Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lambda Winner

Congratulations to Sandra McDonald, who just nabbed herself a Lambda Award for her collection, Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories. Which is, I might note, available as an ebook from Wizard's Tower Press.

Now, what was it I said about this book when Steve Berman sent me an ARC on the off-chance of a blurb? Oh, yeah, it was:

''In that grand tradition of the fantastic that runs from Ray Bradbury to Jeffrey Ford -- and sitting happily beside those writers at their richest and most enchanting -- McDonald's collection is a book to fall in love with: a beautiful truth at the heart of every whimsy; every tale turning us back to history, to reality, even as it reinvents our world; and the collected whole even greater than the sum of its exquisitely interwoven parts.''

So, yeah, now do you believe me? And if you do, why haven't you picked up a copy yet, huh?

No, really, go buy one. It's a wee gem of a book.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Translation Awards Press Release

Just in. Figured it was as easy to give you the whole thing as to quote.


Finalists for the 2011 SF&F Translation Awards

The Association for the Recognition of Excellence in Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation (ARESFFT) is delighted to announce the finalists for the 2011 Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards (for works published in 2010). There are two categories: Long Form and Short Form.

Long Form

The Golden Age, Michal Ajvaz, translated by Andrew Oakland (Dalkey Archive Press). Original publication in Czech as Zlatý Věk (2001).

The Ice Company, G.-J. Arnaud [Georges-Camille Arnaud], translated by Jean-Marc Lofficier and Randy Lofficier (Black Coat Press). Original publication in French as La Compagnie des Glaces (1980).

A Life on Paper: Stories, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin (Small Beer Press). Original publication in French (1976­2005).

Four Stories till the End, Zoran Živković, translated by Alice Copple- Tošić (Kurodahan Press). Original publication in Serbian as Četiri priče do kraja (2004).

Short Form

“Wagtail”, Marketta Niemelä, translated by Liisa Rantalaiho (Usva International 2010 , ed. Anne Leinonen). Original publication in Finnish as “Västäräkki” (Usva (The Mist), 2008).

“Elegy for a Young Elk”, Hannu Rajaniemi, translated by Hannu Rajaniemi (Subterranean Online, Spring 2010 ). Original publication in Finnish (Portti, 2007).

“Bear’s Bride”, Johanna Sinisalo, translated by Liisa Rantalaiho (The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People, eds. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Viking). Original publication in Finnish as “Metsän tutt” (Aikakone (Time Machine), 3/1991).

“Midnight Encounters”, Hirai Tei’ichi, translated by Brian Watson (Kaiki: Uncanny Tales from Japan, Vol. 2, Kurodahan Press). Original publication in Japanese (1960).

The winning works will be announced at the 2011 Eurocon in Stockholm on the weekend of June 17-19 < >. Each winning author and translator will receive a cash prize of US$350. ARESFFT Board member, Cheryl Morgan, will be present to make the announcement.

In addition to the standard awards, the Board of ARESFFT will present a special award to British author and translator, Brian Stableford. No less than seventeen of the nominees in Long Form from 2010 were translated by Stableford. The ARESFFT Special Award for Services to Translation will therefore be presented to Stableford in recognition of the excellence of his translation work.

The money for the prize fund was obtained primarily through a 2010 fund-raising event for which prizes were kindly donated by Neil Gaiman, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Gary K. Wolfe, Peter F. Hamilton, Kari Sperring, Nick Mamatas, Pyr Books, Nanopress and Tachyon Publications.

The jury for the awards was Terry Harpold, University of Florida, USA (Chair); Abhijit Gupta, Jadavpur University, India; and Dale Knickerbocker, East Carolina University, USA.

ARESFFT is a California Non-Profit Corporation funded entirely by donations. This is the first year that the awards have been presented.

Cheryl Morgan


So there you go. Congrats and best of luck to all the nominees.


Ghosts of the Past

Via this thoughtful post by Juliette Wade on architecture in worldscape, I discovered some awesome images by Sergey Larenkov, palimpsesting photos of the same scene from WWII and the present day.

Note that there's more (like the image above) under the cut on a couple of the entries. All very cool.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

An A-Z of the Fantastic City

Now available from Small Beer Press:

No. 10 in the Small Beer Press chapbook series is An A-Z of the Fantastic City. Compiled and Arranged by Hal Duncan and illustrated by Eric Schaller it also features an introduction by noted academic Henry V. Duncan.

This guidebook leads readers and explorers through twenty-six cities of yore (Yore, while included, is one of the shorter entries).

“A cheeky look at 26 cities from fantastic literature (“fantastic” and “literature,” defined loosely), supposedly an academic work (complete with introduction by Professor Henry V. Duncan). Loving, clever, entertaining, and of course as we expect from Hal Duncan, quite excellently written.”
—Rich Horton, Locus

Table of Contents

Toward a Geological Methodology in the Cartography of Fantasia: An Address to the 31st International Symposium on Literary Cartography, Kentigern, 5th February, 2011) by Henry V. Duncan



Monday, May 16, 2011

Spectrum Award

A wee piece of awesome news: my story, "The Behold of the Eye" just picked up a Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Fiction. Which is awesomesox in part because it's great to see the LGBT community respond to it and in part because it's one of my favourite (and most personal) stories. You can read it online at Lone Star Stories, where it was first published. You can pick up a copy in Wilde Stories 2009. And you can even hear it read over at Podcastle.

So, yeah... cool.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Those Fine Finns

Have you missed the fact that Jeff Vandermeer has been blogging like crazy about the Finnish SF/F scene, doing features on Amazon, interviewing writers and editors, you name it? Did you miss, perchance, in particular his SF Signal interview with Toni Jerman, editor of Tähtivaeltaja and all-round rock 'n' roll motherfucker? Did you?

Well, go on then. Click the links. Find out about the Tallahassee Tentacles. Submit to the power of the Moomins. Give the sign of the devil's horns to Toni. In ASCII, I've decided, it's:



Sunday, May 08, 2011

GetFanged Interview

Turns out that interview I did a whiles back with the lovely folks at is no longer available outside the community. Fear not though! They did say, feel free to make it available to yer readers however; so, since I've been asked about it, and since I really liked the questions they came up with, I'm happy to oblige.

So, here we goes:

1) The concepts (and consequences) of mythology and archetypes are so relevant within your work, especially Vellum and Ink. Do you see these ideas transcending from art and fiction into real life? How significant a role do you think they play in our everyday lives?

Actually I see dreams and delusions, writings and rituals as aspects of reality; they're aspects of us, so they're always already part of our everyday lives. They're all articulations of our semiotics, individually and culturally.

That probably sounds a bit "what-the-fuck?!" but it's not actually that complex. It's just that every word has connotations, right? The word "dog" doesn't just carry meaning as content, like a box with the basic definition inside -- domesticated canine animal. It's loaded with meaning as import; the word explodes on impact into a shrapnel of associations -- barking, growling, slavering, snarling, wagging tail, guarding sheep, sniffing out drugs, pissing on trees, biting hands, fetching sticks. Every experience you've ever had with a dog, every story you've ever read with a dog being faithful companion or rabid attacker, affects what associations "dog" has for you. To each of us "dog" has a unique import.

This goes for every word, every symbol. So we each end up with a personal semiotics -- the system of all these symbols, what each means individually, how they relate to each other. Ultimately, it's a subconscious worldview coded into the raw stuff of all imagination, all thought. Ultimately, I'd say this personal semiotics is the subconscious. Scale it up to society, as we articulate that to each other in everything we say, even more so as we make it manifest in art, and you have a mass subconscious coded into the culture itself. The base state is turbulence, of course, tension. Consensus, when it comes, comes in the form of tribes for whom "dog" has an import of "unclean beast" versus tribes for whom it has an import of "loyal companion." That alone should give you a sense of how deeply this semiotics affects our everyday lives; and that's a trivial example compared to, say, "queer" or "immigrant."

Now, bring Carl Jung's notion of archetypes into play. In a mythic archetype like an Earth Mother figure, the two symbols become metaphors for each other, so "earth" packs the import of "mother" and "mother" packs the import of "earth." And it's not hard to see how basic notions -- mother, father, earth, sky -- have high import on their own let alone wired together into archetypes, how an archetype's profound impact is going to propagate it as a meme, as this figure of an Earth Mother impacts my personal semiotics so deeply that it comes out in my art, which becomes the medium by which it impacts your personal semiotics. And so on until you have tribes with whole mythologies of Earth Mothers and Sky Fathers. Understand how those two archetypes, in particular, are also bound to notions of "flesh" and "spirit" respectively, and again that should give you a sense of how deeply this affects our everyday lives. Being born into a tribe in which "dog" equals "unclean" affects how you relate to all dogs. Being born into a tribe in which "earth," "mother," "flesh," "nature," "sex," and suchlike are equated with "sin" via an archetypal figure like Eve or Lilith affects how you relate to all women, your own body, the material world itself.

We can go further. In some archetypes, an aspect of your psyche is wired into that metaphoric construct. So with culture dominated by men, that Earth Mother also represents the Anima of the male subconscious. A puer aeternus figure -- the eternal youth -- represents the Self. Where you find a Dark Lord figure in fantasy or horror, what you're dealing with is the Shadow. So what you get in the core characters of Vellum and Ink is seven lynchpin archetypes treated as core components of the psyche, riffing off the Egyptian notion of seven souls -- Superego aka Persona (Guy), Id (Jack), Anima/Animus (Phree), Self (Puck), Ego (Seamus/Metatron), Shadow (Joey), Senex (Don). These are aspects of ourselves that surface in numinous dreams and fictions. We all have a little Jack inside of us.

What they mean to us has a profound bearing on how we live our lives; it's basic Jungian psychology to understand that a negative Anima figure, say, is a sign of an unhealthy psyche. A narrative that transforms relationships between archetypes becomes a sort of psychodrama then, a ritual seeking to resolve tensions, for good or ill. To topple a tyrant god in a story is to depose an overbearing Ego. To conquer a demon in a story is to beat the Shadow into submission, repress that aspect of the psyche. Again if you look at figures like Eve or Lilith, the demonisation and subjugation of the Anima plays out, in real terms, as a neurotic misogyny with utterly practical consequences. So yeah, I think this stuff affects our everyday lives big time.

2) How would you apply this to the vampire genre? As the vampire has transformed from Nosferatu, the hideous monster in the shadows, to Edward Cullen, the "pretty" romantic hero at the prom, do you think the mythology that was initially established and reinforced, through folklore and literature, has been abandoned completely? Or has it simply evolved/devolved? Why do you think this happened?

The transformation actually begins outside the vampire genre, I'd say. In Gothic Romanticism we see a gradual reconfiguring of the Shadow that renders it sympathetic, antihero rather than villain. Faust, Frankenstein's monster, Melmoth, Heathcliff, Byron himself as an archetype made flesh via his celebrity -- these all impact the societal semiotics, rewiring it, recasting the malevolent Shadow as moral outcast, exile from society. It's no accident that this comes as a response to Rationalism which sets up intellect as rightful king over the base passions -- Ego as tyrant over Id. Repressing the libido basically outlaws most of what constitutes Id and makes it Shadow; in such circumstances it's only a matter of time before that Shadow cuts loose in the form of the Byronic antihero, the Sadean libertine, cast as monstrous by society's semiotics but recognised as wondrous in personal semiotics because we know deep down the repression is unhealthy. That's the glamour of that archetype.

What Stoker did with Dracula is interesting in that he inadvertently, I think, bound the classic folkloric bloodsucker to this Byronic antihero. I say "inadvertently" because his aristo vampire is far from noble; actually there's all manner of dodgy anti-Semitic iconography of the day at play in the text. He's avaricious for gold, swarthy and thick-accented, associated with gypsies, rats, the East End. He's ignoble. The Schreck Nosferatu is Stoker's Dracula, far more than anything that comes after. Still, Stoker makes this link with aristocracy, and the sexual repression that powers the narrative underneath is just waiting to be unlocked when readers and writers start applying a sympathetic view of the Shadow.

So you get the 20th century Dracula of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. And what I find really interesting here is that where this plays to male desires -- a semiotics of rape and seduction wired together into the Shadow as libertine, requiring to be conquered by Harker but glamoured by his Romantic autonomy -- female readers and writers also respond to it in a profound way -- but as Animus, I think, rather than Shadow. Which is to say, he becomes a homme fatale, to coin a phrase, a male equivalent of that Eve/Lilith archetype. You might well trace this back to characters like Heathcliff too -- a female writer's creation, of course. It seems to me this archetype is in many ways a product of fiction by women for women, a metaphoric construct for tackling the Animus the way a male writer might tackle the Anima.

Rice really marks the point where that's cemented, where we're really dealing with a sort of knight/savage semiotics comparable to the virgin/whore semiotics men have as regards the Anima. With Lestat and Louis, it's almost about that dynamic in and of itself, with the female Claudia (the Self as puer aeternus?) largely just watching from the sidelines, but as female figures become central -- Buffy, Sookie, Bella, Helena -- the fact that it's about a relationship with men, (as a whole, I mean,) rather than between them, becomes more and more obvious (even with a male creator like Whedon.) We see that duality time and again, in paired male characters or in male characters with two sides: Angel/Spike; Angel/Angelus; Bill/Erik; Stefan/Damon; Sparkly-Edward/Rapey-Edward.

It makes a lot of sense for the leeching ghoul to end up as the pretty boy at the prom then. Viewed in a harsh feminist light, you could well say there's dodgy wish-fulfilment fantasy going on; setting up a knight/savage with a creepy protector-cum-rapist hold over the heroine essentially infantilises her, so it only makes sense for this to manifest in a teen protagonist, a high school setting. On the other hand, the tempest of adolescence is exactly where our relationship with the opposite gender suddenly complexifies, so it's only logical to approach the Animus from that perspective, in figures that combine protector and predator, fathers and brothers, boyfriends and man-fiends, all those formative relationships a man might have to a woman.

3) You've written essays on homosexuality and have included several gay characters in your work, but with such depth that it has never been the primary focus of who they are. Do you think authors have found it difficult to write gay characters as complete personalities, as you have, rather than a walking stereotype? And, separately, what would you say is the most relevant issue within the gay community today?

For sure. If you look at it from a wide enough perspective, writers have found it difficult to write about gay characters at all -- because until recently it was pretty much taboo to even tackle homosexuality directly. To do so was generally the province of committedly transgressive work, like Burroughs's The Naked Lunch, which took a sledgehammer to the very notion of obscenity; within respectable literature, you were more likely to see it pushed down into subtext a la Tennessee Williams. Within the commercial marketing categories of SF, Fantasy and Horror, you're looking at pretty much wholesale erasure of homosexuality until the 1970s. The same goes for black characters; we're talking about pulp magazines where editors like John W. Campbell rejected Samuel R. Delany's Nova for serialisation because he didn't think readers would accept a black protagonist.

Skin colour or sexuality, essentially what we're looking at is segregation in the media, with the abject absented from protagonist position. That's the segregation of not being allowed to sit at the front of the bus. Mark Charan Newton mentioned on his blog a reviewer who wondered why one character in his books was gay -- what was the reason for it? How did that serve the plot? That's the segregation of being stopped in a white neighbourhod and challenged on your purpose in being there. And if they're allowed in as Magic Negros or Gay Best Friends, secondary characters -- and stereotypical ones at that -- in service of white, straight protagonists? That's the segregation of travelling into a white neighbourhood to work as a cleaner in someone’s house.

Now, I don't think that state of segregation is enforced in written SF, Fantasy and Horror, but if we're tempted to be complacent we only have to look at Hollywood to see it officially sanctioned. Presented with a recent romantic comedy, "Falling for Grace," studios said they simply couldn't release it as a romantic comedy because it had an Asian-American lead. That put it essentially in another genre -- as an "Asian-American movie." That's the segregation of separate fucking water fountains. The situation is the same with movies like The Curiosity of Chance which I tend to call the best '80s high school movie John Hughes never made; it's a great example of that genre, but it has a gay protagonist so it was damned to the ghetto of gay cinema, going round the festival circuit rather than the multiplexes. Oh, you can have gay cowboys in a serious movie made by Ang Lee for mature audiences, but we've yet to see a gay action hero. And this state of segregation is something most of those who aren't in an abject social group probably barely even notice; it's taken for granted.

Within SF, Fantasy and Horror, those official barriers have largely come down, so it's not at all difficult in hard practical terms for writers to include gay characters. Nobody is going to tell them, "We can't publish that because your main character is queer." But it is easy for authors to be unaware of what they're doing (or not doing.) Authors only have to surrender to obliviousness and they won't even think of including a gay character. If they do, it's easy to end up with Gay Best Friends, because, well, if the gay is in that neighbourhood, there must be a reason; and we all know gays are good for catty remarks, fashion advice and consolation over man troubles, right? If they do sit a gay character at the front of the bus, it's easy to go with the assumption that the character's sexuality must be significant in plot terms to justify them being there. Why wouldn't it be the point of the story even?

All of this is to say, really, that it's easy to be complacent, lazy. But I don't think it's that difficult at all to exercise one's noggin a little, see past that bollocks and just integrate Teh Gayness into your narratives as a trait as likely to occur among your characters as it is in reality, and as one that no more defines their role in the narrative than heterosexuality would. For sure, you might have to get your head around the differences of life experience that come with being gay, but that's just what you do in writing any character who isn't based on yourself. If you can imagine the shit that comes with being a soldier or a detective or an 18th century nobleman, you can imagine the shit that comes with being gay.

In terms of the most relevant issue. I can't really speak for the gay community, to be honest. I'm not sure anyone can. That community is a set of individuals grouped together solely on the basis of sexual orientation, so we can only speak of what's most relevant to each individual. Me, right now, I'm most concerned with segregation in the media personally, because I'm a writer. That's my natural battleground, the front I'm best on. It's where I'm most tuned to seeing problems, it's where the issues matter most to me because it's my vocation, and it's where I have skills and experience fitted to actually tackling the issue.

If I were a US soldier DADT would be a bigger deal. If I were Californian, Prop 8 would be more important. If were Ugandan, it would be my basic right to life. Hell, if we're going beyond individuals and their specific circumstances at all, I can't help but be wholly internationalist and say that segregation in the media, military service, gay marriage -- all of that is piddling when compared to government sanctioned murder. I might well point then to the UN general assembly voting last year to remove the mention of killings based on sexual orientation from a long-standing resolution condemning arbitrary and extrajudicial executions. Not that the resolution itself was ever much more than words, but the craven appeasement of the homophobic nations that backed the amendment is... there are no words for it. And the lickspittle chickenshit kidwhoring corpsefucker of a US representative fucking abstained. I'm glad to say the UK voted against it but, you know... Home of the Brave and all that. On one level, all the issues really just come down to that sort of action and that sort of inaction.

4) How often do you write? Will you tell us a little about your process as an author?

I write pretty much every day, if you count non-fiction along with fiction. My routine is hardly disciplined though. Most days I'll drag myself out of bed at some point in the afternoon, boot up the laptop and check emails and interwebs while I have brunch, faffing about with blogs and Twitter. It could just be an interview like this I end up working on, or a column, or a manuscript critique. I can spend a whole working day responding to emails or commenting on some post online, in truth. Or just plain nonsense. The other week, I wasted two days or more plotting out how the Star Wars prequels should have been.

Seriously, I've been going around for the last few years just denying they exist, saying, "Yeah, it's a shame Lucas died before he got to make Revenge of the Jedi; it would have been awesome with the wookie planet and all." But it's not enough. So I've ended up crafting an intricate psychotic delusion I intend to bury the trauma of The Phantom Menace under. If the subject ever comes up, I'm going to rave about how great Samuel L. Jackson was as a ronin Jedi, cracking quips like Han Solo, kicking ass like Shaft with a lightsaber. And so on. Is there any conceivable value in such faffing? I don't know. I might end up with a Notes from New Sodom column, written as a review of these entirely imaginary films and thereby indirectly commenting on what was so profoundly wrong with the actual prequels. Or it might be pointless.

That sort of surrender to the random whims of the muse does seem to be a large part of my process. It could manifest in something like that or in an idea for rewriting As You Like It as a screenplay for a high school movie with the gender of the heroine changed. (Which I ended up doing because of the segregation I talk about above. I was arguing in comments about the need for mainstream gay movies like The Curiosity of Chance, for gay popcorn flicks in the multiplexes, and when I Googled "gay kid" + "high school movie" just to make sure I wasn't overstating the absence of such, the top hit was my own blog review of The Curiosity of Chance. I realised the sort of movie I was looking for just didn't exist so I'd have to fucking write it myself. So I did. Which makes the faffing sort of part of the process; at any point it might suddenly result in a proper project.) No matter how left field it is, if it grabs me then I'll follow it. Shit, I wrote a fucking musical with the tunes constructed in GarageBand because I can't write sheet music, play an instrument, or even hold a fucking note when I "sing," but it ended up being staged last year by college students in Chicago. So fuck it. An idea might look like utter folly in practical terms, but if you don't throw yourself into it, you'll never know.

And when I do get caught up in something, I tend to go from faffing to... well, fags chain-smoked while I'm drinking mug after mug of tea, as I write and revise, write and revise, all through the night and through as much of the next day as I can manage, pretty much incapable of stopping until the thing is done or I'm just too damned tired to carry on. It's far from healthy, I'm sure, but I just wish I could click into that at will. If I can't get into the zone like that, I find it almost impossible to write fiction. Part of the reason I work in such slogs, I think, is that if the flow gets broken at all, I've had times when I simply couldn't get back into a project; it became a gruelling word-by-word trudge that eventually ground down to a dead stop.

The only thing I can do in such circumstances is jump to something else. I have found sometimes that if I've got two projects I'm bogged down in, treating one as the work I'm meant to be doing can sort of turn the other one into an escape, a way to slack off. And then I'll suddenly click back into that second one. It can be annoying if they're both long though, cause then, sooner or later, that second one will start to slow down again, like clearly I'm now treating this as the work I'm meant to be doing, so clearly the first one is the fun project. I swear to God, it's like the muse knows I'm trying to pull a fast one on her and is fucking with me out of spite.

5) "Jack" is a name you frequently use in your work. Can you tell us how the name became significant to you? Is it, essentially, all the same character? Is it an archetype?

Yeah, Jack's basically the Id, which is what the classic hero of a Joseph Campbell style "Hero's Journey" is at heart, I'd say. He goes right back to early childhood, really; he's the Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant-Killer, first and foremost. I still remember reading all those Puffin editions of classic fairytales, and while The Three Billy Goats Gruff was my favourite (in part, because of the voices and clip-clop noises my dad made when he read it to me; in part, I suspect, because the nascent anarchist in me already saw self-elected gatekeepers, like the troll who reckoned it was his bridge, as evil to be overcome with trickery and headbutting,) that reckless, feckless youth who sells the cow for beans, lucks out on the fact they're magic, and ends up climbing to the Heavens themselves to steal the magic of the Big Guy Up There... there's a classic trickster archetype in there too. It's the sort of mix of hero and rogue you get in Errol Flynn's Robin Hood or Burt Lancaster's Crimson Pirate. The glint in the eye, the gleam in a snickety-sharp grin... it's the sheer gusto of this archetype that defines them, the liberty of spirit that makes them act on impulse and only think oopsy after, when they've got themselves into the shit.

That's the libido unleashed, raw desire let loose to play with the wild abandon of Peter Pan. That's why he's the classic hero, because the classic heroic story is shameless wish-fulfilment. I'll make no bones of the fact that I was a shy and bookish kid, scrawny and far from good-looking, so to a large extent Jack was the cocky, handsome hero I wished I could be; there was probably a little of my older brother in there too, since he was very much that sporty charmer. Flash Gordon from the old serials got folded into the mix -- that's where the "Flash" in Jack Flash comes from -- and I'd get myself to sleep at night by making up stories in my head of the adventures of this Id archetype: "Once upon a time there was a boy called..." For a long time, it was "Flash." The name changed a couple of times; I can't honestly remember if it was "Jack" first, but it wouldn't at all surprise me.

Anyway, I shelved him when I started getting serious about the writing, because I wanted to do more than wish-fulfilment. He came roaring back when I started playing around with intertextual fictions, pastiching the old pulps. I wanted to riff off Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter for a dynamic hero and Lovecraft's Randolph Carter for a more cerebral protagonist -- hence Jack and Reynard. And because this was very much inspired by Moorcock's Eternal Champion stuff, with Jerry Cornelius a big influence, he also cut loose as Jack Flash, the archetype with all caution thrown to the wind.

The whole point of that character was to deconstruct the archetype -- not in a hostile way, because I side with the Id when push comes to shove, but poking a little fun at the power-fantasies, exploring where they do go deeply wrong (c.f. Nazi Jack in Ink.) He's not a force to be denied, repressed -- that'll just get you fucked up, like Pentheus putting Dionysus in chains and paying the price for it -- but he's like a dog who kinda wants the guiding hand of the Persona/Superego (Guy,) who will do anything for the Self (Puck) as the true centre of the psyche. The point being, a healthy psyche is a matter of the relationships between those archetypes; the unbridled Id is only dangerous if its passions are perverted by neurosis. I guess this is the anarcho-socialist in me; where people panic at the idea of desire unleashed -- cause that must mean rape! murder! mayhem! -- I think, well no, not if your core passion is empathy, not if "being selfish" actually means having integrity because you revel in the joy of fighting the good fight.

Still, part of the reason I use the name is to make the links to other avatars that give other facets. I do think, ultimately, because the name was so widespread in history it came to mean simply "lad" -- think "every man jack of them" -- the Jack of fairytales is a bona fide folk-hero, like Brer Rabbit. Even figures of more recent legend and history, like Spring-Heeled Jack or Jack the Ripper, can't help but bind to that myth. And as monstrous as those Mad Jacks are, they're still the unleashed libido. They actually just deepen the figure, benchmarking the extremes the Id is capable of.

To give you an idea of how embedded Jack is in the societal semiotics, I went to see Matthew Bourne's modern dance / ballet version of The Lord of the Flies the other week, and realised -- I hadn't really thought about it before -- that the antagonist is a Jack in both name and nature. He's red-haired, leader of the choir who're among the stranded boys. He's bold and headstrong, quick to challenge Ralph for leadership. He's the prime force in the boys going wild -- he's all about the playing and the hunting. I read the book in my teens, so now I'm wondering if Golding's Jack was another seed in my subconscious. Interestingly, as I remember the book, there's no question that it's anti-Id, that this Jack is the terrible beast within unleashed when the chains of control are loosed; but in Bourne's version it struck me that Ralph's assumption of authority early on could be seen as illegitimate, that one might well take a contrary reading and ask how far Ralph is responsible for provoking the unruly Id. I'm tempted to do some intertextual parody with Joey in the Ralph role, as a control-freak who needs to be overthrown by Jack.

Anyway. My point is just that Jack gets fucking everywhere, it seems.

6) Who, or what, is your greatest inspiration as an author? Why?

Life. Death. The fact you can't have one without the other. When I was sixteen or so, I was the classic angsty adolescent on overdrive, gay and geeky, dreaming of murder pacts with Death himself because I loathed my life, and then one hot summer day my brother stepped out into the path of a Ford Capri and got himself killed. It took me a good few years to even feel what that meant, it was such a shock, but the reality of it sort of squished my self-pity like a bug. What the fuck does some fuckwit's snigger behind your back matter compared to the absolute absence of a brother you hadn't even got past the infantile bickering with yet? Nothing matters in the face of death.

Except... if nothing matters, it doesn't fucking matter that it doesn't matter. That's the true nihilism I discovered as I shaved my hair into a mohawk, walked around in black leathers with a chickenbone necklace, went into university wearing green camouflage face paint straight out of Apocalypse Now in protest at the first Gulf War, discovered ouzo and hash, starved and stayed awake for three days on a wacky notion of a vision quest, eventually got a hold of some acid for a real trip, and all this while a circle of friends slowly socialised this savage loon as we met for the Glasgow SF Writers' Circle and chatted in the pub after sessions. That's where Jack first resurfaced in some quasi-psychotic cut-up-and-fold-in crazy writings (since burned) -- though at that time he was a werewolf by the name of Bardolph Carter. I kind of was Jack for a while, let the archetype ride me as a loa rides an orisha.

And I came out of that fucking burning with passion, the transitory absurdity of existence all the more reason to dive into it with every fibre of your being and glory in every moment. To live. To love. To laugh. And it's not about a desperate hedonism to stave off the emptiness, simply about celebrating all the joys and sorrows that come with being mortal flesh, the subtle as much as the sensational. That's at the core of most of my writing, I'd say, and it's ferociously opposed to all that strikes me as denial and delusion built to barricade us from reality. Shell games of salvation in spiritual perfection. Edifices of Empire built to bolster us with status that depends on slave moralities. Fuck that shit.

7) What is your favorite book to give as a gift?

I don't know that I really have one. There's no one book I'll foist on anyone and everyone and say, "You must read this," because mostly if I'm buying books for birthdays or Christmas it's going to be something selected specifically for the recipient. "I saw this and thought of you" sort of thing. The closest I've got to a repeat gift is maybe Catch-22, which I've gone through a fair few copies of simply by lending it out without much care about getting it back, happy to replace it with a new copy. It's a great book, but then it's acknowledged as a modern classic, so I'll spare you my ravings about it. It's all been said before by plenty of people; you don't need me to tell you you should read it if you haven't already.

8) What are you reading right now?

Jeffrey Ford's The Cosmology of the Wider World -- a very short book, more a novella than a novel, going by the length, I reckon. Came out from PS Publishing a good few years back, but I've only just got round to it. I can't say much about it, cause I've only just started, I'm afraid, but Jeff's writing is just wonderful. Beside Kelly Link, I reckon him as the best short story writer in the strange fiction genres at present, and I'm sorely tempted to just drop the "in the strange fiction genres" entirely. He can be warm and whimsical, with some of his stories almost Bradburyesque in vibe, but as often as not you get slowly pulled out of the comfort zone and into strangeness that's reminiscent of Kafka. He's an incredibly sophisticated writer but when you meet him in person, you sort of understand why it never comes across as flouncy, anodyne or pretentious; he's this big laid back dude with a broad New Jersey accent, who'll tell these fucking hilarious stories where he's totally the butt of his sons' jokes. I think he's just so genuine it comes through in his fiction, as a real powerful sense of humanity. I saw him read a semi-autobiographical story once at the World Fantasy Convention, based on when he and his wife were just married, going through the salad days. It was fucking beautiful.

9) Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies, Witches, just to name a few. Do you have a preference as to what you read, or write, within the horror genre? Do you personally identify with the mythology of one more than all the rest?

I have to confess I'm totally Team Werewolf. Possibly not the safe choice given the venue -- like rooting for pirates on a site called -- but I'll do my best to justify my heresy.

The thing is, most monsters I come at as a contrarian, the type of kid who lost their fear of the dark by inviting that looming presence into bed to snuggle. I see most bestial bogeymen as projections of Shadow and Id, aspects of the psyche to be accepted and integrated. I see sneakily conservative moral messages like that "teenagers who fuck must die" subtext coded into old slasher flicks. And I find myself deconstructing that, peeling away the monster mask to get at the creature underneath. Which is, I guess, to say that I come at it from more of a dark fantasy viewpoint than classic horror per se.

So the old school vampire of folklore is too straight-up horror for me. It's just a leeching miasma, feeding on cattle as often as humans. If it crawls out of its grave in the ghoulish shape of a fetid corpse, that's hardly much better; it's still a parasite, not a cool and dangerous predator. It's not a tiger, but a tick. It's kind of too crude a figure of petty using and abusing to really grab me. I can't identify with a sheep-tick, and I'm not that interested in stories of man versus sheep-tick.

With the modern vampire, the antiheroic potential is more what I'm looking for, but the whole knight/savage thing leaves me cold. Too much Romantic angst for my taste. Too much Vampire Bill doing Foghorn Leghorn with a stick up his ass: "Why, if any hahm should come to Sookie... Ah shall brood at you, Ah say, brood at you!" I can identify with Spike at his cocky best, and Godric was hawt when he was Evil Pixie Godric with his dreads and tattoos, but what others are looking for in vamps seems to be this... cold, dark grace, and that's exactly what doesn't appeal to me. To me, that glamour is just begging for a pratfall.

With werewolves, on the other hand, they're all about the fun of ripping stuff to shreds, shaking it like a ragdoll and growling when someone tries to get it off you. There's a vitality in the wildness of fur and forests, howling at the moon, a whole slavering maw rather than two elegantly pointed canines, claws that dig into the earth itself. To me the werewolf has that Id thing going on, it's all about this unleashed appetite for life, and I've yet to see anyone take that all the way. I have a story doing the rounds at the moment that kind of typifies how I see the werewolf, harking back to the old folklore where shifting was a matter of dirtwater from a wolf's pawprint. It's a shamanic thing, not a curse but a skill -- the ability to become the wolf. Again, think of loas riding orishas.

So you have a werewolf (who may or may not bear some resemblance to Jack) with his handler (who may or may not bear some resemblance to Puck,) and that werewolf is dog to the core. Hey, a dog's just a wolf who thinks he's human anyways, so it makes sense to me. We're talking the sort of werewolf who has to be told constantly not to licks his balls. Who will do anything rather than take a bath even in human form. Who'll bring a vampire heart to his handler and drop it in his lap to play fetch. Who clambers up on bed when the alarm goes off, and sits on his handler's chest, saying, "Get up get up get up get up get up! I'm hungry!" As you can probably tell, it's not exactly serious, but that's the point. The werewolf is "Wild Thing" by The Troggs, "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by The Stooges. It's about the utter lack of inhibition, and with that comes an utter lack of concern for dignity. And that's where the monster becomes fun for me, when it's leaning out of the car window, tongue lolling in the wind. That's what I identify with. If I was a werewolf, I'd be totally, "Rub my tummy!"

10) On your blog, Notes From the Geek Show, you discuss the form and the purpose of writing a great deal. How do you feel about form over function as a writer? Must you choose one, or can there be a good balance between the two? And, either way, what do you see as the purpose of writing, in general?

Form follows function for me, always and forever. This might seem at odds with my tendency to attack the whole notion of style versus content, but form and function is a perfectly valid distinction and it's a wholly different one. Style is not form. Content is not function. Some see narrative in simple terms: the story is a series of events with causal connections between them; that series of events is content to be conveyed in a functional form by the narrative; an ornamental patina of "style" may be added to that form, or not as the case may be.

This is bollocks. Try and do that in narrative and all you end up with is deposition: X did A; Y did B; Z did C; and so on, step by dreary step. The prose might be clunky or it might be purple, depending on whether you "add style" or not, but it won't be narrative either way. Narrative is not about simply communicating; it's about conjuring.

How to explain this?

At risk of boring you, I'll go all technical for a bit. Linguists use a model of six functions of language, see, suggested by Roman Jakobson. There's six things involved in any articulation, he says: an author; an audience; an open channel; a code; a context; the message itself. So an articulation will take one of these as its focus, making for six possible aims: emotive (expressing the author's state -- e.g. "Fuck!"); conative (invoking the audience's response -- e.g. "Come here!"); phatic (opening/closing the channel -- e.g. "Hey there!"); metalinguistic (verifying the code -- e.g. "What do you mean by 'doggish'?"); referential (relating to a context -- e.g. "The dog's barking"); or poetic (existing as a construct for its own sake -- e.g. "The dead dog eats / Dirt of the death-world's streets.")

It's a decent enough model for the most part, but I don't think it's quite adequate. Try and fit narrative into it and you end up with two options: a) you see it as referential -- it's meant to communicate the story; b) you see it as poetic -- it's just a pretty construct that exists for its own sake. Get one group saying it's referential and another saying it's poetic and you have the content/style dichotomy, even the idea of function and form in opposition.

But to me, it seems that Jakobson's model is missing a seventh component, the medium, and that that's what the "poetic" is really all about -- patterns in the medium itself, rhythm and rhyme. When an articulation is focused on the message, I'd say, it's doing far more than just making pretty shapes. Where I was talking about a personal semiotics above? It's tapping into that. Word by word, it's calling up notions out of that personal semiotics, setting them in a dance with each other; it's throwing them into conflicts and coalitions, tensions that complexify and build up as a drama, until the right move resolves those tensions; and it's leaving us, when it's all over, with those notions slightly changed by having gone through that drama, with subtly different imports, in subtly different relations to each other. Again, every story you've ever read about a dog changes what "dog" means to you.

That's quite different from just communicating a series of events, but it's also quite different from just making pretty word-structures. And crucially, it's wholly about that moment-by-moment experience of story as story. If you understand that as the function of this kind of articulation -- narrative -- you understand that form is fundamentally about the most effective way to conjure the story. The narrative has a little more give than a computer program -- it's not going to crash just because of a missing semi-colon -- but every word is an operation on the audience's imagination, a sub-routine invoked.

So, it's not a matter of communicating content, with style as an ornamental patina. When people talk about style without substance, the real problem is actually a surfeit of substance -- words that aren't carrying out the function of narrative in conjuring drama and are therefore extraneous, crowbarred in for purely poetic effect. And that's a deficit of form for the same reason -- the structure is bloated with redundancy. A stylist is just a writer who can conjure with panache, and that likely means conjuring in less words than a flat deposition of the series of events, coding a character's attitude to an object into the words used to describe it, for example, so they don't have to tediously explain that attitude.

It's really about force, you might say. Form is function, because each word is an action upon the reader's imagination, a force exerted upon it. An articulation is a process as much as an object, always already the performance of an operation, of a function. It's simply a matter of how effectively this is done.

11) What's the best way for your readers, and potential readers, to support you and your work? What are you writing right now?

Buying the books is the obvious one, of course, and passing on the all-important word-of-mouth to others... assuming you enjoy them, that is. And if you've been there, done that, there's a poetry collection coming out from Papaveria later this year, a Scruffians art book in collaboration with French artist Zariel, and another project which is in the works, but not quite signed and sealed -- so I can't really blab about it yet. But if you keep your eye on my blog, you can be sure I'll be trumpeting everything as it happens.

If you want to be more directly supportive -- and bless you if you do -- there are also a few direct distribution experiments I've dabbled in over at the blog, with stories available in exchange for Paypal donations. Basically, I wanted to try the online distribution thing for a series of short stories set in the same mythos. So with the first story I set a target at two-thirds of the pro-rate for a story of that length. Anyone donating whatever they felt comfortable with got a pdf of the story. If it reached the target -- and it did -- the story went up for free download from a fileshare site. Those who came late and read it for free were invited to donate if they enjoyed it; and if the full pro-rate was reached I'd do the same for a second story.

So, there's now a half-dozen or so stories free to download, and there's one that hasn't reached its target; any donors will get that sent out as a pdf and if enough donations come in I'll punt it up online for everyone. Donors have, in the past, got at least one story that won't go up online at all -- a little Christmas goody for their support. The set-up seems pretty fair to me. I don't like the idea of a tip jar, but I'm happy to try a bit of busking, so to speak. And the project did actually keep me fed during a particularly impoverished period, so if that's not support, I don't know what is.

There's also a readings service, where all of those stories are available in mp3 form -- though that's for set prices according to length because, well, I thought I'd try a slightly different model just for comparison. Actually, you can pick any of my short fiction you want and order it as a reading -- quote upfront, natch. And again if you want a sense of what you're in for, there's some poetry readings up for free, so you can sort of try before you buy.

What I'm working on now? The next big novel is sitting on the backburner, simmering away on a low boil, taking rather longer to cook than I'd really like. I've got Assault! On Heaven! going too -- the sequel to Escape from Hell! Though that's also kicking its feet, to some extent. In the meantime, I'm working on a lot of short fiction these days. Just finished a gay supervillain story for an anthology. Got a start made on a follow-up to the werewolf story I was talking about above. But I have to admit there's been some faffing recently. Plotting imaginary Star Wars prequels and all that. Or recording a sequel to the 42-verse sea shanty about the gay pirate gods, Matelotage and Mutiny, which ended up as a stickman slideshow on YouTube.

When I say my routine is "hardly disciplined," that may be an understatement.

12) What advice would you give other up and coming writers? What's the best, or worst, advice someone gave you?

Well, here's what you could call "Duncan's Ten Rules of Writing," drawn from experience either workshopping or doing paid critiques on manuscripts by writers who sometimes don't even know the very basics, in truth. It's what, I've found, unpublished writers most often need to hear, so while I think it's bad form to crib responses from other interviews and such, this is a bit of a stock answer now:

  1. You are not a new writer.
  2. Any sign that you don't know the ropes, is a sign that you're not ready to go in the ring.
  3. There is no story without style.
  4. POV is not a communal steadicam.
  5. Voice makes character.
  6. Character makes action.
  7. Action makes setting.
  8. Making tea is not protagonising.
  9. Don't hide the story behind your back so you can sucker punch the reader with it later.
  10. Find the tenth rule.

The first is about mentality, because the tendency is to think of yourself as a "new" writer, an "aspiring" writer -- "beginning," "up and coming," whatever. Bollocks to that. You're just published or unpublished, good or bad, in whatever combination.

You've been writing since you first scrawled your name. You've been making up narrative since your first daydream. Does it matter if you didn't even start doing those together until you hit forty, if you write The Naked Lunch? All that really matters is whether you're skilled or unskilled, and thinking of yourself as a novice or amateur... that's a rationalisation that you lack skill because you're a learner, an amateur. Fuck that shit. You're always going to be learning, always aspiring. You might never be published.

The nearest you come to a graduation is the day you cease to accept any excuse for a lack of skill in your work. In fact, if you're looking at other writers like they've achieved a special status you wish you had -- call it established, professional, whatever -- you're engaging in a fantasy of being a writer when you should be writing. Because you are a writer. Not a beginning writer. Not a new, aspiring, novice, up and coming or whatever writer. Just a writer.

The second rule is mainly just presentation -- functional prose in the required format. It should go without saying, but a lot of writers aren't wired into the sort of online communities or writer's groups where you learn this. You want to look up Standard Manuscript Format on the interwebs and apply it, if you want to even get a foot in the door. You could apply it to prose quality too though, where the "ropes" are simple principles: clarity; economy; precision; incisive phrasing; concise phrasing; logical sequencing in the presentation of objects and events.

That links to the third though, which is just what I'm talking about above in terms of form and function. Words are the only substance. Style is just how you put them together at all levels -- sentences, paragraphs, passages, scenes, chapters, acts. Whether you end a chapter on a wrap-up or a cliff-hanger is a stylistic decision. The key point is that your narrative is an articulation and if it doesn't work as such, it won't conjure the story. You can't just slap some words together into a depositional account of the movie running in your head and expect readers to enjoy the story without that "patina" of style obscuring the "content." There is no "content." Plot, theme and character are effects of story as it's conjured by the narrative. Words are the only substance.

The others mainly speak for themselves. (4) The confusion of multiple third person limited and omniscient narrator into muddled third person limited and/or amnesiac narrator is the first thing to watch for. (5) Mastering narrative voice (which will also help you stick to a POV) will bring your characters more alive than spieling a profile -- physical description, traits and attributes, backstory summary. Actually it'll bring other characters alive in your viewpoint character's attitude to them; they'll be fleshed out in that character's perception as coded into the narrative itself -- as will action and setting.

(6) Action is only action if it matters to a character; otherwise it's just stuff happening. It's the character's attitude to peril that makes it peril. And the conflict of a narrative -- the agon -- depends on your characters having agency; without that you just have tin soldiers being smashed against each other. (7) Setting maybe isn't dependent on action per se, but stopping to describe the setting pauses the narrative when you could be wiring that description into action, with the character engaging with the setting. Remember, time and change is a part of any locale, so a leaf falling from a tree can do as much to conjure a forest as reams of blather; you'll be showing what the setting is by showing what it does. (8) And in terms of making tea? Sometimes that's literally making tea. Mundane tasks like that can be protagonising -- as when making tea after a death in the family is a character distracting themself from grief -- but dawdle and dross are just tedious.

The penultimate rule is something I've been surprised to see in quite a few of the works I've critiqued -- authors not just keeping a card up their sleeve to make a dramatic revelation with a shocking twist, but completely obscuring the story itself by keeping a POV character's backstory, for example, a secret to the reader... even though the character knows it, everyone else knows it, the logic of their interactions makes it absurd they don't talk about it, and most of the action is in fact predicated on that backstory. Aha! the writer says, when they suddenly reveal on page 450 that the POV character is the son of the antagonist... as both of them knew all along. This is especially bad when "later" equals "in a sequel." Hiding the story till then means not having a story at all.

The tenth rule you'll have to explain, once you find it.

13) Finally, what's got you fanged (excited/inspired)?

The Scruffians art book is probably the most exciting thing at the moment. I met the artist a couple of years back at the Imaginales Festival in Épinal, and we spent a wee while talking Chthulhu and zombies over beer. We've caught up with each other a few times since, and vaguelyy talked of working together. He suggested a guide to an imaginary world of some sort, like a fake journal of sorts with illustrations by him and text by me. Being a bit slow, I pondered over various settings for a while before it hit me rather blindingly that his artwork would be perfect for the Scruffians. If you know comics, I think of it as a cross between Chris Bachalo and Jamie Hewlett; if you don't know comics, the latter is the artist involved with Gorillaz.

It's a perfect style for the concept, Scruffians being a sort of fucked-up riff on Barrie's Lost Boys by way of Larrabeiti's The Borribles -- which replaces Neverland with 1970s London, has these unaging tearaways living in squats, snot-nosed street-oiks who steal to survive (best kid's book in the world ever.) Where those books have the kids basically just decide to not grow up, Scruffians are the product of a doohickey which "Fixes" them, sets them for all time as they are, by imprinting it on their chest in the form of a Stamp -- not unlike the unkin's gravings in Vellum.

In the Victorian era then, when a lot of the stories are set, this is an industry. There's a villainous Waiftaker General who takes kids from Jews and Gypsies to make Scruffians -- justifying it on the blood libel that the kids are "stolen," of course. There's the Institute where you can bring a waif bought from a workhouse, have him Fixed. The point is, Scruffians are great cheap labour. They don't age, don't die even if you starve them, and if you send them into the factory to clean out the machinery, if they lose a hand or foot now and then... no matter, it'll grow back soon enough. You need to lash their feet to force them up a chimney? No worries, they'll be right as rain next day. As long as the Stamp on their chest isn't Scrubbed, they'll always spring back to the state they were Fixed at.

Unless, of course, they start tweaking the Stamp, basically editing their own physical and psychological identity. The stories are set in the cribs of Scruffians who've escaped, gone rogue. Some of them have to tweak their Stamp just to overcome the fear written into them at their Fixing. Some tweak a little more and become Urchins in all senses of the term -- spikes on fists, wrists, elbows, knees. Some go a further still and end up as Hellions, truly messed-up little bastards who could have fuck knows what -- horns, wings, fangs, you name it.

Anyways, the book should have one or two of the stories, with scribblings and sketches to flesh out the world; we're looking to make it bilingual, in French and English. As of the last month or so, Zariel's started to send me some of his sketches, and they're looking seriously awesome. His artwork is fucking spot-on for the style of the stories, as I say. If you check him out here -- at his site -- you'll see why I'm excited. I'm really looking forward to the end result.


Friday, May 06, 2011

A Response With Ponies

The Story So Far

Up to date? OK, so, taking Martin's comment in chunks:

On Dates and Debts

I don't think it is wrong (or even controversial) to suggest the relationship the between artist and consumer is far more transactional than that between potential sexual partners.

Not at all. That's why I'm cutting straight to the chase in terms of the intersection of commerce and leisure and talking about the sex industry -- so as to dispense with any sense of writerly preciousness about trade being tawdry or something. I genuinely reckon the comparison is fair; writing is an entertainment service that's immensely intimate, pleasure-oriented and capable of being anything from a cheap thrill to an actual -- albeit transactional -- relationship of sorts. With potential sex partners it's generally not transactional at all... until it is, that is, until it's offered as a service. At which point we're dealing with the same thing -- kicks for cash.

Am I (in the analogy) paying George RR Martin for sex or do I want him to be my boyfriend? I would say the former and if I'm paying for sex, you better believe that I want to orgasm.

What you're paying for is up to you. Some will go to sex workers for a basic blowjob. Some will go for a full fuck. And some will go for services which include companionship or kinks. Think of genres as particular kinks and subtlety, complexity, depth in fiction as intimacy. Judging from what I know of Martin's series, from word-of-mouth and the HBO show, going just for an orgasm would be daft. There's not a lot of eyeball kicks there, and precious little of the quick-thrill pandering of heroic monomyth wank-fantasy. No "orphan who's secretly a prince" there. No, Martin's a classy escort you want the full experience with. You want the conversation that is rich character interaction. You want to be seduced, romanced, even if at the end of the day, you're paying for it. Sure, you want a climax -- which, by the sounds of it, book four forestalls -- but what you're in it for, for the most part, is an escort on your arm for a whole night on the town and under the sheets, not just a quick hand shandy.

Somewhere in your analogy is an accusation of the classic "I bought you dinner and flowers therefore you owe me sex" sense of entitlement which I guess translates equally between hetro and homo culture. I hope I am not guilt of this even by analogy.

No, remember I'm talking about an ongoing transactional relationship, even if it is one where the john is looking to immerse themselves utterly in the intimate meeting of one and tother. So the dancing and romancing takes place, but it's for cold hard cash and a spout of cum at the end of the day, and as such your fake boyfriend only has the obligation to you they've explicitly agreed to. Not that a real boyfriend would be any more tacitly obliged to put out cause you're really in the mood, but the point is, this is a business arrangement, for all the artifice of personal connection, and if it's not bought yet, it isn't yours by right.

You can imagine they'll do anything for you, be entranced by their arts, but the escort cannot invest themselves in you like they would in an actual boyfriend, cause there's countless more of you out there. They can only develop their craftsmanship, find their own personal approach born of skills honed over time, and offer you -- in truth -- the exact same eight date ersatz relationship they're offering to every punter.

If, on the fourth date, they forestall the nookie till next time, you might well feel irate... if you reject the whole technique of the cliffhanger. I can't say the alleged lack of closure in Martin's fourth book makes me want to run out and buy the series, because I don't like cock-teases myself. But at the end of the day, as frustrating as that date might be for some, if the escort refuses to put out, that's as legitimate as a real boyfriend saying, "Not tonight." It's a whole lot less likely with an escort where, yeah, the orgasm at the end is likely understood as expected, but in this gnarly serial version, this full-on ersatz relationship, where the service offered is bonding as much as bondage? Well, practically speaking, in fiction you *can't* actually shove your way in their door and take what you're "owed." That would mean somehow forcing a writer to immediately rewrite book four with a climax. But bitchslapping for this "unpaid debt"? No, I think that's where it crosses the line into something akin to that "you owe me sex" entitlement.

If the book ends with a parrot instead of the pony you wanted, that doesn't mean you're owed one pony.

The Recourse of Reviewing

Still, unlike an actual relationship, the transactional quality here would certainly, I'd say, entitle you to the same recourse you have with fiction.

If I bought your book, didn't like it and then wrote up a bad review on the internet then that would just be par for the course. If I fucked you, thought you were crap and then wrote that up on the internet I would indeed be a contemptible cunt of a human being. So I think we only differ on how transactional that relationship is.

Actually, if that fuck was for money, as a service, I'd say that sex review would be wholly valid. And damn straight, you could sound off about how that no-orgasm fourth date bit the big one. (Or didn't, rather, didn't munch down on the mighty one at all.) Another reviewer with a certain kinda kink might well rave about the cock-tease of it, cause that's totally their thing. Neither of you would be out of order. The only thing that would be dodgy, in my book, is claiming that you had an unwritten agreement that was reneged on, that you were rooked, cause no one in the world has *ever* ended an instalment of a series on a cliffhanger, so that filthy boy-whore had no fucking *right* to do that to you. That's just letting your frustration lead you to false accusations, umbrage taken to unreason.

Cliffhangers are hardly rare in serials, so if you revile them, the rational attitude is your own -- to wait until the series is complete. Otherwise... it's like raging that this week's episode of Generic TV Show ended with "To be continued," that this is *so* wholly unconventional it's an unpardonable transgression, that you have an "unwritten contract" with Mister Showrunner forbidding two-parters. For sure, with novels it's a gnarlier issue because of the scale, but ultimately in the serial form such a reaction is pretty unsound, I'd say. And if the reviewer genuinely starts talking in terms of "moral obligation" and "tacit agreement" that's entering into a self-serving fantasy of their personal expectations as ethical obligations.

But this isn't about reviewing anyway. And the big grievance is the delay. So...

On Waiters and Wankers

For me, A Song Of Ice And Fire is not a series of novels but rather a single novel served in individual chunks so I don't see that the analogy of a series of dinner dates holds (in the same way that it might for, say, Iain M Banks's Culture series).

The semantics of how we define a "proper novel" don't matter. The service still comes in individual chunks, with each serving being paid for as and when it comes. Like a series of dinners in the same restaurant.

Martin has offered a multi-course tasting menu... and is taking a bloody long time between courses.

I'm stripping out those assumptions of intent for now because Martin's motivations are sheer projection on your part and utterly irrelevant. Magically mindread motivations have no bearing on the point at hand -- to wit, the delay as breach of some imaginary contract. So... a multi-course tasting menu with a massive delay before Course #5?

Again, the service still comes in individual chunks, with each serving *being paid for as and when it comes*. So, no, that analogy doesn't play. If it did, man, that would be even worse. You'd have readers sitting through four courses of a meal for free, then haranguing the staff about how they're "owed" the rest, when they've paid for *none of it* so far. They'd be perfectly able (and customarily entitled) to walk out in outrage, with what they did eat most likely comp'ed, but instead they'd be cursing out their serving staff for not delivering food they claim as their right by dint of the menu on the door having piqued their interest. And they'd be basing their outrage in part on how amazing those first four dishes were. How dare the chef do that to them, give them such exquisite enjoyment, then keep them waiting *a whole half-hour* for a course that's gone all wrong!

That's not a random figure, by the way. I mean, eight courses is one every half hour for a four hour meal. Allowing twenty five minutes to eat a course, we're talking a five minute wait between courses as the target. Four or five times the expected delivery time is actually not even 30 minutes, but hey, let's throw in an extra cycle or two to round it up. A whole half-hour wait for Course #5! Out-fucking-rageous! Yeah, next time I'm in my local gastro pub and I have to wait half an hour for the cheese board, I must remember to berate that minion maitre'd for betraying the unwritten contract. Investment? I've been going there since the first day it opened, fifteen years ago. So I'll give him twenty minutes then start calling him a chiselling motherfucker for reneging on his tacit agreement.

Or not.

For all that I've spent more time and money in that place than I care to think about, somehow I don't feel it's a reasonable response to spit in the face of my waiting staff like a complete wanker, no matter how horrendously they've fucked up. Fifteen years and they still don't owe me a pony.

PonyFest at the GRRM Bistro

But anyway, as I say, that multi-course taster isn't actually a legitimate comparison.

If the courses are paid for separately that's a honking big clue to the fact that they're discrete meals. They're discrete meals that are paid for separately because you *can't* get the next as soon as the last is finished, like fricking clockwork, and pay it all up at the end -- not as they're being invented. You can't get the pony carpaccio and the pony steak tartare and the pony a l'orange, one after the other after the other, because the chef can only start properly inventing (or at least perfecting) each individual course once the latest is served. And that takes, let's say, a culinary day as a stand-in for a literary year... give or take.

So, it's not a one-night-only multi-course menu. No, it's PonyFest at the GRRM Bistro, a new special dish every day or thereabouts, and each from a different national cuisine. Go every day and you'll complete the full "Pony Trek Tour of the Culinary World." You'll kinda need to taste all of them in order to get the proper experience, but they're all gonna stay on the menu after PonyFest is over, so if you really want your multi-course taster, actually, all you gotta do is wait. (Again, your own approach, which seems quite sensible to me.)

No, until PonyFest is over, you can't buy them all in a oner, because Chef Martin is not The Magic Jesus. He *hasn't* sold you a £100 ticket up-front for some one-off spectacle where he grabs a couple of carp and a ciabatta then magics perfect pony dishes out of thin air, laying each on your table the very instant you've finished the previous course. That is not the deal.

Rather, he's aiming to spend a day on perfecting that evening's dish, serving it up as an exciting new item on the menu that night, and charging customers for it as such. It's an ambitious project, PonyFest. He's aiming for it to all take place over a week and a day, but not being The Magic Jesus, that may actually be a miracle beyond this mere mortal. He's got the first dish perfected and a clear idea of how he'll tackle the rest, but if he doesn't want customers vomiting in the toilets and never coming back, trust me, he's taking a whole day to make sure Course #2 is all he wants it to be. Ditto Course #3 and Course #4.

So, yeah, the day after that is where it all goes tits-up. Shock, horror, you turn up for Course #5 and there's no chilli con pony on the menu. Something -- fuck knows what -- has gone wrong in the schedule. They cannot serve you that dish today. Turns out they cannot serve you tomorrow either. Or even the day after! First day or two, you ask why, and the waiter just shrugs his apologies. On the third day he says it's maybe gonna be ready tomorrow, but on the fifth it's just the same story with a mumbled "sorry." Of course, everyone sees Chef Martin, when they walk by his house at midnight, cooking his own dinner! He's even spotted filling in for the fry-cook at a café down the road for five minutes here and there! Hell, there's stuff coming from that kitchen that bears his mark... even if it's just the odd starter that can be whipped up in his ten minute breaks from working on that intransigent fiend of a Course #5. He might even have the radio on in the kitchen!

So, have you paid a hundred quid for a PonyFest ticket? If Chef Martin's grand plans have gone awry, if that week and a day of wild fusion cuisine covering every corner of the culinary globe has turned into four days and a long weekend of nothing new, have you actually ponied up for the pony that ain't up yet? Have you put down the dosh for the dish?


The Rhetoric of Entitlement

There are customers in any service industry who treat those who're serving them like shit. I appreciate the frustration and ire when service goes wrong, but there are certain behaviours and attitudes to people offering any sort of service, menial labour or skilled craft, that are just plain unconscionable. We've all seen that, surely. The only people I can imagine dismissing that reality are those obnoxious customers. And really it all boils down to harrying that service worker for not being fucking magical enough to bring them the pony they're owed NOW.

Obligations, contracts, duties -- the rhetoric of legal/ethical imperatives is ipso facto the rhetoric of entitlement, and the fucking *definition* of entitled asswipery is to claim that X owes you Y service for Z payback (guaranteed satisfaction for emotional investment, say,) when X never for a moment offered Y because it's a magic pony they *can't* promise, and when Z is actually an effect *you're* getting from the service X has *actually* agreed to give you for a straight-up fee in cold hard cash.

Ultimately,, my point is, yes, I make no bones about the relationship being transactional, but I am crystal fucking clear on what that transaction does and doesn't entail on my end, and on what I consider legitimate and illegitimate reimbursement from the reader. If you imagine that by writing a half dozen Scruffians stories with loose connections between them (in an online distribution experiment a while back,) I would or even *could* guarantee complete satisfaction for the readers who enjoyed them, in the form of the large narrative arc I can envision, at the moment, as... I dunno... maybe a novel, maybe a collection?... that's just plain wrong. I'd love to be able to promise that, but I can't guarantee it, so each story is offered as is, with its cohort of stories in the same mythos. And the only payback that matters to me as regards those stories is the Paypal donations of those readers, God bless em, who literally gave me money to eat with in direct exchange for them. Emotional investment is not cool because it's payback; it's cool because it's my service satisfying customers.

Those stories being available for free download now, anyone can grab them and read them. Should some passing non-donating reader spend however many hours reading them, getting so caught up in them they simply *must* read more, that's awesome. But as glad as I am for the stories to find an appreciative audience, that emotional investment is not a fricking payment to me. It is not that reader's side of a transaction obliging me to write what they're now "owed" in exchange for all that time and effort they've put into being entertained by my work. That's where I think your original comment goes completely wrong, where you say that embarking on an open-ended serial transforms a writer to a corporate machine contractually obliged to supply "subscribers" with timely returns on their investment. That's a nonsense that obfuscates the actual transaction, asserting a right to a wholly impractical extra service for *zero* additional investment... unless you go the whole hog and *really* piss on your service provider with the arrant cock-fluffery that your desire for more *is* the subscription fee, bestowed on the lowly serf in the form of their master's bounteous appreciation.

Which is just... so I owe you a pony NOW... in exchange for your appreciation of the three blowjobs you actually paid for?

Um, no.


Thursday, May 05, 2011

A Date With Dragons

Over on The Speculative Scotsman, Niall Alexander posts about the whole thing with George R. R. Martin's delays, the fan backlash thereof, and the deal with the devil involved in suchlike projects. Me, I think Neil Gaiman said it pretty succinctly, but sadly, people still don't seem to get the whole "not your bitch" thing. So the first response, from Martin Lewis, drives me to try... turning that metaphor around. To quote:

Niall Alexander: I believe authors should be able to write what they want when they want rather than writing to a timetable dictated by the whims of what a particular sphere of readers are seen and indeed heard to want.

Martin Lewis: That is absolutely right up until the moment they start writing an open-ended serial with the deliberate aim of making more money. In which case you become a business and your subscribers are perfectly entitled to ask where the hell there product is. Martin didn't invent the commercialisation of fantasy but he certainly played along with it so artisitic freedom goes out the window.

There's a whole lot of wrong in that second quote, as I see it, so I may post a more detailed response on how profoundly harmful I think that mindset is for a marketing category that's been commercial since its inception in the pulps, but for now I'm just going to unleash the snark.

So, yeah... my response over on Niall's blog:

I'm totally applying this whole "subscriber / business" attitude from now on with all the male escorts I don't use. I mean, I'm not a consumer in that corner of the entertainment industry, but if I *was*, I'd totally adopt this ethos.

Yeah, I'd pay for four dates in which I take this pretty rent boy out for dinner and he makes like he's my boyfriend, then he gives me an awesome blowjob at the end of the evening. I wouldn't call him a rent boy to his face, of course... not at first. I'd call him an "escort," no matter if I *thought* of him as my fucking bitch-slut of a boy-whore. I'd be paying him for that whole "relationship" thing, see, an ongoing affair.

OK, sure, I'd be paying him for each individual date, not giving him a weekly retainer to come at my beck and call, but think of the *investment* I've put in! The time and effort involved in developing that ersatz relationship! I'll be so looking forward to the eighth and final date with its angry sex bust-up! Shit, the better he is at blowjobs and faux-boyfriendery, the more I'll be chomping at the bit for each next date! Not that I'll treat him with more respect for it. Hell, no!

No, I'm gonna have those four dates and be *totally* impatient for the fifth. When he says he can't make it this week, I'm not gonna give a shit about why, yanno, whether he has shit going on in his life he doesn't want to talk about with me, whether he's planning something spectacular for that date and taking time to get it right. No, I'm just going to brood about it petulantly, bitch about having to delay gratification. When he keeps me waiting for two, three, four weeks, I'm gonna start getting downright fucking surly.

I'm gonna start calling him up then, saying, where's my fucking fifth date, bitch? We've got a fucking deal. I'm a regular john, a fucking *subscriber*. You got into bed with me in the first place, motherfucker, so you're my boy-whore now. I'll go round to his door, irate at being kept waiting. I'm horny and you're a fucking slut, I'll say, so get your fucking coat on cause you owe me my fifth date. Now. No date-raping stalker boorishness will be too low for me in my contempt.

I'll take no fucking protests. Bitch went into the whole ersatz relationship thing with the deliberate aim of making money. So I'm fucking entitled to ask where the hell my date is... no matter if I only paid for each date as and when it happened. It's that "investment" thing, remember. I mean, I'll have been *investing* all this time and energy. I'll *still* be investing all this *interest*, all this *care*, all this desire for fulfilment. My *demand* for satiation is my *right* to it, motherfucker.

I mean, let's face it. That bitch-slut of a boy-whore didn't invent prostitution, but he certainly went along with it, so fuck his freedom not to get on his knees before me and suck my mighty cock. I have every right to harangue and heckle him until that fucking whore gives me the service he's unofficially contracted to.

Yeah, I'm gonna be a fucking contemptuous and contemptible cunt of a human being, and a self-righteous prick about it to boot.

And then I'm going to apply that attitude to every fucking art-whore.

Now, gimme my fucking pony, motherfucker!