Flushing Out Shriek: An Afterword–Notes, Fragments, Research, Alternate Scenes

(Limited edition cover, art by Ben Templesmith and design by John Coulthart, and still available from Wyrm Publishing)

In cleaning up my computer and getting ready for all kinds of efforts for Finch, the last novel in the Ambergris Cycle, I came across my document of notes and research for Shriek: An Afterword, the previous Ambergris novel. I wrote these notes initially on scraps of paper and created the document to house each note in the appropriate section, as a bulletpoint item, so I wouldn’t lose any of them. At the time, I was on the road a lot for my day job and I didn’t have energy to write whole scenes or sections. All I could do is scribble down little inspirations as I had them. By that time, I had probably 150 pages of rough draft, so a lot of this constituted layering or material for the last two-thirds of the novel.

I’m posting it here just as a kind of public archiving. It contains massive spoilers, so if you haven’t read the novel and want to, you’ve been warned. I’m too lazy to change the hierarchy, which got a little scrambled in the cut-and-paste, but the squares are one level lower than the bulletpoints. To most of you, this will no doubt be boring as hell, but it’s a supplement to this previous post.

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Terror, the Uncanny, Hugo Party, Podcast, and More

(Ann at the Hugo party, holding up a copy of the next day’s newspaper thoughtfully brought by Randy Fingeroot. Article and video here. Randy also brought Ann copies of the actual plates that the page was printed from…)

I’ve been sitting on some links, so here they are…

A few photos from the Hugo party here in Tallahassee, which due to a flickr burp you’ll just have to scroll down in the main feed to see.

Jon Armstrong did a podcast interview with me that turned out great, in that I wasn’t talking about the same old stuff. And since I’ve given up on having talking points, I can be a dangerous man in an interview.

I invited Matt Cheney to interview Samuel R. Delany about the re-issue of his classic essays on reading and writing SF, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw. It turned out great, and you can read it on Omnivoracious.

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Compiling My Nonfiction Collection Monstrous Creatures

(The cover of my nonfiction collection from Guide Dog Books, an imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press, art by Eric Orchard; the new subtitle, not reflected above, is “Explorations of the Fantastical, the Surreal, and the Weird”, but that too is subject to change.)

This weekend I started putting together my nonfiction collection Monstrous Creatures. I’d been capturing material in one document in the following categories:

Introductions & Afterwords
Features (Articles, etc.)

I’ve been sifting through more than 450,000 words of material including blog entries, and I began to get dissatisfied with the organizing principle. For my last nonfiction collection, Why Should I Cut Your Throat?, I’d had the normal sorts of categories, like “Essays” and “Reviews”, but had included convention reports between the sections, trying to capture moments in time while also showing the evolution of my attitude toward such events. I’d also included more personal pieces about, for example, City of Saints, that had some intertextuality with the reviews and essays.

For the new collection, I realized suddenly that I didn’t have much of an organizing principle at all, except to cram in as much of the quality material from the last five years as possible. I’d meant the title, Monstrous Creatures, as a kind of catch-all for a general nonfiction collection dealing with fantasy. The title would also tie in to my fiction collection, The Third Bear, especially since my essay of the same name would be included therein.

But, again feeling somewhat bored with the structure, I asked my good friend Matt Cheney, “Do you know of any examples of innovative organization for this kind of a compilation?” His answer:

That’s an interesting question–at first, I thought, “Of course there are!” but then I couldn’t think of any. Certainly, there are plenty of collections of miscellaneous nonfiction–Updike and Oates come immediately to mind, simply because they seem determined to collect every napkin they ever wrote on–but the organization for those books is mostly pretty dull. Donald Barthelme’s “Guilty Pleasures” is arranged in three sections, but they’re basically thematic. Same is true of the sections in Barry Lopez’s “About This Life” (one of my favorites). The range of forms in these books is not particularly wide; most writers seem to find a form of nonfiction that is comfortable for them, and they stick to it. I was working on putting together a ms. of a nonfiction collection that was arranged thematically to show the progression and development of the ideas without regard to the format (essay to review to blog entry, etc.)…I like collections that, through juxtaposition and sequence, show how a specific idea about X is also a general idea about Y that leads to the (previously seemingly unrelated) specific idea about Z. Because it’s what I know most vividly, Delany comes to mind, and each of his collections has been more radical than the last in terms of what is included (interviews, letters, etc.), but I still don’t think of those books as terribly radical, again because so much of what he does is limited to certain types of nonfiction. But they remain for me an ideal of showing the crossover of ideas.

Perhaps the most innovative form I know of is that used by Guy Davenport–who often de-emphasized the occasion that produced each item and so when reading his collections you often don’t know whether you’re reading a review, an introduction, an essay, a journal entry, or what. In his final collection of selected works (“The Death of Picasso”), he even mixed fiction and nonfiction without indicating in any way which is which, and I find it to be his most compelling book to read because of that.

So I slept on that, and this morning had one of those “the sky is blue” eureka moments that makes you wonder why your brain didn’t see it all clearly before, because it’s all there in the title: Monstrous Creatures. That thar, Sherlock, is my organizing principle–whether monstrous cities, people, books, or creatures, with “monstrous” used in the sense of the complete array of the meanings under “monster” in the OED:

From the Latin, Monstrum, meaning something marvelous; originally a divine portent or warning.

1. Something extraordinary or unnatural; a prodigy, a marvel.

2. An animal or plant deviating in one or more of its parts from the normal type.

3. An imaginary animal…having a form either part brute and part human, or compounded from elements of two or more animal forms.

4. A person of inhuman and horrible cruelty or wickedness.

5. An animal of huge size; hence anything of vast and unwieldy proportions.

I must also note how tickled I am to discover “monster” as a verb in the old OED, with the meaning of “to make a monster of,” “to exhibit as a monster; to point out something wonderful,” or “to play the monster, assume the appearance of greatness.”

Anyway, I now have a much clearer idea of an organizing principle. But, to winnow down you must first have more content than you can use, so I’m continuing to collect text under my boring old original headings, although now with more of an eye toward some initial exclusion of material. Once I’ve got a good 120,000 words in one document, I’ll then look at it all, cut out what seems weakest in the new context, and begin a path toward a new organization that seems thematically correct. I believe my editor said 80,000 tops, and that seems like a good length.

Monstrous. Marvels. Cruelties. Rodents of Unusual Size. Cities that behave like creatures. Essays that seem like behemoths. Bears that are not bears. This is going to get interesting…

Things That Haven’t Happened Yet ‘Cause I’m Flat-Out Exhausted

But they will, they will, once I get mah second wind. Or a spare moment. Or a couple of assistants. Sigh. Not to mention the House of Cabinets antho that should’ve been done a long time ago, and Love Drunk Book Heads. Double sigh. (If not for Ann, Last Drink would be in the weeds, too.)

UPDATE: Urk, Hannu Blommila made me think of a new antho idea–CAPYGOTTI: A Bestiary of Fantastical Writers. “In the Capygotti’s tiny, reflectionless black eyes you can see the existential dread of legions.” Now I’m even farther behind!

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Man, Falling

Flash fiction inspired by Eric Schaller’s art (above), which appeared in Secret Life Redux: The Select Fire Remix (yep, that’s right–the remixed, just like a music remix, trade paper edition of my Secret Life story collection, not to be confused with Secret Lives). I have a few copies lying around if you’re curious. $12 including postage for the US, $18 for international. Paypal to vanderworld at hotmail.com. This was a phase of collaboration with Eric that led to the Last Drink Bird Head anthology. Eric sent me an image called Last Drink Bird Head, I mentioned the phrase to Matt Cheney, he emailed me what became the first Last Drink story, and then I wrote my own for Secret Life Redux–I think that was the order–and the rest is history of a sort.

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Hugo Party, Eclipse 3, Steampunk 2, Shared Worlds Scholarship, and More

Hugo Party
Just a reminder that if you live in Tallahassee and are curious to see what a Hugo looks like, and say hi to Ann, we’ll be hanging out at the Mellow Mushroom from 7pm to 9pm on Saturday. A casual, laid-back party.

Eclipse 3
Jonathan Strahan has announced the line-up for Eclipse 3 and it’s extremely strong. Let me blunt. In the wake of the fall-out from the mindblowing SF stories antho being all white males, it’s just as important if not more important to celebrate anthologies that seem more diverse and inclusionary. In other words, being proactive means not just complaining about what seems wrong but praising what seems right. This doesn’t mean that if Eclipse 3 for any reason isn’t up to snuff that you soft-ball reviews, etc. Stories have to be good stories no matter who writes them. But I know that editing this series has been tough for Strahan–editing in general is tough; the anthos I’ve edited or co-edited have taken more out of me than any other projects–and he deserves credit for putting together such a cool line-up. The more anthos like this that succeed in the marketplace, the more diversity you’re going to see, and less reliance on the same safe names (from a book sales point of view–which is the main way that publishers gauge how they think an anthology is going to do). The more anthos like this that don’t succeed in the marketplace, the more you’re going to see a fall-back reliance on what’s comfortable for publishers. Activism means letting your money talk for you, sometimes.

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Best American Fantasy News, Including the TOC for #3, Guest Editors Minister Faust, Junot Diaz, and Catherynne M. Valente

The Best American Fantasy series has undergone a series of important changes, starting with the publisher. Underland Press has acquired the Best American Fantasy series, and will publish the third volume, “Real Unreal,” in January of 2010. BAF4, tentatively titled “Imaginary Borders,” will appear in March 2011. BAF3 contains work by, among others, Stephen King, Lisa Goldstein, Peter S. Beagle, and John Kessel, as chosen by guest editor Kevin Brockmeier with assistance from series editor Matthew Cheney. The full table of contents is reproduced below. The cover of BAF3 was designed by John Coulthart.

The guest editors for volumes 4 through 6 will be: Minister Faust, Junot Diaz, and Catherynne M. Valente. Each of these critically acclaimed writers will bring excellence and expertise to the position. BAF4 will include work published in 2010, as the series skips a year to accommodate the time needed for the change in publisher and general reorganization.

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Glamsham.com Brings Me Messages From Another World

I’ve not watched many Bollywood films, but somehow I’ve been on a Bollywood email distribution list for a website called Glamsham for about a year now. I still haven’t had time to investigate, but I really like reading the headlines. Gradually, some patterns are beginning to emerge, and I’m getting a handle on it from afar. Sometime soon I must dive in…

Last Drink Bird Head Update

Here’s the contributor list for Last Drink Bird Head, the Ministry of Whimsy’s (an imprint of Wyrm Publishing) flash fiction anthology for literacy charities. We’re on a tight schedule–contributors will hear from Ann soon re contracts and pre-production deadlines–so that the book will be available at the World Fantasy Convention.

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