Dragon*Con, Decatur Book Festival and Parade Pics

This weekend I almost went to my second-ever Con.  I was all mentally-prepared to go.  I assumed that was my plan for the long weekend.  What a great chance to exercise my writerly-networking skills, right?

And then Dear Wife asked a couple leading questions: not saying I shouldn’t go but asking what I was going to do when I went…  Which got me thinking: what would I do if I went to Dragon*Con this weekend?

The 2011 Dragon*Con Parade

The start of the 2011 Dragon*Con Parade

Dragon*Con seemed like a no-brainer.  It is a major convention in a reasonable proximity to where I actually live.  Lots of major editors, authors, agents, and pop-culture F&SF heroes would be there.  What’s not to love?  Except the sticker shock.  (A weekend pass costs how much? I sputtered.  And a day pass isn’t exactly cheap, either.  I know major theme parks that cost a lot less for a few day’s fun.)  But what really got me thinking was my lack of a real plan.  Sure some authors and other luminaries would be there.  But did I know who those were?  How would meeting them, if I knew who they were, benefit my writing career?  What was the point of meeting them?

In fact, I had answers to none of these questions.  So what if I met an editor or agent at the con?  That’s assuming I even knew of any specific editors or agents at the con and where I could find them to meet them.  I don’t have a book finished, so I can’t sell them anything.  I don’t have any major short story publications, so I can’t point to anything I’ve done.  I’ve got nothing by which they will even be able to remember they met me.  At this stage in my development as a writer, I realized, it was an exercise in futility.

There was the possibility that I could attend the writer’s panel track and learn something about the craft of writing – except I’m slowly finding that after a decade of absorbing generic writing advice there isn’t much that’s news to me.  I’ve mostly heard all these things before.  I still appreciate getting those lessons refreshed, periodically, but I can do that for a lot less than the ticket-price at a major convention.  On balance, I realized, Dragon*Con was turning into a somewhat over-priced F&SF-flavored theme-park ride.  Under my immediate circumstances, it just wasn’t an expense I could presently afford or rationalize. Continue reading

Regarding “Taking the Rats to Riga”

So, I find I’m getting a lot of hits today from folks directed here after author Jay Lake picked up my post from yesterday – in which I reviewed The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities – in his daily Link Salad.

Which is making me feel a tad guilty, because my mention of Jay Lake’s story is one not-very-enlightening line, with respect to his specific contribution to that anthology.  I reason that a good number of those who are coming over from Jay’s link are interested in my take on his story, in particular.  So I thought it might be useful for me to say just a few more words on Jay’s story, specifically, since he was kind enough to link me.

In my review of the Cabinet, I called “Taking the Rats to Riga” a “more peculiar specimen” and, more specifically, an “artificial [exegesis] of an imaginary [work]”.  Which is only partially true, since an artistic rendition of the supposed famous painting Jay  was commenting on accompanied his story.

Overall, Jay’s story plays beautifully into the conceit and conception of the book as a whole.  It takes the mythology of Lambshead book at face value, and does an able job exploring the quixotic compulsion of the imaginary doctor to collect quixotic objects of some imperceptible import.  In that way, I feel that Jay’s contribution was a seamless part of the fabric of the book, and goes a long way toward making the book, as a whole, into something more than an anthology of stories and into a work of art.

Although Jay’s story doesn’t do much with character or plot or the traditional trappings of story and narrative, it does something a little more subtle.  I’ve talked on this blog before about my enthusiasm for “Mythopoeia” (the link goes to the first in a series of three articles I wrote on the subject).  I think an understanding of what I mean by “mythopoeia” (as opposed to what might more commonly be meant by the word) is relevant to a discussion of the Cabinet of Curiosities, because I see the Cabinet as a form or type of mythopoeia – or, more specifically, as an artifact of mythopoeia.  It weaves a world and addresses that world not through the lens of a single narrative, but through a broader and more varied historiographic and mythographic sequence.

In the Cabinet of Curiosities, for instance, we don’t see a single overarching story about the good doctor’s mythic exploits and accomplishments and adventures.  Instead, his world is hinted at subtly through the varied stories and perspectives collected in this book.  Some address the doctor’s story directly, some indirectly, and some apparently not-at-all.  And what we’re getting isn’t really just the story of Dr. Lambshead but the story of an alternate history world in which Dr. Lambshead was a luminary figure.

In that respect, what’s delightful about “Taking the Rats to Riga” is that it is a fine specimen of mythopoeic artifact (or perhaps sub-artifact?).  Within the context of the Cabinet of Curiosities, it is one of those that somewhat indirectly hints at the history and character of Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead, but it’s a glimpse that feels authentic and textured.

So, if you came here hoping to read more about Jay’s story, hopefully this satisfies your curiosity a little more fully.  And thank you for reading!

Not Your Father’s Steampunk: Reviewing “The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities”

I didn’t set out to become an expert in Steampunk – and in that regard I suppose I’m not in any real danger of becoming one – nor did I have an specific desire to write Steampunk, per se.  It was just another reflection in the funhouse mirror that is the greater Speculative Fiction genre umbrella: a little bit sci-fi, an little bit fantasy, and a little bit something different.  I liked it, the same way I liked Fantasy and Sci-fi.  Heck… I liked it before I knew what to call it.  (The word “steampunk” dates back to the late 80s, but the genre didn’t seem to enter the popular consciousness until the late 90s and 2000s.  When I first discovered steampunk I had no word for it, and thought of it as “retro-futurism” and except for the fact that there’s now a significant fantasy cross-over segment of steampunk, I still think of it that way.)  But my first love was the classic Epic and High Fantasy.

But then I started this blog.  In the years before I started blogging Steampunk as a community – one part cosplay and one part literary movement – started gaining… um… steam.  So by this time I was aware both of the genre and its attendant aesthetic and of the now-accepted term itself.

The first time I mentioned Steampunk on this blog was in response to a Flash Fiction challenge that I completed as a Friday Flash.  This particular challenge asked us to use the word “zeppelin” somewhere in the story.  So, naturally, steampunk.  And this was the result.  After that, I discussed Steampunk once or twice with other bloggers in comments on their posts, throwing in my own two cents on the ins and outs of the genre.  Somehow, as a result of all that, I ended up writing one of my most popular posts on this blog: “A Steampunk Society“, which still gets hits today from people who apparently want to understand what values and mores would be present in a steampunk-inspired, pseudo-early industrial society.  I guess there was a small hole in the internet concerning that particular sub-topic of the genre, because writing that piece made me into something of a second- or third-string “expert” on the Steampunk genre.  And I’ve enjoyed digging deeper into the genre.  I’ve promised myself someday to return to that article and rewrite it with a more scholarly and exegetical focus.  I believe the popularity of that post lead indirectly to my first professional publication, here.  And those two things together likely combined to lead to this post.

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

The Curious Cover of The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

All of this was a long way of saying I was somehow identified as a member of the Steampunk literary fan community – possibly even someone of some influence, although I might have a hard time believing that – and that as someone of this type I might be interested in reviewing Ann and Jeff VanderMeer‘s latest steampunk-themed anthology, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities.

Well… indeed I was interested in reviewing it – so when I was contacted to ask if I was, I responded in the affirmative.  A few days later, a shiny new review copy of the Cabinet arrived on my doorstop.  So now, allow me to introduce you, if you have not already made the acquaintance, to The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities.

What is the Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities?

A fine question, my dear friend.

The Cabinet of Curiosities is, quite naturally, a curious specimen.  It’s an anthology, sure – but it’s unlike pretty much any anthology you’re likely to have picked up.  A typical short story anthology has a theme and a bunch of stories from different authors that fit that theme.  But that’s not exactly what you’ll find in the Cabinet of Curiosities. Continue reading

Steampunk Musketeers

So… Steampunk Three Musketeers?

I’m sold.

The Depths of Genre, the Heights of Audience Expectation

I regularly read the Magical Words blog, whree a group of speculative fiction authors joined together to offer writing advice and stories from the word-mines.  Over time, I’ve become ever-so-slightly more active a commenter on the posts, sharing my own thoughts and experience.

One recent post got me thinking about Genre.  In it, fantasy author Misty Massey begins a series of genre-definition posts similar to what you’d find on fellow writer-blogger T.S. Bazelli’s blog.  The post and ensuing discussion made me think about genre a lot (so much so that I was accused of overthinking the matter; I deny the charge as I don’t generally think it’s possible to overthink anything, and more likely to underthink something; I’m guilty of the latter as often as anybody else, but I’d rather be guilty of the former, which I think is no sin).  So, this is going to be a long post.  I’d split it up, but I think I’d lose something salient to my point in doing so.  My intention is to inspire deeper thinking on this topic – maybe even overthinking.  So put your thinking caps on.

Misty sets off on this whirlwind tour of the many genres and subgenres and subsubgenres of Speculative Fiction by discussing high and epic fantasy.  But before launching into discussion of individual genres, she says this:

When you’ve finished your manuscript and are ready to send it out into the world, one of the most important things to know about it is what genre it belongs to. Once upon a time, if a book had magic in it, it was fantasy. Period. Tolkien was fantasy, Tim Powers was fantasy, Glen Cook was fantasy. That’s no longer true. Genres have split and split and split again, becoming more and more specialized as the audiences demanded. Where once agents said they read fantasy, now they say they only want comic paranormal romance, dark epic or dieselpunk. Which puts the writer into a quandary – how do you know what you’re writing? Continue reading

Drumroll Please…

Today, everything changes.  Well, not everything

But I cross a threshold today.  Today I am not merely a writer.  I am not merely an aspiring author.  Today I am an author – an honest-to-goodness published author.

Fantasy Magazine May 2011 - Issue 50

Fantasy Magazine May 2011 - Issue 50

My piece, titled “Now Hiring in the Airship Lounge: Fantasy Archetypes Get Steampunked” appears today in Fantasy Magazine

I can’t even tell you how excited I am to share this news.  Obviously, I’ve been sitting on it for a while (for a lot longer than a week), but I didn’t want to say anything until I had something to show for it.  But now it’s here, and I’m letting the cat out of the bag at last.

My article, as you can guess by the title, isn’t a story: it’s nonfiction.  But as is also probably clear, it’s nonfiction of a sort that’s right up my alley, as a writer of fantasy and speculative fiction.  It’s a great little piece on the relationship between character archetypes in Fantasy and Steampunk fiction.  If either genre is of interest to you, you should check it out!

Fantasy Magazine is an online magazine dedicated to fantasy fiction, in the broadest sense.  They publish stories of a variety of different fantastic types, making them available online  for free periodically throughout the month and in an ebook format available for purchase at the beginning of the month.  And, obviously, they publish fantasy-related nonfiction as well.  Of which my article is one.

And thus beginneth my reign of terror.  Today, a short article on the subject of Steampunk archetypes on Fantasy-Magazine.com… tomorrow, the world!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! [Insert evil steepling of fingers and evil petting of my evil dog Shasta here.] You poor fools. There’s nothing to stop me now!

Ahem.

So, I hope you go and check out Fantasy Magazine – and particularly my article and the story it is paired with (Genevieve Valentine’s “Study, for Solo Piano”).

A Note on Novel Nomenclature

So, I’ve written in the past about “the novel that I’ve been working on since forever” (and also often used the term “blather” when referring to it) and I’ve mentioned the new novel that I intend to start writing (just as soon as I have time to write).

I’ve come to find these long descriptive phrases to be unwieldy.  And, from the perspective of you, the reader, they’re not entirely useful or meaningful.  Because those long, unwieldy descriptions don’t tell you anything about the book itself but instead tell you about my temporal relationship with the book.

This ends now.  Inasmuch as I may continue to refer to either or both of these books – or even inasmuch as I might refer to any of my writing projects – I intend to start referring to those works and projects either by their titles (in the fullness of time) or by code-titles (in the beginning).  Eventually, therefore, I may be able to add word count meters and write in blog posts about my various projects and what I’m doing in them, and it will be easier to you, the reader, to understand what I mean rather than having to parse some long-and-not-altogether-useful-phrase like “that novel that I’ve been working on since forever”.

So, let’s get started. Continue reading