Congratulations to Jay Leno and Taylor Hicks offspring, Lyman Feero on being shortlisted for the Spinetingler Magazine's Best Short Story Award. The Switch was originally published in ThugLit. Now, due to my modest nature I don't want to take credit for critiquing the story and pushing him to submit it or anything; but I will. Two words for Lyman: You're welcome.
Oh OK, so I really didn't have much to do with the story being so good, I guess that was all him.
Remember to check out the short lists and vote before Dec. 30.
Recently, while surfing some comics sites, I came upon an interesting critique of Garth Ennis's work. In this piece, the writer, an American black man, wrote that Ennis, a white (Northern) Irishman, didn't have the right to use (and I'll pause here for those who do not like the N word, this is your chance to stop reading because I'll probably use it once or twice during this post) the word nigger. The use in question appears in issue 12 of Ennis's The Boys when a Russian character, not black, refers to another character, also not black, as "my nigger".
I think this brings up an appropriate topic for writers to discuss: are there any words in which we are not allowed to use? Are there certain words that can only be used by certain people? My answer is no.
First, let's differentiate between the use of the word by the writer and the use of the word by a character. If the word is coming directly from the writer's own perspective, then he or she deserve every bit of criticism that comes his/her way. But I still don't think one should be censored. Here's an example: recently someone I know came upon a dilemma regarding another person's submission for a workshop. The submission in question was quite awful to begin with, however it was also incredibly offensive and down right racist. Now the piece was not from a character point of view, but from the writer's own opinion. The question raised was whether the material should be allowed in the workshop at all. My answer was that it should be allowed, and that the participants had the responsibility to tell him or her that it was a racist piece of shit. I mean really dish it out.
The usage of the word in the comic however appears because it is what this character, one kind of familiar with American vernacular through rap music and some movies (the most obvious one being Training Day), would say to someone. Granted, the character comes from the mind of the writer, but does that limit the writer from writing this type of character? One needs to write him truthfully. That is the job of the writer, no matter his or her race.
The criticism of Ennis's work states that a white writer doesn't have the right to use the word, but it's OK for someone who's black. I can understand someone being offended by the word and not liking it used in any variation by anyone, but does the argument stand when certain people are allowed and others are not? By this logic would I be allowed to write prairie nigger since I'm Indian?
For better or worse, nigger is a part of the modern American vernacular, used by some as a form of comraderie and others as a racist slur, depending on how it's pronounced. (However, if you have a Maine accent and all of your R's sound like A's it's hard to tell which way you intend it.) To deny a writer a part of that vernacular is to cripple him from finding any type of truth in life and turn all writing into superficial gunk. Granted, The Boys will not bring any kind of incredible insight into the human condition, but it will give us a clue of what a certain character is like.
Now, I'm not so completely daft as to not realize racism is a problem in this country. Believe me, I come across plenty of people during my day who have zero clue that what they say to me is offensive, as if contacting an office that deals with Indian issues gives them free range on expressing their ignorant views. But I'm not about to stop a writer from using terms like redskin (if I did I'd have a Hell of time with Sports pages during this time of year).
I think censoring writers is just a way of ignoring reality. If we prevent someone (and does it matter what the writer's race is?) from reflecting the truth, what are we accomplishing? It won't make the problems of racism go away, it would probably have an opposite effect.
The death of Norman Mailer over the weekend has left a hole. Yes, he was a great writer, but I'm not talking about his contribution to American literature, no, what I'm talking about is the massive persona that was Mailer. Mailer was equally known for his lifestyle as much as for his writing. Of course, it helped that Mailer was frequently in the limelight for other endevours, such as running for mayor of New York, biting off a piece of Rip Torn's ear and stabbing his wife. I mean, is there a writer alive who even comes close to filling Mailer's legend, or is the culture of the celebrity writer dead as well?
Has the fascination of characters like Mailer turned to empty shells like Paris Hilton? What does that say about America when we choose to focus on the exploits of the intellectually bankrupt (no, not bankrupt; that insinuates there were some brains to begin with; more like just enough mental power to walk and breath) rather than the bad behavior of someone who has at least a thought or two, no matter if you may agree with those thoughts or not? And if there aren't any intellectual bad boys (or girls) out there, perhaps we should invent some. If the mass media can make Nicole Richie a household name, surely they can exaggerate the exploits of some writer out there. (OK, you have your James Freys and J.T. Leroys; but how about someone with talent who actually makes meaningful contributions to American letters?)
Mailer once said that the novel was on its way out, which is perhaps a forced polemic of a egotistical man whose books were never the universally accepted darlings he thought they should be; but there may be some truth in there in regards to the literary environment. There are no big personalities anymore. Sure, there are well-known writers, but not one of them can capture our imagination like Mailer. Which of today's writers are willing to resort to fistfighting with just a hint of provocation? Isn't there some dark part of you that would love to hear about Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon getting into a wrestling match at some National Book Awards party?
I was electrocuted yesterday. I just finished a test in Criminology. Time for brainless activity. What's playing on the iPod?
Foo Fighters "Miracle", In Your Honor
Mary Chapin Carpenter "Dreamland", Party Doll & Other Favorites
Bruce Springsteen "Light of Day", In Concert
Radiohead "Knives Out", Amnesiac
Pearl Jam "Glorified G", Vs.
Sugar Ray "Fly (Acoustic)", WBCN Naked
Bjork "Army of Me", Tank Girl Soundtrack (I love this soundtrack. I also love the movie, too.)
Bjork "5 Years", Homogenic
Metallica "Bleeding Me", Load (You gotta love the sperm and blood artwork on the cover.)
Red Hot Chili Peppers "Johnny, Kick a Hole in the Sky", Mother's Milk (One of my favorite albums. Definitely a desert island choice. But I guess with iPods nowadays you can bring everything with you on a desert island)
Prince "Purple Rain", The Hits/The B-Sides (Great song, bad movie)
The Beastie Boys "Shambala", Ill Communication
Rage Against the Machine "Testify", The Battle of Los Angeles
The Beastie Boys "Jimmy James", Check Your Head
Guns N' Roses "Dust N' Bones", Use Your Illusion I
Thievery Corporation "Lebanese Blonde", Garden State Soundtrack
Avril Lavigne "He Wasn't", Under My Skin (What? You gotta problem that? Yeah, I like Avril, what of it?)
INXS "Suicide Blonde", X
Public Enemy with Anthrax "Bring Tha Noize" Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black
Paul McCartney & Wings "Jet", Wings Greatest
The Who "See Me, Hear Me", Tommy (Another desert island album)
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy "You and Me and the Bottle Makes 3 (Baby)", Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Bill Withers "Who is He (And What is He to You?)", Jackie Brown soundtrack
Eddie Izzard "Jesus and the Dinosaurs", Circle
Bruce Springsteen "The River" The River (One of the best songs ever. I listen to it whenever I need some inspiration.)
Bob Woodward "Track 06 of Disc 06", State of Denial (Whoops. Tough to dance to.)
Percy Sledge "It Tears Me Up", Hard Revolution (They should demand Pelecanos create a complition promo CD for all of his books)
Bob Woodward "Track 04 of Disc 02", State of Denial (WTF?)
Led Zepplin "Ramble On", Led Zepplin II (Greatest reference to Gollum in heavy metal history)
Well, I suppose I've had enough fun. Wouldn't want to get too excited here.
I don't belong here. That was my primary thought on the first night of the Maine Literary Festival; and to tell you the truth, it was my primary thought throughout the entire weekend. I felt like an outcast with absolutely no peers. Most in attendance were wealthy and older, while those closer to my age were among the authors featured, and all of them were much more successful than I am.
The festival was held in Camden, Maine, which, if you’re not familiar with it, is a town with a slightly higher income per capita than the rest of the state. OK, greatly higher. To tell you the truth there aren't many true Mainers who live in Camden; few of us can afford it. Most residents are from away. This distinction has a few degrees of categorization: 1) Very nice, 2) Benign, but annoying, 3) Complete douche bag. Unfortunately for category 1 people, it is category 3 people who tend to stick in our minds and sully our attitudes; even though Cat 3's are usually the minority. What can I say? You throw a douche bag into the mix, the flavor changes. Anyway…
There were some interesting topics, especially the last day, which focused on the mystery genre. The mystery panel even touched upon the current debate started by Rickards on the status of the genre, thanks to yours truly who supplied the question. The general consensus was that the genre isn't in a rut and didn't need a shot in the arm. I disagree somewhat, not that I would have been able to express this opinion. Questions were written down on cards, which took away a lot of the spontaneity and intimacy of an intellectual exchange between panelists and audience members. And you had to be quick in writing down those questions because there were only so many minutes allotted for Q&A. I actually wrote the Rickards question before the panel started.
And that was my biggest pet peeve of the conference: the strict time schedule. The woman "in charge" was a tyrant with a stopwatch. The schedule was more important than content. She made sure every panel was done promptly as the itinerary dictated - to the minute. She was like some fascist's wet dream. You could actually see the power going to her head as she dictated the entire weekend. It was like watching that psychology experiment where they observed people who got off on shocking others, only without the electricity. However, if she could have found some frayed wires, I think most of us would have been fucked.
There were some interesting people there: Tess Gerritsen, Matthew Pearl, Sarah Langan, Kate Flora, Joe Hill, Owen King, etc. Most of whom I talked to, at least briefly. But to demonstrate what kind of a dork I am, I didn’t talk with Tess Gerritsen for two reasons: I know that Tess is not her real first name, it’s actually Terry (it’s kind of funny to listen while some people call her Tess and some people call her Terry), so I had this fear that if I called her Terry it would be too familiar and she would look at me like I was one of those deranged fans who’s about ten seconds away from handing her their pancreas in a jar. The second reason is I have met her a few times and talked with her, but I also know from her blog that she can’t remember faces and names (don’t ask me how I can remember that, I just do.), so I didn’t want to come up to her like she should recognize me, but I also didn’t want to come up to her like we’ve never met before and have her say, “Hey, you’re the guy with the pancreas.” So, like the incredible introvert that I am, I didn’t talk with her for two of the stupidest reasons imaginable. BTW - Tess is a Cat 1.
The Life of the Party, a new flash fiction piece, is up at DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash. It's sort of John Cheever meets Sam Peckinpah.
To tell you the truth I totally forgot about it until I received an e-mail this morning. It's neat to have a story that's been gone from your mind for so long that you're able to enjoy it somewhat objectively. I hope you like.