Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Today, Mexicana Airlines went bankrupt. It's a real fucking drag because two weeks prior to their first signs of their financial collapse, Josie and I bought our plane tickets to Argentina with them. I know we can get a refund and all, but we got them at a very cheap price and three weeks from the vacation we'll have to front a crazy amount of money to get a new flight. We're getting screwed and there's not much I can do about it.
Among other things that keep me from blogging the way I should to is Solace. I am sinking more and more into my story as I'm racing to the ending. My vision is tunneling around the goal, which is to complete my last chapter (well underway) and to finish my tale so that I can start with my projectively long editing/rewriting process.
What else to I have with me in my time-shrinking bubble? Oh yeah! The Deer Park by Norman Mailer. Easily the best novel I have read this year so far. I can understand why people we're reluctant to publish this, because it's THE BOMB. I'll review it when I'll be done, but check it out. Now, back to my final chapter writing extravaganza.
I'm not even bummed out about it. It's like I'm one of the boys now. Let me tell you how it went...
A little over a month ago, I stumbled upon a web site called Everyday Fiction. They are an amazing crew of people that publish first timers and low key writers on a daily basis (as implied in the title of their site). Being the impulsive bastard that I am, I decide to writer a story on the spot. There were two warning signs I completely disregarded before writing my piece.
First of all, it's only a thousand words. There is not much deep storytelling you can get going in there (here I am, bitching about word-count restrictions, when I used to be all about them, oh sweet irony). Segundo, I ain't sure why, but for the last few months, I've been obsessed by the idea of publishing short stories that would foreshadow Solace. Come to think about it, it's pretty stupid. Because 1) No one gives a shit about a story they haven't read yet and 2) There's a lot of details to include if you don't want to lose your reader. Here's a link to it. I still think it's well written, but it's way too short and confusing. I'm not sure you can access it because I need to login to see it, but it's worth a try.
So instead of getting one form rejection I got...TWO form rejections, from two editors. Here they are (I scratched the names though. No names on my blog)
This feels like a condensed version of a much longer story. The reader is left with questions: Why Thanksgiving night? Why did the murderer take her whole family, when it seemed that Ashley was the target? Was she a prostitute? How does the narrator intend to "wash your memory from those who put you to a violent end"?
This is a riveting little piece, but it simply doesn't say enough.
There are some nice moments in this story but I wasn't quite sure what exactly was going on. I had a sense of the relationship between the two characters, that the MC was kind of a stop-gap, broken wing mender/lover to Ashley, but not quite sure what happened to her and her family except they were murdered and why the character says "It was one of us". Meaning men in general or one of her lovers?
Another confusion point:
"Every time Ashley abandoned herself to a new prince, she hit the pavement hard."
"Abandoned herself to a new prince" to me means she loses herself in some new guy, but what follows sounds more like the aftermath of a breakup.
Needless to say, both missives were right and informative. In Seeking Solace, I have used a lot of pretty sentences and evocative vocabulary, but I left my reader out. To tell the truth, I felt a bit stupid to send a story I wrote in twenty minutes. I should have let the text cool off and give it another day of consideration. Oh well. I'm glad that a text I wrote in twenty minutes got some positive comment like being called "A riveting little piece". Thank you Everyday Fiction! I will try my luck and submit better stories to you.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Ain't that a dramatic title or what? There was a gritty biker-themed television show named THE LAST CHAPTER in Canada, starring Mr. Gritty-Sex-Appeal himself Roy Dupuis. There won't be any spectacular gun fight or gangster compound explosion in this article, I promise. It's just that I finished with my first draft...well...almost finished. I have one chapter left to go. One last chapter and I will have written the first draft to a god-damned three hundred page novel. Yep, the same boy that was afraid of typing a twenty pages paper for school, four years ago has written three hundred pages of a story that more or less holds together.
It's nuts what goes through your head when you start seeing the finish line. I should be happy to see it, but there is no champaign, girls in bikini, not even a guy with a checkered flag to welcome me. The only thing that lies beyond the white line is another three hundred pages race. This time I will have a back pack with two fifty pounds dumbbells on my back: rewriting and editing. I'm not sure if it's normal that I feel this loathing and the urge to rewrite it all? I can now see why first drafts don't cut it anywhere. Unless you're James Joyce, Maurice Roche or some other "too-deep-to-understand" kind of writer. A first draft creates images. A series of portraits you use in order to put accurate words on your story. My only concern while writing it was to go from point A to point B without asking myself too much questions. I repressed a few urges to press "delete" during those eight months, but all in all I went to point B without taking to much damage.
Nonetheless, I managed to keep my optimist along the way. I have recently finished The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway and am now reading The Deer Park by Norman Mailer and both writers inspire me greatly at creating clearer portraits of my characters. I revere their patience and their attention to the human detail. Mailer is particularly good at making human nature stand-out at the heart of a luxuriant, distracting setting. The Deer Park came at the twilight of Hemingway's career so one fed off the other I guess.
Still, I have one chapter to go. In the past, I have been the one whining and saying: "Rare are the endings that can live up to their tales". Now that I'm in my writer-pants, I remember with great fondness the smart-ass that I was and how easy it could get to criticize the work of others. My take on endings is that they have to hit you hard. Harder than anything else in the story and reveal things that couldn't have been foreshadowed, while keeping in this narrow corridor of good taste. Taking the "Ah-Ha! Stupid-reader-you-didn't-see-me-coming-AT-ALL" is too easy. The reader know what's going to happen in the last chapter (or what might), but now is time to reveal the full scope of the intrigue and the deepest, inner motivations of characters, while keeping the tension as high as I can.
But an end has to be an end. No cliffhanger or uninspired psychotic drifting like the French postmodern have gotten us used to. It's exhilarating, the END! Then it's on to a good round of line-edit and re-writing. I expect to keep maybe half of what I wrote...*sigh*...any tips, encouragements, insults, cookies for the greater unknown ahead?
I have read quite a bit in the last ten years, I wouldn't call myself "well-read" yet, but I have run through a considerable number of fine writers during the last decade, but I have yet to read a more skillful chronicler of the human experience than Hemingway. Armed with honesty, simplicity and a strong will to understand the landscapes of human nature, Hemingway has charmed generations of reader with a prose complex in its layered representation, but concise and easy of access.
The Sun Also Rises is Hemingway's first published novel. Some would argue that it's The Torrents Of Spring, but its diminutive size makes it a novella, according to most critics. Like most first time novelists, Hemingway's first story is one that is very close to the life he was living at the moment.
Jakes Barnes is an expatriate writer, working in Paris for a newspaper, spending all his free time in cafés and bars with other American and British fellows, notably fellow writer Robert Cohn, noble lady Brett Ashley, her husband Mike Campbell and Barnes' closest friend during the story, Bill Gorton. The group doesn't get along too well and stick together because they're all they have to remind each other of who they are. The expatriates move from bars to bars and then from city to city and country to country in order to find experience that would define themselves and justify their defection from the country. But their aimless drifting is getting drowned in alcohol and their illusions shatter against the hard reality.
The central piece of Hemingway's novel is Lady Brett, whose dazzling beauty is leaving a trail of stunned men in her wake (Ava Gardner played Lady Brett on the big screen). Jake, Robert, Mike and more or less every male protagonist in the novel fall in love with her at some point, only to get rebutted by the Lady who has all she wants and therefore doesn't know what to yearn for anymore. The most beautiful relationship is the triangle in between her , Jake and the self-involved, yet fragile Robert Cohn. Lady Brett will drag both men down with desire and bring the worse out of both, especially out of Cohn, who will make a fool of himself many times, displaying his vulnerability to his peers.
One of the beauty of Hemingway's "athletic" prose is the breathing room he leaves to his characters. They often lead long discussions without any narrative break and have a chance to display their nature by themselves rather to see it enunciated by the writer. He keeps it short and incredibly accurate, save for a few interludes about fishing and bullfighting in Spain (both subjects which Hemingway had a passion for). The Sun Also Rises was published in an eerie parallel with Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (not that eerie, Hemingway and Fitzgerald were drinking buddies), and both novels show similarity. Where Fitzgerald's work shows more character and story depth, Hemingway's story is more eager to butt characters against each other in order to find whose yearning are the most righteous.
Some would describe Hemingway's first novel as being a bit bland and plotless, which is somewhat true. Expatriate writers are a select group and it can be hard for the working man to reach to their existential anxiety and other diverse longings. The point Hemingway tried to make with his novel is very precise: you will never escape who you are. He's sometimes juggling around the point, but the novel is kept short for this reason. The Sun Also Rises is a great testimony to the fatality in human longing: the truth doesn't lie elsewhere, waiting to be found, it's within and sometimes you might not like it. A courageous novel for its time that defined not only the rest of Hemingway's career, but a good chunk of the twentieth century fiction.
Now Reading: Norman Mailer - The Deer Park
Next On Shelf: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes
Sunday, August 29, 2010
When I was little, I was lead to believe that having artistic endeavors was an all right way to make a life. My generation is raised on the happy self-esteem concept that there was nothing you couldn't do. Everybody in the microcosm that was my high school was to be a professional athlete, a T.V show host, a legendary ballet dancer or just someone famous. Hey,if it could happen on television, it could happen to us, right?.
Unlike the boys of my town I quickly lost interest in pursuing hockey. From a very young age, staying home, watching the cartoons and later reading a book was a more attractive idea. My mother was the "I-Feed-Books-To-My-Son, Maybe-He'll-Read" kind. I am thankful today for that it was a turning point in my life. So I wanted to become a writer. My surrogate family, the Simpsons, were talking about Gore Vidal and re-enacting Edgar Allan Poe's poems on their show, so it couldn't be all that bad if you could end up on The Simpsons.
You can see where this is going. I grew up, and out of high school. The future professional hockey players became accountants, the future models became insurance agents and me, well I had to go to school and be serious too so I stored my pencils and enrolled in class to be a literature teacher. That was the next best thing, I could keep on reading those books I liked and be paid for it, what a sweet deal. The further I went in my studies, the most I was confronted to a single, but very good question: "What use is fiction?".
It's a question I asked over and over again and over the years and I had ZERO valuable answers. The easiest answer to sweep away is that it's escapism. That it's a way for mankind to put the breaks on reality and go back to the well to resource themselves. Neither it is fancy historical chronicles or starking mental pictures of an era. Perhaps the most insidious answer came from one of my teachers in college that said: "It has no proper use to speak of, unless it has a use to you". All of these answers are false. There is a use to fiction.
I just finished to watch The Wire (hence the display photo of Omar Little) and it hit me upon the head like this. Throughout the viewing of the series I kept asking myself: "Why do I like it so much?" and "Why is it so much more gripping that anything else on television?". I guess I needed a vacuum to understand why it was so important to have fiction anyway. For me, the vacuum was reality television.
What reality shows do is quite subtle in the greater scheme of things, but it allowed me to understand more about the mechanics of fiction. The point of reality TV is to reverse the power relationship of the viewing experience. The spectator doesn't sit still and watch the characters interact, but he is involved in the show like never before. He witnesses one of his peers go on television and be put in abnormal situation in order to provoke some outlandish behavior. This way, the participant is judged and the viewer is empowered, sometimes to the point of dictating the future of the contestant on the show. The viewer dictates what happens on television (to a certain extant) and not the opposite (the viewer getting told a pre-written story). The viewer becomes judge, jury and executioner.
What is to learn from a reality show though? Nothing, except maybe that it propels ordinary people into stardom for no apparent reason, so everybody wants to be a part of those (just ask Kate Gosselin). Fiction, on the other hand offers something, which became clear to me as I finished the last episode of Season 5 of The Wire. Ideas are vehiculed to the masses through the works of fiction. From the call to a political uprising to the simple, personal morals, fiction (novels, television shows, video games and mostly cinema) is a vehicle for what you're trying to say, so that everybody can reach. Think about it. When you try to explain a point to someone, isn't it easier with an example?
The Wire itself expresses how the American institutions cannot bend far enough to help on a mass level. That for every redeemed person, ten will die in misery. The Great Gatsby is a story of friendship and integrity. Weren't you, like me, disgusted by Daisy Buchanan? How could she have looked at herself in a mirror afterwards? Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas and Fight Club are two testimonies of the collapse of the common ideals of the American Dream. They are angry, answers of writers that try to keep their humanity in this world they don't want to be a part of. Stephanie Meyer on the other hand wants young girls to submit to an abusive lover, saying it's OK as long as you love him.
Ideas are democratized through the works of fiction of a society. That's why reading is so important and that's why reading and writing fiction shouldn't be frowned upon or dismissed as mere escapism. There is a weight to your words and there is a pride that should be taken in being a fiction writer. I wish I didn't shy away from duty for so long, but I'm racing with great enthusiasm to make up for lost time. People have been writing fiction for thousands of years, in times of war, great disasters of whenever there was something more pressing to do. Why? Because it's pertinent, because human experience need to be put at a distance to be understood and appreciated to its fullest.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
If you are like me and are writing the first draft of your first novel, you've probably noticed the pattern by now. The number of questions in your mind grows at the same pace than your manuscript. From the existential queries like: "What is pacing? How does one's novel can lack of it?" to the pragmatic frustrations about the proper use of dialog tags, I'm sure your questions are piling up. Fortunately (or not), there is a world of documentation you can find online about how to develop your writing skills and make your place in the industry. So far, beside the Writer's Digest's sponsored sites, the quality of most of them is varying like the weather in Guadalcanal Island. Sometimes it's really hot, sometimes it's not even worth checking out.
Here's a good one. Fellow Canadian writer Claudia Del Balso has put up a blog with a purpose in mind: Help aspiring writers to get better and get the blogging writers to stick together . You could say that she's ahead of the pack because the accuracy of her advices and the concise nature of her posts make her easy to read and understand, and you would be totally right. But what I like about Claudia is that she's really there for the writers. Not in a I'm-your-sponsor-please-wake-me-up-at-4-AM-With-Your-Existential-Anxiety, but she checks out her blog on a daily basis and answers every questions. She makes sure her answers are researched and practical for you.
This is rare, fellow writers. In the writing/publishing business (like in any other competitve market), genuinely nice people are more rare than the burning bush. Claudia is one of these rare pearls who cares about the other and the greater plan to build a writing community. She's currently working on an anthology herself (she's in the editing process, so keep an eye on it)and meanwhile she's working as a book publicity marketing assistant (needless to say, that makes her point of view even more relevant) and she's working some wonders for the local writer's community. Amongst all things, she's organizing a writing workshop for this Fall. Check her out, stick around, you'll thank me for it:
Claudia Del Balso, Writer
Friday, August 27, 2010
I really shouldn't write tonight. I'm exhausted from a terrible week and my mind is a drift. But I'm feeling festive. My RockNRolla review has been picked up by some kind of wild Gerard Butler fansite and the numbers have been through the roof today. Thanks for visiting girls!
But the main reason I have to celebrate is that after the closure of chapter 20 of Solace on thursday afternoon, I realized something. I need only one more chapter and I'm done with my first draft. It's going to be a long chapter (20-25 pages I expect), but that's it. This is the last mile and I am very excited at the idea of writing a second draft so I can put accurate words on the images I broadly painted in the first version.
For that, here's a funny interview with Hunter S. Thompson, who I finished a book of this week (Hell's Angels) and reviewed this week. Conan O'Brien does a pretty terrible job at interviewing him but at the same time, wakes up the tiger in Hunter which makes for a good moment of television. That's what Conan is best at anyway. He's a comedian after all.
Enjoy and have a good week-end faithful readers! I'm heading for my couch with The Sun Also Rises...
The greatest achievement of Guy Ritchie is to make the same movie over and over again, but make it more and more entertaining. Seriously, there is a Guy-Ritchie-Formula. Action movie with a complex plot involving way too many characters, witty one liners and hilarious misunderstanding that will get your lead miraculously out of trouble. Guy Ritchie has got his formula down to a science and RockNRolla might be the purest product the pusher-of-Brit-gangster-movie has ever put on to the market.
Cinema lovers, leave your brain home, because you know damn too well what to expect. Guy Ritchie defines his movies by his characters. The RockNRolla crew (as known as The Wild Bunch) might be his most adorable bunch of low life criminals yet. RockNRolla is the story of Mr. One-Two (Butler) and Mumbles (the great great Idris Elba) who get shafted by local mobster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) in a real estate move and find themselves in great need for fast money (see the pattern here?)
Fate brings Stella (Newton)an old acquaintance of One-Two, up front again with a mysterious but well timed heist proposition. The stolen money being indeed the payment of Lenny Cole's biggest associate Uri Omovich. Then starts this cat and mouse game where Omovich seeks his constantly stolen money, Cole seeks the Russian's favorite painting that was snatched from his house by none other than his step son and The Wild Bunch along with Stella, are trying to duck the avalanche of dangers coming their way.
Like I said, Guy Ritchie has a gift for characters. The Wild Bunch would be his greatest characters because they are his most human. Ritchie here skimmed the clichés as much as he could and gave honest, vulnerable characters, who show flaws on screen and give the male-bonding one-liners instead of the cheesy action movie ones. Of course, they are way too nice and their friendship is way too sincere for them to be believable criminals, but Guy Ritchie's movies have always required a heavy dose of suspension-of-disbelief (I'm not going to teach you anything here).
As far as likeable-gangster movies go, RockNRolla, like Snatch, is a renewal, but it's also a genre unique to Guy Ritchie, which leads me to believe he would be even more successful as a novelist, where his patterns would disappear through the medium. RockNRolla is so formatted it almost could be a video game franchise. There is little to no originality in the form, but it's the content that shines brighter than ever. It's a furious two hours ride with unforgettable characters. See it.
Somewhere around the uprising of heroine chic, it became lost to mankind that hair was cool. In fact, hair became "dirty" and repulsive. The smoothly shaved asexual bodies of tiny men became the image of beauty to the commoner. First of all, let's get that misconception out of the way. Hair isn't dirty and hairy men aren't dirtier than you. It's a natural (and awesome) phenomenon and as long as you wash yourself like any other human being, you will be hairy and neat. No matter how hard you shave in a desperate attempt to make hair disappear from your gene pool, it's not gonna happen.
If you shave your body to conform to a consensual image of beauty in a futile hope to get laid, you're only fooling yourself. Another social consensus is that people have to wear clothes in bars. So, by the time you work your smooth talk and make your way into the bedroom (hey girls, I didn't imply a FIRST DATE bedroom), the game is already one, she likes you for who you are and there's not many chances that hair will change anything. The only thing a shaved chest will do to you is to make you look weaker and sheepish. A hairy chest (best accompanied by a well-furnished beard) worn by a man proud of his self image will send a message. A message that leaders are hairy and followers shave.
So leave your chest be and let your personality talk instead of your body grooming skills. The beard is another subject we need to touch. Because a smooth shaved face is sometimes acceptable. Social gatherings of many sort will see a lot of fresh shaves, you do get extra-cool-points for showing up with a goatee and the God status for showing up with an all out beard, but it's cool to shave for these. It's in the Geneva Convention or something. Also, if you're the type of guy that cannot stand the bushy glory of the beard, a viable option is the Clint Eastwood Five O'Clock Shadow. You will want to shave for special occasions, but which Darwinianly strong man wants to get rid of his facial hair for no special reason?
A well studied Five O'Clock Shadow will give your face all the manliness you need and with the advanced razor technology world we live in right now, you can keep it short and intense. The only kind of beard that is not acceptable is the douchebag beard. You will get other beard sporting non-guidos very upset and you will get pelted with rocks. The chinstrap style has fallen from grace and will most likely never return to its former awesomeness.
You might raise a few eyebrows if you shave your chest and try to look like the guy on the poster, but sporting body and facial hair with pride and well-being is going to get you the respect of the whole community for daring not to be like the others and enjoying it.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Transmission is the kind of song that periodically takes a new meaning at different times in my life. Or should I say, "its meaning evolves with my perception". I can never get enough of this joyous dance of the dead, this false sense of happiness that the upbeat tempo provokes in order to keep the subjects of the song blind to their impending doom. By far my favorite Joy Division song, which says a lot because I really like the band. It's addressing an issue that infuriates me and haunts my writing. Here it is:
Joy Division - Transmission
Radio, live transmission.
Radio, live transmission.
Listen to the silence, let it ring on.
Eyes, dark grey lenses frightened of the sun.
We would have a fine time living in the night,
Left to blind destruction,
Waiting for our sight.
And we would go on as though nothing was wrong.
And hide from these days we remained all alone.
Staying in the same place, just staying out the time.
Touching from a distance,
Further all the time.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Well I could call out when the going gets tough.
The things that we've learnt are no longer enough.
No language, just sound, that's all we need know, to synchronise
love to the beat of the show.
And we could dance.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Genre: New Journalism/Narrative Non-Fiction
I like Hunter S. Thompson, because he too, doesn't do anything like the others. I'm not trying to say I have a special bond with a legendary writer here, but rather that if normality would be a highway, we would both be extremely bad drivers. Needless to say, his homicidal driving is done in a Hummer as I'm driving my tricycle behind, trying to keep up. What I'm trying to say here with clumsy imagery is that I'm looking up to the guy. Hell's Angels is his fourth book I read and I was tipped by many other Thompson fans that it's one of his best.
The first thing I could observe (it jumped in my face with obnoxious ferocity) is that it's not Gonzo or it's Gonzo at an embryonic stage. Hell's Angels is the one year journey of Hunter S. Thompson alongside the infamous motorcycle gang. The story is seen through the eyes of Thompson and the bears the signs of his aggressive and colorful style, but the psychedelic corruption of Gonzo is absent. As any good mainstream journalist would do, Thompson erases himself from the story and leaves the place to the now legendary crew of Ralph "Sonny" Barger. Hell's Angels offers a neutral but deep and observational critic on the exploits of the outlaw gang....and exploits they are!
Thompson relates the structural problem that causes the outlaw image of the Hell's Angels with the authorities and the winds of panic they create wherever they seem to go. Thompson's book central theme is this love/hate relationship with their self-created infamy and their aggressive, yet human yearning for acceptance within their circle as they elevate themselves against the validity of outside social structures. The complexity of the idea that Thompson tried to communicate, juxtaposed with his fiery, over-the-top style, gives Hell's Angels:A Strange And Terrible Saga a taste that you will no find in any other work, not even his own.
As the Gonzo edge would have turned Hell's Angels into an absolute barn-burner of a book, a reader used to Thompson's incendiary style will have restraints against his quiet treatment of the infamous outlaw gang. Sure he leaves the room for the outlandish achievements of Ralph Barger's soldiers, but there's a missing piece in his thoughtful and amusing description of events. Him. It's his first journalistic essay and at the time, it was his first publication, so I guess he was discovering what works and what doesn't for him, but for a reader, it's frustrating to admire the possibilities that Hell's Angels swims in.
Hell's Angels is a unique work (for a lack of a better term) and an immensely strong journalistic effort, but unlike Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas it's not a quintessential American classic that serves a purpose greater than the writer would've thought. It's a great, seemingly unbiased look on the Hell's Angels and an amazing display of Thompson's literary talent, but when you close the book you won't be prompted to open right away again.
I am feeling bookish nowadays. I would give my kingdom for a comfortable couch, a novel and many unscheduled hours ahead of me. Henry Rollins once said in a spoken word show that if he was to be named President of the United States, he would make the days twenty-eight hours long in order to encourage literacy. This way, everyone would get four hours in a well-lit room with their cell phones turned off, no t.v, computer or other distractions. Nothing else to do but read. Are days also twenty-eight hours long in paradise?
Usually, I feel this way when my heart was taken by a novel. I got this thing for American writers. I'm not sure how I can translate that in words. Newly found writer-darling David Foster Wallace gave it a simple name during his high noon interview with Dalkey Archives press I posted earlier this week. Click. The sound of writer-reader synchronicity. It's over-simplified and scary accurate at the same time. It's not about the quality of the prose or the riveting plotlines. It's about finding synchronicity with the reader. Needless to say, reading that interview, I heard the click so many times I thought Fred Astaire's ghost was hiding behind me.
American fiction is what "clicks" for me. Writers of other nationalities were able to make me hear it to. Haruki Murakami clicks a whole lot. But as a general rules, American writers make it happen many times: Dennis Lehane, Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, Chuck Palahniuk, Henry Rollins, Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, David Foster Wallace, Stephen King even sometimes. He's not the greatest stylist, but he knows a thing or two about complex storytelling. So, during these bookish times, I ask myself: "Well Ben, what's so great about them?"
In my off-beat fashion, I will try to explain this by chalking off what I don't like in other dominant national literatures. The French, once great at the time of Dumas, turned into arrogant and sulking intellectual with novels that look like barely hidden journal entries. I'm not even sure what they do can be called literature anymore. The Japanese can tell a story like no other, but often lose themselves in their shock tactics. The Russians were great if yet a little self-indulgent (of those I have read, Gogol & Dostoievsky to name them. Have yet to read Tolstoy). Last but not least, Zee Germans are too intellectual and dry for my own taste. The Magic Mountain knocked me the hell out.
After you clear the floor, those who are left are the Americans. Many of them write self-concious fiction, like Thompson and Palahniuk, but it's fiction and not clever intellectual games made by a brainiac to display his superiority over his readers. Yeah, I'm looking at you James Joyce. The ego is left at the door, or at least, writers showing it in their texts are struggling with it and leave the place to fiction.
They can tell a story. The Great Gatsby unfolds a drama that could be the drama of any of us, but drawn to a second, more contemplative degree by the narrator Nick Caraway, who's painting the portrait as a surrogate to Fitzgerald himself. What a great way to write metafiction than to let your main character be your writer. Knowing that Fitzgerald was a great influence on Thompson, you can trace the lineage of Raoul Duke straight to The Great Gatsby.
American literature is conscious of its history and the writers work in that unexplainable metaphysical synchronicity in order to create fiction. Nobody copies nobody, but rather feeds off each others fiction to trigger new ideas. I'm not sure who told me this, but in the word Originality, lies the word Origin. That's why I heard the "click". I think I understand the dynamic and I want this good fiction fever to turn into a global pandemic.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Robert De Niro
Martin Scorsese's mom
Goodfellas might be the last true one-liner-machine gangster movie ever made. As film noir and mafia stories never really left the screen, the Quote-A-Likeable-Gangster style who started with Mario Puzo's Godfather is something that left the big screen almost completely. Except for The Sopranos, who owned HBO along with The Wire, it's something sadly seen as cliché and over with.
The good fellas are Henry Hill (Liotta), Jimmy Conway (De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Pesci), three friends who are trying to make it in the criminal underworld without being members of the mafia. They are mainly robbers, stick up men and good earners to their boss Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino). Goodfellas' narrator is Henry, who starts as a teenager, impressed by the success and the glamorous lifestyle of older Jimmy Conway. He will rise and fall through the ranks of the local mob, as the Cicero family has hard time to adapt to the new realities of the underworld.
In typical earlier Scorsese style, Goodfellas could almost be a stage play due to the complexity and the shy, distant camera of many scenes. In family-saga fashion, it's action scenes are satellite to many meals, reunions and simple group discussions that makes the narration go forward. Compared to newer stuff like The Departed or Shutter Island, it feels stripped, almost novel-like, but you can appreciate the subtle pacing and the hard nosed scenes that always defined the Italian-American director.
Acting is also what makes a good part of this movie. Joe Pesci plays his first small-man-syndrome character(and arguably his best), a role that he will keep doing again and again over the nineties. Tommy DeVito is scary, borderline psychopathic and Pesci's slapstick performence gives it great credibility. De Niro is equal to himself as he delivers the goods as the older, smarter and mature Jimmy Conway. Henry Hill is also a high point in Ray Liotta's struggling career, the later part of the movie, Henry's life is getting derailed and Liotta renders extremely well the nameless panic and the paranoia of the doomed mobster. Like Pesci though, it was a one time deal because he never got quite close to this amazing performance.
Goodfellas comes at the end of a cycle formed by The Godfather and Scarface, which depicts the intimate life of successful gangsters. Some would say that you can feel the exhaustion and the similarities to the two first franchises, but I think Goodfellas distinguishes itself by its portrait of friendship against the stakes of the underground world and through the gritty and over-the-top madness of Joe Pesci. It's a little bare and predictable since it follows an established formula from so close, that you could almost call it a "worship" movie. Despite its unoriginal streaks, it's worth many viewings.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
I don't usually verse in editorial and/or political comment. This is one of the rare occurence where I might have something interesting to say about the subject. There is a big surge of opposition to Barack Obama's decision to stand behind the idea of a Mosque near Ground Zero. Am I the only one who see the Great Gesture Of Peace here. Yes, with capital letter. The kind of peace gesture that would be talked about in History books in hundred years, not a mundane "peace is important" speech, not an insipid "release of the dove" symbolic-gesture-that-engages-to-nothing. No, a concrete statement against racial and religious hatred. What's wrong with that?
Of course, I was expecting the Sean Hannitys and Newt Gingriches of this world to get pent up over this. But the uproar has a wider shockwave this time. But why? Oh right, the memory of the 9/11 victims. It's an easy excuse to speak for the dead. As much as I'd like to preserve their memories, there's another variable that came into play: war. A nine years, unjustifiable war against the Middle Eastern countries in the name of freedom. Their freedom, the American freedom, our freedom, global freedom. Such a fitting and righteous term to wage war over. Being at war for those who don't have to hit the battlefield is about standing up for your ideals and fighting for what you think is right.
Truth is, war kills people. For the last nine years, the mangled, deformed and dead bodies of under-aged, under-trained but courageous soldiers are coming back to the country in coffins more often than not. The War on Terror is killing more American people than the 9/11 itself. Here I'm not even counting the Arabic families that were already fighting for survival before they had to worries about death, falling from the sky and foreigners trying to educate them to a "civilized" way of life. They are getting told that everything they ever stood for was wrong as they watch helplessly the McDonald's arch casting shadow over their city.
Now, I'm no left-wing hardcore or anything. There's good and bad on both sides, but isn't it an oxymoron to fight against a powerful display of freedom of religion? O'Reilly, Gingrich, Hannity and all those poisonous toads who kept hammering the word "freedom" like it was the new hip thing suddenly shy away from it? You shy away from the thing you've been fighting over for the last nine years? I call that cowardice. All these snake tongues stand behind freedom, but they can't face it. This is what freedom is all about and this is what's written in that Good Book, you're all waving around once your political arguments are getting picked apart.
"Turn the other cheek" Jesus said.
Now that the Great Leader elected in 2008 proposes that, he sends a shockwave of fear and anger. What are you so scared of? That terrorists will bomb the Mosque too? Nothing's going to happen if a Mosque is build on Ground Zero. America won't lose its identity and certainly not its freedom. Terrorists attack and most likely to reduce and there will be a shockwave of peace throughout the whole world. The USA is going to lead by example. Isn't that why you guys elected Barack Obama at the first place?
You fed off promises for so many years. It's now time to turn and face the freedom you fought for. Please, build that Mosque.
Last article about Eat, Pray, Love unless I see it for myself, I promise. To my great dismay, Josie went to see it last week. Apparently, it's a girl thing. There is nothing wrong for a girl to go see a chick flick, no matter how stupid or insidious it is, as long as another girlfriend wants to see it. It's about being with the girls at the theater rather than go seeing a movie. The great thing about this is that she doesn't force me to go see it, so I was like "whatever, go see it".
I'm thankful now that I have a trusted opinion on that Hollywood poisonous mushroom, which gave place to an awesome bedroom talk. Thing with Josie is that she goes all out 100% energy and effort everyday so when she gets home he crashes and go to bed from being wired up for twelve to eighteen hours in a row. That gives place to amazingly sincere discussions.
"So, how was it?" I said.
"You know, it was bad, but not as painful as you made it to be?"
"How come" I replied, curious.
"Well, she first left her perfectly fine husband because she thought she always needed a man to define herself and at the end, she realizes that the only thing that lacks to her balance is...huh...a man!"
"So that whole trip was-"
"Unnecessary, yes. I'm tired, can we sleep now?"
"OK, good night"
She leans over and kisses me and next thing I know, she's sleeping like a hibernating bear. I love this girl.
Monday, August 23, 2010
This is how I fall in love. A distinct person (read artist) shows intriguing traits and unusual type of work, which takes a stab at my curiosity like a hungry bumble bee. Like dropping out from philosophy classes, writing a 1000+ page celebrated novel and committing suicide at 46 years old. That clues me in that the guy knows a thing or two about intensity. Then I read a little bit about that artist and I find amazing quotes to which I can rely with ease. For example:
Once the first-person pronoun creeps into your agenda you’re dead, art-wise.That’s why fiction-writing’s lonely in a way most people misunderstand. It’s yourself you have to be estranged from, really, to work.
The idea of being a "writer" repelled me, mostly because of all the foppish aesthetes I knew at school who went around in berets stroking their chins calling themselves writers. I have a terror of seeming like those guys, still. Even today, when people I don’t know ask me what I do for a living, I usually tell them I’m "in English" or I "work free-lance." I don’t seem to be able to call myself a writer. And terms like "postmodernist" or "surrealist" send me straight to the bathroom, I’ve got to tell you.
Then I want to read their work really bad. Here is an amazing interview with David Foster Wallace, a writer I have discovered the existence of last week. Needless to say, I have yet to read his fiction. But yet, I admire the man already. I admire him for his ferocious will to democratize academia and to bring enlightment down from any elitist pedestals. This is a long interview I took more than an hour to read, but I couldn't detach myself from it as he swung all-out against any pretentious idea, coming from a dead or alive intellectual, Fred Nietzsche style. Suicide at 46 years old aside, I'm looking up to him already. I got some book shopping to do when I'll come back from Argentina! For those who might have missed it in my paragraph. Take an hour or two to read it. It's worth your time.
Interview with David Foster Wallace
Allen & Albert Hughes
The Hughes brothers and me have this terrific understanding. They can keep doing gritty, violent and upstanding movies where the black man sticks it up to an oppressive society and I'm going to keep watching them until rapture comes. Speaking of which, the trailers for The Book Of Eli didn't quite convince me to spend some of my hard earned money to see it in theaters. The word on the street was that the prized book Eli kept with him was a Bible, which sent me into this whole Agnostic "Oh-No!-Not-Another-Movie-To-Tell-People-Religion-Is-Important" rant. After viewing, I am very glad to announce you that I couldn't have been more wrong.
The plot can seem a bit simplistic at first glance. Eli (Washington) is carrying the last bible left, thirty years after the Apocalypse. Told by an inner voice to walk the Good Book west, he does just that, with his faith as his only friend along the way. Stumbling across one of the only towns in the wasteland (who awesomely looks like a Sergio Leone Far-West pueblo with nuclear radiations), Eli will be invited by Carnegie (Oldman) the town creator and magistrate who is too, in search for a Bible. He heard of this powerful book who men once fought for. Speaking in witch doctor terms, Carnegie is convinced that the words in the book will give him power and control over the desperate folk of the American Wasteland.
So the book itself isn't the point, but the struggle over it rather is. Eli is interested in keeping it safe because of its power to unite people, give them hope and the will to work together to rebuild the word as Carnegie wants to use it for control and personal gain. The stripped lifestyle of the post-Apocalyptic fellow gives a fresh look to the religious struggle. Things are made simple as the viewer is given a choice by a man of faith and vision or a man of a cold rationale. Like I said it's a little oversimplifying the point, but the movie doesn't force you to take stance as Eli himself struggles to read the signs of God and is in no way a religious fanatic.
Despite a heavy use of the trendy Hollywood filters, The Book Of Eli looks great. Allen & Albert Hughes aren't scared to use general shots and a static camera to capture the beauty of a landscape or the integral violence of a fight. It's been a while since someone had the balls to do that with the shaky camera trend. The slow and hypnotic course of a cloudy sky as Eli walks across the frame is of a dazzling beauty. The frames are most often very bare, but the Hughes brothers put so much work into it that it becomes emotionally charged and challenging. Therein lies their strength: simple but strong images.
A down note might be the acting. Denzel Washington is efficient, but Eli is nothing but the stereotypical lone wanderer. He's a bit more open-hearted than the usual, but he's not memorable. Mila Kunis as Solara is painful and useless to the plot. Well, not really, but she's useless to Eli's mission. The two best performances of the movie are made by Gary Oldman and Jennifer Beals as the couple torn apart by a demented power struggle. Their acting is a little slapstick'ish, but it looks straight out of Fritz Lang's Metropolis and therefore fits the movie.
There are many ways to appreciate The Book Of Eli. Some will appreciate its slow, behemoth beauty and others will debate endlessly over the place its trying to give to religion. I'll admit they're a bit positive, but they make the most convincing argument for the need for religion since a while. It's not Dead Presidents, but The Book Of Eli takes a hard swing at it. A must watch.
Everybody can write. And by that I mean EVERYBODY. A good percentage of the population of planet Earth has written at least one terrific paper for school and was told by their teacher: "Have you ever considered writing or journalism?", which had the gnarliest effect on their self-esteem. Some primodial psycho-sexual reaction that carved a set idea within the mind of the young and the feeble: Whenever things go wrong in their life, there will always be writing. Because they are writers, they've been told so at the youngest age.
I know so because I'm one of those who preferred to tiptoe around writing for a while, so that my absolute expectations of myself would remain safe and untouched. Truth is, there are many types of writers and the most passionate, dilligent and skilled ones are novelists. Everyone has a novel in their mind, but to put it on paper and make it work requires the equivalent of inner fortitude of the marathon runner. Writing a bombastic thousand word short story or essay over the span of a day is do-able. The higher your page count gets, the more complex your story will get and you will have the utmost difficulties to handle the set of variables you will have laid down in order to write a story worth reading.
Length is a problem. And here I don't discriminate. As you hop over the invisible bar of 25 000 words, your story will get complex. You will have to manage your variables and your beta readers WILL point out to incoherences in your tale. Sometimes even you will, while typing out. It's the infuriating truth of writing. You will change as you write your novel. Characters that were relevant at first will become cheesy and obnoxious, so you will want to tone them down and give them a more subtle emotional range than: Anger, Madness, Despair and Love. You will change and you will grow better. It's never going to be perfect and you will never like it as much as when it was in your head.
Leave that to your readers. When the words hit the paper and when you mail your manuscript, you're waiving your responsibility over your tale. You did the best you could and by the act of mailing it, you acknowledge that you've completed the task. Menial tasks with a tremendous underlying meaning. As you hear your manuscript fall to the bottom of the mailbox, your heart will go up in your throat as if you were taking a thousand feet leap of faith.
I'm at the end of my first draft. Things are infuriating and don't make any sense anymore. I'm sitting on a tangling Babel Tower that's threatening to crumble under a timid wind. There's no doubt I have more time to spend with it. Length can also be a comfortable problem. As long as your final idea is still clear and that you keep writing up, you're in a no man's land that doesn't need any particular effort but to write. Length can be comfortable, but everything has to end sometimes. As I am ramping up through the last pages, the wind blows at my face, every step is harder and the tower is tangling backwards.
I will have to end it someday soon.
Then it's editing.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
All right, it's been more than twenty-four hours after all. Week-end schedule you know? I don't post unless I feel like it. Here's a funny little tune I was pointed to by my Aussie friend Jamey from work. Have you noticed how Aussies have a terrible time pronouncing the letter "R"?
"Where ya from again Jamey?" I ask him all the time. Just to hear him say:
Anyway, enough banging on the guy and he pointed me out to this song by "The Bedroom Philosopher" making fun of hipsters and the shitty indie music they make. It's somewhat of a shitty indie song itself, but I can sit through it because it's liberating to witness I'm not alone in the world suffering from the lack of spirit in art. No lyrics here, just enjoy!
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Here's a funny blog I found out....I...I don't remember how. Nonetheless, check it out. I added it in my links but here are a few lives examples that made me laugh particularly. There's something satisfying at renaming those books with pompous, misleading titles (but I'll admit this one was a pretty good read):
Enjoy, while I'm running with great joy and innocence towards another epic barbecue. This one will be held over a single day though, so I shouldn't impose my centaurian silence on you for more than a single day!
Friday, August 20, 2010
It's Friday, almost 10 PM and I had a long, long week. Sometimes I feel like being entertained with stupid and mundane material. Here's something that's very stupid but quite creative. It's a prank "call" (more a prank answer) that proceeds to surpass the great FoneJacker "Doovdé" episode.
I've listened to him times and times again, but I never get bored to hear the panic in Telemarketer Mike's voice. Have a laugh and a beer, it's Friday!
I had been hearing about this movie for a while now. "Watch Straw Dogs", "You like to theorize on violence in movie, so you've watched Straw Dogs right? No? What kind of bullshit artist are you?", that kind of thing. I knew about the legendary director Sam Peckinpah way beforehand, but I have associated the man and acts just recently as I rented the movie from the video store. One great thing Straw Dogs is that I wanted to watch it, I knew it was pretty violent, but I had no idea why and the DVD cover didn't do squat to clue me in.
I think sometimes I live to see and appreciate this kind of movie. Straw Dogs is the story of David Summers (Hoffman), who moves out of the USA, into rural Britain in order to write a mathematics book he had a grant to do. He moves in his wife Amy (the gorgeous Susan George)'s hometown along with him. They are welcomed in by a curious and intrusive crowd of locals, which Amy has trouble to identify with anymore. The more the Summers couple get stranded and strung out, the more the villagers want into their life and put pressure on them. Hell breaks loose one night where David hits Henry Niles (David Warner), a local sex offender, running away from his latest crime. Wanting to deliver him to the police, David keeps him away from the vengeful mob and has to answer for it.
Now let's get the principal complaint out of the way. YES this is a very sexist movie. What can I say? David Summers is a very sexist man. He's pretty well involved into the "go make me a sandwich" approach. I'm not sure if the novel The Siege Of Trencher's Farm is similar, but in there, David and Amy have a daughter, which levels the playing field quite a bit. Straw Dogs is another case of a story where a relationship is instrumental to tension, but far from being vital, even far from being a part of the structure. You could film Straw Dogs without Amy Summers and it wouldn't have impacted the quality of it. Implementing strong female leads to a story is more complex than it seems.
If you are willing to go past that, you will find a real reflection on violence by Peckinpah. Straw Dogs shows to audiences the complete cycle of violence represented. From quiet psychological pressure to an all-out murder spree, the insanity catches a hold of you like a noose around your neck. Having this kind of all-around presentation of violence helps understand its inception and why it's not cool when someone shoots another or beats him to death. Straw Dogs is one of the first movie where violence has clear causes and consequences. It's therefore darker and more disturbing than your usual movie of the time. There is no equivalent to Straw Dogs in Occidental pop culture. You could say the works of Chan Wook-Park and even Takashi Miike bear resemblance, but Peckinpah created a timeless nightmare of his own.
The portrait couldn't be complete without the cold blooded acting of Dustin Hoffman. He takes the step from bleak intellectual to ghastly killer with a natural grace that few could display. Del Henney as Charles Venner and Ken Hutchison as Major Scott are both great to watch also. Despite swinging a little hard to get a complete and reachable story, Straw Dogs is undeniably a haunting piece of cinema. It's a stylish black sheep in Sam Peckinpah's career. It's a challenging film that requires its viewers to show strength and bravado. An all-time classic for males.
Men have a special relationship with bullshit. Well, ordinary men do. We all are born entrenched in our own erroneous perception of everything, ourselves especially. Every fun loving neighborhood is populated with troglodytes that reduced the most complex existential/practical questions to the gospel of their crap. Those are not men. Those are simple minded entities, similar to the primal life forms that preceded the Neanderthal. In order to get these fuckheads to look at you and talk about you like the Great Monolith of Knowledge, you have to leave your bullshit behind and start a relationship with a new value, the truth.
Socrates said: "As for me, all I know is that I know nothing". He was arguably one of the first men that left bullshit behind and started to love the truth. Real men are able to have an objective view on the greater picture. They can take a step back and substract themselves from the equation. Embrace the truth guys, even when it means that you're at a disadvantage or that you're being a complete idiot. Clarity of vision is going to put you ahead of all those toasted brains that call themselves ubermensch because they have read Nietzsche (on Wikipedia). Real men understand that the world doesn't revolve around them and that it's up to the others to create their legend if they are that fucking cool to start with.
Admitting the truth to yourself is one thing, but telling the truth to others is harder. Hurting people's pride can put you in the line of fire and hurt the ones you love, but it's a long term investment. You'll get windows of solitude (because people will stop talking to you on a weekly basis), but in the long run, you'll be known as "the guy who tells shit like it is" and people won't formalize themselves of your brash analysis of their action. They will seek it like elders at the fountain of youth. You have to be consistent with your truth and your objectivity though because it's not something that is going to change overnight. Consistency is the key, which brings me to an important question.
When should you lie? Ideally, as little as possible. That's exactly why I didn't call this article: "Tell The Truth". There are occasions where you will HAVE to lie. On your resume, when the truth doesn't suffice or when you have a gun pointed to your head for example. You have to love the truth so that you are inclined to use it instead of a quick, fabricated lie. The thing with lying is that it creates cob-webs that you will have to tiptoe around later. A few cob-webs are easy to dodge, but if you're dancing limbo in between them all-day long is exhausting and not very manly. The straightforward path of the truth is.
It's easy, probably the easiest of the rules so far. Just assess the situation and tell it like you see it. The only rule is to put yourself out of the portrait so that you are not biased. It's a journalistic kind of duty. Start by first assessing the situation to yourself, without talking. If you can live with and by what you will find out, talking about it won't be difficult. So, "tell the truth" is a little too dogmatic. No one can tell the truth objectively all the time. But learn to love it. It's your ally and will get your respected among your peers (and inferior people too).
Thursday, August 19, 2010
OK, that's horseshit. So is...Top 10 Classic Novels and Top 10 Most Influential Novels. Let me explain, fiction is art and therefore, it's in the eye of the beholder. One guy can have a top 10 of novels written before 1900, claiming that fiction never outlived the 19th Century Russians as another so called expert will have Ken Follett's Pillars Of The Earth in there, claming it's a classic. There is no absolute Top 10. Only the Top 10 of the novels you'd like people to read. The Top 10 of the 10 novels you'd give a non-reader to read to give him a scope of literature.
Here is mine. They are not ranked in order but alongside, there a two to three lines incentive to read the novel. The reason why I think it's important in my understanding and interest in literature.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk - A rigorous study about the process of enlightenment. Through the painful introspections of a hollow existence, Palahniuk puts words and meaning on the nameless plague created by an age of abundance.
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson - This non-fiction novel is a method to the disillusionment that turn men into animals. This is the most important of Thompson's work as it's the grave of a great folktale: the American Dream.
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane - There is a clear path traced on how a man can be lead to murder. There's no logic argument as in Crime & Punishment, but instead the visceral motivations that would move any men.
The Wind-Up Bird Chonicle by Haruki Murakami - Here is addressed the myth of the second birth, not without any supernatural flare, but with the necessary coherence and consistence to a thorough introspection. As moving as it is entertaining.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy - Despite the weight of the mythical Far West, it's an honest and raw testimony on the mechanics of a legend and the beauty of the violence within the human mind.
The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald - My favorite "universal classic". Fitzgerald has the most subtle and graceful approach to emotional hardships most people can identify with.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo - The great achievement of Puzo is to blur the lines in between good and evil, the lawful and the outlaw. The Corleone are gangsters, true. But they are first a family.
Get In The Van by Henry Rollins - The modern, urban answer to Walden. The inner workings of a young man, striving to beat an alienating society at it's own game. It's not really a novel though, more a journal. But it read like a story.
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick - A multi-layered reflection on identity and beliefs at an age of technology and contempt. The more you will read it, the more it will haunt you.
The Count Of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas - Another "universal classic" entry. This is the longest novel I have ever wrote and one of the most satisfying one. It's serving a bigger purpose than its narration while being happy to just tell an entertaining story.
I was looking for an interview from an interesting writer for you, readership and I stumbled upon this. Google Talks. Writers were invited to Google Headquarters to introduce their latest books and to have exchanges (Q&A's) with the crowd. Neal Stephenson is a science-fiction writer that never really bothered with the notion of boundaries. I have read Zodiac and
Cryptonomicon and enjoyed his humble approach to his science-heavy style. If you haven't read him yet, check him out.
Stephenson, like most writers I know, doesn't spend a lot of time introducing himself and his book Anathem and jumps right away to the Q&A part with the audience, which is very enjoyable. It's always easier for a man to speak about his work when asked direct questions and the crowd is very switched-on in that regard. Very enjoyable conference. I invite you to sit through it if you have time (and like/are curious about Neal Stephenson of course)