ZDMT #14 - Muscle Beach

Still hung over from the after party at Ian McShane’s house on Christmas and had to cancel my appearance at Muscle Beach in Venice, CA. Had I been there, I would have read random excerpts from my book of critical theory, Technologized Desire: Selfhood & the Body in Postcapitalist Science Fiction, while doing this chest and biceps workout:

CHEST

Barbell Incline Bench Press – 1x100 1x12 1x10 1x8 3x6 1x100
Dumbbell Decline Bench Press – 1x100 1x12 1x10 1x8 3x6 1x100
Weighted Dip – 8x8
Dumbbell Flye – 4x25 4x8-10
Pushup Ladder (Wide Grip) – 8xFailure
Chest Squeeze – 8x60sec

BICEPS

Dumbbell Incline Curl – 1x1000
Barbell Preacher Curl – 8x8
Dumbbell Concentration Curl – 1x25 1x5 1x25 1x5 1x25 1x5 1x25 1x5
Pullup (Palms Inward) – 8xFailure
Dumbbell Speedy Alternating Curl – 1x1000
Biceps Squeeze – 8x60sec

I would have finished the workout/reading by doing crunches for 15-30 minutes, depending upon fatigue.

A Note on Melville

"Melville's need as an artist was to take the small, prosy, and terribly circumscribed form he had inherited, and somehow make it a vehicle capable of bearing a great imaginative weight, of expressing a great visionary theme." Newton Arvin, Herman Melville

ZDMT #13 - Ian McShane's House

Confession: I’m not friends with Ian McShane, and he’s not my father. I had to pay for him to do a reading of Codename Prague, and I had to pay extra for him to do it in the role of his Deadwood character Al Swearengen, and I paid even more for the Christmas day slot, and more for the use of his house, and food and whiskey, and servers, and extras to make the audience look bigger and spill into the back yard of his mansion, etc., etc. It wasn’t as much as you’d think, though. It’ll put my publisher back, but it was worth it, and I feel like Ian and I became genuine friends, although all of my relationships with celebrities are troubled by constant efforts to steal the thunder of the social limelight. I may not be as famous as I should be, but I need that thunder, too.

As one might expect, the word “cocksucker” and incarnations thereof perforated Ian’s reading like a spray of bullets. For example:

“After reality, there will be no cocksucking exposition, i.e., no exorcism of the ghosts from the narrative of the Body Dildonic . . . Lincoln Hawk beats that cocksucker Bull Hurly? Life as a cocksucking spectacle of one armwrestling match after another set to the music-in-the-heavens of Kenny cocksucking Loggins? Only in reality. After reality, Mr. Hurly will rise up and over the top like a chunk of cocksucking foam in the cocksucking Dead Sea. Life jackets, however, will only be distributed on a need-to-float basis. Cocksuckers.”

Ian’s rumblestrip voice, of course, enhanced my decidedly pejorative prose, turning it into something more than a halfass collection of words, and several male listeners fidgeted uncomfortably in their seats, assaulted by feelings of emasculation as they were suckerpunched, again and again, by the threat of homosexual oral sex.

He read for about an hour. Afterwards there was a lot of drinking and carrying on. There’s more, much more, but I’m tired and need doghair badly. Stay tuned for the book version of the ZDMT in 2011. I will expand each entry with more intimate and enlightening details.

Traumatize the Solar Plexus

Last week my agent told me she had sold the rights for an upcoming book of nonfiction, Traumatize the Solar Plexus, regarding my exploits with a gang of scousers in Liverpool in the 1990s. The book will be published by Harper, Collins & McDunnough in 2012. More details soon.

ZDMT #11 - Coeur D'Alene, ID

(FYI I wrote the following entry the morning after my co-reading & signing with Thomas Pynchon at a Black Panther rally at The Club at Black Rock in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, on December 18.)

I’ve been sick all week and my cold reached its summit this afternoon. Symptoms: fatigue, sore throat, dry eyes, hot flashes, acidic cough, dejected worldview, spasmic aorta . . . For a few hours I was completely unable to speak. By the time Thomas Pynchon showed up and the preliminary hate-speeches had concluded, I had drank enough green tea to be audible, if only barely audible.

Pynchon is in his 70s but looks like he’s in his 90s. I was reminded of the character Blue – i.e., “Blue, you’re my boy!” – from the film Old School. He wore a tight WW2 sailor uniform with white hat and had really nice, straight, white teeth, like Gary Busey. They certainly weren’t the crooked Nosferatu fangs that drove him into seclusion in the 1960s, according to Jules Siegel’s biography.

When the moderator signaled me, I climbed the stairs of the podium and stood behind a collision of microphones. Hot flashes. Thundering headache. I had worn black browline sunglasses and a black turtleneck and leather jacket and black jeans and boots in an attempt to fit in. The floor of the podium was made of a kind of chickenwire and I worried that I might be electrified, i.e., that if I failed to satisfy consumer demand, I would be shocked offstage. Nothing like that happened, though.

I introduced myself, saying, “We of the younger generation extol the wisdom of that great leader and educator, who first spoke these flaming words of wisdom: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quixotic douchebaggery.’” Then I thanked everybody for coming, thanked Thomas for riding shotgun, and, sans context, began reading chapter 29 of Codename Prague, “Passagenwerk,” patterned after Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project in methodology and style. This chapter is a pastiche of quotes and pseudoquotes and apothegms and pseudoapothegms that hold the diagnostic key/code to the entire novel. At the same time, the chapter could be struck from the novel and nobody would care; in fact, readers might thank me. My editor certainly would thank me. One of many derogatory notes he made in the margin read: “This chapter should be deleted from the book. Or this chapter should be the whole book. Don’t fuck with your readers, moron.” I didn’t listen to him. I rarely listen to him unless his comments have to do with syntactic or grammatical errors. I suppose that’s why I have been relegated to small press infamy.

The audience more or less stared hatefully at me, although, in retrospect, I could be mistaken. Their expressions might have simply belonged to the empire of Deep and Adamant Concentration. Whatever the case, I only got about two pages into my reading before my voice gave out again. Frightened for my life, I continued to mouth the words until the moderator tapped me on the shoulder and told me no words were coming out of my lips. I apologized and asked Thomas if he would finish for me. He was sitting behind me, on the podium, in a deck chair. I could tell he didn’t want to do it, but I think he was a little scared, too, and he acquiesced without a struggle. His voice lacked charisma and certitude, but at least it worked. After he finished my “Passagenwerk” he read selections from his latest novel, Inherent Vice, which I had not read before. During the subsequent Q & A I admitted to not really being interested in what fiction writers over 70 had to say about life, the human condition, etc., but Inherent Vice is an exception. I also emphasized how much I disliked Vineland – I kept repeating the word “tripe” – but how I continue to be influenced by The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow and V. still resonate, too, despite being a million goddamn pages long, like most of his books.

The last question of the Q & A had to do with this very issue. A black panther asked Thomas, verbatim, “What the fuck, asshole?” in reference to the obese girth of his books. His reply was circuitous, but basically it regarded his loyalty to grand narratives, etc.

Imagining Mars

Robert Crossley's new book of criticism, Imagining Mars: A Literary History, is now available from Wesleyan University Press. I've been waiting years for this one. Here's the cover description:

"For centuries, the planet Mars has captivated the human imagination and inspired writers of all genres. Whether imagined as the symbol of the bloody god of war, the cradle of an alien species, or a possible new home for human civilization, our closest planetary neighbor has played a central role in how we think about ourselves in the universe. From Galileo to Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Crossley traces the history of our fascination with the red planet as it has evolved in literature both fictional and scientific. Crossley focuses specifically on the interplay between scientific discovery and literary invention, exploring how writers throughout the ages have tried to assimilate or resist new planetary knowledge. Covering texts from the seventeenth century to the present, from the obscure to the classic, Crossley shows how writing about Mars has reflected the desires and social controversies of each era. This astute and elegant study is perfect for science fiction fans, readers of popular science, and anyone interested in the interplay of scientific discovery, society, and the imagination."

When I was in graduate school at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, I co-taught a course on Martian literature with Bob, who was my M.A. advisor. That was in 1997. This book has been a long time in the making and promises to be the best work of one of science fiction criticism's most distinguished scholars.

Dr. Hermann Teufelsdröckh - Epiphany #3

"The architecture of the human soul defies comprehension. And yet one can only conceive of this defiance through the medium of comprehension. I use the term medium here interchangeably with the term metaphor. In other words, I am the fireplace within the domicile of the human soul. My logs burn. My flames hiss. My flesh is a memory made of glass." Dr. Hermann Teufelsdröckh, Codename Prague

ZDMT #10 - Mt. Rushmore

Mount Rushmore is more impressive than I imagined it would be to me as an adult. I visited once when I was four or five years old, and certain memories remain vivid, even sacred, but overall the past is obliquehereand everywhere. The same might be said for “objective history,” which I enclose in quotation marks to underscore its impracticality, “truth” being a matter of subjective despotism. And I enclose “truth” in quotation marks because it cannot be actualized, forcibly or in an altogether carefree manner, by subjective machinery. We need a community. Unfortunately communities always-already operate at the very threshold of inoperability, if not disaster. Consider Jean-Luc Nancy’s terminal imperative in La Communauté désœuvrée:

“The community that becomes a single thing (body, mind, fatherland, Leader ...) ... necessarily loses the in of being-in-common. Or, it loses the with or the together that defines it. It yields its being-together to a being of togetherness. The truth of community, on the contrary, resides in the retreat of such a being.”

So history is fucked either way—assuming, of course, that we give a shit about “truth.” The desire for authenticity chronically nonplusses me. We are imaginative animals, after all, who thrive on the theater of existence from the cradle to the grave. At any rate, I remember my parents and sister and I driving across the desert in a blue van, with a blue interior—blue swivel chairs, blue couch, blue carpet, blue window blinds—and we ran over a family of Native Americans. They had erected a teepee in the middle of the highway in a peyote-induced stupor. There was a lot of blood. The father survived. I remember his blank, bruised face set against the silhouette of the mountains in the distance. It was dawn. His family scattered on the highway, bleeding. “Fleeting-improvised” ghosts leapt from the shells of their corpses and were immediately forced to defend themselves against rays fired down at them by God (a.k.a. “Flechsig”), who, in the 1970s, had declared war against the souls of mankind, and every plainsight act He committed was an act of “soul murder,” according to Skeksis mythology, although Mystic’s told another story. Poltergeists crowded my fragile eggshell mind, shitting hot coals onto the tissue. The police tried to arrest us. [Blank space.] I didn’t understand. “Flechsig” had always showed me kindness. Grandpa Sig (“Pop”) used to tell me so. “You’re not a normal boy,” he told me. “You live for a long time without a stomach, without intestines, almost without lungs, with a torn esophagus, without a bladder, and with shattered ribs. Sometimes you swallow part of your own larynx with your food, etc. But divine miracles (“rays”) always restore what has been destroyed, and therefore, as long as you remain a boy, you are not in any way mortal.” I didn’t know what Pop meant, but I knew he was trying to reassure me, and he told me in good faith, with an eye to my continued success.

The last time I saw Pop before he died was in New Haven, CT. Blood in the streets. He had been mugged and shot on a sidewalk. I was the first family member to make the scene. He reached up and took me by the collar and yanked me down and croaked his last words into my ear through a purple slash in his sharp white beard: “With great power comes great responsibility.” He said it in German, though, and the effekt produced a nightmarish polyphony of insect screams in my headspace.

I tried to remember what Pop’s voice sounded like as I wound around Mount Rushmore towards the faces and the monument. It was a deep voice. It was a male voice. Indo-European accent. I remembered nothing else save backing into Pop on one occasion/occlusion in a golf cart at my parent’s country club. I bruised his shins.

Vestiges of the experience tempt me, escape me . . .

I was young again. Somewhat awkward, but socially capable, and everybodythe bullies, the peers, the teachers and the gastroenterologistseverybody knew that I would blossom into a fully metastacized adult. I befriended a giant Sphinxlike robot from a distant planet. After awhile I realized the robot was a rather small, jocular, albeit traumatized Asian-American. He taught me how to clean things, and adventures ensued. Then I discovered that I was handy with a sword, especially crosses between Japanese katana and Arabic scimitars, and animals liked me, too, so I went ahead and rubbed oil on my chest and yanked on bearskin underwear and summoned a legion of jungle beasts to my capable side. I led them down a makeshift yellow brick road like the Pied Piper, keeping flying monkeys at bay with a Burroughsian raygun. More adventures ensued . . . at which point I uttered, “Montag,” and burst into flames, the holy water in my lungs evaporating . . . Eventually I outgrew these frivolities and became serious, calling important dignitaries on the phone and studying the green section of the USA Today with determination and grit. In public forums, I was careful to first remove the purple section and make a big to-do about throwing it in the garbage. In a very short time, everybody knew where I stood and what I represented. Finally I had manifested the Real Me.

. . . rappelled down his brow, set the halter in place, and hung from Roosevelt’s nostril by a bungee cord that afforded me certain gestures and recoilings when the text called for them. I announced, “You may think I’m beyond Thunderdome, but I promise, I will kill again.” My voice boomed from powerful black microspeakers I had nailed to all four of the President’s pupils, effekting an authoritative sense of the Freudian uncanny. Viewed from afarHerr Ashenbach shot footage with a Zaprudercam from a local news helicopter we rented on short notice (thanks again, Gretchen)the Presidents in fact resembled my androids in Dr. Identity, whose exteriors were distinguished from human subjects only by the absence of irises . . .

Dr. Hermann Teufelsdröckh - Another Epiphany

"There are plants in the world. They grow out of the sand. Their hands reach for the sky. Beyond the sky, there is blackness. Beyond blackness, there is nothingness. Beyond nothingness, there is the Television Screen of Eternity. That is what happens to us when we die. To the Screen we shall return." Dr. Hermann Teufelsdröckh, Codename Prague

Dr. Hermann Teufelsdröckh

"I know the function of bald people. They signify what planets look like from afar. Thus they symbolize the distance between A and B. Hence they are unceasing reminders of cosmic vastness and the certainty of Blank Space." Dr. Hermann Teufelsdröckh, Codename Prague

ZDMT #9 - Wall Drug

I put in a bid on unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s secluded Montana cabin despite the ad that assured me the cabin wasn’t for sale, only the land, a “sloping tract of imperial pine trees and rich, porous dirt.” There is no electricity or running water.

ZDMT #8 - Pontiac Silverdome

I’m holding open a copy of Codename Prague and writing this entry on a blank page with a red Bic rubber grip roller ball pen and I’m reading the entry, aloud, into the microphone, as I write it. Sometimes I pause to deliver menacing crowdstares. I just delivered one. I’m delivering another one right now, writing “freehand,” i.e., not looking at the page. Now I’m looking at the page again. I’m standing on a vast hardwood stage, naked beneath the crackling spotlights. I’m wearing a bird suit. The silverdome is at full capacity – around 80,000. There’s a lot of noise. Cheering. Young girls screaming, tearing out their Beehives and Sandra Dees. I can’t hear myself speak. But I can feel my lips moving. Now I hear music. The Ninth. When it comes to the Scherzo I can viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my but-throat britva. And there’s the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come . . .

ZDMT December Update

I have posted my appearances and activities in detail at Goodreads.com for the promotion of Codename Prague on the Zero Degree of Meaning Tour through December 2010. Happenings include a reading/signing by Thomas Pynchon and Ian McShane reading selections from Codename Prague in the role of his Deadwood character Al Swearengen.

ZDMT #7 - Penthouse Club

Jim Breuer opened for me tonight. I planed on being one-upped, but I was determined to at least return fire in an innovative, inimitable, and of course übermasculine way. Jim’s on the road promoting his book I'm Not High (But I've Got a Lot of Crazy Stories about Life as a Goat Boy, a Dad, and a Spiritual Warrior), a “deeply personal, deeply hilarious memoir from one of America’s most beloved Saturday Night Live comedians,” according to an editorial review. I read it before going onstage. It’s all right. I always liked the goat boy skits. The way he acted like a goat. Although he read for an hour from I’m Not High in the goat boy voice, and that didn’t work for me, but the audience seemed to like it, and even the strippers in the shadowboxes were clearly charmed, so I did something similar, but different enough that I didn’t come off as a copycat. The audience tolerated me, and generally that’s all I ask. The high point of the evening for me was when I paused to read my 3-year-old daughter Maddie’s turkey recipe:

1. Get a turkey at the ocean.

2. Take the turkey home. Cook it in the oven with the feathers on.

3. Cook it on cold for one minute.

4. Cut the feathers off with scissors.

5. Eat it with red sauce and bananas.

With surefire übermasculine poise, I was able to integrate the recipe into my reading of Codename Prague, seamlessly, without anybody knowing the truth. This, at least, is what the faces told me through the strata of cigar smoke.

Goat Heads for $0.99

Through the new year, the Kindle edition of They Had Goat Heads is available for only 99 cents at Amazon.com, compliments of Atlatl Press.

ZDMT #6 - Quimby's Bookstore

Memories of Chicago from the old days: Lincoln Park, breakfast at Toast, the gateway of the underworld of Gary, IN (a.k.a. Mordor), the view of Lake Michigan from my sister’s dorm room at Loyola University, psychedelic mushrooms at Wrigley Field, skeletons like termites in the trees, an interlude on a concrete stairway on New Year’s Eve (she had yellow teeth), drinks with Oprah in the black pylon, Tim Burton’s Batman, chili dogs, Lake Shore Drive, French fries dipped in Ranch, lost and cabless and freezing at 4 a.m. in the snow, mnemonic residue of fraternal camaraderie, the L . . . I’ve done readings at Quimby’s Bookstore before on two previous occasions, one for the release of Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria in 2008, the other for the release of Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance in 2009. So this is my third year in a row. Quimby’s specializes in independent, small press, and offbeat titles and I always feel at home here, where I first discovered the work of Fletcher Hanks in I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!, a collection of Golden Age cartoons from 1939-41 about flamboyant, Freddie Mercury-like superheroes and the cosmic hate-punishments they inflict on various global terrorists. This collection in fact significantly informed the direction and mood of Codename Prague, which would have been a different novel without it. There is even a reference to Hanks’ supercriminal “Lepus the Fiend,” a kind of angry lava-man . . . This year I was happy to find a new collection, You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation! Today I began writing a screenplay based upon three of the book’s cartoons. Working title: I Shall Make All the Universe Wild and Primitive!

Shroud DE

The inaugural digital edition of Shroud Magazine is still available for free download. It includes my novelette "The Bureau of Me," which will appear in my upcoming metabiography Curd.

Technologized Desire Goodreads Giveaway

There's an ongoing giveaway for signed copies of my book of literary criticism and theory, Technologized Desire: Selfhood & the Body in Postcapitalist Science Fiction, at Goodreads. Free to enter. Free to win. The giveaway lasts through March 2011.

ZDMT #5 - Biddlebaum Books

[DISCLAIMER: The following narrative will constitute a portion of my upcoming novel, Battle without Honor or Humanity. It is based upon my recent appearance at Biddlebaum Books in Winesburg, OH – the fifth stop on the Zero Degree of Meaning Tour for the promotion of Codename Prague, book 2 of the Scikungfi Trilogy. Tentative title for the piece: “Winesburg, OH, Vampire Killer.” Backup title: “The Asshole Factory.”]

Upon the half decayed veranda of a small foreclosed house that stood near the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man walked nervously up and down. Across a long field that had been seeded for clover but that had produced only a dense crop of giant Zambian anthills, he could see the public highway along which went a pickup truck filled with berry pickers returning from the fields. The berry pickers, youths and prostitutes, laughed and shouted boisterously. A boy clad in a black RONNY DIO shirt leaped from the wagon and attempted to drag after him one of the prostitutes, who screamed and protested shrilly. The feet of the boy in the road kicked up a cloud of dust that floated across the face of the departing sun. Over the long field came a thin girlish voice. "Hey, Wing Biddlebaum, comb your goddamned hair, it's falling into your goddamned eyes, dipshit," commanded the voice to the man, who was bald as Yul Brynner and whose nervous little feet angled upwards on contortionist legs and fiddled about the bare white forehead as though arranging a mass of tangled locks.

Wing Biddlebaum, forever frightened and beset by an ultraviolent band of doubts, did not think of himself as in any way a part of the life of the town where he had lived for twenty years. Among all the assholes of Winesburg but one had come close to him. With D. Harlan Wilson, son of Harlan Wilson, the owner of Kelvinator International Products Ltd., he had formed something like a friendship. Wilson visited Winesburg frequently and sometimes in the evenings he smoked a joint and walked out along the highway to Wing Biddlebaum's house. Now as the old man walked up and down on the veranda, his feet moving nervously about, he was hoping that D. Harlan Wilson would come and spend the evening with him. After the pickup containing the berry pickers had passed, he went across the field through the tall anthills and climbing a rail fence peered anxiously along the road to the town. For a moment he stood thus, rubbing his feet together and looking up and down the road, and then, fear overcoming him, ran back to walk again upon the porch on his own house.

In the presence of D. Harlan Wilson, Wing Biddlebaum, who for twenty years had been the town crier, lost something of his timidity, and his shadowy personality, submerged in a sea of doubts, came forth to look at the world. With the middle-aged artiste at his side, he ventured in the light of day into Main Street or strode up and down on the rickety front porch of his own house, talking excitedly. The voice that had been low and trembling became shrill and loud. The bent figure straightened. With a kind of wriggle, like a fish returned to the brook by a fish-loving asshole, Biddlebaum the silent began to talk, striving to put into words the ideas that had been accumulated by his mind during long years of silence and intellectual masturbation.

Wing Biddlebaum talked much with his feet. The slender expressive toes, forever active, forever striving to conceal themselves in his sandals or pant legs, came forth and became the piston rods of his machinery of expression.

The story of Wing Biddlebaum is a story of feet. Their restless activity, like unto the waving of the antennae of an imprisoned insect, had given him his name. Some obscure rap star of the town had thought of it. The feet alarmed their owner. He wanted to keep them hidden away and looked with amazement at the quiet inexpressive feet of other assholes who worked beside him in the fields, or passed, driving sleepy teams on country roads.

When he talked to D. Harlan Wilson, Wing Biddlebaum closed his toes and beat with them upon a table or on the walls of his house. The action made him more comfortable. If the desire to talk came to him when the two were walking in the fields, he sought out a stump or the top board of a fence and with his feet pounding busily talked with renewed ease.

The story of Wing Biddlebaum's feet is worth a book in itself. Sympathetically set forth it would tap many strange, beautiful qualities in obscure men. It is a job for a rap star. In Winesburg, the feet had attracted attention merely because of their activity. With them Wing Biddlebaum had picked as high as a hundred and forty quarts of strawberries in a day. They became his distinguishing feature, the source of his fame. Also they made more grotesque an already grotesque and elusive individuality. Winesburg was proud of the feet of Wing Biddlebaum in the same spirit in which it was proud of Rutger Van Trout’s new eight-story McMansion and Rebecca Comanche's prize hog, Brad Pitt, that had won the two-fifteen trot at the fall races in Cleveland.

As for D. Harlan Wilson, he had many times wanted to ask about the feet. At times an almost overwhelming curiosity had taken hold of him. He felt that there must be a reason for their strange activity and their inclination to keep hidden away and only a growing respect for Wing Biddlebaum kept him from blurting out the questions that were often in his mind.

Once he had been on the point of asking. The two were walking in the landfill on a rainy afternoon and had stopped to sit upon a muddy bank. All afternoon Wing Biddlebaum had walked upside-down on his hands and talked as one inspired. By a fence he had stopped and beating his breast with his feet like a giant woodpecker upon the top board had shouted at D. Harlan Wilson, condemning his tendency to be too much influenced by the assholes about him. “You are destroying yourself,” he cried. "You have the inclination to be alone and to have nightmares and you are afraid of nightmares. You want to be like the assholes in town here. You hear them talk and you try to imitate their assholery.”

On the muddy bank Wing Biddlebaum had tried again to drive his point home. His voice became soft and reminiscent, and with a sigh of contentment, he launched into a long rambling talk, speaking as one lost in a nightmare.

ZDMT #4 - Grindhouse Bookstore

I knew I wouldn’t want to make this appearance when my publicist Stanley Ashenbach scheduled it. Despite good intentions, I always eat and drink too much on Thanksgiving. The following day sees me wandering around the house like a disabled person, robe untied, temper unhinged, slamming shot after shot of Pepto-Bismol while chewing handfuls of prescription anxiety medication to counter the hangover. Generally scaring the shit out of my family. Today was no different. Fuck you, Stan.

Doghair the likes of three mimosas (sans the OJ) and a bloody mary (sans the blood) permitted me to function in a socially acceptable manner, i.e., I adapted. I always adapt. Sometimes it takes awhile. Sometimes I must be coerced, if not forced under the threat of psychological and/or physical violence against my person, ideally by another person, but frequently by my person itself. The point is, I am not incapable of change. Every day presents a fresh opportunity to fuck things up again, albeit in creative and dynamic ways.

Grindhouse Bookstore is kind of a shithole. I’d like to say it’s a shithole with character, but even that’s pushing the truth. Basically it’s a long, thin room with crooked shelves nailed to the walls containing almost entirely used mass market paperback pulp science fiction and horror novels and a lot of John Grisham hardcovers. Dust and dirt everywhere; when I stepped on the floor, plumes of soot wafted up from my bootsoles. The guy who owns the place looks like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future, with a wild white Einsteinian afro and a mouth that looks like a tear in his face, only older, older than Lloyd is now, well into his 90s. He couldn’t really talk or walk and I think he’s quite blind. He staggered around like a thoroughbred zombie, dragassing up and down aisles, groaning at customers, sometimes crying out. Once he knocked over a bookshelf. He didn’t pick anything up. A few of the books were seventeenth century collectibles – they crumbled into ash and powder . . . The owner called himself Marshall Glumm. “Two Ls, two Ms,” he griped. His demeanor changed, however, whenever he rung up customers, at which point be became highly articulate, welcoming, and downright functional, and in the warmest of ways, the sort of grandfatherly old codger anybody of any age would want to read them a bedtime story.

I didn’t do a reading this time and not that many people came into the bookstore aside from beggars and volunteers who worked at the soup kitchen next door. Marshall sat me near the cash register behind a small foldout table on which I artfully positioned copies of Codename Prague and They Had Goat Heads. I only sold signed and sold about 30 copies, most of them at discount prices because I felt like crap. Everybody seemed so helpless and old and gloomy and depressed. Apropos I became very depressed and had to drink a pint of Irish whiskey in order to cope with the goddamned blight. Kettering is a suburb of Dayton, a city I can’t recommend visiting; it’s like a small, shitty version of Cleveland. If you have the chance to visit Yellow Springs, though, just 20 miles east of the city, do it. It’s a quaint, arty town with lots of trees and shops that sell incense and brightly colored bongs. Dave Chappelle lives there, too, and can often be seen wandering around the streets, cracking jokes and reminiscing about the old days.

(DISCLAIMER: Grindhouse Bookstore has no relation to Grindhouse Press, which, coincidentally, is also based in the Dayton area.)

ZDMT #3

The morning of my appearance at the Fort Wayne Deer Park Lodge, I became enraged in the shower thinking about some of the people I work with at the university. This happens three or four times a week, in the shower, among other places throughout the day, especially at the university itself. Dialogic one-acts of unparalleled idiocy and incompetence and ignorance dance across my mind’s screen in fasttime, and I get madder and madder as I apply Bath & Body Works sandalwood exfoliating scrub to my heels, knees, elbows and palms, rubbing it with mindful resolve around the nails where the dry skin is particularly fearsome. I hold the container of the scrub to my nostrils and sniff deeply, at controlled intervals, acknowledging my thoughts, but attempting to place them elsewhere, in a hypothetical sarcophagus that I shut and seal and bury, embracing a would-be zen nature.

Failure.

My father attended my first two ZDMT performances but managed to elude me on both occasions, notwithstanding various disguises. Determined to confront him, I waited outside the entrance to the Deer Park Lodge, smoking cigarettes and doing curls with a 35 lb. kettle ball. He never showed up. Admittedly I felt sort of naked. I felt precisely the same way, it occurred to me, when my parents dropped me off for the first time my freshman year of college at Wittenberg University, a hideously overpriced liberal arts receptacle. I recall wearing a yellow t-shirt and white knee-length shorts. It was sunny. I smelled flowers and gasoline. The rest of college is a well-deserved blur.

The Deer Park Lodge isn’t much different than Rotary. I don’t suspect this is a condition limited to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Both groups possess dynamic ideological sensibilities and healthy cartels of masculinity. The Lodgers simply don’t have as much money as the Rotarians. Which means they are a vastly different species after all. They look different, they talk different, they act different. Class is the great divider. And, as I explain in Codename Prague: “Difference is the payload of identity.”

I stopped counting the audience at 500. I don’t know why or how the event was so well attended. One Lodger told me the ZDMT had simply gained a lot of word-of-mouth momentum in Indiana, but I imagine there are other factors involved.

I read chapter two of Codename Prague, “Slaughterhouse-Five.” Originally this piece appeared in Withersin Magazine. The title is an allusion to Vonnegut’s novel but has little to do with it. Nothing really happens in the chapter, or rather, what happens is incidental to the propulsion of the plot and serves as a means to illustrate some aspects of the social and (meta)physical landscape of the novel’s diegesis. My protagonist essentially gets lost in the “Slaughterhouse District,” which I describe as a “jagged bulge of steeples, chimneys, ducts, pipelines, elevators, fire escapes and smokestacks. The buildings were black, sharp, latticed by tiny blue windows. Gold-rimmed gondolas whizzed across the metallic grey sky on thin tracks of wire. Periodically the shadow of a man in a bird suit passed through the moon, a great jaundiced globe that hung above the night like a tumor” (29). Stand-out features include “a Jim Carey robot with red Riddler hair impersonating a CSI David Caruso” (30), a “Philip K. Dick flab suit” (30), a genetically enhanced sheep whose head explodes (32), and an Orwellian “Two Minute Hate” (33).

“Slaughterhouse-Five” is only a few pages long, so I read it six times.

Questions afterwards touched on a number of subjects, ranging from the elementary—e.g., What kind of porn do you like? What’s a novel?to the more sophisticated—e.g., Should science fiction be taught in high school? Did Althusser really need to write For Marx? Actor Tom Skerritt, 77, was in attendance—apparently he grew up in Fort Wayne and currently keeps his home here—and commented on the afrofuturistic tenor of my writing, then suggested that postmodernism was nothing but an excuse for lazy writing and halfass world-building. This prompted an overlong and somewhat illicit soliloquy during which I insisted that Codename Prague was not postmodern but postmodern, like, with the “post” crossed out. Tom said that crossing it out was just another instance of silly postmodern hoo-hah, although he confessed that he had not thought about Codename Prague as a postmodern (or postmodern) novel until I brought it up; rather, he simply wanted to get certain thoughts he had about postmodernism “out of [his] head.”

I ended up staying at the lodge for two or three hours after my performance, drinking Carlsberg lager, a Danish beer I used to drink all the time when I lived in Liverpool back when it cost 1.5 quid per pint. I got along with the Lodgers much better than the Rotarians. Mostly we talked about how much we hate crowded coffee shops and people that talk too loudly on their earphones. Before I left, a kind of congenial Fight Club mêlée broke out and everybody bashed in each other’s heads for awhile with bricks, bats, axes and knives. Pistols were outlawed.

Review of Goat Heads

Geoff Nelder has written a review of They Had Goat Heads at science42fiction.

Blurb for The Kyoto Man

Here is the final hi-rez version of the cover for The Kyoto Man, beautifully illustrated by Brett Weldele, and accompanied by a blurb that rivals Alan Moore's endorsement of Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance. The Kyoto Man is the third and final installment in my scikungfi trilogy and will be published by Raw Dog Screaming Press at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Seven Beauties of SF & I Think I Am PKD

On deck for my next reviews in Extrapolation are two promising books:

The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction, by Istvan Csicsnery-Ronay, Jr.
I Think I Am Philip K. Dick, by Laurence A. Rickels

I've begun Istvan's book and it's a gem, as expected -- I've been a fan of his science fiction theory for years; his essay "The SF of Theory: Baudrillard & Haraway" (1991) had a profound effect on both my fiction and criticism. I'm more skeptical about Rickels's book with its stark yellow cover. University of Minnesota Press can't finagle an Abe Lincoln android or a retro-futique can of UBIK on the cover? More importantly, I wonder what Rickels can bring to the already obese canon of PKD criticism and creative nonfiction.

Quantum Genre in the Planet of the Arts

I have two stories in the new anthology Quantum Genre in the Planet of the Arts, edited by V. Ulea, and published by Paraphilia. It's currently available for free download at the publisher's website. Here's a description of the book:

This magnificent e-thology of writing and artwork was offered to PARAPHILIA by our friend Vera Ulea as a publishing project. Due to the logistics involved, we had to decline printing it as a paper book, but Vera (and her contributors) generously suggested that we host it on our site as a free-access electronic document. As regards the nature of the book, to quote Ms. Ulea:

“The Quantum Genre is an emerging type of fiction that Darin Bradley calls ‘little weird.’ Using his term, I would call QG ‘weird-weird.’ QG is not about the quantum topic but a ‘quantum’ way of representation of characters and the universe. The theme can be any, including the quantum one, but the technique should be unlike the one we observe in mainstream literature. Therefore, a traditional formulaic language of synopsis required by literary agents and commercial publishers doesn‘t work for QG. The Quantum Work can’t be sold to them and it has no appeal to the mainstream reader just in the same way as Impressionism or Cubism had no appeal to the general viewer.”

My stories, "Victrola" and "To Bed, to Bed - Goodnight," also appear in They Had Goat Heads.

Review of Technologized Desire in Science Fiction Studies

Technologized Desire was reviewed in the latest issue (#112, 37.3, Nov. 2010) of Science Fiction Studies. Here's a snippet:

"By and large, his interpretations are right on the money: Wilson's analyses are almost always rich, insightful, and convincing. Thus, Crowe's and Raimi's films demonstrate the impossibility of a 'natural' self even while guilefully suggesting the opposite; Burroughs' trilogy advances postcapitalist (i.e., hypercapitalist) 'reality'; and the Wachowskis' MATRIX films recapitulate all of this with an eye toward 'the futurological dimension of a postcapitalist dystopia,' as well as the history of science fiction itself. In addition, Wilson's key concern—that capitalist critique be added to the otherwise exemplary work begun by Bukatman—constitutes a valuable contribution to recent scholarship on postmodern science fiction."

ZDMT #2

Good turnout for my second book reading/signing on the Zero Degree of Meaning Tour at The Unjekylled Man's Comics & Things. Not as good as the first reading/signingI counted over 400 Rotarians in the amphitheater—but there were 50 or so people in attendance, including my father, again. This time he disguised himself more covertly, i.e., in a way that didn’t call attention to himself, although he’s tall, 6’8”, the same height as my protagonist in Codename Prague, and he stands out, so to speak, no matter what. The disguise itself isn’t important. I signaled for him to wait for me after the performance and he signaled back in compliance. Then he left before I began.

Unjekylled Man’s is a cool place. Retrolibre décor and lots of old books and comics in pristine condition that aren’t too expensive; I found a first edition issue of Jeff Lint’s The Caterer for $15. The guy who runs the store—the unjekylled man, allegedly—was polite to a fault, plastering an entire wall with posters of my book covers, reciting long paragraphs from my books by rote, getting me drinks whenever our eyes met, even offering to chauffer me around town whenever I needed a lift, no strings attached.

I asked him what an unjekylled man is. He gave me an answer that I didn’t understand. I told him the problem with a man being unjekylled is that Jekyll—i.e., the protagonist from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the only Jekyll I’ve ever heard of—is a man, unlike Hyde, the ’gänger, who is arguably a mutant, or at least a perversion, if only psychosomatically, of a man, and so, theoretically, to “unjekyll” a man would be to unman a man, rendering the man not a man at all. It would’ve been more accurate to call the shop The Unhyded Man’s Comics & Things, since a perversion, psychic or corporeal or both, is more likely to be removed from one’s core being, as opposed to removing the core itself. The owner mentioned something about Freud and castration and we turned to other matters.

For my reading, I decided not to recite anything from Codename Prague but rather to recite Vincent Price’s monologue at the end of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” pass it off as my own, and tell everybody that it was a chapter in the novel. “Thriller” was released in 1982, nearly thirty years ago, and some of you might not remember it. Just in case, here is Price’s monologue:

Darkness falls across the land.

The midnight hour is close at hand.

Creatures crawl in search of blood

to terrorize y’alls neighborhood.

And whosoever shall be found

without the soul for getting down

must stand and face the hounds of hell

and rot inside a corpse’s shell.

The foulest stench is in the air.

The funk of forty thousand years

and grizzly ghouls from every tomb

are closing in to seal your doom.

And though you fight to stay alive,

your body starts to shiver.

For no mere mortal can resist

The evil of the Thriller.

I didn’t do the laugh at the end. Throughout my recitation, I noticed a distinct shift in listener attentiveness and attitude. Nobody left, and nobody accused me of plagiarism afterwards during Q&A. But almost everybody made faces that suggested they were being violated or mistreated in some way. And later, beneath the static of harsh whispers, I heard the phrase “assault on the reader” traded repeatedly. Whatever the case, somehow I managed to sell and sign 100+ copies of Codename Prague and They Had Goat Heads. One gentleman bought twelve copies apiece. I asked him why that number. Like the owner, he gave me an answer that I didn’t understand.

Advance Reader Copies

ARCS for both They Had Goat Heads (Atlatl Press) and Codename Prague (Raw Dog Screaming Press) are readily available for reviewers. You may either contact me directly or contact the publishers' respective publicity managers:

Atlatl Press: Gregory Seymour
Raw Dog Screaming Press: Jaym Gates

Thanks.

Review of They Had Goat Heads in Shroud

Here's another review of They Had Goat Heads in Shroud Magazine. The book is selling like shit but critics seem to like it for the most part.

Review of They Had Goat Heads in ChiZine

Ray Wallace has written a review of They Had Goat Heads for ChiZine. In past years Wallace has written a review of Dr. Identity, or, Farewell to Plaquedemia and a review of Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria.

The Dream People #34

Issue #34 of The Dream People is now online. It includes more short fiction than we have ever published in any previous issue. Also featured are microcriticism, book reviews, and artwork.

ZDMT #1

The Zero Degree of Meaning Tour for the release of my novel Codename Prague in 2011 has officially begun. This is the inaugural blog entry.

A giant sinkhole opened up in the road on my way to the first reading/signing on November 1 at the Fort Wayne Rotary Club. Sinkholes are unheard of in this area. Police tried their best to redirect traffic. They failed. In fact, they produced more traffic than their absence would have ensured. I drive a Subaru Forester and skirted the sinkhole by offroading my way through a beanfield.

I left home early. I needed some L-Glucose powder and stopped by a GNC on the way to Rotary.

I assume GNC employees work on commission since whenever I enter the store they’re on me like shit-starved flies, asking what they can do for me in multiple overfriendly ways. I ignored them, on this occasion, and when they persisted, I told them I didn’t need any help, and when they still persisted, offering me free high protein taffy squares, I said, “No. I’ll let you know if I need help. I know what I want. I know where it is.” Unfazed, they stayed on me, offering me more free bullshit, assuring me that they could do this, that, etc. I got meaner. And I discovered that the meaner I got, the more overfriendly the GNC employees became.

I decided to try this technique out at the Rotary Club, if only in trace amounts.

Before my presentation, I warmed up in the bathroom. Note the still shot of my warm-up routine (incline pushups).

Immediately I could tell that the Rotarians were taken aback by my outfit: tight-fitting black Calvin Klein t-shirt, designer Tyler Straight Fit jeans from The Buckle, worn-out brown Doc Martins—the only outfit I ever wear, more or less. The Rotarian who introduced me was so frazzled he kept repeating himself and making weird huffing sounds, so I stepped to the podium, mindfully excused him, and faced the crowd.

I often play Journey’s “Separate Ways” when I do book readings. Compliments of a superpowered iPhone microspeaker, I often turn the song up so that I can barely be heard.

As a preface, I explained how I am not a writer, i.e., how my writing is not writing, or rather, how my writing is more about writing than something that might actually be quantified as “real” writing. I assured them that I was not a mere metawriter either, since my (meta)writing is about the act of metawriting too. I said that they could call me a metametawriter, if they wanted, but technically the two metas cancelled themselves out, or something, rendering me the writer I had already said I wasn’t. As for Codename Prague, I mentioned that it was not so much a novel as a map for how to write a novel, specifically a bad pulp science fiction novel with lots of gore and swearing and some graphic sex scenes. I concluded my preface with a quote from David Cronenberg’s Videodrome: “Long live the new flesh.”

“Separate Ways” repeated itself as I read from the first chapter of Codename Prague in which my naked and smartassed protagonist (an African-Amerikanized trickster figure) is attacked by bionic government-sanctioned “SAMSAs” (Syncretic Amerikan Metaformulaic Stock Agents) in a homegrown antigravity matrix.

Physiognomic Rotarian-response criticism unfolded in curious and exciting directions.

As I read, I noticed my father sitting in the audience. He was dressed like an Arab—white keffiyeh, black agal and bisht—in some weird attempt to disguise himself. I pretended not to see him, and he pretended not to see me, but we knew we saw each other, of course, and we knew we were pretending not to see each other.

He snuck out shortly before the conclusion of the chapter.

FEMSPEC Review of Technologized Desire

Tonight I discovered that FEMSPEC: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Feminist Speculation has reviewed Technologized Desire: Selfhood & the Body in Postcapitalist Science Fiction. Here is the reviewer's culminating assessment:

"Wilson's text serves not only as a well-informed addition to science fiction criticism and theory, but also as a critique of postmodem society and the direction it is headed. Utilizing examples from postcapitalist films, novels, and comic books, Wilson provides a dynamic analysis of science fiction as a way to view postmodern capitalism and its effects on society and individuals."

FEMSPEC is a premier journal in the field of speculative criticism dedicated to science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, surrealism, myth, folklore, and other supernatural genres. I'm very happy and thankful for their attentiveness to my book, especially the reviewer herself, Antoinette Winstead, professor and chair of the Communication Arts Program at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas.

For more on FEMSPEC, check out their new blog.