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The Chi Reading Series

ChiSeriesVancouverPoster - July 2014The truth is I’ve been far too busy to blog of late and so my blog has been suffering badly. My day job became overwhelming and has eaten all of my energy. I’m hoping that will change soon. So, in trying to keep a toe over the threshold and into the world I’d like to mention that I’m still hosting the ChiSeries Vancouver, part of the Chiaroscuro Reading series started in Toronto some five or so years ago by Sandra Kasturi and friends. In Toronto, where the wild things are, and there is an abundance of culture and population, the series has run successfully every month.

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On sale at the reading, as well as A Parliament of Crows, and Of Thimble and Threat The Life of a Ripper Victim

Last year, along with Ottawa and Winnipeg, we launched in April, and ran quarterly, with readings in July, Oct. and then in February. The next one would have been May but EDGE Publishing was bringing dark fiction author and vampire aficionado Nancy Kilpatrick in May so we did a reading with Nancy, which included  Rhea Rose and me reading as well. With these readings we had several hurdles to get beyond. One was the venues brought some challenges, and with the new reading for this July 22nd we will be moving to the Cottage Bistro at 4468 (or possibly 4470) Main St. The Cottage Bistro is known for hosting live music as well as several other reading series and is happy to have the ChiSeries on stage.

This is an exciting and very central venue so I’m hoping that many people will come out and enjoy the tales. ChiSeries is free and the readers are TheIncomingTidepublished authors of speculative fiction and poetry. This includes science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, mythical, dark fiction, horror and all subgenres in between. This July, we have guests arriving from Oregon: Alan M. Clark, Kirsten Alene, and Cameron Pierce.

Some people might recognize Alan’s name. He has been a well-known and award-winning artist in the dark fiction genre for a number of years. He was this year’s emcee for the World Horror Convention, as well. His paintings range from thoughtful to disturbing and he has created illustrations for hundreds of books, including works of fiction of various genre,s nonfiction, textbooks, young adult fiction, and children’s books. Awards for his illustration work include the World Fantasy Award and four Chelsey Awards. He is the author of thirteen books, including seven novels, a lavishly illustrated novella, four collections of fiction, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. His latest novel, The Door That Faced West, was released by Lazy Fascist Press February, 2014.

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Kirsten Alene’s book will be available at the reading.

Writing couple Kirsten Alene  and Cameron Pierce live in Portland, Oregon. Kirsten’s books include Japan Conquers the Galaxy, Unicorn Battle Squad, Love in the Time of Dinosaurs, and the forthcoming short story collection, Rules of Appropriate Conduct from Civil Coping Mechanisms in 2015. Her work has appeared in such places as Amazing Stories of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens, Innsmouth Magazine and The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction.

Cameron Pierce’s ten books include the Wonderland Book Award-winning collection Lost in Cat Brain Land, Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon, and the forthcoming novella The Incoming Tide. His work has been praised by The Guardian, Cracked.com and many others. Cameron is also the editor of three anthologies, most recently In Heaven, Everything Is Fine: Fiction Inspired by David Lynch, and is head editor of the popular indie publisher Lazy Fascist Press.

The reading runs from 7:30 until about 10;30 pm on July 22. Come join us or leave me a message here if you’d like to get onto a mailing list for future events. If you’re interested in the other ChiSeries events in the other cities, check out the Facebook pages and the website:  http://chiseries.com/

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Book Review: The Sweetest Kiss II

Continuing from yesterday’s review of The Sweetest Kiss, published by Cleis Press.

Ciara Finn’s “Advantage”  is set in a club where people go to be morsels for vampires and is not book_imagethat different a story from aspects of Buffy and Angel. It also has a few awkward descriptions, such as being bound with handcuffs but the character strains against ropes. The play of masochism on the human’s part and the cold, alieness of vampires comes across very well although this is not as erotic as the other stories.

Maxim Jakubowski writes a raw and sensual tale that manages not to be explicit. “The Communion of Blood and Semen”  is well crafted, and delves into the feelings and the fall into a desire too strong to resist. Of all the stories, this is one of the rougher ones in a physical sense (yet there is more violence in some of the other stories). It brings out a subtle balance of a relationship and is a true tale, as opposed to just a scene, of human/vampire lust. I found it staying in my mind a long time.

“Nightlife” is more a scene than a true tale. Madeleine Oh writes well but her story of a vampire fellating a dwarf man with a giant cock (who is Toulouse Lautrec) does little to arouse and is too short to be intriguing in the outcome. It’s a bit cliché and I was wishing that perhaps Toulouse’s paintings were influenced or his penchant to attend brothels increased after this encounter.

Evan Mora’s “Takeout or Delivery” is about James a vampire who adapts to the new world, leaving vampires in capes behind. It is two tales; the first part is about his beginnings with Lilith, two creatures of lust finding each other. The second half is how he uses Lavalife to get women, drink them, wipe their memories and do it again, especially with submissives. He is still a creature of lust and loves the modern world. Although witty, I didn’t find the tale particularly new.

“Devouring Heart” is the only lesbian tale in the book and Andrea Dale presents a heartbreaking tale of love and how far a lover will go to keep a partner. There is a good use of metaphor between the title and the relationship and this is one of the few tales that ends sadly, yet I have a tender place for this as one of my favorites for evoking that aching sense of love and love lost.

Michelle Belanger moves us farther away from the real world or a world of a century ago with “Wicked Kisses.” Here there is a vampire temple and the Scarlet One, through contest or lottery is chosen for a special ritual. There is a certain timelessness in it and I would have almost have said it was in the past except for the description on the Scarlet One’s gown. It is sensual and luxurious in detail and very like a dream or a drug-induced state. The sex isn’t with the vampires. Or is it?

“Fourth World” is not the only story in this anthology that takes place in a different locale but it is the only one in Thailand. Lisabet Sarai builds good tension with a sinuous, beautiful woman in full control of two men. She doesn’t bite them nor reveals fangs but slowly slices them with her nails while riding them, lapping their blood. She seems a truly animalistic, sensual predator. The outcome isn’t known but we can guess where it goes.

“Turn” also takes us into more of a ritualized act with the line between demon and vampire being very thin. The character summons him so that she can change. Nikki Magennis’s story is the roughest of all the tales with the sex more like being forced than sensual and as the vampire comes he drinks his summoner’s blood, completing a circle of taking and giving life. Very interesting and a raw, less romantic take on vampires.

Kristina Wright’s “Cutter” is about Evie, a distressed woman who lets her pain by slicing her arms and thighs. She meets a vampire who can scent her blood and pain. A very interesting twist on the tale where this vampire might just be her salvation and healer.

Like “Cutter” the last tale, “Once an Addict…” twists the meaning of vampire. And like some of the other tales in this book  A.D.R. Forte draws a parallel between human and vampire needs or a symbiosis that can take place. This story goes back the farthest in history, but is modern with the vampire helping the addict ancestor of an ancient bloodline to get off of drugs/alcohol. Symbiotic, they hunger for each other. It’s about blood and lust, yet this is the least sensual of the stories though it has a strong plot.

The tales in The Sweetest Kiss span time and countries, just as vampires would through their long lives. There are twists on the relationship of the dominating vampire. There is masochism, sadism, domination and submission. There is addiction, fear, hunger, as well as love and salvation. What one person finds erotic is not the same for another. I would say this anthology deftly gives a taste of something for everyone. The writing in most cases is of a very good caliber and tales range from those little pieces to get off on to those tales that have meat to sink your teeth into. The Sweetest Kiss successfully delivers eroticism and bite.

http://www.cleispress.com/index.php

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Book Review: The Sweetest Kiss

Cleis Press sent me a couple of books to review recently. I was hoping to get The Sweetest Kiss: Ravishing Vampire Erotica read and reviewed by Hallowe’en but I received the book too close to the date.  This review will be posted over two days as it is far too long for one posting.

The two things you can expect from a title like this is that the stories will be erotic and vampires will be involved. Other than that, who knows, but because it’s erotica instead of horror I would expect few people to die as that is sometimes counterproductive to erotic thoughts. If this was erotic horror, well there could be more deaths by alluring vampires. And that’s permanent deaths, not the ones that turn a human into a vampire.

sweetest-kiss-cover Edited by D.L. King, I was a little surprised to see there was no introduction. Perhaps it  was thought that the title covered it all but there may be a premise attached: is it present day or past, are vampires hidden or known about, do they all follow a certain vampire trope (turn into bats, no reflection in mirrors, crosses burn, garlic bad, etc.)? I’m one of those people who tend to read introductions to most books, possibly because I am a writer. As it was, I’d say that the vampires are fairly classic though there is variation on powers from story to story and most take place in the last two centuries.

There are nineteen stories but only two by men well established in the field. There are so many erotic writers that I’m certainly no expert on them all but Thomas Roche and Maxim Jakubowski have long standing reputations. There is only story that is homosexual (lesbian), and another that could be. Again, perhaps this was the thrust of this particular anthology, a mostly hetero anthology for the straight people. It’s common for publishers to market to certain demographics. As I began to read I found, that like foreplay, the first two stories built in sensuality to the full on sexual bite of the third.

The book opens with “Midnight at Sheremetyeo” by Remittance Girl. It is a simple tale, not really new in plot, of a vampire who breaks the rules that keep them from being hunted down. She takes a very tasty boy sexually and for feeding. The tale is  succulently worded.

Thoma Roche’s “Wait Until Dark, Montresor” oozes with atmosphere and reminds me of Tanith Lee though I’m not sure if that’s the style or the character herself, a vampire who writes erotic vampire mysteries. Perhaps a bit of both. Second person is hard to do successfully, but it works in this cautionary tale, vividly describing the idolization of a vampire and famous author. A mystery is strung out nicely with a slow reveal as opposed to a sudden bite in the dark.

“The Temptation of Mlle. Marielle Doucette” by  Anna Black is the first period piece set during the French Revolution. The thing about the longevity of vampires is that a certain timelessness can enter stories. The young Marielle must choose between her beliefs, execution and revenge through a repulsive (to her) yet strangely alluring temptation. This tale has the first truly descriptive sex scene though it is strangely lacking in other details.

Lisette Ashton’s “Kiss and Make Up” has the actual Dracula and his girlfriend who have picked up/made a new vampire boy of their own but it’s for a game of turnabout. Dracula absorbs the personality of the person he drinks so he gets kind of a high or in this case, a philosophical bent on the world. Interesting take but there are some awkward euphemisms for sex like,  “His length sputtered and pulsed.” Yowch.

Sommer Marsden manages a short pithy, hot and erotic story in “The Student.” Although not that original a tale with a college student (there are a few in this book) who is too sassy to take anyone’s warnings of dread about an old house, her actions bring about a truly erotic sensuality  in a reluctant encounter.

One of my abolute favorites in the anthology was “Red By Any Other Name” by Kathleen Bradean. A woman who is a dom tries to bring a vampire to submission. But is he truly feeling it or playing at it and can she truly be a dom without succumbing to her own fear? The tension is twofold, with fear and eroticism. The vampire chants words for red that echo in her head: Strawberry, cherry, candy-apple. It is well done and memorable with vividly excellent writing.

The most ephemeral or spiritual piece in the book is “Enlightenment.” Amber Hipple’s story has no real time or place and almost no corporeality with the ebony black man/vampire(?) referred to as “my dream, my mystery” and her intent seems to be that it remain untethered and dreamlike. There is little to really say vampire here except in the changing into smoke but there are undertones of the Eros and Psyche myth here that fit very well.

“Blood and Bootleg” takes place in 1922 Connecticut and it’s hard to tell if the language fits but it’s good enough not to jar. Teresa Noelle Roberts’ use of language feels a bit awkward with the woman thinking “yikes” when she’s bitten. Even for the period that seems a bit…light, especially when the vampire is then described as ripping out her throat, which makes me think of huge chunks of flesh and bloody gore spattering everywhere. Not particularly erotic biting. Overall, though, the eroticism is good.

G.B. Kensington does a deft turn with a human who takes the vampire when he thinks he’s taking her. This vampire uses sex to lessen his blood hunger. This is a common enough thread through the book where tying the eroticism and the bloodlust together cannot be missed. Will the vampire lose control and will it be the little death or the big death? “Fair Play” has a good build up of emotion, pent-up hunger and lust.

The rest of the review tomorrow.

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Writing: Orycon 31 in Portland

Orycon 31 is Portland’s local science fiction convention. I will be attending as one of many writing and editing guests on the weekend of Nov. 27-29. Many local conventions will often invite writers and editors to attend and in return for sitting on panels they get a free membership. The larger conventions (World Horror, World Fantasy and Worldcon) do not do this because the ratio of professionals is so high. It seems the local Vcon (Vancouver, BC) is still trying to figure out how to invite the locals.

But Orycon has been inviting me for years and I have far more publications now than I did when I attended the first one over ten years ago. I don’t get to many conventions but I’ll go to Orycon as the quality is usually quite good. Because I had no idea what time I would arrive or leave on the Friday and Sunday I told them I could only do panels on Saturday.

And so it is I’ll be on two one panel. One is “Drowning in Slush” with editors Deb Taber and Maggie Jamison  from Apex ; Abyss and Apex (which for some reason I always pronounce Abbess–I should be smacked) magazine’s Camille Alexa, and Lou Anders, the editing guest of honor at Orycon. Later that day I’ll be on “Publishing Ethics”.  I’ve just received the updated itinerary and I’m not on that one any longer.

At midnight on Saturday I’ll be doing an erotic reading with four other authors. That’s just been changed to three others; Theresa “Darklady” Reed, Tammy Lindsley ( I can’t find much on her but she’s on the bid committee for Worldcon Reno in 2011) and Kal Colbalt. It works out to about fifteen minutes apiece so I’ll need to find a pithy, erotic scene from an existing story, and of course one with more SF or fantasy elements (Isn’t all erotica fantasy?). I might read “The Boy Who Bled Rubies” from Don Juan and Men or “Janukurpara” from the Mammoth Book of the Kama Sutra. These two have been published in the last year. However it might be fun to read from “A Taste for Treasure”  to be published in the Harlequin erotic fairy tale anthology Alison’s Wonderland next year. I’ll have to do some timed readings and figure out which excerpt works well at midnight to keep people hot and bothered.

I am much more familiar with the editors on the panel than I am with the authors at the reading . But that makes sense as I submit to many of the magazines. Any field of writing, whether fantasy, SF, erotica or mainstream literary (as well as any other genre and subgenre) has numerous writers. There are those at the top, famous, selling a lot, read by many, interviewed often and known by the general public. Then it peters down to lesser known novelists and onto to fiction writers of various sorts. There are many magazines of different calibers and people publishing a lot or a bit. Even if I was up on my reading (which I’m not because I use my time to write…and read some) I probably wouldn’t know everyone out there. And I know far more in the SF/fantasy side than even the erotica side. It’s one reason many of us do these cons, to get some exposure.

If I worked full-time in publishing (some day I shall) I might then know most of the names. Even when I was a book buyer I knew every novelist’s name. A few years out of that business and I don’t know many new authors at all. Then there are the novelists and the short fiction authors. Ellen Datlow and other editors who are velociraptors in their reading have a very good fang at the jugular of speculative fiction (hey, it’s Hallowe’en; I had to use the imagery). I’d love to be able to do that but it’s a constant thing.

So I look forward to meeting the editors and the writers I don’t know, and hear their knowledge or readings. I often find that reading or hearing other stories and poems, makes me go, hmm, interesting. I never thought of that, and what if… Reading other people’s work can be inspirational as well as churning up thoughts in the ole gray matter. I’m looking forward to Orycon and hoping for good weather on the drive down. Now I need to polish up a piece to read, and practice reading it aloud.

http://www.orycon.org/orycon31/

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Weird Tales’ 85 Weirdest

I’m never up to speed when I’m reading and sometimes read magazines a long time after publication. This was the case with last year’s Weird Tales. I’ve found these magazines are easier to deal with while working out so I’m reading many after the fact. Weird TalesMarch/April 2008 issue listed 85 of the weirdest storytellers in the last 85 years, celebrating the magazine’s (of course) 85th anniversary. That means they started in 1923. Imagine how the world and the concept of fantasy and the weird has changed in that time. It’s a lifetime.

This list of storytellers covers everything from writers, musicians, filmmakers, artists to entertainers. I found that I knew most of the names on the list (that has a short paragraph or two of description) and started thinking about who wasn’t on the list that I would have added. Of course the magazine went with who they thought should fit in there, plus recommendations from the readers. Their list has these names (the first list those I know and the second, those I hadn’t heard of):

  • Douglas Adams, Charles Addams, Laurie Anderson, J.G. Ballard, Nick Bantock, Clive Barker, Art Bell, Bjork, David Bowie, Ray Bradbury, William S. Burroughs, Tim Burton, Kate Bush, Octavia Butler, Angela Carter, Nick Cave, Lon Chaney Sr., Cirque du Soleil, Joel and Ethan Coen, Alice Cooper, David Cronenberg, R. Crumb, Roald Dahl, Salvador Dali, Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, Steve Ditko, Harlan Ellison, M.C. Escher, Neil Gaiman, Terry Gilliam, Edward Gorey, Gunther von Hagens, Jim  Henson, Robert E. Howard (the one I don’t agree should be on this list), Shirley Jackson, Franz Kafka, Frida Kahlo, Andy Kaufman, Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, Madeleine L’Engle, Gary Larson, Tanith Lee, Thomas Ligotti, H.P. Lovecraft, David Lynch, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dave McKean, Michael Moorcock (not so sure he’s that weird either but loved his Elric books), Alan Moore, Catherine Moore & Henry Kuttner, Grant Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Mervyn Peake, Penn & Teller, Bill Plympton, Thomas Pynchon, Anne Rice, Rod Serling, Dr. Seuss, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon), Clark Ashton Smith, Stephen Sondheim, Rev. Ivan Stang, Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Waits, Alice Walker, Andy Warhol, John Waters, Roger Waters, Wim Wenders, Thornton Wilder, Robert Anton Wilson, Warren Zevon.
  • (now the ones I didn’t know) Art Bell, Margaret Brundage, Virgil Finlay, Charels Fort, Rand and Robyn Miller, Chuck Shepherd, Osamu Tezuka, Kool Keith Thornton, Kara Walker, Sylvia Townsend Warner.

That’s it. Only a few I didn’t know and most of those illustrators/painters but not all. But then Weird Tales set up a tab on their website www.weirdtalesmagazine.com called Share Your Weird, where people could list other names they thought should have been on the list. As I read through the initial list I agreed with most but found a few that I thought were weird enough to be on there as well. Reading through other people’s comments, there are many more weird artists out there than the 85 slots and people made good ponts. In fact they could probably have done 85 weird filmmakers, 85 weird comic artist/writers, 85 weird fiction writers, etc.

Here are a few that I would have added, not just because of their impact on me but on a genre (in no particular order):

  • China Mieville–his bugheaded women in Perdido Street Station is weird enough, not to mention the cactus people. But then maybe he’s not old enough. Interestingly, of the living artists in the list of 85, no one is under the age of 40.
  • Federico Fellini–moviemaker who was doing bizarre films of ancient Greece and Rome, of love and of fools way before the more recent films (Amarcord, Satyricon, 8 1/2)
  • Peter Greenaway–filmmaker who must have been influenced by Fellini as well as by impressionist painters of the 18th century. His films often have scenes with dead animals, still lives with bugs, and great symbolism which I love. Definitely on the weird side. (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; Prospero’s Books, The Pillow Book, The Draughtsmen Contract, 8 1/2 Women [the Fellini influence])
  • Gahan Wilson–weird and creepy cartoonist where his people often looked like they were in pain or melting.
  • Jean Cocteau–Long before Wenders, Kubrick, Cronenberg, Greenaway, or Fellini, there was Cocteau doing silent films in black and white. His Beauty and the Beast La Belle et la Bête  was erotic and sensual before people talked of such things. The line of sconces, arms holding torches, set some of the stage for weird but arty films to come.
  • Brian Eno–his full name alone is weird (Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno). This avant garde musician started with Roxy Music and has been producer on some of the bands you know today (Coldplay, U2, Talking Heads). His own work of eclectically weird songs and sonic landscapes, such as “Music for Airports” puts him as king of weird in the musical world.
  • They Might Be Giants–their lyrics alone are equal to the imagery in China Mieville’s books. How to make hit tunes from nonsequitirs and have them make sense–that’s these guys.

I’m sure I could come up with more weird. Oddly enough there are no poets in the mix in either the magazine or my list. I would need to actually do more research because there is plenty weird. Lewis Carroll is before the 85 years of weird but Jabberwocky would be on that list. It would be interesting now, to do a list of 50 weird poets though some people might think that all poetry is weird. And to Weird Tales, it was an interesting issue and well worth reading a year past the publishing date. That’s what I love about fiction magazines: they’re often timeless. And here’s to at least another 85 years of weird tales.

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Writing: What Constitutes Fantasy

Discussion has recently come up on my writer’s list about fantasy stories. One of the members asked a range of questions, not because she needed advice but because I believe she’s had discussions with other writers on what constitutes fantasy. Most of the members had close to the same answers here so I’m listing her questions and how I view each of them.

1.     Should a writer write down to an audience, or just use their own conversational voice?

 I took this to mean, should a writer condescend to, take on an instructional tone in explaining to an audience that may not know as much. Or should the writer use the author’s voice. However, I believe she meant, use your regular writing voice, thought that wasn’t clear. I have elaborated on my original answers.

I’d think neither. You’re writing using characters so your characters should help reveal the world. A character has a personality and a unique voice and depending on the point of view, that will affect what voice is used. You could have a condescending narrator; in that case yes he/she would talk or write down to the audience.

To explain the particular setting/technology/society of a world requires deft revelation, some of which may be through a particular character. Albeit, some exposition is required in a novel, but it shouldn’t be talking/writing down so much as making sure your regular reader understands the functioning aspects of the world as needed to understand the story. Example: I recently edited a book for someone who had all sorts of words/slang about airforce planes but on a level most of us (unless we were pilots) wouldn’t understand. He needed a bit more info in context so that the reader could understand what was going on.

 Unless you (the author/narrator) are an integral part of your novel, the authorial voice should not be there. When author’s drop into their stories it’s disconcerting and pulls the reader out of the world. Terry Pratchett from time to time uses an authorial or omniscient narrator (as you suspected, dear reader). It takes skill to use it in a way that enhances a story as opposed to detracting from in and ruining the atmosphere.  

2.     Should a fantasy novel assume lack of science and technology?

No. Even a world of magic has some technology or science. Whether it interacts with the story is another matter. Cups, weapons, dyes, plows, walls, etc., are all a science when they’re discovered/invented. Pre-industrial societies had science and or technology. Stories that involve alchemists (as an example) often mix science with magical properties. Books have been written where magic and science blend equally.

If you mean the logic/science behind how magic works in a particular world, then yes it still has to make sense and work in the story. But science does not negate magic necessarily.

3.     Should a fantasy novel assume a pseudo-medieval milieu?

No. It can, as is evidenced by numerous novels, but some are of far earlier societies. Some are integrated in later worlds and some are just plain ole alien. I read Brandon Sanderson’s novel, Mistborn, which had a plantationesque era and established magic. There was science as well. I really liked it for being of a different milieu.

Often there is the accepted trope that in a world that is not industrialized, magics develop in different ways within people. But a world could have magical creatures, i.e., not found normally on planet Earth and still not be medieval. Many medieval fantasies fall into parallel world tropes, where it is the middle ages but some element of magic is real. Many take an Earth like world and values but create fictitious places. Everything from the myths of the ancients up to the modern urban fantasies, like Charles de Lint’s (his name came up often in this discussion) are fantasy but not medieval. And really, a fantasy story has a better chance of selling if it is different rather than the same as every other book on the shelf.

4.     Should a fantasy novel necessarily encompass magic?

Again, it doesn’t matter really. Yes or no, depending on your world. A world can just be “other” or different from the world and the past we know, yet have nothing magical about it. It will still fall into the fantasy category. The lines between science fiction and fantasy can be blurry. Anne McCaffrey’s famous dragonriders of Pernseries started out as a medieval fantasy where people in feudal style societies rode dragons that killed the invading threads. She argued that it was science fiction because it was a different world, where originally the humans came from someplace else.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books were similar in that they started out in a medieval style world, where some people had special powers. But as she wrote more and more books, there was interaction with people from other planets and spaceports. Fantasy or science fiction? Yes.

5.     Should magic in a fantasy novel be hard or just part of the norm like breathing?

Depends on if everyone does it, or if it’s a gifted few. Are they born with it or like us, do they go through a crawling stage before walking and then flying? Many books have magical talents begin with puberty. In others, the person must study and earn the talent. It could be a world that has an inherent magic in the way it works such as creatures that change shape. It all depends on what is integral to the plot and how that affects the outcomes and solutions the protagonist must find.

Overall, I’d say almost all of these are not hard and fast. It depends on how the world is set up, what tale you’re trying to tell and how integral magic is to that story line. But questions like these are always goods to ask because as writers, it keeps us thinking and examining what we do. And sometimes it pushes us outside our comfort zones and we move beyond the box.

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Book Review: The Word of God

You might think this is a religious book and in a way it is. The Word of God, or Holy Writ Rewritten, by Thomas Disch, (Tachyon Publications, San Francisco, 2008) was written not so much as a refutation to other religions, but, as Disch puts it, to establish himself as a deity. He begins his book discussing that the only way to talk to many religions, especially the fundamental ones, is to argue on their own level and point out that he too is a god and what his religion looks like.

It is witty, scathing, funny, illuminating. In part this is an autobiography of Disch’s life, but as a pastiche, not as a whole. It is part philosophy and condemnation of many conservative religions, especially Christianity. Disch was raised a Catholic and was publicly gay and since this is his “holy writ” it of course talks of religion in many guises quite a bit.

The book is also a collection of some poems and short stories, interspersed to give examples of birth, afterlife, reincarnation and judgment: “The New Me,” “Room Service,” “The Second Coming of the Christ,” “A Man of Mystery” “A Ranch House on the Styx,” “The School for Traitors,” “On the Road” and “Deus Ex Machina” almost all string together (some continuations of the same story) and of course all do touch on religion and the events that came together to create Thomas Disch. He was the illegitimate child of Thomas Mann, the prolific German writer and Nobel prize winner, though you will not find this listed in either Disch’s or Mann’s Wiki entry (and his father is missing altogether in his entry).

Many of these stories have Philip K. Dick in them, as a sort of antiChrist and in hell. It’s hard to tell from this if Disch had always hated Dick (since he wrote a poetic eulogy for Dick, which is in the book) or if he only came to despise Dick’s right-wing, bigoted, perhaps drug-induced opinions later, when Dick reported Disch to the FBI as a subversive. What the outcome of Dick’s confabulations were is unclear.

Thomas Disch was known to the SF community and was nominated numerous times for awards (and won some), but he also wrote a great deal of poetry, criticisms and other works, and had earlier aspirations in architecture. The book starts out in the present, around Christmas of 2005 when he began to write it, and he finishes on February 2nd, his birthday. Disch lived with his long time partner, Charles Naylor who died in 2005. Disch himself suffered from several illnesses and had a string of personal setbacks, besides being depressed by his partner’s death.

He took his life in July, 2008, just months before Word of God was published. It is somewhat ironic to read his words in this book that proclaims his deity and see where he was at and where life took him to. This is not his last book as I believe a posthumous work will be published this year. I enjoyed Word of God and it gave me a new look at Disch, his mind and his life. I had read his works, On Wings of Song and The Priest which was pretty scathing to the Catholic church while at the same time being deftly written enough for you to care for the very corrupt priest.

And if nothing else, I’m very curious as to what went on between Philip K. Dick, a great experimenter of drugs, married five times, and Thomas Disch, an openly gay man, all those years ago. They were both brilliant writers and characters in their own ways. Here’s to the god Disch and his ascension to his own heaven. Word of God, definitely worth a read, informative and entertaining throughout.

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Writing: Reviewing Reviews

Because I write mostly short stories and poems, reviews are few and far between. A magazine is less likely to be reviewed than an anthology and an individual story even less likely. I’ve never seen a review of any of my poems and I suspect the only way one would get a review is if it was a collection of poetry in a book or chapbook format.

Reviews can be a curse in their own right, with more negative than supportive comments, and it’s a chance any artist takes when putting work into the public forum. Still, I would rather have a review than not. A review can stir up discussion or controversy and some people will decide to form their own opinions (as I often do with movies) than take a reviewer’s. The reviewer is a buffer: I know reviewer A never likes xyz, but I do so if they hate it, I will most surely like it.  A review can be used to weed out what you’re going to read or buy. And reviews do give publicity of a sort, whether negative or positive.

Under the review umbrella are a host of chameleons: those written pieces that actually don’t review a piece so much as recap it. I have read reviews that give no indication of whether a story is good or bad, written well or not. All the reviewer does is reveal some of the plot line or all of it. These are not reviews. A review should have an opinion on the storyline and writing. There are the damning with faint praise reviews: this is not very deep, a piece of fluff but was enjoyable nonetheless.

Some reviews take into account that it may be the writer’s first major work. Some discuss the style of writing but don’t go as much into plot, while others will look at the depth and intricacies of plot, the sophistication of writing style and the expertise of the writer’s knowledge in the area in which they are writing.

I know of a few writers who do not read their reviews, afraid that the comments, possibly scathing, will puncture their egos like a helium balloon. I’m happy–well, maybe not happy–to read any review. Perhaps I will learn something about my writing and what I need to fix or change the next time around. Perhaps the reviewer will like it and I’ll feel encouraged. So far, there have been very few reviews of my work, the most probably being “The Fathomless World” in Cone Zero, and those again fell into mostly recapping the stories.

It’s important to note though, that many reviewers are just like you and me. It’s their opinion. Some reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt. I always figured I could be a good art critic because I can look at/read something and personally dislike it but examine the technique and skilled unbiasedly and see if the artist knows their stuff. Still, I would get down to what I don’t or do like about a piece as part of the review.

Some people love steampunk. Some hate elf and unicorn stories. Some hate free form verse or poems about flowers. Others dislike first person stories, or plots involving government overthrows and secret spies. These likes and dislikes will always flavor a review, but the good reviewer will be able to examine the writing as a whole. Aspects that reviewers might touch on are: depth and variety of characterization, plot flow, conflict and resolution, plausibility and depth of storyline, atmosphere, description, language, voice (authorial as opposed to characters), overall readibility and whether the author’s voice insinuates itself, etc.

So, in the spirit of reviewing, if someone would like to review something I’ve already written, please let me know and I’ll send it to you. This is a limited time offer (in case there are millions out there.) I will also post the review, whether favorable or not and then probably crawl away into my hole and rethink my view that I’d rather have a review than no review at all.

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The Demise of the Printed Word

When I say printed word, I mean that literally. Not the electronic word nor the spoken word but everything from books to newspapers are in jeopardy of a discontinued existence. Nearly everyone these days has a computer and is connected to the internet, even the poorest people. In essence the computer has supplanted the TV and in fact could take over that role, completely being one system for everything: music, TV and internet resource/communications tool.

Many of us don’t enjoy sitting at our desks, reading or even watching a computer screen for hours. But then we have laptops so you can move to a more comfortable setting. Imagine a large, wide-screen TV and your console (read keyboard) at your couch, remote and wireless. Weird future? No, we have this ability right now and it will only be a matter of years until we see this as a common evolution.

On top of making computer usage more comfortable, there are a myriad of PDAs (personal digital assistants) or whatever fancy name they’re branded under. These are the small, light, handheld devices to which you can download images or text. Some people are already reading stories on devices as small as Palm Pilots or the slightly bigger ebook styles that would be the equivalent size of a thin paperback. So it won’t matter what you want. There will be some form of electronic medium on which to view images, listen to music and read written works.

What still stands in the way of full electronic immersion for the common person is that the cost is somewhat prohibitive, not every book you want is available, the tactile feel is very different between paper and plastic/metal and we don’t always like reading onscreen. One trend that has become prevalent with computers and the internet is our short attention spans. People like short paragraphs to read and stories of a certain length. Fill the screen with a huge block of text and our attention deficit minds wander off to another webpage or site. We’re not willing to sit as long to read onscreen. How that will translate to palm readers overall remains to be seen.

You could say the internet is perpetuating a lack of concentration and patience. So how long a paragraph can someone put on any of these reading ebooks and still keep someone from wandering away? I doubt Victor Hugo will read well on an ebook format, but I could be wrong. So what we’ll have is shorter and shorter sentences and paragraphs and perhaps even books, which could lead to a new fad in literature, that of simplified writing. There are already twitter websites. That’s worrisome in itself for the intricacies and depths of plot.

Even more problematic is the future for writers. There will be more internet publishers, not willing to actually hire a copy editor and pay them a decent wage to correct a manuscript. Instead, they’ll offer the editor a portion of the net sales, so the copy editor or proofreader will work for free or even peanuts unless the book sells through. Authors will not even get an advance against royalties but again a share of the books that have actually sold. They’ll write first and maybe never get paid later or be paid a couple of bucks.

Now most writers have written first, and sold later so that, you could say, is the same as it’s always been. But copy editors don’t work for free and writers now can “sell” their books to a publisher and still get less than they should if they sold to a traditional publisher. With low cost output to the epublisher, an author should get a much larger percentage. If the epublisher also does print on demand paper publishing than there should be a separate rate for that as the overhead would be slightly higher for shipping and printing. But how well does an epublisher advertise or do they leave it up to internet searches rather than promoting an author? This too can make the difference between putting your book on a dusty eshelf or having it actually sell.

What does the publisher put out? Very little in costs. They acquire the book and the editing for free and run a website that lists these items, where people can stop in to buy them. Perhaps the publisher must run the manuscript through their program to format it properly but once you have it set up, it’s not that much work.  If a novel is bought, the publisher gets the lion’s share and some of the rest of the money is divvied up to the author, editor and perhaps artist. This is a way to have authors work for free.

This may sound like a prediction but it is already happening with many epublishers. As well, with news readily available on the internet, actual newspaper sales are dropping. Some newspapers have stopped paying freelance journalists. Why bother when everyone and his robodog is sending in articles? Writing has only been a rich profession for a few but it may well become one of the poorest paid professions, if pay still enters into it.

My advice to all writers: don’t give up writing but don’t quit your day job either. Be very careful what epublishers offer. Ask them about advertising, marketing and where your books will be shown. Do they actually copy edit (everyone’s books can use a copy edit)? Do they also offer paper copies and what percentage can you expect? Also is that percentage of books produced or sold and of net or reatil price? Very important, that.  The electronic future does not seem to offer riches to authors.

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Little Words and Zed

I’ve worked many years as a copy editor and have a fairly good memory for spelling. It’s amazing really that we ever standardized the English language, if you take into account that there’s British English (BE), American English (AE) and the bastard child of both, Canadian English (CE). AE and CE say “synchronize” instead of “synchronise”, but BE and CE say “neighbour” instead of “neighbor” and “travelled” instead of “traveled.” There are a few other odd words such as “jewellery” vs “jewelry.” But mostly we can understand each other even if Canadians say “zed” and Americans, “zee.” I’m an adamant proponent of continuing the “zed” pronunciation (being Canadian) and when some little tads corrected me with saying, “It’s zee.” I pretty much bit my lip and corrected them since they’re Canadian. Alas the invasion continues.

So, is it any wonder that there are so many misspelled words considering that Shakespear spelled his name so many different ways? Of course ,a lot of this had to to with relative illiteracy of the era. If you didn’t write regularly, even if you knew the rudiments, you weren’t very likely to spell words correctly.

As an editor, sometimes words are so often misspelled the same way that I start to doubt my own senses and then I have to look up words that I know are spelled incorrectly. Here are a few words of the modern age that are misspelled frequently:

  • burgundy (not burgandy for color or wine)
  • indefinitely (not indefinately, received three times last week) if it’s not finite then it’s indefinite like infinity .
  • no one (not no-one nor noone; this might be different in England)
  • its (the most misused word ever: if it is blue, then it’s blue. If the ball belongs to it (the dog), then it (the ball) is its (the dog). Its ball rolled into traffic.
  • twenty, thirty-something (twenty-two not twenty two)
  • would of, could of: People say this: I could’ve gone to the store. (which should really just be “could have”) But because of the way we hear it, I’ve seen it spelled could of. Wrong wrong wrong. Could have. I’ve seen this in books, which tells me either the copy editor was inexperienced or the publisher didn’t have a copy editor.
  • yeah is an informal form of agreement (yes) and yay, which is a cheer: Yay! We win.

And then there are the similarly pronounced words that have different spellings and meanings, called homonyms. Some commonly misused ones are:

  • consul (a consul general or Canadian consul) and console (to sympathize with someone, or a panel or case that holds an item like electronics)
  • aisle (what is between two rows of bookshelves) and isle (where we all want to go for a tropical vacation)
  • altar (where we put our objects to worship) and alter (how we change our appearance to escape the law)
  • brooch (what you wear as a decoration) and broach (what you do when you want  to raise a subject)
  • complement (how many you have–a complement of soldiers) and compliment (to praise–my you look great in your uniform)
  • council (a group of people) and counsel (the adviser/counsellor you get when your marriage is on the rocks)
  • gorilla (these guys use bananas) and guerrilla (these guys use guns)

There are many homonyms and a very extensive list can be found here, even ones that I’ve never considered or known. http://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym_list.html

I find it particularly bad when I read books that have many misspellings but it all depends on how good the publishers are at maintaining quality and if they care. Many small publishing houses do not even have copy editors and depend on (demand) the authors proofread their work. Of course everyone should always do that and hand in relatively clean copies. Still, when you’re looking at a story over and over again you are bound to miss some of your own typos. A second set of eyes is always best.

I sometimes think the internet will work at crumbling the English language (maybe others too) as people abbreviate words down to essential letters. We tend to get lazy at writing, leaving off capitalization and punctuation. Part of the advent of computers for everyone meant that many people have them but probably not everyone learned to type. And like our signatures that get messier the more we write them, our grammar goes to pot on the internet.
But English is a living and therefore evolving language so maybe the misspellings will take over the more people use them. In the meantime, misuses and typos will continue to drive the editors of the world crazy.

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