Today in The Denver Post
Here’s a link to its digital counterpart.
Here’s a link to its digital counterpart.
The Horror Writer: A Study of Craft and Identity in the Horror Genre is a comprehensive resource on writing horror. Interviews and essays cover a range of topics from inspiration to productivity, literary elements to marketing, exacerbating your reader’s sense of existential dread to publicizing your book in an oversaturated industry. I especially liked Chat Lutzke’s instructions on hooking the reader through empathetic, universal fears, Kenneth W. Cain’s near-prose essay on maintaining tension, and Kevin J. Kennedy’s frank, personable, and immensely useful observations about the writing profession. I could go on, but then I’d be spoiling this anthology’s secrets. Overall, a treasure trove of good information for the emergent and established alike (including those uninterested in writing specifically for the horror genre).
The book is available for purchase here.
Back in January, I bought tickets to see Madeline Miller at the Tattered Cover.
A lot’s happened since then.
Luckily, in response to the pandemic, the Tattered Cover didn’t cancel the conference, but moved the Author Reading and Q&A to Zoom.
Hair the color of gingerbread, Madeline Miller appeared on my computer screen, on my writing desk, in my apartment; a celebrity encounter a little too intimate for my wife and myself. We repeatedly worried she could see or hear us, and we whispered sheepishly throughout the event.
(She couldn’t see us and the mikes were muted.)
Our awkwardness aside, the format was brilliant, with Len Vlahos (one of the bookstore’s owners) acting as interlocutor and host. Madeline Miller read from her work, her writing beautiful as Greek poetry, and talked briefly about childcare and cat ownership during the COVID-19 crisis. Her cat’s name is Sif, by the way, the Norse Goddess of Spring.
One of the themes of her talk was how classic literature can provide us context for modern problems. Miller employed the famous saying that there’s ‘nothing new under the sun.’ Humanity struggles, now and then, with many of the same things. Her first example was The Illiad. In Book One, a plague spreads through the Greek host and its leaders botch their response, ego and rage making for poor decision-making. How familiar. Her second example was Cassandra, the Trojan princess, who always presented the truth, despite being cursed by Apollo to never be believed. In many versions of the myth, Cassandra incurred the god’s wrath by refusing to be his lover. How prescient, Miller said, to have a woman struggling to tell her truth but no one will listen.
The central focus of the talk, however, was Circe.
To those unfamiliar, Madeline Miller’s best known novels are retellings of famous Greek myths, using a contemporary style combined with ancient backdrops. Her two great novels are The Song of Achilles and Circe, the famous sorceress from The Odyssey.
Madeline Miller was very clear about how intention guided her approach to Circle. Years ago, when she first read The Odyssey, Miller was disappointed by Homer’s depiction of the famous meeting between Odysseus and Circle. Here were two smart and complicated people, but while Odysseus was brave and clever, Circle merely fell to her knees before his sword then invited him to bed. “The phallic sword did not escape my notice,” Miller added. Furthermore, Odysseus was one of the most curious men in Greek literature, and Miller was puzzled why he never asked Circle about turning men to pigs.
Later, Miller realized Odysseus was also the greatest liar of Greek literature, and that Circle’s section of the epic was reported from his point of view while he was trying to impress a royal court. Odysseus was a man concerned about his reputation and status; by glorifying Circle’s beauty and his sexual conquest, Odysseus was really saying look how great I am!
“Odysseus has told his story for the last 3,000 years,” Miller said. “It was time for Circe to speak for herself.”
There were other elements the author was interested in incorporating into the narrative, like motherhood as its own epic story, and how Circle wasn’t born into power, but used witchcraft, a skill and passion that Miller likened to art. The author also wanted to redeem Circe from her villainization; to respond to male anxiety about female power. Writing Circe, therefore, was an attempt to give the sorceress a full psychological portrait. “This is a story about a woman coming into her power and into her voice in a world hostile to women in power and the female voice,” Miller said.
In other words, Circe was always intended to be a feminist take on the character, just as Song of Achilles was intended as a queer take on Achilles and Patroclus.
In regards to process, Madeline Miller was more ambiguous. She described the craft as a mystery, the reason the ancients spoke of inspiration as a muse.
“My role is to keep showing up to the work,” she said. To sit down every day, to focus, to write, to try her best to tell her characters’ story.
When asked, Miller said she doesn’t really outline. Instead, she has the ending of her novel fixed firmly in her mind. The problem is finding the beginning, the first line. “I know where to shoot the arrow, the target,” she said, “I just don’t know where to stand to shoot.”
“I research as I go,” Miller said. “When I get to a section, I deep dive. Only 1% of what I learn makes it into the novel. Any more would be deadly.”
An important aspect of history writing, she added, was the material culture. An author must give the story a real physicality. The knives, the broaches, the snakes, the beetles, they were all inspired by real finds and studies.
“What something looks like might not make it into the story, but it’s important for the writer to know,” she said. Miller also traveled to Greece to smell the olive groves, to look at the sea, to observe the light on the wall.
As for the author’s ability to give characters real voices, Miller relies on her theatrical background. One strategy is to read dialogue aloud. Another is to make very intentional decisions about word choice based on a character’s background or mental state. Would this person be contemplative or easily angered? And what would their metaphorical language be; the way they process the world? Circe, living deeply in the woods, draws on nature as her source for context. Patroclus, in rejection of the war-glory tempting Achilles, uses the metaphors of daily life, reflecting Sappho and the ancient poets of ordinary experience.
Overall, I was not surprised to find Madeline Miller as brilliant as her fiction. If you ever have the opportunity to sit in on her talks, I would highly recommend the experience.
Another example of how COVID-19 is affecting everyone these days. A multitude of magazines have stalled, and a few are folding up due to economic hardships.
This includes an anthology which was about to publish one of my poems. The editors sent me this email:
We are unfortunately now forced to make the decision to not finalize the Impact anthology as we will most likely no longer have the financial means to carry the second URL (Unincorporated.site) for our magazine.
We are honestly barely holding on to our primary literary magazine and may have to fold indefinitely.
The future is unknown as Las Vegas has taken a dramatic hit financially because of the pandemic. Many of our volunteer local readers and editors are no longer employed or only partially employed.
We appreciate all the work that was sent and enjoyed reading many of them. It was a laborious effort and we were already having to make hard decisions regarding which pieces to include.
There were so many wonderful pieces, yours included. This was the hardest decision we had to make but didn’t want to leave our contributors in limbo any longer than we already have.
Helen: A Literary Magazine is (and hopefully will be again) a biannual magazine that celebrates literary works and fine art reflecting ‘the spirit of Southern Nevada.’ (Although I’m not from the area, the editors found my poem reflected an important conflict in their community.) The magazine takes its name from the “First Lady of Las Vegas,” Helen J. Stewart, a pioneer who helped forge the valley in the 1880s. They have an internal division called Unincorporated which specializes in anthologies and collections, including Impact. They also run Breedlove, a literary arts blog. As of April 2020, Helen is on indefinite hiatus.
Impact was going to be an anthology focused on Social Justice, ranging from personal experiences to works of fiction. The hope was to expand readers’ perspective on what social justice means and its effects and after effects in our society. Hopefully, those many contributors and their pieces will find other opportunities to publish, to shed a menagerie of lights on our conflicts and corruptions, those things we must repair before we pass the world to our children.
Electric Spec posted my thoughts on my upcoming short story, “Rona of the Els,” which will publish in their May 2020 issue. I tried my best to keep the explanation brief and spoiler-free. I was 99% successful.
Here’s the blurb:
Electric Spec is a not-for-profit speculative magazine that publishes four times per year. “Rona of the Els” will be available on May 31st.
While a graduate student at Houston Baptist University, I created Writ in Water, an annual literary magazine focused on Literature & Life (unlike Rune Bear and the Weird & Wonderful). The stipulation was that all contributors had to be students or alumni of HBU. No outsiders and no professors. To sustain the magazine’s leadership, the editor-in-chief of Writ in Water would be the Writing Coordinator of the University’s Academic Success Center.
Although I’ve long left the magazine, moving north to teach in Denver, Writ in Water has flourished under a series of amazing editors, most currently Hannah Gentry. A few months back, Gentry contacted me about my process for gathering submissions and publication. She also invited me to send a story, so I thought, eh, sure, whatever, I’ll submit something. (Corruption at its finest, right?)
Today I’m excited to say “Blue Winter High” has been published in the 2020 issue of Writ in Water.
“Blue Winter High” takes place in a near-future where public education is mostly automated. A human teacher struggles to be as efficient as the robots around her. I was hoping to create the sense that human vitality might be threatened by the inhuman mechanical processes we keep implementing into our daily lives.
A story in exactly 100 words.
Jim scratched his groin, itching fierce since last week’s romp at Ophelia’s. With a squint particular to these plains, he muttered, “I’m telling ya, that there’s a wyvern.”
Turner pulled from her scope, rested the rifle on the blue ridge of the roof. “It’s a dragon. Release the flare.”
Jim spat. “Wyvern! See the tail? Got a stinger there. That two-wings couldn’t burn down a barn.”
That two-wings released a hot beam of fire that took out Ophelia’s Place. The critter swooped overhead, a stingerless tail whistling by.
“One of them fire-breathing wyverns,” Jim muttered stubbornly, reaching for the flare.