I’m pleased to announce that a new short story of mine has been published over on Pornokitsch, the genre-loving, BFS Award-winning, Hugo-nominated and entirely-safe-for-work-despite-the-name online magazine.
My story is titled ‘01001001 01000011 01000101’. Its inspired in equal parts by Ray Bradbury, Tom Stoppard, Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ and the 2004 Dennis Quaid / Jake Gyllenhaal disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow. It begins like this:
The book was big and heavy, which meant it would burn well.
I’m delighted and honoured to have been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award, for my novella The Good Shabti, published by Jurassic London. However, there are four good reasons why I probably won’t win.
The first reason is the Ceremony of Flies by Kate Jonez (DarkFuse). Our protagonist, who calls herself Emily, is an unreliable cocktail waitress, an unreliable road-trip buddy and definitely an unreliable narrator. We meet her serving drinks in a Las Vegas casino, but before long she is on the run in a 1971 Pontiac Convertible, driven by an equally dubious gambler named Rex. Their journey takes them from the bright lights of Sin City, via suburban Barstow, to ever more remote and decaying locales, until she arrives at what might just be the end of the world.
Jonez’s parched descriptions of this doomed trajectory are fantastic. There are Joshua Trees and Stucco churches, and flies everywhere. The soaring temperature is evoked so well I thought my Kindle might overheat. And there is no let up—Every apparent relief, every opportunity for a cool breeze or a quenching of thirst, is just a further heightening of the characters desperate plight. Is this Emily’s personal hell for the many crimes she has committed? Or some wider vengeance? Continue reading “Four reasons why I probably won’t win the Shirley Jackson Award”
This week I was at The Kitschies, a set of awards for “progressive, intelligent and entertaining genre literature.” Its creators, Jared and Anne of the Pornokitsch website and Pandaemonium Fiction (my publishers, no less) rightly eschew the word ‘best’ when giving the awards. ‘Best’ is a devalued term in when it comes to awards, as implies an objectivity that a judging panel cannot possibly hope to achieve.
The winner of the Red Tentacle award for a novel was Nick Harkaway for his book Angelmaker. On his blog, Nick has posted a long article on what he thinks ‘progressive’ might mean in terms of fiction in general, and sci-fi/fantasy genre literature in particular. He says that such progressive fiction “It is a fiction which connects the inner human future with everything it must have around it, and recognises that the two develop together.”
“Books bloggers are harming literature” says Peter Stothard. He is Chair of the Booker Prize, and editor of the Times Literary Supplement. I am reminded of the comments of Helen Mirren and Andrew Marr, who have both previously complained about how the Internet is sending culture to the dogs.
From my vantage point, working on the edge of the literary sector, I don’t think Stothard’s analysis is true. There is indeed a mass of blogged criticism online, just as there is a large amount of self-published literature. However, authors and publishers of every size still seek reviews and approval from the prestigious literary journals like the London Review of Books and Stothard’s TLS. An approving quote from a broadsheet critic will find its way onto the cover of the book; a similarly gushing endorsement from an individual blogger will not. An essay in the established press will provoke a conversation and a public debate. An piece of writing that is similarly erudite, but published on someone’s personal website will not have the same reach, nor puncture the public consciousness, in the same manner. This is simply a question of reach and brand.
Of course, a few blogs transcend their medium and become credible sources for literary criticism: Dovegreyreader springs to mind. But this rise to credibility and influence is as a result of the quality of the literary criticism. That is a good thing for literature – The poacher always turns gamekeeper, so-to-speak. Contrast this to newspapers or some literary magazines, kept afloat as a loss-leader by rich patrons or media groups. In such cases, their influence has effectively been bought, and their critics are more susceptible to the influence of the market and the quest for commerical readability. It is this segment of the literary criticism ecosystem that should concern Mr Stothard.
In fact, in the niche of genre-literature, it is the bloggers who catalyse the art-form. For example, the Pornokitsch website that puts out much more quality literary criticism than the Guardian, which can only muster a single monthly round-up of the latest sci-fi. Who is doing more for that kind of literature?
Perhaps Stothard is actually conflating bloggers with the reviewers on Amazon and elsewhere, who often write batshit crazy reviews, giving five stars or one star, without having read the book. This is indeed a problem, as it ruins the Amazon product review system. However, I doubt that the few people who find such comments credible have much in common with those who read the TLS or the LRB. More to the point, I can’t believe that the product reviews on e-commerce sites have provoked a single authors into changing the way they write, or what they choose to write about.
Back in 2006 or so, when blogging was The Next Big Thing That Everyone Was Doing, there was much discussion over whether a blog could kickstart a literary or journalistic career. Writers News even commissioned me to write an article about it, in which I quoted the economist and blogger Tim Worstall:
Tim Worstall, editor of the anthology 2005: Blogged, agrees. “I’m not sure that it is possible to make a living from blogging,” wrote Worstall, in his Second Anniversary blog post. “But”, he continued, “it is entirely possible to make a living out of having blogged.” Worstall sees blogging as an alternative to apprenticeships and unpaid internships, a route to paid writing.
Another route is that taken by the creators of the Pornokitsch Blog, which takes the transatlantic Science Fiction & Fantasy culture as its beat. They have used their blog as a springboard into the publishing world, leveraging using the contacts and credibility developed over four years of blogging, to produce a series of short story collections. The blog as route not into journalism, but publishing.
And who should be one of the authors they publish? None other than… yrstrly. My story (0,0) is in the Crossroads anthology, released on the Kindle in August 2012. Its a companion book to Lost Souls, “tales of woe and angst, loneliness, redemption and humour” including stories by Arthur Conan-Doyle, Benjamin Disraeli and Mary Coleridge. If you order the limited edition copy of Lost Souls, you get Crossroads on the Kindle for free. You cannot say fairer than that.