Friday, December 31, 2010

My 2010: good, bad, and learning opportunities

Last night I started to mull my 2010, and what I kept thinking was, "Blimey, was that this year??" So much of it seems to have happened an aeon ago. Or at least a billennium. So I thought I'd share some of those things with you. They seem to fall naturally into three categories: satisfying/good; traumatic/miserable; and lessons I've (re)learnt for the umpteenth time/eye-rolling.

So, here are some of the things I remember with pleasure:

  • Getting nominated for the Locus and Hugo awards for the first story I've written in a decade. Wow, the Hugo award. Very cool!
  • Coming up with Lambda Literary, the new online home of the Lambda Literary Foundation. That site now gets 60k plus unique visitors a month. It's the nexus of all things queer in the literary landscape. We deserve it. The people I worked with rock. I am pleased and proud.
  • Speaking of LLF, I taught the fiction workshop for the Emerging Voices writers' retreat and was gladdened and heartened by the talent and generosity of every single Fellow. Go check out their blogs (see the right sidebar).
  • Kelley and I made some new friends this year. I don't mean acquaintances, or colleagues, but friends. I find that as I learn more about myself and the world, real friendship becomes increasingly rare and precious.
  • Speaking of getting older and wiser (and, in Kelley's case, more gorgeous), we celebrated our 50th birthdays with a ten-day jubilee. It was so good I don't think I'd survive doing it more than once a decade.
  • I got to play with a sabre (and soon will learn the proper technique for using a sword to slash open Champagne--I'll report on that next year).
  • I have almost finished Hild. (750 pages and counting.) I've been having a marvellous time living in the 7th century and learning/inventing a whole slew of new narrative techniques. I love a writing challenge. I love breaking the rules to a purpose.
  • And before I stop with the Unmitigated Awesome bits of the year, I want to mention two authors new to me: Peter O'Donnell and his Modesty Blaise books, and David Stone and his Micah Dalton novels. Fabulous and preposterous adventure series. I'll be talking more about them in a month or two. Meanwhile, go read some.

But 2010 wasn't perfect because, hey, there's no such thing as perfection for living breathing people. I had three main lows this year:

  • I had family difficulties (which aren't appropriate to discuss here--it's not my story, after all), some of it awful, but right now things have reached a momentary balance point and I have my fingers crossed that we'll all survive until this time next year.
  • For the first time in years MS rose up and savaged me. It's made me cross. Grump grump. I'm still not quite right, but I'm hoping the worst is past.
  • And speaking of MS, what made me deeply angry this year was the thoughtlessness (and willful ignorance and stubborn refusal to listen) of some organisations, individuals and convention-runners regarding physical access. I've put up with this crap for years. My preferred mode has always been patience and education, but I've reached my tipping point. So I'm serving notice here: next time someone refuses to listen or to try make it right, I'm going to get very loud and name names.

I can forgive most people most things once. Especially if it's a genuine mistake. It's the refusal to learn and adapt that pisses me off, the refusal to accept even a modicum of inconvenience. So it seems only fair I end with the three lessons I've had to relearn, again, this year.

  • I'm great at collaborative projects as long as I'm in charge. I'm a despot at heart--a benevolent one, yes, but most definitely not a cog in the collective machine. I'm really, really good at making shit happen--as long as I'm leading that effort. If I wasn't such a wuss I'd tattoo it on my forehead and save everyone a lot of grief next year.
  • Shit happens. I need to expect that and built empty space into my schedule to accommodate it. Two things that happened this year: my health took a serious dive and there was all that family stress I mentioned earlier, involving several nights of tracking available flights to the UK for rescue and/or funerals. But because I had selfishly taken on so many projects that my calendar was filled wall to wall--literally every hour planned and scheduled--everything broke. I had to back out of several professional (and personal) committments, and got horribly behind on others. Note to self: build gaps in the schedule; they will get filled.
  • At social events, when a fellow guest says, "How do you know our lovely host/what brings you to this event?" s/he doesn't mean what I mean by it. If I said it, I'd mean, "Hey, tell me an interesting story about how and why you're here, so we can begin a cool conversation and find out if we like each other." No, what most people in these situations seem to mean is, "Explain to me in fifty words or less why I should bother standing here with you when someone far more interesting and good for my career might walk in that door any second." Or sometimes, especially if they're writers or other artists, "Let's see who can pee highest up the wall." They trot out deadlines met, tax problems resulting from their bestsellers, how they had to turn down Oprah. Me, I just want to talk about how cool the seventh century is, ask them where they find their joy, or admire some woman's, er, dress. I forget that events bring out the insecure and needy children in many of us. But, eh, I wouldn't want to behave any differently. I just want to be ready next time someone walks away in the middle of my second sentence; I want to not feel the urge to get armoured up for the next conversation. I want to continue to assume good intent.

So, hey, okay, I've come up with my goal for 2011: that we all assume good intent. Trust me, it will make the world better. Other goals are numerous. You've seen the To Do list that ate the world already. Oooh, must must remember to go add gaps...

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Average use of media per day: 11 hours

From eMarketer (via Dear Author) a short but meaty--and fascinating--examination of time "consumers spend with all major media, regardless of multitasking or simultaneous usage, from 2008 to 2010."

Bottom line, here's how we (I'm assuming US consumers) spend our major media time:

TV/video: 4 hrs 24 mins
online: 2 hrs 35 mins
mobile: 50 mins

The percentage of the time we spent with TV/video is about the same over the three years surveyed, but mobile use is increasing rapidly (and is more than the view/consumption of newspapers and magazines combined). I'm sure it will surprise no one to discover that digital media use is accelerating at the expense of everything else.

I shouldn't be surprised, but was, to find that we spend around 11 hrs a day with our heads stuck in media world.

I'm astonished we're still mostly sane.

Or are we?

I feel a sudden and urgent need to go to the park...
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The long slow march towards LGBTQIA equality

official White House photo by Pete Souza

A week ago, Kerry Eleveld interviewed Pres. Obama in the Advocate.
President Obama tells The Advocate the Pentagon is "prepared to implement" repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and it will take months not years. He also says he's “wrestling” with the issue of marriage equality.
By Kerry Eleveld
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is taking the implementation manual for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with him on vacation, President Obama told The Advocate during a wide-ranging interview late Tuesday afternoon — the first one-on-one interview of his presidency with an LGBT news outlet.
“My strong sense is [implementation] is a matter of months,” Obama said from the Oval Office. “Absolutely not years.”

The president added that he has also broached the topic with Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, and that “he’s going to make it work.” Amos has been the most outspoken critic of repeal among the military’s service chiefs.

Obama also said that he is “incredibly proud” of following through on repealing the 1993 law and recalled a pledge he made to a service member while working a rope line in Afghanistan just a few weeks ago.

“A young woman in uniform was shaking my hand — it was a big crowd — she hugged me and she whispered in my ear, ‘Get ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ done.’ And I said to her, ‘I promise you I will.’”

On the question of marriage equality, the president said his “attitudes are evolving.”

“Like a lot of people, I'm wrestling with this,” he said. "I've wrestled with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different connotation. But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian couples.”

The president also signaled that he and his lawyers are reviewing “a range of options” when it comes to the administration’s responsibility to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts, especially since repealing it over the next two years will be a nonstarter with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

“I have a whole bunch of really smart lawyers who are looking at a whole range of options. My preference wherever possible is to get things done legislatively,” Obama said, drawing a comparison with repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“That may not be possible in DOMA’s case,” he added. “That’s something that I think we have to strategize on over the next several months.”

There's more--a lot more. I enjoyed reading it, partly because it's the first time an officially queer news outlet has had a one-on-one with El Presidente, and partly for the back-and-forth between Obama (who is, y'know, President, and used to striking awe into the hearts of his subjects citizens) and Eleveld (who happily tramples all over him here and there in her eagerness to ask questions).

I've been saying for a while that the repeal of DADT would be the crack in the dam holding back LGBTQIA (quiltbag) inequality. When queer folk are dying openly alongside their straight brothers and sisters in arms, their partners will demand, and get, spousal benefits: pension, immigration, health and so on. Once that happens, civilians will start demanding, and the law requiring, parity.

The fly in this ointment is, of course, a Republican-controlled House and its extremist contingent. It's going to be tough to get legislative solutions with right-wingers shouting down sense. This means some action will occur in the courts.

Sometimes court solutions work out, sometimes they don't. Often, they lead to long-lasting confrontation and bitterness. (Think about abortion and bussing.)

So my hope is that the Republican establishment got more of a fright this November than the Democrats did. (If I'd been a Republican, I would have been incensed at the loss of safe seats as a result of Tea Party idiocies.) If this is the case then there might actually be some bipartisan work going on in the Senate. Might.

So let's all click our heels three times and wish for the strong smooth and inexorable march towards quiltbag equality--one way or another. And let's wish particularly strongly for the T in the quiltbag. Trans people, as Cheryl Morgan points out, are still a long way from getting the basic protections they need.

It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world. But I'm currently optimistic about it settling down, settling out, in all the right ways.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 in pictures: green and growing things

I got a bit obsessed with plant-based lifeforms this year: the trees in the ravine, the garden, the pot herbs on the deck (aka perbs), the kitchen herbs (kerbs). So it seems as good a way as any to begin the countdown to 2011.

I may or may not do other retrospective posts this week; it depends on how Hild goes. But, hey, today is fresh and young, so here, for your delectation and delight, a selection of posts about green things. I've done it in chronological order, with one a month--apart from May, when I took 3 weeks off the grid, and January, when I was plugged into the grid so hard--building the structure to build, and then actually building the website--that my eyeballs almost melted. To make up for it I've thrown in a couple of extras.


The perbs are dead, long live the kerbs
In which I ponder the biochemistry experiment (with photos, of course) that is our latest project: hydroponical herbs in the kitchen.

In which I play with Crapcam, that is, the awful camera in my wonderful iThing. In the course of one day we go from luverly snow to sheeting rain, and all the leaves fall off. That's Seattle for you.

Probably one of my favourite photo sets: sunshine and rain at the same time, in what turns out to be the last day of colour (roses, day lilies, spiders, bamboo) in our part of Seattle.

On my birthday this year, our cul-de-sac turned into the kingdom of the spiders. Everywhere: fences, hedges, doorways, stairways, porches, windows...

It's August, the lawn is a little parched, but the perbs are running wild. I get carried away and made extravagant promises about transplanting some of them. Instead, I just harvested them and munched them up. Then started the kerbs.

A kind of photo essay about the secret green growing places I don't normally show on this blog, including a view from the neighbourhood commons and the super secret north garden.

Loving shots of each perb. This? Basil, of course. And very tasty too.

It's April and the torture tree--always the last--finally starts to green. This is when I know the season really is turning. Beautiful time of year. Apart from, y'know, the pollen.

In which the eating of chocolate (much chocolate, lovingly detailed) engenders a weather miracle: brilliant sunshine and the sudden explosion of lilac. In March.

I'm back!
In which I reclaim my life after Lambda Literary and the utterly irretrievable meltdown of my PC hardrive, and celebrate with a new Mac and these delicious photos of, well, whatever they are in my garden.

Sunshine and rain on the deck, and chat of Mersault, my ex, and a great non-fiction book about the north of England, all rather perversely illustrated by the torture tree lurking in the mist.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Modesty Blaise and Lisbeth Salander

One of my most propitious discoveries this holiday season was Modesty Blaise, the character created by Peter O'Donnell. She appears in novels (eleven, I think) and comic strips. I can't image why I haven't read them before.

Actually, I can. I suspect I encountered one of the novels as a tween or early teen, and found them a bit girly. Lots of jabber about what style of furniture, what kind of food, what hairstyle, what clothes all that stuff. But now, this attention to detail is one of the reasons I liked this first novel so much. Modesty Blaise is a woman who kicks arse. She's not a man with a woman's name. She's not a woman who whines and complains and fusses about gender inequality. She's a woman in a man's world who kills people, wears great clothes, has fabulous sex, and leaves. She wins.

Earlier this month I read all three Stieg Larsson books about Lisbeth Salander. It's fascinating tracing his influences (I'll have more to say on that subject another time), among them Modesty Blaise.

Salander and Blaise both grew up feral in hostile environments. They are both now rich and their gains are ill-gotten. They're both precise, both lovers of technology, both in charge of their corner of the world. They were both abused sexually, but both now have uncomplicated and relatively affectionate sex. They both smoke endlessly.

Blaise, however, is beautiful and knows it. She likes to be looked at. Salander not so much.

In other ways, too, Salander is a kind of anti-Blaise, particularly in terms of material culture. Salander and Blaise both have large and beautiful apartments. Blaise customises hers with gorgeous artifacts and unique objets and which mysteriously forms a whole even more vibrant and gorgeous than the sum of its parts. She cooks. She luxuriates in the bath. She has a house boy (not my term but O'Donnell's) and she drives--is driven--in a Rolls Royce. She has other cars when she feels like it. Salander, on the other hand, lives in one room of her huge space, hunched over her computer, and eats Billy's Pan Pizza. Salander's notion of haute couture is denim jeans and jacket. She drives a used maroon Honda.

Both have criminal organisations to tap into--the Hacker Republic and the Network--and both have male sidekick/partners. Blaise, though, doesn't have sex with hers.

Both are women written by men. As a teen I wouldn't have been able to cope with the casual sexism of the Blaise novels. (I wouldn't have been able to handle the Travis McGee books, either, so I'm glad I didn't encounter them until I was a grown up.) They are products of their time. Given that, they are remarkable. Modesty Blaise wins: she out-fights and out-thinks all her opponents. She also has a beautifully delineated platonic relationship with her sidekick, Willie Garvin. Yep, it's the sixties; she's a girl; she cries. But only after she's killed people.

Before there was Buffy, before there was Emma Peel, before there was Aud or Lisbeth Salander, there was Modesty Blaise. I'm going to read every single book in the series. I am smiling.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy, Merry, Supersplendiferous

In honour of the season--and Kelley, and me, and life, the universe, and everything (especially everything tasty)--I'm taking the next couple of days off.

To mitigate your sad disappointment (uh huh), here's a picture of our tree. Imagine me raising a glass to each and every one of you. (Oh, yep, lots and lots and lots...)

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hanna: oooh

I know nothing about this but what I've seen here (thanks, Dianne). But a killer teen girl raised in Finland as the perfect assassin--and music by the Chemical Brothers? I'm in!

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Accidental plagiarism: a terrifyingly narrow escape

Last week I wrote a funeral scene that pleased me enormously. Wrenching, raw, powerful. Wow, I thought, I nailed that! I kept coming back to two images I'd used, one in dialogue, "mothers are such wingless things," the other in description, "lullaby, with elegy blowing through it." I couldn't stop thinking about them. I kept pulling up the paragraph and re-reading. I couldn't let it go. (This is not normal behaviour for me, FYI. I love beautiful prose, but I don't generally fall in love with my own. I'm a believer in prose serving story and character, not standing out from it.) Gradually, I grew unsettled. Then suspicious. These images didn't feel quite right. Good, yes; evocative, absolutely; perfect for the period, no doubt. But not right.

I tried to trace their origins back through that labyrinthine machine I call my writing mind, and the trail petered out.

By now I was feeling thoroughly disturbed, so I did something I've never done before: plugged the words into Google. And, bang, there it was, a poem, "The History of Mothers and Sons," by Lisa Furmanski. I'd lifted not just the imagery but the words, wholecloth.

I've never believed those sad sack writers who, when pilloried for plagiarism, wail, "It was accidental!" But now it's happened to me. Well, almost; I caught it long before publication.

But it feels like a very narrow escape.

So how did it happen? I don't know. I used to read Poetry magazine, so my guess is I read "...Mothers and Sons" in the magazine one night before falling asleep and the imagery burrowed deep into my subconscious. But I still have no idea how and why my brain encysted those exact words, then presented them to me as my own in another context. I tremble at the thought of what might have happened if I hadn't caught it.

And now I'm worried that I've lifted other things by mistake.

So my question is: how do we, as writers, guard against this? We can't plug everything into a search box. (Or can we? Has anyone out there tried plugging a whole novel into a search engine?) I rely on my subconscious to provide me with nifty images. I trust it. Now I'm wary of it. I hate that.

Does anyone have any similar stories to tell? Even better, do you have any tricks for dealing with this worry?

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Solstice eclipse

I didn't get to sleep until close to 5 a.m. this morning so today is going to be one of quiet reflection. That is, sitting blankly with a cup of tea, watching the clouds go by. That is, watching them stay. Which is a pity because that means we'll miss the solstice lunar eclipse. Eh, it's Seattle.

But I hope you get to see it where you are.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunshine and kerbs

The sun is shining. The kerbs are growing. DADT has fallen. Life is good.

Here, just because I can, are some gratuitous kerb shots:

These four are doing well: basil (it's going to turn into a hulking bully, I can just tell), chives (a bit effete, but probably cunning), thyme (at some point I assume it will start creeping instead of reaching) and marjoram (which is also going to be a whopper). Just out of sight (and doing well) is the oregano.

Remember last week I said the sage and parsley were being dilatory, but that I thought the sage might be alive but the parsley not? Well, ta-da!

It's alive. A bit behind the others, but we'll nurture it. It will survive. The parsley, though... Let's just say we've ordered a replacement.

So, until next week's episode of Kerb Kitchen, have a fine week.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Ayes have it: DADT is repealed

I just watched the vote. "Don't ask, don't tell," is repealed. All it needs is Pres. Obama's signature. And, y'know, all those certifications of readiness from the military people. But it will happen.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

DADT repeal

Sen. Harry Reid has filed for a cloture vote (which prevents filibustering) on the bill to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." When it will actually happen depends on a couple of things. First of all, the DREAM act, which would "provide certain illegal and deportable alien students who graduate from US high schools, who are of good moral character, arrived in the U.S. illegally as minors, and have been in the country continuously and illegally for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment, the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency" is up for a cloture. It may or may not get the 60 votes it needs to move to a second vote. (It's a good bill. I wish it had the votes; I suspect it doesn't.) If it doesn't, then Reid will move for a vote on the DADT repeal bill. If that then gets 60 votes (and many people seem to think it will) then it becomes a question of timing and political will. If (but it's a very big if) senators agree to forgo the usual 30 hours of debate, then they can move immediately to a second vote. If it passes, then, yay, it goes to Pres. Obama for signing, DADT will be repealed, queer citizens will be able to serve openly, and there will be parties all over this country.

If the Senate requires 30 hours of debate, and if those 30 hours of debate can't be shoe-horned into this legislative session, DADT won't happen legislatively. Not for years. Then it will be up the courts.

So click your heels three times and make a wish. Because once the armed forces are equal opportunity, other Federal changes will have to follow swiftly. And you know what that means: wedding presents! So phone your senators, and start saving your pennies...

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Crappy photos can look good

I love my iThing, but the camera seriously sucks. Having said that, here's a photo I just took at Carkeek Park:

I took it to capture the budding vine. (Buds. In mid-December.) What I didn't expect was the beautiful painterly colours of the fallen leaves. I kept moving to delete it, and being unable to let go. So, eh, here it is. Now it's your problem.

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Black Swan/Showgirls mashup

Via Go Into the Story

There's not much I can add to this. Except that Black Swan, judging from the trailer, looks like a really nasty piece of work, rotten to the core. Showgirls, bizarre and creepy as it is, is probably much more my kind of movie. Which is saying something.

Can we please have some healthy lesbian films?

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hild, and sex at dawn

Yesterday I read "Favorite Books Of 2010: Peter Sagal On 'Sex At Dawn'" over at NPR's website:

If you are interested in evolutionary biology (as I am) and are interested in sex (as everybody is), eventually you seek out an evolutionary explanation of human sexual behavior. It always goes something like this: Men, eager to spread their genes (in the form of unlimited sperm) far and wide, are naturally promiscuous, and women, eager to provide resources for their genes (in the form of rare and precious eggs), are nesters, trading sex with men for security for their offspring. Thus, horndogs and housewives: Eliot and Silda Spitzer, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Tiger Woods and his wife Elin Nordegren, ad, quite literally sometimes, nauseam [...]

Which is why my favorite book of 2010 is Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha's – it's the only book I read this year that proved that I was badly mistaken about something. The "standard model" is, as authors Ryan and Jetha point out, as false as the Piltdown Man. Even worse, it is, as they call it, a "Flintstonization of Prehistory," a way of mapping modern mores backwards onto our ancient past.
(Thanks, j.s.)

I've always known the 'horndogs and housewives' meme was bullshit, but it's nice to have a book to point to for sceptics.

This backward projection of our own mores is something I wrestle with every day as I write my novel about seventh-century Hild.

My difficulty in a nutshell: from what we can gather from written and archaeological evidence, women and men of that time in the north of England had very strongly gendered occupations. Women wove. A lot. One estimate suggests women spent 65% of their waking hours on textile production. Men didn't weave. At all. Men carried spears. If we believe the written record (essentially, Bede), then royal women were married out--sent to form alliances with kings of other realms. They were 'peace weavers'. (Weaving...) In royal terms, women did not live independently; they married men. They had babies. And that's all I'm prepared to say for sure about what we know of royal women's roles.

So how do I construct a thrilling story about a historical figure without turning it into an arealistic exercise? What I've done is look for the thing that set Hild apart in her own time. She was well-regarded. She hosted and facilitated the Synod that changed the course of British (and so, to a degree, world) history, a Synod attended by a king raised speaking Irish, possibly some priests raised speaking Brittonic, monks and Bishops whose native language was Anglisc, and a Gaulish bishop. Her mother 'dreamt' she would be the light of the world. (Her mother was nobody's fool; she knew how to make a place in the world for her fatherless offspring.)

So my Hild is great at languages. A brilliant observer, facilitator, and persuader. She is also a seer: casting light on the path ahead. But this isn't a fantasy, so, essentially, she's a royal advisor, able to predict behaviour--weather, politics--because of her acute understanding of people and the natural world. She is, of course, rich and powerful. And then I threw in 'tall'. Height is often a marker, in the tales, of royalty, power, and prestige (not to mention good diet). So far, so good: as tall and forbidding seer and advisor, and preternaturally precocious, she gets to travel to all the nexus points of history and have a hand in events, even though she doesn't fight in the shield wall or any other improbably amazonian nonsense. But being tall and strong, physically and politically, no one messes with her.

But then we come to sex. A royal woman's value is, to a degree, determined by her marriageability. But I know 7th-century sexual mores were not like our own. That is, I assumed they would be different. But different how, exactly? Well, for one thing, while she was growing up, there was no Christianity in her life or the lives of those around her. So take off the table the notion of lesbian sex being a sin. Because I doubt that Woden or Eostre or Tiw or Thunor or Hretha cared a lot about that kind of detail. They didn't seem to have anything against happiness. That is, I've decided they didn't--we don't actually have a clue.

So my decision is that women had a lot of fun sex, with men and with each other. If they were royal, they just had to be careful not to have the kind of sex that could make them pregnant.

And for my next trick, I'll come up with appropriate words for all this sex. ('Fuck' is not an Old English word, for example.) I'm currently having fun being a writer...

But Hild would still have to get married. That's going to be the Shocking Conclusion of book one. (Evil chortle.)

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A world torn to pieces

Last night a storm came through that tore the neighbourhood greenery to pieces and flung it all over our deck and driveway. I got woken up several times by howling wind, creaking trees, and lashing rain. It was wild, and, in my dream-addled state, close to apocalyptic.* Many power hits, too. So lots of tedious resetting of things today, and mopping up after small roof leak. (It's never happened before, and seems to have stopped now, so I can only assume it's nothing serious. At some point, of course, we'll have to check.)

Everything is very dark and still today. I think there's more of this to come. Birds and other wildlife are lying low.

I'm going to follow their lead, and stay snug in my office. And, y'know, eat a lot...


* For those of you who aren't novelists: reaching end-stage of a huge project puts me in a strange half-dream even during waking hours. Sleeping hours can get very uncanny indeed.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunshine, blue skies, happiness in the PNW

This is what I saw when I sat down, bleary-eyed this morning, for my tea:

This, O People of the Northwest, is called sunshine:

(sŭn'shīn') pronunciation
1. The light or the direct rays from the sun.
2. The warmth given by the sun's rays.
3. A location or surface on which the sun's rays fall.
1. Radiant cheerfulness; geniality.
2. A source of cheerfulness.

What it really means is, I'm out of here, and into it. Think of me as lifting my face to the blue skies and smiling.

Look, really: blue skies.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Nickel Creek and the Kerbs

Not a new band name, sadly. Nope, we're in the middle of a Pineapple Express. Under the house, the sump pump is going like the bilge pump of a sinking ship. In the back garden we have a new and temporary creek:

But inside the house, all is warm and snug. In the kitchen the kerbs are growing like vines. Here's the barbershop quartet of thyme, basil, marjoram and a tiny wee shoot of chive:

Remember, they only started sprouting this week. They're going to be monsters. Here, for completists (you know who you are), is the full set:

As you can see, the parsley and sage are being a bit dilatory. I see condensation on the plastic hat over the sage, so it might well be that the seeds are germinating. But the parsley, I dunno, the parsley might be a dud.

I hope your Sunday is warm and snug (or, for those of you in the southern hemisphere, cool and airy). And now I think it's time for some chocolate biscuits, or perhaps crumpets dripping with butter. Or, aha! Crumpets, followed by tea and biscuits. The right answer always comes...

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Two videos: Christmas Carols performed on iThings, and the year in review via Google search

(via Social Times)

Christmas carols by the North Point iBand, all done on iThings, using apps such as SoundGrid, Medoly Bell, Guitarist, iGog, Bassist, Pocket Organ, and Percussions.

My favourite, Feliz Navidad, starts about five minutes in. Enjoy.

And then here's one from Google: the year in review through search. (Via Angélique)

The, ah, what the hell, here's a third video that ends with a writer saying to a 'writer': "I have a gun in my car. I'm going to go get it now." Via our nifty Friday links-for-writers post at Sterling Editing. There's lots o' other good stuff there for those of us who commit to this psychopath-in-training business...

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Another thing for writers to obsess over: BookScan sales data

This is interesting: Amazon is giving writers access to Nielsen BookScan sales data (weekly print sales, including geographical distribution). Here's the press release:

SEATTLE–Dec. 9, 2010 – (NASDAQ: AMZN) today announced that authors who use Amazon’s Author Central service ( can now view Nielsen BookScan’s weekly geographic sales data for their print books for free. Author Central is a free service provided by Amazon that helps authors promote their books and reach more readers. Also announced today, Author Central has added a feature that shows authors past history on the Amazon bestsellers rank for their books.

“Authors are an important community for us,” said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Amazon. “We’re really happy to make it easy and free for them to see geographical BookScan data updated weekly, as well as historical Amazon bestsellers rank, for their books. We hope this creates an improved feedback loop for authors and enables them to develop more effective methods for reaching the widest possible audience.”

For the first time anywhere, authors can access timely geographic sales trends aggregated across retailers by Nielsen BookScan, widely regarded as the best source for industry print book sales. The new “Sales by Geography” feature displays a map of the continental United States, highlighting the areas where copies of authors’ books have been sold. The new “Sales by Week” feature displays a bar chart of an author’s sales recorded over the trailing four weeks. Authors can also see how many copies of each title were sold by print-edition type, e.g. hardcover or paperback. Digital book sales are not included in BookScan data. Nielsen BookScan estimates that it tracks 75 percent of print trade books sold in the United States, collected at more than 10,000 online and offline locations.

“I love the new sales information features on Author Central, especially the interactive sales map,” said Sarah Mlynowski, author of “Gimme a Call.” “Seeing retail sales by city allows me to effectively target my offline and online promotional efforts—and track their impact.”

The new Amazon Bestsellers Rank History enables authors to see their bestseller rank over time, without needing to frequently refresh their books’ pages on

“Authors hate to admit it, but checking our Amazon bestsellers rank can become nearly addictive,” said Karen McQuestion, bestselling author of “A Scattered Life.” “Author Central has made it easier for me to track my rankings over time. This feature, along with others on Amazon Central, saves me time which is better used for writing.”

In addition to these new features, authors who use Author Central have the opportunity to share the most up-to-date information about themselves and their work with readers. Authors can view and edit their bibliography, add a photo and biography to a personal profile, upload missing book cover images, add video, information about speaking events, and use a blog to connect with readers. Authors only need a book listed in Amazon’s catalog to be eligible to join Author Central. The Author Central service is also available in the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan.

Authors can learn more about Author Central and these new features at

Here's Carolyn Kellog's take on Jacket Copy.

And here's a follow-up.

I haven't looked at my data. Yet. I'll add it to the post-Hild To Do list. And then, y'know, pass out.

How about others--have you looked yet?

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' procedural vote fails. Please cheer me up.

The Senate, in their wisdom (pop quiz to prevent literal mindedness: is this irony or oxymoron?), have failed to vote to move forward with debate on a bill ending DADT.

Go read about it at the Washington Post. I don't want to spend any more teeth-grinding time on this. I will spend my time more productively: get blind drunk and curse partisan Congressional game-playing. And low IQ levels. And poor education. And the combination thereof that makes this idiocy possible.

In my opinion, this country is moving backwards via Cardiff. (There again, many countries often do.) Today, I am disgusted. I was disgusted yesterday, too, about the whole tax thing. But at least that doesn't pick on my tribe. Oh, wait, yes it does--my tribe being people who don't earn much.

As I type this, I feel temporarily tired and sick at heart.

No doubt tomorrow will be a better day for all of us. Or most of us. Or at least some of us. So, hey, if you have something cheerful to say, I'd love to hear it. Please give us all something to smile about.

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It's alive!!

The kerbs are alive!! The thyme came up first:

Closely followed by the oregano:

Yeah, you'll have to squint. My camera only does autofocus, and it can't read my mind: it doesn't know I want a photo of the green thing inside the plastic cap. Tuh. But given that these herbs have already grown appreciably since I took this photo (that is, about eight hours before I typed this) pretty soon we won't need the wee plastic hats. Pretty soon these tiny shoots will be huge snaky vines writhing across the kitchen and pushing open my office door. If I stop posting abruptly, you know what happ--

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Put a note in a drawer, turn it into a tweet

(thanks, evecho)

From John Kester, a nightstand that will turn your handwritten notes into tweets, and will turn your friend's Flickr set into pictures in a drawer. Hmmn. My father won't use a computer, but I bet he'd be willing to put notes in a drawer.

I wonder if it sends letters to Santa?

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Google eBooks

Google eBooks debuted yesterday. My books are here. Strangely, I can't find Stay (which is a Knopf Group ebook--Vintage paperback, Nan A. Talese hardcover: all imprints of Random House. But Ammonite and Slow River are Random House books, and available, so it's a bit puzzling). And of course And Now We Are Going to Have a Party isn't there, nor With Her Body, because I own those digital rights and I just haven't got around to figuring out formats and so on. Yet.

Amazon is, apparently, about to get in on the cloud-based book experience, too. This could get interesting.

But, hey, back to me :) There are so many things on my plate to figure out once I free up imaginative bandwidth by finishing the first draft of Hild. In no particular order:

  • redesign of my website
  • putting together my short story collection
  • publishing ANWAGTHAP in trade
  • screenplay for The Blue Place
  • screenplay for my secret project
  • a collection of essays
  • writing my sword-swangin' fantasy
  • putting together an online creative writing class
  • writing my blockbuster commercial alternate history novel set in biblical times

Plus two other Secret Projects, which are not entirely writing related. And, of course, rewriting the first draft of Hild, then writing the first draft of Hild II and III. In addition, that is, to building other people's websites and Sterling Editing.

Clearly, it won't all be possible. Something/s will drop off the table. I just don't know what. Yet. But I do know I won't be bored.

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Seattle photo Groupon offer: Jennifer Durham

Our friend, photographer Jennifer Durham, has a fab Groupon deal for you: $35 for your choice of Santa or Outdoor Family Photo Session, plus print options from Jennifer Durham Photography.

Jennifer took the photo of me in the AN blog header (she took all my recent profile/author photos). She took Kelley's most recent author photo. You already know her nature photography rocks the thunderdome. So if you're in the Puget Sound region and want photos of the family for the holidays, or photos of the kids with Santa, or, y'know, both, what are you waiting for? $35! It's a deal, a steal, a dream--in my not particularly humble opinion.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

The woman on the cover of The Blue Place

Kam Heskin, photo by Tim Francis

So it's official: the woman on the cover of The Blue Place is definitely Kam Heskin, photographed by Tim Francis. (Thanks, Anon.) For comparison purposes, here's the actual cover:

It's pretty interesting how cropping out detail at the edge can make such a difference. Or perhaps it's just that the original doesn't have my name hanging right over a woman's crotch. Call me picky, but I always found that...disturbing.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Perbs are dead, long live the kerbs

A picture taken yesterday morning: the torture tree has lost the last of its leaves. Winter is officially upon us. (Here's how it looked in September.)

We've harvested the last of the perbs, with two exceptions. We've left the thyme, hoping it might survive a while longer in its oversized pot, and we've brought the basil inside (though I doubt it'll last, even indoors, so we'll harvest that soon for one final salad extravaganza).

We've also taken steps to ensure our winter supply:

We're trying to sprout and support basil, parsley, marjoram, thyme, sage, chives, and marjoram. In other words, all the stuff we had on the deck, except the dill. Turns out, neither of us are big fans. We have oregano growing in the front garden, but neither of us is particularly keen on scampering out there first thing in the morning in robe and slippers to cut oregano to go on the omelette. So now get to get to grow some indoors, too. The first sprouts will appear in three or four days, I think, but we won't be able to harvest for a while.

Fair warning: I'll be documenting the growth of our lovely little kitchen herbs: the kerbs.

ETA: But what if the seed packet labelling is a lie? What if I'm growing a beanstalk, or little pod aliens, or...

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bright Star: two hours of my life I'll never get back

The night before last we watched two hours of palely loitering Romantic poets. Yes, I'm talking about Bright Star. I'm still cross.

I'm so tired of writers and artists thinking that some pretty moments strung together make story. It doesn't. Over two hours (two. whole. hours.) boys write poetry, boys move out, girls move out, boys move back, girls move back, girl kisses boy (that's it--just...kissing), boy coughs, boy dies. The end. Neither protagonist (I use the word loosely) makes any active choice that influence the plot.

I'm thoroughly fed up of wussy emo boys. Throughout the film, I longed for Conan the Barbarian to show up, leaving blood and guts and a few hacked trees strewn about the meadow. Best thing about the film? The cat. The cat was excellent. Especially the bit where s/he whacked a butterfly. Splat. Only bit of action in the whole thing.

A film I'd really like to see this holiday season? Galaxy Quest II: action, humour, affection for the genre, a bit of wow. Most important: shit happens. Meaningful glances are followed either by sex with a tentacled alien or laser fire.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Froot bat: the psychology of vowels

Discussion in our house last night, just before we fell asleep:

"He's...hmmn, I was going to say batshit crazy but that's not quite right. He's bugfuck crazy. It's different. Why is that, do you suppose?"

"It's the vowel sounds. The uh sounds aggressive, dangerous. But a and i are less serious. It's like froot bat. Gotta say it with a double o. The oo is all eccentric and bouncy and cheerful. As well as, y'know, mad."

So there you have it: the nuanced psychology of vowels. Madness is all in the mouth.

And let me tell you, after a day of construction din next door (they are drilling up their driveway), we know all about the edge of madness.

However liberal application of Guinness, a spicy ham, kale, and white bean soup, followed by a luscious pumpkin thingie and ice cream improved my mood considerably...

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

A treasure trove of wine

Our wine fridge broke. It made vile grinding noises, then gurgled, then the temperature went haywire. So we bought another and yesterday went through the tedious process of transferring the contents.

We have all kinds of wine squirreled away. In addition to the fabulous Margaux we bought ten years ago (Chateau Margaux, 1996 and 1998) that we drool over every now and again (I can't tell you how we're looking forward to the point, sometime in the next ten years, when we can start on that!), we found some things we'd forgotten: some other Bordeaux, some very fine Barolos, a very tasty Rioja (Marqués de Riscal), even some Sauternes. I'm too kind to torment you with the Champagnes...

The big surprise, though, was the variety of American wines. I've always preferred Old School European reds; I like the structure. Most US wines don't have the soaring haughtiness I enjoy; they don't taste of dirt and sun. I've tried a zillion different grapes and wineries and vintages, including Opus Ones from the late nineties, and haven't been thrilled. There's something too...cheerful, or bouncy, or ingenuous (or something) about these wines. But tucked away we found some nifty-looking Pinot Noir (e.g. a 2005 Domaine Serene) that looks perfect for a special dinner we're having for friends on Friday. And then there's a 2001 Quilceda Creek (Cabernet Sauvignon) which was a gift when we moved into this house, which we carefully set aside for later. I'm thinking that, in the spirit of Anglo-American relations, it might be time to give it a go. K and I have an anniversary coming up. It might be just the thing.

We also found one bottle I can't get a handle on. It's a 1995 Chateau de Lamouroux Margaux--again not a label I know from direct experience. I'm pretty sure Lamouroux got folded into Rauzan-Ségla (we have some of that, too, yum--but, like the Chateau Margaux, not yet ready to drink) but I've seen mixed reviews and I just can't decide how special this one is. If you know, please share.

So what don't we have that we want? Some whites; I love Mersault, and Chassagne-Montrachet. Some Barbaresco (that's a wine I can't resist; it never lasts long in this house). Plus we're out of our Most Favourite Armagnac Eva, and I'd kill for a truly fine port. We had a bottle once, I don't even remember the name, that was meant to be 40 year-old stuff but, because the maker made a mistake, was actually mostly 100+ years. I savoured that, every drop, eyes shining with tears. And then it was gone.

But that's what makes wine so marvellous: it's ephemeral. No bottle tastes like any other: the wine changes, the drinker changes, the moment changes. One of the mysteries and miracles of life.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Plainly a fact": ebook territories

From: Michaela, Czech Republic

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude for enlarging a row of female writers or even writers writing about gay characters in not so soapy environment. It is always a pleasure to read such books.

I purchased a hardcopy of your book, The Blue Place, and although I wasn't so keen about some specific features (no, not really about great sex scenes which it is usual to criticise, lol), I found its language to be very flowery. Later I was lucky to discover an extract of your first work, Ammonite, and liked it immediately. At least judging from what I could read, it is a science fiction, it has a female protagonist who isn't childish and doesn't lean towards to being saved all the time and same goes for another characters. And it is written by a woman. Just mmm.

It is a shame its electronic version is restricted in certain regions where I happen to live. I am not a fan of piling up hardcopies (thus I am planning to share this book with a public library), so I can just hope that I will have the wonderful opportunity to read it on my e-book reader one day.

I don't complain about anything, I understand it is plainly a fact, I just wanted to express one reader's feelings and wishes over your books.

Good luck with your work.

PS. I wish this won't sound too awkward, but many thanks to Kelley Eskridge for making e-Solitaire worldwide available happened. I can't wait for the release.

I think that's first time anyone has accused me of being flowery. Usually, the prose of the Aud books is labelled 'steely' or 'brutal'. So, hey, a first!

I've noticed that many (by no means all) of my readers fall into two camps: those who prefer my SF novels, Ammonite and Slow River, and those who prefer Aud. I wonder how readers of both camps will like the novel I'm working on now, which is neither an Aud novel nor a science fiction novel, but which employs some of the techniques of both.

The inability to get books in certain regions (whether print or digital) drives me up the wall. I've been wondering for a while how to release my novels worldwide as ebooks--but given the horrendous complications of territorial rights, I honestly don't know how to make that happen right now. It's a sad puzzle. A serious problem, actually: I hate losing sales.

Talking about Kelley on this blog is never awkward. In fact, it gives me the opportunity to talk about the re-launch of Solitaire by Small Beer Press. (Go read the Solitaire page on their website: full of info, the new cover, a new photo of Kelley, and a pre-order link for the paperback and DRM-free PDF of the book--you can read it anywhere in the world. I'm assuming it'll be available in Kindle and other formats from big retailer websites after publication, though I don't actually know.) Solitaire is a great book. Small Beer are a fabulous press. I expect the combination will be powerful enough to create new life...

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