Tags: good friends

The guerilla reading

I won't post much about Readercon, because by this point most of the people who care have already done so, or have already read about it. I'll note that highlights include finally meeting Laird Barron; drinking into the small hours in my hotel room with Barron, John Langan, Michael Cisco, and Eric Schaller; meeting R. Scott Bakker, author of the astonishing The Prince of Nothing books; talking about writing, and writing horror, for a few hours in a nearly empty bar with Livia Llewellyn while everyone else was at the Meet the Prose party; and giving a reading which went a lot better than I expected. I didn't see enough of several people, like Jeff Ford, Paul Tremblay, Ellen Datlow, and F. Brett Cox, and I missed the ceremony at the end, thereby losing my chance to talk to Nick Kaufmann and Sarah Langan, but that's the way these cons go. (Oh, and I finally gave my extra copy of the first season of The Wire to Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, after promising it to them for months.)

I wanted to mention one reading in particular, though. At about 9:30 pm on Saturday night, Michael Cisco staged a "guerilla reading" in one of the unused convention rooms. For whatever reason, Cisco was not scheduled a time by the con organizers, and so his friends made sure he had the opportunity. By its nature it was unadvertised and therefore attended only by a few of his friends, but I'll tell you this: those of you that missed it missed what was arguably the best reading of the con, by one of its most criminally underappreciated writers. 

Cisco is currently in the eye of a little dust-up regarding his public calling-to-accounts of his publisher, Prime Books. While this has stirred some useful discussion, I hope one of the chief results of it all will be some new readers of Cisco's work. It's dense, sometimes difficult work, and it demands the reader become an active participant in the process. But it's deeply rewarding, and the language is sometimes breathtaking in its beauty. Here are some sample paragraphs from "The Genius of Assassins," the story he read at Readercon (a son is reading excerpts from his dead father's journal):

'the low sun white and cold, and full of worms. Then a fan of white, gelatinous rays, transparent tubes whose ends mouth the earth. A flat, white opening in the sky, whose light silvered the air, dotted with their shadows. They are the larvae of the sun and will become themselves stars.'

I had seen this light around my father -- vividly I see it now, cold and white, as he sits in his shirtsleeves, the long cuffs bent back, writing; heavy ropes of smoke coil around him. His creased face is drawn, inert, his writing hand palpitates like a bug on the paper.

'My brain shining in the dark like a planet, streaked with long, glistening white clouds that I came to see were worms, beneath the meniscus of brain fluid a translucent sheet under which they tossed and turned. Some lay and some reclined on the tissue, like opulent ladies on perfumed sofas; their puckered heads swayed gently.'

It's the perfect marriage of beauty and horror, which I respond to so enthusiastically as a reader. This is exalted prose, a Blakean glimpse of Hell. (You can find it in Leviathan Three, edited by Jeff VanderMeer and Forrest Aguirre.)

It's not surprising that Cisco isn't widely read. As Nick Mamatas said in one of those links provided above, "It's the sad and annoying part of writing densely packed fantasy horror whose antecedents are nineteenth century continental fiction and philosophy as opposed to, you know, Stephen King." Still, it's my hope that he'll look into podcasting some of his stories, or excerpts from his novels. His reading voice is superb -- cadences are carefully measured, rising and falling as the story requires; every word is articulated and precise. There was a flatness of affect to this particular delivery that served to underscore the chill in the words, but was never in danger of becoming dull or tedious. He's one of these rare writers whose stories, good as they already are, are improved by his own dramatic interpretation. Fortunately, I cannot help now but hear his careful, quiet voice when I read his work.

But until that day comes, don't just settle for reading the back-and-forth he's instigated regarding Prime Books; read his work. Take a chance and order one of his books online. He deserves it. So do you. 

Readercon schedule

 I've just received my schedule for Readercon, and it's pretty light. (Which is good!) Friday at noon I'm on a panel called Generation Dark, which is described as follows:

Generation Dark.  Nathan Ballingrud, Holly Black (L), M. M. Buckner, Cassandra Clare, Don D'Ammassa, Nick Mamatas

There's some anecdotal evidence that the readership for horror and dark fantasy is younger than the readership for the rest of the field, and this shifting demographic is also reflected in our guest list.  To what extent is the boom in young writers and readers of dark fantasy a reflection of the darkness of the times?  And to what extent are we simply seeing the first generation to grow up with horror as a successful commercial genre and Stephen King as an icon?  What other factors are in play?

That evening, at 6 pm, I have a reading for half an hour; I'll either read from "The Monsters of Heaven" or a recently completed story currently making the rounds, called "Werewolves." 

Saturday at 2 pm I'll be participating in a group reading for The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, along with Laird Barron, Jeff Ford, Christopher Rowe, Elizabeth Bear, Barry Malzberg, and of course Ellen Datlow. It's a big crowd, even for an hour time slot, so I'll probably just be reading a few paragraphs from "North American Lake Monsters." I'll try to pick good ones.

I'm also scheduled to attend the Shirley Jackson Awards presentation, MC'd by Jonathan Lethem (author of Motherless Brooklyn and other great books), since "The Monsters of Heaven" is up for one, but it looks like I won't be able to attend. The ceremony begins at 11 am; my flight out of Boston leaves at 11:15 am. I called the airline about moving the ticket to a later time, and discovered the cost of doing so is close to $500. It's a good thing Phil Gramm assured us all that we're only in a "mental recession," because we're a "nation of whiners," right? Oh well.

The rest of the time will be spent attending some great panels and hanging out with friends. Who knows, maybe something business-related will happen. I can't wait!

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

I got back home after midnight last night. Readercon was great. Kelly and Gavin were incredibly gracious hosts, not only providing their home for two nights, but also sending me back with a number of kids' books for Mia. We went to Spiderwick author Holly Black's house for the Fourth, and she provided a cool goblin poster for Mia's room, signed to her. She's going to love it (or be terrified). Steve Berman was there, and told some wild stories; the guy is extremely charismatic, and had the room in his palm for the better part of the night. I got to spend some time with Ted Chiang and Karen Joy Fowler, too. Ted's low-key, friendly, and almost always smiling. You'd never know he's one of the two or three best science fiction writers working today. Karen is wonderful too. She has a very sharp wit and a political fire which is very refreshing. 

The con itself had some interesting panels, but the best part was just hanging out with people of a like mind. I got to spend time with John Langan, Michael Cisco, and Paul Tremblay, which was worth going for all by itself. But doing car bombs and sharing beers with Lucius Shepard and Jeff Ford was the cherry on the sundae. Jeff tried to give me his cigar later that night, which pretty much makes him golden in my book.

Also, Ellen Datlow showed me the advanced reader copy of Inferno. It looks so cool. I can't wait until December. I'm hoping to be able to do a reading or two for it.

Finally, after most everyone had left, Dale and I hung out a bit with Ted again, and with Paolo Bacigalupi. Paolo's a blast. He's very energetic!

I know this is kind of a sickening post, but what can I say? It was awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. Here's hoping I can make World Fantasy in November.

We're here

We're here in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dale and I are staying with Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, along with Karen Joy Fowler and Ted Chiang. Dale and I crawled off the bus late yesterday afternoon and both decided to move here immediately. It's a small, beautiful little place. Downtown is filled with more used bookstores than I've seen in one location since I left New Orleans. There are a lot of college-age kids dressed in funky clothes and wearing tattoos, lounging against walls or on curbs, or stapling indie band flyers onto telephone poles. They're very silly but they're harmless and kind and they're nice to have around. It's a lot like downtown Asheville.

Kelly and Gavin had arranged to pick us up in an hour at a bar called Haymaker's, which we were alarmed to find was a juice bar. After a little searching and despite some well-meaning advice from one of the aforementioned kids ("There's a wine bar you can go to. Wine is better for you than beer."), we found a proper bar with actual bartenders and whiskey and doomed old men clutching like barnacles onto the bartop. Gavin picked us up from there an hour later.

Later that night we all went out to a used bookstore and Kelly pointed out a few books for Mia, which are now in my suitcase. Then we had ice cream from "one of the top three ice cream shops in America." Who am I to argue? I had coffee-flavor with Nestle Crunch sprinkles and it was pretty great.