Man Plans, and God Laughs

clown & policemen

Courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, via The Commons at flickr

Happy October, monsters!

Has there been a more common post since the long, strange years of blogging’s heyday than “it’s been a long time since my last post?” Certainly not on this blog, dear readers. What are the haps, you ask? In quasi-brief…

My short story “Questionable Things” appeared in Synth #2 (as alluded to previously). It’s a SF story intimately tied to Blade Runner that I wrote some years ago. I shopped it around for quite some time, but it was a “bridesmaid” story, terminally getting “I loved it, but” rejections. I trunked it after playing Shadowrun Returns, on account of that game also involving SF, Seattle, and a serial killer (no spoilers, I hope, as all that’s clear from the first paragraph of my story).  Ultimately, I decided I liked it too much to let it go, polished it up, and C.M. Muller accepted it for his year-long project of publishing dark SF. (Vol. V of his excellent Nightscript series is available now.)

The novel I was working on last year collapsed under its own weight. I’d tried three different versions of it, two with substantially different plot points and an epistolary version  of one of those, but no dice. I got a short story out of it that I’m shopping around, but other than that, I’ve trunked it and moved on.

Other things outside of The Writing rose up and took over frequently this year. I’d like to say that I powered through and wrote every day during that time, but it ain’t so. Many’s the writer who talks about setting up your life around writing, and sticking to your guns despite all manner of personal difficulty, but I haven’t managed it. I am, however, working on a novel, a couple essays, etc., and I’m reading any number of good things — most recently Peter Clines’ The Fold. It’s old-school SF with enough contemporary goodness to feel fresh, and a few elements that I think might appeal to readers of this particular blog, heh-heh-heh…

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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.

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

 

Essay in LampLight 6.1 / Upcoming Lovecraft Talk

cover of lamplight 6.1For those who didn’t catch my essay on horror in flash fiction, originally published in Thinking Horror 1, it’s now available in LampLight. Volume 6.1 is currently available in e-book and will soon be available in print. The issue includes the usual array of goodness, and it features Damien Angelica Walters.

Next week I’ll have the pleasure and honor of giving a brown bag talk at the English Faculty Forum at my university (VCU). It will be Wednesday, November 8, 2017. “Aesthetic Experiments: H. P. Lovecraft and ‘Pickman’s Model’ in 1927.” Noon-1:00, in 308 Hibbs Hall. Free and open to the community at large. I’ll be speaking with my “librarian hat” on, although as time goes by, the different hats seem to be increasingly difficult of distinction. This talk is part of a project that I’ve been poking at from multiple angles in recent years, and which is starting to resemble an academic monograph. TBD.

For those finding this site before the talk at VCU and wanting to know more about what I do, the “About” and “Publications” pages linked above should be of some help. The “Weird Fiction Publishers” page is a list of publishers I update occasionally and maintain for my own use and that of the community of weird fiction readers, writers, publishers, etc. If you want an idea of what people look for here, these are some of the most popular posts:

752 views — Anthropocene Ghosts and Other Collateral Damage in Moldova (Spectral, 2016)
519 views — Finding Women in Horror and Weird Fiction
514 views — On the Existence of the Female Tentacle
409 views — The Hugos: Shenanigans & Unpopular Opinions
246 views — Release the Leeches!
184 views — Aickman’s Heirs
147 views — Lovecraft, Joshi, The Head, and Fantasy in 2014 (and 2100)

The Crone and the Hyena

Last night we watched The Flowering of the Crone: Leonora Carrington, Another Reality. It was weird and good! Interesting blend of archival interview footage, history, and adaptation of one of her stories. It feels older than it is, with some graphical effects that seemed oddly 1990s for a 2009 production. The only complaint I have is that the version we watched (on Kanopy, a streaming platform specializing in art, world, documentary , etc. film) didn’t offer closed captioning, which I almost always use these days. 4/5 girl-faced hyenas.

If you want to know more about Carrington, a multi-faceted artist, there are plenty of image galleries and articles floating around online. Selena Chambers has also just finished a series of read-throughs of Carrington’s short fiction over at Weird Fiction Review, which is worth a gander. My exposure to the female Surrealists has included a swathe of Leonor Fini’s work, with a side order of Tanning, but both the documentary and Selena’s read-though have inspired me (finally) to take in some more Carrington.