Tuesday, March 31, 2009

one year old today

This blog is exactly one year old today. Happy Birthday us!

To celebrate, I think it's time to start porting over some of the old Ask Nicola questions. I have thousands and thousands of them, reaching back to 1997. I'll proceed according to whim--whichever ones I feel like, as and when I feel like it, but I'll try to keep you updated every so often. It'll be unmethodical because the old entries are so eccentrically arranged and coded. (It was the mid-90s, it was all new: if black type was good, green was better, and, hey, flashing orange didn't suck. Though I think some of those really, really early ones never made it into the archive. My first website went up so long ago I can't remember the year. 1994/5? Dave, if you're reading this, please correct me.)

The reason this blog is called Ask Nicola is that's what the old 'interactive' Q&A segment on my website was called (back when HTML was bleeding edge). Lately, though, few of you have been asking direct questions (which you can do by sending email to asknicola2 at nicolagriffith dot com). While the stats indicate that you like what I'm talking about well enough (you visit regularly from 106 countries) I've decided that it might be nice to fine tune things a little. At least for the month of April.

So, here's your opportunity to ask for what you want, right here in the comments, anonymously or not. Is there any general topic you're burning to get my take on? I'll talk about anything--art, politics, science, popular culture, human relationships--mostly. Any specific question you're itching to ask? Any vague pointers? If so, fire away.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

stressing out? read a novel

An article in the Telegraph about how reading reduces stress--even six minutes can be enough to reduce the stress levels by more than two thirds:

And it works better and faster than other methods to calm frazzled nerves such as listening to music, going for a walk or settling down with a cup of tea, research found.

Psychologists believe this is because the human mind has to concentrate on reading and the distraction of being taken into a literary world eases the tensions in muscles and the heart...

The most interesting part of the article, for me, was that the study was commissioned by Galaxy chocolate who are planning a promotional giveaway of one million books. (I happen to really like Galaxy--creamy, silky stuff--though almost impossible to find in this country)

So before you read your 401(k) statement, make sure you have a book handy. Then read, and read, and munch on a bar of chocolate. Remember life is good.

[** edit: and don't forget you can reduce stress by writing, too **]

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

yan, tan, tethera, methera...

After "44 years of meticulous study," the Dictionary of American Regional English is nearly done. But Britain has a longer and more complicated history of linguistical eccentricity. Here, for example, is how we count sheep on the English left coast:

Yan, tan, tethera, methera, pimp, teezar, leezar, cattera, horna, dik, yandik, tandik, tetherdik, bumpit, yan-a-bumpit, tan-a-bumpit, tethera-bumpit, methera-bumpit, jigot...

But according to this Guardian article, it would cost way too much to compile the UK version of the regional dictionary. Which sucks. How cool would it be to leaf through the OED of Britslang, to read of ways to say someone is clemmed, a bit previous, a gurning gormless git... Want want want.

So what terms do you like to use? What makes those around you stare and blink and scratch their heads while you chortle to yourself?

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rihanna hires Aud!

From: Owen

Okay, I'm probably not the only one to send you this, and it's probably not unsual, etc. But I couldn't help thinking of Aud when I read this in Jezebel this morning.

Rihanna was seen "smiling and flirting" with a group of guys — including Brody Jenner — at Nobu in New York on Wednesday. She also has a blond, female security guard, which is kind of awesome. [Page Six]:

"Her blond, female security guard was there the whole time," said our spy. "Every time RIHANNA would go to the bathroom, the guard would go with her. Every time someone came to the table, the bodyguard would stand up. She was like a female James Bond."

By the way, let me take this opportunity to say that I've really lovedyour books over the years. I don't often read novels anymore, but if William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, or Nicola Griffith releases a new book, I buy it and read it.

You are the first to send it. And she does sound like Aud, doesn't she? Though Aud, on bodyguard duty, would probably stand the whole time--looking terribly relaxed. And you just don't ever want to see Aud looking sleepy and relaxed: very very bad news for somebody.

By the way, that's an interesting roster of writers. I can see the similarity for one brief moment back in the early '90s, but now... What links us, in your opinion? Apart from the fact that well all live in the Pacific Northwest :)

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Friday, March 27, 2009

doing it for pleasure

After a reader (thanks, Jennifer) reminded me, in a comment to "advice for girls," that reading is pretty damn important I was vaguely appalled that I hadn't included 'read a lot! read everything!' in my advice. To make up for it, here's a wee thing I wrote many years ago about the joys of reading.


DOING IT FOR PLEASURE

Reading isn't everything--it's not meat and drink, it's not sex or a warm hearth--but it's a lot. I need it. I do it often. I do it for pleasure.

Pleasure is a many-roomed mansion. Sometimes it's the urgent need for distraction--from fear or pain or grief. During my last stay in hospital, I read four books a day. I would have read more if I'd had them to hand. Story can make claustrophobia, discomfort, and anxiety bearable; I'm not sure I could bear to get on a plane without a book. Sometimes the pleasure of reading is in learning, formal or otherwise: history, biology, linguistics; how people think and what people feel; what the Antarctic really looks like. Most of my vocabulary comes from books. I spent my childhood believing fatigue was "fatty-gyoo;" I was probably twenty before I realised Pericles was not pronounced "Perry-kulls." Once I discovered the OED and its handy pronunciation guides, such uncertainties vanished--though it didn't and doesn't help with proper names. Sometimes I read for vindication, the "Yes, yes, yes, I knew someone else once felt/thought/did this!" As a child it's where I discovered that there are other people out there who don't believe in god; who think cliffs are for climbing; who look at other girls and want to kiss them. It's a way of connecting--forwards, backwards, and sideways--with the rest of the human race. Men in 350 BCE got hungry, had nightmares, told jokes. Women in Indonesia are impatient, daydream about shapes in the clouds, worry about their social standing. Teenagers of the future will experience the same rush of joy, the same belief in their absolute difference, the same pangs of insecurity and confusion that they have for millennia.

Reading also helps me connect and reconnect with myself. When I reread an old favourite, a ratty old paperback I've had since I was fifteen, say, I'm transported back in time, to the teenage me, the twentysomething me, the thirtysomething me. It's not just the words doing the work, nor the memory of concepts conjured for the first time by those words, it's the book as physical object that is the time capsule. I'll reach page fifty three and find the yellowish stain that still smells faintly of the satsuma peel I dropped and trod onto the book by mistake when my mother shouted upstairs that it was my turn to set the table. On page one hundred and eight there's a shred of tobacco from the cigarettes I used to roll for myself because I couldn't afford tailor-mades. On page two hundred and twenty four I encounter that illegible paragraph where the beetroot from my sandwich slid from the bread and landed in its full, juicy glory across the page. I pause in my read, and remember the room I was in when I peeled the orange, rolled the cigarette, ate the sandwich: I hear the Pink Floyd on the radio (which even then was so ancient the AC connection was broken, and the batteries was so expensive I had to wire a bunch of other, smaller batteries together in series to make it work), smell the tea I was drinking, see the dust motes dancing in the air. I reconnect with all those past me's that I wouldn't otherwise visit.

When I think of reading, I often picture dust motes dancing in a beam of indoor sunlight because in my imagination the ideal reading experience is tied to luxuriating in warmth and peace. Most of the time, the image in my head is of being curled up on the carpet in a patch of sunshine with the book balanced on my knee and the perfect cup of tea steaming gently at my side. Sometimes in my mind's eye I lie on my stomach before the fire, book flat in front of me, while outside an autumn storm rattles the windows but can't find a way in. In these daydreams commuters struggle miserably to their jobs while I stroll through an ancient forest or stab an enemy in the gut or learn something interesting about the politics of conversion in seventh century Northumbria--pausing only to take another sip of tea or select just the right truffle from the box of chocolates. In these dreams there is no music but the rain in the gutter or the birds in the trees, no conversation but the dialogue in my head; I am perfectly alone, perfectly at peace.

Yet when I read, part of my pleasure is the knowledge that others have read the same words and been amused, educated, delighted, vindicated or connected, and I feel part of something bigger and richer and intensely exciting. When I put the book down, I go in search of a friend to talk to about the ideas or characters or places I've discovered. All my friends are readers. I wouldn't have it any other way; readers are, in my opinion, better people for having spent much of their lives being amused, educated, delighted, vindicated and connected. If I ever found myself in one of those stories about a magic lamp, I wouldn't ask the djinn for peace on earth or a cure for cancer, my wish would be to turn every person on this earth into someone who likes to read: someone who needs it, who does it often, who does it for pleasure.

Originally published in Central Booking.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

blank by the water

The view from our window.

I've just got back from time on the Olympic Peninsula with Kelley, my sister Anne and her sweetie Eric. I did nothing. For three days.

Well, okay, I wandered about near the water (Hood Canal) and ate a lot, and sat in the window seat of our room staring at the water and the mountains. Then I ate some more. Stared some more. Had a drink in the bar.

Most of the staring time was spent being perfectly blank. But I did a little thinking, too, mainly about Hild. Once Anne and Eric go back to the UK I'll be tackling my novel with renewed energy and a clearer sense of purpose. (That is, Hild's purpose. I think I can now make the whole religion thing work structurally. No, I'm not ready to talk about it. Yes, that does make me a tease.)

So here's another tease for you: lots of people have bemoaned the fact that there's no Janes Plane video. Well, there is. I now have it on my hard drive...

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

I'm gone

I'll be on the Olympic Peninsula--far from email--until late Wednesday. I might get around to writing a time-activated blog post or two before I leave, or I might not. I'm feeling sorta sleepy and Sunday-ish and think I might just putter about the house getting ready for the dinner we're throwing for my sister, her sweetie, and one of our good friends.

On the menu: butternut squash soup, lamb stew, profiteroles. With lots of delicious wine.

I think my sister has met our friend, briefly, at a party we gave eight years ago, but I love knowing that friends, family, and neighbours have been properly introduced. It makes the world seem more knit together, the safety net more sturdy. I like having a place in a multi-stranded community.

I even introduced our masseuse, Susan, to our artist neighbour, Vicki. I think Susan might end up buying some art from Vicki for her massage rooms--one day, when she gets around to it. But the connection is there. It pleases me.

Do any of you do anything like that? Do you set people up on blind dates? Suggest that friends get their houses painted by your contractor? Share secrets of where to get your favourite shoes resoled instead of buying new ones? Does it make you feel good?

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Friday, March 20, 2009

advice for girls

From: Dianne Cameron (atlbooks@bellsouth.net)

I volunteer with Cool Girls, an afterschool program that targets girls in low-income areas. I work with 60 girls at Carey Reynolds Elementary (3rd to 5th graders) and another 30 at Sequoyah Middle School, trying to encourage them and teach them basic life skills (communication, nutrition, etc.). The area around Doraville (85 / 285 / Buford Hwy) has become extremely diverse, and most of the girls are Hispanic, Black, and Asian, with only a couple Anglos thrown in the mix – not your typical “Southern Women” from Dunwoody or South Cobb.

I just finished reading the Aud Torvingen novels and thoroughly enjoyed them. I was wondering if you might have any advice that I could pass on, particularly to the older girls, about how to succeed in life.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Advice? Words matter. The words you use about others, the words you use to describe yourself, they make a difference. Choose them carefully. Don't accept the words others use about you. Find your own words for yourself. Believe them.

There's a big world out here, just waiting, a world where all kinds of things are possible. One day you'll leave your home, school, neighbourhood, perhaps even your city or your state, maybe even your country. That's where you will find those words that are yours, the ones you want to grow into, the ones you want to be. Brave? Loved? Famous? Strong? Wise? Happy? All good words. All possible. But only if you refuse the labels others want to give you.

I hope readers will chime in here. I hope you will take this chance to give some advice to girls--to say the things you wish someone had said to you when you were twelve or thirteen.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Marvel wants you to blow Wolverine


In the Advocate:

Christian conservatives are up in arms over a new inflatable toy by comic book and film giant Marvel. The inflatable Wolverine doll comes with a strategically placed inflation tube -- right on his crotch.

An article on ChristWire.org got straight to the point -- "We might as well line our children up and burn them ourselves! If we make these types of devil-pleasing acts OK, they will all be burning in the fire lakes anyways... What’s next? The Wonder Woman lollipop?"

Okay. Who votes for deliberate foolery on the part of Marvel, and who votes for just-didn't-think-to-check? And how many children would get it, anyway? I know I wouldn't have thought twice (or even once) as, say, an eight year-old. But perhaps kids are more alert to this stuff now. Thoughts?

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

money in your face


According to the Economist, Jefferson Duarte of Rice University in Houston, Texas, thinks that a person's creditworthiness can be seen in their face:

The team recruited 25 Mechanical Turk workers and asked them to assess pictures of potential borrowers that had been posted on Prosper.com. In particular, they were asked to rate, on a scale of one to five, how trustworthy these people looked, and to estimate the percentage probability that each individual would repay a $100 loan. They were also asked to make several other assessments, such as the individual’s sex, race, age, attractiveness and obesity. The 25 results for each photograph were then averaged and analysed.

The researchers looked at 6,821 loan applications, 733 of which were successful. Their first finding was that the assessments of trustworthiness, and of likelihood to repay a loan, that were made by Mechanical Turk workers did indeed correlate with potential borrowers’ credit ratings based on their credit history. That continued to be so when the other variables, from beauty to race to obesity, were controlled for statistically. Shifty physiognomy, it seems, is independent of these things.

That shiftiness was also recognised by those whose money was actually at stake. People flagged as untrustworthy by the Mechanical Turks were less likely than others to be offered a loan at all. To have the same chance of getting one as those deemed most trustworthy they were required to pay an interest rate that was, on average, 1.82 percentage points higher, even when the effects of historical creditworthiness were statistically eliminated.

Gaydar exists, bullshit detectors exist: we really do know, deep down, quite a bit about the person we're facing. (Assuming--yes, big assumption on my part--we know enough about ourselves to factor in our prejudices: sex, race, size, age and so on.) So follow your instincts. Listen to that inner voice. Don't allow yourself to be talked out of your basic understanding of a person or situation. Some people really shouldn't be trusted farther than you can throw them. Shifty bastards.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Publishing Triangle

Colleen reminds me that the Publishing Triangle also has shortlists and awards up. But they've never paid any attention to me, so I tend to forget they exist. Pettiness on my part? Possibly. But I tend to think it's more that their presence is fading. Why is their presence fading? I don't know. I don't know much about them. Oh, and there's the answer. Look at their website: still advertising events from 2006. Sad.

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washed clean

I'm entering a not-much-time for the internets phase, so blogging here will be erratic for ten days or so. But I will be reading comments--except when I'm out of town for three days at the beginning of next week.

_________________

This morning I woke up to a world washed clean by overnight rain. Everything sparkled. There were so many bird singing, flying, drumming, calling, eating while I had breakfast (and mourned the very last issue of the Seattle P-I) that I couldn't keep track.

A flock of tiny warbler-types (I call them hot-needle birds, because their song is so high and sharp it's like hot needles) flitted in and out of the gnarled and still-bare willow in the neighbour's garden. A mental woodpecker drummed on the neighbour's house, clearly thinking that using the house as a sounding board would make him seem huge and mate-worthy. Two robins (oh, those birds are just moronic) hopped from tree-top to tree-top singing their monotonous dee-dee-dee. Two Stellar's jays yelled at them. (The jays are often accompanied by a rather plump, fussy-looking grey squirrel; clearly there's some benefit to this arrangement but I don't know what it is.) Crows wheeled and tilted, dropped and flipped, clearly showing off for each other. And lots of nondescript birds flew this way and then.

After a while I realised two things. They were pairing up: singing to each other, preening, doing acrobatics. It was like Saturday Night Fever in the sky. Then I noticed that they were all flying quite low, which seemed at odds with the bidding for attention. It was at that point that I saw a hawk--a small one, don't know what kind--flitting from bough to bough in the ravine, looking sorta peckish, and thought, Aha, discretion is the better part of valour.

But though the birds kept their exuberance low to ground, the air thrummed with it. Spring really is here. The world is sparkling.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Syfy, anyone?


The Sci-Fi Channel will become Scyfy. (Via the Swivet. ) Apparently girls are afraid of 'sci-fi'. Also, it's easier to text 'syfy' than sci-fi. No, it's not a joke.

I think I'm going to change my name to God: bigger market pull, and easier to fit on book covers.

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Lammy finalists

Finalists for the 2009 Lambda Literary Awards have just been announced:

BISEXUAL

  • Open, Jenny Block, Seal Press
  • Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love & Desire, Lisa M. Diamond, Harvard University Press
  • The Bishop's Daughter, Honor Moore, W.W. Norton
  • Kinsey Zero Through Sixty: Bisexual Perspectives on Kinsey, Ron Jackson Suresha, Taylor & Francis Journals
  • Rimbaud, Edmund White, Atlas & Company

TRANSGENDER
  • 10,000 Dresses, Marcus Ewert & Rex Ray, Seven Stories Press
  • Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word), Thea Hillman, Manic D Press
  • Two Truths and a Lie, Scott Schofield, Homofactus Press
  • Boy with Flowers, Ely Shipley, Barrow Street Press
  • Transgender History, Susan Stryker, Seal Press

LGBT ANTHOLOGIES
  • A Casulty of War: Gay Short Fiction, Peter Burton, Arcadia Books
  • Live Through This, edited by Sabrina Chapadjiev, Seven Stories Press
  • Love, West Hollywood, edited by Chris Freeman and James J. Berg, Alyson
  • Our Caribbean, edited by Thomas Glave, Duke University Press
  • Big Trips: More Good Gay Travel Writing, edited by Raphael Kadushin, University of Wisconsin Press

LGBT CHILDRENS/YOUNG ADULT
  • Hit the Road, Manny: A Manny Files Novel, Christian Burch, Simon and Schuster
  • Out of the Pocket, Bill Konigsberg, Dutton
  • How They Met & Other Stories, David Levithan, Knopf Children's Books
  • Mousetraps, Pat Schmetz, Carolrhoda Books
  • What They Always Tell Us, Martin Wilson, Random House Children's Books
  • Love & Lies: Marisol's Story, Ellen Wittlinger, Simon and Schuster

LGBT DRAMA
  • Phi Alpha Gamma, Dan Bernitt, Sawyer House
  • Radical Acts: Collected Political Plays, Martin Duberman, The New Press
  • The Second Coming of Joan of Arc, Carolyn Gage, Outskirts Press
  • Two Truths and a Lie, Scott Schofield, Homofactus Press
  • Vile Affections, Vanda, Original Works Publishing

LGBT NONFICTION
  • Me as Her Again, Nancy Agabian, Aunt Lute Books
  • If I Could Write This in Fire, Michelle Cliff, Univ of Minnesota Press
  • Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America 1861-2003, William N. Eskridge Jr, Penguin Group
  • Beyond (Straight & Gay) Marriage, Nancy Polikoff, Beacon Press
  • Loving The Difficult, Jane Rule, Hedgerow Press
  • Drifting Toward Love, Kai Wright, Beacon Press

LGBT SCI-FI/FANTASY/HORROR
  • The Archer's Heart, Astrid Amara, Blind Eye Books
  • The Magician and the Fool, Barth Anderson, Bantam Del Rey
  • Wilde Stories 2008, Steve Berman, Lethe Press
  • Sea, Swallow Me and Other Stories, Craig Gidney, Lethe Press
  • Turnskin, Nicole Kimberling, Blind Eye Books

LGBT STUDIES
  • Tomboys: A Literary & Cultural History, Michelle Ann Abate, Temple University Press
  • The Dividends of Dissent: How Conflict and Culture Work in Lesbian and Gay Marches on Washington, Amin Ghaziani, The University of Chicago Press
  • Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality, Regina Kunzel, The University of Chicago Press
  • Political Manhood: Red Bloods, Mollycoddles, & the Politics of Progressive Reform, Kevin P. Murphy, Columbia University Press
  • Screening Sex, Linda Williams, Duke University Press

LESBIAN DEBUT FICTION
  • Red Audrey & the Roping, Jill Malone, Bywater Books
  • Passing for Black, Linda Villarosa, Kensington
  • Closer to Fine, Meri Weiss, Kensington
  • Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind, Chavisa Woods, Fly by Night Press
  • The Bruise, Magdalena Zurawski, Fiction Collective Two/University of Alabama Press

LESBIAN EROTICA
  • Lipstick on Her Collar, Sacchi Green and Rakelle Valencia, Pretty Things Press
  • Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures, Lynne Jamneck, Lethe Press
  • In Deep Waters 2: Cruising the Strip, Radclyffe and Karen Kallmaker, Bold Strokes Books

LESBIAN FICTION
  • The Slow Fix, Ivan E. Coyole, Arsenal Pulp Press
  • The Sealed Letter, Emma Donoghue, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Map of Ireland, Stephanie Grant, Scribner
  • All the Pretty Girls, Chandra Mayor, Conundrum Press
  • Breaking Spirit Bridge, Ruth Perkinson, Spinsters Ink

LESBIAN MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY
  • Wrestling with the Angel of Democracy, Susan Griffin, Shambhala Publications
  • Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word), Thea Hillman, Manic D Press
  • Sex Variant Woman, Joanne Passet, Da Capo
  • Sex Talks to Girls: A Memoir, Maureen Seaton, University of Arkansas Press
  • Case of a Lifetime, Abbe Smith, Palgrave Macmillan

LESBIAN MYSTERY
  • Blind Faith, Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall, Bold Strokes Books
  • Whacked, Josie Gordon, Bella Books
  • Sweet Poison, Ellen Hart, St. Martin's Press
  • Losers Weepers, Jessica Thomas, Bella Books
  • Calling the Dead, Ali Vali, Bold Strokes Books

LESBIAN POETRY
  • Interpretive Work, Elizabeth Bradfield, Arktoi / Red Hen Press
  • Kissing Dead Girls, Daphne Gottlieb, Soft Skull Press
  • love belongs to those who do the feeling, Judy Grahn, Red Hen Press
  • Same Life, Maureen N. McLane, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Two Minutes of Light, Nancy K. Pearson, Perugia Press

LESBIAN ROMANCE
  • Finding Home, Georgia Beers, Bold Strokes Books
  • A Pirate's Heart, Catherine Friend, Bold Strokes Books
  • The Kiss That Counted, Karin Kallmaker, Bella Books
  • Hotel Liaison, JLee Meyer, Bold Strokes Books
  • The Lonely Hearts Club, Radclyffe, Bold Strokes Books

GAY DEBUT FICTION
  • Shuck, Daniel Allen Cox, Arsenal Pulp Press
  • Light Fell, Evan Fallenberg, Soho Press
  • The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie The Second, Drew Ferguson, Kensington
  • The Steve Machine, Mike Hoolboom, Coach House Books
  • Finlater, Shawn Ruff, Quote Editions

GAY EROTICA
  • Best Gay Erotica 2009, Richard Labonte & James Lear, Cleis Press
  • The Secret Tunnel, James Lear, Cleis Press
  • Hard Working Men, William Maltese, Victor J. Banis, Jardonn Smith, & J.P. Bowie, MLR Press

GAY FICTION
  • Stray Dog Winter, David Francis, Macadam/Cage Publishing
  • The Torturer's Wife, Thomas Glave, City Light Publishers
  • We Disappear, Scott Heim, HarperCollins
  • The Conversion, Joseph Olshan, St. Martin’s Press
  • The Boomerang Kid, Jay Quinn, Alyson

GAY MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY
  • Bringing Him Home, Aaron Cooper, Late August Press
  • Swish, Joel Derfner, Broadway Books
  • Assisted Loving, Bob Morris, HarperCollins
  • Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love, Sheila Rowbotham, Verso Books
  • King of Shadows, Aaron Shurin, City Lights Publishers

GAY MYSTERY
  • The Fisher Boy, Stephen Anable, Poisoned Pen Press
  • Sundowner Ubuntu, Anthony Bidulka, Insomniac Press
  • Mahu Fire, Neil Plakcy, Alyson Books
  • First You Fall, Scott Sherman, Alyson Books
  • Spider Season, John Morgan Wilson, St. Martin's Press

GAY POETRY
  • Want, Rick Barot, Sarabande Press
  • Please, Jericho Brown, New Issues
  • Fire to Fire, Mark Doty, HarperCollins
  • Now You're the Enemy, James Allen Hall, Univ. of Arkansas Press
  • My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, Jack Spicer, edited by Peter Gizzi & Kevin Killian, Wesleyan University Press

GAY ROMANCE
  • Mexican Heat, Laura Baumbach & Josh Lanyon, MLR Press
  • Got 'til it's Gone, Larry Duplechan, Arsenal Pulp Press
  • The Protector, N.L. Gassert, Seventh Window Publications

Regular readers might spot a familiar title: Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures, edited by Lynne Jamneck. In it you'll find my story, "Touching Fire." Here's an audio taste:







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Sunday, March 15, 2009

this and that

After three days of brilliant sunshine I woke this morning to snow falling in huge puffy flakes--clumps of flakes really. They looked like communion wafters that someone had baked with leavening by mistake. While I was reading the Sunday paper (including a lovely story about 20-somethings discovering the joy of P-patches, that is, communal gardening) the snow turned to rain. And now I've just had an email advisory from the local weather station: high winds expected later. So it's officially March in Seattle. Don't like the weather? Wait ten minutes. (Don't like the service? Wait ten minutes.)
__________

Also, I've heard from a handful of readers that some of you are having trouble with the comment box: you're typing in a comment then Blogger eats it. If you've had this problem, could you let me know? It would be good to know how widespread it is, and whether its connected to browser or operating system or, hell, I don't know, star sign. Also, if you have any ideas about fixing this glitch, or have a notion where the fault lies, can you let me know? I really, really hate the notion of people trying to communicate and being shut out by the system.

Meanwhile, the only thing I can suggest is that if it's a lengthy comment, compose offline and cut-and-paste because apparantly the comment usually goes through the second time. I'm sorry about this. I'll see what I can do.
__________

Ever since I started writing Hild I've been searching for a way for her to have alone time that wasn't just wandering about in the woods. (Personally, I love wandering about in the woods, in real life and as a writer, but it is difficult to maintain any kind of narrative tension/reader engagement.) The other day the solution presented itself: Hild climbs trees. (I have Anthony to thank for this: I downloaded a sample chapter of Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places and, bam, there was the solution.) So now I going through the ms. looking for places to feather in her tree climbing habit. Along the way I'm researching a variety of tree species and growing conditions, and the beasties that live amongst them. I'm enjoying myself immensely. Life is good.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

what does a trillion dollars look like?

Want to know what a stimulus package-sized pile of money looks like? This blog will show you. It's pretty eye-opening. The picture above is of a pile of $100 bills: a million dollars worth. Doesn't look like much, does it? Next time I see someone with a messenger bag I'll wonder if they have $1m stuffed in it.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

tournament of books

Oh, this is massive fun! The Tournament of Books:

Wobbling onto the court on thin, shaky legs, Steer Toward Rock feels the crowd watching her and wilts beneath its scrutiny. It’s never easy for a small, quiet book—one that the crowd had never even heard of before now—to compete in so ferocious a contest as the Tournament of Books.

It doesn’t help that her opponent, 2666, is a 10-foot-tall, 900-pound giant that explodes onto the court with a bold, unwavering stride and buries her completely in his shadow as he basks in the raucous applause. The odds-on critical favorite, he’s confident he had this thing sewn up the instant he laced his shoes. The crowd knows it, too. Even poor little Rock knows it.

As the combatants meet on the floor, a hush descends over the stadium. The crowd leans forward in unison, holding its collective breath, dying to see if this tremulous David can possibly kick Goliath’s towering, five-book-thick ass...

Some of you can probably guess where this ends. But it's a thought-provoking (as well as amusing) read. And there are lots of other bouts to watch, too.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

for your delectation and delight: Hild

I spent a chunk of the last couple of days putting together a grant application. I had to talk a lot about Hild. So now I want to share something of her with you. But I hate sharing fiction before it's finished. So I made this Wordle:

The day before yesterday I went to wordle.net, uploaded the first 20 pages of Hild, hit Enter and sat back expectantly. Phht, nothing. My security levels were set too high. I fixed them. Tried again. Phht. And again. Phht. At this point, I *really* wanted that knife. Then Kelley (saint Kelley, pretty Kelley, nicekind Kelley) took pity on me and touched 3 keys and mended some Java crap or other. So I put down the chair I was about to throw through the window and gave her a neck rub and now everybody is happy.

If you click on the pic you can get a bigger version. Note all the short words. That's my aim: simplicity. I feel smug.

Info about some of the names: Hereswith is Hild's sister. Onnen is the woman who is more mother to Hild than her actual mother, Breguswith. Hild and her family are Anglisc (the 'sc' is pronounced 'sh'). Onnen is British (or wealh, as the Anglisc would say--a slave; wealh is the word 'Welsh' comes from). Cian is Onnen's son, about the same age as Hereswith: three and a half years older than Hild. Hild and Cian grow up together. They speak British when they're alone (a filthy language, the Anglisc think) and Anglisc at other times. They have very different paths but fate, being fate, takes a hand. Oh, and Ceredig is the king of Elmet, who, through an act of kindness, changes Cian's life utterly. A gesith is a full-time warrior, much given to boasting, drinking, and killing people. (Note the prominence of the word 'sword'.) Cian becomes a gesith, even though technically he begins as a slave.

I am having fun.

Perhaps I'll taunt tantalise you with more Wordles in the future.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I want this knife

I really want this knife.

LMF™ II
Survival

Down behind enemy lines? Left to fend for yourself? These are the scenarios that inspired the LMF II. Former military man, Jeff Freeman led the charge to engineer this fearless new 10" survival knife. And we field-tested with the troops.

This knife is as adaptable as the personnel who carry it. Use it to cut through the skin of a fuselage. Or sever a seat belt. Or egress through the Plexiglas of a chopper. Plus, the LMF II does a slick job cutting firewood and building shelter.

The over-molded handle successfully limits blistering. There is complete separation between the tang and butt cap, so the knife absorbs the shocks from hammering and prevents the shocks of electricity. Smartly situated grooves and lashing holes let the LMF II convert to a spear. The low-profile sheath facilitates movement, limits noise, works for parachuting, and attaches to a belt or Molle vest. The patented, integrated sharpener means edge retention in the field.

What would I do with this knife? Well, let's just say today I have a few very specific ideas. Very, very specific, brightly-coloured ideas.

But apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Which is to say I also think it would be a seriously nifty tool for the apocalypse. Bet if I waved this in your face you'd hand over all your chocolate and wine and possibly your bouncy house with nary a peep. (Yes, I am now smiling. I'm also contemplating building a new blog called A Mixture of Psychology and Extreme Violence. Five points--ah, fuck it, ten points--if you recognise the TV show I'm referring to.)

At least I come by my fascination with blades honestly.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Queer Universes blog

Some of you may already have read the essay I wrote with Kelley, "War Machine, Time Machine," which was first published in Queer Universes: Sexualities and Science Fiction, edited by Wendy Gay Pearson, Veronica Hollinger, and Joan Gordon.

It a cool book but it's an academic text and therefor wicked expensive. So for the book to get read, for it to get out into the world and into the hands of those who might benefit, people like you need to order it from their library. (Just in case you're rich, the above link takes you to Amazon.ca where, because of vagaries of the exchange rate and strange economic and political considerations, the book costs about $30 less than it does in the US. Buy a copy and donate it.) If enough people buy the hardcover--which really is ridiculously priced--the publisher, Liverpool University Press, will bring out a more affordable trade paper edition. Then it will really get read.

To encourage this process, Wendy Pearson has built a blog. I hope you'll visit and offer encouragement or consider linking from your own blog. If enough people go play, it could become a nexus of queer sf criticism and commentary. I hope so. We certainly need one. (If anyone has any good queer sf links please suggest them here or in the comments on Wendy's blog. Let's get this web of queer sfanistas hooked up.)

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Monday, March 9, 2009

On Joanna Russ

Now this looks like a book worth reading: "a collection of essays that manages to revel in everything ever done by the first openly gay, feminist spitfire of fantasy and speculative fiction." (Rest of the Voice review here.)

Ammonite would not exist without Joanna Russ's work. Her collection, Extraordinary People, is sharp and deep and deliciously sly. At some point, everyone should read her brilliant novella, "When It Changed." (Though if it were written today I might take issue with it.) Linked to that novella, of course, is her most famous novel, The Female Man. Don't know her work? What are you waiting for?

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

iwd and janes plane

Today is International Women's Day. It is also the 27th anniversary of the very first gig of my long-ago band, Janes Plane. As the global theme of IWD is 'women and men united to end violence against women and girls' I thought this particular song, "Reclaim the Night," would be appropriate. We performed it for the first time that night. It's so very strange to think that the song is now older than I was when I wrote it...







(direct link)

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idiots idiots idiots

Terrorist violence returns to the North of Ireland. This is from The Observer:

Two army personnel were shot dead during a drive-by shooting at an army base in Co Antrim last night, raising fears that the grim spectre of terrorism has returned to haunt Northern Ireland.

Two more military personnel were wounded along with two civilians in what is believed to be the first major terrorist attack in the province for over a decade. All four are said to be in a "serious" condition.

The shootings occurred at the Massereene Army base in Antrim, 16 miles north of Belfast, at 21.40 last night. It is understood that a car or van pulled up outside the main gates. Soldiers and security staff thought pizzas were being delivered and walked straight into an ambush.

Witnesses described hearing two long bursts of gunfire. At least six ambulances and three paramedic vehicles were dispatched to the scene and a total of six people were taken to Antrim hospital. The area around the barracks was sealed off and a major security operation was last night under way.

The attack is the first major incident believed to involve dissident republican terrorism since the Omagh bomb in August 1998. It would also be the first time members of the security forces have been killed by a Republican terrorist organisations since July 1997 when the Provisional IRA killed two members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Lurgan, Co Armagh.

I would like to say I find it difficult to believe that people can be so very stupid. But I don't. Some people are just cretinous. My wish today is that others don't get caught up in this, that friends and family and political allies of those hurt can mourn and let it go, that they're willing to let the security forces find the moronic thugs responsible and put them in a nice clean prison where they will be forgotten. My wish for the rest of the week is that fools trip over their guns, forget to turn off the safety, or drop their knives down the street sewer by mistake. I am so tired of watching mean-spirited, small minded *gits* fuck things up for others.

I hope someone reading this has something good to say about the human race. Right this minute I'm not feeling it.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

absurdity

According to the LA Times, the California Supreme Court "strongly indicated Thursday it would rule that Proposition 8 validly abolished the right for gays to marry but would allow same-sex couples who wed before the November election to remain legally married."

What this means is that the court will deliver its decision that Proposition 8 is valid and that same-sex marriage is illegal--and 36,000 people will be walking and talking and breathing same-sex married life for all to see.

36,000 people.

On a fundamental level, Proposition 8 will be a farce; it will be seen to have failed. Yes, no more lesbians and gay men can marry their loves, for now, but meanwhile those 36,000 people will be there as living examples that women marrying women and men marrying men does not call down apocalypse. When all this goes back to the ballot, which it will, we will win because same sex marriage will be old news.

I feel for those Californians who had planned to marry this year. I also feel vast contempt for the justices who, afraid of recall, are splitting hairs to reach absurd conclusions. The validation of Proposition 8 means any voter initiative in California can take away any right of any group of citizens. Want to say that all blue-eyed people can't drive? Done! This is clearly ridiculous. They're going to do it anyway because they want to keep their jobs.

The court has 90 days to deliver its opinion. In 90 days they'll be the laughing stock of the judicial world. And lesbians and gay men will be angry. Very angry. Buckle up. This is going to get interesting.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

ammonite sweet 16ers

Okay all you Ammonite Sweet 16ers--shira, janine, rory, mihaela-marija, jessica m--please send your name and mailing address to me by tomorrow night:

asknicola2 at nicolagriffith dot com

I'll pass them along to the fairy bookmother.

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ladyboy lizards

Young male lizards in South Africa imitate females to fool aggressive older males into leaving them alone, in an example of transvestism in the natural world, researchers have found.

The lizards not only avoid fights but gain access to females under the nose of their more macho rivals, the South African and Australian researchers discovered.

At least according to this article on Yahoo. You should go read the whole thing. It's interesting--less for the information that boys who look like girls get more sex (duh) but for the homophobic flavour of the piece: eew, boys might kiss. Also, transvestites are cross dressers and I'm not seeing any clothes on these reptiles.

When did journalism get so very sloppy?

However, I will ignore the writer's incompetence and the editors' carelessness and imagine, instead, a bunch o' boy lizards painted to the nines and sashaying up to a startled lesbian lizard :)

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

blessings rain upon our heads

This week has been a series of gifts. I got a wholly unexpected royalty cheque. We got some good news on another matter, and heard a friend's great news, and the sun shone. Also readers and friends have been showering us with delicious edibles.

For example, last night we made a meal of perfect tidbits: caviar (sustainably farmed sturgeon) with vodka so cold it was gelid, duck pâté and a lovely rose champagne, hummus and beer--provided in large part by fine people who like our books. (Seriously, stuff arrives at the door with ribbons and bows around it. It's awesome.) And then this afternoon I read a Buffy comic (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 #6: No Future For You Part One)* recommended by someone here a few weeks ago, followed by the first chapter of a book (The Wild Places, by Robert Macfarlane)**, similarly recommended here--and read on a Kindle partly paid for by Amazon.com gift certificates bought by readers for my birthday last year.

Then as I read the last paragraph of the free Kindle chapter and swallowed the last mouthful of a particularly fine cup of tea I thought, Huh, I haven't had any chocolate today, at which point the UPS truck appeared with a bang and a flash and a box of Godiva truffles. I am not kidding. It was like magic. (I even thought, Okay, I want to win the lottery, and waited, listening--for the phone, or the crack of lightning, or something--but nothing happened.)

So here I am grinning like a fool, stuffed with tasties and feeling...graced.

Anyway, the sheer delight of these gifts, and everyone's good news, and the cheque, and the Macfarlane, shook loose four pages of Hild notes to work on tomorrow--which I'll do after I have a massage from a therapist found for me two years ago by a Grateful Reader.

I am not making this up. Patronage of the arts is not dead. Thank you, all. Thank you very much.


* I really enjoyed the comic but it was like getting just one truffle--gone before I could really register it. So, tell me O Comix Readers, at some point will I be able to buy a whole set bound together in one book?

** I'm going to buy the whole thing, but probably on paper. It's cheaper, for one thing. For another, it's the kind of thing I'll want to flip back and forth in, dwell upon, linger over. I can tell it's going to be a fabulous book. It's already triggered massive Hild thoughts.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

les libraires dangereux

There's a fab review of Kelley's Dangerous Space up at The Word Hoarder. Go read it, bask in the reflected glory of the Most Gorgeous Eskridge. Once you've recovered your senses, read it again, see what you notice about gender.

The reviewer, Rich Rennicks, works as a bookseller at Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina. I've never actually been there--never actually visited Asheville, even though half of Stay is set just outside the town. But Kelley and I wouldn't survive without the enthusiasm of booksellers. We owe our living to them. So if there's a cosy independent near you, pop in, buy a book (buy a new book) or a card or a cup of coffee or some stationery or whatever else they sell and stop and chat with one of the booksellers. Tell them what you do and don't like to read. I bet you a beer that s/he will be able to recommend something you'd never thought of, a book that will take you on a strange and possibly dangerous journey.

Oh, and before you gallop off to obey, take a look at the photo on the Word Hoarder blog and see how many of those books you recognise--and how many you've read. I've read at least four (if I could read the spines more clearly, it would probably be more). Let's just say I think Rich has excellent taste :)

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Orion guards our house

Last night we drove thirty miles north to take dinner to a friend who has just had the most technologically amazing surgery. (It went well, but he'll be in a neck brace for months.) We had a nice evening, looking at gorgeous things (he makes astonishing jewellery with amethyst, pearl, gold, agate and other pebble-sized semi-preciousness--more on this another time) eating good home-cooked food and drinking Rioja (moderately, because of the drive). A plain but lovely evening between old friends.

On the way back the night was black and sharp, the stars brilliant, with a quarter moon lying on its back and huge Douglas firs looming on each side of the road. There wasn't much wind but the night tasted wild. As we got nearer the Sound, and our house, the trees got bigger, the roads narrower, and the sky smaller. And then I saw Orion--more clearly than I have for years--and he bestrode our house, the star at the tip of his sword looking as though it was about to go down our chimney. And I felt oddly comforted: we have a star warrior guarding our lives; we have the room and time to laugh and drink and love a little before armouring up for the fray in the morning.

We got out of the car, and the night was silent apart from the groan and whisper of trees and some night bird lecturing a vole about something. The air smelt of good dirt and breathing trees. The moon had mellowed; a bank of inky cloud came floating across the water like a pillow.

I slept well. I hope you did, too.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Virgil and BSG

A Guardian blog comparing the Aeneid and Battlestar Galactica:

Before I embark on this blog, can I point out that I am a box-set person, not a Sky person, so I am at only the halfway point of the final series of Battlestar Galactica – and really don't want to know what happens next?

Right, that's done.

Now, am I the only person who regards the sweep of the story of the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica as a kind of re-reading of Virgil's Aeneid? I am talking, of course, of the great Roman epic poem that recounts the flight of Aeneas and his followers from their conquered city of Troy to Italy, where, it is prophesied, their descendants will found Rome.

For a moment, let's forget about the Cylons (although whenever I see one on the screen, I am reminded that the original, real-life Cylon was a wannabe tyrant of Athens, a failed coup leader in 632 BC, but surely that really is a coincidence. If you don't know the series, these are the enigmatic attackers of the humans' home planets, a race of cybernetic workers turned aggressive).

Let's think about the humans for a moment. A leader leaves the destroyed wreck of his former civilisation (Troy/Caprica), which has been blasted into smithereens by an invading force (Greeks/Cylons). You might even see Gaius Baltar as a sort of Trojan horse. That leader is accompanied by his son: it's Adama as Aeneas, and Apollo as Ascanius, if you follow me.

On they forge, guided by prophecies that the leader is initially unwilling to accept, towards their fated new home (Adama, like Aeneas in Aeneid book two, needs some persuasion that the various portents pointing the way are of any value.)

Need I remind you that we're constantly getting heavy hints as to the classical origins of our story via the theology of the humans of Battlestar Galactica, who worship the Olympian pantheon of Zeus, Hera et al?

Tentatively, I'd suggest Starbuck's return to Caprica to collect the arrow of Apollo as akin to the visit to the Underworld in Aeneid book six. The arrow of Apollo as the golden bough?

The unsuccessful stay in New Caprica, of course, recalls the settlement the wandering Trojans found on Crete in book three, in the mistaken assumption that this is the fated new land. (And it is also reminiscent of the section in book five where the comrades build a settlement on Sicily for those who are weary of the journey).

One might argue that Helena Cain is a kind of reversed Dido (Aeneid book four); the eventually destroyed Pegasus might be seen as her funeral pyre.

I could go on. I have my own ideas about how the second part of the final series is going to pan out (please don't ruin it for me). As long as our friends remember "parcere subiectis et debellare superbos".

(Via Per Omnia Saecula.)

I don't know how many eps there are to go (three?) but I really, really hope they pull it out of the bag. I always get tense towards the end of a series that started so well, had a dip, then, for a while, improves. (Though, ugh, the episode before last made me want to put my fist through the writers' collective face. What a load of cobblers.)

Any bets on the Starbuck thing? Or what happens to Hera (and what the point of all that is)? Anyone have any guesses?

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ammonite's sweet sixteen

Ammonite was published in the US in February 1993 and in the UK a month later. So today is (more or less) Ammonite's birthday. It's sweet sixteen.

To celebrate, a Friend of AN has offered to buy three brand new copies of the trade paperback (cover, above), the one with the map and glossary etc. She have amazon.com send a copy to the first three people who ask for one in these comments. (We'll do private email/address exchange later, off the blog.) You can ask for yourself or for a friend. We just want to send Ammonite out into the world to make new friends.

This was my first novel. It means a lot to me. If anyone is so inclined I'd like to hear what it means to you. Or what music you think goes well with it. Or what food. Or what other books (or parks, or holidays, or wine, or parties) remind you of Ammonite, or complement it in some way.

For those who haven't read it, you can take a look at the beginning for free here on ShortCovers, or here on my website. Or you can listen to a couple of readings.

The first one is about eleven and a half minutes in which Marghe learns the true history of the original inhabitants of Jeep, the goth.








(direct link)

This one is nearly seven minutes of the scene where Marghe is in Ollfoss striking the gong, trying to make some decisions. If you haven't read the book, it will make no sense at all (she said, heartlessly).








(direct link)

Enjoy.

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