Pleasurable Reading, Shaded Giants

The best thing I did as a reader in 2018 was intentionally refocus on reading what I like. For too many years, I’d been reading a blend of things that I thought I should be reading as a writer, trying to expand my horizons and do right on multiple counts. In the process I purchased books to support various authors, causes, etc… and developed a 100+ title TBR pile. Some I was more eager to read, some less, and I’d find myself “sneaking” books from the public library. Also, thinking longingly of re-reading old faves (I’m an inveterate book-revisitor).

Reader, something really had to give. This was more than vaguely clear in 2017, but by the end of 2018, it was no longer vague. Last year I finished reading 69 books and 37 graphic novels/trade collections, and I set aside unfinished maybe 10 books. Some months I was tearing through books, others limping. The slower months were overwhelmingly those when I was reading “shoulds.” Part of the slowness was lack of interest, part frustration at seeing weak writers praised or succeed, part simply a lack of desire to read.

That last part should have been a big clue. Many writers read quite a lot, outrageous quantities compared to the average American, and for a very long time I was one of them.  For a whole bunch of reasons, however, I reached a point in this decade where I was barely reading 2 books per month. Last year, giving myself license both to chuck books I wasn’t enjoying and to seek out authors and books likely to square with my interests, I read more like 6 books per month, 9  if you include comics.

Social media, the blessing/curse (blursing?) of our time, has been a blend of good and terrible in all of this. On the one hand, I’ve heard of books and authors that I wouldn’t otherwise have, some wonderful! One example of this is Matthew Bartlett, author of a host of genuinely strange neo-Decadent fictions. He can write, is a mensch, and is justifiably something of  a darling in contemporary weird fiction… but much of his work is self-published, or from small presses. And so, like many authors these days, he’s almost entirely absent from libraries. Without social media, and Facebook in particular, I would likely never have heard of him (check out Gateways to Abomination).

On the other hand, the literary market is beyond saturated, leading to endless PR and social media touting of “brilliant,” “important,” “essential,” “vital,” “outstanding,” etc. authors, and while I realize people want to help their friends and sell their own work, too often this is false advertising. (Ditto blurbs, in which I no longer place any stock whatsoever, as guides to whether I’ll like a book.) Whether it’s the literary fiction community, the weird fiction community, the YA community, or whatever, people ride high horses all the livelong day about this shit, and as someone wisely pointed out to me in 2018, literary communities are endlessly incestuous and precious. Paying too much attention to them can be fatal to taste and joy.

I thought about this much more this past year as I read and re-read various popular authors. These are folks with well-developed chops for carrying a narrative along: Stephen King, Karin Slaughter, John Sandford, J. K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, etc., and of course I’m continually dipping back into Lovecraft, James, Machen, etc. Newer authors like Paul Tremblay or John Langan, or newcomers like Christine Mangan, have plenty of firepower in this regard, too. These are folks who have honed their craft and developed stories that work in the contemporary market.

marcus aurelius statueThere are so many different kinds of “good book,” or course, and the lists of authors you find in quality writing books like Delany’s About Writing include a host of different modes and styles. That’s a good thing! That said, as I focused in on heavier hitters, in terms of sales, reviews, etc., I likewise have been more apt to notice the green-eyed monster lurking under the faces of friends and writers I follow online, some bigger and some smaller.

Gaiman, King, Rowling, etc. are common targets for these complaints, and I get the frustration about the stiff competition to publish, but many people publicly and privately say boneheaded shit about authors who are titans in the field, as if the ability to win over readers is a bad thing. Part of that’s art-community nonsense, and building of various kinds of social capital, but to state the obvious, popular authors are successful in publishing. Luck, connections, family money, and so on do play into many literary careers, no question… and a lot’s been justifiably written about racism and sexism in publishing… but beloved authors are beloved. That you, Struggling Author, are not beloved does not mean that your favorite target is a literary shyster.

Reader, this blog post has grown unwieldy, and I’ve excised the 20% of it that would bring the wolves howling, in so far as anyone reads this blog. That, as a fellow writer I know who’s rarely online says, is part of the problem of talking about reading when you’re a writer. Anything other than glowing praise is at best going to result in silence. I offer no slings or arrows for anyone in particular here, but take it as you will that I no longer see “hidden,” “overlooked,” “obscure,” or “little-known” as signifiers of anything other than historical or market success.

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Halloween Season and WFC 2018

Greetings, all you ghouls! Here’s hoping your Halloween Season has been as creepy and disturbing as mine… I’ve been reading Orrin Grey‘s Guignol and Other Sardonic Tales lately, along with watching things like Night Tide (1961), Hocus Pocus (1993), and other dark delights. So, actually, a little more witchy-ghosty than stabby-despairy (those are the official horror taxonomies, don’t you know?).

Late summer/early autumn has seen the release of a number of publications including my work. For all that I’ve only completed a few new pieces this year, it’s been a bumper crop the last month or so…

  • book coversAs I wrote previously, volume one of The Silent Garden, a new annual publication from Undertow, contains an essay by yours truly (“Translating the Ritual”) about the move of Adam Nevill‘s The Ritual from page to screen.
  • This year’s edition of Nightscript (volume four) contains my “There Has Never Been Anyone Here,” a semi-epistolary story that goes down as probably the most complicated story I’ve ever written, from research to formatting. My thanks to Nightscript editor C.M. Muller for doing such a lovely job in retaining my intentions for the final version.
  • My first peer-reviewed piece of literary scholarship has now been published in Sean Moreland’s New Directions in Supernatural Horror Literature: The Critical Influence of H. P. Lovecraft. “Reception Claims in Supernatural Horror in Literature and the Course of Weird Fiction” took some time to get right, and I’m proud of it. (Please note that this volume is priced for the academic market, and you might want to consider suggesting your local/institutional library purchase a copy.)

In the next month or so, I’ll have work in Dead Reckonings and a reprint in Pseudopod. A few other things floating around out there might yet appear before 2019.

Last but definitely not least, I’ll be at World Fantasy in Baltimore this year! I’m attending with both my writer and my librarian hats on, so I’ll be swanning around and doubtless asking questions about writers’ research practices. I’m delighted to say that I’m scheduled to read on Thursday, November 1, at 5:30 p.m. in room Federal Hill. Please come to witness the spectacle of…

Terror in Glover-o-Vision!

Well, perhaps not quite all that, but I do loathe a dull reading! Hopefully attendees will be at least entertained, and perhaps even encounter a bit of pleasing terror on the journey…

Head Down

man on motorcycle

Writing advice is not unlike clothing: almost none of it fits universally. One common piece of advice I have followed this year, however, is reading like my life depends on it. 36 books, 31 graphic novels, and various essays, stories, etc.  (Also, a side order of 36 movies). What’s it all about?

Common wisdom is that you have to read a lot to be able to write well. I’m not sure if that’s true, and I’ve seen some decent arguments to the contrary, but the flow of words through my brain seems to have gotten the writing juices flowing more smoothly. It’s not enough for me to have read X many books in past, apparently; cultural or professional literacy is not the same thing as a regular diet.

It’s also about, not to put too fine a point on it, fun. The last several years have, regrettably, included very high quantities of not-fun, sustained at times for months at a go. My focus was divided in a few different directions, and I definitely wasn’t focusing on doing exactly what I wanted in terms of reading. Often I was trying to read things for purposes other than pleasure, and maybe it showed in my less-than-eager reading habits. I am, in any case, reading more novels than I have for a long time, and the sense of ebb and flow, of slow build, are things I have missed during the years when I focused more on short stories.

My “jar of fucks,” it also has to be said, has run low. I’ve started reserving my attention for the things I care about, and the things I both can and want to do.  An inevitable (and largely, if not wholly, pleasurable) consequence of this is less social media. As other have noted, when I’m not online as much, suddenly I have significantly larger quantities of free time to do with as I will.

To take that a step further, when I now do dip into Facebook or Twitter or whatever, I notice:

  • Time runs away like water. I look at the screen, and 45 minutes later I’m not sure what happened. Which I’m now OK with, because I plan for it, not just… let hours go by, scrolling.
  • The negative thoughts and feelings I notice in myself after more than a few minutes on social media are real, observable, and have effects on the rest of my day. Knowing this? I’m less likely to log in.
  • I love seeing vacation pictures, hearing about friends’ successes, and laughing at funny memes… but they seem to be nearly inseparable from Id, trolling, and flag-waving.
  • I am much more prone to check in on a handful of people, not necessarily the same from week to week, and then move on. The news feed, or stream, or what-have-you, is as apt to surface trash as treasure.

All that to say, this year (especially this summer) I’m more likely to be reading a book than be on Facebook, and it’s done me a world of good. I have a few things coming out later this year that I’ll post about, but for right now I’m mostly head down, either in a novel or a Word document.

Happy August.

 

 

 

A Few of My Favorite Things, May 2018 Edition

What’s good? Many things, new and old, that I’ve gotten to so far this year. Not pictured are:

  • The Ritual, which I liked and thought interesting enough to write an essay about for the forthcoming first issue of The Silent Garden: A Journal of Esoteric Fabulism.
  • Many works that The Internet Writ Large seemed to dislike, and which I’ve found at least readable or watchable. 2012’s Solomon Kane, for instance, about which I’d previously only heard complaints. I thought it delightful, in something of the way that Constantine (2005) was delightful.
  • All things Mike Mignola. One of his works is below, but I’m trying to read the bulk of his Hellboy/Mignolaverse work this year, with others added as I’m able. No particular reason for that, other than that I’ve really enjoyed it in past, but only read snatches. I’ve spent the last few years (for one reason and another) reading a host of things that seemed a good idea to read, or people suggested I read, or I was required to read. 2018 struck me as a good year for reading both more overall and more intensively the things I enjoy.

On to the recs…

Books

Movies

Television

Comics

 

ICFA 39 & The Very Horrible, Totally Terrible Spreadsheets

iafa logoICFA 39 is almost here! I meant to post about this weeks ago, but the days ran away from me. Really looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues old and new. I’m doing a few things this go-round…

Thursday, March 15, 2018 8:30-10:00 a.m., Oak
(HL) Panel: Weird Tales and the Evolution of Weird Fiction
Moderator : Sean Moreland
[I’ll be a panelist at 8:30 in the morning! The horror, the horror!]

Thursday, March 15, 2018 10:30-12:00 p.m., Maple
(HL/FL/SF) The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovecraft
Chair: Andrew P. Williams
[I’ll be giving a paper during this session — “Lies, Damned Lies, and Eldritch Statistics: Toward a Quantitative Analysis of Lovecraft’s Literary Reputation.” Warning: there will be charts.]

Saturday, March 4:00-5:30 p.m., Vista B
Words & Worlds Prose
Host: P. Andrew Miller
[Long-running ICFA group reading series, in which I’m delighted to be included.]

 

My First Lovecraft

BeyondTheGrave17CoverRecently I gave a talk about my engagement with H.P. Lovecraft, as reader, writer, and librarian/scholar. In it, I stated that I’d first read Lovecraft around 1988. While true, this elides an encounter I’d had with the Old Gent four years previously, when I stumbled on a remixed/pop version of HPL in Charlton ComicsBeyond the Grave, issue 17.

In the first story of the issue, “No Way Out,” the reader is treated to the tale of Jabez Monchek. The art and writing are of a piece with Bronze Age horror comics, but in rereading the story earlier this year, I was more than a little surprised to see the layers of metafiction laid on top. The character is a Lovecraft stand-in who enjoys reading Lovecraft and is trapped in an ancient house, where he lives his life as writer, painter, and sculptor.

MonchekReader, in the language of Meme, “it me.” Just as I experienced a shock of deep familiarity a couple of years ago when I re-encountered Mercer Mayer’s One Monster After Another, so this year I was stunned to read a comic book story that apparently had something like a fundamental effect on me. I remember picking it from the rack in a tiny beachside grocery store and a vague sort of pleasure when reading it, but nothing like the impact it apparently had on me.

Included in this post are scans of the issue cover and a few panels. I’m unsure who own Beyond the Grave at this point, but apparently the bulk of Charlton IP went to DC Comics and AP Comics. I’d love to see a collected version appear at some point, whoever the owner is. My thanks to Matthew Carpenter, who posted elsewhere about Lovecraft and comics, and inspired me to write this post.