Saturday, May 31, 2008

More Plugs

First off, be sure to check out the Shirley Jackson Awards Blog. New interview up today, this time it's Laird Barron! (And while you're at it, check out Jack Haringa Must Die! or the fund raiser at KGB Bar).

Second, the SFWA is looking for Content Editor/Webstaff Administrator:

SFWA is doing a serious overhaul of the website in an effort to bring it into the twenty-first century. Interested in helping make it user friendly? Then this job might be for you.

Estimated time required: 15 - 25 hours per month (Initially more, but workload would vary seasonally.)

SFWA Content Editor/Webstaff Administrator

Job Description:

The person in this position would perform the following tasks:
1. Advise the Board on the future direction of SFWA web presence, set priorities for SFWA web presence, and assist in recruiting volunteers as needed.
2. Gather, organize, and provide content to the SFWA webmaster.
3. Organize webstaff volunteers, determine staffing priorities, assign jobs, and maintain communication within the webstaff. Develop a plan for updating in a timely manner.
4. Serve as liaison between the SFWA webmaster and webstaff and the Forum and Bulletin editors, Executive Director, Other SFWA committee chairs as directed by the President. Coordinate duties with the webmaster.

Qualified candidates should have excellent organization and written communication skills, as well as an understanding of current web technology. Understanding budgetary organization is helpful. Membership in SFWA is required.

Benefits: Resume worthy credit, close contact with established SF professionals, help shape the face of SFWA. Stipend offered. Interested parties should submit resumes to no later than June 15, 2008.

Plug: Andrew Drilon in No Formula: Stories from the Chemistry Set Vol. 1

My buddy Andrew Drilon is getting is getting his comics published internationally in No Formula: Stories from the Chemistry Set Vol. 1 by Desperado Publishing. The comics are taken from The Chemistry Set site and Andrew has been cited before in places like The Journal of Mythic Arts for his comics like Mang Tomas the Storyhunter and Grinwit (which is included in the book).

I'd like to add that Andrew Drilon is a talented fiction writer as well (damn you... art skills and writing skills all in one person... and he has youth with him!) and one of my favorite stories of his is Cramming in Diliman.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2008/5/25

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):

  1. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow
  2. The Hollow by Nora Roberts
  3. Odd Hours by Dean Koontz
  4. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
  5. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  6. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
  7. Audition by Barbara Walters
  8. Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss
  9. Love The One You're With by Emily Griffin
  10. Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jack Haringa Must Die!

From Nick Kaufmann:

Jack Haringa Must Die! is a benefit anthology to raise funds for the Shirley Jackson Awards (hence the name Merricat Publications). It collects the best of March's "Kill Jack Haringa in Your Blog Day," as well as two never-before-seen tales of Haringa mayhem by James A. Moore and Christopher Golden.

Here is the full table of contents:

Introduction – Paul G. Tremblay
Death to Haringa! – Jack Ketchum
Scratch – Seth Lindberg
Grammar of the Dead – Brian Keene
fisticuffs in broad daylight!: a lance polynomial adventure! – s.j. bagley
The Fate of Poor Jack Haringa – Paul G. Tremblay
Jack Haringa in Hell – Lisa Morton
Suicide, They Said – James A. Moore
All Furious and Fuming – Michael Kelly
Woolly Solution – Stephen Mark Rainey
True Fashion – Daniel G. Keohane
Haiku – Hannah Wolf Bowen
Going After Eliot – F. Brett Cox
The Unthinkable – Craig Shaw Gardner
Kids – John Langan
…And a Dark Wolf Will Touch You Back – Nicholas Kaufmann
They All Shrugged – Marcy Italiano
Jack Haringa Must Die! – Gregory Lamberson
Jack's Night Out – Meghan Knierim
Jackie the Slayer – Lee Thomas
The Three Bad Deaths of Jack Haringa – Lon Prater
Room Service – Christopher Golden
Killing Jack Haringa – Geoff Cooper
Bad Tin – Nick Mamatas
The Foraging – Livia Llewellyn
The Doom That Came to Jack H. Aringa – Mary SanGiovanni
Jack Catches the A Train – Michael Oliveri
A Post-Apostrophic Tale – Bev Vincent
The Lonely Death of Mr. Haringa – Laird Barron
After(life)word – Jack M. Haringa

2008/5/29 Tabletop RPG Podcasts

Every Thursday, I post links to various podcasts that deals with tabletop RPGs.

Tabletop RPG (Mostly)

General Discussions/Reviews/Everything Else

Actual Play Sessions
Video Podcasts:
  • Gamer Radio Zero interviews Chris Perkins on Monster Roles.
  • Yog-Sothoth has videos of the Casting Call of Cthulhu and Tentacles 2008 Video (no direct link).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Essay: My History of Heartbreak

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

At the time of this writing, my spirits are low as I recall the shades of getting heartbroken. (It doesn't help that I just read the excellent short story "All The Little Gods We Are" published in Clockwork Phoenix--damn you John Grant!) Recently, my friend Mia has taken interest in my love life--or lack of one--and one of the questions she's asked is who is my crush. Now the word "crush" was never a term I took lightly, either in the past or the present. Occasionally, I break out of character and joke about it but for the most part, I save it for those special occasions. In many ways, I'm just like any guy, easily swayed by a pretty face. (What's weird about me however is that I was never attracted to breasts which a lot of guys obsess over, hence there was never really a time when my eyes will drift below the neck.) But those attractive women, I don't call them my crush. Usually I use that word for people I can envision sharing a future with--although for the record, I've been a bachelor my entire life and well, I've never gone out on a date (although it's not for a lack of trying, which I'll explain later).

When I met the first person I would call my crush, I had an epiphany. One doesn't fall in love with other people solely based on their looks. Yes, brains and personality matter! I mean by the time you hit puberty, every teenager has this idealized woman and more often than not, it's a celebrity of some sort. For many of my classmates, it was probably Pamela Anderson. (I'm not a breast-guy so honestly Pamela Anderson never got a bleep in my radar--if we're just going to use Baywatch as a scale, I was more attracted to Alexandra Paul.) But when I realized that my crush was my crush--and this wasn't a love-at-first-sight thing because the first time I met my crush, I barely took notice of her and filed her away in some almost-forgotten memory--one's standards ceased to matter and you realize that she might not be the prettiest or smartest or -insert adjective here- woman in the world but fidelity stops being an issue and you feel that hey, I probably found someone whom I can spend the rest of my life with.

Now that epiphany wasn't easy to come by. For the record, my crush was pretty, but she wasn't drop dead gorgeous. As I said previously, when I first met her, I didn't think much of our initial meeting. The realization that I wanted to ask her out on a date came later, when I discovered her wit, her charm, and the fact that we had common interests. (I've been skeptical of physical beauty ever since.) Unfortunately, while I saw things in that perspective, the same can't be said for my crush. I wasn't flat-out rejected but was subject to evasive tactics such as not being available to answer the phone (and ended up talking to the over-protective father), declining to meet you outside of their school's gate (I went to an all-boys school which had an all-girls school across the street--and this charade is common in the Philippines), and refusal to accept your gifts (even when you were getting drenched in the rain as you offered the present). Eventually, I took the hint and went through the process of getting over my crush.

I never thought I'd recover during my heartbroken period. I couldn't sleep because my dreams were full of what-ifs and what-could-have-beens, her face the last image I recall whenever I woke up. I couldn't read my favorite books or watch anime because they reminded me of her (here's a tip to those who are recently heartbroken: find a new hobby!). As for my general mood, I was perpetually haunted by my apparent failure, thinking that I only had one-shot at finding true love and I blew it: I would never meet someone like her again. At that point, my one wish in life was to die right then and there, hopefully as a martyr as my crush would realize her error during my death throes.

Did I mention that this all happened during summer break? There's probably nothing worse than having free time and spending it sulking. Eventually, I got a summer job, distracted myself with an old friend who resurfaced in my life, and then moved on to college.

It was during my freshman year that I met crush #2. On one hand, I was relieved that the belief "I would never meet someone like her again" wasn't true (or rather yes, it's true that you'll never find an exact duplicate of the person you fell in love with, but it's not true that you'll never be attracted to someone else ever again). On the other hand, I over-compensated for my previous failure and I ended up the clingy courter. Suffice to say, after three weeks of meeting my new crush and befriending her, she didn't want to see me ever again. Here came the escapades of my crush dropping the phone on me, tearing my apology letter into several pieces, and ignoring me completely whenever I stumbled onto her. More depression and heartbreak ensued although it was easier to cope the second time around.

Of course me being a persistent fellow and never letting something as failure get in my way, that doesn't mean I gave up. I thought hey, I'm a freshman, there's still three years to go before we both graduate. It took around a year for us to be on speaking terms again and the remaining two years was spent hoping for more. If there's anyone who was impressed with my "fidelity", it was the mutual friends of me and my crush (more of her friends than mine really). I mean some people in our batch have gone through three sets of boyfriends/girlfriends during those four years. And it's not like there was a lack of pretty girls on campus.

A year or two after graduation, me and crush #2 occasionally keep in touch. At first, I was still quasi-courting her (to which a mutual friend said "Charles! We've already graduated!") but eventually, I came to realize that we've both changed. She's not my crush anymore and I don't think a relationship beyond friendship would work between us. Of course having gone through all that, one sort of feels invincible. I mean I seem to have survived the worst--what more can fate throw at me? After four or so years of mentally not being a bachelor (because I was constantly concentrated on my crush during all those years), my psyche attuning itself to reality took some getting used to. Great, I had all this free time and money, not needing to worry what gifts to give my crush, or scheduling my time so that I can meet her during her available hours. It was a problem, but a good and welcome one.

These days, I still consider myself "shy" although I'm sure many people will think otherwise (or rather "shy" is the last adjective they'll think when describing me). It's also surprising what my attitude is towards the whole incident--I've learned from my past experience (i.e. things not to do) but at the same time not letting my negative experiences affect my future relationships (i.e. actually making new friends).

Back to my friend Mia, she's asking who my current crush is (and is not the person I jokingly referred to as my crush in an old blog entry) and what the current state of our relationship is. To which I respond there's nothing--mainly because my crush currently has a boyfriend ("Mia, do we really want to be having this conversation in front of your boyfriend? Who happens to know where I live...") and I won't go around "interfering" in other people's established relationships. When I first saw Babylon 5, I could really relate to the character Lennier ("I'm happy for Delenn and Sheridan") and that pretty much describes my state of mind (minus the part when Lennier goes rogue). First and foremost, my current crush is a friend so the interest I'll be looking out for is hers rather than mine. Mia asks me what that's like. Well, it's frustrating and there's a part of me that knows this path would eventually end tragically for me. On the other hand, well, love isn't just about sex or marriage or courtship. If worse comes to worse, one person's tragedies is fodder for stories.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Shirley Jackson Awards Finalists Redux

I just want to plug the Shirley Jackson Awards and the impressive list of finalists they've managed to compile. We might argue and debate on who might win but rather than a fierce competition, the lists of finalists is a good reading guide for those looking for fiction that deals with "psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic".

Over at the Shirley Jackson Awards Blog, there'll be various short interviews with the finalists. Today, some guy named Charles Tan got to ask questions with Lucius Shepard. I hope readers get to check out "Vacancy". I touched upon that story in my brief review of Subterranean #7 (also an excellent magazine) last year.

Feature: Interview with Paul G. Tremblay

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Paul G. Tremblay is a prolific author whose fiction has appeared in publications like Razor Magazine, CHIZINE, and Weird Tales. He also served as fiction editor for CHIZINE and co-edited various Prime Books publications. His upcoming book is The Harlequin & The Train published by Necropolitan Press.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, when did you know you wanted to be a writer? What would your 12-year old self think of your present situation?

Thank you, Charles.

Jeez, I barely remember that 12-year-old kid. I do know he was afraid to go down into the basement, wanted to be Larry Bird and live with his parents forever, so I don’t think he even thought about what the moderately-aged (can I say young?) adult him would be doing.

I was always daydreaming and making up stories in my head, but I didn’t start writing until much later in life. Post-graduate school actually. And this sounds awful, but my Aunt got me a true-crime book on serial killers for Christmas one year (Merry, merry!). I read it and had an idea for a story about a serial killer meeting Death (a la Piers Anthony) and gave it a go. It was a terrible story, but I finished the darn thing (on a Brother word processor that ate my first attempt at the story) in 1996. I wrote on and off for a few years, but didn’t get serious until 2000, when I made my first sale.

Ekaterina Sedia has a great interview with you over at Strange Horizons. There, you mention dabbling in song writing before you got serious about fiction. Care to elaborate on that? What were the other careers you considered? (A basketball pro perhaps?)

I wish I was a basketball pro. I can shoot very well; but I’m short on strength, quickness, and all around athleticism.

Dabbling was about the extent of the songwriting. I borrowed a friend’s old four-track recorder (borrowed it for two years, heh) and scratched out some simple songs, laying down guitar, vocals, bass tracks, and collaborated on a few songs with a friend who played drums as well. It was fun, but I’ve always known that I wasn’t a talented or dedicated enough musician to truly make a run at it.

Other careers? I like my summers off, so being a teacher was an option. And on most days, I do like working with kids.

What actions did you take when you decided to pursue fiction writing seriously? When did you consider yourself a professional writer?

I joined the HWA in 2000, shortly after making my first sale. I joined their mentor program (an affiliate member gets assigned to an active/professional member) and was paired with a fantastic mentor (writer/editor Steve Eller) who has helped me tremendously throughout my career. Besides the HWA, I sought out like-minded authors/editors (new and established), and was fortunate enough to get noticed by Poppy Z. Brite and Stewart O’Nan; having their ears to bend has been a real boon to both my writing and my general knowledge of the business side of publishing. Also, in general, I try to read as much and as widely (in terms of genre) as I can in addition to working on my stories and books.

I don’t think I considered myself a professional writer until last October when I sold THE LITTLE SLEEP to Henry Holt.

A lot of your writing tends to be horrifying. Was it intentional (and if so, why) on your part to tackle that particular subject?

When I first started, I identified myself as a horror writer. And for much of the early part of my burgeoning career, it was intentional: I would sit down with express purpose of writing a horror story. Now, it’s kind of hard to explain why I intentionally wrote horror stories, or believed that “I’m a horror writer” was some kind of badge of honor. I think, initially, it was about comfort level, sticking to material that I was familiar with. But, I got to a point where I realized it was a disadvantage to try and shoehorn every idea into a horror genre backdrop. Instead of serving the needs of the particular story or characters, I was forcing the issue too often. The day I stopped identifying myself as a horror writer, and instead, a writer who sometimes writes horror was the day I instantly became a better writer. My interests and concerns tend to take me into darker areas as it is; there was no need to pigeonhole everything into the horror genre. I wouldn’t have written PHOBIA or THE LITTLE SLEEP if I’d never taken that step. Both books are still dark, and address many of my anxieties, but from a different angle.

What I love about your writing is that the horror tends to be subtle and quite different from what you'd expect from a conventional horror story. What made you decide to go that particular route? Is it difficult (well, we know writing is difficult...) for you to come up with such ideas or does it come naturally?

Well, thanks, Charles. I don’t know how unconventional I am, but generally, I aim for subtle, which is likely a byproduct of my general fictional interest: the characters. Characters come first for me, and I tend to build the story around them, or least, make the story about them. I don’t know if the characters first approach is any more difficult than other approaches that result in (hopefully!) well-written fiction.

A source of personal inspiration is a conversation I had with a well-known editor from a well-known publisher back in 2001. In a pitch meeting he asked what kind of horror I wanted to write and I told him subtle, character-based, etc. He said that I wasn’t good enough to write character-based horror and that I should focus on atmosphere, as atmosphere was what horror novels were really about. The atmosphere bit is bunk of course, but he was right at the time about me not being good enough yet. Still, it pissed me off sufficiently that I still remember it quite clearly, and in low moments, it motivates me.

While I’ve had more than a few of my characters, settings, or scenes inspired by true events, I don’t think there’s a real pattern to my ideas, or any consistency to where they might come from. The eureka moments are fun when they happen, but more times than not, it’s about forcing the issue (like right now, getting started on book 2 for Henry Holt); writing as work, actively finding or searching for your ideas.

Does your Math background aid you in your writing?

I’m not sure to be honest. On some level clearly it does, as everything that I’ve experienced helps to inform my writing and its perspective. I do tend to be analytical in my writing approach, I suppose. I’m not one to just sit and let everything spill out and then fix/rewrite later. I tend to plod along, plan, and rewrite and revise as I go.

Math (particularly calculus) appeals to me because of its intricacies and order. Fiction (the kind of stories I want to read and write) explores the opposite of order—chaos and the unanswered questions of our individual and collective experience—but in an orderly way. No matter how experimental a piece gets, you still have to place the letters, words in their assigned spots for the story to make sense on some level. That’s sort of like calculus, right? We’ll, I’m sticking to it…

Do you read your stories to your children? Or are you saving them for when they grow older? Have any of your students read your work?

My kids are too young for most of my stuff, currently. My son is fascinated by the publishing process though (and he’s a scardey cat, just like me!) and he likes to look at the book and magazine covers.

Yes, students (usually the seniors) have read some of my short fiction. The reaction is generally positive. They get a kick out of the math teacher publishing books. Every so often (though not as often as I would like) I’m invited to an English class to talk about a story or the process. And every Halloween, I read the short story version of “The Harlequin and the Train” to my Geometry students. They’re afraid of me after, and it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Let's talk about your upcoming novella, The Harlequin & The Train. This was previously a short story. What made you decide to expand it into a novella or why this particular story? Any existing stories you have that you plan on expanding in the future?

Because of PHOBIA (a currently unpublished novel), I hooked up Kris Meyer (Co-producer of a bunch of Farrelly Brothers movies). He also read COMPOSITIONS FOR THE YOUNG AND OLD and really liked, “Harlequin…” and thought it would make a good movie. He sent (and is still sending) the short story to various people he knows in Hollywood, and nudged me to try and write a screenplay for it. I tried it, and I’m not a very good screenplay writer, but I liked many of the elements I added to the “Harlequin…” story, so I turned the screenplay into a novella. Confused yet? I do think the novella is much more successful thematically than the short (going from 4K words to 37K helps, me thinks). And I love the idea of telling the reader to highlight certain words yellow. Makes me feel big and powerful…or like those writers who write choose your own adventure stories.

How did Necropolitan Press end up publishing the novella? How does it feel to be the "herald" of this revived publication?

One of the first writers I ever met was Jeffrey Thomas. I was an admirer of his work, his Punktown stories in particular (my short story “The Dilky Never Landed” appears in his anthology, Punktown: Third Eye) and Jeff was always kind and very supportive of my early endeavors. He wrote the introduction to the first edition of COMPOSITIONS. Last summer, he approached me at Readercon, wanting to publish a collection of my “City Pier” stories. Prime had already done so, but I pitched him the novella instead, and he loved it.

Don’t know if I’m much of a heralder, but it’s been great working with Jeffrey and Nick Curtis, and hopefully the novella will be received and do well for all of us.

What can you tell us about your upcoming novel The Little Sleep? Was this the first novel you ever wrote or is it more along the lines of this is your first publishable novel that got picked up?

Since, at heart, I’m a lazy, lazy man, let me paste some rough summary copy that we’ve been working on for the book here:

“Jennifer Times, a rising local celebrity, walks into private detective Mark Genevich’s South Boston office with an outlandish story of stolen and replaced fingers. Mark awakes from his narcolepsy-induced hallucination to find the woman gone and on his desk, a manila envelop holding two black and white photos, one nude, of Jennifer.

His investigation puts him at odds with everyone he encounters; Jennifer Times, the aspiring pop star; the Suffolk County DA, a South Boston hero and powerful local politician; his mother Ellen, who owns Mark’s building and helps finance his business; his long-dead father, Tim Genevich, who appears to Mark in a recurring dream; a mysterious and violent pair of goons who may or may not be real; and a desperate man from the Cape who could be the key to the case he doesn’t even have.

As Mark slowly finds as many answers as dead-ends, consciousness and reality are as tenuous as his grasp on the ever elusive case. Wildly imaginative and with a pitch-perfect voice, The Little Sleep is an homage to the sardonic, reluctant, and flawed heroes of the pulp past.”

SLEEP is not the first novel I ever wrote. That book (written in the mid-to-late 90s) was a King rip-off and is locked safely away in a password protected trunk. I started another horror novel that petered out about 150 pages in. Then, in 2003, I wrote PHOBIA. It’s a satire/comedy, no real speculative elements to speak of. On the strength of PHOBIA (almost two plus years after writing it), I landed my agent Stephen Barbara (Donald Maass Agency). We were unable to sell it at the big houses, however, often hearing: “this is funny and original, but we can’t sell it,” which was hard to take. After PHOBIA didn’t sell, I pitched Stephen my Little Sleep idea. He loved it. I wrote it April-August 2007, and it sold in late September. Oh, I do have another novel (dystopian satire) in the can, that I hope to sell after SLEEP and it’s follow up.

So yeah, it’s my first novel, but not my first novel.

How does one make the transition from fiction writer to editor? What were some of the difficulties that particularly challenged you?

I’ve found editing to be a gratifying experience that has helped my writing immensely. Learning what-not-to-do in fiction is as important a lesson as what to do. And, finding a great story in the submission pile is a unique and addictive thrill.

The difficult part for me was trying to take the writer-me out of the editing equation, to not ask the question, “Would I have written it that way?” because the answer is irrelevant. The needs of the anthology or the magazine have nothing to do with how I would’ve written or approached someone else’s story.

You currently have a lot of projects that involve editing with Prime Books. How did you catch their attention? Any work from them that we should be keeping an eye out?

Sean Wallace published COMPOSITIONS in 2004 (and again in 2005) and through our many conversations (and with the help of my work as fiction editor for CHIZINE, which was my first editing gig) we found that our fictional tastes were extremely compatible.

Keep an eye out: For short fiction, Clarkesworld (not Prime, but Sean co-edits with Nick Mamatas) and Fantasy Magazine are must reads. Prime books that I’m very much looking forward to are Kathy Sedia’s ALCHEMY OF STONE, and short fiction collections from Stephen Graham Jones, John Langan, and Nick Mamatas.

Can you tell us what it's like being co-editor for Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine, Bandersnatch, etc.? What's the dynamic like between you and Sean Wallace? (i.e. Both of you has to like the story?) What exactly is it that you do as contributing editor for Fantasy Magazine?

When I first started working with Sean, I was the first reader for Fantasy Magazine. Which meant slush, all slush all the time, and we’d discuss the stories I put in a ‘maybe’ pile. Much to Sean’s credit, that gig evolved into a position where I had equal say in what went into the magazine, as was the case with the anthologies.

With Fantasy, Bandersnatch, and Phantom (forthcoming) we generally agreed on most stories, but in cases of disagreement, we deferred to the other if there was a very strong feeling one way or the other. We have disagreements, but they’ve been infrequent. We’re both very excited about the forthcoming release of Phantom, and think it’s our best collaborative work to date.

I left Fantasy Magazine in October, essentially, and I retained the “contributing editor” title because many of the stories I had acquired would still be appearing in the ‘zine well into 2008. At this point though, FM all Sean’s and Cat Rambo’s show (for the fiction) and I’ll be losing that title soon.

As an editor, what do you look for in a story?

Besides the obvious “well-written” criteria, I want a story that has something to say, usually something difficult to say. I want complex characters put into situations that force them to make hard decisions that have consequences. I want a distinctive style and feel to the story. I want it all!

You're currently one of the judges for the Shirley Jackson Awards. Could you elaborate on the mission and vision of that particular awards, why you think you got picked as a judge, and what the judging process was like for you (at least those that you can publicly talk about)?

The jurors for the award (F. Brett Cox, John Langan, Sarah Langan, and I), the administrator JoAnn Cox, and advisor Ellen Datlow, founded the awards with the goal of recognizing literate dark fiction. I like to think that the nominees on our final ballot ( not only comprise some of the best works in dark fiction, but also challenge the usual notions of what horror or dark fiction is or can be.

It has been and continues to be an honor to work with everyone involved with the Shirley Jackson Awards, and we’ve had tons of help along the way from so many good friends and respected professionals. Truly, the support from other has been a highlight of the whole experience thus far.

While the jurors have a common goal, we differ in opinion frequently enough that it’s a good thing, and hopefully will translate into a vibrant pool of nominees and winners every year.

Who are some of your favorite writers or what are some of your favorite books?

To name a few, in no particular order: Kurt Vonnegut, Kelly Link, Stewart O’Nan, Joyce Carol Oates, Chuck Palahniuk, Jonathan Lethem, and Aimee Bender.

Favorite books: House of Leaves (Mark Danielewski), The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (Aimee Bender), Slaughter-House Five (Kurt Vonnegut), A Prayer for the Dying (Stewart O’Nan), The History of Love (Nicole Krauss), The Contortionist’s Handbook (Craig Clevenger), Deathbird Stories (Harlan Ellison), Gun, with Occasional Music (Jonathan Lethem), The Book of Days (Steve Tem), Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)…am I annoying yet with my list?

A few more then…. Some favorite reads from 2007 include Sharp Teeth (Toby Barlow), Generation Loss (Liz Hand), Like You’d Understand Anyway (Jim Shepard), and The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron).

Based on your wealth of experiences, what advice can you give to aspiring writers?

Read, read, read, and read some more. Don’t give your work away for free. Don’t surrender to the temptation and misconception that beginning writers have to start at the bottom. Aim at the best markets right from the start. When you get rejected (everyone gets rejected) analyze what the editors have to say, and then keep writing and rewriting and submitting.

How about aspiring editors?

Editors should also be reading widely to have a sense of what’s current in fiction, and what has already been said. Be willingly open to different ideas, viewpoints, and presentations. Try not to edit with a template of “good story” in mind. You need to be flexible.

What's your favorite equation or do you have any Math trivia you'd like to share?

My favorite is most simple: The derivative of ex is ex.

Anything else you'd like to plug?

If you insist…

Pre-order my novella!

Buy the Phantom anthology this summer!

Please, please, buy THE LITTLE SLEEP in March 2009!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Book Review: The Ant King and Other Stories by Benjamin Rosenbaum

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book reviews.

Rosenbaum's writing covers a diverse variety of subjects and incorporates elements like surrealism, fabulation, metafiction, and fantasy/science fiction--sometimes all in the same story! The Ant King and Other Stories collects Rosenbaum's vast repertoire and those who haven't experienced his style of writing will be in for a treat. Seventeen stories are included in this collection including several flash fiction pieces. A strength of Rosenbaum is his clearly his flexibility. In one story, we read quick, simple paragraphs while in another, we have him writing long, stylized prose. Another strength is his ability to inject literary conventions--or sometimes mix them up--into his genre stories to provide us with a reading experience that deviates from the norm.

Having said all that, here are my top three stories: the opening piece, "The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale" is a strong story to begin with and shows us how different Rosenbaum's writing can be. Surrealism and fabulation combine with modern fantasy to give us something that's funny and enjoyable on various levels and ends in the last place you expect it to. The language is simple enough and quite easy to get into. "Start the Clock" on the other hand reads more like a serious science fiction piece that delves into the question what kind of society would result if we did manage to stunt our growth. Despite the fact that most of the protagonist's encounters are with young adults and children, Rosenbaum tackles very adult concerns as he focuses on his main character, exploring her motivations and personality. Last but not least is "A Siege of Cranes", a more traditional action/adventure fantasy story whose conceit is that it's an epic in under 10,000 words and the author manages to pull it off.

What I enjoyed the most out of this collection is that I literally don't know what's coming next as I dive in from one story to another. Rosenbaum tries his hand in nearly everything and while I wouldn't say he succeeds in every story, there's a lot of them that I do enjoy and forces me to rack my brain for the answers (there was one story for example when I wondered "was that a Babar reference?"). And at the end of the day, you have to give credit to the author's unique style of writing and his willingness to experiment and splice his stories. The Ant King and Other Stories worked well for me and hopefully readers give this publication a look.

Rating: 3.5/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Book Review: Clockwork Phoenix edited by Mike Allen

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book reviews.

I didn't quite know what to expect from this anthology--although I was sold thanks to its stellar cast of contributing authors. Clockwork Phoenix is a title that gives a clockpunk impression and while there are stories that fit the 'punk bill, it's best to view this book as a collection of enjoyable fantasy and science fiction stories. Eighteen stories all in all and one element I found in common among all the stories is that they were comfortable to read, usually going for an elegant and minimalist writing style rather than verbose, choking paragraphs. A recurring theme of this anthology is that it attempts to evoke the reader's sense of wonder.

Here are the top three stories that caught my attention: John Grant's "All The Little Gods We Are" utilizes various techniques to dissect our protagonist and he does an effective job at characterization. And while he uses an old science-fiction/fantasy trope, his execution is excellent and gives it his own twist in the end. Ekaterina Sedia's "There is A Monster Under Helen's Bed" delves into horror of various sorts but combines it with beautiful prose and even a wondrous scene or two. "Oblivion: A Journey" by Vandana Singh gives us a science-fiction mini-epic that while predictable, was an enjoyable read nonetheless as the author infuses it with Indian influences. Singh also manages to sustain our interest in her protagonist that made this lengthy piece a compelling read.

If you're into fantasy or science fiction, Clockwork Phoenix is a decent anthology that's not too heavy and instead striking a balance between compelling fiction and accessibility. The selection of stories is actually quite consistent and even if you're not into the genre, this is a welcome read that'll hopefully strike an emotional chord in you.

Rating: 3.5/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Book Review: The Imago Sequence and Other Stories by Laird Barron

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book reviews.

A blind purchase on my part, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories didn't immediately warm up to me but I was eventually won over by Barron's lengthier stories. The author utilizes an old concept--horrors beyond mortal ken--and infuses them with his own unique writing style that is detailed, in-depth, and builds on character as well as atmosphere. This collection even has some science fiction thrown into the mix that Barron manages to seamlessly combine with his writing. An example is "Hallucigenia" which is a fusion of all sorts of horror tropes, whether it's external or internal horror. Barron takes his time weaving this story and slowly building it up to its inevitable conclusion. "The Imago Sequence" is another impressive story that revolves around a series of paintings and bears a distinct Lovecraftian influence. Another good reason to pick up this book is "Procession of the Black Sloth", a story that is featured here for the first time. Barron manages to turn the protagonist's hallucinations into an effective writing technique that similarly makes the reader wonder. Overall, the stories in The Imago Sequence and Other Stories can be challenging to read at times yet the pay-off is well worth it as Barron's imagination is quite fertile and easily evokes Lovecraft without overtly delving into the Cthulhu mythos.

Rating: 3/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Links for the Week

Friday, May 23, 2008

Comic Plugs

Tomorrow's a lively day for comics as there's a couple of events in store for you.

First up is Free Comic Book Day at Fully Booked in case you missed it last May 3, 2008.

Second is Visprint's Koletib Intelidyens:

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2008/5/18

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):

  1. The Hollow by Nora Roberts
  2. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow
  3. Audition by Barbara Walters
  4. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
  5. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
  6. Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan
  7. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  8. Love The One You're With by Emily Griffin
  9. The Good Guy by Dean Koontz
  10. Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson, Gabrielle Charbonnet

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Good Problems

Books that need to be read, reviews to be written up, interview questions to be brainstormed, and numerous podcasts still on my playlist. It's a busy week.

Plug: Dragons of Manhattan by John Grant

One of the authors I just discovered this year was John Grant, a skilled and multi-talented author. Screaming Dreams is publishing his newest novel, The Dragons of Manhattan, and it should be going on sale by the end of the week. You can read my review here.

2008/5/22 Tabletop RPG Podcasts

Every Thursday, I post links to various podcasts that deals with tabletop RPGs.

Tabletop RPG (Mostly)

General Discussions/Reviews/Everything Else

Actual Play Sessions

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Essay: Candy Fiction

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

Every other weekend or so, I attend Dean Alfar's (if I was in Dumaguete, it'd be Ian Casocot's) Lit Critters session where writers and aspiring writers discuss, dissect, and critique various short stories so that we may know more about the craft and how to incorporate elements that work and avoid those that don't (or rather how to execute them in such a way that they will be effective) into our own stories.

This reading group is rather small and perhaps one disadvantage of such an atmosphere is that if you're not confident enough, it's all too easy to give in to peer pressure: agreeing with everyone else, not voicing your own opinion especially if it's contrary to something that's recently been said by another member, or simply a hesitation to speak up first. It's like high school all over again.

Thankfully, my peers are open and so far, the Lit Critters is a venue for open discussion rather than a clique that determines what is canon and what isn't. In fact, I've made a fool of myself more than once (it's out there on public record for those of you who took the time to download and listen the Lit Critter recordings) but you know what, it's okay. The important point of Lit Critters is that we are able to identify what we like or dislike in a story and then be able to elucidate our reasons. It's not enough to say that "I like this story" or "I have a bad feeling about this story" but rather "I like this story because of the characterization" or "The story fell flat because of the perpetually-shifting tenses". And because we are bilingual, we use Filipino if we have to, as long as we can convey our ideas. As writers, we need to hone our tools that enable us to communicate.

Having said that, after everyone has given their critique, there is pressure to cave in to the rest of the group's opinion. You might like a story that no one else enjoyed. Or disliked a story that everyone else praised. Once the critique is over, there's honestly nothing wrong from liking a story that everyone has deemed horrible. The important aspect is that you should recognize why the story didn't work--or in your case, why you enjoyed it. I mean there are a lot of flawed stories out there that I enjoy reading. Does that mean I'm oblivious to their flaws and weaknesses? No, of course not. Sometimes, I call these stories "guilty pleasures" because they tend to only excel in one thing and fall flat with the rest. Such stories are what I call candy--they're not nutritious but can be quite addictive. I wouldn't nominate such stories to win literary awards but hey, that doesn't mean I can't enjoy them in my own time and when a critical lens is unnecessary.

There's nothing wrong with liking "candy fiction" anymore that we can blame ourselves for liking sweets or sugar. However, an important part in my opinion is being able to distinguish it from the other types of fiction we might enjoy. For example, I like both Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and R.A. Salvatore's recent novel, The Orc King. Just because I like both novels doesn't mean that in my reviews, I'll both give them perfect scores. Either book isn't without flaws but they both aim to achieve different goals. The former is more of a coming-of-age book with various themes thrown in such as innocence, redemption, etc. while the latter is this action/adventure fest working with Tolkienesque elements that attempts to change a formerly assumed notion. Between the two, I'd say Bradbury is the better written one on multiple levels, while Salvatore caught my immediate attention more. If I were to designate which one was candy fiction, it'd most likely go to The Orc King and that's not to say that it isn't without its merits--it clearly has, it's just that the other book strives and succeeds at other elements in which this one didn't tackle. Hence there will be a disparity in the ratings or when it comes to recommending books to other people.

At the end of the day, people are more than welcome to like whatever stories they want, even the ones deemed "horrible" by others (critics or otherwise). However, that doesn't mean we should be ignorant of the reasons as to why they appeal to us and why they don't work quite well for others.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Engrish at the Local Burger King?

Edit: Help me out here: Is Mind the Step a proper expression?

The Sassy Lawyer Strikes Back

The Sassy Lawyer has a new essay which can be construed as a continuation to her earlier, hotly-debated column (thanks to Ian Casocot for the link).

Here's my commentary on her latest blog entry:
Title: Encourage your kids to read…
So far so good...
… And never tell them that the only things worth reading are those labeled by the high-brows as profound.
This opening statement provokes me. Its presence leads me to believe that the author is indeed referring to her previous essay, or at least alluding to the reactions some people have made by the so-called "high-brows".

Taken on its own, without knowledge of her previous essay, it'll probably make me think "duh".

Well, first off, I don't think anyone is stating that the "only things worth reading" are text that are "profound". Second, assuming I was a parent encouraging my kids to read, I don't think my first concern is whether they're reading Hemmingway or J.K. Rowling. As a parent, my first concern is probably encouraging my kids to read in the first place, irregardless of the material. If it's a story book, a comic, a magazine, or anything else, so be it (personally, the first reading experience that I can remember was reading Bambi -sniff- -sniff-).

Whether this means I'm agreeing with the author or not depends on the context.
Alex reads a lot of manga online. There was a time when I worried that it might affect her reading pattern. Manga — or Japanese comics for the uninitiated — are read from right to left. She assured me she was okay, I trusted her judgment and look where her manga reading has led her.

Because the stories she reads borrow heavily from Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Norse mythology, she is slowly moving on to all that. She now knows terms and concepts that I haven’t heard since all those philosophy classes in college. She’s devouring all the mythology she can get online and I already promised her we’ll buy books as well — as many as she likes although perhaps not all at the same time.
In retrospect, her opening statement is a good lead for her succeeding two paragraphs.

Again, at an early age, reading the "right" material I think isn't as important as developing the habit of reading. And while we're at it, why stop at manga? Why not comics in general (be it America's superhero comics, Europe's Asterix or The Adventures of Tintin) or even local komiks (that's comics with a k!)? Personally, I was weaned on magazines. And since this is the age of the Internet, there are also other tools that can help facilitate the reading experience such as audiobooks and podcasts (The Bambi book I read was actually an audiobook and listening to the tape aided me in memorizing the words).

Also, in grade school and in high school, I expanded my vocabulary through playing Magic: The Gathering, a collectible card game (CCG). I learned words like Taiga (what's a Taiga?) and Badlands (there's actually such a thing?) or even concepts like Diminishing Returns. Yes, books per se aren't the only ways to hone our reading skills. (I'd also like to add that stories are serialized in all sorts of places whether it's magazines like Playboy or -gasp- blogs.)

However, having said all that, reading something like a short story isn't the same as reading the same short story in comic form any more that a film adaptation is an exact duplicate of its source material. Different muscles are exercised although there is obviously some area for overlap. A manga is not the same as a short story. I'm not saying that either is "more" or "less" literary than the other, simply that words+pictures have a different effect compared to text that solely relies on text. So, is reading manga good? Yes. Is exclusively reading manga good? Not so much. It's a good starting place, mind you, but it can't end there, any more than a "reader" limiting himself or herself to a certain kind of text (i.e. reading nothing but poetry during a person's entire life).

A good story is like a good piece of art. Whether through words or paint or clay or wood, the creator is able to stimulate the mind and the soul even of people he has never met and never will meet. And a real work of art does not need a specific set of rules to make it beautiful and understandable. It simply evokes.

Consider this painting.

Link to Image.
Now this I find to be a precarious statement. The premise of the author--to my understanding--is that a good story should "evoke" something in you as a reader. Now evoking something in me is all well and good. However, not all good stories evoke something in me. At least at first reading. "Evoking" something in me is an emotion. What if I was having a bad day? What if my critical reader lens wasn't "on" that day (or worse, what if it was indeed turned "on")? Better yet, what if the piece did evoke something in me, but it's not due to the text but rather to an unrelated external source (maybe the work reminded me of my crush, my birthday, or simply a dream of mine)?

For example, as a kid, I loved reading Tom Swift novels. These days, after reading a wide variety of texts, I've come to realize that it doesn't have the same charm as it used to have. Usage of needless adverbs for example. Or repetitive formula. Sure, the text evoked something in me as a young adult, now not so much. Then take Jeffrey Ford's short story "Creation". It honestly didn't grip me when I first read it. Some months down the line, I reread it again. This time, it blew me away. My emotions towards it were the complete opposite. I started to value the technique he used and the details he incorporated into the text. It wasn't the text that changed, it was me. Did it evoke something in me as a reader? Yes. At a later date, when I had "matured". I'm sure if I give it to someone else, they won't all give a universal response. Some might come to like it a later date like me. Others might appreciate it the first time they read it. See the problem with using something like "it simply evokes" to gauge a text? If you qualify it ("this horror story evokes horror in me") it can work but not a broad statement like "it simply evokes".

I don't disagree with everything the Sassy Lawyer said. "Whether through words or paint or clay or wood, the creator is able to stimulate the mind and the soul even of people he has never met and never will meet." is a powerful statement that I agree. Is it true all the time? No. And neither is the statement "And a real work of art does not need a specific set of rules to make it beautiful and understandable."

In a craft like fiction writing, there are indeed some "rules" such as good grammar and correct spelling although of course, there will be exceptions (Flowers for Algernon comes to mind). And then there are some "guidelines" or "best practices" such as "don't use cliches" or "show don't tell". While "don't use cliches" or "show don't tell" are advice many writers give, there are various texts that break that rule and make them effective (Lolita for example is a good example of the former). However, just because there are exceptions to so-called rules doesn't mean you should arbitrarily break them. Part of the charm of sonnets for example is that they indeed have "rules". That's not to say they work solely because they follow the rules, but rather they work in conjunction of the rules associated with them. Does "real art" need rules? Some do. Some don't. It varies with the text, not just because they follow or break rules.
I was in the fourth grade when I first saw this image. I didn’t know what it was called, I didn’t know who painted it. But the image was so strong, and provocative, that I found myself interpreting what it could mean without really intending to.
No arguments here. However, I'd like to point out that the picture doesn't "evoke" anything in me, either when I initially saw the painting or after reading the essay. Does it make the painting "worthless?"
I was in second year in high school when I saw the painting again. It was an elective class, forgot what it was called, but it was mostly about visual and written art. In that class, the image was presented with a lot of information — it was painted by Salvador Dali, it was called The Persistence of Memory, that it meant a lot of things including life, anxiety and even Einstein’s theory of relativity.

As far as I was concerned, imposing those interpretations was limiting our young minds. Instead of allowing us students to look at the painting with an open mind, we were being forced to appreciate it based on accepted standards. Later on, I realized that the teacher, a Miss SantibaƱez, was just imposing her limited thinking on us. She did not have the capacity to give it an original interpretation, perhaps, she didn’t even know such a thing was possible, so she could only resort to published, and already accepted, interpretations.
First, are the teaching methods experienced by the author questionable? Perhaps. Let's assume "yes" for the sake of expediency. I'm not a fan of such teaching myself and experienced the results first-hand. However, having said that, I will not over-generalize that every educator practices such methods. I'd also like to point out that at the end of the day, sometimes it's more the fault of the school system (and not, say, the "high-brows", unless the author would like to give us her definition of who the "high-brows" comprise of because I'm working with the assumption that the high-brows are the Literati based on her previous essay). Not to digress too much, in a system which values "grading" rather than discussion, debate, or independent thinking (I'm sorry but while it is possible to have discussion, debate, and independent thinking in the typical classroom set-up, at the end of the semester, a lot of people--but there will be exceptions of course--are mainly concerned with grades and that can be achieved through other methods such as rote memorization or cheating), there tends to be a need to find an empirical formula for grading, or at least a firm and constant criteria for it (hence the value of a syllabus). That's well and good for some subjects which lend themselves well to empirical formulas (i.e. Math and Science) but not so much for more "abstract" subjects (English, Philosophy). Good teachers find a way to reconcile this fact (perhaps grading students based on their line of reasoning rather than the answers themselves). Unfortunately, not all teachers practice that method (or are trained that way) or even if they are, their hands are sometimes tied by their superiors.

Going back to the discussion at hand, was that a fair and just experience? Perhaps not. But again, we can't over-generalize. A second point I'd like to mention is that there's a limit on our interpretations. I do believe in the concept of valid and invalid interpretations. The painting isn't a Rorschach test--there is a limit on what answers are valid. I could for example reason that it is a dystopia, but I can't exactly interpret it as something as specific "the current state of affairs of the Philippine president's sex life".
Literature is no different. When academics insist that there are stringent standards on what constitutes literature, they set limitations on all of us. They stifle creativity and growth. They put our minds in cages. I wonder how many of them are just like Miss SantibaƱez — imposing accepted standards simply because they have neither the guts nor the brains to make their own standards and interpretations. Bato-bato sa langit, ang tamaan mabukulan sana.

It is something I do not want to happen to my children. If reading manga, rather than C. S. Lewis, stimulates their minds better to encourage them to explore other forms of creative work, then they should be free to do so.
The whole Academics/Literati thing is an important matter to discuss but I think the author misses an important aspect of such a system.

I will assume when the Sassy Lawyer talks about Literature with a capital L, she is talking about canon. For the record, with regards as to what works are considered canon and which aren't, there is a long debate on that and one that I think will never end (should we for example consider material exclusively for its quality or do we make concessions such as gender, ethnicity, time period, historical/cultural value, popularity, etc.?). Having said that, at the end of the day, when people talk about canon works, there might be some books that we like to be included but aren't, or dislike certain specific titles, but overall, they get more things right than wrong. I don't think there's any single person who'll agree 100% with the texts that make it to the canon.

Of course as individuals, no one is forcing you to read (or like) the canon. I certainly have my own opinions on what works are good and what aren't--and so should you. However, having said that, there are also works that I might not like, but I can certainly appreciate, respect, or understand why it made it to the list of canon (that's not to say I'm ignorant of the flaws of the work--it made it to the canon list despite its flaws). And unfortunately, the reality is that if for example I made a hypothetical list of canon books to read, no one will adhere to it (and why would they? Who am I anyway?), an undeniable influence the canon-makers wield in terms of the academia.

A canon list however gives common ground for everyone else. When I utter a name like "Shakespeare", at least I can be sure that people are peripherally aware of him (but yes, it does give rise to the effect "Shakespeare is good even if I've never read him") and most probably tackled him in high school English class (hopefully).

Moreover, if you absolutely abhor the canon list, then don't read it. Or better yet, bring it up with the institution that's forcing you or your child to read them. Remember, no one is forcing your kid to study in -insert school here-. You're the one who enrolled your kid in -insert school here-. If their educational standards don't meet yours, either look for a different school or home-school your child. If neither is an option, well, then you'll just have to make the decision whether to accept the good with the bad of -insert school here-.

Feature: Interview with Eric Marin

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Eric Marin is the publisher/editor of Lone Star Stories and the upcoming The Lone Star Stories Reader. He also has a number of fiction and poetry that have seen print in other publications.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, you're best known for the online magazine Lone Star Stories. What made you decide to start such a venture?

You're welcome, Charles, and thanks for the interview!

I started Lone Star Stories for two reasons. First, I wanted to publish an SF/F magazine back in college but did not have the money to do so. Some eleven years later, I realized that the web allowed me to start an e-zine with very little capital and keep it going for a long period of time with a small amount of money (compared to a print publication). Second, as a writer and reader, I saw some cool online and electronic venues back in 2003, but I also saw a lot of badly run, low quality e-zines. I thought to myself, "Hey, I can do that, and I can do it well." I asked questions of other editors and publishers, did a lot of research and planning, and then started the webzine. I knew it would be tough. (I still remember someone taking bets on how long it would take for Lone Star Stories to fold after I announced the creation of the webzine.) However, I was determined to make it work. So far, it has.

One of the problems when starting a publication is drawing some popular authors to contribute yet in your first issue, you have the likes of Jay Lake, Chris Roberson, and Kevin J. Anderson. Was it easy getting them to write for your magazine?

First, let me clarify something: while Kevin Anderson did send me a cool tale for the first issue, he is not the Kevin J. Anderson who has published numerous science fiction novels. I was, however, very fortunate to receive submissions from Jay Lake and Chris Roberson. Chris was kind enough to send me his tale unsolicited, while Jay responded to a request from me. I think it helped that both Chris and Jay liked the original Texas theme of Lone Star Stories. All of the stories in the first issue were written before Lone Star Stories was started, so I didn't have to worry about asking the authors for work custom-written for the webzine. (In fact, William Goyen was long dead, so asking would have been rather . . . challenging. I just had to negotiate the reprint rights from his estate's agent.)

What are some of the challenges you faced (past and present) in running Lone Star Stories? Is it a one-man outfit?

Yes, Lone Star Stories is run by me alone, and it has been since the start. That meant I had to learn everything myself: slush-reading and responding to submissions, editing, proofing, basic intellectual property and publishing contracts knowledge (made easier by my legal training), acquiring interesting public domain art to include with the works I published, basic web design and online issue formatting, and marketing. A lot of that involved serious trial and error and effort on my part. At the start, though, the tallest hurdle was finding enough quality fiction I liked to publish a complete issue. I was always running up on the publication deadline (the first day of every other month beginning with the first issue going live on February 1, 2004) with at least one fiction slot empty. I had to ask authors for work a lot in the first year, and I asked very, very nicely. Several authors agreed to send me work over time, and I managed to make every deadline. However, I realized within a few months that my Texas connection theme was not generating enough work to keep the webzine going. So, I broadened the Lone Star Stories theme to any type of speculative fiction (and speculative poetry by that point). That made all of the difference. I still had to ask authors off and on for work, but I received enough cool stuff in my in-box to keep Lone Star Stories going.

What's your criteria when choosing which works to accept? Do you have a conscious editorial agenda?

I look for well-written stories and poems incorporating or referencing elements of the fantastic, futuristic, mythic, etc. that engage me right from the start and keep me engaged to the end. That's pretty much my agenda, as that selection process appears to draw new readers and keep them coming back to the site as new work is published.

You're one of the venues that publishes speculative fiction poetry. Do you have anything to comment with regards to that particular field?

Speculative poetry is an area that gets little notice in the SF/F/H community or in the literary community, which is unfortunate, because there's some amazing speculative verse out there. I publish speculative poetry in Lone Star Stories because I want to expose readers to that work. (Along those lines, I was very happy to learn that a poem published in Lone Star Stories last year, Sonya Taaffe's "Follow Me Home," will be reprinted in the The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror #21.) I would refer those interested in learning more to the Wikipedia entry on speculative poetry here: and to the Science Fiction Poetry Association's site here:

What's your take on online publishing? Is it feasible, the wave of the future, or a new medium to go side-by-side with print?

Online publishing is still in its early childhood stage, but it's growing fast. I don't think that online publishing or even electronic publishing in general will supplant print publishing anytime soon, but I expect that it will eventually. I'm certainly enjoying my present involvement in electronic publishing.

On the business side of things, how do you maintain Lone Star Stories? Is it simply money out of your pocket and a hobby or are you going to try out a business model that will make it a self-sustaining business?

I pay for Lone Star Stories out of my own pocket, which is something I can afford to do because of my full time law practice. It helps that I keep costs low, but that translates into lower-than-I-would-prefer pay rates for fiction and poetry. I am working to build the reputation of Lone Star Stories over time with the hope that I will find a way to leverage the growing readership of Lone Star Stories into a sustainable funding source to pay authors and poets more for their work.

Can you tell us more about your newly established LSS Press?

LSS Press is intended to provide a book length, print and e-book publishing avenue for Lone Star Stories works and, sometime in the future, original speculative fiction and poetry. The first, still-in-development LSS Press project is the The Lone Star Stories Reader, an anthology of fiction selected from the first 25 issues of Lone Star Stories. I plan to publish additional Lone Star Stories-derived anthologies in the future. My goals for the press are to garner more attention for Lone Star Stories and to raise funds for future LSS Press projects and for Lone Star Stories.

What was your criteria in choosing the stories for The Lone Star Stories Reader? What made you decide to finally take your stories to print?

I selected fantastic/weird fiction from the first 25 issues of Lone Star Stories that works together thematically, that has not yet appeared in print, and that gives a strong taste of the type of work I publish in Lone Star Stories. As I noted above, I am saving other, nifty Lone Star Stories work (science fiction, poetry, etc.) for future anthologies.

I had planned on publishing an anthology of Lone Star Stories works in print and e-book formats eventually, and I felt comfortable with making the plan a reality with a pool of 75 stories to consider for an anthology.

What got you into science-fiction and fantasy? Who are some of your favorite authors (or what are some of your favorite books/stories)?

I started reading fantasy and science fiction at age nine when my father was reading The Lord of the Rings to me and my brother. I decided I couldn't wait to see what happened next and began to read ahead. After finishing the trilogy, I moved on to works by Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Madeleine L'Engle, and others, eventually reading adult fantasy and science fiction. I read all genres of fiction in novel form, but I always enjoyed fantasy and science fiction the most, although my tastes in science fiction and fantasy have changed over time.

I'm not sure I have favorite authors or books so much as a long list of authors whose work I admire and enjoy. Not counting all of the terrific writers and poets I have published in Lone Star Stories, I quite like the work of Elizabeth Bear, Steven Brust, Emma Bull, Theodora Goss, Ellen Kushner, Kelly Link, George R. R. Martin, Terry Pratchett, Michael Swanwick, Gene Wolfe, and a list of other authors too long for this interview.

Let's talk about your writing. Not to box you in or anything but right now, do you see yourself more of a writer/poet or an editor/publisher? Lately, which endeavor do you find yourself devoting more time to?

I definitely see myself as more of an editor/publisher than a poet/writer at present. I wrote a great deal of short fiction and poetry from 2003 to 2005 or so, but my interest in writing waned, while my interest in editing and publishing continued (and perhaps increased). I spend most of my creative time with Lone Star Stories and The Lone Star Stories Reader, but I still write on occasion. (My interest in writing seems to be returning, so I may become more productive on that front.)

What made you decide to write speculative fiction poetry? Which is harder for you, writing fiction or poetry? So far, what field are you finding yourself more success in?

I had written speculative free verse and haiku poetry off and on since college but never thought about writing it for publication until I started reading it online in 2003. I started playing around with it, sent some of it off, and discovered that editors liked it enough to buy it. That got me actively writing it, and, although I've slowed down a whole lot since 2005 or so, I still enjoy writing speculative poetry.

Writing poetry is much easier than writing fiction for me. In terms of publication success, I seem to have placed a little more poetry than fiction, although I've not been very active in submitting my work for a while now.

Considering you've published a wide variety of authors and poets, have you considered publishing your own work?

Only long enough to realize it would be a bad idea. I wouldn't be able to be objective about the quality of my own work.

How is it trying to get your own work published by others? Are you still actively pursuing a writing career? (If so, where can we read some of your upcoming work?)

As noted above, I am not a very active submitter any longer. However, when I do submit works for publication (almost all poetry), I receive the same responses I always have: some rejections and some acceptances. My most recent sale was a short poem, "A Fate Avoided," which will appear in a future issue of Ideomancer.

Several years down the line, where do you hope to be? (Writer, publisher, editor, some combination of all three, or pursuing something entirely different?)

I hope to remain a combination of editor, publisher, and writer/poet (although I'd like to be writing more in the future than I am now).

Any advice for aspiring writers/poets?

Read a wide variety of fiction and poetry with an eye toward improving your own writing; keep submitting to respected markets, even if you feel like you could wallpaper your bathroom with rejection letters and emails; and remember that many times a rejection is a subjective decision on the part of an editor, not a judgment of your ability as a writer or of the quality of your work.

Any advice for aspiring editors/publishers?

Do your homework. Ask (politely) editors and publishers you respect about what they do, how they do it, and the paths they took to reach their current positions. Gain an understanding of the time, money, and energy needed for the editing/publishing work you would like to do.

Do you have any weird legal advice for us?

If anyone offers to sell you real estate on an extraterrestrial body such as Mars, politely decline the offer, then go share the information with a government attorney who works in the consumer protection arena.

Anything else you'd like to plug?

Something I've heard and read many times is that cool fiction and poetry gets read when it receives positive word-of-mouth and the electronic equivalent. So, I urge the readers of this interview to let people know via blog, email, or in person when when they read something they really like. Everyone benefits from recommendations of nifty work.