Actually, U R So Ugly

Actually, U R So Ugly

I’ve got a whole section (“set”, if you will) on Flickr dedicated to graffiti in Portland, but Angela and I came across this just this weekend. I’ve always liked conversational graffiti — bar and coffeeshop bathrooms being the best source for that sort of thing — and this just made me giggle.

It gives the distinct impression that the Internet is spilling over into the real world somehow. Some awful tearing of the fabric between dimensions. Soon, we will be overrun by an army of rofldeamons.

Nanowrimo novel, chapter The Ghosts of November, part 2

(continued from here)

Everybody Dies (working title)

A series of vingettes of several major characters — a pyromaniac, an incestous set of fraternal twin lawyers, a burnt-out rock guitarist, a young lawyer having herself an identity crisis, an increasingly fed-up stay-at-home mother, her precocious twelve year-old son, a mysterious homeless soothesayer — who, in every fractured chapter in the non-linear and poly-temporal storyline, end up dying.

What was supposed to happen: The central character (whose name I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t recall) dies in a series of contradictory circumstances, cementing the premise (not to say gimmick) of the book: these are glimpses of the possible deaths of this character, of these various characters; and in the moments leading up to death, these are the possible lives they might lead. As the reader sees ten, twenty, thirty different views of the different last moments of the characters, they develop a strong sense of character for these various misfits and self-seekers. Then, in the end, a redeeming chapter ends the cycle of deaths when a firefighter (our awkward young pyro, grown up and pursuing a tenuous compromise of self-control and impulse-satisfaction) saves the lives of several of the other characters in a nightclub fire.

What actually happened: the main character died a few times. Several other characters died, some of them more than once. And, frankly, I got sick of killing these folks off.

The first few chapters weren’t too hard. I had some specific ideas for the central character, the pyromaniac, and managed to portray an early experiment with fire that lead to the accidental death of his schoolmate, his death during the for-kicks burning down of a warehouse, ditto burning down the school gym after having his heart broken at a dance happening therein, and so on. And there were other characters, invented as I wrote them in for the first time, who died in ways and in circumstances that set the tone for future appearances.

But at some point I got to writing about a ten year old boy who found a dead cat on the way home. And I started liking this kid almost immediately (smart as a whip, great sense of humor, not a little bastard at all), and I liked his mom too. From the short slice of their life I wrote, they seemed to have a really great relationship with each other. And then, later in that chapter, while the mom discussed this feline discovery with a neighbor friend, the kid choked to death on a candy bar, and the chapter ended with the mom holding him in her lap and screaming.

That sucked. Ruined my whole day. And I think that was just about when the novel started to die on me. I wrote a fair chunk more — that couldn’t have been more than halfway to the 15,000 words I ended up at — but that kid just stuck around in my head. It was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, hard to see the redeeming solution to all this death I was waging. Cheerless, cruel murders of character after character, instance after instance.

I don’t think I ever clearly established the parallel-dimension “possible lives” theme in what I’d written, which made the march of death all the more dreary and pointless.

I still like the idea, however. If it ever occurs to me how to actually accomplish the germ of the story, how to give it a structure that will make it writable and readable, I might just try it again.

Nanowrimo novel, chapter The Ghosts of November, part 1

I’m less than a week from launching into my fifth Nanowrimo novel, and I’ve been thinking about my previous November novel efforts. Remeniscence seems to be the companion of brainstorming, lately.

So here’s a brief summary of my first attempt. I’ll follow up with summaries for the other three in seperate posts (having discovered in writing this one that I’m going on at much greater length than I originally expected). I’ll describe both what the story was supposed to be about and what it ended up being about according to the evidence I produced in the respective November.


The story of Ed Powell, a depressed, single 20-something computer geek conscripted by his maverick publisher Aunt Janis to ghost-write some children’s books as part of some guerilla pseudo-kid-lit campaign. Ed shared an apartment and some sort of buried romantic history with Laurie, a bright and silver-tongued girl who never learned to read.

What was supposed to happen: Ed, after some initial hesitation, starts in on the kids books, and bolstered by some initial success and validation really gets into it and into himself, but as that progresses some hereditary stripe of schizophrenia goes early-onset and Ed starts to lose it. Based in large part on the cloistered and co-dependent relationship he has with Laurie, and the dissolution thereof, Ed finds himself increasingly introspective, mentally unbalanced, chemically dosed, and in every respect becoming the sort of scary monster no parent would want their kid in contact with. His books are extremely popular, however, and Aunt Janis handles his pseudonymous PR brilliantly. Eventually, Ed, who has been seeing the ghost of his long-dead and very-very-crazy father at the supermarket and around town, goes to his childhood home (itself a painful haunted place in his memory — his mother shot his father one evening when father attacked her in a schizo rage), where he ends up shooting the ghost in the darkness, who it turns out is his estranged uncle and hence the resemblence. Then, Ed flees to a cabin and self-destructs while spilling out the story that is the novel. Or something like that.

What actually happened, insofar as I ever wrote it down: Ed got as far as writing one kid’s book, while completely drunk. The book was about an Alaskan moose who died, along with everything he cared about, in a nuclear attack on Anchorage, and who then went on to haunt, um, something or other. Ed and Laurie squabbled a bit. There were some flashbacks, and some vague and foreboding flashes forward — who was conducting this narrative and when was never pinned down — and later on in the story there were some strange jaunts off into a tangential near-future sci-fi world of outlaw psychics. At about 17,000 words, I ran out of energy if not ideas.

I hadn’t done any significant amount of writing for a few years before I started in on this first attempt. I’d done some incidental writing for the college paper, but short of that I’d been very lazy for pretty much the stretch of my higher education, having gotten into a curriculum (Computer Science) that didn’t require that we ever even write English sentence except on the occasional mid-term. Trying to churn out a novel was a fairly intense method of literary (or even lexical or syntactic) self-discovery, and while I feel I was definitely better for having made the effort, the actual results weren’t much to speak of.

Fun facts:

Ed Powell‘s name was a real pain to settle on. Eventually, I started writing and had to, within a few days at least, call him something. Edward is my middle name, and the character was in many superficial respects a vingette of the Josh Millard of 2001 — post-degree early-20s Computer Science major languishing away in unrelated and unsatisfying grunt work while messing about with programming as a hobby. As for the surname Powell, I’ve always been fond of Powell’s books; in high school I spent a fair amount of time having lunch at fastfood joints on SE Powell Blvd; and it was a bit of punnish memorial to my late friend Emma Howell, the chutzpah and literary trappings of Ed’s Aunt Janis being in some small part an imagined version of Emma in her fifties, had she lived that long.

Ed made a brief cameo in the next year’s novel (attempt), as a thoroughly strung-out chemical casualty at a party, and played the (so to speak) straight man to a short comedy bit.

Stalker w/ Doll

Stalker w/ Doll

When I walked into work the other day, a co-worker greeted me with this: “did you see the man?!”

What man?

Oh. This man. He had, it turned out, followed her downtown and into our building. Followed her all the way from the Gateway transit center out in SE. Scared the crap outta her. She gave me the basic rundown when I first poked my head into the basement cubby where we work, and so I walked around the building and, lo, there he was: guy in a blue jacket and a cap with gray hair and a doll.

He was off his meds, I hear, and pretty severely retarded even when he’s not. He got picked up and taken to a medical facility after a lot of handwaving by our supervisor at building security. Strange morning. On the one hand, please do not stalk and scare the hell out of people. On the other, poor bastard.

Carl Sandburg (Sufjan Stevens cover)

Brian and I have been talking about cover songs, and one of the things we both liked was the the notion of covering something of Sufjan Stevens’ latest album, Illinoise. There are several just incredibly good songs on the album (I think John Wayne Gacy, Jr, a fantastically economical portrait of said serial killer, is my favorite), but one we agree on as performable is (actually the second half of) “Come On Feel the Illinoise,” wherein Sufjan sings about a dreamtime visit from Carl Sandburg.

So this is a quick and weird rendition I recorded last Monday at the practice space. Lots of warts, vocals are strained — I wasn’t recording because I was excited to record, I just felt like I ought to because, well, I was in a crappy mood and doing something seemed like a healthier response than doing nothing.