Oi, there’s a post. That’s summing we haven’t seen before, innit? Originality, ‘e says. Do. Tell.
That smarmy bastard right there? Ignore ‘im. ‘Ere’s the thing aboot originality: the verra definition of it is, “Are you anybody else?” Of all the someones out there, you a copy, a simulacrum, a 2-bit clone of base intentions?
Did not think so.
Next question. Are you righteous in your filtering abilities? What I mean is, you’re working on a project, yes, and it’s about dragons and we both know you’ve read a million books about dragons, so are ye only telling a dragon story? Or have you read a million books about ecology, quantum entanglement, and solar energy as well? Can we see a bit of that in your story then? Beauty.
What’s this aboot not wanting to break rules? D’ye know the rules? Are ye comfortable with the weight and shape of ‘em in yer hands? All right then. Move ‘em about, bend ‘em up. The more pliable the better. Rules are just meant to guide intentions. Ye can achieve the desired effect a hundred different ways if you know to build upon what’s on your page. According to my personal tastes and peccadillos, I, for myself, would love to see a New York rom com start off with an invasion of sentient foot fungi only 2 truly in love asexual biochemists could cure, all the way to the happy ending and character growth at the end. There are only 2 rules you need to write down: Don’t be mean, and don’t be boring. It’s not easy not being mean, I know. I’ve done it meself. God bless editors who lay the red like a Throne’s wedding. Be prepared to alter your point of view in your own work, and you’ll be all right.
Oi, but don’t strain trying to be clever, mixing and matching and gliding willy nilly. That can be just as fooking boring. It’s like the guy performing oral sex for a 30 minute open mouth gymnastics set when 5 minutes (10) of varied interest in your lover’s nibbly bits would do. A kiss here, a lick there, a pause to reflect on genitalia’s awesome impact on human civilization, then back to business. Conduct your skills and wit accordingly, else your asexual rom com lack any human connection.
Here’s where you put our knickers back in place and post-coit for a bit. The idea was nice and your technique was great. Thumbs up on the orgasm, mate. Top notch caring, that. And I’m not criticizing here, no no…but can we make it better? The idea? Maybe a smidge to the left or to the right, yeah? I dunno, maybe they don’t need to fall in love? I mean, personal growth happens a million different ways right? Takes time to find those ways, true, but I’m not going anywhere if you’re not. We’ll wait. Maybe go see what the blokes over here are writing, doesn’t mean we love you any less.
OMG. Guess what? There’s a lady one move over writing about the exact same thing as you. Kinda. Sorta. Not sentien foot fungus per se—but demons who saw The Vagina Monlogues and thought that’d be hilar in real life. Possessed vaginas and the Catholic nuns who realize how much more they need each other than a church to set things right. Exorsisters. Seriously, that’s what she’s calling it. But totally different from yours. Enough so anyway. Write your book, odds being small that it’ll get published anyway. Volume, son, volume. Write all the things.
What’s that guff about sales? You want to write something that’ll get pubbed? Yer lookin’ for mass market sales and accolades? Bless your heart. Let’s edge away from that, lad, that’s a slippery slope until your footings a bit more sure. Are you starting to think maaaaaybe if ye write it Just Like That where “that” is the Himalayas of Writers where their frozen, lifeless bodies lay in clear view up summit way, let’s step back just a bit and remember that if originality is a question on your mind you’ve already spotted out a different path up the olde mountain. Fewer frozen bodies, more hot cocoa and tub parties. Your originality comes from what you want to do, and then how you do it flows from that, and then it all comes together into a book you’re going to have to rewrite 4 times anyway.
Y’know what? Perhaps we—yes, let’s reframe. Let’s think of this with some funk rock lyrics. Prince, from “Hello”.
But maybe at last it's the end
Because I am not like others
I'm unique in the respect I'm not U
Harkens back to the clone bit, dunnit? I can’t write the book you write; you can’t write the book I write. We can get close but it’ll never be a cigar. Not if we’re, y’know, being us and not some imagined faceless them. It’s a good feeling, being comfortable enough to walk along with y’self as company. Very enjoyable when ye’re willing to see where you can go and all the ways you can get there. We’re even at the end of this little half-cocked blog, and ye’ll note I did not say “It’s all been done.”
Marketing. Let’s talk about it. Hey now, no crying, don’t cry. Listen, I know. I know. You don’t want to be a product. I don’t want that either. I get that. I do. I know all about mirroring and repetition and attention-targeting. We’re not here for that. We’re not here to make you a product.
We’re here to make you “you.”
Because no matter where you go…
I want to change the word “marketing” out and make it “confidence.” I like to use the analogy of the furniture maker. You’ve made a beautiful table. Put a lot of time, effort, and craft into it. People need tables. They would love your table. Let me ask you this: Is your table in your basement, and is only known to be so by your cousins and immediate friends, all whom already have tables? If so, bad. Did you make color photos of your table and put one on every windshield of all the cars at Target? Bad. Don’t do that. Don’t make the environment hate you. Did you put an ad in the local classifieds and maybe a few community centers about table for sale? OK. Yes. You marketed. You said “I have a product, this is it” and then you backed away.
That’s marketing/advertising 101.
Unfortunately marketing/advertising 2.0 says YOU WON’T BELIEVE HOW GREAT THIS TABLE IS! 5 EASY STEPS TO GETTING THIS TABLE! LIKE SITTING? THEN YOU NEED THIS TABLE! And on…and on…
Marketing has become an assailant forcing things into your pockets whether you want them there or not.
That’s not what you want to do. Certainly not.
It’s harder for folks in the “arts”, especially writers. We’re indoctrinated to be invisible unless we reach Gore Vidal status in both personality and White privilege, which we won’t pretend isn’t a huge part of marketing. Writers are told to slide their manuscripts under the door then sit quietly for a few months until a decision is made. Writers are told that pride goeth before a bad blog; that it’s unseemly to openly like their own work; that hubris spelled backwards is sirbuh, which is an unpleasant-sounding word, which is what hubris is: unpleasant. We, as the meatbags behind the pens, aren’t supposed to draw attention to ourselves. On one hand that’s perfectly fine; I don’t need you to know who I am. Agreed.
But I need you to know what I do.
I make tables.
Except they’re books.
They might be weird books. Maybe disturbing books. Funny books too. Maybe a bit of all. Shabby chic. Not to get in your face about them, but I’d love for you to read them. And I’d love to give them away but, y’know, capitalism, ugh. So, like, I know we just met and this is crazy but…purchase me maybe? Boom, done, end of marketing session. And that happens different ways depending on your publishing avenue. If you’re a one-person show, you’re hitting blogs and book clubs and online communities now and again. You mention stuff on social when needed (new publication, new review, cool mention, that kind of thing). If you’ve got a marketing team behind you you do the same things, just not as much. All else that goes into that pot of artist/art is just you being you. You being enthusiastic about your craft, about the works of others, about cool stuff in general. Because as a writer you’re a cool, varied soul. You like things that most folks hardly ever notice. Websites about medieval hairdos. The fascinations of regional dialects. Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s genius run on X-Men. Kinky humpback whale pairings. All of that goes into your books. So by a long stretch of extension, you are your books.
Soooo… no matter where you go, there you are. You’re not forcing things people don’t want, you’re just you enjoying things. People respond to that, people dig that. Doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gonna buy, but it does make your life a lot less stressful.
You’re not a product. You’re just you.
And that’s what marketing should be, Charlie Brown. You’re good at making tables. Let folks know you make pretty damn good tables. And then go off laughing with them, or enjoying pizza, or catch a really bad action movie with them. Y’know, live your life. Can’t stress enough: folks will either buy or they won’t, but there’s always, always, time for chilling out with pizza and movies in a dive bar…which could be the staging point for a great adventure to write about.
Here’s where we stand one month into 2017: a person who’s not fit to lead kindergarteners in a recital of the ABCs occupies the seat of the highest office in the United States of America. Don’t ask. My house was burgled. “Burgled.” Yeah. I met some amazing folks at a sci fi book convention. Win win. I’ve got a couple writing gigs lined up; recommitted myself to meditation; will try very hard not to muck up anyone’s life during the 11 months remaining. Not despairing, fretful, or panicked despite the sum total of heinous assery dirtying the world. This doesn’t mean I’m not affected. Doesn’t mean you’re not either. I’m thinking about living my life a completely different way. Love, home, work, play—everything. The old narratives serve the tiniest concerns. New way could make me worthy of my dreams. I still have those. Haven’t given up, not yet. Not ever. And that’s where we are one month into 2017. We’re not giving up.
Write on, right on.
Modus Vivendi (orginally published in Historical Inaccuracies)
“Let me tell you what’s been on m’mind, mate. Devil babies. Little tykes all cold and emotionless gangin’ up on nannies and hackin’ ‘em to bits.”
“Everything all right, mate?”
“Been watchin’ me own. Got the reverend comin’ over tonight.”
“Sooner’s better. Sod havin’ devil babies about your life.”
“How’s rev to handle all thirteen? Are you workin’ in shifts?”
“Me and the misses’ll slip a little sleep in their cocoa.”
“So when Rev comes ‘round ‘is biggest problem’ll be havin’ the bleedin’ demons hear ‘im over all the snoring.”
“There’s always a rub.”
“Good counsel as always.”
“Psshaw! Gives me purpose.”
Thirteen pairs of grubby little eyelids slipped like a lush, flutter flittered a bit, and closed.
“Luvvie, it’ll be the devil’s time pickin’ ‘em up. Like dropped flies, they are.”
Number nine, whose grip had never been firm to begin with, tumbled from his roost on the family heirloom (a pawn shop chandelier).
Father was already diving for the catch. “Don’t worry it; I’ve got ‘im.” He tossed the boy onto the sofa. Already there were five asleep on it, moptops with nasal passages snoring like banshees. “Damn fine catch that, eh?”
Mother stepped her apron-body over a little one sprawled on the floor, and had to lean close to father to speak as the thumping and tumbling and godawful snores put out more than enough of their own.
“Here’s a thought. What with the factories foldin’ up I should think a good choice would be to sell the lot off to the American cinema, provided Reverend can’t cleanse the devil off their souls.”
“The lot? Maybe keep a few?”
“And never sleep a peaceful night again?”
“Point made, Luv.”
Religiously hearty poundings pounded the door.
Father hurried to answer.
The gaunt figure of Reverend Slip stood centered in the doorway of the humble dwelling. The little flat square of white below his pointy Adam’s apple was a beacon against batwing robes.
“Show me the ‘eathens,” was all. No greeting, just “Show me the ‘eathens,” and moved right inside like a line with legs.
“Wait just now,” Father tossed, turning after him. “They’ve been brought up proper. This’s just one of them aborigines.”
Reverend Slip dropped a heavy duffel for loud effect. “If Satan could hold them at all then they’re a far fetch from righteousness. Where’s tea, Mother?”
Her hand flew to her mouth.
And as a matter of fact there did issue from the reverend one sharp, audible intake of air. “No tea?” Looking at Father like a man suddenly betrayed he blurted, “Biscuits at least?”
“Well what with the kids I forgot to kettle!” Mother exclaimed, trading worried glances with Father.
“Some things you simply do not forget, Mother,” Father said, then offered a placatory smile toward the reverend.
“How am I to function? You invite me into your home—how can I be the savior of your children if you can’t even observe the social graces? I know beggars much poorer than you who I can always count on to give with joy to the church!”
“Tea, Mother,” Father urged, nodding toward the tiny kitchen. She skittered off, muttering and mumbling at herself as she dug deeply in her apron pockets for little packets of sugar.
“Have you biscuits, then?”
Father swallowed nervously.
“M’God,” muttered Reverend Slip. During which (accompanied by a rancid odor that screwed noses up for blocks around) in the kitchen, having just stepped out of a particularly narrow shadow, popped Big Red itself, except it wasn’t red and was rather sensitive about racial stereotyping. Rather a short one actually. Unmistakably evil.
Reverend rushed the kitchen hoping ahead of time the stench hadn’t come from a mishap with a biscuit substitute. As the reverend’s reaction to such an unmistakably evil presence—“What the bloody hell’s this?”—was voicing, Father was hoping that feigning ignorance might make the tackily dressed bugger leave off. The devil, to clarify.
“Bloody ‘ell!” it rasped. “Anybody in the human race not daft? Satan!”
Man can’t depend on anything anymore, Father fretted. He rubbed his bulbous nose. “Yes, well, you’re—”
“I know I’m late! Lost me head in the U.S. God, America! Bloody piss me off, I don’t mind telling you. Now I’m here. Let’s have to.”
“Now waitaminute,” Reverend said. “What’s this?”
“Eh?” said Satan.
“A direct confrontation? I’m not here for that!”
“Stop chokin’ your scrot. Heard devil babies were about, came to give a look. Curiosity, you know. Vested interests and such. Observation only, Reverend.”
“See to it, then!”
“Show some care, Rev,” hissed Mother. “Just might piss ‘im off.”
“Right, where would that leave us?” Father put to him.
“Pretty buggered, I would think,” trilled Satan, strolling out to have a look at its alleged progeny.
“These aren’t babies! A friggin’ rugby team!”
“Some may be a bit big for their age,” Mother defended.
“They don’t even look like me.” It nudged ol’ Mother with its elbow. “Eh, Mother?”
“You be havin’ tea as well,” Father interjected starchily.
“No sugar, Mum, that’s the lass.” And it patted her doughy rump to send her off. “To business then,” Satan said, drawing the two men further into the sitting room.
“I am here strictly to establish paternity,” the reverend reminded assertively, adding with a terribly hopeful eye, “Unless you simply want to own up right here?”
“They really don’t look a thing like me.” It frowned. “No, go to it, Rev.”
Father hawed a bit. “What, uh, what if they happen to—”
“Not to worry. I make it a point to always travel with damn fine cigars on me.”
By which time even the eyes of dogs and parakeets in the neighborhood welled up. Those in the devil’s immediate presence had tried a discreet show of it, but finally Father had to ask, “Whatever ‘tis you’re givin’ off could you tone it down a bit?” There were some annoyances a man shouldn’t have to deal with in his own house, by God.
“Do I offend?” It smiled a coquettish, broad, cigar stained smile at Reverend Slip. It puppeted one of the sleeping children, a girl, to open a window as there wasn’t a single one open, at which point the atmosphere of the squalid house rushed to flood the entirety of the rest of the world, leaving Father’s flat somewhat fresh and comfortably cool. Consequently, a particular breed of monkey that monitors the activities of Satan unanimously decided to forego evolution, ensuring a complete lack of scented toilet paper in the world after the house-apes blew off. Their reasoning: Why give the devil its due? Several parakeets whose owners constantly talked to them committed suicide within moments of the window opening.
Father breathed deeply. He heard the quick aerosol can of country potpourri in the kitchen: Mother hoping the spray would take to this newly freshened air as it was the only freshened air the flat had recently entertained.
“Tea, Father?” Satan smugly inquired.
“Shall we!” Reverend Slip, unsteeled, unsettled, and quite extraordinarily put out about the entire situation, straight-lined to the children. It did not do for the Misses of the house to be spraying potpourri on air freshened by the devil.
He peered closely at the sleeping faces. One particularly showed signs of evil, muttering incoherent phrases and unnatural numerical chants, the middle lad, Reverend surmised from the boy’s advanced size. Middle’s the best place for corrupting behind and ahead. The reverend indicated with his nose for Father and Satan to give note. “What is this, yes?”
Father coughed and spoke into his hand. “Stocks.”
A tick developed beneath the reverend’s right cheek. “Again, Father?”
Aghast, Father glanced between Rev and Satan indecisively a moment, sputtered something almost apologetic for destroying what was the Rev’s first sure thing, then, gripped with the sudden parental insight and resolve of placing blame where it lay, hurried across and rapped the sleeping boy once across the head to close him off.
And as mum marched primly forward she exhorted chirpily, “Tea?”
Well, the room did brighten a bit, didn’t it?
As they drank (without conversation), Satan couldn’t help noticing Mother’s rather conspicuous way of peering over her cup’s rim each time it took a swallow. In a huff, it acknowledged her rudeness.
“Where’s yer tongue?” she said directly.
Father and Reverend glanced her way.
“He’s got no tongue.” Damned if she’d be made to feel untoward in her own home for pointing out someone’s improper anomalies. “Had it when he came in.”
“Must’ve swallowed it!” Satan snapped. “Daft ass Brits.”
His most manly, world-wearied sigh came from Father, who set his cup in the callused palm of his hand and proclaimed, “We take tea proper in this house when we take it.”
“Bloody well came in with it,” Mother was saying to Rev, who nodded his support.
“Shall I cough it up?” It hawked a drag, eyeing all. No one responded.
In silence they drank on.
After tea, Satan said, “I’ll be off now,” and unmistakably meant that there was no reason it should even begin to think those children were its.
“Are you quite certain?” Father asked. “A lot of ‘em here. Been off a bit, they have.”
“Definitely a good right number, and they’re an unpleasant lot. Can I fault them their genes? But realistically, how could they be mine when they’re all bloody tranquilized? Don’t you think they’d have had enough about them to hack you to bits before you could slip ‘em all the mickey?”
Reverend Slip, not one to refute logic, zipped up his duffel sack. “Take example in my utter lack of self-deception in the face of things irrefutable,” he said to Father.
“All the best,” Satan tipped with a cordial nod.
Reverend ignored it. “Be taking my leave. Father. Mother.”
Gone, like a line with legs.
A bit of a scene now. Mum and Dad entertaining Satan--without, recall, biscuits--and thirteen very economically taxing progeny in a little flat on West Buttles. What to do, what to do? (“Stop whizzing!” Reverend shouted trying to dodge all the crying dogs congregated outside this West Buttles home.) “Can you make ‘em all politicians then?” Mother asked in an unusual fit of genius.
Satan seemed startled not to have proposed this itself.
Father goggled Mother’s way in astonishment.
“The lot?” Satan inquired.
“Well, not all at once, I suppose.”
“Sellin’ off our children on installment plan?” Father considered this a moment then asked of Satan, “How much soul we talkin’, me and the misses to you?”
“No money down, laddie.” With an overly large, inhumanly pleased smile that showcased each of its brown teeth, Satan winked. “Politicians I consider an even trade.” It took a cigar from its plaid vest pocket and bit the nub off.
Mother smiled inwardly across her slumbering lot, proud, proud. The wafting of country potpourri seemed so much richer now, as though the air recycled and became a step fresher each time, and would confidently keep doing so. Why, soon as this Satan business was over she had a mind to run out and purchase another can.
Father, as only fathers do, slapped then rubbed his stinging thighs to indicate the pleasurable completion of a rather wary situation. He, too, felt a surge of pride knowing without doubt his children would grow up to be respectable, profitable citizens, politicians no less, although, knowing Satan, there’d be some hidden loop and one of them would turn out to be a lawyer, but even that was livable and Father breathed his own short sigh of relief along with an amicable nod of the head, communicating that the boys at the pub would never believe this.
“Believe you me, lad,” he responded to the devil, “you’re a fair shakes fairer than me lender.”
One of Liv Warfield’s songs blasts the chant, “You could call it the unexpected or you could call it ‘WOW!’” Pretty much sums up my World Con experience. Lots of firsts for me over the course of five days in Kansas City. First World Con, first time voting and being a part of the Hugos. “Hugo Award Winning” showed up on the cover of so many books from my youth it became a symbol of power, a symbol part of me hasn't yet grown too cynical to still believe in. Back then there seemed to be a correlation: I dove into authors who put their souls into their works and were recognized for it. Hugo-winning, to me, meant exceptional in some way.
Wee dogs have recently tried to pee on that. I’m not saying that an award is the end-all and be-all of anything. Growing up, I read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors. I also missed all kinds of books by an even greater array of authors. Still, I felt as if that stamp meant something.
What did it mean? 1) That my imagination was about to get a workout; 2) that I could assume a certain level of craftsmanship; 3) that other folks—writers and readers alike—enjoyed a good mental journey just as much as this poor black kid from Detroit. The “black” is important here, because the publishing industry to this day too often will not represent, publish, distribute or read work that’s “too far from the mainstream.” So in all my ignorance, all my zeal, I thought the Hugos represented, above all else, possibility. I didn’t dive into the cogs and gears of how the Hugos were awarded. I assumed they were impartially juried.
I suppose in that respect, I thank wee dogs for peeing on it. It woke me up to certain things. That wasn’t their intention, and, hell, sucks to be them, but Zigs is all up in their mix now. I attended the fucking Hugos. I wasn't nominated, I wasn't there to be slavish, but the kid who grew up wondering if everybody else realized they had no mouths but they had to scream was there as a writer. A writer of new dreams.
And as introverted as he is he attended a packed-room Tor Books nighttime jam. His respect for Tor is solidifying, and he's cool with that. Check out Tor.com and you'll see what I see.
He deepened friendships with authors Cerece Rennie Murphy and Marguerite Reed, both of whom will likely be receiving Hugo nominations in the coming years. He learned from Christine Taylor-Butler and Bill Campbell. He's in this blog now namedropping some of the fabulous writers he met: Kij Johnson, Larry Niven, Maurice Broadus, Ellen Datlow, Max Gladstone, Karen Bovenmyer, Ken Liu, Eileen Gunn, David Gerrold, Robert Sawyer; saw Robert Silverberg and GRR Martin from a distance, had breakfast with the Mothership Zeta crew, hung with Dave Robison of Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms/Onder Librum empire (Dave even did a quick Periscope interview with me), got to hug Charlie Jane Anders again, saw not one but two real life astronauts as they walked the ugly carpeting of the Kansas City Convention Center (Jeanette Epps and Stanley Love, pictured above), finally had the insane pleasure of being in the same time & space with Kelly Robson and Alyx Dellamonica, and at one point seriously considered being a part of Frank Wu’s commune should Frank Wu ever start one. Frank Wu loves what he’s doing. No cynical fart cranking out cynical fart words he. There’s enthusiasm and fun and joy and just enough of the unexpected that he makes folks smile and want to say…
Yeah. You can call me a fanboy, you can say I’m a dreamer, you can accuse me of naivety, or you can step away from fear, pretense, and ignorance and simply appreciate the breadth of work being produced in this wondrous century and, in all due wonder, whisper along with me, “Wow.”
Two amazing writers nearly the same shade of brown as me took top literary honors at the 2016 Hugos. That's mind boggling. Not that NK Jemisin won for best novel, boggling that it's the first time in Hugo history that an African American--let alone an African American woman--has won that particular honor. That speaks volumes of shame at an industry that intones the words "boldly going where no one has gone before" while simultaneously slapping at the hands of those reaching for the doors. There's pride in her win, but there's also:
Michi Trota, the first Filipina Hugo award winner for her work with Uncanny Magazine, made us cry at the Hugos, not just because of her excellent acceptance speech, but because that speech was in and of itself evidence of more than lip service, it was her ironclad dedication to seeking out new life and new civilizations. It was reality.
Call it the unexpected. Me, I prefer to call it…now.
If you care to see a full listing of wondrous things go here. Genders, nationalities, wonderful people in the skins they’re in, world views and humors, maybe a dash of foolishness or two. Not America con. Not white guy con. Not fawn over the past con. Not you’re-only-allowed-to-play-in-the-sandbox-when-we-want-you-to con. Not beware-of-the-dog con. I want to be surrounded by the awesome variety of voices asking answers of the celestial sky. It's a pleasant sound, an inspiring sound that drowns out the incessant noise of an industry that, as author and publisher Bill Campbell perfectly summed up, is not built for inclusion.
Isn't that America? A lot of yapping from a small percentage, while those of us with better things to do go about the business of maintaining reality. There’s been enough barking to last a while. Maybe we'll see an Age of Creativity drown that out.
I don't know about you but I'm a sucker for a good book recommendation, and there are certain authors who somehow--TO THE DETRIMENT OF MY PREMIUM FAUX LEATHER WALLET--manage to bring the recommendation thunder every. single. time. Same as you, I have very particular tastes when it comes to reading. I can't go where I've been a million times before; filler is a Kryptonite stake dipped in nasty and trimmed in ugh; lazy, uninteresting prose = the backhand learned from Joyce Carol Oates during that year on the mountaintop. So when certain authors recommend a story or book I immediately break out with "Thank you, sir, may I have another?" I know they're not recommending their mom or their cousin (unless their mom or cousin has written a helluva book).
A good recommendation is an act of communion.
What makes for a good rec? Enthusiasm. When a writer's work hits another writer's sweet spot it's, well, it's
And the recommending writer has no shame sharing this with you. The enthusiasm bursts like Pop Rocks. Giddyness is a good sign.
Clear directions. When a writer is really impressed, she'll say "Buy this." Not "consider" not "mebbe" not "you might also like." I heard a preacher say one day, "If I had time to tell somebody I'd tell everybody." That stuck with me, that directive to go forth. I read. It rocked. I read again. Witness.
Sensibilities. I guess that kinda goes without saying but respect the sensibility of the recommendation. Writing is an empathic activity, and a good empath can sense where a writer is coming from. This is reflected in the recommendation. It doesn't mean you're going to have the same emotional experience every time. Joy needs to be a varied thing. A primo book reccer builds up a diverse catalog. Excellence will be the common theme but excellence crosses all genres. A discerning writer of science fiction can read a romance novel and be blown away, and vice versa. Do you sense this inclusiveness? If so, you may trust your recommending writer's judgment.
Brevity. A good recommendation doesn't spoil the potential reading experience by telling you every little thing about the book. Not even a review should do that (unless you're an ass), and there's a difference between a recommendation and a review. Rec is small plates. Review might be dinner. There are a ton of unspoken-but-understoods in a recommendation. Mind meld. Simpatico. Sometimes the more brief the recommendation the more intense the book love. You get "OMFG!" from a trusted source, you know to get your ass to a book store.
And then: the actual reading. You've bought the book and brought to it all the "you" necessary to make the reading experience flower. A recommendation might prime you but it doesn't color the experience. Being told something is good doesn't automatically make it so. A book has to reach into you and rearrange a few things. It's feng shui of the mind. You're not looking for perfection, you're looking for flow. The recommendation pushes you and the book away from the shore; the rest is up to you. There are so many books out there. So many writers. So many outlets. Book recs can be great guideposts. Even if you don't like what you read you tried something new (which can happen; we both might like cheesecake but you're a heathen who puts whipped cream on your cheesecake and I can't even). An expanded mind is a wonderful thing.
Oh, and on the practical tip: Ideally, book recommendations lead to book sales. More sales means more cool things get written and published by more cool writers whom you may not yet realize you love. So writers, keep recommending. Nobody who loves reading (and that's what the best writers are: avid readers) treats this enterprise as "The Highlander" game. There can always be more than one. Readers, keep feeling the love. End result is this
Yes indeed. We are Groot.
Last week I had the pleasure of doing a reading with the Afrotopia Book Club in my home town. Here are some random thoughts that related to/came of it:
The Brothers Jetstream—at its core—is about black folks doing what we’ve always done: protecting Mother Earth from greed. The eternal war: Art vs Commerce. Art says “Let’s explore our inner and exterior boundaries, let’s imagine new shared realities, ones beneficial to all.” Commerce says there’s only one reality: strife, because strife makes people buy things they don’t really want—and then commerce sets about making that false state a lasting reality. Granted I want everyone to buy this book…but money wasn’t the prime driver in getting the message of this book out.
The message was how do we (and specifically black people) deal with an insane world: we create, we rebuild, we renew.
THE STATE OF SCIENCE FICTION
We’ve caught up with the old stories. We live a science fiction life. Look at Flint. How big a stretch would it be to have Katniss walking the streets? Now we’re at the point where our stories absolutely MUST go where the old rarely ventured: the everyday life of the individual, the soul of Life. That’s where people outside the mainstream excel. Why? Because their/our lives encompass the need to escape from the hellish dreams of oppressors. It’s the difference between “We find the problem; let’s create a solution” and “We are the problem; let’s pretend we’re the solution.”
Sad / Rabid Puppies & the Lovecraft Award change (people manic about hanging on to the old ways).
JK Rowling (stepped in it as the latest trying to Disneyfy First Nations people).
PoC Destroy Science Fiction (which I submitted a story to) – It’s like with Detroit, people always wonder where Detroit’s comic, sci fi, and other visionary healing are. Answer: IT’S RIGHT THERE. ALWAYS BEEN THERE. Andre Batts has been putting on the Motor City Black Age of Comics convention for years. MECCA Con (Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts) spearheaded by Maia Crown Williams is another comic-geared convention, and it rocked the hell out of the Main Library last fall. We’ve always been here. The problem has been we were squelched. We’d be the ones jumping outside a window and the Mainstream’s inside saying, “Nope, don’t see you.”
A friend posted this a few days ago from Humans of New York. It touches perfectly on the False Prophet Buford’s motto “If it was special we made damn sure it didn’t stay that way”:
A gentleman is sitting on a park bench above the caption: “I don’t enjoy observing people as much as I used to. Everyone acts like they’re on stage. People used to come to The Village sheepishly. Nobody was sure if they belonged. We didn’t know if we were artists. These days everyone walks around like they’re contributing something. There’s no angst anymore. There’s too much certainty. And that’s a shame. Because all the best art comes from people who feel like they don’t belong. Art is a way of proving your existence. When I was a young man, a person that I respected told me that I was an artist. It was one of the worst things that could have happened to me. I stopped walking into museums or galleries with a sense of awe. I walked in feeling like an ‘artist.’ My arms would be crossed. If I liked a piece, it was ‘good.’ If I didn’t like a piece, it was ‘bad.’ I didn't feel vulnerable anymore. I lost my humility. And that’s when growth stops.”
The Jetstreams is about that sense of wonder never going away…even when your daily life consists of Atlantis, vampires, and a hundred entrenched global conspiracies.
Pen. Your pen must flow as smoothly as well-lubricated sex. Choose wisely.
Laptop. Indispensable. Why? You can spread out on the couch. Too long at a desktop = unhappy buttocks. Laptop + couch + lounging that ass off = Happy Buttocks. Always bet on happy buttocks.
Desktop. The old war horse.
Paper. As in writing pads. Many writing pads. Not everybody writes longhand first but there will always be those flashes of inspiration during inopportune moments requiring silence and/or stealth. Midnight. Phone or pad out of power. Jury room. Confessional.
Internal drive to grasp the narrative thread given us by perceptions of linear-based time in order to solidify thought and emotion. A necessity.
Snacks. And an exercise regimen. Yeah.
At times things will happen that cause a body to go, "See! This is precisely why..." and sputter sputter, fume fume, reasons reasons, dammit or praise in an effort to convey that one either loves this place (Earth) or is done with it. Never sure which.
Maybe we can figure it out.
Purple Rain Is Nothing Without Hands Swaying In The Air (or: How I learned to stop exercising my mind so much and appreciate your body)
For expediency let's divide the general populace into 2 camps. Those who love Show & Tell and those who hate it. Those who love it, let's call "artists." Artists are necessary because those who hate Show & Tell nonetheless need markers and signs and guides just as much as anyone. They just can't be bothered with quibbly, uncomfortable, excavating action. So we can safely say there is no one more hard core than a poet, for poets pull flesh straight from the bone. Fiction writers such as myself fiddle with an inflamed tooth or will peel back a scab (unless you're Toni Morrison--bow down, mofos of unworthiness--in which case you're flaying straight to the atomic level with a calligraphic whip), but it takes a poet to taste what it is to be human and tongue that taste into real mouth; to reveal the truth that pain is often beautiful, which is the truth from which we most often run.
I'm not a poet though. At the height of my abilities, when I'm cooking with charcoal and the smoke is rising sweet and slow, I hope for my own particular hybrid of the two: fiction informed by the poet's bravery. See, if they're Showing & Telling you pain it's not 'cause they made it up. They're not as big liars as we fiction writers. It's because they've lived it. Came through it. Autopsied the hell out of it. Sewed it back up. Showed it the sun. Presented it to you. Died a little more for the day.
Damn if that isn’t something to strive for. As writers we try to hit the sweet spot with our words in the same fashion as a relay runner depositing the baton. It’s got to hit the right spot for the next runner to flow and take off; for the reader to take hold of our ephemera and run. You see the cheat here don’t you? We’re not the artists. We do the pass off. If we do it right we’re not showing or telling you anything. It’s all sleight of hand suggestions. You’re the artist. We’re holding our knees and breathing deeply, energized at sight of you taking that book/concerto/album/movie and tearing ass to complete the run. Damn, you guys can move. You might hate Show & Tell yourselves, but creativity would suck if not for the expertise you guys show at PE. Salud.
EIGHT MILLION SPEC SCRIPTS TO EARTH!
Eight million dollar Super Bowl commercial. A-list stars, 3D-level effects work, three minutes long and, for the first time ever, a real boob shot. Not an android boob. Full warm nipple. Every American on the planet tuned into that commercial--
“Ma, get in here, they’re showing it!”
--then it went dark. Tak Brazton shot a plasma hole in his TV and answered the phone on the first ring.
“Pandora event, Brazton,” the man with the English accent and fist permanently up his ass said. “What’s your situation?”
“Having sex and watching TV. Just blasted the TV.”
“Then I suggest the other hole and your ass in gear two seconds afterward.”
Brazton shifted to quarterback position. “Hauling ass.” He clicked off.
“That’s so tacky, Braz,” said Miranda, his London liaison. “And the TV? Grow the hell up.”
“You kill the rhythm when you talk, Panda. Shit just got real. Gonna need you to focus.”
Tak Brazton interrupted two things for sex: the Super Bowl was one. America was next. Fortunately he was in Britain.
“Somebody want to tell me in proper English why the hell I ran over seven brains with tails on my way here?”
“The en route briefing—”
“The en route briefing was shit. Where’d they drop in first?”
“Son of a bitch.” Super Bowl Sunday. Son of a bitch. Brazton pulled his shit together.
Just then a tight lab coat escorted a pair of breasts into Pidsby’s office. Lenore Tidsby, the only woman who’d ever made Tak Brazton cry in bed. Twice. She slapped her father’s desk with a stack of papers then swept a lock of red hair back in formation. “Sir.”
“Everybody knows that’s your father, Lenore,” said Tak.
“Shut the hell up, Brazton. Sir, these things are dropping fast. Every continent.”
“Not like the T was fooling anybody,” said Brazton.
“Shut the hell up, Brazton. No one’s done any calculations, sir, but at the rate these are falling the entire planet will be infested in two days.”
“Dammit!” said Major Pidsby.
“Dammit all,” breathed Tak.
“All the way to hell,” nodded Lenore. She slapped a second stack of papers no one had seen her holding. “Nothing is killing them fast enough.” She leaned on the desk, eyes steely. She had promised herself she’d never speak these words again, not after what happened last time, what happened between her and Rex Sadim, the man who had driven her to Tak’s arms after Tak had had to behead him for trying to take a bite out of her arm, that brilliant man who had become what he’d become for science. She leaned forward even more. Tak glanced down her blouse. “We need zombies.”
Pidsby glanced nervously between his daughter and Tak. “Do you think that’s…wise?”
“Yes, father,” she said, dropping the pretense in this desperate hour, “I loved a zombie. I loved him in all the ways a woman can love.” She cupped herself through the labcoat. “I gave him these and more, and …and yes, I will love again.”
“And you, Tak?” asked Pidsby.
Tak cupped his crotch. “I loved him like a brother,” he said vehemently. He leaned forward too, his crotch against Pidsby’s desk, oak to walnut, a promise traveling the length of his length to the very foundations of the Scientific Paramilitary Inquiry & Tactics division of T.A.K.E, of which he was on loan from the United States. “I’m behind Lenore one hundred percent. I’ll love her the same.”
Pidsby clenched his jaw. He stood. He leaned. His desk wasn’t that large. Tak and Lenore moved back a bit.
Eye to eye he said the words that would, by whatever gods were available and listening, be those which saved mankind. “With you behind her, we’ll make sure these things get their full comeuppance. Godspeed, Agent Brazton.”
“We keep the zombies in cold storage,” she said as they raced to the elevator. Tak stabbed the button. Hard. Lenore swept a lock of red hair back in place. Hard.
“Rex bit three other people before he ever got around to attacking me.”
“Damn the secrets of lovers!”
“What about us, Tak? Are there any secrets between us?”
The elevator was slow. This could potentially be their last mission. “I’m not really circumcised, I just have hella foreskin control.” She deserved to know.
Her eyes softened. “Thank you.”
They waited quietly for the elevator.
The elevator came. They raced to the zombies.
The zombies were fricking hideous, and smelled, being mostly thawed. It would have to do. “Wrap them to go,” Lenore Tidsby, the fabulous scientist no man had yet tamed told the young science whiz in the wheelchair who had never learned to express his true yearning for an unbound life in any way outside of dissecting something. She felt sorry for him. Victoria in R&D had said she’d go down on him if he’d only asked.
“But,” he wanted to caution Lenore, which was all he said because she slapped the hell out of him.
“This is a global extinction Pandora level event, Potter. You load them in the truck and then call your mum. It may be your last chance.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He wheeled around to Tak. “Agent Braz—”
Tak slapped the hell out of him. “Man up. You carrying a weapon?”
Tak slapped the hell out of him. “Here. First name ‘Last,’ last name ‘Resort.’ You understand me?”
The young man fumbled his glasses from his chin to his eyes. “Yes, sir,” he said through tears.
Tak felt a lump in his throat. This boy would never see a nipple on a Super Bowl commercial, then Tak mentally slapped himself. By damn’s early light, he’d make sure one way or another that that wouldn’t come to pass. Tak bent and hugged him tightly. “You live, dammit. You understand me? No matter what happens, we will come back. We will find you.”
“I’ll be right here.”
Tak man-hugged him again. “God-dammit!”
“Ladies?” said Lenore Tidsby. “We’ve got a world to save.”
“So what, we just let ‘em bite people? There’s only three of ‘em.”
A brain sprang through the air via its coiled prehensile tail and landed on the back of a woman screaming her way through a tangle of wrecked cars and dead bodies. Pincers at the stem held the spongy grey mass wobbling but firm so the tail could wrap around her throat and suck her neural juices.
“Watch it!” said Lenore.
“You almost hit the man screaming ‘What do they want?!’”
“Dumbasses! In America we wouldn’t be running in the middle of the street where there’s a shit ton of alien brains with tails.” He shouted at the window: “How about you go the hell indoors and close the windows where shit can’t get you, asshole!” Two brains blindsided the man; he went down flailing.
“Dump the zombies,” Lenore said abruptly. Thirty minutes in the car with him. Thirty minutes of him yelling at windows and snapping at her about his aggressive over-driving.
“Just stop and dump the zombies! I am so—just dump them. Please.”
“Doesn’t make you more of a woman to parrot me.” Tak pulled over. “Not more at all.” His finger hovered over the release button on the armored transport. Shit suddenly got real.
He searched Lenore’s face. “Is this ethical?”
“It’s the financial district. CEOs would be out for their lunch meetings. Their natural ravenous natures should work in our favor. Zombieism will spread quickest here.” That lock of hair had fallen again. Tak reached to tuck it. She intercepted his hand and put his fingers in her mouth, one brief, motivating suck and tongue stroke, then dropped the hand to his lap. “Future generations will forgive—”
Tak kissed her, kissed her hard. She grabbed his button finger. “Do it.” They both pressed.
Six weeks later: “How the fuck are we fighting aliens and zombies now?! What the hell!” said the man on the street racing past the reporter and her sword-wielding camera crew.
“Dammit, Tak!” shouted Major Pidsby.
“It made sense at the time,” said Tak Brazton on the phone from his bunker in Honolulu. “Zombies are slow, they can be contained. Those little brain suckers were skittering around pretty quick.”
“We’re going to have to go nuclear.”
They went nuclear.
“Shit, fuck!” Pidsby said from his bunker. “Giant goddamn brain zombies with tails!”
“Yeah, that sucks. Honolulu’s nice though. Zombies ate the brain aliens, we rounded all the zombies up, tossed ‘em in the ocean, sharks ate the zombies, we got zombie sharks, but who gives a damn, they’re sharks. All they do is eat anyway.”
But Pidsby fell heavily silent. Then silent a moment longer. Too long. Tak braced himself for it. “They got Lenore,” he said, the fist up his ass twisting painfully. “She’s…she’s thirty feet tall with a tail coming out of her skull and a ravenous hunger straight from hell! Part of her is still Lenore. She’s managed to evade capture.”
“Pidsby,” said Tak, pulling his favorite weapons belt from among others on the rack. “You’ve got to learn to get to the meat of things faster. I’m on my way.”
“You don’t want to kill me, Lenore,” said Tak, his weapon trained dead-center on her forehead. He’d known where she would go: the hillside where he’d first spotted her and Rex having outdoor sex when Rex was supposed to have been on a recon mission regarding mysterious sightings of fog people. After twenty minutes of watching them he’d wandered off to clear his mind and had come upon a rather large cave. They had apparently found it too. Condom wrappers and SPIT TAKE paraphernalia littered the interior.
The red hair was patchy and matted, a piece of lab coat obscured one nipple, but other than that she was naked and, honestly, none too shabby. A prehensile, alien, spine-tail thingy moved about her neck and shoulders like the proverbial snake whispering secrets. She stank to high hell and lord knew what she’d been eating, but despite that she was still thirty foot, sexy, irradiated Lenore zombie. He noticed her bush had grown considerably into a sharp V that looked almost like a loincloth. And not every odor coming off of her was death and funk.
He took a step back.
She, a hesitant step forward, brow furrowed in deep and painful thought.
Damn but she looked like Nigella Lawson thirty feet tall and dipped in tit sauce. But she was so primitive and not herself.
Tak dug that.
“Let me help you.”
Then a pterodactyl flew down and carried him off.
“WTF?! That’s how you’re ending this?” said Shapiro Headstein, zombie agent extraordinaire.
“So you’re saying as a zombie-American writer that’s not authentic enough?” said the zombie with the cotton tee and salmon colored slacks. “I should have had some random zombie grab him from behind a tree saying ‘Brains’? Seriously, you tell me.”
“I’m just saying.”
“This is not a historical piece, Shap. Yes, the brain aliens came down and we ate the heads and gained—no, re-gained, our joi de vivre, but that story’s been told to death.”
“How about we do a sex scene, end it on a romantic note? Beauty and the beast, King Kong.”
“That’s where I was going with the pterodactyl!”
“Where the fuck’s a pterodactyl come from in a movie about alien brains versus zombies, Mortie?!”
“Fine, she screws him, uses him like a dildo, movie ends…or is it? Dah dah dummm, she could be pregnant!”
“Mortie, there’s a reason your career is in the shits. It’s got nothing to do with you being a zombie.”
Mortie sighed through his chest hole, which billowed his cotton tee out a bit. “I’m glad you told me that.”
“No, I’m glad. I can go back to writing zombie porn, I’m ok with that. People still remember ‘The Undead Like Dick.’”
“That’s a classic, Mortie. Fifty Shades breakthrough for the zombie set.”
“My heart’s always been in film though, Shap.” Mortie snorted. “Hell, my hearts barely in me now, huh? Parchment paper chest, that sucker’s always threatening to fall out. Gotta keep oiled and moistened, you know?”
“I know.” Shapiro stood to usher Mortie toward the door. “Sleep on it, Mortie. Ha, yeah, I know,” he said, heading Mortie’s joke off, “zombies don’t sleep.”
“We’re nothing but idea factorys, twenty-four seven. I’ll work on it but I still want you to send this out as spec. I got a million of ‘em.”
“Go home, Mortie.”
“What if I get Tak deep in giant poon. Have an interior of him thinking ‘It’s not a dick, it’s a massive clit,’ and he’s working frantically to bring her to climax. Thirty minutes later he’s tired and near fainting…”
“That sounds perfect Mortie, that’s just what we need.”
“Don’t patronize, Shap.”
Mortie left Shap’s office-slash-home. That’s how Shap described it to people. “My office-slash-home.”
Fifty years ago, when the zombies and the Tau Cetans had their battle royal, everybody was yay zombies, yeah, go go, eat aliens… but that star faded. Folks were looking for fresh blood, but zombies had, what, one, two good stories in ‘em? Pretty soon he’d have to start dodging Mortie’s calls. Better to just lodge a machete in his skull. Shap took a sip of Tom Collins and pulled his vintage samurai sword down while trying to remember the last place he’d left his sharpener.
Pterodactyl! Sweet Jesus, what was the entertainment world coming to?
ZZC wishes he’d grown up with the powers of either Gary Mitchell or Charlie X but without the Kirk confrontations. Anybody not getting that Star Trek reference gets their sci fi cred docked 3 points.