Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday audio: Changesurfer

Here's something from the archives: an old interview with Dr. J. Hughes on Changesurfer radio, "a weekly, syndicated public affairs radio show transmitting a sexy, high-tech vision of a radically democratic future." (It's hosted by IEET, the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.)

The interview is about 24 minutes long. It's a little weirdly edited at the beginning--or perhaps I was just having a strange day--but hang in there; it all gradually makes sense.

I generally don't like doing phone interviews--the sound quality sucks, for one thing, and it's just plain odd to be sitting in my own house talking, for the record, to someone I've never met--and there is usually no opportunity to chat first with the host (no chance, for example, to correct name pronounciation, or the fact that "Yaguara" was nominated but didn't win the Nebula) but I'm kind of fond of this one. Enjoy:

(direct link)
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Spit Out Your Mouthguard and Bow

Here's a short essay I wrote five or six years ago that was never published. I hope you enjoy it.

Spit Out Your Mouthguard and Bow

"Layd-ees and gentlemen, on my right, please welcome, fresh from championship bouts with DDT and lead pollution, red in tooth and claw, your favourite and mine, Mother Nature. On my left, pumped from recent victories over outer space and oceans deep, our challenger this evening, cold of eye and stern of jaw, Modern Man."

Entertaining? Possibly. A disaster? Undoubtedly. In the context of a winner-takes-all wrestling smackdown, victory would be brief and Pyrrhic. Humankind can't exist without nature. We are nature, blood and bone and breath.

What do we really mean by human, and whose nature are we talking about, anyway? Neither is a constant.

I was born in Leeds (UK) and now live in Seattle (USA). Leeds is in West Yorkshire, a regional industrial and finance centre surrounded by dales and heathered moorland, bounded in the east by the North Sea and in the west by the Pennine hills. I grew up with a sense of nature as mannered and managed: rolling hillside dotted with sheep, an oak growing in the bend of a broad river, and the occasional plover calling on the moor. The hand of humankind was stamped on every horizon: a drystone wall, an iron-age fort, a neolithic menhir. Even the horizon itself sometimes proved to be the brow of a barrow.

In my twenties, I moved to Duluth, Georgia, where I lived in a brand new apartment complex scooped out of the forest. Northwoods Lake Court was built around a small lake that seemed magical to me. There were bluebirds and cardinals in the white oak, bullfrogs the size of dinner plates in the cattails. There were salamanders and blue-bellied lizards, cottonmice and voles, turtles and snakes.

My guess is that they aren't there anymore. White oak stands filled with singing bluebirds, you see, aren't Nature; to Georgians they're just trees. Every time I drove to Atlanta, I passed yet another acre or two of naked red clay where those trees had been ripped out and replaced by a For Lease notice. During thunderstorms, the red dirt washing onto the road looked like blood.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, nature means wild and untamed landscape: ice-capped volcanoes, grizzlies, and raw rock gorges running with dangerous (and, to an English person, rather alarming) rivers. A wilderness, nothing mannered about it. In Seattle, it's more like nature has invaded our turf: peregrines nest on the Columbia Tower downtown, bald eagles fly over my city neighbourhood, and a coyote recently took a ride in the elevator of the Federal Building.

If we look back a thousand years, we find a Britain that is largely forested, and teeming with boars, bears, wolves and lynx. There are herons and oysters, more badgers and bustards and hedgehogs and snakes. More song birds. More flowers. More disease, starvation, and tooth decay. Go back another thousand, to Roman Britain, and there is less forest and fewer predators, lower child mortality, less malnutrition. (But lots of heavy-metal pollution: the Romans loved lead and brass, and their ore-processing tainted great swaths of the world for generations.) Even farther back, the North America of 10,000 years ago is a recently ravaged ecosystem, its megafauna extinct and its human inhabitants, like other large predators, in the midst of having to change their ways or die. Reach as far back as 50,000 years and both Britain and North America are ice sheets.

Nature, therefore, is contextual. There is no Platonic ideal, no ur-landscape to which all would revert if humans died en masse tomorrow. 250 years might erase all trace of our buildings and roads, but there would still be plutonium decaying underground, kudzu choking the American south, and no wolves in the UK.

Humankind is also contextual. As individuals and societies, we adapt to our environment, of which technology is very much a part. I wear contact lenses. I'm extremely short-sighted. Over the last few hundred years, the use of eyeglasses has led to the gene for myopia, a dominant trait, being carried by a huge percentage of the western world's population. Those who are horribly short-sighted no longer get eaten by predators, fall into stairwells, or walk in front of a train before we breed. We changed the world, and it changed us. It is still changing us, and always has.

We can't stop these changes. We can stop trying to win, stop trying to control nature without acknowledging that it also controls us. We can admit that we don't really know very much about how things fit together, and that we have a lot to learn.

So rather than a winner-takes-all smackdown, a better conceptual framework for understanding our place in the world might be to view humankind and nature as aikido partners, taking turns as attacker and defender, the only goal mutual improvement through continual and incremental feedback.

In aikido practice there is no competition, because the art is so purely defensive that no direct contest between players is possible. One person acts as nage, or defender, while another is the uke, or attacker. And then they swap. It is a true partnership; the goal of both is to learn and to improve their technique. It is the uke's responsibility to give their best, to not attack by rote but to be aware of holes in the nage's technique. It is the nage's responsibility to adjust the force of their response to the uke's falling ability, to guide her or him to the mat safely in a throw or joint lock. It is a feedback system. Each must be constantly aware of the other. Each must adjust their stance, speed, and force to the other's abilities. The key to aikido is not meeting force with force. There are no forearm smashes or full body drops. Instead, you have to understand, through experience and observation, what your partner's body might do. You have to accept it, go with it, then turn and direct, very slightly, its momentum. The best aikido practitioners barely seem to touch their ukes.

The same could be said for technology and its consequences. Take, for example, nuclear power, initially hailed as a clean solution to the industrialised nations' increasing power consumption. Now we have the frightening problem of waste with half-lives of tens of thousands of years, and our only response so far is a sophisticated version of bury-the-bone-in-someone-else's-backyard. On the other hand, here in the Northwest, the Hanford Nuclear Reserve has turned out to be the saviour of an ecosystem that has disappeared elsewhere in the region. The fear of sabotage and of possible fallout from the plutonium production site dictated that a huge swath of countryside be left uninhabited and undeveloped. These twenty-six square miles of shrub-steppe and delicate wetland have sheltered more than a hundred populations of 31 different rare plant taxa, 1,000 species of insects, 3 species of reptiles and amphibians, 44 species of fish, 214 species of birds, and 39 species of mammals, many of which have disappeared elsewhere in the region and are candidates for formal listing under the Endangered Species Act. We are trying to learn from this unexpected result. Uke and nage.

When we dam rivers for hydroelectric projects, wild salmon start dying. Producing salmon in hatcheries was supposed to save wild salmon. Sometimes, though, the hatchery fish crowd out the wild fish and spread disease. To sustain native populations, we will have to take down dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. If we do that, though, much of the adapted ecosystem along those rivers will be swept away. But by listening, and learning, and adjusting to the power and speed and force of the problem, constantly compensating, we are learning ways around these obstacles: fish ladders, periodic water release, the cautious removal of a few dams.

A permaculture is an interrelationship of people, plants, animals, and environment where each provides for and sustains the other. It is an ecologically integrated system of permanent agriculture that offers a sustainable food base. It is possible. We have done it before. In inhospitable (to modern eyes) environments, Aboriginal Australians lived in the same territories and in the same way for thousands of years. The Hopi managed it for several hundred. This is not because the Hopi or the first Australians are inherently better than Europeans, but because it was do or die.

For us to initiate a permaculture--and we would need many different ones--would require a willingness to give up trying to win, to embrace the model of uke and nage, to give as well as take. It would require us to use our technology to incrementally improve and help crops and livestock and other flora and fauna adapt to their surroundings, whether by direct genetic modification or by carefully blending cultivars or domesticated strains with wild breeds the old fashioned way. It would require us to both teach and learn from nature, and be willing to forgive it and ourselves for mistakes.

If we insist upon a wrestling match, someone will lose. For a better world, we must spit out our mouthguards, and bow.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

emerald sanity

I love mist. I love the scent of earth folded in on itself and dreaming under a blanket of leaf fall. I love the layers of green and gold and grey that is autumn on the edge of Puget Sound, the slish of water running up the beach, the crows and the gulls croaking and crying back and forth between land and sea.

I went to the park yesterday. The salmon aren't running yet. The chipmunks are all asleep. The kids are back in school. It was as empty as the end of the world. Full of promises.

At the entrance to the park is a chemical toilet. (A big truck comes by every couple of days and picks it up and puts a new fresh one in its place. Pretty astonishing.) It's owned and maintained by a company called Emerald Sanitary*. The first time I saw the sign on the side I misread it: Emerald Sanity. I had a vision of sad or insane people going into the box, a green light pouring from the ceiling fixture, and them leaving the box with their minds quiet and smooth. Emerald Sanity.

That's what the park does for me. It turns all the noise off. Smoothes the furrows in my face. Slows the beat of my heart. I can recommend it.

* Seattle is sometimes known as the Emerald City. When it was first founded, it was called the Queen City, but the civic dignitaries worried people would associate the city with, well, queens. The park system, alas, has now changed to United Site Services, not nearly as evocative as Emerald Sanitary.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Hild update

Over on Gemæcca I have an update post on Hild and a question about sleeping arrangements. Take a look. Take a guess...

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sword of ammonites

Another in my occasional series of listing search terms people use to find this blog:

things I like, thigs I like, thugs I like
--Aud can be a bit of a thug, sometimes

troll bread, stories of trolls who roast women on spits
-- but she wouldn't do that

is an ammonite danger in any way
-- according to those who have read the novel, it could turn you into a lesbian (because dyke cooties are *that* communicable...), or save your life (flotation device? a snack? takes the bullet meant for your heart?), or it could make you leave your corporate job and become a travelling storyteller (which will kill your bank balance for sure)

after dates women ask the male out
-- I'm not sure I've ever actually 'dated' (it strikes me as a wholly weird way to get to know someone; actually it strikes me as behaviour designed to prevent people getting to know each other) so I'm no authority, but shouldn't one ask someone out *before* the date?

answer questions about shame
-- wow, is dating *that* embarrassing?

is there such a thing as bisexual, no such bisexuality, lesbians dont exist
-- just keep singing la-la-la and all the scary monsters will go away

massage whitby don't ask
-- alrighty then

nicola cunt
-- no, but I have one

nicola immigration lawyer
-- I have one of those, too

nicola bent gaybo, nicola is gay, nicola queer
-- all true

no pants babes
-- a long time ago, yes, but sadly there are no pictures

promiscuity and demonic possession, homosexuality possession
-- oooh, I want to see that movie!

swang swang, swang swang swang swang
-- a giant panda? conjoined giant pandas?

swing swang swung seattle
-- a battle chant?

why good writing is hard
-- oh, if only I could answer that one

haemarroids and alcohol consumption research
-- oh. dear. god.

awards for sexual discrimination
-- they give *prizes* for this now??

gum snapping, how to proceed with death of mother
-- a gum-snapping matricidal homo-demonically possessed maniac; I really, really want to see that movie

nicola griffith box set
-- no-pants nicola, gaybo nicola, gum-snapping nicola; I want to see the little outfits

reasons why I love partying
-- my kind of girl

squint see spaceship
-- yeah, all that partying does have consequences

sword of ammonites, tolkien god
-- I can see this as a five-book series...

is shrugging insulting, strawberry as an insult
-- ...set in an alternate universe...

10 second - the whole life
-- ...where it doesn't pay to throw those strawberries and shrugs around in the wrong company

beautiful sin, beautiful sin poetry, dykesburg dive poetry
-- this sounds like an excellent evening

I'm afraid of Americans, I'm afraid of demonic possession, audio from demon possession
-- one way to consider David Bowie's oeuvre, I suppose

how to ask how old she is in French
-- I'm not going to touch that one

"a razor blade gave me freedom from the dorms. a small rectangle of steel, incredibly sharp on two sides. it came wrapped in paper, with the words not for use by children printed on the side. i was eleven years old then. eight years ago, which means i am probably the oldest human alive."
-- this sounds like the beginning of a story; anyone want to continue it? [EDIT: Turns out this is the beginning of a Garth Nix novel, Shade's Children.]

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

all aboard...

A delightful graphic rendering of our voting choices, via Pharyngula and Cheryl's Mewsings:

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eat your addiction away

From the Economist, an interesting piece on a dietary approach to treating addiction:

PEOPLE are programmed for addiction. Their brains are designed so that actions vital for propagating their genes—such as eating and having sex—are highly rewarding. Those reward pathways can, however, be subverted by external chemicals (in other words, drugs) and by certain sorts of behaviour such as gambling.

In recent years, neuroscientists have begun to understand how these reward pathways work and, in particular, the role played by message-carrying molecules called neurotransmitters. These molecules, notably serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), hop between nerve cells, carrying signals as they go. Some drugs mimic their actions. Others enhance them. Either way, the body tends, as a result, to give up making them. At that point the person needs the drug as a substitute for the missing transmitter. In other words, he is an addict.

Unfortunately, this improved understanding of the biochemistry of addiction has yet to be translated into improvements in treatment. The latest figures from Britain’s National Treatment Agency suggest that only 11% of those who start treatment complete it and are drug-free after 12 weeks. A new approach that acknowledges the underlying biochemistry might improve this situation. And on October 11th and 12th delegates to a conference in London, organised by Food for the Brain, an educational foundation, heard accounts of such an approach. Its tools are not drugs but dietary changes. The theory is that providing food rich in the precursors of lost neurotransmitters will boost the levels of those chemicals, and thus reduce craving. At the moment, only preliminary trials have been carried out. But they look promising and if larger trials confirm them, a useful, new front in the war on addiction might open up.

Basically, when we're in withdrawal from heroin/nicotine/gambling/crack we get low on glutamine, a precursor of GABA. It's GABA's job to keep us relaxed. So when we don't get our fix we get anxious and don't sleep. But we can restore your glutamine levels by eating an amino acid called N-acetylcysteine (NAC) that's found in nuts and seeds. Then you can start messing with other neurotransmitters, like serotonin (start by eating stuff high in tryptophans, e.g. meat, brown rice, nuts, fish, milk). And it's good to eat DHA (found in omega-3 oils, i.e. salmon oil, flaxseed oil and so on).

So, you want to crave less--sweets, booze, crushing*? Eat fish and nuts with brown rice. A lot. Eat salads with flaxseed oil and seeds. Take fish oil supplements (but take them with food or you'll be tasting those little buggers all day). Drink milk (urk, hate milk; love cream, though, wonder if that works...). I bet you'll feel better. I know I feel a lot calmer when I eat this kind of food. Anyway, just thought I'd share.

* The more I think about Karina's recent posts on crushes, the more I think crushing (sometimes) might be a form of addiction, a relatively harmless/cost free way to light up the pleasure circuits.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

no on hate, no on 8

(Thanks, Janice.) I know I'm probably preaching to the choir here but if you live in California, please vote no on 8. Please ask your friends and family to vote no on 8.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday audio: Reclaim the Night

I was going to do a reading from Always this week but circumstances, i.e., an evil virus, has removed that option. So here instead is a song from long ago, "Reclaim the Night." We (Janes Plane) performed it for the first time on International Women's Day, 1982. This was recorded about five months later. Enjoy.

direct link

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

win $250,000 for an essay

Yesterday I came across

FieldReport lets you record and share the true stories of your life, as publicly or anonymously as you like. Our blind community review process highlights our members' most intriguing stories, without regard to popularity or clicks. The highest-ranked stories in each of FieldReport's 20 subject categories win prizes in regular qualifying rounds, and go on to compete for grand prizes--including the world's largest prize for a single piece of writing and a $25,000 TeenReport scholarship. Membership and entry are free.

That grand prize is a quarter of a million dollars. And, yes, they're for real.

I'm not sure what to make of this. I think it's amazing. It also pisses me off. It's amazing that a group of people are trying to build a site where personal truth counts. It pisses me off that only reality counts as truth. There's such a bias in this world against fiction. We need fiction, we need story (I've written about this before). Reality isn't enough.

It's also interesting to ponder whether or not I could/should/would enter something like this.

The most pressing disincentive is that I can't think of a single Life Lesson (which is what seems to be popular) that I'm burning to impart. Then there's the faint suspicion that it might be, well, tacky. Most of the entrants are amateurs. I'm not. It would feel a little odd. And then, huh, I probably wouldn't win. Which would *really* piss me off...

But I know many of you have stories to tell. You might want to consider telling them at FieldReport. You could win some money.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bending the Landscape

From: Karina

Is there a fourth Bending the Landscape anthology simmering on the back burner?

Short answer: no. Longer answer: no, never again. Except, ach, that's a lie. I might do another anthology one day--in fact, I came pretty close a year or so ago--but it won't be BtL.

BtL is something I'm proud of, but the amount of money I got paid wasn't remotely commensurate with the work I did. Initially, the deal looked alright: White Wolf, a gaming and publishing company, would pay me and my co-editor, Stephen Pagel, a slightly-more-than-starveling rate for editing, plus they'd pay the writers individually, plus they'd handle all the legal stuff, the shipping, and so on. Also, Stephe was their Vice President of Sales & Marketing, so we wouldn't have to worry about getting attention. It was a sweet setup.

In 1997 the first volume, BtL: Fantasy, came out in hardcover to good reviews and pretty good sales. Then White Wolf decided it didn't want to be in the publishing business anymore. We were up that creek with no paddle. I approached an editor at HarperCollins but she said, "Oh, these anthologies are too good for us." Huh? (This happens a lot. Editors think it makes a rejection easier. It just makes me laugh, then makes me want to pound their face into a wall.) But then I found Overlook. Unfortunately, they weren't willing to pay much, so, to cover the amounts Stephe and I had promised the writers, we used our own money.

The books came out. They did pretty well, hardcover then trade paperback, but not spectacularly. Then everything started to go wrong.

My agreement with Stephe was that I did all the editing and he was supposed to do the marketing and money handling. (In Hollywood terms I was the creative and Stephe the suit.) Unfortunately, Stephe fell of the face of the earth for a while, became unavailable for communication with me or contributing writers. Many contributors never saw the (very, very small--enough for one, maybe two six-packs) royalty cheques and free copies due to them. And there was nothing I could do about it: Stephe moved and neglected to give me his address; he didn't respond to email; his phone was disconnected. He had all the paperwork, all the contact info. My hands were tied.

So I'm left feeling awful that writers who trusted me got shafted. Stephe didn't do it deliberately. He's just disorganised, and was ill, and his life and business (he left White Wolf and set up his own company, Meisha Merlin) imploded. And I was stupid to not keep tabs on everything related to a project with my name on the cover. It's a mistake I won't make again. But none of that matters. What matters is that some writers might reasonably think they got screwed. I wish I'd done better. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

If I had it do again, I'd do it differently. I'd be sole editor, sole responsible party, and I wouldn't separate the genres. Having said that, I'm proud of those books. I loved editing, loved helping writers realise their vision, love helping them lift a dense, shining story with a strong emotional throughline from a heaving word swamp. I think every single one of the sixty or so stories has touched someone. (It's astonishing to me how varied the reader response was: reader A adores story X and loathes story Z, reader B loveloveloves story Z and think X is a steaming pile. No accounting for taste.) In the end, that's the point. But no, no volume 4. Not ever.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

what is a library?

A Guardian editorial discusses rebranding the notion of town libraries:

The town library, byword for mousy respectability and decent endeavour, is at last showing a capacity to fight to escape from a deathly decline. At a conference in Liverpool last week Roy Clare, boss of the formerly invisible Museums, Libraries and Archives Council argued for libraries' role in lifelong learning from school to senescence, now rebranded as "Finding Your Talent". Earlier this month the culture secretary, Andy Burnham, announced a review to consider how best to modernise libraries, hinting not merely at rebranding but also at a radical rethink of their contemporary purpose. [...] There is not much time left.

I wouldn't be who I am without the town libraries of the past--without free access to books. I grew up in an age of no online book shops, no paperbacks in the supermarket, no disposable income. There were no books in our house except library books. Everything I read, everything that formed me as a writer, came from the Leeds City Library system. It was my lifeline. I needed it. But today, surrounded by cheap notebook computers and phones that browse the web, of Wikipedia and Google and, do residents of industrialised nations need old-style libraries?

Today, with second-hand books available with one-click and for one dollar, I tend to use the library only for esoteric inter-library loan stuff: ordering the kind of book that costs $140 and is 90 pages long. I'd be lost without that service. For me, then, old-fashioned libraries have a meaningful, if limited, role.

What do they provide for you?

It seems to me that libraries are gateways to knowledge, where, in an ideal world, users are steered by information experts, that is, librarians to the perfect fictional and non-fictional fit. These gateways used to be brick or stone buildings with lions outside and books and silence inside. But that was then. What about now? What should a town-funded 21st century knowledge portal look like?

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Monday, October 20, 2008

adapting to being Other/submarine

From: Sue

Have you seen this?

I read Slow River for the first time in 1996, when I worked at a feminist/progressive bookstore, which has tragically closed since, in Edmonton. I credit Nicola Griffith with singlehandedly instilling in me a love for science fiction that I had at that point not discovered, as well as with torturing me with her refusal to write more of it…Oh, why, Nicola, whyyyy?! Not that Aud doesn’t deliver in her own action-packed way, but Ammonite and Slow River awakened a hunger in me for good, queer-centred and female-centred sci-fi that has rarely been sated since. I know it exists out there, but something about this book really touched me in a way that few others have. Recently I decided to re-read Slow River to see if it still held the same power for me that it had over a decade ago...

I thought maybe this (the attitude to queer future/lesbian relationship) felt connected to your Mary Sue post. So I guess if I have a question its along the lines of, when we look for certain types of relationship in lesbian novels, are we buying into our own oppression?

That's a very nice review (and from someone who knows how to spell 'centre' properly). Thanks for pointing it out. I have to admit that my first thought was, There was a feminist/progressive bookshop in Edmonton? (a Seattle suburb). Who knew.

But I was puzzled by your question until I came to the comments to the post you reference, one of which reads, in part:

Y’know, I was thinking about this book’s treatment of queer relationships and how in this version of the future same-sex love had become a non-issue while you and E. were talking about identity politics yesterday. I found myself almost unwittingly missing the typical queer narrative while reading this book, like I was almost looking forward to the us-against-the-world dyke plot. Even though I can acknowledge on an intellectual level that it would be really cool if everyone could fuck/marry/love whomever they wanted, on a more emotional level I am more invested in being able to stand outside society as an Other. Oh my god, I am in love with my own oppression! Is this bad? Do you still respect me?

If I'm reading the comment correctly (and, yes, I know she's being all ironical but the question is, I think, worth consideration), then I think the author has hit upon something that could do with serious exploration: that people in some subcultures are Othered to such a degree that we grow into a permanent fighting stance, that we don't know how to do anything but push back. That to then try read a novel where that pressure isn't there can lead to a version of explosive decompression: we can't cope with the idea of being ordinary; we've adapted to being Other.

That's pretty interesting. The answer to your question--does this mean that when we burst because there's nothing keeping us down, imaginatively, we're buying into our own oppression--is, well, fuck, I've no clue.

But, okay, I'll take a shot. No, I don't think we're buying into our own oppression if we feel momentarily flummoxed by fiction that doesn't push us down. I do think that such feelings are a huge red flag, a warning sign of warpage: if we can't even allow ourselves to imagine how it might be to be free, then how will we ever become so? It seems to me that if a book makes you feel this way, you should seek out more of the same, try to adjust to the lack of pressure, at least in the privacy of your own home. You might have to armour up again to leave the house but, for a while, you should practise liberation.

In my mid-twenties I wrote a poem about living under constant pressure. It appeared in my memoir under the title 'Submarine' along with a brief admission that I couldn't remember what the poem was about. But I recently found a hand-written version of the poem, complete with subtitle 'a lesbian coping strategy' and it's all clear. Here's the poem:

Submarine (a lesbian coping strategy)

I do what submarines do:
I go deep.
Water pushes
at my double hull.
I am safe
at this depth
sealed and smooth

I do what submarines do:
I go deeper.
On silent running
there is no sound except
the groan of plates twisting
pushing away water
pressurised to a cold rushing fist
waiting to punch through
make me

behind water-tight bulkheads
some small areas
maintain their air integrity
I can ascend
be pumped out

I will go back
to the deeps:
by their very nature
do not spend
in the shallows.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Aud lives inside others

From: Anita

Just wanted to tell you how much i enjoyed the Aud Trilogy... I DID get the ending of Stay and loved the melancholy it conjured. The thing i wanted to share with you is this... after reading Always this past few days i find i hear Aud’s (or your) voice in my minds ear, narrating life... no not in some weird schizophrenic way, but there is this resonance that has worn off yet… I also find myself going wide around corners. I was a psych major, so the information you share about the physiology of danger and fear as well as the metamorphosis of Aud’s personality is enormously intriguing. Thanks for these gifts… I remember the stories in a similar way as i think of my own life experiences, this Aud character I once knew… very impactful…

Thank you. That's what I was talking about in my post about mirror neurons, about owning the reader for a while. When we read a good novel we recreate the experience of the character inside ourselves--their experience feels as real as our own. I'm delighted my novels did that for you. It's thrilling to think Aud literally lives inside others.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

dogs in the 7th century

I don't know much about dogs; my sister had one when I was seven, but I'm a cat person. Nothing against dogs, I've just always lived in cities, which I think is a hostile environment for large dogs (and small dogs, in my experience--small though it is--tend to yap). So, regarding dogs: utterly ignorant. I've been researching the 7th century for a while now (for my Hild novel), but find I still don't know much about it. So, in this regard too: utterly ignorant. Now I'm faced with writing about dogs in the 7th century and my mind has gone terrifyingly blank.

Here's how I imagine the dog situation in the north of England circa 627:

  • There are herd dogs--large, loyal protectors of flocks (sheep, cows, goats, maybe even geese) that run with the flock to protect it from predators but don't herd the flock under commands from the shepherd/cowherd/goosegirl. These dogs (sometimes just one, occasionally a pair) would spend much more time with the beasts than the humans. They eat, sleep, even play with the cows/sheep. Perhaps they were imprinted as puppies and mostly think they *are* cows/sheep.

  • There are sight hounds, coursers and so on, like deerhounds--probably largely under royal or at least 'noble' control.

  • Bulldogs would control large animals going to slaughter.

  • There are hounds of war: huge things that perhaps wear spiked collars and are trained to do one thing: kill. These would most likely be kept in royal kennels because they might not be safe to allow anywhere else.

  • Perhaps isolated farmsteads or small settlements would have a couple of dogs-of-all-trades.

  • Perhaps people would form bonds with some of these dogs. Perhaps that would be discouraged. Perhaps not.

I read about Cuchulain and his hound, and I wonder, Did they care for each other? Or was the dog just a tool--an important and precious tool, like a sword, but not something to devote feeling to? If dogs were, to some degree, pets, how would they be trained? Would women be allowed to keep dogs? Would they want to?

Hild has basically had a puppy forced upon her by the queen, Æthelburh, who wants a dog for herself (I've yet to work out why) and thinks that if at least one other female at the royal vill--even a child, like Hild--has a dog, Æthelburh won't seem like such a foreign weirdo.

So now I'm trying to figure out how it all works: what would the dog (a bitch, I've decided) look like? Would it have a leash? How would it be trained? I'm thinking a cross between a wolfhound and a Molossian-type herd dog--big, but not as heavy as a Molossian or as tall as a wolfhound--that has protective but not herding instincts, with an urge (though not an overwhelming one) to chase prey. It would hit maturity around 18 months.

So my question for both dog-lovers and medievalists is: does any of that make sense? Do you have suggestions?

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Friday, October 17, 2008

we have a winner!

And the winner of the ANWAGTHAP competition is...Janine! (Janine, email me your address and I'll get the memoir in the post in the next few days.)

Thank you Cheryl, Katie, Jean, Karina, Rory, Anonymous, Janine, Woody and Lee Anne. And, over on MySpace, Antigone, Ciaran and Ellen. They were lovely stories. Love is everywhere.

Coming up soon: posts on submarines (sort of), Aud living inside others, dogs in medieval times and other fun (including, hopefully, some search term frivolity). Meanwhile, I hope everyone's having a marvy week. Mine's been puzzling but good.

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Friday audio: Slow River

This is one of my favourite readings, 6 minutes from near the beginning of Slow River, in which Lore wakes up, naked and bleeding, in the middle of a strange city, at night. Enjoy.

(direct link)

Later today: the winner of the book love/lust competition...

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

making more money on YouTube

Okay. This is turning into Flake Week for me. Sorry. Coming up soon: more audio (a reading from Slow River), another roundup of search terms, and what I think is a pretty interesting question about oppression and lesbian characters.

But that's later this week. Right now I'm pretty much buried in Hild world. As a peace offering, here's a post I'd planned for last week that got bumped for something else.

This is pretty interesting:

YouTube, the leading online video community that allows people to discover, watch and share originally created videos, today announced a collaboration with iTunes and that offers the YouTube community direct access to buy and download music, games, and other products with a few clicks of a mouse. This is a first step to building a broader eCommerce platform for content partners and users on YouTube.

The YouTube eCommerce Platform will be rolled out on a larger scale over the coming months to allow partners across all industries including music, film, TV, and publishing to generate additional revenue from their content beyond the advertising we serve against their videos. Just as YouTube users can share, favorite, comment on, and respond to videos with a single click, now users can click-to-buy products -- like songs, books and movies -- related to the content they're watching on the site.

"YouTube content partners now have the ability to promote and monetize their content in a new and exciting way and create a deeper distribution channel for their content online," said Chad Hurley, co-founder and CEO, YouTube. "Our goal is to improve the overall YouTube experience by connecting consumers with relevant information and entertaining content. The addition of retail links will enhance the viewing experience and allow people to engage more deeply with the content they want to consume."

In the short term, this is excellent news for all those vidders out there (hey, Karina!). In the long term it's a little more problematic. Apple and Amazon are strengthening their market position, which means their control--which means the mainstream consumer may end up with less variety to choose from. The next couple of years will be interesting. As always :)

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

the floor is yours

Today I'm going to be totally wrapped up in Hild. So the floor is yours. I'll be reading on and off but not participating until evening. Talk about anything: life, chocolate, politics; gardens, turtles, cirrus clouds; your blog, your art, your pecadilloes; life, death, the changing of seasons. Have fun. Play nicely.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Virgin birth (yes, really)

An AP report about a blacktip shark, Carcharhinus limbatus, giving birth to a shark pup by parthenogenesis (or, as the Wall Street Journal once memorably framed it in my front-page interview, 'photosynthesis' *):

Scientists have confirmed the second case of a "virgin birth" in a shark. In a study reported Friday in the Journal of Fish Biology, scientists said DNA testing proved that a pup carried by a female Atlantic blacktip shark in the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center contained no genetic material from a male.

The first documented case of asexual reproduction, or parthenogenesis, among sharks involved a pup born to a hammerhead at an Omaha, Neb., zoo.

"This first case was no fluke," Demian Chapman, a shark scientist and lead author of the second study, said in a statement. "It is quite possible that this is something female sharks of many species can do on occasion."

Imagine if women could give birth parthenogenically, on occasion, when we damn well felt like it. The kids would be clones, so think of all the nature vs. nurture debates that could be resolved. Well, not really, because of annoying practicalities like reproducibility of environment. Still, it could be interesting.

* Here, for your delectation and delight, is the beginning of that interview. One day I'll get around to putting the whole thing up on my website, but today is not that day:

In the National Interest, the INS
Turns Away Critical Professionals


In the national interest of the United States of America, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a branch of the Justice Department, has granted the right of permanent residence to an acrobat from Russia who plays a horn while flying through the air.

A Chinese nuclear physicist specializing in detecting radioactive leaks has also been granted permanent residence in the national interest. So has a Korean golf-course designer, an Indian AIDS researcher, a Russian ballroom dancer, a Greek hydroturbine engineer, a Ghanaian drum maker, a Venezuelan child psychologist and a Nigerian linguist who studies word formation in Swahili.

All these people have come to live in America under a 1990 law that allows the INS to invite them in if it decides their presence will be in the national interest. When it passed the law, however, Congress didn't specify what the national interest was. It left that up to a few hundred clerks who work at INS offices in Texas, California, Nebraska and Vermont.

Indefinite Definitions
Up to the end of the Cold War, people who thought about the national interest usually had national security in mind, and that meant guarding the nation's institutions and its territory. Now the whole concept seems to be fuzzing at the edges. Bills introduced lately in Congress have invoked the national interest to ban the global spread of land mines and to shield America against Iranian missiles; others have invoked it to condemn forced abortion in the Third World, to make wilderness canoeing more accessible in Minnesota and to investigate possible manipulation of the domestic price of cheese.

For the clerks at the INS, this is distressing. It would be easy to pick foreigners to serve the national interest from a list limited to repentant Nazi and Soviet bomb builders. Today, though, Americans can't agree that any immigrants at all are in the national interest. When Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, introduced his bill to crack down on them, much of which became law in 1996, he called it the Immigration in the National Interest Act.

So in the eight years since the national-interest visa went on the books, the INS has been tying itself in knots trying to settle on a definition of national interest. A law normally leads to a barrel of rules; this one has so far led to none-at least no official ones. For an agency often associated with nit-picking, the result is a touch of whimsy. The clerks at the INS have been reduced to choosing foreigners as if they were filling a curio cabinet with collectible personalities. The choices may be in the national interest, or may not be -- but they sure do help keep the nation interesting. "What's the national interest?" Ed Skerrett guffaws. "I think we've all thought about this at one time or another."

At the INS, Mr. Skerrett is the national interest's final arbiter, head of the panel that hears all cases on appeal.

"If I can summarize it, we feel that the emphasis has to be on the individual's contribution," he says. "That contribution has to be in the national interest. It doesn't have to be national security. It can be just about anything. We've seen all sorts of things. Whatever. You name it."

Jolly as it sounds, pondering America's national interest isn't something INS clerks want to do forever. Their bosses won't let them give interviews, but word is they hate troubling over it. Lately, though, the INS seems eager to clarify things.

Making a List
For the past three years, unevenly and unpredictably, it has been trying to boil the national interest down to a checklist. Now it has moved to limit the definition by establishing one narrow case as a general precedent. Its motive may be natural bureaucratic fondness for dull categories, or an inclination to go along with the anti-immigrant flow of the public mood. Either way, some of the world's more creative and less conventional migrants are already being advised these days to look for friendlier shores.

"If we close this door, we're going to lose a lot of talented people," says Carolyn Soloway, an Atlanta attorney who represents some of them. She had a national-interest applicant refused a visa for the first time 18 months ago. "The quirkiest and kookiest can contribute the most," she says. "It's stimulating to have them in American society, whether you agree with their lifestyles or not."

When Ms. Soloway says this, she is thinking of Nicola Griffith, one of her clients. Ms. Griffith comes from Leeds, in England, and was admitted to the U.S. in the national interest a few years ago. She is a lesbian science-fiction writer.

"I'm sitting in the corner of my kitchen," she says on the phone from Seattle; as novelists do, she describes things: "It's one of those Seattle days, half cloudy, half sunny, spatters of rain and birds singing. When I look out the back window, all I can see is trees: cherry, ash, pear. I'm in a little aerie. It's nice."

Ms. Griffith, 37 years old, was a waitress in England, a tree surgeon, a bouncer, an alcohol-and-drugs counselor. With a shaved head and big boots, she sang in a lesbian band. She also wrote science-fiction stories. In 1988, she went to a Michigan writers' workshop, met an American woman and moved in with her in Atlanta. By 1993, still on a temporary visa, Ms. Griffith made up her mind to stay.

But how?

Every path to permanent residency -- a green card -- was closed to her, including marriage to an American citizen. "I wasn't going to marry a straight boy or a gay boy," she says. "I've been an out dyke since I was 15. Why should I lie now?" But Ms. Griffith was at work on her first novel, "Ammonite," about a planet peopled by women who have babies by photosynthesis. When she consulted Ms. Soloway, the lawyer said, "Can you get famous with this book?"

Not too famous -- just famous enough to whet the national interest. "I was really bloody-minded about it," says Ms. Griffith, "utterly determined." Her book came out, got a good review in the Washington Post and won a gay literary award for a work that "best examines gender roles in science fiction." Close, but she still needed an endorsement from somebody a lot more famous than that.

"The hardest part, for an English person, was asking," Ms. Griffith says. "You're never supposed to blow your horn." A friend had once met the poet Allen Ginsberg. Ms. Griffith wrote him. He wrote back: "Nicola Griffith is an astonishingly gifted writer. ... Her work is of the very best in the lesbian and gay literary field. ... In my opinion, it is in the national interest to grant her immigrant status in this country."

Ms. Soloway sent the application to the INS, praying "it wouldn't fall on the desk of a homophobe." Her cover letter said: "Let the United States avail itself of this unique opportunity to capture a treasure." The U.S. did. Unworried about her gender or her genre, the INS gave Ms. Griffith a green card in no time.

She and her partner moved to Seattle in 1995, where the beer and the rain are more familiar. What has she done in the national interest lately? Ms. Griffith says, "I buy food," then adds: "None of my characters talk about being dykes, they just are. They don't encounter homophobia. That's influenced some people, I think, for the better. Of course, I would say that, wouldn't I?"

This was actually an interesting interview process. The writer, Barry Newman, liked me. He told me upfront that, given his editorial instructions, it would be a hostile interview. (I think he felt sorry for me; I was so naive.) So the final result was not a surprise. And that 'photosynthesis' instead of 'parthenogenesis' made it a lot easier to handle: I could giggle, and think, What do they know? Since then, I've had much worse treatment from journalists--and I use the term loosely--who pretend to be friendly, and then are not. One even came into my home and drank tea at my kitchen table and made nice and then eviscerated me and my work in print the next week. It was a terrible shock. She is on my permanent shit list--not for writing bad things but for being deceitful. I haven't been naive about journalists since.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

things that are worrying me

Things that are currently worrying me, just off the top of my head:

And I haven't even got to US healthcare going the way of the dodo if either of the current candidates get to implement their silly plans, global warming, pollution and species die-off (including our own), financial apocalypse, and the occasional earth-shattering asteroid.

So why aren't I stocking the closet with MREs, water filters, hand-squeezed radio/flashlights, sleeping bags, guns, antibiotics and trade goods (like wine and opiates)? Because, well, it's a lot of work. Because I think we'll all muddle through somehow. Because the sun is shining and Goldberry is waiting. (And if you don't know what that means, go read The Lord of the Rings again and rediscover a world where, while bad things do happen, a good heart and friends, especially friends, will make all the difference.) While you're waiting for the book to arrive, please make a donation to No on 8.

p.s. Just in case this is all too depressing, I've spent some time today pondering a very practical (and pleasant) solution to feeling overwhelmed by the world, to feeling embattled and alone. It's something we can all do, that I believe we'd all enjoy; it would make us safer, happier, and more connected. I want to think about it for another couple of days, but then I'll share.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

more library porn

Again, via Jennifer, more library porn. Oh, this stuff is luscious. Someone in the comments says: if I could have carnal relations with a library, this one would be near the top of the list. And for once I almost understand.

If I win the Mega Millions lottery, I would have a big library, all walnut bookshelves and Turkey carpets and French windows onto the lawn. Several comfy club chairs, a couple of sofas, decanters of Armagnac and port, two or three huge library desks, lots of sunlight but thick velvet curtains for the night time (with the fire and the Armagnac). Espresso machine. Tea kettle. Industrial toaster. Perhaps a little fridge for the caviar...

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday audio: Ammonite

Today's audio is 6:49 of Ammonite: the scene where Marghe is in Ollfoss striking the gong, trying to make some decisions. If you haven't read the book, it will make no sense at all. (But I have no pity. It's a paperback. Don't be cheap.) I recorded this one yesterday afternoon, immediately after a massage (still stinky with that lavender oil that gets on everything), which is a very strange state for what is, essentially, a performance. Let me know what you think:

(direct link)

There's another, longish scene I'm contemplating from Ammonite, and two scenes from Slow River, and two from Always. But I think I might get one from each novel in the can before going back and doing a second from any of them. (Dither, dither.) At some point, too, I want to convert an old, battered audio tape of a live Janes Plane performance into digital and see if I can use any of it. It was an atrocious performance (I'd just got back from the UK equivalent of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, and had a violent stomach bug that meant I had to keep leaving the stage to find a bathroom--but, hey, they had bathrooms: more than the fucking cap in Somerset had...). Also, not everything was going through the soundboard so the mix is super specially atrocious. It may be that no one, ever, gets to hear it.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

falling in love over a book -- competition

GalleyCat has been running a competition to find the best story of breaking up over a book. I thought we might turn that on its head. I know of at least two couples that got together over one of my novels. Kelley and I were able to connect because of books:

Books--the ones Kelley and I had read, the ones we wanted to write--drew us to the place where we would meet, and made it possible for us to understand each other when we got there. We were born only nine days apart, but also eight thousand miles, on different continents and to different cultures. Our meeting and life together should have been one long cultural car crash, but though there are times when our common language puzzles us extremely, books have formed for us a parallel universe, a world where we learnt the same things at the same time from the same characters, though sometimes with distinctly different flavours.

I bet there are a zillion readers out there who fell in love (and/or lust--hey, it's all good) over a poem or a novel. I think it would be fab to hear some of them.

To lure you into sharing your story, I offer a prize: a copy of And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner Notes to a Writer's Early Life (if you already have one, hey, it's almost Holiday Season...). I'll put the name of everyone who contributes in a hat (okay, a bowl or a box) and pick one at random.

(** EDIT: The competition will be open for one week, until Thursday 16th October at noon. Winner to be announced Friday 17th.)

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

read a book, lose weight

Here's news of a study that indicates reading books can help children lose weight:

In a study of 45 girls, those who read a book which promoted exercise and a healthy lifestyle saw their body mass index drop.

Researchers at North Carolina's Duke Children's Hospital in America gave 31 obese girls, aged between 9 and 13, a novel called Lake Rescue which has an overweight girl in it.

They discovered that six months later the girls who read the book had a reduced BMI of almost one per cent.

The sample is ridiculously small and therefore not, in my opinion, reliable as science, but it's certainly interesting. Fiction matters. Fiction changes our lives. Fiction is good for you (as well as being, y'know, delicious). The stories we tell really do make a difference. I've written about this before but, hey, now there's (the beginnings of) proof.

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in memory of a giant

In 1960, civil rights activist Del Martin risked arrest to help convene the first known national lesbian convention.

On Wednesday, nearly half a century later, an honor guard made up of members of the police, fire and sheriff's departments helped celebrate her life at a packed memorial service inside San Francisco City Hall

"There is not a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person on this planet whose life is not better because of Del Martin," Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the overflow crowd.

I first read about Del Martin when I was 20 years old, 28 years ago. She and Phyllis Lyon are giants. I delight in a world that will finally acknowledge that publicly, with civic honours. I'm glad I live in a time and place that will seat her sweetie next to the mayor.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

blog sampler

I just put a sampler of blog posts on the sidebar, eight of my favourite posts. Why eight? No idea. I tried five, and it looked scanty. Ten was too many. Seven is such a cliche. So eight. Or, when I get bored, eleven, or six, or, well, I can do as many or as few as I like. I can change it every day.

What would you like to see on it? Do you have any favourite posts you'd like represented?

A related question: anything else you'd like to see on the sidebar?

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Monday, October 6, 2008

washington voter registration

The time is now, people. In the state of Washington voters must register by mail 30 days before an election. So the postal option has now passed. However, you have another 14 days (including today) to register in person. Go do it. Please.

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dimmer than I think

Well, I was just basking in the general approval of yesterday's comments and thinking that being me pretty much rocks the thunderdome when I came across last month's Salon article about how most voters don't, can't, change their minds about their favourite political candidates. That article in itself is worth a look. Not only does it relate to the comments in one of last week's posts--that we all read a different book--but it's stuffed with very skiffy scenarios to replace future televised presidential debates. (It'll never happy but, hey, we can dream.) Tie that to the notion of using the latest imaging techniques by pollsters and spin-meisters to track mirror neuron activity and the whole thing becomes a serious techno-battle.

Anyway, the Salon article led me to a 1999 paper, "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Here's the abstract:

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.

Basically, we all think we're more special than average. And the dimmer we are, the more special we think we are. Yesterday I must have been feeling very dim indeed...

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

wow, lots o' gifts

It was my birthday last week and gifts have poured in from readers: wonderful visual art of various kinds, nifty toys, and gift certificates from/for Getting presents is always a delight (I'm childish that way: yay presents! more presents! lots of presents!), and to get so many from people I've never met, or have met only because of my writing, is stunning. It makes me feel...full, as though I'm on the right path, doing a Good Thing.

Some of the gifts were anonymous, so I can't thank the givers individually, but please know I am thrilled. Thank you. And I promise I will write you a book that will blow your garters off.

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

writing highs and lows

I've been a bit under the weather the last couple of days. Partly that's a result of the actual weather, i.e. rain rain rain (moaning and rending of clothes--it really is the end of summer). Partly it's because of what I've been writing.

The seventh century was a brutal time, and this week I've been writing about war. To do that I had to Really Go There. And it's vile. Just ugly. (A note of reassurance for potential readers: what I took three days writing will probably only take six minutes to read, so don't worry about being overwhelmed by the chapter.)

I really hesitated about writing this stuff--but the whole of seventh century politics was built upon it. To show what it meant to live in those times meant I couldn't find a way around it; I had to take my characters through it. I pondered spinning a lovely mist-drenched fantasy with a few gleaming edges, a splash of crimson, and heroic trumpet notes but decided against it. While I loved watching 300 and reading Lord of the Rings that's not what war is. War with axes and swords and spears means brains hanging out, soldiers pissing in dead men's mouths, and hogs rooting in the bellies of the screaming wounded--and nobody cares, because no one can afford to care.

It makes the real world feel pretty grim when I'm spending so much time in the mud.

But it makes for tonal variety in fiction. Novels, like life, should be full of highs and lows. And next week I'll be happy as a lark. Next week I'll be writing about the wonder of hearing plainchant (sort of) for the first time; I'll write of the delight of seeing a long-lost friend; of the deliciousness of gold. And soon, oh very soon, Hild will be old enough to think about sex. Woo-hoo!

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Friday audio: Stay #4

Okay, here's the fourth and last reading from Stay. It's 22 minutes of action baby, *action*:

(direct link)

The one embarrassment is the Spanish. It's probably written all wrong, and pronounced badly but, hey, if you can just glide by that the rest is fun. No angst. Guaranteed. Enjoy.

And, trust me, it's a shedload more fun to listen to than the homophobic crap I put up with last night during the televised VP debate. (My veins stuck out when Biden and Palin agreed--agreed--that homophobia is okay. And the audience tittered. Because, you know, discrimination is so very, very amusing.)

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

I love toys!

I just got one of these:

And it's *nifty*. I've downloaded the latest Dick Francis novel out of thin air. I've uploaded my Hild notes to ponder over breakfast tomorrow. I've read the latest issue of Harper's (what a load of cobblers; I'm cancelling that subscription). I've read my blog, and Kelley's blog, and, well, it's just fucking *nifty*.

Now I want one of these:

I want to fly! I want to blow shit up! I want to be a zillionaire and drink martinis while wearing Armani, and rescue women in four inch heels while wearing iron/titanium/gold-plated-whatever with hot-rod red accents!

I think I'll probably settle for watching the DVD again, and rewriting the sound track in my head: louder! more Sabbath! But then, huh, I start thinking about that old music, and how someone really should remix 'Smoke on the Water' (Paul Oakenfold, maybe?). And how cool it is to see the out-of-the-closet metaphor invade even Hollywood tentpoles. And how they're going to do Iron Man II with an out-and-proud superhero (all those tropes to rewrite). And then how am I going to dig myself out of my chronological plot hole with Hild. And then, double huh, I'm thinking about work, again.

Gotta go play with some more toys...

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

are Mary Sue characters inevitable?

I came across this review the other day by the woman (could be a man, I suppose, but I don't think so) who got #1 of the limited edition 450 copies of ANWAGTHAP. I wasn't sure what to make of it:

review of And Now We Are Going to Have a Party, by pretentiousgit

This book is actually five books put together to form chapters in the author's life. Reading it is like reading any of Griffith's stuff, but with the skin stripped off so that you can see the muscles of the story moving. One of the things coming rapidly clear in this project is the amount of autobiography out there, the number of Mary Sue characters in my collection, some good, some bad, most simply there to tell a story. Writing what you know is the cornerstone of the fiction in my collection, and that means the more I get to know the authors, the more I see of them in the works I am reading. This is as true for The Sandman as it is for The Passion, so I think it may be a Writer Thing...

So, after you've read the whole thing, what I want to know is: do you think writers write the same story over and over again in their fiction? Before you answer, let me make it clear, this is what, in our house, we call a real question. It's not one designed to elicit reassurance. I'm not fishing for compliments, either. I honestly want to know what you see when you read a favourite (any favourite) writer's work.

I think I do revisit some themes over and over, particularly the notion of identity. Ammonite, Slow River, the Aud sequence (series, trilogy, triptych, whatever): they're all about how we become who we are and what that means. And of course that's the overriding question of my life: who am I, and what does that mean?

I believe novelists do reveal themselves, to a degree, in their work. I don't believe our work is necessarily about us. But I'm curious about readers' thoughts on this.

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