Sunday, October 31, 2010

And the winner is...

The All Hallow's Read book giveaway is possibly the most fun thing I've done on this blog. I loved reading all of the stories that you shared (and collected a few more books for my to-be-read list. Also, ideas. Like Wendy's, for having a slice of pie with my horror.) I encourage you all to go back and read the comments on the original post, because they are full of awesome.

They were so awesome that I really wished I could give away more books. Maybe in the future, because I will definitely be doing this again. Hallowe'en is already one of my best-loved holidays, and the addition of giving books just makes it even better. But I did have to pick a winner.

Maybe it was because of the description of the dorm as being just past the seventh circle of Hell. Maybe it was because It was another book that had a powerful effect on me. Or maybe it was because of the absolute delight you took in being scared, but I am delighted to inform the Ms. Educated Bostonian that you have won the scary book of your choice, which was Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. Please send me an email using the "contact me" button on my profile page, and include your address and I will send you your book.

And to all of you, thanks again for your scary book stories. Happy Hallowe'en, and Scary Reading.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A small Hallowe'en gift

I wrote you a zombie story. I hope you enjoy it.


Zombie Girl in a Pale Red Dress Dancing With Me Missed Connections:

Zombie girl in a pale red dress dancing with me Halloween, 2010:

I can’t believe I’m doing this. Maybe this isn’t the place to get so personal. I mean, I know who reads these things. If I were a smart guy… Forget it. If I were a smart guy I wouldn’t be in this situation.

And where else am I supposed to say this? It’s not like I get out much. I mean, I had my shots, like we all did once they realized what was going on. I just should have had mine sooner. Anyway. I don’t meet a lot of people, not anymore. You left an impression.

Look, I still have a heart, okay?


We met at the Downtown Zombie Crawl. The bar on the corner of Fremont and Romero.

You were the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. The kind of beautiful that people would have noticed even before, well, before everything. By some miracle, you asked me to dance. The only reason I can think of for that is you must have thought I was wearing makeup.

And yeah, I wish I had been. That way you’d think I was cool and subversive, like you. The kind of guy who could laugh at the worst viral outbreak ever, use it as an excuse to party, not just some idiot who went to the doctor one day too late.

That’s not the point. The point is, you asked me to dance. You held my hand through all the classics: “Dead Man’s Party,” “Living Dead Girl,” even “Thriller.” I was so happy, I would have smiled, but my bottom lip is starting to rot. As it is, the last joint of my pinkie fell off while we were dancing. I hope you didn’t notice.

I didn’t care. I mean, a girl like you, dancing with me.

I can’t even remember the last time I touched someone.

You had on this dress. Red. Like that cheesy song. It kind of twirled when you spun around. When you were close to me, all I could smell was flowers, not even a trace of rot, so you must have gotten your shots on time.

Your makeup was really good. When I first saw you, I thought you were like me.

I know you’re not, and you probably won’t answer this. You probably won’t even read it, because why would a girl like you need to read the Missed Connections section of a zombie dating service?

And I know zombie isn’t the politically correct term, but I know what I am. It’s why I only leave my house one night a year, and why I didn’t give you my number, even when you asked for it. Well, that, and the necrosis is getting worse. I’m not going to be able to talk soon.

So I guess I have to say something now, if I’m ever going to. Not because I’m trying to find you, I’m not. My brain still works, and I know this is a horror story, not a fairy tale.

But you were beautiful, and you asked me to dance, and you made me remember that, for now, I still have a heart.

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Some musings on NaNoWriMo

Since I've been asked at least once a day for the past week whether or not I'm doing NaNoWriMo, it seemed like as good of time as any to post on it. I posted on this topic last year, and I still encourage you to remember that there are alternatives if you want an activity that will challenge you as a writer.

Here's the short answer: I'm not doing NaNo. Mainly because my daily minimum word count is pretty close to the 1667 words per day NaNo requires already. I am a writer. Writing things is my job. I don't get paid if I don't write the words. (And since I'm a writer at the early part of my career, the ratio of words I write but don't get paid for to words I do get paid for is still fairly high. Certainly high enough that I'm not about to start another project without a better reason than "all the cool kids are doing it.")

But since at least some of the people who have asked me if I am doing NaNo are actually asking whether I think it's a good idea for them to do so, here is my longer answer, in the form of musings.

I think anything that challenges people to try something new, something they thought was maybe too hard, or maybe a little bit scary is a good thing. If you want to write a novel, and participating in NaNo is the boost (or the kick in the ass) you need in order to do that, well, why are you asking me what I think? Sign up, and write. Make your word count. Finish, and be proud of yourself.

The other thing I like about NaNo is the word count requirement is a good way to help people turn off their internal editor. It vaccinates against writeritis. There just isn't time to think, not if you want 50,000 words in 30 days. Sometimes it's necessary to stop worrying about the writing, and just tell the story.

Here's what I don't like about NaNo: 50,000 words is not, in most genres, a publishable novel. In fantasy, the genre I write in, 50,000 words is approximately half a novel (standard manuscript length is 100K, plus or minus ten percent.) Maybe you already know this - I didn't, when I started writing - and are planning to use November to get the skeleton of your story down, and then hang muscle and skin on the bones later. Maybe you don't care about professionally publishing, and just want to have the experience of telling a story. 

But if you do have professional publication as a goal, you will have to add in those 50,000 or so words before that becomes an option. You will have to seriously revise the 50,000 or so words you did write during NaNo, because turning off the internal editor might result in the completed skeleton of a story, but it can also result in some really rubbish prose. You'll need to do these things before you query agents, because once an agent has turned down a project, even if it's just because your word count was too low, you don't get to query that agent with that project again.

Still, if you really want to write a novel, don't ask me if you're ready. Don't ask that question of anyone but yourself. When the answer is yes, and you're wondering how to do it, well, do whatever it takes to put your pen in your hand or your fingers on the keyboard every day, and write. And good luck.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Love Song for a Vampire

I have been cured of my sadness over the general state of vampires.

The cure happened, as do all truly magic things, in three parts. The first of these was a gift from my incredibly wonderful friend Michelle. You know Bullseye, the Target dog? She sent me a Bullseye dressed as Dracula. He is even wearing the satin cape. I have named him Dogula, and he sits on my desk to help me write.

Dogula's influence is a powerful one, as the second part of the cure is my figuring out the vampire story I want to write. I don't want to say too much about it right now, other than the working title is Perfect.

Part three, the final nail in the coffin lid, if you will, is the brilliant and dark American Vampire. The first volume is written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King, and Rafael Albuquerque provides pitch-perfect art. Skinner Sweet could kick all of Team Edward's asses, and I'm a little in love with Pearl. These are the vampires I've been looking for.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The giving of the books

Neil Gaiman had what I think is a truly wonderful idea: we celebrate Hallowe'en by giving each other scary books. I pretty much like any excuse to share my favorite books with people, and I am exceedingly fond of occasions whereon books are given to me. And I love Hallowe'en. 

So I am going to celebrate this confluence of wondrous things by giving away a book. And there's going to be a contest.

Perhaps some of you remember when I wrote this post, wondering about whether what I was writing was horror (I decided that what I write generally falls in the dark/ creepy/ weird spectrum, and I'd let the reader decide precisely where, and I would stop worrying about what sort of thing I was writing, and just write it) and I mentioned the time I almost killed my sister with a fireplace poker as a result of reading Pet Sematary.

Here's the story: I was babysitting for my brothers, and my sister was, I thought, spending the night at a friend's. I was finishing Pet Sematary. Honestly, this is not the sort of book I recommend reading at night when everyone else in the house is in bed, but I'd gotten far enough along that even though I was literally shaking as I read, I had to finish. Finishing would put the worst of the terror to rest.

I turned the last page, and set the book down. And there was a thud at the front door. Then a rattle, like someone trying to get in.

In that moment, I did not think, "call the police" I thought, "holy shit! Dead things!" so I grabbed the fireplace poker, and ran to the front door. I raised the poker over my head so I could brain whatever was on the porch, and opened the door. 

And nearly brained my sister. I screamed, she screamed, and the friend's mom who had given her a ride home from gymnastics peeled out of the driveway as if she had just seen a demon. At which point Liz and I stopped screaming, and stared after her. "Who leaves a kid to be killed by the poker-wielding crazy person?" I asked.

So that's my best story about a scary book.

Here's the contest: You tell me yours. The best story you have that involves reading a scary book. Leave it in the comments. Also, in the comments, tell me the scary book that you want me to send you if you win. On Hallowe'en, I'll pick my favorite story (yes, that's highly objective and unscientific) and I will send the winner the requested scary book (in print, paperback or e-format, because seriously, I am a writer, not an independently wealthy book collector). If you win, and want me to pick a book for you, I will, although you should tell me the level of terror you wish to experience, otherwise you risk my sending you Heart-Shaped Box, aka, The Scariest Book Ever.

Regardless of whether you participate, I highly encourage you to give someone a scary book for Hallowe'en.  Because giving people books is awesome, and if enough people are encouraged to do this, maybe someone will send me one.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Work in progress

I knew this year (and by year, I mean academic one) would be a series of transitions for me. New job, new state, new writing projects. And all of those things have been good so far. Challenges, but the kind of challenges that stretch my thinking and make my life more interesting and full. I've taken on some new projects that I hadn't even thought about three months ago, and I'm excited by all of it, and happy to be working so hard at things that I love.

Sometimes this work and these projects mean that I shift my priorities, and that's why I haven't been blogging as often as I have in the past. I have no plans to stop - I love having a place to talk about things that I'm interested in and issues that matter to me, and I particularly love the opportunity to interact with those of you who read these posts and leave comments. And the last couple of weeks were lighter than I would have liked, even for the new and improved Schedule of Kat's life (it was the confluence of having to grade 90 papers in a reasonably timely fashion, getting hideously sick, and the ongoing saga of No Heat in the House). 

This isn't an apology, because the things I am working on, well they're really cool, and I don't feel bad about spending time with them. It's just an explanation, and a reassurance I haven't forgotten you.

Monday, October 18, 2010

And the cruelest of those was love

"Let there be light." It is not, after all, so different, beginning a world and beginning a story. Both begin with a word, both are acts of illumination. There is an illumination of a particular kind in The Habitation of the Blessed, the extraordinary new novel by Catherynne M. Valente. It is the illumination of the transience, the corruptibility of stories. Even the stories that last. Even the ones that begin "Once upon a time" or "In the beginning" - the ones we all know to be true.

The Habitation of the Blessed is a story of Prester John, the fabled Christian ruler of a magnificent land in the East, containing the Gates of Alexander and the Fountain of Youth, bounded by the Earthly Paradise. In the twelfth century, a wonder tale in letter form began circulating throughout Europe, telling of this King and his Land, a tale so believable Pope Alexander III replied to Prester John. For half a millenium, tales of Prester John affected the course of European history, inspiring in particular explorers and missionaries.

It is the missionary aspect of the story that gave me such a troubled relationship to Prester John when I would read about him in medieval texts such as Mandeville's Travels, and that is one part of the story that Valente foregrounds in The Habitation of the Blessed. Her John believes that he is called to act as a missionary, to follow in the footsteps of St. Thomas the Apostle, Thomas the Doubter, Thomas the Twin. It is in the nature of a missionary to believe that his story is true, is Truth. But in a world full of marvels, there are many truths, and Valente asks her characters, and her readers, what it means when those truths face each other and converse.

The Habitation of the Blessed is a book that requires its reader to think. To consider what it means to tell a story, to present that story as true, when the slip of a pen changes slippers of fur to slippers of glass, or a disciple's name from Julia to Julius. When a gryphon or a sciopod or a blemmy is transformed from a being to a symbol. When the text has lacunae, whether through a conscious choice on the part of a scribe, or because the pages, plucked like fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of Texts, begin to disintegrate as soon as they are touched.

What does it mean to be so sure your story is true, that you seek to rewrite the stories of others? What does it mean when you are rewritten by pride, by faith, or by the cruelest word of all, love? Valente's book wrestles with these questions, and does not offer facile or easy answers. I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Such flesh as texts are writ on

When I decided to get a tattoo, my only question was which words it would be. I even considered getting Hamlet's line, "Words, words, words," inked somewhere on my skin, as did Stephanie Anderson of Brooklyn, p. 147 of The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide, the new book from Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor. I went with a different Shakespearean line: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on" on my right shoulder blade.

Words are one of the most important things in my life. Even before I was a writer, I defined myself by the act of reading, and words last. So I found The Word Made Flesh an incredibly interesting book. I understand the impetus to pay tribute to a text by offering skin as parchment, but more than that, I loved seeing what texts were meaningful to other people. The lines they chose, the places on their bodies where the words were written, the pictures they were sometimes adorned with - a literary tattoo is a constant act of interpretation. 

In these pages, I learned about what is perhaps the coolest short story ever, Shelley Jackson's "Skin." There were pictures of five words from the story, one "here," on author Rick Moody. That was the other really interesting part of this book for me: seeing the pictures of writers with literary tattoos (Jonathan Lethem has "Ubik", for example.) The Word Made Flesh is a beautiful, interesting book, and I definitely recommend reading it.


For purposes of FCC disclosure, I was sent this book by the publisher.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Because the world will break you, if it can

It was a conversation with my Mom, a fairly recent one. I had said how one of my favorite things about being part of the science fiction/ fantasy community was how much of a community it was. People care about each other, and support each other. Whenever I have turned to someone and asked for help, I have always been met with an outstretched hand. I suggested that maybe part of this was because so many of us had been ostracized as kids, had been the nerd in the back of the room.

"But you did well in school. You were fine. You had a boyfriend, you went to the dances."

And high school, yes, actually, high school was pretty okay. I wasn't part of the popular crowd, but there were enough people like me, who wore black, and fenced, and read Douglas Adams, that I had a group. More importantly, by that point, I had gotten good at hiding things.

I did well in school, I was polite to teachers, and everyone assumed I was fine. I remember complaining about things once, trying to convey how utterly miserable I was, and was told that school was for learning, not making friends. That was when I learned not to complain.

I learned to tell half-truths: the broken elbow? Sure, I got it playing dodgeball. When all the balls were thrown at me at once, and I was hurled into the side of a building. And it is possible to crack your kneecap jumping rope if the rope is pulled up to trip you. I learned to lie, and fake being sick so I could stay in from recess, or to volunteer to be the one who helped out in the classroom. I didn't tell her about the time in seventh grade, when we read A Wrinkle in Time, and the son of one of her good friends made sure everyone called me "IT" for a month. Or about all the times I was told I was ugly - too skinny, too freckled, flat-chested.  I didn't tell her about trying to wedge the blade out of her safety razor so I could use it to open my wrists.

High school was better. High school was survivable, and that things that nearly weren't had nothing to do with being bullied. And I, too, find it strange and difficult to look back at elementary school and say that bullying was what was happening. It's so much easier to just say, oh, I wasn't popular. Who was?

But there are so many voices. And maybe we're okay enough now to extend a hand in help, or to speak up so someone else who is suffering might hear, but who made the rules that said childhood is an ordeal that must be endured?

Because here's the thing that scares me: if someone could have found that girl, sitting in the bathtub, shredding her fingertips with metal and plastic, and said, "you will get through this, you will grow up, you will be happy, just hang on" I think she would have said: I don't care.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Uncanny Beauty

I am exceedingly pleased to announce that Issue #356 of Weird Tales, Uncanny Beauty, is officially out. And I have a story in it. A very short story, "Beauty and Disappearance." It's about disappearing statues and, well, you decide what else. It's one of my favorite things I've written, and I hope you like it.

My happiness is not only because I have a story I'm proud of in a market I love, but because of who else is in the issue. There is an essay by Theodora Goss, whose scholarship is so erudite and elegant, and a story by Catherynne M. Valente, whose fiercely brilliant writing makes her one of my literary heroes. I'm thrilled to be sharing pages with them, and with everyone else.

Monday, October 11, 2010

One of Us

A few years ago, my high school made me incredibly proud. It announced the formation of a group dedicated to the support of its LGBT students. The first thing I did, when I saw the alumni bulletin, was email the principal, one of the founding members of the group, and thank him, and tell him how proud I was of my alma mater. 

Then I cried.

My high school, it's Catholic. Unfortunately, we live in a world where not only Catholics, but people who call themselves Christians from all denominations continually fail the LGBT community. We fail to act with love, with support, with any kind of behavior that might reasonably be recognized as Christian. This has to stop.

Because if you consider yourself to be a Christian, you don't need to ask whether or not God is one of us. You already have your answer: Genesis tells us that everyone, male and female, was created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, tells us that whatsoever we have done to another, we have done to him. We are called to accept that God is in everyone, that the way we treat other people is the way we treat God.

We are called to love one another. And I'm sorry, but that doesn't mean the hateful actions that fall under the category of "love the sinner, hate the sin." I call shenanigans on that rubbish. Love one another means exactly that. So on this Coming Out Day, I challenge all of us to come out as Christians, and to hold all of our brothers and sisters securely in love.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Vita of St. Endellion

In the spring of last year, when I was madly (and, oh, that word is consciously chosen) trying to finish both the Draft Zero of The Novel Formerly Known as Linger and my dissertation, I wrote a lot of flash fiction, and posted it here. (Do a search under the label "free fiction," if you want to read them.) Mostly because I needed to write something that could be finished for my own sanity, but also because I liked to think about people reading my stories. I mean, if I didn't care about that, I'd never type them up and send them around, I'd just let them live, creatures of ink and paper, slumbering in my notebooks.

Some people have been nice, or foolish enough, to ask when I'm going to do that again. It wasn't so much that I chose to stop, but that I've been writing things at longer lengths, things that don't lend themselves well to excerpting here. But I do have a piece that's an excerpt now, that will be a longer thing sometime, that I'm happy to share.

And I normally don't do an explanatory "my inspiration, let me show you it" sort of thing, but there really was a Saint Endellion, and she really was King Arthur's goddaughter.


                        The Vita of St. Endellion (var. Endelient), Patron of Cornwall
                                    MS British Library Cotton Vitellius A.xv

            This unlikely vita is said to be written in the saint’s own hand. This claim, plus the events related, make clear this is a document of far greater interest to fabulists than scholars of either history or religion.

            I was seven the first time I picked up a sword. Picked it up, and leveled it at the throat of my cousin, Mordred, who had pulled the tail of my godfather’s dog one too many times that day. This was deemed a remarkable action only because I was a girl.
            Well, not only.
            It was my godfather’s sword I held. My godfather, Arthur. His sword, Excalibur.
            Those watching said it was a miracle, that I could hold that blade, wrought of star-iron and story, and not perish in flame. I was seven. It was a miracle that I could hold that blade, which was near as tall as I was, at all.
            Someone, Bors or Cei maybe, moved to take it from me. “Let the child be brave,” Arthur said. “Besides, I can think of no better use for my sword than to defend a friend.”
            Craven Mordred turned and ran. That evening, I would find my sheets smeared with privy filth. He was a snake in the dark even then.
Arthur smiled at me, and the smile strengthened my aching shoulders and trembling wrists. I knelt to my king as I had seen his knights do – Excalibur’s lower end on the ground, my hands on the sword’s quillion, forehead bowed to rest on the langet. By his own hand, Arthur raised me up, and from that day I served as his p[…]

The manuscript becomes illegible here. It is unclear if the damage is from the Ashburnham House fire, or some other source.

[…]nt Arthur, in a rage, slew the man.
I do not claim to understand what happened next. Arthur’s actions were justified. The cow was the only source of food in the village. The tales of the miraculous cow whose milk sustained an entire town came, as Christmas miracle, to Camelot. Fast on their heels rode the tales of the bandit lords who harassed the town, in hopes of claiming the cow for their own. Arthur gathered a small company of knights, and we rode out to protect the marvel, and the village blessed by its presence. The Lord of Trenteny had gone against all laws of man and God when he slaughtered the beast.
It was the cow I knelt down next to, laid my hands on, not the man. Not thinking of resurrection, just of compassion for the poor, dumb creature, who had lived and died a miracle, and knew it not.
But it was the man who stood, whole and hale, blinking in the light like Lazarus upon emerging from the cave.
He prostrated himself before Arthur, begged forgiveness, swore allegiance. Arthur gave the welfare of the village into his keeping, as penance.
I left Camelot, after that. Not because Arthur asked. Indeed, he was one of the few who did not draw their garments back from me in the hall, or make the sign against evil as I passed. I had bewitched Arthur, they said, into making me a knight, and now I would raise up all his enemies, create an army of the rightfully slain to stand against Camelot.
I heard Mordred’s voice in the whispers.
I asked my king, my godfather, to release me from his service, which he did. I asked him to reclaim the sword he had put into my keeping the day he gave me my knighthood. He did not. The day I took my leave of him, Arthur gave me one more thing to take with me to my hermitage, which was to be as far from Camelot as two oxen could walk in a day. A blessing most precious, the gift of a friend.
I saw my godfather again but once[…]

The remainder of the manuscript has been overwritten. On the third recto page of the palimpsest is a small drawing. It does not appear to be St. Endellion, who is, in the few extant images of her, depicted with her miraculous cow. Rather, it is of a woman in armour, with a sword in her right hand, and a large white dog standing at her left side. Her hand is on the dog’s head. This iconography is unknown outside of this manuscript, and there is no scholarly consensus as to whom this woman represents.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

For the blood is the life

Okay, so this is embarrassing. 

Guys, I... I think, maybe, well. Okay. I'll just say it.

I want to write a vampire story.

I know.

But, I used to love them. Ever since I read this book. I love Dracula. And I really love Carmilla. For years, vampires were my go-to supernatural thing, my default Hallowe'en costume, my very favorite terror.

And I know they're overdone. And I know the craving for blood has been turned into a sort of extreme form of restricted diet, sort of the counterbalance to the raw food vegan movement. They're no longer immortal predators, but the benevolent and sparkly guardians of chaste womanhood, who like to attend high school. Or they're ravening superweapons, the victims of government bio-manipulation. 

And those things are fine, they all have their place, but those are not my vampires. They are not subtle, or strange, or cold, or any of the things I loved about them. They do not prickle my skin, and quicken my pulse.

I think if I want my vampires back, I'll have to write them myself.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Baba Yaga in Manhattan

I was walking through the Upper East Side, enjoying the shadows of the evening city. A woman called out, "Vasilisa!" I know the name, so I glanced over my shoulder. She looked straight at me, and called again, "Vasilisa!"

No, I told her, my name is Kat. 

She looked at me, then said, in Russian, "You could have been her."

No, no thank you, Grandmother. I know too well how that story ends.