Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

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I’m walking to work, freezing my ass off in the morning chill, flicking through Facebook on my phone and thinking “Why horror?”. Ahead of me, pedestrians gather at the crossing—pre-morning-coffee men standing sullen in their suits and long trench coats; Women, slightly more composed in their lacquered nails and corporate war paint, leather knee-high boots and long, quilted coats.

This is not exactly unusual; I examine the “Why Horror” question on a semi-regular basis, despite thinking I have my answers down. This morning is a little different, however. I don’t pull out the usual trite “We read/write horror because it helps us to deal with the horrors of the real world” bollocks, which, although true enough, seems played out and tired. I don’t roll with the “We just like to scare ourselves. Us human beings get a real kick out of it” business, despite rightly enjoying the cheap thrill of controlled frisson as much as (or more than) the next person. It’s the loss of warmth in my phone hand as the circa 0-degree Celsius weather saps what little warmth is left from my poorly-circulated arthritic claw that causes my epiphany.

Horror fiction is not only about loss; ultimately, it’s about love.

Whut? I know, I know—allow me to join my nonsense-dots for you.

Let’s assume literature (or all art really), is—on some level—an attempt by humankind to explain, rationalise or comment on the world around us, or to an attempt to evoke or recreate emotion. We see this struggle for realisation and understanding it in the basic mythologies and creation myths. We see it in religious texts. We see it in the the works of philosophers and the socio-political commentary of books like 1984, Animal Farm, and Catch 22. We see it manifest in the commentary (feminist literary criticism, formalism, moral criticism, etc) and analysis of literature (What did the author mean when they said such and such? And even the legacy authors has left the world today…see: Lovecraft, Shakespeare, Rumi, et al). We see our emotions evoked via rousing tales of comedy, valour, drama, terror and love. Through this w of this we, as readers, come to know ourselves, our fellow humans and the world around us.

To be honest, on this frigid morning, hundreds of bleak Soviet-seeming metres away from my heated office, I’m a pretty selfish guy. I couldn’t care less how literature has performed that function historically, or how it does it today. Remember—It’s Monday morning, pre-9am. I’m pre-coffee, and I’m freezing my balls off in the fog by the traffic lights; this is all about me, mate. So “how does literature ‘do it’ for me?” I wonder as my bony blue-ing claw clamps rheumatically around my Motorola.

While there’s no hard and fast rules in the world of writing (indeed, perhaps the very best literature smashes, or at least subverts, the rules), it’s always seemed to me that certain genres of literature seemed to be purpose-built for certain things. Where literary fiction might be best suited to answering (or at least asking) timeless questions of life, and the human condition—science fiction seems geared to dealing with issues of morality, ethics surrounding societies and their development and implementation of technologies. And how it may all fit together (or fall apart!) sometime into the future. Fantasy, on the other hand, gives us the ‘Hero’s Journey’, riffs on good versus evil, allows us to imagine changing of the world for the better, and perhaps even allows us to indulge our complex modern thinking in a simple pre-modern setting (credit to Nick Mamatas for that last poignant observation). These are all important genres that often ask important questions or deal with important issues. Exciting and fun genres, even. But there’s something about them that, to me personally, seems so separate from my condition. At a basic level, something about them fails to speak to me-as-human-being, in a particularly profound way.

It’s 2016. Maybe it’s the Prozac. Maybe it’s because I deal with complex technology all day in my day job and secretly harbour an Anarcho-Luddite fantasy of the nuclear bombs going off and a return to much simpler times. Maybe it’s because I’m locked into the same 24/7 news cycle hamster wheel we all are and am heartily repulsed and disillusioned by all aspects of the greater human condition. Maybe it’s simply because I’m older now and have slipped so far into nihilistic cynicism that I can’t appreciate the wide-eyed wonder of fantasy anymore, and disbelieve in the possibility of individuals creating profound change. Frankly, as often as I do, I don’t really connect with this subject matter and find the themes tedious. I don’t care to ask l questions about the fundamental truths of the human condition. I couldn’t care less about the imaginings of future technology and how it may impact society. Who cares if the hero has a journey, or if he even arrives at his destination? Most of the time, I just want to feel something. Anything.

Back at the pedestrian crossing, the little green man signal springs to life. There is a brief moment where there my fellow pedestrians remain frozen in hesitation, not trusting their eyes that it’s truly safe to step onto the asphalt. I shove the icicle on the end of my arm into my coat pocket. I don’t need the phone anymore, I have the bit in my teeth. I’m onto something here. I step onto the road.

Jack Ketchum once related that a fan thought his writing was really all about loss. Having read most of Jack’s work, I think that reader was right. Having said that, I’d go a step further and say it’s not only true of Jack’s work, it’s true of all horror fiction. So how have I made that leap? Well, to understand that we need to discuss fear. After all, horror fiction is that which deals with the emotion fear in its various forms.

Fear (and its most extreme form, terror) is the oldest emotion. With fear comes that animalistic fight-or-flight defence mechanism, an aspect of our existence that’s survived countless aeons, the selection and mutations of evolution, and man’s descent from the canopies and ascent into consciousness. As the oldest emotion (and probably most important, I think), we as humans are ruled by it. It’s central to our existence and who we are. It governs all our most important decisions and actions. And fear? Fear thrives on loss. I’d go so far as to say that if you think about it the right way,  almost everything we fear is actually a fear of losing something.

Let’s take your employment, as a case study and we’ll ‘what if’ it to the nth degree. None of us want to lose our job, even the mere thought of it causes most of us anxiety or true panic. What happens if you lose your job? In the worst case scenario, you lose your financial stability. You lose your ability to buy food. You lose your ability to pay your rent or mortgage. You lose your ability to provide for your dependents. You might lose your spouse and your kids. You lose your ability to sustain your hygiene and health. Hells bells, my pulse quickens a little just entertaining the thought of any of that stuff.

Now let me refer you back to that initial bizarre comment about horror being somehow about love. If we fear to lose something—if the thought of its loss or its destruction, is so horrifying to us— it’s usually because we actually love that thing. We love the challenge and the reward of gainful employment. We love the stability and security it brings. We love full bellies and the warmth and comfort clothes over our back and a roof over our head. We love our spouses and children and our ability to provide for them. We love our vitality, good health and happiness. This is all as true for me in 2016 as it would’ve been for a me in 3000BC. Or 10,000BC.

At this point, I’m halfway across that road, breath steaming in the morning air. I’m beginning to feel some tingles of life in my phone hand again, but you heard me say ‘Horror is Love’ and I can hear y’all revving your engines, ready to run me over, little green man be damned!

Upon reflection, this might just be the truest, most-distilled reason why I read and write horror fiction. By the mere virtue of what it is, it’s just so damn emotionally honest. It’s the literature of love and loss. It speaks to me, like no other fiction does, on a truly animalistic level and in a wholly intuitive way that I don’t need to overly rationalise. My inner fucking caveman understands what’s going on here! Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate and enjoy the over-arching tale the author is telling, even the cautionary tale or social criticism they’re exploring—but beyond and deeper than that, on a fundamentally primordial level, as a motherfucking biological being, I can relate to horror fiction. No other genre gives me this visceral response, which harkens back to my most basic involuntary reptilian psychological and physiological functions. No other form of literature seems such an honest expression of what it means to be human or to be alive. No other genre understands me as a biological being that is trying to survive this inexorable series of harrowing moments between birth and death. I’m not even joking when I say—truly understanding fear, understanding horror, is in my (all of ours, really) DNA.

The little green man becomes a little red man as I step onto the kerb. The sullen men and well-manicured and composed women hurry away to their workplaces like good corporate denizens, anticipatory frowns creasing their brows. I smile because I understand now, and I appreciate the honesty.

Love and loss—that’s horror.

That’s life.

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The last couple of weeks have been interesting with all the goings-on regarding RJ Cavender, PS Gifford, HWA and the traumatic podcast by Brian Keene with guest Kelly Laymon, and posts by authors such as Tim Waggoner, and author/editor Michael Bailey.

I’ve checked out on all of that, seriously struggling to give a fuck about any of it beyond a generalised and helpless kind of sadness and concern for Kelly Laymon and the other affected victims of sexual assault and fraud.  Whether people are being nice or naughty, treating each other well or poorly, whether they’re having fun or not, whether they’re being successful or failing… It’s freaking great to not know about it, and more importantly to not give a fuck about it either.

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A corollary of that is, I’m taking a well-deserved break from social media.

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I’m not quite The Man who Walked Away from Facebook (no one has stolen my horse yet!!), however stepping off the merry-go-round has allowed me to become far more productive.  I’m aware of some things that are going on in the horror/writing world and am maintaining some level of contact with some people. If you feel you need to speak to me, email me.

Note: I have no updates on the RJ Cavender scandal.  No further news from Indiegogo than that they’re investigating whether the campaigns. RJ Cavender’s Indiegogo campaign site are still live. I have received no word from Stanley Hotel or Winchester mystery house and no response to the long emails I sent both.  Well, I threw that shit at the wall and it seems like nothing has actually stuck, so I’ve turned my attention to other things which are more interesting and better for my mental health.

In the last week:

  1. I’ve sent edits to 3 authors for Suspended in Dusk 2.  I have a small number of edits left before proof reading begins and I finally compile the final manuscript and send it to Books of the Dead Press.
  2. I have sent three lots of edits, and 1 manuscript assessment and suggested markets for story submission, to people who bought edits out of the StokerCon or Bust fundraising campaign for Marni Molina.  Marni is probably at Las Vegas or landing there now, ready to enjoy a weekend away, maybe learn some things, catch up with old friends, network with new ones.
  3. I have written several thousand words of an essay on nailing the start of a new short story.  The essay will be published in the next few weeks and will include quotes from some fantastic authors and editors and my own general spin on things.
  4. I have received my royalty statements letting me know that I’m still selling roughly 750 (mostly ebook) copies of Suspended in Dusk a quarter.  This is encouraging because, I’m quite proud of that book; there’s lots of great stories in there; I’m very happy that some of the less established authors are getting “exposure” (heh.) to a wide reading audience via my book—one that was released in 2014! (Note: The publisher did also pay them money.)
  5. I feel like I’ve levelled up a bit with my editing or have certainly attained a greater amount of confidence, especially in asking authors to make changes that I feel are necessary for a story. Ultimately, this is good for both me and the authors.

I’m super pleased with this new direction and I’m happy that Suspended in Dusk 2 is moving more swiftly towards its final published state.

Good times, great (lack of social media) company.

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In  a bit of a departure from interviewing women for women in horror month, I thought I’d do a little expose of some women in horror of a different kind. I’ve sorta kludged this together from the references at the end of the article.

588th Night Bomber Regiment – The Night Witches

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Women of the Night Witches (588th Night Bomber Regiment, Later the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment

The year was 1941 and Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union. By November the German army was just 19 miles from Moscow. Leningrad was under siege and 3 million Russians had been taken prisoner. The Soviet air force was grounded.

In the summer of 1941, Marina Raskova was called upon to organize a regiment of women pilots to fly night combat missions of harassment bombing.

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From mechanics to navigators, pilots and officers, the 588th regiment was composed entirely of women.

An attack technique of the 588th was to idle the engine near the target and glide to the bomb release point, with only wind noise left to reveal their location. German soldiers likened the sound to broomsticks and the 588th was so successful and deadly that the Germans came to fear them and call them the ‘Nachthexen’ (Night Witches).

The women of the 588th fought non-stop for months, sometimes flying 15 to 18 missions on the same night. They flew obsolete Polikarpov Po-2 wooden biplanes that were otherwise used as trainers. The planes could only carry two bombs that weighed less than a ton altogether. Most of the women who survived the war had, by the end, flown almost a thousand missions each.Due to the weight of the bombs and the low altitude of flight, the pilots carried no parachutes.

The Witches developed the technique of flying close to their intended targets, then cutting their engines. Silently they would glide to their targets and release their bombs. Then they would restart their engines and fly away. The first warning the Germans had of an impending raid was the sound of the wind whistling against the wing bracing wires of the Po-2s, and by then it was too late.

The Po-2 would often pass undetected by the radar of the German fighters due to the unreflective nature of the canvas surfaces and also because they flew so low to the ground. Planes equipped with infrared heat seekers fared no better at detecting them due to the small heat emission from their puny little 110-hp engines.  In some respects, the Po-2 flown by the Night Witches could be considered the very first stealth planes.

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Polikarpov Po-2

Marina Raskova – record-breaking Soviet aviatrix

In 1938 Marina Raskova and two other women set a world record for non-stop direct flight by women when they flew an ANT-37, a Soviet-built twin-engine aircraft named Rodina (homeland), 6,000 kilometers (3,240 nautical miles) from Moscow to Komsomolsk-on-Amur on the southeastern tip of Siberia.

The aircraft started icing up over Siberia, and the women struggled to gain altitude. They threw everything they could move out of the airplane, but still they continued to lose altitude. Realizing they were out of options and a crash was inevitable unless they could further lighten the plane, Marina, who was the navigator on the flight, decided upon a daring course of action. Noting their position on a map she bailed out into the frigid darkness of Siberia. The two remaining women eventually landed safely at their destination, and a hunter rescued Marina.

Marina and the other two women were the first women to be awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal for their record-breaking flight. It was Marina’s accomplishments and visibility that helped her persuade Stalin to form the three regiments of women combat pilots.

Thoughts:

If any one deserves the “Women in Horror” title, it’s these ladies.  I cannot even fathom flying an plane (that was even obsolete at the time) that is open to the elements, in the middle of night, and shutting off the engines and gliding in to bomb someone. Putting myself in the shoes of a German on the eastern front, I can just imagine the whooshing, flapping sound of the wind through the wing cables and across the canvas wing surfaces, probably leaving you enough time to yell “Night Witcheeeesss!” before the the roof above your head explodes.  What a horrifying image that is.

We all know that, in western media and political discourse at least,  Russians are always inherently evil,  so I’m willing to bet this fabulous story will never receive a Hollywood film treatment. Instead,I’ll leave you with this song written by the super talented Swedish band Sabaton about 588th Night Witches, and I think it is appropriately bad ass. A real tribute.

Slava Nachthexen!

References:

  1. http://www.seizethesky.com/nwitches/nitewtch.html
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Witches

 

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Originally I thought to write a piece regarding the change of the WFA from a bust of Lovecraft to something different, but I realised there just so much to talk about that it can’t be tackled in just a few hundred words, hence the “Part 1” in the title.  In coming days, I hope to post a follow up to delve into things a little further. I think this is a worthy and timely topic for discussion and hope that I have something of value to add to that discussion.

A couple of weeks back,  folks that run the World Fantasy Convention came out and stated that they’re no longer going to use the a bust of author Howard Philips Lovecraft, designed by artist Gahan Wilson, for the World Fantasy Award.

As first reported by Locus Magazine:

David G. Hartwell, co-chair of the World Fantasy Convention board, announced during the 2015 World Fantasy Awards that the current award trophy is being retired after this year.

The trophy, known informally as the “Howard,” is a bust of author H.P. Lovecraft designed by Gahan Wilson. In recent years, many writers, editors, and readers in the field (notably World Fantasy Award winner Nnedi Okorafor and nominee Daniel José Older) have called for the trophy to be changed, considering Lovecraft an inappropriate choice for the award due to his racist views. A design for the new trophy has not yet been announced.

Indeed, on November 10, Lovecraft biographer and editor, ST Joshi released the text of an letter he sent to David G. Hartwell, Co-chair of the World Fantasy Convention board:

I was deeply disappointed with the decision of the World Fantasy Convention to discard the bust of H. P. Lovecraft as the emblem of the World Fantasy Award. The decision seems to me a craven yielding to the worst sort of political correctness and an explicit acceptance of the crude, ignorant, and tendentious slanders against Lovecraft propagated by a small but noisy band of agitators.

I feel I have no alternative but to return my two World Fantasy Awards, as they now strike me as irremediably tainted. Please find them enclosed. You can dispose of them as you see fit.

Many authors have spoken, some more vociferously than others, about the need to change this award in several years.. including WFA winners Nnedi Okorafor, Sofia Samatar and others.

In the field of literary criticism there is a device known as the Implied Author (as opposed to the Author).  This Implied Author v.s Author relationship was referred to by T.S Eliot in his essay Tradition and Individual Talent, as “The Man Who Suffers and The Mind which Creates“.  The Man Who Suffers (i.e the Author)is the real life human being, the guy out there paying the bills and buying his hayfever medication from the pharmacy, raising his kids and working a day job.   The Mind Which Creates (i.e the Implied Author)  is the sense that we as readers get of the author and their personality,  or perhaps their views, or even their hopes and dreams.  This is a giant bone of contention between formalists of which T.S Eliot was one (i.e literary theorists and critics concerned with the form of a text) and those who seek to view the text through a more wider biographical lense and to take into account the time and place and the circumstances of the author before and during the time the work was written.

Ever the formalist, T.S Eliot wrote:

The analogy was that of the catalyst. When the two gases previously mentioned are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum. It may partly or exclusively operate upon the experience of the man himself; but, the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material.

What Eliot is getting at here is that there is, particularly in the best of writers, a separation between the person of the writer and his creative mind, so that an author who might be a miser, or a complete jerk, or recluse can write stories and characters that are generous, and loving and outgoing. And vice versa!  Sure there are obvious exceptions to any rule, … a writer who is a jerk might write a mean story full of jerk characters, which mirrors his own life and experiences completely, but there is enough truth here that we can rationally recognise it.

Notwithstanding its lack of scholarly fides, I’m using wikipedia’s definition of the implied author here because, frankly, I like it.

The implied author is a concept of literary criticism developed in the 20th century. Distinct from the author and the narrator, the term refers to the character a reader may attribute to an author based on the way a literary work is written, which may differ considerably from the author’s true personality.

Author Saul Bellow once observed that it was not surprising, with all the revision that goes into a work, that an author might appear better on the page than in real life.

I love that last part. It’s so true. It’s like reading Orson Scott Card fiction and then reading his political views. Or listening to Eric Clapton play, before you find out he’s a big racist jerk.

Anyway,  lets take a look at HPL, shall we? Who was the Implied Author presented to us on HPL’s page?  Who was Lovecraft “the man”?

Lovecraft, the man, was a nervous recluse who, after his father died of syphilis in an insane asylyum, was raised by his mentally ill mother in Providence, Rhode Island.  He had extended periods of mental breakdown. He was an atheist and enamoured with science although was unable to pursue science as a serious academic study when he dropped out of highschool before graduation (on account of his poor mental health). He was a racist and held a lot of objectionable views. He briefly married a Jewish woman who later left him and he moved back to providence to live with his Aunts.  His views, which I personally find completely puerile and repulsive, are well known and extremely well documented owing to the fact that HPL was an amazingly prolific letter writer. He exchanged correspondence with a wide variety of figures, including notable writers of his time and those who would come along to be greats in their own right, including Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch etc. You can read more of his biography here and here.

Lovecraft viewed the Anglo-German (Teutonic) race as the pinnacle of evolution. He viewed southern Europeans and Asians as inferior races.  He held the deepest contempt for Blacks and Australian Aboriginals which he considered little more than animals, incapable of creating their own civilised societies and civilizations.  He considered America to be the Anglo-Saxon civilization transported to another continent and improved through a more democratic political environment, but sharing the same values, qualities and roots as that of its Western European forebears. HPL hated multiculturalism and insisted that only a small number of non-whites be admitted into the United States or the nation would come to ruin, although, interestingly, he held there to be some value in other non-white cultures as long as their people stayed in their own countries and separate from white civilization so as not to retard the progress of Anglo-saxon/teutonic civilization.  In various of his letters he foresaw the need to “get rid” of non-whites from America should they ever come to threaten the stability and Anglo-Saxon fabric of  the nation. One or two comments that he made were very close to, if not actually, calls for ethnic cleansing. For the purposes of brevity I’m not going to post all the text from his letters, but if you’re unaccustomed to his views, you can read about his views and read discussion of his views herehere, here, here, here, and all over the internet.

Now that we’ve examined The Man Who Suffers/Author… let’s inspect The Mind Which Creates/Implied Author.

One need only make a close reading of his works to see his xenophobic loathing for any non-white and non-western European people in fact permeate the content and form of his written work.  The Shadow Over Innsmouth, is a tale of degenerate creatures crawling out of the sea and mating with human beings, was basically just a projection of his fears about immigration, inter-racial breeding,  multiculturalism etc. In which the narrator is exposed to the degenerate invaders and, at the end of the story, learns that he has their blood too and lapses into an almost religious kind of ecstasy, in just the same way that Lovecraft accuses non-whites of in many of his tales.  See here for a close reading of some of the text.  Lovecraft almost always introduces non-white characters, multiculuralism generally, inter-racial marriage and inter-racial sex, non-English languages ,etc… in terms of scorn, derision and in a wholly dehumanising fashion.

Charles Baxter rightly comments:

Racism is not incidental to Lovecraft’s vision but is persistent and essential to it. Ethnic minorities and monsters are, for him, often interchangeable. In his stories it is not unusual for a character to undergo a transformation into a creature from whom all humanity has been leached out, turning him into a foreign-seeming thing, an immigrant, whose attributes are both unpredictable and repellent.

A classic example of this is from  The Horror At Redhook, with its descriptions  of  New York’s multicultural society and the obvious implication that non-whites are destroying the city:

The population is a hopeless tangle and enigma; Syrian, Spanish, Italian, and negro elements impinging upon one another, and fragments of Scandinavian and American belts lying not far distant. It is a babel of sound and filth, and sends out strange cries to answer the lapping of oily waves at its grimy piers and the monstrous organ litanies of the harbour whistles. Here long ago a brighter picture dwelt, with clear-eyed mariners on the lower streets and homes of taste and substance where the larger houses line the hill. One can trace the relics of this former happiness in the trim shapes of the buildings, the occasional graceful churches, and the evidences of original art and background in bits of detail here and there—a worn flight of steps, a battered doorway, a wormy pair of decorative columns or pilasters, or a fragment of once green space with bent and rusted iron railing. The houses are generally in solid blocks, and now and then a many-windowed cupola arises to tell of days when the households of captains and ship-owners watched the sea.
From this tangle of material and spiritual putrescence the blasphemies of an hundred dialects assail the sky. Hordes of prowlers reel shouting and singing along the lanes and thoroughfares, occasional furtive hands suddenly extinguish lights and pull down curtains, and swarthy, sin-pitted faces disappear from windows when visitors pick their way through. Policemen despair of order or reform, and seek rather to erect barriers protecting the outside world from the contagion.

Other examples from his fiction compound the impression we get of his racist views.    Take the description of the black boxer in Herbert West: Reanimator as one example:

The negro had been knocked out, and moment’s examination showed us that he would permanently remain so. He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon.

There is no doubt that Lovecraft was a racist of the highest order and that his personal views he held influenced his fiction writing to the point that they (fear of the other/unknown/etc) are one of its central aspects.   He certainly fails T.S Eliot’s test for who is “the most perfect artist”, because it would seem that here was very little or no separation between his personal and creative spheres.  In Lovecraft’s case, The Man Who Suffered WAS the Mind Which Created. 

So what do I think?

I’m honestly so damn tired of people being outraged about everything all the time. So sick of everyone having some cause to champion. It sets my teeth on edge, even when I agree with why they’re outraged. (Largely because I don’t like people generally, and I’ve got enough of my own problems and can rarely handle worrying about the problems of others). My inner misanthrope, who may also be my inner privileged white misogynist, sometimes wishes everyone would just shut the the hell up. I try very hard, however, to recognise this as a character flaw and as objectionable and pray the better part of myself and logic prevails.  Therefore, I understand that things that don’t affect me or that I could care less about, do affect others and they do care about those things.  I can put myself in someone else’s shoes.

I’m white (anglo-celtic stock with a spattering of Western European)  but my lovely wife is of an arab background. Our inter-racial marriage and our three beautiful daughters would probably be the kind of “hybrid filth” that Lovecraft mentioned in The Horror at Red Hook.  So I can sympathise with Nnedi Okorafor when she said:

Anyway, a statuette of this racist man’s head is in my home. A statuette of this racist man’s head  is one of my greatest honors as a writer. A statuette of this racist man’s head sits beside my Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa and my Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award (an award given to the best speculative fiction by a person of color). I’m conflicted.

I can also relate to Usman Tanveer Malik who mentioned in one Facebook comment words to the effect that Lovecraft is hardly representative of “World Fantasy” and that awards should be something that is inclusive of people if wants to market itself as the “World Fantasy” award.  Which, ultimately, is probably the most important aspect here. In my opinion, the World Fantasy Award should be an award that should not be anglo-american centric.

Indeed, as Lenika Cruz mentions in The Atlantic:

On some level, Joshi’s frustration is understandable. The nebulous field of weird fiction wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t imbued with the spirit of Lovecraft’s strange, dark creations. And the question of how much to separate a cultural figure from his or her personal beliefs has always been an uneasy one. But Joshi’s claims are myopic. Lovecraft’s removal is about more than just the writer himself; it’s not an indictment of his entire oeuvre. The change is symbolic but powerful—it’s a message to the next generation of writers, artists, and editors that they belong in the genre of science fiction and fantasy.

With this in mind, I largely support the move to change the WFA from a bust of Lovecraft to something different. I don’t think Lovecraft is representative of world fantasy, even if I do love his stories ..(if not for him, Jack Ketchum [who’s mentor Robert Bloch was actually the protege of HPL] and Stephen King, I may not even be a writer). If Lovecraft’s bust had been the World Horror Award, I may (tentatively!) have been less supportive as he’s clearly a towering figure in horror genre, even if he was an odious racist. But fantasy? No way.  As the shit-stirrer par excellence (yet amazingly talented and knowledgeable author and editor) Nick Mamatas mentioned recently, while we view Horror as a distinct genre (which leads many of us to question HPL’s suitability to be linked to the award), if anything, it is more appropriately  a sub-genre of Fantasy in general. I can’t help but feel that if we follow this line of logic and view HPL’s work as part of a Fantasy sub genre, he’s still a just single author from a sub-genre and hardly, in my opinion, representative of the genre as a whole.

I suggest we all take a collective chill pill. Whether you think the so-called “Social Justice Warriors” are not worth Lovecraft’s literary fingernail or not (like Vox Day), changing the appearance of the award doesn’t take away from the achievements of Lovecraft.  Nor, does it change his effect and stature in fiction. Nor will it mean less people will read Lovecraft.  It doesn’t take away from fans, authors or editors who like Lovecraft of write or edit Lovecraftian fiction — most of you are great people and those writers and editors amongst you are extremely talented individuals. Beyond that, you can’t insult the dead. HPL seriously doesn’t care (he’s dead) and his place in literary history is assured.  Those who want the change have their opinion (which is a legit concern to them and many others), and you have yours. You can lobby the World Fantasy Convention with your own views on the matter if you want, as can authors or fans of any other persuasion.

So, I say, let’s just make the award an elf, or a dragon, or a unicorn or make it a plaque and not a bust or idol of something at all — and then can we just get on with the business of writing, reading and enjoying new fiction. 

Update:

Since I drafted this post a whole bunch of stuff has gone down, including ST Joshi’s wife yelling at an author and saying he’s now blacklisted from any press where Joshi works, not to be over-shadowed by Joshi coming out and saying Ellen Datlow is immoral and that she’s opportunistically released lovecraftian works while backstabbing his corpse by seeking to get the “Howie” replaced as the WFA bust.    You can find some of this on Joshi’s website.  As far as I’m concerned, this is beyond the pale and I think ST Joshi owes Ellen a public apology.  Wow. You crossed the line, dude. Sit down.

I am writing a supplementary post delving into greater detail regarding some of the issues surrounding this current furor which I believe to be quite pertinent to the discussion, namely that of free speech, tradition, privilege and his legacy and effect on current race discourse.

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Hey everyone, as part of the Death’s Realm anthology blog tour with Grey Matter Press, here is a short piece about the fear and hope of death.

The End of the Story (or is it?)

I was never particularly interested in death—until I was. I was never an existentialist—until I was. I was never concerned with death and how it affected a story, indeed, my own story—until I was! Maybe this comes with approaching old age? I see the silver strands popping out here and there when I look in the mirror. None of which I had before wife and children, although I’ll begrudgingly admit they’re probably not entirely to blame.

As a child I loved nothing more to sit on my father’s knee and have him read to me. We read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Three Men in a boat by Jerome K Jerome; still the funniest book I’ve ever read.

At this time in my life, dying was just a thing for wrinkly old loved ones. Grandmas and Grandpas. People I didn’t know well, who were there one minute and gone the next. Funerals were places where parents dragged you along in itchy clothes you didn’t like. Everyone stood around looking sad and then went home afterwards and got on with living. Or, incongruously, went to someone’s house for the “Wake” where people talked and ate and drank, often more merrily than would seem appropriate. “Wake” was such a silly name. They were dead; They weren’t going to wake up. In later years, I pondered that it probably had something to do with that which “comes after” the funeral… like the wake of water that follows behind a passing boat or ship. I’ve never bothered to look it up. I like life to retain some mysteries, and find a measure of comfort in knowing some of the things I don’t know.

I was raised on epic and high fantasy and Catholicism. This is a curious blend, to some degree. Aside from the common atheistic snerk that religion is by nature fantasy, there are interesting parallels between what one another teach about death.

David Gemmell said:
“Old age is not as honourable as death, but most people seek it.” (Fall of Kings, David Gemmell)
And this seemed quite fitting and fit well with the cushy upper-middle class world I lived in, where the only people who died were incredibly old first.

Similarly, I was taught in church:
The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendour of old men is their gray hair. (Proverbs 20:29)

Yes, dying wasn’t something to be feared, it was just something splendid old people did. And I wasn’t old, so what did I care?

In later years I’d discover more subtle synergies between the world of the fantastic and the world of fiction. I think the crowning glory was Robert Jordan’s Rand al Thor, with his wounded palms and side, and his crown of swords(thorns), etc. It would seem that the story of Jesus was an enduring one which will continue to influence life and literature ad infinitum.

As a teen, I was about as reckless as they come. A hedonist of the worst kind. The world and universe had opened to me vast vistas of possibility. I hadn’t discovered Lovecraft yet and didn’t know that the vistas were of empty blackness, populated only by that which is hateful and which hates us. I was closer to 30 before I stumbled upon Lovecraft.

“I have seen the dark universe yawning,
Where the black planets roll without aim;
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
without knowledge or lustre or name.” (Nemesis, Howard Phillips Lovecraft)

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” (The Call of Cthulhu, Howard Phillips Lovecraft)

The excesses of youth lead to, or exacerbated, mental illness. The black dog of depression gripped me in its lockjaw. Panic and anxiety tore at me until every headache was a stroke. Every rush of pulse was the onset of a heart attack. This fueled the search, to understand existence. To understand death.

In the Quran we’re told:

“And every soul shall taste death.” (Quran 3:78)

“Wheresoever you may be, death will overtake you even if you are in fortresses built up strong and high!” (Quran 4:78)

“And no person can ever die except by Allah’s Leave and at an appointed term. And whoever desires a reward in (this) world, We shall give him of it; and whoever desires a reward in the Hereafter, We shall give him thereof. And We shall reward the grateful.” (Quran 3:145)

These verses took on particular meaning for me. At a time in my life where death was an imminent torment, they provided a singular comfort allowing me to let go of fears and anxieties. Death really was something that I had no control over, so why worry about it?

So what happens when we die? None of us really knows. Do we have a soul? Does it or our consciousness go somewhere else? Empirically all we can determine is that that the body falls lifeless, it rots and decays. For the atheist, death is simply unbeing, or going to sleep, or the next step in the circle of life, where we rot into the earth and nourish new plants to grow. The atheist’s beliefs mirror our observable facts regarding death. But when has reality or existence been constrained to the currently observable?

The great Arab theologian as-Sanusii, spoke of the existence of three kinds of knowledge:

1. what absolutely must be true,

2. what absolutely cannot be true, and

3. what may be true.

It would also seem to me that Death’s Realm—paradise, hell, purgatory, etc—falls neatly into the category of the third, for many people. Something that may be true but as there is no empirical evidence for it, it is dismissed.
The first category of knowledge would fit with the theists and what they believe absolutely must be true as revealed by their religious texts.
It would seem to me that very few people actually believe that it *absolutely cannot be true* that there could be life after death/heaven/hell/reincarnation/what have you. After all, that cannot be empirically quantified.

Where does that leave us? Here, together, in this nexus of what might be possible. A whirling maelstrom of belief and disbelief, gnosticism and agnosticism, hope and fear. A vortex that the human race has been circling within since before recorded history; a hopeful and terrifying place, which is the crucible or background for all of our stories. A place where we might all just rot with the worms into nothingness, or ascend onto a higher plane of existence. Or a lower one, for that matter.

What do I think? I desperately hope that death is not just simply unbeing. I *pray* that it is not.

That, after all, would be a pretty shitty ending to the story.

I hope I’ll catch y’all on the flip-side.

women-in-horror-month

 

I haven’t posted for a while.I’m lazy, I’ve got kids, and I’ve been trying to get some stories out on submission and drum up another editing gig. These are all good reasons to not be blog posting. A good reason to be log posting is Women in Horror Month! WiHM is actually February, but the added benefit of me being lazy, is that March can now be WiHM too! YAY!

So many amazing women are doing cool things in horror. I like to think that they’re not overlooked or treated differently from male writers although I know this isn’t true. Aside from general issues relating to sexism that women face within the publishing industry (It exists, I’ve seen it first hand), they have to put up with a bizarre niche of misogynistic writers who feel that women can’t or shouldn’t write horror. I wasn’t really surprised when we had a number of idiots come out during WiHM and say bizarre and offensive things. Not only did we have an emerging author bullied and insulted, we had women in horror in general referred to as “hags” (amongst other offensive comments), and one well-known and respected author was derided as “over-rated”, “awful” and only successful because women like her and she has a large female readership (as though that is a bad thing).

These events were quite frustrating but I was heartened by the supportive response of the guys in the horror fiction community who spoke out against the few douchecanoes. I was also heartened by the response of many publishers who spoke out against this disgusting behaviour. Good on them.  This raised the issue of publisher and editor blacklists, whether they exist, and how professional they are.  Different people have different views on the matter but I think it is healthy that people are having a conversation about how to deal with issues of sexism, misogyny and general asshattery.

Many of the writers I know and respect most are female horror writers.  Whether it is established authors such as talented and lovely Kaaron Warren, the amazing Angela Slatter, or emerging writers friends of mine such as Sarah Read or Karen Runge, there are some fantastically talented women writing in the horror genre who deserve the recognition they’re attracting and the awards that they’re receiving. I’ve learned a lot from them, both in the professional aspects of writing and in the art of storytelling. I aspire to be as capable and as successful as these women. I look forward to learning more from the women in our fiction writing community and collaborating with them. I look forward to reading their fantastic stories… many of which I find more confronting or terrifying than the work written by a lot of men, perhaps because the ladies are writing from a different place.

Below are a list of 10 writers, including publications where there work may be fonud. Most of the listed publications are horror although some of the authors write in multiple genres. Among their ranks are British Fantasy Award winners, Aurealis Award winners, World Fantasy Award winners and nominees, Shirley Jackson Award winners,— and others who, I’m sure, will be receiving similar accolades in the near future! I know some of these ladies personally and have had the pleasure of working with some of them. (The list is slightly biased towards Australian writers because I’m Australian and have gone out of my way to read some fiction by Australian authors.)

Kaaron Warren – Slights, Mistification, Walking the Tree, The Gate Theory (Collection), Through Splintered Walls (collection), Nightmare Magazine.

Margo Lanagan – Tender Morsels, Sea Hearts, Blood and Other Cravings, Exotic Gothic 4, Black Juice (Collection) , Cracklescape (Collection).

Karen Runge – Shock Totem magazine, Pseudopod (podcast), Suspended in Dusk (anthology), Death’s Realm (anthology)

Sarah Read – Black Static Magazine, Suspended in Dusk (anthology), Pantheon Magazine (editor), Vine Leaves Literary Journal.

Angela Slatter – Sourdough and other stories (collection), The Bitterwood Bible and other recountings (collection), A Book of Horrors (anthology), Nightmare Magazine, The Spectral Book of Horror Stories (anthology), Weirder Shadows over Innsmouth (anthology).

Icy Sedgwick – The Guns of Retribution, The Necromancer’s Apprentice, Bloody Parchment (anthology), Suspended in Dusk (anthology).

Wendy Hammer – Pantheon Magazine, Suspended in Dusk (anthology), Cross Cutting novella trilogy (forthcoming 2015)

Nerine Dorman — Inkarna, Raven Kin [The BlackFeather Chronicles], Bloody Parchment (editor), Dark Harvest (editor), War Stories (anthology), Midian Unmade (anthology).

Felicity Dowker – Scary Kisses (anthology) Aurealis Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Bread and Circuses (collection), Midnight Echo Magazine.

S.G Larner – Equilibrium Overturned (anthology), Suspended in Dusk (anthology), SQ magazine, Phantazein (anthology), Bloody Parchment (anthology).

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I send the Suspended in Dusk anthology off to James Roy Daley at Books of the Dead Press for publication, I think now is probably the right time to look back on the experience and see what lessons I learned. So I guess this post is as much for my benefit as it is for all you guys and gals.   I think, ultimatley, these piece of advice are values based and really translate to anything in life.. or at least to writing and publishing generally. Editing a short story anthology was a truly educational experience for me and here is what I learnt.

 

1.  Aim High

aim high2

When I started this project, originally with my dear friend Nerine Dorman, I thought I’d see whether I could get a favourite author of  Nerine’s (Angela Slatter) to submit a reprint story.  I contacted Angela and told her about the project, told her how we’re great fans of her work. I then told her that it wasn’t a pro-paying market and that I understand if she’s not interested but I was wondering if she’d contribute a reprint. Well guess what? Angela offered to submit a BRAND NEW STORY.  A brand new story from a British Fantasy Award winning author… in my anthology? No way?? YES WAY! ❤

This then lead me to think … “Well.. if I asked Angela nicely and she said yes.. what happens if I ask one of the other great authors I admire? The worst they can do is say no, right?”  Wrong. The worst they can do is actually not even respond, which I did learn. But that’s cool. Some didn’t respond, some responded and said no for various reasons. And you know what..? Some said YES. Specfically… British Fantasy Award and Bram Stoker award winner Ramsey Campbell. Bram Stoker Award winner John Everson.  Super disturbo writer, Shane McKenzie.   Editor extraordinary and self-publishing powerhouse, Rayne Hall.

What a coup!!  And how did I achieve it all?  Aim high. Hell, go for the freaking throat, man. Just don’t sell yourself short or be all half-assed about it.

 2. Connect. Network. Reach out.

download

I call this anthology a triumph of networking. Both classic and in the modern social media sense. The majority of the writers that I invited to this anthology were via Twitter. Twitter is an awesome place to meet other people and writers in particular. Don’t ask me why but they love Twitter.

In addition to Twitter, as discussed, I reached out to well known writers via email. For the most part it was via the contact section of their websites. Sometimes I even emailed their webmaster and nicely asked if they’d forward on a message to the writer. They did.  This is how I met some writers who contributed stories and how I reached Jonathan Maberry who read and endorsed the anthology with kind words.

I also sent out a call through my local writing group, Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, and to the Litreactor community and some of my writing friends I’d made during classes on the site.  I was also able to approach one a writer who teaches at Litreactor through the site’s admin team and was able to ask them about writing an introduction to the anthology.  Month’s later, they had a read of the final product and agreed and wrote a fantastic introduction. (can’t say yet who it is, but I’m super thrilled by this).

What was my secret?  Read on, dear reader. It’s covered in the next point.

 

3. Be Gracious, and don’t be an ass!

Teach-good-manners-to-kids

One of the best piece of advice I’ve received.. succinct, to the point, and utterly true… was from Angela Slatter:   Don’t be an ass. Whether it’s in life or in the publishing business, everyone appreciates basic courtesy and basic manners.  If you’re going to approach someone and ask for something (especially an established or professional writer) … it’s you who is asking them. It’s you who wants something. They don’t owe you any favours. Hell, they probably don’t even know you.  Be nice. Ask politely. Be friendly.  Good manners don’t cost you a cent, sprinkle that shit around liberally.   Don’t just ask nicely, thank people for their time. Everyone lives a hard life. Everyone has jobs and kids and obligations. These people are taking time out of their lives to work with you on your project.  Nobody owes you anything. Be gracious. Say thanks.

4. Do your best work

work

without wanting to sound too preachy or pompous:  Always do your best.  When I started the project I felt like I was a little in over my head. So what did I do?  I started the editing rounds  and focused on what I knew I was good at or what I was most confident in. As I progressed, I polished up on my grammar, the elements of style (I even read The Elements of Style!), and tried to really hone my critical analysis skills and my understanding of story mechanics etc.  In the subsequent rounds, I implemented this new knowledge and allowed myself a little more latitude to request developmental edits or to query writers on matters of style . Boy did it pay off.  I’m a much better editor now. I’m much more confident with grammar. I’m much more confident and excited about editing my own fiction now. And I’m much more confident that I understand what makes a good story and my ability to assess that.

Moral of the story? Do your best. By really working your hardest and pushing the boundaries, you hone your existing skills and you open yourself up to new abilities and new vistas of awesomeness. Just do it.

4. Roll with the punches

boxing_punch

 

When I started the Suspended in Dusk project, I originally intended to co-edit it with Nerine Dorman, who is one of the editors at Dark Continents Publishing.  Nerine and Dark Continents were sadly unable to continue with the project and it all looked like it was done and dusted.  By this point, however, I had already taken submissions from around 60 authors and was in the process of shortlisting and finalising the Table of Contents.  I won’t lie.. this was crushing for me. Projects not going ahead are relatively common in the publishing industry.. but I felt like I’d come so far. Not only was I heavily emotionally invested in the project, I didn’t want to let all the authors down. Nor did I want the embarassment of going back to many of the well known industry veterans and saying “hey, sorry, shows off!”.

So what did I do? I pitched it to another publisher. And when they had a long look at it and decided to pass, what did I do?  I pitched it to another bloody publisher.

The end result? Suspended in Dusk found itself a worthy home at Books of the Dead Press, a respected North American small press.

I can’t even begin to describe how satisfying and rewarding it is to have perseverance like that pay off.  This is how PhD grads and olympic athletes and novelists must feel.

Wow. Just wow.

5. Persevere

Stair-Climbing

There will be times that you look at your writing or the book your editing and think:  “When will this end?” or “I’ll never finish this.”  or “I can’t even focus my eyes anymore.. I’m blind! I”M BLIND!”

Ignore this.  Take a break. Rest your eyes. Focus on your own writing for a while. Watch some TV or kick back with a friend. Get a friend to proof what you’ve done to prove you’re not going mad.

Do all of these things, but don’t give up.   One of the great truths in life is this:  After every hardship, there is ease.   This truth is constant, no matter how morbid you want to get with it.

Eventually, things get better.  You wake up more rested and the blurry words are clear.  You have another read of the story and you capture the filter words you missed the first time.  You get through the first round of edits and the second round is comparatively easy because you’ve torched all the really horrible grammar and its a pretty solid set of stories now.

You push, you keep on at it, you sink your teeth into the jugular for one last dogged shake.  And in the end you know what?  You’re done. It’s finished. Book complete. You win.

6.  PARTY

party

Congratulations!  You just finished writing your novel. You just finished editing your novel. You just finished editing your anthology or painting that piece of art you’v been toying with. Hell, maybe you finished cleaning your room and your mum is finally off your back.  ENJOY IT.  Celebrate. Read a book. Smoke a hookah pipe. Go out for a few drinks or paint the town red.  You earned it.  You’ve beaten the boss at the end. Achievement unlocked.

Just don’t forget points 1-5

 

 

S.

Writing from the Wound

Posted: September 20, 2013 in Blog, Craft
Tags: , , , ,

So I’ve been lucky enough to take part in the Talking Scars course on Litreactor run by renowned horror and suspense writer, Jack Ketchum.

In our first week jack gave us a lecture and and assignment. The assignment was to “Write from the Wound”.  We had to write a paragraph about a fearful/scary/terrible event that had happened to us in real life and then fictionalise it somehow in a 1200-3000 word story.

The exercise was meant to teach us to re-live an experience in our heads and transfer those emotions and feelings that we felt onto our character on the written page.  Like method acting – but for writers.

I churned out a cool little story that I’m not too sure is horror, but I feel is certainly suspenseful.  I called it “The Leper’s Hill”. The other writers in the class have all written some fantastic tales as well, based on some pretty scary real life happenings. Now I just need to try and find an appropriate market for it, which may be a little more difficult.   Really looking forward to hearing Jack’s feedback on our tales.

You can find a link to the mp3 audio of Jack’s Writing from the Wound lecture on his website, here:  http://www.jackketchum.net/2013/09/06/writing-from-the-wound/

Talking Scars

Posted: September 10, 2013 in Blog
Tags: , , ,

Starting a horror writing course soon which I hope will introduce me to some new techniques and help me voice the kind of messages I want to voice when I’m writing. I hoping, one day, to be able to paint the kind of picture which readers can’t look away from, no matter how much they may wish to.

Its called “Talking Scars” and is being taught by Jack Ketchum on Litreactor.com

talking-scars-1

For those of you who dont know Jack Ketchum (pen name of Dallas Mayr) he is one of the great living horror writers, a Bram Stoker award winner and a World Horror Convention Grand Master. In short, he writes some scary, gut-churning shit but what I love most about it is I feel that his characters are very well written and their inner fears are always made plain for the reader in a way that the reader can often empathise with them.  Then Jack drops them in brutal situations and it all goes downhill from there.

Will keep you updated as to how the course goes. Cant wait!

Welcome!

Posted: March 24, 2013 in Blog

Hey All,

I’ve never actually run my own blog so this will be interesting, but I hope that this becomes a great resource for information about writing, the australian specfic scene and horror which is my writing passion.

I wont be advertising this blog soon, as I’m still in the process of prettifying it and getting it all ship-shape, but I’m hoping near future it will go live and I’ll at least be making regular posts.

Stay tuned,

Simon