Let Me Digress

Kathryn Hore - Writer

Off to a cabin in the woods again

So last weekend I headed off with a like-minded writer type to a cabin in the woods to get some serious writing done.

Here’s a glimpse of what that looked like:

Yes, there was some wine involved. I won’t deny it. It’s not a prerequisite for such weekends, but somehow always seems to be there, hmmm…

In the last few years I’ve started going off on a few of these weekend retreats – now the kids are just old enough for me to steal the occasional weekend for myself – and they are brilliant for getting writing work done. Sometimes I go with a group or on formal retreats – the Vic chapter Australasian Horror Writers Association retreats are amazing – and sometimes it’s just a couple of writing friends organising stuff ourselves.

Here’s all you need to know about retreats: plan what you’re going to work on before the time. I learnt this trick early. First retreat I ever went on, I didn’t have much of a work plan, and I faffed around between projects and didn’t achieve much of substance. Had find, mind. Didn’t regret a minute. But didn’t get a lot of serious writing done.

These days, I’m an old hand. I make sure I know what project is the priority project of the day, and that I focus on.

For this retreat I worked on revising a first draft fantasy romance, a fairytale if you will, with imprisoned princesses and a king of thieves and a hint of magic. And also, because it’s me, dark political intrigue, cynical pragmatism, complex revolutionary plots and lot of blood spilt. I do like a bit of politics in my fantasy romances.

Anyway, whether you go on your own, or set off with a group, or find a formal established retreat to attend, it’s a valuable experience I’d recommend to any and every writer. Seriously, writing with this view is pretty divine:

The only other tip I’d give is don’t drink too much of this stuff, or you’ll curse yourself when it comes to revision time…. 😉


And there I thought I’d seen every genre distinction possible…

Well, obviously, not every genre distinction possible, because genre is a mutating beast that shifts and shapes and becomes something else again at a moment’s notice. But when it comes to the SFF genres and how they’re broken down into ever more minuscule sub-sub-sub genres, I thought I was across the commonly accepted terminology.

Apparently not. For there I was, scrolling through Facebook, when an article from a good half-decade ago was thrown up in my face which made the distinction between “Science Fiction” (i.e. good, intelligent, thoughtful, hard-science) and “Sci-Fi” (i.e. ostensibly crap, mass-market populist space opera bullshit based on dodgy science). Yeah, it’s that kind of article. Full of hierarchical dichotomies positing the author’s passions at the top and everything they’re not down the bottom.

Look, I only clicked because the person posting it said it was funny.*

I’ve not seen that particular distinction made between Science Fiction and Sci-Fi before, and considering the amount of reading I do on genre theory, I’d have expected to have come across it. If it really were a thing, I mean. Which it’s not. It was just one guy’s not-so-subtle argument that what he liked = good, and what he didn’t like = bad. He was wrong in just about every way, because mass-market or populist or space opera can be as high quality as any other type of fiction, and hard-science science fiction can be as dull and boring and awful as… well, any other type of fiction.

Human beings do like to categorise the things they love into boxes of ever diminishing size. I write Speculative Fiction myself and if that’s not an umbrella term for every fantastic and fantastical genre, up to and including the ones claiming Science with a capital Sci, then gothic-urban-bodyhorror-posthumanism is not the classic field of literature we all know it is.

It’s a patterns thing. We’re undoubtedly hard-wired for it because, I don’t know, primitive man needed to see patterns to escape tigers in the jungle or something. I’m sure the evolutionary biologists could tell me. That ain’t my field. But one thing writing and reading over the years has taught me, it’s human beings like to break the universe around them into ever smaller bits and fit those bits into easily classifiable categories and then argue about them with a passion that defies religion.

Believe me. I’m a librarian and information manager by training. I know about classification.

And the one thing I do know very well, after a long career in taxonomy creation and information organisation in any number of forms, is that such classifications and taxonomies are never, ever, neutral. They’re simply loaded-up with meaning and bias.

Anybody who studies genre knows this already, of course. Most casual readers of genre are pretty well aware of it too, at least the self-aware ones. And certainly librarians, information managers and anyone even vaguely acquainted with taxonomy creation is well aware of the human bias that comes with any classification system.

Just look at good old Dewey Decimal Classification, probably used by more libraries worldwide than any other system. Christianity and its related subjects get practically the entire class of ‘religion’ to itself, 200 right through to 289, while “all other religions” get clumped together under class 290-99. Meanwhile the parapsychology and the occult is shoved in under psychology, because yeah, it makes sense to shelf clairvoyance next to clinical psychology, sure.

But it made sense to Melvil Dewey, a man who reduced his own name to the most minimal letters possible, who was stringently Christian and who also, interestingly enough, had quite a thing for the ladies. In particular for harassing them. Not one of nature’s advocates for human equality and diversity, was our Melvil.

From the vitally important fight to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders back in 1973 to the less-important arguments floating around my social media feeds recently inspired by an article on Cyberpunk arguing modern incarnations of the genre just don’t match its former mainstream hold (hint: original cyberpunk was never a mainstream blast, it was always on the fringe and a niche genre.) Human beings likes to classify, and classifications have consequences. Sometimes big weighty consequences.

In the book industry, genre is a marketing category. It’s a shelf-location so booksellers can sell books and publishers can market them. Personally, I prefer the view of genre as a shifting context, suggesting different meanings depending on its historical and cultural point of reference. Genre is not fixed. And the meanings of genre, of the classifications placed on a work of fiction, are not immutable.

Something to remember next time you’re tempted to put those Sci-Fi books on a different shelf to the LitFic ones.

Anyway, enough from me. I’m off to go write some edgy post-cyberpunk urban decay, deal with literary themes and references, and full of ultra-violence and failing technology.

Or, as I like to think of it, a romance.

‘Till next….

K.

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* It wasn’t.

** No, I’m not linking to the article. It’s a work I’m critical of. If someone asks me to critique their writing or other creative output, or if I’m writing a formal review, then I will give my full opinion, positive and negative, in appropriately considered terminology. But in all other cases I live by the simple rule: if you don’t have something nice to say, glue you’re damn lips shut, because no-one is going to be helped by you pulling apart someone else’s work entirely unasked. Seriously. Critique, feedback and constructive criticism is a very necessary thing for any creator, but there are ways and means, and anonymous hate for the purposes of jaded humour on the internet isn’t going to help anybody.

Endings. (In which I enjoy arguing over bad horror flicks while drinking too much wine.)

I’ve thinking about endings. Story endings. 

See, a horror loving friend had a movie night the other night and, as one does, decided to stick on an “old” and “classic” movie. Did she pick something like, oh, James Whale’s Frankenstein? What about Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Perhaps The Shining or The Exorcist, those 70s classics? But no. She didn’t even go Hammer Horror from that period, which I would’ve loved. Look, I’m not picky. I’d consider the original Freddy Krueger Nightmare on Elm St a classic. 

But my friend is significantly younger than me, so what she picked was… The Mist. From 2007. Hmmm.

Anyway, after having some severe words with her about what constitutes a ‘classic’, or even ‘old’, and after said friend mocked me in return for being middle-aged and out of touch – all undoubtedly true – we all sat down with several bottles of wine (necessary for this film) to watch it. Then we all got into semi-drunken arguments about the ending. As a bunch of horror readers, writers and pop culture consumers are wont to do. 

Oh, and before I forget: spoilers ahead. I don’t know if it’s possible to spoil a move that’s a dozen years old, especially in a blog post titled “Endings”, but I did see someone put a spoiler warning on an online forum discussion of Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo once, and that book’s well over 170 years old, so what do I know about modern spoiler culture?

Um… where was I headed, before I paused to roll my eyes at spoiler warnings?

That’s right. The Mist, circa 2007. If you don’t know the ending by now, here’s my rendition of it: after surviving the endless horrors that usually occur in a Stephen King tale, the protagonist and his plucky band of survivors (read: a nice older couple, a love interest, and his 8yo son, the protection of whom has hitherto been his entire character motivation), give up and he shoots them all dead. This is instead of letting the monsters get to them, or something. Even though they’ve risked far more multiple times than stepping outside of the car into the mist and seeing if they maybe can walk it. Anyway, thirty seconds after he literally kills his own child, the army rolls in and he finds they were all saved after all. Oh, the horror.

People hated this ending. 

I hated this ending. 

But my movie-night-hosting-friend *loved* this ending, and knows just how controversial that stance is, hence her desire to ply everyone with wine and stick this particular film on. She loves the ending because it’s grim and brutal and horror. She also loves a good argument. Her argument to those of us who hated the ending was we’re just not tough enough to cope with a downer ending and wanted some kind of happy fairytale finale. 

Let me tell you, in horror writing circles, thems fighting words. 

So I’m here to tell you why I hated the ending and it’s nothing to do with not being able to deal with grim, brutal, horror movie endings. It’s because that particular ending is entirely unearned in a storytelling sense. It makes no narrative sense. It is plonked on purely for shock value.

In a story, your ending has to be earned. That version of The Mist is a damn fine movie which I absolutely loved… right up until the end, which destroyed it. Because the ending was unearned and unrelated to the actual story. If the protagonist had been struggling throughout the film with a dark part of himself that didn’t want to protect or care for his kid, while still loving him, then having to shoot the child dead right when he’d finally embraced a protector’s role would have been a truly tragic, gut-wrenching end. 

That’s not what happened. There was no fatal flaw in the protagonist that he finally gave in to which provided our tragedy. It’s one thing for the external end goal to be survival, but they fail and all die. But story endings are wrapped up in the protagonist’s internal journey, their character arc, and this ending made zero sense to any character’s arc in the film.

Which is a shame, because otherwise it’s a note-perfect flick which shows that no matter what external monster horrors threaten on the outside, the worst horror will always come from inside human beings. 

Maybe that’s why I hated the ending so much. It destroys a film I otherwise loved. Anyway, I haven’t seen the more recent Netflix remake, nor have I read the original King novella it’s based on. I’m not likely to watch/read either after the scarring left by version 2007.

So here’s the lesson of the tale, folks… make your ending count for the characters, not merely for the external plotline. That’s where it’ll hit your readers with a real emotional punch. 

And for the love of the old gods, do not stick on this flick when having a semi-drunken movie night with a bunch of horror movie fans. Please.  

Contributor copy

I’m an avid eBook reader. I love my Kindle. I love reading on my phone, on the iPad.

When it comes to eReaders, it’s just so amazingly convenient to be able to take some lightweight bit of tech in my handbag and know it holds hundreds and thousands of books. And if I want to get a new book while I’m waiting at the train station, or in the office, or anywhere, I can just flick across and purchase it on my phone or whatever, and download it in a flash.

As a reader, I adore eBooks.

But as a writer, there is no better sensation than holding a physical, published book in my hands that contains words by me. It’s something I’ll never get over.

Here’s the latest – TRANSCENDENT, the anthology by Transmundane Press, just out:

It’s a beautiful looking book and one you absolutely will want to pick up. Available in the usual places, here are the Amazon links:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Transcendent-Transmundane-Press-ebook/dp/B07MR41CRC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1547112769&sr=8-1&keywords=transcendent+transmundane+press

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/Transcendent-Transmundane-Press-ebook/dp/B07MR41CRC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1547112759&sr=8-1&keywords=transcendent+transmundane+press

Or alternatively, straight from the publishers store: https://www.transmundanepress.com/store.html#!/Transcendent/c/32292305/offset=0&sort=normal

Enjoy… 🙂

TRANSCENDENT has been launched!

What’s the best way to kick off a New Year? With a brand new publication out in the world.

TRANSCENDENT – the new anthology from Transmundane Press –  is out now folks, just in time to kick off 2019 with a very cool read.

I’ve a story in this one that has been kicking around in my head for a long, long time. Like, a couple of decades worth of long time. I wrote an early version of it back when I was an undergraduate (and not to make myself feel old or anything, but that was over twenty years ago now *gasp*).

I didn’t quite have the skill to pull off the story I wanted to at the time, so I shelved it and forgot about it. Until a few years later, when I dug it out and tried again. Still nope, couldn’t make it do what I wanted it to do. So back on the shelf, to the back fo the mind, forgotten. Until the next time. Then the time again.

Until just about a year ago when I dusted it off after a long time forgotten and though, you know, I could make something of this. I think I could write this properly now.

So I did. And the result was Dark Moon, which appears in TRANSCENDENT, and which is a wonderful anthology of dark dreams and hallucinations, visions and nightmares.

Go check out the launch celebration page on Transmundane Press’ site for everything you might need to know, including links on where to buy it:

TRANSCENDENT: Celebrating the Launch!

And if you’re a fellow Australian, here’s the Amazon.com.au link:

 

Hope 2019 is grand for you all, folks… !

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