Four Hands 2014

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Way back in 2012, I was part of the third installment of Four Hands. Tory and Andrew started Four Hands several years ago as an improvisational piano project, and eventually added in a written element with the third iteration of the project.

A few weeks ago, Tory and Andrew wrote another Four Hands album in a night. This time, we added in our friends R.T. and Leah, who created four paintings while Tory and Andrew played piano in the background. And sat in the middle of these two creative teams was me, doing a solo writing exercise.

The results of our little artist’s evening were four paintings, ten audio tracks, and an short story. The idea was to create an evening of art, an exercise that embraces the imperfections involved in creating art.

What’s always been fun for me when doing a Four Hands evening is the act of creating art in real time. The writing component of Four Hands is done in time with the music: each “chapter” is written in the time it takes one song to play.

This time around, I decided to experiment with the epistolary format. The resulting work, “Ten Winter Letters,” is a collection of ten imagined letters between two ex-lovers.

You can read “Ten Winter Letters,” see the artwork, and listen to the album in its entirety over at the Four Hands Bandcamp page. Just click “Buy Now,” name your price (even $0!), and you can download the music, art, and PDF of the story.

PSA: One of Boston’s Great Bookstores Is Closing Next Week

Sad but true, the venerable Pazzo Books is closing next Saturday. The good news? Between now and the store’s last day of business, every book in the store is on sale. $1 for paperbacks, $2 for hardcovers.

I first became aware of Pazzo Books a few years back, when Pazzo’s proprietor Tom Nealon co-judged and provided prizes for HiLoBrow’s Spooky-Kooky fiction contest. I’d actually be a huge fan of Tom’s work prior to that. His article “Golden Apples, Crimson Stew” is a delightfully disturbing look at tomatoes, cannibalism, and the Mesoamerican origins of chili con carne.

I took a trip down to West Roxbury today to visit with Tom and buy literally a car trunk’s worth of books. And a vintage toaster. Pazzo has a wide array of titles, with really unique offerings in the cookery, history, and literature categories. Here are some of the cool books I picked up there earlier today!

This massive edition of The Rivals has some gorgeous illustrations within.

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Obviously I had to pick up some comics.

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Some old archeology journals.

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A variety of cookbooks and culinary tomes.

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Arguably my three favorite, overly-specific monographs: a book about cultural naming conventions for ships, a socio-cultural examination of 19th century Parisian carriage drivers, and a book on the history of footnotes. Yes, really. So cool.

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A random assortment of interesting books.

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A pile of books about Lincoln and the Civil War. Research materials for an upcoming project. Plus, Lincoln is just an incredible historical figure.

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Some French-language plays, because my French is embarrassingly rusty. And because I love Beckett and Ionesco.

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Books about old-timey medicine!

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It’s sad that Pazzo is closing next week. You should find the time to visit Tom before he closes up shop, because the book selection is still pretty incredible.

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My new collection Tiny Bites is out now!

CoverMy new collection, Tiny Bites, is out now on Smashwords!

Tiny Bites is a collection of six very short stories with one thematic link: food.

In “What You Eat,” a man struggles with his compulsion to consume office supplies.

In “Practical Tips for Hosting a Thanksgiving Feast,” readers experience an alternate history where Thanksgiving has sinister origins.

In “The Bombshell,” a child’s game inspires a tragic act of sacrifice.

In “A Turn of the Stomach,” an unnamed narrator comes to terms with a murder in an idyllic seaside community.

In “The Ghost Who Holds Dinner Parties,” a socialite’s soiree ends with a bang.

In “Consumption,” an adventurous eater gets his comeuppance.

Running the gamut from magical realism to alternate history, each tale is stranger than the last. Not for the faint of heart, these unsettling tales will remain with you long after you’ve turned out the lights.

You can download Tiny Bites on Smashwords. The book will also be available on the Apple iBookstore and at online at Barnes & Noble in a couple of days.

 

EDIT: BN.com now has the ebook “in stock,” as does Apple.

RIP Iain M. Banks (and some thoughts about nom de plumes)

After announcing he had terminal cancer earlier this year, Iain M. Banks has passed away.

Banks was a staggering talent, and one of the writers who completely captivated my imagination and twisted my developing brain. As a teenager, his novel “The Wasp Factory” was a favorite of mine. “The Wasp Factory” completed blew my mind with a “never saw it coming” ending that I wouldn’t dare cheapen by calling it a “twist.” In retrospect, I respect it even more: it was his debut novel, and it instantly cemented him as a talent (albeit a controversial one.)

Banks caught a lot of flak for his naming conventions. It’s generally reported that he used “Iain Banks” for more “literary work” and “Iain M. Banks” for Sci-Fi. The breakdown was never quite that black and white, but his use of two professional names really irked a lot of people. Why a single initial should matter so much has always baffled me.

I guess other authors have felt fan ire over their use of other names (Stephen King as Richard Bachman, Anne Rice as Anne Rampling or A .N. Roquelaire.) But the name “controversy” over how Banks used his middle initial always seemed silly to me. Why not write under more than one name? As an author, your name is sort of your brand: if you have the breadth of talent to write in more than one genre, with very difference audiences, it makes sense to distinguish those properties. It’s not a matter of trying to “fool” your readers.

As a woman with a masculine name, it’s been interesting trying to write using my real name. If I’m submitting to a women’s magazine or an anthology that’s targeting only female writers, I always make it a point to explain in my cover letter than my name may be masculine, but I am not. If I’m writing for a men’s mag, or don’t want people to consider my gender at all, then I say nothing and let people assume what they will. Though, of course, anyone could Google me and find pictures of my feminine face plastered on Twitter or this very blog.

I think I may have gotten away from the point here, which should be Banks. I guess I think his legacy should be his writing, and not some stupid quibbles about how he used that initial to convey meaning about the content of a book. We live in an age where anyone can get behind a “nom de plume” in about 45 seconds. Let’s stop talking about the name an author chooses to publish under, and talk about the content of the novels themselves. An author’s identity doesn’t change just because they used a different name on a book cover.

Weekend Update

Yeah, so I haven’t been a good blogger lately. Things have been a bit hectic. I have a couple of irons in the fire that I don’t really want to say much about until they happen (or fall through.) There’s an upcoming publication, a possible upcoming game writing gig, and a third thing that I should just shut up about but that I’ll know more about in July, if it’s really happening. 2013 has been a weird year: I’ve had a couple of big irons in the fire nearly all year, but the wheels are turning slowly. I keep feeling like I’m right on the cusp of something big.

Here are some of the things I can tell you about…

YAHOO! TV

Over at Yahoo, I’ve been writing  a ton of TV-related content. I recently interviewed former “Project Runway” contestant (and all-around nice gal) Valerie Mayen. You can read the interview here, and check out some of her current designs here.

I recently wrote a response piece to Thrillist’s recent article about why girls don’t like “Game of Thrones.” Because, of course, they do. Or rather, some of them do, just as only “some” men like it. Because nothing breaks down cleanly across gender lines. I wrote the article before this study was done, but I totally agree with those findings.

I also wrote this article the day before NBC renewed “Hannibal,” entitled “If ‘Hannibal’ Gets Canceled, It’s Because of NBC’s Laziness.” I was flabbergasted when I saw how much traffic that article got. I guess it really resonated with TV fans.

In the article, I basically called out NBC for their recent practice of making boring, derivative works, be they prequels like “Hannibal,” sequels like “The Firm,” or adaptations of an existing work, like “Do No Harm.”

All three of those shows struggled in the ratings, and I feel like it’s because audiences find it hard to get invested in shows that they kinda already know the outcome for. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for high name recognition on these properties, but high name recognition doesn’t automatically guarantee audience interest.

CREATIVE WRITING

I can’t tell you about some of the stuff, because SECRETS. And fear of jinxing myself by talking about a good thing before the ink is dry on the contracts.

So this awesome Science Channel series “Prophets of Science Fiction” arrived on Netflix, and I promptly devoured all of the episodes in about two days. Each episode basically focuses on the work and life of one SF giant, such as Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, or Philip K. Dick. I had caught a few episodes when it originally aired, but watching them all at once really got me thinking about the role of a writer in disseminating subtextual messages in their work.

Each of these episodes so succinctly explains what made each of these “prophets” so special, and what their vision of the future was. And as a young writer, that made me look inward and think about what I want my work to be about. Not the plots and the characters, but what it means underneath all of that superficial stuff. Because it isn’t enough to just tell a good story.

I think I have a clearer picture of what I want to say. And it won’t always be the same thing, but it will be in the same ballpark. I have a feeling I might have worked through some stuff and had a bit of a breakthrough, in a small way.

So in addition to the things I can’t super talk about, I’m working on some other projects. One of them is an idea that’s been slowly sending out taproots in my brain since, oh, 2007 or 2009. It’s sort of Greek mythology meets Love Canal meets Joe Meno.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m so young and inexperienced, or just because that’s the way my mind works, but my stories tend to have a long gestation period. Granted, there are a few that came together within just a few weeks or even a few days (“Concerning the Last Days of the Colony at New Roanoke,” “The Mechanical Turk.”) Anywhere, it finally feels like this one is ready to be born, which is exciting! I’m thinking it’s going to be novel-length, which is terrifying because I so much vastly prefer short-form.

I’m also working on a zombie story that’s not about zombies. Again, novel-length. Again, terrifying. Work’s been pretty hectic of late, so I’m hoping to get some serious progress made at the lake this summer.

Late to the Party: SFWA

Yeah, so it’s been a couple of months since my last post. I should probably do something about that, eh?

The hard part of being a writer is balancing the writing you’re getting paid for against the writing that you do gratis, or on spec. Too often, that means I’m chasing dollars instead of collecting my thoughts here or in my journal.

Complicating matters is the fact that I often want to collect my thoughts, rather than just record my knee-jerk reactions to things. Even big stories, when it’s abdundantly clear who is in the wrong and who is in the right, sometimes require long periods of mulling. Or at least, they do for me.

I’m not sure I have any new perspectives to add to the conversation about the recent SFWA kerfuffle. Actually, scratch that. Kerfuffle is way too genial of a word for that disgraceful situation over at The Bulletin.

In case you missed it, E. Catherine Tobler has a pretty good breakdown of what happened. Also a must-read to get some perspective on this thing is John Scalzi’s heartfelt and completely appropriate apology.

I’m not late to the party in terms of reading about this situation and the thinkpieces that originated in its wake, but I’m definitely late to the party when it comes to putting in my own two cents.

Honestly, the whole situation made me not want to join the SFWA. Not just because of this creepy, aggressive sexism, but because of the other things that came to light in the aftermath of this whole debacle.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, I think, has had one of the best reactions to the whole situation. Yes, the level of girl-bashing was unacceptable. Yes, it has endangered the perception of the “SWFA brand” with female writers and egalitarian male writers. But what might be more unacceptable is the lack of a useful community for the SFWA, which is kind of baffling in this day and age. I’m gonna block quote the most important chunk of  Silvia’s response post: (full disclosure: Silvia was one of the editors who accepted my work into “Future Lovecraft.”)

When I was a member of SFWA, I joined because I thought it would be a good tool for me. However, I was disappointed with several of it services. The most prominent “perks” of the organization seem to be:

  • Health coverage (does not apply to me, as I’m in Canada, but I can see the appeal for people in the USA)
  • Social media forums (they were not very active and I found few interesting, welcoming discussions)
  • The directory (kind of useless since finding contact info for people is easy online)
  • The Bulletin (its articles seemed very basic)
  • Grievance committee (can’t comment on it as I didn’t use it)

So here’s the thing: I found The Bulletin to be pretty much a waste of paper long before this controversy. It didn’t seem to contain the useful articles and items I find in the trade publications I purchase or get through my day job. A lot of the content was too fluffy or intended for a less experienced audience.

Joining the SFWA was a sort of long-term goal. I certainly haven’t sold enough stories in the right places to qualify for membership at this point in my career, and I’m not even sure “SF writer” is the best label for me or my work. But I liked the idea of being a part of a group of forward-thinking, talented writers. Writing itself is such a solitary enterprise, and I do so enjoy those rare occasions when I can network, converse, and engage with other people who love staring into tiny electric boxes as much as I do. I also, I’ll admit, liked the idea of health insurance, as someone who isn’t in the best of health.

But Silvia raises some good points: if The Bulletin is all, well, BULL, and the other perks are sort of “meh,” then what is the real value of membership? Presumably, the people reading The Bulletin want insightful articles aimed at professional writers, not basic tips, news, and fluff. What do the writers get out of it? I’m sure there are plenty of members who have great, valid answers to that question, but as an outsider looking in, I’m having a hard time seeing it.

All that being said, it seems like from what Scalzi posted on his blog, there are going to be some strong winds of change blowing. Maybe this awful attack on the female gender by a small percentage of SFF writers will have proved to be a good thing, years from now. By rousting out members of the “old guard” and rallying passionate male and female writers around the shared goals of equality and respect for writers of all backgrounds, maybe both The Bulletin and the SFWA will grow into something more worthy of adoration.

Maybe I’m trying too hard to find the silver lining on a shit sandwich, but part of me can’t help but think of this whole thing as forest fire, the kind of fire that makes way for new grasses and trees and animals in its wake. Maybe this whole incident was the lightning strike that this forest needed, the ensuing “firestorm” just the purge the organization needed for foster new growth.

Writing for Men, Writing for Women

This year, I’ve been lucky enough to write for two cool publications. One is a men’s magazine, American Gentleman, while the other is the women’s mag DAME. It’s been really interesting to write for both publications at the same time. As a woman who considers herself to be “just one of the guys,” it’s been amazing to be able to craft articles for both sides of my personality.

As a writer, I’m not usually in the position where I’m thinking about what gender my reader is likely to be. I’m usually just focused on the content itself, trying to relay information as clearly and concisely as possible. So, that’s been an interesting element that’s informed my writing of late.

If you’d like to see what both of these cutting edge publications are up to, you can read American Gentleman on your iPhone/iPad with this app, or check out their website. I covered the launch of the Samsung Galaxy 4 for them earlier this year.

DAME updates daily with new content that’s relevant to women, and you can follow them on Twitter to stay informed. My first article for them is about TV characters in debt, and how real women can learn from their mistakes.