Thursday, July 31, 2008

more tipping

A quick addition to my earlier post. I've just read in The Advocate that Gov. Deval Patrick is set to sign a bill that will allow gay couples who live outside Massachusetts to marry in the state: "A spokesman for the governor says the signing ceremony will take place at noon Thursday in the Statehouse. The change in the law will take effect immediately because the Legislature attached a provision waiving the customary 90-day waiting period."

and

That Daniel Craig has signed on to portray a bisexual Roman emperor in an upcoming film. The Advocate says, "Hadrian, who ruled the Roman Empire from 117 to 138 A.D, allegedly had an affair with a teenage Greek boy, Antinuos, while married." Ha. Yes, technically Hadrian (2nd century AD) was bisexual; he was married; Emperors had to marry. But Hadrian was insanely (I use the word advisedly) in love with Antinous. Their relationship being characterised as an 'affair' feels dismissive--though again, technically correct. (Or is it? I forget how much we do or don't actually know about Hadrian. I think I know because I've read Yourcenar and she is so very authoritative.) When Antinous died, Hadrian had him declared a god (just like Alexander did with Hephaistion) and founded a city in his name.



But still, how cool that Daniel Craig will play him. Wonder who they'll cast as the pretty boy Antinous? (Anyone else remember Tony Curtis as a similar pretty boy character--Antoninus, I think--in Spartacus?)

Perhaps it's time to reread Fire from Heaven (Mary Renault) and Memoirs of Hadrian (Marguerite Yourcenar) and rewatch Spartacus. Now if someone would just write some way-back-when historical stuff with lesbians-- Oh, wait, that's what I'm doing...

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tipping point

I'm beginning to really get the sense that a tipping point has been reached. It's thrilling:

BUFFALO, N.Y. - An American lesbian couple married in Canada has won a landmark case against a New York insurance company over spousal health care benefits.

Read the rest here. (Thanks, Cindy.)

So people like Orson Scott Card can drop their shorts in public and foam, and I can roll around and drum my heels on the floor howling with laughter because, y'know, people like him are losing and I have to say it feels good. Damn good.



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what?

One of three U.S. adults already suffers from some degree of hearing loss and the use of personal stereos and an aging population may create a hearing impairment epidemic, researchers said on Monday. So don't go buy one of these.


or this:

On the other hand, if you have teenagers at home, this is probably a really (really) good idea: Clocky, the alarm clock that scuttles out of reach and hides before you can hit snooze again.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

could gay marriage have saved Thomas Disch?


On July 4, 2008, the out science fiction writer shot himself in his New York apartment. Could gay marriage have saved him?

I've no doubt it could have saved him from being evicted.

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sprightly chat about the weather

This Wikipedia article explains why the weather at our house is often insane. Yesterday, for instance, at noon, in July, it was 59 degrees outside. We were running the furnace. In July. Not that I'm complaining. I'm English. Being able to talk with animation about the weather is a necessary social skill. It's good to keep my hand in until I get back to the Mother Country.

So how's the weather in your neighbourhood?

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

hypnagogic #2: killed by a swan

I've talked before about my occasional hypnagogic writing. Here's something I wrote a couple of years ago. It came to me in a bitter old man's voice:

I had a girl, killed by a swan.
The mist was rising--
    green as the growing heart of a secret
    green as unfurling chestnut leaves
    green as the new scum on the lake
the mist was rising
and their wings rose with it
white, strong-smelling angel wings
beating
and them swans blowing and honking like the trumpets at the end of the world.
It was the end of her world.
She picked flowers
violets, new and silky, purple as an emperor's cloak
and ran ahead, into that mist, for more
and god's angels from their green mist
flew forth and hit her--
    eyes and throat, and twice--
       two beats of those heavy crocus-coloured bills
       two, I heard them--
on the drum of her breastbone
and her little heart stopped and she died
and we had swan pie for dinner but I ate none of it.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Kelley on Reality Break

My sweetie being thrilling and interesting and all around delicious, talking with our good friend Dave Slusher--about Mars, empathy, and gender (and performance, and pride, and purpose). Including the immortal quote "This is speculative fiction, I can do whatever I want!" Settle in and listen.

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girls-only world

In my very early twenties I thought a women-only world would be fabulous. I don't anymore. Experience has taught me that women are just as _____ (insert adjective of choice) as men. But if you still hanker for girly-world, there's no need to travel to Jeep. Just head north and keep eating those PCBs. Listen to this edition of Living on Earth, or read the transcript. (Thanks, Cindy). This is scary stuff, and it's real:

Only girls are being born in a village in Greenland. Host Steve Curwood turns to Lars Otto Reiersen, of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, to find out what may be behind a growing gender imbalance in babies born around the Arctic Circle.

My mother had five daughters. Her sister had five daughters. Her brother had two daughters. My sister had two daughters. As a family we either have super X chromosomes and/or boy-killer hormones, or, well, we've been eating PCBs.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Gaeth a wyrd saw hio scel!

'Gaeth a wyrd saw hio scel!' The Anglo-Saxon for 'Fate goes ever as it must.' Basically, shit happens. Or, oh well. Or (as we say in our household), it's just a thing. This can apply to the house falling down in an earthquake, dropping one's bread butter-side down on the carpet (sigh) or having Comcast's achingly slow interface infuriate me to the point of hurling the remote at the buttery spot on the carpet.

It's just a thing.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

women, self defence, and male allies

From: Foxomally

I have a question. Recently I re-read Always and the Atlanta-chapters got me thinking about something.

Some time ago I was sitting on a bench on a railway station reading a book. On the bench next to me was a girl (in her early twenties I guess), talking on the phone. This was during the day (around 3 o'clock) on a fairly major station. After a while some guy walked past her, stopped, greeted her happily and hugged her. At first I assumed they knew each other, but it was soon clear she didn't know him, and he was drunk. The guy kept talking to her, wouldn't she like to come with him and how pretty she was, and so on. The girl kept refuting him, saying "I can't talk now, I'm on the phone." After a few minutes he walked on.

My question is about handling this. In this case I basically did nothing. I stopped reading my book and looked their way so she could know I wasn't completely ignoring her/them if things got out out hand. I however didn't intervene because I thought she was handling things fine: There wasn't any bodily contact after the first hug (which I couldn't have stopped anyway) and I thought that my intervening would have potentially escalated the situation, because it wouldn't have been her disinterest that stopped him from his "dream date" or whatever he's after, it would have been me (for the record, I'm a 30 year old male, but not the type that spends days in the gym, so I think he would probably think being able to "handle" me).

I think it's stupid to assume she needed help just because she's a girl, but on the other hand, perhaps I was just being a coward and afraid to put myself on the line. What's your take on this? Should I have done more? If so, what/how?

It sounds as though your instincts were good.

I've been in a situation roughly analagous to that of the woman you describe. I was in a pub with five men--fellow karate students; we'd just got out of class at the community centre next door--and was half drowsing in that post-endorphin state of relaxation when this drunk plopped himself on the bench next to me and started chatting. I blinked. (It takes a few seconds to figure out any unexpected situation.) After a moment--five seconds?--I said, Hey, go away, but without any edge because, you know, he was just an amiable (if rude) drunk. He kept talking. I said, this time with some edge--drunks require especial clarity--I don't know you, get up and leave, right now. Then he blinked, processed, opened his mouth to protest, and I said loudly and clearly, Fuck off. He did.

I turned to find my fellow students (and instructor, Ian) still blinking (the whole thing took way less than a minute). Huh, my instructor said after a moment, I thought you knew him. Sorry I didn't jump in sooner. I said, No need, I was handling it. And I was, but deep down I think I was shocked and a bit miffed. It astonished me that even after I'd told the drunk, loudly, that I didn't know him, and to fuck off, the people around me assumed we did know each other. And, because of that, that he had a right to do whatever he felt like, against my express(ed) wishes. It's a lesson I won't forget: onlookers believe the body language of men. That's what they absorb initially. In our culture, there's a hierarchy and boys, whether we know them or not, even if they're drunk/intrusive/boorish, are higher up the ladder than girls.

Having said all that, of course, if Ian had jumped in, I would have been equally miffed: I was handling it, I didn't need help. (I was only 24, that's how my brain worked at that age. Nowadays of course I'll take any help I can get in just about any situation; I've come to terms with my fundamental laziness: get someone else to do the work.) So, in my case (let me stress, this very particular case), anyone observing and wondering whether to help was damned if s/he did and damned if s/he didn't.

But the situation of the woman you observed, and my situation, differed. I knew the karate students around me; she didn't know you. I was clear and straightforward with the man intruding on my space; she wasn't. She used her phone to hide behind: I'm busy, she said, and for a drunk the easy inference is, if I wasn't busy of course I'd talk to you; I like you; I don't mind your rude/drunken/boorish behaviour. That could mean two things: she was frightened, didn't know how to simply stand up for herself, or she was an idiot. Possibly both. How can an observer tell? What's an observer's responsibility, if any?

This is complicated. Like Aud, I'm a big believer in simply going with your first instinct. Only you know what that is, deep down. Only you know the right thing for you do/have done. Drunks are volatile. Some are docile. Some are like nitroglycerine. I think you have to be there to tell the difference.

You gave her an I'm here signal. You put down your book. I think you took all prudent precautions. You also offered her the courtesy of assuming she was an adult able to take care of herself. If you'd barged in, she might have been even more upset. (She might also have been profoundly grateful. No way to tell.)

In your position I might have done what you did: send the I'm here and ready if you need me signal. I might also--and this depends very much on an in-person reading of the situation--have ambled over and said something like, "Wow, Judy, is that really you? How great to see you again! Do you fancy grabbing a coffee?" And then she could either say gratefully (yes, I dream about pretty girls being grateful) "Oh, yes! Let's go right now." Or she could say, "Jeez, what is it with creepy jerks in the railway station? You two are made for each other. I hope you'll be very happy but I'm on the fucking phone!"

I think a fine human being is cognizant of what is going on around them and is ready to help if it doesn't involve too much risk. But what is too much? I don't know. Everyone has to decide for themselves.

I'll tell one more story. Once, when I was about twenty (long, long before I learnt self-defence or studied any martial art), I went to the pub with my girlfriend. We'd had a very bad day. We were tired and feeling very vulnerable. The pub, usually reasonably queer friendly, had just changed management, and therefore clientele. It was full--and I mean full, the way only English pubs on a weekend night get--of men looking for a bit of aggravation. My gf and I got hassled the instant we walked in. I found us a seat. I went to the bar. More hassle. (Nowadays of course I'd just leave. Back then I thought, this is my pub, damn it. No one is going to intimidate me. Sigh.) But I wanted that beer. I pushed through the crowd at the bar, shouted my order, started to get some serious hassle. I turned...and saw a couple of layers of people back, a biker I knew, Felix. Now, Felix was a serious biker, the kind who broke people's legs, and carried a shotgun, etc. But we liked each other. We'd made an amazing high-pressure bong one afternoon from a fire extinguisher (and other, ah, adventures). So I strolled over to Felix, smile, pointed to the two apes beside me and said, 'Felix, would you kindly explain to this gentlemen how rude they're being?' Bless Felix, he just looked them up and down, looked back at me, and said, 'I don't know why you're bothering me. You could take these clowns with one hand tied behind your back'.

So every situation is different. Go with your gut. If everyone lives, it's a good decision.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday audio: Spawn of Satan

A few years ago, Henry Gee, a senior editor at the science journal, Nature, asked me to contribute a short short story to a series they were doing for the millennium. I pondered, and came up with "Spawn of Satan?" (It was reprinted last year in Futures from Nature, ed. Gee, an inexpensive paperback.)

Anyway, not too long after publication, two things happened. One, I started getting invitations to speak at important reproductive biology conferences (I'm not kidding). Two, the Australian Broadcasting Company decided to do a whole weekend radio special on the future and they asked me to read "Spawn of Satan" as part of their radio broadcast. Here it is. Enjoy.








Oh, and let me please be clear: it's fiction. Please don't ask me to speak as a Knowledgeable Personage at your biology conference. I mean, yes, go ahead, ask me to speak, I love doing that shit, but let me reiterate: I made this up. It's not real.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

origins and insults

From: Sly

An excerpt (from And Now We Are Going to Have a Party): "I imagined the officer nodding self-importantly and reporting to his commander, later, "...and so we forded the river, which locals hereabouts call the River Water..." And, just like that, history to me was no longer what you found in history books, but was thronged with real people. Words assumed hidden power; I began to understand them as keys to the puzzle of the universe."

That's so interesting thanks for posting this I really love this part. Among other things I got from the piece, the names of towns and that is probably how whiskey got the name of "fire water". Well that's what I thought of when I read about how the word whiskey was created.

I'm not so sure about figuring out the puzzle of the universe using words but I do think knowing how words came to be adds a great deal towards understanding and sharing verbal and written communication. I love learning about the beginnings of things.


I'm glad you liked it. Words are tremendously powerful. They carry layers and depths of meaning that resonate far beyond the surface syllables. They shouldn't be used carelessly. That's why insults like cunt, nigger, bitch, raghead and so on are so incendiary. I don't allow their use in my house, except in this kind of conversation. I remember that scene towards the end of Aliens where Ripley is in the big full-body waldo suit and she shouts, "Get away from her you bitch!" It very nearly ruined the film for me. Such a blatant anti-woman insult being used in that context... Ooof. My stomach squeezed. Everyone in the audience cheered and I literally felt sick; I felt as though they were all cheering about seeing a female get whipped, simply because she was female, not because she was a vicious murderous, y'know, alien.

Extreme? Maybe. But I felt what I felt. And I felt a version of that tonight watching the first two eps of Season Two of Boston Legal. I was sickened by the depiction of women. David Kelley is seriously crap at writing female characters but this was a new low even for him. Ugh. Because I've enjoyed the Shatner/Spader banter in previous episodes I'll watch the rest of this disk but if it doesn't improve, that's it for me.

It's weird. I go through phases where racism, misogyny, homophobia (et cetera--and, oh, there are so very many ceteras) don't bother me that much. I shrug, think, That's life, and go about my business. But this week, for some reason, the unfairness of the world is really getting to me.

I can only assume other people go through this, too, but, wow, it's really, really tedious to feel so thin-skinned. So here's a question: how does everyone else self-soothe? Ignore the world and eat ice cream? Turn up the music and dance? Pick a fight with an irritating stranger? (That's a bad habit of mine. I thought I'd grown out of it but then a little while ago, at a Patricia Barber show, I nearly punched a man in the face...) Anyway, I'm open to suggestions. Don't want to go to jail...

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

short story collection: cold, hard reality

From: karina

I've been holding off on emailing you about my experience with your short story collection. I sent you a question earlier, but maybe it's still waiting in line for its turn or maybe it got lost in cyber-or-spam space.

My first read was totally self-indulgent: "Touching Fire" happened on a ferry to Vancouver Island, "Song of Bullfrogs, Cry of Geese" at a coffeshop in Tofino, watching the little boats make their way back from a Native reserve island where my wife spent a week camping, "Yaguara" on a log by the beach. Thank you. I enjoyed the collection immensely.

My rereading was done trying to figure out, "Why the hell doesn't Nicola publish more short stories?" I want a 500-page short-story collection!

You mentioned on your blog that you "write stories occasionally, but not that often, because I know I'm a much better novelist than short form writer." I thought your short stories were quite accomplished. Self-contained and tight, yet expansive and powerful. So I'm now wondering if perhaps it is that you enjoy the process of writing a longer piece much more than you do with shorter ones... Or is it that publishers tend to push writers toward novel-length narratives? I was thinking of Nancy Kress and Orson Scott Card, among others, who had to "expand" their shorter pieces to accommodate the demands of a publisher. In writing circles, I often hear, "Perhaps you could turn that story into a novel." The suggestion makes me cringe. So... yeah. That's me: short-story junkie.

All this rambling leads to the ultimate question (because now I've formulated too many), "Is there another story collection coming up?" Or will I have to reread With Her Body three more times?

I won't be publishing a short story collection anytime soon. Or an essay collection. Or my memoir in an affordable trade edition. Let me tell you why.

Publishing is broken.

I make my money from writing and selling novels. When I sell a novel to a publisher, the editor, and the editor's marketing and sales bosses, look at my previous sales figures. They do not compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. They look only at how many I sold of my last book. So if I publish a full length short story collection with a small but respectable publisher and it sells only 3,000 paperback copies, no publisher will then give me a six-figure advance for my new novel. Given how it takes me to write a novel, if I don't get a six-figure advance, I will starve.

It was okay for me to publish a 3-story chapbook in a chapbook series from a small, speciality genre press, because those figures don't count. It was okay for me to publish my art-press memoir-in-a-box, because those figures don't count, either. But I can't publish a book-length book book, because those figures do.

I don't want to starve. Those books will remain unpublished.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hild and ammonites

From Linda:

I am sure you are already aware that there is a myth of sorts that tells of Hild turning snakes to stones and that the many ammonites on the beaches near Whitby were touted as proof. Some "artisans" even carved heads of snakes into the ammonites to shore up the "truth of it all." Thought the Ammonite connection was an interesting link between two of your past and future written worlds.

Yes, I know about that myth. My guess is it's a later medieval addendum to her legend. Her legend, her saintliness, was initially fostered by Whitby Abbey, which was founded by Oswiu, king of Northumbria. In those days, religion and politics were intertwined, and Hild, of course, was royal. Feed one power legend, and you feed another. Plus there was a more than brisk trade in relics and so on.

As for Hild and Ammonite being connected: absolutely. My interest comes from the same place: my love of Whitby. Here's a post I wrote for my research blog, Gemæcca. (Warning: it's long.)

****

This is the novel that I've been aiming for my whole life. I didn't really understand that until early last year when I wrote my memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner Notes to a Writer's Early Life (a multi-media memoir-in-a-box about my life in the UK before I came to the US when I was 29). Here's an excerpt from that:

Apart from the family I was born into, the most important factor in my early life was where I was born. Yorkshire's history is stamped on its landscape, literally and figuratively; it moulded its language, which I absorbed with my mother's milk (and grandmother's whiskey).

Leeds is a large city in the West Riding of Yorkshire. If you look at a map of the Great Britain, you'll see that Leeds is on all the big north-south roads, on a navigable river, and almost exactly at the centre of the island. Not at the centre of England, though. In English terms, Leeds was the wild and woolly north.

My father, raised in London (he moved to the inimical hinterland as a teenager when his parents fled the civilised capital to escape his father's disgrace), clung to the notion of Britain, of inheriting empire, because in this way he wouldn't feel exiled to the fringe. My mother's primary allegiance, on the other hand, was to Yorkshire (rather like a Texan's to Texas, and only secondarily to the United States; Yorkshire is by far the biggest county in England and has it's own identity). In their own way they wanted to feel secure and at the centre of what mattered.

In island terms, Yorkshire has often been the place where the important things happened. A quick survey of Yorkshire place names (from natural features, to street names, to towns, to pubs) is like cutting a language core: in the sturdy bedrock of Anglo-Saxon there is the occasional gleam of Brythonic Celt heaved up from an earlier age, the pale glint of Norse, even strangely evolved fossils of Latin and Norman French.This hybrid and textured language is largely responsible for who I am. To explain, let me give you a few broad strokes of West Yorkshire history.

In the Iron Age, the place that was to be Leeds was an agriculturally various land enjoyed by the Brigantes, Brythonic Celts. In the first century the Romans arrived, and started building forts which became cities. Then they built nature-defying roads across hill and dale between those cities, followed by armed camps to guard those roads. The Romans left the region after about three hundred years and left the native Britons in charge again. They formed the polity of Elmet, whose people probably called themselves Loides. Around this time, Angles, Saxons and other Germanic peoples started visiting Britain and staying, forming kingdoms and acquiring territory. One of these kingdoms, Deira, absorbed Elmet. A couple of hundred years later the Norse--Danes, mainly--arrived and the region lived under the Danelaw, with its own language and coinage and culture. Gradually, after battles and negotiations and marriages and so forth, the Danelaw melded with England. And then the Normans came.

By the time I showed up, 894 years after the Battle of Hastings, layer after layer of language was stamped on the place names of Yorkshire. The first street I remember living on was hilly street called Balbec Avenue. Bal is from a celtic word for hill. The city, Leeds, was the market town of the Loides. Our family would drive for day trips to Otley Chevin, a big rocky outcropping overlooking an ancient market town (Otley bears the distinction of having the most pubs per capita in the British Isles). "Chevin," it turns out, descends from a word very similar to the Welsh (also a Brythonic language) cefn which means "hill." On the way to the coast for a holiday, we'd drive through Wetherby, a name that comes from wedrebi, a combination of wether, that is, neutered sheep, and -by, a Norse word for settlement. The hills were called the fells, from fjell, a Norse word for hill. York (oh, I could write two pages of the evolution of that name) was built on the river Ouse, a name that comes from a Celtic root word, -udso, meaning water (water, in Irish--a Goedelic Celtic language--is uisc, which is the root of "whiskey"). The name of the River Esk, which bisects Whitby (a town on the North Yorkshire coast), also comes from that Celtic root word for water. The River Aire, which flows through Leeds, empties into the Ouse at Airmyn, "myn" being an Anglo-Saxon word for rivermouth. Esk, Ouse, Airmyn...I had a childish vision of waves of invaders, marching along with their Roman short swords or Anglo-Saxon leaf-bladed spears or their beautiful long Norse swords, coming to a river and saying arrogantly to a local fishing along the bank, "You there, what do you people call this?" and the local scratching her head and saying, "This, your honour? We call this 'water'."

I imagined the officer nodding self-importantly and reporting to his commander, later, "...and so we forded the river, which locals hereabouts call the River Water..." And, just like that, history to me was no longer what you found in history books, but was thronged with real people. Words assumed hidden power; I began to understand them as keys to the puzzle of the universe.

Words are like icebergs; nine tenths below the waterline. We don't see the entire meaning immediately but it has mass and momentum; it matters. To me there is all the difference in the world between "muscle" and "flesh," or "red" and "scarlet." Rhythm and grammar matter, too. Yorkshire syntax, more than many regions of England, shows its Celtic roots, its periphrastic, roundabout manner of speaking: "Dyuh fancy going down t'pub, then?"

I'm the product of two thousand years of history. So is what I write.

I read what I'd written and thought, Oh, of course, it's time. I'm ready.

I've been preparing for this book, researching it physically, since I was a child, when the family would holiday in Filey and Hunmanby and Scarborough. In my teens I'd take day trips to Robin Hood's Bay.



In my early twenties, I was living in Hull, a depressed (and depressing) industrialised city on the river Humber (the southern boundry line of Deira, which became part of Northumbrian). For a holiday, my partner and I went north up the coast, to Whitby.

The first thing I saw at Whitby was the ruined abbey on the north cliff. I didn't wait to unpack. It's difficult to describe how I felt when I first stepped across the threshold of the ruined abbey. It was a though the history of the place punched up through the turf and flooded me. It was like swallowing the world. I knew my life had changed, I just didn't know how.

After that, every year, sometimes twice a year, I visited Whitby. I walked the coastline. I roamed the moors. I spent hours at the abbey. I started picking up brochures and leaflets and imagining how it might have been long, long ago. Even after I moved to the US, I would come back once a year.

The photo on my first novel was taken at Whitby, when I was thirty:



On one visit to England, I picked up a battered Pelican paperback edition (1959) of Trevelyan's A Shortened History of England. I started reading it on the plane on the way back to Atlanta (where I lived until 1995). I read about the Synod of Whitby and, frankly, don't remember the rest of the flight. This, I thought, this Synod, was the pivotal point of English history.

Two or three years later, I stumbled across Frank Stenton's

Anglo-Saxon England. And I was off. For the last ten years I've been groping my way through ever more modern scholarship. I've been reading bilingual versions of Old English and Old Welsh poetry, absorbing the latest translations of Isidore's Etymologies, thumbing through translations of Bede, thinking, thinking, thinking. Dreaming in the slow, rich rolling rhythms of another time and place. This is the most exciting project I've ever embarked upon. It's changing my world. I want it to change yours, too.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Queer Universes



Queer Universes (ed. Pearson, Hollinger, Gordon, Liverpool University Press) is finally available.

Product Description:
Disputes over the meaning and practice of sexuality have become increasingly central to cultural self-definition. It is hardly surprising then that science fiction, the province of new physical and psychological frontiers, has taken up the task of imagining a diverse range of queer and not-so-queer futures. Queer Universes is a landmark investigation into these contemporary and historical representations of gender and sexualities—including Wendy Pearson’s award-winning essay on reading science fiction queerly, as well as essays discussing “sextrapolation” in New Wave science fiction, “stray penetration” in William Gibson’s cyberpunk works, the queering of nature in ecofeminist sci-fi, 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, this distinguished volume offers interviews with acclaimed science fiction writers, along with an array of essays from scholars and science fiction giants alike.
There's some nifty stuff here, including Wendy Pearson's wonderful piece, "Alien Cryptographies," an interview with Nalo Hopkinson (conducted by Nancy Johnston, whose wicked and wickedly funny story, "The Rendez-Vous," I had the pleasure of publishing in Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction), and an essay by me and Kelley called "War Machine, Time Machine." It's an academic text, so it's pricey. If that makes you blink, try ordering it from the library. (EDIT: It's just been pointed out to me that both Amazon.ca --*not* Amazon.com-- and Chapters.indigo.ca have the book on sale at a juicy discount, $54 and $56 respectively. Knock yourselves out.0

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looking good...


reuters.com

A recent Field Poll in California found 51 percent of voters oppose the measure to define marriage as only between one man and one woman, while 42 percent were in favor. Read more here.

I think we're going to win. This is very exciting. Once same-sex marriage is established on both coasts, Federal rights won't be long behind. Then Kelley and I can marry. Which means presents! I just hope we don't have to have our heads cut off first :)

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

freestyle horse



Girls hit the spot. (Thanks, Cindy.)

(EDIT: It's just come to my attention--thanks, Jennifer--that this is a Nike viral marketing video. Still, I think a handful of those shots are real, and it's fun to watch.)

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

security cost-benefit analysis: terrorism

Bruce Schneier has news of a study (by Ohio State political science professor John Mueller. Titled "The Quixotic Quest for Invulnerability: Assessing the Costs, Benefits, and Probabilities of Protecting the Homeland,") that makes complete sense and yet will never be considered, probably never even read, by those who hold the purse strings:

This paper attempts to set out some general parameters for coming to grips with a central homeland security concern: the effort to make potential targets invulnerable, or at least notably less vulnerable, to terrorist attack. It argues that protection makes sense only when protection is feasible for an entire class of potential targets and when the destruction of something in that target set would have quite large physical, economic, psychological, and/or political consequences. There are a very large number of potential targets where protection is essentially a waste of resources and a much more limited one where it may be effective.

(Thanks, Cindy.)

I urge you to skim Shneier's precis and then read Mueller's paper (it's a .pdf, so all you lucky people with Kindles and Sony Readers and iPhones can download it to your spiffy device and read while you water the lawn or brush your teeth. For those with low stress/fear thresholds, I would not recommend reading while eating. The basic theme is: you can't stop terrorists. So if that's something that frightens you, just delete this now and go sit in the sun. Seriously, know yourself. Don't jack up your cortisol levels if this kind of stuff gets to you. I haven't watched TV news for a dozen years because it irritates me so much; if you choose not to read this, I understand.

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high pucker factor

From: Janine

I don't know where else to post this (perhaps there's a better location?) but I thought this would be good for you and everyone else to see. It's my favorite slam poem about teachers as change-agents. I'm a bit biased, being a science teacher. I've listened to some of his other poems, and I have to salute him as another truth-teller.

I also have another question. I have a habit of sub-vocalizing while I read, and not being able to pronounce Kick's last name in Always is driving me crazy. Can you please help? :)

It's a Dutch name. I don't know how the Dutch pronounce it, but I pronounce it something like kigh-per. Thinking about this makes me realise I have a fondness for Dutch names (e.g. Lore Van de Oest, in Slow River).

Perhaps this is because I found Amsterdam to be such a wild and free city when I was there thirty years ago--at least when compared to Hull. And even to the young me it was clear that underneath all the boho relaxation lurked a Calvinist heart, a citizenry with a high pucker factor.)

It's pretty interesting to consider influences this way, so thanks for the question. Oh, and for future reference, the place to send questions is via email: asknicola2 at nicolgriffith dot com.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday audio: Draw Me Down

My audio for this week is a song, "Draw Me Down," that I made up one day in England while doing the dishes. It was early 1989. I was living with Carol (I'd been living with her for ten years). Kelley, whom I'd met in the summer of 1988, in the US, and I had been apart for months. My little sister, Helena, had recently died. Here's a passage from my memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party, that explains how and why I wrote this.

Writers are not made to belong. We can't. Writing, all art, is the job of shamans. We travel to dangerous places, and explain them with story, so that that others need not. But being a writer is a choice. Except, of course, it isn't. For me it's about as much a chosen thing as being a dyke. I just am. The choice part of the equation is in being comfortable and happy and committing to it. I've never had a problem with committment, but choice is all about privileging one way over another. It's a closing of possible paths. This kind of choice was heading my way with regard to Kelley and Carol; I just wasn't prepared to admit it yet.

I was still walking two worlds: one in which I lived in Hull with Carol and had a real-world job, and pondered on and off the possibility of having children, and went on having sex with anyone who took my fancy, and one in which I lived with Kelley, only Kelley--no old friends, no family, no extra lovers--without the safety net of job or welfare state. The fork in the road lay ahead; I didn't want to see it.

Meanwhile everyone I knew in England began to pester me to "share" my grief; I couldn't. I didn't want to. Nor did I want to share my thoughts and feelings about Kelley. She was like a faint scent in an empty, stoppered bottle. The more the cork came out and the bottle got passed around, the less intense the sense memory would be. I hoarded her to myself, and guarded my conscious mind from the acknowledgement of the choice ahead. While talking to Carol about getting a better job and buying a bigger house, I also began a relentless drive to earn enough money to get back to the US.

[...]

That winter, my two worlds drew further apart. I began to find it impossible to walk in both at once.

I wrote to Kelley one day about my most recent conversation with Carol about money and careers and moving to a bigger house in a part of town where people had gardens and birds sang; then posted the letter and, as usual, started the next one. I'd finished the next one, and mailed it, a couple of days before I got a raw, shocked letter back saying: "So I'm totally confused. You've decided--you've chosen Carol? If so, you have to tell me, right now. Tell me plainly. Because I've been hoping and hoping, believing you were coming back. I want you to come back."

I immediately started a long explanatory letter, then thought, No, I can't let her think for another ten days that I'm not coming back. So I picked up the phone for the second time and called and left a message on Kelley's machine. "No," I said, "listen. You got the wrong end of the stick. All is well. My feelings for you haven't changed. I'm coming back soon, as soon as I have the money. There's a letter on the way. I love you."

Kelley told me later that she got home from work, heard the message, and burst into tears.

I wrote this song for her and sang it into the microphone grille of a boombox in the kitchen. I mailed the cassette with my next letter. The clearest truth I could give.


Enjoy:








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Thursday, July 17, 2008

a practically perfect day

Yesterday I had a wholly wonderful day. I'd planned to do the usual things--breakfast, stretch, email, work on Hild, lunch, work on Hild, beer, dinner--but the weather here was totally, spot-on perfect this morning, so after breakfast Kelley said, Hey, wanna go to the park?

We did. And the park was amazing. First of all, the sky was a hard, clear blue. The Olympics were out. The Sound was blue and green. And two ospreys were circling and diving for fish (and missing, all the time; must be young ones). The patterns on the underside of their wings was just, well, it was astonishing. And they were right there.



No, I didn't take this pic; it's a public domain photo from Wikipedia

And while we were being gobsmacked and delighted, we saw a chipmunk running along a fence. And we smiled. And then a marten exploded out of the bushes and the chipmunk zipped--I've never seen anything move as fast--along that rail and then started shrieking at that marten.

A marten.


ditto: photo by anonymous in public domain

Wow. I didn't even know there were martens here in Seattle. It was beautiful: small, tight, one long glossy predatory muscle. And then a pair of birds I'd never seen before started trading singing insults--oh you could tell they were insults. Seriously. Then I watched a zillion sand-burrowing wasps doing apparently pointless things, like piling on top of each other, and bumping into each other, and digging holes and scuttling backwards. It was like watching a flea circus. And all this entertainment was free.

At this point, we thought, Hey, the world is a marvel, let's go explore more. So we had lunch at a Moroccan place we'd never noticed before, rootled through the tat in an 'antiques'/consignment store, and had a latte in a new coffeehouse. Then we came home, smiling, and I suddenly thought of something I really wanted to add to Hild.

All in all a miraculous day. Nothing profound to say, I just wanted to share.

Tomorrow is audio day. I'm dithering between a song, something I wrote for Kelley while we were apart all those years ago, or a reading of a very short story for Australian radio. Decisions, decisions...

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

mind meld: controversial books

The new Mind Meld it up at sfsignal.com:

There's plenty of recent controversy in the science fiction field, most of it having nothing to do with books themselves. So let's put the controversy limelight back where it belongs. We asked a panel of esteemed guests the following question:

Q: Which science fiction or fantasy novels, past and present, do you consider to be the most controversial? Why?

Different responses from a bunch o' writers including Ekaterina Sedia, Peter Watts, Sarah Beth Durst and me. Take a look.


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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Young Adult adventure, redux

I had so many suggestions on my last post about YA books, that I thought it might be nice to offer an update.

You've already seen my response to Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (recommended by Jill). Other suggested books I've read since are Cory Doctorow's Little Brother (recommended by Gwen) and Megan Wahlen Turner's ATTOLIA trilogy (recommended by mb).

The ATTOLIA books as a whole are, from a writerly perspective, all about point of view. In that respect, I was very much reminded of Dorothy Dunnett's LYMOND CHRONICLES. (The first one, The Game of Kings, is brilliant, and brilliantly funny. I recommend it wholeheartedly. The others, eh, there's a real drop-off.) Basically, once you understand the underlying paradigm of ATTOLIA--Eugenides will always win and finds it convenient to be underestimated--the narrative tension slackens, so it's important to increase the reader's distance from his internal process. (No, I'm not going to offer a plot summary. They abound elsewhere.) This leads to a series of very richly textured books. The first one, The Thief, is fun, but very much a writer learning her craft, with some tedium (or, as Kelley puts it, oh the Groundhog Dayness of it all...) But then, wow, there's a real gear change in book two, and book three is a knockout. And they're fabulous adventures. And beautifully published. Eos/Greenwillow have done a lovely job. The cover illustrations are delicious. Recommended without reservation.

I enjoyed the Doctorow, though it's a different animal. For one thing, the tone shifts wildly; I'm not always sure who it's aimed at or the level of wisdom intended for the narrator. Sometimes it tastes a little good-for-you-hectoring, sometimes genuinely, adolescently gauche. It was fun, and trundled along nicely, but felt thin. Mind you, if I'd read this as a teen I would, like the protagonist, have turned hacker in a hot second, which I imagine is the point, so in that sense it's a very successful book. It's just not my kind of book. Not anymore.

Winging their way to our house are Elizabeth Knox's Dreamhunter and Block's Weetzie Bat. I'm just not sure when I'll get to read them. I'm finally back in full Hild flood, getting some really good traction. No fiction for me for a while.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Anglo-Saxon porn

When I'm working on a novel, especially when I'm just feeling my way back into something after a break, I don't allow myself to read fiction. Instead I've been poring over delicious pictures of Anglo-Saxon jewellery, almost pornographic in their lusciousness. These web pix don't do justice to the brilliance of the stuff--Anglo-Saxons absolutely loved their sparklies--perhaps they'll give you an idea.

Here's something called the Kingston Brooch, mainly gold and cloisonne enamel.


a belt buckle (a belt buckle!)


necklace, in cabochon garnet and gold


and here's a detail of the ear flap on a helmet


This stuff makes me understand the A-S stories of dragons and their hoards. Just looking at it makes me feel all lustful and dragonish.

Oh, and I've just counted and realised this is my one hundredth blog post. I forget, sometimes, how young this venue is: just a little over three months. Thank you all for stopping by and joining in.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

jedi gym


[via SFSignal]

Be sure to watch until at least Darth Vader appears--and discover the perils of True Fandom :)

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

breathing bubbles

Wow, want to spend $70 on the UK edition (an OOP mass market paperback) of Slow River? If so, here's the amazon.com link for you. Then go get your head examined. After all, you can get this edition from amazon.co.uk for about $6. Or, if you're truly crazy, from the same webpage you can choose to pay some lunatic vendor nearly $200. For a used copy. Of a mass market paperback. I know I lack the collector gene and so sometimes miss the finer points of book collecting but, seriously, can anyone explain this to me?

I don't think about Slow River often, but after seeing this cover for the first time in twelve years, I fished out a copy and reread the first page. I liked it (thank god). So I thought I'd share:

At four in the morning its cold, deep scent seeped through deserted streets and settled in the shadows between warehouses. I walked carefully, unwilling to disturb the quiet. The smell of the river thickened as I headed deeper into the warehouse district, the Old Town, where the street names changed: Dagger Lane, Silver Street, The Land of Green Ginger; the fifteenth century still echoing through the beginnings of the twenty-first.

Then there were no more buildings, no more alleys, only the river, sliding slow and wide under a bare sky. I stepped cautiously into the open, like a small mammal leaving the shelter of the trees for the exposed bank.

Rivers were the source of civilization, the scenes of all beginnings and endings in ancient times. Babies were carried to the banks to be washed, bodies were laid on biers and floated away. Births and deaths were usually communal affairs, but I was here alone.

Reading this brought back vivid memories of Hull--the city I never name in the novel--where I lived for more than ten years, where the Old Town really does have names like Silver Street and Dagger Lane. I've talked about those times before, of course (mainly in "Layered Cities," an essay, and in my memoir), but something about reading fiction brings it all back.

I didn't name the city in Slow River because I believed--still believe--no one in their right mind would buy a book set in Hull. It would be like reading a novel set in Poughkeepsie. What do you think?

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday audio

Every Friday I'll amuse myself by putting up something from my audio files. Sometimes it will be an interview, sometimes a reading, sometimes a song. Today it's one of my favourite interviews, with Jim Fleming on PRI's "To the Best of Our Knowledge," first broadcast in December 2006. Here's the flash player:










and the direct link, or you can play it from the sidebar. Let me know what you think, and if you have any requests...

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

holy shit!

I just saw this (thanks Sarah). A tiny bit of justice from the Bush administration. Who'd've thunk it?

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fainting, shame, and obviousness

From John-Henri:

I read your blog entry on literary awards, and your findings seem quite obvious; in a fairly recent essay on women's sf and women in the sf world I counted the Hugos and Nebulas, with not terribly dissimilar results – although the Nebulas have tended during the last decades to be more inclusive. Even so, I suspect that the sf milieu is actually at least slightly more accepting than many others; if nothing else, sf people tend to at least want to view themselves as both open-minded and positive towards social change. In comparison, why not take a look at the literary Nobels, where a total of 11 out of 103 awards have now been given to women (5 of them in the last 17 years). And if women have generally been much too radical for Nobels, how about even weirder creatures – there is, I strongly suspect, a farily obvious reason why authors in their day as universally acclaimed as Willa Cather, H.D., W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Virginia Woolf, Allen Ginsberg, or Truman Capote seem never to have been seriously considered. Sad that not until around fifteen years ago did it become common knowledge (as at that point her previously sealed correspondence was published) that the first woman ever to receive the Nobel, Swedish non-realist novelist Selma Lagerlöf (the 1909 laureate), spent her entire adult life in a complex love triangle with two other women, novelist Sopie Elkan and teacher Valborg Olander. The Academy members who handed Lagerlöf her award would have fainted.

It struck me that if you haven't done the Hugo and Nebula counting, possibly you might be interested. This is how it goes*:

Hugos
1953-1960: 16 awards for works of literature, 0 to women (0%)
1961-1970: 29 awards for works of literature, 2 to women (6.9%)
1971-1980: 41 awards for works of literature, 10 to women (24.4%)
1981-1990: 41 awards for works of literature, 10 to women (24.4%)
1991-2000: 41 awards for works of literature, 12 to women (29.27%)
2001-2006: 24 awards for works of literature, 6 to women (25%)

Nebulas
1965-1970: 25 awards for works of literature, 3 to women (12%)
1971-1980: 40 awards for works of literature, 10 to women (25%)
1981-1990: 40 awards for works of literature, 15 to women (37.5%)
1991-2000: 40 awards for works of literature, 19 to women (47.5%)
2001-2007: 20 awards for works of literature, 12 to women (60%)

Even more importantly, I'd say, the Nebulas have also been given to non-mainstream work by women – you, Carol Emshwiller, Joanna Russ, Ellen Klages, Kelly Link, Leslie What, Joe Haldeman's Camouflage and many ceteras. While Hugos have been given to what I'd generally think is more traditional work (although by all means awards were given to Left Hand of Darkness and a couple of times to James Tiptree).

On the other hand, the great shame of us all must be that no award of any kind was given to The Female Man.

[* arithmetic mine--blame me for errors, not John-Henri]

Oh, yes, indeed. Fainting, great shame, and obviousness. Let me take them one at a time.

Obviousness. Absolutely. Men (and women) discriminate against women. In just about every arena: art, sport, politics, academics, employment, health care. Why should literature be different?

It all *should* be different, of course. It's just not. The context of my "Girl Cooties" blog post was the LitBlog Co-Op discussion of Always. Several of the participants had wondered at various points (and on various blogs) why my novel had not had more attention. To me the answer, as you say, was obvious, but clearly not so to some of the bloggers. Also not to some of my younger readers. In explaining the situation (at least as I see it) I wanted to tread gently. It's a cruel and difficult job, sometimes, to put on big nasty reality boots and trample through others' Eden.

For those to whom this kind of information--that, yes, Virginia, there really is discrimination in the literary world--is either new or unbelievable, read the best book ever on the topic, Joanna Russ' How to Suppress Women's Writing.

The Academy fainting at news of Selma Lagerlöf and her love life? Oh, yep, no doubt. I'd heard rumours about the girlfriends, but not the specifics, so thanks for that. (And isn't it interesting that Wikipedia makes no mention of it? Though I see someone's managed to mention Daphne du Maurier's attachment to women. But, hey, she was just a genre writer...)

As for shame, absolutely. Russ should have won more than a retrospective Tiptree for The Female Man. But for most people it's a frightening book, and a difficult read; not at all like The Forever War which took the Hugo and Nebula that year. (For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed Haldeman's novel, and I look forward to the upcoming film adaptation.) Awards, though, are subjective; they reflect our taste. Our taste is formed by our milieu. Our milieu is sexist and heterosexist. In some parts of the world (geographically speaking, and in terms of cultural denominators like race, class, and religion) this is improving, in some it's getting worse. In most it swings back and forth across the vertical plumbline of whatever anti-discrimination laws a polity has on its books. (This is why passing the ERA, why ENDA and same-sex marriage legislation is so very important.)

The Nebula and Hugo stats broken down by decade are extremely interesting. Thank you. To me it looks like a steady progression towards equity--with, for the Hugo, the beginnings of a backlash (or maybe just a statistical anomaly). Here's a quote from Lisa Tuttle in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction :

Unfortunately, even after 30 years women are still considered "newcomers' by most men, and women who become too successful or break the unspoken rules and stretch the boundaries of sf, all too often arouse male hostility [...] Women writers are by now a well established presence within sf, but this situation may not last. In How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983) Russ has argued, polemically but effectively, that even the most popular and influential female writers have been peculiarly subject to excision from the male-controlled canons of literary history. An economic contraction, followed by redefinition of genre boundaries, might send written sf the way of Hollywood, where sf films are as narrowly confined to catering to the fears and desires of the adolescent US male as the old-fashioned pulp magazine ever were.
--Lisa Tuttle, Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, ed. Clute and Nicholls (St. Martin's, 1993)

The Nebulas, too, could be a statistical anomaly, or an overcompensation. Why is there such a gap between the two awards? Perhaps it's the difference between a writers' award and a readers' award. Perhaps (and, no, I have no data for this--if anyone does, please share) the ratio of women to men in voting terms is higher for SFWA/Nebula than Worldcon/Hugo. I'd love to hear opinions on the matter.


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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

more canaries

This time a video (thanks to Janet), a hopeful, passionate tale of one woman's contribution to the urban environment:

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queer canary marriage

Here's an interesting article from the Los Angeles Times (thanks, Cindy):

According to surveys, in developed countries discrimination against women and minorities is actually waning and gays remain the least tolerated "outgroup" in society. They are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. In most developed countries, the relative level of their acceptance or rejection is a sensitive indicator of that society's overall tolerance toward minorities. And -- here's the takeaway -- social tolerance "broadens the range of choices available to people," thereby enhancing happiness for both the tolerant and the intolerant alike.

It's based on a study conducted at the University of Michigan by a team led by Ronald Inglehart. They found that freedom of choice is apparently a universal aspiration--and the single most important basis of human happiness. Change the law to give more people more freedom, more choice (e.g. make marriage legal for same-sex couples) and more people, not just gay people, are happier. Go read the article. It's kind of cool.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I just realised something...

I was just rereading my essay, "Identity and SF: Story as Science and Fiction," to make sure it hadn't got scrambled in translation to the web, when I realised that it was writing this essay that helped push me towards writing my memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party. All that stuff about memory and freezing moments via diary entries or photographs...

After I wrote that essay, in 2005, I went to look at my photos and found an old diary I'd forgotten I'd had, and was absolutely wrenched into the past. And that past was different from the stories I'd told myself all my life. I started to want to understand the strange place between truth and memory, and the memories that had made me who I am. And so I started recalling specific incidents--such as the discovery of atoms--and rootling through my stuff to find corroborating evidence. Most of the time, there wasn't any (most of the time there just isn't; it doesn't mean it didn't happen, it just means I can't be sure). Sometimes there was. Sometimes the evidence contradicted the memories. Sometimes (astonishingly often), I willfully misread the evidence the first time around, and only after repeated viewing could I see what was actually there.

Here's a scan of a poem I wrote for a friend that might illustrate what I mean:


I don't know when I wrote the poem. (1983? 1987? Probably closer to the latter: the dragon looks a bit like something I drew for Kelley in 1988, and even that was probably stolen from somewhere else--it doesn't look like the kind of thing that comes from my own imagination--but after all this time I don't remember where.) It was for a friend called Katherine who was probably in her fifties--only I didn't know that at the time. I knew she was significantly older than me but had no clue that one could be over forty and still have a life (that's yoof for you). It was her birthday. She told me it was her fortieth. Perhaps she was being ironic, but I didn't know that (sigh) and took her seriously. I wrote this poem, and copied it out on nice paper and put it in an envelope covered in illustrations of dragons and dykes in shining armour (I forget if there was a princess; probably not). And then I gave the card to Katherine. And she was furious--absolutely shook with rage as she tore the envelope open: I was making her destroy beauty; I'd wasted all my talent on something disposable. I was puzzled and a bit hurt; to me it was a doodled poem, and a doodled picture, the kind of thing one jots on the phone pad while chatting--which only seemed to infuriate her further. Looking back, running the 'memory' through my mind over and over, I believe she was angry with herself for two reasons. One, she had lied to me about something she was ashamed to be ashamed about (second-wave feminists weren't supposed to care about age and beauty, patriarchal concepts). Two, she was jealous of the fact that to me a poem and picture meant nothing, I could pump them out all day without thinking. She wanted to be a writer, but found writing difficult. And there I was wasting stuff! But I don't know; that's just what I imagine (and the kind of attitude I'd run into from my teachers all my life). I'd love to meet her again and have a beer and find out the truth of the matter.

But there's no way to include something like that in a permanent medium like a book because it's largely about someone else and it's possible I could be imagining or at least wildly misinterpreting it all. For the memoir I generally opted to talk about the person I know best, me, and chose incidents and supporting artifacts very, very carefully.

Oh, and I've no idea where I got that doctors' freebie note pad advertising Daonil. Just another mystery, another reason not to include it in the book.

Anyway, now that my early life (selections of it, anyway) is all organised and labelled and explained I feel very clear, very grounded, very certain. It's a good feeling. And it all started with an essay... Life is strange.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

separate but unequal

Sarah Schulman has a Soapbox piece in last week's issue of Publishers Weekly. It reads in part:

If you are a lesbian and you want to get married in California, you're in luck. But if you are a human being who would like to read novels with lesbian protagonists by openly lesbian authors, you'd better move to England....

...In the 1980s, the AIDS crisis forced America to admit that gay people exist, and for a brief period the vibrant but underground literature of authentic gay and lesbian experience was able to surface through corporate presses and hover on the margins of American letters. By the early 1990s the country's most powerful presses started presenting lesbian literature as an integrated part of U.S. intellectual life. But that's when cultural containment kicked in, in the form of niche marketing. Corporations began the process of transforming a political movement into a consumer group, by selecting particular products to be sold to queers alone. Chain bookstores literally took lesbian literature off of the Fiction shelves and tucked it away in newly formed Gay Book sections, which are usually found on the fourth floor in the back behind the potted plants. At the same time, lesbian writers who avoided protagonists as lesbian as they are were allowed to stay in Fiction. The industry created incentives for authors to avoid the specificity of their own experience, absurdly creating the only literature in the world in which the authors' actual lives are never recorded. The best known example of many would be Susan Sontag, who maintained her stature as a Major American Intellectual while never applying her prodigious intellectual gifts to a public analysis of her own condition. She even wrote a book analyzing AIDS stigma while staying in the closet.

In my opinion, lesbian fiction is shunned because not only does it have girl cooties, it has double girl cooties. (Gay fiction, on the other hand, gets a lot of mainstream respect in this country because gay boys are, y'know, boys.) But, hey, I've talked about this before in my LitBlog Co-op piece called, surprisingly, "Girl Cooties." (If you go read the article, be sure to read the discussion comments, too.)

Gender imbalance is also being discussed over at Mind Meld. I wonder if Clinton losing the Democratic nomination is dragging these concerns closer to the surface, closer to consciousness for many people. Or maybe, hey, the hot weather (we had amazing thunderstorms here last week) is just making everyone finally willing to Name That Crankiness. To which I say, Yay.

Here, too, is a new interview with Kelley talking about gender bias in f/sf.

But back to Sarah Schulman. We met in 1992, when I reviewed Empathy for Southern Voice. She did a reading at Charis Books and More, and looked a bit tired. (Touring for a book is brutal, exhausting, and confusing. In the bookshop you're a star and everyone loves you. But then everyone goes home and you go to your hotel room, cold and tired and lonely.) So Kelley and I took her out for dinner and then brought her back to our house for a bit of normalcy over a cup of tea. We had a wonderful conversation.

So, anyway, go read her piece in PW, then go buy one of her books. Go buy any lesbian's books, especially one with lesbian characters. Don't be afraid. Reading about it won't turn you queer. Unless, of course, you read Ammonite :)

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

las bandidas


2006 film with Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz: put Zorro and Xena and maybe a bit of Austin Powers in a blender. Lots of comedic pseudo lesbian subtext (Xena). Trained horses, bank robbing, viva Mexico (Zorro). Suggestive, adolescent camera angles (Austin Powers). It's a feel-good, lightweight, vaguely hormonal (lots of heaving breasts and high hip-to-waist ratios--yum) film with no educational value--yay! Can't believe I'd never heard of this. Definitely worth seeing, especially for free after three beers. Life is good.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth


Independence Day is not my holiday, but I admire the US Constitution, and that wouldn't have happened without the Declaration of Independence.

Have a wonderful weekend. I'll be back on Monday.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

quotes, an occasional series, #4: native of sf

I am a native of sf, but not a resident.
-- William Gibson

Apparently this is something Gibson said at his induction into the SF Hall of Fame last month. It encapsulates beautifully how I feel about what I write.

I got the Gibson quote, above, from a conversation at our dinner party on Saturday--one of our guests had been at the induction--and I told the story I first told Cat Rambo at Suite101.com of the moment at WisCon 30 that I knew I really did belong in sf:

Q: Did you enjoy WisCon? What was the highest point for you? Are there conventions that are "can't miss" for you?

NG: The stand-out moment for me, no question, was a point in the Tiptree auction when what was under the hammer was a fan letter from Alice Sheldon (in her Tiptree persona) to Carol Emshwiller. I felt this enormous swelling under my breastbone, a vast bubble of history and connection. I thought: I'm here. I'm part of this continuum, this line of writers whose focus, cares, and struggles are linked to mine. I thought: I belong.

I've never much felt like part of a community; I've been a stranger in a strange land most of my life. I've moved a lot. I was a dyke in a Catholic girls school. I had a posh accent in a tough northern city when I left home. I was a writer among drug dealers and prostitutes and bikers. I have MS in a mostly able-bodied world. I'm English in America. But right there, right then, I belonged. It wasn't a sweet, misty feeling; it was fierce, hard, brilliant. It will sustain me.

Last year I wrote an essay, "Identity and SF: Story and Science as Fiction," about how and why I love sf. It was published in SciFi in the Mind's Eye (ed. Margret Grebowitz, Open Court, 2007) and I've just made it available for free on my website. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

another party, one day

Here are Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon getting married. Again. Let's hope this is the last time they have to do this.

People often ask me if I plan to marry Kelley. Yes--when it has legal force at the federal level. In 1993 we had a wedding for family and friends (but not the law) in our back garden in Atlanta. Last year we signed up as domestic partners in Washington State, and we've done all the wills and powers of attorney etc. that are possible. So now we're going to wait for the Big Change, for the day when it matters for immigration and social security and other federal decisions. Then, woo, we'll have another party! (And, oh yeah, you can bet we'll register somewhere fabulous. I love presents.)

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

next Aud book?

From: Anonymous

I just discovered -- and thoroughly enjoyed -- the 3 "Aud books." Can you disclose whether there will be a fourth, and if so, when it might be released?


I have the fourth and fifth Aud novels roughed out in my head, with the fifth being most definitely the last. But right now I'm working on an entirely different project, an historical novel about Hild of Whitby. (I'm keeping a blog about that, though I haven't updated it for a month.) That book will occupy me for at least another year. After that, there are all kinds of things I want to play with, including adapting Aud for the big screen.

So, no, there won't be anymore Aud for a while. Sorry. Still, I'm delighted that you liked the books. Do you have a favourite?

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