Posts Tagged ‘World Fantasy Convention 2008’

Wisdom from World Fantasy

November 12, 2008

As promised, here’s a little tour through my notebook — stuff that I wrote down while listening to panels at the World Fantasy Convention 2008 in Calgary.

David Morrell, one of this year’s Guests of Honor, the creator of Rambo in his novel First Blood (1972), has a book out on writing that I’d love to read: The Successful Novelist (2008).

He says the keys to writing success are talent, discipline, hard work, and luck. (No real surprises there, but I thought it was worth writing down, because it’s true. Or rather, mostly true: it depends on your own interpretation of the “luck” part. As Obi-Wan says, “In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.” Again and again in my own writer’s path, things have happened that, to many, would seem like sheer dumb luck. The right thing is written on the silliest whim at the right time, sent to the right editor at precisely the right time, etc. — my own interpretation is that there’s an overarching plan — yes, it’s my blog and I’ll say what I want. I believe that God works things out, opening doors at just the right moments. But certainly the parts about talent, hard work, and discipline are indisputable.)

David Morrell says that, because of who we are and the life experiences we’ve had, we all have a dominant emotion. He compares it to a ferret — a ferret that lives inside us, trying to get out. Our task as writers is to identify the ferret. Figure out what it is you’re supposed to be writing. It may take a lot of trial and error, but keep listening, keep trying to sight the ferret, so that you know what it is.

It’s the daydreams that lead us. Your ferret will likely identify himself most readily when you’re not thinking about him. Be aware of your daydreams — of the things that come up and come out again and again in your writing. In a sense, your body knows what it should be writing.

David Morrell: “Be a first-rate version of the person you are, instead of a second-rate version of someone you’re not.” That one’s good. We should all think hard about that one. I spent a few years stewing over how I could be “like J.K. Rowling.” But I’m not like her, and I shouldn’t be. There are other stories that I’m meant to tell. I’ve got a ferret of my own. [This analogy is particularly funny to me because there is an actual ferret living in my house in the U.S. — an old ferret that sleeps most of the time, kept by my cousin, who’s renting that house from me. I hope my inner ferret is more active than that one! But at least I know what a ferret looks like. . . .]

Morrell again: “Serve the story. It will tell us what’s important.”

Morrell: “It’s the journey that’s important. All we have is the moment. Enjoy every day that you’re doing what you’re doing.” That’s profound, isn’t it? My dad used to say, “Having is never as good as wanting.” I’ve had some heady, wonderful moments as a writer, for sure. But I’ve come far enough on the path to feel the truth of this quote. If I didn’t enjoy the creation of the story — the daily setting of words on paper, of shaping a tale where one didn’t exist before — of striving to make it better through revision — then there would be no point to this. There are far more efficient ways to make money. The wonderful thing about being a writer is that I get to be a writer. And sometimes people like what I write, and that’s icing on the cake! And sometimes people pay me for writing, and that’s icing on the icing. But it’s the journey . . . that’s what it’s all about. “How can I solve this plot problem?” . . . ” Wouldn’t it be cool if. . . .?”

Frank Sinatra reportedly had this sign on his door: “If you’re going to knock on this door, be sure you have a damn good reason.” Yay, Frank! I didn’t realize we had so much in common! I thought it was just the blue eyes.

Morrell recommends these writers, important in the history of horror: Richard Matheson, Jack Finney, Ira Levin, and Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Harvest Home. He says Dracula is one of the best novels ever (Bram Stoker).

A ballet dancer on one of the panels used a ballet model of writing: a story is like the High 5th Position in ballet (arms arched high over your head, fingers of your two hands pointing toward each other): the story starts at your left elbow. Your head is at the center, between your arms. The story goes up one arm and comes down the other, ending at the other elbow. That is to say, you don’t want to dump too much into the story at the beginning. Let it start small and build — let it climb — the main stuff happens in the middle (your head) — and also there shouldn’t be too much overwhelming stuff at the end. Let the story diminish to its graceful conclusion at your other elbow. The dancer didn’t say this, but remember the “lady” on the Monty Python episode who had the theory about the brontosaurus? “The brontosaurus is thin on one end, gets very thick in the middle, and is thin again on the other end.” Take your pick: ballet or brontosauri.

From (I think) a young-adult fiction panel: If something is done extremely well, it doesn’t have to be startlingly new. As Fujiwara no Teika said long, long ago: “Don’t strain for novelty.” Stories that have been done a thousand times have been done a thousand times for a reason: the pattern works. But characters and the details you bring to the story are infinite and unique. You alone see the world through your own filter. The book you write will be different from the book anyone else writes, even if the plot, examined on a lab table, isn’t anything Earth-shakingly original.

People reread and reread Tolkien. Write books that people will reread. I’m never happier than when a fan tells me s/he rereads Dragonfly every October. And one of my favorite fan letters for “The Star Shard” in Cricket was one saying this was a story the reader would curl up with on a rainy day no matter how many times she’d read it before.

Today, there’s a huge focus on plot at the expense of the characters and the richness & atmosphere that makes people reread a book. We’ve all seen this, right? Many movies nowadays are made with about three or four different surprise plot twists at the end — I suspect many books are the same — writers are clawing desperately to find “surprising” plots. But if plot is all you’ve got going on, people will read the book once. If you build a rich world, people will come back again and again, because they’ll want to live there.

You have to nail the pacing. Keep it moving, especially young-adult fiction. Keep things happening.

Terry Pratchett says writing/plotting a novel is like looking down into a valley full of mist. You can see a treetop here and there, and maybe you can see the exit to the valley, but you can’t see all the stuff in between, down below the shroud of the mist. You have to discover that as you go along. I have certainly experienced that! Things become clear at the time they’re supposed to. Writing is a journey of discovery.

My agent says January is a good time to submit manuscripts. So is “back-to-school” time in September. The worst times are December and August, when people are out of their offices.

“The French language is of critical and sometimes disproportionate importance to the French.” — Barbara Hambly

Dave Grossman has two books titled On Combat and On Killing. David Morrell and David Drake made the point that one mistake frequently made in thriller fiction is that an ordinary person, when faced with a life-threatening situation, is suddenly able to kill like a soldier. In fact, humans have a kind of shield in their minds that prevents them from killing. Our instinct and tendency is to preserve life. It’s wired into us for the preservation of our species. Long ago, the Army used to train soldiers in marksmanship. But they found that even soldiers who could consistently peg the bullseye of a target wouldn’t fire their weapons in combat. [I’ve heard findings about how owning a gun for self-defense doesn’t usually work out. What happens most often is that a criminal, breaking into a person’s house, uses the defensive homeowner’s gun against him/her.] Now the Army trains soldiers to kill — to kill instinctively. It uses video games — you see an enemy, and you react. People who haven’t been trained in that way have an awfully hard time shooting or stabbing another human being. Our instinct is to preserve life. Our brains sabotage our deadly force. The chilling flip-side of that coin is: What about the generation of kids who are being trained by video games to see enemies and react?

Sharyn November makes the point that writers have an internal age they gravitate towards. “It’s interesting to see what people’s internal age is.”

Garth Nix says it’s all about an emotional connection. That’s why some books are successful. Readers make an easy emotional connection with the characters. That is quite profound — don’t gloss over this idea. How can we create that connection in our writing? That’s worth thinking long and hard about.

Peter Pan is a beautiful book, says David Morrell. So is The Prestige.

Emotional honesty. Dickens’s Bleak House. “The man could write,” says Morrell.

He also says, “God rewards the brave.”

Hollywood: “Against a backdrop of war, they fell in love.” Fantasy fiction: “They fell in love, but in the meantime, they had the dark lord to defeat.” Characters in fantasy are revealed through how they deal with some external thing.

A character who’s a stranger to the fantastic context allows you to describe it. An indigenous character doesn’t give the fantastic context a second thought. Boy, do I wish I’d thought of that before all those drafts of The Fires of the Deep!

Argument is manipulation.

Lovecraft’s stories are all: “A certain family are probably descended from monsters.” Heh, heh, heh! But look back up there to a point made earlier: Lovecraft could do that plot again and again, because his ominous atmospheres are so much fun to experience: all those sagging gambrel roofs and narrow alleyways, those tombstones thrusting up through the soil like the bleached claws of some enormous buried hand, those weird swamps with preternatural glows, that non-Euclidian geometry. . . .

I want to track down a poem about two corbies (ravens) talking about going to feast upon a dead knight in a field: “Where shall we go and dine today?” It sounds wonderful.

Someone asked Stephen King, “Why do you write horror?” He replied, “What makes you think I have a choice?”

“Horror is a genre of tone.” — Barbara Hambly

I was SO RELIEVED to hear Barbara Hambly say that when she’s writing, she doesn’t have the time or the emotional energy to read fiction. Thank you, Barbara! People act like reading fiction is easy. I love it, but for me, it takes focus and energy. I’ve always felt like a cretin for not reading more. Hambly says what she’s working with is the memory of those genres before she started writing professionally. There may be hope for me yet! That’s so refreshing and inspiring to hear, after hearing so many writers who say, “Oh, yes (yawn): I read ten novels a day. I just can’t help it.”

Let a book be what it wants to be. Don’t try to force a particular genre on it. Write it, and then worry about where it fits in.

Vampire fiction: now that the religious aspects are essentially gone, vampire novels are romances. That’s pretty much all that’s left.

And cycling back to David Morrell: “The destination is not nearly as important as the voyage.” It’s worth saying twice!

World Fantasy Convention 2008

November 8, 2008

(Before I get started, I’d encourage anyone interested to go back for one more look at the comments on the previous post, the one about Hallowe’en. There were a few comments awaiting moderation that didn’t get moderated until I was back from World Fantasy — so if you were one of those commenters, my apologies, and thanks for your patience! If you like reading the comments, be advised that there may be a couple new ones that you’ve missed. Thanks to all of you who kept right on commenting well after Hallowe’en! Again, I’m glad so many people rang in. This blog is always more fun when it’s an “us”!)

So, I’m back from Calgary, and this year’s World Fantasy Convention was outstanding! Five days in Heaven — wonderful people, fascinating panels, great readings, a wagonload of books to bring home, and free-range buffalo sausage for breakfast. And gravy on the fries, because it was Canada, eh?

Highlights (not a complete list, by any means):

1. Flying over the Canadian Rockies. Awesome, dramatic peaks glistening in the sun, the perfect threshold to cross on the way to a fantasy convention! And then they just end right before you get to Calgary. One minute, you might be over the Himalayas, where all the world is vertical; the next, you might be over the U.S. Midwest, with flat fields stretching to the horizon — though the mountain wall is still visible behind you; you didn’t dream it.

2. The blessed Chinook winds that warmed Calgary for the week of the con. Calgarians told me they often have snow at this time of year. But the whole time I was there, the skies were a dazzling blue and the air was almost balmy. I was perfectly comfortable in my tweed or corduroy jackets, even at night. “Chinook,” according to the dictionary, is a native American term meaning “Snow-Eater,” because these winds (a phenomenon created by the fantasy-map wall of the Rockies) can melt a foot of snow in a matter of hours, and dry out the ground where the snow lay!

100_020913. My enormous hotel room, which I kid you not was bigger than my whole apartment in Japan. Unlike last year’s con, at which I got 2 to 3 hours of sleep a night — and unlike the con two years ago, when I had the 24-hour flu — at this con, I sank into a peaceful and uninterrupted sleep every night, up on the 29th floor of the International Hotel.

4. Meeting Christina R. and Julia K. on the shuttle from the airport — a talented writer and a talented artist, respectively — the friend-making began before I even reached the convention!

5. Dinner at the James Joyce Irish Pub. Excellent fare!100_0211

6. The meet-and-greet on the first evening, with a concert by The Plaid-Tongued Devils. I reconnected with some old friends and met some new ones, including Michelle M. and “Skippy,” two more kindred spirits with whom I spent a lot of delightful time!

7. Attending a reading by Tad Williams.

8. Hearing a workshop given by David Morrell, author of First Blood — creator of Rambo — excellent and inspiring speaker.

9. Hanging out with Ella B., a fine writer who knows about enchantment and the ways of sea monsters; having lunch with her in the park, laughing, and discussing the writing life.

10. Reconnecting with Darrell S., “Dealer in Bargain-Rate Antiquities.”

11. Getting together with a group of Tolkien fans to discuss the finer points of characters from The Lord of the Rings, to swap stories about how we discovered Tolkien’s world and our early impressions of it; reciting the poem in Elvish that begins “A Elbereth Gilthoniel….”; hearing selections from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets The Lord of the Rings musical “Once More, with Hobbits.”

100_021412. Getting to meet my agent face-to-face for the first time and doing lunch. (Okay, okay, I was dying to write that. I feel so much better now!)

13. Having Gordon Van Gelder flag me down in the hallway to introduce me to Shawna McCarthy, editor of Realms of Fantasy.

14. Attending Will Hubbell’s reading from his latest book (as Morgan Howell), A Woman Worth Ten Coppers. Read it, everybody!

15. Doing my OWN reading from my story “Seawall”! With an audience and everything! (Thanks, guys!)

16. Being taken out to dinner by the agency that represents me and getting to meet some of my fellow representees.

17. Having an unexpected supper on the last night with my friend Evonne T., Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and100_0215 two other nice people whose names I really didn’t catch because the restaurant was so noisy and we were all so tired — but they were nice!

18. Hearing all the panel discussions I could cram in. It’s always fascinating to hear what working writers and editors say at such things. (George R. R. Martin said he disagrees with some of Tolkien’s choices — says he thinks Gandalf should have stayed dead!)

19. Having Ellen Datlow tell me two or three times that “The Bone Man” was a good story! (Allow me to add a few more exclamation marks: !!!!!)

20. Okay, here’s a good final story: I was leaving Calgary on Monday, the convention all over. I had a little time to kill, so I was looking through the airport bookstore, and I came across Guy Gavriel Kay’s book Ysabel. Now, even at last year’s World Fantasy they were raving about what a good book this is, and I’d been curious about it ever since. At this year’s con, the book won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. So I debated with myself — I have a ton of books waiting to be read. I was lugging home a ton of books from the convention. (You get a whole tote bag of them free, just for attending!) I had no business buying another book. But wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, to be able to say I’d bought my copy of Ysabel when I was in Calgary for the WFC? So, after putting it down three or four times, I finally picked it up again and bought it. So then I went to my gate, A-11, and waited for my flight. We boarded. Then we UN-boarded. The pilot told us to get off the plane, because the on-board computer needed fixing. So, as I was waiting at the gate to see what would happen, who should come walking down the terminal but — Guy Gavriel Kay?! He sat down outside A-12 to wait for his flight to Toronto. I hurried over with my copy of Ysabel and my pen, and he very graciously signed my book. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t bought the book on a whim, or if my flight had left like it was supposed to.

Strange and serendipitous things do happen. The paths we walk in life cross at the oddest — at the rightest — times. I think that’s probably why I’m drawn to the fantasy genre: why I read it, and why I write it. Life is an experience of wonder.

In my next posting, I’m going to open up my notebook to you: I’m going to tell you about the things I heard at the WFC that seemed significant to me. So come back soon!

A Writer’s Life in October

October 25, 2008

Such busy, busy days and nights, and so much happening! It’s been one of the best Octobers I can remember in quite awhile. For the most part, the weather has been gloriously warm and sunny, and I’ve spent as much time outdoors as possible. (The sun is so rare in Niigata that when it comes out, you drop everything and run outside in full absorption mode.)

Seriously, where to begin? First, the Fan Art is beginning to roll on Cricket‘s website, and they’ve got the first three pictures up of “The Star Shard” done by young readers. (www.cricketmagkids.com) I can’t describe the feeling of seeing artwork drawn for a story that entered the world through my mind and fingers. It’s humbling . . . it’s moving . . . it’s awesome . . . it’s — well, indescribable! Actually, it’s the second time I’ve had this rare joy. The first was years ago, when a teacher friend cajoled his students into drawing various villains from Dragonfly. I still treasure those. When kids draw the Harvest Moon heavies, they’re terrifying!

Second, just today, a friend passed along to me a review of Dragonfly written by a friend of hers on LiveJournal. (Ooh, am I allowed to say that on WordPress?) It’s truly uplifting to know that someone somewhere curled up with my old book and spent the day riveted. That’s the wonder of art. That poor book has been wandering around out in the world for close to a decade now — knocked around, remaindered, pulped, offered for sale on Amazon for a penny. . . . But it still connects with readers now and then. It still offers a world to escape into. This reviewer gave it an “A+.” She writes:

“Today was a good day. I spent it in bed under my pink polka-dot blanket reading page after page of Dragonfly until I could read no more and it was finished. /…/ I found it utterly fantastic. /…/ Frederic S. Durbin creates an entire world in only 350 pages [sounds like the paperback], and I would have to say that the world he creates is one of the biggest, most creative worlds I have ever ventured to by way of reading. /…/ Throughout the end chapters of this book I found my eyes welling with tears. I honestly did not know how this book would end up until the very last battle, and even then I had my doubts; but I will leave you to find out which side prevails.

“I think that everyone that enjoys embracing the dark side of life or ever wonders what hides in the shadows of a dark room will enjoy this book because it acknowledges our worst fears. I also think that anyone that enjoys female leads will find entertainment in this novel. Dragonfly is a strong and witty little girl wise beyond her years.”

Soli Deo gloria! And thank you, o thou friend-of-a-friend!

So, I’m about to head to Calgary for this year’s World Fantasy Convention. I’m really excited about that, as you can imagine! I’m scheduled to do a 30-minute reading again this year. Last time, I opted for three shorter selections to fill the half-hour, going for variety. This time, for the sake of experimentation, I’m planning to use the whole time to deliver one unified whole — namely, the Brigit and Phocion section from “Seawall,” the last novelette in Agondria. I chose that one because it’s an encapsulated, standalone tale, and because I think it’s some of the best writing in that book. (It gives me a little chance to act, too! Oh, the drama! “Alas, poor Yorick!”)

At the Convention, I’m also planning to have lunch with my agent on Friday. It will actually be our first face-to-face meeting. He is truly worth his weight in gold and then some — he’s working so hard to get my novel-length version of “The Star Shard” sold to the best possible publishing house. (I’m now thinking of calling that novel The Star Shard. Isn’t that brilliant and innovative? Maybe some fans of the story will notice a connection between the titles!)

While I’m dropping phrases like “my agent” and sounding all like a hoity-toity writer, I’ve got to tell you about a day I spent recently. The theme of this posting is a writer’s life in October, and this day in question, my major activities really sound like I’m living the writing life — like a page from the G.Q. of Writers, if such a magazine existed. Heh, heh — read on:

First (this is all one day, mind you), I made notes on a bundle of my poems from my old chapbook Songs of Summerdark at the request of a colleague at the university. She’s a composer who delights in setting words to music, and she wants to take a whack at some of my poems. So I was going through picking out poems, suggesting instrumentation, and writing notes on what I was trying to capture in the poems and what I thought the instruments and voices should be doing. It will be great fun to see what she comes up with!

Second, I worked on timing my reading for the Convention. The only way to do that is to read it more-or-less aloud from beginning to end and notice how much time elapses. I ended up cutting a bit from the middle.

Third, I put together a promotional package of some things for The Star Shard to deliver to my agent when we meet. I try to keep him supplied with anything and everything that might be useful in selling the book.

Finally, I read and carefully critiqued a novelette for a good friend, which was pure joy, not work.

If that ain’t livin’ the writing life, I don’t know what is! I’m thankful for the chance to be here, to be now, to be doing the things I’m doing. It’s not a matter of course — it’s a matter of grace. I’m thankful for the sunlight this October. I’m thankful for my students . . . for words on paper . . . for imagination and the coming of Hallowe’en . . . for the gift of participation in this incredible, unforeseeable sprawl that is life.

Speaking of Hallowe’en: I’d like to encourage another round of reader participation. Are you all still out there? If so, we can’t let this holiday slip by without a proper celebration — a proper revel in smoky lantern light while shadows caper. Two questions I offer: you can (ideally) answer both — or one. (Answering neither is not an option!)

1. What do you do to celebrate Hallowe’en? If you love the season, what is one thing you do to make it particularly shivery and delightful? Dredge up your dearest All Hallows customs and confess them here! A certain mode of decoration? A way you greet the trick-or-treaters? A book or story you read in October? A traditional jack-o’-lantern face you carve? Anything at all . . . how do you greet the long shadow season?

2. What is your favorite Hallowe’en memory? This is your chance to go into detail on that time you. . . . Or when you made that. . . . Or when. . . . Childhood? The threshold between childhood and adulthood? Later still? What was a particularly memorable Hallowe’en for you?

Okay, I’ll get you started on the memories. One Hallowe’en I’ll never forget was 2005. That was the year my mom unexpectedly passed away on October 18. I flew back to the States to be with Dad and for the funeral and all. On the day of the funeral, the town was breathtakingly gorgeous — trees a miraculous palette of brilliant reds and golds. The procession of cars to the cemetery was the grandest Hallowe’en parade one could hope for — couldn’t have ordered a better day for Mom’s last ride through the town she loved. I saw a whole lot of friends and relatives that I don’t normally see — all very loving and friendly, all gazing into Eternity and aware of the brevity of life, all with an awareness of how much my mom had meant to them. A surreal time, when I’m normally teaching but wasn’t that year.

The town was decked out in Hallowe’en glory: fake tombstones like gray toadstools in yards; chokingly thick webs in trees, covering bushes; scarecrow figures, jack-o’-lanterns, ghoul dummies, witches, oddities, orange lights. . . .

I bought Hallowe’en candy, which yanked a crown off my tooth, and I had to go to the dentist. I bought pumpkins — big, orange pumpkins, so abundant and cheap in Illinois, so rare and expensive in Japan. I carved them, and my dad smiled. He said they looked like a couple, this one male, that one female. I took pictures of them.

I took the jack-o’-lanterns to my aunt’s house, because she has the best location ever for trick-or-treaters — no kidding. She’s right on the main street, in the safest neighborhood in town, where parents trust and everyone is home in well-lighted houses, and kids flock thicker than clouds in August. We set the jack-o’-lanterns on the porch and lit them. We set out my aunt’s Indian mannequins: a man and a woman (though the woman is really a man wearing a wig and a dress — a transvestite Indian). They have feathers and moccasins and fringe, and older kids love them, and middle-kids gaze at them in half-terror, and babies fear them and bawl, but still their moms carry them to the porch to receive their Hallowe’en treats. I am proud of how some kids whisper to each other about my jack-o’-lanterns — “Look at their pumpkins!”

My aunt lets me hand out the candy. We are both still somewhat numb in this world without my mom. My aunt makes popcorn, and we eat it in the brief intervals between visitors. The intervals are brief — we have something like 150 kids the first night and nearly 100 the next. We run out of candy and have to buy more for the second night. My aunt keeps a tally, making a mark on paper for every kid that comes to the door. We laugh in the quiet intervals and talk about how many of the girls seem to be dressed as hookers. There’s vampire hooker, witch hooker, and just plain hooker.

One of the most amazing things is how kids appear out of the night. They materialize from the darkness out by the street. Some cut straight across yards, through the drifts of dry leaves, crunch, crunch, crunch. But some — usually boys — RUN from the curb, a skeleton or a Scream-masked horror swooping toward our porch. Kids stand under the street lights, comparing loot, plotting their courses. Tall witch hats tip and bob as they speak. Many carry little sticks that glow in phosphorescent colors.

I comment on the kids’ costumes (though I avoid saying things like “Oh! A hooker!”). Isn’t it odd how most kids seem oddly disinterested in their costumes? One girl has a knife through her head, with blood trickling down her temples. I say, “Wow. You might want to have that looked at.”

I’m wearing a flannel shirt. For some reason, that sticks in my mind — that shirt, in that surreal October of grief and the Otherworld. Candy, candles, trick-or-treaters. Dragonfly hit the mass market that year; it’s in stores, in Barnes & Noble, in Waldenbooks — for a few brief months. I’m making it as a writer. I sit in a rocking chair opposite the door. I make the decisions about how much candy to put into each bag. My aunt sits off to the side, making her tally marks. She can see the kids through the plateglass window.

Toward the end of the evening, when the visitors trail off, and we’re eating the unpopped kernels that can break your teeth if you’re not careful, my aunt wants to call it quits. But I insist on staying open for business until the end of the time the city allows. I’m so low on candy that I can only put two or three pieces of boring stuff into each bag. But I want to stay as long as I can in my flannel shirt, up and down from my rocking chair, watching the dark, listening for the whisper and giggle of stragglers. A few bigger kids come, kids too old to be trick-or-treating — but, like me, clinging to this night.

This night. Hallowe’en. This year, this 2005, I’m  halfway through writing “The Bone Man.” Mom passed away during the restaurant scene, and I got a phonecall in Japan from the coroner, because no one else in my family could make the international phone number work. “The Bone Man” will go on to receive honors — publication in Fantasy & Science Fiction [Dec. 2007], translation into Russian, anthologization in Year’s Best Horror, honorable mentions from Dozois as a science-fiction tale and from Datlow as a fantasy/horror story. It will be on the ballot for Locus and for the International Horror Guild in their last-ever round of awards. It’s on the ballot against a Steven Millhauser story. A couple people nominate it for a Nebula. Wonder and love and family, sadness, childhood, adulthood . . . Japan, the U.S. . . . life, death, loss, success, crisp air, the imagination. . . . Everything flows together. The world turns toward winter, but on these nights, we’re linked to the earliest times, the beginnings. We are all storytellers, said Paul Darcy Boles, sitting around the cave of the world. “Why don’t you write a Hallowe’en story?” a friend of mine in Japan suggested at the beginning of that October, when I was feeling down and agonizing over what to write. So I started to write “The Bone Man,” just to distract myself. Just to have fun.

Yeah . . . as wonderful as my childhood Hallowe’ens were, I think 2005 was my Hallowe’en, the one single one I’ll never forget.

* * * * * * * * *

Don’t be overwhelmed — mine was long, but short is great, too! What do you do to celebrate Hallowe’en? What are your Hallowe’en memories? Back me up here! Let’s hear from you! Come running from the dark. I’m waiting!

Howlets Nightly Cry

October 10, 2008

I’m back, and the new school term is underway, and it’s time to give you an update on the writing life in my corner of the world. First of all, if you’ve already read Dragonfly and Something Wicked This Way Comes and the December 2007 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction and nothing else fills the great void in your reading life in October, then this is absolutely the year to scare up a copy of October Dreams, that amazing anthology of Hallowe’en stories edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish. This is a book I take off my shelf every year at the beginning of October. I’ve been reading it in no particular order — it’s a big, thick book, so if you read like I do, it will last you five or six Octobers, at least. Like a well-laden Hallowe’en goodie bag, it’s brimming over with treats of the season — a cornucopia of frightening tales by a huge range of writers, some whose names you know well, some whom you’re probably hearing of for the first time. Almost better than the stories themselves are the “Favorite Hallowe’en Memories” interspersed. When I finish reading something in the book, I make a tiny X in pencil at the top of the section. It will probably take me another year or two to get through everything, and by then, I will have forgotten enough that I can start all over again. By FAR the best story in the book — among many that are brilliant and delightfully creepy — is Richard Laymon’s “Boo.” It pretty well encapsulates everything there is to love about Hallowe’en: the mystery, the adventure, the chills, and that wistful nostalgia that the holiday forever carries for all of us who are too old to trick-or-treat.

Okay, other news: it’s been a delightful summer of answering the letters from young readers who are enjoying “The Star Shard.” They’ve been writing in steadily to Cricket‘s web site, and I’ve been doing my best to answer. If you’d like to follow the discussion there, stop in at www.cricketmagkids.com/corner/frederic-s-durbin. Cricket has recently invited readers to send in their own illustrations for “The Star Shard,” and the artwork will eventually be displayed on the site. I can’t wait to see what readers will choose to depict and how they’ll go about it!

One especial highlight in the publication run was the cover of Cricket‘s September issue — Emily Fiegenschuh’s illustration (for “The Star Shard”) of Cymbril on the bow of the Thunder Rake! Poster prints of that image are available at www.cricketmag.com/coverprints.htm.

My current writing project is expanding “The Star Shard” into a novel-length book. Through a connection made by my diligent and wonderful agent, an editor at a first-rate publishing house has made me some careful notes on what he’d like to see in such a revision. Every suggestion he’s made is right on the money, so I’m going at it. Please wish me well! I have ideas for what I think will be a five-book series — Lord willing!

Finally, I’m gearing up for Calgary and this year’s World Fantasy Convention at the end of this month. I’m looking forward to seeing how a Canadian WFC will be different from a U.S. one.

Now here are some pictures. This first one is of me and my cousin a few years back — I’m the littler one, with the “What’s out there?” expression.

Then come a couple images from the Dragonfly tour, this time from the U.S. side: the actual alley behind the bank (as featured in the book’s Chapter 1) and the funeral home on which Uncle Henry’s is directly based.

After that, some images of October in Niigata, Japan: the rice fields after harvest, persimmons, the track of the famous shinkansen or bullet train (not an October thing, but included, anyway), a view of the Shinano River (Japan’s longest), and willow leaves — included for the Hallowe’en connection, since in Japan, willows have a strong association with ghosts; they’re the trees under which ghosts often appear.

A warm seasonal “Boo” to all!

Rice field after the harvest.

Rice field after the harvest.

Bullet train tracks
Bullet train tracks

Persimmons
Persimmons

Shinano River
Shinano River

Sea of Japan at Niigata
Sea of Japan at Niigata
Sekiya Canal
Sekiya Canal
The Matsubayashi
The Matsubayashi