Thursday, December 31, 2015

Books read in 2015.

Lensworks No. 121 Nov-Dec 2015. Brooks Jensen and Maureen Gallagher, editors. Ancotes, WA.
Nolan, William, F. "Small World" Kindle digital file.
Lensworks No. 120 Sep-Oct 2015. Brooks Jensen and Maureen Gallagher, editors. Ancotes, WA.
Forester, E.M. Celestial Omnibus and other stories. Kindle digital file.
Lensworks No. 119 Jul-Aug 2015. Brooks Jensen and Maureen Gallagher, editors. Ancotes, WA.
James, Alex. All Cheese Great and Small. Fourth Estate: London, 2012.
Forester, E.M. Room with a View. Kindle digital file.
James, Alex. A Bit of a Blur. Little, Brown: Great Britain, 2007.
Grimm's Fairy Tales. Kindle digital file.
Gaglia, Lou. Poor Advice. Kindle digital file.
Cisneros, Sandra. Woman Hollering Creek. Vintage: New York, 1991.
Homes, A.M. The Safety of Objects. Vintage: New York, 1990.
From the Portable Dorothy Parker “Enough Rope,” “Death and Taxes,” “Sunset Gun,” “A Telephone Call,” “Big Blond,” “The Sexes,” “Song of the Shirt 1941,” “Glory in the Day Time” and “Lady with a Lamp”
Hegi, Ursula. Floating in My Mother's Arms. Vintage: New York, 1990.
Kingsolver, Barbara. High Tide in Tucson. Harper Perennial: New York, 1995.
Welty, Eudora. Selected Works of. Modern Library: New York, 1992.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Snows of Kilimanjaro and other stories. Scribner: New York, 1995.
Lensworks No. 116 Jan-Feb 2015. Brooks Jensen and Maureen Gallagher, editors. Ancotes, WA.
London, Jack. The Call of the Wild. Grosset and Dunlap: New York, 1963.
McEwan, Ian. Black Dogs. Anchor Books: New York, 1999.
McEwan, Ian. On Chesil Beach. Nan A. Talese: New York, 2007.
Yoshimoto, Banana. N.P. Grove: New York, 1990. Ann Sherif, Trans. 1994.
Short Shorts: An Anthology of the Shortest Fiction. Chris and Ilana Wiser Howe. Bantam: New York, 1983.
Tolkien, JRR. The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. Harper Perennial: New York, 1990.
Morrison, Toni. Jazz. Plume: New York, 1992.
Lensworks No. 117 Mar-Apr 2015. Brooks Jensen and Maureen Gallagher, editors. Ancotes, WA.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Knopf: New York, 1988.
Hoff, Benjamin. The Tao of Pooh. Penguin: New York, 1982.
Hoff, Benjamin. The Te of Piglet. Penguin: New York, 1992.
Baudeliare. The Flowers of Evil. Kindle digital file.
Lightman, Alan. Einstein's Dreams. Warner Books: New York, 1994.
Twain, Mark. “On the Decay of the Art of Lying.” Kindle digital file.
Lightman, Alan. Good Benito. Warner Books: New York, 1995.
Lensworks No. 118 May-Jun 2015. Brooks Jensen and Maureen Gallagher, editors. Ancotes, WA.
Lao Tze. Tao Teh Ching. Shambhala: Boston and London, 2003. John C.H. Wu, trans.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Last Post of 2015

It's no secret, I've really checked out of this blog and when it comes down to it, the greater part of the internet in 2015.

I'd taken a six month digital fast earlier in the year and I never fully recovered from it. Admittedly, during that 6 month digital fast, I missed Umbrella Factory Magazine. I didn't really miss Facebook or email or the flashy popup ads everywhere else.

I suppose when it comes down to it, I am just as happy, if not more, without this digital anit-world.

I've slowly crept back to my computer. I've slowly looked at email and Facebook and this blog again.

My email is as empty as it's always been. It's what I consider a work address and most of my correspondence is related to my magazine. Any of that personal, social, or frivolous communication comes to me via Facebook.

Facebook is fascinating. I'm floored by how many people see the world through the Facebook periscope. I'm also floored by the various Facebook personas people have. I'm not sure if Facebook personas have always been there or if they're more prevalent now that Janice has pointed them out to me. My Facebook persona? Writer.

When it come right down to it, I feel like there was a bit of an imbalance in my life going into 2015. I felt like too much of my time was at the computer staring into the mesmerizing screen and clicking off mentally. It goes without saying that this is not exactly true, and hyperbole is a great thing. Yet, my days are packed with family obligations and housework and then my evenings out of the house are at work. When did I really have that online time?

I feel reset.

A big part of the digital fast was to get back to my pen and notebooks, which I did. I did not write much in 2014, nor in 2013. 2015 was a much more lucrative year. And I feel like 2016 will be especially prolific.

All said, I wrote more in 2015 and I spent less time on the internet. I took two issues of UFM off. I wrote a great deal. But I missed this blog.

Even though I have a big interest in starting up my blog in 2016, I'm curious to see how difficult it's going to be. After all, I took a year break from it. For years I was fanatical about a weekly blog post and in 2015 I didn't even average a monthly post. The questions are: will a weekly frequency prove too much, or will I even have the effort to begin anew? I suppose the real question is: will the blog mean as much to me as it once did?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Fresh Paint

There was a trail of subtle perfume following her like a comet down the street.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Benefits of Fresh Paint or The Gardener's Dichotomy

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right? Aptly enough statement, probably? And anything worth doing right will more than likely take a long time, or at the very least, several attempts. Unfortunately, if it's doing, it will probably have to be done again and again. Years ago, I had a next door neighbor who was passionate about her garden. In her front yard, she kept junipers as intricate topiary. She maintained flower beds aside the house, bordering the walkway and at random intervals mixed with her ever groomed Kentucky Bluegrass. This is to say nothing of the vegetable garden and fruit trees and shade she cultivated in the backyard of her circa 1950 brick Craftsman house.

I don't know if she hated my yard or not, she never said. In those early years when we were neighbors, my yard was a clever mixture of bindweed, poppy mallow, and stinging nettle. My dandelion patches seemed to exude some success. Botanically speaking, my yard, both front and back, was a climax civilization of drought tolerant plants. Hell, the place had some “winter appeal” too, because the place looked the same in January as it did in July. I asked my neighbor from time to time what her secrets were. I don't know exactly what I expected her to tell me. A magic bottle of garden growth or some ancient secret would have been nice. The truth was, she enjoyed gardening, she lived to spend time outside. For her, and her established garden, she'd been a practicing horticulturist in the same place for many-many years.

When it comes to years and years, it is only a matter of gentle nudges and small manipulations. This was not the case for me. Yes, the place stank of weeds and years of neglect, true enough. My house also sat on a double lot. Moreover than the double lot, I also had the first four feet of the lot on the north. That means: lots of territory, vast geography, you know? Plenty of real estate which translates to weeds. Weeds and lots of them. I began slowly.

I paved the truly ugly areas with six tons of sand and five tons of flagstone. I had drought to consider. I had maintenance to consider. Plus, flagstone is cool. The weeds? No control. I simply removed them. I discovered the rototiller. I rototilled the entire garden for an entire season. That may have been the fourth season I lived there. I put in an irrigation system one year. I forgot the drought then. One year, I planted trees. Then, I figured it was time. It was the end of August. September loomed. It was time. In a matter of a couple of days, I completely landscaped the whole place, front, sides, back. Then, I planned a party. The day I laid the sod, I adjusted the sprinklers.

And then it began to rain. And it rained and it rained. On the day of my party, everyone turned out. My neighbor came. She asked, “Anthony?” “Yes,” I said. “Are you a praying man?” “Yes,” I said. It was a bit of a fib. “Why do you ask?” “I watched you work and work and then when you finished it rained for three days and I just knew, I knew, and I said, that Anthony must be a praying man.” My party was a smash. My garden was beautiful. My neighbor's garden was beautiful too.

That was September of 2004. My neighbor did not survive to see another spring. And as for my own garden, life took me away from the old house. My eventual return for the spring of 2006 was a defeated return. And my garden was in such a deplorable state that I wondered if I would bother with it at all or simply let it return to the dandelions and poppy mallow of it's beginning. The neighbor's house, vacant now for almost two years, looked worse for the wear. Her grass was gone, the flowers were gone and the topiary became a gnarly drying and dying juniper. Her vegetable garden was a sad sight. A few compost heap volunteers tried to carry on, but otherwise it was weed city. This is not analogy. This is the state of affairs between two neighbors, neighboring houses and adjoining gardens. Her garden never recovered. Mine did, a few years later. The challenges of a backyard botanist are many here, especially after season(s) of neglect.

Suffice it to say, it takes a long time, years probably, and it takes persistence. And when we consider years and persistence, there are many of us who are not willing to do, to give, to sacrifice, or to commit. I wonder why? Is it because the notion of a garden surrounding that piece of the pie, or that slice of the American dream is not a consideration during the pursuit of life, liberty and property? Or is it that most folks work tirelessly and over many hours to afford that mortgage and who has the time for gardening? Or is it easier to hire a neighborhood kid or lawn crew to do it for us? Or perhaps in this new age of techno-gadgets, instant entertainment and constant media, the need to slowly watch something grow has become an archaic pastime reserved for old ladies and Bohemians? Who out there is willing to create a garden? Who out there lives intentionally and cultivates a friend and a community? Who is willing to slap some fresh paint on an old door to make it look new or at least make it look like someone cared enough to paint it? I know there are those people out there.

There are two ways of creating a solution to just about any project or problem. Solution one: throw money at it. You want a garden? Pay a landscape architect, hire a nurseryman, rent a crew. Now, enjoy the over-night results of the weed lot turned botanical paradise. You got an old back door? Toss it. Hang a new one. Solution two: one piece at a time. Time solves as many problems as money. Learn about landscape design. Learn about plants and how they work; grow, thrive, reproduce and die. Learn about the process. You got an old door? Clean it. Repair it. Add some fresh paint. Yes, it's probably true, anything worth doing is worth doing right. And when it comes to doing something “right” there are probably several ways to do that too. But consider this: the experience of endeavor is human. Taking a project on and seeing it through to completion is a bit like the season it takes a vegetable garden to grow from seeds to harvest. Hopefully the thoughts along the way make the experience worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fetish Lovers of Clayton Street

The letter finally came. It wasn't too late. And the picnic we were supposed to have in 1962, we enjoyed on the same date exactly 40 years later.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Cultural Rubicon during the Drought of 2001

The neighborhood was old, even in the summer of 2001. The stoic brick Victorians and fabled Denver Squares of Denver's Congress Park neighborhood stood like sentries of time, courageously holding the waning days of the 19th century on the asphalt streets and automobiles of a now past 20th century. Underneath 12th Avenue's asphalt from Josephine Street all the way to Colorado Blvd the rails of the tram are still buried, just like they were in 2001. In this fashionable neighborhood stretching sixteen blocks west to east and seven blocks from Colfax on the north to 7th on the south, things change very slowly. The old homes stand much the same as they were when built, only the trees seem to get taller. The people seem to change just as slowly. Some age, move and die while others move in from Midwestern cities, California or Texas. The ages tend to stay the same. The neighborhood remains the same. This is true now as it always has been and as it perhaps always will be. This is Congress Park. Congress Park is protected by boundaries on all sides: York and Josephine on the west, Colfax on the north, Colorado Blvd on the east and 7th and 8th on the south. The adjoining neighborhoods: Capitol Hill\Cheesmen Park, City Park South, 7th Ave Historical/Cherry Creek and Mayfair look and feel very different from Congress Park.

On any given day, a Congress Park dweller may investigate the noble plant life of the Botanical Gardens at 11th and York after breakfast at any number of Greek diners at 12th or the south banks of Colfax. The afternoons in summer may be spent at the pool at 8th and Josephine or in a coffeehouse along 12th. By night? The seedy side of Colfax emerges from the Tattered Cover Bookstore (present now at the Lowenstein Theater) all the way east to National Jewish Hospital. Any number of bars, restaurants, porn shops, tattoo parlors or slightly suspect establishments pedaling clothing, pot, smokes or musical instruments lie in wait for the last wandering Colfax Ave dollar. This is certainly the case today as it was in 2001 or as it was long before that.

In 2001, things were moving. Colfax had flavor: Greek restaurants, Ethiopian restaurants and Afghan smoke shops and coffeehouses. The latter were very fun shops: hookahs and rugs, smokes and ornate coffee pots made in Afghanistan and sold by smiling Afghans who cracked funny jokes or commented on the weather.

The summer of 2001 was hot. The Denver sun, one mile more potent, was relentlessly burning up any wandering cloud. The last of the glaciers were evaporating and reservoirs at Dillon and Boulder were shrinking by the minute. George W. Bush, and his administration, sent all of us a stimulus of $600. I lived in an attic apartment of a 1901 built brink Victorian house on Josephine Street. I spent my days hiding in the shade of umbrellas at Diedrich Coffee at 12th and Clayton. I spent those sultry nights working the bar. I wrote endless words in endless notebooks, and visually watched the ink run out of cheap pens. I still had my run of the town from 14th and Market Streets downtown all the way out to Glendale past the Cherry Creek Mall. But, my world was shrinking, my world was drying up in the sun. What had been my vast Denver empire at the onset of the summer had become a small hamlet of Congress Park by summer's end.

But it was not just me with a shrinking world. If I was going smaller geographically, my countrymen were shrinking in world view. The summer just got hotter and for us in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and California, the summer was on fire. But we did have $600 each to go out and spend.

September brought no relief.

September began very differently than it ended. We all know that.

Only in retrospect do we see that we met the Rubicon on September 10th 2001. We only know the point of no return happened then because of our memory.

The war in Afghanistan began the next month, October 2001. It's still going on today, some eleven years later. Those smiling and joking fellows who once owned the smoke shop and coffeehouse on Colfax called Kabul vanished before the end of the year 2001. And my neighborhood somehow grew smaller because of it.

Perhaps everyone's world grew smaller too, perhaps more fractured.

What if on the eve of the Rubicon, I spent my $600 stimulus in the shops along Colfax, and one set of shops specifically? Do you think I would have kept my neighborhood intact, or do you suppose I would be tried for funding terror?  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Reading list for Miranda

The following is a project for my friend Miranda. As an experiment, I thought I'd see if I could make a download button for this pdf.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Alarmclock Freeway: writing the coming of age story in the midst of external disaster.

The coming of age story must included this: loss of innocence, internal awakening or self-discovery and some sort of external conflict as impetuous for the change. An underlying cultural or worldly event which is close to or drives the external conflict is even better. For example, Herman Raucher's Summer of '42 uses World War II as the underlying event. Likewise, Jeffery Eugenides in his novel The Virgin Suicides uses a more local event as backdrop for the story: the race riots and collapse of the auto industry in 1974 Detroit. Without the external tension, the characters may (not) have room for their growth because as bad things happen like the self-discovery and/or loss of innocence. This coming of age story works for us because at the heart of it, it's a process that we all know. Additionally, should there be a natural or cultural or locally grown “universal” disaster, then things become real for the reader and the reader can easily put their own experiences into the frame of reference and superimpose that onto the character.

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. Adults in my life often asked: “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” In a morbid way, this question seemed like an icebreaker for them. Incidentally, they all seemed to remember exactly what they were doing and with whom and where. Perhaps a modern day equivalent would be this question: “Where were you during 9/11?”

Now, let's think about the natural disasters that may affect us: Japan's 2011 tsunami, the tsunami of December 2004, Hurricane Katrina or the Haitian earthquake.

Let's think of cultural collapse: the uprisings of 2011 in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria. The deaths of long time leaders like Gaddafi, bin Laden or Hussein are the collapse of culture because with their deaths come new regimes, war, civil unrest and world aid. These deaths are cultural change.

Now, let's consider the local stuff: 9/11, King's Cross bombings, the Tokyo underground gas, Columbine High. These sorts of things have small (relatively) populations, but widespread news coverage.

I bring it up, the coming of age element and external disaster, because they make great combinations for story and conflict. These external forces shape young minds and young minds grow and develop and color individuals. From these individuals spring forth coming of age stories long after the writers themselves have come of age. It's reflection, and it's emotional.

I like to think that widespread paranoia (do we thank Senator McCarthy or President Nixon for this?) although not overtly obvious can shape the ideas of coming of age writers too. Here are a few widespread paranoia examples I like: the cold war, anthrax, Y2K, some fabricated Mayan cosmovision mixed on the Gregorian calender year 2012, and of all things, zombies. Do these aspects made good coming of age literature? Hard to say, but if enough writers push teenage-vampire-Mayan-zombie-apocalypse and add nuclear missiles and anthrax, perhaps people will believe in it too.

Whatever the case, I believe that in literature the loss of innocence in character leads to self-discovery, strength and realization. It makes for great reading. The external conflicts I also think are fun, they put it all into the universal perspective.

I was in the jungles of Mexico in September 2001. The events in New York affected me yes, but I was still in the jungles of Mexico. I slept through Y2K. And I think that the only thing to end in 2012 is the calendar of 2012, 2013 will be business as usual.

Definitely fun to read, more interesting for the characters and these things make great additions to the conflict within the story.

Awaiting the Dustbowl

Monday, October 12, 2015

In Search of Basho

Darcy joins us. For an instant I feel a homesickness that I'm reticent to share. I no longer hear the rain on the window panes.

Monday, October 5, 2015

My New Chapbook Available Now

Announcing Cockroaches and Geese
Available here

It's the ferocious animals
we want as spirits guides
bears and lions and eagles
but the best spirit guides
are often small
cockroaches and geese
one tells us to purge
the other to persevere

This short chapbook of about 2 dozen poems was originally part of The Sofia Ballou Project. Cockroaches and Geese is a three part narration based geographically in New Orleans, Denver and Tucson.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

In Search of Basho: the introduction

Basho and Brautigan
Before I get too heavily into the particulars of this project and where I was at the onset and where I am now, I should begin with the two events which lead up to it.
The first event happened nearly ten years ago, when I was first introduced to Richard Brautigan. I tend to mention Brautigan often and for no particular reason other than my fascination with both his work and his life.  I suppose the real fascination with his work is only due to the place I was in my life when I was introduced to him.
Brautigan is an obscure writer. His work is not anything so widespread or revolutionary to add to the greater progress of American Letters. Truth be known, he's special, but not an overtly clever writer. He wrote ten novels, ten collections of poetry and one collection of short stories. He began in the late 1950s and in the early 1980s he died at his own hand.
As far as we go, Brautigan and me, I was introduced to him one morning in Idaho Springs, Colorado in January of 2003.
I don't remember much of 2003, or the years on either end of it, to be truthful. I was in my early thirties then. I tended bar for a living and indulged in a party lifestyle which was a steady stream of grappa and four course meals and women and marijuana. I would like to say that my life had been clean and chaste and that I've spent my time on Earth in a pious way, but that's just not true.
On that particular morning, I had been holed up for some days with friends drinking Spanish brandy and an attitude that life was about to change. My friend, Carrie, pulling sleep from her eyes donned her glasses, lit a cigarette and said, “You have to hear this.” She read a “chapter” from Trout Fishing in America called “Sea Sea Rider.” It was riveting. I became instantly hooked. About a year and a half later while enjoying the quiet of Gavdos Island in the Greek archipelago with my soon to be married ex-wife, I read the last of Brautigan's novels. In that year and a half, I read everything I could find and that means everything save for the all but vanished poetry collections. I still get the appeal that I had on that first Idaho Springs morning hazy with Spanish brandy hangover and lazy from the ennui of life.
Brautigan still holds a special place in my mind and in my imagination. As a writer, I don't aspire to his style, but I do aspire to his number of published work.
Moving forward a few years, the second inspiration of this project hit me in a similar way. Again, it was a January morning, January of 2007. Again I was holed up with friends. This time, however, I was in Plainfield, Vermont. It was very different in that I was sober and I was engaged in my graduate schools studies. It was different because I had lost the malaise of the previous years and I was doing something positive and growth worthy.
Rebecca Brown introduced me to Matsuo Basho, the Japanese poet whose name and work is the very inspiration for this project.
We credit Basho with the haibun: a short prose passage followed up with a haiku. His work, juxtaposed with that of Brautigan is a funny if not absurd proposition. But that's life.
As I completed Sand and Asbestos, the serialized novel for the Sophia Ballou site, I felt tired. I thought that I should branch out from my normal habits and my normal medium. Suddenly, and I mean in one instant, I thought I might like to try writing the haibun. As I considered it, I came to no real destination. Destination is a proper thought since so much of Basho's work has travel involved.
One afternoon in early March 2011, my partner, my lover, my accomplice in this thing called life, Janice and I went to a coffeehouse in northeast Portland to visit with friends. The visit was fun, I suppose, but what took me was the view out the window. There were two young people panhandling on the corner. Their actions and motions lead me to understand what their lives must be like: homeless, alone; drug fueled, scary; uncertain, sordid and unsavory. I watched the young woman and from her my Darcy was born. Darcy was where In Search of Basho would go. I loved Darcy from the onset, and the woman outside on the street is who I thank.
I found the In Search of Basho piece though to write and nearly impossible to pursue. The piece took months to write. What about it? Well, I don't like to set my goals low. As the story of Darcy and her search came to an end, I decided that I wanted to form it into a chapbook. From the notion of the chapbook, I just had to push the envelope even more.
I set my goal to ten such pieces. The number is fitting because of Brautigan who had published ten poetry collections. Like Brautigan, I have written ten novels. The endeavor to write these ten smaller chapbook manuscripts like Brautigan's poetry became a slight obsession. As I said in the Introduction to Cocktails and Consequences, I'm not bragging, I'm Brautiganing.
So ten chapbooks it was.
Ten became fifteen.
Fifteen became twenty.
And now, one year after the first pen strokes of In Search of Basho, I have assembled twenty-five such chapbooks.
But, it took months to write this first one. Then, they became easier to write.  It's a testament of practice, habit and discipline as a writer. Coming from the position of a novelist where I think and act in terms of 50,000 words (250 pages), the chapbook is a different discipline and aesthetic.
I'm proud of these chapbooks.  I'm excited about the products as much as I was gleeful about the process.  And In Search of Basho is where it all began. I hope that should Basho and Brautigan read these, they both would enjoy them and hold a certain level of pride for their inspiration.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Ballard for the Good Times

Things are very bad. Very—very bad. Unemployment is high, bankruptcy, crime and failure are high too. People are losing their homes, their jobs, themselves. Treachery is also high. If things are very—very bad, then we know to be very—very afraid. Iran and North Korea are striking forward for nuclear weapons. Terrorists are waiting on every corner. The end of days, as we're lead to believe, is scheduled on a calender. It is more than likely that Judgment Day is in the works too. On top of global warming we have free radicals and cancer to worry about, plus unfavorable legislation in congress. In short, we're all fixin' to die and in the most horrific way.
Yet, I wonder, have we not been in this death process already? Has not the lead up to this moment been, in fact, a slow long-winded beginning demise?

We're stricken with drought over the past several years. Yes, droughts in the fields and on Wall Street. Foreclosure rates and economic slumps are the walls of the modern day rut, right? This is the impression I get when I read the newspapers, or when I see news broadcasts. It's like we're outside the palace walls in the immensity of hell, and this hell is the new Dust Bowl.

Yes, the new Dust Bowl.

Coming up in the 1970s as I did, we learned about the dust bowl in school, in history class. Our current affairs: the bludgeoning human population as a staggering 4 billion, mixed with the drought in California; bent over the hostages in Iran, inflation and the notion that the earth was actually cooling with the development of the next ice age within our lifetimes. Current events.

For some reason, I took solace in our classroom discussion of the dust bowl. You see, the dust bowl of the great depression of the 1930s was bad, bad indeed, but somehow not as bad as our current (1970s) problems. And somehow the problems of the 1970s seem fairly easily tackled next to the problems of today.

Primo Levi in his novel The Monkey's Wrench hit this piece of human nature: “How obstinate is the optical illusion that always makes out neighbor's troubles look less severe and his job more lovable!” Well, in this model, why do the problems of our past, individually or collectively, seem simpler than the problems at hand?

And furthermore, who thinks about the dust bowl anymore?

A couple of my favorite books, and there are many more, of the 1930s: John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, and James Hilton's Lost Horizon. Why would they be favorites? Well, they're both anthems of bad times. Steinbeck takes on the dust bowl; fruit pickers, Okies, power struggles and poverty. It's a 1937 account of a really bad time. It's real. It's the story of so many more than just the Joad clan. It's alarm, it's pain, it's sweet, it's Steinbeck.
On the other side of the pond, four years prior in 1933, Englishman James Hilton delighted readers of the entire English speaking world with Lost Horizon. This novel gives us, and more especially the readers of the 1930s, an account of adventure and the possibility of ever-lasting life in Shanghai-La. It's not exactly fantasy, but in 1933, the year it hit the shelves and the best seller list, the book provided readers with a pleasurable escape. Now, some 80 years later, only one of these books endured. Perhaps we like the conflict of the bad times, the ones we ought to remember. Perhaps it is something more tragic indeed, something I like to suggest: yesterday's problems just don't seem so bad compare to those of today.

I digress.

We were discussing current thought, governments and civilization. We were talking of the middle east. We were talking high unemployment, rising food costs and environmental concerns here at home. We were singing the ballads for the good times.

At the onset of this new Dust Bowl, who are our literary heroes? Who are the writers that come 2092 will give future readers insight and rest and leave of future current problems? Who?

Cruising the best seller lists I see espionage and adolescent vampires. It's odd stuff. TV has gone reality and reality has mimicked TV. The cellular has gone far beyond phones, it has gone to thought. We need it, whatever it is, as long as it's 140 characters or less. And still outside individual tunnel vision, our world has an ever-increasing population, our country has an ever-increasing problem with debt and poverty both economically and intellectually. We are slowly racing for the new Dust Bowl, and from it, hopefully new thoughts and views and ideas will sprout from the dust blown, sun caked dirt of our current thoughts. And when thought arrives, so will rain and perhaps we'll bloom. Yet in the meantime, it's the approach of the end, and awaiting, eagerly, awaiting the Dust Bowl.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Focal of Carnal Carthage & the Green Hills of Antioch

Hopefully everyone in life makes a quest at some point. I prefer to suggest this sort of quest to someone very young. The allure of the open road, or as the case with Henry David Thoreau in his essay, “Walking,” the avoidance of roads. Perhaps the open country, if that exists in our modern world, would make an ideal quest setting. Over hills and dales, right? But at the core, it's the quest that's important. When I suggest this quest for youth, I think it's best suited to those still unsullied by time and experience. Yes, in our youth, we may be more open, or open minded, simply because age has not taught us to behave otherwise. With the quest, many aspects of the journey happen before the quest has been sought, developed or delivered.
Taking a sort of quest as an older person may be tricky, as age has taught us what to expect. Age has taught us that there ought to be a reason for such endeavors, or at the very least, a lesson to be learned.

I believe every writer must, at some point, must take on this quest for the sake of development. Every writer's quest is as varied as every writer. Take Sal/Jack in On the Road, whose quest is from east to west and back again. The hero never seems to reach the ultimate enlightenment, perhaps small glimpses into it in the mountains of Mexico or the all night theaters of Detroit. Nonetheless, it's a quest.
The hero quest is everywhere. It's in Homer's Odysseus, who travels far and wide, only to come home again and find his fateful wife, respectful son and the knowledge of who his true friends are. And by contrast, Etgar Keret's novella “Kneller's Happy Campers,” we see a similar quest. In this story, two suicides in the next world search for what they both lacked in life, love. The case with these two characters is that given their bizarre and surreal circumstances of existing in a sort of limbo for suicides, what else do they really have but the quest?
Yet, it remains that the motion of physical travel, as suggested by Henry David Thoreau in “Walking” or by Jack Kerouac in On the Road is just a superficial aspect to the quest. Yes, it's true that the force and influence of a change of scenery of the opportunity of chance meetings help to shape the landscape of the quest. However, so much of the quest, the writer's quest specifically, happens within.
An example of the former: years ago at the end of my quest, I spent the last evening of my New Orleans residence with a woman named Marion. We two shared a scar battered table at Rue de la Course. Later, we ate raw steaks in a neighborhood restaurant. We promised to write letters. I left within hours of saying goodbye to her, which was just hours before we met. 24 hours later in Wichita, Kansas, I dreamed of home: two friends I had not seen in years and white worms in a gas tank. Symbolism? Probably not. It was a dream after an event, and it came at the end of several years of searching.
This leads to the latter point: things happen internally, even if influenced by the external.
At the onset of my adventure, I left years of Denver, Colorado. I had graduated from college, and I decided to return to my native California. A return to my place of birth. The silence of the journey there lead to other thoughts indeed. Arriving at the silence of oneself is not an easy thing to do, it's not always a pleasant endeavor. And further still, it is not easy to listen to the silence. Often, the dialogue or the outward conversation enjoyed with others, tends to turn inside when alone.
For me, going back to California as a grown man was dangerous. I knew it was towns and people I had not seen in twenty years, and to think I was such a young man! The ensuing silence stacked one memory on top of another. I floated on memories of my family: their collective history, their immigrant story, their lives in mighty-mighty California. I had not been part of them in years, and in fact, I had not heard from them, nor thought much about them. The balance of my thoughts were mine, and mine alone. The deserts of northern Utah and Nevada brought around my recollections of the Middle East. My part in the invasion of Iraq is nothing of note. But in the spring of 1998, I wanted to order my thoughts, I had not dealt with the happenings of my war experience some seven years prior. I had thought about it, yes, in the interim of returning from the war, back to the states and the onset of my quest. In those interceding years I had, quite accidentally, chained myself to an institution of higher learning. Suddenly, alone in those deserts of the western United States on my way to my birthplace and a silence outside mixed with with turmoil within, I wanted to make sense of it.
How can one reconcile years of life in such a short period of time? This is the nature of the quest I proposed.
Go out in the world. Go out unafraid. Let your body follow the rhythm of the day, flow with the cadence of the seasons. Let it all go. Hold tight to your passport. Eat raw steaks. Stay up late and smoke too many cigarettes. Make love to deities. Write poetry. Live. Allow the quest to follow and trust in it. Return to the scene of the crime, or the place of your birth. Purge. Quest, and what follows may be Carnal Carthage & the Green Hills of Antioch.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Screenplays: the Shorts- A Big Bag

Before a discussion of these short screenplays begins, I must thank Rocket House Studio. Rocket House, thank you!
The four screenplays to follow were written for stop-motion animated shorts. That's right, the actors are animated characters. GI Joe dolls and Barbies namely.

A Big Bag

This feature length screenplay is not without my stop-motion roots.

A Big Bag is the difficulty of growing up. It's the heartbreak of taking older lovers, trying to succeed in college and telling your friends you were an orphan.

Although this feature is intended for live action actors (real people) there is a scene built in for the stop-motion animators who know how to rob a bank and escape to Mars.

Page count: 114

Monday, August 24, 2015

Screenplays: the Shorts-Brotherhood at World's End

Before a discussion of these short screenplays begins, I must thank Rocket House Studio. Rocket House, thank you!
The four screenplays to follow were written for stop-motion animated shorts. That's right, the actors are animated characters. GI Joe dolls and Barbies namely.

“Brotherhood at World's End”

This short, in the spirit of “Pastrami of Rye” has only two characters and one scene. These two characters, Henry and Waldo, are trapped inside at world's end. Their desperate story is the fall of human civilization and the weight of perpetuating culture as machines. Their story in a snippet:
Henry: Tell me about human being.
Waldo: In the beginning there was human being. Human being was wonderful, human being was reason and human being was light. Human being made me, and I made you, brother.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Screenplays: the Shorts-Resort to Ice

Before a discussion of these short screenplays begins, I must thank Rocket House Studio. Rocket House, thank you!
The four screenplays to follow were written for stop-motion animated shorts. That's right, the actors are animated characters. GI Joe dolls and Barbies namely.

“Resort to Ice” 2012

Much like “Go-Go Zombies,” “Resort to Ice” is a spoof of the 1960s high society, high crime, and spy movies. The multi-scened short has more characters doing more things than most any other film in this genre. In an essence, the intent of the screenplay is to mimic and parody the block buster films of its inspiration.
2012: Myrtle Beach International Film Festival

Monday, August 10, 2015

Screenplays: the Shorts-GO-GO Zombies

Before a discussion of these short screenplays begins, I must thank Rocket House Studio. Rocket House, thank you!
The four screenplays to follow were written for stop-motion animated shorts. That's right, the actors are animated characters. GI Joe dolls and Barbies namely.

“Low Level Mischief and the Rise of the Go-Go Zombies” (Forthcoming)

The two large influences of this screenplay are the beach movies and the zombie movies of the 1960s. Three self-absorbed young women prepare for the luau when they become infected. Rather than the romance of the old beach movies and the sheer terror of the early zombie movies, both of which are corny to us now, “Go-Go Zombies” treat the whole thing with humor.

Winter Rapture

...with so many things left unattended at home...

Monday, August 3, 2015

Screenplays: the Shorts-Pastrami on Rye

Before a discussion of these short screenplays begins, I must thank Rocket House Studio. Rocket House, thank you!
The four screenplays to follow were written for stop-motion animated shorts. That's right, the actors are animated characters. GI Joe dolls and Barbies namely.

“Pastrami of Rye” 2009

It's Belgium, 1945. Two American soldiers pass the hours in conversation. Their entire existence is in their foxhole.
Notably this film was immensely popular:
2009 Denver Underground Film Festival (best animated film)
2010 Vail Film Festival
2010 GI Joe Stop-motion Animated Film Festival

The Narrative Poem, Eleven Years After

I have always subscribed to the theory that more people write poetry than people who read poetry. This may or may not be true. Whatever the case might be, we are surrounded by poetry everyday. We listen to pop songs that often have a lyricist writing words in the same way as a poet might. And if you're into hiphop, those rhymes are oftentimes iambic pentameter. Brilliant. We repeat phrases from poems, even if we don't know from where the phrase comes. We know Christmas tunes. We know advertising jingles. Poetry is all around us. It's on the bus. It's tucked away in collective memory. I can still recite “Fiddler's Green,” an epic Civil War Calvary poem, that I learned in basic training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky in 1990. On a good day, I can produce Edward Gorey's “The Gashleycrumb Tinies” from memory.

Perhaps worth mentioning here, I am not a poet. I read poetry. And I've been known to dabble in it. Never to the height of my own expectations, I have continued to try my hand at it for years. Several years ago, 1998 it was, I endeavored to read a book a day all year. By October of that year I became so strange that I couldn't stand my own company. It was a noble attempt at any rate.

I met Christina Rossetti sometime in the spring of 1998. “Goblin Market” meant something to me. I bring it up only because most folks haven't thought about “Goblin Market” since college. I suspect many haven't come by (come buy, come buy was still their cry) this narrative poem at all. The strength of the piece may well be the language, but what makes it compelling is its structure. Being a narrative poem, there is a beginning, a middle and an end. I find this appealing because of the nature of my writing, the writing of fiction. The themes in this poem may have an element to its endurance too. I suppose the last facet to this piece may well be the images that Rossetti conjures:

Not a bat flapped to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest.

If you are unfamiliar with “Goblin Market,” this particular stanza comes fairly late on after Laura has partaken in the goblin fruit and fallen ill. Her sister, Lizzie, through love and understanding has revived her from certain death. All themes aside, and there are ample essays which deserve a reading, the poem invokes thought, emotion and memory.

Like “Goblin Market,” if it's permissible to raise another English poet, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge illustrates the second example. First, this is a narrative poem by which it tells a story with a beginning, middle and end structure. Through the exposition of the story, we learn second hand at a wedding party the recounted tale of an old man who was lost at sea in his youth. Again, this poem has structure, an exciting story wrought with conflict, elegant language and memorable phrases. You may have heard this one:

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Even if you're not familiar with the poem, you've probably heard someone refer to a burden as an albatross around the neck.

But what about these narrative poems? Who cares, right?

For me, especially reading these things all those years ago, it was only a matter of time. It was only a matter of time before I would attempt to write a long narrative poem of my own. I began writing “Winter Rapture” in October of 2000. I worked as a file clerk at an insurance company at the time. I probably put in an honest 20 minutes of work each day. The rest of the time, I spent writing in my notebook. There is no mystery behind “Winter Rapture.” I wanted to tell a story of a recovering opium addict, his sister and his dead Aunt Louise. I wanted to see if I could tell a story in the format of a poem. I spent the fall writing this Christmas story. I've spent a decade tinkering with it. Now, I'm immensely grateful to present it here, eleven years later, on December 1, 2011.

Monday, July 27, 2015

An Interview with Lou Gaglia

An Interview with Lou Gaglia, author of Poor Advice, and other stories.

AFI: First, congratulations on the publication of Poor Advice Second, thank you for participating in this interview.

LG: Thank you very much, Anthony. I feel honored.

AFI: As we get started, I have to ask: how do you feel about Poor Advice now that it's a finished product? This is a short story collection, but in many ways it reads like one single narrative. Did you write the short stories with the overall product in mind? Do you have favorites among these short stories?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Poor Advice, a review

See the links below
Poor Advice is a collection of about two dozen short stories by Lou Gaglia. Poor Advice came to my Kindle in a flash following a short email exchange with the author a few weeks back. I first became acquainted with Lou Gaglia when my magazine Umbrella Factory Magazine ran his short story “Little Leagues” in December of 2011.

It has been my experience in the years I've worked as an editor for a small literary magazine that the writers who succeed are the prolific ones. It's also been my experience that writers who are unafraid of the process of publication are the writers we get to read. In Lou Gaglia case, every short story in his Poor Advice has appeared in a literary magazine first. If there is a lesson to take from this writer and this book, it is this: write good fiction, send it out to magazine editors, get rejected, rewrite this good fiction for a better product and repeat the process. This entire collection warrants respect because it is well written, well arranged and it's downright fun.

I get the impression from many of the short stories that locale or settings are very real. Mr. Gaglia uses the well known places such as Carnegie Hall or Long Island trains as backdrops in his stories. It feels like his New York, and places within it, are oftentimes characters themselves. Those who live in New York, or those who even have a perfunctory familiarization with it will no doubt love this collection.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Beguiled Allegory

There are more opportunities for publication than you might think. As a writer, I know this. As an editor, I know this. I know that even a very small and humble publication like Umbrella Factory Magazine is adding to this opportunity for publication. I say this because UFM generally published about 16 writers a year. This isn't much, but when you consider that there are thousands of publications like UFM the amount of space for writers is astonishing.

It's been my experience that to be published is very important to many writers. It was and in many ways still is important to me. I also think with most writers, the pursuit of publication is not a priority. I have met many writers who want publication but they are waiting for an editor or an agent or a magazine to come to them. This never happens. And so, these writers never get published.

Friday, June 12, 2015

“To Better Days” a director's statement

The short film “To Better Days” is comprised of 5 separate scenes. As I wrote the scenes, I knew the brevity of scene, the vagueness of set direction and the simple, if not tacit dialogue would appeal to the filmmakers at Rocket House Pictures. Here, they would have a manageable script to work and endless possibilities in the shoot. What I didn't realize at the time of writing, February 2013, Portland, OR is that I would be directing this film, I would be a filmmaker. These five scenes for me were an experiment in writing of short screenplays and it was a sort of catharsis for a younger time. I thought about all the missed opportunities, lost loves, scary close calls and an uncertainty of self that I knew at a much younger age.

Marion, as a character came to me relatively quickly. I was walking to work, in the rain, one night when I thought about her. I love to write women. Women are the onion skins of possibility. One layer then the next then the next then the next. Women can be heroic, subtle, tragic and nearly godlike. Women can pull triggers of the guns of war and women can birth the generations to come. I feel like the act of writing women is just as dimensional as the women we all know. With Marion, I really wrote three separate 'women' or in Marion's case, three different times of her life. Initially, I saw a playful Marion who can carry more weight than Atlas. If Atlas can hold the weight of the world on his shoulders, I saw Marion able to hold Earth and Mars and Venus. As I began to sketch the first scene, I saw a young woman who balanced perfectly strength and vulnerability. I saw a woman who was at once too wise beyond her years and as playful as a child. I saw a character who was capable of love and kindness but also capable of terrible, spiteful things.

Film is a tedious process. The medium itself warrants this sort of tedium. It can be no other way. To tell a story on film you want the biggest impact from the script, from the actors, from the scene. It has to be done again and again and again. The real magic, in all reality, happens in the editing room. If you want to compare this process to a piece of 'film' without this process, compare the best movie you've seen this year with any fucking trite piece of shit reality TV that goes on morning noon and night on nearly every channel on your TV. Believe me, the tedium of setting up a shot, the shooting of a shot and the editing of a shot is well worth the end product. I would think the shooting of reality TV is probably pretty exciting and the lack of art in it creates a tedium for the viewer. Anything you see on reality TV you've seen over and over again since MTV's Real World.

Rocket House Pictures is a small film and media company located in Denver. There are four members on staff at Rocket House Pictures. There is no payroll department. The crew for “To Better Days” was the above mention four member staff and four additional crew members. The cast of the film is a startling five members.

We spent four days shooting this five scene short film. Our locations: a taxi, a outside bench, Kilgore Books, a patio and a hotel room. We paid nothing for sets.

I feel a certain level of commitment to the film itself. We've made this movie from page to screen. Any film that gets made deserves an audience if only to witness the miracle that a film can be completed. I believe in Gio Toninelo as cinematographer, and I believe that he has created a visually stunning movie. He and I have worked together for years and, all willing, we will continue to work together for many more.

I feel a very resounding responsibility to the cast of this film. I have every intention to further the careers of each and every one of the actors of “To Better Days.” I think Andrew Katers is one of the most talented and professional actors a director can find. He worked tireless on character development, he choreographed the fight scene, he helped rewrite bad parts of the script. Anyone who needs a leading man, a handsome devil, dedicated worker, an insightful actor and a martial arts fighter, give Andrew Katers a job. And Aeon Cruz. Aeon Cruz is enigma. Aeon is a musician, actor, model, and artist. Aeon is a quick study. She gains a quick master of character and scene. She's the kind of person to simply “own it.” Aside from all professional attributes I can give about Aeon, let me just say, she's a joy to be around. She's funny, she's considerate and she's quick to laughter. Of the other three actors: Alicia Barreti, Alfred Ferraris and Mathias Leppistch, I hope to work with them again, and in the meantime, I hope they find more work too.

Anthony ILacqua, writer/director of “To Better Days”

Monday, June 8, 2015

Michael Lightbody, my friend Foot

I went to Denver today, something I'm just so loathed to do. I don't know what happened to Denver, but I don't care for the place anymore. I did, once, love the place. There was a time when I thought there was no other place on Earth better than Denver. It's really funny because I never really wanted to be in Denver, it was just a place I kept landing in. The first time, in 1992, was awesome. I've belabored Denver 1992 too much. I've probably belabored 1992 Anthony too much too. Denver 2001 after Portland via New Orleans was awesome too. Denver in the early 2000s was fun, and as I was in my early 30s, I was pretty awesome too. I returned to Denver in 2005 after a year of travel, and again in 2013 after a few more years in Portland. But it was that 2001 return that was so wonderful.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A.A. Milne, Benjamin Hoff and Lao Tzu

Late last December, I read A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh books. I did this because, well, I thought that I should. I figured since I have a son of my own I should have these books in the family library and at the very least I should read them. Up until I read these books, I had only a vague idea of what they were and only through the same Walt Disney lens that most of us have at the mention of Winnie-the-Pooh. Of the four books, two of them are Pooh stories and two are straight poetry. I found all of it to be somewhat quaint and very charming in a mid-1920s rural English sort of way. I also found that I could read these books to my then 2 ½ year old son and he stayed interested, thanks in part to Ernest H. Shepard's illustrations.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Six Month Digital Fast

Outside the rain falls. It's been falling pretty much since mid-April. This is unusual weather for Colorado, especially the Front Range. It's been raining and that's a good thing. People in Colorado become very moody if it's cloudy for two consecutive days. That's right, it's sunny here nearly everyday. But this spring has been wet. The rain has created two colors here: gray and green. These are very different colors than the blue and brown we're accustomed to seeing.

I've recently completed a large project. I had it in my mind last December that I was just going to write. I was just going to write in my 9.75” x 7.5” composition notebooks for a while. It was just that I wanted to write some short stories, maybe some poems, whatever, whatever I wanted to write at the time. In short, I was going to do what it took to do just that, me and the composition notebook.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Anthony's Random Writing Prompt

Monday, May 11, 2015

Old Curriculum & Lesson Plans

Here are a few samples from former courses or workshops I taught.  Please feel free to use them:

Please check back often, I will update and add to this list.

Tearoom Writer's Workshop

AAA109 (a college prep course)

Umbrella Factory Workshops (The 2010 workshop manual)