has just about everything you could want from an epic: a battle at sea; unrequited love; a mountain escape; a game of go; a sinister lord; explosions and beatings; etc.  But what the novel is ultimately about is: principles.  Despite being thrown into the mix of rascals and ruffians, miscreants and ne'er-do-wells, de Zoet, Orito, and Ogawa follow simple principles - honor, honesty, and hard work - and hoping these principles are the foundations of a good life.

Final Verdict: Fantastically well-written and engaging. Even the smell of the pages - like fresh leaves - was great.


-Dustin J Monk

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Week Four: I'm Finished

Four weeks writing 50,000 words is kind of like when, in the film There Will Be Blood, Daniel Plainview bludgeons his rival to death with a bowling pin and then declares, "I'm finished!"  That's how I feel after having completed this project:  51,180 words, which is about halfway through the actual story, give or take a few thousand.  I'm tired, I'm thirsty, my legs have the jimmy-jams, my beard fell off, and I have a gray hair.  Was all of this worth 50,000 words in 30 days?  In a word: sure.  Because NaNoWriMo did teach me a few things about writing and about writing novels, sepcifically.

When I started the novel, tentatively titled Claw & Eye, on November 1st, I had only an inkling of what I wanted to do.  I knew that I wanted one of the main characters to be in an a cappella group; I knew I wanted the setting to be something like 25,000 years in the future; I knew I didn't want typical faster-than-light travel or spaceships, even; and I knew I wanted the tone of the novel to be noirish.  Beyond that, I knew nothing of my story: no plot, no secondary characters, no understanding of the world(s) I was building.  This, of course, wasn't a particularly thoughtful way to start a novel.  You run into a lot of contradictions and unknowns writing a novel from scratch; however, many of these problems can be taken care of in later revisions and if I hadn't allowed myself the opportunity to "just write" - if I'd had it all planned out - many of the exciting turn-of-events that did occur within the story may not have seen the light. 

Writing without a net, so to speak, also allowed me see the glaring mistakes I was making firsthand.  If on page 120, Nyanna Ogadevu says something about the manikin warehouses that makes more sense than what Yqe said about them on page 68, I'll go back and change it or rewrite Yqe's lines or write it out completely.  I was aware of the threading of the novel more because I was making it up as I went along.  Whenever I've completely world-built a novel in the past, the story, at least, becomes kind of boring and I'd lose the threads because I knew what was happening and I didn't care anymore. 

However, writing completely without that net, as I did for NaNoWriMo, won't help me finish my novel either.  What works best for me is to build the world around me, mold its shape, find a story worth telling in there, thread the plot here and there, write down a few big scenes for the main characters but not how you get them to it, and then begin writing.  I've already started revising the first half of Claw & Eye and I'm doing this completely different too: I'm writing longhand, something I rarely do, and I'm loving it.  Part of what bugged me about the initial draft of the novel was that the voice was too loose; around thirty-five thousand words I began writing in the narrative style that I think suits the story better: more plainspoken with an occasional embellishment in the style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Writing longhand, for reasons I'm not sure of yet, helps me keep this voice, perhaps because I write slower than I do with a keyboard, so I have to think harder.  Once I get a few thousand words written in my notebook (the real kind, with lined paper!) I revise it in the Word document on my laptop.  It's a hell of a lot of fun seeing what words are kept and which are lost from original printed draft to notebook to laptop.

I finished NaNoWriMo on November 23rd, a few days early, and began worldbuilding and revising in earnest: five hours a day, every day.  By doing this, I discovered the futuristic setting didn't really make sense and was even a little cliched for the story I wanted to tell; so I've revised the world into the near-present.  Immediately, I steered away from post-apocalyptic settings: more cliches will abound.  Instead, I settled on an isolated State, cut off voluntarily from the rest of the world (some might see resemblances to North Korea, but I'm working very hard at disspelling any sort of mirroring; in no way is this story a metaphor for the troubles with Pyongyang).  Because I had to change the setting, I also had to change many of the characters' names.  Knowing the world I've created better and understanding the narrative voice with which to tell these characters' stories has already helped me invariably with the revision process.

NaNoWriMo got me started on the first novel I've started that I think is worth finishing in a long time.  Along the way I hit some bumps - particularly plotwise - but the experience of writing 50,000 words in a month was certainly worth it, especially because I got to know these characters so intimately.  You don't know want to know how many fake conversations I had with Moo or Daniel Yu: you'd have to keep a light on at night, you'd be frightened so badly.

The burning question: will I do it again next year?  The answer: probably, but I hope I won't have to - I don't want any more gray hairs.