Steampunk

I once received a rejection letter from a small press publisher because my work wasn’t “sufficiently Steampunk.” The editor told me that they’d gladly publish my work if I’d just add a bit more of what they were looking for, and I declined saying that it wasn’t my style. It was all a lie though; I had no idea what “Steampunk” was. My inner nerd went into spasms thinking there could be some new and awesome genre out there to which I wasn’t privy, so I turned to the internet as we all do when looking for answers.

 

My image search spawned sepia pictures of oddly dressed men wearing brass rimmed goggles and layers of soot. There were lumbering airships tethered to the sky by patchwork balloons and smoking cities straight out of a mechanical fantasy. There were fan sites and societies and authors specializing in Steampunk that had been writing for decades and it all hit me like a bitch slap. Where had I been? I read, I watch TV, I use the internet; I’ve glued myself to pop culture and yet I couldn’t define “Steampunk” without Wikipedia’s help.

 

I dove in thinking that I needed to catch up, and at first, I was a bit disappointed. Most of the fiction I read seemed to be too centered on the premise; the story took a backseat to the genre. Authors would spend copious amounts of time describing the setting as if I’d become enthralled by the theme alone. The stories were all the same. They’d encompass a misbegotten land, usually a chain of islands, choked by pollution and the tyrannical rule of this or that emperor or king. There were always airships and brass pipes and steam powered contraptions with a complete disregard for practicality. And the characters all shared an odd commonness; they felt like cartoons. I’d start reading, doing my best to picture human characters, but eventually, their exaggerated mannerisms would destroy my mental constructs and replace them with painted two-dimensional beings.

 

I ended up thinking that Steampunk was the literary equivalent to anime. But as it turns out, that’s just because I hadn’t been reading the right stuff; I hadn’t found A.L. Davroe. In reading “The Krie Seekers”, I found that Steampunk can be just as captivating as any other genre as long as it’s centered on a strong story line with plausible character development. I’ve since disavowed my previous notion that Steampunk was nothing more than an odd esoteric fad that’d fade into the past like the age of antiquity that gave it birth, and I plan on reading more. As a side note, I’m definitely a fan of anime, it’s just that when I read a novel, I’m looking for something else.

 

I’ve decided to write a three part series on emerging styles as they apply to indie authors, and this is the first.

 

Part One: Steampunk, and A.L. Davroe

A.L. Davroe

It’s been said that the hardest part of writing a short story or a novella is keeping it short. Sure, it’s easy to spew out a few thousand words and dub it as a short story, but the artistry lies in the ability to do it well; to fit genuine characters and germane plot into those few thousand words. A.L. Davroe does it masterfully. She has managed to fit a book’s worth of plot into a novella, and most impressively of all, she even squeezed in a believable romance. At face value, I suppose that doesn’t seem like an impressive feat, but it is. The best romantic relationships are the ones that start off as anything but. I won’t go into how that relates specifically to Davroe’s story because doing so would be too much of a spoiler, but the way this particular relationship is handled by Davroe is worth mention.

 

The story, the plot it’s self, is paramount in Davroe’s writing; the Steampunk theme is secondary. There are still plenty of airships and brass pipes and black clouds of noxious pollution, but all those aspects are where they belong: in the setting. Her characters act like humans, even though a few of them aren’t, and it was easy for me to picture them as such. And Davroe’s style is fast paced and vivid. I read “The Krie Seekers” in one sitting as the day passed quietly around me; I kept clicking the page forward button on my Kindle in total satisfaction.

 

I’m admittedly ignorant when it comes to Steampunk so I can’t say for sure whether or not Davroe brings something new to the genre, but I think she might. The city in which this story takes place, Dormorn, is cast almost like a character all of its own. She writes that the city has a heartbeat, which is punctuated throughout the story, and that type of personification came across as something truly fresh and novel. When I asked Davroe about this, she said “The CITY STEAM vignettes are meant to be little peeks into a world where the dominant world power has rejected the reigning god (Ehleis) and chooses instead to believe in their own power of creation. In this way, man himself is a god and the mechanisms that he creates are his children.” How awesome is that? In reading the story I felt it; almost as if Dormorn were sentient with long reaching pipes as a root system and billowing clouds of smoke as breath.

 

Anyway, I can’t recommend this book strongly enough. I’d usually include a synopsis of the book at this point, as I have in past segments, but I don’t want to give away too much. In short, the “Krie” and the “Seekers” are both supernatural beings that share a murderous, albeit symbiotic, relationship. The story of their fated struggle is juxtaposed against one of love and hate, of action and drama, and I loved this book. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should read it. Here’s the short synopsis off of Amazon: As the citizens in the Windward Empire’s capital city of Dormorn sleep, two lawmen recruit a pair of Seeker sisters to assist in a hunt for the blood-thirsty Krie that have been terrorizing the city.

 

Please take the time to follow these links:

Her blog/website: http://www.aldavroe.com/

Her Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/ALDavroeFanPage

Her Twitter account: https://twitter.com/aldavroe

Her Goodreads account: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5212441.A_L_Davroe

And most importantly, the Amazon page for THE KRIE SEEKERS: http://www.amazon.com/Krie-Seekers-City-Steam-ebook/dp/B00BUQK7OM/

KrieSeekers

Martian Lit

It’s always the assistant editors and first readers that like my stuff. The young people. The cool kids. I’ve always imagined them as trendy little hipsters sitting around the slush pile with bloodshot eyes and paper cut fingers. They’d find my submission and connect with the vernacular while forgiving my mechanical missteps. They’d read it and like it because we had something in common and then put my story on the “maybe” pile.

 

But eventually, they’d have to awake the senior editor. They’d walk into his tomb armed with torches and open his creaking coffin to find him dressed in his sweater vest. He’d sit up slowly, pinch his monocle between his brow and his hooked nose, and then peer down onto my manuscript. “What is this?” he shrieks, “This heathen befouls our beloved publication by submitting stories about hillbillies with superpowers? Bah!” Then, of course, my story would disintegrate into ash as the senior editor sucked out all its promise. The ashes would fall to the floor with all the others as the senior editor reclined once more into his coffin to drift back into a slumber chalked full of dreams about killing puppies or some such. Absolute bullshit.

 

Martian Lit, on the other hand, is piloted entirely by the cool kids. They recently accepted one of my submissions and published it here: http://martianlit.com/magazine/1407/ken-doll-jesse-anderson/. They even commissioned artwork for it, which I love, and helped me to polish off a few mechanical discrepancies so I could make the best possible first impression with their readers. The antithesis of bullshit.

 

Remember that song “Plush” by STP? The Rolling Stone Magazine dubbed that song “best song of the 90’s”. You could make a strong argument for “Alive” by Pearl Jam but whatever. “Plush” still kicked ass. I’d sit in my room for hours in front of an old TV, with its glowing convex glass, watching MTV when they were still deserving of the acronym. The red and washed out video for Plush would come on and I’d drool in rapt attention. I didn’t understand the lyrics (seriously, what happens “when the dogs begin to smell her?), but I loved the opening chords. In fact, it was the first song I learned to play on a shiny black guitar I got for Christmas. Well as it turns out, the guy who wrote those opening chords for STP is now one of the writers for Martian Lit. How awesome is that? My story, Ken’s Doll, comes right after something written by a man that influenced my life years ago. All the other authors published by Martian Lit seem to have PhD’s or publishing deals and I’m honored to be in their company.

 

The artwork they chose to go with my story comes from Christopher Coffey; you can find more of the work he has done for Martian Lit here:  http://martianlit.com/author/christopher-coffey/. I absolutely love what he came up with, and once I get better at stalking people through Twitter, I plan on tracking him down so I can con a book cover out of him.

 

Anyway, I just wanted to write this to thank the good people over at Martian lit (Jeff in particular) for giving me a chance. I’ve made it onto the “short list” at least twelve times for half as many publications, but until recently, I had only made it into print once. Thank you Martian Lit.

 

Please go support them: http://martianlit.com/

manhands

Begging for a Cult Classic

I’m not nearly delusional enough to think that I’ll ever earn a Pulitzer or any of those other shinny little stickers they put on the front of critically acclaimed books. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my name will never be marked anywhere in the New York Times. That’s not what I want, and that’s not just because I can’t have it. I want to write a cult classic. You know; the literary equivalent of “Army of Darkness”. Don’t you just love that movie? That question was rhetorical. This is my BOOM stick!

Anywho, I don’t have the chops to write the great American novel, nor do I have the prerequisite intellect. I have shit-tons of imagination and humor, but when it comes to all those tricky mechanical rules of syntax, my eyes glaze over and I start drooling like a zombie. I’ve got better things to do with my time and creative energy than to worry about whether or not some pompous fool in a sweater vest will consider my work to be in the confines of “masterpiece”. When I started writing, I set my sights on my subjective version of awesome. I want to write books that all the cool kids read.

But how do you do that intentionally? I’m pretty sure most cult classics are accidental. And what is a cult classic? My wife defines it as something that “is loved by retarded nerds but hated by the establishment”. As a side note, if my wife married a retarded nerd, what does that make her? I guess it fits in a way. Anybody that has ever stood on a skateboard can rattle off at least three quotes from “Army of Darkness” but the film was light-years away from an Oscar nod. There’s no accounting for taste.

I’ve had little spikes of success that give me hope. Tales of the Talisman published one of my short stories a couple years ago and Martian Lit will be publishing one this coming March. Both publications are well received by nerds. I’ve published two books so far and in total, I’d guess that at least one thousand bona fide nerds have read them. The reviews are promising. I made my first book, Trailer Park Juggernauts, free this weekend and it shot up to 17th place out of all the free science fiction books available on Amazon (at which point I might’ve squealed like a little girl). Out of all the free books that Amazon offers, I made it into 655th place. Considering the fact that they offer something like nine hundred thousand free books, I think that kicks ass. Seriously; look:

17th Place

Look, I know that Amazon’s rankings are an equation of sales per a given period of time and my brief spike was due to a short period wherein my work was free. I know that whomever was in 18th place has probably had more success than I have. I also know that rankings don’t matter and I shouldn’t look at these myopic little numbers for validation, but whatever. I was in 17th place so na-na na-na boo-boo, stick your head in do-do.

When Amazon ranks your book and you make it into the top 100, they juxtapose your title right next to whichever book is in the same ranking among the books that aren’t free. When I was in 17th place, I was exactly opposite from something Edgar Allan Poe wrote. When I made it into the thirties, I was across from some author I’d never heard of. But when I was in 52nd place, I was exactly opposite Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Holy shit, there he was. If ever there was a king of “cult classic” it was he. True, Vonnegut isn’t a stranger to critical acclaim, but that’s irrelevant. Thinking I could ever aspire to be half as awesome as that dude is the ultimate delusion of grandeur, but we all need a windmill at which to tilt. Kurt was born more interesting than I’ll ever be; that guy in the Dos Equis commercials bows down to Kurt Vonnegut. His novels are timeless and inspired by real life events that I’ll never experience. Did you know that Slaughterhouse Five was inspired by a subterranean German meat locker in which Vonnegut was imprisoned during one of our world wars? See what I mean? I’m not sure when I’m going to have an experience like that but I can just about guarantee it isn’t going to happen in suburban New Mexico.

All I’m saying is that if and when some esoteric little group of nerds dubs my book a success, I will have accomplished my goal. If any one of the four books I plan two write in the next five years ever becomes a staple decoration upon dorm room coffee tables, right there next to the bong and day-old pizza, I will have attained that status I cherish so much.

Both of my books are free today. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

Cult Classic

Candy and Cigarettes

I finished Candy and Cigarettes in three sittings, but not by choice. I would’ve rather read it all at once because it’s the type of work that deserves the attention, but Saturday got in the way with roaming children and shopping trips and trivialities. The first interruption came when my four-year-old daughter, clad only in water-color stained underwear, snuck up quiet as an air-raid siren and screamed for strawberries. I was lost in a dark world of death and honesty so the sight of her, a beaming little monster caring only for fruit and love, came as a shock and that’s when I first realized how much I loved this novella. Her beauty was perfect; the grimy wonder coming at me from my Kindle was dark. The contrast was like licking a lollypop after eating a grapefruit. DeWildt has created a story that’s so blindingly real in its depravity that the sight of something pure shocked me like a bitch-slap.

Of course we all gravitate towards the positive in life; we prefer bright and shiny trinkets and saccharine entertainment. Most of us do anyway. On a higher level, or at least one not so human, I don’t think that one side of the spectrum deserves any more attention than the other, and that’s why this novella is so damn valid. Happy endings and clichés and wholesome aphoristic sentiments have their places, and so does Candy and Cigarettes by CS DeWildt.

His hypnotic writing leaves you with a dirty feeling that’s fun to cradle in the safety of real life. I guess that’s why horror movies do so well, right? We flock to pay bloated admission fees and gorge on salt and sugar in front of an enormous screen with lambent atrocities coming at us through our new-tech 3D glasses while a ridiculous sound system spews profanity. We cringe and laugh at a hellish universe before driving back to the suburbs feeling as if the forty bucks were well spent. It’s fun. Remember Reservoir Dogs by Tarantino? That movie is to cinema what Candy and Cigarettes is to literature. Both stories leave you confused because the carnage was enjoyable, warm almost, but it shouldn’t have been.

And the guy’s style is ridiculously good. He turns phrases like “an amalgam of brain vomit” which left me stunned. Little parts of the whole stand out in striking beauty and at times, I wanted to set my kindle aside and start a slow clap for DeWildt’s prose (but I didn’t because people were watching me). The plot was novel, his characters were relatable on a visceral level, and I fucking loved this book. Finding DeWildt now is like finding Jackson Pollock before he started randomly splattering paint. CS is an artist on the precipice of discovery and someday I plan on pointing to this blog and shouting like an idiot that I found him first.

Death is omnipresent to small-town loner Lloyd Bizbang. Today proves no exception. After being attacked yet again by a pair of sociopaths who have targeted him since childhood, Lloyd stumbles upon a sight he wishes he could unsee in the town junkyard. Now as he just tries to live through another day, the bodies are stacking up in the town of Horton, and Lloyd finds himself connected to each of them via the drug-and-drink-addled, unhinging police chief, yet another person who has an old score to settle with Lloyd. A game of revenge and survival is underway, but will there be a winner at the day’s end?

You can buy Candy and Cigarettes here: http://www.amazon.com/Candy-and-Cigarettes-ebook/dp/B005D1T6QA/

You can find more on CS DeWildt here: http://csdewildt.com/

This is the fourth segment I’ve done on indie writers but it’s not really one I planned on writing; I’m a bit OCD and things feel more natural in threes. The other three featured women authors and I juxtaposed their works against some specific boon created by this burgeoning self-publishing industry; I suppose I should do the same here.

As it turns out, CS DeWildt is quite prolific and I found his writing by accident as I was trying to further promote my own writing. You see, I’m in need of validation (we all are, but I have the balls to say it). I’ve only been published once by a semi-professional market, and I still cling to the feeling I got when that ten dollar check came in the mail like a widow clings to love.  It’s been a year since I self-published Trailer Park Juggernauts and my second book, Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction, won’t be available for at least three more months so I’ve been looking for an outlet to carry me through the meantime.

I was skimming the insipid little posts generated by my Twitter feed when I saw something from “Martian Lit”. I Googled the name, and landed here: http://martianlit.com/. I’m a huge fan of independent presses and their writer oriented paradigms. Hell, Tales of the Talisman is an indie press and without that single morsel of vindication they gave me a few years back, I might’ve abandoned all of this. These wonderful little outlets of fiction and poetry are sprouting up all over and they often cater to specific and sometimes esoteric tastes. They’re like trendy little coffee shops, and when you find one that fits, you keep coming back for your fiction like an addled crack addict.

I’ve come across a few indie presses that look great but publish drivel so I wanted to peruse Martian Lit before submitting a story for consideration. I clicked on a random short story on the home page and ended up reading “One or the Other” by CS DeWildt here: http://martianlit.com/magazine/914/one-or-the-other/.  Martian Lit had just given me that first free hit on the street corner, that benevolent and tainted sample, and I’ve been back many times since. There’s just something organic about the stories they publish and I’ve found that their taste is almost identical to my own. I submitted a story a few weeks ago and I’m still waiting for a response. Of course, there’s a chance that if I’m rejected, I’ll redact the last portion of this blog while screaming at my computer monitor in a spittle flinging rage; you just never know.

My point in all of this is that the indie press is just as integral to this self publishing tableau as the indie author is. We go together like tattoos and pain. There are thousands of little presses all over the web that publish this or that without censorship or concern for the mainstream and without them, we’d be stuck in the bland little literary landscape that’s currently ruled by sparkly vampires. Please, stop by Martian Lit or search for your own little press because there are better things out there.