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I emerge from the grave this July 4th, because a) it's a holiday and I suddenly have time to check/post on LJ; and b) to let everyone formally know that a story of mine has been named a finalist in the 2nd Quarter 2009 Writer's of the Future Contest! I have to say, I'm fairly bursting with happiness about it-- it's extremely cool to be a finalist; just the idea that four of the the WoTF judges, all of whom are icons of the field, are going to read my little story is pretty darn amazing.

I have never been good with managing expectations-- unlike carrie_ryan  who can daydream ceaselessly about success, if I try and do that, I just get extremely wound up. To that end, I am keeping all my fingers and toes crossed, but I am simultaneously doing my best not to think about it. Instead, this seems like a great opportunity to point out the seven other great writers who I am lucky enough to share finalist status with. They are:

Dario Ciriello of California
Simon Cooper of Ireland
jasonfischer  of Australia
William Mitchell of London
Chris Tissell of Oregon
Susan Watkins of Oregon
Jeff Young of Pennsylvania

I've been able to lay hands on fiction from the first four who I've linked to above (all available from the links), and from them alone, it looks like this is really an incredibly talented bunch and the competition will be extremely fierce. I am both initimidated and honored to keep this company. Chris, Susan, and Jeff, if you happen to see this, my googlefu failed on you, but I would love to read some of your work. Given the quality of the four folks whose work I hae read, I'm sure it's pretty awesome.

And that's really the great thing about all this. Sure, I would like to win. Seriously, I would really like to win. Like "sizeable envelope of cash with Robert Silverburg's name on it" like to win. But even if I don't, and even though I haven't read the specific stories competing with mine, just being in the same category of these up-and-coming SF stars is incredible. Now somehow I have to not explode for until the judging is announced in a month...


I emerge from the billowing mists of Work/Life to turn your eyes briefly to something special: Nathan Bransford's Agent for A Day Contest. This is really fantastic-- Nathan Bransford has posted/is posting 50 real queries throughout the day with 3 real published authors' queries hidden somewhere within, and your job is to find the three amongst the rest.

I don't normally post about contests (or at all, the cheekier of you might be inclined to say-- simmer down), but this one caught my eye not because you might win something but because there is so much for writers to gain from it. I got about 5 into it before I realized how quickly going through these starts to jade you toward what might otherwise be good books. You simply have to-- you can only request five, and you'll get bogged down if you stop to consider how each one might be really good and how you might have just overlooked it. This is how it is every day for agents, I gather, and really hammers home why and how you need to make your query stand out. Kudos to Nathan Bransford for desigining it-- this just wouldn't work without the contest incentive to force people to view it with a real eye towards finding the right ones (just like an agent).

Much thanks to anywherebeyond  for pointing this out first.

Pardon My Language

But "Syfy?"

Are you fucking kidding me?

I feel more rant on the way. Stay tuned.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is Here....

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is out on shelves now! Why don't you have a copy yet? Why, I ask? Quit lollygagging, go get it now!

I see you still lollygagging! Go! Shoo!

Book Launch:30!

Two days until The Forest of Hands and Teeth officially hits shelves! I don't know if it's gauche to shamelessly pimp your significant other's book, but let's be honest, I don't know from tact to begin with so I would do it even if I did know it was gauche. I have watched this book go from being a shy little idea in carrie_ryan 's mind to be the amazing thing that it is today, and I really want to share my excitement and pride with the whole world, so indulge me a little here.

Way back in November '06, Carrie told me she had come up with this idea that she was playing with that was completely different from anything she had written to that point. She wouldn't tell me anything about it at first, and it wasn't until the first chapter was written that I got to step into the world of Mary and the Forest of Hand's and Teeth. Carrie insisted it was just for play, that it would never sell, but I've never seen such a firey passion in her. As soon as I heard the first line, I knew that she had something special, and I was not disappointed. Mary's world is a bleak one, a terrifying vision of the future, but it is one filled with hope, too. It's a world where the human spirit is bloodied, but unbowed. And even as the people around her succumb to the dreadful malaise of life constantly surrounded by the hungry dead, the never-waivering visages of their loved ones constantly clawing for their flesh, Mary dreams. Who hasn't been in that situation-- not surrounded by the undead (I hope), but surrounded by the living who have lost themselves, who have given in to the world around them? Who hasn't wondered if they are the only one who still holds on to the thought that things can be different, better? Who hasn't felt the pressure, not just the societal pressure, but the internal need for acceptance, telling them that it's best if they give in too, if they just accept what the world is and give up on fantasies? 

This is Mary-- though her world may be fantastic, the people in it are terrifyingly real. And isn't that what all good zombie stories are about, the people? Zombies aren't like other monsters, that are characters in themselves-- they are literarily what they are literally, a mockery of reality, an element of setting that just looks like an element of character. I don't mean to denigrate stories where zombies are good horror fodder or the butt of limitless jokes, but to me, the timeless zombie story is one where the zombies exist simply to push the characters to the limit and expose who they are underneath. I have to admit, I always knew that Carrie was a fabulous and gifted writer, but even I was astonished to see her get everything so right, to make these real and flawed and amazingly three-dimensional characters that speak so well to life today despite existing in a future as distant from now as the sun from a star at midnight.

I've read The Forest of Hands and Teeth many times now, and seen it through many variations, and I can honestly say that it's never once been a chore. And each time I've seen, I see some new chord, some fresh element that was previously hidden from me but resonates deeply, like Jed's struggle to balance his family with his own sense of duty and conformity, or Harry's profoundly tragic love of Cass, forever distracted and abused by his unquenchable obsession with Mary. I hope that you will see these things, too, and I can't wait to discuss them with you, I can't wait to hear what you get from it, good and bad. Because even when Carrie was swearing that The Forest of Hands and Teeth would never see daylight, I knew it was a story that had to be shared, and I'm so amazingly happy and proud that she's gotten the opportunity to share it with you.

FHT hits shelves Tuesday. As a reader, not simply as the fiance of the author, I'd tell you to go out and find yourself a copy (preferably purchasing <cough>) and see it for yourself. I can't promise you'll love it like I do-- you may even hate it, as someone somewhere surely will. But what I can promise that you'll see something there, one way or another, that will make you think deeply and feel passionately. And for me, that's what literature is all about.
Dear all,

The word "insure" means "to guarantee against loss or harm." The word "<i>ensure</i>" means "to make sure or certain." Thus, when you "insure" something, you agree to make someone whole for a loss. When you "ensure" it, you make sure it happens. The words are not interchangeable. Unless you are dealing with insurance, you almost always want the latter. No matter how bad you want to press that "i," you are wrong. If you persist in "insuring" that something happens, <i>especially</i> in formal documents, I will have no choice but to tear my hair out, run down the halls screaming, and beat you in an animalistic rage.

Thank you for your time.

Is a Bad Story Art?

Imagine this: a young man, disaffected with life and its thousand daily stings, channels that raw emotion into a work of imagination. He dreams up a world where all the little cruelties of modern life are given a concrete form, where hope becomes a personified, unstoppable force, and where the future is a shining jewel whose mysteries, good and ill, hide behind an impenetrable veneer of red crystal. He takes these thoughts, this expression of his dreams and his very soul and puts them to paper, and out from from his quivering pen flows... something akin to the infamous Eye of Argon, often lauded as the worst piece of fantasy literature ever written.* Most people can agree that our young man’s work is terrible. But to paraphrase Kipling, it’s not very clever, but is it art?


What got me thinking about this, as usual, is video games. For anyone who hasn’t picked it up, I play a lot of video games, and the perennial favorite argument in the video game circle is “can video games be art?” A recent post by [info]carrie_ryan rebuts some specters of the same argument directed at YA lit, and we see this type of argument directed at all types of allegedly “genre” literature. That got me thinking about the nature of “art,” and rather than doing a bunch of high-falutin’ research on the history of art criticism, LJ seemed to be as good a place to take the discussion as any.


So my question is, while we sit and talk about whether the latest summer blockbuster movie or chick-lit release or first-person shooter or whatever is really good enough to be called art, does quality really have anything to do with being artistic? I’ve seen enough works I’ve really thought were amazing flop and enough things succeed, both commercially and critically, which I personally could not imagine anyone ever letting out into the market that I have come to accept the fact that taste is way subjective, and my tastes may not in any way reflect those of people at large. May not even be similar, in fact. So if quality really does matter to artistic merit, how do we judge it? And if it doesn’t, then isn’t a child’s stick figure drawing just as artistic as Picasso?


To my point: I think writers write for two different purposes: 1) to entertain; and 2) to achieve artistic merit. Some people write for the former, some for the latter, and probably most of us for both. But we take this idea of art very seriously. And I wonder if that isn’t a cop-out, a way of allowing ourselves to aspire to something without ever forcing us to define exactly what it is we want to be. Is it really universal appeal we’re trying to reach? Emotional resonance? Effective storytelling or innovation? If we nail down what we’re aiming for, maybe that will help us reach it. And maybe it would help us focus our criticism and not be so pretensious if we acknowledge that even a story we don’t like is a work of art.


Anyway, these are just my impressions. What I’d really love to hear are your thoughts on the issue. Does “art” have a meaning to you? Am I just missing the obvious, or way off base? What do you aspire to in your writing?



* I have no reason to believe that this is in any way the origin of The Eye of Argon. Its reference here is purely for demonstrative purposes.

Looking for Group

So the other day, I wrote a story and even polished it up a little. Yay! And that’s when it occurred to me that in the last year of novel work, I have completely and totally lost all of my critiquing connections. Of course I still have my vaunted First Reader, and brother-man JED, to both of whom I am eternally grateful, but I used to frequent sites like Critters and Baen’s Universe’s slush boards (which don't even seem to be working right now) to get feedback advice from a wide variety of readers with a wide variety of perspectives. Now, not so much.


It’s not that those sites have fallen off the map-- it’s more that I have. Each of the sites I’m familiar with essentially require (whether overtly or through practicality, in the case of Baen’s) you to review a bunch of stories before you can expect to get reviews on your own. While this is a perfectly reasonable request, I just don’t have the time anymore to review 3 to 5 stories a week to get one of mine reviewed three months after I write it (okay, that was directed straight at Critters. Some of the other sites aren’t nearly as bad, but the same principal applies).


So now I am in the market for short story critters. My output is way too low to join a regular group, but I’m hoping to find someone else out there in the same position, who produces a story every once in a blue moon that they’d like to get an objective opinion on and who wouldn’t mind doing the same in exchange. If anyone knows of such a person, send them on over!


Utterly unrelated note: played the Tomb Raider Underworld demo yesterday. I will say that it’s fantastically gorgeous, and despite some rather frustrating camera issues, it’s good to see Lara back to her old-school tomb raiding archaeology-be-damned hijinx. But because I am a bizarre person, what really annoyed me was when I pulled my way through a jungle to find two separate groups of not one but three tigers waiting for me. Seriously, people, is one tiger not enough to keep Ms. Croft limber these days? I mean, tigers are solitary animals, they establish a range and chase other tigers out of it. They don’t wander around in freakin’ hordes looking for adventurers to narf on. Let’s get some scientific accuracy up in this piece, please?

A Call to Arms

            On Tuesday, I spent all day knocking on doors. Metal doors, wooden doors, doors peeling with paint, doors that creaked and shuttered when I banged on them until I was scared I might knock them down. Sometimes there were people behind those doors, more often not, more often we just left little paper hangers that said “Vote TODAY-- Obama.”


            I don’t think we saw a person who we didn’t harass twice. At first, when I started doing this, I felt awkward, self-conscious, upset to be intruding into people’s lives. But then we kept hearing the same response over and over again: “Thank you.”


            Thank you for doing this. We appreciate your efforts. We’re so glad to see you. We were beyond welcome, in neighborhoods where we clearly didn’t belong, in areas where most people, myself included, would be scared to walk around in the middle of the day. I don’t know that I personally achieved anything, but it showed me what is really going on in America today. The unbelievable energy that went into Barack Obama’s movement. The very unexaggerated feeling that this presidency is really a turning point for race in America. The fact that this is a milestone that people have been waiting for since the birth of this nation.


            But one man stuck out to me the most. He was a young man, sitting on his porch at 11:30 in the morning, low-backed. He was the one who said “I’m not going to vote.” He said “it doesn’t matter.” I gave him the campaign spiel, how it was really close in North Carolina, yadda yadda, how this was change, didn’t he want change? “Yeah,” he said. “But my vote doesn’t matter.”


            That night, as I watched Barack Obama give his victory speech, I kept thinking about him. How I really wanted to go back to that neighborhood Wednesday, to find him, to say “See? You do matter.” And for the first time, it’s true. And it’s not just race. Listening to Obama, I realized that we all matter. That he’s not just taking the reins and let us go. This movement really is about us, all of us, even those who didn’t vote for him, even those who still oppose him, to which they are of course entitled.


            Everyone here matters. It’s an amazing feeling, and one that everyone should share, not just here, but all around the world. Tom Brokaw, after the election results were announced, said “We don’t really understand the significance of this. Now, people are going to be energized to go to Washington like we haven’t seen since Kennedy. They’re going to feel the energy and want to be a part of this, to stand up and say ‘count on me.’”


            I feel it. For the first time in my life, I feel like we really can change the world. And I’m no politician (thank god), and I don’t know if I’ll pack up and go to Washington, but this is the way the world changes, and I want in. I hope you’ll all join me, each in our own way, each from our different backgrounds and points of view, black, white, Republican, Democrat, gay, straight. Because agree or disagree with Mr. Obama, there’s one thing he said that is now undeniably true: “Yes, we can.”


            Thank you, Mr. Obama. Thank you, everyone who worked for him, who voted for him. Thank you everyone who gave him the opposition he needed to really blossom. Now let’s go change the world.

A Time for Pride

I planned on writing a voting post about why I support Obama, but at this point, it's all down to the numbers. And I am extremely tired. Spent all day canvassing, knocking on doors, making phone calls, etc. It truly is amazing seeing so many people so excited, many of them voting for the first time, many of them excited about politics for the first time in their lives. Whether you support Obama or not, you really need to respect the incredible historic nature of his campaign, and the fact that there are many, many people out there who feel empowered for the first time in their lives.

This is not something to be ignored. It's something to be celebrated. Ecstatically. I understand people who oppose Obama on policy reasons, but I don't understand those who are scared of him or hate him. Win or lose, support or oppose, those of us who are Americans ought to be really proud to see our fellow citizens achieve something that many of us have taken for granted for centuries.

Anyway, I ramble. If your polls are still open and you haven't voted, what are you doing reading Livejournal? Go vote!