Thursday, December 30, 2010

Summing up the year and three more reviews

What have I accomplished this year? Well... I had a disappointing fragment from a short story published in a student magazine that, given the opportunity, I'd probably remove, although I'm sure no one even noticed it in the first place. Now, I guess I sound like I'm being an ungrateful shit, and I know at one point, I would have thought, a publication's a publication, that's an accomplishment in itself. I guess from last year I've made more of an endeavour to send my writing out to more magazines, to more competitions, I've just had no results that I'm actually proud of. I'm still waiting to hear back from a couple more things, but it's been a while and I have serious doubts as to whether they will go anywhere. I would probably say that I'm a writer who hates compromise, yet I love the challenge to be quirky and unusual and different. That's something I'm not sure your stock standard literary magazine caters for. However, I'm still waiting to get feedback on my latest reject from a couple of months ago, so I'm just guessing. But I think it feels better to think that I've been rejected based on personal tastes, rather than general incompetence/lack of talent, however bitter it is, still, to be rejected over matters as trivial as personal taste. But I guess I should just buck up and move on.

As this year comes to a close, I think I've got a lot to boast about in terms of my academic accomplishments. If I continue studying like I have this year, over the course of the next year and a half, I'll be right on target for graduating with honours a year after that. And the creative writing classes I've taken this year have really allowed me to open up my writing into media I wouldn't usually write in. In addition to the short stories I've written this year, I've written a small collection of poetry, toyed around with some theatre scripts, and fucked around with zines, spoken word poetry, novel writing, novella writing and the bones to a short film script. Some of my more ambitious projects will (hopefully) push onward into 2011, where the stuff I've completed will potentially work their way onto submission piles belonging to various magazines. And, of course, everything works as a learning curve. I'm always looking for new ideas, new perspectives, interesting new techniques and styles to mess about with and just create. I'll probably keep up the spoken word poetry here and there. The Perth Poetry Slam competition is on in February and I'll probably put my name down for that.

So I guess I've got a pretty clear picture for what I want 2011 to hold for me. First semester at uni should be a breeze. I know it's not ideal to adopt that mentality, but I'll be in my third year, and my first semester consists of two first year courses and two third year courses, one of the latter is external, so there'll be a lot of self-taught material, which I'm more than ok with. But on the same page, I'm also looking forward to plunging right into the heavy stuff in the second semester. I've got my creative writing supervised project then, as well as three other third year units. But I guess my two main goals for the year are to get my first book published and to make my film. Both are not easy tasks. I've been sitting on both ideas for a while now, and I've taken tentative steps forward with both of them. I've had a brief word with the publisher I'm looking to go with, and my next step there is coming up with a workable 25k word draft. The film is a little more involved. More collaborative, I mean. The more I think about it, the more difficult it seems, especially since I'm one of those people who likes to aim high and either produce something top quality, or not do anything at all. I often get caught half way between, so I guess that's not really an accurate depiction of my creative juices at play, more so a mentality than anything else.

But anyway, so many things, so easy to get bogged under. I'm glad that I've been able to read as much as I have over the past few months. I think over the past six months I've read about 23 books. Maybe more. Short books, but books, nonetheless. I've ordered a few more that should hopefully be arriving shortly into the new year, but for now I should probably catch up to date with my reviews.

Fishy Fleshed, by Carlton Mellick III:

I read this in a couple of days. By now, I've read a few of Carlton's books. I can see four on my bookshelf. This one grabbed me with the immediacy of Satan Burger. It's got a strong narrative style. It's narrated by a simple, yet complex minded individual. In a vastly different society in the future, a group of scientists try to go back in time to find Jesus. It's weird and crazy, and while I would use those two words to describe the last Mellick book I read (and probably most, if not all of his books), this book really comes into its own with its written style. The narrator is someone to really connect with. His illustrations are utterly incomprehensible, but it builds up a sense of otherworldliness that the main character is most definitely not in sync with our society. And he's not in sync with his society either. I would say that Mellick has crafted something genuinely unique and special with this book. It's not as crude or violent as some of his other books. It's still got that bizarro vulgarity to it, but it's a bit more... sophisticated. Like a bizarro sci-fi version of 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time'.

Shatnerquake, by Jeff Burk

This book, at about 80 pages, is a bit of an afternoon read. It's not ground breaking or thought provoking stuff. It's a fast paced action about William Shatner fighting a bunch of characters he's played. It's short, it's energetic, it's a fun read. There's not really much more I can say about it other than it's not a bad book. It's something you might read to kill an afternoon. It's got some really killer moments and the plot is unusual and compelling, and when I finished it, I wasn't sure if I wanted more or if I was all Shatnered out. But yes. It's an entertaining read.

Jack & Mr. Grin, by Andersen Prunty

This book took me a while to read. Considering it's only about 170 pages long, it took me a while to read. I think it was the cover that disturbed me most. It was either that or the fact that it's the first bizarro horror story I've read and I wasn't sure of what I was getting into. I should mention now that the cover on my book is different to the cover pictured. I was a little disappointed to be honest. But after I got into it I just felt even more disturbed. This Mr. Grin guy is one pretty sadistic son of a bitch. It took me a while to decide whether I liked this book or not.

It wasn't until I could see a feeble light towards the end of this dark and tortuous tunnel that I picked up my reading pace. I found that, yes, I did like this book. It was sick and twisted, sure, and it made me feel uncomfortable. But I think that sometimes that really makes a book work. Goosebumps is child's play, this stuff is not for the squeamish. It's also wild and surreal, yet oddly logical. And it didn't have a cop-out cliffhanger ending that a lot of horror  books/films do, so I feel like Mr Prunty was offering me his heartfelt congratulations by the end of the book, and I felt that, despite the torment (well, mild discomfort) he put me through, I really quite enjoyed this book. It was a bit touch and go for a while, but when things got rollin, there was no turning back.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sex and Death/King Scratch

I've decided I'm not going to rant and rave in my book reviews as much as usual. These two books aren't at the top of my recommendation list. I've heard a number of times of people who are really into the bizarro genre that it can be a bit hit and miss. While I wouldn't go all out and say these are the worst books you can find in the genre, I guess I'll just go right ahead and say that I've read better. It's just a little unsatisfying that I read these two books one after another.

Sex and Death in Television Town:

A weird western. Hermaphrodite gunslingers. People with televisions for heads. A stegosauras woman assassin with fortune telling ejaculate. There are some parts of this story that I really like. The surreal scenery, the television people, the changing landscape, the colour mill. There are parts in this story that I would love to see extrapolated upon or described in more detail. Instead, I feel what could be a really interesting and entertaining story is brought about to senseless sex and violence (thus the title, admittedly well thought out, considering characterisations and plot), and so at times it feels like a casual romp of hedonistic extremities for the sake of extremities. It's graphic and violent and fast paced and fun, but I guess, hypothetically, I would have done quite a few things differently. Not a bad read, but I think Carlton Mellick has more to offer with titles such as Warrior Wolf Women or Punk Land.

King Scratch:

After reading Squid Pulp Blues, I thought, this author has a real knack for writing genre bizarro. Squidly crime noir that was fascinating and disturbing at the same time. King Scratch runs along the same vein, and the bare bones of the story are really good. A guy involved with running moonshine comes across a horrific secret that will tear him down in one short, brutal night. But (to me, at least) it lacked the style and pulp that made SPB so enjoyable. It's dark and disturbing and perverted, and I got to a point where it all seemed to skip like a broken record. It's overflowing with unnecessary body fluids that chunk up what could very well be a gripping story. It reads as though it's trying to pack as much sick shit into every page that it's leaving my desire for plot direction to go starving. It's disturbing and perverted for what feels like the sake of just being disturbing and perverted. I read it this afternoon, and upon finishing it, I felt that it would have been much more effective to strip back all the piss and shit and vomit and keep the weird squidly oddities specked about the place, but mostly keep the plot moving forward with a build up to a twist that is far more horrifying than body fluids streaming about the place at every opportunity. It felt like the plot twist (which was a genuinely shocking one) would have benefitted more if it hadn't been watered down by the previous stream of shocking events.

However,  I'd hate for anyone to write these two authors or these two books off purely because of my comments here. They are both talented writers that I regard highly, and rest assured, I'll be reading more of their stuff as they continue on their writing careers. And, if you'd like to check out King Scratch for yourself, Jordan Krall has been kind enough to hand it out as a free download, which you can find here (temporarily, and for how long, I don't know): King Scratch

So, there, you can make up your own opinion. And yes, I feel like a prick for criticising a book I read for free (don't hate me Mr. Krall!)

And over the next few weeks, I'll hopefully be brainstorming for my own bizarro novella as well as reading titles such as; My Fake War, Fishy Fleshed, Starfish Girl, Blankety Blank, Zombies and Shit and the Flappy Parts. I'm particularly looking forward to the Flappy Parts, Kevin L. Donihe's poetry collection, as I have a soft spot for poetry, and I'd love to get at some weird, surreal shit.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Well, more brainstorming but, whatever.

I haven't written very much on the Pilgrim since I last updated. I think I've probably written less. I did six rewrites on chapter one before it felt right enough to continue to chapter two, and I've done three rewrites of chapter two that still don't feel quite right, but I think I'm getting there. And I think after the first complete draft is finished the first two chapters will just be one chapter. It happens. Right now, I'm not pushing the wordcount, but instead I'm doing what I probably should have done earlier. I've been brainstorming and fleshing out my ideas.

What I've been doing is writing within the laws of the bizarro world I've constructed, trying to make the plot fit in that way, but I feel I should be outlining the plot and then letting the laws run rampant. I've got my key bizarro elements down, and I've been working on extrapolating them to make the narrative wild and exciting, and I've been working on fleshing out the main characters, figuring out their purpose in the story, their personalities and actions/abailities, and I think I've got some really good ideas going.

At the moment what I need to work on is how I'm going to flesh the journey out and build it up, how I can keep it interesting and keep it really crackling along at an exciting pace. I'm having a week off work over christmas to go back home, and I'll be without a computer over that time, so I think it'll be good to just figure the bare bones of the plot out to the details on pen and paper so that I've got lots of fresh new ideas when I get back. I'll probably end up pushing self-enforced deadlines back further and further for the sake of quality, but at this rate, I'm going to aim for a finished first draft by the end of January and, hopefully, a more polished draft finished before uni goes back.

Now, obligatory blah blah about my own writing aside, here's another lovely review of a book I just read:

Washer Mouth: The Man Who Was A Washing Machine, by Kevin L. Donihe

A quick little side note before I get right into it: Mr Donihe is the editor for the Eraserhead Press' New Bizarro Author Series imprint, aka the guy I need to impress with the Pilgrim to get it published. So I figured it would be to my advantage to read some of this guy's work.

Washer Mouth is a story that looks like the sorts of books I would read in primary school. The concept is strange yet light-hearted, so I went into this book expecting a light, surreal, comical bizarro novel similar to the books I would read about intelligent cats or unfortunate toads. Of course, being bizarro, I knew it was going to be weirder than any of those children's books. However, I didn't quite expect those moments of dark, expicit sexual conflict or violence. It somewhat reminded me of Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero. It's all fun and games and good times and then holy fucking shit what is going on? A change of tone, a change of pace, a change of clothes, and I must say that reading this book feels somewhat like rolling about in a washing machine. It goes through cycles and spits me out. And I love it.

Donihe breathes life into every one of his characters, such that no two washing machines are the same and no two celebrities are the same. The protagonist, Roy, and the antagonist, the Dark Washer, are both childishly oblivious to the world, but Roy is propelled by his love for the soap opera, Sands of Eternity, where the Dark Washer is propelled by a fascination (and sexual attraction) towards violence and aggression. People react differently to these bizarre, alien characters, recently transformed from washing machine into human form, and the washing machines' character developments are, I believe, what makes this book so captivating.

Some may find it hard to know what goes on in a washing machine's mind, or what goes on in the mind of a man recently transformed from a washing machine, but Donihe pulls it off so well, I doubt I'll be able to look at washing machines the same again. It's a brilliant and entertaining read, and I'll definitely be picking up more of Donihe's work (I'm eager to check out his poetry collection just recently released). Clever, humorous, a dash of completely fucked up, this is a must read for all fans of the strange and surreal.

Now, if only I could shake the thought of hot dogs being made out of long part...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Behemoth/Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland

I haven't done a lot of writing over the past week or so, mainly because I've been doing a lot of reading. The last two books I read I kind of just... devoured... in a matter of days. So I haven't got anything new on the writing front, but I've got a couple of reviews.

The first book was Scott Westerfeld's steampunk adventure, Behemoth.

It's the second book in his Leviathan trilogy, and, when I bought the book last week, I recieved a copy of the first book as a part of some promotional giveaway they had on the second book. So I've wound up with a second copy of the first book which I've already read.

Anyway, the last book in the trilogy is scheduled for late next year, so there's a bit of a wait until I can finish reading this thing. It's a bit of a bother because it's not so much three self contained novels that follow a sequence and a general overarching narrative (like, for example, I read the third Harry Potter book first and still managed to comprehend it properly), it's more like one large novel broken up into three parts where there's no chance in hell you should read the second book without having read the first.

Behemoth continues the narrative of Leviathan, which is set in an alternate history WWII where Alek, the only son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, flees the Germans long enough to see the war out and take his rightful place as the ruler of Austro-Hungary. His story intersects with Deryn, a girl posing as a boy to serve in the British air forces abourd the Leviathan Airship.

It's 480 pages long, but is quite a quick read considering. Large font, short chapters, and illustrations pad the book out nicely, but it is also scattered with quite a number of fast paced action sequences around all the war and political contexts. Now, when I say steampunk, and WWII, I should clarify that Westerfeld has taken many liberties to put his own spin on the steampunk genre. The allies are labelled "Darwinists" for using war machines fabricated out of living creatures (eg, the Leviathan airship is a giant hydrogen-breathing whale) where the Germans, Austrians and that mob are labelled "Clankers" for their mechanical inventions. So it's very much a battle of technologies, and it's quite interesting how they play out in the series, and particularly, in Behemoth.

Having said that, it's an entertaining book that the teenager in me thinks is totally awesome. It's got elements of teen/young adult fiction, with the plots of the two main characters, both are struggling with their identities, trying to retain secrets, while bearing the burden of the loss of their parents. And then there's the whole, you know, war thing. It's got lots of adrenaline. If you like steampunk, or if you like reading about teenagers trying to come to grips with their identity, I'd say, it's well worth the read. But if you're after something more sophisticated and mature, you won't find that here. Hopefully I'll have a review for Cherie Priest's steampunk novel, Dreadnought, shortly. I sense that she tends to handle the genre with a bit more poise.

Anyway, the second book I finished this week was Carlton Mellick III's Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland.

Yeah. No typos there, that's the title of an actual, physical, published book. I'd say the same thing about this one in regards to it being a quick read. Large font and illustrations and lots of action. This time, the author did the illustrations himself. And a number of them resemble nightmarishly hideous furry porn.

And if that hasn't sold you on this book, wait till you hear about the chainsaw wielding mutants! Yes, this book has pure liquid fucking awesome dripping from every page. If it were made into a film I'd want Peter Jackson to direct it because, quite simply, it is completely bizarre and completely epic at the same time.

The book is set in an apocalyptic future in one of the last few remaining civilisations on Earth. The city is called "McDonaldland" and is run by total assholes. It's got the totalitarian vibe of Punk Land with a beefy injection of hyper-consumerism on the side. And you get fries with that.

In this society, sex turns women into wolves. And the food turns men into mutants. To uphold the image of perfection, all wolves and mutants are tossed outside the city's 300 foot tall steel wall and turned loose to fend for themselves.

Despite being a fast paced bizarro clusterfuck of sex and violence, this story pays close attention to character development, and sculpts the plot carefully around that. I'd love to get even a brief glimpse into Mellick's brain, because, quite simply, this colossal rampage of a novel, in all its oddities and its twisted logic, is surprisingly touching. Like a good narrative should, there isn't a single character in Warrior Wolf Women that I don't love. The novel resonates through all the disturbing shit with much thought spent towards the ideals of family, freedom, sacrifice, and yes, even love.

Even if bizarro is not your cup of tea, the sick shit isn't entirely overflowing from this book, and while it is one of the weirdest books you may read, it's definitely worth it.

And hopefully, I'll have a few more bizarro books arriving in the mail soon, so even if I don't have a whole lot of new writing to talk about, at least I should have some tasty, quirky reviews.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Novella Challenge + Squidly Review

So, now that NaNoWriMo is over I'm working on my novella and the plan is to do it by the end of December. The target is 25,000 words. Not too difficult, and at the end, I plan on having a decent quality story out of it.

At the moment it's been very stop and start. Write. Pause. Rewind. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. I've rewritten the opening scene so many times it's not funny. But each time it's getting better and better, and that's definitely going to help with setting the scene later down the track. It's like a living, breathing organism. Feed it and it will grow.

The plan is to work chapter by chapter. I've got an outline of events/chapters in place, I just need to execute them. I'm also hoping to wrangle a few writer friends into reading it chapter by chapter to see what they think before I go back and edit and send it to the publishers. Yeah, it's a big goal, but I think I need to take big steps like this if I want to eventually get somewhere with my writing.

Anyway, onto the squidly review:

Squid Pulp Blues, by Jordan Krall.

This book consists of three novellas, each are roughly 60 pages in length, and each of them set in the strange town of Thompson. Without going into too much detail, I'll say that each story sort of interconnects with the next, from the Little Bing Bong comics to the disfigured war veterans known as "the longheads" to the midget prostitutes to the many many squid related objects. Ashtrays, drugs, drinks, and even entire living squids.

You can probably gather from the title and cover that it's a squidly bizarro pulp-ish crime/noir book that is weird and dark and gritty and violent and brimming with style. That's a pretty accurate portrayal, really. And I must say that I love, love, love Jordan Krall's style. There's the distinct impression of multiple intersecting storylines, like of a series of short stories converging at one climactic point. Each of the three stories occur like this. There's something. Then something unrelated, and something else unrelated, and they work their way in to the dark and disturbing focal point. It's like if Quentin Tarantino were a surreal author this is the sort of thing he'd write.

Yeah, it's three stories that work independently of each other, but really, you need to read them all in series to get the full impression of what Krall has accomplished here. It's brilliant. And I'd love to get my hands on his other books and devour their squidly goodness. This man makes his mark giving the bizarro genre his own patented style. If you like noir and you like pulp then you'll love this. I don't even think you need to be a fan of the bizarro genre to enjoy this. It's weird, but in its own universe, it runs so squidly smooth and picks up the pace early on and packs a squidly punch that's so strange and disturbing I found it impossible not to love this book.