Daily Archives: September 14, 2010

Just Arrived, Hiatus Catching Up Edition

When I wasn’t writing on Whatever over the last few weeks, books were still coming in. Rather than try to briefly encapsulate each of these books, which would take, like, forever, what I’ll do here is post pictures of the books that came in and let you see what they were. In each case, the book is either newly released or will be released by then end of the year (mostly). Check your favorite book retailers for more details. Some of these will be featured in upcoming Big Ideas (and some were featured in recent ones, too).

If you can’t see the titles/author of the book, click on the picture and it’ll take you to a larger version of the picture.

I’ll start doing the “Just Arrived” feature in its usual format with the next installment.

The Big Idea: Nick Mamatas

Anthologies are over the place (for which writers are grateful, because, hey –someplace to send those short stories), and just as every novel has a genesis, so too does every anthology have a small nugget of inspiration… followed by the slog of actually getting the damn thing out. Nick Mamatas, co-editor of the new Haunted Legends horror anthology, is here to give you an editor’s-eye view of the anthology-building process, from idea to completion, and what it really takes to put out these story collections so many of us love so well.

NICK MAMATAS:

For many a horror writer, there is no holiday season quite so wonderful as Halloween. The trees turn skeletal and the nights long, the lawns of the neighborhood are decorated with plastic and latex spectacles, candy gets somewhat more interesting, and for about six weeks bookstores even pay attention to the genre. For this horror writer, though, Halloween is just tedious. Horror movies aren’t scary, gross costumes and props make me roll my eyes (and often smell funny), and little on this planet is more annoying than someone who thinks he or she is “edgy” because Halloween is a favorite holiday. Yes, all sorts of six-year-old girls rocking pink princess outfits every October 31st are just as edgy. Also, part of my Halloween problem can be found in bookstores—as horror fiction is a hard sell, many stores instead stock volumes of regional “true” ghost stories and local legends for their seasonal displays.

There’s one or more such book for every two-stoplight town and stretch of river. Some of the stories are less regional than universal—every dogleg road has a phantom hitchhiker, there isn’t an old lake in America not filled with the tears of an Indian princess. The better titles offer a bit of local color and photography, though most pictures therein are accompanied by breathless captions that confuse lens flair or dust with the “orbs” that appear in haunted graveyards when believers show up to take snapshots. That’s the major issue with these books of “true” ghost stories; with the very occasional exception (e.g., the wonderful Joseph A. Citro) they’re almost always written by credulous weirdoes. Despite the low quality of this subgenre, the books keep on selling, at least for a month and a half every year.

That was on my mind in the beginning of 2007 when I received a letter from the Horror Writers Association, a group of which I was then a member. They were putting out a mass call for pitches for a new HWA-branded anthology. Years ago, the HWA had a number of anthologies edited by legendary figures such as Peter Straub and Ramsey Campbell, but with horror in the doldrums the group was ready for any bright ideas. Mine was simple enough: regional ghost stories/legends written by real writers instead of by the neighborhood kook. We’d call it Haunted Legends. It had a lot of commercial possibilities: major presses publish ghost story books, as do the larger independent and regional houses. If it wouldn’t sell as fiction, we could position the book as non-fiction. And it would fit with those front-of-store dumps that so annoyed me every year.

However, the HWA had a problem with the pitch: I wasn’t famous. (Apparently the group’s publication committee thought only famous people would have good ideas.) Could I find a co-editor? A famous co-editor amongst the members of the Horror Writers Association? Actually, given the number of famous editors in the HWA, this was very easy and I immediately wrote to the best, and indeed, the only sane choice—Ellen Datlow. She was pleased to sign up.

In the end, we didn’t publish Haunted Legends under the HWA aegis. After the HWA, its agent, and its book packager took their cuts, Ellen and I would have been working for the sort of money one more typically makes by stealing the tip jar from a flaming Starbucks.  The HWA has done very well with the other idea that had been developed from that initial call for pitches: the humorous horror anthology Blood Lite. Ellen took the concept to Tor and after the usual delays, we had a deal.

We wanted Haunted Legends to not only feature stories of the highest quality, but to offer stories of all sorts and from around the world. Ellen Datlow’s Rolodex was more than sufficient to guarantee the best stories by the best writers, but to make sure no scary rock was left unturned—and because of a little promise I made to myself when I first started submitting short stories for publication a decade ago—I opened Haunted Legends to unsolicited submissions. I also decided to solicit a few folks that may not be known to readers of horror or ghost stories; experimentalist Lily K. Hoang and the mainstreamish fantasist Carolyn Turgeon were two of the writers I was thrilled to tap.

Reading slush was an experience that revealed certain trends. At around the same time we opened for submissions, I announced that I was moving to California to take a job editing Haikasoru, VIZ Media’s imprint of Japanese SF and fantasy in translation. A few dozen submitters got the idea that Haunted Legends was a book of Japanese ghost stories. I received nine different stories about Hoichi the Earless alone. (We do have a story with a Japanese theme, Catherynne M. Valente’s “15 Panels Depicting the Sadness of the Baku and the Jotai”, but I didn’t need to read a million of ‘em on the way.)

We’d also expressed that we simply didn’t want recitations of local legends, but revisions of the same, a guideline many readers found sufficiently confusing that they just ignored it. And we got some email from cranks who insisted that “ghost stories” had to involve the spirits of deceased somehow bedeviling the living, and so what sort of morons were we to mention, oh, the Jersey Devil in our guidelines? The sort of morons editing our own book, thanks for asking.

In the end, after I shared about twenty-five stories with Ellen—some I liked, some just because the authors were known to us and I thought she should see them—we selected stories from Carrie Laben, John Mantooth, Steven Pirie, and Stephen Dedman for the book. With Dedman, a great writer of dozens of shorts with whom both Ellen and I had previously worked, we kind of slapped our foreheads and said, “Oh, we should have asked him in the first place!” but he was cool with gettin’ down in the slush, thankfully. Laben I’d published in Clarkesworld and was happy to see her work again in my mailbox. Mantooth was also familiar to me—I’d never bought one of his stories for the magazine, but his work always brightened my day and I’d tried to be encouraging in previous rejection letters. I was extremely pleased with “Shoebox Train Wreck.” Steven Pirie had managed to escape my radar entirely until I read his “The Spring Heel” (guess who that one’s about?) despite his publications in Black Static and other venues, so it was a great surprise to find. “This one’s full of whores!” I wrote to Ellen excitedly. “Oh boy!” she wrote back. A fifth story, Erzebet YellowBoy’s “Following Double-Face Woman”, came from Clarkesworld’s slush pile, which goes to show that sometimes editors reject stories based on “fit” rather than quality. YellowBoy’s story didn’t suit CW, but was perfect for Haunted Legends.

Then there were stories by the veteran writers—Ellen and I had little to do other than accept Ramsey Campbell’s “Chucky Comes to Liverpool.”  Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Folding Man” required no editing, just applause and a quick acceptance. We were also very happy to get stories by Gary A. Braunbeck, Kit Reed, Caitlin R. Kiernan and—dare I say those words loathed by anthology contributors everywhere?—many others.

One last treat: perceptive readers may have noticed the ongoing global economic crisis, so Tor will be releasing Haunted Legends simultaneously in hardcover (for collectors, libraries, and people who like to bludgeon others with books) and trade paperback (for the budget-conscious). And the book might even be on a table in the front of a bookstore or two. For me at least, Halloween just got a little happier.

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Haunted Legends: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit Nick Mamatas’ LiveJournal. Follow him on Twitter.

Tales from Melbourne

Obligatory view from my hotel room.

From August 30 until the 8th of September, I was out of the country, either flying to, being in, or flying from the continent nation of Australia, because it was there that the World Science Fiction Convention was this year taking place, under the name AussieCon4. I had wanted to go because I was a Hugo Award nominee (for The God Engines, which did not win its category, alas) and because as President of SFWA, I thought it was incumbent on me to go and fly the flag for my organization. Aside from that I had always heard that upon arriving in Australia, you were greeted by locals who gave you a jar of Vegemite with one hand, and flung a venomous spider koala at your face with the other, and I wanted to see how much truth there was to that rumor. So off I went. And now, my report, with my main thoughts numbered for your convenience.

1. First, Australia — or more accurately Melbourne, the portion of that really vast country that I actually saw — is a lovely country filled with lovely people, and the only major problem with it that I can see is that damn, it really is tucked into the underside of the planet, isn’t it. Dayton to Melbourne, airport to airport, is a 25 hour+ trek, and while I understand this is not a patch on the travel time the first settlers (either aboriginal or European) had to expend getting to that continent, neither did they have to stuff themselves into an economy class seat next to a crazy old lady who spent her entire trip sneaking bites of a meat pie that smelled as if it were made of rotted platypus, which she had stored in a crocheted cloche hat. THIS IS TRUE AND HAPPENED, Y’ALL. And so while I sincerely hope to visit Australia again sometime, the next time I (or whoever flies me out) will be investing in a business class seat at least, with specific instructions not to be placed next to a Crazy Monotreme Hat Pie Lady.

Melbourne itself reminded me a great deal of San Francisco — it has that city’s slightly crazy, wintry-in-early September weather (although Melbourne to its defense does have the excuse of actually being in winter in early September), but also, in the city center at least, it also shares that other city’s walkability and slightly offbeat take on urban life. I felt very comfortable in Melbourne, which I suppose is not entirely surprising as it is often at or near the top of annual rankings for the most livable city in the world. But it’s one thing to be told a city is a pleasant experience, and another to actually have a pleasant experience in that city. I had the latter, and would be delighted to come to the city again one day.

If I had to mark down Australia for anything, I suppose it would be that day-to-day incidentals there are markedly more expensive; for example, the 20-ounce bottle of Coke Zero I would pay $1.20 for here is $3.50 there, even when factoring in the exchange rate for the Australian dollar, and a candy bar that’s eighty five cents here is at least twice that there. I think if I were living in that country, I would do a lot of buying in bulk. But honestly, if the worst I can say about a country is that it’s not as cheap to live in as the US, which has 13 times the number of people in it, from my point of view the country is doing just fine.

Also, no, I did not have any Vegemite, nor was I attacked on the face or anywhere else by venomous spider koalas or any other creature. The country’s incipient yeastiness and/or deadliness is vastly overrated as far as I can tell.

Oh, wait, I did have one other complaint, which is that internet connectivity there is a bit of an appallingly expensive joke. When I figured out just how much it would actually cost me to get a decent amount of connectivity down there, I bit the bullet and bought a wifi modem hooked into the local 3G network, off of which I could work both my cell phone (which uses a different cell phone protocol than what is used in Australia, but which has wifi capability) and my computer and iPod Touch, the latter of which being what I used to call home via Skype.

Having the wifi modem made me a wandering Internet hotspot, and I invited people to hover near me and check their e-mail, which they often did. So if you were at AussieCon4 and you saw a bunch of people standing close to me, it wasn’t because I am awesome and people want to be with me; it was because I was jacked in to the IntarWeebs and they wanted to be too. No, no. Don’t try to tell me they actually do like me. I don’t need your pity.

My autograph line. Squee!

2. AussieCon4 itself was a quite enjoyable convention with some structural issues, not all of which were directly the fault of the convention. On the positive side of things, with one notable exception (which turned out all right in the end), all of my panels and programming went off without a hitch, and more than that there wasn’t a single panel on which I felt I was wasting my time, or the time of the audience. It’s a rare Worldcon that I feel that about, not because Worldcons are in some way evil but because I tend to do a lot of programming at Worldcons, and odds being what they are, if you do a lot of programming you’re going to end up with a bum panel or two (or in the case of LACon in 2006, where at one point I was about ready to assassinate several jackass panel audience members, at least three). So the fact I came out off all of my programming feeling happy really is cause for celebration. Well done, AussieCon4.  Likewise, the Australian and New Zealand fans I met were all quite lovely and made me feel appreciated for hauling myself up on their shore.

That said, it was pretty clear that a bunch of the behind the scenes stuff was not exactly going smoothly. One major problem was that at the last minute — and by this I mean literally the last minute, as in the very morning of the beginning of the convention — the feckless management of the convention’s “party hotel,” the Crown Plaza, decided that it wasn’t down with the concept of room parties and essentially ordered them closed. More particularly, it decreed that after 8pm, no more than three people could be in a “hospitality suite” at a time, and that after 11, no one was to be allowed on the hospitality floor who was not a guest of the hotel itself. When I was informed of this, my first comment was “Really? And will all guests be made to keep at least one foot on the floor at all times as well?”

This last-minute dick-headedness by the Crown Plaza management annoyed me in no small part because SFWA had its own hospitality suite on the party floor and we were planning a meet-and-greet of our own, and then suddenly our suite went from being in the heart of convention party central to being the only hospitality suite open on a floor that no longer had any parties (and so to which no one came), and to which our members couldn’t always get to — I know of at least one time where a SFWA member was turned away by the hotel when he attempted to get to the SFWA Suite. I don’t blame AussieCon4 for this state of affairs — they were screwed by the hotel management, surely — but these things do have an effect. However, it’s definitely to the credit of the AussieCon4 folks and Antipodean fandom that despite these various structure issues the convention was still so enjoyable on the “let’s hang out and go to panels and see people” level of things.

3. I noted earlier that my own Hugo nominated bit of work did not take home a rocket, but if one is willing to overlook that massive flaw (which I am, because Charlie Stross won my category, and I’m a big fat sloppy fan of his), I think this year’s Hugo Awards were pretty damn successful, especially in the novel category, in which there was a very sensible tie between China Mieville’s The City & The City and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. I could regale you with theories about how this tie came about, but in point of fact, who cares? The major thing here was fandom said “these both deserve the award” and then acted to have it happen. It’s excellent when justice occurs.

I was offered sympathy by friends because I didn’t take home the Hugo this year, but I can honestly say I don’t feel bad about it. One, I’ve already got a couple of them, which really does help to lessen the anxiety one feels about it. Two, it was an excellent field in the novella category this year, and as a nominee you (or at least I) prefer to be competing against excellence, even if it means someone else gets the rocket. Third, I didn’t get a Hugo at AussieCon4, but I did walk out of it as Toastmaster of an upcoming Worldcon, and, hey. That works just fine for me, as far as honors go. In all, I’m good with how everything played out.

I do want to point out that one thing I very much admired about this Hugo ceremony is just how quickly it went through its paces; I wasn’t looking at a clock but I’m pretty sure from start to finish was under two hours. This was wonderful, and thanks go to Hugo emcee Garth Nix for keeping things moving along.

4. As with every Worldcon, there were too many fun individual moments and people to count them all out, but at risk of boring you all more than I already have, I will point out three special highlights:

One, participating in the “Just a Minute” game show panel, masterminded by Paul Cornell and featuring me, China Mieville, Cat Valente, Ellen Kushner, Jennifer Fallon and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, each of whom had to discourse for a full minute on a given topic without repetition, digression or hesitation, any of these which we could be dinged for by the other panel members. This panel was so much fun I nearly peed myself. Some pictures and video of the panel can be seen here, and the best thing about it was that I won. Because I’m petty about these things, you see.

Two, going out clubbing on the night before the Hugos with Alaya Dawn Johnson, her paramour Eddie Schneider, and young master Mieville. Because you know what? Nothing will calm your pre-Hugo jitters like dancing your brains out until 2am. It was the first night before a Hugo ceremony that I actually slept soundly. Should I ever be nominated again, I know my plan of action. And before any of you attempt to mock me for the dancing, I’ll remind you that I have formal dance training and rhythmic skills so wild and alluring that that this woman, upon seeing me dance, felt compelled to meet me and marry me. So bring it, meat. I will smoke you.

Three, announcing the winner of the Campbell Award with Jay Lake (both of us being previous winners of the award) and having the honor of passing the plaque and tiara to Seanan McGuire. Here’s her take on the getting the Campbell, and I have to say it couldn’t have happened to a nicer and more fun person (which is not to say the other candidates are not also nice and fun. They totally are. Just equally). I think everyone who has won the Campbell feels a special kinship with others of our little tribe, so it’s a pleasure to be part of the induction process of the latest member.

In all: Lovely convention, lovely people, lovely city, lovely continent. I’m glad I got to go, and I look forward to going back one day. In business class.