Monday, August 31, 2009

what have I been up to?

I'm not going to tell you. Yet. But I've been up to a lot of things, including working with Kelley on a super cool New Thing. If all goes according to plan, we'll be telling you all about that next Tuesday.

Another huge chunk of my time has been consumed with LLF stuff. I hope to be able to start talking about that one day, but, as we say in our house, "Today is not that day."

So what can I tell you about? Well, I've been happily working on Hild. And, for your delectation and delight, here (drumroll) is your first peek: a 1,000-word chunk of what I wrote yesterday. Edwin, Hild's uncle, has just survived an assassination attempt. He was saved by Hild's childhood companion, Cian, who is a newly-minted gesith (warrior). Hild has made an accidental prophecy and is now under suspicion. (Everyone is under suspicion; he's a king in dangerous times.) Paulinus is an ambitious Roman Bishop out to convert the Angles and get himself a pallium from the Pope. Eormenric is his amanuensis. Breguswith is Hild's mother. (Some of these are actual historical figures; some are purely imaginary. Have fun figuring out which is which.)

A lot of it will be impenetrable (because there's 95,000 words before this) but, eh, I just wanted to give you a little present, something to compensate for being so necessarily mysterious about so many things at the moment. This is absolutely brand spanking new. (Not even Kelley has seen it yet.) Enjoy.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

misty morning

It's very quiet here today. Mist is drifting in veils through the trees in the ravine. Everything smells of the sea. At some point the sun will burn through, the birds will shake themselves awake, and the neighbours will start hammering and mowing, but right now, this is like a morning from Long Ago. Lovely.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

frail icon fight

I lost six minutes of my life yesterday afternoon making anagrammes of my name. My favourites:

aching foil rift
oligarch fin fit
fag ironic filth
half fiction rig
half ironic gift
frail icon fight
fair glitch info
a coffin girl hit
calf of hiring it

I love the notion of a frail icon fight. Or being the Calf of Hiring It. But what do you suppose a half fiction rig looks like?

Time to go lose myself in the aching foil rift...

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

one dozen roses...

I've been tired the last little while (it's family stuff, very draining; and, no, I don't want to discuss it here) and in a bit of a daze. It's a grey day here in Seattle, but the sun came out briefly this afternoon and the roses on our trellis blazed blood red in the light. Exactly one dozen.

Later, in my office, wrestling with Hild (it's nearly as much fun as it sounds), I heard a weird noise and looked up: five (5) raccoons sitting in a row along the back fence. Another noise, and a flash of electric blue: a Stellar's Jay shrieking at the raccoons.

So those are my anchor point today: one dozen roses, five raccoons, and a jay. And Kelley, always Kelley. Bright spots at any time.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

rewatching Xena

Kelley and I have just finished re-watching the first season of Xena: Warrior Princess. This is the first time I've seen some of these episodes since they first aired in 1995 and 1996.

Wow. Those first few eps were crap. Seriously unadulterated cheese with cheap sauce and a plastic cherry on top. I'm amazed that I sat through them all those years ago. Which is an indication of just how desperate I must have been in those days for some--any!--representation of fighting women. This was before Buffy. Before Alias. Before Nikita. Before BSG. It didn't matter that the acting of all the secondary characters was terrible. It didn't matter that sometimes the flimsy styrofoam scenery actually swayed when someone slammed a door (like early Doctor Who). It didn't matter that they re-used just about every background shot (some several times: that tree, that cave, those singing village women) in the first eight episodes. It just didn't fucking matter because the baseline assumption of the whole show was game-changing.

Xena always wins.

That baseline changed everything. All those shows and films with kick-ass women we see now? We owe it all to that decision: the female lead always wins. It rearranged the pop cultural landscape.

The first time I watched, it took a few episodes for me to believe the producers meant it, and just as I was beginning to relax into that idea, the subtext started to kick in. I thought I'd died and gone to the Elysian fields. And then the writing improved, they paid a little more attention to their sets (not everything was grey), and they started letting their actors act. Then the recurring characters start to appear: Salmoneus, Autolycus, Callisto, Ares. The regular "No XXXX were harmed in the making of this episode" credits began. Xena became--in our household and just about every dyke household in the US--destination TV. Remember, this was before TiVo, and Xena was a syndicated show, running after the big weekend game, so it wasn't safe to simply set the VCR. No, you had to be there. So we were; we built our weekends around that damned show. And you know what? It was worth it.

Watching it again on DVD brings back all those memories; it fills me with childish delight. I think my favourite episode--which is coming up soon, I hope (we only have the first 3 seasons on DVD)--is "One Against an Army." My favourite moment in the whole series is near the end, when Xena has died on the cross and Gabrielle picks up a sword and turns into a killing machine. It gave me chills, a powerful moment when all the work both actors had done for four or five years hardened down to a single point. Brilliant.

I hated the ending of the series; it was a serious failure of courage on the producers' part. I like to think if it were being made now, Xena would live and she and Gabrielle would unconditionally snog--but, hey, that was then. The only way they could be together on family friendly syndicated TV was for one of them to be dead. Compare it to the triumphant ending of Buffy just a few years later. But I still love the show.

I still have another couple of weeks of a couple of episodes a night before the DVDs run out. I'm really enjoying the rhythm of my days: admin stuff first thing, exercise or walk in the park, then LLF work and Other Business (oh, yes, I'll be telling you about that soon) until lunch; then lunch and chat with K; then Hild; then beer with sweetie followed by dinner; ninety minutes of Xena; read; bed. Life is good.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

calling all queer writers in the north east: party!

Just got this. It looks like a great opportunity for queer writers of all stripes and persuasions to meet, drink some free wine, eat some fab free food, chat--and even sell books. Think of it as a mini-festival. I wish I could be there.

Dear LGBT authors:

The Board of Directors of the Lambda Literary Foundation and Ed Hermance, owner of Giovanni’s Room, would like to invite you to read at our first “Read-a-thon”. The event, to be held at 7:30pm on Saturday November 21, 2009, at Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, will be a benefit for both the Foundation and the bookstore. We’d like to invite LGBT authors to read from a recent or classic book and answer questions for approximately 15 minutes each. 100% of the proceeds from the event will go to the two beneficiaries. We will be serving donated wine and snacks during the marathon reading. While the foundation and the bookstore can’t offset any expenses authors might incur participating in this benefit, we can possibly arrange housing in local homes. Both the Foundation and Giovanni’s Room will be very grateful for your help in these trying economic times. While this is a fundraising event, we’re hoping it will be a lot of fun for a community of people who treasure our words and writers.

The Lambda Literary Foundation is dedicated to raising the status of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people throughout society by rewarding and promoting excellence among LGBT writers who use their work to explore LGBT lives. The Foundation sponsors the annual Lambda Literary Awards and held its first Writer’s Retreat in 2007.

Giovanni’s Room, located at 12th & Pine in Center City Philadelphia, is the oldest LGBT bookstore in the USA. The store is faced with a financial challenge as their front wall of their historic structure is being replaced. The queer community of Philadelphia, rather than lose their cherished bookstore, is organizing fund-raising events through the fall to ensure the store’s survival.

We hope that we’ve enticed you to participate at this, sure to be wonderful, event. If you would like to read, or have any questions/comments/suggestions, please contact Scott Cranin at scranin@tlavideo.com or 267-765-9840.

Please forward this to anyone you think might be interested. If enough people show it'll be one giant party, and all in a good cause. Very cool.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

legacy publishers and Jane Friedman's next thing

I just came across the video interview at paidContent.org, of Jane Friedman and Larry Kirschbaum. It's 40+ minutes, but Samantha Ettus asks some good questions; it's worth watching.

Jane Friedman has just raised $3 million in venture capital for a new business, OpenRoad Integrated Media. No one seems to know what that is, exactly, just that a film producer, Jeff Sharp, and former HarperCollins executive, Chris Lederer, are also involved, and (guesswork) it's a multi-platform publishing and marketing company.

So, integrated media: books, films, webisodes, audio, etc. Lots of potential for things to be exciting and/or go horribly wrong. I wouldn't bet against Friedman, though. She was a brilliant CEO at HarperCollins, and I didn't disagree with a single thing she said in the interview. The legacy publishers are in for a very hard time. Mind you, I think Kirschbaum had a point when he talked about the entrepreneurial spirit inside those same behemoth corporations, and the economies of scale. The thing is, will the corporate overlords--the Bertelsmanns, the News Corps--be willing to wait, or will they just split? Whose patience is up to this task? I've said before that what Friedman terms the legacy publishers are doomed. It's the new publishers and the nimble independents who will carry the book banner for the 21st century.

I'm looking forward to OpenRoad dropping their stealth cloak and revealing themselves.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

new story out in October

I have a new story, "It Takes Two," due out in October. (Do you know how long it's been since I wrote a new story?) It will appear in Eclipse 3, Jonathan Strahan's latest anthology. It looks like a strong lineup:

* The Pelican Bar, Karen Joy Fowler
* Lotion, Ellen Klages
* Don’t Mention Madagascar, Pat Cadigan
* On the Road, Nnedi Okorafor
* Swell, Elizabeth Bear
* Useless Things, Maureen F. McHugh
* The Coral Heart, Jeffrey Ford
* It Takes Two, Nicola Griffith
* Sleight of Hand, Peter S. Beagle
* The Pretender’s Tourney, Daniel Abraham
* Yes We Have No Bananas, Paul Di Filippo
* Mesopotamian Fire, Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple
* The Visited Man, Molly Gloss
* Galápagos, Caitlín R. Kiernan
* Dolce Domum, Ellen Kushner

Apparently the publisher (Night Shade) is still futzing with the cover text, but you can see the illustration and preliminary design at Jonathan's blog, Acme School of Welding.

Those of you who are involved in the wider SF community may recall controversy over previous Eclipse anthologies (lots of conversation--some polite, some not--on race and gender parity). It'll be interesting to how people respond to this Table of Contents.

My guess is that "It Takes Two" is the longest piece in the book. That's just a guess based on two related data points. First, the story is way over Jonathan's preferred length. (It clocks in at nearly 12,000 words--officially a novelette.) Jonathan was kind enough to buy it anyway. Second, I think the most sensible place in an anthology for the longest story is the middle.

Please note the operative phrase, I think. Every anthology and every anthologist is different. But when I was putting together the various Bending the Landscape volumes (and now, as I ponder my own collection) I found that I tended to begin the lineup with the biggest stories in the middle. It's a balance issue. If you're in a small boat, you put the heaviest piece of cargo in the middle. If you're walking a tightrope, you keep your mass centred over the cable. But mileage seriously varies.

Building an anthology or story collection is a fascinating exercise. You have to start with something that not only embodies your vision for the book but is brilliant and grabby--something that arrests a browsing reader; Karen Joy Fowler strikes me as an excellent choice. Then you must build and build, and end with something that not only fulfills the premise of the whole book but provides a bravura flick of the wrist, a sting in the tail: emotionally satisfying but intellectually provocative. Ellen Kushner is very, very good at this.

So, it's looking good. I can't wait to read it.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

reminder about Author August

Tomorrow it's my day in the sun over at Author Central. I wonder if anyone will post anything I don't know :)

If you do decide to post something, remember you have to register first (painless and free) or your comment will get eaten by The Machine.

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my younger self chats

Ooooh, here's something I forgot existed, an online chat I did for Event Horizon in January, 1999, just a few months after The Blue Place was published. It was fun to meet my younger self again. (Via Free SF Reader.)

Also, go check out the other chats with writers such as Connie Willis, Peter Straub, Stewart O'Nan, Pat Cadigan, and William Goldman. There's some good stuff.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

the Outer Alliance

Welcome a new blog, the Outer Alliance, which intends to function "on three levels: education, support, and celebration of LGBT contributions in SF/F writing." (Via Cheryl.)

I think there's a real need for groups like this. And it ties in with something I'm currently working on, which is a way to connect and support a variety of such groups. More on that soon.

Right now, Hild is moving in like a storm front and blotting out other concerns. I'm having a blast. It's sunny, too, but not vilely and insupportably hot. So: a good day.

How's your day?

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Monday, August 17, 2009

marketing can kill

Kelley pointed me to this post on Nikki's Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily.

It's about how the stubborness of an arrogant and unimaginative marketer killed a good (excellent, if you believe the reviews) film, Bandslam. Bandslam is, apparently, an indie piece, 'Cameron Crowe meets John Hughes', which the Chief Marketing Git at Summit decided to position as High School Musical: But Better. He (oh, yes, the post names names) aimed at absolutely the wrong crowd--despite the pleading of everyone involved with the film. Oh, the CMG said, High School Musical was a hit, this will be too! That's like saying, Let's position this souvlaki as a burger, because burgers sell! It doesn't work. This weekend the film came out and, of course, just shrivelled at the box office.

When I read the article, my blood pressure fell. I swayed. The world turned grey: I empathised with the filmmaker. I know how it feels.

The Aud books were badly damaged by marketing.

Oooh, let's call it noir! the marketers said. Noir sells! The thing is, the Aud books aren't noir. The content and the marketing clashed. The sales evaporated.

The problem is, I can't honestly point to anyone and say: your fault. We all tried hard but no one--including me--knew how to describe them. (My helpful contribution: Well, if I could describe Aud in a couple of sentences, I wouldn't have had to write a whole fucking novel.) I'm biased, of course, an unreliable narrator, but in my opinion the Aud books are rich, literary novels about a woman who changes and grows. Novels with sex. Novels in which shit blows up. Novels about a woman who always wins.

How do you boil that down to a simple phrase? I don't know.

I think it would have been a lot easier if I could have published all three books with one imprint, with clearly related covers. But I couldn't because HarperCollins didn't want the second--because The Blue Place didn't sell as many as they'd hoped in hardcover. Hey, it sold more than 8,000 hardcovers, which doesn't suck; and the trade paper is in its 8th or 9th printing--but they were unhappy. So I sold the next, Stay, to Nan A. Talese--whose marketers, despite my protests, positioned it as noir. They seemed puzzled by the subsequent sales figures. Even so, Talese would have bought Always, the next one, but I decided to follow my Stay editor to Riverhead, in the hope that his Aud experience would help him help the marketers figure out how to sell it. I wish. The book got positioned as noir.

Ten years of Aud meant ten years of marketing nightmares. I wish I could blame someone, kick them to death and then set them on fire and call it good, but I can't. This is just how the world is: books and films need clear, unambiguous marketing hooks. Boy wizard fights evil and grows up! High school girl in soggy landscape must struggle with supernatural abstinence issues! Harvard symbologist with bad hair runs around missing all the clues!

So is this my fault? Maybe--I don't write simple unambiguous books. Is it the world's fault? Maybe--it could be a snobbery issue (suspense fiction can't be literary), it could be homophobia (eew, straight people don't want to read about dykes), it could just be that I'm not as good as I think I am. I just don't know.

Meanwhile, I'm determined that this will never, ever happen to me again. But my selling sentence for Hild definitely needs work: Life of a 7th-C woman, birth to death, doesn't exactly sparkle. But it's a novel, it's huge, it won't pour itself tidily into a bottle to be distilled.

I'm open to suggestions...

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

science, European style

This is how the European Union is promoting science careers:


(thanks, Angelique)

I miss Europe.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

sex, body-swapping, and quadriplegics in spaaace

Thin, straight, genius, virgin quadriplegic swaps body with gorgeous able-bodied lesbian, has sex with a boy, saves world. Really (oh, okay, in the plans--remember that word, plans, early plans) for an ep of SyFy Channel's Stargate: Universe). Read about it at io9.com.

I laughed. I mean, what else can you do? The article at io9.com is pretty good. The comments, on the other hand... I only managed to read three before my gag reflex kicked in and, well, let's just say I think science fiction in general has a long way to travel.

For those who would like to know more about lesbian disability, read Restricted Access: Lesbians on Disability, edited by Victoria A. Brownworth and Susan Raffo.

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reminder: K day at Author Central

Today is Kelley's day at Science Fiction Message Board. Every year they have a month dedicated to discussion of one author a day: the books, personal anecdotes, anything. The point is to introduce new writers to the group.

So if you'd like to talk about Kelley's fiction, or her blog, or how she or her work influences/pleases/entertains/provokes you in any way, please go here and drop a comment.

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class, history, and the LGBT movement

I've just read (yeah, I'm behind, again) an interview Charlotte Abbott did with Martin Duberman in the Advocate last month.

A new book by Martin Duberman is always a major event, and since the pioneering gay historian has just received a lifetime achievement award from the Publishing Triangle’s LGBT book industry professionals, it’s an excellent time to join him in reviewing the past 25 years in Waiting to Land: A (Mostly) Political Memoir, 1985-2008.Set in New York City against a rolling backdrop of George H.W. Bush’s inaction on AIDS, Bill Clinton’s gaffes on gays in the military, and the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the books focuses on the surprisingly moving and dramatic story of the struggle to build the country’s first undergraduate LGBT studies department at the City University of New York.

Alive with incisive political reflections, personal soul-searching, and plenty of gossipy asides about his academic and political rivalries, Waiting to Land picks up the story Duberman began in Cures: A Gay Man’s Odyssey, about coming out before 1970 and choosing to live openly as a gay man, and Midlife Queer: Autobiography of a Decade, 1971-1981, about channeling the excitement of gay liberation into a national political agenda. With an engaging mix of heated diary entries, letter excerpts, and straightforward narration written in 2008, it binds together the strands of his life as an activist academic and author or editor of more than 20 books (including Stonewall, the basis for the 1995 movie about the Greenwich Village uprising, and Paul Robeson, a biography of African-American actor and activist). The result is a gripping glimpse into the inner life of a gay man who has dedicated himself to making a difference for gay people of all backgrounds and a cautionary tale about idealism’s limits in a hierarchical and conformist culture...

I read it because Charlotte pulled this quote: "The LGBT movement is not aware of class, and the class-based left-wing movement is not aware of us." So very true. And then, when I read it, I was struck by this: "The university contributed nothing to our effort except a few in-kind services, so it took us five years, from 1986 to 1991, to raise the $50,000 we needed. From the beginning, we did a lot of public events where we’d explain our situation and pass the hat. Everyone on our early board was an activist. But right down to the present day, a lot of wealthy people don’t associate scholarship with activism, even though there are many ways that two work together."

Words, books, scholarship change the world. They are often what trigger the boots-on-the-street, the sense of injustice that provokes citizens to action. Books, words, scholarship are what help us understand and imagine a more just world. They are vital.

But you're probably tired of hearing me talk about that, so I'll say, instead, that this interview reminds me of how quickly political groups become insular. We focus on Our Primary Issues (homophobia, say, or racism, or access) and we forget about other issues which apply to other parts of our lives (racism, say, or access, or homophobia).

I'm taking a keen interest now in the quiltbag community's response to these things because I'm working with the Lambda Literary Foundation. It's now part of my job to make sure LLF doesn't fall into any ruts, traps, or assumptions, that we stay nimble and flexible. That we grow and change and learn. That we not only respond but lead. I'll be relying on all of you to help. But, eh, more about all that later.

For now, take a look at the interview. Go buy the book. We all need to refresh our consciousness every so often.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

swords, glowy magic, and dark covers of meaninglessness

Over at Tim Holman's Orbit blog there's a chart detailing the results of Caitlin The Intern's recent toil: totting up the elements used in fantasy novel covers.

Most popular? Swords! Medium popular: 'Completely dark cover of meaninglessness'. Least popular: unicorns.

There's a reason I call my long-in-development fantasy novel a sword-swangin' fantasy...

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Lambda Literary news

News from the Lambda Literary Foundation:

LOS ANGELES, CA, August 6, 2009 – The Board of Trustees of the Lambda Literary Foundation announced today that its current Executive Director, Charles Flowers, will be departing his post in the fall.

"I'm proud of the work the Board and I have accomplished over the past four years," Flowers said of his departure, "and I look forward to seeing Lambda Literary prosper even more in the future."

A respected publishing industry veteran before coming to Lambda Literary, Charles was an editor at several major publishing houses where his authors included Michelangelo Signorile and the late E. Lynn Harris. From 2001 to 2005 he served as the Associate Director for the Academy of American Poets. “During his time with us, Charles has been an intelligent and compassionate ambassador to the diverse community Lambda Literary serves,” said Board President and New York Times best-selling author Christopher Rice. “He helped shepherd Lambda Literary through a challenging transition period, and did a wonderful job of organizing the first writers retreat in history devoted to emerging LGBT writers. We wish him the best of luck in his endeavors.”

Rice will chair the committee in charge of conducting a national search for Flowers’ successor. “The current uncertainty in the publishing industry has called upon Lambda Literary to do more, not less,” continues Rice. “And Charles helped bring us to a place where we can rise to meet these increased opportunities. This year’s Lambda Literary Awards in New York City saw record attendance. He also helped begin the development process for a dynamic, interactive new website which will connect readers with LGBT writers and is now set to launch later this year.”

Gratitude from the entire LGBT community of writers and readers is owed to Charles for his many contributions to Lambda Literary: his hard work in taking the Foundation from indebtedness to fiscal solvency; the continuation of the Foundation's signature program, the Lambda Literary Awards; restoration from suspended publication of the Lambda Book Report, the only LGBT review periodical of its kind in the country; and the Writers Retreat, programmed and conducted by Charles in 2007 and 2008, for which he assembled an outstanding faculty who worked directly with approximately 40 emerging writers and poets. His well-liked demeanor and accessibility have won him affection and admiration throughout the LGBT community, and he will be missed.

I and the rest of the board will be working hard to make sure LLF continues to support and serve the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender writing community during this transition. If you're a writer, reader, bookseller, publisher, editor, distributor, educator, critic, blogger, pundit or publicist, we're here for you.

More news and thoughts at a later date.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

MS miracle cure

Yes, I have seen this:

MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body's own immune response attacks the , almost as if the body had become allergic to itself, leading to progressive physical and cognitive disability.

The new treatment, appropriately named GIFT15, puts MS into remission by suppressing the immune response. This means it might also be effective against other like Crohn's disease, lupus and arthritis, the researchers said, and could theoretically also control immune responses in patients. Moreover, unlike earlier immune-supppressing therapies which rely on chemical pharamaceuticals, this approach is a personalized form of cellular therapy which utilizes the body's own cells to suppress immunity in a much more targeted way [...] and the treatment was fully effective with a single dose.

No, I am not excited. Two reasons. One, the experiment was with mice--mice--with a condition that isn't actually MS but an artificially-induced analogue of same. Two, if you scroll down to the end of the article you'll find this sentence: MS must be caught in its earliest stages, Galipeau cautioned... So it won't do me any fucking good.

I get really tired of reading about miracle cures. One day, perhaps, there'll be one (though frankly I doubt it). But today is not that day.

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reminder about K day at Author Central

On Saturday it's Kelley's turn in the spotlight at Author Central. Authors they've had so far:

8/1 Alfred Bester
8/2 William Tenn (Phillip Klass)
8/3 Gene Wolfe
8/4 E.T.A. Hoffman
8/5 Norman Spinrad
8/6 Lucy Sussex
8/7 Robert J. Sawyer
8/8 Phillip Reeve
8/9 Ian McDonald
8/10 Ken MacLeod
8/11 Dan Simmons
8/12 S.M. Stirling

Tomorrow it's James Blish. (I wish I could have met him. I loved his work--both fiction and in his critical persona as William Atheling.) Then it's Kelley. So prep your anecdotes, pictures, and favourite quotes. See you there.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

got what it takes?

I'm stupid crazy busy with three different things, so I don't have much to talk about this week. But I did take this citizenship test to see if I had what it takes to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S. I scored 95% (The question supreme court justices is badly phrased. That's my story; I'm sticking to it. My other story, of course, is that I'm good at multiple choice quizzes. Hey, it's not rocket science. Plus I made one lucky guess.) Try it. Find out how much you know about the governance of the US of A.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

goddammit

Goddammit. Here I am, working on Hild--the biggest project I've ever undertaken--and I get slammed in the head by yet another idea for a novel. This happens often (plus ideas for cooperatives, and screenplays, and how to fix publishing, recipes, and stories, and, well, you know: I'm a writer; I have ideas) but this one, oh, this one stopped me in my tracks.

So here I am, stopped, and getting more and more cross every second. This new idea is the most commercial idea I've ever had. (My writer brain doesn't normally work that way; I'm an ahtist, dahling.) It's infuriating.

I need to be focussing on Hild. But no, now my flibberty gibbet mind is off hitting on this newcomer.

Now I'll have to spend at least an hour jotting down the main heads, a title, maybe the lit. equivalent of a logline. Goddammit.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ukraine's got talent

This is an astonishing mix of art, music, history and drama. All done with sand.

(via @bostonbibliophl, @ryenna, @abbylibrarian)

I did something a bit like this the other day (a bit being about .5%, ha) with some spilt breadcrumbs on a background of dark, knotty wood. It felt great. I thought I'd invented it (no one ever accused me of lack of self-esteem...). Now I've seen the real thing. Wonder how hard it would be to build a sand tray and projector thingie?

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recently read: The Strain

About a month ago I downloaded to my Kindle the sample chapter of The Strain, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I read the first couple of hundred words. 'Total crap', I thought, and deleted it.

A couple of weeks later Kelley brought home some books from the library, one of which was The Strain. I picked it up and was struck by the beautiful design. I opened it. Same crap beginning--but the book was lovely to touch. So I leafed ahead and stopped at the section titled The Beginning, and read. And was hooked. At least for a little while.

The prologue, the 'Legend of Jusef Sardu', is wordy and boring. The second beginning, 'The Beginning', is promising, in a broad-strokes-of-vampire-horror-tropes way: dead plane instead of dead ship, Modern Medicine vs. The Inexplicable, an Old Wise Van Helsing character, cast of thousands (ala The Stand--but much, much less interesting). After a hundred or so pages the broad strokes turn into minutely detailed vileness. The vast cast of secondary characters come into focus as lazily-written stereotypes, every single one, and all are explored to exactly the same level of mind-numbing, cliched detail. Tedious to the tenth power.

As for the female characters--they are so cliched that they give cardboard a bad name. Nora, an epidemiologist, does nothing but play the Scientist's Girlfriend:

"Eph (Our Hero, The Scientist) stood in the book-lined hallway of Setrakian's apartment. He was looking in on Zack eating a Devil Dog at the old's man's small kitchen table, where Nora was asking him about school, keeping him occupied and distracted." (p.357)

That's all Nora, t he qualified epidemiologist in the middle of an epidemic, does: feed people, wipe their foreheads, listen to their woes. It's like reading really early pulp SF, but much less fun. I won't bother talking about the Haitian nanny who does vodun (maybe they call it voodoo, I can't remember), or the dim-bulb ex-wife. I find it mind-boggling that such a beautiful object was created in service of such drivel.

Which brings me to my point. On the Kindle, I knew immediately that this was a badly-written and poorly conceived story. I knew it after reading two or three hundred words. (Follow the link above and read the beginning for yourself.) Even at $9.99 I wanted nothing to do with it. The text stood as itself, unadorned; naked to my understanding; exposed in all its ugliness.

The print version ($26.99) beguiled me with its extra-textual lusciousness: the design, the illustrations, the font, the paper.

The Strain is a lovely object but a bad novel.

I'm beginning to think that the future of fiction is the Kindle and its ilk: text as text. All fonts the same. All scents and other sensory details, the same. With an ebook, the only distinguishing factor is the text itself, the ease with which is does or does not trigger our mirror neurons. I think digital book readers will save the novel; they will allow for quality (however each reader defines that for herself) to rise above other factors, at least once it's in the reader's hands. For now, for just a little while, we'll know exactly what we're getting. I wish it would stay that way. I know it won't. At some point publishers will figure out how to individualise each book. The playing ground will become uneven again. Big Names will have fancier product.

So if you can afford it, start reading ebooks. Enjoy the brief golden age.

If you want to explore the subject further, take a look at last month's Nicholson Baker's appraisal of the Kindle reading experience. Let me know what you think.

Addendum: if you're in the market for an ereader, here's a great comparison chart from Dear Author.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

pints and parcels

I love my country:

The UK's Royal Mail makes some 40 million unsuccessful first-time delivery attempts per year, causing no end of hassle for the consumers waiting to receive those packages. At the same time, Britain is losing about 52 of its pubs per week to recession-induced closures. Taken together, those two statistics underlie the creation of UseYourLocal, a new service backed by British brewer Scottish & Newcastle that facilitates package delivery to the local pub.

Read the rest here. (Thanks to Kelley, who pointed this out.)

Seriously, what a lovely idea. I hope it catches on.

What do you think bars/pubs should do/provide/coordinate? I think a car service would be fabulous. Nothing more pointless than trying to call a cab from a bar. They always take too long. Then you think, Well, I'll just have one more while I wait. Then you're in the bathroom when the cab arrives. Then you call another, and think, Just one more... Endless. Maybe they should also provide takeaway breakfast/hangover food so in the morning you could just open the box and eat without having to think (or decide anything or, shudder, do anything).

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Friday, August 7, 2009

dykedar

One evening very early in my relationship with Kelley, we were having dinner at a suburban Atlanta Ruby Tuesday's (hey, it's all we could afford: mahi mahi, baked potato and one glass each of white zinfandel, once a month, and we by-god enjoyed it) when I stopped, fork halfway to my mouth, and said, 'Huh, look, two more dykes in Duluth!' She turned and looked at the women who had walked in. 'How can you tell?' she asked.

I stared at her, stumped. How could she not tell? To me, they may as well have had SCREAMING DYKE!! tattooed on their foreheads in flourescent purple. To me it's very, very obvious when a person is queer. Many people disagree, especially when it comes to women. Oh, they say, yes, you can tell with gay men, but women are more fluid. Bullshit. You can tell. I can always tell. (Though sometimes I know someone is a dyke before she's figured it out--and sometimes they're just not brave enough to ever figure it out. But I see the potential stamped on their faces, in their body language, buried in their smell and the tone of their voice.) Kelley's own dykedar is now active and fine-tuned but there's one woman we still disagree about--but, hey, I know I'm right. I know.

So imagine my delight when I came across this in Rainbow Zine:

Last year, Tufts University psychologist Nicholas Rule raised a few eyebrows when he published a study suggesting a man's sexual orientation can be "accurately and rapidly perceived" simply by looking at his face. Now, a follow-up study finds female faces are equally transparent in conveying which gender turns them on.

"Sexual orientation is perceived accurately, rapidly and automatically from women's faces," Rule and his colleagues write in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. "Deliberation and thinking too much seems to disrupt this ability."

(thanks, Cindy)

Apparently some people can just tell instantly, even from tightly cropped photos of the eyes. Ha! The trick is to not stop and think about it. There again, that's the trick to most of life. Just do it.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Satisfying moment

Kelley and I had lunch in an old haunt yesterday. Julia's is a Wallingford (a Seattle neighbourhood) institution. It's a Very Worthy place, where all the rice is brown, all the chairs are rickety, and most of the shoes are made of natural fibres which have never been near any kind of animal. Every few years they go through a Menu Change, and perform the kind of interesting internal remake that brings in different customers to order different food items but which doesn't involve actual change. It's an alchemical mystery. (Warning: never go to Julia's if you're in a hurry. There are only two servers, one butch and one femme, for a place with at least 50 covers. This is the place where that famous saying was born: Seattle--if you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes; if you don't like the service, wait ten minutes...)

But K and I have been going there since we bought a house in Wallingford in 1995 and about once a month we pootle over and drink tea, eat something egregiously healthy, and spend two unhurried hours talking about something utterly pointless but amusing. (Yesterday it was celebrities: how long does it take to change one's image these days?) This time, though, the New Set of customers included a group of 30-something parents with 3 utterly vile children. The parents were all flirting with each other and egging said children on to truly astonishing heights of volume and physical foolishness. One 3-year old in particular had a shriek like a cheese wire. Then two of the brood (one, thankfully, wasn't yet at the independent mobility stage) started chasing each other around the table.

Our overworked server had just given us our food (I had ginger cashew stir fry; very nice, too) when one of the 30-somethings snapped her fingers. Our server, a sturdy woman of a certain age, turned anxiously, hurriedly...and trundled right over the 3-year-old. Crush, grind, thump. Shocked silence. Followed by the exit of the entire party. No one actually cheered but we all wanted to. I suspect I wasn't the only person to give the server an extra large tip. The only thing that would have been more satisfying was if she'd managed to fling a tureen of boiling soup over the wholly tedious parents. Next time...

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

freedom to roam

copyright HMSO, via Wikipedia

For the last few weeks I've been without a passport. This situation might not worry most readers of AN but for me it's a real stress. Being a foreigner is sometimes difficult enough without finding myself unable to leave.

Renewing a UK passport as a US resident is a tedious, persnickety, and expensive process. Here, for example, are the very, very specific instructions for the correct photographs. Naturally I followed them to the letter--even took the letter to Walgreen's where the photos were taken. Naturally the UK consulate told me--two months into the process--that the pix were no good. (Though, naturally, they didn't tell me what the problem was.) I got them done again. Brought them home. Measured them. They were 1 mm off. I got them done again. Sent them back to the consulate. Settled in to wait. Again.

I hadn't realised how tense I was until FedEx showed up at the door with a brown envelope and my new passport. I ripped it open, checked it carefully, and clutched it to me. I don't care that the photo is ugly! I don't care that there's a RFID chip stuck on it! I don't care that it cost me nearly $300! Suddenly I'm a citizen of the world again. If Bad Things Happen, I can escape. Or, hey, if I win the Mega Millions, I can go on holiday. And, wow, the pictures of birds on the inner pages are gorgeous...

I wish there were a programme to get a new passport without giving the old one up. I loathe and detest being without one. It means I can't go to England. It means I'm trapped. It makes me feel like a stranger in a strange land. It creates horrible echoes from the past--a long story that I'm not willing to tell today about Kelley and I being stranded on separate continents for a while not long after we first met, a postal strike, a government passport office strike, illness... Shudder.

But, hey, that was then, this is now. I have my passport. I'm good to go. Paradoxically, all I want to do is wrap my arms around my life and stay put.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

full

No blog post today. My brain is full up. Also, the sun is shining but it's not hot (imagine a ripple of trumpets, flags, exploding fireworks: I am pleased). So I'll be on the deck with a cup of tea and an R.F. Delderfield novel. (Diana, originally published in two parts, There Was A Fair Maid Dwelling and The Unjust Skies, but you just can't get the originals anymore; still they read very well in the Coronet omnibus edition. Just ignore the horrible cover.) Delderfield wrote great, deep-pocketed, rich, interesting and very, very satisfying books. Go buy something. You won't regret it.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

a new Spartacus

Wow, happy days. As well as Captain Blood in space, coming soon to a screen near you, to your TV in fact, is a new Sam Raimi series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand:


(thanks, Evecho)

Boys killing each other, girls kissing each other, and 330-esque music. What else do you need? Oh, you need an interview with Lucy Lawless, talking about full frontal nudity and being fitted for a merkin. Enjoy.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Captain Blood in outer space!

Wow. Captain Blood in space! I can hardly stand it. I would kill (but, y'know, only bad people--or perhaps a yappy dog) to be doing this script. In fact I just downloaded twelve (12, one dozen) Rafael Sabatini novels to my Kindle. I was ready! Tuh.

According to Cinematical, the 'faithful' rewrite of the Errol Flynn blockbuster got rethought. But, eh, who cares?! Space or ocean, either way this has the potential to be a superior piece of swashbucklery. Oh, but who should star? I think Paul Bettany would be great. Or Gerard Butler. I wonder if Sean Bean could do it (might be fun to see him take a lighter role). Russell Crowe or Mel Gibson from 20 yrs ago could have done it, or Sean Connory of forty years ago. Who else? (For my money it has to be a Brit, or maybe--big maybe--an Australian. Americans are crap at that rogue boy twinkle, which is what is required. Hey, maybe John Barrowman *)

And, ooh, who could play the genderfuck version? Ann Bancroft of long ago. Tilda Swinton...maybe. Judi Dench of long ago. Catherine Deneuve?

So. Who should be Captain Blood? And should s/he roam the high seas or blackest space?



* Was Torchwood: Children of Earth cool or what?

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Author August on Author Central

Over at Author Central they're planning a special series starting today:

Every day during August a different author will be spotlighted in their own thread in our Author Central forum. We encourage all to visit on that day and post photographs, reminiscences, cover scans, links to appropriate sites, reviews, and other reactions. With 31 days and 31 authors there's a chance to share what you know as well as learn new things, so come and join in the fun!

(via BoingBoing)

Here's the list. Pay particular attention to the 15th and the 20th.

8/1 Alfred Bester
8/2 William Tenn (Phillip Klass)
8/3 Gene Wolfe
8/4 E.T.A. Hoffman
8/5 Norman Spinrad
8/6 Lucy Sussex
8/7 Robert J. Sawyer
8/8 Phillip Reeve
8/9 Ian McDonald
8/10 Ken MacLeod
8/11 Dan Simmons
8/12 S.M. Stirling
8/13 Sean McMullen
8/14 James Blish
8/15 Kelley Eskridge
8/16 Octavia Butler
8/17 Charles Stross
8/18 Colin Kapp
8/19 Fritz Leiber
8/20 Nicola Griffith
8/21 Hal Clement
8/22 J.G. Ballard
8/23 Alison Sinclair
8/24 E.C. Tubb
8/25 Neal Asher
8/26 Karl Schroeder
8/27 Jack L. Chalker
8/28 John Varley
8/29 Alan Dean Foster
8/30 David J. Williams
8/31 Kurd Lasswitz

Twenty percent women. Five percent POC. Five percent dead Prussian. But, hey, lots of Brits.

If you have things you'd like to say about me or my work (it doesn't have to be nice--you just have to spell my name right) this is your chance. I'll remind you closer to the time.

I might post some reminiscences of my own: Robert Sawyer's, ah, interesting acceptance speech at the 1996 Nebula Awards (also known as 'what not to say'). Having dinner with Octavia Butler. Charlie Stross wearing an eyeball earring at our wedding. Drinking beer with Dave Williams and ranting about playing nicely. Could be fun.

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