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Archive for the 'Thoughts on Writing' Category

Something experimental

May 27th, 2017 | Category: Life,Thoughts on Writing

So, I wrote something, short fiction, kind of experimental. Sort of a stream of consciousness, writing in the moment kind of thing. If it’s really awful, post your hatred in the story’s comments. Really, any feedback is of value; love, indifference, hate, whatever… post away!

Said experimental story is forthcoming.

 

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Not worth a title

March 31st, 2016 | Category: Life,Thoughts on Writing

So, in thirty-one days I’ve written a whole lot of nothing, which is still something. It’s been a long rut, but such is life, especially for a writer.

I am a writer… Next month I’ll prove it.

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Letter to Chuck

June 03rd, 2015 | Category: Life,Opinions,Random Thought,Thoughts on Writing

Dear Chuck Palahniuk,

Could you please, please for the love of the tiny infant Christ, stop writing stories in faux broken English. It’s jus not funny, it’s boring, and annoying to read.

“The reality agent, she persist on promenading Randy through the futility room, the pouter room, a walled-in closet, the reckless nook, the tedium room, and the nifty home offense, when Randy already be sold.”

Like, we get it. The “reality” agent rather than “realty” agent, selling commercial plastic reality to the masses, the sheep. Mass media is for the proles, it’s dull, empty, too low-brow for intellectuals, anarchists, anarchist intellectuals, hence the “media room” becomes the “tedium room.” Shocking. Shocking satire. I’m just bl- Oh, wait, these ideas are in almost everything you’ve ever written, faux broken English doesn’t change these ideas, doesn’t make them exciting again.

I know you can use our craft, I’ve seen you do it. If your use of craft is strong enough, recurring ideas, recurring themes can work. Look at Franz Kafka, Michael Cisco. Kafka could always write bureaucracy turned personal Hell, Cisco can always write fever dreams, abstract nightmare translated into words, because of a strong, commanding use of craft. Faux broken English isn’t the way to go, it’s not a use of craft, it’s a waste. You realize we can only write so many words before we quit breathing, that the number is finite, not limitless? That being so, and it is so, why waste so many?

Michael

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Review: Maplecroft

September 21st, 2014 | Category: Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

In 1892 Lisbeth “Lizzie” Borden allegedly picked up an axe and hacked up her father and step-mother. Her trial was an event, a media circus, one of America’s first. She spent some time in jail, but was ultimately acquitted of both charges. The motive was supposed to be money, she did inherit a large sum after the dust settled, but even now, nobody really knows what exactly happened.

Lizzie always wanted to be a member of high-society, she bought a giant house on a hill, named it Maplecroft, she tried to host lavish parties, tried to be accepted. Try as she did, the people of Fall River, Massachusetts, never grew to accept Lizzie, and she spent most of the rest of her life in seclusion, caring for her medically frail sister, Emma. Sadly, Lizzie would eventually die alone, abandoned by Emma after an argument of unknown cause. This is the story that is part of America’s grimmer history, taught in class-rooms to this day.

The tale of Lizzie Borden has so many unknowns, leaves so many unanswered questions. Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches by Cherie Priest is the first novel in a series that aims to fill in these blanks, to tell the whole of the life of Lisbeth Andrew Borden.

Maplecroft might be best described as a spectacular work of historical horror fiction; historical people, places, given a heavy dose of horror. Cherie Priest is one of today’s best historical fantasy/horror fiction writers, she so deftly blends fiction with American history that the fiction tends to feel more real than it otherwise might. Maplecroft could be her best work.

The story of Maplecroft is told through journal entries, letters and news clippings, all popular forms of communication in the 1800s. Much of what we know about that period of American history is through found documents, people put their thoughts to paper, they kept journals, diaries, sat down to write correspondence. Unlike today’s glut of shaky-cam “video diary” films, Maplecroft only feels more authentic through the use of this device. The story never seems forced or cliche.

We learn that strange things are happening in Fall River, that the Borden family spent many weeks wracked with illness before Lizzie took up her axe. We learn that at its worst, aside from nausea, vomiting, a strange glazing of the eyes, a sort of madness occurs, violent madness that touched the Borden parents. When Lizzie took up her axe, it was an act of preservation, not just for herself, but for Emma, her defenseless elder sister. This illness is confirmed in the journal of town physician, Doctor Owen Seabury, who attempted to treat the Borden’s, but to no avail. He knew something was very wrong, something he’d never seen. After the murders, he was Lizzie’s strongest defender, not because he felt she was necessarily innocent, but because of an incident during which he witnessed the feral transformation in Lizzie’s step-mother. He felt something unnatural, even dangerous, especially dangerous. That was in 1892. In 1894, the Borden sisters have taken residence at Maplecroft, with Doctor Seabury as their only regular visitor in the role of Emma’s personal physician. With this ominous beginning, the stage is set for the horror to come.

The Problem, as it is often called, re-surfaces and begins to spread, Doctor Seabury sees symptoms around town. Strange shark-like creatures attack Maplecroft, Lizzie grows quite adept at killing. Lizzie and Emma spend their days trying to understand the creatures, The Problem, hopping desperately to stop it before it consumes them, before Fall River is overrun, before it spreads across the entire country, maybe the entire world. Lzzzie pours over strange arcane books, trying to find facts buried in lore and myth. Emma tackles The Problem through pure science, studying nature, marine biology. Both Lizzie and Emma have reason to believe that the sea is the source of the taint that’s infecting Fall River. Doctor Owen Seabury struggles to maintain his sanity, his years of medical training feeling utterly useless. Each character’s writing feels more desperate with each passing day, the journal and diary entries show their stress, their fear, with such clarity. Reading the book is often an intimate experience, as if reading the private thoughts of actual people, not fictional characters.

I haven’t read everything Cherie Priest has ever written, but I’ve read most of it. In terms of pure craft, Maplecroft is probably her best work so far, her prose often gorgeous. Whenever I read, I love highlighting beautiful passages, writing margin notes. While Priest’s stories are always well-written and absolutely a blast to read, I’ve never highlighted any of her writing until Maplecroft. There’s one really outstanding passage that has stuck with me ever since I read it…

“We crawled primordial from the water, our grand-ancestors times a million generations; we escaped the tides, the sharks, and the leviathans of the deep, only to find ourselves on land—where we became the things we’d sought to escape, and we invented gods to blame. Not gods of the ocean, for we’d been to the ocean, and seen that the water was empty of the divine. Not gods of the earth, for we have walked upon the dirt, and we are alone here.

So we install our gods in the sky, because we haven’t yet eliminated the firmament as a possibility.

Next, I suppose, we’ll send them into space—where I expect they will live a very long time indeed, for it shall take us another million generations of descendants to reach them, and learn that they are projections of light and story, cast into the heavens by us alone. And we will be alone again (unless by then, we discover some more distant place in which to hide our image).
Over and over again, we lift God out of our reach. Over and over, push Him beyond our grasp, yet still we stretch out our fingers and seek to touch Him.

But find nothing.”

That passage has such lush imagery, captures the writing of a Christian woman struggling with her faith. Crisis of faith is a common theme from character to character throughout the novel, an interesting theme for a time in history when people were supposed to be God-fearing church-goers, who could never voice their doubts aloud. One’s private diary or journal was the only safe place to put such thoughts. The passage also captures the writing of a strong-willed woman of intelligence, again, at a time when women were not on equal footing with men in matters of intellect, of opinion.

The Borden women are both shown as strong women living against the grain, fierce protectors of a town full of people who failed to see Lizzie hanged and now are content to just quietly hate her, and Emma by association. Maplecroft is a novel about strong women (one in particular not mentioned in this review) fighting against evil that’s deep and dark as the sea. They fight bravely, vehemently, but not without fear, not without mistakes, not without human failings. It’s not a story of super heroes slaughtering monsters, it’s a story regular people just trying to hang on against malevolence beyond human understanding. They fight and not without losses, grave losses.

If you’re looking for a beautifully written story of horror, genuine stuff of nightmare, Maplecroft is the story for you. Cherie Priest did her homework on Lizzie Borden and the time in which she lived. Combine such research with her vivid imagination, and she delivers a truly unique macabre masterpiece of fully realized characters given weight through historical accuracy.

For fans of the weird, Maplecroft is a must read. I can’t wait for the next of the Borden Dispatches.

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Review: Acceptance

September 08th, 2014 | Category: Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer is the final book in The Southern Reach Trilogy, and it’s a perfect closing curtain.

Acceptance brings back the intensely ominous feeling introduced in Annihilation, the series’ first book, but on a much grander scale. Much of the story takes place in flashbacks, we’re taken back to the events that took place before Annihilation, to everything that led up to the disastrous Twelfth Expedition into Area X and the subsequent shifting within the Southern Reach. We also go back to a little place called the Forgotten Coast, a place where misfits, outcasts gathered to make a home. A quaint costal village complete with a lighthouse and its gruff, but kind keeper. A rustic place, but a good place, a nice place to live until something turned it into a nightmare, a biological disaster; Area X. In this final book, by way of glimpses into life on the Forgotten Coast, we see the horrific creation of Area X.

Acceptance begins with the death of a character, a death that occurs toward the end of Annihilation. We learn about her life through flashbacks, yet we also know that she is damned. We know that the Forgotten Coast is damned, that the people we learn about, grow to care about, will be lost. The horror of the book, and really, the trilogy as a whole, is witnessing this slow fall and knowing that no matter what, it won’t be stopped. Though, we get to see points at which maybe if different decisions were made, Area X might not have been made. Knowing that so much loss wasn’t inevitable, that it could have possibly been avoided, makes the loss that much more painful. We keep reading because we want to know the whats and the whys that birthed Area X, but also, there’s still the right now, the world after the creation of Area X. That part of the story is completely uncertain, it’s ultimately why I kept turning pages until a late night became an early morning. I wanted to know if our world would survive, or if Area X would envelope everything. I know, but I won’t say. I don’t want to say more, I don’t want to make reading Acceptance pointless while trying to convey why it’s so spectacular.

The Southern Reach Trilogy is a masterpiece, it is brilliantly conceived and written. Acceptance is what seals the deal, it’s a truly remarkable end to a beautiful, sad, scary as all Hell work of fiction.

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500

August 18th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

I subscribe to this blog, Ingrid’s Notes, she’s a writer, gives tips on craft and what-not. Today’s post was from a guest blogger trying to hawk someone’s book about how writers can boost their output to 10,000 words per day. Aside from that being deranged, the physical act of typing 10,000 words would take me most of 24 solid hours. I’m not buying that book. Still, the post was actually really… eye-opening.

The first half of the post discuses various writers’ average daily word counts. Stephen King puts out around 3,000 words per day, which is doable, but brutal. Ann Rice slams down around 5,000 words per day, totally out. Besides, the merits of monster word counts are debatable. Some say, if you’re putting down tons of words, even if they’re mostly trash, you still had a good day. Others would call such a day a waste of time, and it’s better to tighten your craft and focus on solid writing. I don’t really think there’s any right or wrong thought on word counts, it’s up to the writer and what feels best to them.

Personally, I’ve always been best at saying the perfect thing in as few words as necessary. So, what really drew my interest was one particular writer’s average daily word count, Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway averaged 500 words per day. Like his work or not, Hemingway is immortal, a writer whose name will live on forever, because ultimately, writing isn’t about word counts or unit sales, it’s about the quality of craft, of a finished story. If Hemingway secured immortality with something around 500 words per day…

Why can’t I? I know that if I create a daily routine and just fucking write, I can do 500 words easily enough. I’m no Hemingway, but I know I don’t suck either.

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Book review blast, July 2014: horror

July 28th, 2014 | Category: Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

So, I’ve been reading a lot, 2008 levels. My current reading is more out of abject depression, whereas 2008 was more, Sara and I liked reading. Still, reading is reading…

Not all of these books are new, I just consider them important.

I read the Strain Trilogy in under two weeks, and loved it. If you’re after gritty vampire fiction told in a sweeping story that depicts the complete and brutal fall of civilization to a rogue strain of vampires, hit the Strain Trilogy. If you’re watching the tv series and don’t so much like it, don’t let that detract from the books, they’re a much richer experience.

I’ve been reading a lot of Cherie Priest, more her tales of the supernatural rather than her Steampunk stuff. She’s now legend for her Clockwork Century series, but her ghost stories and tales of werewolf religious cults are pretty fucking awesome too. Check out the Eden Moore Trilogy, and Dreadful Skin, and also, for a total surprise, read Those Who Went Remain. Cherie Priest has a gift for (much like our next author) building fictional worlds out of real places. She takes the deep South, the far-West, and fills these wild places with tales of the wronged dead come to collect their due, or she shows us things that are quite alive and out for blood.

I’d already read and literally had nightmares from The Red Tree, Silk, and Threshold. Caitlin R. Kiernan is truly a master of brutal psychological horror that isn’t afraid to turn physical in a blink. I’ve recently read Low Red Moon, Daughter of Hounds (follow ups to Threshold), and Murder of Angels (follow up to Silk). Then I read her latest, a stand-alone novel, The Drowning Girl: A Memoir. I also have to note one of Kiernan’s story collections. Generally, story collections don’t floor me, but Alabaster: Pale Horse, does. Alabaster is a collection of tales about one character, Dancy Flammarion, an albino girl guided by an angel to slay beings of true evil. Each story draws you in until the terrifying last page. Everything Kiernan writes is something special. Her worlds are completely realized, I feel like I could take a drive to Alabama, Rhode Island, and find demons, ghouls, warring angels. I feel sad for the characters who live damaged, mourn those who don’t survive. Caitlin R. Kiernan writes lush, dark, beautiful stories, she’s not to be missed.

Johannes Cabal is a Necromancer of some little infamy, and everything Jonathan L. Howard has written about him is worth reading. The Cabal books are darkly humorous, full of wit and charm. A bit back I read Howard’s latest, Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute, and it’s top-notch. Johannes Cabal aims to thwart Death, to fully rip people from Death’s cold embrace. He’s after the Necromancer’s Unholy Grail, and I hope he finds it, but not for at least a few more books.

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Review: Authority

June 11th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer is the second novel in his Southern Reach Trilogy, the link between beginning and end. Authority takes place not long after the events in Annihilation. The obscure top-secret government agency tasked with monitoring Area X, The Southern Reach, is in a state of chaos. Their body count is high, their funding is spent, their insight into Area X amounts to a little less than nothing. Almost every agent they’ve sent into Area X has never returned. Almost. Some have returned only to die of a rapidly killing form of cancer, others suffered severe memory loss. The Southern Reach is a ship that needs righted before it sinks. Enter John Rodriguez a.k.a. “Control,” a man who’s been in the covert-ops game his entire adult life. Control is a “fixer,” he’s used to being dropped into situations that need corrected, sorting out the Southern Reach isn’t his first rodeo, though, it definitely could be his last. People involved with Area X have trouble maintaining a heart-beat.

Authority is a very different novel compared to Annihilation, don’t pick it up expecting Annihilation II. While Annihilation showed readers Area X from within, the way it maims, kills, Authority shows readers Area X from the outside, how it destroys the lives of those simply trying to understand what happened, trying to understand how the place even exists. We see this destruction through the eyes of Control, newly assigned as the acting-Director of The Southern Reach. Control is our narrator, he’s quick-witted, hard-working, with an amusingly dark sense of humor. It also becomes apparent soon enough that Control is in way over his head. The further he digs into The Southern Reach, Area X, the more he realizes that he is completely lost. He knows only two facts; Area X is lethal, and those who work at The Southern Reach, those with the highest level of clearance with the deepest connection to Area X, they don’t get to keep their sanity. With each question answered, Control is punched in the face with ten more. He doesn’t have to wonder why his colleagues are ready to bust out butterfly nets. It’s not terribly long before Control’s ready to grab a net and join in the chase. The story needs its moments of gallows levity, otherwise readers might end up not far off from Control’s state-of-mind. The novel is that immersive. As Control loses control of the situation, so does the reader. We feel what he feels, confusion that becomes fear that becomes abject terror. Authority is a psychological horror story, it’s about trying to comprehend an evil that’s incomprehensible. Area X is an evil that shows no mercy, it only demonstrates death, cold and unwavering.

VanderMeer creates an intense feeling of dread that grows with each turn of the page. We know that something bad is coming, but we don’t know what, or when. The novel gives readers fear of something malevolent that destroys one’s mind long before one’s body. The loss of self is something terrifying, it’s a fear that VanderMeer taps into with subtle grace. Authority really showcases Jeff VanderMeer’s talent for scaring the Hell out of people, lights on or off. Authority is slower-paced than Annihilation, it’s richer in psychological horror, character development, at the sacrifice of action. This isn’t a minus, it merely shows VanderMeer’s range of craft.

To me, The Southern Reach Trilogy is a literary chess match. With Annihilation, VanderMeer put his pieces on the board with efficiency and speed. With Authority, he methodically arranged his strategy, letting us capture just enough of his pieces to clear the board so he can show us that we’ve been wrangled into his devastating checkmate, The Southern Reach Trilogy’s end, Acceptance.

I totally can’t wait to see this thing through.

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That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote

March 08th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

So, to me, story collections are generally hit or miss creatures. You usually get three or four great stories by three or four great writers, some good stories by some very capable writers, then you get dregs. Story collections by a single writer tend to fare better, provided that said writer is good or great in the first place. Great story collections by great writers are definitely rare enough, but they do exist. That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote by K.J. Bishop is one such collection.

If you haven’t read K.J. Bishop’s novel, The Etched City, and you fancy yourself a fan of Speculative Fiction, well, then you haven’t really read the best of Speculative Fiction. I mention The Etched City because, by itself it’s an important book, but also, three of the best stories in That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote are set in the world of The Etched City, The Art of DyingThe Love of Beauty, and She Mirrors. If you haven’t read The Etched City, I actually recommend skipping those three stories, just set them aside, until you’ve read the novel that they would eventually become. Bishop wrote two of the short stories before her novel, but I think the short stories are better appreciated after reading the masterwork of which they’re a part.

While the three above stories are particularly important to me, because The Etched City is so important to me, they’re definitely not the only magic that That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote has to offer, not by a longshot. There’s the dark fairytale of Saving the Gleeful Horse, a story in which childrens’ games have deadly consequences in unexpected ways, There’s We the Enclosed, a story of searching for something lost that reads like a fever dream. The Heart of a Mouse is a post-apocolyptic nightmare, a story of people suddenly transformed into animals struggling to maintain their human minds, it’s kind of The Road meets The Tale of Despereaux meets The Rapture gone terribly wrong. Mother’s Curtains is a light-hearted look into the world of the absurd, a story of bedroom curtains that feel unloved, curtains that long to live as the masts of a pirate-ship.

It’s hard to really pick a favorite, the entire collection is that strong. Each story has a way of sliding into one’s mind, always to be remembered in one way or another. One story that struck me in a very personal way was Between the Covers, a story of a writer who lost her connection with her craft after taking on the Devil as her benefactor. Writers have a certain relationship with their words, their stories, Between the Covers depicts that relationship in a uniquely visual way. Honestly, I’d pay full cover value for that story alone. Tales of writers come to ruin always terrify and fascinate me.

A really neat facet of this collection is that in the closing pages Bishop discusses each story, talking about inspiration, points of symbolism, all those little questions you’d like to ask a writer after you’ve finished reading their work.

That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote is a brilliantly imaginative collection of stories written by an absolutely brilliant writer. K.J. Bishop is someone that doesn’t blink into existence every day, her use of craft is something special. She uses words to create life, to create worlds, to create art. K.J. Bishop does things with words that few writers can accomplish. Ultimately, she writes things that are worth reading, which is really all that matters.

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996+4= 1000

February 17th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

So, we are four posts away from one-thousand… I feel like the one-thousandth post should be something compelling, something to start kind of a renaissance, a revitalization of the blog. I want to clean the slate, cut loose some mundane things I said I’d write, but haven’t. I mean, who cares that it took me five years and many attempts to finally read Perdido Street Station by China Mieville? It’s a terribly overrated book. Yes, I know it’s heretical not to pleasure whatever part of the body Mieville sees fit, and calling something Mieville wrote overrated is worthy of being hanged in some circles, but I don’t care. I willingly commit both sins. There, I’ve just covered that promised, yet unwritten post. Who needs more? I definitely don’t. With my one-thousandth post, I want to start clean, and write something important, or at the very least, something worth the time it takes for me to write and you to read.

I have some ideas, rather, shadows of ideas that I will make solid in the coming days.

Still, I’m also open to reader suggestions (I know there are at least six of you!), but I only want really ambitious suggestions. No What sorts of movies do you like? suggestions. If you’re going to suggest something, or ask something, dig deep, way down. No topic is off-limits, no question is too personal. Either you’re going to guide my boldness, or I go it alone. It’s the one-thousandth post, it’s going to be something rather than nothing…

Leave your whatevers in this post’s comments (not in Facebook comments or tweets, please).

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