Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tracks - Louise Erdrich (1988)

this book is terrible. it's way over thought, and obviously romanticized by the author. it's told from two narrators, both of whom seem to insist on telling their entire story in exposition. this book has got to be around 90% exposition, and most of that is overly verbose and purple. everything in this book is overly sexualized, including at least one scene (i didnt finish, so there could be more) of a 12 year old having sex with an adult. how louise erdrich became a bestseller is beyond me, based on this book, unless she's only popular with women who drink wine while they watch women be battered on the lifetime channel, and enjoy ham-fisted sexual innuendo, smut, and needlessly bad writing...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lean on Pete (2010) Willy Vlautin

Vlautin's third novel, Lean on Pete is what Carver might have been without the aide of alcohol, cigarettes, spousal abuse, and racism. The novel follows the tragic life of Charlie, a kid who sees his father killed by a girlfriend's jealous boyfriend. Orphaned and broke, this kid takes a job working for a scum-of-the-Earth type, named Del, who races at Portland Meadows. That's where the story takes off.

Vlautin has a voice that is simple, and catchy, and perhaps because it's all from the point of view of fifteen year old Charlie, the language flows through the events in a way a child could understand, but in layers only an adult can fully appreciate. The story is both beautiful and sometimes heart-breaking, and the people Charlie runs into are as real, and as unreal as everything else in the book. None of the characters can be discarded, discounted, or taken too lightly. This is by far the best book I read from 2010.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Revisionist History and Mark Twain

Even as a writer and a soon-to-be English teacher, I debated whether I should join in this whole Huck Finn/New South disaster. Not because I don't care, or some stroke of apathy having silenced the miniature Bradbury, which does most assuredly advise me of such things, not unlike Gazoo. The debate centered around whether or not my writing blog (or any other site this might end up) is the proper vehicle for my stance on something of a political nature.

Turns out, whether I like it or not, I have some duty to my forefathers, and to the literary cannon, and should those things come under attack, it is up to the “new” generation of people who don't have their heads planted firmly and squarely into their rectal cavities, to defend them.

First, I think we should have ourselves a little vocabulary lesson, not so much on the words “nigger” or “slave”, even though those will be coming up. Let's start with another word: Bigot. This is a word that gets thrown around a lot in this day and age, and people seem to have forgotten what it actually means.

It does not mean one is racist, but it can be a synonym for that. What it really means is: one who is, or appears to be closed minded.

This, unlike the 'accepted' definition of my peers can be applied to anyone, and not to merely ignorant people with sun-scorched necks. Now, if you need someone like me to explain to you how these words, which are seen as the same and interchangeable, really aren't at all, I would suggest commenting on this publicly wherever you find it, and one of the nice Proctologists in the area will help you find your cranium. I would do it myself, for everyone, but you see I am a busy guy, and I do need breaks every here and there.

The word “nigger” in Huck Finn, and throughout Twain's other works, as well as other works from the time, serves to capture the vernacular of a people, of a place; of a time, of a people. To take that away from those works because our society thinks that is best is like taking dead bodies off the beach in Normandy, like mandating all future wars be fought with paintball guns, and replacing the orphans in Dickens with kids from Campbell's soup cans.

Why should the American people be alright with revisionist history in our history, when we can see from contemporary examples we aren't as cool with it in other places? We shame Holocaust deniers, and people who think Elvis didn't die at home on the can.

If we are so enlightened in this generation, why then do we seem all too willing to look back at history, safe behind our rose-colored-John-Lennon-glasses, and point fingers? Every day somewhere there is a history class calling Puritan men out for what they believe to be their control of their family. Somewhere, I promise you, some Women's Studies major is out there bleeding from the heart for the plight of Puritan women.

I subject to you (because there are source documents to prove it) that neither is the case. That gender roles in those days were what they were, sure, but there was a rhyme and reason. Not only that, but most of these men adored their wives, and their wives sure seemed to think the sun shined out of those mens' asses.

I subject to you that it is the kind of thinking which has been touched upon in these words, and not the language of Twain that is bigoted, and in dire need of alterations. What happens if we live by this line of thinking? Are all the whipping scenes in Roots going to be replaced with tickling? When the bondage of the slaves, tickled or not offends someone, will we cut that all together? Will we, again, remove names like James Baldwin and Langston Hughes from the pages of our anthologies? Are we so afraid to talk to, or fuck up our children that we will forsake our history?

Remember, bigot means closed minded. Now, you know the truth, and to quote a wise man: The truth is just what you make of it. It begins and ends with you.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Interview with James Bernard Frost

Some time ago, some friends of mine over at The Velvet ( asked me to interview James Frost. Of course they also wanted me to do one with Peter Rock. I did neither, and don't remember why, really, except that Rock was on his way to an after-party.
That said, this interview is something like three years in the procrastinating, and it wasn't as viciously intimidating as I thought back when I was asked to do it. Though, I will admit, approaching Jim on facebook is a hell of a lot less intimidating than trying to snag some impromptu Peter Rock interview in a Powell's store.

CK -- First off, would you mind telling us a little of your background. Where are you from, if not from the Northwest where and what brought you here?

JBF -- I'm from Texas originally, moved to the Bay Area for college, lived in an ungodly number of different places in my early twenties, moved back to San Francisco for seven years, got financially obliterated in the dot-com bust, moved to a tract home in the swamps of Alachua, Florida to save some dough, and found my way to Portland, which seemed the most-San Francisco-like place to live that wasn't as expensive as San Francisco.

CK -- You also write travel books, or I guess that is what you would call them, don't you? Do any of those effect the way you write fiction, or the stories you tell?

JBF -- Totally. Writing travel guides—and in my case, I was writing for vegetarians—forces you to have a keen eye for cultural hotspots and weirdness. I like to write about the anomalies of the world, so when I came to Portland I immediately discovered C.H.U.N.K. 666, Voodoo Doughnuts, Stumptown Coffee, the I.P.R.C. and Reading Frenzy, hipster churches, and agro bicyclists. It seemed something necessary to write a novel about.

CK -- When did you start writing, and how was it in those first few years?

JBF -- You know, I wrote a twenty-page handwritten epic in 2nd grade about how the gods formed all the planets, so that was my start. It was really fine back then: I got an A, my mother was a supportive matron of the arts, and there wasn't a whole lot of pressure to publish ;)

CK -- When did you start to think that writing and you were getting pretty serious?

JBF-- It's funny. I got my first book deal before I got serious. I had this notion that someone should write a travel guide for vegetarians, and so I did the natural thing: I wrote a book proposal for it and sent to a bunch of publishers. A few months later I get a letter from Hunter Publishing, this outfit in Florida that specializes in travel guides for scuba divers saying they were interested. The writing of the book was horrible—I had never taken on a project of such magnitude, had no idea what it was like to write that many words, etc—but eventually I got through it.

So after I wrote my first book, I decided to get an MFA and learn how to write.

CK -- Who locally and in general has had an influence on you and your writing? Who are you favorite Northwest authors, and who are your least?

JBF -- I've always been a huge fan of Douglas Coupland, who lives up in Vancouver BC. The influence he had in defining my generation in his landmark novel Generation X goes completely without comment these days. I also love how unmoored his characters are, and how they struggle with their lack of gods. There's Ken Kesey as well—One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest—which was a huge influence on the novel I'm currently trying to sell, A Very Minor Prophet. Katherine Dunn, Ursula LeGuin, and Chuck Palahniuk should also be mentioned here.

I don't really have any "least" favorite authors here. Every writer who "makes it" out of the Pacific NW generally had to work their ass off to get there, and I respect that.
CK -- How would you define Northwest Literature? What characteristic's does Northwest Lit or Northwest writers have that is distinctly from here?

JBF -- Weirdness, maybe? Edginess? (Although, I hate that word.) Lots of trees in their landscape? We're just not as boxed in here. We're too far away from cultural centers and pop culture and the publishing world. We can't have our friend from Columbia U. send our books to their friend who is an agent. We tend, in our naivete, to just write, and every once in a while one of those works created under the rain and the darkness miraculously makes it to the surface.

CK -- A lot of people talk about Northwest Lit in relations with Literary fiction, what do you think about that? Do you think literary fiction is really a genre or more an ego stroke for literary people?

JBF -- There's definitely a genre—but I think a lot of people writing "literary fiction" don't understand how narrow a genre it really is. If you want to be the next Jonathan Safran Foer, you have to be really f-ing smart, and not many people are actually equipped to be that. As for me, there's literary fiction that I hate (Jonathan Franzen) and literary fiction that I love (David Foster Wallace) and I can't really account for my tastes.

CK -- How did World Leader Pretend come into being? How is it similar and different from your pervious writing and your future writings?

JBF -- I very distinctly remember jogging in Golden Gate Park in SF one day while I was getting my MFA in Creative Writing. I was angry with myself because I had spent the whole day gaming rather than writing. That's when I had one of those hair-standing-on-head moments—I should write a novel about gaming addictions.

CK -- Sort of on a side note, where did the title for the book come from, and were you pleased with the cover? (I ask because I can remember people on the bus asking me what I was reading, and the title and cover together made everyone think it was an anti-Bush book, I wondered if you ever encountered that).

JBF -- Funny. I wrote the book pre-Bush, so there was certainly no intention there. I got the title from the R.E.M. song World Leader Pretend—the lyric "I sit at my table and wage war on myself" sort of my theme lyric for what it felt to be writing. Of course, my original title for the book, The Strangely Peaceful Citadel of Blue Orcs, was way better, but the publisher wouldn't have it.

As for the cover, I hated that motherfucking cover. I even had a sticker artist create stickers so I could plaster it. That didn't make me many friends at St. Martin's, but I never really felt like I was a part of that world anyway.

CK -- Are there any local authors under the radar that you feel should get more attention and recognition? Are there any that you feel have been way over blown and overshadow equally, if not more talented writers?

JBF -- Damn you! So many questions! No one's overblown here, because honestly, even the people who might feel overblown to Portlanders are pretty much nobodies on the national stage. I'm a fan of Monica Drake and Lidia Yuknavitch's work—Lidia has a couple of books coming out though Hawthorne Press in the next couple years that are spectacular. Joe Sacco's graphic novels are incredible, and he stays pretty hidden.

CK -- I have you on my facebook, and some time back you mentioned that you had finished a book and as I remember, called it Jesus.... care to comment?

JBF -- Paul Neilan, a Portlander who's since moved to San Francisco, wrote a book that everyone should read called Apathy and Other Small Victories. Paul and I used to joke about the futility of the "Jesus novels" we were working on, because, despite their total unpublishibility (yeah, I know that's not a word), we were both writing novels that made fun of Jesus. (The title isn't Jesus, it's actually A Very Minor Prophet, but just calling it Jesus is a great idea.) Neither Paul nor I will ever be mainstream writers, because that's the kind of stupid self-destructive shit we do, but maybe that's what being a NW writer is really about—writing stupid shit that no publisher in their right mind would ever buy just to prove that nobody has us by the balls…

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

the challenge

You know what, my maybe handful of readers? It is time to put up or shut up. I, personally am an English major that has accumulated a staggering amount of knowledge on craft, editing, story structure, and voice. So, now I ask you (and myself) this: What have you done with this, Mister Pitts? If that is your real name?

My answer: Nothing.

The facts are as follows:
1 – It has been two years since my name has appeared in print.
2 – I am failing my best friend as his editor.
3 – The best idea I have had to date, has been allowed to stagnate to the point that I wonder if it can even be written.
4 – I am only as good as a two year old byline I submitted to piss someone off.

I have to start classes in a month to finish my degree earning process, and my writing ability has come in third to my card playing skills, and my unholy addiction to online video gaming. This is no way for anyone, you, me, or anyone else, who wants to be a writer to live. If this sounds like you, oh my handful of reading Droogies, then this month should also be a challenge to you. By the end of September, in the year two-thousand-ten (Ano Domini) you and I shall have a story worthy of publication. Worthy of us being called writers.

I leave you with this: You are only a writer if you are writing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On Editing, Editors, and new Writers

Lately, I have been working as an editor for a friend who has an amazing gift to put words on paper. His gift primarily is to do so in massive amounts, but he's also pretty fucking good for someone who is an untrained writer who jumped head-first into writing a two hundred page novel.

My assignment here started as just making the work he had already done more readable, and formatting it in an acceptable way to be sent to a small scale publisher. However, I no longer feel this is doing this friend justice. His talent, and his story deserve more than a little sandpaper. Here is why:

A writer does not need to agree with his editor, and the editor with the writer, either. But, the writer should know enough about craft, agreed with or not, to defend his work with the editor, with the publisher, with the critics. A writer worth his pages knows why he did something this way, and not that way, and more importantly should be able to argue his correctness. And even if that writer does not win that argument, plant a seed of doubt in his detractors. That writer should know why people he disagrees with do the things he disagrees with. That writer should know the rules he is breaking or following, and how they are being broken or followed, and why.

The editor is only around to push the writer, make the story better, but remain invisible in the finished product. Your editor cannot make you a better writer, but he can point you to your strengths and weaknesses.

Assault Prevention

I stole these from a post on, but i thought it was funny, and it has just maybe inspired a satirical story on my part...

Please distribute this list. Put it up in your place of work, in your university’s library or wherever you think they might be read:

If you or somebody you know is thinking about sexually assaulting a loved one, co worker, stranger, or mail man, please read the following.

1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.