Friday, February 24, 2012

If It Looks Like A Penguin

I had sworn off conventions. A year, I said to myself. Maybe two. So much for such proclamations. Penguicon, here I come.

I complain a good deal about genre conventions. I whine. I shuffle my feet. I pout. I pout a lot. Ultimately, I go and in spite of myself, I have a good time. The reality is these conventions are a great chance to get to see old friends, to meet new folk, and to talk about things which usually end up being marked as "strange" in normal company. Where else but a convention could you listen to an earnest discussion about the correct depiction of magic in fiction? Or hear fellows on a panel almost come to blows over whether or not steampunk is an actual genre or subgenre or esthetic?

So, here's to my friends, The Curmudgeon will be there. And if you attend any panel I'm scheduled on, I promise to be just as cantankerous as always. And also, if things go well, my collaborator Christine Purcell and I will be doing a reading from our upcoming novel The Breach.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Drifting Into Digitization

You may have missed this, but Sideline Music Magazine has announced that by the end of this year most major labels will have abandoned the Compact Disc. Not that this should be a surprise to anyone who has tried looking for a recent release at one of their local outlets. From now on, if you want to buy music, you're going to have to either stream it or download it.

This is also the future of the film industry. And certainly books. Of course, there are those who will go into this future raging against the dying of the light. Johnathan Franzen, for instance, who responded in an interview with The Guardian, "Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I'm handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that's reassuring."

Perhaps the most persuasive argument against the digitization of our world is offered by a friend of mine, Jon Zech, author of Buck and Tangee: Things That Happen (a book to be released later this year).

"Some day anthropologists will look at our leavings and wonder what happened. Why did our civilization suddenly stop producing anything artistic after the first decade or so of the twenty first century? One can't conduct carbon testing on bits and bytes. We're all really just one giant electromagnetic pulse away from a new Dark Ages, aren't we?"

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I'm a sentimentalist. Truly. I know, I seems like I'm always writing about things popping out of the darkness and making away with innocents. However, I have my soft side. I wrote the following bit of flash fiction many years back. I thought I would share it with you, although I wish I had remembered in time for Valentines Day. Here it is, in podcast form. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What's Not To Hate?

Writers love to write about writing. I think it's a defense against the Sisyphus Syndrome, the feeling that you are forever rolling a giant rock uphill and accomplishing nothing. And we love the romantic image of the author and do our best to present that image where possible. But let's stop for a minute and celebrate things we hate about writing. Really hate.

1) Hours of Lonely Toil 
Yep. That's romantic. Sitting at the computer, trying not to get sucked into the distractions of all the cool stuff online, and realizing that while I am struggling to make something happen, the world is having "the-best-time-ever!!!" just outside my window.
2) Rejection and Critique
Who doesn't love getting rejection letters? And if the impersonal rejection isn't enough for you, how about those critique sessions in a writers' group. What? Some of you are in groups where people pat you on the back and tell you how extraordinary you are? I've heard those exist, but...
3) Money!
Yeah, I know. We all wanna be Stephen King. I wrote a short story and sold it for fifty bucks. That may not seem like a lot, but hey. So, if I spent twelve total hours on the story writing and re-writing, then I made 4.16 cents an hour. That's below minimum wage. And if I average into that amount all the other stories I've worked on and never sold, then I figure I end up owing about ten thousand dollars to Barnes and Noble, just for the privilege of dreaming of being on a shelf somewhere.
4) The Disposable World
Alas, memories are short. If you published once, you better publish again. And just because they loved you Monday, it doesn't mean they'll love you Tuesday. The marketplace changes. You better keep your ear to the ground and listen for the sound of advancing change. If your book is on a shelf somewhere, and if you were published by a small press, then the chances of that book lasting on that shelf more than a month or two before the book store sends it back to the publisher is slim. Hey! What have you done for me lately!
5)The Illusion of Fame
So, you're published, and maybe you get a handful of reviews that are favorable. Maybe on Amazon, or Goodreads. Maybe someone will say something nice about you on a blog. In the end, it's you and the keyboard. You're not a baseball player hearing the crowd roar over a home run. You're not a rock star with groupies beating the crap out of one another to touch your sweaty brow. You're not a crazy politician with a fanatical following who scream your name as a form of argument.  You're---you. Just you. And even if you realize some of your major goals, you'll pretty much just be lucky to occasionally be invited to a few things and have some fans say a few nice things about you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Presto--The Writer As Magician

I've seen people struggle when sitting in audience as a magician performs works of wonder. They feel perhaps that something is being put over on them, that they are the butt of a joke. Others feel that magic is for children, and that illusion is below them. Me? I sit in awe and delight.

Writing is like that, isn't it? A good read asks the reader to suspend disbelief. We then watch things unfold and coincidences or behaviors which would never fly in real life are accepted as a necessary device to let the characters develop and the plot unfold. And the more we are drawn in and the more we care about the characters, the more defined our suspension of disbelief.

The best writing is like the best magic trick. It begins simply and is inviting. Misdirection serves to keep the eye away from the craft behind the scenes. The reader absorbs symbolism, subtext, and metaphor almost at the subliminal level. Perhaps some writers demand more of a reader. Perhaps their plots twist, their characters are more complex and contradictory, and the prose requires patience and reader involvement.

In the end the goal is the same--- to touch the reader. To have the reader revel in the reveal.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Upcoming Anthology

Why publish a for the love ebook anthology? First, it's a chance to expand a bit and see how it feels. Second, as a cancer survivor, I like the idea of doing something for charity. I would have raised money for prevention of sexual and physical abuse (maybe next time), but the subject and the name of the anthology just didn't seem right -- Weird Arousals.

I also liked the idea of not doing a traditional genre collection. The other editor is Joe Ponepinto, who works for the L.A. Review, and  is primarily a literary author. Strangely, our sensibilities and literary philosophies blend. This promises to be a fascinating eclectic  mix of fiction!

The call for submission --

For The Love...

Weird Arousals is an ebook anthology of short fiction that deals with sexuality and the human condition in all its strange, mystifying and sometimes evil incarnations. We are seeking submissions of short stories between 2,000 and 7,000 words, in the following genres: horror, fantasy, slipstream, steampunk, paranormal or any other recognized speculative fiction category. Stories should be strong on character as well as plot. No straight romance. No slasher stories, no porn, no excessive gore.

Deadline for submissions is April 30, 2012 or until filled. Publish date is anticipated to be September 2012. Simultaneous submissions will be accepted as long as you tell us up front (and immediately withdraw the story if you sell it). All proceeds from the sale of this "for-the-love" ebook anthology will go to cancer research. Send inquiries to Stewart Sternberg at