an update on my short story collection

The Moon Will Look Strange final

Alert readers may recall an earlier post from me in which I announced the ebook version of my short story collection, The Moon Will Look Strange, was coming out in April with the paperback to follow in September. And then…silence.

There is no bad news or secret scandal behind this. (I feel compelled to emphasize this because publishing is so rife with awful stories behind book delays, but happily, this isn’t one of them.) I’ve just been remiss in updating the ebook release date. Pushing the book forward was an easily arrived at and mutual decision arrived at by the publisher and me due to, well, let’s just say due to Some Boring Stuff.

The paperback remains on track to come out in September and the ebook may or may not be out earlier than that, and this time around, I will actually keep you posted.

a forthcoming collection

Announcement time! I have a collection of short stories coming out in April from Karōshi Books, Kindle edition first with paperback to follow. This will collect my first eight published stories (stretching back to the days when Black Static was The Third Alternative) plus one or two new treats. Pleased to be working with editors Johnny Mains, Peter Mark May, and Cathy Hurren on this new project.

on the writing life

When you are just a young thing, in years or ambition or both, you hear writers grousing cynically about the art, the craft, the life. You read interviews with them or you go to talks by them. If you are interested in writing science fiction or fantasy or horror you might go to a convention to see them, and here you will especially hear some horror stories because writers in what used to be called the old pulp fields are especially hard done by, or maybe not, maybe it only seems that way because that’s the world I know best. I’ve heard horror stories from the world of lit fic, and that on top of that they lack what we who toil in the genre trenches enjoy in a true embarrassment of riches: a sense of community, camaraderie and friendship that’s really without equal. I mean, for a particularly moving and dramatic case, look at the fund raiser for Jay Lake where $20,000 was raised in a matter of hours for genome sequencing to fight his cancer amid a flurry of loving silliness from his fellow writers. But the rest of the time there are the quieter friendships and conversations that spring up even for those who stridently declare they eschew all “cliques” and, apparently, human ties with people who might actually have some stuff in common with them.

But writing is a crapshoot. To go back to the convention thing, at the very first convention I ever went to, which was the World Horror Convention in Eugene, Oregon in 1996, I saw a writer on one panel urge aspiring writers to look into writing video games and I saw a writer on another panel argue with Clive Barker who was waxing eloquently about Art and stuff that, basically, it was all very well and good for him because he was Clive Barker but the rest of us have to eat, you know, and that means doing work-for-hire and writing media tie-ins and doing whatever we can do to keep the wolf from the door.

I found all of that a bit depressing. Because when you’re starting out, you believe you’re going to be Clive Barker. Well, okay, not Clive Barker exactly (he’s very good but he was never my favorite writer) but whoever — that model that you have in your head of the brilliant successful writer whose career you want to emulate. You think you’re going to be one of the exceptions. Of course later on what you often find out is that despite the brilliant string of novels and awards, that one writer (not Barker, who seems to do just fine, but lots of other writers) has actually been broke most of their life and teaching or stacking grocery store shelves or living off a spouse and/or all the spouses left and/or is an alcoholic/drug-addled mess so on and on, ad infinitum. After David Foster Wallace’s suicide I was shocked to learn that he taught creative writing, had a day job just like all the rest of us mugs because I guess even David Foster Wallace couldn’t find a way to squeeze a living wage out of the stone that is the fiction writing life.

The point being I have a lot more sympathy for all the (okay, maybe kinda angry and bitter, but can you blame them?) writers who tried to tell all the young ones, gently or harshly, “It’s not going to be exactly what you think. You can believe in Art all you want but can you keep believing in it when nobody else cares? You can’t eat Art. You can’t pay your rent with Art. And you may think none of that matters right now, but someday it will.”

§

It’s not just about eating or putting a roof over your head though. It’s also about the wisdom of repeatedly bashing your head through a wall. Now writing-wise, I’ve had a pretty good year as these things go, but there have been a lot of bad years in between. In fact, I even quit writing for a few years, or “quit writing,” I should say, round about 2004/2005. I had a particularly bad and frustrating experience in the world of Big Publishing which in retrospect is really more of a run-of-the-mill major disappointment that doesn’t hold a candle to some of the horror stories I’ve heard, but that combined with the fact that I just felt like I wasn’t making headway and was losing track of what I loved about writing in the first place plus, well, a bunch of other stuff, put me on retreat. I went back to school and studied Old and Middle English and wrote a bunch of lit crit (oddly enough, writing lit crit made me a much better and leaner writer, partly because I had a terrific professor and thesis adviser) and poked at stories in my spare time but for 3 or 4 years I really didn’t do very much at all as far as fiction-writing goes.

I felt like I had become too focused on trying for extrinsic rewards, and for a writer, that way lies madness, because they are so fickle and so unpredictable and so unconnected really to how hard someone works or how good they are — and at that time, the extrinsic rewards were extraordinarily few and far between. I mean, patience, talent, persistence, writing good story after good story, all that stuff is needed. And if you have that stuff and if you keep sending your stuff out there (that last bit is key; it’s amazing how many people fail at that final hurdle) you will get published in good places (anyone can just “get published”: aspiring writers, I beg of you, this alone is not something to strive for. Aim to get published somewhere good) and you will get some recognition but there is so much luck involved along the way as well.

A few years off did me good. When I was ready to start sending stories out again, I had a little bank of stuff I’d been noodling at over the last few years and I was a better writer and most importantly, I had fallen back in love with the work again.

§

I think for me writing, and art in general, holds the place that religion does for many. It’s my rock. Writing is what sustains me when everything else is gone. When Tom Piccirilli wrote in his remarkable essay on facing brain cancer “Meeting the Black” about the terror of losing the words, of wondering what was left of him if the writing went, I could barely keep reading. It’s the one thing that can’t be taken from us, we think, except of course it can, through madness, through illness, through injury. I’ll say it publicly here: someone please cart me off the to nice people at the Swiss suicide clinic if the words ever fail me.

I don’t really know where this blog post came from. I’m not usually this honest in public. (Well, only in fiction.) I’ve been thinking about The Writing Life more than usual lately, I suppose (more on that in a minute) and I woke up with this line in my head: By the time you’ve figured out being a writer is a really bad idea, it’s too late to stop. I tweeted it, mostly joking as I usually am (usually to cover up the fact that I am actually really deadly fucking sincere and serious about pretty much everything most of the time, but that’s neither here nor there). The truth of course is that I love writing. I love it more than anything. All I’ve ever wanted to do for as long as I can remember is be a writer, and there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of finishing a story I think is really good or making a sale or getting an email from a reader who took out the time to say they love something by me that they read. I am, in fact, a more contented writer than most I know. I like writing, I like having written, and I like my stories after I’ve written them.

§

So, as I said, I’ve been thinking about the so-called Writing Life because after about a year and a half of saying no, no, no, I don’t have time, no, no, no, I have finally been persuaded to guest edit an issue of the science fiction fanzine Journey Planet edited by Chris Garcia and James Bacon called The Write Stuff with the theme of the writing life. I’ve already asked a few people for specific pieces and I’ll be asking a few more, but if you’re reading this and you think you might have something interesting to say, please do drop me a line at lyndarucker at gmail dot com.

And extrinsic rewards. Someone pointed out to me the other day that someone had nominated two of my stories for a British Science Fiction Association Award. Now really all this means is that one person liked the stories enough to send in a nomination, not that the stories are actually on the final ballot or anything. But it is the first award recommendation or nomination of any sort I’ve ever gotten, so it is a milestone and that was kind of nice. (I never win anything anyway. I once won a cake walk in second grade and a bottle of wine in an office raffle somewhere around 2004 and the fact that those two incidents stick in my mind tell you just how infrequently I win things.)

And it seems someone (well, not just someone, one of their reviewers, Barbara Melville) at Tangent Online liked my F&SF story “Where the Summer Dwells” enough to put it on their recommended reading list for 2012 with two stars (apparently they have a system of recommendations which goes recommended but with no stars or with one, two, or three stars). Thanks, Ms. Melville!

§

So. A few final words on the writing life. There are some writers who have a kind of working-class ethos approach to the whole thing, taking particular exception to the whole suffering-artist pose. I’ve always particularly appreciated the way one of my favorite writers, Graham Joyce, smacks down that kind of preciousness; hailing from a Midlands mining family, he points out that writing is not exactly being lowered down into the coal mines each day (and getting your lungs lined with carcinogens in the process). Indeed. Sometimes angst is all about perception, and let’s face it, we writers can be a whiny lot. It’s not the worst thing that’s out there, but then, most things aren’t, and they can still be difficult anyway.

I think one of the real frustrations of writing is that it is so unpredictable. There’s no clear correlation between effort and reward. Yes, you can work hard and get a reward; you can also work very hard and get no reward. I know people who do. You can be very good and toil in the trenches with that most dreaded label of all, the writer’s writer (that means all the other writers know you kick ass but nobody who actually has the money to buy your books has figured it out yet).

But the fact of the matter is nobody holds a gun to your head and makes you write (unless you are poor old Paul Sheldon held captive by Annie Wilkes, and sometimes it certainly feels about that bad). You can quit anytime. There are plenty of more extrinsically rewarding things you can do. Pretty much everything offers more extrinsic rewards, in fact! I used to watch those crabby, bitter, angry, cynical writers on panels and I would tell myself if I ever got to that point I would stop. When there wasn’t any joy any longer. When I didn’t understand why I was still at it. When I couldn’t think of anything good at all to say to a fresh-faced somebody who came up to me and said they wanted to be a writer. When it was all just pain and anger and stories about how I’d been screwed over and how bad everything was.

Of course I love it. Of course it brings me joy. It does more than that; it sustains me. I’d keep at it if I never published another word. Even in the years “off” I was still writing, always writing, maybe not every day, and I wasn’t looking at or thinking about markets, but the stories were still growing and taking shape.

I don’t know how to not be a writer.

sales and news

So! It is 2013! I bet you noticed that too, didn’t you? Regular blog service is up and running again, including my plans to continue linking to other people’s fiction online, although I am now thinking of doing it every other week rather than weekly because it turns out I still don’t really have too much time to devote to blogging.

For now, a few happy announcements:

My story “The Queen in the Yellow Wallpaper” will appear in a forthcoming British Fantasy Society horror anthology edited by Johnny Mains. Check out this TOC of awesomeness: Angela Slatter, Robert Shearman, Adam Nevill, Alex Hamilton, Thana Niveau, Muriel Gray, and Stephen Volk.

My story “Widdershins” will appear in issue #5 of the gorgeous journal Shadows and Tall Trees edited by Michael Kelly. So far my fellow authors are Daniel Mills and Gary Fry.

And finally, my story in the September/October issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction, “Where the Summer Dwells,” received a nice nod from Lois Tilton over at Locus as one of her favorite stories from 2012.

news: Nightmare Magazine sale

I’m very pleased to report that I’ve sold my story “The House on Cobb Street” to the John Joseph Adams-edited Nightmare Magazine, a terrific new showcase for horror fiction that debuted this autumn. If the likes of Laird Barron, Ramsey Campbell, and Sarah Langan sound good to you, check out their October and November issues which can be purchased in e-reading formats or read online.

is horror troubled?

Well, of course it is. Horror is all about the forbidden. It’s the decadent, the death-loving, the unspeakable, the taboo.  It’s dark desires and things best left alone (but sometimes irresistible). It’s sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Horror’s the bad kids in the back of the class, the troublemakers, the ones smoking and loitering and hanging out in the wrong places at the wrong times with the wrong people.

Unfortunately, if we take this troubled schoolkid metaphor a little further, it must be admitted that horror is also the kid who isn’t living up to her potential. Look at your siblings, science fiction and crime, says Stuart Kelly over at the Guardian. They’re doing so well. Why can’t you be more like them?

I didn’t like Kelly’s article, for reasons I’ll get into shortly, but what I did like very much was the post it sparked from Nina Allan (whose horror stories are polished little gems). I couldn’t have said it better myself, really. I’ve often commented that I don’t actually particularly like most horror novels, and I don’t; I just find most formulaic and uninteresting. Although Nina says it’s plagued her in most of the horror novels she’s read recently, it’s not a recent thing. I got fed up for the same reasons way  back in the 1990s when I did my own mad marathon of reading everything in the field I could get my hands on. And if we peek a bit further back, goodness knows, as anyone will tell you, the 1980s were not just the Golden Age of the Profitable Horror Novel but the Golden Age of the God-Awful Horror Novel as well. Oh, the glut of demon children and Indian burial grounds and general savage butchery just seemed never-ending.

(And for me, it really is the novel that’s at issue here; I read plenty of short horror stories I don’t care for but that’s true of any genre, and there is plenty of strong work being done in that medium.)

Unlike Nina, I’ve long ago thrown up my hands and asserted that for horror to work in the long form is the exception, not the rule. Except that her post made me think. And think otherwise. And realize that in saying that I’m really practicing a kind of defensiveness, rejecting horror novels out of hand before they can disappoint me again. I don’t like approaching anything in life that way, and I’m annoyed at myself for not realizing that’s precisely what I was doing in this instance.

It feels really liberating, actually. I get to fall in love with my favorite genre again! There’s lots on her list of not-horror horror novels I haven’t read yet, and I’m going to start working my way through it. For myself, in recent years I have enjoyed some horror novels: Adam Nevill’s The Ritual (which I’ve been planning to write about here, and still will) and Conrad Williams’s London Revenant, for example. I adored Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Red Tree  (and in that link I also briefly talk about my own Trouble With Horror) but she doesn’t consider herself to be a horror writer or her work to be horror fiction (as I understand it, because so many people do view “I want to scare you” as being at the core of the genre). I still enjoy Ramsey Campbell’s supernatural novels. I also dug Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black and I lovedlovedloved Sarah Waters’s period ghost story The Little Stranger. And when Graham Joyce strays into horror territory I am never disappointed.

See? That’s really just off the top of my head and that’s not a bad preliminary list. Which leads me to the Guardian article. It feels both polemical and uninformed to me. Indeed, I’d read it and dismissed it altogether till I read Nina Allan’s (far better) response. There appear to be either odd gaps in Kelly’s contemporary (by which I mean post-Lovecraft) knowledge of the field or he simply doesn’t like horror very much; I also think he’s confusing the perception of work with the work actually being done in particular genres. This “literary uplift” he speaks of in crime and science fiction makes me squirm; these are genres in which good, serious work has always been done, not just recently, however recent their increased respectability may be.

I’ve also seen a couple of defensive posts in response around the web. The article really invites defensiveness, but ultimately I think that’s best sidestepped, a distraction to be avoided; in the end, I don’t think there’s anything to be defensive about. Nina says it better than that article does, as does Neil Williamson in a couple of different places on his blog: stop resting on your laurels, horror. You have so much potential. You can be better. Shouldn’t we be striving for that, to always do better? Nina’s not letting anyone off the hook who tries to assert there’s no good work done in the genre–she’s got an ample reading list right there in her post. That’s not the point. I think the best approach with criticism–of any sort–is to always try to get past the initial defensive reaction we all have (it’s okay to vent at first; we’re only human) and ask ourselves is any of this true? Is there anything to take away? Can I learn from this?

For myself, in reading and re-reading all the pieces linked above and thinking more about horror novels than I have in ages and in writing this piece, I actually feel better about the form than I have for a long time. I’m reminded of the horror novel’s potential, of how much it can do, of its roots in mainstream that are among its greatest strengths (and that’s a whole nother post which I just might get around to writing here sometime). It inspires me to want to do even better and to demonstrate the scope and significance and robustness of the horror novel in the book I’m writing myself. I love horror. I want it to be better. I want to be part of showing how it can be better. And I want to show you why it’s worthy of this love.

subscribe to Daily SF

If you subscribe (free!) to Daily Science Fiction, you will not only receive my story “Red at the End of the World” in your mailbox for a Halloween treat this October 31. You’ll get a short story every weekday!

And if you don’t want to subscribe (maybe, like me, your email box is already ripe for an episode of Hoarders: The Virtual Edition and you’re trying not to sign up for anything else in the online equivalent of swearing you won’t buy any more lots of Beanie babies on eBay), you can read the story a week later on their website. Will I remind you when it’s up there? Oh yeah. You know I will.

review for “Where the Summer Dwells”

My story “Where the Summer Dwells,” available in the Sept/Oct issue of F&SF, has received glowing reviews from Lois Tilton at Locus and Barbara Melville at Tangent. Melville calls it “dazzling” and “note-perfect.” But perhaps you are not yet convinced you should race out and purchase this issue! Let me remind you that it’s chock-full of excellent fiction by other folks; this issue has novelets by Andy Duncan, Chet Arthur, Richard Lupoff, Albert E. Cowdrey, Ken Liu, and Peter Dickinson and stories by (besides me) Grania Davis, Richard Butner, Michael Alexander, and Rand B. Lee. Plus! A poem by Sophie M. White, the usual assortment of articles and reviews, etc. etc.  That’s a whole lot of reading!