Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Who Do You Write For?

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

SCRUFFIANS! Review

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

"The Unfortunate Rake"

Monday, April 14, 2014

Scruffians! Deluxe Edition

"... a prism of queer sexuality, youthful rebellion, and rage against authority, in this thrilling, funny, and moving collection."
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



"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

Sodom

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.