|Mark's Peat Blog -- Excavations from the Writing Life
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....with an announcement about this Sunday's West Hollywood Bookfair!
Carol Snow – “Snap”
See you there?
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And one month, a birthday, and various passages later.. a query
When "Zippy" is spot on, there's really no better comic strip around. Though I'm sure my son would make a case for either Penny Arcade or XKCD!
No, that's not a euphemism, or even a reference to an old TV show, in this instance. But I was in Death Valley a few days back -- my first time, even as a native Californian! -- and have been in ruminative "desert mode" since.
From the latest Nexus Graphica. Read it and weep. Or, just get up and pour another cup of coffee afterward:
Caption: (Lettering note—our speaker is Eli Sands, our titular, and as yet unidentified "Danger Boy"): "When you're a time traveler, you don't live your life from beginning to end, like everyone else"
Art: Close on a baby, nestled in a pair of arms. Hints on the edges the frame—bits of clothing, glimpsed background—should give the barest suggestion of our current setting: Alexandria, Egypt, in the year 365
Of course, the fifth book hasn't been released yet, as my nervous publisher cites market conditions, scaling back on titles, wherever possible, as opposed to personnel (which, I guess, is a kind of strategy for helping your employees make it through, but how long can a publisher keep whittling away at its own inventory, its "merchandise," as it were?).
I was hoping to have triumphant comic news for this column, as contracts were being reviewed by self and agent and enthusiastic indie comic book company. Agent and self asked a couple questions, tweaked the contract just so, and I sent some sample pages of the script -- I'd been working ahead of the deal closing, and was excited to be writing comics again -- to the publisher, while waiting for the last of the green lights.
All the green turned red.
It wasn't my script, or "Danger Boy" in particular, but rather -- and this after a couple months of optimistic talk on indie publisher's part -- a sudden precipitous slump in said publisher's sales. Their YA -- "Young Adult" (i.e., aimed-at-teens) -- titles in particular.
They'd been doing well with some biographical projects, it turned out, but the figures were back from the comic shops, and it appeared they'd have to be canceling some existing titles, while refiguring their business strategies.
Caption: "Time doesn't move in only one direction"
Art: Wider—and now we see an older male face, bearded, Alexandrian—in frame with the baby, looking at her: Two bookends of life
It's hard out here for a pub. Especially if you're not Marvel, DC, or Dark Horse -- someone with an established pipeline to film production, for all that good syntax that comes with titles appearing both on theater marquees and comics shelves. Of course, whether the "single issue comics shop" model can continue to thrive in the era of the graphic novel is an open question.
Again, name brand comics will sell single issues for awhile, but for indies, the future may be in bookstores. In fact, this same indie publisher, rather than having me go straight to a "Danger Boy" graphic novel, wanted me to do three or four short "stand alone" 22 page issues -- stand alones, he told me, sell better than new series in comics shops -- and if all went well, those would be bundled into something graphic novel-y, and vended to bookstores.
Caption: "You do things that make no sense to anyone else—like rescuing your own mom, before you were born"
Art: Wider still, and now we see the arms holding the baby belong to THEA, age 15—daughter of Alexandria's last librarian: Dark hair falls around her shoulders; her eyes are fiercely deep and alive. Standing next to her, we see more of the man—THEON, tunic'd and robed, gray in his hair and beard. He's just been through some kind of calamity, and we see more of the evidence around and behind them: the great city of Alexandria—mostly in ruins.
We're in that brief period of time between the great quake of 365 C.E., and the massive wave that followed. There are smashed pillars, a cacophony of tumbled walls from the Library and Museum, and scattered statues of the gods in the boulevards. Featured prominently should be the severed stone head of Serapis, the snake god—we will be coming back to this image.
We also see the Harbor, in the distance. Oddly, it looks like a massive drained pool—with stranded fish and debris left in its wake.
In the b.g., near Thea and Theon is a young man—around 14—who appears to be an American—all blue jeans and T-shirts—though we can't quite tell yet...
Theon speaks to the girl:
You're telling me, child, that you are my granddaughter,
and this baby—my baby—will grow to be your mother?
Then came the sales figures on those other titles, and here we are, script started, yet now wandering, Diogenes-like, looking for --if not an honest man -- a new publishing perch.
On other fronts, the prose books have been recently optioned for film and/or TV translation. And while an option is a far cry from "opening at your theaters next Friday," or "new episodes Thursdays at 8," it's still a tangible first step, and one that might make an indie publisher -- one might think -- want to hang on for the long haul.
But you can't get to the long haul if the short haul falls totally apart, and one wonders what kinds of business models indie pubs are using to stay afloat at all. Well, cutting costs is one: I know that the putative DB comics deal involved little up front money, and much more on a theoretical back end, so the risk was spread around.
As for me, working on the comic, and a new (non-Danger Boy) prose project at the same time, made me realize how much comics-narrative informs my other written work. In the book I've started -- about L.A. under, shall we say, rather apocalyptic circumstances (are there any other?), I recently finished a scene where I intercut one character's inner monologue over the dialogue of two others.
In other words, the paragraphs alternated, though in a comic script, the inner monologue would be the "source" narration in the panels, commenting on the images and conversation within it.
A kind of layering that comics excel at, and which makes storytelling in that medium so much fun for the storyteller.
And perhaps that is lesson of our current hard economic times: The idea of "fun" must increasingly be decoupled from the idea of "money."
Though if storytellers are to return to the wandering bard template, and sing for their suppers, that may still leave various comics projects unfinished.
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From the New Yorker:
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well, I haven't posted a bear poem in a very long time. Here's a new one -- perhaps a kind of coda to the recent NY play production:
The Bronx is Up, and The Battery's Down
So here I am in New York, brought east by a production of a play of mine, running in an off-off Broadway venue.
While here, I'm taking long walks around Manhattan, signing the odd Danger Boy book I find on a store shelf, and stopping in at the legendary Forbidden Planet comics store near Union Square, to, well, look at a bunch of comics all at once (when you review 'em, they sort of come in at an erratic pace, and you don't see that "array" in front of you).
Among those was the latest Batman -- number 686, for those of you keeping count -- by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert. Fairly terrific stuff where a number of rogues and survivors of the d. knight's life are gathered at a wake -- his -- and telling different stories, Rashomon-like, of how Bruce Wayne's inner self finally met his demise. There seems to be a twist to said demise -- isn't there always? -- coming up in the concluding chapter in Detective Comics, so stay tuned.
The story, as expected, was set among the shadows and alleys of "Gotham City," the real version of which I find myself in now. A few doors over, at Shakespeare & Co., I browsed through a behind-the-scenes coffee table book (well, demistasse size, perhaps) about the making of the Watchmen film, which is also set resolutely in New York. Even if it's an alternate universe NY.
I've been musing, since I've been here, about the effect of the Big Apple on the development of the comic book itself. A distinctly American artifact, the comic book, as we know it, was born here (the "here" I'm in now), even if its antecedents -- the comic strip -- can be traced originally to early 19th century Europe.Once while reading up on the intersection of religious beliefs and environmental calamity -- it's easier to destroy what isn't considered sacred -- I came across a theory cited in an article that may have belonged originally to an anthropologist like Claude Levi-Strauss -- or was it Paul Shepard? In any case, the notion went, the reason that monotheisms were more easily hatched in the desert is that the space you see around you, the vast, austere horizons, "uncluttered" by much in the way of flora or fauna, give rise to the idea of "creation" -- everything around you -- being a single, tied-together entity....
(more of this particular "dispatch from New York" at the link...)
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So there I was, in a bar on Bleecker Street, about a block away from the Gene Frankel Theater. In the basement of the Frankel, my play "Grizzled Bear" was being done as part an apocalyptically-themed series of one-acts. I was talking about the play's history, with the director, who's around the age I was when I wrote it.
That writing occurred many moons ago, as a "warning" (to myself) about the eventual possibilities of economic and environmental collapse. It's two people in a bar in Alaska, and the decision is whether they go out and try to save the last known Grizzly Bear in the world -- as a kind of statement, a stand, against the general end of things, or do they hole up in the back room, under the covers --together -- until the whiskey and canned food run out?
I hadn't seen the play myself in years. I'd been involved with previous productions (it's been done about 3-4 times), and was even in a production myself, as a younger fellow (playing an older fellow who was written to around the age I actually am now -- or perhaps a bit younger), inevitably falling in love -- for about three weeks, when it became apparent it wouldn't work out -- with the actress playing opposite me.
Her name was Lori, and she made an indelible stamp on her role -- discovering some lines, and some moves, in that production I later incorporated into the "finished" version of the play.
She developed cancer, and passed away a couple of short years later, and I think of her whenever I think about the play. It's supposed to be about the "future" -- and yet here it was, about my "history" as well.
And of course, it's still about stuff I thought we'd better "lick" -- like climate change and species extinction -- before they became huge problems in my middle age.
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My youngest son's 4th grade class calls themselves the "Coyotes," and they've been studying storytelling -- its origins, the way it "works" -- all year. They've also been having Kate DiCamillo's "Tale of Despereaux" read to them in class. This is a piece I wrote for the parents' newsletter:
so a play I wrote back when I was a younger fellow -- about such far-off, far out things like climate change, ecosystem and economic collapse -- is being done in New York this month as part of a festival.
Of the sprawling, emblematic 21st century city, Boyle notes that it was “extraordinary, the contrast” with “Sunshine,’” which had to be “very specific” in its science, and the plausibility of its technology. As for India’s most densely populated megalopolis, Boyle had to put aside precision and be ready to “accept any story within it,” while he was shooting.
The story he was aiming for involves an 18 year-old orphan named Jamil, who is about to win millions of rupees on national TV. A la “Jeopardy,” Jamil is set to come back the following day for the winning question, but the intervening night proves to be both a dark (and light) one of the soul, replete with flashbacks, stories of lost loves and past tragedies, all leading inexorably, it would seem, to the fateful moment on the vid screen.
“They call it ‘The Maximum City,” Boyle says, of India’s own nickname for the former Bombay. And to try and grasp that maximum-ness, Boyle says he was there, on and off, for close to a year.
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A quick holiday howdy to all... While the world still unravels, and while some private sorrows (the untimely passing of a new four-legged family member, alas) find themselves in the year-end mix, it's a redolent time mostly in the good sense of "redolent." As testified to this blog entry from visiting, wine-savvy pal David Rodriguez, who just wrote up the fine fettle of Thanksgiving, itself.
This was probably the most affecting email I received on election day -- it was from my dad.
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So I'm heading north next week, visiting schools around the San Francisco Bay Area, culminating in a visit to the Tiburon Peninsula Children's Book Festival in -- yes! -- Tiburon, which NorCal cognoscenti know is "just across the bridge" (from an East Bay perspective!) in Marin county, a tad north of San Fran.
Here's an article about it. Normally I'd link to the school's website, where you can get a PDF of the schedule, but that website hasn't been loading for a couple of days. (Heavy traffic?) For those of you in the area, I'll be at the Del Mar Middle School at 12:30 on the 18th... in the school library! Come by and say "hi...!"
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The title's not mine, of course, but comes from the seminal essay by the late, great Walker Percy. And it's a piece
Ten-year-old Kamar is so worried that another Great Depression is coming he thinks he might not have kids when
Eighteen-year-old Andrew has become so stressed out about paying for college next year that he has started referring to it as "the C-word."
And hearing about failing banks, 12-year-old Kaise wondered whether her babysitting money would disappear from her savings account. Time to talk FDIC insurance, Reddick-Morgan said.
"The only calming thing I could do was to tell her, 'You don't have over $100,000 in your bank account, so your money is fine,' " she said. "That is not a conversation I thought I would ever be having with my 12-year-old."I was struck, reading this, about being a YA author. Generally, stories about young folk going through hard times -- of the widespread sort -- are "historical." The (first) Great Depression, WWII, Vietnam, the Civil Rights era, etc.
If a protagonist is going through "hard times" now -- and what protagonist worth her salt doesn't go through such times? -- it's more of the personal type: new school, new boyfriend, old boyfriend, nutty parents, nutty parents divorcing, etc.
"YA" as a literary conceit, didn't exist during those previous hard times. But it does now, and the question I think will be how does one write YA that is less solipsistic, less self-absorbed, and start to write stories that "signify" about what our young protagonists are feeling, and going through, right now?
It turns out, it's not just about the old or new boyfriend, or the nutty parents. Or rather, we now have reasons for mom and dad falling apart: Because they don't have a job, because the home is in default, because a globally-warmed fueled hurricane is bearing down on the island.
Engagement with the world, then, may no longer be consigned to "historical" YA, but in fact to the most current YA of all.
I'm pretty damn sure.
In any case, these were among the things I touched on with Francesca Lia Block last week, in a very lively and fun-to-do "conversation" at the WeHo book fest, as previously blog noted.
I asked her if she thought things were as "safe" as they were for her heroines and heroes in the early Weetzie days. If there was still, as it were, a "Grandma Fifi's cottage" providing refuge (I didn't, alas, ask it in such a succinct way).
She allowed as to how happy endings were far less guaranteed.
Which may make the storyteller's task even more critical. Once, I guess, we figure out how to grow food (again) in our backyards.
The picture of Francesca, btw, is cheerfully boosted from Lisa Yee's blog. It is, in fact, Lisa's pic -- a little yellow Peepy told me -- of the author herself loitering in the WeHo green room prior to both the public chit and chat from yrz truly.
In Lisa's blog, she allows as to how she's behind, writing about something that happened a week ago.
If I'm as current as a week behind when blogging, it seems well nigh miraculous!
Meanwhile: Onward, more soon, etc...
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well, they're both authors, of course, but they each happen to be of the female persuasion, which gives