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Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Taste of "The Head" (Tentative Title)

I thought I'd let folks read a little of what I've been working on lately. I've mentioned this story on Twitter a few times, particularly by its first line, but it'd be interested to hear what folks think. The only thing I have to say before taking you to it is that you shouldn't read it if you're easily disturbed or cannot stand the f-word. I don't use the latter excessively, but it is there and has to be there for the characters. The disturbing imagery is a part of the world I'm working with (think of it as sort of what happens when Event Horizon gets stuck in the world we live in and becomes part of the norm). So, don't read past this point if you can't handle that kind of stuff. I don't think it's excessive, but I also don't want anyone yelling at me that I made them ill cause there's an undead, talking, severed head being worn like a hat.

The only other thing to say is that it's still in the rough stage. I'm going to do a lot of editing later.

So here goes:

I used to wear her head like a hat until she started talking to me in downtown Memphis. It’s a strange experience, hearing the head of a dead person curse you out in the middle of the street. There’s something embarrassing about that, like a beacon telling everyone else that you’ve botched your human sacrifice. They were supposed to stay dead.

But, she talked. And talked. The curse words turned into snarls, the snarls into black magic, until finally I had to make a deal with her to get her to shut up: I’d find her a new body.

And that’s how I lost my weekend.


There’s always something looming in the dark of the world. A living thing. You can call it God if you want, but whenever I descend into the shadows, her head whispering above, I get the feeling that something isn’t quite right. That’s not a feeling you’re supposed to have if you deal in dead bodies; the fact that someone who isn’t quite right to begin with can sense something that isn’t quite right on top of his or her own not-rightness is like a politician feeling like other politicians are screwing around with the lives of the many. It’s irony, perhaps.

Memphis, though, hasn’t been quite right since the Change. Dimensions don’t mix well, and so here I am, with her head on my own, trying to find a new body for a woman who, quite honestly, didn’t deserve the one she had before, all so I can save my dignity.

“I want one with a nice ass,” she says. “Curves and all that. I don’t want to be one of those skinny bitches that you see on TV. You know, the ones with all the cuts on their damned arms, bleeding all over the place, with all the fat, wart-covered old men drooling foam at their feet…No, I want a voluptuous, curvy body with a fine looking face.”

“Don’t get picky.” I feel her wiggle.

“Fuck. This is the body I’ll be stuck with for the rest of my life.”

“Yes, and if God wanted you to have the perfect body, he would have given it to you in the first place.”

“Fuck what God wants. I want to be able to do things I never could before. I want my tits to say ‘this is what you all want, but you can’t have.’ There are other things you’re going to have to give me, but they’re personal.”


“Did you know the left side of your brain has a tumor?”

It’s interesting. Sacrifices always produce a unique symbiotic relationship with the decapitated. With her, she’s tangled herself through my brain. There’s a good side to it, I think. I didn’t know I had a tumor until that moment. But she’d know. She’s had your veins winding through every inch of me for a week now. She’d know things about my insides that I wouldn’t know even if I had a brain surgeon to go poking around in there. Fuck, the world is weird enough as it is without having some old crone screaming out your genetic defects.

“What about that one?” I point to a young girl, maybe a little young, but, hell, maybe the old bag would have wanted a few extra years as a teenager. The teenager struts along the street, wearing a belly shirt and the shortest skirt I’ve ever seen, her midriff all curves and toned, wobbling back and forth. She draws the eyes of every man on the street, except for the ones that like the blood rolling out of their wrists. She slips into shadows, then out again, and I see that hint of darkness in your soul. It hits something close to home, something dark inside myself that yearns for young flesh. But I’ve had my sacrifice for now. I’ll have to wait. But the old crone should want what that beautiful creature has. Don’t we all want to have our youth again? She could really do something with that.

“Fuck no. I’ve had it up to here…” she pauses, realizing she doesn’t have hands of her own to make the gesture. I do it for her, raising the hand to her forehead. “Thanks. I’ve had it up to here with holier-than-thou-hot-as-shit teenage blonde crap. She’s probably been around the block a few thousand times already. Loose. That’s not in my book of desires. I ain’t hoping for no virginal blood, but, fuck, at least a little self-respect.”

“Alright.” Like she’d know what self-respect looked like. I knew her before she met me in that dark alley. She was a secretary, old, but not quite over the hump, working for a rich blood-letter who knew exactly how to twist the arms off of prospective clients until they were writhing and screaming on the floor, begging for him to end it all for them so they could sign the bloody contract and get on with their lives. He always got his contracts signed. The best in the business. But her? Oh no. She had him in the bag, like you wouldn’t believe. She would look at him and his wallet would fold out like her legs and, well, you know the rest.

“What the hell street are we on?”


“Jesus fucking Christ. What do you take me for, a whore?”

I never answer those kind of questions. There’s a good reason for it. If you say no, you’re really saying yes, and if you say yes, you’re an asshole. I prefer to keep up the illusion that I still have a human heart. I don’t, but the illusion is good enough for me.

We watch the streets here for a short while before she finally decides she’s had enough and starts blurting out whatever secrets she’s gleaned from my brain. A few men walk by, unperturbed, but when another fellow donning the familiar human-hat slips by, the dead, milk-white eyes of his sacrifice staring blankly forward and the man’s face a cacophony of ugly thoughts, I realize it’s time to go home and put the old crone to bed. She won’t sleep, though. She’ll wake me up every hour or so to tell me about the horrible way I curl up into a ball when I sleep, or how I’m always shivering or running or mumbling. She can’t sleep—the sacrificed have no need of it, mostly because they’re supposed to be mindless and dead—but she’ll curse at me for stealing her beauty sleep anyway, and by morning, after all is said and done and I’ve been sufficiently dragged to the bottom rung of the social ladder, I’ll crawl out of bed and thank her for another glorious night of deep sleep. I won’t tell you what she says to me in the shower.

(End parts one and two)

And there you go. So? Thoughts? Hate it? Love it? Both?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Why Almost Everyone Is Pissed About Harlequin

It seems there's some confusion about why just about everyone in the professional world of writing is up in arms about Harlequin's decision to create a vanity press imprint (Harlequin Horizons). I thought the reasons were fairly clearly spelled out by the RWA (Romance Writers Association), the MWA (Mystery Writers Association), and the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association). Seems I was wrong (a lot of really idiotic, ignorant stuff is being said in support of Harlequin right now, which will shock most people with a conscience).

So, I'm going to spell it out for you to make it damned clear, with a few curse words for effect.

The Scam
First off, Harlequin is starting what is called vanity publishing, which is even worse than self-publishing because it gets the whole production model wrong: the author pays someone else to put together and print their work, then the printer keeps a part of the profits. There's a reason why vanity publishers are so hated by almost everyone except the naive and the stupid. They are perpetual liars on a scale that most politicians would be astonished by, and they have to be, because they essentially are selling services to people that don't need them, and fucking people out of their hard-earned money. Likewise, vanity presses often can't meet the quality that professional third parties or traditional publishers put out. So they lie. A lot. They flower up everything they say about their services and wannabe-writers flock in and drop off their money to be handed a mediocre product that they can't even sell enough of to make back what they put into it.

This is what Harlequin is doing, right down to the lying and flowering bits. Does it seem logical why the RWA, MWA, SWFA, authors, et. al. are pissed off? Here we have a major publisher joining in on the author scamming, and thinking that somehow it's right.

The Lie and the Corporate Mindfuck
Harlequin has really sold themselves on the idea that they're doing something wonderful. After all, publishing is changing, right? All them blasted writers organizations who are there to make sure authors don't get fucked over by scam agents, etc. are just part of some out-of-date old people's cling to the past, right? Wrong. They exist to protect writers on numerous levels.

But Harlequin thinks otherwise. They think that vanity publishing is the wave of the future. That's right. They think something that has been around longer than POD, that has been scamming and fucking people over for decades is the wave of the future. Something sound fishy? It should, because we've heard similar BS before. The difference between what Lulu does and what Harlequin is going to do is that Lulu doesn't lie to you. It tells you right up front: you're self-publishing, and you can do it for free, or buy some of our packages, and we keep a little cut (a real little cut, actually). Harlequin is saying this: you'll pay us shitloads of money and we'll print your book, and, oh, by the way, maybe we'll pick it up for the regular imprints too (we won't really), the ones that get in bookstores and sell lots of books, oh, and you'll have the Harlequin brand on it (but it will be worth crap), so it'll be worth moneys, and, oh, we won't tell you that your book won't be edited by our professional editors (because it probably won't), so we'll just let you pretend it does. To be fair, they changed one of those, now, since the new imprint won't say Harlequin in the name, but that's really irrelevant at this point. Harlequin is doing everything they can to paint this whole thing up like it's the golden beacon of publishing wonders, when it isn't. The closest you can get to that are POD services like Lulu or Createspace, who do a damned good job not pretending to be what they are: places that profit off selling a few copies of a lot of different books, while still giving you a cut and not charging you up the ass for services. Lulu and Createspace have latched onto a brilliant method of printing books that traditionally publishers (with exception to many small presses) have yet to see value in. But that's not what we're here to talk about...

The SFWA and friends are pissed about this because it's damn obvious what's going on: Harlequin is trying to make a profit off of its slush pile at the expense of a whole lot of innocent authors who don't know any better, all while doing very little to make clear what all of that entails. Which is this:
--You'll pay a lot to get it printed.
--It won't be in bookstores.
--It won't sell many copies.
--Unless you're the luckiest damned person alive, it won't get picked up by a major publisher because most, if not all, publishers won't touch it with a 200 mile pole.
--You'll be broke.
--Nobody will actually edit your work, and if someone does, it won't be edited very well.
--You'll be raped by the stigma associated with self-publishing in general, and more specifically the kind attached to vanity publishing (a much less lovable version of the anti-self-publishing vitriol).

Harlequin is literally like healthcare companies who profit off of sick people, making the whole thing super shiny with a nice bow and a whole lot of B.S. to sell it to the masses. The SFWA and friends have rightly called them out for it. They're pissed because they believe that authors should be paid, and not the other way around. And it's a good thing to be pissed about. They don't like seeing authors getting screwed any more than the rest of us. Harlequin's attempts to do everything it can to screw authors is getting everything it deserves for it.

These are the reasons why the SFWA, RWA, MWA, and most anyone with a conscience are pissed off. It's not because Harlequin is cashing in on a self-publishing idea, it's that they're going a route that has traditionally screwed people over for profit. That's what they're pissed about. If Harlequin were trying to pull off a Lulu, the talk wouldn't be so bad. But they're not. They're devaluing the publishing model by allowing something as traditionally respected as the Harlequin brand to be tainted by a horrible practice. This, in turn, fucks everybody, no matter who you are in Harlequin (author, editor, whatever), because slowly, but surely, the Harlequin brand loses value and anyone published by them, traditionally or otherwise, effectively falls into the chasm of crap that some of the worst self-published books currently sit in.

The question for me, now, is why aren't self-publishers of the POD/Lulu/Createspace vein not pissed off as well? Are they just oblivious, or are they just glad to see another beacon of traditional publishing fall into disarray and insanity?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Funny Things About Grandfathers

I've never talked about some of my grandfather's exploits on this blog, but one of the things you learn as a writer (or a wannabe writer, for that matter) is that your family, friends, and random acquaintances can act as fantastic inspiration. My grandfather has acted as quite the little inspiration bee in the last few years, and will continue to do so for many reasons. But there are some stories about my grandfather that I don't think I can ever replicate in a fiction story. You know the saying, "Life is stranger than fiction"? That's absolutely true of my grandfather at times. Here are just a few of those stories:

Cub Scout Camping
Back when I lived in Washington, my grandfather took my brother, sister, and I on a camping trip to all sorts of pretty places. The problem? Washington is wet almost year round. It's either raining or the apocalypse has arrived and everything is burning to a crisp. Our trip happened to coincide with non-Biblical events, which makes for interesting camping.

During a particularly wet trip we decided to stop and find a nice place to camp. Having set up all our tents, my grandfather set to making a fire. Matches, unfortunately, do little for turning soaked wood into toasty fire, so he decided to hunt down some kerosene. A little while later, he returned with a half-full container and poured all of it over the wood. The result was probably the first real-life mini-demonstration of a nuclear explosion my siblings and I will ever see. A big flame, a little mushroom cloud, and no standing fire.

We gave up at that point and decided to settle in for the night. That's when it started to pour. My grandfather, being the cub scout that he was, had put his tent, which he was sharing with my brother, at the bottom of an incline. Why? I don't know. He just did. And at some point in the middle of the night we all heard the revving of our car's engine. Apparently the rain had created a lovely puddle in the middle of the tent and my brother had secured all of the dry space, leaving my grandfather a freezing pond to sleep in. Eventually he had to get up and warm himself in the car.

We didn't camp outdoors after that.

Stubborn Driver
Many years ago my grandfather had some problems with his heart and had his driver's license taken away for safety reasons. Anyone who knew my grandfather also knew that he was one of the most stubborn individuals ever. He gave up his license, alright, but he sure as heck didn't give up his right to drive. He and I used to climb into this old hatchback (a Colt or something) and tear down the dirt road where he and my grandmother lived. We wouldn't drive all the way into town, though. No. That would be too obvious. Instead, my grandfather would hide the car (very poorly, I might add) behind a small wall of blackberry bushes along the road, and then we'd walk the rest of the way. It was clear that he didn't want to walk up and down the blasted hill.

Some time later I learned that pretty much everyone knew what he was up to (Placerville is a small town). Looking back, it seems somewhat ridiculous that he was so secretive about the whole thing. Everyone knew, including my grandmother, and nobody did anything about it. Of course, I was a little young and didn't know any better at the time. I kept the secret for a while, though, because I'm like that. Secretive and stuff.

Hanging Grandsons
There were other events following my grandfather's early heart problems, but none put my life on the line like his desire to have me help re-paint the house. You see, my grandfather was kind of a "do it yourself" guy, but since he couldn't reach certain parts of the house with his ladder he needed a way to finish the job. That's where I come in.

My grandfather's brilliant post-stroke plan was to climb to the roof through a ceiling window and dangle me over the side of the house by a rope, without a mask for the paint sprayer and held only by a post-stroke grandpa. Yup. I'm not sure how I weaseled my way out of it, but he was quite adamant about putting me over the side of the house. Thankfully it didn't happen.

The Monkey
When my grandfather and grandmother got married, they went on the kind of honeymoon that most people only dream of these days, visiting places like Egypt and others. At some point in the trip they arrived in a place where the locals had a special delicacy that most Americans (and my grandfather was the old rancher-type) would find...let's just say strange.

But my grandfather, as I've said before, was a stubborn mule. Wanting, I presume, to respect local culture, he almost demanded to be served the delicacy, all while my grandmother tried to explain to him that it was not a good idea, at all. Eventually, however, my grandfather won out, as he usually did, and the locals brought before him a remarkable gift: a monkey head with monkey brain soup inside. I'm told that my grandfather turned a shade of white that doesn't currently exist in the human makeup. And no, he didn't learn his lesson, as the last story will illustrate.

The Curse
Never cross my grandmother. Ever. If you do, you'll pay the consequences. Trust me. My grandfather never learned that, but he did help to make a funny story about the power of grandmother's to use subtle magic.

At some point in the past my grandfather had a little sailboat. It wasn't anything special, but it brought him some joy, I assume. One day he discovered a jar of money my grandma had been saving to buy a dress or nice drapes or something (I forget what she was saving it for); she'd been hiding it because, well, I think it'll be clear why. Upon this marvelous discovery, he scampered off to the boat store to buy a set of new sails for his boat. When she discovered where her money had went, she told my grandfather that she hoped his boat would sink.

And? It did. Kind of. If my grandmother was on the boat, everything would go perfectly fine. No problems whatsoever. If not? The boat would fall apart or, well, start sinking. No joke. My grandmother can deal in dark magic.

That's just a little about my family. There are other bizarre things too.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Top 7 Movies That Were Better Than the Books

I have a feeling I'm going to get some serious disagreement on a few of these, and that's fine with me. The reality is that sometimes movies are better than the books they are based on. The following seven are my choices:

The Silence of the Lambs (The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris)
I could never get into Harris' writing. I tried and found myself completely uninterested. The movie, however, is amazing for reasons that have nothing to do with the book. Anthony Hopkins is so creepy in this it's hard not to think of him as Hannibal whenever you see him elsewhere. The movie does so much for the horror/thriller than many other films have failed so miserably at for decades. The book, I'm afraid, never created the same feeling for me.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)
I have nothing against Dickens, but if you're going to try to recreate the old Brit's fantastic Christmas story in a musical, puppet-laden, goody for the kids, then you have to use Muppets. This movie has always had a special place in my heart, and the book can never do that for me. Singing Muppets and a very scroogey Michael Caine make this one simply a classic. And yes, I know it's ridiculous and corny. I don't care.

The 13th Warrior (Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton)
There's something about that book that is both fascinating and boring as hell. The audiobook didn't help alleviate this either. But, Antonio Banderas and some adequate looking northmen make for an action-packed fantasy yarn. The book? It's kind of like trying to read Lord of the Rings now that the movies have been made to glorious effect. Which brings us to...

The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien)
Look, Tolkien was a genius. I'm not denying that and nobody should. He did something that nobody has ever successfully replicated and he deserves all the credit for it. But the man could not write an engaging paragraph to save his life. His prose is so utterly stilted and almost purple that trying to read Tolkien is like trying to have a calm conversation with someone while being melted in a vat of molten metal: it's just damned painful. The movies? Gorgeous and brilliant in ways that defy logic. The films should have failed. Peter Jackson and the rest of his crew were taking on something that almost everyone agreed could not be filmed. And they did it. Not only adequately, but bloody well. They created a trilogy of classic films that took all the ugly fat out of Tolkien's novels and thickened up forgotten plots to create an astonishing visual masterpiece. The movies are just so good. Like really good cake.

The Minority Report (The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick)
I'm a huge PKD fan. I love his novels, but his shorts, often, lack something. I think much of PKD's brilliance is found in his longer works, so when filmmakers took The Minority Report and expanded it into a feature film, I was pleasantly surprised. The original story isn't bad, but the movie is a fine example of excellent science fiction and Spielberg-ian flare.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams)
I'm probably going to catch hell for this one, but the recent adaptation of Douglas' series is, in my opinion, far better than the books. I like Douglas, and he is quite funny, but the man had no concept of comedic timing. His jokes tend to run into each other endlessly until you forget what the hell he was talking about at the start. The movie, however, took all of that, and cut away until the visuals matched the words and most of the good jokes were still present. It was not a perfect movie, and I certainly have reservations about some of the cast, but, come on, at least the damned movie didn't get lost in endless jokes without anything happening for ten pages!

Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton)
Poor Michael Crichton. He's not a bad writer, but sometimes the movie versions are simply better. In the case of Jurassic Park, the movie managed to trim the fat in much the same way as the adaptation of Douglas' series did. The book isn't bad at all, but the movie manages to keep a tighter pace and create a kind of terror that the books never could for me (the movie scared the hell out of me when I was a kid, by the way).

And there you have it! Send your hate mail to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com. Or, just leave a very nasty comment on this page! Suggestions and opinions are welcome too. What movies did you see that were better than the book, and why?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book Magnet Entry #2: The Future Fire (SF Magazine)

The second entry for my Book Magnet Project is in! There are two magnets, both of which are in the middle. What are they for? The online magazine The Future Fire.
What is The Future Fire?
It is an online magazine that publishes "dark science fiction and art with a social conscience, a political sensibility, and of the highest quality." It contains fiction and non-fiction, reviews, and more. Issues come in html and pdf formats, so you can read online, or take it with you in your e-reader.
They are also, I am told, currently seeking submissions for a special Feminist Science Fiction themed issue, which will also include queer-focused SF under the heading. The FemSF issue will appear in January, 2010, and I've been told that while this is a special issue, the editing team of TFF is not limiting their interest to such themes in non-themed issue to come. If you've got something FemSF or queer-SF, check out their submission guidelines and send it in! You should also read their Manifesto, which contains some insight into the impetus for TFF's creation.

So, check them out if you're interested in dark SF with a social or political leaning.


There you have it. If you have a promotional magnet for your sf/f (or related) book and want to take part in this project, send an email to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com with the subject "Book Magnet Project." Help me cover my fridge!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Green Literature Proposal

I think I mentioned this on my Twitter a few times, but if you don't follow me there, then this may be new to you. I recently sent out an abstract for a paper to a conference about green literature (specifically in science fiction). I haven't heard back yet, but regardless, I wanted everyone to see what I was thinking about doing.

So, here goes:
The notion of the environment as an inanimate, and particularly harsh “other” brings to the forefront a particularly challenging question following what will likely be an inevitable requirement for humans to move into non-traditional living spaces: how must we survive at home or elsewhere when the potential range of environments leans heavily to what we currently accept as uninhabitable?

Science fiction posits that this move will entail a variety of responses, and of particular interest are subaltern responses to cultural othering. Sly Mongoose by Tobias S. Buckell, Marseguro by Edward Willett, and The Silver Ship and the Sea by Brenda Cooper all imagine the future of subaltern figures as merging with an otherwise inhospitable environmental space. This symbiosis with the environment develops as a result of a desperation to seek shelter from a dominant human culture that seeks to purge the subaltern class from society.

In this paper, I intend to analyze two things: 1) the symbiotic relationship between the subaltern and the environment and the fragility of such a relationship, even in far-future human vision; and 2) the implications/affects of such a symbiotic relationship on the nature of identity, both to the self and to the environment.
So, thoughts?

P.S.: It should be noted that I was partially inspired by Matt Staggs and his greenpunk manifesto.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Future Spells Doom?

I know this has been discussed before, but I find it curious how prevalent the pessimistic has become in science fiction. I don't think this is a bad thing, mind you, but it is something to acknowledge. But why? As curious as this whole thing is, the reasons why seem more intriguing. What draws science fiction writers to the more dark aspects of the human condition?

To me, it seems that we focus on the bad because the good isn't always so interesting, or perhaps because the good is already covered by an entire community of individuals with the future of the world in mind (we call them folks "scientists"). Maybe the bad is just that much more entertaining to write. For me, this is definitely true. It has something to do with beating up on my characters; I find something entertaining in torturing them. Maybe there is something similar going on with more well-established authors than myself. I don't know.

What do you think are the reasons why there is such a strong focus on the pessimistic in science fiction? Why is the optimistic not as appreciated? I'd like to know what you all think.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Science Fiction and Aliens: Human Relationships to the Other "Other"

I've been reading a book called Alien Chic by Neil Badmington and the first chapter got me thinking about how science fiction imagines us relating to aliens. This very concept is part of what I will be writing about for my postmodern animal seminar, although in a more limited and theoretically complicated manner, since my final paper will be trying to tackle Jacques Derrida in relation to the alien. But that's getting away from what this post is about.

I don't think I have ever sat down and thought about all the different kinds of relationships humans have with aliens, but doing so today brought up an incredible multitude of relationships, which spells out something remarkable to me: the alien is the ultimate "other." It can be exchanged with almost every kind of "other" we have created as a species; aliens figure as animals or as humanoid figures with intelligence, and the human response in science fiction varies greatly. They are a way for us to discuss human/"other" relations without ever breaking down into the discourses of racism, without resorting to constantly thinking only of the limited past or present. They open a gateway into a new way of imagining what might be, and how we might deal with ourselves and alien others when the tables truly turn.

It would be impossible to list all of the different ways humans relate to aliens, so I've tried to put together a list of fairly broad relations. A long, though not exhaustive list of human/alien relations follows:
  • Alien as invader (vice versa)
  • Alien as accidental positive/negative discovery (vice versa)
  • Alien as animal (possibly vice versa)
  • Alien as lesser-intelligent beings that pose a minor (and natural), but immediate thread (think Galaxy Quest)
  • Humans as superior to aliens (in sub-intelligent or early-intelligent form) (vice versa)
  • Aliens as seeders of Earth (as divine)
  • Aliens as supreme and seeders of other subjects, such as motivation (think 2001)
  • Aliens as general antagonists
  • Aliens as neither friend nor foe
  • Aliens as antagonists to other aliens, with humans attempting to be mediators
  • Aliens as clear friends
  • Alien as necessary other
  • Alien as human/other amalgam (Alien Nation)
This list can really go on and on and on and on, with the broader categories being broken down into smaller ones. We'd need an encyclopedia for this stuff, to be honest. But, if I missed any big ones, let me know.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The End of Good Writing: The Damage of Twilight, Harry Potter, and Their Friends

(Disclaimer: I do not hate Twilight--not really--nor do I despise the things I am going to talk about here. I am simply pointing out a potential problem that nobody has solutions for.)

There has been a resurgence of crap in the last few years. I don't mean published crap, but crap in relation to writing in general. And I'm blaming Twilight, Harry Potter, and every other significant, top-selling literary franchise currently flooding the shelves. As the co-owner of an online writing workshop for young writers, I have seen first hand what the surge of sales and admiration of these books has done. The quality of written English, in general, has drastically de-evolved. That's not to say that there aren't good writers, just that the profusion of online writing forums (of all stripes) and the injection of relatively sub par storytelling into the mainstream landscape has created a new environment indubitably friendly to the prospect of universal value. It's a nice thought, but a faulty one.

It is faulty because there is no such thing as universal value that actually places real value on something. The only universal value in writing is the one given to anyone who tries, but that ends, for anyone with the heart to tell someone about reality, where accomplishing the task turns into trying to do something more. The conditions have, I think, been set for this sort of presumed universal value, and for the infusion of poor knockoffs, poor storytelling (plotting, etc.), and other problematic relationships to the very idea of writing.

There are a few things that signal this to me:
  • Text-speak
    It would be fair to say that this existed prior to Twilight and Harry Potter, but I have seen an enormous surge of text-speak as the dominant mode of communication despite its incoherence to most people and its improper placement in spaces particular to writing mentalities. There is also a correlation between Twilight and text-speak that is impossible to deny: often the first thing we see from someone incapable of speaking in normal English is something akin to "I luv twlght," or whatever it is that makes that proper in text-speak.
  • Disregard For Remotely Standard English
    Apparently caps are unnecessary, along with apostrophes, periods, commas, proper ellipses, and a multitude of other illogical exclusions. Sadly, this is also, in my experience, tied to a love for Twilight. We'll be talking about this in a minute.
  • Incoherence
    The idea of writing logical sentences, or sentences that resemble actual sentences, seems to have been lost to a lot of folks. I've always believed that creative writing should be required in order to graduate high school primarily because I know for a fact that many people who write fiction also happen to be better writers in general. That's not to say that they don't have flaws with argument, just that they are able to construct sentences and use commas properly.
  • Flagrant Disregard of Reality
    I think in the last three months I have seen two dozen different versions of the exact same story, all of them also repetitions of Meyers' story, which is a repetition of some other stories, and so on. This wouldn't be a problem if these same people also acknowledged that their teen "romance" involving a vampire who glitters was a direct ripoff of a far more popular book series. But they won't have any of it. They don't understand what a cliche is, or what a recycled plot looks like. They're oblivious because they want to be.
Where am I going with this? All of these problems have been rising dramatically in the last year, due almost entirely to the influx of popular titles into the public of would-be writers. More and more wannabe writers (young and old) are flooding my forum with the expectation that they will be the next Meyer or Rowling, but then they disappear moments later when they realize that a) you can't be on a writing site and not conform to standard written English; and b) sometimes when you suck, you actually suck. A lot of them come in expecting to write in a way that not even an elementary school teacher would accept (not in fiction, but in communicating with others), and then are shocked to find that a site for writers might actually have standards. These folks want to be the next Meyer, and they'll do everything they can to be it short of actually working on their craft; to tell them that they have a lot of work to do is to tell them that they will fail, always (some of them undoubtedly will, even if they try to work on their craft). But, they don't disappear forever; they go to other places where they are not subject to such rules, where they can put out incomprehensible drivel and receive glowing comments instead of anything resembling a critique (there is, after all, absolutely nothing helpful about such things as "OMGZ dis r awzum!!!1!").

And this worries me because it feels like the end of good writing. I get the impression that standards are being relaxed, not in publishing, but in the wider web, and the way the community functions is to provide places for people to get false hope, to dream of things that aren't possible, and to continue to fulfill their fantasies without a dose of reality. Not everyone is cut out to be a writer, of any kind. Some people simply are better suited to other duties, but everyone can try. But the most basic thing we all need as potential writers is a modest ability to use the language we intend to write in and a healthy dose of the reality we all live in. We can't pretend to be writers and conform to a non-standard method of communication that involves complete disregard for even the most basic of English rules--capitalizing letters is not that difficult.

Even worse is the fact that I don't know how to to figure in the influence of popular titles like Twilight or Harry Potter. There is a correlation, but what kind? How do they mix? And do we just let this flooding of sub par occur? Do we address it? How? Is it bad or good? A logical consequence?

There are so many questions to ask, and so many concerns connected with them. But maybe this is an irreconcilable issue. Maybe.

Why WISB is a Safe Place: I Won't Call Your Employer

I have access to every IP that comes to this website. I also have some detailed information for all of those IPs. But guess what: I'm not going to report you to your employer if you post a vulgar or just downright stupid comment. Not like this guy (and there's more here).

And you want to know why? Because I'm not that much of an asshole. I'm also not a supporter of the kind of Gestapo-style policies that some people think is perfectly acceptable in a free society. What I will do is delete your comment or prevent it from appearing. But I sure as hell won't be actively seeking to get people fired for using the Internet for childish purposes. No, I subscribe to a much more low-key style of asshole.

So feel free to be as vulgar as you want here. I dare you. That is all.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cultural Literacy and Genre Fiction

I've been researching this concept called "cultural literacy" in preparation for my final paper in my pedagogy course. In doing so, I've come to an interesting "revelation," if you will. Science fiction and fantasy are part of our culture as much as something like math or English; they are unconscious elements present in all of us that sometimes make themselves known, and other times remain in the background, operating as little signals in the reaction center of the brain.

The obvious, though, is how science fiction and, to a lesser extent, fantasy have consumed popular culture. As much as all the other elements that seem to make up the culturally literate figure (history by locale, basic science, math, etc., and all those things that make up our language, our thought processes, and our acknowledgment of the social, however minute or forgotten), pop culture as embodied by SF/F has consumed society itself.

Even if you don't want SF/F television or movies, you know about them. Even if you don't read Harry Potter or Twilight, you know about them, and you may even know about all of these things in some basic detail. You know, for example, without having read Twilight, that Meyers wrote a book about vampires and something resembling romance; you know that Harry Potter is about a boy wizard and wizard-like things; you know that Star Wars has the Force and lightsabers and Darth Vader; you know that Star Trek is about humans and some guy with pointy ears traveling around in the universe seeing nifty stuffs. We all know these things (well, almost all of us) in the U.S. (and Canada and the U.K., mostly likely), because they make up a part of who we are and how we communicate with the greater social apparatus.

John Scalzi said it clearly: SF (and you have assume even F, to a lesser extent) has mainstream acceptance. Whether or not it has any other form of acceptance seems irrelevant at this point. SF/F is a part of our culture, part of that cultural literacy that some older theorists have suggested allows every one of us to be able to communicate without confusing the hell out of one another.

And you have to think about that for a minute and bask in the amazing sensation of that feeling. Science fiction and fantasy have become so integral to the social landscape of the U.S. and other countries, that even Shakespeare is being challenged by the new social paradigm.

Having thought all of this, I have only one thing left to say: now what?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Strange (n.) – Being intrigued by something that doesn’t make sense!

I’ve had a most curious epiphany. Apparently if the description of the book is so far out there, so absurdly bizarre and unimaginably unintelligible in the light of logic, then I’m instantly fascinated by it and must have it in my collection. I don’t mean books with twisted or disturbing plots, but books with plots that simply don’t make sense, that are intentionally inconsistent with a reality that follows logic.

What spawned this post was my discovery of a little known book called The Other City by Michal Ajvaz. Go ahead and click that link and read the description. It sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? That’s what led me to buy it yesterday. I had to have it in my collection. Who knows, maybe I’ll write a paper on it. All I know is that I have a bit of the Strange right now. With Jason Sanford filling my brain with his weird ideas and the odd ideas of books like Brian Francis Slattery’s Spaceman Blues or the aforementioned The Other City, it’s hard to not be drawn to the weird forms of fantastic literature, a condition I’m calling the Strange. If you like the whole New Weird craze, you’ve got a case of the Strange.

I have the Strange, and I don’t want it to go away. If there’s a cure, I want nothing to do with it. In fact, I sincerely hope that the science fiction and fantasy communities, and even those communities outside of it that are flirting with SF/F, don’t acquire a cure either. Something tells me that all this strangeness is doing SF/F a lot of good right now. We no longer have Philip K. Dick to surprise us with an astonishingly disconnected view of the world (read Ubik or Lies, Inc., or just about anything he’s written, to be honest, with exception to his short stories, which are not, in my opinion, as good as his novels). Instead, we have Jason Sanford, Michal Ajvaz, and a few others, whose names I’ve forgotten.

Hopefully my case of the Strange will spark some truly crazy stories. Right now I have a story involving a bearded lady, another that I can only describe as semi-Miyazaki in style, and something to do with packaging the universe into a little box. I don’t think I have anything quite as strange as some of the stuff I’ve seen elsewhere, but so be it.

What about you? Do you have anything truly bizarre in the works? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Reiteration: Books and Music; Lovers, But Not Twins

I am consistently shocked by the persistence of the belief that books (and particularly the book industry) are somehow exactly the same as music (and the music industry). While there are certainly analogous relationships between the two, the idea that consumers view them as the same is absurd.

Let's break this down, because it needs to be made clear that no matter what parallels exist between the two, they are inherently different things.

Point #1 -- Consumption
When you listen to music, you are engaging in a particular form of auditory consumption that requires very little in the way of thought processes. This is not to say that music cannot foster thought, just that the vast majority of people listen to music primarily for effect. The necessity for anything else does not typically exist.

This is not true with books. When you read a book, you are engaging several different sections of your mind. You are using visual thought processes on top of a string of cognitive processes that take in the words and translate them so your brain can make the appropriate visual or non-visual stimuli that denotes understanding. You cannot read a book without also thinking. It's impossible. To put it simply: we read books and listen to music. This is irrefutable. To say that this is not true is to essentially claim that anything we know about human culture and biology is 100% incorrect.

Now, obviously audiobooks change the equation a bit, but only slightly. All an audiobook does is change the visual process to an auditory one; everything else, generally speaking, remains the same, with exception to poor audio quality or annoying voice acting that can ruin the listening process. This leads us into point #2.

Point #2 -- Determining Quality
One of the primary problems with the self-publishing argument for the book/music analogy is that it intentionally ignores the process through which consumers determine quality. As with the modes of consumption, determinations of quality for books and music differ greatly, and this is linked directly to how we consume these two things.

With music, determining quality is typically immediate, with little time on the part of the consumer to create an opinion. Most people have particular listening tastes (such as only liking certain genres) and have different reactions to different forms of music. The result of this is that usually a consumer can tell if something will be enjoyable (of any degree) within the first few seconds (this also varies somewhat depending on the music. I hate country music, so when I hear two seconds of a country song, I tune out; but I don't hate all rock music, and sometimes it can take ten to twenty seconds to decide if I want to listen to any more of a song).

Books, however, require of consumers a considerable amount of time. One cannot, for example, multitask while reading a book (with minor exceptions), and so when a consumer reads a book, they have dedicated themselves to the process. Unlike music, determinations of quality in books are not immediate, and neither are they quick or smooth processes. Bad books are not always determined by the first sentence or even the first twenty pages. Sometimes a bad book doesn't show itself until the end, and getting there understandably takes time. Even if it takes you until the end of a song, chances are it will have taken you only a few minutes, as opposed to several hours.

The only way we currently have of determining quality in books is through editors or reviews; neither are perfect, and usually the latter is useless primarily because personal taste always enters into it--tastes are different from person to person.

Point #3 -- Indie Problematics
Self-published authors often try to claim that because independent music took off, so too must independent writers. The problem is that a lot of the times, these same authors have no idea what they are talking about.

The indie music scene is not a new thing. It wasn't even new when and the various other indie music sites appeared. In fact, the independent music industry has been around since the early 1900s, and it has never been quite as non-traditional as people think. The creation of indie labels was not an attempt to allow artists to do whatever they wanted with their music, but simply a way of escaping a system of enormous record labels who wanted too much control; the big labels still exist, and so do many of the indie labels, who have since become rather large themselves. Additionally, true indie music is not nearly as glamorous as people think, and often the instances people cling to as great examples of how "self-publishing" can work are actually of bands/singers who already had enormous followings before going true indie. Some good examples of artists starting indie and being successful do exist, but they succeed primarily because of the first two points in this post.

The book industry, by the way, already has its own indie industry. They're called small presses, and these places publish all sorts of niche literature all across the world. They have editors and marketing teams too, but obviously are not as powerful as the big boys. But where everything falls apart in the self-publishing argument is when they make the assumption that if indie worked for music, it must work for them too. Well, that would be true if the first two points of this post were incorrect. Since they are not, the reality has to be acknowledged: all success in indie music is because of points #1 and #2. Consumers simply do not view music the same as books, and, thus, are much more willing to accept music as a self-published form. After all, a consumer can listen to samples of music and spend only a few minutes of their day doing so; they cannot do the same with books.

What all of these points come to is this: books are not like music, and the only way the indie music scene can function in an indie author scene is if the first two points are acknowledged and addressed appropriately. I'm not sure that is possible, considering that there are not quick and easy ways to make #2 work for books.

Did I miss any points? If so, let me know in the comments. I tried to gravitate towards the most obvious, but perhaps I missed one that should be mentioned here.

Survival By Storytelling: Now on Lulu and CreateSpace

I just wanted to remind all of you that the first issue of Survival By Storytelling is available on Lulu ($9 in print; $5 in digital) and CreateSpace ($9 in print).

It will be on soon, and, as soon as we can figure out how to properly format the book for the Kindle, it will be available there too.

For now, pick up a copy for yourself or a friend and let us know what you think!

Thanks to those who have already purchased a copy. You're helping support young authors. Every sale goes to paying them, and they appreciate being paid for their work.

And that's enough from me! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Website Found: LitDrift (A Nifty Literature Site)

I actually heard about this site through the University of Florida's English Graduates listserv, but recently the folks at LitDrift contacted me regarding posting something about them, and so here I am.

I became a follower of LitDrift the second I saw the site, for several reasons. First, it's a site about literature, and generally speaking, if it's about literature, I'm in. Second, they have a feature called "free book Fridays" in which they give away a book to one lucky commenter...every Friday. Free books? Every week? Again, I'm in. Third, the posts are actually quite good, discussing everything from books to writing from all directions (they've really got their bases covered). There are writing prompts (daily, apparently), tips, videos, and all sorts of other goodies at LitDrift.

LitDrift isn't limited to the three things that drew me in, though. They talk about all manner of things there of relevance to literature-oriented folks, and the posts are, in my opinion, of quality. If you're interested in a new site focused on literature, I suggest checking them out. I like the site and some of you might like it too.

Magazine Review: Interzone #224

I recently reviewed issue #224 of Interzone and want to offer a few more kind words about the magazine. It's high quality both in form and content, and I think one of the goals of Interzone needs to be to expand into the global market in as many formats as possible. While digital forms are lovely, print is still king, and I can't image them doing poorly in the U.S. if they were more readily available here. That said, I don't know how hard it is to distribute a magazine in the U.S., so if there are legitimate reasons why they don't do it, then I understand.

But, for now, go check out my review!

Ignorance is Bliss: More Self-Publishing Nonsense

It amazes me the things people say about the publishing industry. I often wonder if there's a magical world that some of these folks live in that I somehow missed the train to get to. It's almost like an anti-publishing psychosis that leads certain individuals to spout nonsense as if it's fact. I liken this sort of staunch, ignorant anti-traditional-publishing/pro-self-publishing-with-lies to FOX News and its continued claim that it's fair and balance, when clearly it's not (it's not really a news organization either, if you want to get right to it, but most of the T.V. news stations aren't about news anymore--FOX is just more loudmouthed about its inaccuracies).

So, when I saw this post about publishers being doomed and why it doesn't matter, I about choked on whatever I was drinking at the time. The post is full of so much nonsense it's like eating a Glenn Beck/Bill O'Reilly/Rachel Maddow/Keith Olbermann orgy sandwich. Case in point, I give you the following paragraphs (edited down to get rid of the fat):
Yeah? So what. So we lose publishers and book stores. Who cares? The key in Grisham’s statement is where he says, ‘…and though I’ll probably be alright.’ He means writers will be alright. The big scary fact of the matter is that we simply don’t give a tiny damn whether or not a publisher prints a book or an author does. Publishers read, accept, edit, design, print and promote books. At least they used to. I don’t care what anyone tells you, but we do not need the editors. Writers can do that. You write the book and you edit it and you’re done with it. Readers are getting used to reading writers without editors. That’s why blogs are so popular. No editors...No reader cares about Penguin.

There is absolutely no excuse for a writer to work hard on a story, hammering it into existence from nothing, polishing it and making it exactly what he or she wants it to be… and then sit around to wait for some agent or publisher to get back via the U.S. mail so that said writer can be allowed to move on and send out yet another plea for acceptance.
Can you see why I liken this to FOX News? There's so much wrong with this that the only way I can break it down and correct its inaccuracies is to take it to task, piece by piece.

Claim #1 -- Who cares about losing publishers and bookstores? (WRONG)
A lot of people do, including authors. Loss of bookstores means loss of sales. Loss of publishers means authors now have to fork out thousands and thousands of dollars to market their books to even make a reasonable living, while simultaneously fighting off the still legitimate stigma against self-publishing. How many writers do you know who can afford a twenty city book tour across the U.S.? Maybe a few dozen at best, all of them successful because of bookstores and publishers. There are no self-published authors who can meet the financial power of folks like Grisham. None.

Claim #2 -- Grisham means that all writers will be alright (WRONG)
No, Grisham means that he will be alright, which is why he said that he will be alright. Grisham is not a moron. The guy is filthy rich for writing stories that people want. That's reality. If nobody wanted his books, he wouldn't be filthy rich. And when he says he will be alright, he understands that the economy, the way books are being marketed, and the way the publishing industry is changing will ultimate change nothing at all for him. For everyone else that isn't on the same financial tier? They're probably going to suffer.

Claim #3 -- We don't give a damn who prints a book (author or publisher) (WRONG)
If the author actually knew the industry, he'd know this claim is a load of B.S. I don't know who the hell the "we" is, but consumers still care very much about who publishes a book. Authors care too. The assumption in the self-publishing world seems to be that because more people are SPing, that means traditional publishing is losing ground. The reality? The Internet has just made it easier to SP, so more people who might not have done it before because of the cost, are doing it now. That doesn't mean that self-publishing is magically better than it was before POD or the net, it just means that it's bigger because more people can do it. Consumers still pay attention to this and still give a crap about who publishes a book. Sales show this to be true. If this wasn't true, we'd see more self-published books getting the same play as folks like Grisham or Rowling or whomever. Since we don't, this claim is bogus.

Claim #4 -- Publishers don't read, accept, edit, design, print and promote books anymore (WRONG)
Publishers may not be promoting as many books as they have in the past, but they are still promoting books, a lot. In fact, you'd be surprised how many books do get marketing campaigns, however small, thanks to blogging and the like. I regular get emails about books that recently came out that have not be chucked out there like all the big boys. I read some of those books too. They promote books all over the place, but since consumers want more books than they ever did before (even if they don't read them), publishers have to pump out more volumes each year. I don't like it, but consumers do have a lot of power in the book industry.

As for the other stuff: I don't think the author has ever worked for a publisher. I have, and still do. We read, accept/reject, edit, design, and print (well, in digital form) all kinds of books. I mostly do the reading and accepting/rejecting, but I know that someone edits the books and designs them for release. But, then, this whole complaint by the author of the post in question makes no sense when you get to the next section. Why the hell would he care if publishers edit books if he honestly doesn't believe writers need editors? Seems to me that if you don't care about editors, then you also don't care if publishers edit books or just shoot them out there willy nilly. Very contradictory!

Claim #5 -- Writers do not need editors (WRONG)
This statement is so wrong it actually hurts my brain. Writers don't need editors? Are you kidding me? This is like saying that humans don't need oxygen. The only way I can refute this is to show you examples of what is so horribly wrong with this statement. Below you'll see two examples. Any error you see actually exists in the text. If you really want to see the full (or preview) texts for these to confirm how horrible they are, the titles are links to places you can go to read from the source.

From The Patokofus Trilogy: Book One by Ashley Domenic Augustine
The Zoan sewers was a quiet smelly place.
It was filled with rats , alligators and more.
Rats were screeching as they were attacked by a young boy who wielded a bronze sword.
"25, 26, 27 , 28, 29, 30!!" he counted as the rats fell dead to the ground.
An eight year old boy walked in to the sewers.
"Jaden!!!, Jaden!!!" shouted the boy running.
The boy wielding his sword turned to the eight year old.
"Ben what are you doing here?" asked Jaden.
"List was looking for you, she says Ol, Jolly Dex has a job for you, so she sent me to find you she says to meet her at the shop" Ben replied.
"Okay I am done with training for the day" said Jaden as he stretched his arms.
From The New Mars by John L. Manning, Jr.
Tom and Amy get off the jet with their two kids,John and Kimberly, and go straight to the waiting area to wait for the Space Jet to Mars. This is Tom's first time in space, so he read all the pamphlets that were offered to him on the Karman Jet. His wife and kids took the sedatives they were offered at boarding and slept during the three-hour trip to the moon. Tom wanted to experience the flight into orbit that he enjoyed, even though he got sick and needed the bag that was under his seat. He was well informed about space and Mars by the time he got to the moon. When the jet landed at the moon base, Tom woke his wife and kids to a surprise that their feet tended to float. He helped his kids with their moon boots that were weighted books, so they wouldn't float away. Tom's wife Amy had a hard time getting used to the weightlessness of the moon, so she wasn't much help with the kids. Tom suggested that they would just wait in the food court until the space jet to Mars was read for boarding.
I rest my case.

Claim #6 -- Because readers don't care about editors, that is why blogs are so popular (NOT QUITE)
There is a difference between reading a blog and reading a book or a newspaper. Readers are not dumbasses. They know when a product is meant to be edited, and when a product is not. Readers read blogs with this information sitting in the back of their minds. They become more critical when they know that the product they are reading is supposed to be processed and edited in a professional fashion. Blogs are not, generally speaking, done this way, and since readers know that, they know what to expect from a blog.

Claim #7 -- Writers shouldn't work hard and wait on publishers (NOT QUITE)
The part of that statement that bugs me the most is where the author of this piece makes it seem as though you have to wait on a publisher to get permission to start something else. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Publishers actually want you to move on to something else. Why? Because if they buy your product, they probably will ask for first dibs on whatever you have coming next; having that next book started or finished by the time your first book gets published is a good way to keep ahead of the game.

But, to the statement itself: writers should always work hard, period, and waiting on publishers is just the way it works. There's a reason why people still go to publishers: it looks better, you get better products, and you get paid from the start. Rarely are these things not true. Publishers also offer exposure on a level that self-publishing cannot achieve without the author spending incredible amounts of money. Try getting your SPed book into a Barnes & Noble bookstore or Walmart. Not easy is it? Want to know why? Because consumers are not interested in potentially crappy products. They want guarantees. Publishers offer guarantees, and while they do not always deliver, they do have a great track record for keeping consumers happy; this is not true of SPing, and so most bookstores won't carry SPed books precisely because the professional quality is impossible to guarantee.

And that's that. There are other things wrong with the post in question, but it would take a whole series of posts to adequately deconstruct every single incorrect assumption placed there. For now, this should do reality justice.

If any of you have read the piece, please feel free to give me your opinion. The comments section is always open for thoughts!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Movie Spotlight: Duel of the Overmen

A recently received an email about this independent short film and thought I'd toss it out there for you all to see. It looks like an interesting concept, with a hint of intentional campiness thrown in for good measure. Might be worth spending half an hour watching when it comes out. For now, here's the trailer:

Monday, November 09, 2009

I Dream of Zombies

And I want to know if anyone else does.

We all dream. I know this, and most everyone does. The only thing is that most of us don't remember our dreams. I usually don't...unless they're about zombies. Now, not all of my zombie dreams are scary in the traditional sense. Zombies are always scary, to me, but my dreams tend to have me fighting off zombies and rescuing damsels in distress and other such nonsense. I almost always lead a resistance of some description, and then I wake up never finding out if I succeeded.

I suspect that these dreams explain why I find zombie movies both thrilling and terrifying (with exception to a handful of zombie movies that are so terrible they're not even funny). Still, it's a tad disconcerting to find yourself afflicted with inmortusomnia (that's my fancy made up medical term for dreaming about the undead).

Maybe I'm not the only one. Anyone else dream of zombies?

I've Been Interviewed!

Harry Markov over at Temple Library Reviews has officially posted his interview with me. Go check it out. It's awesome, and not because it's me, but because it's, well, it's just awesome, and fun.
In other news, I have two small things coming up: a quick plug for a cool new site I learned about through the University of Florida and a Book Magnet promo for a bit of cyberpunk goodness. I hope you all will enjoy them.

And that's enough from me. Have a good night. So say we all.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

What Are Editors Good For?

I'll tell you.

Editors are gatekeepers. The whole purpose of an editor in the publishing business is to weed out the bad and leave only the good. This is especially true in magazine publishing (online or in print). If you think that every story written is good, then you are sadly mistaken. Just because you have written something doesn't mean that it needs to be seen. Bad stories exist. That said, it should be acknowledged that editors don't always get it right; but that's the nature of the human condition.

Editors spruce up prose. They don't do it quite as much as the other kind of editor that you hire, but they do make good writing better. In book publishing, an editor does a hell of a lot of work, and most of the time the work they do is good work. I've seen manuscripts from before publication and after and can honestly say that the final product is almost always better than the original thing.

Editors make you into a better writer. Emphasis on better. They don't make you into the greatest writer ever, but they certainly teach you a few things. Ask anyone published by a major publisher or even a small press. Ask them if their editor taught them anything. They did, didn't they? I thought so.

Editors are dedicated to good books. They are not evil, but benevolent creatures with only one goal in mind: find and publish good books that consumers will like. They don't always get it right (but, hell, let's face it, writers don't either), but they put a hell of a lot of work and TLC into every book they edit. They want to put out good books. In fact, they have to. A string of horrible books that don't sell very well could spell certain doom for an editor; it's in their best interest to provide consumers with good products. And if you don't believe that, then ask an author published by a traditional press. Ask someone at Tor or Penguin whether or not their editors did a lot of work to produce a quality product. Did you ask? And? I thought so.

The thing is, some people are jaded against traditional publishing. Sometimes it's for good reason, and a lot of the time it's not. Editors are not useless entities. They serve a vital purpose in publishing, and writers need them (even good writers). Self-published writers need them too. Every sentence you write isn't gold. Sometimes a sentence is utter drivel. The problem is that writers don't always know that, and it can take a good editor to make them see it.

If I missed anything here, let me know. I'm learning a lot of the editing trade, so if there are things editors do that I've forgotten, leave a comment!

(This post is a preface to another post I have coming up. I'm trying to wrap my head around a string of paragraphs written elsewhere that I can't help staring at--not because they are interesting, but because what is being said is so ignorant and stupid that I can't help gawking at the words. Expect that soon.)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Book Review Up: Angel of Death by J. Robert King

I've written yet another review for yet another book from Angry Robot Books, and yet again it's a good one! Check out my review here.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Calling On You: Ecocriticism, green, DIY science fiction?

I'm in the process of doing some research for a paper proposal and am looking to put together a list of recent (last ten years) science fiction stories containing some element of the "green" movement in it. This can be anything from obvious ecocriticism, but more particularly aspects of the DIY (do-it-yourself) green movement as visualized through science fiction. This is not limited to near future stories; one of the novels I am working with is Sly Mongoose by Tobias Buckell, which is set pretty far into the future, but deals with a lot of the issues I am curious about in regards to "green" literature (i.e. living with the environment and creating tech that accommodates that sort of relationship).

Any help would be appreciated. Again, it should be recent fiction. I know of a lot of older stuff, but I want this paper to be more relevant to the more recent "green" movements today.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Writing Prompt #7: Comical Imitation

Now that we are in the glorious month of November, it is time for yet another writing prompt. I thought I'd be silly this time around. Here goes:
Write a humorous short story in your favorite genre doing your best impression of Douglas Adams.
I think this one will be a lot of fun. Go wild, everyone. Seriously! I might have something for this by the end of the month.

Have fun, and feel free to let me know if you're taking part in the comments.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Rekindling WISB: An Idea; Opinions Wanted

Yesterday, I was discussing some writing-related things with a friend of mine when she brought up a problem she was having with finishing her latest novel (second in a series, actually). One thing led to another and I suggested that maybe she could write some short stories in the same world so she could keep things fresh and interesting. She didn’t much care for the idea, but thought it would be a good one for me.

And, I agree, sort of. One of my problems with The World in the Satin Bag and its sequel, The Spellweaver of Dern, is that I feel tired of both of them (not the blog, but the novels). Call it character fatigue, or world fatigue, or whatever, but whatever it was that had me clambering to finish The World in the Satin Bag isn’t there anymore. That’s not to say that I’m not interested, just that I don’t have the drive at the moment.

So, my idea is to possibly write some short stories set in the world of WISB (Traea), to be posted here, of course. My question is whether any of you would be interested in that. The stories would probably not involve characters from the novels, but it’s possible. Let me know what you think of the idea in the comments section (hate it or love it, or indifferent, doesn’t matter).


Monday, November 02, 2009

The Fantastic is in the Genes

If you trace back through time you can see through every generation and era the presence of the fantastic. By fantastic, I mean anything that could be construed as fitting into science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, fairy tale, myth, religion, and any other such genres or subgenres in which something we know is not entirely true occurs. The fantastic is somewhat like a virus in that it worms its way into everything and evolves to fit into new shapes so that it may survive in some sort of dominant mode. So, when I say fantastic, I am using a liberal definition of the term, much as literary theorists have, in some respects.

The fact that the fantastic has survived through generations and eras, despite a monumental effort to suppress certain forms of it, is astonishing, and leads me to conclude that there must be something in us, something wired into our DNA, that makes mankind susceptible to the whims of the fantastic (we'll call it fanty from now on, just so it can have a cute name like SF does--i.e. sciffy--and if you're really clever you'll catch the Firefly/Serenity reference).

We know this from history: the fantastic is woven into us more finely than a nano-fiber coat (if such a thing exists). The cavemen and other early cultures had some idea what it was, and drew it and exchanged stories about it without realizing that was what they were doing. Numerous religions were founded on the very prospect of the fantastic too, and one cannot deny the relation all religious share to one another, even those religions in existence today. So much of our existence is founded in principles of fantastic discourse as figured through all mediums (fine art, writing, spoken word, etc.). So, is it any wonder that fantasy, as a genre, is doing so well, or that science fiction film (and even fantasy film, for the most part) have such a strong hold on the visual market? The fact that young adults and children gobble this stuff up like so much candy is testament to our human desire for the fantastic; as adults, we may shed some of the "silly" aspects of our youth, but there is always that thread (of course, some of us never grow up, and that thread is still wrapped around us as a coat).

Now, the question is: is it possible to cut ourselves off from the fantastic (assuming we wanted to), and if we did, what would the consequences of that be? Would we lose a part of our souls, or would it be like losing a toe (no big deal at all)?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

5 Ways to Explain Scifi Obsession to Friends

We all have that one friend who doesn’t get science fiction. Some of us have probably gone through the annoying experience of trying to explain it and realized how futile such a thing really is. But maybe we’ve failed because we haven’t bothered to try one of the following five options:

--I’m an Alien!
Look, your friends already think you’re insane for having Star Wars figurines lining your walls or stacks of science fiction books filling up your shelves. What harm could it do to take that insanity to the next level? Explain that your love for the genre is due to a long lost urge to reclaim the glory of your former galactic empire! At least there might be something strangely normal about saying that (especially if you’re British).

--Theater Birth
Maybe they’d understand you if they thought you had been born during the opening credits of Star Wars, or shared a birthday with twelve of the greatest science fiction writers of all time (thanks to some clever quasi-time-travel handiwork). Heck, you could even tell them your first word was a Wookie war cry thanks to a year of clever brainwashing by your scifi-crazed parents, in which you were exposed, twenty-four hours a day, to non-stop scifi goodies. Your friends will understand. Really.

--Speculative Prescription
There’s nothing like explaining away one level of “crazy” than by claiming you’re crazy in a different way, and that your new crazy is medication. There are all sorts of weird treatments out there, and it wouldn’t be that difficult to accept that some radical psychiatrist out there wants to treat your mental defects with a bit of spaceship-and-explosions-laced fun. If you really wanted to, you could cook up some fake prescription notices to your local Blockbuster. Might be fun…

--Only Wimps Get Old
Some people see science fiction obsession as a sort of desperation to remain a child. After all, it’s all escapist garbage, right? And you should just grow up and be like everyone else. I mean, come on, being into science fiction is like being a forty-year-old fat man with a beard hanging out at an Anime convention; it happens, but it’s just not natural…But screw that. Tell them you don’t want to grow up. You’re a Toys’R’Us kid, or something like that, and you’ll be damned if you’ll throw away all your fun for a suit, a tie, and a mediocre cubicle in the 9-to-5 grind. Science fiction is about life (and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness)! You’re seizing the day, as the ancients used to say.

--The Economy Needs Lovin’ Too
Still, there’s nothing like explaining to your friends just how important science fiction is to the economy. Just show them the sales figures of the last ten years of science fiction film in the U.S. and you’ll have ample evidence as to why the genre makes the world go round. And that’s not including books, action figures, collectible cards, board games, pajamas, t-shirts, food products, and novelty bedroom attire for the ladies (nothing like a little Spidey lingerie, eh?). Without sciffy nuts like you, the sales industry would be a damned boring place. And don’t forget to mention all the advances in technology thanks to science fiction: everything from new ways to make films to new technologies and ideas that make our lives easier. Plus, our current President is a sciffy fan, and if it’s good enough for the President, it’s good enough for you, right?

But maybe all these options are a little too over-the-top for you. You can stick with the same old boring answers if you want, but these five suggestions might spice things up a bit.

If you’ve ever tried anything like this, let me know in the comments. I’d like to know the different ways you folks have tried to explain your obsessions to your friends, science fiction-based or not!