Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

Wednesday Comics

Wednesdays have a holiday feeling for me lately, because I’ve gotten back into the rhythm of going to the comics store once a week. I was lured back by the lovely retro-newspaper Wednesday Comics, which came out once a week for 12 weeks in full color, looking the way you wish the Sunday comics page looked. Though those were lovely eye candy, most of the stories inside ultimately disappointed. What’s made me stay, however, is that comics have amazing range. Sometimes poignant, sometimes badass, sometimes just fun. I love the genre-bending that tends to go on. I love hanging on the slow progression of a story that comes out in serial, and then rereading it in a big slurp when the whole thing has come out.

I read and write in a lot of forms, and I find that sometimes I need to change my focus to give me a fresh feeling in a world that’s pretty dense with words. Comics have been doing that for me lately.

I just got home from the comics store clutching Cinderella: from Fabletown with Love–for those who aren’t in the know, we’re talking here about Cinderella, super-spy, and it’s everything I hoped it would be. There’s a nice interview with Chris Roberson, the writer, here.

But I’m far from the only one who feels the magic of Wednesday. Paul Cornell, at the awesome Clockwork Storybook blog (chock full of writers so cool it makes me want to cry), writes, in the post I linked at the beginning of this paragraph:

That Wednesday feeling, where one hangs around I Fanboy (I hope they note I’ve dropped the comma I kept putting in their name, like they were the fan equivalent of I, Claudius), Millarworld and other forums, waiting for the first reviews to wander in, when one can pop into a comic shop, and actually see it sitting there on the shelf (right next to the Avengers titles, hmm, that’s good) is just one of the many lovely things about writing comics. … I think the feeling is quite an ancient one, akin to what Conan Doyle and Dickens and all the other writers of serials for magazines must have felt.

(As an aside, Cornell’s talking about Black Widow: Deadly Origin #1, which he wrote, and which I also picked up this week. (It’s easy to sell me a comic–just write one about a badass female super-spy or assassin or warrior.))

I think he’s dead on with his analogy to the old serial novels. When I’ve read books like The Three Musketeers, I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to get fed the thing chapter by chapter, to get the story in nibbles and then reread in gulps to make sense of it, to speculate excitedly with my friend about the surprises to come. Those stories work better that way. They’re epic, too big to read quickly or alone.

Comics have this quality, too. I look at Sandman sitting on my shelf, or Y: the Last Man, or any number of others, and I think about what huge, weird, and lovely stories these are. Long live the serial, and all hail Wednesday.

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What Makes Me Think I Can

Many times, I’ve seen interviews or posts in which a writer says she decided to make a serious go at writing and publishing after reading some godawful novel, throwing it down in disgust, and saying, “Surely, I can do better than that!” This has always turned my stomach, and the feeing of superiority has never been helpful to me.

I once had a lover who could barely stand to go into a bookstore because he compared himself with every writer on the shelves, thinking of all of the books as books he hadn’t written. Was he better than those writers? Was he worse? Was he younger than Writer X when Writer X published a debut novel? Older?

I think that kind of paralysis is exactly what this tendency to comparison creates. I was useless at taking my writing anywhere beyond the drawer as long as I worried about what Writer X was doing. If I look down on Writer X, and then I get a rejection slip, what does that say about me? I think this attitude leads to bitterness and contempt for the industry.

The last couple years, a different feeling has been growing on me. I’m finding myself inspired by seeing writers who are making progress, winning awards, and getting published. It started with writers I’ve learned to recognize online. Watching Matt Bell go from winning the Million Writers Award to publishing chapbooks to being about to release a story collection has been inspiring. Watching Jordan Lapp, who is one of the editors of Every Day Fiction, win a Writers of the Future award and go to Clarion West has been inspiring.

Lately, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some writers in person. Ken Liu and I have talked over various aspects of the writing and publishing process, and it helps to see how serious he is about this, and to meet someone who’s spent years studying markets like I have. (Ken has also won a Writers of the Future award, and has published some excellent stories, including this one). At the featherproof books event, I got to meet and talk briefly with Amelia Gray, who’s an extremely nice person whose book AM/PM I just finished devouring, and who won the FC2 prize.

Seeing that human beings can be persistent, develop their craft, and be recognized for it is what makes me think I can do this. When I was a child, writers were some sort of extradimensional being to me. I’d rather keep myself on this path by recognizing people’s humanity, not by feeling contempt for what people have done.

That doesn’t mean I love every piece of fiction out there. It just means that I don’t find it useful to focus on the ones I don’t like, and they certainly don’t help me stay motivated. I know it can be intimidating to look at Flannery O’Connor or George Eliot or Neil Gaiman or Maureen McHugh or whomever and wonder how they write like they do. I think any serious writer has to get over the fear and figure out which writers to admire, look up to, and learn from, not which writers to scorn.

Oh, the Irony

Yup, I missed two posts in a row right after my anniversary post stating that I’d finally gotten better at writing regular posts. My favorite form of humor is irony. Coming back from vacation, it’s been tougher to blog than while I was on vacation, and I’m reading at a much greater rate than I can write posts.

I did a lot of heavy literary reading while on vacation, and then read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book in my first couple days back to take a break. This book, like all of Gaiman’s work, grabs me and propels me through it, and it feels really good to read that way. When I was a kid, first falling in love with reading, all books felt that way to me. I often wonder what makes that feeling decrease.

Don’t get me wrong–I love to read. It’s just that, while all books used to totally absorb me, that now happens less often. The books that have completely absorbed me so far this year were John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, Sean Stewart’s Mockingbird, Margaret Ronald’s Spiral Hunt, Daryl Gregory’s Pandemonium, and the aforementioned Graveyard Book. All of these books “ruined my life,” in a good way–I didn’t want to eat, sleep, or talk to anyone until I finished them. Genre books, all of them.

I love literary fiction, and I’ve read plenty of literary fiction that made my heart pound all the way through (see, for one example, Matt Bell’s short story “An Index of How Our Family Was Killed“). But sometimes it seems that writing gets classed “literary” precisely because it isn’t a page turner. This seems unnecessary, and a losing proposition in terms of finding an audience. Does a book get classed genre anytime it has that pageturning effect? On the other hand, I sometimes feel I have to explain what I mean when I talk about the literary value of a genre work. What’s going on?

I spend a lot of time pondering the genre/literary split, and I like publications and presses that blur it (Small Beer Press, for example, and I have high hopes for Monkeybicycle). What I really want is to have it all from my fiction. I want great writing that keeps me up at night. I read and study all kinds of short stories because I want to understand how they work. But I feel weird when a journal or collection feels a little like eating flax–it’s supposedly so good for me, and yet sort of unpleasant.

There are literary journals that completely avoid the flax effect–Rosebud, for example. Others just aren’t that fun to read, and I have to ask myself, why is it that a book can be full of good stories and yet be no fun? (And, let me add that I don’t require happy endings or sunny subjects to call something fun).

This is one of the great mysteries, as far as I’m concerned. When I am reading a book that makes the rest of the world fall away, it’s such a relief. It makes me wonder why it isn’t always that way.

Not Fan Fiction

Ken Liu’sSingle-Bit Error,” published in the Thoughtcrime Experiments anthology, is related to Ted Chiang’sHell is the Absence of God.” (I discuss this relationship more extensively in yesterday’s post). Both stories are explorations of faith and atheism, using the concept of angelic visitations to drive the action and the philosophical discussion. To be clear, Liu lists the story’s influences as a note at the end, and got Chiang’s permission before publishing his take.

I enjoyed reading the two pieces as a conversation, and, in many ways, this is what literature is about. The flow of philosophical ideas from Plato to Aristotle to Aquinas, for example, is a part of the Great Conversation that makes it so worthwhile to be a reader of writer. That said, Liu’s piece is hard to classify, and I imagine it was incredibly hard to publish.

I think there is a kind of writing that exists that sits somewhere on the spectrum between fan fiction and an original story (if there truly is such a thing). When I get an idea like this, it’s not exactly that I want to write in another writer’s world, but that I want to use another writer’s premise for my own exploration. Sometimes, strong anthologies get created by giving lots of writers the same premise and putting the results side by side, but, for the most part, I groan when I get one of these ideas because I know it’s not going to be an easy road. For example, I love the premise of Catherynne Valente’s book, Palimpsest, and I want to play with it myself. The difficulties with doing this have stopped me, however. Unless I really, really care about the idea, I won’t write it.

That’s one thing that I love about the Creative Commons license. I think labels like that declare that it’s OK to experiment along those lines (as long as it’s not the non-derivative license, I guess). I think it’s good to create a space that truly allows conversation in literature. There’s a lot of healthy activity along these lines, but, for the most part it deals with older works that are out of copyright.

Take, for example, the many retellings of fairy tales, such as those in Ellen Datlow’s and Terri Windling’s Snow White, Blood Red anthology. Or several stories in Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things anthology (for example, “A Study in Emerald,” which mashes up Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes, and “The Problem of Susan,” which questions the treatment of Susan in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia). There’s also a huge and vital community devoted to developing the ideas of H.P. Lovecraft.

Liu’s story makes me wonder why that conversation doesn’t seem to happen as much around more current literature.

I felt this particularly keenly because I’m currently struggling to find a market for a piece that makes many references to Star Trek (particularly the Klingon language), and yet is not fan fiction and is not a Star Trek story. That limbo is an interesting place, but it’s not an easy place to be.

(Note: I wrote this post and then decided to contact Ken Liu to ask him about marketing his story and about influences. He kindly replied. Look for some thoughts from him in the next couple of days.)