Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 In Review

It's raining outside.  Just before I opened the blog to write this update there was a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder.  The storm and the temp has melted most of the snow, and the water pooling in the backyard.  The snowman that I made a few weeks back:
Snowman at its height
Is now looking far more depressing...
A metaphor for the year?
In preparation for this post I started reading over the blog over the last year, checking out the posts and the events, and trying to create a coherent picture of what I did.  Trying to figure out what I achieved.  What I wanted to achieve.  Whatever.  I went back and read my 2009 In Review post, and laughed when I saw how the blog started:
"All through New Years Eve and the last week leading up to and following the start of the year, there has been an overflowing amount of cynicism and anger to the end of the decade. And I'd be lying if I didn't mention that I joined in with the choruses berating 2009 as being a terrible year."
Then after taking the time to review the year it became clear that maybe 2009 wasn't as bad as I thought it was.  I ran a marathon, I had a kick-ass internship, and I had a lot of great traveling memories with friends.  So I figured I'd sit down and try to do this for 2010.  Here we go:

January started with marathon training, and the beginning of the rewriting process for The Rider.  I started my last semester at the University of Michigan, which meant commuting a couple days a week back and forth to Ann Arbor.

Rust In Peace
Everything started to take a nosedive in February though.  Senioritis took on a whole new level of painful unfocused lack of success.  Kate, my jeep, died.  And more rejection notes for short stories.  On the bright side I did fly out to Los Angeles.

March was spent in Los Angeles.  Met the guys who did Burma VJ (an Oscar Nominated Documentary).  When I came back it was back into school, which is exactly what happened all through April.

May was the big one.  I graduated from the University of Michigan with my Masters of Science in Information, and I entered the land of adulthood (sort of).  I saw Obama speak at my commencement.  I also ran the Madison marathon.

In June we had to put Nikita, my dog, down.  She had a very aggressive bone cancer in her front left leg.  It sucked.  I got very drunk.
I miss her
In July I had the one and only interview of my job hunt in a quiet, northern-Wisconsin town.  It was for a director position at the Chilton Public Library.  I didn't get the job.

Homegrown, the open mic night that my friend Zack Bower headed up, ended in August.

My job at the Knowledge Navigation Center ended in September.  I wasn't exactly fired.  I didn't exactly quit.  Duke and I decided the correct word for it was I "expired."

With nothing really left for me in Michigan, I bought my ticket to Portland and packed my room up in October.  It was sort of a last minute "going for it on 4th and Long" kind of Hail Mary.  The day after I bought the ticket I got a job dumped in my lap at the Society for College and University Planning.  I also ran a great half marathon in Midland, MI.

November has pretty much flown by, working at SCUP, and December has been the holidays.  I started editing The Rider again after taking so much time off of it.  I also failed to do any damage whatsoever in NaNoWriMo this year.

Ending the 2009 post it was full of hope for 2010.  Grand plans to graduate, get published, get a girlfriend, a job.  To make a mark that made 2010 a memorable year.  Other than graduate (and sort of the job) none of it happened.  I didn't finish editing the Rider.  I dealt with family loss, vehicle loss, financial loss.  Things moved further and further behind the eight-ball until by October I was starting to make a desperate lunge for any sort of little victory I could find.  To say that it's rock-bottom is of course hyperbolic, but to say that it's been a good year is a little bit of bull.

What I do know is that 2010 sucked, but 2011 is going to be better.  It has to be.  Right?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sandman Slim - A Review

It seems that in the rebalancing of having a part time job, this blog is sort of slipping the way of reviewy things.  That'll get remedied soon.  After jumping back in the saddle with my first complete novel, The Rider, to try and finish a second draft, the whole being a writer thing is starting to move again, and the ideas are starting to flow.  I'll post about that process here soon.  Until then, here's the book I just finished:

Sandman Slim - Richard Kadrey

Let me paint for you a picture.  Imagine Raymond Chandler, you know, the legendary pulp noir author who brought us Philip Marlowe, in such classics as The Long Goodbye, and The Big Sleep.  Imagine if you will that Raymond Chandler had been raised by an abusive (both physically as well as psychologically) father who was also the preacher of a fire and brimstone Southern Baptist church, who every Sunday would stand at the pulpit and call down the righteous judgment of God, and invoke the horrendous forthcoming days of judgment, complete with multiheaded dragons, and burning mountains, and Abaddon rising from the abyss to punish the nonbelievers.  And every Saturday night that same father would flagellate our poor Raymond with words of his inadequacy for the kingdom of God, with fear of witchery, and lust, and sin.  Then one day, when Raymond is 18, maybe 16 he gets up and walks out of that place.  He hits the road, and finds himself where the sun sets, the mythical, magical city of Angels.  Los Angeles.  And from the moment he sets foot in it, its seedy underbelly, its dark bars, and drug deals, its pimps and pushers, and deadbeats, Raymond sees it all, and it's love.  He takes to drinking a fifth of Jack Daniels every day, and smoking Lucky Strikes, like each pack is his last.  And he starts writing.  Detective novels.  Mysteries.  What is escapism for the midwest, is a quiet night at the local bar for Raymond.  But at night, when he's home, he still hears the voice of his father.  The bellowing of his sermons.  And when he dreams, Raymond sees the devils who see us as playthings, and the angels who just don't give a shit.  And he must admit, though he hates it, the fantasy of it intrigues him.  And he starts writing about it.

That's Richard Kadrey.  That's Sandman Slim.  It's Philip Marlowe and the Book of Revelations.  It's hard boiled old testament.  It's a lot of pent up anger.  It's bristling with excitement.  It's every snappy one-liner and wry aside you wish you could've had in the moment, but you can't.  It's pulp, and it's a helluva good ride.

Eleven years ago Stark was thrown in hell by some friends of his, magicians (not wizards, we're not fucking Harry Potter).  He's back.  He's pulled himself up from the pit, and all he wants is a little revenge.  He wants to put a boot through the face of all the guys who fucked him over, and he's willing to steal, and cheat, and con everyone who will get in his way of achieving that goal.  And when he shows up, the ball gets rolling.  Right from the very first page.  Kadrey wastes no time with long explanations, or drawn out world-building asides.  "It's like it was designed and built specifically for vampires.  For all I know, it was.  Yes, there are vampires.  Try to keep up."

That the book moves with the brisk pace of its hero is both a blessing and a curse.  I tore through the book.  It was one of the fastest reads I've done in a while.  The problem inherent with it is that sometimes its too fast.  A whole heist scene, which could've lasted the better portion of another book breezes by in a way that almost makes it seem like an unnecessary scene other than to push the plot on by.  But it's ok, because a couple pages later, I'm back in the story, running to stay shoulder to shoulder with Stark, wondering what he's going to do next, how he's going to hurt someone else.  It's great fun.

This is the book I wish I could write.  This is the kind of tantalizing story that makes people want more.  Its irreverent, and its "fuck you" attitude means it doesn't care if you don't like it, and it doesn't care if you do like it, it just wants to do its thing.  And the thing it does is exciting.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Book of Joby - A Review

The story of Job is one that just about everyone knows.  Innocent man made to suffer at the hands of God and the devil to prove a point about the nature of sin, and the inherent goodness or evil in a man's heart.  That it's so well known is something that Mark Ferrari's mammoth first novel, The Book of Joby, makes no bones about (ex: the prologue is titled "The Same Stupid Bet").  And yet, by owning this one fact, the Book of Joby is able to transcend its trappings and give us something fresh, and truly special.

The Book of Joby, after the stupid bet is made, opens on the pristine childhood of the novel's central character.  Joby's youth is one of idyllic suburban nostalgia.  Bike rides around neighborhoods, extravagant sessions, pretending to be knights and fighting the good fight against imaginary dragons and trolls, parents who stand in the windows watching as the boy trounces about the yard ahead of a troupe of neighborhood kids.  Ferrari creates such a warm and nostalgic environment that one can't help but fall in love.  Then the bet starts.  Life turns to hell, and by the time Joby graduates high school and goes off to college, the comfort and safety of childhood is far behind.

In preparing to write this review, reading the book, and then reading what other critics had to say, I was struck with the sense that so many felt the drag of sections of the Book of Joby.  These early, overlong moments here in Joby's youth, followed by long stretches of calm quiet in the off-the-map town of Taubolt occupying the third quarter of the novel, were read by many as indulgence, and a little fatty.  To play contrary, I see these moments, these long idle periods as the calm before the storm that makes us idle.  These sections of peace breaking up what would otherwise be a downer of a story.  And Mr. Ferrari manages to escape that.  The heavy weight of constant, crushing failure and defeat.  He manages to take a character who, oftentimes, is teetering on the edge of suicide and instead tell a breathless and warm story.

This is of course not to say it isn't an honest story.  This is where Mark Ferrari shows his true strength.  By embracing the culturally relevant religion of mythology ("writing fantasy for an American audience set in our own culture's body of supernatural lore" he writes on the FAQ of his website) he tells a relevant tale not bogged down by the need for dogmatic discourse.  Where a book like this published by the christian market would go out of its way to create blatantly good and blatantly bad characters, sacrificing characterization and humanity for moral tropes, Joby instead offers up real, honest characters.  Characters who drink, and swear, and screw around, and make real mistakes, and have children out of wedlock without being damned for it.  Mark provides good Christian characters, and bad Christian characters.  Nonbelievers with more righteousness than some of the faithful, and the "faithful" with no honest faith at all.

What emerges at the end from this is one of the most honest tales of growing up, the desperation to believe in something, and above all else a damn good rousing adventure story.  A lyrical story with beautifully painted imagery.  A tale that is at once utterly familiar, and refreshingly new.  The Book of Joby is a must read for anyone who likes modern fantasy.