Space opera. It’s a real thing.

Space opera is a real subset of science fiction. According to sciencefiction.com, “Space opera is a genre of science fiction literature, and the term can also be applied to movies and TV programs. The genre has almost no relationship to the opera music form, except for the similarity of grand scope and dramatic intensity. Typically, space opera occurs on a galactic scale, has multiple types of spacecraft, from speedy corvettes to battleships capable of destroying planets. There is plenty of action and adventure in space opera.”

Well-known Space operas include Doctor Who, The Foundation series, and the Ancillary Justice series (which I just read and would highly recommend).

A Horror Story That Reminds Me of Me

Have you ever written a story only to realize another writer published something similar? The Great God Pan, published in 1890, is a horror novella that has inspired in me the cathartic déjà vu experience described above. If you’re like me, you’re currently mashing up literary, horror, and fabulism fiction for your debut novel, in which the demigod Dionysus (with the help of other Greek figures) resurrects a cult of followers through moonshine. Ring any bells? No? Maybe it’s just me then.

I recently discovered the novella The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen. In this story, Dr. Raymond wants to devise a way to open the mind of men so all can experience what the world has to offer, but his experiment cripples or kills his patients. There is more to the story, but I won’t spoil it for you (I’d recommend you read it). The text’s premise surprised (and delighted) me. While the two works have similarities, both are unique. All of the other plot elements, the characters, the form, and my prose differentiate my book from Machen’s (plus, I focus on Dionysus and not Pan).

I’m exited my story is akin to a novella Stephen King hailed as one of the best horror tales ever written. I hope he’ll have something comparable to say about my novel.

(Photo via greyfaced)

A Study in Cups and Chairs

Writing is so much more than sitting at your computer, waiting for the words to come. It’s also paying attention to the world around you.

I’ve had a productive writing week, but today I felt dry, used up, and tired. So I put into action advice that I got from Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing. I went to a coffee shop, Cups and Chairs, to record what was in front of me without subjectivity or interpretation. For twenty minutes, I wrote in a small red moleskin notebook, recording what I heard, saw, smelled, and tasted.

Here’s just a snippet of what I wrote:

There was a bug on the wall. I turned my head to sip my latte. When I looked again, the bug was gone.

Christmas ornaments hung on the light switches: blue, green, and red balls with glittery accents.

A woman, dressed in all black, delivered a steaming teapot and green mug to a college student sitting on the sofa, fussing with his laptop. The sofa had a linen cover. The walls were painted muted earth tones, grassy greens and brownish-reds. Old pictures, faded and some torn at the edges, of Philadelphia’s monuments hung on the wall. A bullet board hung over a cream and sugar station. Someone had shaped the tacks into a smiley face.

A woman in an Argyle sweater talked on her phone. It took me a few minutes to realize that she had a faint Irish accent. It was only noticeable when she pronounced long vowels like “good day” and “thank you.” After she hung up, she ate soup and crunched on a sliver of crusty bread.

A policeman walked into the cafe. “Did someone call?” he said. His radio was on.

“I did,” the barista said. She was the one dressed in black. “Someone called and said they were from PECO and that we owned them thousands of dollars. They said if we didn’t pay, they’d come turn off our electricity today.”

“Did you pay them?” the policeman said.

“We didn’t,” the barista said. We got their number and said we’d call them back. When we couldn’t reach them, we figured out it was a scam.”

“Did someone come in with a video to tell you it was a joke?” The policeman laughed.

The barista didn’t sound amused, but rather stern. “No sir. Would you like some tea?”

The woman in the Argyle sweater started talking on the phone, and I was cut off from the conversation.

I hope to use this exercise to cultivate specificity in my fiction, which I think is one key to great writing.

cuppainting

Uncreative Writing?

In my last post, I commented on the mash-up of what appears to be constituting our current literary tradition. And to make matters more interesting, I just got a new book in the mail…so this morning I jumped into Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing — a text on the reinvention of writing in the digital age. It’s FASCINATING. Forgive my Friday brain (for I got so little sleep last night) if I oversimplify things (and fear not, I’ll return to this book again, I’m sure) but the text proposes that patchwriting, “a way of weaving together various shards of other people’s words into a tonally cohesive whole,” is the new creative writing.

He argues that plagiarism is now an acceptable option for writers. He encourages undergrads in his class at Penn to utilize techniques such as collage, plagiarism, sampling, repurposing papers, etc. to create projects that turn out to be original works, wrought with self expression.

Goldsmith says, “The act of choosing and reframing tells us just as much about ourselves as our story about our mother’s cancer operation.”

I’ve only gotten through the introduction so far, but my mind is blown. Stay tuned for more on this, for I think Goldsmith has some valid (although controversial) points and isn’t a voice I can (or want to) ignore…

Paranoia, Part 2

As soon as I was finished writing this post, I came across an article about PRISM and the NSA in The New York Review of Books. The article mentions that the recent media frenzy regarding domestic surveillance programs has lead to a spike in sales of George Orwell’s novel 1984. According to the article’s author, James Bamford, “On Amazon.com, the book made the ‘Movers & Shakers’ list and skyrocketed 6,021 percent in a single day.” Impressive.

After reading this, I couldn’t help but think a correlation exists between the increase in sales of 1984 and Shirley Jackson’s revival. To paraphrase Stephen King in Danse Macabre (very loosely, sorry I don’t have a copy handy to quote from directly), about every twenty years–and certainly after an economic downturn or political strife–the horror genre experiences something of a resurrection.

2013 has all the right ingredients for a horror novel comeback. Economic strife, check. Political surveillance scandal, check. Popularity surge of 1984, check. And this week, The New Yorker published a newly released Shirley Jackson short story appropriately entitled Paranoia.

Coincidence? I think not; more like the magazine has it’s finger on the pulse of the American consciousness–one that is constantly looking over its shoulder.