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on writing

So, for those of you who haven’t heard, there’s something rotten in Readercon. Here’s a quick summation of what happened, along with Readercon’s verdict. Here’s Nick Mamatas’s takedown of said verdict. And here’s Readercon’s statement about why they decided to completely drop every possible ball in this situation.  I think that’ll be enough to get you up to speed, at least more or less. Also, Nick Kaufman wrote a letter saying a lot of the same things I’m feeling, and better than I will.

To say that the Readercon board’s reaction to this situation is a disappointment would be a supreme understatement. It feels more like a betrayal, and it sends a powerful message that is, I hope, not the one they intended to send. Many other people have articulated these things much better than I can here, but I feel that it’s important that I say that, yes, this is unacceptable.

A lot of people have chimed in saying that they won’t be going back to Readercon unless and until there has been some drastic change for the better. I’m one of them. Readercon was my first major con experience, and it remains my best. I felt welcomed and safe, even though I was just starting out as a writer then. I felt like I was surrounded by friends. Readercon has always been the con that I recommended to people, the one I said was the best of those I had attended. It’s always been my favorite con, filled with my favorite people. It is with a lot of regret that I contemplate never going back.

At this point it isn’t even their failure to permanently ban the offender for his actions that is most troubling to me; it’s their assumption that this was an acceptable way to respond. That they thought they could say, “No no, he’s a nice guy, and very sorry,” and that would be sufficient cause for an exception to be made for him. It doesn’t even matter whether or not that’s true. This assumption that its okay to make special exceptions, that only bad people do bad things, that it must not have been that big of a deal, aren’t you just overreacting a little bit, you wouldn’t want to get this guy banned would you?, is the bedrock upon which so much of the violence and hate and harassment and inequality in our world is built. That is what’s most troubling to me, and that’s why, until I see some very compelling reason to reconsider, I won’t be going back to Readercon, and I’ll certainly not be recommending it to anyone else.

This is going to be a short post, but I couldn’t go without mentioning that the incredible M.S. Corley has been so kind as to take inspiration for his latest Carnacki pin-up from one of my own stories:

The story is “The Reading Room,” which first appeared in Bound for Evil from Dead Letter Press, and which will be reprinted in my collection Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings. It’s a favorite of mine, so I was really thrilled when Corley decided to use it as a point of departure for his latest Carnacki drawing.

If you don’t follow me on Google+ or Facebook or other such places, this may be the first you’ve heard of Corley’s version of Thomas Carnacki. Basically, Corley has been drawing his own version of William Hope Hodgson’s famous paranormal investigator in a series of incredible pin-ups, some of them drawn from Hodgson’s own Carnacki stories, some from other classic weird tales, some just from Corley’s own imagination, and, of course, one from my own tales. To say that this was a big thrill for me would be the worst kind of understatement. If you’ve not seen Corley’s earlier Carnacki pieces, you can see them all here.

I’ve talked before about the uncertainties I have when it comes to genre designations. What I write is horror, almost certainly, but horror is a big country, and I’m far from the first person to wonder where exactly my flag is planted in that dark territory. This isn’t really a post about that, not exactly, but it provides an interesting segue.

I recently read Spook Stories by E.F. Benson, about as charming a collection of ghost stories as you’re likely to encounter. I got it from the library, and the edition I got was a hardcover put out by Arno Press as part of a book line called Supernatural & Occult Fiction. There’s a list of all the books in the series here. I’ve heard of several of them, of course, and others are completely new to me. I’m definitely going to start doing some research, and adding some of these volumes to my to-read queue. Based on the titles alone, if nothing else.

But, I dunno, something about the name of the book line really struck me. Supernatural and Occult Fiction. It’s so simple and scholarly-sounding, almost antiquarian, as befits most of the recognizable titles in their stable. Yet it’s also evocative. The minute I see those words, it makes me want to read those books on a gray rainy day, or on the proverbial dark and stormy night. So, is this a useful subgenre distinction? Supernatural and Occult Fiction? Probably not. But it does sum up most of what I write decently well, and it’s definitely got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

A few years ago, Norman Partridge saved my life.

OK, so that’s probably putting it a little strongly, but I was going through a rough spot in my writing when I first read The Man with the Barbed Wire Fists, and it did a lot to help rejuvenate me. Partridge has all the energy of the pulps and drive-in movies that inspired him, along with a tight handle on themes and characterization. But what mostly struck me was how in love with everything he seemed. There was enthusiasm dripping off every page, every sentence, every word.

Lesser Demons didn’t hit me quite as hard as The Man with the Barbed Wire Fists, but it’s still got that same enthusiasm, that same energy. In his afterword, Partridge says that he’s the kind of writer who doesn’t like writing but likes having written. From reading Lesser Demons (or any of his other work), though, I’ll say that you certainly can’t see it. Reading Norman Partridge feels like reading somebody who is completely in love with what he’s doing, and it always reminds me of why I fell in love with writing–and with this genre (whatever it might happen to be)–in the first place, and I hope that when people read my stuff they find at least a little bit of that same enthusiasm bleeding through.

I didn’t write any fiction for most of the month of February. I had started a regimen where I wrote every day, or most every day. I was going along pretty well. I was working on a longer project that, with hindsight, probably never would have worked out, but I was writing, at least, and that was something. Then I hit a setback. It wasn’t anything big, I don’t guess, in the grand scheme of things, but it took the wind out of my sails, and I stopped writing. Anything.

February was a busy month, anyway, and I was doing a lot of stuff with Monster Awareness Month. It’s not like I was swimming in free time, just staring at the ceiling. But I also, very consciously, wasn’t writing. (And when I say “writing” here, I again mean fiction. I was writing lots of stuff for Monster Awareness Month, and blog posts, and etc.)

I’m finally getting back into it. I’ve got a calender at home with pictures of posters from old-fashioned magic shows on it, and I put a black X through every day that I write more than a couple-hundred words. (250 is my current minimum.) So far I’ve put an X through every day in March. It’s all just been fragments, things that will never even coalesce into anything. Just my attempts to get back on the bike. But I’ve done it every day, which, again, is a start. That’s the first step.

I spent some time trying to come up with something for IFP’s forthcoming Future Lovecraft anthology. I’ve realized that I don’t have any affinity for science fiction anymore, but I think I may’ve finally come up with something that I’m interested in writing that still meets both criteria of being Future and also Lovecraft. Whether or not it’ll actually fit the bill of what they’re looking for, only time will tell.

Still, though, I’m working again. Regardless of whether it’s any good or not, or going where I plan for it to. I’m doing something. And I’m making plans. Both of which are things that didn’t really happen in February. February felt like sort of a fugue month, a fallow period in which, Monster Awareness Month notwithstanding, nothing really happened. March has already started to change that, which is a good feeling. And I’m making plans for the future, which is another good one. So here’s to March, and to hoping!

I promised yesterday that I’d talk a little more about my essay at Strange Horizons, so here I am. Some time back, I made this post, which I said at the time was as close to a manifesto as I was ever likely to get. I was very surprised and very flattered to be asked to expand that post into a more substantive essay for Strange Horizons, and the result was The Condition of a Monster: A Personal Taxonomy of Supernatural Fiction, which is even closer to a manifesto. It’s also one of my proudest publications to date, not only because the subject is very near and dear to my heart, but also because I’ve wanted to break into Strange Horizons pretty much ever since I started publishing, and seeing my name on the front page there is a huge thrill.

Like I’ve said before and elsewhere, this is a topic that’s very important to me, and one that I spend a probably unconscionable amount of time thinking about. Luckily for me, lots of other people seem to spend time thinking about it, too, and in case my essay left you wanting more, I wanted to direct your attention to a couple of things. Curt Purcell, proprietor of The Groovy Age of Horror (caution, occasionally NSFW) has a lengthy and very thoughtful series of articles on the subject here. He’s also posted several other similarly interesting explorations at other times, and this one about Dracula that also tackles modern approaches to supernatural horror particularly caught my eye. Also, in response to my essay, a reader over on my Goodreads account was kind enough to link me to this Ray Bradbury quote, which I would probably have used in my piece if I’d known about it beforehand.

I want to thank everyone who read my essay and responded, and everyone who didn’t respond, and everyone who helped out with it throughout its gestation. Also enormous thanks to my wife, without whom it would not be nearly so cogent and organized as it is. And last but certainly not least, I want to thank S.J. Chambers, a splendid person with obviously excellent taste, for taking an interest and for shepherding this particular piece into existence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to not ever do anything else for a living ever again but write stories about monsters and skeletons and old dark houses. I would dearly love to write and dream for eight hours a day, instead of around eight hours a month, which seems closer to the mark I usually hit these days. I’m just not in any particular hurry to do so, and, not to put too fine a point on it, here’s why:

Over on her journal, Caitlin R. Kiernan recently wrote: If, tomorrow, someone gave me enough money that I would never have to sing for my supper again, I’d spend the rest of my life birdwatching, curating my gigantic and mostly uncurated fossil collection, reading, exploring New England, and just being alive. I’d probably never write much of anything else ever again.

The reason I’m not in any hurry to write for a living is because right now I can’t say the same thing. If you asked me, right now, what I’d do if someone gave me so much money that I’d never have to work again, I’d probably tell you that I’d spend the rest of my days reading books and comics, watching monster movies, and writing, publishing, and masterminding the same. This, right here, basically, is what I would do if I didn’t have to do anything else. Sure, I’d probably do it a little differently, but it’s still what I’d do, more or less. And I want it to stay that way. I’d rather do what I’m doing now–spend my days at a job that pays the bills and want so badly to be writing instead–than ever feel like saying the words, “I would probably never write much of anything else ever again.”

And I need to make it clear that this isn’t because I think Caitlin R. Kiernan is somehow wrong to feel the way that she does. If I thought she was wrong to feel that way, then maybe I’d be out pursuing a career as a full-time writer more fervently. The thing is, though, I can see myself saying those things, too, someday. I can see myself being in those shoes. And maybe it’s cowardice, or sour grapes, because I know deep down that even if I did try harder I don’t have the talent or the discipline or the perseverance to be a professional writer right now. And I know that it’s a false dilemma, and that if my circumstances changed in the right ways I’d take the job in a heartbeat, but right now I’d rather love something and not be able to do it all the time than be able to do something all the time and not love it anymore.