I’m Teaching a New Online Creative Writing Class, 16 Weeks Long, About Contemporary Dark Fiction

This sounds like an excellent class to take.

- What Does Not Kill Me -

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Hello everyone! I’m going to teach a new creative writing class online called Contemporary Dark Fiction. It’ll be SIXTEEN WEEKS long (I know!) essentially the same length as your average semester. It’ll be a mixture of weekly Skype calls (with guest authors dropping in to talk about their work), creative writing exercises based on my long-running Storyville column, short story analysis (paired with the lectures), novel discussion (four books in total) and monthly writing deadlines (a 4,000-word story per month) with criticism from myself and your peers. This is the class I’ve always wanted to teach, taking the best aspects of the classes that I’VE TAKEN, as well as my MFA, and focusing on books that I love (and think are important) as well as stories I’ve curated. We’ll also have an online forum (location TBD) where we will discuss various aspects of the lectures, stories, and novels in greater…

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Just a Bit of Great Writing

The following is a short excerpt from Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway that should be enough to either convince to buy the book right away because wow!

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The book tells the story of a group of teenagers that are trying to adapt to life after living in portal worlds (like the Narnia kids or Dorothy back from Oz) of varying kind.

The kids live in a boarding school that’s supposed to be safe and normal where they take lessons and attend group therapy sessions. But one of the kids is found murdered, and then another.

The following passage is a just a few of the kids entering a cellar, but is well written enough to deserve this short blog post. Particularly the last sentence.

He jogged past them and opened the cellar doors, releasing a rush of cool, sepulchral air. He held the doors until the others were through, and then he followed them, closing the doors with a final-sounding clank that left them in near darkness. Nancy had dwelt in the Halls of the Dead, where the lights were never turned above twilight, for fear of hurting sensitive eyes. Christopher had learned to navigate a world of skeletons, none of whom had eyes anymore, and many of whom had long since forgotten about the squishy living and their need for constant illumination. Jack could see by the light of a single storm.

Buy the book, buy it now.

4 Reasons To Get Your Kids to Play Dungeons and Dragons

Remember when people said Dungeons & Dragons were a gateway drug into satanism and juvenile delinquency?

Well, they were half-right; D&D is a gateway drug. Only, it’s a gateway drug into things all parents should wish for their kids.

I present; four things Dungeons and Dragons can give a child.

1. A life-long love of books

Oh yes.

The game itself is massively fun, and when you can’t play you turn to the next-best thing; books that take place in the same world.

For starters, there is no playing D&D if you haven’t read The Lord of the Rings. And then you have a choice of hundreds of epic fantasies; The Wheel of Time series, The Game of Thrones books, The Shannara Chronicles, The Earthsea books.

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And then there are all the books that take place within the D&D setting itself, of which my personal favorite are the first three books in the Drizzt Do’Urden series.

From there, anything that even remotely touches on fantasy. A love of books, for life, comes with the first night of playing D&D. It’s a package deal.

 

2. Friends for life

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Picture the first scene from Netflix’s recent hit show Stranger Things, where the friends are playing D&D. That is actually pretty close to what it’s like playing.

You meet new people and make friends, who share an interest in a thing you don’t generally talk about in polite society. But you know.

You are part of a club.

There is no board game that comes close to the fun you can have playing Dungeons and Dragons.

 

3. A reason to learn math

Playing Dungeons and Dragons (or any other role-playing game) involves creating and playing characters who have certain abilities. These abilities are reflected in scores running from 0 to 20.

Then you may need to calculate a bonus from your ability score when added to the result of a eight-sided dice thrown and the probability that you will achieve what you are trying to do weighed against taking another approach.

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So a night of playing involves quite a bit of quick arithmetic and statistics, as part of playing a fun game with friends.

And you get good at it pretty fast.

 

4. An increased vocabulary

English is my second language. Through playing Dungeons and Dragons, by age fifteen I knew what “obfuscate”, “ambidexterity”, “protean”, “thaumaturgy” and “demeanor” meant.

Not bragging, just saying. The way the words are used throughout the game gives kids an incentive to learn them, and actually remember them through context.

Convinced?

Then I recommend getting the D&D Starter Pack, it has everything you need to get started playing and is very affordable.

5 Tips to Help You Write 50,000 Words in November

I’m thinking about doing NaNoWriMo this year.

Here are 5 tips from Freedom to help me complete the task.

Freedom Matters

5-tips-to-help-you-write-50000-words-in-november-3Writing 50,000 words in 30 days can seem like herculean feat only to be accomplished by the most prolific of scribes. However, it’s a feat that over 400,000 people attempt every November during National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo.  

There is no denying that it is a lofty goal, but it’s not impossible. How can we be sure? Well, for one we have entire Freedom community that never ceases to inspire us with their creations – whether that be novels, films, scripts, dissertations, symphonies, start-ups, or
dinner. We believe in human’s singular ability to create against all odds.

So as we gear up for the month of November, here are a few tips we’ve gathered to ensure that your NaNoWriMo experience is a true success.

  1. Get Started. “A journey of a thousands miles must begin with a single step” – Laozi
    • The hardest part of NaNoWriMo, much…

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First Lines From 5 New Books

You know how they say that the first sentence of a book is the most important? 

That writers really need to “hook” a reader in the first pages, really from the first word?

Well, as it happens, I just got a few books in the mail, books that are getting great reviews and I really look forward to reading (once I finish John Langan’s absolutely fantastic horror novel The Fisherman).

Every now and then I order a bit of books (last order was a total of eight books).

Every Heart a Doorway

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Every Heart a Doorway tells the story of children, mostly girls, in a boarding school.

These are not ordinary children, but returnees from portal worlds (Like Dorothy returned from Oz) and the school’s main purpose is to help them get back to life in the “normal” world.

I’m about third of the way through and so far it’s interesting and well written, though not exactly fast-paced.

It has a great dedication though: For the Wicked.

The girls were never present for their entrance interviews. Only their parents, their guardians, their confused siblings, who wanted so much to help them but didn’t know how. It would have been too hard on the prospective students to sit there and listen as the people they loved most in all the world – this world, at least – dismissed their memories as delusions, their experiences as fantasy, their lives as some intractable illness.

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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This promises to be an action-packed quest fantasy that has something to do with spiders in a new way.

I’ve read the first chapter and.. yes, this is going to be fun.

The words that twanged and thrummed their way to Nth said, New food coming, and he stirred, resettling his legs to take the measure of the message: how far, what direction, who originated it. Mother’s Brood was large. Some of her children were more reliable than others.

Violence, swords and sorcery and a spider-made-human (but not completely).

I bought this mostly because I really liked Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time, but also because this just looked so good.

Eileen

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This is a Man Booker shortlisted book, and also comes highly recommended by Jeff VanderMeer. Those two things make the book irresistible to me.

I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus, reading some clothbound book from the library about plants or geography, perhaps wearing a net over my light brown hair. You might take me for a nursing student or a typist, note the nervous hands, a foot tapping, bitten lip. I looked like nothing special.

The Many

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I don’t remember where I first heard about this book.

But it kept popping up, with people describing it using words like “weird”, “dark” and “very well written indeed if you ask me”. In other words, the kind of things that make me want to buy the book.

It certainly starts out with a bit of mystery.

A thin trail of smoke rises up from Perran’s,  where no smoke has risen for ten years now. Ethan spots it close in, a few hundred yards from shore, as he scans the houses , a regularity of grey spirals where there should be a break in the line. He turns to see if Daniel has seen it too and shouts back at his wheelman to keep his eyes on the course until they’ve cleared the rocks and made land.

Longlisted for this year’s Man Booker.

The Three Body Problem

Three Body Problem book cover

“Hugo Winner” has an even stronger effect on me that “Man Booker winner”. That, and the fact that ken Liu has championed this book (he is the translator) made me interested.

I’ve also heard great things from some of my Book Riot peeps, so I decided to buy this.

The Red Union had been attacking the headquarters of the April Twenty-Eighth Brigade for two days. Their red flags fluttered restlessly around the brigade building like flames yearning for firewood.

 

What are you reading these days?

Uhh… yeah, you want these books.

World Fantasy Award nominees Aickman’s Heirs and Skein and Bone are on sale over at Undertow Books.

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I tend to buy collections based on maybe one or two stories or authors. The quality of these books, by that standard, is just amazing.

 

Aickman’s Heirs, edited by Simon Strantzas 

Winner of the Shirley Jackson Award.

Finalist for the World Fantasy Award.

Finalist for the British Fantasy Award.

 The Dying Season,’ by Lynda E. Rucker, Finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award.

 Seven Minutes in Heaven,’ by Nadia Bulkin, Finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award.

 Underground Economy,’ by John Langan, reprinted in the Best Horror of the Year.

 Seaside Town,’ by Brian Evenson, reprinted in Year’s Best Weird Fiction.

 Seven Minutes in Heaven,’ by Nadia Bulkin, reprinted in Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror.

 Camp,’ by David Nickle, reprinted in Wilde Stories: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction.

 

Skein and Bone, by V.H. Leslie

 Finalist for the World Fantasy Award.

 Finalist for the British Fantasy Award.

 The Blue Room’ – Finalist for the British Fantasy Award.

 

They are on sale! $30.00 total for both books AND worldwide shipping.

I own both books and can attest to their quality (you want these books).

To buy, go to the Undertow Books sale page.

Toni Morrison on Finding Time to Write

I saw the following on Toni Morrison’s Facebook page. She’s explaining where she finds time to write.

“Very, very early in the morning, before they got up. I’m not very good at night. I don’t generate much. But I’m a very early riser, so I did that, and I did it on weekends. In the summers, the kids would go to my parents in Ohio, where my sister lives – my whole family lives out there — so the whole summer was devoted to writing.

“And that’s how I got it done. It seems a little frenetic now, but when I think about the lives normal women live — of doing several things — it’s the same. They do anything that they can. They organize it. And you learn how to use time. You don’t have to learn how to wash the dishes every time you do that. You already know how to do that. So, while you’re doing that, you’re thinking. You know, it doesn’t take up your whole mind. Or just on the subway. I would solve a lot of literary problems just thinking about a character in that packed train, where you can’t do anything anyway. Well, you can read the paper, but you’re sort of in there.

“And then I would think about, well, would she do this? And then sometimes I’d really get something good. By the time I’d arrived at work, I would jot it down so I wouldn’t forget. It was a very strong interior life that I developed for the characters, and for myself, because something was always churning. There was no blank time. I don’t have to do that anymore. But still, I’m involved in a lot of things, I mean, I don’t go out very much.”

She is one of the writers I would highly and quite seriously recommend for all those you want to be writers themselves one day.

Beloved, especially, is an amazingly powerful novel, not easy to read. Both the style of the book and the subject matter make it a difficult, but necessary, book.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

“It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purring before the fire. For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see.”

So starts H.P. Lovecraft’s The Cat’s of Ulthar, one of many stories from which Kij Johnson gets her inspiration for her novella The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe.

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The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is told in Lovecraft’s world, though a world where the cosmic horror is not mysterious and threatening but familiar and, erm, threatening. The dream-world is place of vindictive and mercurial gods. Distance is not to be trusted; the same trip might take two days one time and three weeks another.

Fickle gods may destroy anything at anytime. And yet, the world goes on.

Vellitt Boe is a professor in an all-girl’s university in Ulthar and one of the girls has snuck away with a boy from the waking world. Only, she is the granddaughter of a sleeping god who, if waking and finding his granddaughter gone, might just destroy Ulthar.

So Vellitt Boe goes after her. It is a perilous journey told in Kij Johnson’s fantastic prose. (If you don’t own her collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees you should remedy that right quick).

The story is a gift to those of us who have a thing for Lovecraft, and also for those who like a tale whose quality lies in the telling. This is fantasy at it’s best.

Despite the connection to old Lovecraft, this is not a horror story by any means. Johnson uses the fantastic elements from his dream tales and weaves from them a story very much her own.

Fans of her Hugo and Nebula award-winning The Man Who Bridge the Mist are in for a treat. 

The Best Writing of the Week – Tender is the Night

Do you ever read books simply for the prose? 

In an attempt to improve my writing I do this a fair bit and am now reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.

Tender is the Night book cover

It was there I came across the following description that, as it happens, is also the best written thing I’ve read all week.

At the hotel the girl made the reservation in idiomatic but rather flat French, like something remembered. When they were installed on the ground floor she walked into the glare of the French windows and out a few steps onto the stone veranda that ran the length of the hotel. When she walked she carried herself like a ballet-dancer, not slumped down on her hips but held up in the small of her back. Out there the hot light clipped close her shadow and she retreated – it was too bright to see. Fifty yards away the Mediterranean yielded up its pigments, moment by moment, to the brutal sunshine; below the balustrade a faded Buick cooked on the hotel drive.

That’s what writing looks like.  

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The Wonderful World of Michael Swanwick

I don’t remember what the first story I read by Michael Swanwick is. But I do remember the feeling I got as I read it.

It’s the same feeling I got when I first read stories by Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link and Lucius Shepard. That amazing, wow-this-is-talent feeling.

Michael Swanwick is one of many authors I wish were household names, the likes of George Martin, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.

In his new collection, Not So Much, Said the Cat, Swanwick is just showing off. The stories are all “genre”, either fantasy or science fiction (or both).

Not So much

The Man in Grey is a sort of riff on The Truman Show, highlighting the relationship of a man who is essentially a stagehand in the main character’s life. After she slips on a bottle and he “steps out” and saves her from an oncoming train, they start talking about the nature of her world. And then she makes a choice.

The Dala Horse is a Scandinavian post-apocalyptic fairy tale, and is fantastic and scary.
Swanwick Dala Horse

Something terrible had happened. Linnea did not know what it was. But her father had looked pale and worried, and her mother had told her, very fiercely, “Be brave!” and now she had to leave, and it was all the result of that terrible thing.

You can read the whole story now at Tor.com to get a taste.

There are stories here that I had read previously in two must-own collections; Goblin Lake was in Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Tawny Petticoats was in Rogues edited by George Martin (seriously, buy these books). The fact that he had a story in both these collections tells you something about Swanwick’s talent.

The fact that both those stories are in Not So Much, Said the Cat tells you something about the book’s quality.

I don’t know what else to say. This collection proves that Swanwick is a name that should be mentioned every time people speak of Gaiman, Link, Shepard, Martin or Harlan Ellison.

And Not So Much, Said the Cat is a collection that should be in every home.