Something Wicked #10

So it's with a heavy heart that I report the transition from print to digital for the South African horror magazine Something Wicked. It's not that I have a stigma attached to online venues; quite to the contrary, my favorite magazines are now published on the internet. But editors Joe Vaz and Vianne Venter have done such a fine job with the hardcopy magazine that I think there will be a distinct void in the field without this handsome periodical. The layout and design of the magazine, coupled with the eclectic collection of international voices, informative reviews and columns (one of my favorite writers, John Connolly, writes a great regular column for SW) and keen illustrations make this a must-read.
My copy arrived two days ago and I've only read two stories (there are eight offerings in #10), but both "Phadder's Sins" and "The Blue Hag" were very strong. Sean and Craig Davis's "Phadder's Sins" is a macabre glimpse into a world poisoned by isolationist fear and devolution. It's a tale of morality and responsibility, and it ultimately raises more questions than it answers; that's a mark of quality fiction, in my books.

"The Blue Hag" is one of the more enjoyable stories I've read in a long while. William Meikle and Graeme Hurry have constructed a truly scary tale of generational reconciliation and mythology. The titular hag is a frightening character and the Scottish affectations in the dialogue add an eerie authenticity to this tale. Also, we get another tale of morality here--a central moral struck home by the wonderful question: Are ye a herdsman or a butcher? It's make yer mind up time...
Connolly's Confessions of an Accidental Author provides a glimpse into an upcoming film that was made of his short story "The New Daughter." Recounted with the hallmark humor and grace that typifies his writing, it's a fascinating look at the film making process. Here's to hoping he finishes the narrative in Something Wicked's new digital format.
And yes, there is that. Something Wicked is not going away, it's merely going online. I'm very thankful for this development, and I encourage those of you reading this to support the magazine as it makes the transition.
I was one of the more than seventy authors whose work found a home in Something Wicked. Although my story didn't garner the kindest of reviews, I have to say that Vianne and Joe handled my story with professionalism and care and did a great job of presenting it. The illustrations were fantastic and I'm thrilled to have been a part of this magazine's fine print tradition.
Joe is an actor, and his focus in 2010 is to continue to grow in his field. I give him a lot of credit. This magazine was born of his vision, and he did great things with it. I think, in looking at the editorial notes in #10, that Vianne will remain a central figure in shaping the future of the magazine. That continuity should serve the magazine well as it makes the transition online.
Kudos to both for their hard work.
In the collection of short stories that I'm reading (Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman) right now, the author says that he originally wanted to call the collection These People Ought to Know Who We Are and Tell That We Were Here. It was the sentiment captured in a Little Nemo Sunday comic, and it resonated with Gaiman.
I think that's one of the finest testaments to why we write--to why we create art. It's that notion of legacy, that sense of satisfaction that comes from saying, "I was here, and I did this."
As the editors of Something Wicked guide the magazine away from the print medium and into the digital realm, I hope they know that the ten hardcopy issues of SW that they produced clearly stand as fine examples of that theory.


Speculative Fiction News

I was fortunate to receive a note of good news on an essay I wrote last fall. The piece is part of my packet for potential admission to graduate school and focuses on narratives of the apocalypse. I think it's a solid piece, and I'm happy to say that it will published by World Literature Today as part of an upcoming issue focusing on world science fiction.

In other news, Warren Lapine's Tir Na Nog press, which stepped in to revitalize Realms of Fantasy last year, is bringing back Dreams of Decadence as well. Warren writes on his live journal that Dreams will be accepting e-mail submissions for at least the near future.

Space and Time is also now open to submissions.

And finally, I've been alerted to an ongoing situation at Oregon's Wheatland Press. Wheatland's ground-breaking anthology, Polyphony, is looking for preorders to ensure the survival of the series. If you have a couple of bucks to spare and are looking for a treasury of strong speculative fiction, Polyphony could really use your support.


Carving Out a Space

We live in interesting times. But when, in the course of human history, has that not been true? The world of publishing is changing rapidly. In some ways, this is really good for writers and readers. In other ways, it's just plain frustrating.

I admire J.A. Konrath an awful lot. I like the way he writes (I read Origin online, back when it was just a PDF on his website) and I appreciate his willingness to encourage other writers and share his extensive knowledge of the field. I have three of his hard covers (his Jack Daniels series is awesome; read it NOW if you haven't yet) on my bookshelf at the college, and I bought those after reading much of his stuff online.

He recently wrote a post about how our attitudes about media change in time. I agree with him. I'm going to get an e-reader when the stars align (price, function, accessibility), but I'll still purchase books as well. Books are never going away.

But this past weekend, I logged like eight hours putting twenty years' worth of accumulated DVDs on my i-touch. That, in and of itself, is amazing. It took me only eight hours to transfer twenty years of music onto a little handheld device. I took our old component stereo to Goodwill (egads, they accepted it!), as well as the cabinet that housed it. We're going to buy a sleeker unit this weekend. The CDs will go in a box. Someday Lyla will find them in the attic and wonder just what the hell we were thinking when she finds that old Ice Cube CD.

This, by the way, was a good thing. I don't mourn for those CDs. They were old. The cases were all cracked (a conspiracy by the music companies, I think, to have the little joints splinter off when someone sneezes near them) and scuffed. They were a little awkward to pack around everywhere too. I remember going to parties where the deejay literally had crates of cds. Now the sucker just needs a pocket.

So back to Konrath's points. We're changing how we engage with media, and writers need to be out in front of how they deliver their content.

He's written a series of excellent posts about earning money from the sale of online writing. I really like his advice in a recent post, in which he advocates for writers to get in on the ground floor of the e-pub revolution. His advice makes sense, and it's worked well for him.

But I'm wary of putting myself out there so thoroughly on an island. I've written three novels. One is under submission with my agent. One is up for sale on Kindle at the right of this screen, and one is in the revision process. I'm drafting the fourth right now. Along with that, I usually produce 15-20 short stories in a given year.

But I don't have the cache that a writer like Konrath does, and I don't have the platform to make a go of it in the way he is suggesting--at least not yet.

So here's what I'm working on. There are a number of online magazines (Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, tor.com, Apex, Abyss & Apex--to name just a few) that I admire very much. They pay well, they publish great fiction, they look good and they get read. I know I gobble up content from each of those every month. They archive work, and they provide an instant forum for discussion.

These are all great things, folks. Feedback, accessibility, attractive layout--it's all done well on the internet.

Now, many writers want to hold a publication in their hands. It's nice, I'll admit, to have a tangible magazine in your mitts like that. But those markets above, and many others like them, are in the process of redefining what it means to have a story published well on the internet. This, for me, is the online territory I'm trying to venture into.

As for the novels? I know life is all about timing and luck. I've been lucky before (my wife and daughter are examples A and B), but I've also seen the effects of bad timing (the real estate market collapsed eight minutes after I closed on my house in 2006). I can only hope that Bernadette can find a passionate editor who will like my work and go to bat for me with the publisher because, as the traditional path to publication grows ever narrow, it's hard to get a push behind a book (thanks to Editorial Ass for the link).

Marie Mockett, in her fine essay, writes:
  • Not long ago, Nielsen announced that Kirkus, one of four trade reviewers of books (which charged a fee, mind you), was closing. Ron Charles, the Washington Post Fiction editor, lamented via his Twitter feed: “Everytime we lose 1 of these rare independent voices we grow more dependent on publicists, authors' parents/ friends clogging blogs w praise.” Well, yes, that’s right. That is what will happen—and it is what is happening. It is, in fact, what has helped me with my book—the collection of readers and mothers and writers who are looking for something new. As far as I’m concerned, the bloggy-internet-online-bookclub-nightmare of publishers and editors can’t happen fast enough. As a reader, I don’t need to read reviews of the same writers over and over and over again. Yes, I understand that there is a hierarchy, that Margaret Atwood has been at this much longer than I have, and that she deserves my deference. I don’t believe, however, that I’m not supposed to have a career at all. New writers, after all, are the lifeblood of this profession that we are supposed to care about so much. I say we level the playing field sooner, rather than later.

I'm going to buy Mockett's book. It sounds like a great read. And then I'm going to post a few thoughts on it, as I do every week or so around these parts, because that is the changing face of the world of literature.

The keys to carving out a space, I think, are flexibility and determination. A writer needs those and luck and a thick skin and a supportive family and time and inspiration and Patron and...and...and...



Triage was an interesting reading experience. Three authors, known for their ability to bring the visceral side of horror fiction, were tasked with writing on a simple prompt: someone walks into a place of business and begins shooting.

Unfortunately, that's a pretty commonplace event in contemporary life (at least the 24-hour news cycle makes it seem that way).

I've enjoyed these authors individually, and I've put down others among their works. All three have been hit or miss for me, as I definitely prefer quiet or mundane horror (or psychological, for that matter). But I enjoyed Madman Stan and Other Stories and Darkness Tell Us by Laymon; I enjoyed Off Season and The Girl Next Door okay (I was told any horror writer with a sense of perspective simply had to read these two). Edward Lee's "Mr. Torso" was a riveting read, albeit a gross-out of the first order.

So I went in hopeful, and these writers more than delivered.

The trio of tales opens with Laymon's "Triage," a story that opens with a shotgunning and then ups the ante from there. This is one bloody tale. The prose is crisp, the tension high, the sex in your face--all Laymon staples, and done with his trademark glee here. Two of these stories end on extremely down notes, and this is one of them. Not for the faint of heart.

Lee's "In the Year of Our Lord: 2022" was my favorite story in the bunch. A space opera that operates on a number of subtle political and religious levels, this story is a fascinating descent into the search for religious meaning. The riddle at the story's center kept me guessing the whole way and Lee, who has a very obvious affection for Dick Laymon, pays homage to the writer while building on the opening narrative. Yeah, they use a lot of the same plot points early on. It's not a distraction though, as Lee's mystery takes off after about the tenth page. This one plays with encoded messages, political commentary and sex. Oh yeah, there's a lot of that. In parts, this story borders on erotica, though it never detracts from the heart of the narrative. And the end? Well, the end is just a great twist. Can't mention anything remotely related to it without spoiling it for the rest of you.

Ketchum's "Sheep Meadow Story" is the strongest in terms of craft. He is an excellent writer--more of a wordsmith than his predecessors in this collection. Stroup is a great character, an interesting combination of personal angst and ambition, who walks through his days trying to keep himself from growling. The third act is rich--literally--for our hero, who comes out golden.

I really enjoyed this collection. I recommend, particularly for fans of splatterpunk or more...well, overt horror.


Weekend Update

We're heading up to St. Simons Island, Georgia, this weekend to run a 5K and it looks like we're driving straight into the teeth of a winter storm warning. It's cold (43) and wet here in Florida today, and will be even cooler up north. Ah, well--it should be a fun race.

In terms of some interesting interviews, look at these conversations with
John Benson, Ellen Datlow and Joe Hill. This trio of interviews delves into the current state of speculative fiction while also discussing some elements of the past. I think Hill's discussion on the difference between magical realism and fantasy is really telling in terms of how writers need to market their work.

I always try the "literary" markets with my stuff, because while the plot might contain speculative elements, we're all still just addressing the human condition. That's what writers do, across genres, and that's why it always feels so limiting to get into the discussion of literarture versus speculative fiction.

Now to contradict myself a bit, I will agree with Datlow that it's sad that many modern bookstores don't have a horror section. Our local bookmine (
Chamblin's downtown) does have a horror section, and it's really well stocked. I can usually kill a few hours in there no sweat just looking at the relics and artifacts.

I finished draft zero on a short story I've been working on for The Way of the Wizard anthology. I'll get down to polishing next week...

Enjoy the long weekend! I'll leave you with this letter written by (perhaps)
Abe Lincoln.


Top-Ten All-Time NFL Quarterbacks

I enjoyed Sunday's Super Bowl, more for the crisp game play and athletic drama than for the question that was bandied about in media circles the week before: if Peyton Manning wins, will he go down as the greatest of all time?

Look, Peyton is a wonderful quarterback who will ultimately go down with most of the league's meaningful passing records. At 32, he still has six or seven gravy years to go, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him get another two championships under his belt. The way the Colts draft, that team will continue to be competitive for years to come.

That said, any talk of the best ever is premature. He was outplayed again by the guy across the field, as Drew Brees completed just about everything he threw after the first quarter. That's a gunslinger, and a guy who made the clutch throws. Peyton threw a pick-six, which is another in a long line of underwhelming performances for a QB whose postseason record is 9-9.

Of course this list is subjective. And of course, my football knowledge is limited to the fact that I've only really been paying attention to pro football since the middle 1980s. That said, with an eye toward a history that I'm interested in, and with input from friends and family, here is my list:

1) John Elway: I'm a Denver fan, and I know this sounds biased, but he threw for 300 touchdowns and passed for over 50,000 yards. He made a lot of plays with his legs, running for 33 touchdowns, and he was the master of the fourth-quarter comeback. He almost single-handedly took mediocre Denver teams to the Super Bowl (and yeah, there were some blowouts in there), and he won a couple late in his career. He went out at the top of his sport, and he always handled himself with class and style.

2) Joe Montana: a gritty, never-say-die gunslinger, Joe Montana could really pass the ball. He was almost unstoppable on some of those '80s 49ers squads, and his cool demeanor in the face of pressure was his trademark. From his part in "The Catch" to his dominating Super Bowl wins, Joe Montana is, for many, the NFL gold standard.

3) John Unitas: my dad's favorite player and a true warrior of the game, Unitas made the Pro Bowl ten times. Looking at his career stats, you see the dominance in the sheer number of statistical categories he lead throughout his career. He tossed the ball around the yard and is probably most responsible for the type of football that is played in the NFL today.

4) Brett Favre: A guy who surprised everyone with his performance this year, Brett is a tough guy with an unbelievable arm. He's a winner and maybe the most entertaining QB to watch in the history of football. He attempts throws most quarterbacks wouldn't dream about, and sometimes he even pulls them off.

5) Dan Marino: I loved watching Dan play while growing up. I could watch Marino to Clayton all day, and many Sundays I did. He stood like a tower in the pocket, pass rushers flying all around him, and delivered the ball on time and in style throughout his career. A stat god who never won the big one, Dan is a good example of how great players need help to win championships.

6) Tom Brady: I can't understand how folks put Peyton ahead of Brady. Three championships. Some amazing records (the dude threw fifty touchdowns one year; he had six last year in the first half against the Titans). And he did most of it with receivers like Troy Brown, Deion Branch and Jabar Gaffney. Tom will move up this list before it's all said and done. He'll have a monster year in 2010/11, I think.

7) Terry Bradshaw: a tough guy with four Super Bowl wins--'nuff said.

8) Peyton Manning: a fantastic regular season player with uncanny timing and a true knack for field leadership. The simple fact is, though, that he should have a few more championships. With Harrison, Faulk, Wayne and Clark around him through the years, you'd think he'd have made it happen. His story still needs a third act, so we'll see if he can overcome the big-game mistakes he's made in the past and rise to the occasion.

9)Warren Moon: a personal favorite who could sling the potato, he threw 291 touchdowns in an abbreviated NFL career. You could never count the Oilers or, for that matter, the Vikes out when he was at the controls.

10)Bart Starr: I'll defer to John Clayton on this one.

Peyton seems like a good man. We know he's a great player. But until he gets his postseason record over .500, let's not anoint him the greatest ever to play the position.

And on another note, if the NFLPA and the owners go to a work stoppage, then they might as well just cancel the league. If they turn their backs on an American public that just posted the greatest ratings in the history of television, then they'll lose their business to greed--as simple as that. Just ask the NHL how that worked out for them (or the NBA or MLB, for that matter)...


Market Update: Abyss & Apex

There's plenty of strong speculative fiction appearing in magazines all over the internet now, and a terrific source for a lot of it comes from Abyss & Apex. Many of my favorite writers have appeared in their pages, and you can expect a strong diversity of content and style when you drop by for a read. I particularly enjoyed "The Wrong Basement" in #32...


Weekend Film Notes

Away We Go is such a sweet, disarming little film that you forget how serious it is at times. This is a film about disarray and self doubt and personal identity--some heady stuff indeed. At the center of the film are Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph). Burt sells re-insurance and Verona illustrates medical textbooks. They live in a drafty, single-wide someplace cold, and they're a few short months from having a baby.

In one early scene they sit huddled beneath blankets--freezing because they tripped the circuit again on the poorly wired single-wide--and Verona mutters, "Are we fuck-ups Bert? We're thirty-four years old. Are we fuck-ups?"

They go back and forth and finally Verona whispers, "I think we might be fuck-ups."

"We're not fuck-ups," Burt whispers back.

This line of dialogue plumbs the central aspects of the characters. Verona is searching for something better--for herself (she's clearly a talented artist) and her future family. Burt is the eternal optimist, happy in the moment, thankful to be with Verona.

When they embark on a series of investigative roadies to check out where they'll settle to build their family, predictable chaos ensues. Burt takes it all in stride, while Verona is a overtly dubious about these places.

The film shines in the embedded narratives. Allison Janney, Jim Gafiggan and Maggie Gyllenhaal are all superb in their turns. There is some serious hilarity in one of the most uncomfortable dinner scenes you'll ever see.

Written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida and directed by Sam Mendes, this is a film that truly shines in the comedic and somber moments alike. A sure-fire 'A' and a great way to spend a few hours...

Legion, on the other hand, is simply bad. Bad, bad, bad. The action sequences are so poorly rendered that you can't tell who has the upper hand. The character development is brutal, with Dennis Quaid, an actor I otherwise enjoy, doing almost nothing. There is a character who looks like Brett Favre, and some Angel that comes down from heaven and slices off his wings and tries to stop an army of possessed zombie-human-angels from attacking a bunch of waylaid travelers at a dusty diner (oh those damned interstates! always cutting off the good traffic!).

This one is poorly written, badly shot, shoddily acted and, well...very boring. Scott Stewart trots out every cliche in the book (yes, our savior almost falls off a cliff in the climax, and a couple of stones skitter over the side). The characters are thin as a dime, never elevating above stock caricatures.

And of course, they left it open for a sequel. Boo, hiss. I try not to post anything if I can't say something nice (and I've been taken to task for only pimping stuff I like via e-mail, but I generally believe in the old adage...), but I thought I'd give fair warning. This one is an 'F' across the board.

The Hurt Locker, Funny People and Carriers are all somewhat interesting. Surrogates and The Blue Butterfly were disappointing, though I love William Hurt.


Random Thoughts...

I love a cold'un, but 170 million bucks a year in associated shattered-glass-related-pub-fight medical care? Wow. That's a hard figure for me to grasp. That little ol' island had 87,000 smash-and-stab incidents in 2009? Sheesh...

From the Oregonians behaving badly front, Greg Oden took pictures of himself in the buff and they found their way onto the internet. Of course they did! That's the world we live in--an instant of idiocy gets archived for eternity on the internet. I'm thankful that I lived in an era (and I know this sounds Puritanical, but it's true) where, as a ten-year-old kid, I wasn't two clicks away from Cal Ripken's junk anytime I wanted to check my e-mail.

The Oregon Ducks swept the Southern California teams last week in hoops, breathing life into a season that had become derailed by a five-game losing streak. If we can get a win up at Gill Mausoleum on Sunday, we'll move into the top third of the Pac-10. It's a strange year for college basketball. I think the ACC might only get 1-2 teams into the tournament (have you seen North Carolina's act lately?). The Pac-10 might just have one. I see three or four teams coming out of the SEC.

Can you say mid-major magic? At the midpoint of the year, the tournament could have a lot of newcomers (and Jacksonville University, by the way, is pretty good).

Two really fine stories (among likely hundreds of others) were published in the last week on the internet:

I started this year's long project this week, and it sure feels nice to get back into a long-form rhythm. I've also got some movie insights to unload later this weekend, if you're planning on hitting the video store...


The Ghosts of Belfast

Stuart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast is a stunning debut. Part thriller, part political history, part ghost story, this novel represents a fantastic foray into the world of fiction. Neville's muscular prose is active and crisp.

A riot is like a fire. It has a life of its own, and does as it will. But it can be fanned or quelled. Fegan knew that as well as anybody. The police and the kids were the kindling, paper and dry wood. Men like Caffola were the naked flame, ready to set them alight. Others, like Father Coulter, were water to douse the burning. But Father Coulter wasn't here this evening, so Caffola sparked and blazed unabated. Morbidly fascinated, Fegan watched him work.

Fegan, literally haunted by his past, is a terrific character. A man who "doesn't like words" and is possessed of a murderous past, he sets out on a revenge-fueled spree to set things right in Ireland ("right" is a relative term of course, when one trades death for death).

Neville, to his credit, embraces the sordid politics of a changing Ireland. The piece is as fascinating for its conflict as it is for its lessons in history. The story is plausible and extremely fast-paced. If you are looking for a top-notch fiction that really defies genre classification, give The Ghosts of Belfast a shot.


Science Fiction and Scholarship

I was saddened by the news that the Internet Review of Science Fiction will be suspending operations after its February issue. Though I came to this publication a little late, I enjoyed many of the articles they published and I think it served a pretty important role in the world of speculative fiction. It was accessible, exhaustive (they reviewed a ton of books on that site) and generally well written.

After sniffing around the internet for some of the other critical speculative fiction publications, I found the following:

  • Science Fiction Studies is a publication of DePauw University in Indiana. This magazine has been published since 1973, and features articles, reviews, interviews, special editions and historical documents.
  • While not a magazine dedicated to sci-fi studies, World Literature Today, a publication of The University of Oklahoma, is publishing a special issue on the genre later this year.
  • The Science Fiction Research Association lists conventions, symposiums, calls for papers and upcoming publications on its website.
  • SF Signal is a science fiction blog with lots of good content.
  • Syfy is the website for the cable channel, and they post some solid content.

If you know of some other great resources in the genre, I'd love to hear about them...

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...