words in a row


Starting something new, here.

Hope you like it. It'll grow over time.

And there's now a blog, which will answer all of your questions. No, really, all of them.

As always, the completed novels are here, and here.

journal 1/23/05


It's my 50th birthday.

About 15 years ago, I started a novel, a mystery, called A Sane Woman. I was publishing the chapters in monthly installments, in little chapbooks, but then I discovered BBSs (computer bulletin boards), and I wanted to post my writing there.

But A Sane Woman didn't fit into that format, you had to read whole chapters in order to get the right effect, and on BBSs (as on the internet more recently) things worked better in smaller doses. So, I put A Sane Woman aside and started another project, with no plan and no preconceptions. A few sysops (the people who ran the BBSs) gave me space to work. I posted a lot of messages, and gradually it began to turn in a novel as well, a much longer and more complex one than A Sane Woman would have been.

But then the BBS scene was killed by the internet, and that project fizzed out, too.

More recently, it started to bother me that neither book had ever been finished. So, I went back and finished them, and posted them on the web. And I'm pretty happy with how they turned out.

One of the problems with writing for the web (unlike the BBSs and unlike paper), is that everything is always subject to revision, nothing is ever finished. So, I decided that I would finish both books on my 50th birthday. And here they are:

A Sane Woman is shorter. It's a mystery story.

U-town is longer. It's a gritty, urban, magical realist story.

A Sane Woman takes place earlier (they involve some of the same characters), so it's probably better (but not essential) to read them in order.

Hope you like them.

journal 9/16/04

A couple of follow-ups on my 9/11 post:

Johnny Ramone just died, of cancer. Only one member of the original band is still alive. It's a strange coincidence, since I just saw the movie and Johnny comes across as such a specific personality in the movie (one review called him the most vivid character in the film). Saying that he didn't go see Joey when he was dying because that's how *he* would want to be treated (since they didn't get along), saying "God Bless President Bush" at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony (but not mentioning Joey), analyzing himself for "weakness" because he was depressed for a week when Joey died, saying that only once (the Clash) did he hear a band that he thought was as good as his.

On another front, even within the standards of television (none) and even with all the other exploitation of 9/11/01 which goes on, I still find it offensive that HBO is putting on some movie about how the Yankees' victory in the 2001 World Series helped the city heal. To tell you the truth, I didn't even know the Yankees had won in 2001 until I heard an ad for the movie a couple of days ago. Nobody I knew was talking about baseball in the fall of 2001, and I don't think anybody would be consoled for losing a loved on by a baseball victory. Plus, this is a two-team town, and approximately 1/2 the baseball fans around here hate the Yankees. It's a fairly minor misuse of those events, I know, compared to countries being invaded and people being killed, but it still annoys me. But, of course, HBO doesn't care what I think, I don't even own a television.

journal 9/11/04

The day started out badly. I start almost every day with a cup of Earl Grey tea (in a wonderful mug that Bethany made for me, with a little honey) and 1010 WINS (a local all-news radio station).

The tea was as good as it usually is, but I quickly turned 1010 WINS off again. Ceremony from Ground Zero (I hate it when people call it Ground Zero), the reading of the names (I really don't need or want to hear the reading of the names), and I'm sure some ridiculous and meretricious connection between the events of 9/11/01 and the events of 2004.

I ended up listening to WFAN (the local all-sports station) and found out that Chris "Mad Dog" Russo is about the same as ever. I had been thinking about him since he and his partner (Mike Francesa) had just been profiled in The New Yorker magazine. They have been talking sports together on the radio in New York for 15 years, but they hated each other when they started (I heard their first broadcast and the tension was very obvious), and they're not exactly friends even now.

In the afternoon, I went to a bookstore (two, really) in search of plays set in a bar. I found a copy of "The Iceman Cometh," but couldn't find a copy of "The Time of Your Life." I guess maybe Saroyan isn't so hip these days. I'll try again tomorrow.

(If anybody can suggest any other plays set in a bar, let me know. As long as 1) they're good, and 2) they're set entirely in a bar.)

(This is because the chapter I'm writing now is set entirely in a bar, by the way. If you want to read it, it will be posted eventually at http://text.u-town.com/utown, but be warned that everything there is first draft. If you want the finished stuff, go to http://text.u-town.com/sane.)

When I was at the bookstore, I looked at Art Spiegelman's "In the Shadow of No Towers." It looks wonderful, and I'm sure I'll break down and buy it soon.

I was looking for something enjoyable to do in the evening. I decided to go see a movie. First I thought of "The Brown Bunny."

I know, it got incredibly bad notices from Cannes, but 1) now that 27 minutes were cut from the Cannes version, even Roger Ebert says it's good (or maybe he was just scared because Vincent Gallo said Ebert should get cancer and then Ebert did get cancer), 2) Vincent Gallo directed "Buffalo 66." And I loved "Buffalo 66."

But, much as I want to see "The Brown Bunny," it sounds a little depressing. And that's not really what I need on September 11, of any year.

Then the obvious answer came to me. "End of the Century." What movie could be more positive about New York City? (It's a documentary about the Ramones, the band that created punk rock.) I went and saw it, and it was great.

Four guys from Queens, three chords, two minute songs and one quarter of a century (more, really). Interviews with all the band members (including the later replacements), family and business associates, and just people who were on the scene. Plus many people from other bands who owe a lot to the Ramones (including Joe Strummer of the Clash, now dead).

And, most importantly, interviews with Joey and DeeDee Ramone (both also now dead). And a few moments where I was the only person in the theater laughing.

And, similar to Mike and the Mad Dog (mentioned above) Johnny and Joey Ramone (the only two members of the band to last all the way through) disliked each other and seldom spoke, especially after Johnny married Joey's girlfriend. But they could do something together that they couldn't do alone.

The movie was a good choice for September 11. And I came home and changed the filter in my Brita water pitcher. Because, on 9/11/01, when I got home, I thought to change the filter in my Brita pither. I've always had trouble remembering when to change it, and I figured that I'd always remember September 11. And I was right.

journal 3/31/04

I was thinking about my father recently. I always think of him when I have to go to the doctor, and deal with my insurance company, and what they will and won't pay for and under what circumstances. I tore my meniscus last fall, the day before Thanksgiving, and between the Emergency Room and the orthopedist and physical therapy, it cost me well over $1,000. And that's with insurance.

The reason this makes me think of my father was that he thought it was a disgrace that there wasn't universal health care in this country. It didn't bother him that rich people got bigger houses, or fancier cars, or even servants. But everybody was entitled to eat and to have a roof and to have good health care.

He thought (or at least hoped) that this was going to happen in his lifetime, and now he's been dead nearly 15 years and it seems even less likely than it did before.

But what gives me pleasure about all this is that I remembered recently how his company handled health insurance. His company was very small, only 7 employees at its height, but everybody in the company, from the shipping clerk to him and his partner, had the same health insurance, and it was a very good plan. Even when the company had to ask one person to go down to part-time hours for a while, they stayed on the full medical plan.

It pleases me (and it was typical of him) that he couldn't make the world function as he thought it should, but he made sure that the part he had control over worked according to his principles. Even though his company was never far from bankruptcy, he always made sure there was money for that.

journal 3/31/04

why I don't format my web page

I used to format my web pages a lot more (http://movietown.u-town.com), but I stopped, as you can tell from this page and this one, I stopped. In fact, I was originally going to leave this completely unformatted, but the white background of a plain HTML page was too glaring for me. So, I put a little style sheet on there, but that's it.

Why? I'm not opposed to formatting web pages, some web pages are very nice. I like a nice-looking web page. But, for me, there are two reasons I stopped:

  1. I'm a geek. I like coding. I get all caught up in coding and JavaScript and different monitors and different browsers and different operating systems, and I get all distracted from actually writing anything. It's the same reason I don't have a television, it's a black hole for my time and energy.
  2. I've done desktop publishing for a living for nearly twenty years. This means that (for one thing), I can get awful picky about formatting when I look at it, and the web is frustrating for people like me because no matter how good things look on one browser (one machine, one monitor, one OS) they will always look less good on somebody else's. Also, it means that document formatting is what I do for a living, so I'd rather not do it when I'm off-duty.

So, that's why this page looks like this. However, Bethany is going to format my favorite text pieces into a separate page, a sort of Greatest Hits, and I'm sure that will look very nice. So, that's something to look forward to.

journal 3/10/04

His name was Hilton. He and I used to hang out at the same comic book store in the late 1970s. One day, he pointed at a comic book in the rack, called "Cerebus the Aardvark," and insisted I buy it. That issue the first one I bought, was #6. The comic was a funny animal parody of "Conan the Barbarian" and similar books, and the main character was an aardvark.

It was amusing, but I wasn't a big fan of swords-and-sorcery comics, or of funny animal comics. Hilton, apparently sensing that I wasn't as caught up with this new discovery as I was, came back the next day and gave me the first five issues. I thought they were good enough that I continued to follow the book. One factor was probably that I helped out around the store enough that usually I got the new books for free.

At that point, it must have been around 1978, there were three independent comics which were at all sucessful. One was "Elfquest," which was sort of the reigning champ. "Elfquest" was projected to go for fifteen issues, which was considered a very successful run for an independent comic. Another was called Something Kingdom (First Kingdom, maybe) by Jack somebody. I didn't read that one. And there was Cerebus. All other comics were produced by large companies which paid the artists and writers by the page. Creators didn't own their creations, and some (like the creators of "Superman") were nearly broke.

(One of my babysitters when I was young was the wife of one of the men who created "Superman," which tells you something about the financial shape they were in at that time.)

Almost nobody did independent comics because the conventional wisdom was that they couldn't succeed, and at least mainstream comics gave you a paycheck.

Dave Sim, the writer and artist of "Cerebus the Aardvark," was one of the ones who proved this wrong. "Elfquest" was supposed to go fifteen issues, and ended up going twenty, but "Cerebus" went over 25, coming out every month more or less on schedule. But, after issue #25, three significant things happened.

One was that the episodic nature of the book changed. The first 25 issues had been self-contained stories, mostly humorous, with a lot of parodies of comic book and fantasy characters. Some stories went two or three issues, but that was it. Issue #25 through Issue #50 formed one story, called "High Society," in which the barbarian aardvark went to the city, gained influence (much his surprise) and eventually became Prime Minister.

The second significant thing was that Dave Sim took on another artist, named Gerhard, to draw the backgrounds. And, in line with his views on creators' rights, and despite the fact that their contributions to the book were not even close to equivalent, he made Gerhard his equal partner. They each owned 50% of the entire project.

The third significant thing was that, somewhere in there, Dave Sim announced that "Cerebus the Aardvark" would go 300 issues, it would form one coherent, continuous narrative, and it would end with the death of the main character.

This was widely regarded as an idle boast, at best, just a bit of hubris from an enormously talented artist who was also, much to everybody's surprise, making a lot of money with his aardvark comic.

I was writing a novel some time after that (I recently resumed working on it) and it included a series called "The Ten Pillars of Modern Literature," which was designed, among other thing, to talk about some of the works which I had been inspired by in doing the project. This was the first:

The Ten Pillars of Modern Literature (#1)
Dave Sim

Dave Sim is writing a novel, and publishing it himself in
monthly, 20-page installments.  When it's done it'll be 6,000
pages long.  People laughed at this idea when he started, but now
that he's over half-way done, and making a healthy income for
himself in the process, they have to admit that he may very well
make it.

It's an extraordinary work, funny and complex and irritating and
beautiful.  The main character has been Prime Minister and Pope,
he's been in love with one woman, married a second and raped a
third.  He's been completely broke, and has had all the money in
the world.  He already knows the exact date of his death, and
that he will die friendless and alone.  The story is about equal
parts politics, metaphysics, romance, war and humor.

Oh, by the way, the main character is an aardvark.  It's a comic

Today, I bought Issue #300 of "Cerebus" ("the Aardvark" was dropped from the title somewhere along the way).

Cerebus the character is dead, and "Cerebus" the comic book has ended, so this is a good time to think about what an achievement this has been. Remember "Elfquest" and its big success story of twenty issues? This is 300 issues, 6,000 pages. All created and owned by two men. There is nothing to compare it to. But that's not even the most amazing part of it. The most amazing part is how good it is.

The writing has been uneven (hey, it's been over a quarter of a century, every single month, what do you expect?), but, as I said back in the early 1990s, it's been extraordinary and funny and complex and irritating and beautiful. There have been characters based on Hemingway, Groucho Marx, Oscar Wilde, Spiderman, Fitzgerald and the Three Stooges (among many others). Some of it has been unbearably tedious and some of it has been wildly funny.

And all of it has been incredibly well drawn. I don't know much about art except what you can glean from reading comic books for 40 years, but Sim and Gerhard have been getting better and better and better. Both in their drawing, their line work and attention to detail, and also in their page layouts, which are far beyond what I've seen anywhere else.

Oh, and lettering. Letters I do know something about, and Dave Sim is the best letterer since Walt Kelly. Period.

He is also (pick one or more) a nut, a misogynist, a fundamentalist, a feminist-hater, a kook, a troglodyte, a neanderthal, or a devout and principled man. When he started the comic, he drank, smoked, stayed in the best hotels and slept with women other than his wife. He was basically a comic book artist living like a rock star.

Then he read the Bible, the Koran and the Talmud as resarch for one of the chapters of "Cerebus," and he believed all of them. He no longer smokes, drinks or has much of anything to do with women. He prays a prayer of his own creation, five times every day. The back pages of the comic have been filled for a long time with long, involved and heavily researched text pieces where he expounds his ideas (women should know their place, as God intended, feminists and homosexuals are ruining everything, everybody should place their lives in God's hands, etc.), and even the most enthusiastic fans tend to skim over those. His secretary quit rather than type them, and almost nobody in the comic book world will talk with (or about) him anymore.

I can't immediately think of anything he and I agree about,* and I don't think that his art can be completely separated from his beliefs (particularly true in this case, since the beliefs are pretty much woven through the work). But I also think that quality is quality, and sometimes works of art contain and show a world which has more sides than the creator sees or intends. And I can't think of another example where you can watch a single work of art evolve over this amount of time, as the creator's ideas change so much.

I thought about Dave Sim recently when reading about Bobby Fischer, who was at one point the best chess player in the world (by far), and also (as it said in Time Magazine this week), "an antisocial, anti-Semitic egomaniac." He could and did beat himself from time to time, but nobody else came close. Sim is something like that, though he is far more self-aware than it seems Fischer is. His worldview may not have much humor to it, but his writing has as much as it ever did, including about himself.

Bethany asked me if it bothered me that Sim's opinions are so anti-woman. I said, no not really (though if I came upon the book for the first time now, I don't think I'd pick it up, but you get attached to something over 25+ years), because he doesn't represent anything or anybody besides himself, he is not a leader and he has no followers, he has no political influence (or any other kind). More people saw "The Passion of the Christ" in the first two hours than have ever even heard of Dave Sim or Cerebus.

People with power are much more frightening than a lone nut here and there. Especially one who is so entertaining. If Dave Sim were a powerful man in Hollywood, or in Washington, I'd be a lot more worried.

And, to make it clear, Dave Sim and Gerhard are equal owners of Cerebus, but the ideas and the writing are all Sim's. Gerhard has remained very silent over all these years, I've never seen an interview with him, and nobody even knows if he has a name other than simply "Gerhard."

Now that this whole thing is over, I'm wondering if he'll speak out more. I'd love to read an interview with him, to find out what he thinks of all this, and of his co-creator.

* I did think of one thing Dave Sim and I agree about, and that's creators' rights in the comic book world. He has been tireless and articulate in fighting for the rights of comic book writers and artists to own what they create. And, of course, he's been rather immodest about using himself as an example of how you can publish yourself and be successful, but at this point he's earned the right to be immodest about that.