Whenworldscollide: Special Edition

One of the categories on this here blog that consistently gets attention, even after individual posts have fallen off most people’s radars, is “whenworldscollide.” That’s where I stick the stuff that lives in the Venn diagram of creative writing, scholarship, librarianship, and academic stuff. 2021’s been busy with that kind of stuff.

Early next year, my essay “Olympia, Wilderness, and Consumption in Laird Barron’s Old Leech Cycle” will be published in Fantastic Cities: American Urban Spaces in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Likely not the rubric most people use for thinking about Old Leech, but it worked for me because I kept thinking about how very well Laird Barron does both Olympia and Washington, and also how little academics have yet written about either Barron or fiction set in Olympia. I probably wouldn’t have tried to write this piece back when I was first a librarian, trying to wall off different parts of my life and never really thinking about literary scholarship, but here we are.

Last week I moderated a lively discussion about the future of speculative fiction for James River Writers, the Central Virginia writing org on whose Board of Directors I served some years ago. Our conversation roamed over many topics, but I wound up juggling my writing hat and my library hat a bit, in particular on the question of genre labels and taxonomies. A tough issue that continues to get tougher as readers’ tastes solidify and specify. Many U.S. readers have no nearby bookstore they can happily browse, and many factors (not least the pandemic) have continued to drive book buyers to online sellers. In that environment, what a book is classified as can at times matter far more than it used to… to the reader, writer, publisher, OR library.

Finally, back in May I had the distinct (and new for me!) pleasure of serving as a keynote speaker at a symposium hosted by the University of Calgary, “Integrating Library, Archives and Special Collections into Creative Writing Pedagogy: An Experiential Symposium.” It was an honor and super-invigorating to present and help plan with the organizers and my fellow keynoter, David Pavelich. This event was some years in the making and had to be shifted online due to the pandemic, which put a damper on some facets and allowed for new ones, including broader attendance. None of it could have happened without the indefatigable efforts of my Canadian colleagues, Melanie Boyd, Aritha van Herk, and Jason Nisenson. Lots of great “whenworldscollide” moments here, but I have to say that it was a particular delight to talk about the research practices of various folks in horror and weird fiction.

Adieu, Weird Fiction Publishers List

Photo by Pia on Pexels.com

Starting in 2015 I maintained a list of publishers of weird fiction, literary horror, or mainstream fiction that occasionally handled either. That list stayed current for a few years, but updates gradually became less frequent, and it became ever more out of date. Many people have used it over the years, but my interest in refreshing it has gone. If you’d like to save the links I had posted for your own purposes, there’s a copy over on the Wayback Machine.

These days, seems like more people get their market info from social, or from those folks who do regular submission roundups, like Eric J. Guignard or Gwendolyn Kiste. Likewise, check out Ralan.com, lists from writer’s organizations (SFWA, AWP, etc.), The Grinder, etc. Cheers!

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.

Brief Update

It’s been over four months since my last post, and I’m guessing most of you have already heard about these elsewhere, but:

  • Back in November, my short story “En Plein Air” appeared over at Pseudopod. It’s a quiet horror story that seems to hit a sweet spot for people who like their horror subtle about the environment, It’s also attracted more than a few “that ain’t horror!” comments, so caveat lector.
  • Later this year, my dark SF story “Questionable Things” will finally be appearing. It’s a story I like very much, and which I had the Devil’s own time placing, but I stuck with it, and I hope it finds some readers.
  • Volume 2 of Thinking Horror will be coming out before long, says its doughty editor, s.j.  bagley, and I likewise hope my essay in there finds some interested readers. It’s a very personal essay, as they say, and was one of the most difficult pieces of writing I’ve done in recent years.

ICFA 39, I Liked the Cut of Your Jib

This year’s ICFA was a delight to attend, and on many counts! As always, I met many interesting scholars, writers, editors, and good folks of various fields, as well as connecting with old friends and laying devious plans. My academic paper was well received, the panel involved  a productive and wide-ranging take on Weird Tales and weird fiction, and my reading seemed to go over well.

I’m not going to say much more about the conference here, as I’m writing up the event for another publication (more about that down the road). James McGlothin captured his experience nicely, if you want to take a look, over at Black Gate. Here are a few pictures…

weird tales panel photo

Early a.m. panel on WEIRD TALES, featuring (L to R) Sean Moreland, moi, Jeffrey Shanks, Tracy (May) Stone, and GoH Nike Sulway. Photo by Dierk Gunther

 

words and worlds prose reading at icfa 39

Words & Worlds Prose Reading, with Doug Ford reading his “Pig Feast.” Readers included Derek Newman-Stille (out of frame), Regina Hansen, Gina Wisker, Doug Ford, and moi. Photo by Jenna Jarvis

And finally, I got an awfully nice response from no less than Michael Arnzen on the story I read. I don’t think the conference could have had a better end:

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