Sunday, January 30, 2011

The difference between oregano and marjoram

The kerbs keeps growing. The oregano and marjoram have tangled up with each other and...fused. And, honestly, I just can't tell the difference between them. They look exactly the same. I mean exactly. They smell pretty similar, too, just as kitten siblings smell alike--but perhaps not identical, not quite. The differences are so subtle, though, that half the time I wonder if I'm imagining it. The marjoram is, hmmn, milder maybe, gentler. The oregano has a slightly drier, harsher scent. Key words here: perhaps, maybe, slightly.

I suppose all this means is that we'll have to start cooking different things and seeing how the two herbs shade those flavours. Or not.

Anyone got any suggestions for recipes that will bring out the difference?

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Beautiful sentences

Included in this week's links for writers post over at Sterling Editing, is an article by Adam Haslett about beautiful sentences.

Sentences are something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I've always been a fan of clarity and simplicity: poetry masquerading as prose. Rhythm matters. Word choice matters. Metaphor matters. I love to vary the rhythm and shape of sentences in a paragraph--unless I'm going for a particular effect.

But with Hild, all my notions about sentences fell to pieces. I find myself writing those vinous, sinuous, snaky thing--sometimes in what I think of Anglisc (pro. Anglish) mode and sometimes Brythonic (or Brittonic, or British/Celtic), sometimes Irish (also Celtic, but different) and, very occasionally, Latinate. The sentences depend on the mood, on the setting, on the characters I'm focused on--all kinds of things.

Here's a paragraph from the first couple of pages when Hild and her family still live in Elmet, at the court of Ceredig, a Brittonic king of Elmet. She's nearly four:

Hild recalled no sights or sounds of the place they'd come from, the standard against which all was compared, the long-left home. She had vague memories of sun-on-grapes, others of a high place of lowing cattle and bitter wind, of ships and wagons and the crook of her father's arm as he rode, but she knew none of them were home, could be home. She recognised people who might be from that long-lost perhaps never-real home when they galloped in on foundering horses, or slipped through the enclosure fence during the dark of the moon. She knew them by their thick woven cloaks, their hanging hair and beards, and their Anglisc voices: words drumming like apples spilt over wooden boards, round, rich, stirring. Her father's words, and her mother's, and her sister's. Utterly unlike Onnen's otter-swift British, or the dark liquid gleam of Irish. Nor like the cool clicking tiles of bishops' Latin. Hild spoke each to each. Apples to apples, otter to otter, gleam to gleam, though she had only sung snatches of the strange Latin in songs under her breath. And only when her mother wasn't there: Never stoop to wealh speech, never trust wealh, especially those shaved priestly spies.

And, a handful of pages later, her father dead, at the court of her uncle, Edwin, an Anglisc king of Northumbria:

In some ways, Hild's new life was not so different. Her days, the court's days, were one of constant movement from royal vill to royal vill: Bebbanburgh at the end of the lean months for the safety of the rock walls and the cold grey sea, and Yeavering at the end of spring, when the cattle ate sweet new grass and the milk flowed rich with fat. Then south to the old emperor's wall, to the small towns built of stone, and a day at Tinamutha and a boat down the coast to that wide river mouth, wide as a sea, and up the river to Barton in early summer and then, sometimes, Sancton, and always to Goodmanham's slow river valley at summer's height--the rolling wolds crimson with flowers, the skeps heavy with honey, and the fields waving with grain. Then the twenty mile journey to York, with its strong walls and snug stonework, its river roads for carrying the last of the sweet apples and the first of the pears, and high towers in case of bitter war, winter war.

War there was, but in summer. Edwin took war on the road with his warband, ten score gesiths and their men, their horses and wagons, a few handsful of shared women. They were always back before autumn, weighed down, depending on the war, with Anglisc arm rings and great gaudy brooches, British daggers with chased silver hilts--though the blades were no match for Anglisc or Frankis work--or strange heavy coin, and they would wind themselves about with boasts and intricate inlaid sword belts. And always by the end of summer there was a double handful more of big-voiced, hard-chested men glittering with gold. Not all were Anglisc, but they drank and shouted and boasted the same way.

These are epical let's-move-time-along sentences, quite unlike the kind of thing I'm used to writing in novels. Certainly there wasn't much like this in the Aud books. Aud thought in arrow-straight sentences. Hild is much more elliptical and, of course, much younger. One of the surprises for me writing this novel has been the number of asides--often in dashes--I feel compelled to include: something I've never done before in fiction.

As the novel progresses, I do a lot more focus-changing: zooming in on a personal moment, widening out a little to follow interactions closely for a scene or two, then pulling right out and up again to 70,000', to describe the ebb and flow of kingdoms and religions. Generally speaking, the older Hild gets, the more the narrative slows down and sticks with her moment to moment. But the constant zoom and pull is a bit dizzying. I don't always get the focus sharp, or hold it for the appropriate time. But, hey, that's what rewrites are for.

Speaking of which, enjoy the above paragraphs. Who know what will actually make it into the finished product.

But back to the notion of beautiful sentences. What are some of your favourites?


ETA: I forgot to note that the exerpts above are first draft. That is, they were--I just read them, and moved a comma, so now I suppose it's second draft :)

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Method writing and Hild tidbits

I spent yesterday afternoon in the seventh century with a teenaged Hild who has just been spurned by her first love, who has (in her eyes) not only been spurned but publicly humiliated. She is feeling all this the way only a teenager going through this stuff for the first time can. To help me along I played Evanescence. Loud. Oooh, sturm und drang aint in it! But then Kelley popped her head in my office said, Hey, time to go! and we had to shoot out of the house to meet a friend for drinks.

Strangely--to me, at least--we were meeting to celebrate a happy occasion, a new phase of her life in terms of love and joy. Mildly disorientating. But, hey, not boring.

Hild tidbits: I now have 900 pages: 187,000 words. But I really, really am nearing the end. Or, at least, the the end of the beginning...

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Aud #4?

I got this (and several others like it) last week:

hi my name is Lindsay and love love your books and i was wondering if you're going to make a 4th Aud Torvingen book

My answer is always the same: I'll never say never. And I have books 4 and 5 plotted out in my head. I know exactly what happens next. (Aud takes a while to adjust to married life...)

But right now I'm working on an entirely different project, one that will occupy me for years. It's a triptych of novels about Hild of Whitby*--a seventh century girl from the north of Britain who grew up to change the world. The first book covers her life from birth to her wedding (not that they actually had weddings the way we understand it). The second follows her during her marriage, the tragedy that ensues, and her agreement to run an abbey (ditto). The third recounts her time as an abbess and counsellor to kings, right up to her death in 680.

All three books will be full of epicness: the rise and fall of kingdoms, wars, plague, the time of conversion and nation-building, the change from a heroic society to a Christian one. Not to mention, sex and love, drama and loneliness, peace and belonging.

So, no, no Aud for a while. Though, if it helps, you could think of the Hild novel I'm writing as an Aud book, just set when she was a child, and in a past life...

*[What we know about the real life Hild here. Why this will be my magnum opus here.]

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Readers are customers, not the enemy

From Pat Holt, on Holt Uncensored, comes a blog post which begins with the tale of a rather boorish couple who act like entitled three year-olds in a Barnes & Noble. I didn't pay much attention at first--after all, there are a lot of boorish people in the world--but then this caught my attention:

What I can’t figure out are bookstore customers who blatantly use cell phones to compare prices with Amazon’s while they walk around the New Release table, or worse, take cell phone photos of books they might want to read so they can buy them on Amazon later.

I won’t go into Kindle owners who actually bring … well, you get the point.

This is not just rude behavior; it’s profane. A bookstore offers browsing opportunities and instant camaraderie with staff and authors that we never find on the Internet. There’s something sacred about a place where censorship is fought routinely, unknown authors are welcomed and introduced and young adults who’ve inexplicitly stopped reading are lured back to books they’ll treasure forever. For a customer to interrupt this kind of sacred exchange because they’re so entirely self-involved seems tragic.

This seems like an odd attitude from a bookseller: reader as enemy (or at least unpleasant inconvenience: rude, profane, tragic, and self-involved). It strikes me as counter productive.

The reader is not the enemy. The reader is the customer. Our business depends upon them.

It seems to me that these customers with their smart phones and Kindles are looking for something they're not getting. I think people in the book business--writers, publishers, retailers, all of us--would gain more from figuring out how to better serve such customers than from pouring scorn upon them from a great height.

These readers are shopping. They are in the bookstore. They're a walking opportunity. But we have to work for it. We have to give them what they want. Their custom is not our god-given right.

Every single person who makes a living from books does so only when we give our customer what they want. We must never forget that the reader is a shopper. We are in the second decade of the 21st century. Why should these shoppers not take advantage of technology that gives them a better deal? If I see paper towels in QFC and realise I could get them delivered to my doorstep for half the price, why on earth would I buy them from QFC? (But perhaps that would make me "stupid or cheap"--another of Holt's descriptioins.)

Customers of all kinds live in an information and experience-rich world. Booksellers and publishers should be figuring out how to enhance a reader's shopping experience, creating a relationship with them rather than making demands. It's difficult to form a relationship with a potential customer if you view them with contempt (rude, profane, tragic, and self-involved...).

What I'd take from the description of these readers and shoppers is that the urge to shop in person, even among those who read on Kindle, is something online retailers don't yet quite have a handle on. It's a magnificent opportunity. Why don't independents install WiFi and partner with publishers so that readers with Kindles can download DRM-free books in .prc format from them? Why don't publishers club together to build experience kiosks in public spaces where people can fondle the merchandise, get ideas for books, then download them? Why not hire booksellers to talk up their product to these shoppers? Why doesn't Amazon sponsor book parties to tempt non-Kindle users into giving it a go? Why don't writers band together and hire customer reps to staff kiosks in bars or cafes selling their books (digitally or paper) at the best price?

No one owes booksellers (or writers, or publishers) a living. We have to earn it. We have to give the customer what s/he wants. We have to start adapting and stop complaining. The world has changed. Bookworld has to change with it.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Single malt whiskey chocolates--in honour of Robert Burns

Today is the 252nd anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. People all over the world will be reciting his poetry, eating haggis, and all that. I'll be eating chocolates--wee bonbons and truffles made with single malt whiskeys: Talisker, Lagavulin, Macallan, Glenfarclas and more.

I'm lucky enough to be in this position because Kelley a) is talented enough to have written a brilliant novel, b) smart enough to have found a publisher who treats her well, c) generous enough to share the result. Which is just a complicated way of saying that the publisher of Solitaire, Small Beer Press, sent her a box of L.A. Burdick's Robert Burns Scotch Whiskey Assortment--handmade chocolates--and Kelley has found the perfect way to get what she wants by doling out delicious dollops as incentives for good behaviour.

So, hey, I'm behaving, and enjoying every minute of it. Yum! You can't have any of the chocolates (have you behaved? no, didn't think so), but I'll leave you with this poem:

To a Louse, on Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!

Ah, but just to really torment you, here's a description of the chocolate I'm about to eat right this minute: Glenfarcas--Dark chocolate bonbon made from Glenfarcas whiskey and figs. Mmmmmn.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Anonymous was a woman

Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, explains why Virginia Woolf is right:

I would venture to guess that Anon,
who wrote so many poems without signing them,
was often a woman.
—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Virginia Woolf wrote those words about the entire realm of literary creation, not about that special subset of it called "quotations"—the minting of concise snippets so eloquent or insightful as to be memorable. But those of us who dig deeply for the earliest sources of well-known lines discover, time and again, that here, too, Woolf was right: Anonymous was a woman. Many of the great quotesmiths have been women who are now forgotten or whose wit and wisdom are erroneously credited to more-famous men.

Scholars of sociology, history, psychology, women's studies, and other fields, not to mention writers and thinkers like Woolf herself, have written about why this should be so. I won't seek to tackle that question here. Instead, I present the raw material—or, rather, the fraction of it we know.
(thanks, Cindy)

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Voltaire, right? Nope, a woman called Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

"The only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money." Not Hemingway, not Fitzgerald but Mary Colum.

So who are these women? And why don't we know them? Go read the article and find out. The best thing to read on the subject, though, is How to Suppress Women's Writing, by Joanna Russ. I read it a long, long time ago and it made me angry enough to feel like my bones were going to melt. Read it.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Kerbian explosion

The kerbs have been feeding us for three weeks now. As you can see, harvesting them just encourages their insane growth. The basil is an absolute thug: menacing the other kerbs for their lunch money. In case you don't quite understand the sheer size of the beast, here's one leaf we used in a salad dressing yesterday:

Yes, that's my hand. These things are ridiculously large.

And they move. Seriously. In the space of half an hour they can change their orientation. They seem to move subtlely when we ignore them. For example, this morning we had a breakfast requiring zero herbs: fried trout and grapefruit. (One of my favourite way to start the food day.) The sage, by the end of the meal, was pointing directly at me. It looked accusing. I gave it a heartless smile and turned to the funnies.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

My 'risk intelligence' is high, baby. How about yours?

Via Cassandra, I learnt about the Point Project. According to their website, the Point Project:

is a project to gather information about risk intelligence. We think high risk intelligence is rare, but we don’t know exactly how rare it is, so we set up ProjectionPoint to find out.
Risk Intelligence Quotient (RQ) is a measure of a person’s ability to estimate probabilities accurately. People with high risk intelligence tend to make better predictions than those with low risk intelligence is high.

So I took the test. (It's all about me!) Happily (smugly, boastfully and in full knowledge of my superiority), I can reveal that my score is High. Yours? Ah, well, better luck next time. But, hey, I could probably have predicted that...

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Don't interrupt when I'm reading a book

Today is for linkage:

  • Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon have had a fabulous idea: Diversity in YA, or DIYA, a website and book tour to celebrate diverse stories in YA. "DIYA is a positive, friendly gathering of readers and writers who want to see diversity in their fiction. We come from all walks of life and backgrounds, and we hope that you do, too. We encourage an attitude of openness and curiosity, and we welcome questions and discussion. Most of all, we can’t wait to have fun sharing some great books with you!" Malinda Lo, as you no doubt remember, is the author of Ash, the lesbian retelling of Cinderella story, and Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix. They have some seriously fine writers signed up (Holly Black, Jacqueline Woodson, Neesha Meminger, and more) for the tour, which will take in several cities. An effort most definitely worth supporting.
  • Not writing related, but co-written by two friends: a paper on deforestation, coca production, and population density. Article here (not wholly accurate, because journalists always have an angle/agenda). Paper here.
  • Richard Curtis spread the news that HarperCollins has introduced some new boilerplate into their author contracts. The new language "gives them the right to cancel a contract if 'Author’s conduct evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals, or if Author commits a crime or any other act that will tend to bring Author into serious contempt, and such behavior would materially damage the Work’s reputation or sales.' The consequences? Harper can terminate your book deal. Not only that, you’ll have to repay your advance. Harper may also avail itself of “other legal remedies” against you." Not something I'd want to sign.
  • Over at Sterling Editing we have a collection of nifty links for writers. This week we have, among other, a competition to avoid, an article from the WSJ on the a writer's constant wrestle with the push-pull of writing vs selling, and, my favourite, this video:

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Updating science fiction for republication

I read something over at Dear Author that got me thinking:

I was reading the Jennifer Greene books which are being re-released through Carina Press and I was struck by the small ways in which the book details were being updated. One character refers to text messaging another character. Another character was watching CSI and the kids were listening to Lady Gaga. These Greene books were originally published in the 80s when CSI, Lady Gaga, and text messaging were in someone’s deep subspace, not having come to fruition yet. I actually thought these were nice touches and that Greene was making good use of opportunities afforded through a republication.

The thing is, as the article goes on to note, you can't just update the details; sometimes the attitudes need serious adjustment. This is especially true of romance novels published decades ago. Women's social and sexual roles and attitudes have come a long way.

Updating science fiction is just as tricky, perhaps more so. In 2004, when three of my stories (that is, two stories and a novella) first published in the early 90s were collected by Aqueduct Press and published as With Her Body, I had to take a hard look at the fiction. I didn't have to worry so much about "Yaguara," a shape-changing tale set in the jungles of Belize. Or "Song of Bullfrogs, Cry of Geese," set in a gently post-apocalyptic Atlanta. But "Touching Fire..." Oh dear: laser discs and Fairlight synthesisers and having to go to the library to do research.

So I made some cosmetic changes: to DVDs, and laptops with faulty batteries and storms and power hits (this actually happened a lot in Atlanta when I lived there, so I didn't feel as though I was exceeding the bounds of credulity). I think it works okay, because the point of the story isn't the thrillery what-happens-and-who-knows-what-when event series, it's the emotional impact of same. Also, given that all this fiction was about dykes, and none of my dykes have ever worried about what people think, I didn't have to take into account changing attitudes.

So why am I thinking about all this now? Because With Her Body will soon become available as an ebook. (In a variety of platforms, with and without DRM, depending on the retailer--which which will include nifty new stores like Wizard's Tower as well as Amazon and others.) So soon, hopefully, my stories will be reaching a new audience--only I haven't looked at those stories for years. And I'm wondering what I've forgotten.

In fifty years, of course, none of those details will matter. Readers will just smile nostalgically and glide past the lack of cell phones with a fond smile, the way I can happily read 1930s space opera with their vacuum tubes and busbars and not blink. But right now I'm just feeling thankful that most of my sf still works. Mostly.

What do you think? Do you think work should be updated or left alone?

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The malevolence of inanimate objects

It's been an odd few days at the Eskridge-Griffith household.

It began with Kelley getting kicked in the head at her gym. (No lasting damage, but she got her teeth rattled and her temper riled.) Then our portable oil heater leaked all over the floor. The hot water ran cold for no good reason. Software mysteriously turned on me. (Dropbox, if you must know. No clue what the problem is.) I twisted my wrist. The comforter exploded all over the laundry. Even the sunshine seems weirdly menacing and the birds subdued.

Why? Well, the only thing I can think of is that for the first time in years I went three whole weeks without a massage. My solution: I'll have two massages this week! That and more beer should propitiate the gods (not to mention, y'know, me).

A reasonable blog schedule will resume shortly.

How has your January been so far? On balance, are you finding the beginning of 2011 better or worse than 2010?

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Monday, January 17, 2011

I lied! Look at this...

I think I might have to pony up for HBO after all. Gaaargh!!

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Chewed on by monsters

No blog today. Being chewed on by deadline monsters. Auuuargh....

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Interesting new movie trailer: Love

(thanks, Dianne)


After losing contact with Earth, astronaut Lee Miller (Gunner Wright) becomes stranded in orbit aboard the Space Station. As time passes and life support systems dwindle, Lee battles to maintain his sanity - and simply stay alive. His world is a claustrophobic and lonely existence... until he makes a strange discovery.

I'm not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, it feels like a book trailer, all that music and sharp images, some snippets of speech but no actual dialogue.

Ah. Kelley's just sent me this link to a Wired article:

“After losing contact with Earth, astronaut Lee Miller becomes stranded in orbit alone aboard the International Space Station. As time passes and life support systems dwindle, Lee battles to maintain his sanity — and simply stay alive. His world is a claustrophobic and lonely existence, until he makes a strange discovery aboard the ship. Driven by the powerful music of Angels & Airwaves, Love explores the fundamental human need for connection and the limitless power of hope. A high-impact visual adventure, that resonates a common truth, that everyone has a story to tell and something even greater to leave behind.”

So now I'm thinking it's just going to be one long extended boy emo vid, a plotless wonder. Sigh.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

The cat who yelled, again

Chow Mane is back. She's learnt to show up at lunchtime, rain or shine, and yell. I can hear her through the argon-filled double-paned sliding door. She's lost none of her volume (sound or size) in the last five months. She hasn't got any smarter. Or less stubborn. Hey, she's a cat. We're the ones who are supposed to change.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

My life as the tagline to a torrid potboiler

I got a commercial email the other day advertising some epical weretiger (I think) romance novel called The Tiger's Curse. The tagline was, "Would you risk it all for love?" I burst out laughing. Would I? I did.

I left family, friends, home continent, employment, and a national health system to come, without money, with no visa or plan for same, and with an incurable illness, to a foreign land to be with a woman I'd spent less than three months with, total. Everyone who knew me thought I was insane.

But it turned out well. It never occurred to me that it wouldn't.

Coming to the US to be with Kelley didn't feel like a risk, just a simple choice: live or die. As much a no-brainer as breathe/not breathe. But getting that email the other day stopped me in my tracks. It's good to be reminded that my humdrum life isn't humdrum at all, it's exactly what I chose, one that--for some people--might read like the tagline for a torrid potboiler. Y'know what? I'm okay with that :)

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Thursday, January 13, 2011


Yesterday was a day of breakage. We woke up to snow, and a ravaged curly willow. The tree had survived the Great Garden Massacre in November, but the weight of the snow, combined with a high wind, did it in. Leverage proved stronger than elderly tree. I blame Archimedes.

We've arranged for the broken limbs to be removed this afternoon. Apparently curly willow is great for interior decoration, so someone, at least, will get something from this. Tonight we'll raise a glass to the old tree and hope it survives. We should know by the end of spring.

The other breakage is less natural and far more frustrating. Those fucking Russian hackers are at it again. This time only Kelley's site is down, not all the others that live in the same server neighbourhood. (Last time it was Sterling, and, and, very briefly--most people didn't notice--LLF. Oddly, my site wasn't touched.) Their attacks seem so very pointless: an endless redirect to nowhere. So if you've tried to get to in the last 24 hours, all I can say is: we're working on it. But the way things are going, I think we'll have to raze the site. And for what? Because idiot vandals get their kicks from breaking things. May they get terminal hemorrhoids.

Today, though, is going to be a good day. I'm determined. I've got some deeply delicious Hild thinking to do, even more delicious chicken stew to eat (flavoured, naturally, with kerbs--and a reduction of wine, balsamic vinegar, and a touch of honey), and a book I'm enjoying very much, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson. It's written in a genial voice and stuffed with interesting factoids about the obsessives and eccentrics who shaped our domestic experience. Some of it is laugh out loud, some eyebrow raising, some just pleasantly soothing. I can recommend it.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SF/F Translation Award draw -- great prizes

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards are for works of speculative fiction translated into English from other languages. It's a small and fantasically focused (in all senses of the phrase) organisation. Until Friday, if you donate to the Translation Awards fund, you'll be automatically entered into the draw for a number of spectacular prizes. I've got my eye on one in particular:

From Andy Sawyer at the University of Liverpool we have a copy of the recently discovered John Wyndham novel, Plan for Chaos. This is the book in which Wyndham does Nazi clones long before The Boys from Brazil was thought of. There is a Penguin paperback of this book available, but we have a copy of the University of Liverpool hardcover edition that is $85 on Amazon.

There are a dozen other nifty things, such as signed book from Neil Gaiman, Élisabeth Vonarburg, and Jeff Vandermeer.

Also, if you've been hankering after a copy of my wee memoir-in-a-box, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party, that's also up for grabs ($75 value). I can't take any credit whatsoever for its design--it's a seriously beautiful box, packed with five little volumes, letterpress preface by Dorothy Allison, photos, poster, CD, scratch 'n' sniff cards; like rummaging about in a trunk found in the attic--but I wrote all the words (and drew the pictures, and sang the songs).

Go give them some money. Even if you don't win something, you'll get the special glow from doing something seriously worthwhile. You've got til Friday.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Kelley's beautiful novel, Solitaire, available now

Kelley's novel, Solitaire, has just been reissued by Small Beer Press. The cover is gorgeous. In fact, the whole package is supremely delicious. For those who can't read the small type, on the cover it says:

New York Times Notable Book
Borders Original Voices Selection
Nebula, Endeavor, and Spectrum Award finalist

"A stylistic and psychological tour de force."
-- New York Times Book Review

Great credentials. But you know what? It's even better than that. It's a coming of age story. It's a moving examination of solitude and community. It's a brilliant and subtle explication of management process. It's a stunning speculative take on virtual imprisonment. Oh, and there's good sex and creepy sex, and beer (lots of beer), and shit blows up!

Trust me, the central section of the book, its fulcrum, truly is a big idea, a tour de force. The NYTBR is not blowing smoke. Not coincidentally, Kelley has a Big Idea guest post up on Whatever. She talks about what the book is really about for her. She talks about the difference between 'alone' and 'lonely'. She talks about what a challenge it is to write dialogue when there's only one character--as she says, you can't even write "As you know, Bob" dialogue if there's no Bob. Go learn something.

And take a look at this fabulous, detailed review up at Eve's Alexandria. It will tell you everything you need to know about this fine book.

I am thrilled to see Solitaire poised to find a new audience. Available now, in print, from, Barnes & Noble, your local independent bookstore, and direct from Small Beer Press. Also available in Kindle and DRM-free e-book editions. Enjoy.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

PW: 'lame' shouldn't be an insult

This headline from Publishers Weekly is not acceptable:

Using 'lame' as a derogatory term is, to me, as insulting as saying it's 'gay'. Trust me, I'm both. I'm pissed.

Publishers Weekly: mistakes happen, but, hey, it's not difficult to fix a headline on a website. So please do. Oh, and an apology would be nice. And a promise to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Readers: please feel free to let PW know this isn't acceptable: @Publisherswkly. Or leave a comment on the article.

ETA: The author of the article, Cal Reid, has promised to amend the headline. Thanks, Cal, for a swift response.

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Dolphins and snow in Puget Sound

NASA image via Wikipedia

I woke up this morning to snow. Just a pretty dusting but, still: snow. Yet last week the local papers were full of news about a healthy (as opposed to washed up dead) bottlenose dolphin in Puget Sound. Snow. Dolphins. I can't quite bring them together in my head. I don't think they do belong together.

The climate is changing. Fish runs are moving; their predators are moving with them. But Some foolhardy explorer always has to go first. But explorers don't have good survival rates. So my guess is this dolphin will die of the cold unless it finds its way back to California and parts south very soon.

No doubt it was the same for our modern human ancestors venturing out of Africa 100,000+ years ago. Yet here we are now. So it wouldn't surprise me to find, 200 years from now, dolphins sporting in the Salish Sea.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Kerb explosion

It was just five weeks ago that we started our kitchen bio experiment of growing herbs hydroponically: the kitchen herbs a/k/a the kerbs. Now look:

And here's the extraordinary thing: this photo was taken after harvesting some of them. Yesterday Kelley made a delicious split pea and ham soup flavoured with a tiny bundle of kerbs. Five weeks ago they looked like this:

I am now no longer a sceptic when it comes to growing one's own food for a journey to Mars.

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

How ammonites changed the world

Interesting paper in Science: The Role of Ammonites in the Mesozoic Marine Food Web Revealed by Jaw Preservation, subtitled: "How they revolutionized the Mezozoic Marine Food Web" (Thanks, Angélique.) I like the notion of revolutionary ammonites, chewing their way through the establishment.

One day I'll have to dust off my graphics pad and draw Che Ammonite: beret, scruffy beard, bandana. But, eh, today is not that day. Today is the day I buckle down and write this essay I've been promising someone, on the work of a Famous Writer. (Which I'll happily tell you about, if and when I ever get it done.)

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Solitaire, Sterling, and YA/MG Hugo?

Three snippets of linkage for you today.

  • A lovely review by John Mesjack up at My 3 Books of Kelley's Solitaire. "I know it's early in 2011, but I got a finished copy today of a newly reissued book that has one of the most perfectly-apt covers I can recall. Best cover of the year? Maybe it's too soon to call, and probably a bit hyperbolic. But still. Check it out! [...] When I first read the manuscript of this reissue edition, I was just blown away. There are three distinct sections to the book, and each one has its own flavor and energy – all adding up to a dark but wonderfully described future. It was absolutely one of my favorite novels from the Fall 2010 Consortium catalog. [...] beautiful new edition of a modern deserves-to-be-classic." When I first Solitaire I was blown away, particularly by the middle section. I'd never, ever seen anyone write such a thing. I told Kelley it was a tour de force. She wondered if I was just saying that because she's my sweetie. I was adamant: tour de force. Imagine my delight (smugness) when a few months later the New York Times agreed, calling it a 'stylistic and psychological tour de force'. So, ha! I knew it first: it's a stunning novel. Available as an ebook now and in print everywhere Tuesday. Go read a free sample chapter here.
  • Over at Sterling Editing we have 2011's first round up of links for writers. One of them is to Dear Author's regular First Page feature, in which an aspiring writer bravely posts the first page of her novel, and readers respond. They don't pull their punches or their kisses. New writers pay attention. This is instructive stuff: how readers actually see your work. Take a look.
  • Via Cheryl Morgan I learnt that a proposal is going to go before WSFS for the addition of a YA/MG Book category to the Hugos. Cheryl has a follow-up post here. What snagged my attention was the comments, specifically the fretting over whether Hugo-voting f/sf fans will truly be voting on books that younger people read or enjoy. Some people are expressing the opinion that a kidlit Hugo award will be just like the Newbery: a kind of readerly eat-your-vegetables selection that adults believe would be good for kids but that kids will spit upon from a great height. I'm probably hopelessly naive but here's my take: Hugo voters are not like Newbery judges. Hugo voters are still in love with story, still addicted to that rush of imaginative nirvana that is sensawunda. Hugo voters (people like me) are, in a readerly sense, much more like children than Newbery judges. So, hey, I think this is a good idea. What do you think?

Happy Friday.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tell LLF how to support queer lit

The Lambda Literary Foundation needs your input.

Why should you care? Well because. Because you'll become magically better looking, more talented, and well loved. Because there are only 10 questions and, really, who can't spare ten answers for charity? Oh, and also because the more we know about what you want, the more likely we are to be able to give it to you. So, hey, how can you lose? Go fill out the simple survey.

Thank you!

ETA: Cheryl Morgan has just pointed out to me that, in question 1 (and, in fact, always), transgender is not a sexual orientation. She is absolutely right. I'm hoping it will get fixed soon. My apologies.

More: The survey is fixed, to a degree. Question one now refers to identity rather than sexual orientation. Sadly, to allow respondents to indicate more than one way to identity, we would have to delete the whole survey and begin again, losing the 100+ responses we already have. So I'm hoping those of our users who identify as, say, both lesbian and trans, will choose to add their second identity in the comment box and forgive us this muddle. Please rest assured we'll do our utmost to not repeat this kind of mistake.

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Taunted by technology

Yesterday my iTouch stopped working. Safari went first, it just froze. And Gmail was being weird: I could access it through the Mail app, if I went through 'Accounts', but if I tried to use the actual Gmail app I could get as far as looking at the list of mail in my inbox and no further. iGoogle was also just...frozen. In other words, everything that went through Safari was screwed but the other stuff was fine.

I tried a couple of basic things like deleting caches and cookies and whatnot. No difference. So, huh, clearly it was the Safari app itself. So then I tried opening Safari and holding down the home button on the theory that it will somehow get a grip on itself and behave. (I'm very technical that way.) It did, in fact, return me eventually to the home screen but with an unexpected result: all my apps got a red cross in the upper left corner and, I don't know how else to say this, waggled at me insultingly.

Being taunted by technology makes me cross.

No, I didn't hurl the cheeky git at the wall, I turned it off. (Ha! That'll teach you!) Then I got focused and did what I should have done hours earlier and used my desktop to do a web search for 'iTouch frozen Safari'. (Which would make a nifty sf story title, I think: global freezing, tech, and porn...) The solution popped up immediately: I reset the iTouch by holding down the Home and Off buttons simultaneously until the screen went blank and the Apple logo appeared. Then I turned it off. Waited anxiously for a moment with visions of returning the thing to its factory settings and rocking the neighbourhood with wails of grief and despair. Then I turned it on again. Whap, good as new.

My relief was instructive. I've had this thing for less than six weeks and it's already indispensable. I can't make up my mind whether to be delighted about human brain plasticity, or to be appalled at the speed with which we become dependent on technology.

Sadly, the reset did nothing to improve crapcam.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How I look now

My presence here will be sporadic for the next few days. Busy busy busy. Here, for your delectation and delight, aka a good giggle, is my first photo of 2011, taken with crapcam:

Hopefully you are now thanking who/whatever you thank on these occasions that you don't have the eyes of a trapped ferret. Happy to be of service.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

In the valley of the frost giants

I've had a wonderful first 36 hours of 2011.

It began with two delicious bottles of Champagne: our last bottle of Krug, and then something new to us, a 2005 Pierre Gimonnet & Fils.

The Krug, of course, is the king of Champagnes. It has a layered, aromatic, toasty arrogance. The Pierre Gimonnet was quite different: creamy, almost, but also complex and structured. Both made me smile like a lunatic. So did the food: beet salad (red and golden, over arugula, with a champagne and mint dressing), lamb stew (one of my favourites, just mind-bogglingly rich-but-delicate comfort food, best served with big chunks of wholewheat bread and the best butter you can find), pavlova.

Yesterday, before lunch, we went to the park.

The air was brilliant: hard, endless blue sky, glittering sun, crisp as an apple. We walked along Piper's Creek, which runs east to west along a narrow (30 yards?) valley with wooded slopes rising steeply on each side. The south wood is mixed deciduous: big-leaf maple and black alder mostly, with tangled vines of all variety at the water's edge. It's all bare now, black and grey and that severe winter brown, green only with moss and ferns sprouting from clefts between branch and trunk like little green fountains.

The sides of the valley are steep. The sun doesn't rise very high. Even just after noon on a clear day, the valley floor was in shadow. Everything was coated in a thick layer of frost, as though a frost giant had just breathed on it. I'd forgotten how dry frost makes things look, burnt and desiccated. The alder leaves could have been gigantic furry woodlice. Unreal.

It all felt quite magical, time out of time. The other people using the park seemed affected by it, too. Everyone wore hats, and striding about cheerily, calling out, 'Hallo!' and 'Good afternoon!'

Something on the south slope scampered among the bare trees: too large for a squirrel, too small for a raccoon. A marten? I heard it, but didn't see it.

On the walk back to the car, the sun hit the top of the bare trunks of the north slope, and they glowed gold and green. The birds were quiet.

We got home to find that the kerbs had grown, again:

And we ate enough to make a rhino stagger. Today I think I'll do it all again...

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

First green and growing things of 2011

So the kerbs are starting the year well:

The chives (out of frame) are tall and skinny, supercilious and supermodel-y. The basil, as you can see, is a linebacker. The parsley still hasn't emerged; it's still wearing its little protective plastic helmet--it's going to need it if that basil gets mean. The oregano is a goofy hackysacker. The sage, I think, is a chess-playing strategist: making a late move, now hurrying to take up space before parsley gets going. Marjoram is one of those free spirit types, grabby and gabby and desperate to tell you all about its deeply significant dreams. Thyme (also out of frame, but probably deliberately) I suspect is a spy. Doesn't like to be in the spotlight...

And here's the ravine, cold, clear, sunny. A beautiful way to start the year:

Have a delicious day. I'll be spending most of it reading. Yay!

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