22 November 2013

New Stories in Phobos Magazine and Suction Cup Dreams

I'm currently cooking up a brand new, substantial post about how I used ecstatic trance to research the novel I'm writing right now. (You read that right.) BUT in the meantime if you would love to read some short fiction about the end of the world OR an octopus who must strive to stop an alien invasion threat, you are in the right place.

Phobos Magazine is a brand new publication out of Philadelphia. Their inaugural issue, Zugzwang is available through Amazon right now for a dollar. Given the size of the table of contents and the thoughtfulness that I know went into this ish, that is a bargoon, my friends. My story, "Hail Khepera In Thy Boat," features an Egyptologist who must use her knowledge of the past to help humanity deal with an alien threat. For those of you whom I met through April's A to Z challenge (who didn't I meet through A to Z?) you might be pleased to note this story is based on this blog post. Like at least one other story I've written, it contains a secret poop joke. Can you crack the code?

I've been eagerly anticipating the release of Suction Cup Dreams: An Octopus Anthology ever since I read their call for stories. I knew that the octopus was a weirdly smart animal, and, despite the fact that it evolved in a highly divergent line from mammals, its eyes are uncannily similar to ours. Amazing stuff. It's about time someone decided to pull together an anthology of fiction about the octopus! 

Suction Cup Dreams gathers twelve stories of various genres united by the fact that they all feature octopuses. My story, "Three-Hearted," riffs on the question begged by every Hollywood alien invasion movie: why do the aliens always land on the White House lawn? Why not in Podunk County? Why not in (GASP!) some country other than the US? Extending that notion, "Three-Hearted" explores the idea of an alien invasion that has virtually no interest in humans. What if we were not the first line of defense? What if it was up to a different species to save us? Suction Cup Dreams is available right now as a paperback, and scheduled for upcoming ebook release. Paper book fetishists beware: you might not want to wait for the ebook, since the paperback is a thing of beauty, and includes a gorgeous original illustration for each story. 

22 October 2013

Why You - Yes, YOU, Should Listen to the Pod

I'm talking about the three incredible podcasts produced by Escape Artists, Inc. Specifically, Pseudopod, a horror podcast, Escape Pod, which runs science fiction stories, and Podcastle, the fantasy branch of the operation.

If you are a speculative fiction writer, chances are you are like me and you have to make time to read. We all know it's a great thing for a writer to absorb as much narrative as possible, right? And yet there are times when reading enough is very difficult. There's all that pesky writing to do, not to mention all that pesky life stuff. At the same time I feel as though I want to keep up with what's going on in the wide world of fiction. Here's a way to take a big pair of scissors to all that complexity.

The three sister podcasts I've linked to above do an amazing job of culling the fields of horror, science fiction, and fantasy short stories for the best stuff, past and present. They do an equally amazing job of matching narrators to the content of the story. This is high-quality voice acting.

Best thing: these podcasts do the work of keeping up with your genre of choice for you. If you've missed an author for whatever reason who has had a major or even minor influence, chances are you will discover him or her here. Past authors who made significant contributions are well represented. (For example, this story by Leonid Andreyev completely altered my perspective on Russian literature and horror.)

Escape Artists, Inc. treats its authors very well. They pay pretty respectably and don't buy all the rights to your stuff. In fact, they encourage you to sell your story to a print market first, and sub to them after so both markets can benefit from the exposure in different formats. Good deal!

It is free to subscribe to all three podcasts.

The reason for this post: Escape Artists recently put out a podcast asking for help from listeners. You know how it is these days: we have never had so much choice about how we spend our entertainment dollars. Shooting something great a couple of dollars is basically the equivalent of applause, right? It's like saying, hey man, I dig what you did there. My suggestion is, sign up, listen to a few episodes, and if you like what you hear, let other people know. And maybe shoot them a couple of bucks while you're at it.

09 October 2013

Scare Tactics

How have you been, dear people? Myself, I'm back from a wee northern adventure and feeling pretty good.

Also, this is happening:

Scare Tactics
Presented by the Hamilton Public Library and Horror in the Hammer / The Hamilton Zombie Walk.

Mike Algera, Rhonda Dynes, Mike Slabon, and me! Elizabeth Twist, will be reading from our work and talking about horror in the Hamilton Room at the Central Branch of the HPL. Saturday, October 12 from 2-4pm. It should be groovy.

A few more details here.

Oh look! They made a poster:

I am very excited for this. If you are remotely near the Hamilton region and you aren't celebrating Thanksgiving that day, please come by (yup, we are smart and get Thanksgiving out of the way before National Novel Writing Month).

19 September 2013

Great News, Sad News

Feline and canine companion news.

I'll start with the sad. The day after Dizzy's surgery, our super handsome Ben cat passed away. Ben spent fourteen and a half of his fifteen and one-quarter years with me. He was never truly good in the behavioral sense, but he was always handsome, and he shared a lot with me and, in recent years, with me and Dave and the dog. He traveled with me to Washington DC when I went there on my postdoc fellowship (twice). He was the first cat I ever owned, and convinced me that a house without a cat is lacking a certain something, and that certain something is not the scent of litter box.

Ben was very sick a year and a half ago. We went through tests and worried that we were losing him and then he seemed to recover. Bottom line, the last year and a half felt like bonus time. True to his mysterious and sophisticated ways he sickened and weakened and got to his last day giving only the barest of outward signs. He was still playing and interested in stuff and bossy even as he was on his way out. Because of that we were able to be fully present and make the decision to let him go humanely. We were both there with him when he passed. He didn't suffer much and he was peaceful when he went.

My favourite photo of Ben.
The last week has been a lot about sadness and the terrible task of putting away or dealing with cat paraphernalia. At the same time, we've been waiting to hear back about the dog's lab analysis with that special mixture of fear and exhausted anxiousness you feel when you've just dealt with a worst case scenario and you're not sure you can handle another one.

Which leads us to the great news. Dizzy's lab report came back and it turns out that the mast cell tumor wasn't. The original needle aspiration was a misdiagnosis. The lump was a sebaceous adenoma, a benign skin tumor. It was rupturing periodically so it was good that we had it removed, but long story short, my dog doesn't have cancer, and never did. We are breathing massive sighs of relief over here. This has been a hideous time and we are glad it's over.

Part of me wonders if the dog and cat didn't have some secret collaboration going on, like the dog summoned up this bizarre and apparently dangerous physical symptom so we would put all our attention on him. That way, the cat could complete his shamanistic death ritual in peace. We will never know for sure.

I am looking forward to things easing off a bit in the next little while so I can, you know, start doing that writing thing again. I hope you all are settling into a good fall routine. Thank you to everyone who commented or sent me private messages on my previous posts. You guys are the best.

12 September 2013

Dizzy Report

First off, thank you for all your support and well wishes for Dizzy. He had his surgery yesterday. Everything went well and he is in mopey recovery.

The positive news is that the tumor, which was small a couple of weeks ago, had slowly but steadily shrunk to less than half of its original size. While mast cell tumors do change a lot (it's one of their traits), they tend to shrink and grow rapidly, rather than just shrink.

Our vet Dr. Kate noticed that the tumor had shrunk, so she was able to modify her original plan and do the surgery under sedation and a local anesthetic rather than sedation plus gas - much easier on Dizzy. The incision is on the back of his neck and about two inches long - not as big as we thought it would be based on some information we read, though still sizable on a little guy.

The staffers at the office reported that once Dizzy woke up, he clucked like a chicken to get attention. I am not totally sure which of his many noises that would be. He makes the strangest noises. It is a little unearthly. It's possible (probable) that he came up with a whole new noise just for this occasion. Apparently everyone fussed over him. They even took a post-op picture because, and I quote, "He looks like a flower!" I suspect that they slipped that green towel into the cage to make "leaves."

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I tried to take more pictures once we got home, but he got tired of having his photo taken right away.

Ben-the-cat is keeping a close eye on things. He doesn't usually get too close to the dog but he checked him out thoroughly when he got home. Never one to be outdone, Ben is back on antibiotics for an apparent lung infection. It is a festival of sad around here. When I stopped by to pick up the cat's drugs today, I told the receptionists at the vet's office that I was really tired of seeing their sweet faces.

Basically, the next step is to wait and see what the pathologist has to say. Typically results take a week. Fingers crossed for a good result. As usual I'm happy to receive any good vibes, healing thoughts, prayers, mojo, or whatever you've got.

05 September 2013

Scary News from the Vet: Dog Mast Cell Tumor

Okay so. Yikes news today, involving this familiar face:

Portrait of the Dog as Young Dog

About three weeks ago, I noticed a weird lump on the back of my dog's neck. It didn't look like much, maybe an infected insect bite or a strange sort of pimple. Using the powers of the internet, I learned that you should ask your vet about weird dog lumps, since some of them can be serious.

I know. Adorable.

Meanwhile, because everything happens at once always, my elderly cat, who has been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, decided to go into super cough mode. I ended up taking both dog and cat together to the vet when we got back from our brief trip to the cottage.

Ben Rarely Allows Himself to be Photographed.

Long story short: the cat is basically okay, although hopped up on steroids for the time being. They took a cell sample from Dizzy's lump and it turns out it's a mast cell tumor. On the good side, it is recent and it is tiny. This type of tumor ranges from relatively benign, treatable with surgery alone, to terrifying death sentence. Dizzy's going in to have the lump removed this coming Wednesday. I'm not happy about the fact that my dog needs surgery, but I am happy that I caught it so early and that I didn't brush it off as nothing because it's small.  After that, it's a wait to hear back from the lab (1) to confirm that they got it all and (2) to tell us how serious it is.

I am trying not to freak out but I am freaking out quite a bit. Dizzy is under six years old and, besides a history of allergies, he's a pretty healthy and tough animal. I'm hoping it will be okay.

He Knows When You've Been Bad or Good

FYI: I am working with a holistic practitioner as well as with a conventional vet on this, i.e., working on it from all angles of which I'm aware. If any of you have experience with this, please let me know if you know anything beyond what a vet would tell you, or even just let me know how it went for you. Well wishes and generalized good vibes will be much appreciated.

02 September 2013

Best Horror of the Year List, 2012

So I made Ellen Datlow's long honorable mention list for best horror 2012, as did my story submissions role model, Deborah Walker. Alongside, you know, those Stephen King and Joe Hill fellows. Not to mention that Joe R. Lansdale guy. And Tanith Lee. Among other absolutely incredible writers.

I am feeling especially name-droppy right now, clearly.

Off to celebrate!

30 August 2013

Sabotage by Librarians

More properly that should be "Sabotage, by Librarians." Or maybe "Sabotage: Librarian Edition."

So. Beastie Boys, right? Sabotage, yes? Remade by librarians. Absolutely. This is so worth your time.


22 August 2013

Magic Beard

I'm out for a bit. I hope you all are enjoying this last stretch of summer. In the meantime, you know what? There's narrative everywhere, like in this adorable stop-motion video by Ben Garvin. Enjoy!

08 August 2013

Interview With Luke Everest

I was going to write a much more fancypants introduction to this interview, but I don't want to stop you on your way to the amazing! revelations! and astounding! true! facts! about Wm. Luke Everest. He blogs at Everest by Fog. He is currently revising a novel, Paint the Raven Black. There's some talk about the task and craft of writing, traditional publishing, martial arts, elevator pitches, and postmodern science fiction. Enjoy!

ET: First things first: what kind of stuff do you write?

LE: A year ago I would have answered, "Whatever I think makes good practise."  My sole focus was the craft of writing. Since then I've found my own artistic purpose.  I write what you might call "realist speculative" fiction.  I see speculation as metaphor for life, on social, political and personal levels.  I don't stick to Science Fiction, Fantasy or reality.  My imagination just doesn't work that way.  I don't want to fetter myself to any genre or type of reality.  So long as it helps express some realistic, gritty story, any amount or type of speculation belongs, so far as I'm concerned.
Oddly, at the same time, I have a passion for Sword & Sorcery.  I intend to produce one novel of what I'd call serious art per year, and do some hard-core violent S&S in the meantime.  I write very quickly, so I can get away with it.  I just have to find some way for fans (if I ever have any) to distinguish between them.  And I'm not using a pen name.
ET: When and why did you decide to start writing?

LE: I've always wanted to write, but I hadn't always admitted it to myself.  Everyone who really knew me thought I should be a writer.  Sadly that list didn't include myself.  Between the ages of 8 and 14 I really just wanted to change the world.  I thought people weren't empathic enough.  Then I started complaining about it in words, and well, here I am!

ET: How do you organize your writing time? Or do you organize it?

LE: That's a surprisingly difficult question.  On most days, I don't have to organise.  I almost always wake up excited about what I might create, and I just sit with my work and enjoy every second.  But we all have off days.  Sometimes I wake up feeling like crap, and I think about everyone who's stuck in an office somewhere, remembering all the days in which that was me, and I make myself work from 9 to 5.  Back when I had a full-time job I just sat and wrote for a few hours every day after work.  As for some kind of day-plan for writing, I don't have one.

ET: You're working on revising a novel. Would you like to give us your elevator pitch / quick rundown of the plot?

LE: After his sister's death, a young man finds himself in a therapeutic hospital.  A victim of extreme passive abuse, he has lived in his imagination his whole life--no physical friends, and a completely subservient relationship to his family and sister.  He has no understanding of why he's been stripped from his home, and at first sees it as a justified punishment.  As therapy progresses and his self-identity improves, he begins to suspect a supernatural conspiracy that has plagued his life since early childhood, justifying his parent's subduction of him, and being responsible for his sister's death.
ET: Generally speaking, I tend to find the drafting process to be a messy joy, and the revision process to be plain hard work of the "chop wood, carry water" variety. How do you find the revision process vs. the drafting process?

LE: The only thing I find frustrating is my own impatience.  I love writing, but I really want to make something of my life and make all the sacrifices worth it.  When I started Paint the Raven Black I had no idea what story I wanted to tell.  I just had my character, and a vague idea of him being in a therapeutic hospital.  I've been in such hospitals, so I wanted to give a realistic perspective on them.  The problem was, I pulled the trigger before I aimed the gun.  It wasn't a pleasant mess.  It was writing my way out of a black hole, trying to make sense of something I'd made nonsensical through poor practise.  Had I more patience, I would have just taken a hard look at my idea, cleaned the slate and started again.  It's the pondering phase I need to spend more time on.  The reason for this ramble is to say, so long as I'm being productive towards sculpting a good story, I enjoy every second, no matter what phase of creation I'm at.
ET: Your short story, "Clement's Blessing" (Chrome Baby 1), features a protagonist with an unusual ability on the soft side of paranormal (he's different, but not Superman different). Its setting suggests a gritty realism. Does this represent a typical blend of story elements for you? What is included in your usual story-telling toolkit?
LE: I'm honoured that you chose the words "gritty realism"!  Whenever I'm asked what kind of thing I want to write, those two words pop out.  Clement's Blessing will in fact turn into a novel one day (maybe even my second).  Realism and grit are certainly things I shoot for.  I like stories to reflect our lives, and I like writing about the darker side of humanity.  I write what I like to read, but more than that, I write what I can't read, because it doesn't exist yet and that frustrates me.
Now, I think any writer would agree that your question either warrants a very short or a very long answer. I'm choosing the latter so bear with me.
As far as reading goes, I only like books with gritty realism, in terms of narrative and theme.  As for a storytelling toolkit, I suppose I'm always pondering the blind spots of humanity, and wanting to make people see.  That sounds pessimistic, and even perhaps arrogant, but I think it's important to follow our artistic instincts.  Ray Bradbury used to say he'd never worked a day in his life.  He'd dream, meet people, ponder, learn and write.  That's what I do. 
The truth is I love people.   I can sit and watch an elderly gentleman feeding birds in the park, just thinking about how wonderful it is to be full of sentience and spirit.  Then I'll walk through the streets of London and wonder how many vibrant human faces I've been blinded to, simply for sheer quantity.  I'll think about the facelessness of civilisation, about how many other elderly gentlemen could feed the birds if they hadn't died over some invisible, arbitrary line drawn by some angry, economically and/or politically powerful idiot, maybe centuries ago, named a "border", over some previously untainted land.
I think about such things because I love people, not because I hate them, but it's definitely such thoughts that make me want to write.  I don't force my imagination in any direction, but gritty realism is what has to spring from my nature, and I'm very happy with that.
ET: You mention in your post "Giving Thanks and a Story" that "Clement's Blessing" was "one of the stories that got me an agent." Can you tell us about that process? 

LE: My agent-getting process was insane.  I've studied writing for a long time.  I have an MA and an MFA in Creative Writing, with distinction (that's like straight A's, if you're North American).  Once I finished the long apprenticeship, I just buried my head in my work, trying to improve my craft, comparing myself to the likes of Ray Bradbury and Guy de Maupassant, not submitting my work anywhere because it, obviously, didn't measure up.  I even had the privilege of meeting Iain Banks once, hearing him tell me I was "wasting my talent" and "squandering my ability", but I never listened.  Finally a friend, a published poet, insisted that I show him two short stories.  I reluctantly acquiesced, and he loved them, insisting that he send them to an agent.  Around three months later, Leslie Gardner (who represented Anthony Burgess--a serious woman with very high standards, and a serious long-shot for me) got back with a short critique of each story, which I took to mean that I wasn't good enough to be a client.  My brother convinced me to write Leslie back and ask point-blank if she'd represent me.  I reluctantly did so, and she got back 15 minutes later with a yes. 
I was sitting on the sofa feeling sorry for myself, being consoled by my fiance, when I checked my phone and read the email.  All I remember is my muscles, including those in my face, draining as I gaped at my phone and said something.  I can't remember what.  "Oh my god" or "Whoa" or "Bhu-duh-goop-ga" or something.  Ruth (my fiance) asked if I was alright.  She worried I'd just read that something terrible had happened.  Then the smile came.
ET: In your post "Spank Me" (nice title), you draw on your martial arts training experience to talk about the process of undergoing critique. (I have a martial arts background too...had to look up Tukkong Musool. Looks hardcore.) Besides knowing that you can keep going despite fear or any other emotion, what has your martial arts training given you as a writer? 
LE: Tukkong Musool is a military system.  I was taught by Ebe Ghansa, Chief Instructor of the Gurkha Infantry and Senior Instructor of the South Korean Special Forces.  I met and trained with the 27th Anti-terrorist Division of South Korea.  To put them in perspective, the 606 are like the SAS or the SEALS.  The 707 are the most elite members of the 606.  The 27th, well, you get the idea.  The amazing thing was, after training every day with Ebe, I wasn't blown away by the guys in the 27th.  They were better martial artists than me.  Of course they were.  But they didn't beat me every time.
Ebe Ghansa (my teacher) taught me that you can get good at a thing through hard work, and once you're good, you can compete with anyone, even at the very top.  It's a myth that the best fighters are invincible.  When you're trained to be dangerous, that's it.  If a person who's better trained makes a mistake, or takes you lightly, you'll probably win the fight.  Ebe taught me that the great writers on my bookshelves aren't better than me.  They might be better writers for now, but the difference is I'm still alive, in my prime, and I'm getting better every day.  The only thing that will determine whether my work stands among the greats is me.
An aside:  given that my other passion is Sword & Sorcery, and I've studied a great deal of Asian mythology, you can imagine where my blood and guts fiction might take you.  Look up "Temple of Mirrors" at if you're interested. [Ed. note: here it is.]  I wrote the story a loooong time ago, so it's not very good by my present standard, but it's the kind of gritty, realistic martial arts brutality that I intend to get into my S&S.  No axe wielding Vikings for me, and certainly no "Blam!" "Kapow!" action.  I know what real combat looks like, and feels like, and I will create fiction accordingly.
ET: In your post "Science Fiction and Post-modernity," you argue that science fiction's "Golden Age" was built on a foundation of challenging cultural norms, but because scientific development has become a cultural norm, it falls to science fiction to challenge science itself. I would argue that in our culture, science has become a new kind of fetish, wherein we throw all of our hopes and dreams with the expectation that somehow it will all come out right. So "science" represents not only discovery, research, and understanding how the world works, but the potential for redemption and all things good. Do you think science fiction has no choice but to continue to "go dark" in order to stay fresh? Is there such a thing as optimistic postmodern science fiction?
LE: There's a complicated question!  I literally could write you a PhD thesis in answer, but I'll try my best to keep this brief.
Let me preface this by saying Post-modernity doesn't mean what most people think.  You seem already to know this, but I'll clarify for readers.  I mean post-modern in sociological terms.  Many people just think it's like modern art, but even more so.
Sociologically speaking, Modernity is a time characterised by the idea of civilisation's forwards momentum.  We were (and still are, some would argue) in the modern age for centuries.  What's different now is that society has lost its eschatological referents (the tendency to refer our social values to a future state, one of presupposed self-evident value and/or significance). 
Virginia Woolf once wrote an essay called Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Brown, in which she talks about what it means to construct a meaningful character.  What makes Mrs. Brown so distinctly different in post-modern society from any other is that she can't know herself by any pre-defined societal value referent.  She has to ponder herself in the mirror.  That's where speculative fiction comes in.  It has the power to create metaphors for our own realities, and explore reaches of character unfettered by assumption and social, psychological or even physical norms.
I think people do sometimes place hope in science, but I also think most people fear it.  This is an age of extreme ambiguity.  That's why distopian sci-fi has become both typical and popular.  So in that sense it's "going dark", as you say.  However I think that questioning the value of science is a good thing.  I also think those questions have more than one answer, so going dark isn't the only option.  Basically, so far as pure science fiction is concerned, I believe it's very fresh and topical to question the meaning and value of change, and change, really, is what science fiction has always been about.  I think in that sense it can be a very interesting, diverse time, so long as writers do indeed question science and progression (Modernity) on the deepest level.  I'm not so sure that's the case presently.  SF is about change, and Post-modernity is about listlessness in the face of change.  It's an interesting juxtaposition that I think can produce some really great art.
I don't think listlessness is inherently pessimistic, either.  Modern society has done a great deal of evil as well as good.  To question its inherent value and ask ourselves where we stand, now, as human beings is to ask what could make things better as much as to claim what's wrong.

03 August 2013

Not a 9-5 Job

This post deserves a soundtrack:


I was poking around some writers' blogs a couple of days ago and I ended up visiting Jodi L. Henry's place, specifically her post titled "Working from Home is Harrrrd."  Can I get an amen on that sentiment alone? It is.

Jodi writes:

You'd think it would be rad making and keeping your own schedule. Having your passion and the success of your friends to motivate you. You think you would crank out words like every one was the last word in the existence of the universe and it had to be you to type it. 
And it is rad. It's rad in a million and one ways. Ways like: 
gardening, and laundry, and dishes, and landscaping, and...

Someone in the comments trotted out the old saw that if you want to succeed as a writer, think of it as a 9 to 5 job. I admit, I love the spirit of that advice. When I think of thinking of writing as a 9 to 5 job, I imagine myself sharpening pencils and putting on a fresh pot of coffee, and typing like I'm part of some massive 1950s corporation where I'm in the typing pool with a bunch of other well dressed people in structural undergarments, but MAGICALLY we are all producing not memos and correspondence about the shiny new product, no, we're CREATING ART. It's awesome.

The thing is, I have never been good at 9 to 5. I had one 9 to 5 job once, between undergrad and grad school. I was an accounting clerk. I was so bad at it. Oh, I could do accounts payable as well as the next arts major (pretty well, actually). I just hated the feeling of absolute stagnation that went along with sitting at a desk for eight hours plus every day. The regimented hours made me crazy and angry. The casual way people would interrupt each other made me want to choke someone out. The boss was pervy and dumb - a lethal combo. When the company moved to a different town and I got packaged out, I could not have been happier. (Sometime before the money ran out, I got a freelance editing and typesetting job that I did from home. Bliss!)

It's not that I'm afraid of hard work or even long hours. It's that to me, writing is not a desk job. Parts of writing happen at my desk. I would even say that most of it happens at my desk or on some other horizontal surface at which I'm sitting. But there's this undercurrent of content running through every waking moment and many non-waking moments too. When I'm engaged with writing, it's always. Building this relationship with creativity has been the single most important part of working on writing for me.

Here's what I wrote in response to Jodi's post:

For me, the 9-5 formula doesn't work - partly because one of my jobs is to run support for my partner (the 9-5 traditional job person in our household) and my other two jobs require me to be away from my desk at odd hours. Also, I find writing is not so much a job as something that worms its way into almost every little corner of my life. Creative work is like that. I require vast swaths of time spent staring into space or out walking in order to function in it, followed by concentrated bursts of productivity. Often it's something I have to ramp up to or trick myself into doing. It's a headspace more than it is about "BICHOK" (butt in chair, hands on keyboard). It's not a hobby, nor is it a job. It's life.

What about you? How do you work with your creative self? Have you made the 9 to 5 formula work for you? Are you a fan of focus boosting practices like The Pomodoro Technique? Tried the free Focus Booster app? Or do you just put your head down and write your little hearts out?

27 July 2013

Adventures in Dynamic Views: A Blogger Adventure (AKA, Please Drop By and Let Me Know if You Can Comment Now)

Yo! So, I signed on to do Camp NaNoWriMo at the beginning of the month, a goal I set alongside sundry other goals to get my writing house in order. With a two-thirds finished manuscript and a handful of short stories I wanted to write - not to mention a plan to get back on the submission horse and possibly start editing a collection of short stories - why not completely change my blog?

I admit this was a spontaneous change brought on by the envy I felt looking at Deborah Walker's shiny new template. When she claimed in a post's comments that she was getting way more page views with the new format, I was sold.

I admit, I like a lot about Dynamic Views. To me, part of the purpose of having a blog is having a whole lot of stuff you've written available to people online. One of the things I've found pesky about a traditional blog format is that it is fairly challenging to a reader who might want to poke around in the archive to access that archive. Blogger's "archive" widget is pretty crappy in terms of navigation. With Dynamic Views, the reader has access to the entire blog via a simple scroll down. Dynamic Views actively encourages people to wander around and take a look at the place. Yay!

Once I had it installed, I realized there were some big problems with Dynamic Views. If you just install it without tweaks, it automatically includes a little menu that allows readers to bork with your layout by choosing cute options like "flipcard" and "magazine", thus displaying your posts in different arrangements. I like the "timeslide" format (what you see on my blog) - it's why I chose Dynamic Views, but my particular content looks terrible in "flipcard" and I don't think much of some of the other options. I wanted to take that little menu away. "Timeslide" does this neat thing where it displays snippets of selected posts, but it also cuts off your blog post titles if they are longer than two or three words. More disturbingly, the awesome fishscale background and reddish colour theme that I love was only sometimes displaying. Half the time when I loaded my blog it would be this plain jane black thing that was quite ugly.


When Andrew Leon kindly let me know that he couldn't comment on my blog any more, I was saddened, to say the least. I wondered how many other people had dropped by and couldn't comment. Boo Hoo!

I was totally prepared to go back to my old template. I logged in, and had a quick look at my stats.

My pageviews had gone up 400% from before I changed the template. Uh. Yeah. Four times more pageviews! My ego made a decision: I would be keeping Dynamic Views, but only if I could figure out a way to make it more reliable and make sure that readers could comment.

(Google claims in this post that the reason for the increase in pageviews is a product of the more accurate tracking system that is enabled for Dynamic Views. My sense is that DV is also more user-friendly. Win / win.)

Enter Southern Speakers, a blog about tweaking your Blogger blog by a fellow named Yoga. This blog is seriously the best thing. Yoga posts all kinds of simple, quick, cut-and-paste bits of HTML for you to stick into your template, along with complete instructions on how to do that. (He has tweaks for more traditional Blogger layouts as well as DV.) With his help I did the following:

I got Dynamic Views to display the full title of my posts on my main page, rather than cutting them off.

I wiped out the ability of the reader to pick different types of dynamic view, meaning that they have to stick with Timeslide.

I inserted adorable vertical lines between my page links in my header bar.

Most importantly, Yoga linked to this tutorial on how to force the Dynamic Views template to stop occasionally loading that ugly black plain jane version of the template - what Yoga calls the "Ghost Template"  This fix comes via Päivi and Santeri of Global Nomads. Yay!

So: if you have Dynamic Views installed, at the least I heartily recommend that last fix, especially if you've found, like I did, that your pageviews have gone up since you installed Dynamic Views, but your comments have dropped. It's possible your readers can't comment! Tragic!

A special plea: If you're reading this and you're not seeing a comments form or the reddish fishscale pattern on my main page, PLEASE LET ME KNOW: elizabethtwist at gmail dot com. Thanks! 

ETA: As per L.G.'s complaint about the black gadget dock menu thinger overlapping the scroll bar on the righthand side, I've used this fix to move it to the left where it shouldn't interfere with the scroll bar any more. Thanks for the feedback, L.G.!

17 July 2013

Recent Readings, Featuring Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias

It's been a busy last little while in my reading world. I realize I've developed an obsession with the Song of Ice and Fire series - reading I started because I wanted to go through the books before Dave and I watched the television series. (Writer's pro tip: It is fascinating from a craft perspective to see how the tv writers cope with all that source material. They do, in my opinion, a wonderful job of compressing the books down to suit budgetary and length needs while maintaining the spirit of the work.) Just finished A Storm of Swords. Good times.

As part of research for a new project I'm working on, I read Autobiography of an Execution by David R. Dow, about Dow's work as a defendant for people on death row in Texas. Interesting information about the inequity of the legal system on the ground, especially for those who can't afford to hire counsel. The primary defendant Dow profiles is a man (possibly innocent) whose court-appointed lawyer literally slept through his trial.

I finally tucked into Sabrina Vourvoulias's Ink last week. According to my Kindle's tracker, I read about 20% of it in one go, and zipped through the rest of it in three days. This is high-velocity storytelling, people. Here's a brief summary from her description page:
What happens when rhetoric about immigrants escalates to an institutionalized population control system? The near-future, dark speculative novel INK opens as a biometric tattoo is approved for use to mark temporary workers, permanent residents and citizens with recent immigration history – collectively known as inks.
I expected that Ink would be a dark future story of oppression akin to 1984 - and in many ways, it is. I didn't expect that the dark science at work in the story would be balanced with gorgeous magic. Vourvoulias has chosen to tell the story from multiple POVs, one of my favourite storytelling vehicles, since it enables a book to explore a central problem while engaging with the fact that different people have different investments and difficulties arising from that problem. In a lot of ways, this book is about perspective and about sharing the experience of those who are not usually given a voice in science fiction or elsewhere.

One of the best qualities of science fiction is its ability to perform political commentary. Ink is a book in that tradition.

Given recent revelations about the intensity of government surveillance, Ink couldn't be more timely. Given recent revelations about the dinosaur-like nature of certain science fiction and fantasy institutions (*cough* SFWA *cough*), Ink couldn't be more necessary.

07 July 2013

Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories

Bombastic analysis of structure from the King of Gallows Humour. I hope you all are having a gorgeous weekend.

Kurt Vonnegut on the shapes of stories from Maria Popova on Vimeo.

16 June 2013

Man of Steel: My Somewhat Superficial Reasons for Liking It

Dave and I saw Man of Steel last night. We both loathed the 2006 Superman Returns thinger. Superman as deadbeat dad: no thanks.

I hadn't read a single thing about MoS except that it was coming out, so I had zero expectations going in. I have to say I liked it a great deal. It was a true reboot / revisiting / retelling of major elements from the late 70s / early 80s Christopher Reeve Superman films, and probably major plot points from comics that I haven't read.

This may be entirely shallow of me, but for my money the best thing about those Christopher Reeve movies was the space goths, particularly Terence Stamp as General Zod:


I mean, shit man. Wow. Not to mention Hot Chick and Big Dude:

At its most basic level Man of Steel is a retelling of the Superman origin story plus the Zod plot. Great fine great. Sign me up!

On the Hot Mess side of things there are a ton of flashbacks, lovingly filmed in gauzy nostalgia-vision. Whether those work for you or bother you probably depends on how you feel about flashbacks. I think they did work to give Clark Kent a bit of depth, although not too much because hey, this is a Hollywood movie.

More confusing were the riffs on Communist art. Apparently, Krypton storytelling involves silvery montages that look basically like this:

...but more racially exclusive. Weird.

There was also some rough bombastic acting at the beginning, but I figured maybe on planet Krypton, you have to be a little yelly if you want to get your point across.

Basically, I liked it more than most movies that are 90% CGI polygons flying around at a ludicrous speed. Henry Cavill is ridiculously easy to like for a guy who is also insanely handsome. I loved Amy Adams as Lois Lane, particularly since Lane gets to do more than be nosy and get rescued. No one is Terence Stamp but Michael Shannon is mesmerizing in his own right (watch Take Shelter and you'll appreciate what he can do). Good times.

14 June 2013

Dreaming the Siberian Ice Maiden

Last night Dave and I watched this BBC documentary from the '90s about the Siberian Ice Maiden, a mummy excavated from a tomb of the Pazyryk, an ancient people of the region who traveled widely and used horses.

There are a lot of interesting things about the Pazyryk, but the draw for anthropologists is that their region has a large degree of permafrost. Some of their tombs filled with water and then froze, preserving the contents to an amazing degree. The Siberian Ice Maiden, a woman buried in the 5th century BCE according to the wiki on her, was unusual in that she was not a warrior - which some Pazyryk women were - nor a warrior's wife - these were buried with their husbands. Evidence of the tomb suggests she had a high status in her culture: there were many animal carvings buried with her, covered in gold leaf. Her coffin was unusually long - originally the team who excavated it thought there were two people in it. The length, however, was there to accommodate her three-foot-high headdress. Her tomb was accompanied by six horses, sacrificed in order that they could be buried with her.

The body itself was very well preserved. While the skin of the skull was gone, the arms and hands remained. Whoever she was in life, the Ice Maiden had received a number of incredibly gorgeous tattoos. Like all Pazyryk art - well represented in rock art and in the wooden carvings in Pazyryk tombs - they include fantastic stylized animals, particularly this red deer:


According to paleoanthropologist John Hawks, the Ice Maiden tattoo is "the earliest known evidence of tattooing anywhere in the world." A quick look at other pieces of Pazyryk art gives a great window into the ways in which plants, animals, and people flow into each other. To my way of seeing, this is evidence of a culture, like many other native cultures worldwide, with a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of all the natural world.




In the BBC documentary, the lead archaeologist on the dig talks about how the Ice Maiden was probably a "storyteller," although the wiki and all the evidence I could see suggested that she was a holy person - a shaman or priestess.

What had my ears twitching as we watched the show were the little details that the people working on the excavation reported. According to Jeanne Smoot, an American who was on the dig, many people had terrible dreams as the excavation continued. It's an uncanny thing, to dig up a dead body, but taking the body of someone so powerful has got to give you the wiggins.

Sadly, I didn't have an Ice Maiden dream last night, but Dave did. I asked him if he got any particular message but he said it was just the same thing he always felt when looking at the untombed dead: put me back. Apparently the Ice Maiden's been saying that kind of thing for a while, through the only means she could: in dreams, and through the failure of an engine of the helicopter that first took her away from her home. (Whether she caused that particular near-accident is up for debate, although in my experience the dead are capable of more than you'd think).

The people I really wonder about, though, are the people who have copied the Ice Maiden's tattoo design - and the design of other prominent mummies from Pazyryk tombs.

See lovely examples here:

And here:


I wouldn't mind doing a followup with these women to find out the impact these tattoos have had on them. (In my experience, there's always some consequence to getting inked, usually positive.) To mark your skin with such a powerful image is amazing, to say the least. I imagine you'd catch the odd whisper from the Ice Maiden herself. I wonder if it's changed their dreams.

The complete documentary is here, if you want to watch it.

07 June 2013

Party Poopers and Productivity

I'm trying to learn Cantonese. I mention it because if you've ever dived into a new language, you know how tricky it can be. Cantonese is the most radically different language from English I've tried to learn. (I took French throughout grade school and high school; Latin was my language of choice in University.)

As tricky as it is to pick up tones and basic grammar of a language far removed from English, I can only imagine how hard it is to learn English, the ultimate mongrel tongue.

Exhibit A:

Unrelated: this article on productivity at Brain Pickings is making me rethink my previous thoughts on plodding vs. slumping. Although I write just about every day, I'm thinking it might be time to increase the frequency and duration. Work, Muse! Work!

03 June 2013

"muted" by Jessica Bell

I met Jessica Bell via the A to Z of Coffin Hopping Blogfest or one of those. You know. Those things that bloggers and writers and writers who blog do. She writes speculative stuff, suspense stuff, and music. That music bit is important, because it is much of the reason why Jessica was exactly the right person to write "muted," her latest release through Vine Leaves Press.

Long story short, "muted" is, as the cover says, a short story in verse. Set in a dystopian future in which self-expression through art and dress and (as concerns the main character) music is strictly controlled, the story traces the crisis of Concetta, a singer who has ended up on the wrong side of the law.

"muted" is richly imagined. Jessica doesn't hold back on gory detail - something I always admire. As a science fiction piece, the story has a lot going for it, opening a world's worth of weird and terrible in its short length. The main thing here is the language, though. This is poetry, written by a musician, about a musician. As a whole, "muted" is about art and sacrifice. If you are looking for something that takes sci fi lyricism to its logical extreme, you could do worse. I liked it.

06 May 2013


If you watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer all the way through and loved Spike as much as me, chances are you'll remember "effulgent."

I'm pleased to report that I have spotted "effulgent" in the wild, in John Metcalfe's 1925 story "The Smoking Leg," along with a nearly identical word of similar meaning, "refulgent." Best purple prose I've read in a long while. "The Smoking Leg" is secretly hilarious, deliciously critical of the European colonial project and its ultimately self-destructive tendencies. Plus: effulgent.

04 May 2013

Pantser, Plotter, Plodder, Slumper

The results of my recent scientific investigation - i.e., a foray into the thoughtful comments a bunch of you left on my last post - suggests that there is more than one way of working at writing. I'm not talking about the well-trodden pantser / plotter continuum. I'm talking about how you structure your work time, where and how you derive the energy to write, how you perform. I've had an insight or two into my own style recently which is helping me to avoid a certain habitual self-esteem nosedive, so I thought I'd share.

My friend Chris is a good example of a plodder. Or, let's call him something a little more impressive sounding and aligned with the reality: a consistent, steady producer. In response to my post about pulling out of a slump, he wrote:
I'm not sure if I can think of a time when I pushed into overdrive and turned the creative corner like that; most of my recent creative victories have been the result of lots of prior planning and pep talks, and setting a steady pace from the outset.
I can tell you, Chris gets a lot done that way. A. Lot. Often I think I should just buck up and follow his example: slow and steady work done on a regular basis.

However, I'm a lot more like mood, who commented:
I have to crawl through the slumps and then try to ride the wave when it comes, which it always does (eventually).
I'm a slumper. Or, to call it something a wee bit more positive, a peak performer. I've done a lot of performance-based things, and continue to do them. Whether it is playing music, acting, teaching at the university, or my current occupation, which is teaching tai chi and qigong, I do my best when I have to be "on." I've noticed that I really groove on situations where I have to gear up. During a class or event I burn all that fuel, then go home and collapse. There's something almost lethargic about my "off" state. Even just before a performance situation, I often feel very mellow and low. Once I'm in front of a class or audience, though, the focus kicks in, my awareness hypes up, and I am fully present. I use everything I've got without even feeling it. When it's done, I often end up with a rather mixed feeling: I'm tired and wired, overstimulated and drained.

Basically, I experience the act of writing as a type of performance. It works best for me when I spend a bit of time thinking about what I'm going to write, building up the key parts of a scene or story in my mind, attaching emotional content to it, and overall getting really excited about it. When I write, I go fast. If I can burn through a whole story or an entire scene, it is so much better than when I write it a smidgen at a time. That focus is really important to me. If I do it right, I feel much like I do under other performance circumstances.

It's not the audience. It's the need for a concentrated burst of effort. During these efforts, I'll skimp on sleep, eat minimally, yet generally have more energy and be able to do more even outside of the central act of writing. My laundry gets done, my house gets vacuumed, amazing things get baked and cooked, and my classes move into a higher, more challenging gear.

The up side is, I can get a heck of a lot done in a short period of time. I wrote 15k words in the last four days of April. Good, coherent words. (I know some people are capable of much more...for me it was a lot.) The down side is, I need to rest in between the peaks. Really rest. I don't mean get a solid eight hours each night. During a peak, especially if I'm working on a novel-length piece, I find sleeping well or consistently is not only impossible, it's unnecessary. A few hours will do. I am talking about finishing an act of a longer piece or completing a story, letting everything fall to the floor, spending a couple of days stepping down my excitement and allowing the adrenaline to drain, then going into a coma / stupor that lasts for days or longer. (I am in an adrenaline-drain phase now. What's left over from my recent push is what I'm using to write this post.)

It is an elaborate process, and fine so long as I honour each part of it.

Here's the rub: when I'm in a peak, I tend to start thinking in an almost greedy fashion, like, "ooh, if I can write 4k today, I can do it every day and finish this manuscript if I only spend nine more days doing it after these fourteen days of pushing really hard." Great idea, but it only works if that kind of effort is sustainable in the long run. It's not. Not for me, anyway. A month is about my absolute maximum. After that, things get dodgy and I start feeling very unwell if I don't come down.

The key is, if you're a peak performer / slumper, don't expect that you'll do every day what you do during the big push. (I am sure for steady performers / plodders there are downsides too, like wishing you had the steam to push through the night and greet the sunrise with a shiny new 6 or 8k on your hard drive.) As with the pantser / plotter binary, it is easy to think the grass is greener on the other side. It isn't. It's all just grass.

I know from experience that after a month like April, I'm in serious danger of a crash. I am still pushing forward on the novel draft, but at a much mellower pace while I recover from what I just did. I'll bide my time until I hit the next big plot push (probably the climax). It will have to be at a time when I'm more rested. I'm also spending more time on things that I can do piecemeal, like polishing almost-finished short pieces, and just reading.

As my friend Wendy likes to say, it's good to think of rest as an activity: something you have to do and which is as important as anything else you also have to do.


01 May 2013

Everything Stinks Til It's Finished

That's right. I'm dropping Dr. Seuss quotes on you. Truth bombs!

So April was an up and down month. I know many of you were doing A to Z. (Jocelyn Rish, I'm looking at you and your contronyms. And your dogs, who modeled for you again this year. Wow. Just Wow.)  Still pissed at myself for not really seeming to be able to get going on buckling down to write or submit stories or be a smiley smiley cheery participant in This Creative Venture We Call Being a Writer, I decided the thing to do would be to up the stakes. I took on Camp NaNoWriMo, and decided I would meet the 50k challenge at a minimum.

For a while, I've been wanting to write a longer manuscript exploring the world I wrote about in one of my short stories, "The Last Nephew" (originally published in Issue One of One Buck Horror, available for slightly less than one buck). Weird shit happened to me in March that allowed me to finally figure out a cool way to tackle the story. Bombs away!

A few days into the month, I had to go on a rather strong antibiotic for reasons. Antibiotics kick the crap out of me. There was some kind of flu thing that followed. Words dribbled but did not flow. As of a week ago, I was a little over halfway to my goal. Then a couple of things happened that were lucky and serendipitous and helped me start to feel much more like the writer I want to be.

Physically, I started to feel normal again, which was key and helped clear my head. My story started to surprise me while still following the very loose outline I'd set up at the beginning of the month, which for me is a win/win. Then my good friend and writing comrade Chris Kelworth got into Odyssey, a fact that he sneaks into that blog post very stealthily. (If you're not familiar with Odyssey, check it out. This is a big deal.) I was super chuffed for him, so the mood of the month shifted from uggghhh to yay!

The super big shift happened when a bunch of writers from Hamilton got together and Chris shared a bit about the Odyssey schedule. It puts the "intense" in "intensive." I ended up thinking a lot about how much time I typically spend on writing, how much time I could squeeze into my schedule, and had a talk with myself about whether I really want this. (I do want it.) Somehow, all of that added up to a much better sense of focus than I've been able to muster for a while. Sometimes it's all about the remembering, you know?

Anyway, now that the first 50k is written I figure I've got another 30k to go on this book, and I'm hoping to thrash that out fairly fast, to keep the momentum I've got going now, and before my brains start dribbling out my ears.

What about you guys? Have any of you ever managed to flip the creative switch when you were in a slump?

07 April 2013

On the Premises Super Secret Mini Contest

It takes me a while to clue in sometimes. Ever since I signed up for On the Premises' snazzy newsletter, I've been scanning them to see what their current contest is, but missing the fact that they run a mini contest too. Wee!

OTP is fun because every four months they run a contest that invites you to write a piece of fiction on a very specific theme. It is free to enter and the first place winner gets 180 USD. They don't place any limits on genre: anything goes, from literary fiction to pulp to high concept sci fi or whatever.

Mini contests are super tiny, but still come with a $15 prize for the winner. If you're like me and you're looking for a quick way to boost your writerly self-esteem by submitting some work, this could be it. The current contest has a 25-word limit (and yes, the theme is something you can reasonably complete in 25 words). Deadline is April 28, 2013.

To get the theme for the mini contest, you have to subscribe to the newsletter, which is infrequent and succinct and purple toned (just in case the colour of the newsletter has any bearing on your desire to receive it). OTP uses the newsletter not only to let subscribers know about what's going on with the magazine and contests but also to brag about writers who have been part of their contests and who have gone on to find success elsewhere. They also recommend stories published in other venues, just because they love stories. I think that's sweet.

(I won't say what the current theme is because I think you should just get the newsletter if you're interested, but let's say it's really ripe if you're into horror, suspense, or creepy stuff.)


02 April 2013

"We Obey Some Secret Command; We Sail Under Sealed Orders"

Okay for my money Vincent O'Sullivan's 1921 story "Master of Fallen Years" is pretty much what you want in a weird tale. It's weird: the central problem in the story is not quite a haunting, but more like a reincarnation glitch / possession? The central problem goes unexplained / underexplained, which offers a maximization of the heebie-jeebie effect. In terms of execution, it is gloriously consistent with itself and with certain cognitive experiences that we all have on a regular basis, but which may have sinister explanations. This is probably saying too much about my personality, but the ending also made me lol.

If you're a slowish reader like me it will probably take you 20 minutes to read it? Go now go. I hope you like it.

(p.s. I found this story via the exquisite Century's Best Horror Fiction, edited by John Pelan. I've written about it before, but I can't recommend it enough. Ask your Sugar Daddy / Sugar Mama / Dark Lord Who Rules You to buy you a copy.)


01 April 2013

April Challenges Bring May Tears and Recriminations

Wee! It's April. In my blogrolls those A to Z posts are starting to crop up like the lovely spring crocuses in my backyard. I see the signup list is ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE again this year. I had planned to join in with some graphics-based posts, but alas, it just didn't happen in March and I'm camping right now, in addition to trying to get some short stories off my hard drive and out into the world, not to mention that pesky novel I've been trying to revise since January. 

What I will do is use that A to Z linky list to find new blogs to follow. Even if you're not into writing 26 blog posts in April, A to Z is a fabulous resource for meeting other folks who are looking to network. A to Z-ers tend to be interesting folks with things to say, and they tend to follow back, and we all can use a little follow back now and again. 

Happy April, everybody, no fools.


16 March 2013

Thee, Thou, Thy, Thine: A Guide for Writers

I am a writer and reader and watcher of speculative fiction. At one time I was a fancypants academic with training in the literature of the English Renaissance. Mostly these two things go together very harmoniously but every once in a while they clash horribly, as when I am reading or watching a speculative story in which the writer has failed to grasp correct usage of old timey words. The most abused words are "thee" and "thou." These two words are not interchangeable if used correctly, but rather serve two distinct purposes when used in a sentence. Likewise "thy" and "thine," although these two are less likely to be abused and a little more flexible, at least with regard to each other.

Mary Tudor does not approve of your old timey language usage. (Via.)

You might think this doesn't matter, but if your reader happens to be someone who has read a lot of Shakespeare or those other guys from the Renaissance, she might have absorbed correct thee/thou/thy/thine usage on a subconscious level. In this case, your clumsy attempt to sound old-timey will rocket her right out of your story as surely as a comma splice, using the word "exhort" when you mean "exert," or any other grammatical shoddiness. 

So, here's how to use "thy," "thine," "thee," and "thou" correctly, with examples from Shakespeare.

"Thy" means "your." Here's a quote from Cymbeline Act 4 Scene 1. The speaker is Cloten:

Posthumus, thy head, which is now growing upon thy shoulders, shall within this hour be off.

"Thine" is a little bit tricky. It can mean "your" or "yours." 

Polonius's famous speech to Laertes, from Hamlet Act 1 Scene 3 includes this line:

This above all, to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Here, Polonius is using "thine" to stand in for "your." Note that "thine" is sometimes (but not always) preferred if the word following begins with a vowel sound. So we have "thine own," but in Cloten's speech above, "thy head." The "n" sound in "thine" closes the word off so you don't end up with vowel sound soup. 

"Thine" means "yours" in other contexts. In Sonnet 40, Shakespeare writes, 

Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all;
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
All mine was thine before thou hadst this more.

You can't go wrong with "thy" and "thine" if you use "thy" to mean "your" and "thine" to mean "yours." You can also use "thine" to mean "your" if you want.  So long as you never try to use "thy" to mean "you" or "thine" to mean "you," you will be fine. 

"Thou" vs. "Thee"
In our modern English usage of today, we have one word, "you," that serves many purposes. It is the second person pronoun, used to refer to any number of people whom one is addressing, no matter where "you" sits in a sentence. This is inconvenient and leads to all kinds of imprecision, but so it is. (When you shout, "Hey you," you might find yourself clarifying whether you mean one "you" or a bunch of "yous." It's sad, really.)

Old timey English users had a way to differentiate between a "you" who is the subject of a sentence, and "you" who is the object. This is where "thou" and "thee" come in.

If the "you" starring in the sentence is the one doing the action, i.e. is the subject of the sentence, the word you use is "thou."

Here are some examples: 

Wilt thou ever be a foul-mouthed and calumnious knave? (All's Well That Ends Well, Act 1 Scene 3)
Thou losest thy old smell. (As You Like It, Act 1 Scene 2)
Hast thou slain Tybalt? wilt thou slay thyself? (Romeo and Juliet, Act 3 Scene 3)

 "Thee" is what you use when the "you" is the object of the sentence, the one unto whom something is being done. "Thou" is the action person; "thee" is on the receiving end. Examples:

I would not be thy executioner; 
I fly thee, for I would not injure thee. (As You Like It, Act 3 Scene 5)

But he that temper'd thee bade thee stand up,
Gave thee no instance why thou shouldst do treason,
Unless to dub thee with the name of traitor. (Henry V, Act 2 Scene 2)

There are exceptions to this that you will find on occasion, where a writer will use "thee" instead of "thou." It is more rare to see "thou" used as a substitute for "thee." However, it's important if you're using old timey English to know that "thou" and "thee" were not interchangeable. If you indiscriminately use "thee" all over the place, as seems to be the favourite choice of modern writers, you will be sending up a burning flag that says "I don't really know what I'm doing." That is something thou shouldst not do, no matter how much it tempts thee.

03 March 2013

Wooooo!! Woooooooo....

No I am not a ghost. I am just trying to get up some excitement for March and meeting March goals. April is A to Z month again. Woooo! Are you guys doing it? I'm hoping to prep a little bit ahead of time this year so I can spend April visiting people's websites. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then go over here to the blogging from A to Z April challenge site. Their countdown clock is terrifying me for some reason, but I suspect it's mostly because right now it's day 28 and you can watch the milliseconds zipping away and imagine that we are almost at the zombie apocalypse.

Are we still worried about the zombie apocalypse? Maybe we're more worried about meteors now.

 photo funny-gif-Russia-meteorite-driver_zps080f2ab0.gif

This guy isn't worried. I want to be like this guy.

Somehow I feel like I was really scattered through January and February, or maybe spread out a bit too thin, or spread out in the wrong way, or just unfocused. I got stuff done but too slowly. My constant lament.

I'm giving NaNoEdMo a try this month. This is a challenge to do 50 hours of editing in March. I thought I would give it a whirl last year, but I just sat in a stupor any time I tried to edit any of the longer projects I've got. It seems to me like the longer a manuscript is, the greater the chance that it is profoundly broken in ridiculous ways. Anyway I got myself together and thanks to the promptings and rave reviews of my friend Chris, I decided to try Holly Lisle's How to Revise Your Novel course. I'm still working my way through the first lesson, but so far it is brilliant. I am not paralyzed with fear and confusion about how to proceed. Basically the course is like someone who's been through it before holding your hand while you try to edit, and coaching you: here, don't try to do this all at once, take one baby step at a time. It is all do-able a tiny chunk at a time. The way you build your notes, you can put the down, go deal with other stuff, and come back to it. No rush, no emergencies, no fear.

What about you all? What are you writers doing these days?

13 February 2013

A Non-Review of Mama, and Some Further Thoughts on Horror

Spoilers ahoy in this post!

So Dave and I went to see Mama the weekend it came out. We had a great conversation about it afterward in which Dave elucidated a theory about ghost stories the main point of which I'm going to relate here.  He's an engineer, so structural concepts come pretty easily to him.

I'm not going to exactly review it here, except to say that it was visually great, and if visually great stuff amuses you, then you should see it. Jessica Chastain looked amazing, as did Handsome McCutiepants, the male lead (I know I should just Google it but to do that would freak out my ancient laptop and I'd never get back here to finish this post). I often find kid actors noxious, but the little girls were really terrific. The ghost looked great, as did her retro run down cabin in the woods. So yeah: Mama is very pretty.

Structurally it is flawed, albeit in interesting ways. So after we watched it we came to the conclusion that there's a problem with ghost stories, and that problem has in part to do with the lore of ghosts and in part with the narrative imperative to wrap things up in a tidy package at the end.

The lore of ghosts has to do with understanding them. There's this idea that you can solve a haunting if you can just get the ghost to go into the light, or figure out why they keep moving great grandma's brooch, or whatever. I'm not talking about actual hauntings here, of which there are many different kinds and different ways of dealing with them. I'm talking about predominant cultural notions.

Here's the thing though: if your ghost story falls under the purview of horror, and you at some point in the story reveal, for example, through elaborate and awesome looking dream sequences, why the ghost is so upset that it needs your babies (hint: you took away her baby, or someone did (or some nun did)), you drain all of the energy out of your plot. Then you no longer have a horror story: you've got a science problem. Give the ghost the brooch / the corpse of her baby / the more feral of your wolf children, and you'll solve the problem. (Child protective services might have a few questions about what happened to the more feral of your wolf children on that cliff that night, but that's a problem for a different story.)

In essentials, if you allow your horror story to devolve into a science problem, you're joining the ranks of Ghostbusters and Scooby Doo. Nothing wrong with that - horror comedy is built on a foundation of ghost-stories-as-science-problems. It's just if you want the story to remain a horror piece, maybe best to leave your characters haunted.

What haunts us? The missed connections, the unresolved puzzles, the things we said we'd do that we never did, the promises we broke, the lies we told, the secrets we hid? Or: the cruel things we said and did, the hurts we inflicted and never apologized for, the confrontations we failed to stage, the ways we rolled over and gave in? I can think of many things. Some of the better haunting stories I've read recently never resolve the haunting, and indeed, revolve around the utter failure of the main characters to engage with their ghosts in anything like an effective manner.

Discuss, preferably with examples. Or: write your own unresolved haunting story this week and let me know how it goes.

17 January 2013

Unusual Plots of the Early 20th Century

So there's this idea out there that every story that can be written has been written, and there's no truly new or innovative story left. It may be true that there are some well-worn paths through the Forest of Story, and it may even be that there's a superhighway shooting through it (I think I'll call it Chosen One Road, with major routes through the towns of Don't Go Down There It's Not Safe and Happily Ever After....Or Was It?). I am even a champion of the idea that you don't have to be original in your ideas and plots in order to tell a good story. Shakespeare wasn't. It's just that he knew how to treat a story right. (Most of the time. I still think Much Ado About Nothing is a bit of a hot mess.)

Anyway, I've been doing my best to do a lot of short story reading lately, and in the name of having complete coverage in the field of horror, I picked up The Century's Best Horror Fiction (Vols. 1 and 2), edited by John Pelan. This monster of an anthology is unwieldy, my friends. It is not the kind of book you take with you on the bus. It is a commitment.

The fact is, though, that it is also lovingly and knowledgeably curated. Pelan's task was to select one story from each of the years of the 20th century, the best that each year had to offer. His only limit was that any given author could only be represented once. The stories are absolutely wonderful. The results are well worth reading. (Sure, you can pick up some of the more popular early stories online for free, but you can't get them all, and you won't get Pelan's terrific editorial notes on each one. I've worked on similar anthologies in the past. It is a lot of painstaking work to put something like this together.)

What's really interesting about the earlier stories is that among them are some of the best-worn horror tropes. (He was really a ghost! Be careful what you wish for! The family curse is real!) There are also some stories that are just quirky enough or somehow maybe not easily represented on film or...something...that I've never quite seen their type before. For sheer audacity of storytelling and a pretty creepy use of a framing device, you must read Arthur Machen's "The White People." If you haven't read it before (and I hadn't), you're in for a treat. Last night Dave and I read "Thurnley Abbey" by Perceval Landon, a writer Pelan identifies as a kind of one hit wonder. Despite a long preamble, "Thurnley Abbey" is such a revelation. I was really glad that I was reading it aloud to Dave, since it has a moment of such total absurdity that I needed a witness to share it with me. Really weird ghost story.

It's just so nice to know that, once upon a time, there was something that could maybe only have been said in that storytelling moment, and it was said, and it was a pretty unique thing unto itself. I don't want to say more than that, because I don't want to spoil it for you guys if you're inclined to go read either of those stories. If you've read them, let's discuss in the comments.