Conferences, Craft, Essays, Genre, Inspiration, Links, Moravian Writers' Conference, Nonfiction, Process, Science Fiction, Short Stories, What I'm Reading, Writers, Writing, Young Adult

Links: How to Write an Essay, the Library of Babel, New Fiction

Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams, on writing personal essays. Really excellent read.

E.J. Fischer on the mathematics behind the impossibility of Borges’ Library of Babel.

Haddayr Copley-Woods’ has a lovely story at Apex, “Perfect.

Also, have you registered for the Moravian Writers’ Conference yet? It’s in gorgeous, historical Bethlehem, PA (near Philadelphia) from June 6th – 8th. Laurie Halse Anderson and Ursula Hegi are the keynote speakers. I’m giving a craft talk and doing manuscript consultations! You should check it out.

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Mystery & Horror Writing, Week Eleven

This week’s theme is “Murder in the Mansion.” We have a shortened class because of the Rosemont College MFA Reading Series (more on that at the end), so today we’ll be talking about:

  • Agatha Christie’s novella “Three Blind Mice.”
  • An excerpt from “The Locked-Room Lecture,” which is a nonfiction lecture about the locked-room trope in mysteries, delivered by a fictional character in John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man.

We’ll be discussing the pleasures and pitfalls of murder-in-the-mansion style stories, and what makes them so delicious and compelling.

Only two more classes after this! It’s hard to believe the semester is winding down so quickly. Next week is the final week of lecture/workshop/discussion/readings. The theme is “Haunted Tech.” We will be reading:

Also, tonight is this semester’s last installment of the Rosemont College MFA Reading Series, which will be held in the Main Building on Rosemont’s campus at 7:30 PM. I will be reading alongside Helen Klein Ross, author of Making It, A Novel of Madison Avenue, alumnus Ben Heins, and MFA students Vernita Hall, Matthew McKiernan, and Jane McNeil. If you’re in the Philly area, come watch!

"Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU", "Inventory", Articles, Awards, Community, Death, Essays, Genre, Lists, Nonfiction, Press, Publication, Publications, Science Fiction, Slipstream, Speculative Fiction, Stories, Strange Horizons, The American Reader, The New Yorker, Themes

The Hugo, Campbell, & New Yorker Press

My article “The Afterlife of Pia Farrenkopf” did really well last week, snagging mentions in Gizmodo, Time (via Dave Pell’s NextDraft), and National Journal.

Also, for those of you who are still undecided re: Hugo Nominations, my short story “Inventory” and my novella “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU” are eligible. I am also in my first year of eligibility for the Campbell award. Thank you to Rachel Swirsky, Abigail Nussbaum, Martin Petto, Jed Hartman, and everyone else who has recommended my stories or me for these awards.

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The New Yorker & Sycamore Hill

Two bits of news!

First, I have a new piece up at The New Yorker: “The Afterlife of Pia Farrenkopf.”

Second, I have been invited to attend Sycamore Hill – a workshop for speculative fiction writers – in North Carolina this June. I’m doing some fundraising to help defray the costs, so if you’re able, please consider contributing. There are neat prizes! Original microfiction/collages by me, and commissioned dinosaur drawings by Sam J. Miller.

Craft, Death, Essays, Ethics, Genre, Horror, Horror & Mystery Writing, Links, Mystery, Nonfiction, Plot, Stories, Structure, Style, Teaching, Themes, Writing

Mystery & Horror Writing, Week Nine

This week’s theme is “Detectives & Noir.” We will be discussing:

I am particularly excited about discussing the Chandler essay, which is a really provocative piece of literary criticism wherein Chandler takes on his entire genre. I don’t agree with all of his points, but anyone who writes any sort of genre fiction should give it a read–his ideas are worth mulling over.

Next week’s theme is “Revenge.” We will be reading:

  • M.R. James’ “Casting the Runes”
  • Dan Chaon’s “The Bees”
  • Stephen King’s “Dolan’s Cadillac”
Craft, Death, Essays, Exercises, Genre, Horror, Horror & Mystery Writing, Mystery, Nonfiction, Structure, Teaching, Themes, Writing

Mystery & Horror Writing, Week Eight

This week’s theme is “The Criminal.” We will be discussing:

  • Agatha Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution”
  • Patricia Highsmith’s “The Heroine” (from Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, ed. Sarah Weinman)
  • Nedra Tyre’s “A Nice Place to Stay” (from Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, ed. Sarah Weinman)

We will also be sharing our urban legend adaptations and discussing how we chose to write them, their similarities, and their differences. We will also be pairing up and interviewing each other as our protagonists, in order to better understand our characters.

Next week’s theme is “Detectives & Noir.” We will be reading:

  • Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
  • Stephen King’s “Umney’s Last Case” (from Nightmares & Dreamscapes)
  • G.K. Chesterton’s “In Defense of Detective Stories”
  • Raymond Chandler’s “The Simple Art of Murder”
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Links & Updates: The New Yorker, Hugos, & Sofia Samatar

A few links & updates:

First of all, can we talk for a second about Sofia Samatar, y’all? She’s one of my favorite up-and-comers in the fiction world and everything of hers just takes my breath away. If you haven’t obsessively read everything she’s written, do, and then go read her newest story “How to Get Back to the Forest,” which is in the newest issue of Lightspeed.

On my end: I have a new piece up at The New Yorker–”The Boy Scouts’ Image Problem“–and Abigail Nussbaum has recommended two of my stories–”Inventory” and “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU”–for short story and novella Hugos, respectively. Thanks, Abigail!

Craft, Death, Essays, Exercises, Genre, Horror, Horror & Mystery Writing, Mystery, Nonfiction, Structure, Teaching, Themes, Writing

Mystery & Horror Writing, Weeks Six & Seven

My blog posts are a bit behind because of last week’s snow; today we’re doing three workshops and all of the readings from “Haunted Houses” and “Myth and Legend.” We’ll be discussing last week’s assignments:

  • Bennett Sims’ “House-Sitting” (from Tin House)
  • Adam L.G. Nevill’s “Where Angels Come In” (from Hauntings, ed. Ellen Datlow)
  • Julio Cortázar’s “House Taken Over” (from Bestiario)
  • An excerpt from H.P. Lovecraft’s essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”

As well as this week’s stories:

  • Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples” (from The Secret History of Fantasy, ed. Peter S. Beagle)
  • Sabina Murray’s “The Sisters” (from xoOrpheus, ed. Kate Bernheimer)

I will also be giving a brief lecture on structure and endings, in addition to our talk about what makes a good haunted house story. We will also discuss adapting fairy tales and myths, and doing an activity where we rework some urban legends from Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories series. We will also be doing “character interviews” with each other, exploring the unwritten aspects of our protagonist’s personalities.

Next week, the theme is “The Criminal.” We will be reading:

  • Agatha Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution”
  • Patricia Highsmith’s “The Heroine” (from Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, ed. Sarah Weinman)
  • Nedra Tyre’s “A Nice Place to Stay” (from Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, ed. Sarah Weinman)
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Links: Reviews and Essays

First, two kind and lovely reviews of my stories: Rachel Swirsky on “Inventory,” and Eliza Victoria on “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU.”

Next, two essays by a former Iowa classmate and former Iowa instructor, respectively: Tony Tulathimutte on why the “MFA vs. NYC” debate is ridiculous, and Alexander Chee on his time at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. 

Finally, Sady Doyle on how women often create alternative canons for themselves in the face of literary sexism.


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Interviews & Train Trips

Some links for Friday:

Amtrak just did a test run of a train-based writing residency. SIGN ME UP.

An interview with Ben Marcus at Salon. 

An interview with Bennett Sims. My favorite part is definitely Bennett’s commentary on the (false) dichotomy of “genre”/”literary”:

The relationship between ‘genre’ and ‘literary’ is pretty confused right now, and I’m sympathetic with readers who are impatient to just deconstruct that dichotomy and move on. What seems to be happening is that more and more literary writers are deciding to explore traditionally generic subject matter. It’s not uncommon to see reviews of the latest ‘literary mummy novel’ or ‘literary space opera,’ and if you were to ask critics to clarify exactly what they mean by ‘literary’ here, they’d probably provide one of two descriptions: either a stylometric checklist (lyrical prose; psychological depth; complex characterization) or a genealogy of influence (‘It’s the kind of mummy novel Lydia Davis might write’). As a reader, I tend to find the second class of description more helpful: it gives me a better idea of what the book might be like, and it doesn’t reinscribe as many insidious biases about genre (with that first description, on the other hand, you end up implying—whether intentionally or not—that run-of-the-mill mummy novels somehow lack lyrical prose and complex characterization).

A lot of contemporary conversations about genre seem to be spinning their wheels in these biases. Psychological realism was the dominant mode of literary fiction for so long in America that our intuitions about subject matter are deeply entrenched: whereas stories about human beings make for serious works of art, stories about time travel or vampires or apocalypses make for formulaic entertainment. So whenever critics describe something as a ‘literary vampire novel,’ they can seem to be using ‘literary’ as a synonym for ‘good’ or ‘aesthetically ambitious’: as in, ‘It has vampires in it, but don’t worry, it’s well written.’ This has the unfortunate effect of reducing ‘genre’ to a Judge Potter-y pejorative, which people reserve only for the vampire novels that they don’t like. As a result, genre readers are forced to continually advocate on behalf of their own canons, pointing out the existence of other well-written, aesthetically ambitious vampire/mummy/space-opera novels (as well as the existence of generic [i.e., shallow or formulaic] suburban-adultery novels). Complicating all this is the fact that ‘genre’ and ‘literary’ have also come to designate structurally distinct culture industries, with parallel publishing institutions and networks of prestige. So if two authors write about time travel, it might matter in the short term which of them attends Clarion or an MFA, appears in Lightspeed or The New Yorker, is reviewed in Strange Horizons or The New York Times, wins the Nebula or the National Book Award: all this could determine which community of readers they’re marketed to. That seems to be where we’re stuck these days, which is why it still feels natural to describeA Questionable Shape as a literary zombie novel. ‘Literary’ marks both its stylistic affiliations and the institutional channels through which it was produced. For what it’s worth, I usually find myself describing it to people as ‘the kind of zombie novel Nicholson Baker might write.’

And lastly, my interview with the incredible Karen Joy Fowler is up at The American Reader.