Notes from New Sodom

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Euthanise Your Novel: Letters from an Evil Book Doctor #1

The Guessing Game Manuscript


Congratulations! Of all the potential points of failure in the production of a marketable novel manuscript, you failed at the first hurdle by not including a title page. Well done, you. Whoever you are. No, really. Most aspiring writers take until at least the first sentence to inspire the head-desking and muttered imprecations that foreshadow the inevitable klunk-kchik, phwoomf, ka-choinnnnnng! of the Trebuchet of Fiery Rejection sending their Zippo-ignited manuscript flying back towards their gormlessly grinning front teeth. You though... you managed to trounce even the keenest of cretins. First hurdle? Nay, verily you managed to tie your laces together and faceplant in the fucking changing room.

Is it so hard to type the title of your novel, centred horizontally and vertically on a blank page? Is it so very difficult to hit Enter and type your byline on the line directly below? Other than that, all you had to include was, in the bottom left corner, a word count (rounded to the nearest thousand, thanks, because we're not Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man,) your legal name (since this might be different from your byline and you really do want us to know who to make the contract and cheque out to,) and your contact details--email and snail mail.

Yes, I'm sure some of this was included in your cover letter--for values of was equalling might or might not have been--but sadly I used the back of your cover letter to write this week's draft of my eventual suicide note, subsequently crumpled and burned in frustration at my inability to do justice to the true horror and despair of life as a book doctor dealing almost wholly with patients of terminal brain atrophy. When I say doctor, veterinarian might be more apposite. When I say veterinarian, I might actually mean the guy with the gun who, at the vet's sad headshake, puts a bullet in the poor crippled horse's brain.

So, yes, I offer you my hearty congratulations for surpassing all others in oblivious idiocy. You must imagine sirens, klaxons, flashing lights, the full rigmarole of a game show jackpot. Unfortunately, owing to the absence of contact details, I have no idea where to send the Stupid Prize you've so resoundingly won. Nor indeed do I have any clue where to send this notification of your success (which is to say, abject failure.) What am I to do? Hire a host of medieval town criers to read this letter out with a booming hear ye! from every market square in the country?

All I can think of, to be honest, is to publish this communiqué via my blog. Who knows? Maybe I'll make a practise of it with others such as yourself. Maybe one day all the entries will be collected in a book of cruel flytings--a compendium of letters like this one, each illustrating by example one of the many follies of aspiring writers. And maybe  one late November day your dear Aunt Trudy or Cousin Joe-Bob, knowing your dreams of publication, will spot said book on the shelf of their local Waterstones, purchase it in the mistaken belief that underneath the "ironic humour" it's aimed to help a writer like yourself... rather than to persuade you, with all sincerity, to please, for the love of Cock, just take your fiction out behind the stables and put a bullet in the back of its head. I can only pray that they might take it merrily home, wrap it in the shiniest Santa-spattered foil-effect wrapping paper and present it to you as a perfect Christmas stocking-filler for the would-be novelist. Should this indeed be the reason you're reading this now, at some point in my future, let me take the opportunity to (finally) inform you in no uncertain terms: you fail.

In the meantime, as I sit here typing this letter I have no fucking idea where to send, I shall simply wish you the best of luck with whatever the fuck your novel is called, secure in the knowledge that those wishes have little more than a snowball's chance in hell of ever reaching you.

Hugz and kittehz,

Doktor Hal


Friday, January 25, 2013

The Immaculated Maculation

If you have read Anna Tambour's Crandolin, you will understand why this tickles me. If you haven't, WHY THE FUCK NOT? Go! Go get yerself a copy and read it now!

That is all.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Call for Submissions

Caledonia Dreamin'

Strange Fiction of Scottish Descent

Edited by Chris Kelso and Hal Duncan

Glaikit, mockit, droukit, drouthy, couthy, scunner, thrawn – the Scots language is rich with words too gallus not to glory in, dialect terms that deserve better than to be boxed away as precious oddities. For us, those words aren't quaint parochialisms of a past preserved in amber; they're wild wee beauties, straight razors slashing keen to the quick of meaning. We want stories that wield them as weapons for today, for tomorrow. We want you to pick up one of these words and flick it open to gleam in the light of the 21st century. Play with it, work with it, give us a story that riffs on it with relish – the sound, the sense. Run wild with it, ye ramstouger rannigants, and send us the result.


  • Length: 1000-12,000 words. Query if you have something longer but perfect.
  • Payment: fixed-rate token payment, equal shares for each contributor, £15-20 per story.
  • Electronic submissions to, as attachment.
  • Format: .doc or .rtf.
  • Cover email should include your chosen word and a brief definition.
  • Deadline: May 31st, 2013


What sorta words are we talking about?

There's a good glossary here:

This is also a good resource, with illustrations for each word use: You'll be missing the point with words that are just English in a Scots accent. And the familiar and twee – e.g. braw, bonny – may be a hard sell. Other than that, if it sparks an idea, have at it.

What do you mean by strange fiction?

Fiction that is strange. Fiction that exploits strangeness in any of its flavours: the absurd; the experimental; the fabulous; the fantastic; the marvellous; the modernist; the surreal; the uncanny; the weird. Forget marketing categories with nominal labels. Forget the codification of tropes into Science Fiction and Fantasy. We're talking from Franz Kafka to Charlie Kaufman, from Bradbury to Burroughs by way of Borges. All literature is literary. All fiction is in a genre. It's just that some of it excludes the strange in the aim of realism, (hah!) while some refuses to eschew a tool as valid as any form of metaphor. The latter is what we want.

What do you mean by Scottish descent?

We mean that a story born of a dialect word will necessarily be born of the discourse, of the culture. We mean that Scottish culture is not contained within the geographic borders and genetic bloodlines, but reaches out into the world, an international legacy. We mean we're less interested in the tartan-clad identity of a national literature, more interested in works which embody the impact of Scottish culture at large, from Northern Ireland to South Africa, New Zealand to Nova Scotia. We recognise that impact was not always benevolent. We gave the world Robert Burns. We also gave it the KKK.

So do I have to be Scottish?

By birth... no. By heritage or residence, adoption or initiation... that would count too. And when we say initiation... look, you've seen A Man Called Horse, right? The movie where Richard Harris joins the Navajo Nation by undergoing a gruelling ritual that involves dangling from hooks in his nipples? Same principle... except instead of hooks in nipples, our ordeal involves booze and blether. If you've ever enjoyed Scottish hospitality and suffered for it the morning after, that's honorary membership, mate. Welcome! And on a darker note, we're all too aware of the Scots role in colonialism and slavery; if the connection is a surname born of racist subjugation, we're explicitly and especially keen to hear from you. The past should not be whitewashed. Neither should a table of contents.

What don't you mean by strange fiction of Scottish descent?

We don't want some tired old Shaggy Kelpie Story, as told in a Glasgow pub. We don't want generically pseudo-strange fiction that just grabs some depleted trope of folklore and dances a Highland jig with it. We don't want Rapey Mormon Space Whales in fucking Brigadoon drag. Or Trainspotting drag, for that matter. It’s forty-odd years since the New Wave, for the love of Cock. Don't be writing like it never happened.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Story's End

Just a heads-up about the Story's End gig in February, to let yez all know that tickets are now available by way of the Glasgow Film Festival site.

Did I mention that the filmmaker involved, Johnny Barrington, was BAFTA-nominated for his short film, TUMULT?

No. No, I didn't. Because IT JUST HAPPENED. Cutting edge? Bleeding edge? No, screaming edge, mate! Screaming edge. We're ahead of the edge, anticipating the edge. Or something. Anyway, the point is, it's gonna be cool. Certainly worth a fiver.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Jesus Christ Superstar

The correct order of songs (regardless of what Messrs. Webber and Rice might say):

Act One

1. Overture
2. Pilate's Dream
3. I Don't Know How to Love Him
4. What's the Buzz
5. Strange Thing Mystifying
6. Everything's Alright
7. Heaven On Their Minds
8. Then We Are Decided
9. Simon Zealotes
10. Poor Jerusalem
11. Hosanna
12. The Temple
13. This Jesus Must Die
14. Damned for All Time

Act Two

1. The Last Supper
2. Gethsemane
3. The Arrest
4. Peter's Denial
5. Pilate and Christ
6. King Herod's Song
7. Could We Start Again Please
8. Judas's Death
9. Trial Before Pilate
10. The Crucifixion
11. John Nineteen Forty-one
12. Superstar

There. Now you know.

Update: Actually, I figured I may as well show my workings, so to speak. So...

Pilate's Dream is a prefiguration, so a blindingly obvious prologue. It also makes structural sense to put this at the start to play off against his role at the end, to create a bookended architecture. And on top of that, it conjures Jesus as mystery, rumour, legend--prepares a path, you might say.

But rather than cutting to JC himself after this, we get a second level of intro. Enter Mary alone, to conjure JC by his effect on her, to conjure the impact wave, the ramifications reaching out beyond him. Rather than the big showy crowdpleaser of "Heaven on Their Minds," we're opening low-key, building to his entry...

... which comes with all the hurly burly of "What's The Buzz," JC entering with his mob of disciples and followers, trying to preach a message that's being lost in their zeal. Mary's role is established ("cool down your face,") with Judas's role next, as in the original, with "Strange Thing Mystifying."

Dropping "Then We Are Decided" to later allows the conflict between Mary and Judas over JC here to play out fully, with "Everything's Alright" bringing it to a head, resolving with Mary winning the field and Judas losing.

"Heaven on Their Minds" then becomes a logical reaction to JC's dismissal of the poor and his grandiose "you'll be sorry when I'm gone" in the previous song. And sitting at the mid-point of Part One it gives a big narrative beat, a key turning point. In a classic Three Act Structure--Acts 1, 2a, 2b, 3--this is actually the end of Act One.

"Then We Are Decided" picks up on exactly the threat Judas fears in the opening to an Act 2a then, and switches the scene to Jerusalem. Me, I'd stage this as a (pre?)dawn meeting on the city walls, looking out toward Bethany. The trumpets that start "Simon Zealotes" play to that, setting this as the rousing of JC and co, their preparations for the entry in Jerusalem, the journey from Bethany, the crowds lining the road. Have them casting their clothes on the ground before him, and we're building to the triumphal entry here.

"Poor Jerusalem" now sits in the right place in the actual gospel narrative, JC pausing as Jerusalem comes in sight to lament, before entering to the great hullaballoo of "Hosanna," and heading straight to "The Temple," the uproar of which naturally leads to "This Jesus Must Die." And of course Judas's betrayal in "Damned for All Time," the big narrative beat ending Part One in the original and here too, as the mid-point of the whole show, the end of Act 2a.

As for Part 2, Acts 2a and 3, they're basically ordered fine. No change there, except for putting "Superstar" right at the end as an epilogue, because duh. Why on earth you'd have this before "The Crucifixion" and "John Nineteen Forty-one" I have no idea.

So, yeah, an explanation for you. It's all quite simple really.

Update 2: No, wait! Actually, I think Part 2 could use a bit of shuffling too:

1. The Last Supper
2. Gethsemane
3. The Arrest
4. Pilate and Christ5. King Herod's Song
6. Could We Start Again Please
7. Peter's Denial
8. Trial Before Pilate9. Judas's Death
10. The Crucifixion
11. John Nineteen Forty-one
12. Superstar

Because "Take him to Pilate! Take him to Pilate!" rather cues up the first confrontation between Pilate and JC. "Peter's Denial" meanwhile could easily be segued into from "Could We Start Again Please," with the first as JC is being brought back into Pilate's court, the latter after he's disappeared inside.

And because "Judas's Death" makes more sense as a reaction to the scourging, and bringing it in between JC's sentencing and crucifixion draws out the parallel of the two deaths.

OK, now we're done.


Sunday, January 06, 2013

Happy New Year! Yer Happy News!

Aye, Happy New Year indeed, and man is it starting off as one with a bunch of irons in the fire. First off, I note that Queers Dig Time Lords is now available for pre-order from, containing my essay, "The Doctor: A Strange Love, or: How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love the Who," which should amuse some at the GSFWC no end with its grudging reconciliation with aforesaid Time Lord. It also contains my mad plans for how I would take a chainsaw to the clompfoot of nerdist continuity were I to step into Steven Moffat's shoes once he's done. Like they'd let me near him:

Right now, I'm proofing my story in Best Gay Stories 2013, "The Origin of the Fiend," a reprint from Icarus which will also be in The Lavender Menace, an anthology of gay supervillain stories. I'm rather fond of this story, not least because it proves the value of unashamed faffing. It started off from me playing with an online superhero design doohickey, creating a Big Three of Overman, Hookman and Monkeyboy and then an entire Legion of American Watchers. So yeah, about as much like real work as a ten year old on summer holiday cutting loose with crayons. But I gots three sales out of it, so there! Also an opportunity to slip the Scots word "thrawn" into wider circulation, this time as a character name. So, yeah, watch out for this in June:

Talking of "thrawn," there's some bigger news that has a connection with that word--and a bundle of other Scotticisms, actually; but I'm going to post about that separately once we have... final details thrashed out. Keep yer eyes on this blog for an announcement very soon.

Then there's the short story collection from Lethe Press, SCRUFFIANS!, which Steve Berman is planning to do a special collector's edition for, with some tasty images inside. Over the holidays, Steve has sent me a few shots of models, to no complaints from meself, but I gotta get a few extra stories written for him in exchange, heh. I haz a few I'm working on though -- whether it be with hellhounds, Scruffians or the crazylong novella featuring Jack and Puck on a terraformed Mars, with PoV regularly from the perspective of the plant-life. Projects, projects, projects!

Come to think of it, there's another Sekrit Projekt too, a non-fiction book I need to speak to me agent about. Having been kicking thoughts around for a while, over Christmas an angle on the concept hit me that I realised would make for a good stocking filler for a general audience. We'll see what the agent thinks though. Me, I'm in that first flush of "This could be awesome!"

And last but not least, there's Story's End on February 7th at the CCA, a "massive, crazy and perverted celebration of death and storytelling using song, film, sculpture and spoken word - featuring new work by The Dead Man's Waltz, Johnny Barrington, Mark Weallans, Hal Duncan, Kate McMorrine, Cat Ingall and Louise McVey!"

I posted about The Dead Man's Waltz a wee whiles back, having been contacted by Hector Macinnes about this collaboration. Immediately intrigued by the band name and with a theme for the show -- death and narrative -- that seems somewhat simpatico to say the least, I immediately went online to find some of their stuff, found "Emmeline" and was blown away by it:
I reckon this show will be fucking superb, and I'm soooooo looking forward to it. Got one story lined up to read and another gestating at the moment -- needed to balance off against Story #1, I think. After the meeting we had just before Xmas to brainstorm, I can't wait to see what some of the others involved are throwing into the mix.
So yeah. It's all go. So I guess I'd better go and get on with it.