Why yes, that does look more than a little bit like Sufjan Stevens. Let’s all take a second to enjoy that.
Here, this might help.
Expect a lot more yelling and flailing soon.
Why yes, that does look more than a little bit like Sufjan Stevens. Let’s all take a second to enjoy that.
Here, this might help.
Expect a lot more yelling and flailing soon.
HELLO and welcome to the first of what I intend to be a monthly series of posts that outline things I, as a Person Who Is Also A Writer, have accomplished in the last 30 days or so. In part this is because everyone likes a good brag, but also because I tend to fall into this hole of not-feeling-like-I-accomplish-anything, especially in the middle of long projects or after a string of rejections (or both, wheeeeee). So I feel like this is both a way to do a little self-promo and a kind of self-care.
I’m doing something else, though, and I thought about it for a while beforehand, and I’m honestly still not sure what I think about it. Essentially, I’m including anything fandom-related I’ve done, including stuff from the pan-fandom roleplaying game I’m involved with (aka Darrow, aka #tcrpg, aka RP). I’m doing this in significant part because it would be difficult to overstate how much fandom writing has influenced and continues to influence every other kind of creative writing I do. Fanfiction showed me I could write and gave me the confidence to pursue it for money (just not, y’know, a lot of it). And if you look at the acknowledgements for my recent and upcoming books, you’ll notice I mention Darrow; there’s a good reason for that.
And finally, though I feel like the stigma of fanfiction and fandom among writers – at least genre writers – is increasingly oversold, I do think it’s still regarded by some as a set of streams that shouldn’t be crossed. And while I don’t think fanfiction and “original” fiction are exactly the same kinds of writing that do the exact same thing, I do think they deserve to get equal places at the table.
So at the end of this, I’m going to talk about fanfic and RP; feel free to ignore. A final caveat, though, in line with the above: I don’t look at my fanfic/RP the same way I do my other stuff. Among other things, it’s an arena wherein I try out ideas and techniques and issues with which I don’t feel comfortable working in my short stories and books. For me, it’s a different kind of writing. It’s done for public consumption, but a particular kind of public. If you peruse it, please bear that in mind.
SO. If you read all that, you get a cookie.
On to the stuff.
He was supposed to _win._ That’s how this works, how it always works. There’s danger and the threat of death and then there’s a goddamn deus ex machina, a god literally from the fucking machine to pluck them all out of the fire and set them down on level ground. He always takes the impossible shot. He always makes the impossible leap. He always jumps from the exploding vehicle at the last possible moment. She would have been dead for sure, and then he would have saved her, or something, and everything would have ended up okay even if the rest of the world was gone to shit.
He was supposed to win. Not lose absolutely everything.
Lips on his brow. He wanted to beg her to bite him, and that was so fucked up and so stupid.
_If you love me you’ll do this for me. We promised each other. You remember. Don’t you dare back out now. Come on, you’ve done harder things._
I love you. I love you, I love you. Fingers around the grip. Just like ten thousand times before. Your heart is a bullet, Nathan. This is what it does.
And now here comes the RP (Darrow). Here’s where most of you will get off the train. The rest of you, follow me under the cut.
The Universe: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
The first track still almost swings. High hat and snare, even
A few bars of sax the stratosphere will singe-out soon enough.
Synthesized strings. Then something like cellophane
Breaking in as if snagged to a shoe. Crinkle and drag. White noise,
Black noise. What must be voices bob up, then drop, like metal shavings
In molasses. So much for us. So much for the flags we bored
Into planets dry as chalk, for the tin cans we filled with fire
And rode like cowboys into all we tried to tame. Listen:
The dark we’ve only ever imagined now audible, thrumming,
Marbled with static like gristly meat. A chorus of engines churns.
Silence taunts: a dare. Everything that disappears
Disappears as if returning somewhere.
– Tracey K. Smith
Wiscon was my first con, my first real con, back when I was a tender young writer just dipping my toes into being with other writers and people who read the kinds of things I write. It was also my first con on panels, and while I’d lectured as a TA in my graduate program and wasn’t especially terrified of that in particular, the entire prospect was very anxiety-making in a lot of ways. New people, new space with strange customs and rituals, new history, new discussions. For someone like me, intensely afraid of change and new things, it was a lot to face down.
And it was wonderful. For me, it was one of those experiences where you feel like you’ve come home to a place you simply forgot. People were so warm, so welcoming, panels were so awesome. I made friends, I met amazing writers, I laughed, I danced, and at the end of a very hard year in a very rough PhD program, I felt revived.
Since then – for the last three years, with one exception where I had to miss it – Wiscon has been My Con. It’s been the con I look forward to, the con that keeps me going through the slog that is the end of a spring college semester (I teach, or I did, and it’s a slog for us too). This past May, it was a con where I reached some important decisions and where I discovered some difficult things about myself. It was hard, but it was emotionally fulfilling in ways your regular con probably would not be.
So I can’t tell you how much it saddens me to say that unless there’s a massive, massive about-face on the part of the con, I will not be back next year.
There isn’t much I can say about the Jim Frenkel situation that hasn’t already been said by others, and much better than I could. I’m also not one of the people he’s hurt directly, and who have been correspondingly so poignantly hurt by the con’s decision in this matter. But I’ve been watching things unfold, and I’ve been watching people I care about in pain, and I cannot, in good conscience, support Wiscon with my money and my presence after this. Nor do I think I could enjoy myself if I went. As far as I’m concerned, this is a con that sets a toxic, dangerous narrative of redemption above the safety of its attendees, that provides a serial harasser with more recourse in terms of a process of appeal than it provides the people he has harassed.
I am not here for that. I’m here for Elise Matthesen and Lauren Jankowski. That’s why, come next May, I won’t be there.
I haven’t set this decision in stone. If the about-face I mentioned above happens, I’m willing to reconsider. I want to be able to reconsider. But here’s the thing: Even if Wiscon pulls a Readercon (why the hell should it have to, when Readercon trod this ground ahead of them? were they paying any attention at all?) the damage is still done. An enormous amount of goodwill has been lost. A lot of people appear to no longer feel that Wiscon is trustworthy where their safety is concerned. Something that people loved has been ruined in a profound way, and a quick revision of a policy decision is not going to fix that.
(Seriously, what the fuck were you guys thinking?)
As Saira Ali said on Twitter, “Harassment, the gift that keeps on giving”.
So yeah. Unless something major changes, I will most likely be at Balticon that weekend. It’s a relatively local con that a lot of local writer friends attend, and I’ve been wanting to go for a while.
I just didn’t want to go because of something like this.
Like it says in the title, two of the annual Best-Of collections are out today, and I’m in them. One of them I flailed about in my Readercon post – I has it and it is glorious and the contents are amazing.
So these are what they are:
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection (edited by Gardener Dozois) – In the new millennium, what secrets lay beyond the far reaches of the universe? What mysteries belie the truths we once held to be self evident? The world of science fiction has long been a porthole into the realities of tomorrow, blurring the line between life and art. Now, in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection the very best SF authors explore ideas of a new world in the year’s best short stories. This venerable collection brings together award winning authors and masters of the field such as Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Damien Broderick, Elizabeth Bear, Paul McAuley and John Barnes. And with an extensive recommended reading guide and a summation of the year in science fiction, this annual compilation has become the definitive must-read anthology for all science fiction fans and readers interested in breaking into the genre.
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2014 Edition (edited by Paula Guran) – No matter your expectations, the dark is full of the unknown: grim futures, distorted pasts, invasions of the uncanny, paranormal fancies, weird dreams, unnerving nightmares, baffling enigmas, revelatory excursions, desperate adventures, spectral journeys, mundane terrors, and supernatural visions. You may stumble into obsession – or find redemption. Often disturbing, occasionally delightful, let The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror be your annual guide through the mysteries and wonders of dark fiction.
I should note that not one but two of the stories in The Year‘s Best Science Fiction are drawn from We See a Different Frontier: Mine, and Sandra McDonald’s “Fleet”. That’s pretty high praise for that anthology alone.
These are without question the highest-profile Year’s Bests I’ve been in to date, and it feels like a pretty cool milestone. But totally aside from me, look at those lineups. These are reliably great annual anthologies, and I can’t wait to dig into my own copies. Check ’em out.
Because there’s nothing like kicking off the morning of three weeks of teaching an intensive intro-to-sociology course like writing about one of the most delightfully disturbing games I’ve ever played.
I should note that as usual, I’m behind on this. A Machine for Pigs actually came out this past fall, but – as I think I’ve said before – for a variety of reasons both temporal and financial I tend to refrain from purchasing games until they get severely discounted in Steam sales. So I finally have it, and I played it, and it’s probably among my top ten games that I’ve ever played.
I loved the first Amnesia, though it was an abusive kind of love, because I have rarely played a game that made me want to stop playing it as much as Amnesia:The Dark Descent. I don’t scare all that easily, though I used to; much of what I write these days is arguably horror – or at least could be categorized as dark-fantastic – and I watch horror flicks to relax. That said, the first Amnesia was full of more NOPE moments than I thought possible in a game (until Outlast came along and left my every nerve raw and frayed at the ends) and I thought then that in terms of sheer dreadful atmosphere, it was pretty much unsurpassed by anything else I had experienced.
Then, as I said, Outlast came along, and I was stuck with a new standard of NOPE. Outlast is not a long game, but it took me a long time to finish it on account of how many nights I simply refused to play it at all because I literally could not deal.
So. A Machine for Pigs.
I’m a huge, huge fan of The Chinese Room’s previous game Dear Esther (The Dark Descent studio Frictional Games essentially handed the sequel off to them). Dear Esther contains what I think is some of the best prose I’ve encountered in any game, and in fact inspired a story of mine, so I was fantastically excited when I heard they were the ones developing A Machine for Pigs, and on the writing side, I wasn’t in the least disappointed. How the writing is integrated into the game is massively important, and a massive part of why it worked so well for me; The Chinese Room went the – fairly conventional – route of leaving notes and memos around for you to find as you explore the world, that incrementally reveal who exactly you are and what exactly you’ve done. But more unconventionally – and very much like Dear Esther – the notes are frequently puzzles in themselves, and hint at horrors rather than making them explicit (except for a few wonderfully macabre instances toward the end). They’re not in order, temporally, and it’s only once you’re a good bit of the way through the game that they actually start to present a coherent picture. Dear Esther did the same thing, though in the service of a very different mood, and the result was an experience full of gentle, meditative, revelatory punches to the gut.
A Machine for Pigs is the same, except instead of gentle and meditative it’s all creeping dread and slowly intensifying horror. Also disgust, because while The Dark Descent made it a point to scare the everloving shit outta you, A Machine for Pigs is more about visceral vileness and dehumanization. The theme is really in the name – think about our cultural connotations of “pig”, regardless of how accurate it really is, about their social context, how we use the word and the idea, and what images are called up when we think about them as animals that exist to be slaughtered and consumed. I’m not a vegetarian by any stretch, and I love animals, and I’m very aware of the cognitive dissonance and even the hypocrisy involved in that.
The language that writer Dan Pinchbeck employs in the service of this theme is careful, and to me resonant of both things like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle – an obvious reference point – and the work people like Zygmunt Bauman and Hannah Arendt have done on the nature of dehumanization and the mechanized, industrialized erasure of the value of life. The game is in part a vaguely Marxist indictment of capitalism run amok, though one doesn’t have to be aware of that aspect in order to feel the horror Pinchbeck wants you to feel.
Again, like Dear Esther – and like many other games that employ the same basic mechanic – these things are fragmentary, and the story you piece together is drawn from what isn’t there as much as what is. This weekend at Readercon I had a wonderful hallway conversation with fellow writer and buddy Kenneth Schneyer (he has a short fiction collection out and you should get it) about his story “Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer” and about fiction in that same basic format: found documents, descriptions of the contents of containers, emails, images, journal entries, etc. Things that reveal a story in fragments and increments, and hit you in the gut more on the basis of what’s implied than what’s straightforwardly shown. I happen to love those kinds of stories, though I have yet to do one myself in a way that I think works even a little, and I’m finding more and more that one of the media that’s doing that kind of storytelling especially well is video games. I’ve written before about how one of the major strengths of storytelling in video games is the fact that you’re not just an audience but a participant, and I think written fiction of that fragmentary kind approaches the same kind of active participation on the part of the reader and is effective for many of the same reasons. You have to work out the puzzle. You have to make sense of what you’re seeing.
And of course, it’s old wisdom that some of the greatest horror is what you never actually see but know is lurking there in the dark, red in tooth and claw.
So yeah. Basically I loved A Machine for Pigs. It’s not as scary as its predecessor, but it’s way more horrifying, and it’s a kind of horror that resonates more with me. As a work of fiction, I think it’s fantastically compelling, and the prose is a delight. I’d recommend it whole-heartedly to people who don’t normally play games, and in fact I might recommend it especially to those people. Just make sure you have a strong stomach. Or at least don’t mind when it gets turned.
Because I’m too tired. Seriously. I got in this afternoon, ate a late lunch/early dinner, unpacked, and lay down for a few minutes. That was three hours ago (I was having the most delightfully surreal lucid dream when stupid husband woke me up). I’ve regained consciousness for a short time in order to do some things but bedtime is looming. And I’m probably going to be too busy to do any kind of recap the rest of this week, because every day three hour lectures omg
So instead let me just say that my first Readercon was awesome. My roommate (Natalie Luhrs) was awesome. My readings were awesome; I read with awesome people and awesome people attended and listened. I went to other awesome readings where awesome people read awesome things. The panels I went to were awesome. I met new awesome friends and had awesome food and awesome drinks with them. We had an awesome makeup and nail polish room party/SparklePonyCupcakeCon (there will be more). We crashed a wedding dance party in the bar and made it significantly more awesome. I danced in these boots and did not fall down, which was awesome:
I stayed up until around four in the morning talking and drinking with more awesome people, and the talk and the drinks were correspondingly awesome. And then my friend Sam Miller took the Shirley Jackson award in the short story category for “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides”, which is so goddamn awesome.
And I managed to pick up my copy of this.
Ultimately, what was awesome about this weekend was how much I needed it. For the last month or so I’ve been feeling increasingly incompetent and incapable of dealing with things, and being with people and talking to people made me feel worthwhile again. It made me feel like I could do things and not be terrible at them. So to everyone who was welcoming to me, who was kind, who came up and said hi, who let me latch onto them for dinner or drinks or breakfast, who partied with and talked with me, thank you so much, because what you did was perhaps more meaningful than you realized at the time.
Then again, maybe you knew.
See you all next year. Some of you hopefully much sooner than that.
This isn’t going to be terribly involved, because I’m not technically on the program and am not doing much in an official capacity. Nevertheless, I will be there, and I have a couple of readings.
Friday 3 pm: Group Long Hidden reading (Embrace room) –
Order (at the moment) is Sofia Samatar, Claire Humphrey, Ken Liu, me, Michael Janairo, Sarah Pinsker, Sabrina Vourvoulias. It’s a quite a lineup.
Friday 9 pm: Group Circlet Press reading (Embrace room) – still not sure who all will be there, but it should be awesome. I have a story in the upcoming anthology Flesh Made Word, the theme of which is erotic fiction about writing itself. I may read from that, or from “Catch and Release”, which is in Fantastic Erotica: The Best of Circlet Press 2008 – 2012. It’s been a long time since I did an erotica reading. Hopefully I can get through it without blushing profusely.
Saturday 9 pm – midnight: Long Hidden party (Envision room) – Celebrating the entire anthology. A ton of us will be there. Snacks will be provided, including vegan and gluten-free options.
And I’ll just generally be around and about. This is my first Readercon; can’t wait to see old friends and make new ones.
I’m currently working my way – bit by bit here and there – through Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, and of course, being Tom Bissell, it’s full of good stuff (it’s actually part of why I decided to put together A Brief History of the Future). And he has a wonderful passage on publishing and what it does to a writer’s brain that rings so true at the moment, given that I just finished up the second round of edits on Labyrinthian and Ravenfall comes out this month.
It’s nothing I haven’t heard before, actually, but it never hurts to hear it again, given my (perhaps incorrect but I don’t think so) impression that many aspiring authors either think it won’t happen or, when it happens, think it must be unusual.
To indulge, briefly, in further autobiography my first published book has just appeared in stores. The last year of my life – the year of finishing it, editing it and seeing it through its various page-proof passes – ranks among the most unnerving of my young life. It has not felt good, or freeing. It has been nerve-shreddingly disquieting. Publication simply allows one that much more to worry about. This cannot be said to aspiring writers often or sternly enough. Whatever they carry within themselves they believe publication cures will not, I can all but guarantee, be cured. You just wind up living with new diseases.
If one of the things you deal with in your life is mental illness, or emotional disregulation, this process will make that worse in almost every possible way.
And yet I do think it’s worth it, somehow, in the end. At least, so I’ve been given to understand.