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21st Century Scop does Horror Realm

March 11th, 2012

Mike Christopher, Lawrence C. Connolly, John Amplas at Horror Realm.

The undead sure know how to party.

I’ve just returned from Horror Realm, where I shared billing with John Amplas (Martin), Mike Christopher (Dawn of the Dead), and Kyra Schon (Night of the Living Dead).  Also in attendance were Chris Rickert (Eljay’s Books), Tiffany Apan, and lots and lots of zombies.

Primarily a media convention, with a strong focus on the films of George A. Romero, the event drew a couple hundred enthusiastic fans, many of them decked out in their best living-dead regalia.

The  21st Century Scop performance centered on Voices: Tales of Horror (nominated for this year’s Bram Stoker Award). It drew a nice group of readers and fans. Chris Rickert did the introduction.

Here’s the playlist, a great way to revisit the show if you were there . . . or imagine you were if you weren’t. Click the links to access notes, samples, and highlights:

Horror Realm readers.

“Axle Rising” (Veins: Soundtrack)

“The Haunted Attic 1961” (Voices)

“Step on a Crack” (Visions)

 “Shooting Evil” (This Way to Egress)

Something in the Darkness (Veins: Soundtrack)

“Mrs. Halfbooger’s Basement” (Voices)

“Downhill Run” (Veins: Soundtrack)

“Monte” (Voices)

A question-and-answer session followed, then it was back to the signing table to hang out and talk to fans and make new friends, many of whom I hope to meet up with again when Horror Realm returns in September. I’m already planning to attend.

Were you there this weekend? Do you have a comment or something to share? The comment tab below and the Facebook, Twitter, and contact buttons above are open. Feel free to share your Voices!

Communing with the Masters

February 19th, 2012

It’s about community, not competition.

A number of people have submitted emails in response to the news post I put up yesterday, and some have asked about the meaning of the Dante quote:

e più d’onore ancora assai mi fenno,
ch’e’ sì mi fecer de la loro schiera . . .

The lines are from The Inferno, Canto 4, a scene in which Dante leaves the dark wood to find himself in a pastoral region that sits apart from the errors of the world and the terrors of Hell. Here, in a place beyond time, he joins with five masters of his craft:  Homer, Horace, Ovid, Lucan, and Virgil. These are the writers he has long admired, and he sums up his feelings about finding himself among them with the aforementioned lines, which can be translated thus:

And more honor still, much more, they did me
In that they made me one of their own band . . .

It occurs to me now, particularly after seeing the cover of Voices displayed alongside five other Stoker Nominees at SF Signal, that I might have included one more line in yesterday’s quote.

Here are the full three lines of Dante’s tercet:

e più d’onore ancora assai mi fenno,
ch’e’ sì mi fecer de la loro schiera,
sì ch’io fui sesto tra cotanto senno.

 And in English:

And more honor still, much more, they did me
In that they made me one of their own band,
So that I was the sixth, amid so much wisdom.

I think that’s fitting. It’s not about the competition, about winning or losing against the other works in the collection category. It’s enough to be allowed to stand alongside five of my favorite writers, counted as a member of their band. It’s community, not competition.

Do you agree?

“Dramatize it! Dramatize it!”

January 18th, 2012

In my previous post I promised to spend time responding to questions submitted during my most recent presentation on “The Art of Revision” at Seton Hill University. If you want to know more about the backstory, please take a look at that previous post, otherwise . . . read on!

The next question in my stack is one that we did not get to during the residency:

How do you go about writing a story in which the main character is unaware of a major plot point that the reader needs to know about?

This need to know issue can be tricky, for although writers should fully understand the forces at work on their characters and the worlds they inhabit, the best stories are often those that dramatize compelling action without explaining why they happen.

By dramatizing, the writer is better able to more accurately evoke the mysteries and ambiguities of life.  Think about it? Aren’t the most interesting experiences the ones we figure out for ourselves, where we learn about people by observing their behavior, where we develop a sense of a place by moving through it – exploring and interacting? We should expect no less from our fiction.

Hemingway said it best in his essay “The Art of the Short Story”:

“If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless.”

Of course, Hemingway didn’t write science fiction. He didn’t build worlds, but he nevertheless had a knack for making the landscapes of Europe and Africa accessible to American readers who had never been. He did so by dramatizing the interactions of interesting characters within those landscapes, conveying a sense of how things work by showing them at work. Science fiction writers do this all the time, using a technique called in-clueing (which I believe was coined by Jo Walton).

The trick, then, is not to explain . . . but to not explain.

Work out the backstory thoroughly for yourself, then dramatize it . . . and trust the reader to get it.

Do you agree? Have anything to add? What to ask a follow-up question?

The comment box is open.

Everything you want to know about writing … and then some.

January 15th, 2012

 

 Any questions?

Lots of presenters conclude with that phrase. I’m different. I like to start with it.

The strategy may not be as harebrained as it sounds. I’ll explain.

I’ve just returned from my biannual residency in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University, where I always open my presentations by passing out index cards and asking the MFA candidates to record questions that come to mind during the lecture. Naturally, they can raise their hands as we go, but the question cards ensure that important inquiries don’t get passed over in the race toward the bell.

During the final hour of each three-hour presentation, I collect the cards, shuffle them, and spend fifteen minutes discussing them with the students.  It’s a collaborative process. I don’t profess to have all the answers.

At last week’s residency, my presentation on “The Art of Revision” generated some terrific inquiries ranging from the nuts and bolts of manuscript style to deeply theoretical thoughts on the writing process. And as is always the case, a few questions were left unasked and unanswered.

So what do you say we revisit those questions here? I’ve got all the cards, reshuffled and face down. We’ll try one card for starters, do a few more later in the week. Sound good?

So here’s the first one:

How do you show a scene break in your manuscript? Do you use an asterisk, hashtag, or simply a blank line?

This one generated some good discussion, with some of the students preferring a set of asterisks while others suggested that a single hashtag was best.

Indeed, the SFWA website still recommends the hashtag. Vonda N. McIntyre’s wonderfully detailed document on the subject is available there for free download. Go check it out if you haven’t seen it. It’s been the genre standard for many years.

Personally, I prefer the hashtag, but I was intrigued to hear from Christopher Shearer that at least one professional editor recommends avoiding them in favor of simply leaving the space blank.

I recall an amusing story that Harlan Ellison told about his manuscript for “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” about how he cut some graphics from a computer magazine and pasted them onto his manuscript to indicate line breaks.  

I sometimes do stuff like that too: a serpentine line for my novel Vipers and a staring eye for my collection Visions. My editor didn’t complain, and the manuscripts were accepted. Nevertheless, if I were a young writer casting my first manuscripts to the wind, I’d opt for the hashtag.

What do you think? Please submit your questions, comments, suggestions. As I’ve said before, the best part of this blog is often in the talkback.

I’m out of space and out of time. We’ll do more questions later. For now, I yield to the power of the hashtag.

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