Business As Usual — For Some Things

WRITING 02There’s something about a deadline that focuses the mind wonderfully. Even a self-imposed deadline, like this one. I am determined, whenever possible, to have these blog posts done and ready to post every Monday. Why Monday? Because it’s better to start at the beginning, which is what Monday is for most people on a weekly schedule. There’s some logic to it.

Business as usual, right? Like before I started this post, I processed a rejection and got the story back under submission. Everyone gets rejected at some time or another, or even regularly. If you want to write for publication and can’t deal with that, find another avocation. You can’t even dodge it by self-publishing, since then readers have a direct chance to reject what you’re doing.  It’s always going to hurt, even after you’ve done it for years and years and develop the thick skin necessary to keep going. I could even say “get used to it” but that would be hypocritical, since I never have. I accept it, since the irony is this is all you can do with rejection. Just move on to the next possibility, and keep working so there always is another possibility.

Speaking of which, time to figure out what the next novel is going to be. I think I know. I hope I’m right. Back to business….

Yamada and Beyond

Audible Edition

Audible Edition

Surprise package in the mail last week, from my publisher’s agent—physical copies of the The Emperor in Shadow audiobook. Just the thing for those long drives in vehicles that still have those, what were they called? Oh, right. CD players. I’m sure there are a few around…other than mine.

I wonder if I should preface this next section with SPOILER ALERT, or some such, but for those who don’t know, The Emperor in Shadow is the concluding volume in the Yamada Monogatari series. I’m not going to say that I’ll never write another Yamada story, because I don’t know that (he also has another sister we still haven’t met), but the main story arc is completed, since the series always had an endpoint and my only uncertainty was if I’d get it there in a reasonable time frame. The answer turned out to be yes. The publisher plans an omnibus volume which will gather all the Yamada stories, plus three stories not yet collected, plus the three novels. That is likely not to be out until 2018. After that, well I plan to be doing something else. I hope some of you are willing to stick around for that. More details when there are any to share.

 

Review: A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford

A Natural History of Hell: Stories by Jeffrey Ford, Small Beer Press, 2016

 

It’s more than a bit awkward at this point, wanting to get on with the review and wondering if I should first introduce the author, Jeffrey Ford, knowing all the while I shouldn’t have to do anything of the sort. Ford is, no exaggeration, one of the finest writers working in the field he’s chosen to be associated with. Or the field that chose him, since in our culture the kind of thing he tends to do has no real framework outside that of the fabulist. If he’d been born in South America he’d probably be considered a magical realist instead. No matter. It’s all pigeonholes and ways of talking about a thing, rather than the thing itself.

Did I just say all that? My apologies. But that’s what Ford’s work tends to do—send the reader off on tangents of thought and realms hitherto unexplored. After the story ends, of course. Until that moment, the story pretty much has you where it wants you.

There are thirteen stories in this collection, and all of recent vintage. Here you will find modern fairy tales, metafictions where a character named Jeff Ford is part of the story, biting commentaries on modern politics and insanity—lately almost one and the same thing–, observations on wealth and class, and none of the above. What you will really find, excusing the short-hand descriptive phrases attempting to categorize them, are stories. That’s what they are, first and foremost. The words attempting to categorize them above are cheerful failures. The stories are not. Nor are they cheerful.

Seriously. With a title like “A Natural History of Hell,” you were expecting sweetness and light? Oh, you’ll get that, too, but sparingly. There’s a dark, unflinching heart at the center of these stories. It looks in humanity’s mirror and describes what it sees, with neither fear nor pity to hinder it. There’s “The Thyme Fiend,” where only a cup of tea brewed from the herb of the title keeps the horrors at bay, until the time comes when they simply must be let in. Or “Blood Drive,” when an insane premise is logically followed to its insane conclusion and the world turns merrily on. One of my personal favorites, “The Angel Seems,” where common sense humanity shows that it has learned the proper way to treat a god.

Quibbles? Okay, fine. One or two of the endings did not quite come together for me. I only mention this at all because those cases were one of the few times I was forced out of the story into a consideration of plot, which normally you don’t even notice in a Ford story, even though it’s always there. Whatever strangeness is going on, you just go with it. If, for an instant, you can’t, it is noticeable. Fortunately, it is also very rare.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I do confess to being slightly put out by one story. We tend to get that way when we read a story someone else has written and sigh, “Damn. Why didn’t I think of that?” This happened in the centerpiece story, “A Terror,” where Emily Dickinson takes that famed carriage ride with Death. That line from HS English –“Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me” is all it takes to set it off. Not that my complaint matters. If I had written a story on this premise, it would not have been like this. Ford did it his own way, which now seems to me the only way, and he owns it.

He owns all of it. Thirteen stories only Jeffrey Ford could have written. Fortunately for us, he was around to do it. May he write many more.

 

2016, Can’t Wait to See the Back of You

Yoshino-1Well, 2016 continues to suck. Last week I heard about the passing of Tammy Grimes. For those too young to know, she was an actress who won two Tony Awards for her work on the stage (for The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Private Lives). That’s all Wikipedia stuff and you can look it up if you’re interested, and all even before my time. I remember her best for two things: She was the voice of Molly Grue in the Rankin-Bass version of Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn (still one of my favorite animated films, excusing the duet between Lady Amalthea and Prince Lyr) and for the narration of several Edward Gorey pieces, especially The Wuggly Ump. Hearing her wonderful whiskey baritone hum of a voice rendering the final lines “…from deep inside the Wuggly Ump.” Gives me chills to this day. RIP.

What I thought was a short story might be turning into the first chapter of a novel. Still too early to tell, but the scope is shifting. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, but only bad if I can’t figure out what the story wants to be. After that it’s just seat of pants to the chair and fingers on the keyboard. I’m ready for something to go right.

Speaking of which, tomorrow here in the States we have a golden opportunity to make 2016 suck a little bit less for everyone here and around the world. Let’s not blow it.

In Which I am (Dis) Organized

Powers-Shadow-Rough-3If you write long enough, one thing you eventually learn is that actual writing is only part of the picture. A big part of the rest is keeping up with what you’ve written, and the longer you spend in the trenches, the more of a pain keeping everything organized becomes. There are different approaches. The system I use is adapted from one L. Sprague de Camp wrote about using, and if anyone reading this has forgotten or never knew who he was, Google is your friend. Regardless, with some updating it works well enough for me. I keep five separate text files: a Works List, a Submissions List, a Sold List, a Bibliography and a Trunk List.

These are all pretty self-explanatory but I’m going to explain them anyway, if for no other reason than to remind myself how it all is supposed to work, because sometimes I am lax. Ahem. Continue reading