Book Review: The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, 16th Annual Collection

Time for another Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror book review. I’ve done one for 2004 and 2006, and today’s review will focus on the 16th annual 2002 book. I’m beginning to see a theme to these anthologies. The 2004 had lots of vulgarity and warped ickiness to it that truly turned me off, while the 2006 focused on lesser known authors (at least, to me at the time–now that I’ve done a lot of reading, names like Elizabeth Hand and Nisi Shawl are quite familiar to me now). I like this idea of vaguely themed anthologies. It gives the appearance that the stories have connections to each other, even the ones that don’t.

The 2002 book has a distinct British feel to it. Many stories had British themes, British settings, British writers–including writers who spent at least six months in Britain before coming to the States. However, the story that stood out most to me is not British. It’s very American…if you can call time travel and palindromes American…

Lull by Kelly Link is the first story in the anthology, and it threw me for a loop. A time loop, if you will. I’m hard pressed to describe it because there isn’t a linear storyline. Well, there is, but it isn’t really told in a linear fashion. It starts off with a group of guys playing poker in someone’s basement while listening to a cassette tape of songs playing backwards and forwards set on an endless loop. They’re telling stories to each other about a house, then they call up a phone sex line, except the woman at the end tells stories, and she tells a story…

…about a cheerleader who lives in a world where time flows backwards. She gets locked in the closet with the Devil, and she winds up telling a story about…

…a guy named Ed (who is one of the poker players), whose wife Susan is creating green copies of herself from different times and creates her own green Susan beer…

Okay. I’m going to stop because just writing this out is so freaking weird and bizarre that you have to think, what the hell kind of story is that?! But let me tell you something: Link makes it work. Yes, it’s bizarre. Yes, it’s weird. But it’s also the most incredible piece of writing I’ve ever seen. She intertwine the stories so that they flow back and forth, much like the tape that plays forwards and backwards. And in the meantime she interweaves themes of death and life and storytelling so as not to be forgotten. And the whole world where time flows backwards thing–it’s wonderful and tragic, because in such a world there is no surprises. Everyone knows what will happen already; or rather, they know what has already happened, so they just live the events that lead up to it and…

Pure brilliance. I can’t get it out of my head. I even wrote an email to Link asking her how she did it. Haven’t heard anything back yet, but it’s okay. A story such as this needs, no, begs to be studied, so I’ll probably do that.

Now that I finished gushing over Lull, here are some other stories in the anthology that stood out to me (I’m skipping poetry because I did that in the previous post).

Details by China Mieville: an interesting spin on the phrase “The devil’s in the details…”

The Assistant to Dr. Jacob by Eric Schaller: A man learns that his gentle memories of a Doctor and his greenhouse are not what they seem.

The Pagodas of Cibourne by M. Shayne Bell: Sick kid gets healed by living broken bits of pottery. It’s actually more touching than it sounds.

Stitch by Terry Dowling: Evil lurks behind a cross-stitched nursery rhyme. Nice use of dread.

Porno in August by Carlton Mellick III: The only other surreal story in here that was just weird, but also in a strange way made me think of the emptiness of the porn industry–literally. Bunch of actors get dropped in the middle of the ocean to shoot a film. They eat jellyfish. Sharks eat them. Weirdness ensues.

Mermaid Song by Peter Dickinson: A very touching fable about a young girl who learns about mermaids.

The Green Man by Christopher Fowler: Freaky story about a couple who goes to oversee a retreat hotel in a jungle inhabited by possessive monkeys. And we all know how that turns out.

Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea: Guy runs around painting obscure messages on people. Humorous and poignant.

Thailand by Haruki Murakami: This is another story I want to study. In some ways, I’m struggling how this got included in the anthology, because on the surface of the story, there’s no apparent threads of fantasy. In fact, remove the faint hint of magic realism at the end of the story, and it would still remain as a quiet literary story of a woman who goes to Thailand to relax and swim, and her knowledgeable chauffeur/guide. But there is something about this story that really struck me; perhaps the quiet manner it is told–the woman goes to Thailand, swims at a pool by herself, talks to the chauffeur, and then flies home after several days. There’s no action other than mostly introspective, but it makes for a very beautiful story.

The Rose in Twelve Petals by Theodora Goss: Wonderful retelling of Sleeping Beauty in twelve separate parts.

Road Trip by Kathe Koja: story told in 2nd person about a guy deep in grief over the death of his daughter.

The Least Trumps by Elizabeth Hand: Tattooist finds a couple of tarot cards that hold dreams-come-true.

Actually, there were so many more stories in this one that I really liked a lot. If I find this in a used bookstore, I would probably buy it. This ranks 4-1/2 Susan beers out of 5. And watch that first sip–it’s quite a doozy.

Downsized Writing

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been digging poetry.

It’s not because April is National Poetry Month. I didn’t even know it was until I saw it mentioned on one of the blogs I visit. No, I’ve been reading the 16th Annual Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror Anthology (which I will do a book review on in the next couple of days–I promise). In it were some really good poems–Hansel, A retrospective, or the Danger of Childhood Obesity by Tom Disch; Seven Pairs of Iron Shoes by Tracina Jackson-Adams; Reading Myth to Kindergartners by Jackie Bartley; and After the Chuck Jones Tribute on Teletoon by Sharon McCartney (an ode to Wile E. Coyote and my favorite one). After reading those and other in the anthology, I started doodling around on my own. I haven’t been writing one per day–more like when the mood hits me–but so far I’ve written 5 poems in two weeks. Not bad.

It’s not like I haven’t written poetry before. When I got back into writing, I jumpstarted it using poetry. But once I started working on Willow and short stories, poetry somewhat took a back seat; it was something nice to dabble in, but I didn’t want to spend all my energy on it. That’s a shame, because I believe that my writing is heavily influenced by poetry. It’s using the same concept of finding the right words to convey the right image, and doing so in an almost lyrical manner.

It seems that my current fascination with poetry reflects the downsizing in my life. We’re in the process of moving from a 3-bedroom house to a 3-bedroom apartment in Madison, which means putting a bunch of stuff on Craigslist, giving other things away. It’s a little unsettling seeing empty space where our couch used to be–and I know I’ll be unhappy when the dresser I had since the beginning of college gets carted away. The upshot of this is that we’ll be getting new dressers once we get to Madison. It’s just a little sad knowing that we’re moving to a condensed lifestyle, even if it’s only going to be for a few months.

And yet, it’s also thrilling. The day we signed the lease, I was awake for most of the night planning out where to put furniture in our new apartment. Considering that I tend to snub HGTV, I’ve been bugging my hubby with: “If we get rid of the entertainment center and store the TV, we can use a smaller cart to put a computer screen on so it will fit on this wall. Then we can put the futon over here so it won’t get in the way. And then we can get a shelved headboard for our bed–that will eliminate our need for bookshelves, so we’d have more space to put a desk…”

Great. I’m turning into my mother AND my mother-in-law.

But I can’t help it. The challenge of decorating such a small space is one I’m taking up with great relish. And it’s the same excitement I’ve been finding in writing poetry lately. It’s short enough so that it doesn’t take too much time, which I’m scarce on nowadays. And yes, it doesn’t pay well, but it’s a form of writing that is very respected, if it’s done well.

I’ll end with something I churned out the other day. A Writer’s Digest blog, Poetry Asides, has been doing a Poem-A-Day challenge for the month of April. One of the writing prompts was “snooping on another conversation”. So here’s my tiny little contribution. Enjoy!

===============
$20 bucks an hour

“They had us in rooms,
Couldn’t do nothing
We’d watch TV, read books
and they always took blood…”

she stretched out her arm
to show the track marks
tiny bruises speckled
like moldy grapes

“We couldn’t do anything
they wanted to track
how the medicine went through
our bodies
constantly taking samples
our arms, legs…”

She let her sleeve fall.

“Was it worth it?” someone asked
She tilted her head.

“Well, I got a hundred fifty bucks.”

She rose from the table,
swayed slightly
catching herself with a
pinpricked hand.
“I’d probably do it again,”
she told us,
tugging down the hem
of her floral dress.

In honor of April being Poetry Month…a Poem from Daniel

5:53pm

Spoken in the bathroom:

================================
“The angry poop is scared and mad.
It wants to fight.”
================================

Wow.

What else can you say to something like that?

Maybe I should bring back his Word of the Month.

The Art of Writing Fanfics (Or whatever happened to Home/Heart, LaShawn?)

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from someone who liked to know if I finished a story I started years ago. She had all eleven chapters of it and wanted to know if I wrote any more.

The premise of that story? A girl named Lita accidentally gets zapped into another world, where she is mistaken for Ranma’s fiancΓ©e, Kane. Meanwhile, Kane, having been pulled into Lita’s universe, has to adjust to working with Serena and the other Scouts to find her way back home.

To a normal reader, the above will make little sense. To anime fans, however, not only does that make perfect sense, those fans will know exactly which version of Sailor Moon I’m talking about just by the names alone.

Fanfiction–fanfics for short–has always been around, but through the internet, fanfics have exploded into widespread community. You can type in any TV show or fictional character and find a fanfic based on it. You want to continue the story of “Lost” after the finale in a few weeks? Chances are, there are hundreds of stories out there presenting what happens after the story, alternate storylines, fanfics where the men shun the women and have orgies among themselves (Not that I ever read one–I missed the boat on becoming a Lost fan–but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a fanfic like that out there). Any scenario you can think of, a fanfic writer probably has already thought of it and written it.

Fanfic writers are unique creatures in that they don’t do it for money. They do it for the love of the character and worlds they’re based on. So in that regard, basically anyone can become a fanfic writer. And yes, there are thousands, nay, millions of badly written, misspelled, crude stories, mostly where the writer himself becomes the main character of the story and saves the day. (Those are called self-insert fics; stay away from those if you don’t want your brain to melt into gooey cheese.) But for all of those horribly written fanfics, there are many gems that are so compelling, so wonderful to read, that you have to wonder why the writer didn’t get paid for it. Then you remember the copyright rule and go, Oh yeah…right…

All this leads up to me admitting that, yes, I too was a fanfic writer. I started watching Sailor Moon on Channel 26 at 6:30am. That opened the door for other anime like Ranma 1/2, Gunsmith Cats and Slayers. Because video stores were limited in their selection of anime, I turned online to get my anime fix and stumbled upon the FFML, the Fan Fiction Mailing List. With all the stories written about anime, it wasn’t long before I was spinning out several stories of my own. This was during my college years, when I wasn’t so sure of my own writing, or what it meant to be a writer. I took a writing class, yes, but the stories I wrote were crappy, and I didn’t know what to do with them after I wrote them. On the FFML, I can write something up, post it to the list, and I got feedback, from grammar/spelling corrections, to if a character was OOC–acting Out Of Character.

Looking back on it, the FFML can be considered a predecessor to the online critique groups of today. It was an unofficial classroom where I could focus on technique without having to come up with made-up world. In a fanfic universe, all the characters were right there, with their own rules I had to abide to. I don’t think I stood out among the top fanfic writers–there were people who wrote far more epics than I did. But I did learn how to hold my own, and even got a small fanbase of sorts. And I got a chance to do things that I didn’t have the courage to in my own work. For instance, I wrote a fanfic based around the entire album of XTC’s “Skylarking”. Now that was fun!

So the question is, what happened? Why did I stopped writing fanfics?

Well, there’s the obvious reason. The more I grew into writing, the more I wanted to start working on stories of my own creation. Fanfic writing is beneficial, but there comes a point in time when you have to break out of the box of someone else’s world and start learning how to create your own. I had grown confident enough in my own writing skills to tackle that.

The changing of anime universe had a hand in it too. With anime more easily accessible, people no longer having to rely on fanfics to get their anime fix. They could just go online for fansubs. And even the fanfic content grew a little stale. The old standards of Ranma 1/2 and Sailor Moon got replaced by newer anime of Blood +, Full Metal Alchemist (which itself has grown old), and Bleach. Fanfics of all genres exploded everywhere, to the point where it got hard to keep up on new stories. Nowadays, people go to Fanfiction.net if they want to read fanfics. The FFML still exists, but it’s not the same list it was ten years ago. I have thought about putting my fanfics up at the Cafe where all can read. But why would I want to do that? Most of the writing in those fanfics was horrible…and unless you know the anime, they wouldn’t make much sense. I’m content in letting them remain out there in the Net. If you’re truly curious, just google my name–a couple of my fanfics that are decent enough to remain out there will pop up.

But let’s face it. I’m just not into fanfiction anymore. I just don’t have time. There are a few running stories that I still read when new chapters come out (Sailor Moon 4200 and On a Clear Day, plus anything released by Megane 6.7 or Zoogz. Their Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatments of bad fanfics are a treat in itself). I still watch anime, too. Currently, I’m watching Dennou Coil and Sister of Wellebar, as well as the live action of Honey and Clover. But I think my time of writing fanfics is over.

Which is a shame, because I always wanted to finish “A Humble Home for a Strong Heart”, my crossover Sailor Moon/Ranma 1/2 story. But even if I did, that story used such obscure information that only fans back in the day would know (the reason I wrote it was to spoof the English version of Sailor Moon against the Japanese version of Ranma 1/2). Sadly, the story is just not relevant anymore. The only reason I would complete it is for the sake of finishing it.

Of course…if enough people bug me about it, then, who knows? Maybe I will.

Some waterlogged links for you

It’s wet. It’s cold. It’s soggy. It’s icky. Not good weather to go apartment-hunting in. While I’m out sloshing about, here are a couple of blog entries I found interesting for all you writers out there.

A fellow writer, Fox Cutter, has a post on how to write what you know (or don’t know). It’s pretty standard advice, but if you’re a beginning fiction writer, it’s good stuff. Just like the Cafe, he usually posts about the life of a writer–though he has the added bonus of being Head Editor of a fiction magazine called Renard’s Menagerie.

Continuing the theme of writing what you know is this post from Freelance Writing Jobs. This is more on the nonfiction side, but the same gist is there–Internet is a wonderful tool, but don’t let it be your only one. There are other places you can go to find information.

And I just started reading a new blog called The Master’s Artist. I found this post about editing pretty hilarious. I sympathize with Snyder, having my own fun in editing Willow.

I had hoped to get back into a posting schedule, but things have been a little hectic at the Cafe, or rather, outside of the Cafe. But things are finally looking up. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, sample the posts above!