Quail Bell published six of my poems over the past couple of months, all from the Poeming project, in which over 50 poets were each assigned one of Stephen King’s books and charged with the challenge of crating 31 found poems in the month of October. The poems Quail Bell selected were:
In other awesome news, Zoetic Press has started a new podcast called, The Literary Whip. The podcast highlights poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that was rejected by Nonbinary Review and other publication. This is work that almost made it past the slush pile to publication, but was ultimately rejected.
A lot going on the past few days, so I’m coming in a little late, but here’s September in books, movies, and more.
Pixar Animation is one of my favorite movie making studios. Not every flick is my cup of tea, but they seem to approach each project with a sense of innovation and heart. How they manage to consistently maintain that level of creativity in an industry that tends to churn our generic blockbusters on a regular basis is presented Creativity, Inc. Written by by Ed Catmull (one of the founders of Pixar) with Amy Wallace, the book is simultaneously a history of the computer animation industry, a memoir of Pixar with all its ongoing success and challenges, and a guide for approaching the management of creative teams.
One of the main ideas behind his management philosophy is that it’s impossible for one person to know everything, and that, in fact, it is certain that there are things unknown that are influencing the flow of creativity. He writes,
“I believe the best managers acknowledge and make room for what they do not know—not just because humility is a virtue but because until one adopts that mindset, the most striking breakthroughs cannot occur. I believe that managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them. They must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear. Moreover, successful leaders embrace the reality that their models may be wrong or incomplete. Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it.”
This acknowledgement of unknown factors influencing the dynamics of a creative environment enables the initiation of a process of self reflection and analysis — not as a one time solution but as an ongoing process of growth. As one solution proves to be successful, another litany of challenges will present themselves and it’s important to know how to navigate those new challenges and change tactics as they arise. One of the many things I love about this book is how it shies away from simple, trite catch phrases that are usually presented as rules for success. Phrases such as “Trust the process” sound wise at first glance, but can often come to be meaningless. The reality is that finding solutions often requires adaptability and a willingness to address problems, failure, and change.
One of the great flaws, he finds in many operations is how they address failure as something to be avoided at all costs, a believe that often stifles creativity and risk taking. Catmull asserts that failure is “a necessary consequence of doing something new.” The very act of forging ahead on a new project, whether creating a film or writing a book, means that there will be inevitable failures along the way. Rather than seeing these failures as doom, seeing them as inevitable enables people to work through the frustration of not getting it right the first time (or second or tenth). It’s something that I’ve learned (and am still learning) to accept as I’ve attempted and failed again and again at finishing my stupid novel — each failed attempt getting me closer and closer to understanding the heart of the story, getting closer to learning how to get it right.
I also rather likes what Catmull had to say about change (similar to failure, in that people tend to be terrified of it):
“Here’s what we all know, deep down, even though we might wish it weren’t true: Change is going to happen, whether we like it or not. Some people see random, unforeseen events as something to fear. I am not one of those people. To my mind, randomness is not just inevitable; it is part of the beauty of life. Acknowledging it and appreciating it helps us respond constructively when we are surprised. Fear makes people reach for certainty and stability, neither of which guarantee the safety they imply. I take a different approach. Rather than fear randomness, I believe we can make choices to see it for what it is and to let it work for us. The unpredictable is the ground on which creativity occurs.”
I could probably quote passages and passages of this book, and examine each one closely, but I would quickly run out of space here. Having listened to Creativity, Inc. on audio book (narrated by Peter Altschuler), I’m eager to buying a print copy so that I can peruse the text more closely to better absorb the information and examine it for concepts that might help my own creative life.
It’s been a great month. One of the highlights this month was the All Womyn’s Showcase (write up here), which I not only attended but also participated in. I love attending live events (even if they sometimes exhaust me) and I keep telling myself that I want to see more of them.
Super Mutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki is such a wonderfully strange graphic novel. For most of the book, each page represents a single vignette, a tiny story about one or more of the characters from the Academy. At the beginning the vignettes jumped between so many different characters, it was difficult to keep track of who was who and what was going on, which made it a little hard to get into. But, as I continued reading and the characters began to repeat, I recognized a main set of characters I could connect and resonate with, allowing me to settle into the odd and beautiful stories at this strange school which features an array of mutants and magic and science.
Some of the vignettes are anchored in ordinary teenage angst (like crushes and school dances and friendship) that makes them easy to relate to, while others are simply, delightfully bizarre (such as the everlasting boy, who throughout the book experiences a variety of deaths and rebirths and eternities). There’s a lot of wit and wisdom present (sometimes beyond what I would expect from a typical teenager, though these are not typical teenagers). Taken as a whole, Super Mutant Magic Academy is really a fabulous book, which doesn’t allow itself to be anchored by any single storyline, but lets itself fall into the chaos of teenage-dom with all its weird wisdom and foolish obsessions.
Wait. July is over already? Where did the year go?
I’ve long loved the work Charlie Jane Anders does — both as the host of Writers with Drinks and as a long-time editor and writer at i09. So I was thrilled to have been able to pick up a copy of All the Birds in the Sky (which I got signed at one of her readings in San Francisco).
The novel is sort of a like a nature witch and mad scientist love story that explores the philosophical differences between how magic and science approach deal with a world that’s falling apart. Both have their own ways of trying to make things better, but when magic and science begin to clash, it threatens to destroy the world instead.
I love the characters in this novel. Both Patricia and Laurence had rough childhoods that they managed to survive and deal with in their own ways. Though they are both flawed, they also have their own sense of compassion that leads them to try to do good in the world. Somehow, despite all their differences and mistakes, they manage to fit together.
Anders’ writing is beautiful — a mixture of beautiful details, humor, and emotional resonance. I loved this book.
In the intensity of getting words written, I feel as though I’ve slowed down on reading. In some cases, I’ve even been avoiding it in lieu of more mentally easy story consumption through TV and movies. Not always the best thing, since reading words is a part of what inspires me to write words. So toward the end of the month, I tried to get outside, setting into an easy chair by the pool, and delve into some much missed words.
For the past — I don’t know how long — I’ve been posting a monthly breakdown of the books and movies I’ve been watching with a short-ish review for every single one. But lately I haven’t had the time to write individual reviews. So I snagged the idea of Culture Consumption from Calico Writes, which combines all my monthly reading and watching and listening into one post.
Following up last week’s post on audio theatre podcasts, here are a few of the poetry and fiction podcasts I’ve been gorging myself on lately — most of which are associated with print and/or online publications for speculative fiction and poetry.
Uncanny Magazine is an bimonthly online Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine that published gorgeous fiction and poetry, as well as essays and interviews. What I love about the Uncanny podcast is the unique format, which incorporates a reading of a short story and a poem from the current issue, followed up by an author interview (most often the author of the short story that was just read). As such, each episode tends to be about an hour in length. Uncanny provides a powerful collection of emotionally moving and beautifully written work, which is read by fantastic narrators.
A Small Selection of Favorite Stories and Poems (so far):
Lightspeed Magazine is a monthly publication, providing a wide ranging array of science fiction and fantasy fiction, as well as essays and interviews. Each podcast features an individual story. The narrators are all phenomenal, making it easy to just melt into the story while listening. Most of my (current) all-time favorite stories have been discovered on this podcast.
A Small Selection of Favorite Stories (so far):
“Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn, as read by Gabrielle de Cuir
PodCastle is unique here in that it is solely an audio journal, providing well-produced audio versions of fantasy stories, most of which have been previously published in other publications. At the end of each episode, feedback is provided for stories that have previously appeared on PodCastle. Since, PodCastle is subscription based, only a selection of the most recent stories are available for free.
Nightmare Magazine is a sister publication to Lightspeed, and often features many of the same set of fantastic narrators. The stories in this podcast are darker, slipping into more horror and dark fantasy, tales to unsettle and creep you out.
“Fishwife” by Carrie Vaghn, as read by Susan Hanfield
“Returned” by Kat Howard, as read by Gabrielle de Cuir
The New Yorker: Poetry
In each episode of The New Yorker’s Poetry podcast, a poet is asked to read a poem that has been published in The New Yorker and then to read one of their own poems. Together with the host Paul Muldoon, the poet discusses the poems and why they are compelling. These discussions tend to be more intellectual and academic, which is sometimes more than I can fully focus on when I’m listening on the road home. However, there are some interesting discussions of craft and how the language in certain poems can create an emotionally moving experience in the reader.
I believe there’s also a New Yorker fiction podcast, but I haven’t got to that one yet.
Episodes I Particularly Liked:
Ellen Bass’ reading and discussion of Adam Zagajewski’s “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” as well as her own poem “Reincarnation”
Meghan O’Rourke’s reading and discussion of John Ashbery’s “Tapestry,” as well as her own poem “Apartment Living”
Another two podcasts that I’ve started listening to are Strange Horizons and Apex Magazine, both of which feature great stories and narrators. Although, I’ve found them to not have quite as good of a sound quality and in some cases to be a little more glitchy.
Next week I’ll finish up this little series of posts with my favorite Filmmaking and Screenwriting podcasts.
A few months ago, I discovered podcasts. Or not discover them, per se, as I’ve been aware of them and they’ve been around for ages now. So maybe I should say, several months ago, I decided to give listening to podcasts a try and they’ve consumed my life. My usual music time in the car has been taken up with listening to podcasts, and I’ve also started listening to them when I go on runs.
I don’t know why I didn’t start listening to them before. Podcasts are amazing — or at least the ones I’ve discovered are, and I know there are a ton more amazing podcasts that I could be listening to.
Since the list of channels that I’ve been listening to is rather long, I’m splitting them up into three separate posts. Part II will be fiction and poetry podcasts, and Part II will cover film and filmmaking podcasts.
First up is radio drama or audio theatre, which I think both describe the same thing and I’m assuming apply here, in regards to narrative podcasts in which a story unfolds over multiple episodes.
I’m itching for more radio drama style podcasts, so please send recommendations!
Welcome to Night Vale
“When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. But, because of distance, not for millions of years.” — Night Vale Proverb
Welcome to Night Vale is a serial podcast about a community radio show, reporting on the quaint and creepy desert town of Night Vale. The voice of Night Vale is Cecil Balwin, who reports on local news and community events, like giant glow clouds raining down the bodies of dead animals or the goings on of the Sheriff’s Secret Police or strange underworlds appearing under bowling alleys.
So, I started listening, and because I’m a completionist on these kinds of things, I started at the beginning and have been working my way forward. Since there are over 80 episodes and since I can only listen to one or two a day without devolving into madness, it’s taking me a rather long time to catch up. But that’s okay, because starting at the beginning has allowed me to see how the town and all of its characters have grown and survived or survived but damaged or not survived, as the case may be.
Night Vale was the rabbit hole that spun me off into discovering more and more podcasts. It’s fantastic.
The Message is a sci-fi narrative that follows “the weekly reports and interviews from Nicky Tomalin, who is covering the decoding of a message from outer space received 70 years ago. Over the course of 8 episodes we get an inside ear on how a top team of cryptologists attempt to decipher, decode, and understand the alien message.”
Only eight episodes long, The Message is a great bite-size introduction to this kind of audio theatre and podcasts in general, presenting an unsettling sci-fi storyline with great voice acting and sound effects. Just talking about it makes me want to go back and listen to it again. It’s that good.
Alice Isn’t Dead
Alice Isn’t Deadfollows the story of an unnamed narrator, searching for her wife, whom she believes to be dead, while working as a truck driver. Joseph Fink, one of the creators ofWelcome to Night Vale, told Wired, that the story would have the same humor mixed with creepiness as Night Vale — a sure win for me.
This one is so new that I’ve only listened to the teaser. But based on that and the fact that it’s from the creators of Welcome to Night Vale, I have high hopes that Alice Isn’t Dead is going to be fantastic.
Updated to Add: Having listened to the first episode, I can say that Alice Isn’t Dead is creepy in a decidedly different way from Night Vale., where strange and creepy happen but are generally mitigated by the light, humorous tone. Alice Isn’t Dead has humor, however, it seems to be a little darker.
Narrated by truck driver, Nicole, the narration is punctuated by scratchy hiss of the truck’s CB radio cutting in and out. The effect is unsettling as some of the storyline comes through in non-chronological order. The horror of events described are more personal and frightening, leaving a lingering sense of threat. All of this is to say, I freaking like it and can’t wait to hear more.