While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Status Report: Week Forty-Eight

Weeks Forty-Eight – The Stats

Weekly Wordcount: 16,163 words (compared to 15,561 words last week)
Average: 2309 words per day (compared to target of 3,001 words/day)
Most productive day: Wednesday 26 November, 4,284 words
Least productive day: Friday 28 November, 650 words
Year-to-date: 743,830 words (171,470 words behind target)

There was a spike on Tuesday and Wednesday while Marisa was away for work. I was able to build my evenings around my writing, rather than write around other things. I’m looking forward to the fortnight between finishing work and leaving Edinburgh almost as much as the recommencement of our world tour. Almost.

There are several things I’d like to achieve before 21 December:

* Write my 800,000th word. (Not a million, but it’s something).

* Finish first drafts of two new stories and the expansion of another, hopefully for inclusion in my short story collection. I’m not too worried about the level of polish at this stage, as two of the three stories have scenes set in places I haven’t been yet (Boston; Lima) but will have visited by the time I have to submit the final manuscript (June 09).

* Some sort of Year of Eight Hundred Thousand Words summary blog entry or entries. Lots of graphs, pointless statistics, spelling mistakes: just like the rest of the year. And something about living in Edinburgh: the digested read.

* Submit as many poems and short stories as I can for publication in print and online. I did a similar thing before leaving the Southern Hemisphere in May-June 2007… it seemed to work pretty well. I think my strike rate was 8 publications submitted to: 1 rejection, 6 acceptances, 1 no reply. Having a lot my writing under my belt, I’ll probably (hopefully) be submitting to more than 8 publications this time… we’ll see how my hit-rate goes.

This being the final day of November, and thus the final day of this month’s experiment (write a 100 word story every day), expect some sort of post-mortem tomorrow.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Help The Aged

I went for an eye test today. Several reasons: it’s about 2 years since I last had my eyes tested and back then they said I was a borderline case, and it was best to apply a wait and see approach. Recently, I’ve been having trouble reading signs and clocks from a distance. And in the U.K., eye tests are free, and glasses are a lot cheaper than back in N.Z.

The technician who was taking photos of the back of my eyes sad something strange. Perhaps strange isn’t the right word. Rude, maybe. She was looking at my details on the system and said, “Wow, you’re younger than me. I was born in 1982. You look a lot older.”

I didn’t say anything, just lowered my chin onto the next chinrest and proceeded to blink every time the jet of air was fired into my eye. (I struggle to put eyedrops in, so that was like torture).

But I was a little offended. I don’t want to look a lot older than twenty-five. I like to think that even though I find a new grey hair every fortnight, most people won’t be standing that close to notice. That aging is my little secret.

Maybe having an eye test on a Saturday morning after drinking the night before wasn’t the best idea. But I was still surprised the technician thought I was... older.

[Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised. Not after last year, when, on the train from Venice to Vienna, the elderly Czech lady who used to be an acrobat thought my brother (who is three years younger than me) was my son.]

On the other hand, I probably would have been just as put out if she had said, “You look much younger than twenty-five.” I’ve done a lot since I left school, and it only seems right that my appearance reflects this.

Perhaps twenty-five is that difficult age where you don’t want to be older and you don’t want to be younger, you just want things to stay how they are right now?

Or perhaps it was twenty-four, back before the grey hairs and the ever-wrinkling eyes?

Or twenty-three, before I looked like my brother’s old man?

At least my eyesight is still good. No glasses required. Who cares if I have to take a few more steps to see if the street sign says Morrison or Merchiston Street?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

All Tore Up Tonight

Sort-of expat NZer Kapka Kassabova in the Sunday Times (via Bookman Beattie):

Rivulets of urine crisscross the pavements as you slalom between puddles of fresh vomit, discarded takeaway cartons smeared with ketchup, and the occasional survivor swooning in an alcoholic daze in some corner, watering the nearest pot plant... On a Saturday morning, it’s normal to walk past the Calabrian restaurant and find its spotless window smashed. And the boutique next door, and the cafe next door to that. On a Sunday morning, it’s normal to find all the cars parked in my street with their side mirrors smashed. It’s normal to find the glass entrance to my building smashed, to have it fixed, and then smashed again. And so it goes in our pleasant neighbourhood.

That neighbourhood? Pricey Broughton in central Edinburgh's East End.

When I lived on Queensferry Street in the West End, my experience was almost identical. It's no fun to find the entrance to your building covered in chip-shop & alcopop vomit on a Saturday morning. And to find it still there when you get back in the afternoon. Or, in the still of night (you really notice it once the buses stop) to be woken by the same swear word over and over, louder and louder, until you think the guy's head must explode, but then he remembers another swear word and starts again.

In her piece, Kapka Kassabova goes on to claim she feels safer in Bulgaria than in Britain. I haven't been to Bulgaria, so I can't really comment, but I don't think it's really an issue of safety. I've never felt unsafe in Edinburgh. Just as you need to be doing something pretty wrong to end up being gunned down by a mutri, you normally have to make a succession of mistakes to end up on the wrong end of a drunken Brit's weekend lash-out.

The results of alcohol are annoying, and unsavoury, but I'd stop short of scary.

When I moved further out of the city (admittedly, Polwarth is still not that far) it bought home how localised the loutish behaviour is, and how precious a little piece and quiet. The unsightly remains of a night on the turps have, however, been replaced by footpaths covered in dog poo [photo omitted]. Nowhere's perfect, eh?

Reading Kapka's moan (however well argued, it's hard to deny that's what it is), what I now want to know is why she choses a) to live in the UK and b) in Edinburgh? This isn't the sort of snide rhetorical question many of the commenters to her piece employed (Why don't you go back to Bulgaria, then? etc), but genuine interest. I wouldn't be surprised if part of the reason why Edinburgh appeals to a multi-lingual, multi-national, multi-talented person is closely related to why Scots are so tolerant of drunken misbehaviour. After all, the unfettered celebrations of Hogmanay would be impossible somewhere less permissive, and that's exactly why it works, if only for one night of the year.

Sometimes the things we hate are holding the things we love together.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Status Report: Week Forty-Seven

Weeks Forty-Seven – The Stats

Weekly Wordcount: 15,561 words
Average: 2,223 words per day (compared to target of 3,001 words/day)
Most productive day: Sunday 23 November, 3,116 words
Least productive day: Tuesday 18 November, 1,717 words
Year-to-date: 727,667 words (168,508 words behind target)

Life, or preparation for life after the U.K., has impinged on my writing time all week, and will do so for the rest of the year. I wish I could stop checking the GBP-Euro and GBP-USD exchange rates (scary bad) but I can’t. I wish I could just pay whatever price for a memory card or for shipping a box of mementos to NZ but I can’t. I’m too cheap. And, having paid for all our flights and pre-booked tours, there’s not a lot of room for frivolity. Still, it’s all worth it, eh?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The best moment in NZ sport in the last twenty years

Watch it here if you have a spare hour. (Positives: Neutral British Commentators, Great Streaming. Negatives: The pronunciation of anyone without an anglo name, pointless references the UK Superleague.)

Okay, so maybe Team NZ winning the America's Cup in 1994 was a bigger financial boon for the country, but honestly, it's yatching. If there were millions of dollars to be made from the Fencing World Cup, would that make a NZ victory our greatest sporting achievement?

And sure, there were only three teams with a realistic chance of winning the Rugby League World Cup (“realistic” may be flattering the English), but there are so many factors that make the 32-20 victory the sweetest of sweet:

  • Beating Australia, in Australia (in a stadium I've sat and watched NZ lose to Australia twice by a combined margin of 60 points), after losing 8 straight to the Aussies, in the face of 10-1 odds, against a squad the pundits were calling the best ever... *cough*
  • Beating Ricky Stuart. God I hate that guy.
  • This was the first rugby league world cup for eight years, and even then, people were asking what's the point, we know who'll win. And I'm the first to say the format was beyond stupid. But NZ's victory (and the surprises in Pools B and C) proves the worth of a world cup, and that it should be a regular fixture. (Though eight years with NZ as World Cup champs without having to defend the title would be okay, too).
  • The fact every New Zealand sports fan knows what it is like to be the favourite going into a rugby code's world cup, only to see that team confound expectations in the space of 80 minutes. And after 1991 and 2003, it was sweet that it was Australia's dream we ended.
  • The game itself. New Zealand was the better team. We wanted it more. We weren't overly confident (see Billy Slater's gift to Benji Marshall) and played to the whistle (see tries by Jerome Ropati and Adam Blair). We were the perfect incarnation of a Wayne Bennett team. Oh, what, Stephen Kearney was the head coach... Hmm.

Da-da-da-bom-bom, da-da-da-bom-bom

Friday, November 21, 2008

How Long Do I Have To Write Until I Get Really, Really Good?

It’s about a week old, but I only just read this extract from Malcolm Gladwell's upcoming book, Outliers, over at The Guardian Online. It’s definitely worth a read.

Basically, in addition to All-World talent, one number links The Beatles, Bill Gates, Mozart and Tiger Woods: 10,000:

"In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers,
ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals," writes the
neurologist Daniel Levitin, "this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand
hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of
practice over 10 years... No one has yet found a case in which true world-class
expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this
long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."

Obviously, the mention of fiction writers got most interested me, but I’ll have to wait to read the whole book to see if there are any persuasive case studies of writers.

[This piece on Gladwell, also via Guardian Online, does mention his own 10,000 hours writing non-fiction came while working for the Washington Post ages 24-34].

Does a wannabe have to write for 10,000 hours before there’re ready to win the Booker, or write their Sgt. Pepper? Ten years of writing twenty hours a week? Goodness.

But I am strangely comforted by this idea. Talent is crucial, but maybe persistence and patience is just as important. This links back to my post a few months ago where I argued for public apprenticeships for writers. You may be able to write an entertaining book after, say, 5,000 hours of practice (though who’ll admit that their current novel / story / blog post is just practice?) but it will probably have a few kinks. Perhaps once you reach 10,000 hours, you’d be able to iron out those kinks, or (more likely) be able to recognise that the kinks are part of the genetic makeup of the book and you’re better making another one from scratch -- but the kink-y book still has value. To give a book over to the world provides fresh perspectives on the book for the writer (I imagine, check back with me in 2010), and allows them to start something new.

Right at the beginning of this Quest for a Million Words lark, I said:

I know this is a gimmick. But if it makes me write everyday, regardless of mood
or circumstances, it's the gimmick for me.

What I thought I’d mentioned, but it seems I decided against, was that I felt my writing had reached a tipping point (to borrow another Gladwellian term) at the end of 2007: I had an MA in Creative Writing, I’d recently won the novice section of a short story competition and had another story published for payment… all I needed was more finished things to submit for publication, which would require a lot of writing.

And write I have.

Okay, so I haven’t finished either of the two novels I worked on this year, and probably won’t finish one next year either, but I feel like it’s happening.

Three hours writing a day is probably quite close to my average for 2008 (most days I do more, but all those travel goose-eggs bring the average down-down-down), which means I’ve probably chipped a year off my ten year apprenticeship. Which begs the question: how many hours had I done before this year? And: how many more do I have in front of me?

During September-October 2006 (in the lead up to handing in my novel/thesis), I wrote an average of eight hours a day (honest). For the majority of my MA year, however, I was lucky to pull down three hours of writing time. But I was living and breathing writing the whole time. I was reading books by the pile and the work of my other classmates, providing comments, talking about writing and books, attending readings, seminars, book launches… All of these things were important in shaping either my understanding of writing (reading especially) or my drive to become the one giving the reading / having the book launched. So perhaps the 10,000 hours for a writer is actually 10,000 hours of writerly activity, be that reading books with a writer’s eye, talking about writing, or writing writing. Or maybe for writers it’s more like 10,000 hours writing + 10,000 reading.

Either way, I’m not there yet, but I’m on the way. If I keep working, well, I’ll only have my lack of talent or the seismic shifts in the publishing industry to blame for not winning the Booker!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Expanding Sidebar

Is it wrong to like Monday mornings? Perhaps "like" is the wrong word, but normally all it takes is a read through of the results of the NFL's late games to make the walk to work (and what follows) tolerable. Tuesday is okay too, since there's the box score from Monday Night Football to read (and the mental arithmetic to see if I've won my fantasy football matchups), but after that, the week seems to drag.

This particular Monday morning was even more tolerable as I received emails from Blackmail Press and Turbine informing me I'd had poems accepted for publication.

[This will be the third consecutive year I've appeared in Turbine; each time for a different form of writing: novel excerpt, short fiction and poetry. Not that I'm claiming to be any sort of triple threat. Actually, I had non-fiction included in Turbine 06 as well, so if anything, I'm a quadruple threat! *cough* ]

The difficulty is that now I have to write two bio notes without sounding like a plonker. I guess I could send the same note to both... but I kind of enjoy writing them. It sure beats receiving a rejection email and deciding whether to resend, rewrite, or abandon a piece of writing.

In an unrelated note: Blog Visitors...

No Accounting For The Taste Of An Accounting Student

Why I Used To Enjoy Books By Chuck Palahniuk, Using His Latest Novel,
Snuff, As An Example

1. "It's the vibe of the thing, Your Honour"

Dirty, dark, wry, nihilistic, visceral. Snuff is all of these things. Shocking, too, perhaps, depending on your shock threshold. (Tick yes if you find hardcore pornography, date rape, incest, mutilated genitalia, and/or urine socked stuffed toys shocking.)

2. It sure was interesting

Snuff contains riffs on the following topics: the history of gang bang style pornographic films, the death or maiming of more traditional movie stars as a consequence of their craft, a history of vibrators, gang-land tattoos, the history of cyanide, the means of suicide of movie stars of yesteryear... do you see a theme developing? See dark/dirty/nihilistic discussion above.

Chuck Palahniuk has done a lot of research, and he does his best to impart his learnings to the reader.

In addition, there's all the stuff he just plain made up himself, like the names of fictional porn actors named after alcoholic beverages (Branch Bacardi, Cord Cuevo, Beamer Bushmills...) and the names of Cassie Wright's films (variations on real books/films: The Da Vinci Load, Butt Pirates of The Carribean, The Importance of Balling Earnest).

3. No fat

Snuff is only 197 well-spaced pages. Every sentence and every chapter feel crafted, honed. There are no big words. Certain phrases (‘True Fact’...) and images (dandruff, bronzer…) reappear and act as refrains, helping to add a rhythm to a passage and remind us who is talking.

4. More twists than a packet of... um, twisties

Every chapter hums along with it's surface concern and then right at the end you realise all is not as it seems: Mr 72 believes he is Cassie's son / Mr 600 might be Mr 72's dad / the disgusting dude Mr 600 is watching on TV is actually himself...

And then there's the biggest twist of all, which, like Fight Club and Choke and Invisible Monsters (and maybe more, I'm getting forgetful), revolves around people not being who they say they are, or being more than they say they are. I didn't pick Snuff's big twist until half a page before it happens. That's pretty good. I'm honestly trying not to be sarcastic in this first section.

But I can't keep it up any longer.

Why I No Longer Enjoy Books By Chuck Palahniuk, Using His Latest Novel, Snuff, As An Example

1. "It's the vibe of the thing, Your Honour"

Hardcore pornography, date rape, incest, mutilated genitalia, an unhygienic craft service table... Snuff sounds shocking on paper, but everything is presented with so much intent - - the scene where Branch Bacardi absent-mindedly shaves his nipple off; the scene where Mr 137 accidentally eats a flake of Sheila's dandruff - - that it's not shocking. It's like those modern horror movies where the villain and the blood and the guts and the screaming gets 90% of the screen time, and it's not actually scary anymore, it's something else (sadistic?).

And as for the wryness, the jokes are as stagey and hammed-up as the sadism, I mean schlock, I mean shock. All those porn star names and porno titles. It just becomes another device to space out a chapter.

2. It sure was interesting

There's nothing wrong with doing research. I simply object to the way Palahniuk inserts the findings of his research. On most occasions, the riffs are presented as reported speech, and intercut with two or three of the following: direct speech regarding something else, either from the narrator or a third person; a description of something happening in the present (what Cassie Wright is doing on the TV screen / the state of the waiting room / the signatures on Mr 137's Autograph Hound); a description of something that happened in the past. I don't mind the fact these riffs are intercut (they need to be spaced out by something!), but that someone is supposedly saying these things.

For example, the exchange between Sheila and Cassie Wright in chapter 12 presents the history of pelvic floor exercises and a catalogue of film actors who befell terrible injuries whilst filming as Cassie’s reported speech, while in direct speech we only get earthy sentiments like, “He’s hot,” and “Fuck… that one was genuine jade.” And then, the direct speech Cassie Wright doesn’t know the philosopher Aristotle (“The man who married Jackie O?”). This may be an attempt at humour, but its real effect is to underline how the research element is independent of the character ostensibly delivering the nuggets.

Indeed, the voice of these research-heavy riffs is constant, regardless of whose speech is being reported and which of the four narrators is doing the reporting, and this is why I am left thinking: Thanks for that, Chuck Palahniuk. It's all too clumsy, too showy, too schlocky.

And then there's the strange tension created by all of these real world facts and anecdotes (Annabel Chong did this, Annabel Chong did that), with the pantheon of fake porn Palahniuk regales us with. It's not a case of having to figure out where the real world ends and the fiction begins, the two are so clearly delineated by voice and content that they are almost different languages. No, the problem is that it yet again reminds me of Chuck Palahniuk and the act of compiling this book (I say compiling, because it's a cut and paste job more than a successful attempt at a prolonged prose narrative).

3. No Fat

Snuff may be concise but if you poke around the story, you find there's nothing there. The action takes place over a limited timespan (about 10 hours) with minimal flash backs, and the novel purports to see the action from four different perspectives -- but what do we really get in that time? 30+ chapters with the same structure: set-up, twist; set-up, twist. And the four voices, despite a few token efforts at differentiation (the “True Fact” refrain, Mr 600's use of "dudes"), all of the narrators share the same voice as Palahniuk's other damaged, grimy narrators. They aren't narrators so much as perspectives from which a third person limits their knowledge and relates the action. I guess out-and-out omniscience runs contrary to Palahniuk’s nihilism, I mean romanticism. Everything presented on the page is in service of the vibe, nothing is in service of the characters.

Having wafer thin characters does allow the author more scope in where he can take them. Crazy shit appears to work on the surface, because all we have in Snuff is surface: characters who don’t know each other can suddenly fall in love (Mr 72 and Sheila, the hitherto gay Mr 137 and Cassie), or act out of character (the selflessness of Mr 600's final act), because there wasn't really any depth of character their to begin with.

4. More twists than a packet of... um, twisties

The set-up, twist structure begins to grate after a while. It's a bit like a child overusing exclamation marks. The twists stop being twists because they are expected. Near the end, Palahniuk has forced himself into a corner: he needs to out twist his previous twists, out shock his previous shocks, out gross everything that has gone before. So we get necrophilia, electrocution, ghosts and sexual welding.

At the same time, the last twenty pages are the worst kind of throwaway. Whereas earlier in the book the writer's bodily fluids could be clearly detected on the pages, it's as if Palahniuk doesn't truly believe in what he's asking us to believe at the end of Snuff: the chapters are shorter, the cut-up structure within chapters is set aside, the nifty research he digs so much is all but gone (there is a Marilyn Monroe riff, so...), and we are rattled through to another ending with two damaged individuals forming an unlikely couple in the rubble.


The above is a purely personal take. I suspect I would have liked Snuff if I read it six years ago -- though the subject matter would still have been alienating. This is not to say that I am now a better reader and that anyone currently who likes Palahniuk's work is any sort of inferior. Just that my tastes have changed. I want different things from fiction. I can cope with less twists and less grime and less cool-factor if the story can make me suspend my disbelief. The fact that I have immersed myself in writing fiction over the last six years means it's harder to make me suspend my disbelief: my default mode of reading is thinking about what the writing is doing. I'm less forgiving of loose writing and sore thumb scenarios. But the good stuff can still suck me in. That's why it's so hard to write about the good books and why I took two pages of notes while reading Snuff. The fact I'm no longer an angry young man might also explain why the Palahniuk vibe has lost its appeal.

I suspect if I was to read a book by Vladimir Nabokov, the writer I swore allegiance to after Palahniuk, I'm sure I would be able to write something similar (if a little less scathing). The thing about reading (and writing, too, I guess), is that you can never step in the same book twice.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Status Report: Weeks Forty-Five and Forty-Six

Weeks Forty-Five and Forty-Six – The Stats

Fortnightly Wordcount: 19,286 words (compared to 19,214 words in week forty-four)
Average: 1,378 words per day (compared to target of 3,001 words/day)
Most productive day: Sunday 16 November, 4,641 words
Least productive day: 8-13 November October, 100 words each day (see November experiment)
Year-to-date: 712,106 words (164,943 words behind target)

If you took out the seven days travelling, you be left with a decent week’s wordcount. But, if it weren’t for the seven days travelling, I wouldn’t have anything to write about on my travel blog and no concerts to review here and I still wouldn’t have had a feijoa since 2006…

I promise I won’t mention Dave Wyndorf or Monster Magnet again this year. However, after posting yesterday’s review I have been thinking a lot about how my tastes have changed since the Y2K bug failed to bite. So tomorrow there’ll be a sort of review of Chuck Palahniuk’s Snuff which is really just another veiled navel gaze.

Oh goody.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Monster Magnet w/ Pilgrim Fathers and Nebula

Sapnu Fabrika, Riga, 13 November 2008

From the outside, it was hard to gauge the size of the Sapņu Fabrika (Dream Factory). I had a moment of trepidation before stepping through the doors (Please let there be more than fifteen people at this show) but once inside I felt better. There were two bars, a decent stage with crowd control corridor, and standing room for several hundred. Just how many were in attendance, I can’t say, but it was certainly a good crowd.

[Aside: Coat check was free. Which in a coldish country like Latvia is very fair. I wish there were opportunities to make an extra buck left unexploited in the U.K. – it’s just so tiring sometimes.]

The first band on were Pilgrim Fathers from Nottingham. They were clearly influenced by the kind of effects-heavy Hawkwind-y space rock that early Monster Magnet channelled before releasing their debut L.P. (see half hour jam on Tab E.P.), but something was amiss. Marisa didn’t like them from the get go: loud and indecipherable were her main complaints. She has since adopted “Pilgrim Fathers” as a short hand for “irredeemably bad”. My reaction wasn’t quite so negative, perhaps because I knew a bit more about where they were coming from, but still: the lead singer spent so much time hunch over his effects module that it the thought of throwing a shoe at him did cross my mind.

After the sacrificial lambs, we were treated to the best supporting set I’ve seen in a long while by Nebula. I actually own To The Center and may have a few other tracks from these Californians on some of my “stoner rock” compilation CDs back home, so the band were not exactly an unknown entity. But then if you asked me for another album title, I’d be struggling.

The band are actually doubling back after doing their own headline tour of Europe earlier in the year, and managed to lure the building crowd into a bopping mood. As with Pilgrim Fathers, however, their kind of music – in this case: tight, riff-driven, sludgy rock’n’roll – sounds dated now. The lyrics lack any sort of punch, and the band are a couple notches down on the charisma stakes to suggest they will ever find their way out of their Eastern European Tour purgatory and into the American alternative mainstream.

Still, there’s plenty worse things than being a great supporting act (I’m sure for a few audience members they outshone the headliners…).

But I was only in Riga for one band.

Before, during and after Monster Magnet’s performance, I thought a lot about one thing. And no, it was not Dave Wyndorf’s weight (I forgot about that halfway through the first song… though not permanently).

It was the set list.

I own all of Monster Magnet’s albums, but wouldn’t call myself a diehard fan anymore. When I heard that the band were playing ‘Best Of’ shows this time around and ignoring their newer material, my first reaction was: cool. I would get to see the songs that made me a diehard fan.

But just what would a best of set list be like? Monster Magnet have released two greatest hits collections: both were misnomers (only ‘Space Lord’ could be called a hit); both were money-making ventures by record labels and opposed by the band in some way; neither really captured the best of Monster Magnet.

Then there was the difference between what the band would consider a best of and an Eastern European audience would expect.

All I knew was that there were certain songs, if I cast my mind back five or six years to when Monster Magnet loomed large on my musical tastes, that I would go ga-ga to see live. Such a list began with ‘Spine of God’ and ‘Cage Around The Sun’, followed by a trio of album starters from the mid-late 90s: ‘Dopes To Infinity’ (from the album of the same name), ‘Crop Circle’ (from Powertrip) and ‘Melt’ (from God Says No).

I was earworming ‘Dopes’ for three days as I walked around Riga (and Sigulda, which was lovely, by-the-by) before catching the concert on our last night in the Baltics. I even said to Marisa before the show: they’re gonna play ‘Dopes To Infinity’ tonight and they’ll play it first.

And so they did.

In fact, the set of fourteen songs (ten plus a four song encore that stretched for 25+ minutes), included every one of the five songs I listed above in my best of / must see live list.

I was so fixated with what songs MM would play / were playing, I tried to take a snippet of video of each song as an aide memoir for when I got back to the hostel to ensure I got the set list straight for this review.

[It turns out this wasn’t necessary as I got one of the set lists used by the band after the show, which Jim Baglino (Bass) kindly signed... and most of my video snippets are pretty much indecipherable.]

The only time I felt the set list left something to be desired was when they followed up the epic ‘Third Alternative’ with ‘Zodiac Lung’. Dave sat on a speaker and almost crooned the lyrics, while Ed Mundell stood in the background providing the only instrumentation. It was clearly an attempt to provide light and shade, this being a quieter, more introspective interlude, but it wasn’t necessary: ‘Third Alternative’ had already light-and-shaded our socks off, and later on ‘Cage Around The Sun’ and ‘Spine of God’ did the same thing. In comparison, ‘Zodiac’ was a one trick pony. It was also the only time I wondered (worried) about what the locals thought of this song choice.

If mellowness and introspection were in order, why not ‘Ozium’, a song from the same record as ‘Zodiac Lung’ but with that space rock vibe that the Pilgrim Fathers tried (and failed) to hook into. For a best of show, that would have been the icing on my cake.

The other thing to note, and this isn’t really a complaint, is that there was nothing from 2007’s 4-Way Diablo. Which, in one respect, you can understand if the band is out to play a We May Never Tour Again So Here’s The Best In Our Bag of Tricks type of show, but then again, what’s up with the t-shirts on sale with the cover art of 4-Way Diablo on the front and on the back: “4-Way Diablo Winter 2008 European Tour”?

‘Little Bag of Gloom’ could have ably filled the role of ‘Zodiac Lung’, and surely one of ‘Slap In The Face’, ‘Solid Gold’ or ‘4-Way Diablo’ would stand up just as well as lesser known songs like ‘Twin Earth’ or ‘Radiation Day’?

See, I told you I’d thought a lot about the set list.

Still, I can conclusively say that this was the concert where I have sung along the most (yes, even more than the Tragically Hip). I was enjoying it so much I never got the chance to properly look around and see how many other people were singing along (though I got the impression that Powertrip-era songs were the ones that went down the best).

The band were tight and looked into it. The absolute highlight was the way Caivano, Baglino and Mundell hung back during the quiet parts of ‘Third Alternative’ and then came to the front of the stage in a wave and blew the speakers for the chorus (sounds gimmicky put into words, but it wasn’t).

Up until seeing MM live, I was never really sure about Ed Mundell, the lead guitarist. He always seemed a bit aloof in videos and photos, somehow at odds with the band’s image, though I could never fault his solos. But seeing him out watching the warm up acts (he actually ran off to find the sound engineer when Pilgrim Fathers were on stage waiting to start) and his demeanour on stage, it’s clear that Ed is a great guy who just isn’t that outgoing. His personality is refreshing to find in a band of this sort, and provides an indispensable foil to the excesses of Dave Wyndorf (hold that thought). And following my brief conversations with Jim Baglino and Phil Caivano after the show (basically: “Great show. I’m from New Zealand. Please like me”) I feel safe in saying they are genuinely nice people.

As for Dave, he didn’t emerge from backstage before or after the show, and I couldn’t help imagine him in some Jabba The Hutt repose. He still played the role of showman and Prophet of Teenage Fears and Desire well during the show, but he also spent a lot of non-singing time with his back to the audience, recovering.

Because the guy is out of shape.

And his dress sense (unzipped back hoodie, baggy cargoes) doesn’t help appearances… or the sweat situation.

And when he stands with his back to the crowd, you can see his bald spot.

And I have nothing but admiration for the show he put on.

Regardless of the fact he’s 52 years old and only two years removed from a near fatal drug overdose. Compare him to the noodler from Pilgrim Fathers, and you begin to understand why some people are made to be fallen stars and others can only dream of it.


Rating: 9 guitars out of 10.

Back from the Baltics

There was no snow. In fact, it was very similar temperatures to the U.K. - - but the weather was the least interesting part of the trip.

...pork marinated in beer, dried elk, honey beer

...stumbling upon a free concert by Lativa's biggest folk/death metal band

...finding feijoas (!) at the market in Riga

...rowdy Russians in the hostel

...the architecture, old and new

It's a bit strange being back from a trip and having two days to unwind before going back to work... though I still have to transcribe my 100 word stories from the last week and review the Monster Magnet gig...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Out of Office: Activated

Off to see a bit of this:

Except it'll probably look like this:

And of course, a band I have mentioned quite a lot lately...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

In which the writer takes a significant step towards becoming an author and explains the feelings of vindication expressed late last week

The news: my short story collection will be published by Random House New Zealand in 2010.

I received this news on Thursday, but was waiting until I saw the contract (as proof I didn't dream it rather than a fear of being had) before going public.

In some respects, 2010 seems a long way off (I'll be 27 before the book comes out - gasp!). But the major advantage is that it gives me time to write 1 or 2 or 3 more kick-ass stories before I have to submit the final manuscript in June 2009. Fingers crossed a kick-ass story supplies a kick-ass title which inspires a kick-ass cover...

Considering the fact I will be M.I.A. from Christmas until around Anzac Day -- at least when it comes to writing fiction -- June 09 is not so far away.

And hopefully that credit crunch malarkey has died down by 2010 and people are in the book-buying mood!!

For those of you curious as to how this all ties in with the Year of a Million words shtick:
Of the 17 stories currently included in the manuscript, seven were written from beginning to end in 2008. A further four were commenced in late 2007 (after settling in Edinburgh), though most of graft took place this year. The remaining six stories were all 'complete' at the beginning of the year (some previously published), but all have undergone numerous revisions since then. And then there's all the stories I worked on '08 on which didn't make the cut...

I can't say for sure what I would have written this year without a target of 2,732 words per day, but I can guarantee that some of the newer stories would never have been tackled. Other stories, old and new, would have been allowed to drift along, perpetually unfinished/unpolished/unloved.

I thought I needed to say something pro-Quest, since most of the time I'm pretty down on what a harebrained gimmick this is. With that out of the way... I have a kick-ass story to write. Excuse me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Wyndorf Addendum

According to my StatCounter, the two most common searches that have bought people to my blog over the last few weeks are:
* Dave Wyndorf Fat (39 visitors)
* Dave Wyndorf Got Fat (6 visitors)

There were another 13 visitors whose searches varied slightly in wording but not intent and wound up here.

Most came from Eastern Europe.

So: Tervist / Hei / Ahoj, mano geri draugai!

Anyway, I thought I'd post this video for all the concerned parties curious for updates in Mr Wyndorf's weight.

No, not a current photo (that'll come once I'm back from Riga), but a video from 1998.

Dave's big black laced-up balloon suit was a dig at Missy Elliot (specifically this video), but ten year's on, it looks pretty prophetic:

I should make it clear once more that it's only with peace and love that I post this (though I just had a dig at Ringo Starr there); as a fan; as a student of the ups and downs of life. Peace and love, peace and love.

Monday, November 3, 2008

On Libraries

I was in the Fountainbridge library last week. It's not as large as the central library on the George IV bridge, in fact, it's so small I look for books by inspecting every spine on the Fiction shelves. One of the books that stood out on this last visit was Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk. It stood out because:
A) it's quite new (Chuck was at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August to launch it) so I was surprised the library stocked it and it was not on loan.
B) because it's a shiny hardcover book that once withdrawn from the shelf features a bare breasted woman covered by what may be a sheet of plastic (the picture, left, is of a less explicit cover).
C) because I went through a Chuck Palahniuk phase. In fact, I have read all of his books except the two which preceded Snuff: Haunted and Rant... I am halfway through Snuff and feel a 'Why I Used To Like Chuck Palahniuk Novels But Don't Anymore' post coming on... Watch this space.

But what I want to talk about today is another aspect of why I picked up Snuff in the Fountainbridge library and why I risked sideways stares from the librarian when I checked out a book with boobs on the cover. My period of Palahniuk appreciation (I would not call it an obsession) dates from the ages of around 17-19. Like a lot of Palahniuk's audience, I first encountered his name in the credits of David Fincher's film version of Fight Club. The next time I visited the Palmerston North City Library (probably the following weekend) I searched for Palahniuk and discovered not only Fight Club but three more novels (Beautiful Creatures, Survivor and Choke) were stocked. I decided to proceed chronologically, but Beautiful Creatures dampened my enthusiasm. It was not until I was away in Wellington for University the next year that I got around to Survivor and Choke. The latter  (it's been made into a film starring Sam Rockwell) would not be bettered as I worked my way through to Diary, and at the lobster chapter in Survivor let me forgive any and all of the book's shortcomings. Despite the fact I was living in Wellington, I think I got both of these books from the Palmerston North library. That building, bemoaned by locals as expensive, ugly, impractical, was the locus of my learning as a late teen. A year or two before Palahniuk, I churned through Douglas Coupland. It was from the Palmerston North library that I read my first Vonnegut, DeLillo, Murakami (the first two were referred to on Coupland covers, I think). Just as I was coming into my own as a reader (and fostering my first literary ambitions) the Palmerston North Central Library was there for me.

Libraries allow people to read widely without sending them to the poor house. For a teenager living at home, you can get away with reading almost anything if its a library book, whereas if you went and bought a copy of Snuff from Whitcoulls or Mein Kampf from the internet, there may be parental strife. I like bookstores, but if you hang around there long enough, someone will come and ask you if you need help (i.e. are you going to buy something?). In a library, you can dither and drift as much as you want.

I love libraries, and I love the Palmerston North library above all others.

To think of Palahniuk now, I can't help think of that library. That feeling of being a late teen, with a world of choices only just opening up to me, being let loose in a world of books. Of reading about Norse mythology and Jungian psychology. Of consulting a book in the reference section to make sure I wasn't missing any major point in relation to sex and reproduction. Of borrowing CDs by Bob Dylan and Mudhoney and Fountains of Wayne (long before they wrote songs like 'Stacey's Mom').

When I returned to do my MA in Wellington in 2006 (an eight month breather from full-time work in Brisbane), my Palmerston North library card was still valid and proved invaluable in tracking down several books on my reading list that were either perpetually checked out or not stocked in Wellington libraries (Arc d'X by Steve Erickson, Vollmann's Europe Central, Coupland's jPod...).

It seems strange, in retrospect, to think of the books I studied as part of my BA (D.H. Lawrence, Jane Austen, The Vintner's Luck), while in the room at my hostel I had a Fight Club movie poster around the edges of which I stuck Tyler Durden quotations (from the book) handwritten on post-it notes. I was only just finding out how to appreciate a book like Howard's End: something which wasn't drenched in NOW, and didn't kneed that adolescent bruise. But wherever my reading tastes have gone in the last howevermany years, I can still trace it back to the general fiction shelves on the first floor of the PN Library, the large windows looking out over the quiet corner of the square. Whenever I feel excited by fiction, or the possibility of fiction, I feel as if I am re-enacting a scene from that same space.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Status Report: Week Forty-Four

Weekly Wordcount: 19,214 words (compared to 10,908 words last week)
Average: 2,745 words per day (compared to target of 3,001 words/day)
Most productive day: Thursday 30 October, 3,820 words
Least productive day: Saturday 1 November October, 450 words
Year-to-date: 692,820 words (145,978 words behind target)

Two months to go… Well, less than two months of writing as we’re leaving Edinburgh on 21 December and will be living out of our backpacks until March or April 2009 (several variables yet to be tied down).

It’s pretty clear this won’t be the year I write one million words* (at least according to the rules I set up back in December… I’m sure I’ve written the words, “Yesterday you passed the following banking: [screenshot]… There was no outstanding credit in the X account, so the above banking has created an outstanding debit. Please pass corrective banking today,” five hundred times this year).


News received this week has vindicated this ridiculous task… I won’t go into details until I know details, but let’s just say that the pie segments devoted to Short Fiction up to September were not just for the sake of graphs and word counts.

Was that cryptic enough? Perhaps I should just delete that whole paragraph… Nope, seems like I’m not going to.

Oh, I remember why I went down that path: to (partially) explain the large ‘Other’ slice in this week’s pie: a lot of ‘Hey, I got good news…’ emails this week.

I also sent off a poetry manuscript for the Crashaw Prize and an application for something writing-related…

Deadlines and vindication: two of the best word count boosters known to mankind.

*If you were wondering, I would have to write 6,400 words a day for the next 48 days to crack seven figures by 21 December. Unlikely given I’ve only written more than 5,000 words in a day three times this year (5,260 on Jan 26 being the highest single day wordcount).