Death by Inches

Jack was sitting at his coffee table stripping down his double-action revolver. Gin was lounging on his couch behind him, a tablet in her hands and a leg flopped over an armrest. Apart from the blank TV set into the front wall and a small nightstand next to the door, the apartment was barren.

Gin glanced down from her screen. “Why do you carry that old thing?” She asked. “Do they even make guns like that anymore?”

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John Hornor Jacobs’s Fierce as the Grave (Book Review)

12372484I first read John Hornor Jacobs after seeing him at ConQuest last year in Kansas City. After listening to him talk about writing in a panel, I had a feeling that I would enjoy his work. The way he spoke about writing, and about the horror genre, made me think he would be a force to be reckoned with for some time to come. It didn’t hurt that he was a cool guy and said very supportive things about my own writing. As far as first novels go, Southern Gods is hard to beat. It’s a great blend of classical literary writing and horror.

Jacobs’s Fierce as the Grave: A Quartet of Horror Stories continues the sort of writing that made me love Southern Gods. The regional flavor permeates everything. This is a guy that knows his setting. The South and the rural world, in general, flows through the work.

The plots are all simple. If you were to name them off, they wouldn’t come as much of a surprise. There is a story about vampires, another about zombies, a couple about ghosts. They are the same basic tropes that we have been writing about since the late 19th century. However, Jacobs tackles them with a style and flavor that make them his own.

The magic of John Hornor Jacobs is that he is able to see past the trappings of our genre to find the universal themes that transcend horror. The stories of the characters themselves become more interesting than the fact that there are monsters of any kind. In fact, life might just be the worst of the monstrosities described in these stories. Concepts like sanity, guilt, and identity are themes addressed throughout literature. Unfortunately, we can sometimes get so hung up on writing what is scary that we forget to write about the larger things. It is possible to do both.

I saw a Reddit interview with Peter Straub recently in which he said that while putting together his spectacular collection American Fantastic Tales, he was struck by how little the modern genre stories differed from modern literary writing. He saw this as a very good thing, as do I. It’s the thing that allows writing to transcend genre expectations, and allows our genre to infect every other aisle of the bookstore.

John Hornor Jacobs’s horror writing falls into the genre of modern literary horror, and provides good evidence of our genre’s potential for solid writing, great characters, and universal themes. His writing has a nostalgic feel and takes its time establishing the norms of the story world. Only when those norms have been established can we transgress against them. Only then can we truly have horror.

Overall, the collection was a very fast read and confirmed to me that Jacobs is the type of writer that the horror genre should be proud to have. For .99 cents as an e-book, it is a definite bargain. I am glad to have read it.

Writers & Exercise

There seems to be some evidence that people sit too much.

Well, that’s some low-hanging fruit there, but it’s true and it’s something that we don’t think about. When we’re in the car we don’t think “I’m sitting down”, we think “I’m heading somewhere”. Or something like that.

I’m here to tell you that I spent the summer of 2012 essentially on my butt. The entire summer. This matters because I didn’t think I was just sitting around. No, I was writing. Creating new stories, revising others and surfing the Internet. Watching TV. Visiting with friends. Worse, I’d broken the habit of walking every morning for 2.5 – 3 miles. A habit I’d acquired over five years. Every morning out for a walk. Unless it was too cold (under 45*F) or there was lightning or I had to be somewhere before 8 AM.

I fooled myself into believing I was being creative, learning, vegging out, whatever. I never considered that it would cause me problems. My knees started hurting. There were little aches and pains that developed. I thought nothing of them. Come fall when I became more active, much more active, I didn’t notice that I was having troubles.

My knees got worse. I didn’t notice that I was actually slowing down when I walked places. I failed to see that I had begun to have trouble breathing.

That was the beginning of the trouble that would eventually land me in the hospital with massive bilateral pulmonary embolism. The trouble that nearly killed me.

I was living with untreated (and at that point undiagnosed) ulcerative colitis. My failure to move about I’m sure contributed to the problem. It had to. Thankfully it appears the colitis is heading towards remission. I’m walking regularly and things are much, much better. Doesn’t mean I don’t worry, that I don’t take note of every little ache and pain that pops up but I keep track of the ones that don’t exist any more, too. There are more of the latter than the former.

But when I’m writing, when I get in The Zone, it’s hard to remember that I need to get up and walk around. I mean, I don’t want to lose the roll I’m on and I don’t want to have to come back in fifteen or twenty minutes and remember where I was. I’m sure the same thing applies to you.

My own experience tells me that I do need to do that, though. That’s why I modified my old drawing table and turned it into a standing desk. At first I didn’t think it would be for me but it turns out one of the benefits of standing is that when I get frustrated and need a break from the screen I can walk away instead of leaning back in my chair.

Sounds simple but it’s effective. I don’t lose The Zone and I move around for a couple of minutes. It rests my eyes, gets the blood flowing and burns a couple of calories. Another side benefit is that I tend not to snack when I’m standing. I still drink coffee or whisky, let’s not be silly, but the snacking and the moving around are good for me.

This may not be for you. I exhort you to consider, though, the report I linked to above. What can it hurt?

(Note: I cross posted this from my blog because the Cafe is an appropriate venue to discuss this.)

Online Publishing: A Quick Overview

Selling your writing online is only getting easier. Low overhead, cheap startup costs and fast setup time means it’s easy to make money. However, it can be just as easy to lose money, and that’s because of piracy. I’m not going to get into the debate of corporate, pirate and indie interests here, but the fact is that piracy exists and, if you want to sell on the internet, it’s something you have to deal with.

There are many ways to publish content online, all with different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to potential profit and loss. I’ve picked out four of the most common to see what their potential risks and rewards are.

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Dear Comics

It’s not you, it’s me.

I want to fall in love with you, I really do. All of my friends say that you’re really great. And you are great, really. I’m just not feeling it.

I just can’t get into the way that you tell stories.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been attracted to text. I like well built paragraphs, with broad metaphors and strong descriptions that can carry a story safely across the great divide between author and reader. A clever simile, a well-crafted pun, will always make me smile. I have kind of a Thing for a confident narrative that introduces me to fascinating characters and takes me to exotic places. The right novel comes along, and I’m lost.

I have experimented with comics in the past. Some of my favorite authors, particularly Neil Gaiman, are bi-genre, and in their company I’ve dipped my toe in the graphic waters. But I can’t pretend any more.

When I open a graphic novel, I’m faced with page after page of lavish illustration, but all I can really see is the text. Unfortunately the text isn’t quite enough to carry the story. It’s mostly just dialog, with perhaps a dash of exposition. The lion’s share of description, mood, and theme are carried by the artwork, and I just don’t see it. Instead of carefully examining each page, each panel, I’ll find myself madly flipping pages, looking only at the speech bubbles, and by the end of the book I’ll be groaning in unfulfilled expectations, crying out, “That’s it? That’s all you can give me?” Excited by the prospect of a great story, only to have it come to a premature and unsatisfying end.

Sometimes, on a second go around, I can force myself to go slow, carefully examine the artwork. I know you’ve worked hard on your appearance, comics, and I’d like to give you mad props for it, but I’m just not that kind of a girl.

A novel, on the other hand, is long, and thick, and carries the promise of great satisfaction. A novelist knows how to create the mood, set the pace, and tickle my fancy just right.