Archive for October, 2010

FAITH, WRITING AND A HORROR AUTHOR’S INTENT Pt II

(Continued from part I, as Monica Valentinelli and I engage in a dialogue about our worldviews and how we approach our craft) Has anyone ever accused you of being non-Christian because you write horror? How do you respond to something like that?

MB: Honestly, my spiritual life functions pretty much the same way.  I’m a trained scientist and I know our culture swims in waters of rational explanation first.  So that creates stumbling blocks in my faith as well as strengthens it.  On the plus side, I question a lot of things and explore why I believe what I believe.  On the negative side, I wish I had more faith some days.  Faith in prayer, faith in spiritual gifts, faith in the reality of the supernatural.  I believe, but if I’m honest with myself, I wonder how much I truly believe.

So when people accuse me of not being Christian, my answer depends on what kind of day I’m having.  some days it’s something along the lines of I don’t think you can judge where I’m at with Christ until you’ve actually engaged me in conversation and gotten to know my heart.  Some days it’s something like horror is how I grapple with the reality of darkness, evil, and the supernatural in the reality of my life.  Some days it’s there’s a lot of what you call “horror” in the bible, it’s easy to label things if you don’t want to think.  Some days it’s just kiss my non-Christian black ass, but that’s not terribly helpful.  Though sometimes satisfying.

We are people of varying worldviews.  Do you think there is a dearth of spiritual or religious exploration in the genre?  Why do you think writers shy away from it?  Is it something you explore at all?

MLV: I’ve talked to a lot of writers who avoid sensitive subjects in general because they’re concerned with marketing: what sells, what their platform is, whether or not they’ll alienate readers? I haven’t read every story or book that’s out there, but I feel that

spiritual/religious exploration is affected by the current climate and the glut of tropes that are out there. Obviously, those tropes aren’t meant to be an accurate depiction of any faith, but I still feel they lurk in the background. What’s interesting to me is how these tropes affect what a reader’s preconceived notions are of a particular monster. Big difference between a Western European vampire and a Chinese vampire.

Anyway, I do explore these concepts from a character’s perspective if it fits the story. In “The Queen of Crows,” the Native American character turns his back on his faith to save his people. In a recent flash fiction piece that’s coming out, I wrote a story about a manticore set in a salt mine. When I was doing my research, apparently miners in Poland carved whole chapels into the rock salt and added saints, etc. Great setting with religious overtones built in; so I utilized that in the story’s plot.

While spirituality/religion isn’t part of my platform, it’s a part of yours. Why did you decide to go that route?

Off to World Fantasy

As always, you can find me either in the bar or hanging out with the smokers.  You know, where most con business gets done.

There is an Urban Fantasy Party Friday night at 10 pm:

Join authors Lucy A. Snyder, Gary A. Braunbeck, S. Andrew Swann, Linda Robertson, Laura Bickle, Maurice Broaddus, Melissa Long, Seressia Glass, and editor Jason Sizemore for an urban fantasy themed party Friday night at the WFC convention!

We’ll have alcoholic (Pama-ritas!) and nonalcoholic drinks, munchies, and a drawing/contest to win free books.

Also, it’s the official launch party for Lucy A. Snyder’s new novel SHOTGUN SORCERESS!

Drop by and say hi.

Acrostic Exercise [Meme]

Take five minutes and write a story based around the letters in your name.

Making a bowl from

A lump of clay, I ended up making a

Unicorn.  I didn’t know I had that in me.

Relaxing

I sat back in my

Chair and I stared at it.  And waited.

Eventually, it spoke to me.

Broaddus,” it said.  I thought it

Rude because we weren’t on a first name basis.

Oranges are good for you.”

And then it fell quiet.

Did you have anything else to tell me?” I asked.

Do you have a name?”

Unfortunately, the magic was gone.  And all I had left was

Silence.

Facing Your Friends Part II: King Maker All Over

aka, what goes around comes around…

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about “facing” friends (facing means turning books out so that folks can see the whole cover, not just a spine and allowing those writers more book shelf real estate).  Well, turns out, I have a lot of friends.  Folks have been sending me pictures of King Maker out in the wild, faced out.  When King Maker first debuted, folks sent me confirmation pics.  The pics have kept coming in.

Eric Smith sent in a pic from the Barnes and Noble in North Ridgeville, OH.

Pastor Milo Curtis found his copy out in Oregon.

As much as it pains her, Chesya Burke exercised some of her underused “nice” muscles and found my book down in the might ATL.

Jeff Vandermeer continues to show why he rocks so hard.  Here’s King Maker down in Florida.

Joe Branson found his copy at the Barnes and Noble in Reston, Virginia

Jen Orosel found her copy down in the Barnes and Noble in Texas.

A certain editor from Lexington, KY, between planning the world domination of Apex Books, went out and sprang for his own copies of some of the books from his stable of writers (speaking of which, I need to pick up Lavie Tidhar’s The Bookman myself).  I am unconvinced that King Maker found its way to the cowboy romance section on its own.

When in doubt, you can always just order a copy off the internet and wait for it to arrive at your doorstep like Ron Smith.

Hmm, I just did an entire blog post basically repeating the same pic of my book.  I would say that this was the height of my narcissism and dorkiness, except I was just as dorky here in Indianapolis.  Not that I was running around town to see my book on the racks, signing them, and posing with them or anything …

Men of a Certain Age – A Review

“You ever get that?  You  look in the mirror, you see yourself, I know I’m standing here I see myself and you … you recognize yourself … but there’s that little bit of you that you don’t.” –Joe

The pain and awkwardness of middle age.  That special place in life where the parts don’t work like they used to, where you reflect on your life, navigating the perils of a spouse, job, kids, and that existential dissatisfaction with life and how things turned out.  Wondering if you are where you were meant to be, where you dreamt of being, and trying to figure out a way to move forward anyway.  That special time when you may find yourself dating again, with the dawning realization that when it comes to relationships, we never truly leave high school  (and that even at 40+, we revert back to what we know).  Where we may be raising kids while still being a kid; yet at the same time we might be in jeopardy of having overnight  become “that old guy in the night club.”  The reality of aging yet not being “old” is what Men of a Certain Age explores.

“He has a full head of hair, no gut, owns his own business.  For his age, that’s hot.” –Melissa

Everybody Loves Raymond’s creator and star, Ray Romano brings his patented brutally observational honesty to his place in life.  All of the characters’ insecurities and foibles on full unapologetic display, luckily personified in a trio of faces familiar to television.  Starring as Joe, it might be his opportunity to dominate the show with an over-the-top character, yet we find a depth to Romano’s acting in the vulnerability he portrays.  And he has a lot to work with in flexing his acting chops as an almost golf pro with a gambling habit, a failed marriage, who flounders on the dating scene.  His trademark humor only adds to the character as it is an obvious shield to the slings life aims his way.

Terry (Scott Bakula, late of such geek squad favorites Quantum Leap and Enterprise) plays a still single out-of-work actor, slowly realizing his life hasn’t exactly gone the way he would have liked.  Yet he clings to his womanizing ways and in some ways is trapped not only by the way his long time friends remember him, but also their living vicariously through him, not allowing him to grow and change much.

Andre Braugher is typical cast as the smartest guy in the room, which is how he anchored Homicide:  Life on the Street and Gideon’s Crossing, and what made him the equal when jousting with House.  With his character on Men of a Certain Age, Owen, he gets to play a regular guy, an overweight schlub who struggles to find his place in his father’s business while married to his grounded wife, Melissa (the always wonderful, Lisa Gay Hamilton, The Practice).

And yet, despite the situations they find themselves in, these three middle-aged friends, despite their defeats and setbacks, are not losers.   They are ordinary guys in the throes of middle age, trying to chart the course of the next phase of their lives.  Their lives are marked by little victories to cling to which help them carry on, along with the warmth and humor of their friendship.  The intimacy of which, especially as seen among men, is not a very common occurrence.

“Is not wisdom found among the aged?  Does not long life bring understanding?” –Job 12:12

Everyone wants to be loved and be loved by someone. Everyone wants to know and be known by someone. When people speak of intimacy–trying to define what it is they are wanting–they talk about genuine trust, vulnerability, and transparency. They want to feel connected to someone. This sense of connectedness is a characteristic that we want in all of our close relationships. We want to share our lives, be accepted, and be intimate with others. Especially an other.

We are relational beings, created to form relationships with one another. Intimacy with others is a need hard-wired into us. Because friendship is a beautiful and unique form of love, it truly provides a genuine opportunity for our need for intimacy to be met apart from family and romance. One protection against isolation and loneliness is to create and sustain solid friendships. Their benefits range from emotional encouragement to spiritual support and stability.

“You reach a point in your life when you have to draw a line.” –Terry

Life constantly presents opportunities for us to love and to learn to love better. Difficult circumstances can cause relationships to dig deeper, driving each other to get to know one another on more significant levels. And there is a spiritual point to it all. Our friendships, limited, temporary, and transitional as they are, are meant to drive us to a higher friendship. If only to prove that we can’t live without love. Even the loneliness, the grief, the deficiencies of friendship prepare us for something more permanent, more eternal. We were made for higher companionship, an infinite hole within us that can only be filled with the Infinite. A love that does not pass away.

Men of a Certain Age is thoughtful, moving, and filled with a genuine humor.  The characters are kept from becoming clichés by the layered depth of the writing.  Their genial banter and traded jibes is done with a warmth which is easy to get caught up in.  In other words, very little about this show is a draw for the coveted 18-35 demographic.  In fact, this show serves as a cautionary tale, if they bothered to tune it, that this is where their life is heading and the decisions they make in their youth can set the course and tone for their future.  But even then, all is not lost, after all, in the immortal words of that great philosopher, Steve Harvey, “don’t trip, God ain’t through with you yet.”  Like this show, your journey is not over and things can still be fresh and exciting.

Harnessing Social Media?

So I found out that a writer friend of mine puts in their cover letters just how many friends they have on Facebook/Twitter as a demonstration of their ability to harness potential customers.  I have two problems with this:  the first is that you are more times than not better served with cover letters that stick to the submission and don’t skip to “here’s what you get if you buy my story”; and second,I don’t know if I’m convinced of this “social media is the wave of future marketing” thing.

I believe it’s important, as online billboards, but shouldn’t be the goal in and of themselves.  Certainly I’m no expert, but to my mind this mentality shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how social media works.  I think the issue comes down to how you use your networks.

Now admittedly, I’ve been accused of being a friend whore, as I tend to approve everyone who visits any of my pages.  I’ve seen the high school popularity aspects of acquiring friends on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, folks who spend hours hunting down friends (or purchasing software to find and friend folks).  I am not convinced those lead to real “relationships” or interest in you or what you have to sell.  They are just names on a list.

[Plus I actually avoid using Facebook/Twitter to communicate with friends I should be hanging out with in the real world (or even break off a phone call to).  It’s too easy to fall into traps of passive-aggressive communication.  If there’s one thing technology has been a great tool for, it’s been ease of communication and re-connecting with old friends.  On the downside, it has also become a new way to be poor at actually communicating with people.]

Anyway, no one likes to be spammed to, so I can’t imagine stalking people down for the sake of adding them to a list as if that’s an automatic sale.  I can’t tell you how many writers rub folks the wrong way because you can’t engage them in conversation without them selling to you.  If you have any interact with them, you end up on their mailing list.   If you follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever, you can expect constant requests to “like” their latest book.  And you have to appreciate the hustle of these writers.  This part of the game is all about promotion and marketing, I just don’t know if slamming your “friends” is the best way to go about things.

Take blogging for example.  Some people are great at creating communities around their blog.  Think Brian Keene, John Scalzi, Nick Mamatas, Jeff Vandermeer, etc.  My blog is pretty much “here’s what I think/feel”, I put it out there, and move on, it’s not very interactive.  I only even bothered to turn on the comments feature in the last year as I moved away from having a dedicated message board (even then, I see message boards in decline, especially author boards, when it’s just as easy to hit them up on their facebook page.  My only message board presence is as a part of the Keenedom).

My twitter and my facebook accounts are my interactive platforms.  Twitter is the flotsam that spins around my brain mixed with ridiculous takes on my life.  Facebook is pretty much the same … with pictures.

Building a platform is certainly important.  I know that part of the game is getting the word out to folks and it’s hard to cut through the white noise of distractions our lives have become.  I guess it’s all marketing in the end.  But if I’m going to chase after fans, it’s going to be with my stories.  Not some program to add them to a list.  The power of attraction, not so much constant fishing.  But maybe I’m terribly naive and going about this all wrong.

And now for something completely different…

I’m going to be off for a while.  Apparently Wrath James White can talk me into just about anything, because I’m off to Austin, Texas to audition for a reality show, Focus Rally America, with him.

You can follow along on my Twitter feed.

Speaking of Wrath, he’s re-releasing his collection, Book of A Thousand Sins.  Here’s my review of it from the first go around as well as an interview I did with him, part I and part II.

R.I.P. Marquis Stylez … We Never Knew You

I told a variation of this story at GenCon not too long ago, so I figured I might as well share it here.  We’re family, right?  So this can stay just between us.

A few years ago, I had one of those encounters that writers ALWAYS have.  It’s that conversation that goes “hey, I got an idea.  You write it and we split the profits.”  Anyone who’s not a writer thinks it’s the ideas that we have trouble coming up with.  Well, anyway, at the time I was rather at the mercy of the person who had the idea as it was my barber and he literally had a straight razor to my throat.  So he had my full attention.

Actually, his pitch wasn’t bad.  African American romances were white hot at the time and he thought he should jump on that bandwagon.  The problem was he was great with coming up with plot and sex scenes, but he needed someone to do the actual writing.  So he proposed that we write this thing together, and by “write” he meant he’d pitch me ideas and I could do the writing.  And as long as I was producing pages, I could get free haircuts from him.

*does math*  Ten dollars a week.  Figure to drag the thing out a year.  SOLD!

So we began hanging out.  I’d listen to his stories, his fantasies, his theories on women and relationships … and realized pretty early on that if I put my name on this thing, I could schedule the pitchfork and torch brigade showing up at my doorstep.  I can put my name on anything I write, but this fell into one of those “I should use a pen name” scenarios.  After agonizing over this (I suck at names and titles), I came up with the name Marquis Stylez.*

Seriously.

So I finish the book.  He asks me to send it to Zane’s publishing company.  Since it has no chance of getting published, I send it.  Then it is held for another round of reading.  And another.  And suddenly visions of my writing career go through my head.  I know it would be a pen name, but that’d still be me.  And I’m just whore enough to write more if someone backs up the money truck.  So I panicked, withdrew it, and put it in a drawer never to be spoken of again.

Except …

So at the World Horror Convention in Toronto (2007), a group of us had slipped out of the convention to go to a bookstore.  Wrath James White standing in front of the African American romance section when I wander over.  He says “you know, if I had any sense whatsoever, I’d write one of these and sell a bunch of copies.”  I don’t know what possessed me, maybe a sudden wave of being in a sharing mood, I say “you know, I actually wrote one.  Even came up with a pen name to write under.  Marquis Stylez.”

There are moments in your life when you say something, you can see the words leave your mouth, and you want to try and catch them before they reach anyone else’s ears.  This was one of those moments.  Because Wrath got this look in his eyes, that big brother devilish glint, and all he said was “I’m gonna tell Keene.”

Yes, Wrath is huge.  Wrath is also surprisingly fast.  And I used to run track.  He might as well have left a dust cloud outline of himself in the store, cause by the time I caught up with him, he was standing at an author booth … behind Brian Keene.  Both of them with disturbing Cheshire cat grins.  And all Keene says, while standing there like a James Bond villain only missing a cat to be stroking, is “So, written again good stories lately … Marquis?”

And, OH they have not let me forget it.  You don’t know the horror of what it’s like to get calls in the middle of the night from Keene doing his Marquis Stylez bedroom voice routine.

Who knows, Marquis may rise from the trunk drawer one day, to write again.

I guess if it’s any testimony to how I feel about my “big brothers” in writing, I did name the main character in my Knights of Breton Court series “King James White” (and now Wrath demands to be referred to as that).  And I did make the mistake, in another moment of weakness, to later confiding in Brian that the working title for Knights of Breton Court used to be “Black Camelot.”  It wouldn’t be so bad except that every time he says it, it’s like a chorus of our friends pop up and begin playing bad seventies theme music …

*Pronounced either like the Marquis de Sade, my preferred pronunciation, or as Marcus, as I have a friend who spells it that way.

Thundarr the Barbarian – A Review

Very often, the television shows we remember as great from our childhood aren’t nearly as cool when we re-visit them as adults.  I will point to Land of the Lost, Wonder Woman, and Space: 1999 as my first examples.  I can still clearly remember spending many a Saturday morning eating my bowl of Count Chocula while watching the exploits of Thundarr the Barbarian:

The year 1994: From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction. Man’s civilization is cast in ruin.   Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn… a strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super science, and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice! With his companions Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword against the forces of evil.  He is Thundarr, the Barbarian!

A weird blend of Star Wars (Sunsword = light saber), Planet of the Apes (the Statue of Liberty even makes an appearance in the first episode), and Conan the Barbarian, Thundarr the Barbarian thrums with a innocent vitality.  Like all great barbarians, either from the past or future, from Imaro to Kamandi, Thundarr lives for the journey, wandering from adventure to adventure.  While he travels with his “tribe”, Ookla (an obvious nod to the non-speaking sidekick made popular by Chewbacca the Wookie) and the wisecracking and powerful Ariel (a woman of color!), Thundarr is about his greater mission to free slaves wherever he encounters them.

“The struggle is useless.” –Gemini

The over-arching story of the Bible is one that specifically resonates with oppressed people. The poor have the Exodus gospel/model to look to. How the Israelites rise up, decry oppressive powers, looking to Yahweh as savior to an oppressed people. As slaves in Egypt, He heard their groaning. We see in the story of Israel the history of our own people – from their Exodus out slavery to their Exile in a land not their own, with their hope of future Exaltation.

“Then we shall all be saved.” –enslaved villager

The Gospel message is one of liberation.  It understands theology as social, shaped to affect our present situation. It understands evil as systemic (not only individual as the American brand of gospel is prone to promulgate). It understands that no matter what binds us—a destroyed civilization, cruel leaders, or the tyranny of magic—can be a means of oppression while reminding us that God is for the oppressed, the marginalized, the forgotten – or, as the book of James puts it, the widows and orphans.

“Now that we know such a force does exist, we’ll search even harder to find the secret.” –freed slave

Though it went off the air in 1982, Thundarr the Barbarian is now available as a full series, four DVD set from the Warner Archive. As with other Archive titles, there are no extras. Each disc has a no frills menu of either “play all” or “episode selection”.  The animation may be crude by today’s standards, but the show holds up well.  Nostalgically at least, as  I was a huge Challenge of the Super Friends kid though, so that the standard by which I judge whether or not Thundarr the Barbarian holds up.  And, like Johnny Quest, it does.  Of course, Thundarr was originally created by Steve Gerber (the creator of Howard the Duck) and designed by comic artists Alex Toth and Jack Kirby, so that stands to reason.  Then again, it was up against Rubik the Amazing Cube and Pac Man, so it was always King Lear by comparison.

Apex Sale, Dark Futures, and Stories

As part of their two weeks of Apex special, Apex Books is having a Halloween One Day Sale on Harlan County Horrors – 40% off today only!  Perfect for Halloween readings or any time you want to be creeped out, Harlan County Horrors, a regional based horror anthology by Apex Magazine submissions editor Mari Adkins, is what you need. Especially at today’s one day sale (Oct 15) of 40% off. Drop by the Apex Publications Store and get yours today. http://www.apexbookcompany.com/harlan-county-horrors/

This features—FEATURES, I say—my story “Trouble Among the Yearlings.”

Dark Futures: Tales of Dystopian SF is now available.  Not only does this anthology now has its own blog site  (http://darkfutures.wordpress.com/?s=future) – though I suspect someone is ghostwriting the blogs for the anthology, but it is also available from a number of online retailers.

From the Publisher
Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk
Barnes and Noble
Powells.com

This anthology features(!) my story “A Stone Cast into Stillness”.

Speaking of stories and interviews, The Perpetual Christian Newsletter reprints my story “Secret Gardens” and does an interview with me.  Check it out. What’s truly cool is that I was just listed as one of the 13 Astonishing Writers of Fantastika You Should Be Geeking Out Over in it, they reference my story “Secret Gardens.”

So have it!