Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Little Family Humor for You

There are people who say that New Englanders are a dour lot, but that's simply because outsiders don't understand "our" sense of humor. For example, my mother told me today what I'm supposed to put on my pie. Some people put a little blob of dough that looks like an apple or a blueberry, or whatever. Not my family.

If you have just made an apple pie, you put a big "T" on it, for "'Tis apple. If it's not, you mark it with a big "T". For "Tain't.

And so the long New England nights just fly.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Now I can improve my writing and annoy the cats at the same time...

It's one of those things I've heard people talking about for a while. When you're done with a story, read it aloud to yourself.

It works. If you stumble on a sentence, it probably needs to be rewritten.

Kinda wished I'd listened to this before I finished the novel. Ah well, there will be time to revise it again later.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

It's 11/11, Armistice Day, or Veterans' Day, depending on your sense of history. So I present you with a poem by WWI soldier Wilfred Owens. To some, Dulce et Decormum Est is an old saw, something we studied in school. Personally, I've never been able to escape the hard imagery of the poem, the haunting despair, the vivid sense of the narrator's exhaustion, terror, endurance, and humanity in the face of the overwhelming.

Writing is memory, and there are something we need to remember, even if it's on a single day out of the year. World War One was an colossal, senseless mess in which some nineteen million soldiers were sent to their deaths for little or no gain, and perhaps ten million more civilians died. As an event, it overshadows the rest of the twentieth century. The Second World War and the Cold War, the two great conflicts that dominated world politics for the latter half of the twentieth century, both have their roots directly in the Great War.

Not that the author, Wilfred Owen can tell us this himself. He was killed a week before the war ended. It is said his mother received word just as the church bells rang out to celebrate the Armistice. Many poets died in the Great War, just as I must assume great politicians, scientists, surgeons, and inventors did. But we'll never know, because they died young.

On this Armistice Day, I reflect that should be more careful with peoples' lives.

Dulce et Decormum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori

Monday, November 5, 2007

Top 10 Great Things About World Fantasy Con 2007

World Fantasy Con was head-spinningly awesome. More writers and topics and editors and all-around delightful people than you could shake a wizard's wand at. I could go on to a hundred or more by being specific, but I'll just tease you with the top 10 great things about World Fantasy Con 2007:

10. Picking up a copy of Nick Mamatas’s Move Under Ground and then starting to set it back on the shelf, only to discover the author was standing behind me. I bought it, and he signed it. Nick remembered that I submitted “God of Chickens” to him without me having to prompt him, which I thought was pretty cool of him. Nick’s a neat guy to talk to.

9. The constant “Holy shit, Walter Jon Williams/ Charles Vess/ Kim Newman/ Lynn Abbey/ Tim Powers” moments as Walter Jon Williams/ Charles Vess/ Kim Newman/ Lynn Abbey/ Tim Powers and literally dozens of other familiar names walked by. It was extraordinarily difficult not to geek out at the parade of fantastic authors who have influenced, entertained and exhilarated me of the years, and I did not succeed every time. They were without exception polite, which cannot have been easy. I will try very hard to restrain my enthusiasm at the next convention, but at the same time, I want these people to know that their work is absolutely marvelous. I must find some balance.

8. William Jones. The man himself–he who bought my first story. We had a long conversation (long enough that the bookseller we were standing in front of shooed us away) about the publication process, what’s going on with Chaosium and Elder Signs Press, why short stories are a good thing, and what’s up next for us both. Awesome guy, and a very important conversation for me.

7. ST Joshi is a stunningly personable man. Those who have only read his commentaries simply cannot understand what an warm and delightful conversationalist he is.

6. The stories. When authors get together, they trade stories about writing and publishing. Like the one about the guy who got a rejection letter and posted a huge rant about it on his blog. A publisher who wanted to give him a three-book deal, looked him up, saw the rant, and decided he might be too difficult to work with. Note to self, be more polite when posting to blog.

5. F. Paul Wilson and Tom Monteleone’s stories. These guys are the veterans of the book trade, and they have a million and one stories, all of the fascinating. Any ending you can imagine to something that starts off with “So Peter Straub, Stephen King and I went out to find the sleeziest strip club in Ottowa” falls short of the actual story. I’m sorry, but it’s simply the truth.

4. Learning that Elizabeth Bear used to play in my CoC campaign! Yes, that Elizabeth Bear.

3. Gary Frank. The thing to do at a convention is to follow Gary around, because he goes some extremely interesting places. And while he does so, he talks a lot of sense about marketing yourself, convention etiquette, and generally how to work conventions to your advantage. Gary’s an old hand at cons, so his advice is useful and practical.

2. Wilum Pugmire. Wilum is so supportive and kind to this fledgling writer. He gave me at least two significant opportunities I would not have thought to take advantage of myself, and we indulged in some highly entertaining conversation. There's no one like Wilum. We've been corresponding for a year, and it was simply a joy to finally meet him.

1. Reading this from “Summation 2006: Horror Anthologies” by Ellen Datlow (p. lii-liii), in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, 2007: "Arkham Tales, edited by William Jones (Chaosium), is, according to the editor’s introduction, the first anthology in which '. . . each story . . . is realized in Chaosium’s adaptation of the cosmic horror sub-genre.' In other words, if I understand correctly, each story is inspired directly by an actual aspect of the ‘Call of Cthulhu’ role-playing game published by Chaosium Press. Despite this, the stories do stand alone, and some do some nice riffs on the mythos, including those of C. J. Henderson, Brian M. Sammons, and John Goodrich.”

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Week of Ups and Downs

I want to start off with "It’s been a busy week" again, but I’ve said or thought it so many times that it’s become redundant. I doubt that I’m really going to have an easy week at any point in the next decade. I used to think that it would be cool if I had more projects demanding my attention than time. And what do you know, I’ve got it.

And I don’t think it’s a case of “be careful what you wish for”: It’s much better to have too much to do than too little. I can always (if I get my priorities straight) drop a project. And at the moment, the ideas for projects are coming faster than I can polish them into stories. I’ve got the outlines of five short stories in various stages between “completely in my head” and “halfway written”. And I’m revising my novel so I can show it to people when I go to World Fantasy Con. I’ve been planning a couple of novels in a couple of franchises that I’d like to take a crack at, in addition to mapping out my second solo effort.

But while I’m not going to fall back on the old standard and say that this week has been busy, I must admit it has been a full of emotional peaks and dips. I finished a very difficult essay and sent it off to the editor, who liked it (yay!). When I proposed the topic for my next essay, I found that it was already taken (boo!). My novel has been read by a professional that I like very much, and she likes my work (HUGE YAY!). I did not get into the Nyarlathotep anthology edited by Peter Worthy (booo!), but I did get into the Cross-Genre Cthulhu anthology (Yay!).

The positives of this week far outweigh the negatives. For example, on Wednesday, I gave blood and walked two miles home. However, I didn’t have to walk the additional mile and a half to pick up the car. And yet, I found myself feeling kind of down and listless as I came home from work today and sitting down to face work on the blogs. And it’s not just because I’m a pint low. I know myself enough to understand that no rejection is ever not going to affect me. It hurts that Peter didn’t think that my story was strong enough to be in the Nyarlathotep anthology. I’m sure that it will be an excellent anthology, and I’m definitely going to buy it when it comes out, but my initial reaction is rather different.

But I’m not going to rant and rave about it. While I’m not going to deny my hurt, neither am I going to wallow in it. I made a lot of progress toward my personal goals this week, and the rejection is just a temporary setback. If the story is as good as I think it is, it’s going to sell somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit at the right price. I’m aiming for better-paying markets than I was a year ago, so I’m going to have to accept that I’m going to get rejected more often. I just have to accept that there’s an appropriate mourning period when I get over myself, which will likely involve writing all my pain into a blog entry. And tomorrow, I’ll pick myself up and see what other venues are looking for my sort of story.

At the same time, I can’t rush it. I have missed what would have been a good opportunity because I was in too much of a rush to get a story published. I wanted to get it out there and read by someone–anyone–and I let it go to the first person that said yes. And that cost me the opportunity to sell it to a much more interesting venue that doesn’t take reprints.

Call it a learning experience.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Oh the Places I've Been

I see that my last entry was in July. It’s been a busy month and a half. So, what have I been doing instead of posting to my blog?

Let’s start with the first week of August. I took a lovely biplane ride with my in-laws. The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome remains a great place, and as far as I can tell the only place locally, to get a biplane ride. The modern experience of flight really insulated the flier from the experience: the flier sits in a sealed cabin, and the heights and speeds involved are quickly so out of the normal human range that what you see is fairly abstract. In a biplane, with the wind in your hair, flight is very different. You can reach out and feel the air rushing past you, the overwhelming roar of the engine is less than ten feet in front of you. We couldn’t have been more then fifteen hundred feet in the air, and everything is still quite recognizable–houses, trees, cars, even people. And the Hudson River Valley is beautiful as it spreads out below you like a beautiful tapestry of trees.

This flight was rather different from the one I took two years ago. The pilot did a tight 360 on a wingtip. Last time, we circled rather lazily. The difference might have been that I tipped the pilot in advance this time.

Later, I went to Silent Hill with friends Shinankoku, Mrs. Shinankoku, and the Queen of Science. Oh it wasn’t quite what you’ve seen. But consider this, we went up Mount Equinox, and into the clouds. When we got to the top, it was every bit as foggy as the video games (the pictures are still in the camera), with thick tendrils of mist within ten feet of you, and absolutely no visibility past thirty feet. Seriously—you couldn’t even see across the parking lot. And it was quiet. No sound other than us and the chill, damp wind blowing through the scrubby pines. When we the last time you were somewhere that you were the only noise around? No music, no cars, just your footfalls, the sigh of the wind in the skeletal pines, and anything you say that isn’t immediately swallowed by the omnipresent mist.

Adding to the creepy was the fact that there is an abandoned hotel on the mountaintop. It’s sort of a cheesy 70's place, pre-fab, and clearly has seen better days. But it’s not altogether abandoned, apparently, because there was a light on in back. Sometimes you come across the tiny shards of a story. I always wonder about the rest it—where it started, and how it will change in the future.

Later, we went to a ProjektFest in New Haven. I can safely say that the Gothic Music festival is the loudest thing I have ever been to, and that includes sitting than six feet away from an airplane engine. And I saw perhaps the most exquisitely beautiful woman I have ever seen in the flesh. No, I don’t’ have any pictures of her. We got to see Voltaire and Niki Jane live (I want to learn to play the musical saw). Niki Jane was awesome, but Voltaire was definitely the highlight of the show, since he was funny, energetic, and with an excellent rapport with the audience. He and all of his band were dressed to the nines in some absolutely beautiful Edwardian outfits.

And really, I would think that was enough.

But it wasn’t. I also finished the first draft of my novel on the 11th.

Let me say that again, I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT OF MY FIRST SOLO NOVEL! And I did it because I worked hard for most of August, when I wasn’t flying, or visiting frighteningly quiet mountain tops, or having my ears assaulted by industrial music, and through the beginning of September. And if that weren’t enough, I spread my wings a little and redesigned the main page of

Before September is over, I will have written an essay on William Peter Blatty’s comedies, and starting in October I’ll be revising the novel, hopefully so I can interest someone in it at World Fantasy Con, which is the first week of November. So the reason I haven’t been posting on my blog is because I’ve been working my frikkin’ tail off.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I Wasn’t Bitten by a Radioactive Novel When I Was a Kid

There are many ways to divide up heroes, just as there are many ways to divide up people. My most recent thought is to go back to the classics: the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Achillies (yes, I understand that he was nor invulnerable until Roman times–unfortunately, that spoils my analogy, therefore, I’m going to ignore it) had a skin that could not be hurt by any weapon. He was a real badass, one of the major players in the siege of Troy. The Iliad is primarily about him. Odysseus was known as the Sacker of Cities. He was eventually the man who won the city of Troy, not by force of arms, but by trickery. He later got his own poem, the Odyssey.

Now here’s the thing. Achillies is a hero with gifts. He didn’t arrange to be dipped in invulnerability serum; someone else did it for him. Thus people who are given special gifts are Achillean heroes. Whether Luke Skywalker, Neo, Gilgamesh, Anita Blake, Superman, Heracles, Hellboy, or Harry Potter, the Achillean hero got some cool mojo. They are set apart from other people by virtue of something they inherited, or were given as a child, or by happenstance. This gift allows them to perform feats beyond that of most individuals. Their stories are of individuals learning to use their specialness on order to right wrongs, or bringing order to the world, often in ways that they are uniquely suited to do. The task is appointed for them.

Odyssean heroes, on the other hand, are self-made. What sets them apart from other men is their drive, their intelligence, or their ability to endure. Examples include Batman, Frodo Baggins, Indiana Jones, Conan, Sam Spade, and Fallout’s Vault Dweller. The Odyessean hero is still special, but lacks a magical breastplate or special gift to distinguish them from the rest of humanity. They must rely on their own natural wit, intelligence, and whatever else they can come up with. Certainly Batman’s wealth as scion of Wayne Enterprises helps him out, but the Darknight Detective is best known as an investigator and a martial artist.

Now, I’m not going to say that one is bad and the other is good, although I tend to favor the Odyssean hero over the Achillean. Ultimately, it depends on how the hero is handled. Hellboy was born with abilities beyond that of ordinary mortals, but that’s not what his stories are about. Hellboy generally has fights with things, but that’s not how he triumphs. His major character arc has been his inner struggle, in which case, his supernatural gifts are actually against him. (See my next essay for more on this).

Gilgamesh, the original action hero, is another Achillean hero that I greatly love. For while half a god, Gilgamesh finds that being unchallenged in the world brings him no joy. It is only when the gods send Enkidu to be his near-equal and friend that Gilgamesh discovers the value of life. And that existential quest of love and loss is something that no amount of strength can help with.

However, I will say that there has been a lot of abuse of the Achillean hero in the past twenty years. I blame the countless imitators of Star Wars. From Neo to Anita Blake, people in stories have been given some pretty damn amazing things, just for being in the right place at the right time, being born of the correct parents, or boffing the correct combination of vampire, werewolf, and whatever other supernatural creature might be in the area. And sure, whatever, but what is the lesson there? That some people are better than others, and if you aren’t born special, then you never will be? What kind of message is that?

What really bothers me is that Achillean heroes don’t have to work for what they get. Batman had to bust his ass to become The Bat. He trained, he failed, he learned, he suffered, he overcame. Superman? He learned to fly one day. What does that teach us?

There seem to be a lot of people just waiting to hear that they are “The One”, secretly hoping that someday, someone will discover something special in them, that they are the last scion of Christ, or the King of Gondor and Arnor, lost all these years. That someone will come and sweep them away, and make their lives wonderful, rather than setting about doing so themselves.

The reason I like the Odyssean model better is that I don’t believe much comes to most people in this world without work. If I want opportunities, I’m going to have to make them. If I want to sell a novel, I’m going to have to sweat over the damn thing and produce it, and then sweat as I polish the shit out of it. Because if I wait for it to just happen, it’s just never going to.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

It's 2007, and I’m not going to my 20th high school reunion

In a misguided fit of nostalgia, I joined classmates dot com last year. This was partially because one of my classmates, who I didn’t know particularly well, died in a snowmobile accident in my local county.

And so nostalgia reared its head. I signed up with classmates dot com, and viewed the profiles and a few pictures from people I hadn’t seen or heard from in nineteen years. I’ll point out here that I wasn’t your typical social outcast by the time I got to high school–I was voted ‘class individual’ by my graduating class. Or at least, one of four class individuals, which will tell the perceptive a great deal about the people I graduated with.

Anyway, I signed up with classmates dot com and checked out the other people who’d had fits of nostalgia. And I remember, very distinctly, running across someone and thinking “he learned how to use email?” That broke the nostalgia spell pretty well, especially as I remembered that I didn’t particularly like a lot of the people I graduated with.

Not that I hated them, but they are a total of four hundred people who are pretty much irrelevant to my life at this point in time. I don’t agonize about what I did in high school, nor am I tortured by the treatment I received. I break out the yearbook less than once every three years. High School is pretty much a non subject with me. I moved on. There were other things to do, other places to go and both were more interesting than Newington High.

Class of 1987. For the most part, I wish you well.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Madmen, Myths, and Monsters

I’ve long had a fascination with the contradictory nature of humanity. The apparently irreconcilable people interest me the most. Egil Skallagrimsson, for example, and Vlad Tepesh each have two very different, and apparently contradictory reputations.

Egil was an Icelander, subject of his own saga. He killed his first man at the age of eight, lived a full life farming punctuated with large amounts of killing, raiding, and poetry. His poems are considered some of the finest in Icelandic literature. Is it possible to separate the murderer from the poet?

Vlad Tepes has become known in America, thanks to the efforts of Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally, as the basis for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Vlad was a murderous ruler, who killed a large number of own countrymen, and yet he is regarded as one of Wallachia’s great national heroes. He was unspeakably cruel, if even some of the stories are to be believed–and it’s fairly clear that a lot of foreign propaganda working in some of the tales, and yet, if you managed to steer clear of his displeasure, he was considered a strong and just ruler. He valued honesty, but if anyone was caught being dishonest, or unchaste, or disrespectful, it was slow, painful death on the stake. And yet, there is a fondness for him in Wallachia–after all, he was a brilliant tactician who fought, and lost, to the much-larger army of Sultan Mehmed II. He was born into a brutal and unpleasant time, and he survived (for a time) by being as cruel and heartless as possible.

Neither one, I think, is someone I would want to associate with. They’re interesting from a distance, but there’s an element of danger to being close to them that I just don’t think I would enjoy.

Two days ago, I watched The Last King of Scotland, and Idi Amin Dada was brought back to life by a stunning, Oscar-award-winning performance by Forrest Whitaker. It’s a powerful film, although, historically, a mixed bag. The main character, a Scottish doctor, is completely fictional, although the backdrop cleaves fairly close to actual events of Amin’s bloody-handed rule. However, one of its most powerful images comes from something that is almost certainly legend rather than fact.

The actions of Amin and his murderous government are fact, even if specific numbers are disputed. It is difficult to tell exactly how many people Amin actually killed–likely somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000. Something of a piker compared to the Big Dogs of the 20th century; Pol Pot, Leopold, Hilter, Uncle Joe, and Chairman Mao, yet clearly Amin was of the same mold. Being a paranoid mass-murderer is one of those things that tends to overshadow any other part of someone’s personality. I hear “Hitler” and I immediately think ‘extermination camps’, not someone who may have had a great singing voice, or was generous to his girlfriend.

And yet, the compelling aspect of The Last King of Scotland is its humanization of Idi Amin Dada. This is partially accomplished by showing him primarily in his private life, the film generally avoids addressing the bloody massacre that was happening in the countryside. After all, Amin was simply ordering others to do the killing, rather than participating in it himself. In person, apparently, he was a charismatic and could be quite funny. He once wrote to Queen Elizabeth II, offering to be her lover. Incredibly, the DVD has a series of interviews with people who knew or had met the real Amin, and some spoke of him in friendly terms.

How do we reconcile these two people? There is a modern tendency to view people as one-dimensional, as having one stand-out trait that overshadows all the rest. Bring up the topic of Robert Heinlein with a science fiction fan if you don't believe me. Idi Amin Dada was more than just a madman who had so many bodies dumped into the Nile that the downstream Aswan hydroelectric dam once shut down because it was choked with corpses. He was a personable when he wasn’t paranoid, a champion boxer, a generous giver of gifts in a similar way to Elvis. The intellectual whiplash from trying to meld these two persons into one character is part of what makes The Last King of Scotland so compelling. The psychotic, paranoid face of Idi Amin Dada is slowly revealed through the course of the film, only after we have developed some sympathy for him. The audience is then left unable to look at Idi Amin Dada as a one-dimensional madman. It's an uncomfortable feeling.

How do we look at people, and how do we create impressions of them in our minds? Can I create a character as rich and contradictory, fascinating and yet frightening as Idi Amin Dada, Vlad III, or Egil Skallagrimsson? After all, their actions made sense to them at the time, even if their hands were forced by circumstances. Certainly Vlad and Amin were subject to tremendous political forces against which they struggled mightily against. And yet, all three were certainly the heroes as they understood the stories of their own lives.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My Own Honest-to-God Nick Mamatas Personal Rejection Letter!

Hey, my very first personal rejection letter, this one from Nick Mamatas at Clarkesworld Magazine. He rejected “God of Chickens” a story I wrote specifically to submit to Clarkesworld, and specifically to follow his guidelines. With his permission, I am reproducing his rejection letter here:


Thanks for the story, but it's not for me. I enjoyed the ending and some of the more visceral imagery, but the "kids/teens finding something horrific" aspect drags the piece down. We get a lot of stories that hang on such a structure, and generally the problem is that whatever they find is so much more interesting than the process of finding it, and given more importance in the narrative than character development, that it ends up feeling like most of the story is there just to get us to the monster. As monsters go, the God of Chickens has a lot of potential, but this story would be much more interesting if it began a little bit before where it currently ends. We've all read the one about the little bastards who get their comeuppance before too; the bloody rampage of a God of Chickens and the way he might change the world is fresher and more exciting.

Hm. I find this encouraging (after several days of not finding it so). He does express interest in the story, although he did reject it. It’s funny, though, I nearly changed the ending because the submission guidelines say that “stories where the climax is dependent on the spilling of intestines” are a hard sell.

Hmmm. The guidelines also state that “stories about young kids playing in some field and discovering ANYTHING. (a body, an alien craft, Excalibur, ANYTHING)” is a hard sell, and this is where he categorizes “God of Chickens.” Hm. I have come to be aware that I like stories, horror or not, in which I can connect emotionally with the protagonist. I think Elizabeth Massie’s “Fence Line” was one of the best stories in Lords of the Razor because she treats the character so intimately. Drawn in by the character, I relate to the story much more intensely. However, “Fence Line” is a much longer short story than “God of Chickens”, and just can't afford to spend as much time on developing character—at 4,000 words, I have to get right into the story.

That said, looking at the story, Nick is right–the story is a one-idea story (ie an episode of Seinfeld, rather than The Simpsons), and the first third of the story is getting to the idea. The God of Chickens is interesting, (thank you Nick), but I need to do something further with it. A thousand words of lead-in and character development could be done in fewer words. I tend to lead in with a lot of character development, and I think it would be better if I focused more on establishing the characters in broad strokes early on, and then develop them as the action happens.

The little bastards getting their comeuppance–there’s a complex little question. I don’t see it as getting a comeuppance–there are two characters in the story, and I wanted to have one of them witness what was happening. I prefer that to the narrator telling the reader what’s going on–it allows me to put emotion into the description without feeling like I’m telling the reader how to feel. And I’d rather work through the more sympathetic character, and of course I want to bastard to get it. And again Nick is right–I have to ignore that urge–the morality tale has been done to death since Aesop, and if the audience knows who’s going to get it, there’s no sense of anticipation (unless you really set it up that the audience is just drooling in anticipation of the bastard getting it, something I’m doing with another piece). Since there are only two characters in the story, this leaves me with a conundrum, and my conclusion, once again, that the problem is more with the structure of the story than who actually gets it in the end. Because even if I flip a coin as to who gets glorked and it comes up ‘the bad boy’, it still feels like a comeuppance. If that’s not the end of the story, however, then it won’t have that morality-tale feel to it.

In a few sentences, Nick has provided me with enough though-provoking material that I’ve come up with a rewrite that does begin about where the current story ends and goes on from there. I won’t be able to send it back to him, unfortunately. Clarkesworld doesn’t take re-submissions.

So, a week after the fact, thank you very much for the for the personal rejection, Nick.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


That's one HUGE thank-you to Chris Knight, my reader. Every author deserves a reader like Chris—he's interested in the story and can't wait until I finish the next chapter. "Is your next chapter done yet?" Is a wonderfully encouraging thing to hear, and his feedback is good. I will be using it as a guide when I start to revising. Thank you, Chris.

Error #3: Not Having Goals and Deadlines

We had a loud, extended thunderstorm on Wednesday the 15th, which reminded me that I hadn't backed up anything since... February. So I worried through the storm, and the next day I went out and picked up a hundred CDs, and backed up all the important stuff. I was a little curious as to how I had progressed since my last backup, so I stuck my last update CD (February 2) into the computer, and looked at how many words I had written in the last three and a half months.

8,000. I'd gotten 8,000 words done on my novel since February.

8,000 is nothing. Three and a half months averaging 2,000 words a month. A saleable novel is somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 words. My plan is to have this book finished by November so I can go to the World Fantasy Con (less than two hours from where I live) this year and pitch it. I'll need to have the first draft done by October 1 at the latest so I can have a month to revise it before I go to WFC.

I have four months to get between 35,000 and 40,000 words written. At 2,000 words a month, that just wasn't going to happen. I mean, I had my plan, but I hadn't been keeping an eye on my progress toward that goal.

So for the last three weeks, the goal has been a thousand words done every day that I devote to writing (which is to say three days a week). It hasn't been easy--I've really had to sweat. And I haven't always made trhe daily goal. But more often than not I have, and the progress is wonderful. Since I put myself on the daily goals, the book has grown from 36,000 words to 41,500: five and a half thousand words in two weeks. At this pace, I will finish by the end of September and still have time to revise it.

Lesson learned. I can't just set a deadline for a novel the way I can with shorter works. I have to make sure have set shorter-term goals to make sure I'm getting everything done in proper time.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that I had to stop about every paragraph and decide whether I agree with the conclusion presented. I’m currently on page 26 (out of the 200 page Semiotics: The Basics, by Daniel Chandler) , and it has been a long time since I’ve read any sort of literary theory. I am finding the intellectual challenge quite interesting, and although I haven’t discovered anything to directly influence my writing yet. Still, nothing learned is wasted.

I will admit that I picked up Semiotics for two reasons, one much more significant than the other. The first is Umberto Eco. Eco’s novels are interesting and different enough from the mainstream that I’m interested in his literary theories. The second is Mark Danielewski. House of Leaves was described as a semiotic ghost story in a review, and I love House of Leaves.

Anyway, it’s moderately thick going, and I seem to disagree with seminal semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure’s conclusion that signs and meaning are primarily negative in nature, that the concept of tree is composed of dozens of elements such as “Not a bush”. At least partially because defining by negative is a laborious process. To think of a tree as “not a bush, not grass, not a car, not a house, not a book, not a person, not an animal, not a rock, not a road, not a mountain, not a star, not darkness, not light, not water, not a sound, not an act” is simply too cumbersome a definition for any mental process to go through every time we think ‘tree’. Yes, there must be differentiation–a tree is not a bush because a bush is shorter than a tree–but a tree is still a tall, woody stem with branches and leaves that is neither a vine nor a bush. And imagine if we had to define both of the objects in that last definition in the negative. We’d be here all night just listing the things the vine isn’t, and the bush isn’t.

Of course, we don’t think of definitions when we think of trees. Most of us either think of a word or an abstract symbol of a tree, rather than a specific tree. Really. Picture a tree–what’s the first image that comes to your mind? Is it a tree you have known, or is it something like a child’s drawing, a conceptual tree? This is where semiotics comes from–the human mind seems to work better with symbols, possibly for ease of storage, rather than

We also react very well to signs. Think of any cartoon character: Do they really look human? With human-like proportions, a face like someone you know? Not really. I mean, they have two arms and a head, but if you ever saw someone with a head like a paper bag like Bart Simpson, they would appear to be strange and grotesque. But we understand Bart Simpson as not a person, but a symbol representing a person. And this, apparently, is what semiotics are about–how the human mind understands and interprets signs.

Language is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Few other species have developed something as finely detailed and versatile as language, ands yet all human cultures seem to have it. Now that there is a tribe of chimps that make and travel with spears, humanity cannot be distinguished as the unique tool-using animal. We are, however, the creature with the most complex communication. So what better way to understand humans than through the study of our greatest achievement (according to Madeline L’Engle)?

Sunday, May 6, 2007

“I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” Attributed to Thomas Jefferson

I’ve been fencing for more than eleven years, and I’m not bad. I’m not a ‘ranked’ fencer because competitions make me crazy. Really. Very crazy. Anyway, I’ve gotten a lot of excellent advice from fencers over the years, especially the meistro of the Pacific Fencing Club, Harold Hayes. Specifically, I need to be in a position to take advantage of the other fencer’s errors. If the other fencer is good, my opportunity to make a touch may only last some fractions of a second. I need to be relaxed and in a good position to take advantage of it. If I am tense, I’m ‘leaning’ in one direction, expecting something specific. If I don’t get it, I have switch gears, and that takes time. If I am relaxed, I can react to a wider range of possibilities.

In the same way, I have to be prepared for writing opportunities. I have to be on both my feet, and balanced, to be ready for a window of opportunity. It’s lucky when one of those opportunities arise, but my responsibility is to react in a timely and appropriate manner in order to see that window, extend my blade, and lunge.

If I have done everything right, touché!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

If I Can't Say Something Nice...

On occasion, I need to remind myself not to be an asshole.

That is, if I want to become the sort of writer I admire. We've all heard the old saw "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all", but this was repeated to me by Jack Ketchum when I met him at NECON last year. Robert Bloch had given it as advice to him. I LOVE Robert Bloch's work, and his autobiography really makes it clear that he was a genuinely great human being. Someone I want to be like. And part of that is his kindness and generosity.

As I come into contact with more people who write and edit, I need to watch my mouth. Someone who didn't come off well today might well be putting together an anthology I want to be in tomorrow. Or hit it big. Or they might just be having a really bad day and could be a really interesing person. I just never know—but that's not really the point. We really need to be kinder to each other. Robert Heinlein goes to great lenghts to impress on his readers the importance of basic courtesy. I agree with this, but it's something I need to work on.

Today's Writing
600 words (finished chapter 6) on the novel

Today's Reading:
John Goldfarb, Please Come Home by William Peter Blatty
God of War II the Special Edition Game Guide

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Error #2: Print on Demand

There are few greater highs that publication. It's GREAT! When I get opublished, I tend to carry my book around obsessively for at least a week and when people show the slightest bit of interest in it, in such obvious ways as looking at me, or walking past me, I thrust it in their faces screaming "I WROTE SOMETHING IN THIS AND IT'S INCREDIBLE BUY A COPY NOW!" Only I'm such a spaz that it comes out as "IROTSOMTNGNTHISNDNCREDIBLBUYCOPNOW!".

And I want to make sure that I get that awesome feeling of publication as much as possible. 'Cause it's awesome.

Cthulhu Express which you can see on the left, is an actual physical book, and holding it in my hands gives me exactly the same pleasure as those of any other books with bindings that I've got work in. It is, however, Print on Demand, from Which means that nobody read it.

The problem with Lulu dot com is that there are a lot of people who use it to get that GREAT feeling of their own physical book in their hands. The current system of agents, slush piles, and rejection letters exists because not everybody writes well enough to get paid for it. The lure of lulu is that I don't have to go through all that. I get my stuff together, and in a few weeks, I can have my own novel, anthology of short stories, or whatever in my hands. And while it's a great feeling, I have to consider how much effort went into it, and how many people are going to read it.

Nobody read Cthulhu Express. It was on Lulu dot com for four months before RageMachine shut itself down, and in that time, it sold eleven non-contributor copies in that time. Eleven. And I know who bought three of them. Again, I could have written the world's best story, but without people to buy it and read it and discuss it and convince other people to read it, it's not going to sell enough copies for my royalties to be anything but pennies. I put effort and time into these stories. I want my time to be worth more than pennies.

POD has its uses. Every now and then I consider putting out a Whateley Family Bible and sending it to people for Christmas. Lulu would allow me to have an economical print run of forty books. So POD isn't some sort of evil presence in publishing, but it is not the same as selling a story to a venue like Clarkesworld or Weird Tales which will pay me in advance, by the word. And which people will subsequently hear about and read.

1,000 words on William Peter Blatty
300 words of reviews and essays for the EOD

Finished Razored Saddles (awesome book!)
Finished Which Way to Mecca, Jack

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Error #1: There is No Ladder

I used to perceive a ‘ladder’ to publication. First I would beg people to take my work, and they would print it for free. After some time doing that, I would have accumulated a series of non-paying anthologies, and from there I would move up a rung to onto the ‘token’ payment anthologies that pay between $5 and $10 per story. After I placed many stories in ‘token’ anthologies, I would tentatively step onto the next rung, semi-professional payment that pays between one and three pennies per word. Only then, when I had paid my dues and have the weight of several dozen stories pushing me on would I even dare to query a pro-pay magazine like Weird Tales or The Book of Dark Wisdom.

Not only is this not true, it’s self-defeating. I started on the lowest possible pay scale, and since my work got accepted there, I never even looked for anything better for that story. What, did I think I would take it to a higher-paying venue later? How stupid is that? An actually intelligent person who has thought about this starts with the highest-paying venue that would possibly take his work and then proceed down the pay scale. Because I’m going to stop with that sale, aren’t I? And the editors don’t really care who I am until I’m a name. Until then, they’re much more interested in my story than my other publications. A hundred stories in a hundred anthologies the editor has never read or heard of do me absolutely no good if my story is no good. And they’re not going to care if this is the first story I have ever written if it’s brilliant.

Let me show you where this thinking lead me. I recently received a copy of an anthology I placed my work in for free: Atlantean Pub’s The King in Yellow anthology.

First of all, Atlantean Pub has a free website. That’s OK, because not every publisher has to have a good website. However, EVERY publisher has pictures of their books, even if they have a really cheap website. Now, I’m, not getting down on Atlantean Pub. They never mislead me, I mislead myself. I never saw any pictures of their product, so when I assumed that they were going to be small but printing actual books, an assumption on my part that had no basis. I never saw a cover to a single one of their books, and I filled in the blanks with rosy dreams.

A few weeks ago, I received my copy of Atlantean Press’s King in Yellow, which no one has ever heard of, and no one is going to read because it has no ISBN. Thus, it cannot be sold to a bookstore, or even on Amazon. And in fact, it’s not even a book, it is in fact photocopies held together with a binder clip. I could have written the best King in Yellow story God has ever seen. No one is going to know because this isn’t actual publication.

The solution? As you see on the score sheet to your right: I’m, now shopping “Sire” as a reprint, and I make less money the next time I sell it. Meanwhile, I’ve missed other opportunities to get it into paying venues.

Publication is worth what I get paid for it. When I put something in an anthology that didn’t pay, I was competing with people who think their work can only be given away. I’m better than that, and my work is better than that.

Articles and reviews, 1,400 words

Which Way to Mecca, Jack by William Peter Blatty

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Why Flawed Diamonds?

I took the name of my blog from something Nick Mamatas posted to the Shocklines web board.

"Writers generally move from one to two and then manage to somehow crap out a little diamond of originality which sparks a personal response, and then finally some editor is enamored with story and accepts it. Then it's a bunch more rejections — some form and some personal, and maybe a second sale. Slowly the forms begin to disappear, and then the ratio of personal rejections to acceptances starts to shift in favor of acceptances as well." --Nick Mamatas

Thanks for the image, Nick, but he nailed perfectly the stage that I'm at. Something has sparked an editor's attention, I've got my first story out, and now I'm getting form rejection letters. Since they aren't that interesting, I'm not going to post them, but I do plan (with the publishers' permission) to post any personalized rejection letters that I get.

OK, next time, I start writing about the errors I have made in publishing. I consider that I've made quite a few, so that should keep me going for a good, long time.

Still reading:

JLB's Collected Fictions


Finished the essay for a friend at 549 words. Call it 40 words and a lot of polishing.

"Secret History of Earth": 699 Words

The Novel: 400 words

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Writing, Writing, Writing

Welcome to my blog.

I'm John Goodrich, this is my blog about writing and publishing my fiction. It is my sincere hope that by making my experiences in the publishing world available, someone else might aviod some of the pitfalls that I have experienced. I'm not saying that my approach is the right way for anyone else to market their own work. My marketing is a work in progress. As I keep this up, I will see what works and what doesn't.

The Score Sheet, on the right, is a listing of stories I'm currently shopping, as well as those that have alerady been sold. It's listed alphabetically, and it's just a coincidence that the top three have been sold. I suggest reading Brian Keene's World Domination 101 for good, practical advice on how to get a writing career started.

I will also include what I am currently reading and writing, and hopefully get some numbers in the writing bit. I can't write if I don't read any more than I can make pancakes without batter.

Currently Writing:
In the Morning: Essay for a friend 509 words
This Afternoon: The Novel: 650 words

Currently Reading:
Collected Fictions: JL Borges