We Make Books

Here at the Hindmarch household, we make books. I write them, or lay them out, or design them, using things like Word and InDesign and Photoshop. My wife, Sara, makes books by cutting paper, gluing oddball stuff together, and binding them, using things like her hands and, also, her hands. It blows my mind.

Today, though, she is a step closer to (intruding on!) my part of book-making, as her first-ever check from a publishing company came in the mail today. She’s soon to be published in a crafty book on bookbinding projects and designs, called Green Bookmaking. (How many times do you think I can type book in this post? Book? Yeah, I book so, too.)

So here’s where I take a selfish moment to plug the handmade books of re:Paper, my wife’s hackbooking operation. She’s also got one of them Etsy stores at RePaper.Etsy.com. See pictures of her work after the jump.

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The Writer, Found Out

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about this quote from Nick Hornby’s interview with David Simon, from The Believer:

“Like many writers, I live every day with the vague nightmare that at some point, someone more knowledgeable than myself is going to sit up and pen a massive screed indicating exactly where my work is shallow and fraudulent and rooted in lame, half-assed assumptions. I see myself labeled a writer, and I get good reviews, and I have the same doubts buried, latent, even after my successes. I suspect many, many writers feel this way. I think it is rooted in the absolute arrogance that comes with standing up at the community campfire and declaring, essentially, that we have the best story that ought to be told next and that people should fucking listen. Storytelling and storytellers are rooted in pay-attention-to-me onanism. Listen to this! I’m from Baltimore and I’ve got some shit you fucking need to see, people! Put down that CSI shit and pay some heed, motherfuckers! I’m gonna tell it best, and most authentic, and coolest […]”

What a relief. Even David Simon is afraid that he’s going to be found out — caught being somehow inauthentic or wrongly inventive. And this is the David Simon who wrote Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, a book that isn’t just authentic and true but also dramatic and good. (It is one of my favorite books, no doubt, and I hate picking favorites.) But this is also David Simon, a journalist (and hyphenate), for whom the truth matters not necessarily less but differently than it does for a writer of fictions. Do we SF and fantasy writers care about getting found out?

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Fruit From The Isles of the Internet

Seen This Cat?

Seen This Cat?

The Internet being what it is, I cannot remember where I came upon this. So the cat is here, but I don’t know whose it is or where it came from. There’s something wonderfully meta about that, no?

The Thing About Zombies

Zombies were never my thing. I’ve always been crazy for monsters, but the shambling undead were near the bottom of my list. Even now, I can’t muster much of a damn for the debate between fast zombies and slow. I liked 28 Days Later and its sequel, Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake was great, the I Am Legend movie did its own thing just fine, and Romero’s Land of the Dead was good times, but I don’t pay allegiance to any particular breed of brain-eater.

As part of my current focus-shift to fiction writing, though, I’m exploring ideas that I otherwise might not, just to keep me writing. One of my big problems as a writer is that I bore early. I start a lot of stories, and finish few. So I took a stab at flash fiction for a while, thinking it might be good to start small and work my way up to bigger things.

I found Ficlets through my cohort, writer/actor Wil Wheaton, who’s also trying to build up his fiction muscles this year by tackling his first novella. Whereas I’m coming into fiction from game and essay writing, he’s coming over from narrative nonfiction, next door, but it seems like we’re both struggling more with the shift to long-form writing than we are with the notion of imagining or lying on paper. Read any of Wil’s books and you know the dude can tell a story, but to do it over 100,000 words is a whole other thing.

(Wil is guest-starring in tonight’s episode of Criminal Minds, by the way, and the nervous is creeping up on him, so drop by his blog after the show airs tonight and let him know how he did.)

A Ficlet is a short-short bit of fiction, 64 to 1,024 characters long. You write it, you post it to the site under a Creative Commons license, and then other people read them, comment, and maybe write their own prequel and sequel Ficlets that build on yours.

For a while, I used Ficlets as a kind of writer’s batting cage. I’d go down there and warm up my arm with a few ideas before moving on to bigger projects, I thought.

Here’s one of the Ficlets I wrote:

“Why I Eat Brains”

It isn’t like peeling an orange. It isn’t like popping a walnut. Skulls are harder than I’d imagined.

How long do I have, now? I’m still here, enough to know this is wrong, but I love my wife and I love my kids and I want to hold onto those memories and for that I need a brain.

Someone is coming closer, hesitating, slack-jawed. I scream at him, meaning to send him words like, “Fuck off! This is mine! I caught this one!” but I think all I holler is noise. I’m not really there. I’m in my fingertips, scouting over the surface of this slick and bloody head.

I get the jaw in one hand, the head in another, brace the whole thing against my chest, and pull. Something gives. But no go. His mandible waggles like a broken toy.

With his head in my hands, hair sticking to my bloody fingers, I drag him to the curb. I stomp. Something is cracked, beneath the skin. I nip at the skin like it’s a cellophane wrap. I get fingernails into the crack. I pull. Fingernail breaks. This brain, and maybe I’ll remember my wife’s name.

Not long after that, I started to reconsider the value I was getting out of writing a Ficlet every week. As a writer, I hunger for feedback. It’s not enough for me to write, I have to know what you thought of my writing. Ficlets was a contraption that let me pull a lever and get a cookie, but it wasn’t really helping me a better writer.

Worse, I felt like I was sometimes using ideas that I could be doing something more with—not because I was exhausting those ideas, but because once I show a bit of writing to someone, it feels somehow tapped. I got my cookie, on to the next one. I’m not saying this is reasonable, I’m just saying this is how it goes. Even if I wanted to write more about that zombie protagonist (and I was thinking that maybe I did), I’d already debuted it, so some vital new-ness was gone.

If I wrote more, that additional writing would have to succeed on its merits as actual writing, not as the quick suggestion of an idea, and that won’t do. That’s too much like work.

I was getting a quick dose of satisfaction from having shown some writing to some people, but I wasn’t helping myself build up the discipline to finish a novel. I was just wandering from treat to treat, placating myself with the empty calories of a quick fix.

I was a zombie in search of his next brain

A couple of months later, when he felt like he had written himself into a corner on his novella, Wil popped into Ficlets to get his swing back, saw my story, and wrote this sequel to it:

“Hunter and Hunted”

It isn’t like hunting deer. They’re smarter than deer. It isn’t like hunting fox or rabbits. They’re slower and more unpredictable. Hunting and killing the undead is harder than I imagined.

But I love my wife and kids, and I know that I’m all that’s standing between them and this monster.

An angry moan comes from inside the house, so I duck behind a burned out minivan and wait.

He crashes through the door, dragging a body toward the street, eyes wild, still intelligent. He’s only been undead for a week, ten days at most. This is when they’re the most dangerous.

I aim, and pull the trigger. I brace myself for the recoil and explosion of skull and brains.


I silently curse myself. I forgot to chamber the round! I get ready to run, but he doesn’t look up. He doesn’t even notice me, he’s so intent on … oh god, he’s stomping the skull against the curb.

I carefully open and close the breech. It’s ready.

He pulls a hunk of brain from the skull and begins to eat.

I hold my breath, aim, and fire.

With a POV shift I hadn’t expected, Wil put a bullet in a character I was thinking I might want to revisit. By letting that character out into the world too soon, I’d gotten him killed. I couldn’t see around that metaphor.

Yes, Wil’s ending left me a moment in time to work with to save my character… but someone else wrote another sequel before I got there. Blew my character’s head off before I could save him. The material was out there in the world, now. Out of my hands.

Someone else wrote a sequel. Then someone else. They kept coming, more and more branching bits of fiction. The stories spread quickly, shifting POV, introducing and dropping characters, like a cameraman careening through a zombie plague-zone, catching a glimpse and then running off again.

On one level, I guess this means my story worked. It got read and started something. That ain’t nothing. But I can’t decide if that means it’s done or if it means I should try to do more with it.

What am I supposed to take away from this? Did Wil’s story prove me right by capping my character, showing me that I shouldn’t be spending my time on little free doses that’ll be rapidly consumed and forgotten? Or does it field test the idea, showing me that it was good enough to be worth exploring further?

Looking for meaning in this may be tomfoolery. This may have nothing to do with learning to find a balance between instant gratification and the discipline to tackle a long-term goal. Some stories are about symbolic monsters and loaded metaphorical attacks, other some stories are about being straight-up scared that walking corpses will eat your brain. That’s the thing about zombies.

A Fool For A Client

So, maybe I should make a quick introduction. By now, I imagine, you’re like, “Who the hell are you?” Let me tell you: I hear you, brother. Who the hell am I?

What up. Nice to meet you. I’m Will. I’m Will Hindmarch. I’m also Will Hindmarch and, often, Will Hindmarch. If it doesn’t offend you, I’m also sometimes Will Hindmarch. Later today, I’ll also be Will Hindmarch. I have been other Will Hindmarches, and I’m currently Will Hindmarch in other places, too, but not all of those are for you.

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Happy Halloween, Jeff

One Lovely Ugly Mother

One Lovely Ugly Mother

There’s a man-eating pumpkin in your Predator novel, right?

The Guy Who Goes On After the Ninja Act

Am I late? That is so me.

First thing, let me tell you what a mess it is back here behind the curtain at Ecstatic Days. Ninja cowls everywhere. I wish I’d come in and gotten this thing started on Sunday, ’cause I could’ve opened some windows and let out the stale smoke-bomb fumes. The floor’s all sticky with last week’s zombies and the recliner reeks of Internecivus raptus. These things stuck to my shoe are either ivory beads or a spat-out teeth. Some pirate’s spent bandanna is draped over the halogen torch lamp over here. A dozen empty copper shell casings are lined up on top of the TV, unlike the two dozen or so lolling free on the floor. There’s a Colt single-action Army between the couch cushions, its cylinder loaded with six rounds of candy corn. That sound you hear is the Victrola; it’s been at the end of its record for days. There’s about a third left in that two-liter of orange soda, but it’s gone flat; the RC Cola’s just dregs and those Delerium Nocturnum bottles are all ashes and butts. One of them Predators smoked all the cigars Jeff said he was leaving for me. And I don’t know what that thing is in the sink, but given the local custom I’m going to go with: squid.

Honestly, that’s what I got right now. Introductions can wait for tomorrow. It’s like we got to the camp ground after dark. When the sun comes up we’ll see if we pitched our tents in the river.

I made a little list here of topics I thought might touch on this week, from self-promotion and the tradition of reviling one’s own writing, to why I’ve given up on writing roleplaying games (about one million times) and where the hell I get off thinking that I know better than Charles Stross what near-future SF is meant to do. And tomorrow I’m going to give you some zombies, because ’tis the season and the kids they seem to like the zombies.

In the meantime, to fill space, I may post pictures of nonsense things. Figure 1.1:
A Smoke and a Chicken

Will Hindmarch–Guest-blogging on Ecstatic Days Oct. 20-24

I am very pleased to welcome Will Hindmarch as this week’s guest blogger. Will is a Chicago-born freelance writer and designer with experience on more than fifty books as an author, developer, or graphic designer.

In 2007, Will co-founded the gameplay-and-story outfit, Gameplaywright.net, with Jeff Tidball. He is also a proud contributor (in excellent company) to the book, Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media, edited by Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, available from MIT Press. Wills writing has appeared in The Escapist, Atlanta magazine, Everywhere magazine and McSweeneys Internet Tendency. In 2007, he was a judge for the MacArthur Foundations Digital Media and Learning Competition. He has also written small-house plays, small-press comics, and award-winning poetry.

In 2004, he and his wife moved to Atlanta, sight-unseen, like carpetbaggers, so he could become a professional lunatic for White Wolf Game Studio, serving as the developer of the flagship World of Darkness Storytelling Game, Vampire: The Requiem. Prior to that he designed numerous game titles for publishers like Fantasy Flight Games and Atlas Games.

Will is going to be the instructor in residence for the game development track of Shared Worlds teen SF/F camp, as well.

Weird Tales: KGB Reading and Alfred Kubin Exhibit

(Ann VanderMeer with Delia Sherman, and Carol Emshwiller peeking out from the background; photo by Ellen Datlow.)

As all of you no doubt know by now, my wife Ann is the fiction editor for Weird Tales. This past Wednesday we were up in New York City for her Weird Tales event, featuring Micaela Morrissette, Karen Heuler, and Jeffrey Ford, as well as Stephen Segal reading some of the winners of the Weird Tales spam flash fiction contest.

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Lynda Barry’s Stunning Imagination in What It Is

I just reviewed, on Amazon, Barry’s What It Is, which I really think is this year’s The Arrival, in terms of being a brilliant, effortless graphic novel:

Published earlier this year, Lynda Barry’s What It Is is one of my favorite graphic novels ever. An exploration of the imagination, an invitation to create, and a moving autobiographical account, What It is is one of those rare books that offers solace for the soul and brilliant commentary on the artistic impulse. The images by themselves would be amazing, the text by itself wise and luminous yet pragmatic. The combination of text and art provides new insight that feels three-dimensional and oddly soothing. I cannot over-emphasize the therapeutic effect of What It Is.

The whole feature can be read here. Check it out.