Wednesday, August 31, 2005

So Ends the Hijacking of VanderWorld

Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women, guestblogging

Jeff should be back tomorrow with lots of goodies and treats and whatnot, so I'll bow out with August. Thanks to those who put up with me, and for those who couldn't stand me, go forth and rejoice and come back tomorrow to see what Jeff's cooking.

I'll continue blogging away at my own digs. Don't let the image of Michelle Rodriguez and the bloody text intimidate you. We only get up to good, clean fun over there (ha ha).

Also, for the regulars, we've got beer. And whiskey.

Afterall, what good is a blog without liquor?

I'm gonna go get to work now. Really.

- K Hurley

Create Your Own Fungi Kit

Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women, guestblogging

MycoSpored Oils™

We offer unique blends of spored oils, one for decomposing stumps of conifers and one for hardwoods. These oils are designed as environmentally friendly, biodegradable lubricants for chain-saws and other wood cutting tools. As the wood is being cut, the spore-mass infused oil disperses mushroom spores into the cut faces of wood, and upon germination of spores accelerate the decomposition of stumps and brush.

I also like the mushroom kits.

(via girlhacker)

- K Hurley

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Surreal Moment of the Morning

Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women, guestblogging

The new neighbors are moving into the apartment downstairs that me and my buddy Jenn just moved out of. For the last couple of days an increasing number of books, boxes, and other odds and ends have been piling up on the enclosed back porch that I have to walk through to get to the back door.

This morning at quarter to seven I was stumbling downstairs, and when I rounded the stairwell and looked down onto their porch, I jolted to a halt.

A woman's torso stared back at me from amid a stir of empty boxes.

It took my brain a half second to realize I was staring at a mannequin that had been taken apart and divided into two halves for easy moving. It now regarded me from the porch. Its legs stuck up in the air next to it.

I couldn't help but be reminded of a certain story.

I'm wondering what, exactly, my new neighbors are getting up to down there....

- K Hurley


Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women, guestblogging

Last night, I couldn't sleep.

For the last year and a half, I've been trying to get an agent for a book called The Dragon's Wall (yea, I'm bad at titles), the first book in a fantasy series. I've spent the last decade and change playing around in that world, building it up in other books and shorts. The last book I tried to sell got form rejected from every publisher I sent it to.

This time, I wanted to try the gatekeepers first. My downfall has been my query letter. I suck at writing them. Really, really suck at it. This has a lot to do with my incompentence in the plot department. It takes everything I've got to give you a plot over 600 pages. You want me to sum that up in a page? A paragraph??


I've written the query letter for this book more than a dozen times. I could never quite pare it down to the sort of essentials that got anybody interested. I tended to blather.

I'm not well-known. I haven't won any awards. I haven't been published to great acclaim in Asimov's or The Magazine of SF & F or even SciFiction (though not for lack of trying), so all I really had to go on was the story. And boy am I bad at summarizing. It took me four weeks to write the abstract for my Master's thesis.

As a last ditch resort, after I'd gotten to the end of my agent list, I cut the query down to two and a half paragraphs that didn't say much about the book except that it had lots of bugs, giant dogs, warring priests, and a fiesty scullery maid. I mentioned Clarion and some writing sales and all the hard work I was doing on book 2 and my "other projects" and sent it off to the last agent on my list.

That one got a response.

So for the third or fourth time I sent out the first fifty pages and got to work on my next book, God's War (about a bisexual shapeshifting bounty hunter engaged in a high-risk contract on a bloody desert world locked in perpetual holy war. Try that one in a query letter!) while concurrently working on book 2 of the fantasy saga. I figured I could start shopping God's War in January, and keep the fantasy saga on the backburner in case God's War interested anybody enough to ask if I had anything else to show them.

It's been a couple of months since I sent out the 50 pages, and I'd pretty much figured they'd gone into somebody's round file.

Of course, that hadn't kept me from frantically checking the mail every day.

Last night I got my SASE back from said agent.

I sat down at the table in the reading room, books on Iranian history and Assyrian armies and Koranic laws and character lists and names and piles and piles of yellow notepads scrawled with cryptic notes about guerilla tactics and what to do with Muslim widows, while the first hundred pages of God's War were sliding off the desk with muddied line-edits crawling all over the text, and I stared at the letter.

It had been my last ditch effort, really. It was a shot in the dark, so it didn't matter if I got told to fuck off again. I'd just write another book. That's what I was doing. It's what I always do.

But, you know, you always hope. You have to hope.

The envelope had been sealed like it contained the Holy Grail, and I had trouble separating the envelope from the paper.

When I pulled it out, I recognized the familiar too-long response I'd seen before from another agent, who said I was very "professional" but the book needed a lot of rewriting, and if I was ever interested in rewriting, maybe she'd look at it again, but until then, good luck.

I had, in fact, since rewritten the whole book. I've been considering sending it back to her for some time, but I wanted to try this new one first. I wanted somebody who was in love with the project before I went begging.

I gritted my teeth and read the letter.

I skimmed past the "Oh, thanks for sending this, really nice," stuff to the middle, then the end.

I stopped reading. Did a double-take.

Went back and read it from the beginning.

She loved the story, she said. Could I just call or e-mail her and make some changes to the first 50 pages so some of the names and characters were clearer? Once that was done, she'd love to read the rest.

You know how you spend your whole life wanting something, and I mean wanting, desiring, sweating at and working over to the expense of all else, believing in something when the stats tell you it's improbable if not impossible, while everybody says, "You won't make money at it" (I'm not making money at it now), while you sit in front of your computer day after day, weekend after weekend, plugging away while the rejections for stories and books come back by the boatload, and you just keep doing it because at some base level, you desire this thing, to write, to be published, to be read, so very, very deeply that you can't tell anyone for fear of embarrassment at what a strong feeling it is?

And it feels so silly, to feel so strongly. It's just books. It's just business. I produce a product. The agent sells it. The publisher buys it. They make money. We do it again.

No big deal. Doesn't mean a thing.

I held that letter and I started shaking.

No bullshit.

My whole body shook. I wanted this to work out so badly that all I could think of was, "Don't fuck this up. Don't fuck this up."

It really terrified me, actually, how much I wanted this. Desire, real, gut-churning, body-shaking desire, is something I've always seen as a weakness. And when you know somebody's weakness, you can hurt them.

Tears followed the shaking, even though it's not anything, really. It's a revise and request to read more. It's not an agent contract. It's certainly not a publisher's contract. It's not a three-book deal. It's not a check. It doesn't mean anything.

But it's another step forward. I feel like I've been banging my head against a wall for the last decade, and I just stumbled into the yard. There are more walls ahead of me, of course, but it's a nice yard.

There are a lot of things that have to happen to get me to where I want to be. I have to rewrite well. She has to like the rest. I'll likely then rewrite the rest. Then she'll have to risk signing me. Then a publisher has to like it. Then they have to risk signing me. Then I have to rewrite again. And again. And again. And then I have to make sure it doesn't just sink into oblivion, a one-book deal.

And while all that's going on, I have to keep to the strict schedule for these other projects, for God's War and for book 2, and for the projects I've got lined up after God's War (I have a terraforming bug-swarm novel, five more books in said fantasy series, and at least one more blood-and-sand novel).

This is my darkest secret: this is what I want to do. I want to write fantasy novels. I want to be one of those 500 writers who makes good money at it. I want my freedom.

I think that after a decade and change, you start to believe that it's not ever going to happen for you. Or, maybe, that you'll sell a book or two when you're 40 and they'll sink. Sure, you'll still write books, because you're insane, but it's not like anything's going to come of it.

I've been resigning myself to that for the last couple of years. It's like when I first applied to Clarion at 18 and got rejected. I just assumed it would be another decade before I tried again, before I was ready. I didn't mind a long timeline. I plan to live a long time.

The last couple of months, I've been pretty hard on myself about the writing. I've kept my mind-numbing admin job because it affords me so much writing time, though it means I can barely pay my student loan payments every month. And keeping this job to do something that wasn't getting me any positive feedback at all seemed crazy at best. I've been working so hard on novels that I haven't written a short story in over a year, and I've only got one out in circulation instead of my all-time high of 14.

Instead, I've got a book and a series that I'm passionate about and believe in but that nobody else could really get into. I started writing a stand-alone in the hopes of luring somebody in with it so I could pawn off the series.

They're good fucking books.

And maybe that's been the worst part about everything.

I'm not brilliant. I'm not a genius. I'm not a literary writer. But I read a lot of fucking books, and I know these are good books. Yea, The Dragon's Wall is going to get a lot more work. Yea, God's War is only in draft one. But I'm not writing absolute shit here.

But what gets you noticed is fame or brillance or both, and I'm certainly not famous and definately not brilliant. So the goal is to make the books go from good to brilliant without gaining said brillance through anything but hard fucking work, since I don't seem to have it naturaally. Nobody cares unless it's brillant. There's too much crap to contend with.

Sitting there, staring at that letter, shaking, there was another emotion that washed over me in a stark black wave:


Cause now I've gotta be brilliant. Now I have to pull out everything I have, because I want this so goddamn badly. And the fear, the real fear, the fear that wants to drag you down and swallow you up, is the fear that giving it all you have isn't going to be good enough.

I have a quote from Kevin J. Anderson (of all people) stuck up on my computer desk. When asked what the most important quality a writer should have was, he replied, "Persistence."

One of my writing buddies called last night with an offer to look over the first 50 pages again if I wanted some fresh eyes. "At this point," he said, "you just have to not be an asshole. Rewrite it, and don't be an asshole."

I heard a lot of shit from instructors at Clarion, but after getting reamed by Geoff Ryman, I got hauled into my meeting with him and got an apology and a surprised exclamation when he heard I was twenty years old.

"You're twenty? You're kidding?" he said, looking back at my story. "If you're writing this at twenty, I can't wait to see what you're doing at twenty-five."

Me neither.

I'm hoping everybody gets to find out.

- K Hurley

Friday, August 26, 2005

Smart Women Don't Get Laid

Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women, guestblogging

"As long as there are entrenched social and political distinctions between sexes, races or classes, there will be forms of science whose main function is to rationalize and legitimize these distinctions."

- Elizabeth Fee

Bear with me here, I'm a little hung over. Ce la vie.

It appears that we finally have proof! White, middle-class men of Science administering tests made to test the intelligence of white, middle class men have finally solved the mystery of inequality that has troubled feminists for generations.

Men are just smarter.

This is a great article because it assumes 1) everybody knows that IQ tests are the best measures of intelligence out there! In fact, that's why dark-skinned people always score so low! Because they're "naturally" dumb, just like women! 2) That people who have high IQ scores are smart and destined to get high-powered jobs and make lots of money and win Nobel prizes, though all the guys I know who tested at genius level are either in the Marines or managing hardware stores. 3) Men's brains are bigger than women's, which make them smarter! As we all know, size matters. Einstein's head was as big as a truck! 4) There was an expectation that white middle and upper class men, administering tests to young white men written by white middle and upper class men would then find that white, upper and middle class men didn't do well on the tests.

Gee. Somebody needs to start asking better questions.

I'm reminded of reading about a couple of women biologists who were standing around the lab one day shooting the shit with a handful of their colleagues, who happened to be men. One of the men said he wanted to look into doing a study about whether or not women's sex drives increased around the time of ovulation.

The two women biologists exchanged looks and burst out laughing. "We wouldn't have asked `if,'" one of the women said, "We would have asked `why?' Our starting points were different. You base your questions on your experiences. We wouldn't have wasted time asking `if.'"

I don't know at what point I internalized the idea that being a smart girl was a bad thing.

Now, I certainly concede that dorky guys aren't exactly idealized in the sexual arena either, at least not until they're 30 and successful and making tons of money while the former high school football jock pumps gas at the local BP. But about the time the dorky guys get to be hot, the dorky girls are getting "old," and unless you were really beautiful to begin with, I thought, you were pretty much screwed. Or not, as the case may be, in the attractiveness department.

And sex is a really great motivator.

As a pre-teen I'd already long known I was a dork. I knew this from the first day of kindergarten, when I tried to talk to a very pretty girl in a very pretty dress who did, in fact, turn out to be very popular in gradeschool (How do we know these things so early? Do we just all naturally gravitate toward these people? Is that what makes them popular? Her name was Laura Peterson - wow, I can't believe I still remember that), and was rebuffed for... I don't know what. My hair? My lack of social skills? I was doomed to dorkdom early on.

In the third grade I found the smartest, dorkiest guy in class and he became my best friend and we hung out a lot and read books. By the first grade I realized I was chubby and not-blond and not terribly socially desirable as a hang-out buddy for other girls because their games tended to be all about how to get a boyfriend, and they had to worry about their skirts all the time (my grandmother looked after me and my siblings during the day, and dressed me in skirts as well, but I didn't much care about them), and if I wasn't reading books, I was having My Little Pony & G.I. Joe wars or racing matchbox cars who all had names like "Fireball" and "Racer." I liked to talk about why and how things worked and why the world was the way it was, and all the girls seemed to be talking about were shoes and how to get boyfriends, because let me tell you, the "measuring your worth by whether or not you have a boyfriend" thing starts really, really early. And if you don't have a boyfriend, it means you're defective.

I suppose it was internalizing the boyfriend-getting activities that convinced me I shouldn't be smart. Or, if I was smart, to just not tell anybody. Because it was common knowledge at sleepovers that boys didn't like dorky girls who read books and used big words.

You start to learn appropriate conversations for girl-sleepovers, 90% of which revolved around who liked what boy and how to get him from somebody else and how you'd have to starve yourself tomorrow because you'd been eating so much (oh yea, boy, the "you gotta be thin!" stuff starts right out of the gate). I learned from these conversations, and from watching the girls who "got" boyfriends (whatever that means when you're 10 years old), that I needed to be thinner, blonder, and more sociable. Sociable meaning I needed to laugh and smile a lot and really be interested in clothes and lip gloss.

The trouble with spending so much mental energy on grooming, clothes shopping, make-up, and worrying about everything you eat means you don't have a lot of mental energy left for other things. And you're often hungry or depressed, as you get caught in a binge-and-purge loop as you get older.

For years, I was convinced that if I was thinner and stupider, more boys would like me. Which, of course, was the main goal of life. I could do any number of Grand things. I could win a fucking Spelling Bee, or win the yearly academic achievement awards in all six categories, and it wouldn't get me more friends. It wouldn't get me boyfriend approval. It would just get me a bunch of awards, and unless you're already a Hot Chick, what's the point?

I was very lucky in that I've got amazing parents who were very clear that I needed to be smart and independent, and my worth was not measured by how many guys looked at my flat ass. They would have been very happy with a daughter who was a doctor or a lawyer, but I gave up on the idea of being an astronaut when I realized that I was consistently getting my lowest scores in math, and astronauts had to be good at math.

It didn't help that I had a sixth grade teacher who once looked at my math assignment - I'd gotten all but 3 of the 40 problems wrong - and said, "Well, you know, girls aren't usually so good at math."

Yea, that's really inspiring, thanks.

There's a lot more that goes into test scores than raw brain power.

Tell somebody "you can't" long enough, and they just might believe it. Tell somebody being smart is unattractive and being attractive is desirable and watch their test scores drop.

It's another reason to write books. Give people some other fucking options. Make us a world where intelligence is valued in everybody, and not measured in how well you can mark boxes on an answer sheet. Give me a place where I can fly.

For awhile, when I first started community college classes, I tried to dress more fem and talk less. I did this because my boyfriend at the time cheated on me with a thin fem girl and was running after a plain, ditzy blond with the IQ of toilet paper, and I was terrified that if I couldn't even keep this mediocre guy, how would I ever be able to "keep" a relationship together with anybody better? I'd only ever had one boyfriend, and who else would ever be interested? Men really did only want to be with stupid women, I decided. It's what was on TV. It's what I was experiencing. It was all around me. If I was going to be attractive, I had to be stupid. And being attractive, when you're 17 and have raging hormones, is all you're really concerned about.

So I strove to be quieter and dress in more skirts, and made myself utterly miserable. This was about the same time I stopped writing for about six months, where nothing at all could work its way through. I convinced myself that if I lost this boyfriend, I would never have another one. I worked so hard to be a suitable woman that I lost sight of everything else in my life, and started trying to teach myself to cook, and spent my days cleaning up after the boyfriend and waitressing while he skipped out on classes and lay around in bed reading.

I was giving up myself and watching it be subsumed by something else. I wasn't going anywhere. I wasn't thinking much of anything. I wasn't challenging myself at all. I didn't have the leisure time to go out and create anything worthwhile at all. I could barely cook instant potatos.

At some point, I realized I had a boyfriend like everyone said I should, and I hated it. I was miserable. I felt like I was doing everything right. But I was broken. I didn't want what other people wanted. I wasn't a real girl. Real girls didn't feel this way.

So I ditched the guy, went back to wearing boots and khaki pants, and after my Alaska Boys phase, I threw out pretending to be dumb all together. I even started researching new stuff, and teaching myself how to figure out the logic games on the LSAT.

But by that time, of course, my test score data had already been tabulated. I did not have the IQ of a genius. Too bad, really. I've always wanted to manage a hardware store...

In any case, I sure am glad that boys are smarter than me, just like everyone always said. I'll keep that in mind the next time some guy tells me that polar bears don't live in Alaska and women can't pee standing up.

After all, men are naturally smarter than women. Women are just born dumb. We arrive that way, full-fledged and drooling, from the womb. Obviously. As you can see.

I sure do feel better knowing that.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Octopus Pulp!

Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women, guestblogging

I swear, some of them are squid.

Or at least, squid-like. I mean, they have tentacles too. Really.

(via boingboing)

- KHurley

Monday, August 22, 2005

Because I Can Take the Pieces With Me

Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women, guestblogging

I’ve pretty much been writing books forever.

Everybody says that.

I think writers say that because we really hope that we can say it was some sort of calling, something we were meant to do, destiny, like writing is the magic sword that slays the dragon.

Saying I’ve been writing forever excuses the fact that I have a master’s degree but make less than 40K a year doing project support for a company that builds, designs, and upgrades cell phone towers. I am slowly allowing my brain to atrophy while I convert documents from voloview to PDF all day.

It excuses the fact that when “promotions” are offered to me that involve traveling 90% of the time and making the same amount of money I’m making now, I turn them down because I want a life.

It excuses the fact that I’m still at this job, because we have “high” and “low” periods, and during the low periods, I’ll spend 6-8 hours a day working on web pages, writing projects, blogging, or playing computer games.

You just can’t beat that.

Believe me, I’ve tried.

When I was twelve years old, I told my parents I wanted to be a writer. They exchanged dubious looks and said, “That’s great, Kameron, but you realize you’ll be poor for the rest of your life?”

I’m starting to understand what they meant.

School, in general, bored me, so I wrote during class. I’d bring a big spiral bound notebook with me, and so long as I looked busy, none of the teachers bothered me. They assumed I was taking notes, being a busy good girl. I got a lot of writing done during dull classes.

I started writing stories to catalogue all of the adventures me and my siblings and the kids across the field had together. We had these wild imaginary romps, pretended we were runaways or a pack of unicorns. We sang weird songs and made fires in fire pits in the woods and had “Indian” wars where we threw pinecones at each other and dueled with char-tipped branches that we’d worked into staves. We made tee-pees out of pine branches and painted our faces and gave ourselves fantasy tribal names and made ink out of blackberries and rope out of fireweed and turned everything into a fort of some kind (at one point, we hollowed-out a huge blackberry thicket that had grown up over a tree).

We had pretty elaborate storylines that often involved plane crashes, imaginary boyfriends, monsters of all sorts, rival tribes, made-up languages, and animal hunts. I thought these stories were pretty stunning when I was nine or ten, and I started writing so I could get them all down before we forgot them. We lived in the middle of nowhere, in a house on almost three wooded acres, and for years, we were surrounded by lots of undeveloped woods. Later on, people put in houses, but all of the houses tended to be in the middle of their plots, so we’d have a great time fence-jumping around other people’s wooded property while avoiding their dogs.

Like most dorky kids, school wasn’t all that great for me on the social end, either, and woodland playtime and the subsequent cataloguing of those stories was a great escape. It doesn’t surprise that I wrote my first book when I was twelve.

I switched schools when I was twelve, and entered the sixth grade as an overweight newcomer with braces, glasses, and headgear (oh, my!).

I hadn’t exactly been popular at the old school, either, but at least kids there left me alone.

I wasn’t so lucky at the new school.

Everyone loves a scapegoat, and I guess I was a pretty good one. I didn’t have a group of friends, so I was fair game. Kids thought reading out on recess was pretty weird. I had stuff stolen, got chew and Tabasco sauce dumped in my hair, and got lambasted with the full range of fat-girl catcalls from groups of boys, everything from “water buffalo” to “earthquake.” The teachers out at recess watching this “boys will be boys” behavior thought it was all terribly funny, and told me I should stop making myself a target by bringing things to school like books and playground balls.

The “blame the victim” bullshit happens pretty early.

I was trying so hard to be a “nice girl” that I only stood up for myself once, when I tripped one of the guys who’d stolen my recess ball. He got a bruise, and I got called in to the principal’s office. I got detention and a severe scolding from the VP, who said my “utter lack of remorse” about what I’d “done” was really “shocking.”

I wish I knew then what I know now, because instead of bursting into tears at being called a bad, evil, remorseless girl (I just wanted to be a “nice girl”!), I would have told her she was a blind, incompetent fucktard who’d relentlessly allowed gangs of boys to torment girls at recess and should be fired for her incompetence.

In any case, not being able to vent to the authority figures who were supposed to be looking out for harassment, and not wanting to vent to my parents because I didn’t want to get them involved, and not wanting to rock the boat any more by trying to defend myself (just look how that turned out! I thought), I spent all of my detention time working on the outline of a book about a scullery maid who was really a princess and an Evil Queen seeking to assassinate the rightful ruler of the kingdom. The scullery maid teamed up with a stable boy and a jester to defeat the evil monarch and save the country! Then the scullery maid would be acknowledged by everyone and cheered for saving the kingdom! Then, of course, the stable boy would turn out to be a prince, and they would get married, and rule the kingdom. Because that’s what heroines did in fantasy stories.

Because the book had so many characters, I started to just pull people from real life and base the characters on them. That way, I already had a template for the characters. “People from real life” meant the kids in school. It meant my chief tormentors were turned into bad guys who were ruthlessly slaughtered in a myriad of brutal, bloody, gory ways.

It was fun.

The book took about a year to finish, and by then I was in the seventh grade and had started to find some other dorks to hang out with. It was only appropriate that since my characters were my friends when I didn’t have any, that my friends became my characters once I actually had some. Friends, that is. With a bigger group of friends, even if they’re dorks, you get harassed less often. So my friends became heroes and thieves and ruled countries and fought duels. There was Joe the comic book artist, who became a towering red-haired brute who worked as the muscle for one of my heroines. There was Wren the drama queen who became a foul-mouthed princess-turned-adventurer. There was Ro the martial artist who became the most cunning and crazy of jesters, and Helen the aspiring architect who became a princess-in-hiding, and a couple more who wove in and out of the circle as time went on.

I figured that by putting them into my books, I would carry around a piece of each of them forever. So even when they stopped being my friends, when Wren drifted away and Helen got pregnant and dropped out of college, and Joe joined a skin-head gang and Ro started calling me fat and dating dancers, I still had these books, this world. I still had the map Ro drew for me. I still had all the comments pages they’d written on when I passed the finished book around in a big three-ring binder.

I wouldn’t be so lonely ever again.

But after a time, stories take on a life of their own, one outside of the safe little world you took them out of, and I started writing more books. The characters stopped being people I knew, and started existing on their own merits. Their world got bigger. And I started inventing new worlds.

By the time I ran out of my house just after turning 18, I’d written five or six books and a bunch of stories. I’d been submitting stuff for publication for three years, and I’d made a couple of sales. But the project closest to my heart was the growing fantasy series and its ever-expanding cast of characters. When I left behind everyone I knew and a lot of what I owned, I could take the books with me.

I knew things weren’t going to work out in the new digs in Bellingham with the unstable boyfriend when I realized I couldn’t write. I’d sit down at my desk and open my manuscript and just stare at it.

Nobody was talking to me anymore. I didn’t have any stories.

When things were really, really, bad in Bellingham and the sleeping pills in the medicine cabinet were looking pretty good, I’d say, “I can’t kill myself. I have a lot of books to write.”

When I thought I was for shit and probably going certifiably crazy in that little apartment, I’d lie in bed at night and consult all of the characters I’d created; I’d listen to all those old friends who’d become their own people, and when I thought I couldn’t go on, they, those pieces of me, decided that I could, that I had to, because they would die with me.

We can joke a lot about what writing means to us, how it’s all destiny, how it keeps us going. I joke about it a lot.

But I knew things were going to get better when my high school boyfriend ran off to join the Marines and I could suddenly write again. A whole dam opened up, and I spent night after night alone in my big bed, waiting to get evicted because I couldn’t pay the rent, typing and typing and typing. Everything flooded back out, like I’d been holding it back, like a piece of me had gone quiet.

Sometimes, something becomes so much a part of you, that you don’t know how to express yourself without it.

And once you start writing books, you just can’t stop.

Writing became a way for me to be social when I didn’t have friends. When the world had gone to shit, I could create a new one. During the darkest teatimes of the soul, it gave me a reason to get up in the morning. I could keep going long after I couldn’t, because I had worlds and worlds to drag after me.

A fan of Ayn Rand once asked me if I was given the choice to either take a bunch of money and never write again, or continue to write but never be paid for it and never allowed to take any other kind of employment, which I would choose?

I told him that was easy, I’d choose to write.

“But you’d die,” he said. “You couldn’t afford food.”

“I’d die anyway,” I said.

It sounded very dramatic at the time.

And yes, identifying as a writer, writing past the 200 rejections mark, continuing to send things off expecting a different result (the definition of insanity being “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”), to write nine books, try selling two of them and being rebuffed, to keep writing more books, to stay in an admin job and refuse to advance because you like being able to blow off work every other Friday and take a writing day, is pretty fucking crazy. It makes no sense.

I could have gone to law school.

But see, I’m one of those writers who’s disappointing to meet in person. I get my thoughts all mixed up. I’m not very funny. I mess up the timelines on my story narratives. I dress badly. I eat too much. I often devolve into an inarticulate mess. I’m not sure how to put all the pieces together.

Writing, this space, this medium, is where I find myself. Where I take all the pieces and put them together and see what turns up. If somebody told me tomorrow to stop writing, I’d get stuck. I’d go crazy. Not for any grand poetical reason but because I couldn’t express myself. I couldn’t make sense of myself, of the world. I’d cut myself off from the one place I could always go when I wanted to figure out the world by making new ones.

This place, me, this writing personae, wouldn’t exist. So a piece of me would be gone. And when that piece goes quiet, I’m not me.

It’s not like I get paid for this shit.

So yea, I’ve pretty much been writing books forever. On some level, I do it because I’m so far gone now that I can’t imagine not doing it. And on another level, I do it because what comes out often tells me more of who I am than any bridge I ever jumped off or any country I ever trekked through, because I can take those pieces and figure out what they mean and how they work.

I do it because I can slay dragons here.

My dragons.

Real and metaphorical.

The writing can make sense of this big, bold world and what I see in it when spoken words fail me, and my thoughts skip ahead of… well, my thoughts.

But mostly, I think, I write because I would be lonely otherwise.

I have gotten older, and slightly less dorky, and I have good friends, good company, but there is that part of me that is always lonely, that wants to reach out by telling stories, that wants to understand myself and say see, here, do you understand that? Have you seen that? Felt that? Because if they are shared experiences, you're no longer lonely. It’s the person I can’t be in public, the person I talk to in private.

It is this person, and without her, I’m not much at all.

- K Hurley

Friday, August 19, 2005


Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women, guestblogging

Wow. I just clicked over here looking to see if there was any new content... Attributable to blog fairies, I guess?

I'm on autopilot this week.

Long, long week.

More later.

- K Hurley

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Drunk & Unpublished at the Edge of the World

Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women, guestblogging

My first year of undergrad work in Alaska, I met a girl named Lou who drank a half gallon of Black Velvet whiskey every week, rolled her own cigarettes, wore steel-toed boots, and took home a different guy every weekend.

In Fairbanks, even more than other university towns, there’s not much to do during the winter but drink and have sex. When it’s 20 below and it’s been dark for the last twenty hours, you’re really not up for much else.

So Lou would coax me up to her room with promises of cheap whiskey and diet coke, and once I was sufficiently sloshed, she’d bring out her stories.

Lou was an English major from Oregon. She’d spent a year in the Philippines when she was sixteen, and most of her stories were about that year. They were beautiful, emotional pieces that took me to a hot, humid place, to beaches and palm trees and rice at every meal. They were potent escapes from a dark, cold, November night.

After the readings, we’d go down to the front porch of the dorm and roll cigarettes with numb fingers and smoke until we were frozen, then go back in and drink some more. I would drink until I realized that if I drank any more, I wasn’t going to be able to make it downstairs to my own bed without passing out in the stairwell. Lou said she wouldn’t have minded me not returning to my own bed, but Lou wasn’t really my type, and I was still holding out for somebody else at the time.

Lou was a good writer, something I was surprised to learn once she started reading. I’d had any number of people come up to me and claim to be a writer when they heard it was something I did. Most of them were of the, “I have this great idea, and if you write it, we can split the profits 50/50,” type or the “As soon as I have the time, I’m going to write a novel,” kind.

But Lou definitely had talent. She told good stories on paper and in person, and told me about the time one of her girlfriends shot off her boyfriend’s toe after he threatened to kill her and locked her in a basement for three hours.

These were the sorts of people Lou was friends with.

But Lou’s writing had one fault:

She never finished anything.

The impression I got from the bits and pieces she read about her experience in the Philippines was that something not all-together empowering had happened there, something that, after coming back to the States, she dealt with primarily by drinking a lot of whiskey and putting on a lot of weight. She liked to talk about how thin and desirable she’d been in the Philippines, how much men liked her blue eyes. She would say, “135 pounds” with the wistful nostalgia of a far older woman for a much younger self, though she wasn’t even twenty-two.

Lou and I hung out with the same group of stoner guys - the beer drinking, motorcycle riding, marijuana smoking, guitar playing types who were easy to get into bed. And while I mostly was stuck on one of them, she went to bed with all of them, and some of the drama and English majors to boot. I wanted to admire that kind of sexual freedom, but I soon learned that Lou wasn’t particularly happy with her conquests. Mostly, she was angry and bitter that a one night stand was just a one-night-stand. I suggested that maybe getting to know a guy and having a relationship with him before she had sex with him might lead to more long-term interest.

She rejected that out of hand.

“Men don’t want to be in relationships with fat girls,” she said, and she scribbled something into her notebook.

What always fascinated me about Lou was that when I looked at us, I often saw the same person. Or, rather, who I could have been. She was angry and bitter and pissed off at the hand she’d been dealt. She’s had one really bad experience, and it broke her, and she believed everyone was out to betray her and piss her off and nobody would stick by her. And believing that, she created the world just as she imagined it to be.

Most of our drinking and reading sessions involved discussions about how she would get back at the latest lover who had jilted her: not returned her calls, not been up for another midnight session, told her she was just a passing fuck.

When rumors began to circulate on her dorm floor that she and I were lovers, she wanted to stage a glorious public breakup in the dining hall, perhaps to draw further male sexual interest from the woodwork.

She had a flair for the dramatic. It made her a good storyteller, but a rather undisciplined one. Her life was in such a disarray, so full of drama and angst and drunken nights, that finishing most any bit of writing at all would have been a blessed miracle.

She was living. The recording could come later.

Some of the best advice I was ever given about writing came from Geoff Ryman, and it wasn’t advice about writing at all. It was advice about life. He sat me down for my one-on-one at Clarion West after a rather stunning critique of a story of mine in which he asserted that the he found the story “personally offensive” and believed it suffered from “a failure of the imagination.” Coming from a writer like Ryman, when I was twenty years old, the youngest in the class, was like a cold slap in the face.

He said I needed to travel and read outside the genre. He said I had far too much talent to be writing sordid slash-n’hack (I still write slash n’ hack. But it’s a better sort of slash n’ hack).

When I went back to Alaska after that summer in Seattle, Lou was gone. She had had a wild “breakup” with the group of guys we hung with, told one guy’s girlfriend she’d slept with him, told that girlfriend I was a loser slut who’d slept with her boyfriend, too, and was fleeing an abusive boyfriend who’d threatened to kill me (not exactly common knowledge at the time), and tried to get the motorcycle riders to ditch me, too. It worked pretty well. Everybody got pissed off.

Lou always did have a flair for the dramatic.

I’d spent a great deal of my life, about ten years of it, working very hard at “being a writer.” Whatever the hell that was supposed to be. I believed you just had to work really hard. You had to write every day. You had to finish everything. You had to read the books in your field (unfortunately, to the exclusion of all others). You had to go to writing classes and workshops (I’d been going to one sort of workshop or another since I was 14). You had to write, to the exclusion of all else. You had to cut yourself off from other people, because only the writing was important.

Lou didn’t really do any of that. But damn, she had good stories.

I’d like to say that not a lot of my writing got done in Alaska, with all that drama, all those dark nights, all that whiskey. But I sold my first pro-rate-paying story while I was there, something I popped off in a couple hours on a dreary October night while downloading porn and music from the networked computers in my dorm.

When it’s cold and dark and you don’t have a real job, you can say yes to every opportunity that comes your way and write about it, too.

Well, you can say yes to almost everything.

I think Lou may have said yes to too much. There’s a fine line between living out loud and driving yourself into the ground.

Stories don’t come from nowhere.

I remember spending one chilly May night at a ramshackle cabin in the hills just outside Fairbanks. The floor sloped precipitously, there was no running water, and the couple who lived there were growing marijuana upstairs in the loft. We ate wild rabbit cooked up with rice, and before the beer really got flowing, me and one of the other girls took turns shooting a rifle at makeshift targets made out of the remains of a sled dog kennel.

I drank eight beers followed by a fifth of vodka and promptly heaved out a stream of projectile vomit over the porch railing. The guy from New York was playing the guitar, and the couple were dragging themselves drunkenly to bed, and I retreated out to the bonfire just off the porch (fueled, as well, by the remains of old dog kennels) with the kid from Evanston. We huddled together for warmth, and I bled out a bunch of perceived ills and moaned about how unlovable I was, and how Lou had gotten laid more than me, and about the couple heading upstairs, and how I felt I didn’t have any friends, and I didn’t fit anywhere. I always felt too smart around them. Too big, defective.

“You realize you’re a lot better than us, don’t you?” he said. “I’m not really sure why you’ve spent this long hanging out with us.”

I suppose I couldn’t help it. They had good stories.

When the guy from New York hauled me out onto the porch later and berated me for crushing on the coupled guy for the last year, I burst into tears, and he hugged me and said, “Listen, us, this group of losers, you’re not going to see us again. We’re just gonna be some guys you knew in college. This really isn’t important. It’s a chapter in your life. There’s a bigger picture. You deserve way better than that guy, and way better than us.”

Ah, my drunken Alaskan boys.

A month later, I went to Clarion. By September, the group broke apart, Lou’s forked tongue helped severe me from the crowd, and I didn’t see any of them again.

In some small, secret way, I suppose I loved them, and Lou, for being everything I wasn’t. Their expectations of the future were closer, more attainable, less risky. They wanted a good partner and a good motorcycle and good weed and a roof over their heads. They wanted enough money to live. They did not want to be known. They didn’t want to be heard. The stories they told were more private, secret histories, often far more interesting than mine, that they had no interest in broadcasting to the world. Why bother? What did they have to do with the world? That’s why they’d come to Alaska.

And it’s why I left. I wanted more in the way that the perpetually unfulfilled will always want more. I had more people to meet, more places to go, more stories to write.

Like Lou, I never wanted to get stuck in one story. I didn’t want to endlessly catalogue the mistakes of my youth. I wanted to finish what I started.

When I sent off my Clarion applications, I did so without the money to go, and without any real expectation that I would get in. I made the waiting list. I got in a month or so later by sheer virtue of the fact that somebody else didn’t want to go.

That seemed somehow appropriate.

Your writing life isn’t over once you get out of bootcamp any more than your life is over after getting married, or divorced, or having kids. Those are just mileposts on a very long marathon route, pit-stops for food and refreshment, and they usually turn out to be the places where you meet the most interesting people, and collect the best sorts of stories.

Sometimes, I can even finish some of them.

It took me a long time to realize that writing wasn’t about cutting yourself off from people and huddling in a dark room for hours and hours and hours every weekend (well, not every weekend). It was about going out into the world with big boots on and learning how to roll your own cigarettes. It was about riding motorcycles and drinking home-brewed beer and taking trains across New Zealand. It wasn’t just looking out at the world, it was about being a part of it, and living to tell the tale: yours or somebody else’s, somebody who couldn’t finish theirs.

You want to open up your hands and say to somebody, “Here, this, this is your life, what it was, what it is, what it could be. How do you want it to end?”

And I wonder if that’s why Lou never could finish a story. I wonder if she was afraid of getting stuck with the wrong ending, afraid it ended with her reading half-finished stories in a little dorm room at the edge of the world, drinking whiskey by herself on a cold, dark night, trapped by her own adolescent self and the roads she walked before the world became too much, before it reared up to get her, before she got lost to anger and fear.

I dream that she went out and made a better ending.

I know she can.

- K Hurley

Monday, August 15, 2005

On Ghosts, and the Wisdom of Dead Women

Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women, guestblogging

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been afraid of ghosts.

I grew up with the blazing image of my rebellious Aunt Karen creeping always just behind me, peering into windows, stepping in front of cars, dancing naked on the lawn under a full moon to the tune of some 70s hippie song.

She died in a car accident in 1977 at the age of 16 when she and a carful of friends pulled over on the side of the road on a foggy, rainy night.

Their car was rear-ended by a semi and burst into flames.

They were burned alive, all but the driver. He was yanked out of the flaming wreck by the driver of the semi, whose cab fire extinguisher saved the kid’s life. The kid survived with burns over 80 percent of his body.

My grandfather had to go in and identify what was left of his daughter, which he was only able to do by virtue of the clothes she was wearing. Yes, those tattered, charred remains looked a lot like clothes she owned.

He lost himself to drink not long after.

I was born a couple years later.

My mom wanted to call me Karin. My dad thought that was a pretty fucking morbid idea.

As a compromise, I’m named after some movie star’s daughter, though neither I nor my mother can remember which movie star, or whatever happened to her daughter.

Even so, more than one family member has mistakenly called me “Karen.”

Aunt Karen was the center of my family mythology, and my parents often dredged her up when they sought to teach me about the ills of the world. She was hanging out with disreputable people who drank and did drugs and didn’t work real jobs. She was out at 2 am at only sixteen, sixteen being a notoriously irresponsible age, of course. She was a smoker. She always dressed inappropriately, in big knee-high boots and short skirts and dresses she often made herself.

And she died violently in a flaming, fiery wreck.

I used to have dreams about the whole world burning.

As I grew older, I was kept in check by the mistakes of a dead woman. I gave my parents detailed itineraries of where I would be, and with whom. I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up, date, or get my ears pierced until I was sixteen, that magic age. My parents were always leery of the teenage drivers I was cavorting with. I didn’t often go to others’ houses; my parents liked to keep gatherings at our place. I was given strict lectures about the Sexual Urges of Young Boys, lectures that often forgot I had sexual urges of my own.

When I did begin to date, I did so with much trepidation. Both of my grandmothers were pregnant before they married, and got stuck in less than happy marriages. My parents had been desperately in love when they married, but they were the first to say they’d gotten married too young, straight out of high school.

Men and relationships were dangerous things, as dangerous as cars.

They could end in the same sorts of wrecks.

I spent most of my time growing up in fear. Fear of living in my little town for the rest of my life, fear of going away and fucking up and dying horribly for my fuck-up. Fear of being in relationships. Fear of being a fat, lonely spinster who had only cats for company. Fears of friends who betrayed me, fear of getting too close to anyone, fear of never being close enough.

The world was full of danger. It was best I stayed home.

And while living on the stories of dead women and war brides, I decided to wait. I would wait for something to happen to me. I would wait, like the stories said, for the right guy. I would wait for those fairytale-princes, for that perfect person who would open up the world for me.

I would wait.

I started waiting at 13, and stopped waiting at 17, when it all just got to be too much.

Waiting just wasn’t my style.

I ran out of the house and shacked up with my high-school boyfriend 3 days after turning 18. We drove 250 miles from home and set up shop in a University town and struggled to make ends meet.

You know this story.

I made money waitressing. He dropped out of school, tried to do some temp work, ran away to join the Marines.

It turned out just like a fairytale, all right. Only it was the cautionary tale: the white trash straight-out-of-high-school-abusive-relationship script.

I returned back to my little town, dejected, defeated. I hadn’t listened to the stories. I’d followed one of the “bad” scripts. I’d misread.

I was supposed to be smarter than that.

There was another way to read Karen’s story.

The ghost in my house was not a wanton harlot who got her just desserts in a burst of flaming wreckage along I-5. The reason she was out that night was because she’d told her stepdad to fuck off some time earlier and moved out of a house that my mother admits was stifling. She smoked in my mom’s apartment, when she knew she wasn’t supposed to. She took pottery classes. She dressed her own way. Did her own thing. Listened to her own music, loudly. Danced, drunkenly. Had her own friends. Whereas my mom just accepted the way life was, Karen challenged it.

Karen said “No.” Karen said, “Fuck you.”

And yea, she died. And you know, we all die. It was a bad mistake on a wet, foggy road. It wasn’t a moral judgment handed down on high.

Shit happens.

When I stumbled back home, a broke waitress who could barely climb stairs because she was so out of shape, and took more comfort in binge eating than relationships, I spent days and days in bed. When I wasn’t waitressing or eating, I was sleeping. I felt dead. I felt like everything inside of me had died.

And after all that sleeping, and all of that depression, wallowing around in my own failure to do or be anything worthwhile at all, I decided a bunch of things.

I hated my job. And I didn’t have to keep it. I hated being out of shape. And I didn’t have to be that way. I hated binge eating. I could eat differently. I hated dating. I didn’t need to be dating to be whole. I hated my life. I didn’t have to.

Most of all, I was tired of being afraid. And I was tired of waiting around for someone else to save me from the flaming car wreck that had become my life.

Somewhere in the hazy realm of sleep and depression, I decided that I’d already died. I’d already lived the myth. I’d done the worst thing. I was stuck in a mediocre community college that was taking years to get through, working a mediocre job that got me nowhere, and I was being screamed at by a less-than-mediocre guy. I was living the wrong story. I was living someone else’s life.

So I decided I was dead.

And, being dead, I could start all over again.

After you die, everything else you do in your life won’t really be a failure. You’ve already reached the bottom of the well. You can either sit there splashing around in the water, or you can crawl back out, put on a different cloak, and write yourself a new life.

I decided to write a new life.

I read about other people. I found some of my mom’s old feminist books, and discovered the abusive relationship script and thought, “Holy shit! I’m not insane. Other people went through this, too, and they’re strong and smart. It doesn’t mean I’m not strong and smart.”

I found better books. I looked for strong female heroines. I found stories about women who didn’t go out “looking” for themselves: they created themselves. Often, from scratch. They got tired and started over. They realized the world they saw wasn’t the one that worked for them. They made another.

I found Betty Freidan, Gloria Steinem, Shulamith Firestone, Susan Faludi. I found the dystopian fiction, 1984, Brave New World, Anthem. And there was Childhood’s End, Fahrenheit 451, The Dispossessed, and Alfred Bester and Roger Zelazny and Sturgeon and Kurt Vonnegut and Cordwainer Smith. Once I got going, I couldn’t really stop. They all went together, the feminists and the genre writers - they all looked at the world and saw other ways it could be. I read Frank Herbert and Delany and Moorcock and Octavia Butler. I fell in love with Joanna Russ. Later, I would roll over into Angela Carter and Christopher Priest and Maureen McHugh and they would open up a staggering world of possibilities.

I got some better jobs, nothing fancy, not much more than minimum wage, but they treated me better, they gave me more confidence. I stockpiled some money. I applied to universities in the most obscure place I could think of inside the US:


God bless student loans.

I bought a one-way ticket to Fairbanks.

I’d never been to Fairbanks. I didn’t know anyone there. In fact, I would be 1,600 miles from anyone I knew.

A week before I was to leave for Alaska, I made the drive out to Molten Falls park just outside my little town. I liked to go there to watch the boys jump. They’ve got a bridge over the big swimming hole, a bridge that drops 55 feet into black water. It’s a summer rite-of-passage sport for the local boys to jump off the bridge and splash around stuttering curse words and comparing bruises.

I spent the afternoon watching the boys jump.

I thought of all the things that could go wrong with a jump. Thought about broken bones and paralysis. Thought about a life lived in a wheelchair. Thought about the kid who died there two years before.

Thought about flaming, fiery death. Because it was all the same, wasn’t it?

Might as well go back to bed. It was safer there.

But then, I was dead anyway. I was someone else entirely.


Why wasn’t I jumping?

Cause, I figured, I was a girl.

I’d never seen a girl jump.

Well, fuck that. I’d make my own story.

I trekked up to the top of the bridge. I removed my jewelry and my watch. I climbed over the guardrail and stood on the bow of the bridge. I looked out at the spread of the dark water, the cliffs on either side.

You don’t really think about anything at this point, except that if you hesitate any longer, you aren’t going to do it.

I stepped off the bridge.

55 feet is enough of a drop so you’ve got quite a lot of time to think “What the fuck did I just do?” as you watch the mossy cliffs blur on either side of you.

I hit the water, cold, cold, cold.

When I looked up I could see the bubbles of air escaping my lungs and bleeding up toward the surface.

I could feel. I could see. I could think.

I wasn’t dead.

I fought for the surface and sprang free just in time to meet a guy swimming toward me.

“You OK?” he asked.

“Yea,” I said.

“I’ve never seen a girl jump before,” he said.

Well, there’s a first time for everything. When you’re dead, you can do just about anything.

And when you decide to live again, the whole world opens up.

I’ve jumped off a lot of metaphorical bridges since (I missed out bungee jumping in New Zealand a couple years ago because of weather), but it all started with that bridge. That jump. That first one-way ticket off the beaten path.

I didn’t have a script for this one.

Still don’t.

Just blind belief in possibility.

I’d grown up learning that rebellious girls died badly, and proper ones married young. I believed they were black and white stories, cautionary tales. I believed in the rules they gave me.

I believed girls didn’t jump.

I was wrong.

I believe stories have an incredible power to show us possibility. Ways the world can be, ways our lives can be. The closer and narrower your world, the more likely books can open up pathways to other places, show you other ways of seeing. It’s why stories are so dangerous. It’s why people burn books. It’s why if you want to control someone, you don’t teach them to read.

My family mythology worked in the way that many fairytales work: it taught me caution, it taught me fear, it taught me ways not to be.

But looking outside of my family’s stories, I found new ones. I found people who had chosen to live differently, who saw different ways of being.

I saw people who lived.

Three years ago, I spent the night in a bed and breakfast at the foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town. I was on a research trip for my master’s work. I was housed in a little room that smelled faintly of cat urine. It was hot and dry and the windows were open.

I sat up in the big bed watching The English Patient, dozing off to the sound of the bugs outside. I turned my head a little to the window, to the softly billowing white curtains, and I saw a pale hand pointing into the room, toward the dresser.

I froze, terrified out of my mind. When the curtain billowed again, the hand was gone. It took several more terrified minutes before I went to the barred window and looked out.

I was on the first floor, but the way that hand was pointing, whoever it was would have to have been particularly short, with a particularly long reach, in order to point through those bars and into my room. I hadn’t heard any footsteps on the gravel outside.

I looked out - looked left, looked right.

Nobody. Nothing.

I jumped into the middle of the bed and spent a sleepless night hiding and sweating under the heavy blankets, hoping the ghosts wouldn’t come for me, now, after all this time.

The next morning, at breakfast, I overheard some of the kitchen staff discussing the house ghost, a troublesome spirit who they blamed for missing kitchenware.

I spent the next few nights developing a taste for whiskey at the open bar.

But I had no other run-in with the ghost, that one or any other. What kept me up was fear. And fear comes from me, nobody else.

You can’t blame it all on the ghosts.

A few of years ago, while I was stuck back in my parents' house for six months between Alaska and South Africa, working at temp jobs to pay for plane tickets out to grad school, working to come up with the money for a student visa, one of my uncles stayed over at the house in my old room while I bunked across the hall.

He told my mom that he had a dream of Karen. She had come to him in the dream and told him, "Everything's going to be all right."

And in those dark nights when there's not enough money, when I'm reaching for wine and cigarettes to get me through the week on the way to my next life jump, when I want the world to open up but everybody's closing doors, I think of that, I think:

"Everything's going to be all right."

There's more than one message a ghost can give us.

I do sometimes still think of she, Karen, my Aunt, the wild woman with the flowers in her hair and the knee-high boots. I still fear fire. I still hesitate when making decisions straight from my gut, without the input of rational thought.

Jumping can be scary.

But I still jump. Because other people have done it. Because I know it’s possible. Because all the ghosts in the world couldn’t hold me back.

I’m the only one who can do that.

I jump because not jumping is scarier. I’ve lived that life.

I’m making another one.

- khurley

Hijacking of VanderWorld Has Begun

Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women, Guestblogging


- Khurley

Sunday, August 14, 2005


Kameron Hurley of the incendiary and fascinating Brutal Women will be guest blogging on VanderWorld starting on Monday, for two weeks. I will be taking some much-needed R&R from any kind of writing during that time and will not be checking my email or much else during that time. Having written three reviews, coordinated a book sale and contest, blogged continuously, done final rewrites and edits for Shriek, dealt with the day job, and written a 10,000-word short story in the last week or two, I am, as they say, burnt.

As for Kameron--I just love her blog, Brutal Women. It's honest, provocative, and just generally an excellent example of how you can combine the personal and the public, the political and the private, in a way that makes people want to read on.

Here's her bio, for those who might not know about her yet:

Kameron Hurley is a Clarion West grad, and got her BA in history at the U of Alaska in Fairbanks, focusing on South African political history. She received her MA from the U of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa with a dissertation on the history of women's resistance against Apartheid. She currently lives in Chicago. Her most recent work has appeared in Talebones and Strange Horizons.

One thing I will be looking forward to over the next couple of weeks is checking my own blog to see what Kameron's posted. I hope you will, too.

Also, I will post winners of the last line contest on September 1st. I need time to mull. (The contest officially closes at midnight, August 15th.)



(Evil Monkey: You're pretentious. and self-indulgent. Jeff: Am not. Why the insult? Evil Monkey: You don't know enough about hand-to-hand combat. Jeff: No, I don't. Why, should I? And if I do need to know, I'll pick up a how-to book on hand-to-hand combat, not a book on how to write about hand-to-hand combat. That'd be like buying a handle to put on a suitcase that already has one. Redundant and somehow remote. And, for the record, I usually like the posts on that blog. Evil Monkey: You're being pretentious again. Jeff: What's gotten into you? Evil Monkey: You're just so annoying. Jeff: Because I pointed out something on a thread? Well, okay, maybe I didn't express it correctly, but I know most reviewers get about five seconds to read any given book and it's really easy to get irritated with something that requires you to slow down and pay attention to it. So why should reviewers, of which I call myself one, too, automatically think they have the perspective to decide what's classic and what's not, what's important and what's not, considering that they're also being coerced by the PR flack that accompanies the book and the opinions of others? Evil Monkey: You're just contrarian. You can't leave well-enough alone. Jeff: No, I just think reviewers should stop "proclaiming" classics and whatnot and just analyze the darn book. Otherwise, it's just about ego. And that should be saved for hyperbolic book blurbs by authors blurbing their friends. Evil Monkey: You probably disagree with this guy, too, don't you? Jeff: And what if I do? Are you sick? Feverish? What's gotten into you? Evil Monkey: YOU PROMISED ME A COLUMN AND ALL I GOT WAS A SHITTY COMIC STRIP! Jeff: Er, well, I did, but then I got a little squeamish about unleashing you on an unsuspecting world. Evil Monkey: But, but, I went out and made t-shirts and everything... Jeff: Okay. Well, what about a refocus. Maybe it's not just a general column. Maybe it focuses on one thing. I'd feel more comfortable with that. Evil Monkey: ...That's fair, I guess. How about the State of Genre Fiction. Jeff [shuddering]: Er, no. I'd like to keep my career intact, thanks. Evil Monkey: The State of Genre Awards? Jeff [shivering]: Er, again, no. Evil Monkey: Movie tie-ins? Jeff: Sounds better. How about movie reviews? Evil Monkey: Only if it's no-holds-barred. Jeff: Fair enough. You can start in September. Now, will you stop insulting me? Evil Monkey: Only if you promise never to make a movie.)


Here's a consolidated list of everything that's still available. If it disappeared from the old list, it has already sold. I'll continue to use this particular blog post to mark what has sold for the next couple of weeks, and then we'll close it down and we'll sell the rest on Amazon. THANKS for your orders. We've made about $1,000 from the sale so far, and, more importantly, gotten a lot of books out of the house and to good homes.

A few notes

(1) We've slashed prices on a few more things, as marked in bold.
(2) Having just received 10 copies of an Eos fall sampler (shudder--more books in the house! arggh!), the first 10 people to order from now on will receive this free.
(3) The next person to order will get Cat Magic and the Tolkien book (see below) free.

Terms are as follows: payment by paypal to or check or money order made out to me sent to POB 4248, Tallahassee, FL 32315. Shipping in the US (media mail)/Canada (surface) is free on orders $12 and over. Otherwise, it depends on how much you order, how we’re shipping it, and where we’re shipping it. Just email us about what you want to buy at and we’ll let you know if the books you want are still available and the shipping cost.

All books should be in good-as-new condition (some haven’t been read) unless otherwise noted.



Feeding the Glamour Hogs by Mark McLaughlin. I turned up three extra copies of this rare Ministry of Whimsy chapbook release. (Wish I'd find some more of Danger Music by Stepan Chapman, but no such luck.) Blurbed by Thomas Ligotti, among others. Short, sharp tales of horror and the surreal. $4. REDUCED TO $3.

Punktown by Jeffrey Thomas – First edition trade paperbacks, some of them in their original wrappers. Three copies available. A Ministry of Press book. $15.00

The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases – The Pan Macmillan hardcover. First edition. Happy to sign it. One copy available. $40.00. SOLD 8/14

Dradin, In Love – My first book, from Buzzcity Press. I just found an extra 10 copies and am making two of them available for $60 each. They’re going on Amazon for as high as $120. SOLD 8/14 - only one still available.


Broderick, Damien – Godplayers - $4.00 REDUCED TO $2 – A series of weird events involve an Average Joe in a multi-world war and a quest for discovery through the cosmos. Sex with purple vegetables. From Thunder’s Mouth Press.

Falkner, John Meade – The Lost Stradivarius - $100.00 REDUCED TO $65--SOLD 8/15– A novel and two short stories by a master of the macabre. A Tartarus Press book. Introduction by Mark Valentine. Pristine condition. Copy #214 of 300. Signed. Ribbon. Out of print—only available used.

Gale, John – A Damask of the Dead - $75.00 REDUCED TO $65--SOLD 8/15– Decadent prose poems by the forgotten master. A Tartarus Press book. Pristine condition. Copy #81 of 250. Signed. Out of print—only available used.

Gorey, Edward and Lamport, Felecia – Light Metres - $170.00 (Or Best Offer) – Copy #53 out of 350. Illustrated by Gorey. Slipcased. Good condition. Signed by Gorey and Lamport. This is a steal.

Houellebecq, Michel – H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life - $16.00 – Galleys of this irascible and compelling and sometimes annoying and apologetic book from Believer Books. SOLD - 8/16

Monteleone, Thomas – Fearful Symmetries, Cemetery Dance hardcover, story collection, PC copy but signed by author and Rick Hautala - $15.00 REDUCED TO $10.

Salmonson, Jessica Amanda – The Dark Tales - $40.00 REDUCED TO $22 - SOLD 8/17 – Macabre short stories by the cult author. Limited edition of 225 copies. Not signed or numbered. Pristine condition.

Voltaire, Francois Marie Arouet – Candide and Zadig - $50.00 REDUCED TO $37 – Out-of-print, leather-bound Franklin Library edition. Pristine condition.

Wagner, Karl Edward – Where Summer Ends - $35.00 – Signed by the author. A Pulphouse mini-trade paperback short story. First edition in excellent condition. $35. (This price undercuts the current ABE prices for a signed first.) REDUCED TO $30.

Wandrei, Howard – The Eerie Mr. Murphy - $40.00 REDUCED TO $35 – The collected fantasy tales (volume 2) of the pulp era writer, contemporary of Lovecraft. A Fedogan & Bremer book. First edition. Pristine condition. A beautifully designed book. SOLD - 8/16

Wandrei, Howard – Time Burial - $40.00 REDUCED TO $35 – The collected fantasy tales (volume 1) of the pulp era writer, contemporary of Lovecraft. A Fedogan & Bremer book. Illustrated. First edition. Pristine condition. A beautifully designed book. SOLD - 8/16


Cinema of Mystery – Rose London - $4.00 – A lavishly illustrated/photograph-based look at horror films through the ages. Good condition. Trade paper.

Hellblazer: All His Engines by Mike Carey and Leonardo Manco. An excellent installment in the John Constantine saga. In perfect condition. Hardcover. $15. REDUCED TO $10.

Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits – Ennis and Simpson collaboration – $5.00 – The John Constantine story continues. Trade paper. Excellent condition.

Sun Moon Star – Kurt Vonnegut and Ivan Chermayeff - $50.00 REDUCED TO $30 – Children’s picture book. Large-sized hardcover. Excellent condition. Some scuffing on the dust jacket, though.


Anon - Comic Epitaphs From the Very Best Old Graveyards – Hardcover. Small-sized. Delightful. Some scuffing. Good condition generally. Illustrated. From Peter Pauper Press. $4.

Anthony, Piers – Out of Phaze - hardcover first edition, $10.00 REDUCED TO $6.

Bowden, Mark – Road Work - $10.00 REDUCED TO $5 – A collection of journalism by the author of Black Hawk Down. Perfect condition except for a few dog-earred pages. First edition.

Denton, Bradley – Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede - $7.00 REDUCED TO $4– Classic rock ‘n’ roll novel for the new millennia. First edition but, tragedy: with remaindered mark. Good condition.

Farmer, Philip Jose – Dayworld – hardcover, $5.00 REDUCED TO $4.

Fowler, Karen Joy – The Sweetheart Season – hardcover, first edition, $20.00 REDUCED TO $10.

Hart, Josephine – Damage – hardcover, remaindered, $4.00 REDUCED TO $3.

Izzi, Eugene – The Criminalist - $8.00 REDUCED TO $5.– A mystery novel with a cool cover. Don’t know much about this guy. Maybe you do. First edition. Good to pristine condition.

Kenneth Morris – The Dragon Path: The Collected Stories of Kenneth Morris - $10.00 REDUCED TO $7.- The collected stories of the Welsh fantasy (mythology-based) writer. First edition. Pristine condition.

Koontz, Dean – Cold Fire – hardcover, $5.00 REDUCED TO $3.

Kress, Nancy – Brain Rose – hardcover, dustjacket a bit tattered, $4.00 REDUCED TO $3.

Newman, James – Midnight Rain (intro by Ed Gorman) – hardcover, $10.00 REDUCED TO $4.

Piercy, Marge – He, She and It – hardcover, first edition, $10.00 REDUCED TO $5.

Pynchon, Thomas – Vineland – hardcover, remaindered, first edition, $7.00 REDUCED TO $5.

Salmonson, Jessica – John Collier and Fredric Brown Went Quarrelling Through My Head: Stories – An early collection, from Ganley, of the noted fantasist's work. Hardcover. $8.00. REDUCED TO $5. - SOLD 8/17

Sarrantonio, Al (editor) – Flights - $12.00 REDUCED TO $4.00 – Humongoid collection of fantasy stories, including Jeff Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, etc. Good condition (several pages dog-earred).

Spitzer, Mark – Chum - $12.00 REDUCED TO $5 – Raunchy ride through the “Alaska nobody wants to believe exists.” First edition. Good condition.
Stewart, Michael – Monkey Shines – hardcover, $10.00 REDUCED TO $7.

Strieber, Whitley and Barry, Jonathan – Cat Magic - $3.00 REDUCED TO $2 -SOLD 8/17 – The classic “cat magic” novel in highly collectable book club edition. The cover features a snarling feline stomping a city. It doesn’t get any better than this. This Pet Semetery rip-off will delight you for hours on end. If you don’t buy it, we may just toss it.

Thornton, Lawrence – Under the Gypsy Moon – hardcover, first edition, $12.00 REDUCED TO $8.

Wilson, F. Paul – Select – hardcover, first edition, $14.00 REDUCED TO $8.


Baxter, Stephen – Mayflower II - $10.00 REDUCED TO $7 – A PS Publishing signed, numbered (#177) edition by the science fiction author. Novella. SOLD 8/14

Coe, Jonathan – The Rotter’s Club - $3.00 – Funny coming of age story about the 1970s. SOLD 8/14

Egan, Jennifer – Look at Me - $3.50 – Surreal pseudo-genre novel thingee. Fashion model fiction? Good condition.

Ferguson, Will – Happiness - $7.00 REDUCED TO $5 – A novel satire on the self-help industry. Has a full dust jacket over the trade paper boards. British edition. Good condition.

Game, Conrad Williams - novella, Earthling Pub, trade paper, $5.00 REDUCED TO $3.

Hughart, Barry - Eight Skilled Gentlemen - A wonderful novel in the Master Li and Number Ten Ox series. I'm only parting with it because I recently bought the omnibus of all three novels. Slightly worn exterior. Otherwise, fine. $7. REDUCED TO $5.

Kennedy, Thomas E - The Book of Angels – A novel from the cult author of Unreal City, from Wordcraft of Oregon, the legendary surreal/magic realist publisher. Trade paper. Like new. $7. REDUCED TO $4.

Kennedy, Thomas E. – Drive, Dive, Dance & Fight – A short story collection from the noted cult author. Like new. $5. REDUCED TO $4.

Lebbon, Tim – Changing of Faces – PS Publishing trade paper, reviewer copy, $6.00 REDUCED TO $3.

Locke, Norman – A History of the Imagination - $3.00 – Postmodern tale of adventure in a metaphorical Africa from the august Fiction Collective Two. (It’s signed, but to Jeff.)

McKenna , Juliet E. – Turns & Chances – $10.00 REDUCED TO $5 - A PS Publishing signed, numbered (#434) edition by the fantasy author. Novella.

Sparks, Rennie – Evil - $4.00 – Unsettling stories by the lyricist for the goth-country band The Handsome Family. Lavishly illustrated. William S. Burroughs meets Carson McCullers.


Tolkien, J.R.R. – The Two Towers - $2.00 REDUCED TO 50 cents - SOLD 8/16 – Obscure fantasy novel about elves and orcs and other weird things by an author more known for his opium habit and promiscuous sex life than for his writing. In a Del reprint. For anyone who might not already have it. Name “Kennedy” magic markered into the front inside cover.


Ann is finally willing to part with her collection of horror mass market paperbacks. Many of these books are in new condition as she received multiple copies. Some are gently-read, but all are in good or better condition. Most are from the late 80’s and early 90’s during the boom of horror novels, so some could be quite rare. No mixing or matching of individual books. Each grab bag is $15 REDUCED TO $10, including shipping within the US/Canada. Bag 5 is all women. Bag 7 is nonfiction.

Bag 1- Horror
Andrews, V.C. – Heaven
Campbell, Ramsey – The Influence
Grant, Charles L. – The Pet
Koontz, Dean – The Servants of Twilight
McCammon, Robert R. – Gone South
McDowell, Michael – The Elementals.
Silva, David – Come Thirteen
West, Owen (Dean Koontz) – The Mask
Wright, T.M. – Nursery Tale
Wright, T.M. – The Waiting Room

Bag 2 - Horror
Andrews, V.C. – My Sweet Audrina
Etchison, Dennis (ed.) – The Dark Country
Grant, Charles L. (ed.) – Terrors
Hodge, Brian – Deathgrip
Koontz, Dean – The Mask
Leiber, Fritz – Conjure Wife
Lumley, Brian – Demogorgon
Newland, John – Primal Instinct
Skipp, John and Craig Spector – The Cleanup
Wilson, F. Paul – The Keep

Bag 3 - Horror
Hodge, Brian – Dark Advent
Koontz, Dean – Darkfall
Koontz, Dean – Lightening
Lovecraft, H.P. – The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
Miller, JP – The Skook
Nichols, Leigh (Dean Koontz) – The House of Thunder
Saul, John – Brain Child
Schow, David – The Kill Riff
Williamson, Chet – Dreamthorp
Wright, T.M. – A Manhattan Ghost Story

Bag 4 - Horror
Andrews, V.C. – If There Be Thorns
Citro, Joseph A. – Shadow Child
Coyne, John – Hobgoblin
Farris, John – Scare Tactics
Hodge, Brian – Darker Saints
Kendrick, Tony – Night-Time Guy
Koontz, Dean – Twilight Eyes
Simmons, Dan – Carrion Comfort
Williamson, Chet – Dreamthorp
Wright, T.M. – The Woman Next Door

Bag 5 – Horror (All Women)
Andrews, V.C. – Fallen Hearts
Hoover, Dale – 65mm
Koja, Kathe – Strange Angels
Ptacek, Kathryn – Kachina
Ptacek, Kathryn (ed.) – Women of Darkness (anthology)
Rusch, Kristine Kathryn – Sins of the Blood
Salmonson, Jessica Amanda – Anthony Shriek
Wood, Bari – The Tribe
Wood, Bari & Jack Geasland – Twins
Yarbro, Chelsea Quinn – Dead and Buried

Bag 6 - Horror
Andrews, V.C. – Dark Angel
Barker, Clive – Weaveworld
Campbell, Ramsey – Ancient Images
Campbell, Ramsey – Midnight Sun
Campbell, Ramsey (ed.) – New Terrors II (anthology)
King, Stephen – The Dead Zone
McCammon, Robert R. – Blue World
Nichols, Leigh (Dean Koontz) – Shadowfires
Strieber, Whitley – The Wolfen
Van Hise, James & Jessica Horsting (eds.) – Midnight Graffiti (anthology)

Bag 7 – Just to mix it up - Non-Fiction - Crime & Supernatural, etc
Barnes, Margaret Anne – Murder in Coweta County
Bugliosi, Vincent & Ken Hurwitz – Shadow of Cain
Godwin, John – Murder USA: The Ways We Kill Each Other
Keyes, Daniel – The Minds of Billy Milligan
Lunde, Donald T. & Jefferson Morgan – The Die Song
McGuire, Christine & Carla Norton – Perfect Victim
Mitchell, Paige – Act of Love
Smith, Michelle & Lawrence Pazder, M.D. – Michelle Remembers
Winer, Richard & Nancy Osborn – Haunted Houses
Winn, Steven & David Merrill – Ted Bundy: The Killer Next Door

Bag 8 – Horror
Bloch, Robert – Psycho House
Daniels, Les – No Blood Spilled
Dillard, J.M. - Specters
Gates, R. Patrick – Tunnel Vision
Hodge, Brian – Nightlife
Kisner, James – Earthblood
Masterson, Graham – The Manitou
Morlan, A.R. – The Amulet
Wilde, Kelley – Mastery
Williamson, J.N. – Horror House

Bag 9 – Horror
Bloch, Robert – Psycho House
Daniels, Les – No Blood Spilled
Etchison, Dennis (ed.) – Metahorror
Lee, Tanith – Dark Dance
Little, Bentley – Revelation
Morlan, A.R. – The Amulet
Morrell, David – The Covenant of the Flame
Reed, Rick R. – Obsessed
Tem, Melanie – Prodigal
Wagner, Karl Edgar (ed.) – Year’s Best Horror Stories 14


Forbidden Lines. A North Carolina literary magazine, trade paper, with work by Frederik Pohl, John Kessel, and Joe Bob Briggs (?!) in it. $3.

North Carolina Literary Review: SF & Fantasy in North Carolina - $3.00 – Features John Kessel, F. Brett Cox, including essays, interviews, etc. Good condition. Trade paper.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Just a short update to the book sale. We're adding a few items and didn't want them to get lost. Go to the original post for details on shipping costs, etc.

Er, and please don't think I'm turning this blog into a flea market. This madness will all end soon enough...

In no particular order, as if you were browsing through a particularly disorganized New Orleans bookstore...

Feeding the Glamour Hogs by Mark McLaughlin. I turned up four extra copies of this rare Ministry of Whimsy chapbook release. (Wish I'd find some more of Danger Music by Stepan Chapman, but no such luck.) Blurbed by Thomas Ligotti, among others. Short, sharp tales of horror and the surreal. $4.

Where Summer Ends by Karl Edward Wagner. Signed by the author. A Pulphouse mini-trade paperback short story. First edition in excellent condition. $35. (This price undercuts the current ABE prices for a signed first.)

Hiking Vancouver Island by Shannon and Lissa Cowan. A guide to Vancouver Island's Greatest Hiking Adventures. Up-to-date and helpful. We used it extensively during our recent vacation. Trade paper. A few pages dog-earred. Otherwise, good condition. $5.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. This is lovely. We recently received an extra copy of this one and can't think of a good reason to hold onto it. One of Allsburg's mysterious picture books. In pristine condition. $10.

All His Engines: Hellblazer by Mike Carey and Leonardo Manco. An excellent installment in the John Constantine saga. In perfect condition. Hardcover. $15.

Cocksure by Mordecai Richler. New Canadian Library mass market paperback edition of the novel by the legendary Canadian writer. Love his work. $2.

Comic Epitaphs From the Very Best Old Graveyards. Hardcover. Small-sized. Delightful. Some scuffing. Good condition generally. Illustrated. From Peter Pauper Press.

John Collier and Fredric Brown Went Quarrelling Through My Head: Stories by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. An early collection, from Ganley, of the noted fantasist's work. Hardcover. $8.00.

Forbidden Lines. A North Carolina literary magazine, trade paper, with work by Frederik Pohl, John Kessel, and Joe Bob Briggs (?!) in it. $3.

The Book of Angels by Thomas E. Kennedy. A novel from the cult author of Unreal City, from Wordcraft of Oregon, the legendary surreal/magic realist publisher. Trade paper. Like new. $7.

Drive, Dive, Dance & Fight by Thomas E. Kennedy. A short story collection from the noted cult author. Like new. $5.

Eight Skilled Gentlemen by Barry Hughart. A wonderful novel in the Master Li and Number Ten Ox series. I'm only parting with it because I recently bought the omnibus of all three novels. Slightly worn exterior. Otherwise, fine. $7.

NOTE: The Evil Monkey Last Line Contest Ends Monday.

Friday, August 12, 2005


A couple of people asked me to explain my choices for best graphic novel, as posted on the Forbidden Planet website and briefly mentioned on this blog. Because of my rather loaded schedule, below find a somewhat hurried list of descriptions and explanations. The descriptions are almost all taken from the FP website. See their listings (via my list on their site) for more information on each.


The Compleat Moonshadow
Description: Journey from the farther reaches of outer space to the starry skies of the inner spirit as the young dreamer Moonshadow and his cynical alien companion ira set forth on the unforgettable intergalactic odyssey that science-fiction great Ray Bradbury called "beautiful, original, haunting."
Why It’s #1: This story of Moonshadow basically having all kinds of terrible things happen to him—including war, personal hardships, and much else--as he moves through life is about the search for identity and freedom. It’s the visceral nature of the first two-thirds of the book that allow the mysticism of the latter sections to work. It’s my number one because it is beautifully drawn and executed, because the dialogue is raw and pitch-perfect, and because a book like this could easily have fallen apart, been pretentious, etc. Instead, it’s an unqualified triumph, taking the most brutal scenes and images to make something beautiful.

The Nikopol Trilogy
Description: The inspiration for creator Enki Bilal’s latest film, Immortal! Alcide Nikopol is awakened in 2023 after 30 years in suspended animation, but his body is possessed by the Egyptian god Horus, on the run from his fellow gods!
Why It’s On This List: The description above doesn’t do justice to a complex, very funny and very moving book that is about the nature of immortality and the nature of the ephemeral. Should this concept work? Egyptian Gods? A future Paris? A man who comes back from suspended animation? Hell no. But it does because Bilal’s art work is so stunning and because the story is bravely and honestly told. Again, the audacity of the story and the audacity of the artwork together put this high on the list, because it would have been so easy for it to fall apart. The accomplishment is, like Moonshadow, astounding.

Description: How to describe Dave McKean’s surreal, experimental masterpiece? I really can’t do it justice. Let’s just say it’s about everyday life and not about everyday life at the same time.
Why It’s On this List: McKean uses a variety of art styles in this jazz-infused surreal classic. Again, it’s hard to describe it, but the effect is chaotic, edgy, and utterly convincing. It shudders and mutters its way into comprehension and back out again.

V for Vendetta
Description: If ever there were a topical graphic novel for these times, this would be it. A near-future Britain (well, it was when the book was written!), run by a right-wing dictatorship. Oppression, secret police and concentration camps. Enter Codename V, a faceless figure in a Guy Fawkes mask, slowly taking apart the fascist state in dramatic moves as the net attempts to draw in on him.
Why It’s On This List: I think Alan Moore has become such an icon of the field that a few people are going to be surprised that his highest book on this list is #4. But on certain days, V for Vendetta, From Hell, and The Watchmen could easily be 1, 2, and 3. Regardless, V for Vendetta is the most focused, edgiest, and most bloody-minded of all of his creations. It gives and takes no quarter. The illustration style is perfect for the subject matter and the drama that plays out is unsettling and utterly topical. It’s the kind of book that incorporates politics without becoming dated.

From Hell
Description: Alan Moore's Victorian masterpiece. A detailed graphic analysis of the Jack the Ripper murder case. Truly one of the greatest achievements of modern comics with evocative art by Eddie Campbell.
Why It’s On This List: I hate Jack the Ripper stories, with a passion. Most of them are crap or just played for the shock value. When I picked up Moore’s take on this subgenre, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed. Instead, I found that he had managed to make the entire idea fresh and new. From Hell was one of the first graphic novels that I ever read, and it convinced me immediately that graphic novels could equal “real” novels and easily surpass them, in the best examples. This is on my list for a reason totally different than the reasons for the first four. The first four start out with original ideas and push them as far as they can go. In From Hell, Moore proved you could take traditional subject matter, reinfuse it with life, and come up with something startling, strangely beautiful, and deep.

The Luck in the Head
Description: The graphic novelization of M. John Harrison’s classic story from his collection Viriconium, set in the imaginary city of the same name.
Why It’s on This List: Ian Miller is an underrated artist, and this is one of his best efforts, combining photography and art to great effect. He manages to capture the nuances of Harrison’s work perfectly (at least to this reader’s eye). It makes for a strange, uncompromising fantasy—alien and alienating.

The Incal
Description: Moebius, joined forces with writer Alexandro Jodorowsky for THE INCAL! This new volume, a perfect jumping on point, presents the first part of the classic adventure of science-fiction detective John Difool, illustrated by Moebius and written by Jodorowsky and updated with new colors by Beltran. John Difool, a low class detective in a degenerate world, finds his life turned upside down when he discovers an ancient artifact called "The Incal." Difool's adventures will bring him into conflict with the galaxy's greatest warrior, The Metabaron, and will pit him against the awesome powers of the Technopope.
Why It’s On This List: When Jodorowsky stopped making films like Santa Sangre and El Topo, we lost a master of surreal filmmaking. But we gained a graphic novelist of bizarre and outrageous scope who found that without a film budget to constrain him, he could do anything his rather limitless imagination could conjure up. Sometimes that has led to excess, but in the Incal, Jodorowsky’s collaboration with the legendary Moebius, he perfected his individual-against-the-state mythos in stunning fashion. Jodorowsky’s satire of our modern society and his humanity shine through in what would be one of the more stunning SF films ever shot, if it could be brought to the screen.

The Watchmen
Description: Probably Alan Moore’s most famous comic, this along with Dark Knight really gave birth to comics’ popularity. Based around the notion "What would the world be like if super-heroes really existed?" this is a dynamic intricately plotted answer. Dave Gibbons’s meticulous art adds to the overpowering sense of detail.
Why It’s On This List: When I first encountered Watchmen, I had only the normal clichés of superhero comics in my head. This comic exploded that completely. Like In Hell, it subverts the genre and does so brilliantly. It’s on my list for that reason and because it’s unrelentingly adult.

Description: “Bone is in many ways traditional fantasy. It has all the staples: a magical kingdom, an imperilling evil, an orphaned princess who does not know the truth of her origins, and even dragons. But the three central characters, the Bone cousins, are weird, cartoony, Schmoo-like creatures, visually at odds with the naturalistically depicted world around them - a conceit that could only be pulled off in comics - and are rounded, conflicted individuals who manage to become heroes almost in spite of themselves. Writer/artist Jeff Smith has composed a 1,000-page epic which succeeds in breathing new life into old tropes.” – James Lovegrove
Why It’s On This List: I couldn’t really say it any better than Lovegrove above. Although I would add that it is an absolutely hilarious book, filled with slapstick humor.

Description: The legendary manga version of the anime by Japan’s most beloved animated film director, about a polluted future Earth.
Why It’s On This List: Although in many ways this manga version does not have the power of the animated version, it is much more complex and thus contains plenty of delights based on that greater complexity. Miyazaki’s vision of environmental issues and our relationship with the Earth is not only topical, it’s radical in many ways.

Box Office Poison
Description: Clocking in at 608-pages (!), this epic story of Sherman, Dorothy, Ed, Stephen, Jane, and Mr. Flavor is not to be missed. Alex Robinson's completely natural and inspiring knack for dialogue has made his story of dreary jobs, comic books, love, sex, messy apartments, girlfriends (and the lack thereof), undisclosed pasts, and crusty old professionals one of the most delightful and whimsical graphic novels to hit the stands in years.
Why It’s On This List: This is the only graphic novel on this list where I could take or leave the drawing style. Which is to say, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s the story that’s the thing, and this is why it’s farther down on my list. For me, the perfect graphic novel is a blend of the writing and the art. Here, the story being realistic, the art style fits the book, but it’s less interesting on just the art level than many of the books on this list. But the characters all ring true and the situations (as someone who worked in a bookstore, I can tell you) ring true as well. Page-turning narrative drive.

Description: The Frank book collects both of Jim Woodring's previous Frank books (now out of print) in one large hardcover. Woodring (whose toys are featured elsewhere in this issue) is a master of the surreal and often wordless adventure. The art, tho' often strange, is stunningly beautiful.
Why It’s On This List: Frank exists in that realm of dream logic that overpowers the need for standard narrative and shows that words aren’t necessary. Disturbing, brilliant, and often insane, Frank is the epitome of the modern surrealist ideal. Everything that happens seems right, even if it makes no causal sense. I came away from this book with my mind rearranged and permanently altered.

Sock Monkey
Description: This book is a compilation of the four "Sock Monkey" comics. Beautifully drawn and full of the black and at times bizzare humour Millionaire is becoming famous for. Featuring Sock Monkey and Drinky Crow.
Why It’s On This List: Using childlike situations in disturbing new contexts, Sock Monkey is radical and twisted. It often evokes more emotion than it should and more unease. It is more linear than Frank, but partakes of the same dream logic. “Maakies,” by the same writer, is even more insane.

Description: Our favorite demonchild, employed as superhero, in a series of occult and/or Indiana Jones-style adventures peppered with humor and convoluted Nazi subplots.
Why It’s On This List: The blockprint style of illustration is compelling and dark, while the stories are delightful, even for being dark. This is more traditional and superficial fare, but it’s exceedingly well executed.

Description: A small boy has nightmarish encounters with aliens, the Devil, and other nasties.
Why It’s On This List: Next to Vasquez’s Nickelodeon series Invader Zim, this is his best work, both hilarious and often genuinely disturbing. The best of the next generation of pseudo-Goth graphic novelists.