Monday, July 26, 2010

The Werepig Show


Just wrapped up a busy convention weekend (Confluence 23) with a 90 minute interview at Greg Hall's The Funky Werepig Show, where we talked about great teachers, influential editors, worthwhile causes, the craft of writing, and (of course) the books -- Visions, Veins, Vipers (Fantasist Enterprises) and This Way to Egress (Ash-Tree Press). It's all available for download at Blog Talk Radio and iTunes. Check it out . . . and share the vision!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kicking Forward


These are busy times. I'm in the process of gearing up for Confluence 23, where I'm scheduled for a string of readings, panels, and book-related sessions all day Saturday. Then, on Sunday, you'll find me on Blog Talk Radio's The Funky Werepig Show, hosted by the always entertaining Greg Hall. If you've got time, I hope you'll drop by, give a listen.

This weekend's events are the first in a string of appearances that I'll be doing in support of the new book, which has just received a terrific review from Publishers Weekly.

Things are definitely popping.

But today's topic is Kickstarter and the campaign that William Horner is running to help underwrite the production of his next volume of Fantastical Visions. The previous four volumes of the FV series featured strong stories by a host of up-and-coming writers, and the current volume looks to be the best yet.

Here's how Horner describes it on his website:

Fantastical Visions V will feature 16 fantasy short stories (each accompanied by one or two illustrations), including Sarah Totton’s “Ride,” in which a boy of mixed race attempts to earn acceptance in his community by riding through a haunted forest. In E.J. Alexander’s “The Most Daunting Task of All,” a warrior trapped in a perilous land must overcome his prejudices to survive. A woman discovers her seemingly innocuous magical talent may be the key to toppling a dictatorship and saving her people from oppression in Stephen Couch’s “Threads,” and in Nancy Fulda’s “A Song of Blackness,” a man obsessed with restoring his children to their rightful heritage finds that victory may come at the cost of horrendous sins.

It sounds like a terrific lineup, and as a reader and someone interested in supporting markets for emerging talent, I'm eager to see Horner's fundraising campaign succeed.

A few days ago, the campaign passed its 1/3 mark, but with only ten days to go, it's going to take more support from people who care about good books to make this fundraiser a success. If you like to read, the incentives alone make this a project worth supporting . . . and it's a terrific way of paying forward.

Here's the link. Check it out. And pass it on!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Paying Forward


A few month's ago, on Greg Hall's The Funky Werepig, author Thomas F. Monteleone told of how sf editor Damon Knight once line edited a story for him. The edits put the young writer on a path that eventually led to a string of bestselling books, but when Monteleone asked how he might return such generosity, Knight suggested that, instead of paying back, the young writer might one day consider "paying forward."

Paying forward is a long-standing tradition among writers, a tacit understanding that the student will become the new master who will, in turn, guide the next generation of students.

Last month, during my summer residency at Seton Hill University, I heard David Morrell tell a story about his teacher Phil Klass. It's a story that I had heard many times, from both Morrell and Klass, but it's one I never tire of hearing. Basically, it's about how a young man in search of a writing voice and a father figure found both while attending Penn State University in the 1960s. At that time, Phil Klass (better known to sf readers as William Tenn) was the resident writer at Penn State. Working with Klass, Morrell created a thesis project titled First Blood (which he dedicated "to Philip Klass and William Tenn: each in his own way").

Last month, when I saw Morrell in a Seton Hill lecture hall talking to an assembly of young writers about the process of becoming a novelist, he was practicing the art of paying forward.

In a way, I was also one of Phil Klass's mentees. For a while, I lived down the street from him in Pittsburgh's South Hills, and once a month we got together for dinner at a local restaurant. It was never just the two of us. Other writers attended, so many that at times we talked of calling ourselves "Tenn's Nine" or "Tenn's Dozen." But regardless of how many of us there were, we all learned from the master.

Phil passed away last winter, in the thick of a week-long snowstorm that blanketed the Pittsburgh area with 3-4 feet of snow. Travel was treacherous, making a suitable memorial impossible. But now the roads are clear, and this coming weekend a Phil Klass memorial is being held at Confluence 23. I'll be there.

But teaching isn't the only way to pay forward. Tomorrow, I'd like to share an update on W. H. Horner's Kickstarter campaign and talk once again about how you can get involved with helping provide a showcase for a new generation of writers. I'll also have a few announcements and surprises, so be sure to check back.

In the meantime, if you haven't already done so, check out Horner's video . . . and share the vision!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Guest Blog at "Tattooed Head"


While you're sitting around waiting for the next installment of TV (Teaching Visions, of course), why not drop over to one of my favorite blog sites, "Ramblings of a Tattooed Head" (by Simon Marshall-Jones ), where my guest blog attempts to answer the timeless question: How long does it take to write a novel?

As much as possible, TV postings occur every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday . . . with occasional specials and more than a few long hiatuses.

I'll be back tomorrow with a Kickstarter update and a Confluence preview. See you then!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Approaching the Finish Line: Part 2


It had a garish dust jacket and I remember being embarrassed by the violence, bad taste and slippery look of it. It looked the book jacket for a book of bad science fiction.”

The quotation is from Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. It’s about Francis Cugat’s cover for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and it contains one of the more enduring typographical errors in American literature.

We’ll get to the error in a moment, but first let’s talk about book covers.

As the story goes, when Fitzgerald saw Cugat’s preliminary sketches, he was so intrigued by the image of eyes in the sky that he added a new sequence in the novel. Here’s a slice of it:

[…] above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic--their retinas are one yard high.

Incidentally, that passage contains another one of American literature’s most enduring errors, but for the moment we’re considering the benefits of artistic collaboration. The topic of editing will come later.

As I mentioned yesterday, the illustrations that artist Gerasimos Kolokas did for my forthcoming novel Vipers helped me clarify elements of the book while I was doing my final revisions. In one instance, an illustration of a character sitting in an antique chair inspired a revealing bit of description that had not been in the novel’s first draft. I added the following after seeing the illustration:

[…] it was a heavy antique, an heirloom taken from his father’s study. He eased into it, feeling the slow wisdom of its weight, the purity of its construction. He set his hands on the armrests. The wood and leather spoke to him. We are brothers and sisters, plant and animal, children of the earth. And beneath those whispers, the deeper voice of brass accents and iron nails. We are the fathers and mothers. Iron and alloy. Ancient as the stars. Eternal.

The details are perfect for a book about temporary existence in the face of eternal forces, and yet that antique chair was not mentioned in the book’s first draft. It took an artist’s reinterpretation of the scene to show me the way.

And writers do occasionally need to be shown the way.

Vipers is being released by FE Books, a relatively new publisher headed by W. H. Horner, a young and gifted editor who would like to become known as the Maxwell Perkins of fantasy and horror. He talks about his ambitions in a recent video he made for Kickstarter, and as I work with him on the final edits of Vipers, I am more convinced than ever that he is on his way to realizing that goal. I’ve been writing for a while, and I’ve worked with some of the top editors in the business. W. H. Horner certainly ranks with the best of them.

We started this week’s series of postings by considering the element of time in the novel-writing process, but writing a novel takes more than time. It takes planning, visualizing, and careful editing. As pointed out in Monday’s post, I started work on Vipers with a detailed plan (synopsis) and a collection of rough visualizations (maps and timelines). But as I near the finish line, I’m benefitting by working with people who are helping me hone my vision. It makes the job a bit more demanding, but the results are richer for it.

The errors in the above passages? You saw them, right?

In the Hemingway quotation, the second sentence is missing the word like.

In the Fitzgerald passage, the word retinas really should be irises.

In the passage from Vipers . . . there isn’t one. It’s gone. W. H. Horner flagged it during final editing.

Back next week! See you here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Approaching the Finish Line


Finishing a novel is a lot like running a race against Achilles’ tortoise. You know the story, the one in which a tortoise convinces Achilles that a finish line can’t be reached. You can find a summary here.

Of course, as anyone who has faced a deadline knows, finish lines are real. Thesis projects have due dates, and books have scheduled launches. The trick is making sure the work itself is truly finished, and doing that requires planning, daily effort, and demanding editors.

I had all those things on Vipers.

The book started as a detailed synopsis assembled back in May 2009. Since Vipers is a sequel, I needed to take care to build on the details laid out in the first book (Veins 2008). Such building requires attention to the placement of landmarks and roads as well as the relationships of the primary characters. Moreover, since both Vipers and Veins employ scenes that overlap and backtrack in complex ways, I needed to make sure I had the sequence of events clearly established before I started writing.

To that end, I augmented my synopsis with detailed maps and timelines that I could consult (and modify as needed) during the writing process.

Some writers feel that detailed outlining and planning
diminish the joys of discovery. They want to write their books as the action plays out. They want to be surprised in the same ways that the book’s readers will be surprised when chains of events lead to unexpected twists. I want the same things. I love that moment when details that I’ve put in motion lead down unplanned paths, and I experienced many such moments while working on the synopsis for Vipers. Timelines, maps, and synopses don’t diminish such possibilities, they enhance them.

The actual writing of the book took four months, with the preliminary manuscript being submitted right around the time of World Fantasy in October 2009. After submitting the book, I got straight to work on This Way To Egress, the story collection that Ash-Tree Press released at World Horror in March 2010. I also wrote some new short fiction in that period, endeavoring to clear my plate in time for the rewriting and editing of Vipers, which began this past April.

The final steps toward the finish line involved working with the editing and design teams at FE Books. Part of this final process involved collaborating with FE artist Gerasimos Kolokas on the book’s illustrations, which further helped me visualize the book’s characters and scenes. There’s a story about how the artist Francis Cugat helped F. Scott Fitzgerald visualize one of the key symbolic element of The Great Gatsby, and I found myself thinking about that relationship as I worked with Gerasimos on his illustrations for Vipers.

More about that tomorrow. Until then, remember . . . they’re coming!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Writing and the World at Large


A few months back, we were talking about time: where to find it, how to use it, where it goes.

Time is certainly one of the most precious commodities in a writer’s life, and apparently one of the scarcest.

I’ve recently returned from my summer residency at Seton Hill University, and, although it pulled me away from some writing projects, I must admit I had a terrific time.

One of the highlights of the residency was a reading forum organized by the students. The point of the event wasn’t so much to share work (since the graduate writing program offers plenty of formal activities for doing that), but rather to give students experience reading work aloud at public venues. To that end, each reader was given five minutes to read, with the timekeeper starting the clock after the work was introduced and calling time with stopwatch precision when the five-minutes were up. The time limits gave everyone a chance to read and still get to bed at a decent hour (classes resumed early the following morning).

One of the highpoints of the evening was a reading by WPF faculty member Scott A. Johnson, who read “The Night Before Christmas,” a flash pastiche from his Dreadtime Stories podcast series. It was a terrific performance from a seasoned writer who, not coincidentally, would be giving a three-hour module titled “Reading Your Own Work” later in the residency.

The students were also kind enough to give me a couple of reading slots. Like Scott, I read selections that fit easily into the five-minute time limit: “Step on a Crack” (Vision) and “Shooting Evil” (This Way to Egress). You can hear studio recordings of the stories by clicking on the titles.

If you’ve been following this blog, you already know my views on the art of live presentation, and I’m glad I got the chance to sit in on the student-sponsored reading . Yes, it took me away from some projects I was anxious about completing, but sometimes the best writing-related activities take place in the world at large with people you really enjoy being with.

Tomorrow I’d like to talk about the elephant in my room, the biggest thing going on in my life right now, and the main reason why I wasn’t sure I had time to take part in this summer’s SHU residency. The project is called Vipers. It’s a followup to my previous novel Veins, and I’ve just finished what I trust will be my final batch of edits and revisions. The book comes out September 7 from the good people at Fantasist Enterprises, who are planning a big preview at GenCon in Indianapolis in early August.

I’m really excited about this one, and I’d like to give you a little preview. So check back soon, big things are happening, and I want to make sure you hear about them first.

Until then, share the vision . . . and watch out for flying snakes!