Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Los Angeles

This morning we're off on our West Hollywood adventure, with an award ceremony, a reading, and many meetings with Huggywood folks about Kelley's film (and other things). I won't be around here much until next Tuesday--I'll be reading occasionally, but not posting. So amuse yourselves.

There's a rumour that the 90-minute super-fabulous Lambda show will be webcast from the Lambda Literary Foundation's website, with special clips on YouTube, but I don't have any details.

At some point, too, that video of me reading from And Now We Are Going to Have a Party will be up, but, again, no clue when. Stay tuned. Actually, no, go have a blast doing something amazing.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Kelley is awesome!

See her fab interview on AfterEllen.com.




Also interviewed are Val McDermid, Lillian Faderman, Sarah Waters, Karin Kallmaker, Rebecca Walker and half a dozen other seriously fine writers. Go read it.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

are your queer friends worth ten seconds of your life? (or: time to be an ally, people)

The Office of the Governor of California has set up a hotline public opinion vote on the recent state Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage. It's a fully automated system and it's not, repeat not, limited to California residents.

The number works. It's not a scam. I've just called it myself. If ever you've thought, huh, wish I could do something to help all my queer friends, now is the time.

To vote in support of the California Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage, call the Governor's office:

1. call 1-916-445-2841
2. press options 1 (english) 5 (to vote), 1 (LGBT issue), 1 (vote yes)

It's really easy. The first time I called, the line was busy. The second time, the whole process took about ten seconds. Are your queer friends worth ten seconds of your time?

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

quotes, an occasional series #1: slinkies

Every couple of weeks I think I'll pull one of my favourite quotes--usually lifted from someone's sig file--and talk about it. Let's begin with this one:

Some folks are like slinkies. They aren't good for very much, but they make you smile when you push them down stairs.
-- Unknown (from internet)

As you can see, I don't remember where I got it from, and I don't know who wrote it. But it is guaranteed to make me smile, even on a truly sucky day. I think about pushing some waste of space down the stairs and, aaah, suddenly I feel much better: my imaginary service to humanity.

When I first started living with Kelley, and I would casually say something violent--huh, I'd like to nail his intestines to a tree then whip him round the trunk a couple of times--she would pale. I think she thought she'd married a psychopath. But while I do think in brightly-coloured cartoon violence terms, I'd never actually do any of it. (Unless, y'know, threatened. Or really pissed off.)

Whenever I get email from people who say they really dig the Aud books except for when she, like, goes around all the time thinking how easy it would be to kill someone because they, y'know, so don't believe anyone would think that way, I snort into my beer. I think that way. I think that way all the time. It improves many tedious situations. Try it.

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Hild in Second Life

Wow, I've just read about St. Hilda's Christian Goth Church in Second Life (link via Heavenfield).




I can't tell you how perfect Hild and Whitby are for Second Life gothdom. Whitby, after all, is traditionally Dracula's home turf.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

bent Alaska

From: E. Ross (bentalaska@gmail.com)

I began my new blog, Bent Alaska, based partly on your suggestion and encouragement. When we met in that pub in Seattle last year, you mentioned that a good way to get into writing is to write online, because there aren't as many gate-keepers. So I took the advice.

Well, in February I volunteered to take over Alaska's only statewide GLBT email newsletter, which has over 500 subscribers. I up-dated the design and developed contacts. When I asked readers what improvements they would like to see, the main responses were photos, online resources and news reports on local people and events. So far, most of my traffic comes from the newsletter and the local progressive blogs. Do you have any ideas?

I haven't found any other openly LGBT blogs based in Alaska, and I haven't had much luck connecting with LGBT bloggers outside of Alaska. That's the next step. I'm trying to find contacts for an article on local gay/lesbian couples who want to get married in CA, so Bent can participate in Mombian's "Blogging for LGBT Families" event and gain some exposure with a national LGBT audience. Also, I'm working on several posts involving local chapters of national or western states LGBT groups, and will send the links to the main groups as the pieces go up.

Otherwise, my main focus right now is writing content, developing contacts, reaching out to potential sponsors, recruiting other writers - and teaching an older, lower-tech audience about blogs and comments and RSS, which is a challenge that I didn't expect. Any suggestions?

I don't have sponsors for the blog yet, and I don't see how I could pay several writers without sponsors, and asking for contributions with only a byline to offer hasn't worked yet. Any suggestions on that point, too?


Are you commenting on others' blogs so they know you exist? I've found that that's a good way to start. And I'm not just talking about Alaska-based blogs, but anything lgbtqi-related, anything political, anything liberal. Post a couple of comments on articles on Huffington Post and see what happens :)

It looks as though you're using a Blogger template. If so, what might be helpful for your more inexperienced readers is a link for them to click to subscribe to posts via email (you can download a widget from Feedburner). I've just set that up on both my blogs. This one uses a form (see sidebar, under 'subscribe'), but Gemæcca uses a clickable link. (I suspect the unintimidating clickable link might be the way to go for your readers.)

Another way to improve traffic is to add a couple of people to your contributors list, so it's a multi-person blog. You don't need to pay them. You lure them in by promising them exposure e.g. up-and-coming writers or musicians or activists who need to get their names/URLs out there. Or just people who like to gossip. Have you tried searching through MySpace for lgbt writers/musicians/artists/booksellers and so on?

Meanwhile, good luck, and keep having fun (because if the writer isn't having fun, nor is the reader).

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

not today, Josephine

No post today, because there are no more questions to answer, and I'm currently too deep into Hild to make up something from scratch. So, hey, if you want me to talk to you, ask me a question.

Also, I'm writing this because I want to test the new Feedburner subscription-by-email widget. See sidebar: it's easy, just type your email address in the box, hit 'subscribe', and you'll get these posts delivered to your mailbox every morning. No muss, no fuss, no fretting about RSS.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

partying

From: Duffy

Just finished reading [And Now We Are Going to Have a Party]. I have a better understanding of Aud now. Love the packaging.

Wondered about how much MS affected you then. You mentioned it, but noticed only one specific description of how it affected you on a day to day basis. I think it had to do with your pen suddenly flying across the room. If this is too personal, please don't hesitate to tell me.

Especially loved your description of how you and Kelley got together. I do believe in love at first sight because it happened with me and Janet, too.I think there's a zen concept, satori moment, not sure if I have that right. It refers to a moment of total clarity and truth is revealed. That's what happened to me when I first touched Janet's hand and it was like all that we were to be was revealed in an instant.

Sometimes, when I actually stop and think about how much a human being can go through and still move on with life, my amazement with the universe becomes spiritual.

Thank you Nicola for this amazing revelation of your self.

The only time I've a faint idea of what it means to be 'spiritual' is when I feel what the early Christians, using a Greek word, described as agape,'an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being'. (Thomas Jay Oord)

It happened after 9/11. The twin towers falling down didn't affect me that much--I've seen too many terrorist things in the UK, been through too many bomb threats, been caught up in an IRA bombing in London in the late '70s (not hurt, just trapped in the Underground for four hours)--but the conversations with friends who were beside themselves really bothered me. We should hit them back, said the more injured and bewildered ones. No, we should pound reason in the other goddamn American heads! said others. And I said, No, stop it, listen to yourselves. Force isn't the answer, reason isn't the answer, love is the answer. Love everyone, love them all. After a week or two I realised I sounded like the leader of some bizarre cult, and, profoundly disturbed, stopped talking about it.

I felt an echo of that all-encompassing love (but much less strange) when I was writing And Now We Are Going to Have a Party. It was an overwhelming and particular tenderness towards all the people I'd known, including the little four year-old me busy taking charge of her life, or the confused, drunk teenaged me, or the blazing with self-belief twentysomething who used to climb on the stage knowing she was the closest thing to god those people were ever going to see, baby!

When I sat down to write that memoir I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I wanted to tell some funny stories maybe, to tell some of my truth, too, and to parade a few of the marvels (marvellous to me, anyway) of my childhood, like that Christmas wishlist (written when I was seven). Then my mother died, and I realised that what I wrote mattered, that she wouldn't be there to read it or contradict it, and it had better be the truth. At the same time I understood it was the story of what made me who I am: a writer. And it all came together. I wrote the whole thing in about three months. There was no rewriting time. It was just one big gush, with a little tidying up at the end. It was a true labour of love: for myself, for my family, and by me, by Payseur and Schmidt.

MS didn't really start to have an impact on my life until I was 28. I went down with what was diagnosed as 'post-viral syndrome' after getting a hepatitis B vaccination and then catching flu. I recovered from the flu but was so tired I couldn't walk more than fifty yards, or, some days, even sit up for very long. I had weird tingles swimming up and down my spine like electric fish. This went on for months. I lost an appalling amount of weight. I was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis. Then I moved to the US, where that diagnosis was changed to chronic fatigue syndrome (aches, weakness, irritability, as well as the fatigue and weight loss). I gradually got better, being able to walk a mile, or go dancing. Then, when I was 32, I got abruptly worse again--falling down, zero energy--and this time I was diagnosed with MS.

Even before the first official illness, I would have weirdnesses, like getting astonishingly dizzy and falling down for no good reason (though I was doing a lot of drugs, so it didn't really worry me) or having my writing arm suddenly stiffen up, or not being able to quite breathe properly. One doctor told me I was having a nervous breakdown and gave me tranquilisers. I flushed them. Though I had been extremely energetic and vital all my life--every kind of sport you can think of--I'd also been ill a lot. When I was eight and nine I was hospitalised several times for a mystery illness. When I was allowed home, I went to school only in the mornings for a while. So, while being diagnosed with MS was a terrible shock, being ill, on some level, feels almost natural.

Falling in love was shocking, too. And very odd. I've never loved anyone the way I love Kelley. And it happened right away. It was damned strange, and a bit frightening. I love being her love, it feels good--right and true--but, honestly, I'm glad I'll never have to go through that vertiginous internal rearrangement again.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

god and tolkien

From: Caite (caitemaire@hotmail.com)

OK, let me get the obligatory...but totally sincere....praise out of the way.

I first read The Blue Place some years ago, and for some now unknown reason, do not remember liking it a great deal. I seem to remember feeling it was cold and bleak and violent and sad.

And maybe it was to a degree, but who is to say that is a bad thing. Anyhoo, I happened upon a copy of Stay in the library a couple of months ago and thought “that author's name sounds familiar” so I took the book out.

Needless to say, I have now read...and loved...all your books.

I know it is selfish, but I wish you were a faster writer. Finishing the last one made be very sad....

...but I will wait patiently. Since what else can I do?

One more comment before my question. I read somewhere, perhaps in an interview or in an answer to a question here, that there would be no more Aud books. And while I love Aud, I must say that I am happy if that is true. I fear Aud becoming...perhaps... too soft. In someway losing an essential characteristic of Aud-ness.

But if you change your mind, that is totally OK too.

Finally, at last, the question.

Again, I read somewhere or heard in an interview (what did we do before Google searches?), that you are a great fan of Tolkien. That quoting lines from Lord of the Rings was a first bonding experience between you and Kelley. And I agree, considering LotR a classic, a riproaringly good read and excellent book. Up there on my top ten list.

I also read that, if I am correct, you consider yourself an atheist.

So the question is, do you experience any sort of conflict between admiring an author and disagreeing with his or her basic world view, their view of reality? Because I think that Tolkien's work and especially LotR, is an extremely religious book, with a very Christian, in fact Catholic, sense. As he himself stated at one point.

And then your latest...and greatly anticipated by your fans, myself included...project on Hild of Whitby. Whatever else might be true of her culture, I think it would be impossible to really understand her without acknowledging how her Christianity shaped her and her entire world. To see her with too secular eyes I fear will create a Hild other than the true one.

Not that I still won't read it.

I have mentioned that I loved your books, right? Lol

Thank you. to be able to write and give others so many hours of enjoyment must be grand!


I've found that many really good books--the particular ones, the ones you can't mistake for anything else--are sometimes hard to get into if you pick them up at the wrong time. My brother-in-law bought me Dune for Christmas when I was fourteen. I struggled through the first twenty pages and thought, oh fuck that. He nagged me. I picked it up again and ploughed doggedly through the first fifty pages. Seriously, I thought, fuck that. And then a few months later I was really bored, and flicked idly through the first chapters, and just fell into it. I don't know if it's because I'd changed in that time, or whether the initial 20- and 50-page reads had primed the Dune pump, but the third time, wow, it was as though we were made for each other. (I reread it periodically, and there are times it makes me impatient, times I learn something new and marvel, and times when its like a conversation with an old friend.)

When books come strongly recommended, I attempt them at least twice. I did that with Gormenghast (Mervyn Peake), the most recent try being two years ago. I won't be trying again. Me and mannerpunk just don't get on. (With the exception of Ellen Kushner's books.) Other highly recommended books I've failed to connect with enough times that I won't be trying again include Moby Dick (Melville), Sister Carrie (Dreiser), all of China Mieville's books, and, well, the list is very nearly endless.

Some books, of course, are so badly written or so offensive that it's simply not worth continuing past the first paragraph. (Yes, Virginia, you can tell that soon.) Anyway, I'm glad you gave Aud a second chance.

A really good book is like a really good wine--different as the reader ages, different depending on context: wine with old friends on a summer evening will taste utterly different to the same wine drunk from a plastic cup at a harshly-lit art opening. A truly great book, and one that fits us, can stand up to endless rereading. I'll probably read LotR another two dozen times before I die. (Unless, y'know, I get hit by a comet on the way to the mailbox.)

Aud is losing her Audness? Getting too soft? I'll agree that she's changing. She's certainly getting more complex, which means she thinks more about what she does. But the old Aud is still there under the increasingly dense veneer of civilisation. In fact, I have two more books outlined, and one day I might even write #5 because it would rock the thunderdome: Aud goes into total destroyer mode; the dial goes all the way to eleven. But if they ever get written, it won't be for a while.

You know, I've never called myself an atheist. I don't believe there are such things as gods or divine principles, but how can we know? Basically, I don't care, one way or the other, and actively refusing the possibility of god strikes me as a stance that is as impossible to prove as active belief. I'm not a believer in any way, shape, or form. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I'm a nontheist, or agnostic, or perhaps simply apathetic.

As for The Lord of the Rings being a religious book, no, I have to disagree with you. Perhaps after writing the book Tolkien persuaded himself of its Catholicism, but to me the main influences are philology and mythology and his experience as an English person of the era. (By this I mean he got to feel in his bones the difference between small-scale, workshop-based village life, where those who made things took care not to ruin the land around them, and urban large-scale manufacturing where those who bought the goods didn't seen the devastation and pollution caused by their creation; and he went through trench warfare in WWI.) The mythology is Anglo-Saxon and Norse, mainly; the languages are various--lots of Finnish, I think. But it's the language itself that made his motor run; you can feel it, pouring through the chapters like a millstream.

Yes, there's lots of good versus evil, but that's the most ancient story of all. It's the story religion is based upon, not the other way around. And I can speak from experience when I say that most writers, when they discuss their themes and influences, are bullshitting. We have no clue where our stuff comes from. Once we've written it, we can make some excellent guesses, but really what we're doing when we explain our process is just telling another story.

LotR is essentially a two-stranded tale: the story of Frodo (and Sam) and of Aragorn (and Gandalf). Neither of these characters is Christlike, in my opinion. (Though if I felt like it, I could construct a nifty argument that Frodo-plus-Sam might equate to a such a figure. Aragorn, on the other hand, is a pretty classic philosopher/warrior king--and Gandalf is definitely a mythological wanderer god/priest.) So Tolkien might have said, Yep, I'm doing Catholic stuff here, but in my not so humble opinion he was fooling himself.

But it's an interesting question: does the author's personal stance influence my reading of their work? Yes. The first time I read the novelette, "Ender's Game," by Orson Scott Card, I was blown away. Then I read the novel of the same name and liked it less well. Then I started reading interviews of and opinion pieces by him, and realised he was a homophobic arsehole. Knowledge of his homophobia made me think about the person behind the fiction, made me read it differently, and that's when I understood that Card has a twisted view of children and/or experience of childhood. That window into his life creeped me out. I won't read another thing by him. A similar thing happened to me after meeting Amy Bloom. I had admired her short fiction tremendously, for its humanity and subtlety (A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You blew me away), but then I read her novel, Love Invents Us, and was much less impressed. Then I met her and was less impressed still. Now I can't read her fiction.

But I wonder: was I predisposed to not like these authors as people because I'd read novels by them and so seen their hearts laid bare? And did learning even more about them simply confirm that initial knowledge? I don't know. People, and books, and reading, are complicated.

As for Hild, yes, you're right. Her story is, to a degree, the story of the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons in the seventh century. There are two things I will find tricky to navigate during the course of this book: the fact that Hild becomes an abbess, and that she gets married and has children.

That is, I thought they might be tricky until I found the most awesome workaround for the marriage thing, so I can write in my ambivalence about marrying a red-handed warlord and having his babies. (Yes, she does get married; yes, she has kids, but she feels awful about everything, for a really good reason. The whole thing is, as my sweetie might say, pretty squicky.) So then there's the knotty problem of her presumed god-fearing religiousness. I haven't got to the part yet (Hild was baptised when she was about 13, but didn't take the veil until she was 33; I've got years to go before I have to make real decisions), but her religion is going to be more about a sense of wonder, a need for order, and a humane urge to care for 'her people' than any sense of godliness as we understand it. I think it'll work. After all, half the priest I've ever met didn't actually believe in god. And the wonder she feels will, hopefully, be piercing.

Of course (and please bear in mind my 'bullshit' comment, above) this could all change. I never really make up my mind until I'm writing the words.

But however it turns out, my main aim is been to overwhelm the reader with the sense that, yes, this happened, yes, this is exactly how it was. I want you to be swept away, unable to even wonder if it could be just a tiny bit made up. I want you to believe--to know--when you've finished reading, that this is absolutely who Hild was: the story of her life, the tale of a pivotal moment in English history.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Pangur bán

I'm working on an enormous AN question about god and Tolkien right now, but it won't be ready until tomorrow. Meanwhile, as I've been thinking about both cats (our cat is ill) and medieval stuff, I thought I'd give you a 9th C. poem about a cat written by an Irish monk. The translation is by Eavan Boland.

Pangur bán

Messe [ocus] Pangur bán,
cechtar nathar fria saindán;
bíth a menma-sam fri seilgg,
mu menma céin im saincheirdd

Caraim-se fós, ferr cach clú,
oc mu lebrán léir ingnu;
ní foirmtech frimm Pangur bán,
caraid cesin a maccdán.

Ó ru-biam ­ scél cén scis ­
innar tegdias ar n-oéndis,
táithiunn ­ dichríchide clius ­
ní fris 'tarddam ar n-áthius.

Gnáth-huaraib ar greassaib gal
glenaid luch ina lín-sam;
os me, du-fuit im lín chéin
dliged ndoraid cu n-dronchéill.

Fúachaid-sem fri freaga fál
a rosc a nglése comlán;
fúachimm chéin fri fégi fis
mu rosc réil, cesu imdis.

Fáelid-sem cu n-déne dul,
hi nglen luch ina gérchrub;
hi-tucu cheist n-doraid n-dil,
os mé chene am fáelid.

Cia beimini amin nach ré
ní derban cách a chéle;
mait le cechtar nár a dán
subaigthiud a óenurán.

Hé fesin as choimsid dáu
in muid du-n-gní cach óenláu;
do thabairt doraid du glé
for mumud céin am messe.

Myself and Pangur, cat and sage
Go each about our business;
I harass my beloved page,
He his mouse.

Fame comes second to the peace
Of study, a still day
Unenvying, Pangur's choice
Is child's play.

Neither bored, both hone
At home a separate skill
Moving after hours alone
To the kill

When at last his net wraps
After a sly fight
Around a mouse; mine traps
Sudden insight.

On my cell wall here,
His sight fixes, burning,
Searching; my old eyes peer
At new learning,

And his delight when his claws
Close on his prey
Equals mine when sudden clues
Light my way.

So we find by degrees
Peace in solitude,
Both of us, solitaries,
Have each the trade

He loves: Pangur, never idle
Day or night
Hunts mice; I hunt each riddle
From dark to light.

I found this via Per Omnia Saecula, run by Jennifer Lynn Jordan, who, among other things, every week does a feature on medieval animals.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

good writing days and bad

From: Robin

My assumption is that all writers have good days and bad days (writing). Would you be willing to describe what one of each of those days would look like for you? BTW glad to hear your current meds are helping!

This might get complicated. Sometimes it's hard to differentiate a reasonably good writing day from a fairly bad one. However, a brilliant writing day and a terrible writing day are easy to tell apart, so I'll start with those.

A brilliant day begins early, and with energy. I bound out of bed, eat breakfast with Kelley; we laugh at the funnies, sketch out a rough plan for the day (will we both be in for lunch? who is making dinner and what will it be? do we have any appointments--dentist, vet--that day and is it a one- or two-person thing? what decisions will we be making--we usually make decisions during lunch, but it's good to at least look at the shape of things to decide in advance so our hindbrains can be doing the heavy lifting), and then I go exercise. On a really good day I whip through my stretching because I'm eager to get to my desk; pictures, snatches of phrases are falling into my head; I know what music I'll want to listen to, because I understand the emotional arc of the scenes I'm about to write. I get to my desk, open my Hild file, turn on the music--loud, oh very loud; lately I start with a 3-repeat of 'Faster Kill Pussycat' which always gets me pumped--and start reading. Before I know it, I'm correcting the last few lines of yesterday's work, and then, as the rest of my playlist kicks in (current favourite, one I call 'noise', full of Led Zeppelin, Curve, Hednoiz, Pigeonhed, Deep Purple--oh, god, their stuff needs fixing; I'd love to hear a Paul Oakenfold remix of 'Smoke on the Water', the opening riff is so good and then it all goes to hell--Pink Floyd, Evanescence, and of course Brittany Murphy/Paul Oakenfold), zsst, I slide in, I'm there, living the 7th century, seeing it, feeling it, transcribing its rhythms.

At this stage though, I can't afford to completely give it up to Hild. So a little before noon I ease away and do email things--reply to lots of messages on my Yahoo group, deal with business stuff, maybe rough out a future blog post, like this--then I have lunch. After lunch on a brilliant day I take my cup of tea to my office and plunge back in. And now I really do get lost. My playlist is on repeat, I have a huge glass of water to hand, and I just go. On a truly great day I'll write two or three thousand words, and those words will be pivotal to the novel. On those days, I can do no wordly wrong, the sentences purl out, and they're tight and clean and make me just burst with joy when I contemplate them later.

Then I save everything (I save to disk automatically every few seconds--go Alt S--while I'm working, but at the end of the day I order Carbonite to save nownownow, I save to my flashdrive, and--if it's been a particularly productive and brilliant day--upload the file to a private area of my website, too. (This, though, is really rare, usually something I do when I have a whole chunk of a novel done.) Then around six o'clock I roust Kelley from her office and we drink beer and unwind while we prep our dinner. Then we eat. Then we watch TV or read or whatever, at which point I notice how fucking tired I am.

If I'm lucky, after a brilliant day I have a deep and dreamless sleep and wake all sharp and fresh and ready to go again. Sometimes, though, the writing brain is so engaged it won't turn off, and then I just skim sleep while dodging snatches of dialogue and images of What Happens Next.

On a terrible day I feel as though I never quite wake up. I get up and move slowly. I don't want to make decisions, I find the funnies unfunny, I don't give a shit what we're going to have for dinner. I drag myself off to exercise and spend most of the time just lying there, zoning, instead of stretching. No ideas fall into my head. Music is irritating. I open my Hild file and think, Well, what a load of crap. And my mind remains blank. So then I do my email--actually, I read my email but can't be bothered to respond to any of it--and read blogs. Then have lunch. And after lunch I take my tea to the living room and read with the cat on my lap for an hour. Then I haul myself back to my desk, read Hild, and think, Tuh, and wonder what I'd been smoking the day before. And I have no idea how to write what comes next. But I bash my head against it, anyway, for a couple of hours and maybe squeeze out 200 words, which I know I'll end up deleting. Then I give up. I creep into the living room and brood. Then when it's beer time and K says brightly, so how did your work go? I say, I don't want to talk about it! Then we're silent for a moment, then I talk about it.

The good and the so-so and the medium-to-nothing days are more difficult to tell apart. A whole laundry list of factors contribute to making writing easy or hard. Sometimes, writing is hard because I'm tired or emotionally overwhelmed. Sometimes this is connected to the work, sometimes, not. For example, three or four days ago, I was having the hardest time coming to grips with the next section of my novel; I felt a vast reluctance to go there. Partly this was because I was fretting about other things (the cat, actually; he's old and has been unwell) and partly because, unbeknownst to me, the section I was about to embark on was resonating with my grief for my mother and sisters. Once I'd figured that out, though, bam!, I dove back in, and what I've been writing is informed by an extra-rich layer of loss and its possibilities. Sometimes I have a hard time writing because I'm physically uncomfortable, e.g. I've pulled a huge muscle in my back and sitting at a keyboard hurts. Sometimes it's hard because the last thing I wrote was the wrong thing: heading down a bad path, plot- or character-wise.

Sometimes I can have a good writing day yet not write much. This is happening more than usual at the moment, and it's related to writing historical fiction. Writing mainstream fiction is easy--everyone knows what a bed is like, what people eat and wear, how things work. For the seventh century--unlike, say, Regency England (the rake, the dandy, the ball, dance cards), or WWII (the Blitz, rationing, grey skies filled with barrage balloons, weak tea)--there are no handy plug-ins. I have to invent everything, every single thing, from scratch. If Hild walks into the dairy, what does it look like? (Would there be a dairy? Cows were most likely milked in the field, sheep in a pen.) How do you make cheese when there is no stainless steel? What do you store the milk in with no glass, no refrigeration? (You don't; you turn it into cheese and butter and whey.) How many women/girls does it take to milk how many cows and sheep? What are the buckets made of? (Sycamore, because it doesn't leave a nasty aftertaste in the milk.) And that's just process and artefacts. Social relationships were different, too. I've never written anything full of slavery before, never dealt with a heroic society without literacy. (That changes later, of course.) So a good writing day can be a good inventing/visualising day but a not-many-words-on-the-page day.

Writing this novel reminds me of writing Ammonite. There's so much world-building that in order to really visualise it, I need, on some level to spend my days there. This means I can't work for two hours then do something else, like go out for lunch and see a movie. This kind of imaginitive work requires immersion. I can't make phone calls, do interviews, do a reading & signing, go to the neurologist and discuss my treatment at length, because that pops me out of the world, and it takes a while to get back. More and more I wish I could divide my life into chunks: two months on an island without a phone and no ferry, two weeks downtown going to all the fab new restaurants, seeing the films; two months on the island. I hestitate to tell people this, mostly, because it sounds so...self-indulgent and artsy. But it really is becoming more and more necessary for me to become a complete hermit for days at a time.

Where was I? Ah. What seems like a good writing day--a thousand solid words with some nifty metaphors, a plot twist, and a poignant moment--can turn out to be a dead end, and everything created that day, the mental scenes and relationships as well as the words, gets deleted. Or, rarely, it can turn into a good writing day on an entirely different project: a whole scene of dialogue for my sword-swangin' fantasy novel (or, as I'm starting to think of it, my alternate history fantasy), or feverish notes for a new essay.

So, from day to day, it's hard to tell. But, hey, yesterday--I'm pretty sure--was a pretty damn good day. And things are looking promising for today. Two hours from now, with luck, I'll be utterly lost.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

self defense for couples

From: rhbee

Ever since I finished reading Always Terr and I have been discussing the idea of taking a self defense class. She is 44 and just had gall bladder surgery and has chronic shoulder problems from the kind of work we do. I am physically fit, run every day, ride my bike everywhere, dance a lot, and generally feel great but I do have nerve damage to my right arm that I generally have to work around. The thing is, that physical things aside, neither one of us knows if there actually are classes in self defence for couples or for that matter for both sexes. It seems silly to me to assume that men don't need to know how but then the way the world looks at things is quite often silly. So I guess my question is this, are there classes for both of us or should we be looking to take a class separately and then share with each other?

Where do you live? East coast? IMPACT in Boston does women and men's classes--though I'm not sure if they teach both at once. The Center for Anti-Violence Education in Brooklyn teaches women and men (though I think they may have a policy that you must belong to a community--such as trans or gay or women--which is statistically more at risk. But check.) For links to these and others, including west coast and national organisations, see the community resources page of my website.)

I think there should be SD for couples. I think it would be seriously cool. Just think of all those films we've seen in the last few years, e.g. Batman Begins and The Brave One, where couples get attacked and killed. Imagine if they had known what to do. (No story. No movie. Uh-oh...) Both Kelley and I have studied sd. I taught my previous partner while we were together. I think it's really important to have the same perspective in case of emergency. Most men are stronger than most women, but SD isn't about strength. So, yes, men could learn a lot from SD workshops.

SD is for everyone, no matter one's age or physical ability. I was recently asked if I'd teach a SD workshop at a camp for people with MS, later this month. I had to say no because I couldn't fit it into my schedule. But it would be marvellous to help people who have, to some degree, begun to think of themselves as helpless, as victims waiting to happen, to unlearn that attitude. You can learn SD if you're ninety, or blind, or have cerebral palsy. You can learn if you're six, or one-handed, or in a wheelchair. Clearly if you belong to one of the above categories, you can't do some of the things that young, fully-functional, or healthy can do, but you can do a lot. SD is as much about awareness as anything else. Please do check out those links and talk to people. If you're in a big city, I think it's very likely you'll find something suitable--but it'll take a bit of looking. And if you do find something, please let me know so I can add the info to my community resources page.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

awesomer than that awesomest thing that ever did awesome!

I have one last question to go, about self-defense for couples, but I thought today we all deserved a bit of fun.

Last week I read a most wonderful blog post by Michelle Schwartz about The Blue Place. Here's an excerpt of a list she kept of Aud's incredible traits. Aud:

  1. Is a former member of the elite Red Dogs unit of the Atlanta Police Department.
  2. Has inherited a vast sum of money, leaving her wealthy enough to never work again.
  3. But that’s not who she is, so she keeps busy working as a bodyguard and private detective, charging exorbitant fees, driving expensive cars and wearing gorgeous suits because she’s worth it.
  4. Her mom is head of the Norwegian consulate to the United Kingdom, and has connections to everyone. Aud is thus a dual citizen with Norway and the UK, and seems to be a permanent resident in the US as well. She speaks Norwegian, English, and Spanish, and I’m sure many other languages that didn’t come up as part of this story. She seems to have been everywhere at least once and knows everything about everything. And I mean everything.
  5. She can drive stick.
  6. She is also a pool shark.
  7. She is six feet tall and much of the book is devoted to long passages extolling her exceptional muscle tone and piercing eyes.
  8. In her (seemingly endless amount of) spare time she:
  9. a) Teaches self-defense to rookie cops.
    b) Practices at keeping her black belt in some form of exceedingly difficult martial art.
    c) Lays sod, digs flowerbeds, and generally creates a garden paradise in her backyard.
    d) Does home renovations by herself that include building an entire deck and replacing the beams in her ceiling with antique wood.
    e) Expertly builds custom furniture by hand.
    f) Climbs glaciers specifically looking for deadly crevasses to peer into.
    g) Can seduce any woman she wants, just by existing in the same room.
  10. She has saved a skydiver from certain death by cutting the cords of her own parachute, plummeting to Earth like a rocket, grabbing the person with a faulty chute and holding on to them with her thighs, pulling her emergency chute with just seconds to spare.
  11. She looks great in evening gowns and combat gear, but spends a lot of time standing around, gloriously naked.
  12. She can hold her breath for minutes while remaining under freezing cold water.
  13. She can treat bullet wounds to her own back while suffering from hypothermia.
  14. She can drive any speed she wants without ever getting pulled over.
  15. She can kill people left and right and never get in trouble.
  16. She even makes her bed in the morning.
In conclusion, Aud is awesomer than that awesomest thing that ever did awesome. She is like Wonder Woman, Ripley, Sarah Connor, and a unicorn - all rolled into one hot package.

Michelle is funny. Go read her stuff. And while you do, sip on one of my new favourite cocktails, a James Bond:

James Bond Cocktail

  • French but not viciously expensive champagne
  • excellent vodka
  • angustura bitters
  • sugar cubes (the rough, brown kind)

Pour about .75 oz. of delicious, frozen-to-viscosity vodka (e.g. Grey Goose) into a champagne flute. Fill flute to about the three-quarters mark with chilled brut champagne (a good cremant, like Lucien Albrecht, also works, but do not, do *not*, use cava or sparkling American wine, tuh). Take sugar cube, hold with thumb over mouth of bitters bottle, tip for a 3-count. Turn sugar cube around, soak it for another 3-count on the other side. Drop cube into flute, serve. Aaah.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Askablogr

from: Chris DeVore

Hi Nicola, thanks for giving Askablogr a shot. Have you seen Clive Thompson's spin on sci-fi & literature? Does that feel true to you?

Many thanks for pointing me in the direction of the Askablogr widget. I tried it, as you can see, but I don't really think it's a good fit for this blog. For one thing, this isn't a technical Q&A space, it's more conversational. I think we'd need a limit of something like 2,000 characters, not 200, which would seriously screw with the Askablogr community guidelines. I'll leave it up for another couple of days but then I think it'll come down. Thanks again, though, for thinking of me.

Clive Thompson says, in part:

If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical questions, then the best — and perhaps only — place to turn these days is sci-fi. Science fiction is the last great literature of ideas. From where I sit, traditional "literary fiction" has dropped the ball.

Yes, sf--at least some of it--has remained philosophically robust and willing to explore Big Ideas while much litfic has grown etiolated. Sf could have been designed for such exploration. At its best, it's metaphor made concrete. As Delany has pointed out more than once, in sf you can say, 'Her world exploded,' and it's more than a figure of speech. However, I'd hesitate to go as far as saying litfic has 'dropped the ball'. It hasn't been playing with the ball. While sf has been shouting and drinking beer and throwing the football, litfic has been wrestling with chalkboards full of meaningless equations and startling at loud noises.

Most literary fiction these days is about small people doing small things, living lives of quiet desperation. I loathe it. I like books where stuff happens *and* people ruminate on why, how, what for etc. But stuff has to *happen* to hold my interest. But, oof, I've written a whole essay about this, called "Brilliance and Beauty and Risk."

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Monday, May 12, 2008

my own burning questions

From: anonymous

Reading what Kelley is up to and musing on Ask Nicola are the only reasons I enter a computer these days. That won't always be so, but it is a mighty fine pleasure now. I enjoy reading how your brain meets puzzles. Your ease with language and ideas and experiences inspires me to stay interactive with others through my days and ways; it's wonderful to provoke and then listen to each other as friends, lovers, students, teachers, community. I do wonder, Nicola, what is YOUR burning question? What would you ask the Buddha under the Bo tree, the saint on your doorstep disguised as wise old crone, or the wizard permitting your entrance into the darkest possible cave.

Right this minute, I don't have an urgent personal inquiry. I have lots of lesser ones, most of which boil down to variations of: What does the future hold?

I wonder about this country. It's my belief that as a culture, the US doesn't accept that for every improvement there's a price. If you want universal health care, you have to pay more taxes; if you want a better environment, you have to pay more for petrol; if you want a better government, you have to pay more attention. You have to pay. To most people in Europe, the price is worth it. I listen to various presidential candidates promising the moon--no more troops in Iraq, no more NAFTA, lower taxes--and I wonder why they believe the American voter is stupid. But then I remember how this country has voted in the last few elections, and instead I wonder why the American voter behaves so stupidly. The individual voters I've met are not morons; I'm baffled.

The only thing I can come up with that explains this paradox is that the US is a young culture. It's not childlike, but adolescent. Adolescents don't believe in magical thinking (they're too cynical for the Tooth Fairy or Father Christmas), they don't believe in much at all; their brains aren't coherent enough. Their brains are growing and disorganised. They live in a world of impulse and sensation, fueled by hormones. Their frontal cortexes have not yet sorted themselves into manageable and sustainable pathways. They're growing fast, but they're a mess. In my opinion, the dominant American culture is like the adolescent brain, and the hormone driving it into frenzies is the media. I've written about the media before--well, one of my readers did it so succinctly that I didn't have to--so I won't hammer on that here.

I wonder about my health. I think my MS is currently behaving well, but I'm not sure. One can never be sure. Every time I get a weird prickle in my left hand I think, Oh god, is this the start of another meltdown? (In early 2005 I went numb from the armpits down and stayed that way for seven weeks. I don't think I've ever been so frightened in my life. It could have been permanent. There's no way to know. Today could be the last day I feel Kelley's hand on my leg, the last day I feel grass under my feet. Is this likely? There's no way to know. No way to know.)

I wonder about my writing. I love to write, it's who I am, not just what I do. But art is a black box. My life goes in one end, fiction comes out the other. What if the black box breaks? I don't really think it can break; as long as I'm me, it will work, because the box is me. But what if it did? What if I change? Or, rather, as I'm changing all the time (change and growth = the Evil Twins), what if I change so drastically the stuff coming out of the black box isn't what I want to do anymore? Oh, wait, that just happened :) After ten years of Aud, my writing mind rebelled and said: I want to play! So now I'm playing, and having enormous good times. But what happens if no one will buy this book? (What happens if it wins the Booker Prize?)

I don't wonder about Kelley. She changes a lot--she's always picking some new project that consumes her utterly, and then emerging, wiser and denser and different, at the end--but she's always Kelley. At the end of next month we'll have been lovers for twenty years. I rely utterly on our bond.

I wonder about our cat. He's old--he'll be seventeen this year. Things aren't working as well as they once were--his kidneys, his knees and spine. He has no upper teeth. He can still catch and kill things, but he can't eat them. What happens if the Big One hits while we're out of town? How will he survive? (How will we survive? Would the idea make a good screenplay?)

I wonder where we'll be living in five years. Here, on the edge of our ravine? In a mansion on a river? In Europe? A cardboard box under the overpass while post-apocalyptic war rages?

Are these real worries? Yes. No. Sort of. They're What If games I play to keep me on my toes. I've watched too many people drown in creeping complacency. Change is. If you're not awake, it gets you. Also, frankly, I love to wake up in the morning and see the lilac blooming on the tree by the fence and the one over the gate. I love to think, oh, how beautiful, and oh, it will be gone in a month. They are the sides of a single equation. I love to watch my world change in a rhythm I can understand. I love to be grateful for it, every single day.

So that, I suppose, is my burning question: how can life stay this good, and how can I make sure I'm happy every day without taking it all for granted?

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

favourite mystery

The Lesbian Fiction Readers' Choice Awards have just awarded me this for Always:



It's a pure readers' award, which is lovely. Woo hoo!

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flossie

From: Jennifer

This question might be inappropriate since it is a small spoiler-type, but I have wondered about it. Why don't you let Aud buy the painting she likes in Always? I wanted her to have that.


I did, too. But in fiction it's important to not give your character everything she wants, or she becomes a wish-fulfillment/Mary Sue character, and readers hate her. In Always Aud got just about everything she actively set her mind to; giving her the painting (above: 'Antique Dressing Table' by Lu Jian Jun), too, would have been too much. Besides, Aud can't have it because it's mine :) Kelley and I call her Flossie.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

aikido

From: Sanford Lung, Honolulu

Having read all of your novels, I congratulate you on your excellent writing and encourage you to carry on to the next. I especially enjoyed your description of the aikido experience. I excerpted it for a friend, who is a 7th dan and sensei in a couple of dojos in Honolulu. He fairly beamed, saying that you get it.


I'm delighted to hear it. I practised aikido here in Seattle for a little while, until my MS made it difficult. Then I switched to yoga--less dangerous if, in the middle of a move, my nervous system shuts down. Which happened once at aikido: I got thrown and instead of neatly rolling to my feet as I'd done a thousand times before, I lost all coordination and just...crashed. It was awful. Oh, no permanent damage, but it shook me. I mean, I knew how to fall and I'd crashed. It was like forgetting how to breathe; like waking up to find the sky green.

But I loved aikido, loved the flow, the sense of skin taste between two people, that feel of another's cellular hum, that electricity that we usually only feel (at least I do) during sex, the give and take, the harmony and joy of it all.

It's interesting to be working now on a novel where there will be no martial arts. It's set in the seventh century, and the main character grows up to be an abbess, not a shield maiden. She doesn't fight; she doesn't see the world in those terms at all. Pretty strange after spending so many years in Aud's head.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

new meds

From: Janet

I hope the new med you have is helpful. I definitely want to read about it. Within the last 10 years I have been told that what I have is not MS because the lesions on my brain are not significant. I have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and the new thinking on fibromy is that it is not muscular, but neurological. I have been lucky so far in regards to not getting a dx of MS. But need to get checked again because balance and dropping things seem to be getting worse. Again, I hope that this med works out for you.


Thanks. I believe LDN (low-dose naltrexone) is working for me. I'm not suddenly miraculously cured--there's a fair amount of damage to my spinal cord that is never going to get better--but I feel as though I've stopped getting worse, or at least that I'm getting worse much more slowly.

I have much, much more energy than I had a year ago. I can exercise, and work, and have a life (whereas I used to have to prioritise rigorously). I can't tell you how much difference that makes. I wake up smiling, looking forward to the day, instead of with a groan, and an o god, how am I going to cope?

I think a lot of autoimmune disease (AID) is stoppable and reversible--at least in the early stages. In my opinion (everyone's mileage varies), it's a matter of getting out from under the stress, getting enough sleep, and being very attentive to diet (particularly vitamin D, B12, omega-3 oils and suchlike).

I empathise with the diagnosis dance. I was ill for more than four years before anyone was willing to give me the MS label. Even now, the lesions on my brain are pretty dubious--so small that they may or may not be real. But my spine is definitely splotchy (sigh). Doctors, frankly, don't know a lot about this stuff; no one does. Anyway, I hope you're doing okay. I hope you get things sorted. Feel free to ask more questions if you think I can help.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

saying the hard thing

From: Nicole

I finished reading Always a couple of weeks ago. I enjoyed it very much, and my mind is still dwelling on it, which is a clear indication that it's a good book. I have to admit that I didn't like it quite as much as I liked The Blue Place and Stay, partly because I really enjoy reading about Aud making things -- woodworking, gardening, building -- and this is mostly absent from Always. I also like the vigilante justice aspect of the first two Aud books, which isn't something Aud herself brings about in Always (although Sandra does, at least from her own perspective). On the other hand, though, the interplay between Aud and her mother is priceless, and I do like seeing Aud off balance for once. The Atlanta storyline is excellent (in my humble opinion), and I'm very impressed with your ability to create and share 10 different and highly individual characters in so few scenes.

My question is about Else Torvingen's reaction to Kick's MS. She effectively tells her daughter, "If you love this person, you will get hurt, because her life might not be easy or long. You should not let yourself love her." I understand a parent's desire to protect her child from being hurt, but that's a brutal -- even heartless -- attitude. Is this something you and Kelley have actually come up against? This hits close to home because a very close friend of mine has been diagnosed with a rare, terminal (maybe next month, maybe ten years from now) heart condition. Although dealing with it isn't easy for either of us, it would never occur to me to abandon her -- and anyone who suggests that I should, just for my own convenience, would lose my trust pretty quickly. So far no one has voiced this opinion, but it's chilling to think that it could happen.

Thank you for writing such thought-provoking books (and blogs) -- I'm already looking forward to the eventual Hild novel!

The short answer is that Else is Norwegian. Norwegians--like lots of English people--say what Americans often just sort of think but wouldn't dare say. She's protecting her daughter the best way she knows how by saying: think about this, think hard and long. She does make it clear that she'll back Aud's choice, but she needs to know Aud has actively made an informed decision.

No, no one has ever said that to Kelley (as far as I'm aware, and I believe I'd be aware of any such conversation), but I bet you any money some people thought it. And I'm pretty sure my mother would actually have said it to me if my position and Kelley's had been the other way around. I would have forgiven her--she's my mum--but I would have wanted to slam her face in the fridge door a couple of times.

One of the reasons I wrote Always was to explore MS from another angle. I used to ask myself: if Kelley had been diagnosed with a debilitating, incurable illness would I have been brave enough to stay? Lots of people aren't. (Though--surprise--more men leave their wives than wives leave their husbands, proportionately speaking. I don't know the stats for same-sex couples.) So this novel was a way of exploring that fictionally (much as Slow River was a way for me to explore some of the questions I used to have about parts of my life). I had decided, of course, before I wrote Always that I'll stay with Kelley no matter what--I'm stubborn that way--but I still felt the need to really think it through, to What If.

As for those ten self-defense student characters: thank you. At the editing stage I was strongly advised to reduce the number of women, combine some characters with others so that the class was only seven or eight. But I'd fallen in love with each of them by that point--I saw them, knew what they wore, who they were married to, how they felt about their jobs--and simply refused to consign any of them to oblivion. I'm stubborn that way.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

the ever-popular 'swang'

From: Marie

I am a recent fan, having "discovered" your books a couple of months ago. I really enjoyed The Blue Place and started Stay just recently, with plans for Always after that. While caught up in the portrait of Aud and the plot of Stay, I am finding myself distracted by your frequent use of the word "swang". I decided, that if you used it so much and it got past the editor that perhaps it's a form of the word "to swing" that has come into acceptance while I wasn't looking. However, I have checked all kinds of dictionaries and English usage sources both on and off line and can't find it other than the occasional "improper form of" entry. Am I missing something? You draw detailed imagery throughout your books--of the natural world, of people--that coming across "swang" is more jarring than it might be in a lesser novel. I'm curious and wonder what your thoughts are....


I am officially banning future questions on the word 'swang'. It's a real word used by real people e.g. me: swing, swang, had swung; sing, sang, had sung. Simple. It's still used in England. But it is going out of style. By the middle of the century, everyone will say 'swung'. Shudder. And I will mourn the word.

I remember my first conversation with my first publisher. It was in London, I was talking to Malcolm Edwards at HarperCollins. He was thinking of buying my novel, Ammonite. He was telling me about his slush pile. Thinking to empathise, I said, 'So you get lots of fantasy novels starting, He swang his massive sword with his mighty thews...' And Malcolm smiled at my innocence and said, 'More like, He swanged his massive sword...'

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

NicKel con

From: Manning Williams

Don't ya just hate spam...

I have been very lucky in the past month in that I discovered you and your Aud books. I love mystery/adventure books and now I have a new fave. (Add to the fave five...geez that sounds like a phone commercial.) The bad news is I've read all three over the past two weeks and, like all author junkies, my brain is clamoring for more. Pleeease tell me there's more coming out in the near future!

I would love to come to one of your personal appearances. Unfortunately I live in the Detroit area and don't think I'll be in your city any time soon. But, as a reason to pick a place for vacation, seeing a favorite author in person sounds pretty appealing.

Thanks for letting me share my thoughts.

Hey, I love hearing readers' thoughts. That's the entire point of this blog.

As for more coming soon, well, sorry to disappoint you but no, I have nothing on the horizon except an essay just out in the UK and due any minute in the US. (It's written with Kelley and called "War Machine, Time Machine," published in Queer Universes, edited by Wendy Pearson et al.) And of course there's my memoir, if you have a spare $75.

But you're the second person recently to suggest a vacation to come and meet me and Kelley. Others have mentioned such a thing--a few people have even done it, and we've met them for drinks, or dinner, or coffee, or whatever depending on our schedule and theirs. So Kelley and I have started to imagine NicKel Con, a small, informal gathering here in Seattle of people who know and like us/our work. It would be a get together of all those people who have been talking to us and each other via our various blogs and the Yahoo list for a decade or more. Will it ever happen? I don't know. But I think it would be cool. We've formed a bit of a community over the years; it's time we met.


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Monday, May 5, 2008

buy me a drink

From: Kai Jones

I have a question: can I buy you a drink if we're ever colocated? Just as a thank you for the great pleasure I've gotten from reading your books.

Co-located. Took me a minute. For a split second I read it as 'occupying the same colon'. Ooof. But, yes, certainly, if we're ever in the same town/meet at a reading/attend the same conference of convention, please do buy me a drink. Buy me several. I drink most things, though I'm not very fond of rum and I can't bear creme de menthe (shudder). And of course, some beers and wines are better than others.

I often go out for a beer after a reading. Every now and again I have to say no, because I've arranged something else but mostly, yep, I'll go for a pint with readers afterwards. So will you be in Seattle or Los Angeles this month?

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Singapore?

From: Shannon Casey

I just finished Always and put it on my partner's
nightstand to read. We love your books, and had the
chance to hear you read in Seattle just before the
womens bookstore closed around 9 yrs ago.

At the end of Always you talk about community
listings, but I could not find it on your web-site. I
wanted to make certain you knew about The Center for
Anti-Violence Education in Brooklyn, NY
. I took some
classes there last year and had my daughter in the
children's self-defense class.

Have you thought of writing any kids books? It just
occurred to me you would be great at finding a strong
voice for a kids character. I am always frustrated at
the lack kids books about strong kids.

We just moved to Singapore, and there are amazing
groups here. If you find yourself in Asia, please
contact me if you would like to set up a reading.

Thank you again for getting Aud onto paper to share
with us.

I seem to have several readers in Singapore. I wonder how I can introduce you to each other. (If you have any ideas, let me know.)

The community links page on my website is here; I'll add CAE.

Red & Black: I remember that store fondly. The only thing wrong with it was the lack of air conditioning. The last reading I did there was for The Blue Place. It was a 90-degree+ day. Awful. But the audience was great. Every city should have a women's bookshop. I love Charis in Atlanta, A Room of One's Own in Madison, and Women and Children First in Chicago. They sell a lot of my books, and I wish I could get there more often.

I have a couple of ideas for children's books--I'm not sure if they're novels with a few illustrations or graphic novels. And there's a YA screenplay I really want to do. And a young adult fantasy (not sure if it's really a 'YA Novel' or just a novel with younger adults as the main characters--one day I'll really have to sit down and think about how to classify things) I've been itching to have a go at. But I have so very many ideas. They have to take a number and join the queue. A lot depends on what happens in the next year or so, career-wise, as to where I go next. But writing for younger readers/viewers is a distinct possibility.

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

grief

From: Andrea Taylor

I recently stumbled upon your books at my local library and I am hooked on Aud. I had to write and tell you how truly compelling your Aud series is to me. I love her character. I can relate to her thinking. The way you described her grief is exactly how I felt and still do. Despair, anger and grief never touched me until I lost my grandmother and father within months of each other. And all the feelings I experienced then and now regarding that loss was reflected in Aud's grief. I couldn't explain it better if I tried. Reading it helped me look closer at my feelings and allowed me to put some things in better perspective. It was a true revelation for me so I would like to thank you for that.

I am currently reading Always and the I am in awe of the self defense teachings that Aud is trying to relay to the women in her class. Some things are purely common sense but you don't think to apply it. It has really opened my eyes. I think about how many times I've had unwanted attention and was too embarrassed to cause a scene or didn't want to hurt someone's feelings when it was my own safety I should be more concerned about. I turn corners widely now and I would have never thought of something so simple like that if not for reading it in your book. I took a few karate classes and I recognize some things that are mentioned in the book but you have really taken my interest in self defense to another level.

I just wanted to take an opportunity to let you know how much I really enjoy Aud and how glad I am that I found her at my library.


When I set out to write Stay, at the turn of the millennium, I thought I was ready to write about grief. My little sister, Helena, had been dead nearly a dozen years; I thought it would be safe. So I started to write about Aud's grief for Julia, and it was hard, it was like ripping off a scab. But it wasn't impossible, so I kept going. And then I realised (yes, I can be dreadfully dim sometimes) that Aud's grief for a lover she had known six weeks wasn't, couldn't be, the same as my grief for a sister I had known twenty-four years. So then I had to junk what I'd written and think about grief as grief.

I weighed grief, I cut it to pieces, I recombined it, took it apart again; I began to distill its essential nature. Then I filtered it through Aud's experience. I wanted to attempt the paradoxical: to universalise grief by particularising it through Aud.

After that, the writing went very smoothly--still hard, but right. I finished the first draft. I sold it to Sean McDonald at Nan A. Talese. I started to rewrite. My older sister, Carolyn, died.

For a while, I seriously considered shelving the book. Working on it was a nightmare. Aud's grief, memories of Helena, raw grief for Carolyn all rose up in a wave and overwhelmed me. But I had a contract, and with an undeniably literary publisher. This was my shot. Also, writing is what I do, who I am; it's my life. And in the life/death equation, life should win every time. So I set my will to stun and kept on.

At the end of the fifth or sixth rewrite, the Twin Towers went down. After much deliberation--I put it in I took it out, I put it in, I took it out--I chose to make no mention of that. (For those who read the amazon one-star meme post, and actually went to amazon.com to read the one-star reviews in all their intact glory, you may have noticed that the longest, most articulate--most malicious--reviewer had clearly had access to an Advance Reading Copy of the book, in which there was still a brief mention of 9/11.)

I rewrote Stay thirteen times. I wanted it to be as perfect as possible because it was becoming my memorial to my sisters, and to the strength of people everywhere who keep going.

It was published in 2002 to, well, not much critical notice. But I'm extremely proud of that novel.

I swore I would never write through grief again but, as the saying goes, man plans, god laughs. When I was halfway through my memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party, my mother died. So now I'm more careful. It's superstitious of me but here are some book ideas I've had in the last few years that I'm not even going to think about writing: a multi-ply novel about the death of a lover; a post-apocalyptic YA novel; a kid's book about time-travelling cats who rule the world. (How scary would that be if it came true? I mean, I like my cat, but I shudder to think of him being in charge.)

So now I'm writing about something that has already come true, a novel of a woman who lived fourteen hundred years ago. I think I'm doing the best work I've ever done, and I know I'm having the best time. Right now, grief is not on the menu.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

Books! Beer! Babes!

For those of you who will be in or near Seattle on Tuesday, 6th May, I'll be doing a reading at Hugo House, 7:00 pm.

But this isn't any old reading, this is a super-awesome double- (triple- quadruple-) goodness extravaganza. For one thing, I'll be reading with fellow Lambda Literary Nominee, Corrina Wycoff, for another, there will be beer and wine, for another, the whole thing is being filmed for posterity, and for yet another I'll be telling two of my favourite stories, the one about how I got the nickname No-Pants Griffith and stopped believing in fairies, and the one about sex and love and Catholic convent school.

Corrina is nominated this year in the debut fiction category, for a kick-arse collection of stories, O Street, and I'm nominated for memoir/biography, for my little-box-that-could, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner notes to a Writer's Early Life.

So please drop by, have a drink, listen to our stories, ask us questions (throw peanuts--whatever works for you). And don't forget to say hello.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

lift me up and let me plummet

From: Woody Search, Professor Emeritus of Biology, Thomas University

You lift me up and let me plummet. When Aud met Julia, I thought “here is the one”. And then the thought “Please don’t do this to her (and me)”. But you did. I soared with Aud and Julia, recognizing my own love in theirs, and if possible I fell further then Aud herself at the end. But she has more courage than me. I awoke this morning, early, with a lingering sense of loss. The solution: start reading “Stay”. And there she was, getting on with life.

I know Aud is not real in the corporeal sense, but through your eyes and life she does come alive. And for me, her tale is inspiring. I went back many years to those heady days when my wife and I met and loved as only new and perfect lovers can. We have settled into the most wonderful and loving life. I suspect you have found such a love, and know what I mean.

I have not written often to authors, thought I read much. I mostly feel that what ever I may have to say has been said before. But as a teacher, I can tell you that the very highest level of achievement for me is a student, either current or returning after many years away, saying “you made a difference, you changed my life”.

That’s why I am writing. Nicola, you made a difference and touched me in a place few have reached. Thank you.

And one more thing. If I ever need help, I want Aud by my side.


One of the things I intended with Aud was to make her, above all, human: not male, not female, not strong, not fragile. To me she

"embodies the long journey towards reconciliation of all those parts of our culture that have been artificially levered apart: mind and body, nature and civilization, art and science, man and woman, tenderness and brutality. She reflects the endless building and dismantling of human understanding: learning, and unlearning, then relearning differently. She is the work. Like art, she is a contradiction and a bridge: between me and you, past and present, moral and amoral, change and stability. She's a tender, violent woman who has never been a victim; she understands but remains unmarked by cruelty or gender. She can both do and be, viscerally and intellectually. She is mercurial and implacable; she deceives herself then sees clearly. Like life, she is fragile and impossibly resilient. She is willfully individual and in so being becomes my knife in the table, my reminder that the public challenge has been made and there's no way to back down and walk away."
(from "Doing the Work," an essay in BoldType)

Aud exists at the fulcrum. She is a balance point. If you're young, she embodies something of that for you, but also shows you a path into what it might be like to have the wisdom of experience. If you're female, she gives you a glimpse of how it might be to have the strength and confidence usually ascribed to men. If you're a man, you get to see a woman being a woman and strong. Aud really is my committment to excellence in fiction. I get such a kick when men and women, gays and straights find something in her to identify with. Thank you.

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