Black Static. Bleak Days.

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cover art by Joachim Luetke

The new issue of Black Static is out, and in my bimonthly column, I talk about the intersection of politics and art:

What, then, are we to do, those of us who look at the world around us and see a narrowing, a meanness, a falling back to fight old battles we thought were won? And how can stories about monsters help anyone in times like these?

The magazine has the usual mix of terrific fiction, art, reviews, interviews, and commentary and includes the debut of Ralph Robert Moore as my fellow columnist. You can get this issue free if you subscribe now.

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I can scarcely believe what a different world we are living in, and what a bleak one we are on the brink of, compared to my last post on this blog. You’ll be hearing from me more here than usual in the weeks and months ahead, because I have a lot to say and a lot to process and I have to believe that words can save us, or I’ll give in to despair.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Resist. Dissent. Make art.

That’s all I got.

a call for submissions

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I’m guest editing an issue of the science fiction fanzine Journey Planet called The Write Stuff. We’re looking for all kinds of articles about the writing life–the good, the bad, advice, anecdotes, etc.

We’re not looking for how-to-write articles or articles that wax about the joys of writing. What we’re looking for is real nuts-and-bolts type stuff, honest straight talk about the business side of things, and the ugly truths. You’ll be writing for an audience of aspiring writers and fans of speculative fiction who have an interest in looking under the hood of things.

If you’d like to write something for us, drop me a line (lyndarucker at gmail dot com). If you think you’d like to write something for us but you don’t have any ideas, also drop me a line, and we will work with you to think of something! Deadline is mid-February-ish.

interval

I always find it kind of annoying when people talk in their blogs about how busy they are (except you who are reading this; I am sure if you do this on your blog you do it in a way that’s utterly charming). It’s not as annoying as “I have thrilling news I can’t share,” but that’s a rant for another day. Anyway, I find it annoying, BUT (does anyone besides me on writing that word hear Pee Wee Herman say to Simone, as they’re sitting in the big dinosaur heads, “Tell me about your big but?” Anyone? Just me? Okay then) I’m about to do that, or at least I am briefly noting that February is shaping up to be a very busy month for me but I’m still trying to keep my blog from falling into total radio silence.

So I wanted to share a couple of cool blogs I’ve found lately:

Got Medieval is a blog of things medieval, especially medieval marginalia. If that made you go “whuh…”, hang on for a moment. You know how when you get bored you doodle little things in the corners of pages? Well, so did the monks and the nuns and the other folks hanging out around medieval manuscripts back in the day. This may be the most charming thing (I know, I used “charming” up in the first paragraph, too, but it’s the best word for what this is) that I learned from studying medieval lit. I know, I know, it’s presentism to make a remark like Gee whiz! They were just like us! but they weren’t, you know, aliens either, and there’s something about the idea of a bored monk doodling round the edges of a sacred illuminated manuscripts that makes them seem a little less of an unknowable cipher to me, at least. I doodle therefore I am human. I’m surprised we don’t find doodles round the edges of ancient cave paintings, although I suppose the lack of portability for cave walls meant that they weren’t getting carried to boring cave person meetings.

Second blog: Come Here to Me! A blog about Dublin history and culture. Frequently updated and just fascinating, particularly if you know and love this city at all. Highly recommended.

farewell to the poe toaster

This story made me sad. You see, since at least 1940 and some say for even longer, a mysterious figure has turned up at the grave of Edgar Allen Poe on his birthday (January 19) and poured a bit of cognac, toasted, and left behind the bottle of cognac and three red roses arranged in a very specific configuration. Over the years there’s been a great deal of speculation as to who may be behind this ceremony. It’s said that there was some indication that the tradition was passed on to the next generation some time in the nineties.  But it seems to have come to an end at last, with the toaster failing to turn up for the third year in a row. And so a literary mystery ends with something of a whimper. It was a lovely mystery while it lasted, though.

There’s also a Poe house in Philadelphia, by the way, not just the one in Baltimore. A couple of years ago my friend David Surface wrote a terrific piece on his blog about his visit to that Poe House here.

writers and compensation

Let’s get one thing straight. None of us are in this for the money. There are loads of easier ways to make more money, and I’m not talking day trading or becoming a pro athlete or other careers that would net you millions. I’m talking working as a receptionist, or waiting tables. Yeah, most writers, if they could support themselves and have a little left over at the end of the month from writing alone, would be over the moon.

But I’m not here to whine about how little writers get paid. You can find plenty of that on the Internet. I’m not even here to complain about venues that don’t pay their writers, because I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. I’ve written for fiction markets that don’t pay, in each case labors of love by their editors, with money for producing their magazines coming straight from the editors’ pockets. In the couple of cases where I’ve done so, it’s been because I had a story I believed in and was handing it over to editors I thought would present it well. I’ve also written nonfiction for free, mostly when I wanted to promote something I believed in or ran across a project I was excited about. I do believe writing is a skill that deserves remuneration; on the other hand, plenty of professions do pro bono work, and no one suggests it lessens the perceived professionalism of the person volunteering their time and expertise. Writing for free is something I do on a case-by-case basis, and I imagine I always will. (Hey, I’m writing for free right here, for that matter.)

However. What I do object to is the idea that there is something wrong with writers expecting to be compensated for the work that they do in the same way anyone else who works hard to hone their skills in any other area would be. What prompted this post is the experience someone I know just had: they emailed a budding publication about pay rates for journalistic/critical pieces. Someone at the publication responded that they were currently unable to pay writers, but that “if compensation is all you are after” they had best look elsewhere.

Watch me slow burn for a bit until I burst into full-on conflagration. If compensation is all you’re after? Yes, how unreasonable for someone who writes as a profession and is paid for their words elsewhere to expect to be compensated for the time and effort they spend contributing to making your publication better. How unreasonable for them to balk at taking time away from work they are actually paid for to provide content for you. Do you expect your plumber, your doctor, your children’s teachers, your restaurant servers, your car mechanics, everyone you encounter day to day for various goods and services, to work for free and then snarkily suggest that if they actually want something so crass as (gasp!) a paycheck, that compensation is all they’re after? Why, then, are writers supposed to be any different? Inherent in your response is the truth: you don’t really value the writer at all.

It would have been different if the publication had worded it differently: We can’t pay now, and we’ll understand if that doesn’t work for you. Something along those lines. As I stated above, I have no inherent problem with no-pay venues, depending on the circumstances. Instead, it managed to imply that anyone so crass as to ask to be paid for their words is somehow greedy.

I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on that budding publication. With an attitude toward that like its writers, those who provide its content, its very guts–well, is it wrong that I’d be hoping that maybe it doesn’t exactly survive and thrive?

keep those cards and letters coming…

A longtime friend of mine was digging through some old boxes and found some postcards and letters I’d sent him long ago (along with postcards from lots of other people, of course). He posted one of the postcards on Facebook and it led to a conversation about the end of postcard-sending and letter writing.

Most of the people who posted on the thread allowed as how they missed those days and that emails, or digital photos uploaded instantly to everyone online–awesome as that is–lack something that a handwritten card or letter from Elsewhere carries with it. Maybe, in part, it’s the sense of the journey that those cards and letters have taken to get to you. And while I have written and received some thoughtfully and carefully composed emails in my day (and some sloppily-constructed letters), there’s something about the handwritten missive in the mailbox, and finding it years later buried under other mementos, that carries a frisson that emails just can’t conjure. Is there something in the tactile nature of the letter or card, the personal nature of someone’s pen pressed to paper? Is is the idea that in writing a letter, we are actually stopping for a time and focusing on just one thing? (I dislike how I find myself doing this less and less, and I’m trying to find my way back from over-multi-tasking.)

I think it’s some combination of all these things and more, something indefinable. But the conversation made me realize how few postcards I’ve sent (or received for that matter) in recent years and how much I miss letter writing, an activity I used to love. So I’ve added a New Year’s resolution (yes, I have them; yes, I do them every year; yes, I find them helpful; no, I’m not sharing them here): this year, I’m going to send postcards and write letters again.

appreciating women in horror

In better late than never news, my post for the last day of Women in Horror Recognition Month has been up for a few days at the Black Static blog. I wrote about Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Red Tree, a book which, as you will see from my piece, I like quite a lot.

One of the things I touched on in my piece is my ambivalence about the month, and the idea of being a “woman writer” instead of just a writer. (Yes, I know I can be both.) But I can’t deny that, now in its second year of its existence, the month certainly has raised awareness within the genre and got people talking more about these issues. And I have become a lot more aware of women who work in the field, in both film and fiction. These are good things. There have been some terrific pieces and interviews and appreciations and other contributions by people online all month long which really demonstrate what a rich and diverse field this is, and how many approaches one can take to “horror” and that it’s not all slasher films and buckets of gore (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

I have some other thoughts on these issues, but I keep typing and deleting, typing and deleting, so I think I’ll save them for another, more articulate day.

in which I am not forthcoming, through no fault of my own

So, I am going to the NASFiC this coming week, the North American Science Fiction convention, as it is just up the road from me in North Carolina. I have two panels there, but I can’t tell you when they are or I’d have to kill you. No, actually, I can’t tell you when they are because there has been a bit of a mix up on the programming schedule, which will presumably be resolved by the time of the convention. I can tell you that I am purportedly talking about characters on real people at some point and talking about evil in books and movies at some other point.

Anyway, I am looking forward to it; it should be a fun little break, and then I hope to spend the remainder of August in a rather frenzied state of overwork.  I say “hope to” because I want to get a lot of writing done, and I also need to drum up some more editing/writing/freelancing work in addition to my current gigs because, well, you know.  Money.

In other news of things I can’t disclose for one reason or another, I had a story acceptance earlier this summer but I don’t think it’s something that’s ready to be announced yet.  I should look into that.

This post lacks a conclusion, doesn’t it?  Or maybe I could get away with calling it “an ambiguous ending.”  If you ask me about it later, I’ll just smile mysteriously and say that I prefer to let my readers decide that sort of thing for themselves.