Over at According to Hoyt, they’re having Sunday Vignettes. The object is to write 50 words (exactly 50, if possible) on a given prompt. Today’s prompt is ‘alchemy’. My own humble contribution:

I went Midas one worse. Everything I touch is transmuted. Food turns to metal when I try to eat. The love of my life is now a lifeless statue. Everything in my house is hard, shiny, and useless.

But I didn’t even get gold.

Anybody want fifty tons of zinc?

‘Superversive’ coming soon


Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed—
Dignity never been photographed.

—Bob Dylan, ‘Dignity’

Neither the redoubtable Sarah Dimento nor I could think of any good way to draw a picture of a superversion; so after long dithering, I asked her to come up with a simple text design.

Here, then, is the cover for Superversive: Recovering the Tao of Fantasy, coming soon to an Amazon near you.

[Read more…]

The exotic and the familiar (Part 3)

Continued from Part 2.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the ‘school story’ was one of the most popular genres of British pulp fiction. The giant of the field was Charles Hamilton, better known as ‘Frank Richards’ and ‘Martin Clifford’. Under these two names, he was the lead writer for The Gem and The Magnet, the two leading boys’ weekly magazines in Britain between the World Wars. (He also wrote for other markets under other names, including his own.) For more than thirty years, Hamilton published a 20,000-word story in each magazine every week without fail – more than two million words of fiction per year – until they were killed by the paper shortage of the Second World War. After the war he continued to write, with paperback books taking the place of the vanished pulps. By the time he died in 1961, he had written and published about 100 million words.

Many other writers had a go at school stories. Thomas Hughes founded the genre with Tom Brown’s School Days in 1857, and attracted scores of imitators. Kipling was one of the first; P. G. Wodehouse made a name for himself in the genre before switching to light comedy; and there were, of course, many lesser lights. But the genre died with Hamilton, as it seemed, beyond resurrection. [Read more…]

The Nine Worst Provisions in Your Publishing Contract

David P. Vandagriff, the intellectual property lawyer who blogs at The Passive Voice, has done the writers of the world a valuable service. He has written a short book on some of the most dangerous clauses in publishing contracts – clauses that can cause an author severe financial distress or even kill his career.

The book is called The Nine Worst Provisions in Your Publishing Contract, and from now until Sunday, 25 September, it is available as a free download from Amazon’s Kindle store. (After that, the regular price is a trifling $2.99.)

If you’re a writer thinking of working with a traditional publisher, or if you have already done so, I urge you to download it here.


Part 3 of ‘The exotic and the familiar’ has been badly delayed. My doctors have changed my medication yet again, and my body and mind are struggling to adapt. Going cold turkey on one drug has given me nightmares, reduced mental acuity, and random weepy bouts. Starting up on another drug has given me insomnia and anxiety attacks. Both of these effects are bound to go away in a few weeks, but until then, I am having great difficulty applying myself and getting work done

On top of that, I somehow managed to throw out my back and strain a muscle. For the first 24 hours, I could not stand up straight, but had to walk like Dagwood Bumstead or Groucho Marx. Now I can stand, though not without pain, and my mind is mildly fogged with painkillers.

I am very sorry for the delay. Please pray, if that be your wont, that I may get through the next few weeks without any more of these interesting experiences.

Relative truths

Truths are not relative. What is relative are opinions about truth.

—Nicolás Gómez Dávila

The exotic and the familiar (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

Throughout the 1970s, the ‘New Hollywood’ had been establishing itself. Heroes and villains, Westerns and war movies, were out of fashion. The critics’ new darlings were men like Coppola and De Palma, who pointed their cameras at the mundane and the sordid. The good characters in the new films were ineffectual; the effectual characters, as a general thing, were unselfconsciously evil. This refusal to engage ethical reality was called ‘moral ambiguity’, and praised; the tight focus on a narrow and unrepresentative segment of modern city life was called ‘realism’, and praised more strongly still.

So far as the film business was concerned, fantasy, like animation, was banished to the realm of children’s movies. Such things were considered beneath a grown-up audience, and Hollywood as a whole was trying to be very grown-up indeed. One or two cracked auteurs tried to make animated fantasies for adults, and succeeded in making cult films for stoners and adolescents. [Read more…]


‘Taste is relative’ is the excuse adopted by those eras that have bad taste.

—Nicolás Gómez Dávila

The exotic and the familiar (Part 1)

I’ve heard Brian Aldiss talk about the same phenomenon. For him, a novel often requires two ideas. He describes them as a combination of ‘the familar’ and ‘the exotic’. He begins with ‘the familiar’ – usually something germane to his personal life, either thematically or experientially – but he can’t write about it until ‘the familiar’ is impacted by ‘the exotic’. In his case, ‘the exotic’ is usually a science fictional setting in which ‘the familiar’ can play itself out: ‘the exotic’ provides him with a stage on which he can dramatize ‘the familiar’. Rather like a binary poison – or a magic potion – two inert elements combine to produce something of frightening potency.

The same dynamic works in reverse for me. I start with ‘the exotic’… but that idea declines to turn into a story until it is catalysed by ‘the familiar’.

For example: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is squarely – and solely – founded on two ideas: unbelief and leprosy. The notion of writing a fantasy about an ‘unbeliever’, a man who rejects the whole concept of fantasy, first came to me near the end of 1969. But the germ was dormant: no matter how I laboured over it, I couldn’t make it grow. Until I realized, in May of 1972, that my ‘unbeliever’ should be a leper. As soon as those two ideas came together, my brain took fire.

—Stephen R. Donaldson, The Real Story

Three times in the last sixty-odd years, a work of fantasy has come along that redrew the whole map of the field; that banished the limits of the publishable, as then understood, as suddenly and thoroughly as Columbus banished the ‘ne plus ultra’ from the Pillars of Hercules. Lately I have been thinking hard about these works, seeing what they had in common with one another, and what set them apart from the other fantasies of their times, to see whether I could account for the magnitude of their success.

All three of these breakthrough fantasies can be described in terms of Aldiss’s ‘exotic’ and ‘familiar’. Each, considered thematically, is a collision between two great, or at any rate large, ideas. And when I began to look at them in this light, I found a curious thing: which idea was ‘the exotic’ and which was ‘the familiar’ was not as obvious as it seemed. Indeed, the works themselves tended to familiarize the exotic and exoticize the familiar, so that those whose habits of mind were formed afterwards would never quite see the ideas as their first audiences saw them.

Let me see if I can explain what I mean.

[Read more…]

Intellectuals and civilized men

The intellectual irritates the civilized man, just as the adolescent irritates the adult, not because of the audacity of his bright ideas but because of the triviality of his arrogance.

—Nicolás Gómez Dávila

(Hat tip to ‘John M.’, a commenter at John C. Wright’s blog.)