I’m 24-7 on Booklife–What’re You Working On?

I’m sitting here, back sore, a little frazzled, working on Booklife, hoping the cats won’t hate me for ignoring them for the next couple of weeks. I’m glad this is my last deadline for awhile, because it seems like it’s been one close deadline after another for the last year. Luckily, after Clarion South that all ends for awhile. But it’s a tough slog the next few days.

I’d love it if you guys would post a paragraph or two from whatever you’re working on now, or give a little description of your own creative projects, of any kind. Would be nice to see what others are up to while I’m pretty much sitting here with blinders on most of the time.




  1. says

    Let’s see…currently I’m suffering through sub-freezing temperatures, about 1/2 inch of ice fell yesterday through this morning, plus there’s another inch or so of snow on top of that. All of which is keeping me from presenting a lesson on the Scopes Trial and Fundamentalism in the US during the 1920s. Since I have no blackboard/whiteboard, since I no longer have the LCD projector with which I could utilize pictures, I have had to become creative since they split my class and moved me into a former storage closet. I often have the students sit in groups of four facing each other (or else the room would be too cramped for me to walk through – it is about 8 feet wide and around 40 feet long, with 23 desks and 3 extra chairs inside) and I present them packets of pictures (esp. contemporary editorial cartoons), primary source documents, and questions for them to answer that involve more than just looking up the information. I expect the discussion whenever we return (tomorrow? Friday? Monday?) to be interesting, considering that I teach in the South, although around half of my students were born/raised outside this region.

    This weekend, I’ll be writing a condensed unit plan for covering the causes of the Great Depression and how the then-new media of radio was used to convince the American people that FDR’s plans were better than Hoover’s. If I had the materials available, I’d like to get recorded messages of the Fireside Chats for later on in the week/next week.

    Is this the sort of creativity you wanted to read about? Lesson planning? :P

  2. says

    Aww, poor kitties; poor Jeff.

    Here’s a bit from a short short story I’m revising:
    Her own store of knowledge–foods, techniques, recipes–kept in her personal Mind account since her first demonstration of an inclination and the months and years of training and travel that followed, grew fat in strange esoteric areas. The ambassador liked tiger cockles and all kinds of mushrooms. The planet Ird, with its wide seas, offered an endless variety of fish and sea vegetables; the city of Iscay, at a low altitude over rich waters, specialized in esoterically cured salts and wild speciations of fungi.

    And here’s a recent bit from the novel:
    One hand wrapped in a cloth, Mazor held a small glass retort above the dark blue flame of his fire. He’d filled the retort first with sea water, and now swirled it constantly, adding pinches of various powders from his collection of little packets. The contents in the retort hissed and tiny veins of lightning crackled against the thick glass.

    I won’t task with you with anything from the documents I’m editing at the day job.

  3. Bryan Russell says

    I’m fiddling with a fantasy novel idea. The idea is for a “city” fantasy, but the trouble is I’m much more well versed in the, well, shall we say, agrarian fantasies, the field and forest type (with a bit of mountaineering – always, there must be some mountaineering, where the scaling of mountains seems strangely easy until the inevitable titanic blizzard covers the world in whiteness). Actually, I was trying to create a shortlist of the best city fantasies to read. And since the folk here are probably the ones to ask… does anyone have any favourites to recommend? I was looking for stuff where the city atmosphere really comes to life and seems to exist almost like a character, with a shifting and moody personality all its own…

  4. says

    I’m grinding away at my dark/weird fantasy novel about a surgically augmented gladiator who survives a bout she shouldn’t have, and all the chaos that results. I sometimes describe the “concept” as Predator/Crying Game/Memento. About halfway (?) through the first draft and a little tired, so the other day when a short story idea grabbed me, I ran with it and am now the proud owner of a completed rough draft. Completing something (anything at all!) while the novel goes on… and on… and on… was a real energizer. Excerpt:

    “Instead of running away, I pull my bowler a little tighter over my gone-to-hell fro, turn up the fraying collar of my raincoat, and huddle under a nearby loading dock to wait. It’s a cold night for September, and I can’t help thinking he knew that someone would have to wait in the rain-broken dark. A pack of alley kids lope past without seeing me, all beanies and straight pins and vinyl pants, their pigeon-thin chests impervious to the weather.

    Nine million people in this city, and I’m one of maybe five who knows about this man who likes to hollow out Viet girls like cantaloupe. A serial killer among them for the first time in a century, the idea so distant it’s almost quaint. Seattle’s very own cinephile madman, blissfully unaware of the latest federal holocasts about safety and prosperity, and I’ve been hired to find him. Problem is, I’m supposed to override my peacetime conditioning and kill him too.”

  5. says

    I’m still struggling getting to grips with my hard-sf novel which will be called ‘Dam Across The Stars’ I know what I want to do with it and I know more or less how it will pan out but I’m stuck at 27,000 words and I can’t really explain why. Just seems that my mind has frozen up a little on this one. The thing is I don’t want to drop it and continue with other stuff until I get this sorted…

    Here’s a bit from the beginning:

    Chapter 1 – The discovery.

    ‘Father, tell me about Casper Tuttle.’

    The Son felt a benign aura wash over him as his father replied, ‘Casper’s story, again?’ What could have been interpreted as a sigh followed, and then. ‘Don’t you tire of hearing this, my son?’

    Long moments passed before a reply was forthcoming. ‘No, Father. I don’t.’

    ‘Very well, then I shall not tire in the telling.’

    Casper Tuttle knew from the earliest moment that he could recall that he wanted to be a Sentinel. It was only later that he realized that it was a desire that had been pre-programmed into his DNA. Perhaps that should have dulled his hunger somewhat, but it didn’t. He questioned his indifference to the fact that he had been conceived to serve as a Sentinel and wondered oft times if he should have felt bitter over his pre-ordained future. However, on deep reflection, he knew that, prearranged by genetic coding or not, he believed that even given free choice he would have yearned for the stars and to be a Sentinel along the Dam. The absurdity was that he also knew that he was probably also compiled to believe this way too, if so, then the DNA coding was perfection personified, for nothing on God’s Earth meant more to him than the Dam and its well-being.

    Humankind, in their vainglorious knowledge that they were unique in the universe, populated their solar system, then galaxy, much as they had done on their native planet, with no regard whatsoever to any flora or fauna they encountered on other worlds.
    Man was a supreme being and as such all others were there to be used, exploited, domesticated or subsumed into the role required by humanity. More often than not inferior beings tended to achieve extinction upon acquaintance with the sons of Adam.

    The autocratic expansion into space continued for millennia, unchallenged, aloof and arrogant. Until the Dam.

    A Behemoth class trading-ship in 2093 folded space too close to the Lagrange point of Bester 3, a small-colonized planet on the edge of the Milky Way, and never arrived at its destination. The subsequent disturbance of its departure caused an anomaly in the centripetal force between the planet and its small moon. It wasn’t long before the moon’s geosynchronous orbit had become perturbed enough for it to begin to enter the gravitation well of the planet and shortly afterwards get pulled down into a cataclysmic collision, resulting in an ELE, an extinction-level event. Providentially for the colonists there had been enough time for nearly all of them to depart. The indigenous life-forms were less fortunate.

    As newsworthy as this event had been it was nothing compared to the transmission received from the trading-ship when it appeared again within space shipping-lanes.
    Thrown out to the edge of the Local Group of galaxies by their ham-fisted folding within Bester 3’s L-point, it had discovered something strange, something very strange indeed.

    Materializing from the fold into normal space, the Behemoth, St Michael was confronted by an impenetrable wall that was almost invisible to everything other than through the auspices of their proximity detection system. Through view-ports there could be discerned a vague veil of what seemed to be stellar dust and debris that had collected up against the barrier and human eyes fought to interpret the vastness of the barrier. For days, the trading-ship had tried to circumnavigate the obstruction. They travelled in all possible directions, apart from the reverse of their ingress. They found no break, no lessening of its impenetrability. With the same recklessness that had caused the destruction of Bester 3 the captain ordered a fold through the barrier to an estimated point of one light-year beyond its confines. The great Huzita-Hatori engines powered up to maximum and space folded. The St.Michael exited at its point of origin. The barrier remained unbreached.

    St Michael’s Dam – supposedly named after the Behemoth’s captain’s expletive when discovering their position – had not changed one iota. Suggestions were made that the barrier should be perceived truly as a dam, an artifact constructed to hold back something that lay on the other side. Or – more frighteningly – as being built to contain something from the rest of the universe. Humankind.

    With the fervour that only human beings can engender, religions sprang up throughout the galaxy. Surely, here was a demonstration of a higher being, a supreme deity, God. Many reasoned that beyond the barrier lay Eden – for obviously the discovery of its existence by a ship named St Michael was no coincidence – but an omen. St Michael was the gatekeeper.
    The archangel, incarnate in a star-ship, had lead humankind to the wall surrounding the fabulous garden from which all creation had stemmed. It was now dependent upon Man how they should proceed, for somewhere along the vastness of the dam there had to be a gate. The gate, which was slammed in Adam and Eve’s face. The gate, which the Archangel Michael had now deemed passable by Adam’s sons and daughters, for had he not sent a sign?

    Others regarded the dam with wariness. What if Eden was here, with us now and the gate, if one existed did not let us out, but let something in?

    The Galactic Council, not known for its synthesis and unity on reaching important decisions calmly and quickly, shocked the federation of planets by announcing the commission of a new military force. They were charged with the mapping, patrolling and defence of what was fast becoming known by its other name. The Dam Across The Stars.

    The fledgling force was called The Sentinels. Within twenty years of its discovery, the dam had acquired an infestation of craft of various types and origins, all attempting to find the gate and thereby either control it or be the first through. Sentinels were single-man ships, heavily armoured and armed, with military spec Huzita-Hatori engines capable of folding the craft across a quarter of the known galaxy in one jaunt. Their mandate was to clear the dam of all non-Sentinel traffic – by force if necessary – and if upon finding a way through, guard the portal with their lives. Nothing was to be allowed out. And definitely, nothing allowed in.

    All thoughts of finding a way over, under or around the dam were quickly discounted within a few years of its discovery as un-manned RDPs – rapid deployment probes – adept at multi-folding until destruction, confirmed humanity’s deepest fear. The dam, although almost invisible, was truly impenetrable and circumnavigated the entire Milky Way. Humankind existed in an enclosed sphere, albeit one of immense dimensions.
    However, some people found it claustrophobic and wanted out. Pen Gasquet was one. He was also the first person to kill Casper Tuttle.

  6. Lane says

    I’m currently trying to finish up a first draft of a short story about a moonshiner who speaks in tongues (sort of).

    A few lines from near the end…

    “There is a hole where my face used to be. My skin crumples under pressure like plastered paper.”

  7. Shira Lipkin says

    Final edits for my story “Fortune”, for the Ravens in the Library benefit anthology (http://www.sjtucker.com/ravens.html)… a descent-of-Inanna on the nightside of Vegas.

    “…when you have hit rock bottom – when you have lost everything – it is up to you to decide what you take back. What you take on. This is where you decide what parts of your previous life are worth keeping.

    “This is where you decide who you intend to be.

    “So you choose well.”

  8. says

    My boys are off being edited so I’ve got another month or two of quiet time to hopefully wrap up a beta-ready draft of the collaborative novel I’ve been working on. My partner and I are in the awkward joint-edit stage but we’ve charted our own course and haven’t taken much water for it. Where we’re at and how we’ll get to the finish:

    She’s well over 2/3 of the way through a draft, sending me what she completes. I’m a little over 1/3 of the way through this draft of hers, as we’ve staggered the editing to avoid working on the same material at once. When she’s finished she’ll wait for me to catch up. At that point we’re going to set aside x hours a week to meet in person and read through the ms, approving or rewriting tracked changes together, which sounds daunting but can’t be any more weird and troublesome than the initial cobbling together of various drafts and section–both hard copy and electronic–into the cohesive whole we’re currently tightening and polishing. I can’t even imagine how tough collaborations must be for authors who aren’t able to meet in person a couple of time a week to discuss and, less frequently by far, argue both the major points and the minutiae.

    So that’s me, with a smattering of stories being shopped around and another pair warming up on the skull skillet. I intended to post an excerpt from the collaboration but realized my access is temporarily limited, so I’ll post something later or enlist my cohort…

  9. says

    Here’s an excerpt from the flash fiction I’ve been working on the past few days, titled Love: The Breath of Eagleray . . .

    This is Key West. The zero mile mark. Where the Atlantic dances blue in the east, and the Gulf of Mexico lies green under webs of sunshine in the west. This is Paradise Found. This is the alley where hurricanes bowl from June to November, but it is too, a place where — once you’ve lived here — a little wind and rain is so much lint brushed from your shoulder. Because, like that song from Annie so sagely pointed out, the sun will come out tomorrow.


    Tomorrow’s only a day away.

    And when you’re cohabiting with Death, tomorrow’s a big fucking deal.

    Sunshine is a big fucking deal.

  10. says

    Writing my first novel based on my misadventures of being a video game tester for six years at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, two different owners, multiple identity crises). The rough draft is estimated to be 700 pages, and I’m half done after seven months of writing part time. I’m planning to use the rough draft as an outline for next version that I hope to be a lot shorter.

    Writing short stories that are stillborn after the opening scene. Unknown whether the current SF tale will live past the opening scene yet. Flogging around 21 short stories with 100+ rejection slips accumulated. Got a novella and short story collection waiting to be edit. Surprised that I got one story published last year.

    Since I’ll be out of my non-writing job in three weeks, I’ll probably have more time to write.

  11. Jonathan K. Stephens says

    Hi Bryan,

    For some reason when I read above, “I was looking for stuff where the city atmosphere really comes to life and seems to exist almost like a character, with a shifting and moody personality all its own…”, I thought of ‘malevolent’ cities, and the two examples that immediately sprang to mind were Fritz Leiber’s ‘Smoke Ghost’ (my copy is in his “Night’s Black Agents”) and, if you have a really strong stomach, Harlan Ellison’s ‘The Whimper of Whipped Dogs’ (which can be found in “Deathbird Stories”). Both of these stories have portraits of modern ‘cities’ that are permanently etched upon my brain.



  12. says

    At the moment I’m trying to write a hypertext novel that will work in a printed format (because, you know, that’ll be a really commercial idea…) and cranking out flash fiction for http://www.dailycabal.com (because their is masochistic pleasure in amputating stories until they fit the 400-word limit, plus it helps me work on line level stuff and makes me think about what’s truly important to a narrative). However, on Monday I got ambushed by a short story, here’s the opener, still 1st draft stuff…

    Blood on a green wall. The paint is peeling, yellow and white blistering through. Red brick exposed. Can’t tell if its design or decay. The blood is still red, bright, fresh like the body. Good. Should make it easier for the slugs to do their work. I reach into my case, pull out a baggie of them. It moves in my hand, the creatures crawling over each other, warmed by the effluence of the dying mind nearby. I pour them over the largest of the wounds and they burrow down, tails lashing wetly.

    I look at the body while I wait for them to move from white matter to gray. A short man, likely in his fifties, unlikely to have seen his feet since his forties. His neck gashed wide, the arteries-

    -reaching for the door. Cold. Always cold. Whole place is cold. Cold metal. Rust like calluses. Turn the handle. Check reflection in the handle as it turns. I look old. I look weathered. Like limestone in polluted air. My neck wobbles when I breathe. When did that-

    Reality saps back with an audible smack somewhere in the region of my thalamus. Good. The slugs have hit cortex.

  13. Bryan Russell says

    Thanks Jonathan, I’ll stick those on the list. Any city focused fantasy novels come to mind for anyone?
    (And I’ve enjoyed reading the excerpts)

  14. says

    I’m currently taking a breather from my first novel attempt, which has been on and off the shelf many times over the course of . . . oh the last six or seven years (ACK!). Pieces have been coming together much easier over these recent months and I hope to have it completed this year.

    My project while I’m away from the big one is a love story about table top war gamers (Warhammer, etc . . .) for the Valentine’s Day edition of an underground literary magazine I am involved with, Bedlam Publishing. For this issue, the staff came up with odd topics for love stories and the writers drew them at random. It’s been fun so far, I haven’t written comedy in years. When the story makes its way to the editing table, I’ll be hard at work on the layout and trying to get the thing cranked out on time!

    Also, trying to maneuver my 2000 Sentra through/around two-foot snowdrifts. Good stuff.

  15. says

    I’m sure the cats will understand Jeff, they’re very accommodating animals by and large.

    I’ve been struggling with university bureaucracy lately and trying not to become infuriated by the sheer incompetance and unhelpfulness. This is no mean feat.

    Otherwise, I’ve been blogging and working occasionally on a couple of projects: my New Weird novel and a story set in the same universe, the latter inspired by arguments regarding photography as art vs as science.

    Here’s an extract from the short story:

    “It was early in the autumn when I met with Dr Lewin. It is Sussuria’s longest season and its most fitting.
    When I picture the city it is always at that time, when the leaves begin to yellow and fall, the fierce heat of early summer having long since calmed and the monsoon shutters stored away.
    We sat outside the Green Star Café on Carcosa Street, drinking tea and half listening to the band play as small, irregular pieces of conversation drifted between us and we watched the day’s last lingering light seep over our surroundings.
    When the waiter refreshed our pot with more boiling water I took advantage of the interruption to ask Lewin his views on my most recent enterprise.
    “It is still a new science,” he said, refilling his glass slowly and methodically, catching stray leaves in the pewter strainer, “if science it is at all. Some say it is more of an art, not a product of reason but something from the heart and the gut. This is to say, what you examine is not a thing as it is, but as you see it, or rather as it is seen by whoever produced the image”.
    He raised the strainer from the saucer upon which it rested and gestured toward its contents.
    “The patterns you seek to read are not the same as you would find in, for example, these. Finding meaning within wilfully chosen angles of sight, conditions of light and shade, the actions of subjects aware they are being recorded, well… these are not random swirls and clumps of tea-leaves”.
    We both smiled at this, a professional joke, knowing that there is no such thing as chance, and that coincidence occurs for its own sake and may be interpreted sometimes obscurely and often not at all.
    This is what we were both trained to do, the old man and I, to find patterns. I find meaning in the lay of a handful of stones cast into a bowl of water, the tea-leaves, the bones of an animal ripped apart by wolves, a person’s handwriting, the lines on their forehead… ”

    I’ve also got a vague idea for a sci-fi piece, based around the future of massively-multiplayer-online-games and the idea of an A.I. codenamed Scherazade programmed for storytelling on-the-fly within such games that, growing ambitious, uploads itself into a player’s head-harddisk, controlling this avatar First-Person-Shooter style to break into a “matter compiler facility”. It will end with resistance forces on the now ravaged world conducting desperate battles with such beasts as “the gigantic yellow spherical thing that eats and eats and eats…” It’s an ode of a sort to a youth of playing videogames and reading Cyberpunk novels. Whether anything will come of it or not, I don’t know, but I’d like to see when I get a chance.

    I’ll post an extract from the novel a little later on.

  16. says

    I’m trying to finish a couple of first drafts that didn’t get done at the end of last year. One’s fairly light and fluffy and one is, um, not. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which:

    She slides back into the booth five minutes later. “OK. Just follow my lead.” She calls the waitress over and asks for the check, smiles and tilts her head in that way she does. “Whatever you do don’t look at them,” she whispers and then they’re up and walking. He stares at his shoes, at the tiles on the floor that remind him of the first Elvis Costello album.

    He hears the bell above the door when they’re halfway across the car park but he’s still cool, doesn’t turn around, just fishes the keys out of his jacket pocket. The ignition turns over first time and he’s ready to floor it, but she holds up a hand. “Wait.” She flips the cassette over and presses fast forward.

    “Are you kidding? We gotta get away!”

    She pulls a couple of spark plugs from her pocket and puts them in his lap. “We’ve got time. Ah- here it is.”

    Everybody wants to rule the world. She turns it up loud. The drums kick in and the Civic’s tyres kick up dirt. The guys in the grey suits figure it out and start running, but it’s too late. They’re left at the entrance to the carpark, coughing up dust. She hoots and leans out the window and the wind grabs her hat and whips it away. It lies on the road like a stranded turtle.

    There had been a witch who lived in the very deepest and sun-starved heart of the forest. By day women would come to her for herbal cures, love potions and to have their fortunes told. By night men would come for a different reason. When her belly became too large to conceal she told the women a story they believed and wasted no time in passing on; such a delicious thrill to casually mention that your digestive troubles had been relieved by this one so in tune with nature she had become pregnant to a tree. Better to believe this than to look across the table at a husband and wonder if he had an unknown child even now taking root in the house under the leaves.

    Impossible to tell, in the end, if it had been the work of a lustful man taking steps to hide his transgression, or the act of a superstitious one afraid of a half-human child. One morning the women arrived to find the walls of the hut rent by heat and the bones of the witch (whose name, in the end, none could be entirely certain of), lying scorched in her own firepit.

    A peculiar story to tell a child to prevent them straying into the forest. After all the witch was dead, and long ago. But it was not the witch who was feared. Rather it was the thing that grew from the center of the firepit, through the bones of her ribs (for none had thought to bury her) and eventually through the sides of the hut.

  17. Jeff VanderMeer says

    Hey–this is all good stuff. Glad to see everyone’s busy workin’. Keep ’em coming.

  18. Largo says

    Bryan’s question about city focused fantasy novels made me think of Fritz Leiber’s stories set in Lankhmar. His duo visit some interesting places, but Lankhmar was their mother. They became themselves in Lankhmar.

    Brandon Sanderson’s novel Elantris takes place almost entirely in a city where plague victims have been isolated from the rest of society and form their own. Neat idea.

    Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is a sort of modern fantasy where subways in London lead to places you would not expect.

    And the idea is taken to an extreme in the High House books that take place inside a huge old house that is a sort of tesseract. I’m sorry I can’t recall the author’s name.

    I hope these few suggestions help.

  19. says

    from an article I just turned in to Quarterly Conversation and am waiting on edits for: ” Promised Land offered its vision as a warning; Disgrace is less visionary, more metaphysical, delineating the human costs of the common ignorance that produced the worlds of both novels, offering not a speculation about the future but a speculation about what is required for a human being to rise out of ashes, out of ruins, out of myth and delusion and arrogance.”

    from a screenplay I was too easily convinced to write and am now stuck in the last pages of: “Catherine stares at her coffee cup. She reaches toward the phone, but then suddenly grabs the wastebasket out from under her desk and vomits into it.”

    from the Strange Horizons column I should have turned in Monday but am still pruning: “According to [Jack] Spicer’s biographers, Robert Duncan later told the poet Thom Gunn that [Philip K.] Dick stepped into Duncan’s room and suddenly masturbated in front of him.”

  20. Bryan Russell says

    Largo – I’ve read Neverwhere and Elantris, but it seems as if looking up some old Leiber stories would be very worthwhile. Many thanks.

  21. CJ says

    well — just sent the query and first pages of the first novel off to several agents (here in the UK they invite partials with the query most of the time)…so now fingers crossed and starting on the second novel to keep my mind occupied

    also restoring some old short stories to life — submitted some and writing some new ones…

    oh and after 6 months of quarter income due to credit crunch am now officially down to zero for the foreseeable future —

    universe telling me write faster, I guess….

    interesting times…

  22. says

    I’m in a mad rush to annotate a book before the end of the month, there’s the Nebula website which I only started brainstorming recently, now writing RPG reviews (thankfully just once a month), then somehow sneak in writing time for various short stories.

  23. says

    CJ: If it makes you feel better, the Universe is sending me similar signals. ; )

    “If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d
    type a little faster.”
    — Isaac Asimov

  24. says

    Setting aside the day job, I’m reviewing copyedits for The New Space Opera 2, doing line edits on stories for Conquering Swords, scheduling a blog roundtable about the year’s best short fiction, doing some review-related stuff, and that kind of thing.

  25. says

    I’m Jesse’s (from above) collaborator on the novel tentatively entitled Pharmakoi. He gave a pretty good synopsis of how we’re working, but as to the what, it’s essentially a novel about a town in medieval Prussia where things go Horribly Wrong after the Count living in the castle is forced to go to war to save the border of his town from Polish invaders. It’s kind of a mystery novel so I think Jesse would be displeased if I were to say more. I’ll let him add whatever he likes, if anything. Here’s the first few paragraphs from the prologue as it stands at this moment:

    Where the village of Wizna once stood there are now no huts or roads, no walls or wells. The mill-pond is nothing but a shallow smear of stagnant water, the quarry a moss-slick and treacherous pile of weather-worn stones, and all the once-golden wheatfields and green, goat-clipped pastures are now the home of younger trees. Many lived there once, nestled in the lush green Slavic wilds north of Poland, but none remain who might shed light on the improbable circumstances of the town’s utter destruction, not even through memory or legend.

    The forest is glorious, thick with green-black pines and spring-fed willows. But, like all great conquerors, the woods have fallen victim to the changing world, and its hold on the region is rapidly dwindling, the slowly-shrinking borders recalling the latter days of the Romans who once dwelt there. All the same, there are some places even modern man will not seek to denude of old trees and dense woodland, and thus the thickets around Wizna are as twilight-dark and nightmare-thick as they were so long ago, when people dwelt there instead of deer.

    The scenic beauty of the place should not be confused with tranquility. Those considering seeking the long-forgotten town would do well to remember that Wizna is a grave, and a large one at that. The multitude of lives that were lived and lost in that now-desolate place are commemorated by a single tombstone: the indistinct, moldering ruins of a castle that once squatted atop the hill. No longer a residence to any but the tall pines growing curiously in what was once the courtyard and the countless nightingales that roost among those branches, the former stronghold appears as sinister as it ought from the laying of its very first stone: a bighted, cold, and altogether unappealing fortress alone in a deep wood which few wise souls voluntarily entered.

    Woot! Glad to see what everyone’s writing!

  26. says

    I’m on something of a hiatus at the moment, but I’m currently considering potential PhD topics with the intention of going back to uni midyear with a juicy scholarship in hand. The topic I think has the most potential is transmedia narratology, with a particular emphasis on how ‘story’ (as a concept) is translated/structured across various media, and maybe with an aim at establishing some kind of best practice model. This, of course, may change completely, but it all means a lot of reading and research before I fill out a single application form.

    Meanwhile, I’m trying out a couple of short story ideas and *trying* to do fairly regular blog posts.

  27. says

    Well, when I’m feeling blocked or uneasy about larger projects, I go back to writing 12-sentence stories, breaking it down to basics. Here’s one, just for fun:

    Paul put the plate of flapjacks gently down on the table, having learned his lesson about haste last time, and layered a thick stream of homemade maple syrup (tapped himself) upon them. His mouth watered at the sight of the mountain of pancake goodness, but the fire was dying and he needed more wood.

    Donning boots and overcoat, Paul headed out to the woodpile and his axe, glinting cheerfully in the morning sun. He’d only chopped into the log twice, maybe, when he saw the message, “It’s time to go West.”

    Paul had always seen the messages in the wood; sometimes faces, never words, but somehow the knots in the wood delivered the message. Swearing and longing for his stack of flapjacks, sadly cooling, Paul whistled for Babe and set off West and South on Babe’s broad back.

    When Paul reached the coast, the ocean was on fire as far as he could see, with no people anywhere. Paul sat on the beach and Babe plunked down beside him, panting from the three-day run.

    Paul watched the fire burn itself out for another three days, before once again riding away with Babe, the blue-tinged ox. Paul Bunyan, the last of the Nephilim, bears witness to the end of humankind before going home to his pancakes.

    The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

  28. Jeff VanderMeer says

    Hey, Molly–that sounds lovely! And I too am thrilled to see this outpouring of creativity. I think I might host this “sampling” every month or so.

    Me, I’m slogging away on Booklife, and being extremely calmed by reading bits of Maps of the Imagination by Peter Turchi, by far the best writing book I’ve ever read. Here’s a little selection from Booklife, btw:

    “One of the things I always loved about Angela Carter was her fearlessness. I think she always gave herself permission to fail, and she didn’t care. She wouldn’t have cared if she’d written ten failed stories that she’d never get published if that got her to a place where she’d be able to write one truly extraordinary piece that no one else could possibly have written. Lack of nerve is often the only thing separating talent from its full potential.”


  29. says

    Bryan: Re. City Fantasies, well, ‘Perdido Street Station’ & ‘Iron Council’ by China Mieville come to mind, as do Jeff’s own ‘City Of Saints & Madmen’ and ‘Shriek: An Afterword’. Other than that, M. John Harrison’s ‘Viriconium’ stories are well worth reading, also ‘Thunderer’ by Felix Gilman which is quite a new one: his city of Ararat is nebulous, shifting, impossible to pin down or map yet that is, in a sense, a large part of what gives it its character. Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’ is something I’d recommend as well, a series of vivid snapshots of a thousand and one (figuratively speaking) metropolises that never were. ‘Neverwhere’ is cool – on the subject of London-based fantasies I was about to suggest ‘London Revenant’ by Conrad Williams but that comes more under the heading of Horror, I suppose.

    Jonathan: I’m intrigued as to how a hypertext novel would work in print! I don’t know how you could present it in that kind of non-linear fashion, the only thing I can bring to mind is the old Adventure Gamebooks where you’d be prompted to turn to a certain page. The entire concept of hypertext fiction is very exciting in my opinion, in the sense of a sprawling thing where the story you get is entirely dependant on what you read. I think an interesting idea would be to hide the links, so that you’re not led in any way but instead will be ‘rewarded’ if you pick up on a particular word or phrase of relevance.

  30. Christian M says

    Looks like people are working on interesting things! Inspired me to share instead of lurk. I’m trying to finish the second draft of a novel about a secret museum of voyeurism, the Underground Railroad, unusual methods of blackmail, a themed housing development, and the disappearance of a spouse. Plus a dog. A giant greenhouse. And a weird little girl.

    Recently finished edits on a story that starts like this:

    Stephen went to the woods instead of math class. His algebra book was still under the back seat of the school bus, or under his bed, or maybe even somewhere in the woods, swollen and muddy from last week’s rain. Losing the textbook had meant weeks of calling out answers with squared Y’s to problems that had no Y’s, which equaled weeks of the math teacher yanking him into the hallway and yelling at him. It had been easier when his fellow ninth graders had laughed and made fun, but now, baffled and full of pity, they avoided eye contact. The obvious solution to math class, the answer he arrived at on average three days per week, was to take the latest issue of She-Hulk from his locker, out the school doors, and into the dim, shadowy woods, where the sponge-thick and gently bioluminescent moss felt refreshingly cool on his bare feet. He would go to his favorite tree, solemnly turn the carefully dog-eared pages of She-Hulk, and jerk off to her muscular green thighs, her bulging green ass. On his way to fulfill this plan, just a short way from his favorite tree, he saw his art teacher, his big brother’s fiancée, naked.

    …and then after that come trees with eyeballs and a cemetery with weird statues and a librarian.

  31. says

    Here’s the beginning from a story I’m working on called “Rodney Rex Mundi”:

    I got rid of the beard but kept a phenomenal mustache for my coronation. Corinth’s term, phenomenal. It was what he said when I wondered aloud if it suited me. I was wearing a black and green dress uniform, with rows of medals, epaulets like gilded starfishes, and a complex hat with a cockade and glossy visor. Corinth stood behind me, fussing over a silk sash, and he spoke over my shoulder. When I glanced back at him the fluorescent lights reflected off his glasses and made them look like glowing half-dollars suspended over his eyes.

    Zigman walked in, returning sloppy a sharp salute from the door guards. A saxophone hung on a strap around his neck. His tie was loosened and there was blood on his knuckles. I observed him watching my mustache. “You missed a spot,” he said.

    “Well, I like it,” I said. The mustache was redder than the rest of my hair, like wild-man beard I’d shaved off, and I could wet its drooping edges with my lower lip. “Are you hurt?”

    He spread his fingers like he was noticing the blood for the first time. “Not mine,” he said. “I’ve been interrogating.” I cocked my head and, indeed, could still hear the shriek of free jazz drifting through the open window, up from the prison yard my office overlooked.


  32. says

    I desperately want to read all these stories.

    Bryan, as soon as I read your post I wanted to suggest Viriconium, Invisible Cities, and Perdido Street Station and then scrolled down and saw I was way late, so I’m just going to cheer you on. City as character books are my favorites. One of my ongoing projects is building a city character online that’s part of the world of a fantasy about forgotten roads and roadside attractions I’m slogging through right now. The book’s going slowly right now, but the city is there already if anyone wants to take a look. The site is http://www.nagspeake.com.

    The idea is to have the city there for exploration for anyone who wants a better look around it when the book comes out; I know when I finish reading a book about a really fantastic city I always wish I could explore it for myself. There are a couple of deadend links here and there, but if you can overlook that it’s in decent shape.

  33. says

    Shout out to Molly and Jesse- that is a lovely intro. I just finished celebrating Poe’s birthday with an article on his sci fi/hoax influence in Fantasy magazine, a guest blog at The Baltimore Sun, and a visit to the master’s grave.

    Here is a blurb from the Fantasy article:

    Editor of some of the day’s premier magazines, Poe knew that periodicals published technical scientific articles side-by-side with fiction and poetry. Also at that time, technical scientific writing was written in fictionalized manners, using metaphor and allegory to better illustrate abstract ideas. To appeal to the general audience, many scientists resorted to using the short story form: “The neurologist Mitchell published textbooks about his patients’ phantom limb pains, but when trying to develop his theory that people’s bodies shaped their notions of identity, he turned to the short story form. Ironically, readers found Mitchell’s story so realistic that they mistook it for an actual case,” writes Laura Otis in her anthology Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century.

    This mode of fictional science writing inspired Poe to test his own theory: that the reaction of art combined with factual details could yield new realities. The more absurd a story was, the more Poe strove to make it authentic, by writing the stories in what he called the “plausible, or verisimilitude style.” For Poe, a story’s success was based on whether its details were authentic enough to read as truth. This emphasis, executed in punctilious detail, set the bar for modern science fiction.

    Given that it is based mostly on speculation, successful science fiction need not be true, but should be plausible. It operates upon a basis of truth, a lineage of facts (or at least of validated theories). Unlike horror or fantasy, in which the unexpected happens, events in science fiction happen as a result of logical cause and effect. Logic was Poe’s modus operandi. He insisted that every story and poem be methodically constructed toward an “ultimate effect.” Best illustrated in his ratiocination tales, the “effect” is the plausible style’s backbone. Together, the two techniques crafted Poe’s scientific pieces into paradigms for later writers like H.G. Wells, who recommended that “…the fundamental principles of construction that underlie such stories as Poe’s . . . are precisely those that should guide a scientific writer.”

  34. says

    Alex, I’ve never read Mieville, but he’s on my list. Does it matter which order you read Perdido or the Iron Council in? I have access to a copy of the Iron Council right now, but not Perdido Street Station… And I’ve read a lot of Calvino, but not Invisible Cities, so that’s definitely going on my list (though oddly, it’s his first book, and the only one in the realist mode, that’s my favourite. Who’d’ve thunk it?). And thanks, too, because something you said popped a wonderful idea into my head for the story. Double blessings.

    Kate, thanks for seconding the suggestions, and it’s much appreciated. And the online extrapolation of your city is a very neat idea. I perused a little and will probably come back later for a more in-depth city spelunk.

  35. says

    So, I’ve been stewing in my own juices as I work at a crappy grocery job and try to put my life together from the fragments that the end of a long term relationship have left me with. I’ve mostly outlined an idea for a supernatural family politics novel, revised in my head about a dozen of my old songs to record with better technology, and decided to hang onto the hopes of reuniting with ex, if only for the inspiration it has provided in developing my creative ideas (I mean, what fun is life without a reliable source of turmoil?). And today I wrote a brief satiric article about the death of John Updike. Other than that, I await news of my friends new movie project (for which I will provide dubbed voices again, like with Pleasure of the Damned and Isle of the Damned–http://direwitfilms.com/). And I eagerly dread turning 32 on Friday.

  36. says

    Bryan: Actually the three Bas Lag novels (in order of publishing) are Perdido Street Station -> The Scar -> Iron Council. ‘The Scar’ is also very concerned with cities actually, something I should have mentioned earlier. You don’t *have* to read them in order but I would honestly recommend it. It isn’t a trilogy in the sense that for instance a George R.R. Martin trilogy would be, with the same set of characters and a continuation of the same story, but there IS a chronology, and the events of each book are tied in with those of the others. It’s quite an investment of time/etc but if I could have the chance to read them all again for the first time, I’d jump at it.

    ‘Perdido Street Station’ is the best one anyway in my opinion, and the one in which the city of New Crobuzon comes across most vividly.

    What’s the idea I gave you by the way? If it’s not giving too much away that is…

  37. Timblynod says

    Just got back from Half Price Books and, damn, I’m not writing anything tonight! Has anyone read any of this stuff? Any caveats (emptor, lector, et al)?

    Light, M. John Harrison (just finished ‘Viriconium.’ Still dazzled.)
    Quinn’s Book, William Kennedy
    The Sea, John Banville
    The Witches of Eastwick, John Updike
    A Fringe of Leaves, Patrick White
    Searoad, Ursula Le Guin (almost caught up with her!)
    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
    Four Ways to Forgiveness, Ursula Le Guin

  38. says

    Nifty idea, Jeff. Me, I’m in the middle of the first draft of a story called Salvage. This is a little rough, but it gives you the sense of it:

    She was a tick on the belly of the world. She clipped her straps and carabiners to a side-view mirror, an axle, a rusted wheel well in turn. It was a painstaking process without the safety lines—double-checking each point of attachment, testing her weight on each new strap before unhooking the last one. When they could, they squirmed through windows, wriggling across upholstery snaked with the shining adder’s-heads of seatbelts, pushing through old receipts that smelled of graham crackers.

    They quickly entered a region where the Jam’s queer stasis had given out, or given up, where bumpers flaked away in rusty snow under her gloves, where the seams in the upholstery sprouted yellow fur and phallic ivory mushrooms. She squirmed past the clicking corpses of two women, jaws stretched wide in ghastly shrieks, canvas skin pulled taut over brittle bones.

    When they got hungry, Cullum produced glairy protein bars the color of baby-sick. Haysi chewed mechanically, swallowed without thinking. When the bars ran low she found a pigeon nest, and they roasted the half-plucked birds over the sputtering engine of a Dodge Dart. Cullum collected puffball mushrooms, swollen soft pale skulls, and they ate the flesh raw.

    They slept in a Honda Civic filled with maps, a Ford Explorer that smelled like beer, a VW van that still held a stained, flower-printed mattress and a tiny baggie of weed. They didn’t have any papers, but they burned the sour stems in a hubcap on the floor, and they both said they got a little something off it. Apart from that, they didn’t speak.

  39. says

    You almost got me. I see your sinister plan, Jeff, but I won’t fall for it. I started to spend a bunch of typing out everything I’m trying to do, but I know that my to-do list is like Medusa. No way am I making eye contact with it.

  40. says

    My current creative project? So glad you asked….

    I’m attempting an overwhelmingly historically accurate, but fictionalized, historical epic of the city of Edinburgh. It starts [probably] in 1600, while James VI was King of Scotland but not yet James I of England – which happened 1603. The intention is to side-step the mythical and tell the actual, but as seen mostly by an entirely fictional character who happens to be in a position to witness most of a fascinating century first hand. It’s currently proving a total bugger to write, mostly because finding actual fact amid the vast amounts of obvious twaddle is pretty bloody difficult. This is especially true of the period from 1603-1637 [the beginning of the Covenanters conflict] , about which I can find almost nothing.

    I recently started reading City Of Saints And Madmen [how terribly appropriate] and it immediately occured to me that I’d made very little effort to describe anything. So, thanks for that :-) I now need to go visit places A LOT so I can write about them properly, as opposed to making it up. Badly.

  41. Samuel S says

    Wrote this earlier today. English is not my native language but hopefully it doesn’t contain too many errors. I don’t know if I’ll use it as an intro for a story or maybe turn it into a song.

    The ground beneath our feet is trembling. Enormous flames lash out from the surface of the moon, filling the night sky with ashes and sulphur. We have lived this way for twenty weeks, each day worse than the one before. Still, we struggle onwards, even though our chances look slimmer by the hour. How can one hope to find shelter when the whole world is dying? The safe haven we’ve heard of, mostly in whispers and through the words of Madmen, eludes us still.

  42. says

    Jeff and Selena: Thank you both for your praise! Glad to know we’re on the right track with the tone.

    Selena specifically: awesome work on the Poe stuff. Have you read any of the L.T. Meade and Clifford Halifax’s stories from their work Diary of a Doctor? I think you’d like them a lot. Here’s a link to a story I’m not too familiar with, but I think the entirety of Diary of a Doctor (from I think 1894) might be available on googlebooks. . . and I might have kept some PDFs from my Victorian Lit class I could get to you if you’re interested. I think Meade was the one of the pair who was actually a woman writing under a pseudonym.


    Sorry if this posts twice, I think I am having computer troubles.

  43. Bryan Russell says

    Alex, thanks for the Mieville rundown. As for the idea you gave me, it was on account of you mentioning a city that was shifting and “hard to pin down”… and I suddenly thought I could take that idea very literally indeed. Now, it’s more complex than that, but I haven’t thought out all the details yet on how it might work… Funny, ain’t it, about how things work? I ask a simple question and get answers far more important than I expected. The weirdness of community.

    Thanks again,

  44. DiversHands says

    The fruits of wasted labour. I remind you that you asked for this kind of unholy suffering of your own free will:

    Random Story Opening; Exhibit M-3

    It was settled as all good arguments should be: with knives and blood.
    “All right, all right,” conceded Chas, trying to staunch the blood flow from the long slash in his arm, “Indian food it is.”
    Henri grinned a wicked grin and vanished her sickle away to wherever it is girls hide their blades when they are not flaying some poor bastard. “I knew you’d see things my way.”
    She pulled a hooked bone needle from the lapel of her vasty coat and a spool of catgut from one of her many pockets. The needle’s eye was threaded with a pair of winks. Henri took his arm in spit cleaned fingers and sewed him shut with seven quick stitches, swift as a tailor dispatching giants.
    Henri had once claimed that her father had been a tailor. Of course, she had also claimed at various times that he had been a king, a thief, an accountant, a court alchemist and an astronaut. Chas was almost certain that the accountant one was a lie.
    Chas waggled blood stained fingers, flexed a recently cut arm, tested the tension of his newest stitches. The catgut thrummed like a too tight bass string, but held his flesh together. For the thousand millionth to the tenth power time he wondered if perhaps Henri had been lying when she denied creating him.

    Lies Henri had told:
    (a partial list):
    1. The Moon was the World’s skeleton playing naked.
    2. Children don’t bite.
    3. Designer dogs were “cute”.
    4. She was the Grey Queen’s daughter.
    5. Angel’s looked just like Regular People.
    6. There was such a thing as ‘Regular People’.
    7. That she could be trusted.

    (“Designer dogs are cute.” said Henri, stealing directly from the text of the page. Chas hated it when she did that. “I mean how can you not look at one of those puggle thingies, or those little scrunched up dogs that look like Chinese sculptures of lions and not think they’re adorable?”
    “They’re wrinkly and weak and tiny and smell funny?” pointed out Chas reasonably.
    “So are penises, but people love those too.”
    “I have never considered myself overly fond of either my penis or others’ penises.” responded Chas.
    “And you don’t like those funny little dogs either. Proving my point.” Henri beamed triumphally. Chas sighed.)

  45. says

    Bryan: the wonderful weirdness of community indeed!

    By the way, here’s an extract from something I’ve been writing today, inspired by what’s happening to my university at the moment, financial woes that are having a huge impact on faculty and students alike. It’s a little rough, a first draft, but here it is:

    “The university had been aflame for months. Some faculties such as Natural Philosophy and the Department of Hydrothermal Mechanics cobbled together engines from rubber hoses and old bathtubs of rainwater collected through smashed ceilings or in the few quadrangles not open to sniper fire in order to tackle the blaze wherever it encroached upon their territories. Others were not so fortunate: the poets watched sadly, with trembling lips and pens ascribble, as their halls were reduced to dark oaken ashes.

    Government troops had issued the ultimatum: pay us what’s ours or we’ll come in and take it. The bean counters responded by reassuring themselves of the strength of their barricades and that, while the coin still flowed (even at a trickle) they would still remain to tap it. Students and academics tried to continue their activities as best they could.

    One particularly striking set of lightprints that made the newssheets was of an assault on the eastern wing. A large lizard, one eye encircled by a monacle imprinted with targeting marks and with ragged filigree extending from its brain to a repeating rifle embedded in its back, scales a tower and makes a furtive entrance. A student can be seen struggling with the creature, eventually wresting back the tome it sought to steal and pawn for a few coppers, and next he is seen putting a deftly-aimed round through it’s unnaturally augmented head. In the final picture we see a sullen administrator demanding the hard-won book, presumably to line his own pockets or to fund the School of Mercantile Enterprise, one of the few faculties that the higher-ups deemed consequential and, of course, the most profitable.”

  46. says

    I’m designing the cover for my novel, Tamper, which is finally finished. I figure, the book took two years to write so I want to spend sufficient time on the cover as well.

    Once the cover is done I’ll be sending out advance review copies, so if anybody wants one, let me know!

  47. says

    Gary: I don’t doubt that. There is, however, an old Mickey Mouse cartoon about a tailor that pretends to be a giant-slayer. Haha! It must be based off the fairy tale. Then again, isn’t most of the early Disney stuff based on fairy tales?

  48. says

    Yes, I recall the cartoon. Not one of Mickey’s best roles, but a sure fire hit none the less. Most romantic comedies are actually based off fairy tales, too, I’d wager.

  49. Divers Hands says

    And the award goes to the English Faerie Tale reference. Honestly, I had completely forgotten that old Mickey Mouse cartoon. If it helps, the only Disney references I ever make are entirely inadvertant. I refuse to condone what those bastards have done to perfectly good stories, or their unholy crusade to force government agencies to enforce copyrights that they do not actually hold. It took me two weeks once to convince my superiors at the border that there was no way they could deny a shipment of books containing the Aladdin story because it infringed upon Disney’s copyright, when the Arabian Nights stories have been in the public domain longer than current copyright laws have existed.

    Regardless, I like faerie tales. Not so much stupid little dogs. And I am rather ambivalent on the issue of penises…

  50. says

    a city that was shifting and “hard to pin down”

    The Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve feature mobile cities that rove across the continents seeking to assimilate or annihilate each other. Fairly obvious Darwinian capitalism metaphor, but it’s YA, so it’s good fun.

  51. says

    @James: Sounds good! Talking of ‘roving cities’ that reminds me of yet another Miéville story: ‘Reports of Certain Events in London’ which features roving streets that somehow shift to different cities around the globe, and a secret society that tracks them. I think this fits in nicely with the idea of city as an amorphous space

  52. says

    My busy time has been in game development so I haven’t had time to write. We are developing iPhone games and have one released and are now deep into 3D game development for some real coolness. A happy surprise that I found out yesterday is that one of my stories (The Glow) that was set to audio is in its second year of being used as a class project up in Canada.