Sunday, July 30, 2006

Gone for August

I'm leaving tomorrow for four weeks. My wife has a four-week rotation at a rural hospital and clinic in eastern Colorado, so we'll be staying out there. It should be a very relaxing time for her--I just hope my son will handle the change well and that I can get a lot of writing done. I'm taking hard copies of a couple big projects that I hope to do a final revision of.

I'll have internet access, but it'll be dial-up, and I won't want to tie up the phone line all day. So I'll certainly check in on the forums I'm part of everyday and check my blog and update it occasionally. Otherwise, I'm hoping that the lack of internet will allow me to write without distraction (rather than simply turning to the games on my wife's laptop for those distractions). Hoping to get a few stories finished and polished and hopefully the next 3 chapters or so of my new novel, tentatively called The Silk Betrayal. I'm not sure I really like that title, but I'll stick with it for now, and when everything's done, I'll see if anything else comes to mind.

"Canyon of Babel" is being released this Wednesday, so I hope to update my blog then with the picture of the cover.

This year, my wife's second year of residency, this rural month is her big away rotation. Next year, it's a winter month at one of the ski resorts in the mountains, setting broken bones. Hmmm, I think I'll like that.

Friday, July 28, 2006

New Story Accepted!

OK, most people reading this will already know this from one of the forums I'm a member of, but I have a story accepted by The Sword Review to appear in their bonus section. I don't know any more about when it'll appear. Being in the bonus section means that people will have to join their forum to read it, but anyone who's ever submitted to them is already part of their forum, and it's free to join. It means it won't be in the print version of the magazine, which is too bad--my mom really wants something she can hold in her hands instead of just reading on a screen (or better yet, something she can order for the library where she works). She'll get her chance sometime.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Meeting a famous author

Sorry, I'm going to seem a bit, ummm, starstruck I guess with this entry. I have met authors before back in college, but I wasn't actually getting anywhere with my own writing at the time, so this just feels different. And very cool. I belong to this book club--a group of us guys get together about once a month or so at a local microbrewery and discuss the book we chose over beers. We take turns with who selects the next book, though we bring a variety for people to choose from. One of the guys mentions often that his high school teacher was Connie Willis, and every time it's his turn he brings one of her books. The others in the group never go for it. This last time he said that if we chose her book (Dooms Day Book) he'd try to get her to come join us. It was a close one, and I think those of us pulling for her fudged the voting a little bit so that we chose her book.

And now she's coming to join us tonight. Just a casual, hang out with the author and talk about her book time, nothing formal. It'll probably be a little strange discussing it with her there--I get the impression that some of the others in the group weren't terribly impressed with the book--they were the ones voting for some nonfiction book instead (and it didn't even look like a good nonfiction book to me). But I think it'll be fun. And I'll get to mention that my first story is coming out from JWP on August 2. I just saw that on our authors forum.

It's also my turn to bring suggestions for our next book...but given the reaction they have to the SF, I'm choosing mostly mainstream books this time: Cloud Atlas by Callanan (not to be confused with Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which I just finished reading), Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Please Don't Come Back from the Moon, Hollow Ground, Codex, Baron in the Trees and True Notebooks. If anyone has any major plugs for any of these (or warnings that they're not good), let me know soon and I'll leave it behind. My backpack will be plenty heavy even with one fewer book. True Notebooks is probably the one I least want chosen, but I feel obligated to bring one non-fiction. Codex strikes me as possibly over-hyped, trying to cash in on Da Vinci Code's popularity. Oh, and Hollow Ground takes place in Tennessee--why would anyone be interested in Tennesee (Celina)? Curious Incident and Codex are probably the fastest reads, which is a strong selling point for some people in the group.

Well, all of them have been on my list of books to read for a while. I only wish I might have time to read them all before they're due at the library (the only one I own is Baron in the Trees). Next time it's my turn, I'll bring all speculative fiction and see what happens.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Things to learn from a 21-month-old

Today my son was asking for "More peace." It's a wish/prayer/desire I share with him. OK, he was actually saying, "More piece, more cheese, more piece, more cheese," but close enough. I just thought it was an apt phrase today. Hearing the awful news from the Mideast just makes me feel so helpless. And rather than quoting William Carlos Williams' "These" again (though it's one of my favorite poems--achingly beautiful), I thought I'd just quote my son. More peace. Please.

He also discovered the word sitar today. But it was because I'd brought my guitar down to the living room and was playing it for him and he discovered that he could sit on the guitar case. Since 'tar is how he says guitar, he was actually saying "Sit 'tar."

PS While "These" applies thematically whenever there's some kind of violence that approaches war, it really only fits in the winter time. Just didn't want some WCW expert to come along and think I was unaware of that.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Justina Robson

A little over a year ago, I saw Justina Robson's book Natural History in the new books section of my local library. The cover looked cool:
so I grabbed it...and it was a great book. I think what I really liked about it was the presentation of humans and post-humans. It's not uncommon, of course, for an SF story to wonder what we as humans will do to ourselves as technology allows us to do all kinds of things. What Robson does, though, is present them so believably, not so much with what they've done as with how that affects the many different micro-societies that develop. What tensions would arise if human consciousnesses that grew up in a virtual world are then implanted in machines once the human identity has come of age? What interactions would there be between these [humans? machines?] and those with more human-like bodies but still enhanced in different ways? And what about those who've refused to evolve in these ways? It leads to a complex society that despite the utterly weird, advanced scientific things going on is completely believable.

It should satisfy hard SF fans (though the snobbish tendencies of some make it hard to predict) but it should also appeal to fantasy fans and definitely to those who cross back and forth, sneaking from ghetto to ghetto and beyond. That's a big accomplishment. I do remember being a bit disappointed with the ending, but really the plot itself wasn't so much the joy of the book as the society she explored as the plot progressed, so it took little away from the book.

I started her first book, Silver Screen, but didn't actually finish it. It seemed to address some similar questions of technology and what it means to be human...but I just couldn't get into it. She has a new one out in the US, just reviewed at Strange Horizons. Sounds interesting, though quite different. I'll probably check it out when I get a chance.

Why bring this up? Between Natural History and the new one, she had a sequel, Living Next Door to the God of Love. Cool cover again:

So far it's quite good, though very different from the earlier one. It has pretty bad reviews on Amazon, but that of course doesn't mean I won't like it. Though everything appears to have a scientific underpinning, this one seems a bit more fantastic, which doesn't bother me, but might influence some of the negative reviews. We shall see if it lives up to the first, but in the meantime, I strongly recommend Natural History, even to those who don't usually like SF.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A little story time

Inspired by me thinking about that avant gaming, but also tied in with one of my stories.

Back in the hippy days of the early 70s there was the New Games movement where people would organize these events of new games that were meant to convey 3 ideas: Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Hurt. The idea was to move away from the culture that builds up around traditional sports and let people play (both competitively and not) without all that baggage. To just play and enjoy it. It's the origin of Ultimate Frisbee, a great game, but admittedly in some circles it has taken on all the similar baggage to traditional sports such that people lose that sense of free play. I think I mentioned this before, but I'll repeat if so--I think traditional sports have the potential for free play too, it's just that it can be more difficult with certain groups because people have preconceived notions about it.

Anyway, one of the central pieces of these New Games events was the Earth ball, a giant cage ball that by itself tends to bring out the child in people. They'd stop at a gas station to fill up the ball and then roll it to the park and collect a couple dozen people on the way, just from curiosity. At the first event, for the final game of the day, the legend goes, the organizers put the ball in the middle of a marked-off field and told the players/participants, "There are two types of people. Those who want the earth to go this way [pointing to the right] and those who want the earth to go that way [left]."

And that was it. No choosing up teams. No elaborate offsides rules. Not even individual roles for different team members. The people jumped in and started pushing. The ball went this way and that, but when the ball would near an end line, people would suddenly switch sides. They were having so much fun, they didn't want the game to end. It didn't matter who would win, only that the game continued.

It's a pretty cool image. Competition that isn't overblown. Fun that doesn't require a lot of rules (or laws). But...some of you will recognize that image from a very different context. I wrote a story called "The Game" that uses the idea...but twisted into a much darker tale where the movement of the ball actually dictates the politics of a strange city.

I had no grand plan for why I'm bringing this up. Just the whole avant gaming thing got me thinking about it. The story, by the way, is in limbo. A mag has had it for several months--about 4, which is beyond their stated response time. I'd love to have them accept it, but I'd rather they just reject it now than string me along for another few months. I think it'd be a great fit for the new GUD magazine. But if I don't hear from...the magazine (I won't mention it's name here), then I'll just submit something else that should fit. I've yet to hear a story of someone querying to get the response, "Oh yeah, we've decided to accept it." It's always, "Oh, we're a bit behind, but since you asked, here's a rejection." So I'll wait a bit to query. But not too much longer.

Oh, and speaking of magazines going beyond their stated response time, I finally got my form rejection from Cicada in the mail over the weekend. I already had planned where I'd send it next, so I just wanted them to get with it and send it back. Though I do feel that if a magazine goes beyond their stated response time, they owe the writer more than just a form rejection, especially if they're a snail mail only mag.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Writing

I had a really good writing day. I just finished the rough draft for my shared world story. At 5,800 words, it's longer than I expected it would be. Longer than I tend to write. And more importantly, I'm quite pleased with it. A week ago I had basically no idea what I'd be writing. Oh, I had a very basic idea for the character, and I think I'd decided on the locale. But beyond that, nothing. I started writing with the first scene in my head and nothing else. Then on Monday, with less than 1k words written, I was out running and the rest of the story came to me. I didn't really get to working more on it until Tuesday, and even then it was going slowly. I was also working on rewrites for my Jupiter story on higher education. And yesterday I had my dentist appointment, so writing didn't go so well either. But I probably did more than 3k words of it today. That's huge in my typical writing schedule.

So I'll probably reread it tomorrow to catch any glaring errors, and then post it for the other writers to read and give me feedback. It'd be sort of ironic if I was the first to post my story, since just last week I posted something about how every time a new post appeared in that thread I was afraid someone had posted their story.

And what else to work on? My to do list has a couple revisions on it, working on my website, and chapter 5 of my current novel in progress. I should add, "Naming my current novel in progress," to that list. Everything I've tried sounds cheesy so far. I really ought to get my website up and running before my first story comes out at JWP, but that seems to end up even below revising on my priorities. Maybe I'll try to work a bit on that tonight.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Avant Gaming

I think I discovered this site through a link on Miss Snark's blog. Avant Game. The basic idea is to turn public spaces into places to play games, not your established traditional games so much as games that can include everyone. I love the idea. Go down to the Cruel 2 B Kind game they played in New York. That sounds awesome. It certainly shares something with a lot of the games we used in camp and in adventure education and even that I tried to incorporate in my PE classes. Now I'm not opposed to traditional games--I love most any for playing (less so for watching). The advantage of a non-traditional game, like the games in the New Games book I have, is that it's easier to just sink into the experience of the game itself without all the pressures that have built up around traditional games with some people having more experience and fierce competition that overcomes the fun. I'm also not opposed to competition itself. I love a good competition. It's when the competitiveness turns the game into something ugly, when people forget that they're playing a game.

I don't know how much of these games really tie in with this avant gaming, but I can see how they'd be related at least. In ways it reminds me of geocaching, something I'd love to do. I think the problem with geocaching, the thing that makes it not quite fit into the same category is the expense--you have to be able to afford a GPS, and I haven't been able to justify the expense. The best gaming should require as little special equipment as possible (one of many reasons I have no interest in golf).

The first link I found, by the way, was to a post about reshelving 1984 in bookstores as history instead of fiction. And then the idea was to leave behind a official-looking placard from the Ministry of Reshelving in the fiction section to direct people to where it should be, or alternately to simply put a placard in the history section saying that that section was out of stock of 1984, but additional copies could be found in fiction. I could see the actual reshelving as annoying workers quite a bit, but the second option is innocent fun, and the potential for a nation-wide game with no losers or victims.

Definitely something I'll be paying attention to in the future. Happy gaming, all!

Monday, July 10, 2006

The racist streak in immigration debates

I've avoided most of the immigration debating. So much of it seems just a lot of posturing and saying the right words to satisfy their own supporters or play on emotions and knee-jerk reactions to influence others to support them. It isn't really a debate so much as a shouting match. People aren't trying to understand the other side in order to show them they're wrong--they want to bully their own views on others. OK, same can be said for most political discussion.

Anyway, I got this link from my father-in-law that brings up some good points, and really reveals the ridiculous racist arguments that are dragged up by those proposing a tough (aka heartless, cruel, mean-spirited) stance on immigration:

Immigration and the Curse of the Black Legend

Now, that doesn't completely address the question of the illegality of people sneaking over the border. I'm sympathetic with the idea that we shouldn't be rewarding law-breaking. Clearly something needs to be done with the system. I just don't believe that turning ourselves into a police state, surrounded by iron walls and all that is really the answer. Is the guest worker program? It might be part of it. Combining that with tightening the security...maybe. Welcoming people from all over, including those whose ancestors, language and culture existed here before our own did? Yeah. Definitely. And recognizing the truth of the history of our country, the immigrant experience of even the earliest colonizers, the people who were here before the English settlers.

And most importantly, absolutely not allowing any of this racist rhetoric to have any influence on our country, our government, our world.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

World Cup is over...

...which should mean more time to pay attention to writing. I have at least one short story I want to write in the next couple weeks, and maybe a few as well as continuing work on my new novel. I need a name for it yet...hmmm. Also, I have a bunch of revising work coming up, so it's probably good that the World Cup has ended.

But before it does, one last blog on World Cup.

You gotta blame Zidane. France was the better team. I didn't see all of the first half--I turned it on just in time to see Italy celebrating their goal. It sounds like, and from what I saw of the first half, Italy was better then. But in the second half France was clearly better, dominating far more than Italy had in the first half. And into overtime as well, Italy just looked tired. And then Zidane lets the Italian player goad him into a ridiculous attack, getting himself kicked out of the game, his last international game. It's just sad right now to watch the French go up to collect their second-place medals without Zidane among them. What difference would it have made? Who knows. Even into overtime, they were getting good chances--they even had a great chance with only 10 players out there. With 11 might they have scored then? Maybe. He's great at PKs, but would he have changed that outcome? France only missed one, so who knows which kicker he would have replaced. But it was just a disappointing end to his career. Classless, the anouncers were saying, and whatever the failings of the US announcers, I have to agree with that. I'm curious to learn what the Italian player must have been saying, but no matter how tasteless or classless it might have been, it shouldn't get a top-level player to react that way.

It's just a sad end to the Cup. OK, time to replay in my mind all the great soccer I've seen in the past month. Hopefully that will wash this bad taste from my mouth.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I haven't been online much the past couple days. My older brother came out to visit. I'd known he was coming in early July, but I hadn't looked at exactly when for a little while, and was surprised on Monday to realize I had to go pick him up on Wednesday. We had a lot of fun though, even if our house didn't have a lot of the snacks and other food it would have been nice to have here. We had gone hiking on the fourth up in the Poudre Canyon with my sister- and brother-in-law. And then yesterday my brother and I went with my son again on another trail up the canyon. So now my son can say various combinations of fun, hiking, up, mountain, dada, and uncle John. Very cute, if I'm allowed to speak unbiasedly.

Now I just have to get back into writing mode, including the shared world story, which is only a vague idea right now, or even a mish mash of contradictory ideas. I just wanted to use the word mish mash.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Strange

I wasn't able to get to my blog yesterday afternoon when I'd intended to post something. I could get to other blogspot blogs, but everytime I tried to get to my own, whether through a link or typing it in, or even getting to my account, my browser crashed. I eventually even opened Internet Explorer (horror of horrors) and that crashed too. Seems to be working fine today.

So I think I'd planned to comment on the semifinal yesterday. I'll just say now that though I was cheering for Germany, I can't argue with those two pretty goals in the final minutes. It's devastating for the German players to come so close, but it made for an exciting game.

Back in high school, my team was playing the number one ranked team in the state during the tournament, and we came to within 30 seconds of a penalty shootout (playing complete lock-down defense with a very good keeper). It was heartbreaking to come so close, but we knew they were the better team, so we were just proud of how close we'd come.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Yankee Dutch, joeno

So my own ancestry is Dutch (mostly...say, 85% or so), and I grew up in an area with many others of Dutch descent. Even the college I went to (Calvin College) was founded by Dutch immigrants and continues to be probably about 50% Dutch or maybe more. Both of my grandfathers came to the US from the Netherlands, while my grandmothers were born, one in Denver one in New Mexico territory, to recent immigrants. Thing is, my grandparents, like many immigrants even today, were adamant about their kids being American. So I don't know any Dutch. I also feel like I've been discouraged from appreciating my Dutch heritage--not by my parents or anything, but because many places I've been had a Dutch origin but have opened up to many other people. Understandably, those who aren't Dutch feel a bit overwhelmed by that and make a point of their not being Dutch, and suddenly I feel ashamed that I am. I try to downplay that part of me. And then I turn around and see third-generation Hispanic people and think what a shame it is when they don't know their ancestral language. I love Spanish and am much more familiar with the various Spanish and Latin American cultures than I am with actual culture of the Netherlands. All this to give a bit of insight into a paradox within my own identity.

Anyway, I bring this up because I just got from Amazon a fun book that I remember my professor of "History of teh English Language" commenting on: n' Fonnie Bisnis. (Translation: A Funny Business) The subtitle is "The Yankee Dutch world of Loe Verlak, 'peenter, peeperhenger, dikkereeter,' sage." (That would be 'painter, paperhanger, decorator') It's reprint of a humorous 1929 book written in the language of these Dutch immigrants. What Spanglish is to the intersection of Spanish and English, Yankee Dutch is to English and Dutch. Actually, a lot of the words are English...but the author spells them phonetically to mimic the pronounciation of these immigrants. And even when the word is Dutch, well English and Dutch historically are quite similar, so it's possible to work things out. Some of the constructions and a lot of the filler words, though seem to be Dutch. This reprint comes with a CD with a couple of the chapters narrated, which helps a lot. The stories (it's more a collection of stories narrated by one character than a novel) are very funny. And I love hearing them narrated--the little words that are clealy Americanisms are hilarious (joeno = you know; aiteljoe = I tell you). But it's hard. I was thinking it might be like reading Riddley Walker--once you get into it, it all falls in place. But I think my attempts to reconnect with my Dutch past might be a bit more challenging than that.

Ah well, when I get frustrated, I can just close the book and look at the quote on the back, spoken by the character in the book to encourage sales: "Of kos joe'll lijk dis boek!"

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Bye bye Brazil!

Ahhh. Who am I supposed to cheer for now that every team I was cheering for in the quarterfinals lost?? Well, I wasn't really cheering for anyone in England v Portugal, or rather for both. And I guess I was more cheering against Italy than for Ukraine. So it'll be easy to go for Germany over Italy in that game. I'm disappointed in Brazil, but I have to admit that their defense was pretty awful today. They're actually lucky to have gotten out of it only allowing 1 goal. Their offense had some pretty chances later in the game, but nothing came of it. That set shot from Ronaldinho...so close, and so pretty. Ah well. Now the question is, Portugal or France? Neither speaks Spanish, which is often my first question when choosing who to cheer for (I know, I know, if I was a real fan, I'd know all the players for every team and just cheer for the best). Both are capable of playing very well and have some fun players to watch. I've been in France, not in Portugal...but I always feel like Portugal is more like Spain than France is, and I was in Spain for a full semester. I speak some French, but Portuguese is enough like Spanish that I probably understand it at least as well if not better. Well, for now I'll just hope for some good playing, an exciting game. And maybe by then I'll have decided who to cheer for. Given how things have gone in the quarterfinals, maybe I should cheer for the team I actually want to lose...

Univision, by the way, has been coming in fine again for these games. I actually switched back and forth with ABC this morning, and the commentators did a pretty good job. I liked that the picture reception was better. But this afternoon...golf. Again. How ridiculous. Funny thing was, because of Janet Jackson, ABC shows the games with a delay (5 seconds or so), so I could watch a great play on Univision and get my own instant replay by flipping to ABC.