Bestsellers, By Proxy

TM Publishing's Emerald Sky Magazine is sharp. The layout looks great, and the art is attractive.

I was thrilled when my ghost story "Bestsellers, By Proxy" was accepted for publication, but things just got better from there as I had the chance to work with their editors on polishing the piece.

I'd like to thank Daniel Friend for his help on the story, and for seeing the potential this little yarn (which tramples all over a pair of taboos that some editors hold sacred: stories about the supernatural and technology, and stories about writers).

You can read the piece here.


Crackpot Palace, by Jeffrey Ford

I cited Mr. Ford last week in a debate we were having on the finest examples of contemporary literature in a class over at UCF. His writing is energetic, haunting, exhilirating, lyrical, and damned funny. You'll see what I mean when you encounter this line:

The fire-eater never even turned around but kept working like he was nonunion.

I dare you not to chuckle at that one. It's just one of many great lines that speak to Ford's gifts as a storyteller. His tales have a pretty fierce duality. He packages humor with dark, dark content to great effect. Those who've read his story "The Drowned Life" can expect a lot more of that here.

And Ford's writing is just getting better. While some of the tales in this collection were written many years ago, most of them are of a recent vintage. I've read all of his collections, and this one is the best so far.

Most pitchers lose their fastball over time, and sometimes that analogy has some appropriate overlap with fiction writers. I'm happy to say that, in the case of Jeffrey Ford, his heater is alive and well.

Ford's eye for detail and ability to turn a phrase are on display in his more nostalgic stories. That nostalgia, by the way, isn't of the wondrous, rosy, geez-life-is-great variety. It's the realistic, pragmatic nostalgia that accompanies the memories we've all had of struggling through a period of time, of living in crappy apartments over crowded alleys. "Every Richie There Is" is a great example of this. It's a short examination of those people in our lives that become symbols of a certain time and place. We all know a Richie--he's abrasive and strange and frail and brash; he imposes on others and, though we may not want to talk to him every day, we feel a little weird about the days in which we don't. And then, one day, he's just gone and we're left to ponder our own mortality.

"Down Atsion Road," "The Double of My Double Is Not My Double," and "86 Deathdick Road" explore some of the same human depths. Ford is at his best when he's writing about the interior and exterior conflicts that haunt us: the fear of growing old, of being usurped, of living in isolation, of being ridiculed. The beauty of these tales, though, comes from the surreal undercurrents. There's menace in the most innocent of objects and gestures, and Ford knows just how to push those buttons to ratchet up the tension.

This narrative treasury is filled with stories of all types. "The Coral Heart" is a sorrow-filled fantasy; "The Seventh Expression of the Robot General" a gear-clicking sf story with balls; "Sit the Dead" is an idiosyncratic vampire tale.

If you haven't read Ford's stories, this is a good place to start. Once you get going, you'll find gems in his other collections as well. Highly recommended...


Book Reviews...

Sheesh. What a generally odious can of worms, right?

Well, yes and no. I tend to fall more in line with Joe Konrath's opinion here than with those who created a petition to show their disdain for sock puppets. I disagree whole-heartedly with those who create false accounts to snipe at authors they view as "competition." C'mon, people, let the stories sink or swim on their merit.

You can read all of Joe's post, and then the hundreds of comments in the thread that follows. It wouldn't be a waste of your time if you want to look at the ethical debate surrounding this controversy. But for practical purposes, the argument is finished in the third sentence of Konrath's post:

Amazon allows one-star reviews.

Until they come up with a different system for feedback, abuses like these will take place.

Look, I appreciate good reviews. I appreciate bad ones, too. I'm thankful that somebody took the time to provide a thoughtful, insightful note on a text, regardless of which way the wind blows.

What I don't appreciate is this. Sure, this reader can post this up there on Goodreads. Obviously, it takes very little time to slam a book that wasn't even finished with three trite sentences and a one-star review. Must make some people feel good, I guess.

Would I do it? Hell no. It's completely demeaning.

But that's the way the system is set up.

I think, in order to earn the right to post a review, one should do two things: finish the book (or use the product) and offer concrete rationale. It's okay not to like something, of course, but the best way to demonstrate that while maintaining your dignity as a credible person is to show why.

Criticism, by its very nature, should be critical. I know that sounds redundant, but it's true. There should be something there. If a reader feels the writing is "choppy," fine...but illustrate how that might be with a passage or two from the text.

I will never post a review for a book I don't finish. Will I post negative reviews? Maybe. I slammed Swamp People (and received about a dozen e-mails for it) some time ago. That was based on what I thought was offensive content. Generally, I post reviews if I like something. My mom taught me that, if I dislike something, there's no shame in keeping my mouth shut. So I do. That's how I roll. Your mileage may vary, and that's fine too, of course.

And I don't think purchasing reviews is the terrible thing that some do, particularly if they are written by those working for a service like Book Rooster. Those folks call it like they see it, and subscribing to the service doesn't guarantee a rosy response.

But I do think the one-star drivebys are ridiculous if they don't actually say anything about the story itself.

Now, speaking of reviews, I'm loving Jeff Ford's Crackpot Palace and will have my thoughts up on that one in a few days. Great book...go buy it.

And, if you would like to read Torched, you can enter a drawing to win a copy here:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Torched by Daniel Powell


by Daniel Powell

Giveaway ends September 16, 2012.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

The Violence of Writing

Before asking whether writing could be abandoned, one must ask how writing began. Etymology may be helpful here. Writing comes from the Latin scribere, meaning "to scratch." And the Greek graphein means "to dig." Accordingly, writing was originally a gesture of digging into an object with something, so making use of a wedge-shaped tool (a stylus). It is true that writing is no longer done this way. Now, writing usually involves putting pigment on a surface. We write on-scriptions rather than in-scriptions--and we usually write styluslessly. (Flusser 13)

Let etymology bear witness once again. The English to write (that in fact means "scratch," as does the Latin "scribere") reminds us that scratching and tearing come from the same stem. The scratching stylus is an incisor, and one who writes inscriptions is an incising tiger: he tears images to pieces. Inscriptions are the torn pieces, the cadavers of images; they are images that fell victim to the murderous incisor teeth of writing--hence the shock with which inscription was greeted by those who first received it. (Flusser 14)
Some pretty aggressive theory early in Vilem Flusser's Does Writing Have a Future? on the nature of language and communication...

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...