You are currently browsing the archives for the “literature” tag.


Monster Wrangled!

June 23rd, 2012

Mission accomplished . . . but of course I had expert help from the fourteen talented writers who attended the presentation.

Together, we considered how to effectively present strange creatures in genre fiction. With a nod to Christopher Priest’s novel The Prestige, the discussion explored how some of the most effective monster scenes in science fiction, fantasy, and horror basically employ three elements:

1. the sense of anticipation
2. the appearance of something terrible or wondrous (sometimes both)
3. a dramatic payoff (what Priest’s novel refers to as the prestige).

That last step is important. It’s not enough to have the creature appear and chew the scenery. Instead, the most successful monster scenes present something new and unexpected, as do the vampire scenes in Bob Leman’s excellent (albeit relatively obscure) “The Pilgrimage of Clifford M,” which served as one of our examples during the discussion.

We also deconstructed Ray Bradbury’s “Mars is Heaven” (in which the monsters never actually appear) and Bob Leman’s “Window” (in which they do). The discussion seemed to go well, and in the end I sense that I learned as much as my students. A great way to spend a Thursday afternoon at Seton Hill!

The next day, with the monsters successfully wrangled, I visited the alumni writers retreat, aka “In Your Write Mind” (which runs concurrently with the university’s graduate writing program) for a survey on Genre Conventions. As I often do at such events, I began by providing each attendee with a 3×5 index card for submitting questions and comments. In this case, I also asked for recommendations of conventions not covered in my presentation.

Here are a few of the comments and recommendations that I received:

“Don’t forget about Killercon! This year it’s September 20-23 in Las Vegas [featuring] Bill Nolan, Kelley Armstrong, Jack Ketchum, Don D’Aurua, and Brian Keene.”

Yes! Thanks for the reminder. I’ve heard good things about Killercom.

SCBWI – Summer & Winter Cons.”

This one’s new to me, but it looks like a must for people interested in children’s books.

Love is Murder (held in Chicago around Valentine’s Day). Cost is approximately $200 – $250. The focus is on mystery/thriller but also includes paranormal, suspense, pulp, near-future thrillers, master classes, and manuscript critiques.”

I must check this one out!

And here are a few of the questions submitted (along with some quick answers):

“How far away is too far [to go to attend a con]?”

With air travel and ticket pricing being what it is these days, distance isn’t really much of an impediment. Indeed, I found that some of my longer trips have actually been far more affordable than the close ones. The ticket prices for my last three trips from Pennsylvania to the west coast (San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Jose) were better than half the price of my upcoming trip to Toronto for World Fantasy. I also find that I can get a lot of work done on planes and in airports, so the time in transit isn’t really lost. In all, I think it comes down to the event itself and not how far away it is. If it looks worthwhile, go for it.

“Is the western genre being absorbed into science fiction? Can science fiction and horror be blended as well?”

I don’t really see sf taking over the western. True, both deal with new frontiers, but – with the exception of western steampunk (The Wild Wild West, for example) – I don’t really see one taking over the other.

The dividing lines between horror and sf tend to be quite permeable, as can be seen in works such as Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Ray Bradbury’s “Mars is Heaven,” and Bob Leman’s “Window” – all stories that we considered in Monster Wrangling (see above).  For this reason, if you are interested in horror, you might consider checking out WorldCon, where the programming usually contains a few horror-related discussions.

“Many writers are introverts – how do you break out at cons?”

The people you want to meet and work with are almost certainly introverts as well. They probably spend most of their time reading books and sitting in front of their computers. They’re attending the con to meet people like themselves . . . and you are one of them.  I find that keeping that in mind helps. Perhaps it will work for you as well.

Right now, I need to get away from this computer and attend a book signing sponsored by the alumni at SHU. Hope to see some of you there!

As always, feel free to post comments, corrections, or questions below. Don’t be an introvert. I’d love to hear from you.

Voices & Music at Jozart Center for the Arts: A Stoker Homecoming

April 3rd, 2012

What is the sound of horror?

We explored the question at last week’s World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City, with a multi-media reading from Voices: Tales of Horror.  As part of the on-going 21st-Century Scop project, the presentation featured prose selections set to the music of Veins: The Soundtrack.

This week, the exploration continues at The Jozart Center for the Arts in California, PA, where I’ll be joined by two terrific up-and-coming writers, Sheldon Higdon and Stephanie M. Wytovich.

Sheldon Higdon has had over thirty publications, ranging from fiction to non-fiction to poetry, in numerous magazines and books. His work has appeared in Rue Morgue Magazine, Shroud Magazine, The Portland Magazine, Necrotic Tissue Magazine, Horrorwired, Death Be Not Proud, and Northern Haunts.

Stephanie M. Wytovich is a Rhysling Award nominee (for her poem “The Craving”) who is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University.

Prose, poetry, and music – the sounds of horror.

Jozart will be the perfect venue for this event.

At World Horror we had to make due with portable equipment set up minutes before the reading. It went well, but at Jozart we’ll be able to work with a system that has been calibrated for the performance space – always an ideal situation.

Jozart is located at 333 Second Street in California PA. You can reach them at 724-938-9730. If you’re anywhere near the area on Saturday, do consider joining Stephanie, Sheldon, and me as we explore the sounds of horror.

The event will run in the evening from 6:00 – 10:30. Admission is free. A reception and book signing will follow.

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.