Monthly Archives: December 2010

The End is Only Just Beginning

I haven’t written in the last week, not so much because I was on holidays and gorging myself as I was busy. In fact, I didn’t gorge myself except for some wine imbibition. Otherwise, I was finishing up the rewrite of my novel The Fool’s Game. It’s languished for a long time and I always meant to rewrite it…again.

Then I read about the Terry Pratchett prize by the famous humor fantasy author in England. The contest was free to enter and it was for a manuscript that takes place on Earth in some way. My novel fit the bill and I’m of a Commonwealth country, one of the rules for entering. The prize is a publishing contract and 20,000 pounds. That would be lovely to get.

I used the deadline, today, to work on the novel over the past few months, getting down to the wire and the nitty gritty today. I had to rewrite and shorten the synopsis as well and that was a good thing. I also added nine thousand words to the novel, changed a few things and gave more description. Will I win? That would be nice but there could be hundreds, even thousands of entries. I’m a competent writer or understands the techniques of writing. That will give me a better chance than probably half of the entries, but then it will depend on the uniqueness of the story and how well it’s told. I won’t know until March so no point worrying about it now. It’s winging its way across the ether to the other side of the pond.

Other writing news includes that the Evolve anthology http://www.vampires-evolve.com/with my well-received story “An Ember Amongst the Fallen” is number five on the Barnes and Noble list of the top vampire books of the year. That’s great news. http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Explorations-The-BN-SciFi-and/The-Best-Vampire-Releases-of-2010/ba-p/767920

The Horror Library Vol. 4 story has not been receiving any reviews yet. I’ve only found two and “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha” isn’t even mentioned which is disappointing. I’ve always said I’d prefer a bad review than no review so not being noticed sucks. The editors also had great hopes for this disturbing story, but the book hasn’t been out long so there is still hope for it. And the story did get good comments when I read it at Orycon. Besides those two stories, “A Taste For Treasure” also came out this year in Alison’s Wonderland, as well as two poems, “Of the Corn” in Witches & Pagans #21, and “Bones of the Earth” in the summer edition of Country Connection magazine. Not a bad year and “Lover’s Triangle” should have been out by December but should be out soon in New Vampire Tales.

That wraps up the writing year, but we’re only as good as our last written story. I will now have to catch up on some slush reading for ChiZine Publications, getting ready to judge poetry for the Rannu competition which closes as the end of January I believe, and then of course write other stories. I can now write the steampunk story placed just before the US Civil War and which is already plotted out. I just didn’t have time.

Then I have another dark story to write about skin and power, and there is a backburnered sci-tech story waiting to be pushed along. And now that I’ve rewritten that novel it’s time to get going on the other novel which is under construction. I hope this coming year will be even more stellar for writing.

And to all of you who read my blog, may you have a fantastic year, achieve your goals and have fun and love. Happy New Year to all.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Culture, entertainment, erotica, fantasy, horror, memories, poetry, Publishing, science fiction, Writing

The Things We Do to Trees

My festooned tree with new & old.

We have many Christmas traditions and the decorating of the Yule or solstice tree goes back a long ways. There are tree traditions in other cultures that involve adding wishes or charms or paper decorations but I’m going to talk about the Christmas tree tradition. It did begin long ago in Estonia and Germany, though the first recorded instance that can be documented was from the 1500s. But there is reference to other tree and winter solstice/Christmas activities going back farther. Of course the other end of the yearly tree celebration still takes place on May Day or Beltane and involves the May pole, where people dance around the tree, weaving it with ribbons.

In previous centuries trees were decorated with apples, figs, nuts, dates and other dried fruits. Candles were put in the trees to signify the return of the sun after the winter solstice and whether Christian or not there is a festival of light tradition in almost every culture. Earlier times and Victorian era trees may have seen strings of popcorn and cranberries (still popular with some) and chains made of paper. Sometimes these trees were done outside and any bounty of fruit and nuts would have been appreciated by the wildlife. Queen Victoria, from her German heritage, popularized the tree decorating, which then spread to Canada and the US.

And so, in Canada it was already a well-entrenched tradition by the time I came along. The house we lived in had a slanted ceiling and at its apex it was probably twelve feet high. My mother always bought a tree that just fit under that roof. I’m not sure of the true height but it had to be between 10-12 feet and a ladder was needed to decorate the tree. Besides department stores and civic centers I don’t even know if you can get a tree that big these days.

Once the giant tree was erected in its cast iron stand, the lights were strung on with care, where the bulbs would be switched about so there was no cluster of red, yellow, blue or green. The special lights–the bubble lights and the weird round snow globes or other odd colored lights–were distributed about the branches. These lights weren’t the little lights we all use today but those massive ones, only slightly smaller than the outdoor version and on sturdy cords. I once had candles to put on my  tree but I stopped after a few years because it was too difficult to keep the holders upright and not cause a house fire.

Decorating the tree was a full family affair and often took two days. My mother had two boxes that were three feet high and two feet square full of decorations. There were the balls that actually had an accidental hole  (where they get brittle over time and just a bit too much pressure will pop a hole through) but they were still beautiful. I’ve talked in another post about the vintage Christmas ornaments. The rarer ones: coffeepots, teapots, lamps, umbrellas, horns, birds and bells would go nearer the top. The very unusual and one of a kind balls were also placed about the tree. When I was little I had my ball and I had to put it on the tree. My siblings would often tease me that it was gone. That ball lasted forever, even into my adulthood and when I asked my mother where it was one year, she said, oh it broke years ago. I was heartbroken because that ball was the symbol of the good things in childhood for me. It was unique, turquoise and pink and silver, part bell shape and even had a little hole in it.

Same tree but without flash.

Once all the balls were placed, sometimes on every single branch, we festooned the tree with glass bead garlands and tinsel. I had to meticulously drape a piece of tinsel or maybe two on every branch. My younger brother got into tossing handfuls at the tree, which offended my young and anal sensibilities. The tinsel was accompanied by little twists of metal, icicles that were also hung. But the tinsel itself was also a bane. We started to not hang it on the lower branches since our cat, who loved to chew the spider plant and eat grass from time to time, found the tinsel a special grassy treat.

There was nothing worse than tinsel bum, when the cat went to poop and had a long brown dingle berry hanging on a thread of tinsel from his ass. His solution was to drag his bum throughout the house, over the carpet, leaving brown streaks in an attempt to dislodge the annoyance. We had to run after him, with wads of toilet paper, and try to very very gently remove the offending decoration from the cat. Tinsel was a pain to decorate with, mostly plastic, and non biodegradable, and disgusting when the cat got it. We did gather it up every year but a fair amount went out with the tree or was vacuumed up.

These days, I wouldn’t put tinsel on if I could find it. I use a winged thing theme, whether birds, angels, fairies, flying frogs or whatever, plus red apples and eclectically shaped balls. I use one color of light but I do tend to put on lots of decorations. This year my tree was a little more Charlie Brown than usual and I decided to forego the bead garlands and couldn’t fit the tree topper on. Still, if nothing else, I enjoy having a tree through the winter season. It symbolizes a more innocent time, the return of light and nature in the dark times, and a joyous comfort in the whimsical decorations. To me, it’s one of the best parts of Christmas.

Happy Holidays to everyone and may you have joy and celebration in all your traditions.

5 Comments

Filed under Culture, family, history, life, memories

The Grinch is Gassed Up and Ready to Go

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

We all know about how the Grinch stole Christmas, but he eventually had a change of heart, or perhaps even got a heart. But maybe we don’t really know who the Grinch is. Consider that the Grinch had to get around Whoville to steal Christmas and to do so he needed a vehicle. I think the Grinch never advertised it but he began by stealing gas.

And when the Grinch, like Scrooge, turned compassionate and happy, well there was still the essence of Scrooge and the Grinch permeating the atmosphere. They are now called the gas or oil companies. Whether it is Exxon, Chevron, Texaco, Shell, Mohawk, Arco, or a host of others through the US, there is one thing in common: they milk us on gas prices.

Gas prices have risen a lot in the past five-ten years. But every time they spike, we’re told, oh there was a hurricane in Venezuela, or an earthquake in Saudi Arabia, or a broken fingernail in the US. Considering some of our gas comes from the US and Canada and much more from other places, and that it’s stockpiled, it’s interesting how the price will change instantly with any climatic issue, whether it’s expected or not.

Creative Commons

But I’d like to know what climatic catastrophe causes gas prices to go up during Christmas and summer break, on the weekends and during rush hour. I think in the new year I will plot out the shifting prices as the gas companies continue to scrooge us for every penny, every day in every way. An example of the Grinch Gas is prevalent this week as prices went even higher, a week before Christmas. Sunday it was $1.19 a liter. I’m rounding these numbers and for you US people it’s about 3.8 liters to the US gallon (the imperial gallon is slightly bigger) so if you multiply it by four you’ll get an idea of what we’re paying a gallon.

Monday morning, gas actually dropped to $1.17 and by the time I drove home it was $1.19. This morning it is $1.22. I’m sure we’ll see it $1.25 by Christmas so thanks, Mr. Grinch. You’re definitely a mean one. What’s so interesting is that every once in a while some back-bencher speaks up and says, hey, this should be investigated, and then you never hear anything again. And the prices go up and the reasoning never actually makes sense, unless you just believe that it’s the Grinch and he’s nickeling and diming us, giving cheap excuses for sucking us dry, liter by liter.

We could possibly change this if we wrote our government representatives, en masse, but people are complacently willing to shovel money into the big gas, oil and car corporations (ask why it took so long to get electric cars into the world and who owns those prototypes). Of course even if we all rose up as one Whoville entity to make the Grinch back down, you could bet that those boys in Saudi Arabia and the other gas producing countries have the Grinch by the short curlies. So really, when you look at it, there are quite a few Grinches out there and every time a Whoville is saved another Whoville is put under the gas company thumb of profit profit profit.

Here’s to the Grinch maybe some day getting a heart, but you’ll never see the gift of cheap gas on Hanukkah, Christmas or any other festival about charity.

Leave a comment

Filed under cars, consumer affairs, driving, travel

On Being Freshly Pressed

This week, my blog post made it to the WordPress front pages and I was freshly pressed or featured. And thanks to everyone who came by to read my post and congratulate me. I’d been bumping along on my posts, getting modest readership and it was really interesting to see how the readership soared.

Creative Commons: http://dancurtis.ca/2010/07/

I’ve read the page on being Freshly Pressed and the five things to do: original content, no profanity, a picture that’s not stolen or credited correctly (I’ve started using Creative Commons images if not my own), using tags and categories, proofreading, etc. So I posted about “The Only Good Thing About Snow” on Tuesday and popped it up quickly. I’m a writer, an editor so I tend to always proofread but I was on my way for dental surgery and had to run. So I didn’t proofread (until later and there were only a couple of typos/grammar issues), I forgot to post any tags, and I only had the default category of culture listed. And I was freshly pressed.

I went and read the page again and really wondered because this beasty didn’t fit some of those categories, so I emailed WordPress. They told me that it helps to a degree but too many tags or categories can make it so that the pages don’t show at all. Interesting. I asked how many and they said five to ten is good but don’t sweat it. Okay, I’m not sweating it. I’m not making money on my blog, just posting to air my opinion, to inform, to let people know I exist, but if I was depending on it for income, I’d sweat it big time. And that is how I was freshly pressed, by not following some of the rules. A true mystery I guess, or a seasonally appropriate blog with a picture of the right width to fit into the Freshly Pressed

format.

Still it was fun but I wonder what I would have done with a format that went viral. I was hard pressed (pun intended) to keep up with and approve all the comments. There were about 50 and I have it set for pre-approval on a person’s first comment. I was at work so my mailbox filled quickly.

I’m curious to see how my blog will progress now. Will it go back to the normal number of readers or increase. I noticed that some people have subscribed and I thank you for that. Continue to give me feedback.

If nothing else, this gives me a place to write regularly when I have a writing block in the fiction world. That’s not the case right now. I’m about 30 pages from the end of my novel rewrite, with a bit of backtracking to fix a few areas. But I will hit the goal of having it done before the end of the year. Then I can get to two stories percolating fully in my brain. The steampunk one has a fully laid out plot and I just have to write it and clear up  a few things about engines and flight. Another one is getting there, very dark and about a quest for power. And of course I still have manuscript submissions to read. It’ll slow down over the holidays.

I’ve also been reading through the anthology Horror Library Vol. 4 in which my story “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha” is featured. There are about 30 stories and while I don’t normally do a review on an anthology in which I have a story I do have to say that overall these very dark stories and well written, thought provoking and disturbing. (Okay, I don’t really like the cover–sorry, guys–there have just been too many scary skulls.) Catherine MacLeod’s story “Stone” stands out as being very disturbing. The best stories often touch on social mores, morals and taboos. Catherine’s does all this and makes one really think of what is acceptable and whether it should be. People often poo-poo speculative fiction (encompassing horror, SF, fantasy, etc.) as not being really but it is a place to look at morality and social commentary in a very strong image. Don’t discount supposed genre fiction because you think it’s like a trite movie. It’s often much deeper than you think.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, entertainment, fantasy, horror, Publishing, science fiction, Writing

The Only Good Thing About Snow

Creative Commons--Ian Britton

I grew up in Alberta, which meant real winter. We had winter in the winter, we had winter in the fall. Sometimes we had winter  in the spring…almost always and we even had some winter on a rare occasion in summer.

Winter was cold and snowy. Sometimes winter was deep, with a windchill factor of -40 or -60. In most cases we still trudged to school, wrapped thicker than the Michelin tire man and the Pillsbury dough boy put together. When I was little I was perennially late for school and exhausted from dragging my little self through all the snow. Snow was evil, snow was cold. Winter was no fun and sometimes my nostrils would free shut while walking and a crusty layer of ice would form on a scarf, or worse, the balaclava we wore over our faces. You know the ones; bank robbers favor them now.

The indignities of snow and winter meant fashion nightmare even before I was old enough to really care about fashion. But no kid wanted to wear the geeky balaclavas. In our house, two of our bedrooms were in the basement, mostly below ground, where the furnace somehow didn’t send any heat. And the floors were cold linoleum on cold concrete, in a city where the ground freezes in the winter. But we were lucky in Calgary, compared to Edmonton, because we got chinooks, which is when a warm front moves through, turning the clouds into a chinook arch, and brining a reprieve with melting snow.

When I was about six I remember my older siblings building an igloo in the back yard. We had enough snow for it and I think it was only about three feet high but they were cutting blocks of snow and then pouring cold water on it to freeze. I remember an igloo shape; whether it truly was or just an open fort I don’t really know.

But the only good thing about snow, as far as I was concerned, was that very first snowfall of the year. Calgary is dry so the snow would be dry and big and flaky. It would drift out of the dark sky falling like powder over the ground. The best was at night, if I was up at my friend’s and I got to walk home late. The snowfall, usually enough to carpet everything was like diamonds under the street light. It of course warmed everything up and it sparkled and glinted. The virgin fall would be untread by cars or footprints and I would be walking through a new landscape. Everything was muffled in this snowy white blanket. Any car or dog, always heard in the far distance, was far far away and very faint. I felt like I was the only one in all the world and it was so tranquil. I loved that aspect of snow.

But these days, as I did then, I believe that snow should stay in the mountains where it belongs and where it is of use. Vancouver’s snow is wet and moist, sticky and damp. It soaks through everything and you can’t get traction for yourself or your vehicle. I especially hate it here because of that and because we’re in a climate that isn’t supposed to get snow. So I will always vote for no snow but remember those tranquil evenings when the first snowfall was magical, before it turned to slush.

90 Comments

Filed under Culture, environment, memories, weather

How to Waste Your Time at Christmas

It’s nice to know that North America isn’t the only continent to have its share of kooky priests of the Christian faith. Of course, there are nuts in all faiths, fundamentalists who love to rant up a storm and believe it’s their way or no way and they might be willing to put you to death for that belief. In the meantime they expound from the pulpit and threaten things in the past like burning Korans or more inane items…like hanging elves.

Yep, it turns out that even Denmark has a priest in Jutland who decided that elves were of the devil. We’re not talking the tall ethereal Tolkien elves; we’re talking those little green and red-dressed elves in Santa’s factory making toys for girls and boys. Whether they’re union workers, paid a decent wage, doing it out of the goodness of their magical hearts, or eldritch slaves of a sinister Santa, they’ve usually been seen as pretty harmless.

Creative Commons

But pastor Jon Knudsen in Jutland thinks differently and not only are meek little Christmas elves of the devil but they “make children sick.” Knudsen likened decorating with elves as akin to putting up Nazi flags. Wow. Elves are very powerful with their insidious elfin ways. It seems that while some of the townspeople supported Knudsen’s protest that amounted to an elf being hung (by the neck) from the front of the church, others protested by riddling his lawn with garden gnomes or sending letters from the “elves.”  In the end someone rescued the elf, leaving a note that it would be kept safe until the New Year.

Now we might be scratching our heads over the singling out of elves but they are very much part of Scandinavian folklore. I noticed there was no mention of Santa Claus, or Sinter Klaus as he is called in parts of Europe and is first an old pagan deity before the Christian church sanctified him. So what do you do with Santa, patron saint of thieves, who has become legitimized by Christianity? It’s not a far leap from Santa Claus to Satan Claws. Oh no!

The real point of discussing this ridiculousness is that it’s a waste of time. If a Christian (or other) priest practices what they preach then they should be spending far more time on charity and compassion. With much more dire issues like murder, rape, child abuse, subjugation, pollution, poverty, etc. affecting this world, Knudsen would do better to preach on how to help people than to rile up others over elves (of all things) who make children sick. I challenge him to show me a real elf; whereas I could show him poverty, abused children, raped women. That’s the true devil.

If this is all that a priest can get up to it tells me he has too much time on his hands and does not understand the faith he is supposed to be an expert in. He would do better to get off the pulpit and go back to meditation on what it truly means to be a Christian, or be of any faith that preaches tolerance, love and compassion. Oh and perhaps someone should organize a flashmob of elves on this guy’s church.

See the full article here: http://www.cphpost.dk/news/local/87-local/50617-pastor-executes-elf-to-save-christmas.html

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, fairy tales, history, humor, life, myth, people, religion

Writing: Rannu Competition and Update

I’m working away on several things and of course we’ve hit the busy social season, but I’m hoping to get my cyber-feypunk novel rewritten before the end of the year. Which means my steampunk story, all but laid out in my mind, is on hold until this is out of the way.

I’m still reading slush for CZP but it’s slowed down with all the other stuff. I still have about ten submissions to get through and have requested the full manuscript from one person. I’ve also forwarded about three on to Sandra and Brett. There are several readers for the manuscripts so it’s hard to say how many submissions we have at once or how many are forwarded, unless you’re Sandra.

And today it’s been confirmed that Steve Vernon and I will be judges for the poetry end of the Rannu competition. We are both horror/dark fiction writers, in one of our guises and live on opposite coasts. We are of course not the only writers in Canada of that ilk. And the poems entered do not need to be dark fiction/horror; they just have to be speculative. Steve won last year’s poetry competition and I was one of two runners up.

Barbara Gordon and Francine Lewis will be the judges for the prose competition.Barbara won last year’s competition and Francine was one of two runners up in both categories. The competition gives a $500 first prize in each category, open to anyone in any country and the deadline is January 15, 2011. Full information and the past two years’ winners can be seen here: http://rannu.webs.com/ The award was created by Sandra Kasturi of Chizine.

I’ve not been a judge before; just a writer, competitor, copyeditor, editor so this will be fun and something new. I have no idea how many poems we’ll have to judge but I suspect we’ll be busy. Editing poetry is quite a different pony from editing prose. Whereas you can start with the basics of grammar for prose, it doesn’t necessarily hold true for a poem that can have a different style from the next one. Grammar doesn’t work the same way if at all. But some hints on how to write good poems is to stay away from cliche images and sayings. Things like sunsets, moons and suns have been described so many ways that making them unique becomes harder. Also these days rhyming poems aren’t really in fashion. I wouldn’t dismiss a poem for it rhyming, but there are few people who can do it really well. It better not be trite and simplistic. Google Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees” for an example of simplistic and bad.

If a poem is using specific imagery, then that image/simile should follow through or be completed, not left hanging to go on to another image. Sandra’s amusing and acerbic guidelines for Chizine can apply to any poem. I’m copying the relevant parts here:

  1. Note on Goth poems. BEFORE YOU SUBMIT, go to the Goth-o-Matic Poetry Generator and create a poem:
    http://www.deadlounge.com/poetry/poems.html
    If the poem you want to send me even remotely resembles the one you just created with the Generator, DO NOT submit your own poem.
  2. Unless you have had poems published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly or a similar calibre of magazine, DO NOT SUBMIT:
    1. formal verse of any kind whatsoever
    2. vampire poetry
    3. any poem with the word “blood” in it
    4. any poem with the word “womb” in it
    5. anything remotely related to J.R.R. Tolkien
    6. any werewolf poem. We know you think your werewolf poems are good. We don’t. We’re tired of the howling and the biting. You give us mange.
    7. any poem entitled “Underworld.” The movies weren’t THAT awesome. Also, it’s the name of the knicker factory on Coronation Street, so it elicits immediate snickers from the editors.

A poem should say something new, in a unique way. It shouldn’t be a story. That’s what prose is for. A poem should be succinct with strong imagery, atmosphere or feeling. It shouldn’t all be angst or broken hearts. God forbid that’s what we get. Judges are people so there will be things we prefer or don’t prefer but I’m pretty good in separating my personal opinion from judging something on the strength of execution and style. If I wasn’t judging I’d be entering again. We’ll be blind judging so there is no chance of favoritism.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Culture, entertainment, fantasy, horror, news, people, poetry, Publishing, science fiction, Writing

Traveling in India: A Khasi Way of Life Part I

When I went to India in the late 80s I spent two months traveling. The first month was in my friend’s home state of Meghalaya, in the northeastern part of India. There is a tiny join at Darjeeling before the country opens up to seven tribal states. These states were never truly conquered by the British and have self-autonomy. This means they are under the governance of India but maintain a unique cultural identity, which is protected. These states are Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.

For most of these states, especially at that time, they were barred to foreigners (and sometimes other Indian nationals) or you needed a special visa. I probably obtained a visa only because my friend was from the state of Meghalaya. When we arrived, besides Hanocia’s husband, there was only one other white person, a child (so presumably there were parents somewhere) in Meghalaya.

The capital is Shillong and the most populous people are the Khasis. The Garo and Jaintia tribespeople make up the other majority and this states sports a majority of Christians. Many of those Christian Khasis blend their faith with the traditional animist beliefs. Although once part of Assam state (by way of the British) Meghalaya was made a separate state. Even when we were there, we had to fly out of Assam and the borders were closed because the Assamese and the Khasis, traditional headhunting enemies, were fighting with each other again.

It’s been many years since I was there but I do remember some aspects of Meghalaya that made it quite different from many other places in the world. First off, the Khasi people are matrilineal. This is slightly different from matriarchal where women would be in charge of everything. Western civilization is still trying to throw of the yoke of patriarchy, as well as other cultures, where women are not allowed certain positions because of their gender. This used to pertain more to jobs and still does in some countries, or that women cannot vote, work or be ministers of certain religions. Matrilineal means that the lineage runs through the women, and other certain aspects of society.

The Khasis are a tribal people–even if they live in houses, they still have traditional tribal roles. A child will take its mother’s last name, not the father’s and it’s common for the man to move into the wife’s or mother-in-law’s house. This of course makes more sense because you will always know who your mother is but there is no sure way to know who your father is. The women are the inheritors of the wealth and instead of the oldest son of the oldest son inheriting, the youngest daughter of the youngest daughter inherits and is keeper of the family lands. This too makes a lot of sense in it being the youngest because the youngest will be around longest to support the parents in their old age. The Syiem is the hereditary ruler of Meghalaya, although there is a full government. This is traditionally a man but it is not the man’s son who inherits, but his sister’s son or the next in line. Hanocia told me that it is mostly a figurehead position these days and when one king died he laid in state, in the palace, until his successor stepped forward. No one wanted the position and so he laid in state, rotting for a long time.

The Khasis are a diminutive people and at 5’4″ I towered above most of them. Their language is similar to the Khmer of Burma and the land lies very close to Myanmar/Burma. This language is back of the throat, glottal and akin to swallowing part of a word. At one point, for the month I spent in Meghalaya, I was trying to speak a few Khasi words one night. Something like “ngam thlen.” After a few tries Hanocia turned to me and said, “What are you trying to say?” “I’m trying to say I’m hungry.” She matter of factly said, “Well you’re saying you give blood sacrifice.” Everyone found this hilarious, coming from the foreigner, but should a Khasi have said it, it would have been a serious thing indeed.

The Khasis have a belief that if a person seems to come into sudden wealth that they may be performing thlen worship. I’m not sure I remember this correctly but a thlen is, I believe, a snake-like creature (maybe part cat?) that can grant wealth in exchange for a human sacrifice. The sacrifice must be killed without spelling blood (choking, hanging, suffocation, etc.). In the late 80s, people were still being accused, occasionally, of this.

Just as I mentioned my experience in eating the kwai (betel nut) in Shillong, the experience with the language caused an amusing reaction. What was also interesting was experiencing what it’s like to be a minority but not ostracized for it. Being one of very few white people, in some cases I was the first that many people had ever seen. Watching a school parade one day, of the Catholic schools and bishops in neon orange and gold lame’ robes, I took a few pictures but couldn’t get to where I was staying as there was no way around but through the parade. As every child walked past their heads all swiveled to look at me. Another day, I walked out of one of the shops to about 15 men, women and children just standing across the street staring at me. It became disconcerting and I began to wonder if I was doing something wrong or was under scrutiny. Of course, I was just a curiosity.

There is much more to say about this: the matrilineal structure, the stones, the way of life but that’s all for today.

4 Comments

Filed under Culture, history, life, memories, people, spirituality, travel

Writing: Black Quill Nominees

Dark Scribe Magazine, a nonfiction magazine highlighting dark fiction started doing the Black Quill awards three years ago. As I talked about earlier this week in “What is Horror?” small presses especially are doing very well with the dark speculative fiction market. The Black Quills look at all presses, whether large or small. This resurrection of dark fiction, after the large publishing houses pooh-poohed “horror” had as much to do with dedicated small presses as it did with the growing trend of print-on-demand publishing, allowing presses without millions of dollars to put out quality fiction in a professional capacity.

And the Black Quills are an award looked at with respect and probably opens the gate to a few more choices, besides the Stoker awards, given by the Horror Writers Association at the World Horror Convention every year, and named suitably after Bram Stoker.

This year, the fourth annual Black Quill Awards, to be given out in February, have the following categories: Dark Genre Novel, Small Press Chill, Dark Genre Fiction Collection, Dark Genre Anthology, Dark Genre Book of Non-Fiction, Dark Scribble (stories in a magazine–paper or virtual), and Dark Genre Book Trailer. Why they limit the short fiction to magazines only and do not allow short stories in an anthology is beyond me. It seems an odd arbitrary choice. A collection is a selection of stories by one author and an anthology is a collection of stories by different authors. The collection award is given to the author and the anthology one to the editor. So the writers in an anthology are effectively barred from being nominated. Very odd. As well, there is no cover art award. Perhaps the trailer is seen as more effective because there is a script and that art really isn’t writing and belongs to someone else.

Several Chizine books authors have been nominated, specifically Gemma Files’ A Book of Tongues for Best Small Press Chill and Paul Tremblay’s In the Mean Time for Best Dark Genre Collection. That’s pretty good for a press that’s been going for about two years. The Horror Library Vol. IV anthology where my story “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha” resides, is also nominated in the Dark Genre Anthology category. Without further ado, here is the full list.

DARK GENRE NOVEL OF THE YEAR:

(Novel-length work of horror, suspense, or thriller from a mainstream publisher; awarded to the author)
  • A Dark Matter by Peter Straub (Doubleday)
  • Kraken by China Miéville (Del Rey)
  • Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon (Leisure / Bad Moon Books)
  • The Caretaker of Lorne Field by David Zeltserman (Overlook Hardcover)
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin (Ballantine)
  • Under the Dome by Stephen King (Scribner)

BEST SMALL PRESS CHILL:

(Novel or novella published by small press publisher; awarded to the author)
  • A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files (ChiZine Publications)
  • Dreams in Black and White by John R. Little (Morning Star)
  • Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss (Cemetery Dance)
  • The Castle of Los Angeles by Lisa Morton (Gray Friar Press)
  • The Wolf at the Door by Jameson Currier (Chelsea Street Editions)

BEST DARK GENRE FICTION COLLECTION:

(Single author collection, any publisher; awarded to the author)
  • Blood and Gristle by Michael Louis Calvillo (Bad Moon Books)
  • In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay (ChiZine Publications)
  • Little Things by John R. Little (Bad Moon Books)
  • Occultation by Laird Barron (Night Shade Books)
  • Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse by Otsuichi (VIZ Media LLC)

BEST DARK GENRE ANTHOLOGY:

(Multi-author collection, any publisher; awarded to the editor)
  • Dark Faith Edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon (Apex Publications)
  • Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology Edited by Michelle McCrary and Joe McKinney (23 House)
  • Haunted Legends Edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas (Tor)
  • Horror Library IV Edited by RJ Cavender and Boyd E. Harris (Cutting Block Press)
  • When The Night Comes Down Edited by Bill Breedlove (Dark Arts Books)

BEST DARK GENRE BOOK OF NON-FICTION:

(Any dark genre non-fiction subject, any publisher; awarded to the author[s] or editor[s])
  • Horrors: Great Stories of Fear and Their Creators by Rocky Wood (McFarland)
  • I Am Providence: The Life and Times of HP Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi (Hippocampus Press)
  • Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever by Joe Kane (Citadel)
  • The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti (Hippocampus Press)
  • Thrillers: 100 Must Reads Edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner (Oceanview Publishing)

BEST DARK SCRIBBLE:

(Single work, non-anthology short fiction appearing in a print or virtual magazine; awarded to the author)
  • “Bully” by Jack Ketchum (Postscripts 22/23)
  • “Goblin Boy” by Rick Hautula (Cemetery Dance #63)
  • “Secretario” by Catherynne M. Valente (Weird Tales, Summer 2010)
  • “The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)
  • “We” by Bentley Little (Cemetery Dance #64)

BEST DARK GENRE BOOK TRAILER:

(Book video promoting any work of fiction or non-fiction; awarded to the video producer or publisher)

You can go to Dark Scribe’s site to view these trailers: http://www.darkscribemagazine.com/4th-annual-bqa-nominees/

  • Neverland / Produced by Circle of Seven Productions (for the book by Douglas Clegg)
  • Radiant Shadows / Produced by Circle of Seven Productions (for the book by Melissa Marr)
  • Specters in Coal Dust / Produced by Michael Knost & Black Water Films (for the anthology edited by Michael Knost)
  • Under the Dome / Produced by Scribner Marketing (for the book by Stephen King)
  • Unhappy Endings / Produced by Delirium Books (for the book by Brian Keene)

Nominations for the Black Quills are editorial-based, with both the editors and active contributing writers submitting nominations in each of the (7) categories. Once nominations are announced, the readers of DSM have an opportunity to cast their votes for their picks in each category. In a unique spin intended to celebrate both critical and popular success, two winners are announced in each category – Reader’s Choice and Editor’s Choice.

All dark genre works published between November 1st, 2009 and October 31st, 2010 are eligible. DSM does not solicit nominations, nor are there any fees associated with the Black Quills.

Please note that only one ballot per email/IP address will be accepted. Multiple ballots received from the same email/IP address will be discarded.

Reader voting closes at midnight EST on Friday, January 21st, 2011.

Winners will be announced on Tuesday, February 1st, 2011.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Culture, entertainment, fantasy, horror, news, people, Publishing, science fiction, Writing

Writing: What is Horror?

As I write up these different definitions there will indeed be crossover as there are genres and subgenres and sub-subgenres for each type of writing. The world of publishing is taken up with labeling, much like the world in general. We like things to fit into neat categories. For marketing we want to appeal to a certain demographic so although I might write a story and not put any tag on it, someone else will: either the reader, the publisher, or the reviewer. And they may all tag it differently.

Horror in essence is meant to do one or more of these things: terrify, scare, gross out, disturb. At its simplest horror revolts and scares. At its most complex horror is disturbing and thought provoking. I did an earlier review on the novel A Fall of Angels by Stephen Gregory, which presented an insidious horror of a disturbing life that included murder and incest. Horror has an interesting niche. If you think of movies, there are those ridiculous (in my opinion) teen slasher movies with really dumb plots and lots of Freddy Krueger gore and murder. And stories can range too. Recently, doing a panel at Orycon on gore versus terror, we talked about when gore is appropriate (the satisfaction of seeing or reading about a zombie’s/bad guy’s head exploding) and when terror is effective. Gore is throwing a bunch of intestines in your face. Terror is me telling you that there is something alien eating its way into your brain right now, can’t you feel it? All of this is horror. Horror includes tension and suspense. It keeps you on the edge of your seat or wriggling with moral or psychological discomfort. Sometimes it lulls you into a false sense of security until it unleashes the terror.

Most mainstream publishers no longer publish horror, just as they don’t publish westerns anymore either. It fell out of favor, meaning the sales dropped because the publishers were probably marketing it as gore and guts. In fact, horror, like any of the major labels or genres, encompasses many subgenres. Some of these include dark fantasy, psychological horror, splatterpunk, gothic horror, supernatural horror, and others. (BTW, this is my take on the genre; you are bound to find other or varying definitions.)

  • Dark Fantasy–these stories involve anything fantastical. It could be a person who extracts blood from their victims to make plants grow, a man-eating troll, an insidious worm that crawls into your pores and makes you see corpses, or a host of other hobgoblin nightmares. Lord of the Rings, interestingly enough can fall into a lot of categories and the whole story could be considered dark fantasy. The anthologies I’m in, either Evolve or Horror Library Vol. 4 could both be considered dark fantasy though some of the stories in the latter may be straight horror with little fantasy. Whereas Evolve is all about vampires and almost all of them are dark fantasy.
  • Psychological Horror–these stories deal with the twistings of the mind. The novel I mentioned, A Fall of Angels, is definitely a psychological horror. It is both the horror of a man sliding farther from the norm and his feelings as well as the horror of seeing this decline. It may be that the person imagines something but it’s not real, or maybe it is, or perhaps they’re crazy but instead there is a conspiracy against them. These can be very insidious and subtle to outright living hells in one’s mind, or the prison of their bodies that can drive them insane.
  • Splatterpunk–I haven’t read the Resident Evil books but a lot of that shooting and gory mayhem, bodies and heads exploding, blood gushing on a rampage of carnage falls into the splatterpunk category. It may include punky or trendy people but it will definitely include lots of gore and splatter although the story can also be a dark fantasy, splatterpunk psychological horror. What defines a story’s genre or sub-genre over another is that the emphasis or main theme is more in one category, or how the publishers think they can market the story.
  • Gothic Horror–such stories could involve hauntings, old mansions, vampires, strange brooding towns and people. Think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and any H.P. Lovecraft story whether about the Great Old Ones or the darkness of the human soul. Gothic can be set in the past but is just as likely to be in the present or even the future. The mood and atmosphere is always very important, where the setting itself can be as oppressive as the creature. Victorian sensibilities can abound. And thankfully Lord of the Rings is not gothic horror.
  • Supernatural Horror–involves just that. Whether its ghosts, Great Old Ones, witches, vampires, mages or some other sinister sword or hat that takes over a person’s mind, it is all supernatural. And the biggest area in supernatural would be religious themes; demons, devils, angels, saints, priests; heaven and hell feature very big in the supernatural. It’s the most popular sub-genre for movies. If the devil’s involved it’s most likely supernatural horror.

There are of course, other categories and the definitions will blend and change as they evolve. Like the horror genre,which was blacklisted by the major publishers, like a sinister demon that they thought they had killed, horror has resurrected itself in numerous small but professional presses, coming back stronger, more diverse and respected for its tenacity. The World Horror Convention, and the Horror Writers Association continues strong through the dark imaginings of writers in horror.

6 Comments

Filed under art, Culture, entertainment, fairy tales, fantasy, horror, Publishing, science fiction, Writing