Sunday, January 31, 2010

pretty! juicy colours!

If you log onto the current Lambda Literary Foundation website, you'll see a juicy new splashpage fitted over the old-style content.

You'll get a hint of just how radical our redesign is going to be.

You'll also have the opportunity to fill out a form telling us what you want from a site dedicated to LGBT literature. We're encouraging you to aim high. Want an iPad app? Want more interviews with trans authors? Want to know where to sell your bisexual YA graphic novel? Wondering what's going on in queer book distribution? Think a queerliterati (oh, yep, I can think of other words for this but will resist) Flickr stream would be awesome? Tell us! And sign up for progress reports by email.

Oh, and if you like what you see, give the LLF some money. (What, you thought you'd get a PSA without a request for cold hard cash? What planet are you from?)

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Macmillan loses (R for Language)

I'm feeling too jaded to watch my mouth, so don't read this if you're easily offended.

Here's my pro forma comment on the latest Amazon crapola: Amazon has won already. (If you don't care deeply about the minutiae of the publishing industry, don't bother to click on the link. In a nutshell: two corporations are seeing whose worldview is better. That is, they're seeing who can piss higher up the wall.)

Amazon owns the ebook world. You can talk all you like about DRM-free this and Stanza that and ePub other thing, you can ooh and aah over the iPad, but the only number you really need to understand is this: two million Kindles. And remember that on Christmas Day, Amazon sold more ebooks than print books.

For Amazon, Macmillan-based business probably represents a fraction of one percent of their revenues (yep, I'm pulling that figure out of my arse but I bet I'm not an order of magnitude wrong) whereas, for Macmillan, Amazon-based business is probably a significant chunk (ditto).

Do I dislike what Amazon is doing? Yes. Bullying is ugly. Do I think what Macmillan is doing is stupid? Oh, yes. Much of the industry is probably on their side (sort of), but the customers are not. Customers don't care about fiddly industry details; they care about getting the book they want when they want it and for a price they like. (How much business did Amazon lose, long-term, over their confuse-queerlit-with-porn carelessness? Not much. And that was a much clearer issue for customers.) So the customers will be on Amazon's side. Ergo, Macmillan loses.

I feel deeply for any author who has a book releasing this week from a Macmillan imprint. Writers, as usual, are acceptable (to the warring parties) collateral damage. The thing is, if writers get hurt then so--eventually--does the reader.

These corporations have a fucked up notion of business.

Update: NYT reports Amazon has blinked. I'm deeply suspicious. (I think it's posturing for customers. Also, the Macmillan books aren't back up for sale yet--though, eh, that could be a database-refresh issue.) Anyway, here's Richard Curtis talking about what happens if dynamic pricing of ebooks does take hold: writers get a bigger percentage. Wouldn't that be lovely? (But, again: deeply suspicious. Higher prices = fewer books sold, so a bigger percentage might not work to our advantage.)

Anyway, Monday will be an interesting day in publishers' offices...

Update 2/7/09: paidContent.org think Amazon is the winner, too. Plus Munsey's Technosnarl explains that, eh, direct-from-publisher books are a drop in Amazon's book revenue bucket. (Which of course is a drop in their media bucket, which in turn is a drop in its overall bucket.)

Amazon has negotiated something with Macmillan--not sure what, but obviously something to Amazon's advantage--and Macmillan print titles are back on sale. Ebooks...well, I'm getting mixed messages on that.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

slate

From: Olen

I would just like to comment on how the technology form of the "slate" in Slow River has pretty much completely manifested with the release of the Apple iPad. Does science fiction serve a function of prescience in the development of technology? Was your book just another access point into non-linear time and consciousness? Just some questions that come up for me.

I think I'll re-read the book again for kicks. Now that I think back on it with my more film-oriented eye, have you considered film adaptations of it, or any of your works for that matter?

Oh, and me? I'm a queer writer and artist "living" in San Francisco and enjoy your work and just thought I'd reach out.

I was crushed (crushed!) when Apple chose to name their tablet iPad and not iSlate. Not being a modest person, I could have got a lot of mileage out of that one. Sigh. But, hey, not being a modest person, I think I'm going to get some mileage, anyway. Below is an excerpt from the manuscript of Slow River, written in 1993. Lore, scion of a stinking rich family, has been kidnapped, injured (big slash across her back), escaped, and found--naked, in the alley of a strange city--by a not particularly nice woman called Spanner. Spanner takes Lore home.

Lore reached for the tea. The red scar between her thumb and forefinger showed up clearly against the white ceramic. Moving hurt. Spanner nodded to herself. "I called the medic. He's on his way. And don't worry. He won't report this. Or you."


Lore felt as though she should say something, but she had no idea what. She sipped at the tea, trying to ignore the pain.


"I know who you are," Spanner said softly. "You were all over the net." Lore said nothing. "I don't understand why you're not screaming for Mummy and Daddy."


"I'll never go back."


"Why?"


Lore stayed silent. She needed Spanner, but she did not have to give her more ammunition.


Spanner shrugged. "If that's the way you want it. Can you get any money from them?"


"No." Lore hoped that sounded as final as she felt.


"Then I don't see how you're going to repay me. For the medic. For the care you look like you're going to need for a while. Do you have any skills?"


Yes, Lore wanted to say, but then she saw once again the red scar on the hand wrapped around her tea cup. How would she get a job designing remediation systems, how would she prove her experience, without an identity? "My identity...."


"That's another question. You want to get a copy of your old PIDA?"


"No." The pain was hot and round and tight. The infection must be spreading. Again, she thought of his blood mingling with hers.


"Then you'll need a new one. That costs, too. And what do you want me to call you? I can't go around calling you Frances Lorien Van Oesterling."


"Lore. Call me Lore."


"Well, Lore, if you want my help then you'll have to pay for it. You'll have to work for me."


"Legally?"


Spanner laughed. "Not even remotely. But I've never been caught, and what I do is low down on the police list--victimless crime. Or nearly so."


The only "victimless" crimes Lore could think of were prostitution and personal drug use.


Spanner stood up, went to her work bench, brought back a slate. "Here. Take a look."


Lore, moving her arms slowly and carefully, turned it over, switched it on. Wrote on it, queried it, turned it off. She handed it back.


"It's an ordinary slate."


"Exactly. A slate stuffed with information. What do you use your slate for?"


Lore thought about it. "Making memos. Sending messages. Net codes and addresses. Ordering speciality merchandise. Appointments. Receiving messages. Keeping a balance of accounts..." She began to see where this was leading. "But it's all protected by my security code."


"That's what most people think. But it's not difficult to break it. It just takes time and a good programme. Nothing glamourous. This one..." She smiled. "Well, let's see." She sat down at her bench, connected the slate to a couple of jacks, flipped some switches. "Can you see from down there?" Lore nodded. On a readout facing Spanner numbers began to flicker faster than Lore could read them. "Depending on the complexity of the code, it takes anywhere from half a minute to an hour. I've yet to come across one that--" The numbers stopped. "Ah. An easy one." She touched another button and the red feed light on the slate lit up. "It's downloading everything: account numbers, the net numbers of people called in the last few months, name, address, occupation, DNA codes of the owner...everything." She was smiling to herself.


"What do you use it for?"


"Depends. Some slates are useless to us. We just ransom them back to their owners for a modest fee. No one gets hurt. Often we couch things in terms of a reward for the finder. No police involvement. Nothing to worry about."


"And other times?"


Someone banged on the door, two short, two long taps.


"That's the medic." But Spanner did not get up to let him in. "Better make up your mind."


"What?"


"Do you want to work with me or not? Even if I don't let him in, there'll be a small fee for call out, nothing you couldn't repay when you're able. But if he comes in here and works on you, then you'll owe me."


The medic banged on the door again, faster this time.


"Sounds like he's getting impatient."


Lore had no clothes and no ID; she doubted she could stand. "I'll do it."

As you can see, in some ways it's pretty old-fashioned (shopping online for 'speciality items' instead of 'everything') but in others it's kind of cool (not modest, remember): 'net numbers' = internet telephony; a slate/mobile surfing device; DNA profiles; wallet online, etc. Did I invent all that stuff? Hell, no. All the bits and pieces were floating about in the meme-o-sphere; as a genre, cyberpunk was mature (can't believe I used 'mature' and 'cyberpunk' in the same phrase). But I did pull it all together in a relatively realistic milieu. I showed how real people might use such things. And I had a blast doing it: there's nothing more satisfying than inventing new worlds and the people in them. Though I think I had the most fun with the remediation technology.

I had a very serious offer from an independent producer, once, for Slow River. I turned her down. I wasn't convinced she could pull together the budget and, frankly, what she was offering me wasn't enough.

I wonder, sometimes, how it would have turned out. I think it could make a fantastic film. Lots of visual set-pieces, spiffy tech, exciting plot, sex, a smidge of violence, some bad guys, and characters trying as hard as they can.

I've had much TV and film interest, over the years, in the Aud novels but it always comes to nothing. I'm okay with that. Though, wow, I would absolutely love to see Aud onscreen, love to see my art through the eyes of another artist (lots of other artists: writer, director, actor, set designer...). I'd be thrilled. And, eh, the money would be nice. Writing an adaptation of The Blue Place is still on my to-do list.

But back to the iPad. What a bloody stupid name. Don't they have any women working at Apple?




(thanks to Dianne Cameron for the link)

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

iPad!

The Apple tablet is called...iPad. It's a giant iPhone. It looks good. 10 hrs battery use, a month standby. (Not sure I believe that.) More later. Meanwhile, Engadget is updating live.

Update: The iBooks display looks really good: you can change font, look at contents page and go to specific pages. Uses ePub. Partnering with 5 of the Big 6 (I didn't see Random mentioned).

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nominating women

Nominations for the Hugo Awards (basically a Readers' Choice gong for f/sf) are open, and over at the Feminist SF blog, there's a guest post by Cheryl Morgan "as part of the ongoing series about men-only short lists at the Hugo Awards. It’s full of excellent positive ideas about how we can change the men-only lists – for this year and for always! – and I hope people will comment with other ideas about nominating more women for the Hugo Awards."

You have to be a member or supporting member of last year or this year's Worldcon. But if you're not, be aware that much of the advice applies to other awards. Go read, go vote. For something.

I'd love one of those awards: you get a ginormous shiny rocket ship with your name on it. So cool. Best of luck to everybody.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

customisable books

Very interesting blog post over at Dear Author about customising car dashboards, and smart phone displays, and, eventually, ebooks. I agree with everything Jane says. The comments are also interesting--particularly the one about customising book files for printing via Espresso POD machines. I don't know if publishers do this yet, but they should. Imagine if you could print out the book any way you like, perhaps even personalise by adding photos. (But then I imagine one would run into copyright knots.)

Does anyone out there have experience of Espresso and its custom options? I don't know enough, clearly.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Book Industry Study Group e-book survey

There's a new study out in publishing town, the BISG survey on e-book consumerism. (Via Richard Curtis.)

New York, NY (January 15, 2010) -- In a benchmark survey -- the first of three to be released this year -- the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG) has just revealed concrete consumer data collected directly from book readers that addresses how print book buyers access, purchase and use e-books and e-readers.
[...]
"For example," Bole continues, "the survey found that 30% of print book buyers would wait up to three months to purchase the e-book edition of a book by their favorite author. This kind of information can inform decisions publishers need to make today about when and how to publish e-book editions."

This doesn't quite ring true for me. That is, I think these respondents are speaking from intent rather than reality. Sure, I tell myself I'll take a look at such-and-such a book in the Kindle edition, when it's finally released, but, y'know, I forget. There's a lot of information out there and new info tends to bump old info aside. Now if Amazon/the Big Six publishers would let me download the sample chapter to my Kindle I could read it immediately and then, if I liked it, pre-order the full book which would arrive on pub. date and sort of twinkle at me until I read it. But I'm not going to pre-order something I can't taste first. And, really, now hard is it to send out a free chapter a few months in advance? Where I'm concerned, planning to buy a Kindle edition doesn't lead to a lost print sale; I don't buy print novels anymore. But not having the sample chapter available on p-pub date does lead to a lost e-book sale. No matter how affordable it is when it's finally released.

And Kindle editions are affordable. According to the survey, affordability is "the #1 reason they would choose to purchase an e-book rather than a print book of the same title."

This isn't the whole truth, either. Yes, I've bought more novels for my Kindle this last year than print novels in the last two or three years put together. And, yes, to some degree those purchases are based on price. ($9 is so much better than $27. In NG arithmetic, one third of the price = three times better.) But mostly it's a convenience issue: right here, right now, and doesn't weigh too much. (Carrying around a Stephen King book? For crazy people, or people with staff. Or people who don't have a gym membership but made a resolution to finally get fit this year.)

So do you agree with the survey findings?

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Christopher Lee, Charlemagne, Prince Gryffyth

As usual, my head is full of all sorts of thoughts about all sorts of things, tumbling about like puppies in a sack. Instead of giving you something meaningful and coherent (at least today) here is a supremely weird video of Christopher Lee doing 'symphonic metal'--at least talking about doing it. He also explains how he is descended from Charlemagne.


I, of course, am descended from Llewellyn Gryffyth, last sovereign prince of Wales. Me and 20 million other people...

Who are your famous ancestors?

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

the world is full of sun

Wow, sun is actually pouring across the lawn and into the living room. Pouring. I'm seeing colours in my house that I haven't seen since last summer. It makes it look like spring out there. So I'm going to scramble into some can-be-seen-in-public clothes and get myself to the park. Then K and I will have lunch.

To entertain you meanwhile, here are a few bits of publishing news.

One from PW.com about Amazon tightening the screws on the competition. "Amazon’s newest shot to keep e-book prices low and to develop more original content is a new royalty program that will give authors and publishers who use the company’s self-publishing Kindle Digital Text Platform a much higher rate that standard royalties. Under the program, which goes into affect June 30, authors or publisher who choose the new 70% royalty option will receive 70% of list price, net of delivery costs on all e-books sold. The new option will be in addition to the existing DTP standard royalty option."

One from Mike Shatzkin who explains how the big disruption ahead in ereading isn't going to be Apple's iSlate/Unicorn, but the agreement they're hamming out with the Big Six (the huge trade publishers: Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Macmillan) which will change the rules for the rest of us. "If the reporting by Publishers Lunch today is accurate (and I’ve never known it not to be), publishers may have used the entry of Apple into the ebook arena as an opportunity to change the entire paradigm of ebook distribution for major books. And while the great excitement about Apple and ebooks has been based on hopes that the new Apple Tablet that the world expects to be announced next week will add a lot of new ebook consumers, the change in the sales protocols will probably have a much more profound impact on the ebook market than the device. Or at least that’s how it looks from here."

And finally, a nice piece of news, again from PW.com, about how young people's book-reading is staying steady, showing no decline. Yay! "A new report released by the Kaiser Family Foundatioin on media usage found some relatively good news for book publishers amid findings that generally determined that 8-to-18 year-olds are consuming more digital media than ever. According to Generation M, total media usage by that age group rose to seven hours and 38 minutes per day in 2009 from six hours and 21 minutes in 2004. Time spent with digital media rose in all categories, while the use of print media fell from an average of 43 minutes per day in 2004 to 38 minutes in 2009. The decline in reading print was due entirely to young people spending less time with magazines and newspapers over the last five years, while the time spent reading remained steady at about 25 minutes per day."

Play nicely while I'm gone.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

a pause in the rain

Yesterday, unexpectedly, the rain stopped for a while. After the mad-squirrel event of the morning (the post caps are still all cattywompus), everything was quiet for half an hour. Then the birds came.

I've talked before about the hot-needle birds which might be bushtits and hang out in flocks of forty or fifty. Yesterday, we got a mixed flock of birds of biblical proportions: like a plague of locusts. I lost count--a couple of hundred? A mixed bag of different tiny little birds flicking from tree to tree in the ravine, a kegger of crows doing a flyby (thirty of them maybe) nine or ten robins, and one electric blue Stellar's Jay. And they flicked and swooped and cheeped and fleeked and pipped and shrieked for about twenty minutes. A free show, just for me.

All that stuff was a welcome break from pondering layers of website navigation and floating social web bars (you'll see what I mean when LambdaLiterary.org goes live in the next few weeks).

It rained again last night, of course (and the wind was astonishing), dumping all kinds of no-doubt-interesting-to-tiny-birds detritus on the deck. So with luck I'll get to watch another show this afternoon. Or, eh, maybe not. I'll be on Skype half the afternoon, talking to the web team about ad placement and nav bars.

Anyway, I hope there are lovely things where you are to brighten your Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

what's the plan?

Today I'll be busy doing many things, including having a life. My plan: make a cup of tea, take it and a book to the comfy sofa, drink it while gradually forgetting the book and instead stare out of the window at the insane squirrels. (They've gone quite bonkers today, not sure why, but it's as good as a play: run, shriek, fluff, run, zip up and down a tree, chatter in full aggression display, run, shriek, repeat--four of them dashing about. One just tried to rip the cap off the fencepost.)

It's a good plan for a Sunday. What's yours?

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Friday, January 15, 2010

A Story for Haiti, and other linkage

The good folks at Crossed Genres have come up with a great way to help the people of Haiti. "We wanted to do something to encourage people to donate to the massive relief efforts that are underway. So we started Post A Story For Haiti./Below are links to a number of short stories. Their authors have posted these stories online to read, for free. You can read one or all of them, it’s up to you. More stories will be added as we are sent new links. And if you enjoy the free stories and want to show your appreciation, please donate to a charity involved in the Haiti relief efforts." (via Cheryl Morgan.) I posted "Down the Path of the Sun," the first story I wrote as an adult. Yes, it's full of baby writer tropes (it's based on a dream, it's set in a post-apocalyptic world) but go read it anyway, then go give some money.

Kelley has posted a photo of herself at 12. She looks astonishingly like herself. Seriously. The essential person hasn't changed. I often wonder how we would have got along as children. I'm pretty sure we would have been friends. Pretty sure. I think. But here's me at around the same age (just a year or so younger--yes, that's a skirt; I loved that thing). Judge for yourself:

And here are a bunch o' links for writers at Sterling Editing. All kinds of nifty stuff from nifty people, from serious thoughts on the industry to simple, practical tips on how to get organised and stay focused.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

the LLF has a web producer!

Okay, here's what I've been working on for LLF. The official press release:

Antonio Gonzalez Named Web Producer for LambdaLiterary.org

FROM THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF LAMBDA LITERARY FOUNDATION

January 13, 2010 - The Lambda Literary Foundation (LLF) is delighted to announce the appointment of Antonio Gonzalez to the new position of Web Producer.

"Antonio Gonzalez brings an impressive background of building and managing community-based websites from the ground up," says LLF Executive Director Tony Valenzuela. "With his tech savvy, editorial experience and publishing industry background, he's exactly who we need to usher in a new era of the Lambda Literary Foundation online. I'm thrilled to welcome him aboard."

Over the last few months we at LLF have been raising money from our membership to create an online presence which will celebrate, support, serve, inform, entertain, and connect the whole of the brilliantly diverse community that creates and supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans literature. Our new website will offer content of interest to readers, writers, agents, booksellers, editors, educators, distributors, bloggers, and more.

"The literary landscape is changing," says LLF board member Nicola Griffith. "To a degree we would have found unbelievable ten years ago, book commerce is moving online. But LGBT bookstores were and are the incubators of thriving local culture. They function/ed as de facto community centers, places for us to meet others like ourselves, to know--by seeing real live writers and readers, by touching actual books, by laughing and crying in recognition at authors' stories--that we aren't alone. So at LLF we asked ourselves: As the number of bookstores shrink, how will LGBT book lovers find each other, how will our books find their readers? The answer is a website. A website for all of us."

As Antonio Gonzalez points out, "LGBT affairs have taken a front-row seat in American culture from marriage equality, to hate crimes, to high school suicide rates, to banned books. A communications team that can better leverage web technology is critical in order for the Lambda Literary Foundation to take part in that conversation. As the web producer, I look forward to introducing LambdaLiterary.org to a new audience as well as positioning the organization for another 22 years of success."

The board and staff of LLF are determined that, as we head into a more inclusive future, our website will reflect our real world community--and vice versa. We intend LambdaLiterary.org to be the place you can post your news, and the place to turn to when you want authoritative news and opinion on anything concerning LGBT literature. We will rely on everyone who loves LGBT literature to keep us on our toes.

More information:
Tony Valenzuela
info@lambdaliterary.com
323-936-5876

Antonio Gonzalez (agonzalez@lambdaliterary.org) is a freelance reporter and web producer. The former Managing Editor, SVP of MyLatinoVoice.com, Antonio began his publishing career at Warner Books (now Grand Central Publishing) as a publicity assistant, eventually moving on to manage advertising campaigns for 7 imprints at Penguin Group (USA). He has always maintained a strong commitment to the LGBT community from volunteering with The Publishing Triangle to interviewing notables like Perez Hilton, Jarrett Barrios, and Alan Cumming for the New York Press. As the editor and founder of homo-neurotic.com (hN), Antonio tracks and reports on pop culture, style, photography, and literature. He lives in New York City.

I'm really excited about this. For more on what Antonio will be doing, take a look at this job description.

I've written before about our bookstores closing and how this will affect our community. But the more time I've spent pulling together the team that will work on LambdaLiterary.org, the more convinced I become that online community must mirror and support and help create real world community. That's the point.

This already happens in many ways. Take, for example, Twitter, and conventions, and this blog. The word 'Tweetup' has made it into the language: a meetup in the real world of people who have got to know each other on Twitter. Conventions and conferences come from the same impulse. Communities of interest--science fiction fans, or medieval scholars, or dentists--come together to pool information, meet their through-the-fanzines friends, share best practices and so on. And this blog--and the Yahoo group I run--have led to many real world friendships: readers in the same city meeting up for a drink or a meal.

I think this is what LambdaLiterary.org will do, only on a much bigger scale. It will bring together small groups--trans performance poets, queer SF fans, lesbian romance readers, gay journalists, editorial directors of imprints (queer focused and not), critics, librarian, YA and middle-grade lit afficionados, digital press founders, trade press wholesalers, bloggers, bisexual academics--under one umbrella. We'll see that together we are strong and fine and ready to step into the spotlight. As one women I spoke to recently said: visibility equals prestige. Trust me, we are going to be visible.

You can help with that, of course. Please spread the word. Our time really is almost here. Just weeks away. Oh, it's going to be good!

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LGBT aid to Haiti

I don't pretend to know how bad it is in Haiti after the earthquake, but it's very bad. They need our help. There are many places to donate, for example Doctors Without Borders. But there's also the Rainbow World Fund, an LGBT organisation already working with CARE on the ground at Port-Au-Prince. Wherever you choose to put your money, do give something if you can.

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lesbian ants in our pants

Perhaps I'll just let this one go by without comment. Oh, oh, but wait. Here's another, only this time me and the lesbian ants and T.H. White. Woo hoo!

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

this and that

Still busy on Mysterious Projects but there's a lot going on on teh intarwebs to keep you busy while I'm doing other things. For example there's this liveblogging of the Prop. 8 hearings, I just heard about a cool convention in New York that I might actually be there for, and Kelley has a reminder that she's teaching a fabulous 6-week short fiction course here in Seattle starting in a couple of weeks.

I wish I had photos to show you of cool places I'd been and people I've been meeting but I've just been right here for the last few days, working--at the, y'know, mysterious projects. But I'd love to hear what you've been doing, who you've met, what you've read, movies you've seen, meals you've enjoyed, monsters you've killed, all that stuff. Hey, let me live vicariously through you for a day or two...

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the drinking of the Belgian beer

Okay. It turns out that I like very fresh Belgian beer when golloped down sipped decorously from the correctly-shaped glasses. Affligem, founded 1074. They make some rocking beers. Yum. Also, they have a nifty website, complete with monkish soundtrack and the phhtt of popping beer caps. And, why yes, I have indeed been indulging this evening/morning: the blond, and the dubbel, and the trippel. And, yes, I do have something to celebrate, but, no, I'm not telling. Yet.

Now I must tilt slowly towards the horizontal. Smiling, always smiling...

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Ammonite and Howard Carter

Books placed in Howard Carters house in Luxor by a Friend of AN. Ammonite (and Dangerous Space) on Howard Carter's desk! Apparently you can stay at the house for only $10,000 (that might be per week, a mere snip--there again, it could be per night). What value! All that and marvellous reading opportunity because they're now permanently esconced.

Kelley and I get to snuggle up (by proxy) in Egypt. Lovely.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

the Apparatgeist

I cam across a lovely new word last week in the Economist: apparatgeist, in a most interesting piece "The Apparatgeist calls." 'How you use your mobile phone has long reflected where you live. But the spirit of the machines may be wiping away cultural differences.'

The word triggered my reticular activating system and everywhere I turned I saw examples of cultures responding to technology. Here, for example, is the response of an English village to a decommissioned red telephone box:

Yes, they turned it into a library. A different kind of library.

And here is the latest on Margaret Atwood's LongPen idea, only now it's morphed into a low-cost signing tablet that will be useful for virtual legal and banking transactions.

Last and best and utterly unconnected to anything, except the car as culture, is a blog post about the stories of Dangerous Space, Kelley's short story collection. It was lovely seeing that excerpt from "Somewhere Down the Diamondback Road" out of context. I remember watching Kelley write that in the heat and humidity of Clarion and being so in love I hurt. And then going out driving in her little red sports car and being glad I wasn't Billy... (Of course, it also reminds me of our constant bickering over the words carapace and the ever-popular swang.)

In other news, I've been hard at work doing mysterious things for LLF. I'll be able to talk about that soon.

Now back to salivating over roast chicken and roots vegetables, and pondering the maturation of Hild.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

scary links for writers

Today I'm going to point you to Sterling Editing and our weekly links roundup for writers. This week's linkage is all about scary words: taxes, schmoozing, and critics. But don't be frightened; these links are stuffed with helpful advice. Go take a look. Have fun.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sherlock Holmes gay? shut down the franchise!

Some tutting here from Andrea Plunket, the US copyright holder of the Sherlock Holmes stories, about the Holmes/Watson bromance. From Cinematical, here's what Plunket had to say in response to Robert Downey's comments about the on-screen relationship in the new film:

"I hope this is just an example of Mr Downey's black sense of humour. It would be drastic, but I would withdraw permission for more films to be made if they feel that is a theme they wish to bring out in the future," says Plunket. "I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books."

I haven't followed all the links and tried to figure out why this woman owns these rights, but it's a bit mystifying that fiction written so very long ago isn't in the public domain. Imagine the world and the stories in it if Shakespeare or Chaucer or Homer were still zealously guarded. We'd be poorer for it.

I think current copyright laws of lifetime of the author plus 70 years are unconscionable.

What do you think is a good term for copyright? Lifetime of the author? Lifetime plus 20 years? None at all?

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

a tide of ill-informed good will: more about blockbusters

Well, okay, it looks as though the Economist has already said everying I was trying to say yesterday, and said it better. (Thanks Denys, in the comments at Cinematical.) Seriously, go read the article. It's great. It speaks to why the midlist is currently getting screwed. (Yes, Mordicai, I know you think the lot of us midlisters will improve, and I hope you're right, but at the moment it's horrible.) Here are two paragraphs to whet your appetite:

"Both the hits and the tail are doing well," says Jeff Bewkes, the head of Time Warner, an American media giant. Audiences are at once fragmenting into niches and consolidating around blockbusters. Of course, media consumption has not risen much over the years, so something must be losing out. That something is the almost but not quite popular content that occupies the middle ground between blockbusters and niches. The stuff that people used to watch or listen to largely because there was little else on is increasingly being ignored.

Perhaps the best explanation of why this might be so was offered in 1963. In "Formal Theories of Mass Behaviour", William McPhee noted that a disproportionate share of the audience for a hit was made up of people who consumed few products of that type. (Many other studies have since reached the same conclusion.) A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read “The Lost Symbol”, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it.
This explains why bestselling books, or blockbuster films, occasionally seem to grow not just more quickly than products which are merely very popular, but also in a wholly different way. As a media product moves from the pool of frequent consumers into the ocean of occasional consumers, the prevailing attitude to it—what Hollywood folk call word of mouth—can become less critical. The hit is carried along by a wave of ill-informed goodwill.

I really want to explore this notion of belonging, fold in what Jennifer D said yesterday in the comments--about belonging interiorly as well as outside the book. But, eh, today is a busy day, so it will have to wait a wee while.

If any of you have insights meanwhile, share!

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

the nature of blockbusters

I've been thinking about art and commerce and why a blockbuster is unlike other books.

A long time ago, the Associate Publisher of Del Rey (hey, Ku) shocked me by saying, "We worry if a review is too good." As soon as he said it, I understood, albeit on a level I couldn't then articulate, that this was weirdly, creepily (and very inconveniently) true. Blockbusters don't get critical strokes. Yet readers suck them up and blow back money.

The thing is, I know a lot of readers--omnivorous, voracious, constant readers--but at the time I didn't know anyone who adores books such as The Bridges of Madison County or Who Moved My Cheese? Who are these buyers, I wondered. Why do they buy such crude constructs and propel them to blockbusterdom?

They buy them because they don't know any better.

No, this is not slam-the-punter day on Ask Nicola. I'm really trying to figure something out. Stay with me.

I have a friend who loves books, particularly poetry, yet has had progessively less time to read. Five years ago, she joined a book group. They were reading Dan Brown. "Oh, migod," she said at dinner one night. "Have you read The Da Vinci Code?" I opened my mouth to pour witty invective on the book*, but then I saw that her eyes were shining. I shut my mouth. "It's fabulous, amazing, intricate, interesting, fascinating..." I listened with half an ear while she rhapsodised and focused on my dinner. "...brilliant, and next we're reading Angles & Demons!" When she'd finished I blinked a few times, managed an "I'm glad you're enjoying it," and stuffed the conversation in my to-be-pondered-later file.

At some point in the last month or two it's bumped up against the long-ago we worry about good reviews comment, and then, yesterday, a post on The Lefsetz Letter (which spends some time comparing apples to oranges but makes a basically sound point: beauty is in the eye of the consumer--thanks to Fran Toolan for pointing that out). Now I get it.

Blockbuster-book buying isn't about books. It's about human behaviour and group dynamics. It's about belonging. The blockbuster consumer hears people talking about the the secret codes underlying national monuments, or vampires vs. werewolves, and they want to join in the conversation. Just as they haven't spent much time thinking about dress design, they've never considered how narrative works. They don't have the critical tools to see that the book is ugly and badly made. All they know is that they're joining in and having a blast. They aren't habitual readers; they have time/inclination for one book a year, so they pick the one that they've heard their coworkers and fellow students and clients raving about. A blockbuster novel is like a Halloween costume: it only has to last one night and provide something to talk about in the morning. It's a way to feel part of the party.

I have nothing against that. I used to. It used to piss me off that a book could be manifestly badly written and get terrible reviews yet absolutely fly off the shelves. Here I was, slaving away (also, admittedly, having a blast) writing my beautiful books, and they go off and buy rubbish instead? "What is wrong with people?" I would cry**.

Finally I understand that there's nothing wrong with them, they're simply not habitual readers--just as most of the people who went to watch 2012 aren't film aficionados, and most of those who eat fish and chips aren't gourmands. They don't have the eye or the palate, and they don't care. Why should they? They don't even have to discount or defy the highbrow critics' opinion because they don't encounter it; they're not habitual readers so they don't read book blogs or newspaper reviews or literary journals. All they know of a book is the opinion of their friends, family, or co-workers who are, mostly likely, as inexperienced as they are. This is buzz. This is word-of-mouth. This is what makes blockbusters, and it's utterly impervious to critical opinion.

I know this: I'm a blockbuster consumer. I'm salivating to see Ridley Scott's Robin Hood. Will it be great art? Don't know. Don't care. I go the theatre perhaps three times a year. As long as someone whacks someone's head off with a sword or shit blows up, I'm happy.

How about you? And, more importantly (at least from a writer's perspective), how do we get readers to buzz about great novels? Oh, wait, that's easy: we persuade them to read more often and get more experience. Which is happening, thanks to the Stephenie Meyers and Dan Browns of the world. Even if only one percent of those occasional readers suddenly falls in love with this notion of reading for pleasure, of reading as an interior experience, then, hey, we're good.


* Yes, I've read it. All the way through--though it was a terrible struggle to finish. I love Catholic conspiracy books, love them, and so despite the reviews I picked this one up. "How bad can it be?" I thought. Ha. About the opening scene alone I could write pages on how to fix it--or why not to bother.

** A cat would no doubt say: not enough legs.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

BlueSolitaire, a new discussion list

A few years ago, a book lover built two email lists, BluePlace and Ammonite, for the purpose of discussing, respectively, crime fiction and speculative fiction with some queer connection. After years of tireless toil, he is hanging up his admin hat. (Many thanks, Ivan.) The members of the two groups put their heads together and decided to meld the lists and move the new one, now called BlueSolitaire, to Yahoo. Barbara Murray has graciously agreed to moderate. We got set up during the holidays. The first tentative emails are beginning to go back and forth.

I'm on the list. Some other people whose names you might recognise are on the list. You should be, too. Come help us build another fabulous book community. Sign up now. All book lovers welcome.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

weather, again

Can you guess what kind of weather? Eh, in my head the sun is shining...

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy Palindrome Day!

In the Griffith-Eskridge household we decided that yesterday belonged to the time-out-of-time season so today is the start of the new decade. The fact that 01.02.2010 is palindromic pleases me at a geekly level.

My main plan for 2010 is to finish some publishable portion of Hild and to have a damn fine time with Kelley. Secondary to that, I'll be working with LLF on exciting projects, helping other writers with Sterling Editing, and travelling--Atlanta, New York, England, possibly Italy (it all depends on Hild).

Naturally there will be some other writing (I'll list upcoming publications in another post), some walking in the park, some rants, and lots of adventures with fine wine...

...speaking of which, for New Year's Eve we drank a bottle of Barbaresco we've been hoarding for three years: a 1996 Fontanabianca. This was the wine that, in 1998, at a little restaurant in Seattle's University district (run by a bit of a rogue called Angelo--who flirted outrageously with Kelley and often served us wearing a black eye and cut lip) triggered my love of the Piedmontese. Drinking it was a reaffirmation of our quest for joy and delight in all aspects of our life together. It was so fine it took us nearly two hours to drink one bottle. Every drop felt like a miracle.

I'll be back on Monday with a blog about something or other. For now, go read about the Best. Lesbian. Decade. Ever. and get nostalgic--because this decade is going to be even better.

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