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Archive for July, 2011

Readercon

My very wordy Readercon report is up at my livejournal page. It appears I had a good time.

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Sparks: Gary McMahon

Reading John Shirley’s answer below inspired me to ask some of my favourite writers the same question: what was the spark that inspired the story?

I’ll be posting responses over the next few months, as they come in.

I just received Gary McMahon’s The Concrete Grove and the first page is already devastatingly good. Here, he talks about his short story “Diving Deep”.

“My story DIVING DEEP (published in the anthology The End of the Line, by Solaris) is an attempt to marry the cosmic themes of H.P. Lovecraft with something intensely intimate. I’m always fascinated by the collision of internal and external forces and its effect on damaged characters, and I thought about what might happen if a personal with a void inside them came into contact with a vast emptiness from without. I’m also scared of enclosed spaces, and most of the story is taken up by an ice diver in the Arctic swimming through a tunnel in an iceberg that closes up behind him as he moves through it, so he can’t go back – only forward. It’s one of the few stories I’ve written that actually unnerved me while I was working, and that made me realise that the story was probably going to turn out okay…if you scare yourself, you must be onto something, right? Another huge imaginative spark for the story was the fabulous Werner Herzog documentary Encounters at the End of the World, which has our intrepid Teutonic auteur visiting remote parts of the Arctic to interview guitar-playing scientists living in isolated research stations, film insane landlocked penguins looking for the sea, and watch the idiotically brave ice divers enter supernaturally clear icy waters by means of small shafts bored through the ice cap…amazing stuff, truly astonishing.”

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John Shirley

I have a radio interview coming up with Stu Bryer for Norwich Radio Station WIXH 1310.

When preparing for this, I made a list, as I always do, of influential writers. My mind always goes blank when someone asks me, so I always have this emergency list close by when I think there’s a chance I’ll be asked the question.

One writer who is always on the list is John Shirley. I read his collection Heatseeker soon after it came out in 1989. I wasn’t published then; in fact, I wasn’t sure I could be a writer at all at that stage of my life. I’d written plenty, but I wasn’t sure if the strange way I wrote, the awful things I wrote about, would find readers.

Reading Heatseeker, which is vicious, brilliant, brave and unrelenting in every story, inspired me to keep going. It made me realise I didn’t have to write easy fiction.

So when I was offered the opportunity to ask John Shirley some questions, I realised I had only one. The answer Shirley gave inspired me all over again.

My question: I’m fascinated by the ‘spark’ that starts stories, and will sometimes try to pinpoint this in other people’s stories.

The stories in ‘Heatseeker’, which I read during my formative years as a writer, have so much heart, guts and anger to them.

I’d love to know what the ‘spark’ was in these stories. What set them off? I’m particularly interested in the brilliant “What Cindy Saw”, “Sleepwalkers” and “Six Kinds of Darkness”.

 

John Shirley’s answer:

I was always looking for a way to use allegory to express my feelings about the world, without being so allegorical it lost the reader. Sleepwalkers (there’s an improved version of that in Living Shadows) was partly based on some experience with people using drugs–I wasn’t using that one, but I was living with them–and partly with some experience of the street prostitution scene. It wasn’t an organized prostitution thing, with pimps. It was about people surviving day to day. And people who endured working in it went into a kind of trance, almost, a compartmentalization, a sort of sleepwalking through it, so they could bear it. That seemed to me to be a real phenomenon and at the same time a metaphor for what people went through as they adapted to the realities of life–they learned to “sleepwalk” through life, to shut themselves down so they could bear it, more and more…in whatever walk of life they were in. Six Kinds of Darkness was literally a song I wrote, I used to perform, and it’s very much about the feeling that we lose ourselves in media, and in desperate escapes. I was deliberately evoking a rocknroll energy and again the influence of the drug scene was there. (I don’t take drugs now, not for many years, and I never took any *while* writing, but some of my stories were a bit influenced by some drug experiences). What Cindy Saw was a kind of mix of existential horror and surrealism, and also an attempt to take the reader into a radical state of esthetic experience. It was influenced by Dali’s idea of the Paranoid Critical Method, the idea that if you see ordinary things as if you had never seen them before, jettisoning your associations, you get insights. So it’s an attempt to get the reader to accept surreality as standard reality and vice versa. All of these stories were in fact reactions to the world–my struggle to find some kind of transcendant meaning despite the grim realities…John Shirley


His new collection, In Extremis, described as containing his most extreme stories. I’ll be ordering it when I get back home.

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Readercon

For those travelling to Readercon in Boston, here’s my schedule:

Friday July 15

4:00 PM    G    Myth, Midrash, and Misappropriation. K. Tempest Bradford (leader), Marilyn “Mattie” Brahen, Jack M. Haringa, Claude Lalumire, Kaaron Warren. From Walter M. Miller and James Blish to Neil Gaiman, S.J. Day, and Greg Van Eekhout, writers have created fiction that draws inspiration from the characters, images, and stories of well-known religions. Of Victor Pelevin’s Sacred Book of the Werewolf, Janet Chui wrote, “Now I know what a Buddhist modern fantasy novel looks like,” and Kaaron Warren has said her debut horror novel, Slights, was inspired by pictures in a Hare Krishna text. What are the appeals and challenges of creating fiction from a religious source? Are there dangers of appropriation? Can adaptation start to look like fanfic? How do authors incorporate their own ideas and modernize ancient texts without offending readers of the faith?

6:00 PM    NH    Teeth group reading. Steve Berman, Suzy Charnas, Ellen Datlow, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Kaaron Warren. Contributors to Teeth, a YA vampire anthology, read selections from their work.

Saturday July 16

12:00 PM    E    Autographs. Claude Lalumire, Kaaron Warren.

1:00 PM    NH    Reading. Kaaron Warren. Warren reads “All You Can Do is Breathe” from Datlow’s Blood and Other Cravings.

9:00 PM    ME    There’s No Homelike Place. Debra Doyle, Theodora Goss, Victoria Janssen (leader), Tom Purdom, Kaaron Warren. Many portal quest fantasies function by exploiting anxieties surrounding the location of home: either home is to be found beyond the portal, where the nerd/outcast finds their true tribe, or home is to be returned to, enriched by the fantasy land left behind in its favor. However, given that our world is increasingly mobile and rootless, why do we seem to produce so few sympathetic narratives of adventurers who never find home–for whom home is less a destination than a journey? Among all the stories of nomads who extol the traveling life but then either settle down (Sharon Shinn’s Samaria books) or are forced to stay in one place (Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet), why are there so few where wandering is the happy ending?

Sunday July 17

12:00 PM    RI    How I Wrote Walking the Tree. Kaaron Warren. Kaaron Warren discusses the writing of her novel about communities surrounding an enormous tree inhabited by ghosts.

I’ll also be appearing at Bank Square Books in Mystic, CT from 3 – 4 on Wednesday, July 13, then speaking about writing at the Otis Library, Norwich, CT, from 6.30. Love to see you there!

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