March 14th, 2014

The more one reads writing about writing, the less time there is to write.

Because when you’re endlessly reading how-tos, how much time are you spending actually doing it?

(And mea culpa, guilty on both counts: reading and writing about writing.)

Have a Corona and get back to work

So thus this harsh advice, offered with respect and affection: for today, this week, this month, no more how-tos, no more how-does-he-do-its, no more cogitation or workshops or discussion; such we will always have with us. Only STFU&W. Shut the fuck up and write.

Go nerve

March 14th, 2014

nerve's Under the Poppy

Our new site, gonerve, is about to launch …


We define success as sensation.

We take space and use it.

We make consensual art.

Our audience is everywhere.

Imaginary friends

March 8th, 2014

When a sequel comes out, it’s new but it’s not: The Mercury Waltz introduces different characters, but its heart still belongs to the duo first met in Under the Poppy, characters in whose company I’ve now spent, wow, years. So I’m reminded, once again, of that book club lady.

She was older, stylish, friendly; she seemed to enjoy my visit to her daughter’s living room book club, liked my reading from Poppy—she smiled in the right places, anyway—and afterward, met me at the cheese table to grab a glass of wine, and offer her thoughts on the novel.

She said she was an avid reader, and a special fan of love stories. She had been pleasantly titillated by Poppy’s brothel setting, its seediness and glamour—and that opening scene, was it even physically possible, for a woman and a puppet …?  Most of all, she was intrigued by the story’s central love triangle: making a brother and sister romantic rivals for the same man, how had I ever come up with that idea?

I told her truthfully that I hadn’t actually “come up” with it at all: that the action between those characters, their loves, likes, dislikes, hates, and whatever behavior emerged from them, was intrinsic, not part of any plan or outline. Then I offered a brief (I tried to be brief) explanation of that sister, brother, and lover, how they’d grown up together in mingled poverty and play, how their receptors for each other had either flowered or contracted as a result of their inner needs or greeds – But by then she was nodding, a clarifying kind of nod and “Sure,” she said. “It’s like they’re real.”

I nodded too. “Otherwise they’re just pieces on a game board, or paper dolls. Otherwise they—”

“Real to you,” she said; now she was smiling, amused. “The way kids have imaginary friends, right? Is it always like that when you write a book?”

I’m not sure what my face was doing, but as soon as her Gouda was gone, she excused herself for a chat on the other side of the room.

Imaginary friends … It does sound mildly crazy, doesn’t it. Like those writers who trill that their characters just take the story and run away with it. Was I a crazy triller? Were they really real to me, those Victorian people?

Yes, they were, yes they are; they have to be. The ability to create that story, or any other, is grounded in the deep bedrock of the way actual breathing people act and love and betray and flee—the “bad” characters as well as the good, since no one is the villain in her own story, everyone believes himself the hero, no matter what the circumstances. And that underlying reality is what’s meant to speak to the reader’s heart, as one authentic person speaks to another.

Su Blackwell red Riding Hood detail

Surely it’s so in the books that I love, we love, the ones that last through time, whose created life is so intense that, interrupted in our reading, we look up wide-eyed and dazed, unsure which world is actually which.  And it’s why the deepest fictional relationships, the characters we react to most strongly and know most intimately, call into question our most personal behaviors and desires, open a door into the self: Was Faustus wrong to give all he had for a dream of mastery? Would you turn in Jean Valjean to keep Javert off your own back? Could you put the moves on Heathcliff, or Mdame Bovary? (Forget for a minute whether either would be a good idea.) Or Harriet the Spy—a friend of mine was convinced that she and Harriet could have been besties in school, then gone on to a fine and hilarious life together as a couple.

But if the books we read don’t offer that level of true reality, if their people are just characters seen through a scrim of words, put through their paces to serve a plot—are we reading the wrong books? Or are we reading books wrong?

The reality, “real” or not, is what gives any fictional experience its weight and pleasure, even if that pleasure is ultimately a sad one. Otherwise we might as well keep choosing books that neither challenge nor fully engage us, might as well sit down to a meal of nicely-molded Styrofoam food, because that’s what it means to settle for that scrim, while real life is pulsing, shining, beckoning back behind it.

We have to up our game. We have to open to the story. We have to be real.

Flannery O’Connor, who knew something about reality, wrote that “The lady who only read books that improved her mind was taking a safe course – and a hopeless one. She’ll never know whether her mind is improved or not, but should she ever, by some mistake, read a great novel, she’ll know mighty well that something is happening to her.”

Book club lady, if you’re out there, so are all the real books: full of people living their passionately-imagined lives, lives that we may live again and again beside them, taking from them deeper realities every time, and so improve our own day-to-day existence. My books may not speak to you that way; doesn’t matter, there are plenty others that will, if you open yourself to their depths and passions, and let them happen to you, exhilarate you, test you. So go crazy, go make some imaginary friends.

[Image: Detail from Red Riding Hood, Su Blackwell.]

Backstage with nerve

March 5th, 2014

Lobby 2 18M

In the lobby at 18M

Mich & 18th

All the thought, vision, movement, sweat, tension, and hilarity of a nerve performance – whether it’s FAUSTUS or UNDER THE POPPY, or the new project we’re creating for fall 2014 – all of it starts in one place, one space, the ensemble, together.

We roost at the corner of Michigan Avenue and 18th Street, thanks to the generosity of an ensemble supporter. Here in a snowy Detroit winter, we dream the landscapes our patrons will explore and inhabit. We think of you while we read, rehearse, work, tussle. We hope to make you laugh, or gasp, or both. We mean to surprise you.



Finding our playground

February 27th, 2014

“All play moves and has its being within a play-ground marked off beforehand … The arena, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the tennis court, the court of justice, are all … temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.”  JOHAN HUIZINGA, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture

Sourcing the space for our next created world: we look, we sniff, we take pictures, we test the quality of the light, we consider the crawlspaces, we let the space measure us. [All photos courtesy Steve Xander Carson and Marisa Dluge.]

SJ visit SXC 2

SJ site visit MD 6

SJ visit SXC 1

SJ site visit MD 5

SJ visit MD 2

SJ site visit SXC 3

SJ visit MD 3

SJ site visit MD 7

St James site visit MD



Each one its own tale

January 30th, 2014

Bespoke MW 2

The bespoke MERCURY editions are each a refraction, for me, of the making of the story itself: each has its bookmark, and its puppet, of course, hand-painted; each is wrapped, or tied, or bound in some fashion, with cord or lace or twists of fabric, the way a traveler might tie up a favored volume for protection on the way.

And the quote offered at the end speaks of some strand or path of the the narrative, whether it’s from Lewis Hyde’s meditation on the trickster, or the hectic, frightful flair of Vienna on the brink, or the art created on that brink by various masters, or … No two quotes will be the same, as each book to its reader will be unique, by the participation of that reader in the story being read.

I work on each carefully, hoping its arrival and unveiling provide a pleasing performance; welcome to the show! And cry the Mercury!


[KK photo: Rick Lieder.]