Thursday, March 08, 2012


About six months ago, the brother of a the guy who argued with me about the differences between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, told me a story about Roberto Bolaño. Bolaño is probably his favorite author and he had read somewhere that the Chilean, when he was struggling to get published, started sending his stories everywhere.

The conversation immediately harkened back the memory of what my old newspaper publisher once told me: "The only people who have an excess of bylines are the people who grant them."

I'm no economics professor, but the demand for bylines is always in excess of the supply. My friend was simply reminding me of this fact. I started submitting to loads of journals. Needless to say there are hundreds and though many of them might not have the pedigree or following (read: financial assistance) as the more well-known journals, they hold the key to bylines. And, at the end of the day, isn't that what we're searching for here?

I'm thrilled and humbled to be included in the winter issue of the Damazine Literary Journal (and you should "Like" their Facebook page here). The story has special meaning to me, since it is based on a personal experience. I'm proud of this and it has strengthened my resolve. As Charles Bukowski once said (paraphrased), too much success can ruin a writer, as can too little.

Perhaps I've been allotted the perfect amount. I am starting my second novel on the heels of about six quality short stories I've written in the last six months. I'm nearly finished with another edit and rewrite of my first novel. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks or whether the story above is the only one I ever publish. It never has. This is about perseverance and though that sounds like a bunch of rah-rah malarkey, those are the facts.

If you read the story and think it's garbage, I leave you with my favorite quote of all-time from Edward Abbey: "Your criticism is greatly appreciated, but fuck you all the same."

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Rum Diary, adaptations and film critics

Rex Reed is film critic. To be honest, I had to Google his name and then I remembered that fact. Since I don't have time for pig-fucking recreants who never had the courage to write or act or paint or participate in the very medium they then attempt to criticize, I tend to forget they exist.

Reed is also gay. And possibly a racist (and couldn't be more wrong about Old Boy, one of the greatest revenge films ever made).

That last paragraph doesn't have anything to do with the price of butter, especially the bit about him being gay. And, also, Reed did appear in the screen adaptation of Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge, so perhaps he debunks my theory on being a critic void of firsthand knowledge on the topic he criticizes.

With all this said, however, when I read his review of The Rum Diary, I came to the conclusion he was, indeed, a pig-fucking recreant.

I watched the adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary tonight and though I'd agree that, like the book, not a whole lot happens, the movie was somewhat entertaining. Johnny Depp plays Thompson perfectly and they used some of the best quotes from the book. They also highlighted the theme perfectly. Summed up in the quote, “There is no dream—just a piss puddle of greed, spreading throughout the world." Christ, ain't that beautiful.

Honestly, however, the movie isn't close to anything offered in the book (but I don't want to get in the book to movie, movie to book contention). And the ending is cheesy and there is a lack of grit that doesn't translate and it's not polished. So, mostly, I agree with Rex on his idea that the movie was mediocre. It certainly wasn't the worst I've ever seen. I rate everything I see against Avatar, thus my Shit-Movie Tolerance Level (SMTL) is at unprecedented heights.

Reed can piss straight up a rope, however, for the latter half of this quote: "It’s all window dressing for an empty ruin, haunted by the hungover ghost of a mostly forgotten writer who died in 2005."

Mostly forgotten? Perhaps Reed is foreshadowing his own death. For to believe that Thompson is mostly forgotten is absurd. Regardless of whether The Rum Diary is a good movie (it's probably not), it's safe to say the book itself dwarfs any of Reed's own writing achievements. This goes without mentioning perhaps one of the greatest American novels ever written, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a book that acts as a startling portent for the tsunami of shit currently raining down on America. Thompson's achievements as a journalist, The Hell's Angels and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, and the countless articles in several magazines, are journalistic gold. Sure, his persona became larger than him and transformed him into a clown, but he's not mostly forgotten. And if he is, America is in deeper trouble than I thought.

I can live with Reed calling out Thompson fans, I guess: "To Hunter S. Thompson fans—little boys weaned on comic books who never grew up to crave bare breasts and bare-knuckle beatings—it’s a call to arms." But I'll be damned if he's gonna call Thompson a hack. From where I'm standing there's only one of those in this discussion and his name rhymes with Sex Weed.

I've printed this a couple times on this blog, but reading it one more time won't kill you. If this passage was written by a mostly forgotten writer, I surely hope I befall the same fate someday.

"Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.…

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder's jacket… booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change)... but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that…

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda.… You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.…

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tolstoy v Dostoevsky

The other night I was with friends at a bar—my fifth bourbon of the night in the books—and one of my friends said out of thin air, "You told me once that for your money you'd always take Tolstoy over Dostoevsky. You can't really believe that, can you?"

When I drink I tend to believe everyone has gone deaf: take my tone up three decibels while assuming no one will remember any of the malarkey I start spewing from my word-cutter. I had no reason to doubt that I had indeed made this assertion and I could safely assume I had been soaking in bourbon when I did so—I generally talk literature with this particular friend and we're always drinking together.

Of course I had no intention of backing down at this point. If you start a fight, as my father once said, you better damn well finish it.

I went with the old chestnut: "If you read War and Peace and you don't think that it is the most structurally sound and engaging book you've ever picked up, you're probably just not as smart as I am."


Of course this sentence has so many mistakes, I'm not sure where to begin correcting it. It's hyperbolic, not to mention incredibly pompous—which happen to be two things I might enjoy more than casual drugs. I have proven nothing to my friend at this point. And the rest of the conversation would dissolve into my being somewhat of a sissy for enjoying War and Peace and Anna Karenina more than The Idiot and Crime and Punishment. Keep in mind, however, I'm not even certain I believed what I was arguing, but the boat was knee deep in water and I was determined to go down with the ship.

We left the topic for something else—perhaps I strategically steered my friends away when I realized I was the cello player on the Titanic. But, as you can see, I've done a lot of thinking on the topic since.

I've read enough of both to form an educated opinion (Tolstoy: War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Death of Ivan Ilych, The Cossacks, stories I'm too lazy to Google; Dostoevsky: Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, The Gambler, Notes from Underground, a handful of short stories). I'd like to believe I know their styles and their story-telling techniques well enough to take either as my horse and ride it to victory. But, as you can see with all these shitty metaphors, I probably don't know diddly-squat poo about the topic. With that said, however, let's take a look at where I (soberly) stand on this topic.

The first book I ever read by Dostoevksy, Notes from Underground, I actually stole from Barnes and Noble (a story I've told ad nauseum). I lifted it because one of my co-workers, an old guy who wore bow-ties and smoked a pipe and was a card-carrying MFA, encouraged me to check out the Russians.

"They're the only reason to get out of bed."

He was a pretentious prattler, but he was spot on with the recommendation. I was hooked from the moment I read these lines: “I am a sick man... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased."

To this day these words are special to me. How Depraved and Desperate I am. I read Brothers Karamazov shortly thereafter and secretly believed there couldn't possibly be a better book on the planet (it has been a dozen years and a revisit is in order). When I went to Russia a few years later, I was in the last stages of the obsession and he tagged along on the journey. Skulking lonely and drunk in the streets of Moscow, I imagined I was him—role-playing like an adolescent schoolboy. In my room at the Rosiya, overlooking the Moskva with the Seven Sisters and its grey majesty in the distance, I jotted half-mad notes in a journal wishing I could harness some of Fyodor's madness.

After Dostoevsky, I read Bulgakov, Turgenev, Chekhov, but none of them—save fleeting moments in Chekhov—evoked the fiery desperation of Dostoevsky.

My first experience with Tolstoy was War and Peace, followed almost immediately by Anna Karenina. Scholars have speculated that the latter was the superior work, a more meticulous effort. But I found War and Peace to be everything a novel should be: laid out perfectly with a cast of characters that would make writers of "The Simpsons" look like hacks. For me, it always come back to the structure of the novel. It is pieced together seamlessly, as if he had been born to tell that particular story. That's the only way it made sense to me. This was a man who God had intended to be a writer. And, by the way, Karenina isn't a bad effort either.

Being older and somewhat more seasoned—having already visited Russia and naively believing I knew more about the world than those around me, Tolstoy stirred in me a passion to know myself, my surroundings and challenge myself as a story-teller. Tolstoy, too, writes with an air of arrogance and self-confidence that Dostoevsky and many other writers seem to lack. Tolstoy writes like a man who is certain everything he is saying is the beautiful truth.

Certainly Leo seems to lack the intensity of Fyodor and therein lies the rub, I believe. In my 20s I was a silly, mad fool. I climbed mountains, hitchhiked Australia, got blackout drunk in Moscow, Paris, Tokyo. In my 30s I read books and peaked over my shoulder at mortality (it's a shame morality didn't accompany it).

Dostoevsky speaks to the younger, scrambling, spontaneous side of my mind while Tolstoy speaks to the older, wiser, slightly more heedful side. Both are important. Both are irreplaceable. I can't choose. I'm almost certain my friend will count this as a victory for himself. But since we've both had the pleasure of reading these two guys, I don't think either one of us could be a loser.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What can books do for you?

This is one of the more magnificent animated shorts you'll ever see. I liked the book that was dead but came back to life when it was read again. Great stuff.

"If life is enjoyed, does it have to make sense?"

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Dickens birthday

You know it's a big day when Google changes their icon to honor you. That's when you know you know you've really made it. I had a lengthy conversation about Charles Dickens the other day with somebody. I forget who because I've been drinking everyday for the last three.

I had read a good chunk of his work when I was younger and found most of it boring, the books begrudgingly giving away their secrets and allusions and value. Since rereading some of the books in the last several years, however, Dickens has slowly moved into the ranks of my favorite authors. Hard Times and A Tale of Two Cities jump out in my mind as the best of the work I've read. In the very near future, I will be tackling more of his work.

Meanwhile, I'll look for Google to continue to remind me of who is important. Penguin UK, by the way, surveyed nerds and found out Ebenezer Scrooge was the favorite Dickens character of all-time. No word on where one of my favorite characters, Sam Weller from the Pickwick Papers, finished. Probably last, where most philosopher poets end up finishing. If you were wondering, Chuck would've been 200 today. I wonder what he would write about? I bet he'd find the gap between rich and poor horrifying and inspiring all at the same time.

Anyway, love to hear your favorite Dickens character if you have one.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Rage against nothing and Bertrand Russell

Rage—rage for no reason but for there is nothing else to do. Nurtured by my interest in the classics lately—I've read Cicero, Thomas More's Utopia and Swift's Gulliver's Travels (for the third and final time in my lifetime)—I've been completely raging toward insanity. I had meant to pick up something lighter, something which reads easy and calm; but mostly I think I read simply to show-off, so I dove into The Iliad today. Homer's epic seems about right for my mood lately: anger and frustration and cursing the Gods, all feelings and actions I've been reveling in.

Reason? There is no reason, really. The great thing about anger is we don't need a reason to feel it. That's how anger is distinctly different from happiness, I think.

At any rate, my pursuit of taking a giant shit in the pasture of literature continues. I am about 2,000 quality words away from finishing a (not so) short story about a time-traveling altruist. In his first trip back in time he meets Bertrand Russell. I needed an anti-war sort to support my theme. If this post seems skittish, you'd be right. But I've promised myself there would be posts on this blog once a week for the entire year of 2012. January got past me.

Anyway, here's a great quote from Bertrand Russell, whose book, The Problems with Philosophy, I picked up and re-read highlighted passages from in order to get a better feel for a bit character in a ridiculous short story I'm penning. That sentence felt really long and there's probably grammar errors (I should probably keep tracking the "Stop...Grammar Time" feature over at The Reading Ape to avoid these sorts of errors). Also, some Bon Iver.

Do they make medication to aid linear thought? Pass the Adderall.

"The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken."

Thursday, December 01, 2011


Google reminded me today that it was Mark Twain's birthday. I'm glad they did because I'm not friends with him on Facebook. Terrible jokes aside, I've said it once and I'll keep saying until someone listens: Mark Twain was the greatest American writer who ever lived. And quite possibly our first stand-up comic. I haven't read nearly enough of the guy. Perhaps one day, when I'm not stoned and drunk, I'll remedy that. Until then, I'll keep repeating this quote, which is one of my favorites: "A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read."

And now for something lighter that should make you happy: