Book Thoughts, Creature Compendium

What makes a monster? Though everyone might have a different answer, to me the monstrous is a metaphor for the unknown, or the uncontrollable. You throw salt over your shoulder, or leave milk out in a bowl, just in case.

Monsters have always been with us, and despite the technological advancements of the modern world they remain at the periphery our collective imagination. Why is it that humans still see things in the shadows, go looking for bigfoot, or creatures in Loch Ness? Monsters have always appealed to my imagination, no matter how terrified I might be of the dark.

Making Monsters is an anthology that explores monstrosity through a collection of fiction, poetry and academic essays.

Here’s an interview with Djibril al-Ayad, editor of Making Monsters and The Future Fire.


Why do you think that monsters from the ancient world are such an enduring source of inspiration for creative writers and artists?

Djibril: Even though there are no totally new stories, there is a kind of fetishization of originality and inventiveness in the literary world, especially I think in the speculative genres. Don’t retell Verne or Tolkien, come up with a totally new setting and plot and character types and source of evil and magical/pseudoscientific weapon. But when it comes to the monster, somehow the familiar, especially if it’s ancient, may be that much creepier? I suppose it has so much history to draw on, so much existing resonance that you only need to hint at it, show a silhouette against the window, whisper a suggestive word, and the reader already feels the frisson of fear that they’re expecting. David Wengrow pointed out in his presentation at the “Why do we need monsters?” event that preceded the Making Monsters volume (and his 2014 book The Origins of Monsters) that since the first images of hybrids and monsters were created in the administrative seals of the Ancient Middle East, humanity spent the following five thousand years being strikingly conservative and non-creative in the design of such monsters (griffins, sphinxes, dragons, chimaeras, minotaurs are all relatively unchanged over several millennia). Having said all that, the three most popular monsters in modern horror writing and cinema—the vampire, the werewolf, the zombie—while it can be argued they have classical analogues, are not in any meaningful sense classical monsters or based on ancient mythological models. So maybe an author can think of themselves as being a bit more original when they write about a Satyr or a Gorgon instead…

Is there a monster whose story you would like to rewrite, and if so what kind of story would you tell?

Djibril: This isn’t the sort of answer I’d like to hear at all, but the last two or three times I’ve written “monster” stories, I’ve either given them a new, science-fictional rationale, totally rationalised or euhemerized the monstrous and supernatural elements, or turned them around to make the monster the misunderstood protagonist of the piece. So I don’t want to do any of those things… but perhaps I would tell the story of a Minotaur or Medusa, who has survived (or been reborn after) their famous demise, and continues to be a destructive, monstrous, villainous creature, dangerous to humanity, but it has its own complex motivations, believable decision process and morality, and challenging dénouement to face. It would be their story, but they would not be sanitized or humanized for it. That’s probably the kind of story I’d try to tell.

How do the contents of Making Monsters reflect the editorial mission of Futurefire.net Publishing?

Djibril: As with all of the anthologies FFN has published (Outlaw Bodies, We See a Different Frontier, Accessing the Future, TFF-X & Fae Visions of the Mediterranean), and indeed the magazine issues, the stories, poems and other content are selected to fulfil some or all of three criteria. Firstly there is the theme of the volume, if any: in this case classical monsters, with a worldwide focus, and retold or reimagined with a speculative dynamic. Then the story needs to be beautiful and useful—by which we mean both that it should be a pleasure to read, stylistically, linguistically, poetrically, and also that it should transcend pure entertainment, and have something to say that is bigger than its surface denotation (in a way that’s easy, since all writing is political, right?). And finally we want to produce a body of work that is social-political, diverse and representative, subversive and queer, inclusive of cultures and languages and genders and disabilities and neuroatypicalities that we see in the world around us. Not every story or poem needs to be an “issue” or an “own voices” piece, but the collective will be a delicious cacophony of issues and voices and subcultures that sings of progressive and socially responsible hope. The monsters in this volume, the world’s original outcasts, are the perfect vehicles for the sort of story that FFN wants to amplify, and this anthology ticks all of our boxes—in spades!

What’s your next project with FFN?

Djibril: We don’t have a specific “next project” lined up just yet. We have one more (unthemed) issue of The Future Fire magazine due out this year, and next year we’ll probably have a relatively quiet time. We have our four magazine issues scheduled, and we’re thinking that one or two of these might be themed and/or guest edited, but nothing confirmed yet. (I have at least a dozen ideas for themes or anthologies, but as always any project will be led by who is available to collaborate with, and so may involve none of my ideas!) We may also be building up our speculative poetry offering, also to be specified. No big anthologies or crowdfunding campaigns planned for 2019—although we could be surprised by an opportunity, which is how it usually happens! At some point in the not-too-distant future though, we will be following up on our Mediterranean-themed anthology of 2016, one of our aims for which is to achieve much better coverage of North Africa and the Near East than we did in Fae Visions.

Thanks Djibril!

Praise for Making Monsters

“…elegantly show[s] how we’re still using monsters to make sense of our fears and our dreams.”
Helen King

“I had not expected to be as emotionally moved by the monsters as I was when I read through this volume.”
Mathilde Skoie

Get the book at Powells, IndieBound, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.

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Journal, Writing Discussion

Writing:

I wrapped up draft #3 of the gothic novel, and spent August getting organized for round #4. There are character and setting details that need changing, and that means pretty much reworking the entire thing. It’s daunting, but that’s what a plan is for.

CRAFT TALK TIME – Revision Tips and Tricks

So you’ve finished a draft or few. How do you figure out what needs changing? I picked up a few tricks that help with identifying plot problems. Some of these tricks didn’t work for me before, but they do now, so YMMV. Writing tips are just tools, and here are few you might want to add to your basket:

  1. For each scene write out the main Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. – This can help you identify what a scene is lacking (a sense of purpose, why it’s happening, or tension)
  2. For each scene write what happens Plot Wise and Emotionally. Both require movement. – If nothing changes significantly, then maybe it’s just an extraneous scene, or maybe you need to make the purpose of the scene clearer.
  3. Check your scene transitions – If you can describe your current scene in one sentence and then begin the description of your next scene with “but” or “therefore” you likely have a solid case of cause and effect propelling your story, hooray! A scene can be a complication (BUT), or result of a choice (THEREFORE). If your next scene can be connected only with “and then” it might be a random diversion or coincidence, and you should look twice at whether it should be there or if the logic needs fixing. A rule of thumb (not an absolute) is that coincidences that make the story worse for characters can stay, but coincidences that make life easier for characters should go.
  4. For each scene write down who makes the decisions – If you have a problem with character agency, this can help point out where it goes wrong. Too many chapters where the main characters are forced to act instead of choosing a course of action can signal a problem.
  5. Sleep on your problems – This is a weird one, I know, but I swear it works once you train your subconscious. Before you go to bed, think of the plot problem you’re trying to solve. By morning, or in a few mornings, you’ll probably have an answer or at least an idea of how to start tackling it.
  6. Figure out the major plot and subplots, and see where they are introduced and where they end — First In, Last Out (FILO) tends to work in an overall sense, mainly because the more important a subplot is, the more time it should take to resolve. It’s a good idea to check if you’ve resolved all your subplots. I’ve also heard this technique referred to as ‘nested conflicts’, because smaller conflicts are sandwiched between bigger ones. Simple Plot Example:
    1. Main Plot (Introduced chapter 1) – We must defeat the evil king
    2. Major Subplot (Introduced chapter 3) – But we need an enchanted sword that’s guarded by a dragon
    3. Minor arc (introduced chapter 5, resolved chapter 6) – Figuring out where that sword is hidden
    4. Minor arc (Introduced chapter 7, resolved chapter 9) – Assembling the gang to help sneak past the dragon
    5. etc…
    6. Major subplot (Resolved chapter 23) – We get past the dragon and find the sword
    7. Main Plot (Resolved chapter 25 – end of book) – We do battle and defeat the evil king

Of course, figuring out where the story goes wrong doesn’t mean you can fix it, but it’s a start. There’s also a certain point when you’ve done all you can and don’t know how much else you can fix, when it really does take another set of eyes on your writing to get it better. There’s only so much you can do on your own.

Here’s another post about tackling revisions that I have bookmarked.

Reading:

I’ve been reading a lot – maybe too much? Is that possible (my parents would say yes)?  I’m one of those people that likes to binge watch several seasons of a TV series at once, so I’ve funneled that slightly obsessive bent into my reading list. (Hello procrastination!)

My goal was to finally get through my TBR pile. I am failing. I keep adding more books to the list. SEND HELP. I also think I’m going to have to cut back the reading until my next draft is done. I really need to focus.

Books: 

  • Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (YA)
  • The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee (YA)
  • Tell me Something Good by Jamie Wesley
  • MEM by Bethany C. Morrow
  • The One You Can’t Forget by Roni Loren
  • The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
  • Sweet Nothings by T. Neilson
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (Graphic Novel)
  • Moonlight on Nightingale Way by Samantha Young
  • On Dublin Street by Samantha Young
  • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • Beats Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (YA)
  • A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole
  • Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh (YA)

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