August Updates

August Writing Update:

43,350 and counting.

That's how many words I've gotten down on the first draft of the new book. And since we're only halfway through the month of August, I think the 50,000 word mark is eminently reachable.

Of course, that's only the NaNoWriMo-mandated minimum, so I may actually write a bit more. Right now I'm thinking this will wrap up somewhere around the 70,000 word mark, but I'm also realizing that the story is likely to need more than one book to reach completion. From what I hear, however, it is not entirely unheard of for publishers to release trilogies...

I've discovered that one concept I came up with years ago is dangerously close to an idea that Alan Moore has had more recently, but unfortunately he got his into print earlier--drat!--so I may have to do a little finagling so that I won't be accused of ripping him off. (Ironically, Moore is famous for both his occasional unconscious borrowings of other writers' ideas and his firm ethical behavior in such situations. In one collection of his Abelard Snazz stories, he deliberately left out one Snazz tale in which he realized he'd copped two of the three main ideas from an R.A. Lafferty story. As he put it, he didn't want to compound the theft by reprinting the Snazz story, and he urged his readers to go out and read one by R.A. Lafferty instead. And having read Lafferty's The Reefs of Earth, that's a rec I would cheerfully second.)

August Music Update:

I usually prefer to scour the bins at brick-and-mortar CD stores for bargains and oddities, but I came to the conclusion a week or two back that I wasn't likely to find certain CDs used--I have a pathological hatred of paying full price for things I used to get free or at an employee discount--so it would make more sense to hunt for an online bargain. Happily, I found cheap copies of two long-sought items: Vic Chesnutt's sparse, peculiar, whimsical and unsettling second album, 1994's West of Rome (produced by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe), and Steve Forbert's earnest, romantic 1978 debut, Alive on Arrival. But since the two of them combined wouldn't get me free shipping, I decided to pick up one more disc to fill a gaping hole in my collection: Special Beat Service, the brilliant final album by the English Beat.

Honestly, it's ludicrous that I didn't own the latter on CD before. Not only is the Beat a band I've loved for years, but they're one of the few that I've both seen live (in Chapel Hill's Memorial Hall back in '83, I believe, with opening act R.E.M.) and covered in my own performances. (Others would include Robyn Hitchcock, the Police, the Balancing Act, Billy Bragg, the Pressure Boys, and R.E.M., who seem to be cropping up in this post mighty frequently.) Yes, back in '85, I persuaded Terminal Mouse (without much effort, admittedly) to cover "Save It for Later," their three-chord pop masterpiece. The chords are extremely simple for even a novice guitarist--D, A, G, rinse and repeat--but there was some quality in the song that escaped me for some time. Eventually I realized the simple trick: the high E string was tuned down to D. A subtle change, but one that adds a wonderful openness to the chiming guitars. The Church's "Just For You" uses the same tuning, FYI.

(Note to guitar nrrds: I'm often amazed at how figuring out a single trick can suddenly turn a ridiculously challenging tune into a very straightforward one. Often it's a matter of putting a capo in the proper place on the neck. My ability to play Jethro Tull songs took a great leap forward when I realized that Ian Anderson almost always plays his acoustic guitar with the capo on the 3rd fret; suddenly all those tunes in F, which I'd guess makes playing the flute easier, became much easier to finger. Similarly, I figured out that Lindsey Buckingham plays "Never Going Back Again" with the capo on the 5th fret, and that George Harrison pushes it all the way up to the 7th fret for the opening of "Here Comes the Sun." So keep screwing around with your tunings and capos--who knows what you might discover?)

August Reading Update:

I just finished Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, which is full of fascinating detail, gorgeous prose, and beautifully captured dialogue, but is if anything even more bleak than his end-of-the-world novel The Road. I'm supposed to be teaching the former to my 11th graders this fall, and I have to wonder how they're going to handle a worldview so dark and fatalistic. I mean, these are sixteen-year-olds--it's not like they need much prodding to start musing on dark and fatalistic subjects. (And now I've got this bizarre visual of McCarthy in full goth kit, coming out onstage to perform a duet of "Personal Jesus" with Marilyn Manson... great.)

But interestingly, it's a book that matches up well with my recent discovery of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's comics series Preacher. I've seen work by both Ennis and Dillon before--the former wrote some excellent issues of Hellblazer, particularly the "Dangerous Habits" storyline, which was probably my favorite John Constantine story since the character's first appearances in Swamp Thing. Still, I was unprepared for the extremity of this book--not just its lusty use of profanity, but its cheerfully blasphemous plotline and its uncompromising gore. It's the first comic I've read in years that made me think "I don't know if the kids should read this one," and I say that as a father who decided his sons could handle the Jonathan-Swift-and-Hunter-Thompson-Drop-Acid-and-Rewrite-Neuromancer experience that is Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's Transmetropolitan. I suppose Transmet's futuristic setting keeps the more excessive elements at a safe distance from the reader, while Preacher's current-day setting of Texas makes things a bit more immediate, and thus a bit more off-putting.

But despite the fact that both their books involve murder, consider the line between vengeance and justice, call up questions of loyalty and duty, and are even set in the same archetypal American landscape (the empty spaces of Texas), reading Ennis and McCarthy back-to-back shows that Preacher and Transmet share a trait that you'll find almost entirely absent in No Country for Old Men: a sense of humor. Yes, the former books include jokes about subjects not usually ripe for mockery: bowel disruptor guns, cat urine, fast-food baby seal recipes, vampirism, and self-mutilation, among others. The overall tone, however, suggests a furious joie de vivre. (One Transmet collection is in fact titled Lust for Life.) The characters believe they can make a difference, even in a world where angels and demons alike are out to kill and torment innocent humans, or where politicians manipulate the media en route to crimes against the electorate.

McCarthy's tone, by contrast, is world-weary to the point of narcolepsy. Making a difference isn't a goal--in fact, if you try to make a difference, all it seems to do is piss off the forces of entropy. (I don't think it's accidental that one killer favors a compressed-air-powered stun gun of the sort used to kill the beeves that march helplessly to their deaths in slaughterhouses.) Characters who try to escape the consequences of their actions are not merely defeated by fate, but dispatched with a relentlessness that would make Inspector Javert look like a fourteen-year-old with ADHD.

Ellis and Ennis are far from unaware of mortality, but it doesn't entirely define their worldviews. Their theme song would seem to be the Clash's "Clampdown":

Let fury have the hour
Anger can be power
D'you know that you can use it?

McCarthy's theme song? If he had that sense of humor I mentioned, I'd propose They Might Be Giants' "Older":

This day will soon be at an end
And now it's even sooner
And now it's sooner still

But given the grim, almost Biblical tone of the book, I'd say the perfect song has been recorded by the perfect singer, one whose wardrobe and resonant voice would only enhance McCarthy's theme: Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down."

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 17, 2007 4:11 AM.

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