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Whee! Today, Alan M. Clark and I are doing a blog-exchange to co-promote our new titles, both out through LFP! Alan’s here, and I’m over on his blog, “The Imagination Fully Dilated.” Pop on over there afterwards, why don’t you?

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I met Molly Tanzer online after she read and commented on my historical fiction novel, Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Jack the Ripper Victim. This year Molly and I discovered that we were both writing within historical settings, and we agreed to serve as readers for each others’ developing work. Both Molly’s book, A Pretty Mouth, and my novel, A Parliament of Crows, are historical fiction, both inspired by real events within history. Both books tell dark, disturbing tales, hers an erotic horror, mine a southern gothic. A Pretty Mouth is sort of a novel in short and long fiction set in England during several different periods, much of it in the 1600s, and A Parliament of Crows is set in various locations within the United States between the time of the American Civil War and the end of the first decade of the twentieth century.

The fun of writing within historical settings is that it’s a bit like time travel. The period a writer chooses for a story will define the characters in it to some extent. Obviously, some experiences we have today are not possible for characters set within a time, say, 100 or 500 years ago. This can present real limitations unless the writer is willing to learn about the period and really open up the character’s world, discover the possibilities, and share that with the reading audience. That’s the time travel I’m talking about. No matter the period, the emotional characteristics of human beings are just as subtle and complex as those of human beings today. The everyday realities and events that shape their feelings and motivations can be very different, however. In creating characters, I try to take advantage of the similarities and the differences, setting up parallels and contrasts with what we know today to express something about human experience. If done right, a reader gets to time-travel too, experiencing a long lost world through the eyes of a character they can understand emotionally, even if the character’s feelings and outlook are shaped by a different time.

A Pretty Mouth was so well realized that it sent me back in time, and allowed me to view a bizarre and terrifying world through the eyes of fascinating, very human characters.

Another thing Molly and I discovered about our writing this year was that both of us were writing about twins.  A Pretty Mouth has a supernatural genetic line of evil twins. My novel, A Parliament of Crows, has one set of evil twins whose connection to one another has a supernatural aspect. I thought my twins could use a hint of long, dark genetic history, and suggested to Molly that we might create a connection. Adding more evil twins to her character’s lineage was desirable to her, so she agreed to creating a tiny link between the projects with one or two sentences in each. To get there, we traded messages via facebook “chat,” looking for a solution that was both minimal, but undeniable. I had fun, and I think she did as well. [I did indeed! –Molly] I could almost hear her laughing in her messages. The lines we added had to be of a sort that would not confuse and would not distract a reader from the story at hand, but would be an Easter egg for those who read both books. I’m curious to see who will be the first to notice.

—Alan M. Clark

MileHiCon! It’s that time of the year again, when nerds of all sorts descend upon Denver to wear costumes, go to panels on steampunk, Star Wars, and—looking at the schedule—“Name that Sci Fi Tune.” I had a great time last year, so I’m looking forward to the craziness. I might even dress up, since last year my Han Solo produced many satisfactory interactions, such as two Klingons buying me a beer and teaching me about honor.

But I’ll be doing stuff other than wandering the halls admiring cosplay! Here’s my schedule of events:

Friday, 7 PM in Wind River B: My reading. I’m paired up with Travis Heermann. I’ll probably do some selections from, unsurprisingly, A Pretty Mouth. Oh, and bring 10 bucks if you want to buy a copy! I’ll have ’em.

Friday, 10 PM in Mesa Verde B: The Love and Sex Lives of the Victorians. I’m moderating this. Maybe don’t bring your kids? I personally feel awkward talking about Victorian hand-wringing over childhood masturbation when there are wee ones present.

Sunday, 1 PM in Wind River B: Comedic Elements in Horror. Jesse Bullington’s moderating and Stephen Graham Jones is on the panel, too. Should be a good time!

Sunday, 3 PM in Mesa Verde B: Strong Women in SF. Cheri Priest will be on this panel, too, along with many fine folks.

 I’ll probably be in the bar, otherwise? Please say hi if you see me! I’m looking forward most to seeing old friends and meeting new ones. Aww.

Two announcements re: A Pretty Mouth, my forthcoming debut!

First: I have an uncorrected advance .pdf and will send it out to interested reviewers. It would be super-cool to get some reviews/buzz going for this project, on Amazon (when the page goes up/book comes out, obvs) and around the Webs, so if you like, I dunno, Jeeves stories, Restoration class drama, Re-Animator, sword and sorcery, The Secret History, fops, or Victorian pornography, please consider reviewing the book!

Second: I’m super-happy to report that there’s already some amazing buzz going on around my little project, and my editor, Cameron, has compiled some a list of some of the blurbs on the LFP site. So far, Laird Barron, John Langan, Nick Mamatas, W.H. Pugmire, Nathan Long, Stephen Graham Jones, and several others have had some very kind things to say about A Pretty Mouth. A more complete list can be found via the link above, but here are some quick, fabulous, awesome soundbites:

A Pretty Mouth is a fine and stylish collection that pays homage to the tradition of the weird while blazing its own sinister mark. Tanzer’s debut is as sharp and polished as any I’ve seen.”  —LAIRD BARRON, author of The Croning

“This is form and content and diction and tone and imagination all looking up at the exact same moment: when Molly Tanzer claps once at the front of the classroom.” —STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES, author of Zombie Bake-Off

Tanzer is an ambitious writer, and she is talented enough for her ambition to matter.” —JOHN LANGAN, author of The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies

 

This has certainly been a strangely Lovecraftian year for me! I’m not sure when it began, but so far I’ve placed three Lovecraftian stories, attended/participated in the Lovecraft Film Festival/CthulhuCon, and then this October, my sort-of kind-of Lovecraftian collection, A Pretty Mouth, will be coming out through LFP (a press that, by the bye, has been in the news quite a bit recently! Super-proud of my publisher and my fellow LF author Patrick Wensink).

The first Lovecraftian story I placed is forthcoming in The Book of Cthulhu II, and is one of the pieces that will be in A Pretty Mouth. Super-stoked to work again with Ross Lockhart, who rocks. But since then…

Nate Pederson, working for PS Publishing, is putting together one of the coolest concept anthologies I’ve ever heard of. I was a bit nervous when he contacted me, frankly, but it turns out I acquitted myself well enough that once again my Lovecraftiana is hanging out with stories written by my heroes and peers. Whee!

The Starry Wisdom Library …. well, Nate puts it better than me here:

What if, on the eve of disbanding, the Church of Starry Wisdom organized a rare book auction of the various tomes in their collection? What if the accompanying auction catalogue was privately published and privately circulated, disappearing for over a century until its recent rediscovery in the archives of Miskatonic University?  What if we could read the 1877 original today?

My new (and first) anthology for PS Publishing is just that: a “facsimile” publication of the 19th century auction catalogue, entitled “The Starry Wisdom Library: being a catalogue of the unsurpassed occult library held by the recently disbanded Church of Starry Wisdom, offered for sale at private auction Midsummer’s Eve, 1877 by Messrs Pent & Serenade of Arkham, Mass.” The anthology will be presented and designed exactly like a 19th century book auction catalogue, with entries describing the major books in the Church’s collection, accompanied by essays from “noted scholars” on the history of each dread tome. The “noted scholars” will be contemporary horror and speculative fiction authors.  Their contributions will be similar in length and content to Lovecraft’s own “History of the Necronomicon”, a slightly edited version of which will also appear in the catalogue.

Fuck yes! And fuck yes to Liv Rainey-Smith illustrating it. I was privileged to see her art first-hand at the Lovecraft Film Festival, and it’s perfect. A triple fuck-yes to the list of contributors, among them Ramsey Campbell, Michael Cisco, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Livia Llewellyn, Nick Mamatas, Joe Pulver, and Genevieve Valentine. More on the way, too, from what I hear!

My book was the Hieron Aigypton, one of those myriad way-obscure eldritch tomes that had only the briefest of descriptions: Written by “Anacharsis” around 200 BC, it contained a description of the dreaded ritual called miri nigri, and the “Revelations of Anacharsis.” This vagueness allowed me to do so much with the project that was self-directed and awesome, and I had a lot of fun with it. I’m proud of my piece and I know the whole anthology will be cool and beautiful.

My third Lovecraftian placement this year is my Victorian pornography/Lovecraft mashup about wanton fornication, magic drugs, and tentacles, “Holiday at Two Hoots.” It will be appearing in the anthology Coming Together, Arm in Arm in Arm, a charity anthology of tentacle porn. Proceeds will benefit Oceana, an organization devoted to conservation and protection of the world’s oceans. Fuck yes! I’m really happy to be in this, and I hope anyone who has enjoyed anything I’ve written that’s even mildly naughty picks it up. It’s for a good cause, after all. Here’s the contributor list, and the article about the antho that was featured on io9.

Very happy and proud to be a part of all these project, and I’m very happy indeed to see how beautifully A Pretty Mouth is coming along. I should be able to reveal the cover soon. I’ve seen a draft and it’s stunning. I can’t wait to show the world! But I must, as with all things.

That’s all for now. Be well, and healthy—and read lots of Lovecraft!

Man, what a great con. Probably the best con I’ve ever been to! And not just because Portland is the best city ever: Because the people were all really nice, the programming was fabulous, and most of the films were excellent.

It’s been over a week since I left, but I’ve been in and out of hospitals and trying to help my mother as much as I can while my dad’s going through some challenges with his pancreatic cancer. So rather than doing an articulate, fresh-off-the-high-of-awesomeness post, here were the highlights:

  • Meeting people. I know I’m going to leave someone off and feel bad, but here goes. I got to meet my editor Ross Lockhart from Night Shade, my editor Cameron Pierce from LFP, his wife Kirsten (who’s my copy editor for A PRETTY MOUTH and she is fabulous), and various sundry people I’d only met online before, like Andrew Fuller (the programming chair for the con), Wendy Wagner, who is even more amazing IRL, which I did not think possible, Gwen Callahan, who runs the Arkham Bazaar and also the con itself I believe, Wilum H. Pugmire, a writer I’ve respected for many a year, Cody Goodfellow, who is a hoot, Jay Lake who I met but briefly whilst we were co-paneling, E. Catherine Tobler, who is a Colorado local who I met in Portland for the first time, Jeff Burk, a fellow Bizarro person, Rose O’Keefe, the publisher/CEO at Eraserhead, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, my editor at Innsmouth Free Press. Whew! But seriously, they were all amazing and fabulous and I loved meeting them, getting drinks and eating foods, and generally having a good time. Thanks all of you for making me feel so cool and welcome and one of the group!
  • Watching Stuff. Stuff like Wilum’s reading (fabulous!), stuff like the Editors’ Panel where I got to see Ross, Silvia, E. Catherine, Jeff, and a few other people talk awesomely about publishing. Oh, and movies of course. So many movies! I got to watch The Whisperer In Darkness, which was goddamn fantastic. Wow wow wow. Everyone should see this, it was well-produced, beautifully scripted, the special effects were great, the music was amazing, wow. I was genuinely creeped out at times, and while Lovecraft is great at cosmic horror, he doesn’t really give me, you know, the heebie-jeebies so that’s an accomplishment. I also saw a lot of the shorts, which were on the whole awesome. I liked Coda, a short film the aforementioned Andrew worked on, Re-Animate Her, Black Pharoah, GAMMABedtime for Timmy, The Shadow out of Time, and the fabulous (if baffling) clip from The Evil Clergyman, part of an anthology that is being released later this year. I had mixed feelings about Monsters, I guess, because of a lot of reasons, but it had fabulous special effects so I came away feeling neutral about it. Really the only total dud for me was It’s In the Blood, which I watched because it had Lance Henriksen in it, but oh, dear. Full disclosure: I’m never going to be won over by the premise of “father and son go into the woods to figure out their feelings and talk about dude stuff” so maybe the film just wasn’t for me, but the graphic rape of the only female character, and menacing non-Caucasian villain didn’t help me come away with many positive feelings. Extra points taken off for Lance pretending to be a girl having an orgasm for maybe five exceedingly uncomfortable minutes, and the line “if you want to become a man you have to kill the boy inside you.” Or something. Close enough. But you know, it won an award, so maybe it just wasn’t for me. Fair enough. Anyways, my meh over that film aside, the movies were by and large excellent. John got to see Die Farbe, which he said was awesome, so yay!
  • Foods. Voodoo Doughnuts. Sizzle Pie. Hungry Tiger Too. Sweet Pea. Blossoming Lotus. Some coffee shop with fabulous sandwiches that I can’t for the life of me remember the name of. Some pub with great beer and, unexpectedly, a vegan pot pie. More Voodoo Doughnuts. Fuck yes.
  • Miscellany. The VIP reception. Getting to hang out with everyone at The Moon and Sixpence and Tony Starlight’s and the Lovecraft Bar during afterparty stuff. Hanging out with Bizarro peoples. Getting a Miskatonic University t-shirt. Signing stock at Powell’s. And doing it all with my husband. John had never come to a con with me before, and getting to introduce him to people was amazing.

I want to come back to the Lovecraft Film Festival every year I can. It was so, so fun, and I feel so lucky and honored that I was invited to come speak and read and just simply hang out with such fabulous people. Thank you everyone who was involved in making it such an amazing experience. I miss you so much already—but hope to see you next year!

I posted on Facebook last week that if any of you out there have not yet watched Peter Greenaway’s The The Draughtsman's ContractDraughtsman’s Contract—one of my favorite movies of all time—the whole bally thing is up on YouTube.

It’s a weird movie, unapologetically so, as well as being slow and, I dunno. Tawdry? Maybe that’s the right word. It’s definitely really sexy, or at least full of sex (depending on your perspective/inclinations), so don’t watch it with your parents/kids/nieces and nephews/maiden uncles, unless you have a very different relationship with them than I do with my own. So, yeah. The film as a whole, sex included, will not be everyone’s cuppa of course, but I aspire to write a period piece as awesome as that. It’s my gold standard.

Anyways, the score is super-good, too. Like, I love that movie to pieces, and I consider the score to be one of the best parts. It’s by Michael Nyman, who is a genius of course (he wrote the score to The Piano, The Libertine, and Gattaca; he did a lot on the Ravenous soundtrack, and also wrote an opera based on The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, because why not?). It’s my favorite thing of his he’s done, which is saying something.

Nyman’s score for the film is up on Spotify and YouTube, and though it’s not as complete as I’d like, it’s still amazing and I listen to it all the time. In isolation it makes for wonderful listening; in situ, the score is another character in the film. So, anyways, being the nerd that I am, when I was looking up supplementary information on the movie, I discovered that apparently all the compositions in Nyman’s score are based on “grounds” (a “ground,” to my understanding, is like a “riff” in popular music, but I’m really not musical at all so that might be wrong in some ways) by Henry Purcell and William Croft, period-appropriate composers. Best of all, Wikipedia was kind enough to list the specific songs Nyman is referencing, which meant that I could hop back on Spotify and locate them.

Listening to the tracks side-by-side made for a fascinating listening experience. The original compositions are all beautiful (The Academy of Ancient Music’s rendition of Purcell’s “She Loves and She Confesses Too” with Barbara Bonny’s vocals, in particular, is completely magnificent if you can locate that version, and spellbinding after listening to “The Disposition of the Linen,” Nyman’s interpretation). You can really hear why Nyman selected these pieces in particular, they give The Draughtsman’s Contract the frothy, dark, decadent, dissipated, luscious, and thoroughly-Restoration “feel” it has throughout.

Draughtsman's Contract Still

yes, please. actually, come to think of it, I'll take two...

 

But more than the pleasure of being able to directly experience for myself a source of inspiration for one of my favorite artists of all time (not just “musical artists,” either: artists as a whole), listening to the pieces side-by-side was a weirdly enlightening experience. As a writer whose most popular, well-reviewed story to date is a “riff” on Lovecraftian themes, I understand encountering a piece of art and feeling the need to respond to it in an honest, creative way. I think the enduring popularity of the retold fairy tale speaks to this: Those with a creative streak often desire to play in the same sandbox as other creative types they admire, or take issue with, or whatever. Art can be found anywhere, and inspiration, too, so this makes sense.

But as someone whose musical abilities were never particularly amazing (much to my mother’s dismay—she and my grandmother are fundamentally musical people, whereas I was a mediocre singer and flautist … on a good day) it never really occurred to me that musicians might feel the same need as writers and fine artists to respond to those artists they found inspirational. Other than when listening to samples of this-and-that in rap/hip-hop/techno, and in a jazz class wherein we discussed “riffing” or whatever it’s called, I never really thought much about the way musicians comment on and are inspired by one another. I mean, I knew that musicians took subjects and responded to them musically (Into the Woods, the William Tell Overture, Nyman’s opera based on case studies of neurological abnormalities, etc.) but the notion of hearing something and then feeling an artistic need to reply to it in kind—that absolutely blows my mind.

Perhaps this is nothing new to anyone reading this, but if the idea of musicians pulling a Wide Sargasso Sea seems interesting, unusual, or curious to you, I encourage you to listen to the soundtrack for The Draughtsman’s Contract and then seek out the source compositions and listen to them. At the very least you’ll spend some enjoyable hours listening to gorgeous music…

Nick Mamatas (who wrote Sensation, one of my favorite books I read this year), is really smart. He blogs and writes a lot about writing (I haven’t read Starve Better yet, but it’s on the list as they say), and a few days ago, responding in part to one of the usual kerfuffles over genre vs. literary writing, he said something that (seriously) moved me:

Anyway—here’s a secret. This is what creative writers should be interested in doing. Writing their own best material. Not the most popular thing, or the most acclaimed, or that which will be part of some conversation or leave a mark on this or that genre (including bourgeois realism), but that stuff that is unique to yourself and the complex of life experiences and interests and prior readings and environmental factors of which your writing is an emergent property. Writing is orthogonal to publishing and marketing. It’s also orthogonal to true mass culture. Mass culture only deals with aspects of writing—those aspects that can be reproduced according to the needs of either artisan creation or industrial manufacture. That, being the mass, is what an individual cannot control.

Happy Monday! Let’s all go be productive.

ETA: worst blog post title ever? Mayyyybe!

When I was in fifth grade I got really into dragons. I got into dragons the way some girls get into horses: I had pictures on my walls, read every book I could find in the YA section of the library, drew pictures on all my notebooks, subscribed to catalogues where you could purchase insanely expensive pewter wyverns clutching mystical orbs, you know. The usual stuff. I even kept a journal of my boring tween life—with added dragons. I had a scaly, wingéd, wise-cracking (of course) posse who would follow me around, comment on how boring math class was, etc.

My parents were big fantasy readers, which helped me read my way out of the YA section pretty quickly. My father especially: he has always loved fantasy, the longer and more convoluted/complicated the series the better, and he read a lot because of his constantly needing to travel for work. He brought home oodles of Tor and Ace and Ballantine paperbacks with covers that appealed to me big-time. It’s how I came to read Steven Brust and L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and a host of other writers.

Then my uncle Glenn (another fantasy nerd of legend) sent me a box of books, chock-full of dragonish glory. I still remember the day I got off the bus to find the enormous box sitting in the hallway; opening it up and pawing through the loot. I remember, too, which two books stood out to me the most:

 

It’s probably pretty obvious why I’ve been thinking about that afternoon recently: Darrell K. Sweet and Anne McCaffrey recently passed away. I admit I got a little teary-eyed at the news, both times. Both were incredibly important to me as a young fantasy reader—and a young writer.

Darrell K. Sweet’s artwork captured my imagination before I even realized who he was. His artwork was on the cover of so, so many books I read as a kid and young adult, and my own doodles of dragons were largely inspired by his lizard-faced monsters. He did the covers for the Recluse books as well as Xanth; his image of Gandalf and the Lord of the Eagles graced my cover of The Hobbit. He did the cover for Mercedes Lackey’s The Fire Rose, which I thought was the #1 Top Summer Jam when I read it (okay, I confess … I still have it on the shelf), and he did some covers for Robin McKinley, too. I still love his artwork. They are pure escapist fun, and instantly transport me to other worlds: the bold colors, the stalwart men and women, the reliable horses, the fantasy coaches. The moonlit nightscapes; the golden afternoons in magical woodland realms. They are pictures full of possibility and they ask the important questions, like, say … “Where does this road lead?” “What might we find in that castle across the river?” “Will there be monsters in the craggy snow-capped peaks?” (Yes!) “What wisdom will that dragon offer us?”

And as for Anne McCaffrey … oh my stars. For many years I was firmly convinced Ms. McCaffrey was the greatest writer in the entire goddamn universe. Seriously. I was an unattractive, lonely outcast like so many other nerdy adolescents: I got bullied by awful girls in the locker room and battled the worst acne, lived in an isolated neighborhood without many other kids—let alone ones who shared my interests—and could not dress myself to save my life, which didn’t help the whole “unattractive girl with terrible acne” thing. Her books provided me the escape I needed.

I read most of the Pern books more than once, and obsessively read and re-read the Harper Hall trilogy. Riding the bus, I dreamed of someone coming to take me away from middle school like F’Lar comes for Lessa or T’gran/Masterharper Robinton for Menolly. I spent more than a few hours wondering what color dragon I’d most like to ride, whether I’d rather be a harper with fire lizards or a dragonrider, made klah, etc. I bought The Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern with my allowance. I got a perm, because if there is one thing old covers for Anne McCaffrey novels will inspire in a young lass without much fashion sense, it is a love of big hair.

Actually, both McCaffrey and Sweet are equally guilty for inspiring my love of seriously big hair, come to think of it—but, more seriously, they also showed me a lot of exciting possibilities, when I was a young woman searching for her sense of identity. Anne McCaffrey was one of the first, actually maybe the first female author of non-YA SFF books I really got into. She wrote big ol’ fantasy epics, just like the boys, and reading her, it occurred to me that hey, I could do that too! Also, her main characters were often fierce females … and, when they weren’t fierce enough, or too bitchy—or sweet—for my liking, it made me realize I could write the ladies I wanted to see in books. And Sweet’s artwork is rich in warrior babes as well as warrior dudes, which I always appreciated.

Thanks for inspiring my love of ferocious ladies, rich fantasy worlds, and badassery, you two.

There’s a really neat interview with Ross Lockhart, the fine gentleman who edited The Book of Cthulhu, up on Omnivoracious! Go check it out.

These semi-confessional accounts of horror, terror, and the unknown inspired by Lovecraft are…. oddly inspirational and life-affirming. It’s not just that nothing really makes you appreciate Something like life more than being chased by some oozy Shadowy Nothing through a dark forest strewn with odd ruins. A deeper impulse seemed at work, too, in many, many of the stories. Why, there was even what appeared to be useful advice for the modern reader!

Could it be that the lessons taught by Lovecraft were less mechanistic and existential, less hideous and ritualistic, than I had thought? I had to get to the bottom of this strange phenomenon—by interviewing the editor…

Fun times! Thanks to Jeff VanderMeer, and to Ross, of course!.

sensation, by nick mamatasOver at Strange Horizons, I reviewed Sensation, Nick Mamatas’s latest novel. I liked it a lot! I tried to keep the spoilers to a minimum, so, you know. Go check it out! And they have a new comment system, apparently, so you can leave your own stories of the time parasitic wasps poisoned your brain and you started thinking you liked natto and got really into macrame and murdering industrialists.

 

 

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