Wednesday, April 30, 2008

soo bahk do

From: Curt McCauley, Chief Instructor, Channel Town Soo Bahk Do

I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for "Always". Now I will have to go out and find your other writings.

Keep up the good work.

It's very cool to get email from an ex-police officer/woodworker/martial arts teacher who thinks I got some of it right. Thank you. The way I work is based on a little research and a lot of imagination. It's such a relief when readers tell me I haven't screwed up totally.

When I start to imagine things--such as Norway, or being police, or facing marriage in the seventh century--I can tell when it starts to feel right. It's a bit like doing that martial arts multiple attacker thing, where you stand in a circle of 'attackers' and turn off the frontal cortex, just became a fluid instant-reaction organism--it sounds impossibly zen, and it must look like a ridiculous scene from Star Wars with Luke trying to feel the force--but I can tell when I drop into the zone. I feel very, very calm, but also as though I want to bubble with laughter, and my blood feels super-oxygenated.

But just because it feels right doesn't mean it is. So it's extremely reassuring to hear from you.

I know that martial arts don't necessarily have much to do with self-defense, but if you're involved in teaching/thinking about self-defense there's a new website, 320Sycamore.com, that you might find interesting. (It's brand new to me--they contacted me yesterday, after they read my Huffington Post rant about tasers--so I'm not necessarily recommending it, just pointing it out.)

So, thank you once again, and I hope you enjoy the other books.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

the still, quiet place

From: Ingrid Holthuis

On the way into work this morning I heard you being interviewed on NPR and was really impressed by what you had to say and how you interacted with the interviewer. Sad to say that I had not heard of your work before today, but now plan on reading all your books, and if I can afford it I hope to order a few of them from the book store that you mention on your web site.

Like you, I also have MS, being diagnosed with it 3 years ago. I was going through cancer treatment and the doctors had performed a MRI to see if the cancer had spread and informed me that I had MS. The MS explained some of the problems that I was having with my body, but had been ignoring.

Things have been pretty good but made the mistake of ignoring my specialist and just recently moved from cool San Francisco Bay Area to Gainesville, Florida. I hope to get back to cooler climate as soon as possible. Hope that your MS isn't progressing too quickly. I look forward to reading all your books.

One movie that I highly recommend that you see if you have not already is a Dutch film called Antonia's Line (English subtitle available, but since I know Dutch I noticed that the subtitles were not totally complete in some places). It was the winner of the 1995 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. The movie focuses on this one strong independent woman and the women in her family. The time period is shortly after World War II in Holland.

One book I also recommend is Memory Board by Jane Rule. It deals with Alzheimer's and it tenderly shows the love between the two main characters.

Thanks so much for reading my e-mail.


I love reading email, love getting questions from readers and listeners. Writing is a strange job. We spend so much time alone in a room (see this essay by Michael Ventura for more on that) that I think it would be very easy to grow a little etiolated for lack of people-light. I have watched so many writers get some success, leave their day jobs, and get weird. They lose their ability to be normal human beings; they start to both believe their own publicity and, paradoxically, become extremely insecure. This tends to lead to the inability to listen. It's very sad.

On the other hand, I sometimes resent having to interact with the world, having to communicate. I used to think all writers were the same. But then a few years ago I did a joint reading with some other Aqueduct Press authors, and in the Q&A afterwards we were asked what lay at the heart of our art. I listened in growing shock as my fellow writers talked about their ongoing conversation with culture, or politics, or academia, how they loved the cut-and-thrust, back-and-forth din of constant communication. Then it was my turn. "Uh," I said. "To write I have to go away and be silent. I have to find that still, quiet place inside and dwell there a while." Nobody said anything. Someone asked another question. The evening moved on.

Honestly, I'm not sure how writers with Big Blog Personas write good fiction. I'm doing this 'one a day til they're done' thing with Ask Nicola because I've been so horribly undisciplined that this is the only way to get my head above water. The other way, of course, would have been to simply delete everything and call it good. (I admit to doing this occasionally with general email when my inbox starts to bulge.) But that would have been breaking faith with readers. In about two weeks I'll be all caught up (yay!) and then I'll revert to answering questions as they come in, mixed with the occasional personal blog piece.

I'm sorry to hear about your MS. And getting the diagnosis while being treated for cancer--oof, I can't imagine. So why did you move to Florida? For a job? I hope you can make it back to more temperate climes soon. Mind you, less sunny latitudes have one serious disadvantage for people with MS: not enough vitamin D. If you do move back, you might like to consider taking a hefty supplement (I do 6,000 i.u. a day) of same. (If you're interested in what else I'm doing for myself, read this AN about low-dose naltrexone. But everyone's different.)

Jane Rule is a brilliant writer. Her work, Desert of the Heart, was the first time I read about lesbians with a happy ending. And so finely, finely written. I can recommend everything she's ever written. I haven't seen Antonia's Line. I've been sort of meaning to for a while but have just never got around to. But while we're talking about films, let me recommend a great website for reviews of films with lesbian content: Kissing Fingertips. Enjoy.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

amazon one-star meme

A bit of a change from answering questions today. I've decided to echo Kelley's echo of John Scalzi's challenge. Included here is every single one-star amazon review of every single one of my novels.

Most of my amazon critics (I use the term loosely) are wordy bastards, so I've only included excerpts of most of them. Links are to the amazon.com page of each novel.

It's interesting to put them all together like this and watch patterns emerge. Lots of skiffy readers, it seems, are really disappointed at the notion of lesbians tromping through their nice heterosexual genre. Lots of readers wish Aud were less...Aud-like. I'm interested in what patterns others might see, if any. Let me know.

Meanwhile, enjoy:

Always:

This book was too long and the author was too verbose. I really lost interest by the last half of the book and had to force myself to finish. I do think the author shows a great deal of knowledge about martial arts and self defense, I think it would be good for women to pay attention to this information in the book but overall this book was a snooze fest.

Stay:

This is a poor novel based on two dubious premises.
The first is that grief should be overcome through extreme violence.

- and -

I am surprised that Ms Griffith was happy to put her own name to this novel (she is a multiple award winning author) and also very surprised (and depressed) to find that this is a worse novel than "The Blue Place." Ms Griffith has, I believe, defended the Blue Place by saying that some critics failed to understand that Aud Torvingen doesn't enjoy violence, she enjoys winning. Winning in combat is by definition about inflicting superior violence, a tautology that Ms Griffith avoids openly confronting. However, the toning down of violence in Stay, and the attempts to rehabilitate Aud as a less macho character indicate that she has tacitly accepted the comments of those critics she purports to dismiss. That's dishonest, isn't it?

The Blue Place:

Whatever your politics or orientation might be, I am confused on how anyone can call this a great or even a good book. I am doubly confused by people who call this book a great feminist book. In my opinion, it is neither. The plot is simplistic. The characters are flat with little real depth, only cartoonish depth. The murders and other general violence that occur in the book are needlessly gruesome and overdone. The action is boring. [...] Like many romance novels, the level of writing just isn't very good. And that is what I'm basing my review on.
- and-

I'm sorry but this book went nowhere. It was dull, the characters were hard to decipher and the story line was confusing. I liked Aud but the author's writing style just could not keep my interest. She created a fascinating character in Aud but for some reason she let her get lost in whatever mystery she was trying to create. This was one dull, boring book.

- and -

This is one of the most boring books I've ever read. I ordered it from a recommendation from friends and I can't understand its appeal. The book is almost always going on a tangent, and it feels like a bad travel log in many places. The love story between the two women feels forced. The action is slow. The "lethal" Aud Torvingen never does anything to justify that reputation for lethality other than scowl at a collection of cartoon bad guys. [...] the end feels tacky, slow, and pointless.
- and -

At times I wasn't sure if I were the recipient of a self-defence lecture or reading a travel guide. The narrative style kept changing. It was as if the author was trying to prove how worldly, historically savvy, and philosophically in touch her haunted character was.

- and -

A Xena type fantasy set in Norway and Atlanta.

Slow River:

I read so many good things but even if I had not, I would have been disappointed...it is slow, the characters are cold, there is no excitement in the first 100 pages (I did not finish- I had to grit my teeth to get that far)...it was dull dull dull.

- and -

This is one of the most boring science fiction novels I have ever read. The story just kind of plods along. I may as well of stared at a wall for a few hours as to have read this. Avoid. It's overrated. Nebula award? Oh boy.

- and -

i was very disappointed in the book, and amazed that it won a nebula. the science fiction aspects are minimal and mainly related to near-future waste management methods. the narrative borrows split-time techniques developed and far better utilized by many others. the story line is obsessed with graphic lesbian encounters. perhaps i was spoiled by having read 3 phillip k dick classics and gene wolfe's masterpiece "the fifth head of cereberus" before this, but this seems like a minor work of limited interest and a short shelf-life. spend your money and time elsewhere. be alerted: several aspects of the book are frankly explicit.

- and -

Unless you are a perverted 13 year old looking to get aroused, don't waste your time. And if you _are_ a 13 year old looking to get aroused, you may find looking at pornography to be more fun, unless you're also doing research on Futuristic Sewage Processing Plant Techniques which also takes up a large portion of the book. [...] The only reason this book has won awards at all is because the literary community is being politically strongarmed into some crazy form of affirmative action for lesbians and gays.

- and -

I've seen from another reviewer, "be warned", written Feb 4, 2003, that gave this novel 1 star, received only 3 out of 27 useful review notations; way more feedback than most other reviews. So what does that mean, that 24 lesbians have commented on that review? This review is specifically for science fiction readers. Personally I should never have to be writing this review because I should never have read this book. But this novel was awarded the Nebula award in 1996 and I was under the idiotic notion that the Nebula was awarded to the BEST science fiction novel of the year, and so I read this book, and thus a review under that context is justified. If one cannot accept criticism or an opinion differing from their own, well what does that say,... what does that say about the tolerance of lesbianism.
Ammonite:

The only reason this book got a prize, is that the category of lesbian SF is very small. The "science" in the book is new-age mumbo-jumbo. The book contradicts itself and is inconsistent.The story is a lesbian dream of a world with children, but without men.
- and -

The whole book seemed to be written for lesbian sci-fi readers. Way too much "women ruling the world" and doing a better job garbage. The actual sci-fi parts were good but that counted for only 30 pages or so.


I believe (and have said many times, for example, here) that books are just blueprints of stories, shells, rather like sketches of a house rather than the building itself. The buyer brings her own experience/taste/life furniture, and creates the final dwelling place. Everyone reads a different book. So I generally don't take it personally when readers don't like/don't get my work. But seeing so many lavishly detailed criticisms in a row is rather disheartening. Oh, not because of what that says about my books but because of what it says about people. The willingness to devote so much time and energy to a novel that one doesn't like is...puzzling.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

swang! swang! swang!

From: Renée Strider

I am reading Stay, having recently finished The Blue Place. I had not read your work before. I'm much more than impressed. Some absolutely great writing! I'm looking forward to reading all of your works.

About "swang":
I love Stay, but every time I read that word it's like a traffic bump. Why did you use that old version of the past tense which is never used anymore? Perhaps Aud explains later, and I should just be patient. I notice on your website a reference to an explanation but can't find it in your archives. My curiosity is getting the better of me, so would you send me the URL or direct me to the explanation on your site? Thanks.

No other word I've used, ever, has been as much trouble as this one. I think I've answered this question at least a dozen times. Here's the place to start on that years-long discussion. One day I'll get around to writing a FAQ. 'Swang' will be number one on the list (closely followed by, 'no, no naked pictures' and 'no, I won't talk about my sex life').

For the record, some people--like English people--still do use the word swang. I do. To swing works like the verb to sing: sing, sang, had sung; swing, swang, had swung. Never just 'sung' or 'swung'. Ugly. Uncouth. Wrong.

Swang! Swang! Swang!

Well, I'm glad to get that off my chest. FYI, I'll be using plenty of English-isms in my novel-in-progress: learnt, spelt, smelt, swang, dreamt, shone. In my opinion, words like 'shined' in place of 'shone' are just pain nasty.


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Saturday, April 26, 2008

intelligent, promiscuous reading

From: Jean R

"...has anyone reading this ever done that?" you asked in response to an Ask Nicola query. Hello Nicola, well I have done something close. For many months. Over many years. For more than a dozen summers/falls I've been a fire lookout in Arizona and reading is how I passed those hours up assorted flights of steps on several mountain perches. Oh, and I wrote some, and made drawings of sunsets and stars falling, and memorized morning glory. I took my thoughts to bed after walking along elk paths and woke up with things to say before reading each morning. Every day I read and read with natural light and duties, too--smokes spotted, smoke drift reported, tourists educated about the use of fire in the woods--but mostly I enjoyed paid unlimited, promiscuous reading. Aah...

All those years, but I didn't enjoy the intelligence of your weavings, or Kelley Eskridge's, in all those seasons. Now THAT would have been fine company to take to a 360 degree view! Other adventures came up my steps: the travel agent selling me a CHEAP porthole on the QE2 after 9/11, the fellow ranger kissing me out of hibernation and then taking herself away to work in the heart of Antarctica and never really returning...

And now all these intriguing books to read by two good women. Oh thanks for your writing, you two, AND your reading.

Oh, I can't imagine how it must be to have the outdoors and unlimited, unbroken reading time. What a treasure. The only time I've had the leisure to do nothing but read has been during illness or enforced hospital stays. In my early twenties I could occasionally steal an afternoon in the park with a book, but, wow, I am utterly jealous of your experience.

I'm currently in a place where I'm being pulled six different ways: prepare this, sort out that, ponder this other thing, then do a whole new set of stuff the next day, then refine those other things, then practise them, then do a whole new... Ach. And all I want to do is read and then write. It's beginning to make me irritable.

Actually, I think a bit of sunshine would work wonders. The sun takes my frontal cortex, or at least my fret-centres, offline. I smile; my shoulders relax. If the sun came out today I think I'd say, ah, fuck it, delete all my email, and sit outside with a book, a cup of tea, and a legal pad and pen. I'd read, think, sip tea, drift, have ideas, make notes, drift, pick up the book again, zone out; come to, an hour later, refreshed.

Being on a big boat does that, too. I tend to sleep about ten hours a night on the ocean. There's no way to avoid being relaxed...

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music and the parrot

From: Traci

I've read all your books (and loved them!) and I have a question. Since you're a musician as well as a writer, how do you think music influences your writing, if at all? I was a saxophone major in college before I started writing, and it seems like I have have a more instinctual understanding of prose rhythm and cadence than a lot of my peers, and that I write paragraphs and scenes as much by "feel" as by craft. What do you think? And do you think it's possible to tell when a writer is also a musician by the feel of their prose?

I'm also a Clarion'05 grad, and am going to Seton Hill University for writing, where Tim Esais (I think he said he knew you?) just passed my thesis.

Thanks!

I've corresponded with Tim, but we've never met. We have a mutual friend in St. Louis who put us in touch, and three or four years ago Tim was very helpful regarding an obscure bit of Icelandic history that I might use if ever I write the Aud the Deepminded historical novel I've been contemplating.

I don't think of myself as a musician. I used to sing but I don't regard that as being a musician. It just came naturally. Singing is something everyone on the planet does, unless for some reason their vocal cords are broken. I did it in front of others and (occasionally) got paid but that makes me lucky, not a musician. A musician, to me, is someone who consciously hones her craft, who dedicates himself to it, who takes a natural talent and trains it, commits to it, the way I have committed to writing. Perhaps I could have become a musician, but I don't think I actually was one.

That aside, no, I don't believe musical expertise has a single thing to do with writing expertise, unless it's as simple as equating to a general proclivity for art. Sometimes those who have learnt to give it up for one art find it easier to let go of the rational pilot (the censor, what I think of as the critical parrot on the shoulder peering at everything and occasionally spitting) and go with the flow. But most flow, it seems to me, stems from expertise.

You're familiar, I'm sure, with the saying 'You are what you eat.' With writers, I think we are what we read. Reading is what gives us our natural rhythm. Writing--jumping off the cliff--is where we learn to create new rhythms.

Ooof. I hope that all makes sense. Here at the Griffith-Eskridge household we've had a writewritewrite drinkdrinkthinkthink day and my brains are deeply fried.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

patience is everything, ha!

From: anonymous

Always rocked, but I am now ready for this Celtic book you've been talking about for so long. Okay, maybe not Celtic, old English or whatever - it sounds very interesting. Perhaps I should cut this email short, so you have more time to write? Do you have a contract for you next book? I am waiting as patiently as I can.


I wouldn't characterise the novel I'm working on as Celtic. If anything, it's Anglisc (pronounced Anglish), as in Angle, as in Anglo-Saxon. Having said that, of course, I'm now going to contradict myself :)

In the north of England in the seventh century, the majority of the population was probably genetically 'Celtic', that is, they and their people had been there more than a thousand years. They'd been there, living their Iron Age tribal lives when the Romans came; they lived as Romano British for three or four hundred years; they lived as Revivalist Celts (my made-up term) for a couple of hundred years after the Roman West faded.

What's a Revivalist Celt? A dead one. Just kidding (though not by much). The Romans left the Votadini, the Iceni, all those tribes, their language, but they seriously undermined their way of life; they took the tribal leadership and turned them into Latin-speaking Romans. The native British power elites moved from tribal culture, with the chief living on the land with his (very, very occasionally her) people, to city culture, with the Romans dispensing jobs and tax revenues, access to coveted trade goods, education, and so forth. Then the Romans left. The tax and urban system fell apart. The elites moved back to their ancestral lands. They revived their Celtic Culture quite self-consciously: their old songs, fashions, weapons. Then the Angles and Saxons began to flex their muscles. In many regions the Anglisc and Saxons (Anglisc mainly in the north and east, Saxons mainly in the south) simply filled the Roman power vacuum and many New Celts doffws their Celtic ways and donned Anglisc ones, including language. In some cases, the New Celts pumped themselves up with tales of old glory, marched the cream of their young men (and, occasionally, women) into battle, and promptly got slaughtered. (Read the Gododdin for an epic account of one such occasion.)

So, uh, where was I? Oh. Right. My novel.

The novel is about Hild, also known as St. Hilda of Whitby, a real historical figure (if we can believe Bede, which I do, mostly). She lived from 614 - 680 AD in what is now Yorkshire. She was definitely Anglisc, royal in fact. However, reading between the lines (what lines there are--she's a bit of a mystery figure, historiographically) she spent a lot of time living with Celts. So I suppose you could say, if you really wanted to, that this is, after all, a Celtic novel.

As for patience, yes, you're going to need some. Right now, Hild is only ten going on eleven (she lives to the ripe old age of 66), and I'm already 38,000 words in. This book is going to take a while. And, no, I don't have a contract. So get comfy, amuse yourself with other things, and occasionally take a peek at my other blog to see how things are coming along.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

praise her praise her

From: Bett


No question, only praise. I just finished reading "Always" and was disappointed because it was over. I've read them all now and can only hope that there will be more to come. I've enjoyed all of your books. You have a terrific way with words and ideas. I just can't say enough about how much your writing has enhanced my reading world. Sorry for the gushing. Looking forward to your next book about Aud, if that is to be. If not, whatever it may be I'm waiting. lol. Take care of yourself.

I always take care of myself. Always have. 'Always looking after number one,' my mother used to say to me. I'd give her my best And your point? look. In my family, the whole Catholic (and gendered) self-sacrifice thing was big. But I proved impervious. Self-sacrifice has always struck me as ridiculous. I don't see the point. How on earth (or heaven for that matter, if you believe that sort of thing) can you look after other people if you don't look after yourself? I just don't get it. I never understood martyrdom for just that reason.

But I appreciate the thought. As for more Aud, hmmn, not for a while. I dither with whether to spend time writing an Aud screen- or teleplay, but I doubt I'll be writing another Aud novel anytime soon.

And, hey, never apologise to a writer about gushing. We love it.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

digital immigrant/native debate, again

From: Arienh (arienh_oconnor@comcast.net)

So what a small world it is! I always marvel at cyberconnections - those loops of links that bring you back to places you've been. Long story short - I started a new book about a French family busking their way around the world and sidelined by van trouble in the deep South. The book opens with the small-town inhabitants at a lecture on internet safety for their children, and I was using the digital native, digital immigrant speech and wanted to make sure that I gave credit as appropriate if I used something too close to a direct quote. Well, I wound up here and started to chuckle. Glad it took me back here in time to get a box :-) Congrats on the amazing reviews, and the more amazing book.

Thank you. The reviews of Always have been lovely. I admit, though, that I would like to have seen more of them in bigger places. It would have been nice to have something in NYTBR, in LAT or the Voice. Also, it got zero reviews in the mystery journals. And zero in the gay press: nothing in Lambda Book Report or The Gay and Lesbian Review or Curve. (Though that latter was remedied just a couple of months ago.) For some reason, my novel got shut out this time. It's puzzling but, eh, it happens. I don't have any grand theories, apart from the ever-popular girl cooties.

Yes, I've seen Marc Prensky's thoughts on the 'digital immigrant/digital native' divide and his acknowledgement of my 1995 metaphor in Slow River:

Those born before 1960 had the hardest time adjusting to change. They were the ones who would suddenly stop in the middle of the street as if they had vertigo when som shop window flared or called out, or get that haunted, bewildered look when the PIDA readers changed again, or the newstanks swapped to a different format.

It was a very specific expression: hollow-cheeked, eyes darting, looking for somewhere to hide. I had seen that same look on the faces of war refugees, or the foreign-speaking parents of native-speaking children. Older people were immigrants in their own country. They had not been born to the idea of rapid change – not like us.

I actually think the whole thing has been blown way out of proportion. Change is. It always has been and will be. A hundred years ago, when electricity was new, corporations had Chief Electricity Officers. Now electrical power is just a tool. The same will soon be true of digital information delivery: it will just be there, like a can opener. Pick it up, put it down.

From the little attention I've paid it, Prensky's argument seems to be that digital information is changing the way people learn. To which I say: duh. Of course it is. Books changed the way we learn. Video changed it. Personal computers changed it. Yes, it rewires our brain. But everything new does. Our brains are endlessly plastic. We are learning, changing animals. This is nothing new. It's a pedagogical matter, not a guru-consulting movement. In my opinion. But I've written about this before and find I don't have much that's new to say.

I hope your book is going swimmingly. (Given how long ago you sent this, you've probably finished it.)

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

walking away from it all

From: Michelle (africhic10@hotmail.com)

I read your process porn article yesterday on Aqueduct press blog. EISH! I went home from work in a foul mood, as it made me think and question many different aspects of my life as it stands right now. Why I am attempting to write a novel and is writing my passion. Unfortunately no lightning bolt struck me on the forehead or no obvious sign floated in my path. But it was so clear when I woke that I'm forging forth with my novel. Maybe it never gets published and that's okay. Also I've never been able to throw any words that I've written away. It's like they would never come back or get lost in the space. I took a risk and threw my first Chapter out and then re-wrote it. Eish! The new result is streaks ahead.

Thank you for sharing yourself and processes with us.

I've finished reading Always. Eish- it was a great experience to grow with Aud over the three novels.


Oh, I remember writing that article last year. It put me in a foul mood too--for a while. It was what prompted me to turn my attention to the novel I'm working on now; it motivated me to walk away from my career.

I am not made to work, year after year, in one genre or with one character. Ten years with Aud was enough. Writing that piece showed me clearly that I needed to move to the next new thing, to flex, to risk. So I parted ways amicably with my agent of fifteen years; I told my editor that I wouldn't be working on the fourth Aud I was contracted for; I set myself the most frightening challenge I could imagine. No, scratch that. I set myself the most exhilarating challenge I could imagine. And in 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.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Elizabeth Murray

From: Jane Gladson

I remember several years ago writing another non-question in this space and receiving a gracious response. Thus, I hazard sending along an Editorial in last week's New York Times which reminded me of your writing.

(I apologize for the oddity that the Editorial is really an Obituary, but not many people get an obit on the Editorial page, so this must have been a very special woman, although I had never seen her work or heard of her until I read this editorial. It is not this woman's death but what he says about her work that is relevant here.)

I've been reading your recent bloggery, which prompted me to look up the editorial to send. The idea of separation of the works from the person, the idea of specificity (after seeing Elizabeth Murray's work), the idea of the enduring nature of the images and insights you write, the idea "that this narrative is my lived experience," the idea of reading (or viewing) as aspirational.

I am not saying that your work and Elizabeth Murray's remind me of one another at all, just that the editorial prompts me to think of your writing. I can remember phrases that thrilled me and stay with me.......the earliest from the first published version of 'Yaguara': a description of physical awareness of another that "made the hairs on her arm stand on end". Probably not an exact quote, but there are many other insights and phrases that stay with me and pop into my head at appropriate moments. Or feelings that stay with me, like Spanner's pain at the loss of Lore and Aud's eventual learning of that lesson. These are gifts you have given me, and I thank you.

I'm pasting in the Editorial and hope it reminds you of you, as well.


August 14, 2007
Appreciations

Elizabeth Murray

There are so many separations in every artist’s life — the projects that live only in the mind, the ones that go no further than a few sketches and, of course, the divorce that takes place when a work is really and truly finished and begins to live on its own. For those of us who celebrated the life and work of Elizabeth Murray, who died of cancer on Sunday at age 66, we mourn our separation from both.

Her paintings will be with us for years and years to come, teasing us, resisting us, giving life to something in her that could only find expression in an almost erotic sense of color and shape. People will come upon her work and wonder about the woman who made it, and she will take the place that every artist eventually takes — overshadowed by the constructs of her imagination.

But we — many of us New Yorkers — have been lucky to have known the woman herself. I have never met anyone in whom frankness and delicacy combined in the way they did in Elizabeth. Her eyes were very bold, and her face seemed constructed to make sure you couldn’t miss that boldness. There was a wildness blowing through her, and to talk to her was to feel that she was consciously effacing, for your benefit, something that would unhinge you if she let it out, which she did in her work. That was before cancer.

And if you happened to see her in the past year, frail and bald and as direct in the eye as ever, you knew that there was no effacing the knowledge of death, or the fresh understanding of life that that knowledge gives.

Elizabeth Murray’s death is enough to teach you how separate and undisclosing an artist’s work always is. And it reminds you how imperfect the very idea of artistic expression is. We know the work rises from within her, but it doesn’t describe her or capture her. Perhaps it’s best to say simply that it expresses what she thought it was possible to express with the tools she chose. It was central to her idea of herself, and yet the reference it makes to the living woman will now become more and more oblique. The work will live on in the durable world. But the memory of the artist lives on only in us, who are made of the same impermanent stuff that she was. VERLYN KLINKENBORG


I'm not familiar with Elizabeth Murray's work. But that is an amazing obituary. I'm flattered by the fact that it reminds you of me. The possibility appeals to my vanity, particularly those parts about 'wildness blowing through her' and 'she was consciously effacing, for your benefit, something that would unhinge you if she let it out, which she did in her work'. That notion of banked power would probably appeal to any artist. It's certainly attractive to me.

Vanity, or perhaps ego, is a fulcrum point in an artist's life. I don't think we can create without it. I feed my ego deliberately. But I feed it carefully. After all, the point of life is life, not art. I think it's entirely possible to let the ravening artist ego consume the human being and unbalance life. Once life gets unbalanced, the spring from which art flows dries up. And, huh, that's way too many metaphors. Clearly I have to go away and think about this. Thank you.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

what Aud said to Kick about Julia

From: Linda (EvergreenLM@aol.com)

I have sent you several "Ooos" and Ahhs" since I began reading Always. Now that I have finished it, and reread it, I would like to offer a comment or two of hopefully some substance--and I have a question!

First, thank you for the way you presented MS. I am a Physical Rehabilitation Counselor and work with individuals who have some of life's "biggy" challenges come down the pike and land at their doorstep. I have learned that life can turn on a dime and NO ONE has a pass on this fact.

I have worked with two women in particular who were diagnosed almost within the same month and year with MS, with very similiar demographics, location of lesions,and choice of treatment options. One quickly slid down the slippery slope and the other managed to continue meeting the day with every intention not to be bested by MS.

My take on why so dissimiliar a response? One had and held on to a support system, asked for help when needed, cursed at the disease,but not her life. The other said to me very clearly, "Don't give me all that hope crap...this should not have happened to me...I didn't do anything to deserve this." I have no more and a lot more to add to that.

Secondly, thank you for challenging my brain. I am 59 years old and still never tire of discovering there is something I don't know!Imagine that!

I now have looked up phyllotactic ratios, leaf whorls and patterns, "tall poppy syndrome", and learned a Japanese proverb "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." Jante's Law. I have looked up microns and ergs. I also loved the reference to distant lights as "campfires above Troy"--I read all of Stephen Pressfield's novels.

And I am also VERY afraid of heights. All that jumping and falling stuff. Yikes! I had a visceral response to the climbing of the scaffolding on the tiny steep steps. (I REALLY visualize what I read)

Now, for my question! Why did Aud not tell Kick about Julia? (BTW I do so love the evolving Aud.)

Thank you for writing such a wonderful,wonderful book. You are now on my list of people to meet before I go the way of the cherry tree.


Well, if you're in Seattle, I'm doing a reading at Richard Hugo House on Tuesday, May 6th, along with Corrina Wycoff, another Lambda Literary Award finalist. Lots more details of all my appearances (two in Los Angeles, one in Seattle) are here.

I'll address your question first. I think Aud has told Kick about Julia; we just weren't privy to that conversation. I know roughly how it would have gone (Kick would have been sympathetic but pissed off: internally rolling her eyes at the thought of maybe competing with a dead woman who, of course, being dead, would be perfect), but we didn't need it so I didn't write it.

As to your take on the progression of MS depending on attitude: I have decidedly mixed feelings. On the one hand, I find the notion of us being responsible for our own illness rather disturbing. It has a faint whiff of blame-the-victim. (No, I don't believe that's what you're saying. But it's a very thin line.) On the other hand, I know how emotion affects our bodies--and attitude has a lot to do with our emotions. Hope can be very useful; it keeps us going, keeps depression (which really is a killer) away. Hope can also be very difficult and sometimes absolutely unhelpful. When one has a terminal illness, for example, false hope can actively impede dealing with the situation. I've watched my family go through this a couple of times. Denial sucks.

For people with MS, the hope/realism continuum is very, very tricky, partly because it's such a bloody unpredictable disease. I spend a lot of time balancing hope and pragmatism: no, I'll never be cured; no, I'll never run again, probably never walk properly again; yes, life is good; yes, it's possible I'll stop getting worse. (And I now think it's so much more possible than I used to.) Frankly I really hate it when people say: cheer up, a cure is just around the corner! No, it isn't. The medical profession doesn't even agree on the cause/s and etiology/ies of MS. It's certainly a long, long way from a cure.

I'm absolutely in agreement with you on one thing: no one gets a pass on the big stuff in life. As a woman I know often says: we're all only temporarily able-bodied. And shit surely has a way of happening. There again, every day is a new day, with Kelley and the cat, a hot cup of tea, a good book, a visit to the park, dinner with friends. As Kick would no doubt tell Aud: it doesn't have to be perfect.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

spotting abuse

From: Susan (susan_hardy@unc.edu)

Nicola, one of the things I've really enjoyed about your books is how you can make things seem interesting to me that I wouldn't have thought of as very interesting if I'd approached them on my own. (Woodworking in Stay or sewage systems in Slow River.) I didn't think I was very interested in learning about self-defense, but when I read Always I found myself fascinated by the lessons Aud gives to her class in Atlanta. Thank you for that!

That's not really relevant to my question, which is: When you taught self-defense, did you ever teach women you knew or suspected were routinely being abused at home, and if so what did you do about it? (I'm thinking here of how hard it might be to try to encourage someone to leave home, when the reality is that women who leave may be at an increased risk of being killed by their abusers.) Also, do you think you can tell by a woman's posture, mannerisms, etc. that she's being abused, or is that just something you thought Aud would be able to do because of her police experience?

Thanks!


Yes, I think I can spot a person (man or woman) who has been badly abused on a long-term basis, particularly if they were abused as a child. It leaves a deep, deep mark. It leaves a mark on their physical use of space, on their verbal patterns, on their facial expression; the way they dress, how they move in the world. And, yes, I've taught several women who had been abused as children, and one woman who I thought was being abused at home by her husband. She was very like Sandra: smart, bitter, contained, utterly twisted up inside. As far as I know, she hasn't murdered anyone, though.

I've also done a bunch of non-directive counselling (mostly volunteer work), and a couple of paid jobs as a welfare benefits advisor and a caseworker for a street drugs agency. (Ironic, that. At least two of the people I talked to in an official capacity were users I used to buy from or sell to in my Bad Self days.) I have met murderers. Meek as milk, most of them. For example, I advised one man, who'd just been released from prison, on how to appeal a government decision on his benefits. In another context I counselled a young woman who was being abused at home, who then went out with a gang and murdered a confused and incapable street person: beat him and set him on fire. Feeling like a failure doesn't come close to describing how I felt.

I never tried to encourage anyone to leave home. That wasn't my job. For me, teaching self-defense was a bit like writing, it's all about getting people to see things a little differently. What they then do with their insight is entirely up to them. We simply can never know what someone else is going through, why they're choosing to stay or not.

When teaching, or advising, or counselling, or simply talking to a friend, all we can do is our best. Sometimes we can help, sometimes we can't. But, frankly, I hate it. If I ever had to take a job again, it would not be in a helping profession. Just sitting and listening to broken people drives me crazy. And while I know I have occasionally done some good, I also know I sometimes really haven't. So I pretty much refuse to suggest to people what they should do about problems. I just listen as sympathetically as I can (once: I have no patience with interminable rumination on a subject), pour another drink, and then make sure they get home safely.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

cream cake and Elvis

From: Linda (EvergreenLM@aol.com)

Recently I wrote to you sharing my anticipation of finally receiving my pre-ordered copy of Always.

I also commented that much like my nephew not wanting to "use up" his new and very expensive athletic shoes by not wearing them, I wanted to savor once again entering Aud's world. I also do not want to use up the experience too quickly.

I have been reading Always since I picked it up from the bookstore three days ago. I am almost to the end and had to put it down. I have saved a bit, like the last swallow of a good wine or a remaining sliver of Italian cream cake.

I know you'll "make more," but for now I am going to wait until I am quietly hunkered down in my bed and enjoy every remaining chapter one delicious word at a time.

Applause, Applause, Nicola!


What is 'Italian cream cake'? English cream cake is basically a plain sponge cake (aka Victoria sponge) with plain whipped cream in the middle (occasionally accompanied by a smear of fruit compote, or jam, depending on the haute-ness of the cake) and dusted with icing sugar (aka confectioners' sugar).

When I was growing up, cream cakes were an occasional Saturday treat. On good days, Mum would splurge on one small cake to be divided among the whole family (two parents, five children). The pieces were not large. I savoured mine as long as humanly possible, squishing that luscious cream about in my mouth. Fast forward a few years to when I was sixteen and in love for the first time, with Una Fitzgerald. (Beautiful girl/woman: blue, blue Irish eyes, black, black hair. A hip-to-waist ratio that would put Salma Hyek to shame. And old-fashioned in many respects: loved Frank Sinatra, musicals, Elvis. I learnt to admire Frank, too; the others I grinned and bore because, well, if it made her happy, I got more kisses.) At school, Una and I had a lot of time together. (Some of it involving the inappropriate use of bathrooms, empty classrooms, the chaplain's office... See And Now We Are Going to Have a Party for racy details.) However, in the school holidays we couldn't get any time together: we were both from large Catholic families; someone was always around.

We agreed to spend a whole day together out somewhere, the seaside. We picked Scarborough. When the day came, I got up at the crack of dawn. I walked to the bus stop equidistant between her house and mine. I waited. And waited. I began to get frantic; Una was never late. I had awful images of her parents finding out about us and locking her in the cellar (they didn't have a cellar, but my imagination was a bit gothic--I don't react well to mornings). Then I finally spotted her in the distance: shoulders bowed, head hanging, steps small and uncertain. Oh dear god, what had happened? I ran to her. She was weeping. I held her. Eventually she told me: Elvis was dead.

I was stunned. Not that Elvis was dead--what did I care? I'd never met him--but that my day, my fucking special day with my first love, was going to be royally screwed because this, this velvet-clad git had died on a toilet. If he hadn't already been dead I would have killed him.

However (I realise this blog post is getting long), eventually I persuaded Una that a day out by the sea was the proper way to celebrate the life of her favourite singer (her favourite that day, tuh) and we got on the bus.

We wandered on the beach, went to the pub, went back to the beach, back to the pub.

So, we'd been drinking. We'd been in the fresh air. We were hormonal but couldn't have sex (crowded seaside town, for one thing; Una grieving--oh, I hate Elvis!--for another). So we sublimated one urge with another: we were hungry. We walked by a bakery. We stopped. We went in. We bought an entire cream cake. We then bought tickets to a carousel and sat on the bobbing painted horses and ate the entire cream cake. It was, of course, delicious. But I was bobbing up and down and going round and round and I'd been drinking...

It turns out that those tattooed men with missing teeth who run carousels don't like it when you throw up all over their ride.

Moral of the story: sex is better than cream cake, and Elvis sucks.

It turns out that I have bad luck with the timing of the death of musicians. When John Lennon died-- But, oof, this is already long enough. I'll save that story for another time.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

bend it like Aud

From: Lawless1

Which martial art/yoga/whatever do you suggest for someone (me--female) who has never done anything like it but would like to achieve just a fraction of the flexibility, fluidity, strength and ability to concentrate that Aud possesses? My age is a factor (58) and weight, too (stocky but strong, but out of shape). Thanks in advance for taking the time to answer a question I suspect you've been asked countless times in various forms.

Until you get fit, the best martial art would be t'ai chi. It can be practiced alone; it has a lovely sense of lightness and flow. Once you are fit, then it depends on what appeals to you. For a sense of sheer power, karate is hard to beat. If you like scrapping about on the floor, then jujitsu might be fun for you. For whippiness, sheer close-in aggression, Wing Chun is pretty good. My favourite martial art is aikido: power, grace, subtlety, precision, fluidity. Wonderful. But it's not for the unfit. If you're not supple, not well knit, you'll dislocate something. So stick to the gentler forms for a while until you get flexible and toned.

In terms of yoga, I like styles that are as much about breathing and meditation and a kind of deliberate attention to the body as they are about exercise. For example, I think Bikram, or hot yoga, is an abomination. It's a bizarre and punishing exercise regime that can be quite dangerous. I prefer styles that fit the form to the body, not the body to the form. People are all different. We're not designed to bend ourselves into pretzels to match pictures in book. So I'd suggest viniyoga, or kripalu. Of the two I like viniyoga best: it has a real sense of flow, and there are lots of floor poses. It's the closest thing to doing tai chi for people like me who no longer balance very well. I hope you enjoy it.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Nicola and Helena

From: anonymous

I just heard you on NPR and pricked up my ears because of your beautiful voice and your name. I am English and have lived here in Seattle since my husband's work brought us in 1994 with our tiny daughters, Helena and Nicola. Then I noticed your sister's name, Helena on Wiki. Small world. My question is - do you have any tips for helping Americans pronounce Nicola correctly? Do you find they like to rhyme it with Coca Cola, emphasis wise? Our theory is that they are more accustomed to the name Nicole and its emphasis on the second syllable. Oh well.

Looking forward to trying your books now.


I tell Americans: pronounce it like Nicholas, but without the s. But then they often actually call me Nicholas. Sigh. This happened a lot in Atlanta, fifteen years ago, when Kelley worked for an environmental engineering company. We'd go to these awful corporate parties where the wives (oh, yep, they were Wives) had the biggest hair you've ever seen and pasted sugary smiles on their faces and said things like, 'My goodness, where did you find your decorator?' and the men (oh, yep, they were all manly Men) punched each other on the shoulder and said, 'How about them Braves!' And Kelley would get pushed into the Wife group (even though she was the corporate soldier) and, by default, I'd end up with the Men (even though I was a corporate wife). And they'd blink and call me Nicholas, put a drink in my hand, then punch me on the shoulder and tell me that Kelley was 'doing a helluva job'. Utterly bizarre. But, wow, they made good drinks. (Actually, I have a story about that, but it's not something I put in writing. Buy me a pint sometime and I'll tell you all about it.)

Being called Nicholas by those Georgia men is just another example of the strength of binary thinking: you're a girl (big hair, likes boys) or you're a boy (little hair, likes girls) and certain names only are appropriate. Perhaps if I'd been called Nicole they would have shoved me in the Wife group and forgotten about it, but having a name that sounds like Nicholas, NICK-uh-luh, rather than Nicole, Ni-COLE, just drove them mad. Funny how it always seems to be the little things...

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

an aside: search terms

For your amusement: today I found out that some of the search terms to bring people to this blog include:

  • 'creepy questions to ask'
  • 'jewellery cars'
  • 'mature lesbian woman'
For nicolagriffith.com, some fun terms include:
  • 'couch sofa concepts'
  • 'naked nicola' (sigh)
  • 'sultry first meetings'
For gemaecca.blogspot.com, the best were:
  • 'chouties'
  • 'jewel wise'
  • '"good luck with that" meme'
People are...interesting.

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mighty Oz and her drug supply

From: Linda (EvergreenLM@aol.com)

I called Borders Books for the gazillionth time asking where my MARCH pre-ordered Always might be. To my delight, I was told I would have it in seven days.

NOW, why does that make me squiggly? I have a nephew who saved his hard earned money to buy a new, and very expensive, pair of jogging shoes. We noticed that after he got them he NEVER wore them. His explanation... he "didn't want to use them up."

THAT is exactly how I am feeling about finally getting the latest Aud series novel. I will get it, consume it, and then there will be no more-at least for a few years. I know how crazy that sounds but 'tis true, so true.

Suggestions Oh Mighty Oz?


When I was doing a lot of drugs in my youth, I used to worry about my supply. Sniffables were easy enough to get, but had often been stepped on so much it was practically inert. To ensure the supply of amphetamine sulphate, then, I started dealing in it. In terms of smokables, I liked sticky black Gold Seal hash, or Nepalese Temple Ball, or at least some Red Lebanese. But those weren't always easy to get. So to ensure my supply of reliable smokables, I grew it. (And let me tell you, that stuff, growing indoors, is beautiful. It made my whole flat feel all fecund and jungly, and the smell... If it weren't illegal, I'd grow it in a hot second here in Seattle. It's just so bloody pretty. But I'm a Good Girl now. Mostly.)

Anyway, it was also around this time that I discovered lesbian SF. As with drugs, there was a very limited supply of the good stuff. So, again, I produced my own. This is how I got started writing. (That and the rage.) I've talked about this in my latest essay, "War Machine, Time Machine," written with Kelley, for Queer Universes: Sexualities and Science Fiction, ed. Wendy Pearson, Veronica Hollinger, and Joan Gordon (LUP, 2008). Here's the publisher's blurb about the book:

Product Description
Contestations over the meaning and practice of sexuality have become increasingly central to cultural self-definition and critical debates over issues of identity, citizenship and the definition of humanity itself. In an era when a religious authority can declare lesbians antihuman while some nations legalise same-sex marriage and are becoming increasingly tolerant of a variety of non-normative sexualities, it is hardly surprising that science fiction, in turn, takes up the task of imagining a diverse range of queer and not-so-queer futures. The essays in Queer Universes investigate both contemporary and historical practices of representing sexualities and genders in science fiction literature. Queer Universes opens with Wendy Pearson's award-winning essay on reading sf queerly and goes on to include discussions about sextrapolation in New Wave science fiction, stray penetration in William Gibsons cyberpunk fiction, the queering of nature in ecofeminist science fiction, and the radical challenges posed to conventional science fiction in the work of important writers such as Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Joanna Russ. In addition, Queer Universes offers an interview with Nalo Hopkinson and a conversation about queer lives and queer fictions by authors Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge.

About the Author
Wendy Pearson is Assistant Professor of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. Veronica Hollinger is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies at Trent University. Joan Gordon is Associate Professor of English at Nassau Community College.

It's out now in the UK and available for pre-order in the US. But like all academic books, it's really (really) not cheap.

So, to finally approach my point: it seems to me that when you get addicted to good books you have two main paths to ensuring your supply: deal (become a bookseller or librarian) or produce your own (become a writer or publisher). Or, y'know, pay some author huge wads of cash (hi!) to write the books especially for you...

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Monday, April 14, 2008

genderqueer

From: Christi

I love your books, and I've been reading your Ask Nicola section for years.

I'm a lesbian, and recently I've been reading a lot of 'genderqueer' stuff - where people claim that 'lesbians' don't exist - everyone is bisexual, and 'women' don't exist - everyone is transgendered.

I am a 100% lesbian and %100 woman so I find the genderqueer stuff to be obnoxious. And I think it undermines gay/lesbian civil rights to say that gays and lesbians don't exist.

What is your take on it? Do you think it is a trend? And what is your response if a 'queer' person tells you you are not really a lesbian, or not really a woman?

Apparently, there are 'transgendered' lesbians. If a man walked up to you and told you that he identified as a lesbian - what would you say. Is there any appropriate response - because I can't think on one.

The odd thing, is that the whole 'genderqueer' concept is supposed to be more inclusive, but I think it is completely alienating.


Of course straight people exist, of course lesbians exist, of course genderqueers exist. I don't have a problem with any of it/us--except when people declare there is only one way to look at the world. And when it comes to gender and sexuality--issues of identity--people can often get quite dogged. Kelley ran into this a while ago with her fabulous collection of stories, Dangerous Space. She talks about it in an interview. It's a long interview, so here's the relevant quote:

I was at dinner recently with some friends, one of whom had read Dangerous Space and one of whom had not. And the person who had not read the collection couldn’t understand the fact that Mars is not gendered as a character. And said to me “But…but…but…whether someone’s male or female is the first thing we notice. The first thing we ask about a baby is, you know, is it a boy or a girl. And if you’re going to meet someone you want to know, if you can’t tell from the name, is it a man or woman. How can you possibly create a setting or a situation in which none of those cues…where people don’t talk to someone as if they’re a man or a woman? When it's so important! How can you do that?!” [This person was] pounding on the table and I finally got a little irritated and said, “This is speculative fiction – I can do whatever I want.”

These days I rarely think in terms of 'dyke' or 'straight' or 'man' or 'woman' (or all those dozens of categories that would take way too long to list here). I prefer to think of people in terms of being human, and then whether they're likeable. Then, of the likeable ones, whether they're worth having dinner with. Then of the worth-having-dinner with crew, should they be invited to our house? And of those who come to the house, will they be friends? So that's how I currently prefer to see the world.

Of course, 'prefer' doesn't mean I always do. Given our upbringing, we're all sexist, racist, heterosexist, ableist , ageist, lookist and every other -ist on the planet. That's just the way it is. But if we're lucky, we learn as we mature to discount that first, instant visceral deep-down response that is always (always if you grew up on this planet) lurking in the background, and to substitute honest, personal judgement for that off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all prejudgement. That prejudice.

Religion, too, is a playground for the dogged and their dogma. I don't believe in god, or reincarnation, or karma, but I'd never pour scorn on someone who does; I'd never spend time trying to convince them they're wrong. After all, maybe they're not. So I spend my life listening to people talk about things that I'm pretty sure are claptrap (gender issues, religion, politics) and I smile genially and have another drink. It's a big world, with room for all kinds.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

hypnagogic #1: the nine riding soestre

From: George Killoran

I just re-read Ammonite for the first time in oh it must be 12 years or more, and enjoyed it all over again. No possibility of a continuation of the story?


I've learnt to never say never, but Ammonite II is unlikely at this stage--though I do occasionally have thoughts about Jeep and its people.

Late in 2006 and early 2007, when I was finishing Always and working on my memoir, my creative engine just wouldn't shut down. Every night, exhausted, I would start falling asleep only to have these weird dreamlike writing scenes drop into my head. I'd write them down, in the dark, on 3x5 index cards. In the morning, they were sometimes not legible. Sometimes even if they were legible they didn't make sense. Sometimes they sort of made sense but were incredibly strange. I have twenty or thirty of these snippets, which I call my hynapgogic writing. Here, specially for you, is one I wrote from the POV of a native of Jeep settling in to tell a story to a stranger. (For those of you who haven't read Ammonite, this might make no sense at all. For those of you who have, well, this might make no sense at all...)

Far away, in a time we have forgot, live the nine riding soestre... Oh ha, ha ha ha. For we never forget. For we are not nine, we are a hundred, an army, a tribe. We are then and now and forever. We are here. We are the hills and the breath in the grass, we are the rain above and the burn beneath. We are. We were. We will be.

You think that because we know, we will be known--how can we not, then or now or later? We are soestre and viajeras all. So must we be saints always? Meek as milk? Sweet as honey? No. People do as they are. The dog bites because she must. The bird flies because he has wings. If a mother's pain and fear are so great that she can only share it, then she will. She will beat her child. She will beat her child, and sear the act into the memory of the tribe for now and always because she cannot do otherwise. For we are soestre and viageras all. So then we judge, because we know. We all judge: we all know all. And this, then, is the village: a village of judges.

Much of my other hynogogic stuff is odd poetry, the kind of thing soothsayers and oracles and bitter bards at the end of their days might speak. It's all very strange.

The hypnagogic downloads just...stopped last year. I find I miss them. Still, it was lovely while it lasted.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

French translations

From: nadia (nadia.tazi@wanadoo.fr)

Je n'ai pas vraiment de question, mais je voulais vous témoignée mon attachement a vos deux histoire sur Aud, belle de nuit et un si long chagrin (francaise), depuis que je lis des histoires lesbiens je ne me suis jamais retrouvée dans un tel état de pleures, je n'arrive pas a les lire sans avoir les larmes qui coules et je suis tellement heureuse d'avoir fait la connaissances de Aud que je mis suis vraiment attaché,j'aime ce qu'elle est !mes franchement la mort de Julia ma fais mal pour elle cela a été trop rapide elle n'ont pas eu assez de temps pour vivre leur amour, je me suis dit que vous ne pouviez pas nous laisser comme ça sans nous montrer cooment elle allait remonter la pente,j'espére avoir la suite de son histoire, après un si long chagrin traduit en français, car j'en suis impatiente de sortir de ma tristesse.



j'aime votre écriture de la façon bien particulière a raconté l'histoire de Aud, continuez SVP d'écrire et de nous en faire profité, tank you a vous, une lectrice de bretagne fouesnant qui vous apprécies, même sans vous connaitre car vous avez réussi a me faire pleurer.


I don't know when Always, the third Aud novel (or Ammonite or Slow River) will be translated into French. I'm delighted, however, that The Blue Place (belle de nuit) and Stay (un si long chagrin) made it into your hands and that they affected you so deeply. Translation is a risk. I have no control over the quality. But if they made you cry so hard then it must have worked to some degree.

No, Aud and Julia didn't have much time together. It had to be that way for the story of Aud. I wanted Aud to love with abandon, the way we do the first time. For most of us, love happens for the first time in our teens. Hmmn. Okay, that's a sweeping statement based on assumption. Let me restate: for me, it happened in my teens. In books and films and plays like Romeo and Juliet it happens in the teens. And it never lasts. Anyway, Aud was an adult, 31 years old when she met Julia. To convey the shattering power of first love on an adult, I chose to snatch it away from her irrevocably and in the first powerful throes. There's nothing as irrevocable as death, nothing as all-consuming, utterly subsuming, as the first six months of love.

I felt like a monster, though. I didn't want to do it. I tried all sort of ways to wiggle of it. My editor wanted me to end the novel just as Julia gets shot, so the reader doesn't know whether she's died or not. "You can't kill her," she said. "Readers will hate you." But not making a clear choice would have been cheating. So I so killed her. And, lo, many readers hated me and hated the book. (I got dozens of emails from people who reported hurling the book across the room.)

To all those readers now: I apologise. I know it's awful, and shocking, but there really wasn't another way. And I promise: all will turn out well for Aud in the end.


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Friday, April 11, 2008

writing is hard, let's go drinking

From: Kelley (kelleya1@hotmail.com)

Seems like long ago, we were on a board together--an book discussion board, where I was embarrassed to discover that one of my favorite writers was a participant (you!) right after Ammonite came out. You said at the time that you had a health issue that made writing a slower process for you than for some. But I've been amazed at the quality of your work over the years--are you feeling better these days? Loved The Blue Place and Stay.

Just thinking about writing, how gut-hard it is, and what a miracle that anybody can do it!


Yep, writing is a miracle. Every time I begin a new novel I wonder, Can I do it again? Except that I know I can. I just don't know how. Art is a black box: life goes in, art comes out; the mechanism is a mystery. The most I've learnt over the years is to gauge the timing. I now know when to push, when to sit back and wait, how long things will take. But that's it: a black box with a dial on the side indicating how Close to Done a thing is.

The art might be a mystery but he craft isn't. I remember every step of my learning. I remember pulling books off the shelf in my twenties and consciously studying them to see how to put dialogue together (literally, trying to figure out where the punctuation went--because US and UK punctuation and quote marks are quite different). I remember reading the opening of three favourite books (Lord of the Rings, The Dispossessed, and Dune) to work out how to begin Ammonite. I remember years of learning how to shave off the top layer of a work, then shave again, and again and again, until there wasn't a single unnecessary word.

But the art... No. I don't know how that works. An artist is a shaman. We map uncharted territory so that others don't have to. But we don't do it for you, we do it for ourselves. We can't help it. At least I can't help it. And so I have an idea for a novel--and somehow I always know when it's a novel, when it's a story, when it's an essay--and I begin with blind faith that I'll find my way through to the end, that I'll spend two years of my life on something I can't quite see but that when I've finished it will all make sense. And it does. Yes, writing is a miracle.

But it's not hard. Writing is easy. It's like diving: terrifying if you think about it too long, but once you've leapt, once you've sprung and left earth behind, it's easy; it's just falling.

When I teach writing, I give beginners lots and lots of nifty rules and exercises, because beginners like that sort of thing. But the most precious advice I give is something most beginners are simply not ready to hear: Just Do It. Just run, jump, fall. You can fix it all later.

When I started my memoir, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew I had three months (mid-November to Valentine's Day) to create the whole thing, soup to nuts. I knew that if I sat and thought about it too long, I would realise it couldn't be done. So I just sat down and began. After three days, I knew I'd basically be writing a series of connected essays, and that they had to be almost brutally blunt. Wholly naked. No dithering. But I couldn't have discovered this without beginning. I also would have taken much longer to figure it out without Kelley's help. She kept tapping my subtitle, 'Liner Notes to a Writer's Early Life', and saying, Focus on that, forget all the other stuff. And so with blind faith in my art, with beer (oh, lots of beer--how do writers who don't drink manage to turn the machine off at night?), and with Kelley's help, I created my box of Nicola. I'm proud of it. But I have no idea how I did it.

I've also no idea how Jacob, the designer, did his part. Perhaps he doesn't, either. All I know is that we both worked very, very fast. There were no false starts, no hesitations. I can't speak for Jacob, but I know I worked with the sureness of long experience. I didn't have to understand how I was going to do it, I just knew I could. I relied on my expertise. But I wouldn't be an expert if I hadn't spent a lot of time just leaping off the fucking cliff; I didn't learn how to write by worrying about it, I learnt by doing.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

general update

So I have 29 Ask Nicola questions left in the queue. Which means that a month from now there will be nothing to say. One of three things can happen

  • you send me some more questions
  • I close this blog down
  • I convert it to a more general blog
What do think?

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lesbian fiction and other genres

** note: I have edited this question, just a little, for clarity; English is not Sheyla's first language **


From: Sheyla (myninki@gmail.com)

There are two things that I wanted to say something about, not important, just somethings that made me think. One is, are you curious about no one thinking that a dyke protagonist would be interesting?

Well, you see, I liked Laurie R. King a lot so I ask a friend to buy all of her available books for me, one has won an Edgar so that was my first choice. Well, by the time I knew that Lee was short for Leonora I was too hooked on Kate Martinelli's books to leave them. But it gave me pause. I did stop, surprised; disappointed, yes. I want to think that I didn’t think of putting it down just because that character that I liked so much was a lesbian, but it is possible that it had crossed my mind, maybe just for a second.

My second pause after all this was my friend, the one who brought the books to me. Hell, she’ll kill me, I thought. A nun buying books of a lesbian? I’m dead. So I read the back cover, cover flaps or whatever: no, no it doesn’t say anything about sexual preferences of the main character. Okay, I was saved.

Well, I’m exaggerating; I only got a good glare and a sort of backhanded comment on the good of reading the History of the church and the lives of the saints, not my first. And she would have bought it, if I had asked nicely, she would have bought it for me anyway, she is my friend, but she would not have liked it.

The question is: would I have bought them if I'd known? Umm, difficult question, considering how much I like those books now and the fact that I’m actually mad because I don’t have the last one. Well, shoot, the answer's still probably no, and I wouldn’t have asked anybody to do it for me. Why? Hmmmn.

Sure I have read books… “about straight people (and able people, and male people, and American people, and black people, etc)…” …sure, all of those and more. I get to read about communists and Soviet people and the History of the church and the Lives of the Saints too, no problem, some are tedious, some are bad, some are great, all of them precious. So, why? What do I expected to find? I don’t know. Maybe that’s it: you don’t know what you are going to find. So is it fear, of been seen reading a book of a lesbian? Of, hell, prejudices? Of liking it? Sure, go figure: now I want Aud for myself.

Ah, ignorance. I hate it, especially in me, so I did my homework this time. There is a thing called Lesbian Literature. Now I’m confused, I wonder if they helve it like that in the library?

But if you are a Lesbian or write about a Lesbian, you belong to the Lesbian Literature, so, isn’t that a prejudice itself? Aren’t they supposed to be just books? Why is it another genre? And it get worse, I came across something you said, wrote that is, for "Yaguara." Here:

“Fourth, there’s a long tradition in lesbian erotica (particularly that written for straight audiences) that the characters and/or settings are hot, steamy, exotic, sultry, privileged, lush, languorous, etc., etc., etc."

Do we have books written for straights and then books written for gays? Are there books for blacks, or male or able, or I don’t know, all the differences there are in the world? Do we straights want characters like that?

So, if I pause because the character is a Lesbian, do you pause because you are writing for a straight? I don’t like that word; I’m twisted in so many ways that its seems somehow wrong to call myself that. But, never mind. Do you worry about your audience? Do you tailor your books because perhaps not only Lesbians will be reading them?

Tell you what I decided. Sure I will read them, sure I will read them again, now I also know that because the writer is a Lesbian or the character is a Lesbian it doesn’t automatically make it good. Sometimes it's crap. Its either a good book or a bad book. Some are tedious, some are bad, some are great, but all of them precious.
I like your books; it’s a shame I didn’t know about them earlier. You see you are listed as SF so I wasn’t paying attention, I don’t usually read SF, my mistake. And then I found Aud, and now I’m grieving for Julia and I’m mad because I can't do anything about Aud’s pain. Uh never mind that...

I’m going to ask to another friend to buy all your books for me, it may take a while but I want to own them, I want to see them in my bookshelves, so I can remember how much I enjoyed them every time I see them.


I'm guessing it's difficult to get books in Cuba. If I can help in any way, let me know.

Your post brings up one of my pet peeves, genre. Don't get me wrong, I love genre fiction. I just dislike being pigeonholed. I've ranted about, er, discussed this at length elsewhere. In my opinion, there's no such thing as a "lesbian book," unless one uses Carolyn Seajay's definition: any book owned by a lesbian. Like you, I think books should be divided into Good and Bad, or, more specifically, Books I Liked, and Books I Didn't Like. I've written about that, too, in my essay, "Brilliance and Beauty and Risk."

I've been thinking about genre again the last week or so, with regard to young adult fiction--but I'm not quite ready to talk about that yet. Soon, though.

But back to your question. Do I alter my novels in some way because I know straight people will be reading them? No. I write my books for human beings: gay, straight, polymorphously perverse. All colours, races, religions, levels of physical ability. Readers with or without children, with or without pets, with or without money. I have readers in about a hundred countries (according to Google Analytics). I make as few concessions as possible to my imaginary readers, because that way lies madness, or at least badly compromised fiction. You are all too different.

When I first started writing, I used to worry what my parents would think. But when I did that, I found it impossible to write, so I stopped thinking about it. Now if I imagine a reader--and usually I don't--she's not someone I know. She's not someone who can influence my career--not a critic, or a prize judge, or a publisher, or an Oprah producer--she's just smart and willing to trust me enough to take her somewhere strange. My job then is to not betray her trust, to not let her down in any way; to write the best fiction of my life. And to have an absolute blast while I do it.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

fanfic

From: an inquiring mind

i am such a fan of the aud series. i've read both "the blue place" and "stay" multiple times and with each reading, i gain new appreciations about the depth of the characters in each book. however, i've often wondered (warning -- spoiler ahead): what would aud be like today if julia had survived? if the bullet hadn't done so much internal damage, or if aud had made a slightly different split-second decision.

have you considered creating a parallel series, one in which aud's bashert survives the last paragraphs of the first novel, sorta like those choose-your-own-adventure books from the '80s?


Oh no, no no, that's not the author's job, that's the reader's job: to play with what is and make an imaginary Other Possibility. It's called daydreaming. Or, if you write it down, fanfic. Many writers seriously disapprove of fanfic. I don't. I disapprove of people other than the copyright holder trying to make money from others' extant worlds and/or characters, but I frankly love the notion that someone cares for my work so much they spend time trying to extend the story. So if you want to write Bashert: A What-If Aud Story, go right ahead. Just don't try to make any money from it or I'll send Aud over for a little chat.

If I'd been born in the 1980s or '90s, I imagine I would have learnt how to write with fanfic: Xena and Buffy ripoffs. When I was nine I was stealing ideas from the Norse sagas and historical fiction I read, writing stories of grim-faced warriors with swords and horses and dogs (the sword, horse, and dog always had names; the warrior never did). Terry Brooks' Shannara books are Lord of the Rings clones. We all learn by imitation. We should all be gloriously free to play.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Aud the movie

From: Charlotte

I just read an interview about your latest Aud book and you mentioned that there has been talk of an Aud movie, but that it would be a hard sell for Hollywood.

Have you considered cable television, such as Showtime or HBO? It seems to me that a lot of quality shows are being made there now, with more interesting subject matter, and with less limitations.

Also, what would be a typically 90 or 100 minute feature film can be done more in depth.

Finally, people who might not flock to an Aud feature film, would probably watch on TV.

I guess my question is would you consider that a viable option, and who would you like to play Aud?

I would love to see Lucy Lawless (with the proper physical transformation), but I might be less than impartial since I was a Xena fan.

Thanks for your time.


I'd be delighted with a top-drawer cable interpretation of Aud (HBO, Showtime, FX, BBC America). That's the kind of television I grew up on in England: the 12-part series (like "Rome").

After I finished all the rewrites and corrections and copyedits of Always last year, I started in on the screenplay of The Blue Place. I have to say, it has a crackerjack opening. But, well, after the first 7 pages I got bored. I know what happens. I've already written that story. Of course, the film would be different; of course it's a new medium; of course the constraints and mode would all have to change, but... I've still written it before. I know who Aud is. I know what she does. And after ten years in her head, I needed a break.

Having said all that, I can definitely see going back to the script once I've finished the first draft of the novel I'm working on now. Early next year, maybe. I'd love to get Paul Greengrass to direct. (I admire extremely what he's done with the Bourne franchise, and Aud has a lot of Bourne in her.)

Having said that, I do think that, after TBP, Aud would be best served in episodic form. I can see both Stay and Always as TV series: intense, absolutely convincing visually (something like "Deadwood"), their own world. I really like "Dexter," but Aud would need much more serious treatment.

Having said that, the biggest problem is casting. Who on earth could play Aud? Her character on screen will be all about how she moves. The only person I've ever seen move like Aud is Jet Li. If I took a reader poll today, I'm pretty sure Angelina Jolie would win, hands down, but I'd need a lot of convincing. As for Lucy Lawless, nope, I have to disagree. Her moves as Xena never persuaded me. (I loved the show--apart from the stupid, sucky, old-school ending--but always had to willfully suspend my disbelief everytime Lawless got in a fight. Sigh. Though, oof, her fighting was never, ever as embarrassing to watch as those ridiculous Amazon dance sequences. Oh, god, talk about toe-curling...)

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