Inhuman Swill : Writing

Writing-related announcements have been piling up here in the blog queue, so if you'll indulge me here, I'm just going to get all of them out at once.

Cast a Cold Eye, by Derryl Murphy & William Shunn CAST A COLD EYE

First and foremost, my book Cast a Cold Eye, a collaboration with three-time Aurora Award nominee Derryl Murphy, is out and available from PS Publishing!

The slim volume looks beautiful, with front and back cover art by Steve Leary, and features an introduction by Charles de Lint. It comes in two editions: a signed, numbered and jacketed hardcover limited to 100 copies, and an unjacketed hardcover.

If you want the signed edition, I've heard rumors of folks receiving copies numbered in the mid-60's already. Better get yours soon!


To celebrate the release of Cast a Cold Eye, we'll be holding a book release party on Friday, January 8th, at Time and Again, 1239 W. Cortland St. in Chicago. I'll read from the book, and there will be plenty of copies for sale. More details as that date gets closer.


But wait! That's not all! PS Publishing is running a special right now that gets you one free book from their catalogue for every two you buy at regular price!

The special runs through the end of January, and there are dozens of great books to choose from. Along with Cast a Cold Eye, might I suggest, for example, fine works like Beth Bernobich's novella Ars Memoriae, Patrick O'Leary's collection The Black Heart, or Paul Witcover's Everland and Other Stories?


And as if that weren't cool enough, there are two different ways you might win a free copy of Cast a Cold Eye.

First, if you sign up for the PS Publishing monthly newsletter before Friday, December 18th, you'll be entered in a drawing to win a free copy not just of Cast a Cold Eye but also Eric Brown's Gilbert and Edgar on Mars.

Second, BSC Review is conducting an email drawing on Thursday, December 10th, the winner of which will receive four books from PS Publishing—Grazing the Long Acre by Gwyneth Jones, Just Behind You by Ramsey Campbell, Val/Orson by Marly Youmans, and Cast a Cold Eye. Head over there for details and enter now!


On Monday, December 21st, I'll be one of several writers reading in the new Essay Fiesta series at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago's Lincoln Square. Essay Fiesta features writers reading humorous personal essays, and proceeds go to benefit the Howard Brown Health Center. The reading starts at 7:00 pm.


In other news, I'm proud to note that next spring Bull Spec, a new market for speculative-fiction, will be producing e-book and audiobook versions of my novella "Inclination" in French, Spanish and maybe Chinese. All proceeds will go to benefit the Durham Literacy Center in North Carolina.

See here for more details.


And last but not least, my pulpy new short story "The Visitors at Wriggly Field" [sic] will appear online later this month as part of the Pulps series at, in support of Chicago's bid for the 2012 Worldcon. Earlier stories in the series, both in print and online, have been contributed by Frederik Pohl, Gene Wolfe, Mike Resnick, Phyllis Eisenstein, Richard Garfinkle, Lois Tilton, and others.

While the online stories are available free, the print stories are available to those donors who contribute at least $20.00 in pre-support of the bid. For more information, see here, and I hope you'll get the chance to come see us in Chicago in 2012!

Having watched Valkyrie recently, I've been thinking about the intersection of art, commerce and religion. I know, that's probably not the kind of discussion the filmmakers intended to provoke, but here we are. Germany started it.

Every so often a big kerfluffle flares up in the media or the blogosphere about what famous entertainer is or isn't a Scientologist, and why. Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Isaac Hayes, Beck, Chick Corea, Edgar Winter, Chaka Khan, Mark Isham, Greta Van Susteren—we're supposed to avoid giving them money so we don't inadvertently support their reprehensible "church." Leonard Cohen, Paul Haggis, Jerry Seinfeld, Courtney Love, Gloria Gaynor—once were Scientologists, but now they're on the okay list. Neil Gaiman—wait, what's the controversy with him? I'm not supposed to read him because his relatives are Scientologists?

Frankly, keeping score like this is ridiculous.

As much as I dislike Scientology, discriminating against artists because of their private beliefs is a losing game. I hate the fact that there were Crusades, and a Spanish Inquisition, and institutional coverups of child sexual abuse, but that doesn't mean I'm going to deny myself the work of Catholic writers like Graham Greene or Tim Powers, or Catholic filmmakers like Kevin Smith. Will some of the money I pay for their stuff end up in Vatican coffers? Possibly, but I'm not naive enough to think that any of the money I give or receive is pure. We live in a pluralist society. We can't help the fact that our money is going to circulate through parts of the body politic that we don't like. The only judgment we can really make is how we respond to the art, how pure and universal and human it is, how ennobling or demeaning or thrilling or dull, how free from or full of agenda or polemic.

And let's face it, Scientology is no more ridiculous on the face of it than Catholicism or Zoroastrianism or Islam or Greek mythology. The claims of these other religions are just as extraordinary. The only difference is that the origins of the rest are shrouded in antiquity—as if mere age confers some kind of stature or holiness or untouchability. In historical terms, Mormonism is nearly as recent as Scientology, and in cosmological terms makes claims every bit as grand and silly, but how many of you Wheel of Time readers are going to boycott the new volume just because Brandon Sanderson wrote it?

The value of the work is in the work itself. If the work makes your life better or more pleasant, support it. Pay for it. It's that simple. Clint Eastwood's a libertarian who supported McCain? So what. I love his movies. Beck and Chick Corea give money to L. Ron Hubbard's successors? Big deal. I get a lot more pleasure from their records than from most Cruise or Travolta movies—hell, than from most Mel Gibson movies or Orson Scott Card novels these days—so I'm happy to give them my money. I, an atheist, have given money to causes devoted to overturning the Defense of Marriage Act in the United States, but that mere fact hardly makes my fiction superior to or more worthy of support than a Catholic like Gene Wolfe's.

As for Neil Gaiman, I'd be an awful hypocrite to avoid his books just because his father was a big muckity-muck in the Church of Scientology. I myself am a direct descendant of Edward Partridge, the first Mormon bishop. No, I avoid Gaiman's books because I simply don't care for them.

Artists, like most people, are more than just the religions they profess. So get down off your high horse and give the poor Scientologists a chance. The rich ones, too, if they're your thing.

Printing postcards

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It seems, I'm afraid, that Cast a Cold Eye will just miss being out in time for the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose. But never fear! In the absence of actual books, I'm having postcards printed up for Derryl and me to distribute at the con. (I'm using, which I love, and which is also where I got my business cards. And nowadays if you order from the US, your stuff ships from the US, which is a great improvement over waiting for a shipment from the UK.) Anyway, if you want to see what the front of the postcards looks like, check out this page I built to tout our book:

I'm also having postcards printed up to advertise the story reading/dance performance taking place October 16th here at the WorkSpace. I'm very happy with the way the fortuitous way the color schemes of the photographs matched up with the illustration. Check it out:

If you're in Chicago, I do hope to see you on the 16th!

The plan

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I keep wanting to write a long entry about Blue Heaven 2009, but I keep not having enough time to put together something of appropriate length, depth, and breadth. (And also something that works as a sufficiently laudatory travelogue of Kelleys Island so Marvin will stay my friend.) Suffice it for now to say that I could not be happier with the feedback and suggestions that [info]hollailama, [info]rambleflower, and [info]secritcrush gave me on my novel-in-progress Technomancers. And I can't fail to mention [info]bondgwendabond, who lent half an ear to the proceedings, offered more great suggestions, and may well have renamed my novel to Endgame. (And I can't fail to mention [info]ccfinlay for putting everything together and making it so much more than just a week of critiques, and my great once and future[?] roommate [info]gregvaneekhout, and...)

Anyway, I thought, since I outlined my writing goals at the beginning of the Endgame project, I'd post an update about where I am on it and what I have left to do. 70,000 words into the novel, I realized I was only about halfway through the plot, if that. For a young-adult novel, this was rather unacceptable. With insufficient ruthlessness I was able to hack and revise that down to 60,000 before Blue Heaven, but there's more cutting and rewriting that needs to be done. That will come after I complete the current draft, though, which I'm already moving forward on. I'm giving myself 50,000 words and to the 30th of November to reach the end. Then I'll spend December reworking the problematic opening of the novel and cutting that first half down from 60,000 to, I hope, 30,000 words or fewer. That will give me an 80,000-word novel to start shopping. That's the plan, and a mere thousand words a day will get me there.

One of the consistent comments I got from my critiquers is that the book is pleasant enough but really starts humming around page 200. The faster I can get to that point, and the more humming I can coax out of it before that point, the better.

And now, back to executing my Endgame.

STRONG MEDICINE: A Program of Fiction and Dance
Writers Workspace, 5443 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640
Friday, October 16, 7:00 pm (doors 6:30 pm)

Writers WorkSpace is pleased to host a free evening of fiction and dance in the spirit of October, featuring sound-and-movement duo Microgig and science-fiction writer William Shunn. On a mission to bring dance to places it's not normally found, Microgig members Asimina Chremos (dance) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (sound) will stage their haunting improvisations in this unusually close and intimate setting. Bookended by chilling short stories read live by William Shunn, the evening will be one you won't want to miss. Space is limited, so arrive early. Light refreshments will be offered.

(See an earlier Microgig performance, from the beer cooler at Chicago's famous Hideout, below.)

Chicago rocked!

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Support Chicago radio personality James VanOsdol's history of the local '90s rock scene, Chicago Rocked! He's funding the project through and only has 13 days to raise another more than $10,000. Please pledge if you can, because I selfishly really, really want to read this book.

My new short story "A Strong Premonition of Death Struck Me This Morning" is now live at the Electric Velocipede blog. I think it was the first piece of fiction I ever wrote that's set in Chicago (though I'm now deep into a novel that's also set here in Chi-town).

Stick around at EV, order more drinks, and remember to tip your servers. I'll be blogging there all week.

Writing from Starbucks You may know that John Klima, editor of the award-nominated Electric Velocipede, has taken the month of July off from blogging. Instead, he's solicited posts from a variety of folks, including Jeffrey Ford, Chris Roberson, and EV assistant editor Anne Zanoni so far. We've all submitted material that's been going up bit by bit over the course of the month.

Next week is my week, and things will kick off Monday morning with a brand-new short story, "A Strong Premonition of Death Struck Me This Morning." I hope you'll check in at the Electric Velocipede Blog next week, and if you enjoy what you read that you'll consider grabbing a subscription to the fine print magazine.

I was going to catch up on more of the week at the workshop yesterday, but Michael Jackson died and took Farrah Fawcett and most of the internet with him. You live on earth. You know.

On Tuesday, Brad Beaulieu made us all eggs benedict with crabmeat for breakfast. This was somewhat suspicious, given that he was first on the critique schedule for the day, but I don't think any of us actually changed our comments because of the fantastic food. Most of us joked about it, though.

My first-fifty was the fourth and last to go under the scalpel that day. I got a ton of very helpful feedback. There were elements of the book that I was very happy to hear that people were responding to, I got confirmation that the bits I suspected were big problems really were big problems, and then I heard just oodles of impressions and misimpressions On the Zane Grey Ballroom balcony that helped me see where I was setting the wrong expectations, where I was being unclear or vague, or where I was just being silly. Leaving the critique session, my mind was already whirring, working on how best to integrate the feedback I received into the next draft. I was very happy with the way it all went.

From this remove, some of the days begin to blur together, but I think I'm pretty safe in saying that we returned to the balcony at the Zane Grey Ballroom to enjoy beer in the open air at an even greater altitude than that of street-level Flagstaff. That happened almost every night.

On Wednesday, we began convening in smaller groups to do dissections of full novel manuscripts—or, at least, of whatever portion of those manuscripts does exist. That's been going on in groups of three or four ever since. Each of us was assigned two full manuscripts to read, and in turn had two participants read our Meet the authors own full manuscript. My session took place this morning at Macy's Coffee. Eugene Myers and Rob Ziegler gave me an incredible thorough, helpful, and encouraging critique of my 70,000 words so far. When this book sells, I will owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

To hop back a couple of nights, now, on Wednesday evening we had a group viewing of Cloverfield. The movie was a lot more fun than I expected it to be. I found it well-made and effective for what it was, and of course it's always fun to see a city you know well get destroyed by a giant monster. It shared a lot of plot elements with one of my favorite little movies, the 1988 Anthony Edwards thriller Miracle Mile, but of course was a very different film. I jumped when the first explosion hit.

For Thursday evening, which would be last night, Sarah Kelly set up a Meet the Authors event at the Wine Loft in downtown Flagstaff. [info]gregvaneekhout was featured prominently in an Arizona Daily Sun article promoting the event, in fact. Six of us sat on a panel of sorts and answered questions about our writing that we had come up with ourselves and given to Sarah. Eatin' pancakes The audience actually outnumbered the panel, and they had good, solid questions for us when we had run out of our own questions. From there we shifted our base of operations to the Beaver Street Brewery.

This morning before my critique session, Greg and I rounded up what equipment and food supplies we had in our apartment and hosted a banana pancake breakfast for the women staying in this same building with us. (Most of the men are staying in another place across town.) This was greatly aided, and in fact suggested, by the two boxes of pancake mix we found in our cupboards, and by the bottle of imitation maple syrup in the fridge. I think the pancakes were a hit!

Around noon (actually a bit later because on my way back from my critique session at Macy's I realized I had left my leather coat on my chair and ran back only to find that the coat was gone and hadn't been turned in but thank goodness Rob Ziegler had grabbed it for me before he left), we convened as a group briefly so that Mike Kelly could photograph us for the obligatory Locus workshop pic. There is melancholy in the realization that things are winding down, but I'm starting to miss home a lot, and I can't wait to see my wife and dog tomorrow night. I'll be internalizing the stuff I learned this week for a while, and I'm really glad I was able to come.

P.S. Greg van Eekhout is best roommate! And his novel Norse Code rocks. Buy it.

The process of critiquing partial novels this week and of having a partial novel critiqued this week has made me think a lot about what a workshop is and what it isn't. I've particularly wanted to share those thoughts with the writers who are attending a Blue Heaven–style workshop for the first time, because talking about novel fragments the way we do is a very different thing from what happens in workshops more oriented toward short stories. It's not my style to take anyone aside and put an avuncular arm around their shoulder, and I don't know that that's necessary anyway, but I do want to say my piece.

Your workshop (any workshop, really) is a tool. Your workshop is not a pronouncement from God. Especially when we're doing fragments, you're going to hear suggestions for improving your manuscript that sound absolutely plausible, that are uttered with complete conviction and even vehemence, and that would serve to make the first fifty pages of your novel more involving and exciting and enticing to an editor. But those comments may still be absolutely wrong for the novel you're trying to write.

Your job as a writer is to keep your vision for your novel first and foremost in your mind. Yes, your first fifty pages may not be as involving and exciting as they can be, and they may be setting the wrong expectations for the story that follows. Your job, though, is to measure all those comments against your vision for your novel, and to use them as a guide to telling your story in the best way you possibly can. What the comments tell you are where your novel is failing to create the sort of understanding and response in your readers that you are trying to achieve. They are a calibration tool for letting you know how far you've strayed from the mark you're trying to hit. They amount to a differential guide, not to a bible.

You very well may end up using some or even a lot of the suggestions you get in the workshop. That's okay. But use them only if they bring you closer to achieving your vision. Remember that only you know what that vision is. Use the workshop to help you craft an opening for your book that clearly and immediately sets the stage for the unfolding of that vision.

Remember also that it is a very rare book that appeals to every reader. When people that you respect and admire don't really get or respond to what you're trying to accomplish, it may be that it's because they simply aren't the right audience for your book. Some of their comments may still be useful, but you will probably want to give more weight to the critical comments from people who are the right audience.

And when someone doesn't get what you're doing, it may also be that it was just the wrong day for them to be reading your book. I don't know how many times I've picked up a book and utterly failed to connect with the material, but then picked it up a few weeks or months or even years later and found myself sucked right into the story. No reader is static. We all change, and we all have moods that affect the filters we bring to what we read. In many cases—and this is something [info]bobhowe and I used to talk about a lot—it may that a critique is simply an attempt by a reader to find an intellectual justification for something that is really more of an emotional response to the material.

This goes for all workshops, of course, but I think these things are even more important to keep in mind when the critiquers are reading only a partial manuscript. We as readers don't know the story's destination. All we can do is offer our impressions of how willing we would to keep walking with you based on what you've given us. You're the one with the map. We've handed you some measurements to help you assess how far astray you've led us.

It's your vision, not ours.

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