Sunday, November 30, 2008

misty morning

It's a misty morning here in Seattle. I woke up late, with that limp, relaxed don't-have-to-do-a-goddamned-thing-today feeling. I spent a leisurely hour reading the paper at the breakfast table, sipping tea, looking at this view of the ravine:

Then, putting the dirty dishes in the sink I looked out of the back kitchen window and saw my favourite bush positively glowing in the weird light:

Just a bit beyond the bush is the tree I photographed a zillion times before. It has two leaves hanging on. I suspect they might hang on all winter. But just in case they don't:

And finally, just so the front of the house doesn't feel left out:

I'll resize all these and put them up on A View of One's Own (we have dozens of things up there now, some of them quite lovely).

Later, after lunch, we're planning to watch Descent. That should banish the lazy, misty feelings...

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

pigfuck in six parts

A leading Russian political analyst has said the economic turmoil in the United States has confirmed his long-held view that the country is heading for collapse, and will divide into separate parts.

He predicted that the U.S. will break up into six parts - the Pacific coast, with its growing Chinese population; the South, with its Hispanics; Texas, where independence movements are on the rise; the Atlantic coast, with its distinct and separate mentality; five of the poorer central states with their large Native American populations; and the northern states, where the influence from Canada is strong.

(thanks, Cindy)

This is interesting. Oh, not that the US will split up, because I can't see that happening, but that someone is willing to discuss the notion seriously outside a novel. I had dinner with an old friend and her new sweetie earlier in the week, and they asked where I thought the US economy is heading--when in 2009 would things improve? It was a very nice restaurant, with people talking in low tones. Nonetheless, I grinned and said cheerfully, "Oh, 2009 will be a total PIGFUCK!"

Ringing silence.

But I simply couldn't think of another word, and 'pigfuck' is not something to say sotto voce. I think the next few years (yes, years, not months) are going to be...different. I think we could be looking at as much as (or more) than a decade to recover. And the worst is still to come. In 2009.

America is huge. America is rich. America is mostly sound--and, at the same time, America is very, very vulnerable at the moment, with deep fracture lines. If Obama had lost, 2009 would have seen panic and violence and civil unrest. As it is, well, for some people it's going be brutal and for many it will be ugly. Most of us will be fine. But we'll have to pay particular attention to those already on the edge, and we're going to have to play nicely and be especially kind, even to those we don't know. We're going to have to assume good intent, and we're going to have to behave as though we believe it. Because these will be fragile times. But not apocalypse; all the essentials are still there.

So don't panic. Don't get angry. Don't get mean. Get humane. And have fun imagining the US in six parts. How would it look? What might be cool about it?

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday audio: You Lied

Okay, after a day of rest and turkey I got all contemplative, so this is going to be a long one.

Today's audio is a song, "You Lied," written and performed by Janes Remains, that is, me and Jane, forty percent of the by-then-defunct Janes Plane. It was recorded on an old boombox with an inbuilt microphone in Jane's bedroom. We'd been smoking. The microphone wasn't really up to the task (nor, frankly, after a lot of hash, were my vocal cords). I was 22 going on 23.

(direct link)

To put this in context, here's an excerpt about those times (1983) from my memoir And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner Notes from a Writer's Early Life. It includes scans of my actual diary (aged 23). If you can't read my handwriting (just click the images to get a bigger version), you can see a Word file transcript here.


Jane the guitarist and I started doing music together. We called ourselves Janes Remains. We sang at the Spring Street Theatre bar, during intermission, and after the show. I only have one poor copy of a cassette tape recorded on a cheap boombox in Jane's bedroom. Some of the lyrics were based on the poems I remembered writing at seventeen, when I was studying for my 'A' levels (Corner for You, Fragile Spirit). One was about Charlie's (Charlie's). One was a hurt rant for a lover who had left town and was never coming back (You Lied), because while I had many lovers I cared for them all (I really understand those polygamous Mormons: both the urge for many wives and the wild look in their eyes). They were my family. Not to the degree that Carol was, but family nonetheless.

Carol and I started looking for another flat, this time to share, and finally found one, a big, roomy place on Princes Avenue, above a hairdressers. This is where I began to write in earnest, where I realised that writing was what I was born for. I still wrote with a fountain pen. I still wrote on lined paper. I still didn't know what I was doing, but now I read magazines at the library about query letters, the submission process and so on.

This is a photo of me reading in the front garden outside Heidi's house. She took the photo.

I started writing poetry again--and this time I kept it. "Sometimes" was for Heidi, who had left to get a master's in theatre at Smith College.

I cry for you
when love stalks
panther bright
through my dreams.
My soul flies for you
battering at windows I'm afraid to open.


A woman called Carmel bought me a beautiful blank notebook. I began to keep an irregular diary. I'd make a short entry, or a long one, whenever the urge struck me: sometimes twice in one week, sometimes nothing for a year. So here, in my own words, are some snapshots of my life between 8th December, 1983 and 16 June, 1986.

I've included a facsimile of one entry so you can get a sense of the physical object, but just transcripts for the other entries. Here I realise that writing is not only joy and inspiration, but work. And I understand that work is tiring.

It's so strange to listen to that song, to read the poem, to read my 23-year-old thoughts on writing, and to view them from my current perspective and story expertise. I want to fix them, particularly the diary exerpt and the song. Oh, god, that song. I hadn't yet learnt what to leave out; I hadn't learnt the value of silence. Still, I hope you enjoy it for what it is.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008


Here in Seattle it's a day of scudding cloud and lemon sun, and the outside world is very quiet: few cars, few planes, no one hammering or sawing. It is Thanksgiving Day. I want to give thanks to this community.

In the eight months since this blog began, nearly seven thousand of you have come and read and contributed, and read and contributed again. As a group we have listened, and learned, and offered a helping hand. And giggled at naff stuff. Oh, and we built our own photo gallery, A View of One's Own. Thank you, all, for being part of this. Thank you for reading and commenting here, and on MySpace and Facebook, on the Yahoo list, and on my other blog. There are several hundred of us regulars now, and for each other we make the world just a little sturdier, just a little richer, just a little more connected.

I am thankful for you all. I wish everyone a most marvellous day.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

giant protist!

Wow, an amoeba, a single-celled organism, the size of a grape. Pretty mind-boggling. Read the New Scientist article here, or view the slideshow (much more fun) here.

And that's all I've got today: little grey lumps that creep about in the mud. But it's a lovely day here in Seattle, so Kelley and I are going to go get some lunch and zone out for a couple of hours.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

MIT Media Lab's 'Center for Future Storytelling' (tuh)

I am so very tired of now! now! now! initiatives. So is the literary editor of the Daily Telegraph:

Storytelling is under assault in schools, universities and from the internet, but the power of narrative shows no sign of waning, says Sam Leith

"Tell me a story." It's a plea that echoes through the ages: not only the ages of human civilisation, but the ages of man. As a child, tucked up and ready for bed.

As an adult, settling deep into a popcorn-scented cinema seat as the house lights go down. In old age, becalmed, combing your memories. Telling stories is as old a game as language itself.

So it's odd - not to say alarming - to read reports that some people seem to think we're on the verge of running out of narrative. A group of academics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in cahoots with some Hollywood moguls, have announced the opening of a "Center for Future Storytelling".

"The idea as we move forward with 21st-century storytelling is to try to keep meaning alive," explains its founder David Kirkpatrick. Baffling.

I don't understand why people value the new over the good, the useful, the proven. Stories are necessary, integral to our humanity. We've been telling them and listening to them for millennia. There's nothing wrong with our storytelling abilities (or our story-listening or reading or watching skills, either). And the tools, frankly, are fairly unimportant. Who cares if a novel is on paper or e-ink or iPhone? As long as you can turn the page in a timely fashion, it doesn't matter. Yet MIT's Media Lab has earmarked millions for an earnest quest for 'Future Storytelling', to make storytelling 'more interactive'.

To me this is a quixotic quest. Story--good story, story that works--is interactive.

I've written a whole rant about this ("You Have Been Warned"). But, basically, story triggers our mirror neurons, it puts us there; in reading we recreate a fictional character's experience inside ourselves. We literally live the story. How can you get more interactive than that?


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Monday, November 24, 2008

whoa--scary publishing news

According to Publishers Weekly Houghton Mifflin has just stopped acquiring new books. This is a grim day. I also think it's incredibly short-sighted:

HMH Places "Temporary" Halt on Acquisitions

By Rachel Deahl -- Publishers Weekly, 11/24/2008 12:54:00 PM

It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books.

Josef Blumenfeld, v-p of communications for HMH, confirmed that the publisher has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts” across its trade and reference divisions. The directive was given verbally to a handful of executives and, according to Blumenfeld, is “not a permanent change.” Blumenfeld, who hedged on when the ban might be lifted, said that the right project could still go to the editorial review board. He also maintained that the the decision is less about taking drastic measures than conducting good business.

“In this case, it’s a symbol of doing things smarter; it’s not an indicator of the end of literature,” he said. “We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline.” The action by the highly leveraged HMH may also be as much about the company's need to cut costs in a tight credit about the current economic slowdown.

While Blumenfeld dismissed the severity of the policy, a number of agents said they have never heard of a publisher going so far as to instruct its editors to stop acquiring. “I’ve been in the business a long time and at a couple of houses I worked at, when things were bad, we were asked to cut back,” said agent Jonathon Lazear. “But I’ve never heard of anything so public.” Lazear added that, in the past two weeks, business has been more “sluggish” than it had been all year.

Another agent who had also heard about the no-acquisitions policy at HMH called the move “very scary” and said it's indicative of an industry climate worse than any he’s ever seen.

Thus far one agent has confirmed that at least one of his manuscripts has been declined at HMH per the policy. But perhaps an editor at the house put it best; in an e-mail, the editor mentioned the policy and added, “Who knows what’s next.”

How can a publisher not buying books be 'doing things smarter'? This is quite disturbing.

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girls with Asperger's

Here's something I missed last week in Newsweek:

Because they may have different symptoms than boys do, some girls with Asperger's syndrome don't get diagnosed

It's not uncommon for girls with Asperger's to go undiagnosed well into adulthood. Like heart disease, this high-functioning autism spectrum disorder is 10 times more prevalent in males, so doctors often don't think to look for it in females. But some experts have begun to suspect that unlike heart disease, Asperger's manifests differently, less obviously in girls, and that factor is also causing them to slip through the diagnostic cracks. This gender gap may have implications for the health and well-being of girls on the spectrum, and some specialists predict that as we diagnose more girls, our profile of the disorder as a whole will change. Anecdotally, they report that girls with Asperger's seem to have less motor impairment, a broader range of obsessive interests, and a stronger desire to connect with others, despite their social impairment.

It's got me thinking about sex difference in medicine. The first time I presented with the symptoms of MS, my doctor told me I was having a nervous breakdown. I said, 'Fuck you,' and flushed the tranquilisers he gave me down the toilet. The second time I was told I was stressed, and asked if I had problems at home. (I said, Yes, if too many girlfriends counted as a problem. Then I said, Fuck you.) This kind of stuff continued off and on for nearly ten years.

It took nearly ten years to get my MS diagnosis. Most of the women I've talked to tell me the same thing. I was lucky--I never believed for a second I was crazy. I know many (many) women who ended up on heavy-duty drugs and/or therapy and were convinced they were mad. The men I've talked to, on the other hand, were diagnosed briskly--in about half the time--and taken seriously from the beginning. (I have no data to support this statement. It's purely anecdotal.) Last year, I also came across an article fretting about the fact that fifty years ago the female/male ration of people with MS was 2:1 but is now 4:1. 'More women are getting MS in increasing numbers,' they said. I think they're wrong. I think more women are now getting the right diagnosis, especially young women.

Many of women's complaints have historically been dismissed as hysteria. It's particularly easy to do that with uncertain teenage girls. Now doctors--many of them women--are finally learning to listen, finally beginning to see women and girls as reasoning human beings.

There still a long way to go, of course, but I'm curious about readers' thoughts and experience. How do doctors treat you?

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

don't snort the rainforest

Cocaine use is so not green:

Not that this comes as any surprise to those who read our Guide to Green Drug Use, but the cocaine habit -- indulged by a great many white collar urbanites -- is potentially the most destructive thing you can do to the environment from the comfort of you own livingroom -- or your favorite nightclub. According to Columbia's Vice President: each gram of cocaine snorted in the developed world equals the destruction of 4 square meters of the world's precious rainforests. Ouch.

Thanks, Cindy.

So many drug users are holier-than-thou about purity: organic macrobiotic diets, green this, eco that. I'm delighted, finally, to have a response (apart from the usual, You know that eating a raw, grown-only-five-miles-away carrot won't help you when the crap your heroin is cut with destroys your vascular system? which never seems to make an impact).

And four square meters is a lot. How many zillion bugs alone could be saved if you just didn't snort that line?

Oh, and while I'm ranting against holier-than-thou Green Gits, let me say this: stop fucking burning wood in your fireplaces. I can't breathe. The particulate matter is killing me--killing a lot of other things, too, I should think. And it's bloody inefficient. Just stop it.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Carkeek Park

Yesterday was a grey and rainy day here in Seattle. Kelley and I were feeling a bit cooped up so we went to the park.

We go to Carkeek Park often. It's right on Puget Sound, not far from our house. Here's a map (click on the image to make it large enough to see the tiny red labels):

Our house is labelled A. We're on the edge of a ravine that runs down to Pipers Creek. Here's picture taken from point B, pointing east, upstream:

Usually at this time of year, the salmon are running. Volunteers hang coloured streamers to mark where salmon have laid eggs. (That orange strip is left over from last year.) Here's a close-up of a salmon-friendly step in the stream:

After we've walked along the creek and gawped at the birds and trees, we get in the car and drive up to point C, a lookout over the sound. We often sit there for nearly an hour, talking quietly. Sometimes we don't talk at all, just hold hands and watch the changing light. Here's the view north up towards Edmonds, you can just see the ferry to the left:

And here's the view straight across the sound to Bainbridge Island:

On a clear day you can see the Olympic Mountains on the Peninsula beyond. Today everything was like a ink wash, every shade of grey you could imagine.

We'll be back at the park next week, looking for salmon--and the eagles and sea lions that follow. I'll put these pictures up on our gallery, A View of One's Own.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

audio Friday: Always #2

This is a longish reading (nearly 15 minutes) from Always. Aud, as many of you know, lives in--loves living in--her body. Physically, she's supremely competent; she's confident, seamless, an elemental force. She has never encountered a person or situation she can't handle. Until she travels to Seattle to meet her mother and her mother's new husband. While she's in Seattle Aud, being Aud, gets tangled up in a real estate fraud. The Bad Hats try put her out of action by doping her coffee. This dope isn't just one little thing, not, say, a single dose of rohypnol. It's a wicked grab bag of ingredients: PCP, meth, barbiturates, psilocybin, even a random assortment of chemo drugs. Aud ends up in hospital, physically helpless for several days. For the first time, she's a victim.

Aud's physical confidence and competence has always been her bedrock, the one thing she can rely on. And someone takes it away.

She's weak, dizzy, breathless, even having flashbacks. She worries that next time she encounters someone or something dangerous, she won't be able to rely on herself, on her superb body.

When she gets out of hospital, and then convalesces for a few more days, she finds herself feeling very physically and emotionally uncertain. She decides to find a local dojo in Seattle, a friendly place to put herself to the test. Enjoy.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

bouncy house for the apocalypse

Wired discusses a bouncy house for the apocalypse:

SAN FRANCISCO — In tough circumstances, sometimes all you need is hope, but other times you need a blow-up survival shelter featuring a bed, a couch, freeze-dried food, a 50-gallon water bladder, a first-aid kit, a radio and a cookstove.

And the latter is exactly what the "Life Cube" from startup Inflatable World is designed to provide. Packaged into a four-foot-tall cube, it inflates into a 12-foot-tall structure built from the same thick plastic as a bouncy house.

So come the Copper Lips, this looks like a nifty thing to have by the door. Along with all the vitamin D and wine...

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California Supreme Court to hear challenge to Prop 8

Nancy Polikoff reports in The Bilerico Project that the California Supreme Court has agreed to hear the challenge to Proposition 8 filed by National Center for Lesbian Rights and others. They will rule on the matter by the end of April. Should be interesting.

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apply now to the Clarion West Writers Workshop

I met Kelley at Clarion in 1988 (I've talked about this many, many times, such as here and here). Those six weeks changed my life. I've also taught Clarion West (as has Kelley). We're still in touch with our students from those years. We're still in touch with the teachers and fellow students of our '88 class.

If you want to be a professional SF writer, there is no better path to follow than the one that begins at Clarion West.

Clarion West '09 runs from June 21 to July 31. They are now accepting applications. If you want a career in sf, go see how to apply. Teachers this year are John Kessel, Elizabeth Bear, Karen Joy Fowler, Nalo Hopkinson, David G. Hartwell, and Rudy Rucker. That a truly interesting mix of old school and new.

This is one of those topics where I could write thousands of words and still only scratch the surface, so I'll stop now. But if anyone has any questions--anything at all about Clarion--I'd be delighted to answer them. CW is nothing but a Good Thing.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

stand on a question of love

I've seen many pictures of the protests sparked by the passage of Proposition 8 (and other anti-same-sex-marriage ballot measures), see for example this Flickr pool (thanks, Jill) but for my money easily the best is the new website, Stand on a Question of Love, built with care by Jennifer Durham. Jennifer is a great photographer, but these aren't carefully manicured pictures, they're raw and human and very warm. They embody what it means to be a human being wanting a full and equal life. Go watch the video.

And while we're on the subject, don't forget to call in gay on December 10th.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

audio wars: analogue vs. digital

The audiophile holy war, analogue vs. digital, has been raging for a couple of decades now. This Economist article (damn I love that magazine) has some interesting thoughts on the matter:

Hear the difference
Nov 14th 2008

Which is best—analogue or digital?

A MUSIC lover but no audio zealot, your correspondent has often wondered whether analogue recordings really are “warmer” than digital ones. In other words, do audio amplifiers and microphones with old-fashioned thermionic valves (“vacuum tubes” to Americans) inherently produce a sound more natural and satisfying than those with transistors and other solid-state devices?

He suspects it’s mostly a myth, stemming from the days when analogue was in its prime and digital recording in its infancy...

I was thinking about this article last night, when Kelley and I were talking about a particularly sad mashup done by a local DJ who obviously didn't understand that you can't just fling two sounds together, you have to clip and shape sound to create space for them to mesh with anything resembling clarity. (At least I assume you do; I don't know the first thing about this--I'm just making shit up as usual--but hey, it's a good story.) And then I fell into my usual What If reverie: what if I'd known about sound engineering as a teenager? Would I have followed that path? I think I might. It's just the right combination of art and science, geekery and cool, that appeals to me. Then, hey, maybe I would have grown up to be Mars (the Mars of "Dangerous Space," available now as a .pdf, for free). Except, huh, I would have been the Sound Guy for some pretty girls, not pretty boys like Noir. Hey, maybe Kelley would have been on keyboards...

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Monday, November 17, 2008

strong, silent, beer-providing

Kelley and I own a new business, Humans at Work, LLC. I say 'we' because we are legal partners in the enterprise, but Kelley has done all the work. She's the Managing Partner. I'm a silent partner. When K asked if it was okay to tell others I was a silent partner, I said, Yes, but tell them I'm the strong, silent partner (sort of like being tall, dark, and handsome except, er, I'm medium, pale and...oh, never mind). But I also provided beer, which is a most necessary component of any creative enterprise. So I've done my bit.

So what is Humans at Work? It's monumentally awesome. And cool. And it will change the world. How? By changing managers--giving them people skills. Kelley has written a magnificent rant about Bad Managers Leaders' Manifesto:

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a bad manager. Go on. Put it in the air for the Boss From Hell who derailed your work, made arbitrary decisions, sent mixed messages, withheld information, micromanaged, sandbagged your process, put up roadblocks, put you down, took your credit, took your confidence, made you frightened, made you crazy, made you cry.

Now look around at the biggest problem in business. Look at all those hands.

What’s going on? In this era of supposedly enlightened leaders running so-called team-based businesses, with an MBA in every office and a knowledge worker in every cubicle, why can’t we address this most basic and most damaging issue? Why do millions of us — millions of us — leave jobs we love because of managers we can no longer endure, or stay and tough it out at enormous cost to ourselves and the people around us? Why are those the only choices?

Why don’t we manage each other better?

We carry a cargo of hopes and dreams and fears into our first jobs: we get slapped into reality by the grinding daily struggle with co-workers and supervisors and executives. And so it begins: the us-versus-them mindset. The bunker mentality. The view of human beings as ‘resources’ or ‘capital’. The military model of business, where we’re all crushing the competition, whether they be the company down the block or the guy at the next desk. The sports model of business, where we’re still doing the crushing but are expected to slap each other on the butt afterwards and go out for a friendly beer, just to show there are no hard feelings.

Work is a human thing, the product of human brains, human muscles, human spirits, human hearts. I hate to break it to all the corporate running backs out there, but feelings are a part of people and therefore a part of business. Frustration, defensiveness, fear; courage, conscience, love. Work is a human thing, the product of human brains, human muscles, human spirits, human hearts. And so work, like the humans who do it, can be awkward and exciting and scary and sometimes messy. And it has the human potential for joy, if business would only make room for it.

But too many companies behave as if the goal of work is to leave our humanity at the door. How else to explain why companies so often reward bad managers? You’ve done a great job, Bill, they say, meaning sales are up, costs are down, margins are good. Bill’s people might feel like a team of whipped dogs, but by golly he sure drives them to the finish line. So Bill gets a raise and a bonus, and his people learn that no one cares how they are treated at work.

Read the rest here.

And when I say 'giving' them people skills, I mean it. Everything is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Are we crazy? No, we're serious about changing the world. A better world means, well, a better world, a more congenial place to live for everyone. Think of it as a selfish gesture. (But if you want a more cogent explanation, read it here.)

Kelley's goal is for every working person on the planet to have access to these skills so, please, point people to Humans at Work. Point them to her blog about it. Point them to a better life. We'll all benefit.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

A View of One's Own 02

ravine, November 16th

It looks as though we're really cranking with the gallery; lots o' new stuff. Go look:

Go add something of your own. We have snow and cars and a dog and trees and a moon and a hearth... I've just added the picture above, plus a shot from the same spot (though not such tight focus) taken in early September for comparison. I'll take another next month when all the leaves are gone.

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we have earned the new puppy that is coming with us to the White House!

(Via Gwenda.)

Yesterday was kitten day so today it's puppies. Tomorrow it's humans, at work :) After that we'll be back to our usual miscellany.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

authors' mews

photo: Murdo Macleod

Today is turning out to be cat day. Here's a Guardian article about authors and their cats:

"The author lives in a converted barn in the West Country with her partner, who is a human rights lawyer, their two children, and four cats."

How many times have you read that, or something like it, in a writer's biography paragraph at the front of a book? How many author photographs have you seen with the distinguished man or woman of letters cuddling an unprotesting feline? Just what is it about cats that makes writers think we need to know they have an affinity with them?

What is it about cats and writers? That's easy. Cats encourage stillness. They settle on your lap when you're sitting on the sofa drinking a cup of tea; if you have no book to hand, you have to roam amongst your own thoughts rather than filling your mind with the thoughts of others. Cats creep onto your lap when you're at the keyboard and fall instantly asleep. You have to stay at the keyboard while they whiffle through their mice-hunting dreams; you end up writing an extra 300 hundred words.

I miss Zack.

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a kitten called Lore

I had a note from Jo, a reader of my MySpace blog (which is usually mirrored from here):

I finished Slow River about two weeks ago and really liked it. And I have to say, Lore is right. Kittens should be round. I just got my new batch of foster kittens in and some of them are half-starved. It is incredible what people will do to animals. I named the smallest one Lore, for luck.

So I asked Jo to keep me informed of Lore's progress, and got this:

Thanks to the foster lady who had him before me, I think he's out of the woods (as long as he doesn't get sick). He has a little round tummy now, but the rest of his body is pretty skinny still. He has more energy than I would have thought, though, and loves to climb everything he can, so that is a good sign. Pic at

The rescue of this kitten had nothing to do with me but I feel inordinately proud, nonetheless. May all kittens be round.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

latin-american sf

There's an interesting discussion going on over at the Tor blog about the difficulties in publishing English translations of foreign SF. (Via Fábio.) Karina I think you, especially, would find it intriguing. I'd love to get your thoughts.

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audio Friday: Pinky's Paperhaus

Last year, Carolyn Kellogg interviewed me and Gwenda Bond for Pinky's Paperhaus and the LitBlog Co-op's summer Read This programme. I talk about art, genre, and changing the world:

(direct link)

Yeah, I got a bit grandiose here and there, but it was fun.

At some point soon I really, really will have the time to record more readings. I've been busy on a variety of things which, individually, take but a moment though collectively they munch at my life alarmingly. One project I want to remind you of, for which Jennifer did all the work, is A View of One's Own, where readers can upload pix of their environment, so we can all see something of one another's lives. Fire up your cameras!

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

A View of One's Own

Thanks to Jennifer, we now have our very own photo gallery space. So if you like to take pictures of your environment, and want to share, this is the place to do it. Simply go to

click 'upload' and add something. I recommend clear labelling: your name, a one or two word description, and a date. So one of mine, for example, reads nicola_trees_nov_08: a who, what, when system.

I know we have several camera wielders in this group so I hope many of you will take advantage of this. I think it would be lovely to know what others are looking at during their day.

I intend to keep track of the seasons through my back window (I've added one of those back trees from a freak snow storm in April this year, just for comparison), and perhaps I'll also put up some pix taken from the side and front of the house, like the one above (taken in that same snowstorm).

If you do add photos, it would be great to drop a comment here and let us know--but it's not mandatory.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

vitamin D handy for apocalypse

Cholecalciferol by Calvero, from Wikipedia

I could have sworn I saw this news about vitamin D somewhere months ago...

Radiological health expert Daniel Hayes, Ph.D., of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene suggests that a form of vitamin D could be one of our body's main protections against damage from low levels of radiation. Writing in the International Journal of Low Radiation, Hayes explains that calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D, may protect us from background radiation and could be used as a safe protective agent before or after a low-level nuclear incident.

...but perhaps I'm just having deja vu. Autumn does that to me. We've had two days of drifting rain here. The world looks rather dreamy. Another few days of this and perhaps it will become dreary, but at the moment it feels otherworldly. Which fits my needs: I'm about to buckle down to an introductory essay for a new edition of Leigh Brackett's Sword of Rhiannon, a fab planetary romance set on a future (and past) Mars.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

join the impact

Join the Impact is a new coordinating site for the fight for same-sex marriage. They list all the protests scheduled around the country for Saturday 15th November. Please take a look. Please consider attending something near you or at least spreading the word to the degree that you can.

The Seattle event is scheduled for noon in Volunteer Park--though if you show up early, around 10:30 am, there will be pre-rally festivities... (Thanks to Jill for the info.)

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Ooops. Forgot to remind everyone this morning that the Golden Notebook project launched today. See discussions on Alison Bechdel, the injury of intimacy, the meaning of 'free' and 'women's language' and more here.

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long tail cut to bits

this curve is all wrong

Oh ho ho. Now here's some very interesting data about the so-called Long Tail power curve and the old-fashioned Log Normal distribution:

The most comprehensive empirical study of digital music sales ever conducted has some bad news for Californian technology utopians. Since 2004, WiReD magazine editor Chris Anderson has been hawking his "Long Tail" proposition around the world: blockbusters will matter less, and businesses will "sell less of more". The graph has become iconic - a kind of 'Hockey Stick' for Web 2.0 - with the author applying his message to many different business sectors. Alas, following the WiReD Way of Business as a matter of faith could be catastrophic for your business and investment decisions.

For the rest, read Andrew Orlowski's article in The Register. Some bean-counting economists have crunched the numbers and basically when it comes to sales of music (and probably, in my opinion, everything else--books for sure), Log Normal rules. In other words, blockbusters matter much, much more than midlist.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008


Kelley's dad and stepmum are visiting this weekend, which prompted me to pull my finger out and get a few things done around the house. One of those things was putting up some more pictures in my office. (For pictures of how my office used to look, see this post.) So here for your delectation and delight are more pix of my office space.

First, and most excitingly, is a print I only got last week, a gift from the photographer, Jennifer Durham:

It replaces the watercolour I've had for years (which is now in what I grandly refer to as the yoga room). This beautiful print is called "Lunula," because that crescent of water reminded me of the armour lunula that some branches of the military used to wear on their breasts, the reminder of breastplates. Jennifer's website will show you a much (much) better version than my shaky and uncomposed snapshot. We also have another of her prints, the one of the slice of light over the sea in Oregon. That hangs in the living room. Truly gorgeous.

On the wall under the window are now a couple of poster boards sent by my publishers to book shops to advertise readings. I love these things. (Shameless egobeast that I am.) In the middle is the one and only review I've ever had in comix form:

And here, just because, is yet another view of those bloody trees through the window. As you can see, the leaves (those that are left) have changed again.

Last of all, a shot of the wall you didn't get to see last time, this one with a print of Whitby Abbey on it.

So that's it, the latest iteration of my working space.

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Saturday, November 8, 2008


I learnt a new word the other day: interrobang. It means '?!' Apparently, printers call an exlamation point a bang, so if you add an interrogative point, or question mark, you get interrobang. Here's a list of other nifty words that might be new to you. I didn't know caruncula, and I didn't even know there *was* a word, muselets, for the wire cage over the cork on a champagne bottle. Exceedingly useful, that.

Anyway, the article got me thinking about words I like: luscious is a particular favourite--but so is mine :) One word I've never liked is limpid. I know it means clear, transparent (etc.), but I can't get past 'limp', which prompts images of things dead or dying, which leads me to beginning to rot, which in turn leads to murky, cloudy, and somewhat stinkous: pretty much the opposite of clear and transparent.

How about you? What words do and don't work?

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday audio: Always

So I learnt something this week: doing a reading with a hangover is not easy. Still, for you, dear reader, I struggled through the toxic fatigue and misery (it was actually a very, very mild hangover--I'm older and wiser and drink less when excited these days because I know, I finally get it, that there is a tomorrow, and actions have consequences).

So here is an 8-minute chunk of Always, in which Aud goes to Kick's house hoping to be forgiven after a quarrel. Enjoy.

(direct link)

This reading got me into a lot of trouble at a suburban Borders, when a seven-year-old child wandered from the cafe into the reading and stood picking his nose as I approached the, ah, climactic scene. I had to edit in my head as I read. It was...interesting. The community liaison manager was unhappy. It was a tedious evening--hiss and crackle of espresso machines, announcements over the PA, people coming and going through the main entrance (right by the reading area). I don't think I'll accept anymore invitations to chain store events.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

the newstank is here!

Wow. In Engadget, a picture and paragraph about what looks very like a newstank from Slow River, though I imaged them as a bit bigger, and, well, rounder, and the city wasn't all post-apocalyptic. But despite those differences, the basic notion is the same, and I think that's *awesome*:

London will be the first city to test out new bomb-proof garbage cans, which are also going to multitask as recycling bins with LCDs that stream travel info and news. Security concerns (AKA fear of terrorists dropping bombs in them) have kept rubbish bins out of subway stations and many of the city's streets since the mid-80's, causing frustration among citizens, not to mention what amounts to forced littering. The new cans, developed by British company Media Metrica, weigh one ton each, and were tested in the lifeless deserts of New Mexico for five years to ensure they are completely, totally indestructible, can absorb heat from explosives, prevent shrapnel spread, and extinguish "fireballs." Eh. Put 'em in New York City -- someone will surely figure out how to utterly destroy them in 24 hours or less.

Thanks, Cindy

Here's the first chapter of Slow River, so you can read for yourself Lore waking up naked in the rain, in the light of a newstank. Or here's me reading it.

I think this is very, very cool. Now if someone would just build the bioremediation water reclamation plants...

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

update on Prop 8: still hope?

Okay, I just saw this. (Thanks, Ivan.)

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win a lot, lose a lot

Obama won. I drank (James Bonds) and ate (gaucamole, hummus, spaghetti bolognese) more than was strictly necessary. Didn't get to sleep until nearly 3 am because my head was full. African Americans have gone from 0 to 60 in just over forty years. In political terms, that's better than a Maserati. Yay! Let's hope the acceleration continues.

But California's Proposition 8 passed. Lesbians and gay men are still second-class citizens. For now we still have to sit at the back of the bus and drink from a separate water fountain--and in some states there are no water fountains for us at all.

So today I'm suffering a heavy dose of anticlimax. I am delighted, truly pleased, that Obama won. I am miserable, deeply unhappy, that Proposition 8 (and other ballot measures in Arizona and Florida) passed.

My hope now lies in the Northeast (uh-oh, I think I've been watching too much Lord of the Rings *g*), where I think there will soon be a same-sex marriage corridor from Vermont to New Jersey. And there will be lawsuits in California. Go Gloria Allred!

I'm looking forward to what happens in the next few weeks.

Any bets on what role Hillary Clinton will or won't be offered, what she might or might not accept?

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

better leaves

Okay, that crappy picture was driving me mad, so I took some more. They still don't really reflect the stunning colour (thanks to Karina, I now feel free to blame my camera *g*).

Anyway, here's one pic:

and here's another:

If you click on the images you'll get the bigger version, where you can see just a hint of that juicy colour I've been trying to capture. Only a hint, sigh. Still, I thought it might make a nice change from election day stuff.

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non-violence works

Uh, just in case we need this today because of turmoil at the polls, here's a study, reported in, about the effectiveness of non-violent resistance.

Nonviolent resistance is not only the morally superior choice. It is also twice as effective as the violent variety.

That's the startling and reassuring discovery by Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, who analyzed an astonishing 323 resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006.

"Our findings show that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns," the authors note in the journal International Security. (The study is available as a PDF file at

Thanks, Cindy

I love the fact that people investigate this stuff. I'm having a day where I'm proud to belong to the human race.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

and so it begins

Dixville Notch, NH, just voted Democratic for the first time in forty years. All 21 voters marched in and voted just after midnight East Coast time. Final tally: 15 to 6 for Obama. This is going to be be good...

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groovy gadget!

Blimey! I've just read a review of the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen in Creative Screenwriting. I would have *killed* for this gadget in my school days, or when I was interviewing people for articles for Southern Voice (and, oh, today that feels like another lifetime...). It looks seriously, seriously gadgety. An excellent toy. Take notes, draw pictures, record, play music, translate--all searchable and downloadable. Or maybe it could even work to take book notes. Currently I do notes on 3x5 index cards, or the back of envelopes, in the margins of magazines, pages torn out of other people's notebooks, legal pads, beermats, etc., then I pile them all in folders and can never find them again. But imagine if I had them all organised and searchable... It's like an opium dream.

And you can draw a keyboard and play the fucking keyboard! You can record a phone interview while taking notes! You can draw pictures and upload them, whap! Wow. I really want one of these to play with. Want want want.

Now if it only used wi-fi, and made sandwiches, and cooked dinner...

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River America

photo: Ian Martinez

In 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Rochester titled, The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro. I think of it every summer when enthusiasts around here get drunk and let off fireworks. I've been thinking of it this week as we prepare to vote.

I say 'we' but I won't be voting; I can't; I'm not a US citizen. I am a legal resident of the US (next month I'll have been living here 19 years) but deep down I'm English.

England as a polity is mature; we've had a sense of Englishness for well over a thousand years, since at least Alfred the Great. England knows itself. The United States of America, though, is young, still finding its feet.

When Frederick Douglass spoke, 156 years ago, the country was an infant:

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the Fourth of July. It is the birth day of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, as what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. l am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot's heart might be sadder, and the reformer's brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young. Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations.

The United States is no longer an infant; it's a teenager. Its mind, its will, its self-image is in flux. Like a teen, the US is donning and doffing identities--singular superpower, nanny to the world, bully, fundamentalist nation, isolationist, party-goer, peace-keeper, free trader, world leader--faster than a teen changes hairstyles. Just as teens one day wake up and find themselves in their 20s, with a house, a job, and real responsibilities, the River USA will one day find it has carved itself a channel and its course will be set.

You, the voters, are the only ones who can build banks or dig channels and direct the course of this river. Only you.


(This post prompted by Colleen Mondor.)

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

autumn progresses

I went to the park again today. The road leading to it was magical, the trees all gold, golden leaves covering the blacktop. It was like something from a fantasy painting. Leaves were falling, again in gold. The colours this year have a startling, almost liquid clarity.

I'm a useless photographer, I can never catch light--which is what interests me most--but here a quick shot through my office window this morning. Imagine those colours blazing, which is how they should look.

The light has been remarkable all day. It just poured with rain. Now the sun is out again. The birds are quiet. The garden needs some tidying and pruning. Instead, I'm going to make a cup of tea, eat a piece of chocolate, and go tidy and prune what I have of Hild so far. I hope you're all having a lovely Sunday.

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the Golden Notebook Project

On November 10th, a fascinating experiment in interactive online reading will begin. In the words of Bob Stein, of the Institute for the Future of the Book:

Seven women will read Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook and carry on a conversation in the margins. The idea for the project arose out of my experience re-reading the novel in the summer of 2007 just before Lessing won the Nobel Prize for literature. The Golden Notebook was one of the two or three most influential books of my youth and I decided I wanted to "try it on" again after so many years. It turned out to be one of the most interesting reading experiences of my life. With an interval of thirty-seven years the lens of perception was so different; things that stood out the first-time around were now of lesser importance, and entire themes I missed the first time came front and center. When I told my younger colleagues what I was reading, I was surprised that not one of them had read it, not even the ones with degrees in English literature. It occurred to me that it would be very interesting to eavesdrop on a conversation between two readers, one under thirty, one over fifty or sixty, in which they react to the book and to each other's reactions. And then of course I realized that we now actually have the technology to do just that. Thanks to the efforts of Chris Meade, my colleague and director of if:book London, the Arts Council England enthusiastically and generously agreed to fund the project. Chris was also the link to Doris Lessing who through her publisher HarperCollins signed on with the rights to putting the entire text of the novel online.

Fundamentally this is an experiment in how the web might be used as a space for collaborative close-reading. We don't yet understand how to model a complex conversation in the web's two-dimensional environment and we're hoping this experiment will help us learn what's necessary to make this sort of collaboration work as well as possible. In addition to making comments in the margin, we expect that the readers will also record their reactions to the process in a group blog. In the public forum, everyone who is reading along and following the conversation can post their comments on the book and the process itself.

For more, visit I'll remind you closer to the date, and I hope to follow the experiment. See you in the margins...

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

middle earth

Last night we watched, for the zillionth time, the first disc of The Fellowship of the Ring. I was reminded of this map I saw a while ago, found here (but originally put together by Peter Bird--and pointed out to me by a reader, though I'm sorry to say I can't remember who):

• The Shire is in the South-West of England, which further north is also home to the Old Forest (Yorkshire?), the Barrow Downs (north of England), the city of Bree (at or near Newcastle-upon-Tyne) and Amon Sul (Scottish Highlands).
• The Grey Havens are situated in Ireland.
• Eriador corresponds with Brittany.
• Helm’s Deep is near the Franco-German-Swiss border tripoint, close to the city of Basel.
• The mountain chain of Ered Nimrais is the Alps.
• Gondor corresponds with the northern Italian plains, extended towards the unsubmerged Adriatic Sea.
• Mordor is situated in Transylvania, with Mount Doom in Romania (probably), Minas Morgul in Hungary (approximately) and Minas Tirith in Austria (sort of).
• Rohan is in southern Germany, with Edoras at the foot of the Bavarian Alps. Also in Germany, but to the north, near present-day Hamburg, is Isengard. Close by is the forest of Fangorn.
• To the north is Mirkwood, further east are Rhovanion and the wastes of Rhûn, close to the Ural mountains.
• The Sea of Rhûn corresponds to the Black Sea.
• Khand is Turkey
• Haradwaith is the eastern part of North Africa, Umbar corresponds with the Maghreb, the western part of North Africa.
• The Bay of Belfalas is the western part of the Mediterranean.

Personally, I've always thought of the hobbits as being from Yorkshire (Tolkien spent much of his professional life in Leeds), so maybe one day I'll redraw all this. For now, though, it's fun to consider. And I'll be watching disc 2 tomorrow.

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