Saturday, May 26, 2012

Untitled. Very Untitled.

So I'm gonna start using the blog as a sounding board. Throw ideas and thoughts out there, and such.

"Oh yeah? Is that a good idea, you think?"

I don't know. Don't really care. Let there be songs, to fill the air.

"Uh, what?"

Sorry, lost track of things for a second there. But see, also, at the same time I'm gonna keep all my, er, devoted readers updated on the progress of the new novel.

"Wow. Just . . . wow. Let me tell you, the excitement levels are ripping holes in the roof."

No, but it's interesting. Really. See, I'm writing an (or is it a? ah, screw it) historical fiction novel on Bodhidharma. But it's not gonna be your typical, boring, stodgy brand of historical—

"Didn't you already go into all that in a recent blog post where you used all sorts of unnecessary foul language? Where you were, uh, sort of talking to yourself, just without the quotation marks, which for some godsforsaken reason you've used this time, and which as far as I can tell is a desperately waving flag that whatever crazy mind disease you've contracted has crossed some effed-up line of no sane return?"

Yep to all of that, whatever it was you just said. And I think I've done the whole "talking to myself" thing before. But back to the novel, which is coming along nicely for being envisioned just a week ago. My notebook is filling with scribblings at a frightening rate. I've also got a couple thousand words typed down in a doc file called "Daruma," which is the Japanese version of Bodhidharma's name, and what Bodhidharma will be called throughout the story by those close to him. A nickname/not-nickname, if you will. Just because the modern Japanese language didn't exist at the time doesn't mean it doesn't work. This is fiction, people. You'll find out about the name early on in the novel.

"Wow. Sounds . . . exciting. How long's this thing gonna take you to finish?"

A while. Maybe a year to completion of the final draft. My wife and I have a nineteen-month old daughter, and I work at a day-job, so I write and research when I can, usually long after the sun's gone down while everyone else in the house is asleep. Plus, I'm addicted to reading fiction, and it cuts into my writing time.

"Excuses, excuses."

Good ones, too. Well, most of them, at least. Dad/husband is my number one job. But when I start reading a good story, I'm hooked. But no regrets. Whether it's contemporary or classic, fiction or non-fiction, each book read is a learning experience. In "Daruma," I'm thinking of including three or four "flashback" tales of the Buddha's most famous encounters with Mara. But I'm gonna do 'em in the fashion of Trickster tales, a la Coyote. Mara will be a pivotal figure in the novel, perhaps consuming more scenes than Bodhidharma himself. Mara's daughters will also play parts.

"Yeah, great to get to know you personally, you jackhole. And how you doing with the historical aspect of things?"

The what-what-what-now?

"You know, the research portion of this great big project you're working one?"

Oh. That. Yeah, I think my reading of non-fiction is going to skyrocket in coming weeks. I shudder at thought of the boring historical facts that will soon be filling my head, but I'm sure I'll learn something, which is always a good thing. But the book's not just about events that happened 1600 years ago, even if those events shaped the modern world. This is story. This is humor. This is myth. This is knowing/not-knowing. This is life.

"Knock it out, son. Just knock it out."

You're right. And in honor of the first encouraging words you've ever "said" to me, I'll leave you—me—us—everybody—with some sweet, mellow tunes . . .

Lyrics | Grateful Dead lyrics - Ripple lyrics

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bodhidharma Rules, Fuck Lady Luck

So I've been working on a new novel. I'm not sure where it came from. I was putzing around with a couple other projects—reworking my first, unpublished novel and writing a slow-in-coming horror short for an anthology due out in August—when this new story sunk its claws into my mind. I think it's something that's been lurking in there for a while now, a story my subconscious knew I couldn't hope to pull off so it wasn't worth bringing up.

Now I say, my subconscious don't know shit. And besides, it's too hung up on repressed memories (and sex, of course) to worry about what I'm writing. So the reworking of the first novel (which was tiresome) has been put on hold for a while, although the horror short will be ready on schedule.

The new project is a book on the life and times of Bodhidharma. That's right, the fifth century monk that few outside of Zen Buddhists and practitioners of kung-fu have heard of.

Wait . . . did you say fifth century?

Why, yes. Yes I did.

As in sixteen hundred years ago?

I'm a writer, not a fucking mathematician.

So it's . . . what? Historical fiction? You've never written anything like that before. How are you gonna pull it off? And what in the name of holy hallelujah do you know about fifth century India and China?

At this point, jack shit. Something about dynasties and rishis, but I'm not sure which one goes where. Indian dynasties? Chinese rishis? Eh, I'll figure it out later. As to pulling it off . . . the first chapter of the book is flowing out of me and onto the page faster than any first chapter ever has. All in all, it's going to be a lot of work, but I'm taking the good start as a good omen.

Cling to that, buddy. You cling to that.

Oh, I am. And since Bodhidharma lived so long ago that he is nowadays essentially a myth, I've got a lot of wiggle room. The challenge will be making him a believable human being. I'm going to do my best to make the novel as historically accurate as possible, and include every anecdote and legend about Bodhidharma known to man—although there is little that is really, truly known about him: a handful of scholars claim that he did not even exist. So I figure I can do whatever I like. (That's a good notion for a writer to have.) And I've got some great fucking ideas. Better than any I've had in the last couple of years. Maybe ever.

And what brought on this, ahem, sudden inspiration?

A combination of things—a convergence of conditions, Bodhidharma might say. Reading The Book of Mu. Reading Christopher Moore's most recent novel, Sacre Bleu, which takes place during the Impressionist era and features as characters the artists Van Gogh, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Monet, among others. If you've read Sacre Bleu or Lamb, you know that Moore does a great job of taking a time period—and the people who lived during that time period—and making it his own. I know I can't do it better than the master, but I can sure as hell give it my best. I've been obsessed with Bodhidharma, the enigmatic figure who brought Zen from India to China, for years now. And I've been reading on dharma for over a decade. Other than that . . . life. The universe. Everything. Nothing.

But who in their right, god-fearing mind would want to read a book about a Zen monk that takes place in the fifth century?

I don't rightly know. Buddhists? Kung-fu masters? Fans of historical fiction? Those who like good books with a twist of humor? I'm far from the marketing stage of this thing, so don't ask yourself stupid questions, self.

So what you got so far, you mighty writer, you?

Watch your tone, self, or I'll turn this blog post right around. The first chapter takes place in the palace of the southern Indian kingdom of Kanchi, at the birth of Bodhidharma, a prince who will one day receive the mind-seal of the Buddha and become the 28th patriarch of Indian Buddhism. It is told from the point of view of Mara, who attends as a cockroach (or is it a spider? haven't decided yet) clinging to a wall. The god of delusion reminisces upon his last encounter with the one called the Buddha, and the curse placed upon him by Siddhartha Gautama—or ol' Sid, as Mara calls him—that haunts him to this day, almost a millennium later, and brings him to the birthing room.

Yeah, for the most part it's a flashback scene (at least at this point)—and in the first chapter, no less—but it's got the Buddha in it, so just call it literary fiction and drop it, sticklers.

Maybe it's bad luck to talk about your novel before you've even really gotten started. But fuck it. What the hell's Lady Luck, that lazy slut, ever done for me? It's time to get to work, son.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Get a free copy of "Larvae" at Smashwords

After a long three months, my horror novelette Larvae is out of KDP Select. In honor of this momentous (eh . . . debatable) event, it will be free on Smashwords until May 25th. Just go to Smashwords, click "buy", and enter coupon code PG92J at checkout. Just be warned, the story is graphic—after reading it, my editor said she was going off to "never eat pasta again." So if a little gore disturbs you, please don't download it. Otherwise, enjoy!

And try not to throw up all over your e-reader.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Character Interview: Sitting Lotus

An interview with everybody's favorite Zen novice, Sitting Lotus, went live on World Literary Cafe today. So go check it out! Now, I say! ;)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Twisted Myth Files (5): Nataraja

The Cosmic Dancer who dances Creation into and out of existence. "The Lord of the Dance." One of the many incarnations/aspects of the Hindu god Shiva.

Most famous story: The sages living in the southern forest regions of India had attained great powers through meditation and ritual, but had grown arrogant and no longer praised the gods. So Shiva appeared in the forest as an ithyphallic mendicant named Bhikshatana and wandered about their villages, begging. Bhikshatana's . . . excitement . . . caused many of the sages' wives and daughters to become enamored with him, so the sages decided to use their powers to destroy this out-of-line beggar. First they summoned a fierce tiger made of fire, whose pelt Bhikshatana made into a loincloth. Next they sent a horde of poisonous snakes, which Bhikshatana hung about himself as jewelery. Then came a mad dwarf, which Bhikshatana stomped upon. (The twisted thing underneath Nataraja's feet in the depiction above is this wild dwarf.) A third eye formed in the beggar's forehead, two extra arms grew out from his torso, fire blazed into life in his upper left hand—and Shiva-as-Nataraja danced the Ananda Tanvara, which caused the monks to realize exactly who he was and recognize the error of their worship-neglecting ways.

The first depictions of Shiva as the Lord of the Dance appear in bronzes crafted in 10th - 12th century India. Nataraja is nowadays more a symbol than anything else, although he is to this day revered in India and elsewhere. As Ananda Coomaraswamy says in his essay "The Dance of Siva," "Whatever the origins of Siva's dance, it became in time the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of." To this day the Nataraja symbol be found in both Eastern and Western culture.

Powers and Abilities: Beyond comprehension. Not many mythological beings have the power of creation and destruction literally resting in the palm of their hand. Mythological beings gain their powers from ken, or "knowledge-of". The more well-known a mytho is in the great Mind of humankind, the more ken they have to utilize. Shiva-as-Nataraja may be to many just a symbol, but sometimes symbols have frightening power. Again, Coomaraswamy, "A great motif in religion or art, any great symbol, becomes all things to all men." As to whether or not Nataraja dancing the Samhara portion of his Ananda Tanvara could actually destroy the universe . . . well, we all know what happened in Eden last summer.

UPDATE - 5/9/12: This agent was on the scene for that scene, and that that ball of fire gripped in Nataraja's upper left hand is hot hot hot!