Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Meet Miranda July

If you haven't already met her.

I learned of her last year when I watched a short film she wrote and starred in (along with John C. Reilly) called "Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?" It's indeed short (running about four minutes) but it's funny and odd as well as poignant and sweet.

That's the thing about July, she can present a melange, if you will, of different emotions whirled into very small spaces. Her collection of short stories for instance, No One Belongs Here More Than You is a quirky, tender, honest collection of stories that take seemingly insignificant moments and make them powerful. In the first story, "The Shared Patio," she writes, "I pressed my lips against his ear and whispered again, It's not your fault. Perhaps this was really the only thing I had ever wanted to say to anyone, or be told." Beautiful writing. Within the same story, she has some very funny bits as well. "What is the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to you? Did it involve a car? Was it on a boat? Did an animal do it? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I am not surprised. Cars crash, boats sink, and animals are just scary. Why not do yourself a favor and stay away from these things." The collection, recently published by Scribner, has been reviewed by The New York Times, New York Magazine and A.V. Club, among other newspapers, magazines, and websites.

She's more than simply a writer, however. She's also a filmmaker, a performance artist, a Renaissance Girl, July is.

So, watch her movies ("Me and You and Everyone We Know" won oodles of awards at Cannes when it was shown there), catch her in a live performance (her schedule can be found on her website), and/or read her stuff (she's been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Harper's, amongst others). You'll be happy you did.

"Do you have doubts about life? Are you unsure if it is worth the trouble? Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person's face as you pass on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street, and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing. Stand up and face the east. Now praise the sky and praise the light within each person under the sky. It's okay to be unsure. But praise, praise, praise."
- Miranda July, from "No One Belongs Here More Than You."

Reading is Good For You

In the NY Times there's a story stating that reading skills are tied to a longer, healthier life. It's based on a study by the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, and found that "those with inadequate reading skills were the most likely to die, even when overall education and other social factors were taken into account."

To volunteer at a literacy center in your area go here.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Congratulations Steve Martin!

Someone I admire (for his writing, wit, charm, and humor) more than most all others has married. The story comes from USA Today. Martin's second marriage, he's tied the knot with former New Yorker staff writer Anne Stringfield. Cheers to the happy couple. "I like a woman with a head on her shoulders," Martin once said. "I hate necks."

Stringfield has a neck.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Quote of the Week

I took a speed reading course and read 'War and Peace' in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.
- Woody Allen

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Dude Speaks

One of my favorite movies is "The Big Lebowski." In fact, you can put most all Coen brothers movies on top of the list ("Fargo," "Raising Arizona," etc). The writing is amazing, the cinematography unique, and the acting within said movies first rate.

Jeff Bridges has written an essay about his experiences with "The Big Lebowski" in the preface of a new book - "I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski." The Dude speaks, care of the U.K.'s Guardian.

And don't forget to get yourself "Big Lebowski" action figures. Also, don't forget to attend Lebowski Fest.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Who Reads Magazines Anymore?

Luckily, some good news. Just about everybody. According to Advertising Age magazine reading is doing just fine, thank you, even with all the other forms of entertainment and sources of information out there (such as this blog, for instance). A recent study found that every generation - from young Millennials (ages 13 to 24) to Gen X (25 to 41), Baby Boomers (42 to 60) to older Matures (61 to 75) - enjoy reading magazines. Three quarters of ALL consumers read magazines even though they can find the same information online.

So, readers, continue to thumb through Harvard Business Review and Skinned Knuckles, Ranger Rick and Saveur, Civil War Times and Giant Robot. I salute you.

Issue 12 Out Now

Though I'm not in the new issue of Swindle Magazine, I thought I'd just alert you all that it's available now and with a smashing cover. What might you find inside it's crisp firm pages? A profile of the Brooklyn-based street art collective Faile, as well as stories about opium addiction in Afghanistan, a history of Detroit's hardcore music scene and a celebration of Ghana's 50th anniversary of independence. That is a diverse collection of stories and that's the groovy thing about Swindle - good words on good paper with good images, all smashed together with good design. I'm looking forward to reading it. And, don't forget, coming soon in Swindle, my story about necrotourism and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Music and the Mind

The brilliant Oliver Sacks can be found in the July 23, 2007 issue of the New Yorker discussing the mysteries of musicophilia and, on a larger scale, music and the effects it has on the brain. Online, there is also a 10 minute audio MP3 where he's interviewed about just this topic by New Yorker staff writer Larissa MacFarquhar. Listen and be fascinated, read the article and be enlightened and, if you have time, read Sacks' other great books (there are many), including "Awakenings" of course (basis for the Robin Williams/Robert De Niro movie), "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" and "An Anthropologist on Mars."

R.I.P. Weekly World News

Terrible. Just terrible. The publication that turned me on to writing humor pieces is no more. Weekly World News is folding, this according to Reuters and other sources. Another story, discussing Weekly World News columnist Ed Anger is in the New York Times. The Weekly World News website, I've heard from Robert Greenberger who works for WWN, "will continue, [though] none of us have been told how exactly it will continue."

The Washington Post has extensive coverage (thank you!) of WWN.

I started reading WWN in college. Of course, there's the stories about Bat Boy (which has inspired a much-loved off-Broadway musical), but there are so many other stories that touched something in me - my funny bone. Like the woman who died because her fur coat bit her to death. Like the ventriloquist who went into a coma - but his dummy continued to talk! Like belly button wormholes, redneck vampires attacking trailer parks, fat cats, three-legged ice skaters, Poodle Boy, exclusive pictures of Hell, the discovery of Jesus' sandals, cheese on the moon, and on and on and on and on.

I've been communicating with them the past year or so in regards to writing for them. I wrote several Weekly World News-esque stories for a local site, Seattle Raptor, which has also sadly gone the way of the dodo, and thought I'd be a good fit with WWN. They, happily, agreed though they already had a strong stable of writers and couldn't get me on board. That's too bad because that would have been great to be a part of a publication that molded me as a writer. I kid not. Weekly World News helped shape my writing career and I'll be sorry to see it go. Who will pick up the mantle and continue to write about the stories that matter? And what of Bat Boy? Who will tell his story now?

In Honor of Language

Those Canadians come up with some great ideas from time to time, see maple syrup and curling, and they've done it again with the thought of a monument to the world's languages (the only monument of its kind in the world). Why a monument to language? Because they're being erased at incredible speed. A language is being lost every two weeks worldwide. Muhammad Islam, who is the man behind the project states, "Six languages from British Columbia's First Nations [alone] are at risk of extinction." He wants to raise $200,000 for the project, which will try to include "all languages." That, by the way, is a lot of languages. As of early 2007, there were 6,912 known living human languages (497 of which are nearly extinct due to downward trends in their usage). Some different languages out there, for your edification, include Argobba, spoken in Ethiopia, Oropom of northeastern Uganda and Zhuang, spoken by residents of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China.

And, by the way, for a great book about the English language, Bill Bryson of "A Walk in the Woods" fame has written an easily accessible and very fascinating story about our language's history: The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way.

The story about the language monument is care of The Province newspaper in Canada.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Why Book Reviews Matter

Care of National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors.

Also, an excellent essay on BookDaddy. Hosannah in the Lowest: An Essay on Book Reviewing.

Just Returned from Victoria, British Columbia

So, me and my daughter just got back from Victoria, a beautiful, quaint little city on Vancouver Island. We had a wonderful time, full of High Tea at the Empress Hotel, buskers along the Inner Harbour and a visit from Queen Victoria at the Parliament Building. I don't know if anything will come, writing-wise, from my visit, but I immediately thought of a short story.

My daughter and I visited Miniature World. It's a museum devoted to, well, miniature scenes, such as the Battle at Midway, Bull Run, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Circus World, "Land of Dickens," Charles that is, that sort of thing. Anyway, my idea for a short story (though I haven't fleshed it out quite yet) - little people visiting Victoria stumble into Miniature World and many tourists think they're part of the entertainment. Mayhem ensues. Bloodshed!

Yes, it's great visiting new places. Who knows what sorts of stories are created or can be created by a simple change of scenery?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Quote of the Week

If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are rotten,
either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing.
- Benjamin Franklin

Friday, July 20, 2007

World Press Photo Winners Announced

Some of the best photojournalists working today have been recently lauded, with awards granted, by World Press Photo, whose mission is to "support professional press photography on a wide international scale." The winners can be seen here. US photographer Spencer Platt won the highest award, World Press Photo of the Year (pictured above).

What I'm Writing, What's I'm Researching

With my wife in Tahiti and my pre-school daughter wanting me to constantly "dance like a goofball." writing and research have been moved to the back burner for a bit. That's not to say, however, that I'm not thinking about future projects or throwing out queries to various publications in hopes of getting a bite or two.

After some discussion with Canoe and Kayak Magazine, I learned that my humorous story of me and my brother's infamous "Kayaking Incident" (as it's called in the Shipley house) will be published in the December issue.

After some discussion with Coffee House Digest, I'm going to do a book review on Liz Moore's novel "The Words of Every Song" for their November/December issue. Moore, a singer/songwriter, has written her first novel - fourteen linked episodes, each centered on a character involved in the music industry in some way.

After some discussion with Swindle Magazine, I'm starting to hit at, in earnest, researching a story about the colonization of Mars and those (the Mars Society among them) that are striving towards that goal of having humans live on Mars.

What else may come to fruition, in regards to publication, while I stay at home and play Memory in the living room for the millionth time with my daughter? I can't say, though I welcome it; my daughter's just killing me at Memory.

Titles From Dr. Seuss' Brief Foray into Realism

From McSweeney's Internet Tendency...

By Jonathan Baude and J. Alex Boyd

- - - -

One Fish, Two Fish, Catfish, Grouper

Scrambled Eggs and Ham

Hop on a Trampoline While Pop Watches

There's Some Spare Change in My Pocket!

Oh, the Places You'll Wish You'd Gone When You're Old and Dying!

The Cat in the Litter Box

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Environmental Reader

Every book you read was once a tree. Now you can plant a tree for every book you read.


Jane Austen - Reject

Who is going to give Jane Austen some love? Not literary agents and publishers. Ingeniously, Davis Lassman took chapters from some of Austen's greatest books (Pride and Prejudice among them) and sent them off to 18 different agents and publishers. He changed the titles and the characters' names. Only one recognized the work. The rest rejected the work or never responded, INCLUDING PENGUIN, JANE AUSTEN'S CURRENT PUBLISHER. If Austen gets roundly rejected by the literary establishment, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Story courtesy of the Daily Mail

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

News Briefs - Jose Saramago and "Iberia"

One of my favorite writers is proposing something, well, quite outlandish. In fact, his proposal has enraged his compatriots and honestly I can't blame them. To note: Read Saramago's "Blindness." It'll change your world. Saramago also wants to change the world be proposing that Portugal and Spain combine countries to form one country, Iberia. Portugal would become an autonomous region in Spain. "I believe," the Portuguese Nobel Laureate says, "we'll end up as one integrated country."

Next? Canada being absorbed into the United States. I don't think so.

Anyway, read the article care of The Independent.

Monday, July 16, 2007

On This Day in 1951

From Writer's Almanac:

On this day in 1951, J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" was published. Salinger worked on it over a period of ten years, in between writing stories for magazines like the New Yorker. At one point, he had a 90—page version of the novel accepted for publication, but he thought it wasn't good enough and continued to revise and add bits and pieces. The Catcher in the Rye is about a sixteen-year-old troublemaker named Holden Caulfield. He runs away from Pencey Prep School a few days before Christmas Break. He wants to head west to California, and live a quiet life in a log cabin, away from all the "phonies." At one point, Holden says, "I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around-nobody big, I mean-except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all." The Catcher in the Rye got bad reviews when it was first released. A New York Times critic parodied the style of Holden Caulfield in his review, writing, "This Salinger, he's a short—story guy. And he knows how to write about kids. [But] he should have cut out a lot about all these jerks and all that crumby school. They depress me. They really do." Thirty years after its publication, The Catcher in the Rye was both the most banned book in America and the second most frequently taught book in public schools. The book has sold over 60 million copies around the world.

I can safely say that it was reading this book that turned me on to reading for the rest of my life. I can also safely say it's because of this book that I can't stand phonies. I really can't.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Greens Restaurant Profiled in Metro.Pop Magazine

Find Issue #30 on the newsstands now. "The fashion magazine for the rest of us," is a smartly designed well-photographed fashion magazine that I've written for on a couple of occassions now. In the current issue I wrote a short profile on Greens Restaurant, a pioneer in vegetarian cuisine. The Executive Chef is Annie Somerville.

Favorite line in the story: "It's not every day you hear this from a restauranteur: 'I began as a way to further my Zen practice and support the sangha.' Then again, it's not every day you run across a restaurant like Greens, one of the premier vegeterian restaurants in the country.

My grandmother, when I was a kid, lived in Sebastapol, north of San Francisco. I don't remember ever visiting Greens but I can't forget Fisherman's Wharf eating soup out of a bread bowl ("The bowl is made of bread? I can eat the bowl?!") or visiting this hole-in-the-wall ice cream shop that offered about 101 different flavors. I distinctly remember eating rose ice cream. My brother ate tomato ice cream. What was he thinking?

Anyway, please find a copy of Metro.Pop Magazine at any major book retailer. You'll find my story on page 50. Thanks and happy eating!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Arizona: Quick Reflections

I just returned from a trip to Arizona. It was magnificent. It was as I thought it would be - hot, beautiful, stark - but it was also much more than that though, since it's still fresh in my mind, I can't quite pinpoint how or why. I just know that it'll affect what I read in the coming days, weeks and months, and it'll undoubtedly affect what I write in the near future as well though, again, I'm not sure how or to what extent.

What I do know is that I love the desert. Having been born and raised in Washington, where the rain flows here as much as the sunbeams beat down in Phoenix, there IS no desert where I live. Sure, there's Eastern Washington, but that is more of a pastoral landscape, a landscape already tilled or harvested, a land of immense apple orchards and field upon field of wheat or lentil. In Arizona, the landscape is otherworldly, utterly devoid and yet...and yet it's not devoid at all. That's the reason I love it. You look at a setting, say a vast valley between jagged mountains long since blown in volcanic activities eons ago, and you shrug your shoulders. "That's utterly devoid of life," you might think. "Some rock, some scrub, no shade or shadow for miles." And yet it's as full of life as the think forests near my home.

So, again, what I'll take from the trip through my reading and writing is as yet to be determined. Perhaps I'll read more on Frank Lloyd Wright after visiting Taliesin in Scottsdale - a place he spent his winters until his death. Perhaps I'll pick up a novel by Zane Grey (a native Arizonan. I must be honest - I don't think I've ever read a western novel, a la gunslingers and ne'er-do-wells). Maybe I'll study Georgia O'Keefe and her luminous works, or read the tales of the Navajo. Perhaps I'll do all this while eating ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery (based in Scottsdale).

Perhaps I will. I guess you and I will have to find out. Until then....

Quote of the Week

Originality is not seen in single words or even sentences. Originality is the sum total of a man's thinking or his writing.
- Isaac Bashevis Singer

Monday, July 02, 2007

On Vacation

The posts will be a little sparse while I take some time off. Fear not, I shall return.

In the meantime, read a good book:

If you don't have time for one of those weighty tomes, don't forget Esquire Magazine's Napkin Fiction Project:

Have fun out there!

Quote of the Week

Yes, there is a Nirvanah; it is leading your sheep to a green pasture, and in putting your child to sleep, and in writing the last line of your poem.
- Kahlil Gibran