Friday, May 02, 2008

There are some very good reasons to fear flying, but crashing isn't one of them

I’m fickle when it comes to the United States. I mean, come on. It’s embarrassing. We’ve steamrolled past the bad, and entered the absurd. Celebrity Rehab? Wars fought remotely, by man-operated robots? John Mayer, the cheeseball lothario, who dated both Jessica Simpson AND Jennifer Aniston? Oh, come on! He’s totally that guy in high school who winked, then cocked his thumb and index finger like a gun. Come on!

So my visit to the sound editing set of Lion’s Gate’s “The Burrowers” in Toronto was enlightening. First off, the movie is amazing. The best comparison I can make is to John Ford’s “Searchers,” with a modern horror sensibility, and like last year’s “Zodiac,” a movie for grown-ups that will have legs for years to come.

The process of watching it make the journey from script to finished product has been an education. You really have to believe in yourself, your work, and your crew to pull off the magic that is making a movie. But JT has gone a step further, and created something special. Thank God directing was never my calling, because it’s too hard, but I’m very proud of him. You all should stay tuned, because it will undoubtedly make a lot of waves when it is released.

And onto Toronto. I tried not to be impressed when I saw the sound room—it looked like the mother board of an alien spacecraft—lots of consoles and blinking lights. But I was, indeed, impressed. JT sat at the helm like Captain Kirk, and also covered my shredded wheat laptop charger wires from where our rabbit had snacked with electrical tape. During my first few nights in the city, we saw “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” – great fun. Not as funny as “White Castle” but surprisingly good-natured and generous—quite an accomplishment for an angry political invective. We also ate fried lobsters in Chinatown on Spadina Street (so good!), and visited the fancy Spoke Club to celebrate some great career news for Jennifer Evans, the president of Sequentia, a Toronto-based communications firm. After three days, I was thinking: clean, pretty, polite, near the water—I could live here!

The fourth day, I thought: clean, polite, pretty…. hmmm….this is getting monotonous. The fifth day, I began to grasp the problem. The television was weird. Lots of high school sports coverage. The restaurant service was slow—they don’t work for tips. Nobody rushed. Nobody worked crazy hours, either. They believe in this weird lefty pinko commie concept called “quality of living.” In conclusion, Toronto isn’t neurotic enough. By a mile.

By day six, Toronto liked me a lot less too. At the coffee shop where I tried to write, they didn’t offer free refills or have wireless Internet. They also couldn’t understand why any rational human being would want a third cup of coffee. Because I need it, people!

By day seven, I’d fallen out of love, and perhaps it was for this reason that I began to notice that Toronto no longer loved me, either. People were subtlely rude. Not in any way you could pinpoint, but in the small details of common interactions. I was reminded, then, of that episode of “Star Trek,” where, in a mirror dimension, another USS Enterprise exists, only it is savage and war waging. Also, they dress sexier, and Sulu’s got the creepy hots for Uhura, but that’s another story. Anyway, Savage James T. Kirk winds up on the civilized ship, and tries to conceal his identity by impersonating Civilized Kirk, while Civilized Jim perches on the throne of his own bizarro Enterprise. Savage Jim is quickly discovered as an imposter, and thrown into the brig, while Civilized Jim fakes his way through the machinations of the savage world in which he has found himself. When both men return to their proper places, like all good plays, the epilogue informs us that civilized men can fake savagery, but savages cannot pretend to be refined—they’re too ignorant.

It occurred to me that I was the savage in Toronto, and the small social queues, which natives understood and signaled, went right over my head. Hence, I was met with rudeness. American bull in a Canadian China shop, I was missing all the codes, and unwittingly behaving badly.

It was with a happy heart that I got on the plane back to New York, where I belonged. It was with a less happy heart that I was seated next to a man who picked both his nose and ears and ate them for more than a half hour. Mid-forties, wedding band, seemingly normal, save the ridiculous amount of carry-on bags he brought with him (what was this, a bus to Cartagena, Columbia?). At first, I ignored. Then, no kidding, I gagged. Looking right at me, he continued. Finally, I said, “Please stop!” He didn’t. I suspect he had some kind of compulsive disorder, because the problem seemed out of his control. I’m not one to judge crazy people, as I’m a little nuts myself, but I do wish he’d chosen an illness more socially acceptable. Like freebasing cocaine. I wondered if he was Canadian, but knew he could not possibly be. It was with a heavy heart that I saw which newspaper he was reading: “The New York Post.” Soon afterward, I switched seats. Even the steward understood, and winked at me, as if to say, “That guy is really gross!”

As I write this, happily ensconced in my beloved Brooklyn, I wonder: What does all this mean? I don’t know. But if Canadians imagined my savagery as 10% as gross as Dr. Fingers’, I apologize to them en masse. I also think there is such as thing as too laid back.

And so, in celebration of my awesome, but kind of gross country, I give you the antidote to John Mayer: James McMurtry Oh, he is good, so good. Listen and repeat, until you start pretending you’re a cowboy.

Shirley Jackson Final Ballot Announced


Great news. After much reading, and piles of books so high I feared I would be toppled, the SJA Final has been established. It's a stellar list of excellent fiction, and I'm proud to be associated with it. Go buy what you haven't read. Not a clunker in the pack.

Shirley Jackson Award Final Ballot:

Baltimore, Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden (Bantam Spectra)
Generation Loss, Elizabeth Hand (Small Beer Press)
Sharp Teeth, Toby Barlow (William Heinemann Ltd)
The Terror, Dan Simmons (Little, Brown)
Tokyo Year Zero, David Peace (Knopf)

12 Collections, Zoran Zivkovic (PS Publishing)
Illyria, Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing)
The Mermaids, Robert Edric (PS Publishing)
"Procession of the Black Sloth," Laird Barron (The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, Night Shade Books)
The Scalding Rooms, Conrad Williams (PS Publishing)
"Vacancy," Lucius Shepard (Subterranean #7, 2007)

"The Forest," Laird Barron (Inferno, Tor)
"The Janus Tree," Glen Hirshberg (Inferno, Tor)
"The Swing," Don Tumasonis (At Ease with the Dead, Ash-Tree Press)
"The Tenth Muse," William Browning Spencer (Subterranean #6, 2007)
"Thumbprint," Joe Hill (Postscripts #10, March 2007)

"Holiday," M. Rickert (Subterranean #7, 2007)
"The Monsters of Heaven," Nathan Ballingrud (Inferno,Tor)
"A Murder of Crows," Elizabeth Ziemska (Tin House 31, Spring 2007)
"Something in the Mermaid Way," Carrie Laben (Clarkesworld, March 2007)
"The Third Bear," Jeff VanderMeer (Clarkesworld, April 2007)
"Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse," Andy Duncan (Eclipse One, Night Shade Books)

The Bone Key, Sarah Monette (Prime Books)
The Entire Predicament, Lucy Corin (Tin House)
The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, Laird Barron (Night Shade Books)
Like You'd Understand, Anyway, Jim Shepard (Knopf)
Old Devil Moon, Christopher Fowler (Serpent's Tail)

At Ease with the Dead, edited by Barbara and Christopher Roden (Ash-Tree Press)
Dark Delicacies 2, edited by Del Howison and Jeff Gelb (Running Press)
Inferno, edited by Ellen Datlow (Tor)
Logorrhea, edited by John Klima (Bantam Spectra)
Wizards, edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois (Berkley)