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Mar. 5th, 2017 07:13 am
mbranesf: (Default)
Last week when I was putting up Kyler Fey's new novellas in the ebook stores, I was a little bit baffled as to why every venue has a different hierarchy of categories. The print versions were easy enough to categorize the way I wanted them to be when I assigned the ISBN and arranged for print distribution, but the three ebook stores (Kindle, iBooks and Kobo) into which I placed them all varied. The most cumbersome was Kobo because for some reason I was not able to include "erotica" as a category without assigning  "romance" as its primary category. This is because in their categories system, pretty much all fictional genres except romance fall under "fiction," but "erotica" is not a sub-category of "fiction." It only shows up under romance, and when one tries to select that in combination with "science fiction," one is blocked by the rule of not being able to use catgeories from both fiction and "non-fiction." Which I would not consider romance to be, but anyway there  it was. I did end up sticking them both in romance because I felt it was fairly important to get them tagged as erotica (since they are both filled about eighty percent by volume with explicit depictions and discussions of m/m sex). But we actually consider them to be part of a serial of gay erotic "science fantasy" (some later installments of the series which I have gotten to examine also tread into supernatural horror).

Since I don't read a lot of genre literature crafted as "romance," I figured that I was probably not fully informed as to what makes it that. I know that its a multi-genre mode in that there can be contemporary settings, historical settings, science fictional settings, etc. But I wasn't entirely clear on what unifies all of this under the romance umbrella, and if erotica in general is under that umbrella or not (it's not necessarily). So I checked out submission guidelines for a few publishers who release a lot of Kindle books to see what they are shopping for when they say "romance." Here's what I did not know in my ignorance of the form, and which surprised me: it is evidently very deliberately formulaic in its construction in that whatever happens in the story, it is the expectation that every story conclude with a "happily ever after" (HEA) or at least a  "happily for now" (HFN) ending. I think every guidelines page that I read mandated this formula.This made me sit back and think for few moments. In most other genres--especially ones where the authors have some ambition of crafting "Real Literature" out of their SF or F or H concept--writers are constantly trying to subvert or evade the formulas. They'll get lauded when they succeed and their books are considered to be "better" than formulaic genre fiction. In fact it's a fairly common knock on a book that the reviewer didn't much like was that it was "formulaic." TV shows and movies are routinely panned over hewing too closely to an obvious formula (even though they all pretty much do so on purpose). So the story, in this mode, is really about learning how the characters reach their HEA state, because you know already that's where it's headed. The ending is not in doubt. There will be happiness. In this sense, the form reminds me of another very formulaic one that I got a lot of pleasure from when I was a kid and a teenager and even once in while still as an adult: Star Trek tie-in fiction.  I read tons of it in my youth, have a couple boxes of it still in a closet (only reason it's not out and shelved is because I dont have enough shelves), and once in a while will go back to one of those novels when I want something easy to digest. Like these romance novels, those Star Trek novels (many of which include romantic subplots) all ended HFN. You knew there was going to be another crisis, another adventure later on, but at the end of each story, things were pretty much reset to normal, the characters were all alive and well, and the mood was good.

So, are Kyler's books "romance" by formula? Intersex Boys of Venus ends with portents of an ominous threat that is not resolved and has yet to be fully uncovered (it's chapter 5 of a serial). But it does focus on two boys who plainly love each other a lot, but their relationship is not depicted as all that "romantic" in that they didn't just meet and fall in love etc. There's a little taste of HFN between them in their final scene of the novel, but then that's immediately followed by a creepy foreshadowing of future problems for them. One Hundred Times (the b-side of the print double with Intersex Boys) ends sort of HFN between the main characters, but it's also implied that they'll probably never see each other again, and it is explict throughout the book that the entire purpose of their relationship was fucking. They were never in love, and the narrator at one point grapples with feelings of "crushing" on his short-term sex partner and tries to bat those feelings away with rationality. So that's not a romance either, at least by formula. It's also true that the storyline is actually a thinly-veiled account of something that Kyler did in real life, so one probably wouldn't expect a memoir to hew to a genre formula in the way one would expect a romance novel to do so.

I'll be spending some time today on final formatting of the next episode of the serial, titled The Strange Case of the Tattoed Twink. The accompanying picture is the illustration for its cover. [updated to note that while this illustration was used for the final book, we changed the color of it].

Annoying Dream:
For some reason, I've lately been having dreams in which I somehow end up in a wooded park and find myself getting lost and running into dead ends as I try to navigate its trails and roads. This park is a real place from my boyhood, a fairly large and heavily wooded park in the town in which I was born and lived until I was thirteen. It had (and I presume still has) hidden trails, a couple of weird bodies of water, an old stadium, a police shooting range, some assorted attractions like a public swimming pool and a dirt-and-gravel road that cuts through its back regions, but which doesn't really go anywhere--it just loops back around to where you started. But in some iterations of this dream, I am either walking or driving that road and somehow just can't quite find my way back out of the park. The road forks in strange ways, generates long sidepaths that dead-end in the woods or run into a large lake (there was in real life swampy flooded lake-like algae-choked area of water there that one could get to by following a dead-end path from the main road--and where it was believed that teenagers would go to fuck in their cars--but nothing nearly so large as the dream lake). In last night's version of the dream, instead of following the endless ever-changing road, I got similarly disoriented on a trail that cut through the woods and followed a narrow shallow stream. This trail and that stream were real things back in those days, too. During the summer when I was twelve, I frequently ventured down this trail by myself and masturbated. I enjoyed doing this outside so much that it became a nearly daily habit that summer even on rainy days, always standing in the same hidden spot and squirting on a clump of milkweed. It's amazing that I was never caught doing this because, while the path itself and my favorite spot on it were quite hidden from view, it was still traveled pretty frequently by other kids who liked to use it to cut aross the deep foresty middle of the park and feel some kind of sense of adventure from doing so. But I always got away with it. In fact, the only thing I was ever seen doing with my fly open was pissing in the stream that ran next to the trail, but that was totally non-controversial as it was absolutely standard for every boy who ever went to that part of the park to piss in that stream as if it were a long public trough-style urinal. In this dream from last night, I was on that same path, and I remember so many vivid details of it that makes me feel like my old impressions of it had risen whole and unchanged from some deep geological layer of memory. In the dream, I didnt jerk off and wasn't in the least bit horny enough to want to do so anyway, because I was intensely frustrated at how long circuitous the trail had become, and how it seemed that no matter which direction I went, I was just getting farther and farther away from the park's exit. At one point, I decided it would somehow be faster to simply go back the way I came and quit trying to find the end of the trail, but then the way back had changed, as if the path had been reworking itself behind me as I trod the woods' depths. Eventually, I made myself wake up. I can't always do this, but occasionally I have the ability to realize while in dream-space that I am probably dreaming and can just put an end to whatever dumb situation is going on by waking myself up.

New book project:
I am well into the editing and revision phase of a long project that I will probably release through (the long dormant) M-Brane Press hopefully later this year as both a series of ebooks and a single big print volume. It's a gay pornographic science fiction thing with elements of planetary romance and cosmic horror, set in a fantasy version of the Solar System several centuries from now, centered around a cast of specially-endowed characters that work almost like a Doc Savage-type secret organization to save the world again and again from various insidious threats (while continually getting their rocks off). I started it last summer, and added over fifty thousand words to it as my NaNoWriMo project last November, and it's been kind of growing gradually since then. I may release it pseudonymously, not because of its content but more because its built on the conceit that it's an assembly of several dudes' diary entries put together by an editor many years after the events described. So I think I will credit the book to its imaginary editor. It's become a lot more complicated, elaborate, nuanced, weird and just plain longer than what I had intended at the outset (which was just to knock out some quickie Kindle porn really fast and see if anyone would actually buy it), so I am months behind my own deadlines on it. The original idea was to release it as a bunch of ebooks, each "book" really just being a chapter in a serial. Typically these erotic Kindle books on Amazon tend to really just be four or five thousand-word short stories, and sometimes even shorter than that. My project is currently mapped out to have twenty-seven of these "books", each with a number and a lurid subtitle (I was kind of inspired to that number by Mark Danielwski's The Familiar, which he intends to tell in twenty-seven massive volumes). These individual book segments tend to be clocking in at around ten to twelve thousand words (and they get longer as I lard them up with "scholarly" footnotes) so a bit longer than is typical for the Kinde erotica format, but that's for the best, I think. I find a lot of that stuff to be too brief and not sufficiently fleshed out (and just plain awful) anyway. The final number of chapters may change by the time I am done, because a few of the unfinished ones seem to not need to exist anymore, while a couple of new ones that weren't even in the original outline have grown up and become important to the story arc. Also, I a few months ago, I had more or less decided to kill off one of the characters and excise him from the whole storyline because he didn't seem to be doing much of anything important, and I thought I maybe had too many major characters anyway (nine of them). But more recently, I kind of fell in love with the lad when he suddenly needed to be at the center of a couple new plot threads due to his special ability (he paints and draws stuff derived from prophetic visions). So he stays.
cairnimThough November 12 is a hopelessly late date to start this year's participation in National Novel Writing Month, I've decided to do it anyway. I am going to give myself a whopping 22,000-word head start by incorporating an already-written novella into the plan...but I won't count that toward my 50K to "win." So what's the point of this massive cheat, then, you may wonder? It's to motivate me to finish a much larger story, which I will take to 75K before declaring NaNo victory, assuming I make it to that threshold by end of the month. But if I do not log 50K in new words before the end of the month, then I will not claim my winner badge (but I still did the obligatory fake cover!).

This is the plan: I will put together a triptych of inter-related novellas involving the same characters. The first part of it will be the already-written "Love Me, He Said, and Turned Away Forever," most of which I posted on this journal in 2011. The second section will be titled "Taste the Blood of Lastain" and will focus on the character Arthur-Rimbaud who was only seen in Skype calls during the first section, and it will cover what he was up to while his counterpart in the other section was having bizarre misadventures. And then the third segment, titled "The Cairn and the Curve",  will involve the reunion of the protags from parts one and two and their confrontation with GREAT DRAMA! And HORROR!

This mostly-new work involves a group of characters that I have been tormenting since my 2009 (winner!) NaNo project The Days of the Dust and the Diane Rehm Show, and which I revisited in an alternate universe kind of way in the short story "The Cairn" (published in Library of the Living Dead's 2010 anthology Zombiality: A Queer Bent on the Undead). But in this new tale of their lives, they struggle in yet another vaguely Lovecraftian alternate universe where Cthulhu cultists are as ordinary as Mormon missionaries and climate change isn't any longer a subject of politics because it's become the giant freaky-deaky regular fact of everyday life.

And there will be zeppelins again, because airplanes can't navigate the Dust.

For the past few days, I have been contemplating a dilemma in my capacity as editor of M-Brane SF Magazine. I discovered, to my great irritation, that a writer whom I have published a couple of times sold me first rights to his stories when, in fact, they had been previously published not just once but two times and three times. I don't take reprints, and if I did, I would 1) expect to be informed by the writer that the submission was previously published; 2) I would want to acknowledge in print the previous publisher;  and 3) I sure as fuck would not contract for first English rights on the story. 

For people not in the writing and publishing world, this may sound like an obscure and technical issue, but for me it is one of honor and integrity. This writer is a douchebag for misrepresenting his work as new, and he has made me look like a douche for publishing it as new. I have uncovered numerous instances of this kind of chicanery involving this writer and a number of other zines. I have informed the affected editors so that they can decide for themselves whether to do as I am doing and ban from consideration any future submissions from this person. I am sure there are many other publishers whom I have not yet informed because I am sure that I have not uncovered every instance of this situation. If this were some newbie writer who didn't know what he was doing, and had only done it once or twice, I could maybe forgive and forget. But this is a person with literally hundreds of credits (many of them evidently duplicative under false pretenses).

Despite my rage over this and my natural impulse to call out liars when I spot them, I think I have made the correct decision by not yelling this person's name far and wide and instead just dealing with it directly with the affected parties as I discover them. Word spreads among the zine publishing community. My research into this fraud happened to lead me to a blog that is evidently almost wholly devoted to hating this writer, and does so with great bile and personal nastiness. That sort of thing is not my bag, and I will not participate in it. But I will make sure to take any opportunity that presents itself to shut down yet another market for this particular writer. I have already closed about ten of them. 
I won't name names here because I don't want to offend anyone and, indeed, I intend no offense. Yesterday I observed a rather intense debate on Twitter between a well-known, well-regarded literary agent and an accomplished professional writer, the main issue of which seemed to be whether or not it's legitimate for an agent or an editor to dismiss  a writer's work based on details of its content (as distinct from whether the book's genre is appropriate or not for a particular agent or editor). The content in contention here was characters depicted as smoking.

Let me back up a bit. Not everyone reading this probably participates in Twitter. It can be a terrifically useful tool for networking with colleagues, chatting with friends and promoting one's work. I use it for all three. But what it's not always very good for is a couple of little things like "context" and "nuance." It sucks for having an argument with someone. The very nature of the format--short little statements limited to 140 characters in length, which often appear with small delays and even out of chronological order sometimes--makes it quite a dicey proposition to use it for a multi-statement, back-and-forth exchange over a disagreement. It is really easy for two people who maybe aren't even that far apart in their viewpoint to suddenly flame up into an angry shouting situation. But the fully public nature of it is great when someone like me, who does not know either of these people, can observe something interesting.

I happened to see a tweet from the agent where she was passing along the info that another agent was open for submissions of YA fiction, but that writers should not bother to submit if their characters smoke. The agent concurred that smoking sucks and that she doesn't like to see it on TV shows either. OK, fine. That's the preference of this agent and at least one other. Personally, it doesn't worry me that much and I do not judge it as some kind of moral failing or menace to society and certainly would't reject a story based on that alone, but nor does it bother me that some agents and editors do have a problem with it. Well, later on, the writer that I mentioned above appeared to have engaged with the agent over this, making the case (in a way that the Twitter Effect probably made seem a lot more shrill than it really was from his perspective) that the fiction ought to be judged on its merits as fiction and not just on little failings of the characters. People in real life, after all, do things like smoke (and drink and have sex). It struck him as censorious that an agent or editor would ignore these realities and issue a blanket ban on smoking (and by extension, he seemed to think, other "vices," though those did not come up much in the Tweets that I read). What kind of head-in-the-sand person would be like that? seemed to be his position. This, of course (enhanced probably by the Twitter Effect), caused the agent to respond quite forcefully in defense of her position. Which was simply that all editors have preferences (obviously) and it would be dumb and incompetent for an agent or writer to submit a story with smoking in it to an editor who has made it clear that she doesn't like people smoking in novels. To the writer, the argument was about art and reality, and to the agent is was about business and good professional practices.

Well, they were both right in their own ways, and it appeared to me that the whole thing flared up obnoxiously because they were talking about different things. I wasn't able to keep following it for very long, and it's possible that they solved their dispute and made peace. I hope so. At the base of it, the agent was just pointing out that a writer or agent will have more success with an editor if her submission matches the particular editor's preference. That's as common as common sense can get. If I submitted my NaNo novel to the local conservative religious book publisher, it would be quickly rejected because it has nothing to do with their preferences. If a writer submitted to my zine an item of When Harry Met Sally fan fiction, I would turn that away, too, for the same reason, and I'd wonder why the writer sent it to me in the first place and probably think they were incompetent for having done so. Just as the religious publisher would think that of me if I sent them my story about gay people with a bunch of sex and drinking in it. I don't think the writer who was arguing with the agent would disagree with any of this if he had encountered it anywhere else other than the context/nuance-free zone that Twitter can be at its worst. But, on the other hand, I sympathize with his apparent attitude that it's kind of priggish and silly to evaluate writing and story on something like a character smoking. But if you are determined to have smoking in your story, I am sure there are plenty of places to send it still, and it would be simple good sense to avoid the venues that ban it (obviously this would be a very different issue if, say, the government banned smoking in books, but that's not what this was about).

And I now know of a couple fewer possible people to show my NaNo novel to should I ever polish it up for submission (it has some smoking in it). 
Laura Miller of posted an article yesterday titled "A reader's advice to writers," in which she frames some complaints about flaws that she evidently encounters in a lot of fiction that could be avoided if the novelist paid more attention to elements of story telling that would make their work more interesting and accessible to wide audiences. While I don't necessarily disagree with much of what she says (and it's refreshing to see, for once, an "advice" article that's not just writers talking to other writers), it seems to be aimed at writers of "literary" fiction. It seems to me that there is plenty enough fiction around that eschews things like  "beautiful prose style,"  and is not occupied with "atmosphere" and "character." She's advocating for story-driven fiction where such literary folderol is put in the backseat or omitted entirely. But isn't there plenty of that already? Isn't Dan Brown the biggest (and therefore best!?) fiction writer around nowadays, despite how unmemorable anything about his actual writing style may be? I don't know specifically which writers she considers to be crafting dull, atmospheric, plotless novels, and I (admittedly) don't read tons of non-genre "literary" fiction myself, so I can't readily point to any. But I wonder if the solution to the problem would be simply to read instead some of the many entertaining, if stylistically thin, plot-driven novels when that mood strikes rather than tell the literary stylists to quit being stylists. That is to say, some people (even a mostly-genre reader like me) do, in fact, get pleasure from fine writing, from a sentence well crafted, from a scene lushly set. 

I'll quote in full the paragraph with which I found myself in the most disagreement: 

3. The components of a novel that readers care about most are, in order: story, characters, theme, atmosphere/setting. Of course all these elements are interlinked, and in the best fiction they all contribute to and enhance each other. But if you were to eliminate these elements, starting at the end of the list and moving toward the beginning, you could still end up with a novel that lots of people wanted to read; the average mass-market thriller is nothing but story. If you sacrifice these elements starting from the beginning of the list, you will instead wind up with a sliver of arty experimentation that, if you're very, very good, a handful of other people might someday read and admire. There's honor in that, but it's daft to write something with the deliberate intention of denying readers what they love and want and then to be heartbroken when they aren't interested. If you want to engage with more than a tiny coterie, take storytelling seriously; if you think that's incompatible with art, you are in the wrong line of work.

I actually mostly agree with the general sense of this, particularly the second sentence. But I am wondering from where the inspiration for this advice comes. If a writer pares away this list of those components from end to beginning until it's just a naked story with little to offer as far as characters, theme, atmosphere and setting, then it seems like one ends up with mass market novel, of which there are plenty. So who exactly is it who is sacrificing these elements from the beginning of the list and ending up with slivers of arty experimentation? I'm honestly asking because I really don't know, and I haven't read any such published novels lately (though I do encounter story-starved experimentation in the M-Brane slush-pile from time to time, generally from inexperienced college-age writers, who've momentarily wowed themselves with their edginess--and I sympathize because I was one of those back in the day, and still am sometimes). While I am not on a steady diet of what critics would consider contemporary "literature," I have read recently a few books by well-regarded lit writers who cross over into the genres sometimes, such as Michael Chabon and Cormac McCarthy as well as genre writers who are out-and-out literary stylists such as Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree), Ursula LeGuin and Samuel Delany. I find the  work of all these writers to be very stylish and atmospheric, but also fully engaged in telling a story. This is what I am usually looking for as a reader, and I think a reader can, in fact, have it all. And, of course, sometimes I really do want an easy read, and I'll pick up a mass market novel and enjoy it perfectly well. But I don't want only that.
I just read in Samuel Delany's book About Writing an interview that he did in 1999 for the St. Mark's Poetry Project. The first question was, "What form/shape will writing of the twenty-first century take?"

Delany's response, in part: "I can't believe that you're really frivolous enough to think, because I am a science fiction writer, I have some privileged, informed or even interesting take on the future, more than do ditch diggers, dry cleaners, insurance salesmen--or, indeed the run of the mill poet or novelist...Once, about twenty-five years ago, some people in Missoula, Montana, flew SF writers Frank Herbert (Dune), Frederik Pohl (Gateway), and me to take part in an audience-packed, Saturday-night panel that addressed the question, 'What is the future of Montana geological study and mining?' They were incredibly impressed with their own cleverness and originality in inviting some science fiction writers along with the geologists and mining engineers who were the program's other participants. The organizers were quite convinced no one had ever done such a thing before. We were each paid five hundred dollars for our appearance...But I'm doing this interview for free. Therefore, you have to compensate me with intelligent and reasonable questions about which it's possible to say something interesting, based on something I might conceivably know." (p.299)


Though I would hate to be the person on the other end of that, the more I read by Delany, the more I think he might be the coolest dude EVAR.
Now that NaNoWriMo is done (see previous entry), I can screw around with the cover for the gift edition of the story that I am sending to the donors to my November fund drive without feeling like I am wasting too much time (I actually had to stop myself from screwing around with this on days that I needed to be writing the story instead). So here's the front cover and the back in their current versions. The front cover image is compiled out an image of me with a wine spritzer from last summer (which I guess means that the novel's narrator looks a great deal like me, since it is the narrator who is supposed to be pictured there) and an image of a zeppelin. The boy on the back cover can be taken to be the character "A-R," who is the narrator's step-son and the one who actually gets to fly on the zeppelin. The back cover also contains a passage from the story and some items of critical acclaim for it :)



I think that text is more legible if you click on the pic. At least it is on my screen.
Thinking aloud here. Pay no attention. It will be quite dull.

A fact about my writing process has become more obvious to me as I go through this month with my NaNoWriMo project. It's always been easy for me to see that when I write non-fiction (such as my blog posts or editorial comments for M-Brane) that it can generally be made a lot tighter and more coherent by a quick edit. This nearly always results in fewer words. (This is not to say that I generally spend the time to actually do a lot of that of sort of editing on blog posts--I'm just making an observation).

With fiction, however, I find that when I slip into a mode of writing rather quickly, just to get the story spilled out, as I am trying to do for NaNoWriMo, then I end up with a rather skeletal beast. Indeed, the editing process with fiction is for me almost always one of adding a lot more words. By the time I was done revising my story for TWAN, it had inflated by over 1000 words from its original condition (total word count when done: 4700). I will look over a passage or a scene and say to myself, "This has no substance, no atmosphere, no detail," and then start laying in that stuff. Which almost always adds words. So here's my dilemma today: as I approach the 30,000 word mark, I am starting to feel that it's possible that I if I were to sort all my scenes into proper order from start to finish, I would have already have something resembling the complete story, just lacking for some of that back-filling of substance and detail.

I can't decide if I should stop cranking out words for a couple hours, sort this thing out, read it over, find out what's missing and start the editing process. Another problem is that I get lost in my manuscripts when I try long-form fiction because I don't have an outline. I sort of "see" the whole sweep of the story, but not it's step-by-step progression. I tend to just write scenes as they come to me without regard for where they will go in the finished story. When one document full of scenes gets too long and unwieldy, I start another one and then merge them later. My still unfinished sf novel Shame is in this condition: various documents have been merged, it's fairly well sorted out, but is still riddled with holes, needing some new scenes that link others together logically. Instead of getting those missing pieces drafted, however, I spend my time with it tweaking and revising the existing portions.

OK, it's too early in NaNo to risk getting bogged down in revision when I still need a lot more raw word count. I will sort out my manuscript, but not do any editing, and then get right back into the raw writing.

I can't wait until it's officially 9/1 in my hemisphere.  I am posting my Outer Alliance Pride posts this afternoon, both here and at M-BRANE SF.  The one at the other site is a short clip from my novel-in-progress. The one below is an excerpt from my short story "The Robbie" which will be appearing in the anthology Things We Are Not in a few weeks. I'll caution readers that "The Robbie," while a science fictional story that deals with some serious issues, may end up being viewed by some readers as a  dirty gay sex story, and that is somewhat indicated in this short excerpt (even though it's not really). But what can I say? I'm a dirty boy.

But first, the Mission Statement of the grand new Outer Alliance:

As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity.  I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.

From “The Robbie,” forthcoming in Things We Are Not…

Though it had already been two years since he and Jayson had gotten the robbie, Chad had still not gotten quite used to its appearance, which he found vaguely creepy during those moments when he wasn’t wanting to use it. Of course it didn’t look quite human. It was remarkably human-like but, like all robbies, it was obviously and undeniably a robbie. By careful design, Jayson had told him. “They didn’t want them looking so realistic that they could pass for humans,” he would say every single time that Chad mentioned his vague discomfort with the thing’s appearance. “People were afraid of them back then.”


Read more... )