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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Recent Batrachian Readings

two books

Some recent reading

Currently I’m reading Black Wings of Cthulhu 2, a Lovecraftian anthology edited by S.T. Joshi, jumping around from story to story as the mood takes me. The stories range widely across the things that fit under the “L” rubric, and Joshi addresses in his introduction the question of the breadth of materials that might be considered “Lovecraftian.” So far I’ve most enjoyed Jason C. Eckhardt’s “And the Sea Gave Up the Dead,” Richard Gavin’s “The Abject,” Caitlín Rebekah Kiernan’s “Houndwife,” and Nick Mamatas’ “Dead Media.” Nicholas Royle’s “The Other Man” does partake of the alienation of HPL’s “The Outsider,” but it feels to me far more Ligotti (or perhaps Cisco) than Lovecraft—which I say not as a criticism, but more along the lines of a signpost for something that was both an unexpected and pleasant turn from the course.

Among this anthology’s stories, however, I could not fully engage with Rick Dakan’s “Correlated Discontents.” I usually don’t offer much critical commentary here, but this story is problematic. It’s not that it’s not well written— it flows nicely and has some good characterization. It’s not that it’s not interesting—it is, doing something novel with Lovecraft as a character (of sorts). On a fundamental level, however, the basic events of the story are not particularly plausible. Randy Stafford’s review at IFP touches on some of this, but in addition to the question of the familiarity of Lovecraft readers with his letters, academic research faculty with student assistants, labs, etc., do not present their findings at film festivals. I understand the intent here, both the characters’ and the author’s, but—no. Some things make it difficult to suspend one’s disbelief, whether the sudden appearance of “warp speed” in hard SF or the fantastical depiction of mundane things. In fairness, I will say that other readers had different reactions to this story, including Ellen Datlow, who gave it an Honorable Mention for YBH.

I haven’t yet started into, but am eagerly anticipating, Mike Griffin‘s Far From Streets. It came in the mail last week, and I’ve got it cued up on the to-read pile.