Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rong

This morning I woke up to find the house so cold I had to turn the heat on. It's practically August. This weather is wrong. So wrong it's rong.

This weather is fucking with Hild. Well, okay, not Hild but my inability to get Hild right while smiling benevolently. Normally, when I reach a particularly knotty bit of rewrite, I like to take a break and sit outside with a cup of tea. I unhook my mind from specifics and let my writer brain find the way while the wind riffles through the trees and birds sing. Usually all it takes is the time to drink one cup of tea. Not this week. This week our perbs have been mashed flat by torrential rain, the neighbour's curly willow fell on another neighbour's house and then we got a blast of sunshine that shrivelled the perbs that hadn't been mashed.

On the one day it wasn't either pouring or blast-furnace hot, some little dot of a dog ran about the neighbourhood shrieking in falsetto.

I am suffering. Hild is suffering.

Kelley isn't suffering. Kelley just rolls her eyes and says, "You're getting peevish. Go eat something." So now our pantry and fridge look ravaged by an invading army. And I'm getting hungry. Again.

Fortunately next week's weather looks dysapocalyptic: a steady marine layer ensuring cloud in the morning which should burn off to just-right sunshine by afternoon. We're all grateful.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Clutter vs. clarity

Just thought you might like to see my desktop. The more cluttered my life gets, the cleaner I keep my workspace. It's the only way to stay sane. All horrors are hidden behind Pending.

I'm sorry to say I've completely forgotten where I got this screensaver (which I present to you in honour of Bubble). I'm pretty sure I tweeted about it at some point, though, so if you're that interested, you can comb through six weeks or so of my Tweetstream. (Then, please, consider adjusting your meds...)

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Unbound: nothing new

I admit to some mystification about media excitement surrounding Unbound. See, for example, this Fast Company article, about Unbound's "crowd-financed, spine-tingling effort to reinvent book publishing":

...the whole principle behind Unbound is to take the ancient, leather-bound business model of book publishing, rip out its crumbling pages, and replace it with crowd-funding, social interaction, and tandem digital publications and real hardback books.
[...]
Here's the core of Unbound's idea: It proposes a new book on its website, and people choose to "donate" a small amount of money to it, in the hope that the book gets produced. The more money you donate, the more likely the target will be reached, and the bigger "treats" you get--right up to dinner with the author. When the target is reached, writing begins and people who've funded the book get special access to a back room at Unbound's website, where they can interact in limited form with the author as the book emerges. At the end, an e-text is published and distributed, but you can also choose to get a high-quality hardback edition, printed on good paper with cloth binding for people who like their books to be weighty, well-designed, and smell like traditional books.

What's new about this? Well, nothing really. It's just Kickstarter for books--but instead of the author getting all the profit, the publisher gets 50%. As co-founder Justin Pollard says rather magnanimously (here), "We never make more money than the author."

Many of today's traditional (I use the word loosely) publishers of course do make more money than the author--if a book is successful. If a book fails spectacularly, then the publisher eats the investment while the author keeps the advance. The author's risk and investment is their time and effort. The publisher's risk is their usual overhead (office space, salaries, utilities) and product-specific costs (author's guarantee against royalties, printing, shipping, co-op, advertising, etc.).

In business, it's usually accepted that whoever takes the greatest risk is likely to win the greatest reward (or take the biggest loss). Publishing has always been a little different because, to be blunt, most writers are not very focused on money. Some of us are so self-involved that we don't want to soil our pretty artistic hands with grubby commerce. Some of us are terrified of the real world and the people in it--especially the possibility of rejection. And some of us are so compulsive that we can only write helplessly and hope that some Nice Publisher comes along and fixes everything. (Seriously, I have met writers like this. They are willfully ignorant of reality: Special Snowflakes who believe the world will reconfigure itself around them and their precious talent.)

Unbound is smart: it gets to keep half the profit yet take no financial risk. It's basically a subscription model--similar to eighteenth and nineteenth century publishing: don't publish until you have the demand. It's good for authors who have some kind of platform, who are already well known. They might not be professional authors--they might not know how to access book sales channels without help--but they already have an audience. They exchange the non-writing work--the business of writing, the trade expertise--for 50% of the net.

Kickstarter, too, is based on the subscription model. It, too, has different reward levels, depending on 'donation'. It, too, can produce handsome print volumes and instant digital editions. Kickstarter won't automatically put your book into traditional sales channels, though. Kickstarter authors have to do that themselves. (They also have to design the book, design the sales pitch, make the video, sort the cover, get blurbs, wrestle with metadata...) But then they get to keep the profit.

Which is best for you? Depends on your appetite for risk and reward.


Kelley has reached the end of her 41 Days of Story in support of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. She ends on a high note with "Sound and Silence," a piece about love and music. It features Mars and Duncan, the main characters of her utterly genderqueer novella, "Dangerous Space":

Duncan and I weren’t speaking to each other, which meant we only talked in the studio, and even that was becoming harder. Lacerated hearts are what they are, but if we let them interfere with a new album, we would really be in trouble. And so everyone was worried.

Johnny said diffidently one night, as he was unplugging his guitar, “So you and Duncan…” He had a strategy of leaving questions unspoken, and most people can’t stand silence; they will rush to answer whatever they think they hear, which often means whatever question is loudest within them. And those moments can be so revealing. So astonishing. Sometimes so cruel.

But I’m an engineer, and I know better than anyone that music is silence as well as sound. I just raised a polite eyebrow. [more]

As Kelley says:

If you’ve enjoyed these pieces, please consider a donation to Clarion West to show your support. The Write-a-thon links will be active for several more days, and you can also always make a donation through our usual link.

Here’s all the work of the 41 days. You’ll also find these pieces cross-posted at Sterling Editing as incentive for writers to practice their editing and story-building skills.

I'll just add: these 41 pieces are fresh, untouched draft. They are fabulous. If you liked them, you should try her finished work. Treat yourself to her full collection of polished fiction, Dangerous Space.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Am I writing? Am I burning?

I was struck yesterday by Saeed Jones's post on LambdaLiterary.org, "The Ferocity: Fierce Manifest."

Fierce is Helene Cixous demanding in The School of The Dead that, as we write, we ask ourselves honestly “Am I writing? Am I burning? Or am I pretending?” Fierce is the urgency in Essex Hemphill’s voice in “For My Own Protection” as he declares “All I want to know / for my own protection / is are we capable / of whatever, whenever?” Fierce is the look I imagine Zora Neale Hurston had on her face when she said “I love myself when I am laughing and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.” It is Audre Lorde taking her seat for her panel at the Second Sex Conference in 1979, adjusting the microphone in front of her and calmly stating “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

We need fierce. We need risk. We need raw will.

Many of you will have seen my own manifesto:

...a year ago, I wrote a rant, which I'll share with you now:
---
When I write, dear reader, I don't want to build a careful tale for you to discuss with a smile in a sunny place, I want to own you. I don't want to be The New TV Series, I want to be pornography: to thrill you so hard you're ashamed but can't help yourself crawling back for more.

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

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

I control the horizontal, I control the vertical. Sit back, relax, enjoy. When you're done, take a breath, smoke a cigarette, figure out who you are now, and come back for more.
---
It's more than a rant, actually, it's a dedication. A vow: with my next novel, I'm going to run my software on your hardware. You've been warned.

Consider this a reminder.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Knights of Badassdom and Our Lady of Sunnydale


Oh, I'm going to have to go see this one. Maybe I'll wear my new Buffy t-shirt:

Sadly, you can no longer get this. It was a 24-hour only offer. Mine, though, is on the way. Neener neener neener...

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Garden apocalypse

A couple of days ago I updated our garden/fence/privacy situation. I was feeling pleased with myself. Ha!

Yesterday morning I was woken by what sounded like a naval battle on the roof. It turned out to be a stunning thunderstorm, ripping and thumping and smiting, a storm gone beserk. Casualties: many of our perbs got mashed flat, the beautiful curly willow snapped at the base and fell on our neighbour's house, and, again, we've lost some privacy.

Here's how it used to look:

Now there's a hole. So if you know any genetic fiddlery that will produce fourteen-foot honeysuckle in a week, or, hey, any spells to magically grow our fence to that height, please: don't let me get in your way. Oh, and a reanimation spell for the perbs would be lovely.

I'll be over here, winkling out every single gloom-and-doom track available on Spotify, and playing it very loud...




Here's Kelley's latest Clarion West writeathon piece, "The Rock and the River". It actually went up yesterday:

It was good they got off the boats for lunch, because by then Betsy was within a twitch of tossing the Larson kid over the side, preferably straight into the vacuum suck of the rapids, still clutching his stupid phone, whining all the way about why didn’t they have 3G down heeeeere? Bets didn’t think anyone on the boat would miss him, including his parents, who had raised Ignoring The Adolescent to a fine art. Then she would only have to get the Anderson family and Encyclopedia Guy eaten by snakes. The rest of them could stay as long as they left her alone. And then maybe Bets could enjoy the Grand Fucking Canyon.

When she signed up for the river trip, she imagined a small group of other adults, people of calm competence and intellectual mien and passionate adventurous spirit. She didn’t expect three motorized rafts of competitively-sunglassed executives who took a quick look around as they set off, noted that the Grand Canyon had a lot of rocks, and then got down to the serious business of checking each other’s status in the real world and telling the driver how to steer. All except Encyclopedia Guy, who went into full-bore full-volume download mode on the specific amount of damage that badly-conceived government management policies were doing to the river and canyon and wildlife and downriver ecosystems. Why, it’s all dying right this second! [more]

I haven't been keeping up, but Kelley has, writing one of these every single day for 38 days. (Today's will go up Very Soon Now.) You can read them all here. All her sponsorship slots are full, but please consider making a donation: $5 or $5,000, it's all good.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Aud origin stories

Always is the third Aud novel. It was the book in which I was determined to get to the bottom of what makes Aud who she is. As part of that process, I wrote a series of monologues directed at Aud from various bit players in her past.

These pieces were never meant for publication. They're purely exploratory. But I thought you might like to see a couple of them. Regard them as part of the naked writing I promised six weeks ago.

The first is from Aud's childhood (aged eight or nine) when she's living in the UK with her mother:

--precautions never cost nowt. Pass me that crescent wrench,
there's a good lass. Third time this winter I've been in here to
fix these bloody pipes. Why doesn't your mum get the buggers
wrapped when it turns cold? Not like the Embassy can't afford
it. Glue gun. You can't be too careful, that's my motto. Look
before you cross the road, test a rope you're going to put your
weight on, tell the wife if you're going to come home early on
leave. It's the ignorant bastards who get the surprises. 'Scuse
my french. When I were in t'desert, I checked my boots every
bloody morning for creepy crawlies. Terrible, some of the things
what scuttle about in them foreign countries. Anyroad, we had
this corporal who was a right arsehole, and he got on my case
about it, day after day, calling me a girl, asking me if I wanted
ribbons for my hair and that. And then one day we're woken at
the crack of bleeding dawn by a right racket, enemy tanks and
whatnot, and we have get dressed fast and quiet, like. Only this
corporal, he pulls on his boots and there's a scorpion in them,
waving its tail about, and the corporal squeaks like a hamster,
runs out of the tent, and an Arab shoots his fucking head off.
There, try it now...

The second is a week or so after she kills the man who broke into her apartment with a gun. She's eighteen.

--as the court-ordered psychiatrist, Ms. Torvingen, I don't
officially have an opinion on that. Sign here please. For the
record, you are, if necessary, competent to stand trial. You're
of sound mind, you understand the language, and are cognisant of
American attitudes to right and wrong. Date here. Not that
there'll be a trial. No doubt many would see you as a hero. But
off the record I am deeply troubled. I see not the slightest
indication of remorse on your part, no understanding of the
seriousness of what you have done. You took a life, Ms.
Torvingen, and though the law might stipulate that an eighteen
year-old woman in her own apartment has the right to kill an
armed intruder, in your heart you should know differently. Yet
you sit and eat and smile as though it was a beer bottle you
broke, not a man's neck. Your attitude disturbs me greatly.
Life is not a trivial matter, Ms. Torvingen. I pray to God that
one day you will understand. Thank you. Everything seems to be in order. Yes, well, as I am clearly making no impression, I'll be on my way. Here's my card, should your conscience ever bother you and should you feel the need to talk. Good day to you.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Honeysuckle and kadsura

A while ago our neighbours tore down some trees and left us no privacy to the west of the house. So we added three feet to our fence. Now we've added climbing vines to the fence: honeysuckle and variegated kadsura. (I wanted honeysuckle and clematis, but at the nursery the clematis looked pretty sad.) They're not much to look at because they only went in a few days ago.

But they're going to grow fast. One honeysuckle is already blossoming. (That tiny red splotch is a flower. Really.) Despite watching like a hawk, no hummingbirds have appeared. Perhaps it's the hawk thing.


We have three different kinds of honeysuckle, some evergreen, some 'semi-evergreen' (somegreen?), some fragrant, some not. They should end up a mix of red, pink, and orange but I admit to very little faith in nursery labels.

Seeing as we're in gardenworld, here's a gratuitous perb shot to round out the set:

The marjoram and thyme are going like gangbusters. The parsley is vigorous. The oregano, sadly, has some kind of blight, so I've planted a new one (in the fancy pot). The severely hacked-back chives are shooting up again, so I'm hoping we'll get enough August sun to produce more tasty flowers.

Back to Hild world...

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bubble and Sass

Kelley has reached $2,500 in sponsorship for her Clarion West daily write-a-thon work. She's written some brilliant stuff, and you have all generously supported her.

One of my favourites was an early piece about Bubble the cat, which I'm reposting here in its entirety (with permission, of course).

Bubble

for Beverly Marshall Saling. Thank you for your support of my work and Clarion West.

A single white whisker on a black cat marked a leader, and Bubble the Brave led well. He made his neighborhood rounds twice every day. He rubbed noses and smelled scent messages for status reports. He stiff-walked the impetuous young ones back into right-thinking when they needed it. He rough-tumbled kittens to toughen them up. One memorable week, he and a select crew — Scooter, Pirate, Catfish and Bill — routed a Labrador that had recently moved into the neighborhood. The dog went limping, one eye blind, and never came back. It had to be done: the dog was insane, a cat-killer, a child-biter. It had a taste for blood. One day, Bubble knew, it would have turned on its people. They had no cat to protect them, and Bubble considered them his responsibility too.

And he took his responsibilities seriously, even when they were inconvenient and, like today, uncomfortable. He arrived home from the morning reconnaisance soaking wet and requested entrance, looking forward to a warm corner and some Friskies.

The sliding door opened. Bubble looked up into the eyes of his enemy and commenced the required stare-down.

“Your cat’s too dumb to come in out of the rain,” the Usurper said.

“Move over,” Staff said. She leaned out and scooped Bubble into her arms. He did his best to maintain the stare until she carried him out of the Usurper’s range.

“You’re so wet!” Staff said. “My bubblehead kitty.” She was warm, and she knew how to hold a cat properly. She dried him gently. She offered him fresh Friskies. She stroked his head. She was a very good Staff in every possible way except, recently, in the matter of the bed. It was undignified to jostle the Usurper for space; but she was Bubble’s Staff, so every night he jostled. And every night he was put outside the room, trembling with rage and indignation, halfway tempted to return to his kittenhood, his Bubble the Berserker days when all cloth objects feared his claws and anything breakable trembled before him.

Something had to be done. Bubble curled up and hoped the answer would come in a dream.

It came, instead, in the Usurper himself. A disagreement with Staff, the two of them hissing and spitting and stiff-walking each other around the house. He was pleased to see that Staff had learned a thing or two about that. She drove the Usurper off handily, his frustration and anger trailing him so strongly that Bubble imagined everyone could smell it. It was laced with sadness too, and there was a sense of finality in the Usurper’s gait.

Everything was back in place. Bubble turned his attention to planning the capture of the troublesome mouse in the garage, and that night he slept against Staff’s back.

But Staff was unhappy. Her tail was down, and it stayed that way in spite of his head butts and his purrs. Sometimes he had to remind her about food or bedtime. Sometimes it seemed she didn’t really see him. And she never called him Bubblehead anymore.

Something had to be done.

He asked Catfish to keep an eye on the place. Then Bubble the Bold ate a good breakfast, found the last of the Usurper’s scent on the porch, and began to follow the trail.

So many dangers. The cars, the unfamiliar smells, the delicate negotiations with strange cats to cross their turf. He had to fight his way down one alley against staggering odds. He slept that night under a metal box of rotting food and wondered if he would ever see Staff again. The next morning, he licked the blood crust off his wounds and went on.

And finally, the trail grew strong and definite, and brought him to a door. He began to call.

The door opened. Bubble looked up into the eyes of his enemy.

“What the fuck?” the Usurper said. “Bubble?”

He put a cautious hand down, and Bubble’s respect for him went up a notch. It took a certain amount of courage, after the last time. Bubble sniffed the hand and then butted it.

“Jesus,” the Usurper said. “Susan must be going out of her mind. You’d better come in.”

When Staff opened the door and saw Bubble, she burst into yowls and clutched him so hard that he squeaked. Then she extended one arm to include the Usurper in the clutch.

Bubble the Bringer ate a good lunch and practiced his stare of superiority on the Usurper for a while. Then he went out to the garage. He did catch the mouse, but he let it get away: Staff had her present for the day. There was no point spoiling her.

And now, just for me, Kelley's written a second Bubble story, "Bubble and Sass."

Bubble the Box-Master was relieved when all but one of the Usurper’s boxes were quelled and their flattened carcasses carried away. One box was no trouble, but so many at once, all needing reconnoiter, domination of contents, and then regular re-intimidation… it was frankly exhausting, and took time from his responsibilities in the neighborhood. Pirate was becoming restive without proper supervision, and there was a tribe of rats in an oak tree on the next block whose spines needed snapping.

At least the Usurper was finding his proper role in the order of things. He had learned to recognize rudimentary commands — out, in, food, lap — and was proving unexpectedly good at helping Staff understand the autonomy a busy cat required.

“Oh, let him out, Susan, he’s got things to do.”

“What if he runs away again?”

“He didn’t run away. He came to find me and bring me back to you.”

“Danny, you don’t know anything about cats. They don’t fetch,” Staff said. “But I love that you’re such a romantic.” [more]

Go read the rest. Read all 35 pieces so far here. Please consider sponsoring Kelley.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Twelve hours

I've had an interesting twelve hours. A late dinner with Charlie Stross, followed by breakfast with Malcolm Edwards. I last saw them (in different months, in different cities) in 1993. So the last twelve hours have been old home week. Much discussion of 21st century science fiction, teaching, and the publishing landscape and its changing clothes/design/portals. Enormous fun. One of those small world moments--exacerbated by Kelley bumping into one of my web and business-editing clients in the coffee shop opposite the hotel where I was having breakfast, a client whose friend we're having caviar and Champagne with tonight.

Now I'm about to spend a few hours with my "ambitious, badass historical fiction about the 7th century character Hild of Whitby."

All that and the sun is shining. Doesn't get much better. It's a lovely day.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ammonite, Slow River, and Gollancz's SF Gateway

My first two novels, long out of print in the UK, will soon be available again in non-US English territories. The digital versions will be available first, but I'm hoping to have other announcements about both Ammonite and Slow River in the near future.

Here's the related Gollancz press release about the fabulous new SF Gateway:

Gollancz, the SF and Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, announces the launch of the world’s largest digital SFF library*, the SF Gateway, which will make thousands of out-of-print titles by classic genre authors available as eBooks.

Building on the remarkable success of Gollancz’s Masterworks series, the SF Gateway will launch this Autumn with more than a thousand titles by close to a hundred authors. It will build to 3,000 titles by the end of 2012, and 5,000 or more by 2014. Gollancz’s Digital Publisher Darren Nash, who joined the company in September 2010 to spearhead the project said, “The Masterworks series has been extraordinarily successful in republishing one or two key titles by a wide range of authors, but most of those authors had long careers in which they wrote dozens of novels which had fallen out of print. It seemed to us that eBooks would offer the ideal way to make them available again. This realization was the starting point for the SF Gateway.” Wherever possible, the SF Gateway will offer the complete backlist of the authors included.

I'm one of the 80-odd (yeah, yeah, some very odd...) authors announced. It's an impressive list. (Though sadly for you there will be no video of me doing the Yodel of Triumph; I imagine you'll cope.) Read the rest of the PR here, or follow the news on Twitter via @SFGateway.

I think the coolest part of the announcement is this:

The SF Gateway will be closely integrated with the recently announced new online edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which provides an independent and definitive reference source of information on the authors and books included. Direct links between the Encyclopedia and the Gateway will provide easy access to eBook editions, for sale through all major online retailers.

In my opinion that's brilliant publishing. It's the brainchild of Malcolm Edwards, deputy CEO of the Orion Publishing Group.

If you're a long-time reader of AN (it's had several incarnations since 1995), you might have heard me talk about Malcolm Edwards. Here's an excerpt from an AN answer I wrote in 1996/7:

I started writing when I was about twenty-two (that is, in 1982). I wrote a novel (it started as a short story and grew) which about two years later I sent to Malcolm Edwards who was then an editor at the UK publisher, Gollancz. He said: "Not bad, cut it by a third and I might publish it." I had no idea that this was good or unusual, but set about cutting it, anyway. In the process of doing that, I learned how to approach my own work critically, and what I saw appalled me. It was, I thought, a terrible book; really didactic. So I shoved it in a drawer and tried to get on with my life. But the writing bug had sunk its teeth into me, and I couldn't stop. I wrote another book. This one was better written but an even worse novel, so I put that in a drawer without even bothering to show it to anyone.

At this point, I decided I had better teach myself to write. The easiest way to do that, I concluded, was to write short stories. So I did. I wrote about five, and diligently sent them off to Interzone, the UK short fiction magazine. They rejected them with very kind notes. The sixth one, they bought. This was 1987. I was thrilled. (I can still remember the bubble of joy bursting up through my spine when I opened that letter. Ah, nothing like it.) Then I decided to apply for Clarion--the SF/F writers' workshop held annually at Michigan State University. To cut a very long story short, I went, met Kelley, fell in love, moved to the US and Became A Writer. I sold a few more short stories. Then in 1991, I got a letter** from Malcolm Edwards, who had now moved on to bigger and better things and was the Editorial Director at HarperCollins UK. "Dear Ms. Griffith," he said [this quote, like the other one, is from memory, so if you're reading this, Malcolm, I hope it at least resembles the truth]***, "I've been enjoying your short fiction. If you happen to be writing a novel, I'd love to see it." I wrote back by return of post and said, essentially: Wow, actually I'm writing two, here's what they're about. This, incidentally, was a complete lie--I wasn't writing a novel at all. I still didn't think I knew enough about writing to try. But he wrote back and said: "Like the sound of both of them, when can I see them?" So I sat down and wrote Ammonite, and he bought it.

(For those who like writing-process porn and writerly anecdotes, you can find a much meatier version here.)

Ammonite appeared in early 1993 (from Ballantine/Del Rey in the US and HarperCollins/Grafton in the UK). It won some awards. Slow River followed two years later (ditto). And ditto. But the books still went out of print in the UK. (That's the UK publishing reality. It's different in the US. Here both books here have been through a zillion printings and still sell steadily, if not spectacularly, in print and digital editions.)

So it's wonderful to be able to announce that I'll finally be a Gollancz author--back where I started all those years ago. Repeat Yodel of Triumph, add Nod of Satisfaction, and follow, as always, with beer.

----

* It's not a library. No lending. You'll have to pay to play--but I have no doubt they'll be smart enough to price realistically for the market. Unlike some publishers, who are still playing silly buggers with 'dynamic pricing' for my novels.

** Letter, as in typed on paper and put in one of those blue, striped-edge airmail envelopes; this was before email.

*** In fact Malcolm did recently read that blog post. So now he knows I lied engaged in an aspirational statement.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

78 minutes of summer

I'm back online. I have a lot to catch up on. Tomorrow I'll write something about writing, but today I just want to say: it's official, we've only had 78 minutes of summer in Seattle this year. We're turning into pale, pale worms...

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Time to focus on Hild

I've reached a crucial stage of Hild. I need to dwell in the seventh century for a while. I'm pulling the ethernet cable and won't be around for a few days.

Kelley will be blogging and writing new fiction every day, though, in support of the Clarion West workshop. So go look at that. The latest always to be found here.

To whet your appetite, here are the openings of her pieces from yesterday and the day before.

The Messenger
The messenger wore rockstar sunglasses and jeans cut off at the knees, and drove her bike like an F-16. She came bombing through traffic on the centerline and cut to the curb lane for a right turn; a guy stepped out between two parked cars with his hand up for a taxi, and she just leaned under the arm whphht right past him as if she hadn’t even noticed he was there. The guy practically peed himself; the messenger took the corner without a backward look.

“Holy shit,” Harry said, “did you see that?” They were at an outside table because it was his turn to pick, and he liked being on the street where he could sometimes catch a glimpse of people living kamikaze lives. Gutsy lives. Harry liked to see that. [more]
Choke Point
We have a surprise for you, Shirley’s parents told her one morning, and the surprise turned out to be the ruinizing of her summer. No sneaking into the movies when Lorena’s brother was working the box office. No Almond Joys from the corner store. No stickball. No trips to the zoo on Free Day. No library, no public pool, no Tasha or JJ or even stupid Lolly with the makeup kit she wanted to try out on everyone because she was going to be a cosme-thing when she got out of high school, which was a million years away, and even longer now that Shirley was going to spend her summer with old people and cows. They probably didn’t even have TV out there. They probably didn’t have Coca-Cola. And she could hardly remember Granny Bea. [more]

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Only 5 writeathon slots left

Kelley is writing a new fiction every day to raise money for the Clarion West write-a-thon. She's written 26 so far. Each one completely fresh and original. Those pieces wouldn't exist without the prompts from sponsors. If you would like to be pivotal in the production of something new and brilliant, sponsor Kelley. There are five slots left going for $35 each. (More, of course, is fabulous: most gratefully accepted.)

If you want to be instrumental in the creation of something like this, or this, go give some money, go suggest a prompt.

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Book Country Twitter chat tonight 9 EST/6 pm PST

Join me and Kelley tonight on Twitter for a #bookcountry chat about writing likable characters. @Book_Country is the "Nerdtastic online genre fiction writers workshop" run by Penguin. It's still in beta but the Twitter chat should be lively. We start at 9pm EST, which is 6 pm for us. So you know what that means--beer!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More Aud 03 -- long

As promised, as a thank you for sponsoring Kelley in her daily write-a-thon in support of Clarion West, here's more Aud. No one except Kelley has read this before (it's a draft). It's the third and last chunk of the original Chapter One of the first draft of Always. (Here's the first and the second chunks. You should probably read them in order.) If you've read the published version, you'll recognise some of the conversations.

It's long and leisurely. Enjoy.

----

Borealis, Dornan's chain of Atlanta-area coffeehouses, now had more than half a dozen outlets, but the one in Little Five Points was the original, and still his main love. It had a low ceiling, no windows, and not enough ventilation. It was eleven o'clock and the open mic crowd was long gone, leaving behind a shoal of smoke swimming lazily below the ceiling, and two intense twenty-nothings sitting by the wall arguing about whether cyberpunks owed their attitude more to Materialist philosophy or to a misguided interpretation of Descartes' interpretation of Aristotle.

Dornan had probably been up seventeen or eighteen hours; his periwinkle eyes were pinkish and there was a faint sheen of black stubble on his chin but his step was still springy and his tee shirt white. He was relaxed. Jonie, his favourite barista, brought him another Americano (short, room for cream), and as usual he sipped and nodded with as much pleasure as if it were his first caffeine of the day. I was drinking Rioja, a gran reserva that he kept for me so I didn't have to suffer the stuff he poured from the jug labelled House Red.

"So what do you think?" Dornan said.

I thought Mr Materialism was about to get lucky: Ms Cartesian Dualism was leaning forward in the kind of unnatural pose that has been practised in front of the mirror because someone once told her it made her throat look delicious, and holding her hand palm up while she talked, tilted towards him in a way that could only be interpreted as touch me. And indeed Mr Materialism was beginning to stumble over the bigger words as his subconscious figured out what was going on and diverted blood from his brain to more important organs. "About what?"

"You know about what. About what your banker--Laurence?--about what Laurence said."

"I've told you: I don't really care about a discrepancy in my real estate portfolio, which is why I pay lawyers and bankers to handle such things."

"Right. So you did. Rather emphatically." He drank off his coffee in one smooth movement, lifted a finger to the barista--she was watching, she was always watching; she wouldn't have had a job otherwise--and nodded over at the debating couple. "Did you ever argue philosophy with a girl in a cafe?"

"There are easier ways."

He nodded. "Walking up and asking her to dance always worked for me. So have you tried any interesting approaches lately?"

I looked at him.

"I just thought that, seeing as you were so keen to not talk about Laurence and the responsibilities of money, you might be willing to talk about sex instead."

"No."

"You could at least reassure me that, well, since, ah, well, that you've--" He hated to mention Julia's death. Perhaps it was because he thought I'd go crazy again and start chatting to her ghost. "I just don't think it's natural to be so... Look, I know how you are, what you're like. I didn't think you could stay-- That, well, you could deprive yourself of..."

Didn't. Past tense. "You've been talking to Tammy."

"I might have spoken to her a week or two since, yes, and she might have dropped some broad hints." He sat back and looked expectant.

"Her name was Reece."

His expectant look didn't waver. Ever since I had let him help with the cabin in North Carolina he seemed to believe he deserved a window into my life. I had not yet worked out how to shut him out, or whether I wanted to.

"When I went back to the cabin earlier this spring Tammy held a party. There was a woman there, visiting from the midwest. Reece. Tammy more or less pushed us at each other. Tammy's smugness got so irritating that we left early. We had a nice conversation that ended up in bed. She's a nice woman. It was a very pleasant evening. I doubt I'll ever see her again."

I had needed the animal warmth of the sex, had welcomed the familiar building heat of skin on skin, the harsh breath, the shudder that starts in your bones. The terrible urge afterwards to weep until I howled had been new.

"That Tammy. Isn't she something?" It had been four months since she'd returned his ring, but his voice still throbbed with pride.

"She is."

"Ah, thank you," Dornan said to Jonie, and took the proferred coffee and added cream.

I nodded thanks for the bottle she'd brought but didn't pour. "And how about you?"

"Well, you know me, Torvingen, a magnet for women. An absolute magnet." No one, then. "But we were talking about your meeting with Laurence."

"We weren't."

"We were about to."

I shrugged.

"Your oldest friend is burning with vulgar curiosity about how people who don't have to work for a living deal with tedious little details like money. Indulge me."

Maybe talking about money was one of those friendship things that everyone but me seemed to understand. I considered, then shrugged. It was just money.

"I have quarterly meetings with Laurence to discuss any significant movement in my holdings. He makes recommendations about what I should do. Mostly what he says makes sense so we talk it over for a bit, I sign things, and he sends the papers to Bette, my lawyer, who also does my taxes."

"What kind of holdings?"

"Equities: stock, individual and funds, and bonds, US and foreign. Real estate, mostly in this country but a little in the UK and Canada too, industrial and residential. Cash." We'd talked a lot about cash, and rolling CDs, and money market funds. "Some commodities. Some annuities. Enough?"

"Enough."

"So he reads reports from the various areas of investment and gives me a précis." He opened his mouth. "Which is in both dollar amounts and percentage gains or losses, along with a general idea of what individual industry returns are, and how my portfolio performs against those benchmarks."

"And you trust him?"

I thought about that. "There's a certain mutual respect. We understand each other, I think."

That afternoon, we'd begun with tea. Laurence, or rather his assistant, had learnt to make it the English way, as I preferred, and as we sat on the two easy chairs by the silk rubber plant that had graced his office for two years, and sipped, I had asked after Catherine, his wife, and his kids--in whom I hadn't the slightest interest, but people with children seemed to take great delight in being asked. Instead of pulling out pictures of his new grandson, as he might have with another client, we got down to business. We zipped through the information in the various files and folders until we came to real estate, specifically my cross-shipping and warehousing facility in Seattle which was doing very badly.

"I said, Oh, well, so what course of action do you recommend? But it was clear I didn't really care. At which point he got agitated and said, I don't believe you fully appreciate the fact that you are being defrauded. To which I replied that, yes, indeed I did, but that's the kind of thing I paid him and Bette to deal with and I had absolutely no urge to get on a plane and fly out to a city where everyone wears flannel and it rains all the time just to look at some industrial shed."

The philosophising couple got up and walked out past Jonie's counter. They left a tip in her jar, and walked to the door twined about each other. I wondered if either would howl afterwards.

"So how did he respond to that?"

"He said, with some asperity, that a good steward should know what she owns."

He raised his eyebrows.

I swirled the wine in my glass. No one had ever accused me of irresponsibility before. "But that's what I pay him and Bette for: to be my stewards. It's their job, not mine. And besides, as I told him, I'm thinking of selling it all. Everything. Turning it all into cash and walking away."

"I'm guessing that didn't go down too well."

"No. He said, And then what? What would you do with the cash? It will keep generating more cash and you can't just have it sitting around doing nothing."

"He's got a point."

I didn't say anything.

He leaned forward and tapped the table next to my hand. "If I'm forced to drag it out of you word by word I'll end up exhausted and with a splitting headache, so if it's all right with you let's pretend you understand when I say friends talk to each other, let's skip the cajoling, and let's get straight to the part where you start talking. All right?"

"All right." It was still hard to begin. "I have too much money." Too much for a hundred lifetimes. "I'm thinking of setting up a foundation." I cleared my throat. "In Julia's name."

"Well. That all sounds very worthy and therefore quite out of character. Well, I'm sorry, but I just can't imagine you living in penury, giving up your house and cabin, your lovely car and precious hand tools."

"Why would I sell those?"

"So when you say everything you mean not everything?"

"Not my things. Not my house and my car." My tools. The land and cabin in North Carolina. What was wrong with him?

He waved it aside. "So. All right. A few hundred acres of Appalachian forest notwithstanding, we're still talking about a huge endowment. A non-profit corporation that size would be monstrously influential, whether you like it or not. It would be a lot of work: a board to select, a mission statement to draft. Not that I'm saying it wouldn't be a good thing. I think it would. You need something to do."

"I have plenty to do."

"It's all makework, a series of hobbies that are just enough to satisfy that Norwegian Lutheran soul. You're in a holding pattern, Torvingen. What I'd like to know is, what are you waiting for?"

I stared at him. "I'm not waiting for anything."

"That's not how it looks from here. Your life's been on hold for years, for as long as I've known you--even when you worked for the police. Then Julia came along, and you seemed to wake up, but she's, well, she's--"

"Dead. Yes."

"What I'm trying to say is, she was your miracle, but she won't come along twice."

"I know." The stem of my wine glass was as hard and slender as bone between my fingers.

"You need to do something with your life."

I breathed slowly and carefully through my nose. "I'm getting tired of hearing that."

"Ah." He leaned back. "From which brave souls?"

"Everyone. Even my mother said something similiar when she called the other day." She had actually called six weeks ago.

He took the bait. "So how is that going?"

"Warily." We knew that mothers and daughters were supposed to love each other and trust each other and help each other, so that's we had agreed to try. We had decided to begin by talking, something we hadn't done much when I was growing up in Norway and England when she had been preoccupied with diplomatic functions, and I had gradually learnt to not expect anything she did or said in front of other people to mean anything. "It feels like the halt leading the blind."

"You said a few weeks ago that it was getting easier."

"I thought it was. There was something different when she called this time."

"Good different or bad different?"

"How do you mean?" He liked his mother.

"Well, was it 'Hey, I've won the lottery and decided to give it all to you.' Okay, bad example, but you know what I mean. Or was it more, 'Hey, I've been meaning to tell you you're adopted after all, so this angsty let's-get-to-know-each-other stuff is a total waste of time.'"

Also a bad example. "More like, 'I have terminal cancer but I don't know how to tell you and we hardly know each other anyway so why bother trying, good bye.'" And I didn't know if that would be good or bad.

"No hints at all?"

"None."

"Right." Silence. We had sat through many silences over the years. It was harder than it used to be; I found I wanted to know what he was thinking and feeling, and why.

"Right," he said again. "So what's really bothering you?"

I stared at him.

"You keep sitting here. You keep drinking. There's no one here but us. You want to talk about something."

"Karp died."

He nodded and waited.

"And I went to see this art furniture exhibit, and I thought what a cold life he'd led, and how I could have ended up like that, if I hadn't met Julia. And how I have to make some decisions. Mainly about Luz. She's ten. She has the Carpenters; she loves them, I think, and they love her. But they've got no money, and they don't know how to fight the kinds of things she'll have to deal with. And I killed her adopted father. I'm responsible. It would be easy to say, Oh I don't know anything about kids, here's a big fat cheque every month, but I'm responsible. I should legally adopt her. I intend to legally adopt her. But what does that mean? Adoption is like marriage, it should mean something, it shouldn't just be a piece of paper. If I leave her with the Carpenters, I'd be shirking a legal and moral committment. I wouldn't be taking her seriously, giving the relationship its due weight. It would feel wrong."

"Okay."

"But if I'm not going to adopt her, I'm just walking away. But there's no order in a child's life, no clear goal. You can't orchestrate the experience, things just happen. And when I was looking at this furniture--Dornan, it was like looking at an equation in wood--I knew, as certainly as I know this wine is red, that no child ever ran into that man's workshop at a critical juncture and made his chisel slip a hair and cut the ball of his thumb, spill the blood in a Rorshach spatter that pissed him off, but then made him go, Oh!, and gave him an idea. Here was a man who driving home from work might notice a bloody and magnificent sunset over the city but not really see it, because he couldn't see something like that unless he was on vacation, wearing shorts and sandals and with a glass of pinot noir in his hand. Am I making sense?"

He nodded. "I think so."

"It's the difference between cold-blooded decisions and taken-on-the-volley actions. If you get your arm caught in a bear trap and then you see a hungry grizzly thundering down the trail, you have a choice: cut off your arm or die, right there. No time to think. Boom, you do it. But if you get caught in a trap and then nothing happens for a day you have to deliberately consider what it means to cut your own arm off. You have to worry about whether or not you've made the right decision. Even when you pick up your Swiss Army knife you wonder if you're doing the right thing. When you lay the blade against your skin you wonder. Even when you've cut through the skin and fat and muscle, severed the first tendon, are unfolding the saw for the bone, you think, It's not too late to stop."

He didn't like talking about gore, but he gestured for me to go on.

"It's not about having kids or not. It's about everything. It's about the fact that with Julia, it was the beartrap and the bear: I let her in because I didn't know it was happening, and I didn't really understand what I was getting myself into, but with my mother, with Luz, it's deliberate choice. I understand now, I've had time to visualise. And it makes me sweat. Makes my hand shake. I've already cut things, but I want to put the knife down and tell myself I'm not doing the right thing."

"You know you are."

"Am I?"

"Love isn't like losing an arm."

"Yes, it is. Except it's your autonomy, not your arm."

"It's not the same. Look, you talk about control and order and structure as though that's all you are, but you're one of the most deeply animal people I've ever met. No, let me finish. Yes, you do plan and prepare and practise, and you do like your life to be orderly, but so what?" He opened his hands as if to say QED.

"I don't understand."

"Think about it. You're standing on a deserted road in Arkansas with a small child and suddenly a woman pulls a gun. You're in someone's house and the intruder turns out to have a knife. You're driving down the street and the car in front of you hits black ice. What do you do?"

Whatever it took. Fast and free and fluid, a fierce dance to whatever the music had become. "I improvise."

"Exactly. Life's one big improv session."

"Improv is not...reliable."

"No. But you do it so well. It's what life's about. Doing the best you can. Living with ambiguity. Risking failure. Letting go of the notion of perfection."

Perfection. Like the gallery furniture. No risk, no life, but no failure. The air conditioning clicked on and the smoke under the ceiling eddied.

"So," he said after a while. "You've never fancied visiting Seattle?"

"Um? No."

"I've always had a hankering to see the birthplace of the coffee giants myself."

"So go. Take some time off and fly up there, meet some nice girl." Tammy had never been nice. "Go hiking or kayaking or whatever they do up there and dip your toe in the Pacific Ocean."

"Have you ever seen the Pacific?"

"Yes, but not from the West Coast." I poured myself more wine.

"I haven't. They say it's different. They say the whole west and northwest are like different countries. I've always wondered. I mean, what is it about Seattle that makes coffee so important?"

"I have no idea."

"Maybe it's the dark and wet thing, the need to strive to be with others in the warmth and light. That third place thing."

That's what pubs were for.

"I've been thinking about branching out a little, you know, beyond the cafe thing. Hey, maybe we could go up there, you and me, take a look, come up with next big thing, go into business together. It would be something to do with all that money of yours."

"I don't want to do anything with the money, that's the point."

We reflected into our drinks for a while.

"So tell me more about this furniture you hated so much."

"I didn't hate it," I said, surprised. "It was fascinating, beautiful in its own way. Some of it looked impossible and awkward, like the idea of a jumbo jet flying, supported by nothing but air and physics. And they cried out to be touched, for flesh and bone to trace the intersection of one plane with another, follow the distribution of tension across space, weigh the amazement of an empty fulcrum--a false one, a joke, if you like--until you figure out the real centre." I thought about it. "It hid behind its own cleverness, wouldn't just stand there and declare itself, and be brave."

"Furniture as philosophy?"

"You'd think so, from the catalogue." I related snippets of the catalogue blurb, quoting liberally from the Artists' Statement.

"They said it was what?" he said.

"A chair taken seriously as such," I repeated. "A chair truly interrogated, a chair raised to the level of a question."

"Is that right," he said, and shook his head, and we both laughed.

# # #

I stood naked on the deck in the dark and let the night breeze dry my sweat. Treefrogs scricked; the air was scented with jasmine. Three o'clock.

My nightmares had changed. No more dead people--no more people at all. Tonight's dream was already fading. Something to do with.... No, it was gone.

Atlanta slept. In the dark small mammals mated and fed, fought and died. I shivered.

My bedroom was warm and still, drowsing, as I should have been. I walked through the house: bedroom carpet, kitchen tile, hardwood floor, more carpet. I stood in front of the door a moment, then turned the knob.

The chair was cool. My arms fit the rests just right, my hands curled perfectly over the ends. The runners creaked as I rocked. A chair truly interrogated. A chair raised to the level of a question.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Second Peter Jackson Hobbit production video


(via GITS)

As I've said before, initially I wasn't particularly interested in seeing a film of The Hobbit. I loved all three LotR films--there again, I loved the novel. But The Hobbit has always felt like a plodding kid's book to me. One day I'll find the time to reread it and figure out why, exactly. After all, it has swords and ponies, magic and dragons--it should be just the kind of thing that works for me. But it didn't.

Meanwhile, Jackson is slowly reeling me in with these video diaries. I think it's a smart move.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Lame is so gay -- a rant

If you don't find the title offensive, you need to read this post. If you find it offensive only because I appear to use gay as an insult, you need to read this post. If you find the title bitterly amusing, welcome to Enlightenment, but please read the post so you can explain it to lesser beings.
Using lame as a derogatory term is as dangerous and ill-considered as using the term gay in the same context. I know. I'm both: I'm a dyke and I have MS. I walk with elbow crutches. I am, literally, lame.
It might seem harmless to you to call a bad movie lame, a poorly-designed website lame, an outdated notion of publishing lame. Perhaps it seems harmless to your children to call their friend's nerdiness gay, their bad songs gay, their ugly clothes gay. But we all know what happens when gay kids get that casual insult hurled at them every day. Their self-esteem plummets. Sometimes they kill themselves.
Words matter. Like icebergs, nine-tenths of their heft lies out of sight. Insults like gay and lame can kill. If you're not gay or lame, you might not see the grinding damage that's occurring below the waterline to those who are.
So think before you apply the label lame to something you find bad, poor, sucky,* naff, laughable, clueless, or generally displeasing. Think of all us people in a wheelchair, with a cane, with crutches, with a limp, in a scooter. Think of us being scraped at and battered and cut by that cold jagged ice, every day, day in day out.
If you hear others making this mistake, point out to them that using the lame as an insult is making fun of cripples, and that making fun of cripples is no more acceptable than making fun of queers.
Tell them it's dangerous.
It's dangerous because I'm not a child. I don't have a problem with self-esteem. If you use the word lame to mean anything but some version of can't walk well, I won't kill myself. I'll come after you.
Let me be very, very clear: It is not acceptable to use lame as a term of ridicule. Ever. If you use it, I will call you on it. As none of us is perfect, the first time I'll try to not to assume ill intent. I'll try to be reasonable. But, as I say, none of us is perfect, and there'll be days when I'm not particularly reasonable, or careful, or kind. But if you correct the usage instantly (preferably with an apology), I'll forgive and forget. If you don't, I will cut you: I'll cut you out of my life, off my party list, and possibly through an artery. I will name and shame. I will call the internet down on your head.
So think before you speak. You've been warned.
ETA: I've turned off comments on this post. It's been up for six months. I don't have time to monitor everything. Thanks for all your feedback so far.
* It's been pointed out to me that sucky could be problematic

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Muse or ogre?

On Friday, Kelley and I were invited as 'Mystery Muses' to talk to the 2011 batch of Clarion West victims students. We had one hour to pass along something meaningful. We pondered that morning how it should go. Between us, we're writers (novels, stories, essays, memoir), editors (acquisition and development, of fiction, narrative non-fiction, grants, and business articles), and teachers. Once you've said, "Marry someone rich," and "Live in a country with good state benefits," it's difficult to decide what of our experience might be most useful. So we put the choice in their hands: discuss writing techniques or writing life.

With one accord they said: Life!

It's a big topic. We covered (that is, touched on briefly) several facets of writing life, but in the end our thoughts boiled down to two main things: play nicely and be true to yourself.

Playing nicely means be good to everyone: peers, readers, editors, agents, students, teachers, small dogs, vicious children. Everyone. Because in this business everyone really does know everyone else, and eventually your relationships will catch up with you. You never know when that gnerdy fan might turn into the super-powerful uber editor, or the irritating teen bloggermight one day control a media empire. Besides, it just feels good to help others. And when you've helped others, they'll help you. It's good to have friends, in and out of the business. Your relationships are as important as the work itself.

Being true to yourself is simultaneously simple and hard. It means maintaining the psychotic self-belief necessary for all artists, while understanding that one shouldn't force square pegs into round holes. (This applies both to story form, and business success.) It means not being swayed by the market to the detriment of your real voice but not being stupid about money. It means being brave--with the work itself, with relationships (you have to talk to people, you really do), and with making the time to do the work. It means sticking to your guns even--especially--when things are tough. If you think your work is good enough, don't settle for second-best in terms of publication or representation or rewriting. If you don't think it's good enough, don't publish it, make it better. Having someone tell you something's good enough doesn't make it good enough. Being published doesn't make you good, it just makes you published.

One of the most urgent questions was about The Future of Publishing. Sadly I don't think I was very helpful. I laughed. I explained that there is no one future of publishing; there are a thousand. There used to be one main model, yes (the hardcover publication every three years by one of the Big Six, reviewed in the NYTBR, go on NPR, win a prize), with several subsets (e.g. mass market imprint of the B6 twice a year, reviews in genre outlets, sales in supermarkets; etc.). Now there are almost as many roads as there are writers.

Certainly most publishers are taking different routes. Penguin, for example, is going vertical--buying retail and distribution outlets for traditionally published material, while running farm teams such as Book Country, a community of writers from whom they hope to recruit to the big leagues. At least two big retailers--B&N and Amazon--are also publishers, and Amazon's entry into New York publishing will stretch one corner of publishing world into a new shape.

So what path should an emerging writer take? It depends. Depends on your work, your energy, your appetite for risk. I think I'm heading for a hybrid career: my novels (front and backlist) with Big Six publishers, my short fiction and non-fiction (more on that another time) published independently. Other writers will make other choices.

It's important to remember that nothing is irrevocable. Especially these days. Make sure every contract has (preferably) a term-limit for renegotiation or (at least) a solid and sensible reversion clause. Then even if you make a horrible mistake and/or publishing turns on a dime in the next two years, you can change your strategy to match.

So, anyway, I'm not sure if I inspired the writers or terrified them. Muse or ogre? Or, hey, it's an f/sf kind of world: why not both?


Kelley's latest Clarion West write-a-thon piece is up. If you understand love, "Beautiful Wine" will wreck you. Read with hanky handy (or, if you're wicked butch, be prepared for your jaw to ache from clenching). I'm serious.

Then go read all the other pieces she has written so far. Then go give some money to Clarion West and get Kelley to write something just for you. You'll not only get something beautiful, you'll be helping those emerging writers I just talked about. Also, birds will sing and peace will reign on earth. Yeah, the power of art...

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Speak with authority


I like strong opinions held weakly. Say what you mean, mean what you say and be prepared to listen and change your mind. But have the courage of your convictions.

One day I'll post a rant about gendered language policing, but not today. Today, just go practise sounding like you mean it.


Kelley's 21st (21 stories in 21 days!) Clarion West write-a-thon piece, "Synchronicity," is up. It's a particularly fine one. You can read the other twenty pieces here. I think all that off-the-cuff effort and brilliance needs more sponsorship, don't you?

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Friday, July 8, 2011

More Aud

Thanks to all you generous readers, Kelley has hit her $2,250 sponsorship goal for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon. So as a special thank you, here's more Aud. It's follows on from yesterday's opening, the next bit of the original beginning of Always.

------

Drenched in late afternoon sunshine the garden smelt like paradise: forsythia, honeysuckle, jasmine, turned earth and falling sprinkler water, abandoned birds' nests, and, so faint it was probably imaginary, the fur of small mammals venturing above ground for the first time in their short lives. I surveyed my newly mown lawn. The imperfect geometry of its clean edge and wide stripe pattern reminded me of the evenly spaced white crosses in an army cemetery. I wondered if Karp would be buried or cremated.

Behind me on the deck Beatriz fussed with two long planters that she had been filling with pansies and impatiens all afternoon. She sighed.

The grass cuttings on my calves itched. I couldn't understand why I had reacted to Laurence the way I had and why Karp's death was bothering me so much. Beatriz sighed more heavily.

I turned round. "They look fine."

"They are not right." The Spanish softness was leaving her accent, and the English overtones had almost wholly been replaced by American ones. She adjusted something in one of the planters, stepped back to look, sighed again.

It was a waste of time to plant afresh every year a lot of little flowers that didn't smell of anything and would wilt under the weight of summer sunshine unless you moved the tubs into the shade and watered them once a day, but this time last year she had planted annuals for me as a thank you, and today she had shown up ten minutes after I'd got back from the museum, announced that I needed "Some pretty flowers, something cheery and bright," and dragged me out to her car to unload the flats of petunias and impatiens, marigolds and pansies she had brought.

She tilted her head to one side. "They are not balanced, but I think... Yes, I think they will do. Tomorrow I will put marigolds and petunias in hanging baskets, for the porch." And no doubt plant an excess of the useless, optimistic things in raised beds which I would have weed and water ceaselessly all summer, and which made my house look as fussy as a chintz sofa. But she was right, they were cheerful, and they attracted butterflies and bees.

We cleaned the tools, and washed, and ate in the kitchen. I divided the smoked salmon and sun-dried tomato dish I'd prepared that morning, before Eddie's call about Karp. At least I wouldn't have to share the half-bottle of white Bordeaux; Beatriz liked only sticky, brightly-coloured concoctions. This afternoon she had brought herself a six-pack of strawberry wine coolers. No doubt she would drink only one and leave the rest in my fridge. No doubt they would sit there taking up space, garish and out of place, until I threw them away.

We ate. She told me about her boyfriend, Pete, and how they were moving in together next week. I nodded. They'd bought a house, a craftsman bungalow. I nodded some more. She sipped at her drink and told me she had been promoted to account executive at Perrin & Norrander. There was one bite of salmon left on her plate. A plate should be full, then being eaten from, then empty: a pleasing, rational progression. Kitchens should be orderly. And finances. And legal affairs.

"I think you are not really listening today," she said. Her lips were bright pink.

"You're right," I said, and stood, and carried my plate to the sink.

She watched while I scraped and rinsed and put away. "I understand, I think," she said, lifting her drink so I could wipe the table.

"Understand what?"

"Why you're restless. I think you're bored. I have Pete, and a new house, and my job: new things, changes. You need some changes in your life, also."

What I needed was for her to leave.

After a few more minutes I pushed her out of the door and took a shower. I stood under the water for a long time, soaping away the dirt and grass clippings, Karp's death, Laurence and his financial statistics, the cold museum with its dead air, Beatriz and her prattle.

I half-dried my hair with a towel and walked naked through the house to throw the dirty clothes in the laundry. My workroom door was ajar. The sun shone on the arm of the chair I had made for Julia, the one she hadn't lived long enough to sit on. I closed the door, went back to the bedroom to get dressed.

Not quite six o'clock. I took the folder Laurence had given me and walked through to the office.

When I called Bette's work number, I was shunted straight to voicemail, which surprised me. Bette was almost always at the office, it's how I imagine her: behind her big teak desk, lizard-brown and stick-thin, chin wattles hidden by pearls, her Prada and Chanel suits always two years out of date. Seven years ago she had looked sixty-five; she still did. I dialed her home number and she picked up on the first ring.

"Aud? Well, hell, somebody call Ripleys. It's only been two weeks since I saw you last. What's up, girl?" Her incongruously lush, Lauren Bacall voice was always startling.

"I just had my quarterly holdings review with Laurence."

"Are you broke?"

Very funny. "Everything's fine, except he thinks there's something off in my Seattle real estate portfolio."

"Well, I have to say that Laurence always struck me as pretty smart. If he's concerned, could be there's good reason. But money's more his province than mine, unless we're talking about taxes, or your last will and testament. Which reminds me--"

"Not now, Bette."

"Fine, fine. Back to Laurence. What's his concern, exactly?"

"He says that my real estate holdings in the northwest aren't bringing in as much as comparable holdings in the industry. When he called the local property manager to discuss it, she said, more or less, Hey, the economy's bad, what can I tell you? Apparently he doesn't think that's the whole story, and the Northwest property index backs him up." I looked at the printouts in my hand. "Statistically at least my returns are way off."

"And you want me to do what?"

"Start the preliminary paper trail. Get some documentation."

"You think someone's taking you for a ride?"

"Laurence seems to."

I heard the faint tick-tick that meant she was fiddling with her big clasp earrings, which also meant she was frowning. "And you don't want to take a look at this yourself?"

"No."

"Why in hell not? It sounds right up your street. And I hear Seattle's lovely at this--"

"As I told Laurence: you two can deal with this between you from here just as easily as I can from there. More easily. I don't see a single reason for me to get on a plane and fly out there to look at some dilapidated warehouses just for the sake of a few dollars."

"Whoa, there. Steady down. Just asking."

"So you'll handle it."

"Well, sure, I can start things off: sniff around, see what's what. I'll have Laurence fax me the details and get you a preliminary report in... Let's see, ten days suit you?"

"Yes. Thank you."

"Hell, it's what you pay me for. Now, how's that little girl in Arkansas?"

"Luz is fine." Karp's dead, I wanted to say, he won't be bothering her anymore, but found I couldn't. "I was out there in February, for her tenth birthday. The Carpenters are treating her kindly. She's adapting well to school." Alarmingly well. A Mexican child who was sold by her family to a psychopathic abuser in New York and then fostered for money to a fundamentalist English-speaking couple in rural Arkansas should be showing more signs of stress. The stress was there; it would manifest sooner or later. Payment always came due. "No signs of Goulay resuming her activities?"

"Nope. That woman won't import any more children, not while I'm around. I have a good buddy in the INS who's keeping tabs on things for me."

"Don't let up on this one, Bette."

"I guarantee it."

"And keep me informed."

"Don't I always? Which is more than can be said the other way around. When are you going to get around to telling me about that envelope from Norway?"

"Bette..."

"Now don't 'Bette' me, not this time. I didn't trouble you with it last year because your friend just died. I didn't trouble you with it when you came in for your year-end taxes because you still looked thin and peaky. I didn't even trouble you with it last month when you were here to talk about trusts and endowments--have you talked to Laurence about that yet, by the way?"

I didn't say anything.

"But, look, sweetie, it's been a year. You're looking good again, and I need to know what it is exactly that I'm holding in my safe. It smells bad, for one thing. It has blood on it."

The day I had written that letter, had bled all over the envelope, Julia had still been alive. Twelve hours earlier she had sat on my lap in her blue dress-- Or had it been grey? And I couldn't remember how she'd worn her hair.

"Aud?"

"Karp's dead."

Silence. "When?"

"I heard this morning. I need to know if he has a will."

"And if he does?"

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

"But--"

"That letter," I said, "the one from Norway. It's... insurance."

Silence. More earring fiddling. Finally she said, "If it's the kind of thing I think it is, then you'd be better getting it properly typed and witnessed and notarised."

"Ummm," I said. "So. You'll take care of that Seattle business?"

"I will. And, Aud--"

"I'll think about it."

"You do that. Can't be too careful." Click.

Last year, the contents of that envelope--dates, places, names--had kept the Tijuana Cartel from killing me, but most of the people named in the letter were now dead. In the drug world, things move fast. It was probable that Luis Palma, the Federal Police commander who had run the Tijuana operation, was also dead, which would mean there was no one left who would recognise my name. If I did nothing, it might stay that way.

------

That last paragraph, by the way, is the root of the plot outline I have for Book 5. Book 4 would all be about Aud and Kick, plus some saving-the-day, wild affairs with bad girls, and explosions.

If you keep giving, I'll post even more.


Kelley's latest Clarion West write-a-thon piece is up. "Love Story," is just that, a story of how love really is and why that's good. Go read it. Remember that she just wrote that whole thing after rolling out of bed this morning, just as she's written all the other nineteen pieces: fresh, from scratch, to raise money for the students of Clarion West. Consider sponsoring her.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

The original opening of Always

As promised, here's a thank you for your support of Kelley's Clarion West write-a-thon. It's the original opening for the third Aud novel, Always:

My early version of the cover.

It was an early afternoon in the first week of May but the air that streamed through my car on the drive from Laurence's office was already slippery and swollen with humidity, as dense and soft as a woman's inner thigh. When I entered the Loew Museum of Art, though, it could have been winter. The cool air, stripped of all organic information and chaotic flow, hissed evenly from the ceiling and was sucked in by the floor vents, cleansed, modified, reorganised and rereleased in a seamless, neutral river cold with the tang of ductwork, cool stone, and floor-cleaning solvent. The ceilings were high and painted pearly white, and the sunlight was funnelled through skylights, unmoored from its source and clarified of its southern gold, toned down to anywhere light and decanted coolly to illuminate only what the designers wanted. We are nothing but our minds, it seemed to say. Even the echoing marble floors could have been designed to intimidate the body, forcing the more self-conscious visitors to tread softly and wish their weight away.

I flexed my hand, remembering the crunch of Karp's bones, the hot spill of his blood. Six months ago. It could have been yesterday.

The first item in the exhibit was a two-drawered nightstand. From a distance its dark red wood looked top-heavy and unstable, as ungainly and improbable as the skeleton of a T-rex, bones polished and drilled, high-tension cables replacing living muscle. The catalogue told me it was a Cubist-Constructivist side table, and talked about its construction of sixty perpendicularly aligned rods, two hundred and forty sides and seventy-eight joints, all perfectly machined to within three one-thousandths of a inch--aerospace tolerances, as though the wood were steel.

People were so fragile. Karp, though, had lasted longer than I or anyone else had expected.

The catalogue told me about Weinberger's early modern influences, Malevich, Mondrian, Rietveld. It talked about Fibonacci numbers, negative space and Euclid's harmonic proportions. It did not tell me what kind of tree the nightstand was cut from.

Karp's death wasn't unexpected--and I wouldn't miss him, I had met him only once, spoken a single word in his presence before hitting him across the throat--but I was only just beginning to grasp its implications.

There was no sign saying Do Not Touch, so I ran my middle fingertip along the wood and bent to examine the grain: tropical wenge. I leant on it surreptiously--despite its unbalanced appearance it was supremely sturdy. I squatted to peer underneath; it didn't smell of wood, just the seed oil--linseed, possibly--it had been rubbed with. I slid the top drawer in and out and the balance of the movement, its extravagant precision, reminded me of an luxury handgun.

I was about to stand and move on to something the catalogue described as a pearwood tension-rod credenza when heels echoed off the far wall, and I turned, and it was Julia. There was so much I needed to ask her: what to do about little Luz now that Karp was out of the picture, whether I really should care what my banker, Laurence, said about the Seattle real estate broker stealing me blind, how I could find a way to make it all make sense again, the way it seemed to before I met her. But of course it wasn't her, just some woman her height and colouring. Julia was dead. She had been dead for three weeks less than a year. She would always be dead.

------

There's more. Stay tuned.


ETA: Kelley's latest Clarion West write-a-thon piece is up. "Magic" is a classic rhythmic riff, Ray Bradbury style. Go read it. Consider sponsoring her.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Naked writing 02

To balance the woman of yesterday, here's an unedited closeup of a man:

She had never seen a clean-shaven man so close before. In the slanting light his chin and cheeks, even his neck, glittered with flecks of gold, as though a thief, shaving coins, had, startled, thrown the curls of soft metal in his face. His eyes, though, were dark grey, like a new-forged blade darkening after the coals: but unhammered and spoiling. New, but ruined.

That's the paragraph that popped into my head a couple of years ago when I was thinking of Hild's first encounter with a Christian priest. But I doubt I'll ever use it. For one thing, the Bishop Paulinus was a Roman, complete with black eyes and beak nose (we have a brief description in Bede). And as the result of a Tuckerization auction a while ago that ended up netting over $4,000 for the African Well Fund, Paulinus's amanuensis is to be called Stephanus the Black. He wouldn't have gold hair. And emotionally grey eyes/black hair/iron filings just don't work the same way as grey/gold/gold. So here it is, my gift to you for helping Kelley reach her $2,000 sponsorship goal for the Clarion West write-a-thon.

I promised also to post some outtakes of Aud later this week. So yesterday I went rootling through old files and found some monologues I'd forgotten all about. They're not from Aud's POV but are addressed to her at various stages of her childhood and young-adult years. They're part of the mosaic of experience that made Aud who she is. I remember writing more than a dozen of them to include in Stay, but I could only find four. (Or maybe five, if you include a very strange Aud dream.) But I also found the original beginning of Always, and a couple of scenes from that novel that I changed my mind about. (Nothing extra from The Blue Place. I wrote that one in Wordperfect. I'm lucky to have a Word .doc of the finished ms, never mind extras.)

I'll post a little something from Aud tomorrow, as a thank you. But will hold the others until Kelley's sponsorship reaches $2,250. So go pledge some money.


Kelley's latest Clarion West write-a-thon piece, "Closed Circuit" is up. You can read all eighteen pieces so far (yes, one written fresh every single morning) here. It's another heart-wrencher.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Naked Writing 01

It's official: Kelley has now reached her goal of $2,000 in sponsorship for her Clarion West write-a-thon work. She's writing fresh pieces every morning based on a writing prompt for those donate $35 or more. And, of course, anyone can give any amount any time, just because. ($5 or $5,000, it's all good.) Clarion West is a life-changing experience and Kelley is the board chair, and, besides, Clarion (when it was still at MSU) is where we met, so it's dear to our hearts. We want you to give, give, give so that future students can have their lives changed for the better.

I promised that when Kelley made her goal I'd start posting snippets of my naked--that is, unedited, raw, never-before-seen--writing. I won't be doing graceful, specially-created pieces like Kelley. This is her gig, not mine. Besides, I'm in the middle of my Hild novel and am unwilling to dilute my focus. (Everyone will nag at me if I do.) I also can't post excerpts of that book here. So what I'll be posting instead are snippets of what I've called hypnagogics: dreamtime writing that has no use but as itself.

Like this:

She is the drape of heavy silk, the swing of black-brown curl, the liquorice-eyed beauty; the turn of muscled calf, the gleam of sweat, and a ring of dull silver. She is the rounded belly of rosewood guitar, the liquid note, the hard hipbone, the teeth sinking into roast kid. She is the flick of tongue, the fold of flesh, the sharp scent of bear. She is a summer night, hot and close, uncomfortable--and longed for on cold, cold winter afternoons.

In the future perhaps I'll post one or two more hypnagogics, or a series of songs/poems/battle taunts I've written while living in Hild world. I won't be able to use them in the novel, but I like to know they exist. Or perhaps I'll find a paragraph or two of outtakes, scenes that just don't fit. Or maybe I'll dig out the beginnings of stories I haven't completed. But all will be raw and unedited. (If I have time I'll also show you how I might edit such things, if I were planning to use them anywhere.)

Actually, hmmn. I think I might even have some not-used scenes from various Aud books. If I can find them. But I won't post those until Kelley's total gets past $2,250. So if you want to see them, sponsor her.


Kelley's latest Clarion West write-a-thon piece is "Garden Grow." And if you followed my Tweetstream yesterday you have an extra luscious layer of subtext for this wicked piece. (Never piss off a writer.) So go read it. Catch up on all seventeen pieces so far. Consider sponsoring Kelley.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Boom-time machine

I lifted the title for this post from the Economist article of the same name:

Radiocarbon dating provides a range, often spanning 200 years or more, rather than an exact date for a site. Stratigraphy, which looks at the soil layers in which artefacts are found, tells you only which ones are older and which younger. None of these data is precise. They do, however, limit the possible range of dates. And by using a statistical technique called Bayesian analysis it is possible to combine such disparate pieces of information to produce a consolidated estimate that is more accurate than any of its components. That results in a range that spans decades, not centuries.
[...]
A team led by Alex Bayliss, from English Heritage, a British government agency, has just used this technique to examine digs from hundreds of sites around Britain. The results have caused them to reinterpret the Neolithic past quite radically.
[...]
English Heritage now plans to apply the technique to another murky era of British history, the early Anglo-Saxon period between 400AD and 700AD.

Essentially, archaeology has just caught up with other disciplines, like biology, and started using more sophisticated statistical techniques. Bayesian inference is...well, hmmn, I think of it as constant-improvement statistics: you look at the result/event, and fold it into the prior probability/expectation of that result/event, and end up with an improved understanding of what the result means. Sort of like a statistical feedback loop--but, er, not. Oh, just go to Wikipedia and read for yourself.

The point, for me, is that they are going to take a look at Hild's era. More accurate info about change in the Heroic Age excites me to popping point. I want them to do it now. Now now now!

My big worry? That Hild will be published and then I'll find out, in light of the new interpretations of data, that everything we thought we knew is wrong. That will drive me crazy. If I honestly thought Alex Bayliss and his team could get the work done by the end of the year, I'd delay turning the book in. But, like everything related to archaeology, the process is slow.

It's worth reading the whole article, despite sentences such as "None of these data is precise." An example of technically correct grammar turning one's head inside out like a sock.


Here's Kelley's latest Clarion West write-a-thon piece, "The Last Cafe."

The sign said The Last Cafe, but the place looked like what Annie thought of as a regular house, small and wooden with a covered front porch, sleepy in the shade of a stand of oaks dripping Spanish moss. Blue jays scracked overhead. It was going to be a hot day. Annie smelled salt in the air.

She left Bridget in the small parking lot while she went around back. She had learned that taking a little one to the door only made it more likely folks would say no. “Stay right here and wait for me,” she said. Bridget nodded tiredly and clutched her beanbag frog. [more]

You should read the whole thing. It will make you cry (or clench your jaw and blink sternly, depending). So if it did make you blink, even just a little, sponsor Kelley. All money will benefit all the children clutching frogs students of Clarion West next year. You can read all Kelley's other pieces here for free (though you'll feel better, I'm sure, if you've added a little something to the cause).

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