Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Submitting to Literary Magazines 101: Professionalism"

Topic discussing a blog post: Submitting to Literary Magazines 101: Professionalism.

I came across this link on Facebook, and followed it out of curiosity to see what they had to say about the "rules" of submitting to literary magazines. Interestingly, what Pat Bertram claims are the rules of the submitting to literary violate what is common knowledge for speculative fiction magazines. Listed below I listed the major differences I noticed. "Literary" refers to the comments entered by Vince Gotera (though he may not speak for the entire genre, he speaks as though he does).

1. Cover letter
Literary: The cover letter should be entertaining and chatty--no publication history. This one surprises me. After all, editors have a lot of work to do, right? Wouldn't they rather get down to business instead of reading a chatty cover letter that has no bearing on the submission itself?
Spec Fic: Bare bones, only what's useful, publication history if you have one, otherwise just a title and word count.

2. Font
Literary: Use Times New Roman because it's easier to read. Do NOT use typewriter fonts like Courier.
Spec Fic: The industry standard manuscript format is Courier. The reasoning I've heard is that it's easier to estimate the space require to print the story with a monospaced font.

3. Pen names
Literary: frowned-upon, though the reasoning seemed more opinion than based on any sound reasoning.
Spec Fic: use them if you want, why should the editor care?

This raises a couple questions for me:
1. what do you do when you submit to a magazine that considers itself both literary and spec fic?
2. Does this guy actually speak for the whole industry?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Weird Game Spotlight: E.V.O. The Search for Eden (Super NES)

I would highly recommend that anyone who likes games try out E.V.O. The Search For Eden. It's an old school Super Nintendo game, which aren't too hard to find these days for free online. Just search for "emulator" (free software versions of the game systems) and ROMs (freecopies of the games). I haven't tried this search for a few years, but I'm assuming you can still find them somewhere.
Nintendo Wii also allows you to download certain games for a fee, but I would guess this is not popular enough (because it wasn't that well known) to have made it on the list.

This is the only game I know of that's (loosely) based on evolution. You are the chosen one selected by Gaia to remove obstacles to evolution. You start the game out as a lowly minnow, tiny and toothless, swimming slowly and with barely any hit points. By attacking and eating other animals you can gain evolution points which allow you to upgrade your body bit by bit. You can update various pieces, such as:
1. body size: you can upgrade size, which makes you slower but gives you more hitpoints
2. armor: slows you down but decreases the damage you take from attacks
3. jaws: bigger teeth, faster kills
4. tail: swim faster
5. horns: ram enemies (or give special traits, like the angler horn that attracts smaller fish right to your jaws

So the first world, which has a couple dozen stages, is you as a fish. Then there's another world as amphibians. And another for lizards where you can evolve into a big armored dinosaur with huge teeth. And then the final couple worlds are for mammals.
Each type of animal has its own evolutionary possibilities. For instance, the fish, amphibians and reptiles only have one attack--the bite. But when you become a mammal you get a second attack--the kick. It isn't very impressive in your starter form, the mouse. But later on you can get quite a nasty creature with the strong kicking legs of a horse, big sharp-toothed jaws of a predator, the armored body of a rhino, etc...

It has quite a bit of replayability, because each evolutionary choice you make takes you down a branch of the evolutionary possibilities. For instance, there are certain tracks that allow you to become a bird. You can even be a human, through an obscure track that most people will probably only find if they look it up online. Being human isn't all that impressive because humans only have one kind of attack while other mammals have two.

The unique premise alone is worth checking out, but the gameplay and the strategy is also really fun. Well worth the time. :)

If you want to see some images, there are a few at the wikipedia page:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Revision methods

An open question for everyone: what method do you use for revisions before you decide something is ready to be submitted?

1. Rough Draft. Write the first draft as fast as it will come out. Details may not be consistent between beginning and end, some of the scenes may not flow correctly into one another, some major continuity errors might exist, as well as grammar and spelling errors. I try not to edit too much at this stage, as it makes the whole process take many times longer. But this draft has an attempt at a beginning, an attempt at an end, and some series of (perhaps disjoint) scenes that lead to the end.
2. Continuity Revision. Read through everything, looking for inconsistencies. Cut unnecessary scenes and resolved conflicting information. Make sure the scenes make sense in the order that they're in there and that the action moves logically from beginning to end. When this draft is done, I have a story that makes sense, but is maybe not very easy to read.
3. Flow Revision. I read through again, looking for ways to improve the flow of the story. This includes adding beats to dialog to adjust pacing, adding some scene descriptions, trying to convey the emotions the character is feeling in each section, and looking for awkward sentences. Try to get the minute details of the beginning and end just right.
4. Recital Revision. I read it outloud (or at least under my breath). No matter how hard I work on the earlier revisions, I always catch errors here. This makes it much much easier to find awkward sentences, subtle grammar errors, and minor mistakes.
5. Give to First Readers. I give it to a few people whose critiquing opinions I trust. Exactly who I give it to depends on who I've been interacting more with lately, who I've read stories for (I prefer to trade rather than one-sided critiques) etc... I read the critiques as they roll in and mark comments into the draft document so they're easy to look at later.
6. Post-Reader Revision. I carefully consider all the comments that my First Readers make. I never use all of them, but I'll think very hard about which ones I agree with, and will make the changes as I think are necessary.
7. Post-Reader Recital Revision. Another outloud read to catch any mistakes I may have added.
8. Send it out!
9. If I get a form rejection, I go back to step 8.
10. If I get a personal rejection with some ideas why they didn't accept it I go back to step 6.

Lately my rate of completing new stories has been very low. My current work in progress (a retelling of the Wizard of Oz) has taken a long, long time, much longer than I'm used to. I've been working on it for nearly 3 weeks, and I'm now about halfway through stage 2. Stage 1 took most of that time, partly because it was just a really long story, and partly because I've been very busy with the end of the semester approaching.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Book Review: The Shining by Stephen King

To bring the topic back to reading/writing after a couple days of gaming posts, I just put down The Shining. I realize this book is decades old, but I'm just working my way along my bookshelf, overflowing with many books both new and old that I haven't gotten to yet.

This was my first time reading this book. It's the story about Jack, an author who takes a job as a winter caretaker at a hotel in Colorado called The Overlook. he brings his wife Wendy and his 5 year old son Danny there to live with him during this time. They know they'll be isolated over the winter, but what they don't know is that the hotel seems to have a life of its own. Especially to son Danny, who has "the shining" which is a pretty word for some degree of psychic powers. Danny is especially sensitive to the dark manifestations of the building. Over the course of the winter, the hotel turns them against each other and they're faced with ever-more terrifying ghosts of the building.

This story is one of those rare cases where I liked the movie better than the book. Not the original Jack Nicholson movie, but the miniseries starring Steven Weber in the 90s. I've yet to see a Nicholson movie I liked (to be fair, I haven't seen some of his more famous ones like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).

For one thing, the head-hopping really drives me nuts. Just when I'm getting close into one character's head, the viewpoint jumps into another character's head, then another and another. It keeps me from feeling really close to any of them (perhaps that was the intent so I don't have to feel too close to Jack the psycho).

SPOILERS ahead for anyone, though I'm sure most people have seen some version of this already.

I couldn't even finish the book. I had 180 pages left and I realized that reading it had become a chore, so I just put it down. From what I remember of the Weber series, I thought Jack was portrayed as being a pretty sympathetic character at the beginning of the movie. So his gradual descent into psychosis is a major change, and is quite frightening. But in the book, it's made very clear very early on that Jack is going to snap sooner or later. Two years ago before the book started he broke Danny's arm in drunken anger. He's since quit drinking, but he has a history of manic violence even when sober. The reason he was looking for the caretaking job is that he lost his job as a professor because he was he assaulted a student, beating him bloody in the parking lot of the school.

Since the student incident, he has a tight reign on his temper. He's still an angry person, but he balls all the anger up inside. Like a tightly wound spring, it's only a matter of time before something snaps. He would've snapped eventually, regardless of circumstances. The Overlook may have accelerated the process, but even without that, he would have totally snapped in a year or two anyway. Especially since he has a knack for self-sabotage--any time things are looking hopeful in his life he ruins the chance in a completely avoidable way (the assault on the student being just one of these).

Maybe 1/3 of the book is spent in his head, which was a mistake--I can't relate to his character in the slightest between the self-sabotage, the anger issues, the abuse, and the developing psychosis.

Then there's Wendy, who is quite frankly, TSTL (too stupid to live). She knows about Jack's history, and his mental instability even when he was sober. Her first mistake was staying with him for so long. If it had only been her own life at stake, I might forgive that--love can make a person do stupid things. But her son's life is at stake here. But the much larger mistake is for her to agree to live with them at the hotel for that whole winter. She's aware it will be stressful--she worries about "cabin fever" several times, but she knows Jack well enough that she should be able to predict his snapping a long time ahead of time and she should have run like hell. But either she's just unbelievably dense or is just a tool of the author and nothing more.

Another 1/3 of the book spent with her, who gets herself and Danny into this mess, I can't relate to her at all.

The remaining 1/3 is spent with Danny, who I can relate to and who I really liked. He can read minds to some extent, so he gets glimpses of his parents' thoughts and intentions. He's the first to see manifestations of the hotel, because of the shining, and his viewpoint is at once terrifying and reminiscent of any kid's childhood fears of the monsters under the bed. If the whole story were told from his point of view, I might have stuck with it the whole way, but since he's only 5, he doesn't understand the full complexities of his parents' marriage, so it probably wouldn't have worked.

I wouldn't mind renting the Weber mini-series and watching it again to see if I still like it. I haven't seen it since I started writing and my criteria for what I like are totally different now.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My attempts to make games

To continue yesterday's subject of games:

In my college days, as I was learning C++ I really wanted to make a text game engine. I wanted to do it in a way that you could just provide a series of text files to the engine, each representing rooms and items and monsters, etc... so that once the engine was finished I would just be able to type up text files to make new games. Alas, that effort fizzled, and I'm guessing there's better ones on the net by now anyway.

I wanted to be a video game programmer for the longest time, so I had several of these efforts. I also had a try at an "Alleyway" type game, where you have the paddle on the bottom and a ball that bounces around and you need to hit the blocks and break them. It was sort-of working, but sometimes the ball would travel through the outer wall of the screen, and then it would keep going forever until you terminated the program.

The ONLY successful game-making effort I had was a school project I chose to make a Minesweeper game with the OpenGL graphics library. Everything worked the way it was supposed to. The little squares visibly depressed when you held the mouse over them. You could do a controlled clear by right+left clicking, just like in the real game. It had a high scores list with a very simple encryption system so that you couldn't easily type in your own scores. It had easy, medium and hard, and custom levels and everything. When I told people I was making a Minesweeper game they weren't too impressed, but I got a lot of nice comments on the final project--all the extra little features were enough to interest people. :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Website Recommendation: Abandonia

Today's post isn't writing related, but relates to one of my other interests--gaming.
I'm a huge fan of really old video games, ones that came out in the days before 3D graphics. Why, you ask, would I want to play 2-D VGA adventure games, or *gasp* text adventures? The answer's simple--They had to make the games great, they had to make the games fun so that people would play them once and want to play them again and again and again, not just to look at shiny graphics, but because the game is so great and just SO challenging.

I would LOVE to hear about people's favorite old-school games! Feel free to comment and say your faves. Maybe you'll find kindred spirits or maybe you'll just be providing great recommendations for other gaming enthusiasts. Either way, it couldn't hurt, right?

The downside is that the games a decade or two back were sometimes a little TOO challenging. Consider Ghouls and Ghosts for the NES. You start with a guy in armor. If he gets hit once he loses his armor. If he gets hit again without finding more armor, he dies. He has not many lives, maybe 2 or 3, and if you die there are NO continues!!! If you spent hours getting to the last level and you die, too bad! You're starting right back at the beginning, bub! Modern gamers would have a fit if there were a game like that released today! I suppose it's a side-effect of short attention spans, if you have to restart the game after an hour, then people would be more likely to just find another game.

I always sought out fun old games, bought a Space Quest collection, a King's Quest collection, found a "Lost Treasures of Infocom" text adventure collection which had Zork 1-8, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and at least a dozen others. It was amazing! Granted, I was terrible at it, and I never finished a single one of those games, but it was darn fun to explore, and the manuals were like little novels!

Anyway, I do have a point with all this. If you love old games like I do, and are sad that you can't find them, then you should check out
They have old, old games available for download, and some of them are just plain amazing. Some of the games listed on there are not available for download, but they claim to have near 1000 downloadable games. The ones that aren't downloadable are to avoid legal trouble, which is understandable enough.

I think this site is great. After all, not many people would be willing to pay money for these nowadays right? Sites like this keep the intellectual property readily available to anyone who is interested in it, and offers suggestions for how to run it with modern software on top of it.

A few that you might want to try:

Elder Scrolls: Arena
For those of you who played Morrowind or Oblivion, this is the original original. I tried it for a while, and it was moderately fun, but I just plain wasn't very good at it.

Freddy Pharkas Frontier Pharmacist
A rather funny adventure of a pharmacist in the wild west. The manual for this one alone is worth a download, an 1800s pharmacy manual. It's somewhat educational, but not boringly so. You do NEED the manual to do some of the pharmacy puzzles as a sort of copy protection.

Laura Bow 2: The Dagger of Amon-Ra
This is a great mystery Whodunit sort of game. The protagonist is a female reporter in male-dominated 1920s. She just got hired on the job. She keeps a notebook of all the people she meets and the various topics. In each conversation you add a little bit more to the notebook, so when you talk to someone else you can use the notebook as a questioning mechanism to learn more and more. The story starts out pretty tame, but before too long bodies start piling up and you'll need to be very smart to sort it all out! I made it through act 1 with no help, but I confess that in Act 2 (I think? This was years ago), I had major trouble with a task that was supposed to be pretty easy according to every walkthrough I've ever read--All you're supposed to do is eavesdrop at a party, but I could NOT do it. The game offered a mechanism to skip ahead to the next act, but then I missed the major plot elements and once I cheat once I lose the resistance to cheat again so the challenge sort of goes away. Anyway, it's a great game (at least the parts that I finished).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Movie Review: Sunshine Cleaning

Nothing like a good indie film to remind me why I like movies. An outstanding cast, an original premise, and a strong script made Sunshine Cleaning, a comedy-drama, well worth the ticket price.

It stars Amy Adams (who I loved as the charismatic Princess Giselle in Enchanted) and Emily Blunt (who had a major role in The Devil Wears Prada) as sisters who've fallen on hard times. Rose (Adams) is a single mother of a young boy who gets kicked out of school after school. Oscar (played by Jason Spevack who I recognized as the young Jimmy Fallon character in Fever Pitch) isn't a bad kid, but he just gets bored and causes trouble. Rose wants to put Oscar in private school, but doesn't make enough money as a maid to afford it. Meanwhile, Norah (Blunt) loses her job. A timely job opportunity presents itself through Norah's lover (played by the cleanest-cut Steve Zahn I've ever seen). During one of their clandestine hotel stays he mentions that crime scene cleaners make a lot of money cleaning up the mess after murders and suicides. Rose and Norah join forces and start Sunshine Cleaning.

There are a few spoilers to follow, this is a movie that's a little bit difficult to review without revealing a few things. :)

With a lot of help from their father (Alan Arkin) and Winston, the softspoken one-armed owner of a cleaning supply store, they become professionals, learn about each other and about themselves (it sounds corny but it's true). They're surprised to find that they actually like the business. Every house they go to is different, yet the same. Different in the particulars, but each family has gone through a tragic death and they feel good that they can help in even such a small way.

Norah tracks down the daughter of a suicide they'd cleaned up after, befriending her and finally coming to terms with the death of her own mother as a child. Amy Adams develops the beginnings of a romantic relationship with Winston.

I like to see movies that didn't come straight from a Hollywood mold, and this is one of those. A one-armed love interest, the lead females scrubbing blood off walls with toothbrushes, and a CB radio that connects to heaven. There's a lot to love in this movie, and it would be worth paying to see it again (the true sign of a good movie).

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hopeful news from FFO

I just got an email from Flash Fiction Online, a pro short story market:

I've had a submission out to them for just over 2 months, it's a comedy about the end of the world. Apparently the story has made it into their 3rd and final stage of reading (called winnowing), which only about 10% of stories make it to. For more information on the readin process there:

So I'll be crossing my fingers until I get confirmation one way or the other. I would love to sell a story to FFO and be able to put it on my cover letters. :) Wish me luck!

In the meantime, you might want to check out one of their recently published stories that I particularly enjoyed, called "I Foretold You So":

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Mysteries of Memory

Wow, I've had a lot of posts in the last week and on random topics. Well, here's another one--the mysteries of memory. In particular I was wondering how the brain chooses what to remember and what to forget. I'm a mediaphile, always hunting the next great movie/tv show/book/short story/etc, and I am constantly amazed at how much totally useless information I have stored up there. Is all that information using up my storage space? Is that why I forget where I put my car keys, or totally blank on test questions in my classes?

Does anyone else find they have huge amounts of totally useless things stored in their brains? For instance:

1. Video games walkthroughs. I haven't played Super Mario Bros. 3 on NES for 10 years. The last time I played through it, it had been at least 5 years before that, and I knew EXACTLY where everything was in the game. Where the warp whistles are, exactly how to get hammer brothers suits, where the invisible note blocks are. And my muscle reflex is still completely intact for that game, I barely skip a beat.
I could also probably list at least 20 special moves for various characters in the Mortal Kombat series, though I haven't played those for 10+ years also.

2. Random associations. When I was in junior high and high school, I liked to play through video games on one TV while I had the little black and white TV showing TV shows in the background. In this one, one media becomes melded together with the other in my mind. There's a particular level in The Illusion of Gaia (on SNES) where you're fighting your way through the jungle. When I was playing through that, I was watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where they meet a genderless alien race. There's one member of the race that is intrigued by human femininity and so she tries to be more womanlike. Riker grows a love interest for her and has some very awkward conversations about sex. Then at the end, the race discovers her deviance and brainwashes her back to "normal" behavior. I haven't seen that episode since then, but I remember all those details.

3. Faces on movies/tv shows. My wife and I make a game of it when we're channel surfing or going out to movies, if we can figure out where else we've seen an actor without going to IMDB. We've been doing that so long that it's rare to watch something where there isn't some association. I should start playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, that game always sounded fun when I heard it on radio shows and stuff.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What is "literary"?

My question for today's post is: What is "literary fiction"? Taken literally, the answer seems pretty straightforward. "literary" seems to be related to "literature". "Literature" means "written". So "literary fiction" simply means written fiction, right? Wrong!

I've yet to find a widely accepted definition of "literary" as a genre. Glimmer Train classifies themselves as literary, as does Zoetrope (and many others). Whether you like the stories in these magazines is, as with all magazines, a matter of taste.

But to me classifying some writing as "literary" to the exclusion of other writing implies a sort of elitist attitude, as though "literary" writing is the only sort of writing that has value. The same for labeling a section in the bookstore as "literature", as opposed to other fiction sections like mystery, horror, science fiction/fantasy. I don't object to the section--I've read many books in the literature section that I enjoyed, but I do object to the title. The book store might as well label it "high-quality fiction" and "other". As I'm primarily a reader of speculative fiction, this bothers me.

And a lot of times, the boundary is fuzzy anyway. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire, is in the literature section, despite it being clearly fantasy material. Why is that classed as literature? I suspect its the tone and style of writing, which would explain why this is the only Oz story I don't care for.

Classic science fiction and fantasy is generally classified as literature also--I believe I've seen The Time Machine, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, and other classics in there. Is Speculative fiction like a fine wine, somehow gaining quality as it ages? If we'd been alive to taste of The Time Machine shortly after it was written, would it have ruined the experience because it wasn't old enough? Maybe if I take a George R. R. Martin novel and put it in the book cellar, and pull it out again in several generations, it will have become literature, perfectly aged and fetching a handsome price from literature connoisseurs who will riffle the pages, sniff the binding, and read only a paragraph at a time so as not to be overwhelmed by the power of the prose between the covers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

City of Green--Another thought or two

A couple more thoughts on the topic of the green-goggled city.

In The Matrix, there's at least one mention of Oz--not surprising of course with the parallel world analogy. But another parallel that might not be so obvious is that the cities inside the matrix tend to all be tinted green, as though seen through a green filter, just like the Emerald City. And in both cases, the populace is largely controlled by an uncaring dictator who controls them by misleading them.

Also, a friend pointed out an interesting side effect that might be visible to Emerald Citizens when they first see the outside world, assuming they are physiologically capable of seeing other colors. When you look at one color or image too long, then when you close your eyes or look away you often see an afterimage, everything still in the same place but with all the colors inverted to their negative--black becomes white, green becomes red, etc... So these people might see everything in tints of red for a while until their eyes cope and adjust.

On a related side-story, I took a car trip with my older brother a decade or so ago. I wasn't old enough to drive yet, so he did all the driving, and I tended to be lulled to sleep by the sound of the engine. On more than one occasion I woke up to find the whole world was tinted green! The effect faded after a few seconds or a minute, and then everything was normal again. It was bizarre! I recently found out that it was probably just another afterimage. I must have been sleeping in direct sunlight so that the sun glowed red through my eyelids. After hours of red exposure, I woke up, and opened my eyes, and everything was tinted green--the negative of the red filter provided by my eyelids. Crazy stuff. :)

Monday, April 13, 2009

City of Green

I found a great anthology to submit to, a horror anthology of stories based on The Wizard of Oz:

I am SO submitting. Without a doubt.

On a related topic, when I read L. Frank Baum's original The Wizard of Oz, his description of the Emerald City got me thinking. In that version of the Wizard of Oz, there was a city law mandating that all people entering the city must have sunglasses attached to their head. The shades literally locked over your ears (though they seemed to not notice the fact that the tin man and scarecrow don't really have ears). The stated reason they gave for this was that the emerald city was so dazzling that you needed to wear the sunglasses or you would be blinded. Inside the city, everything was green, green buildings, green clothes, green horses, green-skinned people, everything. They even get Dorothy a green dress. Well, they have their audience with the Wizard and everything, and then leave the city, having the shades removed at the gate and Dorothy is surprised to find out that her dress has changed to white. Later they find out that the shades weren't just shades, they were tinted green! The city wasn't really as green as it claimed to be, but everyone thought it was because they were wearing green sunglasses! Now, there's some inherent flaws in this whole plotline, such as the fact that they didn't notice that each other turned green as well.

Anyway, imagine a race that grew up in such a world, where they were forced to wear green shades all the time. It's sort of a specialized way of being color blind. It's still monochrome, but instead of seeing in shades of gray, it's shades of green.

But the most interesting thing would be the question of what happens when you take an adult, who's lived their life in a green world, out of that world and let them see the full spectrum. The first question, and an interesting one, is whether they would be able to see the other colors at all. I took a psychology class in college, and one of the random tidbits I remember from it is that vision isn't inherently built into our systems. It is learned through experience. They explained one experiment in which they put polarized glasses on a kitten and kept them on it for the first couple months of its life (probably not ethical these days, but the results are interesting nonetheless). When they finally took the glasses off, the kitten couldn't see light that was polarized in the other direction! It had never seen that kind of light so its brain never learned to process it. I don't recall if the cat developed the full optical abilities later in its life, but I think animals have to learn pretty early.

So along these same lines, would people who grew up in the Emerald City be able to see other colors at all? I don't think they would. What would they see instead? Would they see everything, but shifted into the greenscale? Would non-green things be essentially invisible to them, hiding in giant blindspots? I'm curious.

Let's assume that they're physiologically and mentally capable of processing the full range of colors. Can you imagine what a wondrous time it would be, just taking them for a walk, showing them multicolored flowers, seeing songbirds, or even a rainbow? It would be like a drug! They would never want to go back to the Emerald City again! And if they did, and they told their friends about colors, their friends would laugh and think them crazy!

Would a monochrome society develop any differently than a full-color society? At least some areas would. Art would be viewed very differently. Florists would probably have much less demand. Marketing people would have to rely on other tactics rather than color of packaging. I'm sure there are many other ways. Can you think of any others?

Would people as individuals develop any differently?

Now, this idea was covered in some extent by the movie Pleasantville, but in a rather different way. In that movie, the main characters enter a classic 50s TV show, which is of course in black and white, and are stuck there for a while. But that is really a different thing. That society didn't develop that way, it was an artificial construct by entertainment censoring standards in the 50s, as well as the lack of the development of color TV technology at the time. It wasn't forced on them by their government, it was just how the artificial world was fabricated. Along with the lack of color were other oddities, such as no one being aware of sex, or toilets, or reading, and firemen that didn't do anything but rescue kitties from trees. When color started bleeding into the world, it represented a loss of innocence, which some people thought was a good thing and others thought was a bad thing. It's a great movie, but again, it's usage of color is rather different than the Emerald Citizen concept. Emerald Citizens are otherwise normal people, knowing of copulation and defacation and firefighting.

If this sparked any thoughts or comments, I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Magazines Review: Glimmer Train Winter 2009 and Zoetrope All-Story Winter 2008/2009

Reading these two magazines was an attempt to broaden my horizons and learn more about so-called "literary" publications. I put literary in quotes because I don't care for that label at all. Isn't all writing literary? To me, it's like labelling a section in the book store "The Good Stuff", leaving the obvious assumption that everything else in the bookstore is not good. But that's a topic of its own that I'll cover another day.

Anyway, these two magazines label themselves as literary, making me question whether I ever want to submit to a literary publication. I don't think my stories could fit in, if these two copies are the norm.

Among other things, each of these magazines cost me 9 dollars. Even the more expensive speculative novels don't cost that much, and the expensive ones of those are often 800 pages! It's worth it for a little market research, but I can't imagine paying that regularly for a magazine.

Does anyone have any literary publications that they think are particularly good examples? I would love to read one that would make me want to buy a second copy. I welcome any input--if you suggest one that I can find a copy of, I'll try to give it a read. I don't want to make blanket statements about literary magazines without a well-rounded sample.

In these two issues, I only enjoyed one story, but it was the one published back in 1921, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". No doubt it was included more as part of a cross-marketing campaign, but I'm glad I read it. It's rather dry, and doesn't get very close into any of the character's heads, but that was more of the style of the time, so I'm not going to criticize reading/writing tastes of a long-gone decade. I can tell even just from seeing the previews that they changed quite a bit from the stort-story, which is fine. The short story is a neat idea, but not nearly fleshed-out enough to want to spend two hours with. I'd been wanting to see the movie, so it's raised my interest level.

The rest of the stories were pretty much all the same as each other, so I won't list them off. It was clear that many of the writers have a whole lot of talent, I'm not disputing that. There were some great turns of phrases and some interesting moments that let the talent shine through, but I think they could write better: the talent's there but they're holding themselves back.

I tried to read these with an open mind, I really did. I'll always be, first and foremost, a speculative fiction fan. Like so many things, this is just a matter of taste. I've like many non-speculative books and stories, but nothing quite hits that "sense-of-wonder" button like a good science fiction or fantasy. I didn't try to compare these literary stories to speculative stories as that wouldn't have been fair. I wanted to decide if I would just enjoy them on their own, not compare them to some other ideal. I really didn't care for them, and while trying to examine why, I made a short list of things that seemed to be in common between many or all of these stories:

1. No cohesive theme. After I read something, I like to have a feel for the theme. That doesn't mean it has to be spelled out with an explicit moral, like the ending of a fable, but I like to have a feel for what it was trying to say. Either these stories were trying to give it no theme or too many themes. Too many themes is just as bad as no theme, as each one is diluted by the presence of too many others. Perhaps they all had the theme "Life sucks". That's possible, but I don't really care to read them in that case. I can get enough "Life sucks" themes by watching the news.

2. No plot, no climax, just a series of small things happening after another. Like ripping a page from someone's journal at random. You see some of that person's day-to-day struggles, but you're told that these struggles have been that way for a long time, and nothing in the story hints that they will be any different in the days to come.

3. No attempt to get close into the protagonist's point of view. My favorite stories are the ones that allow you to get into the protagonist's head. This is why prose has the potential to be so much better in its way than cinema. Cinema allows you to see what happens, but well-written prose allows you to experience it. Instead of being told what happens by a seemingly impartial (and boring) narrator, the narration can be a lens through which you can see through the eye of the protagonist. There was none of that here. Each story told me what happened in that person's life, without really letting me get into their head. Perhaps that's the preferred way in "Life sucks" stories to avoid causing depression in yourself.
This somewhat relates to a previous blog post of mine, about cinematic descriptions:

4. almost all are in 1st person. I've heard many editors complain about first person stories, how writers should generally stick to 3rd person. I'd never understood, but I think now I'm beginning to. I felt like first person was used to counteract the #3 on my list, getting close into the protagonist's point of view. Rather than going through the difficult labor of making me see through the protagonist's eyes, just use first person narration instead. After all, what's closer into the person's head than first person? The trouble is when first person is used as a substitute for #3. In one case, a woman is talking to her friend and the friend suspects her husband is cheating on her. She's right, and it's the narrating woman who is the other woman, but we don't find that out until halfway through the story! When the protagonist withholds information from me that's not mysterious, it's annoying and distancing.

5. The opening sentence and paragraph have nothing to do with the rest. I like opening sentences best when they are like a topic sentence of the story--they tell what the stories about without giving too much away. For example, in the cheating story mentioned in #4, the story starts out by saying they got an unusual September snow, then spends the whole first paragraph telling about. The story has nothing to do with weather in general or snow in particular, so when the topic suddenly switched to cheating husbands in the 2nd paragraph it was annoying and disorienting. Did they stick that first paragraph on by mistake? If it had nothing to do with the story you could paste it onto the beginning of ANY story and it would make the same amount of sense.

6. no real ending or beginning. Most of the stories didn't really have a beginning nor really have an ending. The stories began when the words started, and ended when the words stopped. Typically, the real story begins when something changes in the person's life, and ends at some kind of resolution, whether it be death, or change of character, or the resolution of the actual conflict. Not so in these stories.

7. The stories all had a tone and them of "Woe is me ain't my life terrible". It's easy enough to find these stories on the news, do I really need to seek out fiction that does the same thing? And I really hope the proportion of protagonists who hate their lives isn't proportional to real people who hate their lives, else we are all in a lot of trouble!

8. Not in every story, but maybe 1/4 to 1/2, pedophilia is an element, whether it's explicit sex or just creepy looks from teenagers' dads. Maybe I'm just naive, but I like to think that it doesn't happen to everybody as often as these stories would have me believe.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Invisible formatting

Does anybody else hate MS Word's invisible formatting? Where if you accidentally delete one then suddenly a big chunk of your file goes wonky? Does anyone know if there's a way to reveal them?

Specifically I'm trying to post a story to a critique forum and just one phrase disappears though it's formatting is totally identical to every other word in the document as far as I can tell. It's the following sentence:

My jet touched down in Des Moines at eleven, and I walked into the diner at eleven thirty.

The "eleven thirty" at the end of the sentence disappears when I copy it to a particular forum. Blogger wouldn't even allow the post because of HTML tags it didn't like, so this is a retyping of it c(I'm not saying it's Blogger's fault, just further annoyance). That one sentence had about 100 lines of HTML formatting crammed around it.

A quick Google search reveals this is a common complaint about Word. Other word processors have an optional "reveal" that allows you to edit this stuff. *sigh* Why do I use Word again?