Monday, January 30, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dungeons. With Dragons in Them

The recounting of a Dungeons and Dragons game at ConFusion populated and led by a mess of Sword and Sorcery authors. It's a hoot.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cyberpunk Future, Today!

moodINQ is a programmable tattoo. They recommend using it to keep your grocery list if you need to.

Right now it only does black and white, and requires surgical implantation, but I feel very positively about this step.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Length

Actually they say it's the girth of a story that determines how satisfying it is.

Right then, penis jokes aside, I've been thinking quite a bit about the length of stories recently.

I am a woman who deeply enjoys a good bit of flash fiction (under 1000 words). I've had folk who are more oriented toward long fiction express to me that they can't imagine what kind of story you can tell in 1000 words or less. After all, it's not room for a complex plot, it's not enough space to develop characters, not much can really happen. That's sort of true, but the other side of it is that 1000 words is just about the amount of time it takes to set up an expectation in the reader and then confound it. It's the length of a surprise. It's the tipping point where a really good joke becomes a story. It's the time it takes to survey an iceberg and realize 90% of it is under the water. When you already know the characters because they're stocks, archetypes, or allusions, it's the amount of time you need to get the other side of a story you've heard before. It's the time you need to establish a mood, whether it's paranoia, sadness, terror, joy. It's about the length of time a reader will put up with something daring and experimental.

Bruce Holland Rogers has some great articles on flash and the different ways to write it, and he does far more credit to it than I can here. I like flash in part because I have trouble sitting down and committing to big projects. I get ideas quickly, and if I'm doing something longer I get them mid-project, so flash is a length I can finish without distraction. I'm always amazed when I write something very short, and people tell me they think I could really expand it out. Often I don't want to. All the interesting bits of the story are there- the parts from the point where the characters resolve that the problem can no longer be avoided to the point where the solution becomes inevitable. Everything outside of that is just set-up and clean-up, and not the real show. And if you're just there for the guitar solos, why watch the roadies?

I suppose I read more short stories than anything. I didn't use to so much, when I was a teenager, but around the time I got my first job I realized how much I love fiction you can finish in one sitting. If there's any single person to whom I owe the largest part of the writer I am now, it's probably Ellen Datlow, who was the horror editor for about 20 years of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (though honestly the line between Horror and Fantasy was always very fluid in these books). Shorts don't have the attention-deficit, pure sugar rush of good flash, but on the other hand they give you time to develop at least one world-changing idea, one interesting character, or one poigniant relationship. You can still do very good iceberg work in short form- New Yorker style literary fiction is really good for condensing a person's entire life into 5000 words or less. Or you can tell one decent adventure or detective story- you have room for clues and minibosses if you're good at pacing. It's enough time to explain and explore the main different thing about your alien world. It's long enough that you get invested, but not so long that a surprise at the end feels like you've been had. It's enough time for somebody to have one epiphany.

Still, it's very easy to feel like shorts are stalling and puffing out their word count. The margin of error is smaller (though not as small as flash). Lately I've been writing more of my stories at around the 7000 word mark. There's a couple of reasons for this- the main one is putting in more characters and concentrating on a changing relationship. I enjoy the type of stories I'm getting out of it, but at the same time I'm still learning how to make a story that size not feel overburdened and unfocused. It feels like a weird place for pacing, but I'm convinced with practice I'll get more comfortable with it.

Novels. Oy vey novels. I really do understand that if I ever want to make money, I need to write novels, and I promise I do get the allure of following a set of characters through something complex, weaving in little subplots, giving everything weight and complexity, having the space to develop multiple in jokes and expectations, having space to luxuriate in scene-setting tangents, motif action, and other relevant and buttressing digressions. And the rate at which you can parcel out information, not to mention the ultimate amount you can disperse across the length of the work, is pretty appealing; you can deliberately bury quite a bit and dig it up later. All that is awesome, but... It's frightening to think of having that many moving parts, that many potential loci of failure. I've had friends stop me brainstorming the novels that I've worked on to go "...really, relax. It's okay to have a scene that only does one thing. You've got time. Just chill out and enjoy it". And I looked at the computer screen through which we were communicating like it had grown first, second, and third heads. It's a hard mindset to get into.

Series. Series. I admit, I resent series. I know so many people who want to write seven and more book series, and it boggles my mind in the same way that people on the other side, I imagine, look at me like I'm a lunatic when I say all the interesting parts of a story can be done in 1000 words or less. I can't imagine working on the same story for five, ten, fifteen years. I think I would break my teeth in frustration if I had to try to stall the development of characters and steer them away from epiphanies so that they would be recognizably the same person seven books down the road from where they started. I like to read a good fast paced trilogy, but even as a consumer I get annoyed when the situation doesn't seem to be advancing toward a resolution within 200 pages. Nevermind 1000. And that's without the problem that series' beginnings are likely to be already published and fixed in the reader's mind as you're writing the middle and ending parts, so you can't go back and add the foreshadowing for something huge you just thought of- no, if it's going in it has to go in as a giant, potentially shark-jumping ret-con (I'm looking at you, Mr. Martin). I have never read a series of four or more books that didn't feel in some ways padded, even in the type of series that are not a single linear narrative, but rather recurrent episodic works.

Then again, there's the strong point of series, and why I think we like reading them at all, and that's the real relationship that readers build with the characters. Enough so that you never want to let them go, even past the point where they should legitimately not be main characters anymore. I've done this. It's repeatedly ended in tragedy for me, but more than once I have picked up the next book in the series because I just could not say goodbye to a character I'd loved. Even when the stories were no longer my favorite, I'd hang in out of loyalty to the imaginary person at the center of it, because I knew them, and somewhere in the back of my mind I thought of us as friends.

Yeah, I get the appeal of that as a medium. The rest of it, though is intimidating as all hell.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Value of Having a Blog

I have a friend who refuses to make a blog for various reasons, but who does get worried sometimes about the constant message that writers need to be participating in new media at every possible opportunity. I don't really feel like I can say definitively one way or the other, but I can share my observations and my own experiences.

Why I like having a blog:
  • The way I blog at least makes me feel sort of accountable. I keep track of my sales, I publicly announce goals. I have a thing I need to feed and care for at least once a week, and if I'm keeping up the blog but not writing I feel kind of like a loser and a fake, so it's good for shame-induced productivity.
  • My blogroll. I know there are other tools I could use for that, but it's very convenient to have a lot of blogs I want to read scrolled down across the bottom of my screen.
  • Statistics and hit tracking. I love the idea that someone in Argentina has been reading my blog. I have no idea why they would be, but it's nice that they're there. Whenever I have more hits than the month before, it makes me smile.
  • If I want to find a link to one of those little tidbit articles I post, all I have to do is look back through the blog.
There are things I don't like as much. There are certainly weeks I don't feel like I have anything all that productive to say. There's also the constant weighing of "is this too personal? Is this too political? Is this interesting enough? Will someone think this is unprofessional?" I suspect it's going to surprise at least one of the people who reads this blog, but I try hard to be relatively a-political in this space, which is sometimes frustrating, because I have divisive things I believe and want to talk about. I just don't think this is the correct space. And then of course there's "am I just talking into the void?"

I know my blog has a few regular readers from among my friends, which I do really like. It's sparked some fun conversations, and it's always nice when they write me back with a little chuckle or correction. Do I feel like it's been instrumental in getting my name out? Not really in any way I can see, but then again I'm a pretty small potatoes writer. I have occasionally attracted the attention of an author I really adore, and that's always been a blushy, stammery affair. I'm not sure they remember me any more than they do anybody who's come up and asked to have someone signed, but it's definitely been nice to have them visit. For networking, I would really say conventions eclipse the blog by leaps and bounds.

But I enjoy the blog, and there does seem to be a tipping point of success after which it's very handy and having a big back-archive will be a useful thing.

So, observations.

There are certainly authors out there whose blogs and new media presence have seemed to contribute mightily to their success. Nick Mamatas , Scott Sigler, and Mary Robinette Kowal spring to mind. It's not just blogs, though, these are people who write articles, do interviews, host podcasts help organize cons, participate in professional organizations, and maintain an active presence in the blogsophere. They're also very charismatic people. Not everybody has the time, energy, or personality to pull this off, but it works well for the people who can. I know I follow Nick Mamatas especially because he's always posting something or other that makes me giggle wickedly.

There are people who seem to do new media first and writing somewhat second; which is not to say they're not excellent writers, but I bet if you ask 10 of their fans how they came to their work, at least 7 will cite things like podcasting or digital advocacy- basically their new media presence. Corey Doctorow and Mur Lafferty would be some key examples here. Their success seems unrepeatable, and I would not advise anyone to try.

Most of the authors I follow blog less than I do, but the posts are significant, well crafted things, and a treat to read when they do come up. They're little bits of prose, or essays that I forward to friends I think would enjoy reading them. Benjamin Rosenbaum and Catherynne Valente have blogs like this. Generally they seem to focus most on their work, but what they do put out in a blog will get passed around to people who might not have heard of them otherwise, so that's something cool for them.

There are other authors who post more than I do, and post a good deal about their personal lives. Mary Anne Mohannraj and Amal El-Mohtar spring to mind here, of the people I've read. I admit, I tend to skip most of the personal stuff. It's not that they don't seem to have lovely lives, and I'm happy when they meet health goals, in an academic sort of way. It's just not something that holds my interest terribly, but I know there are other blog readers out there who get a real sense of personal connection from this sort of blogging, and people become more than just a name on the cover of a paperback, they become real people. It's not something that clicks with me.

I also have some people that I follow who have a very strong and open political stance. K Tempest Bradford, who also blogs for Angry Black Woman, or Rachel Swirsky would be examples here. Will Shetterly would apparently also be an example, but he's not one of the ones I follow particularly. No matter what else you might think of them, these are people who are willing to stand up for their principles, even if it means making enemies. Which is a point if you're thinking about blogging. For every post, well intentioned or not, you have the potential to put your foot in your mouth or unintentionally offend someone. The more out there you put yourself, the more there's a chance. Elizabeth Moon had a bad run with this, and I know things Dave Sim has said online mean I'm not ever going to purchase anything of his again (though the offense given there is I think the definition of intentional).

So, yeah. It's a path that wins you some loyal and enthusiastic supporters, and convinces some people not to touch your work with a ten foot pole.

There's also some authors- and I follow precisely none of them- who only ever blog about their sales, where they're appearing, when their book is coming out, and so on. Occasionally when I read something of theirs I like, I will look up their blog and see what else they've done and where I can get it, but it's a directory, not a relationship, and being on their mailing list feels a lot like getting advertising spam. Please don't be that author.

There are also authors that either never update their blogs or don't blog at all. They'll have maybe a webpage with a few links or a splash graphic. Maybe. Again, these are useful as directories, and I have to say if you have work out there, I think it at least behooves you to have a search-findable site where people can get information about how to contact you.

All told, I really do think that there's not much good reason to put more content out than you're comfortable with. If you enjoy your blog, it will show. If you don't enjoy your blog, it will also show. And people will follow you, or not, according to their own inclination, the same as it is with any other work you do.

So, yeah, like writing. Do it for yourself, because you probably won't make money and it's possible only your mom will ever read it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Futurama (in the World's Fair Sense)

A fun bit of "the future will have jetpacks!" level speculation from 1911. Some bits of it, like where he predicts the X-ray/MRI or pizza delivery are pretty cool. Other bits like free education for everybody to the university level, complete elimination of rats, or public transportation that gets you from your suburban home to your downtown office in 10 minutes and costs a penny- well those bits make me feel disappointed in our time.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Phantom Menace Review

Warning: if you have violence or abuse triggers, these may not be the videos for you.

For the rest of you, this guy here gives an insanely trenchant (and... generally insane) dissection of why the phantom menace does not work as a narrative. It's point by point excellent, and it's both a good how to and how not to for adventure stories, particularly in the epic venue.

There's also some bits about gassing prostitutes to death as they scurry through crawl spaces trying to escape. I'm just saying.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Warning: Gross Pictures

A cheap home-cooked Russian heroin knock off actually causes people's flesh to rot away. It's called "krokodil". It's like meth, but with the extra fun of gangrene.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Review: Arcane, Edited by Nate Shumate

Arcane, edited by Nathan Shumate, can be bought here. Kindle versions also available.

Short Version (for those who hate to read, but still want to buy a sizable anthology):

Good solid mix of dark, unsettling stories, with more light and funny stories thrown in than I expected. Some prose-pretty and interesting format pieces, some faster paced and action oriented ones. There's going to be something here you like, especially if you like the undead.


In the interest of full disclosure, Jonathan S. Pembrook, whose story "A Capella" is the second in the book, is a good friend. As such, I feel it's incumbent on me to tell you fine internet folks that you may as well just hand him the Hugo and Shirley Jackson Awards now, and not bother with the formalities of voting. In all seriousness though, he does get first mention because he's my buddy, but this is a story that made me wince. Physically. In the good way and more than once. And that's coming from somebody who accidentally writes cannibalism stories. It's a story about disassociation and making art, and it lives up to that promise with startling acts of casual cruelty. The format is classic style soft sci-fi, the detail is close-up horror. It's a nice mix, which is actually a pretty good microcosm for the rest of the anthology.

My Favorites:

CORPORAUTOLYSIS by Christopher Slatsky

I love language and atmosphere, and this story layers on ambiance like a fine and desolate parfait. It's about grief and losing touch. It's also about mushrooms. And it's awesome.


It's really something when a story can take a setting that is in and of itself a little horrific (an isolated, controlling, cultish family compound), and take it to a place that's infinitely more horrible. The fact that you see the end coming is, I think, part of the appeal. The story itself is about inevitability.


There's a theory that what you don't show is always scarier than what you do, and I think that makes the oblique found-object structure of this Lovecraft-esque avant garde band story such fun. There are some more traditional and straightforward stories in this book, but this one does the best at coming at things sideways.


A story about poetry, love, habit, and the mortuary arts. The character of the mortician in this particularly shines.

KISS OF DEATH by Jeremy Zimmerman

This is one of the light ones. Actually I was delighted by every single funny story in this anthology ("The Truth About Mother" and "All Coated in Bonemeal" are also straight up hilarious, which you don't always get in horror). Of the three of them, this is my favorite, because it speaks to the part of me that has played Dungeons and Dragons since I was a kid. It's also a very special sort of relationship drama.

I could go on. "We Belong to Her" is a great opener with a pitch-perfect feel of being in the historical moment. "Reyes Rides the Deville" is delightful post-apocalysim. "Mallecho" has a very Shirley Jackson vibe to it, and I mean that in the best way. "Beneath the Arch of Knives" is whimsical and playfully cruel. "God of the Kiln" plays off its two narrators nicely to tell a story that feels very classic, even Kipling-esque in its presentation. "In One There Is Many" features a zombie feeling tenderly paternal toward his maggots. "Black Bush" has a beautiful, poetic, trashy, intensely southern voice that's just as welcome at the end as it was in the beginning. I actually feel kind of guilty not mentioning every story, but it's a very big book.

The Less Shiny Spots:

I think no matter what you like within the realm of dark stuff, there's going to be something here for you. The flipside to that is that there will be a few that are there for somebody else. I couldn't get into "The Delivery," for example, but I bet if you're a fan of Grant Morrison you'll enjoy it quite a bit. It's got that manic surrealness to it that feels like his work.

There were also a couple of places where I wondered why stories were positioned as they were. A third of the way through the book seemed like an exceptionally masculine anthology (not an inherently bad thing, just something that stuck out). Not flatten-a-beer-can-against-your-head macho; the stories were about fatherhood and obligation and being master of your own house/world/workplace or not. Enjoyable but definitely enough to make me notice. Then suddenly it shifted and the ratio went in a different direction. There was also a place or two like "The Best and Bitt'rest Kiss" running right before "Visiting Hours" where I feel like the subject matter being so close worked against one of the stories. On the other hand, it's an anthology, and you're really free to skip around as much as you like.

In Summary:

This is a very solid collection. You might not like everything because it's very varied, but that's to its strength. It showcases a broad range of talent and stories that bring in a myriad of subgenres. Did I mention how big this book is? Even if you're a very fast reader, it's days of entertainment.

Actually I feel like I've already said everything I need to. Go pick it up. Support dark fiction authors and expose yourself to a few surprises. There's no way you're anticipating everything in this book, and the best part of the genre is the things that jump up behind you and go "boo".

Table of Contents:

7 WE BELONG TO HER Joe Mirabello
41 THE WEB OF LEGENDS Damien Walters Grintalis
83 THE DELIVERY A.A. Garrison
97 CORPORAUTOLYSIS Christopher Slatsky
107 MALLECHO Stephen Willcott
111 GOD OF THE KILN Eric Francis
123 TIED D.T. Kastn
137 LADY OF THE CROSSROADS Christine Lucas
159 ALL COATED IN BONEMEAL Bartholomew Klick
191 KISS OF DEATH Jeremy Zimmerman
205 LEGACY S.M. Williams
221 AN UNQUIET SLUMBER Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein
233 A FRIEND, THE SPIDER Caitlin Hoffman
265 BLACK BUSH Gemma Files
305 VISITING HOURS Josh Strnad
309 SWEET DREAMS Fran Walker

(If you're one of the authors and I was not able to find your personal webpage, or have linked to an incorrect or outdated page, just let me know and I'll fix it)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Even More Podcasts

Fantasy Magazine, like it's sci-fi sibling Lightspeed has a podcast. They have a tendency toward accents and over-enunciation but the stories are really fabulous.

Dark Fiction Magazine is aggressively british, but that's fun. I wouldn't call most of these horror, though there are some straight up horror stories. Mostly they're just dark. My favorite ones so far have been their cyberpunk-ish offerings. They've even got a Christmas dark fiction special. Go and enjoy!

Cast of Wonders is a Young Adult genre podcast from the same fellas who brought you Cast Macabre, so you know it's groovy. It's generally pretty light fare, but that's not necessarily a problem. I've also been looking into Clone Pod which is Young Adult genre as well, though I've only listened to a few of those and don't have a lot to make a report on yet.

Hooting Yard on the Air! Jimminy Christmas, there's nothing I can type here that will encompass what Hooting Yard on the Air is. I love this podcast to death. It's not what you would call polished in the way, for example, drabblecast is. It's recordings of a live radio show that includes speculation that Julian Assange is some chromatic version of goblin, some of the most joyfully, whimsically evil prose in the world, and of course, the entire history of jiggery-pokery from ancient times until yesterday morning. It's very surreal. I love it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ego Dialogues

A fun little blog scrapbook site that was linked off of Penny Arcade. It's a collection of things the blogger finds beautiful and after clicking through it, I'm inclined to agree.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Another Notch In My Lipstick Case

I was scrambling around frantically most of December and I missed this post by Ken Allen Wood about authors promoting magazines in which their work has appeared. (Mr. Wood is, by the way, the editor of Shock Totem, which was the first magazine I ever sold to, and currently has all its back issues available electronically for a mere 99 cents each or free through amazon prime.)

I've promoted Shock Totem a couple of times on the blog, in part because they keep letting me write little things for them, and in part because Ken is a really stand up guy who's kept in communication with me this whole time. He didn't just buy my first sale, but he clued me in on the opportunity that resulted in my second one. He also comes by and comments on the blog. He's just generally been someone who I feel has gone over and above, and that's the sort of thing I want to pay back. (I admit, I've also done it because Shock Totem has some of the most gorgeous cover illustrations in all of horror. I mean just look at it.)

I've promoted the magazine less in my personal social media spaces because I've kind of skittishly compartmentalized, and I'm not 100% sure I want my conservative christian relatives asking me about stories where people eat each other next Thanksgiving (though it's going to happen anyway, I think. My mother and father have been pimping this magazine pretty hard).

I guess I'm sort of torn on it. I feel a little strange promoting aggressively if it's something I'm published in; honestly, it's easier for me to tell you Shock Totem is something you should buy when it's not my particular issue, because that feels less like I'm just beating you over the head to pay attention to me. I've also got no problem pointing you at places I haven't been published but I like to read. And I know I gushed like a cat-ear-hat-wearing fangirl when Drabblecast said they'd take one of my stories, but I'd also gushed about them before that.

Ken's question is "are writers obligated to promote the places that publish them?" I guess I kind of fall in the general area of "no, not obligated, but unless the publication has actively dicked with you, it seems like the decent thing to do, whether they publish you or not". Magazines don't necessarily make a lot of money, and most of these guys are alive by the skin of their teeth. We writers and readers have a symbiotic relationship with magazines. The better they do, generally the better they're able to do by us. Sometimes that means buying a digital copy of Clarkesworld instead of a chai latte. Sometimes that just means that when you read a really good story, you point it out to everyone else you know who might like it. Yeah, magazines absolutely can't take either their writers or their readers for granted (or even their potential writers or readers), but that goes both ways. If you want the genre to be healthy, the best thing you can do is buy, give, and promote, especially if it's a magazine you think does it right. Pimp your favorite semi-pro zine and see if you can help it go pro. Help us build a thriving short fiction ecosystem.

Or at least that's how I feel about it. What do you guys think?

Sunday, January 1, 2012