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Sunday, June 30, 2013

To Hero-Journey or Not

Directed by IO9 is this well-done puppet presentation on the hero's journey.  It perhaps makes bolder claims than it ought but is worth your time.

Lisa Cron supplies her reasons to oppose the hero's journey.

Teacherly advice about humor

Encouraged to look in my Facebook "other" folder, I found a message from someone I didn't know, but it's great advice from a teacher who taught a class before me, I wish I'd gotten something similar when I first started teaching:
"Be tough (and funny) with my students also avoid that 20 percent of them gave up their first lesson about scuba diving. Cruelty is an action intended to cause pain, to injure others. Being tough (always with humor in my case) when necessary and for the sake of learning is profitable if relevant. I think"
I agree but don't care for the "avoid" statement, assuming I follow the meaning. I try to push/challenge such students, but it's balancing act. Usually you mention something, and let it go until they come to you.  Otherwise, students become resentful, no matter how cheerfully you say it.

Teachers need to be trained in humor and hecklers. Just my opinion, not legislation.  But serious un-sidetrack-able humor. That's the danger the students want to exploit. 

I now open my classes with jokes to get them in a good mood. Who knows what aggravations they're carrying from home or another class?  The common wisdom is to start class immediately, but maybe a good mood greases the wheels better.

Free ebook about to disappear

The World Idiot by Rhys Hughes 


Friday, June 28, 2013

Review Brief: How To Improve Your Speculative Fiction Openings, 2nd ed. by Robert Qualkinbush

How To Improve Your Speculative Fiction Openings, 2nd ed. by Robert Qualkinbush 

This little book talks about an important revelation that I haven't seen others talk about.  It's out in a new 2nd edition, and while it may be an improvement, I haven't yet discovered what is new about it.

The problem for began early with his of scenic.  He describes several opening as "not scenic," but I suspect that isn't what he means.  Rather, he's taken the literary term "scene" as a dramatic unit and turned it into an adjective.  So what I believe he means is that the drama of a story hasn't begun, but I'm still not sure if I agree or disagree unless I actually read the stories in question.

Nonetheless, it's an interesting little book that I recommend, but it will require you to think in his terms but also think around/through/over his ideas.  Worth checking out.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Writers on writing

Theodora Goss discusses Margaret Atwood's opening to Alias Grace.  What strikes me is how quickly the narrator captures the ladies and the mores of their culture--as well as sharp observations.

Cat Rambo and Luc Reid on writers' workshops

Michael Swanwick on knowing your audience.

Nicholas Sparks on writer's block

John Steinbeck's Writing Tips

Hal Duncan's Writing Tips (some seem real, others tongue in cheek--language caution)

James Van Pelt on being a serious writer

David Farland offers 16 hours of audio writing advice for $100 and you help support writers.

  • "When your story starts, your reader does not know when it is set, or where it is set. So begin feeding them clues immediately."

Writers on literary and other arts

Cat Rambo recommends P.C. Hodgell.

Interview with Gary Wolfe, critic

Fredrik Zydek on his new novella, The Songs of Angels.  Sounds clever.  Not sure of the delivery.  I wrote an appreciation of his poetry once.  I'll post it if I can scrounge it up.

Rick Moody on John Cage

Pre-Review: "‘My Beloved Brontosaurus" by Brian Switek

This NY Times review encouraged me to check out.  [Amazon]

Switek reveals changes in our understanding of dinosaurs.  The prologue is an amusing exploration of the author's early interest and general dinosaur discussion, if not particularly informative about dinosaurs.  The first chapter is a discursive discussion of brontosaurs, but I still have high hopes.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Out Tonight" by Ursula K. Le Guin

Appeared in
  1. Fantasy & Science Fiction, 
  2. Gardner Dozois' Year's Best Science Fiction, 
  3. Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling's Year's Best Fantasy, 
  4. Arthur W. Saha's Year's Best Fantasy Stories, 
  5. Gardner Dozois's Modern Classics of Fantasy, 
  6. Robert Silverberg's A Century of Fantasy 1980-1989, 
  7. Robert Silverberg's The Fantasy Hall of Fame, 
  8. American Fantasy Tradition, (Sep 2002, ed. Brian M. Thomsen,
  1. Hugo
  2. World Fantasy
  3. Locus nominee
  4. Sturgeon nominee
  5. Nebula nominee
Clearly, this story is highly respected, deservedly so.  Its charm begins almost immediately.  A young girl has fallen from an airplane and protects one eye:
"Did you lose an eye?" the coyote asked, interested.
"I don't know," the child said....
"I'll help you look for it....  I knew a trick once where I could throw my eyes way up into a tree and see everything from up there, and then whistle, and they'd come back into my head. But that goddam bluejay stole them, and wen I whistled nothing came.  I had to stick lumps of pine pitch into my head so I could see anything.  You could try that. But you've got one eye that's OK, what do you need two for?  re you coming or are you dying there?"
 The child follows various animals-as-humans around (who behave much like native American gods). Since she has little background, probably she is our surrogate witness:  Perhaps some of our "civilized" hang-ups, such as where we relieve ourselves, are unnecessary.  The primary key, though, is our relationship with nature, in particular animals--the environment:  how we impinge their world.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"May's Lion" by Ursula K. Le Guin

First appeared in The Little Magazine, reprinted in Dann and Dozois' Magicats II, and collected in Where on Earth from Small Beer Press.

A supposedly true story about an older woman's encounter with a sick mountain lion is transformed into a story, illustrating how facts are transformed through fiction (and perhaps other eyewitness accounts) into something more fitting to our belief systems or perspectives.

"She Unnames Them" by Ursula K. Le Guin

First published in the New Yorker. Reprinted in Leebron, Geyh, Levy's Postmodern American Fiction.  Collected in Outer Space, Inner Lands, from Small Beer Press.

The animals are "unnamed," losing the names given them.  Some are reluctant until they realize that they could be named whatever they wanted.  More food for thought, than a journey for the mind.  Applicable to people and art--true in how we name or label things, often to unthinkingly dismiss them.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Close Reading of " 'The Author of the Acacia Seeds' and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics" by Ursula K. Le Guin

First appeared in Terry Carr's Fellowship of the Stars. Reprinted in Silverberg and Greenberg's The Arbor House Treasury of Science Fiction Masterpieces, and in Hartwell and Cramer's The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF.

Like "Schrödinger's Cat", "The Author of the Acacia Seeds" examines what we actually know from scientific research.  The first extract examines the language of ants written on acacia seeds, but it is necessarily full of uncertainties due to the gulf of differences in how we understand language.  This is followed by the penguin language which is complicated by its being a bird in the sea.  Its author is even less certain what to glean from it.  The editor also extrapolates further difficulties--out to plants and even rocks.

Because of the story's scholarly tone, the story may be taken at face value--what do we truly know of science--or its final point indicates it may also be read as an idea taken out to its absurd conclusion.  However, as "Schrödinger's Cat" indicates, scientific absurdities may be true as well--if not stranger than we currently imagine.

Close Reading of "Schrödinger's Cat" by Ursula K. Le Guin

Originally appeared in Terry Carr's Universe.  Reprinted in Dozois' Magicats, in Joyce Carol Oates' American Gothic Tales, and in  Leebron, Geyh, Levy's Postmodern American Fiction.

The narrator and "Rover" (if that's his name, which it is probably is not, although it is likely a part of the grander uncertainty) argue whether they should conduct Schrödinger's classic thought experiment, supposedly illustrating the absurdity of quantum theory:
If a cat is trapped in a box with (Le Guin uses a random photon release to trigger a silent gun) a radioactive substance that randomly emits radiation which may cause poison (cyanide, I'd heard) to kill a cat.  If we don't open the box determining the outcome, then cat is indeterminate both dead and alive, which is absurd--for a cat.  This, however, is now seen as the actual way we understand electron behavior.
Le Guin offers that the experiment itself is absurd, suggesting we don't know what the actual system is and who/what all is apart of it, and who are the observers impacting the outcome. A good observation about science and how, to a degree, scientists determine some of the outcome they're looking for through their observation.  More should be aware of this aspect of science.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Interview with Jamaica Kincaid:
"The people who invented race, who grouped us together as “black,” were inventing and categorizing their ability to do something vicious and wrong. I don’t see why I have to give them validity, or why I have to approach that label with any kind of seriousness. We give the people who make this category too much legitimacy by accepting it. We give them too much power. "
 Fiction about the Future -- Contest for writers ages 13-25

Award-winning SF announced at Campbell Conference:

  • Molly Gloss won the Sturgeon Award for "The Grinnell Method"
  • Adam Roberts won the Campbell Award for Jack Glass
  • Kevin J. Anderson and Steven Savile won the Lifeboat to the Stars Award for Tau Ceti

Rhys Hughes' edited zine:  The Ironic Fantastic #1

Douglas Lain has added the reward of reading his entire novel to fun his "Think the Impossible" Tour.

Luc Reid seeks funding for research about a climate change--to be funneled into his novel.

"Gray Matter" or "Their Thousandth Season" by Edward Bryant

Originally appeared in Clarion II.  Reprinted in Terry Carr's Best Science Fiction of the Year.  Also in Bryant's own collection, Cinnabara strange city of the far future.  A purchase will help the author as he is enduring financial and health problems (see Friends of Ed Bryant).

The story opens, "The city.  Forever the city.  Within it rots the tissue of dreams."

In decadent Cinnabar, the immortal residents have little to do on their own except sex--at least in this story--breeding ennui.  Popular program "Jack Burton--Immortal" has been renewed for its thousandth season (see above title), but few really care.  Books write themselves.  Conversations are predictable.  Memories are erased.  They encourage one another not to think.  Poetry is written but no one bothers to send it in anywhere.  Reality is confused where a number of characters are character in the fantasy of Tourmaline Hayes, a long, green haired sex star.

The first, more interesting title--which comes with the collection Cinnabar--alludes to the brain or nebulous matters that exist between extremes--black and white--which is fitting here where the immortals have little moral pressures as when the author says a book he's had a computer write called Brothers and Sisters and is suggested that this be erotic.

Great quote that sounds like one thing but transforms into another:
"I'm well into the new novel....  [It's about] Brothers and sisters.  That about all I can tell you at this point.  The book's writing itself.  I've got very little to do with the process, aside from feeding in the paper."

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Jade Blue" by Edward Bryant

Available in Dozois' ebook, Magicats.  Also in Bryant's own collection, Cinnabar, a strange city of the far future.  The latter may be more useful for the author as he is enduring financial and health problems (see Friends of Ed Bryant).

Mr. Timnath Obregon is on the brink of inventing an APE or Articificial Probability Enhancer, a device which can edit time.  He demonstrates it to ladies but when they leave, a film canister is left behind.

Jade Blue is the catmother or governess who feeds her milk to George, a boy whose true parents tend to abandon him.  Statues greet him, but he needs to be comforted by his parents but Jade Blue will have to do. She has had children, but not real ones, computer-generated.  They use Obregon's machine.

"The Road to Cinnabar" by Edward Bryant

Originally appeared in Infinity.  Also in Bryant's own collection, Cinnabara strange city of the far future.  A purchase will help the author as he is enduring financial and health problems (see Friends of Ed Bryant).

In the desert city of Cinnabar where time moves strangely, Wylie Cafter drops into the Coronet.  He stops the owner from whipping a clumsy servant.  After night passes rapidly, Cafter re-enters where he's accosted by an odd trio--a giant, a dwarf, and a woman--for seeing a camera that's visible.  Cafter tries to organize a union but fails.  Then something happens that somewhat organizes/makes logical these disparate events.

The theme from Cafter's mouth:  "Reality is my deadliest enemy."

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Out of Place" by Pamela Sargent

First appered in T. E. D. Klein's Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine.  Available online.  Also part of Dozois' ebook, Magicats as well as Sargent's own collection, Thumbprints.

Humans all over the world can hear the thoughts of animals.  This leads to vegetarianism, but also murderous anger, secrets unveiled, and other philosophical quandries.

Tim Powers on Plots

"In my stories I try to have plots--I try to set upapparently disconnected events and then make sense of them.  Figure them out!  I want my readers to be satisfied... and not be left with an anticlimax."

-- Tim Powers in The Bible Repairman and Other Stories

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"The Cat from Hell" by Stephen King

Available as part of Dozois' ebook, Magicats.  Reprinted in Terry Carr's Year's Finest Fantasy.

Halston is hired to kill a cat.  This cat killed a woman the boss loved.  Others have tried to kill the cat but died.  Halston doesn't buy it, but it's money.

The cat escapes the bag Halston put it in.  Halston has a fight for his life.

Damon Knight on Persona

"I had invented an imaginary writer to write my stories for me, someone... more mture, more skilled, more inventive, and more knowledgeable than I was.... [T]here was a name for it:  persona, which is Greek for 'mask'."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Friday, June 14, 2013

"The Game of Rat and Dragon" by Cordwainer Smith

Bibliography: First appeared in H. L. Gold's Galaxy.  Available online.  Also part of Dozois' ebook, Magicats, and in a number of major anthologies:  Dikty's Best SF; Robert Silverberg's The Mirror of Infinity: A Critics' Anthology of Science Fiction; Patricia Warrick, Martin Harry Greenberg, Joseph Olander's  Science Fiction: Contemporary Mythology, James Gunn's The Road to Science Fiction #3: From Heinlein to Here; Kingsley Amis' The Golden Age of Science Fiction; Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg's Great SF Stories: #17 (1955); Robert Silverberg's Century of Science Fiction 1950-1959; Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction; Pat Cadigan's The Ultimate Cyberpunk; David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer's The Space Opera Renaissance.

The above list ranks this as a major story in the field.  Interestingly, not only is this important, but Cadigan lists it as a forefather to cyberpunk and Hartwell/Cramer to space opera.  It is due in large part to its inventiveness--inventive with amazing if dizzying economy:

"Pinlighting is a hell of a way to earn a living."
What kind of occupation is Pinlighting?

"As he waited for the pin-set to warm up, he remembered the girl in the outer corridor. She had looked at it, then looked at him scornfully.
" 'Meow.' That was all she had said. Yet it had cut him like a knife."
Girl = cat?

"As he relaxed, the comforting solidity of the Sun, the clock-work of the familiar planets and the Moon rang in on him."

Comforting solidity of the Sun?  This is the strangeness that pushes away some readers, but pulls in the true-blue, the die-hards.

Underhill pinlights with his cat, where they mind-meld and hunt creatures they call dragons in space.  Only cats are fast enough to kill the dragons.  They kill off dragons.

Curiously, like Fredric Brown's "Mouse", the cat measures favorably against women (hinted at in the above, early quote.

Tobias Buckell recently did a semi-controversial homage to Smith at Lightspeed:  "A Game of Rats and Dragon".


Damon Knight on Pleasure in Fiction

"Make a list of things you love, that give you intense pleasure just to look at them or smell or taste them....  How many things like that does [your grim story] evoke?"
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Close Reading: "The Cat" by Gene Wolfe

First published in World Fantasy 1983: Sixty Years of Weird Tales, reprinted in Gardner Dozois' Year's Best SF and Magicats.

A game is afoot immediately:  "I am Odilo the Steward, the son of Odilo the Steward."  Layers upon layers.  The layers are mirrored in the storytellers.  That is, the story has passed through at least two other tellers' mouths.  Rumors/gossip (also second-hand stories) figure as well.  "As I have often observed, rumor in our House Absolute is a self-willed wind.....  the least gossip comes to a thousand ears."  What is authenticity?  Should we trust this (or perhaps any) tale?

Odilo is "charged by our Autarch Severian the Great--whose desires are the dreams of his subjects--with the well-being of the Hypogeum Apotropaic." [emphases mine]  Dreams and well-being are connected here.

"I neither hope nor wish for other readers [than those "who know the ways of our House Absolute"]"  This indicates this is meta-fiction, or a story about stories.

The story proper, which it takes some time to get to, is a rather simple horror story.  The publication title above shows it is a celebration of horror published by the long-lived Weird Tales. Chatelaine Sancha is an apt pupil of Father Inire, watches his magical appurtences, and impetuously tosses in a gray cat.  It disappears.  She is involved in a sexual scandal, through no fault of her own, and goes to live in another kingdom to avoid the haunting gossip.  A spectral cat follows her, not unlike the rumors that follow her, despite her attempts to thwart them.  She eventually dies, with a paw print and a doll left behind.

The tale has horror, but how are we to feel about such horror?  We have to page back to the beginning:

"I heard such recounting of larva, lemures and the like as would terrify every child in the Commonwealth--and make every man in it laugh most heartily.
"So I myself laughed when I returned here to my study, where I will scrutinize and doubtless approve..."

In other words, we should take a second look.  Horror is not enough.

Damon Knight on a beginning writer's flaws

"One almost universal fault of beginners' fiction is that it lacks contrast."  [Knight goes on to talk about striking different emotional notes.]
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

New novella from Damien Broderick, based on Robert Silverberg's classic, Born with the Dead on sale on Amazon for 99 cents for one day, today, June 13, 2013.  This is Phoenix Pick's sale.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Kreativity for Kats" by Fritz Leiber

H. L. Gold's Galaxy Magazine.  Available online for the ebook of Magicats II.  It is a sequel to "Spacetime for Springers."

Gummitch the cat is depressed by his discovery he's not human, plus cat bullies outside want to kill him.  So he presses on to another endeavor.  The female owner, Kittycomehere (the cat's name for her), tries to puzzle out why the cat isn't drinking his water, a mystery Gummitch helps them solve by letting them see a little of his unusual perspective on the world.

The cat apparently is privy to information going on in his owners' heads--as the cat's names for the owners persists--or else the narrative accidentally slips in point of view from the cat's close third to the omniscient.  The former is more interesting, however.  It further compounds the cat's unreliability, however, as he gains unusual powers and undermines the theme to "Spacetime for Springers", in which case the flaw in perspective there might be due solely to his maturity.  A third tale exists in this series, which might settle the matter, but it is unavailable to me at the moment.

Damon Knight on Stories

"Reading a story, even a tragic story, ought to be a succession of sweet pleasures, like beads on a string, vivid images, excitements, anticipations, surprises."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Spacetime for Springers" by Fritz Leiber

First appeared in Frederik Pohl's Star Science Fiction Stories.  Reprinted in Judith Merril's Year's Greatest SF and Fantasy, in David G. Hartwell, Kathryn Cramer's Masterpieces of Fantasy and Enchantment, and in Gardner Dozois' Modern Classics of Fantasy.  Available online--also an ebook as shown in picture.

Gummitch, a kitten with an IQ of 160--how it was measured, the narrator doesn't say--believes he will transform into a human.  The unintelligent, young children, though, will transform into cats.  He believes he was born in the folds of a bathrobe, for those are his earliest memories.  Gummitch wants to hurry the process along.

The reader feels for Gummitch, but his unreliability is a little odd.  On the one hand, he's smart enough to know something of literature--apparently well-read with a deep imagination--but on the other hand, he seems not to understand genetics, accepting the more fantastic explanation over the more likely mundane one.  Perhaps this is a critique of the genre, tending to reach for the cooler if less likely scenario--and/or of the religious.

Damon Knight on Dialogue

"Everything a character says should tell us something about that character, preferably something we didn't know before."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Monday, June 10, 2013

"Mouse" by Fredric Brown

First appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories.  Reprinted in Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty's Best Science Fiction Stories and in Ellen Datlow's Sci Fiction.

Bill Wheeler witnesses a cigar-shaped alien ship landing in Central Park.  Inside lies a mouse that has died.  Six days later (enough time to remake the Earth), calamity in various guises strikes different countries.  Bill explains to his cat that whatever inhabited the alien mouse has escaped and is wrecking havoc.  As Bill draws nearer the truth, something unexpected occurs.

Ironic title that mirrors all of the underestimation that goes on by the humans involved--in how the title relates to the cat and how the cat was at one point favorably compared to a wife.  Serendipitously, this mirrors research showing how cats have an effect on their owners.

Commentary elsewhere:
From Dave Wolverton/Farland: 

"Get The Golden Queen for $.99. Every time you share, tweet, pin, facebook, or blog about this offer, you can be entered to win a signed hardcover of Nightingale.

"Just send an email to with the post's link or copy and paste it into the message. Please send a separate message for each share. (So if you tweet it and facebook it, send two emails--one for the tweet and one for the facebook post.)"
Help yourself and help ease Ben Wolverton's medical bills.  It's a fun book.

Damon Knight on Dialogue

"[If] people are saying exactly what anyone would expect them to[, r]ewrite, asking yourself, 'What could they say that would be surprising?'  Don't take the easy way out and make them say something bizarre and irrelevant."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Sunday, June 9, 2013

"Hawksbill Station" by Robert Silverberg

Collected in To the Dark Star: 1962-69, it first appeared in Frederik Pohl's Galaxy, reprinted in both Donald Wollheim/Terry Carr's and Brian Aldiss/Harry Harrison's Year's Best anthologies.  It was nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula awards.  It is Silverberg's first story to capture award nominators' attention.

Because time travelers can only go backwards, the government has placed their troublesome, male revolutionaries in the Precambrian where they cannot create time paradoxes, accidentally destroying an evolutionary ancestor.  The former revolutionaries go a little crazy without anything to do or females to spend their time with.  One actually "creates" a woman out of mud and grass.

Our hero is Barrett, "the uncrowned King of Hawksbill Station," due to his length of stay, mental stamina, and size although he became crippled after a rock slide, eroding his power somewhat--at least in his mind.  They keep hoping for a female although one never comes.  Lew Hahn arrives and everything changes.  The men get suspicious as he cannot explain his.  Stranger still, he's been taking damning notes on everyone at the station, saying it ought to be gotten rid of.  The men consider him a spy and watch him carefully... until he disappears.

This is truly a significant work:  the power in one's powerlessness, the search for importance and the fear of losing it even when you'd suspect that one's position should be anathema.  These themes create a potent tale.  The novel doesn't work as well as the stir-crazy aspects and crucible conditions get lost (although it has its own appeal).

The plot-pivotal character, Hahn, probably should have been a psychologist and his assessments not so quickly lost--or at least misinterpreted.  However, this does not erode the power of the novella because this is Barrett's tale--his effort to hold the station together, come what may.

Damon Knight on Detail

"[If] characters don't come to life and the background never becomes clear[, w]iden your field of attention."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"Multiples" by Robert Silverberg

Originally appeared in Omni.  Reprinted in Dozois' Year's Best Science Fiction.  Collected in Silverberg's collection, Multiples.

Cleo goes to a Multiples' bar to pick up a Multiple, a person uncontrollably changes from one personality/person to another.  Multiple persons can even be present in one body at one time.  She, however, is only a Singleton--like you or I.  She pretends that she, too, contains multiple people, but eventually she's caught.  In fact,  She returns to "singleton" life, but it's not the same.

Possible, intriguing metaphor for the attraction between complex and simple personalities.

Writerly advice

Odds & Ends
Find out who you write like

50x Blogging Tips

  • links to various blogs with multiple blogging tips.  Perhaps one day I'll wade through them all.

Editorial advice
Editors talk with Michael Knost about what they're looking for

Jennifer Niesslein, editor and writer, advises on submissions.

  • I liked:  "I submit to publications I like. It’s not personal."  Most interestingly, I pondered "After an editor rejects three pieces of my work, I move on."  As an editor myself, I read all works sent in.  I did associate certain writers with certain styles that did not appeal to me, but I maintained the same vision as an editor.  I tried never to let bias enter in--going over poems multiple times without the authors' names attached--and I did find poems I liked even when the writer had submitted many that did not grab me.  The above statement did not mirror my editorial practices.  If some editors are that way, they're losing out.  I hope she's mistaken.

Writer to writer advice
David Farland advises wrting key scenes first

Steven Barnes offers advice to new writers

  • Especially useful was his advice for looking down the road, in terms of a career 

David Farland on overcoming mental exhaustion

Maria Popova distills Samuel Delany's comments on Good Writing vs. Talented Writing 

Damon Knight on Characters

"[W]hen you focus closely on [characters], they will be doing and saying things that express their individual natures."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Friday, June 7, 2013

Links about the Arts (literary and otherwise)

About the Author: Author tributes & interviews:
Christopher Priest at the GuardianAdam Roberts at New Scientist's Arc Finity, and Michael Swanwick look back at Jack Vance's career.  Swanwick should collect his writings on various authors.  It is often fascinating.  He turned me on to R. A. Lafferty.

Audio interview: Gary Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan talk with Christopher Barzak and Mary Rickert

On Art in General:  Appreciation & Creativity
Art appreciation:  Why you should stare at art for three hours

Rules of engagement: Kate Bingaman Burt at TEDxPortland -- Burt tells us that rules make us creative

Links to Essays, Movie, Novel, Novel Contest, & Magazines

Damon Knight on Editors and Submissions

"[E]ditors*... have individual tastes, preferences, and blind spots.  If your story comes back with an angry or indifferent rejection from an editor, that may be because the story is bad, or because that editor was not equipped to appreciate it.  Send it out again."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

*Damon Knight was well known as a writer and an editor, especially for the Orbit anthology series.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

She blinded you with science links

Buzz Aldrin and Thomas Dolby Perform "She Blinded Me With Science"


Student, who conducted an unauthorized experiment that led to her being charged with a felony, receives a scholarship to Space Academy.  Good deal.  She no doubt knew what she was doing, and probably the school was making an example of her to show the seriousness of her actions, but a felony  is way overboard.

Graduate school is a state of mind, not a career step, according to this writer

Social Sciences

Color film of London in the 1920s



New work on prime numbers (this reminds me of a cool concept story, Julian Todd's critically acclaimed (most critics liked it although some found it flawed) "Mine the Primes" which Allen Ashley discusses briefly here)

Human dolls being printed in Japan.  A cultural wonder for some, disturbing to others.

Damon Knight on Audience

"A story, we say, ought to be interesting: but interesting to whom?"
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction


  1. Douglas Lain is asking to do the impossible--a book and podcast tour.  You can help.  Looks cool.
  2. The expenses for Dave Wolverton/David Farland's son have been astronomical, projected to surpass a million dollars.  You can help.  Check out this fun series of books--the Golden Queen--available for only 99 cents.  The first has some really brain-expanding switches as it segues from one genre to the next.  Well worth it to you and the Wolvertons.
  3. Tim Pratt and Heather Shaw are relaunching Flytrap, an interesting little small press zine that published a number of up-and-coming writers.  They're doing a Kickstarter.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

She Returns from the Floating World by Jeannine Hall Gailey

This recently came out as an ebook--short poetry with an emphasis on Japanese fairy tales.  A fine poet.  She wrote a beautiful poem I missed out on publishing at Abyss & Apex--one of the "Robot Scientist's Daughter" series--because I was so slow. It's the only poem I kick myself for not being faster.  Yes, I still regret it.  Ah, well.  Go forth and enjoy.

Damon Knight on Present Tense

"Like second-person narration, the present tense seems to imply the existence of an invisible observer, a little more strongly than past tense does."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: The Day the Leash Gave Way by Trent Zelazny

One of my favorite writers since my youth has been Roger Zelazny.  I learned he'd had a son, Trent (clearly, a name destined to write), who also wrote, so I dug deeper.  Of father-son writers--Kingsley Amis and Martin Amis, Stephen King and Joe Hill, Richard Matheson and Richard Christian Matheson--this may be the biggest leap in styles although both Trent and Roger are intentionally stylish in their prose.  Where Roger in smooth, Trent is jagged and rough, noir-ish and dark, very dark.

The title story is a true oddity.  It begins, "Sam was surprised twice over."  Double that, and  you'll come close to what's in store for the reader.  Sam carries prize money to the Kellys'.  Before he's even in the house,  a dead dog is tied to its leash on the back bumper of a car.  On the dog's hind leg, the Kelly boy has clenched his teeth.  That's only outside the home.  Inside we find the Kellys have had the mother stuffed.  Men in suits arrive to take her away, but Mr. Kelly won't have any of it.  "At least Sam, our protagonist, is normal," you might say.  Not really.  He might be the star oddity in someone else's story, but here he shines as a beacon of sanity.  Sort of.  If you're looking for normalacy, this is not the place to look.  Expect to be disturbed.

Another standout which should appeal to most readers is "Found Money"--also sold as a separate ebook.  Nick lost his job at the bookstore because he was accused of stealing money which he could not have had access to.  However, he does find an envelope with $3,087 inside.  It was intended to go to a hit man, but the inept mobsters failed to deliver, and the head mafioso is ticked, not to mention the hit man.  Poor Nick tells his buddy about the money who accidentally discusses the find in front of the mobsters.  A delicious light crime tale and a palate cleanser for the edgier stuff.

My theory of opening stories in collections is that it should introduce the writer to something iconic about the writer yet also offer as easy a transition as the writer's work allows from traditional narrative (unless all of the writer's work is experimental).  Trent Zelazny's collection opens with "Hooch," a story of low-class people looking for sex, booze, profanity, and violence, all of which inundate the story.  If you can't stomach Quentin Tarantino, your stomach will disgorge any Tarantino you may have partially digested.  In "Hooch," Tim wants to get boozed and lucky but he's not so sure about Darlene, the girl he wants to make it with.  They move to the playground.  Enter low-life jocks who engage in a boozed battle, where one hero does not make it out.  Two escape the frying pan into the fire.  The relentless intensity dims some of its impact.

This is followed by the torture porn of "Acupuncture" where a man overdoes revenge for a man having an affair with his wife.  It's interesting--two stories in a row with the amusing if depressing theme:  Life sucks, then it gets worse.

"Harold Asher and His Vomiting Dogs" introduces us to Harold and choir of vomiting dogs who perform on stage to the tune of "Singing in the Rain"--with another weird surprise, in store.

My favorite is probably "The House of Happy Mayhem" where the normal-seeming narrator subtly reveals himself as deeply odd.  We meet him in the park as he watches people--in particular, a married couple. He comments to himself on their inner feelings.  Gradually, we learn our narrator absconds himself not just in the private lives of these people, but also in their houses, listening to their arguments and marital indiscretions.  It gets worse.

Zelazny has given us a collection of dark materials--from crime to edgy horror.  Some of it is an acquired taste, but others should appeal to broader predilections.

Damon Knight on 2nd-Person POV

"Second-person narration is a somewhat unnatural way of telling a story, and it is seldom used.  It does have one advantage the word you implies, more strongly than he or she does, the existence of a narrator who tells the story, so that, in effect you can get two viewpoints for the price of one."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Monday, June 3, 2013

Magazine Review: Mustang's Monster Corral

Edited by Jess Keith Harris, this little blog-magazine has a bevy of little articles and short shorts.  The articles focus and writing and war, often insightful.  The stories focus on monsters, whatever that trope may mean to the writer (and, ultimately, editor).  This tends to produce horror or suspense stories, but a few skew into fantasy or science fiction.

The best of these is a little, odd, dark fantasy "Deeper Wounds" by Brandon Bell about dolls.  A rather stunning piece, that cleverly implicates the reader, if marred by few minor writing infelicities, i.e. "charred savoriness."  Highly recommended.

Small Gods by Charles Payseur is another dark fantasy that begins in one genre but ends in another.  Or has it?

One thought-provoking piece, "The Masks" by Alexandra Grunberg, asks us who the monster is.  Clearly, one man seems to be as he unmasks his unknown love.  But isn't the victim also a passive monster?

In Very Poor Taste by Jess Harris has the best characterization of the lot.  Two schoolgirls try to outwit each other although one knows something the other does not.  Clever title.

A number of these are strong short shorts:  "The Hook Man" by Alex Hughes wherein our natural bias is thwarted; "Offerings for the Dead" by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt takes a familiar twist tale but develops it in a different setting and characters.

Two works that gain by being pitted against one another--both treat childhood fears from different angles:  "Nothing Under the Bed" by Ken Goldman and "The Quiet Dark" by Renee Carter Hall.

Flawed but interesting works:  A vignette by Josh Reynolds, "Owd Hobb" has a compelling voice.  "Blend" by Gaines Post demos a cool high-school-bullied monster although it takes an odd turn.

Damon Knight on Motivating Characters

"If your character's motives are trivial, their actions will be either trivial or incredible.  I fthey story is one of conflict, give your characters something important to win or lose--life, freedom, self-respect--or, if not one of these, something that to your character is equally important."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Robert Olen Butler writes a story, episode 2 of 17

Robert Olen Butler writes a story, episode 2 of 17

Further observations of Butler's process:

  1. Rewriting is redreaming, getting back into the senses, finding where something feels wrong.
  2. Write everyday to stay in the artistic mood, the zone, the trance.
  3. As in the first video, Butler looks up words to make sure they were in use during the time period.

Damon Knight on Naming Characters

"When you want an authentic sounding name for a citizen of a foreign country, one good source is the bibliographic notes after the article on that country in the encyclopedia."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Robert Olen Butler writes a story online.

Robert Olen Butler writes a story.

34 hours!  I seem to recall a joke about a TV show that features an audience watching a writer write.  Since less than three percent hang on to the end, I'd say the joke is valid.  It isn't terribly exciting, true, but it is interesting to see how alike your processes match.  Also, Butler discusses questions from his audience, which can be interesting.

In the first video I found the following interesting commentaries on his own process:

  1. Capture yearning of character before starting.
  2. Look for the right mood with music.
  3. A work of art is entirely sensual, not analytic.
  4. Dreaming about art = sensual, analytic = thinking about it*
* = Butler erases moments that don't fit the character's mood.  There's some overlap, but he does focus more on the senses and the yearning.

Octavia Butler conference

If you're an Octavia Butler fan, this is a must-see.  A group of excellent to great authors and editors talk about memories of Butler and her work for two hours.

Octavia was a fine writer whose prose flowed easily and sketched realistic characters.  She was a mentor to Sheree Renee Thomas and I at Clarion West (Nisi was often in attendance, sitting in to listen to the masters of the craft).  Butler was inspirational, making writing all feel real and possible.

Damon Knight on Research

"[T]ry to find out all you need to know for the purposes of the story, and no more."
-- Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction