It is an ancient Mariner


A Gustave Doré woodcut for Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Death and Life-in-Death game for the Mariner’s soul.

The first issue of Fantastique Unfettered comes out today, featuring my story “The Driftwood Chair”, a tale of nautical tragedy, hallucinatory demon ghosties and star-crossed beach flirting, set in Cape Cod, and much influenced by Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. I wrote it at Odyssey in 2005 as a kind of good-natured challenge with PD Cacek, got some phenomenal criticism from my fellow classmates and Steve and Melanie Tem, then sat on it obsessively revising and revising for the succeeding five years. You know, the usual story. There was way more Mariner in the original draft… but the feel of it (and an easter egg reference or two) is still there in spades. I love this story. Hopefully you will too.

O the Mariner is so awesome, it’s really hard to pick out just one quote.

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Nightmare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

If you’ve never read it, do so now. In fact, if you’ve only got time for one, skip “The Driftwood Chair” and just read the Ancient Mariner. Of course, if you’ve got time for two….

Readercon/TNEO/Chapbook Update

Readercon was pretty fun. It may have been the first con I’ve attended where I didn’t feel weird, awkward or out of place hardly at all. And to think, it only took five years…and some beer…to achieve! I appeared disguised in mutton-chop extensions and a false Scottish accent on a “Future of Short Fiction Markets” panel, drank a lot of fine beer (no Brick Red though, disappointingly!) with a lot of fine people, read from “Between Two Treasons” at a packed Beneath Ceaseless Skies reading, and sat sheepishly behind the Small Beer table taking credit by proxy for all their wonderful new stuff and repeatedly forgetting to give away Daily Planners and talk up Weightless Books.

We did in fact get The Homeless Moon 3 Chapbook out in time. Barely in time, but it happened! And they went like hotcakes. I printed about 200 and ended up with less than 50. And then I gave away a bunch more to the Odyssey 2010 class at the TNEO mixer. Not many left. Get one now!

Here it is in its natural habitat in our suite at TNEO:

Tomorrow night (sorry for the short notice—you know how I am with these announcement things), I’ll be reading a new William-o poem at the TNEO Flash Fiction Slam, starting at 6:00 PM at the Manchester, NH Barnes & Noble. I’ll be joined by other fine Odyssey grads including my pal Scott H. Andrews, Hannah Strom-Martin (whose story “Father Pena’s Last Dance” appears in this month’s Realms of Fantasy, Barbara A. Barnett, Rita Oakes, Ellen Denham and many others. Here’s a map. Please come by and say hello!

Towards an Understanding of Dialogue in Style-Driven Fiction

Well, I meant to write something today about Jan Morris’ Last Letters from Hav, which is a phenomenal book with a strange and challenging structure that holds all kinds of lessons for somebody like me who would absolutely love to sell fiction on the merits of weirdness and style alone. But, big turkey that I am, I took the book with me to Boston this weekend and forgot it somewhere, so cannot accurately quote examples.

Instead I thought I would just try laying out the bones of the argument I would have tried to make.

This year’s Never-Ending Odyssey workshop master class focused on dialogue. I consider myself not so hot at dialogue, so was looking forward to an opportunity to learn why and what I could do about it. But as lecture after lecture rolled off me like water off a duck, I began to realize that part of what makes me do poorly at dialogue is that I don’t enjoy writing it, and maybe what stops me from enjoying it is the fact that good dialogue, at least in the sense that it was being taught here (by genre writers, for genre writers) doesn’t serve the same purposes in the kind of stories I like to write (those with atypical structure and nontraditional plot).

I came home from TNEO with the idea of looking through great examples of the kinds of fiction I do like to write and figuring out where and how their use of dialogue diverges from, say, the snappy repartee of a Raymond Chandler detective, and where (if at all) it follows the same rules. Last Letters from Hav would have made a great case study (and still will if I can figure out where my copy went), because not only does it lack a traditional plot structure, but it’s designed not to read like a work of fiction at all. It’s fiction masquerading as nonfiction. So its characters aren’t required to further any plot, but rather are expected to act like real people: random, arbitrary, at times even dull, driven by their own purposes rather than the author’s, yet in reality just as constructed and unreal. Especially since one of Morris’ strengths is the style of her prose, so in order for us to believe Letters from Hav as a continuation of her actual nonfiction writings, we have to experience the “real” residents of Hav as filtered through the author’s erudition and wry commentary.

Which, of course, I can’t really do, because I haven’t got the book.

But the idea is to do a similar thing with a variety of atypical fiction. Borges and Lucius Shepard immediately come to mind, but I’ll throw in any other idea/theme-driven (rather than plot-driven) prose stylists I can come up with. Poe? Ray Bradbury? Vonnegut? Ken Kesey? Umberto Eco possibly. Maybe even Dostoevsky.

Obviously this is going to be a long-term undertaking.