Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My BBC Radio 4 thing

Part one of the BBC Radio 4 programme, Cat Women of the Moon, is up on iPlayer. It's an interesting mix of writers, academics and others musing on science fiction, sex, and gender. (I didn't get all the names, but included are me, Iain Banks, Farah Mendelsohn, Patricia Duncker, Geoff Ryman, China Miéville, and the presenter, Sarah Hall.)

Part Two is up next week. Same time, same place (Tuesday, 11:30 am UK time).

A lot of it was standard stuff, but I wanted to hear more from Patricia Duncker and her notions of sexy robots. You?

ETA: Courtesy of Shana at Torque Control, here's a list of books (and other media) mentioned in the programme.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

It's time for the Lambda Literary Foundation to stand up

The Lambda Literary Foundation released its new award eligibility criteria today:

  • LGBT authors will be recognized with three awards marking stages of a writer’s career: the Betty Berzon Debut Fiction Award (to one gay man and one lesbian), the Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize (to one male-identified and one female-identified author), and the Pioneer Award (to one male-identified and one female-identified individual or group)
  • Awards for the remaining Lambda Literary Award categories will be based on literary merit and significant content relevant to LGBT lives. These awards will be open to all authors regardless of their sexual identity
  • All book award judges will be self-identified LGBT

I approve of the second and third points. (Not everyone does. For an opposing viewpoint, see Sassafras Lowrey.) Here's my reasoning. One, if you can't substantiate (check, prove, police, ensure) eligibility, it's pointless. Two, if a panel of self-identified lesbians (or trans, bi, or gay folk) think that a lesbian (or trans, bi, or gay) novel speaks to them, represents their lives, then it does; it's worthy.

As to the first point, the eligibility criteria for the named awards: they're just plain wrong. Go read this response from Cheryl Morgan--and be sure to read Roz Kaveny's comment. They're angry. They're right.

It's time for a full and frank discussion of these issues. The Lambda Literary Foundation needs to address trans and bi visibility, equality, and accessibility. Or it should bill itself not as an LGBT organisation but LG(bt).

One small point in LLF's defence: named awards criteria can't be changed without the consent of the sponsor who funds the award. Hopefully that consent will be forthcoming soon. Meanwhile, it's simply not a good enough excuse for publishing these exclusionary rules.

The Lambda Literary Foundation is the world's foremost LGBT literary organisation. It must live up to that responsibility. It must champion every member of its community equally--no exceptions, no excuses. These are difficult financial times, but if an award's sponsoring body refuses to offer equal access, that award should no longer be administered by LLF.

It's time for LLF to stand up.

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Alisha Baker prints for sale

Alisha Baker, We Dance the World Into and Out of Creation, relief print on paper
hand-painted frame acrylic on wood, 14″x17″ $215. Unframed print,
signed & numbered edition of 50: $65
Purchase info

We went to Alisha Baker's art show last week. There's some lovely stuff. I had three favourites. Go take a look (and guess which ones I liked). If you like something, buy it. Or buy a print. Artists, like writers, need to eat.

Also, if you follow the link trail you'll find a photo of me and Kelley with Alisha on opening night. And Alisha's mum and grandmother. It's an amazing thing to meet an artist's family and get a sense of where she, as a person and an artist, really comes from. I'm now trying to imagine meeting some of my long-time-favourite writers--Rosemary Sutcliffe, Mary Renault, Patrick O'Brian, J.R.R. Tolkien--and their families. What insight that might have given me into their work. Or extreme bafflement...

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Are queers human?

From lippenheimer, a thoughtful review of Slow River, pondering the consequences of straight/queer equality:

One of the main questions that classic feminist sci-fi explored was whether, if women had power and autonomy, they would create a world radically different from and better than the one we’ve got (a common means of getting this autonomy was the elimination of men, or escape from them, which is a depressing commentary on how bad things were in the real world). I suppose one could ask the same question about GLBT people, and in both cases, Griffith’s answer seems to be fairly negative, that both groups, being born into a world with a tradition of exploitation and violence, are liable to perpetuate those traditions.

Ammonite deliberately asked and answered "Are women human?" (I was so very tired of watching f/sf writers struggle with this 'question'. Ammonite was designed to end the debate.)

I hadn't thought about it in these terms before but apparently Slow River asks "Are queers human?" That wasn't my intent with the book . To me the main questions in the book are: "What makes us who we are? How far outside our normal behaviour will we go to stay alive? How do we come back? What makes two people who seem to be in the same situation respond so differently?" But I can see how some readers might use this set-up to consider the wider question, "Are queers human?" To me, the answer is perfectly obvious.

You?

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Clarion West one-day writing workshops

Clarion West is the best genre writing workshop in the world. It's a six-week writing boot camp in Seattle. Each week is led by a working writer at the top of their career. They share their skills and hard-won experience with eighteen students chosen from hundreds of applicants worldwide. Clarion West changes lives.

But what if you can't afford to take six weeks out from your normal life? What if you've been there, done that, and want more? What if you write romance or urban fantasy or westerns? Then you attend one of the brand-new, highly focused Clarion West One-Day Writing Workshops at Seattle Center specially designed for writers of all genres.

There are three scheduled for this year:

Alive in the World

  • Molly Gloss
  • Sunday, September 11, 2011
  • 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
  • Character and setting are often looked at as separate aspects of fiction, yet in fundamental ways the two work in tangled concert. Setting gives a character something to respond to, and in that response something important is revealed. Through writing and talking we’ll investigate the small, essential details of place that make the fictional world and the people in it whole and convincing.
  • Nonrefundable fee $125 – Limited to 12 students - Register here.
  • Molly Gloss is the multiple award-winning author of Wild Life, The Dazzle of Day, The Jump-Off Creek, and “Lambing Season.”
Jumpstart Your Novel
  • Mark Teppo
  • Sunday, October 9, 2011
  • 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
  • This session will eradicate the first-page problem of any new novel project. Through hands-on exercises you’ll create character arcs, plot sketches, and a working outline. With these in hand you will elaborate on methods and techniques to guide you throughout the writing phase. At the end of the day the book will seem half-written.
  • Nonrefundable fee $125 – Limited to 12 students – Register here.
  • Mark Teppo writes urban fantasy novels with subversive twists and oversees transmedia collaborative writing projects including The Mongoliad.
Your First Scene
  • Nancy Kress
  • Sunday, November 6, 2011
  • 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
  • The first scene of your story or novel must do many things: capture an editor’s interest, set the tone of your work, and launch your characters and plot. This intensive workshop will explore ways to do all of this well, beginning with a lecture, discussion, and analysis of successful first scenes. The second part will focus on your own work (which must be submitted by email 10 days in advance). These submissions will be critiqued by the class and instructor.
  • Nonrefundable fee $140 – Limited to 10 students – Register here.
  • Nancy Kress is the former fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest and author of multiple award-winning stories and novels, including Probability Space and "Beggars in Spain."

I think these are going to be pretty special. Sign up soon. They're already filling up fast.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

I own seventh-century Britain

this is all mine...

I spent some time yesterday pondering domain names for the Hild novels. Then I went shopping. I got a bit megalomaniacal and threw into my cart more than was strictly necessary. So now I'm the proud owner of seventhcenturybritain.com. I feel like a king. Chortle. I have such plans! Until then: kiss my ring.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Radio Times review of 'Cat Women of the Moon': sex and gender in sf

Just found this Radio Times review of "Cat Women of the Moon," the 2-part BBC Radio 4 documentary about sex and gender in science fiction, which airs next week. (Via SFFAudio)

Review by:
Jeremy Aspinall
Fans of 1950s sci-fi flicks will probably recognise the title of this programme from the 1953 camp classic of the same name. However, slinky lunar maidens out to destroy mankind is only the starting point here, as novelist Sarah Hall muses on science fiction’s ability to allow writers and film-makers to push the boundaries when it comes to sex, gender and power.

As author Nicola Griffith says, real-world stories are about what is, sci-fi is about what if. Cue some extraordinary (and controversial) concepts from writers and academics about all-female societies, triple-gender worlds, a society ruled by “grannies” and fembots. China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station — about the relationship between a man and a woman with an insectoid head — is a revelation and would seem to be right up director David Cronenberg’s street. Thought-provoking stuff.

ABOUT THE EPISODE
Part one of two. Writer Sarah Hall is joined by leading writers including Iain Banks, China Miéville and Nicola Griffith to discuss how sex is depicted in the science-fiction world, and the way the genre portrays relationships between aliens, artificial life forms and single-sex societies.

CAST AND CREW
Produced by Nicola Swords

Also, thanks to the sleuthing by Jesse Willis at SFFAudio, you can watch the original Cat-Women of the Moon film here. I watched the first five minutes. It would make a superior drinking game: doing a shot every time you spot a space travel howler would have had me in intensive care in three minutes. Or maybe thirty seconds.

I'm looking forward to this.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How lucky I am

Yesterday, I saw this tweet from @oatmeal. (You have to go click the link and look at the photo or this post won't make sense.)

Nailed it! I thought, then pottered off into the kitchen to make a tuna sandwich. I opened the cupboard to get out a Tupperware bowl to mix the tuna salad in and store in the fridge to get cool, and found that Kelley had organised the Tupperware (okay, the cheap disposable knockoffs) into stacks of bowls separated by the appropriate lids:

yeah, we have more than that but some are, y'know, in the fridge

And I was reminded of all the many, many ways Kelley makes my life better; all the many, many ways I love her. (Most do not involve Tupperware. Just to be clear.) But this one really struck me. So I thought I'd share.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Second draft of Hild is done, baby, done

I've just finished the second draft of Hild. It weighs in at 962 pages: 196,221 words. It started out at 976. I thought I'd lose a hundred pages or so--after all. I'd lost fifty pages by the time I was a third of the way through. But, eh, it turned out I'd rushed the ending, as usual, and so had to write a lot of new scenes. (The last 200 pages were mostly rubbish. I had to junk them. Mostly.)

The next step is that I spell check it (not easy with names and phrases in Old English, Irish, Latin, and Brythonic). Tweak a little while Kelley is finishing her current editing job (one tweak I must get done: adding a brief but oh-so-nifty narrative summary of insular trade route and political webs in one of the early sections). Hand it to Kelley to read. Get banned from the house so I don't drive Kelley insane with, "Have you finished yet? Have you finished yet?"

When she has finished (and we've finished vacuuming up all the tufts of hair I've pulled out in frustration), we have a long--very long--conversation. Then I kick the furniture to pieces. Then we fix the furniture. Then I fix the book. Again. Then I break it into handy chapter-sized chunks, with suitable titles (I'm thinking quotes from the text this time), smooth a few metaphors and, oh yeah, find a title. Then it goes to my editor.

But for now, today, I pat the huge brick of paper, beam, and slide to the floor in the Faint of Triumph. Then I recover and eat. A lot. Then sit brainlessly in the sun for a day or two. (Oh where is the sun? I need the sun...) Then I think I might--gasp!--read a light novel. Right now Thomas Perry's The Island is looking attractive. But I'm open to suggestions.

So, once again: Hild Round 2 is DONE, BABY, DONE!

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

From Ur or Roman Britain?

Here's a guessing game for you. Is this jar Roman (from first century Britain) or is it from the ancient city of Ur? It was found in pieces in a store room full of stuff that could be from either place. Experts haven't a clue. They also have no idea what it was used for. Storing dormouse snacks? Snakes for religious purposes? (Yep, these are serious suggestions...)

I looked at it and thought: incense. But then why would there be a hole in the base? And why are the holes, which are beautifully cut, so oddly arranged? I can't make it make sense. Which will drive me insane. So: save my brain, solve this for me! What could this jar have been used for?

Even bizarre suggestions gratefully accepted.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Finally bronze bras make sense

As anyone who's read Patrick O'Brian knows, it's best to fight duels without clothes (cloth pushed into a wound via blade or bullet --> infection). The Mary Sue has a wonderful blog post about a semi-naked women's duel fought in the 19th century, along with all the details about why Princess Pauline Metternich and the Countess Kielmannsegg were fighting. (Fought over flower arrangements. I'm not kidding.)

It's the jaunty little hat that gets me. And those shoes. Oh, and having to hold your skirt up with one hand. Also, blades and breasts are not a felicitous combination. I think of all the little things that could get clipped off in one careless swipe and I shudder.

I finally understand all those bronze bra'ed amazons of bad fantasy cover art.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cat Women of the Moon

No, I'm not referring to the, ah, classic 1953 movie starring Sonny Tufts, Victor Jory and Marie Windsor, but to a BBC Radio 4 documentary: a two-parter looking at how science fiction literature has been used to explore gender. I did an interview for it last month. Many much more fabulous people--e.g. Margaret Atwood and Ursula K Le Guin--were also interviewed. I think the final programmes will be exceedingly cool.

I just got the air dates, so mark your calendars: Tuesday, August 30th and Tuesday, September 6th, both at 11:30 a.m. UK time (6:30 EST, 3:30 PST). If the BBC follows its usual pattern, both programmes should stream on the BBC's iPlayer for a week or so after initial air date.

I'll remind you closer to the time.

I might also write a little something and post it here to accompany the broadcast. I'd done a lot of thinking before the interview, but of course, given the time constraints, didn't get to say most of it. It seems a pity to waste all the Deep Thoughts. Besides, I'm always much more coherent in print form. I had lot of fun pondering the notion of gender and f/sf in historical/British terms and came up with some nifty theories (some possibly outrageous--because poking hives with sticks is, y'know, fun.) But on the actual day, due to ingestion of copious painkillers and lack of sleep (see this post for why), I'm not convinced I acquitted myself adequately. (Satellite radio is surreal--a combination of sensory deprivation, and interrogation. Very definitely unnatural.) I have a private bet about the what soundbite of mine they'll use. It's something that came near the end when I was musing aloud. (Note to self: never muse aloud when the mic is live and tape is running...)

Watch this space.

[ETA: thanks to Cheryl Morgan, I've just seen the press release. Names mentioned: Iain Banks, China Miéville, and me. The producer, Nicola Swords, told me she might pull quotes from Le Guin and Atwood from previous interviews. As usual, I won't know until I hear it. Radio interviews--all interviews--are an exercise in faith.]

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Free wine and pretty pictures: Alisha Baker, Thursday

Alisha Baker, "Dancing with Chaos" (18" x 24")

A reminder to come join me and Kelley at Alisha's Baker's gallery show here in Seattle on Thursday, 6 - 8 pm. Some more info from Alisha:

  • Free wine!
  • Form/Space Atelier is located on 1st Ave in Belltown, between Battery & Wall on the west side of the street.
  • The show will feature 7 block prints (4 with hand-painted frames) and 5 paintings. While this is the first time I'll be showing most of the pieces, the series has been in process for the last two years.
  • The reception is from 6-8pm. If for some wild and crazy reason you can't make it ;) gallery hours are 12-4 Wed- SAT (not Sunday- correction from previous email). The show will be up until September 10th.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sex is better than cream cake, and Elvis sucks

I still haven't forgiven Elvis for dying. I wake up cross on August 16th every year. (No, not really. But every year when I read in the paper that it's the anniversary of his death, I get cross. Tuh.) But I'm busy today (Hild, Hild, Hild), so I'm going to repost an AN Q&A from 2008:

From: Linda (EvergreenLM@aol.com)

Recently I wrote to you sharing my anticipation of finally receiving my pre-ordered copy of Always.

I also commented that much like my nephew not wanting to "use up" his new and very expensive athletic shoes by not wearing them, I wanted to savor once again entering Aud's world. I also do not want to use up the experience too quickly.

I have been reading Always since I picked it up from the bookstore three days ago. I am almost to the end and had to put it down. I have saved a bit, like the last swallow of a good wine or a remaining sliver of Italian cream cake.

I know you'll "make more," but for now I am going to wait until I am quietly hunkered down in my bed and enjoy every remaining chapter one delicious word at a time.

Applause, Applause, Nicola!

What is 'Italian cream cake'? English cream cake is basically a plain sponge cake (aka Victoria sponge) with plain whipped cream in the middle (occasionally accompanied by a smear of fruit compote, or jam, depending on the haute-ness of the cake) and dusted with icing sugar (aka confectioners' sugar).

When I was growing up, cream cakes were an occasional Saturday treat. On good days, Mum would splurge on one small cake to be divided among the whole family (two parents, five children). The pieces were not large. I savoured mine as long as humanly possible, squishing that luscious cream about in my mouth. Fast forward a few years to when I was sixteen and in love for the first time, with Una Fitzgerald. (Beautiful girl/woman: blue, blue Irish eyes, black, black hair. A hip-to-waist ratio that would put Salma Hyek to shame. And old-fashioned in many respects: loved Frank Sinatra, musicals, Elvis. I learnt to admire Frank, too; the others I grinned and bore because, well, if it made her happy, I got more kisses.) At school, Una and I had a lot of time together. (Some of it involving the inappropriate use of bathrooms, empty classrooms, the chaplain's office... See And Now We Are Going to Have a Party for racy details.) However, in the school holidays we couldn't get any time together: we were both from large Catholic families; someone was always around.

We agreed to spend a whole day together out somewhere, the seaside. We picked Scarborough. When the day came, I got up at the crack of dawn. I walked to the bus stop equidistant between her house and mine. I waited. And waited. I began to get frantic; Una was never late. I had awful images of her parents finding out about us and locking her in the cellar (they didn't have a cellar, but my imagination was a bit gothic--I don't react well to mornings). Then I finally spotted her in the distance: shoulders bowed, head hanging, steps small and uncertain. Oh dear god, what had happened? I ran to her. She was weeping. I held her. Eventually she told me: Elvis was dead.

I was stunned. Not that Elvis was dead--what did I care? I'd never met him--but that my day, my fucking special day with my first love, was going to be royally screwed because this, this velvet-clad git had died on a toilet. If he hadn't already been dead I would have killed him.

However (I realise this blog post is getting long), eventually I persuaded Una that a day out by the sea was the proper way to celebrate the life of her favourite singer (her favourite that day, tuh) and we got on the bus.

We wandered on the beach, went to the pub, went back to the beach, back to the pub.

So, we'd been drinking. We'd been in the fresh air. We were hormonal but couldn't have sex (crowded seaside town, for one thing; Una grieving--oh, I hate Elvis!--for another). So we sublimated one urge with another: we were hungry. We walked by a bakery. We stopped. We went in. We bought an entire cream cake. We then bought tickets to a carousel and sat on the bobbing painted horses and ate the entire cream cake. It was, of course, delicious. But I was bobbing up and down and going round and round and I'd been drinking...

It turns out that those tattooed men with missing teeth who run carousels don't like it when you throw up all over their ride.

Moral of the story: sex is better than cream cake, and Elvis sucks.

It turns out that I have bad luck with the timing of the death of musicians. When John Lennon died-- But, oof, this is already long enough. I'll save that story for another time.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

I need your help

Three years ago I wrote a blog post called You've been warned, a combination rant, promise, and manifesto. A couple of weeks ago, a commenter, KatieS, took exception to this part:

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.

The word pornography, she pointed out, had negative connotations for her and many others, just as lame has for me. She has a point. I've decided to rewrite a little.

The problem: I'm deep into Hild at the moment, so far down that other projects feel like alien dreams. In idle moments I've toyed with a few notions: changing pornography to the Forbidden, or X-rated or banned. But rants are blunt and brutal poetry. The rhythm of each word, its deep meaning, is vital. None of the alternative satisfy me. It's nagging at me, like a thistle in my shoe.

The solution: I need your help. I thought we might crowdsource a solution. So. How should I rewrite this sentence?

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.

Give me a suggestion. (Give me a polite suggestion.)

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fun with maths!

From Vi Hart, two nifty videos of ways to play with maths. And I mean play. It's Sunday. That's what Sunday is for. I think I like the second one best. I play with bits of paper all the time. Can't do that in a paperless office...





Via GITS

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

How to make a chocolate book

I'm busy with Hild today so I thought I'd amuse you with this notion: making books of chocolate. If your definition of chocolate is...loose. (Via GalleyCat)



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Friday, August 12, 2011

Silence on the Salish Sea

photo taken with crapcam, sorry about that

I woke to time out of time: a still morning draped in silence and mist. Not even any foghorns. No birds. No leaves stirring in the trees. I feel as though our cul-de-sac has floated out onto the Salish Sea to another time. If I listen closely, I might hear the plash-and-glide of a birchbark canoe...

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Vines do grow

The honeysuckle is blossoming, twining vinously over everything. Sort of like my Hild sentences.

The vines, though, will just get bigger and bigger whereas Hild, overall, is shrinking. I'm pruning and tidying in lit world while letting garden world run riot. Now if the hummingbirds would just show up...

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Join us and Alisha Baker, August 18th Seattle

One of our favourite artists is Alisha Baker. We own four of her paintings. Three of them live in the Alisha Baker room:

So I'm delighted to be able to tell you that after nine years of showing her work in local businesses, she has her very first solo gallery show coming up at Form/Space Atelier in Belltown. I'm not a painter, but I'm guessing this is the equivalent of getting a book published by a New York house after years paying your dues with short stories in little magazines. I'm delighted for her. Also: excuse for a party!

Kelley and I will be attending the opening reception on Thursday, August 18th, from 6 - 8 p.m. when Alisha introduces a new series called “Dancing with Chaos,” featuring acrylic paintings and linoleum block prints inspired by Dia de los Muertos. I'm hoping lots of you will show up to support her--and, y'know, just hang out with us while looking at the pretties. If you can't make that night, the work will be up for the month. So drop by. Gallery hours are Wed-Sat. 12-4. (The gallery is often locked, so just knock on the door and the receptionist will open it for you.)

Here's the blurb for the show:


Dancing with Chaos: Paintings and Block Prints by Alisha Baker


This series began in the fall of 2009, when a fellow artist invited me to his house for an art-making day. It was an unusually warm day in October, and dancing skeletons flew from my brush as we got to know each other. That night was our first kiss, and that man has since become my fiancé.

My experience of falling in love has carried with it a great fear. I have grown up with stories of my good grandfather who died too soon. My grandmother never remarried because she had lost “the love of her life.” Facing my own true love, I have had to confront my desire for control over loss.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a festival in Latin countries to honor the deceased, is a beautiful inspiration to me. They practice accepting death as a continuation of life. Each year they observe rituals of remembrance that invite the spirits that have flown to return for a visit.

I see how my relationship with death and loss affects my relationship to life and love. Trying to control only paralyzes life, so there is nothing left to do but let go and invite it to dance.

This show is a collection of vibrant, folk inspired paintings with acrylic on wood as well as linocut (linoleum block prints) on paper. Block-printing was used in Mexico during the Revolution, and is a powerful means to proliferate a narrative graphically. The technique appeals to me in its potential for variety, re-iteration and collaboration with each design. It has provided a means for me to open up my art process to my partner, sharing our ideas and working together to print them.

Alisha Baker was born in Northern California and grew up in Washington, currently residing in North Seattle. She has been showing and selling her work locally for the last nine years. She holds a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration from Seattle Central Community College (2000) and a BFA degree in drawing and painting from the University of Washington, where she graduated Cum Laude in 2009. She has taken additional courses at the Kirkland Arts Center and Gage Academy of Fine Arts. Beginning in 2009, Alisha has taught drawing and block printing throughout the city with her fiancé Drew Jeffers.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The QED seal of approval for ebooks

This strikes me as a step forward. Publishing Innovation Awards has announced the QED seal, a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval™ for ebooks," which

signals to an ebook reader that the title will render well in whatever their preferred reading format and that they can buy with confidence. It is an emblem that publishers, authors, and content creators can affix to their ebook cover and metadata that assures readers they can read that title where they want, how they want.

QED stands for Quality, Excellence, Design.

QED INSPECTION CHECK-LIST

1. Front matter: the title does not open on a blank page.
2. Information hierarchy: content is arranged in such a way that the relative importance of the content (heads, text, sidebars, etc) are visually presented clearly.
3. Order of content: check of the content to be sure that none of it is missing or rearranged.
4. Consistency of font treatment: consistent application of styles and white space.
5. Links: hyperlinks to the web, cross references to other sections in the book, and the table of contents all work and point to the right areas. If the title has an index, it should be linked.
6. Cover: The cover does not refer to any print edition only related content.
7. Consumable Content: The title does not contain any fill-in content, such as workbooks and puzzle books, unless the content has been re-crafted to direct the reader on how to approach using the fill-in content.
8. Print References: Content does not contain cross references to un-hyperlinked, static print page numbers (unless the ebook is intentionally mimicking its print counterpart for reference).
9. Breaks: New sections break and/or start at logical places.
10. Images: Art is appropriately sized, is in color where appropriate, loads relatively quickly, and if it contains text is legible. If images are removed for rights reasons, that portion is disclaimed or all references to that image are removed.
11. Tables: Table text fits the screen comfortably, and if rendered as art is legible.
12. Symbols: Text does not contain odd characters.
13. Metadata: Basic metadata for the title (author, title, etc.) is in place and accurate.

I would like publishers to apply these criteria with particular vigilance to sample chapters. I get so very tired of getting a sample 'chapter' and finding it full of rubbish: empty space, broken links, and publishing and legal jibberjabber--and, if I'm lucky, 200 words of the actual narrative. On two particularly trying occasions, I didn't get anything beyond the Author Acknowledgements. I didn't buy the books.

Publishers, pay attention. When I download a sample of a novel, I'd like two whole chapters. If I download a sample of a short story collection, I'd like an entire story. And, really, would it be so hard to include a link to a book's reviews and/or author website? This technology is an absolute gift for both publisher and reader, the biggest leap in terms of the opportunity to get books to readers since Gutenberg. Use it. Please.


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Monday, August 8, 2011

Cutting a language core through the bedrock of English

I posted this yesterday on my other blog. Most of you, I'm sure, don't read that. So:

----

One of the big mysteries to me as a novelist (as opposed to professional historian) is the lack of a convincing explanation for the apparent obliteration of Brythonic (the native Celtic language of Britain before the Romans came and muddled everything up) and substitution of Old English, a Germanic language. (My terminology is imprecise; I'm not an academic.)

Over at Historian on the Edge, Guy Halsall discusses Steve Brohan's theory of Old English as a lingua franca between the "language of lowland Britain...a Romance low Latin" and "a late Brythonic/proto-Welsh" of the highlands in post-imperialist Britain (think roughly 400 - 600 CE):

Pre-Anglo-Saxon British highlanders would know some Latin but not much - enough to be able to make transactions with lowland villa-owners etc, especially to pay taxes and so on. The villa owners, by contrast, would know no British. When an Anglo-Saxon military elite came to power, however, both would need to learn Old English to communicate with these warrior aristocrats, and knowing this language would enable them to communicate with each other in the new set up.

This makes perfect sense to me. Apart from anything else, it's a survival tactic to learn the language of those who carry the weapons. Misunderstandings could be fatal.

What also makes sense to me: the survival of the native syntax. You can hear this in periphrastic phrasing of local dialect. (I grew up in Yorkshire. My mother's family was from Ireland, my father's from London. When either of them got tired, I could hear entirely different syntactical bones shining through their vocabulary skin.)

All making perfect sense. And yet, and yet... Food for thought.

I just wish, growing up, that I'd known there was such a thing as philology. I might have done a better job of my 2004 memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner notes to a writer's early life:

Yorkshire's history is stamped on its landscape, literally and figuratively, and it moulded the language that I absorbed with my mother's milk (and grandmother's whisky). A quick survey of Yorkshire place names (from natural features, to street names, to towns, to pubs) is like cutting a language core: in the sturdy bedrock of Anglo-Saxon there is the occasional gleam of Brythonic Celt heaved up from an earlier age, the pale glint of Norse, even strangely evolved fossils of Latin and Norman French. This hybrid and textured language is largely responsible for who I am. To explain, let me give you a few broad strokes of West Yorkshire history.
In the Iron Age, the place that was to be Leeds was an agriculturally various land enjoyed by the Brigantes, Brythonic Celts. In the first century the Romans arrived, and started building forts which became cities. Then they laid nature-defying roads across hill and dale between those cities, followed by armed camps to guard those roads. The Romans abandoned the region after about three hundred years and left the native Britons in charge again. Around this time, Angles, Saxons and other Germanic peoples started visiting Britain and staying, forming kingdoms and acquiring territory. A couple of hundred years later the Norse--Danes, mainly--arrived and the region lived under the Danelaw, with its own language and coinage and culture. Gradually, after battles and negotiations and marriages and so forth, the Danelaw melded with England. And then the Normans came.
By the time I showed up, 894 years after the Battle of Hastings, layer after layer of language was stamped on the place names of Yorkshire. The first street I remember living on was hilly street called Balbec Avenue. Bal is from a Celtic word for hill. Our family would drive for day trips to Otley Chevin, a big rocky outcropping overlooking an ancient market town (Otley bears the distinction of having the most pubs per capita in the British Isles). "Chevin," it turns out, descends from a word very similar to the Welsh (also a Brythonic language) cefn which means "hill." On the way to the coast for a holiday, we'd drive through Wetherby, a name that comes from wedrebi, a combination of wether, that is, neutered sheep, and -by, a Norse word for settlement. The hills were called the fells, from fjell, a Norse word for hill. York (I could write two pages on the evolution of that name) was built on the river Ouse, a name that comes from a Celtic root word, -udso, meaning water (water, in Irish--a Goedelic Celtic language--is uisc, which is the root of "whiskey"). The name of the River Esk, which bisects Whitby (a town on the North Yorkshire coast), also comes from that Celtic root word for water. The River Aire, which flows through Leeds, empties into the Ouse at Airmyn, "myn" being an Anglo-Saxon word for rivermouth. Esk, Ouse, Airmyn... I had a childish vision of waves of invaders, marching along with their Roman shields or Anglo-Saxon leaf-bladed spears or beautiful long Norse swords, coming to a river and saying arrogantly to a local fishing along the bank, "You there, what do you people call this?" and the local scratching her head and saying, "This, your honour? We call this 'water'."
I imagined the officer nodding self-importantly and reporting to his commander, later, "...and so we forded the river, which locals hereabouts call the River Water..." And, just like that, history to me was no longer what you found in history books, but was thronged with real people. Words assumed hidden power; I began to understand them as keys to the puzzle of the universe.
Words are like icebergs; nine tenths below the waterline. We don't see the entire meaning immediately but it has mass and momentum; it matters. To me there is all the difference in the world between "muscle" and "flesh," or "red" and "scarlet." Rhythm and grammar matter, too. Yorkshire syntax, more than many regions of England, shows its Celtic roots, its periphrastic, roundabout manner of speaking: "Dyuh fancy going down t'pub, then?"
I'm the product of two thousand years of history. It shows in my work.

Speaking of which, the second draft of Hild is cruising along. I'm a smidge over four-fifths of the way through. It is most definitely not a Romance...

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

In Time: movie trailer

This looks interesting in a metaphor-made-concrete way: time is money.

I'm out for the rest of the day: Hild is demanding my presence in the seventh century.

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Maimkilldestroy

Somewhere in Seattle there's a nurse with a crushed hand. My fault. She was holding my hand while another nurse was trying, for the third time, to get an IV line in.

Why was I holding hands with a nurse? Because Kelley wasn't there.

I hate IVs. I have a bad history (several long stories that I'm not going to go into here). My veins are very hard to find, and, when you do find them, they tend to collapse. I have the vasovagal thing. So when a person holding a needle and a bag of saline gets close I either pass out or go to flight/fight. Kelley can usually quell this instinct with a look: You're a grownup! But this time Kelley wasn't allowed in the room.

In the US it's frowned upon to actually restrain one's patient with shackles, so to keep me still when my survival instincts kicked in (I had thoughtfully warned the team) a bunch of nurses were attempting to smother me with kindness: cuddly heated blankets to bind my legs, oxygen cannula to keep my head still, one nurse hanging on one arm, one on the other, one hovering as backup. "What lovely soft skin you have!" said the one holding my hand with a fixed smile as I ground her bones to dust. "Why can't I get a blood return?" the other muttered, stabbing and rootling around in yet another vein. Being a civilised human being (Kelley was close enough for her pheromones to remind me I really am a grownup) I channelled my instinct--to maimkilldestroy Stabby Nurse--into crushing Smiley Nurse's hand while my blood pressure, normally 90/60, shot up to 152/88.

It turned out okay. We're all still here. Mostly. (I have very strong hands--though, y'know, lovely and soft.)

I told you a few weeks ago that I had health stuff going on. I can now report that after every test, probe, scan, and exam known to medicine, no one is really any the wiser. (I am, however, rather irritable, bruised, and behind schedule.) Diagnosis: as well as MS (duh), I have "undifferentiated spondyloarthropathy which includes enthesitis, tendonitis, and polyarthritis. Unknown trigger. Sub-optimal control." This is a fancy way of saying, Wow, you swelled up one night and hurt a lot and we don't know why but it seems to be going away so let's hope it doesn't ever come back: interesting! (A/k/a yupyupyupyup.) I'm also anaemic, with no readily apparent cause. (My doctors have two equally unlikely--in my opinion--theories: an unfindable AV malformation, and/or malabsorption as a result of one of the drugs I take.) Apart from that I'm healthy as a carthorse. Course of action: Change that one drug, take Mondo Iron three times a day, and get another blood test in three months. Thank you, that will be $4,000.

Right now I feel fine. Benevolent, even. But if ever you're tempted to get close holding a cannula-over-needle device, bear in mind that after a few months of eating the Eiffel Tower one piece at a time I will be able to crush your spine with my little finger. My lovely soft little finger.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Changing gears with LLF

After two years as a Trustee of the Lambda Literary Foundation, it's time for me to change gears. It seems like a good time. Thanks to your generosity and much hard work on the part of board, staff, volunteers and all manner of Kindly People, we're in good shape. We have an improved mission statement, a slightly more diverse board (it's a continuing process), a renewed commitment to emerging writers, a great Executive Director and staff, and a good first-step website.

I've resigned from the Board of Trustees, and, in autumn, will turn my attention to forming a brand new Advisory Council. Meanwhile I remain connected to the organisation as a Special Advisor.

If you have things you think LLF should be doing (or not doing), talk to me.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Day off, or two

Today I have places to be, things to do. And, given that this week is delivering the most beautiful weather of the year (I'll throw in a bit of optimism: so far) I'll probably spent some time out in it when I get back. So imagine me dozing over a cup of tea in the sunshine.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Debt ceiling furore: blame your filter bubble

The US doesn't need a debt ceiling. As others have pointed out, most countries get along just fine without one. But, hey, I doubt I'll find that many people to agree with me so let's just move on.

Let's blame ourselves for all this fuss.

While the consequences of a US default would be very real, and make me blench, there's no sound economic reason for this country to be in this position. I lay blame at the feet of heightened partisanship. Partisan politics created the conditions for this drama. Partisan politics feeds it.

We--citizens, consumers, and voters--create partisan politics. We feed it. We are so used to it we now demand it from our newspapers, TV news, and blogs. It's getting worse.

I can't tell you how often in the last year I've been shocked by the political vitriol of some colleagues and acquaintances (of all political backgrounds and persuasions). People who, when I first met them ten or fifteen years ago, showed a balanced, thoughtful approach to political systems, political reality, and politicians themselves but who now are partisan. More than once in the last five years I've had to say, in my own house, at my own table, to someone I'd invited: Stop talking, or I don't allow that kind of language in my house, or Seriously, shut the fuck up right now.

I'm not kidding. I wish I were. I've had to say such things, to adults I believed well-mannered. Naturally I don't just bring the hammer down without warning. I begin with, Hey, isn't this soup tasty? Which is all a socially graceful intelligent grown up should need. If that doesn't work, I move to Well, it's a complicated situation, which those with a modicum of manners should recognise as a hint. The next stage is Defcon 1: I've found discussing politics over wine often leads to trouble*. Defcon 2: Let's change the subject and move on, which even a mildly dim person with too much wine inside them should be able to parse. But these days sometimes they don't, at which point I move to Defcon 3: Shut the fuck up, I mean it. Not another word. (Defcon 4 is throwing them out of the house. Defcon 5 involves weapons. I haven't had to get beyond Defcon 3 since I was in my twenties and illegal substances were involved.)

Normally well-mannered people have become red-faced ranters, and often on subjects they don't know a lot about. (They use such stock phrases that, in the UK, I can tell which paper they read; in the US, which blog or network talking head they follow.) In other words, these reasonably educated people have stopped listening.

When people stop listening they stop thinking and start believing.

Partisanship can creep up on a person. Watch this TED talk from Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble










The upshot of this partisan stance in citizens is partisanship in voting. Partisan voting leads to partisan politicians: representatives who doggedly stick with their mantras and catchphrases and simplistic promises to their voters.

The world would be a better place if we voted intelligently. If we voted for intelligent people who would think, talk, listen, and learn.

If you don't like what's going on in Washington, think about this: citizens of a democracy get the government they deserve. This is the government you voted for. They are doing what they're doing so you'll vote them in again.

If you want to change Washington, change yourself: listen. Listen to your friends and neighbours, to the poor and rich, the white and black, the old and young, the queer and straight. Listen to the atheists and the religious. Listen to the conservative and the liberal. Listen to the artist and the scientist. Listen to the Other. Loosen your filters.

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* I actually enjoy conversations about politics but, sadly, my notion of 'conversation' is at odds with most people. To me, conversation is an opening, an exploration, a game in which we bat a conversational ball around for the joy of it, working with our partner/s to set up long delicious rallies or show-stopping exhibition shots. It can be a delight.

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