Thursday, April 27, 2017

Fantastical Fictions Book Club: Fardwor, Russia! by Oleg Kashin

(Oleg Kashin photo / Restless Books)
It's time again for another Fantastical Fictions Book Club. On Thursday, May 5 at 7:00 p.m., we'll convene around the big table at Malvern Books to discuss Oleg Kashin's Fardwor, Russia!
This slim novel is a  fascinating breezy read, if you can call a dark, satiric dystopia "breezy." It offers a glimpse of Russian culture and its complaints. 

The publisher's website describes the book this way:
     "When a scientist experimenting on humans in a sanatorium near Moscow gives a growth serum to a dwarf oil mogul, the newly heightened businessman runs off with the experimenter’s wife, and a series of mysterious deaths and crimes commences. Fantastical, wonderfully strange, and ringing with the echoes of real-life events, this political parable fused with science fiction has an uncanny resonance with today’s Russia under Putin.
     Oleg Kashin is a notorious Russian journalist and activist who, in 2010, two months after he’d delivered the manuscript of this book to his publishers, was beaten to within an inch of his life in an attack with ties to the highest levels of government. While absurdly funny on its face, Fardwor, Russia! A Fantastical Tale of Life Under Putin is deadly serious in its implications. Kashin’s experience exemplifies why so few authors dare to criticize the state—and his book is a testament of the power of literature to break the bonds of power, corruption, and enforced silence."

Dmitry Samarov, in his review of the book for the Chicago Tribune says:
"Absurdity is piled upon absurdity, but none of it is taken as anything but a matter of course by anyone involved. There is a long tradition of this sort of storytelling in Russia. From Nikolai Gogol's "The Overcoat" in pre-Soviet times to Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita" and onward, writers have had to address the insanity of their society through indirect or fabulist means. "Fardwor" is no fairy tale. Kashin grounds his story in everyday reality. Karpov finds out his wife has left him because she has unfriended him on Facebook; the oligarch, Kirill, is named to head the organization charged with making the upcoming Olympics in Sochi a success."
All sorts of strange madcappery goes on in this pages, yet this is a book where the author's story is at least as interesting as the tale he tells in these pages. Kashin is a well known journalist and blogger who regularly writes about political issues in Russia. Shortly after turning the manuscript for this book in to his editor, he was severely beaten in what appears to be a politically motivated attack. This edition of the book comes with a thorough and engaging introduction to both the book and the author by Max Seddon, World Correspondent for BuzzFeed News. 

For more about Oleg Kashin's story here check out Oleg Kashin's Horrible Truth: A journalist is beaten nearly to death in Moscow. Is this a deliberate crackdown, or something more subtile -- and more sinister?

Read Kashin's open letter to Putin/Medvedev here

For extra credit, check out Like, share, tweet: Social media meets the Russian revolution.

Pick up a copy at Malvern today, and join us next Thursday to discuss (whether you've read it or not)!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop Boot Camp - Week 1 - Why Workshop, What to Write, and Starting From Scratch


ArmadilloCon is one of the best little, literary science fiction and fantasy conventions in Texas. On Friday, August 4, before the convention begins, writers from near and far will gather to participate in an all-day intensive genre workshop with professional writers. I have been a student at this workshop, a volunteer, and a teacher, now I’m coordinating it. I am thrilled to be helming the workshop that helped to make me the writer I am today!

I still remember how scary it was to submit something for critique for the first time. I didn’t know if it was great or terrible or how other people would react to it. Every workshop is different, and even if the workshop experience isn’t for you, it can still be a lot of fun and a great learning experience. At the very least, you will meet a room full of other writers. If you’re attending the con, that means you’ll be seeing a couple dozen familiar faces throughout the weekend. Even if you never attend another workshop, learning to receive criticism, and to evaluate and give useful feedback to your peers will give you the tools necessary to continuously improve your writing.

Maybe you want to write, but have never written a complete short story, or started that novel that’s been bouncing around in your brain. No worries, over the next two months I’m going to write a series of BOOT CAMP posts to take you step-by-step through the creation of a piece of writing that will serve you well in any workshop.

In order to participate in the ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop you must submit a previously unpublished piece of writing (up to 5,000 words), either a short story or the first chapter of a novel. In this case previously published means anything that is out in the world, in print or online whether you were paid for it or not. This includes fiction you have published on a personal blog. The focus of this workshop is on craft; so if you’ve been writing for a while and have been published or have been publishing your own work, use this as an opportunity to write something new and challenging. The goal isn’t to bring a polished gem of a piece to the workshop, it’s to stretch and grow as a writer.

You can submit a piece and register for the workshop today, but I know how writer’s minds work, so here’s the deal. The deadline to submit/sign-up for the workshop is Sunday, June 11 a little under two months away.

If you’re starting from scratch, your boot camp assignment for this week is to PREPARE:

MAKE time to write
There’s an old saying: You’ll never FIND the time to do the things you want, you have to MAKE it. This week, think about when you can make time to write. If your weekdays are jammed then carve out weekend time. If your weekends are spoken for, try writing over your lunch hour, or getting up an hour earlier in the morning, put off your Netflix queue for a few weeks. 


Short stories for young adult readers
READ
You’ve heard it before, if you want to be a writer you have to read. This week, and in the coming weeks, you are going to be reading to a purpose.


Fantasy reprints and originals
If you’re planning on writing a short story, read (or listen to – yes podcasts count! Check the side bar for links to more podcasts.) a variety of short stories. I do much of my thinking in a journal, so you may want to write down some notes after reading/listening to a story. First, did the story move you? Was it to your taste? There is a huge range of styles and types of short stories even within the genre, so when you find a story that speaks to you (or not), think about why. What are the elements that appealed to your sensibilities or put you off?

If you want to submit the first chapter(s) of a novel, go back and re-read the first chapters of your favorite novels. Think about what drew you into the story. Was there a hook that made you commit to reading on? How much world building did the author include in the first pages? How much characterization? What did the author do to set the tone of the book? If it’s a horror book, what made it feel creepy? Science fiction, what made it otherworldly or futuristic?

RUMINATE
Throw some story ideas around. Spin ideas, characters, scenarios out in your notebook or in a document on your computer. You don’t have to develop anything yet, just compile “what if” moments, vignettes, characters. Again read, keep up with the news, follow your most esoteric interests down their rabbit holes to longreads. Bookmark what you find and make a note of why it interests you. I’ve created more than a few stories by mashing two disparate ideas together, so be generous filling your idea file.

Another alternative is to REABILITATE
If you’re like me, you have sort of an island of lost toys folder of broken or unfinished stories. Often they are broken/unfinished because there is some skill that I need to acquire in order to pull the story off. As long as they’ve never been published in any way, it’s perfectly legal to rework one of these stories. This week, visit your island of broken stories and see if there are any candidates you’d like to resurrect.


If you’re brand new to writing fiction, here's some tips from Kurt Vonnegut:



Next week I’ll talk about what kind of work is most useful to bring to a workshop or critique group, and you’ll continue to develop your idea and get ready to the first draft

If you have questions, post them in the comments and I’ll do my best to address them!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Useful and Necessary: April is National Poetry Month


April is upon us and it's National Poetry month!

Lately, when I need a break from the news cycle, when I need to refill my emotional and artistic reserves, I've turned to poetry. I've blogged before about poetry's usefulness here and here. Put simply, poetry interrogates our society and our humanity, it shapes our language and our world even if only a fraction of people read (very much of) it.

In keeping with my increased commitment to engagement this year, here are the actions I'm taking to celebrate poetry this month:

READING:

I subscribed to Poetry Magazine. Though, if money is tight their website has plenty to offer, or put their poetry spinner on your phone.

WRITING:

I am working on a poem/writing poetry for 30 minutes a day. I considered doing a poem-a-day challenge, but have come to realize that when writing prose or poetry, creating a finished project takes exactly as long as it takes. As someone who loves polishing prose and tinkering with the line, this really scratches my itch. I'm hoping that it will free me up in my prose work, especially when I need to push through a rough draft - that early writing that is so messy and ugly and necessary.

Feeling a little shy about diving back into writing poetry, I found Sharpened Visions: A poetry workshop, a lovely refresher/introductory mooc. (It just started, so not too late to join in. If you do, wave to me on the forums!)

I may never be a great poet, or even a good one, but it's a practice worth any writer's time. Poetry sharpens your eye to metaphor, image, and moment; it sharpens your ear to sound and lyricism.

If you want to try your hand here's an exercise inspired by the Sharpened vision's week one lesson 

Try inserting line breaks into a piece of prose: the opening paragraph from a famous novel, a newspaper article, or an insufferable interoffice memo...

For this, I used one of the Tiger Oil Memos from Letters of Note.


Here's my try:



P.S.

On days you have to work,
And you think you should be
Off,

you wear slouchy dress attire.
That will not occur
In the future. You

Will wear proper
Dress attire to work
Always. Also, all employees

should have the proper attitude to
Coincide with proper
Dress, Especially on those days

When you’re working and
Think you should be
Off.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fantastical Fictions Book Club!


 There are so many wonderful examples of fantastic literature just waiting to be discovered, and Malvern Books glitters with a wealth of rare and hard to find literary gems. So, after a successful year hosting a variety of authors and their fabulous books, we've decided to expand the Fantastical Fictions series to include a book club.

On Thursday March 23 at 7:00 p.m., we'll be discussing John Wyndham's final novel Chocky. Completed in 1968, this story originally appeared as a novelette in Amazing Stories in 1963

From the back cover:
"It's not terribly unusual for a boy to have an imaginary friend, but Matthew's parents have to agree that his--nicknamed Chocky--is anything but ordinary. Why, Chicky demands to know, are there twenty-four hours in a day? Why are there two sexes? Why can't Matthew solve his math homework using a logical System like binary code?"

"Chocky, ...is a playful investigation of what being human is all about, delving into such matters as child-rearing, marriage, learning, artistic inspiration--and ending with a surprising and impassioned plea for better human stewardship of the earth."
Even if you haven't heard of John Wyndham, it's a good bet that you've heard of his work. As a writer he hit his stride after World War Two and, much like Philip K. Dick who came after, tapped into the zeitgeist of the times. Like PKD many of his works where transformed over and over into radio plays, movies and TV shows.


His novel, The Midwich Cuckoos, came to the big screen (more than once) as the Village of the Damned. Perhaps even more famous is the screen adaptation of his tale of vegetable monsters, The Day of the Triffids.

In 1984 the BBC adapted Chocky into a television series for children, which would seem to suit gentle, but no less fascinating story. 


Malvern is stocked with extra copies of this brief novel, and there's plenty of time to read it before the meeting, but since this isn't school, there'll be no quiz! No worries if you haven't read it, or have no intention to. If you enjoy discussing books--especially the type that don't concern themselves too much with the rules of reality the rest of us have to live by, then come and spend an hour with us.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Pick up your pens, it’s time to start thinking about the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop!


When I told a writer friend that I would be coordinating the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop this year, he asked me if I’d lost a bet? I laughed and said, no. I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to give back to a workshop that has given me so much! Excited and a little nervous. Lucky for me I have the support of the previous coordinators Marshall Ryan Maresca and Stina Leicht. With their help I’m looking forward to making this year’s workshop the best experience it can be!

When I returned to writing fiction after my children were born, I did not have the option either financially or time-wise to travel to the big name workshops like Clarion, Odyssey, or Viable Paradise. When my kids were small, even the idea of jetting out of town for a weekend seemed financially onerous and physically exhausting. There are a lot of great online workshops, but many of them are also costly. What I really needed at the beginning, was to find out if workshopping was going to be useful to me. Looking at where I am now, it’s clear that a good writing workshop is a valuable asset. As a student of the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop I received one-on-one input on my work from amazing writers and editors including Paolo Bacigalupi, Lou Anders, Cat Rambo, and Liz Gorinsky. I moved on to volunteering for the workshop as both a first reader and instructor, and it's been no less inspiring to be on the other side of the table teaching with hard-working talent such as Ken Liu, Jacob Weisman of Tachyon publications, James Morrow and Timmel Duchamp of Aqueduct Press.

Just $90 gets you the full-day workshop and a convention membership to attend all of the activities for the entire weekend. ArmadilloCon is known as an excellent regional literary convention, which means there will be lots of great panels about writing, reading, and the state of the genre (there are also panels about movies, tv shows, gaming, and everything geek). This is a great gateway workshop. If you think you might enjoy writing in general and genre in particular, this is a great low cost way to check out a workshop. This is the place to learn how to give and receive critique and to get instruction that will help take your writing to the next level. At least as important, is that the workshop and weekend are an opportunity to meet other writers. To find your tribe and make connections that will serve your writing year round. 

I’ll finish by saying that we are committed to promoting diversity and access for all workshop attendees. Writing in a genre centered on exploration and encountering the Other must include voices and visions from writers, readers and thinkers of all kinds. The Workshop actively seeks to include students, faculty, visiting scholars, and volunteers from a variety of backgrounds including, but not limited to race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, and ability. 

As far as instructors, so far we have: 

Nisi Shawl (Guest of Honor)  
Trevor Quachri  (Editor Guest) 
Martha Wells 
Don Webb (Toastmaster) 
Nicky Drayden 
D. L. Young 

I will be booking instructors throughout the spring, so check the workshop page for updates. 

Check back here for posts about workshopping in general and how to prepare for the ArmadilloCon’s workshop in particular. 

Now it’s your turn: The first order of business is to start writing, so fire up your laptops, grab your pens and let’s get started!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Current Conditions: The Writerly Edition


Here we are: a new year, a new day. It has been an eventful few months with the U.S. election, and the new administration settling in. Sometimes it feels like there is nothing that we, collectively, can agree on except that we are all living in a time of great change.

Change. I find that people generally love the idea – but hate the reality. Yet, change isn’t only necessary, it’s inevitable and constant. We have always lived in an ever-changing world. And it’s this belief that brings me back to the page, to the stories that will show us the world as it is, and the world as it might become.

When I think about what it means to be a writer in America today, about ways to create something meaningful in these current conditions, I realize that in the face of such monumental, wrenching change, it falls to the writers and artists to look at the confusing welter of reality and to report back. Our work is to tell the stories of our future survival, even when the shape of the world eludes our grasp.

How impossible. 

I make peace with this by telling myself that it is not my job to succeed only to #persist.


So again this year, like that most persistent man from La Mancha, I will tilt at the great American novel. What I thought I wanted to write before November 8 no longer feels relevant, so I am sifting through the ashes of half-finished projects. I’m working ideas, playing with characters, settings, and stakes. I’m gathering tinder and striking the flint on the rock and watching for sparks.


In the meantime, I have a new flash fiction out. You can read, “An Accounting of the Sky,” in the latest issue of The Colored Lens.


And my review of the Nottingham Review on The Review Review.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Talking with Robert Jackson Bennett


Hello again! I've been busy not blogging. Busy doing what you might ask? Well, talking with Robert Jackson Bennett for one. Here's the first half of our interview at Malvern Books for their Fantastical Fictions reading series. You can read a bit more about him and this event here. And, not to leave you hanging, here's the link to the second half of the interview.

It was great fun discussing what goes into crafting great stories and creating imaginary worlds. Having read some of Bennett's work I can vouch that he is excellent at both. 


His newest book, City of Miracles, is about to drop in May. It is the third book in his Divine Cities series (which means you have time to get up to speed with City of Stairs and City of Blades before spring). BTW, Malvern Books should still have some signed copies of City of Stairs and City of Blades.


If you're looking for something a little more literary in the great American horror tradition, consider picking up a copy of American Elsewhere. 


"Mad and humorous, gory and poignant, American Elsewhere is a sort of mid-20th-century retelling of the embodiment of Lovecraftian Elder Gods by way of Alamogordo's legendary atomic tests. It's not to be missed."  ―Seattle Times

Let's see, what else? You can also check out my review of Room Magazine over at The Review Review.


And on the home (fiction) front, I'll have a short story publication to announce soon. I have also finished a rather involved revision of a novella, which will be on it's way to some lucky editor before the year is out. Then it is on to/back to 'the novel.' More about that in the next post - next Thursday.