Category Archives: Writing

Read my epistolary zombie short story!

A bit of fun news! I am genuinely humbled and thrilled that a short story I wrote has been included in an anthology of epistolary zombie short stories. The anthology is (delightfully) titled Sincerely, Departed and my story, “When It’s Done,” is one of 15 short stories within. You can grab it in print or ebook formats at Amazon.

I actually just received my copy of the book, and it’s fantastic–the publishers/editors (Cat Voleur and Angel Krause, hosts of the Voices from the Mausoleum show) did an amazing job formatting each story to fit the medium in which it’s told.

When Sincerely, Departed came out, they hosted a “launch party” on Youtube that included videos from several of the authors (including me) and lots of discussion about the anthology. My story is featured at the 25:30 mark, but the entire show is worth watching.

It was a privilege to work with Cat and Angel, whose editing improved my story; and it was fun to get a little creative project actually across the finish line. If you check out this anthology, I’d love to hear your feedback on “When It’s Done”!

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Batman Meets Rainbow Brite: the beauty and horror of internet fan fiction

I spent a few hours the other day reading Transformers fan fiction.
I know some of you are shaking your heads and thinking, “I always knew he would come to this point… but I hoped he wouldn’t.” And for the rest of you, yes: I am talking about fan-written fiction based on the world of the Reagan-era transforming Robots In Disguise–Optimus Prime, Megatron, and the whole crew. But I’d like to think aloud a bit about this topic, because I have a dark confession to make: fan fiction, whether it’s about Voltron or G.I. Joe or the X-Files, fascinates me.

It doesn’t fascinate me in the sense that I particularly love reading it, although I’ve read some pieces of fan fiction that were enjoyable. Some fan fiction is, of course, quite wretched, for various reasons; much of it is badly written, and some of it exposes you to sanity-shattering ideas and images that will remain seared into your psyche until the merciful hand of Death finally ends the horror. (You know what I’m talking about; and if you don’t… cherish your innocence while it lasts. It is, alas, too late for me.)

But I don’t want to talk about the really bad stuff. The sort of fan fiction that interests me is the serious kind: the reasonably well-written, often lengthy, often surprisingly entertaining stories that people write in an earnest effort to explore and add depth to the characters and places of imaginary worlds not their own.
The question that always springs to my mind upon coming across fan art–whether it’s a story, a piece of artwork, or a song–is: Why didn’t this obviously talented person put their skills to use creating art that is their own?

Why are they pouring time and energy into writing stories set in, say, the Star Wars universe, when they have no real ownership of (and certainly no legal right to) that universe? Why spend hours sketching elaborate pictures of He-Man characters, when you could be drawing up fantastic images of your own creation? Why write long, introspective essays about the effects of war on the Decepticon Soundwave’s relationship with his family, when the same story with the names changed would be a perfectly respectable novella that isn’t tied to a cheesy (and copyrighted) ’80s cartoon universe? (Wait—Transformers can have children? But how do they *EMERGENCY BRAIN SHUTDOWN*)

My usual reaction–and I think the standard reaction–to fan fiction (and art, and music, etc.) is to see it as the result of stunted or broken creativity. These fans have trapped their own considerable creative potential in a box built by somebody else. They lack “true” creativity that would inspire them to create their own characters and worlds, and so they squander what artistic vision they have on other people’s work. This is an especially frustrating observation because some of the fan fiction/art out there is really, genuinely, good. A lot of it is written or drawn by people who, judging by the quality of their fan art, really could make a go of it in “real” art or literature, if they would only try. (Somehow, I don’t picture most fan fiction authors also writing a lot of original material at the same time, although this could be a false impression.)

But I find this reaction unsatisfying (and unduly harsh). For one thing, it’s fairly strict and demanding in its definition of “true creativity.” Over the years, I’ve come to suspect that there are different kinds of creativity out there, and that some people are extremely creative but would simply rather put that creativity to use refining others’ works, rather than “reinventing the wheel.” This creative eye spots (or invents) depth and nuance in characters and places that the rest of us casually dismiss. I don’t know why somebody would look at Soundwave (the Decepticon who transforms into a cassette player–admit it, you remember it well) and think “I’d really love to explore the emotional havoc the Transformers war is wreaking on his family life.” But hey, the end result is a story that’s strangely interesting and certainly adds depth to a cartoon character otherwise saddled with a completely one-dimensional personality. That might be a bit weird, but it’s not a bad thing, and if it’s either Soundwave fan fiction or no creative output at all from this amateur writer, I’ll take the fan fiction.

One of the reasons I’ve come to appreciate the odd creative value of fan fiction is that I see a lot of this type of creativity in myself, specifically as it’s evidenced in the way I play roleplaying games. I love to run roleplaying games, and as any gamer will tell you, it takes at least a modicum of creativity and storytelling ability to run a successful roleplaying game. But I have the hardest time in the world coming up with my own game and adventure ideas from scratch–I almost just can’t do it. After 15ish years of gaming, if I were given a blank notebook and instructions to write a cool game adventure, I would probably just stare blankly at the pages for a while before finally producing a stale and unoriginal variation of something I’d seen or read before.

But give me a pre-written adventure–where somebody else has sketched out an outline of the adventure and its characters–and I’m golden. I love taking adventures others have written and reworking them to fit my preferences and the interests of the friends with whom I’ll be gaming. I’ll often wind up practically rewriting the entire adventure–changing characters, locations, plotlines, dialogue, and everything else to fit my interests. Why, if I can competently rewrite and run somebody else’s adventure, don’t I just write my own from scratch? Because for some reason, I need a creative groundwork laid out for me before I can unleash my own creativity.

That’s why I’m hesitant to look down on fan art of any sort: it’s genuine creativity at work, and just because it’s using non-original ideas as a launching pad doesn’t lessen the value of the work put into it. It may be that this is an incomplete or underdeveloped creativity, but I suspect it’s more likely just a different creativity. It’s creativity that works best when the initial groundwork has been done, leaving the artist free to sketch out their own vision atop that foundation.

Let’s face it: your meticulously-written epic about the romantic tension between Storm Shadow and the Baroness isn’t going to launch you into the halls of literary fame, but if it’s the story your Muse demands of you… well, get out there and get writing.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Scribblings from my notebook: the Case of the Overdue Book

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“Think it through again.” Mike leaned forward suddenly, his eyes burning with excitement born of an epiphany. “We know from Paulus’ diary”–he jabbed his forefinger at a thin leather journal, one of many such volumes strewn haphazardly across the desk—”that he had the book when he rode into town.” A thrust of his leg sent the wheeled chair on which he sat rolling noisily across the hardwood floor to collide with a large metal filing cabinet. Mike pulled a folder from atop the filing cabinet, sending random papers fluttering through the air like wind-tossed leaves. “And we know from this report that when the Sons of Horus caught him trying to sneak out on the South Shore Line, the Manuscript wasn’t on him. He ditched it somewhere before trying to leave.”

“So? He passed it off to somebody else. Or sold it.”

“Come on. Who’s he going to trust with it? Its misuse was why he stole it in the first place.”

“But if he hid it somewhere in town, why is there zero trace of it? The Sons aren’t stupid. That thing packs an aura like… I don’t know. I mean, we could feel it all the way out in Des Moines. No way Paulus could hide that.”

Mike was tapping his fingers on the desk, impatience writ clear across all his features. “You’re not thinking. OK, so no geas can hide the Manuscript. But nobody can see it, so obviously something’s hiding it. Something else right here in the city.” He was channeling the condescending teacher now; he was going to reel me along until I stumbled upon the destination he’d clearly already reached. When I didn’t reply immediately, he dropped the subtlety another notch. “What is there, in the city of Chicago, that is powerful enough to smother the aura of the third-most-potent magical tome on the continent?”

I was slow, but I was trying. “Something to smother an aura—not a spell, which’d leave an even bigger footprint than the object it hid.” Mike nodded, and I felt a surge of schoolboy pride. The last piece clicked into place, and I blurted excitedly: “Manhattan.” Mike nearly squawked with glee. “Fermi. The nuclear reaction.”

“Yes! The birth of the modern world. It’s a magical dead zone. When the reaction went off, it must’ve blown a hole in the ley-line grid big enough to drive a blimp through.”

“Or hide the Preter Manuscript.” I was grinning like an idiot.

“Exactly. The Sons were looking for an aura spike, not a gap. And get this: Stagg Field is long gone, but guess what’s sitting right where it used to be?”

I knew this one. “A library. The University of Chicago.”

Mike nodded. “We need to get there fast. If we can figure it out, so can the Sons. Persephone still owes you from the whole Hellfire Club business, right? Think she can conjure us up some faculty IDs in the next half-hour?”

She certainly wouldn’t appreciate being invoked at this hour, but she did owe me. “No problem.”

“Then pack your bags and your library card. We’ve got a book to check out.”Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather