Thursday, November 8, 2007

Zencore! -- the name guessing game

(BTW: month-long silence here, I know. Too busy to blog, barely time to breathe. But I'll update on Interzone submissions soon.)

I’ve tried to guess the names of Nemonymous writers before, but was very bad at it (I think I only recognised Jay Lake as the writer of “Apologising to the Concrete” in Nemonymous 4, and Paul Meloy as the writer of “Running Away to Join the Town” in Nemonymous 5). Now, however, we have been given the names of 16 of the 17 authors (one is still ‘anonymous’), so we can try to match the author to the story.

For this, I divided the writers into three groups: English male, American male, and female (no need to subdivide the female group as there are only three). Then I tried to figure out which stories were written by an English author (spelling, atmosphere and location being the giveaways), or an American. Similarly I tried to guess which stories were written by a male or a female (choice of protagonist and sensibility being the main factors).

Of course, I may guess horribly wrong, but that’s part of the fun.

The English male group consists of eight authors: Charles Black, Dominy Clements, Nick Jackson, kek-W, Tim Nickels, Reggie Oliver, Steven Pirie and Mark Valentine. The American male group has five authors: Daniel Ausema, Scott Edelman, M.P. Johnson, Brian Rappatta, and S.D. (Scott) Tullis. The three female writers are Ursula Pflug, Patricia Russo and E. (Cathy) Sedia.

Since the smallest group should be the easiest (hopefully), I looked at which stories I thought were written by a woman. This worked out like this:

(both in alphabetical order)

Female Authors

Ursula Pflug
Patricia Russo
E. Sedia

Female Stories

The Awful Truth About the Circus

Mary’s Gift, the Stars, and Frank’s Pisser
Red Velvet Dust

The stories are, quite simply, those with a female protagonist. Also, I thought that they all had, to a certain extent, a strong feminine sensibility (possibly some author is laughing very hard now).

The easy one is then “Red Velvet Dust”: story set in Ontario, Canadian spelling (which is a strange and inconsistent mix of English and American, which drives me nuts: sometimes it’s English, sometimes it’s American, and this story had – on page 117 both ‘color’ ‘the color of magic’ in the fourth paragraph and ‘colours’ ‘the colours of Canada’ in the last paragraph on the same page. Canadians: sometimes they use ‘o’ in nouns like color, sometimes ‘ou’; sometimes they use the ‘er’ ending of nouns like theater, sometimes the ‘re’ ending; sometimes they use ‘z’ in verbs like serialize, and sometimes ‘s’, and I’ll be damned if I could find some consistency in it. So you can get a sentence like “The theater’s bright colours mesmerized her”, or “The theatre’s bright colors mesmerised her.” which both make the consistency-preferring editor in me go cross-eyed). In any case, since this story is firmly set in Canada (Toronto and Ontario are named), with Canadian spelling, and since the story is about a woman trying to come to grips with losing her mother, it’s a safe bet that the writer is a Canadian female, which leaves only Ursula Pflug.

Which leaves two female authors and three stories I think were written by women. All the other stories have male protagonists and, I think, a strong male sensibility, so I’m guessing here that the ‘Anonymous’ author is female, as well.

Patricia Russo has been published several times in Tales of the Unanticipated — which I remember — and Not One of Us, Space & Time, Fantasy Magazine and Talebones — Google is your friend, and I assume she’s not the Alcatel/Lucent chairwoman — and following a few reviews, and a quick glance in Talebones #35 that just dropped in my mailbox curtesy of BBR-Distribution, I get a sense that she writes subtle fantasy stories that sometimes edge close to literature. This would make “Mary’s Gift, the Stars, and Frank’s Pisser”quite a bit too ‘in-your-face’ for her, and “Fugly” possibly too. “The Awful Truth About the Circus”, which is a gentle fantasy, seems to be closest to her sensibilities.

So I’m guessing Patricia Russo wrote “The Awful Truth About the Circus”

Ekatarina Sedia: I’ve read quite a few stories from her (both in and out of the slushpile). She’s widely published, both in magazines like Clarkesworld Magazine, SciFicition, Analog, Fantasy Magazine, Aeon and Book of Dark Wisdom; and in anthologies like Poe’s Progeny, the Elastic Book of Numbers, and Bare Bones #7. So it’s a toss-up between “Fugly” and “Mary’s Gift, the Stars, and Frank’s Pisser”.

Now I’ll go out on a limb (even more), and guess that E. Sedia wrote “Fugly”, and that “Mary’s Gift, the Stars, and Frank’s Pisser” is written by Anonymous. No reason, pure gut feeling.

Before we look at the rest of the (male) stories divided up by English or American sensibilities, I must owe up to some doubts. I thought I found an easy one: “Terminus” is written in the first person, with a protagonist who is called ‘Charles’ (on page 139, second paragraph from below: “I had to, Charles.”). Also, it’s a weird story, and Charles Black — on his MySpace page — calls himself a ‘writer of weird fiction’, which his publication list (H P Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, Horror Carousel, the Black Book of Horror and more) confirms.

A near perfect match.

Still, the spelling of “Terminus” is American (gray, centers, color, humor), while a lot of the references have a more British air (Chatham Road, Churchill Road, Harwich, Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, Livingstone, a driver saying ‘suh’ for ‘Sir’).

Also, if “Terminus” has American spelling, then I run into a slight mismatch: while there are six stories with American spelling, there are only five American authors (subsequently there are seven stories with English spelling, but eight British authors).

So I’m going to assume that Charles Black — in the name of nemonimity — deliberately muddled the waters and on his spellchecker used American English, and replaced all English spellings with American.

Thus, “Terminus” is written by Charles Black.

Twelve stories left. Next smallest group is American male authors, and I did indeed think that six stories were written by American males. Hence:

(both in alphabetical order)

American Male Authors

Daniel Ausema
Scott Edelman
M.P. Johnson
Brian Rappatta
S.D. Tullis

American Male Stories

The Nightmare Reader
The Plunge
Upset Stomach
Word Doctor

Of these writers, I know Scott Edelman best. Since Scott has a tendency to write metafictional stories — such as “This Is Where the Title Goes” in the Journal of Pulse-Pounding Narratives, vol. 2 and “The Scariest Story I Know” in, indeed, Nemonymous 5 — I am guessing that he wrote the metafictional piece of Zencore!

Scott Edelman wrote “Word Doctor.”

I read somewhere in the myriad of Nemonymous/Weirdmonger related websites that there was an author that called the stories in Zencore! ‘weirderature’. When checking out the authors I didn’t know I found that M.P. Johnson coines this term on his website , giving as the third meaning of this neologism: “3. the writings dealing with a particular subject: the weirderature of fast food muck-spewing.”

Also, according to his site, M.P. Johnson is quite a bizarro, punk horror, and gore aficionado. Bizarro + ‘fast-food muck-spewing’= “Upset Stomach”.

M.P. Johnson wrote “Upset Stomach”

(Which has the author sprawled on the floor laughing because possibly he wrote “The Plunge”. But I plunge onwards…;-)

Yeah, “The Plunge”. I’ll leave that one for last.

Checking out Brian Rappatta’s homepage I see he wrote a story called “A Lifetime of Nightmares” Hence my guess that Brian Rappatta wrote “The Nightmare Reader”.

Similarly, when checking out Daniel Ausema’s blog — typically called ‘Twigs and Brambles’ — and trawling the net, chancing upon an interview with him here, I found that he had a story called Knock on Wood” where he introduced ‘mobile tree stumps’. That’s two links to forests, where also “Torsion” is set.

So I guess Daniel Ausema wrote “Torsion”.

Then, by process of elimination I’m guessing that S.D. Tullis wrote “The Plunge”. Actually, seeing his previous nemo appearances — “The Death Knell” in Nemonymous 4 and “The Hills Are Alive” in Nemonymous 5 — it doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

Which brings us to the English male writers:

(both in alphabetical order)

English Male Authors

Dominy Clements
Nick Jackson
Tim Nickels
Reggie Oliver
Steven Pirie
Mark Valentine

English Male Stories

Berian Winslow & the Stream of Consciousness Storyteller
Blue Raspberries
The Coughing Coffin
England and Nowhere
MMM — Delicious
The Secret Life of the Panda

Again, the easy ones (or what I think are the easy ones) first.

Steven Pirie is a predominantly comic fantasy writer, has written a novel called “Digging Up Donald”, and is working on a sequel with the working title of “Burying Bob”. There’s a humourous fantasy piece in Zencore! called “The Coughing Coffin”.

Steven Pirie wrote “The Coughing Coffin”.

“Undergrowth” features a book aficionado looking for an almost impossible to get first print of Francis Brett Cox. It also mentions Arthur Machen. Mark Valentine’s website has a whole supernatural fiction database, his short stories feature the exploits of “The Connoisseur”, so:

Mark Valentine wrote “Undergrowth”.

Comes the difficult part, where I am clutching at straws (this should be amusing).

The first straw: after some desperate trawling for info, I chanced upon Nick Jackson’s bio on Whispers of Wickedness, which mentions that “none of his short stories can be rounded off without some kind of animal making an appearance, apart from dogs, which he positively dislikes”, added to a picture where he strokes a dog.

More pertinently, the reviews I checked of his collection Visits to the Flea Circus give the strong impression that his style and sensibility match that of “The Secret Life of the Panda”.

So Nick Jackson worte “The Secret Life of the Panda”.

Four to go, and the ice I’m skating gets thinner and thinner. From my review it’s clear that I really liked “Blue Raspberries”. It struck me that this must have been written by a British author with a strong European sensibility. Since Dominy Clements lives in The Netherlands, he’s my first suspect. Furthermore, “Blue Raspberries” has an SFnal tone (A Phil Dickian sensibility), and kek-W according to this bio writes ‘deviant SF pulp fiction’. Also, when going over his blog I see quite some references to German bands (Glockenspiel, Buffle, Nina Hagen, Klaus Nomi) which gives him a European angle, as well (and he mentioned that ‘Sometime or other, I'll shock everyone by just getting on a plane and actually turning up at one of these things...’, so he may not have visited the European mainland, but he’s definitely interested).

Now “Berian Winslow & the Stream of Consciousness Storyteller” is also basically SF. One character’s name in one of the stories the storyteller tells is ‘Marieke’: a typical Dutch name, which I would suspect could come from someone living in Holland.

So to me it’s a toss-up if either Dominy Clements wrote “Blue Raspberries” or “Berian Winslow & the Stream of Consciousness Storyteller”; or kek-W or vice-versa. So the coin dropped as:

Dominy Clements wrote “Berian Winslow and the Stream of Consciousnes Storyteller”

kek-W wrote “Blue Raspberries”

Two stories and two names left. Tim Nickels and Reggie Oliver; “MMM — Delicious” and “England and Nowhere”. Another very hard one. I only know Reggie Oliver by reputation: I haven’t read anything from him. His wikipedia entry calls him an English playwright, biographer, and writer of ghost stories (emphasis mine), and says the following about his fiction: “Some of his work is set within the rather seedy end of show business, a world in which, as a playwright, theatre director and actor, he has had ample experience.” That seems to point towards “MMM — Delicious”, which basically is a ghost story, and indeed deals with the seedy end of show business.

On the other hand, both of Reggie Oliver’s collections (The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini, and Other Strange Stories and The Complete Symphonies of Adolf Hitler) have a strong reputation. And I wasn’t quite so impressed with “MMM — Delicious”.

Then Tim Nickels. I must admit that I have bought his collection The English Soil Society but haven’t had time to read it (together with approximately 300 other books). So I check a review (written by fellow Zencore! author Mark Valentine: synchronicity in action!) of it, and an interview with him. The former concludes that the stories in his collection are either a complete miss, or succeed spectacularly. In the interview Tim says that it sometimes takes him years to write a story. So it’s quite imaginable that he either wrote a miss (“MMM — Delicious”), or a hit (“England and Nowhere”).

I’ll go with my gut feeling here, and attribute “MMM — Delicious” to Reggie Oliver. It has the themes he seems to like, and every (reputedly) good writer can have a lesser story.

Similarly, I’ll go out on a limb and propose that Tim Nickels wrote “England and Nowehere”. If he did, I’ll put The English Soil Society very high on my ‘to read’ list. It just seems the kind of story that has taken a very long time to write. The attention to detail is immaculate, and thinking of it, there are a few descriptions coast shrubbery that give the impression of being written by someone who know exactly what he’s talking about.

So here’s the complete list:

TorsionDaniel Ausema

MMM — DeliciousReggie Oliver

UndergrowthMark Valentine

FuglyE. Sedia

The Nightmare ReaderBrian Rappatta

The Secret Life of the PandaNick Jackson

Upset StomachM.P. Johnson

The Awful Truth About the CircusPatricia Russo

Red Velvet DustUrsula Pflug

The Coughing CoffinSteven Pirie

TerminusCharles Black

Mary’s Gift, the Stars, and Frank’s PisserAnonymous

Blue Raspberrieskek-W

Berian Winslow & the Stream of Consciousness StorytellerDominy Clements

The PlungeS.D. Tullis

England and NowhereTim Nickels

Word DoctorScott Edelman

Of course, then who is the ‘anonymous’ who wrote “Mary’s Gift, the Stars, and Frank’s Pisser”? I don’t have a clue.