27 June 2011

One Buck Horror Released, and Japanese Body Modification

My story "The Last Nephew" appears in the first issue of One Buck Horror, which is available for, uh, one buck at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. You get some gruesome cover art and five tales of terror, including mine, plus the karmic benefits of supporting a fledgling magazine.

Over the weekend while I was scouring the nether regions of the internet (it's stinky down there: internet, you need a shower), I came across some info on extreme body modification in Japan at Vice Style. This article focuses on people who get saline injected into their foreheads in order to alter their appearance. The effect apparently lasts the better part of a day, until your body slowly absorbs the fluid.

The bagelhead look is not the only option, but it's popular.
What's most interesting about the article is the tension between Japanese body modification enthusiasts, journalists who cover them, and mainstream Japanese culture. I find the idea of a temporary but extreme modification really interesting. The saline injections are relatively harmless but I would imagine that most people would find the idea pretty squicky. At the same time, the usual parental / authority figure objections don't apply here. Isn't the permanence of tattoos and piercings the basis for most arguments against them?

19 June 2011

History and Story

If you squint really hard, you can see Gozer standing at the top.

I've been thinking about the relationship between history and fiction this week, especially thanks to a post by Eileen Wiedbrauk over at Speak Coffee to Me.

As a former literary scholar, I have a strange relationship with history. I've played in archives. I've held 400 year old manuscripts in my hands (and been dismayed as tiny bits crumbled off the edges, but one was supposed to know about that). But any research I did into history was always performed not in order to discover facts or truths about the past, but to help me understand literature better. Why did people write what they wrote? That was what I was seeking to understand. When you study literature, it's always in service of interpretation, rather than cold hard facts.

So when Eileen complained about the intrusion into a perfectly decent witch / vampire / time travel novel she was reading of "passages where it feels like the author stopped writing a novel, and started writing a paper," it really got me thinking. What is the ideal relationship between history and fiction?

Here's my tentative theory. Only a history buff is going to care if you get the little picky details right, or which version of "the facts" you decide to use in your story. As a reader, I am much more interested in how you use history to engage me in your story. To that end, it matters way less to me that the history is accurate or even remotely true than how that history plays out in the novel.

The last two novels I've read have been ghost stories. One was The White Devil by Justin Evans and the other (which I'm in the middle of, and totally in love with) is Audrey's Door by Sarah Langan. Both feature main characters who perform historical research in their efforts to figure out why they are being haunted. I recommend both, but my point here is that these books have complex relationships with history.

In The White Devil, Evans draws on a couple of different interludes in the biography of Byron - yes, the poet - to create a quite creepy ghost. He confirms that Yes, All that Stuff about Byron Is Really True in an article on his website, but qualifies that immediately: "Or most of it." I'm trying to avoid spoilers here, but Evans makes it quite clear that he has mashed historical figures together with his school experiences in England in service of his story. In other words, he's painting with history rather than sticking pedantically to the "truth."

Sarah Langan takes the use of history a step further in Audrey's Door, a book that features a building that seems designed to hold disturbing energies. As far as I can tell, she pretty much made up a style of architecture for the novel (a satanic style, no less). Like Evans's website, the site for Audrey's Door offers up some historical backdrop. Chaotic Naturalism sounds like a valid name for a style of architecture, doesn't it? The article I've linked to there even appears researchy, and goes so far as to offer a small bibliography. Some of the links are real; but the relationship between these slices of history and the history constructed in the novel is ephemeral at best. There are hints of intersections with reality. On another page, Langan mentions "Medium and Occultist Helena Blavsky," a clear riff on the name of Helena Blavatsky, co-founder of the spiritualist group The Theosophical Society. This is not history: it's a super-clever riff on history.

(The links to Ivan Reitman's and Harold Ramis's IMDB pages, contained in the bibliographies, are clever - who ya gonna call? I see what you did there, Sarah.)

In the book itself, Langan has constructed an impressive array of faux-historical documents as background to the story. Each one of them builds tension. Each one could have been taken from the pages of an academic journal or a newspaper. If some of them were real, I wouldn't be surprised at all.

Do you see how brilliant this is? By nestling her novel's history in real world history, Langan has freedom to create story elements that suit her needs, but still feel real. She's obviously done her research, but she's used it  for inspiration rather than staying wedded to it.


07 June 2011

A Real Summer Game-Changer

I'm not talking writing tips here. I am talking dessert. Summery frozen dessert that will blow your mind with its simplicity, deliciousness, and brain-freeze potential. I don't care if you come here to read my thoughts on writing: I would be remiss and probably karmically damaged if I didn't share this with you.

Here's what you do: you know those bananas that are sitting in your kitchen and getting brown spots way too soon because the weather is getting warmer? There's no way you can eat all those before their skins turn black and they taste overripe and too sweet. You my friend are going to take those bananas and turn them into PURE MAGIC.

Peel the bananas and cut them into chunks a couple of inches thick. Place the chunks in a container - I use a stainless steel bowl - and nestle that container in your freezer. In a few hours, the bananas will be frozen enough for you to work your will on them.

Your will, and your blender or food processor.

Take the frozen banana chunks and pile them into the motorized chopping device of your choice. Chop or blenderize wantonly. If the chunks are reluctant to blend or chop, you can add a tiny skootch of some kind of liquid - milk or soy milk or almond milk or even a bit of water or juice will do - but just a tiny skootch, like a couple of tablespoons. (If you're using a blender, it helps to press down on the top of the banana chunks with something so that the blades can get to them. I use my potato masher, press and blend for a few seconds, then stir everything with a spoon. BE CAREFUL NOT TO LET THE MASHER GET DOWN TO THE BLADES. You will end up in the ER and miss eating your delicious frozen treat.)

See what's happening as you blend the bananas? They are taking on a creamy texture. A frozen, creamy texture that is a heck of a lot like ice cream. That's right. You didn't expect that, I bet.

Yes, you can blenderize any frozen fruit. The higher the banana quotient, however, the greater the proximity to ice cream rather than sorbet.

I keep a bowl of frozen banana chunks in the freezer at all times once the weather gets warm, so I can make this dessert any time. Apparently you can refreeze the pulverized banana cream after you're done blending, and it will scoop like ice cream. I haven't tried this myself - I usually make just enough to go around at a time - but I am intrigued, to say the least.

The more ripe the bananas, the sweeter your dessert will be. I find this recipe doesn't need extra sugar, but you can amp up the deliciousness by adding a few frozen berries or a big scoop of cocoa into the mix. I recently found a recipe online that suggests adding peanut butter - I think I'll be trying out some almond butter or cashew butter and see how that goes.

I won't point out the obvious benefits of having fruit for dessert, but if you have someone in your life who is vegan (use only water or juice in the recipe) or has dessert-limiting food allergies (ditto), you will probably make them very happy with this. I find this treat more satisfying - texturally and flavour-wise - than ice cream. Plus you can eat a giant bowl of it and feel great instead of gross.

You're welcome.

05 June 2011

Post #200: Story a Day Wrap-Up

(Not sure what to say about post #200, except to note it? As some kind of accomplishment? Or something?)

Okay, so...Story a Day in May. A little week three brush with something viral slowed my progress a bit - as did the fact that I was exhausted. Nonetheless, I am super happy with the raw stats:

Raw word count for the month: 50,083. I drafted 19 stories in all. Four of them took me two days or more to write. Two I drafted more than once, since I wasn't happy with the way they came out the first time I tried to write them. Five I am almost certain I can turn into something great. Two or three might be great if I can figure out how to fix major issues with them. One might be the seed of a novella or a novel - maybe my 2011 NaNoWrimo project?

In the next few weeks, I'll be working on getting some of those stories in fighting shape, as well as drafting some new stuff.

Speaking of new stuff...I take it as a good sign that for the first time in a while there is a little cluster of truly great looking anthologies out there, some of which are paying very decent up front cashola for stories. Here's what I've come up with:

Machine of Death: Deadline July 15 2011; pays $200 per story.
From the website submission guidelines:

Machine of Death is an anthology of short stories with a shared premise.... All stories in the book start with the idea of a machine that can use a blood test to tell you how you’re going to die — sometimes vaguely, but always accurately.

For more info or to purchase a copy of the book or download your free pdf copy of the first volume, check out the website.

The Mothman Files: Deadline July 1 2011; pays 5¢ per word.
You might remember Mothman from the muddled film starring Richard Gere that came out a bunch of years ago, but John Keel's 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies is a well-researched classic in the paranormal field, and ongoing Mothman or Mothman-like sightings continue to this day. Editor Michael Knost invites submissions of fictional works on the Mothman theme.

The Memory Eater: Deadline July 15 2011; pays an equal share in profits on POD and e-book sales.
Editor Casper Pearl calls for stories involving the "Memory Eater—an orb-like device that fits neatly around your head like a diver’s helmet with the ability to locate and destroy any memory in the human mind."

After reading Deborah Walker's post on the Merry Month of May, I was reminded of this call for stories:

Enchanted Conversation's Cinderella Issue: Submission Period June 27-30; pays 10¢ per  word
This excellent online magazine publishes fiction based on beloved fairy tales. Read their Rumpelstiltskin issue for free to see what they're up to.

I don't know about you, but with such juicy and fun premises, I feel inspired to write.

What are you working on this June?