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Monday
Mar242014

The Coming-of-Age Tale Gets Mixed Up with the WWE: "Savage 1986-2011" by Nathaniel G. Moore


Richard McClaughlin

As a society at the beck and call of mass culture, we're well into the second coming of reality television, (a medium that came into global power some 15 years ago) where plumbers, school teachers, fitness instructors, homemakers and janitors have the chance to become household names overnight. We continue to waltz knee-deep in the ever-boring business of the tell-all celebrity memoir that some people call "books." Contemporary fiction has joined the slow drip of this particular genre grab, taking on a life of its own in a confluence of expression and anonymity with fictional versions of lives we would otherwise never hear about. Sheila Heti and Tao Lin are fostering the people with urban fiction's take on the barrage of self-stuffing.

Described by Taddle Creek magazine as "a book whose tumultuous creation is a tale on-par with any W.W.E. storyline" Nathaniel G. Moore's Savage 1986–2011 (Anvil Press) takes the confessional love letter, puts a mixed tape in the envelope for good measure and throws it on your front porch, waiting obsessively for you to hear the truth. The truth is of course, according to Nate, the novel's voice and for all intents and purposes, narrative linchpin. According to Moore, the book had to have a major shift in treatment towards the end of its construction before he would show it to any publisher. "It lacked rhythm, it needed to be pushed closer to home, get a bit uglier and at the same time, more beautiful," Moore explains. "I rewrote it in first person, removing the original third person elements, changed the names around to those of my actual family, save for Holly who is the sister I never had, and based it entirely on what I remembered to be my legendary life with my family."

Nathaniel G. Moore's Savage 1986–2011 takes the confessional love letter, puts a mixed tape in the envelope for good measure and throws it on your front porch, waiting obsessively for you to hear the truth.

Since it's publication in late 2013, Savage 1986–2011 has included the release (online) of a short film and sporadic text and video features on the places and people that inspired and assisted with the novel's completion. Most of this has transpired through a Tumblr page (savageanovel.tumblr.com) but other bits Moore has released on Vimeo, and Savage Shorts on Youtube and on internet message boards.

"The use of black and white drawings by Vicki Nerino and Andrea Bennett added to the private feel the book gives off," says Moore. "The short film was necessary and came about for two reasons: because of the culture clutter that runs rampant in the opening chapters, and because I wanted to bridge the past with the present using old footage," Moore says, suggesting the tapestry of colors and products, music and personal visuals could be played out in the film in a way that was different than the book itself.

A perennial mouthpiece in the young Toronto publishing community, Moore is a both a long-time supporter of publishing and also one of its biggest antagonists. In a recent interview, Moore likened the business side of books to that of pro wrestling's prearranged outcomes.

The wrestling industry is "able to do the exact same thing over and over again and still make millions of dollars," Moore told Taddle Creek editor Conan Tobias. "The book industry is the same way. Although the money is completely skewed, it is, to a degree with grants and poetry contests, it is fake, it is prearranged. There are those situations where people say, 'No, I don't want to have that person win,' and no one can tell me that hasn't happened in Canadian publishing."

The wrestling industry is "…able to do the exact same thing over and over again and still make millions of dollars. The book industry is the same way. Although the money is completely skewed, it is, to a degree with grants and poetry contests, it is fake, it is prearranged."

While Moore admits many of his contemporaries believed the book to be entirely devoted to someone's obsession with wrestling and Randy Savage, he's been delighted with the end results of the product and general buzz the book has garnered. "People have walked away with different things, appreciated separate elements of Savage, and that's something I'm tremendously proud of, I almost got the sense that some people didn't expect to read a book so straight-forward from me, which, based on my past books I can't entirely blame them for."

And while popular culture does from time to time shout from the pages (Playboy, Terminator 2, Star Wars, George Michael, New Order, Wrestlemania, Cape Fear), the story arc is a unique look at one family member's recollection of his rise and fall and of a messy nuclear family meltdown with bouts of hope, lust, power, love and corruption all fountaining out in loud Technicolor.

Using the exploitive world of pro wrestling as a tiny thread in the storyline, Savage 1986–2011 is framed between the twenty-five years the narrator (named Nate) first sees Randy "Macho Man" Savage in the summer of 1986 until the passing of the wrestler in May 2011. The book revisits Toronto's 1980s and 1990s, bad parenting, explicit teen mischief, lazy pizza afternoons, personal fantasy and suburban dread. With George Michael or New Order playing on a constant loop in the background and armed with his trusty VHS video camera, Nate sets off to document the final years of a family caught in its growing web of dysfunction.

With George Michael or New Order playing on a constant loop in the background and armed with his trusty VHS video camera, Nate sets off to document the final years of a family caught in its growing web of dysfunction.

The book serves as both a time capsule and examination of the apparatus of the real and that which is perceived to be false or untrue. Each character believes in his or her own realities and the depths of their subjectivity, however erratic these emotional aggressions may appear to the reader.

"You have all those fundamental coming of age elements but also the break down and slow death of a family from the grandparents to the parents to the children," Moore explains, suggesting even the cat dies at some point. "We all live in the emotional garrisons we create for one another," the author points out.

Moore's two previous novels and two poetry collections vary in length and style and are hard to summarize but I'll try here (Bowlbrawl: full contact bowling league; Let's Pretend We Never Met: a poetic look at the author and the Latin poet Catullus somehow interacting in the present day; Pastels Are Pretty Much the Polar Opposite of Chalk: surreal pop poetry; and Wrong Bar: a group of teens plot a dance party and someone dies).  

Moore says Savage 1986–2011 took more than ten years to complete and was both difficult and exciting to work on, but most of all emotionally draining, sometimes requiring large chunks of time in between edits and revisions. "Beyond all that sulking teen anxiety stuff, which is part of the structure or whatever creative writing class slang you wanna to use, I think Savage is a very funny book, but then again, I live an alternative lifestyle."

Savage 1986–2011
by Nathaniel G. Moore
Anvil Press, 2013
buy on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 


Richard McClaughlin is a poet and writer from Etobicoke.

Tuesday
Mar182014

The Art of Vintage Stamps

Anna Debenham

I have a confession to make… I collect stamps. I have hundreds of them. Yeah, it may not be one of the coolest hobbies in the world, but give me a minute and I'll explain why I do it.

I haven't gone out of my way to collect them—apart from a few years as a Brownie. We were encouraged to bring in used stamps with us each week in exchange for a dried kidney bean (a Brownie point). I kept the ones I liked, I'm not sure what they did with the rest.

Most of my stamps are from collections friends and family gave to me. A good few are from my dad's office. They had clients sending letters from all over the world, and the people who worked in the post room very kindly tore off the corners of envelopes, and my dad would take a bundle of them home every week.

Kings and queens through the years. 

Getting the stamps off the envelopes was often fiddly. They had to be soaked in water, then left to dry on blotting paper. I would go to WHSmith and buy bags of little stamp hinges and stick them in a book with all the countries in it, but that rapidly filled up. Now my stamps live in a couple of big ring binders, tucked into special display sheets.

Once I'd managed to separate the stamps from their envelopes, there was the challenge of trying to work out which country they were from. Each is written in its own language, so figuring out where one was from when the country name was written in Arabic was tricky. It did make me quite good at learning the names though, and I very quickly learned the difference between Korean, Japanese, and Chinese script.

Japanese stamps celebrate International Letter Writing week.

Often I'll find a stamp from a country that no longer exists, or has the former name. They're artifacts, a snapshot of a culture, its politics, from a time when people used to send and receive letters much more frequently.

Despite having a collection, I don't regard myself as a real philatelist. I'm not remotely interested in the value of any given stamp, I'm not precious about them, and I'm pretty sure some of them are replicas. It's purely the designs I'm interested in.

A stamp from Mexico showing the different cuts of meat. 'Ganado y Carne' means 'Livestock and Meat.' 

I'm fascinated by what countries choose to print on their stamps because it says so much about how they want other people to perceive them—or what they value most about their country.

They're like a miniature postcard or tourist advertisement. Some stamps have beautiful typography, others it's the complete opposite, but it's still charming. The more recent stamps are photographs of people or places. The older ones are block colors, many featuring royalty or politicians. I think it says a lot about a country when practically every stamp is a picture of their president.

Every stamp is a little geography or history lesson. It makes me want to learn more about a place. 

Stamps from India, highlighting their skills in agriculture.


A series of stamps from Poland that show scenes from engineering, farming, and manufacturing. Poczta Polska is the Polish postal service. 

Family planning stamps from India. The one on the right says "Small family, happy family." This message also appeared on coins.

Some countries love to show off their local nature, predominantly birds and fauna. History also features a lot, as well as sports, science, and art. I love the space ones.

A stamp from Nicaragua highlighting space exploration. 

But stamps are a casualty of technology. They are being replaced with faceless bar codes that speak nothing of the origin's culture. I'm not that nostalgic about the past, and it's an understandable cost of progress, but I will miss that human element that stamps have.

A stamp from Russia circa 1989, featuring Soviet bear trainer Valentin Filatov and bears driving motorcycles.

Design Challenge

I've prepared a little design challenge, if you'd like to take part.

A postage stamp can be the equivalent of an elevator pitch, where the pitch is on what your country is about, whether it's "we're great at engineering," or "we're really proud of our architecture."

If you had just a thumb-sized piece of paper to describe yourself, your company, your local area or your country, what would it look like? What's the most important thing you'd want to show that sufficiently projected your culture or values? 

There are a couple of bits of information you'll need to put on your stamp:

  • Your name/company name/country name in your own language*
  • A price (in your own currency)
  • The year (optional)

* If you're based in the United Kingdom, you can use the Queen's head instead of the name. This is unique to the UK, being the country where adhesive stamps originated. (Thank you, Paul Lloyd, for this information)

It doesn't have to be rectangular. Some stamps are squares, triangles and even circles, but they should be small enough to fit in the corner of a postcard.

I've made a template you can use—it's an editable .png file. If you're a Dribbble user, please rebound my shot, and since everything these days has a hashtag, let's go with #thisismystamp.

Anna Debenham is a freelance Front-End developer based in the UK. This article was originally published as "Stamps" at Maban.co.uk, under a creative commons license.

Monday
Mar172014

PAPERCUTZ Volume 1: Nordic Noir

Lizzy Shramko

Here at Paper Darts we are all about mixing media. From lavish illustrations to bombshell jewelry designs, we are not afraid to venture outside of the literary world for inspiration. PAPERCUTZ, an adventure in literary mixtapes, is one example of this boundary crossing. Inspired by niche literary genres, we curate musical mixes to jam to while you read, write, dance, type—or do whatever it is that you do. This month's mixtape is inspired by the literary genre Nordic Noir

Also known as Scandinavian Noir or Scandinavian Crime Fiction, this genre is dark and complicated—just like Scandinavians. Right? Realistic and morally complex, these crime fiction thrillers will pull you in for days. If you like Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum, or Stieg Larsson, then this mixtape is especially for you. To complement the sinister leanings of books in this genre, this mix errs on the side of pop to soothe your soul. From '90s favorites like Ace of Base to contemporary pop queens like Maya Vik, get down to some refreshingly danceable tunes all created by artists of the Nordic persuasion. And if you must know, there might be a few extra Robyn tracks thrown in for good measure. 

So crack open that book, hit play and get ready to get down—Scandinavian style. Skål!

PAPERCUTZ Vol. 1: Nordic Noir from Paper Darts on 8tracks Radio.

Tracklist:

1.) Ace of Base, "All That She Wants"

2.) Robyn, "Dancehall Queen"

3.) The Knife, "Pass This On"

4.) Niki & The Dove, "Somebody"

5.) Maya Vik, "Get Low"

6.) The Cardigans,"Lovefool"

7.) Miike Snow, "Animal"

8.) Lykke Li, "I Follow Rivers" (The Magician Remix)

9.) Icona Pop, "I Love It"

10.) Robyn, "Do You Know (What It Takes)"

11.) Robyn, "Dancing on My Own"

Wednesday
Mar122014

Control Hero: Participatory Storytelling and Gaming

 

Dakota Sexton


When I was 14, I was an antisocial teenage gamer with a boyfriend who I thought looked a bit like Vin Diesel. He also owned a dirt bike. We both played an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game, for the uninitiated) called Lineage. On off days, I should add, I also killed a lot of virtual shit with other dudes. But I’ll always remember him.

Maybe it was just because of the crush on Vin Diesel. Or the fact that I did almost nothing else. But without even having the vaguest sense of a running plot in Lineage, I felt part of something bigger. Unlike now.

Now I mostly think of MMOs as a mess of level-grinding and economics-based weirdness. And I talk more about video game-obsessed webcomics (Penny Arcade, MacHall, Little Gamers, Ctrl+Alt+Delete, Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, and so many more) than I actually talk about games themselves.

I decided to try to recapture the old flame by signing up for the Elder Scrolls Online beta. Within minutes of logging on and getting to a character creation page, things are pretty cool. There are just short of a bajillion ways to customize a character, but I can handle it. Do I want to wear a tiara while slaying undead corpses? Of course not—it’s silly. I do want to wear delicate, dangly earrings, though. And I don’t give a shit about hand size or forehead height.

But then there’s the screen with boobs. I can’t decide how large my boobs should be. Do I go big? I briefly feel completely unsure about this. I highly doubt it feels this existential to most gamers. People immediately know exactly what kind of boob they want, probably. Just like people know which way toilet-paper should be facing in bathrooms and whether they care about sports.

Yet I can’t help but wonder how that’s supposed to reflect on me. Being able to choose the size of my own boobs hardly embodies (or affirms) my own sexuality or my desires. It’s not like my identity even boils down to having boobs or not having boobs—something that is also particularly relevant in discussions of the feminism (or lack thereof) at play in the movie Her.

Eventually I decide that I just shouldn’t care so much. So I go for middle-of-the-road boobs and start playing.

In past versions of this game, players have had a lot of control over how to respond to morally ambiguous situations. That included being able to choose to lie, steal, or even assassinate innocent folks. And that opened to the door, predictably, to more favors or additional story. The game also built in a lot of completely unexpected continuity, however, as well—and that trend definitely continues in the online beta.

At one point, out of nowhere an attractive NPC named Jakarn I’d once chosen to sneak out of prison appeared behind me. He’s not exactly a “necessary” character. After recruiting him to the crew of a ship and going on my way, I didn’t expect to see him again a whole lot. But then he appears behind me, in the middle of nowhere, and cat-calls me.

He then claims that he’s been following me silently from a distance, ever since I left town. That’s not creepy. Do all the ladies he knows get this treatment? What about his bros?

Clearly, I have loads of objections to a guy being able to be super creepy simply because A) he’s perceived to be handsome and B) I’m a woman that must want that attention. But this is also a great example of exactly the kind of participatory storytelling that I want.

I don’t necessarily need a story to be that original. In the Kickstarter-funded, choose-your-own-shenanigans version of Hamlet by Ryan North—To Be Or Not To Be—no one expects to be able to get a brand new ending. But most of us still want to be able to have the enjoyable experience of getting to choose just how they get to the point where either they die, or everyone dies.

It’s that idea of [limited] choice that’s most important here. I want to be able to feel really guilty or excited because of the consequences of how I navigated a storyline. I want to feel like some of my past actions really mattered. If I can do that, plus actually be able to succinctly talk up a game’s plot while drinking [or playing] with friends? Then I will totally consider paying a monthly subscription for an MMO.


 

Friday
Feb282014

Alyse Knorr's Annotated Glass: Get Intimate with Alice in Wonderland

Dakota Sexton

Everyone has a story to tell about Alice. It’s pretty much guaranteed to be dark. In two episodes of Syfy’s now-canceled show Warehouse 13, Alice is a murderous young girl literally trapped in a mirror, like some kind of literary Bloody Mary or even maybe just the young-adult version of the Polish nightmare Baba Yaga. In the survival horror game American McGee’s Alice, Alice leaves behind a ten-year stay at a mental asylum only to discover that Wonderland has become exponentially more violently twisted, in response to her own mental instability.

Since the video game’s initial original release in 2000, that overall storyline—Alice lives in an asylum for a decade and Wonderland becomes progressively, more exponentially warped over time—has been again recycled, into the premise behind the ABC television series, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. For some reason, the show tries to be more family friendly, and there’s an added twist involving Alice and some kind of red-carpet flying guy invented for the sake of romance. But we’re still usually never too far from a world of mind-altering drugs and despotic, power-crazed queens.

This whole lineage of recycled plot-lines and emotionally unbalanced women is virtually discarded in Alyse Knorr’s debut collection of poetry, Annotated Glass.

Alice’s world is, at times, just as mystical and bizarre. At one point, her father is “more driftwood than man.” And there is a pretty palpable sense of loss, just like any Alice retelling. Yet highlighting only these aspects is just lazy. There is loss. And there are also moments when legs quickly multiply like a flock of migratory birds—and at one point Alice burns up a full 1.4 billion acres of rainforest with a handful of matches.

But underneath the surface of it all, the meat and potatoes of the story—and the thing that really makes each poem hum as one living, organic thing—is its exploration of intimacy.

Some of the relationships explored: Alice and her father, Alice and her siblings, and most memorably—Alice and one of her lovers, Jenny. Alice’s interest in Jenny feels about as provocative and inviting as fairly-worn socks. I don’t mean that in a bad way.

I mean, it’s a bit like when you are falling in love with someone, and virtually everything seems to hold the potential to tell you a new story about the person you admire. And the love you feel is the kind where you want to know everything, and want to study everything, like some kind of statistics-obsessed fangirl. You are fascinated by those socks, and those socks make you want to be closer to that person, closer to their most vulnerable feelings. You just might want to be that person’s defender, for better or for worse. Andrei Codrescu obsessed over this in his essay “A Kind of Love” in The Muse Is Always Half-Dressed in New Orleans, and it’s a kind of love that he says, makes you “her defender, the messenger of her qualities, the trumpeter of her records, the fan of her history.”

Reading Annotated Glass, it’s easy to want to be that kind of fan. And maybe Alice does too. At a reception for a play that both Alice and Jenny attend, the protagonist notes:

As she looks at me I notice several new lines on her face and feel like
an explorer, so I lean in and kiss her left cheek—chastely. She sighs
and says, Alice.

None of this feels like just another recycled Alice yarn, just another story heavy with drug references and laced with loss. In fact, it’s probably the most fully-fleshed out Alice we’ve ever gotten. Purchase a copy of the book here.

More about Alyse Knorr | Read Alyse Knorr's poetry in Paper Darts

Tuesday
Feb252014

THEM: Surviving Between and Outside Literary Boundaries

Lizzy Shramko

Picture this. You are a ‘Sapien on the dance floor. A Pteridophyta DJ has just finished their set. The floor clears out, and the DJ comes your way. Their mouth is surrounded by “root-like tendrils” and their fronds vibrate in ways that catch your attention when they laugh. Inexplicably you realize there is an attraction between the two of you—something you have not experienced with a Pteridophyta, or even know was possible. This attraction morphs into a fragrant, explosive, intimate, and by all means interspecies experience that you will probably never forget.

This is the premise of one of the pieces in the debut issue of THEM, a magazine that artfully traverses literary boundaries. Levi Sable’s “Glitter on the Dance Floor” is a sexy, visceral story that pulls readers from their own embodied experience into a world where ‘Sapiens and Pteridophytas share social spaces, a world where protein packs provide nutrition, and where characters communicate beyond words. This story exists alongside our reality; it pushes our boundaries of humanness, physicality, and intimacy. And it is also an example of how centering writing around non-normative gender markers creates a space to transform the way we think of identifiers, the ways we build characters and the possibilities for narratives.

THEM is breaking social/political boundaries in addition to the new literary worlds they are opening up. It’s described as the country’s first trans* literary magazine. But “trans*” is not nearly as succinct a descriptor as one might suppose. Unfamiliar with the terminology? Editor Jos Charles describes it as this: “’Trans*’ is an umbrella term meant to include not just transgender identities, but any person who does not exclusively identify as the gender assigned at their birth.” But don’t get it twisted—THEM is not trying to make metanarratives about trans* writers and the stories they have to tell.

Charles goes on to explain, “It was my hope with THEM to facilitate a space that prioritizes writers who address trans* bodies in their complexities—work that doesn’t appeal to ‘being trans*’ as if it were one neat, complete narrative. No one is ‘just trans*.’"

Race, class, ability, and sexuality are just some of the intersections that constitute the violence trans* folks face.

The journal was founded by Charles to open up a space for genderqueer and trans* writers that did not pigeonhole them in the ways that some LGBTIQ publishing forces traditionally have. In an interview with Lambda Literary, Charles explained, “My first concern is facilitating a space where trans* writers can find solidarity and respect for the multitude of differing identities among us.” Currently, Jae Cornick and Emerson Whitney are also co-editors for the magazine.

THEM's debut issue

So how else does this magazine open new world of literary possibility? That’s beautifully illustrated by Calvin Gimpelevich’s story, “Innovation, Reversal, and Change.” The story temporally reverses a coming of age narrative, one which recounts the dissonances that the main character encountered when transitioning across age and gender. It’s a powerful move that exposes the alienation felt by the protagonist while illuminating the confusion they feel compounded by other characters’ reactions to their changing body. Gimpelevich ends with this: “You are a six year old girl in the shell of a physically impressive man. The distinctions between your mind and your body are blurred. You are young and old and strong and weak.

“You are, in short a conundrum.”

Clearly, trans* writers do not all experience the world in one way. Thematically “trans* writing” cannot function as a genre—even if some publishing houses might disagree. THEM is daring not only because it opens up a space for trans* writers, but because it has illustrated in their first issue that they seek out work that defies literary convention. It calls for writers who actively challenge the status quo. And while many of these writers might do this to survive, it is clear that these moves will have larger implications for the world of literature. Our literary history is built around the rules of binary gender. Gendered names. Gendered actions. Gendered destinies. I challenge you to find a book from the canon or popular culture that does not have these components—where a central part of the story and the character’s identity does not revolve around their gender. Ernest Hemingway? No way. Jonathan Lethem? I don’t think so.

The truth is, if you think about how obsessed our culture is with assigning gender and ascribing meaning to this identifier, it becomes clear that a journal that calls for trans* submissions is not radical—a society that violently defends and rewards the illogic of cisgender logic is radical.

Here’s hoping that THEM continues to publish boundary-breaking work. The complicated and diverse voices it promotes—which at this moment exist on the margins of the literary world—will come to redefine the ways we think about language and literary convention. Aside from the political and social implications of this work (of which there are many), as consumers, editors, and writers—we would be vastly better for it.

THEM is currently seeking submissions for their summer issue. They will be accepting pieces until April 15. You can submit here.

Monday
Feb242014

It's Time to Go Deeper than the VIDA Count

Holly Harrison 

Each year . . . we manually, painstakingly tally the gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews. We do this to ignite and fan the flames of necessary discourse. We do this each year because our literary community can only benefit from a range of voices. —VIDA

The 2013 VIDA Count came out today and we saw more of the same: national publications dominated by male writers. It’s a trend that stretches across all American media, low brow and high. It’s the kind of thing that, once seen, cannot be unseen. At first it just infuses a little guilt into your enjoyment of a magazine or a TV show or a video game. Eventually, it fucking consumes you.

Literary magazines like those examined by VIDA have the power to cause change at publishing houses, where the male writers greatly outnumber female writers—and it’s practically required. By featuring more original work by female writers, by reviewing more books by female writers, these magazines could even the scales and alter the literary landscape for the better. But no. Of course not.

[Stabilizing breath.]

We counted, and in 2013 Paper Darts published 55 female writers and 43 male writers. This doesn’t include repeats (as VIDA does in its tally). If it did, the female-to-male ratio would be even more steeply female, as most of our staffers and repeat blog contributors are women.

We passed the test, and we’re glad we did. Here’s the thing, though: we didn’t have to try.

The vast majority of what we publish came from our unsolicited submissions in our slush pile. We accept what we like, and about 50 percent of the time, what we like comes from female writers. That’s not to say we’re unaware or uncommitted to equal representation—we notice when the table of contents in our print mag is dominated by men’s names or when three of the four readers we’ve lined up for an event are men. It makes us squirm. We try to correct it. We often succeed.

But achieving representative numbers when it comes to gender doesn’t mean it’s time to chill. There’s so much more to diversity than that, and where Paper Darts succeeds in one challenge, we fail in so many others. Where does race fit into the conversation? Sexuality? Not to mention that there are more than two genders. And this does not even speak to the content of stories spun by these writers or the perspectives represented in those stories.

In 2014 and beyond, we want to give a shit. And we want you to give a shit. We want to work for it. We want to be held accountable for who we publish, who we partner with, who we highlight. It’s time to better ourselves. Are you along for the ride?