Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Project Mayhem" Update and "Song Remains the Same" Announcement

Here's an update for Mouldwarp Press #1 "Project Mayhem" and release details:

Accepted into the anthology are the following stories and authors:

  • "An Abortion" by Matthew Wilson
  • "Iso-pentyl acetate" by Lance Manion
  • "Route" by Dave Elsensohn
  • "One O'Clock and the Birds are Already Gone" by Dave Elsensohn
  • "Julliard Jones" by Christy Wiabel
  • "On My Honor (The CRA Oath)" by David Perlmutter
  • "The Ritual" by Lela Marie De La Garza
  • "Briefing" by Scott Hamilton
  • "Reverse Scheherazade" by Clyde Liffey
  • "Ambassador's Speech" by Brenda Anderson
  • "Comakazi" by Dana Jerman
  • "Hello, Goodnight" by Dana Jerman
  • "Night of the Unified Field" by Dana Jerman
  • "Birthday Surprise" by PT Dilloway
  • "Seventy-One and Counting" by Tony Laplume
"Project Mayhem" will be released on or by February 5, 2013.

Also, I would like to take this opportunity to announce Mouldwarp Press #2 "Song Remains the Same," which will be another short story anthology, but submission guidelines are considerably different.  Word count is between 7,500 and 40,000, so you have a great deal more space to play with this time.  There's also a prompt:

Set in your hometown, a group of four friends is rocked by the murder of one of their own, and decides to investigate.

As with "Project Mayhem," there are no genre restrictions.  The goal is to produce variations on a single story, so the reader can appreciate the contrasts and similarities as they read the resulting anthology.

Deadline for submissions is December 31, 2013, so you will have a great deal of time to work on this one.  I will issue periodic reminders about "Song Remains the Same."   

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Break on Through...

As you may know from reading this blog, I have a number of unpublished manuscripts on my hands.  Sure, I've got some self-published material out there (and to your right), but "unpublished manuscripts" still means the potential to be published by someone other than myself.

The first manuscript I completed after the serial nature of what became The Cloak of Shrouded Men is currently known as Modern Ark.  It's the trickiest thing I've ever written, trickier all the more for the simple fact that I originally set out to write it with a story I thought was going to be far more mainstream than it turned out.  As it is, Modern Ark represents for me my purest literary effort to date, something that I willingly put against whatever you may think of as literary fiction.

I recently went on a binge watching Tarsem's passion project The Fall, something he spent years filming, which I sometimes refer to as the adult's Wizard of Oz, about a girl who steps into a storybook, basically, with far less romantic results, although for adults, the romance of The Fall is far greater than what can be found in Wizard of Oz, no matter how passionately Judy Garland sings (the late Hawaiian folk singer "Iz" Israel Kamakawiwo'ole combined "Over the Rainbow" with "What a Wonderful World" to create the definitive version, and one that's far more relevant to The Fall than Wizard of Oz).

It's filled with Tarsem's patented whimsical imagery, which in last year's Mirror Mirror went mainstream (and probably would have been more successful if Snow White and the Huntsman hadn't been released as well).  It's also soaked in melancholy.  The man telling the girl the story is a stuntman who experienced the first layer of the eponymous event.  He's depressed, suicidal.  He turns the story into a dark corner, and the girl rescues both the story and the storyteller, in the end.

I've begun thinking of The Fall as one of the best comparable stories I know to Modern Ark.  Life of Pi is another.  The popular bestseller of a decade ago finally became a movie.  It's one of those books that some people will say is impossible to film, although I think it's instantly cinematic, a boy deserted on a raft with a tiger.  Maybe I just read too many Calvin and Hobbes comics.  As an animated film, Life of Pi would have been incredibly simple to envision.  Tarsem could've done it, too.

If you don't know what Life of Pi is about, yes on one level it's about the boy and the tiger, but it's also about the boy and the life he's trying to continue living after a disaster at sea.  The tiger might be seen as a metaphor, a trick of the imagination, like Calvin's best friend Hobbes.  It was the kind of bestselling literature that the first decade of the new millennium bequeathed readers, but isn't so common these days.

Modern Ark is tricky like that.  The main character, Finnegan (who used to give the book its name until I rethought it, James Joyce considered), is both a man and a dragon.  It's something that makes perfect sense in a metaphysical sense, and conceptually it's completely necessary, but for readers it might be something of a nightmare.  Life of Pi was a hit in two forms.  The Fall is still waiting to find an appreciative audience.  If Modern Ark can escape such a fate, it's because it's also about a vampire, who becomes obsessed with Finnegan's sister.  Maybe readers are bored with vampires now.  Or maybe they're looking for a new way to look at them.  (Fifty Shades of Grey may suggest that.)  I don't know.  I didn't write Twilight.  I wrote Modern Ark.

I discovered in the midst of writing it that at that point, I really wasn't capable of writing a traditional narrative.  So I started to discover digressions.  I was raised Catholic, and read Bible stories even before I could conceivably care all that much about the Bible.  I discovered a wealth of rich characters.  In many ways, that still defines my relationship with religion.  People can sometimes forget that every religion begins with a good story.  It's the best way to sell anyone on anything.  Modern Ark isn't about religion, but I use religion to help explain the necessary relationships that define its story.

I tried selling Modern Ark to agents and publishing houses for maybe a year after completing it (or so I thought, because there have since been revisions).  I had no luck.  I'll admit that I grew discouraged, stopped making the effort.  It was a tough sell.  I knew that going in.  But I never abandoned it.

A few days ago I submitted it once again, this time to Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award contest.  I found out about it because of the CreateSpace activities I've been up to since last July.  It sounded like a great opportunity.  I've since discovered that no book that won the award has distinguished itself in any other way.  I'd never heard of them.  I decided it didn't matter.  It's worth the shot.  I believe in Modern Ark.  I'm not ready to give up on it.

Although if this one doesn't work out, maybe it's time to think self-publishing again...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Know Your Narrative

I've been reading Robert Leckie's None Died in Vain, a narrative of the Civil War, and it's been pretty great, especially as he dives into character sketches for notable figures, but there seems to be something missing.  Now, obviously this is nonfiction, but nonfiction writers follow the same guidelines as fiction writers when you get down to it.  They have to have a compelling narrative.  The Civil War is certainly itself a compelling narrative, but for me I'm always looking for the definitive one, the narrative that really explains what's going on.  Leckie has the details but he doesn't seem to know what shape they take.

I'm going to ramble about American history for a bit.  Hope you don't mind.

The real problem is that the Civil War did not start anywhere near when most people think.  I'm not talking about its causes.  I appreciate that my grade school history teachers got the classroom thinking about the complexities of the country at that time, but it was slavery.  It was always slavery.  But that's not what I'm talking about.

The Civil War began when the country was born.  It sounds crazy, but I'm absolutely convinced about this.  As you probably know, American colonists rose up against the British Empire (regardless of whether or not it was calling itself an empire at this point, it clearly was), representing thirteen colonies.  The rabble-rousers came from Boston, the military leaders from Virginia, and the politicians from all around.  Once independence was secured, the new country had to figure out what it actually was.  I believe that the United States existed as a theory in its first few years.  It existed most of all because Americans didn't want to be British anymore, wanted to run their own lives.

So that's exactly what they got.  But they continued the other tradition that had already begun, the other revolution, which was the conquest and expansion of European (now American) interests in the New World.  This was done by pretending Native Americans (whatever you personally want to call them) had no right to their own land.  In the North, the industrialists started taking over, while in the South you had the agriculturists.  This was an obvious difference of cultures, bound together mostly because they had originally fought together because they were all colonies of the same country.  As soon as American politicians were born, they began acting like politicians.  They agreed to disagree on everything, starting with the Founding Fathers.  The only thing that made the new country work at all was that they all agreed that they were at the start of a bold new chapter in world history.

But the politicians kept being politicians.  I believe no country in history has ever loved politics as much as the United States of America.  The War of 1812 was hugely controversial pretty much because politicians disagreed about it.  It would not be the last war in the new country's history where this would be the case.  In fact, even the Revolutionary War was not supported by everyone.  There were the constant wars of expansion, against Native Americans and Mexicans.  It was expansion that really led to the Civil War, by the way.  With all those original colonies converted into individual states, new territories were added as new states, and were increasingly pressured to declare on the issue of slavery, whether they were for or against it.  Obviously the ones where slavery could be exploited tended to side with it, and those that didn't really need it didn't.

The problem with the continued push of politicians was that in the South slavery became a huge issue, because in these states it was absolutely necessary to maintain the way of life everyone knew.  In the North, abolitionists and a few brave politicians made a big stink about ending slavery, but those same politicians knew that the South was increasingly feeling alienated.  They saw that things were coming to a head.  Unfortunately, politicians being as they are, stalling did not actually solve anything.

Lincoln was elected.  This was a problem because he was the first president in several generations to actually care about something other than politics.  He was not an abolitionist, and in fact only reached the presidency because of a brief bout of politics, which he only got over when secession and Civil War struck, which was almost immediately after his election.  The problem was that all the firebrand politicians were in the South, which also possessed what was considered at the time the country's military genius.  The North was left paranoid and utterly devoid of direction, other than frantically scrambling to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

There was mad scrambling, and of course war.  None of those who remained in the Union seemed to know what to do.  Lincoln studied himself into what he considered to be his own military genius.  But the generals fighting his war did not seem willing to do the same.  Everyone remaining to him questioned each other.  Even his own wife was accused of Confederate sympathies.  The funny thing was, the South was doomed from the start.  The North was always going to win.  The South already knew that slavery would eventually have to go.  It panicked and invited a bloody conflict.  Years of brutal warfare only forestalled the inevitable.  Lincoln freed the slaves.  The North won.  Everyone tried to figure out what would follow.  Many in the South preferred to view this episode only in its romantic sense, a noble effort against an oppressive aggressor.

The country pressed on.  By the twentieth century expansion was finally reaching an ebb.  There was really nowhere else to go.  The agriculturalists of the South migrated to the Midwest, which became known as the breadbasket of the nation.  Politicians struggled just to figure out where the country belonged in relation to the rest of the world.  Most seemed to favor isolationism, even in the horrible conflict of World War One.  Then the Great Depression hit.  The agriculturalists of the Midwest were blown away by the Dust Bowl, their migration famously depicted in The Grapes of Wrath.  Their destination?  California.

World War Two struck.  Americans emerged as the biggest victors.  An era of prosperity settled on the country.  But in the 1960s, politicians became ambitious again, but perhaps more significantly, they realized that they had nothing to do with the civil rights movement that finally saw the descendants of slavery claim their constitutional rights.  Then Vietnam happened.  And in California, a new revolution began, a counter-cultural reaction to the mainstream.  Which I might say was very familiar to the forces that resulted in the Civil War.  This time politicians were not so lucky.  Nixon was forced to resign rather than be impeached.  Every president since his time has either tried to be the consummate politician or declare that they will be anything but.

The counter-culturalists, meanwhile, began to claim politics for themselves.  They made it institutional. They saw what Lincoln had done, but not how he'd done it.  What my argument is, what I'm saying this great narrative of the Civil War is, is that the country has constantly been at war with itself, and any time compromise was supposed to be the answer, we say compromise is not good enough, because our side is right and the other can't possibly be.  We keep getting in our own way.  Maybe it's because I come from a part of the country that was thoroughly a part of the Union, and thus always a member of the United States, but what I want to see is less of the divisiveness that existed on this side of the Civil War, the one that Robert Leckie all but argues prolonged the war by years, rather than the decisive behavior of the Confederacy.

It's funny, because the Civil War was famously a war fought between brothers, and everyone usually defines that as between the North and the South, the Union and the Confederacy.  But I'm beginning to see that the narrative doesn't say that.  In some ways the Civil War was between the North and itself, its own inability to see reason.  It's not about compromise.  Compromise gets you delayed events.  The South would have been perfectly content to remain in the Union forever.  It only took one Lincoln to be elected, and there was only one Abraham Lincoln.  Anyone but Lincoln being the powderkeg and the South would never have been able to pretend that it was the good guy.  The war would have been shorter and resolved less.  North and South, politicians being politicians.  In the 2000 election and again in the recent 2012 election everyone wondered why the Electoral College exists.  The Electoral College exists because we have fifty states in America, and each of those fifty states loves to exist in an independent capacity as part of a greater union.  Politicians define how many representatives there are from each state, but that's all due to population dispersal.  In essence we vote by where we choose to live, not particularly how we choose to vote, and by clinging to our regional interests, just like the country did when it was founded.  Our regional interests at the time were pretty simple.  We were living in one continent and the British were somewhere else, and we wanted this relationship to split.  That was the mentality of the Civil War, too.

The South only believed in itself, and Lincoln was only effective, because the narrative explains exactly what happened.  Like in the founding of the country, people decided to be decisive, acting in what they considered to be in the best interests of those they represented.  The South was the biggest regional interest in the nation's history.  Lincoln continued to act in the interests of all the states, regardless of whether their soldiers wore blue or gray.  He's remembered because his cause was ultimately deemed morally superior, even though in his own time he was constantly demonized.  Everyone in the Union demonized each other.  The Confederacy only started doing the same when it realized things were no longer looking so hopeful.  Actually, it's funny that Barack Obama chose "hope" as a campaign buzzword, because that's what American has always represented at its best.

It's much different now, the manifestation of this narrative.  We've split ourselves between Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, the rich and the poor.  Actually, the rich and the poor have always existed.  What does the narrative say about that?  Well, we'll end the story on a cliffhanger.

That's about as dramatic a narrative as any American will be able to appreciate.  It's all drawn from reading one book, and hoping against hope that the author will realize it's there.  That's how I do most of my reading.  And most of my writing.  I'm always looking for the narrative.  I'm always looking at the bigger picture.  Mostly, I'm always thinking.  If I were only reading or only writing, I certainly wouldn't be who I am today.  I've always been a little restless.  Sometimes very restless.

I suppose that's my narrative.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Taking the Pledge

This is the pledge I'm taking:

Although I'll definitely second Catherine Stine's additional pledge:
  • "Write the specific stories I was born to write."
For me, that means Seven Thunders at the moment, but it includes Minor Contracts, which started out as my attempt to write a YA book (as far as that goal went, a wonderfully horrible failure), and Yoshimi, which I hope to find another publisher for, after the debacle that closed out last year (this was a more successful attempt at writing a more or less strictly YA story).  I'm seriously thinking of self-publishing another book, but can't decide which one...

Alfred Hitchcock had a thing for the ladies...

In related news, I'm in another WriteClub.  This one is different from DL Hammons' WRiTE CLUB in that it is spelled differently, plus its full title is WriteClubCo, which is the first indication that it's a local affair, meaning that I interact with people instead of computer monitors ("Co" is the grammatically incorrect abbreviation of Colorado).

The club is all but a reunion of former Borders coworkers.  We had our first meeting in years last night, and much of it was spent simply catching up.  Only a few of us were there in the final days of the store we all worked at together (in Colorado Springs, the Southgate location, on the off chance you might care about such details).  Scott Quine, the general manager at the time I originally started working at this location (I originated at Borders when Burlington, MA, got its store in 2006), put the club together, something he'd begun elsewhere, which was how Lorraine Wright became a part of it.  (I still remember when Lorraine transferred to the store, the first one since me.  I guess I felt my gimmick had been infringed.)

Also present last night besides Scott and Lorraine were Christy Koffman Smith (whose tenure at Borders was complicated because she worked as the vendor representative of Paperchase, and the company made this difficult in its final years) and Kelsey Kramer, who knows weird veterinarian terms.  Lorraine brought her husband along, plus pictures of her cats, and stories about her ferrets!

It was fun getting some of the band back together.  I had only participated in the club once before, during which Christy memorably read a story about buttons.  Thanks to "Project Mayhem" (still accepting submissions!) I've had a chance to catch up with her creatively, and even got a preview of the story she read last night, which I've been encouraging her to expand into a novel.

It's funny, because most of the meeting was spent talking about things other than writing, which I actually think was a good thing.  As us bloggers know, talking about writing can be perfectly fine and certainly encouraging, but if that's all you talk about, it can be limiting.  After all, a writer isn't just someone who writes but who observes.

For my part, I read a story based on the Space Corps, part of my continuing effort to begin writing more Space Corps rather than simply plotting out the saga.  Last year I made more progress on that front than at any other point in my writing history besides 2002 (with bleeds into 2001 and 2003), when I wrote, or attempted to write, the foundation myth of the Galactic Alliance, where the excerpt "Quagmire" comes from that's featured in Monorama (my Facebook page for the collection is up to 22 people who "like" it, including a bunch of random individuals who may or may not have been confused by its title to believe it's something other than what it is).  I wrote several short stories last year, including "Warship" and "Who Killed Iron Joe?," both of which can be found at Sigild V, my writing blog, plus began writing Seven Thunders.  The story I read last night, "George Jackman and the Monastery of Burnside," ties into both Seven Thunders and the greater Space Corps saga, as it reveals certain details in a moment in time for both Lance Nolan (star of Seven Thunders) and Lord Phan (who is featured in "Quagmire" and several other points in the saga).

This year I will be finishing Seven Thunders and shopping it around, plus writing "Darkness Falls on a Dark Land," which explains a little more about the foundation myth of the Galactic Alliance (it'll be serialized at Sigild), as well as at least begin writing The Dark Side of Space, the second volume of the Space Corps saga and prequel to Seven Thunders.  If I indeed finish Dark Side of Space, I'll be reaching completely unfamiliar territory for me, since the next three books will at least in theory be far longer than anything else I've written.

It was interesting reading "George Jackman," because along with all the talk I've been doing here and the few stories over at Sigild, this is the biggest public exposure of Space Corps to date.  A decade ago, when I wrote the abortive story behind "Quagmire," I kept most of the details of the saga close to the vest.  Of course,a decade ago key elements of the saga had yet to coalesce, and in fact that story had a big hand in shaping what it would become.  Like George Lucas, I believe that a sprawling space saga needs specific points on which to rotate, otherwise it's just a bunch of random stories.  That's what Seven Thunders as the first book is meant to address, and why even an apparent throwaway tale like "George Jackman" needs to address important elements, and why "Who Killed Iron Joe?" explains the origins of another key character in Seven Thunders (and why I was both sad and happy recently when a tiny publisher rejected it for an upcoming anthology).

The title of this post, meanwhile, refers to the fact that I am currently in the midst of watching an Alfred Hitchcock DVD collection.  As the two films based on Hitchcock himself that were released last year suggest, he was indeed fond of the ladies, but what I've taken away so far is that his films do in fact put them in very prominent positions, even if sometime the camera leers at them the way Hitchcock himself apparently did.  It's a way of saying that the themes that define us are hard to get away from.  WriteClubCo reminds me (and hopefully you) that I was part of a similarly named club last year.  Much of my experience with other writers has been in environments like this, though previously only in school.  I don't do workshops.  Workshops are for writers who haven't discovered their voice.  If I haven't discovered mine yet, then I am a failure.  Maybe workshops also help with connections, and maybe I should take them more seriously because of that, because I have few enough writing connections.  WriteClubCo is one of mine, and I intend to value it.

I also have what's quickly amounting to a writing history, which at the moment I'm defining by Space Corps, which is long in coming, because I've been making a go of these stories in theory since 1995.  That's a long time gestating!  I'm also attempting to get Modern Ark (previously known as Finnegan) off the ground.  I just wrote a new prologue, "Before Finnegan Wakes" (thus alluding to part of the reason why I've decided to change its title, just so no one is confused about whether or not I'm calling to mind James Joyce), which can be found at Sigild.  I still strongly believe in Modern Ark, even though it may be something of a conceptual nightmare for some.  I recently went on a binge watching Tarsem's The Fall, which has been a favorite of mine since its release.  It's a personal work of great brilliance, yet it's a movie that you truly have to follow in order to appreciate, steeped in a very specific mythology.  Modern Ark is a little like that.  Actually, quite a bit like that.  And the other problem of waiting to see Modern Ark published is that Minor Contracts can perhaps best be appreciated in relation to it.  Even though it's mostly a story of Adam & Eve (and Cain, and Abel), there's a good chunk of it that also challenges the reader to rethink their relationship with religion, which is part of what Modern Ark is about, when it isn't about vampires (in the sense of Stoker, not Meyer).

If you've actually read all of this, thank you and congratulations.  I suppose it's another way of restating my goals for 2013, plus being thankful that I have some people I know personally who may very well be rooting for me.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

"Project Mayhem" Reminder

I'm still accepting submissions through the end of the month (original estimate doubled!) for Mouldwarp Press #1 "Project Mayhem," which is a flash fiction anthology of stories from any genre at 250 words or less each.  I will be finalizing at the end of the month regardless, so if you've procrastinated, please keep in mind that 250 words is incredibly easy to write, and I've chosen that length to ensure that you don't have to overthink it.

Send submissions to in the body of your email.

The anthology will be published via CreateSpace and Kindle Direct, so it will have formats I like and am ambivalent about.  You won't get paid, but you will have a credit, which seems to impress people.

You might also consider 10 Days of Madness: Flash Fiction Frenzy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Writing Goals 2013

  • Finish Seven Thunders (a third to go; don't stress about this)
  • Serialized stories (at least two in January)
  • Mouldwarp Press success ("Project Mayhem" still accepting submissions; second anthology to follow)
  • Galaxy of Magic (collaboration working toward submission)
  • Publishing contract (books, comic books)
  • Surprise developments (who knows?)
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