Friday, August 28, 2009

Rain Goes Public

For a long time I shied away from writing long form fiction. When I say a long time, I mean a dozen years or more, off and on. I wrote short stories and submitted them to publishers, and once in a while I received acceptance and occasionally monetary compensation. To this day I still have manuscripts floating about, and when one comes back with a no it goes right back out again to someone else. It’s a revolving door of email attachments, hardcopy mailings, small press magazines and genre websites. It’s fun, and it makes me very happy to be able to participate, even when I’m being rejected.

Sometimes I think I take rejection a bit too much in stride, or that I may be harboring some sick, private enjoyment of it, but that’s not really a subject I want to discuss in this post. What I want to talk about is Rain.

I think I still have a bit of faith in traditional publishing. I have plans to query agents and attack the publishing houses. I still picture a hardback with my name on the spine just under an impressive publisher’s logo. Perhaps someday I may even have my name on an orange-gilded spine with a flightless bird beneath it. I don’t think so, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Nothing really is.

This isn't something I think would even catch the eye of an agent or editor for even a moment, but that doesn't mean it's something that doesn't deserve exposure.

What I’ve noticed in recent months and years is that it’s not entirely necessary to rely on agents and publishers, not if you’re writing for the craft and hell of it. If you’re writing to make yourself happy, to cut out the middleman, to reach out and be able not only to touch your readers but to clasp hands with them, you don’t need any of this. You just need to put your work out there and let the public decide on what merit it has and in what quantity.

I don’t think I ever would have decided to do this if I hadn’t seen so many others attempting it before, putting their own personal spin on it.

Cliff Burns got sick of traditional publishing, burned his bridges and forged his own way. He’s one hell of a spitfire and an excellent writer to boot. He’s released whole novels along with short story reprints on his site. If you don’t mind someone with extremely strong opinions on pretty much everything, or if that’s the kind of writing you long for, I urge you to check him out. Seriously, he’s great.

Dan Holloway, author of self-published novel Songs from the Other Side of the Wall and founding member of the Year Zero Writers Collective, is currently releasing his The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes as an Internet novel. Chapters are released incrementally on Facebook. It’s an amazing story, layers and layers of narrative on top of each other, unfolding in front of readers with an ease and spot-on eye for pop culture that makes it seem as if it were actually happening, as if these characters actually had breath and life and were appearing on legitimate news sources. It feels real, and it’s fascinating, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to watch it unfold.

Everyone already knows about my love for Machine Man. I’m not wasting any more space or time explaining it or pimping it out. People are going to start thinking I’ve got a crush on Max Barry (Okay, so I do.) Read it. Read it now, and you can thank me later.

What about all those other people writing novels with their cellphones? Japan’s got tons of them, written by young people and retirees alike. They’re huge. They’ve gained their authors print deals and news coverage all the way across the world. Amazing.

These examples and many others have convinced me to put Rain out, to give it in its raw, experimental form and see what becomes of it. I almost feel like I’m putting it in a bottle and tossing it into the ocean in the middle of a tropical storm, unsure of what to expect in return, worried it might not even reach anybody. It’s a strange feeling.

Rain is, among a few other unpublished novel length pieces, a training wheels exercise. I don’t learn something and become comfortable with it until I’ve gone through the motions several times, breaking things down into components and memorizing their functions before connecting all the pieces. I don’t really know how to write a novel, even though I’ve read at least a dozen books on the subject. And I won’t, not until I’ve flailed about in the muck of my own first attempts and witnessed for myself their strengths and weaknesses, their successes and failures.

I decided to make Facebook Rain’s primary home because it will gain more exposure there, as I have a built-in network of like-minded people already in place. I’ll be blogging about the process offsite as well, here on Blogger.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oh, Those Erotic Primates

Alcoholics. Drug addicts. Misogynists. Misandrists. Misanthropes. Sexual fetishists.

Writers have been subject to stereotypes for a long, long time, and with good reason. Within every caricature is a small grain of truth that applies to enough people in a group for the stereotype to catch hold and remain in the collective consciousness. Some of the most common (and, unfortunately, most accurate) conceptions about the so-called “creative types” are the notions of substance and spousal abuse, the tendency to drink to excess to awaken the muse and the unsociable nature that drives a person to abuse their loved ones.

There are a great many writers who defy stereotypes and refuse to be denigrated by drink or violence and cannot be classified by any method, and are possibly the actual majority of people in the field. However, it is much more entertaining to delve into the lives of people who, often tragically, fit the mold of the writer out of control.

How many writers’ love of drink and mistreatment of their wives (or, occasionally, husbands) have become almost as well-known as their bodies of work? Poe, Hemingway, Mailer, Capote, Carver, just to name a few off the top of my head, were legendary both in their prose and reputations as drinkers, brawlers, abusers or a combination of the three.

Now we can add William Golding to the list.

Booze? Check. Parental issues? Check. Bizarre outlook on human sexuality? Wow. Double, possibly triple, check.

Golding, who died sixteen years ago, kept journals and other papers over the years, including a memoir intended for his wife titled Men and Women Now, that shed some light on the author and his very personal life, including his early adulthood. In the memoir he attempts to unveil, and possibly explain, the ‘monstrous side’ of his character by detailing to his wife how he tried to rape a young girl while on holiday during his first year at Oxford.

He describes a fourteen-year-old girl as being “depraved by nature” and “already sexy as an ape.” What? Seriously? I can possibly understand “depraved by nature“ as a misogynist’s attempt to justify his arousal by and intention of assaulting a young girl, but the ape comment I just cannot wrap my brain around.

Could a Briton possibly enlighten me to this turn of phrase? Is this slang that didn’t make its way across the Atlantic, or was Golding more demented than even his memoirs are hinting at? I cannot think up a scenario where primates would arouse me, and I assume most people would come to the same conclusion. I really, really hope they do. I’m willing to brush it off as some sort of regional slang, seeing as we have tons of odd phrases here in the States that no doubt leave people elsewhere scratching their heads.

In addition to his bizarre sexual escapades, which include consensual sex with the same girl only two years later (including the line "Should I have all that rammed up my guts?,” which leads me to speculate that Golding was actually a character in someone else’s novel this whole time), Golding comes out and admits, going into great detail, that he pitted boys in his charge against each other while teaching at a public school.

I’ve heard of novelists doing extensive research, but I think that might take the cake for me. He actually created a similar Lord of the Flies scenario in a controlled setting before writing the novel. Holy shit.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing this blog post, to be completely honest. How many times have we as a global community been subjected to posthumous information about a public figure that illustrates, in thick black lines no amount of correction fluid can hide, just how morally reprehensible they were in life?

Perhaps it is because I have such vivid memories of Golding and Lord of the Flies that I felt compelled to write about it. In other articles, such as this one from The Times of India, it is mentioned that Golding’s work was required reading for British schoolchildren. However, I’d like it to be noted that, in addition to being a textbook in his native country, Golding’s work (with an emphasis on Lord of the Flies) was and still is widely circulated in American public schools. I cannot vouch for all schools, or even any outside of my district, but when I was in school in the 1990s we alternated between studying British works and American ones. In ninth grade we focused mostly on Shakespeare, and in eleventh it was mostly 20th century novels. It was during this year that I read Golding, as well as Huxley and Orwell. I wrote my term paper on Orwell, something I remember to this day.

My teacher that year hated me. She seriously did, and I gave her more than a few reasons to feel that way. I never shut up. I never took anything seriously. I never stopped looking over at my best friend Jen and snickering or doodling during lectures. I was hyperactive to an almost insane degree, uncontrollably self-interested and intent on blocking out the rest of the world. I didn’t like school, didn’t like reading things that were forced upon me (though I read nonstop, starting in early childhood and continuing to this day), didn’t like studying subjects that seemed pointless to me, didn’t like a whole lot of other people.

I was not, in any possible way, an ideal student. Hell, I wasn’t even tolerable most of the time.

Something grabbed hold of me in Golding’s work, though. In between pushing up imaginary glasses and loudly mimicking Piggy’s voice and mannerisms (we were forced to watch the 1960 edition of the film during class), saying “MY SPECS!” and “MY AUNTIE OWNS A CANDY STORE” when my poor teacher only wanted to show the film and get on with it, I found a piece of work that was truly both chilling and enjoyable. I didn’t mind the worksheets and quizzes on character archetypes or Simon’s symbolism of Jesus Christ. In my own obnoxious way, I was paying attention, at least on some level. I came out of that class reviled by my teacher but passionately in love with dystopian novels, something I appreciate to this day.

I suppose that is why, when I read about Golding this morning, I felt compelled to say something on the subject. I was flooded with memories of sitting in that stupid chair, behind that stupid desk, back in 1995 and finding something I loved where I least expected it. In amongst the jokes and high school rivalries and the pranks I pulled on my friends, I fell in love with a novel, at least for a short while. I really ought to go back and reread it to see if it holds up to the test of time, though I have a sneaking suspicion that it does.

To find out the author of said novel was as dark, creepy and subversive as his classic antagonist is no big deal, really. Authors tend to have their demons. I think what really surprised me about all of this is that he would reveal, so many years after the fact, his depraved youthful exploits to his wife. I wonder if she ever read the memoir or the journals and if so what her response to them were. I’m hoping that may be touched upon when these papers are published.

In the meantime, I think I might nix the idea of transcribing my journals. I’ll keep them in my nearly illegible handwriting, thank you.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Machine Man in Print - Confirmed!

Just received the good news today from Max Barry’s mailing list. Machine Man’s print edition is confirmed! It’s got kinks that need worked out, including a rewrite to smooth out the halting, pulled-out-of-nowhere feel of the daily chapters (which I like, by the way), but it’s coming.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? I raved about the crazy Internet serial a few months ago on my book review blog, New Reads and Old Standbys.

Do any of these keywords appeal to you?

Humor, satire, sarcasm, romance, love triangle, transhumanism, geeky, amputation, fetish, experiment, accident, prosthetics.

Do they? If so, check it out now. Give in and get your daily dose of Barry.

I’m going to keep bugging you until you do.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Rogue on The New Flesh

My flash fiction story, The Rogue, has been accepted and published on The New Flesh, a new horror flash ezine.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The 2010 Novel and Short Story Writer's Market is Out!

I love these books, though having to plunk down cash on a new edition (and tossing out the previous year’s, with all its highlighted listings and margin-scrawled notes) is a bit disheartening. I know the market, especially in the small press and online sectors, is unstable and outfits come and go like tumbleweed in a sandstorm sometimes, but damn do these books date themselves so quickly. Not that it’s anyone’s fault, really. That’s just the way small publishing is.

In addition to the market listings, Writer’s Digest includes in each volume a number of essays that change yearly on topics like new genres, blogging, critique groups and the like. Every year I say I’m going to read all of the articles alongside scouring the market listings, and every year I fail to do so.

Well, I’m saying it again this year. I’m reading those articles. In fact, I’ve read several of them already.

This year, Writer’s Digest has included a free subscription to their online publication, Writer's Market. It’s a genre-only subscription, rather than for the entire site, so certain things will be inaccessible depending on which Guide you’ve purchased. Upgrades are, of course, available.

Nice marketing tactic.

I suppose as punishment for getting this book for $20 instead of the MSRP of $30 (Amazon’s good for a few things, discounting preorders being one of them), the site will not accept my registration. I used to have a membership there, and when I slowed down on submissions to concentrate on novel drafting and then lost my job, I wound up being forced to cancel my monthly subscription. My email address is already in their database, and renewals are apparently not eligible for this “free” service.

Again, nice marketing tactic, WDB. They put out some great books on craft from time to time but, at the moment, I’m a little irritated.

I’m not letting this serial number go to waste. First email request gets it.

As for me, I’m going to stick to using Duotrope in tandem with the book I already own. I’m not ponying up any more cash when I’m so close to a cardboard box under a bridge. Maybe some other time.

Monday, August 3, 2009


I've been trying my hand at shorter works of fiction lately, and I have to say it seems to be rather catching.

Instead of working on material I can submit to publishers, I've become a bit addicted to Ficly, a little site for little stories.

Ficly reminds me quite a bit of open source software. In 1024 characters (roughly 190 - 200 words) or less, an author writes a piece of flash fiction and publishes it on the site. This story can be as rough or as polished as the author wants, as professional or draft-form, as highbrow or juvenile. There are no guidelines save for the arbitrary character limit and the use of non-proprietary characters (which is often broken). Readers can rate these stories on a scale from one to five or leave comments without rating it at all.

Here’s the interesting part. Other users can come along and write a prequel or sequel to any story on the site. One of my own stories, “The Anything-Goes Call In Show,” was recently continued by someone other than myself. It didn’t keep the dialogue-only style of the original, but it certainly was interesting. There’s something both surreal and highly entertaining about seeing someone else continue something you yourself started.

The only drawback to this site is that I feel compelled to do my best there, and a lot of work that I could have submitted to actual publications for real money (or real contributor’s copies) are now online and considered published and, thus, ineligible for submission. The above referenced story is something I’ve come to be incredibly proud of over the last few weeks, and there’s no way for me to find it a publisher now. It’s a small price to pay, though, for the fun and community that is Ficly.

I’m sure I can come up with other work to shop around, though the temptation of immediate readership and critique over on Ficly will always be there.