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12.31.2007

New Year's Cut

Disclaimer:

This blog accepts no responsibility for the following cut. The views expressed in the following work of art belong solely to the artists and do not express the views or opinions of this journal.

That said, outside of the lyrics, how can you not put this song on?

Some Bonus Mraz

Nice song.

A New Year!

The Pacific Northwest was excellent, but it's very nice to be home. Thanks to our family and friends for their generosity and hospitality in the holiday season. Jeanne and I wish you all the best in the new year.

I have a strong feeling about 2008. After meeting with Bernadette and Gretchen in Lake Oswego and receiving some great feedback from editors in the latter part of 2007, I'm very hopeful that we'll have success this year. The writing is improving and B's agency is moving and shaking.

I think when it comes to resolutions, I'll keep it simple. I want to keep track of all of the books I read. I'd like to do the same with my fitness by keeping a mileage journal. I'd like to spend more quality time with my wife, and continue to expand my voice on the page. And I think I'd like to become more involved with volunteering in the Jacksonville community.

For this space, I'd like to blog more closely about the publishing process (my fingers are crossed that it will mean some interesting discussion on book production) and get some additional input from those reading on books, movies, markets and stories out there.

Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve everyone, and listen to this cut and just try to keep from shaking a leg. I dare you. See, you can't do it.

12.17.2007

Markets, Articles and One Weird Anthology

I enjoy the Friday Feast over at the blog for the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market. I linked to Transmitter and Serpentarius over on the writer links section of my website. Both look like nice markets and pay professional rates.



What do you make of this anthology? Night of the Working Dead sounds like fun and will have solid distribution. The deadline is May of '08 and the floor is 2,000 words. I'm going to get cracking on this one...



Lastly, check out the link titled "Slush Pile Confessions" in the article list on my connections page. Patricia Chui's account of her time as an editorial assistant is simply hilarious. She makes writers out to sound, on the whole, a little unstable. I don't know how she got that idea...

Westward Migration

We hop on the big bird tomorrow at 6:20 EST for our trip back to the Pacific Northwest. We'll be in Cannon Beach for a couple of days, then it's on to Seattle, then Pendleton and we'll conclude with a few nights back in the Rose City.

I can't wait to celebrate five amazing years of marriage with my beautiful wife in CB. I can't wait to feel some cool air on my skin. I can't wait to eat meals with my family and play golf with my pop and get a run in with my sister. I can't wait to round a card table with my buddies and maybe get in some snow sports up at Mt. Hood Meadows.

2007 has been a very good year for Jeanne and I. Jeanne has experienced great success in her graduate program at the University of North Florida. She was one of the first in her cohort to land a job (she's a counselor at Forrest High School) and she passed the general knowledge test last Friday. She's doing amazing things for the kids she's working with and really helping some of them with their academics and ultimately getting to a college or university. On a personal level, she's getting lots of yoga in and paddling around Florida's tidal creeks on her kayak.

I'm thankful to have begun working with literary agent Bernadette Baker-Baughman. She read my manuscript back in February and, after accepting me as a client with Baker's Mark, we spent the summer re-writing Wendigo. We did three solid revisions that improved the narrative structure and pacing and I'm very grateful for B's help in that process. We are in our second round of submissions with the project and hoping for some good news in the first part of 2008.

I wrote four pretty good short stories and I'm just about done with my second novel. I also followed a tangent (25,000 words full of tangent) on a piece I'm looking forward to getting back to. I placed a short with Samsara and I'm still trying to find the time to get my stuff out there to magazines.

I thoroughly enjoyed my year at the college and I feel fortunate to have worked with some excellent students this year. I saw some real changes and improvements in the clarity and substance of what they're working on. Our environmental lecture series at the college was a rousing success and we were able to escape the classroom and incorporate Florida's ecology in the writing curriculum.

I'm looking forward to amazing things in 2008 and I wish nothing but success to all of you lurking here at The Byproduct (my google analytics don't lie!). Please introduce yourselves when you get a chance. Let me know where you're submitting and where I can read your work!

My blogging will be infrequent between now and January 02. That said, I hope to post some pictures of the Oregon Coast, the Cascades and Pendleton. Thanks for stopping in and best wishes to you all for a great holiday season!

12.14.2007

Rum Punch and Jeremy Robert Johnson

Elmore Leanord's Rum Punch is kind of a slog. It feels strange typing that, because he's such a strong writer, but I get the impression that this was just a practice novel. The characters are wooden and flat. The plot is a bit tired. The pacing is slow.

It's not at all like a usual Leanord romp.

That said, I think each writer probably has a ratio. For Elmore, it's about 6-1. He writes six great ones for every one average novel.

Stephen King: 8-1 (yes, I'm talking to you, From a Buick 8).

Tim Dorsey: 4-1.

Carl Hiaasen: 5-1.

You know who always delivers? Joe Lansdale. The champion mojo storyteller is just about the most bankable talent I can think of.

Speaking of which, I compiled a holiday wish list yesterday of some much-admired books. At the top of the list was High Cotton (to go with collections and novels by Bradbury, King and Paluhniak). Also, I've been looking to grab something by this talented writer.

Jeremy Robert Johnson's story "A Flood of Harriers" was featured in Cemetery Dance #56. They also ran a nice interview with Johnson. The man's a talented writer and an Oregonian to boot. If you get a chance, grab some of his stuff. Very strong.

And finally, I'm pissed off at the Baltimore Orioles. That's my squad and for years, I've been a fan of Brian Roberts. Now I hear he's been jamming his ass full of steroids. I hope the birds get rid of all of the cheaters on this team (and believe me, the Orioles are what the officials are calling a "steroid pocket") and get back to playing baseball the Oriole Way. You have betrayed my trust, Major League Baseball, and I'm not sure how long it will take to win it back.

12.13.2007

Ten Best Movies List

Let me begin by saying this list only comprises major motion pictures that were released in the United States. But even saying that rings hollow, as I didn't take nearly as many solid chances with my film-viewing this year as I should have. And, I didn't see a lot of the great stuff that I wanted to, for various reasons. Somehow I didn't catch American Gangster, No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton or Eastern Promises. So take this list for what it's worth.

Number Ten: Live Free or Die Hard is a guilty pleasure. What can I say? I love Bruce Willis and I've always been a huge fan of the series. And I wasn't the least bit put off by McLane surfing an F-15.

Number Nine: Beowulf was better than I thought it would be and I liked the storytelling and effects. If this is the future of films (and it's not) then we could do worse.

Number Eight: Zodiac is an excellent investigation of obsession and depravity. It works well as a slow-building procedural and the chemistry between Gyllenhall and Downey, Jr. makes it a very underrated film.

Number Seven: 28 Weeks Later was a nice little political allegory about segregation and life in times of conflict. A very solid sequel.

Number Six: Fido was just an interesting re-imagining of the brain-hungry zombie trope. I loved the satirical rendering of '50s-style America and the class consciousness of the haves (with lots of zombie servants) and the have-nots.

Number Five: Rescue Dawn just makes you want to cry at times. Someone get those guys a good meal! Herzog's steady hand and the combo of Zahn and Bale make this a must-see.

Number Four: The Host is a feel-good creature feature from South Korea that will warm your heart and make you smile. Excellent film.

Number Three: 300 is both visually stunning and masterfully plotted. I think it's at the top of the blue-screen film list.

Number Two: 3:10 to Yuma is so well written, played and filmed that it should just be called 1A. I put this one up there with The Unforgiven and Lonesome Dove.

Number One: The Lookout was a truly great film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance shines, and the story is both heart-breaking and life-affirming. The caper at the center of this film builds well and the message at the center is one of redemption and hope. Take a look at this movie if you haven't yet.

12.12.2007

Serialization

I recently finished a short story I'm pretty proud of, but it checks in at a whopping 7,300 words. A story like that represents a real double-edged sword. Unfortunately, it takes about 80% of the markets off the table from the start (I've found 4,000 words to be about the most marketable length for a short). That means that most of the zines don't want it and it disqualifies itself for some of the finer small-print and PDF magazines as well.

The flip side is, if it's as good as I think it is, then it'll find a home at a more substantial market. I'm thinking I'll send it to Asimov's, Cemetery Dance, Fantasy and Science Fiction and Weird Tales. I think I'll even take a flier and try Playboy.

Now those are some of the heavies and I understand the competition is stiff, but if the story strikes a chord with an editor--it's a great placement. It gets your name in front of lots of readers and automatically becomes your go-to plug when listing your credits.

Is "The Glimpse Society" good enough to find a home with one of these? I sure hope so. It was a hell of a ride writing it.

That said, some of these magazines will also run a piece longer than mine--say 25,000 words--in a series. This was common practice (and profitable) in the publishing world about a century ago. But I wonder how audiences would respond in '07. I'd subscribe to a magazine solely on the merits of the one story if I knew they'd run a three-four edition tale penned by King or Lansdale. But there aren't many writers out there that have this kind of influence, which makes the 25,000-word short story a very difficult placement.

And I ask this partly because The Golden Compass is getting heavy criticism now, it seems, for its cliffhanger ending. I know it's likely part of a trilogy, but I wonder if this practice isn't seriously damaging some of the films that are out there. I could accept it with the second in the LOTR series, but Pirates of the Caribbean is tiiiirrrrreeeeddddd with their open conclusions.

Why can't these guys seem to write a fully actualized narrative while still leaving the window cracked for the next series (and maybe the best we've seen in the film industry recently in doing this is the Harry Potter series)?

So I guess my take is: serialized films, not so good (lately); stories and novels, willing to give them a try.

What do you think?

12.11.2007

Parade of Phantoms and the Horror Mall

300 pages. That's how much academic non-fiction I've been wading through this week, with roughly forty-five students submitting papers of six to ten pages in length. Needless to say, I look forward to the conclusion of the week, and then it's off to Oregon and Washington for the holidays.

Parade of Phantoms is an interesting market offering up a pair of short stories every Monday. They are looking for suspense and mystery with a haunting element to the narrative.

Also, get a look over at The Horror Mall. I'm pretty excited about that anthology listed in the left-hand margin (Fried! Fast Food Slow Deaths). I've always enjoyed horror fiction set in the restaurant industry, so this might be pretty solid.

Any news from any of you on the submissions front? Please use the comments section below to plug your stories that find homes...

12.07.2007

Madman Stan and Other Stories

I picked up Richard Laymon's Madman Stan and Other Stories and simply could not put it down. The writing is ok--it's not the most lyrical prose you'll ever read. But the content is amazing. Laymon is a superior creative talent. The title story is pretty fine, but my favorites include "The Maiden" (a nice twist on the teenage rite of passage tale), "The Champion" (a macabre tale of possession and the cruel hand of fate) and "Bedtime Stories" (a little ditty that would have made a fine episode of Spielberg's Amazing Stories).

Laymon's writing is filled with awkward sexual tension and gruesome plotting. His protagonists, on the whole, are decidedly immoral. Laymon enjoys goading the audience into rooting for a character to get out of a horrific situation, only to then push that character into committing an act of depravity (often unprovoked). If there is a common thread in these stories, it's that people do bad things to each other.

If you liked The Collection, by Bentley Little, you'll enjoy this book. While not in the category of King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes or Lansdale's Mad Dog Summer and Other Stories, this is a set of stories that will compel you to hit the word processor and generate some of your own dark work.

12.06.2007

The Golden Compass

December has been a great month for high fantasy over the last couple of years. The Chronicles of Narnia, while not great, wasn't a disappointment. And The Lord of the Rings trilogy, of course, made December a month to pine after in the early part of this decade. The Harry Potter films have been pretty good (some released in November).

Now we have The Golden Compass, a film that's garnering it's fair share of criticism from religious groups calling it a "stealth atheism campaign." The film looks stunning and is being released by New Line Cinema (same house as LOTR). I have to say this looks excellent! Take a look at the first five minutes and let me know what you think. It definitely has the same feel as Jackson's pictures.

It will be interesting to see if the same groups that made The Passion of the Christ such a phenomenal success will doom this one to failure. The Passion was unique in that mega-churches and religious organizations rented whole movie houses. Many saw the film three or four times while it was in the theater. If there is a backlash, and I've heard the Christian talk shows have been calling for a boycott for a month or more, it'll be a real shame for what has proven to be a magical series of books for children.

I think there will be audiences that stay away, but the negative discussion will catalyze folks like myself, that might not have looked at the film otherwise, to go and take a look. Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig work together again on this one (they made the critically panned Invasion earlier in the year), and I now have high hopes for it.

I think, like the books that get banned in the libraries, The Golden Compass will have enough controversy-based interest to make up for the lack of patronage by the conservative religious audience.

Will you folks take a look?

12.05.2007

Perspective

Perspective is a neat word because of its nebulous qualities. It encapsulates so much. When you're young you lack it. You gain it as you mature and sometimes your perspective just needs an adjustment (this Saturday is the third official Jimmy Buffet day here in Jacksonville!).

Agent Nathan Bransford wrote a very honest post yesterday on some of the heart-breaking rejections he must make on all manner of non-fiction projects. He concludes by delivering a hard truth--not every person is wired to write a book. And on the other side of that coin, not every person has a compelling story to tell about himself or herself.

Or even a factually accurate one (ie. James Frey).

It's a simple truth that not everyone has lived a life (or been raised in a family) that would make a story New York publishers salivate over. For some, this might be a sad realization. For others, it might be a validation that their experiences (those things that shape our perspective) were, on the whole, happy and healthy.

I fall into this second camp. I have a wonderfully supportive family filled with creative, talented people. But not a one of us has worked for the circus. My parents never smacked each other around. Neither of my sisters dropped out of school to follow, respectively, the New Kids on the Block or the Backstreet Boys on their world tours.

I spent my childhood in amazing places (Colorado and Oregon) and grew up in the long shadow of a very loving marriage. My parents, in a lot of respects, are my heroes. The things I enjoyed growing up--movies, the outdoors, books, folklore, food, sports and time with friends and family--are the things I enjoy now.

Would New York buy that story? Hell no. Will I one day write it? Hell yes, because I want my kids to know about me and I want my folks and sisters to see how thankful I am for them.

I think each of our lives represents a tremendous narrative--a miracle synthesis of choice and fate; personality and biology. Just because New York won't come calling doesn't mean that the story shouldn't be told.

And about my background? None of it amounts to a hill of beans when it comes to the type of fiction I write. Thankfully we live in a place where our ideas govern our content, and we are free to write whatever we please.

And on that note, I think it's time to return to my short story on "thinnies."

Oh, yeah. Writing post: I think it's difficult to write fiction in the second person perspective.

12.04.2007

Speculative Topics--Celebrating the Apocalypse

So what is it about the end of the world that has all of us dying to read (or watch)?

Stephen King wiped out the population in The Stand and then did it again in Cell (not to mention "The End of the Whole Mess," "The Mist" and "Night Surf"). As I've made abundantly clear in this space, the best book I've read in years is the post-apocalyptic The Road. In two weeks we'll get the film adaptation of Richard Matheson's excellent I Am Legend. And that will precede years of offerings from Justin Cronin (a.k.a. Jordan Ainsley) in the form of a post-apocalyptic vampire trilogy.

So what is it about the end of the world and popular culture? Why are we so fascinated by the prospects of it?

I can't say for sure, but I do remember that in high school I used to lifeguard at the city aquatic center in Pendleton. About ten miles west of town the U.S. military has created a storage facility for all of their unspent (and past expiration, no doubt) munitions from the various wars. As you drive along I-84 you see row after row of hideous bumps rising up from the prairie--they're bunkers, all of them stuffed with mustard and nerve gas.

It's some scary shit.

I used to sit in my lifeguard chair and wonder what I'd do if we had an earthquake (not uncommon in that part of the country) and a cloud of life-altering gas started heading toward Pendleton on a stiff easterly wind. How would I react? Where would I go? Who would I ally with?

I watched the pool also, but an awful lot of my idle time in that chair was spent wondering what if. And I think that's the real draw. Humanity is curious about its mettle. We wonder if we're hearty enough to be the survivors. And it wouldn't be just natural or chemical or nuclear catastrophe we'd have to deal with. It would be social manipulation and group-think and misplaced belief that would foul the machinery as well.

For an excellent view of those principles at work, I recommend the 1964 Twilight Zone episode "The Shelter" to your consideration.

So why do we dig the idea of the apocalypse so much, guys? What is it about the most horrible of horribles that so captivates our culture?

And which of these stories is the best, in your opinion?

12.03.2007

Don Imus and the Kindle

An interesting couple of weeks have passed since we last talked about the publishing industry. I was happy to see that Galleycat reported another solid month in terms of book sales. The post stated:

The Association of American Publishers released its latest figures on book sales: an increase of 5.7 percent for the month of September, and yearly sales maintaining their climb with an increase of 9.9 percent. The Harry Potter bubble is slowly receding; children's/YA hardcover was down 12.8 percent over August's numbers. But don't shed a tear just yet: The category still produced $87.1 million in sales, over $15 million more than adult mass market paperbacks, which are in decline 7.5 percent for the month and 6.3 percent for the year to date.

Also, I read today that the Great Cowboy Hat is back on the air at WABC-AM in New York. Imus put his foot in his mouth with his racist and sexist comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team, but his influence on book sales can't be disputed and I think his eight months off the air was satisfactory compensation for his comments. The true measure of his contrition will come in the months and years to follow as he and his new co-hosts tread into racially sensitive territory in discussing American culture.

And we have another venue through which to discuss books--one that many of the bibliophiles I know at the college sorely missed.

And finally, what do you guys make of the Kindle? I collect books and I love them. I enjoy having stacks of them around my office and at my home. I love to curl up with a paperback in bed or take a copy on an airplane. That said, I will eventually get an e-book reader. Maybe not a Kindle ($400!?), but when the price comes down and competition perfects the design and utility, I could see myself taking a portable media center with me just about everywhere.

I think it will have a solid impact, years down the road, on the price of college textbooks, and with some of the design I've noticed out there in the world of e-books I can't see much of a difference in the quality of the product. There will always be books, and for that I'm thankful, but I'm excited about where we are going with technology. I'm eager to see how this will impact the future of publishing, and I think most new and emerging authors should probably look at this as a positive for exposure.

What do you think? Will you buy a Kindle, and if so, why?

12.01.2007

New Fiction Markets and Pictures

Today they play the Civil War in Oregon and I'm not too confident in the Ducks. Our quarterback situation has been dismal of late, and I think Jonathon Stewart is a little bit banged up. That said, OSU isn't at full strength and it's at Autzen, so I think it should be entertaining and pretty even.

I linked to about half a dozen new fiction markets at www.danielwpowell.com/page05.html, including a promising market (Shroud) that is seeking content for its first issue in January. I also added some new photographs on the photo journal page.

11.30.2007

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian


Sherman Alexie has long been a favorite of mine, largely because his are among the most engaging short stories widely anthologized in the college readers. My students react well to Alexie, Carver, Shirley Jackson and Twain. I love to teach Faulkner and Gilman, but the students find that stuff a slog.


Alexie, though? They love his voice, and I do too. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian won a National Book Award, and deservedly so. Alexie excels with pacing and characterization. Arnold Spirit (Junior) is a self-deprecating, heroic narrator. He pushes the boundaries of life on the Spokane Indian Reservation and becomes a conduit between the Native American population and the white population in nearby Reardon. Despite straddling the line that exists between two very different worlds, Junior paradoxically is the one character that doesn't illustrate a dual nature. He knows exactly what he wants, and he has the courage to seek it out.
With a narrator as engaging and thoughtful as Junior (he actually says "I'm always saying dramatic stuff like that"), we take a tour through life on the reservation and in the city of Reardon. Junior's a great tour guide and lots of fun to spend time with.
The novel talks about loss in heart-breaking fashion (then blackly flips it on its head and pokes fun at it). In one scene, Junior's dad's best friend Eugene is shot in the face by another friend over the last sip of wine. It's a terribly sad chapter--one that's not that far off base when you consider news stories like the one below, which comes from the reservation outside of my hometown of Pendleton:

PORTLAND -- Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 20 for a man from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation who unintentionally killed a friend who had served him a beer can filled with urine as a joke. In a deal with prosecutors, David C. Shippentower, 46, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in November in federal court to punching Leonard Strong in the head on July 29, 2004, a blow that ultimately led to his death two days later.
According to the FBI, Strong and Shippentower were riding in a van on the reservation and drinking beer when Shippentower asked Strong to pass him a beer. Strong passed him a beer filled with urine, which upset Shippentower, who then punched Strong.
Court documents indicate Strong was left in a driveway in more than 100-degree heat and was later discovered by police officers and airlifted to Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. He died two days later of a subdural hematoma caused by the blow to his head.
Strong had a blood-alcohol level of .34. In Oregon, people with a blood-alcohol level of .08 are considered legally intoxicated.During court proceedings before U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty, Shippentower claimed he did not mean to kill Strong but admitted he was angered by the prank.
Shippentower will be sentenced in federal court on Thursday, Jan. 20. He could face up to six years in prison, the maximum for involuntary manslaughter.

Section: Local news
Copyright, 2005, East Oregonian (Pendleton, OR). All Rights Reserved.
Record Number: 34894
This book is billed as Alexie's first for young adults, but it's way beyond that. It speaks to anyone whose ever been an underdog--anyone whose ever wanted a life outside of the one prescribed for them. I highly recommend it.
I received a nice, hand-written rejection from the editors of Cemetery Dance yesterday inviting me to try again soon. Those are the simple gestures on the part of busy editors that validate the time spent at the word processor, and I hope to break into the flagship publication of horror fiction soon.

11.29.2007

Back in the Saddle, The Mist and Beowulf


Good to be back on the web. I hope the festivities treated you and yours well. We had a very nice holiday with friends. Lots of pictures upcoming on the website.


Beowulf was pretty good. I think Zemeckis and his gang of engineers (how many could that have been? man...) did a nice job with the animations. The characters' eyes were expressive, their mannerisms believable enough not to become a distraction. And the third act was truly exciting--a solid climax for an interesting film. Strangely, I found myself sympathizing with Grendel and I would have enjoyed looking at it in 3-D. The fly-away shot of the Danish partying in the mead-house and agitating Grendel was a beauty that I think would have been nice with the 3-D. Solid story (though a thorough deviation from the epic verse), neat animations and a tortured protagonist with a classic character flaw warrant a B for this sucker. That said, I hope this remains a novelty and never the norm.


Stephen King's The Mist was pretty good. Critics have been utterly fractured in their view of the film, and I fall somewhere in between. Made for a song (Frank Darabont said he did it for "seventeen and change") and rushed to production, the film had only a few slow spots. "The Mist" is one of the finest novellas I've read. It stands as one of King's finest creep-out pieces, and the film version was a little more politicized (a flaw) than the story. It skewers the military-industrial complex, fanatical religion (the crowd clapped wildly at one very pivotal point in the film when the "prophet" gets her just deserts) and the racist machinery of small-town America (tired, tired topic).


But the tone of the cooped-up survivors is well established. It oscillates between misery and hope--bravado and cowardice. The effects are fine, including one stunning scene when the survivors are on the road and get passed by an eight-legged beast that makes a brontosaurus look like a pet dog.


And the conclusion? Hoo-wee! It's been a long time since I've seen such a bummer of a final act. I didn't believe it at first. I sort of still don't. I can't wait to hear from those of you that saw that sucker to hear what you thought. Frank Darabont made it on the cheap to gain creative control and man, he sure used it.


Tomorrow we'll discuss The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. And lots has happened in the last week, so when we get back to chatting about the world of publishing and books we'll get caught up.


11.21.2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I love the holidays. I love spending time with family and friends, most of whom I haven't seen in a year or more. I love all of the good food and the afternoons devoted to watching movies. I love the football and the chance to fish for steelhead in Oregon and flounder in Florida.

The only thing I dislike is trying to slink away to pound away on the word processor. I find the best time to get a few words in is after everyone has hit the hay. The house is quiet and you can fortify yourself with a late-night sandwich (turkey and mayo on sourdough is pretty sweet). I plan on using Jeanne's lap-top when we fly out to Oregon--that's a solid block of time to get some work done. And there's always the journal in which to record your brain droppings.

But the work suffers during that time, make no mistake about it.

That said, I can't wait to catch up with friends and family. I'm very thankful for the hardy group of loyal readers that pop by these parts. I hope you all have success in the next year and that your creative passions lead to great art, whatever your mediums.

11.20.2007

Necrotic Tissue

Evening. Looonnnngggg day at the college today.

Necrotic Tissue is another very promising start-up, and I think the upcoming themes are all pretty interesting. I look forward to reading this sucker in January.

11.19.2007

Writing Process--Reasons for Rejection

We've touched on this topic in this space before here at The Byproduct, but I think this excellent post on the reasons Jessica Faust rejects work bears a little bit of a closer look. This post is about some of the general guidelines the publishing industry uses in establishing the marketability of a particular work. I think it makes sense that there is a baseline length that plays a (small) part in the discussion on where a book fits into the marketplace. I also think that it makes sense that a writer should ultimately fashion the story in the frame (whether that's 70,000 words or 150,000) that best suits it.

The think I'm most impressed with is Faust's final assertion that the story itself needs to be original. Not your platform (though that's very important for different reasons) or your games with language, but your story. She writes:

Essentially, though, your query has to have two things to make me ask to see more. It has to have an interesting and different concept and it has to be well written. It has to give me a sense that when I get the book I already know the writing is going to be solid.

So in this case, we see that the story needs to be unique and it needs to be well told. Duh, right? But I think putting the story first is sometimes lost in the discussion. We've discussed writing to trends and discussed the classic themes and types of conflict, but at the center of the issue is whether the story holds up. And for horror writers, that includes whether it blends the elements of fear, fright and anxiety with a unique plot or cast of characters.

I've talked a little about my drafting process, and I do feel comfortable that I'm taking this WIP in a direction that will set it apart from other works of supernatural suspense. My target for first draft is 80,000 words, and I expect it'll end up around that number when I'm through revising.

Where are you guys on your writing? Where will it go, and how are you getting there? Shoot me some insights on process, if you get a chance...

Also, a brief note on programming. I'll be out of the loop for holiday merry-making between November 22 and November 29. Oh, I might pop in on the weekend to chat Ducks and review a movie (The Mist) but that's about it.

11.16.2007

The Dark Half


I finished The Dark Half this week. It's a good yarn about the duality that exists in all creative people (so everyone, I suppose). But in this case we have George Stark, a rotting zombie of a sociopath that kills everyone involved with shoveling dirt on his grave.


King does a good job with pacing on this one, but I've found the third act a bit tired. Sure, sparrows are psychopomps. They usher in the living dead. I get it. No need to continuously spout that information as we approach the climax.


Sherrif Alan Pangborn is well drawn, a character whose charm is outlined in multiple King pieces. And Thad is, well...he's Thad. Not the best authorial protagonist that King's ever had (that honor belongs to Mike Noonan, of Bag of Bones), but a guy that rises to the occasion when the situation dictates.


King penned this sucker in the late eighties (published in '89). It stands as a fair example of his style, but is far from the top of his creative output. I recommend it to King fans that haven't looked at it in years, but not to those just discovering the man's work.


By the way, I also finished Hearts in Atlantis this week. I've been listening to it on tape, and that is a far superior novel. What can I say? The man can really write kids and young adults.


I'm heart-sick over what happened last night to the Ducks' football team. I'm hoping Dennis can make a full recovery and we win out and get to the Rose Bowl...

11.15.2007

Aw, no! Ahhhwwww, no!

Dennis is hurt and I can't communicate how sad I feel right now. He's a great young man and a stellar athlete, and a lot of our future rests on him. His dad is coming down to the field to sit with him, and I think it's a terrible sign.

Dennis has persevered through huge adversity in his time at the U of O. He's done an amazing job of keeping his head in the proper place to ensure a long and productive career with Oregon. I think he's been one of the best we've had (Maas, Musgrave, Fife, Clemens, Harrington, Smith) and that is saying an awful lot, since we've had so many great quarterbacks in our system.

Dan Fouts, by the way, is maybe the most underrated QB of all time, and at all levels of football. For Fouts not to be up there with the best is a travesty.

So now what? Our defense is stout. Our back-up is accomplished. Brady Leaf, you need to seize this opportunity, young man. We can do our thing, and we can move forward.

Man...

It's Here! Beowulf!

I asked friend and fellow film instructor Michael Haddock if he wanted to go see Beowulf with me when it's released this weekend. His response?

I’m really not too interested in the Beowulf movie. I hate Angelina Jolie, regardless of what country she adopts; and I’m annoyed that Zemeckis didn’t just make a real movie with real people instead of a video game movie with dead-eyed, plastic skin dolls. I wish he could forgo a little control for a little more verisimilitude.

Dead-eyed, plastic skin dolls you say? I'm in.

I'll try to see it Saturday afternoon, likely by myself. Jeanne has already said she's not on board. But I'm interested, if for no other reason than that the scream on the trailer is pretty haunting (definitely not the Wilhelm scream). The film features Ray Winstone (spectacular as the voice of Mr. Beaver in The Chronicles of Narnia), Anthony Hopkins, Haddock's favorite actress and John Malkovich. Part of me wants to see this in live action, but another part is wholly interested in what could either be great, or an utter train wreck.

300 and Sin City were unique and beautiful films. I enjoyed the narrative on both, and this tale pulls from one of the hallmark stories in the world of literature. Despite how it looks in the previews, I'm actually thinking it has a lot of promise. I'll report back after I see it.

I saw Spiderman 3 this week. Bleh! C-. The character development was scant (the real strength of the first in the series) and the special effects were nothing to write home about (the real strength of the second in the series). Right now I could take or leave this Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson romance, and that's not a comfortable place to be in for such a great story. If you make another, Raimi (and the threat looms on the horizon, as I understand it), then get back to developing the narrative and imbuing the characters with life.

The Ducks get Arizona tonight on ESPN. Worried? Yeah, actually, I'm really worried. Too many teams have fallen from that #2 spot to give me any sense of comfort as we head down to Arizona...

11.14.2007

The Health of the Short Story

It seems chic these days to take the temperature of the short story as a viable fiction medium. Stephen King expresses his dubious outlook in the Sunday Book Review of The New York Times. The thrust of King's commentary is that the health of the medium is "apt to deteriorate in the years ahead." This view is based on, as always, the profitability of the magazines that publish short stories and the mainstreaming of content by magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly, which marginalizes emerging voices.

My take remains relatively sunny. I think about the stuff I read, chronicled in this space last week, and it seems that emerging voices are penetrating the marketplace fairly regularly. Although I mainly read novels, I am apt to purchase a collection of short stories or three in a calendar year. And I think the expansion of quality, paying zines has streamlined (positively, I might add) the process of getting fresh work in front of discerning eyes.

I have to add that I feel fortunate to write in the age of such inclusive technology. I think that, while there will always be a select minority that avoid digital publishing like MRSA, the platform will continue to evolve, allowing for both profitability and exposure in time. Will there be growing pains? Of course! Maybe a lot of what's out there right now in the world of E-books has been grossly undervalued and is waiting for the market to catch up and correct itself. And who is to say when that will be?

But as I've said here previously, I support the magazines that I support, but I read most of my short fiction online. That's a new paradigm for me in comparison to three years ago.

And Galleycat today linked to Fictionwise, a web-source offering a couple of free short stories while offering others for sale at $1.49 a pop. Score one for the health of the short story, in my opinion.

11.13.2007

Tower of Light Magazine

Ok, ok--I know I'm woefully short on fantasy markets when you crunch the numbers. And I know I don't read enough in this fine genre (recommendations, please!). But Tower of Light is a pretty interesting market. The second edition is online and features stories and book reviews. It seems to be a treasure trove of esoteric fantasy discussion, and some of the artwork is sharp.

Also, for those in the Jacksonville area looking for further discussion of Duval County's growing green movement, please try to stop by the Deerwood Center tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Dave McLintock, a representative of the Al Gore Foundation, will provide an enlightening presentation called An Inconvenient Truth. Maybe you've heard of it?

It should make for an interesting discussion.

11.08.2007

Against All Odds

Full reviews tomorrow. In the meantime, please load this video and enlarge it and dance with the person next to you (regardless of the relationship--I don't care if it's your boss).

Phil!

Bug and Lions for Lambs

William Friedkin, while one of my favorite directors, is definitely a hit and miss prospect. His projects always pique my interest--he's one of a few directors that make me stand up and take notice (Spielberg, Boyle, DePalma, Fincher, Brad Anderson, Coppola). The director of the excellent The French Connection, The Exorcist and To Live and Die in L.A. also made such stinkers as The Hunted, Jade and Rules of Engagement.

But Bug is something else. Something in between.

I didn't like it much on first glance. Nor did I dislike it. I was a bit...well, perplexed by it.

On the surface it's an atmospheric thriller about paranoia and government surveillance. But beneath it's the story of a sad pair of damaged drifters that find themselves drawn to each other to experience human contact and interaction. You might not recognize Ashley Judd (playing Agnes White) in this one. She's a chain smoking, coke snorting bi-sexual serving wench that allows the creepy Peter Evans (played capably by Michael Shannon) to shack up with her. We haven't seen such a used-up character since Charlize Theron played Aileen Wornos in Monster. We also get a great performance by Harry Connick Jr. (underrated actor) who plays a menacing scumbag of an ex-husband that drops by White's apartment to snarl at her and smack her around. He's not a very nice guy, but in the end, you find yourself rooting for him to put two and two together and save Agnes from herself.

It's about co-dependency and isolation and while it's not a perfect film, or even a very good one, it's an interesting and memorable descent into madness. The final scene is heart-breaking, and on second thought, I don't think it could have ended any other way.

Lions for Lambs is out this weekend, but it's been getting hammered by the critics. I'm intrigued by the story, but I'll wait to look at it on DVD. The Horrorfest '07 phenomenon has reached Jacksonville, and I'm gearing up to see Borderland, Tooth and Nail and Mulberry Street this week.

My apologies for the delayed writing this week. I graded better than 100 papers and piled up a couple of thousand words on my WIP. There's a lot to discuss in the world of publishing next week, starting with the purported death knell of the short story...

The Ducks start the hoop season tonight against Pepperdine. With all of the upsets this week (Gardner-Webb over Kentucky? Are you kidding me?), I'm going to watch this one with a lot of interest...

Stop by www.danielwpowell.com tomorrow afternoon for updated photographs, markets and writing links (waiting on the batteries to charge for the camera)...

11.07.2007

Short Story Composition

Ray Carver, my favorite writer of short fiction, once remarked that he wrote short stories because he could turn them around quickly for sale. Stephen King, the master of the uber-novel (The Stand checks in at over 1,000 pages) echoed that sentiment in On Writing, offering an excellent anecdote on once receiving payment for a short story just in time to buy penicillin for his sick children.

There's a lot to recommend this literary form (Poe was the first champion of the serious study of short fiction, and to my thinking, this qualifies it as a uniquely American art form)--not the least of which is practicality. You can sit at the computer and have a finished narrative (rough form) in a matter of hours. Even shorter if you write flash fiction.

And there are lots of markets out there, making it perhaps the most democratic (term used loosely) literary form in which to work.

So which collections are the best?

Writer of the Purple Rage, by Joe Lansdale
The October Country, by Ray Bradbury
Dark Carnival, Bradbury
Best Sellers Guaranteed, by Lansdale
The Stories of John Cheever, by John Cheever
Stories, by Richard Bausch
Where I'm Calling From, by Ray Carver
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Carver
Skeleton Crew and Night Shift, by Stephen King

And the gold standard:

Nightmares and Dreamscapes, by Stephen King

I read N&D once or twice a year. I love the tone of the stories. I love the diversity in content. I love the study in size and complexity.

I write about a half-dozen short stories a year, and my output usually corresponds with picking up this collection. I tend to write in the short form in cycles, and despite the fact that I'm cooking along on my work in progress, I'm feeling the need to write another short before Christmas. I've got a dilly of an idea percolating. I'll probably bring my copy of N&D home tonight and read "Rainy Season" and "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band." Those two usually get me in the mood. Maybe I'll save some space for "Crouch End."

Gotta have dessert.

So let me ask you. Which literary works fuel your fire to get to the keyboard?

11.06.2007

Heliotrope E-Zine

Sheesh-o-man...I look up and the day has passed me by and the work is piling up. In a few weeks the cold hands of responsibility will slide away from my neck...

Heliotrope is one of the purveyors of quality online fiction that I referenced in yesterday's post. Give the magazine a look and drop them a submission for the Winter 2008 edition...

11.05.2007

Online vs. Print Magazines...

I read about a dozen or so short stories each month. In terms of stories in traditional print markets, I usually read the current fiction in the New Yorker. We subscribe to Cemetery Dance in the library, and when they release a new edition of that sucker I read it cover to back. I try to pick up Asimov's Science Fiction over at Books-A-Million, and I'm prone to lingering over Ellery Queen while browsing.

But I've found that I'm reading more and more works of short fiction online. I think the quality of the content found on the net has only improved over the years, and with all of the solid paying markets out there (I've been linking to them on Tuesdays, and will continue to do so) now, well...there's less reason to get out there to the bookstores.

Don't get me wrong, I love to hold the hard copy in my hand. I received my copy of Samsara in the mail over the weekend and it was a thrill to see my work in there. But I think at one time there was a stigma attached to the zines. I think authors avoided them because they often didn't pay well and the design was less than professional.

No longer, though. There are some beautiful sites out there.

So I'm curious. Do you have a set of zines you read regularly? Are you willing to purchase a subscription for online content? Do you print the PDF versions and read them in hard copy?

Fire away, if you have an opinion, and let me know about your favorite markets so we can link to them on speculative Tuesdays...

11.03.2007

Blonde Faith and How Bizarre...

I actually kind of like this song. But I don't get how this guy got his job. He's not singing. He's not rapping. He's not really doing anything. It's a mystery. How bizarre.

I finished Walter Mosley's tenth Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins mystery this week. Blonde Faith is another fine literary thriller. I love Mosley's ability to convey emotion. Rawlins is truly a round character, a complex individual working through the deep wound of losing the love of his life to another man (Where I came from — Fifth Ward, Houston, Texas — another man sleeping with your woman was more than reason enough for justifiable double homicide. Every time I thought of her in his arms my vision sputtered and I had to close my eyes...) and trying to find his place in a racist, early '60s Los Angeles. Mosley is a wordsmith--one of this country's finest. His ability to pace the chapters (short--five to ten pages max) and touch on characterization and setting in spare, succinct declarative sentences is admirable. The only qualm I have with the writing is a very small one, and likely a bit misplaced.

Mosley's characters all have crazy names. Easter Dawn. Christmas Black. Chevette. Tourmaline. Pericles. I understand that these characters populate a colorful L.A. in a time when nicknames are prevalent. But it gets a bit tiresome as the novel unfolds.

That said, it's a fast, interesting read and if it is the end of Easy, well...I think the final page was beautifully, tragically written. I can live with it if it's the end.

I hope it's not, though.

I've been hanging with Easy for all of the second half of my life, and I can't imagine a literary world where I can't depend on an honest man like him to try to set things square.

Go Ducks.

11.01.2007

Snakes on a Trail and American Gangster


I like to jog in the afternoons over at the Theodore Roosevelt Historic Area. Today I got about 100 yards into my run and had to hurdle a four-foot yellow rat snake smack dab in the center of the trail. It had just gorged on, presumably, a big 'ol rat. It took its time meandering into the brush, as curious about me as I was about him. It was really something to see--it had about an eight-inch long critter in its gut...
We have some interesting offerings in the theaters this weekend. Don Cheadle and George Clooney place their cinematic heft behind the documentary Darfur Now. The film features six stories of lives affected by violence in the war-torn nation.
American Gangster also hits the silver screen, and man does it have promise. Denzel? Russell? Shoot, homie, that's all you had to say! I'm really looking forward to watching their performances, and Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down) has the reins on what looks to be a sprawling, big-budget epic. Can't wait.
It also brings up the question: What is the best gangster movie ever made? The Godfather? The Untouchables? Goodfellas? Scarface?
Young Guns?
Let it rip in the comment sections if you have an opinion on this one...

10.31.2007

Happy Halloween!



Radio address broadcast on KKID 1430 A.M., Jacksonville, Florida, October 31, 2007 at 12:34 p.m.:


Tonight's the night, folks. The zombie revolution starts right here in northern Duval County (and you said we never made the news) when the sun goes down over Florida this evening. Officials from the World Health Organization have predicted a global epidemic of senseless hunger and unchecked decay.

The city of Jacksonville is converting a number of hurricane shelters into ZPZs, or Zombie Preparedness Zones.


Citizens have been advised to remain indoors after sundown, but you know how Floridians respond to evacuation warnings. If Star Wormwood enters our atmosphere, as astronomers predict, at 5:39 p.m.EST and parents don't advise their children to be wary of the lurching, stumbling undead, a catastrophe of epic proportions awaits us when the sun comes up in the morning.

Our advice? Lay in some provisions and throw on a couple of creature features folks. And make sure you don't sit next to any windows...

10.30.2007

The Willows

I want to link to a neat market called The Willows and applaud the editors for a great concept. A great many in this field cut their teeth on Victorian ghost stories and early American weird fiction and this is a case where the market drives the content and not the other way around.

I spent a couple of years in graduate school looking at the work of Poe, Lovecraft, Collins, Le Fanu, Broughton, Blackwood, Bierce and the like. The writing is superb; the stories are genuinely creepy.

Take a look at The Willows and what they're publishing before you saddle up to your next short story. You might surprise yourself.

10.29.2007

A Note on Writing Resources

Short post today, as we're nearing the end of the term at the college and things are piling up. I've been working with a group of creative writers that have really taken to the process of solid self-editing. They've gotten to know (really learn) their copies of the Writer's Harbrace Handbook: Brief Third Edition, so when issues come up they've been able to address them. This makes any teacher happy, because the majority of the questions (2/3 maybe?) that students ask are about technical aspects of mechanics, grammar and formatting. The answers are out there, and the best students find them and make the corrections.

But what about the resources for the writer just starting out? I highly recommend Stephen King's On Writing, a conversational, engaging and encouraging tome that is filled with biographical information and also some excellent practical advice on topics such as dialogue attribution, use of adverbs and pacing.

E.B. White and William Stunk Jr.'s indispensable The Elements of Style is a must-have for any fledgling writer. Read it cover to back before you set out to type the first line of your short story. The work will thank you for it.

And I like the links to Chuck Paluhniuk's tips and Richard Laymon's rules. Both are in the Writer's Links section of my website www.danielwpowell.com.

I've heard Donald Maas' text Writing the Break-out Novel is solid. And your local library will have a wall of books devoted to the subject, including How to Write a Novel for Dummies.

Any I'm missing? Please list in the comments section...

10.27.2007

NCAA Football Saturday

Ah, Florida. The drunken little gem of the south. Today marks the 75th addition of the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party here in Jacksonville. There's a crisp note of fall on the normally warm air and the people are happy and incoherent. The grocery store parking lot was populated by blissful, middle-aged men in shorts filling coolers with Coors Light and Corona. The roads are flush with cars staking their team allegiance (I passed a Jeep from Georgia with what looked like a life-sized rubber gator covered in fake blood on the hood).

I was even passed on the road by a middle-aged man in a Kia Sedona minivan drinking a tall-boy of malt liquor (Steele Reserve 211--eeeewwww!) at 12:30 p.m. What a town.

I hit the gym today and busted out some mileage on the treadmill. I have to say it was a great session, as I was able to pass a mental kidney stone I've had over the last month on outlining the final segments of my WIP. That should make for some strong writing in the upcoming weeks now that I'm confident of where to take this project.

The Oregon Ducks get the men of Troy toady at home in the biggest game in the history of the program. It's the first time in six years that USC isn't favored. It's also the first time in the history of Autzen Stadium that a pair of teams in the top ten tangle. I can't wait! I'm starting the queso dip at 3:00 and making ribs for dinner. We have the World Series tonight, as well as the CAL/ASU game at 10:00.

Saturdays in the fall are really something else. If you're reading this post in Jacksonville today, be careful and take care of yourself and those around you. We can't afford a repeat of last year's hostilities in the downtown area...

10.26.2007

Reviews--Hurricane Punch, After Things Fell Apart

I'm working on Walter Mosley's Blonde Faith. Another (and potentially the last) Easy Rawlins mystery. Review next week.

I finished Tim Dorsey's ninth Serge Storms romp Hurricane Punch this week. I recommend it to fans of the series--Serge and Coleman are in top murderous form--but I'm starting to hunger for something else from the talented Dorsey. I have to compliment him on his style. He's a phenomenal humor writer and Hurricane Punch is packed with comedic treatments of common Florida chicanery (hurricane looters, punks in low-riders with throbbing bass music, price gougers). The pacing is crisp (forty + chapters) and the narrative is very cinematic.

But I'd love to see Dorsey write a stand-alone thriller or a straight crime story. I think there's a lot of territory he can cover, but the Serge series is taking up most of his energy. This isn't the best in the series (Hammerhead Ranch Motel, Florida Roadkill and Triggerfish Twist are my favorites), and I hate to admit it but I'm growing a bit weary of Serge and Coleman. Dorsey's got the writing chops, but I've had (until Atomic Lobster, I suppose) it with the hysterics.

Ron Goulart's Things Fell Apart is a nice little diversion. Published in the late '70s, it's a short, satirical look at a dystopic future in which the U.S. government has been dissolved and California is governed by territorial warlords. It's not unlike The Warriors in that respect. It's the story of a private detective (Jim Haley) trailing a group of feminist assassins. His investigation takes him to the Nixon Institute, a kind of retirment facility for aging rock stars, San Rafael, a sin-filled city run by the Amateur Mafia (no Italians allowed), and Vienna West, a sprawling psychiatirc facility. Goulart's cynical sense of humor and sharp dialogue make this a fun read. Recommended for fans of science fiction.

Mike Bellotti will be the featured guest today on Rome is Burning on ESPN and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead appears in theaters today. With a great cast (love Albert Finney!) and an interesting story I'm intrigued, but there's not much out there in terms of publicity.

Enjoy the weekend.

10.25.2007

Environmental Lecture, Psycho and Beowulf

Special thanks are due to Neil Armingeon and the office of the St. Johns Riverkeeper for presenting on the topic of water conservation in Northeast Florida. Neil gave a succinct, highly topical discussion on the need to address our water management policies now and to remain vigilant into the future as our population continues to increase.

I want to also thank the faculty, staff and community members that made it out to this important discussion. These are both individual and community issues we need to negotiate together, and I was impressed by the questions and spirit in the room.

We looked at Psycho this week in our film class, and I think it left a solid impression on those who hadn't seen it previously. I do really enjoy this film. Hitchcock does a fine job of establishing tone early, employing a creepy approach to the credits accompanied by Bernard Herrman's unsettling score. The early portion of the film is a taut little game of cat and mouse as Marion Crane (the fantastic Janet Leigh) endeavors to make a new life for herself in California's Inland Empire. Hitchcock paces the opening dozen scenes nicely before transitioning to the second act at the motel. Here we get the conflicted, sad Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins nailed it and few performances have been so closely scrutinized in the canon of American film as his) and the imposing house on the hill.

The shower scene. The swamp out behind the hotel. The murder of Arbogast and the tension Hitchcok creates when Lila goes looking after her sister. All of it's very well done.

Oh, and there's a pretty creative little scene that takes place in the basement at the arc of the
story's climax.

It's a classic and completely appropriate for this time of the year.

What do you make of this
project? I like video games as much as the next guy, but do you think this style of animation will hit home with audiences? It's like a cross between Shrek and Tomb Raider with an A-list cast, a solid director, a classic myth at its center and a big budget. It certainly will be interesting to see the reaction in November.

Let me know your thoughts on Psycho, what your expectations are for Beowulf and whether or not you'll pay nine rocks to see this
drivel...