Unleash the Grossbarts

S.J. Chambers is an articles editor for Strange Horizons.  Not only has her work appeared in that fine forum, but also Tor.com, Fantasy, Bookslut, and The Baltimore Sun’s Read Street Blog.  She is also currently working with Jeff as his Master Archivist for The Steampunk Bible. You can find out more about S.J. at www.sjchambers.org.

Mark this day, kind Ecstatic Days readers, for it is no longer merely November 16, but Grossbarts’ day.

Chambers_Cover

I had planned to mark this occassion with a video outtake from my interview with Jesse at World Fantasy, which is up over at Strange Horizons. Alas, my technological prowess and budget would not allow me to edit the monster stream, so I offer up instead choice and celebratory links.

First, interested parties can procure a copy here.  Then there is, of course, the home of Grandpa Grossbart himself, which carries links of its own to all the reviews and interviews, his blog, and a gallery of Grossbart related art.   The Grossbarts’ fine home can be found at Orbit, where Jesse has been posting a nice series of Grossbart scholarship articles. Then there is a funny video interview with Jesse by the very technologicaly savvy Molly Tanzer over at Fantasy magazine. Last, but not least, Jesse waxes poetic about why it is he gives birth to such horrible, horrible men and creatures at Powell’s. And last, but not least, just got linkage (this is p.m., as opposed to the a.m. of when this was orginally written) to the funny book trailer: Grossbarts on YouTube.

Well, I know that isn’t 5 glorious minutes of hearing Jesse discuss parallels between Bush’s War on Terror and the Grossbarts, a part of my interview that was excised from the final text-cut at Strange Horizons, and will be, until I figure out how to edit for free, locked up in the vault for another 50 years.

Here’s to….

S.J. Chambers is an articles editor for Strange Horizons.  Not only has her work appeared in that fine forum, but also Tor.com, Fantasy, Bookslut, and The Baltimore Sun’s Read Street Blog.  She is also currently working with Jeff as his Master Archivist for The Steampunk Bible. You can find out more about S.J. at www.sjchambers.org.

How cover art influences book sales (at least, for one picky reader)

Guest blogger Jason Sanford often rants on his website at www.jasonsanford.com. His fiction has been published in Interzone, Year’s Best SF 14, Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Pindeldyboz, and other places, and has won the 2008 Interzone Readers’ Poll and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship.

Here’s a simple story about how important cover art is to an author’s book sales. There’s this struggling new writer named John Scalzi, who has a first fantasy novella coming out called The God Engines. Okay, I’m being a bit silly—we all know Scalzi. But for me, this book wasn’t an automatic buy. While I’ve really enjoyed Scalzi’s science fiction novels, I wasn’t sure I’d buy a fantasy from him.

Scalzi1Then I saw the cover by Tomislav Tikulin (see right) and decided to take a pass. This isn’t a pan on Tikulin. I usually love his art. If you go through his online portfolio, you’ll see a ton of amazing illustrations, any one of which would make me buy the story they’re based on. But in this one case, the art didn’t work for me, so I decided to take a pass.

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Weird (and awesome) link! Green porno.

So, to start with, I am almost totally alienated from pop culture. Ironically, I’m much more tapped in now (at 27) than I ever was as a teenager. Pop music, movies, what? I can name like three Madonna songs and that’s primarily because I went to Sarah Lawrence College (where the stereos flip wildly from “Vogue” to Wagner’s The Ring Cycle to Sondheim in Concert).

The one form of popular media that I do intake regularly (and much more than is good for me, no doubt) is television. For a while, I was puzzled by my obsession with shows like Dexter and Project Runway, until I finally figured out that I’ve become super-saturated with prose what with writing all day, and reading for the magazine I edit, and having recently acquired my fiction MFA. Television gives me a chance to salve my narrative addiction without tapping into job- and school-related stressors.

And via the miracle of television, I’ve become able to pretend I know things about movies, too. How? Because of wikipedia.

Oh, wikipedia. Your choice of subjects is sometimes amusing. You have articles on the careers of every minor character from Are You Being Served. I love you for that; I really do.

All this brings me ’round to the beginning of my story, which happens while I’m rewatching season two of 30 rock. Jack’s ex-wife, played by Isabella Rosselini, romps around acting beautiful and ridiculous. I pursue my stealth activity of looking her up on wiki so that I can pretend I have a clue about the movie industry — and lo and behold, wikipedia presents to me (via Isabella Rosselini and the Sundance Channel) the most wonderful of all possible gifts. Green porno.

I gape. Isabella Rosselini is vamping it up in a beige body suit with painted nipples, pretending to be a snail.

As a fly, wearing enormous compound-eye glasses, she scoffs at a falling newspaper and then mounts a cardboard model of another fly. “Flies have sex multiple times a day,” she says, flashing the camera an enormous grin as she continues her pelvic thrusts.

These videos, most of which last under two minutes, star Isabella Rosselini as a host of animals. She employs papier mache, cardboard, and puppetry, to explain the sex lives of these creatures. She strikes a brilliant balance between didacticism and actual pornography: these videos aren’t going to arouse most humans, but you can imagine them being titillating to anthropomorphic flies and snails.

It’s not a big surprise that undersea angler fish — who live in the depths of the ocean, fishing for their prey with a luminous lure — have bizarre sex lives. But while the story of their extreme sexual dimorphism is fascinating and even somewhat shocking, I think green porno is most interesting when it portrays animals that are closer to home. Earthworms live in everyone’s backyard; they are as ordinary as muck. But despite their at-hand mundanity, their sex lives are still alien.

The real lesson of green porno is: thank god you’re not an insect, especially if you’re male.

No, wait, the real lesson of green porno is: life is strange. And also, thank god you’re not an insect, especially if you’re male.

Green porno has been out for a while, but for some reason, it hasn’t seemed to catch fire in my part of the blogosphere. Consequently, I intend to plug them for all they’re worth until they become ubiquitous and everyone knows how spiders mate.

You can watch all of the green porno videos — including some that haven’t made it onto youtube — on the sundance channel’s website.

Self-promoting like a self-promoter.

Hello. My name is Rachel Swirsky, and for better or worse, I’m a short fiction writer. This is relevant to today’s post — and indeed, to my entire last week — because for me, fantasy and science fiction has turned out not to be just a fun occupation, but also a disease vector.

Last week, my husband and I headed over to San Jose for the World Fantasy Convention, where — among many other entertaining things — I was able to meet our fair hosts, the VanderMeers. Unfortunately, my husband and I came home with more than just our free tote bags full of books (and by the way, wow, World Fantasy really piles on the free books. I think someone was being paid by the pound).

Now, a mere seven days after contracting the swine flu, husband and I are doing much better. I’m even able to start thinking about things like blogs again.

Which brings me to today’s shameful, shameless purpose.

I had hoped to ease into guest blogging with a few reviews, some weird links, and maybe a political rant or two. Instead, having lost a week to cough and fever, I’m going to leap into the breach with some self-promotion.

Last week, upon my return from the World Fantasy convention, I discovered not only that I was contaminated with swine flu, but also that my novellette, “A Memory of Wind,” had just gone up at Tor.com.

“A Memory of Wind” tells the story of the sacrifice at Aulis from Iphigenia’s perspective. Traditionally, her voice has been ignored; the original Greek tragedy, Iphigenia at Aulis, concentrates on the pain of her father, Agamemnon, as he decides whether or not to have his daughter killed so that he can go to war. I began writing “A Memory of Wind” several years ago, after seeing a feminist reinterpretation of the tale in which Clytemnestra (Iphigenia’s mother) was given her turn as protagonist. I wondered whether Iphigenia would ever get her chance to speak.

I worked on this piece at the University of Iowa, where a very famous author informed me that anger was never an appropriate inspiration for writing.

I ignored him.

Here’s an exerpt from the beginning of the piece:

I began turning into wind the moment that you promised me to Artemis.

Before I woke, I lost the flavor of rancid oil and the shade of green that flushes new leaves. They slipped from me, and became gentle breezes that would later weave themselves into the strength of my gale. Between the first and second beats of my lashes, I also lost the grunt of goats being led to slaughter, and the roughness of wool against calloused fingertips, and the scent of figs simmering in honey wine.

Around me, the other palace girls slept fitfully, tossing and grumbling through the dry summer heat. I stumbled to my feet and fled down the corridor, my footsteps falling smooth against the cool, painted clay. As I walked, the sensation of the floor blew away from me, too. It was as if I stood on nothing…

And now, I shall provide a unicorn chaser to follow my own self-promotion. Behold, greeting cards for after the zombie apocalypse:

(Check out David Ellis Dickerson’s entire entertaining Greeting Card Emergency series, and possibly also his book, House of Cards: Love, Faith, and Other Social Expressions.)

I’ll be back later this week with reviews, weird links, and politics.

Centipede Press’ Amazing Hodgson, with Visionary Art by Fabian


(Click the four outward arrows for full-screen glory)

Centipede Press…words fail me. I’ve never seen a publisher, outside of the brazen brilliance of Savoy, tackle such stunning projects—and whereas Savoy works within a set format of regular-sized hardcovers collecting uncompromising, edgy outsiders that William Burroughs would laud, Centipede Press often creates oversized hardcovers of the more outsider horror writers. (The two presses are like cousins with a subset of similar interests.)

These projects by Centipede Press are, to me, insane in the best possible way. They seem, from the outside anyway, to require staggering resources and time to create, and they are always made with an eye to detail and a sophisticated aesthetic that doesn’t shy away from the pulp origins of the material.

Now Centipede Press has come out with a book fully the equal of the Lovecraft art volume from last year, this time collecting the work of William Hope Hodgson in a slipcased oversized hardcover featuring the art of Stephen Fabian. Every element of this book has been chosen with care, all possible options weighed before execution. From the full-page bleeds of Fabian’s visionary art to the lovely half-translucent page that balances the marvelous title page art by Ian Miller, from the choice of type to the introduction by Sam Moskowitz, this edition of Hodgson may never be matched.

See the slideshow above for some highlights–and feel free to share it. Honestly, if you’re a collector you need this book. Wow.

Murder by Death Finch CD in the House

Yep, it’s in the house–my copies, and the extra copies I’m taking on the road for the book tour. It’s simple but very nicely put together. And, of course, the music is awesome.

Below the break all the mundane details about ordering it or Finch or both.

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Sea Planes and Citrus: Vintage Art from an Imaginary Past

The first time I met Steve Hlavac it was on South Beach, where he had a busy night ahead of him as a professional photographer. We followed him to a bar where Warren Zevon was playing–he got his shots even though a customer wanted to punch him out. (Ann’s known him ever since he was her boss at a Record Bar in Tallahassee.)

In addition to his professional work for national and and international magazines (see also his page on photographed celebs) Steve’s had a couple of cool exhibits in recent years, one based on his travels in China and another called Floridustrial that you should really check out.

Now Steve’s got a new exhibit called Seaplanes and Citrus: Vintage Art from an Imaginary Past in which he’s repurposed some of his photographs in the context of vintage imaginary advertisements for various products, from Little Hailey’s Extra Large Baby Jumbo Shrimp Miniatures to Laughing Tiger Sour Citrus. Most of it is Florida-specific. He’s still adding context to the site, but the images are up there now. (For those still addicted to the meat world, you can also find them on display in the Tavares City Hall–north of Orlando–until the end of October.)

Below find a small sample of work from all three exhibits (all images copyright Steven Paul Hlavac). Steve also has prints of some of his work available.

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My Complicated Relationship with Facebook


(A screen capture from my profile photo album on Facebook; I love how the juxtapositions form a kinda cool collage.)

I’ve got a complicated relationship with Facebook. When Matt Staggs first set up an account for me, I kind of scoffed at Facebook. Me? Wanting to interact with people using status messages on a daily basis? Not this curmudgeon.

Then I started using Facebook and became an addict. On a basic level, yes, the appeal was that I could keep up with my friends despite being frantically busy. I could actually remember their birthdays using this great external brain called “Facebook”. I started using Facebook while doing projects that didn’t require all of my brain—like editing, writing reviews, etc., so I found it a nice way of feeling connected and also of having some fun while getting stuff done.

Eventually, I began role-play using Facebook, as a lot of these profile photos should demonstrate. Role-playing is a form of storytelling, and since I had so many book projects on my plate but not much time for writing fiction, I think I used the role-playing in the guise of, say, a capybara or a giant bear or a komodo dragon as a way of fulfilling a creative urge on a micro level. This was also important because, well, after writing my novel Finch I didn’t really want to write any major fiction. It usually takes me awhile to recharge.

At one point, in the guise of an alien baby icon, I wrote the beginnings of a short story in first person—on Facebook. I know many of my friends didn’t know what the heck I was going on about, and others thought I was joking, but I found the process fascinating. As long as I stayed in character and answered the responses to my little posts of story fragments, I was advancing the narrative—and because many people didn’t realize I was telling a story, the narrative took twists and turns I wouldn’t have thought of without the prompts from my friends. In another case, I took on the persona of Mord, a giant Shardik-like bear who will figure in several future stories, and doing so gave me some idea of the parameters of the character.

Now, about eight months since I became serious about Facebook, I use it as a mini-blog as well as a source of creativity, and, still, to keep up with friends. I have almost 2,000 friends now, many of whom I don’t know, and so it really is more like a micro-blog platform than anything else. I post thoughts and content there that don’t overlap with Ecstatic Days, or I try to provide it in a different context. (If you’re not my friend on Facebook, feel free to add me—it’s a mix of close friends, colleagues, readers, fans, industry professionals at this point.) I’ve also thought about finding some graceful way to include a Facebook feed in the sidebar, since this blog and my Facebook activity are often linked in some ways (blog posts here have sometimes started as posts/responses on Facebook).

When I go on tour this fall, it’ll be interesting to see how it affects how I use Facebook. It might mean I’ll break from it and won’t come back for awhile. In part because there have been instances at which Facebook has felt cramped—as if it allows thousand of voices into a mind already crowded with information. And I’m also aware that I may simply be conditioned to the response, much as a rat in an experiment becomes conditioned to receiving a food pellet if it performs a certain function. It’s also led me to mistake it for a diary, in that I’ve posted status updates containing information I’d never divulge here on the blog, and in a couple of cases I’ve regretted it. (Other stuff is just perhaps too silly–like an updated status message at two in the morning about a flying cockroach.) And, finally, I’m sure Ann’s felt like a Facebook widow at times.

But I do know it has served a creative function for me this year as well, and three or four creative relationships that have led to projects have come about because of being on Facebook. So I may just have to accept the aspects of it that sometimes stress me to get the benefits from it . One thing’s for sure—as in all things, moderation is the key. Currently, I’m glutting myself on Facebook, but eventually I’ll have to pull back a bit.

Aidan Doyle: International Man of Mystery


(Full story here.)

For the past few months, Aidan Doyle, who I first met at Clarion South, has been traveling the world—countries like China, Mongolia, Russia, Estonia, Finland. He’s done more than a bit of travel writing for various places, but also keeps a blog here where he’s been posting about his experiences. Really interesting stuff.

Here’s Aidan at an undisclosed location picking up mad skillz, and a few teaser photos from his travels below the cut.

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