Thursday, July 29, 2010

Snatching the Pebble: From Writing to Publication

Have you read our submission guidelines, Little Grasshopper?

I'm teaching a class on literary publishing at the Martha's Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing this week (side note: yeah, Martha's Vineyard!). I'm going to write more about what I'm doing later, but I thought I would share some literary links that I found helpful. Check them out. (If you know of any others, please feel free to put them in the comments section)
  • Exhaustive list of literary magazines, their response times, percent of work rejected, and percentage of personal responses they give. Very helpful and continually updated.
  • 1,000 Fans. This article is all about the idea that all an artist needs to “quit their day job” and write full time for a living is 1,000 fans. Basically, it’s about creating a network of people interested and willing to pay for your work. Must read.
  • Literary Journal Rankings. This author ranks a wide range of journals. Ranking journals is kind of a rank concept, but it helps to have a sense of the reputation of the place you’re submitting.
  • They have an excellent listing of literary magazines, all of which are reviewed. This helps out a lot to give you a sense of the work that journals are looking for. Their blog is also a good resource for finding out about what’s going on. Keeping your eye out for contests and special issues is a good way to increase your chances of publication.
  • Literary journal blogs. This is a good way to find out the latest about what’s going on at a literary journal. Ninth Letter, Indiana Review :) , Third Coast, and a gazillion others use blogs to let writers know about current events at the journal.
  • Author blogs. Neil Gaiman has probably the most popular author blog. Tayari Jones provides an excellent example of how to create a community around your writing. Joy Harjo also has a pretty cool blog.
  • Nathan Bransford is a literary agent with a lot of helpful advice, from writing query letters, to finding an agent, to publicizing your book once it’s published.

And here's Jim Carrey's take on snatching the pebble. Seems appropriate for writers.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Peep Game: Inception

Things I noticed about Inception:

1. There were no Black people in this movie.

2. This wasn't one of those movies where the absence of Black people really got on my nerves. Chris Nolan is a great writer and he just so happens to not feature a lot of Black people in his films. Why does everything have to be so political these days anyways? I voted for Obama, okay!

3. Is it just me or isn't the idea of inception, basically implanting an idea in someone's mind and having them unconsciously make it their own, isn't this the basis of any healthy committed relationship?

Now hold on a second. I know what you're thinking.

It ain't like that. This type of inception has to go both ways. Both partners have to be able to influence each other without explicitly telling the other one what to do all the time. And even more importantly, there has to be trust that the other partner is trying to help that person become the best person they can (and want) to become. That's how you get to that Michelle/Barack Fist Bump Status.

This also requires you to not ruin all that good influencing work by constantly putting your influence in the other person's face all the time too. At the very least give them some time to enjoy their successes before you let them know how much they owe you.

4. Who cares if the whole thing was a dream? I'm sorry, did I say that? I know somebody just closed the Misstraknowitall tab right then. But really, on a storytelling tip, would it really matter if it was a dream or not? Would we really look at any of the characters, or the changes they went through, any differently?

Inception was just a big puzzle. There wasn't some underlying statement about human consciousness or the morality of transmitting ideas or about the imprisonment of women inside male "projections" of femininity. All of those issues/ideas could have been wrestled with, but in the end it was just a really cool Rubics cube.

I was shocked to hear the movie theater erupt in a pained groans as the film ended right before Leo's top stopped spinning. I assumed that the last scene represented reality. More importantly, I would be pretty disappointed if it didn't turn out to be reality. Otherwise it would seem like some half-assed M. Night Shamalayan move.

5. With all due respect to observations #1 and #2 in this post, can I get a Color Check on Marion Cotillard? Me thinks she looks a little bit like a egroNay? Pardon my Swine Latin, I just don't want to mess up the sister's career. If this got out, next thing you know she's battling Gabriel Union for a role in the new Tyler Perry film, "He's NOT my baby Daddy," starring Malik Yoba.

I've researched her background and haven't come up with anything just yet, but something has my "mula-dar" tingling, so I know I'm on to something. Plus, according to her Wiki page, she was awarded the African American Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress in 2007. (We weren't that post-racial in 2007 were we? It's hard to keep track.)

You sure that's not pronounced "Mari'On?"

Anyways, whatever she is, she was the best thing about that movie, which is a high compliment. Her character, ironically,was the most human and complete out of everyone in the film. In fact, the saddest moment for me was when Leo dismissed her as a figment of his own imagination. That broke my heart.

6. And no, Chris Nolan didn't invent the idea of inception. Break it down, Goldie.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


About ten years ago I had a transformative experience at the Hurston/Wright writer's conference in Washington, DC. At the time I was on the fence about the whole writing thing, although I was encouraged by novelist Alexs Pate, who I met at the University of Minnesota. I knew that there were writers of color out there working, but I just didn't know any of them. Alexs was teaching a fiction workshop at Hurston-Wright and told me that I needed to come through. Boy was he right. (BTW: he's got a new book, In the Heart of the Beat: The Poetry of Rap. It's dope. Review forthcoming)

Portrait of the Misstra as a young Knowitall, w/Alexs Pate
In DC I found a vibrant community of writers who were talented and serious about their work. I ended up meeting some incredible people who I still keep up with to this day (I even got to work with a couple of them when I was at Indiana Review). More importantly, I finally found an audience that I felt could critique my work without critiquing my cultural context. In my previous experiences it was hard for me to figure out whether the feedback I received in workshops, whether positive or negative, was because of the merits of my work or because people were unfamiliar with the type of story I was trying to tell, or why I was trying to tell it. The experience was a revelation.

VONA gots Fyre!
I had a similar experience last week at the VONA writer's conference in San Francisco. The conference is one of the oldest and largest venues for writer's of color from all across the country to get together and work on their craft. Diem Jones, the former Parliament Funkadelic cover photographer, (who was featured in the Indiana Review Funk issue) runs the show, so you know things are funky. The workshops are taught by heavies like Junot Diaz, Chris Abani, Ruth Forman, Willie Perdomo, Evelina Galang, and Tayari Jones, but the best thing about the experience was the amazing community of writers who keep coming back. There's nothing like being able to sit around and just talk about writing with people who share your experience. The feedback I got from Evelina Galang was quite helpful and my workshop mates gave me a lot of great energy to keep me writing. If you haven't attended, you need to start making next year's plans now.

My new favorite coffee shop all-time: Coffee for the People
All writers, regardless of color, have to take the time to invest in their art. We display our values by the way we employ our resources. Time and money are our greatest resources, so if we don't spend either on our writing, how can we credibly say we care about our art?

My new favorite bus bench all-time: Haight and Ashbury

Which leads me to my next pitch...

On July 25th, yours truly will be teaching a writing workshop at the Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. The class I'm teaching, called "Publish Before You Perish" is going to be informative, fun, and of course, funky. Check it.

Oh, and here's Ruth Forman and Willie Perdomo reading at this year's faculty reading. Do yourself a favor and watch both.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What is done can't be undone, son.

Splice is not a new story. It's all about the consequences for those whose vanity and arrogance lead them to play God. We've seen it before. What's troubling is the terrible punishment Splice imagines for its female Frankenstein.

**Word of warning, if you haven't seen Splice, don't read further because I'm about to spoil the hell out of it.***

Splice acts like it's concerned with a lot of different moral issues surrounding genetics, but it basically boils down to a gruesome parable about how female fascination with vanity leads to rape.

You have two scientists, Clive and Elsa, who are in love and also the top genetic "morphologists" in their field. They are paid by a corporation to design life forms that synthesize proteins. The life forms are composed of genetic material from cows, horses, pigs, etc. Once they have matured fully, these synthesized organisms produce proteins that that can be sold by the corporation. The creatures are hideous, but they make dough, so everybody's happy.

Dear Adrien Brody, we still ain't cool. We ain't forgot about Halle Berry.
Billy Bob wasn't enough for y'all, huh? Signed, All Black Men.
Except for the woman. Elsa wants to take the logical (to her) next step and create a hybrid using parts of human DNA. Clive doesn't think it's such a good idea, but is helpless before her feminine wiles. Before you know it, they shake the tree of knowledge and out comes the future.

The future, a creature named Dren, looks like a walking penis for the first half of the movie, so I guess I should have been known that something was up.


Earlier it was revealed that Clive wanted to have a baby "conventionally" but Elsa said she didn't want to have to give birth. "Maybe when we figure out male pregnancy," she jokes. In the mad scientist stories we're used to (hint: Frankenstein is a man) the creation of the monster is motivated by the character's vanity, but this vanity is of the intellectual nature. The man wants to be able to out-think God. Elsa, on the other hand, is just concerned with creating without increasing her dress size. "Is this even about science?" pleads Clive. Uh, nooo.

Throughout the movie, we see pictures of Elsa staring at herself in the mirror or staring at pictures of herself with her mother when she was younger. She even teaches Dren to look in the mirror and to embrace her "feminine" gender by putting on makeup and wearing jewelry. She does too good a job because Dren starts exhibiting her own symptoms of vanity.

One of the most interesting things about the movie is that as Dren becomes more and more human in appearance, her mother becomes less and less humane. After a nasty confrontation with Dren, Elsa's vanity and arrogance push her off the deep end, and she cuts Dren's stinger off. Unfortunately, she later learns that the stinger doubles as a youknowwhat.

And Clive ends up sexing Dren for some reason, which is just about the weirdest thing I've ever seen in a movie. Maury to the millionth power. Although it's disturbing, at least it still feels new. I can't name too many science fiction movies that so embody the Electra complex. But, just when you think you're going to get something new, Dren dies and becomes a dude.

And for what the movie was trying to do, this is the only way it could have ended. The Frankenstein story always requires a punishment for the foolish scientists. In this case, the male scientist is punished with death because he bit the apple, but the female scientist requires a punishment that Dren isn't capable of.

'sup, girl?

Dren as a dude is bigger, faster, and stronger. For some reason he can also talk, although he obviously wasn't Hooked on Monster Phonics because all he can say to Elsa is "inside you."*

Which brings us to the end. It's too bad that a movie which opens up so many possibilities in terms of looking at gender ends up settling for a lot of cliches with frightening implications. The woman looks in the mirror, falls in love with what she sees and is punished. Elsa loses the man she loves, her career, and ends up being impregnated by a monster.

In the end I just ended up feeling bad for Elsa. Too bad she wasn't born male, maybe then she would have been lucky enough to die like a man.

*Side note: BARF

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Can You Get to That?

Maggot Brain has a special place in my heart as being one of those songs that has the power to make you feel as if your life has changed after a single listen. Even if it hasn't, the song, with it's wailing, somber, playful, celestial guitar solos, offers you the chance to alter your consciousness.

Ironically, the first time I heard it I was in a state of altered consciousness. I had just laid down on my little futon couch, in my little shoebox apartment. In those days I kept the incense blazing constantly, so the air was heavy with sandalwood. I had forgotten to cut off my stereo, and hadn't really noticed until George Clinton boomed from the speakers, announcing in a solemn voice that Mother Earth was pregnant for the THIRD time. As if that wasn't bad enough: Because y'all have knocked her up.

Groggy or not, I knew I needed to hear what kind of song could uphold an intro like that.

The Bill Cosby Alphabet

The guy on the left needs a little help.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

We Gone Have Rocks This Big Tonight!

One time my dad and I were watching the local news about a huge drug bust in Oakland public housing. Police laid out the seized drugs, guns, and money like trinkets at a garage sale. There was talk of the "street value" of the contraband and local "community leaders" were consulted about the impact of the arrests. However, as the reporter made his final remarks, a group of young men clamored behind him to make their own comment. "We gone have rocks this big tonight!" one of them yelled out. Ahh, another seminal moment in the effort to set Black progress back a couple hundred years.

"Move token back to 1864. Do not Collect $200."

Needless to say, me and my dad still think it's hilarious to yell that out as loud as possible. However, it wasn't until the recent Gulf oil spill disaster that I truly understood what that kid meant.

First, I should say that the BP disaster has bummed me out. The feeling is similar to the aftermath of 9/11, when the totality and brutality of the disaster is just so great that it's hard to find words. I kept starting posts and not knowing where to go with them. I stopped watching the news to avoid images of ruined beaches and storks covered in tar.


There's no comparing the loss of human life during 9/11, but at least the events of that disaster were confined to that day. This spill doesn't seem anywhere close to stopping. The relief wells are supposed to stop the thing, but what happens if that doesn't work? (Am I the only one who is not comforted by the fact that the best solution we have to a drilling disaster is...more drilling?) Even if it does work, it will be months before they are up and running and by that time, millions and millions more gallons of oil will coat the gulf.

9/11 was a bit more accessible because it had a cast of villains that were easy to identify, and bomb. We know the major players in this disaster, BP and Haliburton, but you unfortunately can't bomb a corporatoin. Which brings me to sadness that has become the NeObama administration.

NeObama was supposed to defy the rules of the Matrix. He did it somewhat effectively with health care, but no matter how many bullets he dodges or digital baddies he highkicks, he can't get around the fact that his power is contained within a machine, and that machine is powered by siphoning the heat of newborns.

Hang in there, baby.

In other words, although the Executive branch is more powerful than it's ever been, our President (for whatever reason) seems to have little power to act on his own accord. He can frown and cuss and wag his finger, but there is very little the president can do. It's hard to shake the feeling that he's in the same position as his predecessor, stuck reading The Pet Goat while larger forces determine our fates.

Some would say that NeO has sold out, or that the whole hope thing was a big deception, but that's hard for me to believe. I think a lot of people are upset because NeO convinced us to not only believe in him, but to believe that the presidency would be the sight of revolutionary economic and social change. That has been proven false. Maybe I'm naive, but although I have lost faith in the presidency as an institution, I still believe in the man who inhabits it.

However, there's no getting around that the oil and war interests still run the show. If 9/11 couldn't cause a meaningful rethinking of our energy policy, is it feasible to think that that a few thousand oily birds are going to change things?

Which brings us to "We gone have rocks this big tonight." I first took the young man's usage of the word "have" to mean "smoke." In other words, it doesn't matter how many drug raids you have, you can't keep us from smoking rocks. But now I realize that I was off. What he was actually doing was a form of defiant advertising. He wasn't saying he was going to be smoking rocks, but rather he was going to be selling rocks, no matter what the police did. He wanted everyone to know that business was going to continue as usual. In fact, he probably gained a couple customers who might have otherwise been dissuaded by the bust.

That attitude is no different than a corporation like Haliburton, which caused the spill. No matter what anybody says, they are making their money, and will continue to make their money.

By the way, does anybody else think it's strange that this particular corporation has been at the center of every major catastrophe that's befallen this country in the last ten years? The Bush presidency, Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, Gulf spill, etc.

If this corporation was a person, they would be a definite candidate for the "No Fly" list. At what point do we decide that it's in our country's interest for a company to just not exist? It may sound silly, but can we install a death penalty for corporations?

Until we do take serious action to reign in these bad acting corporations, and their overwhelming influence, we're all going to be sitting ducks until the next disaster.