I have a story in this month’s issue of Apex magazine. I should probably mention that “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is SF horror and nothing like Shades of Milk and Honey. Here’s the teaser.
The moment Tuyet walked into the Dagenais’s compartment, she knew something was different. The usual pack of dogs swarmed around her, distracting her, before she figured out that the compartment smelled different. Not bad–not like the times they had left everything piled in the sink for her as if they were having a contest to see who could goad the other into doing the dishes. Nor the time they’d fired the dog walker and didn’t bother to walk the hoard of dogs that Hélène kept. But they paid her to come once a week to wipe their counters, load the dishwasher and tidy the compartment. So she’d kept her head down, asked herself what Kant would have done, then said screw the philosophy and wiped up the dog shit and urine.
If you are a subscriber of Apex, you can read “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” now, otherwise it will be available online next month.
Echoes and steam swirled around Nanna, merging with warm water and easing the ache in her limbs. The slick black marble walls dripped with the same sweat that crept down her face. She closed her eyes, sighing, and slid lower on the bench until the water lapped the underside of her chin. Carved into an amorphous oblong, the black granite bench had the lines of a sensual modern sculpture. Flecks of mica sparked under the water like stars had been trapped in the bench. For the sophisticated details like this, Lauger, of all the spas in Reykjavik, was her favorite; she came here every time she flew home.
She opened her eyes and caught Eric in the act of looking away from her. Smiling privately, Nanna sat up, stretching to draw her boyfriend’s gaze to her. “So. Are you enjoying the spa?” She kept her voice low to match the tone of the room.
“Oh, my god. I may never move again.” Eric ran a hand up her leg stopping just above her knee.
Jason Sizemore is the guest blogger on The Horror Library’s Blog-O-Rama. He’s talking about three women of horror that he knows and has included me. He opens my section with this:
Mary Robinette Kowal is better than you.
No, she doesnâ€™t think this. ((I don’t.)) And sheâ€™ll kill me for making such a statement. ((Yes, I will)) But I stand by the assertion. ((Such a dead man…))
Sheâ€™s the female equivalent of MacGuyver, ((Okay, maybe just maimed, because I have a weakness for MacGuyver)) able to build anything from a paper clip and the remains of a crappy late 90s horror chapbook. ((All right. If you’re going to resort to blatant flattery, I’ll let you live.))
A word of fair warning if you click through. It’s all lies.
I think I’ve just had an epiphany about the writers who are clearly writing SF but say, “I don’t write SF.”
Allow me to explain. My last couple of sales have been stories which can be called horror to varying degrees. Now if you ask me what I’ve written, I’ll tell you that I write SF and Fantasy. The word “horror” will not cross my lips, not because I’m ashamed, but because I don’t think about it because that’s really not what I’m focused on writing. I was having this conversation and someone said, “You should join HWA.”
I laughed and said, “I’m not a horror writer…”
Except, I sort of am, at least as much as I’m an SF or a fantasy writer. But the difference for me is that I don’t read horror. It scares me. No joke. I like stories that make me all weepy, but not the ones that make me afraid to turn off the lights.
So, the horror stories that I write are ones that deal with stuff I want to read which tend to be, um, love stories. Yeah, I know… there’s a little incongruity there. That said, these are stories in which I do really, really bad things to people and, with the stories for Apex, am deliberately trying to write visceral horror. But when I’m doing it, I’m also trying to make sure that every bad thing that happens to my character reflects on her and on her relationships. At the end, I want you to know more about the character than you did at the beginning, because that’s the kind of story I like reading.
I know that I am writing horror, but I don’t think of myself as a horror writer.
Which makes me think that the people who say, “But I don’t write sci-fi,” really mean, “but I don’t read sci-fi.” Whatever SF tropes and tools show up in their stories, that’s part of the toolbox that they are using to tell the kinds of stories they are interested in. So, yeah, I’ll bite. They aren’t writing SF. When they read their own stories, they aren’t reading SF either.
But that doesn’t mean you or I aren’t reading SF when we read the same story.
The recording is of a live show — all the sound effects, all the dialogue, everything happen live in front of an audience with no stopping for mistakes. I hope you’ll understand that I’m quite proud of working with WRW.
Incidentally, this is the show I was working on when I got the idea for “Death Comes but Twice.”
In honor of the DVD release of one of cinema’s unsung heroes, we revisit the films of the Czech surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer, who has been making bizarre, grotesque, hilarious and unforgettable movies from Prague since 1964.
Oh my. Jason Sizemore is running a poll about the Apex issue six stories of which my “Cerbo en Vitro ujo” is one. The comments make me chuckle because everytime someone compliments a story it’s with phrases that would be perjorative if it weren’t about horror. Who knew that disturbing people was so much fun?
Narrating is at once the easiest part of reading aloud and the hardest. It is the easiest because you don’t have to worry about character voice or distinction–or do you?
You do. That’s why it’s one of the hardest parts. The narrator is a character in your story and is the one that needs to connect to the listener. The voice needs to be distinctive enough that when you say a line of dialogue and then return to the narrator, the audience recognizes the voice. At the same time, it cannot distract from the story by being so distinctive that it overshadows the words.
The initial instinct is to use your own voice. This is a good instinct, but I’m going to suggest that you use a specific form of your natural voice. When we’re talking, there’s a number of different shadings that happen with our voice most of which have to do with Attitude. Your voice changes, subtly, depending on whether you’re talking to your mother, your boss, your lover, or answering the phone.
Your phone voice is a really, really useful voice. It will probably sound professional, fairly neutral, and slightly more modulated than your hanging-with-chums voice. You know the one I mean, right?
So let’s take that voice out for a spin. I’m going to give you a chunk of text to play with from Ray Bradbury’s The Fruit in the Bottom of the Bowl. Read this silently first.
William Acton rose to his feet. The clock on the mantel ticked midnight.
He looked at his fingers and he looked at the large room around him and he looked at the man lying on the floor. William Acton, whose fingers had stroked typewriter keys and made love and fried ham and eggs for early breakfasts, had now accomplished a murder with those same ten whorled fingers.
He had never thought of himself as a sculptor and yet, in this moment, looking down between his hands at the body upon the polished hardwood floor, he realized that by some sculptural clenching and remodeling and twisting of human clay he had taken hold of this man named Donald Huxley and changed his physiognomy, the very frame of his body.
Here are very rough, basic rules to start with.
Speak slower than you think you should. As you become more familiar with text you will naturally speed up. This is the first time your audience has heard the words. You should be painfully slow, in your own ears.
A period means pause and count to 2.
A comma means pause and count to 1.
Go ahead and read through it, just thinking about that.
Now, the fun stuff.
Each sentence has a word or phrase that is the most important thing in it. Take the first sentance of the second paragraph. “He looked at his fingers and he looked at the large room around him and he looked at the man lying on the floor.”
What’s the most important thing here? “the man lying on the floor.” Underline it, so that when you get there you put a slight emphasis on it. Now in that phrase, what’s the most important word? Man? That would be my bet. So a slight line goes underneath it, but you don’t want to do too much or you’ll break the rhythm of the sentence.
Placing emphasis can be as simple as putting more stress on that part of the sentence, the same way you put more stress on the accented syllable of a word.
There’s a simple exercise to make you more concious of using stress in a sentence to change the meaning. Say “The ball is on the table.”
Now I want you to answer each of these questions with the same sentence, changing only the emphasis of one word to answer.
What is on the table?
The ball is on the table.
What is the ball on?
Is the ball under the table?
The ball is not on the table, is it?
There are other ways to do it as well. You can use a vocal tremor, a dimenuendo, a crescendo, tempo, aspiration or a dozen other tricks. The key is to decide how your character, the narrator, feels about the moment. Remember Attitude? Go through this block of text and mark the attitude that you think your character feels. The deeper the penetration into the POV character, the more attitude your voice should display.
Bradbury uses the word “looked” three times in that sentence. The echo of the word can be powerful if it’s used right. Take a minute and think about how William Acton feels about each of the things he’s looking at. Perhaps the emotions could be wonder, disorientation and horror.
Another section to pay special attention to is this bit, “he realized that by some sculptural clenching and remodeling and twisting of human clay”
The verbs “clenching” and “twisting” are particularly visceral. When I was talking about words that were almost onomodopaeic, I meant words like this. When you clench something it doesn’t really make a sound, but you can manipulate the word to create a vocal description of it. If you tighten your throat–clenching it–the sound of the word will change. Find words like these and see if you can wring the vocal description out of them.
So read that chunk o’text again–after marking it–and see how much emotion you can get out of it.
What we’ve done with this exercise is gone from an emotionally neutral narrator to an emotionally invested narrator. There are times when each will be the most appropriate choice. Remember when I said about each sentence having a word that’s the most important in it? When you are using these ornaments try to pick only one per sentence, otherwise it’s like having a superflity of adjectives. It’s very easy to tip from emotional investment to verbal pyrotechnics. Make certain that you are making choices that advance the story.
My story Cerbo en Vitra ujo is in this issue of Apex Digest. It just went on sale. I do feel I should warn some of you that it is horror and fairly icky. But, if you enjoy horror, then please pick up a copy.
I just sold Cerbo in Vitra ujo to Apex Digest. It will probably be in Issue 6, which comes out in June, but I’ll post for certain when I know the date. I’m thrilled, although it is an icky, icky story–my first foray into horror. This will be the first sale that I don’t give my parents a copy of.
Mom is disturbed just knowing that I wrote a horror story.
In his notes to me, Jason Sizemore said, “Whoever wrote this has no soul…” Which I think is a compliment, given the circumstances.
Surely, that explains all of the horror without further detail, so I may go onto the pleasant things.
Steve and his family arrived during the night and somehow managed to get a teenager, a proto-teenager and a three year-old into the house without waking anyone. Now that, is fine parenting. This morning Rob and I went downstairs to the smell of pancakes cooking and Mom bustling around the kitchen. She is a non-stop cooking machine.
Well, almost. She did consent to go to Couch’s Barbecue for supper. I don’t think it had anything to do with being tired, I think it was a decision based entirely on having no where to put anymore leftovers. At dinner we gave Katherine her birthday presents. I think, and it’s hard to tell with fifteen year olds, that she liked the jacket that Rob and I gave her.
That was part of my mall activities today. I finally resorted to going into a store, Wet Seal, and saying, “Help. Fifteen-year old niece. I see her once a year and I’m clueless about what teens are wearing these days.” I felt like such a fogey and I’m nowhere near the right age for that.
After dinner Mom, Rob and I tackled prep work for dinner tomorrow. While we did that Dad, Steve and Rob did a mini-beer tasting. I’m very impressed that my husband managed to taste beer and help in the kitchen. Everyone else went to the basement to watch The Grinch. Had it been the original, I would have joined them.
Now, I just need to finish wrapping gifts, a feat which is complicated by the fact that our box o’presents has not arrived from Portland. I will be very put-out if my party favors arrive after the party.
I had to run out to the studio tonight to pin together a piece for Martha to stitch tomorrow. When I got there, I turned on the florescent lights and immediately heard a crackling sound followed by a burning smell. Yikes. I turned them off and turned on the flashlight that Rob had brought from the Boeing Surplus Store for me. No flames, no smoke. The smell continued to be bad. I called the building manager while the smell proceeded to get worse. He didn’t answer his cell phone, so I finally called the non-emergency fire department number to ask for advice.
They said that the only way to make certain that had not started an electrical fire was to send a team out to check. Moments later–I mean really, I had time to walk to the front of the building–a fire truck pulled up and four members of the fire department trooped inside.
One of them said, “Looks like Little Shop of Horrors,” and then, “Does it always smell like this?”
The consensus was that it was a light ballast gone bad, but that I’d done the right thing by calling to be certain. Whew.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]