Friday, August 26, 2011

An Earthquake Story and a Poem

Well, in case you couldn't tell I survived the Mineral, Virginia Earthquake of 2011. It was the first one I ever felt. There have been others rumbling under me before, but they all passed by without me noticing, including this earthquake's aftershock. Part of the reason I noticed this one was it's size but also it's timing. I was wide awake when the earthquake struck. It caught me while I was working. Yes, working. But before you assume I have managed to stumble upon a cash flow and can start giving money out to your Kickstarter campaign, let me tell you it was just a temporary job.

When the earthquake hit Arlington, I was performing my civic duty as a poll worker for the Democratic primary. From 5 AM to 9 PM I was at my old stomping grounds, Arlington Traditional School. It was an interesting experience to get a behind the scenes look at how our democracy functions but the earthquake certainly made it all the more memorable. When things began shaking, I was standing in the gym, minding my own business. At first I heard the windows rattle and saw the rafters and basketball nets vibrating. My initial though was that there was construction going on outside. The shaking continued and I grew annoyed, even as a realized what was going on.

I understood intuitively that it was an earthquake right before I had a clear idea formed in my head. The dissonance made me briefly want to yell at the earth and tell the ground to knock it off before I grew really angry. A second later, the word earthquake flashed in my head and I ran out the door for safety in case things started to fall to pieces. Luckily only a few bits of plaster, a tennis ball, and a paper airplane fell to the ground. Even our voting machines were unharmed and remained powered. If the had been damaged or shut off I don't know what we would have done. All of us campaign workers looked through our books to see what procedures were in place for an earthquake, but this being Virginia, there was no plan.

Things have now returned to normal quickly enough for us to worry about the next natural disaster, Hurricane Irene. Unlike the earthquake, we know it is coming towards us. Since this might be the last chance to post before we lose electricity, here is a poem of mine in 22 Magazine.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Three Poems in Shadow...Fiction?

Don't be fooled by the name. Three poems of mine are up in the current issue of Shadow Fiction, which is also its very first issue as well. Glad to be a pioneer! 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Happy Belated Birthday, Bukowski

Sometimes I get the strange urge to throw certain terms into Google and search for them. I suppose it is a projection of my psyche at the time. A writer could keep a record of them and they could create a sort of portrait, like an artist throwing paint against a canvas or a wall. Often I just type in "Jew," which must make me a secret Hebrew or paranoid Aryan, or perhaps both. Either way I'm part of a chosen people. Maybe I just find it amusing that it is one of the only search terms that comes with a warning when you type it in. I guess having an explanation backfires in a way though, it makes Google appear to be part of the massive worldwide Zionist conspiracy (which I believe has something to do with replacing fish sticks with gefilte fish.)

Not to sound like too much of a weirdo, I will throw in terms such as "Italy," "Italian," "Beatnik," and "Jack Chick" for good measure as well. I also throw in the last names of writers and poets to see what I come up with, often appending their surnames with phrases such as "alcohol," "booze," "sex," or "scansion." The other day I had Bukowski on the mind and maybe it was the alignment of the planets, but it turned out that it was his birthday. Charles Bukowski died in 1994 and would be 91 if he were alive today. I doubt he could ever have made it this far, but the fact he got to his seventies was quite a feat considering the, ahem, liquid diet he adhered to.

Nevertheless, after typing in his name, I found a lot of interesting material on Bukowski that has recently been released on the Internet. Some of it consciously posted because of the birthday, but much of it probably accidentalClearly the planets are at work, not just on me, but others as well. YouTube has a few new videos that are either about Bukowski or else feature him in some way and give a fascinating glimpse into the writer and his world. First, someone has posted an early reading of Bukowski at Bellevue College in Washington. Through the grainy footage we seen him before he became well-known.

In this documentary from Taylor Hackford in 1973, a different Bukowski shows up on film. Here is the Bukowski that emerged from the success of his first novel Post Office, full of swagger, confidence, and completely absorbed by his public persona and reputation. The film traces Bukowski from LA to San Francisco, where he gives a reading put on Lawrence Ferlinghetti. If nothing else, it is a fascinating glimpse of the underground West Coast poetry scene in the early 1970s, after the rise and fall of the San Francisco Renaissance but before the Slam poetry revolution.   

Lastly, I came across a documentary that Bukowski narrated some time in the 1980s about the "best hotel on skid row." While Bukowski never spent much time on Skid Row, despite the legends, he was certainly familiar enough with it.  Even though he never makes an appearance, the documentary shows the kind of people and places who populate much of his work. I think it's an interesting idea that could be utilized more often, having a writer or any other kind of artist, narrating a documentary about the world that inspired them and informed their work, without making any specific reference to themselves.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back in Arlington

Just returned from a trip to Philadelphia to move my sister back before she resumes another year at Temple University. I haven't been to the city since I was eleven and went to go see the ancient artifacts at the  University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Needless to say, I didn't see much of the city then. This time was different, since my sister lives away from the Center City, I got to go around the residential neighborhoods. I got to see the good and bad of what the city had to offer. At times you feel like an archaeologist in America's inner cities, seeing beautiful buildings that have decayed and are empty, or that once held the headquarters of powerful companies and now are home to boutiques and bars. 

It made me wonder if the chic parts of Brooklyn once looked like this before they were redeveloped a decade or so ago. I know there are still plenty of bad neighborhoods, but those most of them were never built up with hotels and tall buildings that were then abandoned. I guess it was what the Lower East Side probably resembled in the early 1990s. If such places that were once written off can be brought back to life, perhaps there is hope for Philadelphia, which was once America's largest city, important enough that we had the national bank there. Things are trickling in, to be sure, and it's loss of people has stabilized somewhat, but the city still has 500,000 people less than in 1950.

The infrastructure is there, the history, the culture, the location, but the jobs have to return. It's the same all over the country, in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and in other places. To be sure, the jobs need to return all over the country, but in the inner cities of the Rust Belt they will do the most good, as the economics of suburban sprawl have become unsustainable. If nothing else happens, I suppose the rust belt holds the cards when the inevitable energy crisis comes along and we can no longer import everything from China and run our air conditioners in the Sun Belt 24/7. 

Anyways, the trip is probably the last interesting thing that will happen to me for the rest of the summer. Other updates of note, I had a poem published in Word Salad and have been quoted here by Benjamin C. KrauseHopefully it will not be the last time anyone finds my maxims memorable. Also, happy 30th anniversary to my parents Michael and Pamela Nardolilli, Kansas City's most beautiful couple of 1981.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Funeral Parlors and Facial Hair

Part two of my short story Chaplinesque is up at Squawk Back. It was serialized and this was the final half of the tale. Here is the link to the first part and the second. Another poem is up at Literary Kicks, and it even has poetic responses written underneath.

I also wrote a new post up at my other blog. Hopefully I will get a job soon so I can have something else to write about. I'd like to have the money so I can start writing about looking for an apartment.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Genre Writer Accepts Himself

No, it's not me, it's author Will Lavender. In his piece up at Salon, Mr. Lavender tells the story of his conversion from being a failed writer of literary fiction to a successfully published author of thrillers. Along the way, he had to disabuse himself of those pretensions which held him back from creating works that were enjoyable to both write and read. It is a valuable lesson for any aspiring writer who is not only trying to find their voice, but also what kind of story to share with the world. Lavender's journey is about finding one's true style and coming to terms with what one makes, not worrying about what critical opinion because the writing itself can grant great pleasure.

I do have an very distant and indirect relationship with Will Lavender, in the fall of 2007, I interned at Folio Literary Management. At the time, they were representing his first novel, Obedience.  In a strange set of coincidences, this essay of his was published at the same time that I saw a recent Jeopardy question that involved another Folio author, Garth Stein, and his novel The Art of Racing in the Rain. While I interned at the agency, I remember a lengthy telephone conversation between Lavender and his agent. Even after having published a thriller, he was still unsure about the direction he wanted to go with his writing and just which genre he wanted to write in. The agent suggested that switching genres was a risky move since he had created a brand for himself as a writer of thrillers.

It is clear that Lavender has accepted the fact that what he truly wants to write are thrillers. Before his conversion, he was trying to become the next great literary light, but was more concerned with looking the part than actually producing anything of literary merit. According to him, his own writing was stale as in was merely an imitation of other figures that he admired. He claims he was a wannabe John Ashbery at one point (it's not clear, but I suppose he wanted to be a poet before he wrote literary fiction) and then was a "Michael Chabon lite." He found nothing worthwhile in what he was writing and it was hard for him to find something original to say.

This changed once he began reading thrillers, a genre of work that he had previously dismissed as light, fluffy, and disposable. Lavender began to enjoy the writing and started to change his own style to create the kind of writing he enjoyed reading the most, which turned out not to be literary after all. Now that he has completed and published two thrillers, he seems he has found his calling. He no longer writes literary fiction and does not mind it either, another sign that writing thrillers is what he ought to be doing. A literary writer would view such work as a distraction from more serious pursuits, just as Lavender realized his previous "highbrow" writing was a detour that lead him away from what he was better suited to produce.

Yet, despite coming to terms with what he was meant to write, Lavender does shows a certain uneasiness from working in with thrillers, and he feels a need to justify his switch by claiming genre fiction isn't really different from literary fiction at all. But the way he does it only has the effect of reinforcing the divide between literary and genre fiction. He defends the literary merits of thrillers on one hands while at the same time he attacks the literary establishment, which revels in those merits, for denigrating literature written for the sake of entertainment. If he was a genre writer completely satisfied with his choice, he would not bother making such defenses. All Lavender would need to say is that he came to see nothing wrong with writing books to entertain. Instead, he tries to make a case that genre thrillers can be art.

Lavender does not really spend much time creating a reasoned defense of this position. It is simply something that has to be true to him so he can feel justified in writing thrillers. He certainly finds them enjoyable and uses the pleasure they produce as a defense of their artistic merit (calling such experiences "transcendent").  But this is not enough and perhaps if allowed to write a longer piece, he would be able to elaborate. Similar defenses for the role of feeling in aesthetic judgment have been made. Indeed, the very term "aesthetics" is derived from the Greek word aisthetikos, which in turn comes from the phrase "I feel/perceive/sense."

In his essay, Will Lavender should be showing the world how he is handling the apparent divide between literary an genre fiction in his own writing. This is how it seems he is truly coming to terms with being a genre writer while maintaining his literary background. Even if these interests no longer produce outright aspirations, they still permeate and enrich his work, which in turn helps him stand out from the typical run-of-the-mill thriller writers. For instance, Obedience, his first novel, is a murder mystery set within the confines of a class on logic and reasoning, which helps to bring a philosophical element into the work. Meanwhile, in his latest novel, Dominance, he plays with ideas of authorship itself and the line between fiction and reality.

He does raise many good points in the essay about how the basics of storytelling, plot development, and character are often overlooked by literary writers in favor of experimentation that may end up just alienating the reader. In addition, he discusses how the line between genre and literary fiction is more blurred than we think, with both sides learning from the other. The modernist experiments in prose writing pushed out florid Victorian expression and created the prevailing style in genre fiction today, while writers such as Paul Auster mix elements of noir with literary concerns and ideas. Even a crime novel like Mario Puzo's The Godfather has plenty in common with a sprawling 19th century work than one might think, with dozens of minor characters having their own subplots. Beginning with a quote by Balzac also helps to add to its literary heft.

From the tone of the piece, I wonder if Lavender really has accepted himself as a genre writer, rather than accepting that what he wants to write is genre fiction. I think this is an important distinction to make, if one believes there are separate categories for literary and genre writers. In this case, to come to terms with being a genre writer means not having to worry about whether or not one is making art and to focus on good stories instead. If the result is hailed as art, it is a happy accident, but not the primary objective. Genre writers understand what they do and what effect their genre produces. They have no illusions. Likewise, literary writers know that what they create is often going to be difficult for others to read and do not expect to land a major motion picture deal. Again, if it happens for them, it is a pleasant surprise.

I think part of the problem is that the idea of a work being either "literary" or "genre" is misplaced, as if these are two mutually incompatible spheres. I think it is more productive to see literary fiction existing across all genres, especially since most genres have their root in the work of literary icons. It is not a matter of crossing the literary with a particular genre, which is how Lavender seems to view his work, but bringing it out instead. Poe helped develop horror and mystery while romance and so-called chick-lit would be radically different without the legacy of Austen. It would help end the prejudice against seeing a whole stream of writing as incapable of doing anything literary because it is grounded in a genre. I know it is especially problematic when giving writers of science-fiction their due, but is true for any given genre. Hopefully, as book selling moves increasingly online the current division,  which was as much a product of retailing as anything else, will be erased in favor of a more expansive view of what can be literary or not.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Goodbye July, Long Live August

A few more poetry links to help herald in the coming of this new month. I have a poem in the current issue of Red Ochre Lit. Meanwhile, Anobium is no longer taking pre-orders, but they are still being sold with my words inside them. Thematic Literary Magazine also has some of my work up in the July issue. The theme of it is independence. I should be near the front of that one.

If you just want to read my words without downloading and/or paying, I put something up at Literary Kicks.