Signs of Life

I know I mentioned this a couple weeks ago, but I thought I’d plug it again because my copy just arrived in the mail. Now that I’ve actually seen the book I can vouch for its quality.

I’m talking about Signs of Life. It’s a book of photos taken in New Orleans and around the Gulf Coast after Katrina. The photos depict the hand-painted signs which sprang up all over the area in the wake of the disaster.

My photo has the distinction of being the only sign which was painted before the storm.

Dare You Katrina

It’s not a big book, but it’s powerful. I’m surprised that this series of images carries such an emotional impact without showing a single person. The signs tell the story of Katrina in a way that is fresh and very human, with many surprises and details that made me think, and laugh, and cry.

Profits from the sale of the book go to Common Ground Relief and Hands On Network, two organizations that continue to do good work here in the devastated region. I highly recommend buying your own copy today.

Signs of Life

A photo of mine is featured in the new book, Signs of Life. It’s this one, taken on September 25, 2005 just a few blocks from my home in Mid-City New Orleans:

Dare You Katrina

Profits from the sale of the book go to Common Ground Relief and Hands On Network.


I just got my copy of Katrina-ku: Storm Poems, a compilation of haiku poetry about you-know-what, to which I contributed a little technical assistance.


It’s a beautiful little book, quite sad but also quite funny. Get your copy — they’re cheap!

“Act the Part Out”

So you are tired of your life, young man! All the more reason have you to live. Anyone can die. A murderer has moral force enough to jeer at his hangman. It is very easy to draw the last breath. It can be accomplished successfully by a child or a warrior. One pang of far less anguish than the toothache, and all is over. There is nothing heroic about it, I assure you! It is as common as going to bed; it is almost prosy. Life is heroism, if you like; but death is a mere cessation of business. And to make a rapid and rude exit off the stage before the prompter gives the sign is always, to say the least of it, ungraceful. Act the part out, no matter how bad the play. What say you?

— from A Romance of Two Worlds by Marie Corelli, 1886.

Why New Orleans Matters and What You Can Do About It

Lately I’ve been posting about my personal experiences post-Katrina. I haven’t written much about the “big picture.” But if you care about me and Xy I hope you are also interested in the larger issues at stake.

Here are two glimpes of that bigger picture.

  1. Last night we went to a book reading. Seems a guy named Tom Piazza has written a book called Why New Orleans Matters. He wrote it very quickly in the month after Katrina.

    The bookstore was packed, standing room only, and there weren’t enough copies of the book to go around. But to judge by the portions the author read, it’s a damn good book, worth a read by anyone who cares about New Orleans.

    It would be even better if people who don’t care about New Orleans were to read it.

    It seems like a lot of people don’t “get” New Orleans. I barely do myself after having lived here for six years. It’s such a unique place, so different from other American cities, that I think it can be difficult for Americans to understand and appreciate.

    This book attempts to articulate just why New Orleans is important — why it matters. I hope people get the message.

    So buy a copy, read it, and then give it to someone powerful and influential.

  2. This morning, the Times-Picayune published an impassioned editorial on their front page. It is a plea similar to the one I tacked on to my recent letter to the people of Bloomington, only much more eloquent.

    Please give it a read and take some action. We really need people from outside this area to voice their support. So please pass this link on to friends and family around the nation.

Instant SF

For over four years I’ve been attending monthly meetings of the Octavia Books Science Fiction Club. I was there at the first meeting in the summer of 2001 and I’ve never missed a meeting since.

Until today, for our first meeting post-Katrina. And even so, I was kind of halfway there. I had a virtual presence via instant messaging.

I’ve never done the instant thing before — didn’t see much need for it. But this seemed like an appropriate application of the technology.

And it worked pretty well. I was chatting back and forth with my friend Scott, the other old-timer of the group, and he relayed the jist of what was going on and what people had to say about the book we’d read (The Boat of a Million Years by Poul Anderson).

Of course there were some glitches. The client I installed on my Crackberry yesterday wasn’t working today. I think their server is down.

Luckily I was able to use Jaylene’s Sidekick II. She has Yahoo Messenger installed. So I was able to sit in her apartment kitchen here in Indianapolis in my underwear drinking instant coffee and participating in a conversation a thousand miles away.

And that felt good.

Morning Rage

Seems like there’s always something in the morning paper to make my blood boil.

This morning it was a story about a legislator from Slidell who wants to get “gay books” out of the children’s section.

The book that sparked this particular episode is King and King, which seems to have provoked a federal legislator to propose similar legislation on the national level.

I’m not sure what angers me most about this: the silly waste of time and energy, the encroachment on the free exchange of ideas, or the sheer hatefulness. I think it’s the last. I’m really frightened by the increasingly strident homophobia in American society. These misguided people need to stop hating gays. They need to recognize that same-sex love has always been with us, always will be, and there ain’t nothing wrong with it. It’s just another facet of life.

But Rep. Crowe’s insipid resolution makes me so mad, I hardly know what to do about it. Write a letter to the editor? Buy a copy of King and King? Or maybe I should make a TV show about it…

Fecal Flotation

This is kind of gross, so don’t read just before dinner.

This morning I entered the men’s room near my office to find the toilet was backed up. I flushed it and it started overflowing. So I asked Michelle to call maintenance, and then headed downstairs to use the men’s room on the fourth floor. The need was pressing.

There was graffiti of the wall of the stall:

Where the cute niggaz who get down?

and other stuff in the same vein.

When I was finished, I stood up, turned to flush, and was surprised to see the Official University Seal floating in the bowl. What the hell? Had someone thrown a brochure in the toilet and I hadn’t noticed when I came in? And wasn’t this a flagrant violation of the Official University Policy regarding the use of the seal?

Then I recognized it and realized what had happened. Somehow, as I pulled my pants up, my little calendar book must have flipped out of my hip pocket and landed in the toilet bowl.

This might seem like a quandary, but really I had no choice. I have a lot of valuable information in that little book — appointments and phone numbers and the like. I’d be lost without it.

So I retrieved it and rinsed it off. It took several rinses before all the fecal matter was off. (Does “fecal matter” sound more or less gross than “pieces of shit”?) Then I laid it out to dry on some paper towels on the floor of my office.

Needless to say I washed my hands repeatedly with lots of soap and hot water. Michelle directed me to the rubber gloves and disinfectant in our first aid kit.

Luckily I have a spare calendar book somewhere. I plan to copy the relevant information into it tomorrow and throw this thing away.

Is it just me, or does shit like this happen to other people?

Lit Rock

One Ring Zero

We went to see a musical duo called One Ring Zero at my favorite bookstore. It seemed like everyone we knew was there, including Ben Hearst — turns out his brother Michael is one of the guys in the band.

The music was awesome. They perform quirky pop ditties with lyrics written expressly for them by famous authors, using odd instruments like a theremin and a claviola. It was a combination performance and signing for their CD/book, As Smart As We Are.

I didn’t want to wait in line to have mine signed by the actual musicians, so I got mine signed by Michael Hearst’s brother and his second cousin, who was also in attendance.

Saban Sucks!

It’s my turn to pick books for the Octavia Science Fiction Reading Club. That means I have to pick three novels on a theme, and I have done so. My theme: “Identity Crisis 77” — science fiction novels dealing with issues of identity which were all written in 1977. My books:

  1. The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley
  2. Mind of My Mind by Octavia E. Butler
  3. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

And today we met to discuss the first of these books, as is our custom on the second Saturday morning of each month, at Octavia Books. I was somewhat hyped up — I even went so far as to compile a CD of some of my favorite music from 1977, with a bitchen cover graphic of the “Wow!” signal (which was detected in 1977) and an essay (published on my birthday, four years ago) about how we still don’t know what it means.

I had heard that Nick Saban, who was supposed to do a book signing at Octavia on Friday night, had rescheduled for Saturday morning. No problem, we’ve shared the store space with other events before.

Truth to tell, I had no idea who Nick Saban was before today. Turns out he’s some sort of football coach. And apparently he’s waaaaay more popular than science fiction.

So. I arrived this morning to find the store packed. There were so many people there, in fact, that there was really no room for us. We ended up having to relocate a few blocks away to the PJ’s coffee shop on Magazine Street. We sat outside, on the back patio.

Part of me is happy to live in a place where it is possible to sit outside somewhat comfortably in January. But another part of me is pissed off at Nick Saban for displacing me from my cozy bookstore milieu by a bunch of sports fans!

Whitewashed Earthsea

I’m sure by now, anyone who cares has seen this article: “A Whitewashed Earthsea – How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books” by Ursula K. Le Guin. But there’s the link in case you missed it.

I read A Wizard of Earthsea to Xy this summer, in anticipation of the miniseries. Yet somehow I overlooked the fact, painfully obvious in retrospect, that the SciFi Channel adaptation would suck. And suck it did.

Frankly, I’m dumbfounded. They licensed a killer story, then disregarded almost everything unique and interesting about it. Why would they do that? I thought the Rings movies proved that faithful is best when you’re adapting a powerful work of the imagination.

But it was the top-rated show on cable this past Monday and Tuesday evening, so I imagine the execs at SciFi HQ are happy.


I did it! I finished my novel.

It’s not the 50,000 words required by NanoWriMo. It’s only 21,469 words. So it’s not actually long enough to be what most people would consider a novel. More like a novella.

Oh, yes, it is a steaming pile of crap. But it’s mine, all mine. I made that crap. Me.

And I’ve learned something very important along the way: Writing fiction is really hard.

NaNoWriMo Update

I’m at 15,508 words. The month is more than half over. Ideally I should be over 25,000 words at this point. I seem to be averaging about a thousand words a day, and at that rate I’ll never make 50,000 by the 30th. Oh well. I’m taking today off work. Maybe I’ll write 10,000 words. I’d be happy with 5,000. Hope springs eternal.

Four days later: I ended up writing 4,000 words that day, and not one word since.

NaNoWriMo Week One

I’ve been working on this novel for seven days now, and I’ve written 7,402 words. They’re not necessarily good words, but NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality. I try to remind myself: “That’s what second drafts are for.” The idea here is to turn off the internal editor and write furiously. I have a hard time doing that. I think I’m a competent prose stylist, but when it comes to character development, or dialog, or plot — my god, plot! — I’m really for shit. In fact I have been actively trying to turn off my stylistic concerns to focus on all this other stuff, which means that what I’m writing really sucks on every level.

I’m not even sure I have any interesting ideas. Every day so far has been a real challenge, a veritable emotional roller coaster. I get depressed, think it’s a waste of time, think there’s no way I can do this, but then I find inspiration. Today was the toughest day so far, coming right on the heels of my most productive day. It’s mysterious.

It might have helped if I’d started this thing with a clearer idea in mind. But I started vague, very vague. I may be getting vaguer.

It’s been very good for my health, though. I’ve gone out for a jog around the bayou every other morning, which seems to be a good way to wake up.

Rachel is planning Sunday write-ins, but I’m not sure she’s done the math. If you only write one day a week, you have to churn out 12,500 words per session. Which is a lot.

Then again, if you’ve done the math you’ll see I’m not on target to reach the 50,000 word goal by the end of the month either, so maybe I should shut up and write some more.

I’m sticking with The Vibrating Telemarketer as a title, but it’s an entirely different book than the one I tried to write in the summer of 2001. You can check my progress via my NaNoWriMo profile. I found Benn’s profile but not Rachel’s. Could they be ghostwriting for each other? Could that be a subplot in my novel?


I think I’m going to participate in the National Novel Writing Month. I’m going to try to write a novel in thirty days. I don’t know if I can, but I like reading novels, so I’d like to try writing one.

I started writing a novel back during the summer of 2001. The working title was The Vibrating Telemarketer. The title may have been the best part. But after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the novel seem stupid and irrelevant, so I put it aside.

Thanx to Rachel for cluing me in to NaNoWriMo.


Xy and I went to see Jonathan Kozol speak at Loyola. He’s the guy who wrote Savage Inequalities; I’ve never read it, but Xy did when she was in grad school, and it made a big impression. Plus tonight’s a rare school night when Xy didn’t have any homework. So we went.

My boss told me that Kozol is an excellent speaker, and he was right. He talked mostly about the subject of Savage Inequalities, namely, the sad state of our public schools, and how many systems are more segregated now than they were 40 years ago. He managed to inject a surprising amount of humor into such grim subject matter.