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Charlie Finlay
Posted on Friday, October 03, 2003 - 09:20 am:   

Ellen: Just wanted to comment on Maureen McHugh's "Ancestor Money." I wonder if this might not renew the debate elsewhere about what is and isn't science fiction, and why you so often publish things that push up against the boundaries, or simply knock them down, but I loved this story. The first sentence set me up to expect another brain-downloaded-into-computer afterlife story; instead it surprised me at every turn. I could go off on a craft tangent here, how the story succeeds because it eschews explanations for evocative details, how choosing the right word ("heartsickness" instead of "homesickness" in the sentence about the mailbox) makes commonplace sensations seem fresh and immediate, how she slips unexpected jars like that demon into the conversation in order to help set up the suddenness of the ending, which was, I thought, perfect. Instead, I'll just say thanks for the good read.

Regards.
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T.C.
Posted on Friday, October 03, 2003 - 11:21 am:   

I agree, Charlie -- "Ancestor Money" is wonderful. I love the subtle sadness of it, the muted weirdness and gorgeous imagery. It's told in a way that is both "disconnected" and personable, which, imo, captures the strangeness of this woman's existence beautifully.
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ellen
Posted on Friday, October 03, 2003 - 02:21 pm:   

Charlie, and TC:
Glad you have commented --and I've posted with re: to your comments on the Tangent online BB. But to me, the story is so solidly based in fantasy traditions of the "afterlife" that I don't even think Dave T would have a problem.

I agree that I sometimes intentionally push the boundaries but truthfully, in this case they don't need to be pushed. :-)
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JeremyT
Posted on Tuesday, October 07, 2003 - 11:40 am:   

It's kind of amusing how Dave has suddenly become some kind of litmus test.

I just wanted to chime in with my praise for Maureen's story. I don't have anything to say about it that someone hasn't already said.

I agree with Ellen that there seems to be a fantasy tradition of afterlife stories. However, I think if there is a gradient, running from "mainstream readers" to "hardcore Jordan fans," as far as acceptable concepts, the afterlife-type material is at the mainstream end of the spectrum. Ghost stories have been accepted as mainstream for years. Why, I don't know. I suppose someone could dig up some statistics as to how many people believe ghosts are real to argue that its more acceptable because ghosts are already in their field of belief. And last I checked, a good majority of Westerners believe in some sort of afterlife.

To me, a big thing that distinguishes a mainstream reader from a genre reader is a greater ability to suspend disbelief in things that are patently not true (at least at the moment).

-JT
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Tuesday, October 07, 2003 - 12:44 pm:   

My writer's group told me that an earlier draft of "Ancestor Money" had some similarities to The Lovely Bones. This seems to be a good year for afterlife stories.

(Thanks everybody for the comments.)
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, October 07, 2003 - 07:18 pm:   

Recently bought stories and novellas:
The Child of the Stones by Paul McAuley--another Mr. Carlyle novelette.
It’s all True by John Kessel
And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon by Paul Di Filippo
My Father’s Club by Michael Libling
The Three Unknowns by Severna Park (novella)

I'm hoping to buy "The Golem" by Avram Davidson and "The Pink Caterpillar" by Anthony Boucher. Also trying to track down the estate of David Bunch.


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JeremyT
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 01:37 pm:   

I really enjoyed this week's story. Stylistically, I would lump it together in a catagory I don't have a name for with "Ancestor Money." Again, a story I think that could be mainstream literary, but not as easily as "Ancestor Money."

OK, I do have a name for it. "Style monkey." But I don't really like to use that term...

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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 01:48 pm:   

Jeremy, I think it's too weird to fit in a mainstream venue unless it were written by someone already established to be a "literary" writer--like Flannery O'Connor-- not that that I'm calling it a southern gothic.

But I do think it's a lovely/weird fantasy.
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Gwenda B.
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 06:18 pm:   

"At the Mouth of the River of Bees" is a beautiful story. I knew I was going to cry at some point after the first few paragraphs. Truly lovely, sad and sweet.
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ellen
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 08:15 pm:   

Yeah--I had that feeling too. I'm very happy you liked it, Gwenda.
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Maggie V
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2003 - 12:08 pm:   

Just wondering, Ellen, what it is about this week's story, The Woman In The Cherry-Red Convertible By The Platinum Sea, that sparked your interest enough to buy it? What does the story do right, in your opinion?
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ellen
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2003 - 02:20 pm:   

Maggie, I don't know if I can define it but it has a polish and sharpness in language and an intriguing structure and a good mystery. I also found the pov character interesting. It seemed like a true view into mental illness and how it sometimes works. And the images.
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Lisa Mantchev
Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2003 - 09:28 am:   

Ellen, just wanted to add that I've been enjoying the lovely/weird stories fantasy stories as well. "Ancestor Money" took me on quite a journey, and I had to retrieve an extra box of tissues by the time I was done with "River of Bees". Many thanks for the great reading material. ;)
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2003 - 10:08 am:   

Lisa, thank you. Yeah. I was in tears too, each time I read "At the Mouth of the River of Bees."

I think I posted somewhere (can't remember where) that "Ancestor Money" is being taken by Kelly Link & Gavin Grant for their half of YBFH #17. I'm very pleased.

I also have heard that Jeffrey Ford's story "The Empire of Ice Cream" was taken for the Haber/Strahan Year's Best SF anthology.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 11:05 am:   

Warning. Possible spoiler...


Just finished Ilsa Bick's "The Woman in the Cherry Red Convertible by the Platinum Sea." Bick's handling of Rachel's illness was deft and engaging. I liked that she based so much of Rachel's character on real medicine, something few writers do when dealing with mental illness. What I liked less was Bick's use of the overworked notion that "unused" portions of the brain confer psychic powers of one type or another. Still, on the whole, I enjoyed this story. Bick's tale was also nicely paced, and she handled Rachel's "visions" quite well.
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ellen
Posted on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 11:37 am:   

Neal,
Bick is a practicing child and forensic psychiatrist so knows about this stuff. Glad you like it(mostly).
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JeremyT
Posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2003 - 10:57 am:   

Loved Howard's latest story. I'm tempted to use it in the battles on the Tangent board.

I have this weird feeling that it might send Dave Truesdale into some kind of seisure.

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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2003 - 11:45 am:   

I love nostalgia pieces. All those little bits of pop culture just make me grin like an idiot. I just get tingly and warm. So this new Howard Waldrop story, "D = R x T," really hit the spot for me. At first, I thought I might have wanted a more complete ending, something which rounded things off more neatly. But I'm not sure that would have made for a better story, only a tidier one. The point has been made, after all; things have changed in Dave's world, but there's been no crashing denouement. It's the kind of ending we're not used to seeing, one which shoves the protagonist, but doesn't dictate his future course. I like it. Too often the anticlimax of a story follows predictably from the climax. This way is better, I think, at least once in a while.

And Waldrop gives us some lovely images along the way. Dave with his Lucky Stripes was perfect. I remember buying those as a kid once in a while, though my brand of choice was a bubblegum cigarette because when you blew on one, the white powder between the gum and the paper came out like a puff of smoke. [Never light one of these, by the way. Phew!]

I think I would have liked to know more about Sally and some of the other kids, but the mystique of Rocket Boy was just right. He blows through town, a wake-up call for the complacent Dave, and that's all he has to be.

Nice choice, Ellen.
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2003 - 02:48 pm:   

Jeremy I'm sure it'll end up there anyway--and yes, I'm sure it will completely unglue poor Dave.

Neal, delighted you loved it too...unfortunately (or not) HOward never seems to write sequels to his stories.
I remember the ones that looked like they blew smoke...I had all of them because my dad owned a luncheonette. I personally liked the bubblegum cigars in pink or yellow. I think they even came with cigar bands.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2003 - 04:29 pm:   

Yes, the bubblegum cigars had bands with owls on them. I noticed, though, the bubblegum was often hard, and I had to grind my teeth and twist it before a piece broke off. If I was lucky, the piece which broke off was from the gum, not my tooth. Then there was the inevitable foolish facial expression -- the half-closed eyes and "o"-shaped mouth -- as I tried to chew something the size of my own nose with the consistency of the sole of my Keds. But it was okay. We understood that we had to work hard for the pleasures of gum.

And what was the reasoning behind the gum in the packs of Topps trading cards? Is bubblegum really supposed to shatter upon impact? Should children really bleed onto their baseball cards from gum-induced lacerations?

Now that I think of it, many candies back then were rather sadistic -- Necco Wafers, ribbon candies, Bazooka gum, and those gigantic SweetTarts which always managed to leave abraded lesions on the roof of my mouth. I could show you the scartissue, but that would just be gross.

Then again, at least I can claim I lived in the days before pantywaist confections like Bubble Yum. What wimp thought that stuff up? "Do you whimper when you chew gum? Well here's the product you've been waiting for. It's soft. Soft as your teddy bear, Mr. Huggles. Soft as a brand new pair of pantalettes."

Hell, when we injured the insides of our gumline, loosened a bicuspid, or punctured our mucous membranes with jagged, unforgiving, fire-tempered candies, we didn't go whimpering to mommy. No! We pounded on our chests and boasted of our wounds over bottles of hot ginger ale. Then we belched the Pledge of Allegiance, just to feel that heated carbonation rip through our sinuses like steel wool dipped in iodine. We got Pixie Stix powder into our bronchial tubes on purpose to see if we could make that whistling sound way down in our lungs. We sucked on jawbreakers the exact size of our tracheas, laughing in Death's eye. We washed fistfuls of Pop Rocks down our gullets with warm Coke, then jumped around on pogo sticks until our bellies distended and our eyes watered with each burp. Not for us the semi-liquid Go-gurt, the precious Bubblicious, the sissified Pudding Pops. Baby food was for babies. We ate candy that could kill!

Those were the days of innocence and agony; those were the manly days of childhood!
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E Thomas
Posted on Thursday, October 23, 2003 - 07:59 pm:   

Hell, when we injured the insides of our gumline, loosened a bicuspid, or punctured our mucous membranes with jagged, unforgiving, fire-tempered candies, we didn't go whimpering to mommy. No! We pounded on our chests and boasted of our wounds over bottles of hot ginger ale. Then we belched the Pledge of Allegiance, just to feel that heated carbonation rip through our sinuses like steel wool dipped in iodine. We got Pixie Stix powder into our bronchial tubes on purpose to see if we could make that whistling sound way down in our lungs. We sucked on jawbreakers the exact size of our tracheas, laughing in Death's eye. We washed fistfuls of Pop Rocks down our gullets with warm Coke, then jumped around on pogo sticks until our bellies distended and our eyes watered with each burp. Not for us the semi-liquid Go-gurt, the precious Bubblicious, the sissified Pudding Pops. Baby food was for babies. We ate candy that could kill!

Those were the days of innocence and agony; those were the manly days of childhood!


I feel like I had such a sissy childhood, amongst such elders.

*bows her head*
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, October 23, 2003 - 08:16 pm:   

Neal, I love your post. I might be a slightly different generation than you (or different region) but I loved lik-m -aid in the straws and packets. And yes huge hot atomic jawbreakers. And bazooka original bubble gum rules. None make as good bubbles as Bazooka.

I also loved the wax lips and mustaches around Halloween. Not to mention Pez, sugar daddy's, turkish taffy, rock candy (which you can still get but I would not put into my mouth any more... I still love Baby Ruths on occasion. Did you have those wax soda bottles with sweet liquid in them?
Now when I think of them it sounds disgusting but I sure loved them when I was a kid.
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Friday, October 24, 2003 - 06:30 am:   

Neal!

That is a sublime post, a Hunter S. Thompson of nostalgia post.
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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, October 24, 2003 - 06:41 am:   

And let's not forget these two weird confections -- Chocolate Babies (who the hell thought this one up? Little eatable infants) and Boston Baked Beans (that's the first thing I'd model a candy after ). Do you remember those little white bags with the draw string filled with golden nuggets? It was gum, but that shit was so sweet, just thinking about it now makes my teeth hurt and the saliva course to the corners of my mouth. They don't make em like they used to.

Best,


Jeff
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JeremyT
Posted on Friday, October 24, 2003 - 07:24 am:   

You know, I'm only 25 and I remember every one of the candies described. Maybe it's because I grew up in Kansas, which is slow to keep up with national fads.

My personal favorite of deadly candies was something I came across on the web. It was basically a chocolate ball with plastic toys inside. Talk about a deadly choking hazard!

On the humorous subject of candy, there's a great (but slightly xenophobic) website that reviews terrible candy: http://www.bad-candy.com/

This is the site that taught me to fear tamarind.

Admittedly, an old site, but fun if you've never seen it.

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ellen
Posted on Friday, October 24, 2003 - 07:41 am:   

Jeff, I used to really like chocolate babies. Never tried the boston baked beans.

Jeremy, Japan has some pretty awful candies. I bought some as a gift for Garry Kilworth when Alice Turner and I visited him in Hong Kong and we were all appalled when we tasted them.

And someone here must have read the wondeful passage in Gravity's Rainbow about awful English candies (some, if not all, presumably made up).
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LeslieWhat
Posted on Friday, October 24, 2003 - 11:24 pm:   

You can get most of this stuff at:

http://www.blaircandy.com/blaircandy/candy.html

I know because I'm thinking of serving it at my next party.
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Mike
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 05:34 am:   

Wow.
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 06:14 am:   

Yummy. I just remembered how much I loved red hots!
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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 07:17 am:   

Perhaps the most pointless candy in the world, and I fell victim to this when I was a kid, were those dots on the paper. Remember that crap. You had to pick the little dot off, and it was hardly worth it for how much candy was involved and the paper always came off too, so you were chewing a big wad of paper. Errr, frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying. Those things were made to torture kids.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 07:58 am:   

Hmmm, chocolate babies... Were they those chewy little things that looked like angry king cake babies? Or like midget fertility statues without so much fertility? You reached into the bag and pulled out a tangled lump of clinging babies? Tasted a little like a congealed Yoo-hoo? Ick.

As if on cue, a Tom Waits song has lodged itself in my forebrain. "Got to be a chocolate Jesus... to keep me satisfied."

The Boston Baked Beans phenomenon puzzles me, too. Beans and candy just don't mix. What's next? Virginia Baked Ham chewing gum? New England Pot Roast jelly beans? California Chipotle Chicken Chews? The mind reels; the stomach churns.

And Lik-m-Aid? I agree with you, Ellen. Lik-m-Aid rocked. The white stick was the best part, the perfect blend of punishing hardness and comforting sweetness, harsh discipline and its gentle reward all in one stick. I usually threw out the Kool-Aid powder; if I wanted that, I'd gnaw open a Pixie Stix. I remember they tried variants on the classic Lik-m-Aid, including different "fruit" flavors, but nothing came close to the original.

I agree about the gustatory horror of Japanese candies. I popped a White Rabbit into my mouth a few weeks ago and was instantly convinced that all Japanese confectioners should be imprisoned for crimes against humanity. I didn't have the courage to try the Gummi Muskmelons which sat next to the White Rabbit. Something about musk and candy just doesn't seem to go well together.

Then again, while I've never visited Japan, I have the sense that the Japanese have a very different relationship with food than anything with which most Westerners are familiar (or indeed comfortable). Witness the Japanese pop band, Cibo Matto, with their snappy songs "White Pepper Ice Cream," "Know Your Chicken," "Beef Jerky," and "Le Pain Perdu." Or listen to their haunting and lovely version of "The Candy Man." It could be that thousands upon thousands of Japanese schoolchildren routinely pop White Rabbits into their mouths and achieve transports of delight. Me? I go for candies not named after rodents.
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Richard Parks
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 10:17 am:   

Not all Japanese candy sucks. Pocky isn't bad (pretzel sticks dunked in chocolate), though the Black Coffee flavored gum sounds abominable. Supposed to be good for studying, though. Keeps you awake.
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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 12:24 pm:   

Richard, besides occasionally creating abominable mutant candies which taste like rubberized hog's hair sweetened and mixed with modeling clay, the Japanese also have an unfortunate problem with naming their food products. Some would simplistically lay this at the feet of a national willingness to engage innocently (and somewhat ignorantly) in all things Western, the same incautious eagerness which led to Black, the magazine of Japanese urban culture (which features almost entirely Japanese models). This is the impulse which gave life to that inexhaustible wellspring of Western mirth and Eastern humiliation known as "Engrish." But on some level, I suspect a group of Americans, British, Canadians, and Australians have been jerking the collective Japanese chain for years. How else can we explain a candy called "Pocky?" Yum-yum, it's filled with Pox! Or the celebrated "Dingleberries" (a helpful Westerner pointed out this faux pas, and the product was renamed). Or how about "Kiroki Sweat" and "Mucus" sports drinks? Mmm, can I have another?

Make no mistake. I do not expect a general "Sumimasen, wakarimasen" from the Japanese people for comically mangling my mother tongue. I don't believe they are responsible for "Dingleberries" or "Pocky." I say again, I think English-speakers are secretly to blame for this. I am reminded of a Steve Martin joke wherein we are exhorted to take charge of children's educations early in life, and to teach them "wrong." ["So it's like the kid's first day in school and he raises his hand and says, 'May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?'" -- S.M.] Surely, after so many decades, the Japanese have some indigenous bilingual talent who can spot the wildest gaffes on their own. Hence my insistence upon a dark cabal of smirking anglophone humorists and cynics roaming the neon-lit, William-Gibson-esque streets of Tokyo by night, and by day giving bad advice to Japanese marketing executives.
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 02:55 pm:   

That reminds me, Eileen Gunn made me try some durian candy. ick ick ick! I spit it out. She loves it.

Neal, you've got chocolate babies down correctly.

Jeff: I loved candy dots. You can still get them. Part of the fun was eating the paper on the backs. Does anyone remember when real Jewish rye bread had a label on it? Every Saturday growing up we ate at my grandparent's apt in the Bronx and they've have fresh rye bread. I always wanted the piece with the label on it because "it tasted good." Ah; those were the days....

(I'd move all the candy talk to a new topic but am afraid that it would kill it. So how can we start a new topic on SCIFICTION without killing this one????Suggestions?)
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 05:21 pm:   

White Rabbit isn't Japanese, it's from China! We have it all the time at Chinese New Year, and it rocks. You're not supposed to let it sit on your tongue, you know; the rice paper covering disolves into a sticky, tasteless mess if you do that. You're supposed to bite into it straight away. It's great.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 07:34 pm:   

Jeremy T, if there is any way to send Dave Truesdale into a seizure, please go for it! :-)
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JeremyT
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 07:57 pm:   

In answer to Ellen's request to get back on topic, I did a little google search through SciFiction using the word "candy."

I was impressed at how often candy is used as a metaphor or directly referred to in the SciFiction stories. It looks like "Jailwise" by Lucius is in the lead with multiple uses through multiple sections.

If you want to check it out for yourself, here's a link.

If nothing else, it reminded me how much I enjoyed "Empire of Ice Cream."

At the risk of taking us right back off topic: Amazon's "search the text of 120,000 books" is so cool, I hope it doesn't get litigated out of existence.

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Neal Stanifer
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 10:41 pm:   

Nicholas, thanks for the correction. I'd hate to think I was blaming the Japanese for something for which the Chinese were responsible.

And I'm glad someone likes White Rabbit. You can have my share. :-)
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 10:46 pm:   

Send it right over. ^_^

(Now, that emoticon you can blame on the Japanese.)
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Cadigan, Pat
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 02:35 am:   

Leslie What said:

You can get most of this stuff at:

http://www.blaircandy.com/blaircandy/candy.html

I know because I'm thinking of serving it at my next party.

--------------------------

Omigod, I went and looked--they have Skybars and Mallow Cups! And Pixy Stix and Satellite Wafers!

I hope they ship internationally.

The Sour-Face Party was a regular event in my childhood. It was a private and very exclusive event limited to my best friend Rosemarie and me.

The ritual involved each of us buying a pack of Pixy Stix (if possible--sometimes we had to share one). Each of the Stix was divided carefully in two--it was more fun to have 10 short stix than 5 long ones.

Then we poured the powder onto our tongues and made involuntary faces at the sour flavour while laughing at each other's sour faces.

We also did Atomic Fireballs with spicy ginger ale. In my day, the girls were just as macho as the boys.
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Cadigan, Pat
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 02:42 am:   

I'm sorry, I know I screwed up the topic when y'all were trying to get it straightened out.

But they've got Charleston Chew, too!!!!!!
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 08:46 am:   

I used to eat sen sen with peppermint life savers--nice combo. I still eat sen sen--as does my sister. It was introduced to us by our grandfather....


Pat now problem <g>
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 08:49 am:   

Jeremy,
Thank you for bringing up the subject of amazon's new search fixture.
I am extremely unhappy aboiut this as it has basically given away free electronic rights to amazon to my anthology Vanishing Acts. I have contacted my agent and the editor of that book to scream like hell and get amazon to remove it from the program.
Until they fix the glitches (obviously, no one at amazon actually thought this through) it a mennace to authors.
Ellen

>>>At the risk of taking us right back off topic: Amazon's "search the text of 120,000 books" is so cool, I hope it doesn't get litigated out of existence.
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 08:53 am:   

Jeremy,
I tried to google the candy topic and scifiction and didn't get anything. I'm out the door now but will check again later.
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 01:09 pm:   

By the way, ole Dave T is at it again, hammering away at the bogus idea that there is no one taking chances writing provocative sf blah blah blah. But this time, since no one would rise to argue with him yet again in his own topic, he's hijacked the sfwa lounge--the thread about the "dangerous fantasy writer" being tossed out of school.
I just posted my specific rebuttal, listing a dozen stories from SCIFICTION that contradict his silly assertion.
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Laura Anne
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 02:04 pm:   

Ellen,

And a very nice shut-down of the idiot formerly known as Dave it was, too

(I swear, the man was a gadfly in another life)


Pat -- we introduced Mr Caselberg to Pixie Stix at the WorldCon in Philly. He still hasn't quite recovered...


(and speaking of worldcons, I have photos of the two of you at what has come to be known as the Table of Bar-Doom in Toronto. Give me e-mail addresses and jpgs will be sent...)
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 02:55 pm:   

Laura Anne,
Thank you very much :-) Howeve, I'm sure Dave will keep slogging away at his little bete noires as soon as he checks out my post over there...

Me and Pat or Jay and Pat or who????
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Laura Anne
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 03:29 pm:   

Ellen,

Sorry, Sudafed-brain isn't being too clear today. You and Pat. Also a few other Notorious Characters (at least one male writer of my acquaintence saw the gathering at that table [I think it was the two of you and Sue Casper and a few others] and said "You couldn't pay me enough money to get involved in whatever they're plotting...").


Tcha. Such reputations y'all have...

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ellen
Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 04:34 pm:   

Aha. I think you've got my email address so send it/them along.

I remember that (vaguely) and it was all so innocent...
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Cadigan, Pat
Posted on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 01:56 am:   

Where is this historic post of Ellen's?

You guys never--or hardly ever--mention where this is going on. Makes it hard to get a look in, y'know.

:-)
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ellen
Posted on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 08:00 am:   

Pat, it's on the sff.net sfwa lounge BB.
It was in response to Dave Truesdale's new harangue.
I can post my response but can't really post Dave's original without his permission and I don't particularly want him coming here to talk more hogwash about the lousy state of the field.
But the gist of Dave's was above. If you want me to repost my reply here, I can :-)
Ellen
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 08:03 am:   

Print it, Ellen, and since I never get over to the SFWA lounge, tell Dave next time next time you see him, I got nothn' but love for him, man! :-)
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La Cadigan
Posted on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 03:40 pm:   

Never mind, I get the idea.

At one time, I knew how to get into the SFWA lounge. I remembered for all of 5 minutes after I rejoined. But I'm letting my membership lapse again as part of my Life Simplification Anti-Stress Project, so I don't really need to know anything further than what's apparent here.

I haven't seen Dave Truesdale for some years--since well before I left the US. We were always on friendly terms but I have to say that I have never associated his name with either cutting-edge, innovative ideas or highly perceptive analysis of the literature of the fantastic.

And then again, since I haven't been to the SFWA lounge, maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. But did that ever stop anybody?:-)
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ellen
Posted on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 05:14 pm:   

For Lucius or anyone else interested. here is my reply to Dave's screed:

Dave,
You keep _trying_ to make an issue of something that just isn't so I'm really
tired of it. I don't know exactly what short venues you're reading but
I can list at least a dozen stories from SCIFICTION itself that deals
with pertinent social and political issues:

Greetings by Terry Bisson
Frankenstein's Daughter by Maureen McHugh
Silent Her by Barry Longyear
Goddesses by Linda Nagata
The Man WHo COunts by William Barton(extremely un -PC)
Refugees from Nulongwe by M. Shayne Bell
In the Blood by Ilsa J. Bick
For Keeps by J. R. Dunn
Boys by Carol Emshwiller
Editing for Content by Gavin J. Grant
Daughter of the Monkey God by M.K. Hobson
Fear of Strangers by Dave Hutchinson

These are just from a quick skim through the stories I've published.
Dave, you're wrong. Just admit it already. There's room for all kinds of
fiction in the fantastic fiction genres and there's plenty of cutting edge
short fiction being published in sf/f/and horror.
Ellen
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Mark Shiney
Posted on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 08:49 pm:   

Ah, who needs cutting edge anyway? Give me a ripping good yarn any day.
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Mark Gerrits
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 03:14 am:   

Don't forget about Big House on the Prairie by David Prill, Ellen, one of those elusive pieces of biting satire that don't get written anymore according to Dave.
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 08:10 am:   

Mark,
That was one I was thinking of. But Dave apparently doesn't read SCIFICTION or doesn't note anything on it if it doesn't match his argument.
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Shiney
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 09:29 am:   

Okay, myabe a cutting edge ripping good yarn is best. <g>
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 10:44 am:   

Mark,
I mentioned both the Prill and Terry Bisson's novella, "Greetings" on the Tangent online BB --we'll see how Dave responds.

He still hasn't responded to my question about exactly what he means by "pc." (as someone else on the Tangent BB pointed out).
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Shiney Boy
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 04:40 pm:   

Did you ever get the feeling that you're being ignored (and maybe you should be)? *g* The temperatures seem to be rising on this bored, but it's not quite as hot as the fires here in So. Cali. I can assure you.
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 06:00 pm:   

I'm sorry Shiney, I didn't mean to ignore you. I love good storytelling, although I couldn't say whether that's the same as a "ripping good yarn."

And frankly, these days, I don't know what "cutting edge" means in reference to short sf. Perhaps telling great stories about cutting edge science and technology? To me it doesn't matter all that much. I want great stories of the fantastic, whether sf or fantasy.
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JeremyT
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 02:26 pm:   

I enjoyed Kessel's "It's All True." I just read "Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst" in Asimov's not too long ago. The two stories compliment each other nicely, in interesting thematic ways. Two powerful, incredibly intelligent men in their prime-- it's almost like we have a yearning in our modern society for men like Welles and Hearst.

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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 03:43 pm:   

Jeremy, it also goes with "Some Like it Cold", which I published in OMNI in 1995.
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Charlie Finlay
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 07:10 pm:   

I just read "Some Like it Cold" in Kessel's collection THE PURE PRODUCT last weekend, and was delighted to see another story set in that world so soon. (I also understand it's the same universe as CORRUPTING DR. NICE, which is coming up soon on my reading list. But I haven't read it yet.) Jer, if you get the chance to pick up THE PURE PRODUCT, you ought to read it for "The Franchise," a alternate history baseball story where former Yale baseball captain George W. Bush plays against super-pitcher and Cuban refugee Fidel Castro. It's told straight, tongue strictly out of cheek, and is a great story.
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JeremyT
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 08:04 am:   

I've heard of "The Franchise." I'm going to have to go looking for THE PURE PRODUCT. Kessel is another author I think I really enjoy.
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Gwenda B
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 11:18 am:   

You're in for a treat with CORRUPTING DR. NICE -- it's my favorite time travel book ever, and one of my favorite novels, period. If you haven't seen "The Lady Eve" (blasphemy!), you should see it before you read the book, otherwise you'll miss lots of things... In fact, even if you have seen it, you should probably see it again immediately prior.

THE PURE PRODUCT is a great collection. And "It's All True" and "Some Like it Cold" would definitely enrich each other read side by side. I'd also recommend "The Miracle of Ivar Avenue" from the collection for even more wonderful-ness.

Gwenda, who only looks like Louise Brooks in the future
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 09:46 pm:   

Tentative line up for the next month or so:

November 12
Child of the Stones by Paul McAuley
November 14
Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction--Ununoctium--the LAST element
November 19
And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon by Paul Di Filippo
The Pink Caterpillar by Anthony Boucher
November 26
My Father’s Club by Michael Libling
December 3
Liar’s House by Lucius Shepard Part one of three parts
The Keepers of the House by Lester Del Rey
December 10
Liar’s House by Lucius Shepard Part Two
December 17
Liar’s House by Lucius Shepard Part Three
classic tk
December 25
Nutball Season by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
December 31
holiday
January 7
Peregrines by Suzy McKee Charnas
classic tk
January 14
House of the Future by Richard Butner
January 21
Inside Outside by Michaela Roessner



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Mark Gerrits
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 04:41 am:   

> Liar’s House by Lucius Shepard

Is this the new Griaule story?

Lucius is definitely having one helluva year.
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ellen
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 08:06 am:   

Mark, yes it is.
I gather he's also got one coming out in F&SF but I don't know if it's this year.
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pcharming
Posted on Saturday, December 20, 2003 - 10:04 am:   

Ellen, why is it that most of the stories published on SF sites basically consist of plotless, lilting prose? The stories I read are eloquently written with just a hint of suspense but definitely not gripping. Is it that current writers of SF are simply incapable of constructing thrilling stories? Almost everything is told on one level just rambling on, but barely able to sustain a sophisticated reader's interest, IMHO. I really believe that a lot of editors are not aware of all the various media that they're competing with when they make their story selections. I think that if the publishers of SF ezines were able to take a poll of readership they would find it to be quite low. In my opinion, they need to publish well-written stories with interesting characters and, most definitely, real plotting.
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Stan
Posted on Saturday, December 20, 2003 - 11:22 am:   

I think what pcharming said is, for the most part, true. Just about every short story I read on SF sites is lacking in well thought out plots. In fact, if you outline most of the great majority of stories, by listing all the important plot points, even the most ardent fan of SF will be bored stiff by what they read. It's as if most modern SF writers (and editors) are using smoke and mirrors (eloquently mesmerizing prose) to sell a single, one-dimensional concept. Nothing exciting about these stories other than the concept--and that's not real story-telling in my opinion.
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, December 20, 2003 - 03:41 pm:   

pcharming and stan,
I can't judge stories from other websites because I don't have time to read them but most of the stories I publish have strong plots, interesting characters and are multi-layered. And hopefully entertaining.

No magazine or webzine can please everyone but if the majority of the feedback the editor gets is positive she must be doing something right. I love what I publish or wouldn't be publishing it. I have to assume other editors do the same.
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elizabeth
Posted on Saturday, December 20, 2003 - 09:05 pm:   

I did what Stan suggested in his post, and I made outlines of plot points of various SF ezine stories. I took stories from SCIFICTION.com, Strange Horizons and a few other well-known sites. I must admit that I found most short-form stories to be high on atmosphere and concept and very low on exciting plots. In actual fact, quite a few of them had no plot whatsoever and seemed to be just listing somewhat interesting events in the protagonist's life. I would think that atmosphere and concept are given ingredients to any story, and that a plot filled with excitement and intrigue is also necessary to any good story. But it seems that the current trend is style over story. Is it just basically other writers who these stories are meant to appeal to, or are they being published to engross and thrill the general reading public like myself? I wonder... ?
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Jay
Posted on Saturday, December 20, 2003 - 10:11 pm:   

I'm not a writer just a reader, but I do notice that a lot of SF stories don't offer much in the way of twists and turns. Plot twists and turns are usually what hold my interest in a story, both short and novel form. I often find myself getting bored about half way through most short stories. Maybe strong plotting just isn't considered important anymore.
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, December 20, 2003 - 10:28 pm:   

I admit I'm not particularly interested in "exciting" plots. Excitement is not what I'm looking for as a reader. I enjoy reading all kinds of stories, some with a lot of atmosphere, some that are character studies, some that are just fun stories with-or without complex plotting. I think there are sf/f (and some horror) stories of all types on SCIFICTION and that different types appeal to different readers.

A sampling of stories on SCIFICTION that are more heavily plotted (several are mysteries:
Child of the Stones
The Woman in the Cherry-Red Convertible by the Platinum Sea
Threads
Big House on the Prairie
The Man Who Counts
In The Blood
For Keeps
Intruders
Doctor Pretorius and the Lost Temple
Jury Service

I could go through the almost four years we've been publishing, but I think you get the point. Without variety, reading (and editing) is dull.
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, December 20, 2003 - 10:32 pm:   

New stories coming up by Terry Bisson, Andy Duncan, and relative newcomer Deborah Coates.
Classics by Robert Sheckley and John Wyndham.
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ET
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 02:36 am:   

pcharming, what does an "exciting" plot have to do with sophisticated readers? :-) I mean, it's like complaining "this movie doesn't have enough action for the sophisticated viewer." There are many ways that a reader can get satisfaction beyond a twisting plot. The stories I remember most aren't those that had clever plots, but those that touched me.
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sbeauty
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 04:41 am:   

I think thar "sophisticated readers" was pcharmings' turn of phrase for "barely literate cretins." The notion that plot twists are what is necessary to sustain the interest of a sophisticated reader is laughable and, generally speaking, those who embrace such a notion would be best served by sticking to YA novels for their intellectual stimulation.
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Joe T.
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 07:53 am:   

Does anyone else thing pccharming, stan, elizabeth, and jay are all the same person, posting under different usernames to support the original argument?
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grumpy
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 08:31 am:   

Tim...yes. Absolutely. Can you imagine anyone reading pcharming's post and then actually doing as he suggested--as elizabeth claims to have done? Just a troll and his sock puppets. And I should know, being sbeauty's little cottonfoot pal... :-)
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 08:41 am:   

JoeT,
Knowing a little something about "voice" from my reading it's certainly possible that they're the same person--they sound alike --but only pcharming, stan, elizabeth, and jay know for sure :-)
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 10:34 am:   

Well, the comments about 'plot' in short stories are a bit silly since a short story can only hold a limited amount of plot. As for boring--I am only bored if the writing is boring, and no amount of 'twists and turns' will excite me.
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 02:28 pm:   

Same here. Twists and turns do not a good story make. There are so many elements that go into the creation of a good story--some of them intangibles.

If the quartet isn't just a collective/pseudonymous troll then I hope they will bring up and discuss specific stories they enjoy (whether on SCIFICTION or elsewhere).
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Iron James
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 03:21 pm:   

Is it possible editors have had the gall to reject the sophisticated, twist and turn stories they've written? Shame on any editor who would do such a thing! Any good editor should know that a sophisticated reader demands a whole maze of ttwists and turns in the plot, so that's exactly what editors should buy.
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Matthew
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 07:51 pm:   

It seems to me that people who concentrate on plot are missing 90% of the story. Plot does not equal story. Why a character does something is more important then what he does. Character, atmosphere, style have more effect then plot.
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 08:02 pm:   

Matthew, I wouldn't dismiss plot completely--to me "plot" is the way one describes what is happening in a story. eg. for every story I buy I write a one or two line synopsis for my files. I've been doing this since I started at OMNI so that I can go back and look up any story I've published, read the description, and usually will remember exactly what the story was about and how it made me feel reading it.

So in a way, the plot is what everything else hangs on. But that doesn't necessarily give it more importance than those other elements--voice/characterization/language/theme. For me it's best when all those elements come together in a pleasing mix. In different kinds of stories, one or more of those elements will be more prominent than in a different kind of story.
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 08:04 pm:   

I must admit I like a well plotted story. In fact stories that are all character and atmosphere kind of annoy me. That works in movies, to an extent, but in reading I like the story to be headed somewhere. I like to in least feel like there was some kind of point and something happened. Either to the characters or their society. I also like twists and turns, but don't necessarily need them.

This is the kind of thing that makes me a Philistine I suppose and unable to like most contemporary literary fiction I've tried.
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 09:16 pm:   

Thomas R,
Just because something is literary doesn't mean it doesn't have plot and forward motion to it.

As I implied in my post above yours, I think that if a story can be described it has a plot. I (and I think most if not all the other people on these boards might agree) that if a story has no point it rarely works as a story. I personally, hate stories with no points.
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 09:24 pm:   

That's likely true. My short fiction teacher was rather lousy and maybe introduced us to the more stereotyped and poor "literary fiction" I keep thinking I'll start reading Atlantic Monthly or Harpers, but sadly I can barely afford the magazines I do read.
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 09:43 pm:   

Thomas I don't know if you're near a library but if you are they carry most magazines.

Some excellent mainstream/literary writers off the top of my head(I don't love all their work but definitely like some of it--only Oates is really prolific in the short form)
Cormac McCarthy
Harry Crews
Don DeLillo
Joyce Carol Oates
Angela Carter

I'm sure others can add their own favorites.
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, December 21, 2003 - 10:24 pm:   

Yes I keep thinking I'll get around to trying Don DeLillo and Angela Carter, but then I don't. There's so many authors I've wanted to try, but never got around to. I see Oates in FSF on occasion, mentioned her to my sister, but for some reason I don't think I've read much of her work yet.
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Iron James
Posted on Monday, December 22, 2003 - 07:06 am:   

I like a good deal of what Oates has written, and I admit to being a literary fiction junkie. I think a story must have a plot, but I also think plot can be subtle. One of my favorite stories in any genre is Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River." I've heard many say it has no plot at all, but I think it's a very well plotted story.

I have access to a huge online database of magazines, most of which have the full text of the contents online, including The Atlantic Monthly. It's a big help in keeping up.

At any rate, story and characters are far more compelling to me than plot, but plot does have to be there. It's like the difference between building a house on rock and building a house on quicksand. Plot gives the story its foundation, stops the story and characters from sinking out of sight.

But too often when someone says they want twists and turns in a plot I think of such twists and turns as Adam and Eve, it was all a dream, or it was all a pinball game, or a bunch of surpricses that really aren't surprises at all.

Twists and turns can be fine things, but too often come out in amateur writing as thing sthat make editors snatch themselves bald.
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R.Wilder
Posted on Monday, December 22, 2003 - 02:58 pm:   

Paul Theroux is a literary writer who writes spare, plotted stories and novels, along with marvelous travel books.

I love Delillo, but don't know if he's a good place for Thomas to zero in on. Many big door-stoppers there. His most recent shorter books are pretty oblique, although I still enjoyed them.

The Latin American tradition of Garcia-Marquez, Donoso, Borges and many others presents a mixture of plot, "magic realism" and wonderful prose. Many of those writers were influenced by American pulp fiction along with the mellifluous William Faulkner.

Jim Harrison is one of my favorite literary writers, who's from my state of Michigan. "Dalva," "Sundog" and "The Woman Lit By Fireflies" are three of his best, the last a trio of novellas (as is "Legends of the Fall" which was adapted for the cinema).

I've yet to get to Oates, save for her recent appearance in "F&SF" but plan to eventually.

Sometimes the plot of a story resides in the cracks of the prose, waiting to be pulled forth or discovered, like the toy prize in a box of candy.

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Matthew
Posted on Monday, December 22, 2003 - 04:24 pm:   

I just finished a collection of Oates stories, she is easily one of the best living writers in America. Her stories are always quite effecting.
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ellen
Posted on Monday, December 22, 2003 - 04:37 pm:   

White Noise, Delillo's sf novel is quite good.

Oh yeah, also Janette Turner Hospital is a terrific novelist although I hear her last novel, which I haven't yet read is not so hot. If you can find them The Last Magician and Oyster are excellent.

Also, I always recommend Jack O'Connell (who writes for F&SF. I've loved all his novels:
Box 9
Wireless
The Skin Palace
The Word Made Flesh


and Edward Whittemore's Quin's Shanghai Circus--heavy on twisty plot from what I remember and his Jerusalem Quartet--there's a BB dedicated to his work on nightshade BB. Old Earth Books run by Michael Walsh reissued all his novels last year (Whittemore died about 10 years ago).

I very much enjoyed Larry Brown's Father and Son and Charlie Smith's The Lives of the Dead. You can check out what I've recommended over the years in various volumes of YBFH --most of the novels I've read are off center of the field.

I've got mini-reviews (adapted from the YBFH) of some of these books on my personal website.
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Thomas R
Posted on Monday, December 22, 2003 - 04:45 pm:   

I have had Borges on my Christmas list for years. I intended to read a collection of his last Summer, but then class came back before I got to.

I'll look up White Noise.
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John Kessel
Posted on Thursday, December 25, 2003 - 01:23 pm:   

This plot/no-plot discussion is interesting, but maddening because nobody is defining what they mean by "plot."

Does a well-plotted story require action? Surprise? Foreshadowing? The threat of physical harm to the protagonist? Psychological tension? And example or two wouldn't hurt.

For instance, I think James Patrick Kelly's story "Think Like a Dinosaur" has a gripping plot (as well as good characters and extrapolation). Events follow one after another like falling dominoes, and yet there are surprises at each stage of the story and the outcome is in doubt until the end. The protagonist has a big choice to make, and we don't know how it will come out.

How about Bruce Sterling's "We See Things Differently"? In that one we are mystified by the first-person narrator's hidden motivation for coming to the U.S. We see him lie to people but we don't know why he is lying, until the end, and then everything he has done and says makes horrible sense. No violent action in this story, but a gripping plot.

How about Maureen McHugh's recent SciFiction story "Frankenstein's Daughter"? Here the sequence of events again follows logically, the characters are motivated, but the revelation of the situation comes before the end. At the beginning the source of narrative tension is the simple quesiton will the boy and his sister get caught shoplifting, but also we wonder what the situation is between the boy and his sister. Soon the story moves well past such direct sources of tension. The end surprise comes from the mother's attitude toward her son's hopeless rebelling, and how that reveals her own horrible sense of being trapped in the situation she has helped to concoct for her family. Lots of nice little surprises along the way, such as the fact that the ex-husband and his new wife are not jerks. A character story with lots of narrative drive.

I think all of these are well plotted stories--they made me want to keep turning the pages. So what do you mean by "plotless" stories?
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Mike R
Posted on Friday, December 26, 2003 - 09:40 am:   

John, "plotless" would be all those stories that are being published that don't have the attributes that you mentioned above. ;-)
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Daniel
Posted on Friday, December 26, 2003 - 10:05 am:   

I think that a plotles story is any unmotivated story. In other words, a story that simple lists a bunch of events taking place in the protagonist's life without any conflict. And I must admit that I don't mind some violence in a story if it serves a purpose, like creating or furthering the main character's motivation.
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des
Posted on Friday, December 26, 2003 - 12:28 pm:   

Plot................Mood..............Nothing

That's the sort of spectrum involved, I believe. The same story could take place anywhere along that spectrum - but it just depends how much rope the author wants to give the reader to tell the story to him- or herself ... or even initiate the story from apparent scratch. (And sometimes plot hides the real story, i.e. a story-in-itself that would otherwise remain unperceived if the more overt plot veneer is not removed or made less overt - even a story that the author didn't know was being told).
I enjoy stories from anywhere along that spectrum, and one method of a story's overt telling should not automatically mean that a completely different (and perhaps more effective) method of the same story's covert telling is possible.
Des
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Francis
Posted on Friday, December 26, 2003 - 05:34 pm:   

WARNING: Convoluted logic in the above post by Des!
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Matthew
Posted on Friday, December 26, 2003 - 05:57 pm:   

Francis, how is it convoluted logic? You should back up statements like that.
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Francis
Posted on Friday, December 26, 2003 - 07:21 pm:   

Matthew, simply read Des's post aloud to your best friend. Then both of you should look up the definition of convoluted. Does it fit?
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Chad
Posted on Friday, December 26, 2003 - 07:25 pm:   

I must admit my favorite line in the post by des is "...even a story that the author didn't know was being told." That one's good for a larf or two.
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ellen
Posted on Friday, December 26, 2003 - 07:59 pm:   

Mike and Daniel,
John Kessel knows what plot is but was trying to get those who asserted earlier (pcharming and the gang) to show by example what stories various websites have published that are lacking in plot. They have not done so.

But I'm enjoying the discussion about plot and what it is.
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Thomas R
Posted on Friday, December 26, 2003 - 10:54 pm:   

Plotless stories aren't that common in any SF I can think of online or offline. The closest I can think of, that got some praise, was maybe Breathmoss in Asimov's. There was a plot, sort of, but mostly it was just this girl's meandering Coming of Age. (Girl as she was like a teen until near the end) Important and significant things in her Universe were mentioned, but not dealt with much. For me it was kind of maddening. I felt like an intriguing story could be told with that setting, but was purposely skirted.

Granted it doesn't quite work as plotless. There were choices to be made and her life did change. Mostly though it seemed kind of pointless to mw. Yet I know most who read it loved it. Or they think I didn't love it because I have a problem with Macleod. That second being bogus as I've enjoyed most of what I've read by him. (If I mixed it up and MacDonald wrote Breathmoss, it still applies except I like Ian McDonald more perhaps)
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des
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 01:10 am:   

I must admit my favorite line in the post by des is "...even a story that the author didn't know was being told." That one's good for a larf or two
*********
I don't know if you're a writer - but if you are, have you never started a story and/or plot and it actually evolves into something quite different from the one you thought you intended to write, i.e a supposedly minor character becomes the major protagonist or a mood takes over which gears the story differently? Sometimes the writer does not even recognise the changes taking place. That can be one of the joys of writing.

And, in the same way, the method of expression in my earlier post yesterday may be convoluted, but there is a logic of sorts there somewhere, I do assure myself!
des

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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 05:56 am:   

Well, truth be told, ALL stories written by actual writers have plots. You might not see them or like them, but they are there. A plot is simply a subject matter, or theme. It does not necessarily have to develop in any special direction nor does it really need to develop at all. Anyone who thinks a plot needs to follow certain set out standards is simply ignoring all the major innovations that have occurred in fiction in the past 140 years.
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joseph
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 07:57 am:   

A story is a story is a story. If it ain't got one then it's only blather. I would like to see SCIFICTION offer some male-oriented action stories just once in awhile. Please.
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Brendan
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 10:46 am:   

I have always preffered female oriented action…
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richard
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 11:58 am:   

Alright!! Now we've got something to really fight about.

"Male-oriented action stories" - define, please. Does it only concern males? What role, if any, will female characters play in male-oriented action? What about Brendan's female-oriented action - does it exist or is it merely male-oriented action in drag? Is action male, introspection female? (with all those brooding private eyes, I think not). What female fiction is the opposite, then, of "male-oriented action stories" (and why doesn't joseph like it?)?

All of the above, I suspect, goes to the heart of the plot issue. Plotless is really a critical insult rather than a valid description. All stories have a plot, in that they are all going somewhere (even if that somewhere is only across town to visit the character's mother)and taking you with them. I suspect that complaints of plotlessness arise when the reader doesn't like where they are being taken because it isn't roller-coaster exciting enough for them. In contrast, those who like such subtle rides will often level the "cheap and mindless reader gratification" insult at roller-coaster stories, as if giving enjoyment to your reader was some kind of disgusting prostitution. In both cases what you seem to have is a deeply emotional grouping instinct in which each group of readers derive superiority and fellowship from slagging of those in the other group. The real trick, of course, is to be able to enjoy the full spread of rides at the fairground and not try to compare them. As our ridiculously long coated friend would have it, free your mind.

Free Your Mind

Splat.

Ooops. (that piece of pavement, for me, was a book by Matthew Reilly...ho hum, back to the good intentions...)
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Matthew
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 12:13 pm:   

Matthew, simply read Des's post aloud to your best friend. Then both of you should look up the definition of convoluted. Does it fit--

Francis, nice way to dodge the question. Unfortuanetly for you, merely saying is does make it so.
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Sarah T
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 02:18 pm:   

Well, the medium is commonly referred to as a "short story". They're not short atmospheres, short character studies, or short concepts. So one could expect some real plotting to this short form of fiction entertainment, don't you think? But it seems like most of the compliments about the status quo in SF publishing come from a lot sycophantic writers and wannabes who frequent these boards. Yes, they're welcome to their opinions, but what about those who only read without any possible ulterior motives? Are we really hearing from enough of them to get a true consensus?
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Matthew
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 02:36 pm:   

Sarah T, who might be Francis under another name, story does not mean plot. They are not identical. The a story is a combination of various things like plot, character, atmosphere. Any and all of these can be included or excluded.

But it seems like most of the compliments about the status quo in SF publishing come from a lot sycophantic writers and wannabes who frequent these boards.--

Gee, because they disagree with your myopic view of literature they must be trying to suck up. Grow up.
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 02:48 pm:   

plot is simply a subject matter, or theme. It does not necessarily have to develop in any special direction nor does it really need to develop at all. Anyone who thinks a plot needs to follow certain set out standards is simply ignoring all the major innovations that have occurred in fiction in the past 140 years.

Thomas R: Umm no. If plot was just theme you'd call it theme. Having the two terms would be redundant.

I'm not saying it must develop in a specific nineteenth century way or anything. It's not like even I'd want everything to become like O'Henry or DeMaupassant. Still if the story doesn't develop at all or go anywhere it's plotless or in least has virtually no plot. I'm using a more populist definition of plot than you perhaps, but I think that's one that needs to be considered when dealing with readers.

As for the female/male action stories I think I might like female a bit better too. C. J. Cherryh is maybe one of my favorite actiony authors. Although both have their place and I wouldn't want SF to become too dominated by any one gender. However thus far science fiction has always been in least 70%, as that's the current number last time I checked, male. Even with Sci-Fiction well over 60% of the new stories this year were by men if I calculated correct.

Granted there does seem to be some preferences and avoidances. Space based adventures seem to be about unheard of at Sci-Fiction, outside of a few of the Periodic Element stories, but I don't see that as a masculine/feminine issue. Many men don't write those and many women do. Likewise it tends to skew to the political Left. Granted many of the classics are fairly conservative to Right, as is Gene Wolfe. However mostly the writers I think are fairly in tune with the editors political views. Which is neither unusual nor that blameworthy. SF editors have worked that way since Campbell in least. Including having a token writer or two on the opposite side for balance. (Campbell regularly published stories by in least two Socialists that I know about)
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 03:01 pm:   

LOL. Arrggghh--male and female action oriented stories--sorry, it's just not my cup of tea--ie, if you mean "adventure" for the sake of adventure. I just don't find that sort of story very interesting. A story has to work on more than one level or I'm usually (not always) bored by it.

Sarah T: You're being awfully vague. What status quo? There are enough short fiction markets to accomodate all tastes in sf/f reading--nothing is preventing those who are interested in reading a particular type story from reading that type.

So far those criticizing have provided no specifics. How about you being the brave first one, and name a few examples of the heavily plotted stories that you've read and enjoyed recently?

Btw, do you know all the posters on this BB? I personally don't know more than a small handful nor have most of them submitted stories to me. I think it's ungenerous for one to judge those who disagree about what makes a good story as being "sychophants" or having "ulterior motives."
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 03:13 pm:   

Matthew-you beat me to the punch, because I was being very careful how I worded my response to Sarah :-)

ThomasR-you're probably correct that there's a majority of stories by males on SCIFICTION. I did try counting several months ago, just to get a feel for it. But I believe I'm gender blind when it comes to buying stories which means I won't buy one gender or another just to have an even number.

In my guidelines I specify "no space opera." I admit it, I hate space opera--which doesn't mean I don't like stories that take place in space or other worlds. I published a few space-based stories that could be considered "adventures--kind of--

Shipbreaker by Paul Di Filippo
Around the Curve of a Cosmos by Gregory Benford
The Man Who Counts by William Barton
The Names of all the Spirits by J. R. Dunn
For Keeps by J. R. Dunn
More Adventures on Other Planets by Michael Cassutt
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 04:22 pm:   

I didn't manage to read all those, but surprised that I forgot the Benford one. I kind of liked that and it'd fit with Hard SF space stories. I just know of some authors, and I don't want to give their names unless they say I can, who interpret the "no space opera" guideline to mean they should even avoid sending stories like those listed. I might tell them that's not true if it comes up again.

As for what's more plotty than what I can think of some specific examples. I mentioned one for plotless stories. I can think of some more too with some effort. I think Wilhelm had a story called Strangeness, Charm, and Spin. It wasn't bad, but nothing much happened. It was just the day in the life of a scientist: going to work, talking to the kids, and then going to bed. Nothing unusual happened, no problems were dealt with, and the characters weren't going anywhere in particular. Whereas say Forever Yours Anna, by the same person, was fairly plot oriented. It was in a sense a mystery and mysteries pretty much require some kind of plot. There are problems or issues to resolve, secrets to reveal, etc.

It's not necessarily about action or adventure. An action packed story involving car chases and spree killers can be basically plotless. It's more common in the movies, but there are many action packed stories where the characters aren't really going anywhere. Their lives are pointless and the events of the story don't lead anywhere or develop anything. Whereas a peaceful story about finding lost loved ones, like maybe Henderson's People stories, can be very plot-centered.
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2003 - 04:39 pm:   

Thomas, to be honest I don't consider any of those space operas. To me, "space opera" means something very specific, and that is: superficial space adventure stories. I consider all the stories I mention above as being more than that. I get a lot of queries as to what I mean by "space opera" so you have my permission to pass on my definition to those who ask (and certainly to suggest the stories mentioned above as the kind of "space story" I like.

Interesting that you mention the contrasting Kate Wilhelm stories. If I remember correctly, I might have turned down "Strangeness, Charm, and Spin" for OMNI because it was too subtle in its sf elements. But I do remember liking it. I published "Forever Yours, Anna."
Now you make me want to reread "Strangeness, Charm, and Spin" if I can find it. :-)

<<I didn't manage to read all those, but surprised that I forgot the Benford one. I kind of liked that and it'd fit with Hard SF space stories. I just know of some authors, and I don't want to give their names unless they say I can, who interpret the "no space opera" guideline to mean they should even avoid sending stories like those listed. I might tell them that's not true if it comes up again.
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2003 - 12:27 am:   

Thomas: Did it ever occur to you what this wonderful word ‘plot’ means? It means: the plan, scheme or main story of a play, poem or short story (according to Websters). As for referring to Maupassant, I think it is amusing, because truth be told a huge amount of his over 300 stories would surely fall into your no-plot category—if you took the trouble to read his complete works.

Personally, I could care less about all the so called ‘qualifications’ that make a story good. If I find a piece of writing interesting I will read it, if I don’t I wont.

Actually, by female action, I meant ACTION—in the most romantic sense of the word. Eghm. To cringe before the lashing whip of their vague insults…
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2003 - 02:21 am:   

Yes the plan, scheme, or main story. To me that can be interpreted as about the opposite of "nor does it really need to develop at all." Although I admit that here it is very late, I think many of you are in the Pacific Coast where it's moderately late or the Atlantic Coast where it's early morning, so I can't give much more of an answer than that.

As for De Maupassant, sure I haven't read everything he wrote. I'm not sure there's any writer where I've read everything they wrote. I don't have an unlimited amount of time and I like to try various authors. Still I know that much of his work wasn't plot oriented. I'm not sure how many of his stories were plotless in the sense I'd mean; characters aren't going anywhere, nothing significant happens to anyone, etc., but as you know more about it maybe you can give examples?
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Brendan
Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2003 - 05:11 am:   

Thomas : The problem is that you make a lot of assumptions about what a story is. You say it should have characters which ‘go somewhere’ and that ‘something significant’ should happen. First of all, a story does not need to even have characters, and if it does have characters there is no reason why the author should feel obliged to make them go somewhere. It is the author’s choice, not the readers’. As for ‘significance’: what is significant for one is not for another. A deficient young man shifting small stones from one pocket to another has been shown to be one of the most significant happenings in literature. Maupassant spoke a lot about the theories of story telling. Replace in the following, the word ‘novel’ with ‘story’: “Usually the critic understands by the term ‘novel’ a more or less credible adventure arranged rather like a play in three acts, the first of which contains the exposition, the second the action and the third the dénouement. . . . An intelligent critic should, on the contrary, look out for whatever is least like novels already written, and as much as possible encourage young people to try out new ways.”
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des
Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2003 - 06:59 am:   

I wholeheartedly agree with what Brendan has just said. Though there are some readers who enjoy strong plots, others not. I myself can find so much more plot for myself in a seemingly plotless story - paradoxically. But that's just me. Yet, as an editor/publisher, I have included up front plots as well as low profile plots in the three issues so far of Nemonymous.
des
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des
Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2003 - 07:24 am:   

"Writing always means hiding something in such a way that it is then discovered."
Italo Calvino
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Benjamin
Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2003 - 09:52 am:   

Ah yes, Italo Calvino--a real crowd pleaser! :-)
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Matthew
Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2003 - 11:52 am:   

A lot of stories in which "nothing happens," are really about events that happen within the protagonists mind. Take Joyce's "The Dead", a superficial level its about a man and his wife going to a Christmas party. On another level, however, it is about the developements within the protagonist's mind that leads up to the epiphany. Now this type story isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it is valid type of literature.
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2003 - 12:15 pm:   

Well okay maybe I went overboard. I do enjoy stories without any characters. I guess I even enjoy some stories with very little plot, if they're short enough.

Generally though I do like things to be leading in a direction. Stories that involve changes happening to characters or societies. Still when it comes to literature I'm not at the level most of you are so I yield.





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chris
Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2003 - 05:55 pm:   

Thomas, you read - you feel. You're at the same level. Don't be intimidated by pretentious individuals, especially those who claim to be reading things into works that simply are non-existent - and were never even intended by the author in the first place.
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2003 - 06:16 pm:   

Thanks, but many of these people are writers and editors. They do know more about literature than I, that's just true. Maybe I made that fact sound too pathetic, but it doesn't change the reality of it.
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2003 - 07:55 pm:   

Thomas,
I agree when Chris says that you shouldn't be intimidated by anyone else's opinion on this BB. Your opinion counts. I'm an editor, but first I'm a reader. And although I have particular tastes as reader and editor, as an editor I try to publish enough variety to appeal to different kinds of readers. Not every reader but to those who appreciate my sensibility and taste in fiction.
So stop putting yourself down. You're entitled to your opinion. Knowing about literature doesn't automatically create a better reader.

Chris-I disagree that those who read more into a piece of fiction than the general reader are necessarily pretentious. Of course there are lightweight stories that are all surface. However, rich stories can/should be read on multiple levels. There have been very few specific stories mentioned in this topic--which story/ies are you referring to when you assert that someone is "reading things into works that are simply non-existent." "The Dead" by Joyce?

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Iron James
Posted on Monday, December 29, 2003 - 02:09 am:   

The only thing I'd add to reading something into a work is that many things can be in a work of fiction that the writer did not intend, and did not put in on a conscious level.
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Iron James
Posted on Monday, December 29, 2003 - 02:13 am:   

I'm not sure I'd agree in saying Maupassant wrote many plotless stories. I doubt I've read all his stories, but I've certainly read the majority. It may be that we define plot differently, but I think Maupassant is an outstanding plotter.
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des
Posted on Monday, December 29, 2003 - 08:08 am:   

Iron says: The only thing I'd add to reading something into a work is that many things can be in a work of fiction that the writer did not intend, and did not put in on a conscious level.
**********
I agree and said something similar earlier on this thread but Chad said I was having a 'larf'!

Btw, Maupassant, has various styles of plot and/or mood; I don't think you can generalise.
des
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Mike Bishop
Posted on Monday, December 29, 2003 - 10:08 am:   

"Strangeness, Charm, and Spin" first appeared in 1984 in an anthology called LIGHT YEARS AND DARK. It has been reprinted in a Wilhelm collection, however, and it is indeed a quiet little story, but -- to my mind -- a good one.
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John Kessel
Posted on Monday, December 29, 2003 - 03:03 pm:   

Regarding Matthew's reference to "The Dead." I think this is a good example to use to talk about plot. It has a plot, and it's a pretty simple one: Gebriel and his wife go to a Christmas party, Gabriel drinks a bit, he gets turned on by seeing his attractive wife looking her best, they go to their hotel and he's expecting to get laid that night, she undresses, and . . . instead of getting laid, she tells him that before she met him, she was in love with a boy who died for love of her. They go to sleep.

The narrative tension is over Gabriel's reaction to the people at the party, his desire to impress them (he gives a speech) and not appear the fool that he often feels himself to be in public. The buildup to the (potential) romantic scene in the hotel is slow and expert, and the letdown severe.

But as Matthew says, the plot is not the whole story. The story is as much about Gabriel's feelings of self worth, the degree to which he knows the person (his wife) whom he thinks he knows the most, and all of our mortality. We are born, love and die and what do we leave behind except some memories in the minds of people who are going themselves eventually to die. Of course this last bit is theme, not plot. The ending is profoundly moving, but there's some suspense, a real STORY, leading up to gabriel's realization.

Sorry to go on about this. Just a teacher's instincts about a story I love. It may not seem like a lot happens in "The Dead" but I think a lot does happen, and that it works even on the elementary level of wondering what is going to happen next. Even the most sophisticated stories, it seems to me, have to have that "primitive" story line. It's not really primitive. We want to know whether the man and woman will have sex or not, and that's nothing to be ashamed of. All good stories have what I call " good gossip value" in that we want to retell them.
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ellen
Posted on Monday, December 29, 2003 - 05:05 pm:   

Mike Bishop has neglected to mention that he was the editor of that most excellent anthology that in addition to publishing Kate's story, also first published "Dancing Chickens" by Ed Bryant and Gardner Dozois's "Dinner Party," both extremely edgy stories that couldn't find a home elsewhere. (I know, because I reluctantly turned them down earlier for OMNI).
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Iron James
Posted on Monday, December 29, 2003 - 10:28 pm:   

Well, generalizing, no, but saying that all the Maupassant stories I've read, at least all I can remember, had a plot that I thought was well formed, yes. Some of his stories are certainly better than others in every way, there's a variation in style and plotting, but I can't remember reading a story of his that I didnt like and didn't think was well plotted. Can you tell I think he was one of the best short story writers ever?

Where plot is concerned, I'm a bit lenient, I suppose, but I don't think it's possible to have a story without also having a plot. If there is an actual story, there's also an actual plot. I think, in fact, that just telling a story creates the plot automatically.

Many stories that I view as having wonderful plots are the same stories I often hear others criticize with the words "but nothing happens."
Usually, for me, a lot happens.
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Brendan
Posted on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 - 12:27 am:   

Iron James: I think the point is not whether a story should have a plot or not, but what a plot is.
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des
Posted on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 - 08:07 am:   

A plot is the exact number of words it takes to create a story: and a story can be any of these things separately or together:
a picture, a mood, actions of things and people (some determined, some accidental), interaction between characters (including dialogue), portraits of characters, sounds and meanings that convey what the reader calls a story (not what the author calls a story as the author no longer has jurisdiction over the story nor a monopoly of judgement upon its meaning once the story has been left in the audience arena as a finished product)...

Some have messages, some don't, some have beginnings, middles and ends, some don't.

For me, the best stories have music in its broadest sense...

And a plot is a story.
des
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 - 09:56 am:   

Reading for YBFH I find a lot more plotless prose (rather than stories) in horror short fiction.

I want my fiction to be about something. I get really exasperated at a type of horror prose that can barely be called vignette that catalogs nasty events with no pov and to no point.

I'm pretty generous in my evaluation of what consists of a story. I'm not talking about deliberate experiments that are either successful or fail, but of poorly thought-out fiction.
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des
Posted on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 - 10:25 am:   

Ellen, I have sometimes found the same with 'Nemonymous' reading of submissions. And I agree that the Horror genre does seem to attract this approach. But vignette or not, horror or not, full of 'plot' or not, I find I seem to know instinctively whether (for me) it is a good story. I don't think you can generalise about approaches to plotting etc.
des
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 - 02:26 pm:   

Des, I agree. And there are always exceptions.
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mike bishop
Posted on Wednesday, December 31, 2003 - 10:54 am:   

I'm with John Kessel about "The Dead." A lot happens in that story, without of course any of it focusing on shootouts, car crashes, or room-to-room chases, most of which strike me as being more in the way of "movement" than of genuine "action," which usually involves significant human change.
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Don
Posted on Wednesday, December 31, 2003 - 11:20 am:   

Exactly, a lot happening in a story (as in "The Dead") is what engages a reader in a story; whether it be shootouts, car crashes, room-to-room chases, or any *changing* or *life-altering* events in a character's life in a plot-filled story. What are bloody boring are static events and atmospheric descriptions that go on and on, but was published simply because someone was reading many levels into it; especially before it was graded on level one of having an engaging plot(or changing event timeline) that seduced the reader as in mystery, intrigue, jeopardy, or in some way rooting for the protagonist. Or, to put it better, and a little more directly, the reader wanting to find out what happens next. This has been neglected, I believe, in many instances of current SF publishing.
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, December 31, 2003 - 11:22 am:   

John:
Lovely evaluation. "The Dead" will always be one of my favorite stories, especially for that ending that opens up everything in the story to the world.

JeffV
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des
Posted on Wednesday, December 31, 2003 - 12:03 pm:   

It seems to me that 'a lot happening' is not necessarily a good thing for a story, especially when the things happening are formulaic. Interest is held by surprises - and very few stories have true surprises. One of the best surprises is something dawning on the reader - like, for example, 'Jalousie' in the Alain Robbe Grillet novel being both jealousy *and* a Venetian blind.
des
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, December 31, 2003 - 12:49 pm:   

Don,
I've said in other places that for me a story is like music --there is the obvious melody that runs through it and then (hopefully) other layers that make the work richer for the reader. I don't believe many editors publish stories only for the other levels. That's a misreading of what everyone has said here.
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, January 01, 2004 - 12:19 am:   

I dont much like Alain Robbe Grillet. Joyce's short stories were all good though. Hemmingway's always seemed a little flat--especially considering how good most of his novels were. For me however, the best short story writer is Villiers de L'Isle Adam. Another very very good short story is Bulwer-Lytton's The Haunted and the Haunters.
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Lucius
Posted on Thursday, January 01, 2004 - 07:24 am:   

You guys are digging up the bones for examples. Flannery O'Connner should be mentioned as great ss writer. Then, in the contemporary, Alice Munro, Denis Johnson (==Jesus' Son== is incredible!), Steven Millhauser....I can think of ten, fifteen excellent American ss off the top of my head. The short story has moved on since Hemmingway and the early 20th century....
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Brendan
Posted on Thursday, January 01, 2004 - 08:02 am:   

Maybe, but in many ways I think some older writer's read as being much more modern than contemporary writers--who are after all nothing more than bones with flesh. Between around 1820 and 1945 there were so many breakthroughs in literature that, as far as I can see, just are not happening that much any more.
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Iron James
Posted on Saturday, January 03, 2004 - 12:09 pm:   

The short story may have moved on since Hemingway, but I've yet to see anyone do it better. Moving on doesn't always mean moving to a better location. Raymond Carver is dead, too, but I'll take his stories over those of just about anyone now writing.

I'm not real fond of Alice Munro, but I, too, can think of ten or fifteen really good contemporary short story writers. But I don't think they're better than the bones, and I think the best of them clearly owe mcuh to the bones.
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rick bowes
Posted on Thursday, January 15, 2004 - 03:40 pm:   

Ellen

I don't know if this is the thread in which to talk about current SCIFICTION stories. BUT...

I thought "House Of The Future" by Richard Butner was wonderfully done. And absolutely true to 1959, an historical period of which I have first hand knowledge.
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, January 15, 2004 - 09:54 pm:   

Rick
Sure, although it might be time to start a new thread soon as this one's taking a long time to load.

Glad you like it. I think it's charming. It's one of several stories I've bought recently that were written at Sycamore Hill or Rio Hondo last year.

Next up is Mikey Roessner-Herman's miniature gold and physics novelette "Inside Outside."

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