Long Novels, Short Stories, and The Seat of My Pants

In which I alienate all of you who’ve published short stories

On Wednesday I finished the 1100-page It by Stephen King, the longest thing I’ve read since Cliver Barker’s Imajica almost two years ago.  I read it in about five weeks with a one-week break during my trip to Paris when I started Deborah A. Wolf’s The Dragon’s Legacy.  It was interesting to read mainly because it was at the top of my list of books by King that I’ve wanted to read for a long time.  I saw the ABC mini-series when I was a kid, taped it and watched it over and over, and always wanted to read the book.  Twenty seven years later (no joke) I found a paperback of it for $1 at Boskone, and as is always the case with King, I couldn’t put it down.

Of all the excellent aspects of this book, one thing in particular stood out to me as a writer: every side-note, every piece of background, every seemingly insignificant fact, has a central character.  There are passages throughout this book, told in an omniscient voice, as one would tell a ghost story around a campfire, where characters pop into existence only for telling the reader more about the history of Derry, or for the purpose of advancing the story, and nevertheless we learn a lot about that person even though he only lives for a few seconds.  Which characters are central is very clear, never in doubt, but these characters who are not even side characters all have their own lives and histories and connections to different parts of the story.  They are not functionaries, they are not useless page filler, and they are not the two-dimensional oddities of Gravity’s Rainbow. Continue reading “Long Novels, Short Stories, and The Seat of My Pants”

Content and Style: The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu

In which I alienate the people most likely to buy my book.

Margaret_Atwood_2015
Atwood at the 2015 Texas Book Festival; photo by Larry D. Moore

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors, and The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorite books, so I was pretty excited when I heard Hulu was adapting it into a series. Of course, I also had my trepidation. I don’t care much whether an adaptation fails or succeeds, but my expectations for adaptations these days are pretty low. Nevertheless it’s nice to see such an excellent book advertised and interpreted.  I watched the first episode last night and found myself thinking I would rather be re-reading the book.  If you were confused or disappointed by the episodes you’ve seen, read the book.

Continue reading “Content and Style: The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu”

The Nifty, Geeky Story

In which I alienate the entire sci-fi short story readership, fellowship, and mothership.

Arrival_Movie_PosterI just got back from Paris. Yes, I’m fancy. It was great, thanks for asking. I wrote a short story while I was there (which, given what I’m about to tell you, probably will never get published). On the way back I got to watch two recent sci-fi movies and I found them interesting to compare, particularly given my previous arrogance about “entertainment” (he said disdainfully), I was surprised which one I enjoyed more. Continue reading “The Nifty, Geeky Story”

Crunchy Complexity

WoT01_TheEyeOfTheWorldIn which I alienate Robert Jordan fans and Harry Potter fans in one swell foop.

The other night in our writing group at the Fairlee Public Library I read a passage from my novel-in-progress Firesage. I spent a little time building up the world for my fellows, then read the passage. I explained that the sorcerers who are the main characters live in an academy, and a little bit about the scheming that is tearing it apart. I almost forgot to mention that the main character is pregnant. That wasn’t so important for the passage I read, but it’s most of the basis of the conflict in the novel. I didn’t stop and fill in the background as I went along, because the passage was a flashback to a time before the novel begins, when the main character was “discovered” in a different setting than the one I had just explained. Continue reading “Crunchy Complexity”

Worldbuilder’s Disease: Writer’s Block with a Twist

In which I alienate my writer friends…

roadblockYou’d think in a trade built on putting words together, most of the practitioners would be people who can put words together on the spur of the moment, always have something to say, and can work under any circumstances. Actually no. Most writers I know have a horrible time doing that. They get distracted, they have no idea what to say, or they just don’t enjoy it at all. My wife, for example, writes beautiful prose, and has a great facility with metaphors and similes, but when she sits down to write (if she does), very little comes out. This is a fairly common experience. It’s not just that writing is not her main thing. She has a very stressful job, and listens to people all day, and doesn’t have a lot of time to just walk the dog and think about stuff to write. Even when she has time to write, she has a lot of trouble. I have a hard time relating. If I have time to write, I will write. Continue reading “Worldbuilder’s Disease: Writer’s Block with a Twist”

Let’s Get Serious!

In which I alienate Phish fans

What is it that makes readers connect? Sincerity and honesty. The kind of sincerity I’m talking about might be called being “serious” but as Alan Watts pointed out, the word “serious” has a sort of dry unfunniness about it, and that isn’t what I’m getting at. Fantasy literature in particular has this problem, much less than it used to, that it’s hard to take seriously a book about wizards and dragons. Ursula LeGuin seems to have eventually convinced everyone to take such books seriously, but not without plenty of books getting written to convince people otherwise. Wizards and dragons sound like childish topics, until you read Gene Wolfe, Stephen R. Donaldson, or dare I say Robert Jordan?

Continue reading “Let’s Get Serious!”

Wonder Woman, Symbolism, and Propaganda

Wonder_WomanThis week I read a little more of a book called Do the Gods Wear Capes? by Ben Saunders, an English professor at University of Oregon. Saunders’ basic premise is that comic books, far from being mere entertainment, or perhaps because they are entertainment are a good way of exploring moral and ethical questions. Comic books embody a certain religious ideal that in older times would have been occupied by campfire stories or even religious stories. Sometimes parables, sometimes just stories for fun, but they always include godlike characters. The difference between what is and what we desire is the driving force, according to Saunders, of all storytelling, philosophy, and religion. Superheroes, with their rather blind ethical sense (in the era that he profiles) have a lot in common with gods, more than in just the powers available to them.

Continue reading “Wonder Woman, Symbolism, and Propaganda”

Miranda, Caliban, and Jacqueline Carey

People all have their own reasons for loving or hating Jacqueline Carey’s books, but they all agree she is a great writer.

It’s no secret that Jacqueline Carey is one of my favorite writers, and if you’ve read any of her work it should be clear why. The skill with which she crafts her work is evident from the very first word, and even when she’s writing stuff that I can’t stand to read (like her Agents of Hel series), I still acknowledge she’s doing it better than almost anyone else. She’s most well-known for her Kushiel books, set in Europe with an alternate history where Christianity never really took off, but an early offshoot of it took off like crazy. Continue reading “Miranda, Caliban, and Jacqueline Carey”

Moana’s Journey

The psychology and symbolism underlying Moana are present in all great stories, and Disney knows how to tell them

Erin Tettensor, who also goes by the pseudonym Erin Lindsey, brought a blog about Buffy the Vampire Slayer to my attention, so earlier I was going to write about the face I make when people say “you write about women” or “you write about strong female characters” but I am pretty bored with that topic.

Instead, let me tell you about Moana. I just watched it for the first time and I regret not trying to see it in the theater. This is yet another movie that hits all the bases: it’s the first film telling of this legend as far as I know, it has great animation, great music, and above all a great story. Just like Frozen the tension is drawn out, the characters are engaging and the hero’s journey is rewarding. The Hero’s Journey has gotten something of a bad reputation because it has been abused, but at the heart of it, if you read Joseph Campbell’s book and really grasp the meaning of it, you see how it underlies all great stories and unifies human experience in the progression of our dreams. Continue reading “Moana’s Journey”

Short stories

My novel went out to publishers some time last week, and that’s exciting, but now I’m back into a long waiting period. There’s this weird thing in writing advice where nobody talks about anything except getting an agent, so getting an agent was a strange letdown where my entire six months depended on a long drawn-out process of waiting. Now I’m getting that back in waiting to hear from publishers. I try to keep in touch with my agent, but I don’t want to bug him when there’s nothing for us to talk about. I’m now homeschooling a kid, and continuing to work on Firesage, which is going a little slow since it’s hard to find a consistent work schedule with the new adjustment.

I had decided to see if anything happened fast before I sent out any more short stories. All of them have been rejected except for one that’s been with the same market for almost three months (their time limit). That one I’m interested in, because it’s a prestigious market with a ready supply of subscribers, and only one author appears in any issue. The rest I have sent to a variety of interesting markets. My space colonization story “The Fault is not in Our Stars but Somewhere Between Jupiter and the Asteroid Belt” has gone into the black hole of Analog’s submission pile. That will take at least six months to hear back from.

I sent “Killing Montherek” to Flame Tree Press, a British publisher that is an offshoot of a fine gifts and calendars company. I felt a little weird sending it to them, as even though they are a SFWA-qualifying market, I had never heard of them and didn’t know whether they were “for real,” as in if they had good standards, or if they could really distribute their books well. I totally changed my mind the next day when I was at Books-A-Million in West Lebanon. There was a whole shelf featuring their anthologies, which were beautifully bound with fantastical Victorian-esque covers. Their shtick is to put brand-new stories from new authors alongside classics from Bram Stoker, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert E. Howard. Totally my thing.

I sent “The Harp” to Spark, which is a literary genre-fiction market. I have a hard time deciding where to send that one, since it is clearly fantasy, about sorcery, but its theme is decidedly sensual, so that rules out quite a few places that would otherwise be good for stories about sorcerors.  On the other hand, it’s not particularly kinky, more cerebral, so that rules out a lot of places that are more topical and weird.  I’m just going to keep sending these out until they stick somewhere.

I recently heard an author saying that you should only send stories to the top ten markets and trunk them if they don’t get published there.  I’m not buying that for now.  I know these stories are good, but they are not fashionable.  They are probably considered old-fashioned.  I’m not after prestige with other writers; I’m not even after the money.  I want people to be able to read these stories, and I want the opinions of good editors, not all of whom work at the top ten short story markets in SFF right now.  I am not trying to impress the top writers in the field.  Most of those markets seem very trendy to me, and unlike other people, I do not write just what those particular editors want.  So it might take longer, but I’ll see that people have a way to read them eventually.