Tell Us How You Really Feel

I always enjoy stopping by Janet Reid’s blog. She recently posted an answer to a question regarding paid book reviews. While I could paraphrase it, I’ll let you read her own words.  http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2016/01/rant-paid-book-reviews.html

I agree with her 100%. There appears to be a whole cottage industry designed to separate gullible writers from their money. Writers should spend money on editing, cover design, typesetting and eBook formatting, but never on book reviews. I would also avoid, as Ms. Reid mentions, anything that bundles marketing with a book review; you’ve heard the saying don’t eat where you crap? If you want an easy, relatively speaking, way to get honest reviews, sign up for a Goodreads author account and setup a give-a-way. Sadly you will not get 100% of the people providing a review but you will get many and they will be honest.

Ready For The Printer

Hole_cover2Yesterday I completed the final edits on my collection of Weird Fiction. You should be able to purchase this in the next couple of weeks from a variety of outlets, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and for the reader of your choice. For my loyal readers of this blog I’m posting the afterword in which I provide my best description of where the title came from and what I consider to be Weird Fiction.

Afterword – What is The Hole in Your Mind?

What is the hole in your mind?  First, I must give credit to the writers responsible for Babylon 5 for the line, “There is a hole in your mind.” In the very first episode of Babylon 5, a would-be assassin tells this to Commander Sinclair.  In this case the hole references a missing piece of time.  Later on in the series we learn that the hole refers to the part of the human mind that cannot come to terms with some of the mysteries and realities of the universe.

For this book I chose the title, The Hole in Your mind, to represent the void created when what you experience does not match up with expected reality.  Most of these stories could easily fall in the Horror genre, but I prefer to think of them as Weird Fiction.  In stories of this type the end brings the protagonist to the very edge of reality and either gives him or her a peek at what lays beyond or shoves them right over the edge.  Either way the protagonist returns form that edge changed in innumerable ways, or not at all.

Weird Fiction has strong roots in the Horror genre.  Some of my favorite short stories spend time taking the reader into a world that could only exist in the mind of a writer.  One of my favorites from horror master Edgar Allen Poe is the story, “The Black Cat.” It is the inspiration for my own story, “The Cat’s Meow,” included in this collection.  In the very first lines of the work the narrator warns the reader that what follows may not fit easily into the reader’s conception of what is real.

“For the most wild yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief.  Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence.”

The early master of this genre and my biggest influence is H. P.  Lovecraft.  His writing, more than anything, captures the horror of the unknown.  In many of his stories the central character comes face to face with the unreal, with something that his mind simply cannot comprehend.  In this instance the hole in the mind is defensive yet when breached leaves the character in the throes of madness.  The reader still has the burden of trying to imagine horrors that have no basis in reality.  This is where the hole in their minds comes into play.  In some cases, Lovecraft recognizes this.  In this example from The Call of Chuthulhu, the narrator accepts that at this point language simply breaks down.  The words necessary to describe and relate the horror in the story to the reader just do not exist.

“Poor Johansen’s handwriting almost gave out when he wrote of this.  Of the six men who never reached the ship, he thinks two perished of pure fright in that accursed instant.  The Thing cannot be described – there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order.”

Lovecraft would revisit this breakdown in language in other tales.  For a writer this is an interesting point to make.  What happens when the very things you are attempting to convey defy the language you use to convey them?   In Lovecraft’s work he often invented terms, places, a whole theology of beings just to encompass, or circumvent, the language barrier in what he was attempting to create.

The goal of any writer is to transport a reader into the world of their story.  In some instances that world exists not in the rational and grounded but the fantastically bizarre.  In that instance the writer is expecting to find a hole in the mind of the reader that will allow him or her to fill it with a world both alien and yet inviting.  Writers call this suspension of disbelief but in its own way it is just blocking out the part of our mind that screams this is not possible.  Granted if readers only read about things that were possible we would have fewer books on the shelves.  The fiction sections of your bookstores and libraries are full of things that not only are improbable but not possible as well.

Readers expect a horror story to have scary bits.  They expect a hero standing up to some kind of monster.  However many things that may terrify readers and leave them sleeping with the lights on, are grounded in very real things to this world.  Spiders, snakes, even werewolves and vampires are all creatures that readers have no trouble conjuring in their minds as they read.  Some they have seen, and others are so ingrained in our literature that they are all but real.  A truly terrifying tale will take this expectation and twist it back on the reader.  Never mind the snake in the garden, it is the shovel wielded by the maniac that you must fear.  While your mind processes what the snake is doing the hole in your mind will never see the maniac coming at you.

Invoking the hole in your mind is more than just crafting a bizarre twist at the end.  The general atmosphere of the story needs to reinforce and prepare the reader for what is about to come.  Failing to do that will result in an ending that is more fake than resolving, more jarring than satisfying.  The reader is on the same journey as the writer and the goal is for the both of you to reach the end point at the same time with the least amount of difficulty.  The stranger the ending the harder that may be.  For the writer, this writer in particular, that is what makes Weird Fiction as much fun to write as it is to read.  It is the inherent challenge and risk of taking readers out so far beyond the norm that you may in fact lose them.  Should that happen it is time to take stock, take heed, and start over again.

All of the tales in this volume share that element of the strange and the bizarre that is a hallmark of Weird Fiction.  They are in no particular order or grouping so feel free to bounce around.  They come from many different years of writing, from deep in the file cabinet to closer to the top.  If I can achieve anything I hope it is that on finishing this volume you will be inclined to read more Weird Fiction and revel in all the madness that the hole in your mind can stand or supply.

Things Didn’t Quite Work Out

I saw this story on Galley Cat http://www.adweek.com/galleycat/penguin-random-house-sells/114720. I only had one interaction with Author Solutions. That was back in its first year when I entered the Writer’s Digest novel contest. Ever since then my mailbox benefited from regular deposits of promo materials and offers, none of which fit anywhere in my budget.

The idea was a promising one as far as I understood it; a traditional publisher taking a brave step into DIY publishing. Instead Author Solutions quickly became a bunch of services designed to separate new authors from their money more than connecting them with readers. Will the new owners carry on business as usual or resurrect the brand into something closer to the ideal? Time will tell. For now most writers would agree, we’re better off without them.

The Day I Deleted My Kindle App

kindleThe Amazon Kindle App was one of the first additions to my smartphone back in 2010. Today I removed it from my current phone. It has been replaced by my shiny new Kindle Paperwhite. For the longest time I was a strong proponent of having everything on my mobile device; all my books, music, streaming, games, you name it. The convenience of having a single device that can do everything is great, but sometimes a device that does one thing really well is the better choice. The Kindle Paperwhite is the e-Reader I have been waiting for. (Though no offense to all the Nook owners out there. They are great devices too, I just have 90% of my library in Amazon’s cloud.)

One problem with reading on a smartphone, or tablet for that matter, is that bright screen will eat up most of your device’s battery life. One look at the battery usage and you’ll see that the screen accounts for most of the use on any given day. An hour or more of reading could really have you hunting for your charging cable, especially as your device ages, to say nothing of the strain on your eyes. The e-ink screen on the Kindle, (or Nook GlowLight), is far easier on the eyes, even with the back-light on, plus it merely sips at the battery. There are a number of font types and sizes and the pages snap into view quickly. The size and weight make it perfect for one handed reading. It is even lighter than my smartphone. Storage is not a problem as eBooks take up so little space and with WiFi connected to the cloud my whole Kindle library is available at a touch.

There are 4 models of Kindles plus ones with special offers that reduce the cost so I urge you to take a look. Once I began using mine I had no problem removing the app from my mobile devices. Besides, I needed the space for more matching gem games.

Up For A Reading Challenege

The folks over at BookRiot.com have posted their 2016 reader challenge. I admit I never have attempted one myself but this one looks interesting. I like the idea of breaking out of my standard reading and trying something new. Plus if you complete it by December 31, 2016 and send a photo in an email to readharder@bookriot.com you’ll receive a 30% discount at the Book Riot store.

Warning Major Life Event Ahead

In truth it’s already passed but I’m still not settled into a new normal. I left my job at the Arizona State Library and Archives after seven years. The reasons were numerous but in my head I knew I was ready for a change and new challenges. I’ve begun my new job as Adult Services Supervisor at the Maricopa County Northwest Regional District Library in Surprise, Arizona. Yes, Surprise is a real place. I am still on track to complete and have out my long overdue collection of short stories and flash fiction as well as my first Steampunk novel, The Fourth Prometheus.

I started thinking about how often we go through these events and yet often overlook them when it comes time to write. Is that because they seem too routine? I know most people wouldn’t want to read a story about some guy with a head cold, although Franz Kafka had us reading about one who turned into a cockroach. Cockroaches aside, there are plenty of events in our lives that can lend a little bit of reality and substance to our characters. Sure a zombie plague could be breaking out, but what if the main protagonist in the story also happens to be trying to plan her first wedding at the same time? An alien abduction? Okay, but what if it comes right after the abductee just became a daddy? These could all turn up the drama in a piece. In addition you would have a character that many readers will easily identify with.  Right now I’m working up a story about a new guy on the job who discovers that he can move objects when he gets stressed out. Can you say cleanup in aisle five?

When Genre Writing Is In Name Only

zombie hordeActually I have never met anyone who acts in pornographic movies so I don’t know for sure, but I think I would. Where I intend to go with this concerns an article I saw, Why Science Fiction Writers are Like Porn Stars, on io9. The piece is a rebuttal of sorts to Glen Duncan’s review of the book, Zone One in the New York Times. That is where you will find the comment about intellectuals dating porn stars in regards to literary writers tackling genre fiction. Now having read the review but not the book I am sorry that I am committed that much to this internet dust up. That being said I thought my two cents on genre writing might be worth, well, two cents.

I aspire to write literature, I mean who doesn’t. What I think most do not understand is that, much like history, it is up to the decision of time. Using fancy words, or complex plot structures, or even nouveau cliches only gives your work the semblance of aspiring to be literary. On the other end of the spectrum, throwing zombies into your look at modern life only makes it genre in the same way McDonald’s made pizza. Writers are a fickle lot and nothing grinds our gears than someone writing poorly in our chosen genre or even writing quite well and making more money. What separates true genre writing is not what is in it but what would be missing if it was not there at all. Gadgets and Victorian clothes do not make a Steampunk novel any more Steampunky (?) than a strong protagonist with a wit and a bit of a rebellious nature do. If you remove the airships and Tesla Cannons and the story reads like a Wild Western Romance, you haven’t written a Steampunk novel. The same goes for horror. If the monsters are a metaphor for the ills of society, or even worse, nothing more than set  dressing you haven’t written a Horror novel. What genre writers seem to get better than others is all of the pieces matter and not just the ones that assemble the main picture. I think that is what Mr. Duncan was alluding too but somehow went about it in a very literary way.