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Convention Update

I’m at When Words Collide, an ever expanding convention in Calgary. While it has a heavy focus on speculative fiction there are romance and mystery writers here as well. Yesterday I was on a panel about writing and making a living at it. The four of us on the panel agreed that you can’t make a living but talked about the money you can make, some innovative ways to market poetry and some of the reasons we write poetry, as well as what is a poem.

I was then on a panel with Nancy Kilpatrick, Pat Flewwelling and Brandy Ackerley on why we need dark fiction and horror. We discussed how it dark fiction/’fantasy has evolved, marketing and genre names (weird fiction, dark fiction, horror, etc.) and why we need it. Why are people repelled, why are they drawn to it and what are our monsters and fears.

I also sat on the panel for one of the live action slush groups, where people turn in one page, which is read out loud. The panel of four editors put up there hand when they would stop reading. We made it through several pieces and overall the writing was good. A full house on that one.

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Playground of Lost Toys is available through Amazon published by Exile Writers

Today, I’m only on the autograph signing and of course attending the Aurora Awards, where Playground of Lost Toys is up for an award (co-edited with Ursula Pflug). I’m also in the anthologies nEvermore! and Second Contacts (cowritten with Rhea Rose), which are up for the same award. I’ve also been visiting with and getting reacquainted with many of the writers I sometimes only see virtually.  On Sunday, if you’re attending the con, I’ll be on the panel for poetry markets and approaches and doing a reading afterwards with three other poets. At 4pm I’ll be doing a blue pencil session. There is one space left and if you bring 1-2 pages I will edit and comment on it. There really isn’t time for more than one so first come first served.

I have other sales to report but that will have to wait. Though you can check out Heroic Fantasy Quarterly for my poem “The Persuaders,” and Maple Tree Literary Supplement for four poems titled “Cuntipotent,” “Cremating Love,” “Oh You!” and “Come and Go.” These are hard hitting poems about sex and sexuality. Now, back to the con. 🙂

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Writing Update

It’s been a while since I posted about writing. The last few months I was caught up in co-editing, with Steve Vernon, the Tesseracts 17 anthology. I hope to be able to announce the table of contents soon. As well, I’ll be giving a demographic breakdown of the submissions once the details are revealed. Suffice to say, we had around 450 submissions. This was an open theme, which means there were more submissions.

I was so busy in fact, that I didn’t even mention the stories that have come out recently so here we go. Deep Cuts came out in February and my story “Red is the Color of My True Love’s Blood” has received one favorable review. There aren’t many reviews yet so if you are a review try contacting the editors (or me and I’ll let them know) and they might send you a copy to review.

“P is for Phartouche: The Blade” came out in  Demonologia Biblica in March from Western Legends Publishing. It’s edited by Dean Drinkel of the UK, and is available at http://www.amazon.com/Demonologia-Biblica. Again, reviewers can contact the publisher.

And I’ve been told that imminently Bibliotheca Fantastica is about to be released from Dagan Books. My story “The Book With No End” deals with books as does every story, edited by editors Claude LaLumiere & Don Pizarro. Book covers have often been made of different types of leather and let’s say this is a book of leather of a different type.

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Demonologia Biblica out through Western Legends Publishing, with “P is for Phartouche: The Blade”

Likewise, as imminent, and in this week, Irony of Survival  is also about to be released from Zharmae Publishing. This is a very massive volume of stories and my alternate history “Tower of Strength” is one of the many tales.

Rumors were abounding that BullSpec had folded but they told me they were just behind and issues are coming out so I hope my poem (with them for two years) will be out this year. I’ve also just received the contract for “Gingerbread People” to be released in Chilling Tales 2 this fall by Edge Publishing: Michael Kelly is editor. And perhaps I’ve had the kiss of death with Fantastic Frontiers who paid me but seem to have folded before publishing my short piece and don’t answer emails.

While stories are coming out this year I haven’t yet sold a lot with this first part of the year being about editing. I’m now getting back into the writer’s seat and hoping to hit some deadlines before the end of May. So hopefully you’ll see a few more posts from me.

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Women in Horror Month: Lorina Stephens

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Women in Horror Month, sponsored by the Viscera Organization

February is Women in Horror Month, sponsored by the Viscera Organization. Its purpose is to highlight women who are under-represented in the artistic field. You can find their vision and mission statements at the end of this article. Today’s Canadian woman in horror is Lorina Stephens, publisher of 5 Rivers Chapmanry and writer.

LORINA STEPHENS

And the Angels Sang, collection of short fiction, some of which is horror. From Mountains of Ice, dark fantasy novel, Shadow Song, historical tragedy fantasy. Forthcoming: Caliban, dark speculative fiction The Rose Guardian, dark speculative fiction

1. Why do you write dark fiction/horror? Some people consider it only a sensationalistic tableau. Why this genre over others or do you span the literary landscape?

Dark fiction draws me because of the complexity of ordinary human life. It often seems to be the joys and triumphs of life, and thereby stories, are only made remarkable by the inevitable accompanying counterpoint of darkness and tragedy. This balance, this Yin Yang, resonates with me as a writer, because there is such a range of emotion, action and experience to bring to that stage.

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Lorina Stephens is publisher of 5 Rivers Chapmanry

2. What dark themes do you explore in your fiction?

The dark themes I explore in my fiction are those of relationships, I suppose. I’m always fascinated by the great good and great evil we can dispense with equal measure. I also have a tendency to explore isolation and the effects that has upon human development, upon the psyche, upon societies.

3. Do you feel horror/dark fiction is an important genre and why; what does it bring to the table or allow you to explore? Who inspired you?

Of course I feel horror and dark fiction is an important genre. Some of the world’s greatest literature has drawn upon our primal fears and monumental tragedies. One need only look to much of Hardy’s work for dark fiction. Isn’t a happy ending in the lot, to my knowledge. In fact, most of it is downright wrist-slitting depressing. Look at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is an examination of the beast in humanity. Go back farther and look at the dark tragedies of Shakespeare, in particular Titus, which could be categorized a catastrophe rather than a tragedy, and draws upon utterly horrific human nature. Or look at some of the ancient Greek classics such as Oedipus Rex. Dark, tragic tale that has ended up forming the foundation of some of our  psychological profiling.

And the Angels Sang, by Lorina Stephens

In more modern literature, I’d point to female writers like Caitlin Sweet and her dark, poignant tale, The Pattern Scars, which examines boundaries which, once crossed, never allow return. Or Candas Jane Dorsey’s Black Wine, which is a relentless tragedy of epic proportions, beautiful in its rare halcyon moments, devastating in its conclusion.

For me, as a writer, delving into humanity’s heart of darkness allows me to examine human nature free of the restrictions of genre. These stories transcend, if they’re done well.

4. Do you feel women are under-represented in any way in the speculative arena or do you think there is more focus on them than on men? (or examples of how there is a balance).

My response to this will be purely empiric, without substantive evidence; however, I do feel women are under-represented, or perhaps I should say under-showcased. Why this is so, is probably part of the eternal struggle women have for recognition. Equally, I do think some of the finest dark fiction and even horror comes out of the female psyche. Why is this? I think we’re just better at screwing with people’s heads.

From Mountains of Ice

Now, that’s not something as a woman I’m particularly proud of. But it doesn’t surprise me in the least. When I hear women bleating on about how the world would be a better place if women ran it, I smile and shake my head. Just as in a good work of dark fiction, life needs that balance, that Yin and Yang.

So, yeah, I think women are better at writing dark fiction, because I think our minds are generally more subtle, even sneaky.

5. Abuse against women is worldwide: the gang rape of the Indian woman, women assaulted in various terrorist attacks or protests against regimes (Egypt, Syria, etc. throughout time), domestic violence and murder at the hands of boyfriends, fathers, families and husbands, sexist representation, being treated as second class citizens or possessions and made to dress in a particular way, etc. With all that’s going on, what do you want to say about where women are what we can do to stem the tide?

Shadow Song by Lorina Stephens

Stem the tide? Really? I think statements like that are looking to create an impossible utopia. (Heretical statement from me which will no doubt bring down hellfire.) Remove all the rhetoric, and what you witness when you see violence against women is base,
biological instinct. Control the breeding females. It’s the herd instinct. And the way you control them is through violence, whether it’s physical or emotional.

Violence against women will never go away. We may try to legislate against it, as we should. A man should not be allowed to beat a woman, rape a woman, kill a woman with impunity. Just as a man should not be subject to any of those brutalities. Women should be given equal pay for equal work, equal recognition, equal representation. But although we will and should legislate for a woman’s right to live in peace and without fear, we will never completely eradicate base biological instinct. We may modify it, learn to control it.

But even in our most intimate sexual relationships, that instinct will be there.

6. Lastly, this is your space to add anything else you would want to say.

And because of all that I’ve revealed above, of the complexities of human relationships and human nature, I write dark fiction. How could I not? It is the most fascinating of all wells from which to draw, because it so illuminates, even in a fantastical setting, our everyday lives.

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THE MISSION

Women in Horror Recognition Month (WiHM) assists underrepresented female genre artists in gaining opportunities, exposure, and education through altruistic events, printed material, articles, interviews, and online support. WiHM seeks to expose and break down social constructs and miscommunication between female professionals while simultaneously educating the public about discrimination and how they can assist the female gender in reaching equality.

THE VISION

A world wherein all individuals are equally given the opportunity to create, share, and exploit their concept of life, pain, and freedom of expression.

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Writing: An Interview, Editing and Writing

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Creative Commons: Drew Coffman, Flickr.

It’s nearing the end of another year. I’m on holidays, which can mean many things. For me, I’m doing some catch up on editing for the Tesseracts anthology. Reality Skimming did an interview with me about the anthology so if you’d like to read more on what we might be looking for or why I’m doing the anthology, then you can read the interview here.

I’m also taking this time to work on the long languishing novel. I started it at least ten years ago. I wrote the first ten chapters, then it sat and I lost steam. I workshopped it at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction’s Kansas workshop a few years ago and rewrote some of the chapters and dropped others. Every year,  I seem to start on it again in January and then forget or get tied up with writing short stories.

And then, every time I go back to the novel I have to remember where I’m at and reread several chapters. Thankfully I did a revised outline and worked out the story arc for my three viewpoint characters. Also, watching Game of Thrones inspired me in several ways. My novel is a medieval fantasy as well, and takes place on a different world as does Game of Thrones. I have a battle, an invasion, an insurrection and the possible destruction of the religious system. So why can’t my novel be as good as Game of Thrones? (Mind you, I haven’t read the books; just seen the two seasons so far.) There’s no reason it can’t but it won’t write itself. And until I can be a full time writer, I’m not sure I can fit in all the conflicts that George R.R. Martin has. Wow, are there lots of conflicts.

So I’m not being distracted by other projects or three short stories that I’d like to finish. I’m only working on the novel and have done so every day so far, except yesterday. My great hope was to finish a chapter a day. But the creative process sometimes takes longer than that. I have to look over the outline from time to time, study the map of my world, since I have a lot movement for quite a few chapters, and figure out what exactly is happening to the characters. That’s slowed me down and I’m finishing a chapter about every two days.

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World building is essential almost any fiction story, whether, taking place on Earth or an imagined world/time. Creative Commons: Jonathan Harris http://www.number27.org/worldbuilding.html

My goal is to get all the chapters done for one of the viewpoint characters. Baeduwan is the anti-hero who is causing a lot of the problems in the empire. I’m following his journey and working through his conflicts right to the end. I’m on Chapter 16 and have two  more chapters for him left. I should be able to do that in the next week. That, with the initial chapters that are already written will take me halfway through the novel. Then I will tackle Zeeku, the leader of the invading forces, who does not have as many chapters, but who will play a larger role in the following book. That will then leave Tanzanell, my beleaguered ruler who must tackle all of the problems arising in her crumbling kingdom. She is the major viewpoint character so she has more chapters than the other two.

Of course there is a great deal of world building, but much of it is done already. As I approach a new town or village the details get filled out as I write, and I add them to the other files I have. I have a glossary, character sheets, geography, climate, attributes of the races, and anything else I must keep track of through the writing. It’s very easy to forget what color your character’s eyes are, or whether you added  in salt marshes or a lake, if you don’t keep track.

I’m determined to finish the novel next year. I’ve stopped worrying that everything is there, that the grammar is  correct and that I have enough details. I’m trying to get it all down. Then once the first draft is done I can go back and clean it up. Since I’m writing through one character’s story arc at a time I’ll have to make sure everything meshes together once it’s all done. I’m sure I’ll have some tinkering to do.

So that’s what I’m up to in very rainy Vancouver. I’m not that tempted to go out. Editing and writing and here’s to seeing the full draft of Lyranda (working title only) sometime in the first half of 2013. May all your writing endeavors go well.

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Writing: Speculative Fiction Tropes

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From Tesseracts 15, Edge Publications.

Steve Vernon and I have started reading some of the submissions for Tesseracts 17. This is a yearly anthology of speculative fiction, usually by Canadians, those living in Canada and expats. The theme this year is “Speculations: From Coast to Coast to Coast.” We’re trying to highlight fiction and poetry from all provinces and territories, but quality will be the prime criteria.

Another thing to mention: Know, and I mean really know (don’t just presume you know) what proper manuscript format is. It’s not single spaced, it’s not a block of text with no indents, it’s not tabbing across the page instead of hitting “Enter” to move to a new paragraph, it’s not using the space bar instead of the Tab key, it’s not justifying both sides, it’s not using bizarre fonts. We haven’t received all these errors yet, but we have received most of them. If you’re not sure what proper manuscript format is, go to William Shunn’s Proper Manuscript Format for short stories. You can’t go wrong if you do this.

As in many genres of writing, speculative fiction has some popular tropes. If you write something in a familiar trope (a common or overused device), then you have to make sure it has a unique twist or that the language sings. We’re at the beginning of the submission window so stories are only trickling in right now, but here are a few tropes I’ve seen here and at other times when editing.This isn’t saying they’re bad, but if you’re writing a story that hits any of the ones I’m about to mention, make sure they’re really good and have something new to tell.

  • vampires–yes they have been done to death (haha!), and I’ve done a few myself so what is new about this version?
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    Luke, I am your trope. Star Wars is a classic good vs evil but it’s more than that.

  • the underdog wins the day–it doesn’t matter if it’s Jack and the Beanstalk, the geeky computer nerd, the scrawny barbarian or an actual dog; it better be good and/or truly funny (and humor isn’t easy to write).
  • transformations–I was a human and turned into something else, I was something else and became human. Sometimes the metamorphosis is fascinating but it’s not the full story. I’ve written a few of these myself. The outer conflict is what the body goes through; the inner conflict is the psyche and these tales need both. How does a transformation change the protagonist and the world?
  • ghost story–the dead haunt us in different ways or commune among themselves. What’s new with your spook?
  • visiting your past/future–whether it’s time travel, a shamanic journey or body transferral, you better be doing more than just avoiding yourself so you don’t cancel you.
  • Eureka! I’ve discovered/invented it–Is the discovery the main story or should it be a tale of what happened after it was used?
  • the secret garden/the world beyond–whether you (you, meaning the character) create it, find it or can’t get back to it, how does it impact on you and your world beyond Alice in Wonderland?
  • the magic being–whether a genie, an angel, the devil you know or the robot you don’t, it’s not about their difference so much as it is about you react to them and integrate or destroy them.
  • descent into madness–is it Dante’s inferno, or just your sick twisted mind? Maybe we’ll never know but it better be entertaining.
  • the quest or journey–hi ho, hi ho it’s adventuring we go.
  • the altered world–something in the character’s world has changed. Do they survive, adapt or be consumed?
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Embers Amongst the Fallen will be out in print by the end of October.

I’m sure other tropes will come to mind but that’s all I can think of now. However the thing to note is that it’s not bad to use a trope. It’s better to use it consciously so that you can make sure you manipulate it away from a tales that’s been done too often. Here’s another: good triumphs over evil. This is almost a primal human hope and we like stories that uplift, but the world isn’t so cut and dried and stories with nuances can be more enlightening, thought-provoking and entertaining.

I’d like to see some stories come in that take place in the past or far future, on a different world, have a different culture, in a time other than now or medieval, steampunk, cyberpunk, etc. We’ve received a few but I’m hoping for true diversity

Just to compare, my reprint collection Embers Amongst the Fallen, which has 14 reprinted stories and two new ones breaks down into the following statistics (of course some of the tales could fit in more than one category):

  • four vampire tales (the future, an alternate world, the past, and in India)
  • five tales of transformation (which was part of the original title)
  • four magic beings
  • one journey
  • two altered worlds

I’d be interested to see how others would categorize my tales. Sometimes a tale can be a journey and a transformation in an altered world, but which trope influences the story the most?

Here’s a bonus, also on tropes. One Thousand and One Parsecs

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Writing: The Trouble With SFWA

Creative Commons: gnuckx, Flickr

SFWA stands for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. They’ve been around for almost 50 years and protect the rights of speculative writers, which  includes legal and emergency medical aid, ironing out contract disputes, putting pressure on publishers (there is a bad boys list) and otherwise helping writers. They also maintain a list of professional markets, and to be a full Active member you must have sold three pieces, of at least $50 each, at the rate of .05/word or more. Or have sold a novel/novelette for at least $2000.

Further professional qualifications include that the publisher/magazine must have been in existence and publishing regularly for at least a year, pay the above professional rates or more, and have a distribution of at least 1000 copies. It used to be that this was 10,000 copies, if memory serves correctly, but I imagine it’s a sign of the times that not even mass market publishing houses print 10,000 copies of most books anymore. When the Canadian dollar was .50 to the US dollar there was never any consideration for the difference in rates, although it’s called SFWA and not SFWUSA. Five cents a word might have counted but when you can put the population of Canada into the state of California, it was pretty hard to hit those early distribution rates of 10,000 copies in Canada.

While SFWA does a lot of good, it’s also the old boys’ club and resistant to some change. The advent of small presses and POD (print on demand) has upset the apple cart in many areas. Costs of printing have gone up, readership of paper books is going down, and the economy is floundering. The dinosaurs need to evolve or they’ll be nothing but sludge. SFWA still cannot accept that flash fiction exists, or tweet markets. Instead of finding some in-between ground, they decided that a sale must be .05/word to be professional but if your story is 900 words or less, it won’t count. They could fix this and say at least four (or some number) sales of flash fiction or a combo of short and flash, etc. would be equivalent.

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Mary Beth Griffo Rigby, Flickr

Some change has happened, but last year, after nearly 20 years as an Associate member (having one professional sale based on the above criteria) I ended my membership and joined HWA (Horror Writers of America) instead. There are several reasons I did this. When I first joined SFWA they invited me, on the basis of selling a poem to Amazing Stories. At $36 that wasn’t bad money for a poem, even now, and I think that was around 1986. When I sent a copy of a contract for a story sale that met the requirements (and that after a year of my letters being completely ignored) I was told that my poem didn’t count and that I now had a 1/3 Associate membership, again. One step forward, one step back.

So not only did SFWA decide that poetry was no longer a valid art form nor worthy of notice, but they’d ungrandfathered me. I wonder if they would have booted me out if I didn’t have that second “pro” sale, except they probably wanted my money. Then I sold an erotic fairy tale to a Harlequin anthology. There was my third sale. (You can vote when you’re a full member.)  But guess what? Harlequin decided to do a vanity press line and SFWA disapproved (and rightly so), but instead of banning or disqualifying that particular imprint, SFWA disqualified Harlequin and all its imprints. Now Harlequin is one of the biggest publishers in the world. They’re rolling in the dough and not hurting, so why they thought they had to lure in hapless newbies with a vanity line, I’m not sure, and they should have their wrists slapped for that. But SFWA’s ban really only affected writers. Harlequin doesn’t care. I’d actually sold the story before the ban but was paid after.

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Will SFWA embrace the digital age? Creative Commons: Tony Hutchings/Getty Images

SFWA has helped me in the past with an iffy contract and they do at least have some standards but they need to evolve a bit more. I also joined HWA this year because I wanted to see what they’re like. While I haven’t even had time to look at the benefits yet I can tell you that I’m full-fledged voting member, and I did this on my credentials as a poet alone. I could have probably done it with fiction credits but the contracts I could find were for the poems. In HWA’s case their pro rate is the same for fiction but for poetry you must have had at least 10 poems published for at least $5/poem or .25/line. In fact, their definitions are more detailed but also more extensive than SFWA’s.

Arguments can be made that if I was a better writer I’d have been a full member long ago, and that of course holds water, but I’ve sold mostly to Canadian markets and even good writers sometimes can’t get their feet in the door of a tight market when a known name will sell more magazines. It will be interesting to see if HWA serves me better of if SFWA did. I could go back to SFWA at any time if I wish.

I’m a very strong advocate for poetry and anyone that’s worked on a poem can tell you it takes as long to write a poem as to write a story in many cases. Some poems take me years to perfect. I truly detest when someone pooh poohs a form of writing because it isn’t as long as a novel or a story. It’s a snobbery that not even the literary world aspires to. They have their own as many literary writers turn up their noses at “genre” writing. Half the time Margaret Atwood swears she does not write science fiction.

But any organization that recognizes poetry will probably get my vote over ones that ban it.

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Writing Update: Aurora Nominee

Creative commons: photosteve101, flickr

I’ve been really busy for the past few weeks with some freelance editing, and I’ve had little time to post. On top of that, the Rannu competition is open until May 31. It is run by Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi and affords a $500 prize to the winner in each category of short fiction and poetry. I’ve been a runner-up and shortlisted in the past, and a judge but never a winner so I’ll try again. The entry fee is small $5, and it supports a Canadian fund so it’s one of the few paid contests I bother to enter. Anyone in the world can enter as along as the work is in English.

So, this gives me a week to write a story from scratch. While it’s taken me 15 years to finish a story, it’s also taken me a day. I have the plot worked out in my head and as soon as this post is done I’ll be working on it. Sometimes the plot in the head ends up with holes once it’s down on (virtual) paper. I’m hoping I have enough conflict and get the pacing right, because that is still my bane. A writing friend was up for a visit recently and she’s only been writing for about five years and says she’s sold almost everything she’s written. I was stunned. It tells me I still have a way to go. Of course she can write full time, while I squeeze it in around a full day but that’s not an excuse for excellent or poor writing.

One story to finish in a week, and the reprint collection is with a friend for editing. By mid June I hope to start formatting it and writing, awards, rejection, story process, short stories, fiction, speculative writinghave it up on Smashwords by July. My story in Bibliotheca Fantastica “The Book with No End” should come out sometime this summer and I still haven’t heard when Bull Spec will publish my poem. “The Book with No End” was written rather quickly and I tried a template because I often put too much lead-up into my stories (which, coincidentally, is very much how I talk). Even with the template the editor cut out the first two pages. I’m still learning after all these years. And unfortunately there has been a flurry or rejections. When they come all at once it’s ego flattening. But I persevere and continue to hope some stories will find a home.

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Sandra Kasturi and Helen Marshall won the Aurora last year for best fan organization for the SpecFic Colloquium.

And…just to keep the ego floating, I’m a nominee in poetry again this year for the  Aurora Award. If you’re Canadian (even ex-pat) and care to spend $10 you too can vote for your favorite in Canadian speculative fiction. The list of nominees as well as registering to vote are all on the site. My poem, “A Good Catch” can be viewed at Polu Texni (Apr. 03, 2011 on the site).

I was also out of town this week, visiting an uncle. It turns out I can trace the Norwegian branch of the family (by way of Rovang Gaard and South Dakota) to the 1600s. I’m curious now about the Danish and Italian branches. But that took time, wandering through the memory lane of pictures. There is a book on the Rovang-Nelson descendants called Wilderness Home and I’ve borrowed it from my uncle to read up on my ancestors. I might get a story out of that as well.  Now I go to start the story for the Rannu competition.

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A Random Post About Random Events

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Poised to begin. I’m always thinking about writing. Creative Commons: gnuckx, Flickr

I’ve had an incredibly expensive and busy week, with no time to write or rant on the blog (besides the Fluevog review). So I’m just going to ramble about what’s going on with me, a rarity when it gets to general day-to-day stuff. About a month ago I put my back out. This is unfortunately a semi regular event for me. In the realm of symptoms for chronic myofascial pain syndrome is tight muscles that have forgotten how to relax, therefore causing trigger point nodules of pain. I also have loose ligaments, so common movements can cause the muscles to pull my ribs out and the ligaments won’t hold them in place.  Yes, it is painful and makes it difficult to sleep, breathe or move at times.

That took a couple of weeks to settle down and I stopped working out for that time. Then I was lazy and busy and I missed another two weeks. Now I’m back to working out, realizing I miss bellydancing (haven’t taught in about four months) and have to get more dancing in. It is the easiest and most fun type of exercise for me.

I’m dealing with ribs still doing their own thing, a couple of rush editing projects and attempts to write a story before the end of the month for the Rannu competition. Of course, at this point, it’s all in my head and not down on paper. I have three weeks to kickstart myself. The reprint collection is ready to be checked over by a friend and then I’ll try formatting it for Smashwords first.

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These spots are just some of the areas where myofascial pain can set in, sometimes all at once. Creative commons: from docakilah.com

Besides the dumb rib issue, I’ve had to get a crown on a cracked tooth, which is becoming more complicated, and that’s not a cheap venture. And…it looks like one of my not very old, yet still sucky, tires may have to be replaced from a flat a few weeks back. The tire was okay but doesn’t seem completely right. I’ve started a new series of poems, which I began in March, where I wrote two new stories, rewrote two others and started the poems. The series will have thirteen in all, and be about witches, but with a Canadian twist. Two are done, two more being worked on. No idea how long it will take to finish this series but I’ll start sending out some of the individual poems. And I’ll get something done for the Rannu competition. I work better to deadlines so it’s always good to grab one.

Energy is always an issue. With spring finally seeming to have hit Vancouver–we actually had a warm enough weekend to go without jackets–I’m waking up a bit earlier and easier. I’m battling back anemia  and sometimes the myofascial pain adds its on dimension of fatigue. And sometimes I don’t manage my time well. But I have lots to do, including repainting and reorganizing my den and writing writing writing. Spring cleaning is sometimes an ongoing thing, and writing is a constant even if it happens in fits and starts.

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Writing: Of Poetry Slams and Deathmatches

vitriol, writing, writing contest, flame wars, bad attitude, literary snobs

Dodge quickly. Creative Commons: queereka.com

Back in the good ole days, I used to attend poetry slams. A slam then was two people being pitted against each other, where they would read the poem, the audience would cheer and the one with the most cheers would advance to the next round. I eventually stopped going to them for the following reasons:

  • the slam had little to do with the merit of the poem
  • people brought their friends who would just cheer for their friends: my friends refused to come to poetry events
  • a bad poem read with upward inflections at the end of every line would wow the crowd
  • writing is hard; everyone should be applauded just for going to the effort to do it well

While slams did give every Tomasina, Dick or writer to read their works, the slams weren’t always great. I hear they’re better now but I haven’t visited one in a long time. The part I always disliked about a slam and which drove me away, was that a very good poet, who might not be experienced at reading well, would be raked and scraped over the coals by the nasty, mad dog crowd.

Years later, I presume those slams go on but we now have a dearth of social media so there are websites and webzines and all sorts of places to showcase your work. One such magazine, Broken Pencil, has fiction, poetry and nonfiction. It’s trendy, it’s Canadian and it’s trying to generate more page views. One way of doing this is to make sure part of your site isn’t static, that it’s ever changing, and the best way to do this is to get viewers with new content. Broken Pencil is sponsoring a Deathmatch on their site where two stories and their authors are pitted against each other. The audience weighs in with comments and can vote once per hour. The winner goes on to be pitted against another writer. There is a $20 fee to enter this contest, thus generating money for the magazine. The editors choose the top eight stories to be torn apart in the Deathmatch.

A noble enough endeavor and magazines have tried various ways to fundraise for a while. I was familiar with Broken Pencil but not the Deathmatch. A friend has a friend in the contest so I popped in to read both stories, make a comment and vote. It turns out you can vote once an hour. What stunned me was the level of some of the commenters. Presumably a lot of these people are the literati but the language  and juvenile attitude left me wondering. After all, we’re talking literary, right?  Broken Pencil touts themselves as indie and audacious. One newspaper reported that “This is definitely not a contest for sensitive writer types. If you can’t handle the thought of your short story being smacked down by online voters, then you’ll want to stay well clear of this one. Think Literary Survivor. On an island. Surrounded by a sea of sharks.”
– Jennifer Moss, The Vancouver Sun

Hmm, a Literary Survivor show; it almost seems an oxymoron. In Broken Pencil’s own words:

Since 2008, Broken Pencil: the magazine of zine culture and the independent arts, has been running one of the world’s most audacious short story contests. In the Deathmatch short story contest, the top eight entrants as selected by Broken Pencil are pitted against each other two by two. The winning story is decided by Broken Pencil readers themselves, through a vote on the official magazine website. Each week, two stories will be pitted against each other in the online arena, where anyone and everyone can read them and vote on which one deserves to reign supreme. The authors will be in constant communication with their audience through a blog which they can use to hype up their own story, or trash-talk their opponent’s writing.

Trash -talk? Really? That’s what we come to, obnoxious reality TV shows and pumped up melodrama for the sake of feeding the hyenas in the coliseum? Is the lowest common denominator really the way to go? I once did a poetry slam in a fake boxing ring, but there were judges and we didn’t verbally bludgeon the other entrants. Here are some samples of Canada’s great(?) writing minds voicing their comments, or at their friends’ and enemies’ comments.

  • Samantha, you absolutely suck at writing.
  • She means her bowels. His words move her bowels.
  • Claire didn’t complain when your piece of shit story was winning.
  • didn’t sammie have slanty enough eyes to get into U of T
  • Turd smear.

There is more and there is more that is intelligent and thoughtful, talking about what works or doesn’t in each story. There are a couple of literary trolls, full of themselves and big on seeing their words constantly on the page. They can of course ruin it for everyone. Sure it’s a contest, even slam style, and not everyone wins, but mud flinging and puerile attitudes doesn’t make me think literary. It’s not cutting edge; it’s overdone. Reading some of the Deathmatch comments has convinced me that like those poetry slams of old, I won’t be entering any time soon. It’s a neat idea but it’s too bad some people think it has to be like reality TV. Broken Pencil deserves some kudos for trying something new and as this creature evolves, it will either crawl from the chrysalis beautiful and dynamic, or roll in in the filth, a distorted and deformed thing. If you plan to enter this contest in the future then there are only two types of spines to have: either change yours for one of steel or rip it out.

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Chizine Shazam!

Imaginarium cover, due out this year from CZP

We are plugging along at the ole Chi factory. The Chizine (Chiaroscuro) website has been revamped and is up for viewing here: http://chizine.com It opens with a mega issue or a Super God mega issue as we’re calling it.Which means it’s chockablock full of good stuff. Lots of fiction and poetry by some fantastic writers, not to mention that we’ll be posting poems from Chizine alumni, every writer who has ever been published in Chizine, the online magazine. Take a look and keep checking back. And there is a handy little visual vial that readers and those who appreciate the arts and reading can fill with donations.

Besides Chizine there is ChiZine Publications, which publishes books, and there’s the Rannu competition. And…many other promotions and contests and readings and things that CZP is involved in doing. To help the avid dark fiction fan find all this fun stuff, we’ve created the Chi hub. You can check all sorts of info at this darkly awesome site: http://chizinehub.com/

You can even check guidelines! Gasp! Yes, before you submit to any publisher you should always read the guidelines. In fact we’re going to expand an explanation on what a synopsis is. When a publisher or agent asks for a synopsis it is not the short catchy description on the jacket flap of a book. Nor, especially not, is it a movie teaser. Teasers only present the highlights and tension and we need to know, after we’ve read your three sample chapters, if there is enough story and plot to want to read further. It behooves the author to make sure we know where your story is going and how it ends. None of: “Hamid realizes the world is not as he expected after he meets the carnivorous unicorn girl and events take a turn for the worse.” Tell us that Hamid fights off the carnivorous unicorn girl only to find out she is a virtual creation of his anima. He  conquers his fears, eats his beliefs and recreates himself, quelling the hallucinations. On a new day, Hamid has become a murderer, immersing himself in a shadow world of his own imagining, which is explored in book 2.

Synopses list the main events AND give a conclusion. Check out the Chi hub and if you have any comments, please let us know.

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