Hard Weird

I think I’ve come up with a new way to describe what genre it is that I work in.

Hard Weird. 

I think that’s an evocative phrase, and I hope it’s fairly self-explanatory. SF/F fans are familiar with the phrase “Hard SF” and even “Hard Fantasy”, and they should have at least a passing acquaintance with the concept of “Weird Fiction”.

Put them together and you get “Hard Weird”. I have expressed before my admiration for the photorealistic surrealism of Rene Magritte and M C Escher. They did Hard Weird in graphic art, I try to do it in fiction.

To define the genre in more specific terms, I’m going to say the Hard Weird is fiction in which the Fantastic elements are not explained or apologized for, but simply *are*. The stories are told in a prosaic, down to Earth style, without hysteria or hyperbole.

Ordinary people, living ordinary lives, just happen to take an odd turning and are suddenly face to face with a dragon.

These things happen.

Hard Weird should be very solidly grounded in reality in the sense that the Surreal is beyond reality, not in contradiction of it. If Mr. Jones meets a dragon in an alley, it should be a very realistic alley, and Mr. Jones should have a perfectly ordinary reason for being there.

And the Fantastic should not be unrealistic–the dragon should be a perfectly ordinary dragon, as dragons go. By which I mean that one should finish a Hard Weird tale not with the feeling that the story was Fantastic for featuring a dragon, but that reality is somehow amiss for its lack of them.

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Fears of a Clown Anthologies Released

Two interesting collections, one of which I have a story in.


Happy Friday the 13th.

Both volumes of my Fears of a Clown anthology project are now available from major retailers in paperback and eBook.

While actual coulrophobia is rare, many people find clowns scary rather than amusing; and modern media fans that fear. But, what if—instead of being serial killers and Scooby-Doo villains—they were victims and heroes, facing the darkness that lurks both at the edges of reality and in the heart of normal life. What might scare clowns and how might they react?

In these two anthologies, a total of twenty-eight new and established authors give their answer to the question. None of my stories appear, but I picked each of the ones that do.

Front cover art for 'Deadman Humour: Thirteen Fears of a Clown'Deadman Humour

Thirteen Fears of a Clown

In a world of shadows, joyful colours are an act of heroism.
Modern tales are filled with clowns who invoke fear not laughter: painted grins covering fanged…

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Welcome to Dracoheim. Please drive carefully.

The spectacularly talented ArtAnon Studios has produced a map of the Dracoheim Metropolitan Area that will be included in my upcoming Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts.

I’d love to be able to link to ArtAnon Studios webpage, but I don’t have such a link right now. They are, well, anonymous. Very mysterious, in fact. I can’t confirm that they are the secret force behind a shadowy conspiracy to overcome the art world, but I can’t deny it either.

In any event, I am very happy with this map because I think it captures the feel of the stories in the book–LA Confidential with dragons, as it were.

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Fantasy Can Be Murder…

Coming soon from Lagrange Books.

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Smash The Mirror

Describing a character is just about the worst way to introduce a character to me.

Sadly, it’s also one of the most common.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but when a story opens up by focusing on a character–not just her or his appearance, but the character as a whole–I tend not to be interested in that character. Maybe it’s just my innate perversity as a reader, a deep-seated unwillingness to feel what someone obviously wants me to feel.

I think it’s more than that, though. I think that if an author wants to generate sympathy for a character, the focus should be on what the character is perceiving, not how some outside observer would perceive the character.

Sympathy, after all means “feeling with”. And people tend to be focused outward. Moments of introspection are uncommon, and they also tend to be intimate moments. (Which is why the trick of opening a story with a situation where the character would be introspective–preparing for a first date or a job interview, for example, tend to feel contrived and manipulative.)

So how does one introduce me to someone without showing me the person?

By showing me the world through the character’s eyes.

That’s what Point Of View is all about, and I think that Stylistic Point Of View (Style Of View?) is one of the most misunderstood and underused skills in a fiction writer’s toolbox.

People don’t see the world in the same way, and to a large extent, no two people live in exactly the same world. How you describe a scene can inform the reader who is seeing that scene–even when no overt mention is made of the character at all.

Let me give you some examples. I am going to describe the same place–a truck stop off the highway in Southeastern Missouri–three different ways.

Example A: 

Sometime about a half-century ago somebody had seeded the asphalt with Sinclair dinosaur bones and a crop of fuel pumps had sprung up in orderly rows, the haughty diesel pumps looking down across the rubber stained expanse at their smaller gasoline cousins. In between the two fields of pumps–this year’s crop featuring swipe card readers and LED screens–was the farmhouse of the convenience store that provided everything a 21st Century nomad might require, from rotisserie charred hot dogs to mobile wi-fi hotspots.

Now, I haven’t introduced a main character–or any character–yet, but I have introduced a specific voice. A bit detached, a bit ironic. The reader is prepared to meet someone with a whimsical viewpoint, who doesn’t take things too seriously, and who is prone to flights of fancy.

Example B: 

At mile marker 208 in the westbound lane of Interstate 44 a decreasing radius exit ramp led up to a Triple T truck stop. The approach to the station split just after MODoT maintenance ended. One lane for passenger vehicles, a wider and more shallowly graded lane for commercial trucks. Behind the station a two lane asphalted road meandered off in the direction of the state highway. The store itself sat behind a row of concrete bollards designed to protect the plate glass frontage from big rigs making overwide turns. The awnings over both the gasoline and diesel pumps was studded with the black plastic domes of surveillance cameras.

Same place, completely different world. Once again, without telling you who the story is about I have given the reader a taste of how that character sees the world. This is a far more serious voice. The reader is going to expect someone with a military or law enforcement background, who checks out possible exits and firing positions just by reflex.

Example C: 

The chaos of the big divided road didn’t stop at the glass building up on the hillside, it just slowed down. The big vehicles and the really big vehicles pulled off and parked and then just as suddenly started up and roared off back to the big road. The air smelled like machines and the liquid the machines drank and underneath that were the odors of food–food cooking, food sitting under bright lights, food spoiled and thrown away. People walked back and forth between the vehicles and the glass building, someone never quite being hit by a hurtling machine and squashed flat.

Now we are seeing the same place from a completely different viewpoint. This is a Style Of View who is unfamiliar with the concept of a truck stop, or highways, or even cars. With that opening paragraph the reader is going to expect a main character who is an alien or an elf or something along those lines. A modern reader will recognize the place, but also understand that it’s being described as it would be seen by someone to whom it is strange.

Now, these examples are just jotted down off the top of my head, over my first cup of coffee on a Saturday morning, but I hope they will serve to get the idea across.

If the viewpoint is well presented than it becomes unnecessary to describe the character. Specific details can be revealed when the story calls for them, but who the story is about can be conveyed in quite a bit of detail by how the story is told.

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The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: a Fantasy Anthology Coming in September!

Another project coming out.

Building Worlds

I’ve been sadly quiet since May, mostly because I’ve been trying to juggle several different projects. First off, the long-running “Politics for Worldbuilders” project is finally being compiled into a book series; the first volume is nearing completion. Second, Lagrange Books is getting ready to publish our first single-author book, by fantastic author Misha Burnett. More news on that soon…

But it’s the third project, which was actually the first project, that I want to tell you about.

Back in May, I was spamming everyone with the Kickstarter project for The Wand that Rocks the Cradle, our fantasy anthology on magical families. Since we met our funding goal, I’ve been working hard to finish the editing, coordinate with our cover designer (the talented Melody Knighton), and produce the actual book. And now, behold:

We are now taking pre-orders on Amazon for the Kindle edition, with a special pre-release price…

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August is always a time for introspection for me, due to the whole birthday thing.

So I have been taking stock of where I am, where I’ve come from, and where I am going.

No real conclusions, as yet, except that I think I am mostly satisfied with my progress as a writer this year. I’ve talked about that some in my monthly status updates. To sum up, I set myself too ambitious a pace, but I learned a lot about how I work, what a more reasonable goal would be, and the sort of work that comes easy to me.

I have a project in the works that I am very excited about, and a couple of others on the horizon. Managing workflow is of primary importance to a freelance career in the arts. If I had a piece of advice to give new writers it would be to forget the MFA, get a degree in Project Management.

I recently gave an interview on The Horror Tree where I talk about my thoughts on writing in general and Horror in particular. As part of my looking back I found an interview I did for the Sins Of The Past anthology back in August of 2015, and I found it interesting how consistent my perspective has been over the years.

I also ran across an essay from August 0f 2013 that I particularly like, and a poem from August of 2012 that I think stands up to the test of time.

I’m still not sure what I am doing, but I do seem to be doing it consistently.

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