Tag Archives: Writing

Anti-Social Media

So, the new year is a few weeks underway, and I’ve already made what I hope will be one of the best choices I’ll make all year long: I plan on scaling back my involvement in social media and the Internet in general a lot. As in, maybe a weekly post or two on Facebook, a few tweets, maybe a blog post every week (inner voice says hah, that’s generous). As a replacement for this online time, I plan on writing and reading a whole lot more, with the end result of being more well-read this year than I was last year, and also placing more fiction and nonfiction pieces in various places, hopefully. If you want to call it a resolution, then call it a resolution. Either way, this feels like the logical end result of a lot of my observations and feelings from being online last year, so it’s a no-brainer to me.

The truth is, I don’t really think social media is all that good for me, and I don’t see the personal function it serves for me, not as it is at this time anyway. I really sat back and thought about this at the end of last year, once I reached the winter break from school. There were long stretches of time where I didn’t post anything on Facebook: personal updates, links, shares, whatever you like. It didn’t upset me at all. In fact, it felt pretty awesome, not having to worry about it.

Previously, I worried a lot about posting things regularly and trying to get likes and comments because… because that’s good, right? Getting lots of likes is good, because that means lots of people liked something I said, and I can point to that when talking to other people and say, “See? People like what I say. They think I’m funny/smart/heartfelt/etc.” I suppose retweets and favorites and follows on Twitter work the same way. You say things and share things in a certain way to get people to follow you and share what you say, which you probably got from someone else anyway, and so on so forth. At the end of the day, you get a bunch of followers so you can say you have a bunch of followers.

Now, this is good when you have something to sell. When you’ve got a novel, or a movie, or something significant to show people as a commodity for them to buy, it’s fantastic. I, however, don’t have anything like that, which is why I realized my previously established pattern of online engagement and social media use didn’t make sense. I was marketing a nonexistent product. Some people are awesome at using social media while working on their own original stuff, but I am definitely not one of those people.

Furthermore, I found myself getting sucked into ongoing conversations and (more accurately) arguments going on in the social mediasphere. Granted, there was a lot to talk about last year: global warming, Ebola, Ferguson, politics, feminism, #GamerGate, police brutality, and so much more that it hurts to think about it. Some of the discussion online was thoughtful and smart, but much more of it was stupid. Just, stupid. It was so stupid that it made me think that social media really was making people dumber, like alarmists say it is. I can’t begin to count all the time I spent last year writing hypothetical responses to things online, only to delete it all because I realized I spent all that time writing something in response to something else that was fundamentally, horribly stupid.

AHHH MAKE IT STOP

AHHH MAKE IT STOP

This gets into a much more problematic reason why I’m scaling back my social media engagement for at least most of or the rest of this year, and possibly further in the future: I think it’s constructed in such a way that it oversimplifies discourse and prevents people from taking actual, appropriate action in the non-Internet world. Simplistic, extremist viewpoints are far easier to express in the space of a tweet or a Facebook post than complex, considered ones. The former are also what get shared, retweeted, etc. more often. More familiar statements then get privileged over newer ones. The construction of social media sites actually makes it easier to share what someone else has said, rather than finding your own way of saying it. This turns social media into a colossal echo chamber of opinions bouncing back and forth with little change, because people by and large are less concerned with changing the minds of those who disagree with them and more concerned with simply being louder. And, in social media, the loudest get the bragging rights. I also think that social media just allows people to let off steam and then move on with their lives like normal, when in fact that might be the last thing they should do. That’s not even getting into the people I meet online who present themselves one way on Facebook and then act totally different (and not in a good way) in real life.

Quite frankly, I’m tired of struggling against this noise every time I want to figure out what’s happening anywhere, and I’m sick of getting upset over what people say and do online. That energy would be better invested on my end in reading, for instance. Two hours spent reading a book – like The Kills by Richard House, for instance, or a hundred other books I really want to tackle – would be more valuable to me than two hours spent over the course of a day thinking about something I want to post on Facebook to get the maximum amount of social media leverage. Two hours spent writing things that could then get published elsewhere, and then shared and commented on by others (including myself), is even better spent.

And that’s the thing too: I want to publish stuff in venues other than my blog, for instance. I want to publish in magazines and presses, and websites on the literary or geek culture side of things, and every essay I write for this blog to initially publish here is something I’ve potentially missed out on placing elsewhere. I have to seriously consider the personal economy I’m creating for myself as a writer, and social media makes it way too easy to give things away for free. I want to get paid.

So, for the most part, I’m not really using social media this year. I still plan on using it to stay in touch with people, but no more overt attempts to say pithy things for the sake of it, and no more sharing of links that I think will make people form a conception of my identity that I want them to have. I want to do most of my work outside social media, writing stories and novels and essays that can be published elsewhere on the Internet, perhaps, and maybe then I’ll be able to use social media more often, because I’ll have something to sell. And, ultimately, I want to figure out a model of engagement that works for me. If it takes the whole year, so be it.

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The Problem with #amwriting

I have a confession to make: I don’t like the #amwriting hashtag. I just don’t. It makes me cringe when I see it trend on Twitter. I click to read them sometimes and they’re normally variations on people saying how much they’ve written for the day, or lamenting writer’s block, or simply wishing to tell people that they are currently writing something. My quick reactions to those options are as follows, respectively:

  1. Cool! Get off Twitter and keep writing so you can get more words.
  2. Ugh, I’ve been there. Get off Twitter and keep trying, though. Or go take a walk.
  3. Uh, thanks. Get back to me when you’ve got something I can take a look at.

I really hope I’m not just being a contrary bastard with this. I have friends and mentors who participate in #amwriting when they’re working on their latest story / essay / poem / script / whatever. Of course, I don’t think they’re stupid or narcissistic or anything negative or wrong to use #amwriting while they’re working. It’s their decision, and I respect it by and large. It’s just not a decision I share for my own work or social media persona. (As always, if you have counter-arguments or just want to share why you like to use #amwriting, feel free to leave a comment. I want to hear your POV.)

If someone wanted to accuse me of just feeling sour grapes for the #amwriting thing, well, they may have a point. Sometimes I just don’t write anything, for a variety of reasons, and sometimes my feelings of groaning distrust for #amwriting coincide with these periods of null activity on my part. I don’t feel jealous when I see people who are writing when I’m not, though; everyone has different methods of working, regardless of discipline, and seeing someone who is #amwriting doesn’t make me feel a lack of validation or usefulness for my own method.

My distrust, in other words, is not in the individuals who use #amwriting, but rather in #amwriting as a performative signifier that writers might feel they have to use in order to prove to others that they are in fact writers. This feeds into one of my biggest problems with social media in general as well: everything becomes performance for the sake of gaining an audience or social influence, or worse, for simply proving you exist.

I’ve had these feelings for a long time now, dating far back to my days as an undergraduate at Missouri State University. I remember telling people I knew about all the plans I had for my writing – essentially verbally enacting #amwriting in person, pre-Facebook/Twitter – but the more time I spent telling people about my writing, the less I actually did it, and the less I had to show for completed work. In performing myself as a writer for others, I didn’t do the real work of writing. That was a realization that I didn’t have until my senior year, when I decided to just shut up when it came to talking about my writing and instead focus on producing completed work. I don’t believe it’s coincidental that my writing made a quantum leap in quality that year. Now, that probably isn’t every writer’s experience, which is why I don’t judge other writers for using #amwriting, but it’s impossible for me to completely divorce my feelings on #amwriting from my own experience.

I suspect that what finally pushed me to write about this is the recent collection of people’s #amwriting tweets, Working On My Novel by Cory Arcangel. I will not buy this book, and if anyone tries to gift it to me, I will refuse it. For starters, I could always read it online for free if I wanted, on a weekly basis, or I could just find a copy of it in a bookstore, read it in ten minutes, and put it back on the shelf. Beyond that, though, the existence of this book in the first place rankles me, even as I agree with (what I interpret to be) the point of the project.

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The joke of the whole enterprise, of course, is that by taking time out to tweet #amwriting, these authors aren’t actually working on the project that will hopefully develop their careers as writers – which I don’t disagree with, per my earlier statements. I suspect that by using this book, someone could (and probably has) made the point that in the contemporary era of social media persona/identity development and cultivation, you can build an audience for yourself before you’ve even completed anything for sale or ready consumption by “performing” as a writer through social media. They’re also doing the work of networking with other writers, editors, and publishers who participate in #amwriting, which is an admittedly positive side effect of the practice. I do sincerely hope the people who use #amwriting actually develop audiences for themselves; otherwise they’re just tweeting into an echo chamber alongside thousands of other people doing the same thing. They all wind up bouncing off each other. It’s like sidewalk salesmen selling their wares to each other.

As such, Working On My Novel is the moment where the emperor has been stripped of his clothes, so to speak, for many of these people – especially for the people featured in the book, unless they actually do have novels or other works getting published (in which case, rock on, people!). They’re caught in a moment where their performance is revealed as exactly that. The distance between simulation of work and actual work is totally collapsed. Hooray. And, of course, the more someone has to convince others that they are actually working, the less work they do. (Which is what makes the cover art for the book rather brilliant: a pot that hasn’t yet boiled. Well played, Penguin Books.) It’s bad enough that we as writers have to turn our work into commodities to be consumed, but now we have to become commodities ourselves.

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Ultimately, however, my sympathies do not lie with Arcangel, even as he collects some rather egotistical tweets in his book. Instead, they lie with the authors. I would love for every author collected in this book to take this moment and own it, saying “Fuck you all, I’m going to finish my novel.” I’d love to see a new hashtag follow up on #amwriting as well, maybe something like #writingdone, soon to be followed by #newproject.

As much as the constant need to perform as a writer bothers me, I understand why it exists. The work of a writer is invisible until publication – and, quite frankly, no one really cares that a writer is writing or has been writing (aside from other writers) until they see the finished product. They work in solitude, and social media gives them a chance to not feel so lonely in their work. I get that. And so, I think the mission of Working On My Novel hews too closely to mockery of the authors, which I don’t support. If anything needs mocking, it’s this constant demand to perform our work even as it distracts us from our work, so we can show society we’re worthwhile. Everyone meets that demand in different ways. My chosen method is to turn my back on #amwriting and do my work in secret, so no one suspects what I’m doing until it’s done. If your chosen method is to use #amwriting, fine then. No worries! Just make sure to get your work done and put it in someone’s hands in the real world in the end.

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A Personal Education

So, it’s official: I’m going to the University of Kansas for a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature, starting this fall! I broke the news previously on Facebook when I was originally notified of acceptance by the program, but I officially notified the university of my decision to enroll at KU a few days ago.

Here’s how it happened. On Valentine’s Day, while I was eating breakfast, I got an email notification on my Google Nexus, which I use for reading the news in the morning. I opened it and it said, in so many words, that the university had reached a decision on my application for admission. They didn’t say what the decision was in the email, just that I needed to log into the university’s online application portal to see their letter of decision. It was a bit nerve-wracking, wondering what it meant. I actually thought at first I’d been rejected, since I hadn’t gotten a phone call or any other form of communication yet. But then, I thought, maybe I got selected for the program after all and this is just standard operating procedure. Ultimately, I forced myself to finish my breakfast and a cup of coffee, trying not to let my imagination run wild (I distracted myself by watching Downton Abbey), before I ran upstairs to check my application.

Thankfully, the first few words of the letter said, “We are pleased to inform you…” And just like that, my worry turned to joy.

Giselle Anatol, the Director of Graduate Studies in English at KU, called me later in the day for a chat to let me know person-to-person that I was admitted to the program and they hoped I would choose to accept their decision. They’ve offered me a GTA position, complete with tuition waiver and yearly stipend, among other things. And, as I mentioned at the top, I officially accepted their invitation to join. So, after living in Mizzou country for the past twenty-eight years of my life, I’m going to be a Jayhawk.

jayhawkAll told, it’s what I wanted from the start, not just the GTA position with funding, but the acceptance to KU. It’s a striking reversal of what happened when I initially applied to MFA programs back in 2008. Six different schools, all of them turning me down, with my two personal favorite picks turning me down before anyone else. Totally demoralizing. This time, it’s the exact opposite. And, as an extra special twist of fate, one of those two schools that originally turned me down for MFA applications was KU! It’s a really sweet indicator of how things can change within five years, and how far I’ve come in that time.

Overall, I’m ecstatic. One of my favorite writers, Kij Johnson, teaches there, and they have the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, established by James Gunn and currently directed by Chris McKitterick; I hope to hang out there whenever I can. I can’t wait to meet Giselle Anatol, especially after our very pleasant conversation on the phone. I’m also looking forward to meeting the rest of the faculty at KU. One of the best lessons I learned in my time at Stonecoast is that you can learn a lot from a wide variety of teachers, especially the ones you don’t initially intend to study with, and I fully expect that to apply to KU as well. Plus, Lawrence is supposed to be a great college town, and I’ll be fairly close to some friends in the Kansas City Metro area.

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I have high hopes that it will be a good, much-needed change of scenery for me. The plan for now is to move to Lawrence sometime this summer, hopefully mid-to-late July so I can take some time to acclimate to the area and prep for the school semester in relative comfort. Before that, I want to drive up to Lawrence to meet everybody in the English department and scout for apartments, or see if there’s anybody in the department looking for a roommate.

Getting picked up for enrollment at KU has made me very reflective lately, in a good way. It’s a nice change of pace from the brooding introspection of the previous year, spurred by all the obstacles and difficulties I encountered. This time, I’ve been looking back fondly on good times with my family, since I’m going to be leaving them to go out of state for school for five years, and beyond that hopefully somewhere else for a tenure-track teaching position. My parents have been very supportive and loving the past four years, letting me live with them while I completed my MFA program and tried (and failed) to find full-time teaching work. I’ll be glad to strike out on my own, but I’m still incredibly grateful for the time I’ve been here with them.

My acceptance at KU has also prompted me to realize that even after graduating with my MFA, I’ve continued carrying out my own personal, customized education. What did I do after getting my diploma? I agreed to manage Weirdfictionreview.com for the VanderMeers, and even before then I was reading materials for them and offering advising opinions and copyedits. I’ve been doing a lot of reading since January 2012, as part of that work and also on my own prerogative. Why have I been doing this? Deep down, I realized that I wasn’t the kind of expert I wanted to be, not yet anyway. I also felt like it was time to take another leap in my writing, to change my methodology, and I wasn’t sure of how to do that. So, it was time to sit and simply absorb things, and become more widely read and knowledgeable.

What the PhD means is that my personal education will become “official” once again, because I’m pursuing a degree. That said, I wouldn’t have been able to join KU without engaging in the education I laid out for myself the past year. I would have still wanted to be there, but I wouldn’t have nearly as good an idea of what I wanted to do. My studies of the past year have enabled me to know what I want to do once I get to Lawrence. So, after what I feared was the futile sturm und drang of 2012, all of that time wasn’t for naught after all.UKansas

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Looking Forward

I’ve worked for the better part of the month to try and come up with a personal recap of 2012. It’s been a gnarled mess so far. There’s so much from last year that I never got the chance to cover on this blog, and I feel obligated to try and cover all of it, which makes the whole thing tediously long. Also, much of what happened to me this past year was, to understate things, difficult, and writing about freshly lived difficult experiences is, well, difficult. Plus, the idea of a recap of 2012 is just so comically late by this point; it’s almost February now.

So, I’ve decided it makes more sense for me to lay out my personal and professional ambitions for this year, as a means of letting people know what I want to work on, but also as a means of holding myself to my goals. There’s still some recapping, but it’s (hopefully) more focused.

I will continue to develop and challenge myself as an editor.

I feel pretty confident in my chances of pulling this off, to say the least. It’s been a very busy, rewarding year on the editorial front. I’ve spent a little under a year as the official managing editor at WFR ever since taking over for Angela Slatter, and I’ve also been helping the VanderMeers with other editorial tasks since earlier than that. It was all a bit overwhelming at first, sure, but by December I’d gotten the hang of it quite nicely. I like editorial work; I enjoy helping writers with their work and making sure it exists in its best possible form, and it’s rewarding to play a role in helping undiscovered or overlooked writers gain a larger audience. I’ve written editorials, reviews, interviews and the like, and I’ve discovered that, much to the surprise of my usually introverted nature, I’ve gotten better at talking to people and discovering connections with them and what they do. Barring any sudden developments, I’ll be at WFR for a while, and I’ve got a few (for now) secret projects in the pipeline too.

I will continue to travel to new places.

In April, I flew to North Carolina to have a mini-retreat with some friends from Stonecoast – Julie Day, Lindsey Bogason, Taylor Prestion, Mariel Morales, Amy Tibbets, Keith R. Potempa, and Derek Hoffman – with all of us shacking up in a beach house at Wrightsville Beach near Wilmington, on the Outer Banks. I got buried in the sand, among other things.

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In May, I took a surprise trip to Maryland for a job interview at a community college in Germantown, then drove over to Frederick for a night to visit my friend Devin Gaither, who was participating in a reading for her theater troupe.  In July and November, I flew to ReaderCon in Burlington, MA and the World Fantasy Convention in freaking Canada (Toronto, specifically). I say “freaking” Canada not because it sucked – far from it! – but because that was my first trip out of the country, ever. Both times, I traveled in support of my duties at WFR and Cheeky Frawg.

Four times, I flew solo to different places, for business and pleasure alike, and every time I flew out, I came back home with vital insights and peace of mind, and the joy and relief of meeting up with friends in person again, as opposed to just staying in touch electronically. That’s a combination of wonderful things I can’t get any other way than just packing up and going somewhere else for a while.

I will continue to attend conventions this year.

ReaderCon and WFC were absolute blasts and really helped me to find my place within the speculative fiction community at large and find new friends and colleagues. I visited ReaderCon with Jeff VanderMeer back in July, shortly after he came to Stonecoast as a visiting lecturer (I was visiting soon-to-be-graduates, and the timing worked out perfectly). So, I got to be his sort-of-sidekick for the trip, which was fantastic. We took a scenic drive through Maine before ending up in Massachusetts for ReaderCon. The drive that day was great, and so was the company. Jeff and I talked about a lot of stuff and got to know each other, and he was thoroughly traumatized by eating a whole lobster for the first time. I have evidence.

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Fun fact: husked-out lobsters make for decent makeshift finger puppets.

My experience at ReaderCon turned me into a bit of a social butterfly about halfway through my time at the convention, and as a result I met a lot of fantastic new people and was in my element in general, more than I expected. I took that new attitude with me to WFC, and so I really had fun and knew how to interact with others from the very beginning. My partners-in-crime this round were Malissa Kent (who has an awesome story in Steampunk Revolution that everyone should read: “The Heart is the Matter”) and Genevieve Williams (who is just awesome, period, and has a story in the new anthology Future Games). There were many adventures had at WFC, between helping Karin Tidbeck with her autograph session, setting up the Cheeky Frawg launch party with Nicole Koehler-Stace, Dominick Parisien, and Genevieve Valentine, and meeting many more new, cool people, along with some return faces from ReaderCon. As a whole, WFC felt like this great big epic party from start to finish, a truly transformative experience.

I also got myself a cool new sidekick out of the trip: a surly white rabbit named Krowley. He’s Canadian-American, since I share custody of him with Amal El-Mohtar, per our agreement at WFC.

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My owl mug is closely watching Krowley, lest he do something shifty.

I don’t know how many conventions I’ll attend this year. I’d love to go to ICFA and WorldCon, since I’ve never been to either, but I’ll have to see regarding money and timing. At the very least, I will be attending ReaderCon again. Bet on it.

I will exercise regularly.

My physical health slid a bit this year, most notably later on in the year when my workload began to press down on me. I’ve gained a little weight back, and I’m not happy about it. So, I’ve resolved to exercise regularly, as a means of rectifying this and also as a way to deal with stress in a more beneficial manner. Thus far, I’ve created a regimen I feel good about: squats, push-ups, sit-ups, and regular use of elliptical machines and treadmills to sweat my weight out. I’ve even discovered that I have an easier time using the treadmill when I’m reading; I get so absorbed in it, I don’t even notice the soreness of my body.

I will write and sell at least six stories.

I made my first actual sale earlier this year: “The Artist in the Tower,” which appeared in the December issue of Ideomancer. I’m incredibly proud of this story. I also don’t want it to be my only sale as a writer. That said, I didn’t actually complete a new work of fiction this year; all I have is a few fragments and aborted drafts of stories lurking in my hard drives and handwritten notes.

So, I’ve set the goal of selling six more stories to various publications this year, which I know means writing more than six, way more (which is the main reason why I set this goal). I’m comfortable with that. I need to set expectations for myself and retool my creative process so that I don’t just go queasy at the first signs of trouble in my drafts. I need to learn how to juggle multiple projects and work through rough spells, like actual professional writers do (or should do), and I need to learn how to write something when I don’t have a definite plan for it beforehand. Most importantly, I need to learn how to write and be productive regardless of how easy or difficult the rest of my life is at that moment. It’s a matter of discipline, I think, just sitting down and doing it, no matter what, and making it a habit.

I will start working on a novel at some point.

Or a screenplay. Or a play or two. Definitely a few essays and professional reviews or columns, if I get into a groove. Maybe even a graphic novel, comic book, webcomic, etc. The point is, I need to continue to stretch myself as a writer. Working in the same medium and mode constantly can get to feeling stale at times, which stagnates the imagination. Such is the case with me, I suspect, since I more or less work exclusively with short fiction. Even now, I’m thinking of how I tried writing a comic book script when I was in my first semester at Stonecoast, thinking I needed to transition to writing comics. Immediately after that, my interest in my own writing was rejuvenated, and I experienced a burst of creativity and sheer writing that resulted, within months, in five different stories I consider among my best.

I will make new progress toward my ideal academic career.

Which would be as a full-time, tenure-track professor of English at a university or liberal arts college somewhere, preferably teaching a mixture of courses: composition, literature, and, of course, creative writing. I enjoy teaching, but right now I do it on a part-time basis at a local junior college in addition to full-time work elsewhere, and I only ever get to teach basic composition and freshman composition courses. I don’t want to be doing this adjunct dance forever; the thought of doing this for even five or six more years while I try to go full-time somewhere makes me go a bit crazy.

So, of course I’ll keep applying for teaching jobs – most of which are in other states, because there isn’t squat for academic openings in Missouri – but I’ve also applied for Ph.D. programs in creative writing at four different universities. That would give me at least five more years to develop my portfolio as a writer and teacher and make me a more attractive candidate for a position somewhere (provided universities don’t plummet into financial oblivion in the meantime; great, now I’m bummed again).

I will move away to somewhere new by the end of the year.

The fact is, where I live right now isn’t a good place for my future. That’s part of why I like to travel: I’m kinda scoping out places I could come to call home. With luck, I will be moving somewhere else by the end of the year, either because of a new teaching job or a Ph.D. program. If neither of those things happen, then I would seriously consider moving just to move, and then finding new work once I settle somewhere. I’ve lived in the same place for too long, with too much a lack of opportunities for myself and my life, and it’s driving me nuts. It’s long past time to relocate.

I will be more active in fighting back against any dark moods that rise up on me.

I’m going to be walking a very fine line here between being perfectly honest and (hopefully not) disclosing too much personal information, so bear with me: oftentimes, I have trouble dealing with depression or general blue moods that seize me. It tends to happen when negative things occur and I allow my feelings to well up on me and metastasize, as opposed to dealing with them in a positive manner. Doesn’t make them suck any less, but still. And this year, it became a huge problem, bigger than it had in recent memory.

Contributing factors this year: a failed job search that lasted months and ended in another year of adjunct limbo; living in a community that has a middling-to-hostile relationship with higher education and a distinct lack of local friends and activity partners with shared interests to my own; an especially rough Fall semester of teaching (which was the biggest contributor to stress later in the year) where I constantly felt I was failing to reach my students and make them care about academics; the cumulative strain of failing to get any worthwhile writing done; and the ever-constant fear that I was trapped in a life situation that would never change. By October, it had become this giant twine-ball of anxiety and depression pressing at the back of my head, making me simultaneously sad, angry, tired, withdrawn, and fragmented. I was genuinely afraid that I would suffer a nervous breakdown before the end of the year.

As bad as it got, it could have been much, much worse. My work at WFR helped me a lot, because it gave me a strong sense of purpose, as well as something to focus on other than my own feelings and fears. My trips to ReaderCon and WFC saved me at vital moments this year from just wallowing in muck, and I came back home energized. My travels gave me a chance to find out how I fit in different environments, with pleasantly surprising results. As much as I maintained a policy of radio silence this year – that’s what I do when I get depressed, I just go silent – those moments where I stayed in touch with friends helped make things that much more bearable. My story sale to Ideomancer and its publication later in the year made me want to dig up all of my old drafts from the year and see if they were as bad as I thought they were; turns out they’re not (a danger of working on writing while you have a bad sense of self).

So, these are all the kinds of things I need to do and remember whenever it starts getting a little too dark for me. I just need to remember walking on the beaches of North Carolina, or navigating the busy streets of Frederick, or tasting my first Guinness at ReaderCon, or racing Dominick up the stairs while getting ice at WFC in a spontaneous burst of childlike energy. Just now, I smiled again, even if it was a little one, to myself.

I think the following picture best represents the kind of mental state I want and need to cultivate, even in the face of the unknown and the uncontrollable. My friend Lindsey Bogason took it when we arrived at Wrightsville Beach at the start of our retreat in April (she also took the previous picture of me buried in the sand). It was the first time I’d seen the ocean since I was in high school, when my family vacationed on the beach in Florida. I took my shoes off and walked toward the water, wanting to feel it on my bare feet once more. The closer I got to the water, the louder the sound of the ocean became. It filled my ears and became a second pulse, pushing my anxieties right out of my head to make room. I stood there for a minute, just listening to the ocean and nothing else, the sound of the tourists on all other sides of me drowned out. I could have stood there forever and done anything else I wanted, as long as I had that sound and the cold shock of salty water on my toes. Unfortunately, I live in Missouri, good ol’ landlocked, boring, pollen-infested Missouri.

Fortunately, I have a strong imagination.

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Favorites From 2012: Books, TV, Movies

So, I’ve had difficulties keeping up on my blogging this year. I haven’t posted a thing since August, when I gave my take on the situation regarding Weird Tales and their current editor and publisher (if you haven’t read that yet, please do; it’s my favorite blog post from this year, for many reasons). That’s not for a lack of material, but (not so) simply personal matters. I’ve also had my fair share of great reading, listening, and viewing this year, all of which I meant to dissect at some point earlier this year before I fell into radio silence.

I’m still working on a big ol’ end-of-year personal recap for 2012, which might be a while in coming along. So, I’ve decided to share the books, TV, music, and movies that left a strong impression on me this year in the meantime. Keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily the best of 2012 per se, but the best of what I encountered this year. I’m still more behind on my To-Read/To-Watch lists than I would prefer to be.

BEST BOOKS

A short list of some of my favorite books from this year can be found up at Weirdfictionreview.com in their recent End of Year Booklist (which you should read anyway, just because our contributors have fantastic taste). So, I’m high on books like Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath and comics like Prophet and Tale of Sand. Here are some other books I really enjoyed this year, some weird-centric and some not.

7037Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood: Recommended to me by Sarah Fletcher at WFC in Toronto during the Cheeky Frawg/VanderMeer launch party. Great short novel about a writer who is drafted into service for a brilliant, eccentric director who is trying to corral a difficult film project while his family is effectively trapped in Austria during the 30s while Hitler’s forces march through Europe. Partly a blithely comic take on the creative/moviemaking process, partly a chronicle of a difficult time in history.

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente: Before this year more or less railroaded me, I was planning a novelette/novella in part dealing with consciousness and AI, and so I took the opportunity to read this novella. I think very highly of it, in part for how Valente pulls off the emotional and personal development of an AI as a character and narrator. There’s also a strong emphasis on tying science fictional concepts to myth and fantasy, but that’s no surprise, considering the writer.

loory-stories_for_nighttimeStories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory: Potent, imaginative collection of stories from Loory, who I met at ReaderCon this year thanks to my friend and WFR colleague Nancy Hightower. The language is stripped down and simple, exposing the characters and scenes in such a way that, however fantastical they become (and they do get quite out there), I was always there with the stories, never doubting what I read. It’s an interesting approach, mostly because a lot of writers think suspension of disbelief is best accomplished with a bounty of detail, when in fact an anonymical approach can be quite effective sometimes.

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord: Wonderful novel about a woman who flees her gluttonous husband and is bestowed with godlike power over the forces of chaos and chance – which attracts the attention of the god who lost those powers in the first place. A treat for the imagination, with its humor, mythic resonance, and sweet emotional core. I found myself wanting to believe in the story, however bizarre or fantastical it became. Required reading for anyone who enjoys fantasy.

The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola: Another bit of required reading for anyone who enjoys fantasy. In fact, make it a doubleheader with Indigo. Very surreal imagination, clearly influenced by African myth and folklore while doing its own very distinctive thing. I saw it in part as an African odyssey story, about a man who follows his palm wine tapster into the land of the dead to try and bring him back to the land of the living. It’s much, much weirder than that though.

One Soul by Ray Fawkes: This graphic novel absolutely broke my heart, and I loved it. It tells the story of eighteen different people throughout the history of humanity, from birth to death. These stories are told – and meant to be read – concurrently. In fact, the pages of the comic are arranged in such a way that there are eighteen panels across a two-page spread, with each panel being dedicated to each character. Some characters have more tragic lives than the others. Some die much earlier than the others. All of them face the hard, unending questions of life and death, which made me consider those same questions on my own and place my own life along theirs. A deeply felt, moving experience that I would force all of my friends to read, should the chance arise.

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Windeye by Brian Evenson: Collection of short stories from one of the freakiest, most unnerving imaginations I’ve ever encountered. When I read through the collection earlier this year to select a story for Weirdfictionreview.com, I ultimately decided on “Legion,” a story about robots (?) that steal body parts from dead people and attach them to their bodies. That meant overlooking other, equally weird and unsettling stories. Personal favorites include the title story, “Grottor,” “The Sladen Suit,” and “Angel of Death.”

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu: Another absolute heartbreaker of a story. Written in the form of a documentary (duh), it’s about husband-and-wife scientists who pioneer a form of time travel – more accurately, time observance – and then use it to try and help victims of a massive historical atrocity – Unit 731 in World War II – gain true acknowledgment of their suffering. The form of the story matches the content brilliantly. More than that, though, it affected me on a cellular emotional level, which is a rare occurrence. I hope history eventually identifies this story as a classic.

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer: This is such a given, considering where I work and who I work for. That said, this is an amazing collection of short stories and novellas. What I really enjoy are the stories I haven’t previously encountered , like Eric Basso’s “The Beak Doctor” and “The Other Side of the Mountain” by Michel Bernanos.

IllyriaIllyria by Elizabeth Hand: The best YA novel I’ve read recently, and one of the best novels. Lots of complex family history propels this novel, rooted in a firm awareness of familial past and the destinies we may or may not buy into for ourselves, but the heart of the novel is the thorny, tender relationship between two cousins who find themselves involved in both the theater and each other. This is one of those novels where the fantastical element is subtle, yet utterly necessary. You’ll think you have it pegged midway through the novel, but by the end you’ll be proven wrong, and you’ll love it.

The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar: Lush, sensual language and a free-flowing imagination make this collection of poems and stories well worth your time. Amazing to think the prompting for this whole book was El-Mohtar receiving and tasting 28 days’ worth of honey. Now, not only do I want to get back into poetry, but I also want to taste honey. Lots and lots of honey.

shriek_coverShriek: An Afterword and Finch by Jeff VanderMeer: Back in May of 2007, I read City of Saints and Madmen, which introduced me to both the city of Ambergris and Jeff’s writing. This year, I closed the circuit by reading Shriek and Finch. Both novels are resonant, imaginative, immaculately written affairs, which is even more notable when one considers how different the two novels are from one another (one is a fictional memoir of a sister of a discredited historian who knows far too much about Ambergris, the other is a detective story of a city at war). Reading these novels really reminded me of how much I still want to push myself with my own writing.

Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo: I had such a wonderful time reading this novel for WFR.com earlier this year. This novel is about a photographer who finds a lost troll cub by his apartment block one day and decides to adopt it. Housetraining, sex, and ultimately violence and abduction ensue. This book is begging for a movie adaptation, I tell you. (Maybe the Trollhunter fellows could get on it.)

The Moment of Change edited by Rose Lemberg: I reviewed this anthology for WFR.com earlier this year when we ran poems from Sofia Rhei and Lisa Bradley. My feelings about this collection are still very much the same: it’s the best poetry anthology I’ve read in some time.

BEST TV

Adventure Time: I finally got into this show a month ago or so, and in that time it’s become my favorite show currently on television. It’s one of those shows you can come into at any and enjoy, more or less, but the ongoing story of Finn and Jake and the people of Ooo is surprisingly baroque and compelling, with a robust backstory. I want to write novels like this.

Regular Show: The main characters are twenty-something slackers, a blue jay and a raccoon, who work at a city park with a yeti, a humanoid lollipop, a fat green man, a ghost with a hand  protruding from its head, and an anger management-challenged gumball machine man. The show gets weirder and funnier from there. Basically, it’s an excuse for the writers to come up with seemingly ordinary setups for episodes and then carry them to the most absurd, surreal extent possible. I love it.

Archer: The ongoing chronicles of the most inept spy agency in the world. Another one of those shows I just discovered earlier this year, thanks to Netflix. The voice acting is damn near perfect, and the chemistry between the characters rivals what you would find on most well-done live action shows (it’s very reminiscent of Arrested Development at times).

The IT Crowd: Just a great sitcom, basically. Two IT geeks and the hapless new employee asked to chair department because she lied on her resume about being good at computers. Shenanigans ensue. The show has a surprisingly bizarre imagination at its heart, which is probably why I enjoy it so much. That, and it’s legitimately funny.

Blackadder Goes Forth: From what I understand, this is the best of the Blackadder series. I’ve only ever watched this series of the show, but I can say that it’s really funny, the best I’ve ever seen Rowan Atkinson in anything. It somehow manages to make World War I funny, even while it actually goes to serious places as the series goes on. It’s like the writers ultimately acknowledged you can joke about war as much as you want, but in the end it’s still war.

Twin Peaks: Again, Netflix. I’m not going to recap this show because it’s a classic. Still, it was about damn time I watched this show. Unsurprisingly, I loved it. I could take or leave some of the more soap opera-ish small town interactions (although some of them were amusing diversions from the main action). That said, I ate up the main storylines and the knotty, mythical backstory like a greedy little child. The season finale is as insane and glorious as advertised. I still say the best part of the show is David Lynch as hearing impaired Agent Gordon Cole, however.

Game of Thrones: I actually watched both seasons of GoT this year, thanks to a timely free preview of HBO. I enjoyed it enough that I picked up paperback editions of the fantasy saga that inspired it. The Battler of Blackwater Bay at the end of Season Two was pretty fantastic. That boat blew up real purty…

The Twilight Zone: I rediscovered this show thanks to Netflix, watching fifty-odd episodes in an attempt to reappraise old favorites and find new ones. This show is still excellent. Some of the episodes have not dated well, but many of them have held up well with the passage of time. Episodes that especially impressed me were “Walking Distance,” “Perchance to Dream,” “The Four of Us Are Dying,” “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” “A World of Difference,” “A Stop at Willoughby,” “The Howling Man,” “The Eye of the Beholder,” “Deaths-Head Revisited,” “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” “Little Girl Lost,” “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” and “The Masks.” I’m still not done watching TTZ either; don’t be surprised if I return to this show later for blog posts.

The Prisoner: Another classic show that I finally got to watch this year, and I loved it. One of the better mindscrews I’ve watched, all told, and the libertarian philosophy underlying much of the show didn’t rub me the wrong way, probably because of how it was handled within the context of the story. Very inventive and twisty in the right ways, for the most part. And that finale was even more demented than the finale for Twin Peaks.

BEST MOVIES

The Raid: Redemption: I have a weakness for really well-done, balls-to-the-wall action movies, and this one is the best I’ve seen all year. The fight scenes are outstanding set pieces, some of the best I’ve ever seen. As an added bonus, the story itself is pretty decent. But, yeah, the action.

Hardware: This one’s on Netflix. It was made back in 1990 on a fairly small budget by Australian director Richard Stanley. Premise: in Mega City One (yes, the same Mega City One from the Judge Dredd comics!), this found-art sculptor accidentally comes upon a piece of sentient ex-military grade technology and has to fight it off when it reactivates and causes holy hell in her apartment building. What impressed me about the movie was how cohesive it felt as a story. It’s got lots of weird flourishes in it, especially towards the end when the machine reaches peak power, and the overall set design and style of the movie helps maximize its potential.

The Dust Devil: Another movie from Richard Stanley, his follow-up to Hardware in fact. This one’s about a mystical serial killer stalking Namibia and taking victims for an unexplained ritual. A white woman fleeing her husband gets caught up with the killer – who also happens to be white – while a black police officer tails the titular dust devil (he’s a kind of demon; that’s not a spoiler, by the way). Really imaginative, certainly weird, with a unique aesthetic all its own. There’s also a really strong cultural subtext to the movie, with its attention to racial tension in Namibia and indigenous folklore/beliefs. Highly recommended. Do be warned, though, that apparently there are multiple cuts of this movie available. The version on Netflix, which I watched, is 89 minutes. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but the Director’s Cut is much longer and available somewhere, somehow.

Timecrimes: One of my favorite SF films of the year. Spanish-language movie about a man who, through a series of accidents, is caught in a time travel loop while trying to evade a sinister killer. That’s all I’m going to say about it because anything else would be a spoiler. I will say I thought it was really tightly written and appropriately mindscrewy.

Little Shop of Horrors: Yeah, I’m pretty sure most everyone is familiar with this one by now. My first time seeing it, though, and I loved it. I was humming the songs for days afterward.

Cropsey: Really interesting documentary about a series of murders on Staten Island and how they played into the creation of the myth of this boogeyman-like killer, which in turn affected how future crimes in the area and the area itself were perceived. Definitely one of those movies where the central mystery only spirals out more and more as its investigated. It also partly involves a strong, shocking examination of mental health care back in the 70s and how that may have played a role in things.

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles: Great documentary about the Toynbee Tiles, which have been appearing in cities across America for a few decades now, and the documentarians’ efforts to figure out who has been making them and why. Really, Resurrect Dead and Cropsey make for a great double-feature for what I would call “weird reality.” The narratives laid out in these films match step-for-step some of the best stories I’ve seen and read in mysteries or weird fiction, except they come from what we would consider real life.

I Saw the Devil: Powerful, disturbing revenge story, Korean language. It reminded me of Oldboy, only more violent. The villain is thoroughly depraved and unapologetic, and he does horrible things to women. I would understand if this movie set off triggers for people. I ultimately viewed it as a sad, unsettling story of utter evil and how someone could himself or herself devolve into evil while trying to gain retribution.

Lake Mungo: Really creepy mockumentary filmed a few years ago, but I discovered it this year through the recommendations of friends. One of the better ghost stories I’ve seen in recent memory. Way better than Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project. The movie bends and folds back on itself all throughout, constantly making you stop and re-evaluate what you think might be going on. It’s maybe 85 minutes, but it makes every minute count.

Network: Probably falls under “You mean you hadn’t watched this yet?” It’s a classic for a reason. Stunningly written and acted, watching it now feels downright prophetic in its searing look at broadcast television and corporate culture and economy (it was filmed in 1976, I think).

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil: Maybe the best horror spoof I’ve seen. Very fun and clever. Basically takes the stereotypical rednecks you find in most slasher movies, the ones who are usually the bad guys, and turns them into sympathetic protagonists who flounder and flop into situations that make them look like your average slasher killer.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale: I used to tell people Die Hard was my favorite Christmas movie. Rare Exports has likely replaced it in my esteem. It’s basically a piss-take on Gremlins-style horror-comedy movies, only the monster in this movie is Santa Claus (well, Krampus anyway, the real Santa). Fairly demented and lots of fun.

Catfish: Really unsettling documentary about a guy who finds himself in an Internet relationship with a woman, then tracks her down in real life and discovers that she’s not who she claims to be. This movie actually frightened me more than most of the horror movies I saw this year. Part of that comes from realizing just how easily someone could be screwing with you online. The other part comes from pretty much everything in the movie after the documentarians discover the woman’s fraud. The extent to which she falsifies her life and the degree to which her online life diverges from her real one is staggering. There’s actually some controversy about this movie in regards to whether much of it was staged or not. I think it’s a valid discussion, but that doesn’t stop the movie from freaking me the hell out.

Session 9: Another quality horror movie. Basically, these guys have to gut this abandoned mental asylum and refit it for business-industrial use, and of course it’s creepy as hell, and things go to pot from there for all involved. Another one of those movies I would love to go into more detail on except for risk of spoilers. I will say it’s one of those movies where you have to be observant from the very beginning to pick up on key clues. Also, the supernatural element is very subtle, and also very ambiguous, to the point that you could argue whether it’s there or not. I would argue that it’s there.

The Masque of the Red Death: I went through a phase this year of watching all of the Vincent Price/Roger Corman adaptations of Poe I could get my hands on. They varied in quality, by and large, but I thought Masque was rather excellent. Somewhat straightforward adaptation of the original story, with lots of intriguing psychedelic touches. The set design and style for the movie is the most notable element of it, and there’s a scene at the end that reminds me really strongly of Neil Gaiman’s conception of the Endless in The Sandman.

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How To Lose An Audience

  1. Buy out a magazine. Make sure it’s a magazine with a recently resurgent subscription base, fueled by a stellar reputation created by an editorial staff of impeccable taste that makes a habit of publishing fiction, art, and criticism that pushes the boundaries of weird literature and art into directions readers may have not discovered before, with a special emphasis on new and up-and-coming voices from previously underrepresented demographics.
  2. Unceremoniously junk the entire editorial staff.
  3. Take the reins of the magazine yourself.
  4. Announce your intentions of bringing the magazine back to its storied roots, which most people take to mean Lovecraft fanfiction.
  5. Make plans with your financial backer and publisher to republish the first chapter of a novel with definite racist undertones, overtones, and all tones in-between. Double points if the novel doesn’t even count as weird fiction in the first place.
  6. Write a post on the website for your magazine defending your decision to publish this questionable material, essentially accusing all opponents of the novel of being too foolish to realize its depth and quality.
  7. Delete your post hours later due to the firestorm of responses from your now perhaps-no-longer-loyal customers and have your publisher make a half-assed apology for the decision, explaining that when you made the decision about the novel in the first place, you were only looking at the novel and not the marketing materials for the novel. Make sure your publisher swears total ignorance about the novel itself.
  8. Delete responses on your website and Facebook page critical of your publisher’s apology and your initial decision, instead of directly communicating with your critics, many of whom are now totally-no-longer-loyal customers of your magazine.
  9. Congratulations! You’ve now tarnished the brand of a previously excellent magazine and essentially pissed off everyone in the process.

There really isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said about the debacle with Marvin Kaye, John Harlacher, and Weird Tales. I hated it when they bought the magazine and booted out Ann VanderMeer and her editorial staff. I hated it even more when I found out that the new editorial direction for the magazine was in direct opposition to Ann’s direction, which I and many others loved. And then Kaye and Harlacher had to go and decide to reprint the first chapter of Saving the Pearls: Revealing Eden, a novel of “a world that didn’t listen to the warnings of ecologists, and a world that has developed a reverse racism: blacks dominating and detesting not just whites, but latinos and albinos, the few that still survive of the latter are hunted down and slaughtered.” (For the record: “reverse racism” is an abhorrent, stupid term. I usually hear it from the same people who say, “I don’t mean to be racist, but…)

This novel has caught an immense amount of flak for being the construct of a deprived, racist imagination from a writer trying to pass herself off as tolerant. The marketing materials have a white woman put up in blackface pleading for salvation from the oppressive “Coals” (you can probably figure out who they are here).

It’s also a thoroughly crappy novel, period. Last night, after reading the latest word on the response to the Weird Tales situation, I jumped on Amazon.com and looked up the novel. A good-sized chunk of the first chapter – which, keep in mind, Kaye intended to reprint – is available to read for free. So I read it.

It stinks. The worldbuilding is terrible. The actual physical blocking of the environment and the characters’ actions is hard to visualize. The author jumps between so many imaginary and physical planes of action overlapping one another that the chapter reads like a garbled mess. The vision for the story as a whole lacks cohesion. If I was a slush reader, I’d toss it aside for being amateurish. If I received this in workshop, I’d kindly ask the author exactly what her point is in all of this. And yet, Kaye chose to reprint it.

Think he might publish my review of this movie?

I actually thought the apology attempted by Harlacher only made things worse because of how insincere and suspect it sounded. The editor wasn’t aware of the marketing for the novel, having only read the novel itself? The publisher hadn’t read or heard anything from or about the novel until the controversy? I didn’t believe it. No professional publisher or editor in their right mind would make the decision to reprint the first chapter of a novel like this without doing their due research. (Then again, I’d like to think a professional editor would balk at such a horribly written novel too.)

Sure enough, as Ann’s husband Jeff VanderMeer revealed, the apology was fishy for a reason: Kaye and Harlacher had planned as far back as June to publish the first chapter of this novel in Weird Tales. Maybe it’s possible that they made that decision on a total lack of research and due diligence, but again, I have a lot of trouble believing that.

What I’m going to say next should be read in the following contexts:

  1. I am definitely biased in favor of the VanderMeers. I work for them at Weirdfictionreview.com as the Managing Editor, and besides that I’ve assisted them with various other editorial tasks since last September. Before then, I met them through the acceptance of my microstory “Bear Gun” for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. In the time that I’ve known them, Ann and Jeff have been gracious, helpful, and nurturing with me, patient even in the moments where I’ve made mistakes. I know more about myself as a writer and editor because of them, and I marvel at how hard-working and principled they are. They are my role models for what I want to do with my career, and I’m thankful to know them and be friends with them.
  2. My career as an editor is thus far strikingly brief compared to that of my target here, Marvin Kaye. Counting my induction as an intern at Cheeky Frawg, I’ve been working in one editorial capacity or another for eleven months now. I’ve been Managing Editor at WFR.com since January. Meanwhile, Kaye has been around since 1975 and has compiled many anthologies and overseen many different projects. I’m aware of the fact that I’m a baby compared to him, and it might be easy for some people to dismiss what I say because I haven’t been around as long as Kaye.

Onward I must march with my central thesis, however: Marvin Kaye is unequipped and incapable of being an editor-in-chief of a magazine, or anything else, in the current era of speculative fiction.

Take his choice to include Saving the Pearls in Weird Tales, for instance. According to Harlacher, Kaye made the choice to reprint the first chapter of this novel based on the quality of the novel itself, calling attention to the overall effect of her imagery and symbolic action throughout the novel, perceiving it as thoroughly non-racist. You know what? Fine, let’s proceed forward with the (utterly crock) assumption that this novel isn’t racist. Let’s do that, because that still leaves us with a thoroughly crappy novel that isn’t even a work of weird fiction. I read the first chapter of this novel, the same part that Kaye intended to reprint. I wouldn’t have made the call to reprint it even if someone was paying me to do it. I wouldn’t want to be associated with something this bad.

Then, of course, Kaye had to go and insult his audience in the post defending his decision, wishing that those who oppose the book would “acquire sufficient wit, wisdom and depth of literary analysis to understand what they read.” I’m not even sure if you could call this a backhanded insult per se; he’s essentially accusing anyone who doesn’t like the book of being idiots. It displays a stunning lack of knowledge about his audience, which, cultivated by the tastes of Ann VanderMeer and her editorial staff, would shun stories such as Saving the Pearls (and rightfully so).

So, in response to this, the post was removed from the site by Harlacher, who likely forced Kaye to change his mind so they could try and save themselves from their horrible error. Again, this shows stunning ignorance on both their parts for their audience. That original post had attracted a multitude of well-expressed dissenting opinions in a matter of hours. News of this editorial decision spread to io9 and other popular sites. Within a short span of time, thousands of readers were informed of what happened.

At this point, damage control was all Harlacher and Kaye could do. They couldn’t unsay what was said; it was already captured in the minds of people who proceeded to write about it online, feeding off of one another in an attempt to make sense of this decision. Deleting the initial post didn’t magically make the echo chamber vanish. It only made things worse, because then readers knew they were trying to hide their decision. It doesn’t matter what your stated intent is: when you remove something like that from public access, people will automatically assume a cover-up is taking place. It hurts any possible counterargument you could make before you make it. And besides, it’s the Internet. Deleting something doesn’t make it go away forever, especially when people take screen captures of it.

(UPDATE: I forgot about this blog post from Lisa Grabenstetter, which reveals an email exchange between her and Marvin Kaye that leads to several assumptions, namely that Kaye isn’t actually sorry for anything he’s done up to this point. There was promise on John Harlacher’s post on Weird Tales that Kaye would come back with his own response when he’s capable of doing so, but honestly that might be a moot point by now, given everything that’s come to light.)

What we’re left with is a picture of an editor (and publisher; don’t let Harlacher off the hook either) who has made a series of foolish decisions no professional editor should make in all probability. He showed a lack of ability to accurately gauge the artistic quality of a given work (including any necessary research that might be expected along the way), a lack of awareness regarding the tastes of his audience, and a lack of understanding regarding the realities of publishing both in the speculative fiction community as it stands now and in an online format. I may not have much editorial experience at all, but these things are fairly evident to me without a strenuous exertion of mental effort. So, why aren’t these things evident to Marvin Kaye?

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Thanks Where Thanks Is Due

I’ve spent the majority of this morning reading obits for Ray Bradbury. He died yesterday, July 5, though the news mainly broke today. I’ve read the obits from the Huffington Post, CNN, io9, Washington Post, the New York Times, etc.

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I’ve always loved this picture of Bradbury.

My favorite, though, might be the post my friend Will Ludwigsen put up on his personal site about being visited by Ray Bradbury in his dreams no less than four different times. I already told him earlier today that I’m a bit jealous about that. Beyond that, it’s a personal, intimate story of how Bradbury’s writing touched Will and changed both his writing and his thinking, his way of being, to the point that he “[took] him for granted everywhere but [his] dreams.”

I can’t help but feel the same way right now. I took Bradbury’s influence on me for granted, just because it was so ubiquitous. Who hasn’t he influenced in science fiction and fantasy, even if only through the most minor of tangents? He stripped down the mechanics of science fiction and fantasy to their most emotional, metaphorical cores, so that they came to represent emotions embodied in all of us. Because of Bradbury, science fiction and fantasy became languages of the human spirit. I guess I say that because they became the languages of my spirit, because of Bradbury. And now I won’t ever get to meet him in person or thank him, the way he deserved to be thanked.

So, this will have to do.

When I was a young boy fighting my way through grade school, using fiction as a way of escaping my troubles, I discovered that my school library had an extensive collection of Ray Bradbury’s books. I read everything they had on the shelves from him. I ignored countless homework assignments so I could read Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and countless short story collections, including The Illustrated Man and R is for Rocket.

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When I read “All Summer in a Day,” I felt a strong sense of communion with the main character, a girl from Earth who moves to Venus with fresh memories of the sun, unwittingly imposing those memories upon the false memories of Venus children who have never seen the sun themselves since it only shows itself once every seven years. So, when the sun shows once again, they lock her in the classroom closet without a second thought until the sun disappears again. I consider it the quintessential story for bullied children. The story became a kind of totem for me, something I held close to my chest in times of great need (which happened quite often). I still hold it close.

I do love the classics, and Bradbury had a hell of a lot of classics – “The Veldt,” “A Medicine For Melancholy,” “The Fog Horn,” “Kaleidoscope,” “Fever Dream,” “Mars is Heaven,” “Skeleton,” and of course “There Will Come Soft Rains” – but I have bonded “All Summer in a Day” to my heart. You couldn’t rip it off with a pair of pliers.

My interest in Ray Bradbury waned in college, mostly because I wanted to discover other writers and not circle the same poor captives again and again. I also went through a bit of a Burn Your Idols phase. I realized that, much like the other writers I idolized, Bradbury wasn’t perfect. Not all of his stories hold up well to scrutiny decades later. Some of them are too-blatant transparent fictional veils of his own opinions regarding art and human behavior (“Sun and Shadow,” “The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse”).

I also struggled with some of Bradbury’s opinions on things like technology and media, and I let those struggles dictate how I read his fiction, unfairly so. I remember reading the graphic novel adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 a year or two ago, which is actually a very faithful adaptation with wonderful art by Tim Hamilton. That said, I immediately put the book down during a monologue from a character disdaining movies and comic books for representing “dumbed down” tastes in audiences. It struck me as hypocritical at the time, having a comic book adaptation of a story that in part slams comic books. (I think I was too harsh, though; in retrospect, I think Bradbury merely objected to those mediums being used for insipid purposes. I have to admit to sympathizing with that view.) And I’ve never been as averse to technology has Bradbury has. I certainly don’t think it’s the heart of all that’s wrong with the world. I think technology only goes wrong so much as people let it go wrong.

While I was in my MFA program two years ago, though, I read the double-whammy of Zen in the Art of Writing and The Vintage Bradbury, after seeing the former on a list of required craft books on writing. Turns out I still loved Bradbury, even after all those years. His stories reminded me of what he did so wonderfully: capturing the essence of characters’ emotions and wiring them into the hearts of his readers, realizing that science fiction and fantasy could be a means of reaching people emotionally as well as intellectually. Reading his work with fresh eyes years later, I was struck by how intense and poetic his writing was. I wrote so many variations of “WOW!” off to the side while I took notes.

In reading his work again, something struck me: Ray Bradbury influenced me in ways I never gave credit for. At that time, I considered my holy trinity of writers to be Philip K. Dick, Jorge Luis Borges, and a revolving door most frequently strutted through by Harlan Ellison (my trinity has since undergone reconstruction into a pantheon). Reading Bradbury again made me feel like I’d discovered a long-lost grandfather. It never dawned on me until then that he may have been the true touchstone for me as a writer all along, bigger and more important than the people I thought were my biggest influences at the time. But it was evident, at that particular moment, looking at my writing and what I was doing, how much I was trying to be like him. I felt relieved to understand this, having discovered a lost branch of my heritage as a writer. More than that, I felt grateful.

And now I give thanks to Ray Bradbury, for being so patient all these years, waiting for my return and my realization that I carried his thumbprint all this time. I will carry it for a long time to come.

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