A Triple-Good Day For a Writer

A few things happen today, each of which counts as a quantum of “writer success.”

A new interview with Laird Barron by the guys at Miskatonic Musings was posted today,
HERE. I listened through about the 30 minute mark, but then had to depart for the day job, where I can listen to podcasts with naughty words and discussions of naughty bits freezing up. My wife informs me that Laird mentions me near the end, so that makes me pretty happy, since Laird is a towering, city-stomping monster of a weird fiction writer, and a very wise fella when it comes to recommending new talent.

Item number two, in other Laird Barron related news, is Laird’s latest blog post, New Blood, in which he lists a number of emerging writers who are constitute a sort of new generation “helping reshape the contours of modern horror.” My name is on the list, so I’m double-happy.

Third thing, I just received an acceptance email and contract and payment, all withing a few minutes of each other, for a story to appear in A Mythos Grimmly. The anthology is a sort of crossover between Lovecraftiana and traditional fables. My story, “The Apprentice, the Muse and the Mancer,” is a bit of a departure. Also, though I don’t do this writing thing for the money, I did receive the largest-ever single paycheck for a story. Here’s to bigger and bigger checks, and more publications!

Recent Reads: Oct 2014 Edition

Generally it seems that the more reviews I’m writing, the less reading I’m doing. Lately I’ve focused on reading a lot, and left reviewing as a secondary consideration. Time to catch up a bit, and if not write reviews, then at least summarize recent reads. I’ll have to break this into three or four parts.

nocountry

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Even lesser work by Cormac McCarthy exhibits numerous moments of greatness. No Country for Old Men seems to be the story of Llewelyn Moss finding millions of dollars in cash at the scene of a drug deal gone bad in the desert, but it’s really the story of Ed Tom Bell, a sheriff approaching retirement and watching his county disintegrate into madness and violence. Anton Chigurgh, the psychopathic hitman memorably portrayed by Javier Bardem in the film version of the book, is reminiscent at times of the Judge in Blood Meridian, in seeming to represent a deeper, wider-ranging force than mere human malevolence.

The title hints at an almost reactionary conservative outlook on the part of Sheriff Bell, as the book ends with Bell’s observations that society has deteriorated in many irreparable ways, starting from the loss of manners and civility and culminating in a near-complete breakdown of respect for life and law. Most of McCarthy’s work feels less narrowly focused on a given time period and locale, more timeless and universal. In comparison, this book is tied-down in a way that is very specific and contemporary (though not quite present-day), and in that sense No Country for Old Men feels smaller, less consequential. Still it’s powerful work, well worth reading, especially for those who can’t get enough Cormac McCarthy

suttree

Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

Halfway through this book, I mentioned to friends that contrary to what I’d been told, “Suttree is not lesser Cormac McCarthy.” Having finished the book, I’d call it a profound achievement, maybe only half a step beneath the level of Blood Meridian, though of an entirely different flavor. The biggest difference is that Suttree is funnier and often more absurd, full of self-defeat and futility, along with with the usual McCarthy obsession on death and the hostility of humankind to itself. I’ll come back to Suttree again and again, and highly recommend it

goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

It’s long, and might be exhausting for some readers, but I loved this book’s intimate point of view and lush detail. The Goldfinch is much more interesting at length than in summary, but basically it’s the life of a teenage boy Theo after he finds himself in the middle of a terrorist bombing. My favorite aspect of The Goldfinch is the vividly rendered, slightly strange cast of characters. Every person in this story seems quirky and interesting, even relatively minor ones like Xandra, and I loved Theo’s friends Andy and especially Boris.

mobydick

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

An amazing achievement of creative invention, full of philosophy and adventure and encyclopedia detail. You can find a thousand essays or analyses if you want to know what it’s about, or what Melville was trying to do, so I won’t bother going into that. I’ll just say, I loved this book so much, and I look forward to reading it again.

***

Aside from The Goldfinch, a new book which I believe will stand the test of time, this has been a great year for catching up for major novels of the past.

Far From Streets on Goodreads

I’ve added Far From Streets (my out of print novella from Dunhams Manor Press) to Goodreads.com — it’s sold out, so you can’t buy a copy, but if anybody’s interested in rating or reviewing it, they can find it here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23358058-far-from-streets

"Far From Streets," a standalone novella from Dunhams Manor Press

“Far From Streets,” a standalone novella from Dunhams Manor Press

Writing Lately, Oct 2014 Edition

It’s been a while since I updated about my writing.

First, as to recent publications, I’ve continued to receive generally very positive responses to Far From Streets (my standalone novella, now out of print, published by Dunhams Manor Press) and “Firedancing,” my story which appeared in The Children of Old Leech.

Most of my time in the past few months has been spent finishing the last two length pieces intended for my planned collection. In June I finished a novelette code-named JEWEL, then took a break of about six weeks to work on two stories for anthology invitations. When those were done in mid-August, I started on the big novella, code-named BLACK VEIN, intended to be the last piece in the collection. This novella is giant and showing no signs of becoming anything but larger, so I won’t meet my original self-imposed deadline of finishing it by the end of September. I’ve given myself an extra month, but I figure three months (almost) to write a 30,000 novella isn’t too bad.

I’ll need to take another break soon to write two new stories, as I’ve received a couple more exciting invitations this summer. It’s wonderful to be have editors asking for my work, especially new editors with whom I haven’t published before. This means a lot of extra work, but it gives me hope that next year will not only see the publication of my first collection, but also a substantial number of stories in anthologies by a variety of editors and publishers.

Certainly I’ll give more specifics about these pending works as soon as possible. For now, though, I’m as busy as I’ve ever been, and excited about the coming year.

Uses and Abuses of Social Networking

A lot of people are talking about the downfall of Facebook and the need for newer, better social networks. This talk, roughly coincident with the rise of a new social net called ello, has me thinking a lot about how these social networks operate, what we can hope to derive from them, and why so often things go wrong.

Everyone seems to assume that because social networks start out small, and there’s not a lot of money to be made, the founders tend to be idealistic and focused on human-scale goals, such as creating a solid user experience and giving people a compelling virtual environment in which to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones.

Then the story goes, with the growth of a user base and monetization of the attention of millions (eventually tens or hundreds of millions) of members, focus shifts from optimizing user experience to maximizing revenue growth. I agree this is true. Part of what went wrong with MySpace and what’s going wrong with Facebook has to do with what I perceive to be management seeing their user base increasingly as a very large data set, rather than human beings.

The more I think about this and look at how things work on Facebook and Twitter and others, though, the more I become convinced that the biggest problem, the greatest factor which causes the deterioration of the user experience on a social network, is us.

You might imagine that we would primarily “follow” or “friend” a person on a social network because we want to interact with that person, be entertained by them, or get to know them. Increasingly, though, people send out friend/follow requests on a wholesale, indiscriminate basis, not looking for what interaction might be had, but instead seeking what they can gain by receiving that person’s attention in return.

On Twitter, the “follow-back” seems to be almost a given for most people. They follow you, not because they want to see what you post in their Twitter feed, but because they expect you will follow them back, and they can then impose their promotional efforts upon you in spam-like fashion.

At the very least, even if they don’t think you’ll see or notice their posts, you’re increasing their “followers” number, which actually seems to be important to many people. I’ve seen self-published writers, or “indie” bands, whose work clearly is not widely-known or “bestselling,” yet they have a number of followers in the tens or hundreds of thousands. There is simply no way to achieve that number of followers, if you’re not a famous person, except by gaming the system. These people either “buy” sham followers from services who sell them, or they mass-follow huge numbers of people with the expectation of receiving an automatic “follow-back.”

On Facebook, the problem is different, because the “one-way” connection is almost unknown. If you send me a friend request and I accept it, then we are BOTH friends. So if someone reaches out to you and sends you what seems like a friendly gesture, seems to say “I want to know you,” the friendly thing would seem to be acceptance. Then you’re friends. The problem is, most people are not sending you friend requests because they want to get to know you. In many cases they’re doing it because they want to promote themselves and want a large audience to receive their message.

The problem of accumulating numbers of followers as on Twitter is less of an issue on Facebook, because personal accounts can’t have more than 5,000 friends. What happens a lot, though, is total strangers sending out lots of friend requests, then as soon as the request is accepted, firing off a request to “like” their page. Again, the transaction feels very much like spam or junk mail, nothing like what a true social interaction is supposed to feel like.

The newest thing is ello, a new, comparatively small and minimal social network. I was an early member there, and during the first week, it felt like such a breath of fresh air. I only had a few “friends” there, but everything that I saw posted in my friends feed was interesting, relevant, funny, or something. Generally, it felt like socializing. We goofed around with ello, posted things, talked about the interface and features. It was so refreshing, I felt tempted to believe that the problem was the system itself, and not the users.

But with the initial success of ello, much publicity has followed. Suddenly there’s an influx of spam type accounts, mass-following everyone in sight. If someone has an account just 8 hours old and is already following 3,000+ people, that’s a fairly good clue that the person didn’t create an account to socialize. They’re finding random lists of people and clicking “friend, friend, friend, friend” all the way down the list, for hours on end.

These people are operating completely in bad faith, hoping the tricks that allowed them to game the system with Twitter and Facebook will apply with ello. In fact, it could be worse, as there’s no 5,000 friend limit. It’s my intention not to follow anybody who can’t approach ello like a true social network, trying to get to know people and communicate with them one on one, rather than just harvesting a huge mailing list to spam their self-promotional bullshit.

This lesson learned through ello is something I’m taking back to Twitter and Facebook. I’ve been going through Twitter and unfollowing several dozen people every day. On Facebook, I’m doing some unfriending, some un-liking, and some un-following. It’s partly my own fault that the experience on these networks has become so unpleasant. My news feed is full of garbage and spam because I have allowed people like that to hook me into their “I’ll follow you, so you follow me” game. That’s a recipe that ends up ruining the whole thing for everyone. From now on, I opt out.

Another Reaction to Far From Streets

Recently I mentioned a few initial reactions to Far From Streets, my novella published this summer by Dunhams Manor Press.

I don’t intend to make another new blog post every single time someone says anything about it, but comments recently made by Christopher Slatsky on Facebook [HERE] delighted me sufficiently that I want to mention them. Follow the link if you want to read what he said, which ends with: “Fantastic accomplishment here. Very highly recommended.”

Thanks, Christopher!

Initial Reactions to Far From Streets

My first stand-alone novella Far From Streets, from Dunhams Manor Press, sold out in pre-order. It’s finally been published, and purchased copies have begun to find their way into the hands of readers. I also handed out several copies at ReaderCon, and some of those people have already given feedback.

"Far From Streets," a standalone novella from Dunhams Manor Press

“Far From Streets,” a standalone novella from Dunhams Manor Press

Only my wife and one editor friend had read the story in the year since I finished writing it. Their responses were positive, but you never really know until a wider variety of readers weighs in.

First, I received a brief but very positive email from a very respected weird/experimental writer, who had apparently read it as soon as he returned from Readercon. This is a guy who doesn’t seem to go around handing out empty praise, so I though that was a great start.

Soon after, I started getting nice comments from people saying they were reading, and enjoying it. A few posted pictures of their copies of the book, always fun to see. Today, there were more pictures, and the first two public reviews or comments about the book.

Justin Steele includes Far From Streets in a July-ending rounding up of recent reads, HERE. Justin says:

“The book is about obsession and relationships as much as it’s about the difference between suburbia and the wilderness, and manages to be far more than just a surreal creep-out fest because of this. Griffin becomes more and more impressive, and this is my favorite work of his to date.”

Later this afternoon, Alicia Graves posted her reaction HERE, including the following very flattering description:

“It was striking, strange, and fluid. I described it to one friend as what I think a mash between Barron and Langan would feel like. Did I mention well written?”

My very sincere thanks to Justin and Alicia and everyone else who has given their time and attention to my work. If you missed out on preordering Far From Streets but would still like to read it, all is not lost. My intention is to include it in the story collection I’m assembling this summer, so you’ll just have to wait until next year when the collection would presumably appear.

From Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 6

Why did nobody tell me that Ellen Datlow said the following in Year’s Best Horror 6?

DatlowYBH6

In case that image doesn’t display for you, the text says:

The Grimscribe’s Puppets, edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Miskatonic River Press), is a tribute to weird fiction writer Thomas Ligotti with twenty-two stories, all but one published for the first time. Most of the contributors do an admirable job using Ligotti’s dense, visionary, strange work to create their own weird fictions. There were notable stories by Livia Llewellyn, John Langan, Gemma Files, Jeffrey Thomas, Paul G. Tremblay, Nicole Cushing, Richard Gavin, Michael Griffin, Michael Kelly, Joel Lane and Kaaron Warren.

Most years, I buy the Best Horror of the Year right away. For some reason this year I hadn’t purchased one yet, but the moment I saw this, I had to grab it.

Yeah! Thanks, Ellen!

BARNES AND NOBLE:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-best-horror-of-the-year-volume-six-ellen-datlow/1116852790

AMAZON: