Uncanny Issue 1 Cover & Table of Contents!

russellproctor:

It’s great to see a new science fiction and fantasy magazine coming out. And the line-up of talent for the first edition of ‘Uncanny’ looks formidable. So I thought I’d share this for all those people, both readers and writers, wanting something new to explore.

Originally posted on Uncanny:

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Coming in November, THE FIRST ISSUE OF UNCANNY!!!
All of the content will be available in the eBook version on the day of release. The free online content will be released in 2 stages- half on day of release and half in December.

Table of Contents:

Cover by Galen Dara

Editorial
The Uncanny Valley- Editorial by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas

New Fiction
Maria Dahvana Headley- “If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White”
Kat Howard- “Migration”
Max Gladstone- “Late Nights at the Cape and Cane”
Amelia Beamer- “Celia and the Conservation of Entropy”
Ken Liu- “Presence”
Christopher Barzak- “The Boy Who Grew Up”

Classic Fiction
Jay Lake- “Her Fingers Like Whips, Her Eyes Like Razors”

Nonfiction
Sarah Kuhn- “Mars (and Moon and Mercury and Jupiter and Venus) Attacks!”
Worldcon Roundtable featuring Emma England, Michael Lee, Helen Montgomery, Steven H Silver, and Pablo Vazquez
Tansy…

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The OneStop Apocalypse Shop

Did you ever want to help produce a movie? Well,  now you can. Permuted Pictures are running a Kickstarter campaign for their first movie , The OneStop Apocalypse Shop. A worthy cause. So today’s post is a guest blog with author Derek J. Goodman…

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Hi, my name is Derek J. Goodman, and I would like to talk about the Kickstarter for the movie The OneStop Apocalypse Shop, based on my novel The Apocalypse Shift.

The one thing I get asked the most about the novel is if I, like the characters, have ever worked the graveyard shift at a convenience store. The answer is yes, I did indeed work for a year doing the night shift at a 7-11 in a seedy section of Denver. It is, without a doubt, the worst job I’ve ever had. I could tell you stories. But after a certain amount of time passed, I found myself actually growing nostalgic about it. Not because I actually wanted to go back and do it again, but because, unlike most of my jobs since, it was interesting. The idea occurred to me that if vampires, werewolves, and zombies had walked through that door, it wouldn’t have changed anything. That job would have been equally as crazy.

And so I came up with stories of the OneStop and the poor schmucks who worked there. The OneStop was in a special section of the city that tends to attract magical forces once the sun goes down. Most of the monsters that walk through the door are just minding their business like any other customer. They want Twinkies, nachos, doughnuts, Slim Jims, and Froztees. But every so often some mad power-hungry demon might come in for a quick bite on their way to destroying the world. The crew at the OneStop need to stop them. It’s part of their job, right up there with mopping the floor, keeping the coffee pots full, and ringing up the customers.

The Kickstarter is being run by my publisher, Permuted Press, who happen to have several really talented film students among their staff. The script will be by Ryne Driscoll and it will be directed by David Walker. I recently had the opportunity to talk to them in person and I’m confident that the project is in good hands. This is all around a great opportunity and I’m happy to be a part of it.

For further information about the Kickstarter and how to donate to it, you can  click here. I really hope that other people will be as excited about this as I am.

-Derek J. Goodman

And from Michael L. Wilson, President of Permuted Press, we have the following:

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I’m assuming that you know who Permuted Press is, given that you probably landed on this page as the result of a Facebook post that we, or perhaps a friend of yours, shared in your news feed. One of yesterday’s Kickstarter supporters for the OneStop Apocalypse Shop film pointed out that we may not have made it very clear what Permuted Pictures is all about. So on a chilly Sunday Tennessee evening as I sit at my kitchen table eating a bowl of Fruit Loops, feeling like a barbarian because I just had to hand-wash a cereal bowl because the dishwasher is broken, I’ve decided to take a moment to share a bit more about our little pet project.

(Yeah, I’m a little sore about the busted dishwasher.)

Several people that make up the Permuted Press staff are film school graduates. I’ve seen their student films and even acted in a few. They’ve done some pretty respectable little productions on a shoestring budget. One day it came up in conversation, “We should do a Permuted Press film.” It seemed like a goof at the time, but the thought sat with me. I began doing some research and realized that if we chose the right script that could be filmed inexpensively enough, we could probably take a weekend or two and have some fun by making an ultra-campy horror flick and have some fun posting it online. I bounced it off the team, and before long, they were in.

When I mentioned the idea in passing to Permuted’s owners, they suggested we think bigger. Rather than try to bootstrap the film by saving our milk money, they challenged us to aim higher and go for a more professional production by doing a Kickstarter campaign to finance the project. We were even encouraged to move forward by some friends in the “real” film industry who have offered to advise us on things like production, casting and distribution.

Around the same time the idea for doing an indie Permuted film began to take shape, we received a novel pitch from Derek Goodman for a series he’s writing called The Apocalypse Shift. The elevator pitch for the series called it “Clerks meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” That quick comparison closed the deal. We knew we had to make this movie! The entire idea was just too much fun to pass up.

What we’re doing with Permuted Pictures in no way compares to what our film agents are doing in Hollywood. Those guys continue to pitch our books to the big studios. Permuted Pictures isn’t the answer for all of Permuted Press’s authors to have their books made into film. It’s really just a grand experiment. If it goes well, we’ll hopefully do more. There are some amazing stories in the Permuted Press catalog that would make great, inexpensive grassroots film projects.

We know that in order for this campaign to be successful, it will require authors to use their author platforms to solicit support for the film. A lot of people will need to decide to get onboard with the idea and pull together to help make the whole effort doable on even the smallest scale.

At the end of the day, we realize that our job isn’t to make movies. It’s to sell books. So the whole film thing is something we’re committed to work on primarily over lunch, evenings and weekends. But it’s still fun, and we think it’ll be fun to watch, too.

If you’re an author, an indie film fan, a horror enthusiast or just want to be part of helping an eager young group of film school graduates hone their craft, we’d deeply appreciate it if you’d spread the word about Permuted Pictures and The OneStop Apocalypse Shop. If you can pitch in a few bucks, we appreciate that, too. Sharing our Kickstarter updates during the coming month will also go a long way in making the campaign a success.

Now my Fruit Loops are soggy and the dishwasher is still broken. When does the glamour of being the President of an indie film studio kick in?

- Michael L. Wilson, President, Permuted Press

The Thot Plickens

Some writers plot. Some don’t. I sort of do it. I don’t sit down and carefully write out everything that’s going to happen in my books. If I did, I would no longer be interested in writing them. I sort of have an outline, or at least a vague idea of what I think might happen, and go from there.

After that, I start writing along the lines of what I had in mind for that chapter, and make it up as I go. I discover new things as I write, develop new ideas for the characters, and sometimes things go in a very different way to what I had intended.

Take today for instance. I was writing a scene in my new book (I hate the word ‘Chapter’. I don’t regard the divisions within my books as chapters, although they are, mostly. I call them scenes. My background as an actor coming back to haunt me, I guess). Anyway, I was writing a scene and half way through I had an idea that changed the direction of the entire book. That’s ok. I think the new direction is a superior one. The scene didn’t end at all the way I had planned. But that’s writing.

Such irresponsible activity usually means that I have to reconsider other chapters, particularly what has gone before, and re-write them to conform to the new stuff.

Occasionally, I do plot something out in detail. Below are some notes I made for several scenes in my novel ‘An Unkindness of Ravens’ which detailed two sets of characters doing two things separately from each other. Most of the ideas on these pages ended up being scrapped anyway. But this level of detail in my pre-planning is rare.

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Usually it’s more general ideas, most of which I won’t use eventually. This makes my writing more dynamic, and to me more interesting.

Some writing teachers abhor plotting. Some encourage it. One, namely James Scott Bell, suggests you try a combination of both, or neither. It’s up to the writer. I am kind of the school that goes with, ‘Well, if I know what’s going to happen, I don’t feel inclined to write it anymore.’ On the other hand, ‘winging it’ from start to finish has a lot of dangers, too. The only writer I knew who could wing it entirely and get away with it was Roger Zelazny, who is one of my influences and one of the best dialogue writers I ever had the pleasure of reading.

I guess writers do whatever it takes to produce the goods. I start and stop, do research when I discover I need to, write the ending sometimes very early on so I know where I’m going, think up characters and then try to justify why they are in the story, realise they aren’t, get rid of them and bring them back later when some justification for their existence comes to mind.

Writing is dynamic, and pre-plotting sometimes gets in the way of a good tale. So I do a bit of both. I think it works.

Russell Proctor, http://www.russellproctor.com

 

The Looking-Glass House Preview

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Since the release date of my novel The Red King has been announced (2 December if you missed it) I’ve been hard at work on the other books of the series. Together the three books relate the adventures of Alice Liddell (from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) and Dorothy Gale (from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz) as they fight supernatural forces in Edwardian London. Actually, the third book, The Looking-Glass House, is set in World War One. I thought today I would give you an excerpt from that Work In Progress.

Release dates for all three books of the series are as follows:

The Red King: 2 December 2014

An Unkindness of Ravens: 1 December 2015

The Looking-Glass House: 6 December 2016.

All are to be published by Permuted Press.

Here’s the extract:

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A drop falls from an oar blade, splashes a coronet of tiny droplets across the still water below. Another, and another, and then the oar dips back under and stirs and splashes as the man using the oar leans back and propels the boat forward with another sweep.

In the boat, which bears the name ‘Elsie’s Boat’ in rough letters on the stern, five figures:

At the bow, hauling on an oar, a skinny man in a striped jacket, a straw boater on his head, his feet on either side of a picnic basket. The others call him Dodo. In the centre of the boat, also clad in appropriate boating attire, another man, not so skinny, older, pulling stroke. Mr Duckworth. At his feet are two girls, in neatly pressed frocks, the younger one wide-eyed and sucking her thumb, which every so often is unceremoniously hauled from her mouth by her older sister beside her. Lorina and Edith. In the stern, coxing the boat with an occasional lazy tug at the tiller, a third girl, mid-way in age between the other two, with long golden hair. Alice, aged seven.

Scented rushes glide by and for a moment Alice is tempted to steer towards them, to snuffle in the cloying aroma, but she keeps a steady line, for she knows neither of the rowers can see where they are going, and depend on her.

Lorina dips a finger into the water and eyes Dodo at the bow.

‘Tell us a story,’ she says, keeping her finger trailing through the green water. ‘It’s still forever to Godstow.’

‘It’s not half a mile,’ says Alice. ‘I know, because I’m steering.’

‘Half a mile is forever,’ says little Edith, and emphasises the point by putting her thumb back into her mouth.

‘A story?’ says Dodo, and smiles because these girls are always wanting stories, and it’s such a strain to make them up. ‘Well, once there were three sisters, and their names were…’

‘You told that one already!’ cries Alice. ‘Elsie meant a new story.’

‘I thought you didn’t want a story at all,’ says Lorina.

Alice gazes out over the river. Long Vacation is so much more fun that beastly school. She hates having to stand in front of the class and recite lessons. If only she could think of stories of her own, she could write them down. But Lorina is the one with imagination; she is always reading. Alice tries to read as little as possible.

‘Stories are fun when they’re told to you,’ says Alice. ‘It’s too much trouble to think up my own.’

‘You have no imagination,’ says Lorina.

‘What’s that mean?’ asks Edith, shifting in the bottom of the boat. She doesn’t much care how far it is to Godstow, or whether a story is forthcoming or not. As long as her sisters bicker that is entertainment enough.

‘It means she can’t think of things,’ says Lorina, flicking a few drops of water in Alice’s face. Alice squeals and pokes her tongue out.

‘Charming,’ says Duckworth, and glances over his shoulder at Dodo, who is staring intently at Alice.

‘Yes, she is,’ says Dodo, and Duckworth notices the fire in his eyes and wonders if his friend’s interest in Alice is quite one that an older man should be showing a seven year old girl.

‘Tell us a story…please,’ continues Lorina.

‘All right,’ says Dodo. ‘And since you claim she has no imagination, I’ll tell you a story about Alice and how great her imagination can be if she tries.’

‘I want to be in the story too!’ says Edith. ‘It’s not fair Alice gets her own story.’

‘All right. You’ll all be in it. But you have to look hard, because you may be in disguise.’

‘Hooray!’ squeals Edith. ‘I like disguises!’

Dodo begins: ‘Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank…’

‘Which sister?’ interjects Edith.

‘Shh!’ hisses Lorina. ‘He’s telling the story.’

‘Her sister was reading a book without any pictures or conversations…’

‘That’s Lorina!’ cries Edith. ‘She reads boring things!’

‘If you don’t keep quiet,’ says Lorina, giving her sister a pinch. ‘I’ll sit on your head.’

‘So Alice thought she’d make a daisy chain…’

Alice leans back in the cushioned seat and grips the tiller. Godstow is looming around the next bend, and she hopes Dodo finishes the story before they reach it. As he talks she watches the corners of his mouth that every so often break into a smile when her gaze lifts to his eyes.

If you would like any further information about the series, called The Jabberwocky Book, visit my website at http://www.russellproctor.com or contact me directly at russellproctor6@gmail.com. I love hearing from readers.

Russell Proctor

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Introducing…Kindra Sowder

One of the best things about being a writer is interacting with other writers. Today, I’m turning my blog over to Kindra Sowder, who is a fellow Permuted Press author. Permuted Press is a publishing company in the United States which has undergone a lot of transformation recently and has engaged a swag of talented people to write books for them. Kindra is one of these. I’m looking forward to the release of her book ‘Follow the Ashes” in the near future.

So here, she is: Kindra Sowder in her own write:

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Granted, I may not have an actual release date for my first book “Follow the Ashes: Part 1 of the Executioner Trilogy,” but that won’t stop me from spreading the word. I have been working on this for ten years and it went from a partnership with very campy humor, and a five part story to what is now. It is one of the best up and coming urban fantasy series that will have you on the edge of your seat and a knife in your heart. It is tragedy, love, loss, and destruction.

All the campy humor is gone, the partnership is history, and the story has evolved to its three parts, much better self. Now it will be published by Permuted Press, the same publisher who I have the pleasure of working with amazing author Russell Proctor with. A real up and comer. So, you guys might be wondering what it’s about. Well, here is a brief synopsis below. I also have another work being published by Permuted Press, but this is the one I am the most excited about. Here you go guys! Enjoy!

Synopsis:

There is a Gypsy legend of a woman called the Executioner. She is the one who will take on the night and all of the creatures within its dark depths. Robin is this woman and along with her partner Elizabeth, who is a very talented witch, they will fight the darkness. According to this Gypsy legend, they are destined to take their places as the leaders of an army to fight the forces of darkness in the apocalypse. This is the beginning of their journey to that very moment. Robin encounters a man who Elizabeth has foreseen who will forever change her life, but he isn’t quite human. On her way home from this shadowy encounter with this mysterious man she comes across something else in the lonely death of a cemetery. At this moment, little does she know who this creature is who she has witnessed crawling from a small crater in the ground, covered in soot and it is up to them to stop her, no matter what the cost.

And here is an excerpt just for you guys to get you hooked, to become part of the following:

I was swiftly taken through our home and my eyes were able to drift open long enough for me to see our kitchen doorway as I was laid on the kitchen island. I felt very large, warm hands on me that rolled me onto my side. One hand moved to my shoulder and gave a reassuring squeeze as I heard rummaging through a cabinet. I knew what was coming. A holy water shower, followed by a silver nitrate shot. This was going to hurt.

I heard glass moving around and knew Beth had found the bottles of holy water. I was already shaking because I knew what was coming. I had experienced this pain before. We both had, but she wasn’t the one who had almost burned the house down because of it.

Fear gripped me and my eyes shot open and met his. Beth laid a glass syringe and an amber glass bottle on the corner of the island next to the three bottles of holy water it would take for the process. She glanced at me when her eyes met mine I saw pity and concern. She knew exactly what I was about to endure, and she felt sorry for me. I half expected her not to be able to do it herself, but as she picked up one bottle of holy water she removed the lid and gave me a reassuring look. I turned onto my stomach and gripped both side of the island, and braced myself for what was going to happen next.

Beth held the bottle over the wounds and hesitated. I could see her arm shaking as well. She didn’t want to do this, but she had to. If she didn’t, I was going to turn and they would be my first victims. I’d kill myself before I let that happen. I would not be one of the monsters.

I looked her directly in the eyes and nodded, giving her the okay. It had to be done. I gripped the counter even harder and squeezed my eyes shut, holding my breath. Every muscle in my body tensed up, and she hadn’t even poured anything yet. Then I felt the first sting as a few drops landed on my skin, and I gripped the edges of the counter even harder. Those few drops weren’t as bad as the barrage of acid that was about to be poured onto me.

A river of holy water touched my skin and sizzled. I felt like acid was being poured onto me and I was able to stifle a few screams. The river stopped, and then another started. I couldn’t stop it this time. Screams of agony ripped through the air and filled every corner of the house. There was no way to fight it. It stopped again. I opened my eyes and Beth was standing there, holding the bottle but not daring to pour anymore. I gave her another nod and closed my eyes. She then poured the whole bottle and then moved onto bottle number two, then three. I was sweating and soaking wet and could barely breathe by the time that was done. Now came the worst part. The syringe full of silver nitrate.

I slowly sat up, wincing, and put my arm out, rolling up my sleeve so she could get to the veins at the bend of my elbow. She touched the very tip of the glass syringe to my skin, looked me in the eyes, and pushed it into the vein right at the surface. I cringed, but held still. I knew once she pushed the plunger down I wouldn’t be as retrained. The man grabbed my shoulders from behind.

She pushed the plunger all the way down and at first everything was okay, then I felt a sensation was starting to build. My veins were on fire and as the burning grew, a glow began in the center of my chest and began to spread through those veins. The pain grew with it. I couldn’t hold it back. My head rolled back and I shrieked, a demonic scream being released with it.

The pain was unbearable and my body felt as if it was on fire and I went limp. My vision went black, but I was still aware of what was happening. The man picked me up and I could hear Beth directing him on where to go. As he laid me on what I could only assume was a bed I felt the coolness of the sheets, which was more than welcome as far as I was concerned. I wandered off into unconsciousness again, and everything was gone.

Author Links:

http://kindrasowder-insidemymind.blogspot.com/

https://www.facebook.com/kmkinnaman

https://twitter.com/KindraKinnaman

 

 

 

 

10 Books to Keep No Matter What

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A church near us is having a rummage sale. A flyer was put in our letter box asking for any donations, so I decided to go through my collection of books and see if there were any I didn’t need any longer.

That sounds almost sacrilegious: of course I need books! But lately I have managed to fill six bookcases, and some of them I know I’ll never read again, so it’s better that other people get the chance to read them than they just take up room on my bookshelves. There is some sanity in these things to cling to.

So I spent a day going through my books and seeing which ones I could bear to part with, and which I knew I would never desert. It was a great day, not painful at all, but certainly full of memories as I pulled volume after volume off the shelves, flicked through them, and recalled what I did and didn’t like about them.

The decision became not which ones do I donate, but which do I keep? So I made that my benchmark.

I won’t tell you which ones I donated – rather, the interesting question became why I wanted to keep certain books. What is it about them that makes me want to hang onto them?

So in no particular order, just as they came off the shelves, here are a few I decided to keep, and the reasons why:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

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This one was easy. It’s actually the first four instalments of his trilogy (and if you don’t understand that reference, it’s probably because you haven’t read them). But I always figured the first one was the best. After all, Earth is destroyed in the first few chapters, and towards the end our hero discovers the answer to life, the universe and everything. That’s an enormous task for one average-length book. Funny, very witty, and also deeply wise, this book has always been a favourite of mine. Adams managed to turn conventional science-fiction on its head and created something quite unique. His quirky insights to the human condition, in particular the absurdity of our never-ending quest for meaning in a meaningless universe, are inspirational far beyond his original intentions.

Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

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This is a very misunderstood book. Let’s face it, it isn’t exactly easy to read, and Melville breaks off the narrative a lot to digress on aspects of whaling that frankly have nothing to do with the plot. In some ways it’s the great American novel, in others it’s a handbook on whaling. Whole chapters are devoted to stream-of-consciousness musings by the characters, of whom there are a multitude. Melville makes errors too, patently declaring that a whale is a fish – even arguing the point at length. But the narrative, when it’s there, is tremendous. The last hundred or so pages bowl along madly. I’ve read this book a couple of times at least, and it’s one of those amazing stories in which you find different things with each read. Just don’t expect it to flow from A to B like a conventional novel – the deliberate, almost continuous, narrative collapse disallows that.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass , Lewis Carroll.

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Two separate books, often confused as one, and often confused as to content as well. Hollywood consistently seems to mix the books up, placing characters from one into the other and playing with the order of events. The dream adventures of a seven-year old girl have bewitched people for over a hundred years. What is so fascinating about these books? They are far from being the total nonsense they are often taken for. Experts have determined that mathematical concepts are contained in Wonderland’s chapters, and of course Looking-Glass is based on a chess game. I myself have used these books as inspiration for my horror/fantasy series The Jabberwocky Book. They remain as timeless as they are haunting. There is something about Alice’s adventures that touch deeply hidden parts of the human psyche. Or something. Maybe it’s just magic.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte.

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Come on, I have to mention this one, even though I am a guy. But it’s a girl’s book, I hear you declare. It’s a romance, isn’t it? Boy meets girl sort of stuff. Yes, it is. And then there’s the rest. Betrayal, violence, the supernatural, storms aplenty and not a single bit of bodice-ripping.  It’s a powerful tale of two families torn apart by the incursion of the Other, which is a Gothic concept Mary Shelley demonstrated so well in Frankenstein. Something from outside intrudes into the natural order of things and tears it apart. The tragic tale of Cathy and Heathcliff has repercussions for us all. This was Emily Bronte’s only book – she was much less productive than either of her sisters. But in my opinion this is the book that outshines the others.  Emily was one strange puppy if this is what was going on in her head.

Where Eagles Dare, Alistair MacLean.

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All right then, here’s a boy’s book. In World War II a brave bunch of British (and one American) commandos infiltrate the headquarters of the Nazi Alpenkorps in the heart of Germany to rescue a captured American General. Or do they? Is there something else going on? If I was ever to write a book about how to write a thriller, this is the example I would base it on. Absolutely gripping from the first page to the last, with many twists and turns that will have your head snapping. And the movie was good too. Nazis are great to use as an enemy – no reader will take offence. I’ve read this one a number of times, and even though not knowing the real nature of the commandos’ mission is the key to the surprise element of the book, it’s still great to read even when you do know it. It’s just that good.

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

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This book has its faults. It’s a bit…well, gooey. The nice people are really nice and the bad people are really bad and there’s an underlying Christian overtone that rankles (if an overtone can be said to underlie something – not a good description, I guess).  But I love the story anyway for its unusual and even daring experimentation. And any author who has the courage to literally begin a book with the words ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ deserves respect. The tale of Meg and Charles Wallace and Calvin rescuing Meg’s father from the clutches of an oversized pulsating brain from another planet could have been really, really trite. But L’Engle does it really well, despite the gooiness. I have to say the subsequent books in the series were nowhere near as good, which is a great pity since this one is a gem – a sticky one, but a gem.

The Oxford English Dictionary

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It comes in many forms, and is also available in CD form or online. all of which is good. I’m not trying to promote the Oxford over any other language’s dictionaries, of course, it’s just that English is the only language I know. This book certainly has all the words, even if it is a bit light on plot. I confess to reading dictionaries for fun. That is, dipping into them and finding out new words. I use it a lot when writing too, of course. It’s a pity that a lot of people don’t use this book more often than they do. As a teacher, I encourage my students to use it, but many don’t even seem to consider doing so. Which is a shame.

Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone, Mervyn Peake.

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I’m putting three books together on this one, which is a cheat, but I did it with little Alice above, and these books do need to be considered as a whole, even though the third one was left unfinished when Mervyn Peake died. To me, Peake was an incredible influence. I was captivated by Titus Groan when I first read it as a teenager. Writing with an artist’s eye, Peake’s descriptions of setting and people were second to none. And the convoluted, Gothic plot about the mad castle of Gormenghast and its madder inhabitants resonates with me profoundly. Only…I don’t know why. As an unfinished work, it of course lacks cohesion. There are unfinished sub-plots, extraneous characters and many unanswered questions. But there is no denying the trilogy’s power.

The Night Land, William Hope Hodgson,

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Another weird work that I have found very influential. And another flawed one, like the Gormenghast series and A Wrinkle in Time. But aren’t all books flawed in some way? Nothing is perfect. This is a spectacular vision of a dark – literally – and immensely remote future of an Earth after the Sun has died. Hodgson was a horror writer of some note during his lifetime, but his works haven’t resonated well with modern audiences. This is a shame, because the imaginative journey in this one is staggering. Very long, over 200,000 words, with basically just two characters, one of whom isn’t in the first half of the book. And chilling. Very, very scary. It’s a pity Hodgson was killed in the First World War – he could have done so much more with a mind like his.

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

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I wouldn’t want to be accused of only adding English-speaking authors here. This was another much-loved book from my youth. The tale of a double-murder from the point of view of the murderer himself is a great picture of a man who isn’t innately bad, but who is forced to extremes for the purposes of survival. And of course, the redemption at the end, just so everyone goes home in a good mood. I had to read it in translation, of course, but it was a good translation, and there’s nothing wrong with reading a good translation.

 

There are so many other books I could have added, but these were just some I sorted through for the jumble sale. None of these are going there. They will remain on my shelves for as long as I’m around, and maybe after.

 

You will, of course, have your own list, and that’s good too. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone’s own list of books they will never get rid of.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

 

Get that Cat off the Desk! Obstacles to Writing.

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Since I started writing professionally, I’ve discovered a number of obstacles to the process. That doesn’t seem quite fair. All work has its obstacles of course – in fact, every aspect of life does. Do you have a household where it seems to take forever to get the kids out of bed, feed them breakfast, find school books, make lunches and get them out of the house on time? Think of all the obstacles that get in your way just doing that.

And when you get to work, there are obstacles all around. Fellow workers, the boss, deadlines, customers. I used to be a teacher, and I sometimes felt that students were a big obstacle to teaching. Some students, that is. Most are wonderful. But we always seem to remember the obstacles, not the easy things.

Writing is the same. There are numerous obstacles to the apparently simple task of taking 26 letters and a few punctuation marks and putting them down in an order that makes some kind of sense or beauty.

‘Hey, you’re a writer!’ people say. ‘That must be great! On your bum all day, nothing to worry about. Easy! I don’t have time for it, of course, too busy.’

Writing is great, of course. But if they only knew. I copped this when I was a teacher, too. ‘You’re a teacher? Wow, it must be great to knock off at three o’clock each day and have all those holidays.’ Sometimes, that comment is made jealously, sometimes with a hint of superiority. ‘Oh – you’re a teacher! Well, some of us have real jobs.’

I get that as a writer, too. ‘You’re a writer. I see. But what do you do for a living?’

Obstacles come in many forms. Think what you do for a job, and think what gets in your way.

Just to set the record straight, then, here are some things that are obstacles to being a writer. I’m not trying to say my job is harder than any other. I’m just saying.

(1) The Cat. The first obstacle, for me, is shown in the picture at the top of this post. His name is Humphrey. He’s a Rag Doll cat, and he likes to sit on my desk. Not just sit anywhere, mind you, but next to the fan on my laptop because it’s nice and warm there. He’s always done this, as you can see when I had another office.

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I don’t mind most of the time. Occasionally he lies his tail on the keyboard but is happy when I shift it off. It’s when he decides to move and steps on the keyboard that I get a bit miffed. After all, there I am writing something exciting (I mostly write science-fiction and horror, so there can be lots of exciting bits) and something like this will appear on the page:

“Three bullets hit the policeman. Agnes still had enough sense to ghfyfhtccccggggkgpqsn…”

Did you notice where the cat stepped on the keyboard? If you did, then my writing is better than I thought. Of course, Humphrey’s wandering across my workspace means I have to go and correct his attempt to contribute to the story.

(2) Other commitments are another obstacle. I’d love to spend all my day writing. I really would. But I need to eat. And have clothes on my back. And blog. And interact in meaningful ways with other humans. All those things matter. And that means I can’t write. So dealing with the rest of life effectively means finding the time to work and go shopping and all those other things.

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I usually write early in the mornings as that is when I am most alert and also when I have the time. I work in the afternoons and evenings. So putting in a few hours in the mornings just after breakfast is when I can get most done. Routine is vital when you’re a writer. But the world keeps butting in.

(3) Ideas.

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When I talk to other writers (or when I chat online with them, since most writers are busy writing and don’t have the time to actually step out into the sunlight) some of them are full of ideas. They have notebooks full of ideas. They have stories building up inside them waiting to get a chance to appear on paper.

I don’t.

I’m a man of few ideas. I kind of hope they are good ones, but they aren’t there jostling for space in my cranium. I usually get inspired with a story when I least expect it. It will then consume me until I do something about it. But it’s usually the only one there. I have a very small waiting room.

I wish I had more creative ideas. But I don’t. So sometimes there are days when I sit there wondering what I’m supposed to be typing, and nothing comes. Which leads me to:

(4) Blockage. There is a thing apparently called Writer’s Block. I’ve never had it. Not in the form that most writers mean, that is. Once I start typing, stuff usually flows more or less smoothly. I don’t do much planning. I’ll have a scene mapped out in broad terms in my head and then I’ll start writing and make it up as I go. That leads to the next scene. I used to be a professional actor, so I try to put myself in the part of the characters in the scene, and have a pretty good visual idea of it in my mind, like a film. I just write down what’s happening in the film.

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But sometimes, I get what I call blockage, and that’s when the scene doesn’t work. The characters aren’t co-operating. One of them doesn’t want to play, or the film is too boring. Then I sigh and have a cup of coffee and shoo Humphrey off the desk and go and edit another scene so as to make sure I’m doing something useful.

(5) So while we’re on the topic:  Editing. Of course, any writer worth their salt should have their book professionally edited. Not that professional editors are any better at it, but they are someone different. As a teacher, I would instruct students how to edit their work (or proof-read it, to use the pedagogical term) and one of the best ways to proof-read something is to have someone else do it.

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But what I’m talking about here is the editing after the first draft. It’s vital to have a first draft, to write anything at all in order to have words on paper or screen so they can be manipulated and coaxed into something resembling a readable document. But reading that first draft can be painful. I’ve read enough student essay first drafts to know what I’m talking about here.

Students aren’t into proof-reading or editing. I believe this is for either one of two reasons. One, they think their words are superb, their grammar flawless, their written expression worthy of the Pulitzer Prize, and nothing could possibly improve what is positively Shakespearian in emotional content and Hemingwayesque in pithiness and impact. Or two, they know it’s a pile of rubbish and are too ashamed to read their own work.

I fall into the second category. I hate reading my first drafts. They suck.

So, there are some of the obstacles to writing. Cats, other things to do, ideas, blockage and editing. Even editing this blog will be a chore for me.

We all have obstacles, as I said, making our lives either hard or, at the least, interesting. Some are challenges. Others are just annoying, or even prevent us from completing what we need to do.

Writing is a great job. I love it. Words are fun to play with. But we have to overcome those obstacles. That makes the challenge something special.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com