Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Choir Boats official launch party on Boing Boing

How exciting! My wife Deborah and I are mentioned on Boing Boing today in connection with my novel's official launch party at Worldcon next week. ChiZine Publications is holding a shindig launching no less than five books! Come and see us there, it's going to be a swell party.

Here's the official invitation - see you there.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Jack Vance Featured in the New York Times

Check out the lovely article about master fantasist Jack Vance in today's New York Times Sunday Magazine:

"The Genre Artist," by Carlo Rotella.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Readercon 20: Greer Gilman, and More

For Lobster & Canary, the highlight of Readercon 20 was co-Guest of Honor Greer Gilman reading from her long-awaited Cloud and Ashes: Three Winter's Tales, and listening to her being interviewed by Lila Garrott. Gilman is a singular constellation, a unique voice in American letters whose attention to language rivals that of Joyce and Nabokov. I urge readers to delve into Gilman's world, savor the wine she has patiently produced for us (a rich, multi-layered Burgundy or Cahors).

Other high points included:

* David Anthony Durham reading from The Other Lands, the sequel to Acacia: The War with the Mein.

* Ellen Klages's wickedly acerbic wit on an excellent panel with Paolo Bacigalupi, Leah Bobet, Tui Sutherland, and Gayle Surrette on the prevalence of dark and downbeat endings in YA fiction.

* Mary Robinette Kowal demonstrating with verve how puppetry can serve as a model for speculative fiction (or, as Mary suggested, why use the euphemism "spec fic"? Call it science fiction or fantasy, and be proud to do so!).

* Samuel Delany and David Hartwell on an insightful panel about academic criticism ("the good, the bad, and the ugly") of fantasy/science fiction sketching the history of the genre.

* The Sybil's Garage reading organized by publisher Matt Kressel (full disclosure: I was a participant, but I enjoyed it primarily for the wonderful pieces read by the dozen fellow contributors present and the warm reception by the audience).

* The dealer's room, a.k.a. The Cave of Wonders, populated with the independent presses and specialty booksellers that are the field's backbone. The newest chapbook, the most obscure collector's item, and everything in between, all served up by and for the cognoscenti.

* As always, a fascinating souvenir book, including especially good contributions by Michael Swanwick and Michael Dirda about Hope Mirrlees, a recovery of the genius of Stanley Weinbaum, and articles on Gilman and her co-Guest of Honor Elizabeth Hand.

* Finally, but above all, the hallway conversations with so many of the authors Lobster & Canary treasures, from the veterans such as Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner to the newer voices such as Leah Bobet, Veronica Schanoes, JoSelle Vanderhooft, and K. Tempest Bradford.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Deborah and I just got back from the glorious feast that is Readercon. More on that in the course of the week, along with an interview with gifted photographer Les Bartlett, a review of a gorgeous new children's book, and some comments on the James Ensor show at the MoMA. I hope you'll come back to us at Lobster & Canary.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

6 + 1 Interview: Lisa Kaser

He Was a Bona Fide Fan - © Lisa Kaser

Artist Lisa Kaser (click on her name for her marvelous website) tells us about herself:

I was and am a fortunate person I think, and not entirely because I grew up in Oregon. My folks are of a creative disposition and introduced me to museums and imaginative people and an ample supply of paper as part of my upbringing. Constantly conjuring ideas that I had to find ways of realizing was just the way I operated. Sometimes I feel that I could have gone in many different directions and been completely happy--a cook, a farmer, a dancer, a filmmaker, an animal care-giver, a writer, a nurse, an architect but something early on steered me in the direction of the visual arts and I have been happily creating what I do for twenty-five years.

Lobster & Canary 1. You enter the forest by way of a gate (rumored to be made by goblins), and after an hour or so, you come upon the meadow in the midst of those woods. You stop and lay out a picnic, bringing forth jam and cheese, kippers and freshly baked bread from your rucksack. Then you wait for your guests to join you for lunch. Who are they, how do you know them, what do you talk about?

Tuesdays Were Reserved for Sharing Recipes -© Lisa Kaser

Lisa: What an inspired setting! I would love to be joined by my favorite architecht, Terunobu Fujimori, my maternal grandmother, Ottilie Louise Joedeke, musician, Patti Smith, author and illustrator of The Magic Pudding, Norman Lindsay, sculptor, Theo Jansen, my mother as a child, creative, Maira Kalman and if one isn't already present in this lovely imagined landscape, a 2000 year old cedar tree.

Hearing everyone tell a favorite funny story would be a nice way to start, then I would just settle in to listening to what everyone is up to, what caught their eye recently, what do they like to cook or eat, what fires their imagination, an incident they will never forget, just sitting all together, touching knees, grass between our fingers, grazing shoulders, seeing who hums first...

L & C 2. Your style is so completely your own, your figures so immediately recognizable as part of your world, that I can only compare you in your uniqueness to, say, Sempe or Tove Jansson. When did the signature elongated noses and ears, for example, first enter your graphic vocabulary?

Lisa: My early saved drawings show large round heads, large oblong noses and two teeth emerging from under the nose with a wisp of hair on a great bald crown! The ears came later. I also started tucking the arms behind because I felt I couldn't draw hands, but that stance is something I still love--it is such a thoughtful pose-though now I love to draw hands too. So, this is how I drew from around the age of four on and always characters. I never delved into realistic renderings, and when I did, they were not very interesting or good. Okay, I do draw houses and house plans. This is an obsession I have had all my life and I do straghforward renderings of these, but houses are the exception! My father is a cartoonist, so I'm sure I was influenced by all his drawings and he had an Herb Gardner, Nebbish in his studio which I openly coveted. I have very distinct memories of drawing that big circle for the head, then I would join the body-nobody got a neck-and it is basically how I assemble my characters today.

Filbert's Toothbrush and Myron's Maiden Flight - © Lisa Kaser

L & C 3. Tell us about your first children's book, published in 2008? How did working on an entire book differ from doing an individual painting or print?

Lisa: It was a bittersweet experience. It was so exciting to be finally working on a legitimate book project and "The Three Little Pigs" was a great story to be asked to do. Sadly, I reined in my style and took a more conservative approach. Drawing for an intentional audience felt very different or so I thought it was different. All of a sudden I was thinking about these little seven year old Korean children, trying to learn English and being introduced to this tale told through my pictures and it made me a little nervous! That is one huge difference about drawing for myself, it is pure fun, and doesn't hold an ounce of anxiety or doubt as I never worry about what people might think. So, kind of a night and day experience of creating illustrations. At least I will know next time that I will only feel good in the end if I keep it strange and true to what I like.

L & C 4. You work in several media: painting, prints, textiles, sculptures. What is the same, what different, as you move from one medium to another?

Lisa: All my work in college was abstract or color driven compositions, and I still maintain some of that in my felts and fabric constructions,especially the importance of color, though more and more of my emphasis is devoted to narrative driven ideas with characters as the focal point. I am also a tactile freak, I think that is why so much of what I work in is textural and why I am so attracted to felt, even the collaged drawings have a certain depth that releases it from a traditional two-dimensional format.

L & C 5. You make your own prints, using archival ink and paper. Talk to us about the artisanal aspect of what you create.

Lisa: One aspect that is consistent between mediums is that I am emphatic about the process being evident and that simple constructive means are applied. I like the cut edges of the collaged pieces to be apparent as well as some of the initial drawing and pencil work left in my illustrations. My textile pieces are handsewn because I like the mark that handstitching produces and I love the physical act of sewing-needle, thread and cloth- so simple but it can exemplify the the most subtle of nuances. This applies to my sculptural work too. The armatures are made from steel bristles I collect on my walks that the street sweepers leave behind--these I bend and form with pliers and an anvil and secure with waxed linen thread. From there, I carve, stitch or fabricate the rest, finishing with layers of beeswax which supports and enhances the materials I use. Quality workmanship and thoughtful design are what I strive for--this makes for an aesthestically successful piece.

Her Heart Remained True to Pig - © Lisa Kaser

L & C 6. I love the way you conjure an entire story with a single image and your brilliantly conceived titles: "Mouse Offers Advice as Fish Adapts," "The Passion in Her Ganache was Unprecedented," "Tuesdays were Reserved for Sharing Recipes," "Grandpa's Teeth Gave Madeline the Confidence She Needed," and so on. Your juxtaposition of image and text reminds me of the European Renaissance emblem books and 18th-century collections of aphorisms. Which comes first for you: the image or the text?

Lisa: Usually the image. The characters come together, then how they are relating to one another or how a character just relates in the space, and I keep it pretty simple. I use minimal props. From there an idea will arise, something that will jell the whole together. The thing is, there is never a hard rule. I'll hear somebody say something, or read a great passage, come across a strange word or in conversation come up with an idea I like and then the words conjure the image. So a whole different intention occurs, but the end result is the same.

Lisa asks Lobster & Canary a question:

Okay! I am fascinated by your affinity towards the fantastical. When did you develop or recognize that an other-worldly realm would occupy your imagination? When did it become significant for you and how so?

Lobster & Canary: I have always, from my beginning I think, been entranced with the other-worldly. One of my very earliest memories-- I may have been four years old, possibly five or so-- is of poring over the picture-books of Norse and Greek myths by the D'Aulaires, in the middle of the night (I was one of those kids who read until all hours), lost in the reality I found on those pages. (I am delighted that the New York Review of Books classics series has brought the D'Aulaire books back into print.) From that same time comes also the memory of reading Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. My father is a great storyteller, and used to make up all sorts of wonderful tales. My mother shared-- and continues to share-- a deep love of fairytales and folklore. So, I am one of the proverbial acorns that falls close to the tree!

That tells you "when" and "what," but nothing about "why." The attraction for me has to do with the search for what Gerald Manley Hopkins called "the inscape," the unique, authentic spirit within each thing. Susan Sontag, from another angle of approach, argued for a similar search, when she talked in "Against Interpretation" about a need to re-capture the magical, incantatory experience of art. Paul Klee knew about this, so too I believe the Mughal painters of miniatures, the West African sculptors in bronze, Mozart, Miles Davis, the Dutch still-life painters...

For me the point is reuniting with a prelapsarian state that is paradoxically forever aspirational. A place where metamorphosis is natural, hybridization the norm, and everyone (including the birds and beasts!) speaks the same tongue. A place where my "I" can ultimately rest knowing that the story will continue. A.S. Byatt discusses this theme in her superb essay, "Old Tales, New Forms," in which she highlights the evergreen power of myth and fairytale, noting its influence on the work of Rushdie, Blixen, Calvino, Bufalino, Nooteboom, Carter, Sebald and others.

Byatt puts matters so well that I can not do better than quote her to conclude my response to your question, Lisa:

"Children read stories as though they themselves are infinite and immortal. The old read tales knowing that they themselves are finite, that the tales will outlive them."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Interview 6 + 1: Zina Brown

Karsh Kale - GK2 (Director Zina Brown) from Zina Brown on Vimeo.

Zina Brown is a director and producer of music videos and short films with his production company, Thousand Names Productions. A Midwest native, he now lives in Brooklyn, NY, where he likes to dream about other worlds, make magickal elixirs, and occasionally pretend to be a pirate. (You can see his video work at

Lobster & Canary 1. You "discover" a new species of parrot in the Amazon, brilliant blue with red feet, sweetly whistled call, very caring of its nestlings...but carnivorous, known to swarm and strip capybaras of their flesh in minutes. What do you call the species, and why?

Zina Brown:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you: Amazona Splendens Nex: The Bird of Beautiful Death!

Careful now, not too close to the cage! Yes, you'll all get a chance to see, please be patient!! *Ahem*.. Already known to Amazon natives in legend as the "Pretty Flesh-Stealer", this is the first live specimen ever captured and brought back to display in civilization. He's quite a feisty one, as you can see! You'll first notice his astounding, almost shimmering array of coloring - it is said he uses this color to attract his mate, which he will breed with for life. Easy there, fellow! Now other species of Amazonian parrot have similar coloring, but that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the similarity ends.

If I may direct you to take notice of his unique beak.. look closely... please, keep your hands away from the cage! You'll notice the fine, razor-sharp serration on each edge of his small but powerful beak. This is used by our feathered friend here... to neatly cut through the warm flesh of its mammalian prey! No, no nuts and seeds for this bird, ladies and gentlemen - this deadly bird has a taste for blood. Native legends say the spirits of human sacrifices come back as these monstrous birds to terrify villages and satiate their thirst for revenge!

Now, if you'll all just take a step back, I'll show you the true nature of this seemingly beautiful creature. That's it, a little further.. further... thank you. Howard, the raw steak please? There now. Who's a hungry birdy? Who's a hungry birdy? Now watch what happens, ladies and gentlemen, as I open the cage just enough for out friend here to get a whiff of thisAAAAAAAAAAAGGAHHHA!!! GET IT OFF!!!!! GET IT OFF!!!!! AAAHHG!!! DON'T JUST STAND THERE!!! HELP ME!!!! HELP ME!! HELP MAAGHH***.....”

L & C 2. Your imagery is brooding, mysterious: a desolate factory-scape inhabited by what may be crippled gods and indifferent angels, ogres rising from the rubble, a monstrous hedgehog. With your typical heroine trapped and wandering through this tightly enclosed and threatening world, you capture the primal power of fairytale. Tell us about the sources of your inspiration.

ZB: My first and foremost inspiration has always been my dreams – since I was young I have always had a very active dreamlife, and the wonderous things I see and the adventures I find myself on are a continual source of creative inspiration for me. Aside from that, I’ve also always had an insatiable thirst for and actively sought out the strange, the fantastic, the beautiful, and the nightmarish my whole life - in books, in history, music, movies, visual arts, places, animals, plants… and especially my friends. So much has had a profound impact on me – but I’ve always thought that the world is overflowing with magick and wonder, hiding just beneath the surface of an ‘ordinary’ world…

L & C 3. Your work reminds me of Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, Caro & Jeunet's City of Lost Children, and Northfork by the Polish Brothers. Do you find the comparisons apt? Which other contemporary filmmakers grab your attention?

ZB. Indeed. I especially love Del Toro and Jeunet's work – their visions are so unique, so detailed in their execution – it’s amazing. I think we definitely share a love of things that can be very dark, and yet still beautiful. I’m also astounded by the work of Zhang Yimou – his brilliant visual palette and work with his actors, both with emotion and incredible physical choreography, never ceases to amaze me. Another director I’ve always loved is Miyazaki – he’s a genius, and his animated films are creative masterpieces – while still speaking to the child in all of us. And Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men completely blew me away, too..

L & C 4. Experimental filmmaker and theorist Hollis Frampton wrote: "A specter is haunting the cinema: the specter of narrative. If that apparition is an Angel, we must embrace it; and if it is a Devil, then we must cast it out. But we cannot know it is until we have met it face to face." Do you agree with Frampton?

ZB: I do. However, I’ve always found personally that the narrative elements of film were inevitably the most important to me – the elements of storytelling, which is arguably the oldest art form we have. I think that is what really gets to the heart of the audience the most, more than any visual flash and bang you can conjure. That’s why I always try to include a narrative element, a little story, in each of my music videos – I want the viewer to come away with something to think and wonder about..

L & C 5. I really like the fact that you create atmosphere and character through well-selected settings, bodily motion, and costumes, as opposed to computer-generated effects. Talk about how you do this. I sense that your collaboration with puppeteer and costume-maker Randy Carafagno figures in this somewhere.

ZB: I’ve always thought that no matter how perfect CG effects get, I’ll always prefer the real, live thing, be it a amazing location or a crawling demon-monster. There’s just something about seeing something you know is actually there, as opposed to a trillion 1’s and 0’s inside a computer somewhere, that I think will always be irreplaceable. Not that I dislike CG altogether, I just think we’ve gone a bit overboard with it generally. I think the Lord of the Rings trilogy especially was an amazing example of how you can combine live-action costumes, sets, and locations with CG and create a perfect balance.

I’ve so far been lucky in finding fantastic locations to shoot in, from the Badlands to run-down old churches. The Karsh Kale video, for example, was shot over 3 days in an abandoned power plant from the 1920’s. It was a crazy shoot – we had no safety gear whatsoever, crawling around on these rusty catwalks 50 ft. in the air, surrounded by asbestos and who knows what else. But it looked incredible! And my costumers, Randy Carfagno and James Vogel, worked insane hours on the costumes for that shoot to create the creature we wanted. I’ve always loved costumes – I love to transform my actors into things I see in my dreams, be it a Dark Faerie Queen, a dancing star-goddess, or a fierce fire demon...

L & C 6. What projects are you working on now?

ZB: We’re just putting the finishing touches on a new music video for the amazing Kai Altair. We made her into a kind of gypsy sorceress, dancing in a cross between an old silk route caravan ‘tent’ and a 19th century Parisian opium den, and she summons a powerful goddess in her scrying pool… It should be done and up on my site in about two weeks!

L &C 7. Your turn! Ask Lobster & Canary a question!

ZB: If you could see a film made based on an actual dream you’ve had, which would it be…? Anything goes!

L & C responds: Like you Zina I dwell partly in my dreams, in the magical place Maurice Sendak calls "The Night Kitchen." Most of my most powerful images and ideas come to me in the hours just before dawn, and I have kept a dream journal intermittently for decades. I have dreamed the following in various versions many times over the years, and would love to see it as the core of a short film.

I am standing on a stone balcony about thirty feet above the ground. Behind me is an empty, shadowed chamber with a massive, long-disused fireplace (big enough to roast a horse in), flanked by two dull black iron doors that I can never open no matter how hard I try. I must stare, like Rapunzel, out into an evening mist...a mist that slowly seeps away to reveal a dark forest of fir and beech marching down a slope that rings the (castle? fortress? temple?) from which the balcony protrudes.

No bird song, no wind, no sound at all.

As the mist pulls back, I see at the top of the slope-- which is just slightly above eye-level-- a tiger appear in the woods. Its body is elongated, lanky, ivory-colored with rusty stripes.

Another tiger appears, then another and another... until a dozen are spread out across the top of the hill, shining as Blake imagined them in the forests of the night. They stare right at me.

At the same time but without any signal that I can see, the tigers begin to descend the slope, winding through the trees with sleek and heavy grace. Slow, deliberate...stalking.

Now comes the strange part: as the tigers move through them, the trees uproot themselves and coil their trunks beneath their crowns, so that only the leaves and needles remain, floating stationary like green-black balloons behind the advancing tigers. Do you remember how the stockinged feet of the Wicked Witch of the East curl back on themselves and under the fallen house in the film version of The Wizard of Oz? That is what the trees do, only vertically...

The tigers mass at the bottom of the hill, at the wall just beneath the balcony. A dozen pairs of eyes glow up at me.

I cannot retreat. The doors behind me are forever locked.

The tigers crouch down and spring into the air as one...

The dream always ends with a dozen bone-colored tigers flying towards me, soundlessly, against a background of floating trees on the hillside.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Redefining Drawing:McKenzie gallery in Chelsea (NYC); The Drawing Center in Soho (NYC)

Umbilcumdom - © Julie Evans

McKenzie Fine Art in NYC's Chelsea has a superb group show running through August 7th called simply "Drawings," that re-frames our sense of what drawing can be. (Click here to see the entire exhibit.) Group shows are iffy matters, typically uneven in quality or disparate in theme, but in this case the works of all 22 artists on display are at the very least intriguing (many are arresting), and the overall effect is greater than the sum of its parts. Whether peering at each small piece on the wall, or surveying the room as a whole, the viewer is rewarded.

Most striking is the wide range of media, including the smoke used by Jim Dingilian on the insides of bottles (!). Little of what McKenzie has curated is figurative, most is abstract and frankly startling in its freshness...and its blurring of genre. For instance, the acrylic and gouache splatters by Julie Evans ("Umbilcomdum," "Ahmedabad") are painterly, and the same is true of "Dvitva" and "Burst" by Karen Margolis.

Dvitva - © Karen Margolis

Even when the drawing is figurative, it tends to be whimsical and impossible, such as Ruth Marten's elaboration on a 19th-century print of a "Norfolk Island Flying Squirrel," which has under her pen grown an excessively bushy tail, in which numerous other squirrels hide. Another example: Ruth Waldman's vocabulary is recognizable--fences, creepers and trumpet vines, pipes, conveyor belts and sprinklers-- but she scrambles the syntax: the main impression is more rocaille than industrial.

The Drawing Center in NYC's Soho hosts until July 23 a real rarity: a major show by the Surrealist Unica Zuern. Happily-- especially given Zuern's unhappy life, marked by institutionalization and her suicide-- the show has been widely acclaimed. See, for instance, Ken Johnson's New York Times review and Lauren O'Neill-Butler's Artforum review.

Unica Zürn, “Untitled,” 1961. © Brinkmann & Bose Publisher, Berlin.

As with most of the artists at the McKenzie show, Zuern stretches our thinking about what drawing is meant to be. Her creations are amoeboid, tendrilled, densely feathered and herringboned, punctuated with eyes, like something out of H.P. Lovecraft's universe. I think these drawings were Zuern's psychological scaffolding during her periods of mental breakdown, though they were also presentiments of her final action (the show is entitled "Dark Spring" after the illustrated novel she produced not long before she killed herself).

Beyond our speculations about the psychology of Zuern's drawings rests the concrete evidence of her craft: the flow and zip and sluicing of ink raises these above mere doodles, becoming an untrammeled and exceedingly personal form of calligraphy.