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The Remnant Pieces
I love epistolary fiction, but many of the spec editors I’d worked with treated it as though it was some bizarre gimmick that no one would understand. It wasn’t going to work as short fiction because so many markets are reluctant to publish it, but my real dream had always been to write an entire epistolary novel, I just never thought I’d have a story robust enough to support it.
In time, those never-heard words became known as the Deadly Poem, for it was dangerous to know them, but calamitous to any ruler who sought to learn them. These are some of the stories of the Deadly Poem.
I am sorely disappointed, sir. I truly believed that we could come to a civil agreement and end this amicably. However, you have proven time and time again that you are not willing to live up to your obligations, so now we have to resort to more extreme methods.
Out on the high prairie on a brightly moonlit night, there’s no sound more ominous than the sharp keen of the coyote’s howl. The raspy shudder of a rattlesnake is a terrifying sound, but an experienced trailhand can push down his fears and deal with the danger — not so with the coyote song.
It was a charming two-story ranch house jutting from a bare patch between outcroppings of sapphire-tinted rock, exactly where charming ranch houses shouldn’t be. Jennifer Shen tapped the display controls of the Taleweaver, perhaps hoping that the ship’s sensors could be jarred back into making sense, but the house stubbornly insisted on remaining a house.
The guy on the opposite stool was a typical weekday drunk, full of good humor at the pain of others and caustic remarks at nothing at all. That he was polite to me was an oddity; perhaps he sensed that I was different, that I was less tethered to this place and its vices than those of his usual company.
Essays on China
Over the years, I’ve had a few students and acquaintances who have participated in the Chinese New Year’s Gala. For those of you not in the know, this is the big televised event that 1.4 billion people reliably watch every year after the Spring Festival Reunion Dinner. It is New Year’s Rockin’ Eve except a lot more significant for its sheer scale.
Literature has been booming in China in recent years, which by itself isn’t unusual — everything has been booming here. However, there has been a special interest in foreign literature, which is becoming more and more common. Translated copies of Western fiction and nonfiction are common in bookstores and can be surprisingly cheap.
In every culture, there’s at least one thing that speaks to money — and the lack thereof — in a very true way. What I mean is that there are things that you automatically buy if you have money, to the point where anyone who doesn’t have these things is assumed to be poor. It almost doesn’t matter if you want them, you get them so that you don’t look broke.
You see, over the years I’ve had a few gentlemen — not a lot, but enough — ask me how they can “get one, too.” And yes, I’ve have people phrase it exactly like that, so I’d like to ask you a favor before we proceed: Please never say anything like that out loud. Ideally, you shouldn’t think it either, but one step at a time.
The epistolary form is a very old one — nearly as old as the Western novel itself — but it continues to find purchase today. It’s a popular style with authors who want to lend an air of day-to-day realism to their works, explore unusual perspectives, or focus on characterization over bloated descriptions. It works for both long- and short-form and lends itself to a variety of story types.
As a group, new writers are worriers. They’re always troubled that they’re doing something, everything wrong, and end up going in search of some set of rules to tell them what to do. Very often, they find their way to people who are long on confidence but short on hard facts.
The internet has been a tremendous boon to both writers and publishers of serials, at least as far as distribution and discovery are concerned. What was harder was monetization — but that’s changed in recent years as well. Prospective serial authors have their choice of methods to make money, including Substack, Kindle Vella, Patreon, or even Medium.
The term flash fiction has been all over the place the last few years. It’s the hot new trend — tiny stories for busy lives (or short attention spans, if you’re less generously inclined). The concept isn’t new, being merely a more elegant term for what we would have once termed “short short fiction,” a phrase of art that reads like a typo. Nevertheless, what was once a literary curiosity is now a significant part of the fiction scene, with dedicated markets and anthologies.
By all accounts, 2020 was an extremely tough year for fiction markets. Many people used their enforced free time to write short fiction and poems, and the markets saw dramatic increases in the number of submissions they received. Since few of these markets were accepting more pieces, this meant greatly increased competition, and writing forums buzzed with complaints over the situation.
Dialogue can be a real sticking point for a lot of authors. That’s a strange thought — after all, don’t we all have conversations every day? Why is it so hard to execute in a fictional narrative something that we do without thinking about in real life? The answer often comes down to empathy.
The truth here is nuanced, as it usually is. The past five years have been rough ones for small teams, but they were also years full of new opportunities that a few devs were able to exploit. The next five years will be no different. But what will those next few years actually look like, and who stands to benefit? It would be irresponsible not to speculate.
There is no reason that you couldn’t have an epistolary video game, and I’d argue that it is a much better medium for it than film. Many epistolary novels put the reader into the role of investigator, and a video game takes that to the next level by adding interactivity. It is, on paper, a logical extension, but there is a catch: It is hard to work epistolary elements into a game with conventional gameplay mechanics — it gradually turns into something more like interactive fiction or an ARG.
There was a time in my life when I kept better care of my video game instruction manuals than many people do of their books. I was certainly better organized when it came to them, with a carefully chosen spot for each one. The console manuals sat in a plastic carrier, separated by system, occupying a nook under the table that held the consoles.
The Little Conqueror is one of the best known of what are often called “Famiclones” — duplicates of the Famicom or NES that are intended for markets in which the official hardware is unavailable or prohibitively expensive. For many Chinese consumers, this knockoff system was their first real exposure to the world of interactive electronic entertainment.
There’s a group of international students behind me enjoying a rare night out. I can one of them — a man from Saudi Arabia — talking about the things he’s observed about Americans since moving here. One line in particular jumps out at me: “Americans never leave high school.”
We really do underestimate the power of games and sports, or their importance in the human experience. Within groups, they are often praised as bonding activities, an important part of our socialization. More than that, though, games have a power to unite people between groups. Games are universal and require no bond between the parties. They demand nothing other than an implicit understanding between fair-minded competitors.
This is an interesting comment as it’s one that I rarely see on spec submission pages, and indeed many editors have a taste for this kind of material. I see them on a regular basis: Tales in which some cosmic superbeing postulates on how War Is Bad and how those warmongering (or polluting, or bigoted, or greedy, etc.) humans must be destroyed, and we should all agree with them. It’s sanctimony wrapped in a space suit.
Even so, I’ll always remember what, at a foundational level, I witnessed in that lot: A work of art destroyed so that others could say that they appreciate art. Such is the tension between art and industry, between the wild natural process and capitalistic efficiency.
55% of Americans support limiting the number of Chinese students admitted to the U.S., per a recent Pew survey. It’s not the only result from that survey, and I imagine that for most people, it won’t be their takeaway. To me, though, this is the piece of information that stopped me cold, that grabbed me by the face and wouldn’t let go. A majority of Americans want to keep Chinese teenagers out of the country, and that’s simply the state of affairs in 2021.
Six years ago, I inadvertently sent a novel overseas, but it was only because I was trying to get it published. It’s not that complicated, I assure you — it does get a little messy, though, and I’m going to be asking you for your help a little for now. For now, just know that this is a story of desperation and misdirected creativity that went a little farther (literally) than I’d imagined.