About Writers, book reviews, inspiration, Poetry, Stories, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Probing Dhalgren

“Be glad you’re not just a character scrawled in the margins of somebody else’s lost notebook: you’d be deadly dull.”

The first time I read Samuel R. Delaney’s masterpiece, I didn’t know a couple of things. In 1975, I was neither privy to writing techniques nor did I know that Dhalgren would become recognized as one of the most profound science fiction novels of all time. I was simply riveted by the setting and the characters. When my Lady gave me an unusual edition this Christmas, I re-read that story I remembered so well from 44 years ago. (It never occurred to me at the time that I would see the year 2020 either, but, that’s another blog.)

If you write sci-fi, then you must attempt to read, or re-read, Dhalgren. If the first scene grabs you, you will be reluctant to put it down 800 pages later. Disclaimer: Like Joyce’s Ulysses, you can’t understand Dhalgren until you’ve read it and once you’ve read it, you can’t explain it. But here are three clues.

Dhalgren presents reality on the edge of perception, before we process it. “Even if the quotidian surface sits on it a bit askew.”

+++Finally Dragon Lady called down: “You still okay…?”
+++“Yeah.” Kidd took a breath. “I’ll tie the rope around him. You can haul him up.” He slipped the rope from under his arms, pulled it over his head, but left it around one shoulder; he stepped forward on the oozy filth, stooped, and tugged a leg from where it had wedged between two blackened bumper plates.
+++“… is he alive?” Thirteen called.
+++Kidd took another breath. “Naw.” He pulled at the arm, got a grip around the chest, which was all soft against him. His own shirt front soaked immediately. Blood dribbled along his forearm. Standing, he dragged the body back a step. A foot caught, pulled free; the leg fell back against his thigh — his thigh wet, warm, to the knee. Dragging it, limp, reaching for the rope, he thought: Is this what turns on blood and blade freaks? He thought of Tak, he thought of George, hunted in himself for any idle sexuality: he found it, disconcertingly, a small warmth above the loins that, as he bared his teeth and the rope slid through his sticky hand, went out. “Let me have another couple of feet!” Well, he had found it before in auto wrecks, in blue plush, in roots, in wet wood with the bark just stripped.

In that moment before we process reality, censorship is not possible.

Often, the real world occurs on the edge of a dream.

Ahead, he could see the taller buildings. Smoke had gnawed away the upper stories. Stealthily, he descended into the injured city.
It does not offer me any protection, this mist; rather a refracting grid through which to view the violent machine, explore the technocracy of the eye itself, spelunk the semi-circular canal. I am traveling my own optic nerve.

Note the slip from third person into first person.

The story is show-no-tell to the point where the reader knows no more than is seen through the eyes of the main character, who struggles to understand what he is experiencing.

The smoke was so thick he wondered if the glass were opaque and he only misremembered it as clear–
Well–” Madam Brown pushed open the cracked door– “what do you think of the Richards after your first day on the job?”
“I don’t think anything.” Kidd stretched in the over-thick night. “I’m just an observer.”

In the end, each reader is left with their own thoughts about Dhalgren. “I would never presume to say what they meant,” Ernest Newboy, the poet, says when asked what poems mean. To me, Dhalgren is epic poetry in prose.

And that’s all I got; three clues and an ongoing fascination. What did you take away from this novel?

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

A Year In Review

 – by Adam Stump

Looking back over 2019, it was a pretty successful year for me, as a writer. I had eight pieces of fiction published and edited several works, including an anthology that spent a month as the #1 bestselling anthology on Kindle (I wasn’t the sole editor, or even head editor on that project, though). 

However, when 2019 was chugging along, it certainly didn’t seem very productive. Eight published pieces doesn’t even equal one per month, which means that there were far more rejection letters than acceptance letters. To add insult to injury, my family of six spent 18 weeks and 3 days (but who’s counting?) homeless because our previous house was filled with toxic mold and chemicals. In the first two months of 2019, my family lost our health and nearly all of our possessions due to contamination. We literally lived out of a garbage bag suitcase that contained two outfits each.

But we got through it. We received a lot of support and encouragement from a handful of very good, very true friends. We were able to stay in two rooms of a home that belonged to people who started 2019 as acquaintances but ended 2019 as family. We were able to put a down payment on a safe house that was free of mold and other toxins. I was able to remodel said house (some projects still aren’t completed–just ask my wife), and we were able to move in and start replacing some lost possessions (we still don’t have dressers and lamps or bookcases in most rooms, but that’s ok).

Through all of this, I carried my laptop with me and faithfully clicked away at the keyboard, sometimes at 2AM while my family slept. I definitely produced more than a dozen stories during 2019. Some of those are some of my best (in my opinion), but all have a different feel to them than the stories I wrote in 2018 or even the ones I’ve written so far in 2020. They’re raw, gritty, dark, and often pessimistic. They’re not a reflection of who I was in 2019. In fact, I would say that, through everything, I was pretty optimistic and hopeful in 2019. I had to be for my family. However, those stories allowed an outlet for the terror, anger, and frustration that I felt so that my family didn’t have to experience it.

Looking back at that time, I can honestly say that it was not just productive, but therapeutic. I would never want to relive 2019, but I’m glad that I lived it once and that I made it through. In hindsight, it was just as bad as it seemed while living through it, but it produced a phenomenal amount of personal growth.

Perhaps you’re going through a difficult time or a dry spell. Maybe you’ve experienced staggering loss. I would encourage you: don’t give up. Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop living, even if you feel like you’re dying. If you bottle everything up, you probably won’t make it–I know that I wouldn’t have made it. Let it out. Hammer away at the keyboard. It’s cathartic. Not only that, your writing will produce a psychological journal of your life’s journey that, on the other side, will produce a cohesive whole.

In retrospect, 2019 was like living through the testing of purgatory, but the benefit of going through purgatory is that it purifies you for heaven. I’m a stronger person and, I believe, a stronger writer because of 2019. I hope that my readers will feel the same way and be encouraged to keep writing their stories. On the other side, I think that they’ll be glad that they did.

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About Writers, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Bestselling author Mary Higgins Clark dies at 92 in Naples

NEW YORK (AP) — Mary Higgins Clark, the tireless and long-reigning “Queen of Suspense” whose tales of women beating the odds made her one of the world’s most popular writers, died Friday at age 92.

Her publisher, Simon & Schuster, announced that she died of natural causes in Naples, Florida.

“Nobody ever bonded more completely with her readers than Mary did,” her longtime editor Michael Korda said in statement. “She understood them as if they were members of her own family. She was always absolutely sure of what they wanted to read — and, perhaps more important, what they didn’t want to read — and yet she managed to surprise them with every book.”

Widowed in her late 30s with five children, she became a perennial bestseller over the second half of her life, writing or co-writing “A Stranger Is Watching,” “Daddy’s Little Girl” and more than 50 other favorites. Sales topped 100 million copies and honors came from all over, including a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from France or a Grand Master statuette back home from the Mystery Writers of America. Many of her books, like “A Stranger is Watching” and “Lucky Day,” were adapted for movies and television. She also collaborated on several novels with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark.

Mary Higgins Clark specialized in women triumphing over danger, such as the besieged young prosecutor in “Just Take My Heart” or the mother of two and art gallery worker whose second husband is a madman in “A Cry in the Night.” Clark’s goal as an author was simple, if rarely easy: Keep the readers reading.

“You want to turn the page,” she told The Associated Press in 2013. “There are wonderful sagas you can thoroughly enjoy a section and put it down. But if you’re reading my book, I want you stuck with reading the next paragraph. The greatest compliment I can receive is, ‘I read your darned book ‘til 4 in the morning, and now I’m tired.’ I say, ‘Then you get your money’s worth.’”

Her own life taught her lessons of resilience — strengthened by her Catholic faith — that she shared with her fictional heroines. She was born Mary Higgins in 1927 in New York City, the second of three children. She would later take the last name Clark after marriage. Her father ran a popular pub that did well enough for the family to afford a maid and for her mother to prepare meals for strangers in need. But business slowed during the Great Depression, and her father, forced to work ever longer hours as he laid off employees, died in his sleep in 1939. One of her brothers died of meningitis a few years later. Surviving family members took on odd jobs and had to rent out rooms in the house.

Clark had always loved to write. At age 6, she completed her first poem, which her mother proudly requested she recite in front of the family. A story she wrote in grade school impressed her teacher enough that Clark read it to the rest of the class. By high school, she was trying to sell stories to True Confessions magazine.

After working as a hotel switchboard operator — Tennessee Williams was among the guests she eavesdropped on — and a flight attendant for Pan American, she married Capital Airways regional manager Warren Clark in 1949. Throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s, she raised their children, studied writing at New York University and began getting stories published.

Some stories drew upon her experiences at Pan American. Another story, which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, “Beauty Contest at Buckingham Palace,” imagined a pageant featuring Queen Elizabeth II, Jackie Kennedy and Princess Grace of Monaco. But by the mid-60s, the magazine market for fiction was rapidly shrinking and her husband’s health was failing; Warren Clark died of a heart attack in 1964.

Clark quickly found work as a script writer for “Portrait of a President,” a radio series on American presidents. Her research inspired her first book, a historical novel about George and Martha Washington. She was so determined that she began getting up at 5 a.m., working until nearly 7 a.m. before feeding her children and leaving for work.

“Aspire to the Heavens” was published in 1969. It was “a triumph,” she recalled in her memoir “Kitchen Privileges,” but also a folly. The book’s publisher was sold near the release date and it received little attention. She regretted the title and learned that some stores placed the book in religious sections. Her compensation was $1,500, minus commission. Decades later, the novel would be reissued, far more successfully, as “Mount Vernon: A Love Story.”

For her next book, she wanted to make some money. Following a guideline she would often suggest to other writers, she looked at her bookshelves, which featured novels by Agatha Christie, Rex Stout and other mystery writers, and decided she should write the kind of book she liked to read. A recent tabloid trial about a young woman accused of murdering her children gave her an idea.

“It seemed inconceivable to most of us that any woman could do that to her children,” Mary Clark wrote in her memoir. “And then I thought: Suppose an innocent young mother is convicted of the deliberate murder of her two children; suppose she gets out of prison on a technicality; and then suppose seven years to the day, on her 32nd birthday, the children of her second marriage disappear.”

In September 1974, she sent her agent a manuscript for “Die a Little Death,” acquired months later by Simon & Schuster for $3,000. Renamed “Where are the Children?” and released in 1975, it became her first bestseller and began her long, but not entirely surprising, run of success. She would allege that a psychic had told her she would become rich and famous.

Clark, who wrote well into her 90s, more than compensated for her early struggles. She acquired several homes and for a time owned part of the New Jersey Nets. She was among a circle of authors, including Lee Child and Nelson DeMille, who regularly met for dinner in Manhattan. She also had friends in Washington and was a White House guest during the presidential administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Barbara Bush became a close friend.

Married since 1996 to former Merrill Lynch Futures CEO John J. Conheeney, Clark remembered well the day she said goodbye to hard times. It was in April 1977, and her agent had told her that Simon & Schuster was offering $500,000 for the hardcover to her third novel, “A Stranger is Watching,” and that the publisher Dell was paying $1 million for the paperback. She had been running her own script production company during the day and studying for a philosophy degree at Fordham University at night, returning home to New Jersey in an old car with more than 100,000 miles on it.

“As I drove onto the Henry Hudson Parkway, the tailpipe and muffler came loose and began dragging on the ground. For the next 21 miles, I kur-plunked, kur-plunked, all the way home,” she wrote in her memoir. “People in other cars kept honking and beeping, obviously sure that I was either too stupid or too deaf to hear the racket.

“The next day I bought a Cadillac!”

– from the Naples Daily News, February 2, 2020

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Uncategorized

River Boat Books Fundraiser

River Boat Books is asking for help through a fundraiser that I (Rick Harsch) believe deserves the attention of all literary people large and small. Recently I gave to KAYA Press because it came to my attention and they are responsible for keeping such luminaries as Sesshu Foster in print, and was too late to give to another one that was a Kickstarter for the publication of a single book written in 1933 I had never heard of that several dedicated readers raised the money to get published.

Rather than tiring of these pesky monetary cries for help (though I would rather the lit market were not so pyramidal and shot through with Amazonovirus), I am heartened that literary people on the receiving end, the reading and buying end, are joining writers in disseminating books on this necessary smaller level. I was communicating with a virtually unknown novelist the other day who told me that he and his wife contacted 200 literary agencies and got two form replies. Writers are not just writing, people you haven’t heard of are submitting their books to 100 publishers (George Salis, who’s excellent first novel Sea Above, Sun Below is coming out from River Boat Books this May was recognized on submission 101–and advance reviewers are confirming the decision of River Boat). So it ain’t just old-timers like myself pushing that one last magnum opus and I will tell you that I have it on good authority that my Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas is a great work of modern American literature and deserves attention–but as we pale and fade, we need to put the last of our decades of energy into every literary effort that supports the little feller.

River Boat is doing this on many fronts. First, the press has taken a principled stand against the page-eating Amazon virus. The press will not work with Amazon. Amazon earns less than 7% of its profits from book sales, yet virtually controls what a vast majority of readers find available. River Boat Books this year is introducing, aside from Salis, four more excellent novelists, all to be published for the first time, and all the advance reviews of all the books have been of the highest order.

Last year, River Boat Books quietly made English literary history, publishing the first English translation of the entirety of Roberto Arlt’s seminal work The Seven Madmen/The Flamethrowers, one book that until last year was only half available in English. This is a book that was of importance to Borges, Cortázar, Piglia, and probably any 20th-century Latin American writer you can name. But the size of River Boat Books, a small press after all, works against it and publicity has been hard to come by. Arlt belongs in thousands of libraries that don’t know it exists. Yet on the ground level, maybe the underground level, word about River Boat Books is beginning to leak out–apt metaphor, for such word is also a flotation device.

Readers, writers who read, and reviewers are beginning to notice River Boat Books. For instance, check out Chris Via, who produces review segments on YouTube that go by the name Leaf by Leaf. You’ll find several mentions of River Boat Books right in there with his excellent reviews of Robert Musil, Haruki Murakami, Rikki Ducornet, and others. I urge you to browse the River Boat site, look into the fascinating origin story of the epic masterpiece The Mad Patagonian. See what else is coming. What’s all the late fuss about Skulls of Istria? Where did they find George Salis and Erik Martiny, much less the perverse and indomitable David Vardeman? Literature will thrive, and we’ve seen from numerous examples in the past 75 years that it will do so because of small presses and the efforts of people with no power in the publishing industry. Thank you.

In 2016, after twenty years developing a very small press, after publishing one book that was a 1997 Minnesota Book Award Finalist and another that was named to the unofficial long list for the 2010 National Book Award, Peter Damian Bellis decided he needed to expand River Boat Books if he wanted to truly leave a mark on American publishing.  Publishing a few great books was simply not enough.”

Read more about the press and the fundraiser here:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-river-boat-books-win-the-war-against-amazon

Please share this widely for the sake of literature. Small presses keep literature alive.

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publishing, Stories

Would you like to be a literary judge?

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Before we started The Rabbit Hole here at the Writers’ Co-op, I edited three anthologies called the Book a Break. They contained stories selected from submissions to a literary competition I ran, which attracted a fair bit of attention. I’ve now compiled all the stories into a bumper edition called 83 because, well, there are 83 stories in it. The aim now is to produce a Best of the Book a Break compilation. For that, the 83 stories will be whittled down to 40 or so, comprising those already commended plus 20 to 25 others, selected from the 58 other stories.

I could of course decide myself which stories to include. But as these things are subjective, I’d feel more serene if I had a few other opinions. So here’s your chance to be a literary judge. It’s very simple – all you need do is give a mark out of 5 to each of the 58 stories.

What do the judges get? A list of simple criteria to help them decide (see below), a free copy of the 83 stories, plenty of time to read them (the stories have a 2000 word limit, and the deadline is 31st April) and their name credited in the Best of the Book a Break compilation. The proceeds go to the Against Malaria Foundation.

Interested? Drop me a line via the contact page on this site.

 

Guidelines:
5: Yes! Took me straight into its world and left me thinking about it afterwards.
4: Great story – characters, dialogue and narrative all very well done. Comic, dramatic or disturbing, it hit the mark.
3: Good story, nicely told, but lacking that extra bit that would make it sparkle.
2: A bit hit and miss but enjoyable all the same.
1: Mildly interesting, but didn’t really work for me.
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humor, Uncategorized, writing technique

WRITING FUNNY

 – from the editors of Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine

Humor is as spontaneous as slipping on a banana peel. At the core of every joke, somebody is hurt who didn’t see it coming.

Humor is cathartic. 9/11 happened right after the staff of the online satire newspaper, The Onion, moved to New York. They worried, “Can we be funny?” Their writers satirized the hijackers as being tortured in Christian Hell by demons. The God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule issue was a smash hit. Fan mail showed that readers found release in ridiculing the terrorists.

Humor has sharply defined limits, as a French comedian discovered when he was charged with “defending terrorists” for his comment about a video. The video showed ISIS beheading a Frenchman. The comedian quipped, “It’s in the French tradition.” Now, I thought that funny because I’m not French. But know your readers. Don’t pull a Gilbert Gottfried. A couple weeks after 9/11, he performed at the roast of Hugh Hefner telling a New York audience, “I have to leave early tonight, I have a flight to California. I can’t get a direct flight — they said I have to stop at the Empire State Building first.” Gilbert immediately knew he’d blundered, “I don’t think anyone’s lost an audience bigger than I did at that point. They were booing and hissing.” Being offensive is not funny. Keep in mind that humor must be perceived as funny.

The dictionary first defines humor as a quality that makes something laughable or amusing. Duh! A more useful definition follows: “The ability to perceive, enjoy, or express what is amusing, comical, incongruous, or absurd.” Not much better, but at least it shows that funny requires agreement. The author perceives something funny and the reader finds it amusing. Show your work to others before deciding it’s funny.

Two things on “how.” Humor has to connect with your audience. George Carlin knew this. “There was about a two-year period at the end of the ’60s, when I realized I was in the wrong place and entertaining the wrong people with the wrong material and that I was not being true to myself.” It can’t be forced. Steven Wright knows this. “I don’t go off and sit down and try to write material, because then it’s contrived and forced. I just live my life, and I see things in a word or a situation or a concept, and it will create a joke for me.”

So, our advice to authors is to simply relax. Write funny speculative fiction that offers your readers some cathartic release in this fucked-up world. And remember, you can’t know something is funny until you laugh at it. Humor is as spontaneous to the writer as it is to the reader.

Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine
Issue 2 is at the publishers!
Now accepting stories for Issue 3 http://scifilampoon.com/submissions/

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Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology

Rabbit Hole 3: Call for Submissions

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The Writers’ Co-op invites submissions of short stories (and poems) for the third edition of our yearly anthology, The Rabbit Hole, scheduled for release in September 2020.

This year marks a new departure, in which we explore how ‘weird’ fits into a genre. And we’re kicking off with ‘romance’. Do your aliens fall in love? Is your young hero consumed, swallowed and digested by desire? Does your ageing husband bring his passion back to life only to find it’s not what he thought it would be? The possibilities are endless.

Perhaps you never read romance. Perhaps you’ve never written it. So much the better! Who knows what lies outside the box? Couples who’ve escaped from it, couples desperate to get in. Couples who may not be couples at all, or if they are, they’re certainly very weird: Narcissus and his reflection, God and the Virgin Mary, Eija-Riitter Berliner-Mauer (who fell in love with the Berlin Wall, but when it got torn down started dating a garden fence)…  Or male and female in one – what could be weirder than that? Do you know the Potter Angelfish? It starts life as a female, then switches over to male – a handy technique used by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, though in the opposite direction.

I’ll stop there. You’ve got the idea. In fact I’m sure you’ve got plenty, and you don’t need me to give you more. Simply bear in mind that ‘weird’ doesn’t always mean outlandish – it can be subtle, discreet, even furtive. Witty too, or burlesque – we’re always open to humour. Or even, at a stretch, humor. We look forward to discovering whatever means you choose to warp, subvert, disfigure, disguise or otherwise befuddle the concept of romance.

There is a maximum word count of 5000. This is more a guideline than a strict limit – quality is the main criterion, not length. So a great story will be accepted, whether it’s 6000 words or 200 (flash fiction is welcome). But we’re looking for short stories, not novellas or extracts from novels – the story should be complete in itself. Though the anthology will be comprised mostly of stories, there will also be room for some poems or pieces of an experimental nature.

The deadline is 31st March 2020. Submissions should be sent in an attached file to curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com with the subject ‘Co-op submission’. They may have been previously published on personal websites (or elsewhere) but authors must have full rights to them when submitting. Authors will retain said rights after the story or poem is published in the Writers’ Co-op anthology.

Writers whose stories are selected will have the choice between keeping their share of the royalties or donating them to the Against Malaria Foundation.

To get an idea of type of stories published so far, you can get The Rabbit Hole volume one and The Rabbit Hole Volume two at a special discount price of $1.99 (until 31st January).

web cover                           Rabbit Hole V2 jpeg.jpg

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