Salvatore Pane

Tag: Richard Nixon

Other People With Brad Listi Episode 129 – Salvatore Pane

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Guys. I’ve loved Brad Listi’s Other People podcast for a long time. Now I’m a guest. Check it out for an hour-long interview with me about Nintendo, Scranton, Catholicism, working class issues, Nixon, the Election, Kanye West, Last Call in the City of Bridges, and more.

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Pictures Of People With My Books X (NIXON EDITION)

This is a picture of Mark Kleman and the DOOM GOD HIMSELF, RICHARD M. NIXON. Do you have pictures with Last Call in the City of Bridges? Do you have pictures with #KanyeWestSavedFromDrowning? If so, send them my way.

GOP Civil War or “The party left me and Nixon. We didn’t leave the party.” -Mark Kleman

But Republicans are divided on the way forward. Its base is growing more conservative, nominating and at times electing purists while the country is becoming more center than center-right. Practical-minded party elites want to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, de-emphasize issues like contraception and abortion and move on a major taxes-and-spending deal that includes some method of raising new revenue.

But many rank-and-file Republicans in Congress and grass-roots activists won’t sanction amnesty for undocumented immigrants, are determined to advance restrictions on abortion and have no appetite for any compromise with Democrats on fiscal issues. And that doesn’t even get at the growing cleavage on foreign policy in the GOP between the party’s hawkish wing and the rising voices who prefer a more restrained role abroad.

-Jonathan Martin in Politico

Every Last Thought I Have on Process: Nothing But a Dream and a Cardigan

Two nights ago I was at the Squirrel Cage with a bunch of writer friends (Chris Lee, Erin Lewenauer, Travis Straub, Lee Skirboll), and in between watching the Pirates game and tweeting about oddly seated couples, we got on the subject of process. I’ve never been very good at talking about my writing process. I remember in grad school Cathy Day encouraged us to set up a process blog. I can’t recall exactly what I posted, but I’m pretty sure it was mostly thinly veiled references to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” (I named the blog “Nothing But a Dream and a Cardigan”). Looking back, I think I was so inarticulate during Cathy’s class because I wasn’t really working on a novel at the time. I was revising what would eventually become Last Call in the City of Bridges, but the overarching draft work had been done, and I was mostly polishing it for agents. The majority of my time was spent on short stories, and with those, I have less of a defined process. I try to stick to a daily schedule, but I fall off the wagon way more often when I’m doing short stories. Novels comfort me. I love having a consistent world and cast of characters that call me back day after day.

This summer, I’ve been working on a second novel, and I thought maybe I’d share my work-in-progress writing routine. What really interested me at the Cage was how different all our processes were. What works for Chris certainly wouldn’t work for me and vice versa. So I guess this isn’t meant to be a primer on a writing routine that will work for everyone, it’s just a primer of a routine that’s working for me right this second on this particular project. In my experience, the fiction leads you to the right process and you always want to listen to the fiction.

So the second novel. A brief background. I’m describing it as Revolutionary Road meets Crisis on Infinite Earths. My agent Jenni Ferrari-Adler is describing it as a “love triangle between three fallen superheroes” which is why she works in a great, big building in Manhattan, and I sit in my underwear in Pittsburgh with three fans pointed at my sweating body for the majority of any given day. I write every day from about 9am-12pm with some light editing in the evenings, but the real preparation begins the night before. My old instructor Tom Bailey used to put a big emphasis on writing the moment you woke up so you’d be as close to your dreaming self as possible. He used to tell us that every serious writer he ever met wrote in the morning, every morning, and I took a lot of stock in that. But I’ve found I fare better when I do a little prep work the night before, falling asleep to some DVD that’ll put me in the right headspace for the morning. From 2007 until this summer, I switched back and forth between episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama. I liked the social satire, sarcasm, and the way the whole town becomes a character in The Simpsons, and on Futurama, I loved the unbridled sci-fi imagination coupled with a deep pop culture reverence. I didn’t start out watching these shows with this intention. I just noticed over time that whenever I watched The Simpsons while falling asleep (by this point I must have gone through season 1 to 10 front to end at least 6 times) I would gravitate more toward realism, and whenever I watched Futurama I’d edge closer to experimentation. At night, I watched whatever series was closest to the story I planned on working on in the morning.

SO THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE WHEN DOVES CRY!

Recently, I switched over to rewatching the entire run of Mad Men. Like I said above, the book is a mixture of bizarre superhero detritus and the kind of doomed suburban love stories I grew to love in college and grad school. Mostly, I’ve found that I don’t need to do much to keep the superhero stuff fresh in my brain. That’s probably because I read comics every single week, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a new superhero movie in theaters every four days. I switched to Mad Men because I’m trying to keep that world alive in my head, not the world from the show, but the kind of commuter family/office worker/adultery drama that is more difficult for me to maintain when I’m not actively sitting down at the desk. I’ve been playing with this tone for awhile, and the notes I’m really trying to hit with this book are the kind of unflinching arguments Yates does in his work combined with bizarre, fleeting references to a superhero lifestyle that’s come and gone. I’ve only put my own writing on this blog one other time, but I’m going to do it here to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. This brief scene takes place right after John, one of the protagonists, leases a minivan for his wife only a few days removed from a confrontation where she told him she wasn’t ready for kids yet and wanted to be more settled in her career. First her reaction to the van, then a quick cut to her walking away from their home in Arlington (this is all pretty fresh and unedited, so keep that in mind):

For a moment, Nessa thought someone had made a mistake. The minivan pulled into their driveway and parked, the engine cut. She stood. The faux-Victorian was at the end of a cul de sac and this would happen occasionally, people would pull into her driveway and turn around, and although this infuriated John, it never bothered Nessa. They didn’t own the driveway, she’d argue, and John would always say, Yes, actually they did. But this time the vehicle did not turn around. A man emerged from the driver’s side and it took her an entire blinking second to recognize this unfamiliar creature as John. John Ditko. Kid Dragonfly. Her husband.

            “What do you think?”

            Nessa had never seen him so expectant, so genuinely filled with joy as he crossed the yard toward her, a big goofy grin across his face. She looked behind him at the minivan. It was neon red. The ugliest color she could ever imagine. A black hole of neon, it sucked the life out of everything around it. Somehow the houses, the trees, even the grass looked darker, grayer, deader, just from being in the presence of this impossible color, this cartoony shade of blood. It reminded her of the one and only time she’d gone into outer space with Kid Dragonfly and the overly enthusiastic members of the Teen Super Protectors, how they’d blasted off in their Sky Caravan—why, Nessa had wondered even then, had they christened it with such a pathetic name—to fight the Crimson Blob from Beyond the Moon. That pulsating glob of sentient metal looked a lot like the minivan parked here before her.

            “I don’t know what this is,” she said as calmly as she could, still not comprehending exactly what John had done.

            He took her by the elbow and steered her to the back of the minivan. The license plate. Nessa1. Written in bright blue letters above a Kids First sticker. To the side of her name were two imprints of a child’s grubby little hands. She looked at the license plate. Then she looked at John. Nessa1.

            “This is a top of the line 2001 Ford Windstar,” John explained.

            “Ok.”

            “I bought it for you.”

            “For me… What is wrong with you? You didn’t think to even consult me on this? This is a huge decision.”

            Her voice was raised. John looked nervously up and down the street, presumably to see if anyone was watching. Only the Miller sisters were outside, and all three of them stopped jumping rope and came closer to the edge of the fence.

            “Honey.” He again took her by the shoulders. “I wanted it to be a surprise.”

            She shook loose. “Don’t honey me.” Don’t honey me? What a cliché. How had this happened? How had Nine Lives turned into this: arguing with her husband about a minivan deep within the catacombs of the DC suburbs?

            And so, Nessa started walking. She didn’t have her books or notes or even an umbrella, but that didn’t matter. Retrieving those things would only lessen the gesture of what she was doing, and more than anything, she wanted John to feel this, how stupid he could be. Nessa1!

            “Nessa!” he called. “Nessa, wait!”

            But she had already passed the house next door, then the next house and the next. All identical faux-Victorians. John jogged up beside her, smiling, wiping the sweat from his brow, nervously looking into each window they passed. The Miller sisters trailed them, strolling casually down the middle of the street, and like the houses, Nessa could not tell them apart.

            “Nessa, please. What will the neighbors think?”

            She still didn’t stop. “I don’t care what they think. I have to catch my bus to work.”

            “The bus? Don’t you want to take your new car?”

            “That’s not my car, John. I’m not going to drive that thing. It looks like the Crimson Blob from Beyond the Moon.”

            He looked nervously back at the sisters. “Christ, Nessa, keep it down about that stuff.”

Watching Mad Men the night before orients me in a way so I’m ready to write the kind of relationship dynamic I’m shooting for right when I wake up. I get up around nine or earlier, make coffee, and then sit down to write. Some days I’ll do nothing but write new material, and some days I’ll focus completely on revision. The first two weeks of July, I went back to Last Call and rewrote some of that, and when I returned to this book, I spent the next four or five days just revising, going from page 1 to 112 before I felt ready to really write again. A lot of times in the morning, I’ll just feel spent or at a dead end, and whenever that happens, I’ll watch some video on YouTube. Like Mad Men, I try and watch things that put me in the right headspace, so I don’t necessarily use the same video for every project, otherwise I’d just watch this Earthbound commerical for the rest of my life.

This video, you guys. This video! It captures the sense of joy and wonder I’ve tried to imbue in both my books while acknowledging how difficult that is in 2011, how sarcastic, ironic, how knowing we all have become. The way this video combines the super sweet story of a young Yeti (who looks so much like the beloved Muppets from my youth) with the eternally knowing, cameo happy Jon Hamm is just utterly perfect. The first time I watched it, I just kept waiting for a joke, a punchline, anything. But it never goes for the joke. I’ve just always loved combining the sincere with the sarcastic, that please, please what I’m telling you is so very important, just don’t take anything I say seriously attitude. This video nails it.

Like I said earlier, I’m pretty good at keeping  the superhero stuff in my mind while I’m writing. But you have to remember I was weaned in an era of dark and gritty superheroes, and these days that’s not really what I gravitate to. Take Batman for instance. Most people prefer the darker Batmen, the Christopher Nolan version, your Frank Millers. I always like the crazy takes. The Batman on the moon punching out aliens. The Batman who fights cavemen in the age of the dinosaurs. Batman is a guy who dresses like a bat and lives in a cave and fights people like Clayface. I appreciate the over the top, and nothing is more so than this video from the ’60’s TV show (a close second comes in the ’60’s movie when Batman sprays shark repellant in the face of a hilariously fake shark clinging to Bats as he hangs from a rope ladder connected to the Batcopter. Yeah. That happened.).

Frost/Nixon was a revelation when I watched it a few months earlier. I’ve long been fascinated with Nixon. I’ve read his memoirs and I’ve used him in fiction here and here. In college, my friend Mark Kleman and I once toasted the anniversary of his death by drinking Black Label whiskey (Nixon’s brand) and watching the Oliver Stone movie about his life. This scene sums it all up. He’s so fucking relatable! I know that’s not Ron Howard’s intention (this scene is pretty much lifted from any movie about a cop tracking a killer who suddenly tells the cop before the third reel showdown that beneath it all they’re really the same person), but I find it so easy to agree with Nixon here. He’s so flawed, so awful, so human, just like the rest of us. Remember in Mad Men (there’s a pattern here) when Don Draper says Kennedy is just another rich boy born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but when he looks at Nixon (a self-made, hardworking man) he sees himself? I feel that way. He’s the funhouse mirror version of ourselves, bloated and magnified. Sarah Vowell talks about how certain presidents are like unrelatable saints (Lincoln, FDR, Washington) who give us something to aspire to. Nixon’s not like that. He’s down in the fucking human dirt with the rest of us. I have so much class rage that I’ve never really dealt with (my solution is to just bury it deep deep down and drink a lot of Gaviscon and beer) and Nixon is that anger birthed into a president. So yeah, he’s a major character in this book, and when I write him, I think of this version, except in my book he’s also kind of like Bucky Barnes.

One thing that’s really different with this book compared to Last Call is the amount of research I’ve had to do. Last Call is about a twenty-something in Pittsburgh, and even though nearly every scene and character arc in the book are totally dreamed up, it wasn’t very hard for me to imagine. This book is more ambitious. Bigger in scope, page count, everything. I was reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad right when I started writing this, and it really inspired me to go all out. That’s one of the most ambitious books I’ve ever read. It goes to the future, the past, African countryside, a dictator’s compound, the solar panels of tomorrow, and the whole time you get this feeling that Egan is having so much fucking fun. You ever read a book and think, well it’s good, but it doesn’t seem like the writer enjoys writing very much? I hate that. I never want to be that person. I want to love what I’m writing and take real joy from it and I want to aim for as big a scope as possible, and Egan is kind of my inspiration for that. But that all means research, that I can’t just draw from my own experience. After AWP this year, I decided that I really wanted to write something set in DC. So when the idea for this book started to come together not long after, I figured DC and what it really represents to this country would be a perfect setting. That meant visiting DC as much as humanly possible.

Last month I went down to DC and spent an entire day driving around and taking pictures and videos of places where my characters go, relax, live. I’d never done that before, and it was a totally surreal experience. I had maybe a hundred extremely rough pages by that point, and actually going to the towns where they lived really made them come alive in my head, especially Nessa who I mentioned above. They become real, which is strange but true. Nessa especially seems realer to me than people I actually know in my own life. When I went to where she lives in the book (there’s actually a suburban development in Arlington that borders a cemetery), I experienced this bizarre sensation that I was about to meet her. I started grinning like an idiot and looking around like I’d find her sitting on the porch or walking around the neighborhood. The same thing happened when I went to Georgetown where she teaches. I walked around the building where her office is and hung out where she takes her smoke breaks and it was all just very surreal.

A few of the pictures and videos are below. There’s more, and I look at them sometimes when I get stuck or when the videos above don’t do the trick. One neat thing I did (inspired by my boy,  Robert Yune, who before working on a novel about the Century III mall, walked around its corridors with a recorder to really capture the atmosphere) was videotape a few of my characters’ commutes to work. I think commuting is such a big part of our lives, and I really wanted to have the details right.

Beyond the trip to DC, I had to do a lot of reading. Like I mentioned here, I started by restricting myself to books that were in the third person. First person comes really naturally to me, but I knew early on that the scope of this book was too big, and because Faulknerian-novels with multiple first person narrators make me nervous, I went with third. I started the summer reading Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply and the aforementioned Egan along with some other chapbooks and collections I’d agreed to review. But then, fairly early on, I realized that if I was going to watch Mad Men to put me in the right emotional place (adultery, adultery, adultery) then I needed to do the same in my reading list. I read through Sarah Gardner Borden‘s deft debut Games to Play After Dark which absolutely terrified me in sections. Then I moved onto Updike’s Couples which is in many ways a kind of spiritual cousin to all those Yates novels I devoured as an undergrad.

Fictional research is all well and good, but while I was writing an extremely vague outline of the book I discovered that I was going to actually have to read a ton of nonfiction too. I wanted sections of the book to deal heavily with an NBA team’s front office (in this case an alternate universe version of the Washington Bullets) along with a long stretch involving an American soldier in a Yemeni office job during the War on Terror. As I continued writing, I discovered more and more real world inspired subcultures I wanted to include (the utterly insane Monkees movie Head, an underground military bunker near Durban, South Africa, and NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts). Obviously, I just couldn’t make stuff up. So I asked around. I know a lot of other writers via Facebook and they’re always helpful in tracking down certain nonfiction books.

South Africa was fairly easy. The section in the book is from the POV of an American traveler, so I didn’t need years upon years of history. I just went to the library and picked up a travel guide. I stole the Monkees movie from my mom (technically I gave it to her as a gift years earlier) and Amy Whipple among others recommended Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars to cover all NASA related questions. The hardest was the War on Terror and NBA front office stuff. I found a lot of Iraq/Afghanistan memoirs, but most are set on the frontlines. Aaron Gwyn suggested a whole mess of books that look extremely helpful. Horse Soldiers. Roughneck Nine-One. Kill Bin Laden. Not a Good Day to Die. And a friend of mine who’s a librarian tracked down five books about NBA front offices. Inside Game. Taking Shots. The Breaks of the Games. Foul Lines. Money Players. I haven’t read any of these yet, but my goal is to finish one from each category before the end of the summer. My advice for cnf research? Download that shit on iTunes and listen to it on car trips. You may have to pull over every now and again to take notes, but at least you’re getting work done while driving.

One last thing: the only other process thingy I’ve been using while writing the second novel. I stumbled onto this post by the lovely Kirsty Logan where she writes a novel to do list. Mine’s digital, and I’m not going to post the whole thing because A) this is already really long and nobody cares, and B) I want to avoid massive spoilers. I’m the type of writer who doesn’t like to know how things will end, but I do need to have signposts, scenes and images I can build toward even if they’re deep in the distance. And sometimes, I just need to make notes to myself, otherwise I’ll forget everything. There are a lot of moving parts in this book. It’s hard to keep it all straight in my head sometimes.

NOVEL TO DO LIST

REGGANE IS WHERE THE FRENCH PRACTICED NUCLEAR MISSILES IN THE SIXTIES

DR VON LIEBER IS INVOLVED WITH PROJECT MAYFLOWER – LARGE HADRON COLLIDER of the West

REPLACE FLATBRUSH WITH BROOKLYN HEIGHTS

Mention the Sentry Satellite hovered over the White House earlier

Dick should have a magical monkey pet who was retconned out of existence similar to Beppo the Kryptonian Ape

Nessa confronts the ghost of Richard Yates in Tuscaloosa while giving a guest lecture or something at ‘Bama/Goes to see her father

President Michael Nesmith’s War on Extinction

Darko Millic analogue is drafted by Bullets

John has to meet the President of the Washington Bullets (Marc Cuban analogue) on a yacht

John becomes obsessed with termites in second half

Reasons why the planet is dying:

-Cell Phone Cancer

-Nuclear Fallout

-Oceans Rising, No Ozone, Glaciers Melting, Global Warming, Ecosystems Gone

-No Oil

-Water Shortages

-Food Shortages

-Internet Memes come to life and destroy us

-Tim Tebow is the antichrist

-No more bees

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.

The above is every last thing I’ve done to prepare writing this novel. I’ve been working on this book since April, and I don’t anticipate getting a first draft until Christmas at the earliest. And my friends who have read my first drafts can tell you that they usually stink. Tom Bailey compared his to recently birthed children, all sticky with blood and kind of gross looking. It takes time for them to become presentable. But for the foreseeable future (and I mean years here), I’ll be in this world, plugging away at my keyboard. It’s kind of reassuring to be honest.

PANK INTERVIEWED ME AND I AM EXCITED

My love for PANK knows no bounds, and recently, they interviewed me about my story “Love in the Large Hadron Collider” which they published in November. Topics include Final Fantasy, Rebecca Skloot, other dimensions and, of course, Richard Nixon.

Richard Nixon on the Pokemons

“Any lady who is first lady likes being first lady. I don’t care what they say, they like it.”

“I still think we ought to take the North Vietnamese dikes out now. Will that drown people?”

“No, no, no, I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?”

“You know, it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana are Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose because most of them are psychiatrists.”

“Always remember that others may hate you but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself. ”

“I can take it. The tougher it gets, the cooler I get. “
“If you want to make beautiful music, you must play the black and the white notes together. “
“I want to be sure he is a ruthless son of a bitch, that he’ll do what he’s told, that every income tax return I want to see, I see.  That he’ll go after our enemies, not our friends.”
“It is necessary for me to establish a winner image. Therefore, I have to beat somebody.”

“I can’t shake hands with anybody from San Francisco.”

 

Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup II: Electric Boogaloo

Hi all. It’s time for another Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup. I would have liked to do a full post on the big comic news of the week–Marvel announcing an app for digital distribution on the iPad–but with AWP looming, I’m going to have to skip that for now and focus on smaller updates. For those of you who missed Roundup I, the purpose of these articles is to showcase artists I believe deserve recognition (and also to backdoor promote my upcoming graphic novel, The Black List). So why not just get started?

1. Sweet Tooth #7 by Jeff Lemire

Last month I did a top ten list of graphic novels for the literary inclined. Sweet Tooth would have made it, but at the time, it didn’t exist in paperback format, only in monthly issues. That is no longer the case. Without a doubt, Sweet Tooth is one of my favorite ongoing series. I won’t do the book any justice  describing what it’s about, so I’ll just say the work of writer/artist Jeff Lemire has to be seen to be believed. He eschews the realistic for a bizarre style that perfectly matches his apocalyptic dystopia. The most impressive aspect of his work is his facial features, something that gets glossed over by even the most successful of comic artists, especially those who photo reference. Lemire is not one of those artists. He positions his characters in straight-on, Wes Anderson style shots and lets their expressions tell the story. Anyone interested in the comics medium absolutely needs to study the work of Lemire, and there’s no better jumping on point than Sweet Tooth.

2. Blackest Night #8 Written by Geoff Johns with art from Ivan Reis

Blackest Night is an eight-issue miniseries that shows just how fun and insane superhero comics can really be. The conclusion to a multi-year story set in the Green Lantern section of the DC universe, BN succeeds on the merits of its hyper-talented artist, Ivan Reis. Check out this article by the good folks at iFanboy raving over the man’s ridiculous art skills. The average comic reader may not understand how difficult these events comics are to put out, but these are the toughest types of books to draw in the industry. Reis has to draw a cast of hundreds and literally squeezes dozens upon dozens of characters into single panels. Even if you know nothing about Green Lantern or Blackest Night, pick up this issue at a low, low price of four dollars for a master’s class in panel composition and character placement. Reis does not disappoint.

3. Unpublished Artist Tommy Smith

Tommy Smith is another artist I found on Mark Millar’s forums, and it’s very clear from a four-page sample of his work he posted that this man has chops. Being able to convey motion is a skill that sounds easier than it is to master, but right here in this one silent page, Smith gets across movement even while segmenting the flow of time. We don’t get every moment of this woman waking up, but it’s clear what’s happening thanks to the interesting angles and quirky subject choices. He doesn’t put the woman front and center in each panel. Sometimes she’s off to the side like in panel one, while others use a hyper close-up. Smith is currently looking for collaborators so if you’re a comic writer looking for someone who has storytelling down, consider shooting him an e-mail.

4. The Black List written by Salvatore Pane and Mark Kleman with art from Lamair Nash

This is one of the first finished pages Mark and I got back from Lamair, and we were absolutely floored. We posted a bunch of ads on various art websites looking for an artist and received many, many submissions. Lamair Nash was clearly the most talented, but we didn’t realize the extent of his skills until this page came in. Lamair takes a very simple, relateable moment–a twenty-something at a McJob caught goofing off by his boss–and turns it into something downright otherworldly. The closeup on protagonist Harry’s eye. The imposing figure of the boss. You can’t teach this stuff, folks. Lamair’s ability to make even the most mundane scenes bristle with energy and tension is one of the major reasons we so badly wanted to work with him on this project. And if this is what he does with a simple office scene, I can’t wait to show off what he can do with Richard Nixon firing rockets at stone mason mercenaries in secret underground laboratories.

5. Amazing Spider-Man #626 written by Fred Van Lente with art from Michael Gaydos

Three years ago I wrote articles for a great comic book website called Broken Frontier. Around the same time, a controversial of Amazing Spider-Man came out that rebooted the previous twenty years of continuity, namely the amount of time I’d followed the character. I flipped my shit. But since then, the thrice-monthly Amazing Spider-Man has been absolutely superb. The book employs a rotating cast of creators, including the brilliant writer Fred Van Lente whose MODOK’s 11 is an absolute must-read, that continues to put the screws to the life of lovable Peter Parker. Issue 626 is no different. Michael Gaydos is one of the best artists in the industry, and like Jeff Lemire, he is a master at facial expressions. Look at this exchange between Pete and his roommate Michelle Gonzalez. Is this the art you expect from a mainstream superhero book starring one of the most recognizable characters on Earth? No. It’s breathtaking. It’s a reminder of everything comics can accomplish. If you think Spider-Man begins and ends with Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi, you owe it to yourself to run, RUN, to the nearest comic store and jump on board the new and improved Amazing.

Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup

I’m going to momentarily pull myself away from the glory that is March Madness to introduce a new feature I’m working on (in my best Dicky V. impersonation: It’s going to the best, baby!). Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup is an opportunity to showcase some of my favorite artists working in the comic industry, as well as hyping The Black List with some unused art and promotional covers. And who better to kick off the inaugural feature than Rafael Albuquerque?

Vertigo released American Vampire #1 this past Wednesday with art by Rafael Albuquerque and scripts from prose writers Scott Snyder and Stephen King. This book’s getting a ton of buzz and for good reason. Although Dark Tower and The Stand have both been adapted into comics by Marvel, this is the first time King’s actually handled scripting chores himself on a comic book. And Scott Snyder’s no slouch either, having written a very well-received short story collection, Voodoo Heart, and an issue of The Torch for Marvel. But Albuquerque’s pencils come close to stealing the show. With settings including the Old West and 1920’s Hollywood, Albuquerque really has a chance to shine here. He’s a master of body language, facial expressions and wonderfully lived-in settings. This is a book to watch.

Mitch Geralds is an artist I hadn’t heard of, but I discovered his work over on Mark Millar’s forums. He’s self-publishing his book Johnny Recon, and from the looks of the art, it’s definitely something I’d be interested in checking out. Geralds seems to be relatively undiscovered so if there’s any comic writers out there looking for a collaborator, consider getting in touch with him.

What kind of promoter would I be if I didn’t take this opportunity to once again show off the artwork of Lamair Nash, one of my collaborators on The Black List forthcoming from Arcana Comics? This guy is a superstar in the making, and I know that both Mark (my co-writer) and I feel incredibly lucky that we found him before he broke into the industry. This is a unused cover from The Black List featuring an early design of Richard Nixon, one of our main characters and heroes. The final Tricky Dick design is slightly different, however (Our Nixon is slightly younger and more buff) so we won’t be able to go use this beautiful cover.

I apologize in advance for how srunched together the art appears, but Night Owls by the Timony Twins is a must read. Published by DC’s webcomic imprint Zuda, the art of Night Owls is remarkable due to its old timey feel and classic/wacky character designs. The juxtaposition of Ernest Baxter and Roscoe the Gargoyle is hilarious and gets a chuckle pretty much on every page. I also love how the art team chose to stick with the traditional grid layout of panels. It really makes the webcomic feel like something transported out of an earlier decade regardless of bizarre subject matter.

Also: it’s free!

If you’re not reading Irredeemable, you ain’t shit. This book is one of the best indies out there and reaffirms why Mark Waid is one of the most talented comic scribes in the biz. The artist, Peter Krause, is also doing phenomenal work, but the cover above was actually done by Paul Azaceta and Dan Panosian. I haven’t heard of either of them, but I’ll definitely be looking for their work in the future after this eye-catching, yet sparse, cover for the final issue of Irredeemable‘s first year.

Rediscovering Nonfiction

A few weeks ago I was at a multi-genre reading with segments of fiction and nonfiction. I sat. I listened. I thought about how cultured I was. And I was utterly bored, especially during the creative nonfiction components. It was mostly navel-gazing and that genre I hate more than anything in the entire world: “Memoir of a Privileged, White Twenty-Something”. Ok, I guess that’s slightly better than “Memoir of a Privileged, White Twenty-Something Who Goes To The Third World and is Enlightened Spiritually”.  I sat there scowling and thinking about how much I used to love CNF back in college when I enjoyed literary journalism as well-deserved respites from devouring novel after novel after novel. I sat there thinking how I no longer cared about the genre.

In a workshop class I’m taking, writer Cathy Day has us thinking about “the negative cultural and critical reaction to personal nonfiction writing vs. its popular/commercial appeal”. It’s interesting that in an era of publishing history when nonfiction greatly outsells all facets of fiction that CNF, particularly the memoir, is under attack. Check out Taylor Antrim’s tirade on The Daily Beast. How about Maud Newton’s slam over at the LA Times? Two big name authors who swung through Pittsburgh both discussed how much they disliked CNF: Lorrie Moore and Aleksandar Hemon.

I can only speak to my own experience. I’m not a huge reader of the genre. I’m very often bored by memoirs, especially if the writer isn’t famous or hasn’t gone through something exceptional. I don’t read nonfiction for assurance that I am not alone in the universe and that there are others out there like me; that’s why I read fiction. These are my favorite works of CNF: On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner. Lives on the Boundary by Mike Rose (light pedagogical theory). Portions of Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (a pedagogical biography).  No More Vietnams by Richard Nixon. Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman. A Tragic Honesty: The Biography of Richard Yates. And New New Journalism, a fantastic collection with long, informative essays by writers as varied as John McPhee and Hunter S. Thompson.

I bring these up to illustrate a point. The Rumpus recently ran an interesting article about why people read nonfiction. It quotes John D’Agata who asks, “Do we read [nonfiction] to receive information, or do we read it to experience art?” I think this is the fundamental sticking point in the nonfiction debate. I’ve looked at my shelves, thought about this question and my own instinctively negative reaction towards memoirs. Clearly, I’m not reading nonfiction for art. No one who lists the prose of Richard Nixon as a favorite could possibly be looking for art, and it’s now obvious I value the genre for its ability to distill and disseminate information.

So to sum up: I think that a bunch of leather-elbowed professors and critics sitting around trying to decide whether CNF is a bankrupt genre is silly. It’s different from fiction. The two genres aren’t in competition with one another. People whose natural instinct it is to chide CNF are probably just coming at it from a different viewpoint: they’re not looking to experience voice, or sometimes even emotion in nonfiction; they’re looking for (at times clinical) information. And if that’s your primary motivation for reading nonfiction, it’s difficult to really compare it to fiction in any favorable way. Nor should you.

On Love and Despair: A Valentine’s Day Theme Post

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, so I guess it’s appropriate that the literary world think about relationships and love. Over at The Millions, Anne K. Yoder wrote an article that, among other things, disagreed with HTML Giant’s Nick Antosca’s editorial claiming writers should date readers. Yoder writes, “writers should date writers, who will likely understand the importance of clearing time and mental space to write.” I’m not sure how all of you feel about this, but writer on writer relationships always seemed dangerous to me. Jealousy over one partner’s success always looms over the relationship. I can’t imagine things being much better for already established authors who meet and date. Writers are inherently egomaniacs, the only people on earth who can look at the sagging shelves of fiction and think, “No. That’s not enough. I have something fundamentally vital to add.” How does one partner react when the other gets a Guggenheim? How about when the other’s presence is requested at Bread Loaf and you’re not?

But of course, there are examples of writer/writer couples working. Yoder lists a bunch, and let me add the wonderful Robert Boswell and Antonya Nelson to the mix. However, I’m still inclined to go with Nick from HTML Giant. For one thing, the process of writing is a romantic mystery to readers. They don’t know that it mostly involves me sitting in my underwear trying to see my computer screen behind day-old coffee and empty beer bottles. And I’m sure many of us who’ve gone through undergrad writing programs and MFAs can relate to writer breakups playing out in workshops again and again.  “You don’t have a grip on male voices! This isn’t moral fiction! Why did you cheat on me with that bassist? His low-fi alterna-folk band blows!”

And now a topic only slightly unrelated to love: DESPAIR. Maud Newton recently blogged about feeling intimidated by really good works of art. She read a book she quite enjoyed, then turned to her own fiction and froze up, unable to reconcile her “shitty first draft” with the assumed brilliance of the published–and polished–book. This happens to me often and has especially been a problem over the course of the last week where I’ve been locked down in Squirrel Hill due to the never-ending snowstorms of Western Pennsylvania. My usual method of dealing with said despair is just to keep on writing until something halfway decent inevitably turns up. I’ve always felt that it was the only thing writers could do: to have some of that faith Flannery O’Connor and JCO are always blabbing about.

Maud Newton has a better strategy. “I’ve kept on hand a well-reviewed novel that I don’t like or respect,” Newton writes. “It’s sitting on my desk right now, in fact. I don’t re-read it in any detail, because I don’t want it to contaminate my thinking, but flicking through the book makes me feel better about my own work, however imperfect it may be.” Hmm… I’m not sure this would work for me. I’m always very careful about what I read while writing out of fear that the published voice will seep into my own–case in point: Richard Nixon is a major character of The Black List so I’ve been reading his delightful No More Vietnams to get his voice “right”.

What I’m afraid of is that although reading some lousy book will manage to cure my stage fright, its flawed voice will also infect my own. Do other writers feel this way? Are they conscious of mimicking whatever they’re currently reading? Are there other ways of beating writerly despair that I just haven’t thought of? Comment below if so.