Inhuman Swill : Writing

Main

November 6, 2013

Fiction wants to be free

What is the sound of one hand clapping?
What is the sound of a tree falling in a forest?
What is the sound of a story without a reader?
What is the sound of tears on my typewriter keys?

poems | publishing | writing

September 6, 2013

Because you probably didn't hear me on WBAI

When I showed up to attend the KGB Fantastic Fiction reading on August 21st, the last thing I expected was to end the night in front of a radio mike. But that's what happened.

Rather than greeting me in a traditional fashion when I wandered up to say hello, Jim Freund said to me, "You're on the air at one-thirty."

"Tonight?" I said. "One-thirty A.M.?"

It seems he'd had a guest for his long-running WBAI program "Hour of the Wolf" drop out on him, and he needed a substitute. Well, fair enough. I'd done the show at least five times before, and I'd enjoyed it, so what the hell.

That's how I found myself in Harlem in the wee hours of Thursday morning, smack-dab in the middle of the beautiful City College of New York campus. Thanks to its highly publicized financial problems, WBAI is sharing studio space with WHCR until it either moves into a new space in Brooklyn or collapses altogether.

Jim and I discussed my recent move back to New York, Tuesday Funk, Orson Scott Card, and what I've been working on lately. I also read a couple of chapters from my recently completed novel Root. Here's what it all sounded like:

appearances | media | new york city | radio | science fiction | writing

September 2, 2013

Glitter & mayhem & music

Glitter & Mayhem: The Speculative Nightclub Anthology It was almost a year ago that I received the invitation—would you like to contribute a story to a speculative rollerderby/nightclub-themed period anthology? Well, yes, obviously!

But what was not so obvious was what I was going to write about. I mean, I was a good little Mormon kid back in the mid-'80s. I went to shows, sure, and I went dancing at a few clubs, but I wasn't exactly seeking out the seedy side of the scene. I remember going to see Gene Loves Jezebel at Club DV8 in Salt Lake City in probably 1986 and being distinctly uncomfortable at all the androgynous twin-brother sexuality on display. That was about as seamy as things got in my world.

But Laura was quite a bit more familiar with the corresponding Chicago scene, so I thought would be fun for us to collaborate on the story. We talked the story through as we walked the dog, and we took the milieu and its underlying ennui straight from her memories. (Other details of the club where much of the action takes place came from the Gapers Block article "A Look Back in the Mirror at Medusa's," by Sheila Burt.)

Right at the deadline we sent "Subterraneans" off to the editors. I felt like a complete poseur submitting a story of this sort, but Laura's memory was validated when this reply came zinging back from Michael Damien Thomas:

I went to Medusa's in the early 90s. It was EXACTLY THE SAME. :-)

Bullseye!

Glitter & Mayhem: The Speculative Nightclub Anthology is out and available now! It's filled with amazing stories by the glittery likes of Rachel Swirsky, Christopher Barzak, Seanan McGuire, Daryl Gregory, and many, many more. You can read more about it here, and you can purchase your very own copy of it here, in physical or electronic form.

Oh, and one last thing. Laura and I created a Spotify playlist to accompany our story—a soundtrack, more or less. We tried to include every song either referenced or explicitly mentioned in "Subterraneans." Not every one was available on Spotify, though, so we made a few judicious substitutions. It's heavy on the Bowie. We hope you dig it.

anthologies | chicago | clubs | collaborations | memories | music | nostalgia | publications | spotify | writing

August 28, 2013

A benefit for the Chicago Writers Conference, tomorrow night!

As a board member for the Chicago Writers Conference, I'd like to encourage you—nay, urge you—to support this worthwhile endeavor at its annual benefit party!

The benefit takes place tomorrow night, Thursday, August 29th, at 6:30 pm, and will help support CWC's programming and outreach efforts. The $40 ticket includes food and drinks from Trader Joe's and Revolution Brewing. Along with mixing and mingling, guests will enjoy readings by Andrew Huff (Tuesday Funk co-host, editor and publisher of Gapers Block), James Finn Garner (The Politically Correct Trilogy, Apocalypse Wow!), and Hannah Pittard (The Fates Will Find Their Way). There will also be a silent auction featuring:

Tickets are now available. Space is limited; if you would like to attend, please send an email to contact@chicagowritersconference.org.

Date: Thursday, August 29, 2013
Time: 6:30 - 9:00 p.m.
Location: Lakeview neighborhood
Admission: $40 - includes drinks, appetizers and dessert, silent auction and readings

Contact CWC for your ticket now! Especially since I won't be able to be there myself.

Chicago Writers Conference Fundraiser Invitation

auctions | benefits | chicago | conferences | events | writing

April 11, 2013

Speculative fiction: the superset of all possible literature

Novelist J. Robert Lennon wrote recently on Salon.com that young writers should avoid reading much contemporary literary fiction because most of it is terrible. (The essay, in fact, is headlined: "Most Contemporary Literary Fiction Is Terrible.") It's a well-argued piece, worth reading, but what really caught my attention was this passage:

But a fiction writer ought to engage with other parts of the culture, too. This includes reading outside one's genre — I happen to favor sci-fi and mystery, but I think it's fine for literary writers to read YA, romance, fantasy or whatever they please. Literary writers are in the privileged position of being permitted to raid any genre for tools to subvert and repurpose.
The emphasis there is mine, on a sentence I find troubling. I certainly support Lennon's contention that writers—all writers—should read widely, and read what they enjoy. What's problematic to me is that word privileged, as if writers of "literary" fiction inhabit in some class superior to writers of other genres, and they're the only ones permitted to reach down and rummage through the toolboxes of their inferiors, and then only for purposes of upending genre conventions.

This is a limited, and limiting, view of genre. It implies that no genre but literary fiction can amount to more than the sum of its tropes, and that the tropes of genre fiction are only useful to the literary writer insofar as they can be employed to ironic or postmodernist ends.

Both those implications are false. Central to Lennon's essay is the proposition that most of contemporary literary fiction is stuck in an insular, navel-gazing loop—in other words, that it continues to reinforce and perpetuate its own tropes. A few works might break out of that cycle and transcend it, Luminarium by Alex Shakar but if we accept that most works in the category are stuck inside a constraining boundary of accepted elements, then we are defining literary fiction as a genre. And if any works in that genre are capable of transcending its limitations, then why can't works in any other genre do the same?

Editor Moshe Feder once described the processing of borrowing and lending between genres to me in terms of blood types. (He in turn had borrowed the metaphor from someone else, and I'm sorry I don't recall from whom.) He said that genres all have different capacities for giving and getting. At one end of the spectrum is the mystery genre, the Type O or universal donor of literature, which can lend its tropes to any other genre. At the other end is speculative fiction*, the Type AB or universal recipient, which can take in tools and techniques from all other genres. Arrayed between are all other genres, including romance, western, spy, crime, and, yes, literary, each of which can give and receive to a greater or lesser extent.

China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh This is a useful and pleasing metaphor in some ways, but things are really more slippery and complicated than all that. I've always thought of the universe of fiction as a multidimensional spectrum, with all genres free to commingle and exchange their DNA. For every literary novel like Time's Arrow by Martin Amis that borrows fantasy tropes to ironic ends, there's one like Luminarium by Alex Shakar (last year's L.A. Times Book Prize winner for fiction) that imports science fictional tropes and treats them seriously and realistically. Likewise we have The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe, China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh, When We Were Real by William Barton, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, and any number of other works of speculative fiction that borrow liberally from what we might call literary techniques to varied and stunning effect. (And need I even mention George Saunders these days?)

In fact, I like to take my spectrum one step further imagine something along the lines of Jorge Luis Borges's Library of Babel or Neil Gaiman's Dream Library—an infinite library containing all possible works of fiction. The portion of this library containing works set entirely within the world of our consensual reality would be vast, of course—but relative to the size of the library as a whole, it would be vanishingly tiny. A smaller portion of that tiny portion of the library would correspond roughly to what we think of as literary fiction. Everything outside of that? That would be what we think of as speculative fiction.

Viewed this way, speculative fiction becomes the superset of all possible fiction. What this implies is that for a writer of speculative fiction to work at the absolute top of his or her game, that writer must be able to employ all the tools, tropes, and techniques of all other genres of fiction. Far from inhabiting a literary ghetto, we really inhabit the outer sphere of all possible genres, encompassing everything else—or so we should aspire.

But even that view is too limiting and elitist. What I really want to say is that all writers should feel free to employ the most expansive palette they want. Artificial bookstore distinctions aside, good writing is good writing, and that should be the pursuit above all else for any writer. It's what the writers I like and admire the most have been doing all along.

Ultimately, we are all writers of speculative fiction.


*A more inclusive and descriptive term for what you might know better as the science fiction and fantasy genres.

#SFWApro

literature | reading | science fiction | writing

April 10, 2013

Just starting to get traction

In his recent New York Times interview, Louis C.K. offers a good reminder of what it takes to build a career, for those who've been toiling away for decades:

NYT: You have the platform. You have the level of recognition.

LCK: So why do I have the platform and the recognition?

NYT: At this point you've put in the time.

LCK: There you go. There's no way around that. There's people that say: "It's not fair. You have all that stuff." I wasn't born with it. It was a horrible process to get to this. It took me my whole life. If you're new at this -- and by "new at it," I mean 15 years in, or even 20 -- you're just starting to get traction. Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that's in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.
Read the full interview here: The Joke's on Louis C.K.

advice | art | career | work | writing

April 5, 2013

On two of my idols: Iain [M.] Banks

Amid the staggering news of other losses this week, I want to remember to say a few words about Iain Banks, one my literary idols. (Two of my literary idols, really, if you care to think of his Iain M. Banks byline separately.)

I, like many of you, I'm sure, was stunned to tears on Wednesday morning by the news that Mr. Banks is suffering from late-stage cancer and probably doesn't have long to live. He broke the news in typically straightforward and mordant fashion, but that didn't make it any easier to take.

Iain Banks Iain Banks is an important writer. I can't think of another writer who so consciously, so prolifically, and so successfully divided his output between serious mainstream fiction and rigorous hard science fiction. He proved, at least in the U.K., that one need not confine oneself to a single genre or style of fiction in order to maintain a brilliant career. It would have been impossible to guess from his twisted 1984 debut, The Wasp Factory, that just three years later he would affix a giant M to his chest like some superhero of letters, fly into space, and bring Consider Phlebas back to Earth, introducing us to what may at the time have been the most mind-expanding and humane future society ever invented, The Culture.

And Iain Banks is an important writer to me. His books can be found all over our house—on the science fiction shelves, on the mainstream shelves, almost always in the to-be-read pile on my nightstand, and even, in the case of his whisky travelogue Raw Spirit, on the alcohol shelf. He's a model of professional productivity, putting out a book nearly every year, and he's as fearless in his contemporary novels as he is visionary in his science fiction. (In 2002's Dead Air, he was already riffing on the meaning of 9/11 before other writers dared even think about it.) And his work is a constant inspiration to those of us who find ourselves attracted writing in more than one world.

I had always hoped to meet him, and never moreso than when I was bumming around Edinburgh drinking whisky with some of his friends. The news that I probably never will, and that the forthcoming The Quarry will likely be his last novel, is heartbreaking. I hope it's not true, but even if it is, Mr. Banks, you've already accomplished more than most of us ever will, and in doing so have always made the implausible look more than possible. Thank you.

cancer | death | literature | science fiction | writers | writing

February 14, 2013

The clock is ticking for "Glitter & Madness"!

First things first. You look fabulous. Happy Valentine's Day, you sexy thing, you!

Second—look, I don't know how many more ways to say this. It's time for you to help support our Kickstarter campaign for the Glitter & Madness anthology. There's less than two days left to hit our funding goal and get it done.

If you don't recall, Glitter & Madness is the new anthology edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas and John Klima, chock full of speculative stories about the secret history of 20th century nightlife and party culture. The book will be published by Apex Publications and will feature a standalone novella from New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire set in her InCryptid universe. There will also be stories by Alan DeNiro, Amal El-Mohtar, Daryl Gregory, Damien Walters Grintalis, Maria Dahvana Headley, Kat Howard, Jennifer Pelland, Tim Pratt, Cat Rambo, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Diana Rowland, Sofia Samatar, David J. Schwartz, Rachel Swirsky, and yours truly.

What's more, there are plenty of exciting recent developments. For instance, Amber Benson of Buffy fame, an accomplished writer and director in her own right, is going to write the introduction to the anthology. How cool is that?

Also, there are plenty of perks available to funders, including Tuckerizations from any of a dozen different contributors at the $250 contribution level. That's right! You could be a character in my story, or Diana Rowland's, or David J. Schwartz's, or Jennifer Pelland's, or on and on and on!

But all this glittery goodness can't happen without you! We still have over $4,000 to raise, and only 48 more hours in which to do it. So please, look into your glamorous heart and dig deep to support the party anthology of the year!

clubs | conventions | donate | fantasy | markets | music | publications | science fiction | writing

February 12, 2013

My "Glitter & Madness" Q&A

William Shunn gets glittery at Icebar Tokyo It feels like we Glitter & Madness participants are, like, in NPR Fund Drive mode. I've already told you all about this anthology project, and if you still want to know more about it, you can head on over to the project on Kickstarter. What I'm here for now is to answer a quick Q&A designed by the editors of the anthology:

  1. What about the theme drew you to the anthology?
  2. Who doesn't love rollerskating and nightclubs and drugs and sex and debauchery? Who didn't enjoy copious amounts of them all in those gloden days of youth? Well, um, I guess I didn't. I was a Mormon. Okay, I did rollerskate, but I felt guilty about it.

  3. We're often told to write what we know. Did you draw your G&M story from your own nightlife experiences?
  4. I love to write things that I don't actually know. My clubbing experience was pretty much limited to once seeing Gene Loves Jezebel play at Club DV8 in Salt Lake City, and I was terrified for my soul the whole time. My story is actually about slippery souls in Chicago clubs of the '80s, which is why I'm writing it with my wife Laura Chavoen. She's the one who knows exactly what that scene was like.

  5. What's your favorite way to make life more glittery?
  6. I go to a comfortable bar with my wife and friends and drink classic-style cocktails until a glittery haze drapes everyone and everything in sight. Templeton Rye is involved.

  7. If you had to create a cocktail that reflected your story, what would it be?
  8. It would be a little sweet, a little bitter, a lot sour, and orangey-pink through and through. It would consist of Laird's Applejack, Clément Créole Shrubb Liqueur d'Orange, pomegranate juice, Peychaud's bitters, and probably a twist of lemon. It would be, in fact, the same cocktail I created in the video footage we shot for the book trailers. I'd call it a "Glitter & Madness."

  9. If you knew you were up for a surreal evening, what and whom do you bring with you, and why?
  10. I bring Laura because I wouldn't want her to miss it, and because I know one of us will get the other one home safely. And so we can all talk about this evening for years to come, I bring John and Shai and Ashir and Gretchen and Andrew and Cinnamon and Colin and Barbara Lynn and Norm and Rachel and Kevin and Mare and...

Oh, and one more thing—kick in a few shekels now, please! And watch this new video, where Daryl Gregory and others get all swanky and glittery...

clubs | conventions | crowdfunding | donate | fantasy | markets | music | publications | science fiction | short fiction | writing

Please support the "Glitter & Madness" anthology!

Love rollerdisco? Love science fiction and fantasy? Then you need to support the Kickstarter campaign for the Glitter & Madness anthology!

What's this, you ask? It's a new anthology edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas and John Klima, chock full of speculative stories about the secret history of 20th century nightlife and party culture. Think glam rock! Think rollerdisco! Think glitter! Think madness!

The book will be published by Apex Publications and will feature a standalone novella from New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire set in her InCryptid universe. There will also be stories by Alan DeNiro, Amal El-Mohtar, Daryl Gregory, Damien Walters Grintalis, Maria Dahvana Headley, Kat Howard, Jennifer Pelland, Tim Pratt, Cat Rambo, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Diana Rowland, Sofia Samatar, David J. Schwartz, Rachel Swirsky, and yours truly!

In fact, I'm writing my story together with my fabulous wife Laura Chavoen, so you can be among those contributing to support her fiction debut! And the anthology itself will debut this August at the San Antonio Worldcon, with an otherworldly party at the world-famous Rollercade! Groovy!

Only three days remain to make nearly the half the funding requirement! Be glamorous! Contibute now!

What's more, there are plenty of exciting recent developments. First of all, having reached the 50% funding goal, the anthology is now open to general submissions! If you want to be part of this spectacular publishing event, check out the submission guidelines now!

Second, having reached the $8,000 level, the first of two book trailers has been released. Check out the "scary" version below. If contributions reach $9,000 today, the "swanky" version will go live. (Keep an eye out for me in both!)

Also, there are plenty of perks available to funders, including Tuckerizations from any of a dozen different contributors at the $250 contribution level. What's a Tuckerization, you ask? It means we'll put your name in our story. That's right! You could be a character in my story, or Diana Rowland's, or Cat Rambo's, or Tim Pratt's, or on and on and on!

So what are you waiting for? Change into your best day-glo fashions, strap on those chunky roller skates, and pony up for the party anthology of the year!

And if you want to submit a story of your own for consideration, here are your writing prompts:

Roller derby, nightclubs, glam aliens, (literal) party monsters, drugs, sex, glitter, debauchery, etc.

Do it now!

clubs | conventions | crowdfunding | donate | fantasy | markets | music | publications | science fiction | short fiction | writing

Featured Book

William Shunn

About This Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the writing category.

writers is the previous category.

you had to be there is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Archives