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The Adventure of the Pyramid of Bacconyus Oct. 17th, 2013 @ 10:50 am
A short story of mine has been published at Beneath Ceaseless Skies: http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/issues/issue-132/

It's kind of a fantasy/horror/comedy -- not entirely sure which order those should come in!

John Perich's "Too Close to Miss" Dec. 19th, 2011 @ 06:09 pm
A few weeks ago I got a chance to read John Perich's debut novel Too Close to Miss, by the simple procedure of buying it online via Barnes & Noble for $0.99. It was the first book I'd read on a Nook, not that this had anything to do with the book itself. It's a nice short little book--"taut" I think is the usual adjective for thrillers of this style. Everything about it is a bit better than it has to be; the descriptions, the characters, the action. I don't know if it breaks new ground in the genre, but I don't think it wants to. In atmosphere it reminded me a bit of The Wire, but without the drug dealers. Perhaps if they made a spinoff that focused more on the various white-collar crimes of the drug dealers' sleazy lawyer...

What makes me so amazingly happy, though, is that this book is self-published. And I doubt that anyone could tell. (Maybe an industry could professional deduce something from part of the technical production, but I certainly couldn't. As far as quality of writing goes, I abandoned reading a traditionally printed book just last month with poorer prose.) I think that's wonderful! I'm very interested to see what John can get up to going forward with this whole self-publishing thing.


Recently Read Aug. 29th, 2011 @ 10:33 am
So I finished book six of The Malazan Book of the Fallen (The Bonehunters) a while ago. It was pretty good--it opened with a very strong set-piece involving a city siege and then a desperate escape from said city once it caught on fire, which, unusually for this series, was an unbroken sequence a few hundred pages long. After that a lot happened, but I really should have written about it right after finishing, because now I don't remember a lot of it. There was a definite "middle of series" feel, in that a lot of what happened, while interesting, was mainly interesting because of what it set up to happen in (hopefully) the next book. For example: two of the most interesting characters have been set on what appears to be a collision course which can only end in an epic battle, but as of this book they're both still traveling. I'm almost ready to pick up the next book.

Meanwhile, I've been reading a lot of other things. I read three books by James Enge about the character Morlock Ambrosius, son of Merlin, and they are amazing and delightful. I love Enge's writing style--he's a professor of classics, and I think I can see something in his style of, well, those classics--stripped down and yet seeded with wild images. The books are also funny, dark, and completely unpredictable. I also read three books by Leo Perutz, about whom I learned from a comment in a thread about historical fiction on some forum or other. Awesome writer. I recommend in particular "The Marquis of Bolibar," though all I've read have been worthwhile. Short, dark/beautiful, and idiosyncratic. Also, of course, how could I forget A Dance With Dragons, which was great, and Lev Grossman's The Magician King, which I thought was also great. The second Fantomas novel, on the other hand, was not great, though it was sublime in its own way.

"Midnight Tides" Jun. 1st, 2011 @ 12:11 pm
I am halfway done reading The Malazan Book of the Fallen. What strikes me: how a tricky medium the long-form fantasy novel must be. To do well. To finish before dying of old age. The tricky part being, I assume, since I haven't written one myself, to make the earlier volumes talk to the later, and not just the later volumes to the former. It's the difference between writing one long, complex story and just a bunch of books with the same setting. Erikson's story is maybe too complicated, but I love it for that. It keeps doubling back, filling in the gaps, showing what was happening over there while this was happening right here. This volume (the fifth) I would have to say is my favorite so far. It's very funny in places, despite having a kind of doom written over it; we know from events in the last book that the whole setting (a kind of splinter off the main world of the previous books) will be destroyed. And still we laugh at the antics of its gods and monsters and heroes and villains, a fake world within a fake world...

"House of Chains" Apr. 30th, 2011 @ 11:02 am
This is the fourth book in Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. I really like this series, though what it offers is a bit different than most books I tend to love. Specifically, the prose is fine rather than great. Plot, for me, is more or less irrelevant to whether I like a book, and so I could take or leave Erikson's, which is your normal fat-fantasy "epic." I like his characters, particularly when he places sympathetic ones on different sides of a conflict. I think he has a great sense of humor. The way magic works in his world is weird and all but inexplicable--world-spanning "warrens," like a complex circulatory system, which can be travelled through, sometimes, or can be a source of power--which feels right. But what's best about this series is the sense of scale. By the fourth book the reader is just starting to lock down what tangled political acts happened between the prologue of the first book and the current action, and with every volume, millennia of past history are unrolled. Ancient races and their alien motives and magics are shown to have had fundamentally important effects on the world. One ancient race's warren of ice scoured the peat and prairie warren of another race, mimicking the actions of glaciers in our history. Thousands of years worth of old mistakes and resentments are coming back to haunt the world. Characters are being slotted into the "Deck of Dragons"--a sort of living tarot deck that's a map of ascendant powers--sometimes against their will, which probably isn't a good thing for their hopeful masters...

If all this sounds a bit too complicated, well, it probably is, but that's a great part of its charm.

Oh, I also read a handful of other books between volumes 3 and 4. Most notably, The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. I should have set aside a few paragraphs to write about it. I consider it brilliant. If Erikson's muted awesomeness is in the long form (a serial drama that draws you in despite being on VHS), Rajaniemi's is compressed like diamonds, the first movie I ever saw on an HD screen. A confection of glittering science fiction. "Sense of wonder" sparking off every page. There's a cool system of economics based on time. There's a detective, and a character modeled on Arsene Lupin. And some literal confections, inside a chocolate shop on Mars.

Memories of Ice Apr. 3rd, 2011 @ 09:49 am
The third book in Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. I don't know about you, but I like this series more and more. Like book two, it's less almost... wacky than the first book, but again, it's better. It's super grim. War is terrible, for either side, no matter who wins. Seems almost silly, put that way, but there's no glory to be found in the battles here. Cannibal metaphors made literal--one of fantasy's strong suits. (The literal, not the cannibal.) "Comic relief" characters have never been so necessary as in this book. Fortunately Erikson's are very funny. And of course much more than just comic relief. I'm still impressed with the writing, which is amazingly good considering how quickly it must have been written. These are notably long books, and he's written ten of them in thirteen years.

Cuculo Mar. 24th, 2011 @ 10:58 am
Finished the next draft of my novel Cuculo yesterday. It's still a bit underdeveloped, but I think I have all the main parts in there now, in roughly the correct order. If I had to guess I'd say maybe 2/3 was newly written, with the remaining 1/3 adapted from the last draft. I guess you could compare that last draft to paleontologists' first renderings of the Iguanadon--you know, where they thought it had a giant nose horn. In this draft I stripped the flesh and figured out where those spikes actually needed to go--as thumbs. So to speak. I'm now gladly putting it back in the drawer for a few months while I work on other projects, and then I'll reclothe the somewhat bare parts in flesh.

Three Fictional Europes: Mar. 14th, 2011 @ 04:49 pm
Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich Kleist. Kohlhaas is a 16th-century horse trader who suffers an injustice at the hands of a land-owning knight. He labors for months to have this injustice rectified through the legal system, but the knight's relatives have Kohlhaas's suits thrown out at every turn. Kohlhaas decides to take his justice by the force of arms. Martin Luther intervenes, and things start to get Kafkaesque. (Though I suppose we shoud actually say that Kafka is Kleistian.) One thing I love about this novella is the tone, which is completely deadpan even as the violence and intrigue escalate to a ludicrous degree.

The Translation of Father Torturo by Brendan Connell. Xaviero Torturo is a sociopathic priest who wants to be pope. His escapades--in an Italy that's a mixture between that found in a giallo thriller and a steaming, lurid gothic--are quite perverse. The details, or the "local color", are all lovely, the shades of the rivers, the sidewalks, the funicular ride on the way to Slovenia. I was also quite amused (once I looked it up) by the idea of a pope who would name himself Lando II.

The Other Side of the Mountain by Michel Bernanos. To be honest this is hardly a Europe at all, since the narrator has signed onto a galleon by the first sentence. It's more of a European nightmare. The galleon is sailing to "look for gold in Peru for the Spaniards," a somewhat vague quest, to be sure--a nightmare of colonialism gone awry? Where they finally arrive is nowhere so normal as Peru. I quite like the writing, which is clear as crystal and very evocative of horrible wonders. I think it's the prose equivalent of a Dali painting, though I might be wrong.

Deadhouse Gates Mar. 11th, 2011 @ 08:21 pm
This is the second book in Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It's more straightforward than the first volume, moves with a surer pace, and has a more even tone--which in a way is too bad, since it lacks the almost wild unpredictability of the first volume. I think by most measures though it's a better book. It's certainly a darker book. There are a few flashes of humor here and there (including one character who speaks his devious asides out loud in full hearing of the people he's trying to trick; their exasperation is quite funny) but mainly this is a book of grim darkness. What's clever is the way the reader's sympathy keeps being twisted around. There's an empire--boo, I hate imperialism! There's a disreputable genius Imperial general--but the corrupt establishment hates him, so many he's not so bad! He's protecting refugees--better and better! But he's protecting them from freedom fighters who just want their lands back--huh. Though some of the freedom fighters are actually traitors falling in with what they assume will be the winning side--hmm. And among the refugees are odious nobles who keep almost messing up the general's plans to save them all--hrm. Actually, my sympathies weren't conflicted at all about the nobles. They were a rotten bunch.

"The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner" Mar. 9th, 2011 @ 10:41 am
This book is 19th-century Scottish writer James Hogg's sole remaining claim to fame. It's a good one, too, kind of a mixture of a religious satire and a gothic. The story is about a young man who is raised to believe that since he is one of the "elect" there won't be any ill effects if he sins. Unfortunately this leaves him vulnerable to demons, one of which persuades him that he should become a holy assassin, murdering such deviants as ministers who teach the blasphemy that good works are the route to salvation. And his brother. And his father. Or maybe the demon doesn't exist at all. It's a bit ambiguous that way--the book has an interesting format, with a long introduction (80 pages) purporting to be historical, which lays out most of the story, followed by slightly longer section of "memoir", and of course there are discrepancies between the two versions.
Other entries
» Gardens of the Moon
So I have decided to read Steven Erikson's series The Malazan Book of the Fallen. The tenth and final book of which comes out soon. That's right--ten books. The author has been writing one a year, and is actually going to finish, which is impressive in itself in a genre where the books in series tend to proliferate and strangle their authors. Also impressive is Erikson's seeming ambition to tell every side of the story. (And I'm guessing that there will end up being a lot more than just two.) In the first volume, Gardens of the Moon, we get points of view from the soldiers of an expanding empire and from within a city they're trying to conquer, along with glimpses of dozens of weird gods and monsters and tyrants and prophets that I have no doubt will have much greater roles to play in the volumes to come.

Erikson's writing is good enough. It falls squarely in the realm of genre fantasy writing, though what's nice is that different sections are written in different styles of genre fantasy writing. There are gritty military parts, there are mystical visionquest parts, there are sword-and-sorcery parts. (My favorite character in the book reminded me someone out of Jack Vance.) Erikson's world is a large and pleasantly varied one. Prehistory also plays a large role--I gather Erikson's background is in anthropology and archaeology--and so this is also a world with a detailed past. Hard to know for sure, but right now I'm thinking these prehistoric aspects of the story--what happened 300,000 years before the main events--might be Erikson's most original.

I plan to write a bit on each volume as I read it. (I'll be reading other books in between, however, in case you worry for my sanity.) Also, in case you're wondering what prompted me to read this series now: I've had the first book for years, and it was actually in pile of books to get rid of, when I happened to read this blog post. I think it was the mention of Henry Darger than tipped the balance...
» "...mahogany-coloured, rock-like objects swimming in a sauce of bacon fat."
I saw Great Granny Webster by Caroline Blackwood in a list of classics that someone or other wanted the BBC to make for television. Actually, it was a suggestion in the comments, and after suggesting it the commenter remarked that unfortunately it was unfilmable. The library had it, and so I read it. It's a dark little gem.

I don't know about it being filmable or not. It seems possible to me. But I think what the commenter meant was that it's relentlessly verbal--the whole effect of the book comes from the voice of the narrator. She gives the illusion of being completely passive. She takes no actions. The book has chapters about three of the narrator's relatives: her great grandmother, her aunt, and her grandmother. In the first two cases she spends time in their presence without saying a word or doing anything, and in the third case, she is supposedly relating a story from a family friend--I say supposedly because there is not a word in this book that is not conveyed in her own voice, which is bitter and very snarky. It's a neat trick, actually. At first she seems passive, but she's actually in complete control of the tiny, hopeless, airless world of this novel. If the other characters appear horrible--and most of them do--we can't forget that she's speaking through their mouths for them. There is awful pain in the narrator's family, but it seems like she's blind to it. Another book could be written that features exactly the same story, and with a different narrator it would be a truly sympathetic tragedy instead of a dark comedy. Is that just the definition of dark comedy though?
» "I am Awa."
Jesse Bullington's The Enterprise of Death is excellent. Two observations about Jesse's writing. The first is that it's idiosyncratic, both in style and subject. There's a unique and precise mixture of humor and horror, fantasy and history, that is very distinctive. Likewise ways of phrasing and describing that are his alone--a great blend of high and low tone. In this book we go from the sewer to the stars in a page, and then back again. A very unique voice here. The second observation is that, through a stroke of luck--since a unique voice is worth not much unless you like it--I am mildly obsessed with all of these things: historical horror, dark humor, and wildly mixed registers.

I find myself not wanting to talk about the plot. Sometimes I'm like that. One of my favorite aspects though was a certain unexpected sweetness. The characters, despite their surroundings (and habits) are very charming. I love that this is a fantasy full of very real people. There aren't heroes here, just like there aren't a lot of heroes in reality, and yet things still get done. If Jesse's last book was a scream of defiance on behalf of the outsiders, the poor and dispossessed who manage to survive and thrive till the very end on their supreme awfulness, this is the book that shows their more winning side. Necromancers are people too. (And there are some great monsters.)
» Revising
Ha - so it looks like I wrote in June of 2009 this:

"So the 'revisions' on my novel, which I amusingly thought would take me two or three months, are so far more like 95 percent rewrites. I can't see finishing this thing before the end of the year. That's okay, I tell myself, the more care I spend on this next draft, the better it will be."

By August I was, supposedly, 1/4 done. Amusingly, I (apparently) thought then that I might finish it in 2010. Is that was I was implying? Not sure. It was so long ago... and I was a different person... Though 95 percent rewriting still seems fairly accurate. I'm 1/3 of the way through it. Maybe?

This is all to say that I'm back in the mines for this particular novel. I gave up working on it shortly after my 2009 post, but a few months ago I had a sudden spark of an idea (at night, of course, which kept me from falling asleep until I wrote it down), a plan whereby I might resurrect "Cuculo" -- the name of the beast -- this beast, anyway -- and starting on January 1st, 2011, I put that plan into effect. Two of the four view point characters were deleted. Sorry, I just wasn't that into you. A third was added. Sorry, entire imaginary culture, for not letting you tell your side of the story in that last draft. Now that you have a voice, though, don't expect to be all that sympathetic any more!

"'I'm afraid that implementing such a request is not within my authority,' said [R.] [S.F.] could tell it was a favorite phrase. This was a man who had honed his lowliness to razor sharpness. A man who loved nothing more that to use his lack of authority as a soft, dry bludgeon, a crumbling fungus."

There's something awful and at the same time wonderful in throwing away 50,000 words you've spent weeks writing. I recommend it to everyone.
» Some books
Books to read this summer:

Meeks, by Julia Holmes. This, I'll bet, will still, come December, be my favorite debut novel of the year. It's an utterly charming and spooky dystopian story, with a great off-kilter somberness that's reminiscent of a silent slapstick movie, except that what also rushes off the page is an amazing evocation of city life--a scary city, to be sure, but full of pale, clean colors, civic murals, sweets (mints and cakes), and the tyranny of fashion. I almost swear I could taste and smell this place. An awesome book. Small Beer Press is still my favorite small publisher, incidentally.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell. This would be the most vivid historical novel I've read in a long time, perhaps ever. It's about the decline of the Dutch East India Company in Japan, told from a handful of different viewpoints, full of intrigue and heartbreak and all kinds of eye-popping detail. (Also, on a technical note, Mitchell does things with dialogue tags I don't think I've ever seen before--interesting.)


Suddenly I look up and half a year has passed. I'm still teaching myself to write a novel. Progress is being made. I'm about a quarter of the way done with my current project. Breakthroughs are happening at a sufficient rate to keep me forging ahead. I've been trying new techniques with each long work; with this one I'm writing everything longhand first. I have a prop of sorts, in that I "inherited" about 2,000 half sheets of blue paper from work which are the perfect size to carry around in a bundle and write on. The size is definitely ideal, and also, strangely, the blueness. It's nice to watch the novel grow in a physical form day by day, blue in its larval form, but eventually, as I type it into the computer, maturing to white. In the past few weeks I've also figured out how to continue revisions on the last large project I abandoned after writing a first draft. I guess it just needed more time to age. Maybe the year and a half I spent on it was not for naught but practice after all.
» amazonodan vs. macmillanzilla
I suspect many of you on here have been following the story of the battle between Amazon.com and the publisher Macmillan over e-book pricing which (presumably) has resulted in the delisting of all Macmillan titles from Amazon's website. (Used copies through 3rd party sellers still show up, but, for example, if you search for Jeff VanderMeer's Shriek you won't be able to buy a new copy from Amazon at the time of this posting.) (If you don't know what I'm talking about you might want to read this: http://www.boingboing.net/2010/01/29/amazon-and-macmillan.html#more which I think lays out the situation so far quite well.) It's hard to resist the lure of Amazon, I'll be the first to admit, and how quickly it can get a book or music into my hands (or electronic device), but I have seen at first hand the decline and closing of an awesome local bookstore, where I worked once, and which a number of people I'm close to still worked at the time of its closing--I know Amazon is just a business like any other, and I'm not supposed to fault the free market from working freely, but I think people in this town lost more with the closing of that bookstore than they will gain by having to resort to Amazon.com from now on. I think this incident, whatever eventual excuse/explanation comes out, is kind of the last straw for me, and I'll be doing my very best not to use Amazon from now on.
» Good bye "River of Entanglements", AKA "Gold, God, and Beards"
I finished a draft of my "conquistador novel" today. I'm glad to leave those guys behind. Next time I'm going to write about good people, or at least people who want and try (sometimes) to be good. I'd like to write about happiness. Spoiler alert: this one didn't have much happiness. I am slightly behind schedule. I wanted to be done with it by December 31st. Not too bad, when it comes to blowing arbitrary deadlines, I suppose. I'm not sure this thing will ever be publishable, but at least I can set it aside now and start writing something else. I have proven to myself that I can write a novel (having written three, two quite short and one of normal length) and will now attempt to prove to myself that I can write a good novel. A slightly trickier task, I'm sure you agree.
» "We were happy as giant clams"
I just heard that Vic Chesnutt died on Christmas. One of my favorite songwriters, if you haven't heard of him--his album "Skitter on Take-Off" is my favorite album of 2009. He was not a healthy man (he had been paralyzed from the waist down for many years, and part of the tragedy of his death is how poorly-served he was by the health care system) and his voice is not strong, kind of warbly even, and on this album he has what is probably the perfect accompaniment for him, sparse bass, guitar, and occasional drum. My favorite three songs are "Rips in the Fabric," which is as good as any short story I've read this year, "Calamity Jane," which has the line about giant clams (strange how that's so much of a better image than the normal happy clam cliche), "Dick Cheney," and "Feast in the Time of Plague," which is dark, weird, moody as hell. Did I say three favorites? Any way, I'd really like people to hear this album. I'll buy an mp3 of one of these songs online and send it to the first person who expresses an interest in a comment here.
» some books
Been reading rather more than writing this month. As I approach the end of the draft of my novel the words are slowing, some kind of literary asymptote, though hopefully not literally. So I probably won't finish till early next year, eh. But I have read some good books!

Finch by Jeff VanderMeer. Several years ago I wrote about VanderMeer's imaginary city Ambergris that it could support Victorian-era stories of art and madness as well as noir mysteries, and this last is precisely what Finch is, a kind of warped noir fiction that isn't so much black as dark gold and green and orange. Enough blurbs inside the front provide examples of its being some kind of infernal mash-up of fantasy and mystery, so I won't go there, though I could. Instead I'll simply say it's excellent, probably the best book I've read to combine elements of those two genres.

Total Oblivion, More or Less by Alan DeNiro is also fantastic, about a kind of surreal apocalypse which brings about all manner of peculiar change in the Midwest, which makes the setting sparkle, as old useless items become precious, the Mississippi deepens, and cities mutate, but what makes the novel really great is how it follows one family through all the blood and confusion. A combination of the outré and homy, a favorite of mine, I suppose. I guess that I, again, don't want to say much more, just that you should probably read this.

Those two are new, but I also read two older novels, Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol and Intoxicated by John Barlow. The first was like a literary version of a survival horror game, and I mean that in the best possible way, hordes of attackers, a secluded shelter to defend, running low on ammo, philosophical consideration of the nature of the attackers, a twisted love story... The second is a work of slightly alternate historical fiction about the creation of the world-famous soft drink Rhubarbilla. Like two other of my favorite novels, Martin Dressler and The Road to Wellville, Intoxicated is a book about zeal, zeal at its best and at its worst, though here the details of the setting are slightly fizzier and stranger, fitting perfectly a story about addiction and invention and redemption.
» "Mockmouse" in The Clockwork Jungle Book
This is a special issue of Shimmer Magazine full of "steampunk animal fables." In addition to my own contribution (which I'm quite happy is the last story in the issue) you can also read therein my friend Shweta's story "The Mechanical Aviary of Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar," and a bunch of other cool-sounding stories besides.

Titles and openings may be read and issues ordered here: http://www.shimmerzine.com/the-clockwork-jungle-book-shimmer-issue-11/
» The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart
I just finished reading Jesse Bullington's The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart and it proved to be one of my favorite books of the year. The story follows the titular large-bearded twins (graverobbers by family tradition) on a gloriously squalid tour of medieval Europe; in an interview at the back of the book Bullington writes that his goal in part was to take the romance out of graverobbing, though I think he outdoes himself as there's hardly a shred of romance left anywhere across the face of the continent by the end of this black farce. Apart from the atmosphere, which I'd call a lovely and grimy mixture of Monty Python's "bring out your dead" scene and an illiterate peasant's woodcut illustrations to a bootlegged edition of Kramer and Sprenger's Hammer of the Witches (anachronistic, but I think "Manfried" and "Hegel" would approve), Bullington's greatest achievements here are the personalities of the brothers themselves, who are subtly different, but by and large exhibit a hilarious mixture of ignorance, cunning, perseverance, skewed piety, greed, and naiveté. They are definitely among the most vile characters I've ever encountered who aren't actually serial killers and who I actually still wanted to read about. I can't honestly recommend this book for everyone: anybody offended by foul language, honestly depicted filth, and crude yet gleeful carnage might be advised to read, er, something else. But if you're up for a rude and wild ride look no further. I'm happy in most ways that I don't still work in a bookstore, but every so often a book comes along so good I'm sad I can't put it directly into the hands of readers, and this is one of them.
» River of Entanglements
So I see that I haven't posted in months about my writing, and I thought it was time to rectify that. The novel I had been working on for about a year and half has been set aside. I was, at the time of its dismissal, one quarter of the way through revising a draft worthy of showing people. A curious problem had come over me, which was that my shorthand and not very accurate way of describing the novel ("Conquistadors in the Amazon jungle") suddenly, and tauntingly, seemed vastly more interesting than the story I was actually writing. So I called my other draft part of the learning process, set it aside and started again from scratch. My new project is to be lean and mean. As of right now I'm just about at the halfway point, which means I should finish a draft by the end of year. It'll be a short and awkward length for a novel, and perhaps not publishable, but the conquistadors will at least be out of my head and I can start concentrating on something else.

In other news I read a great book a few weeks ago: The Cardboard Universe by Christopher Miller. I was a fan of Miller's previous book Sudden Noises From Inanimate Objects, and this one is even better. It's written in the form of an encyclopedia on the life and work of obscure science fiction writer Phoebus K. Dank. (One entry incidentally talks about a character Dank created named Philip K. Dick.) Miller's fictional PKD is like a more extreme version of the real PKD: a worse prose stylist, fatter, and with a more messed-up personal life. Some of the entries are written by Dank's sycophantic housemate and some are written by a former friend turned bitter enemy. The time of writing is shortly after Dank's murder. It's hilarious and sad, though a bit more of the former.

Additionally, I answer some questions about myself here: http://www.shimmerzine.com/authors/author-page-caleb-wilson/interview-with-caleb-wilson/
» Last Drink Bird Head, Court Scranto
"What Is Last Drink Bird Head? That’s the catalyst editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer provided to over 80 writers in creating this unique anthology, with all proceeds going to ProLiteracy.org. All each writer got was an email with "Last Drink Bird Head" in the subject line and the directions "Who or what is Last Drink Bird Head? Under 500 words." The result? Last Drink Bird Head is a blues musician, a performance artist, a type of alcohol, a town in Texas, and even a song sung by girl scouts in Antarctica. Famed designer John Coulthart did the interior, which features bobbing bird heads in the corners of the pages, so that the antho is also a flipbook."

(More info: http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2009/09/24/last-drink-bird-head-for-charity-party-pre-orders-awards-and-more/ )

This a fantastic project. Guaranteed to be one of the coolest anthologies released this year. And all the money it makes is going to a great charity.

I offer a brief sample of my own contribution:

"The burbling music changed to indicate Bird Head's fortunes. The happy wandering song could be interrupted at any moment by the chirping aria when a siren tempted Bird Head over a cliff to land in a bed of razors. Or by a fast, minor march when a wandering hangman captured Bird Head and forced him along the crimson carpet to his portable gibbet."

In other news, my story "Court Scranto" appears in the most recent issue of Weird Tales magazine. (#353).
» My Phrasebook Is Useless
My story "My Phrasebook Is Useless" has been published here:


I am 1/4 of the way through revising my novel. A epic slog. That first part was 60% rewritten from scratch. The second part (Call of the Wild with snakes and leeches and quicksand) will be an even higher percentage. The third part (the big action sequence) much less. The last part probably more. Finishing before this year is over? Unlikely. Next time I write a first novel, remind me to maybe stick with one viewpoint character...
» Procrastinating
The third movement of John Adams' "Grand Pianola Music" is one of the funniest pieces of non-novelty music I know, with a very simple theme taken to awesome extremes, like a hilariously overblown version of "A Tisket, A Tasket." Smiling right now as I listen to it.

Read the composer's thoughts (and listen to a tiny sample) here:

» My July Post
Coin collecting and stamp collecting are both equally dull.

"Numismatics" sounds appropriately dry, while "philately" sounds exotic and possibly obscene.


(Check back mid-August for my next post.)
» Revisions, ha!
So the "revisions" on my novel, which I amusingly thought would take me two or three months, are so far more like 95 percent rewrites. I can't see finishing this thing before the end of the year. That's okay, I tell myself, the more care I spend on this next draft, the better it will be.
» Been revising
Been revising, a novel, my first. It's an interesting process, satisfying in a very different way than writing a rough draft, more orderly, deliberate, trying to create something good (or at least better, for now) rather than merely new. It's less exhilarating, maybe, but I'm also finding it more satisfying. By the time I finished the rough draft at the end of last year I was sick of the whole thing and very much looking forward to shoving it into a drawer for a few months. When I pulled it out again this April I found a few great parts and a few terrible parts, with huge stretches of mediocrity in between. Some good action scenes and description, lots of appalling dialogue, and at least four metaphors and similes involving sausages, which I estimate is about the right number for my next ten novels. I turned out one and half chapters-worth of mostly cosmetic changes and started to despair, because though the writing was a bit shinier, the heart of the story was basically identical. A week ago I had a half-night of insomnia where I couldn't stop obsessing about logical and historical problems in my setting and plot. At some point I remembered Kafka's sword-bearing Statue of Liberty at the beginning of Amerika, there was a click, everything shifted a few degrees in my mind, and I fell asleep. I started from scratch in the morning, this time cutting a few scenes and adding a new one to the first chapter. Today I feel like a carpenter renovating a sloppy old house I built long ago without any plans. Some of the wood I used then is rotten, some is splintery but sound, and one or two pieces just need a pass with sandpaper. Now I have a plan, and when I rebuild, what was a house will have a maze in the middle, a waterslide, sun-rooms and crazy-mirrors, and be haunted. (I hope.)
» Epic
I have this theory that writing a novel is an epic journey, as opposed to a short story, which might be a day hike, or weekend camping trip. Sounds self-evident, when I put it like that, but I suppose it's still worth saying because I didn't realize it when I started writing mine. I finished a rough draft, today, and I can see now how, if I were in the Fellowship of Ring or something, I'd have just reached Rivendell and now have a few months of relaxing to look forward to. I feel excited, maybe a little frightened of how it's going to turn out, but overall optimistic, because I can still see the original vision for this thing shimmering somehow under the horrible rough prose and shaky structure of this draft. I still think it can be good, and I was afraid at certain points that I would lose that optimism.

A novel is long enough that what could be tragedies when writing a short story (might as well scrap this and write something else) really do seem like opportunities. For example, my working title was "Horns." Maybe I had become too attached to it, anyway, I wasn't making any effort to come up with another title, which was fine, I suppose. But then, several months ago I read on Joe Hill's website that he was working on a novel called "Horns." A moment of panic, then I remembered that it was a working title only, and just then a new title popped into my head, one which worked on many levels, and which caused all kinds of other connections, and suddenly a lot of what I'd written had a new dimension. Thanks, Joe!

I still have a lot of work left. At least a few months of (slogging? invigorating?) revision. And then, the bleak part at the end where I try to get it published. Maybe some giant eagles will drop out of the sky and carry me into print.
» What I've Been Reading Lately
The Last Wish, by Andrzej Sapkowski

This book entered my consciousness in a weird way, in that I knew vaguely about the videogame The Witcher, which is based on Sapkowski's character of the same description. What I didn't know was the Witcher stories are part of a well-known series in Poland, where Sapkowski is an established fantasy author. It's a fun little collection. The stories are grim, but with hints of dark wit throughout, which means that they're enjoyable instead of bleak. Imagine recognizable fairy tales slightly skewed, and blasted through on a cross-wise course by a macho noir anti-hero, and you've got the right idea. (Though the protagonist is macho, the author doesn't come across as so. Still pretty bloody, though.)

Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

I suppose this book will probably have the same reception as Stephenson's other books. Some will love it, some will hate it, and when I read reviews by the people who hate it, I will see the wisdom of many of their points, but still not agree with them. I did love Anathem, though I'm now in the weird position of not wanting to say anything about it because at least some of the enjoyment came from figuring things out on my own. So this will be even less of a review than usual. Just know that it has my imaginary seal of approval.

The Manual of Detection, by Jedediah Berry

This one you won't be able to read for a while (February, I believe), but I was so excited that I couldn't resist mentioning it here. It's a wonderfully weird mystery, of sorts, full of hats, bicycles, alarm clocks and umbrellas, rainy autumn streets, carnivals and steam engines, concerning an odd, hierarchical detective agency, and featuring as its hero one Charles Unwin, an agency clerk forced into the spotlight of crime detection when he least expects it. Every so often a writer looks into my mind and creates an amalgam of all my favorite motifs, and Berry has done so here. Keep an eagle eye out for this one, friends!

I will remind you later...
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