Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why self-publishing looks more and more attractive

Mike Shatzkin lays out the ebook royalty arithmetic again, this time for self-published titles.  (See this post for his sums on trade publishers' ebook royalties.)  He uses Smashwords as an example.

Smashwords pays authors 85% of the sales price for ebooks sold on its own site, and about 85% of the receipts for sales made through iBooks (Apple), Sony, B&N, Kobo, and the Diesel eBook Store. In other words, an author would get more than three times the “old” standard 25% ebook royalty offered by the big publishers and double the “new” possible 40% royalty implied as the new ceiling by the Random-Wylie agreement announced last week.
I'm finding it progressively more challenging to see the advantage of using a trade publisher, especially for what a Big Six outfit might call a marginal title: a full-length collection of short stories or essays.* Such a collection is more likely to sell to an author's already established and faithful readership than to new readers.  And the author (me, say) will find it easier to reach those faithful readers through her painstakingly compiled mailing lists and blog followers and fellow Tweeters than through the usual mainstream bookselling marketing and distribution mechanisms.

Actually, I'm wondering if, five years from now, there will still be such a thing as a full-length single-author collection.  Perhaps they will go the way of the concept album.  Perhaps sales will be single titles: individual stories.  I honestly don't know.

What do you think?

* I'm not the only one.  Publishing Perspectives has a round up of responses to Seth Godin's announcement a week or so ago that he would no longer publish traditionally.  (Via Dear Author.)
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Monday, August 30, 2010

Online dating, sexual selection, science fiction

I read an article a week or so ago in the Boston Globe that made me think in SF terms.  It's about online dating.

Firstly, surprise, surprise, size matters:

For both sexes, the attractiveness of the photo was the most important trait (users’ profile pictures were rated separately to determine how good-looking they were). Beyond that, men’s height was the most important feature to women. In fact, the researchers were able to put the value of height into numbers. By comparing height to salary, they found a man who is 5 feet 9 inches tall needs to make between $35,000 and $40,000 more per year to get as many responses as a man who is 5 feet 10 inches tall.
And so does race (sigh):
Indeed, some of the strongest findings from multiple dating sites have revealed discrepancies in how we talk and act in relation to race; while most people profess to being colorblind, the numbers show something quite different. Race influences the number of responses aspiring daters get, with white men having the clearest advantage.
(via Prospero)
So now I'm wondering what online dating will do for intersexual selection.  How will this kind of ability to choose via search terms affect our species?  How long will it take this change to become apparent?

Yep, it's pretty amazing what I'll find interesting when I'm trying to avoid actual work...
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Sunday, August 29, 2010

This is a fine, fine woman

This is Kelley, dancing the night away last weekend. Colour me smug. And happy. And smug again.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Beautiful photos of people reading, and more

I'm trying to get into the habit of posting a round-up of bookish bits on Saturdays. So here are the latest nifty things from the intarweb.

  • From the Literary Platform, news that the Man Booker prize has an iPhone app, "a first for UK literary prizes. The app, created by award winning digital agency Vexed Digital, will be free to download and will offer access to the Man Booker Prize archive – offering a full chronological history of the prize including information about the judges and the longlist, shortlist and winning authors and books. App users will be able to access exclusive author interviews, video content and audio and text extracts from selected Man Booker Prize titles."
  • A zillion people have weighed in on the Wylie-Amazon vs. Random House game of chicken over ebook royalties. Who blinked? Hard to say. Who won? Difficult to tell--though I think, for a change, it's writers who stand to do best from this. Though there's a way to go. Read this from Publishers Weekly. Though I think they're wrong to say a new rate is born. This is backlist we're talking about. As Kassia Krozer points out, the real fight comes with frontlist.
  • Also, at PW: news of the venerable book journal's venture into reviewing (for a price) self-published titles with it's new outlet, PW Select. "The registration fee of $149 entitles authors to a listing that includes title, author, illustrator (where applicable), pagination, price, format, ISBN, and a description of the book's contents--all of which will appear in the supplement and online database. Authors should also include the online location or phone number at which to place orders for their book." Sigh.
  • Mike Shatzkin takes a look at royalty arithmetic. The most intriguing part is the author's percentage of margin (calculated on a cost-of-sale basis). "Looking at these numbers it is easy to see why publishers are fighting to hold the line on ebook royalties. But ultimately the determination of what will work will not be based on what is fair or equitable; it will be be based on what the market says is the right level." Go take a look. It's pretty damn interesting.
  • My most splendid discovery this week is Steve McCurry's beautiful photographs of people reading (via Prospero). Mostly men, which is ironic on many levels. My favourites? The man with the elephant, and the bent old woman. Please go look. It will give you so much hope for the world. A reading world is a world with culture, a humane world. A world I want to live in. There's a Part II as well.
  • And finally, as always, over at Sterling Editing our usual links of interest to writers: unicorns, it seems, are ready for their fifteen minutes of fame.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend planned. I'm finishing up an editing project and then soon, oh soon, Hild Hild Hild! Life is good.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Literature and girl cooties

Yesterday was Women's Equality Day, the 90th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. It only gives women the right to vote, not eœual protection under the law. The ERA would amend that:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

As Timmi Duchamp points out over at the Aqueduct blog, "here we are, almost forty years later. And the amendment keeps getting proposed every year, and every year keeps failing."

In legal terms, then, women in the USA do not have the same status or protection as men.
We never have. It's no surprise, therefore, that, when it comes to literature, women are not given equal attention or regard. We've just been through another round of annoyance about this (most recently from Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner at HuffPo, blogger Anna North over at Jezebel, and NPR).

So, by way of solidarity, here's a version of a post I wrote three years ago (for the Litblog Co-op, when they celebrated Always, which was being marketed as Noir), about literature and girl cooties. Enjoy.

Books and Girl Cooties

Genre and gender typecasting, norming and othering, is a subject that's been on my mind my entire publishing career.*

Here's a quick run-down of my novels and their typing so far:

  • Ammonite: a mass market original with an orange jellybean spaceship on the cover. It's far-future SF largely concerned with change, with a side-helping of gender (or sex romp on girlie planet, or biological What If novel, or subgenre throwaway, depending who's talking)
  • Slow River: a hardcover then trade paper from a genre imprint with a vaguely hip cyberpunky cover. Near-future SF about the nature of identity, with a tint of bioremediation (or a novel of sex &industrial sabotage, or a noirish and mesmerising tale of sewage and abuse, or smutty dyke fiction, depending)
  • The Blue Place: an Avon hardcover and Perennial trade paperback.. The first step on the journey of Aud (rhymes with cloud) Torvingen, who sometimes kills people and is trying to work out what it means to be a human in this world (or a novel of suspense, or kick-ass semi-legal gal fiction, or lesbian noir)
  • Stay: a very classy-looking Nan A. Talese hardcover--rough front and everything--and Vintage/Black Lizard trade. The second Aud novel, in which she learns just how far removed she's been from common humanity (or an unflinching examination of grief, or brutal take on female violence, or classic noir)
  • Always: a big, bright-purple Riverhead hardcover. The third book of Aud, in which she embraces her strengths and frailties (or fist-slamming physicality, or cutting-edge crime fiction, or literary noir)

If you judge simply by imprint and format, I've been creeping up the literary prestige ladder with the aid of the "noir" label. However, it's such a wrong label--if I had to describe my work I'd say it was about change and growth and the physical joy to be found in its interstices, pretty much the opposite of how I understand noir--that most booksellers and readers ignore it. So when Carolyn Kellogg asked me, "Where is Always shelved, anyway?" I laughed, and suggested she take her pick: mystery, lesbian & gay, science fiction, new fiction. Never, unfortunately, in all of them--and always in the one you check last. Still, at least it has that Electric-Kool-Aid-Purple cover; if it's in the store, you'll see it, it doesn't matter which genre friends it's hanging with.

And I can guarantee it will be in a genre section, not the Literature shelves. Why? Girl cooties--double girl cooties, triple girl cooties: a girl writing from the POV of a girl who likes girls.

You think I'm kidding?

In an admittedly unscientific survey of fiction awards of the last twenty years, I found there's a statistically significant (or vast and overwhelming, depending on how you view these things) difference between the winners of literary and genre prizes. Specifically, I looked at US awards, since 1987, for novels by women writing from the first person POV of another woman. The National Book Award can boast one (5%): In America, by Susan Sontag. The Pulitzer does three times as well (15%) with The Stone Diaries, A Thousand Acres and Beloved. The NBCC claims two (10%)--The Stone Diaries again, and A Thousand Acres. The average, then, for women writing women in the three acknowledged US "literary" awards was 10%. When I scanned the top genre awards--the Edgar, the Nebula, the World Fantasy--the percentage just about doubled. If I add in YA (the Newbery Medal) and Romance (RITA) the numbers go off the charts (I mean so many I stopped counting--see previous admission about this all being rather unscientific).

It looks to me as though the percentage of by-women-about-women book award winners is in inverse proportion to the perceived literary prestige of the award. After all, the literary gatekeepers regard romance is as being at the bottom of the genre-for-grownups pile, and YA not even worthy of grownups. SF, although it's come up in the world lately (Philip K. Dick has his own Modern Library editions), is still regarded with suspicion, while crime fiction, particularly its special cousin, noir, is almost respectable.

This, I'm guessing, is why my publishers (a different one for each of the Aud novels: coincidence? I think not...) have tried so hard to tag my work "noir." Noir is traditionally written by boys about boys. It doesn't have cooties.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying men don't like women, I'm saying that the literary gatekeepers (men and women and all those in between and on the edges) don't like books by women about women. But why? Is it something to do with the whole Cartesian dualist mind/body divide in which women are viewed as very much on the body/bad side of the scale rather than the mind/good? (I've written about this a lot, particularly in "Writing from the Body.") Or is it--as lots of people here have suggested this week--the fact that readers find it difficult to cope with women giving violence? (Though receiving it has never seemed to get in the way of literary acceptance.) Maybe I'm wrong. I want to be. The whole notion is so very Second Wave. I want us to be past that.

Yet if we believe this article in the Guardian, we're not. It seems that as recently as 2006, the books that matter to men tend to be largely by and about men, whereas books that matter to women are by and about women and men.

Literary boys and girls believe in girl cooties. How do we persuade them otherwise?

* See the essay I wrote with Kelley, "War Machine, Time Machine," (Queer Universes, LUP 2008, ed. Wendy Pearson, Veronica Hollinger, and Joan Gordon) for more.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Garden of books

Continuing yesterday's garden theme, here, from ArchDaily (via GalleyCat), is a garden of books:

photo by Rodney LaTourelle
The Jardin de la Connaissance is a temporary garden in a forested area involving approximately 40,000 books, multi-coloured wooden plates and several varieties of mushrooms.

In reference to the festival’s theme of paradise, there are exposed the tree (of knowledge) as the central semiotic theme of the paradisiacal garden. Rather than reopening a way through the proverbial enclosures, the design team is interested in its manifold textures. From the single tree of knowledge they have gone to the many of the forest; from one truth to the plenitude of multimedia and the overwhelming world of information. (via GalleyCat)

Looks lovely. Quiet. Relaxing. Aaaah.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010


As promised, a green-and-growing-things update. ( I use the terms 'green' and 'growing' loosely.)

The heat is making differences apparent. The dill is just plain weird. It wants to take over the world. I keep cutting it back, it keeps reaching for the sky (and the other herbs--like menacing leafy little hands, creepy). Then bits turn brown, then it recovers and goes back to green. At the end of summer, I'll harvest it and distribute to neighbours and friends. I won't grow it again. As for the parsley, it's temperamental: a high maintenance diva. I might not bother with this again, either. The mint, eh, I've nothing against it but it's the wrong kind. So, ditto. But, oh, the marjoram and the thyme and sage, those are delicious, even-tempered, and very possibly Seattle-winter-resistant. So I'll be trying to find room to transplant those sometime next month. (The sage goes brilliantly with roast pork. I might try it with fried pork and grilled pork in the next few weeks.) The basil is indescribably tasty--but I know it won't last beyond the next few weeks. I think I'll cut the lot for Kelley's birthday and make something luscious.

Here are the front herbs: the not-particularly-tasty variety of sage (hardy, though) and the don't-know-how-we-'d-get-along-without-it rosemary. The rosemary nearly died a year or so ago; apparently there was some kind of blight in Seattle and the rosemary of everyone we know died. Anyway, the reason it's a bit of an odd shape is that to save it we had to perform radical surgery and it's taking its time to recover.

The front, by the driveway. The grass is getting very brown because we always feel guilty when we water it, so we don't. Much. It always comes back in October, though.

This is the wee border by the front porch: roses, Japanese maple, and so on. The roses are doing better this year--they keep blooming and dying back and blooming again: months and months of flowers. Lovely.

Here's a close-up of some yellow flower I don't have a name for. (Some kind of lily?) I like it.

This is some kind of herby thing, too, I think. I just keep forgetting what. Anyone have any notions?

The green should start greening soon. Apparently we can expect a 20-degree drop in temperature by tomorrow, and rain on and off for a few days. It's been a confusing summer, even for Seattle.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Last night, I watched the first episode of Kindred. I hadn't seen it since it first aired in 1996, just a couple of months after we'd moved into our house in Wallingford. I remembered it as being bad but, oh dear god, I forgotten how bad. The acting sucked. (Apart from Mark Wotsisname--the English actor who played Julian.) The writing--well, 'As you know, Bob' doesn't cover it. (Sometime in the first three minutes one of the characters--the worst, really, the cop, who, sadly, was meant to be the star of the show--said to his buddy, "Have I left anything out?" and Kelley and I both shouted, gleefully, "Not really!")

It was Vampire Dynasty with cheese topping. Add in the weird side-slide smear and audio thump-and-crackle of VHS and you get an idea of what we went through for an hour. Yep, a whole hour. We were mesmerised by it's horribleness: little mongeese watching a tacky toothless cobra swaying side to side with its wig slipping. Blimey.

If there isn't a burn ban here in Seattle tomorrow, we might ritually incinerate the tape.

What was the worst thing you've seen this year?

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Monday, August 23, 2010

What are you reading?

It's a lovely sunny day here. Perfect. Yesterday it rained. All day. Hard. Tomorrow it will be too hot. By the weekend it'll be cold again. Summer in Seattle...

This is a busy week (editing, catching up with routine medical things like the dentist, etc.), so I don't know how much I'll be around. I've just finished reading Inseparable, by Emma Donoghue and Faithful Place, by Tana French. I've just started Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black. (Wild POV antics.) At some point I'll find time to talk about them. Really.

At some point, too, I'll take some photos of the garden, pretty herbs and flowers (parched lawn--well, after the rain, less parched than it was).

I hope your gardens are blooming and your reading going splendidly. Any particularly good (or vile) books you want to mention?

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Saturday, August 21, 2010


Here's a list of bookish links from this week that you might find interesting.

  • At LambdaLiterary, Victoria Brownworth takes on male/male fiction, The Fetishizing of Queer Sexuality: "If you aren’t familiar with M/M fiction here’s what it is: Straight women fetishizing the lives of gay men [...] fetishizing the sexuality of others is still a blatant form of sexism, homophobia, racism. When you fetishize another’s sexuality, you make them less than. You make them Other."

  • Publishers Weekly asks Is Alyson Close to Sale? "The financial troubles at gay and lesbian house Alyson Books have been quietly bubbling up over the past few months as stories of unpaid advances and never published books circulated on blogs and in publishing circles. That quiet was officially broken Wednesday when Michael Musto published a piece in the Village Voice about his book being taken "hostage," as he put it in his headline, by the publisher."

  • GalleyCat provides a Facebook page to publicise your new book. "Using this Facebook page, we will assemble a weekly list of all the major fiction and non-fiction releases, a recurring feature that will help us alert our readers to new books and help us cope with the overwhelming flow of publicity materials we receive [...] Authors, publicists, editors, and readers can all make use of this new section of our Facebook page--posting about new and upcoming books. Just add a brief description of the book and link so readers can find the book online."

  • At E-Reads, agent Richard Curtis asks, Author, What's an Author? "Can you produce a vook? What skills will you require to make one? And will you be more of a writer when you finish it?" What do you think?

  • From Mike Shatzkin, publishing consultant, comes The printed book's path to oblivion. "Nicholas Negroponte made headlines last week when he was quoted as saying that the printed book would be “dead” within five years. A deeper dive into what Negroponte actually said clarifies that he doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be any paper books anymore after 2015, but that the ebook would become the “dominant” form by then. I think even that might be going too far [...] But for those who question the idea that the switch from paper to screens will ultimately be just about total, let me offer a way to think about it."

  • The Guardian has been running a Summer Fiction Special, short stories from some of the big names of contemporary fiction: Hilary Mantel, Roddy Doyle, Téa Obreht, David Mitchell, and more. I haven't read any yet; I've been saving them for this weekend. If you enjoy any of them, let me know.

  • Via Lisa Gold, researcher extraordinaire, the BBC's archive of audio and video interviews with and insights from the true giants of British literature: Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, PG Wodehouse, EM Forster, William Golding... A true treasure chest.

  • The Orbit Books blog has been running a nifty rundown of changing fashions in fantasy novel artwork. Dragon colour this year? Green. Fantasy heroines? Abs in, stilettos out.

  • And over at Sterling Editing we have our usual weekly links of interest to emerging writers. My favourite is probably Sugar's post: "So write... Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Like a motherfucker."

Have a fine weekend.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Fire in their bellies and mouths filled with light

Writing a blog post is a lot like writing anything else--it's all about choosing what to leave out and how to arrange what's left.

I promised to tell the story of the LLF Emerging Voices Writers' Retreat, but there are half a hundred of them. I've been pondering which part of which story to set down here. I've decided to show you part of my emotional arc as leader of the fiction workshop--not all of it, not from the beginning (because that would take too long) and not to the end (because this is only the end of the beginning). So here's the fiction workshop instructor's tale, one of choice and hope and abiding joy.

What I believe
I believe books change the world. Books change lives and books build culture. I believe writers are the shamans and torchbearers of their people. I believe the world is changing--the world is always changing--and we need writers to keep walking into the unknown and bringing back stories to make sense of it, so that others don't have to.

I believe that mapping unknown territory is arduous and that these writers--new writers particularly--need support, encouragement, community. I believe it's my job to help.

Who I chose
I was determined to teach a group of writers who would speak to all corners of the queer nation. I wanted diversity.

I'm not talking about age or ethnicity, sex or socio-economic status (though I ended up with diversity in all those markers). I'm talking about perspective. Voice.

I wanted those with a feel for history and those who live in the moment. Who write with a sense of fun and a knowledge of bitterness. Cultural elders and fearless newcomers. Short fiction and novels. Historical fiction and science fiction, YA and adult wit. Stories of What If and Hey, this is how it was, of What I've learnt and Here's what I want to know.

One dozen. A group who, together, would help each other speak with strong and singular voices. A group who would from bonds to see them through their writing lives. A kind group, a brave group, a group of individuals who saw, who felt, who burned to speak. A group whose voices could change the world in the ways I want to see it change: bright, generous, curious.

Why I did what I did
Then I had to decide how best to help these emerging writers. I read and reread their submission pieces and I sent email: What do you need most?

In one week, it's impossible to teach everyone everything they need to know. And this was an unusually diverse group in terms of formal experience and length of practise. In the end I elected to help them learn how to learn: from novels, from themselves, from each other.

I built a structure for the week to support that learning. Here are some extracts from emails I sent to the group to prepare them:
What to expect
Sunday evening: one hour meeting--general introductions, discussion.

Monday morning: a lightning fast tour of a variety of writing tools and techniques--what to bear in mind when workshopping Fellows' fiction. Some writing exercises. I hand out the three pieces we'll be workshopping on Tues. You read them bringing to bear everything you've just learned.

Tues through Fri mornings: workshopping 3 pieces of fiction daily, followed by discussion/lecture/writing exercises.

Saturday morning: all those things we didn't have time for Mon - Fri.

Why so much workshopping?
I could spent the entire week lecturing, leading discussion and setting exercises. You'd learn a lot about writing--but only one week's worth. I'd rather teach you how to learn. I'd rather help you build a community, a network of support you can rely on and learn from for the rest of your life.

One of the ways to build community is through sharing vulnerability, accepting help, and hearing different perspectives. In a workshop setting, you'll form bonds with fellow writers. You'll figure out who is on your wavelength. You'll discover who you work best with. You'll build a community.

Workshopping teaches you how to evaluate fiction. You can then go home and apply those lessons to your own work. You'll be able to see what you're doing wrong. You'll see, too, what you're doing well and how to make it even better.

A week of workshopping--plus discussion and lecture and writing exercises--will lead to a lifetime of learning.

There are a few ways you can ready yourself for this learning.

First, and most importantly, read your fellows' fiction...

Guidelines for reading and criticism
When you're reading each scene, ask:
  • can I picture it?
  • do I believe it?
  • do I feel engaged with what's happening?
  • does it move the story along?
As you move through the story as a whole, try to figure out what does and doesn't make sense to you: what pops you out of the story, what engages you, what distances you.

Try to separate out the parts of a piece of writing, and assess them--the word choice, the metaphors, the dialogue, the order of events, the characters. Then go up a few thousand feet and see the piece as a whole, how the constituent parts fit, or don't fit, together.

Write down your thoughts. Make notes on grammar, punctuation and other fiddly bits on the text itself; you'll give that to the writer afterwards. All other thoughts--what works, what doesn't--write on the back of the ms. in bullet form. You will be sharing this information with the rest of the class. Be concise. You'll have a maximum of two minutes to speak.

We're here to help each other, not hurt each other. I want this to be a space for writers to feel safe enough to be vulnerable, to be able to take the risk of learning in public. So be thoughtful, be kind.

But tell the truth. Tell it kindly, yes, but tell it. Unless you learn to evaluate honestly, no one will learn, including you.

Don't worry about being clever or incisive. This is about learning to evaluate others' fiction clearly so you can begin to evaluate your own. No doubt you'll be a bit uncertain to begin with. Learning is a process, and I'll be here to help. The best way to begin is to keep your remarks short, keep them focused on the writing, not the writer, and concentrate on what the writer actually wrote, on what the writer could perhaps do to strengthen their story, rather than what story you would have written instead.

Carve these rules on your forehead:
  • play nicely
  • be honest
  • do the work
  • assume good intent
  • don't share other people's stuff
and then have fun.
There was a lot more. (I got stern in places.) But I believe a clear structure, specific goals and shared vocabulary are not a luxury.

At our first brief group session on Sunday night I told my fictioneers that I knew they had felt isolated, that this week would fix that. That I knew they felt anxious about their work, or their worth as a writers. That we would fix that, too. I promised them:
I will help you learn to see your work. I will give you a series of filters to lay over your fiction, so you can see it clearly. You'll learn how to spot the flaws, and how to fix them. You'll also learn how to identify your strengths, and how to build on them.

This week will help you learn how to face your fears and move past them. Because fear will kill your art. Anxiety makes us all timid. But this kind of workshop is magic, it's alchemy. It will turn your worry into work. There's an old Armenian saying: get the load off your mind and onto your shoulders. Once you stop fretting about it, you can start working on it. My goal is to have you striding boldly from this workshop feeling like heroes, ready to take risks and make brilliant art.
So that's what I did. We worked in a windowless room, at tables arranged to form a pentagon, a pointy table. We didn't need a view; we had each others' visions on the page.

Some of the structure and timetable was out of my hands: the number and timing of guest lectures, for example. In a perfect world, I would have had time every afternoon to hold leisurely individual meetings with each fellow whose work had been workshopped that morning. As it was, I had to squeeze in a few minutes for every Fellow here and there--but everyone got some of my formal, undivided attention at some point.

Monday, early evening I think, on the patio outside the workshop space

How it was
A lot of people--not just fiction Fellows, but those from the non-fiction and poetry workshops--got my informal attention, too. I spent breakfast, lunch, and dinner with fellows and faculty (and guest faculty). I attended some guest faculty presentations (Kelley did one). Kelley and I provided beer most evenings on the patio overlooking the valley, and the fellows drank and talked and laughed and asked questions until long, long after dark.

Tuesday evening, after the faculty reading

I had thrilling conversations with writers burning with their stories, yearning to connect, to know, to figure it all out, just as I burned and yearned to share what I know. We smiled a lot in the warmth of each others' regard.

I did a reading. At the end of the week, the fellows read from their work. I sat there with tears running down my cheeks. They were on fire. They had learnt so much. I was--I am--so proud.

Friday, ready to sally forth

What will happen
On the last day I looked at my twelve bright, beautiful writers and could barely find the words to tell them how high my hopes had been for them, and how they had blown those expectations to pieces, exceeded them wildly.

I told them: You are the chosen few. The new queer fiction tradition starts right here, right now when you leave this room. So what do you want it to be? What stories will you tell? What do you want the next generation to read and know and feel? It's up to you. You dozen are the Knights of the Pointy Table. You will lead the charge. Where will you take your people?

They're ready, they've done the work. Sure, I helped. But they were the ones who did the heavy lifting. They're the ones who turned and faced their fears. They listened to each other, they learnt how to learn. They allowed themselves to believe.

And now they're walking into the world, fire in their bellies and mouths filled with light. And, oh, soon we will hear their voices.


All photos taken from the LLF Flickr set. Yep, I cheerfully admit that for this blog I privileged pix of me and my Knights of the Pointy Table. But I loved them all, poets, non-fictioneers, and fictioneers.

Video from the fellows' readings is starting to go up at LambdaLiterary. Take a look.
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis kiss

Here's the trailer for Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, a 'ballet thriller' starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as competing ballerinas. They kiss. Sadly, it looks unconvincing--but we'll know more Sept. 1 when the film opens at the Venice Film Festival.

(Thanks, J.S.)

I'd just like to see a film in which two women kiss because they, y'know, like each other. No coming out angst, no I-really-want-to-kill-you-so-I'll-fuck-you, no competition, no performance for boyfriends. Just a Well now, aren't you luscious? moment.

Any suggestions?


FYI, I haven't forgotten about the promised post on the LLF Emerging Voices Retreat. It's coming soon.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Seattle boom-boom

Just after lunch yesterday, Kelley and I heard a huge 'boom' and felt the house quiver. "Tree," I thought, or a ship explosion in the Sound. Then another 'boom'. We went outside: nothing, no smoke, no obvious gaps among the huge trees, no dogs barking at earthquake-triggered car alarms just...nothing. So we shrugged, went back to what we were doing.

Later, we found out it was a sonic boom made by F-15 fighters scrambled out of Portland at 1:38 pm when some doofus in a Cessna floatplane bumbled into the no-fly zone surrounding President Obama. Obama was visiting to raise money for Sen. Patty Murray.

I hope the Cessnator either loses his license for not checking restrictions before flying, or at least has to pay for the jet fuel. Or maybe he should donate rides to kids as community service. Or... Well, what would you suggest for such an idiot?

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tired but happy

I got back from Los Angeles on Sunday. It went well. Very well. I miss everyone already, all those brilliant, beautiful new writers. But I'm glad to be home.

The travel was the smoothest I've experienced in years. On the way there, a friend drove us to the airport. Virgin America had a wheelchair waiting at the drop-off point. Security was efficient and painless. (Have I ever told the story of how I came *this* close to getting into a fight with a security person at the Atlanta airport? Remind me sometime.) The plane left on time and arrived early. There were no shrieking children. The food (food!) was utterly delicious. We were met at the airport by a reader of this blog (thanks, Jill!) who wafted us to the campus, then drove Kelley to pick up a rental car. And the same in reverse. Not a hitch, not a glitch, not a bump. I'm not entirely sure I believe it.

Which is a good thing because I'm crushed-into-the-carpet tired. I was up at 6:45 every morning, and talking all day every day until 11pm, or later. (And subsisted on dorm food. And slept in single dorm beds.) Last night I slept seven hours straight through (haven't done that for so long I can't remember) woke up, beamed at Kelley, and slept another two.

Free of my repressive presence, the perbs ran absolutely wild. Perhaps it was the sunshine--ironically it's much, much hotter here in Seattle than it was in Bel Air, where the weather was perfect--mid-70s every day, 61 at night. Here, it was 95 on Sunday, 91 yesterday, heading for 85 today. That, plus the smooth travel, the deep sleep, the tangle of perbs, makes me wonder if I've fallen into a dream or a fairytale.

Tomorrow, hopefully, I'll figure it all out enough to set down the story of my week. For now, I'll leave it at this: I'm glad--very, very glad--I went and happy to be home.

While you wait for me to catch up with myself, here's something you might find interesting: an essay by Cheryl Morgan on the Changing Images of Trans People in Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature.

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

What books built

Today I'm flying to Los Angeles and won't be back until 16th. I may or may not be popping in to say to hello while I'm away--but my guess is not.

So here's something to ruminate on while I'm away, an article about a mind-blowing building--a bit like a medieval tower--built of books:

We've covered Matej Kren's amazing feats of book-stacking before, and now his largest book installation to date is on display in Italy at the Museum of Modern Art in Bologna (MAMbo). The piece, entitled "Scanner," is a gigantic tunnel of books that is meant to inspire reflection, impose greatness, and confuse perspective. Decked out with mirrors and thousands of books, "Scanner" is a new read on how we experience place.

It seemed appropriate, given that I'll be building something bookish, too: the scaffolding for a whole new generation of queer writers and writing. Exciting times!

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Will Nalanda rise again?

An article in the Independent on Wednesday talks about the very real possibility that Nalanda, founded about fifteen hundred years ago and now a ruin in Bihar, may rise again:

During the six centuries of its storied existence, there was nothing else quite like Nalanda University. Probably the first-ever large educational establishment, the college – in what is now eastern India – even counted the Buddha among its visitors and alumni. At its height, it had 10,000 students, 2,000 staff and strove for both understanding and academic excellence. Today, this much-celebrated centre of Buddhist learning is in ruins.


Now this famed establishment of philosophy, mathematics, language and even public health is poised to be revived. A beguiling and ambitious plan to establish an international university with the same overarching vision as Nalanda – and located alongside its physical ruins – has been spearheaded by a team of international experts and leaders, among them the Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen. This week, legislation that will enable the building of the university to proceed is to be placed before the Indian parliament.

What a beautiful idea. I'd teach there...

Website note: I'm transferring to a new web host this weekend, so if weirdness occurs when you're sampling audio or reading an interview or watching a video, don't get bent out of shape. It'll all get sorted eventually. And when I'm back from LA I'll get to work on making a new website. I mean it this time!

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Billy Wilder's top ten tips

Over at Sterling Editing, we have our usual list of links for writers. Regular readers of AN will recognise two of the posts linked to but there's other good stuff, tips from experts, including my favourite, this list of instructions from Billy Wilder--about screenwriting, of course, but applicable to fiction.

  1. Grab 'em by the throat and never let go.
  2. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  3. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  4. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  5. Tip from Ernst Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They'll love you forever.
  6. The audience is fickle. Know where you're going.
  7. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they are seeing.
  8. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  9. The 3rd act must build, build, build in tempo until the last event, and then...
  10. ...that's it. Don't hang around.

-- Billy Wilder

(Thanks to GITS)

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sex, booze, joy, and the modern novel

Perhaps because it's summer, critics are talking about joys of the body as it relates to writers and writing. They sound rather wistful.

We'll start with an essay by Geoff Nicholson in the New York Times about writing and drinking.

There are only two cocktails: “a slug of whiskey” and a martini. This isn’t my opinion, but the law as laid down by Bernard DeVoto in his book "The Hour" first published in 1948 and recently reissued.
I find myself wondering why on earth writers would bother setting down rules for other people’s drinking. People telling you how to drink is every bit as tedious and annoying as people telling you not to drink at all.
When you think about it, rules for drinking are not so different from rules for writing. Many of these are so familiar they’ve become truisms: Write what you know. Write every day. Never use a strange, fancy word when a simple one will do. Always finish the day’s writing when you could still do more. With a little adaptation these rules apply just as well for drinking. Drink what you know, drink regularly rather than in binges, avoid needlessly exotic booze, and leave the table while you can still stand.

In the Observer, Tim Adams mourns the lack of imagination regarding fictional depictions of sex:

DH Lawrence probably did not have Mr East's oeuvre in mind when he offered this maxim to aspiring writers: "Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you have got to say and say it hot." But it seems saying it hot is no longer the cool thing to do.

I've talked about the fashion for bad/boring/self-conscious sex in fiction quite recently so I won't subject you to it again. (Tempting though it is to repeat that rant.)

Over at the Telegraph, Harry Mount and Michael Deacon, try to figure out what's gone wrong with the modern novel:

You can read a lot of novels nowadays that are perfectly good – there's nothing particularly wrong with them. But there's also nothing particularly right with them, either. Their writers think it's enough to take a character from the sitting room to, say, the kitchen, describe their movements, and leave it at that. None of those sad, funny, interesting etc. elements required.

Their conclusion: joylessness. What I want to know is: why has this taken so long for them to figure out? Most of us have known for at least a decade. In fact, I did a whole Guest of Honour speech about it at the 2001 Celebration of SF at Liverpool University.

The whole rant (genteel rant, fitting the circumstances, but a rant, nonetheless) was triggered by a publisher turning down one of my novels because it was too much fun, and therefore not serious enough for Real Literature.

Ah, what the hell, I'm just going to paste the entire thing in here. If you've read it before, skip it. If you haven't, enjoy.

Beauty and Brilliance and Risk

A couple of times in the last few months I've seen myself described in print as a British writer. Each time, it startles me. I don't know why, exactly, because I don't think of myself as American--I'm English, born and bred, still a citizen, still with at least the remnants of a Yorkshire accent--but it does. Perhaps it's less to do with the nationality than with the writer part of the description: I haven't had anything published in this country for six years. In fact I got the most amazing rejection letter the other day from an editor at a reputable London literary house. She was turning down my latest novel, Stay, on the grounds that it wasn't literary fiction because, and I quote, "while reading, more often than not, I felt completely caught up in the suspense of the novel." She then went on to say that she wouldn't be able to market it as suspense because the plot lacked murders, car chases, and even identifiable bad guys. In other words, it's not a suspense novel. But she couldn't position it as a literary novel because she had a great time reading it.

This attitude, of course, is not peculiar to the English. When I was trolling for blurbs for The Blue Place in the US I talked to a literary author known for her southern novels who said she loved the book but wouldn't give me a quote. "Why?" I asked. "Because it's obvious you're having too much fun," she said. "I wouldn't want to encourage that. You shouldn't be wasting your talent. You should be writing more serious fiction."

So my question is: how did the definition of literature become so narrow that we aren't allowed to have fun? When and why did it become passé to actually enjoy reading or writing a novel?

A few years ago, the New York Review of Books announced, with great fanfare, the death of fiction. Fiction, they said, could not provide the proper moral or intellectual seriousness of non-fiction. Fiction was mere make believe. Let the masses indulge in escapism if necessary, but the movers and shakers of the world should not pollute their intellect with such frippery. Now what surprised me about all this was how much it seemed to surprise others. To anyone who has ever paid attention to the treatment of science fiction it seemed obvious that this was inevitable, the end result of the process of privileging reality over imagination which began long ago.

The urge to divide the world between the good (us, familiar), and the bad (them, unfamiliar) is a very human trait. We do it with everything. In the story I tell myself about this process as it applies to literary criticism (and, as John Clute reminded us yesterday in the opening plenary, those of us who aren't academics are absurdly free to make up what we want without having to provide footnotes), I like to pretend that critics first began dividing writing into Good and Bad based on the quality of the prose. (Why? No other reason than that it comforts me to believe that once, in some dim distant golden age, good writing mattered.) So we began with the Good box and the Bad box, based on prose quality but, human being what they are, that left far too many books in the Good box. So the critics added a second Bad box to the first, and in this one they tossed anything containing people, places, or experiences that those doing the judging could not possibly become familiar with through experience: fantastical animals or places or human powers. In other words, all science fiction and fantasy. Once a process has begun, it's pretty hard to stop it, and to the first two boxes was added a third, this time for fiction that was merely unlikely to be or become familiar. We're talking here of war, survival, heroism and wickedness, exotic locations and extraordinary events, plus the kind of characters the average white, upperclass urban literary critic was unlikely to encounter in every day life. This meant that the third box got filled with historical fiction, crime fiction, westerns, plus stories about people of colour or lesbians or stupid people or prostitutes or whatever. It wouldn't matter how well-written any of this stuff in the Bad boxes was--how finely the characters were delineated, how brilliantly the narrative constructed or the themes developed--it wouldn't be familiar, it wouldn't match the critics' reality, and so it wouldn't be Good. This winnowing continued until all that was left were novels about the probable and the everyday: mostly straight, mostly white upperclass urban people in unexciting situations and boring places. In this way, what became classified as good literature is claustrophobic fiction that is afraid to leave the apartment and walk around in the big wide world, afraid to leave its familiar world and be vulnerable. This is fiction that eshews plot, because it wouldn't want to risk some critic saying that it was even slightly unlikely, because that could be construed as melodrama. The hipper you want your literary novel to be, the less personal struggle the better, and the less big emotion, because if you get it even slightly wrong some critic will call you naive or sentimental. In fact, if any character feels anything at all it's probably safer to tip the reader an ironic wink; after all, you wouldn't want them to think you actually believe this stuff.

So literary fiction cowers behind its urban irony, growing smaller and smaller--so small that it's not surprising that some idiot in New York can't see the point of it. There is no point in this kind of fiction. But to go from saying there's no point in this kind of fiction to declaring all fiction dead is not only laughable but very possibly dangerous.

Fiction--storytelling--helps to make sense of the world and our place in it. You could say that without story there is no discourse: discourse is the story we tell ourselves and each other. In a very real sense, story creates the world. If we look only at science fiction, we see that stories about cloning and artificial intelligence, information and communication technology, the environment, cyborgs and virtual reality have helped shape the last fifty years of western culture. They have even changed the way we see humanity itself, introducing the notion that the nature of body and mind are mutable, no longer fixed. That's a gob-smackingly big thing.

So when someone tells me fiction is frivolous, I get pissed off. When someone tells me science fiction is bad therefore they never read it--but, hey, they did read Slow River and enjoy it, therefore Slow River must be good, therefore it can't be SF--I get pissed off. When someone tells me that my novel--although supposedly beautifully written, quite moving, and about real life issues such as grief and identity--isn't literature because it's suspenseful and (I quote again) "a phenomenal read," I get really pissed off.

I try write the kind of thing I like to read, and Federico Garcia Lorca summed that up neatly when he said, "Senze duende, nada." As Ursula Le Guin has pointed out, duende is a difficult word to translate. It means something like passion, or heart, or courage, or risk. Without passion, nothing. Without risk, nothing. I like fiction that isn't afraid to put on its party dress and go out there and dance, that isn't afraid of looking foolish or trying something new. When I say new here I'm not talking novelty for its own sake--writing an entire novel from the second person viewpoint of, oh, a three-tined dinner fork or something--and I'm not saying the plot has to be stunningly original (how many original plots are there?). I'm talking about taking some risk with the story, finding a way--using whatever it takes, any tool from any genre--to make that story believable.

I find a lot of fiction unbelievable, genre and otherwise. To use SF examples, generally what I find hard to swallow isn't the genre-specific convention designed as a short-cut to the meat of the matter--the interstellar hyperdrive, the artificial intelligence, the time machine (although it's always nice when the author at least takes a stab at an explanation)--it's the other shortcuts: the assumptions left unexamined, the plug-in characters or backgrounds, the thoughtless acceptance of stereotypes.

Every culture has its own set of cultural stereotypes and cliché, its master stories: the rich are more important, domestic animals feel no pain, progress is inevitable, whatever. A storyteller has to be alert to these because--if you accept the idea that story creates the world--every time a cliché is reiterated it is reinforced, and that simplifies the world, it reduces it. And it's easy enough to avoid: you just have to do the work. If a writer takes the time to really look at a cliché--a character, a situation, a culture--to examine it with a clear eye and strong prose, then the cliché melts, because the reader sees individual people in specific situations. (Perhaps this, amongst other things, is part of what Jenny Wolmark was getting at this afternoon in her paper on the pleasures and otherwise of being posthuman. When writers are specific, they free themselves to go more places, and more believably.) We understand that this is happening to them for particular reasons; that a different choice, or different circumstance would have led to a different outcome. In other words, exposing the cliché, writing it out, renders it powerless because we see there are other ways of being, that there are alternatives.

What's interesting to me is that often the stories and phrasing that seem so tired and cliched today are the ones that changed the discourse of yesterday--because their innovation became the new cliché. Take Sappho as an example: she was the first writer (at least to my knowledge) to talk about the moon in terms of being silver. She was one of the first to talk about love and desire in terms of the dry mouth and pounding heart. Shakespeare spoke of death as sleep, jealousy as a green-eyed monster. All stock phrases now. The work of Russ and Le Guin--particularly "When it Changed" and "The Left Hand of Darkness"--influenced the discourse of gender, yet when we read the Le Guin novel today, we roll our eyes at the idea that using the masculine pronoun won't influence the reader's perception of gender.

I want to talk about the Russ story in a bit more detail.

A couple of years ago I wrote an essay which included some thoughts on "When it Changed." My complaint in the essay was that Russ, while dangling before us a gleaming vision of women as autonomous, whole human beings, actually fails to take a more important imaginative leap. The way I saw it, when the men return to Whileaway after a nine hundred year absence, Janet, instead of feeling like a second class citizen in their presence, should feel superior. After all, they don't speak her language, they don't understand her culture, how Whileawayans have children, and they look "like apes with human faces." It seemed to me as though Russ was reinforcing a particularly dangerous cliché, the one that goes, "Hey, women only have what they have because men let them, and the men can come along and take it away any time they like." It seemed to me that she had thrown away a golden opportunity to show how generations of freedom from prejudice might change a woman's psychological response to a man, that she should have pointed out that only someone who has grown up in a sexist society would be preprogrammed for such otherwise inexplicable, instant feelings of inferiority.

When I wrote that essay a couple of years ago, then, I was remembering reading the novella for the first time fifteen or twenty years before. What I remember of that first reading was an intense sense of anger and betrayal: the feeling that Russ had held out this delicious vision but, when I reached for it, she snatched it back, threw it to the ground, and trampled on it. Recently, though, it occurred to me that one of the reasons I was able to be angry with Russ twenty years ago, that I was able to see her work as a failure of imagination, was because of the way this novella--and her novels, and Le Guin's novels, and Sturgeon's, and Delany's, and many others--had influenced the cultural story, the discourse, my understanding of gender. If she hadn't written it a few years before I read it, I might not have known enough to be angry.

So fiction is important. Fiction is what shows us the continuity and difference between people then, and now, and soon. It gives us an awareness of what being human means--whether we're talking about the psychologically broken killer in Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood or the idealistic Don Quixote. (Llosa, in a recent essay on the necessity of fiction, wonders: What would our concept of idealism look like without Cervantes? How would we have articulated it? Would we have articulated it?) Sometimes I think of fiction as a kaleidoscope: each story is a twist of the tube, bringing some of the set bits into a new pattern, reflecting new shapes and hinting at new possibilities.

Fiction does not have to mirror real life. None of mine does. For example, in my novels, none of my characters ever talk about being a lesbian; they just are. Naturally, not everyone likes that, but when some editor or critic reads Slow River or The Blue Place and complains that "It's not like that in the real world!" I respond: "And your point?" I think I have a pretty good idea what their point is, of course, but for me the point is to create an imagined space that didn't exist before. If a reader wants to know why Lore or Aud never mentions being a dyke, she'll have to work it out for herself, she'll have to imagine a world where who you have sex with just isn't an issue. With luck, that imaginative exercise may change how she thinks. Virginia Woolf's novel, Orlando, has been similarly criticised for being fanciful in ignoring the constraints of gender and not dealing with the harsh facts of life. In Arguing With the Past, Gillian Beer points out that Woolf moves her fiction away from the arena of real life facts and crises because she denies the claims of such ordering to be all inclusive. In other words, she wanted to change the discourse. This is what good fiction does; it also gives the reader a fabulous ride.

This ride, this escape, is vital. It's why so much mainstream literary fiction fails. It's also why I don't think it's a coincidence that there's been a recent resurgence of interest in--and critical acceptance of--historical fiction. With a historical novel, a crafty writer can bypass the prevailing wisdom about reality and literature. "Well, you see," they can tell the critic, "it's about this girl who actually really was painted by Vermeer, she really existed, so it's serious and worthy novel, not like that frivolous invented nonsense." They can take advantage of the perception that people in those days weren't, well, you know, weren't as sophisticated as they are now. So of course it's natural that their characters fall in love or get patriotic and that sort of thing because then they don't know any better. And it's a known fact that there were wars, and kings and queens, and everything, and people nearly died a lot because medicine was pretty bad. Oh, and the clothes were gorgeous.... In other words, they get to write good old fashioned stories, where stuff actually happens and interesting characters move through a vivid world feeling big emotions, without having to worry about being accused of being na•ve or escapist.

What is it about escapism? Why does it bother critics so much? Tolkien was right, I think, when he remarked that those most likely to be upset by the notion of escape are the jailers.

Good fiction, the kind that teaches us things and changes how we think, almost has to be escapist. It has to take the reader on a ride, sweep him to a world outside his own. Only if he's sufficiently caught up in your people or places or situations will he temporarily set aside what he knows to be true and play by your rules.

So I don't believe fiction should mirror reality. If I were forced to compare fiction to real life then I'd want it to be larger than life, not smaller. Fiction, in my opinion, should be super-saturated, drenched in a kind of brilliance. It should be more, not less.

Guest of Honour Speech delivered in Liverpool, June 2001

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Prop. 8 declared unconstitutional by US District Chief Judge

From the Los Angeles Times:

U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker said Proposition 8, passed by voters in November 2008, violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians to marry the partners of their choice. His ruling is expected to be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then up to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Ultimately, the judge concluded that Proposition 8 "fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. … Because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”

For details fiends, Scribd has the entire decision.

What does this mean? That there will be more court battles: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals then the U.S. Supreme Court.

I'd always thought that the federal rights dam would start cracking in 2011. I thought the first thing would be repeal of DADT, then DOMA, then some kind of domestic partnership law around 2013, with full marriage rights coming later. Now, honestly, I don't know. In some ways it seems to be happening more slowly than I'd anticipated, in others, well, you know that saying: change happens a little bit at a time and then all at once? I wonder if we're about to see a tsunami of change in 2011.

That would make me very happy.

Today, I'm going to be optimistic. (If you're not feeling optimistic, go rain on someone else'd parade.) There's plenty of time to get all practical and serious and realistic later. Today, I'm thinking Big Party With Lots of Champagne and a Boatload of Presents. Chortle. This time, though, no white dress. (Can you spell Armani suit?)

Life is good.

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Literary parody competition, and more

Three things that came to my attention today.

One, there's a new blog in town: Prospero, all about books and culture, from the Economist. And they're running a literary parody competition, with some lusciously witty examples.

Two, PW tells me that Farrar, Straus & Giroux are teaming with Scientific American to create a new publishing imprint. I don't know what the new imprint will be called, but I'm curious about the kind of books they'll publish.

Third, a TED Talk from Elif Shafak, about storytelling (thanks, Mark):

For once there was no mist when I woke up--and today I woke up at an ungodly hour (6:45) due to an insane woodpecker (a flicker, which are normally fairly well-behaved) hammering diligently on the roof. Tuh.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Perbs in the mist...

...except, eh, the mist evaporated by the time I got out there with the camera. But here's the photo anyway--the dill is nearly as tall as I am. (Look carefully at the top right.) Whoa.

The weather is beautiful here: mist and fog every morning, sun every afternoon.

In a few days, though, I'll be in Los Angeles to teach the fiction workshop at LLF's Emerging Voices Retreat. I'm guessing the weather will be different there. I'm looking over my wardrobe and scratching my head. It turns out I've lost weight, and all my clothes are hanging off me; I look like a bag lady. (Why? No idea. I'm not exactly starving myself. As proof, here's yesterday's menu/s. Breakfast: scrambled eggs, fried mushrooms, English baked beans, and tea. Lunch: sauteéd beef strips--we use a lot, and I mean a lot, of olive oil--homemade rice pilaf (brown rice, green onion, almonds, mushrooms, red pepper, green pepper, courgette, smidge of garlic), sauteéd courgette, tea and chocolate. Beer around six--just two. Snacks: a dish of olives, a bowl of corn chips. Dinner: a McGyver meal of ground beef, fried up with onions, carrots, herbs, bit of red wine, served with mashed potatoes and steamed cabbage--yes, red meat twice in one day; no, not usual, at least not in summer--followed by nectarines. And tea of course. Supper: two slabs of fresh wholemeal bread, with a luscious layer of butter.) Anyway, now I'll have to dig out some really old stuff--ooh, maybe my ancient Threadless tees will fit again!

Speaking of the retreat, many thanks to all of you who helped raise $15,000 for scholarships for our Fellows. You have kind hearts and deep pockets. Your reward will be some beautiful books from new voices in just a few years. Their reward? A week of working like dogs under my hard eye.

Back to devising fiendish exercises...

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Fifteen minutes a day

Writers write. It's that simple. Not always easy but definitely simple. Go read Kelley's post about it over at Sterling Editing.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

The cat who ate cheese

The other day we were visited by a long-haired Siamese cat. She wore a blue collar with a bell but no name tag. She seemed a bit thin--not starving, just not plump. She yelled at us. A lot. As Siamese cats do.

It's been a long time since we've had a cat around, so we didn't have any proper kitty food to hand. We gave her some cheese (fine by me--cheese is disgusting, not food at all, just an orange emetic as far as I'm concerned). She thought that was the best thing eva and then yelled at us until we gave her more.

She then groomed herself and fell asleep in the sun on the deck. For hours.

She came back the next day--sans collar--and this time got a handful of ground turkey. No, no, she told us, this was definitely the best food eva! Kelley spent some time on the deck saying hello:

But then Chow Mane (or maybe Chow Ciao--eats, shouts, and leaves) saw me and thought maybe I looked like the best food eva!

She seemed to mean business. I thought she was going to eat the camera.

We don't mind playing Auntie Mame to this cat, but we're not going to adopt her/him. We are not going to accept responsibility. So if you just happen to live in the Broadview neighbourhood, and you know anything about this loud (oh, dear god she's loud) beastie, let us know, okay?

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