Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Sir Tessa: Hey, world?
World: Yeah?
Sir Tessa: There's something I want to say, been meaning to say for a while now...
World: Yes?
Sir Tessa: Fuck you. Fuck you with a hedgehog on a stick.

No. I did not get the job.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Sir Tessa the Not-So-Terribly-Brave

Yeah, I just spent ten minutes poking around and because ghosts are one of those irrational fears I didn't leave behind in childhood, I now have a severe case of the willies.

Which also makes me Sir Tessa the Not-So-Terribly-Smart, for now I'm going to have to read for a couple of hours before I feel comfortable turning out the lights.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Black Juice - Margo Lanagan

Margo was our week four tutor at Clarion South. She was a relatively unknown factor; the Psychic had heard she was brutal when it came to crits, whilst being a lovely person. But she went and won a handful of Aurealis Awards right in front of us, and thus instilled the Fear Of Margo in us all.

The awards were so much deserved.

The collection starts off with "Singing My Sister Down", which was responsible for all the award winning. I read it first, during Clarion (I believe because I couldn't sleep), and had to go on to read another simply because of the effect it had on me. Margo is an incredibly powerful writer. Her ability to manipulate emotions is exceptional, and she doesn't hold back at all. "Singing My Sister Down" was a punch in the gut. Beautiful story, but don't read it if, you know, you have to be in public any time soon after. You'll want some alone time. And a box of tissues.

I was quite fond of "Red Nose Day", although I found the title misleading as it had absolutely nothing to do with SIDS. Two men with large chips on their shoulders, assassinating clowns. It should have been funny, but instead it teetered in hysteria, from hilarity and horror, much the same way clowns themselves are supposed to be funny, and more often than not are sad. It's a surprisingly touching story.

"Sweet Pippit" sees her show of her knowledge of the importance of sounds. The names the elephants give each other, how humans sound to them; it's a sweet story, full of aural texture, and ends on a wonderful blend of hope and despair.

Actually, most of her stories left me in the bluer side of the emotion spectrum, but oh, she knows just how many shades there are to blue.

It's easy to write a nasty story. It isn't easy to write a brilliant, layered, textured story that will touch you in so many different ways that, at the end, you won't be able to say what it is you are feeling.

"Yowlinin" I found to be a surprisingly grounded story. Despite the appearance of the terrible yowlinin creatures and the death and destruction they bring (what I typo, I just typed 'brain'), it is a story that all of us, each and every one of us, has gone through. That first infatuation, watching them from a distance, imagining that they will feel the same. But reality rarely listens to infatuations, and dreams.

And then, the "Rite of Spring", the one story that didn't leave me in the blue, but edged me towards green. The only note to end on. Unfortunately this story was mildly spoiled for me during Clarion, but like others, I was left wondering whether or not he did have the power to change the seasons.

I like to think he does.

It's hard to review collections, as there is no overall story to rip apart, and no one wants to read a dozen small critiques. I can say that, overall, Margo is a gobsmackingly good writer. Her stories have so many layers, short stories shouldn't be capable of fitting so many layers without exploding, and are wonderfully complex whilst being simple at the same time. Her use of language and understanding of the right word in the right place is gorgeous, and I think all aspiring writers should read a couple of her stories just to see this. There is a lot to be learned from what impressions a mere sound can make. Treat yourself and get ye some Margo writerlings.

Verdict: one of the best short story writers out there. Shall be hunting down her other collections.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Writerly Stuff

I just finished a rewrite of my week 3 Clarion story, Bitter Elsie Mae. Although my ability to judge my own writing muscle is still very muck borked, I'm nevertheless getting a very strong suckitude vibe.

Most of the crit comments said there wasn't enough back story, not enough revealed at the end. I think I've gone too far in the other direction this time, and given too much. That's not what ghost stories are about.

I'll read again tomorrow, still be unable to make a judgement call on it, and shove it down someone's throat.

Think I'll work on my westernromancevampire story next.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales - edited by Michael Chabon

I don't know that anthologies need spoiler warnings, but just in case, this is it.

I started reading this while stranded at Sydney Airport, listening to my flights be delayed and cancelled, one by one, until eventually Virgin killed that hope and told us to go find a place to stay for the night. I was tired, having pulled that three hours of sleep a night thing several nights running, out of clean clothes, starving mildly, and also in the throes of the post-Clarion can't-read-anything-without-crying-or-ripping-it-apart state of mind. (Still am.)

None of this is particularly conductive to a happy reader, but that guy Chabon knows his shit. The stories in this collection beat their way through all that and stood tall. Even if I did critique them. Just a bit.

Although it's something of a relief to know that established are just as guilty of writing short stories that stink high and mighty of being the beginning or part of a larger work, that doesn't make it any less annoying to discover. Stephen King, you should know better. The Tale of Grey Dick did very little for me. There was never any doubt, soon as the woman came out with her hand beneath her apron, that she had some super weapon under there, and then there was never any doubt that she would use it. Thus, there was no tension, and no point to the story. It went exactly where I expected it to, and didn't even bat an eyelid at trying something unexpected.

Sherman Alexie, I loved Ghost Dance. I really got into it. And just when it was getting really good and really interesting and you had sunk that many hooks I'd have read a stopped. Like you lost interest. That's not cool.

That said, they were the only two I had any major problems with. For the vast majority I coasted through and thoroughly enjoyed myself. There's a certain amount of cheese leeway these stories have, a certain amount of absurdism that may make some cringe, but just made me giggle. Just looking at the cover will give you a pretty good idea of what you're getting into. (Sadly, no pantherman monsters feature in the book.)

Otherwise Pandemonium by Nick Hornby is easily one of my favourites of the collection. Written from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy (very nice voice work) who accidently stumbles upon the end of the world, and has sex for the very first time as a result. Excellent fun.

The Albertine Notes by Rick Moody just blew me away. It's probably too soon for me to be writing impressions of it, having only read and finished it today. Post-apocalyptic New York City, with the populace ravaged by Albertine, a drug of memories. A story that starts straight forward, and branches, and twists, and sprials, and mirrors, and as the protagonists gets seriously fucked up, so do you, so does the story. A brilliant, complicated mindfuck, full of ideas that got me all tizzy. Memory is a powerful subject, and what's done with it here is just amazing.

Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly by Dave Eggers was an odd one. As a story it left no great impact on me, but the character hit home in all sorts of unexpected ways. She wasn't someone I've ever known, but drawn so deeply and realistically that she's still with me, days after reading about her. It's a story that packs a solid emotional whack, which you won't notice until well after the fact.

The Case of the Nazi Canary by Michael Moorcock proved to be a lot of fun. An old fashioned detective story, with a loose Sherlock/Watson pair going of to Germany to solve the case of who killed Hitler's niece/mistress. I'm a sucker for these sort of mysteries; it's a race between me and the detective to see who figures it out first. Alas, usually the detective is privy to information that the writer refrains from giving the reader (bastard!) so I only win this race half the time. While I should have picked the culprit in this case (all the clues were there, and there's no room in this sort of story to mention something that won't be of use later) I didn't, and have myself I right cackle at the end.

How Carlos Changed His Name to Carl and Became a Famous Oklahoma Lawman by Elmore Leonard, was a story I approached with curiosity. Ellen Datlow had recommended him severial times during Clarion South as apparently he is exceptionally good at writing pages of dialogue with no dialogue tags, and never leaving the reader wondering who is saying what. Within this short story, there was very little room for reams of dialogue, and to be honest I was enjoying the story too much to be analyzing it.

Yes, I only critique that which does not blow the top of my head off. I want to know why it is failing to do so.

A treat to be found within the covers of this book are the dodgy little 50s styled advertisements for pulp series and the dodgiest looking false teeth I've ever seen. They're quality reading all on their own. I was hoping to be able to order an actual death ray, but no, that particular ad was only offering essays on the proof of ones existence.

A seriously good collection of short stories. If I can read them and enjoy them this soon after Clarion, you guys have absolutely no excuses whatsoever. Get cracking.

Now if only they would bring out Astounding Stories in hardcover as well...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Gakked from DebB:

Over a noisy lunch the other day, I overheard Ellen Datlow talking about her experiences in Australia and New Zealand while she was teaching Clarion South. I only caught bits and pieces of the conversation, but I heard someone say "I heard they're mean," to which Gordon replied "That's because they're all hopped up on eucalyptus." Naturally, I assumed he was referring to the Clarion students, and I found myself looking forward to seeing the prose churned out by the eucalyptus-fueled rage of the Aussies.

Turns out they were talking about koalas. Needless to say, I was greatly disappointed.
Posted by The Slush God at February 22, 2005 08:05 PM - John Joseph Adams, Assistant Editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Just lay it all down. Put your face into my neck and let it all fall out.
I know
I know
I know.
I knew before you came home.
This world you're in now,
It doesn't have to be alone,
I'll get there somehow, 'cos
I know
I know
I know
When even springtime feels cold.

But I will learn to breathe this ugliness you see,
So we both can be there and we both can share the dark.
And in our honesty, together we will rise,
Out of our nightminds, and into the light
At the end of the fight.

You were blessed by a different kind of inner view: it's all magnified.
The highs would make you fly, and the lows make you want to die.
And I was once there, hanging from that very ledge where you are standing.
So I know
I know
I know.
It's easier to let go.

But I will learn to breathe this ugliness you see,
So we can both be there and we can both share the dark.
And in our honesty, together we will rise out of our nightminds
And into the light at the end of the fight.

--"Nightminds", Missy Higgins, The Sound of White

See? It's possible to write a pop song about depression and not have it be a self-indulgent, self-centred, selfish whinge from a whiny bitch who can't take responsibility for their own life and sit around angsting about how no one else is popping out of the air to make it all better for them, 'cause they're stuck sitting on their sorry arse feeling sorry for themselves.

Pardon me. Touchy subject. Lot of weenies out there giving the sads a bad name.

Not that Missy Higgins has it right. Understanding is all very well, but in those lines she's promising to jump down the hole with them.
No. Just, no.
While ZZZ Hunting

At last, I had a dream, and yeah, I was kind of saving the world. It was post-apocalyptic, and out of this group of people, I seemed to be the only one who could find water. With fungus thing. Fronds would reach towards water.

I don't know why we needed water so badly. I was raining.