Tuesday, October 30, 2012


It's the day before Halloween and I'm going to a party today. I'm planning to dress up as something in my closet.

As a kid I didn't have all that many exciting Halloweens. For a few years I was a cow (moo...), there was one time I was a pirate (before pirates were cool!), and once I attempted to be a vampire but, little did I know that a girl with deathly white face paint, a black-on-the-outside-and-red-on-the-inside cape, and fangs, was actually Cinderella! Yep, that's what I got mistaken for. Well, that was also before vampires were cool ...

Halloweens out here where I live are always cold and rainy, thus making the whole dressing up thing kind of unpleasant, which makes me wonder what they're like where the holiday was actually invented. Who thought it was a good idea to send kids out on dark rainy nights to beg candy from strangers? And all those dark, shadowy costumes?

Incidentally, what I'm reading is rather Halloween-themed, too: H P Lovecraft's "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath." I picked it up just for the title. Turns out you can't judge a book by it's cover but the title might be a good hint of what you're getting yourself into; long winded title=long winded book. Especially when it's H P Lovecraft.

I've only got a third of the way through and am having serious trouble. With his prose, with his way of obscuring the few important actions going on by squashing them into looong sentences that explain way too much at once. With his lack of any dialog until, like, page 98 (of 99!). I understand that he was inspired by certain other writers, but I don't understand what tradition thinks it's a good idea to have no dialog whatsoever. No, it's written that characters talk to each other, and what they say (or glibber), but it's not made into dialog. Which would be so much easier for me or, I expect, most readers (modern or of his time, too) to handle. Surely there was a reason--saving paper, maybe? a pathological fear of quotes-marks?--but I just can't fathom it.

Getting back to the action in the book, I can't really tell you what's happening. Every time an action takes place in the midst of the narration, which feels mostly like explaining of things, I have to go back and read again to figure out what it was. And just as the dialog-less-ness bugs me, the fact of vast sweeping actions taking place in single paragraphs has me grinding my teeth. A whole city is overrun by sentient cats in a paragraph. The main character seems to travel by ship halfway around the world in a page or two and scales the world's largest, most impossible mountain in an equal amount of time. Maybe I'm exaggerating (only because I can't recall his fuzzy details very clearly), but not by much.

Not that I dislike H P Lovecraft in general; anyone who can dash off a phrase like "an Acheron of multiform diabolism" without blinking really has an eye for the weird. But weird shouldn't mean impossible and, though he's popularly known even today, I wonder how many people have actually read him.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's About Time ...

I don't like time travel stories. Nope. Not for me.

Why? Well, a lot of reasons that could just as easily be someone else's reasons for not liking a different type of story. I don't buy into the whole premise, as it's so far outside of the realm of possible science. The whole butterfly effect thing  (you breathe in the past and the world is entirely restructured) has been done so many times, with so few variations in theme and result, etc, that I don't understand why writers still want to write something that's already been beaten to death.

The next common theme of time travel fiction, of going back/forward in time to meet/see yourself/significant other/ancestor/descendant does nothing for me. It's not going to happen, ever, in this world or another (I mean, can you imagine the disaster the world would be if you could tamper with its chronology in any such way???) so why even pretend?

If you are one of those people who likes time travel, then you're probably saying, at this point, something like "Well, isn't that the point of fiction? It's SCIENCE FICTION! And 99% of other SF and Fantasy won't ever happen, anywhere, ever, either!"

And you'd be right. That is very true. A lot of other tropes of the genre have been beaten past the point of death, too.

Maybe my real problem is that every time travel story I read sounds like the last one I read. Especially when you get into the mire of Back to the Future-style past-self/future-self stuff, I start to cry blood. It's been done! Let it die! Then again, maybe I've seen Back to the Future waaay to many times. That could be it too.

Although, I do like the third movie (as much as I can for time travel); I understand the appeal of putting a present-time character into a historical situation--then you can use that character as a stand-in for an audience that doesn't quite understand the time period otherwise; it helps us identify. You can explain things. But it's also pretty damn cutesy. I don't really do cutesy.

I don't get why people think going into the past could possibly in any way shape or form improve anything ever. 'I will go 150 years into the past to stop the plague of Rocky Mountain Weasel Fever that wiped out half of the world's population!' says the Heroic Time Traveler. Never once thinking this might turn out badly. Overpopulation much? It doesn't take a genius to see potentialities like this in every 'I WILL FIX THE PAST' scenario that's ever existed. Oh, and then you get the ones where the time traveler fixes the past, only to make it so they themselves were never born! Arrrg, spare me.

So maybe that's the crux of my problem. To time travel you (theoretically) have to be smart enough to build or operate a time machine, but also must be stupid enough to never wonder what could possibly go wrong. Because to time travel fully aware that you might screw up the chronology of the world to the point that you never existed in the first place either makes for a deep, subliminal message about time travel stories, or just proves the flaw of the theme.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Another Round!

So here's where I am:

Writing seems so easy and fun when you don't think about trying to get published--and sure, if you can be satisfied with the fact that no one else will ever see all the work you put into a story, don't sweat over it. If you don't care then don't worry about getting published. But if you want to be published, that's a chore in itself. Writing is just step one.

I sent out a half dozen or so stories a while back and have got responses from most of them (and in the meantime have been too busy to send much more out) (responses: no thanks, no thanks, and, you're getting closer...). So, with only a couple left floating around, it's time to prepare and send out another round. There are a few anthologies I want to try, and certain markets I feel more comfortable submitting to because I've been reading them for a while.

That's another thing; when it comes to submitting for an anthology you can only make your best guess as to what the editor wants, whereas if you want to submit to magazines you have to read them for a while first and, to have a good base to work with, you have to read a bunch of magazines. This makes for a LOT of reading.

Furthermore, you are not the only one writing clever stories and submitting them. The responses I've got from a couple different places give this indication: they get scores of submissions in a day, hundreds in a month, and only publish a few per issue. Your chances are less than 1%, even if you've got something great.

Which is why I've been trying to get myself out there everywhere possible; for me this means keeping on top of submission deadlines and the stories I have, coordinating what might go where, who wants what, accepted lengths, etc. I have a list of what I'm planning to send out soon (just once I'm satisfied they're good enough, which better be before the deadlines...), as well as a list of those magazines with designated reading periods, and what I might send to them once they've opened up. I'm working as my very own secretary right now.

And, finally, the issue of editing. I want to give these stories one more go-over before I send them out, but as I just did this with most of them, say, a week ago, I'll want to wait yet another week before I read again. Then they can go.

And hopefully someone will like at least one of these poor homeless critters and adopt it ...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Worlds Apart

I am still in Steampunk mode, with all the requisite niceties of language and thoughtful turns of phrase and polite conversation. It's fun, but I can already tell it's not my native tongue, so to speak. Sometimes you have to step out of what you typically do and try something different, and that's what I'm doing right now. But the minute I get done with this I think I'm heading back to the Wild West. Don't tell no one.

Funny how the two actually exist in the exact same time period, with the same technologies (real or imagined), but are--as they say--worlds apart. The West isn't known for its polite conversation and niceness. I suppose there's a part of me that enjoys, after being a grammar cop about everything I read, to write stories where the voice is avowedly NOT grammatical, no way nohow. Some part of me rubs its hands with vindictive glee to write dialog like: "He must of run off but it ain't bothering me none."

I'm actually not deeply versed in the realities of the Wild West (any more than I am of, say, the medieval world) but this, too, don't bother me none. I'll read what I have to and hopefully not make tons of mistakes. Honestly, there's not too much more I can hope for.

At the same time I am considering what would happen if you got a cowboy and a Victorian gentleman in the same room. And what they'd talk about...

What I'm reading: Lots of cowboy movies going on here, or there will be in the near future. Otherwise, I just finished a good collection of short stories by Ursula K LeGuin called Changing Planes. I really enjoy anthropology, especially of the peculiar--luckily, when you make it up, it can be as peculiar as you want! I'm also reading a book of life-stories from old timers in Oregon (which is where I live). It says 'Old Timers' on the cover, so I'm not being offensive or anything. And it's also pretty entertaining to read ninety-year-olds explain how they had to walk to first grade with a rifle just in case cougars came after 'em. Yup. Just in case.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Steam(punk) Bath

When I was in third or fourth grade my teacher , knowing I had Mad Reading Skillz, made me read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne) for an illustrated book report project.

Maybe I shouldn't have pretended to read The Army of the Potomac cover to cover earlier that year ... (I read the first few chapters and concocted a book report based on that. And no, I wouldn't even finish it today if it was in front of me).

In any case, this project was ridiculous because it was a 500+ page book and I was supposed to finish it in three weeks. "Read every other chapter," she said. Like this was any more reasonable. "Just let me read that one over there with the color pictures on all the pages," I thought but didn't say because I knew this wouldn't fly.

So I did it--reading every third chapter, and maybe only grasping a third of the material I did read. I wouldn't recommend 20,000 Leagues for third graders any more than I'd recommend Army of the Potomac. And despite whatever my teacher thought it would accomplish, I still don't like to read such dense books. Still, I have fond, if rather fuzzy, memories of the book; it was a slog but I liked it. It introduced me to the Victorian world and, though I didn't know it then, the concept of steampunk; two things I appreciate quite a lot, even if I don't often write in these modes myself.

I probably need to read a lot more steampunk even though I'm currently writing such a tale myself--I almost feel unqualified to write of an era I didn't live in even though, heck, that's true of 90% of my fiction. I also didn't live in ancient Mexico or the Wild West or any of the places I've invented in my own mind (well, maybe that last is up to debate?) but a little research and confidence can go a long way. I've read a lot of stuff by Jay Lake, who's a master of steampunk, and lots of other quality fiction from places like Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Shimmer Magazine, and others. And honestly you can only read so many of the half zillion books in the world today before another half zillion are published. After a point you just have to step out with what you know, what you've gathered and what you want to write about, and then just write it!

So that's where I am. I have an obtuse and unfounded fascination with the Victorian Empire, with daguerreotypes, with pseudosciences, and with the multiform, often quite confused Spiritualism that existed then. Ectoplasm, anyone? All these things have gone into the blender of my mind, been pureed on high, and then an additional twist folded in--anthropotheres. That's not a real word per se but, ah, sometimes it's good to know a bit of Latin. I have not read The Island of Doctor Moreau (H. G. Wells) but I suppose it would be something the same? Then again, the blender which is my mind also has lots of frayed memories of Victorian-era anthropomorphic animals; Peter Rabbit, etc. So this is just another of those connections that has always existed for me: anthropomorphic animals could quite naturally exist in Victorian society. And Victorian society, being rather structured and rigid, would treat different 'species' in different ways...

So I took that and played with it. And now I'm 20 pages into a rather quaint little vignette into steampunk-anthropotherian life in Victorian England.

I've never really read Dickens either so I don't know much about Victorian England ... oh, well. Just write it!

*Another thing you may find interesting, if you find this interesting, would be this web page:
http://www.wackyowl.com/victorian-portraits-animal-heads/, which I found while browsing portraits of Victorian gentlemen. Some of them are quite good, and though I was deflated a bit at first to realize someone else has already had the same idea as me, maybe in truth it means other people view the Victorian era the same way I do? And that's not so bad.