Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Circulation (Library, not Blood)

Started my library training yesterday, spending most of the morning talking about circulation. But the most dangerous information that I learned yesterday: Library employees can purchase books at a discount.

Man....I'm sunk.


Speaking of purchasing, it's already very close to the end of October, so I'll be listing my Books Purchased and Books Read in the next day or two. Some good stuff on both sides. If you haven't read Best American Fantasy (Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer, eds.), pick up a copy soon. Some real home runs in there.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Getting Ready for Tomorrow

Not much going on today, although I did finish Dale Bailey's 2003 collection The Resurrection Man's Legacy, which is excellent.

My new job with the Anne Arundel County Public Library system begins tomorrow! Wish me luck.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Halloween Plans?

Made your Halloween plans yet? How about your pre-Halloween plans, something to help get you in the spirit of things?

Right now I'm listening to Richard Matheson's horror classic I Am Legend. You just can't go wrong with this one.

In stores now is Norman Partridge's excellent short novel Dark Harvest - highly recommended.

Some other good recent scares:

The Keeper - Sarah Langan
A Good and Happy Child - Justin Evans
The Imago Sequence - Laird Barron


Other than the outstanding Val Lewton collection, I own very few horror films on DVD. But I do plan to watch two that I own:

1963's The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson's superb novel The Haunting of Hill House. (Avoid at all costs the dreadful 1999 remake starring Catherine Zeta-Jones.)

No less haunting (and possibly more disturbing) is 1961's The Innocents (based on the classic Henry James story "The Turn of the Screw"), featuring a standout performance by Deborah Kerr.

Yes, both films are 40+ years old, both are in glorious black-and-white, and both are well worth your time. Have a happy, safe Halloween.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Writing Forum, Story Progress

The writing forum for the youth at my church is off to a good start. For the past two weeks we've had some really good stuff happening with these writers. The forum is largely based on the adult workshops I've led with DC Writers Way for the past few years. The main purpose of both the workshop and the forum is to get writers to tap into their creativity through "free-writes," allowing them to write without self-editing during a series of exercises. While they might sometimes think of this as "off-the-cuff" writing, I think they're discovering that they have some pretty good ideas inside them waiting to be let loose. I'm really enjoying it and hope they are as well.


Most of my "free" time this past week has been devoted to writing and not so much reading. In fact my "Books Read" for October is probably going to be painfully low, but the writing has really taken on a new direction. I remember a couple of years ago being able to write and not realize that two hours had gone by. That's happening more and more, plus things are starting to open up more in the revision process.

Is it still work? You bet. Hard work. But I love it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Discovering (or Re-Discovering) Dale Bailey

Here's a name you don't hear enough, but should: Dale Bailey.

I read the title story of Bailey's 2003 collection The Resurrection Man's Legacy and thought it was superb. For some reason (probably because I tend to read four or five books at once), I didn't finish the collection. That was a bonehead move on my part.

This morning I read the collection's second story, "Death and Suffrage," which won the 2003 International Horror Guild Award. As I go back and look over the story again, I'm staggered by how the story could have gone wrong in so many ways in lesser hands. The story chronicles the countdown to a Presidential election, narrated by Rob, a leading staff member for one of the candidates. Just when Rob thinks his emotional outburst on a national political TV show has blown his candidate's chances, something weird happens: the dead emerge from their graves and want nothing more than to vote.

Again, in lesser hands this would either have turned into political satire or an absolute fiasco. Bailey even says in the story notes that "Death and Suffrage" was originally intended to be short and light, but what he delivers is dark, effective and incredibly moving. Again, from his notes, Bailey states:

As I wrote, I came to see that it was really about Rob's emotional journey - his growing understanding of the value of human relationships and the way that understanding forces him to re-evaluate his views of the political process.

The story was adapted into Homecoming, part of Showtime's Masters of Horror series. From what I've read of it, Homecoming is a political satire, and not nearly as effective as Bailey's short story.


As for my own writing, I added 800 words to my latest story this morning. Right now it's moving in the right direction. Let's hope I have enough gas in the tank.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Different Approach

I started a new short story yesterday and was fairly pleased with the first 300 or so words I put down. I know generally what the story's about and have a good early feel for the character. But this morning, just for fun, I decided to test the old adage "Don't say the first thing that comes to mind; say the second." In this case, we're talking about the second idea.

Actually it turned out to be the same character in a different setting rather than a completely different idea. In the first story my character is on the job working when he finds himself in an uncomfortable situation. In the second, my character is fulfilling a non-work related obligation (but his work definitely comes through clearly) when encountering the uncomfortable situation. But I found the character's fears were greatly escalated in the new setting. What I want to do is discover what's at the core of this character's fear in both settings, the thing that scares him most. And which setting/situation will best bring that out.

I also discovered that my main character is drastically different in the second situation. He's more confident (to a certain point), more self-centered, more haughty, yet more vulnerable. He's more interesting than the character in the first situation, but he's also (at least it seems that way right now) more prone to falling into stereotype. I'm not sure what it is about the different setting that's brought about this change in character, but I certainly didn't expect such drastic results. Interesting.


A little help, please? Look over to the left at the "Now Reading" etc. section. Why does the word "The" cling to the top of the pictures and not the rest of the text? This is driving me crazy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More from Capclave and Christopher Barzak's One for Sorrow

Here's a much fuller Capclave report from one of the Guests of Honor, Jeffrey Ford. It's always a pleasure to see Jeff.


Christopher Barzak's One for Sorrow is a touching, wonderfully written coming-of-age story that's full of depth, honesty and weirdness. Boy Scout Jamie Marks is killed before he and Adam McCormick can truly become friends, but Jamie's ghost seems willing to continue the friendship anyway. It's a friendship that weaves in and out of Adam's troubled life as an outsider, not only at school, but also in his own family.

One for Sorrow impressed me more than most novels with teenage protagonists. The Lovely Bones this is not. Not only does Barzak capture the angst and emotional roller-coaster that is the teenage life, but he also defies conventions. I seldom knew where Barzak was going with the story, but even when I did, he threw in something unexpected. It's not trickery, just the author's ability to shatter what we've normally come to expect from fiction dealing with teenagers. (And although we are dealing with teenagers, there's probably too much sex for the novel to be thought of as YA.) Some excellent writing here from a writer to keep your eye on.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Capclave Report

I ended up not spending too much time (or, thankfully, money) at Capclave this weekend. Although I had a great time seeing my Clarion instructors Jeff Ford, Andy Duncan, and several other people, there wasn't much going on Friday night other than Guests of Honor Ford and Ellen Datlow interviewing each other, which was lots of fun. (And anytime you can hear Andy Duncan telling stories, it's always worth the price of admission.)

Thanks to a ton of traffic on the Beltway, I completely missed Saturday morning's first panel Is There Room in an SF Universe for God? as well as the first half of So You Want to Put Together an Anthology?, which I don't really want to do, but would like to know how they're put together.

So I visited the Dealer Room. I was good, buying only one book, Elizabeth Hand's Generation Loss, which easily passed the First Page Test and was a signed copy for no extra cost. The Dealer Room was much smaller than last year, creating the potential for many introductions and apologies, but all was well.

John and I had a pretty good lunch at On the Border, then went to the Defining Jeffrey Ford panel, which was as entertaining as you can imagine. We hung around a little longer, but both Lera and Cindy had a concert that evening and John and I decided we should probably spend a little time with our wives.

Even though I didn't attend that much of it this year, Capclave is a small but good con that's worth your consideration. This year's location, the Rockville Hilton, will also host next year's con, October 17-19, 2008 with Writer GoH James Morrow and Critic GoH Michael Dirda of the Washington Post.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Where Your Pain Lives, Genius Also Lives

I heard someone say that recently and started knocking it around in my head (not that I think genius lives in my head, mind you). I started thinking about guys like Mozart, Picasso, Da Vinci, wondering how much of their genius was a result of pain. Since I've never read a biography of any of them, I don't know.

But I did start to examine the pain of one of my current story characters. This guy is a professional criminal, a perfectionist who has made a wreck of his personal life in several ways, but only one that directly impacts the story. I spent about an hour this morning trying to get inside this guy's head, specifically inside his pain. It wasn't easy. It wasn't pretty. But I found out things about my character I didn't know before. Now as I watch him move through the story, I know more about what he's thinking, more about what drives him, what terrifies him.

Is some of his pain some of my own pain? Yes. Am I writing about myself? In a way. I think we all do, whether something painful actually happened to us or whether we lived that pain vicariously or dreamed it. There's something pure and honest in pain and while it can bring up some nasty memories, it also has the potential to bring out lots of good.

But genius?

We'll see. Right now I'll just settle for a good story.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Prizes, Awards and Just Showing Up

Doris Lessing has just won the Nobel Prize for literature. The only Lessing work I've read is Briefing for a Descent into Hell, which is cited in David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels.

I'm sure this prize will cause Lessing's stock to rise and her readership to expand, at least while she's in the news. I should probably re-read Briefing or seek out some of her other works. It'll be interesting to see how many of her works are reissued in light of the award.


Speaking of awards, do they have any influence at all over what you read? I suppose it all depends on the award. I probably wouldn't read the Winner of the 2007 Stinko Award, but then again, I might not read the Booker Prize winner if it didn't appeal to me. I remember talking to someone at a World Fantasy Con who said, "Don't read the novel that wins. Read the nominated ones that didn't win." It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to read 'em all, but (unless you're Harriet Klausner) who has time? And if most book awards are like the Oscars, not only does the "best" one rarely win, the really good ones sometimes aren't even nominated. Just go with your gut feeling. Usually reading the opening paragraph (or page) tells me everything I need to know.


Samuel Delany has been showing me (through his book, not personally) what's wrong with my writing. For that, I'm thankful. And yes, learning can be painful. But things are progressing, albeit slowly. I only have three stories in the pipeline right now, and it'll be awhile before number four is ready, but that's okay. Slow progress is better than none at all.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

To Con or Not to Con?

For the first time since 2004, I won't be attending the World Fantasy Convention next month. Money is one reason, but there are others, which I'll cover in just a moment. Instead, I plan to attend nearby Capclave, as I did last year. Although certainly not comparable in scope with WFC, Capclave is overall a pretty good con. Plus it's close. And cheap.

I'm not sure how I feel about the big cons. WFC is the only one I've attended, but I've attended three times. The first time I was coming off Clarion in Tempe in 2004. (It worked out well since I was also able to visit family in Phoenix.) It was a great con, but even in the company of several of my Clarion buddies, I didn't quite feel right. Several of my instructors were there, introducing me to editors and other writers, some of whom seemed to be thinking anyone who'd just come out of Clarion should have at least a novel or part of a collection sitting around ready to be published. To be fair, they probably didn't think that at all, but just the opposite. But the mind can do funny things, right?

When I think about it, sf/fantasy cons are a lot like those conventions I went to as a band director. You'll find people there who don't care who you are, where you're from, what ratings you got at festival the year before - they'll be glad to engage in friendly conversation, maybe even over a drink or two. And you'll also find people who won't even acknowledge that you share the same planet until you've made your first superior ratings, and even when you do, there's no guarantee that any acknowledgment is forthcoming.

I've experienced some of both at cons. Don't get me wrong, I've had a great time at every con I've attended. But part of me thinks I probably shouldn't attend another "big" con for awhile. Should I wait until I have something published in a prominent, established market? Or until I have a novel published? Would it matter? Should I just think, screw 'em and go anyway?

Several times I've also been faced with the "Writer or Fan?" dilemma. Yes, I'm a writer, I'm even a published writer, but published in small markets you've probably never heard of. Yes, I'm a fan and there's a definite element of excitement in meeting a writer whose work you've enjoyed. So are you writer or fan? Both?

Right now I'm at a point as a writer where I'm trying to work out a lot of fundamental issues in my writing. Sometimes I think I've got to improve as a reader before I can improve as a writer. Sometimes I don't think I know the difference between a noun and a verb. At times like this, I think it's probably not a good idea to be hanging out with the big guns. But maybe on the other hand, that's exactly where I should be. I don't know.

But for now, the best (and most economical) thing for me to do is read and write like a madman. And spend a few hours at Capclave and just have a good time. The last time I checked, the nametags don't say "Writer" or "Fan."

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sometimes It Just Works

Christopher Barzak makes it look easy. (And of course we all know that it's not.)

Barzak's debut novel One For Sorrow begins with the protagonist Adam McCormick remembering this kid he knew in high school, Jamie Marks. We get five paragraphs about who Adam is, who Jamie is, and then we're hit with the following:

I suppose I should probably say a word or two about my mother and the rest of my family.

There it is: Backstory. Immediate blow-the-whistle, put-on-the-brakes, stop everything Backstory.

For two solid pages.

But it works. And I can't figure out why. I've been sitting here trying to come up with any other way Barzak could have told the same story, but I can't. It's backstory and it works.

I guess Barzak understands that what he's done in those first five paragraphs is strong enough for a two-page diversion. What he puts in that two-page diversion is good stuff, essential stuff. Again, I don't know how it works, but it does.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to read the rest of the book.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Friday, October 05, 2007


Do you see Samuel Delany's About Writing hanging out on the left side of my blog under Now Reading - Non-Fiction? Well, you're probably going to see it there for quite some time. When I'm finished, I plan to read it again, maybe even immediately.

There's a wealth of information here on serious writing: essays, letters and interviews covering Delany's entire teaching (and writing) career. I went back this afternoon and re-read his essay on Characters.

Says Delany: "Ideally, all the plot information should contribute to the realization of the characters. All the character information should move the plot..."

I think I gave lip service to that early on, at least on some level, but never really understood it until I looked at some of my stories to try to figure out what wasn't working. My character information didn't move the plot; the characters got plugged into the plot, creating...well, crap.

Delany goes on: "A character in a novel of mine...observed that there were three types of actions: purposeful, habitual, and gratuitous. If the writer can show a character involved in a number of all three types of actions, the character will probably seem more real."

I realized that in the stories I've written that don't work for some reason or another, I haven't exposed my characters to such situations. And - no surprise - when a story has worked, those elements are present. Delany also says (and this runs contrary to what a lot of books on writing will tell you) that it's more important for the writer to really see the characters than to understand them. "The reader, however, does need to understand them; if the reader figures them out for herself, the writer has 'created' all that more vivid a character than if the writer explained them away. The writer must see and put down those things that allow (not make: you can't make the reader do anything - not even open the book) the reader to understand."

Like I said, this book will be within easy reach for quite awhile.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

New Gig

I found out this morning that I got the job I interviewed for last week with the Anne Arundel County Public Library system! I'll be working on rotation at the Information Desks at the five branches in the western part of the county. Training starts later this month. Now I can say things like "May I recommend the new Jeffrey Ford/Kelly Link/Jeff VanderMeer book?"

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

September Books Read


The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate (2007) - Ted Chiang

Okay, I know it's only 83 pages, but it's still technically a book and a good one.

Leadership (NF 2002) - Rudolph Giuliani

I doubt I'd ever vote for the guy, but I admire how he gets things done.

The Imago Sequence and Other Stories - (2007) - Laird Barron

An amazing collection, possibly the best of the year. Absolutely top-notch writing.

The Sun Also Rises (1926) - Ernest Hemingway

Hands down my favorite Hemingway characters. The Great Gatsby may be considered the Greatest Novel of the 1920s (and it is great), but give me this one any day.

Parable of the Sower (1993) - Octavia E. Butler

So maybe the main character Lauren is a little unbelievable for a teenager, but this one's still a great read. Pay attention, Oprah!

Aegypt (The Solitudes) (1987) - John Crowley

A real mind-blower, but worth the work.

Speak (YA 1999) - Laurie Halse Anderson

I saw the movie several days before I read the book. Both are powerful, both are recommended.

Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality And Spirituality (NF 2007) - Rob Bell

Always controversial, but you can't deny Bell's always interesting.

Reassuring Tales (2006) - T.E.D. Klein

I wanted to like this collection, but I'm afraid only three of the stories really worked for me.

Butchers Hill (1998) - Laura Lippman

A good Tess Monaghan novel, but not the home run Lippman usually hits.

The Servants (2007) - Michael Marshall Smith

A subtle, quiet little novel that could almost fall into the YA category. Good stuff.

That's it for September. Go read something.

Monday, October 01, 2007

September Books Bought

Well, thanks largely to Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's Massive Book Sale, these numbers will be wildly inflated. Of course it's not like Jeff put a gun to my head or anything. Plus he's still got a few books left...


Graveyard People: The Collected Cedar Hill Stories Vol. I - Gary A. Braunbeck

I'd heard a lot about Braunbeck and decided this would be a good place to start.

Reassuring Tales - T.E.D. Klein

Same as the Braunbeck.

Dark Harvest - Norman Partridge

Recommended by both Joe and Kelly.

Best American Fantasy - Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer, eds.

C'mon, who hasn't been looking forward to this one?

Philip K. Dick - Four Novels of the 1960s

You have to ask?

The Essential Pritchett: Selected Writings of V.S. Pritchett

Pritchett's name keeps coming up in discussions of excellent writing. Thought this might be a good place to start.

Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality And Spirituality - Rob Bell

The latest from the author of Velvet Elvis.

Deep Ministry in a Shallow World: Not- So- Secret Findings about Youth Ministry - Chap Clark, Kara Powell

Recommended by my friend Trip.

Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers - David Madden

Recommended by Jeff VanderMeer (I believe), but I didn't buy it from him.

The rest of these DID come from the VanderMeer Massive Book Sale. (Sorry, I'm tired of uploading images.)

Territory - Emma Bull

Poor Things - Alasdair Gray

About Writing - Samuel R. Delany

Ernest Hemingway on Writing - Larry Phillips, ed.

The Five Gates of Hell - Rupert Thomson

The Iguana - Anna Maria Ortese

The Verificationist - Donald Antrim

Thirteen Ways to Water and Other Stories - Bruce Holland Rogers (signed)

Guided Tours of Hell: Novellas - Francine Prose

That's it! No more books! Man, what was I thinking...

The Bob Dylan Report

A few weeks ago, Cindy and I had the following conversation:

Cindy: "Is Dylan going to sing a lot of his old stuff at the concert? The acoustic songs? That's the Dylan I like."

Me (shaking head): "That guy's not gonna show up. Even if he does some of his old stuff, it won't sound the same."

Cindy: "But...that's what I like!"

Me: "Would you want to sing 'The Times, They Are A-Changin'' the same way for 40 years?"


Dylan took the stage Friday night, opening with "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," which wasn't too surprising. He also continued his habit of singing in a style I call "Delayed, non-sustained catch-up." Lots of performers do this, but none more than Bob. It works on just about any song: you wait until a few beats after the vocal should begin and run the words together in a mad dash, obliterating any possibility of sustained notes (or for that matter, melodic content).

I'm used to this from live Dylan, so it was no surprise. But what did surprise me was Dylan's voice sounding like a foghorn trapped inside a tuba. It was really awful. (Yes, more than usual.) I wondered if he was sick or was about to be sick onstage, expecting him to sing "Everybody must get stoned, starting with me."

The next few tunes didn't really improve much and I was beginning to sense Cindy's disappointment.

But Bob bounced back from whatever ailment had assaulted him with a strong "Rollin' and Tumblin'" from Modern Times, which sounded much better than the earlier tunes. It always seems Dylan is more focused on his newer songs in concert, almost like he's trying harder. Or if he's doing an older tune, he usually sings more coherently if he's fooled around with the arrangement (which he did a few times Friday night).


Q: What's the hardest job in the world?

A: Sign language interpreter at a Bob Dylan concert.

Dylan kept with his recent practice of playing his electric guitar on the first three numbers before relegating himself to the keyboard. Maybe he's gotten to the point where he feels more comfortable in the black suit and pale gray hat without the guitar weighing him down. (He's a pretty thin dude, after all, and at age 66 you can't afford to take too many chances. I think just showing up is commendable.)

I guess Columbia, Maryland is close enough to Washington DC for Dylan to sing "Masters of War" in a slow, mournful blues that was one of the show's highlights for me. The main highlight was Dylan's band, the best I've heard him take on the road: absolutely tight moving with incredible drive and energy, and featuring blistering soloists.

Bottom line: Cindy and I both enjoyed it. She even said she'd like to see him again. Much more to write, but since few Dylan enthusiasts are reading (Hi, Trent), I'll just close with the set list. Good to see you again, Bob. Try some hot tea with honey.

SET LIST (* = harmonica)

Rainy Day Women #12 & 35

Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)

Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues

Simple Twist of Fate*

Rollin' and Tumblin'

Workingman's Blues #2

Desolation Row

Beyond the Horizon*

Honest With Me

When the Deal Goes Down*

Highway 61

Ain't Talkin'

Summer Days

Masters of War


Thunder on the Mountain

Blowin' in the Wind*