Read-Alikes: Carnivorous Lunar Activities

We got a new batch of read-alike bookmarks at work and they were obviously made by someone who doesn’t read much. We’re talking “If you like BRAD THOR then try OTHER DAD-THRILLER” level of recommendations. Could I recommend you a book that you’d find on the best-seller list? Sure, but… you can just look at the best-seller list if you want to read that. There are plenty of books in the library without nationwide marketing campaigns — what’s the point of a librarian if they can only rec the same books you’d see commercials for on daytime TV?

 

I’ve always liked the idea of werewolves, but they get stuck with the worst media. There are maybe three good werewolf movies, the World of Darkness Werewolf RPG had clunky rules and even weirder players than Vampire, and I don’t think there were any decent novels about them. But there have been a few titles that broke the curse over the last couple years.

The most recent surprisingly good werewolf novel is Carnivorous Lunar Activities, by Max Booth III. Most of the book is a conversation between two former high school buds over the course of an evening, and Booth wrings an impressive amount of tension out of two down-on-their-luck guys and a dingy basement. His characters and dialogue have enough pathos and humor to easily carry the story until things come to a head in act three.

The book is a frickin’ romp, and you probably tore through it faster than a lycanthrope through an unsuspecting police deputy. What particular element of Carnivorous Lunar Activities has left you hungry for more?

Give me another character who’s in waaay over their head when dealing with the supernatural. Red Sky Blues, by Matthew Davis. 
Red Sky Blues follows Thomas Gray, an errand-boy to otherworldly beings who winds up foiling world-ending plots nobody else can be bothered to piece together, and it doesn’t help that magic is severely physically exhausting for mortals. Both novels feature protagonists who are dedicated, though a bit burned-out and mouthier than a professional would be, but they’re still gonna get the job done. Or get some other folks killed trying.

I just like a flawed protagonist being bad at things, supernaturality be damned. Notes from the Internet Apocalypse, by Wayne Gladstone. 
Gladstone is just your average Very Online guy trying to navigate meatspace and figure out why the entire Internet just stopped working. Nothing paranormal, the people trying to form little in-person Something Awful communes completely obey the laws of physics. While it’s riddled with humorous observation and caricatures, it’s as much a study of the quasi-Nice-Guy narrator as it is the Internet at large. Gladstone ain’t a bad guy, but he isn’t any better of a detective than Ted is a hunter, so pratfalls abound!

If werewolves can have a decent turn in fiction, what’s next? A zombie novel that isn’t tedious? The Last Weekend, Nick Mamatas
There’s more to werewolves than platitudes about ‘the beast within,’ and there’s more to zombies than the warmed-over fantasies of guys who are really into EDC. The Last Weekend follows an alcoholic writer who won’t let the fact that society is crumbling around him stop him from making excuses to not write his great American novel — It’s tough to sit down and write when you spent a day working for what’s left of the city drilling holes into corpses’ heads. If you dug the unique self-deprecating human spin that Booth put on the werewolf formula, Mamatas’ literary-zombie-satire will probably start gnawing at your cranium just as easily.

BONUS FORMAL DIGRESSION: The poem “Unlimited Teenage Werewolves” by Zachary Evans in Pulpmouth Issue 1.

Standard Year in Review post

The problem with having a blog is that it all feels self-aggrandizing and a year-in-review post is the nadir of self-aggrandizing posts. It’s even more self-aggrandizing than using ‘nadir’ in a sentence. So with that out of the way I got drunk on flowery umbrella drinks and wrote one. Any typos I made will be left intact to help tamp down on the aggrandizement. Hopefully it just doesn’t even look like a word anymore.

Excerpts from the Diary of Theodore Miro, competitor on Season 2 of CryptoChefs
My second time out with the awesome folks at Mad Scientist Journal followed a contestant into the seedy underbelly of televised cooking competitions. If you’ve been binging the Great British Bake Off but think all their pies needed 240% more blackbirds, have I got the story for you!

To Another Abyss! from Spaceboy Books
Having my first novel published by a small press was definitely the highlight of my year. I knew that a Wodehouse-style comedy of errors steeped in Western Mass regionalisms (the different types of artists who congregate around the Five Colleges, a small but tenacious punk scene, Bob’s Discount Furniture,) would have a wicked niche audience and be a hard sell to agents. When I found Spaceboy’s submission call and saw their catalogue included a weird SF dystopia leaning hard left, I had a good feeling about sending them my manuscript. And now after rounds of revisions and an anxiety-addled blurb-busking — sincerest thanks to Erica L. Satifka and Wayne Gladstone — my farcical foray into fine art, film, and fish-people is out there in the wild, doing whatever books do when you aren’t prodding them with a red pen.

Oh Ghost of Mine
Something I really like in a novel is when the POV character isn’t entirely sympathetic and it’s to an extent the book is all a joke at their expense, but I understand how that can be super annoying to other readers. I was glad I got it out of my system with To Another Abyss, and this tie-in story follows Decca trying to start a little supernatural side-hustle. I’m wicked proud that it got picked up by Speculative City in print online, and produced as audio by The Overcast.

InFringe Festival
I’d been out of the loop with live readings for a year or two, but my friend Picolla invited me to be part of their Fringe show “Moved: an Evening of Poetry Inspired by Burlesque.” I was paired with a dancer named Eros Sea, who sent a brief description of the themes behind his set and the song he was performing to. It was from Frozen… which I’d never seen. So I wrote a flash piece about a ghost hitchhiker getting over his moping-on-the-roadside routine and hoped for the best! It went over well with the crowd, but honestly, there was no way I could’ve written something that measured up to the actual act from Eros. The man has poise for weeks and of course you shouldn’t click that link if you’re at work.

Oh god, conventions. Aaaaaah.
I tried to jump right in to the Published Author thing and went to a couple cons. I attended Readercon where I got to see some super interesting panel discussions and hopefully not be too socially awkward while meeting some of my favorite authors. Contraflow, a small con here in Louisiana, invited me as a guest. I got to sit on a couple panel discussions and even moderate a pretty thorough panel about SFF affecting change in the real world with Trisha Baker and Ernest Russell.

Many nerves were wracked in the process, but two stories and one novel makes this my most productive year so far. And I didn’t even have to handcuff myself to Twitter’s offices to get the attention.

Date Yourself!

Some novelists find fleshing out their characters difficult, which can feel all the more frustrating because you spend most of your life surrounded by characters — how can you actually know that many people yet have trouble coming up with a handful of your own to push around for about seventy thousand words?

You can find entire books on how to develop characters, but their exercises can be dry and feel like homework. If that sounds like a slog to you, then I think I found a shortcut that isn’t too embarrassing to admit you’re familiar with nowadays: fill out an OKCupid profile for your major characters.
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Recycled Con Notes: Turning Your Idea Into a Story

Since half the panelists including the moderator didn’t bother showing up for one of the panels I was on this weekend, here’s a write-up of the notes I didn’t get to use for “Turning Your Idea into a Story.” I don’t have a lot of stories to my name, but I’d like to think the ones I do have were at least wrought from some pretty odd ideas. Here are three suggestions I’ve used when stuck with an idea that wasn’t quite ready to get written. Suggestion 0.5 would be, “Salvage your unused scraps to make something else out of ’em.”

1) Overthink your idea.
There are always new approaches you can take to old stories, and if you’re the kind of person interested in writing fiction in 2018 then odds are you’re at least a little bit neurotic. So put that tendency to good use: trap yourself in your own head with your fledgling idea and over-analyze it until you’ve teased out some specifics.

Say you wanted to write a story about a pirate raiding ships and discovering buried treasure. Not the most original, but you can find a new angle on it if you look hard enough. What is it about the basic idea that makes you want to write it? Maybe it’s the romanticized freedom and self-determination of piracy that attracts you. Maybe you’re actually really interested in the nuts and bolts of seafaring, to the point where you’re annoyed that I think nuts and bolts were used on pirate ships. Occupy your hands by doing the dishes or dusting so that you’ll have nothing to do but think your idea to pieces, then pick out the ones that still look good when you separate them.

2) Have you tried… two ideas?
I have a list of things I’ve been meaning to try writing about in a Google doc. Nothing developed, just a three or four word description on each line. When I find something new I want to add to the list, I’ll go through the list and see if my new thing could dovetail with any of the old ideas.

For example, I’d been interested in the physiology of Baba Yaga’s hut for a good while. Was it a chicken whose body she turned into a hut, or an existing hut to which she added legs? Are the legs made of chicken meat? Does the house have blood? The line “Baba Yaga hut meat?” sat near the top of my list for about a year. Then, after hearing a friend of mine talk about his experience on a Food Network game show, I thought that might be a neat little story idea. I took it to the list, paired it up with the Baba Yaga idea, and then this happened. So throw something totally unpiratical at your pirate if he still isn’t going anywhere.

3) Figure out your characters.
Ideas are static things, but stories aren’t. I mean, there are experimental ones that are, but if you’re writing one of those then you’re already beyond the realm of general advice.

How your story progresses depends on the choices characters make, and the choices they make depends on who they are — their temperament, approach to problem-solving, Myers-Briggs type or zodiac sign or whatever you use to figure out how your characters tick. Is the specific pirate you’re writing about the sort who’d go looking for a map with a giant X on it, or just run their ship aground and start digging on any island they come across?