Monday, July 31, 2006

Tentativity; "Levi's Landing" by Jan Carrington

It seems so much of my life these days are tentative. I make contact with a bookstore to set up a signing and get a "we'll see" and I wait for answers. Ithink I have something booked but then I get mixed signals or no signal and so I'm uncertain about announcing stuff. It gets frustrating, to say the least. I like the sort that likes to announce things.

So here're things that seem pretty darn certain:

Three Able to... authors (at last count) will be doing a signing at River Oaks Bookstore, 3270 Westheimer, here in Houston on September 27, 4-6pm.

September 5, I'm scheduled to be on an internet radio program called Calling All Authors ( ) to talk about Able to... and neoNuma Arts.

I'll be doing Fieldwork facilitator training in New York City, September 6-9. (

The same week is the Langdon Weekend, sponsored by Tarleton State University ( ). Usually, I'd be there except for the NYC thing. Still, Able to... will be represented by Winston Derden and maybe other authors.

Dagnabbit, there goes that tentativity thing.

There's something tentatively in November. And something I may still try to do in September and even in August. Tentatively, of course.

Visit often for tentative developments.
"Levi's Landing" is Jan Carrington's second story in Able to..., and more easily completes the "able to ______" phrase. Levi is able to hear the voice of the universe. Some people may say it's the drugs, even though he's been clean for quite a while, and some people may say it's the burned synapses from before he was clean, and some people may say he's just crazy, regardless of drugs.

Much like "Blues in the Rafters," Jan writes the type of story that could go to all kinds of sickly sweet sentimental places. Levi has, after all, taken his two children up to a high desert mountain in order to leap into the universe, to join the voice he hears there. The kids go along and they're concerned for their father, but they're also used to his alleged craziness. There's no melodramatic pleading. There are questions and there are concerns, but Jan manages to keep it out of TV movie-of-the week sappiness with characterizations of the children that are at once complex and yet believable as a child's point of view.

In many ways, it's a simple story and to say much more here is to take away from the reader's discovery in the book, but the simplicity is a bit of a smoke screen for the levels at work in the story. Once you read the story and see the simple rightness of how it goes, read it again and see if you also see the complexity of the situation, of the relationships at work. It's a subtle piece.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Directing; advice requested; "Max's Colossus Proboscis" by Theodore Carter

Living this life as a "multi-artist" (as some friends up in Chicago call themselves--and it seems a lot more succinct and even accurate than "interdisciplinary artist") is kind of fun, exciting, and exhausting. I still have this book I've published that I'm working to promote, which includes updating the website (I hate updating the website) and last night I learned that my skills as a director are desired for a dance theater piece to be produced this fall. Goodness, I need more days in the week! Anyway, I'll talk more about the directing gig as I find out more about it and feel more solid as to what it is I'm doing. It's crazy, but I feel more comfortable talking when I what I'm talking about.
I need a slogan. I don't like that sentence, but there it is. A few entries ago, I wrote about what a "neoNuma" is, and I've been toying with some ideas as to how I wrap a slogan around the notion of pneuma. I'm not sure that "wind" is a good word to use and certainly not "blow." I've toyed with "a new spirit in the arts" but that's really not true. I'm not cutting edge by any stretch of the imagination. Well, maybe compared to some things I've seen, I'm practically avant garde, but I'm really not about the business of breaking paradigms and pushing boundaries. If I do any of that, it's really an accident. But I do think neoNuma Arts is about presenting good, solid, literature, performance, and art and I think art and creativity is so necessary to anything called a civilization. So I've most seriously considered something like:

"breathe art"

How does that sound? Have a better idea? If you do, tell me about it. I don't have much to offer. If you want a book of mine, I can set you up. Or a neoNuma T-shirt or mug or cap.

"T-shirt, mug, or cap?" you ask? Yeah. During an evening of procrastination and displaced effort, I did this:

Kind of dumb, but it was putting this stuff together that made me realize I need a slogan. I think the back of the T-shirts, at least, need something. I was thinking the website big ( with "breath art" below it.

So tell me if that totally sucks. Or is totally brilliant. Or at least relatively inoffensive. And like I said, if you come up with something I like better, you could be the first person with a neoNuma T-shirt with the slogan on back.

That's sort of like a contest, isn't it? Huh. My first contest. Well, then.
Last November, when I had originally set the deadline for story submissions for Able to..., I saw I didn't have quite enough stories to make a book, but what I had, I liked quite a lot. So I forged ahead and posted more calls for stories on Craigslist and other places, extended the deadline, and nervously waited for more stories.

Which came, of course. But I also started looking at what I had and realizing I'd set a dumb rule for the collection. I originally wanted to have only one story per author. Oddly enough, more than one author had sent me two stories at the same time, in all cases, I liked both stories, but had decided on only one because, well, I had that dumb rule. One day, I had an epiphany: why am I rejecting perfectly stories by authors who get the premise?

(I pause to note that most of these authors happened to have these stories already written when they saw the call for stories--and I could usually tell from the submissions who had written stories to fit the submission guidelines. This isn't to denigrate the stories which were written to the guidelines and still made it in the collection, but it does point out a piece of advice I would give to most writers: write what you want, even if it seems odd or unusual or un-placeable. Some oddball in Texas might be creating an anthology that's perfect for your vision.)

Somewhere over the winter months, Theodore Carter contacted me and described two stories he had--the kid who ran on water and the kid with the big nose. The water-running kid had already been published in North American Review, so I hungrily asked for the NAR story first, thinking that if it fit, it would give me some "lit cred" to have a NAR story in the acknowledgments (which makes me sound like an 0pportunistic capitalist--and so there you are). Of course I delight in "Jesus Lizard," and would have used it even if it had not been published before, but when I decided that I would double-dip with authors (so to speak), I asked Theodore to send me the big nosed kid story, too.

"Max's Colossus Proboscis" is slightly different in tone from "Jesus Lizard." It's told from the point of view of a doctor who specializes in smelling disorders, and while it has the sense of fun and absurdity of "Jesus Lizard," it also has the doctor's serious tone. While "Jesus Lizard" is a third person narrative that nonetheless has the point of view of a youth looking at the unfathomable and ridiculous reactions of adults around him, Max has the adult looking at the adolescent and recognizing the painful alienation a teenager feels at being decidedly and unattractively different. "Jesus Lizard" makes me laugh, but "Max's Colossus Proboscis" makes me smile and wince simultaneously. Ralph, of the former story, doesn't mean to stand out, but he also doesn't care much about fitting in and could have this sort of exasperated, eye-rolling reaction to events around him. Max desperately wants to fit in, to impress the girl, to be normal, and no matter how ridiculous the unfolding events might be, we also have the heartbreaking reportage of the doctor to remind us how awkward being a teenager can be.

I'm so glad I broke my dumb rule.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Release Party Report, "The Mesmerizer" by David J. LeMaster

Well, the release party for Able to... has come and gone and I feel like I'm still recovering 3 days later. We had a good turnout, good readings, really good feelings of well-wishes and congratulations from everyone. The Square Moon Gallery turned out to be a very fine site for the party--just the right size and with so many beautiful things around us that those in attendance had plenty to talk about in the event they ran out of things to say about the publication of the book.

If you were there, thanks for coming by. If you missed it, well, sorry you did because it was a good time, but watch the website (which now needs updating--this week!) for other signings and events. There's more to come and I imagine they'll also be good times.


So I didn't get through the entire book's contents before the release party. Such is life, I guess. But I still have four more stories to discuss and I won't short-change anyone. So without any further ado . . .

"The Mesmerizer" was the first thing I read by David LeMaster after we made contact. He pointed it out on the Spoiled Ink website, where it was previously published. It was a bit of a departure from the other stories in the book for a couple of reasons, but still fit in the overall theme.

First of all, the supposed "power" of the title character is a sham. He's a stage hypnotist who counts on the power of suggestion and cooperation from his audience participants to make his act work. He performs a lot at college campuses and he finds that there is a certain sort of young woman who will swoon at anyone on a stage and so he takes advantage of these young women for his own pleasure. In other words, he gets laid a lot.

Nevermind that he has a wife at home who never really got over the death of their infant son.

So this is where this story departs from other stories in the collection. This one is pretty much a horror story. Very dark, very disturbing. The infant son starts appearing to the Mesmerizer, during his stage act, during his post-performance trysts, always accusing the father of complicity in his death, always threatening to carry the father down to hell with him.

Does it get darker than deadly dead babies?

Anyway, I knew I risked this story sticking out a bit because the subject matter was so dark and because it uses a lot of what my mother would have called "rough language," but it also added a darker hue to the overall package of the anthology.

And David plays so well with the notion of the guilty conscience. There is a sense in which the only one the Mesmerizer mesmerizes is himself. That's fun, but it is also a result of, I believe, a guilty conscience--but not due to the thing the character is actually guilty of. If I read it right at all, he's having these horrific visions due to guilt over something he didn't really have any part in.

It's not so simple as all that. And I may have said too much already. I don't want to spoil any stories for those who haven't already read them. But if the subject matter doesn't put you off (I've already told one friend she might want to skip this story!), I hope you'll respond here or to me personally and tell me what you think. You might not think it has anything to do with a guilty conscience at all . . .

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"Mr. Merrill's Extraordinary Driving Cap" by Becky Haigler and "Phos Hilaron" by Neil Ellis Orts

I've covered Becky's "Gates of Eden" earlier. When she submitted that story, she also included this story about one Mr. Merrill, a dealer in used and collectable books. One day, as he's closing up shop, he comes across an abandoned leather driving cap. It is this cap that gives Merrill his extraordinary ability, a device that I liked when I read it because it was a variation on innate super-powers, a variation that is perhaps best known in the comic books with Green Lantern's ring (which, in turn, is a riff on Aladdin's magic lamp).

But the power in the cap is subtle and not at all as flashy as Green Lantern's ring. It, shall we say, improves Merrill's hearing. Or perhaps his perceptions. He hears what is not being said. And the story is about the things he learns when he wears this cap--things not only about his neighbors, but also about himself.

It was exactly the sort of story I was looking for in that the story isn't about the power so much as it is about the man. Mr. Merrill, older, a widower, finding himself alone more often than not . . . like stories in the Bible, the miracle isn't the point, but what happens afterward.

It's a poignant story, lightly told. I like that about it, too. The violins, if they'er played at all, are played lightly and maybe there's a light piano and flute accompaniment in the soundtrack. (Can you tell I'm listening to KUHF, Houston's classical station, as I write this?)

As with all my previews on this blog, I have to stop there lest I give too much away. It's a good story. You should read it.
Just to mention briefly--I have a story in this collection, too. It's the gay story. It's the story with theological mumbo jumbo. It's the story that say's "look at me, look at me! I know at least 2 words of Greek!"

Synopsis: A gay couple, both ex-seminarians, one the founder and pastor of an independent church, argue about theology, integrity, and sex.

It's an okay story. I'm glad I wrote it. I just don't know how to talk about my own work. People who've read it seemed to like it. Maybe you will, too.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company; "Rubato" by Winston Derden

Spent 24 hours in Austin over the weekend. Maybe a little less. Anyway, was there for the latest dance work of the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company. My heart is a bit enmeshed with this company so I can' t claim I approach their concerts with anything but an expectation that I'll love what I see. This is simply my favorite dance company and I will do what I can to see them whenever they perform.

Not that I'm a complete sycophant. I will and have told Kathy when something wasn't up to her usual standards. I'll be e-mailing her my personal critique of this show in the next day or two.

But for the purposes of this blog, I just want to say I had a great time. There were three live dances and a short dance film presented. The dances were all quite different, but all showcased the KDHDC trademark athleticism and attention to detail. This company works hard and it shows. I covet their energy and work ethic.

They're coming to Houston September 22-23 for the Weekend of Texas Contemporary Dance at Miller Outdoor Theater. You can bet I'll arranage my life around it.

And when they present at College Station on November 4 . . . well, I won't make any immediate promises, but I've noted it on my calendar . . .

Anyone who likes modern dance even a little bit and lives in driving distance of these places should mark their their calendars as well.

No pressure, I'm just saying.

Visit her website:
Winston Derden is the only author I knew before I started this little Able to... project. We met when we both sort of haphazardly attended a local comics creators event at Borders and we exchanged e-mails and then exchanged some stories for critique. I asked several of my writer friends and acquaintances to submit to this project and Winston was the only to come through.

"Rubato" takes place in the courtyard of a restaurant. The narrator is a bit smitten with Chantal, an enigmatic woman with a sly smile and an unusual ability. She senses and catches ripples (her word--she admits she doesn't really have a better word for it) in time and then replays a moment time so it comes out differently. And that's all I should say about the plot. It's a short piece, really, and to say more is to give too much away.

But I can say this. Despite having seen a few stories from Winston, this one surprised me. It's a romance and it's some of his most lyrical writing. I suppose that makes sense, the title being a musical term. Still, while much of what I've read from Winston is either about a rougher element in our culture or else has a bit of a satirical bite, this story is, well, sexy, but not in any obvious or cliched way. Although Chantal is a bit of a cool character, she also has a quiet sensuality about her, as described by the narrator, and its difficult not to develop a crush on her along with him.

For Houstonians, the restaurant is recognizable, if not named. I won't name it here, as I think not knowing lends something to the mystery of the piece. What's funny is that it was so clearly described that I had pictured the setting in pretty good detail before I realized it was set in a real place. Then one day, I was walking past this restaurant and I thought, "this is familiar, where have I seen it before?" It took me a moment to realize that I hadn't seen it, just read its description. Maybe I should have a contest of some sort for Houstonians, to see who recognizes it . . .

Friday, July 07, 2006

"Lucky Max" by Mark Jansen

Sometimes, when I picked up the stories from my post office box in the Galleria, they'd go into my briefcase (which is what I think we used to call a satchel, but now they're marketed at Office Max as briefcases) and I'd read the story later, at home or in a coffee shop.

I guess I was feeling leisurely the day I got Mark's story in the mail. I remember pulling it out and wandering around the mall, reading it as I walked (a dangerous, bad habit I have--reading while I walk).

I should note here that I don't like malls, particularly. I used to love them, but at some point they lost favor with me. The only reason I ever go to the Galleria is because it's across the street from where I hold the day job and its food court is very nearly the only place to get something reasonably priced for lunch for blocks around. Oh, and there's the post office in the Galleria, where I have my post offfice box. But I don't generally like shopping and I usually go in, get my lunch or my mail, and I'm gone again.

But that day, I guess I wasn't anxious to get out and I wandered aimlessly as I read Mark's tale of young Max and how he slips into the quantum field and alters reality. At some point, I got tired of walking and reading (and watching out for people between phrases) but by that time I'd found myself in a part of the mall that I'd never been in before, and it was nearly people-free. I found a bench, sat down, and finished reading "Lucky Max," knowing I had another story for my anthology.

In terms of genre, "Lucky Max" is the Able to... story that most comfortably fits into the science fiction category. There's talk of "sidestepping" and "I-maps" and other such technical jargon, but one of the things I found appealing about this story was that it uses these terms without requiring the reader to have a degree in quantum physics. I'm not a scientist, but Mark kept me up to speed with deft, nearly invisible explanations of the science terms while keeping to the task at hand, that being telling a story about a little boy and his friends and how he tries to use his ability to help them feel better.

In my introduction to the book, I talk a bit about how, with the call for stories, I was looking for "adult power fantasies," in contrast to how superheroes are often referred to as "adolescent power fantasies." This story really plays into the sort of power fantasy it takes some amount of water under the bridge to appreciate. The opening scene in the story is at a funeral and Max slips onto (into?) the I-map to alleviate his friends' grief. It may be a little boy doing this, but it's not many adults who haven't felt the sting of grief and wished for a way to alter reality so that the deceased were not deceased.

Like all really good science fiction, the story isn't really about the technical stuff. It's really about the humanity behind it. And that's what we have here in "Lucky Max."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Opps and Exhaustion; "His Stop's 28th Street" by Michael Buozis


As I'm getting close to the release party I'm looking around for escape. As in vacation. And not seeing an escape route. Yet. Instead, I keep finding opps for promoting Able to... that need forms filled out and whatnot.

Clearly, I can't take advantage of every opportunity and clearly I need to get some rest soon. But it's exciting. At least I'm excited. Even as I put my tired body down each night, my mind races, trying to find ways to do everything I see I want to do to promote this book.

I love this book. It deserves readers.

Michael Buozis' "His Stop's 28th Street" has a fun story to tell behind the story. You see, I initially rejected it.

When I got Michael's story of a subway conversation between a young man and a frog, I really liked it. It was quirky, fun, had something to say as well. I was also wrapped up in my criteria of completing the phrase, "able to _______." Able to talk to frogs? Well, in the context of the story, that didn't seem relegated to Martin, the human half of the duo. So I sort of got stuck there and sent out my rejection letters. On many of them, I hand-wrote comments, as I did on Michael's. I don't remember exactly what I said in the handwritten notes, but I think I mostly said, "good work, doesn't fit."

A few days later, I got an e-mail from Michael, thanking me for the personal comments and wishing me well with my project. I thought that was nice and made me look at the story again.

Maybe I had read all the stories too close together. Maybe I had let myself get into that place of trying so hard to make everything fit in a box I couldn't see outside it (despite my hedging a bit on "Blues in the Rafters"). Maybe I just needed some time to step back from the hard work of passing judgment on other writers' work (an exercise in bad karma for a writer). But in that blinding flash sort of moment, it hit me--it wasn't the human who had super-powers in this story. Able to talk to humans. Able to do accounting! Maybe not super-powers for a human, but for a frog, Ithink this counts. After all, the comics had Krypto the Superdog and Ace the Bathound. I could easily justify including it in the collection from that point of view.

So I e-mailed Michael back, apologized for my limited vision, and asked if he would still like to be a part of this project. Lucky for me, he did.

I've sort of covered a lot about the story above, but to add a bit more, what I love about this story is that in the middle of the clever repartee and ridiculous images of a frog on a subway seat, you have a subtle exploration of a lonely man's search for connection. It's a search Martin may not have even realized he was on.

Some writers obsessively keep every rejection letter they get and other's discard them as quickly as possible. I have no idea what Michael's practice is with these things, but there's a part of me that hopes that he kept that letter and will frame it next to a picture of the book with his name on the cover.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Superman Returns; "Jesus Lizard" by Theodore Carter

Okay, I went to see the superhero movie of the summer (no offense to X-Men). I liked it okay. It didn't offend my superhero geek fanboy side and had some interesting moments. What follows are some random thoughts on it, mostly criticisms, I guess, and while I'll try to avoid spoilers, if you haven't seen it you may want to avoid the first half of this post until you have (if you intend to see it, that is).

The jet/space shuttle save scene was easily the best, most exciting piece of superheroics in the film. Really nicely done. It's a shame it came so early in the movie.

Does Lois Lane not bruise at all? She took some heavy hits throughout this movie and her complexion remained milky white throughout. Just who is the super-powered character here?

I'd heard that the first cut of the film was a bit longer than the one in the theaters. I think it shows. I get the feeling that some things (like Martha Kent and the farm) got shorted or at least they felt like they had more to the story than what we saw.

I was glad that Lois's new boyfriend was likeable. It would have been way too easy to make him a villain. I also liked that they hinted at his jealousy with Superman, but didn't go all out on it and especially liked that he didn't have any "how do you compete with Superman" kind of speeches.

There's a scene where Superman is basically a super-stalker. Did anyone else find the Man of Steel a little creepy here?

Frank Langella as Perry White, yes. Sam Huntington as Jimmy Olsen, holy cow, yes. These were the stand-outs for me, cast-wise.

Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane . . . eh. She's been quoted as saying that she had studied people like Kate Hepburn to get feel for Lois. I don't see it. Compared to previous incarnations of Lois (and it's hard not to compare), Bosworth doesn't have the hardness of Margot Kidder or even of Phyllis Coates or Noel Neill. Even though I thought Teri Hatcher played Lois as a bit of a ditz, she still had that spunky reporter thing going on. I felt Bosworth had neither toughness nor spunk. She was sweet. She was pretty. She was kind of bland.

I feel like most of the actors were given very little to do, and I think this goes double for Brandon Routh. Can he act? Well, he's pretty good at mimicking Christopher Reeve, but he's not given much to do besides be iconic. That doesn't require much emotional range. In other words, Superman struck me as bit bland, too.

Kryptonite apparently has a (plot-driven) variance in how much it affects Superman. Herein lies the weakest part of the movie. The green crystal is shown to weaken him enough to take some harsh blows from Luthor's henchmen. But he's also able to hoist a small continent laced with it into space while also carring a shard of it IMBEDDED IN HIS SKIN. It's only lethal when the writers need it to be. There's the trouble with mot super-hero stories in a nutshell.

Forgot Luthor. Kevin Spacey . . . is okay. I expected to like him more. Perhaps here's where my superhero geekboy gets in the way. I never liked the Gene Hackman Luthor, either, and Spacey seems to take some of his cues from Hackman. A little bumbling, a little campy, a little hard to take seriously as a real threat.

And one last thing---there's a plot point used once and only once despite ample opportunity to use it again later (see the above Kryptonite rant). It's big enough to keep quiet about, especially since it actually caught me off guard, me a jaded old-time comic reader. If this film becomes a film series, this one reveal is good for maybe one sequel and then will likely become an albatross around the series neck. Then Superman will have to lid dormant for a couple of decades again before being rebooted from scratch (a la Batman Begins). I find it hard to see many good places this particular plot device can go, but if they do it well it could be pretty interesting, a truly fresh take on the Superman myth.

Oh, that was one other thing I wanted to comment on. All the talk of Superman as savior of the planet. Well, I'm not offended by this religiously, but I am offended aesthetically as they took some really heavy-handed, obvious ways to visualize this. I mean, really, did they have to do the cruciform pose before Superman plummeted to earth? And did we have to see the flatline in the hospital (which was never sufficiently explained away)? I get it, Jor-El is God and sent his only son to save the earth. Again, could Routh been given something more to do besides look iconic? (Or, as noted earlier, be creepy.)

So maybe I didn't like the movie so much. I don't know. I don't feel the need to see it again. I am thinking I need to go see the first Christopher Reeve movie again, though. I don't think I've actually seen that since I was 14 years old, geeking out in the movie theater . . .

Theodore Carter e-mailed me from one of my Craigslist postings for stories about super-powered stories. He told me he had two different stories, one had been published in North American Review. Despite having recently received a rejection letter from NAR, I decided not to hold that against him and told him to send me that one first.

"Jesus Lizard" tells the story of a boy who gets a bit carried away with his homework. His ability to run on water comes from his over-zealous research into the titular lizard.

It's a very funny story. I knew this on first read and I was pleased, upon the final reading before sending it off to the printer, that it still made me laugh after working with it for months.

Theodore has a quick and incisive way with showing the way the community round Ralph (the water-running boy) reacts to the feat. It accurately skewers both left and right wing reactionaries and still manages to keep everyone human and engaging.

When Greg Garrett sent me his blurb for the back cover of the book, I hadn't expected the phrase "Twain-ian tall tales." After thinking about it, however, I'm nearly certain "Jesus Lizard" was the impetus for the Twain-ian comment. It does function, in many ways, as a tall tale, at least in the way that really good tall tales do. It magnifies our human foibles while never forgetting that we are still capable of amazing things.

In a few days, I'll talk a bit about the other story I eventually took as well. And while I'm still getting over the whole NAR rejection thing, I'm glad to have Theodore on board for this collection.