Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Kingdom of the Spiders

Today's my birthday. I should probably post something Deeply Meaningful but I find I'm not in the mood and because it's my birthday I don't have to do anything I don't want to. So, ha, screw it. We'll talk about spiders instead. (Note to arachnophobes: go no further.)

At the end of September, our garden turns into the Kingdom of the Spiders. They spin their webs any- and everywhere inconvenient: in front of doorways, between railings, across stairways. They drape them over trees, bushes, roses, the perbs.

These two are on the side deck where I keep the perbs.

This one is on the back deck right outside the sliding door.

I would have taken more photos but the battery on the camera ran out, then the phone rang, then... Ah, you know how it goes. Life happens.

I wish I could capture how beautiful these gossamer webs are, though: glistening with dew, shimmering in the morning light. As it gets colder, they'll start glittering with frost. And one morning they'll all be gone. Some metaphor for life, there, if I could only be bothered to draw it.

Perhaps by the end of the day I'll be feeling Old and Wise and motivated. But, eh, probably not. There's a lot of partying to get done...

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Spattercus: Blood and, well, more blood

I've just watched the first episode of Starz's Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Oh, dear.

The blood was candy-red, and flung over everything. And it made me giggle. I'm guessing it was basically designed (not unlike Xena: Warrior Princess, Tapert and Raimi producing--coincidence? I think not...) for the international syndication market. There was no acting to speak of, or writing, or scenery for that matter. Even the arena looked suspiciously Xena-like. As did the make-4-men-in-red-cresty-helmets-stand-in-for-a-Roman-army and 3-horses-sound-like-the-cavalry 'special effects'. The whole thing staggered about under the weight of cod-epic syntax. There were no jokes. Though it was so over the top I laughed a lot anyway. I also think they owe Zack Snyder (of 300 fame) a cut (er, no pun intended).

Oh, and there was a lot of sex. At one point, there was a how-many-positions-can-we-do-in-one-session montage. (What is it about straight people and their athletic positions? My opinion: if you have to try lots of different approaches to inserting tab A into slot B before you get to the beaming-pass-me-a-grape stage, you're doing it wrong.) I'm guessing the sex was there because it's so cheap: one set, no extras, no costumes. Kelley chortled and said they should have titled it Spurtacus. I did note that in the Kiwi version of Rome, women have discovered waxing and razors but that those new-fangled grooming inventions only work for men on their chests.

Episode 2? I don't think so.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Holy cloud, batbeing...

Look at the forecast. Look at the icon for my birthday: an unadorned round shining sun. I am gasping with disbelief (and scepticism, and hope, and joy, a wariness) and planning an outdoor day. Hmmn. Italian lunch, I think, with appropriate vino, then the park, and benevolent beaming at Puget Sound. (Plus, y'know, Other Stuff...)

So those weather people better not touch the dial.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Take me to your vet, no, your leader

According to the Telegraph, Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist and current head of the UN's Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa), is "set to be tasked with co-ordinating humanity’s response if and when extraterrestrials make contact."

Aliens who landed on earth and asked: “Take me to your leader” would be directed to Mrs Othman.

She will set out the details of her proposed new role at a Royal Society conference in Buckinghamshire next week.

The 58-year-old is expected to tell delegates that the proposal has been prompted by the recent discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other starts, which is thought to make the discovery of extraterrestrial life more probable than ever before.

(Thanks, Cindy.)

The deeply head-scratching part of this is that, supposedly, under the Outer Space Treaty on 1967, "UN members agreed to protect Earth against contamination by alien species by 'sterilising' them." Yes, yes, welcome to Earth, happy you got here in one piece and all that, it's just that, well, please step into my office and put your feet--are those feet?--in these nice cold stirrups.

Yes, just forty or so years ago, sensible people in suits were formulating this as policy. I marvel at human weirdness.

I also wonder what Othman's business card looks like.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Our ten-day birthday jubilee

Look at that weather forecast: some sun every day, even into October. If it turns out to be true, this will be the first year I can remember--perhaps the first day ever--that Seattle has had sun on my birthday. I tell you, I'm excited.

Kelley and I have just reached the halfway mark of the ten-day jubilee that is our 50th birthday celebration.

We've been gifted with, among other things:

  • a sabre
  • artwork
  • bottles of Krug
  • music
  • gift certificates
  • truffles
  • books
  • a little clay golem from Prague
  • a feather from a parrot called Algernon
  • nifty little USB drives smaller than keys

And that's just the stuff I'm willing to talk about...

I love gifts. I have a dragonish heart: love to accumulate and gloat and croon over my swag. So we're beaming in the midst of a gush, a torrent, a bouquet of fabulous items and events. We've been fêted, hosted, whisked to restaurants for wonderful food, wine, and conversation with friends and family. People are going all out. Not just inviting us round for delicious meals, but hand-making the pasta, using their own geranium leaves in the flourless chocolate cake, sending a limousine (a big one, not just a towncar) to pick us up. We've had duck and chicken and caviar, halibut and duck liver mousse and lobster smoked over cedar chips. (Well, K had the lobster; I can't eat crustaceans.) And the wine... Well, let me say that the last week or so is about as good as the week we spent on the QE2 ten years ago for our fortieth jubilee, when we drank vintage Krug and Margaux and felt like James Bond as we drank Louis XIII (Cognac) and played craps. (I won. A lot. Had to scoop all the chips into my dress--yep, you heard that correctly--because there were too many to carry.) This year, for example, we had a 1990 Pauillac that turned out to be the last of its kind from a Famous Local cellar. We've drunk that particular wine several times over the years, and now we've reached the end of an era. And it feels right.

It feels time to discover new wine, new friends, new vistas to add to our current ones. We're probably about halfway through our lives (yep, we're as ambitious in this respect as in others) and I can hardly wait to see what the next half-century holds. Sun, for one thing. Life is good.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Boys and girls and books. Emperors with no clothes. How long should your book be?

It's a sunny day here in Seattle, perhaps one of the last of the year, so I'm going to get away from the keyboard and make the most of it. But I wouldn't dream of abandoning you without something to keep you occupied for a while.

Women and girls buy and read most fiction. Publishing professionals fret about this. Maureen Johnson isn't having any of it.

For several millennia, women read the works of men. Millennia. That’s thousands of years for those of you who don’t speak French.* Every once in a while we see a burst of staggering genius in the person of, say, an Emily Dickinson. Or maybe a Jane Austen, who covered up her work as she wrote. Then we see a huge break in the early 20th century, a flux of brilliant women. Women start to climb into the bestseller charts, but not so much into the reading lists. The automatic response from many will be that for school people read a survey of literature from the ages, which, as we know, was predominately male . . . and current literature is still worming its way in, because things often need to develop a patina before people register them as Quality and Important . . . so obviously you’re going to find a lot of men in there. But that really doesn’t explain the last hundred years, which, considering that the concept of the novel itself is only three to four hundred years old—with much of the body of work being written in the last two hundred years.

So, we’re thinking about boys and girls and what they read. The assumption, as I understand it, is that females are flexible and accepting creatures who can read absolutely anything. We’re like acrobats. We can tie our legs over our heads. Bring it on. There is nothing we cannot handle. Boys, on the other hand, are much more delicately balanced. To ask them to read “girl” stories (whatever those might be) will cause the whole venture to fall apart. They are finely tuned, like Formula One cars, which require preheated fluids and warmed tires in order to operate—as opposed to girls, who are like pickup trucks or big, family-style SUVs. We can go anywhere, through anything, on any old literary fuel you put in us.

Largely because we have little choice in the matter.
(via @synaesthete)

A few years ago, I read and enjoyed A Reader's Manifesto, B.R. Myer's controversial broadside to American literary giants. The Emperors, he suggested, wore no clothes. Now he's engaged with Jonathan Franzen in the pages of The Atlantic. Here's his opening salvo against Franzen:

One opens a new novel and is promptly introduced to some dull minor characters. Tiring of them, one skims ahead to meet the leads, only to realize: those minor characters are the leads. A common experience for even the occasional reader of contemporary fiction, it never fails to make the heart sink. The problem is not only one of craft or execution. Characters are now conceived as if the whole point of literature were to create plausible likenesses of the folks next door. They have their little worries, but so what? Do writers really believe that every unhappy family is special? If so, Tolstoy has a lot to answer for—including Freedom, Jonathan Franzen’s latest. A suburban comedy-drama about the relationship between cookie-baking Patty, who describes herself as “relatively dumber” than her siblings; red-faced husband Walter, “whose most salient quality … was his niceness”; and Walter’s womanizing college friend, Richard, who plays in an indie band called Walnut Surprise, the novel is a 576-page monument to insignificance.
(Via Prospero.)

And, finally, over at Sterling Editing we have our usual weekly round up of links for writers. Perhaps the most useful for beginners is Colleen Lindsay's post about publishers' preferred word counts for various genres. This stuff is changing all the time, so don't assume you already know.

And now, sun...

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Due out November 19. Looks pretty good... Though, hmmmm, I don't understand why the picture is lopped off on one side. Go watch it on YouTube. Sorry about that.

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Attention, young people: it gets better

This is for all the young people, especially the young dykes and gay boys, the bi-girls and trans kids, who find it hard to see the bright side of things when they are being relentlessly harassed at school. Here are two adults telling you seriously: it gets better. You just have to survive the crap and you'll get there. If you don't believe that for yourself, trust your elders, because we know. Life is good, eventually. Your job is to get there. Don't give in. Don't give up.

(Thanks, Dianne.)

I was lucky--I was never bullied. But I still felt the awful disparity between what I knew I wanted from life and what the world was willing to allow, between who I was and who I was expected to be. I was at a Catholic convent school and I liked girls. A lot. I dealt with this by doing my best to ignore it until I was sixteen--and beyond the reach of prosecution--and by drinking. A lot. But then I turned sixteen and, woo hoo!

I talk about it here:

Yep, this particular episode ended badly--because all first love affairs do. It's not a queer thing, it's a human thing. And though it feels like the end of the world, it's just the end of a love affair. I found another (and another, and...) And now I've been with Kelley 22 years.

Life is good. It really is. And it keeps getting better.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Perfection is not a useful comparison

A beautiful morning here in Seattle: sun! I think it's going to turn out to be one of those lost days where I sit about in a haze of post-pleasure with no discernible brain activity. I'm very lucky to have the kind of schedule where I can do that now and again (especially if I've planned for it, which I have). At some point this afternoon I'll have to kick into gear: Hild is waiting and I have a Skype interview (for a podcast--more on that another time). But I have hours yet. On my agenda: tea in the sun, with a couple of champagne truffles, and the last of the M.R. James ghost stories.

We've also had one of those interesting weeks (so far--the week is still young) full of half-news. Nothing we can take to the bank, yet, but the world, like an overfull glass, is trembling with possibility. I'm sitting here with an idiot grin. I do mean 'idiot'. I think I have the IQ of a four year-old today: one of the perils of extreme satiation.

Lately, I've been thinking of the way people approach life and how one can draw a comparison between world stance and reviews. The most miserable people are not those who, from my (admittedly outside) perspective, have the most difficult lives. No, the gloomy, po-faced people of the world are those who are never satisfied. They look for the lead lining. They look gift horses in the mouth. They find fault with everything. Essentially, they compare what they have, or what they feel, not with normality or ordinariness but with perfection.

The thing is, nothing is perfect. Anything you hold up to perfection--a life (even a really fine life), a moment, a sandwich--will fare badly by comparison. Nothing is perfect. It's a concept that should be struck off the books, retired. (Sort of like the concept of infinity but, eh, that's a discussion for another time when my IQ has climbed back to the dizzy realm of three figures.) So when you read that great book, don't complain about the saggy bit in the middle, especially if there's only one. When you watch that fab film, don't whinge about the eye-rolling stupidity of the plot point in Act Three if you're having a blast the rest of the time. When you eat the delicious duck, don't point out that the tomato accompanying it is not your favourite fruit. Enjoy what you can, when you can. Figure out what delights you, and allow yourself to be pleased. Revel in it.

Later, sure, figure out how to do it better or get more. Nothing wrong with improvement. But while you're in it, enjoy it. Don't constantly hold things up to an ideal, or you'll make yourself crazy; you'll become one of the Perpetually Disappointed. Life is good. It's just not perfect.

That's all. Time for tea.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Happy birthday to Kelley.

We have Many Plans for the day. Mostly, though, I'm looking forward to spending every waking minute inside the living hum of mind, body, and breath that is Kelley. She is my sunshine. I'm glad she was born.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Swedish Bikini Werewolf Destruction

From Threadless Tees, their latest t-shirt and hoodie: Swedish Bikini Werewolf Destruction. I'm thinking this might look very tasteful on the soon-to-be-50 me. But should I get a t-shirt or a hoodie? Decision, decisions...

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Writers and research

I do a lot of research. I don't think I do it very well. I never do it in the right order. And then I rarely keep it organised. (Bad writer! Bad! No cookie!)

Latest example: I've been writing my novel about Hild of Whitby for a while, now. I have more than 650 pages of the first draft of volume one. At this point, Hild has been in York several times. I've never bothered to really imagine the city (or fort, or ruin, depending on one's perspective). Oh, I've visualised, very clearly, specific parts of it: the undercroft of the principia, the basilica/main hall of same, the path, south of the walls (well, south of one set of walls) by the Ouse. But now, finally, I've been forced to sit down and picture the whole. And, damn, what a pain in the arse. I spent the entire afternoon scrolling through (sometimes unfolding) maps, squinting at schematics, blog posts (amateur and academic), photographs, eighteenth century diary entries etc. They all come at the problem/city from slightly different angles. They all enrich the view very slightly; they add a wash, a smidge of depth and texture.

So: hours and hours and hours of work, now reduced to a single sheet of paper detailing Roman walls (of the fort and of the civilian settlement) and the bridges and roads. And then what bits would have fallen down by Hild's time, what abandoned, what under repair--and with what kind of stone laid in what arrangement, hindered by what climate conditions. Where the docks might have been. Good spots to grow things (taking into account drainage, aspect, access). All so that I will know how if feels to be Hild on that moment on Easter Sunday, April 12th, 627, when she stands on Roman cobbles under a newly-sawn Anglo-Saxon roof, and is baptised.

Now I just have to write the scene...

I spent all day working on it (and I haven't even got to the vestments, or the music). I doubt it'll run more than 400 words. Four. Hundred. Words.

One day, I'll be able to afford to pay an expert to do some of this. But, eh, maybe not. I wouldn't want to deny myself the pleasure of productive frustration. Meanwhile, thank god for Wikipedia.

But, y'know, I'm not complaining. Really. I love my job. Love it.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wet sunshine, dry mist

Here are photos from two morning this week. The first (taken by Kelley) is mist over the ravine, on what turned out to be a dry day.

The second is from yesterday morning, about nine o'clock, after a night (after three whole days; long, long days) of serious rain. Nights of rain and fog mean dreams disturbed by mournful foghorns from shipping in the sound, and a weird feeling of dislocation, of feeling unmoored, in the morning. But perhaps that's just the result of living in Hild world. Whatever the cause, seeing the sun glistening on the deck (on the perbs, on the trees, on the table) this morning made me very happy.

And this is how the day turned out. Wow.

And now more Hilding. I hope your weekend has been and continues to be as peaceful as you would like.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yoda says 'red' (well, he should have)

Heavy into Hild world. Today, two links for you.

  • A Sterling Editing links post, in which writers support each other, non-writers (but publishing professionals) talk about the business, and writers hold each others' feet to the fire. Or, as Yoda would say, Do or don't do. There is no 'try'. (Or something like that.) I make it a practise to ignore aspiring writers when they whinge and ask, 'But how do I make the time?' because any response I made would be rude.
  • A post on Slate by Meghan O'Rourke, regarding the whole Franzenfreude 'Great American (white boy) novelist' fuss. A thoughtful summary of recent thinking on gender bias, power, and publishing: what it all means and, importantly, how it feels. I've enjoyed her poetry, too. (See, for example, Hunt: "The life of the mind is red...")

It's raining here. It's been raining steadily for a couple of days. It's not messing about, it's serious, heavy rain--more like November than September. But it just helps me spend even more time with Hild rather than wandering about in the park or digging about in the garden. Plus, the worms like it, which is good for the soil. And the birds like eating the worms. And the cats like eating the worms. And I like watching nature happily playing its game of red-in-tooth-and-claw. It's all good.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

The secret of business success: good writing

From SocialBeat (via Media Bistro):

Among startups, there’s a tendency to emphasize product technology, rather than fuzzier skills and qualities that don’t “scale”. But chief executive Andrew Mason said today that the success of his popular social buying site Groupon had less to do with brilliant tech and more with good writing, and with unfashionable technology like email.

Yes. Absolutely. The only news is how surprised about this everyone seems to be.

Good business marketing requires good communication. Communication--unless the parties are in visual contact, and so to some extent using body language--depends on the spoken and written word. Words are the province of writers. Therefore, if you want to do well in your business, you should employ good writers. As with most things, you get what you pay. I applaud Groupon for making a smart investment.

I wish I could applaud Cunard.

Today I got my copy of the Cunarder magazine. It's a high-end marketing rag aimed at those who have already taken at least one voyage on a Cunard QUEEN and might reasonably be expected to do so again. (Kelley and I crossed the Atlantic in September 2000 on Queen Elizabeth 2.) It's a luscious layout: drool-worthy photos of food, urbane voyagers dripping with jewels, and no-expense-spared maritime decor. The whole thing is outrageously over the top: pure boat porn. I love it. Usually.

This time, sadly, I got less than halfway through then tossed it in the recycling bin. The writing was awful: tortured, pseudo public school (that is, private school) nonsense. It was so bad, so shocking, that I began to wonder, Can people who don't understand grammar do any better with navigation? Does the company treat customer safety as cavalierly as syntax?

It's entirely possible that Cunard just lost me as a customer. All because they weren't willing to pay for writing professionals. This is a company with rich brand equity and the kind of deep, thoroughly tried experience Groupon can only dream of. And they also have a huge capital investment to protect. This kind of short-term cost-cutting is idiotic, a jaw-dropping mistake.

As I say, in professional terms, you get what you pay for. I can only think that Cunard got caught out by the ferocity of the recession: two huge new ships to pay for and far fewer customers than they'd allowed for. Perhaps they're making panicky decisions, cutting corners, shaving their cost-centres, such as marketing, and so forcing marketing, in turn, to get cheap with their writers. I can only hope, for the customers' sakes, that the company is willing to pay well for crew.

Anyone else got any examples to offer of short-sighted corporate cost-cutting?

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

TiVo your life

Apparently, you can now TiVo real life. From Fast Company:

Ever see something you wish you had on film? Say, a miraculous home-run in the ninth, or your baby's first steps? A new wearable camcorder called Looxcie (look-see) aims to capture all these shooting-star moments.

Looxcie ($199) is a Bluetooth headset that features video recording--but no record button. Rather, the device is designed to constantly capture video, which can either be viewed live on one's smartphone, or saved to memory if a YouTube-worthy event occurs. Like any Bluetooth headset, Looxcie fits snugly around one's ear (it's a bit heavy), and can make and receive calls. But since the device is constantly on and recording to a temporary storage buffer, one must only hit the "Instant Clip" button, and the last 30-seconds of footage is automatically saved to your Android, and soon BlackBerry and iPhone. What you see is what you record.


I'd run a mile from anyone wearing one of these things. But perhaps I'm hopelessly old-fashioned. (I've been running into this a lot this month. Something to do with the Big Birthday coming up? Nah...)

ETA: For those who absorb their info more readily via video (via Newsy):

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fog and sun and Hild

Yesterday began draped in mist. I stood outside in my sweater, tea in one hand, and listened to the trees in the ravine dripping. Everything else was silent. The perbs looked like a primeval forest in miniature.

A few hours later, the sun had turned everything melon-gold, and I was outside again, again with tea, though this time wearing a vest (or, as I'm supposed to call it in this country, a tank top). I alternated between reading a page of an M.R. James story ("The Rose Garden") and tipping my head back to watch the curly willow tremble with the weight of birds flicking in and out of its foliage while I thought about Hild.

When I'd finished my tea (and the story), I went back inside, turned on Freedom, and wrote nine hundred words of Hild.

Then I drank beer with Kelley, ate a most marvellous spaghetti bolognese--the perbs made it taste so rich I could hardly believe it was our old, faithful recipe--and watched another episode of Glee.

As I type this, the forecast for the day is more fog, burning off in the afternoon to reveal, well, clouds. But, hey, there might be sun (it's Seattle, anything is possible) and, besides, there's Hild. Lots of lovely Hild. I am in serious danger of dying of delight. I hope your September days are proving as fine as mine. Smiling...

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Present tense: this wretched fad

I've talked before about present tense being over-used and misused in contemporary fiction:

These days it seems fashionable for beginners, especially in the YA and literary genres (oh, yes, litfic is a genre), to write their first novel in present tense. They are setting themselves up for a very hard time. Present tense is devilishly difficult. Present tense does not make the text more immediate--just the opposite, in fact. Present tense is the language of dreams and jokes, not realistic fiction.
Yes, I used present tense in one of Slow River's narrative strands. I did it to a purpose. [...] Present tense for the distant, only half-remembered childhood narrative. Past tense for the narrative present. Present tense is dreamlike, unrealistic, unmoored. Past tense is hard, solid--concrete.

Part of a master's expertise (a master of any trade) is knowing the right tool for the job. A gardener understands that you don't use a chainsaw to prune the roses, you use secateurs. (Actually, anyone with roses knows that.) Some novelists these days seem to be acting like beginners; they seem ignorant of their choices. They're picking up the literary equivalent of secateurs to cut down trees. I am mystified by this behaviour.

I'm not the only one. A few weeks ago, blogger and editor, Moonrat, explained that "present tense is not a reason I categorically reject a novel submission. But it often becomes a contributing reason." She lays out her reasoning here. If you're a writer, please read it. You'll learn a lot.

And now, over at the Telegraph, Philip Pullman and Philip Hensher have weighed in on the issue, criticising the Booker shortlist for its inclusion of so many novels written in present tense. Pullman says, "This wretched fad has been spreading more and more widely. I can’t see the appeal at all. To my mind it drastically narrows the options available to the writer. When a language has a range of tenses such as the perfect, the imperfect, the pluperfect, each of which makes other kinds of statement possible, why on earth not use them?"

A bit curmudgeonly, perhaps, but not wrong in essence.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Cheerleaders in football uniforms: gender transgression on Glee

Kelley and I started watching Glee a few days ago. The first few eps, for me, were a time for pleasant, brightly-coloured zoning out. But then I started to get the hang of it: lots of zingers under the perkiness and spangles.

Last night we watched episode 7, "Throwdown." Jane Lynch got to have fun, as usual. But nothing terribly out of the ordinary--the zingers just a tad more close to the bone, perhaps. Then, sudden gear change: cheerleaders in football uniforms, dancing around a cheerleader in a cheerleading uniform. I sat up. Blinked.

Kelley and I looked at each, raised our eyebrows. Talk about smooth, delicious, under-the radar gender transgression. Or am I hopelessly old-fashioned? Did anyone else even notice this? Or has everyone on the planet noticed but I just didn't notice them noticing?

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

This and that

It's a grey day here in Seattle. In fact, it's been so miserable, weather wise, that I decided to bring the basil inside. It was looking a bit peaky and faint. I think we'll have to harvest it soon. The seasons are changing.

If the weather runs true to form, we'll get a week or so of sunshine between now and the fourth week of September. Kelley's birthday is almost always sunny. My birthday is almost always windy, grey, and wet. Fair? Not even close--but I'm above all that. I have a nifty umbrella the colour of the sky on a deep summer's night, and covered in stars. Take that, weather.

As soon as the sun starts shining again, I'll transplant the perbs I'm hoping might manage a winter transition in this climate: thyme, marjoram, chives, sage. The dill will be harvested for sure. The basil's fate is already sealed. (We have a lovely salad dressing planned.) The parsley--I haven't decided. The only herb I'm confident about is the sage. It radiates robustness. It sits in its pot looking sturdy and sure. It better not be bluffing.

For those who need more than plants, I have two links to keep you going.

One is the Sterling Editing roundup of nifty articles for writers, including advice from William Gibson and Alice Walker.

The other is the LA Times article about the unconstitutionality of DADT. It's going to get interesting pretty soon.

Have a lovely Sunday.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Back into Hild world

I'm moving inexorably back into Hild world. Hopefully I'll still be around here a lot, but if I'm not, you know why.

I've now plotted out the rest of this volume of Hild. I'm happily filling in environmental details. What does the sky look like in Yeavering in March? What birds are flying over Whitby in April? What shrubs flower on the moors in June? Next comes the deliciousness of delineating, exactly, human sexual awakening: at what point, exactly, do we become aware of the creaminess of a woman's skin, the coppery tang of male adrenaline, the fall and swing of a beautiful person's hair? How does that flash of understanding, that, Oh, so that's what these weird feelings mean, work?

If you've read any fiction that does this convincingly, I'd like to know. This isn't something I've spent time thinking about before. It might be interesting to see how others do it.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Maintaining my interesting status

From: Pia

I have read some of your recent Ask Nicola blog entries which support epublishing. I have become inseparable from my Kindle and imagine that if I were an author I would be inclined towards self-epublishing. Yet the demise of the recording and music industry with the growth of the web is a worrisome development as the web and reading gadgets become more common devices for exploring, sharing, and stealing content.

Have you written on the publishing industry, protecting content, or how laws fit into or should be changed to preserve ownership and would you please share the link to that writing? If you haven't shared those thoughts, I encourage you to disclose them and look forward to reading your ideas.

Oh, under the the topic of the law, would you share the docket number or link to your immigration ruling? I don't disagree but I am curious how you got the State or an ALJ to hold that it is within the national interest to have you live and work in the US. Does that finding apply forever? If not, what do you have to do to maintain your interesting status?

My opinion of epublishing are pretty straightforward. I believe 'epublishing' will soon be simply 'publishing', the way 'horseless carriage' became 'car'. In other words, there's no way I can encapsulate my views in one short blog post. Publishing, like the automotive industry, is vast and varied. (You might try searching this blog for terms such as digital publishing, publishing, ebooks, and so on. I've written about this stuff a lot.)

I love my Kindle, too. I buy and read more novels because of it. I think digital publishing will end up being very good for the industry. As I say, I think it will be the industry.

However, I loathe and abhore digital book piracy. Those who use BitTorrent protocols to share my novels are hurting me, personally and directly. To those who have made my work available on a P2P site, those who have downloaded any of same: you are not my friend. If I catch you, I will hurt you.

I earn my living from writing. When a reader downloads one of my novels free of charge, I don't get paid. If I don't get paid, I don't eat (I don't pay my mortgage, I don't get medical attention when I need it). It's a simple equation. Those who steal my work are killing my ability to be a writer.

As for self-publishing, I'm pretty sure I'll end up doing it at some point, for something, but I doubt I'll do it for any major novel. For writers like me, trade publishing is still the best route to a decent living. It's a lot of work and expense to hire an editor, to hire a publicist, to hire a book designer, an artist, a flap-copy writer, to buy ISBNs, check the conversion platforms, sort out distribution.

If I had an out-of-print backlist, I would be finding a way to republish them myself--because all the work of book design, proofreading, getting blurbs etc would already be done. But all my books are still in print. (Though Always is currently only available as a hardcover and ebook; the paperback will be reprinted soon--though I don't have a firm date.)

I do think some parts of current US copyright law is extreme, particularly the 'lifetime plus 70 years' provision. I can't imagine a scenario where plus 20 wouldn't be reasonable for individual copyright holders, and, say, 50 years total for corporate holders.

With regard to my immigration case, I don't have a clue where to point you for legal information. I had no idea I'd made new law until the Wall Street Journal contacted me. (They heard about my case because it was written up in some law journal; I don't know which one.) It all happened long ago--1994 (right around the birth of Netscape, that is, before most people even knew there was such a thing as a browser, never mind a link). But, yes, it's a permanent decision. Unless I break one of the important rules (for example, stay out of the country for a year or more), I'll have the right to live and work in the US for the rest of my life.

As for maintaining my interesting status, well, I'll just have to stay sharp...

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Birthday feast with dancing girls

Kelley and I both have big birthdays coming up at the end of the month.

On my 30th birthday, I told Kelley that for my 50th I wanted a big blowout party with dancing girls, the whole bad movie, pre-orgy-feast trope: luscious women doing the dance of the seven veils, hand-feeding me grapes, lots of wine. Belly-dancing music. The scent of opium wafting through the fretted screens...

This summer Kelley said: So, do you still want those dancing girls? And I said, Not in public, not in front of a zillion of my closest friends. (With age comes wisdom, or at least understanding of Embarrassment Potential.) So we agreed: no public dancing girls.

That just leaves us with trying to figure out what to do for our Momentous Occasion/s.

That, it turns out, is easy. We'll do everything.

We'll have a series of pleasurable evenings (and afternoons, and mornings) with and without friends, in a variety of combinations. I've just finished planning our private celebration for the night of Kelley's actual birthday. (No, I'm not going to tell you what it is.) But just thinking about all the events we'll be lining up makes my face ache with smiling. Life is good.


Edit to add: look at this! A whole new way to see dancing girls :)

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Booker prize shortlist

Booker prize shortlisted authors (clockwise): Andrea Levy, Howard Jacobson, Tom McCarthy, Peter Carey, Emma Donoghue and Damon Galgut. Photograph: PR/Eamonn McCabe/Sarah Lee (Guardian)

The Booker prize shortlist was announced yesterday:

Andrea Levy, The Long Son
Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question
Tom McCarthy, C
Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America
Emma Donoghue, Room
Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room

This year, I haven't read any of them. The only one that I've paid any attention to (and that only in an If I see that at the library, must remember to pick it up kind of way) is Parrot and Olivier in America. The others, that is, the ones I know anything about, sound as though they would be rather claustrophobic and tense-making.

I like a novel that sprawls, I like an epic canvas. That's just my particular preference. I know others like different things.

So what's your take on these novels? Anything you're looking forward to? Anything you've read?

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

H. Rider Haggard and the Venerable Bede

Yesterday I was feeling torpid and decided to actually read some of the free books I downloaded a few weeks ago, last time I was feeling ill.

I read King Solomon's Mines by (Sir) H(enry) Rider Haggard. I'd always assumed I'd read it before. (I read a bunch of his books as a child. My favourite, easily, was She--though I don't remember it--we're talking forty years ago--apart from the power and glory that was Ayesha. Yum. Echoes, for the child me, of Jadis of Charn, aka the White Witch.)

Anyway, I'm reading along, not recognising anything--apart from the tropes. After all, Haggard pretty much invented the Lost World genre. It's all here, the full-bore colonial overkill: adventure, wild riches, characters who are More Than They Seem, manifest destiny, etc. Jolly good fun if you can cope with the wholesale extermination of game, women as chattel, and adult Africans as either cruel or naïve. (It displays the full panoply of -isms, with the exception of homophobia. Haggard seems touchingly innocent the admiration of manly men. Or maybe he was having fun. He was clearly having fun in other ways.) After about fifty pages I adjusted, and settled in for the happy slaughter.

Once I relaxed, I began to recognise chunks of prose. Haggard was obviously delighting in ripping off the Bible, Milton, Shakespeare, and a whole host of other vaguely recognisable Classics. (I think I spotted some Famous Romans in there, too.)

One passage that struck me particularly was a scene wherein the intrepid explorers debate whether to undertake a risky journey across the desert to find the fabled diamond mines. One of their number, Umbopa, asks the leader of the expedition, Sir Henry (a naming coincidence? I think not) Curtis, "What is life? [T]ell me, white men, the secret of our life--whither it goes and whence it comes!" Then he answers his own question:

"You cannot answer me; you know not. Listen, I will answer. Out of the dark we came, into the dark we go. Like a storm-driven bird at night we fly out of the Nowhere; for a moment our wings are seen in the light of the fire, and, lo! we are gone again into the Nowhere."

Now look at this passage from the Venerable Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People), in which one of Edwin's thegns is arguing in support of a conversion to Christianity, on the grounds that Christ knows what's what, and we, as puny human beings, do not:

"The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad ; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm ; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant."
(HE II.13)

Haggard adds some Africa-specific stuff to Umbopa's speech: "Life is nothing. Life is all. It is the Hand with which we hold off Death. It is the glow-worm that shines in the night-time and is black in the morning; it is the white breath of the oxen in winter; it is the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself at sunset." But it's Bede in essence.

I love the notion that something written in eighth century (concerning events in the seventh) is here being applied to the nineteenth century. It's yet another indication of the influence of Hild's time (and Bede's work) on the present day.

Speaking of which, Hild is calling. Time to get back to her.

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hugo awards

The Hugo awards were announced in Melbourne last night. I didn't win. But, hey, at least I didn't have to lose in public. I slept soundly through the whole thing after a splendid anniversary here in Seattle. (What is it with awards timing this year?) Many thanks to everyone who read "It Takes Two" and thought enough of it to nominate it. Actually, thanks to everyone who read it, full stop. That's point, after all: to be read. I am well pleased.

Congratulations to all those who did win. You rock--and I'm totally jealous of your rockets!

Best Fan Artist
* Brad W Foster (winner)
* Dave Howell
* Sue Mason
* Steve Stiles
* Taral Wayne

Best Fanzine
* StarShipSofa edited by Tony C. Smith (winner)
* Argentus edited by Steven H. Silver
* Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
* Challenger edited by Guy H. Lillian III
* Drink Tank edited by Christopher J Garcia, with guest editor James Bacon
* File 770 edited by Mike Glyer

Best Fan Writer
* Frederik Pohl (winner)
* Claire Brialey
* Christopher J Garcia
* James Nicoll
* Lloyd Penney

Best Semiprozine
* Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, & Cheryl Morgan (winner)
* Ansible edited by David Langford
* Interzone edited by Andy Cox
* Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
* Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal

Best Professional Artist
* Shaun Tan (winner)
* Bob Eggleton
* Stephan Martiniere
* John Picacio
* Daniel Dos Santos

Best Editor, Short Form
* Ellen Datlow (winner)
* Stanley Schmidt
* Jonathan Strahan
* Gordon Van Gelder
* Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form
* Patrick Nielsen Hayden (winner)
* Lou Anders
* Ginjer Buchanan
* Liz Gorinsky
* Juliet Ulman

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
* Doctor Who: “The Waters of Mars”, written by Russell T Davies & Phil Ford; directed by Graeme Harper (BBC Wales) (winner)
* Doctor Who: “The Next Doctor”, written by Russell T Davies; directed by Andy Goddard (BBC Wales)
* Doctor Who: “Planet of the Dead”, written by Russell T Davies & Gareth Roberts; directed by James Strong (BBC Wales)
* Dollhouse: “Epitaph 1”, story by Joss Whedon; written by Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon; directed by David Solomon (Mutant Enemy)
* FlashForward: “No More Good Days” written by Brannon Braga & David S. Goyer; directed by David S. Goyer; based on the novel by Robert J. Sawyer (ABC)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
* Moon, screenplay by Nathan Parker; story by Duncan Jones; directed by Duncan Jones (Liberty Films) (winner)
* Avatar, screenplay and directed by James Cameron (Twentieth Century Fox)
* District 9, acreenplay by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell; directed by Neill Blomkamp (TriStar Pictures)
* Star Trek, screenplay by Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman; directed by J.J. Abrams (Paramount)
* Up, screenplay by Bob Peterson & Pete Docter; story by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, & Thomas McCarthy; directed by Bob Peterson & Pete Docter (Disney/Pixar)

Best Graphic Story
* Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm Written by Kaja and Phil Foglio; Art by Phil Foglio; Colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment) (winner)
* Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Written by Neil Gaiman; Pencilled by Andy Kubert; Inked by Scott Williams (DC Comics)
* Captain Britain And MI13. Volume 3: Vampire State Written by Paul Cornell; Pencilled by Leonard Kirk with Mike Collins, Adrian Alphona and Ardian Syaf (Marvel Comics)
* Fables Vol 12: The Dark Ages Written by Bill Willingham; Pencilled by Mark Buckingham; Art by Peter Gross & Andrew Pepoy, Michael Allred, David Hahn; Colour by Lee Loughridge & Laura Allred; Letters by Todd Klein (Vertigo Comics)
* Schlock Mercenary: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse Written and Illustrated by Howard Tayler

Best Related Book
* This Is Me, Jack Vance!(Or, More Properly, This is “I”) by Jack Vance (Subterranean Press) (winner)
* Canary Fever: Reviews by John Clute (Beccon)
* Hope-In-The-Mist: The Extraordinary Career and Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees by Michael Swanwick (Temporary Culture)
* The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction by Farah Mendlesohn (McFarland)
* On Joanna Russ edited by Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan)
* The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of SF Feminisms by Helen Merrick (Aqueduct)

Best Short Story
* “Bridesicle,” Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09) (winner)
* “The Bride of Frankenstein,” Mike Resnick (Asimov’s 12/09)
* “The Moment,” Lawrence M. Schoen (Footprints; Hadley Rille Books)
* “Non-Zero Probabilities,” N.K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld 9/09)
* “Spar,” Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld 10/09)

Best Novelette
* “The Island,” Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2; Eos) (winner)
* “Eros, Philia, Agape,” Rachel Swirsky ( 3/09)
* “It Takes Two,” Nicola Griffith (Eclipse Three; Night Shade Books)
* “One of Our Bastards is Missing,” Paul Cornell (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume Three; Solaris)
* “Overtime,” Charles Stross ( 12/09)
* “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast,” Eugie Foster (Interzone 2/09)

Best Novella
* “Palimpsest,” Charles Stross (Wireless; Ace, Orbit) (winner)
* “Act One,” Nancy Kress (Asimov’s 3/09)
* The God Engines, John Scalzi (Subterranean)
* Shambling Towards Hiroshima, James Morrow (Tachyon)
* “Vishnu at the Cat Circus,” Ian McDonald (Cyberabad Days; Pyr, Gollancz)
* The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, Kage Baker (Subterranean)

Best Novel
* The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade) (tie winner)
* The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK) (tie winner)
* Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (Tor)
* Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
* Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
* Wake, Robert J. Sawyer (Ace; Penguin; Gollancz; Analog)

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
* Seanan McGuire (winner)
* Saladin Ahmed
* Gail Carriger
* Felix Gilman
* Lezli Robyn

Info from

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Video of me reading in Los Angeles

Here's video of me reading from Slow River last month at the LLF Emerging Voices Writers' Retreat in Los Angeles, where I led the fiction workshop. There's seven or eight minutes of chat followed by seven or eight minutes of reading.

For other readings from Fellows (and soon, I hope, my the other faculty), visit Many thanks to Tony for the videography. And to everyone who listened patiently...

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Happiness and home

Today is our seventeenth wedding anniversary.

When we got married it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. I had no idea we were doing anything unusual. But we were the first same-sex couple to register at Macy's and the first to have our wedding announcement in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I'm not going to show you photos of that, because I've done it before (and even though, yes, I'm wearing a dress), I'm guessing you're bored of such things by now.

A couple of nights ago we helped our neighours, Vicki and Ron, celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. (Vicki, you might recall, is the artist who made Petalville, the gigantic collage on our wall. Ron is the handiest person with a hammer and saw eva.) Vicki brought us flowers from her garden. We ate much fine food, drank champagne, and stayed up later than old married couples should.

I woke up the next morning stone in love: with Kelley, our home, our neighbourhood, and the life we've made. The weather mirrored my mood. The house was flooded with light.

Our front porch has a trellis with climbing roses. It threw interesting shadows on the wall:

The photo is by Jennifer Durham. Here's a close-up:

Here you can see Vicki's flowers on the table, and a slice of Petalville--made of her flowers and ours--on the right:

And here's the trellis--because, hey, this is a blog, not a novel, and I don't have to do that stern writer thing and leave it to your imagination. (It's a holiday weekend; no one should be doing more work than necessary.)

No AN photo post would be complete without the doughty perbs, which have suffered mightily the last month, being snipped and nipped and chopped for all those lovely dinners:

All in all, I'm feeling very smug. Absolutely delighted with life. I hope you, too, have plans for an utterly delicious weekend.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Salon Futura: a new mag in town

Cover illustration: “R’lyeh” by John Coulthart

Friend of AN, Cheryl Morgan, has launched Salon Futura, "a new and hopefully somewhat different magazine devoted to the discussion of science fiction, fantasy and other forms of speculative literature."

Each month some of our regular team of contributors will bring you articles of interest. To save space here I have introduced them at the start of their pieces for this issue. In addition we are open to submissions for guest articles. The submission guidelines can be found here. Each issue will also contain a podcast discussion and one or two video interviews.
Salon Futura is available for free online. However, we do pay our contributors, and have business expenses. As usual with such ventures you can help us stay in business by donating, buying books through the links on this site, or by advertising.

The first issue (artwork by Coulthart, above) is out now, showcasing interviews with China Miéville and Lauren Beukes, fiction from Karen Burnham, and nifty stuff from a bunch of other people. Go take a look.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

The perfect writing class

From: Jeanne

Here’s the deal. I’m far too old to be writing fan letters, too sensible to write love letters, too smart to try to impress you with intellect, but hopelessly gobsmacked and haunted by your books.

I’ve really never quite had a similar experience. The best word I can come up with is “excoriated.” (Yeah, nurses fall back on lingo.) I can find no better way than to describe a physical sensation to your words. Like...being lightly scored with a brand new scalpel. Not horribly painful, but enough to feel fully alert and aware. Thrilling.

I don’t read or write anything the same way anymore. (I don’t necessarily write any better, but I sure want to try.)

You wrote a piece some time ago which said it far better than I could:
When I write, dear reader, I don't want to build a careful tale for you to discuss with a smile in a sunny place, I want to own you. I don't want to be The New TV Series, I want to be pornography: to thrill you so hard you're ashamed but can't help yourself crawling back for more.

I want to write a whole novel that invades you. I want to control what you think and feel, to put you right there, right then, killing and being killed, fucking and being fucked, cooking and starving, drinking and thinking, barely surviving and absolutely thriving. I want to give you a life you've never had, change the one you live.

How? I will take control of your mirror neurons. I will give you tastes and textures, torments and terrain you might never find in your real life. I will take you, sweep you off your feet, own you. For a while. For a while when you're lost in my book you will be somewhere else, somewhen else, someone else.

I control the horizontal, I control the vertical. Sit back, relax, enjoy. When you're done, take a breath, smoke a cigarette, figure out who you are now, and come back for more.

It's more than a rant, actually, it's a dedication. A vow: with my next novel, I'm going to run my software on your hardware. You've been warned.
I made myself a promise when I began my writer’s journey, that I would tell authors when their work impacted me. Impacted is an understatement. I am touched, moved, and inspired, Nicola. I am grateful to have found your work, regardless of how late I found it.

I do have a question. My editor took an on-line class from you (and in fact, encouraged me to read you). Any chance you will be doing that again?

I've been thinking about it. The trick is figuring out how to structure something so that a) my student/s get what they need, and b) it's cost-effective for all concerned.

I'm considering three basic scenarios:

  • a personalised, one-on-one single-month intensive, online
  • an eight-week online class for 8 - 12 students, online
  • a one-week, in-person workshop here in Seattle for 10-12 participants

It would not be for beginners (unless they were insanely talented). In general, I prefer to teach writers who have already done their own learning (whether formally or informally). My favourite students are those who understand that writing is work, who have put in their hours, who have taken themselves as far as they can and now need an expert eye and a firm hand to give them a final tempering and hone them to a brilliant edge.

This kind of study is intense and demanding. Its effects can be profound. It's not for wusses.

If you've been through something like this (as student or teacher), talk to me. I'd love to get some input. If you like the sound of any of my scenarios, if you think one might be for you, drop a comment, or email me at asknicola2 at nicolagriffith dot com.

This could be exciting.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Aud needs to get to Norway, ASAP

Aud's mother told her long, long ago that the troll always wins. She's not sure she believes that anymore--but now she's going to have to go to Norway to find out. It turns out that maybe trolls are real. Maybe the Government has been Keeping Big (and I mean big, and hairy, and vicious) Secrets, and some intrepid souls have made a documentary.  (Thanks, Diane.)

But if non-fiction (ahem) is not your bag, then read this nifty troll story, written in If you want to read a real troll story, take a look at "A Troll Story," which I wrote about ten years ago:
In Norway a thousand years ago, all dreaded morketiden, the murky time of winter when the sun hides below the horizon for weeks on end and the very rock sometimes stirs to walk the steep fjell in troll form. Families lived in lonely seters, and in winter, trapped by snow and darkness, the only comfort was to lift a burning twig from the hearth and touch it to the twisted wool wick floating in a bowl of greasy tallow, to watch light flare yellow and uncertain, and to hope the wind that howled down the fjell would not blow it out, leaving nothing but long twisting shadow from the fire, whose coals were already dying to deepest black tinged with red...
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