Scratching & More Scratching

What’s new, pussycat? A couple of largely news-free writing months for me. As I expected a while back, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple months raising my voice, doing my best to help hold power accountable, etc., etc. No glory in it, but when your elected representatives don’t just disagree with you or ignore you, but actually lie to the media regularly about your existence… you have to speak up.

scratchAlas for missing AWP, given it was just a couple hours away, but I have other things on the go, and hours and dollars are finite. This year I plan to attend ICFA and NecronomiCon, both with my scholarly hat on (though I’m participating in a group reading at ICFA, and TBD about NecronomiCon). If things go as planned, I’ll also be participating in some group readings around Richmond this year. Details forthcoming.

Are you a writer? Do you aspire to make any money from your writing, but aren’t quite there yet? Read Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin. It’s new out this year, and it’s got some really good stuff in it about aspects of the writing life that often go publicly unaddressed, and about which many people are not well informed. All sorts of good essays and interviews in it, and worth its weight in gold for the blend of windows it offers into the life of the “full time writer.” In some regards it’s of a piece with Nick Mamatas’ Starve Better, which I’ve previously mentioned, and Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife.

A Couple Nice Notices

library of congress photoOnce I was talking with a good friend who’s also a writer, and we were lamenting the frustrations of the writerly life. Part of that’s never knowing who is reading your stuff, whether anyone likes it, etc. As my friend said, “you publish this stuff, and maybe no one reads it. It sucks.”

The great maybe-read, maybe-not question makes it all the nicer when you encounter someone with something to say about your work. As a writer without a book of my own (yet!), I most often hear things about stories I have in anthologies, and that’s the case with the two nice reviews here.

  • Des Lewis often posts reviews of work that he’s reading, while he’s reading, and I regularly see them floating around social media. I was delighted by his kind words about my short story “En Plein Air,” which appears in Nightscript 2.
  • Goodreads user Adamjames recently had kind words for “Pale Apostle,” which Jesse Bullington and I co-wrote for The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron a couple years back.

I’m grateful to the gents in question, and likewise to you, dear readers, for your time. And that’s it for a sleepy, falling-back sort of Sunday. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

A Pagan Suckled in a Creed Outworn

flowers in landscapeFor the last couple months I’ve been on social media very little. This was on account of sundry deadlines, projects, and all the other reasons people typically get offline. I’ve been happier and measurably healthier since then, albeit missing the connection. The horrors of this past week have spurred me to political participation, but not to dwell constantly on injustice, and I’m so glad not to be as much in places where the parade of atrocities never ends. I still hew to Wordsworth’s famous formulation, and I’m endeavoring to live for the things I care about most.

cover of forthcoming Valancourt anthologyAt times when the world does press in, I think it’s important to remember the things that don’t. This week I was talking with James Jenkins of Valancourt Books about the merits of reading classic (or simply older) fiction, and I don’t think it can be overstated. One of the best things I’ve done for myself as a reader or writer in the last year was read all of M.R. James‘ tales, of which I’d previously read some, but not all. No one asked me to do so; as a rule, dead authors are not particularly demanding. Still, the desire was there in me, and it led in a roundabout way to my writing “En Plein Air,” a short story that will appear this October in volume two of Nightscript, and which I think is one of the most effective things I’ve written to date.

Last week I placed an order for a small pile of books, using some of the earnings from my Richmond Young Writers gig, recent things that I’ve read from the library or about which I’ve heard really excellent advance praise. What I also look forward to reading are the things that nobody is urging me to read. Part of that involves plumbing bibliographies and reference books, part of it involves finding reprints, and part of it involves hewing to the titular requirement of this post.

Egyptian_-_Gnostic_Gem_with_Scarab_-_Walters_42872_-_ReverseThe survival of work from the past can be a chancy thing, and what is saved is not necessarily good, and what is lost is sometimes better forgotten. The finding of it, however, is part of a quiet and almost Gnostic kind of quest that demands nothing. It is the sort of thing that many authors have engaged in over the years, and which cannot—perhaps should not—always be repackaged for the demands of social media. Some quests are public, some private, but either way, I think that we forget our quests at the peril of our lives, to say nothing of our art.

Summer of Horrors

This year I’ve put up “out for the summer” signs on Twitter, Facebook, etc. I have a bunch of projects under way that have external or internal deadlines over the next few months, and the distraction would have been too much. I have plans to return in the fall, but it is shocking how much calmer and pleasant I am finding life without social media waggling interesting, heartbreaking, or infuriating things in my face. My third autobiography will be entitled A Life Without Clickbait.

v h leslieAside from checking on the haps at places like LitHub or AL Daily , I’ve been listening to podcasts when I’m not writing or reading. This includes most recently United Nations of Horror‘s Hellraiser Special, and This Is Horror‘s two-part interview with V.H. Leslie. The Leslie interview was thought-provoking, with some interesting overlap for me with a Fountain Bookstore event last month featuring two publishing professionals, one of whom is the Editor in Chief of Europa Editions, which publishes famed spotlight-shunner Elena Ferrante. Time away from the hurly-burly, it seems, has merits. I picked up Leslie’s Skein and Bone a while back, and I hope to read it this summer.

richmond young writers logoI’m also excited to be guest author this summer at two Richmond Young Writers camps led by Julie Geen. One is the already-full Dark Worlds camp for ages 12-14. The other is Halloween in August, for ages 15-17. Details on that, if you or a 15-17-year-old you know might be interested…


7B: HALLOWEEN IN AUGUST
AUGUST 1 – 5
With JULIE GEEN
Guest Author: 
John Glover
$150                                                                                                                                        REGISTER! 

Is every day Halloween for you? This is for those of us who love the darker genres, like horror, dystopia and science fiction.  We’ll fill our notebooks without worst nightmares, alien abductions, perhaps an apocalypse or two. Expect discussions on macabre topics and an exploration of why we enjoy the dark side. We will make each other uneasy and have a great time doing it.

Strange Love

Presumably most true Aickman-o-philes have seen this documentary already, but if you are one of his readers who have not, then enjoy.

I watched this tonight and enjoyed it, though I feel the film is probably most intelligible to those who are already deeply enough engaged with the dark and fantastic that Robert Aickman is not an unknown quantity. He is, in the U.S., at least, somewhere between an influential mid-century author of horror fiction and a cult author with a beyond-cult following. His work is refined and unusual, not well imitated, though some have walked in his footsteps. If you wind up in a conversation where people are talking about “strange stories,” Aickman is watching from a corner of the room.

Much about the documentary struck me, particularly the section discussing his personality: the “grit in the oyster” comment. So often excellent authors (or artists generally) are at heart awkward, rude, mean, or actually monsters. That tends to be less visible today, or perhaps such authors don’t have as easy a time of it, but it still astonishes me how much hue and cry a writer’s misstep engenders in “the writing community,” despite the vast, well-documented literature of creative people being sometimes outrageously disruptive and unpleasant. Aickman seems to have been on the benign end of that scale, but I don’t think he would fare well if he were around and trying to get started these days. His politics wouldn’t suit a lot of readers, and his manner suggests that he would be a disaster on, say, Facebook.

This film is a nice look at an author who lived in the days before Google, BookScan, the Wayback Machine, and constant surveillance and sousveillance. He was probably the happier for it, and perhaps a more interesting—and more enigmatic—figure than he would otherwise be today. Fortunately for his readers.

A Head Full of Ghosts in a Very Busy Room

Cover of Paul Tremblay's a head full of ghostsLast week I finished reading Paul Tremblay‘s A Head Full of Ghosts [Amazon|B&N|Powell’s|Goodreads]. Early praise for it was very good, and the reputation it has grown even in a year is suggestive of a book of quality. The subtlety of it can’t be emphasized enough, partly because the book grapples head-on with The Exorcist, reality TV culture, metafiction, and the epistolary tradition. It is, to put it mildly, an ambitious book, and all the more so because it’s not a doorstopper. I love a short novel, and this one is a well-made UFC fighter of a book, rangy and able to use a bunch of different strikes, chokes, locks, and kicks to do its thing.  And all the while that it is doing those things, it is building with repetition, diction, and well-chosen details a subtle atmosphere of dread that is still with me, even now.

As it also turns out, I’m very glad I waited to read it. The Venn diagram of horror, literary horror, weird fiction, dark fiction, and literary-fiction-that-is-dark is larger than ever these day. Once upon a time, there was only so much of it in any given year. In a thread over on a publisher’s Facebook page the other day, the roll call of what’s coming out this year—in short fiction collections alone—was formidable in length, something like 25 books. Add another 25 novels or standalone novellas, and it’s past the number of books I generally read in a year, and that’s before even getting to the recent surge in weird/literary chapbooks.

Last week I had the pleasure of hearing a talk from Kelly Link at the University of Richmond, “A Vampire Is a Flexible Metaphor,” which covers some of the same territory as a 2013 interview with the author. Link is a living master of fantastic short fiction, so it was instructive to hear her talk at some length about the authors she has read and currently reads, and about the importance of returning to deep wells. To focus on fiction from 1960 or 1910 necessarily means that you won’t read all of the exciting books of 2016, but Link’s enduring passion for authors like Joan Aiken, Shirley Jackson, etc. is clear and instructive, even as she spoke lyrically about the strength of a number of authors writing today.

All of that to say, I think that A Head Full of Ghosts is a standout novel and worth reading. I felt something moving inside me as I turned the pages, perhaps the kind of unrest that will ultimately lead to deeper reflection, and that alone would make me want to tell other readers about it, even if it weren’t a pleasure to read. So, you know, go check out A Head Full of Ghosts, and see if you wind up with something unexpected taking hold of you as well.

 

The Sample Copies of Yesteryear

sample copies

Let me tell you of the days of print magazines!

For those of you who don’t publish or aspire to publish your writing, part of the process often involves familiarizing yourself with magazines. Back in the print-only days, that meant ordering sample copies from a publisher, or subscribing, or (increasingly rarely as newsstands waned) going somewhere to purchase a copy in person. These days even print-only magazines often have samples of their fiction online, partly to lure would-be readers, partly to give writers an idea of what (not) to submit. This summer I was doing some cleaning and was reminded that over the years, I’ve amassed a small horde of sample copies. What you see here is a tiny fraction of it, as I have piles elsewhere of magazines I subscribed to or bought an issue or two of, including Cemetery Dance, F&SF, Grue, Deathrealm, Weird Tales, etc..

A pleasant surprise was seeing names that are familiar to me today from tables of contents, social media, conventions, and other parts of the publishing world: Allen, Cisco, Kilpatrick, Pugmire, Schwader, Schweitzer, Thomas, and many more. Some of those authors are still publishing in magazines, big and small. Some write full time, some part time. Some have had a lasting impact on readers and writers who came after them and, in some cases, followed their models.

tales of lovecraftian horror toc

A squamous menagerie…

I’d like to think the continued presence of these authors in the field says something about continuity, and about what makes a writer a writer (writing, yes, but publication, too). Once upon a time I bought into the idea of a standard template for authors’ literary lives, and up until a few years ago I was still thinking in those terms. The disruptions caused by publisher consolidation, e-books, etc., has changed that for me, but also taking a long, hard look at the market, and realizing that the Big 5 currently have only a sliver of a sliver of a niche for dark fiction, and it’s parceled out across the bookstores. (I’m skipping over YA and graphic novels, which are different kettles of fish, and neither of which I really write.) Instead, there are—as there were hundreds of years ago—various means for making your work public. The familiar names that I see belong to people who learned that lesson and published consistently wherever there was room, or who found a way to make room for themselves.

Less happily, the names I didn’t recognize in these magazines are as disproportionately female as those I do recognize are male. What happened to them? Hard to say, given how many writers publish a story or two and then vanish, and I don’t know every corner of the field, but many of the TOCs I saw do clearly uphold the idea of horror as a boys’ club (awareness of which has led to various attempts at correction), and there is a host of reasons why women historically have published less often than men. Personally I love the broadening of the field in recent years. Long ago I was reading Brite, Jackson, Rice, etc., and in the last decade authors like Carter, Kiernan, Link, Llewellyn, etc. The writer just starting out today who looks back in twenty years will have a new group of authors  to consider foundational, and I think it probably goes without saying, but that group will look different in more ways than one.