A Writing Newsbite

I’m having fun with a short story that I’m writing in response to a challenge issued to me by Ray Solberg.  In preparing for this story I got to do some research into bride prices, age of consent vs. age of marriage laws in the US, the history of James Whale’s Frankenstein films, and the linguistic significance of the use of the word "like" in everyday conversation.

Not bad for a story I think will be about 1,500 words long.

And double bonus: I was able to avoid the temptation to use zombies in this story.

Shaun of the Dead

Sitting home sick for the bazilliionth time this year, and now watching Shaun of the Dead for the bazillionth -1 time.  I love this film, but each time I see it I’m pretty sure I won’t catch anything new.  Each time, though, I see some new joke or subtle reference that makes me laugh even more.

Today, it was the scene where Shaun and Ed were talking on the phone with Shaun’s mother, Barbara, outlining their plan to come get her to take her to safety.  Shaun shouts the plan at his mother, over her protestations, and Ed suddenly yells, "We’re coming to get you, Barbara!"  How could I have never recognized this line for what it was: yet another nice little homage to the original Night of the Living Dead, which contains the classic line, "They’re coming to get you, Barbara."  There’s even a spiffy website full of horror film reviews (and gruesome cake recipes) called "They’re Coming to Get You, Barbara".  It’s one of my favorites, and I check it pretty much weekly.

Anyway. That’s all for now.


The editor at Andromeda Spaceways just sent me a preview of the artwork that will be included with "A Most Heinous Man".  I love it.  Naturally I printed up a copy and taped it onto the wall over my computer, and set it as my desktop wallpaper.  I’ll probably set it as my desktop wallpaper at work tomorrow as well.  Can you tell I’m excited?

Making a Mess

I took a break from wheezing and sneezing and other assorted shenanigans to mess around with my home page (http://www.mossroot.com, for those of you reading this on one feed or another).  I was inspired by my recent good fortune with my short story "A Most Heinous Man" to try for a sort of classic horror movie monster theme.  I think it’s okay.  What do you all think?  Any suggestions?  Note that the image to the left is random, so reload the page to see it change.

On Selecting a Genre

I’ve decided that I want to play in the same sandbox as Charles deLint, Richelle Mead, and others that I admire, and call Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster urban fantasy, because I can.  It is urban, of course, since it takes place in a city.  It’s not strictly horror, because although horrific things happen and it contains a lot of standard horror tropes — Cthulhu primary among them — I’m not really writing it as a horror story, or even as a horror spoof.  It isn’t really fantasy, not by any strict genre definition; there are no wizards, no hobbits, and not a single elf to be seen.  The generic catch phrase is, I suppose, "speculative fiction", but "urban speculative fiction" is just too clumsy for my taste, so "urban fantasy" it is, until some publisher decides otherwise.

Oh, and I still claim that it is "inspired by true events".

Writing News

Not much to report writing-wise.  I haven’t actually written much in STSM since last week; I’ve been a little busy.  However, there has been some movement on the short story front.

First, I got an email from Blood, Blade and Thruster.  They returned my manuscript unopened and unread because that particular market is folding.  This is disappointing; I enjoyed what little of theirs I saw.  Their website will remain live, though, and they’ll be putting together some anthologies, so I guess that’s something. But now "Night of the Frozen Elf" is free to fling off at other markets.

Second, I got an email from the editor of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, letting me know that they’ve decided to include an illustration with "A Most Heinous Man".  Wahoo!  This is the first time a published story of mine has been illustrated (though Sorcery and Science did include a photograph of a donkey with "The Unrevealed Tort, Revealed", which was oddly appropriate).  The artist, Lewis Morley of Australia, says that he’s interested in doing a sort of Universal Horror movie poster, which is exactly the sort of imagery I had in mind when I wrote the story.  He’ll also be including several names in the "credits" part of the image, and the editor suggested that I offer up a few possible names to include.  I wrote back with three names.  If you know me well, you probably know what those names are.

So this is pretty happy news to get after Monday’s rejection letter.

In other news, thanks to my friend Dale, I have some good ideas for rewrites on "Just Like This".  And on "Burying Uncle Albert".  And possibly on "Night of the Frozen Elf", though I think my biggest challenge for that one will be hacking out 1,000 words so I can make it more marketable.  Seems like most markets only want stories of 5,000 words or less.

Oh, and Daikaijuzine 3.0 (Gamera) goes like on Friday.  In what may be a first for us (and may cause a few coronaries world wide), it looks like we’re pretty much all done with this one.  The stories are all entered into the database, the managing editor has read them all over and made corrections, all contracts are signed and in my mailbox.  All I have to do is go into each one, click "Publish", and then make the Table of Contents page (which I’ve already created) live.  It’s the work of five minutes.  Usually I’m pulling things all together at the last minute, and delaying publication until 6:00 p.m. to give me enough time to finalize everything.  But everything’s finalized and ready to go.

Anyway.  Back to work for me.

The Problem with Hannah: Or, Learning to Love to Kill Your Babies (a rant on writing)

I got a rejection email today from a market that I had sold to before.  While I’m disappointed, of course, I’m also glad that the editor gave me a personal rejection, filled with solid suggestions for improving the story and a kind note saying that if the market did not have a strong policy against considering rewrites, he’d ask me for one.  This is the closest I’ve come to a sale since January; I’ll take my validation where I can.  Still, there’s sorrow to be drowned, and I’m going to drown it in yet more writing.  And dealing with a problem called Hannah.

The problem with Hannah is that she’s one of my favorite minor characters in The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster.  She’s mentioned for the first time in Chapter One; she has a brief scene in Chapter Three; and in Chapter Four, she dies.  And that, really, is her purpose: to die.  Her death is one of the turning points of the novel, one of those scenes which sets some characters on one path, and other characters on another.  It’s a great scene, I think, darker than the rest of the novel, but still a fun one.

But I really like Hannah.  As a character, she’s pretty nifty.  She’s based, very loosely, on some women that I’ve known, women that I’ve admired and enjoyed spending time with, and she’s the kind of character, I think, that shows up all too infrequently in genre fiction (or in any fiction, really).  I had lots of fun writing her scenes, and the people who have read the scenes with her have told me that she resonates strongly with them.

So today I started poking at the story, wondering if there’s a way I can give Hannah a stronger role.  Maybe I can spare her life.  Maybe she can crawl, broken and bloody, out of the trap she’s thrown into, and survive to the end of the story.  Or maybe it’s not really Hannah who dies, but someone else that looks so much like her that everyone thinks it is her, including the readers.  There’s got to be a way, I keep thinking, that I can spare Hannah, and have her live to tell her own story.

Unfortunately, there isn’t.  I’ve looked at the overall plot, and Hannah’s death is just too pivotal.  If I have her survive, then the changes that her death inspires in the other characters won’t be genuine.  If I give her more attention, develop her further, than her character will draw attention from the other characters.  If she lives, then one of the major themes of the novel withers into insignificance.

And so, Hannah must die.

This is one of the hardest parts of writing, it seems to me: striking out those elements that you love so much but which don’t advance the story.  It might be a lovely bit of prose that puts the finest sonnets of Shakespeare to shame but which does nothing to advance the plot.  It might be a brilliantly crafted scene that contributes nothing at all to the story.  It might be a devious plot complication that will have your readers gasping but which does nothing to develop your characters or strengthen your theme.  And, of course, it might be a beloved minor character whose death is so central to the plot that to have her survive is to kill the story; but to kill her off is to break your heart.  These are an author’s literary babies.  We must learn to kill them.

Even more importantly, we must learn to love killing them, because killing them means that the story is so much better.  I can imagine that Doctor Frankenstein must have wanted to add some more bolts to his creature’s head; they would have been stylish, certainly, and given the monster a certain panache, but in the end they would have just gotten in the way, overbalanced the monster’s head, and it would have fallen over before it could utter its first menacing moan.  (It helps to think of your own story as a lumbering, clumsy creature, moaning its way through the landscape and portrayed most effectively by Boris Karloff; really, it does.)  On the other hand, sometimes you can put those babies aside and use them later in another story.  When it came time to build a wife for the monster, I’m sure Doctor Frankenstein was glad that he had a few bolts left over from his earlier creation.  So perhaps that bit of prose that was beautifully crafted can end up somewhere else, as can that devious plot twist or that spiffy scene that you loved so much.  But for now, you must kill them; and you must be chortling with glee as you do so.  Writing is a dirty, bloody business, and the world is littered with the corpses of favorite characters killed before they ever got a chance to shine, as well as piles of prose and rooms full of clever scenes.

Hannah’s definitely a problem.  I might be able to write some other stories that feature her, but knowing that she will die in The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster will always make her stories at least a little tragic, no matter how clever and funny they are.  I think the only solution is to write her scene, kill her off as necessary, and drink a toast to her bravery.