Archive for July, 2011

Duotrope Finds

Normally I do these over on Unleaded, but today I’m doing them here, because I already have something I want to talk about over there this week.  Anyone who has looked at my deadlines tracker over on the right hand side of this blog will notice it’s getting precariously empty, so let’s fill it back up again.

Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations: This one intrigues the hell out of me.  Anthology is looking for “Horror, Speculative Fiction, and to a lesser degree Science Fiction, relating to civilizations that are lost, or have been forgotten, or have been rediscovered, or perhaps merely spoken about in great and fearful whispers.”  The first provided example is Atlantis which, in my mind, means don’t do Atlantis unless you have something to set you apart from everyone else who will.  I’ve got my culture picked, one that I’ve wanted to write a horror story about since I first read about it.  But I’m not telling you, not yet at least, because I want the concepts all to my greedy self.  Length: 2000-7000.  Payment: Penny/Word.  Deadline: October 31st.

Flush Fiction Anthology:  We’ve all seen the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series hanging out in the humor section of the book store, right?  Sounds like they’re branching out a little, looking to put together a cross-genre, humor-optional flash fiction anthology.  It’s the rare beast among anthologies right now: one requiring submissions printed and sent through something called “The Mail.”  I’ll have to figure out what that is if I decide to submit.  Might bulk and polish a Fortnightcap for that one.  Length: <1000.  Payment: $50/flat (pro rate). Deadline: August 31st.

Benevolent Apocalypse:  It’s the end of the world as we know it.  Or it was, a few years ago, and now humanity is moving on because what people do is survive.  Benevolent Apocalypse is looking for answers to the question “What happens when people keep calm and carry on?”  Lots of stories focus on the end, these are stories about a new beginning.  Which has such a hopeful ring to it, especially since they specifically don’t want “Solitary, angry, lonely, desperate, fearful figures in a bleak or desolate landscape.”  Length: 1000-6000.  Payment: $20/flat.  Deadline: August 31st.

I usually do three, but I feel like if I mention Benevolent Apocalypse, I should also mention:

Apocalypse Hope: Similar deal.  In fact, I wonder how many crossover submissions there will be between the two anthologies.  Please note that while Benevolent does say, Hope specifically does say no simultaneous submissions.  In their words, “The stories must in some way address the idea that after the apocalypse (whatever and wherever in your universe that might be), there is a future for the peoples who survive it.”  Length: 2000-8000.  Payment: AUS$50/flat.  Deadline: September 30th.

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A Writer Reviews: The Troll Hunter

I’ve seen other movies since I’ve seen Super 8, but didn’t really feel the urge to explore them as part of the Writer Reviews series.  Lincoln Lawyer?  Very well plotted, and perhaps if I were to watch it again I’d have something to say about twists and turns within a story.  However this weekend I saw The Troll hunter, or rather Trolljegeren, a movie out of Norway telling the story of three college journalism students stumbling on one of the biggest secrets the Norwegian government is hiding: that trolls are real.

The movie itself is very well crafted.  I can’t speak to the acting, it’s so hard to judge that in a foreign language, but the story was engaging and the characters were at least interesting.  And the special effects were enough to keep the fantasy alive, which is vitally important in a found footage movie.  The quickest thing that can break the willing suspension of disbelief in that kind of film are bad special effects.  Fortunately the style of the movie allows much to be hidden through passing glances, scratchy film stock, and the occasional switch to night vision that can hide any number of flaws.  It has its faults, its plot holes, but at the end of the day it’s just a fun little movie and worth tracking down.

But this series isn’t really about reviewing movies, it’s about approaching movies from the point of view of a writer.  And seeing how lessons and methods from the film can translate to literature.  The Troll Hunter makes an interesting movie to approach because it initially feels very non-literary, largely because of its primary conceit.  Found footage is becoming something of a hip new thing in film making, spurred first by the success of the Blair Witch Project and has recent seen both independent success with Paranormal Activities and mainstream with Cloverfield.  It’s often used to tell a horror story, as it puts the viewer more immediately into the characters’ shoes which allows a more immediate empathy with the situation.  In many ways it’s the only true form of first person movie making.  Yes, there are any number of films directly narrated by the main character, but even in those we’re still on the outside looking in.  With found footage, we can see directly through the character’s eyes, even if those eyes are camera lenses.

And it’s been used in horror literature for at least as far back as Robert Chambers’s The Yellow Sign, published in 1895 and probably the earliest story I can remember that employs the conceit.  Now, let’s get some things straight.  I’m not talking about first person narratives when I’m talking about found footage literature.  I’m talking about the type of story, typically horror, that begins, ends, or is framed by the specific notion that the narrator is writing the story with the intent of it being found later, perhaps after committing suicide because he can’t deal with the horrors he has seen or learned.  Yup, that means it’s a Lovecraftian thing, and good ole HP was a fan of that style of writing.  Which means that a lot of later Lovecraftian writing has taken the same idea and run with it.  Hell, I’ve even fallen for the same trap.

Damnit, I just said “trap,” didn’t I.  Which really spoilers my entire thesis.

Found footage can be an attractive way to film a movie because it tends to be less expensive, and it’s a good ploy for putting an audience right into the action.  And, to a point, it works very well.  But a part of that is the novelty of the method, which is wearing off fast.  It was something new when Blair Witch did it.  It was something remembered when Cloverfield and Paranormal did it.  However wikipedia lists at least 17 such movies that have come out, or are still planned to come out, between 2010 and 2011.  It’s something that can quickly become cliche and overused.  Ultimately it’s going to be like any new style of film making where the first few films out can succeed on the novelty of the idea, but eventually something new has to be brought to the table.

In literature, the novelty is done.  It’s gone.  This type of story has been around for at least 115 years.  The jig is well up, and as writers we’re already in the territory of needing to bring something new to the table.  And that gets to my use of the word trap above.  It’s an easy way to tell a Lovecraftian story, as Lovecraft himself used it several times, and many people associate it heavily with his style and thus the entire genre.  But it’s not enough, at least not to this reader.  Remember that the story is essential, as it will become increasingly essential in the ongoing survival of the film genre.

In a way, it’s interesting to be at a point where we can see the evolution of something in film that has been attempted in literature for so long.  It can give us ideas for new directions to take the concept, and new ways of telling stories using the method.  Perhaps ways of even approaching things more like the edited-together style that is often employed by films, and can somewhat be seen in House of Leaves.  Whatever the future of the technique is, remember that cliches are cliches, tropes are tropes, conceits are conceits, and none are inherently bad things, they just have to be used correctly.

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Eat This: Green and Goat Burgers

We’ve got way too many tomatoes.  Especially since I’m not really a fan of tomatoes.  If they all go ripe at once we’re going to have no choice but to either stew and can them, or give a bunch of them away, so we’ve been looking for green tomato recipes.  Because for some reason I do like green tomatoes.  I knew you could fry them, but as I was planning to fire up the grill last night I wondered.

Can you grill them?

That’s when I found this recipe.  Grilled Green Tomatoes with Goat Cheese.  I was immediately sold, because I love me some goat cheese.  But I figured, yeah, I could make those a side dish.  But I’m already planning corn as a side dish.  And really, tomatoes and cheese belong on a burger, not beside a burger.

One pound of ground buffalo.  Get it when you can find it and are looking to make burgers.  Seriously.  It’s going to be $1-2 more than ground beef (though I have seen it less than ground beef) but you are going to absolutely taste the difference.  Split into patties, onto the grill, and cover it to get them nice and smoky.  I simplified the tomato marinade to just olive oil, lime juice, white pepper, and salt.  The pepper acted as an emulsifier by complete accident so I had a really thick sauce.  I started the tomatoes when I flipped the burgers.  Careful, the olive oil will drip and you will get flair ups.  Gave the tomatoes a few minutes on one side, a minute on the other, then stacked them onto the burgers.  Added a big dollop of goat cheese on top, then covered it all again to give the cheese a chance to melt.

Oh.  You grill your buns, right?  Grill your buns!  I actually brushed them with a little more of the oil-and-lime marinade and tossed them on, just a few seconds, bread burns fast.  Take the buns off, stack the burgers on, and just enjoy the hell out of one of the best burgers you’ve pulled off your grill.  If you’ve never tried buffalo, I can only describe it as “beef, but more so.”  No gamey quality, it’s like the buffalo somehow develop their own Worcestershire sauce naturally.  Green tomatoes don’t yet have the tart tang of ripe tomatoes and are so sweet, and when grilled they have no crispness left.  The goat cheese is just creamy wonderfulness.  Seriously.

If you’re growing tomatoes, grab one now, nice and green.  Heck, it’s one fewer tomato for the squirrels to eat.  Fire up the grill, and get cooking.

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From an Odd Perspective

I can still remember the time I got to see the Enterprise.  No, not the actual model from the show hanging at Quark’s Bar in Vegas.  That was cool.  But what was cooler was seeing the real thing.  The Enterprise, the odd man out of the shuttle fleet, the full-size mock-up intended to provide atmospheric testing for the new crafts that would take astronauts into orbit.  It was meant to join them one day, to be retrofitted, but that day never came.  Unlike its namesake, it was named for the Star Trek vessels after all, not for any of the earthbound Enterprises that came before it, the Shuttle Enterprise was doomed to a planet-bound life.

And yet.  It’s still a space shuttle.

I saw it at the Udvar-Hazy annex of the Air and Space Museum, a massive white-and-black thing that looks almost like the offspring of a plane and a killer whale.  And I stood there until my wife dragged me off to look at the rest of the museum.  I was transfixed.  Here was this thing, constructed by human hands, intended for space.  It never got there, but that’s still a lot closer than I’m going to come.  Soon the Enterprise will be gone, replaced by the Discovery.  The Smithsonian will be upgrading from the ship that never got to go into space to the one that went there the most.

And that, really, is the problem.

Discovery is available as a museum piece because it was decommissioned March 9, 2011.  Columbia and Challenger were lost.  Endeavour is done.  And this Friday, if things go according to schedule, Atlantis will lift off for the last time.

There are any number of articles bemoaning the retirement of the shuttles.  In a way, it’s time.  The grand dame of the fleet, Columbia, first launched in 1981.  They’ve served science and humanity well in the 30 years hence, they deserve a rest.  But there’s no replacement in place.  They’re planned, but we’re about to go into a period in US spaceflight unimaginable since the first Mercury missions: a period without US spaceflight.

In the end, I look at this not as a writer of speculative fiction, but as a fan of it.  I grew up with stories of humanity spreading out among the stars.  And while horrors sometimes awaited us, more often then not wonders did as well.  Places, people, and experiences unimaginable here on earth.  And while I know these are all fictions and fantasies, there’s something about human space flight that helps propagate those dreams.  It creates that feeling that we’re pushing towards that future, that we’re trying to reach beyond and come into contact with something else, anything else, rather than what we’ve grown up with, as a species, here on earth.

And now, with the retirement of the shuttles, we’re putting that dream on hold.  It feels almost as though we’re delaying that possible future.  Certainly the shuttles weren’t pushing us further and further into space.  And argument could even be made that they were holding us back.  They were designed only to go so far, and as the backbone of the space fleet we were wedded to their limitations.  But in the end, it still meant that we were putting people into space.

The dream is still there.  We still have our fiction to carry us forward and to imagine what the future may hold.  But unlike when I was younger, it’s harder to imagine how we’re going to get there.  And with the shuttles going silent, one by one, there are now fewer avenues for the imagination to wander down.  Hopefully the future will see us return to space, and perhaps to even push beyond the orbital limit of the shuttles.  We may one day laugh at the fact that we were so tied to low earth orbit.

At least, I hope.

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New Peculiar Bottle Day 2

Oh what difference the correct hardware makes!

When we bottled mustache cat, we were stuck with tubing that was too wide bore to fit on to either the auto siphon or the bottling wand, which meant a lot of flying by the seat of our pants.  Since then, I took a trip to Home Depot and found the right size tubing (yes, food grade tubing, it’s intended for ice makers).  And then…it’s like magic!  When you can get a vacuum seal everything works so much faster.

Oh, and when you remember to add your priming sugar and don’t have to empty all the bottles and starting over, it also works a hell of a lot better.

As for the beer itself?  Lazarus Ale is, to remind, a lemongrass ginger ale with a pound on honey thrown in to boot.  It smells strongly of ginger, which is not something that I’m used to beer smelling like.  I suspect it’ll be a fantastic beer to try the next time I do sushi.

I did take a sip of it, it’s just something that I do when I’m bottling a beer.  Yeah, the end product will never taste quite the same as that taste, but it can give an indication as to where the beer is heading.  The sip wasn’t very bitter at all.  The flavor…was interesting.  That’s the first word that both my wife and I used to describe it.  Interesting.  Which isn’t always the best of words.  But after that sip, after I thought about it, I wanted more.  I wanted a full bottle.

Patience.  August 1 is the earliest I’m going to put a bottle in the fridge.  I’ll have to bide my time with Mustache Cat until then.

So what’s next?  Well, there are two directions I’m thinking about going.  The first would be to attempt to recreate my greatest success from my Mr. Beer days, a boysenberry stout called Pie Stout.  But I’m also thinking about taking a break from beer and instead going for a hard cider.

On a side note, we got some wormwood today for the garden.  Wormwood is used for vermouth and absinthe, so I was curious if it was ever used for beer.  Well, I knew there were other ingredients used to bitter beer before hops became the primary go to.  Apparently wormwood was one of those.  Does that mean I’ll eventually brew with home grown wormwood?  Not necessarily.  But it’s tempting.

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State of the Writer: July 2011

I’m going to come right out and say it: the state of the writer is good.

On a writing front, I’ve got three stories out the door to anthologies and contests that had deadlines at the end of June, and plan two more submissions this coming week.  That will mark the first time I’ve ever had five stories out for consideration at once.  Hell, this marks the first time I’ve had three stories out for consideration at once.  Out the door already are Face of the Serpent, Beyond Light, and Vampires of Mars, and getting ready to head out the door are Sleep and Home Again.  I have high hopes that one of those will land in its current market, with a potential ceiling of three of them landing.

Yup, I’m getting all excited and optimistic, but I already wrote that post.

July is going to see a change of direction.  I’ve been working on short stories for awhile, and I’ve really enjoyed it.  But I’ve left Capsule languishing for far too long now, and it’s time to get back into it.  Especially since I’m already starting to world build my next novel, and I don’t want Capsule to get steamrolled and forgotten.  I like the story too much to let that happen.  So it’s going to be back to work on that, trying to keep a strong pace going.  Really, I’d love to have the first draft finished by no later than the end of August, and then it’ll be a process of figuring out what to do next.  That might be turning right around and editing Capsule, that might mean making another go at Conqueror Worm, or it might mean starting Nickajack.  Really, that’s going to be more a subject for September’s State of the Writer.  I hope.

It’s an exciting point in my push to be something more than just an amateur writer.  First short story is still due out soon-ish (though I’m honestly thinking July is unlikely, even if the anthology hasn’t officially said so), and so much more hopefully on the horizon.

State of the Writer’s Blog: June was a great month for readership.  I didn’t quite hit the record views of May, but I didn’t miss by much.  This was aided by the last day of June being the best single day for viewership since the relaunch of this blog back in December.  So yay!  Google Analytics also tells me that I collected my first views from six states this month: Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Ohio, and South Carolina.  That leaves 13 states that have never visited my blog: Alaska, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Delaware, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine.  I’m hoping to hit all 50 states before too much longer, so look for me to start pandering!  Woo!  Do you Dakotans know just how sexy and intelligent you are?

But seriously, I’m going to try to set my two July Fortnightcaps in states that have yet to show up, just to see if I can’t push viewership.

Update: Hello, Omaha!  That’s another state down.

State of the Writer’s Beer: We have now drunk 4 of the 24 bottles of Mustache Cat, and it’s getting better with each bottle.  A few more weeks, and I’ll be glad to share some.  The bitterness that it had when brand new is mellowing out nicely, and there’s a very strong strawberry aroma and aftertaste.  This weekend it’s going to be bottling time for Lazarus Ale, which I’m going to try and have the self discipline to not crack a bottle of until August.  Next batch is still being planned, but I may take a week or three just to give us time to catch up on the drinking process, because this is becoming a lot of beer.

So.  We’ve passed the solstice, the days are getting shorter but no cooler, what better time of year to avoid the outside, and instead write?

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