My two collections on Amazon, Stir and The Short Cool Summer, have had some readers, but the writing of poetry requires practice. This new project is exactly that, practice, so I’m posting it to read on Tablo. It will be updated as I add works to it. Right now there are 6-7 pieces.
In my wild opinionated youth, I was something of a disdainer. Where other readers and writers widely explored what certain genres had to offer; I tended to stick with the first thing that brought me in the door. I liked Star Wars, and never found another sci-fi world that interested me until I read Heinlein. Star Trek was fine, but I didn’t want to converse with nerds about it, so I held it at arms length (yes, the irony of that is breathtaking. It was a different world then). And after reading Tolkein at age 11, no other fantasy write would ever do.
I tried the mainstream ones. Raymond Feist’s work I found dull and lifeless. Robert Jordan had an interesting take before he drowned it in a sea of skirt-smoothings and braid-tuggings. And Martin… Well, we will not speak of Martin. The only other author I held in Tolkein’s tier was Frank Herbert, and even his series got silly before it ended (I’ve never cared for the expansion novels. They don’t have the same feel. The intensity and insight isn’t there).
But there was another side of Fantasy that I haven’t explored until recently. I speak of what is known as “Sword & Sorcery” or “Blood and Thunder”, i.e. the Pulp side of things. And as I have earlier written, I have found prose craftsmanship and strong storytelling in the works of Robert Howard and Fritz Leiber. They may have been Low Art, as these things are defined, but that doesn’t mean they were garbage. Quite the contrary.
The moral quality of art is something of a bugaboo. On the one hand, to the extent art and aesthetics are tied to Philosophy, they are tied to some pursuit of Truth, which has moral considerations. On the other hand, art as a transcendent experience does not fit neatly into the finely-ground gradients that ethics and politics create. There is something to the experience of watching say, Trainspotting, that exists even if you come to deplore the ethos limned therein. Aesthetic quality and moral quality are related but distinct.
And the Pulps, generally speaking, inhabited a moral universe. There may have been gradations between darkness and light (Conan and The Grey Mauser are certainly no Paladins), but overall there was an awareness in each story of who traded in deceit and corruption, and who was honest and forthright. Justice, a Cardinal virtue, involves not just fairness but also honesty, the keeping of ones word. The ability to tell the truth and do as you have promised has always been admired, and it’s opposite reviled, across culture. Human society does not function without it. Violent pulp heroes tended to be those who could and would do that.
What isn’t found here is preaching. Pulps were not interested in subverting, inverting, or otherwise altering the moral awareness of their readers. They acted upon the moral universe common readers were familiar with. The need for art to be at odds with culture, something I’ll talk about in another Ruskin-related post later on, was not present. That was the secret of the pulp’s success, as chronicled in J.D. Cowan’s Pulp Mindset, which I’m currently reading on Kindle.
So far I’ve read Cowan’s summary of pulp history, and how it differed as mass entertainment from 20th century litfic. It has its repetitive moments (you are unlikely to forget how Cowan feels about OldPub, as he calls it), but overall it functions as a discussion of what pulp is, and its overall aesthetic. So it is of use to writers of genre fiction, especially if they want to avoid the politicized slapfights that have plagued SFWA, The Hugos, and suchlike. I look forward to reading the rest.
No, not really. That’s the sort of click-bait stuff that everyone talks about as the Almagamation of Awesome, but no one actually reads. And with good reason. Juxtaposition for its own sake usually hides a paucity of narrative. Instead, an authorial update to announce progress.
First, I have in fact, completed a thing long talked ofThe Meditations of Caius Caligulia. Which is to say, I have completed a rough draft. I consider it a skeleton about which meat can be hung. I need to do some more deep diving into Virgil and Lucretius and Ovid before I can flesh out the Un-Mad Emperor’s thoughts and story. But it’s done. The sixth Chapter, On Conquest, will appear in the October issue of Unnamed Journal. The final chapter, On Death, will appear sometime over the winter, with the complete volume.
Second, I have also completed a rather long short story, Cantilever Jones Runs Hot, set in a space opera galaxy of my own devising, a universe that goes under the name “Gods of the Sky”. There’s a good few stories set in this universe, including two previous Cantilever Jones stories, and some Death-emperor vs. Star Buddhists expositions. I’m building the universe in shorts, with an eye towards a novel. I’ll probably put a collection out sometime next year. This story will also appear in the October UJ. The story clocks in at around 7,000 words, which is borderline a novelette. It can be frustrating when you’re trying to get a story finished, but also exciting when it keeps taking on a life of its own. But when your hero is trying to survive a battle he didn’t create on a jungle planet inhabited by velociraptors, you just go with it.
Anyway, I will be moving on to other projects shortly. Watch this space for publication details, and enjoy some cover art concepts while you do.
Currently, I’m trying to launch a brand. I dislike that phrase but there it is. I’ve set up the following things:
A YouTube Channel
A Gumroad (soon)
Additionally, I’m producing content for the next issue of UJ (out next month), and I’m trying to grease the creative wheels on a novel I’ve started. This is a lot for one man to do, when he has a household to manage.
On top of this, I’m doing it with minimal support. We have our fans, and even Patrons, but we don’t have a publishing house or an agency or even a website. We are a fart in a hurricane attempting, at this point, to be a louder fart.
This cannot but cause frustration. That feeling of shouting into a void. So the other thing I must manage is the black dog, which comes sniffing around the barn at odd hours and making a pest of himself. The struggle to be heard in the internet age is a real struggle.
There’s a book I’m reading related to this, called Deep Work, which I’ve started but put down so I could finish The Shining (more on that in another blog). It’s only tangentially about the internet and more about the way one needs to manage one’s time and inputs in order to do truly ground-breaking work. It has given me insight. While I’ve enjoyed reading the stuff that’s been created for the UJ Singles Collection (coming soon!), I can’t help but feel the wish to get to the next level. As my post about critics argued, art must come from artists, so the art can only reflect the artist. If the artist is distracted, what happens?
One of the things we’ve used UJ for is world-building. I’ve created some shorts in a fantasy world, Cevalon, that I conceived long ago. I’ve sketched out a space opera universe as well, under the tentative title “Gods of the Sky”. And there’s the Drunk Vampire Hunter stories, and Catakuri, and various serial novels, such as the recently finished Ulysses and the Fugitive.
Each of these are going to get their own books on Gumroad going forward. The Singles Collection is the omnibus for everything else: all the tragedies, dystopias, monsters, metaphysics, and screeds we’ve published in the last few years.
I have written in this space before, and discussed it at the S & P podcast, my recent discovery of Robert Howard. I have become something of a bore on this topic, truth be told.
The practical upshot of which is, I’ve started a project I’ve long tossed back and forth in the to-do pile. I’ve mentioned it before. Over this past week I finally sat down and wrote a first chapter.
It’s a draft, but steady reads of Fritz Leiber are improving my mood and feel for it, as are taking the time to draft character sheets and even some name-brainstorming with the wife (I had a name for my protagonist that I didn’t like, but couldn’t think of a better one. I now have one that fits the world and the character). It’s now my primary project.
In The Sword news, I submitted to an agent last week as well. I’ve a few more on deck should I get another rejection. We’ll see how it goes.
The aforementioned Unnamed Journal shift has launched. We have issued our last free Issue on Joomag, and have gone over to a paying basis. You can get UJ in two ways:
Become a subscriber to our Patreon. For $1 a month you get accesss to new issues of UJ as they become live, and also old issues of UJ, which we occasionally post.
Purchase them direct from Gumroad. Our first paid issue will come out in July. We’re also going to have Collection from past issues available, including themed collections like Catakuri and Drunk Vampire Hunter. More on this later.
In other news, I’m dithering between projects. I’ve been doing that for a while now. Granted, betwen my professional and family obligations, and producing enough content for UJ, I haven’t had a whole lot of the right mental space, but I’m kind of in a Buridian’s Ass scenario between various things:
A Western Novella, which is about 3/4 finished, but has taken a grimdark turn and I’m kind of feeling dry about it. Working Title: Death Riding
A pulpy fantasy novel I’m outlining but haven’t fully committed to drafting. Working Title: The King’s Ransom
A noirish semi-fantasy (urban fantasy) that I’ve written a couple of chapters to, and have a sort-of outline for. Working Title: Chemical Angel
Ideally, I’d want to pick something that ties in with UJ. I just need to pick something and do it. And contact more agents for The Sword.
The question is, can fanfiction – sub-writings in a fictional universe, by fans – become Canon, i.e. officially a part of the story?
I myself would err on the side of “no, not really”, without making a categorical claim on it. But more important than the answer to that question is whether a story, any kind of story, follows its own structure consistently.
I’m somewhat stalled in a Western novella, but making slow progress.
I’ve started outlining (!) a fantasy novel, but I haven’t committed to starting on it yet.
The fifth Chapter of the The Meditations of Caius Caligulia is going well, and will be in the next issue of Unnamed Journal. UJ is going to be next-levelling pretty soon, I’ll devote a post to that later this week.
There’s probably going to be a Drunk Vampire Hunter story in there as well. Which reminds me, I should devote a post to Drunk Vampire Hunter, as it’s one of my favorite new things to play with in UJ. It might become a novel at some point as well.
For fantasy fiction the only typeface you need is the 1894 version of Bradley. Less fussy than Morris Troy and less shouty than American Text it was designed by Will Bradley for a Christmas issue of The Inland Printer. It is the font of wizards, winters and sensitive Goths. pic.twitter.com/a8mTq8Gqku
And it’s entirely in line with the whole Pulp Revolution indie scene, in which classic pulp fantasy tropes are lovingly dusted off and embraced. Cirsova Magazine is a good go-to (I’ve bought an issue; it’s excellent if you like that sort of thing), all hail the spirit of Robert Howard.
It’s a bit over the top, frankly, and I don’t know if I’d want to use it for my big fantasy project that I keep telling myself I’m going to start. But I might like to throw down a longish novella for 2020, along lines earlier alluded to. Since this would be a self-pub, I’m fine with playing up the glorious pulp-cheese of it.
You might ask why I’d even think about such a thing when the story’s in outline form. I say unto you, the spirit of composition matters. I think in the next few days I’ll start jumping on the first chapter.