Monday, December 26, 2011

[December 26th] Post-Christmas Plan




With Christmas behind me [thank god], I can unlock my bunker’s hatch and see the sun [or an approximation of the sun; the weather is far from grand, but you get my point] without any of the unnecessary, forced cheer. While I do like the idea of Christmas and what it theoretically represents as a holiday, Christmas festivities have morphed into a vehicle for maintaining the appearance of satisfied, joyous family union to the point you really have to go down the rabbit hole of self-delusion to squeeze out the promised Christmas spirit. Unless of course, you are a member of a family, which has not been warped by this reality into a squinting cynic, and you really do have a jolly good time at every Christmas. Congratulations, you’re a better person than me or a character in a Christmas movie [yeah, I’m snarky when it comes to Christmas].

Anyway, I’m done talking about Christmas. I’m already looking towards the passing of 2011. It’s passing excites me and I’m scheming what to do with the whole of 2012, when that tiny New Year’s moment elapses, when December 31st shifts into January 1st. Unlike most people, I don’t view New Year’s Eve as an excuse to consume alcohol with reckless wanton, though I see it too often among my peers, which I’m sure is common, since New Year’s Ever has been the biggest party in the calendar since I’m old enough to remember, but to me New Year’s the time to shed a skin you don’t need, leave yourself pink, fresh, with nerve endings naked and virginal, but heeding the lessons of past years. It’s a restart button on a simply calendar level and I love it.

After I’ve read “Booklife” by Jeff VanderMeer, I think that I’ve been on the right track to get some general ideas on how I want the year to pass, but I’ve been missing the strategic element to bind my goals from year to year in a Master Plan, which will ensure that I reach my overall goals for a minimal amount of time. I’ve come to understand that knowing what you want is a lot different from knowing how to get what you want. So without further ado, I have drafted a five year plan and the achievements I want to have to my name. With that in mind, I’ve found a course of action to support these plans. It sounds all very general, but this is my warm-up post to a week of publicly stating what I will cut down on and what I will emphasize on come next year, because I believe that stating these goals to a broad audience creates a pact. If I’m to keep these goals to myself, I’m much more likelier to cheat [yeah, I’m a douche like that], but stating my intentions on the web will keep in line.

In general, I envision my 2012 to have more reading, writing and exercise and less TV, 9gag and unhealthy foods. It’s a scary perspective, hard to reinvent my personality type, but I don’t see myself lasting longer, if I don’t lead a healthier lifestyle, for the sake of my body and mind.

Do you guys make plans?  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

[December 21st] Alternative Alamat edited by Paolo Chikiamco

I've been meaning to mention this anthology for about the better part of a month and have been failing to do so, but better late than never. I'm extremely lucky to have connected with Paolo Chikiamco, who is working hard to promote Filipino fiction through the anthology he's edited Alternative Alamat.

Since I'm a fan of mythologies, especially different, lesser explored mythologies, I have a copy of this lovely anthology to read and comment upon, which I hope will have some time in January.

While you wait on my words of wisdom, I give you the table of contents and official description:



Table of Content:
“Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling St.” by Eliza Victoria
“Harinuo’s Love Song” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
“The Last Full Show” by Budjette Tan
“The Alipin’s Tale” by Raymond G. Falgui
“Keeper of My Sky” by Timothy James Dimacali
“Conquering Makiling” by Monique Francisco
“The Sorceress Queen” by Raissa Rivera Falgui
“Beneath The Acacia” by Celestine Trinidad
“Offerings to Aman Sinaya” by Andrei Tupaz
“Balat, Buwan, Ngalan” by David Hontiveros
“A Door Opens:  The Beginning of the Fall of the Ispancialo-in-Hinirang” by Dean Alfar

Description:
Philippine mythology is full of images that ignite the imagination: gods of calamity and baldness, of cosmic time and lost things; the many-layered Skyworld, and weapons that fight their own battles; a ship that is pulled to paradise by a chain, and a giant crab that controls the tides… yet too few of these tales are known and read today. “Alternative Alamat” gathers stories, by contemporary authors of Philippine fantasy, which make innovative use of elements of Philippine mythology. None of these stories are straight re-tellings of the old tales: they build on those stories, or question underlying assumptions; use ancient names as catalysts, or play within the spaces where the myths are silent. What you will find in common in these eleven stories is a love for the myths, epics, and legends which reflect us, contain us, call to us–and it is our hope that, in reading our stories, you may catch a glimpse, and develop a hunger, for those venerable tales. “Alternative Alamat” also features a cover and interior illustrations by Mervin Malonzo, a short list of notable Philippine deities, and in-depth interviews with Professors Herminia Meñez Coben and Fernando N. Zialcita.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

[December 20th] Anthology Projects Worth Your While


That's how my brain feels like at the moment

As I'm gearing up to switch from academic to creative writing, I'm jotting some ideas for short stories that I've been planning to write for the following projects:

1] Pandemonium: Stories of Smoke to be edited by Jared Shurin and Anne Perry: I've been following the critical non-fiction these two have produced on Pornokitsch to be confident that they know what they are doing and their first anthology has gathered some of the biggest rising names in genre to date, which in its own is one hell of a feat.
Coming in spring of 2012, Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke brings you London as you've never seen it before - science fiction and fantasy in the great tradition of Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens lived and breathed London in a way few authors ever have, before or since. In his fiction, his non-fiction, and even his own life, Dickens cast an extraordinary shadow over the city he so loved - so much so, indeed, that his name has become synonymous with a certain image of London. A London of terrible social inequality and matchless belief in the human potential; a London filled with the comic and the repulsive, the industrious and the feckless, the faithful and the faithless, the selfish and the selfless.

This London is at once an historical artifact and a living, breathing creature: the steaming, heaving, weeping, stinking, everlasting Smoke.

2] Bibliotheca Fantastica to be edited by Claude Lalumiere & Don Pizarro: Dagan Books impressed me with their Cthulhurotica anthology, which will delightfully be continued come next year, and Lalumiere has been hailed as a force in the short form, so I wish to be involved hopefully as a contributor.

What we want: Stories having to do with lost, rare, weird, or imaginary books, or any aspect of book history or book culture, past, present, future, or uchronic. Any genre. Although the fantastical is not essential per se, stories should evoke a sense of the fantastic, the unknown, the weird, wonder, terror, mystery, pulp, and/or adventure, etc.

3] Fungi to be edited by Orrin Grey & Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Creepy mushrooms in an anthology produced by one of the key authorities on creepiness. Yes, please. 

Orrin Grey and Silvia Moreno-Garcia tackle the darkest of all horrors: fungi. William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night” and its Japanese adaptation, Matango, terrified and fascinated the editors. And now, they’re back for more.

Fungi is an anthology of dark speculative fiction (horror, fantasy, science fiction, and any other variant, such as steampunk) focused solely on the fungal. No happy mushrooms from Mario Bros. A fungus of some type must be a key element in the story, not just a throwaway element. A character can attempt to poison someone with a mushroom, mushroom cultivation may be of importance to the story, the dark patch of mould on the ceiling may begin to terrify an unhappy tenant, a group of people may consume hallucinogenic mushrooms, etc.

We are looking for a variety of settings and protagonists. Mushrooms sprout around the world, after all.

4] The Worldbuilder Project inspired by Empire State written by Adam Christoper: Technically not an anthology in the traditional sense of the word, but I think it can be fitted here. The project itself can lead to a potential inclusion into an anthology, which is always a bonus.



Monday, December 19, 2011

[December 19th] Ready, Set, Edit

Somehow, I will always consider editors and writers in editing stages to be this in real life. I mean, not evil and mindless in their rage, but at constant war with mistakes in manuscripts.

I've had Crimson Anatomy [previously known as Crimson Cacophony] out to beta readers and I've received some feedback, which suggests that a lot has to be changed, both big and small. I thought that readers had to be informed about certain physical transitions, which now I realize I overdid and will have to tone down, if I'd like to avoid any annoyance on the part of the reader.

I was aware at the time that some aspects in the novel would need to be fixed, but I also knew that my perspective on the novel has shrunk to what was on the pages and not how it could be altered to support the ideas expressed on the pages. What this feedback has managed to show me is that everything has to have its purpose to be written about, within a scene, then within a sub-plot, then within the work as a single, whole work of art. Now I know these things in theory, but I learn best by doing something a thousand times wrong, which has happened here. 

Now I'm ready to tackle this beast, again. I'll write a synopsis of the new draft, hopefully the final one in terms of big changes and then read the manuscript to make notes and then I shall invoke the Red Pen's power: 

"On manuscript's pages white
no error shall escape my sight.
Flee, for tis not how I write.
Succumb to Red Pen's viscous bite"*

* - Any similarities between this little rhyme and anything that or may not be a pop-culture icon are purely coincidental.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

[December 18th] Art based on American Gods

In January, I did a  post about art based on books, the example being One Flight over A Cuckoo's Nest and I have been thinking about how different mediums can recreate a single work of art, which in this case is a book, through the whole year. I like the idea of connectivity between arts; how books can inspire art can inspire music can inspire film can inspire sculptures. Above all, I have been meaning to find more fantastic art that recreates a popular book. This time I have struck gold with Neil Gaiman's "American Gods".

The novel itself is extremely visual and well suited for the following illustrations below. What novels would you like to see represented with art such as this? 





Saturday, December 17, 2011

[December 17th] Interview with Zoran Živković

I've stumbled upon on this brilliant, long and informative interview of Zoran Živković, which you can find on World Literature Today. I've managed to finish part one and so far it's revealed a lot about the literature in Europe, a field, which is quite murky to me. I hope you find some interesting tidbits for yourself as well. 

[December 17th] Miranda Rights in Downton Abbey?

This week proved to be one of the more exhausting variety and I found myself season two of "Downton Abbey", which I find as one of the best period shows I have watched in a long while. The writing is smart, the characters interconnect well enough to keep me watching and there is character growth, which I found overly enjoyable. Edith has become one of my favorite support characters in the series. 


As entertainment, "Downton Abbey" stands on its feet and achieves a lot with the typical British eight-episode season format compared to shows with twice as many episodes per season. However, I can't be entirely sure of whether authenticity is handled in the same way. Now, I don't know about how society operated, how all the different circles in society interacted with each other or how Britain's institutions structured and exerted control over the population during and after World War I.

What I do know is that members of the police force did not use the Miranda Rights during an arrest, which did happen in the season's finale, when two men, who looked like detectives more than officers, arrested Bates for the murder of his wife Vera. The scene itself possesses enough inherent drama to create a strong emotional response without there being any need for the officers to speak, much less use an antiquated version of rights, which were accepted as police procedure during arrests in the late 1960s in the US.  

I try to rationalize as to why they were included. Everyone can relate to the severity of an arrest, so there is no need to evoke sympathy from the viewer by using a popular device for creating tension in modern cinema and TV. I assume that this is an oversight, but one that I find harmful to the suspension of disbelief. I'm only mentioning it because this simple detail derailed the whole experience in that scene.

Have you had similar moments, when watching shows or enjoying movies? 


Thursday, December 15, 2011

[December 15th] Shoot Your Writer's Ego, Wallow in Self-Pity


I feel as if I'm wearing my insides out in such situations.

 I’ve had some time to think this through. For the reason that I can adorn any situation with far too much drama than it’s needed, I choose to stay away from personal topics on this blog, but I’m beginning to grow confident that I can present some ‘real life’ experience in my posts. It’s a good time as any to dispel some of the mysteries that surround my person [believe it or not I’m a prime suspect of being a sentient cat with the ability to type in QWERTY].

Since this story is more of a moral, which has a lot to do with writing, I think it’s best shared here out in the open. As you can see by all the ‘I think’, ‘I this’ and ‘I that’ sentences I’m all self-conscious about what happened at my day job, so here’s hoping that you don’t think ill of me [and you can definitely recognize how too many episodes of Downton Abbey have left a mark on my turn of phrase].

My office job for the past three months [I switched departments before attending Fantasy Con this year] has me writing eight hours per day. It’s simple writing with a simple purpose and a low level of importance. This means that as long as I manage a lot of it everyone is happy, but here comes the ‘but’ thing. Being a writer among non-writers can be deceptive of how good you really are and because my writing [influenced by my fiction-writing style] used English a bit more imaginatively my mistakes either have not been mentioned to me or could not have been pointed out to me by non-native speakers, which my day-to-day superiors are. What we have is a recipe for a big ego [being constantly asked to translate words and how to best write a certain phrase] with no safety net [so far there is no challenger on the front].

Since I pride myself in being this good in English [though I’m sure this blog post is filled with God knows how many imperfections, which I’m not picking up no matter how hard I try], it’s fairly easy for me to get my head stuck in the clouds. I love receiving the praise, not for the sake of attention whoring, but because I associate my childhood with weekends spent inside the house scribbling words ad infinitum. I think I had to write Thursday more than a hundred times to get it right and remember it. I still hate this day, when I mention it in English, mainly because of my ordeal learning it. My friends used to play outside. I had a dictionary and one hell of a mother, who fits the profile of the constantly ridiculed cliché of an Asian parent. I’m not regretful. I didn’t think much of being in the same private classes with students two-three years older than me. I just love English and when I’m praised, I feel validated to the point I may develop a bit of an ego.

Thankfully, that ego got shot down Tuesday, when the editor in charge of the sales copy team I’m working under [new set of duties for me] had me brought over to discuss changes to the first website copy I had written. Oh boy was it a humiliating. I can’t understand how a person [my editor is from Texas, so I’ll call him Editor Tex] can say that he likes what my material and at the same time chop down every sentence I have written and rephrase until you can’t tell it has been written by me.

Editor Tex is an awesome person, by the way. I can see that he is indeed trying to help me and where he was able to explain why the changes in some expressions was needed [words with negative connotations of any variety should be replaced with words that on a subconscious level are all about sunshine and smiles] I immediately wrote those down. However, there were changes, which I didn’t understand. Editor Tex couldn’t provide an exact answer as to why he made them and went on to explain how there are subtleties to language use [the purpose of the editing session was to teach me those], but without really presenting an argument for the changes in sentence structure.

My initial reaction to all of this was: Holy flying cow from Jupiter, can I string one sentence together correctly? It was as if I had never studied the language, as if the sacrificed hours had amounted to nothing. I fully realized that this is needless dramatic gut response, but at the time I couldn't help it. Thankfully, I kept repeating myself that this is not about me, but about the writing. At the same time, how I can separate myself from the writing, when my English is my work. It's my grand work, which has lead to this individual ones. All so complex on an emotional level. 

I don’t know what to make of this situation. To the people I have confided the situation, I’m to ignore some of the more perplexing changes Editor Tex makes as to a matter of taste and to take away what I do find useful. Another individual told me that to her Editor Tex abused his power as an editor, providing destructive-rather-than-constructive critique. It’s tricky territory to be in as I greatly respect editors and I’ve grown comfortable receiving bathed in red works I have given to readers with far superior understanding of the English language. It’s just proof that a language is so rich that it always gives you more to learn and I’m happy to learn. But I can’t deny that sitting there for closely 45 minutes [all spent on a page and a half] humiliated me in ways I can’t even begin to comprehend. I don’t hold anything against Editor Tex and I certainly can’t imagine having anything else than a verbal discussion. Yet, having to sit there and hear the editor wonder how he can make sense of my sentences, because my phrasing was so off and in real time… Far from pleasant. If there ever was a version of the SAW franchise to do with writing, then my experience would qualify.

In short, I’m grateful that I work in an office, whose superiors are invested in helping their employees work to developing their skill sets. I’m big enough a boy to understand that there is no chance I will nail this sort of writing from the first time around. I’m also grown up enough to admit to myself that I’m far from being the best, never will be and that the best I can hope for is constant improvement [but given that I shut up, shoot down my ego and get cracking]. I will have to grow thicker skin, because fine tuning how a non-speaker uses English so that it convincingly mimics a native speaker [while living in a non-English-speaking environment] is going to be tough, humiliating and humbling. No other way around it.

I’ll leave the floor for you guys. Do you think I’m a whiner? What are your nightmare stories connecting with editing sessions?


Monday, December 12, 2011

[December 12th] Of Books and Innuendo, a Meme

Today I have a little cheeky challenge, which I've picked from Rhube's Tumblr In Search of Happines Max. The picture below says it all and since I'm oh-so-adventurous I decided to try it myself, because what's the harm of trying.

My book was 'By Myself' by Lauren Bacall, which I finished over the weekend. The quote is below:


“It was my first night – opening night, the theatre was packed – I was terrified and I didn’t even have to open my mouth.” 
Here's the deal. I want to see how adventurous you are and whether you can have fun with this joke. Take the nearest book, do the meme and then post your answers here. I will edit them pack in my post and see where it goes. Let's have a laugh and let the books be the judge of us rather than the other way around.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

[December 11th] From Reactive to Proactive Reading or How I changed My Reading Patterns


I'm sexy and I'm reading

In my preparation for the Weird Wednesday feature, whose launch date remains as January 4th 2012, I have encountered something about my reading I have not paid much attention to and I assume is private due to the nature of my language situation. I know enough English to write, read and express myself on an above average level among my peers, who have had the same educational profile and have not studied English at university level. Reading books has never been challenging, apart from those written in an intentionally modified English [“The Color Purple”] or older books [“The Vampyre”]. Being a native benefits the reading experience in such cases, but otherwise I’m doing fine with literature.

Or so I would think. Until recently, I’ve been ignoring a trend in my reading, exemplifying an interest in quantity of reading rather than quality. Back in my school years, when I studied in a private group every weekend on top of my school studies, my teacher used to make us read everything and anything. Newspaper articles, magazine articles, book passage, passages from a more scientific text, from and outside our textbooks. Eventually we moved to books and we had to read a book over the summer, mark down all the new words and add those to our own vocabulary, so that when the time came to talk about the books, a barrier has been lifted and I understood more about the book. This continued during high school, where I studied typical US/UK classics such as The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Scarlet Letter, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Ayre. While I enjoyed all these books, I can’t say the same about the reading, notes with new words, bringing out the dictionary, spending afternoons writing the new words and pronouncing them and then returning to the text. This killed the joy in reading and at the time I had grown to be an avid, if a bit slow a reader.

You have to understand that for a teenager, studying causes an allergic reaction, which brings out chronic postponing of any kind of academic activities. At the time, I felt like studying will never end for me and I tried to avoid anything to do with studying. So when I graduated and took up reviewing, I took to reading for pleasure, which is to say that I only read. Never tried to engage with the text in another way. If there was something that I didn’t understand then I would use the context and go on with the story. Sometimes this helped me get through some books easier with minor communication breakdowns between me and the text. Other times I had lucked out and did need a dictionary to help me along the way. “A Book of Tongues” is a perfect example of how the prose acted against me, no matter how much I loved reading this twisted tale. This time around I did try to get out some of the words, translate, then assemble all the fragments of understanding and confusion into a coherent narrative, but seeing as how I fell behind on my schedule and diminished chances of reading more books, writing more of the self-serving reviews I did back then, fighting to come ahead the bloggers who read more and faster, I rushed the process and never returned to it.

It’s complicated to explain what I mean by ‘passive’ or ‘reactive’ reading, but it deals with a preoccupancy with number of books read, the act of having read something, stating that you have completed a novel everyone else has, modeling choices of books based on trends in the blogging circles [where the ‘new shiny’ rules, not that I have anything against it]. It’s easier to blame external forces for this behavior, but that’s not quite true, because I made all decisions when it came to my own reviews and blogging. Subsequently, I took stories with dragons and magic to be simple stories about magic and dragons without thinking further. A friend of mine once told me that SFF literature is the most potent of all kinds of genres, because it has layers upon layers to utilize and comment upon our own reality, better than other genres have. I’m quite proud to say that the man is a psychologist, erudite and has serious, always active views on everything.

Yesterday, as I started to read The Weird edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer I faced a rather winding and ornate foreword by Michael Moorcock. I had difficulties catching on to some of his thoughts and felt lost in the general purpose of the text. The language barrier rose high as it had back during my school years and I had a choice. Read it once and try to decipher it on my own in the privacy of the back of my mind or surrender, grab the dictionary and return to where I began all those years before in reading in English.

I grabbed the dictionary. Read the “Foreweird” by Michael Moorcock and the introduction by the VanderMeers, sat down with a journal for my thoughts, a notebook for the words that I did not know and Longman’s Dictionary of Contemporary English and studied. Contrary to what I expected, studying this time around brought immense pleasure. For obvious reasons, doing anything because you so choose is pleasing in itself as opposed to forced practice from any educational institution. But there is more than that. The fact that I chose to return to this text and re-read with the new words in my mind stimulated my thought process, pushed me to add something from myself into my opening post for the Weird Wednesday feature based on the words of Moorcock and the VanderMeers rather than summarize as I usually happen to do. I think that this is what pro-active reading is all about, opening to the text and working on how the words can influence me. Needless to say, this process for me has to be more conscious and I can’t say for certain if anyone can relate to me. Language is not a tough barrier to remove. You think you know it, but then it surprises you.  

In short, I’m leveling up, which is quite due, seeing as I’m in my twenties already and time is not waiting for anyone.

I think I went overboard with this post and I doubt anyone has hung long enough to make any comments, but I’d like to hear from you about your adventures in reading. How has your act of reading changed given any given circumstances?


Saturday, December 10, 2011

[December 10th] The Books That Have Not Been Read



 One of the activities I’ve been failing at in 2011 is keeping my reading active and diverse. I’ll probably touch on the subject in my year end posts, but I have read around twenty books and I am not too proud of that fact. A rather slow and disorganized year, which has a lot to do with real life, personal rebellion and the passive nature of the act of reading. The result are titles, which I’ve been accumulating over the months. Promises I have made to authors to read and mention their books, not for the sake of hits or promotion [although writers need the word of mouth to remain alive and well in the public’s memory], but because I trust my judgment that I’ll enjoy these books and that in one way or another they will contribute to my development.  

Dear readers, meet my books. Dear books, don't cry. You shall be read. 

Long Fiction:
1] Empire State ~ Adam Christopher
2] Shotgun Gravy ~ Chuck Wendig
3] Kultus ~ Richard Ford
4] Wolfsangel ~ M.D. Lachlan
5] I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like ~ Justin Isis
6] Gorel and the Pot-Bellied God ~ Lavie Tidhar
7] Osama ~ Lavie Tidhar
8] Alchemy of Stone ~ Ekaterina Sedia
9] Unseen World ~ Sean Cummings
10] Funeral Parlor ~ Sean Cummings
11] Serial Killers Incorporated ~ Andy Remic
12] High Society ~ Paolo Chikiamco [graphic novel]
13] Harmonica and Gig ~ R.J. Astruc
14] The Book Thief ~ Markus Zusak
15] The Color Purple ~ Alice Walker
16] The Time Traveler’s Wife ~ Nancy Niffenegger
17] Regicide ~ Nicholas Royal
18] Infernal Devices ~ K.W. Jeter
19] Morlock Night ~ K.W. Jeter

Short Fiction:
1] Like Twin Stars ~ edited Cecilia Tan & Kelly Clark
2] Hellebore and Rue ~ edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft and Catherine Lundoff
3] Irregular Creatures ~ Chuck Wendig
4] Subversion ~ edited by Bart Leib
5] Alternative Alamat ~ edited by Paolo Chikiamco
6] The Weird ~ edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
7] ODD? ~ edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
8] Sourdough ~ Angela Slatter
9] Evolve Two ~ edited by Nancy Kilpatrick
10] The Grinding House ~ Kaaron Warren

Non-fiction:
1] Jurisdiction ‘in optima forma’ or why Orthodox Slavs had no witch hunts ~ Maria Schnitter
2] Charms and magic ~ Iveta Pirtova
3] Prayer Magic ~ Maria Schnitter
4] Bulgarian Folk Magic ~ Ivanichka Georgieva
5] Historical Roots of the Magical Fairy Tale ~ V.Ya.Prop
6] The History of Sexuality ~ Michel Foucault
7] Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex ~ Alice Dreger
8] Intersex ~ Catherine Harper
9] Almost Perfect ~ Brian Katcher  
10] Time of Death, Decomposition and Identification ~ an Atlas by CRC Press
11] The Cambridge Companion to Modern Chinese Culture ~ edited by Kam Loule
12] Handbook of Japanese Mythology ~ Michael Ashkenazi
13] Revenge of the Penmonkey ~ Chuck Wendig
14] Confessions of a Penmonkey ~ Chuck Wendig
15] 250 Things You Should Know About Writing ~ Chuck Wendig

You have the word guys. Tell me what you plan on reading? How far behind are you on your reading and do you actively plan to read?



Friday, December 9, 2011

[December 9th] Not Writing


 
Befitting the title don't you think?

I’m not writing. It’s the antithesis of what I am, I know, but I haven’t been sitting and I have not been committing to the new techniques, new routines, new promises. Partially, I find my mind distracted by the changes occurring in the real world.

My job definition is constantly at fluctuation, where I have to pay constant attention to it even outside the office; recalibrate my goals, redistribute my time and engage with my duties in a way I haven’t been asked to do in my other positions. First, because I haven’t had the chance to work in an office and hold a responsible before. Second, the nature of SEO is shifting with the blink of an eye, so I have to adapt and take every new project in stride and not rely on any routine. As you may know, I thrive on routines and every aspect of my life struggles, if I’m not in some sort of control over my routine.   

The semester is coming to a close and while control during the semester has been non-existent and I focused on my work life, I have to write a series of papers on less than thrilling topics. No mistakes are allowed. The stakes are rising and while I’m relatively secure on some of the topics, already having scored high results on one of my papers, I’m not so optimistic with the follow-up papers in terms of delivering them with ease, even knowing what’s expected from me. Exam month is closing in as well with January seeing a major shift in my work, study and therefore personal program.

Then there are the Secret Projects I have been working on. One for Jaym Gates and one that is not to be announced until later on. What I’m at liberty to discuss is that it demands a fantastic amount of preparation and production. Working on this Secret Project has taught me the value of developing a clear idea, devising a plan and starting off from as far as possible, if you wish to achieve a great result and I believe that once I can announce the details the project will go ballistic over the community.

So, this is me not writing. Why have you not been writing? [I know some of you haven’t been and you might as well admit it].  
  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

[December 7th] The Nature of Best-Of Lists and Having Your Voice Out There


 Books you consider to be the "best" should blow your mind, then implode and restructure your skull and brain in ways you have not anticipated, but you like. Great books hung and haunt your memory, perception and creativity. 

I'm participating in the proud tradition of Smugglivius hosted over the Book Smugglers' blog. It's a month long event with bloggers and authors sharing their very best picks from books and media for the past year, which is epic scale as far as The Best-Of lists and events are concerned. 

The concept of ranking books is ludicrous to me. I can't quantify joy. Joy cannot be measured and even if it could be, every book would be a source of different joy, unless you are reading in a very niche, niche subgenre [detective stories about the supernatural death of Lincoln with flying monkeys involved in some constant way throughout every novel]. It's why I don't quite like these lists, which seem to centre around a set of criteria as to how best rank certain books. 
  
When I ran Temple Library Reviews, I paid more attention to these best-of lists, because I sensed a certain trend among reviewers as to what rose to popularity in certain circles, which is more or less obvious given our nature to create a sort of mini societies, where ideas and recommendations are exchanged. I myself don't believe in the ranking itself; the system that determines, which is number one and why and why book "X" should switch position with book "Y". Should book "Z" even be on the list or is book "W" a better fit? 

I'm not sure whether or not these thoughts cross reviewers' minds during "Best-Of" seasonal preparations, but creating a list is not something someone with a love for their blog will consider lightly. Perhaps it's the cynic in me at the time, who whispered about the potential insincerity of others and the more marketing oriented motifs others had [more or less provoked by my too unhealthy drive for competing with others]. Perhaps there are bloggers, who pick books in order to secure more ARCs and review copies from hot new publishers. I'm not ruling that out. 

This year I'm freed from prejudices. I don't have a review site, I don't have a territory like I though I did, I can talk about books and review books without the numbers game shuffling in the back of my head [what I can say, it's one of my many failings] and see the good in the "Best-Of" lists as emphasis on books  enjoyed, words that have left an imprint and stories that have caused spiritual alterations. They are about managing to squeeze in your voice and try to persuade someone to discover and share your love for any given book on the list, because favourite books are no JUST the writer's intellectual property, they belong to the reader as well.




Tuesday, December 6, 2011

[December 6th] "By Myself" by Lauren Bacall


As of late I’ve been enjoying Lauren Bacall’s cheery, bubbly autobiography “By Myself” and I don’t want the book to end, but I’m crawling slowly to the finish line. The end is near, but I decided to voice my thoughts as they come to me. It’s different than my critical approach to a work and I don’t believe that there is something to get out of a biography thinking critically about it, not the way you would do a novel.

Obviously, “By Myself” is geared towards a different generation, whose members have been at one point exposed to the names bombed heavily through the book’s pages. Through some of my American pop-culture exposure, I have recognized almost half the names Bacall lists at any given time, but since the Boggart-Bacall family had an active social life, it’s inevitable. I don’t know so much, because it just gives me other personalities from the past to explore.

What drew me in “By Myself” was the cover art, which demanded my attention the second I laid my eyes on it and as with “Wild Swans” the book was a gamble on my part and another good pick. I guess I’m born with the intuition to judge good books by their extraordinary titles [in this case, the author’s name and the book’s title are switched, which I, at first, understood as the book being titled “Lauren Bacall” and that the ‘by myself’ bit was a hint that it was an autobiography written by the actress herself – hopefully without the aid of a ghost writer] and cover art. While I do believe that there is something noble in seeking beauty wrapped in rags, I deny that my epidermis shifts with waves of pleasure when I hold brilliance pampered and styled for the privilege of being in my hands. What can I say? I’m an egoist when it comes to the reading experience.

“By Myself” entertains me, because the Hollywood glory days have some indescribable sway over my imagination. My definition of class and pedigree [even people’s vices at the time had class] is visually anchored in the 1950s, despite the locale. To be honest, some of the classiest people in Bulgarian public life, of stage, music and screen rose to prominence during the 50s and 60s, despite communism’s long and over-extending shadow. To be introduced to a point of view, which has experienced those days firsthand, is thrilling to me as a reader. To have my Peeping Tom tendencies tickled, oh what joy. 


Lauren Bacall is a sympathetic voice. I adore every chipper and honest sound she creates with her persona. If America can boast with sweethearts, then Lauren Bacall would be one of them, but let’s track back to the sounds and the book. It’s rarely that I ‘hear’. I either experience the wonders of ‘hallucinations’ reading or feel through every page. This is the first book to have me imagine the voice of the author and narrate every sentence to me. I think that this method of reading was enhanced by the fact that I couldn’t place any faces to names as I’m probably the worst physiognomist in the world. The only other option for me was to direct my mind in a different direction. I’m saying this a reader, it’s fun to re-invent the act of reading. You get something more, something else and unknown, if you fine tune your perception and approach any work in a distinct way. I guess that’s also a reason why people tend to re-read, but this is topic for another post.

Last, but not least, the rise and fall of any artistic soul is relatable to every other. It makes no difference, if you are a dancer, writer, singer, painter, sculptor or actor as the case is, feelings of anxiety, fear, hope, pleasure and love for the craft are universal. It’s uplifting to read about the success of a talented and pure human being and dream that the big break is right around the corner. I also assume that readers, who have been through the ups and down career-wise can relate to Bacall’s hurdles and struggles. All in all, I’m happy.   

Monday, December 5, 2011

[December 5th] "Subversion" edited by Bart R. Leib

Today is the release date of a rather interesting anthology, which I'd like to bring to your attention. What caught my interest is the fact the cover, which speaks for itself and is especially striking considering the current political and economic climate on a global scale. Here is more from the press release from Crossed Genres, which have always brought quality fiction through their Crossed Genres Magazine in the past. I'm especially interested to see the socio-political criticism, which is hinted at with the cover. 



Subversion: Science Fiction & Fantasy Tales of challenging the norm

‘Traitor’ or ‘revolutionary.’ These labels are two sides of the same coin, just as ‘hero’ or ‘villain’ depends on the point of view of the person telling the story. These are obvious concepts when spelled out in clear cut settings. Because of this, how one goes about subverting the norm (as a traitor or revolutionary) is based on what the norm is. What is normal in one society can be, and often is, taboo in another society. This allows tales of subversion to be subtle, blatant, personal, communal, and endless in variation.
- from the Foreword by Jennifer Brozek

Subversion: Science Fiction & Fantasy tales of challenging the norm is an anthology of stories about striking back at the status quo – whatever that might be. The Authority can be real or perceived; the act of subversion subtle or overt; and the consequences minute yet significant, or immense and world-shaking.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Jennifer Brozek – Foreword
Jessica Reisman – “A Thousand Wings of Luck”
Camille Alexa – “And All Its Truths”
Melissa S. Green – “Pushaway”
Daniel José Older – “Phantom Overload”
Kelly Jennings – “Cold Against the Bone”
Barbara Krasnoff – “The Red Dybbuk”
Natania Barron – “Pushing Paper in Hartleigh”
Kay T. Holt – “Parent Hack”
Jean Johnson – “The Hero Industry”
Cat Rambo – “Flicka”
Shanna Germain – “Seed”
RJ Astruc & Deirdre M. Murphy – “Scrapheap Angel”
C.A. Young – “The Dragon’s Bargain”
Wendy N. Wagner – “A Tiny Grayness in the Dark”
Timothy T. Murphy – “Received Without Content”
Caleb Jordan Schulz – “To Sleep With Pachamama”
Cover art: “New Generation of Leaders” by Brittany Jackson

ISBN 978-0615533292

To place orders for the book, for review copies, or for additional information, contact Crossed Genres Publications
Email: publicity@crossedgenres.com

Saturday, December 3, 2011

[December 3rd] The Weird in its Cephalopod Beauty

After rave reviews, heightened publicity covering and Weird Fiction Review, a website launched with regular material provided, all in the name of the weird movement in literature, I ordered my copy of the VanderMeers' latest monstrosity bound by ink and paper The Weird.

I've been captivated by the dedication the VanderMeers have placed in their promotion of different, peculiar fiction [often with a mad glint its glassy eye and a smile that carries the charm of an inter-dimensional morgue chamber] that is yet to claw its way to the spotlight [or maybe it has, but people are too afraid to admit it]. "The Weird" will be my indoctrination into this cult so openly led by two prophets of the tasteful bizarre. Inspired by the in-depth coverage provided by Maureen Kincaid Speller over at her blog Paper Knife, I'm tasking myself with the idea to read and place my thoughts on each of the more than hundred stories on this blog come 2012.

This will be one of the directions I'll be heading in for Through a Forest of Ideas next year. "The Weird" and all subsequent release of non-fiction connected to this anthology is of great interest to me and my writing.      

Thursday, December 1, 2011

[December 1st] Sad Kraken is Sad and Lonely

Nothing to report as of it. December has come. Christmas is being dragged from its grave once again, too early, and I'm in an introspective mood. I'm quilting my thoughts together on a few things and waiting on an announcement, which should be due already. In the mean time, enjoy the image of a Kraken above.

Monday, November 28, 2011

[November 28th] A Touch of Racism in Music

It’s been quite the debate over whether or not Florence + the Machine’s video for their single “No Light, No Light” is racist. Youtube’s comment section has gone up in flames and several official music critics have expressed their negative opinions in regards to the video. The cause for this criticism is the painted in black Asian dancer, who performs voodoo rituals during the video. Here is the whole bit: 


I’m not convinced the video is racist. It’s decision to play a black-white motif [and I’d like to point out it has been present culturally long before the color became attached to races] with a set of religious beliefs that has everybody’s panties in a twist. To the average viewers pitting Christianity against Voodoo will represent Good versus Evil, mainly because misconceptions about Voodoo as a dark craft are still well and alive. What I believe this pairing to represent is the conflict between rigid control [Christianity] and the close to the heart desires [Voodoo] in the context of a dramatic, forbidden relationship, which throws the one receiving its affections off kilter [here comes the image of falling]. 


But Harry, the painted-black voodoo priest has a voodoo doll and pins it with needles? 

Yes, imaginary reader I’m having a dialogue with. The priest does have a doll and uses the most recognizable imagery associated with Voodoo to illustrate the passionate throes and pain associated with the type of love, which Florence sings about. Florence never sings of anything easy. She intensifies every feeling, every motif in her lyrics to the point that it overloads the human emotional circuit-board. 

It’s not an easy love. It’s all possessing and all possessive. It vibrates and finds itself in every aspect of the singer’s existence. If you watch the video closely, you will see that all the time Florence is laying in bed with a man, which means that the video sequence is happening within her soul space, it’s a conflict and questioning of what to do and how to behave. 

On the outside, she is as calm and controlled as the choir of young boys are [the idea of false self-control is reinforced through the scene where she falls through the stained glass roof], but below the obvious surface she is rocked with these storms of emotions, sweet and torturous at the same time. 



To me this would have been racist, if the dancer chosen to be painted black was Caucasian, which would have been a tasteless call back to racism in cinema, where people from African descent were portrayed using ridiculously painted over white actors. The fact that they chose an Asian and painted him black, thus creating a race that does not exist, but has the quality of haunting and visually striking beauty, is a giveaway that we, the viewers, have to think in terms of symbolism. 

At the end of the day, however, I believe that this video will be perceived as racist, even if I don’t believe it. Working with religion, beliefs and skin color is dangerous, because these are deeply personal and defining to a lot of people. It’s the same with sexuality, especially the jab that homosexuals receive, so I can personally see as to how the video can and has offended a group of viewers, even if it had no intention to attack anyone. It’s the risks that you run with art, I suppose. 

Tell me what you think. Is the video racist? Should artists in any medium try and experiment with skin color and religion? Has a music video offended you?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

[November 27th] Julianne Moore & The Succession in Art

The story I’m writing at the moment [titled “Blinding”] incorporates Bulgarian folklore, lore and fables. It’s echoing the path “Fables” and Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” in terms of transplanting characters from their plane of existence and their endings into our current state of reality. Considering that the inclusion of mythical beasts is a popular practice in the genre of Urban Fantasy as it is, I don’t consider breaking new horizons, other than contributing to the expanding story pull. 

The act of writing “Blinding” has me thinking about succession in art and the establishing of a permanent continuity that feeds the collective memory to newer generation through different retellings. “Fables” reintroduces fairy tales to children, who prefer comic books to regular old books and “American Gods” has peaked my curiosity as to the different deities, other than the Greek or Norse ones. Succession in art is common. 

The 80’s synth beats are reliving their glory days in nouveau electronic, pardon my French and the style of the 1950’s [which has influenced visual arts heavily] sneaks in movies, music and an eternal pin-up movement. Which brings me to Julianne Moore, Harper’s Bazaar and a very couture incorporation of famous paintings. Julianne Moore’s photo session has her adopt poses and style of some of the most breath-taking paintings in the last century, along with new creations. I've expected nothing else from Julianne Moore, who is a style icon in the celebrity circles. This concept photo shoot is quite exciting as it shows these memorable works in a completely new medium, which is far from the remakes that we see.

“Adele Bloch-Bauer I” – 1907 – Gustav Klimt 

“The Cripple” – 1997 – John Curring 

“Man Crazy Nurse #3” – 2003 – Richard Prince 

“Seated Woman with Bent Knee” – 1917 – Egon Schiel 

“Madame X” – 1884 – John Singer Sargent 

What do you think about succession in art?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

[November 26th] A Night Among the Bulgarian Cultural Elite

Yesterday was the official book launch of Angel Angelov’s “The Act of Walking on Water”, a pleasant affair, though a bit lengthy, highlighting the release of a slim collection of shorts. I randomly learned about the event thanks to a newsletter from my favorite bookshop in Varna “Shakespeare & Friends”, which organized the event, provided wine and a buffet to boot. The event, given the capacity of the bookstore, was successful with over twenty people attending, which is a full house in my book. 

Unlike most readings/launches I have been to [my experience is limited to this year’s Fantasy Con] the emphasis fell down on dialogue between the author and the guests, rather than any of the stories. Angelov didn’t read his works, nor did he discuss his collection. I felt no attempt of a sales pitch either, which I found so very different from what I’m observing in the West as behavior during such events. 

From what I gathered, Angelov is a well-established niche author, one of the difficult ones to read, so there is no appeal for him to generate any hype. His built-in audience, no matter how small will track his works and to me it seemed that this audience consists of other intellectuals rather than mainstream readers, although that may not be true. If it is true, then that confirms my belief that the Bulgarian literary community is close-circuited as evidenced by the number of creators in attendance [literary critics, painters and theater folk]. 


The downside of this particular book launch was that it was more about the author rather than the book or the potential readers. I understand that with friends and personal acquaintances as the majority of the audience, there would be no incentive to ‘sell’ the collection, but at some point the event became as a sort of gathering to venerate Angelov and his strengths, which I considered to be tasteless, albeit good-natured and probably well-deserved. What I also didn’t find all that enjoyable was the tactless use of the space, where the author seemed to overstay his welcome in the bookstore. Obviously, from my conversations with the bookstore owners, there were no negotiated terms on how long the event should have lasted. 

Even with these small imperfections, I had a good evening, which turned me into more of an active participant in the event as I had to translate in real time, from English to Bulgarian and from Bulgarian to English, as the bookstore owners are both English speakers. Also, I was the night’s oddity, being the only person under thirty [even under forty] interested enough to stay and have a few chats. Business cards were exchanged, photos were made. All in all, a great evening for meeting the Bulgarian cultural elite. 

Your turn. Tell me what event you were recently? Did you like it?

Friday, November 25, 2011

[November 25th] The Art of Exit Man

It's been a long day and I have been to the book launch of "The Act of Walking on Water" by Bulgarian author Angel Angelov. It was a wonderful hour and a half affair with chatting, wine and speeches devoted to the man of the hour, Mister Angelov. The wine has gone to my head, which is why I will be writing a complete report in the morning. 

In the mean time, I've been meaning to bring your mind to the art of Exit Man. He's from Spain or at the very least a Spanish speaking country, judging by his website, which I can't seem to effectively navigate. This type of art I most commonly associate with skaters as it appears on a lot of their T-shirts. It's pretty breathtaking with its psychedelic choice of colors, though I have picked the least colorful pieces of art. 

The peculiar thing about this art direction is that I see it on all the power boxes in my city. There is a real urban movement in Varna to go around and paint over all power boxes out in the street, which would be real dangerous to touch. I have to bring in some amateur photos of these sites. 
In the mean time, enjoy. Also, tell me what is the art that has you interested? 





Thursday, November 24, 2011

[November 24th] On Writing Longhand and the Importance of Words

I’ve not spoken about writing in a long time, because I consider the craft of writing as a rather personal experience. My main understanding is that every story is different and every writer is unique in his/her thoughts, inspirations and techniques are strictly individual. From where I’m standing, I’d rather not dish out advise. There are plenty of websites, which provide you with countless posts on the technical aspects of writing. Magical Words serves advice like a petite French restaurant; compact portions sculpted to beauty. Chuck Wendig overtakes the table as an Italian seven course meal, calorie rich and dripping sauce.

In that metaphor, what am I? I’m just a story in the kitchen and I’m fine to be one. Recently, I had to switch from writing on the keyboard to writing longhand, because my day job demands me typing. The implications are two-fold. First, my fingers are already tired from hitting away at the keys and second, my brain associates this time of writing as a chore*. Writing as an act and a process, sitting down and typing words, grew to be tedious and my ideas, no matter how bright and shiny and witty suffered, when it came to give them shape. 

Write or Die is an excellent software, if your brain has already swollen with the pregnancy of a story, which your fingers desperately want to deliver, but not when your story has its own umbilical cord tied around its neck. I needed c-section and writing longhand functioned as such**. Yes, now everything is a thousand times slower. Yes, I have to actually make more time to write the same amount of words I crank out for an hour. But. The big But. I place the right words, I add texture to my story I can’t do when facing the white screen or race with my fingers, because everyone types faster than they write. Sometimes it’s all about the physical presence of the notebook that helps me get my idea out. 

I’m feeling a bit guilty that I’m choosing impracticality over efficiency, which doesn’t make sense. It’s irrational. This sense of guilt is stupid, because it implies that you’re racing against something or someone. Is writing a race? Well, kinda. It’s a race against death. Everything is racing with death. Everything knows that it’ll lose a race with the big, underlined and bolded THE END; it’s more of a matter of how much gets done. This brings me down to the devil: quantity and boy do we know about quantity. Word counts, word meters and the month of the word count tracking NaNoWriMo***. 


Quantity is a fixation. In “Booklife” Jeff VanderMeer pins this quest for wordcount as a goal that is hollow, pardon, I’m paraphrasing from memory. VanderMeer spends some time to the importance of the right words and his points are excellent. While I understand how setting a goal, which has to do with getting a set number of words down, helps track progress, this is a ‘surface’ progress. First drafts become our arenas to suck and fail, but I feel as though advice to allow yourself to fail during first drafts is misinterpreted as ‘suck, but just get it out, doesn’t matter how much you do suck’. In my mind, this conspiracy theory emerges, where this predominant attitude about sucking has joined this fetish for metric measurements in a craft, which is not meant to welcome math****. 

The right words matter even in a first draft, because later on, during revisions, you’ll find that you have a solid first draft that needs little modifications on a linguistic level. That the prose actually helps you find the right direction for the story and relatively ease your journey in the land of Edits. Sometimes you can suck too much to know how to fix a story. And all the time you saved dashing through your first draft [and more] will go into your editing. 

What do you do when crafting first drafts? Do you stop to think or go where the hands take you? 

----
*I’d like to take the opportunity to distance away from my brain as we never have seen eye to eye on a various subjects. 
** I disturbed myself with this metaphor, so I will stop with it. 
*** Dudes, I’m far from criticizing NaNo for anything else. I still believe in its key value, to tech persistence and consistency when writing. 
**** I hate math, so there you go.