Just before Christmas I was asked by my friend, the illustrious poet and novelist Collin Kelley, to take part in a self-interview meme called The Next Big Thing. The idea is to talk about your current or forthcoming book using a pre-determined set of questions. You also have to tag other bloggers/writers to take part in the meme. Blog memes used to be commonplace back before I was on anybody’s radar, but since blogging has dropped off a bit they don’t come around as often. I was pretty happy to take part in this one - fun stuff to think about, even if some of it’s a bit silly. Anyway, here’s my answers and you’ll see whom I’ve tagged at the end.
What is the title of your book? The Survivor of San Guillermo
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A plot involving a newly invented time machine sends several people back to various points in history, each of them vying to alter the future in some way: some go to a day just before World War II and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, while others go back to the 1860s during the peak of the American Civil War.
What genre does your book fall under? Several actually: science fiction/Weird West/Western/historical fiction.
Where did the idea come from for the book? My wife challenged me to write a murder mystery, and at the time I was watching a lot of Sergio Leone movies. The book started out as a murder mystery with a Western setting. Then it blew up.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 17 months exactly.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? Sergio Leone, my wife Aida, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., and a book titled Day of Deceit, which presupposes that FDR knew about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor and let it happen for political reasons. I don’t believe that, but the notion of the book is fascinating.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Agency.
What other works would you compare this book to within your genre? Stephen King’s Dark Tower comes to mind. So does some lighter historical fiction I’ve read over the years.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? I first finished the book back in 2001, so a lot of the people I envisioned while I was writing have aged too much. Looking at current actors and actresses who fit the bill, I’d say Thom Reynolds could be played by Gerard Butler or Hugh Jackman. Japanese actress Kyoko Fukada (from the original Ringu II movie) looks exactly like Haruko Matani. Olivia Munn is spot on for Lucy Baghdadlian. Idris Elba could play Ray Easley. And for the bad guy, Martin Evenson, I’d say Tom Felton, he of Draco Malfoy fame.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? The book is part of a trilogy, and throughout the story, several real people from history make appearances. In this first book, there’s Henry Slocum, who was one of General Sherman’s top men, there’s Larry McCutcheon, whom most agree was the first casualty of the attack on Pearl Harbor, there’s Admiral Husband Kimmel, the man in charge of the fleet at Pearl Harbor, and Ronald Reagan, former President of the U.S.
About a year and a half ago, I decided to self-publish a couple of short stories. The impetus behind my decision is better explained here, but in a nutshell: I’d keep clawing my way up the ladder in the traditional publishing world, but I’d also throw some stuff out there without it because A) I wanted to see if I could generate a little hype and B) I was tired of writing and writing and NOT sharing what I wrote with people who’d appreciate it.
Now, I didn’t blow up or anything because of those stories. YOU’RE here and you know who I am (and I’m happy as shit to have you), but for every one of you, there’s a thousand people I’d like to reach whom I haven’t. Yet. Still, I consider that little pair of short stories I sent out there a success:
I sold a respectable number of copies, even for an eBook only format.
I expanded my tiny following so that it was less tiny.
I learned a LOT about eBooks and eBook sales.
I got to have those conversations I wanted with people about something I created.
I formed an alliance with a small press who would go on to help me publish ANOTHER set of stories.
And that’s what this post is about. This is the one where I thank Atlanta-based fledgling publishers Hallowed Waste for having the gumption to attach their name to my efforts. Granted, they benefit as much from me as I do from them, since technically my name is better known, but it’s always encouraging to have someone express a belief in your work, and it’s good to have the additional resources to draw from when you need.
Hallowed Waste only has two authors that I know of in its “stable”, me and a guy named Todd Wiley. But I believe they’re looking for more. They’re also looking for artists and illustrators who work for cheap or free - basically, if you’re good but relatively unknown, if you’re looking to expand your portfolio in a professional manner, and if you like to draw the sort of stuff they need (dark, esoteric, horror, sci fi), then shoot them an e-mail.
As a writer, if you’re looking to make a foray - the way I did - into eBook publishing, if you’re down with small, independent presses, and if you write the kind of things they’re looking for, ALSO hit them up. Start a conversation, find out what they’re up to and if you fit in. They’re looking to grow, and since I am too, it’s worked out for me.
It might work out for you, too.
Their e-mail and Twitter handle , plus their submission guidelines, are on their web site. In case the hyperlinks above didn’t work for you, here it is: www.hallowedwaste.com.
Sometimes I get jealous of my gay writer friends. I think that compared to me at least, they have such a rich life - filled with things that I can never experience since my sexual orientation is NEVER called into question, never outlawed, and mostly never prosecuted. They have this whole world of things they can draw from to write about which I simply… lack.
Then I think about the things they have to put up with which make their lives so full and rich, and I decide I’m not so jealous after all.
Now, I don’t know if my friend Eric Sasson has been to all the places his characters visit in his short story collection Margins of Tolerance - although I know he’s well traveled. But if he’s been to even HALF of them, then I’m jealous once again, and not of his experience as a gay man, but of his experience as a world traveler. I’ve been a LOT of places, but now that I have two school-aged kids, I don’t get to go to far away places so much anymore.
What Eric has done with Margins of Tolerance is brilliant. He’s taken those two things I’m jealous about - his experience as a gay man and his experience as a traveler - and combined them into a rich and varied commentary on things which transcend ALL experience.
Two common threads run through each of the stories contained in this volume: the first is that every protagonist is a gay male. (I think that’s obvious from the things I’ve implied so far.) But if these stories focused solely on what it’s like to be gay, then I think it would be easy to dismiss Eric as a writer who’s found a comfortable niche - something to fall back on and rely on and repeat. I know some writers who happen to be minority, and who inhabit THAT personae in all of their writing - to the point that, even though I sympthasize with them and support them, I sometimes find their reliance on their status tiresome and uninventive.
Eric doesn’t do that. The SECOND thread which runs through Margins of Tolerance is how very DIFFERENT each story is. The protagonists are all wildly different - the only things they have in common are their gayness and their maleness. Other than that, they’re a different as anybody you can imagine.
The settings are also all different, ranging from a cheap hotel in Peru to a bar in St. Petersburg, Russia to a writers’ conference in Lake Tahoe. Eric has evidently visited many of these places, and if he hasn’t then he’s done his homework - he KNOWS these places in a profound and intimate way, and he uses them to great effect.
Not only are the characters and settings varied - even the style and language change from story to story. This is no small feat, I can tell you from my own experiments in changing style, voice, and cadence between stories. It’s very difficult to be tongue-in-cheek and sassy in one instance, then somber and melancholic in another. Many writers can’t pull off first person, and others revel in it. To see a single writer pull off such a variety of styles in such a small space is somewhat astounding.
Finally, the themes in Margins of Tolerance vary as well. I recently reviewed a book of short stories, that while enjoyable and worth reading, did dwell a lot on a number of contained and related themes. Margins of Tolerance defies that as much as it defies any other border. It’s a great irony and a triumph of sorts that this book, which sets itself up to be about the lines we as humans draw in the proverbial sand, crosses those lines again and again.
The power of Eric’s stories here are that each disparate piece - the characters, their situations, the setting, and the themes - are perfectly put together. Like a talented confectioner building the perfect cupcake from scratch, Eric somehow knows that THIS person experiencing THIS emotion and circumstance in THIS particular place will yield THIS transcendent message for the reader.
Some of these stories will disturb you - especially if you’re homophobic. Some of these stories will offend you. Some of these stories will make you cry, some will make you groan, some will make you shiver, and some will make you stand up and say “FUCK YEAH, that’s how it is!”
All of them will make you think - about your own person, about your own surroundings, and about the margins which you have established regarding your own tolerance.
And if you’re me, they’ll make you jealous.
I have another post right here. In fact, I have two. In fact, I have THREE.
But right now, they’re waiting on important components:
One piece has a bunch of photographs accompanying it, and those photographs require a whole lotta touch-ups. The piece is basically a diatribe in defense of my need for validation. Yeah, I need validation sometimes - don’t we all - but in the last couple of years it seems like I’m not getting anymore the level I desire. Then I look around me and… well, you’ll see. Once I get the photos all cropped and sized and color-treated as best I can, you’ll see.
For another piece, I need an audio bit from my good friend Barbara. I’ve had the next two sections of A War Between States finished for a couple of months now, but sometimes - like now - getting all the voice actor parts recorded for the podcast takes Herculian effort. I’m down to just Barbara on the latest installment, and I’ll have that done the DAY she doesn’t forget to come by after work and record for me.
Another piece requires me to finish my friend Eric Sasson’s short story collection, titled Margins of Tolerance. I have ONE MORE story to read, and then I’ll give it a review. Eric (and anybody else who’s reading this right now), I assure you that I love your stories. One or two hit so hard I cried. No shit.
But you’ll have to wait for my review of Eric’s book. You’ll have to wait a little while for all these upcoming posts, because components are missing and this week I have jury duty! But they’re coming, along with…
1) a possible piece on why recent episodes of How To Train Your Dragon are allegories for the war against science and alternative energy in the United States.
2) a review of my friend Collin Kelley’s short story collection, Kiss Shot.
3) a teaser about my upcoming novel, The Survivor of San Guillermo.
4) a shout out to the folks over at Hallowed Waste Press, who graciously opted to attach their name to my second set of short stories.
5) a possible diatribe about the 2012 election, depending on who wins and how he does it.
These are pending, but I felt like I had to come up with something for you right now. Right this minute. This teaser, this bookmark if you will, was the best I could come up with for now. It didn’t make sense to use my energy on concocting anything else, given all the stuff I already have planned.
Look for the rest later this week and/or month.
Jay Magidson has dwelled in the art world for years, dealing with the artists and the buyers of some of the finest contemporary art in the United States. From his own gallery in downtown Aspen, CO, to his current position at Ann Korologos’s gallery in Basalt, Jay has had a long and successful career using his skilled eyes and vast knowledge of art. He seems to have a strong notion as to what works and what doesn’t in the visual realm.
Jay also happens to be a writer, and in everything I’ve read by him, I get a distinct sense of Jay’s visual sensibilities and acumen. His writing is among the most vivid and visually STUNNING of all of my peers. And in his current collection of short fiction, Colors, he hits SEVERAL monumental pinnacles in portraying scenes and scenery like no one else I know.
Does it always work? Well, no. But does it work enough to make Colors a worthwhile read? Absolutely.
Thematically, Colors varies. One of Jay’s favorite settings is in the dystopian future, but his vision of the days ahead is not singular. Using different versions of the future as a backdrop, Jay posits a variety of questions about man and man’s place in the universe: In one story, life in the future boils down to a day-by-day routine that everyone follows unquestioningly. There is no room for creativity, deviance from what is expected, or even the consciousness that one is an individual. In another story, the world is in ruins, in the dark, and we get a view of the post-apocalytic moral afflictions of one of the men who plunged it there.
There are other themes in other settings - in just a few pages, Jay makes comment on the problem of evil, the existence of free will, the nature of fear, and the consequences of selfishness. There’s nothing new here, but Jay’s approach is made fresh by his eye for effect and his uncanny ability to convey space, color, and detail.
The weakest part of Colors comes with the vignettes Jay uses to try to pull the stories into one cohesive piece. I think he’d have been better off simply leaving each story as a stand-alone, and let us inhabit them as ourselves and in our own way, rather than implying that the vignette character of Paul is there somehow, inhabiting each story’s respective protagonist in turn. Paul’s story, though vividly told - starting off strange, then moving into creepy, then veering off into terrible and surreal - actually lacks an urgency which is desperately needs. It also acts a succinct resolution. I’d be okay with no resolution were Paul’s story simply one of the many presented in Colors, but its position as GLUE makes me expect more from it.
Take Paul’s story away, though, and you have a series of tales that start off rather quiet, then build to a crescendo. And the thing which makes this volume successful, to me, is the visual power of every single scene. Even the Paul scenes are interesting in a visual sense. Jay Magidson convincingly conveys the vast and the claustrophobic, the euphoric and the melancholy, the intricate and the mundane, and he does it so that you can SEE it. Somewhere in his mind, Jay has seen it all - and he can describe it for you perfectly.
Time. Space. Eternity. All in color.
Two years ago I posted a thing about how I suck at vacations. I wrote it right after the family and I got back from an awesome trip to Disneyworld. Well, pretty much everything in that post is still true, and that’s why I’m writing this post today.
You see, I’m technically on vacation right now. Two days ago I drove 12 hours north to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to attend the World Boardgaming Championships. While I’m here doing what I LOVE doing, the kids and my wife are headed to the beach (we don’t actually have time this busy summer to vacation together - don’t say anything; we know it’s fucked up). I may or may not join them when I head back south - depends on how I feel. You know what I mean: it depends on whether I’m completely exhausted or not.
I’m having a fucking blast. I’m drinking great beer all day long that I bought from my buddy Eddie’s Ale Yeah! shop in Roswell, and I’m playing Twilight Imperium and a whole host of other games with Michael Buccheri, Matt Loter, Josh Look, Shellie and Al Rose, Bernie Frick, Wilson Knight, Rob Buccheri, Andy Waller, and a whole bunch of other people (you can see a few of them in the picture at the top.
Still, right this minute, I’m sitting at a Starbucks down the street from the host hotel, parked in front of my computer and logging time BECAUSE IF I DON’T DO THIS NOW I’ll be stressed out the rest of the week, beer and games and friends be damned. That’s how I am. I can’t help it. And it’s funny that all I have to do is write a short bit about writing a short bit, and I feel better.
There. I feel better.
Almost three years ago I posted a review of local poet and LGBT champion Collin Kelley’s first novel, Conquering Venus. Ordinarily, I’d link back to that review, but I’m not going to this time. Why? Because it’s not relevant anymore. That was three years ago, and the way I feel about that book has changed enough that the review doesn’t matter. If you want to go digging for it, feel free, but you’d be better off just reading this - I’ll clarify my repositioning on Conquering Venus in this review, in light of having read the sequel, Remain In Light.
Conquering Venus came out to mostly glowing reviews, and my reviews and attention to the book were mostly positive as well. Retrospectively, I think some of that praise might have been premature - for reasons I suppose I now have to explain. First, though, let me assure you that the impending praise I’m about to give Remain In Light is highly deserved - with this follow-up, Collin has given us a book that deserves as much if not more attention than current books of similar pacing, style, and genre.
Despite my ex post facto misgivings, two things make Conquering Venus a unique and worthwhile book. One is Collin’s acumen as a poet. The other is his position in the local gay community as an adamant and prolific messenger, diplomat, and champion.
Unfortunately, those two things also contribute to the problems Conquering Venus has as well. First, Collin had some difficulty, I think, in transforming the powerfully metaphoric and sonorous language that makes him such a talented poet into the precise and practical language often required in prose. Sometimes his artful phrasing added beautiful layers to his scenes, as with the Prologue, (you can listen to him read it here). Other times - many times - scenes got muddied, became unclear.
Second, and this is just circumstance - it reflects less on the author than it does the world in which we live - the subject matter simply proved unwieldy for people who are not in or deeply sympathetic to the LGBT community. That, BTW, does not include me - I am and for many years have been a staunch ally of my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender peers.
Still, and I am loathe to admit this, but the incontrovertible fact is: if you are not a member of the LGBT community or an ally thereof, you might not find much in Conquering Venus to identify with. It’s a sad fact, but it’s true: although the feelings and angst that protagonist Martin Paige and his lover David experience are indeed universal, and ought to transcend boundaries, we live in a society that finds it difficult to transcend with them.
Conquering Venus was a sort of coming-of-age story, the tale of two boys who need to grow past certain things and become men. It’s filled with all the pathos and emotional upheaval you’d expect from any such tale. Honestly, it’s not the kind of story I gravitate toward, and for many others who do gravitate toward that kind of tale, it’s appeal is potentially lessened by their inability to find commonality with a gay couple in Paris.
Still, Conquering Venus was and is an impressive debut novel. The characters, particularly the chief protagonist of Martin and the two female leads of Irene and Diane, are thoughtful and multi-layered portraits of complex and fascinating people. And the setting of 1990s Paris is a character unto itself - you can sense in every overly poetically-phrased description Collin’s love for the City of Light and the people who inhabit it.
The strengths of Conquering Venus are present in Remain as Light as well. Martin, Irene, and Diane are back and as splendidly portrayed as ever. The weaknesses, however, are gone.
Whereas Conquering Venus was a coming-of-age tale full of emotional circumstance, Remain In Light is a murder mystery and a thriller. The stakes aren’t astronomical here - we’re not talking government conspiracy or secret society adventures that will determine the fate of the world. But that doesn’t matter. What’s at stake is the fate of these characters, and Collin gets us so invested in what could and will become of them that we turn every page with as much interest and involvement as we would any story in a similar vein. And honestly, I care more about Martin Paige and Irene Laureux than I ever have Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, or Robert Langdon.
Finally, with this second excursion into long prose, Collin has adapted an efficient style which gives you pacing and plot in abundance, but a distinct and cohesive sense of place and time. The little ornamental trappings of poesy are still present here and there, but they add to the story now rather than distract and detract. There is also an air of mystery that drives the plot - something amorphous and enigmatic that hangs around each scene like a ghost, giving you the sensation that someone important was there before you, and that you just missed something that could change you and your perspective fundamentally.
Stronger in voice, more sublime in style, and ultimately more intriguing than its predecessor and many of its contemporaries, Remain In Light stands as a great second entry in what Collin is calling his Venus Trilogy. It’s available now from Vanilla Heart Publishing. Get a copy here from Amazon.com.
A little over a month ago, I came up with the idea to have guest posts every once in a while here at WillKenyon.com (Here’s where I put forth my plan.) I didn’t know if it was going to be a good idea at the time, but after a couple of guests, I’m thinking that it was. That it is.
Caleb Wynn is a good friend of mine who happens to have cystic fibrosis. We don’t talk about it much, and when you don’t talk about it much, you don’t realize how much something like that is affecting your friend. When I invited people to submit to my site, Caleb gave me the following little essay about his condition and a little girl he once knew…
Perhaps due to luck, perhaps due to fate, and completely due to genetics, I was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. The average life expectancy of a Cystic Fibrosis patient is 40, give or take a few years, depending on severity. My case is a moderate one. I have problems with both my lungs and my digestive system, but none of my issues are extreme so far. Because of the nature of my disease, normal day-to-day routines often leave me out of breath, tired, and weak. Also, I become depressed and cynical, especially when I think about how I’m living with a chronic, terminal disease. I think that when you are born with or develop a terminal disease, it’s easy to pity yourself and prey on the sympathies of others. It’s incredibly easy to maintain a grim perspective on life, and that’s just what I did until I was thirteen.
When I was five, my doctor recommended to my parents that I see a psychiatrist to assess my mental well being, so they made an appointment and we went, thinking nothing of it. When we got to the psychiatrist’s office, she gave me some basic psychological tests to complete. One was to draw a picture of anything I wanted. After about ten minutes, I handed her a colored drawing.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s a sad pine tree,” I replied.
Worried, the doctor told my parents what I had drawn and offered some suggestions. To this day, my mother jokingly tells me that she should have paid attention to the doctor and foreseen what I’d be like in the following years.
Sometimes I had to go to Egleston Children’s Hospital on the Emory campus in Atlanta, where I’d stay on floor 4C, the area for Cystic Fibrosis patients. The halls on floor 4C had walls painted purple, with green stripes running down the center, and with a thick, white handrail running the length of the wall. The floors were tiled with slick white, speckled tile that allowed for loud and fast rides down the hallways on squeaky-wheeled IV poles. The rooms themselves had the same color scheme as the hall, except that the floor tiles were colored. The rooms were small - just big enough for a bed, a nightstand, drawers mounted in the walls for clothing, and a little couch. The bathroom had tiled floors and walls, and some of them had drawings from former patients on them. The two windows in the room I usually occupied looked into the hallway and out toward the side of the hospital. They were useless for receiving natural light. Being trapped in a room like that for two weeks at a time often drained any brightness from my personality. But on a particular trip I made when I was thirteen, things turned out to be different.
During my various stays in the hospital, I have met a number of people who opened my eyes to the world around me. The most significant of these was four-year old Abigail.
Abigail had severe liver failure as well as some heart problems, and was on the list for transplants. She had a fairly large scar that ran vertically up her stomach to her chest, and the funny thing about our first encounter was her willingness to compare scars. I showed her the scar I had gotten from stomach surgeries that runs horizontally across my abdomen. Abigail found this to be especially funny, and enjoyed talking about our matching (well, opposite) scars. As for her other physical features, she had short, curly blonde hair and light blue eyes, and she stood at about four feet tall.
When Abigail was two her parents had brought her to Egleston and left her so that they wouldn’t have to bear the so-called burdens of her condition. The worst part was that her parents would visit her on her birthday, but never any time other than that. This must have caused a lot of confusion for her because at night, when I would wander the halls while I couldn’t sleep, I would hear her sad and unanswered calls for her parents. Hearing Abigail’s muffled cries forced me to contemplate my own situation. It was then that I came to the realization that this young girl was caught in a web that was far worse than the tangled mess I perceived myself to be in. I didn’t understand then and still don’t understand how any parent could just leave a child to die at a hospital.
I still remember the first day I met Abigail. I was walking by the playroom on floor 4C during my rather routine stay, and I saw her there, playing with Legos and dolls and wearing a face of complete and utter boredom. She looked up at me as I passed, and asked, “Do you want to play with me?” Since I was also completely bored after spending a week in a hospital room, I decided to say yes, and went in to spend some time with her. Aside from a low, round table and the toys scattered around the carpeted floor, the playroom looked exactly like any other room on the floor. It was even as small as the other rooms.
As we began to play together, her bored and indifferent face quickly turned into a big, bright smile, and for days afterward, every time I walked by the playroom, I would hear a voice ask, “Do you want to play?” I always did, and playing with Abigail erased the monotony of my time at Egleston that year.
A year later I went back to floor 4C after having surgery to remove part of my colon, and I had the opportunity to see Abigail again. She was in even worse condition than the year before, and still hadn’t received her transplants, but she was still so happy to see me, and I still hold her joy dearly in my memory.
Seven months later I returned to floor 4C and found out that she’d never received her transplants, and had finally passed away.
That a young girl of five, with problems far worse than my own, could wake up, ignore the cluster of IVs she was connected to, and ask me to play with her was truly eye opening. How could anyone one deny the request of such a trooper? I sure couldn’t.
It was absolutely amazing to me that Abigail could be so happy in spite of her condition, while I was always so morose.
Every time I saw Abigail, she was ecstatic, yet I struggled to find that mood within myself. This puzzled me. I wondered why I felt the way I did and came to the realization that I needed to stop thinking long-term and begin thinking short-term. The question became, if a child can live day to day, why can’t I?
I still haven’t found the answer that I’m looking for, but I’m closer than before. I still have good and bad days and I’m not always the most cheerful person to be around, but the same could be said for Abigail, or any other human being for that matter. But by shifting my focus from the very broad and future-based to day-to-day, and by appreciating the life I do have, and not the life I wish I had, I have made myself a happier person and given myself a more fruitful existence. And I know that my current, more positive outlook on life with a terminal illness can be attributed to my time spent with a five-year-old girl who exemplified maintaining a bright outlook in the midst of turmoil.
Realizing that I only get out of life what I put into it has been a great help in the adjustment of my attitude from negative to positive. Additionally, understanding and coming to terms with the fact that death is inevitable, while a grim thought to be sure, is in my opinion key to obtaining and maintaining a child-like attitude in life. Children like Abigail don’t dwell on the inevitability of death and are, for the most part, happy. So would I not be better off in adopting this train of thought as well…?
I hear people deride Twitter all the time, and I can see their point: What kind of communication can you get done in 140-character sound bites, going out and coming in at you sometimes 10 or 20 per minute? And what do such minute bits of communication mean for our overall ability as humans to convey ideas of complexity and intricacy?
Well, I’ll leave those questions right here, unanswered, because I don’t know the answers. What I do know is that Twitter can be infuriating, tiresome, and inane, but it can also - if you open yourself up to the community it creates - introduce you to things of beauty and substance that you might otherwise miss.
I’ve never met Ben Rubin, who goes by the Twitter moniker of @ghostofthemoon, but as I grew my Twitter community of fellow poets and writers and artists, I came across him, and took special note of the iconography on his Twitter page. Something about it intrigued me.
Now, I have to admit that there’s a lot of noise on Twitter - noise which may be its eventual downfall - and sometimes it’s hard to rise above that noise. Over the weeks after I followed Ben, however, his posts came to the fore for me, and I began to take special notice of him and what he had to say. This drove me to his site, sort of like I hope that my posts on Twitter might have driven YOU here.
And once I was at his site, I was so struck by the book he was offering that I had to have it. And once I had it, I was happy - happy that such a strange thing of beauty could exist in our world of instant information and gratification, happy that I’d taken the initiate to find such a work, and happy that I had found it through such a supposedly unlikely path.
When Comes What Darkly Thieves is a picture book fairy tale, and Ben Rubin is foremost an artist who excels in collage and photography. What makes this entry into literature and art so masterful is that he has established a pervasive mood, which he never deviates from and which never leaves you as the reader (and inadvertant protagonist of the story, since it’s in second person) dissatisfied.
When you see the images (and many of them are readily available on Rubin’s site at http://buttondownbird.com/), you’ll see what I mean. They are a strange mix of chaotic and ordered, exotic and mundane, nightmarish and beautiful, alien and comforting. And while I wouldn’t have made some of the grammar or punctuation choices Ben made in the adjoining tale - which is a surreal mini-adventure involving blind Gypsies, magical moonbeams, swingsets, and lumps in the carpet - it blends fantastically well with the images, which ARE the chief draw here, the main thing that I believe you should be paying attention to.
As an avid reader of WORDS, I don’t have a lot of picture-centric books on my shelves. But I assure that right now, When Comes What Darkly Thieves is there alongside all the other books in my collections, and I will display it proudly, for I think it’s quite a find. And I think the way I found it speaks volumes about how we conduct ourselves in the 21st century - how we go about finding things both beautiful and ugly, assuring and disturbing, humorous and not.
I also think that in Ben Rubin, I found a fellow artist that I’ll be happy to follow (on Twitter and otherwise) for a long time.
You can find When Comes What Darkly Thieves via the Button-down Bird web site in an e-book format, and perhaps hardcover. If you can find a hardcover copy, I recommend it, even in this age of electronics.
A lot of people wanted to know how the Warrior Dash went on Saturday, so I figured I’d let you know.
First, a quick rundown of my schedule that day: I TRIED to go to bed early that Friday, and mostly succeeded. I was in bed by 9:30, but a combination of coughing (I was a the tail end of a cold which is way gone now) and the fact that I was getting to the climax of Koji Suzuki’s Ring meant that I only succeeded at going to sleep by about 11.
I got my ass up at 5 a.m. the next day - Saturday - took a quick shower to wake up, then hopped in the car and drove the hour and a half to Clayton, GA, where I parked and strolled up the hill to meet my friends and do the Dash.
Running with me that day was Jeff Jarvis, the guy who told me about this adventure, plus my friends via Jeff - Jimmy Liang and Luis Uribe. Our “wave” started at 9:30 - early, but when they explained WHY they liked to do it early, it made sense. If you go early on, the trail is less muddied, and so’s the inside of the shuttle bus, should you need to shuttle back down the hill to your car. Mmmm - muddy shuttle bus - just like the inside of someone’s colon.
See? Makes sense to go early.
As we stood around waiting for our wave to start, I vowed silently to myself that no matter what, I’d try to keep up with Luis, who’s training to join the FBI next year. I figured if I could hang with him, that meant I’d make good time and I’d have a buddy to help me with some of the surprises in store for us.
As it was, I DID hang with Luis, although I think several times he hung back a little to let me keep up with him. We left Jimmy and Jeff behind in a crowd and didn’t see them until they finished a few minutes behind us.
For the most part, the race was fine. I’d been running three miles several times a week for several weeks, so the running didn’t phase me at all. What GOT me, ultimately, was a couple of the obstacles. The climbing? No big deal. I just wasn’t expecting quite so much SWIMMING. In 50 degree water. After running a mile. More or less fully clothed. Cold water in such circumstances makes your heart race, folks. It’s tough.
Still, the only time I got a little scared about whether I could finish was when I made a miscalculation regarding one of the watery obstacles. At one point we had to jump off a pier into a pond, then swim across to a pontoon thing in the middle. We then had to pull ourselves onto the pontoon, cross it (it was really slick and you had to take it easy crossing it), then jump back into the water and finish crossing the pond.
I watched several people plunge into the water ahead of me, and saw that none of them went under. So I figured the water was maybe five feet deep, and I jumped in thinking I’d just touch bottom, then bob my way across to the pontoon.
Fucking water was waaay more than five feet deep, and I went under without a good breath. Now, I’m a good swimmer, so I recovered, but when I got back up I was winded and a little shocked by the deepness and coldness of the water. I swam over to the pontoon and tried to pull myself up onto it, and… couldn’t.
Other people were trying to get by me, so I backed off of the pontoon, treading water and trying to gather myself. I thought about swimming around, but I didn’t want to be a pussy. I thought about swimming UNDER it, but then wondered if maybe there was a net. Finally, I felt better, so I tried at last to do the obstacle the way I was supposed to - and this time I was able to get up and over it. I had to pause though, after I got to shore. After a minute or two, though, I was ready, and I started running again.
In the end, I finished the 3+ miles in 42 minutes, 15 seconds. I was 419th out of 851 males in my age category - so I was in the top half. Also, I finished 2646th over all, out of 6186 participants. So yeah, top half all around. And I mostly kept up with Luis. Oh, and I jumped over the fire at the end without setting myself alight - something my son Eli was very scared of happening.
Finally, I managed to raise over $400 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As a St. Jude Warrior, I got access to a shower facility after the race, which meant I wouldn’t muddy up my car. Yay!
Let me close by sending a shout out/thank you to all the people who donated to St. Jude for me: Chase Bass, Keri Bulloch, Chris Hartley, Linda and Vahe Najarian, Charlie Nealey, John Porter, Jerry and Allison Rhodes, Joe Shorter, and Caleb Wynn. You guys rule.