Works in Progress–Ghul on Amazon, SciFi Story Gets 1st Rejection

Sorry, I’m a bit late with the post this week. So, to get right to it: here’s a quick update on the stories I’m working on. 


The Ghul of Yazd— Strangelet Journal’s first issue with my story, “The Ghul of Yazd,” and a host of stories from other new writers, is now available on Amazon Kindle.

Breakpoint—My science fiction short story, “Breakpoint” got its first rejection last week. So, what did I do? I turned it around and resubmitted it. I’m still submitting it to the pro magazines listed on Duotrope as having a less than .5% acceptance rate—that’s .5—as in less than 1% of stories sent in are accepted. Strangelet Cover

To put that in perspective, Stanford University had an acceptance rate of 5.7% in fall 2013, making it the most selective university in the country—if not the planet. That means that top speculative fiction magazines are ten times more selective than Stanford. (Some are even 20x more selective!) I realize it’s a bit of a ham-fisted comparison—but still! Come on!

As a result, I imagine these magazines must be taking in a tsunami of stories that end up in the slush pile every day. Hats off to the slush readers and magazine editors who keep slogging through. 

AFTA – Still waiting to hear back on this comedy-horror novella. It’s slowly ticking up the “days submitted” counter, recently passing 40 days with the publisher. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

X – As for my next piece, I’m not sure what I want to write next. I have a lot of great ideas, but limited time. It’s tough to decide which fruit to pluck from the tree. You look for the ripest and juiciest—but you can’t be sure until you have it in your hand.

I’ll be thinking about that in the next couple of days and then hitting it. I can’t wait to get back to writing first drafts. I’m done with this editing stuff already!


That’s all see for now. See you next week.

,Darius

Five Reasons Marlowe Is Better than Shakespeare

I didn’t discover Christopher Marlowe until a couple of years ago. I had heard his name vaguely related to Shakespeare and didn’t think much more of it. I guess I felt another playwright full of “thees” and “thous” wouldn’t be my thing.

But one day, I was in one of my used book store haunts and “Dr. Faustus,” one of his plays, caught my eye. The play begins with a chorus focusing on the Doctor:Marlowe-Portrait-1585

And glutted now with learning’s golden gifts,
He surfeits upon cursed necromancy;
Nothing so sweet as magic is to him,
Which he prefers before his chiefest bliss:
And this the man that in his study sits.

The action cuts to Dr. Faustus sitting in his study where he rejects the professions of minister, lawyer and doctor one after the other, finally settling on becoming a “magician.”

These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly;
Lines, circles, scenes, letters, and characters;
Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.
O, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, and omnipotence,
Is promis’d to the studious artizan!
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command: emperors and kings
Are but obeyed in their several provinces;
But his dominion that exceeds in this,
Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man;
A sound magician is a demigod…

I was hooked. Here was a guy writing BEFORE Shakespeare that had way more interesting subject matter. I read through the play that day and ended buying his collected works (always a sign a writer has hooked me) shortly thereafter.

Like most high school students in the U.S., I had to read Shakespeare and he’s a fine writer, there’s no doubt. But my personal tastes are much more in line with the mercurial Marlowe. In honor of that obsession, here are five reasons that Marlowe is a better writer than Shakespeare.


He was the original literary Bad Boy.
Marlowe lived a life full of intrigue, daring and adventure. He was a probably a spy for Elizabeth II, was accused of counterfeiting, was party to a deadly brawl in 1589 and was a free-thinker/atheist at a time when it was a serious criminal offense.

I always imagine him pulling up on Harley (can’t I throw in anachronism?) with a girl (or two) on the back, lighting up his tobacco pipe (Sir Walter Raleigh was the one who introduced him to the new vice), ordering an ale and warming up for a long night of carousing with the lads.

Shakespeare? Not so much. He was listed as arranging a marriage in a lawsuit. He lived in London while his wife remained in Stratford and gave her his “second-best bed” in his will. If that’s not love, what is? He also bought some farm land an apartment in London as his literary career took off. An alderman’s son who did well for himself. Like Balzac, he seems to have lived a sedate life and saved all his passion and verve for his writing.

He died young under mysterious circumstances.
Marlowe died at 29, stabbed to death in a brawl in a tavern or countryside inn. The three characters with him at the time were various assorted conmen loosely connected to Elizabeth I’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham.

The official inquest said that there was a dispute over a bill and that in the ensuing struggle, Marlowe was fatally stabbed. But an air of mystery has always hung over his death especially since the only witnesses were the aforementioned con men.

Shakespeare lived until middle age, apparently putting down his pen for the last three years of his life. Marlowe burned out, while Shakespeare slowly faded away.

He had compelling, original subject matter.
Shakespeare was a great writer, don’t get me wrong. But the guy didn’t have an original idea in his head.

Shakespeare was the rewrite man Hollywood can only dream of. Give him Plutarch’s 80-page essay on Mark Antony and he’ll give you the 3,500-line tragedy “Antony and Cleopatra”. He was unencumbered by modern anxieties of originality, only inventing the plot for “The Tempest” and one or two others.

Shakespeare would have had a hard time making it as a writer today. I could just see editors saying: “But we’ve heard this story a thousand times, Bill! What’s original here?” Bill then would have to explain the story isn’t always in the idea and plot, but the telling. It’s not exactly what an editor wants to hear.

Marlowe on the other hand, while sourcing his ideas from historical figures and older tales,  had an original streak. His play The Jew of Malta is an original story. Dr. Faustus is the first dramatic work based on the Faust legend. And Edward II was, apparently, one of the very first historical plays in English.

He cut the path for Shakespeare to follow.
Name almost any genre and it was Marlowe (and a few others) who brought it to the English stage first. Historical drama? Marlowe wrote Edward II. A hubristic protagonist who sows the seed of their own destruction? There’s Doctor Faustus. A play with a distant and exotic setting far from England? You have Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great. What about excessive blood and gore? Just count the murders and bodies piling up in The Massacre at Paris.

Robert Butler, a drama critic, went so far as to call Marlowe “Shakespeare’s role model.”

Marlowe threw down one challenge after another: “The Jew of Malta”, “Dido Queen of Carthage”, “Edward II”, “Dr Faustus” and “Tamburlaine Pts 1 & 2”. Shakespeare responded with “The Merchant of Venice”, “Antony and Cleopatra”, “Richard II”, “Macbeth”,  “Henry IV Pts 1 & 2” and “Henry V”.

Oh, and the use of more realistic blank verse instead of rhyming lines in drama? That was a Marlovian innovation too. The only genre where Shakespeare excelled and Marlowe didn’t, was comedy.

He was a bad poet.Handwriting-Marlowe-Massacre-1
As a prose writer,  poets have always struck me as odd creatures. They seem more like they’re closer to musicians than they are to us prose writers. Maybe it’s just jealousy on my part, but I usually tend to steer clear of them.

And here’s where I find Marlowe still more charming: he was an atrocious poet. Here’s one of his better known poems, The Passionate Shepherd to his Love:

There I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle;

Not quite doing it for me. Well, what about Bill? He seems to have had a natural aptitude for poetry. Take his well-know sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:

Not too shabby. But somehow, the fact that Marlowe was a second-rate poet makes me love him even more. But then again, what would you expect? I’m a bit biased.


If you want to learn more, the Marlowe Society is a good place to start. They have information on the playwright, host events and have a newsletter. They also host a similar event to the Poe Toaster, when they lay a wreath at his grave in Westminster Abbey. The next wreath-laying is this Nov. 22, if you’re in London that day. 

Also, they have a post on why that picture of Marlowe above is most likely a fake.

The Ghul of Yazd Gets Published

My short story, “The Ghul of Yazd” just got published today in Strangelet’s Journal’s first edition. Click the link to order the print or epub version of the magazine.

800px-Tower_of_silence_Yazd

So, the Ghul finally made it…And just to whet your appetite, here are the first 100 words of the action in the story.

Bashar, Alisher, Yusuf, and Hasan carried a funeral bier. It was little more than a pallet with handles. A child’s body, wound tightly in a sheet so that its body was not exposed, lay in the center of the bier. They rested the handles on the top of their shoulders and carried torches in their free hands. A full moon shone down on the slow procession, casting enough light so that the men could see their next step. On the crest of the hill, the white circular walls of the dakhma, the Parsi burial ground, glowed in the moonlight.

That’s it. The start of the journey. To read the rest, you’ll have to click the link.


A Word of Thanks
I just want to use this opportunity to thank all my Beta readers who gave me encouragement, criticism and help along the way. Daniel, B—, Laura and Matt, I couldn’t have have done it without your reading and critiquing. Your editing—and friendship—mean so much to me.

And thanks to Casey, editor at Strangelet and all their staff readers and editors. Thanks for seeing something in the Ghul. And for believing in my original vision and working with me to see it through to completion. It was a great ride.

,Darius

Works in Progress—Introducing my New Short Story: Breakpoint

Another works in progress post today. No time to waste, so here’s a quick update on each piece. 

Breakpoint
The title of the science fiction story I’ve been working on for some time now is  “Breakpoint.”

It’s set later this century after The Great Wars in which Cumulus, a sentient supercomputer, emerges triumphant. Below Cumulus are programmable Bots and below the Bots are Cyborgs: sentient, modified humans. The protagonist is a Cyborg who is tormented by constant nightmares connected to a ritual known as the Renewal. She doesn’t realize it, but the nightmares hold the key to the secret history of her entire world. 

I have the final manuscript in hand now and will proofread and start to submit it this weekend. My plan is to submit it BEFORE my other story, “The Ghul of Yazd” goes live in Strangelet Journal next week (see below). Let’s hope “Breakpoint” finds a home!  Strangelet Cover

The Ghul of Yazd
This story is finally ready to enter into the hand’s of the public. Strangelet Journal should make print and e-pub editions available next week. The proofs look great (see right) and I can’t wait to get a copy in my hands.

I will do a new post when Strangelet publishes the piece.

AFTA
This comedy-horror novella is still out there and I’m still waiting to hear back. This could take awhile. I’ll let you guys know when/if anything happens.


Going to DragonCon ‘15
I’ve officially signed up for DragonCon 2015. If you’re going, drop me a line or look for me in the writing workshops, I’m sure to attend a couple of those. Just ask around for Darius.

Also, I’ll be posting a list of Cons I’m attending in 2015 in a post at the end of this year. So that you can see which ones I’m planning to attend.

One last thing: The last day for $75 DragonCon memberships is Sept. 15, so sign up soon.

See you next week!

DJ

What Inspired My Latest Short Story

What inspires you? What inspires any author, or any artist? Often times, it’s the odd experience or random thought. Here’s one incident from the history of science, involving the young Galileo:Orientalism

In 1581, when he was studying medicine, he noticed a swinging chandelier, which air currents shifted about to swing in larger and smaller arcs. It seemed, by comparison with his heartbeat, that the chandelier took the same amount of time to swing back and forth, no matter how far it was swinging.

Galileo hurried home, where…

…he set up two pendulums of equal length and swung one with a large sweep and the other with a small sweep and found that they kept time together. It was not until Christiaan Huygens almost one hundred years later that the tautochrone nature of a swinging pendulum was used to create an accurate timepiece…

And so, he took another step on the journey from med student to great scientist.

I would like to say it was as quaint for me when it came to writing my latest short story, “The Ghul of Yazd.” I can remember the things I was reading at the time and the final “Aha” moment that led to the basic idea. So, in the interest of getting you as close to the writing process as possible, here’s what happened…


The Reading List
Here’s a look at what I was reading at the time. And a few things I had read LONG before that and suddenly they came back up when the time was right.

The 1,001 Nights
In a way you could say, “The Ghul” is fan fiction. I wrote the story as if it were a lost tale from the 1,001 Nights that had been found in a monastery in the Sinai. I can’t say I ever read the book growing up, but I couldn’t help to run into its themes and subjects from time to time. I distinctly remember seeing The 7th Voyage of Sinbad on TV during weekend ‘matinees’ as a kid and it never really left me.

Good, clean fun?

Orientalism by Edward Said
We read this in college and for a guy who—up to that point—had not travelled that much, it really struck me. I think the following sums up the book’s basic argument pretty well:  

Said analyzes the cultural representations that are the basis of Orientalism, a term he redefined to refer to the West‘s patronizing perceptions and depictions of Middle Eastern, Asian and North African societies—”the East“. He contended that Orientalist scholarship was, and remains, inextricably tied to the imperialist societies that produced it, which makes much of the work inherently political, servile to power, and thus intellectually suspect.

Wow. So, all these books, all these movies. They were just peddling and rehashing Western stereotypes and tropes? Man. It was something that really struck me at the time. Was Said right? Or was it all just good, clean fun? And wasn’t there something exotic about the “East” for a Westerner, anyway? I filed the book away, too, and never forgot it.

The Thousand and One Nights” essay by Borges
But wait a minute. What if…what if…The Arabs were influencing the West with their book, their 1,001 Nights? And their civilization? What if the opposite of what Said thought was  really going on?

Leave it to Borges to come up with such a beguiling, seductive idea. I read this essay from him recently, in which he talks about his love for the 1,001 Nights:

A major event in the history of the West was the discovery of the East. It would be more precise to speak of a continuing consciousness of the East, comparable to the presence of Persia in Greek history. Within this general consciousness of the Orient — [as]  something vast, immobile, magnificent, incomprehensible…

He continues…

We are speaking in the illustrious dialect of Latin we call Spanish, and it too is an episode of that nostalgia, of that amorous and at times bellicose commerce between Orient and Occident, for the discovery of America is due to the desire to reach the Indies.

Whoa. Arab influence on Western history? On American history? Borges brings in the 1,001 Nights, as an exemplar of “Eastern” culture, saying:

The Thousand and One Nights appears in a mysterious way. It is the work of thousands of authors, and none of them knew that he was helping to construct this illustrious book, one of the most illustrious books in all literature.

He waxes lyrical about the book:

In the title The Thousand and One Nights there is something very important: the suggestion of an infinite book. It practically is. The Arabs say that no one can read The Thousand and One Nights to the end. Not for reasons of boredom: one feels the book is infinite.

And it appears in many translations and some of these translators took liberties, great liberties:

The most famous tale of The Thousand and One Nights is not found in the original version. It is the story of Aladdin and the magic lamp. It appears in [Antoine] Galland’s version, and Burton searched in vain for an Arabic or Persian text. Some have suspected Galland forged the tale. I think the word forged is unjust and malign. Galland had as much right to invent a story as did those confabulatores nocturni. Why shouldn’t we suppose that after having translated so many tales, he wanted to invent one himself, and did?

Hmm…Adding to the 1,001 Nights. Apparently, it continues today:

The Thousand and One Nights has not died. The infinite time of the thousand and one nights continues its course…The Nights will have other translators, and each translator will create a different version of the book…Each of these books is different, because The Thousand and One Nights keeps growing or recreating itself.

Why not, I thought, add another story to it?

The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy
Before I read Borges’s essay, I was reading this tome on medieval Arabic philosophy.  It can be dry, but it has great tidbits like these:

  • The fact that much ancient Greek philosophy was translated into Arabic at the beginning of the Middle Ages and back into Latin at the end of Middles Ages, in some cases preserving works that would have been otherwise lost.
  • The medieval Arabs, had the texts, but not the history and assumed Plato, Aristotle and others were all the same guy.

But most importantly, it showed me the seriousness with which scholars throughout the medieval Arab world pursued and innovated in mathematics, philosophy and proto-science. What if one of them became a character in a book?

The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam by Lewis
An Orientalist book masquerading as unbiased scholarship? Perhaps. But it’s a great read. It highlights the history and working of the “Assassins” a group active in the medieval Middle East. According to Lewis, they were known for their use of targeted assassination as a political weapon. As part of their recruiting process, Lewis continues, they would drug initiates and have them wake up in a “paradise” of beautiful gardens, fountains and beautiful women.

That was another scene I filed away…

Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism
I was reading this book out of an interest with ancient religions. The book has a great section on the burial practices of the Zoroastrians, the dakhma, a sort of open-air sky burial practiced by the sect. I thought nothing of it at the time, but the image of the dakhma stuck with me. And one of the best preserved examples happened to be in Yazd, Iran…

The city of Fez itself
You also travel and learn. I knew I wanted my protagonist, Yusuf, to come from medieval Cordoba, Spain. And perhaps the closest in the modern world that we can get to that is the old town of Fez, Morocco. I traveled there a few years ago and the magic of it never really left me.

Morocco’s jewel, Fez.

Now I know, there’s something “Orientalist” about that. A Westerner getting caught up in the beauty and romance of a city where—by the looks of things—most people were just trying to survive day to day.

Fair enough.

But don’t tell that to a fiction writer. Never tell that to a fiction writer.

What if, as a fiction writer, I just decided to piss everybody off? What if I wrote a story that ticked off the Edward Saids of the world and emphasized the exoticism of “the East”? And what if I ticked off the dreamers and Orientalists—those who wanted to emphasize the exoticism and difference of the East—and included a protagonist who was an Arabic philosopher? A man who was well-read, a great traveler and skeptical of religion and folk tales? A la South Park, I would have offended everyone equally—left, right and center. An Orientalist story fit for the 1,001 Nights with a philosopher hero at the center who holds all the moving parts together? Yeah, that would be cool, I thought.


The Aha Moment Strikes
So, I chewed over some ideas. A bunch of loose threads with nothing to pull them together. I thought and thought. And then it just hit me. What if similar to the Assassin paradise of Lewis, there was an Assassin hell? What would it be? How would it look?

I immediately latched onto the idea of the dakhma.

Then, it was just a question of getting a character from ‘heaven’ to ‘hell.’ I landed on Rasul,  a young Assassin recruit from the Caucasus, to play the role. I just had to figure out how to get him from point A to B and put it in a narrative structure.

I fleshed out the plot and characters and I started to write…It ended 11,000 words later.


What It All Means
So, what’s the upshot of all this? What did I learn?

I think the most important thing is that every writer has to be open as they go through life. You have to read, widely, yes, that’s been said a million times. But you also have to be open to new experiences, new friends, new travel and new ideas. You have to go places and read things that you’ve never read or seen before and the more foreign or different, the better. (More on that later.)

Then, you have to be patient. Let all these influences stew in the subconscious. And just be ready. Be ready for that “Aha” moment and write it down when it happens. Write it down at the gym, write it down during your commute, write it down during that meeting at the office. I won’t tell. Flesh the initial idea out and then get ready to write. At least, that’s how it works for me.

Anyway, the story should drop next week in Strangelet Journal. Then, we’ll see what everyone thinks. And the 1,001 Nights—that ‘infinite book’—will add yet another story to itself…So, until next time.

Keep reading, keep writing,

Darius