When Novels Attack

Reader, it’s been a minute.

When last I wrote, horror movies were on my brain, and so they still are. Since then, horror I’ve watched includes The Grudge (2004), Doctor Sleep, Black Christmas (2019), The Thing (2011), Angel Heart, Dark Was the Night, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Cruel Intentions, The Girl With All the Gifts, The Block Island Sound, and As Above, So Below. You’ve probably heard of all of those, except maybe Dark Was the Night, which was pleasantly uneven and featured some unusual monster action. Also since then, the U.S. has resumed a semblance of its previous on-fire-everywhere normalcy, I’ve found a new love of musicals and a revived love of board games, summer has come, and the writing continues.

I finished the first draft of a novel in late April, and there was much rejoicing! The last time I did that was indecently long ago, and it feels good to be already on my way with Draft Two. As all the writers out there who hop between genres know, it’s a weird stretching sort of feeling when you’ve paused on writing shorter works and are no longer in the hum & fray of constant submissions. Still doing the thing, but most of the paddling is under the surface. What spurred the novel?

Around 2005, my intention was to write novels, with maybe a few other things along the way. Between then and now, I got published, translated, anthologized; became enamored of short stories and their writing; and experienced prolonged dejection over lack of getting an agent for said previous novel. I also went through Big Life Changes, in the form of years of elevated stress due to illness and deaths in the family. That’s mostly in the rear view mirror at this point, but I’ve come through it a different person.


Last year I acknowledged to myself that I was starting to get truly burned out on writing short. (Editors to whom I owe stories or essays: I will still come through!) I wanted to read and write stories I could roll around in, and for me that means novels. I was considering possibilities for a longer story… something about nuclear-powered vampire llamas… and then the pandemic hit. After the shock started to wear off, I realized that it was time to get going. I was going to be at home for a while, I’d been wanting to write long again, and the threat of mortality was here. With a vengeance.

And so I’ve been trying to Make Good Art. It’s going all right, and I hope that this book will land an agent when I query, hopefully later this year. If not? Whether a given story or novel finds a home, it’s on to the next.

All I have, as they say, is time.

library of congress photo

What, No Writing Self-Talk?

Sometimes I look back and wish I’d written more of this or more of that in a given year, but there is a through-line, and a narrative, that accounts for why I am where I am right now. It goes like this:

What the

man on motorcycle

car in the mud

man by car in cali

flying car

It’s conceivable that the cables may break, but things seem to be rolling along more or less smoothly. I can see the country ahead, and it has trees, potholes, mountain lions, cupcakes, meadows, and many good, clear roads. It looks beautiful.

Useful Epiphanies

Last year I recommitted myself to writing, which I’d let take a back seat to other things for a couple years. Some of that was necessity and some of it was choice. I did an interim summing up a while back, and I intend to do another one at year’s end with charts and graphs and men in gray flannel suits, but for the nonce, things continue well.

  • I have six short stories sitting in slush piles, half under some flavor or another of further consideration.
  • The novel is sitting in slush piles, too, though I’m thinking increasingly about going the small press route for it.
  • My academic writing continues apace, with one article in revisions and one in rough draft. I am looking more and more for overlaps between my personal and academic interests in terms of scholarship, more news on which front to come later this year or next.
  • I’m both reading and watching more stories, and consuming actively.
  • I have a writing group that meets regularly, as well as occasional critique partners.

The other day I had a useful epiphany. I was having lunch with a friend, and I said that I had made the mental leap many years ago from wanting to be an author to wanting to write, but that I had of late come to realize that I’d mistaken the machinery of the writing life for writing itself, and that now I simply wanted to write. He took it to mean that I wasn’t thinking about publication so much, anymore, and I didn’t reply to this because that left me thinking about what I actually meant. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to publish (far from it), but it does mean that I’ve come to what I’d like to think is a more meaningful understanding of the variety of writing lives out there, and the economies of writing.

I read and write a subset of subset of fiction: somewhere between fantasy and horror and magical realism, usually with a dose of literary, usually with a dose of dark. It’s an obvious thing, maybe, but no section of the store sells that. I’ve complained that I rarely find what I like to read at B&N in the F&SF or in the Literature section, and that a new book of “my” type usually only shows up for a few weeks after release, if that. Odds are that if you are reading this, you’re in the same boat: literary fantasy, literary horror, or weird fiction are niche interests. It should stand to reason that niche tastes result in a different publishing economy, and likewise different strategies for seeking publication, but I just didn’t process that as fully as I should have a few years ago. Again, it’s not that my goals have really changed as a writer, but I feel like I finally have a meaningful view of the playing field and the shape of the goal posts, even if I’m not 100% sure how to get there, or if I’ll get there. What I need to do to publish a high-quality short story collection, or a novel worthy of winning a Shirley Jackson Award, are not the same things as what I would need to do to “succeed” in other stripes of literary or speculative fiction.

Luminol_Reels_front_400I just finished Michael Griffin’s Far From Streets the other night, and it held up to the promise of the other day. Its conclusion is wonderful and weird, and it felt a little bit like how I would have liked to see YellowBrickRoad end. I’m currently reading (among other things) Laura Ellen Joyce’s The Luminol Reels. It’s a deeply fucking strange book, to be placed on the Transgressive Fiction shelf, and how! I always hear people say (and say myself) that I write more flash fiction than I read, which isn’t strictly true if you include flash fiction that’s incorporated into larger collections, but her book is a cross between flash fiction and poetry? Something like that. It’s like Angela Carter and William S. Burroughs collaborated to rewrite Charles Simic’s The World Doesn’t End as a script for Eli Roth. Porn, blood, Catholicism, murder, poetry.

Finally, if you are in Richmond tonight, James River Writers is having its usual event for the last Thursday of the month, The Writing Show! September 25: How to Meet Your Public: Networking for Writers with Literary Agent Paige Wheeler moderated by Julie Geen. It’s 6:30-8:30 at The Broadberry, 2729 W. Broad S, and is $10 in advance, $12 at the door ($5 for students).



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