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Of Conan and Carver

 

One of the difficulties of approaching art of any kind is learning to drop your prejudices when encountering it. This is true regardless of what class of art you’re talking about. It’s very easy to dismiss something you haven’t read as without value, because if it had value, you’d have already appreciated it, right?

Over the course of this past year, I’ve dropped my attitudes toward two writers, one “highbrow”, one “pulp”, by taking the time to actually read their stuff: Raymond Carver and Robert E. Howard.

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Carver I came to via the film Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. It’s a film I’ve enjoyed rewatching, partly for its silly spirit, partly for its full-throttle ranting about Meaning in Art. The plot involves Michael Keaton (playing an alter ego of himself), adapting a Raymond Carver short story into a full-length Broadway play. The story/play, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” fairly reeks of that pretentious, mid-century Clifford-Odets-style talkiness that denoted Serious Art About Serious Things. I couldn’t imagine anything I’d enjoy reading less. But exposure to the movie gradually changed that, and I picked up an anthology of his shorts (the one with the same excessive title).

Howard I started reading after picking up some of the Dark Horse Conan comics. I debated buying a Conan collection or a Lovecraft one and decided on the latter because Lovecraft’s painting of his universe is often too grim for my mood. Howard made his creatures of the Outer Dark vulnerable to steel.

img_2863At first glance, you could not pick two more unalike writers: in subject matter and prose styles, Howard and Carver diverge a great deal. One practically birthed the Blood & Thunder style of pulp fantasy, the other worked strictly in American Realism. One spent his career a “lower class” of writer, the other recieved continuous critical acclaim. One created a character who has never left the scene, the other had to be name-dropped in a Oscar-winning film to remind the world of his existence.

And yet.

What struck me about both of these authors is the efficiency of their storytelling. Carver’s stories are brutally laconic; he gives you sufficient detail to sustain a narrative, and nothing more. He cuts to the quick. He covers a single emotion and when he’s covered it, he ends the story. It’s been a tonic for me.

Howard is likewise efficient, regardless of the purpleness of his prose. While Howard will stop to describe the monsters and mazes he puts his hero in, it never slows down the action. Conan stories move with an electric energy, from point to point without stopping to examine the hero’s inner life. This was never the point of them. We are along for the ride through vistas marvelous and terrible, and it all feels real and lived in regardless of how short a time we spend there. Conan himself might be impenetrable, but the world he moves through drops its secrets at a dizzying pace. So the purple prose serves to establish that world, that Conan may cut through it swift as a dagger in the dark.

Examining these two writers together, I’ve started to up my pace in the production of short fiction. The same day I picked up my Carver anthology, I sat down and penned a sci-fi short, start to finish. I built it off a fragment that had been sitting in my Tablo collection. I was never sure if I wanted it to be a short or a novella, and so never invested the thought into it. An afternoon of Carver and I hashed out the scene and put a ribbon on it. It’s called “The Filth of Living” and it’s going to be in the next issue of Unnamed Journal, as is a Blood and Thunder story of my own devising, called “The Dying Goddess”.

I don’t know if continually absorbing influence is a good strategy for an author. But I’m going to try it.

Everything is Back on Track!

New books are live. More books are coming.

The Devil Left Him is up on sale on Amazon. I just did the official announcement on Periscope.

That should have showed up on Facebook as well. I explain that the book is available, and go into a little bit about why I wrote it: a literary experiment on the Divine Character Problem. I talk about Luke Skywalker for a minute, and then can’t figure out how to turn the broadcast off, because it’s my second one.

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I’m going to publish it on iBooks as well, probably with an alternative title. I’m also doing an Amazon Ad campaign for it, to see how that does. All in all, very exciting. I conceived this and brought it to market in about a year, while working on other projects as well, and holding down a full-time job and taking care of a family. I think I can improve that time, but the future is a tease, always arriving different than expected.

Next up: getting the next issue of Unnamed Journal up. Then publishing Last Tomorrow and Void. I should be getting back on track with The Sword as well.

First “The Sword” Update of the Summer

Not the last, I assure you…


That’s preliminary artwork, done with Adobe Spark. 

Today was my first real day of writing, and I got 2,0000 words, which isn’t bad. I’m deep in chapter 4, and the true action of the novel, the March to the Sea, is about to begin.

Unnamed Journal 10!

Or, Volume 2, Issue 4, if you prefer.

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Last issue was WW1-related, this one dives into the existential murk that accompanies space travel.

It has the recently-finished final three chapters of Void, and an Alfred Underhill short story, The Tribe.

It’s good stuff.

Read it for free at Joomag.

That’s Three Novellas Done, Gang.

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I just put the most satisfying words – THE END – an author ever composes onto Void. The last three chapters will be available in their entirety in the next issue of Unnamed Journal.

Which means I’ve finished almost a week ahead of my June 1st deadline.

Which means I’ve hit all my deadlines this year – with time to spare. In January I had none novellas finished. Now I have three.

So now what?

First, these need to be revised, and then published. On Kindle certainly, and with paperback versions as well.

I’ll probably go back and revise them in order of composition – Devil, Last Tomorrow, then Void.

So let me set myself some more arbitrary deadlines:

  • The Devil Left Him – Let’s say June 23rd. That ought to be plenty of time. I don’t think this one needs that much revision.
  • The Party at the Last Tomorrow – I’m going to give myself more time with this one. It’s kind of half-baked at this point. We’re going for July 28th.
  • Void – I don’t know that Void is going to need much work. I’m going to give myself three weeks. August 18th.

While I’m doing this, I will be working on a full-length novel. It’s the Civil War novel I’ve already started, working title The Sword. If I can get it done over the summer, I’ll be pretty pleased with myself.

Watch this space.

Void 7 in the Bag, Baby…

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Climax done. Now for denouement.

I’m toying with making rumors of a characters demise greatly exaggerated. I don’t know if I like the character or just didn’t like the death I had planned. It’s all in the soup, folks.

 

Quick Void Update

Last time I posted, I sounded a little overwhelmed by the threads I needed to nail down to finish Void. Today, I can safely report that I’ve finished the 6th Chapter, and am confident that I’ve set the third act up in such a way as to be able to be confident of a quick Chapter 7.

In the end, it’s all about character. I stopped trying to create competing motives and just let the protagonist and antagonist work it out for themselves.

I also snuck in a classic philosophy problem, which students of the art should catch right away. Hopefully it’s not too on-the-nose.

Also, since 6 is done, I’ve made 5 available to read on Tablo, for anyone who wants to catch up. Enjoy!