Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Sunday, April 27, 2008
(the following is part of an ongoing series of columns I did for The Erotica Readers & Writers Association on the ins and outs and ins and outs and ins and outs of writing good smut)
I've said it before and I'll say it again, creating anything is damned hard work. Movies, books, plays, music, painting - anything. It takes determination, lots of failures, facing a lot of personal demons, and a hellava lot of other icky stuff just to make something out of nothing, let alone send it out there into the world. What needlessly makes it harder is when that work is splattered by some unenlightened pinhead who feels that because they CAN say something nasty, they SHOULD.
Sour grapes? You betcha. But believe it or not, this isn't about anything I've written. Instead, this rant is about the reviews I've seen for what I thought where thoroughly excellent movies, books or what have you - demeaned if not ruined by droolers who can't wait to show off their 'smarts' by trashing something that took an author, painter, musician or movie crew years to create. Oh, yes, I've heard it all before: the sacredness of Free Speech, the Web as "the great equalizer," the chance for the "little guy" to be heard. I'm all for intelligent discussions and thoughtful criticism but if you can't be intelligent, can't manage thoughtful then keep your gob shut.
What does this have to do with writing? Well, aside from perhaps putting a dollop of empathy in those of you out there who like to post bad reader reviews, this is also about how to give good criticism.
Too often writers work in the dark, meaning they have absolutely no idea if their work is any good. They show it to mothers, fathers, boyfriends, girlfriends and so forth who obviously are not going to say anything but "fantastic, honey!" The only other option is to find a writer's group, a bunch of folks who share the same goal: to write as well as they can. The problem is, writer's groups way too often catch the same pitiful disease that infects Reader's Review posters. Straight up insults or what are thought to be 'witty' jokes fly, personal tastes get in the way, jealousy clouds respect, "old hands" turn into "old crows," and people get hurt for no good reason.
Rule of Thumb for Giving Good Criticism #1: Don't give criticism that you wouldn't like to get. Think before telling or writing anything about another writer. Put yourself in their shoes - especially if it's someone just starting out. Would you like to hear that your story "sucked?" Of course not, so don't say it.
Rule of Thumb for Giving Good Criticism #2: Don't be "funny." Make jokes on your own time, not at the expense of someone else. Criticism is not your stage; it's talking about someone else's. If you want applause, get up there on the stage yourself. Otherwise see the title of this column.
Rule of Thumb for Giving Good Criticism #3: Give as well as take. Never give a completely bad review of someone else's work. A lot of things go into a story: plot, characterizations, dialogue, descriptions, pacing, - it all can't be bad. I've very often hated a film (for example) but loved the soundtrack, one special actor, the dialogue in one scene, whatever. Leave the author something that they did well, even if it was just that the paper was clean.
Rule of Thumb for Giving Good Criticism #4: This story wasn't written for you. The fact that the story didn't turn you on is your problem, not the author's. I can't say this enough. If you hate westerns but you have to critique someone's western story don't say you hate westerns - or do I really have to be that obvious?
Rule of Thumb for Giving Good Criticism #5: Leave your baggage at home. If you don't like the 'politics' in a story, then shut up. If you don't enjoy a certain kind of food mentioned in a story, then shut up. If you don't like a kind of sex in a story, then shut up. If you don't like - you get the point.
Rule of Thumb for Giving Good Criticism #6: Be specific. No, not down to word and sentence, but rather avoid saying things like the plot was "bad," or "dumb," or "predictable." Rather, give useful information: "There was too much foreshadowing, especially on page two. I could see the ending coming from then on."
I could go on but I hope I've made my point. If I could sum all this up into a rather long fortune cookie it would be to try and remember that it's easier to criticize than create, but more important to create than criticize - or at least help create, rather than harm.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
He looks just like you. He acts exactly like you. He takes away your job. He steals your friends. He seduces your lover. Every day he becomes more and more like you, pushing you out of your life, taking away what was yours - until there's nothing left. Where did he come from? Robot? Alien? Clone? Doppelganger? Evil twin? Long lost brother? Me2: A Novel of Horror, a shocking new view of queer identity, is a groundbreaking and wildly twisted novel that you'll remember for a long time - no matter who you are, or who you may think you are.
Following the publication of author M. Christian's surreal, humorous and horrifying novel of gay identity and existence, a devious imposter has surfaced claiming to be the real, non-imitation M. Christian. A question mark now hangs over the authorship of Me2 - was it written by the real M. Christian, or by his imposter?
We caught up with who we think is the real M. Christian - who insists he didn't write the book - and asked him about it anyway.
Where did you find the original impulse to write the book?
What book are you talking about? If you mean that travesty, the nightmare that’s been haunting my every waking moment, the book that has supposedly been written by me but that was actually authored by a madman claiming to be me, who’s attempting to steal my career and take away everything that has ever been, or ever will be, me, then this interview is over!
How many times do I have to say it: I did not write the novel Me2. Certainly it would appear to be something I’d write, being a surreal, scary, but also quite funny exploration of existence and identity, and, absolutely, it’s written in a style very similar to my own, but it’s not my work at all.
I do have to admit a certain … admiration for the author, thief that he might be. I’ve been thinking of a similar book myself and it’s been quite a shock to discover that he’s created his novel using some of the same concepts. I mean who hasn’t heard of the idea that for every one of us there could be a duplicate, a copy living a similar life, out there in the world? Then there’s the mirror-image fascination idea: that on some level we’re all looking for partners who are , in some way, just like ourselves. Add these together with a few clever constructions, some nasty commentaries on our oppressively homogenous culture, the effects of mass media on identity plus the literal ‘self-love’ reflection some gay men seem to have and … well, I might well have written a similar kind of book. If, that is, this copycat and plagiarist hadn’t done it first.
What was your aim in writing about such thought-provoking and philosophical concepts as identity and existence in such a sinister and haunting way?
Again I have to protest in the most stringent of ways that I am not the author of Me2. But, putting the terrible crime aside from the moment, since I am here at your request and I need to draw as much attention as possible to this nightmarish situation, I could – possibly – imagine that this forger of my identity, this thief of my existence, really couldn’t approach the central idea of the book without making it more than a bit frightening. We all want to think of ourselves as being unique, after all. If any of us were confronted, as I have been, by an impostor, it would have a seriously traumatic affect: you are not special. You are just like someone else.
But then there’s another question: what if this other person is not only like you but is doing better with what you both have – in other words he’s a better you than you ever could be. What does that make you? An inferior copy? A cheap knockoff? It gets even worse when you push it still further: do you love, or even like, yourself – or does this better version hate you for not being all you could be, or do you hate him for being better than you?
Still, I’d approach the whole thing with a bit of humor – which in a weird way could be even scarier. A boring person would be easy to copy but someone who is clever and witty (in his own way) … well, if someone like that could have a duplicate where does that leave the rest of us?
That’s my take on it anyway. If I were to write a book like Me2 – which I did not.
How much research went into the book?
Sigh. I can see that this is going nowhere. You obviously aren’t listening to what I’ve been saying: I did not write Me2. It is a fraud, a hoax, an attempt to steal my life. After all, if I did write Me2 I would not have spent as long as this thief did – clearly days if not weeks – going to Starbucks, driving around faceless cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas, walking through shops such as Tommy Hilfiger, and reading magazines such as GQ and Instinct. Instead I would have done what most writers do: just fake it and hope for the best.
Is there a particular scene in the novel that resonates with you in a special way?
‘Resonates’ is a good way to put it, as that implies an echo, a signal copied and reflected back. Reading this book was disturbing in many ways, beyond the fact that the author is trying to steal my career and existence. If there’s a part of it that particularly struck home, it was the way the author grounded the book in familiar reality – everyday life – but still made what was happening, really happening, slippery and elusive. I also have to admire the way the author would put forth some ideas about what’s going on (clones, robots, doppelganger, demon, etc.) only to cleverly shoot down each and every theory until the final one. Despite his thievery, I have to admit I actually admire some of what he’s done with Me2. I, of course, would have done a far better job. Or at least I hope I would have ….
Are there any particular works of horror or horror authors that you would say have inspired you?
I’m actually not a huge horror fan, at least not a voracious one. I’ve always liked Michael McDowell and I’ve read everything Graham Masterton’s written, or close to it. I’m not a fan of King or Koontz. What I read a lot of is classic, old school, noir; science fiction, and comic books bu Sturgeon, Bester, Phil Dick, Alan Moore, Jim Thompson, Hammett, James M. Cain, to name a few. I do like weird stuff, too – books and such that don't really fit in any category, which is what I like to write as well. Aside from the horrible situation with the impostor, Me2 is the kind of book I love to read as well as write. The same goes for The Very Bloody Marys, the book I wrote that came out last year: funny, scary – a very different take on vampires.
Like a lot of writers, I wish I could write as well as my idols – but in the meantime I try to learn from them as much as I can and do my best. I just hope that people like what I do, which gives me the chance to do even more of what I love, which is writing.
You have been published extensively in various erotic anthologies, and you wrote a series of columns for The Erotica Readers and Writers Association on ‘the ins and outs and ins and outs and ins and outs of writing good smut’. Would you care to share a few of the best tips with us?
That’s wonderful that you brought up that column. I really enjoyed doing it. In fact I’ve been reposting many of them on my site at www.mchristian.com.
Good smut? Hmm …
Okay, here’s the secret: what makes smut good smut really is what makes any writing good writing. It really has nothing to do with what tab goes into what slot or how much attention you put into describing body parts. A good smut story has to have character, crafted writing, a well thought-out plot, a vivid environment – all that great and glorious stuff. After all, sex is really in the brain, the mind, not in what’s between your legs. If you can reach that magical place between a reader’s ears then what’s below will naturally follow.
I also seriously recommend not trying to turn you or the reader on. It’s not a writer’s job to do that and, besides, there’s no way you can do it for everyone. Just be a good writer; try and reach the reader as best you can.
Your writing certainly works to get an intense reaction from readers, whether it be fear or sexual excitement; how does it feel to know that you are turning readers on with your writing?
In a word: ewwwwwww! Kidding aside, it means a lot to me that people like my work. I don’t really want to be rich (though not worrying about the rent every damned month would be nice) or famous (though I would like a cadre of loyal minions who would do my bidding, no matter how twisted or bizarre), but all I really want is for people to enjoy reading what I do: scary or sexy or anything else. One of my favorite compliments came when I was chatting with a fellow at a party. It turned out we’d both been published in the same magazine. I’d read his story and liked it, and I told him so. When he asked me what story was mine I had to admit that I’d had to use a female pseudonym. His response still makes me smile: “But I masturbated to that story!” What I love isn’t that I made him so … ‘happy’, or that I’d tricked him, but that he’d enjoyed my work so much and that I’d been good enough that it had never occurred to him that she had been a he.
Writers, after all, are basically professional liars: if we do our job well enough, you don’t realise you’re reading at all and the story just takes you away. I really hope I do that for all my readers, no matter what I’m writing.
What’s next for you?
Lemme see … I’m having lots of fun with my blog at www.mchristian.com and the one I do with my brother at www.meinekleinefabrik.blogspot.com. I have two new novels coming out very soon: Brushes is a straight erotic romance about a famous painter and the people in his life, and The Painted Doll is a cyberpunky erotic novel about a woman who has to become someone else to avoid the mob. I’m also working on the start of some new novels as well, but those are still in their nascent stages. Beyond that I’m also playing with some graphic novel projects – keep and eye on www.mchristian.com for info on them as well.
Amidst this folderol, I’m still doing the 9 to 5 work grind and having quite a lovely little life with my precious partner-in-all-things Sage Vivant and trying to survive this country – at least until the next election (fingers crossed).
What else would you like to say?
Just that this has been a lot of fun: thanks so much! I also want to take this opportunity to implore you and all your readers to, please, buy as many copies of Me2 as you can to help me shine a much-needed light on the travesty that is this impostor’s attempt to steal my hard-earned reputation and – regretfully – simple little life.
For the love of everything, he must be stopped! Accept no substitutes! I and only I, am the real M.Christian!
Or, at least, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell myself.
Me2: A Novel Of Horror, by M. Christian
Publisher: Alyson Publications
Released: 4 March 2008
From Steve Wlliams:
Think fusing a psychological thriller with an indelible horror story and whipping it up with ‘Starbucks’ style foam of vacuous, store bought normalcy and you have M. Christian’s startlingly clever novel ‘Me 2’.
The pace of the narrative could threaten leave you breathless as M. Christian floods the page, again and again, with witty observations of today’s carbon copy world, whilst always keeping the story grounded in a reality that is as morbidly real as it is fantastically uncomfortable. There are times when the book threatens to flounder, but M. Christian is a writer capable of keeping on the right side of a flagging plot, and has crafted a story where the gimmick is the real irony: all across the land, as far as your Giorgio Armani shades can let you see, there will be person after person, perfectly alike in almost every way, reading ‘Me 2’ and deservedly so.An absolute high point on my literary calendar.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
"I love a book that takes a satirical but biting look at society and its ridiculous conventions. The beauty of Me2 is the way it captures the preposterous and the real of modern life. The reader is left slightly confused and a bit afraid to look too closely at his/her own life for fear of finding the same soulless homogeneity the protagonist faces. Leave it to M. Christian to wrap this commentary in such a cozy blanket of rich fiction."
- Sage Vivant
"Me2 is an intelligent, if surreal book by M. Christian --at least, I think it's by M. Christian. he says he didn't write it --so who's the M.Christian who has stolen his name, identity and reputation as a writer of pornography and lots of other good stuff?
"Well Me2 is so gripping, it doesn't really matter who the hell wrote it! The reader is taken on a ride of paranoia and insecurity; a kafkaesque (can't spell) world of uncertainty as the protagonist's reality and identity are questioned. And following that, the reader's. Who are we/ Who am I? What is this weird place I call reality?
"Me2 raises questions that discomfort me --it leaves me afraid; agoraphobic -- claustrophobic. A horrid dread that won't leave me..."
Sunday, April 20, 2008
- Meine Kleine Fabrik is where my brother, s.a., and I post some of the wild and woolly stuff we've stumbled across and think is way too interesting not to shar
- Frequently Felt is where I put the wild and woolly stuff that's too sexy for Meine Kleine Fabrik
- Doorq is a wonderful queer SF/F/H site
- Organic Mechanic is a fantastic site dedicated to engineering an ecology
- Roobifood is a great site on food, cooking, places to eat and everything fun and edible
For readers familiar only with Christian's rousing erotic short fiction, this horror-tinged fable about the foibles of queer identity may come as a welcome literary surprise. There's no sex, and there's really only one gay character, the narrator. Actually, there are multiple gay characters, but they're all the same fellow, which is where the one-of-a-kind craft of this delicious novel comes into play.
When first met, he's a quintessentially stylish queer "boy of summer" – blond hair, clear skin, good looks, just the right amount of muscle, endowed within reason, with a honed fashion sense, an Ikea-furnished apartment, and a sensibly sporty car. He revels in a self-satisfied life of conspicuously consumptive consumerism, fueled by a day job as a Starbucks barista slacker. All is good. Until other boys of summer start to take over the narrator's world, befriending his friends, rearranging his apartment, living his life. Being him. Evil twins? Doppelgangers? Creepy figments of the imagination? Christian never explains, which is why this horrific, terrific novel manifests quirky dread so well.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Writers have different dreams than ‘civilians.’ Some of them are pretty obvious: big book deals; Pulitzers, Nobels, etc; “Honey, there’s a Mr. Spielberg on the phone; ” an Oprah sticker ….
But there are other dreams: less obvious ones. One of them, a very special one, even the most hard-core, hard-case, hard-assed grizzled hack has, but will never admit: a friend.
Not just any friend, but a friend who comes from them following your trail of silly little literary breadcrumbs. Not a fan, but someone more than that: a cherished pal, a smile on your face whenever they send a message.
I’m lucky, and very grateful, for many things: my various breaks and bursts of luck in writing; my cherished, so-wonderful Sage Vivant, my brother, Sam; the support of my mother; and – yes – some fantastic friends.
One of them, Pauline, is one year older today. I don’t really want to embarrass her but let me say a few things about this truly wonderful person.
Pauline is sweet and caring, smart and funny, giving and supportive, kind and generous – a real treasure to know.
Happy Birthday, Pauline: you’re a dream come true … for a writer or just anyone lucky enough to have you in their life.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
"Me2 is an invigorating read, full of horror, sex, seduction, and what it means to have too much identity in an age where it can easily be stolen. Read M. Christian (any one of the many) now!"
Tom Piccirilli, author of The Midnight Road and The Cold Spot
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Yet another reviewer has been tricked by my hideous doppelganger!
Brian Jewell from Edge Boston (and Bay Windows):
Until the most recent movie version, each iteration of Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been tailored to the up-to-the-minute fears of its generation. This eerie novel goes where the Nicole Kidman vehicle should have, drawing on conspiracy theories, urban anomie, identity theft and consumerism to create a subtle horror tale about erosion of the self. The nameless lead character is a shallow twink, over stimulated but isolated, who has acquaintances and tricks instead of friends, and products and catalogs instead of values. After a street crazy puts the idea of pod people in his head, our hero starts noticing strange things. People are referring to conversations he doesn’t remember and events he didn’t witness. Does he have a double? Is this doppelganger trying to steal his life from him? And does this interloper come from outer space, a secret government cloning lab, a disordered brain, or is he a thought experiment come to life? Christian keeps the reader guessing, using repetitive language and a deliberate pace to evoke our Everyman’s sense of disorientation and disconnection as he realizes that no one would notice if he were erased, while barreling towards a suitably trippy conclusion. Like a lot of good science fiction, this is as much a contemporary social satire as an unsettling fantasy.
Let me be very clear about this: I did not write the novel Me2. Yes, the book certainly sounds like a book I would write: a unusually constructed tale about queer identity, human existence, and the horror of having your life copied and stolen from you. Certainly it's with a publisher I have worked with many times before, having edited many anthologies, written one novel - Running Dry - and three previous collections of short stores - Dirty Words, Speaking Parts, and Filthy. Absolutely the style of the book - surreal yet lightly conversational and easily comprehensible - is very similar to styles I've used in past, for instance in my recently released gay vampire novel The Very Bloody Marys (from Haworth Books) ....
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
(the following is part of an ongoing series of columns I did for The Erotica Readers & Writers Association on the ins and outs and ins and outs and ins and outs of writing good smut)
This month's column comes from a request by my pal Tulsa Brown. Tulsa, and many folks on the ERWA list, have been frustrated by rejections for stories that seem to be just what the editor would be looking for: smart, stylish, deep, interesting, heartfelt, and all the rest. A sure winner, right? But even though Tulsa, and a lot of other writers, are trying their best, their labors of love keep getting shot down.
But first, a quick word about rejection slips. One of the other questions Tulsa asked was if those 'notes of doom' editors send out to let you know your baby isn't what they want for their precious anthology, are honest. Do they really express how the editor feels about your work? No, they don't. Now that doesn't mean that some editors aren't being sincere when they send out their rejections - especially if they include a personal message with their generic rejection - but it's just about impossible for one editor to write everyone who didn't make the cut. Answer: the form rejection letter. They can be polite ("Sorry, your story didn't meet the needs of our publication"), cold ("Your submission was not satisfactory"), sympathetic ("I know how tough this is") or even rude ("Don't you EVER send me this drivel again") but they mean the same thing: better luck next time.
But there is a bright side - really. Think of it this way; at least that editor spent the time to send those notes out. There are still some cowardly editors out there (shame, shame) who never reject; you just hear that your friends were accepted (and obviously you weren't) or the book comes out and you're not in it. At least getting a note - any note - means that you can now send the story somewhere else.
Now then, the Great Secret of Being Accepted. Ready? You sure?
Okay, okay, put the baseball bat down. The Great Secret of Being Accepted is ....
There isn't one!
If there were, don't you think I'd be selling it? If there were, then why the HELL do I still get rejected?
The fact is that even though you think, hope, and work really hard to give editors exactly what they want, the decision is still very subjective. In my own case, I've been rejected because:
a) The story is too long by a few hundred words
b) Didn't get aroused reading my story
c) There is already a story selected that's set in New York City
d) The editor doesn't like the use of certain 'words' in a story
e) The publisher may object to it
f) Some of the sex is 'objectionable.'
Now I've never used any of these reasons - either subconsciously or consciously - in rejecting a story, but that's just me. Every editor is unique, as are the criteria for taking (or not taking) a story. At first, that seems like a situation that should, nay must, be corrected somehow but that's just the way the world works. The editor is the boss and he or she is trying to put together the best book they can, using what stories they got, according to their own call for submissions. If there was a concrete method for selecting stories, we'd have books by machine, and anthologies created by a precise formula. Luckily for the reader, we don't, but this lack of a more scientific (or at least quantifiable) method for picking stories can be very frustrating for the writer.
If it helps, rejection never gets any easier to give or to get. As an editor, I hate to give them out, but have to because I feel writers deserve to know whether they made they cut. I'm also in a position of having to put together the best anthology - as I see it. As a writer, I still get rejection notices and will get even more in the future. It's simply part of the writing life; good, bad, or indifferent. The only remedy I can offer is to keep writing because - as I've said before - the only way a writer fails is not when they get rejected but when they stop writing.
And by keeping at it - trying to write each story better than the last one, never giving up - you'll stay on the road to becoming perhaps not a great writer but at least a better one; published, rejected, or not.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
From The Bookshelf:
Talk about an identity crisis.
M. Christian (or is it?) puts a whole new spin to the genre of mind-bending thrillers with Me2, a twisted and psychological tale of individuality and the lack of it. Though my description doesn't sound that scary or interesting, I can't do justice to Christian's pulse-pounding skill of turning one man's relatively simple life around with the numerological Genetic Mirror Theory, which says that every human has a genetic twin. (Those who haven't heard of it can check any message board or website for TV show Lost for more info.)
Christian is very unique in his delivery, carving a Starbucks-employed, California-destined, gay "Boy of Summer" into a paranoid, mentally-intuitive, questionably-sane wanderer trying to find his true self (not matter how contradictory those adjectives are). His character's pursuit for his copycat takes him many a party and gathering, one during which he unintentionally gets a little friendly with a darkness-veiled guest.
Christian's visual descriptions (when provided) are vivid and entrancing, gathered in a somewhat confusing order to throw off the reader and any concluding thoughts they may have about this so-called twin and his gradual reign over Christian's character. It's cryptic, enthralling, horrific, fascinating, and never truly reveals its secrets - a great story, indeed.