Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Having been tapped to do this meme by both James Cooper ( and Jonathan Oliver, I've decided to lead with it today, hoping it'll break me through that self-organizational wall I've been wrestling with. So:

What is the working title of your next book?

Experimental Film: A Novel. It's supposed to be my first full-length stand-alone, after finally finishing up the Hexslinger series, so that's its own very peculiar brand of performance anxiety, right there.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Much like my prospective main character, Lois Cairns, I was a film reviewer for eight years and taught Canadian film history for ten, which is an...interesting genre to try and get students excited about, especially Canadian ones. I basically had to cobble my own curriculum together from various sources, and was forced to think analytically about just why the Canadian system “works” the way it does, as well as why Canadians—English-speaking Canadians, in specific—seem drawn towards the types of films we produce. Short story short, a lot of it is about negative definition, ie wanting to distinguish ourselves from the States by making the exact opposite of what we perceive to be a “Hollywood”-type movie. Which may well be why one of the richest veins of Canadian film lies in the realm of explicitly non-narrative, incredibly artsy, experimental film.

But while this is a thematic itch I've wanted to scratch for almost forever, it's not exactly hook material. So let me hasten to add that there is a genuine plot at work, as well: After losing her job and falling into a depressive state, Lois accidentally stumbles across evidence that there may have been a hitherto-forgotten female filmmaker operating in Ontario around the same time as George Méiliès did in France, making similiarly fantastic-horrific films on highly flammable silver nitrate film. Naturally, she pursues this evidence, hoping to parlay it into a documentary and book that will establish her on the Canadian film history map. But what she discovers is that this woman was working out of her own obsessions, trying to create a film that would transfer one specific image she'd been literally haunted by all of her life into other people's heads...and as result, at least one of her films—the last, most effective, one, created just before she herself disappeared under mysterious circumstances—is something no one should ever watch.

What genre does your book fall under?

Oh, horror, natch. Always horror. It's probably closest in structure as well as content to “each thing I show you is a piece of my death”, the Shirley Jackson award-nominated novelette I co-wrote with my husband, Stephen J. Barringer, which makes it a cross between M.R. James and The Blair Witch Project. But because it's a book, what I want is a nested documentarian presentation that juxtaposes subject interviews with a pseudo-CanCon prosefic/True Crime overall narrative voice that you only gradually realize belongs to a completely different yet equally real person, the journalist Gregg Polley.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmmm, well: Going CanCon, I'd like to cast my old schoolmate Megan Follows as Lois, because we're almost the same age and I want to see her onscreen again. For Lois's much put-upon student turned intern Safie Hewsen, I'd like to cast an explicitly Canadian-Armenian actress, though an American-Armenian actress of the right age (25 or so) would also be okay; if I had to cross-cast, though, I'd tap Agam Darshi, because she also needs to work more. Gregg Polley would be David Hewlett, while Colm Feore would be perfect for the smallish yet important part of Dr Guilden Abbott, head of the Freihoeven Institute for Psychic Research, through whom another lynchpin character I'd like to cast out of French Canada would be discovered, a very old man who we only get to “know” through interview footage. Jonathon Young would be perfect for the self-obsessed experimental filmmaker/former National Film Board of Canada employee Wrobert Barney, in whose sample-heavy movies Lois first discovers traces of the work of our lost female filmmaker, while the filmmaker I'd have to break ranks and cast Alice Krige, just 'cause. But then again, she was in Guy Maddin's Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, which makes her an honorary Canadian.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The elevator pitch is: “Martin Scorsese's Hugo meets John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns”, but this obviously works better if you've seen either of those movies, so...(Shrugs)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It's due in September, 2013 to ChiZine Publications. If things go the way they have thus far, that means it may be out sometime in early 2014.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Again, if things go as they have thus far, I expect the first draft to be roughly on time, with edits done a month after that. This will hopefully be a shorter book than either of the Hexslinger sequels, given that it's a self-enclosed narrative.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

In a lot of ways, I think this is going to be my attempt to write something like Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, an outright creeper with a Jamesianly matter-of-fact antiquarian tone. But I also want it to have some of the impact of books by people like Kathe Koja (Skin) and Adam Nevill (The Ritual), which will be interesting to deal with, because I'm trying to write about the book's events from the outside-in rather than the inside-out. My CanCon prosefic models, OTOH, would be Lynn Crosbie, Michael Ondaatje, Susan Musgrave and Gwendolyn MacEwen biographer Rosemary Sullivan.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See above, but: The notion of a haunted film has always provoked and fascinated me, probably because creating fear through the visual image is one of the hardest things imaginable. I also always wanted to write something which was specifically “Canadian”, perverse and outrageous and self-mythologizing, my very own version of a Telefilm-funded project that'd never, ever make it past the first few assessment rounds. Then again, I always have to remember that one of my old teachers, Paul Donovan, once wrote a satirical novel eviscerating the Telefilm experience, then got Telefilm to fund him to make a movie out of it.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

Well, it's a lot less of a sausage-fest than the Hexslinger books were, so that might be a draw or a drawback, depending on what you like: Female main character(s), female monster(s), female mythology, female-driven story. In a way, it's a nightmare fantasia about female creativity with sidebars about being the mother of a special-needs child, as well as the info-dumps about Canadian film history. But then again, hopefully, it'll just make you really uncomfortable to be reading it alone.;)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Let's Get It Started

I need a world filled with wonder, with awe, with awful things. I couldn’t exist in a world devoid of marvels, even if the marvels are terrible marvels. Even if they frighten me to consider them.” 

Caitlin R. Kiernan.

This is a pretty good quote to frame most things, IMNSHO, but definitely to frame my most recent piece of news: I finally have an official deadline for the first draft of my new book, Experimental Film: A Novel. Said deadline is September, 2013, which is...crazy, frankly. Still, I needed a good ass-kick to get me over the threshold with this project, and that certainly qualifies.

Without giving much away, Experimental Film is a story that's about as far removed from the Hexslinger-'verse as is humanly possible. It exists as an outgrowth of my “Toronto Dark” world, the one many of my short stories are set in, contemporary and urban and stand-alone. On the one hand, there's an M.R. Jamesian ghost story/mystery whose roots date back to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of cinema; on the other, there's a character who's not quite me, other characters who aren't quite various figures from the Toronto experimental film scene, and a lot of the stuff about Canadian film history I used to inflict on my students. It's stuff I've touched on before, most recently in the 2010 Shirley Jackson Award-nominated novelette Steve and I wrote together (“each thing I show you is a piece of my death”), but since I've never had to spin it out for 80,000 to 100,000 words before, it's quite fairly terrifying to contemplate. But energizing.

In other news I should have been linking to this blog, I've been writing a bi-weekly column on...gee, let's call it “horror culture”, for The current one is “Softly Brutal: The Gialli of Pupi Avati”, but you should be able to link the the rest though this ( For those who are interested, I also now have a Tumblr, here (, which I mainly use to file odd-ass visual stuff I find inspiring. You'll see some mood-building stuff for Experimental Film up there already, and can expect to see more.

Okay, back to it.;)

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Leaving today, back on Sunday. Hope to see some of you there. If not, have fun.;)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Been A Long Time, Been A Lonely Lonely Time

Okay! So: A Tree of Bones has been officially out for over a month, prompting an interview in Rue Morgue and a good review in Publisher's Weekly, as well as two very nice reviews on Goodreads, though one seems impossible to find anymore. I'm also finally at the end of my short story/anthology-fill duties for this year, all of which have been accepted by their various venues. That's seven separate stories. I also did a fair amount of preliminary work on my next CZP book, Experimental Film: A Novel, and roughed out and/or began a few other projects, as well as writing nine poems (two of them placed thus far), three new instalments of Lackadaisy fanfic and five film columns for 

Next on the docket: “In Scarlet Town (Today)”, another post-Tree of Bones Hexslinger-'verse story, which will hopefully be packaged as an e-book along with “Like a Bowl of Fire”, which was originally supposed to be the supplement in the back of the Tree hardcover. I need to get it done by mid-July, which should be fun (since that's Readercon, essentially, which I go straight to from Polaris, the week before). And speaking of which, here's my schedule for both:

Fringe: There's More Than Two of Everything, Friday July 6, 7pm
Adults Should Read Adult Books, Friday July 6, 9pm
The Cabin in the Woods, Friday July 6, 10pm
Diana Wynne Jones: Her Works and Legacy, Saturday July 7 1pm
John Carter (of Mars), Saturday July 7, 5pm
Lost in the Middle Again, Sunday July 8, 4pm
The Cult of Cthulhu, Sunday July 8, 1pm
Reading: Sunday July 8, 2:30pm.

Thursday July 12
9:00 PM The Visual Generation. Gemma Files, Elizabeth Hand, Caitlín R. Kiernan, John Langan (leader), Lee Moyer. Last year's horror-related Readercon panels all brought in discussions of other media. Many of today's horror and dark fantasy writers were exposed to horror movies and television before ever picking up a horror novel. In a 2010 book review, horror critic Will Errickson wrote, "I can't imagine what it must have been like for authors such as Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, Sheridan LeFanu, et. al., to write horror fiction without having horror film as an influence." Yet despite these undeniable changes in the field, readers often disparage horror writing when they feel it tries too hard to be "cinematic," or when an author openly admits to being inspired by visual media. Is it time for us to get over this stigma and accept that horror literature and visual media are in an ongoing two-way conversation? Or are we in danger of diluting the craft and consigning the genre's past masters to obscurity unless they've been adapted to film?
Friday July 13
11:00 AM Group Reading: Mythic Poetry. Mary Agner, Mike Allen, Erik Amundsen, Leah Bobet, C.S.E. Cooney, Gemma Files, Gwynne Garfinkle, April Grant, Nicole Kornher-Stace, Shira Lipkin, Adrienne J. Odasso, Julia Rios, Darrell Schweitzer, Sonya Taaffe. Over the past decade, speculative poetry has increasingly turned toward the mythic in subject matter, with venues such as Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium, Stone Telling, Cabinet des Fées, Jabberwocky, and the now-defunct Journal of the Mythic Arts showcasing a new generation of poets who've redefined what this type of writing can do. Come to the reading and hear new and classic works from speculative poetry's trend-setters.
4:00 PM Wet Dreams and Nightmares. Samuel R. Delany, Gemma Files, Paula Guran (leader), Caitlín R. Kiernan, Sonya Taaffe. Writers such as Caitlín R. Kiernan, M. Christian, Cecilia Tan, and Paula Guran are well known in both speculative fiction and erotic fiction circles for creating what Kiernan calls "weird and transgressive" erotica. How does this subgenre use the tools and tropes of horror and dark fantasy to explore taboo aspects of sexuality and gender? How has it changed over the decades as sexual culture has evolved? And as the romance genre becomes more welcoming of both the erotic and the undead, how will weird erotica maintain its identity as something separate from paranormal porn?
Saturday July 14
11:00 AM Group Reading: ChiZine Press. Gemma Files, Nicholas Kaufmann, Nick Mamatas, Yves Meynard, Paul Tremblay. Authors published by ChiZine Press read from their works.
12:00 PM The Works of Caitlín R. Kiernan. Elizabeth Bear (leader), Gemma Files, John Langan, Sonya Taaffe. Since blazing onto the speculative fiction scene with the story "Persephone" in 1995 and the novel Silk in 1998, Caitlín R. Kiernan has consistently pushed the boundaries of the fantastic, often refusing to be classified and always delighting in transgression. Her work encompasses elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and erotica, to name just a few; she writes short and long fiction, comics and graphic novels, poetry, and song lyrics with equal facility. This panel will attempt an overview of her spectacularly diverse career.
3:00 PM Kaffleklatsch! (Newly added.)
7:30 PM Reading. Gemma Files. Gemma Files reads from A Tree of Bones: Volume 3 of the Hexslinger Series.
Sunday July 15
1:00 PM Autographs. Gemma Files, Jeff VanderMeer.
2:00 PM Queer/Were: Born This Way?. Samuel R. Delany, Gemma Files, Greer Gilman, Liz Gorinsky, Andrea Hairston, John Edward Lawson, Ruth Sternglantz (leader). In Marie de France's 12th century Anglo-Norman tale "Bisclavret," werewolf transformation can be read as a metaphor for homosexuality. In contemporary urban fantasy/paranormal fiction, the slippage between queerness and were-ness persists on several levels, even when the characters are nominally heterosexual. But what happens when a were isn't heterosexual? Ruth E. Sternglantz will look at how several authors of queer urban fantasy/paranormal construct the convergence of queer and were, and subsequent discussion will explore how authors of urban fantasy generally appropriate metaphors of queerness in the construction of their were characters.

So, yeah. Should be fun. And now, back to Hex City. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Music in A Tree Of Bones: The Longest Post EVAR

One day to Release, and I finally make it to the Inevitable Music Post...longer and crazier, as befits the longest, craziest book I've written thus far. It also breaks down into thematic sections, so here we go:

My go-to list of Get Off Your Ass And Start Writing tracks, ie the songs I was listening to while cobbling together Book One of A Tree of Bones, which is called "Rain-Of-Fire Weather", go here. They basically describe the way my characters are supposed to feel—the Rev, Morrow, Doc Asbury, the Hex City and Bewelcome contingents, etc.--now that they've been engaged in a grindingly dreadful, quotidian mutual struggle against impossible odds for upwards of four months.
First off, we have the original version of Alexisonfire's "The Northern" (, a song which has rightfully been described as perfect for either a Supernatural or Carnivale vid, though I also think it'd do really well the The Borgias. I love the call-and-response between fuzzy guitar vs. distinct guitar, between Dallas Greene's painful hallelujah-choir vocals and the more Cookie Monsterish interjections of George Pettit. (I recently learned that they describe their aesthetic as being "the sound of two Catholic high-school girls in mid-knife-fight", which makes sense). The acoustic version of this was Sheriff Love, but THIS means full-out war.

Next up is Puscifer's "The Mission (M is for Milla Mix")" (, featuring guest vocals by—oddly enough—Milla Jovovich. Listening to the lyrics, I'm fairly certain this was developed for the soundtrack of her remake of Ms. .45; it also reminds me of the weird pseudo-New York voices the English version of Baccano has its characters affect. One way or the other, the beat definitely works, as does the tone.

Then we go straight to Agnes Obel's "Riverside" (, which apparently featured on the—pilot?—of Revenge. I love the overlapping vocals on this one as well, all Agnes herself, like a lullabye for some drowning girl caught in a wilderness of mirrors. I like the overall regret and hopelessness of it, the sense of bad decisions made for stupid reasons, the idea that whatever you do now will probably be useless at best and utterly destructive at worst. Because I'm like that.;)

And here's a double shout-out to e.e. cummings and Michael Ondaatje, by way of darkest New Zealand: "The Proximity of Death (Blue-Eyed Boy)" (, by Jordan Reyne. Her album is called How The Dead Live, and this song obviously reminds me of Chess, who everybody thinks is dead right now--down in the depths, anyhow, stranded in the Underneath with Tezcatlipoca walking 'round wearing his skin, flirting with both Morrow and the Rev while rubbing it in that he is really not him, not in any way that counts-for one thing, Chess's eyes are green. (P.S.: I found it on by typing in "dark folk", much the same way I found a lovely dirge by the Belgian group Ghent called "Kissing The Anus of a Black Cat".)

Then there's "Heavy Rain" by Torqux & Twist (, which I tripped across because somebody used it to score the American release trailer for Detective Dee & the Phantom Flame. It just seemed to work, especially since one of the ways in which Hex City has been deforming the New Mexico ecosystem has been to make is continually rain on Bewelcome. Fighting in the mud ahoy!

Then it's down to Mictlan-Seven Dials, for some family-oriented fun with Chess and his redoubtable Ma, the late "English" Oona Pargeter. 
We begin with Tom McRae's “For the Restless” (, which contains the image that perfectly encapsulates Oona for me—no, not a train-wreck beauty queen, so much, as You raised me to be cruel, you raised me like a bruise/I'm bleeding still. Part of Chess's action in this book involves coming to terms with not just the damage Oona's done to him but the damage he, all unwitting, did to her; this is a good start.
 After which we switch to Larkin Grimm's “Blonde and Golden Johns” (, a weirdly catchy look inside a hooker with no heart of gold to speak of, just a change-purse vajayjay and legs like scissors and butcher's knives, to quote Nick Cave...Oona as she ended up, as we left her, to be sure. But not as we find her.

Scarlet Town”, by Gillian Welch (, is about disappointment of a truly epic brand. Equally epic, meanwhile, is Sarah Jarosz's murder ballad-esque version of Edgar Allan Poe's “Annabelle Lee” (, which hints at great loves overturned and horrifying prices paid.
 But then there's the ultimate Christmas carol-turned-lullabye for a mother who spent most of her time wanting to shake her screaming, ginger, penis-gifted baby 'til something far more rewarding popped out: “Judas (Was a Red-Headed Man)”, by June Tabor & Oyster Band (couldn't find a video). This is no fairytale, for all its trappings—in a lot of ways, Oona got the son she well-deserved. But in a lot of other ways, they both deserved better.

At this point, we get into songs for one of my all-time favourite bastards, “Reverend” Asher E. Rook. All these songs are about pain, to one degree or another. They're about yearning for forgiveness, from someone specific, from God Himself. From anybody. And knowing you don't even vaguely deserve it.

“Devil with the Green Eyes”, Matthew Sweet (

The devil with the green eyes

Said you were never meant to be mine.

'Cause I came up from a dark world

And every love I've ever known,

Every love I've ever known

Every love I've ever known,
Is dead.

Black Heart”, Calexico (
One man’s close pursuit is another man’s 

Last chance, make it through the divide. 

Last chance, suffer the weight or get buried by this 

Black heart, sweeping over the land,

Black heart, crawling its way 

To the four corners of the world.

Bartholomew”, The Silent Comedy (
Ate the bread that once was stone,

Fell from a cliff, never broke a bone,
Bowed down to get the kings overthrown,
And I'm all alone, and the fire grows,

And I'm all alone, and the fire grows.

The Other Side”, David Gray (

Honey, now if I'm honest,

I still don't know what love is.

Breathless”, Dan Wilson (

Your voice is echoing again

Through catacombs inside my mind
And I've been dreaming of revenge—
To make you love me more than even you can try.

“Poison & Wine”, the Civil Wars (

Your hands can heal, your hands can bruise,
I don't have a choice but I still choose you.

Oh, I don't love you, but I always will.

“Draw Your Swords”, Angus and Julia Stone (
So come on, Love, draw your swords,

Shoot me to the ground.

You are mine, and I am yours—
Let's not fuck around.

Then a few songs that remind me of that dread item Lady Rainbow herself, the Suicide Moon, Queen Rope, She of the Traps and Snares...Ixchel-tzin, hex-ghost-goddess founder of Hex City and initiator of its bright new future, if only so as to use and discard it in the service of resurrecting a far older, far darker world.

First up is “What the Water Gave Me”, by Florence + the Machine (, about a “cruel mistress” with whom “a bargain must be made” requiring self-drowning, pockets full of stones, a sacrifice as certain as the one that initially spawned her. Like Candyman himself, Ixchel seems to have made the most of her original victimization, becoming literally larger than life (and death): Unforgettable, inescapable, the flood that sucks you down and transforms you into something cold, wet, Mictlan-Xibalba-bound. This is a definite aural expression of that sentiment.

Then again, she can also blow past like a storm, enveloping everything around her in terrible, epiphany-spawning darkness. Thus my use of “Dark Storm” by the Jezabels ( and the Scanners' “Salvation” (, which get this point across admirably—the frenzy that will sweep up even a man as firmly-rooted as Reverend Rook and whirl him headlong, 'til his groin pops and his brain leaks out his ears. I’ve been waiting for the dark to come,/My temptation and salvation/I’ve been waiting for the tide to turn...Dark eyes become divine/I need the love I crave/Your hands they burn like mine/I’ll take you to my grave.

As I think I probably indicated in my review earlier this year, there was basically only one good thing in the film Red Riding Hood, and it was a doozy: The use, in a truly freaky drunken Mediaeval “hey-we-killed-a-werewolf! (but not really)” village festival, of Fever Ray's song “The Wolf” ( It begins with what sounds like one of those Swiss alphorns blowing so low you can hear it mountains away, followed by a frenzy of ullulation and a possessed-sounding vocal eking out prophetic poetry: We took you out/From your mother’s womb/Our temple,/Your tomb/Can be your pick/Not pawned/The poison/Is blood. (Owwwwoooooooo!) Suitable for all Hex City-based rituals and revels, with Ixchel slouching on her overseer's throne, accepting—nay, demanding—constant tribute, in that same flowery substance.

And finally, we conclude with the track “Brotsjor” by Olafur Arnalds (, which I first heard on So You Think You Can Dance U.S. as the backing for a pas-de-deux between a thirst-tortured desert straggler and the sexy vulture who wanted to eat him once he died. “Sexy vulture” sounds to me like a costume Ixchel would be entirely in favour of, so there you go.;)

The rest of my playlist is divided neatly into the two halves of my central sort-of-OT3: Yancey Kloves/Ed Morrow vs. Chess Pargeter. As we all know, this is more a couple and their friend-with-benefits, a vector in which big, solid Ed forms the overtly sexual midpoint between Chess and Yancey, who can never be more to each other than platonic compadres—and even that's a bit dicey, since Chess is outright queer and Ed is a straight guy with one exception, so neither of them thinks that what they've had together in terms of physical intimacy is workable in any sort of longstanding way, not least because they're both "in love" with other people. But there's a certain emotional intimacy that all three characters share, by this point, which I've taken great pride in building.

Morrow and Yancey:

“Run”, Daughter (

When I powder my nose

He will powder his gun,

And if I try to get close
He is already gone.

Don't know what we're doing,

Don't know what we've done,

But the fire is coming

So I think we should run.

“Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)”, Tim O'Brien (

Señor, señor, can you tell me where we're headin'?

Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?

Seems like I been down this way before.
Is there any truth in that, senor?

“Like A Mountain”, Timber Timbre (

Oh, the mountain-top 

Oh, the visions stop

And I will reap the locust crop,
'cause I love you like a mountain.

Oh, the mountain-top 

Oh, the bleeding's stopped

And down goes the hatchet on the chopping block,
'cause I love you like a mountain.

“Supernaturally”, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (

Once I was your heart's desire—
Now I am the ape hunkered by the fire

With my knuckles dragging through the mire.

You float by, so majestically.

You're my north, my south, my east, my west—
You are the girl that I love best.

With an army of tanks bursting from your chest.
I wave my little white flag at thee.

“Ain't No Sunshine”, Wovenhand (

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone,

Only darkness everyday...
Ain't no sunshine when she's gone

And this house just ain't no home,
Anytime she goes away.

“Sleeper in the Valley”, Laura Veirs (

So soon, so soon,

And the crows, they swoon
At the two red holes
In his right side, oh.


The Day”, Murder By Death (

It's the shifting of the guard,

Time to start anew
The old gods have all failed,

And their successors too.

My king, my king

Will wipe the slate clean,

Houses become tombs;

My king, my king

Will take the fruit 
of every single womb

And make it his own.

“Queer Eyed Boy”, Rumspringa (

Mama, why's the sky so red?

Well, folks'll say there goes that queer-eyed boy,

Always pointin' at the stars.

“Davy Brown”, Ben Nichols (

Don’t believe in Hell

But he figures somehow,

Even if it’s real,
It’s gonna spit him back out.

The Good Hand”, Wovenhand (

I am nothing without

his ghost within...

I am, I am my father's son.

See the good hand,

see what the good hand done.

Eye For An Eye”, UNKLE (

...a tooth for a tooth.

Run, run, run, but you just can't hide.

(Have you passed through this night?)

“Who Do You Love?” George Thoroughgood & The Destroyers (

Got a tombstone hand and a graveyard mind, 

I'm just twenty-two and I don't mind dying.

Who do you love?

Rum Brave,” Murder by Death (

When we meet, you will see
I will destroy everything of beauty.

When we meet, then you'll know...

I'll be the axe that clears the forest.
We were left alone, left alone,

Every king on his lonely throne.

We were left alone, left alone,

Every king on his lonely throne.


Enjoy the carnage, everybody. Tomorrow's the day.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fanfiction And (Not Vs.) The Hexslinger Series

Four days to go! So here's a new essay on a complex topic, one which hopefully won't draw too many trolls. I guess we'll see.

A new piece from Alyssa Rosenberg, here (, got me thinking about the role of fanfiction in the Hexslinger Series' development. Or actually, more accurately, it was the juxtaposition of this article—just one more in roughly a million ruminations on the potential impact of 50 Shades of Grey and its success—and the fact that while I was searching under the tag-term “hexslinger” on Tumblr, I cam across this (

In case you're wondering (or are too chicken to click), it's a screen-grab from the “Making Of” feature on James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma remake which highlights the part of Charlie Prince (Ben Foster)'s outfit you almost never get to see, ie the lavender shirt, royal purple brocaded waistcoat, purple, gold and lavender-patterned neckerchief, plus a nice watch and chain—probably the one he took from that dead Pinkerton after the stagecoach robbery—and some sort of double-strand necklace of silver and little jet beads that sort of looks like somebody's stolen rosary put to bad usage. Underneath it, the poster ( has written: “CHEEESSSS PAAARRRRGETERRRR.”

Which is hilarious on the face of it, and beautifully apt, and generally makes my heart soar with squee, just like the couple or so times I've run across Hexslinger series fan-art, or every time I Google my name and get somebody raving about how much they like the story/Chess in particular. That frilly little sociopath really seems to have connected with a lot of people, which makes me vey happy indeed. But it does open up an interesting line of inquiry, one which never really goes away.

When A Book of Tongues was first going to press, I had to make a quick tactical decision about whether or not I would publicly “own up” to A) having written fanfiction in the past, B) still writing it now and then and C) the fact that if I'd never become obsessed enough with 3:10 to Yuma to write fanfiction for it, the Hexslinger Series probably wouldn't exist. In fact, it goes even deeper than that, because when I first started work on the novel, I was integrating a bunch of magic-system notes I'd previously made for a series which would have taken place in 1870s New York, a la my then-obsession du jour, Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. So there would always have been a fanfiction-based influence on the series no matter what, because frankly, that's the way my magpie mind tends to operate: I find something I like, I fixate on it, figure out what the draw is, boil it down for parts and start over, effing with it until it's hopefully not that thing anymore, not really.

So the decision was easy, in a way. As I told Torontoist, in one of my first interviews on A Book...: “I’ve never made any attempt to conceal that the originating template for Chess Pargeter was definitely Ben Foster’s performance as Charlie Prince, Ben Wade (Russell Crowe)’s ambiguously gay sidekick. But as I went further, Chess started to change, along with the narrative—I mean, just making him aware of his own motivations makes him very much not Charlie…”

In other words, I've never seen much point in lying about this process, not least because I've always been quote-quote “stupid” enough to post my fanfiction under my own name rather than making up a pseud, like everybody else and their sister. I mean, the most rudimentary Internet search turns up an archive a friend constructed for me as...third on the list, I think. As secrets go, it's not exactly a closed one, though since my interests tend to be pretty non-mainstream—I think the most juggernaut fandom I've ever written for was X-Men: The Movie, and that was only twice—I tend to get a flattering mixture of small yet extremely positive response. In retrospect, I've been told that I was apparently a “BNF” of HBO's OZ fandom, for example, and while I don't quite remember it the same way, I certainly had a hell of a lot of fun while I was in it.

Possibly, it's the fact that I was already a published author—making my living from nonfiction, placing short fiction in various venues, seeing my stories adapted for TV by Telescene's The Hunger—when I first started posting fanfiction and interacting with Internet fandom which keeps me from completely coming down on either part of the amateur/professional divide that you constantly observe at work in articles like Rosenberg's. The notion that fanfiction is a phase you outgrown or a place to practice your craft until you're ready to “graduate” to the heady heights of paying work is one which some people believe devoutly, while other people find it reductionist and insulting. Why should somebody like Joss Whedon be more respected than I am, they ask, just because he played with the Powers That Be's toys under contract, in their sandbox, and made the exploitative hegemony which keeps information unfree $200 million dollars over a single weekend doing it? Aren't I doing exactly the same thing, in far less tethered ways, and then making the result available to anybody with an Internet connection?

And then there are the authors who believe that fanfiction is injuring them somehow—either personally, by violating the characters and worlds they consider their “children” (ick), or simply by devaluing their brand and/or opening them up to potential legal action. (Which works both ways, of course; fanartists everywhere still live in vague fear of a Cease and Desist order from any given iteration of “...the TV show I cannot name, for fear of legal action...”, as the writer-director of William Shatner Leant Me His Hairpiece puts it, and rightly so; copyright can be a harsh mistress, at least in theory. Though there are plenty of acafen and fen with genuine legal experience around who can spend literal hours demonstrating the many ways in which “transformative work” not only hearkens back to a long line of historical precedents—Shakespeare, mythology, satire, homage, etc., from The Wind Done Gone to March—but also falls into cracks which make it remarkably difficult to do anything about, even when money actually does start changing hands.)

My position is personal rather than philosophical, however; I don't believe moral force automatically rests with either side, generators or samplers, not least because the balance of who exactly qualifies as what tends to shift back and forth so erratically. We're all creators, after all. But I also grew up in a freelance culture (both my parents are actors whose ability to make a living “from their art” has ebbed and flowed with the currents of two extremely volatile forty-year periods), so the idea that wanting to get paid for what you produce makes you some sort of whore for The Man is one I will never be exactly down with. There has to be some way to reduce the polarization effect, if only so we can go five minutes without somehow damaging each other's ego-integrity.

What I do know is that without fanfiction as an outlet, a form of writing I didn't feel I needed to monetarize, I wouldn't have been able to explore some of the currents which lead me, eventually, to where I am now. I wouldn't have eventually become familiar and comfortable with the idea of writing a long-form narrative in chunks, of not constantly checking and re-tooling things until they were “perfect”, of simple having the confidence to write End Chapter Whatever/Begin Chapter Next, and move the eff on. So my involvement in fanfiction was utterly integral to my process, in terms of bringing the Hexslinger Series to birth—and in a lot of ways, it remains integral to my process: Obsession, inspiration, alchemical combination, numbers-filing, brave new content, ta dah! Something fresh, something alive. Something “mine”.

And as should probably go without saying, I look totally forward to the day I trip across evidence of someone playing in my sandbox, for a change. I may not be able to acknowledge it directly, but that's what Creative Commons is for, man—it's flattery, not damage. It means, essentially, that somebody fell in love—however indirectly—with “me”. How can that ever be bad?   

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Meme of Alphabet, Conclusion

Damn you, Avengers! You were so good, you totally made me forget to post this.;)

Part Thirteen, And Last:

Y is for—Yu Ming-ch'in

Aka, the hex formerly known as Songbird, who I frankly made up as a bit of a human plot twist, the way you do—she appears early on in A Book of Tongues to basically perform three functions: Confirm the parasitical nature of most hex-on-hex interaction, deliver exposition along with a particular item and be creepy, with a side-order of demonstrating just how effed up someone else raised in the same whorish San Francisco subculture as Chess Pargeter was could be. I made her Chinese because of the San Francisco connection, made her an albino because I was thinking of Bridget Lin Chin-hsia in The Bride With White Hair, and made her twelve-or-thirteen because I liked the idea of this tiny little girl who happens to have been raised in a tradition that makes her far more knowledgable about hexation than the Rev is topping a guy the size of Clancy Brown. And since I thought I wasn't going ever to see her again, I convinced myself that that meant the fact that she conforms to a bunch of Wily Oriental stereotypes wasn't quite as gross as it might be...but even then, I think I also knew I was fooling myself.

One way or the other, by the end of A Book I'd realized that Songbird was far too useful and snarky a character to dispose of that quickly, and by the beginning of A Rope of Thorns, she'd even grown an actual name (though again, if I had a dollar for every time I had to cross-check whether her family patronymic was Yu or Wu, I'd have at least enough for dinner and a movie). We discovered that she both reveres and resents her upbringing, that she thinks of herself as a thousand years of breeding made flesh, a general who is also a slave—that while she doesn't exactly like having been sent to America to manage a whorehouse (and potentially whore herself out as well, on top of it), she just doesn't see any other paths to take. So her partnership with Pinkerton, while mainly entered into to avoid the prospect of being fished in and devoured by Ixchel, is a sort of liberation for her; like Chess, she's young—very young, and triply disadvantaged in her gender, her race and her albinism. And for all her power, she does like being taken care of.

In A Tree of Bones, meanwhile, we rejoin with Songbird at her lowest possible ebb, the point at which most characters start to change in interesting ways; she's been forcibly de-powered by a well-meaning Doc Asbury, captured by a coalition of long-nosed barbarians and American savages, and wakes up every day stranded in the middle of a desert, a bad place to be if you're equally melanin- and friends-poor. In order to survive and prosper, she has to discard some of her assumptions, her hereditary Chauvinism very much included, and form new alliances...indeed, much like Chess in A Rope, what her journey's all about is basically having to grow up, which in her case is about becoming a fully-realized human being, as well as a hex. It was a joy to write, really.

Z is for—Zoroastrianism.

This is something I strive to avoid in narrative generally, because a system in which absolute Good always struggles with absolute Evil frankly bores me silly. It's particularly pernicious when you're writing horror as opposed to fantasy, because a certain moral weight tends to creep in—ie, one set of values is identified with Good/Right and thus another set of values is identified with Evil/Wrong. Given my propensity to write about people who are antiheroes at best, I much prefer the Mexica idea that certain values are simply inherent in the system, and cannot be “gotten rid of” in any permanent way. Or, indeed, the Diné concept of Balance being the most important thing to maintain, especially as the tides of natural and supernatural energy eddy back and forth.

All of which is, I suppose, just to say this: If you're expecting A Tree of Bones to end with a bang, you're half-right. If you're expecting it to end for good, however...not so much. Nothing ever ends.

It's been a fun ride, though, and it's definitely over. For now.