• The title: working title was "Slutty Teenage Hobo Vampire Junkies", but as the author began to see the book was "transcending it's Roger Corman-esque origins" a song from a forgotten lo-fi band named Unicornface popped up called "Woof Eats Creeps" then a friend suggest "Sun Eats Creeps" which the author thought too obvious and riffed to "The Orange Eats Creeps".

              "When a sleeping cats paws twitch it's dreaming of running away from you
               You know, these are weird times, marked by a non-specific dread that rests
               in nights of brown fog at the center of my bones. Everything in life is determined
               a machine fueled by the tones emitted by digging a fresh grave. Horrific events
               are set in motion in this occupied territory, activated by movement, but I can't
               stop moving."
                                                                                                               -page 105

    The author: according to the wikipedia entry on Grace Krilanovich she "moved to the Los Angeles area from Santa CruzCalifornia in 2003. She attended San Francisco State University for her undergraduate studies, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies. She then went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Writing at the California Institute of the Arts, where she graduated in 2005. She currently works at The Los Angeles Times"

          "These were antique thoughts, marked by a non-specific dread...My first impulse 
            is to go to sleep. My second impulse is to have sex with it and  my third impulse 
            is to eat it. That's how my mind works. But the three are not quite as fixed as 
            you might think; they've been boiled down, chiseled out, and  refined, 
            painstakingly handcrafted over three centuries resting at the bottom 
            of my brain. The three are like the finest three-line poem chiseled in gold at the 
            foot of a roaring majestic waterfall and I'm sure as hell not giving them up, not 
           for the world. I need them."
                                                                                                                 -page 131

    The publisher: Two Dollar Radio is an indie publishing house established in 2005 by Brian Obenauf, Eliza Jane Wood, Eric Obenauf and Emil Pullen to "publish books that if I stumbled upon as a reader I would push onto others, saying 'you've gotta read this.' Each and every book we publish we endorse without limitation. (No jokebooks or bathroom readers found 'round these parts.) Above all, we value ambition, and believe that none of our books crimp to convention when it comes to storytelling or voice. Ideally, that contributes to a liberating reading experience" 

      "Our kind doesn't die from anything, all we do is die all the time."
                                                                                                                  -page 8

    The book: Grace started writing OEC as a Corman-esque horror story using the folklore and crime stories she grew up around in Santa Cruz, California. It quickly became something else entirely. Worlds like "story" and "plot" don't seem to apply to OEC as it's a wild, flowing mass of words loosely grouped around a young woman who might or might not be a vampire in and around the northwest of the US in some future time (perhaps). Her efforts to find her sister/friend Kim while searching and exploring urban and suburban scenes, attending lowend rock clubs, having sex and being raped, doing drugs, walking in the woods, hanging out with a gang, living on the road, et al. Living and dying day by day, moment by moment. 

    The book follows her journey from outside and inside as well. In fact, many times it's hard to tell where the young women's mind starts and the outside world begins. Waves of rhythmic poetic prose wash over the reader moving from macro to micro within the same sentence. Or a paragraph will start in a realistic setting and then morph out into the surreal and grotesque. 

    Grace worked on OEC (her first novel) for several years incorporating a wild variety of techniques for finding inspiration, direction and content for the book. Music was a major source of inspiration:  "The writing of this book wouldn't have been possible without the antics, abandon and illegal proclivities of bands I hold near and dear spurring me along in my artistic endeavors, safe in the knowledge that somebody out there was pushing the limits, truly alive in their mind, even though they may have been out of step with the rest of world."

    She also tried the Burroughs "cut-up" method and used her own set of "cards" which she threw to create unusual combinations of setting, character and afflictions. Here's a nifty vid of here discussing some of here writing methods in OEC:

    Watch live video from Two Dollar Radio on Justin.tv

    My thoughts: a quote from Mortimer Adler came back to me as I was reading deeply in this truly strange and wonderful novel; "In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but how many can get through to you". How many readers will allow Orange Eats Creeps to get through to them? Most of us read every book the same way: for entertainment and escape. You can't read OEC this way as you'll end up like this Amazon reader: "What do I wish I had known before I purchased this? This novel is all junkie and no vampire (really I couldn't tell you exactly what the main character was because the entire story is incoherent)". 

    Serious readers will recognize that Grace is channeling a tradition of writing that goes all the way back to Baudelaire, Celine, Ginsburg and Burroughs. It's a literature whose goal is to "connect" (as Forester puts it). So what is Grace connecting with? It's the idea that language creates it's own reality and that words can be combined in ways that are unique and strange; that consciousness can be imitated with words and that we do this every day in our own lives.

    In a sense, OEC approaches the quality of music, an art form which can be completely abstract and still move the listener with sound/tone combinations. Grace did what creative artists do; she combined everything she could remember, think and feel into a form and then shape the form to her conceits. In this case it's words combined in familiar/unfamiliar wasy to create a mind/world. It's also to kick the readers ass a bit like every good punk rock band does. You just have to let go to get it.

    Perhaps this song "With Teeth" by the Melvins (part of her own "set list" for OEC) shows better than words what Grace Krilanovich is up to:

    So let's cut to the chase: most people aren't going to get this book and that's fine because there are sevenbazzilion writers out there crankin out the copies of copies of popular sentimental melodrama that will keep their readers happy. And, hell, I read some of that shit, too. But Orange Eats Creeps is the real deal. It's unapologetic, uncommercial and like it's main character, it doesn't give a fuck about you except to suck your blood. Men don't come off well in this world because there are pretty much all bastards who think only with their cocks. A lot of women don't come off well in this book as the House Mom character is smothering and distant, Kim is lost and our young female hobo vampire carries the bones of some dead animal in her apron to jiggle for guidance. Ok, maybe the women at least have a shred of conscience. The whole world is filled with...well...creeps.

    Perfect? No. The book bogs down in the middle and you have to tough it through a bit. Perhaps it could have been shorter, but who the hell knows. Borrows too much from Burrough? Probably not. Let me read it 5 more times after reading Naked Lunch and I'll tell you then. Posterity will love this book like a lost kissing cousin. I sure as hell loved it and will read it again and again.

    You should too.

    Notes: Two Dollar Radio has a great deal on buying their books. If you buy 5 of them (your choice) it will cost you $30 which is a big savings over the normal price of $12 a piece. And there's some great, great stuff in their catalog. Definitely head over to the site and have a look.

    As you can imagine, OEC has created quite a stir and there are lots of reviews and discussions all over the net on the book. Most of them better than my poor efforts here. Here is a short list:

    -excellent interview with Grace at the Twodollarradio blog
    -Grace's music playlist 
    -best review is by Tobias Carroll at Vol 1 Brooklyn
    -wonderful conversation between Richard Thomas and Blake Butler that covers just about every angle you can think of about the book/author.
    -Orange Eats Creeps page at Two Dollar Radio where you can read some of the book.
    -Steve Erickson's introduction is a bit over the top, but right on in several points. Give it a read here:

  • "I believe all of THE TOY COLLECTOR is emotionally true, however only part of it is based on my real life or people I know. It is, in essence, a work of fiction"

    The Toy Collector  is the first novel by the well-known screenwriter and filmmaker James Gunn. Published in 2000 by Bloomsbury, US, it's become quite a cult novel and is currently available new trade paperback (with a crappy "oh, I'll get it done in an afternoon" cover/ see bottom image) and at good used bookstores in hard-back (with a much better cover above).

    I've been flirting with this book for years. Initially drawn to the cover art, I had built up an idea of what the book was about long before I cracked the covers and dug in. Boy, was I way off. Thinking I was sitting down to the story of the toy-collecting racket in new your, what I got was much, much better. Didn't take more than the first 10 pages to kick my preconceptions out the window. Instead of a cute, funny little novel like I imagined, what I got was a blistering portrait of lost childhood, desperate addiction to toys/sex and masochism set alternatively in the 70's and in present day New York City.

    The narrator (called "James" in the book) is selling pharma stolen from the hospital where he works as an orderly. His life is desperate, funny and violent. He is suffering from some sort of trauma and collecting toys (sp. 70's toys and toy in particular) is one way he has of covering over the pain. Remembering is another way of coping. Half of the novel is a portrait of the author as a young boy with his brother, Tar, his non-existent and hapless father/mother, and a close circle of misfit friends whom he comes to love. In fact, it's these friends that give him his only true sense of love and belonging. One friend in particular, Gary, is the focus of the small group because he just can't seem to fend for himself at school and is troubled with fears and phobias. It's Gary who the narrator truly loves and protects.

    But a terrible tragedy occurs in the past. One that cripples the narrator and all of his friends. An event so violent and tragic that they are all scarred for life. This chapter in particular has some of the finest writing I've read in years. My hands were literally trembling as I read it. And I couldn't come back to the book for a day or two; it's that powerful.

    The book is darkly comic. Jet black, in fact. The early scenes of the two brothers and their friends playing with their toys is told realistically, like the adventures are actually happening. The fate of their heroes is often sadistic and horrifying (as are their enemies). The "Bob and Oscar" section early in the book is laugh-aloud funny and sick at the same time. I found myself nodding in agreement with the playing, like I'd been there myself. Any boy who played with toys will pick up on the mix of humor and cruelty. It's perfect writing with a fucking amazing amount of heart. 

    Eventually, fate brings a woman to James in New York. Her name is Evelyn and they seem to have a relation ship that might just save James's ass. Nope. This is a novel with no mercy. James hates himself too deeply and although he loves this woman, he fucks her over good, too (in more ways than one). Some of the sex scenes in the book are so personal and intense that it's hard to read them through. It's no pornography because the descriptions are particularly arousing, but because the sex is obviously so desperate and needful. Sex breaks through James's barriers to his wounded soul which is why the scenes are so necessary (and so passionately remembered/written by the author). 

    In the present, James visits his folks for the first time and takes Evelyn with him (they have hot sex during the Christmas party in his old room) and everything falls apart again. Despite trying not to drink, James needs alcohol and meds too much. After getting the shit kicked out of him by his sober and successful brother, he leaves everything to go home and buy toys and sell drugs. Everyone around James, including his street friends and roommate Bill, all see what he's doing to himself and they care for him anyway (well, most of them). Only James can't put it together.

    Finally, in a scene that plays like the opening of Apocalypse, Now and Little Miss Sunshine, James comes face to face with one specific toy in his past. But it doesn't work; the magic is gone. And James has his dark night of the soul, but at great cost to his body and mind.  No happy ending, but a real ending. Enduring, like in Beckett. "I can't go on, I'll go on".

    The writing is remarkable. The pain and passion put into this book is off the scale. This is a no-holds-barred novel that won't let go of you. Especially if you had similar friends or events in your childhood (as I did). I deeply admire this book and wish the author would write another novel soon (it's been 10 years).

    I'll be posting a short reading from one of the chapters in the next day or so. Highly, highly recommended.

    NOTE: For more info on James Gunn's film career check his IMDB entry and his own personal website.
  • "Hold it. If I dream about someone, ask that person a question, I won't know what that person has said until he has said it. Yet that someone is a product of my brain, a brief and momentary extension of it. It happens almost every day, or rather every night - in dreams, when the self splits up, divides, and begets pseudopersonalities. These dream persononalities can be invented, or taken from real life. don't we sometimes dream of the dead? Carry on conversations with them?"
                                                                                    ........from "Terminus" story

                                                             -cover of American edition of Pirx-

    I've come late to Stanislaw Lem. Although I read Solaris in my youth the novel is overshadowed by the great Tarkovsky film adaptation. Now, after reading Tales of Pirx the Pilot and The Invincible I'm glad that I waited. Lem, a polish writer who lived a full and eventful life, writes the kind of science-fiction adults want to read. And although he draws a good deal from the hard-sci-fi tradition (one that emphasizes the science in science-fiction), he has such a talent for writing about important ideas without losing the fact that people, their desires, dreams, fears and mistakes, are at the center of science. Too often sci-fi writer forget this and end up writing page after page of their science essay on "hyper-realities" or "nano technology". The technology is interesting, yes, but it's questions about the motives behind creating the tech and how it affects people that are more important. And that's what Stanislaw Lem does so well: he wants to try to work out how people and technology affect each other, especially technology and/or beings that are alien.

    Tales of Pirx the Pilot (check out the beautiful Turkish cover for the book above) was written in the middle of his career in 1973. Lem grew up in Poland and went through the Soviet takeover there. Much of his notion of government and bureaucracy comes from this experience. The character of Pirx, a loner with no family or sweetheart is a kind of everyman fool thrust into strange situations that are highly stressful. He has to use common sense to solve problems that others, because of their rigid scientific perspectives, fail at. Pirx is also a very funny character one that I think is probably autobiographical.

    "With the exception of two or three short stories I am not too happy about this book. The first reason for its weakness is the similarity to a typical Bildungsroman. However a Bildungsroman  has to be a novel with an "epic breath" and a broad social and historical background, while in the tales of the brave Pirx the Pilot the general perspective is rather narrow - the hero is isolated, has no friends or relatives. My initial intention was to write or two short stories only. Other stories appeared quite unexpectedly and there was no way to retroactively equip Pirx with a decent family. So the elements that are quite natural in a short story in series show some artificiality. But today I still like Ananke  and Terminus."

                                                  -Stanislaw Lem, from the official website

    Tales of Pirx the Pilot consists of 5 novelettes (slightly longer that a short stories) which start with Pirx in the Flight Academy and end with him taking over command of his own ship. All of the stories are interesting, but the final story is a real work of art. "Terminus" shows Pirx dealing with an obsolete ship which has a very ancient robot taking care of the atomic reactor. Lem's depictions of the ship and it's history (and Pirx's reaction to them) are masterful. But it's the robot (named Terminus) and how Pirx interacts with him that are remarkable. Here is a short reading of one of the Pirx/Terminus scenes from the book.

    Audio Book selection "Terminus" by Stanislaw Lem by rickygrove

    I thoroughly enjoyed Tales of Pirx the Pilot and have Lem's More Tales of Pirx the Pilot on order so I can read "Ananke". I also urge you to go to the Stanislaw Lem official website to learn more about this remarkable author.

    Quick note on The Invincible: this novel was an exciting account of a rescue mission to another planet where the rescuers discover that their is an alien presence that exists as an extreme threat to them. Lem handles this fairly worn theme with panache. Again, his emphasis on character leads to some remarkably poetic moments. This is an engrossing novel, but not quite up to the depth of the Pirx stories. Still, highly recommended. Love the Czech cover for this enjoyable novel.

    (covers and quote taken from Stanislaw Lem's official site: http://english.lem.pl
  • I've embarked on a quest this year to read more and write as often as I can about what I read. With a homepage redesign, I feel invigorated and ready to go. But I've got too many books! How can I read all of the ones I want to?

    Ah, well, not such a bad situation to be in. To be surrounded by books as I am when I read, is a wonderful feeling. I read mostly in-bed or on my couch. But I also have a nice reading chair that Lisa gave me several Xmas's a go which I especially enjoy using in the morning when the light shines in through our bedroom window. I've just re-arranged my books in this bookcase (we have about 8 large bookcases in our apartment) and have been reading non-stop since early January.

    At present I'm finishing up my 2nd Stanislaw Lem book with dips into James Gunn's very intense The Toy Collector. I'll be reviewing all three books in the coming days.

    In addition to offering reviews, essays and bookstore news, I plan on reading aloud from several books and posting short pieces here. So stay tuned!