Short Story Sunday: ‘Zombie’ by Chuck Palahniuk

So I thought I’d bring short story Sunday back from the dead (hence the zombie theme). I really enjoyed analysing short fiction in a way that I don’t have the time or space to do with longer fiction here and I’m struggling with two short pieces I’m writing at the moment so this might help get me in the right mindframe – spark something off so to speak. I’m not quite sold on Palahniuk. Fight Club is one of my favourite films, I’ll watch it again and again and again and again and…. the book is as good as the movie, which is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of it. I read Invisible monsters which was good but had some really sickening moments and I read haunted which had an amazing premiss that just fell flat and ultimately got quite tedious.

Click the image to go to the story

This story wasn’t really about zombie’s like I hoped (you know the way sometimes you’re just in the mood for the undead?), but nothing’s ever straightforward with this guy. Instead it’s about a new craze amongst teens and young adults to attach a defibrillator to their temples and shock themselves into idiocy. It’s kind of a painless but irreversible lobotomy. That way they don’t have to deal with the pressures of modern life, they end up with terrible jobs and are completes morons and simpletons but they’re happy. Rather than zombies traditionally hunting for brains and searching for brains to eat these guys are running away from brains, running from the pressures of everyday life and from the tragedies in the world and having to make decisions and take on responsibility and deal with things. I’d be lying if I said that kind of escape isn’t occasionally attractive.

Plenty of Palahniuk’s recurring themes also show up here – the dual destruction of the body and society echoing each other as well as the man child and infantile adults trying to recapture their youth as a way of rejecting society.

The ending of the story is a lot more hopeful and mature than I’ve come to expect from this man and to be honest I’m not sure if I liked it. The tone is not as rebellious as some of his other work and it seems almost like a lament for that kind of pigheaded rebellion for the sake of rebellion. It was missing something but overall it’s a good story with a good ending. The major problem with the story is defibrillators don’t work that way.  They won’t shock unless they detect specific heart patterns and (according to brief internet research) basically the entire premiss is flawed. So while it’s a good story, shocking your temples with a defibrillator just can’t happen (never mind surviving as a happy moron to tell the tale)

Notable Lines: ‘They continue to be young and hot but they no longer worry about the day when they won’t be. It’s suicide but it’s not.’

World Book Day

So it was World book day yesterday. I got a bit confused because of the time difference here and almost missed it entirely which is why this post is late. (For those of you who don’t know, I live in China now)

So here is a list of books on/about China that I have downloaded to read for the year that’s in it:

The Journey to the West Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China The Travels of Marco Polo Romance of the Three Kingdoms

 

 

 

I’ve provided Amazon links but a lot of these books, especially the older ones, are available for free on project gutenberg and it’s completely legal.

I haven’t read any yet but I’ll try to review them as I do, I think I’ve got a decent selection of fiction, non-fiction, modern and older texts but feel free to leave recommendations in the comments. Hope everyone had a fantastic World Book Day!

Update

So I’m almost finished The Waiting Place. I’m going to be working on a collection of short stories to get it out of my system before editing it.

I have been teaching TEFL and enjoying it since April so I’m taking the opportunity before I get too tied down here to travel. Next month I am moving to China to teach for around 6 months to a year. I’ll be blogging about the experience here. This blog will probably be pretty quiet in the meantime (no more so than usual though)

And finally, if you really need a fix to keep you busy, my short story “The Ballad of Mr. Bones” was published in the Not One of Us annual anthology. The collection is called Coping and I’m told it’s on sale in shops in the states. If not you can email them to order a copy, only $3.50, great value, great stories and they actually paid me! I’m technically a professional! (scary, no?)

RIP Seamus Heaney

0000311074-001I would like to add my condolences to the vast list of condolences pouring in for Seamus Heaney’s family and friends.

‘Midterm Break’ was the first poem I ever studied, understood and enjoyed.

North was the first collection of poetry I ever read on my own, not because a teacher had told me, and though I didn’t get the complexity at the time I was still engrossed by poetry  -something I had never believed possible before.

Seamus Heaney was one of the first poets I taught and I got to see teenagers faces light up, like mine once had, when they heard the last line of ‘Midterm Break’ or when they dug deeper and deeper through the layers of his bog poetry.

In 2012 I had the pleasure of meeting him and shaking his hand and trying to explain, in a fumbling way, just how important he was.

I heard on Friday morning. My friend texted me. I passed the news on and we all spent the day in a daze. It’s difficult to mourn someone when so much of him is still alive, sitting between pages on my bookshelves.

May he rest in peace.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam

Clichés

I’ve noticed a few journals have a list of stories they’d rather not see. These lists can be entertaining but also educational when you realise that your fantastic idea for a story has been done so often that magazines have actually gone to the trouble of including them as ‘things not to do’ in their submission guidelines

Strange Horizons

Here is a selection from the Strange Horizons Website (more at the link above)

  • In the future, criminals are punished much more harshly than they are today.
  • An alien or an AI/robot/android observes and comments on the peculiar habits of humans, for allegedly comic effect.
  • White protagonist is given wise and mystical advice by Holy Simple Native Folk.
  • Brutal violence against women is depicted in loving detail, often in a story that’s ostensibly about violence against women being bad.
  • Baby or child is put in danger, in a contrived way, in order to artificially boost narrative tension.
  • Aliens and/or far-future posthumans think, talk, and behave just like upper-middle-class Americans from the 20th or early 21st century.
  • The narrator and/or male characters in the story are bewildered about women, believing them to conform to any of the standard stereotypes about women: that they’re mysterious, wacky, confusing, unpredictable, changeable, temptresses, etc.
  • Strange and mysterious things keep happening. And keep happening. And keep happening. For over half the story. Relentlessly. Without even a hint of explanation.

Clarkesworld

Here is a selection from Clarkesworld (more at the link above)

  • stories in which the words “thou” or “thine” appear
  • talking cats
  • talking swords
  • stories where the climax is dependent on the spilling of intestines
  • stories that depend on some vestigial belief in Judeo-Christian mythology in order to be frightening (i.e., Cain and Abel are vampires, the End Times are a’ comin’, Communion wine turns to Christ’s literal blood and it’s HIV positive, Satan’s gonna getcha, etc.)
  • stories about young kids playing in some field and discovering ANYTHING. (a body, an alien craft, Excalibur, ANYTHING).
  • “funny” stories that depend on, or even include, puns
  • sexy vampires, wanton werewolves, or lusty pirates
  • zombies or zombie-wannabes
  • stories that take place within an artsy-fartsy bohemia as written by an author who has clearly never experienced one

The best place to learn about clichés and waste a year of your life is on TV Tropes but there are a few things I would like to add to the list:

  • Any American adaptation of a property or idea that is innately tied to another country or culture (I’m looking at you Akira)
  • “Subversions” of genre tropes that aren’t actually subversions of anything (Rothfuss)
  • writers trying to be too fucking clever for their own good (Moffat)
  • Strong female characters that are only sidekicks (Gaiman’s new novel is a good example of both that and the girl sacrificing herself to save a guy)
  • gritty retellings. I like original stories that are gritty and I loved Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight but not everything works as a gritty retelling. Please cheer up, the more gritty stuff I read the more I appreciate absolute nonsense)
  • Magic systems that are pretending not to be magic systems.
  • Following on from that: magic systems that are very vaguely defined and can be used as a fill-all-holes plot fixer

Writing Spots: Keogh’s on Trinity Street

Keogh's Trinity Street Exterior

Keogh’s is a place I walk by frequently and am always tempted by the smell of their baking but I’ve never been inside until today.

It’s a pretty cool little spot, right in the city centre but quiet inside. Very small and cosy. This was planned to be attempt number two at the sex scene I tried and failed to write in Costa.

PROS

  • There were sockets to charge your computer
  • internet (that I didn’t use so I don’t know if it’s any good)
  • nice place, small or large tables, interesting decoration/style without being distracting, windows that open out onto the street and an area to sit outside so it doesn’t get very stuffy
  • the music is decent but not the kind of music I like to write to
  • They didn’t seem to mind me sitting there for hours after only buying one cup of coffee
  • There were others there with laptops so it seems like a writer friendly spot

CONS

  • I’ve seen it very packed at times and hear it can be jammed at rush hour
  • a bit too noisy, too many people, too much movement, too many people walking by the window, talking loudly and generally being distracting. Not quite at the sweet spot yet where there’s enough noise to be a background buzz without being distracting
  • food looked amazing but not exactly cheap
  • staff were kind of abrupt
  • I was sitting next to the window which meant that if anyone was smoking outside the smoke was blown in my direction

After 2 hours 40 minutes I wrote about 800 words, completed the scene (Huzzah) and read four articles to research another story. It cost me less than €3

Overall it was a but too loud and busy, and the smell of smoke was really distracting. Apart from that it was a lot better than Costa. I have a feeling that if I went in at a busy time I’d be rushed out as soon as I was finished my drink

Short Story Sunday: ‘The Fog’ by Freya McClements

I know it’s technically Monday but I haven’t gone to bed yet so it still feels like Sunday. That means short story Sunday ahoy! This week’s story is ‘The Fog’ by Freya McClements, whose debut collection of short stories is published by Guildhall Press. ‘The Fog’ can be read on Darker Times Fiction.  They run a monthly competition for short stories, flash fiction and poetry. The Fog won the June edition of the competition.

It is written in the second person as if the narrator is instructing the reader, inviting them into an incredibly atmospheric world. Unfortunately the atmosphere sort of takes precedence from the very beginning and other plot moments aren’t as strong as they could have been.

Perhaps it’s because of the fabulous summer weather we’ve been having recently but some of the images in the story fell quite flat and seemed too melodramatic.

we live our lives in the light. We draw sustenance from it, worship it, work in it. From its dark companion we shy away

While this image could have something to say in other circumstances I don’t know any characters, an plot or action, event the set-up remains a mystery to me so it’s kind of hard to get into mood of the story. The whole thing comes across as a little bit overwrought. This is a shame because when they plot does appear it’s very interesting. It’s about Jack the Ripper and the narrator leads you through the streets of Whitechapel looking for a murderer and in doing so prompts the reader to question their own motivations in following and indeed the motivations of anyone who is fascinated by true crime and gawks along at stories of murders, glued to television coverage of death and destruction.

The much-maligned second person perspective is handled deftly and is appropriate to the story and the atmosphere. There’s a tendency for writers to belabour the point when using second person but McClements  doesn’t beat us about the head with it, using it sparingly to engage the reader and to restablish her excellent atmosphere and letting it slide into the background when not needed. I’d recommend this story to anyone who would like to see an example of well crafted second person narrative (even if it is technically a first person addressing a second) and for fans of horror and drama.

The story takes an interesting turn at the end and McClements handles her theme, message and techniques well, I just feel that it was a bit heavy on melodrama without enough details or character building. However, I would like to read more of McClements’ work.

Notable Lines: I wonder… Forgive my forwardness, but what nightmares have you fashioned just now from out of my words?

How to make an ebook in 14 easy steps

Over the past year I’ve made a few ebooks. My class in college self-published an anthology and, because I was insane at the time, I was the Associate Editor and Webmaster. This meant I had to learn how to e-publish. I thought it would be easy. Oh how wrong I was, Afterwards this publishing experience (slightly embellished on my CV) led to me getting a few other jobs, including one in Coiscéim, an Irish language publishing house. In my time there I had to put my money where my mouth was and publish some of their back catalogue online. I think my experience may be useful to anyone who’s thinking of self-publishing online, so without further ado, How to Make an Ebook in 14 Easy Steps:

1. go along with falsely placed confidence
2. fuck up
3. panic
4. mix equal parts coffee and heineken
5. work like I’ve never worked before
6. comatose
7. get woken up by the FUCKING delivery man at half FUCKING eight in the FUCKING morning
8. calm down when I realise that not only is he delivering my copy of the Hobbit in Irish (Finally) but that I have an email from the college’s finance department containing information needed to publish the book (push for the beatification of the accountant)
9. realise once again that reading Irish is difficult anyways but may as well be Greek when I’m sleepy like this
10. Back to work.
11. Account info, upload, test test test
12. Hit publish button – wait……………………..……………………………..
13. fall asleep watching cartoons, clutching the Hobbit to my chest, and hope the ordeal is over
14. seek treatment for PTSD and tell my boyfriend that if he wants either of us to eat tonight it’s up to him

Short Story Sunday: ‘Earworm’ by Julian Gough

"Town & Country" book cover

Faber anthology of Irish Short Stories: “Town & Country” edited by Kevin Barry

Recently I’ve gotten into short stories in a big way. Most of what I write at the moment is short stories. I’m going to try and review one most Sundays because there is some incredible, often overlooked, stuff out there in this format.

‘Earworm’ is by Julian Gough and is the second story in Town and Country, this year’s Faber anthology of New Irish Short Stories. It is edited by the wonderful Kevin Barry, though he did not contribute a story. Two of my friends had stories in it so we all went to the launch at the Dublin Writers’ Festival and had a great night. Theirs were the only stories I had read in advance of the event so on the bus home I began to duck in and out of other stories.

I’d never even heard of Julian Gough before but this story… Wow. Earworm is a word from German (ohrwurm) that describes a catchy piece of music. The story follows two young computer geeks, one based in America, the other in Germany, who meet on 4chan on Star Wars day (May the 4th) and really hit it off. The story is littered with contemporary references like this and it’s a breath of fresh air to a lot of Irish stories that would have you believe DeV’s vision of girls dancing at the crossroads still reigns supreme. While they have the potential to become annoying they never reach that stage. Rather they make the characters very authentic seeming and they fit in with a story based around the internet, and the references are deftly explained by their context so the reader is never left in the dark.

The characters in this decide to build a virus that will spread through computers to humans. They mathematically analyse popular songs and why people keep listening to songs they know are shit, why things like Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ get so many plays. It’s hard not to get caught up in their obsessive research and joy as their theories are proved correct time and again. The writing has an amazing energy to it and has a few things to say about regret, about relationships and about governments control and censorship of the internet (which I particularly like in light of all the talk about SOPA and PIPA from a few months ago). These messages are subtle and take a back seat to the plot, though it might have been nice to learn a bit more about the characters and I’m not keen on the final lines of the story.

When they release their song onto the internet all hell breaks loose as the world slows down to listen, and listen and listen, the music industry panics and governments see this as cyberterrorism.  The collection is fantastic but if you’re in Easons and can’t make your mind up about buying it have a sneaky read of this story first, it won’t disappoint.

Notable Lines: “Did I feel this good because I’d helped build this song, or because the song would make anyone feel this good? TB was lying on his bed, laughing hysterically. We need civilians, I said. We need to check…”

Review: “The Wormdigger’s Daughter” by John Farrell

"The Wormdigger's Daughter" Book CoverThis is the first fiction book I’ve read from a fellow Navanite (that’s what we call people who are from Navan, because we’re cool like that). I’m not entirely sure what I expected from this book so I feel I should tell the whole story of how I came to read it. Gather Round!

Due to my financial circumstances I was living in Navan, near my Mom’s place of work. One day a customer was mentioning to Mom that her Father had written a book. Mom took her cue and started mentioning how I had just finished a Masters in Creative Writing and was trying to get published etc etc and they had a nice little chat while everyone else in the queue waited. A few days later the woman returned to the shop with a signed copy of her Father’s book for me to read.

While it was a lovely, incredibly thoughtful gesture, it was one of those situations I hate. I have stacks of books in my to-read pile and most of them were books I really wanted to read and had been looking forward to. A quick skim of the blurb on The Wormdigger’s Daughter tole me it was most certainly not my kind of book. I resent these situations because I feel obliged to read these books, books that a friend gives me because “Oh my God, you’ll just love it, it’s so you!” and it really really isn’t me at all. These books waste time that I could spend reading other, sexier books (Or re-reading Terry Pratchett). But in the past two years I’ve made up my mind to read more broadly. Being forced to read outside my genre in college really helped my writing and reading books I hate or thought were terrible *cough* Twilight *cough* taught me a lot about what not to do and the market and other things like that so I put The Wormdigger’s Daughter in the middle of my to-read pile and soon after it was buried in an avalanche of books and forgotten Every now and then the title tugged at my memory.

Despite the impression I got from the blurb there is no denying that The Wormdigger’s Daughter is a damn intriguing title. Eventually I sat down to read it and I’m glad I did. I was expecting a woe is me, Angela’s Ashes, those damn English, look how crap Ireland is kind of story. It is, in essence, a very simple story with a very simple framing narrative. Molly and Frank work on a landlord’s estate. Three of their children die quite young. Their only surviving child is a girl called Angel. The landlord lays a claim to her and to protect Angel the family run away in the dead of night. They are accused of stealing which means they have to keep running and their whole lives focus around keeping Angel safe and secret. it is clear this life is not sustainable. This story is told my Molly and Frank many years later to the author as a young man. The characters rarely stray into three dimensional territory and I believe the resolution of Angel’s story is a bit too neat (though that may be just the cynic in me unwilling to believe that people can quite regularly be selfless).

But the real reason to read this story is not for the authentic, detailed rendition of life in feudal Ireland. It is for the way the story is told. We are traditionally a nation of story tellers and there is a very strong oral tradition in Ireland. This book perfectly captures the rhythm of verbal storytelling. IT reminds me of listening to my grandparents or old men in the book telling epics that you don’t want to end. The language is very simple with lots of repeated phrases as the couple tell their story again and again. As a result it trips along at a lovely pace as this language sucks you into the family’s trials and tribulations. It is hypnotic, I read most of it in one sitting which I rarely have time to do these days.

It seems to be based on a true story, though I cannot confirm this. And while this story has plenty of dark moments it has an overriding note of happiness and perseverance which is quite rare in these days of fashionable gritty realism. A pleasant surprise and definitely worth a read if you have interest in Irish history.