So, as I’m sure you know, because you have the date circled on your calendar and you’ve been counting off the days with little crossed-off X’s and you keep stroking the calendar and lovingly crooning “Sooooon” until your roommates get creeped out and ask you to stop –
Tomorrow’s the “Wayward Author Reading” featuring myself and Luna Lindsey. at Wayward Coffee House in Seattle at 8:00pm.
I’ve been doing these readings for years now — a surprising number of years, really, considering that I’m not a day over twenty-nine. (Shut up. Well, okay, would you believe I have the skin of a twenty-nine-year-old? In a garment bag in the back of my closet?)
The thing is, no matter how much experience I have doing this, I always get — well, not stage fright exactly, because it’s not like I’m afraid to get up in front of an audience, but just kind of . . . pre-show jitters. A faint internal monologue that goes something like:
OH GOD NO ONE’S GOING TO SHOW UP, THEY’RE NOT SHARING THE INVITES, THEY WON’T BRING THEIR FRIENDS, EVERYONE HATES ME, I SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN BORN, OH GOD WHY
. . . You know, like that.
It’s always hard to judge, even from RSVP’s, how many people are going to show up to any given event. Especially since this is Seattle. (Here’s a very Seattle sentence for you: I once had someone respond with “I will definitely try to be there!” Which sounds very positive and affirming without actually committing to anything whatsoever.) RSVP lists just give me a rough idea of how many people will be there — a certain percentage of people who said they’d definitely show up will inevitably space it, and a certain percentage of people who in fact planned to show up all along won’t actually think to say so ahead of time. It happens, you get used to it.
I’ve found, over time, that there’s a magic number in my head. So long as at least twenty-five people say they’re going to show up, then that’s great — I stop worrying. Don’t know why.
All I can say is, we did indeed reach that magic number of RSVP’s a few minutes ago, and now I can relax for the evening.
Dunno if Luna is going to relax, mind you. She’s never done this before at all. So, if you’re in the Seattle area, do come by and listen to us, won’t you? I absolutely promise that any permanent damage will be mostly psychological.
Time may be an illusion, but it’s a pretty persistent one:
“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually — from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint — it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly. . . timey-wimey. . . stuff.”
— The Tenth Doctor, Doctor Who, “Blink”
That’s as may be, but from my linear, subjective viewpoint, it’s been exactly five years ago today since one of the most significant events of my life.
Five years ago today, on 19 June 2007, the BBC’s official Doctor Who site announced the winners of a short story competition that I’d judged. The winning stories, all by first-time fiction writers, were later published by Big Finish as How the Doctor Changed My Life. [....] The book we produced is now sadly out of print — and commanding a small fortune second-hand. But I’m really proud of it, and the hard work the writers put into it.
– Simon Guerrier, How How the Doctor Changed My Life Changed My Life
I don’t really think it’s possible to overstate just how big an impact Doctor Who has had on my life. I’ve often described it as my favorite thing in the world. That might seem a bit — overenthusiastic for what is, after all, a science-fiction series for children. But to me, the show has always encompassed all the possibilities of fiction itself — it has a format that allows it to go anywhere, any time, and tell any kind of story. I love that it’s a story that, as Craig Ferguson so memorably phrased it, is about “the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism.” I love that it approaches life and the universe and humanity with a genuine sense of love and wonder, but also with a complete refusal to take anything too seriously, least of all itself. It’s huge and sprawling and ambitious and silly and it’s absolutely wonderful.
The first Doctor Who story I ever saw was actually not even a real, official episode — it was The Wrath of Eukor, a fan-made film starring the late, great Barbara Benedetti as the Doctor. So I knew from the beginning that Doctor Who was not just something you had to sit back and passively watch — it was something you could make yourself.
So make it I did, from fan fiction to costumes and props to full-sized TARDIS and console props. (Which my mother would like me to get the hell out of her garage someday.) When I saw the announcement about the Big Finish short story competition, I knew I absolutely had to enter it.
Many, many thanks are still due to my friends Ahna Blake and Ceci who not only talked me out of my nervousness and twisted my arm until I entered, but who were my beta readers for my story, “Relativity,” and helped make it as good as it could be. I should take them out to tea sometime soon to celebrate this anniversary.
To sum up, I think I said it best in the post I wrote after I got to meet Simon at a convention:
I’m glad I was able to thank him in person for having selected my story — to tell him that being able to officially write something for Doctor Who was a life-long dream, and to thank him for helping make it come true. No matter what else ever happens in my writing career, I will always treasure that little bit of immortality — getting to carve my initials on a story that started before I was born and will continue long after I’m gone.
Think about your day job for a moment. (I’m assuming you have one, but you probably do.) Whatever it is you do for a living, whether you’re a brain surgeon or a barista, I want you to imagine your boss walking up to you and saying, “Hey, listen, I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve decided I’m just not going to pay you anymore. This job is giving you good experience and exposure, I think it’ll be good for your career, so you should be willing to do it for free.”
I don’t know about you, but I’d be out the door so fast the sonic boom would knock his coffee cup right off his desk.
And yet, when it comes to writing (and in my experience, web design and graphic design, and I imagine this applies to all kinds of creative fields), there are a ton of people out there who will, in fact, just straight-up ask you to work for free.
Take a look at some of the market listings on The Horror Tree, which is a fantastic resource for horror writers. Half the markets listed on there — hell, more than half, it seems like — are for “Exposure Only.” Or a contributor’s copy. (I’ve seen a few where the contributor’s copy is a free download of a PDF version of the book. Gosh, thanks!)
As other artists have said — “People die of exposure.”
Why are writers willing to do this? I mean, I kind of get it — you want your name out there, you want people reading your work, but . . . if some other guy is going to be making money selling a book that has your story in it, and you’re not seeing a dime of that, then — isn’t he ripping you off? What’s the deal, here?
You can only sell your First North American Serial Rights to one of your stories once. That’s kinda the whole idea, there. If you really think your writing is solid, professional-quality stuff, then you deserve to get paid for it like a professional. And if you don’t think your writing is good enough to actually be selling it somewhere, then for Chrissakes, you don’t want “exposure” yet — get yourself back to your desk and keep working on your material until it is good enough.
Now, if you want to donate a story to an anthology whose proceeds are going to charity, then that’s one thing. Or if you want to give away your own fiction directly to readers, without going through some middleman, that’s something else, too. But if you’re willing to let someone else actually make a profit off of your hard work, then I think you’re being taken for a ride.
Well, not just horror, I have to say — the other reader joining me for this event, Luna Lindsey, will be bringing dark urban fantasy and a little science fiction to the table as well.
I know I’ve mentioned Luna before on this blog. Luna is a fellow Seattle writer, and I’ve known her for — let’s see, less than a year now, actually, but we have no idea how we haven’t met sooner. We have a ton of mutual friends who have been smacking their foreheads over the fact that they hadn’t thought to introduce us — I think everyone just assumed we already knew each other.
The owner of the Wayward Coffeehouse, showing a brazen disregard for the clear and present danger of the Montoure curse, has invited me back. Her theory is that the place should be safe so long as the reading doesn’t actually happen at Halloween. We shall see. I’d hate to see Wayward close down. Again.
Anyway! Enough doom and gloom — I don’t mean to scare you. At least, not until you get to the reading.
This will be Luna’s first live performance! If you’re in the Seattle area, and you can make it, please come out and see us, and bring your friends. Thanks!
Horror Reading: Michael Montoure and Luna Lindsey
June 29th, 2012 8:00pm-10:00pm
Wayward Coffeehouse, 6417 Roosevelt Way NE #104, Seattle WA
Just like my last post, this is a slightly belated response to sad news. I don’t seem to be able to write about these things immediately; I need a couple of days to process, sort it all out in my head, wrap words around it.
That was definitely the case this time. I had no idea how to react to the death of Ray Bradbury. How would a bird feel, I wondered, if you told him the sky was dead?
That was how large Bradbury loomed in my life, especially in my childhood; his imagination was the house whose crawlspaces and corridors I freely roamed as a child, never giving a thought to the builder, to the man who’d drawn the plans and raised the beams.
Even now, as an adult — or at least, as close to an adult as I’m ever likely to become — and after years of studying the art and science of carefully arranging words and dreams on a printed page, it’s still hard for me to grasp that so many perfect, iconic stories came simply from one man sitting at his rented typewriter. That these stories didn’t just simply exist, that they hadn’t just always existed.
I learned so much from these stories, about writing and about life. “The Veldt” taught me the subtleties of horror; “The Fog Horn” and “All Summer in a Day” taught me a melancholy beyond my years. My love for perfect endings was kindled by stories like “A Sound of Thunder”, and by “The October Game”, which has the best last line of any horror story ever.
He taught me that genre is just a game for other people to play, a game for booksellers and librarians, and that a writer shouldn’t try to keep his words in such neat little boxes. He freely mixed science fiction and fantasy and magical realism all from the same palette, and painted in colors no one had seen before, with a vibrancy never matched since.
He taught me, probably more than anyone else, to pay attention to the sound of my words, that measure and meter have as much place in prose as in poetry.
Bradbury is gone, but his long endless golden childhood where it is always summer, but sometimes Halloween, will go on forever, and we can always visit him there, run laughing down endless tree-lined Martian streets until we fall down breathless, sipping dandelion wine with him on his front porch in the last of the evening light.
I’ve spent the past few days reading the words other people have written about Bradbury’s passing, and I’d like to share a few of them with you:
Some authors I read and loved as a boy disappointed me as I aged. Bradbury never did. His horror stories remained as chilling, his dark fantasies as darkly fantastic, his science fiction (he never cared about the science, only about the people, which was why the stories worked so well) as much of an exploration of the sense of wonder, as they had when I was a child [ . . . ]
A Ray Bradbury story meant something on its own – it told you nothing about what the story would be about, but it told you about atmosphere, about language, about some sort of magic escaping into the world.
– A man who won’t forget Ray Bradbury, by Neil Gaiman
For many Americans, the news of Ray Bradbury’s death immediately brought to mind images from his work, imprinted in our minds, often from a young age.
His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world. But Ray also understood that our imaginations could be used as a tool for better understanding, a vehicle for change, and an expression of our most cherished values.
There is no doubt that Ray will continue to inspire many more generations with his writing, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.
Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories. One of the latter was called “A Sound of Thunder.” The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant’s footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty.
The Martian Chronicles is not a child’s book, but it is an excellent book to give to a child—or to give to the right child, which I flatter myself that I was—because it is a book that is full of awakening. Which means, simply, that when you read it, you can feel parts of your brain clicking on, becoming sensitized to the fact that something is happening here, in this book, with these words, even if you can’t actually communicate to anyone outside of your own head just what that something is. I certainly couldn’t have, in the sixth grade—I simply didn’t have the words. As I recall, I didn’t much try: I just sat there staring down at the final line of the book, with the Martians staring back at me, simply trying to process what I had just read.
– On the Passing of Ray Bradbury: “Meeting the Wizard”, by John Scalzi
Ray Bradbury was about all of life. The light and the dark of life; the tragic, the ironic; the cruelty of it, the beauty of it. Sometimes he merged those into one work: Fahrenheit 451 was a paean to the beauty and significance of books, of literature; it was also an observation of the dark side of human nature, the fascist lurking deep down inside us…
His prose had a liquidity, like blood running hot through a man’s veins. And blood pulses with life.
So we’ve lost him, he’s died—but if ever there was a writer who is still here with us afterward, it is Ray Bradbury.
– Me and you and Ray Bradbury, by John Shirley
Here in Seattle, a stray bullet killed a man in front of his children about a week ago. Someone else was shot in the right leg near the Space Needle. The next day, we had five drive-by shootings and a man was shot to death during an invasion of his home. Last Wednesday, another six people were shot to death and one was wounded at Cafe Racer, an artsy little coffeeshop. That brings us to twenty-one homicides in Seattle, so far this year. That’s more than were reported for all of 2011.
This doesn’t happen here. This happens in Chicago, or New York, or Detroit. We don’t know how to handle it here.
For my part, I was dealing with it with a kind of numb indifference. You can call it cynical and jaded, or you can more charitably assume I’m just trying to keep the big picture in mind, but: I try not to pay any special attention to horrors in the world just because they happen to be in my backyard.
About thirteen thousand people are murdered every year in the United States. Guns kill about nine thousand of them. Worldwide, gun-related deaths number anywhere from 150,000 to 300,000 annually, depending on who you ask. So why should I care about a shooting more just because it’s geographically close to me? Isn’t that narrow-minded and tribal of me? I mean, just because the shooting happened in Seattle, it’s not like it affects anyone I actually know, right?
But it did. The first thing that shocked me out of my complacency was this post on Twitter from my good friend and writing partner, Glynis Mitchell:
The second shock was learning that among the dead was Drew Keriakedes, who I’d seen perform as “Shmootzi the Clod” with Circus Contraption. I never met him directly, but I will always remember him. He was the perfect front-man for that wonderfully weird little troupe, both frightening and whimsical, welcoming and ominous, with his run-down clown look and his ragged and passionate singing voice that rivaled Tom Waits. Circus Contraption’s site describes him as a “sousaphonist, ukelelist, accordionist, banjo man, vocalist, [and] songwriter,” and I don’t know if that even begins to cover it. The Stranger’s blog has a post that can give you a better idea of what we’ve lost with this death than I can.
This did touch people I knew directly, after all. It’s as if the universe was conspiring to remind me not to be so cold, to pay attention to what’s going on in my community.
It isn’t, of course. That really doesn’t happen. Things don’t happen just to provide meaningful little lessons.
That only happens in stories.
I think often horror writing avoids happy endings because horror is more concerned with hope than with happily ever afters — but horror fiction has no interest in naive hope. Horror is grounded in human pain, in the open-eyed acknowledgment that life isn’t about happy endings. It’s about moments of bravery and love and hope wrested out of the jaws of violence, misery, loss, regret, and unfulfilled longing. [....]
There is a time and a place for happy endings. But just now — while large numbers of people in the First World can afford to ignore the suffering outside their windows — right now is not the time for happy endings. Right now we need what horror fiction can do for us.
That post just didn’t sit right with me. I had some objection to it, some criticism I couldn’t put a voice to, turning over and over in my mind.
I guess that to me, it seems overly simplistic and reductionist to say that just because there are bad things happening in the world, horror fiction has to be relentlessly grim and dark as well. I’m more inclined to agree with this quote from Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” :
Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.
I don’t think that horror writing has to have an unhappy ending in order to be honest. I don’t think it has to have a happy ending, either. The only thing I think that horror fiction has to do is to make us look openly and honestly at, well, horror. At the fact that dark and bad things happen.
But there are as many different ways to react to that darkness as there are people. And how our characters react will shape the ending of the story.
Like any other genre, horror stories don’t have to have a happy ending or an unhappy ending — they have to have the right ending. There are forces at work that shape the proper endings of stories, and we can tell when an author has tried to bend a story to have the ending he wants it to have rather than the ending that it demands. We can ignore those forces, but we shouldn’t. We’ve been telling stories for thousands, maybe millions of years, and we have the shapes of the gears and cogs that power their engines deep inside our subconscious. Let your story do what it wants.
Sometimes the right ending is the unhappy one. The one where hope is completely lost and everyone loses, because that’s what the story is about. Sometimes, the story needs a happy ending, it needs to have a final girl who will face the darkness and be touched and burned by it, but who will survive, and emerge again into the light.
Because good things happen, too. Denying horror the ability to have a happy ending would ignore that, and would fail to do the one thing good art always has to do — tell the truth.
After the shootings at Cafe Racer, a Reddit user commented:
I hope you got a chance to walk by Racer this evening. I only knew Drew and Joe though association of the amazing musical community here in Seattle, but I live right near Cafe Racer and have eaten and performed there on a number of occasions. I walked across the street to find an incredible sight. What seemed like hundreds of friends, musicians, mourners, neighbors, were all gathered together. They sang, they played, they cried, and they were all there for each other. The music was powerful. The emotion was real. This community was rocked by a devastating, senseless event, yet less than 11 hours later they were celebrating the lives and legacy the men from GFB left behind.
At one point in the evening, after much music with his accordion, Another GFB member shouted, “Without all this, we’d be fucked!” I looked to either side, and knew that he’s right. Without my friends, my bandmates, and the folks that surrounded us, I’d surely be lost. The power of music in this community is undeniably strong.
Here is a picture he posted, as well, of the memorial that had been left for those who died:
What he says is true of all art, not just music. Without it we’d be fucked, we’d never make these kinds of connections, never get to make sense of anything. In the real world, we never get endings at all, not in the sense that everything is tied up neatly and satisfyingly, no loose ends or unexplained mysteries. No proper endings. That’s why we have stories, I think.
In the real world, things just stop.