Wednesday, March 5, 2014

ON SELLING OUT

SATURN officially launched at AWP in Seattle last weekend. Here is a photo of SATURN on the Spork table, at the beginning:

R3

It sold out. All 50 copies, gone.

Despite what people tell you, it feels very nice to be a sellout. If you bought one of the 50 - let me know! Like any narcissist, I'd love to hear what you think of it, or if you want to debate my facts. Since I wasn't in Seattle to endorse the copies for you, I'll propose something similar: if you let me know that you got the book, I will tear out highlighted/annotated pages of the classic 1986 David Bowie biography Alias David Bowie and mail them to you in lieu of a signature. It's definitely much more practical this way.

Right now, Spork has returned home without SATURNs, but they are always busy, and I expect that very soon there will be more books and it will be available to buy on the Spork website. This offer will stand for as long as I can manage it - even if you don't want a scrap of paper mailed to you, I'd love to hear what you think of it. Or if you have any photos or tactile descriptions (as yet, I haven't held a physical copy, so I am interacting vicariously), by all means, send them along. I would like to thank you, at least.

There are over 500 pages in Alias David Bowie. Plenty to gut.

*

While Spork continues making books and books and books, a few SATURN stories have made their way into a couple of new journals: first, online, in the inaugural issue of The Knicknackery (brought to you by the very estimable team of Sonja Vitow and Keren Veisblatt Toledano) you can find "David Bowie Sleeps with 1001 Arabian Nights Next to His Bed," which is, of course, about unending stories.

In print, Skydeer Helpking, a new journal put together by Russ Woods and Jeannette Gomes, also just released their first issue, and inside you can find both "David Bowie Approaches Tilda Swinton to Play Him in the Movie of His Life" and "David Bowie Confronts His Digital Self in Omikron: The Nomad Soul." 

Did you ever play Omikron? This is what he looked like:

"The souls here are grey and withered."
Finally, in non-Bowie-related news (thank god), I have a small story called "Booties" in the last (!) issue of Fractured West, a print flash fiction journal from Scotland. It's really beautiful and full of equally tiny things.

Once again, thanks for reading,
Simon



Monday, February 17, 2014

ALL STORIES ARE ABOUT HUNGER AT THEIR CORE

SATURN now has a cover and a release date:


The book will be first available at AWP 2014 in Seattle (Feb 26 - March 1), and then from the Spork website shortly thereafter.

If you're in Seattle, stop by table R3 to get one, and meet the team responsible.

Anything at all SATURN-related, let me know.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Against Me!'s Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Almost two weeks ago, Against Me! released their latest album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues (their first full-length since 2010), and since then, I've probably listened to it all the way through 45 times. It's one of those albums that seems both utterly personal - in the sense that it feels like a direct summation of Laura Jane Grace's transgender experience, a lifelong struggle finally heaved out into the open - and politically broad, like all the best punk albums. It's furious, aggressive, righteous, haunted, paranoid, desperately self-aware, and, I think, totally relevant. These are the first lines of the album, from the titular opener:
"Your tells are so obvious
shoulders too broad for a girl
keeps you reminded
helps you to remember where you come from."
Right off the bat, you know this is gonna hurt.

(I saw an interview with Laura Jane Grace where the interviewer cheerfully said to her, "Well, this must be a very happy time for you!" essentially because she'd come out as transgender and public response from fans/etc. had been mostly supportive. She said, "I'm a wreck." But, I mean, how could you not be?)




Possibly my favorite track on the album (at this moment) is "Paralytic States." Not only does it have a powerful, building intro and some really nice swirly dark undercurrents (you can tell that I don't know one goddamn thing about music), but it also carries several of my favorite moments on the album, including:
"She spent the last years of her life
running from the boy she used to be
cut her face wide open
shaved the bone down thin
plumped her lips up exaggerated
a fucked up kind of feminine"
I really don't think you can find lyrics like that anywhere else.

I've always wished I could sing like Laura Jane Grace. She can do the best throaty roar. (And has anyone ever called out James Bowman for his backing vocals? It's such a thrilling pairing; he needs more public praise.) One track on the album, "Drinking with the Jocks," has inched slowly towards the top of my list - it's got the hardcore roar, and at first it seems kind of satirical but ends on a really chilling note, with the repeated shout of "THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ME AND YOU" (thanks James!).

This bleeds right into "Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ," which works perfectly. (And I also feel compelled to point out that the latter song, after the bridge of "What's the best that you can hope for?..." etc. has literally THE most effective set of "na na na na"'s I've ever heard in a song - like, both echoing the chorus and slightly mocking; it's just terrific, go listen to it and you'll see what I mean.)


The cover art for Transgender Dysphoria Blues - by Steak Mtn, once again, who I'd argue was just about the greatest aesthetic decision for this band ever - is absolutely brilliant (and hardly mentioned in things that I've read! for shame!) - it not only speaks to the album's unapologetic honesty about the body, but also serves as a really, really good metaphor - basically, when it's all cut down, we have the same meaty insides. We're just cross-sections of other bodies. Also, Against Me! has the best typefaces ever.

If you buy the physical CD, the artwork is hilariously censored with a sticker on the plastic wrap, which, too, I think makes an awfully powerful point about what we will and won't accept:


That is - you can't have the nipple, but you can have the bloody meat underneath.


I saw Laura Jane Grace perform at the Bowery Ballroom in August 2013, where she performed most of Transgender Dysphoria Blues (which had either just been recorded or was in the midst of being recorded); at that point, I'd only heard the two songs from the EP True Trans, "True Trans Soul Rebel" and "FuckMyLife666," so most of the material was unfamiliar to me, but one of the most striking aspects of the show was how the crowd knew every bit of the new stuff as well as they did the old stuff, such that you knew these songs had been traveling, had been beating on someone's chest for a long time, as a prerecorded experience of their own, something that I - as a generally solitary, album-based music-listener and infrequent show-goer - was not used to. It made me think about COMMUNITY and all of those implications, etc, how it's built up, but also intimidated me a little - namely, the community that exists in Real Actual Space with other people vs. the community that exists By Yourself, In Your Head.

Which, I guess, is just another way of saying how important it is that this particular album now exists - here it's taking a set of issues that are very ultimately Yourself and relating them with total, unfiltered, necessary vigor and honesty. Which, in the end, is basically what music is about, isn't it?

***

[Sidenote!: Like many others (I believe in the common experience), I had my own gender troubles, which probably reached their fullest, 'public' realization in a poem I wrote in 2012, which adopted Laura Jane Grace as savior. (I wrote it shortly after her 'coming out'; despite its quasi-hysterical tone, that poem was eventually published and honestly I still really like it. If I wrote it today I'd probably take out a few stanzas, but looking at it now a lot of the lines make me smile; the audio recording, however, is truly embarrassing and features a pseudo 'mic drop/walk-off' at the end.) In any event, it's simmered down.]

IN THE NEWS:

Speaking of gender and bodies and their sensitive parts, I have a new story called "Our Bodies" in the latest issue of Weave Magazine. It's really a very snazzy journal with some very snazzy writing inside (my story is not overtly 'snazzy,' just painful), and it's print, which means you can stroke it.

And! My David Bowie book, SATURN, comes out later this month. I don't know what to do with myself until then (besides writing very long blog posts about Against Me!) - I'm too excited (I've said this already). This, I think, will never stop being the case.

Google-searching 'simon jacobs saturn,' which I'm not ashamed to admit I've done several times, brings up basically a lot of self-reference, but hopefully when the book finally drops we will make some goddamn waves.

As always, thanks for reading all the way down to here,
Simon

Monday, January 20, 2014

TIME TO GET A DRASTIC HAIRCUT AND FLEE THE CITY

Hello again! (so soon?)

I've had two new stories bloom into cyberspace over the past couple of weeks. I'll tell you about them, because they were both written during the same summer, and occupy two sides of the same coin:

1. "The Inventory of Marcus, Level 16" in Issue 54 of The Collagist.

This is the biggest story I've ever had published anywhere (6400 words!). It was one of those magical things that came out more or less correctly the first time, written, initially, during the summer of 2012, very quickly and in very tiny handwriting. This is the story that finally put the hundreds of hours I spent playing Diablo and Baldur's Gate to good use, as well as most of my high school angst. Writing solves problems!

The Collagist, too, has been a personal publishing benchmark for a couple of years, and so it's extra-satisfying to have such a thick, meaty story in there. It is, as always, a stellar issue all around, and I'm in there this month with Meghan McCarron, an amazing writer whose 2010 story "WE HEART VAMPIRES!!!!!!" was a very formative short-fiction read for me.

Also, "Inventory" is illustrated! With ASCII images! Which was also something that I was into during the summer of 2012, apparently (see, for example, these poems in Word Riot many moons ago). Many thanks to Gabriel Blackwell, for taking the story and giving it so much time and care as we prepared it for the issue (did I mention it was long?).

2. "Two Heads" in Issue 15 of Crime Factory.

Basically exactly what it promises. I wrote this story staring at a lake, which makes sense because the story is set in a desert. The first draft of it was written for the PANK 'pulp' special issue in 2012, and then rejected, so the fact that, many editions later, it's found a home in Crime Factory - a no-holds-barred hardboiled noir journal - is a particular kind of revenge (it has stitches on the cover, so you can tell it's hard).

It'll cost you $1.99 to get this issue, but there's 220 pages of legit crime writing (including my 2400 words) and you got 640,000 for free in the last story, so it all evens out. If you're saving up money to buy SATURN when it comes out, though, I understand.

"Two Heads" was originally part of PARTNERS, the story-collection I've mentioned here a few times, which is out searching with big googly-eyes for a home. On my last round through, I nixed "Two Heads" from the lineup, because there are enough painful sex scenes without it. Which is to say, you won't be seeing this one anywhere else, so hop to it while you still can.


There are a couple of personal meta-morals to take away from the publication of these fairly 'old' stories. First, if there's a story that's been kicking around for a really long time, and which hasn't found the right home yet - sit tight. It will get there, eventually. Second, going through "The Inventory of Marcus" again has made me realize that there's nothing quite as fun as a good, shaggy story. After a full year of focusing on hyper-concise David Bowie stories, I think it's time to sprawl a little bit. Like the suburbs.

(FYI, when I think of a 'shaggy' story, this s generally a variation of what I imagine, along with Matthew Lillard:)


*

SATURN is getting so close, and I am too excited. I have basically run out of things that I can do to 'prepare' in advance of its publication, other than making .gifs, so if you have ways to keep me busy or are interested in doing something with the book, let me know and I'll be in your debt forever.

All for now,
Simon


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

THE NEW YEAR AND THE NEXT DAY AND A BOOK TO PUT IN THEM BOTH

Today is David Bowie's 67th birthday, which is an especially appropriate time for this announcement:

My first book, SATURN, a collection of David Bowie stories, will be published in early 2014 by none other than Spork Press.

I bolded that. And increased the font size. You bet I did. It's the biggest news we've had around here since ever!

You know Spork, right? The press responsible for such beauties as Colin Winnette's ANIMAL Collection, Joyelle McSweeney's The Necropastoral, and Zachary Schomburg's From the Fjords; handbound, hardback books (they have such sturdy spines), embossed covers, each one of them made with love and sweat and tears and definitely blood beneath the hot sun of Tuscon, Arizona. David Bowie could not be in more loving hands, and I could not be happier.

The book is 19 stories long - I like to call it, very loosely, a latter-day biography of potentiality. There's a lot of trivia in it, a lot of factoids for David Bowie nerds (I know there are a few of them out there), a lot of heart/soul/minotaurs/etc. I think you'll love it. My mother read it and said to my father, "It's amazing, the things he knows."

Earlier versions of a couple of these stories have been published already in places like Everyday Genius and The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review - check them out for a taste!


SATURN will probably be out in February, definitely in time for the Spork table at AWP in Seattle, where you'll be able to go and purchase your very own little piece of All-Simon to take home and treasure forever, along with all of your other David Bowie collectibles.

I won't be at AWP this year, unfortunately, as I will be on the hunt for the ever-elusive Snowy Buffalo.

(yeti)
Rest assured, as soon as SATURN is out, you'll never hear the end of it. There's even a cover now, which is one of the most badass pieces of art I've ever seen; it's not completely done so I can't share it with you just yet, but again: we don't keep these kinds of secrets for long.

*

If you investigate the newfangled links at the top of the page, you'll also see that I now have something called a 'mailing list,' which, if you sign up, means that you'll receive cryptic updates from Simonthia about as frequently as I post on this blog, which is very close to not at all. Basically, I set this up in order to send pictures of weird fish to a defined, self-selected group of people, and also because the Mailchimp logo is, obviously, a monkey, and I wanted to support that.

There's also now a page specifically for SATURN, because why not, under which you'll be able to find excerpts, reviews, interviews, etc. as they appear. If any of you invisible readers out there are particularly interested in knowing more about the book or the project, let me know and I'll overwhelm you with information. Thanks for reading! A book, a book, a book.

Friday, July 19, 2013

I AM TALKING ABOUT TAO LIN'S TAIPEI


I finished reading Tao Lin’s Taipei last night; I loved it, and as I finished I thought to myself, “well, it’s about time.” Tao Lin was more or less my gateway to the internet and to writing on the internet. The first piece I ever read by him was “How to Give a Reading on Mushrooms” in 2011, during a period in which I was intensely aware and analytical of my affect, mental state, and outward behavior while on drugs, which I used infrequently and do not use at all now. The piece was hilarious, but also I thought more accurately captured the pattern of associations and self-reflection that occurs in ‘thinking’ than anything else I’d read before. (“Think ‘Hunter S. Thompson’ and distractedly sense the aesthetic of the movie Aliens.”)



I learned about Tao Lin on the internet during my internship at an Arabic-language radio news station in Amman, Jordan, during my sophomore year of college, in which I was ‘in charge’ of the English version of the AmmanNet website, which mostly consisted of copying-and-pasting headlines from their Arabic site into Google Translate, then revising them, and where I, instead, spent most of my time looking at the internet and downloading Against Me!, Black Flag, and psychobilly albums, and reviewing things for Absolutepunk.net. Through “How to Give a Reading on Mushrooms,” I found Tao Lin’s other writing, and through this exposure I created, in my mind, the admittedly feeble construction that Tao Lin somehow embodied ‘all of internet writing,’ that such writing was a phenomenon leading, by one path or another, back to him. Through Tao Lin, I found Thought Catalog, which I have since used, in several articles, to pour virtually all of my angst circa 2011 through early 2012. (There was a short period of my life in which whenever I would have crippling or sexually anxious feelings, I would think to myself, “I should write this for Thought Catalog; Thought Catalog will accept this.” I had several days I devoted exclusively to writing “Thought Catalog pieces,” all of which were eventually published [3]).

Having said that, Taipei feels more like ‘real life’ than anything I’ve ever read. Here’s one early paragraph/sentence that I think is particularly beautiful and poignant:

“On the plane, after a cup of black coffee, Paul thought of Taipei as a fifth season, or “otherworld,” outside, or in equal contrast with, his increasingly familiar and self-consciously repetitive life in America, where it seemed like the seasons, connecting in right angles, for some misguided reason, had formed a square, sarcastically framing nothing—or been melded, Paul vaguely imagined, about an hour later, facedown on his arms on his dining tray, into a door-knocker, which a child, after twenty to thirty knocks, no longer expecting an answer, has continued using, in a kind of daze, distracted by the pointlessness of his activity, looking absently elsewhere, unaware when he will abruptly, idly stop.” (p.16)

This ends the first chapter—can you think of a better way to end a chapter? I’ve read Tao Lin’s writing described as variations of affectless or ‘bland’ or something else, but I think those people are misguided and/or stupid. LOOK AT THIS PARAGRAPH. First of all, no one uses adverbs quite like Tao Lin, in the way they were meant to be used. Here, he takes a metaphor—of his repetitive life—and then, to elucidate it, fuses the metaphor into a concrete object (the door-knocker), which he then uses to construct a relatable scene of a child knocking idly on a door, which encapsulates the metaphor of his life. I don’t know how else to say it, but Tao Lin creates perfectly imaginable metaphors—I’ve never experienced a previously-inarticulate feeling in writing with such concrete clarity.

I’ve thought about this passage for weeks, and how measurable and convincing and interesting it is; how could anyone pretend there’s not brilliance in this? Taipei is one of those books I will be able to pick up at any given point and read from an arbitrary page for inspiration. Tao Lin, in his writing, is extremely meticulous, devoted entirely to detailing—with as much effort and as many words as it takes—exactly what happens in someone’s life, and why.

(I mostly write really short things, and over time have been trying to practice expressing things in the most precise way possible; in that respect, I love and appreciate Tao Lin’s dedication to using adjectives in an accurate and satisfying way. He uses ‘vaguely’ just perfectly, for example.)

Here’s another scene, much later, in which, sitting as a passenger in a car, “Paul felt a quaintly affecting comfort and a self-conscious, fleeting urge to ask someone a question or say something nice to someone.

“He thought of how, from elementary through high school, if a girl had been nice to him at school or if he got a valuable baseball or Magic: The Gathering card or if he accomplished something in a video or computer game—if for whatever reason he felt significantly, temporarily happier—he would get an urge to talk to his mother and sometimes would go find her, at her makeup station in her bathroom, or outside watering plants, then reveal something about his life or ask her a question about her life, knowing he was making her happier for a few minutes, before running back to the TV, Nintendo, or computer.” (p. 226-7)

When I read this passage, it almost made me cry, because I—and I suspect most everyone else—has had precisely that same, miniature experience, but I’ve never read it before, and, again, it is perfect, but in a different way. I honestly don’t understand the criticism—aren’t we all seeking, in one way or another, some kind of honesty? ‘Affectless,' are you fucking kidding me? I don’t think there are many writers better at detailing life than Tao Lin.

I’ve read/skimmed a couple of reviews of Taipei, one that was mostly-excoriating but with personal deliberations on the author’s part, and another that was one of those decorative and highly metaphorical, paradigm-y reviews that are almost never entertaining to read but I imagine are very satisfying to write (because, I suspect, as you write it you are fashioning little quote-snippets you’re hoping for someone—probably the author of the book you’re reviewing—to excerpt and use for other promotion), and I’ve decided that to read reviews of Tao Lin is mostly fruitless and generally frustrating; I would much rather read Tao Lin’s response to a review than the review itself. (I also saw an obnoxious what-i-thought-on-every-page piece on Thought Catalog, but this mostly seemed lazy, like a gimmick, and like something that no one could honestly appreciate, except vaguely, for the effort and maybe a nice phrase or two).

I read Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station earlier this year, shortly after I moved to New York, and loved its specificity and lack of pretension. Taipei seems like a progression of this mode of writing, which, I think, favors sincerity and exhaustive accuracy over anything overtly ‘stylish’ or flashy (which is not to say that Leaving the Atocha Station and Taipei are not stylish books)—I like that these books seem, in terms of their plot and specific moments, entirely real and autobiographical, without blatant dramatic maneuvering below the surface. (There’s a scene in Leaving the Atocha Station in which the protagonist, Adam, leaves a hotel room one morning and then wanders back and forth for hours, helpless and lost, feeling increasingly disoriented and nervous. In Taipei, Tao Lin knows that no one simply ‘leaves an apartment’; they stop in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom first. In one very minor way, these books seem real because they know just how much we physically go back and forth.) This is all to say: I don’t think that Tao Lin is given enough credit for his skill at crafting sentences, for his hyperanalysis of just about everything.

I’ve never interacted with Tao Lin specifically, on the internet or in real life; nonetheless, when I was writing this I thought to myself, “I like to see pictures of Tao Lin smiling,” (He’s in a panel on Monday, July 22, at Bookcourt, which I’m going to, so maybe I will find him then.) I’m so happy for his success with this book and I hope it sells many, many copies to strangers. (Though I realize that probably less than 10% of the people reading this blog—if it attracts enough readers to facilitate such a tidy fraction; that is, a factor of 10—are not already familiar with Tao Lin; of course, also by writing it, I hope that Tao Lin himself might read it and feel appreciated in a specific way, which, of course, is the total opposite of ‘spreading the word.’ Imagine if we wrote private blog posts, directed to a single reader, solely focused on books written by that single reader.)

Ok, enough.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

THE NEXT DAY

If you haven't been following along with the music videos David Bowie's been releasing in support of his new album The Next Day, there are three of them, and they are all exceptional. "Where Are We Now?" was the first we released and I wrote probably too much about it back in January (it's my favorite); the second, "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)," which sounds like the title of a disney song, was released in February, and it's great because it finally pairs Tilda Swinton with Bowie and has a very attractive androgynous cast. Finally, there's "The Next Day," which appeared virtually without notice (Bowie has no real need anymore) a few weeks ago. Here it is:


DO YOU SEE THIS?

YOU CALL YOURSELF A PROPHET?

There's a lot of jumbled iconography in this one. Gary Oldman, dressed as a priest, punches a homeless kid in the face within the first five seconds, then heads into some kind of decadent bar filled with sultry and deformed religious figures. There's wrinkly bishops, self-flagellation, stigmata, spurting blood, Marion Cotillard dancing in a slow-motion kind of way that would shimmy her dress right off if this were a Fall Out Boy video, and a shockingly young-looking David Bowie presiding over it all dressed as a shepherdprophet and pointing like he's shooting lasers, but by far my favorite part comes at the end, when the music fades away and David Bowie says,

"Thank you, Gary.
Thank you, Marion.
Thank you everybody."

and then VANISHES with the sound of a bell. Obviously I consider this to be entirely symbolic, and I think this means we've seen the last of David Bowie, possibly forever. But up until five months ago we thought he'd been permanently gone for 10 years, so who am I to speculate?

*

A few publishy things since I spoke here last, only three of which have to do with David Bowie:

Two David Bowie poems, one in Everyday Genius and one in The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. Spaceflight and minotaurs.

Speaking of space, I had a story called "Evacuees" in Paper Darts last month and just LOOK AT THOSE FUCKING ILLUSTRATIONS (Meghan Murphy is responsible for those; she has that magic). Paper Darts is my absolute favorite, and I've always liked this story so much more than anyone else, so I am 200% thrilled that they liked it and that Meghan's illustrations rendered it so perfectly. :') It is worthy of both emoticons and genuine emotions.

A story about deserts and atrocities in Monkeybicycle called "Villains." Because we are first villains, and then we escape.

Things unrelated to David Bowie coming soon, but, really, is anything that far removed? Has anyone else ever created so much stuff out of a single obsession? Let's have a discussion!