Apr 30, 2012

5 Questions with Allison Sommers, Painter of Adorable Half-Nightmares

The Beginning, 2011
All artwork  accompanying this interview is © Allison Sommers

I've been following Allison's work for a long, long time.

Like so many painters who genuinely care about what they do, she is short on words and long on visual wisdom. Does that make her a walking proverb? Maybe. Thank all that is good and true for such people.

So, Allison...

1. Can you describe yourself in 3 words?

Noisy, industrious, twitchy.

2. If you couldn't paint - for any reason whatsoever - what would you do? 
Some sort of animal husbandry.

3. How does a painting come into the world? 
Sticky, blotchy, and hollering, just like the rest of us.

4. What's the one question you wish people would ask you about your work?
"Which ones do your 'assistants' do?"

5. Cindy Sherman goes up against Damien Hirst in a no-holds-barred cage match. Who wins? 
Sherman moitilizes Hirst with a titanic pair of fake breasts. The ghost of Hirst pickles her. I'm not sure who wins.

Allison Sommers on Flickr || Google+ || tumblr || her website 

Traveling Band, 2007

Sleepwalker, 2007

Apr 27, 2012

The Sudbury School of Un-Logic

The two scuzzjockeys sitting across the table from me used to be cops. I used to be a cop, now I hunt non-dimensionals.

Hunt… More like ‘want to.’ Rip and Dorn over there are going to train me. Hey, don’t tell me I don’t deserve Italian silk ties.


Behold, a non-dimensional in its natural habitat.

Fudging the Odds with a Borrowed Smile

As day is dark and night is light, the phone rang like it should.
“Aren’t you going to answer it?” Stetko asked.
“Let it ring a while,” I said. “Then we’ll move.”
Stetko rose from his folding chair and checked his needles one last time.

Apr 25, 2012

What can Superman teach you about writing?

What can they teach you about writing? Anniversary Edition
Read Part One HERE

Part Two:

My mother worried that I, her impractical son who wanted to be a writer, might not survive in this dog-eat-dog world.
Joe’s mother worried, too, about the future of Joe who as a child had drawn pictures on the bedroom wall and wanted to be an artist.
— Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman

The original Superman was a villain.
With great power comes great willingness to abuse it. Among the traits that make Superman truly super, you’ll find his humility and self-control. He’s no braggart, nor is he a chump -- Clark’s human parents did a good job, as far as comic-book parents go.

Mind you, being a parent in a comic book is one of the most dangerous occupations ever, especially if your child is super-powered. I guess Smallville is so utterly boring a place -- why, it might even be the fictional American equivalent of Weston-super-mare -- that no super-villain would want to go there. But I shall rein in my rambling pen/keyboard/bag of screeching weasels and proceed with the subject at hand, which is Superman.

Superman was created in the 1930s, a time of social turmoil and international unrest, by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Like Captain America, he would enjoy the pleasure of punching Hitler in the face.

Superman is an alien that looks like a human being, so he dresses up like one of us to further the illusion that he is one of us. As Bill observes in Kill Bill before Bill is killed, Batman and Spiderman have to put on masks in order to be recognized as Batman and Spiderman, but Supes needs to take off his own mask for people to acknowledge his godlike persona.

There’s one major problem with Superman -- yes, you guessed it. Too much power, too few limitations. Which is why kryptonite, the one element that can harm Kal-el, has over the years been unfolded into an appalling number of varieties. It’s like feature creep, except with imaginary metals or rocks or crystals or whatever kryptonite is supposed to be.

I’ll be honest with you, Superman is the hero I love to hate. He’s too good, too perfect, and way too easy to write as a Divine Boy Scout. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all learn a lot from him. Superman is a test for writers, as it’s damn hard to write a good Superman story, let alone a brilliant one.

Some have got what it takes.

So, what can Superman teach you about writing a story, novel or play?

What Are Clothes For? Or Cows, For that Matter

The lad was buried in my finest suit.
“Och, Jamie,” said Kilcare, pointing his hawk nose at the coffin. “You were no end of trouble.”
 Old drunks and matrons bayed like red-eared hounds in the vestibule. “Now I must find someone else to paint my cows blue, mustn’t I?”


This one is dedicated to Anne-Marie Clark.

Apr 22, 2012

What can they teach you about writing? Anniversary Edition

Calvin knows it: there's treasure everywhere. Will you know it when you see it?
Part One
A Confession

I am going to share two words with you.

Two special words.

Two special words that have helped me fight every single battle in my life:


About a year ago, I started this series, What can they teach you about writing. I had no idea what I was getting into. I learned so much more than I expected. I guess the old adage is true -- if you want to learn something, teach it.

At times, writing these pieces forced me to battle my own will. And you know what? That’s great. Willpower and self-control are muscles. Use them or lose them. Writing about the death of my five-year-old cat, a darling creature if there ever was one… That came with a hefty emotional price tag, which I would gladly pay again. And again.

I made mistakes. Had to accept I wasn’t perfect, was no master of the written word -- no Borges or Beckett, me -- but shipping out these articles, week after week, taught me to shrug it off and keep working.

And what a relief it is, how liberating to accept that you will never be one of your idols. And what a coincidence that at the very moment I type out these words, a Black Pyramid song is playing in the background. “Illumination.”

It begins thusly:
Open your eyes
Embrace illumination
Cast off the night in your soul  

And so runs the chorus:
Wouldn’t you like to take my place
Wouldn’t you like to have my face
Wouldn’t you love to see me fall to Earth
Maybe you’ll get to have your chance
Maybe you’ll daze me with your glance
Maybe we’ll find out what we’re finally worth

To me, “Illumination” is a warning: Build on someone else’s work if you must, but never try to follow in their footsteps. The way they went is not for you. If you can’t see the path ahead of you right now, maybe you’re just… waiting for dawn.

Here’s the song. Don’t click on the play button unless you enjoy raw-sounding doom metal.

Without further ado, these are the pieces that helped me cast off the night --

Apr 20, 2012

Three Hundred Thousand Years of Constant Warfare

Vishnu and Lakshmi riding the Garuda

Sunfire Moon was stuck in her dead pyramid, with corrupted nanites streaming into her blood, all of them buzzing for vengeance. Eating her from within.

Moon blinked an order and the backup system shot her out of the pyramid. As she floated down, the Naga war-snakes crowded the river below. 

Of Spiritual Starvation

She wove herself out of the howling bass, out of the pounding bass drum and the sweat of ecstatic dancers, and that wasn’t the most fucked-up night of my life.

Oh, I had no idea. The moment I laid my eyes on her, I started crying like a little boy.


What inspired this prompt? Two things:
The concept of psychic vampire.
This song.

Apr 19, 2012

What's Good on the Internet Today? Self-publishing & Business Edition

The entropic photos of Jim Kazanjian
Found via DesignSoak


 One of my favorite authors, ‘anti-fantasist’ M. John Harrison, claims that “[w]orldbuilt fantasy is over-engineered & under-designed.” He’s half-right, because nobody’s perfect.


1. If you’re a self-published author in need of a font that would look great on your book cover, I’d like to suggest Quicksand. It’s free for commercial use.

 2. Are you a smart self-published author? You need to read this. Over at The Bookshelf Muse, there’s an invaluable Q&A with writer and cover designer Scarlett Rutgers (pen name, Scarlett Archer) - Ask a Cover Designer - Answers!


“Work Begets Work” 

A fascinating glimpse into Jim Coudal’s approach to doing work you’re proud of. Any other kind, he says, will “eat your soul.” Advice you should heed if you’re too concerned with writing for the market. The long and the short of it is, the market is always changing. To embrace art, pursue freedom and independence of thought.

Why should writers pay attention to current trends in business thinking? Why, to me the answer is obvious -- writing is a business. 

2011/06 CreativeMornings with Jim Coudal from CreativeMornings Chicago on Vimeo.

What’s Good on the Internet today? - A semi-regular feature where John Magnet Bell brings you articles/video and more about writing, life, inspiration and the arts. 
Feel free to suggest links for inclusion via e-mail, twitter, or Google+

The Midnight Debating Club

They’d been trying to reach other places with their minds. One night in August, they tried too hard.

“What place is this?” asked a disembodied voice that rocked the club table like an epileptic seizure.
“You people are not Varrganssatz,” it said. “How dare you use language?” 


The idea here is that there would be a group of psychics meeting regularly around midnight to channel the spirits of the dearly departed and hold, ahem, spirited debates among the channeled entities. Why they would do that, only they know.

Inspired by this article on spirit communication. 

Apr 18, 2012

War of the Suburban Alchemists

I’m in your basement, digging up tiny corpses. Gotta hand it to you, you do fine work.

You shouldn’t have tweeted about your Bermuda vacation, though. Or cheated on your wife with… with me. I never got my homunculi right, but I know where you hide your spare house key. 

Apr 14, 2012

What can Sebastiao Salgado teach you about writing?

What is art for?
by Sean Gallup
A painter I greatly admire, Robert Hardgrave, said that he wouldn’t want to live in a world where art did not exist. Art may inevitably derive from intelligence. It probably is the highest expression of emotional intelligence. While I could be tragically wrong, I hope the Universe is peopled by an equal number of engineers and creative artists.

What makes a masterpiece?
The way I see it, an accomplished work of art is supposed to a) take you out of the moment and/or b) shock you into greater awareness of yourself and the world.

Photographer SebastiĆ£o Salgado (b. 1944, State of Minas Gerais, Brazil) is one of those rare human beings who can do both.

This commentary is going to be light on words and heavy on images, because there’s not much I can add to the often-terrible beauty Salgado captures with his lens.

So, what can Salgado’s approach to art teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Apr 13, 2012

Crusaders of the Void

Above the Sea Level
by Vladimir Kush

Captain says we have to guard the Machine with our lives, because it’s the last one in the world. And we are the last rational men.

The Army of the Blind pounds at the gate. They need no food. No drink. They screech like wounded eagles. 

The Ten-Dimensional Hiccup

First thing you need to know: They flash-froze me and my horse. 

No, I’m not talking to you from beyond the grave. I am now a time traveler that can only jump forward in time. I have to keep going ’till I find the guy who can jump backwards.


This one's dedicated to Bill Dorman.

Apr 11, 2012

Language is an Expanding Crystal

You should stop reading now. You don’t want to know what the world is really made of. I would give anything to unlearn that I can walk through walls.

When I forget to anchor my feet, I drift upwards. And people? They speak in four dimensions.

You're Never Too Old to Start a Power Trio

Florence and Prue finally got their grandson to take out the drum kit, put on the gorilla suit and follow them to High Street. They set up by an ATM as the sun dispelled October clouds. The two grandmas plugged in their ukuleles and launched into Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”


Addendum: There really was a guy who played a mini-drum kit in a gorilla suit, and he was damn good. I often walked past him but never learned his identity. The grandmas and their electric ukuleles are an addition of my own, though -- Gorilla Drummer always performed solo.

Apr 10, 2012

What's Good on the Internet Today? Drones and Paper Mountains

via general-driver.com

by Terence Blacker, The Independent

My favorite old fogey, Terence Blacker, sticks it to the corporate slavers that would turn us all into money-making robots.

Sample quote:
“To allow the apostles of drone-think to decide when we can take a day off, based on the effect on GDP, would be a final admission that we live essentially as economic units in service to the national economy.”  


by Adam Charles

www.iwritereadrate.com -- which I have supported from the start, because I like to spread good ideas -- is taking to the skies. This writing community is a place for writers AND readers to come together; no less importantly, it’s a place where you can publish, sell, and GROW.

The social potential of ebooks is opening up new possibilities for writers to build their platform and reach an audience,” say the fine peeps at iwritereadrate.
“For readers there are new ways of discovering ebooks, connecting directly with writers, discovering new stories and voices, and becoming a part of the writing process itself.
“iWriteReadRate is a community for these groups of literary people to meet, communicate, and share their love for the written word. The objective is to support writers and inspire readers - making what becomes a successful story or novel more democratic, more personal and more social.

Hit the link here for the rest of the press release.

by Kaity Nakagoshi at Susan Johnston’s The Urban Muse

I’ve been following the Urban Muse blog for quite a while, and it’s precisely because of posts like this.
If you’re at sea on Twitter or any other social network, this kind of level-headed advice will do you good.

Sample quote:
Participate in conversations. Social media is about listening and responding to others, not just talking about yourself. Building an audience is artificial; letting one gather around you is organic.

by Jason Boog, Galleycat

A nine-year-old built his own arcade… out of cardboard and random bits and bobs. That kid’s going to help conquer the solar system one day, I wager. Seeing is believing. Article includes video.


by Guy Laramee; a sneak peek at the future, using old books

Artist Guy Laramee’s history of the 23rd-century Chinese Empire will enter the annals of sculpture as the most insanely beautiful exercise in futurology. I think. Here’s a taste:

What’s Good on the Internet today? - A semi-regular feature where John Magnet Bell brings you articles/video and more about writing, life, inspiration and the arts. 
Feel free to suggest links for inclusion via e-mail, twitter, or Google+.

Apr 7, 2012

What can a little black cat teach you about writing?


My black cat died of leukemia this week.[1] Today I come to you offering to share some of the things he taught me about writing, focus and attention.

No, my cat wasn’t famous. He didn’t play the piano or anything, but he was dear to me. His sudden, unexpected death was the last lesson he imparted.

I named him after a bird. Parakeet. In my family, we tend to give pets whimsical names. Parakeet joins the roster of weirdly-named cats in my life: Gogol, Pwcca, Gorecki, Little Ears, Smartie, Popcorn, Nugget.

Cats are a unique combination of gentleness and ferocity. They adopt us and adapt to us but won’t ever let a human into their world. Once, Parakeet climbed down a tree with a wood warbler in his jaws. Do you know what impressed me the most? His eyes. There was a sharp clearness to them, a merciless hunger that never really went away. Indoors he was a sleepy furball, but outside he was a stealthy, spring-loaded murderdeathkiller of blackbirds and wall lizards.

Parakeet never looked at people in anger or fear. It was around human beings, other cats and also dogs that his talent for public relations won him the most favor. An old lady down the street asked her adult daughter to adopt him. Parakeet also made friends with the fearsome Siberian Husky next door and, I suspect, enjoyed the freedom of every dog-owned backyard in the neighborhood. Everyone knew “the little black cat.” Basically, he was a charmer.

So, what can a little black cat teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Apr 6, 2012

The Soul is a Particle that Travels and Mutates

The She-Dog
by James Guppy

After my horse turned blue and died, my steps brought me to this place of silent animals that sit on their haunches and watch me from a safe distance.

There is gold dust on their tawny coats; the workshop mustn’t be far. Old Sirjan’s map has served me well.

The Big Stone Book of Trollish Insults

Shame of the Fireside, black tusker, hunter of clouds -- I earned these names and worse because I fell in love with a human alchemist’s son.

My sisters drove me from the home fire and I lived on wolves and other vermin. I looked for my beloved without cease.

I imagine the alchemist's son
would look something like this.

Image sourced from this io9 article, which includes a dozen more intriguing pictures of 1970s cosplayers
NB.: If you're uncomfortable with loincloths, diaphanous tunics and exposed breasts, don't go there.

Apr 4, 2012

Under a Cloud of Whispers

The prostitutes sang from the mid-morning hymnal as one of their sisters lay howling.
Outside the service door, Jule set down his empty jugs and leaned against the ochre wall of the temple, his back to the sun.

Breaking into the women’s quarters, stealing the child -- his child! Ah...

A Word to the Wise is Fire

The two bards sang all night, calling each other filthy names between the lines. Arca, the mead-master, congratulated himself on catching a few.

Pol, the younger bard, was saving the best rhyme for last. Six more lines, and a vision would leap from the hearth.

Apr 3, 2012

What's Good on the Internet Today? April 3, 2012

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

by Peggy Bechko

Freelance writer and jewelry creator Peggy Bechko on the value of routine, and how you should define a writing schedule to best suit your needs and personality.

by Juliette Wade, TalkToYouniverse

Sample quote:
Think through backstory just as you would think through scene setup, identifying those critical elements which are needed to support a given character reaction.

Backstory is not synonymous with ‘info-dump.’ It can -- and should! -- be used to build up dramatic tension and deliver information the reader will need later on. Let Juliette show you how to do it right.

by Simone Preuss, Environmental Grafitti

Are you looking for interesting characters to write about, or populate your novel? This slideshow includes 20+ human marvels, each pair with a concise bio.

by Razib Khan, Discover Magazine

Who knew.

Story by John D. Suttee, photo & video by Edythe McNamee; CNN

From the intro:
Mauritania’s endless sea of sand dunes hides an open secret: An estimated 10% to 20% of the population lives in slavery. But as one woman’s journey shows, the first step toward freedom is realizing you’re enslaved.

This is a CNN special report which breaks out of the site’s usual template and tries for a magazine format.

It works.

Word to the wise: The subject matter is brutal. No glamour, no gloss, no bikini models pleading for change. Don’t read it unless you truly want to.

If you'd rather not hit CNN right now, hop on over to this brief commentary from the Nieman Journalism Lab -- if you’re interested in the future of news & journalism on the Internet, that is. There’s no reason bloggers with a penchant for design can’t follow in CNN’s footsteps.

There may be a tiny moose living inside your computer. Click here to see the video over at Motherboard.com.

What’s Good on the Internet today? - A new, semi-regular feature where John Magnet Bell brings you articles/video and more about writing, life, inspiration and the arts. 

Feel free to suggest links for inclusion via e-mail, twitter, or Google+

Apr 1, 2012

What can Lisbeth Salander teach you about writing?

Lisbeth Salander, portrayed by Rooney Mara in
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Lisbeth Salander is a fictional character in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy of crime/thriller novels.[1]

She is magically adept with computers and earns a living as an investigator for a private company. Her computer wizardry is not, however, matched by her social skills -- or is it? Lisbeth is also a master of disguise, so I am tempted to think that her punk-rock persona is just that; a persona. A defense mechanism.

Mikael, the co-protagonist, is one of the few to win her trust. How does he manage that? At one point, Mikael Blomkvist (“flower-branch”) asks Lisbeth to help him catch a killer of women. Maybe she starts to open up to Mikael at that point.

Legend has it that Stieg Larsson wrote the Millennium Trilogy to make up for that time he witnessed the gang rape of a young girl and did nothing to stop it. Rape and violence against women figure prominently in the narrative. Lisbeth is a victim of sexual and psychological abuse, albeit one that learns how to defend herself. Past wrongs have warped Lisbeth Salander’s emotions. You could say that she’s become a dragon, a chimera.

Salander speaks to our obsession with hybrids and outlaws. With masks and disguises. These things are roundabout paths to the truth.

Are you ready for the truth about Lisbeth Salander?