Thoughts on Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

beautiful-you*NO SPOILERS*

Chuck Palahniuk’s novels have been providing diminishing returns for a long while. Readers would be asking too much for the author to reach the glorious heights of his debut THE FIGHT CLUB…that’s a once-in-a-lifetime book and earns Palahniuk a table with the greats of American novelists. But the poor quality of some of his later offerings is a bit off-putting, to say the least.

RANT was quite good. INVISIBLE MONSTERS was solid. SURVIVOR was fantastic. The rest of his early novels are good but not noteworthy.

Around the time of HAUNTED…the quality became fractured. HAUNTED has several fantastic short stories, but as a whole it fell apart logically and did not work for this reader. DAMNED I actively hated. DOOMED only made matters worse.

The frustrating part about Palahniuk is that even in the terrible books, there are moments of genius, of whimsy, and turns of phrase that tells a longtime Palahniuk reader that the man is still a master. If only he could make his books more focused and have them be less a pot roast of overcooked gross-out ingredients.

With BEAUTIFUL YOU, we are presented with his biggest pot roast of overcooked gross-out ingredients to date.

The plot goes like this: The wealthiest man on the planet, the nerdy entrepreneur C. Linus Maxwell (appointed “CliMax” by the press), meets plain-Jane Midwestern girl Penny Harrigan. Maxwell is a master in the arts of sexual arousal, and has built a line of toys that he tests on Penny. Many orgasms later, Maxwell is ready to unleash a devious plan on the world and Penny tries to stop him.

Problems abound with this novel. The characters are poorly-drawn caricatures of stereotypes. Maxwell is like a refined Bill Gates. Penny Harrigan could be any girlfriend of any sitcom set in New York City. Plot holes abound.

Yet…

The whole affair is just so weird and unusual that it is entertaining.

For instance, there is a 200-year-old sex witch/shaman living in a cave deep in the Himalayas that has grey pubic hair that grows all the way to the ground. The witch keeps her dead teacher’s mummified finger in her vagina. She shares this finger with Penny. Uh, eww.

Palahniuk throws around real and made up clinical terms to describe various sexual activities that prompted amused laughter: Deftly, she compressed his seminiferous tubules in order to suppress spermatogenesis.

The novel also makes some on point observations about sexism, feminism, sexuality, commercialism, and so on.

Finally, this is a straight science fiction novel. I can appreciate that.

I would not recommend this book to those easily offended, fans of mindless 50 Shades of Grey erotica, or those who like traditional New York single lady meets rich man love stories. Because this book is giving you the middle finger.

Palahniuk fans will dig BEAUTIFUL YOU. Those amused by weird shit (like myself) will be occasionally entertained.

It’s a short read. Why not dig in and find out what ol’ Chuck has to say about seminiferous tubules.

How to properly format a manuscript — Be a conformist

PROLOGUE:

There is a lot of information on the internet about all aspects of the writing process. Yet, I’m asked the same dozen or so questions by writers in every workshop or seminar I lead. Certainly, I don’t mind answering any questions about writing, editing, or publishing a writer or interested party might have. After all, that’s what I’m there for. And if there is anything that makes me chatty, it is giving me an opportunity  to share what I know about writing, editing, or publishing.

Without further ado, let’s tackle the first question in this series.

HOW DO I PROPERLY FORMAT A MANUSCRIPT?

There’s a reason for the formatting rules, and it has nothing to do with causing poor, hassled writers more troubles. Editors are busy people, so a manuscript has to be especially good for an editor to waste time on reformatting. Besides, editors have better ways of driving writers crazy.

Here are some basic rules of formatting you should follow (unless you’re submitting to a publication that states otherwise in its guidelines):

  • Double line spacing is the rule. A common mistake made by new writers is to single space paragraphs and double space between paragraphs. This is a common format seen in articles of text on the internet, but it’s not how editors generally want a manuscript formatted (This editor HATES IT). Psychologically speaking, when reading double spacing, the editor feels as though he or she is whizzing through the lines (comparably). It looks cleaner and neater on the page. It allows for editorial comments and typographical markings between the lines should an editor wish to print out the story (and we often do). With modern-day word processors, none of this formatting is difficult for the writer to achieve.
  • Use a common and practical monospaced font. Most of the time, Courier New will suffice. A few editors I know prefer Times New Roman, so this is a case where doing a little bit of research might pay off.
  • Use a readable font point size. Don’t go any lower than 12 point. Don’t go higher than 14 point.
  • Leave at least an inch of white space margin on all four sides of your manuscript. This will give the editor room to makes notes and will help make your submission look cleaner. The left margin of text should be justified and the right margin of text should be jagged.
  • Use black ink on white paper and use only one side of each sheet of paper. I agree, the editor should be hip to the times and allow electronic submissions, but some dinosaurs are slow to move.
  • You don’t need a dedicated title page for short stories. You do for novels and novel-length collections. On the first page of your manuscript, using the upper half of the page to place your contact information and word count, followed by the story’s title along with your byline.
  • On all pages but the first, include a right justified running header with your byline, the story’s title, and the page number. This is in case the editor jumbles up your pages and needs to reorder them. I won’t lie, editors are notoriously disorganized individuals. I am the perfect example of this assertion.!

Master and conform to these seven basic instructions and you’ll be on the path to publication. Okay, at the least, you’ll be ahead of the 5 to 10% of submissions that get tossed due to blatant manuscript formatting shenanigans.

Wait, more rules???

There are many other ‘picky’ rules of manuscript formatting. Thankfully, a gentleman named William Shunn wrote an essay that covers such quandaries as “Do I list professional organizations of which I’m a member with my contact information?” and “Do I use the Microsoft Word word count or do I have to manually count the words or use some other formula?” You can find this excellent essay (titled “Proper Manuscript Format”) at www.shunn.net/format.

One trap many writers fall into is reading a publication’s guidelines once and never checking again for updates. Sometimes word count ranges change, or a publication has a change in editors and now prefers Times New Roman or Courier font. Because of this, be careful when using resources such as Duotrope.com, Ralan.com, and the Writer’s Digest Guide to Short Fiction Markets. They’re useful as a first port of call, but always refer back to the official guidelines of your chosen market before sending off your baby.

As I mentioned earlier, it might pay to research a market’s editorial style. This goes beyond just reading the guidelines. Do they prefer the American style of punctuation or the British style? Will they laugh at you if you put a copyright statement on the title page (Yes, probably)? Do they prefer a single space or a double space after ending punctuation? I once suffered public ridicule in a writing workshop run by a well-known science fiction editor over my double spacing after punctuation. I’m still scarred by the experience. Read previous publications by that market. Read the editors’ blogs. There is plenty of information out there.

When in doubt, ask. Most of the time, editors are nowhere as intimidating as those burly dudes dressed as Klingons you see at every convention. In fact, Apex editors like receiving questions. It makes us feel like we have friends. It makes us feel like we are important.

Trust me, editors love feeling important.

EPILOGUE

Follow my advice about manuscript formatting. Please don’t let a simple thing you can control be the one thing that gets you rejected.

I Got Your Lunch Right Here

Yesterday, I served my first day of District Court jury duty. It was uneventful. A witness failed to show, so the trial was delayed. The most exciting part was hearing an angry lady in a conference room adjoining the court scream “You, you, and YOU can all KISS. MY. ASS.”

I’ve no clue what she was on about, but her point was made and made well.

The last time I served was about a decade ago for Circuit Court. I sat on a sexual harassment case. A lady was suing a local franchised car wash and her boss for harassment. The jury consisted of twelve folks (District court only has 6 jurors). She wanted a couple million dollars for harassment and pain and suffering.

The plaintiff had witnesses that saw inappropriate touching by the male boss. Multiple co-workers heard the boss make lewd remarks and suggestions. The highlight (nadir) of the proceedings happened when the judge asked the defendant to reenact a particular sexually aggressive mood the plaintiff like to do.

So the plaintiff stood in the middle of court and made an X motion with his arm toward his crotch and said “I got your lunch RIGHT HERE.” It was so ludicrous and immature that several people couldn’t help but laugh. That drew some gavel and warnings from the bench.

The case took a WEEK. Eight hours a day (sometimes more).

When the judge finally let the jury deliberate, I went into deliberation thinking it was a cut and dry decision. The guy obviously harassed, bullied, and harmed the woman’s emotional state. Ten fellow jurors DISAGREED. They said the woman could have done more to discourage the behavior. They said she was ugly and probably enjoyed the attention. They said the woman was being a greedy bitch and that 2 million was outrageous. 10 people voted Not Guilty. They eventually got 11 not guilty votes.

I argued that by the letter of the law she was a victim of harassment. Perhaps the 2 million was a bit much. I tried to convince them to grant her 25,000 plus legal costs. Nope.

In this case, 11 not guilty votes was enough to acquit the defendant.

That jury experience was an eye opener. It definitely sapped any remaining faith in humanity that I might have had.

Fortunately, district court handles the small beans stuff. Traffic ticket challenges. Misdemeanors. Even so, it won’t stop me from telling every defendant in my best Judge Dredd voice that “I AM THE LAW.”

I AM THE LAW

I AM THE LAW

5 Overused Words to Cut from Your Manuscript

1. Very – Ladies and gentlemen, the most useless word in the English language!

2. Just – Just is the plain, unsalted potato chip of writing.

3. So – You think you should use this word as a conjunction, but you so shouldn’t.

4. Really – For real.

5. Literally – Reserved for Rob Lowe.

I’ve listed these in the order of personal annoyance. When reading for Apex Magazine the overuse of these words are typically a red flag calling out “Newbie author at work here.”

On an unrelated note, I was a guest for a recent episode of the Sequential Spirits podcast. Give it a listen. It is 80 minutes of me facing down my arch nemesis, Tressa Bowling.

http://traffic.libsyn.com/beaucouppop/SequentialEp7.mp3 (Opens to Libsyn player)

Reminder: Writing Science Fiction workshop

My next writing class TOMORROW. I’m told we only have 5 participants…which makes for a great class, but it doesn’t make the Carnegie Center or Joseph-Beth Booksellers happy (and therefore less inclined to hire my services!). If you’re interested in taking a genre writing workshop, then you won’t be disappointed.

Oh, and here’s a little incentive: I will be bringing free Apex goodies for every person in the class. Free stuff is awesome!

Registration Link: There is no link. You need to call to reserve your place (859-273-2911). This is limited to 18 students, so don’t hesitate or dawdle.

  • Venue:
    Joseph-Beth Booksellers
  • Meets On:
        Wednesdays, January 14 – February 4
  • Time:
    6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
  • Address:
    161 Lexington Green Circle
    Lexington, KY,
  • Cost:
    $65
  • Addl Info:

    Please note this class takes place at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

    Please call 859-273-2911 to reserve a spot!

    Each class is limited to 18 participants

 

WRITING SCIENCE FICTION

Join three-time Hugo Award-nominated editor and writer Jason Sizemore as he takes you through the process of writing a science fiction short story. You will study popular modern stories as a guideline to the craft of writing shorter works. We will cover the elements of plot and the structure of short fiction. Every participant will create a new science fiction short story that will be polished so it is ready for submission to a publication. [ALL LEVELS]

Apex Magazine — Back in the saddle again

Art by Emma SanCartier

Art by Emma SanCartier

Yesterday, Apex published issue 68 of Apex Magazine. This was the first one with me functioning as editor-in-chief in 53 issues (almost 4.5 years in magazine time). Prior to 68, I edited issues 1-15 of Apex Magazine and all 12 of the printed Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest.

Damn, it feels good to be back in the saddle.

Over those 4.5 years, I’ve edited several short story anthologies. They’re fun…but they’re not as fun as the magazine.

Truth be told, I have missed running the zine. I mean, I did run the magazine in a managing sense. I helped make editorial choices here and there. And I gave editorial direction to the E-i-Cs. But it was the ability to select stories to publish, to find the diamonds in the rough, to bring the voice of fantastic writers to the public, that I missed.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have hired three outstanding editor-in-chiefs: Catherynne M. Valente, Lynne M. Thomas, and Sigrid Ellis. Each put their stamp and legacy on the zine in their unique ways and helped build Apex Magazine into a respected, (dare I say) beloved, and 3-time Hugo Award nominee. Cat has gone on to become a fantastic novelist. Lynne co-edits a great new zine of her own. And I have no doubt Sigrid will find her star rising with whatever she decides to do next.

And now it is time to pressure you into checking out the new issue of Apex Magazine!

Check it out here:
http://www.apex-magazine.com/issue-68-january-2015/

You can read most of the content for free on the zine’s website. There are some bits of exclusive content when you subscribe or buy an eBook copy.

I hope you enjoy issue 68. Remember, new issues land on the first Tuesday of every month!

Writing Science Fiction class information

My next writing class starts soon! Like, next Wednesday soon. This should be a great class if you’re a writer looking to stretch his or her wings and to move the writing quality needle to the ‘Professional’ level.

Registration Link: There is no link. You need to call to reserve your place (859-273-2911). This is limited to 18 students, so don’t hesitate or dawdle.

 

  • Venue:
    Joseph-Beth Booksellers
  • Meets On:
        Wednesdays, January 14 – February 4
  • Time:
    6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
  • Address:
    161 Lexington Green Circle
    Lexington, KY,
  • Cost:
    $65
  • Addl Info:

    Please note this class takes place at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

    Please call 859-273-2911 to reserve a spot!

    Each class is limited to 18 participants

 

WRITING SCIENCE FICTION

Join three-time Hugo Award-nominated editor and writer Jason Sizemore as he takes you through the process of writing a science fiction short story. You will study popular modern stories as a guideline to the craft of writing shorter works. We will cover the elements of plot and the structure of short fiction. Every participant will create a new science fiction short story that will be polished so it is ready for submission to a publication. [ALL LEVELS]

The Frame by Jamin Winans (Spoiler Free Review)

the-frame-2014-movie-posterThe best filmmakers have the ability to draw you into a world visually, intellectually, and emotionally. They know how to surprise the viewer. Christopher Nolan. Stanley Kubrick. Alfred Hitchcock. Paul Thomas Anderson. The Coen Brothers.

There’s another director who is tipping dangerously close to that pantheon of movie creators. That fellow is Jamin Winans.

Winans, an independent filmmaker who works outside the Hollywood machine, jumped on the scene with the surreal fantasy INK (which happens to be one of my favorite movies). He showed a remarkable ability to do so much with so little. There are few villains that are as memorable as the glasses wearing Incubus monsters. There are few heroes as memorable as John (played brilliantly by Christopher Soren Kelly). The film includes some of the best fight choreography I’ve seen. Not bad for a director’s second film!

INK came out in 2009, so it has been a looooooong wait for Winan’s follow up, THE FRAME. A lot of secrecy was involved with the production of the movie with good reason. While there’s no big plot twist or reveal, going into THE FRAME without any spoilers will make the experience infinitely better. Because of these lack of details and an artistically shot trailer that gives away few details, the lengthy time between films was frustrating for this fan!

What about the movie? It’s the story of Alex (David Carranza), a cargo thief, and Sam (Tiffany Mualem), a paramedic. They do not know each other, but their lives intertwine in a magical and tragic way. Christopher Soren Kelly returns and plays three key roles in the film (the guy is a chameleon it seems) that helps tie it all together. The final 20 minutes of the film are heartbreaking and will have you wondering how the heck Jamin Winans (and his wife Kiowa Winans who produced the movie) made THE FRAME for a meager $350,000.

Like INK, THE FRAME is bound firmly in surreal fantasy elements. The imagery is striking, the acting from Carranza and Mualem is top notch. Winans has a lot to say about the concept of free will, how our past affects our future, and the nature of reality. It’s a philosophical film that rewards multiple viewings.

As you probably gathered, I am big on this film. I encourage you to find it. If you’re a fan of INK, you will love THE FRAME. If you’re lukewarm on INK, you will likely find THE FRAME more accessible.

And, finally, like INK, Jamin Winans composed the soundtrack. And it is fantastic.

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2567038/combined

BUY THE BLU-RAY/DVD HERE (Let’s help fund that next movie!)

Enjoy the trailers:

http://double-edge-films.myshopify.com/pages/trailers

Books on the cheap

Two of my books and the magazine I edit are enjoying major Cyber Monday discounts.

IRREDEEMABLE
Seventh Star Press has made the eBook edition available for 99 cents today only at Amazon. Get it here: http://amzn.to/1kXE7fs

THE ZOMBIE FEED, VOLUME 1
Apex Publications is selling the tpb and the eBook editions for my anthology at a 50% discount. Use code CYBER50 on checkout. Get it here: http://www.apexbookcompany.com/collections/all-books/products/the-zombie-feed-volume-1

APEX MAGAZINE
The three-time Hugo Award-nominated zine I edit is selling subscriptions for $15.00 Use code SUB2014 on checkout. Get it here: http://www.apexbookcompany.com/collections/apex-magazine-all/products/apex-magazine-subscription

APEX PUBLICATIONS
My book company in general is having a giant Cyber Monday sale. Select titles up to 75% off! Details here: http://www.apexbookcompany.com/blogs/frontpage/15955841-cyber-monday-deals-up-to-75-off-select-products

Darkside — A radio play by Tom Stoppard

Let me through, I’m a moral philosopher! — Ethics Man

I stumbled upon this bizarre radio play named “Darkside” on Spotify searching for the new Pink Floyd single (worth searching out, btw). It played on BBC2 Radio in the fall of 2013. It’s a play intertwined in the album Dark Side of the Moon. Here’s the official description from the BBC website:

A new drama from legendary playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. The album topped the charts on its release in 1973, and it remained in the charts for 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988. With an estimated 50 million copies sold it is the band’s most commercially successful work and is frequently ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time.

Sir Tom Stoppard was first approached with the suggestion of writing a play based on the album by a friend in 1973. Now, 40 years later, he’s created a fantastical story about fear, philosophy and madness, which is woven together with the original music.

Surreal. Weird. Entertaining. Fun.

Oh, right, the music is pretty good, too.