Apparently the Nebraska Democratic Caucus allows absentee ballots which strikes me as strange for a caucus. There's no chance to realign yourself to any other candidate should your guy or gal not get 15%, but at this late in the game that's pretty much impossible unless you're holding on to that Mike Gravel dream. In any case, I'm all for it.
You can go here and click on the link for the Absentee Preference Card to get started. Just be sure to get it in by February 6th. They list four options for missing the primary: Homebound, Out-of-State Student, Out-of-State Military, and Infirmed. Since they don't list an option for missing the caucus to go see Cloverfield, I'm not really sure what to do.
I mean, I could be infirmed or enrolled in a horseshoeing college in Wyoming by then. Better not chance it.
Which of the following DOESN'T happen in the first three minutes of Shoot 'Em Up?
A. Clive Owen shoots an umbilical cord to separate the baby he just delivered from the mother.
B. Clive Owen shoots a car's oil pan and then slides across the oil for about twenty feet while shooting bad guys.
C. Clive Owen shoots a neon sign until only the letters "FUK U" remain. He then says, "Fuck you" to shoot home his point.
D. Clive Owen shoots his grandmother then watches his sister's muddy drawers as she crawls up a pear tree to view the wake. He then shoots her, too.
The new La Petite Zine is available.
I have two My Untimely Deaths in it, and you should read them if you're curious to see what they are all about. If you are interested and want to order the little book, information can be found in this post right here.
There's some really great stuff in LPZ including this from Stefi Weisburd:
Scenes from a Little God Childhood
A little god, wrapped in popsicle sticks, feathers
and tape, is dropped from a second story
castle turret along with a dozen
eggs bundled, by little hands,
in bubble wrap, springs and letters of love.
That's just an excerpt from the beginning, but now you understand why you should read it.
You should be sure to check out Carlin's new football blog The Realness Hurts.
This blog originally had a different name, but I'm so excited about the possibility of writing an NFL Draft Preview that I can hardly remember what it was.
Here's an NFL Draft Preview Preview: Tweener.
On Editing a Novel #3
DESCRIBING YOUR PROTAGONIST. Your first draft probably described your main character with a series of adjectives once in the first sentence of the novel and never mentioned what he or she looked like ever again. So how do you turn "Tom was tall, kind of orangish, teary-eyed, a sno cone lover, short, smelled like Tab soda, awesome, haptic, a good tipper, a SWMDDF in his personal ad, sort-of medium-heighted, salty, and not entirely sure who killed his father." into a novel's worth of powerful description?
All you have to do is search for every time the character's name get used an insert one of your adjectives in front of it. Just watch:
I never though I would step foot in this Arby's again, awesome Tom thought.
Watching the woman carefully, Tom smelled like Tab soda.
Professional writers might even work the adjectives into speech to make your descriptions come more naturally:
"I'm starting to think no one killed Tom's father," she said. "But Tom is a good tipper."
If you run out of adjectives, look around the room and take them from items around you (e.g. a cup of coffee on your desk could add some "steam" to your character's personality or some "Colombian Dark Roast" coloring to his eyes!)!
Last night we went to go see the Number 22/23 ranked Drake Bulldogs take on the unranked Creighton Bluejays at the Qwest Center. It really is a pretty fantastic venue for basketball and, say what you will about it, but Omaha really comes out to support the Bluejays. This game is also notable for featuring two out of three Korver brothers and all three were in the building. Guess which is which!
Drake (17-1, 16 game winning streak) won in overtime which made me very happy and the children in front of us very sad. I probably didn't need to taunt them by telling them this means Keno Davis gets to choose the next pope.
In my defense, at the time I thought it was true.
I'm not sure when The New Yorker got all smutty, but in addition to the topless photograph of Lee Miller in the most current issue, there have also been quite a few Playboy-esque comics featuring topless line drawings and some joke about sex recently. Also, a year or so ago, there was an entirely gratuitous nude picture of a show girl. You may think that have these moments catalogued a little too well, but it's really just the shock of seeing a drawing that looks like a topless Mrs. Keane from Family Circus wedged into an article about Rudy Giuliani that makes me remember.
I mean, my grandmother subscribes to this magazine for god's sake. If John Updike were alive, this would never be happening (or, actually, it would be happening a lot more often with much more depressing results).
We're about six months away from David Remnick launching New Yorker Forum. I'm going to start submitting letters now just in case. I'll just go ahead and address them to David Denby for now.
So I've been playing around with Goodreads for the last two days and have decided that I'm unwilling to give star ratings. Thankfully, the website has a lot more to offer so I still plan on using it as it's a cool way to find work. It's sort of like going to Dusty's blog only a bunch of people are on it and it actually gets updated.
I came to the realization like this: After giving away some 5 star rankings to books I love yesterday, I found myself tormented on how to dole out stars for books I "only" really liked, or, even worse, didn't like for very specific and often very subjective reasons. I didn't feel like I would have the time or the mental acuity to always explain why a book got three stars instead of four, and, more importantly, I'm not really interested in creating a hierarchy of books in the first place.
I suppose I think book criticism should be more than a rating system--or a quid pro quo arrangement--but even then I think I could live with a rating system if I was capable of using it more responsibly than I probably am. Even then, I really don't know what the stars intend to measure or if I could use them consistently from book to book. The stars go from "didn't like it" to "it was amazing" and maybe I'm crazy, but I feel like some books are capable of making me feel both ways simultaneously. Sometimes those are the best books, but there's no room for that in the ranking system so I suppose if I feel that way I'll just have to write it out. I'm fine with that.
I'd prefer that whoever looks at my list of books sees books that I decided, for whatever reason and with whatever outcome, to spend my time with. There are so many out there, that I guess I see that as endorsement enough. Unlike with movies or albums, I rarely regret my choices when it comes to books because even when I hate something I don't feel like it was a waste of time or money. It's hard to let someone know that a book you gave two stars is deeply flawed but still an important or even beautiful book.
So apologies to Haruki Murakami and anyone else I gave 5 stars to yesterday only to cruelly remove them today. It's not you, Haruki, it's me.
Stock Photography Review
Let's look at some pieces that illustrate the ways in which stock photography grapples with accurately recreating human experience. In these first examples, the photo fails to accurately recreate the experience of the activity pictured leading to confusion, anger, and declined credit card offers.
It's clear that this family of multi-ethnic aliens is unfamiliar with the fundamentals of human food consumption. Whatever unsuspecting family they are luring to the kitchen on their mothership will be too polite to say anything about the pepper and onion stew they are being served. Then it will be too late.
You should know that this is how advertisers think you talk on the phone. They think this because this is how they talk on the phone, constantly opened-mouth at the hilarity coming through the earpiece while they stand uncomfortably close to their colleagues in an urban setting. If ever saw people doing this on the street, I'd call the police.
Not even close.
On the otherhand, stock photography is exceptionally valuable for its ability to capture human emotions despite its gross inaccuracy when capturing human actions.
Jealousy/Suspicion of Infidelity
Look at how well they captured that guy's look of desperation/lust while checking his email. He wants his wife to know, and she's through caring as long as she gets their hyper-modern steel table in the divorce.
Nailed it again. Dead on.
I feel like I need to post something because that Kansas picture is really creeping me out. I think that guy with the eye patch is watching me through the eye patch.
Currently reading: Remainder by Tom McCarthy
Currently listening to: Some Bonnie "Prince" Billy song
Currently rooting for: Tony Sparano
Currently surprised by: The fact that I am wearing brown socks. That wasn't the plan.
Currently thinking about: Whether or not the monster is named Cloverfield
Currently figuring out what to do with: The Cupboard Pamphlet
Currently writing: Bank mailers
Currently afraid of: Guy with the eye patch from Kansas/Mike Huckabee
Currently drinking: Dr. Pepper
Currently unsure of: Why I'm drinking Dr. Pepper
Ultimately, the Box Awesome show wins. What it lacks in eye patches, it more than makes up for with heart and grit.
You know what else is bigger than most other monsters? Eagle*Seagull. Box Awesome wins again.
I don't know when I took on my dad's love of having unused lights turned off, but it's undeniable now that this trait has been passed down (I have also acquired very concrete ideas about how tire pressure should be constantly monitored).
I want to say that my father and I have different reasons for wanting the lights off. Rather than the fear of a vaguely higher electric bill, I'm trying to protect the environment by making sure the resources of a 1-bedroom apartment in Lincoln, Nebraska, are most optimally being utilized. I don't want to melt ice caps or take the tops off mountains in order for us to use our large television as a nightlight. When we leave our computers on all night because the dogs like the pretty colors of the screensavers, when we buy more lamps because they look nice, when we turn on all these new lamps because they look even nicer, well, these things make me sad.
I want to say these things, but it's hard to explain this when I'm yelling at you to off the lights when you leave a room.
Samedi the Deafness
Jesse Ball's book concerns a mnemonist, James Sim, who stumbles upon a man dying from a wound in his chest who tells Sim about a conspiracy that threatens to undo the fabric of society. The same day a man kills himself in front of the White House bearing an oblique but threatening message from someone calling himself Samedi. Sim's efforts to discover the nature of the conspiracy leads him to a hospital for chronic liars who, naturally, obfuscate the true nature of the conspiracy (if there is one at all).
But that's just the setup. Once the book settles in, it's far less of a thriller than might be imagined. The fate of the nation rests in the balance, but no one, including our hero, really seems that concerned about it. If anything, Sim is more concerned with determining whether or not he can live among the conspirators than stopping them. In addition to his prodigious memory, Ball provides Sim with a surprising amount of insecurity. He's the sort of narrator capable of acting decisively on every impulse but then analyzes every action until he determines he should have done the opposite.
It slows the speed in an effective way, making the action something separate from the plot. Surrounded by diagnosed liars, Sim has to pick through their mistruths in order to solve his mystery yet the conspirators are the liars. Whatever their motives might be, whatever the nature of the conspiracy is, Sim is forever unable to reconcile the incongruous pieces of the puzzle or think beyond the last thing he's told.
(If only there was a word for books where intricate, absurd organizations confuse and frustrate an overmatched protagonist. It's sort of like something that guy one guy wrote. You know, the guy with books about trials and whatnot. Grisham or whatever.)
It's a brilliant world Ball has here, familiar only in its disappointments. But it's an elusive book, and even when I finished the final page I wasn't quite sure if Ball's meditative anti-thriller really wanted to say something about the nature of truth, conspiracy, and deafness or if those elements were just something the author discovered as he discovered the characters' names (Ball says he took from tombstones). The potential for making a political statement here is impossible to ignore since Samedi's aim is to humble and reconstruct America, yet somehow Ball and his hero don't touch on whether or not it's a good thing. Frankly, I was glad.
The point seems to be that in a world of mistruths, Sim is incapable of moral outrage. Right and wrong have become as intertwined as true and false. Until he can get answers, he's impotent and since no answer seems forthcoming, he will remain that way. That this makes him complicit never quite occurs to the character though it's hard to avoid as a reader.
It's such a strange and captivating read that it's impossible to lament the somewhat unconcerned narrator. The reader, like Sim, is too driven to find the truth to bother with the fact that there's no time to consider what the truth might mean.
This is a story I am ready to tell.
Heather and I went to her mother's place in California before Christmas. We went to Disneyland. We went to the LACMA and MOMA and In-N-Out Burger. This is not the story.
Before we left we turned off the heat in the apartment with the vague plan of driving out the mice that we hadn't been otherwise able to displace. Like undergraduates returning home between at the semester break, the mice always show up in this apartment around the beginning of December, each year a little wiser and stranger than the previous year's mice. This year, they'd proven surprisingly resilient and we thought a cold apartment might drive them away.
We also let our landlord know that we were going to be gone in case he wanted to do any apartment repairs while the dogs were away. We did this, drove to the airport, and I forgot about the mice and the apartment and the landlord sometime around when I was spinning on the teacups with my face covered in churro sugar. I may have also forgotten about the very idea of a Nebraska.
So we returned 10 days later to a freezing apartment, quickly left for an après ski-themed holiday party, and didn't think anything was unusual until Heather received an email from our landlord that said something to the effect of:
Hey, I don't mind some ritual sacrifice, but I don't think it's safe to leave a pile of matches on the stove. I threw them away.
This confused us. When we wrote back asking for clarification, he stated very matter-of-factly that when he was in our apartment he found a bed of spent matchsticks on top of our stove and, resting ominously in the middle, a mouse head.
This confused us. This frightened us. We hadn't left any matchsticks or mouse heads around, but, sure enough, sitting in the center of our stove were the remnants of some matchsticks. I felt sick, sure that someone had broken into our house. Then Heather called me at work to say that a pound of coffee was also missing, only increasing our hysteria.
Naturally, we assumed coffee-loving satanists had broken into our house.
I immediately started looking at apartments on craigslist. Heather was afraid to be home alone. At home, I checked the television (which the leisurely coffee loving satanist oddly hadn't stolen), and it was on the Food Network when I was pretty sure an episode of The Simpsons had been the last thing we'd watched. Good god, I thought, these coffee-loving gourmet satanists sat on our couch watching Rachel Ray. If they could have, they probably would have taken Rachel Ray's smiling head and left it on our coffee table. As I turned from rechecking the chain lock on our front door, I could almost see her little chipmunk face waiting for me there to remind me that it was possible to make a yummy meal quickly (and that satanists had sat where I watch The Simpsons).
So we called a locksmith before any other animal or celebrity heads appeared in our apartment. He told us that junkies had probably squatted in our apartment while we were gone. This sounded reasonable. He said it happens all the time. This sounded reasonable.
As we prepared to spend one last night in the apartment before we gave it over to the junkie, mouse-sacrificing satanists, our landlord emailed again and said that--on second thought--he thought it was probably just a nest the mice were making since it was above the pilot light and would have been the warmest spot in an otherwise cold house. What about the coffee? I asked Heather. Maybe I was wrong, Heather said. Yeah, maybe.
Me: So you don't think junkies were squatting in the apartment?
Landlord: Who thinks that?
Me: The locksmith told us it happens all the time.
Landlord: Does it?
Landlord: I'm sorry I thought you guys were people who would make a shrine to a dead mouse in your kitchen.
That conversation happened. Except for the apology at the end. On the plus side, at least we know if we--or any of our junkie satanists gourmet coffee aficionado friends--had done it, he'd be cool with it as long as it wasn't a fire hazard. That's good to know.
On Editing a Novel #2
RENAMING CHARACTERS. You've undoubtedly named all of your characters after your former spouse and his or her family. This is what you were supposed to do. Good work. You can move on to step #3.
If you've never been married, you borrowed the first names of your favorite childhood television characters and used the college you went to as a last name, or, if you never went to college, used the first name of a '80s-era world leader and taken the last name from the company that makes your favorite commercials. So you've name your characters things like Optimus Clemson and Muammar Pepsi. These are fine names, too, but they are names for boys or girls with progressive economics professors for parents. Yours is a classy book set in the 1800s so you might need girls names in case you add a ball scene in this draft (see step #24 'THE ADDING OF A BALL SCENE').
Girls names are even easier. If you are a girl, simply use your own name and call the book autobiography. Do not go on to step #3 or any further steps.
Otherwise, you'll need a blindfold. Without peeking, taste everything in your kitchen (even if it smells bad or is obviously a cleaning product). Then try to guess what the item might be called in Spanish. These guesses are girls' names.
Blindfolded, you won't be able to write down these names so you'll probably need a personal assistant to do it for you. If the personal assistant you hire is a girl, you can also ask her what her name is and use that.
If her name is Optimus Clemson because her parents are progressive economics professors, you probably won't be able to have girls in your novel.
The issue is fantastic (much better than my sad story), and you should be sure to check it out. I've always thought IR had some of the best design of any of the standard format journals, and now I'm convinced. I can vouch firsthand for how hard they work to make sure everything is perfect. They really care. It's pretty cool.
You: Are you the poet Allan Peterson?
Me: I'm the fiction writer Adam Peterson?
You: Are you not sure which one you are?
My story is titled "Miss Nebraska" and is notable for:
My piece is another My Untimely Death which you can see my previous post about here or just order by specifying the title and sending $10 to this address:
Hellems 101226 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0226
If I don't post for a few days, you should come look for me around the 13th floor of the building where I work. I'm either dead or I've become involved some kind of Murakami-esque world of danger and intrigue. I'm hoping for the latter.
The one good thing about walking the stairs every morning is that on the 5th floor of our building a life insurance company has decided to pump their waiting room music into the stairwell. As no one ever--ever--uses the stairs this is a puzzling decision. It's usually set to a local pop station, but every so often it's godless contemporary country or (godful?) classic rock. Sometimes I hit the floor when there's a commercial on and I have to spend the remaining 10 floors pondering whether or not I really am happy with my last oil change or if I should start going to Jiffy Lube.
This morning I heard the faintest sounds of Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" as I hit the 4th floor and was able to ride the rock momentum. Suddenly revitalized, I ran all the way to the 6th floor until the song, like the band itself, faded away and I realized, like the band itself, I might not survive the year.
Needless to say, the rest of the white, rock-less floors were profoundly disappointing after that.
Well, you should be reading Gary Shteyngart's second novel now instead of wasting your time here. It's exactly the sort of hysterical, profane satire that doesn't come up a lot any more. Or, if it does, it usually targets celebrity or media or something small and fleeting and American. Shteyngart's book targets those things to--at least in a way--but his obese, America-loving Russian oligarch stumbles into a bigger story of oil and politics in a crumbling former Soviet state named Absurdistan.
Misha, the oligarch, is an insatiable glutton for anything that comes his way--food, affection, conflict, etc.--and his beloved adopted country of America holds the largest excess of his vices. Struggling to obtain a visa to return to New York, he gets stuck in a staged civil war between Absurdistan's two not-at-all distinct religious factions who are after the country's rich oil reserves and the wealthy Halliburton contracts they'll bring. An empathetic child in a fat man's body, Misha's money allows him to avoid recognizing the actors that create the world's problems which he believes hurt him deeply. He thinks he understands hunger but he's nearly orgasmic when feasting. He thinks he understands diaspora but only sees it in his own displacement from America.
Shteyngart keeps Misha sympathetic and where most authors might have slowly stripped him of his money and health, Shteyngart makes him complicit in the devastation of the country around him until the wall of his weight and money finally cracks and the world comes in. It's a book about oil and greed and democracy, but mostly it's about the loss of reason and principle in the selfish quest of a country, of a man, for wealth.
Oh, it's also hilarious and remarkably well-written.
On Editing a Novel #1
HOW TO BEGIN. You take your favorite notebook and you fill it with leaves from trees you need to describe better and hair you've cut from people who look like your characters and soup from meals you think might be served at your novel's climactic banquet scene. You then leave the notebook at a swimming pool.
You never go swimming again.
It's caucus night tonight and so far this mostly meaningless yet horribly fun spotlight momentarily gracing Iowa is once again delivering exactly what it promises. I say mostly meaningless because what Iowa does--and it's debatable if this is a good thing--is weed out candidates by sucking up their money and time before the real voting starts. In other words, see you, Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd. This isn't goodbye, Bill, it's just so long until the V.P. talk starts.
The other thing Iowa does is provide another little, politely Midwestern land mine for less polished candidates. Who is going to undergo this election's Howard Dean like flameout? It's not my place to guess, but I'm taking a long look at you, Mike Huckabee. That guy has more than a few of Chekhov's guns on the wall. It's still the first act, but that guy says some really bizarre stuff without provocation. Once the attention really shifts to him, look out. I honestly think he is capable of constructing a sentence that somehow manages to offend, confuse, and frighten every single American.
Meaningless prediction: Obama and Huckabee win, a 2nd place showing for Hillary (which she'll claim as a victory because many now expect her to take 3rd), and a slightly stronger than expected showing for Ron Paul and Joe Biden though nothing truly shocking. Realize, those are pretty much everyone's predictions.
New Year's Resolutions
1. Post more. Dropping under 20 a month is just embarrassing.
2. Take stairs to office. Initially I wrote "Take stares to office." I'll do that one, too.
3. Start reading Ward 6. That doesn't really need an explanation.
4. Make more salads. It's not that I feel like I don't eat enough salad as is, it's just that I feel like I need at least one diet related resolution.
5. Stop spending 6 hours per day thinking about Bill Parcells.
6. Train dog. I'm not sure what to train her to do though. Possibly to eat all the extra salad I'll be making.
7. Use spell check. I'm serious this time.