Sign, Monkey Boy, Sign!

Here’s a shoutout to all the people who showed up to the signing/reading/book launch party for The Devil’s Alphabet this past Friday. Thank so much, friends. And thanks to Danielle and everyone at the State College Barnes & Noble, who were so gracious and helpful. I very much appreciate y’all supporting a local writer of weird books.

I think about 50 people showed up to bookstore portion of the evening, and we had about that many in our house afterward for desserts., though these two groups did not completely overlap:

True, I knew almost everyone, but that’s why insecure writers hold local signings. I’ve done a couple of these bookstore events outside my hometown, and in all cases they have been what I call Ego Correction Exercises. A roomful of friendly faces is a wonderful thing.

But I did meet a few new folks, including Nick & Phiala and Mike & Elizabeth, two couples who are SF fans and true geeks who could talk inside baseball like nobody’s business, and who all lived within two blocks of me. Which is one of the coolest things about living in a small town.

At the bookstore I started with a short reading from the book. I think it took me longer to explain the premise of the novel and set up the scene than to read the scene itself. Fortunately, the scene contained only medium amounts of description about pus.

This was followed by the traditional (because we did it for the Pandemonium launch), handing out of five “Questions written by My Wife” for people to ask during the Q&A section. Questions such as, “Rumor has it, you were a big whiner during the writing of this book. Please explain.”

I also got to talk about the cover, and demonstrate once and for all that those are not my eyes.

Then it was on to the signatures, then back to my house for dessert, coffee, and other beverages. Our friend Kimber made it to the house, straight from working as a clown at a birthday party, and freaked out my son, who has a thing about clowns. More pictures.

Can I just say how much fun I had? Thanks again for welcoming this book, people.

The Daryl News Network

Hi, it’s been nearly 4 hours. Would you like some more news about me, Daryl? Put on your best James Earl Jones voice and say it along with me: This is… DNN.

I’m trying to figure out what part of The Devil’s Alphabet to read at the Barnes & Noble signing this Friday. I don’t think it should be the scene where the main character helps three thugs drain pus out of his father. I’m just saying. If you’re curious to hear how this turns out, and you’re anywhere in central PA, please stop by — 6:30 Friday night.

Meanwhile, some reviews of TDA have been coming out. About a week ago Locus featured an interview with my friend Charlie Finlay, also known as Charles Coleman Finlay (to readers of his short stories), C.C. Finlay (to readers of his secret history of the Revolutionary War, with witches, known as the Traitor to the Crown trilogy), and Cuddles Finlay (to me, when I was feeling cold and alone one night at his Blue Heaven workshop). I really liked hearing why he chose a secret history over an alternate history for his books, and how Tim Powers influenced him. I can see it now, but I completely missed it when I read the books!.

Anyway, also in that issue of Locus is a review of my book, by Faren Miller. I found it interesting that she highlighted how much of a regional book this was. I liked this bit at the end:

Graduate thesis writers could probably find rich material for investigations of its allegorical nature, since the clades can be seen as exaggerations of various southern types: long, lean hillbillies; religious sects whose obedient women devote themselves to childbearing; and gluttons unacquainted with the concept of healthy food.

But Gregory doesn’t limit himself to parody, and major characters among the Changed can seem very real in both their memories of lost humanity and adaptation to their new conditions… Events in Switchcreek may also have wider implications for human evolution and the fate of the Earth itself, making this as much an innovative work of science fiction as it is an extraordinary exercise in regional literature, tinged with medical horrors.

And that pretty much says it.

Pretty much. Thanks to Google Alerts, I’ve been able to hear of a bunch of other reviews as they’ve come out:

Kel Munger of the Sacramento News and Review picked The Devil’s Alphabet as one of his top five fiction books (all genres) for 2009.

BW Fenlon, over at the Missions Unknown blog (staffed by various Texans of San Antonio, one of whom is a friend of mine, John Picacio) wrote a review of TDA.  He works at a San Antonio bookstore, and says, “It was the cover of The Devil’s Alphabet that initially drew my attention with its gloriously creepy upside-down eyes staring back at me every time I walked by.”  I definitely get a binary response on that cover. Some people, especially editors and booksellers, think it works. And some people really, really hate it. Even Mr. Fenlon, who liked the contents of the book, by the end of the review sounds a bit ambivalent about the cover: “One question I do know the answer to: I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more stories from Daryl Gregory, upside-down eyes or not.”

Ryan on the Battle Hymns blog recently wrote a nice (in both senses) review of Pandemonium.

The Barnes & Noble Online F&SF Book Club featured a two-person discussion on The Devil’s Alphabet. Okay, only two people, but I was happy to hear Paul and Ryan’s thoughts on the book. Thanks, guys.

Several nice reviews have showed up on Amazon.com from Moses Siregar (Moses stops by here a lot– hi Moses, thanks for posting that), Amanda Mitchell of SacramentoBookReview.com, and Amy Gwiazdowski of BookReporter.com (who really disliked the main character, but liked the book).

And on the GoodReads site, GoogleAlerts scooped up this review by someone named “Ellen”– who turned out to be the editor Ellen Datlow! She gave it 4/5 stars and said, “My only complaint is that I thought it was going to be darker than it is and so I don’t feel comfortable including it in Best Horror. (sniff)” My next assignment: Write something really dark for Ellen. Maybe I can finish it before I see her at the KGB Reading Series in NYC next month.

(You see how I slid that in there, mentioning again how I’m going to be reading at KGB? That, my friends, is the equivalent of a text crawl at the bottom of the screen. Next up: DNN Headline News.)

Distinguishing the Undistinguished

So this wonderful news arrived the other night: The Devil’s Alphabet is on the list of finalists for the Philip K Dick Award, the award for books published as paperback originals. The winner will be announced in Seattle at Norwescon on April 2, 2010.

When PKD died, Tom Disch founded the award in honor of the man.  As Locus puts it, “The awards were created and named for the writer who, though increasingly renowned after his death in 1982, was published mostly in undistinguished paperback editions during his career.”

Let’s hear it for undistinguished paperback editions!

I tried to trick my way onto the ballot last year by inserting PKD as a character in Pandemonium. Somebody told me that was the way to do it. Turns out, you have to write something that doesn’t mention Dick at all. (Insert mandatory Dick joke here.)

Seriously, I’m honored to be on the list, for a lot of reasons, but especially because several of PKDs books inspired me, and some of the previous winners and nominees include some of my favorite books. You can see all the covers of the books at SF Signal’s site. I swiped some of their html, because it includes the links to some of their reviews:

  • Bitter Angels, C. L. Anderson (Ballantine Books/Spectra)
  • The Prisoner, Carlos J. Cortes (Ballantine Books/Spectra)
  • The Repossession Mambo, Eric Garcia (Harper) [See SF Signal’s review]
  • The Devil’s Alphabet, Daryl Gregory (Del Rey) [See SF Signal’s review]
  • Cyberabad Days, Ian McDonald (Pyr) [See SF Signal’s review]
  • Centuries Ago and Very Fast, Rebecca Ore (Aqueduct Press)
  • Prophets, S. Andrew Swann (DAW Books) [See SF Signal’s review]

The Mug’s Game

Okay, so I finished a chapter of the new book yesterday, and Kath and Ian both read it.  (Kath’s the wife, Ian’s the son. Emma the daughter is too busy these days to read her dad’s stuff, though she wants to.)

The thing I appreciate about Kath as a reader is that she has zero tolerance for genre cliches, and she’s hyper attuned to interpersonal relationships. If I start shorthanding the relationships — basically, making the reader assume more than they should about how two characters feel about each other, or leaving blank what should be there, so that the action becomes impossible to interpret — she’ll call me on it.

Now, sometimes I ignore her. Sometimes I’m deliberately holding back on information on a character, or what one character thinks of another, to pay it off later. Sometimes I want the reader to lean in, to work for what the character is thinking. But, yeah, sometimes, I’ve just missed the boat.

As was the case in this chapter. There are two secondary characters who are inadequately fleshed out. One of them, I deliberately left mysterious. But the other, I thought I’d provided enough info so the reader could sense what their relationship was. I was wrong. Thank Jebus I’ve usually got time to rewrite, and I can fix this stuff before it goes out in the world.

Now Ian. Ian is thirteen, and he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about interpersonal relationships. He’s after the bang, and the comedy, and the action, and if I don’t deliver that, he will be ON me. In this chapter, he was happy to get some of the bang and comedy. (The bang is the thrill of the new. The comedy is self-explanatory. And action is plot, taking arms against a sea of troubles, etc.) Not much action in this chapter. This was one of those sections where I needed to load the bases hit by hit, so that expectation was built to a fever pitch…

But it’s a balancing act. I want, crazily enough, to satisfy everyone, everywhere, all the time. I don’t like to admit this. Writers aren’t supposed to care about their readers that much. And really, there is no way to please everyone all the time. It’s a mug’s game to try. But I’m a mug.

So, instead of writing the next chapter, in the next few days I’ll be going back over the last chapter, seeing if there’s a way to satisfy both those readers: a bang that means something.

I’ll let you know if I figure out how to do that.