Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jake Kerr on Massive Editing

Inkpunks is a good place anyway, and one that I've recommended before, but if you haven't seen Jake Kerr talk about editing The Old Equations you really should check it out

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I've been working lately on an adventure story, and I'd like to spend a moment talking about mooks, henchmen, and storm troopers.

As I get older, I'm less and less able to watch or read violence directed at undifferentiated hordes of evil people, often monstrous or anonymous, made up of some genetically evil stock or just wearing face masks that render them human shaped but not quite human. Or rather, I'm able to read it, but I'm far less able to accept that the people doing the killing are heroes.

As a side note, I find I'm less able to watch horrific violence in general- bones snapping, people's heads being turned around backwards, even just punches to the face that, when I was a child, were just so much expected material in action movies and action fiction for me- except with the caveat that it's presented as horrific. I love reading horror and watching flesh get peeled back, slow deliberate cuts, whatever, so long as the feeling that all of this is terribly wrong is what it feels like the author is trying to convey (I feel like there's a distinct difference between violence as horror and the kind of gross out torture-porn...I don't want to call it a subgenre. Let's call it a tradition).

A friend of mine has written a novel that starts with a person hypnotizing an old man in order to steal a sacred artifact. In her mind, this character is obviously a villain, but her first readers were taking him as the hero- probably in part because of his position in the narrative, but I think it's not negligible that this is adventure fiction, and we're not at all surprised when the "good" people have murdered five unnamed people in the first ten pages.

I'm not trying to make any grand statement about it really, it's a personal preference thing for me and it flies in the face of genre convention, but I can't help thinking that all these palace guards, policemen, members of the army, tribes of foreigners- to the extent that this world the book is building for me is believable and real, they are also real people. They have mothers and husbands and a favorite icecream, even if I don't know what it is. There's a chance they petted a kitten on the way to work today, where they're trying to save up money to buy that dream house for the person they love. They're not even going to get described. They don't merit a line of dialogue. They're just going to die a largely unnecessary death to show that the hero is a badass before some more narratively important villain comes to face them.

I dunno. Maybe that's defaulting too much to giving people the benefit of the doubt, but if you're working on the assumption that most people probably deserve to die for something... well then what's the point of saving the village, or for that matter saving the hero?

So, yeah. Mooks. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Best Book Brackets

Huffington Post is doing a bracket book off for greatest work of literature ever. Go vote. Have fun. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How Literary Stories Go Wrong

There's probably not a lot you haven't heard before in this article, but it's articulate and well arranged, and cast a few things into sharper light for me. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On Identity

This one isn't actually politics, today I'm talking about identity as a writer.

For a really long time, I would correct people who referred to me as a "writer". I would say instead that I write, which ultimately seems pretty empty and semantic, but I did it for the same reasons I refused to refer to myself as an artist: I'd known a lot of people who produced next to nothing, but loudly defended themselves as "writers" and "artists", largely (it seemed to me) as a way to claim some sort of status prize and have an excuse for how they were terribly sensitive people and no one understood them and they didn't have to show up on time for anything because they were artistic. I didn't want to be like these people. I also didn't feel- honestly I still don't feel- like I'd had enough success to make the claim. I've had a handful of publications and I certainly couldn't live off my writing. I also haven't produced anything that feels groundbreaking or clever enough to have someone look at it and go "man! that person is really an artist!" It's an aspiration, but I don't really feel like I'm there yet. More work is needed.

I've stopped correcting people. It's less because my reasons have changed, and more because the number of people who refer to me as a writer now has gotten large enough that it's more of a bother than anything else. And slowly, as I've stopped correcting people, I've started embracing embracing the label as something that actually is mine.

I don't really know how I feel about it.

On the one hand, I'm better than I was, and considering myself a writer seems to establish for me a demand of minimum performance- pressure to maintain rather than aspiration. There's no real reason "artist" ought to be tied to "flake" in my mind (that "artist" always has quotes around it. I certainly have people I'm in awe of as actual artists)- that's really handing power for the definition over to people whose opinion I don't respect in the first place.

On the other, well everything I said before, and the fact that I don't want to come off as pretentious. I'm still pretty quiet about the whole writing business except in situations that are specifically about writing. People don't believe me when I say I'm shy, but it's really something I'm not sure how to talk about. I tend to find it easier just to divert the conversation back to something where people won't feel they're offending me if they're not actually interested, or if something I've written is upsetting or offensive to them.

I don't really know where I'm going with this. The internet is the circle where I'm out of the closet- the rest of my life is often the circle where I try not to make a big deal about it. It's just one of the things I am, and often not the one that relates to the people I'm talking to.

And I've had more than one person tell me that makes them feel I'm shutting them out.

So, yeah. Identity. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Quick! Save the Pearls!

So when Weird Tales posted an editorial this morning about how a book where black people had taken over the world (and dystopianized it) and were hunting down a white minority (from whence came the heroes) was totally anti-racist, I assumed it was a joke and moved on. Apparently it's not (here's a fun breakdown of the book and why it's kind of a problem), and Ann VanderMeer has left effective today. NK Jemisin is also putting up her story that ran under the VanderMeers for free, so that you don't have to buy any back issues of Weird Tales to get to it.

Edited to Add: And io9 is saying they're facing a boycott. Man this happens fast. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012


No, seriously. Murderpedia. The Encyclopedia of Murders.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

69 Flavors of Paranoia

69 Flavors of Paranoia is running a reprint of my story "Sweepers" in their 18th issue (under the section heading "Ass Meats". No, seriously).  Go check it out. It's high kitsch and very themey, but that's kind of the fun of horror. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dropping Expository Nuggets

One of my favorite things about American Gods by Neil Gaiman is that for about the first six to eight chapters, every chapter would include some bit of information that radically recontextualized the relationship between the main character and his wife, without any of it invalidating what came before it. It's a joy to read, so I'm not going to spoil the specific steps, but I wanted to point it out because at no point does it feel like information is being willfully withheld, which is a terrible problem with a lot of the early fiction I see writers putting out.

I think what really kills it for us is movies and television. We're used to the idea that you can show a person in a scene without context, and because a picture is worth a thousand words, you're able to at least get a grip on what's going on, because film is as visual as the observation you've trained yourself to do all your life. Dropping a voice over in on top of it telling you who the person is and why they're doing whatever they're doing generally feels like cheating, and knocks you out of the moment (which can be done to great comic effect- often the film is stopped so the narrator can drag you out of the moment to somewhere else. There's also the genre conventions of film noire, which come from potboiler detective novels anyway).

I've seen an awful lot of starting writers put out opening scenes in which something is moving and some undefined someone is hearing it and it makes him think of that one really important memory that he's not going to think about right now, just like that one, tragic time that's too much for him to think about.

The thing is, when you do this in writing, it's obnoxious. It works in the movies because a picture really is worth a thousand words, and a really good actor can convey with face and posture things it would take paragraphs to get across. Generally, your reader doesn't have the benefit of Kenneth Branagh making faces at them, and they're not willing to sit through you objectively describing all of the facets of a character's appearance, dress, mannerisms, wardrobe, and setting.

I think either way, the trick is context and giving as much factual and true information as you can, like little pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, without laying out their relation to each other. And ideally, laying them out in such a way that you can, if you want, make each new bit of information a zig zag or a reversal away from the expectations set up from the previous.

Fred and June curl up on Fred's couch and kiss, and he opens a bottle of champagne between them. He gives her the necklace his grandmother brought over from the old world, the last thing he has of his family, all dead now. He tells her how much he loves her, and she replies that she loves him so much more than she loves her husband. He pours her each of them a glass and they clink them together and laugh in a way that borders on desperate and hysterical. Then they fill another glass and he tells her he's glad he went to those AA meetings, because he met her there, but now they're never going back. She lays her head on his chest and tells him she's happy, then turns her face so he can't see her cry. 

(The fun thing about this is you can reverse the sentences here, and it still works pretty well. There's a decent tension either way, but reversed, rather than building toward a more factually informed but alienated picture, it fills out from a place of aloneness to a weird sort of comfort and acceptance.)

There's so much information you can give in text that isn't possible in a visual medium, and vice versa. In a movie, it would be impossible to establish the history of the necklace, for example, without dialogue or some really avant garde editing. It can't give us June's reasons for turning her head.

Text on the other hand, can't really give us the subtleties. There's a thousand tiny nonverbal cues we have to tell if people are happy, or sad, or lying. In text we're stuck making heavy handed judgements about it from the perspective of whoever your point of view character is. We can't light the scene or play with colors. We can only evoke the senses- we can't make direct use of even a single one.

Too often I think we try to be coy by leaving out things that it's only fair the reader know, and we get this idea that we're being dynamic and mysterious. But we're really not. It's like taking the cane away from our blind nemesis and then taunting them about how they don't have a cane.

When what you really want to do is take their hand and lead them down a path they are familiar with, telling them always where they are, and remarking on the sounds and smells they might expect, all the while putting them just far enough off course that they don't notice that you're walking them to the edge of a terrible cliff.

Your job is to surprise the reader, but to make them walk all the way to that surprise by themselves and think they know where they're going.

Anyway, have a lovely night.

And do mind that first step. It's a little treacherous. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Reclaiming Girlhood

A piece about the identity of girlhood, with focus on rrriotgrl music.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hello from the Wilderness

If you follow me here and are not a spambot, you may have noticed a lack of regular content this last week. I tend to find articles and set them to auto-update every few days, so that there's always something here for anyone who comes looking for something interesting. Recently I've moved and the internet situation is still a little bare, so there's been less of that and the ones in the can have run out. I'm not under the illusion anyone's heartbroken about it, but I thought I'd mention for those who had noticed.

I don't really believe in making excuses, nor do I feel entirely comfortable discussing my personal life on my blog. The process of living life has slowed down some of my writerly activities, but I'm still pushing on. I plan to have something more substantial for you next Tuesday, but until then I did want to check in and say go out there, live life, and have a good time. It doesn't need to stop you from doing what you've got to.