Posts Tagged ‘Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers’

Note: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the first part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.
I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

MARY SANGIOVANNI

SangiovanniMary SanGiovanni is the author of 10 horror and thriller books, one of which was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, as well as numerous short stories. She has a Masters degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, Pittsburgh and teaches English classes at her local college. She is currently a member of The Authors Guild, The International Thriller Writers, and Penn Writers.

I think writers of my generation are in a unique position to have been able to observe first-hand how the industry has changed regarding the prominence of women in the horror field. In movies, we have seen women go from shrieking, fleeing victims to capable and quick-thinking heroines on screen; we have seen more women writing, directing, producing, and filming quality horror. We have seen a broader range of topics explored in horror, taking into account the psychology of fear from both male and female perspectives. And of course, in publishing, there are increasing numbers of women writers offering lasting and canonic works to the body of classic horror literature. These women, in the tradition of great horror writers before them, are stretching and breaking boundaries in the exploration of fear; they are finding new and terrifying ways to look at the world around them. Further, they are writing their work in their own way, not necessarily prone to be imitative of the historically male-dominated approach to horror. I believe it’s an over-simplification to state that works are intrinsically written in a masculine or feminine point of view; I think so much more goes into the crafting of a finely textured, deeply layered story than just a psychology or perspective based on sex or gender. However, I’d venture to say that women and men are often raised to fear different things, and further, to react and respond differently to those fears. This creates a variety of possible ways to present subject matter in a horror story that can be accessed by either men or women. The awareness of this, especially in modern horror fiction, has led to the creation of sophisticated works by both men and women which truly engage a wider audience. Horror is not about the mask that is worn, but the face beneath that mask; the root of fear an audience can understand and identify with is what drives a horror story, not the monster in which that fear is embodied, be it a boogeyman associated with the nightmares of man, or those of women. I believe that women have incorporated this notion into their work in order to overcome the stereotype that women’s horror is “soft” or “not scary.” Their work serves to prove that their own unique perspective of things can be absolutely scary, whether that is in spite of or because that perspective has been generated in a female mind.
My generation has largely been influenced by male horror writers (Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Dean Koontz, etc.) because men dominated the field for decades. I think it’s gratifying to see many new women horror writers listing both men AND women as influences in their own writing. I think that is as validating as anything else, because we, as writers, start out as fans of the genre. We simply want to contribute to the body of literature that inspired and shaped so much of our thoughts and feelings. It’s a powerful thing to know that readers and fans of the genre are reading more widely, taking chances on what in the past would have been dismissed, perhaps, as “fluff,” and finding in women writers’ works some truly frightening and memorable stories. It solidifies the idea that women are, in fact, taking part in continuing the literary tradition that they have so very much enjoyed.
We’ve come a long way from naked nubiles being carried off by buff and scaly monsters or swarmed by lascivious cultists. These stories have their place in the history of horror, as do any stories that speak specifically to a kind of horrific event, but it’s nice to see a broadening of ideas that can be interpreted as “horror” in our field. There is no shortage of emotion or action, deviant or otherwise, for writers to delve into.
I think it’s important to note, when discussing the topic of women horror writers, that true equality comes when writers are judged based solely on the merit of their work — when the time comes that horror writers are not identified first by gender and then by genre, but simply as writers in their field. I think the horror genre benefits from a rich diversity of voices and perspectives, not a narrowing of them. And I am proud and pleased to see that this seems to be the direction in which the horror genre is heading.

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A weird, reclusive dictator is displeased with the United States, and may or may not have enacted his vengeance via a crack team of computer technicians over a world-wide computer system that dominates every aspect of life in the 21st century.

Yup. As a 48-year-old science fiction geek, I’ve got to admit that sometimes the modern world outstrips even my most outlandish flights of imagination from childhood.

Of course, wonderfully paranoid science fiction stories about computers are nothing new. Check out this piece from the great Neil Morris about an overlooked classic of the subgenre. This recently ran in the December issue of “The Speculator,” the newsletter for the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers. If you’re not a member, consider becoming one. Getting the newsletter is just one of many perks.

Anyway, here’s the piece.

 

Neil’s Queue Tip of the Quarter:

Colossus: the Forbin Project (1970)

 

by Neil Morris

 

There’s a conflict inherent in movies: the battle between images and words.

In the silent era, printed title cards delivered dialogue and description, but this static, written material, usually inserted with a jarring cut, disrupted the photographic flow of film “language” and visual storytelling.

In the thirties and forties, words thrived in the form of spoken dialogue. This was due in part to the novelty of audio recording itself, but the main reason was that movies were still no more than cheaply-made filmed plays, photographically immature and economically influenced by the Depression. Shooting in remote, picturesque locations was costly and inconvenient, so producers mindful of the bottom line relied on inexpensive banter (writers, sadly, were a dime a dozen) to entertain an audience. Screwball comedies and sophisticated detective stories dominated, piling one charming line upon another to the point of verbal overload.

Later technological advances, particularly the rise of television and its influence on the development of theatrical widescreen formats, brought about a change in attitude toward the recorded word. Producers began to disapprove of scripts that were too “talky”; lengthy conversation belonged on the old soundstages that were now hosting televised dramas sponsored by detergent companies. Instead, studios wanted action-packed spectacles in Cinemascope.

Ever since the epic style of William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur” and David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” made filmmaking less lean, technology continues to push motion pictures toward the purely visual. CGI, with its ability to photo-realistically render any conceivable camera movement, gives kinetic-eyed artists unlimited creative power. That freedom has resulted in the ascendancy of the action movie. Ever-increasing waves of hyperactive eye candy rush across multiplex screens, from “Gravity” to “The Lego Movie” to the latest Marvel adventure. Even films that strive for the cerebral, like “The Matrix” or “Inception,” hide their intellectual aspirations behind crowd-pleasing gunplay sequences and dazzling explosions.

Then there are movies like “Transcendence,” movies that should be thought-provoking, that should give insight into the nature of existence given the subject matter, that could benefit from long, quiet moments of complex philosophical discussion, but devolve into mindless, special effects-filled shoot-em-ups (against pseudo-zombies, of course) because box office pressure and the cinematic zeitgeist demand it.

The tragedy of “Transcendence” reminded me of another film about the perils of artificial intelligence (no, not “A.I.”), one that was made in 1970, years ahead of its time, at a point in history when filmmakers challenged the conventions of the Hollywood system, when imaginative and compelling dialogue could still rivet an audience’s attention, and directors like Woody Allen and John Cassavettes could still have careers.

Unfortunately, it’s saddled with one of the most indecisive and informatively inaccessible titles in motion picture history.

I’m talking about “Colossus: The Forbin Project.”

What’s Colossus? What’s a Forbin? Why invoke that unholy word: Project? Didn’t the producers know that Project in the title of anything is an indication of off-putting pretentiousness and self-indulgence? Think Joe Perry Project, Alan Parsons Project, “Project X” and especially “The Mindy Project.” Perhaps they wanted to make a connection with The Manhattan Project, equating the digital dangers portrayed in the film with the dangers of the atom bomb.

After all, “Colossus” is a Cold War film, and Colossus, the titular computer designed to take missile defense decisions out of the hands of a responsibility-shirking presidential administration, is a product of the nuclear tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. That Colossus becomes self-aware is an afterthought, its sentience unexpected and unexplained, much like the suddenly-emergent consciousness of Skynet in the early “Terminator” films. But at least it’s an intelligence that knows what it wants and knows how to say it, unlike the reticent ghost in the machine Johnny Depp plays in “Transcendence,” his intentions misunderstood because of his secretiveness and inability to communicate clearly.

Colossus’ voice, once it’s synthesized midway through the film, is no soothing HAL 9000, velvet tones disguising treachery. It’s mechanical, terse and gritty, but thoroughly captivating, like what God would sound like if He used Stephen Hawking’s talkbox. It’s not your buddy, it’s not your therapist. It’s the voice of authority, or as Colossus puts it, the voice of control — with a capital C. When broadcast to the world, Colossus spells out its plans for humanity in no uncertain terms.

Adapted from the D.F. Jones novel by screenwriter James Bridges (“The China Syndrome”) and directed by Joseph Sargent (director of the original, somewhat verbose, but no less suspenseful “Taking of Pelham One Two Three”), Colossus is a film centered on language. Apart from an excursion to Rome, the story takes place in a handful of sets where politicians and scientists sing the praises of their creation then must plot against it in secret when the entity turns on them, risking discovery that will incur swift ICBM retribution. Colossus and its simultaneously-developed Soviet counterpart, Guardian, invent and share an indecipherable mathematical language, much like the private speech between identical twins. Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden, before he became Victor Newman on “The Young and the Restless”), a stern perfectionist of immense ego and insensitive directness (just watch what he so matter-of-factly asks of colleague Susan Clark), knows his invention well when he says, “Colossus deals in the exact meaning of words and one must know precisely what to ask for.”

If only Dr. Forbin had considered that when he encoded Colossus’ prime directive.

****SPOILER****

For if anything, Colossus is the reflection of its creator, a ruthlessly logical being, and rather than perceiving it as a superior intellect bent on enslaving or eradicating an inferior human race, it should be seen as a dutiful soldier carrying out its programming to the literal extreme. Colossus’ given mission is to prevent war, and it took Dr. Forbin at his word, reasoning out the most efficient solution: Restrain Man.

DickI believe I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I edit the quarterly newsletter, called “The Speculator,” for the writers’ group Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers. I like to include an interview in each issue. For the September issue, I had the opportunity to interview Dick DeBartolo — one of Mad Magazine’s most prominent writers and a childhood hero of mine.  (For more about my life-long fandom of Mad, read here.) Needless to say, I was thrilled. Here’s the story that ran in the newsletter. Since The Speculator is for and about writers, much of the emphasis is on the craft and business of writing. But even if you’re not a writer, I hope you’ll find it interesting. And I’d like to thank my good friend Doug for helping make contact with Dick. Doug, give me a shout if you ever need a kidney.

 

“Mad’s Maddest Writer” Dick DeBartolo on Writing Parody

By Tom Joyce

As you might guess from my membership in this group, and my editorship of this newsletter, I’m a big fan of speculative fiction. So don’t take the following statement as a dis.

Speculative fiction lends itself to parody.

Think of the works of speculative fiction that simultaneously serve as genre parodies and great stories in themselves. The writing of Douglas Adams, Christopher Moore and Terry Pratchett immediately come to mind. For further examples, you could go as far back as Fritz Leiber’s classic Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, or head to your local multiplex and watch “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

So I thought it might be helpful for us as writers to get some insights from a parody writer. As luck would have it, I got to speak to one of the all-time greats.

Dick DeBartolo is one of Mad Magazine’s most prominent and prolific writers, having contributed to the magazine since the early 1960s. He specialized in the magazine’s movie and TV satires, which were always my favorite part of the magazine.

Dick also hosts a wonderful netcast about gadgets and technology called Giz Wiz, which is available on TWIT.tv. He’s a regular guest on segment on ABC News Now, and was recently interviewed on the public radio program Studio 360 (which is available online). He is also the author of “Good Days and Mad: A Hysterical Tour Behind the Scenes at Mad Magazine.”

Dick asked that the interview take the form of a phone conversation, rather than responding to e-mailed questions. So I’ll have to do some paraphrasing, as I wasn’t able to write down everything verbatim. But it’s worth it, because I’ve been a fan of Mad since I was a kid, and being able to talk to Dick made my week, month and year. As an added bonus, Dick turned out to be every bit as funny, charming and flat-out cool as I could have hoped.

So here’s the gist of what Dick and I talked about:

Dick said that he naturally gravitated toward movie and TV satires. And the bad movies were a lot easier to satirize.

“The more serious the movie was and the more pretentious it was, the more fun it was to make fun of it,” he said.

TV satires were more difficult, because they were more of a time commitment. He’d have to watch five or six episodes to get a feel for the show’s approach and its characters.

Unlike the movie satires, which would follow the plot of the source material, he would have to construct his own plots for the TV satires. That could yield some interesting results. When he wrote the satire for the campy science fiction TV series “Lost in Space,” he placed the characters on a planet with giant vegetation. Not long after, he encountered series star June Lockhart on the set of the game show Match Game, where he was also a writer. She jokingly asked him if the magazine had spies on its staff, because the plot of his parody mirrored one of an upcoming episode.

His propensity for making fun of movies meant that he was rarely invited to previews, but that was fine by him. He preferred seeing movies with audiences so he could take note of the scenes that got the biggest reactions from the crowd, and be sure to reference them in the satires.

He was apparently doing something right. No less a luminary than Roger Ebert once told Dick that he learned how to criticize movies through Mad’s dissection of them.

Here are Dick’s insights on:

TECHNIQUES FOR PARODY

— Your intended audience should be familiar with the source material. When you’re riffing off something, it helps if they get the references.

— Dick is a big fan of what he calls “The Rule of Three” for satire. You have two references to something normal to establish a pattern and set up the punchline, then deliver that punchline on the third reference.

For example: “Is this rocket going to make it to the moon?”

“Yes. We’re using the highest octane fuel, the most powerful engine, and a big bottle of Mentos and Coke.”

— Running gags can be very effective. Try to find a hook within the context of the story, and keep non-sequiturs to a minimum. For example, in his parody of “The Poseiden Adventure” about a capsized ocean liner, Dick made a running gag out of the characters’ linguistic confusion over “up” vs. “down,” which got more absurd and funny as the story progressed. (“I’m seasick. I think I’m gonna throw down.”)

MAD MAGAZINE

The magazine was initially very male-oriented, for boys in the 10-through-15-year-old range. Initially, the magazine only satirized G-rated movies. Now its approach is more inclusive. He also describes it as “rougher” than it used to be, with edgier humor.

“When it came out, it was the only thing like it,” Dick said. “Now that’s all changed. Mad is like a mirror of society.”

SELF-PROMOTION FOR WRITERS

“The Web is where it’s at,” Dick said “You can do so much with no money.”

Where social media is concerned, Google Plus users tend to be more interested in serious, straightforward information. Facebook and Twitter users gravitate toward the “silly stuff.”

“Make yourself a valuable information source on the Internet,” Dick advises. “You get followers. Follow your followers.”

Looking for a good St. Patrick’s Day gift for that special someone? No, you’re probably not. OK, that was an awkward lead-in. Anyway, I’m pretty psyched. An anthology featuring one of my short stories is out. The anthology is titled Speculations from New Jersey and it features one of my stories called “The CyberKnights.” It’s the first science fiction story I’ve ever written, which is kind of weird because I’ve been a science fiction geek ever since I was a kid. Even then, it’s more a parody of William Gibson-style cyberpunk than a straight-up science fiction story. And for the record, I’m a big fan of cyberpunk in general, and William Gibson in particular. I kid because I love. The anthology was put out by the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, and a lot of really talented writers are affiliated with that group. In fact, I’m currently reading another anthology put out by that group in 2008, when they were called the Garden State Horror Writers. That anthology is called Dark Territories, and I’m blown away by how good it is.

Jon Gibbs - author pic 2I’m a member of several different writers groups, including Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, for whom I edit the quarterly newsletter.

Writer Jon Gibbs recently contributed a piece that I think is worth reading for any aspiring writer. He gave me permission to repost it here. And once you finish reading this post, be sure to check out his Website and his blog, both of which have a lot of informative and entertaining stuff.

So take it away Jon …

Give Yourself Permission to Fail

by Jon Gibbs

For many writers, rejections are a bit like a trips to the dentist. We’ll do almost anything to avoid them, rather than risk getting bad news.

You can understand someone being afraid of dentists (I know I am), but why fear rejection? What’s so terrible about someone passing up the chance to publish your work?

I think it’s partly because, no matter how much we like to pretend we don’t care, it hurts to have a story turned down.

And so it should. If you don’t care if your story gets accepted, why submit it there in the first place?

But I believe there’s more to it than worrying about the sting of being told ‘No thank you’ by someone you’ve probably never met.

Jon Gibbs - Barnums Revenge - cover pic - compressedA rejection, especially when we’re starting out, is a hammer blow to our self-confidence. The bad news for would-be writers is that you’re going to get rejected, probably quite a lot. If getting published is important to you, those rejections are going to hurt.

The good news is that it gets easier. The more knocks you take, the tougher you’ll get, and if you make the effort to improve your craft, if you’re willing to recognize your mistakes and learn from them there’s a good chance that you will get published.

So go on, give yourself permission to fail. Take a deep breath and pitch that story.
One day, your dream will thank you.

Born in England, Jon Gibbs now lives in New Jersey, where he is the founder of The New Jersey Authors’ Network (www.njauthorsnetwork.com) and FindAWritingGroup.com, Jon’s middle grade fantasy, “Fur-Face” (Echelon Press), was nominated for a Crystal Kite Award. The sequel, “Barnum’s Revenge,” is scheduled for release in February, 2013.

Jon Gibbs - Fur-Face cover pic - compressedJon has a website: www.acatofninetales.com and a blog: http://jongibbs.livejournal.com. When he’s not chasing around after his three children, he can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.