Saturday, October 31, 2009

Asterix and the golden jubilee

A preparatory sketch for Goscinny and Uderzo's first book, Asterix the Gaul (1961). Photograph: Les Éditions Albert René / Goscinny-Uderzo

The French are going all-out for the 50th birthday of Asterix the Gaul: fly-overs by Patrouille de France (the French equivalent of the Blue Angels), spiffy dinners with politicians, parties...

I loved--okay, still love--those cartoons, graphic novels really, of small but mighty Asterix and his hugeous friend Obelix, and all the Gaulish villagers living under Roman occupation. I admire the translation by Anthea Bell, who gets the tone just right. Wonderful books. They tickle my childish humour; make me howl with laughter, even now. The Guardian has an article here.

One day I'll buy the entire matching set (I own only a random sample, though I've read them all) and read them from start to finish. They are witty, charming, and full of particular characters being themselves. (And fighting, and falling in love, and taking part in Historical Events.)

Give Asterix a go. You'll thank me.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

PW's death knell?

Publishers Weekly really screws up:

"Every year, PW selects its top 100 books, and for the first time ever PW has upped the ante by choosing the 10 books that stood out from the rest. The titles, whittled down from the more than 50,000 volumes considered this year, were picked by the PW reviews editors to reflect the very best of 2009."

The ten 'best books'. And they're all by boys. Every. Single. One. Ten books by men about men.

For me, this is just another indication that PW is rapidly becoming irrelevant to the real reading world. After all, women read more than men--yet our tastes and our subjects are not valued.

I think this might be PW's death knell. What do you think?

Addendum: if PW were based in Iceland, the list would have looked pretty damn different.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Elusive plot

I'm chasing plot moths, dashing about in the dark swishing my net trying to catch the flittery things. I know roughly what has to happen to Hild during her next couple of years, but, oh, there are so many ways to get there, so many possibilities.

The problem is politics. Politics in seventh-century England were played for very high stakes: the loser died. (My kind of century...)

Power was abominably complicated. For one thing, everyone--that is, anyone who is anyone, that is, royal--is related to everyone else. Often in three different ways. They're all plotting against everyone and allied with everyone else. It is unbelievably, mind-bogglingly twisty.

It's enormous fun. Every time I get fed up of someone, I just whack their head off, or poison them gruesomely, or watch them die a tragic death in childbirth. On good days I wake up thinking, O-ho-ho, who can I kill today? More importantly, I think, And who does this doomed character remind me of in real life? Which is just a reminder: never piss off a writer :)

Today's mission: invent a suitably horrific but genial Anglo-Saxon torture. I think I have just the thing...

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I've seen a handful of things in the last week that are worth blogging about. But I'm in Hild mode, so instead of pondering these things at length, let me simply link to them.

Over at Lee Wind's blog (I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I read?), there's another infuriating tale of censorship, this time from Scholastic, who refused to carry a kidlit title at a book fair unless the author changed the dyke mums to a straight couple. People over on Facebook have suggested a letter-writing campaign to Scholastic and/or recruiting a PTA to weigh in. I agree.

Medical News Today has an interesting piece about back pain and vitamin D. (Also handy for the apocalypse.) "According to Stewart B. Leavitt, MA, PhD, Executive Director of Pain Treatment Topics and author of the report, "our examination of the research, which included numerous clinical studies, found that patients with chronic back pain usually had inadequate levels of vitamin D. When sufficient vitamin D supplementation was provided, their pain either vanished or was at least helped to a significant extent."

Publishers Weekly has a review of Eclipse 3 (scroll down). "...Peter S. Beagle's “Sleight of Hand” and Nicola Griffith's “It Takes Two” examine the nature and power of love from very different angles."

The Times has an article on time, procrastination, and etymology. "The longest entry in the new Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, a work that has been 44 years in the making, is for the word 'immediately'. As in - and let us pluck a thought at random here - 'We need this book finished immediately/right now/without delay.' The reason why there are 265 different ways of saying immediately? is down to the human tendency to procrastinate. (Procrastinate: foreslow, adjourn, proloyne, protract, tarry, defer, delay ... ) 'A lot of the words that once meant 'immediately' came to mean 'soon', so you then needed another word that really meant 'immediately'. 'Soon', for instance - its original meaning was 'immediately'.' As in (to pick another random example), 'Yes, yes, we know you want it immediately. We're working very hard here. We'll get it done soon'."

From Sci Fi Wire: 6 secrets from the set of V. Oooh, I'm looking forward to this. I loved the cheesy 80s version. This one, though: two Firefly alums. Promising.


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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

delicious dialogue

Over at Sterling Editing I have a new blog post up, a discussion of some of Patrick O'Brian's masterful dialogue. There's an exercise--not an easy one--for those who want to try their hand.

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random bloggish thoughts

In the last month I've had 16,201 visits to Ask Nicola from 90 countries. That's more visitors than usual: more than 6,000 of you came to read trembling with rage, my post about Janice Langbehn's story. If only ten percent of you did something--talked to your neighbour, posted a blog that prompted someone else to talk to their neighbour, or filled out a ballot--then we might have made a difference. So thank you all. We'll check back in on November 4th when, hopefully, we'll have good results on Referendum 71.

November will be a month of head-down work for me. Hild is reaching a critical stage. Plus, it's just that kind of weather, y'know? Rain pounding down, thick stews simmering on the stove, leaves piling up around the car which hasn't left the driveway for two days. It's the time for in-dwelling, exploring imaginary worlds: writing time. I'm looking forward to it.

Which is my way of saying I don't know what kind of blogging I'll be doing in the next new weeks. It's possible I'll want to indulge in avoidance behaviour, and so will blog my heart out. It's possible that I'll be wholly engaged with Hild and will post random snippets of nothing-in-particular twice a week. Let's look at it as an adventure...

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

vodka and The Marketing 'Plan'

Want to know what it's like to be a novelist these days? You sell the novel over a pleasant dinner (or an efficiently emailed proposal and outline). You write the novel. You send it in. You get the editorial letter. You rewrite the novel. The novel is accepted. Everyone is pleased and cautiously optimistic. Then you get that introductory email from your publicist. Your abdominals clench and your heart sinks. Ellis Weiner captures it beautifully in this Shouts & Murmurs piece in the New Yorker:

Let me introduce myself. My name is Gineen Klein, and I’ve been brought on as an intern to replace the promotion department here at Propensity Books. First, let me say that I absolutely love “Clancy the Doofus Beagle: A Love Story” and have some excellent ideas for promotion.

To start: Do you blog? If not, get in touch with Kris and Christopher from our online departrment, although at this point I think only Christopher is left...

If you're a professional, it will make you laugh, sway with recognition, and reach for the vodka. (No, beer is not enough at times like these.) If you're a beginner, well, one day, if you're lucky, you too will get that sinking feeling...

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

crow flash mob

I'm still off the grid but, thanks to the wonders of technology, here's something I wrote three days ago...

Yesterday Kelley and I spent some time in Carkeek Park.

It's always lovely there, but this time it felt like a moment stolen from the dawn of time. No one was about. We drove through alders turning gold--and I imagined Lothlorien. When we got to the bluff, the tide was in. Gulls hung in a magnesium-bright sky over pewter-sheened water. Mist dripped from the trees. Everything was still and quiet, but intensely bright. It was like being in the centre of a pearl. Then the crows arrived.

We've been going to the park in all seasons for five years. Every autumn, adolescent crows gather in huge numbers and shout and show off and carry on, desperate to prove themselves and find their place in the hierarchy. They caw, and face off, and indulge in astonishing aerial acrobatrics. Every now and again, they caw in unison, and it sounds very like a fraternity-house of drinkers shouting Chug! Chug! Chug! Kelley and I looked at each other: kegger of crows.

As fast as they'd gathered and boasting and chugged, the crows flapped away, looking for the next party. We listened to another moment of stillness. The tide changed, and line after line of rollers roared and rushed up the beach, thumping driftwood logs together, then getting sucked back, gradually revealing wet sand, which smelled like the bottom of the sea. Foghorns hooted. Gulls wheeled on their wingtips.

We sat for a long time, just breathing and smiling, glad to be alive and part of all this.

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Friday, October 23, 2009


I'm still off the grid...

Over at Sterling Editing, another roundup of links for emerging and established writers. Enjoy.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

access! the BookServer project

I'm off the grid for the next few days, but I've put together a few posts to go up in my absence...

Fran Toolan has a post over at Follow The Reader about Brewster Kahle's new BookServer project.

Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive Founder and Chief Librarian, introduced what he calls his "BookServer" project. BookServer is a framework of tools and activities. It is an open-architectured set of tools that allow for the discoverability, distribution, and delivery of electronic books by retailers, librarians, and aggregators, all in a way that makes for a very easy and satisfying experience for the reader, on whatever device they want.

(Thanks, Dear Author.)

This is very big news in terms of access: cross format, searchable, (findable), text-to-speech... It's a pretty astonishing thing. I talk more about next month, when I've absorbed all the implications. Right now, I think Toolan could be right: this is the Day It Changed. Nothing but good.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hild and other updates

Regular readers know that I've been working for two years on a novel about Hild of Whitby. I've been thinking about her for much, much longer. (See "Where It Began" for the whole story.)

Hild is an interesting woman. (English understatement.) One could make an argument that it's to her influence we owe democracy as we know it. Nope, I'm not going to make that argument here today. I'm just saying that if you gave me enough beer and a comfy chair, I could. Sort of. Yep, you bet I'm being deliberately provocative. It's a writerly vice.

Hild lived in seventh century England. I'm writing her life, birth to death. She lived 66 years. I cheat a little and start when she's three. She's now twelve. Yesterday I hit 100,000 words. It's going to be a big book.

I've learnt a lot in the last 16 years of novel writing. This one, though, is demanding every ounce of my expertise. How do you take the life of a woman of that era, when by some estimates women spent 65% of their lives on textile production, keep it historically accurate, yet make it thrilling to today's readership? I'm using every narrative trick I've ever encountered, and inventing a few new ones. I'm having a blast. (See this post for a link to a tiny first-draft snippet from the book.)

Sterling Editing is going well. Kelley and I are as busy as bees in a bottle. My work with the Lambda Literary Foundation is also cranking up. I can't say too much yet but I'll give you a one-word clue: website.

I have stories and essays due in various venues soon (I'll talk about that in a separate post next week or, hmmn, possibly the week after). I'm planning to be in Atlanta in April, New York in May, and the UK in July. Meanwhile, if you're in Washington State on Saturday evening, drop by the Timberland Library in Olympia for a fabulous evening of entertainment, including readings and Q&A from me and Kelley, a performance by Blöödhag, and other delights (see Kelley's post for more info).

What all this means is that I won't be around much between Thursday and Monday. Before I fade out for a few days, I want to say an enormous thank you to everyone who responded to "trembling with rage." Thousands upon thousands of you have read it and spread the word. Please don't stop. Please don't think this is one-time issue. Please don't think I'm kidding when I say this is a real line in the sand for me. I'm not joking. I won't change my mind. There are no excuses.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

learning to take it

Over at Sterling Editing, Kelley is talking about how it is to learn, as a writer, to take criticism. She is also asking interesting questions about being edited.

Accepting feedback is a skill all people have to learn; artists have to learn early. We get a lot. We need a lot. It also can be quite damaging if we don't know what to do with it.

So if you have opinions, techniques, or hard-won lessons you want to share--ways you've found to handle gracefully critiques of your art, your work, your parenting skills--why not drop by and do so?

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Monday, October 19, 2009

reclaiming your copyright

I've just read a fabulously informative post by Jane over on Dear Author. As the Supreme Court in 1943 opined that "authors are congenitally irresponsible" and "frequently they are so sorely pressed for funds that they are willing to sell their work for a mere pittance," Jane notes that

Congress, who is responsible for setting the parameters of the copyright law in the United States, recognizes the economic imbalance between authors and publishers and has tried to include provisions to correct the imbalance. One of those provisions under the current copyright law is the right of termination of a previously granted copyright.

This means that even if your work is still in print, you can get it back. This isn't an immediate thing, far from it (you have to wait 35 years), but it's great news for those who felt pressed by circumstance in the past to make a less than advantageous deal.

I imagine this will have particular relevance to authors of LGBT fiction. Please pass the word (and while you're at it, drop a comment at Dear Author to thank Jane for doing the work: ploughing through the legalese and writing a clear summary).

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

trembling with rage

Yesterday I read this blog post about the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a the partner of a woman who died alone:

U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan dismissed a lawsuit yesterday, essentially finding that the Jackson Memorial Hospital was within its rights to leave a dying woman alone while denying her present and immediate family to visit her, be updated on her condition, or even to provide the hospital with medically necessary information.

Named in the now-dismissed suit were Jackson social worker Garnett Frederick and attending physicians Alois Zauner and Carlos Alberto Cruz, who made the decision not to allow Janice Langbehn, Lisa Pond’s partner, to have standard family access to information, even after receiving durable Power of Attorney and a Living Will naming Janice as legal guardian with authority to make end-of-life decisions.

I already knew the story:

Hello, I am Janice Langbehn [...] On February 18, 2007, Lisa Pond, my partner of nearly 18 years and 3 of our 4 adopted children: Danielle, David and Katie were on board the Rfamily cruise preparing to set sail. Before leaving port, Lisa suddenly collapsed while watching the children play basketball. The kids were banging on the stateroom door saying, “Mommy was hurt!” I opened the door, and took one look at Lisa and knew the situation was very serious. As a medical social worker for many years, I have seen people in critical condition. I knew that my life partner was gravely ill. As the ship was about to leave, we had no choice but to seek medical help in an unfamiliar city. After local medics arrived, we hurried off the ship to the closest hospital in Miami, Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

As Lisa was put into the ambulance I had no idea when she signed “I love you” to the kids and I it would be the last time I would see her beautiful blue eyes. We arrived at the trauma center minutes before her ambulance. I tried to follow her gurney into the trauma area and was stopped by the trauma team and told to go to the waiting room. The kids and I did as we were told.

We arrived shortly after 3:30 in the afternoon, around 4pm, a social worker came out and introduced himself as Garnet Frederick and said, “you are in an anti-gay city and state. And without a health care proxy you will not see Lisa nor know of her condition”. He then turned to leave; I stopped him and asked for his fax number because I said “we had legal Durable Powers of Attorney” and would get him the documents. Within a short time of meeting this social worker, I contacted friends in Lacey, WA, our hometown, who went to our house and faxed the legal documents required for me to make medical decisions for Lisa.

I never imagined as I paced that tiny waiting room that I would not see Lisa’s bright blue eyes again or hold her warm, loving hands. Feeling helpless as I continued to wait, I attempted to sneak back into the trauma bay but all the doors to the trauma area had key codes, preventing me from entering. Sitting alone with our luggage, our children and my thoughts, I watched numbly as other families were invited back into the trauma center to visit with loved ones. I was still waiting to hear what was happening with Lisa, realizing as the time passed that I was not being allowed to see her and if the social worker’s words were any indication it was because we were gay. Anger, despair and disbelief wracked my brain as I tried to figure out a way to find out what was going on with Lisa. I finally thought to call our family doctor back in Olympia (on a Sunday afternoon at home) to see if she could find out what was happening. While on the phone with our doctor in Olympia, a surgeon appeared. The surgeon told me that Lisa, who was just 39 years old, had suffered massive bleeding in her brain from an aneurysm. A short while later, two more surgeons appeared and explained the massive bleed in Lisa’s brain gave her little chance to survive and if she did it would be in a persistent vegetative state. Lisa had made me promise to her over and over in our 18 years together to never allow this to happen to her. I let the surgeons know Lisa wishes, which were also spelled out in her Living Wills and Advance Directive. I was then promised by the doctors that I would be brought to see Lisa as “soon as she was cleaned up”. At that point all life saving measures ceased and I asked that she be prepared for organ donation.

Yet, the children and I continued to wait and wait. A Hospital Chaplain appeared and asked if I wanted to pray and I looked at her dumbfounded as if I hadn’t already been doing that for over four hours. I immediately asked for a Catholic Priest to perform Lisa’s Last rites. A short time later, A Catholic priest escorted me back to recite the Last Rites and it was my first time in nearly 5hrs of seeing Lisa. After seeing her I knew the children needed to see her immediately and be able to say their goodbyes and begin the grieving process. Yet the priest escorted me back out to the waiting room. Where I was faced with the young faces of our beautiful children to explain “other mommy” was going to heaven.

I continued to assert my self over the ensuing hours again that we needed to be with Lisa. I even showed the Admitting clerk the children’s birth certificates with both Lisa and my name on them… and said if you won’t let me back, let her children be with her. I was told they were “too young”. I thought how old do you need to be to say goodbye to your mother?

In nearly eight hours, Lisa lay at Ryder Trauma Center moving toward brain death – completely alone and I continue to this day to feel like a failure for not being there to hold her hand to tell her how much we loved her, to comfort her and to sign in her hand “I love you”. All my pleas fell on deaf ears.

Lisa’s sister arrived driving straight from Jacksonville as soon as I knew Lisa would not survive. She announced who she was and I was at her side staring at the same person who had been denying me access all those hours. It was only then that I was told Lisa had been moved almost an hour earlier to ICU… and the hospital just kept the children and I waiting in the same waiting room, where Lisa was not even at.

A woman can share children with another woman, she can have Durable Power of Attorney and be named in a Living Will as legal guardian--and still she has no rights and no recourse. Because she's a lesbian.

I am trembling with rage.

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, so I won't belabour the point. We need equal rights. We need same-sex marriage at the federal level.

Here in Washington, voting has already begun on Referendum 71, which asks voters to reconfirm expanded domestic partnership rights which were signed into law in May, 2009. I've discussed this before, but I'm going to say it again: if you live in Washington State, are eligible to vote, and do not do so for any reason (barring ICU or earthquakes of apocalyptic proportions), you are not welcome in my real or virtual homes. I will block your email. I will unfollow you on Twitter. I will refuse you entry to our big parties. I will point you out at readings. I will turn my back on you in public. This is my line in the sand. I'm done with being wise and kind and understanding. Now is my time to be vengeful. You do not want to piss me off on this one.

So here's my challenge to all of you, wherever you live: talk about this. Blog about it. Donate money.

If you live in Washington State, talk to your neighbours, your co-workers, the woman in the checkout line. Ask them if they know any gay or lesbian people. Tell them that, in your opinion, voting yes, voting to approve referendum 71 is the right thing to do. Tell them Lisa Pond's story. Feel free, also, to tell them that if us queers do not get our rights we will rise up: the big bad butches will rip the tires off your car. The gay salon owners will burn your hair off. And all the queer cops and dental hygenists and plumbers and customer service people will fuck up your lives to the point of misery.

If you don't live here, think of someone you know who does, and call them. Talk to them. Send them Facebook messages. Write them a letter--but be quick.

This is happening today, this week, this month. Act now.

When you've done something, let me know in the comments. Perhaps it will encourage others to do something, too.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

guess who gets crushed in Wal-Mart vs. Amazon?

Amazon and Wal-Mart are fighting a book-price war. Walmart cut the price of their new hardcovers (blockbusters by Stephen King, John Grisham etc.) to $10. Amazon matched them. Wal-Mart dropped theirs to $9. Amazon again matched and announced it will offer same-day delivery in select cities (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Seattle and Washington). Wow, readers might be thinking, this is awesome--cheap books! Well, yes. And no. If this continues, the ones who will suffer are the writers and, as a result (writers not writing = fewer good books) you, the reader.

Richard Curtis explains it all here.

Typically, publishing contracts reduce author royalties when the discount offered to retailers reaches a certain threshhold. I'm looking at some contracts with big houses that state that when the discount reaches 56%, the author's royalty is cut from one based on list price to one based on net receipts. For example, on a $25 book that means your 10% royalty drops from $2.50 (10% of the list price) to $1.10 (10% of the $11.00 your publisher actually collects from the retailer).

So, authors, this is not merely a spectator sport. Some of you are gonna get killed.

This doesn't currently affect me; I'm not a blockbuster seller. (Wow, never thought there'd come a day when I was pleased about that.)

I'm not saying, Don't buy these cheap books! For one, it would be pointless--you'd do it anyway, right? I know I would. (Actually, I'm eyeing the Stephen King book as a present for K; that price, wow, it can't be beat.) I'm simply saying that there's no such thing as a free lunch. Models will change, whole niches in the publishing ecosystem will soon be laid waste, things will get worse before they get better. They will get better. It's actually pretty exciting (as I've said before). But change is hard and price wars are wasteful.

I can't fix this, so for now I'll ignore it. I'll go write some more Hild. I wonder what kind of publishing world she will debut into...

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Friday, October 16, 2009

an interview: The Outer Alliance Spotlight

Over at Outer Alliance, I talk to Julie Rios about the Lambda Literary Foundation, Sterling Editing, and what it's like to be a dyke in sf land. Take a look. While you're there, join the Alliance. It's nothing but good.

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yes, I know about Fampridine/4-AP/bird poison

Yes, I have heard about this:

Panel Recommends that FDA Approve Fampridine-SR (proposed name Amaya) for Symptomatic Treatment of MS -- Found to improve walking speed for all types of MS

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee today recommended that the agency approve marketing of Fampridine-SR (Acorda Therapeutics, with a proposed name change to Amaya) for its ability to improve walking speed in people with any type of multiple sclerosis. While the FDA is not required to follow the recommendations of its advisory committees, it usually does. The agency is expected to make a final decision about whether to approve the drug for market on or before the target date of October 22, 2009.

I have written about before, here. It's an interesting lesson in capitalism. 4-AP/Fampridine, you see, is an avicide. Yep, airports and farmers use it to kill birds. You can get your pharmacist to compound the generic quick release stuff for about $50 a month. But now it has a fancy name, and will probably cost... Well, my guess Acorda will charge us poor sad cripples around $1,000 a month. For bird poison. Go capitalism!

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

my Technorati Authority is unstoppable

Wow. Just read this Technorati ranking for Entertainment/book blogs which I gacked from Joe Sherry over at Adventures in Reading (a fine blog, go read it):

1. Jacket Copy
2. Whatever
3. Becky’s Book Reviews
4. Chasing Ray
5. Jen Robinson’s Book Page
6. The Book Smugglers
7. Romancing the Blog
8. if: book
9. Maw Books
10. Angieville

13. Fantasy Book Critic
15. Temple Library Reviews
16. Fantasy Café (tie)
24. SF Signal
49. Grasping for the Wind
69. Fantasy & SciFi Lovin’ News and Reviews
72. Torque Control
148. Adventures in Reading
214. Ask Nicola (<---- a head-scratching surprise)
215. Neil Gaiman’s Journal
218. Ecstatic Days
283. Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist (tie)
283. Mary Robinette Kowal (tie)
323. Fantasy Book News & Reviews
396. Galley Cat

Wow. And WTF? This makes no sense to me. I have a fine sense of my own worth, absolutely, but I don't know why my blog is ranked higher than Galley Cat, Neil Gaiman, or Ecstatic Days. I've seen my stats. I can't make this add up.

Does anybody out there know how this works (or doesn't work)?

Addendum: I'm now at 199. (And now 88.) Oh, god, a new obsession is born...

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Always on Book View Cafe

Nancy Jane Moore talks about the self-defence stuff in Always over at Book View Cafe. Nancy was one of my students, long ago, but she's not biased, oh dear me no. Aud is just an overwhelming fascinating character.

For those of you who have never met her, Aud is:

Seattle Weekly
The sexiest action figure since James Bond, 6 blond feet of sinew, muscle, and bone. She's also an ex-cop, a martial arts instructor, a master carpenter, and a private dick for hire. She's beautiful, she's independently wealthy, she's in perfect shape: she's downright deadly. And sorry guys: she's into girls....

Makes La Femme Nikita look like a Powerpuff Girl.
She knows how to fight, kill, survive and of my favorite kick-ass, super-competent, coolheaded, hotblooded, semilegal girls.

Village Voice scary, gorgeous creature...a woman who loses herself in the beauty and balletic control of pure exceptional woman...a hero as sexy and iconic as television's Xena.

New York Times
A classic noir hero.

The Advocate
Sleek, sexy, and decidedly dangerous--everything a suspense novel heroine should be.

Entertainment Weekly intuitive, old-fashioned sleuth who would do Elmore Leonard proud.

Manda Scott
...a heroine for the modern age, the avenging angel inside us... I promise you, she'll haunt your days long after you've finished the book... she's fast, frightening, startlingly sexy... This is exhilarating stuff.

New York Daily News
...the love child of Smilla and Nikita

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
...charismatic, yet borderline personality

Laurie King
Gives whole new meaning to the phrase "strong woman"...a personification of every woman's secret kick-ass fantasies.

City Pages
...would claim for women the entire spectrum of human behavior, including brutality and its sometime converse, rage.

Publishers Weekly
...tall, blonde, singular...a woman with a very sharp brutal as she is sensitive...wildly and exuberantly violent...hugely complex and unique.

Seattle Times
Vulnerable, stubborn, honest and engaging, she's as large as life.

... a terrifying fascinating and complicated as she is dangerous and frightening

Lambda Book Report
...powerfully dynamic, a detective walking a fine moral line.
...clearly a woman, just a really different kind of woman.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

how not to do dialogue

For your delectation and delight over at Sterling Editing, we have a new editcast on dialogue--Kelley plays Ming the Merciless. I do a vaguely grump blog post to accompany it--tub-thumping about what not (oh, not not not) to do. Hey, you try writing execrable examples; it's like pulling fingernails down a blackboard. Shudder.

Anyway, go take a look. Hopefully you'll find some of it amusing. Perhaps even educational.

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Doctor Who competition and Vogon-worthy poetry

Blue Peter, the BBC children's programme, has a competition: design a new console for Dr Who's Tardis, to be built wholly from household items. This brings back many memories of watching hapless hosts being made to demonstrate how to build Fun Things from crepe paper, sticky-backed plastic, and empty egg cartons.

It also reminds me of how bloody cross I was when I was eleven and I won a BBC poetry competition--I got to read my poem on the radio and everything--and as my reward got only a Blue Peter annual (1972) Cheap bastards. Not even any chocolate. The winners of this competition, though, get to visit the Dr Who set. So if you know any kids who like designing things, send them to take a look.

Just to torment you (I'm turning into a Vogon...), here's my winning entry from long ago:

In a Viking longship
on the way to glory
foaming round her long slim sides
the sea pounds in all fury.
As the sail begins to fill
she leaps ahead with joy
she too has a joy for plunder
though the waves may tear her asunder.

The crest of the ocean
reared and angry
curl under the stem
of that proud figure head.
Those fiersome [sic] eyes that seem to live
dancing and glinting then seeming to fade
But ever proud till they die.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

first review of Eclipse 3

Charles Tan reviews my Eclipse 3 story, "It Takes Two." He likes it. I'm delighted. I never really know what to make of my short fiction; it's cool to get someone else's take on it. At some point I'll get to read all the other stories, too. It's a fabulous looking lineup. I'm looking forward to it.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Obama's HRC speech, my line in the sand

I'm gradually recovering--a bit better every day, still a way to go--from Whirling World. Meanwhile for you delectation and delight (or irritation, or amusement), here is Barack Obama's speech to HRC, conveniently chopped into three parts:

So, what do you think? I think first of all: Whoa, what a bunch of white people; HRC needs to look to its recruitment strategies. Then I think: we'll be rid of DOMA and DADT by about 2011. I think a federal domestic partnership will follow some time later. Some time after that, we'll be able to call it 'marriage'. But that will be a while.

Meanwhile, I'm serving anyone who lives in the state of Washington with this notice: if I find that you did not vote in November, for any reason (hospitalisation of you or your immediate family, or apocalyptic interventions such as an earthquake over 6.8 on the Richter scale, excepted), you are no longer welcome in my home, real or virtual. Referendum 71 is my line in the sand. It matters. If you can't be bothered to vote on something that impacts my life directly, I don't care to know you. No, I will not ask you how you voted (though the correct answer, just in case you're not feeling too bright today, is I voted Yes on Referendum 71). But I will not abide someone who doesn't care.

I hope that's clear. I won't change my mind.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

a whirling world

No post here today. I have migraine/vertigo. Can't stand noise and movement. Can't stand, full stop. These things often last a few days, so don't expect me to be around here much this weekend.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

genre and literature: shaking the test tube

I've been astounded by the rumpus around the Booker: Harrumph, the litsnobs say, it's historical fiction, not literature! [Imagine that drawn out to about five syllable.] Jumped up little... [Dissolves into muttering and 'Pass the port'.]

Wolf Hall is a novel set in the past. So is Orlando, and The Name of the Rose, and Atonement, and (maybe, depending how you squint at it) One Hundred Years of Solitude.

So what makes a novel literature and what makes it genre?

I wish I knew. I've asked myself and others the same question about science fiction and crime fiction. I seem to be at odds with most people. I believe I write novels: books that are both literature and comfortably 'science fiction' or 'crime fiction'. I set them where and when I like, use the characters I choose, and employ whichever literary conventions please me. The publishers (and critics and booksellers) label them as they find convenient. I'm still getting royalty cheques, and the majority have had many printings, so readers don't seem to care one way or another.

Here's the definition of historical fiction given by the Historical Novel Society

To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).

We also consider the following styles of novel to be historical fiction for our purposes: alternate histories (e.g. Robert Harris' Fatherland), pseudo-histories (eg. Umberto Eco's Island of the Day Before), time-slip novels (e.g. Barbara Erskine's Lady of Hay), historical fantasies (eg. Bernard Cornwell's King Arthur trilogy) and multiple-time novels (e.g. Michael Cunningham's The Hours).

It's a fairly broad definition. Nothing there about ladies and lances, no requirement for romance--which is how litsnobs seem to think of the genre.

I've laid out my notions of how and why this Us vs. Them thing began with literature and genre. (See my essay, "Brilliance and Beauty and Risk," which I gave as my Guest of Honour speech in 2001 at the University of Liverpool's Celebration of SF.) It's a basic human trait to separate out qualities that are desirable and not (or, to use T.H. White's terminology, Done and Not Done). It's not pretty but it is, I believe, unavoidable, unstoppable. All we can do is remember to to shake up the test tube every now and again so that the layers mix again.

I can't tell you how pleased I am that the judges for this year's Booker are happily shaking test tubes.

Why does this please me so much? Because the minute people (readers, in this case) start to believe that two substances, literature and genre, are immiscible, each loses something important. Literature loses joy. Genre loses the brilliance and clarity, the life-changing potential of art.

Go forth and shake test tubes. Readers of the future will thank you.

Addendum: here's a video of Hilary Mantel reading and talking. (If you don't enjoy the reading--I admit I don't--fast forward to 2:45 where the interview begins.)

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wolf Hall wins the Booker

Hilary Mantel wins the Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, a novel about Thomas Cromwell. It's a long meaty historical, apparently; the first volume of three. Which bodes well for Hild. Listen to this discussion of the book--John Crace whinges a bit, but then admits that the book doesn't suck. (He has an amusing precis of all the short-listed novels here.)

I haven't read the book yet. I've been waiting for the Kindle edition--which may or may not happen in time to maintain my interest. (What is wrong with publishers? They are so very confused about who spends what. They're losing sales because they think ebook sales cannibalise hardcover sales. In my case they don't. In my case the equation is simple: no Kindle edition = no sale.)

Who has read it? What do you think?

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

busy Hilding

I'm not really here today. Might not be here much tomorrow, either. I'm off consorting with Hild. Uh, well, not in that way, because that would be wrong. (She's still way too young, for one thing.)

I've been working on Hild exactly two years. I haven't spent nearly enough focused time with her. I'll be remedying that this autumn...

...and now I'm smiling again at the thought. I love to write!

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Best. Armagnac. Ever.

photo from vendor's website

For my birthday, a friend sent me a bottle of the finest Armagnac I've ever tasted: a 1980 Baron de Lustrac in a fancy wooden box (dovetails and everything, with nifty little brass hinges and catch).

Admittedly, I've only sampled half a dozen different Armagnacs (it's more difficult to find in restaurants than Cognac--mostly I come across Larressingle and Darroze, both good) but this one floats above them all like a cirrus cloud. It has a fabulous combination of complexity and clarity (it's rich but light, warm but whippy), one I've never encountered before. It was a fine, fine coda to a delicious meal last night (butternut squash soup with cream and chives, lamb stew with caramelised pearl onions and baby carrots, apple and berry crumble with cream--and wine of course, lots of wine, plus conversation about publishing).

I am smiling (and, y'know, very slightly hung over--but mostly smiling).

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Day of the Dead, Victoria Brownworth

The stories in Victoria A. Brownworth's Day of the Dead are thronged by the lost and lonely--nuns and researchers, ghosts and vampires, students and succubi--abandoned by lovers, by the state, their own faith. People like us, searching for peace and redemption. And through it all steals the mist, the scent of the bayou, and the ringing of bells...

From the publisher
City of dreams. City of nightmares. Heat-soaked days. Rain-filled nights. Shadowy figures vanishing into swirling fog. City of promise, of heartbreak and despair. City of passion, obsession and vengeance. City of innocents--stalked by the ravenous dead. Slip into the shadows of New Orleans' deepest nights, where the unsuspecting encounter the netherworld of predators of legend. Especially on days of legend: St. Lucy's Day, Guy Fawkes' Day, All Hallows Eve, Twelfth Night. Most of all, the Day of the Dead. This is when the dying Maeve will find Rita--who changes everything, including fate. When Miranda Kent, on a very specific hunt in the French Quarter, will overturn lives irrevocably. When Mischa and Raisa, caught between worlds, will find themselves no longer helpless. When scientist Dr. Lily Sahkret will have her every belief challenged by a mysterious band of nuns waging the most ancient and desperate of battles. And, lurking beyond them all, is the woman poised to conquer all, a woman named Katrina. Lock the doors. And even then, read these tales at your peril.

There's a good review here.

Victoria Brownworth is a Pulitzer-nominated Philadelphia journalist and writer. (And activist--AIDS, breast cancer, disability, racism, classism. And Curve contributing editor. And columnist, critic, editor, anthologist, teacher, and cat rescuer. And more. People sometimes tell me I do a lot but I'm an amateur compared to this woman.) These are stories of the lesbians of New Orleans--before, during, and after Katrina--and the fantastical monsters they meet (or are). Despite the otherworldly New Orleans atmosphere, it's clear that in this fiction everything but the supernatural elements is deeply informed by Brownworth's personal understanding and journalistic knowledge of the real world.

I've never been to New Orleans but I know, now, what it's like.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

birthday goodness

Yesterday was Consume Good Things day at the Griffith-Eskridge household. It started with a cup of tea in bed and just got better.

I was in a plain and simple mood. Our evening began with our last bottle of Viña Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva, 1987. (Those who've been following for a while know we bought half a case for our 20th anniversary. I know I have photos somewhere but can't seem to find them today.) It's a haughty, old-fashioned kind of wine, very simple and structured, very Old World. It's only 12% alcohol by volume which, in my opinion, is how wine should be. I don't much care for the American-led notion of 14% or even higher, tsk tsk. Anyway, the wine took us a long time to drink--you don't slam 22-year-old Rioja. You sip, you reminisce, you muse, you smile, you sip again...

Eventually, we wandered into the kitchen and ate grilled lamb with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. Followed by blackberry clafoutis with cream. The clafoutis was a new thing. I'd read a recipe here and Kelley just made it for me on the spur of the moment. (It's very simple. It's inexpensive. It's easy, quick and tasty. We'll be having it again.)

I pondered finishing things off with a glass of 1980 Armagnac (more on that another time--but it came in a lovely wooden box for my birthday) but decided I'd appreciate it more another day. Like maybe today :)

So it was a quiet day, just what I needed. I think this year is going to be a good one.

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