Buzzed Books #31: Scouting for the Reaper

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Buzzed Books #31 by Shawn Whittington

Jacob M. Appel’s Scouting for the Reaper

Scouting for the Reaper

Jacob M. Appel’s recent collection of stories, Scouting for the Reaper, has all eight narratives threaded by one theme: the revelation of secrets in daily life to loved ones. More peculiarly, the revelations do not necessarily solve the conflicts within the tales but herald the thickening of plots yet to come. In other words, the stories mirror real life.

The first three stories, including the story the collection receives its name from, feature young teens in pursuit of romance. At first, these 1st person narratives seem to suggest a typical impulsive urge to pursue a forbidden love interest. But ingeniously, these goals mask the true conflicts, which take place more with the adults in the stories rather than the teenage protagonists. The 1st person point of view enhances the disorganized thought process in the teens’ minds as Appel artfully incorporates the mental distortion of their insatiable drives. Even more so, Appel’s stories become steadily unconventional in their plots and accomplish a rather extraordinary endeavor in writing, completing character arcs without “finishing” the story.

The other five stories place adults as the protagonists, which feature 3rd person points-of-view. Another thing to notice in this collection is Appel’s ability to weave the conflicts under the fabric of these accounts in a subtle manner that hint at the larger theme. An example of this technique is the story about a mother who suffers from seizures while nurturing a blind rabbit to the point of treating it like a human child. The narration does not point out that she misses being a mother to her grown and now successful children.

Appel is wonderful at partially revealing a realistic sense of a character’s emotional redemption. One story, written in 1st person, features a seasoned trucker transporting live zoo animals to Orlando, particularly penguins. Due to the trucker’s coarse, somewhat humorous, lingo, Appel demonstrates the procedure of subtle clues to the divorce the protagonist suffered and conceals deep down. When a teenage girl stows away in his truck, he faces the dilemma of being accused of kidnapping the difficult teen or risk not delivering his load on schedule. During this, the trucker retains a rustic charm despite these treacherous circumstances. He has a paternal quality he keeps from even himself. His character arc goes from wanting to move on from his previous marriage to wishing to see his son more often. His redemption is subtle and relative.

Scouting for the Reaper is an excellent read; Appel’s craft is remarkable. His work engages with the mundane in ways that both respect and heighten one’s sense of reality, through prosaic language and bold sentence structures. These eight stories are an immensely memorable read.

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Shawn Whittington 2

Shawn Whittington (Episode 156) is a writer living in Orlando, Florida.

The Global Barfly’s Companion #17: Sorocabana

The Global Barfly’s Companion #17 by Susana Gonzales

Bar: Sorocabana

Location: San Jerónimo 98, X5000AGB Córdoba, Argentina

Córdoba, a 432 years old Argentine city, can be defined as a college town among other things.

And Nueva Córdoba is a notorious neighborhood with apartment buildings crowded with college students who walk a few blocks to and from National University campus, or Ciudad Universitaria, as it is known locally. Yrigoyen, Chacabuco, Rondeau are some important streets in Nueva Córdoba. Rondeau is an especially narrow street. Trendy bars that open late in the evening are on Rondeau, the street of bars for college students, junior professionals businessmen or simply, for young people.

But Córdoba´s DNA rests somewhere else too.

A few blocks down from Nueva Córdoba is downtown. As in colonial towns in Latin America, important buildings stand around the main square; here, it’s San Martín square: the cathedral, the former cabildo (colonial municipal administrative and government unit, now a museum and cultural center), banks, coffee shops.

And Sorocabana. Right on the corner of Buenos Aires and San Jerónimo streets, across the local bank and the square.

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A huge sign on its sidewalk roof reads “café and confitería”, a coffee place. Sorocaba is much more than that; it is a bar too. In fact, people in their 80s would simply say Sorocabana is a bar.

In Spanish, at least in our local variety, a bar can also be defined as a mixture of a coffee place and a bar. That is what Sorocabana stands for. A place where anyone can sit down at a table for a cup of coffee, on tall chairs for a drink, or even on the sidewalk, under umbrellas to share a Quilmes, beer, or whisky with friends.

The array of the counter and the décor has changed over the years. Now, wooden panels on the counter and walls create a modern, clean and warm atmosphere. Croissants on a large tray sit by the taps for draft Quilmes beer, and pastries rest on a lazy Susan below an assortment of glasses for all kinds of beverages. At the back, on the shelves, bottles, tall and small, announce the blend of a café and a bar. The work area behind the counter has plenty of light that extends its intensity all over the central tables and becomes softer near the side counter, by a midsize mirror, still allowing customers to enjoy a cozy feel.

Sorocabana 2Dark tables and chairs still dominate the area by the glass walls that stand as borders separating customers focused on their conversations from the bustle of the city. Plenty of small pictures from old times framed in dark wood hanging on white pillars provide hints of a narrative. They build the history of this bar just as tables do with large papers under glass that tell short and meaningful events in the lives of regular customers that new patrons tend to read. It´s the ID of Sorocabana.

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Regulars praise croissants as the best in town (and they truly are) and they can choose from bay biscuits, alfajores or other pastries and desserts to have with coffee, tea or the like. Breakfast options in all possible varieties range from coffee with croassants or criollos, jam and butter and O.J to a light version with toasts and cream cheese.

Often coffee places are tied to pictures of people reading and Sorocabana is a coffee place too. There is selection of local and national newspapers available to anyone who wants to skim through a paper, read it from beginning to end, and sip a small coffee or have a snack with a glass of beer.

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It´s not unusual to see those who spend a long time gazing ay the paper, usually senior citizens, later engage in chats and jokes about soccer, politics, economy or the weather.

Have you ever heard of a coffee place that never closes? Probably, but here, in Córdoba this is, to my knowledge, the only place with such availability. Its patrons include bank employees, businessmen, families, poets, writers, musicians, singers, ordinary people…even a lady having a glass of beer while reading a book at four in the afternoon on a warm winter day. Who knows what she was thinking about while staring towards the square from her comfortable seat on the sidewalk?

Drinks, champagne, fine wines, liquors and batidos –sort of cocktails- are options alongside coffee and beer.

The list of drinks include different types of beer (Quilmes being the most popular), champagnes, Chandon, whiskeys, Old Smuggler, fine wines and other alcoholic drinks: vermouth, campari, fernet, the most popular beverage among local residents, piña colada, vodka, rum and even those that characterize famous choices from older days: caña Leggi, Espiridina and Ferroquina. They all cater for the wide range of possible customers that come and go to Sorocaban in the morning during bank hours, in the afternoon when families stop by or in the evening when people get out of theaters or looking for somewhere to hang out in the wee hours of the day.

Prices are not a problem as they are competitive and service is good; waiters are polite and have a friendly behavior. They are ready to ask any questions, make suggestions and ready to help. They kindly explain or suggest the type of picadas, snacks, in small or large bowls with peanuts, chips, jam and cheese, sausages depending on one´s choice of drink.

Sorocabana 5Córdoba is a cultural hub with a significant number of international students and tourists nowadays. Stopping by at Sorocabana for a cup of coffee, hot sandwiches, milkshakes, a glass of beer or whiskey is an experience that provides an insight in Córdoba´s identity no matter what time of the day it is.

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Susana Gonzalez is a writer living in Córdoba, Argentina.

Shakespearing #40: A Reflection

Shakespearing #40 by David Foley

A Reflection

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I’m supposed to come up with some final thoughts about Shakespeare after my long trek through the plays, but I keep thinking about his books. I recently stumbled on a Times article from 2005 in which the author flogs the old idea that Shakespeare couldn’t have written his plays because he left no books in his will. There are several things wrong with this assumption, beginning with the question of whether Shakespeare actually owned the books he used; but it suddenly occurred to me that all the anti-Shakespearean arguments based on what’s in the plays—he must have owned tons of books; he must have been trained in law; he must have been a nobleman; he must have gone to sea—evade the central mystery of the work, which is a mind so preternaturally absorptive that it saw, heard, sensed all; everything was material to be captured and pinned down in words. It begins to feel relentless and insatiable, this will to absorb the world and put it in words.

This may be why Shakespeare still feels like one of us, even though logic tells us that he’s not. It’s as if he’s constantly striving to see past the filter of country, time, and culture to the thing itself, and as a result, for sudden, thrilling moments, he helps us see past our own filters. The other night I saw Cymbeline in the Park. The sexual politics of Cymbeline are alien to us, but Imogen’s intelligent despair is not.

Which makes me think that it’s not just the thing itself that he captures, but some kind of ideal of what it is to be human. Last week I saw Ubu Roi. I wrote in my notebook that it’s what you would get if you stripped Shakespeare of any notion of the basic dignity of the human endeavor. Not such a bad play to produce teetering on the verge (1896) of the twentieth century. But the humanist ideal dies hard, and if we keep returning to Shakespeare, it’s because he tells us that even our madness has meaning. Our sorrows are deep and often of our own making, but they’re woven into the fabric of the world and resonate in its reaches. As are our joys.

One reason Shakespeare is a touchstone for writers is that we all do some version of his grab and capture. We try to get the world in words. We do it with joy and conviction when we’re young—a clever satisfaction in the neatness of the trick—and with increasing befuddlement, perhaps desperation as we get older. The world eludes us; the project of capturing it becomes harder, the usefulness of the project more suspect. We use thornier sentences to capture a human meaning that becomes more and more elusive.

You can sense this happening to Shakespeare as he gets older. The language becomes denser, the images knottier, his faith in the dignity of the human endeavor shakier. But if you’re a writer you keep trying. As I was writing this, my sister emailed me a wonderful piece about Grace Paley, who says, “[The writer is] like an idealist who marries nearly the same woman over and over. He tries to write with different names and faces, using different professions and labors, other forms to travel the shortest distance to the way things really are.” In my Love’s Labor’s Lost posting, I suggested that Shakespeare is “our greatest poet of the real.” Maybe this is what I meant, that he succeeds more than any of us in leaping that distance to the way things really are. But even he seems to have been driven forward by the maddening inachievability of the task.

He was also a man of the theatre. I began this project in part because I wanted to get at Shakespeare the playwright. Part of the fun of it has been intuiting the ways in which Shakespeare’s theatre—so different from ours in so many ways—might have shared, indeed might have provided the first iteration of, certain features of our own: fandom, rivalry, and backbiting; celebrity playwrights and the people who collected their plays; art as an accidental byproduct of a make-or-break business; and even an audience demographic that tilted towards the queer.

It’s also been fun to see Shakespeare develop. To see him go from journeyman to innovator to, in his young old age, a kind of restless experimenter, teasing the boundaries of what theatre can and should do, so that his last plays seem to quietly break and remake the rules. Having just seen Cymbeline I can tell you that the long, closing recognition scene—containing twenty-four separate revelations, my friend told me—shouldn’t work and does. It’s thrilling.

A long time ago, on a grant application, I wrote rather grandiosely that I thought theatre tries to capture the condition of a human being trapped between earth and sky. As a formula it lacks multiplicity—it leaves out not just the range and complexity of Shakespeare’s worlds but the fact that theatre inevitably deals with human beings in relation to each other. But it does capture something about the theatrical space: boards planked above Eurydicean depths; overhead: empty, aspirant air. Between these spaces Shakespeare gave us a bewildering variety of worlds. How is it possible that the same writer gave us A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Coriolanus? King Lear and Taming of the Shrew? And yet you can see that the same mind, the same way of seeing and shaping the world, created them all. No alternate explanation of authorship can crack that riddle. As I say, it’s a mystery. Unless it has something to do with what I’ve been talking about: in each new world a flying, ferocious attempt to give us the world itself.

So my trek through the plays ends here, but Shakespearing doesn’t. John will open it up to other writers, and hopefully I’ll chime in, too, when I’ve got something new on my mind. Thanks for following me on the journey.

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David Foley

David Foley is a playwright and fiction writer living in Brooklyn. His plays include Cressida Among the GreeksParadiseNance O’NeilThe Murders at ArgosA Hole in the Fence, and Sad Hotel, among others. His novel The Traveler’s Companion is available on Amazon. He teaches at New York University.

Episode 164: A Live Event on the Theme of Childhood, with Wilson Santos, Ashley Inguanta, Vincent Crampton, Amy Watkins, and Moi!

Episode 164 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

This week features a live Event on the theme of childhood, with Wilson Santos, Ashley Inguanta, Vincent Crampton, Amy Watkins, and moi, as your humble emcee.

This reading was in honor of Wilson Santos’s spoken word film, My Verse, which I talked to him about back on episode 138.

My Verse

NOTES

Check out more about Wilson Santos’ Dominican Republic project, including how to donate, here.


Episode 164 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #98: Ninja Scroll

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 The Curator of Schlock #98 by Jeff Shuster

Ninja Scroll

(State of the Art Japanese Animation!)

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Yeah, I know I keep subtitling “State of the art Japanese animation” whenever I review one these Japanese cartoons. It was the old moniker of Streamline Pictures, one of the first serious distributors of Japanese animation on this side of the pond. After Streamline Pictures came other distributors such as Manga Entertainment, most famous for bringing the Mamoru Oshi’s  Ghost in the Shell stateside. But they were also known for another release: Ninja Scroll.

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For tonight’s review we leave the comforts of those 80s Cannon Films ninja classics and head over into the world of gratuitous, ultra violent Japanese animation. Yes, Ninja Scroll is another one those “not for kids” deals. There’s one scene in particular where one of the eight devils of Kimon, a large ogre with the ability to turn his skin into stone, rips the arms off of this poor ninja and dangles the loose limbs over his mouth so he can drink his blood.

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That was good old-fashioned nightmare fuel when I first saw this. I was 18 at the time.

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Like most movies that shock me when I first watch them, I’ve revisited Ninja Scroll over and over again. What brings me back? It might be the villains. This is a gauntlet picture where the hero has to fight his way through a succession one on one fights with increasingly difficult opponents with varying abilities. Kind of like Rugter Hauer in Blind Fury. (Say, why haven’t I reviewed Blind Fury yet?) Anyway, the gauntlet in Ninja Scroll is comprised of the 8 Devils of Kimon. We have the stone ogre as previously mentioned, a snake woman who can shed her skin, a hunchback with a wasp’s nest on his back, a blind swordsman, a shadow assassin, a girl made out of gunpowder, a man who can kill people with invisible wires and shock them with electricity from his body, and their leader, Gemma, who can regenerate cells. Seriously, cut his arm off and he’ll just reattach it.

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Our hero, Jubei Kibagami, is a wandering man-with-no-name type like the kind found in Clint Eastwood westerns, except substitute the old west for feudal Japan. Jubei gets poisoned by an old man who will only give him an antidote if he stops the 8 Devils of Kimon who have allied themselves with the Shogun of the Dark (more ninja bad guys) in an attempt to overthrow the government and rule Japan with an iron fist. Jubei is joined by a beautiful female ninja, Kagero, who is an expert at poison tasting due to the fact that she’s poisonous herself. Anyone who touches her will die.

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Ninja Scroll was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, famous for his Vampire Hunter D movies. Ninja Scroll was also adapted into a TV series that’s worth checking out. Kawajiri has also been trying to get a sequel to Ninja Scroll made with limited funding success. I’m sorry to say that it may be the end of an era for these traditionally animated features for adult audiences. I believe most animation studios in Japan are making more family friendly fare these days. Check out the teaser for Ninja Scroll 2 below. It’s like a demo reel for what could have been.

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Photo by Leslie Salas

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida.

Heroes Never Rust #104: A Final Note

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Heroes Never Rust #104 by Sean Ironman

A Final Note

With Marvel 1985 issue six, no reader will be surprised when Toby returns to the real world with the Marvel heroes, and the villains are soon defeated. Does anyone ever expect the heroes to lose in these stories? But just because the inevitable good-triumphing-over-evil occurs, the story does offer interesting developments.

In an effort to stop the villains, Toby’s father is gunned down by Red Skull. There’s a dark comedic vein running through the scene of Toby’s father confronting the villains, and Red Skull calmly taking out his pistol and killing the father. The story doesn’t end there. Nor does it end with the villains defeated, the heroes returning to their world, or even with Toby’s father’s funeral.

The comic ends years later, when Toby is an adult. He’s on his laptop writing a comic called 1985, and in the final two pages, his father wakes up in the Marvel Universe under the care of Jane Foster, a nurse and a love interest for Thor. Earlier in the comic series, his father said that he had a crush on Jane Foster, so years later, Toby gives his father his wish—his father asks Jane out on a date and she says yes. Marvel 1985 ends with his father looking out at the New York City of the Marvel Universe in anticipation for the possibilities.

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This brings up an interesting aspect of superhero stories, and fiction as a whole—the idea of wish fulfillment. Why write fiction? Why write superhero stories? The superhero genre isn’t well respected. Even now, much of the respect it has earned is only because of the hundred of millions superhero films bring in at the box office. While comics have gained more respect in recent years, mainly by people who resist calling comics comics and instead refer to them as graphic or sequential narrative or other terms showing their embarrassment over comics, the superhero genre is still thought of in a similar way as fantasy YA novels are thought of in the literary community.

Superhero stories, though, serve an important function for the literary community. Due to many factors, like the rise of creative nonfiction and the focus on a global community, so much of writing is about our world. Even in fiction, our reality plays an important role. Stories must be real. Stories must show the world as it is, people as they are. Stories seem to be gritty and characters gray. But superhero stories offer a break from all that. Instead of showing the world as it is, readers (and writers) get to use their imagination and look at a different world.

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But, this isn’t escapism.

I don’t like that word, escapism. Whenever I hear someone say they like a certain book or a certain film or a certain genre because it offers them an escape, I just feel bad for that person, that he or she lives such an awful existence or views the world in such an awful way that they must shut down for a couple of hours and escape. Superhero stories are not escapism. They can comment on what it means to be human just as much as any literary story. Does each superhero story do that? Of course not, but neither does every literary short story. Does Superman really save the day? Does Spider-man? Batman? etc. No, they don’t. Superman fights a man or a robot or a monster with his fists and he puts off evil temporarily. But, that’s not where the story is at.

Superman’s story is with Lois Lane, Perry White, the Kents. It’s the people and the effect Superman has on them as people. If literary means a focus on craft and that the story comments on what it means to be human, then superhero stories are literary. A story doesn’t have to comment on how the world is for the reader to learn about the world. You can learn about our world, not just by studying what it is, but by studying what it is not.

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With all the technological advancements and heroics in a superhero comic, the world is not better off. The Marvel Universe still has the same problems as our world. There is still greed and selfishness. There is still violence. Kids still go to bed hungry. Sexism still exists. Racism does too. Superheroes are just window dressing on the same world. Even with the help of superheroes, them saving our lives, the human beings are still the same human beings as we are. The presence of a superhero doesn’t change what it means to be human. It just allows a different view of our world.

Many of us complain about mass shootings (rightly so). Many of us complain about space travel no longer being a priority. Many of us want something in place to stop the government from doing whatever the government wants to do. Yet, even in a world of superheroes, there are still mass shootings, people aren’t traveling freely to other planets, and government officials are still corrupt. A superpowered savior will not save us from being us. I think that makes a greater comment on humanity than many realist short stories and novels. We may wish for something magical to save us, some kind of easy solution to our problems, but superhero stories show us that that will never happen. We are who we are. Nothing will stop us from the faults of Man. Only we can do that.

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Photo by John King

Photo by John King

Sean Ironman (Episode 102earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s ChronicleRedivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.

Buzzed Books #30: Chain Link Fence

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Buzzed Books #30 by Amy Watkins

Patti White’s Chain Link Fence

Chain Link Fence

Some reviewers have called Patti White’s Chain Link Fence (Anhinga Press, 2013) a “post-apocalyptic” book, and it does have that sort of imagery. Most of the short, numbered poems include disjointed lists of objects either broken or hauntingly out of context: “a washtub, Pick-up / Sticks, four stones in a cardboard box.” There’s falling ash and peeling skin and wild dogs–very apocalyptic stuff–yet I kept thinking less of The Road and more of impoverished places and people I’ve known in the rural South.

The poems follow Lucy, a person of indeterminate age, as she wanders a ruined landscape in a sort of dream state. In poem 9 there is a hint of some cataclysm in the “abandoned military vehicles” Lucy sees outside the window, but the poem goes on: “The / kitchen rings around her too…. This is is not an earthquake…but / perhaps a precursor to something that shatters / inside her…” In poem 35, “Lucy walks in the scent of her dreams,” and in poem 47 “jasmine and roses bloom in her head.” Is the apocalypse she experiences the result of nuclear disaster or drugs and mental illness? Does it matter?

For two years in college I worked as a transcriptionist in a forensic psychologist’s office in Polk County, Florida, typing reports on competency to stand trial and sanity at the time of the offense. As I read Chain Link Fence, I found myself thinking of those litanies of abuse, addiction, petty crime, and mental illness. I remembered the glassy-eyed men and women I used to see on the drive home through Davenport–the birthplace of crank, the drug of choice of miserable self-destructive rednecks before some horrible genius invented crystal meth. I could easily imagine their longing for “anything delicious or sweet, / some piece of life left precious and unbroken.”

The poems are brief, which is a wise choice, I think. Long poems in this vein might feel heavy-handed. Instead the short pieces build on each other in an almost cinematic, fragmentary narrative. Although the book has welcome moments of lightness, I’m reluctant to call any of the poems hopeful; Lucy and the other characters are not getting out of the apocalypse alive.

Pair with: a chipped glass of moonshine–not the trendy stuff they sell in Total Wine that tastes like a McDonald’s apple pie soaked in lighter fluid, but the kind that comes in a washed out mayonnaise jar, pressed upon you by a person whose very benevolence is terrifying.

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Amy Watkins

Amy Watkins grew up in the Central Florida scrub, surrounded by armadillos and palmetto brush and a big, loud, oddly religious family, a situation that’s produced generations of Southern writers. She married her high school sweetheart, had a baby girl and earned her MFA in poetry from Spalding University. Her chapbook, Milk & Water, was published in 2014 by Yellow Flag Press.

Episode 163: David Z. Morris!

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Episode 163 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk to the journalist David Z. Morris,

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Photo by Angel He.

plus Shin Yu Pai writes about how Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake changed her life.

Photo by Kelly O.

Photo by Kelly O.

BOOKS DISCUSSED

The NamesakeNOTES

Rest in Peace, E.L. Doctorow.

Check out David Z. Morris’s site, here. Check out his Art Basel essay here. Check out his Iowa City music essay, “Only What is Dead Can Live Forever,” here.

Check out Shin Yu Pai’s poetry and other work here.

On Tuesday, August 11, at 7:00 P.M. at The Gallery at Avalon Island, Jared Silvia, Stephanie Rizzo, Teege Braune, Genevieve Anna Tyrell, and I will read original fan fiction for that month’s installment of J. Bradley’s prose reading series, There Will be Words.


Episode 163 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #97: The Octagon

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The Curator of Schlock #97 by Jeff Shuster

The Octagon

No more square dances in ninja movies! EVER.

If you read my last blog, I promised you a Sho Kosugi movie this week. That movie would have been Revenge of the Ninja since revenge movies are always welcome here at the Museum of Schlock. Unfortunately, my brand new Blu-ray special edition Revenge of the Ninja has gone missing. I found myself screaming, “You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you!”

So I’ve had to scramble and find an appropriate substitute. The Octagon is on Netflix. It has ninjas.

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The Octagon might be the worst movie I’ve ever had to review for this blog. I really didn’t go into this expecting the movie to be this bad. So let’s get the particulars out the way. The Octagon was released back in 1980 and has a cult status, most likely for being one of the first English language action films to feature ninjas. It stars Chuck Norris and Lee Van Cleef. I like Lee Van Cleef. He was in such classic westerns as For a Few Dollars More and Day of Anger. He even starred in the Master Ninja movies which were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. As for Chuck Norris…audible sigh…

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I know that Chuck Norris is an expert martial artist. I know that he studied martial arts under Bruce Lee. He did not, however, study acting under Bruce Lee, or anyone else to prepare for his role of retired karate champion Scott James in The Octagon. This becomes painfully obvious each time Norris pauses mid-sentence. He does. This. Again. And. Again. And. Again.

He can’t remember his lines.

But, O Curator of Schlock, don’t most of the movies you review feature bad acting?

No, they do not! Lucio Fulci’s Zombie featured a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the lead role. Nothing will sink a movie faster than bad acting. That and a bad script. Schlock is supposed to be beautiful, people.

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I often point out when I lose the plot in the movies I review, but I think I lost the plot in The Octagon within the first ten minutes. I think the movie begins with Norris taking a ballet dancer home after a date, someone turns the lights in house off, she and her whole family get killed as Norris fumbles around in the dark. A disembodied voice says “Ninja” and I can’t figure out if this is Norris’s own thought or if he shares a psychic link with his brother who also happens to be an evil ninja. They’re estranged, mainly due to the fact that Norris beat his brother in some kind of obstacle course when they were kids and their father told him to disown him or something.

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I guess his evil ninja brother grows up to run a ninja training camp. They’re a bunch of random mercenaries who show up to join the ninja clan. They’ve even got an Irish guy who gets in a tizzy when he finds out they don’t serve potatoes at the camp. Norris tries to investigate the mysterious ninja clan, but keeps running into people who are confused as to what he’s talking about. “Ninja? Is that some kind of new Japanese stereo?” And then Norris shows up at a square dance class. I don’t know why.

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I’m sorry. Am I a testy today? I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that I just saw Terminator Genisys. Yeah, Skynet was going to use Ipads to destroy the world. I think they took someone’s Terminator fan fiction and turned it into a major motion picture. Until next week, folks.

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Photo by Leslie Salas.

Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida.

Heroes Never Rust #103: 1985, & Doing Something New

Heroes Never Rust #103 by Sean Ironman

1985: Doing Something New

There have been a lot of comic books made in the last hundred years. Millions of stories, with a large chunk of them revolving around superheroes. Most of these stories range from terrible to merely adequate. I love superheroes, but even I can’t defend each one. I don’t know if it’s the schedule of having to turn out a complete superhero tale each month (written, penciled, inked, colored, lettered, and edited), or if it’s just the nature of storytelling, but most superhero tales do nothing new. Sure, they plug in a different character into the protagonist spot, another in the villain spot, another in the best friend role, and so on. These stories can still be entertaining in the way that when you’re done you’re not upset you wasted fifteen minutes of your life on the comic, but rarely are they memorable. But, how does a writer bring something new to a genre that’s had millions of stories already told?

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In the fifth issue of 1985, Toby finds himself in the Marvel Universe. From the portal between dimensions, he lands on a street corner, still on the run from the Trapster, who is dispatched pretty quickly by a sedan as he chases Toby across the street. Toby heads to Avengers Mansion, where Jarvis, the butler (an actual butler in the comics, not software), hands Toby a pin and unconvinced Toby is being truthful, Jarvis tells him to get the Fantastic Four. At the Baxter Building, Toby is made to fill out a form full-bureaucracy style beside a few others who also have an emergency that requires the help of the Fantastic Four. The superhero team will help on a first-come first-serve basis. In need of help, Toby heads to the Daily Bugle to get Peter Parker’s help, which seems to work. Toby’s adventures in the Marvel Universe are fun and interesting, even though he doesn’t run into any superheroes until the end of his journey. The issue works because it’s rare that we get a look at the ground level of the Marvel Universe.

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I think that’s the key to doing something new—point-of-view. Style and structure can do a lot in a story, but to really deliver something new, I think the key lies with point of view. The superheroes remain the superheroes we know and love. They are reinvented. But, by getting a look at them from a different angle, in this case Toby’s, we can experience them in a new way. Perhaps this is why superhero films can’t seem to go even three films without losing steam (How many great superhero trilogies are there? I can’t think of any.) Ultimately, the superhero’s story, if they are to stay a superhero, can only be repeated so many times. Only so many times can new villains and supporting characters reinvigorate a series. But, a new point of view could create a whole new story. How interesting would it be to see a Superman film that is told from the point of view of a priest, someone who believes Man has been made in the image of God, that Man is God’s chosen creature? How would that affect the priest’s faith? Superman would stay Superman, but we as the audience would see a new side of the character.

Spiderman

One of Marvel Comics’ greatest series, and one that I can’t help but feel that Marvel 1985 was meant to be a new version of, was Marvels. In Marvels, the reader followed Phil Sheldon, an everyman character and photographer for the Daily Bugle. Readers saw the birth of the Marvel Universe through different eyes. And it was great. Readers got a new understanding of the comics, from the impact that Captain America had on the United States to why the X-men were hated for their mutant powers and the Fantastic Four were loved for their superpowers.

Marvel has done a few more comics like this in recent years, such as the Civil War tie-in Frontline. I really hope we get these types of comics as film someday. Not yet, it’s too soon, but in ten years, I think they would be wonderful. How many times can we see the same story over and over again? I’m not saying I dislike superhero comics, or I’m unhappy with what’s being published today. But, if a genre is going to thrive, it needs to evolve and offer readers new experiences. Point of view is a great way to do that. Some of the best Batman stories from the last twenty years have been found in Gotham Central, a comic about the police force in Gotham City. One of the best Superman stories is It’s a Bird, from the point of view of the writer of Superman comics. A great, and somewhat forgotten, Spider-man storyline (“The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man”) is about a child with leukemia whose dying wish is to meet Spider-man. The whole issue is Spider-man and the kid hanging out in the kid’s bedroom talking. And it was incredible because readers saw Spider-man in a different way. So, if you’re thinking of tackling a superhero tale, or any genre work that’s been done to death, try thinking of a different character as your narrator. You’ll get the best of both worlds—a story that has what readers love and something new.

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Photo by John King

Photo by John King

Sean Ironman (Episode 102earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s ChronicleRedivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.

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