My Fungal Weapons Versus Your Dragon: Fantasy Mortal Combat

So I’m bored today. So I’m gonna ask you a question. If any fantasy/SF authors got in a battle against one another and they had to fight through proxies like weapons, allies, etc, and were able to summon up anything weapon-y from their novels, including beasties as allies, to use in that conflict…what match-ups would you find interesting, and whose weapons would help them win?

Personally, I’d like to see Pern dragons versus GRRM dragons, sand worms versus Smaug, space squid versus…something.

If everybody mentions just male authors, I’m gonna send my fungal weapons after you. And they burn.

Shared Worlds Teaser

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Just a little something Jeremy Zerfoss is working on for Shared Worlds teen writing camp this year. The students will get visits from guest writers Nnedi Okorafor, Minister Faust, Ekaterina Sedia, Will Hindmarch, and myself, along with editorial guest Ann VanderMeer.

Shh. Top secret.

Fire and Ice: I Doth Not Apologize for My Cheatery

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(The messages on the cover of the GRRM advance reading copy are NOT from the author, but a hoax I played on my facebook friends. I repeat: A forgery.)

For the record, I am not going to apologize for pulling out all the stops in my prep for reviewing the new George R.R. Martin novel A Dance with Dragons. That means I have been rapaciously feeding off of all applicable Wikipedia entries, revisiting the fifth book, watching the HBO series based on the first novel, and in all possible ways trying to once again get a handle on this vast, sprawling cast of characters and situations. What? Sansa’s name changes? Wait. What? That dead character is actually kinda alive? Ewww. Oh, Iron Isles, why doth you have so many possible pretenders to the throne?

I defended the house from an assailant the other day with the Dance with Dragons advance reading copy. The assailant, with a long gray beard and carrying a leather-bound leviathan of a Bible, came running up the driveway with book held high, like some kind of bibliophilic hedge knight, and I met him with my Dance of Dragons, and we struggled mightily to an impasse, whereupon he gave up with a curse and we went and got some lemonade while I complained about how freakin’ huge and long this new novel is…

But. I do not apologize for my cheatery.

Overlays: The Value of Temporary Structures

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(Critics who use in-progress process posts as proof of anything in finished books are jerks and will not be tolerated.)

Avast! When you return to a novel you last looked at a few months before and you’re like me—which is to say, there might be three typewritten alternative drafts and two explorations in handwriting—it takes a bit to get up to speed. Is this me complaining about my own work habits? Hell no. The whole point of my process is inefficiency. Getting too quickly to where you want to go, getting there too smoothly, is antithetical to thinking through complex issues. You want roadblocks, confusion, chaos, and doubt. Unexpected, wonderful things come out of this approach, too.

But I have indeed spent the whole day sorting through variations and looking at the structure of the 25,000 words I’ve got on the page. One thing that just kept annoying me beyond belief was the amount of really cool exposition I needed to cut to keep the foregrounded story moving forward. This is pretty basic stuff, but sometimes your description is doing a lot of other things, like deepening character. Other stuff just needs to go or be rearranged.

What I did find is that rethinking the structure of Borne helped a lot. I had thought of the book as being in two parts, and the sort of book where you get a lot of context up front. As I was looking over scenes with the title character, I realized I should experiment with a three-part structure, and suddenly the whole idea of what scenes had to go where changed drastically, as well as what kind of approach this novel needs in terms of context and divulging certain kinds of information.

First off, thinking of the novel in three parts, roughly corresponding to stages in Borne’s development, meant that scenes involving other characters could now be spread out across all three sections. Before, I’d been thinking in terms of the narrator’s story arc, but that’s not going to be the structural determinant for the novel, as it turns out. Unspooling Borne-related stuff also allows this other spreading-out noted above. It also, for some reason, now means setting context will be situated more node-like at regular intervals along the way. This means the first place I go into extended description is much shorter, and the space created fills up with more of the emotional lives of the characters. And I can relax into that knowing the rest of what I need is coming later, and isn’t needed for reader understanding due to the new pacing and the new ways in which the past and present communicate with one another in the text.

It doesn’t even really matter if I wind up actually dividing the book into three sections, or I just hold that in my head as a construct and do chapters 1 through 20 without any section breaks. The point is, the re-think has allowed for better, more useful ways to distribute scenes and info, while also revealing what material isn’t needed at all. Something about visualizing the novel as a two-parter was also obscuring unintended repetition and wastefulness in what was on the page.

This is all a very dry way of saying that structure isn’t actually an abstract thing. It’s also not always an organic thing, in that you try out different approaches mechanically in aid of getting to a place where everything in the text becomes effortless and organic.

As a kind of side note, I’ve also had a great time on more of a sentence level applying lessons learned from Steve Erickson’s (author of Zeroville) edits to the excerpt of Borne appearing in Black Clock magazine. In the context of finalizing the piece for his mag, I thought of the edits as regular copy-edits, but in the context of revising and moving forward on new sections of Borne at novel-length, I now interpret them as character-related instead. Which is to say, most of the deletions and changes affect how the reader perceives the main character. What is understated by the cuts emphasizes different elements. What is now brought to the front also creates different emphasis. This in effect makes subtle but important changes to the character…and in charting why I think these changes were made, I have gained a much better understanding about the person I’m writing about, and this also now radiates out into my editing of the rest of the draft as it stands.

The good news, from my standpoint, is that because several scenes now bleed into part two, I am much farther along on the novel than I thought. It means I have new scenes to write in part one, but that’s preferable to being more adrift in the middle. This, too, is the advantage of thinking about the structure differently: I no longer have concerns about sag in the middle because of the redistribution of previously front-loaded scenes into that section. The third act is crystal clear in my head, so that was really the last challenge in terms of how to present the material.

Especially in a short novel, like Borne will no doubt be, getting it all right on this kind of technical level is key to the emotional resonance for readers. Pacing, correct development, managing progression aren’t issues of craft—they’re issues intrinsic to success at deeper, more psychological levels. Graham Joyce’s The Silent Land is a perfect example—if Joyce’s craft weren’t brilliant, his insight into human relationships would be useless, because it would be deployed within a malformed novel.

And so instead of a post on the movie Carlos or another Doctor Mormeck entry, you have this, my little weirdlings. I hope you find it interesting. Or maybe I don’t hope anything. Mostly, I’m just happy to be writing.

“The Quickening” from The Third Bear Story Collection

The Third Bear, my story collection from 2010, is up for a Shirley Jackson Award. “The Quickening” is an original, new story included in the book. The story was posted as a PDF on the Largehearted Boy music site, but kind of got lost in the shuffle there…so I’ve posted it below for your enjoyment. As always, if you’re expecting some center-genre bullcrap, best not read. Cheers.

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The ODD? Anthology Has a Theme Song!

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Above you’ll find a snippet from Danny Fontaine’s awesome theme song for our ODD? anthology and the character featured on its cover, Myster Odd. Gregory Bossert is working on a video for the song, which will include Myster Odd, a creation of artist Jeremy Zerfoss. You can hear complete songs by Danny, along with his comrades the Horns of Fury here or here.

As for the release date for ODD?, we’re contemplating a trade paperback edition along with the e-book. This trade paperback book would include all the same authors, but because of rights issues one of the stories might change. But the trade paperback requires a shift in the publication schedule, probably to September/October. We’re going to release the full Cheeky Frawg schedule in the next fortnight or so, and will finalize ODD?’s pub date by then.

ODD? Table of Contents, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

“Is it odd or are you too normal?”

Amos Tutuola – “The Dead Babies”

Gustave Le Rouge – “The War of the Vampires” (new translation by Brian Evenson and David Beus)

Jeffrey Ford – “Weiroot”

Leopoldo Lugones – “The Bloat Toad” (new translation by Larry Nolen)

Mark Samuels – “Apt 205″

Michael Cisco – “Modern Cities Exist Only to Be Destroyed” (published only in a limited edition previously)

Nalo Hopkinson – “Slow Cold Chick”

Sumanth Prabhaker – “A Hard Truth About Waste Management”

Hiromi Goto – “Stinky Girl”

Eric Basso – “Logues”

Edward Morris – “Lotophagi”

Karin Tidbeck – “The Aunts” (new story; previously unpublished)

Jeffrey Thomas – “The Fork”

Rikki Ducornet – “The Volatilized Ceiling of Baron Munodi”

Leena Krohn – “The Night of the Normal Distribution Curve” (new story; previously unpublished, translation by Anna Volmari and J. Robert Tupasela)

Amanda le Bas de Plumetot – “Unmaking” (new story; previously unpublished)

Karl Hans Strobl – “The Head” (new translation by Gio Clairval)

Caitlin R. Kiernan – “A Child’s Guide to the Hollow Hills”

Stacey Levine – “Sausage”

Steampunk Bible Tour: Fountain Bookstore (Richmond, VA) and University Bookstore (Seattle)

Phase 1 of the Steampunk Bible book tour wraps up in the next week or so, with two awesome events. Phase 2 will consist of my coauthor S.J. Chambers’ events in England and France. Phase 3 in the late summer will include DragonCon. Here’s the info on the two final events of part 1.

Richmond, VA – June 2 (Thurs–tonight!), Fountain Bookstore, 6:30pm – Signing and discussion with coauthor S.J. Chambers. Fountain Bookstore is awesome, and I’m sure Chambers would love a great turn-out for her last event. She’ll also be interviewed by 97.3 WRIR, Richmond Indie Radio, for a bit that’ll air Friday, June 10.

Seattle – June 6, University Bookstore, 7pm – Signing and discussion with Cherie Priest (writer), Jay Lake (writer), and Libby Bulloff (photographer), major contributors to the Steampunk Bible. I particularly wish I could be at this event because the great and knowledgeable bookseller Duane Wilkins will be presiding, and because in addition to it being a great bookstore and the entertainment value of Cherie and Jay, I’d love to hear a photographer’s perspective on the book. Libby contributed more images than anyone else. Great stuff.

To buy now while there’s still money, just click on the image…

NYC Book Haul: Martin Amis, Merce Rodoreda, Werner Herzog, Sorokin, and More

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(Art bought at a street market, and a book of cool stickers.)

Our trip to New York City was very bad for our financial health, in that we wound up finding certain books irresistible. Here are a few highlights, not including books gifted to us by Lawrence Schimel, and the book accompanying the Alexander McQueen fashion exhibit. I’ll be covering those in two separate posts…

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Which of these doesn’t go with the others? The one on the right is an Archipelago book, btw—they do awesome editions.

My Kind of Girl by Buddhadeva Bose
The Spirit of Terrorism by Jean Baudrillard
Story of the Eye by Georges Battaille

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Both of these books look fascinating. I’d heard of Ice, but not the other one, which seems to fall into a kind of pseudo-surreal mode. With guinea pigs!

The Guinea Pigs by Ludvik Vaculik
Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin

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