Thursday, June 10, 2004


Submitted "The Colossus Vignettes" to Fortean Bureau today. That makes seven stories out, plus the novel manuscript at the agent's. Waiting. Writing is so very zen.

Marianne read "Bear in Contradicting Landscape" last night. She had a couple of concerns, which we discussed, and I did a bit of editing. Overall, she allayed many of my worries. One worry that remains is that of markets for it. It clocks in at about 7700 words, for one thing. For another, it is not really genre, but has one significantly weird element which I think will turn off many mainstream markets. So, I'm looking for suggestions. Has anyone reading this every submitted to McSweeney's? I didn't find their guidelines particularly helpful. It's too long for Zoetrope, and I've already got a submission at The New Yorker. Does 3rd Bed have an upper word limit? Does anyone have experience with One Story?

Thanks for any help y'all can offer . . .

Horses Blow Up Dog City and Other Stories, by Richard Butner

Richard Butner makes a mean martini. He also has a kick-ass story in the new Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and you should read it.

This chapbook collects five of Butner's stories: the title piece, "Drifting," "Lo-Fi," "Ash City Stomp," and "The Rules of Gambling." "Horses Blow Up Dog City" is the story of a puppeteer, a lighting technician, and an antiques dealer--but really, it's about loneliness, achingly so. All of these pieces are about connecting, or rather, failing to; the characters are either unable to reach out, or they go about it all wrong. "Drifting" (previously published in Say . . . What Time Is It?) is a rip-roarer about a waiter who wins a Zen Mistress. It's hilarious but unsettling. The protagonist, Jay, is at a tipping point, and it's not clear whether Rancis ("like Francis without the F") is capable of righting him again.

"Lo-Fi" reads like a chapter out of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, perhaps intentionally? It's not really about music, but it concerns performance, taken to the extreme. The sadness here is stunning in the sense that you may not notice it until it knocks you on your back. Blame it on the paparazzi. "Ash City Stomp" appeared in Trampoline, which you should own. (No excuses now. It's for your own good.) This story has the Devil in it, or someone who thinks he is the Devil. Everybody's writing Devil stories lately--this is not a bad thing. Butner's Devil wears a red union suit and has acne scars, and he may not be such a bad guy after all.

"The Rules of Gambling" bears some similarities to "Drifting." Both have middle-aged female guide characters, and both have hopeful-or-is-it endings. But they both take very different routes to get there. (I'll give you a hint; one involves whiskey.) I'm tempted to say that Butner saved the best for last here, but that would suggest that the other stories here haven't stayed with me, and they have. Enough raves. Buy it, read it, enshrine it.


Ray Charles is dead. I remember a bit of graffiti logic that used to be in the men's room at College Library in Madison:

If God is love
and love is blind
then Ray Charles is God.

You know he's still rocking.

I'm far more affected by Ray's death than by Ronald Reagan's. The deification is reaching ridiculous heights, but I have to say I'm not surprised: anyone recall the aftermath of Nixon's death, when he was revised into our greatest diplomat? Not to mention that whatever else he may have done, Reagan managed to shift the political discourse in such a way that today politicians on both sides are defining themselves by his values. How can they repudiate him when they owe their public faces to him?

For me, there were three Reagans. The first was cartoonish, a sort of Max Headroom, a talking head who was never without a pithy, reductive take on whatever his administration was f%&$ing* up at the time. And that voice . . . the clips recently are creeping me out. It's like a mesmer's voice, which might explain why so much of the public is still under the man's spell. It's not natural.

The second Reagan was the incompetent. The one who fell asleep in meetings. The one who seemed to honestly not understand that we were arming Iran. The one in David Stockman's book who became a blind-faith believer in supply-side economics but who was so hands-off that not only were the necessary budget cuts not made, the budget actually ballooned to create the deficits that Dick Cheney likes to tell us don't matter. This Reagan had strong beliefs but no interest in the mechanics of seeing them addressed; a boss of the "I-don't-care-how-it-gets-done" variety, which in government is an open invitation to skullduggery and incompetence.

The third Reagan was one I saw in recent years, mostly through Naysayer Nance. Of course, Alzheimer's is a terrifying disease, and I have sympathy for the sufferer and the loved ones, no matter who they may be. But in particular, the excerpts I read of the man's letters--love letters to Nancy, pen-pal exchanges with a young African-American boy--humanized him. Perhaps it's this human quality that has caused so many people to join the cult of Ronny, and to a point it's understandable. I remember, after 9/11, that for a moment I had a burst of love for Dubya, when his voice broke at a press conference and he looked as though he might weep. I responded to it because I wanted someone in charge to be as freaked out as I was. I didn't want calm and cool so much as I wanted human.

We all demonize those whom we disagree with to some extent. The day Reagan was shot I was walking home from school when a neighbor gave us the news. My sister and I, coming from a good Democratic family as we did, skipped home cheering. Bad behavior, clearly. It's good to remember the human-ness, but part of that is fallibility. The fact that Reagan slept in the White House while the Cold War ended does not make him a great leader any more than the fact that his spiritual descendant wasn't choking on a pretzel when the planes hit says anything about his competence.

Here's hoping we never see either of them on Rushmore.

Whew, that was a rant. Done now.

* Yes, I learned to cuss from the comics page.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004


I read "The New Year's Party" (or, "Dancing on Sleipner's Bones") at Twilight Tales last night. I'm not sure how it went over, exactly, and that's really why I read it there, to see if it worked aloud. There were a few laughs, but it's not one of my funnier stories. It's dark and takes a bit of figuring out, which may have worked against it. Practice is good, though.

Found out that the season finale of "Arrested Development" was on this past Sunday, and I thought the season had ended over a month ago! It's a good thing for BitTorrent, gift of the gods.

Monday, June 07, 2004


Hot here.

Rejection today from Alchemy, of "The Colossus Vignettes." Form letter. Somewhat unclear on what he's looking for. Maybe he didn't like the humor. Maybe he didn't like the title; I'm not in love with it myself, but it's the kind of story that needs a declarative, explanatory title. Not sure where to send it next. Too hot to think about it.

Going for a walk now.

Sunday, June 06, 2004


I had planned to go down to the Printer's Row Book Fair today and then shuttle over to the BEA again to bid farewell to Gavin and Kelly. But between WisCon last weekend, working on Dogtown, the two-count-'em-two weddings I have to go to next weekend, work, and school preparations--deep breath--I was getting cranky about not having time to write.

So I phoned my regrets to Gavin and did some quick administrative stuff for Dogtown--making sure I have contributor's addresses for their copies, calling Keith to update him on how things are going so far (well, I think). Keith says I should take some time to gloat over having become a Doer and not just a Talker. I'm taking a moment, but I'm already worried about funding the next issue. Hopefully we will sell at least half of what we printed.

After talking to Keith and calling the parents I headed over to Letizia's to plug in and work on "Bear in Contradicting Landscape." It's all but done now, I think. I'm happy with it but also trepidatious. It's rather long--7600 words--and the most ambitious thing I've written to date, combining metafictional ideas and anxieties about (gasp!) belief. It's one of the most personal things I've written, which also gives me the squicks. All in all I'm not sure I've got the chops to pull it off. I think I'll want to let it sit for a couple of days and then comb through it some more before letting the roommate look at it.

Started Perfect Circle last night, and I'm liking it. Quick and funny and obviously circling in towards something very dark. I talked to Keith about writing a review of it for The Wire, since Northampton is sort of local to New Hampshire. We'll see.