From Uncovered by Ioana Birdu - People Hiding By Reading

Reading Isolates Readers. That’s the Point.

I found an article by Scott Timberg on Al Jazeera America on Friday that has nagged at me all weekend. This article, given the trolling and SEO-friendly headline “Is Reading Too Much Bad for Kids?”, is surely a sign from some god with a malign sense of humor that I have seen everything. The subhead argues, “Clinging to print can isolate kids and alienate them from the digital world of multitasking.”

In fairness to the author, he starts by expressing pride in his seven-year-old son who is growing up to be a fine young bookworm who has to be forbidden from bringing “Encyclopedia Brown” to the dinner table. However, Timberg suggests his boy is growing up in the wrong country and in the wrong century as he writes:

Our concern is whether he will find some other kid who shares his enthusiasm. So far, he hasn’t.

Furthermore, he concludes his article with the following:

On reflection, I realize it’s not my son, or Boog’s daughter, who needs to change: The culture they’re growing up into has lost its sense of what matters. But parenting is not just about preparing kids for careers; it’s about asserting values, and serious reading may be what my family has instead of a religious or ethnic identity. If my son’s peers, or the culture at large, find another god to worship, it will be their loss.

Though I’m not a parent myself, I can approve this sentiment. It’s certainly much better than anything the New Republic offers in articles like “Why Reading Isn’t Always Good for You” by Leo Robson. Robson quotes John Carey, who writes in The Unexpected Professor that “…living your truest life in books may deaden the real world for you as well as enliven it.”

Robson describes Carey’s autobiography as “a glories-of-reading memoir that doubles as an anti-reading memoir”, and argues that reading — especially reading literature enshrined in the Western Canon — does not make one smarter, wiser, more moral, or in general a better human being.

No doubt Robson thinks his argument matters, and it might to people who stand to gain from the further destruction of reading for pleasure — not self-improvement or learning, but for the sheer unholy joyous pleasure of reading — as a pastime for the average American.

It doesn’t matter to me. I will continue to read for pleasure, and I will read whatever I damned well please. There’s nothing you can do to stop me. You can offer no argument capable of dissuading me from reading.

Reading Precludes Multitasking

This seems to be the argument du jour. Digital utopians like to argue that clinging to print media, or long texts like novels, makes it impossible for people to learn to multitask — a skill allegedly key to success in the modern digital environment.

The people who argue for human multitasking aren’t programmers. If they were, they’d damned well know better. They would understand that humans are no better at multitasking than single-processor computers. At most, humans are capable of task-switching, and it takes so much longer for people to do it than it does for computers that task switching is best left to computers.

Computers create the illusion of multitasking by flitting between processes thousands of times a second. We can’t do that, but we can focus on a single task that genuinely matters and dig deep. A lifelong habit of reading can help further develop that skill.

Reading Isolates Children From Their Peers

Yes, being a bookworm does tend to isolate children from non-readers their age. However, I don’t blame reading for this isolation. I blame the parents. At risk of delivering a proclamation from all kinds of privilege, to say nothing of being utterly self-serving because I am a novelist, I have the following to say on the subject of raising children who don’t read and don’t value reading:

If your children reach adulthood, and do not read for pleasure, I blame you. Not the public schools, not the anti-intellectual American culture, but you. You are not only a bad parent, but a bad citizen of modern Western civilization, and a lousy human being.

By raising children who don’t take pleasure in reading, you not only deprive your own children, but you given them an excuse to see children who enjoy reading as “different” from them and therefore fair game for bullying.

If you find this objectionable, I suggest you direct your objections to somebody who cares. Start with your gods, if you have any.

Readers are Antisocial

This is one of my favorites, as it has often been applied to me. Nor am I the only one who has been treated to this idiocy. I suspect this objection comes mainly from extroverted people and is aimed at introverted people who “hide behind books” because it isn’t as objectionable a method for dealing with intrusive strangers as violence.

Let’s clear up a little misconception, shall we? Pay attention, because there will be a test on this subject. Your identity is irrelevant. Your reasons for wanting another person’s attention is irrelevant. You are not entitled to another person’s attention.

If somebody is sitting quietly and reading, and you bother them, you aren’t being sociable. You aren’t being friendly. You aren’t being nice. If you bother people who aren’t bothering you, you’re an asshole. You’re the one being anti-social, by making society unpleasant for other people.

Reading Doesn’t Make You a Better Person

I can answer this point in three words: No shit, Sherlock! I would be the last person to claim that reading has made me a more moral person. Nor will I claim that reading has made me more empathetic and humane. I won’t even suggest that reading has made me better-informed.

Each of these claims is a gross oversimplification of the truth. Not only is reading fundamental, but one must also read the right books, learn from them, and apply this knowledge to daily life. You won’t become a Stoic by simply reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. You must also live in accordance with the book’s teachings and make the author’s philosophy your own.

Readers are Isolated from Mainstream Culture

Here’s another one I sometimes hear, mainly from people who mistake what they like for mainstream culture. I know better. I know books aren’t part of mainstream American culture, and haven’t been for a long time. The same goes for everything else I like. That doesn’t bother me.

However, some people manage to navigate daily life while retaining a sense of entitlement permitting them to feel justified in suggesting there’s something wrong with me because I don’t like everything they like. To think I might display such effrontery!

To those who can’t grasp the idea that their cultural preferences are anything but universal, here’s a newsflash: The United States alone has a population of almost 350 million people as of the 2010 census, and that population is sprawled across a continent. Despite the best efforts of a corporate media machine controlled by an ever-shrinking proportion of the population, there is no such thing as a single mainstream American culture.

If you yearn for a golden age where everybody lives the same way you do, you have no business accusing me or any other bookworm of being isolated from the mainstream. Nor do you have any right to accuse people like me of living in a fantasy world.

Expect No Apology

If after reading this monstrosity of a post you still expect me to apologize for being a reader, I suggest you seek help from a qualified mental health professional. Do I realize that preferring books to most people makes me weird, selfish, and misanthropic? Yes. What makes you think I give a damn?

Here’s the deal: if you want me to care more about you than I care about my reading, be a person worth caring about. Have something interesting to say. Have something to offer. Try reading a book once in a while, preferably one I wrote.

But never expect me or any other reader to apologize for loving the words some people write more than most people. You’ll get better results by expecting ice to be warm and fire to be cold.

rulePhoto Credit: Ioana Birdu

Jessa Russo: Divide

Jessa Russo: Divide (and Ever)

Jessa Russo asked me to help her promote her new novel Divide, which comes out tomorrow, and I suggested dragging my review for her debut Ever out of the archives. It’s something of an anomaly among her reviews, since I decided to wax pretentious and treat its protagonist as an unreliable narrator.

Jessa Russo - Ever

Jessa Russo – Ever

I should mention from the outset that I tend to avoid reading YA (young adult) fiction. I didn’t like being a teenager, so reading about them isn’t exactly appealing. I tend not to read romance, either, for reasons I can’t even pretend are reasonable.

First, the plot: seventeen year old Eleanor Van Ruysdael (whose nickname, Ever, is derived from her initials) has a dead boyfriend named Frankie, who died in a car crash which she survived. She isn’t over him yet, but it might be difficult to get over a teen crush who insists on haunting you.

What begins as a tale of unrequited love becomes a love triangle when twenty-two-year-old Toby and his father move into the house where Frankie and his family once lived. Though Ever tells us she’s stuck on Frankie on numerous occasions, she is instantly smitten with Toby — to the relief of her friend Jess. After some courtship between Ever and Toby, the arrival of Toby’s ex Ariadne further complicates matters.

Ariadne’s arrival kicks Ever into high gear by introducing an interpersonal conflict halfway through the novel. Ever can’t stand Ariadne, but the feeling isn’t mutual because Ariadne doesn’t regard Ever as an equal worthy of her enmity.

I won’t comment further on the plot, lest I spoil the ending. Instead, I will shift my attention to the mechanisms driving the story. In particular, I wish to consider Ms. Russo’s choice of viewpoint. Ever is told exclusively through the viewpoint of its protagonist. We only know what she tells us. We have no choice but to believe Frankie is real, because Ever tells us other people can see him. When Ever learns that Toby and Ariadne are “soul collectors”, we can only take her words at face value, but Ever doesn’t tell us what exactly soul collectors are, or how they do what they do, because she herself doesn’t know. We remain ignorant of Toby’s motives and those of Ariadne, because we’re limited to Ever’s viewpoint.

A cursory glance at the reviews on Goodreads suggests that this limited perspective frustrates a great many readers to the point where they end up despising the novel. I consider it Ever’s chief virtue. While I might praise Ever’s verisimilitude by virtue of its characters, who are annoying enough to remind me of the teenagers with whom I used to do time in high school, the real value of this novel lies in its unreliable narrator.

An unreliable narrator, according to Wikipedia, is “a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theatre, whose credibility has been seriously compromised” (emphasis mine). Ever’s youth and inexperience alone might compromise her as a narrator, but it’s her psychological issues which push her over the top. Her unresolved grief and survivors’ guilt are both obvious from the first page of the first chapter. Furthermore, because we have to take her word for the fact that others can see Frankie, the ghost himself might be a figment of Ever’s imagination — or a delusion. Even the events culminating in Ever`s cliffhanger ending might only be a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy we must accept at face value, because we only know what Ever tells us.

I don’t know if Jessa Russo intended for Ever to be an unreliable narrator. I could be overthinking a novel which is nothing more than solidly written young adult paranormal romance. Or, Jessa Russo might have infused her material with unexpected literary sophistication through her choice of viewpoint and the care with which she feeds the reader information.

Pick whichever interpretation you think is most flattering.

ruleDon’t forget! Divide comes out tomorrow.


Wilbert Stanton: The Artful

I’m helping out first-time Curiosity Quills Press novelist Wilbert Stanton with the cover revelation of his debut: The Artful. It’s the first part of his Shadows of the City series, and will be available on 27 May 2013. The blurb suggests a sci-fi tale reminiscent of Oliver Twist.

Wilbert Stanton: The Artful

Wilbert Stanton: The Artful

New York City, 2025: Everything is changed. The city that never sleeps is now a land of death and decay. A rampant virus has taken over and the survivors have become carriers, quarantined from the rest of the world.

Twist and Dodger grew up in the streets, the sewers and underground tunnels – their playground. They aren’t heroes. They just like attention; and stealing meds from the rich and giving them to the poor is their golden ticket.

On their latest raid, they unknowingly steal a cure that puts them square between the ailing Emperor of Manhattan and the war hungry Governor of Brooklyn and forces them on a quest into the darkest shadows of their putrefying world.

Facebook Author Page:
Twitter: @wilbert_stanton

Are You Using the Right Tools?

Are you a writer who thinks about the tools of your trade? Do you compose your drafts using Microsoft Word? If so, why do you do it? Do you use Word because you got a copy with your computer? Do you use Word because you think everybody else does it? Do you use Word because it’s the “standard”? Do you actually like using Word, or do you find wrestling with it a distraction from writing?

Word is a Lousy Composition Tool.

I ask because I don’t use Word when composing fiction. If I really wanted to, it’s possible to run Word on Linux. While I’m masochistic enough to enjoy Dark Souls, my appetite for pain has its limits. I could also use LibreOffice to draft, but I would prefer not to.

I don’t like word processors for composition for the following reasons:

  • Word processors are overkill. When I’m writing, I need to denote chapter headings and scene breaks, and I need to italicize interior dialogue and titles of works mentioned in my text. That’s all.
  • Word processors are too complex. They have too many menus, switches, and options, most of which have nothing whatsoever to do with composition.
  • Font, line spacing, margins, etc. are irrelevant concerns when drafting a text. I don’t want to have to worry about any of that.
  • If I create a text using Word, I’m stuck using Word. While other apps claim compatibility, such compatibility remains at Microsoft’s mercy because Word’s formats are proprietary and subject to change.
  • Word processor files are binary data, or compressed XML, instead of plain text. Not only does this make them unnecessarily large, but it precludes running their contents through Unix command line utilities or scripts, which might come in handy.
  • The comments and “track changes” functionality so beloved of editors clutters the text with invisible control characters.
  • Copying and pasting text from a word processor usually copies and pastes the word processor’s formatting as well, especially when composing blog posts on WordPress. While WordPress has a “paste as plain text” option, using it is a pain in the ass.
  • Word expects you to put your entire text into a single file. This isn’t my preferred workflow.
  • I don’t give a damn how my text looks on a printed page. I’m not going to print it fourteen years into the twenty-first century.

So, what do I use instead? Unlike George R. R. Martin, I never learned and fell in love with WordStar. I learned WordPerfect 5.1 in high school, but didn’t have a computer of my own until I graduated, and while it ran PC-DOS 6.1 and Windows 3.11, it didn’t come with WP 5.1. It didn’t come with any tools not included with DOS or Windows. So I used the E editor to write.

“DOS? That’s So Twentieth Century!”

So are Unix and the X Window System, both of which I prefer over DOS, Windows, and post-Leopard versions of OS X. I still prefer to use a plain old text editor, like the one shown below.

Brackets editor on Ubuntu Linux 14.04 (beta)

Brackets editor on Ubuntu Linux 14.04 (beta)

I currently favor an editor called Brackets, and I use the file system on my computer to organize my work. My personal directory is called /home/demifiend. I have a “documents” directory there which contains a “starbreaker” directory. Every Starbreaker project I do gets its own directory under /home/demifiend/documents/starbreaker.

The screenshot above shows me working in /home/demifiend/documents/starbreaker/silentclarion. Brackets lets me open this directory in the sidebar as my project folder, and interact with files there within the editor.

The structure should be self-explanatory. All of the .md files you see are actually plain Unicode text files with a file extension that tells editors they contain Markdown formatting and should use the appropriate syntax highlighting if available. I prefix filenames with a number to force the OS to order my files properly. Each chapter gets its own directory, and each scene in a chapter its own file. Each scene is ordered by number and named for its viewpoint character.

“How Do You Move/Re-order Scenes?”

On Linux, I can accomplish these tasks with shell commands. For example, let’s say I have a chapter with two scenes from Naomi’s viewpoint named and I want to create a new second scene between the existing scenes. I can do this with the following commands.

$ mv
$ touch

The first command, “mv”, means “move”. I’m telling the OS to move the specified file to a new location. The second command, “touch”, exists primarily to change file access and modification times, a function more useful to sysadmins than writers. However, using the “touch” command on a filename that doesn’t exist will create an empty text file with that name. This is handy because as the file will immediately show up in Brackets, allowing me to start writing in it when I’m ready.

These commands won’t return any output unless something goes wrong, because part of the Unix way is “no news is good news”. However, I can verify that my commands worked using the “ls” command.

“Is This What You Send Your Publisher?”

Hell no. I’m insane, not stupid. This text-editor workflow, based on using the Unix file system and utilities with Unicode text files and Markdown formatting, is strictly for my own convenience. When I’m ready to submit a draft to my publisher, the first thing I do is compile my draft into a single file. I can do that with a shell command as well.

cat chapter*/* >

The “cat” command will concatenate the files I specify, putting their contents together and dumping them on my screen. That isn’t quite what I want, so I redirect the output to the “” file using the > character, which will also overwrite the previous contents of I can then open my draft in a word processor like LibreOffice Writer and format the text as specified by my publisher’s submission guidelines.

“You Admitted to Using a Word Processor.”

Yes, I did. However, I don’t use one when drafting a novel, or doing revisions. I only use one when I have to share my work with others. My editors at Curiosity Quills Press aren’t programmers, and are used to using Word and similar apps. Because they’re trying to help me improve my work and prepare it for publication, I accommodate their workflow.

“Why Not Use Scrivener?”

I’ll give the folks at Literature and Latte their due: Scrivener is an excellent app if you have a Mac. I don’t any longer, and haven’t used one since 2012. My current workflow is inspired by Scrivener, as a matter of fact.

However, Scrivener’s text composition tools suffer from the same flaw as a traditional word processor: it makes presentation part of the content. I don’t want to dick around with fonts, spacing, indentation, etc.


Incidentally did you know that a Scrivener project is a folder whose name ends in “.scriv”? It contains other folders and individual Rich Text Format files. Try cracking one open, and see for yourself.

“This is Too Complicated For Me.”

If you’re used to a “one file per work” process, I can see why you’d feel uncomfortable with splitting your work into multiple files and using directories to keep everything tidy. However, I’m also a programmer. I deal with incredibly complex software projects at my day job, and using a single file for each component with folders to impose structure is the best way we programmers have found to manage the complexity in our work.

It still isn’t perfect, but if we put everything in a single file, not only would that file be monstrous, but it would be a colossal pain in the ass to track changes. Have you ever tried navigating a file containing several thousand lines of code? I don’t recommend it. Just imagine navigating a file containing several million lines of code, and you’ll have a notion of why programmers like to break work down to atomic pieces.

“But We’re Not All Programmers.”

Yes, I’ve noticed. I’m one of the crazy writers. Of course, I’m not sure if being crazy is a prerequisite for working in the software development trade, or an occupational hazard.

You don’t have to be a programmer to consider putting aside your word processor in favor of a good text editor, at least while writing and revising drafts you’re not ready to send to an editor or publisher. I can give you several good reasons for doing so:

  • Plain text files are small. Really small. With Unicode, you’re looking at no more than 4 bytes per character. My current outline for Silent Clarion weighs in at just under 6,000 bytes. It would be several times bigger as a Word document.
  • I can read my files on any computer, in any application. My writing is as close to future-proof as humanly possible.
  • I can display the text any way I like without affecting it.
  • Remember the “Reveal Codes” option in WordPerfect? Writing with Markdown is like having “Reveal Codes” on all the time. I have full control over my text.
  • I’ve never had a text editor mangle my work. I don’t think anybody would say the same about Microsoft Word.
  • I can open multiple files in tabs, and cycle between them using CTRL+Tab.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you immediately switch to using plain text. Give it a shot in your next project, instead. If you don’t want to use the Brackets editor, I can recommend the following editors instead.

  • Notepad++ (Windows) – A rock solid editor for Windows. I often use this at my day job.
  • Sublime Text (Windows, Mac, Linux) – Another solid editor with some excellent extensions for Markdown. It’s nagware. You can use it for free, but it will occasionally nag you to buy a license for $70.
  • TextWrangler (Mac) – A stripped-down version of BBEdit, but free to download and still quite capable.

If you’ve using Google Docs because you prefer to work in the cloud, you might want to consider using StackEdit. It integrates with Google Drive and has a built-in Markdown preview mode. You might also consider using Draft, which works really well for short pieces. It doesn’t really suit my files-and-folders workflow for writing novels, though.

Finally, if you give Markdown a shot and decide it isn’t suitable because you do academic, technical, or scientific writing, then you really should consider learning to use LaTeX, which is based on computer scientist Don Knuth’s TeX typesetting system.

Finally, I’m curious about what non-standard workflows you’ve adopted, if you also strayed from the “Use Word for everything” paradigm. Tell me about it in the comments section below.

“But… Why You No Follow Me?”

No, this isn’t the post where I ask why you don’t follow my blog, circle me on Google+, follow me on Twitter, or friend/like me on Facebook. I don’t give a damn about that, because it doesn’t help me sell books. This is the post where I explain why I don’t follow you on social media, and am not likely to do so.

This was something I originally posted on Google+ back in 2013, but that post seems to be getting renewed attention lately. I’ve added a few reasons to this version. See if you can spot ‘em.

But... Why Won't You Follow Me?!?

But… Why Won’t You Follow Me?!?

Here’s Why I Don’t Follow You…

I don’t normally post on how to do social media, because I don’t consider it an interesting topic. However, I’ve been on G+ a couple of years now, and I know a few things. I also have opinions.

A bunch of new people added me to their circles recently, and are no doubt wondering why I haven’t circled them back. Too bad none of them bothered to ask, because that’s the first reason I haven’t circled them back. I have others, though.

You don’t engage with me…

If you want me to circle you, I need a reason. Resharing my posts while adding interesting commentary is the best way, but simply commenting on my posts will do.

Your profile is incomplete…

I understand that you may have reasons to not show everything on your profile. Moreover, you have the right to reveal as much or as little as you like. However, when you circle me, the first thing I do is check your profile to see if you’re a spammer or a robot.

Your profile looks fake…

If your profile photo is that of an attractive woman, but your profile says you’re male and is otherwise empty, I’m going to assume you’re a spammer. If you don’t even have a profile pic, and your profile is pretty much empty, then I’m going to assume you’re a troll. Why? Prior experience.

You have no public posts…

If I can’t see what you post, how am I supposed to know what sort of content to expect from you once I add you to my circles? How am I supposed to know you’re a human being, or at least a meat popsicle?

Your public posts are all the same stuff, from the same source…

That’s a dead give-away that you’re probably a spammer, especially if you’re posting from a site for which you claim to work. Try to be more subtle, damn you.

Your public posts don’t do it for me…

There isn’t much you can do about this, but I might still circle you if you provide interesting engagement.

You publicly post sexist/racist material…

I might be a white man, but that doesn’t mean I want to see that shit. Save it for Stormfront.

You post NSFW stuff during what I consider working hours…

This is just self-interest. I like pin-ups and cheesecake, especially involving pale brunettes and redheads. However, I don’t want to see that stuff on the job if I’m using my smartphone to dip into the social for the equivalent of a cigarette break while running the compiler. Nothing personal.

You’re a business…

If I wanted my stream cluttered with advertising, I’d be on Facebook. If you’re a brand or a business, don’t circle me. If you’re lucky, I’ll just ignore you. I know you want to get your message out, but I don’t give a damn about your message. I’m a writer, and I don’t post about my books all the time. Why? Because nobody gives a shit.

And if you’re a business spamming my Twitter and Facebook feeds with promoted posts, expect me to post replies suggesting that you make yourself useful and buy a copy of my novel. I have no scruples about spamming spammers.

You post long, talky videos that don’t have transcripts…

I never liked listening to lectures in school. I didn’t care for lectures from my parents, either. When people talk, they repeat themselves, go off on tangents, and clutter up the lecture with semantically null sounds instead of shutting up for a moment to collect their thoughts and figure out what they’re going to say next. It’s inefficient, and it’s boring.

I only tolerate boring shit at my day job because I’m getting paid. I absolutely hate long lecture videos without transcripts, because I can read faster than the guy in the video can talk. If you routinely post this crap, I have three words for you: transcript or GTFO!

You post too much religious crap…

If your beliefs lend meaning to your life, or comfort you, or make you genuinely happy, then that’s great. I don’t need to hear about it. Seeing it in my feed isn’t going to convince me to reconsider my atheism.

You post nothing but pictures, and you’re not on Pinterest…

Keep your picture. I’d rather have a thousand words.

You post pseudoscience and other arrant bullshit…

Does this even merit explanation? If you honestly think that homeopathy works or that vaccines cause autism, I want as little to do with you as possible. If you think psychics are real, and are sufficiently entertaining, I’ll consider making an exception. However, I won’t believe in ESP until somebody takes James Randi’s million dollars.

Some other reason…

If you don’t fit the above reasons, and I still haven’t circled you, then I might not have noticed you. Try interacting with me. Start by posting comments. :)


Starbreaker Tax Day Special

Did you just get shafted by the IRS? Do you feel like you’re not getting your money’s worth as you pay the price of civilization? Do you wonder what a world in which taxation was recognized as robbery might be like? So do I.

But I did more than just daydream about such a world. I brought it to life in Without Bloodshed, the first part of a new epic science fiction series from Curiosity Quills Press: Starbreaker. This April 15th, electronic copies of Without Bloodshed are on sale for ONE DOLLAR.

Most of the Earth’s nations are gone, replaced by city-states whose governments are financed and supervised by the Phoenix Society and its corps of individual rights defense officers, the Adversaries. Dedicated to promoting liberty and equal justice under law for all by diplomacy and force of arms, the Adversaries crack down on government overreach and corporate abuses without mercy.

Without Big Government or Big Business, people are free to work, compete, and prosper. They look out for each other through voluntary organizations rather than depending on inefficient social programs  to help them. But the Second Renaissance that the survivors of Nationfall sparked has a soft, black underbelly…

When a dictator’s public allegations make Morgan Stormrider a liability to the Phoenix Society, the Society orders him to prove Alexander Liebenthal a liar — or die in the attempt.

Artwork by Ricky Gunawan

Artwork by Ricky Gunawan

How to Purchase Without Bloodshed

I shouldn’t say “celebrate”, but if you’ve done your part this tax day to finance the governments of the United States, why not treat yourself to some badass libertarian science fiction? Just imagine your favorite politician up against a wall, listening to a Miranda warning.

Don’t forget, the ebooks are on sale this April 15th for ONE DOLLAR. Even if you end up not liking it, you probably wasted a lot more supporting Big Government (and its subsidies to Big Business).

Three Adversaries Walk into a Bar

Three Adversaries Walk into a Bar

Also, you can find an excerpt on the Reality Skimming blog, courtesy of Okal Rel Saga author Lynda Williams.

FRONT COVER - Too Much Dark Matter(1)

Mike Robinson: Between the Interstice

Fellow Curiosity Quills novelist Mike Robinson (Skunk Ape Semester, The Green-Eyed Monster, The Prince of Earth, Negative Space) released a collection of short fiction entitled Too Much Dark Matter, Too Little Gray today. To help promote his work, I solicited a guest post from him to share on A Day Job and a Dream. By Yog-Sothoth, he delivered. Join me as we slip between the interstice.

Between the Interstice

On Lovecraft and Weird Fiction

“Back then, with the visions, most of the time I was convinced I’d lost it. There were other times, though, where I thought I was mainlining the secret truth to the universe.”

—Rust Cohle, True Detective

Behind the wide facade of Speculative Fiction twist the hedge-mazes of fantasy, brood the catacombs of horror and gaze the far-seeing floors of science fiction. Among them, between them, are the closets and crawlspaces of the niche, one of which — a relatively bigger one — is the place of Weird Fiction, a dark storage of many souvenirs from fantasy, horror and science fiction, though dusted with its own special charms.

The former subtitle for my new book, Too Much Dark Matter, Too Little Gray: A Collection of Weird Fiction was actually, “A Collection of Speculative Fiction”. As one prone to appreciate sprawling ambiguity, to resist specific categorization, it’s a little ironic that I wanted to specify further. But there was a reason for that, besides the stodginess of “speculative”, which has none of the zany, fluid charisma of “weird”.

Too Much Dark Matter, Too Little Gray

Too Much Dark Matter, Too Little Gray

While using “weird” may sound like a proud judgment, a literary outcast chest-thumping his identity as such, it’s more a direct homage to the tradition of Ambrose Bierce, Robert Chambers, H.P. Lovecraft and many others. Going further, it’s an accurate classification given my vision of Weird Fiction, a subgenre that, perhaps more consciously than other fields of speculative fiction, stirs together elements of the metaphysical, cosmological and horrific to grimly honor the Big Questions, remind us of our insurmountable ignorance, to pin down our squirming selves into our rightful position in the child’s seat, to whisper, maybe in some alien, mud-packed voice, that, hey, the world slippery and you won’t ever, ever catch it. The world, in short, is weird.

And past all the horror, the strangeness, that to me is a nourishing thought. Let me explain.

The moment I cemented my decision to not pursue an M.F.A (or any academic training) in writing is vivid. While enrolled at Otis College of Art & Design, I found in my mailbox a little perfect-bound literary booklet featuring work by the graduate students in fiction. I flipped it open to a random story. After wading cautiously into the second paragraph of a painful scrutiny of eyebrow-plucking, I was done. Other entries weren’t much better. Too many of them seemed concerned with stereotypical, high-literary minutia, unfortunately the focus and baffling preference of innumerable professors, awards, journals, and workshops (cough-Iowa-cough).

My first sale, the story The Hand of Spudd in Storyteller Magazine

My first sale, the story The Hand of Spudd in Storyteller Magazine


Personally, I have little interest in quaint journalistic accounts of Malaysian transvestite violinists at the turn of the century (yes, I made that up), or the endless slew of aptly-termed “McFiction” featuring some cocky narrator coming of age amongst his or her overfed, dysfunctional family. No, I prefer going head-on at the Big Questions, going at them, as George Carlin might say, with no less than a sledgehammer. Give me ballsy confrontations with Life, Death, the Cosmos, with Existence, with God.

In their noble attempts at social redemption and inclusion, many contemporary teachers of literature treat writings in the framework of their political significance. To me, though, such attempts seem nothing more than new forms of division. It is looking at the grains and forgetting the shore. Does the world really need a Marxist reading of Huckleberry Finn, complete with ten-dollar jargon? Academics are on the lookout for the “next best thing”, the new trend in analysis, the new prism through which to see literary works of yesterday and today. I say: what about our shared heritage? Our shared — and uncertain — future? Not as any one ethnicity, gender, party, or faction, but as an entire civilization. A species. A collective piece of this vast Universe.

Of course, much of this material is studied, and much of it is exhaustively considered and written about. Enter Weird Fiction!

As any fellow devotee will know, H.P. Lovecraft — arguably the most esteemed and influential practitioner of the genre — cleaned out the catacombs with his pen, defying tropes of ghosts and vampires and expanding imaginations with interconnected tales of ancient civilizations antedating our own, of towering alien-gods, of unseen dimensions and humanity’s sanity-shattering smallness in an inexplicable cosmos. All this made more impressive by the fact that he wrote in the 1920s, when so much of that stuff was barely on anyone’s speculative radar, including scientists’. His unknowns are truly Unknown, and will forever elude explanation.

Certainly Lovecraft’s work has failings, failings probably more surface-level than those of other lauded authors. He was well aware of his own wooden dialogue (hence, quotation marks are scarce in his pages) and his prose sometimes gushes into the purple. Nevertheless, his voice, with its richly archaic, darkly celebratory cadence, stands alone, and will survive as long as we’re unsure what lurks “out there”.

Me suited up, scoping “out there”

Me suited up, scoping “out there”

Sadly, Lovecraft, and especially his Cthulhu Mythos, have become somewhat franchised, relegated to corners of the market generally aimed at Dungeons and Dragons fans, horror enthusiasts, and nihilistic young adults sporting black fingernails and lipstick. It is a wide “cult following”, but nonetheless a cult following. Although some scholars have acknowledged his importance, many see him as a troublesome bridge from Poe to Stephen King. It is this identity that has, I’m sure, dissuaded many from giving him a serious go. “Lovecraft? Oh, no, I don’t like that horror stuff.”

But back up. Here we come back to the question of Weird Fiction itself, because I don’t necessarily consider the canon, or Lovecraft’s work, “horror”. Certainly there are horrific elements in his work, and his career does include several standard supernatural yarns. But in his treatment of cosmic mysteries, and the shadowed realms of prehistory, his is more a prying curious eye, forcing us to consider those Big Questions, to ponder notions of, and issues with, the likes of religion, biology, cosmology, archaeology, and psychology. He sets you on the outside looking in, a contrast to being in and looking further in to the point of navel-gazing. This exercise of outside-looking-in, one I believe most writers of fiction should undertake, helps in a kind of rounding out of thought.

No matter the genre in which one writes, I believe the best, most poignant stories have at least an undercurrent of this “larger awareness”, a perception conveying authority and wisdom. So many stories feel constricted by their own world, characters or concerns. Yet to read Lovecraft is to confront directly that raw Unknown that surrounds us, that is us. To get a healthy dose of perspective: a shambling, roaring, behemoth upswell of perspective.

I mentioned earlier that I think such a perspective can be ultimately nourishing. In an era of economic, cultural and political tumult, when millions of Davids the world over shout in fiery voice against the few far-reaching, corrupt Goliaths, there is morbid comfort in knowing that, despite whatever the megalomaniacal egos of sadistic leaders, immoral bankers, or bribe-pocketing politicians might make of themselves, there are impenetrable forces beyond all of them that will cast mocking eyes towards their suited-up, gold-rimmed delusions, if they even care to acknowledge them. Lovecraft, and the general tradition of Weird Fiction, reminds us just how little power the powerful actually wield. After all, Goliath was, what, ten feet tall? When the mountain-sized Cthulhu rises once more, those people will be nothing but scrambling ants — along with the rest of us.


Silent Clarion: Chapter One (Take 2)

I wasn’t happy with how my first attempt at beginning Silent Clarion, a Starbreaker prequel featuring Naomi Bradleigh. I decided to try it again using a perspective I don’t normally use: first-person. This is the result.

ruleI expected to find John asleep after I finished my shower. He just began his last year in residency at an Ohrmazd Medical Group hospital, and by necessity often dozed after pleasuring me. As an Adversary sworn to the Phoenix Society, I often encouraged him to sleep whenever possible. Tired people make mistakes, and in our lines of work mistakes might cost lives.

I was surprised therefore to find him stretched across the bed naked, and reading a medical journal. I sat on the edge of the bed beside him, and dragged my fingertip down his spine to make him shiver. I leaned over him and kissed his ear.

He rolled and smiled up at me. “What were you singing in there, Naomi? I caught something about a gypsy.”

“It’s an old art rock song called ‘Ocean Gypsy‘. I’ll put it on for you.” It was easy for me to do so, since I finally prevailed upon him to come to my flat after our date. He usually took me to well-appointed, exclusive hotels. The expense conspired with our respective responsibilities to make our nights together less frequent than I’d like, but I stuck with John because I enjoyed his company.

We listened together as I dried my hair. As I began to comb it, John took the comb and began working out the tangles for me. He was less patient than I am, but would stop and kiss my shoulder if he saw me bite my lip in the mirror to hold back a whimper.

When he was done, I pushed him down on his back and settled beside him, my arm draped over his chest. I rested my head on his shoulder and studied him. His face was angular, and his default expression pensive. “Did you have a hard surgery today?”

John shifted beneath me and pressed his thin lips against mine. Their softness always surprised me. “No. I had today and the next three days off because of the hours I worked over the last month.”

He kissed me again, his fingertips tracing random patterns on my skin, but it was too soon for him to take me again. At thirty, he didn’t have the rampant hunger of men my age. I never minded, though I daresay my foster mother had other things in mind when she taught me to value quality over quantity.

Our affair sparked a little scandal at its start; I am ten years his junior, and became an Adversary because the Phoenix Society financed my education. John came from one of the few rich aristocratic families to survive Nationfall. I suspect many of his circle thought me a fortune hunter, though only one dared say so to my face. Were I not an officer of the Phoenix Society, I would have rewarded his cousin’s insult by letting him choose the terms of our duel.

Instead of pressing John to talk, I found pleasure in his embrace. I tasted him, and his skin was salty from the sweat I provoked earlier. He sighed beneath me. “Do you love me, Naomi?”

Every man I ever dated eventually asked this question, unless remarking that I was the first woman in their experience to make them be the first to profess love. It’s a worrisome question. I enjoy John’s company. He’s intelligent, serious, and frequently witty. He does useful, meaningful work. I love his hands and mouth on me.

But he never swept me from my feet the way the culture tells us men are supposed to do with women. I met him in the course of my duties, and decided after fifteen minutes’ conversation that if he were willing, I would take him for a lover. I began our affair expecting it to run its course and end with me quoting Sinatra. ‘Thanks for the memories.’

I kissed his mouth. “I suppose we’re due for this conversation after almost a year together. Is that what’s keeping you awake?”

I meant the latter half in jest, but his expression hardened. “I’m serious, Naomi. I need to know how you feel about me.”

I countered his question with one that just occurred to me, given my history with his people. “Has your family started giving you grief about me again?”

John nodded, and shifted as if he meant to sit up. I stood, poured the last of the champagne, and gave him the glass containing more. He drained it, and sat staring into it for a long moment. “How much do you know about my family?”

I admit it: I used my implant, a Society-issued bit of tech that served primarily to keep tabs on me during the course of my duties using Witness Protocol, to search the network for publicly available information. I never cared about John’s family before, because I had no inclination to join it by marrying the man. “You come from the old British peerage, and your family survived Nationfall with its fortune mostly intact. Your father would have held a title of some sort under the old regime, and a seat in the House of Lords.”

John nodded. “Did you know this before we got involved?”

Sounds like his family did start up that fortune-hunter rubbish again. “No. Has that cousin of yours been slandering me again?”

“It’s not my arsehole cousin, Naomi.” John looked away for a moment, as if ashamed. “It’s the whole demon-ridden family. I’m the oldest son, and I’m under pressure.”

“So, you’re thinking about having children?”

“Yeah. And my family seems to have the mother picked out for me. I met her this morning.”

I put aside my glass and found a fresh pair of knickers and a fresh camisole to wear to bed. I always slept naked with John, because he loved having my nudity pressed against him, but I suspected I’d spend the night alone.

The discussion of children frequently follows on the heels of the love conversation. I was born with CPMD, congenital pseudofeline morphological disorder. Though I’m’ human, I possess some feline characteristics. My pupils are slit-shaped, instead of round. My ears are pointed, and covered in fur that blends with my hair. I have two extra pairs of nipples, and they are as sensitive as the ones capping my breasts. My fingernails grow into claws if I leave them untrimmed.

I have white skin and hair, with scarlet eyes, but I am no more albinistic than a white cat with blue, orange, or green eyes. I rather like the way I look, and because I have to live with myself my opinion is the only one that matters. I’m as tall as many men, and my training as an Adversary made me strong and agile. To John’s credit, he finds my atheticism erotic rather than unfeminine.

I hoped his acceptance would survive the conversation he forced upon us. “John, I know it’s outside your specialty, but have you ever heard of couples like us having children?”

He shook his head. “No.” He paused, as if to collect his thoughts. “Look, Naomi, I wanted to know how you felt about me so I could figure out how to explain this. I never brought up children before because I figured our age difference would make our relationship a temporary thing.”

“You figured I’d outgrow you?”

“I thought you’d get bored with me and meet somebody your age, but you stuck around. And I stuck with you. But I have responsibilities to my family. They need me to marry a young lady from a family with whom we frequently do business. It would unite our holdings and make our business ventures stronger, in addition to continuing our lines into the future.”

I closed my eyes for a moment, and strangled the urge to fly to John and beg him to defy his family for my sake. I never wanted a permanent relationship, but I had always been the one to end it. Welcome to how the other half lives, I suppose. “This isn’t how I wanted us to end, John.”

He smiled at me. “Who says it has to end?”

“You’re going to get married to somebody with whom you can have children, John. Of course we have to say goodbye.”

“No, we don’t. You could be my mistress.”

I suppose other women might have jumped at the opportunity to be kept in style by a man who loved them enough to willfully transgress the expectations of fidelity society places upon married people. I can’t condemn those women. The only sexual morality I accept is the necessity of informed consent. Despite this, the task of containing my indignation was beyond me. My voice took on the sharp edge I normally used on violent suspects. “Am I supposed to be flattered?”

“You’re angry with me.”

Did outrage cloud my judgment, or help to clear the fog of lust and affection that previously obscured my vision? I doubt I’ll ever know. “If that’s the extent of your intellect, John, I fear for your patients. I assume you haven’t been with her yet, so you’re plotting to cheat on a woman you don’t know and haven’t even touched yet.”

John must have found something intriguing on my floor, because he had stopped looking at me. “I spent the morning with her before I agreed to marry her. She wasn’t as good as you.”

“But she’s good enough to serve as breeding stock?” God forget John, but I wanted nothing more than just cause to run him through. I looked at my hand, and found I had drawn my sword without thinking. I used the tip to lift his chin. “Get dressed. Get the fuck out of my flat. If you ever speak to me again, I will find your wife-to-be and advise her to insist you always wear condoms with her, and leave the explanations to you.”

I wanted to shower again once John was gone. I wanted the torrent to carry away my tears and mask my sobs. I wanted to call my mother, the time be damned. I wanted to tell her everything that happened. I wanted her to tell me everything would be all right, that the next man would be better.

I showered. I sobbed. I did not call my mother. I changed the bedding, and spent the night curled around a pillow that still somehow smelled of John, and hated myself for clinging to that vestige of him.

Ryan Hill: The Book of Bart

Ryan Hill: The Book of Bart

I’m helping out Curiosity Quills newcomer Ryan Hill today by spreading the word about his debut, a YA paranormal entitled The Book of Bart. Here’s the cover; the book comes out on May 22, 2014.

Ryan Hill: The Book of Bart

Ryan Hill: The Book of Bart

Behold! The cover for Ryan Hill’s debut YA Paranormal novel THE BOOK OF BART, coming May 22 from Curiosity Quills!

Only one thing is so powerful, so dangerous that Heaven and Hell must work together to find it: the Shard of Gabriel.

With a mysterious Black Cloud of Death hot on the shard’s trail, a desperate Heaven enlists the help of Bart, a demon who knows more about the shard than almost anyone. Six years ago, he had it in his hands. If only he’d used it before his coup to overthrow the devil failed. Now, he’s been sprung from his eternal punishment to help Samantha, an angel in training, recover the shard before the Black Cloud of Death finds it.

If Bartholomew wants to succeed, he’ll have to fight the temptation to betray Samantha and the allure of the shard. After an existence full of evil, the only way Bart can get right with Hell is to be good.


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Generic Male Vs The Evil Genie by Alice Duke

Making Wishes is Risky

I don’t like spammers. I never have. I never will. I especially hate telemarketers, and take perverse pleasure in wasting their time. Email spam that gets past Gmail’s filters normally just gets reported and deleted, but every once in a while I’ll spam a spammer by asking them to make themselves useful and buy a copy of Without Bloodshed. I think I’ll do something different in this case. There’s a risk inherent in making wishes: they might be granted.

I got the following email from somebody named Oliver Price this morning:

Hi,I am inquiring about whether you may be interested in linking to our site from your page? are a completely free service, and make it simple for students to search for all the tutors within their local area. We are currently used by thousands of tutors and students daily and feel our service is helpful and may potentially be a useful resource for your site readers.Thank you very much for your consideration.Kind Regards,OliverOliver  Priceoliverprice@tutorhunt.

First, let’s talk about first impressions. This email is a mess. The text is jumbled together without any line breaks, as if it were bashed out on a phone in the subway with no consideration for the reader. Formatting aside, Mr. Price makes no effort to tell me why I should want to link to his site. I had to visit the site itself to determine it’s aimed at UK students preparing for their A-levels and GCSEs. Worst of all, he doesn’t offer to help me out in return by linking to my site, which isn’t cool.

I think I understand why Mr. Price sent it; he wants to improve his site’s SEO by getting links from other sites. However, he didn’t do his research before bothering me. He doesn’t understand that this is a novelist’s site, something people in the publishing business call an “author’s platform”. I have no reason to think that people visiting my site would care about finding tutors for A-level and GCSE test preparation when most of my viewers come from the United States.

So, I hope Oliver Price enjoys his links; the URLs are filtered via DoNotLink so that they don’t boost his site’s search engine rankings. Why? Simple: there’s something I despise almost as much as spammers, and that’s SEO wankers trying to game search engines. Feel free to tell me what an asshole I am in the comments, but that won’t be news to me. I was born a bastard, and worked hard to become the asshole I am today.

Image credit: “Generic Male Vs The Evil Genie by Alice Duke”