Friday, September 30, 2011

eFiction Issue 18

Garbage in CairoImage via WikipediaI ran around Amazon earlier today looking for new fiction magazines that I thought I'd like to try. Certainly, Amazon's 14 day, money back guarantee, and cancel at any time. eFiction bills itself as an indie fiction rag. It's a monthly magazine that's $1.99 per month. There is also the option to purchase an individual copy for $3.99. I'm not really sure why those who rule the eFiction Magazine chose to charge so much for an individual copy. However, I'm sure they have reasons, valid or otherwise. Also, of the nine reviews that are posted on Amazon, eight gave the rag 5 stars, while one gave it 4 stars.

Before getting into the fiction, my initial impression of the formatting is very positive. It is about as well formatted as Fantasy and Science Fiction. Coming fresh off of reading their latest edition, it is inescapable that I will be comparing apples and oranges. Before getting into the stories, I can say straight off that one thing put me off right away: the serial. There are three serial pieces in this issue. Each of the three is rather short: between 1k-3k words. I don't know how long these stories go on for, but by comparison, Fantasy and Science Fiction has five novelets, each of which are between 7k-11k words. It also has seven standard short stories. The 'why' of reasoning for eFiction Magazine is likely very simple: it's a hook. If you like even one of the short stories, it'll keep you coming back for more. However, I think it's a cheap trick. If they have good fiction, this is enough to bring me back. Also, one cannot use the 'not enough paper' or 'doesn't fit into our format' excuse, since these are exclusively electronic issues. They're going to have to have some mind blowingly good short fiction to make me not cancel the subscription. A rough word count of the fiction, including the three poems and the serial fiction is just over 20k. This contrasts poorly with over roughly 60k for Fantasy and Science Fiction.

So, thus far, my first impressions after having taken in the trial, has been chilled. So, onto the fiction itself.

Motivator, Kristy Feltenberger Gillespie

This is a very short story which is about murder. A twin has lived in the shadow of her sister all her life. The sibling rivalry between the two has been a one sided affair, with the narrator's twin usually getting the win.

She relates to her 97 year old grandfather her urge to kill her sister. He says that you have to kill the people you hate. She takes his advice literally, and helps her sister down a flight of stairs. When she gets back to grandpa, she confesses her crime. He explains to her that she ought not to have taken the ramblings of an old man so literally, but he nonetheless takes her secret to the grave.

It was an OK story.


I plugged eFiction Magazine into Google and found a site called Sabotage. His impressions on the magazine were rather negative as well. He seemed to be calling the fiction in the magazine consistently mediocre and unpolished. I wouldn't call "Motivator" unpolished, but it is rather mediocre.

Without Form or Substance, Phyllis Anne Duncan

A garbage bin attatched to the wall.Image via WikipediaThe premise of the story reads, "If you could go anywhere in history, where would you go?" Well, apparently nowhere at all. A young woman gets the opportunity to take a time machine that turns you into a fly on the wall, or more descriptive, an invisible observer, to watch history take place. When she discovers that this is really her job, she balks and declares, "History is discovery through meticulous research... (using a time machine) makes the process too easy." In other words, it's better in this character's mind to read books about history than it is to actually observe it happening.

OK, it's sort of like science fiction with the main character balking at the opportunity of a lifetime. There are a lot of paragraphs to get us nowhere. I'd say it's definitely not a recommended read. In fact, one might say that this story is without form or substance.

Kimberly Anne, Steven Terrill

I do not doubt that a story about a young girl running away from a physically and sexually abusive father would be an interesting tale. As we peel back the layers of reasons as to why the character is running away from home, the story itself is pretty much finished. At the end of what really ought to be the introduction to the tale, we are left where there's a young girl at a bus station, probably without any money or any real way to escape her situation, with no clear resolve or information about her further adventures in life. Again, a fairly mediocre story.

Gypsies, Richard Sutton

This is another mediocre story about a boy who is moving from one town to another. There's nothing particularly interesting about this story, either.

Blind Date, Mary O'Neil

A couple meets at a bar. While they're there, having drinks, a robber with a gun comes in and discretely robs the bartender. Bartender tries to give information about the robber to the police. Then, asking if there were any other witnesses, police ask if anyone else saw him. Bartender recommends the strange androgynous couple who were sitting at the door but are now gone (he doesn't know that they're in the theatre next door.)

Again, mediocre story that goes nowhere. It's like a joke without a punchline being told by an amateur comedian who is the only one who laughs at his jokes.

Divine Providence, Robert Turner

wall mounted garbage canImage via WikipediaAlready my temper was a bit off by the time I got to this story because of the fairly uninspiring and boring fiction before it. But, I really do think the worst was saved for last.

A man hires an assassin who ends up killing the man's daughter. He tries to find a good place to bury her, which he does, before he goes off to lose himself on the road to escape being caught. The characters are rather pathetic, the dialogue is far from authentic, and the plot is as interesting as a broken down chair waiting on the side of the road for a garbage truck to put it out of its misery.

Poetry, Various

I read the first poem. But, I could barely stomach it, and I didn't feel like further wasting my time on the others. Maybe there was a brilliant work just after the first, but I won't be reading it.

Vomit in Trever BathroomImage by revtango via Flickr
It should come as no surprise to anyone that I do not recommend this book. The only thing it's really got going for itself is the superb layout and formatting. Whoever designed this magazine did as good a job as they did at the much larger and well established Fantasy and Science Fiction. It's just too bad that the fiction itself is the kind that should have never seen the light of day. I've never been terribly fond of plain-vanilla fiction, so maybe I'm just reading the wrong genre and I'm being too harsh. On the other hand, when they call themselves an indie publisher, I expect something different and cutting edge. Maybe something that doesn't really succeed more than a fraction of the time because it's bleeding edge, but there's no redeeming quality to these stories at all. The proofreaders and the formatters have done a fine job. The editor(s) and writers... well, I won't see if they improve since I will be cancelling my subscription forthwith.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sept/Oct 2011

Hannes Bok's 1963 wraparound illustration of R...Image via WikipediaHaving just freshly read the Portable MFA in Creative Writing, I decided to follow Salzberg's advice and splurge on the purchase of a subscription to Fantasy and Science Fiction. This subscription costs 99 cents per month for a magazine that comes out every two months. That means that each issue costs $1.98.

I remain very impressed with the layout of this magazine. It is extremely well organized. The people who put this magazine together are really among the best I've run into. There are a few typos here and there, but nothing major. The header and footer material, however, is really great. It is really easy to navigate. It is what should be expected, but rarely gotten, from all ebooks.

A layout, however brilliant, is not the most important part of a good book. More importantly, perhaps far more importantly, is the quality of the selection of stories which are chosen. Last month I picked up a free sample from them that left me wanting for something much better than I got.

Ruter and Baby Do Jotenheim, Esther M. Friesner

American science fiction and fantasy writer Es...Image via WikipediaFriesner picked the least likely hero for this short story. The two main characters, one Ruter and the other Baby, with Baby being the hero and the story's perspective being written in third person from the perspective of Ruter. Ruter is that type of academic who thinks he knows a lot and is very proud of his intellectual prowess. However, the author is quick to mock him into the semi pathetic academic that too many academics are. That is to say, the very small world that he is conscious of is a very small world. His girlfriend, and bubble-gum blonde stereotype, he refers to constantly as dumb and well beneath his intelligence.

Ruter runs out of gas for his VW, he and Baby argue, and then he tosses Baby's little dog, Mr. Snickers, in its bag into the woods. Baby runs after Mr. Snickers, and promptly gets lost, as does Ruter. In getting lost, they stumble onto a magical trailer and the Frost Giants - members of the mythology which Ruter coincidentally studies.

Before they may leave the trailer full of Frost Giants, they must first withstand the same trials that Thor himself did in the legend. Ruter loses consciousness after one of the giants accidentally knocks him unconscious. That left Baby to defeat the tests one-by-one until she manages to win their freedom. The scenes are slap-stick and mildly funny. She even manages to wrestle with Elli, the  anthropomorphization of old age, and defeat her with a quick application of makeup.

I think that Friesner should have done a bit more research on the Frost Giants and tried a more classical approach to their dialogue. In her story, it sounds much like the traileresque dialogue that we get from Ruter and Baby. The story was marginally funny and original.

A Borrowed Heart, Deborah J. Ross

Le Sommeil (Sleep). Oil on canvas, 1866. Commi...Image via WikipediaDeborah J. Ross has a blog and a homepage where you can find more information about her. I must admit, I was somewhat surprised to see that she was no Spring chicken; more of an Autumn chicken. This is not the sort of story that I generally associate with a mature lady. But, it's all about the story, right? So forget I said any of that crap. She has quite a bit of short fiction on her bibliography on her homepage. This lady has been around and has published a lot of short fiction.

Actually, for the most part, I enjoyed this story. The setting is a few centuries back. It didn't hurt that the initial scene was semi-pornographic. The lead character, Lenore Hasland, has returned home from abroad after what I assume was a fairly successful mixed career as a whore and as a supernatural assassin. The initial scene I refer to is one where a man is being raped by a succubus, Lenore rescues him from her before engaging the succubus in a sort of twisted sub and dom lesbian scene. However, this kind of perverse scene is not repeated. Well, in any case, it certainly woke me up to the rest of the story, which was somewhat anti-climactic.

Her sister is suffering from a heart-break. However, Lenore believes she is sick as from the effects of some sort of parasitic vampire who drains but does not kill his victims. After a bit of investigating, she convinces herself that the object of her sister's affections is indeed a vampire. With this conviction, she douses him in holy water, only to find out he's just a regular guy who broke his sister's heart.

Ross's style is fairly rich, and provides a great view into her fantasy world. I enjoyed this story, even if it was anti-climactic. In its way, the fact that it was a case of mistaken identity is a little bit intriguing.

Anise, Chris DeVito

I couldn't find much information about Chris DeVito. In any case, his story, "Anise," has a number of things going for it.

The point-of-view of this story is a bit odd. It's written using, for the most part, using present tense verbs. So, rather than writing, "She was" he wrote "She is," etc.

The world has changed. The world we're shown isn't terribly dissimilar from Orwell's 1984. It's not as detailed as Orwell's, and we're only ever shown a single circle or social strata. There is mention of how people must not hold opinions contrary beyond a certain degree from the government. There's also mention of a reeducation system when people do go astray from the allowable amount of leniency.

The main character is a woman, Anise, who is married to a reconstructed man, Richard, referred to as a 'breather.' Someone who is reconstructed has died. Someone who has been reconstructed has died and been brought back to life. The amount of time a person can die, and the amount of damage that can be reversed, has been very nearly mastered altogether. People can be utterly destroyed, be dead for an hour, before being brought back to a kind of life.

Though, the return to life is not entirely perfect. There are tubes and machines which suspend death. The move from completely organic to semi-organic being does not happen entirely without consequence. Richard is completely changed. Also, the allowances for those who are semi-human breathers is much greater than it is for organics. That is to say, they are allowed the use of any and all drugs that they want without the need for a prescription. Organics, conversely, are still heavily restricted. It would seem that these people have more rights than than organics.

Another type of character is also introduced, which is interesting as well. These are mechanical creatures who have been fused with brain tissue from dead humans. I'm not sure how this works, since it seems that the only thing the doctors of this setting need is a live brain, and it is not spelled out where this brain tissue came from. There is no memory in the brain, either. The machine/brain has a personality, and an intense desire to communicate which is curtailed significantly by the company which owns it. It has a limitation of how much it can communicate non-essential information. There is also mention of how the government is making laws, giving these machines which have a certain amount of organic brain hooked up to it.

As to the rest of the story, Anise is pressured to become a breather by her husband and others. In order to become like her husband, she must kill herself. She does this, and becomes one of them. 

It is quite an interesting setting, and one I enjoyed quite a bit. A lot of the short fiction I've been reading on my Kindle seems to be just regular boring stories which are sci-fi or fantasy because a character is from outer space, as in the story "Cucumber Gravy" which was utterly pointless. This was good science fiction where we get a glimpse into someone's interpretation of a possible dystopia.

Where Have All the Young Men Gone?, Albert E. Cowdrey

Knight of the Swan, 1482, southern low countri...Image via WikipediaThere is a very short article on Wikipedia about him as well as a partial bibliography of his short fiction. His short fiction has appeared in a multitude of magazines, and in particular, in many editions of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

The title of the story, I'm assuming, comes from the old 70s song, “Where Have all the Flowers Gone” which was lamenting the waste of human lives in the Vietnam War. I'm not sure if that's where Cowdrey picked it up, and it doesn't seem to be linked to the story. So, perhaps it's just a coincidence.

Weird tales are among my favourites. They are good horror stories without the need for blood and guts. Well, Cowdrey's story is one excellent Weird Tale. In fact, if it wasn't so long, I feel certain it would be an excellent story that would well belong in one of my favourite bygone graphic magazines. The style, plot, and characters, are all reminiscent of that style which Poe and Lovecraft made popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

An aged American, Henry has taken a vacation to visit a museum in Gmudt which exhibits weapons covering several centuries of technological advancements. The museum, however, in its previous incarnation having a long history as barracks for soldiers, has one particularly negative event: a young virgin woman who is raped to death by about a dozen men. The soldiers are never held accountable for the crime, as they are sent to their own set of horrors as they participate in military combat.

The girl, however, somehow becomes a semi-immortal horror. She lures soldiers and, of late, male tourists, to their deaths. One night she claims a young man and terrorizes a young woman, both of whom had made their acquaintances with Henry the night before the event. The young man had a lover who wanted to know what had happened to him, and thus convinced Henry to spend the night with him to see if they could find any truth the the legend and superstition regarding the museum.

As it so happens, they do discover that there is indeed a horror living in there. All the men who had gone there before and disappeared are all frozen inside of some kind of material. Not terribly unlike a bug having been snared by tree resin that then is frozen in what eventually becomes amber. However, the poor girl who also became a victim of the horror is not what she seems. In fact, the original girl is herself killed, and the horror taken her place. The fact that she had odd eyes alerts Henry to the fact.

They are driving down one of the crazy roads that aren't all that uncommon in the mountains of Austria. To destroy the woman, and perhaps also to join his own family who had died in a plane crash a year earlier, he purposefully plunges the car off the road and to what he hopes is their mutual doom.

Again, I really enjoyed this story. With fiction like this, I can see myself keeping my subscription to the magazine for some time.

What We Found, Geoff Ryman

SlumImage by andreasnilsson1976 via FlickrThis is two stories in one: the first seems like an autobiography of someone who may or may not be real. In fact, after looking around for images of Ryman, it becomes clear that it is fiction. It's hard to say which story is parasitic to the other. The superior story is the one which tells the brief life story of a family The setting is in Nigeria, the characters are Nigerians. They are so black that Ryman even mentions cream used to whiten skin fails to have any effect at all on the father. So, I think the parasitic story would be the science fiction one.

Actually, I'm less inclined to see it as science fiction as it is anti-science fiction. I'm not really sure what Ryman's intention with this part of the story is. It seems to want to suggest that science is only accurate for as long as it's unobserved. Or, to put it another way, once we observe some ideas and facts around a particular phenomena, the phenomena goes back into the bag. I do believe that this was a stab at several sciences, most particularly he seemed to be criticising Darwin's Theory of Evolution and promoting creation in its place. "If witchcraft once worked and science is wearing out, then it seems to me that God loves our freedom more than stable truth."

I did enjoy the autobiographical fiction to a certain extent, but adding the parasitic story to it so that it could be get the science fiction label seems rather lame even if it is on the back of a very interesting and well written story.

"The Man Inside Black Betty: Is Nicholas Wellington the World's Best Last Hope?" Saurub Ramesh

Black HoleImage via WikipediaOf the stories I've read thus far, this one sort of hit a new low for me. While it certainly fits the definition of science fiction, and even the concept is kind of interesting if not altogether too silly to take seriously as a possible event in earth's history of disaster, it is so poorly written that it's impossible to enjoy this piece.

The main character is one of the main problems. He's some kind of skid-row/prison inmate meets science genius. The Vin Diesel meets unprecedented scientific genius. I should be kinder to Vin Diesel. He isn't as hideous as the character portrayed is. But imagine Hollywood trying to sell him as a particularly adept scientist. I know bucking sterotypes is never a bad idea, but the reason a lot of scientific types are more often skinny and underpowered is because they spend their time with their noses in books. The reason tough guys are tough is because they work hard at the gym or doing whatever physical exercise is required for them to be tough. That this character somehow inherits the ability to be scientific without any particular effort aside from some chance reading material and a particular gift for solving puzzles is beyond belief.

The second part that makes this story sort of beyond dumb and therefore difficult, if not impossible, to enjoy, is the science fiction aspect. The premise is that the genius predicts some wacky miniature black hole that will suddenly appear in the sky, in geosynchronous orbit in the sky, but not so high as to reach the region of space, somehow has little effect on the earth itself. Sure, some airplanes, rockets, and lots of birds get sucked into this odd phenomenon, somehow the atmosphere and air do not. Also, it seems to have no effect on anything in the beginning. A black hole, even one meter across, would have an immense effect on everything around it. In order for something to be a black hole at all, it is presumed to have a great deal of density. It would have a greater mass than the earth itself. How am I supposed to buy the idea that it would somehow have almost no effect on the earth or anything else around it?

This story was terrible. I honestly don't know how it got in this magazine. Maybe the author knows the editor personally?

"Bright Moment", Daniel Marcus

Wormhole jetImage via WikipediaThis was another story I felt might ought to have been left out. It's a short story about a planet that's undergoing terraforming for imminent human use. One of the main characters is out surfing the huge waves (not sure what was causing the waves. Waves, being caused by the moon on earth, are not so large. Yet, no orbiting body is mentioned that might cause such a wave on this body. In fact, it seems to be a satellite itself in orbit around a large ringed planet described like Saturn. But, that's not how waves work. Earth's waves follow the moon in orbit around the earth, not the Sun which it orbits. That's how it would work on a satellite as well. There would be no large waves.

I guess this takes me to something I guess I expect in science fiction: that there be some correlation between the real universe (the laws) or at least the theoretical universe (see warp speed, etc). When it blows basic fundamental laws of physics, I find myself discarding any appreciation for the tale.

In essence, after finding giant squid on the satellite around the ringed planet, the hero tries to stop the terraforming. The corporation in charge of the terraforming doesn't really care. Thus, he takes matters into his own hands and becomes the equivalent of a modern-day eco-terrorist. He plants a huge bomb in the wormhole which links earth to this satellite to sever the tie.

The Corpse Painter's Masterpiece, M. Rickert

The morgue in a abandoned hospital in Deventer...Image via WikipediaThis story was quite interesting for several reasons. The first being the tenses used by the author throughout the piece. Like "Anise," a lot of the story is told in simple present tense. However, she does so in a much more fluid, adept, and polished manner. There was a moment, for a few paragraphs, that the story slipped into the traditional past tense narrative. I'm not sure how author and editor could have missed it, but the sore thumb was not all that bothersome that it ruined the experience of the story. It was more interesting the way she played around, and successfully, with a variety of tenses to play around with the timeline of the story. It was quite interesting, and may merit a little experimentation on my part in the not so distant future. Where "Anise" seemed kind of choppy and at times seeming to have been written by a beginner, Rickert seems to be well practised and skillful at it.

The story is the other interesting thing. I wouldn't really call this a horror, but what happens is horrible. I didn't feel a good buildup of tension. However, it's still enjoyable. It centres around two central characters: a sheriff and a corpse painter. The corpse painter is a man who paints the dead. I was not able to find much information about corpse painters in general earlier in the year, the sheriff's son had died. His wife was devastated to the point of becoming little more than a zombie. 

One night, the sheriff is accosted by a shining light, which draws him to the cemetery and plot in which his son had been buried and subsequently where he was no more than bones. The sheriff digs him up and has the corpse painter paint the bones. He then takes the bones home and gives them to his wife for a Christmas present. It's not scary by any stretch of the imagination, but definitely a very strange and enjoyable tale.

Aisle 1047, Jon Armstrong

Mall MakeupImage by Andrew Griffith via FlickrWell, I wouldn't classify this piece as either science fiction or fantasy. However, it has a twisted sense of humour to it. It was an interesting story about a saleslady in a big department store. Getting inside of the ditsy brain and getting a taste of what she had to go through in order to survive her ordeal was very entertaining. Essentially, she gets trained to become like a ninja killer in order to maintain her life in retail. 

To be honest, Armstrong left me wanting more story to go with the strange world which she lives in. Not really my cup of tea, I'd think, but quite twisted is up my alley.

"Spider Hill", Donald Mead

If Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, then what do you call a witch who is impregnated and then discarded? Well, "Spider Hill" explores that idea. It's fairly well written. It's very short. An old granny a long time ago was knocked up and left by a carnie operator. In revenge, when granny was just a young mother and not a granny, she takes revenge against the man and an entire group by releasing deadly spiders which then kill the whole group.

However, she is not satisfied with this mass murder. She needs to hold their spirits to the hill on which they died. To this end, she performs some witchcraft. When her granddaughter finds out that she has been aiding her granny to that end, she rebels. To accomplish this, she enlists a young man to take her virginity on Spider Hill. Granny forgives her for the betrayal, and she's never really required to pay the cost of her terrible crimes. It's a sort-of-fun tale for Halloween.

"Overtaken", Karl Bunker

This is another very simple short story. Roughly summed up: a large AI controlled ship is sent off to look for a new inhabitable planet. While off looking, many years later, earth has technologically evolved (or so claims a vessel which comes up alongside the AI, Aotea, has actually caught up and claims to be trying to retrieve the ship.

Aotea tells a story about how a woman sacrificed her life to repair the ship. After telling the story, Aotea asks Rejoindre, what it thinks of the story. After saying that it has no thought at all of it, Aotea incinerates the little vessel. It is not entirely clear why. Perhaps this type of speculation is what might give the story some sort of redeeming feature. It might be one of those stories that would be nifty in a fiction speculation class in trying to identify the motivation of the AI, Aotea. Perhaps it did not want the life of the lost worker to be in vain, perhaps it didn't want to become obsolete. It's hard to say. However, one downside to this story is that I have a hard time buying into the dialogue of the AI characters. I just cannot imagine a sophisticated AI, perhaps evolving to a degree, amongst highly educated scientists, talks like a common couch potato.

"Time and Tide", Alan Peter Ryan

This is the final short fiction in this edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

This is a sort of sad tale about a young boy, Frank Parsons who grows up being the elder second fiddle to a beloved younger brother. Everything goes the younger brother's route. That is, until he drowns in the ocean.

The father, very upset at having lost 'junior,' who is essentially a younger version of himself, uses an old piece of furniture, a certain wardrobe, that had been in the family for generations to get revenge against Frank for not being the one who drowned rather than the loved son. That is to say, it is bewitched. Somehow, through the magic of the wardrobe, the father manages to murder the son.

It was not a bad story. It had a little originality, and it was well written.

Final Thoughts

I do believe that this edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction was worth $2. There were a lot of stories. There is a lot more to read than what I found in the other magazine which I tried, Lightspeed. There was a variety of quality of material and method. I think it was a good decision to buy a subscription, and I do not regret it at all.

However, one real criticism I have of this magazine is the book review section. This is an ebook. I am an ebook reader. Yet, in the end of the book, it is promoting/reviewing pbooks (print books). They really ought to be promoting/ reviewing ebooks, not pbooks. I suppose it's just a little criticism. Nonetheless, I think it's something that the editors ought to consider.Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Portable MFA in Creative Writing (New York Writers Workshop)

Initial Thoughts and Introduction

So far, my initial impression of this book is pretty positive. I picked it up for free, thanks to the blog, Kindle Review. Normally, it goes for $8.99 for the Kindle at You can follow the hyperlink or click on the image.

The opening of this book explores the benefits of getting an MFA vs the downsides. The benefits listed were very limited unless a few exceptional schools were the issuers. The sentiment was that the act of getting an MFA provides people with the time to write. The educational aspect seemed to be downtrodden. Not in all circumstances, but in the majority of them. Apparently, a number of MFA instructors use a mixture of fear and direction that is counter-productive to the process of learning the craft of writing. There is also the very real consequence of building a debt which can be quite significant. And then, in the end, there is not a lot of professional respect for someone with an MFA. Lots of successful writers don't have them.

It would seem that the goal of this book is to provide some lessons that would be learned in a positive educational environment, but without the great cost.

I have a degree in English literature. I believe that it was superior to the BFA for a few reasons. The first is the belief that one cannot master the creation of literature without a good study of it. Critical applications also opens up a lot of interesting avenues which are worth exploring. An excellent example is the exploration of psychoanalysis. The study of Freudian theory, can give a lot of food for thought when one creates a character. Studying masters of literature will surely help one become a master, or at least get closer to becoming a true master. How can one become a master of literature when skipping those steps?

As to time: it is very easy to save enough money to buy time without having to resort to accruing tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt and heading to an Asian, like the Philippines, to work on your novel. I would hope that there is more merit than just free time to write from an MFA.

Fiction, Tim Tomlinson

Writer's Workshop with DesdemonaImage by Carol VanHook via FlickrThis essay covers where to start when looking for a beginning. That is, where to start writing. It seems to be aimed at the student who has thought of becoming a writer, but hasn't really spent very much time with it or hasn't had much success. His suggestion is to write what you know. Use your own life as the template from which to write.
I am sure that this is a fairly good place to start. Look for specific points in life: a turning point or a conflict. He mentions a student who had said that 'writing from personal experience was an indication of a broken imagination.' Tomlinson's reply was to rattle off a dozen or so names of famous writers who make/made a living doing that very thing. However, I think he could have gone a step further to point out that real life can be used as fuel for an imaginary one. You can put yourself in a setting five hundred years ago, or five thousand, or those same years difference, but in the future. Then, the characters in your life can not only change names, but costume as well. They can even be something else other than human. They can be animal (as so often happens in fiction for children), toys (as in Toy Story), or fantasy (Harry Potter). A high school bully can be converted into a dragon. The setting of your high school becomes a kingdom ruled by a cruel king (the principal). All these fantastical places, characters, and events, can be drawn from real life.

The first useful thing I ran across that might be of some help and insight to the aspiring writer, is a checklist of functions or questions that need to be answered in the fiction that one is writing/has written: set-up, complications, climax, resolve. He also goes into specific examples of how these features work in the first few paragraphs of a sample story.

Next, he goes on to story-opening strategies. I would have to say that perhaps this particular section might have been better off being placed before the previous. In any case, he shows how to choose your moment and make sure the hook is in there somewhere.

I guess I was expecting a bit more out of this essay. Though it is titled, 'Stories,' it is not 'short stories.' I thought I would get a bit more out of it than I did. I am more interested in novels than I am in short fiction.

Magazine Writing, Charles Salzberg

This was a really great article. I am writing the review for this essay out of order. I wrote my thoughts on "Poetry" before I have done this review. In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I think of all the essays, this one really seemed to be the best.

First of all, there is a simple and elegant presentation to the ideas of this essay. Where in the first two essays, they really meandered around like lost puppies, this one seemed to have been written by a true professional.

He is a walking cliche. He literally started his career in the mail room, and worked his way up until he became a professional writer working freelance for top shelf magazines. He takes us through a nutshell of his professional career which is entertaining and illustrates where his beginning was. However, I might say that it was a bit short. His last paragraph, he wrote, "I made almost $2,000 for what amounted to a couple of weeks' work... I quit the mailroom to make it as a freelance writer... in the next six months, I made a grand total of an additional $1,000, but what I learned during that time was priceless." I am left wanting to hear more about what he learned over this period of time, and what his challenges were. Well, maybe this was due to a lack of space for his essay. Or, perhaps it's just a designed tool that causes the reader to be left wanting more. Or, again, perhaps I'm to infer from the next sections that these are the things that he learnt over those six months.

When he dives into the topic, however, he covers it thoroughly: how to find your niche, read! read! read!, write!, write!, write!, write those all important queries! and a few pointers on how to fill out articles. It was really both entertaining and informative. I hadn't really thought of magazine writing. I hate newspapers (so dull and tasteless style while yet being propaganda). It also made me think of how to approach writing short fiction.

I am certain that of all the essays in this book, this will be the one I read and reread.

Poetry, Rita Gabis

I think of all the topics in this book, this book is the one which I came versed very well in the subject. I have written hundreds of poems and spent a good many hours reading and writing them in my youth. However, in later years, I've come to think of it as a young man's game. Youth is where we spend our thoughts on ideal planes. Age turns that juice of youth into either wine or vinegar. I suppose I'm of the vinegar variety.

That aside, of the essays thus far, this is the one that seems structured like a course. There are a few pages, then an assignment. Thus, it is very much like a course, where the others are not.

That said, I feel like, after having read about some of her methods of writing and then reading and then rewriting, that I am studying a cow of a woman. That is to say, she recommends chewing the grass, swallowing it, regurgitating it, rechewing it, then swallowing it again. It occurred to me at this point where I greatly differ from her in style.

I believe in rewriting to an extent. But, I also think that there's nothing like that raw moment where you rip the animal to shreds, and then swallow the warm bloody chunks down as quickly as possible. There are also times when the bones need to be crunched and swallowed carefully.

It just suggests to me that she and I are different animals when it comes to poetic expression: she is the cow, while I am closer to the carnivore. I like the raw while she likes the rechewed.

Another thing that I have issues with is the final section on getting published. The fact is that at least one very notable poet kept her poetry to herself until the day she died. Poetry ought not to seek a fan base, in my opinion. It's that one art form that ought not to depend on how people think. Also, the way she says one ought to pick up poetry magazines to start finding a market for the work brings out my inner cynic. This is why: these magazines really don't pay all that well for publishing the work. So, even if you pay all those bucks and you actually get published, the best you can really hope for is to break even. With the magazines, it makes a lot more sense, because the writers of those stories do get compensated fairly well and make a living at it. I don't know if there's a poet alive living the big life because of their lines. Maybe I'm wrong, but I've certainly never heard of it.

Playwriting, Charlie Schulman

 I've never liked reading plays (with an exception or two: Moliere and Sophocles being exceptions). So, the idea of actually writing a play is akin to making an album of running fingernails against chalkboards. It really seems that painful. So, the odds of me actually using anything this writer says is remote since my interest is near nil. The reason is because it's a game of very little description. How does one paint the environment, the setting, in a play? In the plays I've read, it's very spartan. In a novel, it is richly woven into the fabric of the story. However, in the event that I had a squad of actors and actresses along with all the support staff and a stage and an audience to host the play, I think my opinion would change drastically. I think it would be entirely possible for me to really fall in love with it. However, what are the odds of that happening? Maybe I ought to try to change my opinion, or at least give this form a try if I happen to find myself in possession of those things.

Schulman also questions the utility of an MFA. Though, he seems to be cautiously optimistic that the futility of the MFA trying to become a playwright is actually changing.

What's most interesting about this essay is his attention to character and dialogue. He suggests interesting exercises. ie., listen to a dialogue (eavesdropping) and try reconstructing it later. Another, take snippets of lines from different conversations and stitch them together in an entirely different conversation. There are more exercises that are worth executing.

The Graduate Original Soundtrack album cover.Image via Wikipedia
Last night I rewatched an old favourite romantic film. I don't have a lot of those, but "The Graduate" somehow changed for me. That is to say, the reversal effect of where a character is trying to do something, and then everything reverses, became a lot more distinct to me than it did before. For example, when Benjamin Braddock is trying to get rid of his soon to be love interest, Elaine Robinson, you can see Benjamin walking so fast that she can barely keep up to him. After he humiliates her in the strip club, she walks so fast back to the car that he can barely keep up. This type of scene is repeated three times throughout the film. What is interesting about that is that reading this book has caused a slight change in me in the way that I view dramatic conflict. I can honestly say that this book would have been well worth $10 for much of the stuff I have learned or that I am still evaluating. I have put it in my reread collection of books on my Kindle. I will reread it. I will try the prompts that the various essayists have suggested. This was a great steal and a good use of my time.
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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Uncanny Tales, Arthur Pearson

Heath's cover of Uncanny Tales #48 (Oct. 1956)...Not the real cover of this book...
Initial Thoughts

Some of my favourite comics growing up were those black-and-white ones that had strange or mysterious settings, characters, and events. These tales often portrayed horror or supernatural stories with strange photos to go along with them. These comics included, but were not limited to the magazines, Strange Tales and Heavy Metal, and TV shows such as Serling's Twilight Zone. I think it was with this in mind that I found the book of short stories called Uncanny Tales. These are available freely at

Also, a note about the author. Although in the text the author is listed as various, there is no information about who those writers were. Further, Google searches seem to indicate that Arthur Person was not just the editor, but also the author.

“The Unknown Quantity”

This tale concerns a haunting of a man, one Professor William James Maynard, who thought nothing of committing a capital crime in his pursuit of his dream of becoming a published and acclaimed mathematician. To that end, he murders his cousin in order to get at the inheritance. With this money, he believes he can develop the research required to make himself famous within his community.

On the one month anniversary of the death of his cousin, however, he discovers that a drop of blood has appeared on his wrist. Every month, on that same anniversary, he finds an ever growing drop of blood. This continues until ultimately, he slashes at his own wrists and kills himself in the process over they mystery of the splotch of blood which is a monthly reminder of the terrible crime that he had committed.

I cannot help but think of Edgar Allen Poe's “The Black Cat.” That's the story where the protagonist kills a cat, but is constantly haunted by it. However, one might say that the protagonist in that story was simply insane from guilt. However, in this story, it is other people who draw his attention to the blood on his wrist. So, we know that this particular haunting is not merely a fatal nag on his conscience, but a supernatural effect from the frightful deed he'd committed for something so trivial as fame. Which reminds me: perhaps I ought to reread Poe's dreadful stories once again. I think it's been long enough that it will be as dreadful to reread as they were the first time I fell in love with Poe's great masterpieces.

“The Armless Man”

This was a somewhat funny story. Bob Masters, the main character of the story and the narrator, are two Englishmen in South Africa, a long way from their native England. Bob has no arms. However, there are moments when Bob needs a pair of arms, and it would seem that he has found them. This becomes very apparent to the narrator on one occasion when he is trying to save Bob from falling off a boat during a rough storm and into the sea, and manages to nearly wreck his own life in the process. He is about to go down into the drink when a pair of unseen hands manages to help him hang onto his life.

Bob explains that the girl whom he'd loved and lost, was with him still. She had somehow, psychically, lent to him her ghost arms whenever he was in dire need.

All goes well until one narcoleptic lady, Nancy, manages to faint as a train is coming into the station. There is nothing anyone might do to save her, except for armless Bob. He manages to save her, but his invisible ghostly arms are crushed in the process. In the end, the mystified doctor who cannot really explain the death says that the condition of his death suggests that he bled out, as of having lost his two arms.

“The Tomtom Clue”

I actually liked this particular sordid tale. Quite simply, a man wants to go and investigate the evidence that lead to his father paying for a capital crime with his life. The fact that his father was hung for murder has ramifications for his own life. His reputation of being the son of a murderer is destroying him.

However, knowing his father well enough, he does not believe the reputation he grew to have. In the effort, he makes his way to South Africa with a friend to investigate the crimes. He coincidentally meets with a chief, and has drinks with the old man. In so doing, the narrator who is the friend, spills much of the nasty tasting beer onto the skin of one of the tomtoms. When he tries to clean the tomtom skin, he discorvers the skin of the father.

Thus it comes about that it was not the father who was the murderer. It was his partner who had killed him and then taken on his name. The man who had hanged for killing a man was the very same as the man who had killed his father. This story is full of irony and dark humour. I really liked it.

“The Case of Sir Alister Moeran”

The narrator of this tale, one Maurice, had served in England's military in India for two years. He had expected to marry his cousin, I believe, on his return. However, this plan is stumped by the fact she had found someone in Egypt whom she fell in love with.

It turns out, however, that the object of her affection, one Sir Alister Moeran, is actually a shape-shifting tiger-vampire. Only through a little luck and preparation are they able to save Ethne, his cousin, from an episode of shape shifting which very nearly killed her.

“The Kiss”

A man wants to kiss a woman. But, even though she leaves him an opening, he declines to take her offer. He believes, however, that in kissing her he will harm her somehow. He tells her he is going away, but the story is not clear on where he's going or why. The reason he cannot kiss her is that he is already married.

Rejected, she walks off. But then, seemingly, he's changed his mind. They do have a kiss. Only, after she has the kiss, as she's leaving the building, she runs into a bit of commotion. A man had jumped from a window to kill himself. That was the very man who kissed her. I believe that this had happened before the actual kiss had taken place. Thus, it would seem the kiss she had gotten was from his ghost.

“The Goth”

This is actually quite a good piece of work. It concerns a man, Cargill, who is visiting a small town and is wooing for the affections of a young woman in that town. When he becomes aware of a superstition, he decides to challenge it. The superstition is that if one takes a boat into a certain lake, Tryn yr Wylfa, and looks down through the waters to see a village under water, that person will drown.

He does take a boat out to the lake, and he does see the sunken village. He laughs it off. The girl whom he held affections for, however, was not impressed. In fact, she says to him that she will not forgive him of his offence only when he has fulfilled the superstition of drowning.

Initially, he seems to have no problem with the superstition. However, as time goes by, he grows increasingly paranoid about it. Despite being described as a champion swimmer, he becomes paranoid at the thought of being close to water. At a point, a child falls into water and starts crying for help. But rather than go to rescue the child, he chooses to run away. This seems to haunt him more than anything.

Thus, he is plagued both by a fear of drowning and guilt at having not even tried to save the boy from drowning. When given an opportunity to make amends, he takes it. A ship is about to wreck herself on the shore during a nasty bout of weather. He takes it upon himself to swim out to the ship with a lifeline attached to him that they might save the crew. This is a suicide mission, and everyone knows it. However, he is more motivated by finding atonement for not saving the child than by self preservation against the superstition. I especially like how the tale ends: “Thus it was that he earned Betty Lardner's foregiveness.”

Of course, the question that I would beg to have answered is whether or not his sacrifice was made fruitlessly. Was the ship saved? Of the stories in this short book, this was perhaps my favourite.

“The Last Ascent”

This is kind of an odd-ball romance. An engineer/pilot manages to fly so high into the sky that he kind of meets some kind of female alien. Mysteriously, on the day that he manages to reach a certain height, his plane manages to land back down to earth without him. No trace of him is found, either. What's more, a certain photographer manages to capture an image of a blurry female at the height of his last ascent.

“The Terror by Night”

I also really appreciated this tale. A man, Maynard, also discards fancy rumours of monsters in a certain Celtic moor. He is fishing when he catches a fish that is too small. He tries to return it to the river, but finds it only too late. He then sacrifices it, with a kind of unbelieving humour, to the gods. As it turns out, as a young lady informs him who is familiar with the area, that the very place where he put the sacrifice and burnt it to a non-existent deity, is an old 'Phoenician altar' where burnt sacrifices used to go.

As he burns the fish, a young lady on a horse comes out to investigate. After having a bit of dinner together, she tells him about the superstition of some sort of Thing which hunts people to death. However, he does not believe her words, and is determined to sleep the night in the moor.

As he sleeps, he is awakened by something. It frightens him. He begins to run as if death itself is in pursuit, even before he thinks to run. Words that she'd said to him before she left were to the effect that cold iron was a thing that the Thing could not cross. He manages to make it to an area where there is a huge iron tyre, which is what purportedly saves him from the Thing.

Ironically, if C. Arthur Pearson is indeed the author of these tales, he too drowned. He drowned after falling in his bathtub and hitting his head.

“The Tragedy at the Loup Noir”

This tale concerns a kind of psychic witness to a murder. A man, in a sort of sleep-state, has set out paints and charcoal along with a canvas for work to be done in the morning. However, when he wakes up, he finds the painting already half way finished. It is of a girl in the act of being strangled. The strangler's portrait had not yet been finished.

In the morning, the girl is found strangled, just like in the painting. He thus becomes the subject of a trial and is quickly sentenced to be hanged. Before the hanging takes place, however, he is given the chance to finish the painting. He does, and the right person is apprehended and made to confess to the crime, saving him from the punishment.

Final Thoughts

All of these stories were fun enough to read. They are mostly fun at heart. I suppose that since I am not superstitious, I can find them comical. I have always found horror to be somewhat comical. Sometimes they make me think of something that I have never thought of before. I didn't find any of these to be particularly awe-inspiring. However, they were a nice escape from normal life.
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