A Close Call, Boskone, Samhain, and The VVitch

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A Close Call, Boskone, Samhain, and The VVitch

My day job as an academic librarian provides plenty of access to resources in the humanities and sciences. I come from more of an arts and literature background than a scientific one, which I often lament because so many of the speculative fiction writers I admire (H.G. Wells, Caitlín R. Kiernan) apply their knowledge of the sciences to their work, and to great effect.

I see the sciences as a form of alchemy, an application of precepts and formulae that can, if used properly and carefully (no accidental explosions), enrich imaginative literature. I apply my background in library science towards cataloging, preservation, and providing public access. There are templates to work from, and I like having such standards to help guide me on my way.

I also often write a librarian into my stories at least as a secondary character. For example, Meredith Magnuson, the former child slave-turned general in Terror Lizard, holds eons of the world’s archives through a device grafted into her right hand.

There is, of course, no formula for success in writing and publishing. Full disclosure = I’ve been writing for decades but have only begun submitting work fairly recently. I value my days and nights playing in punk and metal bands throughout the 1990s and 2000s–sure, I was doing what I wanted to do creatively at the time. However, I also feel wistful for some of the lost time that might have been spent working, crafting, honing, improving. Recently I heard a reasonable estimate: it takes a million words of bad writing before we one can even get close to proficiency. Blogging doesn’t count towards that.

And part of this process is in dealing with rejection.

I need to admit something: I almost hung it all up a few weeks ago. I totally decided to give up writing. We work, we send, we watch, we fall short of expectations.

Submitting out invariably means the rejections pile in with just as much frequency, and there’s a reason for this—the writer’s skin thickens, the technical points of why a piece may have been rejected become less opaque, and it galvanizes you to roll out the next duck for the soup. I keep calling these rejections ‘fun coupons’** because each one might redeem towards a better grasp on the process, and hopefully we break through to the other side, covered in sweat, blood, and chalk. Persistence matters, as does learning from mistakes (with a degree of wariness–one person’s mistake is another person’s breakthrough).

But yeah, when it happens, rejection just sucks the life out you. You spent hours, days, weeks, years on that story–but you did it all wrong. Luckily, my defeat-fugue state only lasted a day or so until—

My first Boskone! Since I retired from playing the metal (as far as live sets go, anyway) I’ve been to Anthocon, Readercon, Necon (all of which are amazing, and RIP Anthocon 2016). Writing is a solitary activity, but these gatherings are a tactile experience for us to connect with people who love the process, the literature, the films, the art as much as we do on our own. You never know whom you will meet by chance. My friends list in social media increased by at least a third over the past year, just by putting myself out there and networking. Anyone who knows me can see that I’m a total introvert, but there’s a good trick to meeting people: just smile, for crissakes! Mind your body language, as well, and respect space.

Boskone was so awesome, I was surprised I hadn’t known of it before. Here was a chance to reconnect with friends and make new ones. I shouldn’t go into a super amount of detail (because I can only convey so much awesome) but suffice it say that the experience infused me with a new sense of belonging and purpose. I decided to not give up just yet.

I will tell one quick story, though. On the last day, I participated in my first Rapid-Fire-Reading (RFR) with Broad Universe, an organization I belong to that helps promote and advance women writers of speculative fiction. I had rehearsed my excerpt at home to try and make sure I ran under the requisite four-minute limit (that’s why they’re rapid, and you can have about ten readers). I got up there, and after a wonderful introduction by L.J. Cohen I took my glasses off (I’m nearsighted, so with glasses on I cannot see text close to my head) and began reading an excerpt from the tail end of The Night Faith.

So people were filtering in and out, as is normal at any con with multiple tracks. This excerpt of mine in particular has some potty language. It’s urban-horror-noir. When I reached the end of the excerpt I put my glasses back on and was horrified to find a young child had entered the room! I don’t know how many F-bombs this kid heard me speak unwarily in front of her, but I was also surprised by my reaction–I am a Gen-Xer, child of the 1970s/1980s. Now as I reach middle age, am I becoming so proper and prim? I’d written the F-bombs and horror content to begin with. But as I get older, am I becoming old-fashioned? I’ll answer my question with another question–is it so wrong?

I think it’s pretty funny, because sometimes I’ll just blurt out “FUCKIN’ SLAYER!!!” for no good reason.

At any rate, I apologized to her mother, who told me that her daughter had heard worse from her, and no harm no foul.

So yes, Boskone invigorated me when I most needed it. In retrospect, I think it’s rather funny that I’d wanted to give up. I think perhaps the main frustration for the day worker/early-morning-and-late-night writer is that we are spending so much time creating, planning, agonizing over craft, but when our efforts fall short after weeks of steady toil, the primal human response (for some) is to curl up and doubt. On a side note, Boskone held a “Dealing with rejection” panel that really helped me understand what others can go through. A little perspective goes a long way.

There is a wonderfully simple solution to this: find the writer’s group that is right for you.

The Friday following, I read the surprising report that Samhain Publishing would be shutting down. I had a hunch something may have been amiss when they canned their horror editor Don D’Auria. [For the record, Samhain had started in 2005 as a romance line]. Brian Keene can give a much better overview, but I was still surprised to hear of such a thing happening within a few months. And when the shock wore off, I understood one of the prime causes a little better: Amazon.

~~[although I must say I’m a bit mystified about why Samhain front-burnered social media marketing to such an extent–that seemed to backfire, and I almost never saw them in my feed, anyway]~~

We love the biz! To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson – Buy the ticket, take the ride AND FASTER FASTER until the thrill of speed overcomes the Fear of Death!!!

The story affects me, because it impacts some cool people I’ve met during the course of the year. It also goes to show how tentative the publishing world can be, not so unlike politics. This is the wild west, indeed. Come on into the saloon—we have really awesome dresses, weapons, tons of booze.

Okay, and on to the TEN TON MEAT.

Go see The VVITCH (2015). I’ve not been as affected by a movie since “There Will Be Blood” (2007) or the reboot (by its own director) of “Funny Games” (also 2007). I’ve already blathered on for way too long but I hope to continue to speak about this very important film. And like “The Exorcist” (1973), the film has garnered very mixed reactions. Actually opinion seems evenly divided: plenty of horror fans say it did absolutely nothing for them, others thought it was the most effective work of horror they’ve seen in years. But only you can decide for yourself.

I need to see it again to understand a little better, but the film traces the downfall of exiled family trying to eke out an existence in the cold, stark wilderness of 1630s New England. They have only their faith, their livestock, their crops, and really their familial bond. All hell begins to break loose when their youngest goes missing and we witness a terrifying descent into doubt, religious paranoia, and spiritual possession. There are themes and rich characterizations (warts and all, especially the partriach) that, as Brian Keene again indicates, are likely to be completely lost on the majority of mainstream movie audiences who have been conditioned to torture porn, shaky cam, and jump scares by a tone-deaf film industry.

About a fortnight previous to the screening we saw, there had been a free showing at The Brattle Theater with the director Robert Eggers. I didn’t think that the average moviegoing public would be at all interested in the film, despite the growing buzz. I gave myself about an hour buffer zone. I didn’t get in, because that line snaked all. around. the. block. It would have been nice to hear Eggers’s insights but I really also wonder how this young, relatively hipster audience reacted to the film. Maybe there is hope? My guess is that they may be a reliable sampling of the VVITCH audience: at least half of them likely hated or didn’t get it, and the other half may have thought they’d just had an experience that made “The Exorcist” seem like “Mary Poppins” by comparison.

The VVITCH is also big on atmosphere, and its final beat was so harrowing (and exhilarating) to witness. When the credits rolled, I totally stood up and gave it the fuckin’ APPLAUSE IT DESERVES.

**fun coupon is a term I appropriated from the only truly enjoyable scene, other than the foot scene of course, in Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street.” This is the clip. You’ll have to look elsewhere for the foot scene.

Postscript: Whenever I feel like hanging it up for good, I open to any random page of the green bible, The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop, by Stephen Koch. After a minute or two of reading I bounce right back from the edge. Thankfully I keep two copies: one at home, one at work. It’s been that helpful for me.

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