Columns and Editorials

Clavis Aurea - February 20, 2014

And Wash Out by Tides of War by An Owomoyela

Birth of a Planet by Ytasha L. Womack

21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One) by LaShawn M. Wanak

In the Marrow by Malon Edwards

 

It’s Black History Month as well as Women in Horror Month, and Graveyard Shift Sisters has hit on the excellent idea of spending the month combining the two and celebrating Black Women In Horror Month. Unfortunately, I was not able to find a single black person, let alone woman, published in a horror ’zine nor anthology so far this year. I am going to leave that right there.

There have been, however, some really excellent stories by black writers published elsewhere. To start with, this month's Clarkesworld (#89) is an exceptional issue from cover to cover, with An Owomoyela’s “And Wash Out by Tides of War” (Clarkesworld #89, February 2014) a stand-out in a competitive field.

On the surface this is a character piece, the story of an angry young woman trying to define herself beyond the ties of blood. Aditi’s conundrum, however, is rooted in her society’s decision to start from scratch, to build a new culture with no traditions beyond the ones...

Clavis Aurea - February 6, 2014

A Hollow Play by Amal El-Mohtar

Growth by A.C. Buchanan

The Beasts We Want to Be by Sam Miller

 

I first heard the term “message fiction” a couple of weeks ago. “Message fiction,” as it is being derisively thrown around, would seem to be something like a homily, an instructive or perhaps pedantic story in which the characters do what they do and say what they say in order to teach you something. They are nothing new: we’ve had allegorical novels since forever, and some of the most popular novels of the 20th century—cult novels like Atlas Shrugged, The Alchemist, or Jonathan Livingston Seagull—are homilies. Readers like them, even if critics often do not.

Of course, every word we say is encoded with messages, both intended or not. Simply containing messages doesn't make something a “message story.” A story becomes a parable, a homily or an allegory only when the messages are so on-the-nose that no other readings are possible. I sympathize with deriders of “message stories” on this point: clumsy proselytizing is annoying to read even when I agree with the politics behind a story. These stories feel preachy not because of the people and ideas they contain, but because they preach.

Amal El-Mohtar’s story “A Hollow Play” (Glitter & Mayhem, Apex Publishing, August 2013) approaches parable territory due to the story’s “told,” not “shown,” structure. By telling almost the entire story through an explicative...

Clavis Aurea - January 23, 2014

The Clockwork Soldier by Ken Liu

Pale Skin, Gray Eyes by Gene O’Neill

The Wall Garden by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

 

Another common science fiction trope: someone loses a loved one and replaces them with a simulacrum. Maybe it’s a robot, maybe it’s a clone, maybe it’s an animated doll. The story is almost always presented as a “Gotcha!”, introducing the situation and technology until it is finally revealed that—gasp!—the wife/daughter/pet has been replaced. These are fun when they are done well—Daily Science Fiction published two good ones last month alone (“The Final Seam” by T. Callihan and “Goldfish” by Elizabeth Archer)—but they are ultimately groaners. By the end, all that remains is to shake the author's hand and admit that, yes, they got you this time.

Leave it to Ken Liu to turn the trope into something else entirely. In “The Clockwork Soldier” (Clarkesworld #88, January 2014) we know right from the get-go that something is up with the protagonist, Ryder. Released onto a remote planet by Alex, his former captor, we know right away that Ryder is something other than what he seems, but his identity-related secret isn’t the point of the tale. Instead, Liu offers us an exploration of free will and self-determination.

Ryder and Alex spar on two levels. There is the question...

Clavis Aurea - January 9, 2014

Whale Woman Watches by Vicki Saunders

The Correspondence Between the Governess and the Attic by Siobhan Carroll

The Coronation Bout by Lisa L. Hannett

 

Magic is all about liminal states, about apparent contradictions and places in between other, more mundane things. Fantastic creatures have always been beings in flux: chimeras, shape-changers, the un-dead, or the transformed. It is a not-uncommon convention of fairy tales and folklore to include women in that category, those strange creatures which are both men and not. Women in folklore flout human boundaries by taking on other shapes (snakes, foxes, fish), communing with ungodly powers, dressing for and taking on roles outside those condoned by society, or just generally existing in inhuman states of fay or godly perfection.

Recent attempts to reclaim women from these old stories agree to meet them half way. Women struggle back from the margins, aware of their exclusion from the normal. This is how we navigate power structures in our lives every day, after all. We are the same, but we are different. We want what men have, but not necessarily as men have it. Are we “other,” or are we not?

Vicki Saunders’s “Whale Woman Watches” (Three-Lobed Burning Eye #24, December 2013) offers us a protagonist, Neclel, created specifically to act as a bridge, a conduit between worlds. Neclel was delivered onto the shores of Dogfish Bay on the...

Clavis Aurea - December 26, 2013

The Mechanism of Moving Forward by Nikki Alfar

Thread by A. Merc Rustad

The Red Danube by Bernie Mojzes

 

In 2004, Australian novelist Peter Carey published Wrong About Japan, an unlikely travel memoir about a trip he had undertaken with his then-12-year-old son. His son had become deeply interested in Japanese anime and manga, and Carey thought he would indulge his son's interests while simultaneously decoding for his Western readership the themes and images that recur so often in these stories. There must be something to all the giant robots and monsters, he reasoned. He meant to visit the creators and reveal the cultural psychology behind the stories.

He failed, utterly. His theories about collective trauma in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki went nowhere, and nobody could adequately explain to him why little girls in giant robot suits were so quintessentially Japanese. He concluded that as a foreigner he simply could not know.

Nikki Alfar has succeeded where Peter Carey failed with her piece, “The Mechanism of Moving Forward” (Interfictions Issue 2, October 2013). The story follows Sakuma Kei, the 16-year-old daughter of a samurai, Sakuma Shozan, who has unknowingly made political enemies with his enthusiasm for rangaku, or “Dutch learning.” It is 1863 by the Dutch calendar, and the shogun is torn between...

What Has NYC Stolen from Us?

The more I publish, the more I come to understand the grand deceit that has been publishing in America for lo these many decades. I don't know that the roots of publishing are really any less rusty or rotten, but I know how it came to be the travesty it has become. It's the real American Way . . .

This is how we work. I love my country, don't get me wrong. There are just things that need changing about the way we act, react, create and dream. Somewhere along the way, important things got shoved aside in the interest of money, fame, and more money.

Consider the following scenario. A book is written. Someone finds it—say a famous someone, like Johnny Depp, or President Obama, or even Snoop Dogg. Doesn't matter. That person loves the book for whatever reason, and they start talking about it. They show it off. Suddenly the book is the hottest property in the country, flying off the shelves, YouTube videos, a million plus fans on Facebook, and all the NYC publishers circling like starving dogs looking for some new big thing to add to their aging cadre of cash cows—bidding obscene amounts of money to control the “Next Big Thing.”

This is business. This is what has become of creativity in the fast lane. But this is only the start. Once that book starts to take over, the first thing that happens is that the author will be sucked into the vortex. There will be follow-ons, appearances, a movie, Barbie and Ken dolls decked out as the protagonists, and any hope of moving on to something new—possibly what the artist wants to pursue—is lost in the melee that follows.

Meanwhile, out in the world, a million authors who either don't trust their talent, or really only want to be able to say they are writers, will copy the story. They will bend it,...

How Shoes Can Explain America & Publishing

Okay, this is the first column in a very long time, and a lot of you will think shoes are an odd way to start off, but let me explain. If you have ever had pain in your feet, dealt with bruises, blisters, etc.⎯you understand that when all of that stops, it's a major improvement on every aspect of your life. Besides, this is a metaphor, so  . . . deal with it.

A while back I read a book titled Born to Run. It's no secret that at heart I'm a runner. I go through periods where I am really into it, and then others where I'm a slug. Currently, I'm a slug, but bear with me. Born to Run is a very interesting book for a lot of reasons. It's written by a guy who, sort of by the accident of being at the right race at the right time, discovered a guy named Caballo Blanco (now deceased⎯sadly) and a Mexican tribe called the Tarahumara.

These guys run. It's built into their life. They don't run a little, they run a lot. They are natural marathoners, playing games sometimes that resemble a mix of hacky-sack and soccer over spans of twenty or more miles, through mountains and across deserts. They are, in short, pretty amazing. Another thing about them (and this has spawned a craze you may, or may not be aware of) is that they don't wear shoes. Not like running shoes, anyway. They wear hand-made sandals. Often they just run barefoot.

Anyway, I learned a lot of things in Born to Run that stuck with me. Some of those things are going to become my one and only zombie apocalypse novel, Run, if You Want to Live, sometime in the next year or so. Again, though, not the point. What is the point? Well, I'll tell you.

Back in the...

Column: Compromise and the Lost Art of Artistic Vision

Over the years, I've compromised on a lot of things in my writing, and in my life. Sometimes compromise is good and necessary to survival. Other times, it is a big hammer and chisel chipping away at the things that are important. I'm not going to talk about my own compromises here, though I will touch on them. I'm going to talk about writing in general, as funneled through the commercial, mass market system, and see if the thoughts sliding around in the back of my mind make sense once they splat on the page.

Most of you who read this column know that last year I jumped into the world of publishing. It was a small start at that point – but now it's become something of a phenomenon. A business where most of the money stays with the writers and creative folks creating the books. It's grown so far beyond what I expected that I can barely comprehend the potential.

That aside, one of the original concepts that brought Crossroad Press to life was the resurrection of old books. Paperbacks long out of print, novels and series works that you have to hunt and peck and search for old beat-up copies of – copies, I might add, that won't make a dime for their creators. That has been one of the joys of this digital publishing age for me, and as a side note, it's brought a couple of other things to my attention – things I actually knew, as a writer, but didn't really put together coherently until I saw them in the notes, e-mails, letters and conversations I've had with others.

Ever since the beginning of publishing, publishers have had a part in the creation of books. Sometimes it was encouragement, other times copy-editing, and still other times complete re-workings of original concepts. The reasons for all of these intercessions on the part of...

Column: Some thoughts on Electronic Publishing

Most of you know by now (or at least by RIGHT NOW) that I am the CEO and founder of Crossroad Press. This started out as simply me wanting to get my old, out of print books into the hands of some new readers through Kindle and other e-reader formats. It was a slow start. There's a lot to learn about e-BOOK formatting, and there are a lot of pitfalls along the way. I persevered, and as I started to "get" it, others asked for my help with their own work. That spawned the initial effort – Macabre Ink – which soon had to evolve into the more generically named Crossroad Press because I found myself publishing books in genres other than just horror.

Next came audiobooks. I am a long-time lover of audiobooks, and I have always wanted to see my own books produced in that format. I put out a query on my blog, Glimpses into an Overactive Mind, and hooked up with my (now) partner in audio, Jeffrey Kafer, a fine voice talent, and a very good producer with his own studio. We set to work.

And this is where my background information burst stops, and my column actually begins. You've heard a lot over recent months about the demise of publishing "as it has been," and I'm here to add one more voice to that. I agree, the old guard is crumbling, though not as quickly as others seem to think.

The problem is that things happen too fast on the Internet. Almost overnight e-BOOKS went from a bad word people shunned to something viable and profitable. In audio, the CD and even the DVD gave way to Audible's crushing popularity, and the MP3 download won the top spot. Paradigms are shifting all over the place.

Publishing, unfortunately, has been much slower to follow suit. On one hand successful authors like J. A. Konrath have shown that, if you have a...

Column: Macabre Ink

It's been said many, many times in recent years that writers need to learn to embrace the changing world of publishing. I've not really been a proponent of jumping in with both feet in the past, as many of you may remember. I don't believe physical books are going anywhere, but I'm absolutely certain that the dynamics behind them are going to change. I don't believe anyone really has their finger on that pulse yet, so I'm sitting back, carefully trying new things, and waiting.

One thing did occur to me though, and I decided it was time to take a shot at figuring it out before someone else beat me to it. There are a lot of places online where you can download e-books. There are a few, like the Horror Mall, offering short stories, and doing fairly well.  Amazon.com tried it with their Amazon Shorts program, but sadly they let that founder—and though I won't get into it, they were less than a pleasure to be involved with. Now they have their Kindle store, and Barnes & Noble has their version. There's Mobipocket with it's own format, the Sony ebook reader—you can even read books on your mobile phone. I'm part of a European experiment in that direction where novels will be available to download from kiosks all over the place onto Iphones and mobile readers.

That's not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is Macabre Ink Digital Publishing, and why I started it. It's actually pretty simple, and after thinking about it, it makes me want to crack myself in the head.

The normal plan for authors of short fiction has been a simple one. You write short stories and find a single market for them, or you find a market, and write a story slanted at that market. Once the story has been published in...

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