A couple of interesting posts up on Io9 today, discovered while perusing my usual RSS feeds this “morning.” First off, Nick Mamatas has a new book out called Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life. On Io9 he discusses why he wrote the book and has some suggestions for underground reading. Then there is another really interesting essay by prolific author and alternate history specialist Kim Newman marking the re-release of his 1992 novel, Anno Dracula.
While I’ve heard of Newman’s book, I confess I’ve never actually read it. This is surprising, because in 1992 I was on the verge of my short-lived goth phase, which consisted mainly of hanging out at The Warehouse in Cincinnati — and later The Phantasy in Cleveland — or reading lots of vampire-themed fiction and nonfiction. This is partly why hubub around the Twilight franchise and paranormal romance subgenre ilk amuses me (in a sad way); craptastic popular culture moves in a never-ending circle.
Anyway, as I recall I had Anno Dracula on reserve at the Cleveland library at one point, but somehow never actually ended up getting it; no doubt someone purloined it. I’ll have to add it to the always-expanding books-to-read pile.
As for the Io9 essay by Newman, it’s actually rather illuminating. The central conceit at the core of Anno Dracula is that Van Helsing and Harker, et al, don’t defeat Dracula, but rather Dracula manages to overcome them and goes on to found a society in Great Britain where vampires are the ruling elite. In his essay Newman discusses at length not only his impetus and influences behind his conception of Anno Dracula and its writing, but how he came to be interested in horror and fantasy in the first place.
See what happens when you let your kid stay up late and watch horror movies? Couple this with a college courses on Victorian era literature and we eventually arrive at Newman’s alternate Stoker opus. There’s more to it than that, of course, but you can find out the rest at Io9.
How to Not Get Rich Quick with Your Host, Nick Mamantas
I’m kind of wary of books for writers, particularly those by writers that tell other writers how to write — maybe that’s my problem., heh. But I believe that writing fiction is more than a technical craft; it is an art, as opposed to strictly craft work — craft implying a corollary of science. Sure you must master elements of the craft in order to make art (usually) — a painter must learn how to draw figures and hold a brush before he becomes an artist (we can’t all be Gauguin).
This goes back to the magazine fiction writing course I took in college — magazine journalism was actually my major — where we learned from someone who was well versed in the business of publishing short fiction in magazines. We learned how it important it was to know a magazine’s specific audience and to write for said audience, as well as the other mundane (but nevertheless important) aspects of selling short fiction, such as writing query letters.
I remember feeling more than a little nonplussed early on in this class, and at the time really couldn’t elaborate as to why. It was only later on that I realized that this simply wasn’t what I wanted to hear — or learn. I didn’t want to write for other people, I wanted to write for me. I wanted to follow my muse — I wanted to make ART.
Yes, in capital letters, dammit.
Naive, I know — but I was a young man then, and earnest in the way that only youth can be. I wanted to learn the elements of the craft I needed to tell the stories whirling around in my head — plotting, dialogue, characterization, first- and -third person and when and when not to use them, etc. I didn’t want to learn how to sell some piece that a dowdy housewife will read in Redbook.
Nick Mamantas’ Starve Better doesn’t sound like your usual writers’ manual however; if nothing else, it sounds entertaining at the least. As he explains at the beginning of his essay on Io9:
I’ve just published a book for starving writers called Starve Better (Apex Publications), based on a decade of experience trying to make the rent writing strange articles for third-tier magazines, non-generic genre fiction, and anything else I was allowed to. It covers writing tips, finding venues for publication, and how to use one’s skills as a writer outside of traditional markets.
He talks a little about what motivated him early on to write in the subjects that he has — notably it seems he followed his muse, rather than what he learned in Magazine Fiction Writing 471, which probably explains his familiarity with starvation. As he says:
Then I branched out into fiction — mostly the sort of science fiction and horror that makes SF and horror fans complain, “This isn’t science fiction! You call this horror?” and readers of literary fiction slit their eyes and say, “Wait a minute…is this supposed to be scifi or horror or something?”
He goes on to discuss “some books and magazines and people you should be following, if you’re into the fringes of the genre.” And it’s worth checking out. For example, he lists Requires Only That You Hate among his list. This is a self-described geek-rageaholic’s science fiction and fantasy review blog.
Apparently it’s only been around for a few months, but the reviewer, one pyrofennec, is as prolific as the paperback tripe so effectively skewered at Requires Hate. Go check it out for yourself; as for me, pyrofennec had me at “subliterate hack” and “bugfuck boat has beached.” Don’t worry; there is actually plenty of thoughtful criticism on race, gender and the usual literary topics amidst the rage. Even when there isn’t, clever hyperbole to illustrate a point is always amusing.
Furthermore, this person must be commended for toughing out books most of us (well, the smart few, at any rate) we would put down after a chapter or two — that is if we got past the cover blurb in the first place. Plus pyrofennec apparently wades into fan forums. Yikes! Pyrofennec, you are a braver man than I, regardless of what is between your legs.
And while we’re on the subject, not having a gender neutral singular pronoun is a pain in the ass. I know the accepted convention is to use “he” and that’s fine, but as I say, as a journalist I hate to assume, because I don’t know. The fact is, I don’t know. Purely from an etymological standpoint, it has always bugged me, not because it’s politically correct but it’s not necessarily correct, period. Plus words are powerful things, as powerful as gender.
In any event, I’ve added Requires Only That You Hate to my RSS feed, and have added Starve Better to the possibly maybe book pile. The ebook edition is only $3.99 so I’ll most likely pick it up one of these days.