Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Well, I had a great time representing Codorus Press at the Western Md. Independent Lit Festival at Frostburg State University this past weekend. Got to hang out with a few of my favorite authors, such as Gerry LaFemina, and some of my favorite publishers, such as Bill Olver of Big Pulp. Also walked away with a few new favorite authors, including Bram Stoker Award-winner Michael Arnzen. I got to sit in on a panel discussion with Michael about speculative fiction, and it was a lot of fun. An informal atmosphere and a smart, friendly audience turned it into quite a lively discussion.

As an added bonus, I picked up Michael’s new novel titled “Play Dead.” I’m only a couple of chapters in, but I’m already impressed. Look for a forthcoming review.

Much as I enjoy all the book festivals I attend for Codorus Press, the Indie Lit Festival has a special place in my heart. The vibe isn’t about selling books, so much as participating in an event by and for people who really love books.

The cool thing about sitting in on panels is that it makes you think about what you do as a writer, and sometimes things occur to you that might not have otherwise. On the speculative fiction panel discussion, a young lady asked us why horror, fantasy and science fiction are grouped together under the classification “speculative fiction.”I’d really never thought about it before. And in answering, I realized for the first time what’s always drawn me to those three genres.

I told her the common denominator of horror, science fiction and fantasy is that they all deal with something outside the reader’s everyday life. Maybe something possible. Maybe something completely outlandish. But all three genres make a point out of taking the reader to new realms of existence and experience, and showing how characters deal with them.

And really, I think that’s what we should all be doing with our lives in one way or another. Constantly introducing new elements and new experiences that negate our previous conceptions of what’s possible and what isn’t.

Oh yeah. Michael took a picture of me striking a writerly pose. I couldn’t track down a tweed jacket or pipe on short notice, but here it is.

writer

 

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Guinea Pig Interview

Posted: September 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

This video made me happy.

science fictionMy recent review of Jon McGoran’s excellent thriller “Drift” got me thinking about the definition of “science fiction.”

On the surface, defining science fiction looks pretty simple, doesn’t it? Does it have science in it? Is it fiction? Then it’s science fiction. Whew! Gotta take a nap. All this thinking has plum wore me out!

Except maybe it’s a little more complicated than that.

Don’t want to go into too many details here lest I drop any spoilers. McGoran’s book is about a modern-day cop who stumbles into a criminal conspiracy involving the bioengineering of crops. I’ll tell you this much. The secret he uncovers turns out to be pretty jaw-dropping, yet it’s grounded in modern scientific developments. Incredible, but not intelligent-walking-plant-creatures-menacing-humanity incredible.

That aura of plausibility, coupled with the fact that it takes place in modern times instead of the future, would seem to place it in the realm of “techno thriller” rather than “science fiction.”

Though I’m not one of these obsessive buffs who reads nothing BUT science fiction, I still love it.

It’s interesting to me, how science fiction developed. It (debatably) started around the turn of the 20th century, at a time of staggering scientific and technological advances that were radically changing the world for better and for worse. People were interested in reading stories that speculated about what changes might be in the works, and what those changes might bring.

A lot of early science fiction wasn’t intended as escapist fantasy, so much as a peek at how sweeping technological developments could affect the future.

I’m not suggesting that all science fiction was based on sober speculation. I doubt anybody read John Carter’s adventures on Mars because of their gritty realism. Still, a lot of early science fiction was based on a sense that the fantastic scenarios and inventions being described were plausible. Even imminent. If transcontinental air travel — a bizarre and fanciful notion for the generation preceding those early science fiction writers — was plausible, how much of a leap was it that the next generation would be living on the moon? If Americans could meet and interact with people on the other side of the globe, was it really that big a stretch that we might someday be shaking hands with the occupants of Mars or Venus?

So what makes one fictional work involving science a “techno thriller,” and another “science fiction?”

I saw a few reviews comparing McGoran to Michael Crichton. I’m reluctant to do that, because I really liked McGoran’s book, and I’m not a big fan of Crichton as a writer or as a scientific theorist. (“Global warming? Poppycock!” Good call, Mike. Very scientifically rigorous.)

Still, Crichton’s books were frequently classified as techno thrillers too, as opposed to science fiction. No matter how outlandish the premise — such as resurrected dinosaurs — the contemporary setting and mere nod to scientific plausibility would take them out of the realm of science fiction.

It seems that these days, a work gets classified as “science fiction” more because it incorporates certain tropes associated with the genre, than because it has anything to do with science. Tropes such as time travel, space travel, extraterrestrials, cyborgs, etc. Not based in actual scientific research on any of those topics, so much as variations on previous works about them. Being curious and knowledgeable about science doesn’t necessarily appear to be a qualifier for science fiction writers anymore, so much as a desire to write about spaceships and robots.

That’s not a diss. Like I said, I love science fiction — vintage and modern. And I guess it’s not a recent phenomenon. I just did a Google image search for science fiction pulp magazine covers, and they don’t exactly make the words “scientific rigor” come to mind. The raison d’être for many of them is apparently finding excuses to depict babes in metallic bikinis on the covers.

And of course there are plenty of exceptions. The subgenre of cyberpunk, much like early 20th century science fiction, attempted to combine rollicking adventure with genuine speculation about how radical contemporary technological developments might affect the future. You’ve also got works such as Scott Pruden’s “Immaculate Deception” that deliberately subvert standard science fiction tropes for purposes of social satire.

Still, it’s interesting that incorporating genuine science into a story these days might disqualify that story as science fiction.

richieMany thanks to my friend Dave for making me aware of this Craigslist ad, which I am honest-to-freakin-God not making up:

Emotional Writer Needed For Support Community for Affluent Individuals

Special community for people who have earned a lot of money or been born into a wealthy family needs a blog ghostwriter. The focus of the community is providing psychological support for the problems money brings — family tensions, unfulfillable expectations, boredom, etc. To do this you must be intimately familiar with the problems faced by wealthy people. If you grew up wealthy or through some other means can write detailed blog posts on this topic, please get in touch.

The posts need to be highly personal, emotional and have a strong editorial voice. These are anything but generic lectures. We are looking for 3 posts per week and each post pays $30. If you’re interested, please send a brief cover letter with some suggested topics so we can see that you really can come up with specific topics which touch the hearts of people from affluent families along with some writing samples of your personal, emotionally charged writing. It should all be pasted into the body of the email. We can’t open attachments. Thanks!

 

Here’s my application. I would appreciate any feedback:

I am responding to the request for a blog ghostwriter serving your special community that provides psychological support for the problems money brings. I believe that I am qualified. For I myself have felt the ache within my heart that comes with being born into wealth, and would like to bring succor and comfort to those similarly afflicted.

Yes, I was born into money. My father was a wealthy entrepreneur who pioneered the use of orphans’ tears as industrial lubricant. My mother was a heavy hitter in the fashion industry. I assume you’re familiar with the Bulimiqúe line of designer emetics?

I grew up in what many would consider comfortable circumstances. Champagne mimosas to go with my Fruity Pebbles. Servants fighting with claw hammers for my amusement. I attended exclusive boarding schools, was summarily spanked by headmistresses, and tipped accordingly.

Starting from young adulthood, my life was a glittering panorama of trendy nightclubs, casinos and resorts. Monaco. Dubai. Atlantis. (Oh, it exists. Don’t laugh. Hard to get a decent vodka martini there, but it’s one of the few places in the world where the hookers are willing to give you a “Tijuana Bassoon Solo.” Tijuana, surprisingly, is not one of them.)

Yet the suffering inherent to my lot in life tormented me night and day. The family tensions. The unfulfillable expectations. The boredom. The incessant whining of those crybabies complaining about picayune annoyances such as lack of access to basic nutrition and health care. How I wept inside at the tragedy that was my existence!

I recently remarked upon this to a friend. We were at a resort in … oh, I forget the country. All I remember is that the natives were distastefully short and swarthy. But they did have a nice restaurant. One of those places where you can go up to a pen full of albino snow leopards and pick out which one you want for your entrée.

Anyway, we were sitting at a table. My friend was tucking into his albino snow leopard stir fry, and I was snorting a line of Peruvian flake off a tragically beautiful Victoria Secret model’s cleavage.

“You know,” my friend said, “if only there was a blog devoted to alleviating the anguish of those such as us.”

“That’s it!” I cried. “That is my mission in life! To be a literary champion who speaks out against the cruel oppression of the rich in our society! For we bleed, my friend. We bleed. Yet what is the heart that pumps that blood if not a heart of fire for the songs of freedom and mercy that course unto the night eternal?”

“I … didn’t really get any of that,” my friend said.

“Sorry,” I replied. “That’s the Peruvian flake talking.”

And so I offer my services as your scribe. Your champion. Your villain’s banana. Wait. Did that last one make any sense? This Peruvian flake is kicking my ass. Damn! What were we just talking about?

For EmmyOne work that had a big influence on me as both a writer and a reader was Alan Moore’s run on D.C.’s “Swamp Thing” comic books, which I read when I was in college back in the ’80s. I was never a big comics fan. But I read them at a friend’s suggestion and was blown away.

In particular, I admired Moore’s approach to symbolism. The way he employed classic monsters to represent some larger point about society or the human condition.

He wasn’t the first to do that, of course. From their inception, monsters such as Dracula and Mr. Hyde personified malicious forces lurking just below the placid surface of Victorian society. You could argue that horror fiction — stretching back to ancient folklore and myth — has always served as a Rorschach blotch where a careful observer can pick out the anxieties of the individual or society that produced it.

What I liked was the fact that Moore was so obvious about the symbolism.

A couple of my English professors, the same blinkered souls who told me that comic books and speculative fiction are artistically worthless, insisted that obvious symbolism is a failing on the part of an author. Symbolism is supposed to be some elusive entity hiding among inert plots and passive characters, unknowable to the unwashed masses and detectable only to those who truly understand “great literature.”

Moore’s attitude? Fuck that. The zombies are the undying legacy of racism. The werewolves are simmering female rage in the face of institutionalized sexism. Boom.

I’m not talking about symbolism where the author bonks you over the head because he or she clearly feels you’d be too dumb to pick up on it otherwise. I’m talking about symbolism that’s out in the open because the writer sees no reason to hide it. There’s a narrative to tell. A point to make. Why not let the power of the story directly engage the reader, rather than play some coy game of hide-and-seek as to what it’s about?

I thought of that approach to symbolism when I read “For Emmy,” a novella by Mary SanGiovanni — another story that openly states its larger theme and proceeds to illustrate it in an indelible manner.

The theme, and I’m not really giving away any spoilers here since it crops up at the beginning, is despair in face of our inability to guarantee the safety of those we love. In this case, initially at least, the loved one is a missing little girl.

That’s an old theme, of course. From folklore dealing with fairie kidnappings all the way up through “The Exorcist” and beyond.

But what makes “For Emmy” distinctive is that it isn’t concerned as much with the initial terror of the disappearance so much as its aftermath. It’s more about the way that the corrosive residue of a tragedy can continue to eat away at those touched by it for years afterward. And it leads up to a conclusion that’s subtly rendered, but gut-wrenching in its impact.

I was impressed that SanGiovanni was able to convey this sense of lingering tragedy and long-term psychic damage in a mere 107 pages. She’s a propulsive, efficient storyteller with a good sense of the telling details that move a narrative along, but I wouldn’t describe “For Emmy” as a slam-bang read. Her technique is refined. Almost delicate. For all the horror in the story (and make no mistake, it is scary) the pervasive mood  is a kind of despairing melancholy. Which makes a quietly devastating final twist that much more affecting.

Ultimately, the book is about the extent to which the realization of our inability to protect loved ones can warp us. Not a reassuring message, to be sure. But then again, we don’t really read horror fiction to be reassured, do we?

Remember my review of “Clones, Fairies & Monsters in the Closet,” the anthology of LGBT-themed genre fiction? If not, read it here. Then read the book itself. It’s really good. But “Big Pulp” publishes a lot more in the way of quality fiction. Solely in terms of title and concept, I guess my favorite Big Pulp book has to be “Apeshit,” a collection of ape-themed stories. Anyway, you can fine out more about Big Pulp here. And Big Pulp’s publisher, Bill Olver, generously agree to an interview with Chamber of the Bizarre. So here goes:

 

What is Big Pulp, and what are your publications?

Big Pulp is a brand covering a line of publications featuring science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and romance fiction and poems. I started with an online-only version of Big Pulp magazine in 2008 and published the first print edition in December 2010. Since then I’ve branched out into themed anthologies—including Clones, Fairies & Monsters in the Closet; APESHIT; and The Kennedy Curse.

 

When, how and why did you start it?

I started working on the website in 2007 and officially published our first story on March 3, 2008. I started Big Pulp for a variety of reasons. Foremost, I wanted to publish the kind of magazine that I wanted to find at the bookstore, but couldn’t. Also, I wanted a creative outlet and a way to meet other writers, artists, and book lovers. I had worked with other small press owners over the years and self-published before, so I had some background with small DIY publishing. I’m a writer, too, but I also enjoy being on the opposite side of the equation. I like watching a project come together.

It was a lot of work, but not very complicated. I wanted to do it, so I did. I had set aside a small fund to pay writers and artists for allowing me to publish their work online and to pay for webhosting. Once I was happy with the first version of the website, I started soliciting and reading submissions.

 

How do you go about marketing Big Pulp publications?

I engage on social media through Facebook and Twitter, and have a mailing list that I’ve compiled over the last few years. I attend as many book fairs and fan conventions as I can during the year, which are a significant portion of my annual sales. And of course, I’ve published hundreds of writers over the past 6 years, who help spread the word to their networks of friends and fans.

 

As an editor, what qualities do you look for in submissions?

I like stories that get to the point. I read a lot of submissions that take three pages to set up their story, so I appreciate writers who have made the effort to cut extraneous details and scenes from their work. I also like work with a strong point of view. Not just a strong narrator, but an opinion or an idea that the writer wants to express. I’m not interested in “good guy kills bad guy” stories. Give me something to think about.

Of course, the basics are important – avoiding clichés and trite situations, choosing precise descriptive language, and writing dialogue that sounds like something someone would actually say.

The Big Pulp “flavor” tends to be on the dark side – abrasive narrators, black humor, bad choices, melancholy results. Not all of our stories are of that type, of course, but my editorial tastes veer in that direction.

 

How did “Clones, Fairies and Monsters in the Closet” come about, and what was your intent in publishing it?

I didn’t have any special intent, other than I thought it would be fun. While reading for Big Pulp magazine, I started getting a lot of LGBT-themed genre work without specifically soliciting it, and when I was considering adding anthologies to my line of publications, an LGBT-themed book was on my rather lengthy list of possible themes.

It was simply an area where my interests and the interests of my writers intersected at the right time. I had published a number of writers who already were working in the theme, so I was confident I would receive enough high quality submissions for a collection.

 

Do you feel that there’s still some discrimination against LGBT-themed literature in the field of genre fiction, or in publishing in general?

I’m sure there is, but I also know there are many welcoming outlets and options for writers in the field.

 

What sort of response has the anthology generated?

It’s been a consistent seller over the last year. The collection was also a recommended text for a gender studies class at Victoria University in Australia, which was a complete surprise and a real honor.

 

Are there any upcoming projects from Big Pulp that you’d like to mention?

This year, I’ve added three new periodicals to our slate of publications – Child of Words (SF&F); M (horror and mystery); and Thirst (romance).

In addition to those, my latest anthology is Black Chaos: Tales of the Zombie (June 1, 2014). This collection features 25 writers, many of them new to Big Pulp, all with a different take on the zombie theme.

 

What advice would you give an aspiring fiction writer?

Never stop learning – whether through reading, studying, or having others critique your work. Curiosity, an open mind, and willingness to learn will help you develop your craft and keep your work from stagnating once you’ve mastered it.

For those considering submitting their work to any publication, be sure to research your markets. I receive a lot of submissions from writers who obviously have no idea what I publish. Also, please properly format your manuscripts – Times, 12 pt, double-spaced is great. Don’t use a crazy font, don’t use the space bar to indent the first line of a paragraph and don’t hit return at the end of every line. Editors everywhere will thank you.

I had a great time this past weekend at Enigma Bookstore in Astoria, N.Y., at a panel discussion with fellow Codorus Press authors Wayne Lockwood, author of Acid Indigestion Eyes: Collected Essays and Musings on Generation X and Alex Segura, author of Silent City. First off, the bookstore was really cool. They specialize in science fiction, fantasy and mystery. You could just tell by browsing the selection that the owners have a genuine love for — and excellent taste in — the aforementioned genres. It’s the type of bookstore I’d make a roadtrip just to visit. And I really enjoyed sitting on the panel and talking about writing with Wayne and Alex, too. It was funny. We got so engrossed in our talk that somebody had to remind us — hey, you guys might want to sell some books, as long as you’re here.

One element of our discussion that I found particularly interesting was a conversation about how a story comes together. This mainly had to do with fiction. And while “Acid Indigestion Eyes” is nonfiction, Wayne is currently working on a novel so he was able to share some insights as well.

While I’d read and admired “Silent City” (see my review here), Alex and I had never met or discussed the writing process before. So I found it interesting that he also experienced a phenomenon I encountered numerous times when I was writing The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report. It’s the moment when my characters did something I hadn’t expected. And the book took a turn that made me say: “Whoah! Didn’t see THAT coming!” That was kind of unnerving, since I was WRITING the freakin thing! (more…)