Posted in Pop Culture, writing

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.

Posted in Books, Publishing, writing

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.

Posted in Books, writing

Struggling Through the Void

I’ve been told by people that it’s impressive how much progress I’m making in these projects I’m doing. I appreciate their appreciation, and prefer that I’m actually getting things done instead of aspiring to them. But I, as the author, know better. Void is a pain in my butt.

Because I’ve been writing it for a long time. It started as a short story under a different name. I hated it and never published it, not even to Medium, where it could fester quietly forever. But I liked the premise of it. So I reworked it, leaving out some of the obvious alien jump-scares and the uninteresting characters. I switched it over to focus on the single protagonist, so the audience sees everything as he sees them. That way I could draw out the mystery and paint as I went along.

But now I’ve got to make the details work, and that’s the part that always slows me down. I’ve got to write the third act, in totality, and I have to have it done within the month, because the whole third act – about three chapters – is going into the next issue of Unnamed Journal.

So this is going to get done. It’s going to happen. I’m not going to miss this deadline. I’ve hit all the deadlines I’ve set for myself this year. This will be no exception. I don’t have to actually write that much. I’ve already started the sixth chapter.

I sound convincing, don’t I?

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Posted in Books, Publishing

Pre-Vacation Update

A bunch of merry business has gone by. Allow me to fill you in:

  • The Party At the Last Tomorrow is finished. Drafted, anyway. I’m going to go back in the summer and give it a thorough edit, tie down some loose threads, establish the things in the early chapters that I pantsed in the later ones, but you can read the existing draft on Tablo. Since my due date for finishing this draft was Easter, I’m pretty pleased with myself.
  • Unnamed Journal put it’s ninth issue out, and it’s full of WWI-related shenanigans, plus some other fine fare. You’ll never look at scarecrows the same way again.
    • Included in the above is the first piece I wrote using Scrivener instead of Microsoft Word or the Tablo app. It took some adjustment, but I really do like the way Scrivener works. I look forward to using it for the Summer Novel (I NaNoWriMo whenever I damn well please).
    • Also included is the fifth Chapter of Void. It’s the shortest chapter so far, but I like what I did with it. It sets up the actual thing that made me want to write this in the first place. Read it on UJ exclusively for the next few months. Get caught up with previous chapters on Tablo.

Oh, and Void has a new cover:

Void

 

Not bad. I’m not sold on it, though…

Posted in Books, Publishing, writing

UJ9 Upcoming, Outlining LT6

In the past, I’d finish a chapter of something and let it marinate, let my juices recharge, get back to the next chapter when I’ve a mind to.

That approach, it no worky.

So the fifth Chapter of Void is finished. I’m not going to post a link to it, because Void chapters are spoken for by Unnamed Journal. When Issue 9 of UJ goes live on April 1st, Void 5 will be available for viewing.

The next issue will have some WW1-related shenanigans in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Doughboys going Over There. Plus, Scarecrows. Subscriptions, they are still free. So what have you got to lose?

So, that’s a deadline I’ve got to meet. I also am still holding to the deadline of getting Last Tomorrow finished/drafted by Easter. Which means I have two more chapters to write. Which means I really need an outline or some kind of methodology of getting me to the ending I want. So I’m working on that, or at least a collection of beats.

So that’s two chapters and a short story for UJ9. I can do that. That’s totally doable.

Posted in Books, Links

Unnamed Journal 7 – Available for Free on Joomag.

Edit: Link was displaying messy code. Fixed now.

Unnamed Journal, a magazine I have been known to write for, is now in its second year. It’s been available in print from POD houses, Blurb and Lulu, and in digital form on Amazon. For the new year, they’ve switched gears, going to online magazine publisher Joomag.

The thing Joomag lets magazine publishers do is offer subscriptions. Amazon floated this idea for a little while for self-published magazines, but closed it. You can still subscribe to magazines on Amazon, but they’re from established players only. So it goes.

Right now, the editors of Unnamed Journal are offering their subscriptions for free. So when you click the cover pic below, you go to joomag.com and you can have the next issue, and subsequent issues, at no cost to you.

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Enjoy.

The previous year’s issues are now collected in the Year 1 Omnibus on Amazon. There’s lot’s of good stuff in there.