Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Blog tour schedule

In honour of Hild's UK publication, I have lots of stuff—essays, interviews, reviews—going up this week on other people's blogs, starting today:
If you like anything, especially something someone else has written, do please leave them a comment.

I'll do my best to post links on Twitter and Facebook as things go up, but I might miss a few. So, just in case, here's the schedule:


Monday, July 21, 2014

Bishops in high heels

Thanks to a reader I've finally got around to reading yesterday's New York Times Op-Ed about the Church of England's General Synod decision to permit women bishops.

Hild would have been glad. I imagine she essentially functioned as a bishop anyway—even without being a priest—but she would have welcomed anything that made her position as leader of her church easier.

I look forward to future bishops in frocks. Who knows, given the inevitable changes we're seeing around gender: some of them might be men...


Friday, July 18, 2014

Coming soon: I am everywhere...

...But in the next ten days or so perhaps not here a lot. On Thursday, 24th July, Hild will be published in the UK (and fifty other territories: India, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand...). The hardback is available for pre-order from fine bookshops such as Foyles and Word Power, and giant online retailers like Amazon and Waterstones. You can get the ebook now from the online giants in all English-speaking territories (Amazon UK | Apple UK | Apple ANZ | Amazon ANZFlipkart | JB Hi-Fi). If none of those take your fancy, take a look at this comprehensive list of where to buy Hild.

I'll be guest-blogging in at least a dozen different places. 

I've already started over at Charlie Stross's Antipope with "Gods and Gender," ostensibly a piece about Thor but really about sex and gender and the sf genre, especially comics. Drop by. The comment thread is very well moderated and the conversation good. Next week I plan to start discussion on a topic very dear to my heart: Who owns sf? That is, who gets to define it? How is that changing?

Some of the articles I've written are starting to appear. See, for example, "To Come Back Increased" in Shiny New Books.

I've been delighted by the response of professional medievalists. See, for example, this long and thoughtful review in Medievally Speaking.

But what I'm currently pleased as punch about are the two blurbs from well-respected historian/author/academic Alex Woolf and the writer and archaeologist Max Adams:
  • "Hild is the best fictional attempt to recreate Dark Age Britain that I have ever read. Alex Woolf
  • "I was impressed—as a fellow-writer and a Northumbrian archaeologist. Hild is a great piece of work."  Max Adams
I won't be in the UK until October. That visit will include bookshops, literary festivals, at least one university, and perhaps more. The last I heard the publisher was talking to a company about a special batch of mead... Details to come but, essentially, if you can get to London or to Yorkshire we will have a good time!

Also, with luck, I'll be travelling in the US in November. That's all still TBD, though, so if you want to me to come to your city and/or your bookshop, do please let me know. Right now I've no idea what the paperback publisher, Picador, has in mind, so vote early, vote often, and you never know...


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hild's sexuality, redux

Over at Goodreads I've been answering questions, most recently on whether, in Hild's time, sex between women was or was not frowned upon.
Simon asked Nicola Griffith:

I absolutely loved your book _Hild_. Thanks so much for writing it! You depict a fairly open attitude to homosexual relations. In your research for the book, did you come across any evidence on attitudes to homosexuality, or was this part of what you "made up"?

Nicola Griffith said:
Thank you!

Hild isn't lesbian/homosexual. She's bisexual. I doubt they had such terms back then, though. I've seen no evidence that who you did or did not have sex with defined how women thought of themselves.

Actually, there's no evidence for anything, sexually, in early seventh-century northern Britain. Nothing. No material culture and no text.

I'm guessing that Roman Christians, being Pauline to the core, would have disapproved. Indeed, Breguswith says as much in the book: be careful around the priests. But that was as much about having sex with anyone as having sex with women. Monks and priests like Bede (if we go purely by written evidence) thought women were more holy if they didn't have sex at all; being a virgin was better than being married, for example.

The way I see it, at the time, before widespread conversion to Roman Christianity, no one much cared who you did and didn't have sex with. Sex wasn't a moral issue. All royal women before the founding of nunneries (I think--though I'm wary of the words 'always' and 'never' in any context, never mind a time we know so little about) got married, and that if they then wanted to have sex with other women no one would much care as long as they were discreet. After all, the point of marriage was alliance, household management, and the provision of heirs. Married girls loving other married girls wouldn't have any impact on any of these points.

I talk about that a bit here: http://gemaecca.blogspot.com/2008/08/...

There again, there's this incident from Ireland from the 8th century that makes sex between women sound rather jolly and uncomplicated:

Make of that what you will...
More questions and answers here. I'll be stopping soon so carpe forum. Or you could just send me email (see sidebar) with a question and I'll answer here.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

I'm Guest of Honour at Readercon 26, July 2015

One hour ago:

So it's official. Next year, July 2015, I and Gary Wolfe and the fiercely missed Joanna Russ will be the Guests of Honour at Readercon 26, Burlington MA. Mark your calendars! It's going to be an amazing four days.

More info when I have it.


Friday, July 11, 2014

What is it about mothers?

From: Sally

This is more of a request than a question, actually! More Hild and more Aud, please!

Hild is so brilliant! I can’t wait for what happens next. It is such a beautiful book, so well written. You have a gift, your characters are so vivid. In your writings, while depicting a lot of violence and evil, you write with such love and compassion. In a time of small people you fill your books with super large people and lots of exciting action.

What is it about your mums? Both Hild’s and Aud’s are fascinating.

Aud is larger than life, her faults are frightening, she is so flawed but so lovable I think! Super Aud. She grows quite wonderfully in your trilogy.

I would love to know more about Aud’s mother, it is such a loaded relationship. You leave out and your reader fills in the spaces.

I love the way you bring science and nature into your books, reminding me of Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful books.

Thanks for your lovely books. I wish you well in your writing and in your health. God Bless.
Oh, there will be more Hild. I'm working on Book II now and researching for Book III. (Current reading: Nunneries and the Anglo-Saxon Royal Houses by Barbara Yorke, and Anglo-Saxon Art by Leslie Webster). One day there might be more Aud; I think of her now and again.

Hild and Aud do have some things in common: height, for one thing. And a concern for and attention to the physical world. They are bright, of course--I've never been interested in writing about people who aren't--but the body matters as much as the mind.

I've just realised that both, too, have absent fathers. Neither, though, has Daddy Issues. (Unlike 99.9% of Hollywood product. Don't get me started on The Lego Movie...)

The mothers of Hild and Aud are strong, smart, and accomplished. They're also political, ruthless, and occasionally selfish. And they love their daughters, though sometimes their daughters don't love them back. In other words, they're parents and they're human.

If you're going to have an interesting protagonist it helps if she comes from an interesting background. And the font of all background is family.

So the mothers of Aud and Hild are towering figures. Aud's is largely an absent one as she was growing up because that's the nature of modern diplomatic work. Hild's, on the other hand, is with her most of the time. Not always, though; I needed Hild to be able to find her own way, become her own person, and I suspect this isn't possible if a parent is constantly hovering.

I'm delighted Hild reminded you of Robert Macfarlane's work. I discovered his books not long after I started working on Hild and felt instantly at home with his appreciation of the natural world. His descriptions have the same sensibility. Last year, when he was chairing the Booker judges, I sighed over the fact that Hild wasn't eligible.

As for my health, it's good. Very good actually. But a truly terrible six months of iatrogenic horrors--November through May--has left me with some serious catching up to do. More on that another time because it will be a rant. Let me just put it this way: the FDA has been informed.

Now, though, I'm strong as a horse, engaged with Book II, and looking forward to the UK launch of Hild. Life is good.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Some basic thoughts on query letters

I often find myself helping first-time novelists with query letters. Here are my thoughts distilled.1

A query letter is not a teaser. It's not jacket copy or an artist's statement. It's a selling document. It's a list of specs for an agent who doesn't know you from Eve: this is what the book is, this is what it does, this is who I am. 

The sole purpose of a query letter is to tell the agent what s/he needs to know in order to decide to invest the time to read the novel. This means you have to make the book and you, the author, seem interesting and sellable:
  • to an editor
  • who will be thinking of how to pitch it to marketing and sales
  • who will be looking for something one reader can describe to another
Your novel doesn't have to be simple but the one-line description does.

So, for example, the one-line description for an imaginary novel The Burnt Man could be "Set in a ninth century in which the Fall of Rome coincided with the fall of something nasty from the sky: an alien slow virus that has destroyed what remains of civilisation and set the world on a new path."

Tell the agent:
  • about the book: setting, characters, basic plot arc, the big emotional knot at the heart of things (if there isn't one, you have a problem), length (don't query an agent about fiction that isn't complete)
  • about you: a thumbnail of why only you could have written this, who you are (have you won awards for short fiction? did you go to Breadloaf or Clarion West? are you a juggler or CEO or Olympic athlete?), what your social media numbers are like (if they're good; otherwise don't mention them)
Be clear and matter of fact. Don't overstate.

Tell the agent a little about the story:
  • the protagonist: name, occupation, age
  • the protagonist's essential struggle: the major turning points
  • their real risk around this choice--what are they afraid of?
  • how does it begin, how does it end? (Does it start in one country and end in another? How long does it take--a day, a year, a lifetime?)
Avoid the whiff of dog-whistle flap-copy (the signals that only those in the know will get) and just say it. Be straightforward.

Never hint at more than you can back up. So don't say, "The Burnt Man has been called Hild meets Nightwings" because the first thing an agent will do is ask "By whom?" If you're really married to the Hollywood-style mashup2 say, rather, "I think of Burnt Man as Hild meets Nightwings." This not only gives the agent a window into your ambition and how you think but avoids the impression that you're trying to claim more than you should.

Make the agent want you as much as the book: if you have plans for--or, even better, have already begun--more novels, say so. (Agents like the idea of a steady stream of stuff they can sell; they like knowing you're a worthy investment of time, energy, emotion.) Give a couple of personal nuggets that they could use to sell the book to an editor; that is, that an editor could sell to marketing and sales--something PR could hang personal interest stories on.

Tell the truth.3 Good luck.

1 I'm assuming you know the basics: keep it to a page, address an agent by name, explain why you're approaching that particular agent, etc. If you don't, visit Query Shark or AgentQuery or Nathan Bransford.
2 Some agents love them, some hate them. It depends what you're writing. And be warned: if you do ever refer to your novel that way, even jokingly, you could get stuck with it: "Game of Thrones without the dragons," anyone?. Choose your comparisons carefully.
3 I have been known to indulge in, ah, aspirational statements--"Oh, yep, I'm working on two novels, actually; here's a paragraph about each." But I back them up. In this instance, I actually wrote Ammonite and Slow River after I'd lied and said I was already working on them. But when the editorial director of HarperCollins UK tells you he likes your short fiction and asks you if you're working on a novel I think it's okay to say Yes and make it true later. But much better to be actually doing the work already.


Monday, July 7, 2014

A new kind of teaching

In April I taught The Magic of Immersive Fiction, a one-day workshop for Clarion West. The workshop sold out within 90 minutes of announcement. We were all startled (at least I was, and if CW was expecting that kind of stampede they kept it quiet). As an experiment, I offered to teach the same workshop again six weeks later. Within a day that one too had sold out, and had a waiting list.

Participants, it turned out, came from all over the country, and from Canada. I was surprised by that. It seems like a huge investment to fly thousands of miles to attend a one-day workshop. Three days of absence from home life, two nights' stay, food, flights... I didn't feel responsible, exactly, but I did want to be able to offer more than a single six-hour workshop: go out for beer, talk, eat. Something. But because I simply hadn't expected anyone but locals for the first, and because of the last-minute nature of the second, my schedule wouldn't permit it. (I can't remember what I had booked for the evening after the first but after the second it was a talk to a book club about Hild). 

The workshops were wonderful. It was a delight to meet and work with such committed people. I wanted to keep going. I was only just beginning to figure out what everyone needed, how they thought, how they learnt best. And they were just beginning to understand each other and work as a group. And there was so much I wanted to teach.

Clearly there's a demand for focused workshops. I've been considering ways to address it. Kelley and I have done a lot of thinking and talking.

We've both done a fair amount of teaching, both writing and other things. One of the many things we agree on is that writing concepts are better absorbed over time. It doesn't have to be a lot of time, a long weekend say, just enough to think and test and question alongside others, formally and informally.

So we're pondering a workshop for a small number of writers. At this stage we're not sure how many because we've only just started thinking. (12? 15? 18? Something like that.) We're not sure of venue. We're not sure of structure or of admission principles. (Selective? First-come basis?) But here's what we do know. 

  • Genre doesn't matter. Story is story. I don't care whether you call it science fiction or literary fiction or crime fiction, the same concepts apply. Good writing is good writing.
  • Kelley and I would both teach. We have a similar understanding of how writing works, both at the basic and expert level. We'd teach different segments of the (say) weekend: I'd teach, for example, setting. Kelley, for example, story structure.
  • There would be time to socialise. One of the things we both love to do is bring people together: to hold parties, give readings, talk about everything from business to creativity to life. Such weekends would be an opportunity for writers to become part of a lasting and growing network.
Given that Kelley and I live in Seattle, Seattle might be the best place to do this. At least at first. Once we've figured it out we might be able to occasionally take it on the road, either as an independent workshop or to run concurrently with a convention or conference. Not sure yet.

So what we're looking for now is input.
  • Is this something you'd be interested in? 
  • What time of year works best for you? 
  • Would you prefer a holiday or regular weekend?
  • Is coming to Seattle workable for you?
I'm serious about this. We'd really like to hear from you.

ETA: If you're interested in staying in the loop on this, there are two ways to do it.
  1. send me email at asknicola2@nicolagriffith.com
  2. sign up for email updates of this blog


Saturday, July 5, 2014

There are no tourists here

Lifted from Kelley's Instagram feed--with permission of course
Last night I went to a Clarion West party. I talked to several of this year's students and found myself saying to them, over and over, "There are no tourists here."

What I meant was everyone at the party mattered to the Clarion West ecosystem. No one present was a dilettante. Every single party guest had given time, money, or attention--most all three; many over decades--to the organisation.

Clarion West is one of the best writing workshops in the world. It is sustained by love: love of the written word, love of the genre, love of community, of generosity, of cooperation.

Kelley and I met at a Clarion workshop. We have both taught the six-week workshop. I've taught the one-day workshop three times. Kelley was Chair of the Board of Trustees for three years and is still a member of that board. I've run the Twitter account a couple of times in support of the Write-a-thon. Kelley has participated in the Wat many times. We've given countless parties in support of the workshop and its community. I could go on...

The last year or so has been a hectic one for me, so CW has not been top of my list of things to talk about. But last night reminded me of just how much these people, this idea, matters to me.

As I've said, CW is sustained by love. But it also needs money. And the biggest fundraiser of the year, the Write-a-thon, is now in gear: 263 writers from 16 countries writing their hearts out, writing like the wind, to fill CWs coffers so it will stay healthy for the future. Thanks to some generous donors, every participant now has a sponsor. This is good. More is better.

So, do you love fiction of any kind? Do you love f/sf in particular? Will you help? Please make a pledge to support a writer today.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Three weeks three days

Just got back from Washington DC. So no mega-post today. But here's a picture of the UK hardback and paperback of Hild, which I took late last night because, well, I'm excited. I know, I've been talking about this book for a year now, but this is publication in the country where I grew up. Publication where old friends and family can see it on the shelves. Publication in the same place it's set. This is what I've been waiting for. Just 24 days to go. 

With luck, I'll be in the UK in early October for a couple of literary festivals and some other things. When I get those details I'll post them here. I'll be the one beaming like a lunatic.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

All the different art of "Cold Wind"

At the end of last summer—mid-August—I unexpectedly wrote a short story, "Cold Wind." It was triggered by heat and brine and music and, especially, art.

When it gets warm here (that is, anything over 70 degrees) we open up the house to the breezes coming up from the ravine. This puts Terri Windling's Deer Maiden on permanent display: with the doors open I see it every time I walk into the kitchen to get tea. It's large. It's arresting.

I was also listening to Hedningarna's "Viima," which no matter what the weather makes me think of snow. In fact it made me think of Riva Lehrer's portrait of me.
The interesting thing—one of the many interesting things—about this picture is that it's three-dimensional. Here's a close-up to show you what I mean.
It's layered. It shows what lies beneath.

So while it was summer and I was writing endless non-fiction (essays, speeches, blog posts) about Hild, my fiction-making brain wanted to play. One day I sat to write a speech for a trade show and out plopped the first thousand words of "Cold Wind." Huh, I thought. Look at that. So I wrote the rest. I sold it within a couple of days of writing it and sat there blinking, thinking, What?! Somehow in the space of a few days I'd written, rewritten, and sold a brand-new piece of fiction that I hadn't even known I was thinking about. (Normally I have a clue. Though not always—another exception was "Song of Bullfrogs, Cry of Geese" which dropped into my head absolutely whole one day on the beach in Florida.) But then I went back to the speech and put it from my mind.

Not long after Hild came out, I saw the art Tor.com had commission from Sam Wolfe Connelly. It catches some of the menace and is still ambiguous enough to not give the game away.

And last week I saw this, a piece by Rovina Cai created in response to the story.
As she says (and if you haven't read the story skip the next two paragraphs—they are absolutely **SPOILERS**):
The story is about two shapeshifters and explores the concept of predator and prey. There is a point in the story where the perspective changes and the roles are reversed. This illustration captures one of the characters mid-transformation; both physically from woman to deer and from predator to prey. I wanted to subtly hint at a sense of danger, and to play with contrasting elements that leave it ambiguous as to whether this character is good or bad, hunter or the hunted.
And now I would love to see how she imagines the other character, Onca, changing...

But mainly today I'm struck by how art—music, painting, poetry, fiction, sculpture, video, all of it—winds about our lives connecting everything.

Today, everyday, the world is full of unexpected connections. Stay open to them.


Monday, June 23, 2014


Last year, two and half months before the publication of Hild, I emailed my editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux: "I hope it's not too late to change my author bio. I no longer want it to read that I'm Kelley's 'partner' because we're getting married."

He wrote back: "No problem. I'll just change partner to wife. So the end of the bio will read 'She lives in Seattle with her wife, the writer Kelley Eskridge.'"

I blinked. I blinked again. I hesitated. Wife. Then (with some misgivings) I gave the okay.

Twenty years ago, when I first married Kelley, in a ceremony with zero legal validity, but much emotional truth, in front of family and friends who'd flown in from all over the world, I might have hurt anyone who called me her wife or her my wife.

But when we got married last year on the 20th anniversary of that first wedding, in front of a judge, with the full legal force of the USA and UK and many other countries behind our vows, we used the word wife.

We'd talked about it over the years. We'd disliked it over the years. But when we were looking at the old, old vow "to take this woman as your legally wedded wife" with all the ancient rhythms of have and hold, richer and poorer, sickness and in health we knew it was the right word.

Yet it's still not easy to introduce Kelley as my wife.

I read my first feminist theory when I was 19. It made me so angry that I couldn't leave my flat for three days because I thought I might hurt the first man I saw. In the countries I call home (the UK and US) until relatively recently husbands could rape their wives with impunity. Wives could do nothing about that. A wife belonged to her husband. A wife submitted to him and depended upon him; a wife wasn't allowed to make decisions for herself, to borrow money...

So growing up wife was, to me, an ugly word. Anathema. A badge of second-class citizenship. So ugly, in fact, that it changed the way I thought. I and the woman I first lived with and loved1 never called each other my anything. Not even my lover. Using the possessive for another human being seemed wholly wrong.

And then I met Kelley and fell in love. And now she is my wife. Now I am her wife. What changed?

The etymology of wife is complicated. Looked at superficially we can say the Modern English wife (female spouse) is from Middle English (ME) wif/wiif/wyf (mistress of a household) which in turn is from Old English (OE) wīf (female, lady, woman—from wīfman, female person, though I'm not sure when that formulation occurred). But look a little deeper and you see that various meanings from past eras hang on in different guises, so we get the OE sense of woman preserved in midwife and old wife's tale, and the ME sense in housewife and (more specialised) fishwife (tradeswoman of humble rank).

And then we ask, where did wīf come from? From Proto-Germanic *wiban2. Which in turns might (things apparently get a bit guessy at this altitude, or maybe depth) come from the Proto-Indo-European *weip- (to twist, turn, wrap, perhaps with a sense of veiled person), or *ghwibh- (shame, also pundenda). So: wife might ultimately come from a sense of hiding one's shame. No wonder I've never liked it.

But words change. They change because the world does, because the speakers of a language put the words to different use, one that reflects their evolving worldview. In this sense, frothing conservatives are right: changing the traditional definition of marriage has changed marriage.

When two women call each other wife, wife no longer means chattel. It can't—chattel can't own each other. It no longer means object not subject, that is, subject to another's will. How can two people with the same status subject each other to anything? These days, in the US and UK, wife means, Woman in a legal marriage. By association, woman also no longer means object not subject. It no longer carries with it the implication that someone else is in charge. A woman is no longer automatically a lesser member of a household.

Wives and husbands3, women and men, are both now human beings in and of themselves. Though legally related. Family. Which entails obligation and connection, belonging that isn't necessarily possessive. I never had a problem calling the woman who bore me my mother though no one would have dreamt of assuming she was my chattel. Rather, we belonged to each other.

More women—of every age and sexuality and marital status—understand this and are refusing to accept the notion that women belong to men. I don't think it's a coincidence, for example, that the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen began some time after the SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality. Yes, before that there was #bindersfullofwomen. And, yes, SCOTUS ruled as it did because attitudes were already changing. But they are part of a continuum.

Interesting times lie ahead.

1 But see how awkward that phrasing is?
2 This disquisition is from notes I jotted down some time ago without attribution. (It's a bad habit I'm trying to break.) A quick search shows that a good chunk comes from the Online Etymology Dictionary but some, well, it's a bit of mystery. I'm guessing I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary, my favourite book, and that I added two and two myself to make four, but if anyone out there recognises any of it, please let me know. I'll be happy to give credit.
3 Husband is a later formulation. It's from Old Norse and probably replaced OE wer in the 13th century.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hild paperback cover

This is what the Hild paperback (out October 28 from Picador) will look like. What do you think?


Friday, June 13, 2014

Definition of hægtes

From: Robin

I am reading Hild and I have not been able to discover the definition of "haegtes." I read on my Kindle and cannot find the word on Wikipedia and have not been able to discover a reading group source; maybe I haven't looked hard enough but then I work full time.

I enjoyed your book Slow River.

[This email was edited for readability.]

A hægtes is a supernatural figure (imagine a witch, but worse).

The word is defined in the glossary—the list of terms and their definitions—that comes with the book. If on your Kindle (or in the Kindle app) you go to Table of Contents, you'll see the link to that glossary. It's at the end of the book, along with Author's Note which includes information on the real Hild and a pronunciation guide. At the front of the book, that is, before the chapters actually begin, you'll find other goodies, including a map and a family tree.

If you prefer to download and/or print the PDFs of map, glossary, pronunciation guide, list of characters etc. you can go to the Hild extras page on my blog where all are handily listed and linked.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Game of Thrones theme tune if it were from New Orleans


Coming soon, redux

The top four vote getters for my list of possible future blog posts are, in order:

  • dog-whistle flap copy
  • branding for writers
  • diversity on con panels
  • immersive fiction choices
I'll tackle at least one of those in the next few days. I'm not sure which.

I have a million other ideas, too. Some of them are long, more like essays than blog posts, and some are short and ranty. The lovely thing about a blog—this one, anyway—is that I don't have to know in advance. 

This blog is a labour of love; when it's too much labour I stop loving it. So it's play, mostly. Which isn't to say I don't take it—and you, dear reader—seriously. I do. I just don't organise around it. Right now, other parts of my life come first. Given that "other parts" include HILD II I'm guessing you won't mind too much.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guinness does NOT contain maize/corn

Three weeks ago, after reading/hearing a disturbing rumour that Guinness uses high-fructose corn syrup, I wrote to Guinness directly to ask them about their ingredients. I did not get a response. So I posted this. But I also wrote to them again:

I'd love a definitive answer to this question: What, exactly, is Guinness made from?
To put it another way: Do you use corn/maize at any stage?
As I explained to them, I'm not a purity fanatic, it's just that corn/maize isn't good for me. Also, frankly—though I didn't put this in the email—the thought of drinking beer made with maize/corn makes me shudder. I've always disliked the notion of wheat beer, too (though wheat doesn't make me ill unless I eat way, way too much of it).

This morning the customer service department responded:
Guinness does not contain high fructose corn syrup nor does it contain corn or maize.
Yay! Mostly. It's picky, I know, but I wanted them to say, No, we do not use maize/corn at any stage of our process. So I've written to them again. (I might be lazy but I can also be stubborn. I'll add their response when I get it.)

ETA: Here's their reply:
Corn and maize are not used in the production of Guinness.
So Guinness does not contain corn/maize.

I was an idiot to publish my post before I heard from the brewer directly but I did. I made a mistake. Anyway, I apologise to anyone whose equilibrium I disturbed with this. Sorry.

But those other beers like Corona? Yep, they're still full of stuff I can't drink. Sigh.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Walking away from it all, redux

From: Gregory 

You once wrote "I constantly try to live up to my ideal of myself as a person and a writer (if you want to read more about this, take a look at a long--very long [grin]--interview/essay/rant I wrote on the Aqueduct blog last month). I think it's easy to get complacent about ourselves. Writing--having everything be so public--keeps me on my toes." 

I interpret this - perhaps wrongly - to at least in part mean you wrote Aud the way you did because she embodied in many ways a heightened engagement with the physical world and specificity in thought, intention and language (among her other many admirable traits) that represent the best of how you want to live your life. 

I prize many of the same values you elucidated with Aud (and your Daily Delights, for instance) and have a number of touchstones to return to when I am feeling complacent or downright lazy in life. Do you have any authors or literary characters you turn to when you feel that way?

Thanks for your thinking and your work.

Liebe Grüße aus Hamburg
That Aqueduct post was long, and when I read it now I'm surprised by how willing I was to reveal struggle. Struggle isn't something I normally discuss in public. But clearly that point in my life I was in truth-telling mode--so much so, in fact, that I wrote a second part (though this one is slightly shorter).

But back to your question: Do I have books I turn to when I feel lazy and want to stop feeling that way? In a word: No. When I feel lazy I luxuriate in it. It is bliss. It's part of my writing process. To distract myself from it would be to break what works.

The nature of a writer who isn't yet independently wealthy is to work. I work all the time--even when I look as though I'm not working. When I sip tea in the sunshine and muse upon trees and birds part of me is somewhere else, and that part of me is working.

I'm not sure I get complacent. The reason I started writing in the first place is that it's the one thing I know I can always improve. It's like life itself: never-ending learning. Physically, yes, I'm more indolent than I'd like. I have MS; I can't stride about the way I want to. In the days before MS, I walked, ran, and biked everywhere: I didn't have a car and rarely used the bus. A two-mile walk to work (and back) was an everyday thing, and while I was there I ran up and down five flights of steps constantly. In evenings I'd bike another couple of miles to teach self defence (and the class itself could be physically demanding) then off to, say, play a darts match, then home, then write something, then a bit of sleep, then do it all again.

Now I don't. I loll about and type, or read, or watch the birds. Except when I'm travelling, when I'm meeting-and-greeting, and signing, and speaking, and doing interviews and readings. And when I get home, and I'm catching up on physical therapy and all those friends I haven't seen for weeks. And writing publicity pieces to support the novel. I actually long--I yearn, I hunger--for laziness. There's nothing I'd like better than to do nothing. It's what fills the creative well: finding the still, quiet place.

Non-fiction doesn't seem to work the same way for me. I can pump out non-fiction like a machine. In fact, when I'm publicising a novel I do: writing a couple of pieces a day, for days--and weeks, even months--at a time. But talking about the same thing can be existentially exhausting, and there are times I just want to walk away from it all.

In late 2007, after both Always and And Now We Are Going to Have a Party came out, that's what I did. And this is what happened:
[I]n autumn last year, the day before my birthday, I sat down with no clue how the book would unfurl, just the determination I would be working on it by the time I was forty-seven goddammit, and just...began, just jumped off the cliff. I am now falling a thousand feet per second and accelerating. The air is rarified up here and the view incredible. I'm learning how to fold my arms and legs to fall even faster, how to breathe in the rush. I don't know where or when or how I'll land, but I'll know I'll figure it out before I get there. I have to.
But to write the kind of book I want, I first have to find that still, quiet place. And then I have to dwell in it.

As we're talking about writing process, here's another blog post in which I talk about being both an analytical and intuitive writer, and how Hild needed both.

And lastly, your closing salutation reminded of a German term, funktionslust: enjoying what you do well. I write good novels. To write, though, I have to be lazy, it's part of my process. And so laziness is something I've learnt to do well, too. I bask, I revel, I glory in it.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Corn does not belong in beer [ETA: This is wrong]

Not long ago I found out read that my go-to all-purpose draft beer, Guinness, contains high-fructose corn syrup. Corn (or maize as we say in the UK) does not belong in beer. High-fructose corn syrup doesn't belong in anything. I no longer drink Guinness. [Important ETA: please see tomorrow's blog post. Guinness does not contain maize/corn in any shape or form. I was wrong. Sorry.]

I've since investigated the ingredients of other beers. By investigate I mean I go to the website of the manufacturer--I use the term advisedly; some of these companies don't deserve the title of brewer--and read the posted ingredients. If the language is weaselly, "We use the best ingredients such as..." or "Our key ingredients are..." rather than "We use only the following ingredients..." I email the company directly and ask. It's not hard. I recommend trying it for your favourite beer/s.

If you drink microbrews/craft beer, you're probably fine--as long as it really is a microbrew you're drinking, not something that used to be a microbrew but is now owned by a mega conglomerate. But I tend to drink beer for gulpability--that wonderful combination of taste and volume that is so satisfying at the end of a hard-working day. I'm not a fan of anything over 6% alcohol by volume and prefer weaker than that--one of the reasons I used to love Guinness so much (it's only about 4%).

I've always found American big-label beverages (yes, I'm being very specific with my word choice today) unpleasant so I didn't even bother checking brands such as Bud Light, Coors, Rolling Rock, or Miller. I dread to think what's in them. But I did check my always-keep-some-in-the-fridge beer, Corona--and found it's stuffed with corn. Tuh. It's now off my party list.

However, I'm pleased to report that the following beers are deliciously pure:

  • Fullers ESB
  • Grolsch
  • Heinken
  • Amstel Light
  • Oranjeboom
Just thought you should know, seeing as summer is here...

ETA: I don't know what's in Timothy Taylor's, exactly, so I might go so far as to say it's "pure" (but so-called purity was never my major concern) but their senior brewer has assured me "the sugars we use are not derived from Corn (Maize)." I'm assuming that means just barley, but I don't know for sure. I've asked for more info.

ETA2: I'll repeat the essence of one of my comments below. I emailed Guinness for confirmation regarding the rumour of corn/maize about three weeks ago and got no response. I emailed them again today and am waiting for a reply.

ETA3: To repeat the in-line ETA above: I was wrong.


Saturday, June 7, 2014

In which I recommend The Blue Sword: YA for all of us

After I'd finished my interview on To the Best of Our Knowledge about Hild and had just pushed back my chair to go, the host Anne Strainchamps asked me if I'd like to recommend a book for a new feature they were doing. Sure, I said, and what followed was an utterly off-the-cuff three minutes conversation about Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword which is now live. [That's the streaming link. You can also download the file for your later listening pleasure.]

The Blue Sword was at the front of my mind when Anne asked me to recommend a book because I'd just started to read it aloud the night before and I'd been struck by its voice and rhythms and sure-footedness. In the on-air piece I talk about it being first person. It's not. It's in third although sometimes the narration slips into first without italics or quote marks. It can be mildly confusing, especially to read aloud cold, but after a couple of days I adapted and could give the non-dialogue narration the flavour of dialogue and reduce muddlement. 

The Blue Sword might be one of McKinley's first novels but it shows all the trademarks of her later work: that absolute gift for making this imagined time and place feel as real as dirt, for showing people both ordinary and special, and for putting the reader right there in that particular time and place. I admit to flinching a little now at the implied class/caste issues, and the way McKinley doesn't quite escape the gender event horizon (though it's an admirable attempt), but for an early novel it's very fine. It's a serious story about finding one's place in the world and learning to belong, issues very much of interest to many of us, of any age.

Several people have asked me what I think of the recent kerfuffle about adults reading YA. I've talked about how I feel in general about YA before.

Meanwhile, The Blue Sword: Swords! Ponies! Magic! Go read it.