Speculative Fiction Author
Pop Matters on “The Sounds of Old Earth”

Nebula Award Showcase 2015My Nebula Award-nominated story “The Sounds of Old Earth” (originally published in Lightspeed Magazine) was reprinted in the 2015 Nebula Award Showcase, edited by Greg Bear, and is recently reviewed by Pop Matters, who has this to say:

The category nominees also uniformly impress, but the standout among them is surely Matthew Kressel’s ‘The Sounds of Old Earth’, the story of an old man on a largely evacuated and denuded Earth awaiting its destruction by space-based laser in order to use the resultant raw materials for a gigantic piece of space engineering. The sense of resignation has extraordinary resonance in today’s world, in which the destruction of people’s homes through flooding and natural disaster is becoming worryingly commonplace, and the image of the Earth being sliced into pieces like a hard-boiled egg is one that will stay in the memory. This was Kressel’s first Nebula nomination but, one feels, almost certainly not his last.

They also have praise for works by Rachel Swirsky, Ken Liu, Ann Leckie, and more. You can read the full review here.

Back to Basics

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson

I’ve been reading Shirley Jackson’s short fiction. I had read her novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (the latter being one of my favorite novels of understated horror), and I’ve enjoyed both books immensely. And I had read her famous short story “The Lottery” of course many times. What I noticed in her fiction, especially in her short work, is a deceptive simplicity. Her prose style is plain. Occasionally this plain style rises to unusually great heights, but for the most part, her sentences are not doing loop-d’-loops and verbal pyrotechnics. Reading her work on a superficial level, one might think her stories are bland. But under the surface of her stories oftentimes reveal the horrific elements of basic life. A woman who cannot find the man who promised to marry her no matter where she looks. Another woman (almost all of her stories feature female protagonists) who gets a call from a neighbor that her family dog has been “at the chickens” and must be put down. Most of her short works are not even what we might consider stories, at least those of us who write genre fiction. There is no middle, beginning, or end. Instead, we are given a brief window into someone’s life. Usually it’s in suburbia (I believe a lot of modern fiction, especially TV shows, which focus on the sinister aspects of suburbia owe their origin to Jackson’s work). And here’s the thing that Shirley Jackson excels at: mood. She is adept and conveying to the reader a particular emotion. I learned this especially well in The Haunting of Hill House. I found she was a master at this in We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Not all of her short stories worked for me, but the ones that did showed me that there are techniques a writer can use to evoke mood. You don’t need fancy prose. You don’t need 10,000 words or even 3,000. You don’t even need a plot. Mostly what I notice is that characters, usually women, are placed in rapidly deteriorating situations and no one else sees this as a problem. These women are isolated, alone, left to wonder if their interpretation of events is paranoia (or “hysteria” to use the old misogynistic term). Jackson is connecting the reader to what it was like to be a woman in mid-20th century American suburbia, to have your sense of self repeatedly negated by your “peers” and your community. You are not a person, you are an object. This is the understated horror: you are not worthy of having an opinion; nothing you do matters.

I’m studying her work because I can see in her many short stories (and some of them are really short) an author experimenting in ways to convey mood to the reader. I have written some fantastic stories and I have written some clunkers, and what I’ve found is that I often begin with what I think is a simple premise which turns up being much more complex than I envisioned. What I initially think will be a 3,000 word story ends up ballooning into 8 or 9,000 words. Then I pare it down again, losing some of the depth I hoped to convey. Well, I think that no matter how far you go, or how far you’ve come, there is always room to learn. And I hope that by studying Shirley Jackson’s works I can further refine my own storytelling techniques.

So what about you? Do you study authors’ works to see how they’ve crafted something?

30-Second Sci-Fi Book Review on “The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye”

Here’s 30-Second Sci-Fi Book Review giving my Nebula-nominated story “The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye” their “highest recommendation.” In case you want to watch, the review of my story starts at 3:24. (I love that they use the Chinese cover art for my story.) 

“Demon in Aisle 6” is a Finalist for the Sippy Awards

Sippy_Face4My story “Demon in Aisle 6” (published in Nightmare Magazine) was a finalist for the Sippy Awards. The winner going to “When Your Child Strays From God” by Sam J. Miller. Of my story, they say:

Suicide and tragic queer love are perhaps easy triggers for getting people to feel deeply. But this story isn’t cheap or obvious, treats the subject matter with the respect and weight it deserves and delivers a devastating look at guilt and privilege and community and how all these things can shape a person, can shape shame and shape violence and shape hatred. It is the most outwardly violent and tragic of the stories on this list (perhaps because it appeared in a spec horror pub), but it is also a story that lodges in the brain and brought a great many tears to my eyes.

(thanks to Jeffrey Ford for pointing me to the link).