Thursday, January 30, 2014

Emblem of My Heart

Finally finished THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL. It had none of the demented strangeness I prize so much in JANE EYRE and especially WUTHERING HEIGHTS... almost none. I mean, the hero did fly into a rage once and beat in an innocent man's skull with the silver horse-head handle of his whip, so that was pretty okay, had a little Heathcliff to it. But that was it. Mostly it was a plain old domestic melodrama. A good one! The ending was just beautiful, though, I have to say. I don't think this will be a spoiler - you will certainly be able to guess within the first few chapters - but consider it a spoiler just in case: if you keep would-be lovers apart for almost 500 pages, it is VERY SATISFYING when they get together. That is a good trick for writers to know! I thought of the blizzard-crushed roses in JANE EYRE when I read this more hopeful image at the end of WILDFELL HALL: a "beautiful half-blown Christmas rose that grew upon the little shrub... This rose is not as fragrant as a summer flower, but it has stood through hardships none of them could bear; the cold rain of winter has sufficed to nourish it, and its faint sun to warm it; the bleak winds have not blanched it, or broken its stem, and the keen frost has not blighted it... it is still fresh and blooming as a flower can be, with the cold snow even now on its petals." And in case we don't get it, our heroine says about a page later, "The rose I gave you was an emblem of my heart." Aw!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dirty Places

Every time I see Bill Griffith he has something important to say. Today he said with real regret in his voice, "Dirty places are getting harder and harder to find."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Acts Charming to People

Here's the entire capsule description that TCM put up for a Joan Crawford movie coming on later today: "A boozing Atlanta millionaire's wicked wife acts charming to people at their mansion." I don't know why I like that so much.

Little Goats

Okay sure yeah if you insist I'll tell you about more stuff I read. Like, a while back Ann Fisher-Wirth saw me walking around Square Books clutching a volume of Edmund Spenser's shorter poems and she was very encouraging: "The Shepherd's Calendar is fun!" she said. What attracted me was the old-time spelling. Yesterday, I guess, I opened up to a poem called "Virgil's Gnat" and read about some "little Goats" grazing: "Some clambring through the hollow cliffes on hy,/ Nibble the bushie shrubs, which growe thereby... This with sharpe teeth the bramble leaues doth lop,/ And chaw the tender prickles in her Cud;/ The whiles another high doth ouerlooke/ Her owne like image in a christall brooke." Ha ha! Can't you just see the little goats? They are having a great time. All right!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Excuse the Faintness of My Acquiescence, Milicent

"Excuse the faintness of my acquiescence, Milicent." I like everything about that sentence from THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL. I keep saying it to myself: "Excuse the faintness of my acquiescence, Milicent... Excuse the faintness of my acquiescence, Milicent." In reality, there is a semi-colon after it, and several more words chained to it, including "I am become as cold and doubtful in my expectations as the flattest of octogenarians," but I like to stop it right there: "Excuse the faintness of my acquiescence, Milicent."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How Things Get Done

In today's ADVENTURE TIME writers meeting I ate soup while Somvilay played the theremin. "Click" here for video!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Which Saint Was Broiled

My brother-in-law emailed immediately! He knew just which saint was grilled. St. Lawrence! I decided to look him up in my moldy old multi-volume BUTLER'S LIVES OF THE SAINTS, which as you know contains all the most boring facts about saints. Well, the entry on St. Lawrence (Laurence, they spell it) has some spicy details for a change. And forgive me, for they are horrific and gory, though I spare you the worst. You can stop reading! While they were grilling poor St. Laurence on the grill, "His face appeared... to be surrounded with a beautiful, extraordinary light, and his broiled body to exhale a sweet agreeable smell... [He said] with a cheerful and smiling countenance, 'Let my body be now turned; one side is broiled enough.'" (Or as my brother-in-law put it in his email, "Turn me over, I'm done.") Well, that was horrible, I'm sorry.

Friday, January 17, 2014


I walked into Ajax today for a late lunch and Randy, the owner, said, "He'll have a Pendarvis!" Once again, he meant the "Osborne Sandwich," which was exactly right, it was what I wanted. As I sat at the bar waiting for my Osborne Sandwich, a priest walked in wearing his full priest uniform and noted a saintly icon that Randy had over the bar, correctly identifying the saint. Then the priest suggested that Ajax would be better off with another saint as its patron, and he named the saint, but I couldn't hear the name because the priest was at the other end of the bar, and then I could swear that the priest said to Randy, about that saint, "He was literally grilled to death." Then the priest cheerfully and innocuously laughed, but my brain interpreted it as maniacal laughter (I am certain it was not): "He was literally grilled to death. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!" After I ate, I walked up to Ace Atkins's office and interrupted his writing. We caught up on things. I tried to talk him into going to City Grocery Bar for a drink, but he was about to take his son to "the squirrel movie" (see also). Then I walked to Square Books and talked to Richard Howorth about history and Kaitlyn, who works there, about WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and I was like, you know, this town is all right. I was having a good time. And by then the bar was open and I walked up and saw Megan Abbott and Bill Boyle there, both recently returned from New York. Megan showed us some pictures of a wax museum she had gone to and said, "I like wax museums, generally."

Feedin' and Readin'

I am going to "plug" two things! 1) Remember when City Grocery was having those "pop-ups"? Sure you do! It's where I saw George Saunders eating a corn dog. Now they're back! And for a good cause: raising money for acclaimed pitmaster Rodney Scott, whose place suffered a devastating fire. "Click" here for all the "pop-up" details. On Monday, the chef is Ashley Christensen. You'd be crazy not to eat her food! Remember when I had dinner with John T. Edge and Kat Kinsman and Angie Mosier and some dude I recognized from IRON CHEF at the James Beard house? Chef Christensen and her people made that dinner! I don't think I ever told you about it because I used part of that experience in an article. Sometimes I have to keep things from you because I'm going to use them in an article! See? You think you know everything about me but you don't. That was the time I went to New York to interview Jerry Lewis but Jerry Lewis fainted instead. Here is a photo Kat took that very night, in which John T. and I are bookended by acclaimed pitmasters: Drew Robinson and, next to me, Rodney Scott himself! My neck was too fat for my bow tie, an interesting fact I address in that article. See what you're missing? And now you know everything about me. BONUS SIZZLING CELEBRITY GOSSIP: Who should I run into at City Grocery Bar but John Currence himself? John reported that Dan Aykroyd was eating at Snackbar the other night! And as I am sure you will recall, Laraine Newman ate there not too long ago herself. John was pretty happy about having two original cast members in his place in such a short time. SIZZLING CELEBRITY GOSSIP! And thus concludes the first "plug." 2) There's going to be a big old reading at Proud Larry's on Wednesday February 5th, 9 PM. It's part of a series called "Noir at the Bar," which takes place all over the country, maybe. But on that night it's right here in Oxford. Here's the line-up! Megan Abbott! Chris Offutt! Ace Atkins! Scott Phillips! Tom Franklin! Derrick Harriell! Bill Boyle! Jedidiah Ayres! Me. I remembered them all without peeking. I think you're supposed to read something wild and bloody and shocking so I'll probably do something about my kitties. Everybody better shock me fast because I have to be in bed by 10.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I'm Sorry, America

Hey I'm so sorry I forgot to tell you about "Dump Cakes." I meant to "blog" about them when I "blogged" about Judd Nelson, which I never did. So! You remember that certain kind of commercial. Dr. Theresa likes the one where they start out by telling you how hard it is to water plants, with reenactments of people trying in vain to water plants. I like the one where they demonstrate how hard it is to use a wallet! Wallets are hard! Well, the other night I saw one in which they tell you how hard it is to follow a recipe, and they show a harried woman throwing flour everywhere while she tries to figure out this "recipe" business. But don't worry! This spokesperson has invented something called "Dump Cakes" and you can buy her "Dump Cakes" cookbook. I will paraphrase slightly, but she demonstrates like so: "Take some fruit! Dump in some cake mix! Now dump in a can of soda! Voila! Now you have a dump cake!" Those are truly the ingredients: fruit, cake mix, a can of soda. I thought it was a weird joke at first but it was not a weird joke. This person is so serious about her dump cakes. She also has a cookbook called "Dump Dinners." DUMP DINNERS. In case you think I am making it up, I am going to "link" to the "dump cakes" "web" site, which DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AN ENDORSEMENT OF DUMP CAKES.

What Is a Homestar Runner

Just read a comment by an "internet" commenter who said that ADVENTURE TIME "is clearly made by and for a fairly narrow margin of 20-30 something nerds who came of age during the early aughts and watched a lot of Homestar Runner," and I was like, Ha ha, I was alive when Kennedy was assassinated and I don't even know what a homestar runner is, take that! And then I was like, Ha... ha, I'm old. And then I was like, I shouldn't connect a "ha ha" with the terrible national tragedy of the Kennedy assassination, what is wrong with me? And then I was like, God, I'm so old. And then I just sat there.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I Didn't "Blog" About Judd Nelson Today

Last 3 AM when I couldn't sleep I watched, oh, I don't know, the last hour or so of the Judd Nelson movie FROM THE HIP, and boy it seemed urgent to "blog" about it for a while there.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Yelling in a Hayfield

I hate to complain about anything in THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL but this character Fergus is a lot like the awful, precocious brats in some sitcoms, always coming up with thudding, smart-alecky one-liners. There's one scene where he's just yelling at a bunch of servants who are toiling in a hayfield, and the narrator (Fergus's older brother) is like, "Leaving him thus haranguing the people, more to their amusement than edification, I returned to the house..." And I was like, "Their amusement?" I imagine they wanted to wring his little neck. But I do love the narrator, who is always trying to convince us and himself that he is not a fop, or, as he just put it, "that I was not the empty-headed coxcomb she had first supposed me to be," and my sympathy for Anne Brontë is always restored by the weird, prim snottiness of the scholarly footnotes in this edition, which seem unnecessarily hard on her ("The author awakens intermittently to the memory of the epistolary device," sniffs one). Here's a sentence from our narrator that tickled me, though: "'Nonsense!' ejaculated I." I like everything about it: the noun, the verb, the pronoun, the exclamation point, the order in which they are placed. It made me think of Tom Franklin's epigraph for his great novel SMONK, taken from Edgar Rice Burroughs: "'Magnifique!' ejaculated the Countess de Coude, beneath her breath."

Remember That

Hey remember a couple of weeks ago when I "blogged" about dropping Sartre's autobiography in the toilet?

What Else About Doris Day Today

Hey guess what? Steph just told me they have a dog park in Cincinnati named after Doris Day.

Hey Doris Day Is From Cincinnati

Michael Griffith just wrote me from the University of Cincinnati to tell me that Doris Day (pictured) is from Cincinnati. I had no idea. So you see how everything comes together!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Certain Musty Old Letters

You know whenever I go on a little plane trip I like to jot down some things about it to tell you when I get back and then you don't read it and I don't really care. Sometimes I get lazy and don't jot until the trip is practically half over. But this time I STARTED JOTTING BEFORE THE TRIP EVEN BEGAN. I was sitting on the couch, waiting for time to go to the airport, and the Fox Movie Channel was on and I took out my special jotting notebook and start jotting down some things about this scene in this Doris Day movie that was on. Doris Day wore a backless, sparkling orange dress. A fat German guy was swatting grapes into the air for some reason. One grape fell into the butt section of Doris Day's dress and she inadvertently started a "dance craze" by trying to shake the grape out of her butt. I was thinking about how smutty everything used to be. I couldn't think of what to read on the airplane. I was really hoping for ANCIENT EVENINGS, but Bill Boyle isn't back from his trip home yet, and anyway he writes me that he has lost the tattered old copy of ANCIENT EVENINGS he had when he was a teenager, and which he had planned to bequeath to me. So I impulsively grabbed THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL - this despite my reservations about VILLETTE as good airplane material, and VILLETTE was by Charlotte Brontë; THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL is by Anne, the Brontë nobody likes! Ha ha, just kidding, Anne Brontë. But one of the first things I read at the airport was this: "It is a soaking, rainy day, the family are absent on a visit, I am alone in my library, and have been looking over certain musty old letters and papers, and musing on past times... having withdrawn my well-roasted feet from the hobs, wheeled round to the table, and indicted the above lines to my crusty old friend..." Well, that is just the kind of thing I want to read on an airplane. Something about the hobs really got to me, and I don't even know what hobs are! My mellow mood was abetted by gin, my go-to remedy for fear of flying. I eavesdropped on a woman who was ordering crab cakes at the "Sun Studios" themed bar at the airport (!) and the book made me think of how Kelly Hogan and I used to write letters all the time, back when people wrote letters all the time, and how Hogan recently told me she keeps mine in a waterlogged suitcase in her once-flooded garage and sometimes she takes them out. Oh no, I said, don't remind yourself needlessly of the inanities of that callow twerp, and Hogan clarified: "I don't read them - I smell them." An intoxicating brew of moldy sentiments! I was met at the airport by some grad students from the University of Cincinnati, where I was set to speak. I should thank them all, and especially the ones who drove me around while I was there and tended to my every need, and who, in fact, were responsible for my invitation: Luke, Steph, Justine, and Woody - and there were so many more, all nice. Luke and Woody were waiting by baggage claim with a huge poster with my name on it - decorated as well with several startling portraits of me, drawn by Luke's undergrads. They had been reading my short stories in Luke's class and he asked them to draw what they thought I looked like. One had given me a neck tattoo! Another, according to Luke (I haven't yet had a chance to examine the poster in detail, though Luke says he is mailing it to me) wrote her phone number on the poster, and "Call me" - ha ha ha! Woody and Luke drove me into the city, remarking cheerfully as we went over a bridge, "Obama cited this as a dangerous bridge that needs work." I shouted repeatedly to Woody and Luke that I wanted to go "somewhere fancy" for dinner. They said they'd take me to "the fancy hot dog place." Maybe they were kidding, but it WAS a fancy hot dog place, though not pretentious like some other fancy hot dog places I have heard about. It was called Mayday, very welcoming and comfortable, with excellent beer, friendly service and a pleasant, dark atmosphere. My hot dog contained lamb sausage made with cherries! So you will have to admit that was fancy. Somehow people already knew when I walked in the door of the fancy hot dog place about my work with ADVENTURE TIME. Someone wanted me to sign an apron for the kitchen. "My favorite is Lady Rainicorn," she said. She kind of went "Ah!" when I started drawing something at the bottom of my inscription, but it was just a stupid heart with an arrow through it. I'm the only person associated with ADVENTURE TIME who can't draw, reliably disappointing all I meet. It's understandable and even delightful to me that the students at "literary events" now are more interested in ADVENTURE TIME than in my books, which are but dubiously in print - in fact, I have a lawyer working right now to discover who is getting that tiny kickback on the rare occasion when a copy is sold. It's not me! I stayed in a nice bed and breakfast near the campus. My vivid and relentless dreams that first night took place - as if I were awake - in the actual room where I was sleeping, and were populated by humorous, cherubic ghosts or pixies who wanted to remind me whenever I became too relaxed that THEY were in charge. The room and bed were very comfortable, let me stress. But I was tormented all night by mirthful pixies - a first for me - and was tired for the reading. I didn't really want to read from any of my old, dead books, so I read from my cat book that no one wants to publish. As I was preparing my selections - the introduction, part of Chapter One, and the conclusion - I realized that most of the book has been published in bits and pieces, as I've cut it up and used it in lots of different stories and articles and the like. I'm sorry, sort of, that it's never going to appear whole, as "my cat book," though I see in retrospect it is perhaps unwise to write a 10-chapter novel in which nothing happens until the last half of Chapter Eight - a little wholesome advice I was able to impart to the young writers who attended the reading! In the Q&A and in her poetry, my fellow reader Marisa Crawford made some good points in favor of the use of pop culture in literature. One of her poems had Joan Crawford in it (and another made telling use of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART FIVE!) so I was glad that by coincidence I was reading the Joan Crawford section of my "cat book." After the reading, a bar. I sat with two other grown men - the head of the English department and the poetry editor of the Cincinnati Review - and we all talked about our kitties. I noticed that the openly sentimental discussion halted when Chris Bachelder came back to the table! Or maybe I imagined that. Did he exude the air of a man who would not tolerate such weakness? He was friendly and funny. But the cat talk did cease with his approach. Mr. Bachelder is a writer whose fiction I have always enjoyed and admired. I was meeting him for the first time, and we had fun trashing various McSweeney's editors. Ha ha! Not trashing. Affectionately ruminating upon their individual styles and methods. The conclusion of my cat book was published in McSweeney's, and I mentioned how the editor had made me change "solar plexus" to "abdomen." The poet at the table (Don Bogen) kindly took up for "solar plexus." Then we talked about why I had cravenly reverted to "abdomen" during the reading that day even though I had brought an old manuscript with "solar plexus" typed on the page. The strange tyranny of the absent editor! The next morning at the bed and breakfast I sat there reading this in THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL: "I thought it but reasonable to make some slight exertion to render my company agreeable." And I thought, yes, THAT is the kind of sentence I want to write all the time, and no other, editors can go to hell. And then Anne Brontë introduced some complicated plot business about trying to fetch a ball of cotton that had rolled under a table without disturbing a cat. WHY CAN'T ALL WRITING BE THAT? But that was the next day. The night before, as the students were about to leave the bar, I had the sudden urge to inquire, "Where do you go to sing karaoke in Cincinnati?" Luke knew. So a group of us walked some blocks to a gritty, narrow, cash-only joint called, with refreshing lack of irony, Junker's Tavern. Here is a picture of some of us getting ready to go to Junker's Tavern. That's Justine and Luke.
I'm in the middle, doing my thing where I think it's hilarious to look surly in a photo, but it never is. It was a good evening, though I got tired and made Steph and Luke leave before they could do "Mambo #5." Back at the bed and breakfast, the ghosts returned only once in a dream, as parody ghosts with greenish faces and CARNIVAL OF SOULS style dark rings under their eyes, but dressed in colorful rags, shouting, "God bless us, every one!" with Cockney accents and well-meaning but gruesome smiles.
On the plane back, the narrator of THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL was saying, "I was by no means a fop - of that I am fully convinced" and I was like, "Right, pal, keep telling yourself that!"

Sunday, January 05, 2014


I've read two of those de Maupassant stories totally at random now and they were BOTH about sneaking out at night to catch secret lovers meeting in the moonlight. Oh, you French!

The Owl "Who" Wasn't There

Now that I have had almost three cups of coffee I have the energy to tell you about reading another book with an owl in it - you know how extremely tired I am of every book having an owl in it. It used to be a fun parlor game, "spotting the owl," but now every owl is just a punch in the gut. Gee if there were something a little off about my mind I could really have a nice-sized breakdown right now, like, WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT PUTTING OWLS IN EVERY BOOK? (See also.) But I'm normal, ha ha! Normal, I tell you! Finished THE GO-BETWEEN ("you insular owl" was handed out as an insult from one character to another) and grabbed some de Maupassant stories off the shelf. My buddy Jim Whorton recommended them many years ago. I cracked open the book at random to a story called "A Woman's Confession." A ha! Sounds spicy! So I dug right in and came quickly upon an owl. Or rather there wasn't an owl. If I may quote the translator, "in the deep gloom which weighed upon the world not even the hoot of an owl could be heard." Now, I am sure there is some famous philosophical or mathematical argument about proving a thing by its absence - and isn't there a "dog that didn't bark" in Sherlock Holmes? - so I am going to spend the rest of my life thinking about why a book that specifically says there is no owl in it is for that reason a book with an owl in it. Goodbye forever.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Ghost Ship

"'Oh, Hugh,' she said, almost like an owl hooting." I sighed with the torments of the damned when I read that in THE GO-BETWEEN last night because you don't care about the fact that every book has an owl in it and you know what? Neither do I. But I'm like the captain of a ghost ship, doomed to sail over the same waters for eternity. Nor would you care about the one similarity this serious novel has to the zany movie WHAT'S UP DOC? so I'm not going to tell you what it is. Are we done here?

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Exultant Radio Quotation

Yesterday we were driving to Chris and Melissa's for some trad collard greens and black-eyed peas and the radio was tuned to the NPR show ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, which promised an upcoming news story about "how a two-year-old overcame his fear of Frankenstein," which didn't sound like much of a story to me, sounded like a Halloween story at best, certainly not a New Year's Day story, but who am I to judge, and there followed an anticipatory soundbite from the story, an exultant woman (the mother?) quoting the child like so: "He said, 'I pooped on the Frankenstein!'" - something I never expected to hear, least of all on NPR, but you can't be mad at me for telling you, because it was on NPR. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED is a good title for that show, yes, they have really considered everything now, I wish they would stop, I'm sorry, lady, I don't care very much about your two-year-old pooping on a Frankenstein, though your connections in the radio business are seemingly extraordinary. Hey! I actually found a transcript of the entire radio story (scroll to the bottom of this "link" - ha ha, who am I kidding? I know you won't!). Anyway, because it's NPR they have a "peer reviewed psychologist" commenting on the whole thing and he says, "My main thought is your nephew is a brilliant story editor. What a nice turn of narrative." Ugh.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Bookmarkin'! with Jack Pendarvis

Hello dear friends and welcome once more to "Bookmarkin'! with Jack Pendarvis," helping YOU pick the right bookmark for the right book since 2007. You will be thrilled to hear that I finally decided what to read next: THE GO-BETWEEN by L.P. Hartley. For a bookmark I happened to snatch up the first thing handy, a sturdy cardboard tag that had been attached to some gloves Dr. Theresa gave me for Christmas. Friends, it works like a charm! A dull gold in color, with black print, it proclaims LAUER GLOVES to be "FINE GLOVES FOR MEN." Beneath that comes the company slogan, italicized AND in quotation marks: "ON HAND SINCE 1908" - ha ha! I added the "ha ha." Haven't read much of THE GO-BETWEEN yet, but it promises to have plenty of characters who wear "FINE GLOVES FOR MEN." And if it doesn't take place in 1908, it is pretty dang close. Even the color matches the mood of the book, yes, the muted gold of memory. All this, mark it! - ha ha, "mark it" - with no conscious effort. Heed, then: I allowed the bookmark to CHOOSE ME. There is a Jungian impulse at work when we choose our bookmarks properly, friends, or maybe I am saying we need to be like that old zen dude I told you about one time when we are picking our bookmarks. May your new year be filled with appropriate bookmarks.