“The great thing about growing up with science fiction is that you have an interest in everything.”
Time is running out for Malcolm Lamb, a rookie deputy marshal on the mining asteroid 16 Psyche. A miner is dead, and the news sparks an escalation in the deadly feud between corporation and wildcat miners. Deputy Lamb has to make sense out of a handful of bizarre and contradictory clues if he’s to prevent more bloodshed.
Robin Grenville Evans’s cover perfectly captures the mood of the story.
Mystery Weekly Magazine is a Mystery Writers of America approved publisher, and is available on Kindle Newsstand, Flipster, and on Amazon in paperback or Kindle format. One reader review said this about the June, 2020 edition: “I always enjoy Mystery Weekly. It not only offers a vast variety of writers, but the quality of the writing is amazing.”
Check it out!
“People leave their homes to get away from themselves and from their surroundings. I confess that I live only in my surroundings and in myself. I can conceive of no greater pleasure than sitting in my chair at this desk and looking at the walls around me day by day and night after night…”
“I live in a world of imagination, which is set in motion by something suggested by my intimate surroundings rather than by outside influences, which distract me and give me nothing. I find an exquisite joy when I search deeply in the recesses of myself, and if anything original is to come from me, it can only come that way.”
So, how about it, folks? Do you recharge your creative juices relaxing at home, among intimate surroundings, or by going out into the world?
The hard-working folks at The Internet Speculative Fiction Database have updated my bibliography to include my recent publications.
This is a fantastic resource for readers and writers of speculative fiction. It provides links to directories of authors and publishers, as well as a comprehensive magazine database. You’ll also find links to a gold mine of bibliographic research for all types of speculative fiction, including sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.
Each day, the home page features a listing of international authors born and deceased on that date. Great fodder for blog posts or Tweets!
Many of the submissions Joe Ponepinto has turned down for his literary journal appeared to have everything going for them — tension, good characterization, an interesting premise — yet they just didn’t work. He had to reject stories that hit all the right buttons, but failed to resonate.
Writing as both an editor and author, he tells us what’s wrong with technically sound but lifeless submissions:
In short, the writer is present in every sentence, hunched over the reader’s shoulder, which is why so much in these stories sounds like explanation, like the writer worrying that readers won’t “get it” unless they lay out paragraphs of background info. As Elmore Leonard famously said, it sounds like writing.
How do you create writing that doesn’t sound like writing? Yes, you have to hit all the right buttons, including pacing, characterization, theme, plot points, tension, etc, but you have to do it without the reader seeing you do it. And you can only do that when you don’t think about those technicalities. As Ponepinto puts it, “You have to internalize the conventions of creative writing so that you know them without thinking about them.”
Or, as Ernest Hemingway advised, “Write drunk, edit sober.”
The goal is what the Japanese call zanshin, the state of total awareness made possible by unselfconscious mastery of your craft. There’s only way to get there, and that is to practice the techniques of your craft until they enter your subconscious. In karate class, we had to practice basic skills repeatedly until they became second nature. In a tournament (or, more urgently, a street fight) you cannot win if you obsess over methodology. (How did sensei tell me to block a low punch?)
Martial arts require unconscious mastery and total focus, attributes that are invaluable in every aspect of life, including writing. Here’s what Wannabe Bushcrafter counsels about mastering the sling:
Your mind must be completely clear. Try to not think about anything when slinging. Distracting thoughts absolutely kills accuracy. …
Now here is the hard part! You need to practice, A LOT. You need to practice every single day for hundreds of days. Practice until your arm and back are sore, practice until thick hard calluses form on your release fingers. Practice until your muscles, your eyes and your mind become one. Practice until you are able to consciously purge all thoughts from your mind at a moment’s notice.
For writers, that means we must read a lot and write a lot.
“When I was a kid, I read Robert A. Heinlein, I read H.P. Lovecraft, I read Robert E. Howard, and then later Tolkien. Some of these would be classified as fantasy, some as horror and some as science fiction. To me, they were all stories, they were imaginative stories that took me to other worlds, other times, or other planets or dimensions or what have you, and I enjoyed the hell out of them. I didn’t see these as totally different things. I still don’t. I think these distinctions are largely false ones.”
George R. R. Martin
Sometimes you just need a change of venue.
I’ve been fairly productive lately, with a number of wips floating around the internet looking for love in the slush piles. This week, I sent a mystery novelette to Mystery Weekly Magazine, and am now working on a literary flash piece.
I don’t plan in advance what I’m going to take on next; I just wait for the Muse to tell me what genre I’m going to work in. Usually it’s sci-fi/fantasy, sometimes it’s crime/mystery, and rarely, literary. Like most writers, I just do what the voices in my head tell me.
But sometimes, even if you’re inspired, you gotta get away from the computer and the Great Distractor that feeds it. So today, I was out on the back porch, armed only with an ink pen and a legal pad. Instead of the crypt-like silence in my loft workspace, the occasional shout of children playing or a bit of bird song would drift through the trees. My wife and I practically live on that secluded back porch in warm weather. In the evenings we sip wine and talk as the sun sets. Later, we’ll read or work puzzles by the glow of the oil lamp. (Me, crosswords; she, Sudoku)
So, fellow writers, do you sometimes need to change writing venues? What’s your favorite getaway?
A secret that fans of Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft have known for years is that the works of these authors were much more than mere ghost and adventure stories. In the past couple of decades, a number of serious studies have confirmed that insightful and profound world views animated these tales, making them not only entertaining, but thought-provoking.
Jason Ray Carney is the latest scholar to analyze their enduring appeal. Carney, who teaches Literary Theory and Creative Writing at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, also writes speculative fiction, and is the chair of the Pulp Studies section of the Popular Culture Association.
Weird Tales of Modernity examines Howard and Lovecraft, as well as the lesser-known Clark Ashton Smith, and considers their stories as critical reactions to modern art and the transience of life. While this study rewards the reader with a number of well-argued insights into the mindset and artistry of the three authors, it is not aimed at the general reading public. It is instead a highly technical analysis aimed at academics. While it lacks the conversational tone of Mark Finn’s Blood and Thunder, or the rollicking wit of Michel Houellebecq’s H. P. Lovecraft, it marches along with forceful logic and a careful mobilization of facts, backed by citations of numerous works from sixty-four notable authors and critics, including Jose Ortega y Gasset, W. B. Yeats, and T. S. Eliot.
Carney argues that Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith were united not only by their frequent appearance in the speculative fiction magazine Weird Tales, but also shared a common vision of art and life. A common theme in their stories was their rejection of modernism, and specifically, modern art, with its abandonment of traditional forms and the classical view of man. All three authors contemplated with disgust the creeping conformity that erased both individual and regional personalities. Robert E. Howard, for example, feared that “in a few generations all the United States will present one uniform pattern, modeled on the mechanized fabric of New York.” Such conformity, they warned, would not lead to global democracy, but to a dehumanized, soulless world.
Pulp fiction offered the “Weird Tales Three” a vehicle for expressing, and perhaps reclaiming, basic human experiences that modern life had taken from them. Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith crafted fiction that was, in Carney’s words, “sensational, often ineloquent or excessively ornate in style, and concerned with inciting raw emotions in readers – such as wonder, joy, excitement, and cosmic dread.”
Differing somewhat in style and theme, all three sought to rediscover those fundamental, ancient, and human emotions. Howard evoked them in his energetic tales of action and danger; Lovecraft showed us protagonists whose pursuit of esoteric knowledge forced them to confront inescapable cosmic horror; and Clark Aston Smith described characters desperately seeking lost joy, innocence, or love. All three conjured the frightening and the fantastic to focus the reader’s imagination on the ephemeral beauty and wonder that live in the ordinary.
Carney’s evaluation of Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith as a distinct subgroup provides an eye-opening and challenging appraisal that will help their readers to further appreciate their unique vision and artistry.
“I loved the feel of the cold iron and steel warming to my touch and the sounds and smells of the gym. And I still love it. There is nothing I would sooner hear than the sound of heavy steel plates ringing as they are threaded onto the bar or dropped back to the rack after a strenuous lift.”
Turns out writing and weightlifting have much in common.
“All complex narratives are networks,” writes Jane Alison in Meander, Spiral, Explode. “Any literary narrative of depth asks your brain to pull threads across the whole . . . your experience moving through them is never purely linear, but volumetric or spatial as your thoughts bounce across passages.”
That sounds like physics to me. This branch of science encompasses everything from mechanics, heat, light, radiation, sound, astronomy, atomic structure, electricity and magnetism. It demands elasticity of thought and an ability to think in metaphors. Physicists strive to describe the universe and understand the relationships between all its components.
That’s what novelists do, too!
(And short story writers!) There’s nothing like the feeling of linking together seemingly disparate elements into a unified whole. When it works, you feel it — and if you don’t feel it, neither will the reader. If plot arises from character, then the other elements of a story, including the objective, theme, scenes, twists, etc, should work in harmony to create a single, emotionally satisfying effect on the reader.
Nothing prepares you for such a challenge like reading widely and deeply. The resulting cross-pollination of ideas not only helps you see the interrelatedness of things, but keeps your sense of wonder alive. And that motivates you to create more stories.
My story “The Calculus of Karma” is a combination science fiction and mystery tale. A big chunk of the fun in writing it was creating a puzzle for the protagonist to solve. And what a puzzle — our rookie detective has a dead space miner on his hands, but no murder weapon, no suspects, and he has to solve the case before the death sparks an escalation between warring factions of miners. Inspiration finally arrives from Sir Isaac Newton and Al Capone.
That’s the challenge of science fiction — you have to create believable plot and character arcs, craft an entertaining story, produce flowing, sparkling prose, and — get the science right.