Notes from New Sodom
... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!
Saturday, July 26, 2014
One of the questions you get as a writer is "Who do you write for? Do you write for yourself, or do you have an ideal reader in mind, or whatever?" I always felt that was one of those questions that starts with a wrong premise, where you can't answer because its startpoint involves an assumption that just doesn't make sense for you. Like, do I write for myself? Not really. My noggin is just the noggin I debug and beta test the code on. I mean, I'll give any example of this program we call narrative a read-through when it's done, to see if it runs OK, but I'll also be doing that for passages throughout, while I'm writing, in this process of debugging we call "editing." So sure, I write stories I'd like to read, but when I've written a story myself, it's not like I can wipe my memory and experience that narrative as a reader who's just happened upon something to fit their tastes. Do I have an ideal reader? Not really. When someone hits me with that question, I'll sometimes talk about growing up a dorky queer kid in small town Scotland under Thatcher, about how I think of the analogues out there now, some kid stuck struggling with his sexuality in East Bumfuck, Iowa, the sort of kid I made my It Gets Better video for. How I do hope to give him the represenation I yearned for myself at that age--a queer hero sat firmly at the front seat of the bus called story, access to a water fountain of narrative that's not segregated off on the other side of the street, across from the one that all the straights get to go to, the one with the "No Gays" sign above it. But that's why I publish, really. If that kid is the type to throw VELLUM across the room at page 50, cause what the fuck is this crazy cubist crock of shit, this isn't Tolkien for homos?!... if what I'm writing is not for them, I'm not going to compromise. They're not the boss of me. I'm out to write the story that wants to be written; that's what shapes what I write--simply the sense that the story itself wants to take a certain shape. But then we start getting into all that following the muse wank. What does that even mean, the story that wants to be written? There is no magical inspiring goddess or daimon. A story is not some metaphysical sentient entity hijacking my mindthoughts as a portal into reality. Talking of inspiration like that is speshul snowflake cockfluffery. Fuck that shit. Yes, it sorta feels like the story "wants" to be a certain way, but muses, daimons, personfying the story... these are just figurative articulations we fall back on because, hello, writer. Figurative articulation is what we do. So it seems to me what's wrong with the question is it requires an answer of that sort. It assumes some sort of boss figure that I'm writing to satisfy. And that's bullshit for me. Writing is a craft, an art if it's done well enough. And that means there's shit that works and shit that doesn't. There's shit that works really fucking well. And there's shit that you think couldn't possibly work--could it? or maybe it could?--and suddenly you're realising it might be impossible--who the fuck could do that?--but if you can pull it off it would work fucking awesomely. And you give it a go without giving a fuck about some imaginary boss somewhere out there, or inside, who you're bound to serve as some pandering lickspittle. You just want to try out this idea, and if it works, it'll be for whoever the fuck wants to buy it. I mean, do people ask chefs, "Who do you cook for? Are you cooking for yourself, or do you have an ideal gourmet in mind?" Don't we just imagine that the chef, one day, realises that, hey, duck and orange would go really well together! So they try it, and if it works, they put it on the menu. For whoever. Sure, they're going to be taste-testing throughout their experiments in perfecting the dish. And at the end of it, they'll have a nice duck a l'orange to enjoy. But we don't assume that the chef who comes up with a dish like that is in thrall to their own peculiar tastes. We don't imagine there's a self they're cooking for that has duck as its #1 fave food and orange as #2. We don't imagine the chef is thinking, "If only I can find some way to combine those two things, I will be able to satisfy my boss me's duck fandom and orange fandom and it'll be everything boss me has ever dreamed of!" Nor do we imagine, surely, that the chef is thinking, "You know what Egon Ronay loves? Duck! You know what he also loves? Orange! And, like, Egon Ronay is my ideal gourmet! If I can just please him, well, that's everything I aspire to. So I must see if I can't figure out a way to just nail a duck/orange dish, cause that would make him cream his pants!" Maybe some chefs operate along those lines. But it sounds utterly wack to me. I imagine someone throwing a question rooted in those sort of presumptions at a chef, and I imagine the chef just looking at them like they're crazytown. Why would that be the default notion of how a chef operates, rather than the idea that, you know, duck has a certain flavour--rich, heavy, dark--that is really well balanced on the palate by something sweet and tangy like orange? Why would the default notion not be that these things just go together really fucking well? That the chef as a craftsman, as an artist, gets to know their toolkit of stuff and stuff-you-can-do-with-stuff well enough that they' start thinking of combos, and they realise, fuck, I have to try that because if it works the way I think it will, it'll be great. To me, that's the driving force in my writing too. There is no "who" that I'm writing for. I'm just savvy enough with my toolkit that when an idea comes along it captures me with the potential of how well it could work if I can pull it off. I talk about that figuratively, as having a sense of the story that wants to be written, but there's no great mystical force dispensing inspiration and demanding obeisant service to it. I'm not out to pander to my personal set of tastes; if anything, I'm looking to expand them, find some way to use... my literary equivalent of brussels sprouts, some twist by which, in context, in the dish, that's exactly what's needed. I don't give a shit about whether or not the ideal reader likes or dislikes second person. And I was, as a youngster, in the camp of those who didn't really care for it. At all. If I was writing for myself or for some ideal reader, I'd never have used it. But that's not how it works for me, not how it's ever worked. So at some point along the way, on the basis of craft/art savvy, (like how second person works in poetry, or in that one Ray Bradbury story, "The Ravine,") I hit on one way to use this rather unpopular flavour that just had to be tried. And it worked. And I put it on my menu of stories for anyone who cares to buy and try. Anyone. If they hate it, fuck it: so it goes; there'll always be someone who maybe hasn't acquired a specific taste--e.g. whisky--that's a linchpin of how the recipe works. If someone hates the taste of oranges, it doesn't change the fact that duck a l'orange works. No, I'm not going to try and second-guess some specious conceit of an Authoritative Arbiter, self or other, that I'm out to please. The only way I could do that anyway is by learning the subtleties of the stuff and the stuff you can do with stuff, figuring out how they work individually and how they do, would, should or could work together. If we're into the territory of "should and could," drawn by the potential of something that ought to be awesome if you can only pull it off, the uncertainty of succeeding in surprising the fuck out of people is part of the adventure. You're working against the utter obliviousness of an audience of every single person you're aware of, including yourself, who apparently never thought of trying this before, and if asked in principle would quite probably expect it to be a complete failure. But you know. You fucking know if you can nail it, it'll be awesome, and somewhere out there someone, anyone, should someday be able to stumble across it and be blown away. Who might that be? Who gives a fuck? Whoever.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
I fell in love with Hal Duncan's collection, Scruffians! as soon as I read the first story. How can that be? Well, as Gob would say, that one story is the hook. It got me to read the whole book in one sitting.
Hal Duncan's work can be dense, non-linear, and highly imaginative along with extraordinary writing skills that always impress. With the addition of his homoerotic fantasy-based Scruffian stories, mythology-based fairies and pirates, and other fun adventures found in this short story speculative fiction collection, readers get a well-defined sense of what makes Duncan such a fine story teller and weaver of dreams.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Monday, April 14, 2014
Scruffians! Deluxe Edition
Publishers Weekly, starred review
"... a wickedly entertaining collection of short fiction fantastical and queer in nature—full of “scruffians and scamps and sodomites,” with some pirates and fairies besides. These stories range from comedic romps to lyrical and meditative explorations on the nature of meaning-making, while Duncan’s engaging and clever voice resonates throughout as a strong thread connecting the various different sorts of pieces."
Brit Mandelo, Tor.com
Are you prepared to enter acclaimed author Hal Duncan's world of scruffians and scamps and sodomites? Beware, for it is filled with the gay pirate gods of Love and Death, immortal scoundrels, and young men who find themselves forced to become villains. But who amongst us does not adore a gamin antihero? These fantastical tales from the fringes of an imaginative realm of supernatural fairies and human fey will captivate the reader. Light a smoke, raise a cup of whisky, and seek a careful spot to cruise the Scruffians!
$16 USD / £12 GBP.
***THE DELUXE EDITION***
Two hundred and twenty five pages, full colour, with forty full colour photographs throughout to illustrate and complement the stories, one of which is an extra, not included in the trade edition. Cloth-bound hardback with a wraparound dustjacket. Signed in the spit and venom of yours truly. (Or, of course, other bodily fluids... no, let's not go there.)
US customers should order via Lethe Press where you can get a copy for $50, domestic shipping included. Autographed bookplates available on request.
For UK customers who want a signed copy of the deluxe edition in all its sordid sodomitic glory, we'll be able to cut down on the extortionate international shipping fees. At the conversion rates, it looks like a UK price of £40 is about right, postage and packing included.
If you're in the EU and keen for a copy, don't fear. Drop me an email, and I'll happily price out the extra postage for you.
To order, make a payment via Paypal using the button below or in the sidebar to the left. Be sure Paypal gets your shipping address, or drop me an email at hal AT halduncan DOT com with the details.
"Rhapsody, though it is Duncan’s first long-form critical work, is a strong and elegant—and sometimes wickedly crass—project, complexly argued and incisive while also managing to remain eminently readable and engaging."
Brit Mandelo, Tor.com
"Hal Duncan's Rhapsody is a quicksilver journey through the aesthetic consciousness of one of our most passionate and insightful masters of the form. This book will rightly take its place with Disch's The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of as a seminal critical text of speculative fiction."
Will Ludwigsen, author of In Search of and Others
Acclaimed author and critic Hal Duncan turns his analytic eye towards the development and current state of speculative fiction in American and English writing in the pages of Rhapsody. Duncan's trademark wry humor and suffer-no-fools approach to critiquing the genre will make this book more than a resource for students of the field--anyone who enjoys reading tales of the fantastical and strange can find Duncan's insight worthwhile to read again and again.
$25 USD / £15 GBP.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Caledonia Dreamin' Review
Caledonia Dreamin' is a unique and well edited anthology of strange fiction of Scottish descent. It's a daring and original glimpse into Scotland, the Scots language and Scottish culture. Each story is based on or inspired by a Scots word.
It was truly a pleasure to read this anthology, because I don't remember reading anything similar ever before. There have been plenty of anthologies about different themes, but this is the first time that I remember reading an anthology that contains stories based on by Scots words.
Clearly it is the week of reviews here in New Sodom.
Also... Damn, if only I'd had a novel coming out right now, it would totally be like ONE OF ALL THE THINGS! IMMA MAKE ONE OF ALL THE THINGS! IMMA MAKE A SHORT STORY COLLECTION! IMMA MAKE A NON-FICTION BOOK! IMMA MAKE AN ANTHOLOGY! IMMA MAKE... and so on.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Review for Rhapsody
Hal Duncan, in Rhapsody: Notes on Strange Fictions, turns a critical eye to the genre of SF—considering not just the turf wars and definitional spats, but also the deeper functions and facilities of the “strange fiction” mode in literature. Employing sardonic and often cutting analysis delivered within convincing theoretical frames, Duncan deposes various received-wisdom ideas about the genre and offers in their place a well-reasoned, thorough conceptualization of what it is we’re talking about when we talk about SF.
Rhapsody, though it is Duncan’s first long-form critical work, is a strong and elegant—and sometimes wickedly crass—project, complexly argued and incisive while also managing to remain eminently readable and engaging.
Monday, March 17, 2014
Sing of the angels of Moloch vomiting word infernal snake-jaws dislocated wrenched as backs arched in purgation spasms of napalm fire-hose hurled forth to incinerate fair citizens of my Sodom the abomination in steel eyes of a clockwork Tetragrammaton gazing down from hypoxian Himalayan perch in onyx vaulted heaven a-spatter with starlight of seraphim hung on meathooks Sodom the stain of blood clay brownstone city subway ploughed by firstborn fratricide outcast in cornfield dreams stumbling scarred as I from the car accident death of pride stumbling scarecrow with a sickle Sodom the throne of Og archaic Titan miscegenation of cherub jism and ape cunt keelhauled under the ark half-drowned helplessly witnessing drunken incest from afar under a new aeon's rainbow Sodom the crystal skulled nous implicate in grains of a skyscraper sandcastle kicked to four winds in Babel echoing inside with every forked tongue lie to be silkspun from now to the end of human resources Sodom the abomination the abomination of desolation in the valley of saline flats fixed in vision so frostbitten and surgical even Abraham meek to slit his firstborn's throat haggled mercy at dawn Sodom the murderous inhospitable kirk where I was fourteen in my royal blue Hitlerjugend uniform of a Boys' Brigade Lance Corporal as the mob battered Sunday School doors to rape exquisite strangers Sodom the market of muscle spurning virgin daughters pimped and so piety lashed with tabloid tongue the wrath of hysteria HIV the MAD of a cold war on fuckery and nuclear winter everafter Sodom the San Fran Seventies Golden Gate vaporised in neolithic Nagasaki saunas all swallowed into dead sea boiling tears to coke-rock white cracked down to crumble cut with stain-scouring detergent Sodom the city we fled as teenage slaves of Lot her holy whores and eunuchs of the heart sworn to Astarte and Baal all tomorrow's beloveds deserted to a hospice holocaust of salt and sarcoma Sodom the home I was led from bound in blindfold law gavelled in witch's parliament to save my arse from phantoms of pillared perversion forever and ever amen to Section 28 amen to the TV tombstone Sodom the home I was whipped from iron gag clamping tongue not to question the scourging of schoolbooks and sanctuary not to debate with teachers in the temple afraid of guillotine sacking Sodom the devastated! Sodom the destitute! Sodom the handful household of errand boys clutching harps as the 80s dragged us onward into exile speechless at the melted plastic blitzkrieg of identity Sodom the beautiful! Sodom the glorious! Sodom the sacred! Sodom the city of breath in flesh socketed in flesh! Sodom the idyll I lament laid waste before my broken voice could join its beaded choir! Sodom the cursed the reviled fornicating faghag diva of scarlet and purple bosom who cradled cocksucker lambs in black sheepskin afghans who loved scapegoats in kidskin leather jeans Sodom my Sodom where now shall your kindred shelter? Where shall we little big spoons awake canoodling lips to neckfuzz now Mother Sodom is gone? Where? Where? Into oblivion! Sodom is gone! Sodom my Sodom where now shall we be native sons? What tents and suburbs of marching tribes will not disown feral archers of desire to the housing schemes of Irvine Paisley Wishaw and Canaan? Sodom my Sodom where now will spectacled runts in peacock motley freewheel Raleigh Choppers downhill hurtling crash into puberty and thrown ragged to the pit of fear be tended by brothers? Weep for our Sodom you cuckoo queer hatchlings fostered in bowers of Egyptian reed fledglings ever aflurry from fire or Pharoah forty years migrating and with no milk and honey homeland promised Weep for our Sodom my nameless nation of slaves to slaves who slipped Akhenaton's thrall to call our city into iniquity rank us with mildew rot and insect shellfish monstrosity! unclean! unclean! Weep for our Sodom you deviant diaspora to be born blank of heritage erased in assimilation to be rebirthed each generation in the furious keen brows of a prepubescent shepherd winding slingshot truth Weep for our Sodom and strum her psalms to every Saul anointed king or agent of Empire hurling javelins or epistles while his son breathes deep the scent of your t-shirt and semen on his skin Sing how there could be no Salem before Sodom no assalaamu alaikumu until a multitude of horny youths ululated gifts of profanity strange peaches for guests to unwrap from palm frond hallelujahs How the gang-rape mob was an orgiastic dance for soldiers for glories of stallion sweat we yearned to yearn to crave peeling helm and armour down to socks and jocks their cocks to be anointed with spit How we only pounded the doors of a schoolyard gatehouse suddenly airtight in agitprop a Moebius wall of labyrinth State where bull-headed beauties of athletic grace tried us with certainty of scorn How we only stole a glance not even a kiss in changing rooms of furtive erections torments of showering myrmidons we prayed oblivious outside our Sodom of reveries where ephebes rutted indiscriminate How we only grabbed a chance from angels cruising our park but were led to bleak October to pistol-whipping hilltop murder echoing excuses of panic in defence of crucifixion and cigarette burns How we demanded nothing but offered everything in silent Mass fallen breathless from summer to our knees before buff idols with dirty Adidas boots ready to share our bread bed body bliss and destination How we tore up crumpled and tossed our child selves into furnaces crying Moloch! Melech! King of the gods! God of the kings! a soul tax exacted for seed swallowed in passion but all of us was never enough How we were cursed to history speared on standards burnt at the games lynched from the rafters shot in the parks gassed in the bathhouses until broken to see the stones stakes pyres gallows woods and How the concentration camp was constructed cold in every swimming pool shower we bit into apples crunching juice almond-flavoured with cyanide and died and rotted a year and wholly howled howled How wholly fucked we were how fucked the fuckless and feckless brethren scattered to the corners of our blank-walled bedrooms with no secret language of handkerchiefs for the orphans of nowhere How we had only guttural native tongues of a new town housing scheme foreign as our families thick and dry as talking adolescent lusts we swallowed he and him in a pronoun game no homo ever won How we lived each tick-tock of almost confession a thousand repeats a thousand futures crushed in a trial's heartbeat and every outcome a murder of the schoolboy mirrored in the gaze of friends How we lied to live in death not to smash a painted ceramic citizen of Ayrshire or Arizona not to sledgehammer idol innocence and rise from eggshell ruin afire as phoenix where ego was now id How I never ached for your shrug never cursed off armour and wrestled monstrous idiocy to my own naked defeat never bit my lips to blurt revelation not to a sun god leonine and alien hunting beyond How eight million minutes were a blink just a razor edge of months slicing passions open sibling war still undissolved so I never turned my head to alliance never dared it so you died to a stranger How a score of summers--more--have burned away but still verse will not loose me to name your shadow not to mewl at light's cheap echo mocked in photograph's painting imaged in dreams unremembered How I cannot sully your name in this song of Sodom and self but flail my brother my brother and you and I in vain a failure of words to thresh words to undo the thwart of lie I lived till your hospital end How I thrash in a straitjacket soul that I never strode my ceremony of assumption wearing feathers of your puzzled smile a prodigal released from choir of kin to explore alterity and never can but must How I have to come out to you my brother proclaim in shreds that I have fucked and been fucked in the Sodom of angels in a footballer's Hilton room or the bed of a bone doctor with a cock curved outward How I have to be known to you my brother conjure a gulf of nightly decades in this rite of song echoing down deep to your silhouette the truth untold in sham of a mitzvah one quarter century overdue How I have to be known to you my brother without a grave to kneel at or a ghost to listen or gates out of senility to an orchard mirage of trees we climbed apart in some wide snapshot of infant holiday How I have to be known to you my brother without the unicorns and apples pretence of eternal Heaven or elsewise June in 1988 in Kilwinning in the Zion daze of dog days before the knock on the door How I have to be known to you my brother and cannot not now not ever cannot ever be known by the zeroed pin prick outline erased the never was nor is nor will be no way and no how How? how my brother how can I conjure Sodom's boom from dust without the blank slate clean page fresh loam story's end rolling away forever coffined with your corpse into the crematorium's gullet? How? how? answer me how? how? reveal it Sing to me nothing hollowed singularity of timeless death without a moted eye or bloated tongue in silent answer to all pleas mute oracle of absurd inspiring trumpet nothing through me as a horn Sing to and through me nothing to salve with nothing's scentless liniment dissolved always already in absentia you uninstanced speck of slaughter's void to seed in the nullity of past the potency of future Sing for my brother nothing as you crooned to his dead brain engulfing every chant and cheer consuming memory to a dot clicked off and I will echo your whitespace of a beat skipped forever Sing! And for you my brother who is nothing I will sing And for all who are nothing I will sing And for all Sodom every Sodom every son and brother every daughter every father every mother I will sing And I will roar the city from a grain of salt in every village of the Empire flying flags of rainbows or Olympic rings for queers in Russia stripped and lipsticked drinking Facebook shame of fascist piss And I will rest my head as faggot Judas on your breast beloved nothing abolitionist of sacrifice alone of all the painted gods embracing nothing as a gift and gifting nothing in response who seals existence in a kiss And I will carry quietude in every breath to frame a word a phrase a song a life to speak of the hollows where we built a den one strutting cockerel of Arcadia one cuckoo out of Sodom straight and queer And I will go with the seed of silence as a stone to lay upon a monument unbuilt and build memorium upon the rock and under it you will be there as nothing foundation of a Sodom for us all And I will go wild from our home as we have ever flown we sons of Sodom ever estranged as pilgrim libertines treked to salt shores of the dead gazing past baptisms the memory of nothing at our backs And I will go before you into Galilee I will go before you out of Ethiopia's ark into the crescent and the caverns I will go before you out of Ur of the Chaldees into Canaan out of Canaan into the world I will go before you into Glasgow and London Paris, Berlin and Helsinki and New York New York carving eternal wake I swear I will go before you into my twenties and thirties and forties ever glancing back at where you stand I will go before you into grief's abyss the raw murder of aeons falling fire bright in a city of endless angst crying for a dead faggot's dead madhouse muse made of words words words hell made of nothing and so dissolving I will live ever leaving and returning ripping time to the thirteenth day to summer sun and the car the curb I will enshrine in you all who've gone before and all now who are nothing yet the unsparked multitudes of butterflies I will envision all mobs of you and I to come and call them you call to them you and drum And I will go before you into Sodom.