Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Blue Place named very worst read of 2008

Here's a quote from a blog I've just read, by someone I've never heard of: 2008, only one book truly went beyond bad and into the realm of books whose awfulness deserves to be enshrined and cried out from the mountaintops. So, the very worst read of 2008 was: The Blue Place...

It goes on at some length. Aud, apparently, is a Mary Sue character, she's humourless, and every single character is a cliche. I marvel at how differently readers can interpret novels. I also marvel at the inability of some readers to miss the humour in the book. It's mystifying. Still, as Kelley says, "if everyone had taste there wouldn't be a word for it."

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Friday audio: After Hours

No, I know it's not Friday. But I didn't do one last week. I didn't forget. I'd planned to cut a slice from a live Janes Plane show I pulled from a cassette but when I heard it--for the first time in twenty years--it was so unremittingly horrible I just couldn't bear to share any part if it. I think it was the worst gig we ever did. It was recorded at a club in Hull and I was ill: I had to leave the stage every few minutes to throw up. Ugh. And the drum kit kept breaking. And Jane's guitar wouldn't stay in tune. And, and, and. It just sucked.

Carol and I had just spent a few days at the UK equivalent of Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, where the food was vile and the hygiene even worse. But the women were, y'know, right there, and in festive mood; there was lots o' music, lots o' drugs. I didn't get much sleep. Anyway, we got back to Hull minutes before going on stage. I don't think we even had time for a sound check. Everyone was mad at us. But I felt so awful I didn't care. You can hear the utter despair in my voice. Actually, you can't; you never will; I will not allow another living being hear that recording. Ever.

So here, instead, is another song from long ago: me and Jane doing a cover of Velvet Underground's "After Hours." (Yep, another boombox recording.) For whatever reason, this strikes me as a perfect way to end 2008. (This version is, anyway--it's much more up-tempo than VU's original.) Enjoy.

(direct link)

So how will you be spending your New Year's Eve? Every year Kelley and I buy the best bottle of champagne we can afford, settle down in front of the fire, and talk about the year that was and the year to come. We laugh (sometimes cry) about our experiences of the last twelve months, then get to the serious business of laying out goals. They're not small things, not Resolutions such as 'I want to lose 10lbs', they're more like: I will do the fucking work or I will remember I don't always have to win. Then we promise to help each other with those goals, and then we eat an enormous dinner. (Often it's Indian food, but this year I think I'll make a spaghetti bolognese and a lot of garlic bread--Kelley loves it.)

I hope you all have a wonderful beginning to your year. May 2009 bring exactly the amount of excitement you desire.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

ammonite at hastings

Bayeux Tapestry (it's an *embroidery* people, ah, fuck it...)

Every few weeks I make a list of some of the search terms people use to find me. As usual, I'll start with the ammonites, though this time I picked just one because I was quite taken with the notion.

- ammonites at hastings--If I'd had time, I would have Photoshopped an ammonite into the pic above, shooting that arrow in King Harold's eye. Or--no, I might have swapped it for the dog (though most of you seem to like dogs, so, huh, scratch that) right next to the handy sword. But perhaps you, Dear Searcher, were simply looking for seasides with fossils, like Whitby. I've just had fun writing a scene where child Hild, upon the discovery of a pterosaur skeleton in the cliffs of Whitby (oh, yes, that happens), speculates upon dragons...

- an abundance of katherines--What a lovely phrase. I imagine pretty Katherine flowers clumped in a dell, like daffodils.

- better leaves--Better than what? Or perhaps leaves of the better tree. I Googled 'better leaves' to see what happened, and saw a post titled 'A Breeder's Perspective'. Oooh, I thought, good old-fashioned feminist rant! But, no, it was about rhododendrons.

- clarion or clarion west--Well, now, this is a big question. I studied at Clarion (in 1988, when it was at MSU) and I've taught at Clarion West. I don't think you could go wrong with either--if you're ready. And of course if you're not ready, you'll get weeded out by the selecting readers. So assuming you are ready, take a look at their websites and see which teachers appeal to you most: who do you think you have something to learn from? When I applied (there was only one Clarion back in the day) I didn't recognise the names of most of my Clarion instructors. There again, I was clueless about everything writing-related. I had no idea, for example, that Clarion was a Big Deal. I just needed to get out of town for a while and applied for a random set of study opportunities. It came down to Clarion or a women's martial arts camp in the Netherlands. Clarion said yes first. Strange to think that becoming a writer can turn on such apparently random events.

- explain hearts will never be practical until they are made unbreakable--Hearts will always break. Necessarily so. Think of all the fabulous bad song lyrics and poetry we'd be missing if it were otherwise. (Now I'm going to go singalong-sobalong to Harry Nilsson's 'Without You', love that song.)

- famous quotes on how courage matures young adults--Either you, Dear Searcher, are the parent of a young adult who is faced with a situation demanding courage, or you are that young adult. Sadly, I don't have any favourite qutoes offer or any particular wisdom. In my opinion, the only thing that matures a young adult is time on the planet. We all go through it, and it will probably break your heart--but then you'll get to do the singalong-sobalong thing which has its own rewards.

- giggle plant and hard drinking artists--I don't think having your brain chemically altered by substances legal and not turns a person into an artist, but I do think artists like to explore. (We're shamans, mapping unknown territory so others don't have to.) We're more likely to fling our brains into space with the aid of plants and liquids because, hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time, because we're helpless before that need to know. Happily, I didn't get caught, didn't get addicted to that rush, but I did get caught by writing. I'm an addict. It is a rush.

- hawkes harbor, hinton s.e.--Hawkes Harbor is such a a strange book. It reads like something dreamed up by a woman who has been locked in a box for twenty years. Teen vampire servants meet a Stephen King milieu. Only I'm guessing Hinton hasn't read any Stephen King. It is a seriously weird piece of work, and oddly engaging in its own naiveté.

- historian dogs--Yes, they are all vile ranting dogs, those wicked historians, constantly squabbling over silly details and baying for the blood of heretical theorists.

- how many years ago was beowulf written--Oh, I'm not touching that with a bargepole. (See above.) If I even tried to answer that they'd tear me to pieces. Ah, what the fuck. No one on the planet will agree with me on this, but I think it was written in the eighth century. There. Bring on the dogs...

- interrobang in spanish--Well, it would be upside down, for one thing. Or one of them would be.

- little silver patrons get you drunk--I think you can stop experimenting now. Time to dry out and go write something.

- nazgul los angeles--This makes perfect sense to me.

- pronounce yaguara--The last time someone asked me that was in Long Beach, in 1996, at the beginning of the Nebula* banquet. "Yaguara" was a finalist in the novella category. Ann Crispin, who was announcing the winner of said category, came up to me at the pre-banquet cocktail party and asked: how do I pronounce it? "Yag-WAHR-a," I said, "Spanish for jaguar." And onstage, reading the nominations, Ann pronounced it Yag-OOR-a, and I didn't win anyway. Tuh. (Elizabeth Hand won for "Last Summer on Mars Hill.") In 1997 Slow River was nominated for a Nebula. I went to the banquet in Kansas City. I didn't expect to win. (I thought Stephenson's The Diamond Age was a shoo-in.) Everyone at my table but me was nervous. I knew I had no chance so I tucked into my steak and baked potato and wine with gusto: fuck it, may as well party. The evening progressed. I had demolished dessert, done a turn of guest blogging for and was back at my table wishing the wine wasn't all gone when it was time for the novel category. I picked up my glass of water, lifted it to my mouth for an enormous gulp, and looked up--right into the face of Ann Crispin on the stage, waiting to hand the award to the announcer for presentation. She gave me a Significant Look. I put the water glass, untasted, down with a thump. The world stopped briefly. Then I heard my name. If I'd had a mouthful of water I would have sprayed it all over my table companions, or choked. So thank you, Ann.

- sometime i wake up grouchy other times i let her sleep in and i go fishing--Never been fishing in my life. But I hear you on the grouchy bit. I imagine getting outside in the wide open peace of a river valley would soothe even the most savage beast.

- swedish fainting, swedish farting--Those wacky foreigners.

- why should I do my homework--Because I bloody well won't do it for you.

[* Several years ago I was honoured in a very weird ceremony at the King County Council offices. I and several other writers (Sherman Alexie, David Takami, Jack Peruski and others) were given these proclamations full of whereases and hereinafters and fed a scrumptious buffet meal. Then in the council chambers the chief executive (or whatever his title is) intoned our achievements. I was the winner of 'the prestigious Neboola award and five Lambadas'.]

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Monday, December 29, 2008

statistics roundup

For those who like numbers, this blog is nine months old. This is the 311th blog post. As I type this (on Sunday morning) I've had 23,483 visits from 95 countries. The top ten countries are:

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Australia
  5. Germany
  6. Sweden
  7. Netherlands
  8. France
  9. Romania
  10. Singapore
(This contrasts with with visitors from 129 countries, and in the top 10 Hong Kong, Ireland, Spain instead of Romania, Singapore and the Netherlands. There again, I've been keeping stats at for 15 months, not nine, so it's not an exact comparison.)

Average time spent on the site, 2:59. Average number of pages per visit: 1.74. The three most viewed posts are:

  1. you've been warned (629)
  2. amazon one-star meme (416)
  3. fainting, shame, and obviousness (344)
Interestingly, the three most commented upon posts are:
  1. what is Obama thinking? (43)
  2. Carkeek Park (36)
  3. dogs in the seventh century (33)
We've also built a community gallery, A View of One's Own, and are in the early stages of creating a publishing co-operative. (More co-opers wanted.)

From this information I make some very unscientific guesses: people find me through, then come to the blog and stick around because they get to chat to each other. And most find rants more entertaining but prefer to discuss only the reasoned and reasonable posts. What does this mean for the future of the blog? You tell me.

Any thoughts? Requests?

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Sunday, December 28, 2008

I'm the smartest person on the planet! (you can be, too)

I keep telling you: chocolate, wine, tea are very, very good for you. They're all on the list of my Dozen Daily Delights and should be consumed, slowly and deliberately, very, very often. I do. I expect I'm now one of the smartest people on the planet :)

ScienceDaily (Dec. 24, 2008) — All that chocolate might actually help finish the bumper Christmas crossword over the seasonal period. According to Oxford researchers working with colleagues in Norway, chocolate, wine and tea enhance cognitive performance.The team from Oxford’s Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics and Norway examined the relation between cognitive performance and the intake of three common foodstuffs that contain flavonoids (chocolate, wine, and tea) in 2,031 older people (aged between 70 and 74).

Participants filled in information about their habitual food intake and underwent a battery of cognitive tests.Those who consumed chocolate, wine, or tea had significantly better mean test scores and lower prevalence of poor cognitive performance than those who did not. The team reported their findings in the Journal of Nutrition.

So what other excuse do you need? Spend the last days of 2008 gorging yourself on all things delicious. Don't put off til tomorrow what you can overindulge in today. What is wrong with you??

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Saturday, December 27, 2008

preliminary transubstantiation

Suffolk police have a reputation for being witty. Here's an article about their latest efforts to encourage sensible behaviour around Christmas:

Suffolk police launched the list in a poster campaign that they say is designed to "ensure you have a night to remember rather than a night to forget".

It tells drinkers: "Things that are difficult to say when you're drunk a) Innovative b) Preliminary c) Cinnamon". It adds: "Things that are very difficult to say when you're drunk a) Specificity b) Passive-aggressive disorder c) Transubstantiate.

It then presents a list of "things that are absolutely impossible to say when you're drunk", including: "Good evening officer, isn't it lovely out tonight?", "I'm not interested in fighting you" and "Where is the nearest toilet? I can't possibly vomit in the street."

Try saying 'preliminary transubstantiation' a few times. Drink some wine and try it again. Or, hey, don't bother. In the interests of science I will test this theory for you. Stay tuned...

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Friday, December 26, 2008


Antikythera, a 2,000 year old computer

Okay, here's a post I wrote two weeks ago and just sort of forgot, perhaps because I first read about the lump of bronze-discovered-to-be-a-machine years ago in Archeology.

The New Scientist (love that magazine--nicely written, good illustrations, witty photo captions, a bit like The Economist for science geeks) has an article about the antikythera, an ancient (way more than two millenia) mechanical computer:

MARCELLUS and his men blockaded Syracuse, in Sicily, for two years. The Roman general expected to conquer the Greek city state easily, but the ingenious siege towers and catapults designed by Archimedes helped to keep his troops at bay.

Then, in 212 BC, the Syracusans neglected their defences during a festival to the goddess Artemis, and the Romans finally breached the city walls. Marcellus wanted Archimedes alive, but it wasn't to be. According to ancient historians, Archimedes was killed in the chaos; by one account a soldier ran him through with a sword as he was in the middle of a mathematical proof.

One of Archimedes's creations was saved, though. The general took back to Rome a mechanical bronze sphere that showed the motions of the sun, moon and planets as seen from Earth.

The sphere stayed in Marcellus's family for generations, until the Roman author Cicero saw it in the first century BC. "The invention of Archimedes deserves special admiration because he had thought out a way to represent accurately by a single device for turning the globe those various and divergent movements with their different rates of speed," he wrote. "The moon was always as many revolutions behind the sun on the bronze contrivance as would agree with the number of days it was behind it in the sky."

Until recently, historians paid scant attention to this story: the description suggests a sophisticated mechanical device, beyond anything the ancient Greeks were thought to have been capable of. Furthermore, Cicero had no technical training, and did not explain how the device worked. He could have made the story up for effect.

Now, however, research on the battered remains of a mysterious ancient device suggests that Cicero was telling the truth.

I know that half of you don't bother clicking through to articles I link to, so here's a video explaining how it works:

And if even video is a bother, I'd like to recommend a novel about Archimedes by Gillian Bradshaw, The Sand Reckoner. Bradhshaw also wrote a most marvellous Arthurian novel, Hawk of May, which I can recommend wholeheartedly. Go on, go buy it. It's perfect for lazy, take-you-away-from-it-all holiday reading.

But the novel I'm really reminded of by the discovery of this machine is Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History. It's usually sold chopped into four parts (which is how I read it) but really it's one huge story. Here's the reviewer's most excellent description of Book #1:

Mary Gentle first came to prominence with the lovingly conceived and beautifully written SF novel Golden Witchbreed. Its sequel, Ancient Light, then took the world and premise built into the first novel and deconstructed it thoroughly. Gentle's latest plays some of the same tricks with reader expectations.

In a typical fantasy milieu, the mud and blood of a military camp in 15th-century Europe, a scarred and beautiful 8-year-old girl kills her two adult rapists. She is Ash. In unflinching prose, Gentle describes the child's treatment in a men's camp, then the teenager's hard lessons in the art and craft of war, and finally the young woman's rise to command a mercenary army. Ash, it seems, is not only strong and fast but has the advantage of hearing a voice that instructs her on troop deployment. To the well-versed SF reader, the voice begins to sound suspiciously like a tactical computer.

Just as the reader gets ready to reassign the book to time travel SF, Gentle inserts--in what are purported to be excerpts from a 21st-century scholar's e-mail conversation with his publisher--hints that perhaps the novel belongs in the alternate history category. By now Ash and her army are embroiled in war and politics up to their fluted breastplates (armor, like all the historical detail, is minutely and accurately described), and if swords and poleaxes were not enough, she now faces golems and the Carthaginian army. Amazingly, Gentle makes this impossible mix believable, and by the end of the novel it is apparent that this is the beginning of a most interesting series. -- Luc Duplessis

If you have a gift certificate, go buy this book. It doesn't flinch from some of the realities of war, nor does it wallow. Enjoy.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Thursday, December 25, 2008

book covers to make you giggle, and Happy Thing!

So if you're au fait with the last 20 years of f/sf, this post of wicked funny fake book covers will make you giggle. (Via Colleen.)

The one above is my favourite. What's yours?

Oh, and by the way, Happy Thing (whichever variety of thingness you do/n't celebrate). We do Christmas; I'm a child when it comes to ripping open the presents. We're planning the ginormous meal of the world--butternut squash soup, roast pork with roasted rooty goodness (turnip, parsnip, leek, carrot, fennel etc.) and mashed potatoes and green-beans-with-almonds, and mini pavlovas (oh, I love, lovelovelove, that stuff: meringue nests filled with mandarin orange and topped with cream). And a fabulous wine selection. And wonderful neighbours (and, hopefully, family--depends on the snow situation) to celebrate with.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

cats being kind or saving him for later?

Who says cats aren't kind, sometimes?

Argentine police say a destitute 1-year-old boy was kept alive by a colony of stray cats who shared food scraps and kept him warm in the city of Misiones.

The boy, who had been missing for several days, was found by Police Officer Lorean Lindgvist, The Daily Telegraph reported Saturday

"The boy was lying at the bottom of a gutter. There were all these cats on top of him licking him because he was really dirty," Lindgvist said. "When I walked over they became really protective and spat at me. They were keeping the boy warm while he slept."

(More here. Thanks, Cindy.)

Perhaps it's the neoteny/paedomorphosis thing: the mammalian instinct to protect those with big eyes, small noses, and big heads. Or perhaps they were just feeding him up for later...

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

light coming back: Jennifer Durham

A couple of years ago I got email from a reader telling me she'd enjoyed Stay, and how it resonated for her. I wrote back and said thank you, and explained how much it means to me that a reader who doesn't normally write fan letters would take the time to sit down and look me up and send me email showing how and why, exactly, she liked my work.

I don't remember what else I said, but I know I meant every word. The reason I have a website, the reason I run this blog, the reason I do readings and (occasionally) attend conferences and conventions is to meet the people who make my life possible--who buy the books; to thank them, to give something back if I can. And also because it's, y'know, a blast. And I get to meet interesting people. (Also some exceedingly weird ones, but we'll skip over that for now.)

So that's how I met Jennifer Durham. Over the months I learnt that she is a commercial photographer and that she was beginning to dip her toe back into the scary notion of photography as art. Art, she was smart enough to know, is risky; creating art, being willing to open oneself to the world, changes you forever. Yes, I said, and Fuck it, do it anyway. (I always say Do it. People on their deathbeds rarely whisper, Oh, I wish I hadn't done this or that. But they do say, Oh, I wish I had done thus and such.) And so Jennifer did, she took the leap, and sent me some of the photos, and I was absolutely blown away.

Here are some of the ones I like particularly today.

Path to the Light, Jennifer Durham

I see in this a study in light and texture, and a story waiting to unfurl just around the corner. It makes me want to write a novel, just so I can have this on the cover. This is currently Print of the Month on Jennifer's website--at an amazing price.

Oregon Coast Study, #89, Jennifer Durham

Again, there's a story here, possibly a moody screenplay. I can hear the audio: low tones off-screen, the wet scrunch of sand underfoot, the sound of gravelly sand gritting and sliding on a shovel blade. Somebody's world is changing...

Trees in Ledig Meadow, #3, Jennifer Durham

Aud would like this. It feels like a photograph a hunter who no longer kills might take: a moment stolen from the unsuspecting.

The Pier, Jennifer Durham

This reminds me of how I see in writer mode: a willful focus on something to hand, and a simultaneous refusal to ignore the context. It also feels very Japanese. All it needs is a touch of cherry blossom.

Slice of Light, Jennifer Durham

I'm delighted to admit that Kelley and I own print #1 of this photograph. It hangs in our living room. When I look at it--which I do often--I feel limitless.

I think Jennifer Durham's work manages to do what I aim for every time I write fiction: epic scope with a delicate attention to detail. It's pretty, too, of course, but it's so much more than that. It's about scale: the immensity of the world, its boldness, its fragility, and our place in it. It's also calm, and transparent, and delighted by light--light in her work is liquid, always on the move. In that sense, it reminds me of April Gornik's paintings. (See particularly The Wave and Light Spill. And Kelley's post about Gornik's work.)

Jennifer also took some incredible photos of the protest in Los Angeles after the passage of Proposition 8. (See Stand on a Question of Love.) She keeps a blog--daily snapshots and music to go with them--Light Coming Back here.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


let's get drunk and freaky

Justice and Pokémon! "Let's get drunk and freaky..." (Yes, it's late. Yes, I should be in bed.)

(Via Post-Gay Post.)

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Monday, December 22, 2008

The Spirit movie trailer

Oooh, this looks kind of cool.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


spot the van

I thought you might enjoy a photo of the pizza delivery van stranded outside our house for the last three days:

Can't see it? It's right there, in the centre, the smooth mound with the point on the top (that's the Domino's sign--nope we don't eat Domino's; we eat Pagliacci). Here's a picture of the ravine this morning:

And here's the same view an hour earlier:

I've been fascinated by the snowlight. I get up at two o'clock in the morning just to look at it. It's unearthly. For the first time I think I understand the association of the winter solstice with magic and miracles.

And now the light is changing yet again. Now instead of the graphites and greys, instead of the dove-feather blues and violets, I'm seeing white and green. Hold on... There:

Enough photos for a while. I know I don't capture what I see. I just can't help trying, y'know? I think I've spent too much time talking to photographers lately :) Speaking of which, I'd really like to do a blog this week about the work of Jennifer Durham. Hopefully, Hild won't prove much of a jealous mistress. Stay tuned.

This kind of cozy weather means we're drinking more wine than usual. (Hey, a warm fire, twinkling tree, food roasting in the over--you'd have to have a heart of stone to not want to add wine and conversation to the mix.) Last night it was a nice Châteauneuf-du-Pape that we'd had kicking around in the wine fridge for a while. We couldn't remember if it was a so-so buy or Something Special so we thought, fuck it, the time to live life is now, so we opened it. It was luscious. Life is very, very good.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Sunday, December 21, 2008

solstice whiteout

This morning we woke to a winter wonderland.

the ravine this morning

Today I feel peaceful and contemplative. In honour of that, and the fact that yesterday was my 300th blog post--in this incarnation, anyway. In other incarnations (Ask Nicola at and, before that, at and before that at I've been going since the mid-1990s--I forget the exact date, but 1996 or thereabouts, a dozen years at least. To celebrate, I'm going to do only what I want today.

I love days like this. We are completely snowed in, at the bottom of a hill, on the edge of a ravine. The neighbourhood is quiet and very, very still. Snow is folded over everything (including the abadoned Domino's pizza delivery van, the abandoned heating oil truck and the pickup-in-the-ditch); it looks as though a giant poured meringue over the world. And it sparkles. White, white, sparkling white wherever you look. All pristine. Except for the animal tracks. Here's some raccoon:

raccoon tracks in the back garden

Raccoons leave weird tracks, neat but lopsided pairs: they bring their rear paw level with the opposite front paw; they're different sizes. Quite peculiar. This photo doesn't capture that but we found some perfect raccoon-wandering-in-the-snow prints the other day. I didn't take a picture because it was way (way) below freezing. Today, though, it's warming up. And besides, K took it :)

Last night, when the snow turned the whole world white, and all the vehicle drivers gave up and walked away, we drew the curtains, turned on the fire, and opened the last bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau. Here's a picture of our house (including the there-has-been-wine blur--yeah, I took this one).

Flossie, tree, Kelley in the kitchen getting almonds

For dinner we had lamb braised with British bangers, onions and carrots, with steamed cabbage and mashed potato. It's a perfectly English meal for winter.

Today, while a chicken roasts quietly on a bed of root vegetables (turnip, carrot, parsnip, fennel, shallots, potato), I'll be deep in the world of Hild (she's currently learning how to use a sword; it is not going well--that is, the writing is, but Hild doesn't enjoy bruises). Every now and again I'll wander into the living room, breathe deep of the roasting scent, admire the pretty tree, and feel happy and warm and snug. I hope life is treating you well. I hope you're all planning something truly delicious for dinner.

Oh, and before I forget, here's the at-an-angle photo of Petalville I promised, to show the texture.

texture of Petalville, a collage by Vicki Platts-Brown

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Saturday, December 20, 2008

publishing: permaculture vs. slash-and-burn

I've been having follow-up thoughts to our creative co-op. (If you don't know what I'm talking about please read this post.)

I've been thinking about what's wrong with publishing. It seems pretty clear that one of the biggest particular problems is the sale-or-return model on shipped books. (For some thoughts on the subject, see Richard Curtis's familiar essay. See also the HarperStudio blog, The 26th Story; I particularly like this interview with Dan Menaker. I'm sure there are better ones out there but today I don't have time to ferret them out. If you do, or have them handily bookmarked, please let me know and I'll add the links.)

Behind this practise, first promulgated during the Depression, lies the notion of the world and its resources as inexhaustible: The books don't sell? No worries. Just strip the covers and throw them away. Wood pulp is cheap. Story is cheap. The world is an expanding frontier: use up a patch, then move on. In other words, modern (I use the word loosely) publishing is built on a slash-and-burn mentality. We need to move to something sustainable, a publishing permaculture.

I am, of course, talking about much more than simply physical ecology.

Warning: I am about to use the A word.

It's not fashionable to admit this (oh, well) but for me, a novel--published in letterpress limited edition, spat out by POD, or snatched from the air by Whispernet--is Art. A novel is art when it is beautiful, appealing, of more than ordinary substance and cultural longevity, when it speaks to us across time. Perhaps it helps shape or at least articulate our culture. A novel, to me, is not disposable. It is lasting. The notion of disposable fiction, disposable in the what-it-means-to-us sense, of instant books, is foolish, dangerous, and unsustainable. Instant agriculture leads to bankruptcy of the soil; instant books leads to bankruptcy of culture.

Now that I've finally worked that out (these things take me a while but I can, as they say, see through a brick wall in time), I have some notions about our creative co-op.

It seems fairly clear that most co-opites want a book from the hand of more than one author, a collaborative effort--some have suggested a collection, or anthology of some kind. On the other hand, I don't think many of us would argue that novels sell better than short stories. It seems like an impasse. But what happens if we look at the notion of 'novel' and try to figure out what it is about that kind of book that sells. I think it's the long, coherent story arc with sympathetic characters, a world to get lost in, told in chapters. I don't think the chapters have to necessarily be created by the same hand, or even in the same medium.

So what if we took a time-honoured story, a magnificient tale, like the Iliad (which itself was probably created by several people) and remade it? Someone would have to be the director of the project. S/he would lay out the story arc and divide into a number of chapters. (TBD--perhaps 24, the customary number of Books in the original.) Each chapter would then be assigned to a novelist, or screenwriter, or cartoonist, or photographer, or poet, or short story writer, or lyricist, who would then write her or his chunk of the tale in his or her preferred format. Each chapter could be illustrated further by paintings and/or photography and/or short poems in the margins. We could have further chapters set in the Iliad metaverse available on the web: music, animated short film, Twitter feeds, whatever. Every month we could release a chapter free on the web and ask readers/listeners/viewers to guess who wrote/draw/composed it. We would get a dozen viewpoints on an integrated, proven, thrilling story. And because so many others have tried their hand at this tale before (I love Christopher Logue's All Day Permanent Red; I delighted in Brad Pitt epitomising the rage of Achilles in Troy; my guess is there's a ton of musical retellings out there, too), the opportunities for mashup vids would be almost endless.

Is any of this practical? I don't know. Can we do it anyway? That's up to us.

(I'll be posting the relevant chunk of this in the comments section of the deadline post in order to keep all the ideas in one place. So if you have ideas for the coop--and I really hope you do--please post them there.)

p.s. For those who like statistics, this post is my 300th post on this blog

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday audio: Bird of the Fragile Spirit

This is a melancholy song, drenched in nostalgia. I wrote the original lyrics when I was 17 at the same time as I wrote "Corner for You." (See last week's post for more.) The quality is dodgy: that crappy boombox again. But, again, I'm irrationally fond of this song. It captures the just-forming me perfectly--all that young adult angst. Also, it reflects so many of the interests I didn't really know I had until I started writing: history, nature, how moments can mirror our internal landscape. It's short (3:45). Enjoy.

(direct link)

A few days ago, in a comment to my shameless name-dropping post, I was asked to tell the story of how Janes Plane formed. I declined (it's too long a story for a comment). But I told the story in And Now We Are Going to Have a Party, my memoir. Here it is again.


One January day in 1981--actually a kind of glimmering twilight in the north of England, at that time of year--staring at the stains on the bathroom wall as I washed my hands with stone cold water, I realised that this was my life. It wasn't just a break from reality, or a mistake, or a holiday. It was real. I had no money, no job, no skills; no electricity, no phone, no tv; no respect; not even the coins to make a phone call or feed the machines in a laundromat. This was it, the sum total of my life so far: nothing.

It was a very ugly feeling. Something would have to change.

Carol got a job as the warden and unofficial liaison officer for the Springbank Community Centre. I got a temporary job, as something Hull City Council called a "tree technician" but which was essentially labouring. In a hard hat and steel capped and sheathed boots I dug trenches and surveyed in parks and graveyards. Back to the shovel and pickaxe life of the archaelogical dig, except it was in the freezing rain and mud. Me, a female supervisor called Maggie, and five men. We moved from green space to green space, cataloguing trees, planting shrubs and saplings and hedges. Got flirted at by gum-snapping schoolgirls. In my hard hat and rain gear, they didn't know I was a girl, at first. "Give us a kiss," they'd say. "Okay," I'd say, and take my hat off. Then they'd swallow their gum.

In some ways, it was a grim job: the brutal physical work, the cold, the nasty porn-riddled huts (and I mean nasty porn, the kind that makes you want to gag). In other ways, I was deliriously happy. I loved digging, the cut of steel through dirt. I loved trees. I loved helping things grow. And the conversation as we dug was mind-bending: sex, religion, politics, life, philosophy. Serious conversation, thoughtful and deep, though not steeped in formal learning. These men were as fascinated by having a woman work beside them as I was about living in their world. And, wow, I got paid, a lot.

Every now and again I got a telegram from Leeds about some family emergency and I'd have to leap on a train and go home. Helena ran away to London, with her girlfriend Haydee, where they set up house in a Brixton squat with a bunch of drug addicts. I went down to see if I could get her back. Compared to her situation, I was living in paradise. Gaping holes in the floor, no electricity at all. Cooking and heating with raw flame from a tapped city gas line. Surprisingly good food--because they stole it. Lots of drugs. I walked with Helena through the Brixton streets, and she was a stranger to me. Of course, our conversation wasn't helped by the fact that twice armoured troop carriers stuffed with testosterone-pumped Special Patrol Group officers screeched to a halt, and we were thrown bodily against the wall. Brixon was fulminating. About two months later--by which time Helena was safely back in Leeds--the place went up in riots.

Carolyn tried to kill herself again. She was dying. I took the train to Leeds. She recovered. I went back to Hull. Helena tried to kill herself; I went back to Leeds, then back to Hull.

Carolyn tried again. Dad also did something horrible to his back. They were in separate wards of the same hospital. The doctors deemed it unwise for either to know the other was ill. I'd be by one bedside, chatting in that bright desperate way one uses in sick rooms, then say, "Gosh, just nipping out for coffee and a cigarette," and zip off to the other bedside.

They both recovered. Back to Hull.

I memorised the train timetable, and kept a packed bag with a change of clothes and enough money for a return ticket by the door. When the telegrams came I'd check my watch, judge whether there was time for a cup of tea, and be at the station before the next train to Leeds.

Carol and I moved into another shared house. Part of our rent was to help remodel and decorate the place. One of the owners had been Marianne Faithful's lover, an ex-heroin addict who seemed to be independently wealthy. One of our housemates was a psychiatric nurse. Real people with real lives and real jobs. Beginning with them, I began to build lasting links to the women's community: about two hundred women living at close quarters along Spring Bank and Princes Ave, a tiny pool of lesbian nationhood in a violently homophobic city. Like any ghetto facing extreme stress, the community was full of bickering, poverty, solidarity, and political action. We had sex with each other (non-monogamy was de riguer) and knew each other's business. Those in funds bought the others drugs or food because they knew sooner or later the wheel would turn--lesbians got fired all the time--and they'd need help. Later, as we got the hang of community, we built an overlapping framework of formal and semi-formal support networks: Lesbian Line, the Women's Centre, the lesbian disco, a party circuit, and so on. We raised funds for a variety of non-lesbian political funds, too: anti-apartheid, national abortion league, Rape Crisis. Some of these community networks and counselling organisations and political action groups still survive. Most were ephemeral: we raised the money, we spent it on what the community needed, we moved on to the next thing.

me and Carol, really wasted on mushrooms, 1981

Carol and I went to the very first National Lesbian Conference in 1981, in London. After the plenary sesson (plenary, an addition to my vocabulary--though in the following years I would become fluent in meeting-speak), we got stoned; then, just for good measure, dropped two dozen mushrooms each. A thousand pumped and righteous dykes were working themselves into a political frenzy, which at the time involved shouting matches about who was more oppressed than whom. Carol started freaking out. I took her to one side, sheltered her in my arms, and a woman came up and started talking. I got concerned, then I got cross, then she took our photo: somehow Carol looks happy and carefree while I was worrying myself to a nub.

Back in Hull, I got sick again: inexplicable dizziness and breathlessness and muscle aches. The doctor told me I was having a nervous breakdown. I knew I wasn't, but I didn't know what the matter was. It was bad enough to force me to leave my job. As soon as I wasn't working, I felt better. Perhaps I was allergic to work. That was the community opinion, and I wasn't sure they were wrong.

I heard that some women were thinking of starting a band. "You should do that," Carol said.

"Perhaps I should," I said.

At the audition (at the women's centre, a rickety little house bought and repainted by the community), I picked up the microphone. "How long is the lead?" I said.

"Twenty feet."

I tapped it. Miraculously, that day the electricity was working. "Great. I'll be next door." I walked into the next room, and shouted, "Ready anytime." I felt ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as if I'd tried to sing with them looking at me.

They played something. From my own special room I sang along, improvising. They liked it. I was in. Carol also seemed to be in, as a percussionist--which meant whanging on whatever was to hand with a spare drum stick, and pogoing up and down in exuberance.

The drummer was called Jane. She was an art student, a complete drumming beginner, but she owned her own kit so she was in. The lead guitarist was also called Jane. She'd been in a band before. Her girlfriend was Heidi, a drama student. Carol and I and Jane and Heidi became very good friends. The bassist, Lou--mother of a two-year-old, Christa--was currently in another successful indie band. There was a rhythm guitarist to begin with, too, but I forget her name; she left not long after I joined.

Carol and I moved again, this time to a nice house on Albany Street with central heating (and a phone, and a TV) and real curtains on the windows, and light switches that worked. It was owned by four women, three of whom had moved to Leeds. One, Jan G, still lived there.

Jane the guitarist also moved in. Jane the drummer set her kit up in the dining room, which became the rehearsal room. I bought my own microphone. We jammed the melodies, I'd go off and write lyrics, and then we hammered out the songs. (Photo: the band rehearing about February. From left to right: Carol, me, Lou, and Jane. The other Jane was stuck inside with her drums.) After five or six months we'd accumulated enough for a set, but didn't perform.

I began to brim with words.

We set up our first gig: the International Women's Day celebration at Springbank Community Centre. We would open for a more established women's band from York.

We were all tense. We would be debuting in front of three hundred of our friends and peers on the biggest day of the year. Do or die.

Stress and sex seemed to go together in the Hull women's community. Heidi had sex with Carol (that night, Jane and I got companionably stoned). Then Helena, on one of her visits, met Heidi, and they took up with each other. Jane seduced Lou. I had sex with a sweet young drama student and the Polish woman next door and a few other people.

For our Janes Plane Saturday night debut, and also to see Heidi, Helena came to Hull. She arrived on Friday, bearing some Nepalese Temple Ball to soothe my nerves.

On the night of the International Women's Day celebration, we climbed on stage--I was past the stage of being pushed--Jane shouted, "Two, three, four!" and brought down her sticks--and my life changed, again.

Between one heartbeat and the next, my performance anxiety changed to performance thrill. I could smell it, literally, smell them, the crowd, the pheremonal explosion waiting to happen--and then I pushed them over the edge.

This was what I'd been aiming for when I banged the dustbin lids together at dawn when I was four years old. This is why at fifteen I'd dressed up like a dog's dinner and stood on stage pretending to be a Japanese schoolgirl.

I opened my mouth and sang and felt that I was lighting the sky, building the universe, challenging the gods. The crowd went insane. The band went insane. I knew what it might feel like to own the world.

I decided that night that I would never stop performing. It's a version of this feedback that I ride everytime I stand up in a bookshop to read to an audience.

You can listen to four Janes Plane tracks on the CD and a couple of them aren't bad, but we were better live, where we offered our hearts and the audience offered theirs back.

Three of the songs on the CD are from the earliest days and were played that first night: "Bare Hands," "Nightdrive," and "Reclaim the Night."

"Bare Hands" is all about Hull. In the late seventies and early eighties, the inner city was the urban equivalent of a blasted heath. The good people always left; only the hopeless stayed. I knew it could be a decent place if people would allow themselves to imagine the possibility.

"Nightdrive" is, I think, the only thing I've ever written that is about the joy of machinery. I never really liked the song, never really believed it (I didn't drive, knew no one with a car), but the audience liked to dance to it and it was difficult to fuck up.

"Reclaim the Night" was our anthem. Writing it taught me of the perils of point-of-view. Lots and lots of women hated the beginning of that song, because it delves into the mind of a potential rapist and we see the target as just that, a target, a victim, and not as a human being. It was politically naïve. I hadn't realised how powerfully a perspective change could influence an audience's attitude--could alter the emotional meaning.

"Vondel Park" comes from my experience in Amsterdam. In Vondel Park, after smoking that red leb for hours on a two-days-empty stomach, I hallucinated herds of wild horses, and a fifty-foot tall Mr Bertie (an advertising icon made of a candy called Liquorice Allsorts) striding across the fields. And then all the pretty pictures eeled away like smoke and I was in the park, with a bunch of hippies playing guitar, saying "Wow," and getting stoned.

On the tape you hear that I flubbed some of the lyrics. I was always doing this, always forgetting the words.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Thursday, December 18, 2008

what is Obama thinking?

So, what is Obama thinking with his selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration?

We all know that Warren is James Dobson in friendlier clothes. He is anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage, and anti-stem-cell research. And more. So why has Obama chosen him?

First of all, let me say that the choice doesn't please me, one bit, but nor does it surprise me. Obama has been clear: marriage is between "one man and one woman." (If you're feeling dim today, and can't guess my opinion of that, read an earlier post on the subject.)

Lots of LGBTQI people are getting righteously angry about this choice. They're signing petitions and trying to get meetings and stamping their feet. Fine. Whatever helps you feel better. But I think our time would be better spent in thinking. Really. Think about it. Obama is a politician. He manipulates political machines to get what he needs. He has manipulated the quiltbag population brilliantly. He's very, very good at what he does. We have to ponder what it is that he's doing now.

He's doing the Big Tent thing. He's walking the talk of his acceptance speech, to be President for all those who didn't vote for him, as well as for those who did. So now we have to ask ourselves: what can we do, as individuals and as groups, to walk alongside him on the path he's committed to and not get left in a ditch. (Or wired to a fence, or raped in an alley, or set on fire in our homes.)

No, I don't have a handy-dandy solution. But I do believe that drumming our heels and shrieking until we turn purple won't cut it. We have to find a way to avoid entrenching ourselves in an adversarial position. This man is in charge of the world for the next four years at least. We have to think of all the good things he might achieve and find ways to work with him and change things for the better for us, too, as we go along.

We need to remind ourselves and those in power that we are all human. That humans work better under the umbrella of love than of hate.

Yesterday I read a study about pain: pain inflicted accidentally hurts less than pain which we think is given intentionally. So let's start seeing this differently. No one is trying to hurt us with this choice. Oh, yes, it does hurt, no doubt about that, but it's not aimed at us. Let's think about it. Let's come up with a way to walk alongside this man, just for a while, just to see if it works.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Alisha Baker

detail from self-portrait, Alisha Baker

If you live in Seattle, and you happen to be free on Friday between 5:00 pm and 9:00 pm, drop by the opening reception for Alisha Baker's stint as featured artist as part of the U-District artwalk. Kelley and I hope to be there at some point. If you see us, please introduce yourself. Here's all the info from Alisha:

Come enjoy an evening of free music, art & wine!

The Artist's and Craftsman Supply store is joining the U-District Artwalk, and has invited me to be their first featured artist for the month. This should be a fun opening, and a little different from what I've done before... I'm calling it "The B-sides and Rarities." I'll be featuring the often-unseen drawings and paintings that form the process of exploration through artistic academia. On view will be those pieces that stood out to me from the piles of work that line my path through classrooms and studios over the last ten years of study.

The instrumental rock & roll band "Rabbit Skin Glue" will be performing, members of which are familiar faces behind the counter of A&C. Hope to see your smiling faces there!

Opening Reception:
Friday, Dec. 19, 5-9pm
4350 8th Ave NE, Seattle, 98105
(located just off 45th near the freeway, behind Petco. Look for the parking lot marked with the sign for A&C.)

Here's a sample of the kind of thing that will be on show:

Dude, Alisha Baker

I've been following Alisha's work for five years, when I started doing yoga at a place called Whole Life Yoga, which hosted a class designed for people with MS. Afterward the class, many of us would walk next door to Tully's for coffee. Often the barista who served me (single short latte, whole milk, none of that 2% crap) was a young woman called Alisha. We'd chat, as people do, passing the time of day while the espresso hissed and the milk frothed. I told her I was a novelist. She told me she was a painter. One day she showed me a postcard of one of her paintings: the flyer for a show at a coffee shop in the U-District called Perkengruven. It was an astonishing picture, a young girl doing archery. I was immediately taken with it. I'll go, I said. Cool, she said, clearly not really believing I would. But I did. And I bought one of her paintings. (Take a look at her old stuff here; if you pay attention, you'll see which one I bought. We kept it over the--never-used--fireplace in our old house; now it hangs in the family room.) It was very cool going back to Tully's the next week and saying, So, I bought one of the pictures. When can I have it? The look on Alisha's face--I felt like Santa. I imagine that's how editors feel when they buy a new writer's novel. Mutual delight.

Since then Kelley and I have bought two more paintings. (And Alisha designed the logo for Humans at Work.) There's a painting she's been working on that's now finished which I really want but since the stock market's, ah, caperings and publishing's implosion I am sadly puzzled as to how to afford it. (You can see a detail of the work-in-progress here.)

Alisha describes herself an "archaeologist of lost moments." Her work is often inspired by old photographs. She is not afraid to show those snapshot instances of unhidden emotion; she captures them beautifully. When I look at her portraits, I feel glad. She also writes honestly about her process here on her blog.

I think her work is changing--getting more confident and more colourful, developing a fascination for the sea and beach. This may be the last chance to see the early stuff. She has another show coming in January, and perhaps before then I'll be able to persuade her to write a guest blog. Meanwhile, if you're around on Friday, do yourself a favour, come and look at something that will make you feel happy to be alive. (And, y'know, score some free music and wine and conversation.)

See you there.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

fame! (shameless name dropping from long ago)

The last few days I've been thinking about England. (Last week was the 19th anniversary of coming to this country to live with Kelley.) Usually when I daydream of Ye Olde Countrie it's of West Yorkshire, where I grew up, and North Yorkshire, where I spent leisure time by the sea or hiking (and sometimes hiking by the sea, particularly around Whitby). But today I've been thinking of Hull, in East Yorkshire, where I lived for 10 years doing many fine (and many more regrettable) things (and people). And, yes, I wrote a book about it.

Oddly, until yesterday I had never Googled the band I used to be in (Janes Plane) or the city itself. Why? No clue. But yesterday I was looking at the search terms people use to find me on the web and saw that someone had been looking for 'Janes Plane'. (And they were not using the apostrophe: whoever you are, gold star!) Anyway, it prompted me to do my own search, and I found this.

Whoa. I knew half the 'famous people' in that article.

Let's start with Everything But the Girl.

Once upon a time, in Hull, there was a dinosaur of a department store on Beverley Road, called Turners', that sold "Everything but the girl!" The tagline was a big joke in the city's women's community (the store itself was a big joke; something left over from the 1950s--cavernous, always empty, sales associates standing at their stations while 'The Girl from Ipanema' played from the celing). At this time, the women's community was tightly connected to Hull University's drama department (and the English department, and the Sociology department--anywhere there were pretty girls who liked extracurricular adventures). I certainly was, anyway. One of my lovers, Heidi, was a student there. She's now a Big Cheese in the New York theatre casting world. But I digress.

Heidi was friends with Ben and Tracey. It's a long story (my way of saying I don't remember the details; too many illegal substances) but the very first time I put in contact lenses was in the tiny bathroom of Ben and Tracey's flat while they noodled on a song in the living room. (H, I think, was trying to impress me by taking me there, but failed: I had no clue who they were and cared less. My guess is that Ben and Tracey felt the same about me.)

I don't think I met Philip Larkin, but if I had I'm sorry to admit his name would have meant nothing to me: he wasn't pretty; he wasn't a girl. I did know Roland Gift. We had some mutual friends. Our band supported his early band, The Righteous Brothers (oh, yes, they really did call themselves that), at the Wellington Club. Or maybe they supported us. It's a bit fuzzy.

I'm pretty sure I met John Prescott, MP, who went on to become Deputy Prime Minister. I have vague memories of a pub in the Old Town, drinking bitter with Rob, my boss at Hull Unemployed Advice Centre (Rob was a County Councillor--the equivalent, perhaps, of a State Senator), and the appearance of a baggy-faced middle-aged creep, a real skirt-lifter. One of those men with very, very low self-esteem who covers it up by pretending a bluff heartiness. He left me alone, though. He may have been stupid in many ways, but not that stupid. I liked Rob. He drank too much--lots of English people did--and knew lots of dodgy people (union people and politicians) but he was essentially kind. Not like Prescott. I couldn't believe it when he acquired such a huge cabinet portfolio in the '90s. There again, look at Bush. Emotionally crippled people seem to rise like cream in politics.

Before I go off on emotional cripples and politics, I'll stop. I hope you enjoyed the trip to my previously forgotten corner of Olde Englande. If you want the soundtrack, go listen to some of the music we made long ago, here on my website.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Monday, December 15, 2008

living in a deleveraged world -- a rant

I keep being surprised by people I know and like talking as though pretty soon the world will be back to normal--that's it's time, say, to borrow heavily and invest in real estate again.

It isn't. The world won't be back to normal.

The world will never go back to the way it was. The world has fundamentally changed. For example, for the next few years, at least, when you buy a house you'll be buying it to live in. Period. Not as a leveraged investment. Super leverage is dead. It's unsustainable. I'm not talking about the credit crunch; that's just a symptom. Ah, fuck it, look, let Robert Reich explain some of it to you.

No, I'm not exaggerating. No, I'm not being alarmist. And, no, there's no need for panic.

The model we've build our society on--the continual expansion, constant finding/settling/using/abusing of the frontier, then moving on--will change. It is changing. It has changed. Only most of us don't know it yet.

The solution? I don't know. Yet. But, please, people, stop thinking along the old, rutted tracks. Take a breahth. Really think. Really look at your lives.

What will count are the really important things: community, education, fresh air, food, water, warmth, shelter, joy, beauty. At some point, the governments of the world will figure out they have to stop dodging the issue and look at food and farming, at power and sustainability, at slack in the system and building in redundancy (power, water supply, education, manufacture--everything). They are going to figure out that the industrialised world has been mad and must now get sane or die. Take, for example, climate. It doesn't matter about the exactness of the climate models; everyone agrees we have to cut emissions more than anyone wants to or even believes is possible or we're all going to die. Well, not us, exactly, but civilisation. It's that simple. Most of our great-great grandchildren won't exist unless someone, somewhere does something. That is, unless, everyone, everywhere, does everything they can. And much more than we want. And very soon.

Everything will cost more. We will buy less, use less, eat less, waste less. And, you know what? It will be fine. Just not as thoughtless and greedy and, y'know, convenient as before.

For now, please. Stop. Take a look around. Stop trying to win. Start co-operating.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:



I was taking photos of the snow yesterday, for our gallery, and noticed the light inside the house. The snow outside was bouncing the light up onto the ceilings, which bounced it down again and made the colours--we're not shy about colour: orange, green, purple, yellow--pretty interesting. Very cool but not thin. A very northern, spare kind of light. I am a poor photographer. It doesn't help that my camera is about ten years old. (Well, okay, maybe seven. But old.) But I think I'd be crap even with a brilliant bit of technology. Which is my way of saying the pictures don't show anything remotely resembling what I saw.

However. One of the photos I took was of a collage (9' x 4') on our living room wall. Our artist neighbour, Vicki Platts-Brown, made it for us from leaves and flowers--many from our garden-- pressed and dried between paper. She titled it "Reflections of the Puget Sound Tapestry." I call it Petalville.

Ours was the very first collage she made. She was learning as she went along. A few weeks ago we noticed cracks developing vertically in the mosaic of leaves, and a lot of fading. Vicki took the picture away and literally took a paint scraper to it, taking off a lot of the original leaves. She replaced them with similar leaves and flowers--though this time dried in a high-tech microwave thingie--and slathered on a UV protective coat. The pictures are similar but not identical.

Here, for your delight and delectation, are Petalville I, photo taken in summer with the door open:

and petalville II, taken yesterday, with the door shut. A prize (don't know what yet) to the person who spots the most differences. And one to the person who can name the most flowers and leaves.

Since making this for us, Vicki has really got into her art. We now have several other collages, and a handful of lovely, delicate aquatints. She doesn't have a website. I'll try to remember to take pix of the other stuff in a week or two.

I'm hoping I'll have a few more blog posts before the end of the year about artists I know--I mean know personally--and their art. There's a lot of beauty in the world.

Speaking of which, here are two pix I took of the snow yesterday morning. It was dull and overcast and, as I've said, I didn't catch the light (probably something to do with the fact that it was too damn cold to actually go out there; I took these through the open window.

This is the side deck and ravine:

And this is the back garden as seen from my office window. All the leaves, finally, have fallen from the tree. It must be winter.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Sunday, December 14, 2008

next steps, and a deadline

Yes, a deadline for our creative cooperative--but don't panic. Like an amateur dramatic society, I'm choosing a date absurdly far away: Monday, January 4th. So take a breath, and read on.

First of all, if you don't know what I'm talking about read the posts, and comments, here, here, and here. They're in chronological order.

Okay. Over the holidays I would like everyone who is interested to come up with an idea (or two, or ten--ideas are cheap) on what project, specifically, they would like to see us get behind. It can be as small and tidy or as wild and ambitious as you like. Realism isn't important at this stage; profligate brainstorming is. So if you want, for example, poetry from Lorca inscribed on the wings of butterflies, say so. If you want short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin illustrated with the nature photography of Friend of AN Jennifer Durham, say so. If you want to republish the thrillers of Helen MacInnes, say so. If you want to publish the crayon drawings of your neighbour's see your own first collection of edit an original anthology of erotic ornithology...speak up. Now is your chance. Don't censor yourself. We won't know what's possible until we thrash through it all together.

Get as specific as you can--be as long as you like, or as short--about your idea, and append it to this post as a comment. Feel free to mention only the project itself, or to embroider it with all your marketing/publicity notions. Then we all discuss, here in the comments. Then on the 4th of January, we vote for the number one idea (and #s 2 and 3, just in case). Then, between that Monday and, say, the next, we figure out if we can make the project happen: if it's Helen MacInnes, can we persuade her estate to give us the rights? If it's poetry on butterfly wings, can we source the butterflies? That kind of thing.

If we can make it happen, then we begin. If we can't make it happen, then we discuss #2.

It's at this stage that I hope all the people who have been sending me private emails will come forth publicly and add their names to the list. We already have an astonishing roster of talent and expertise; let's make it bigger. Please feel free to recruit people of all stripes (as long as they play by our rules).

Oooh, this could be cool. We could test theories of publishing, distribution, marketing and publicity. We could create a new kind of business model. We could bring a piece of art into the world that might never have existed. And, hey, worst case scenario, we just have a blast coming up with wacky ideas.

Start your engines!

** This thread is now closed to comments. Please see Ozymandias. **

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Saturday, December 13, 2008

cold cold and more cold

Artic air is heading for Seattle this weekend and on into next week. "Highs through the period will only reach the low-mid 20s, and lows will range from 10-17, making this potentially the coldest and longest arctic outbreak since 1990." (KOMO News.) It's going to be cold, people. But sunny. Hey, it's a dry cold... Fingers crossed that the storm on its way tonight (see pic) doesn't knock out power.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday audio: Corner for You

Yesterday was the nineteenth anniversary of me coming to live with Kelley in this country. You've already heard the sappy song I wrote and sang for her while we were apart, so I won't put that one up again. But for those who like that sort of thing, here's another song about lurve, "Corner for You."

(direct link)

The song, brief as it is (4:44), has a convoluted history. (What doesn't?) I wrote the lyrics as a poem when I was 17, madly in love with my first girlfriend, Una, and aware, dimly, that I was losing her. I wrote about this in And Now We Are Going to Have a Party. That story is one of two readings from the memoir that I have on video. Here it is:

(Video by David Wulzen. For the other video, see this post.)

Then, in 1982, when I was 21, the band I was in, Janes Plane, turned the poem into a song. I have a live recording of that on a battered old cassette tape. I keep meaning to transfer it to digital, but everytime I remember, I can't find the old boombox to play the tape. I'll get to it at some point. (And, oh, you'll be sorry. It was a terrible performance by the band. I was sick as a dog--I literally had to keep leaving the stage to throw up--and the drummer's kit kept breaking and the guitarist's tuning pegs losing their integrity.) For now, though, what I have is another version recorded on an old boombox (not the same one that's in my loft--no, the English one was even more primitive) by me and the guitarist, Jane, when I was 22 or 23.

"Corner for You" is a hopelessly melodramatic and angsty teen soon about love and loss and I like it anyway.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here:


Thursday, December 11, 2008

othering the Other, again

From: Chris Kerr

I noticed your blogspot 'Ask Nicola' and was really pleased to read you're benefiting from LDN.

I thought you might like to receive a copy of a book featuring 29 case studies attributing low dose naltrexone (LDN) with improved health.

Book Title: 'Those Who Suffer Much, Know Much', July 2008

20 Multiple Sclerosis case studies
2 HIV/AIDS case studies
1 Hepatitis B case study
1 Primary Lateral Sclerosis case study
2 Cancer case studies
2 Crohn's Disease case studies
1 Multiple Benefits case study

Content also includes an explanatory article, and interviews with professionals familiar with LDN - Dr. David Gluck, Dr. Tom Gilhooly, Dr. Jaquelyn McCandless, and Dr. Skip Lenz, Pharmacist.

The book is available on free of charge, and can be freely shared forward.


I sincerely hope you're still benefiting from LDN - and if one day you have time to pen your own case study submission, I'd be happy to include it in the Case Health database, or the next book collection.

Thank you for this. I wish there was more work going on in the medical community with LDN. I think for some people it has a lot to offer. For some, of course, it really doesn't. (Because we're all, y'know, different.) LDN helps me very much in some ways, and not much at all in others--but it's cheap, it doesn't leave huge needle marks, and it doesn't make me feel (as Kelley so kindly puts it when I'm feeling, y'know, pale) like 'death on a cracker'.


When I saw the title of your collection of personal testaments, Those Who Suffer Much, Know Much, I howled with laughter. Then I realised you probably weren't being ironic, and got pissed off.

Those who suffer much, know much, yes--about suffering. Period. We don't magically turn into patient sages. In fact, when we're not paying special attention we get vicious and manipulative; pain and frustration will do that to you. Implying that people with autoimmune disease are wiser in some way than healthy people is as Othering as thinking of American Indians as noble savages, women as sweet and humane, or sick children as saintly beings. It's horseshit. It's dehumanising.

People with illnesses are not special, we're not wise or kind or saintly. We're sick. We're human. We expect to be treated like real people--just like women, and Indians, and sick children.

Fifteen years ago I wrote Ammonite to answer a simple question: are women human? It's a stupid question, but clearly it needed to be articulated and answered because so many SF novels about women-only societies assumed Girly World would be full of wise, kind, vegetarian amazons. Right. Women are not 'the softer side of the human race', we are fully human, in of and by ourselves. (You want to know more about my thoughts on the deconstruction of essentialism? Read "War Machine, Time Machine.")

I walk with crutches--my legs mostly don't work that well. There's nothing wrong with my brain. Nothing wrong with my hearing. Yet very often people at, say, the airport, will look at Kelley and ask, 'Does she need to sit down'? She, I say, is not in fucking Peru. She is right here. And she wants to see your fucking supervisor.

Every culture has a different response to illness. I think the English way is best: a frank appreciation of difference. English people will stare for a moment, then (if they're the smiling type) they'll smile (or give you the finger if they're the other type). In the airport, when I have to use a wheelchair to cross the gigantoterminal, the person pushing will say, cheerfully, "What happened, luv? Car crash?" I say no, MS, and they say, "Oh, my mum's friend's got that. Well, here's your gate. Anything else you need? No? Have a good flight." The American way is to turn away, pretend I don't exist, or to treat me like a minor: doing things for me without my permission, talking as though I'm not there, being genuinely astonished (or embarrassed) when I speak.

Okay, now I'm doing it. Not all Americans are like this. Uptight and conservative people--and the South is very guilty here--of all stripes are more likely to Other me (whether as a cripple, a foreigner, or a dyke). People in the Pacific Northwest are much more Scandinavian and pragmatical about the whole thing: huh, she can't walk, okay, what adjustments do I have to make to ensure good service/pleasurable evening/safe dentist's visit? And if they're really smart, they actually ask instead of assuming. Because, as thoughtful human beings, they know that ignoring difference doesn't make it go away, it just increases the gap between people.

I'm aware I could be misinterpreting your work. So please don't take this as a personal attack; it's more of a general rant. But do, please, change the title of your book.

** Edit. Okay, it turns out I have misinterpreted the work's title. So my apologies to Chris for that. But the general rant still stands. People are people, people. **

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here: