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I am, as I usually am, writing on a couple of different pieces at once. Though I have the plot outlined for my Mythos noir story, “The Night Hours“, I’m taking my time writing it because the research is so important. Noir is about a lot of things*, including a focus on setting. It has to feel gritty, slick, and damp… sexy, and hopeless, all at once. To build that kind of world, I have to combine HP Lovecraft’s Innsmouth with enough real, late 1930s, set dressing to convince you this all could have happened. There’s so much visceral and emotional information you need to buy into for a noir story to work. You can’t relax into it if the little details aren’t right.
I can already tell that this is going to be the start of something bigger, so I don’t mind spending the time. My Innsmouth is economically depressed, as befits Lovecraft’s description, and the years after Black Tuesday. It hasn’t got WWII to really bring the money back in, but the fishing is good, the rent is cheap, and a lot of people who couldn’t make a home somewhere else are starting to settle there. But it’s still a weird place, under the surface.
There’s the expected mix of boarding houses, secretaries, busboys, and messengers; all part of a migrant population which ebbs and flows like the tide, and from whom the occasional missing person isn’t really missed. The weather isn’t great: constant fog, dense rain, snow and sleet and slush in the winters. And too often, the strange things get ignored, because it’s easier than focusing on something you can’t control anyway, when you’re barely getting by yourself. The First Church of Christ (Deluge) teaches that the Flood got interrupted, for example, and will be back again soon to wipe us all of the face of the Earth. How weird is that? But they give out bread on Tuesdays, and host a free fish dinner on Fridays, so their congregation is always full.
It’s Fall in Massachusetts, in 1939…
Music is the biggest source of daily entertainment, with a record player in almost every house. We just lost the great Tommy Ladnier. The Duke Ellington band is popular, and so is Benny Goodman’s, but Count Basie is starting to catch up. Jazz, blues, and swing abound, blend together, and influence each other greatly. The major touring bands are predominantly white-fronted, playing more swing than jazz (timed for the foxtrot and other couples dances), but the smaller clubs are either still in the midst of their jazz uprising or starting to play “jazz revival” style–and more importantly, people of color play in, and front, many of those bands. Wilder Hobson’s American Jazz Music and Frederick Ramsey / Charles Edward Smith’s Jazzmen are published, and both try to convince the world that Dixieland is the true jazz. Dizzy Gillespie has joined Cab Calloway’s band, Charlie Parker is developing Bop, Louis Amstrong is starting to be considered “too commercial”, and Nat “King” Cole is using only a jazz trio–piano, guitar, and double bass–instead of a big band, and though he hasn’t yet given up playing piano to focus on his singing, he is doing the occasional vocal set in between instrumental pieces. John Hammond has arranged the first of two performances of “From Spirituals to Swing” at Carnegie Hall.
A couple of people bought stories from me, which I will write and post here (free) for you to read. The first is a Mythos noir piece, by request, and this is the opening:
The Night Hours
by Carrie Cuinn
It was about eleven o’clock at night, mid-October, and I was supposed to be washing dishes in the back of the steam-filled kitchen. I was wearing my white buttoned shirt, sleeves rolled up, and a stained apron that belonged to the joint. The shirt was mine, along with the black pants and scuffed but comfortable black shoes, but I was required to wear them. I leaned against the doorway, not quite in the bar, and not quite in or out of the kitchen, either. It was a neutral space, that square foot of in-between, where I could claim to be doing other than what I was: watching Willie Green blow the roof off the place with his horn.
“Hey, Chinaman,” the bartender growled. “Stop ogling the skirts, and get back to work.”
I wasn’t, but didn’t argue the point. Mickey, the barrel-shaped Irishman who ran the place, had hired me because he’d heard the Chinese made great cooks, and couldn’t tell us “Orientals” apart. So there were some things I knew to be wrong but didn’t say. Truth is, there were a lot of things like that.
The kitchen was a square, squat, low-ceilinged room with no windows, but it had three entrances. The single maroon door, with the round porthole, I let swing shut behind me as I left the bar. The black double doors led into the restaurant, where round, red, lacquered tables and pretty girls in embroidered satin gave the impression that this was where traditional Chinese cuisine was happening. Except it was New England, and I’d never seen that blend of tables, patterns, and ink-wash paintings in any kitchen I’d even been in. But I’d never been to China, so what did I know?
Mickey didn’t let colors mix in his dining room. Chances were pretty good that no one eating the roast duck and pan-fried rice knew it wasn’t authentic. Or maybe it was now, a new traditional Innsmouth dining experience, the kind we’d all be getting used to soon enough.
That last door, a scratched steel slab, was all that stood between me and freedom at the end of the night. It was the service entrance, which Mickey like to call the “servants” entrance, because the staff wasn’t allowed in any other way. Oh, sometimes, one girl or another would get the privilege of walking in through the front door for a few weeks, but we all knew the price they paid. All through the evening, the sound of loud voices and clanking silverware burst into the kitchen at regular intervals as the waitresses glided through to pick up their orders, and then back out into the fray. Later, the diners would fade away, and the bar would pick up their slack. On a good night the sound of jazz would leak through under the other door, making our last hour of clean up not quite so bad.
If we stayed late enough, and sometimes old Chen dealt cards and we cooked dinner for ourselves, the way our mothers would have, then all of those other sounds faded away, and the only thing creeping in was the pernicious Innsmouth fog, that stuck its fat fingers under doors and slithered in on its belly. Not even the steel could keep it out.
In April, I:
- Billy Hazelnuts, a graphic novel by Tony Millionaire. (109 pages)
- Alternative Alanmat, edited by Paolo Chikiamco (collection of speculative fiction based on Filipino mythology)
- started and wrote 1201 words on “Family”, a new short story (SF)
- added 400 words to “A Cage, Her Arms”, a short story I’d written last year. Revised it, and submitted it.
- added 251 words to “Snow”, a short story I’d started two years ago.
- blog posts here, including:
- Barbie, Burquas, April Fool’s Jokes, Writer’s Advice: Small Failures Hurt Us In Big Ways – my most viewed blog post ever (1234 words)
- All Our Young Potential (911 words)
- ADHD, a Serious Caffeine Addiction, and Me (925 words)
- Editing Tips #1 (897 words)
- Editing Tips #2 (1596 words)
- reviews of Richard S. Carbonneau’s “The Marvel: A Biography of Jack Parsons” for SF Signal (697 words) and Billy Hazelnuts (see above, 600 words)
- erotica for a client (4 stories, 40,000 words)
- was written up as part of “Women in Genre” month – read my post about that here (also includes links to free fiction by me)
- and on AC Wise’s list of “Women to Read“
- been more active in the SFWA, including:
- participating in forum discussions
- volunteering with the Bulletin as a proofreader
- interviewed outgoing SFWA President John Scalzi for the June issue of the Bulletin
- started using the StoneCoast “Magic Spreadsheet” on April 14. I wrote fiction on the 14th, 15th, 21st… for a total of 1,298 words.
Wrote 7,140 words of non-fiction and 1,852 of fiction. Worked on one new story and two older stories I’d held on to (which is why we always save old, unfinished, work). Submitted one story to a magazine (will hear back around the end of May). Edited 40,000 words as freelancer, and got a couple of Dagan Books projects out.
Honestly, it wasn’t enough. I should have done twice as much as I did. I should be getting more done each month, making more money, writing more words. I had a lot going on during April–medical stuff, personal drama, job hunting, multiple meetings for Logan’s school/services–but I don’t feel justified in how little I accomplished. I had to step back from my SF Signal column, which bothers me because I asked for that opportunity, and because I love reading & writing about comics.
I have to remind myself that one bad day, bad fight, bad week… it’s not the end of the world. Being upset and stressing over what I lost takes up more time than the event that caused the drama in the first place. Everyone kept telling me that “April is the cruelest month” and perhaps that’s true. But if it is, April’s over now, and I need to start thinking that May is going to be different. Better.
No advice for May. Instead, let me know what your goals for the month are.
Several people are writing about their favorite “Women in Genre” this month. There’s even a hastag for it on Twitter if you’d like to see more of the discussion. Haralambi Markov (a Bulgarian writer, editor, pop culture geek, and avid reader) is writing a blog post each day, featuring his favorite women working in speculative fiction.
Today is Day 9 on his blog. Today, he wrote about me.
It basically says that I edit as well as write, and that with both of those together I’m putting out short fiction he thinks people need to read. He also recommends my blog, since I post about being a writer and editor in the midst of a change in how genre – and women in genre – is perceived Plus, you know, trying to balance my career with everything else.
Markov says that when you read my work, you can tell that:
Cuinn lives for genre and Dagan Books is a direct reflection of her passion and love.
That’s true, and I’m tickled that other people can see it. I know I’m at the beginning of my career. I have only put out a handle of books as a publisher, and have maybe twice that number in fiction sales myself. But – I do love what I do. I love spec fic. I love reading it, and I love being a part of where it’s going.
Markov mentions that he hasn’t read very many of my stories, coming to me instead as a reader of the anthologies I’ve edited, so here are links to where you can find a couple of my favorites online:
“Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance” published by Red Penny Papers in their Summer 2012 issue.
“Call Center Blues” published at Daily Science Fiction. Sent to subscribers Nov 2, 2011; posted to site Nov 9, 2011
“Monsters, Monsters, Everywhere”, published by Crossed Genres Magazine in issue #34 (MONSTERS), October 1, 2011.
“Annabelle Tree“, published in the Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction anthology to benefit tornado relief efforts, May 13, 2011.
Click on the story name to read it. “Mrs. Henderson” is playful fantasy bordering on horror without actually being scary. “Call Center” is science fiction, and short – a little less than a thousand words. “Monsters” is sci fi but much creepier than the others. “Annabelle” is magic realism, and is sad but – I hope – beautiful, too.
Please let me know what you think, or if there’s anything you want to see more of. And thank you for thinking of me when you think of Women in Genre.
I like being an introvert. My world is small. I have my books, a few people I care very much about, and I occasionally get out of my shell to have coffee, or go to a convention. I like people, in small doses. I’m happy and loved and comfortable with my life. I pay attention to what’s going on in the world but it’s, honestly, easier for me to stay out of controversy.
Not because I don’t care, but because I’ve already had so much of it. I’m tired of being a target, a victim, an object of ridicule, of derision. I’m exhausted from watching people I love insulted, mocked, abused, disenfranchised. I’m reminded every day that a huge segment of the population thinks it’s okay to take from me and mine. People with so much privilege they don’t even realize they have it, because they never needed to. (more…)