Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lawn-mowing and masculinity

A few days ago, I came across an article on power-less lawn mowers and their growing market share in recent years (though still a very small percent). (I forget where I saw the article, but I'll add the link later if I rediscover it.) One thing I found interesting was that it said much of the growth comes from women who are mowing the lawn, and that men are more likely to want/need the feeling of some kind of silly validation that comes from the growl of a gas engine.

Now, I've had a powerless mower ever since we bought our house. With lawns our size there's certain no reason for a riding lawn mower, and in my opinion no reason for any kind of motor. But I do seem to be the only one of the nearby neighbors to feel that way. I did need assistance to find the mowers in the local Home Depot, and when I first asked he though I simply meant an electric mower (which probably would have been my second choice, since at least it's not coughing out pollution as I mow). But I had no idea I was challenging masculine assumptions by buying a powerless mower. And I say great--I have no need of a gas motor to assure myself that I'm male. And I'm very pleased with mowing this way--it cost about the same as lower-end push gas-powered mower, but I haven't had to buy any gas or do anything except spray it with a bit of WD40 ever time I'm done. Plus, it's quiet, so it doesn't wake a napping child (or wife).

So you can keep your gas mowers and whatever else you need to validate yourself--I'm fine, thanks.

It does make me think about all the discussions around (Nightshade forums, for example) about male vs. female storytelling (which doesn't necessarily correspond to the gender of the writer). I'm still trying to absorb the discussions and get a handle on it, but I do know one of my favorite authors was identified as writing male stories, though she's female and definitely uses stories to explore gender (LeGuin), and another of my favorites was identified as writing female stories (McKillip). I'll leave it to someone else to analyse my stories and tell me what I write...but it is something I enjoy thinking about and reading the discussions, whenever they don't descend into silly flame wars. I would ultimately guess that trying to divide stories into either/or (either male or female) is simplistic, but it's interesting to think about stories in those ways at times both to understand and challenge my own conception of how stories relate to each other and to understand particular markets.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Art & Prose

Just a couple of posts ago, I mentioned that the origin of my story in OG's Speculative Fiction includes another story I'd written that isn't quite cyberpunk but was supposed to have a touch of that overall feeling (I'm not all that widely read in cyberpunk to be honest, so I can't say how well I succeeded). Well, that story has now been accepted by this ezine, and it will include an interview with me as well. I'll post more when it's up.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tangent reviews All Possible Worlds

For all the things I've had published recently, this is only the second that got reviewed by Tangent. Prior to this, I'd seen a couple mentions of my story on different blogs and such, including something along the lines of "a short piece that didn't work for me," and another that basically brushed it aside as too short to deserve mention, so it was nice to get this:
"Sleep Magic" by Daniel Ausema is short but brilliant. The first two sentences grab your attention, and the rest follows through on their promise. It's short, so there's little that can be said without giving away the entire plot, but trust me, you don't want to miss this fun little piece.
I'll take that kind of review.
Sporty Spec from Raven Electrick Ink

Just this morning I had a very welcome acceptance for my story "City of Games" for this anthology coming out later this year. It's a new venture into print publishing by Karen Romanko of Raven Electrick, an ezine that has established itself nicely over the years (I have a poem appearing in the ezine next year, so there's already a link to that, though I think I'll add a link directly to Sporty Spec as well).

The story was meant to convey a touch of Dunsany, whose short work I much admire, and also turned out to have a pretty strong Italo Calvino feel to it, especially like his Invisible Cities. I think that crept in partly because of a discussion on another forum about that book right around the time I wrote the piece. But Calvino is among my favorite two or three authors, so I've had other stories that were Calvino-esque as well.

I have another story acceptance...I think. The editor asked for some (very) minor changes, which I already sent in. But I'll wait to announce it for sure until I get the confirmation on it.

Friday, May 18, 2007

OG's Speculative Fiction #6

This is out (follow the link in the sidebar) and includes my story "The Underground School of Lower Education." It's actually a double issue to celebrate their first half a year, so there are a number of stories as well as an interview and two poems. To keep with the tradition of explaining a bit of the origins of my stories, about a year and half ago I'd written a story set in the tunnels of a futuristic city--I wasn't trying exactly to write cyberpunk, but I wanted it to have a touch of that flavor. One of the things I included was a character from deeper underground, an underdweller. So last year when I'd had one story accepted by Jupiter World Press, I wanted to send them another for an upcoming anthology on the theme of higher education. (Being contrarian, I made it lower education.) She accepted the story immediately, and it was scheduled to be released in September. It was the week of its release date when she decided to shut down JWP (and I'm glad it wasn't a week later, because then I would have lost my first publication rights as I did with the story they published in August). So it wasn't long after this that the story found a new home, making me very pleased...and pleased again now that it's finally out.

Enjoy!
Lloyd Alexander, 83

He was one of my favorite childhood authors, and I even reread the Prydain Chronicles a few years ago and found them still to be enjoyable. Here's the link to an article about his death. In addition to the Prydain books, I read a couple others that were a bit more modern--with guns anyway, which shocked me for a fantasy at the time, and printing presses. It's how I learned that the printer's assisstant was called the printer's devil. Westmark and Kestrel were the names, and I think there was a third that my brother discovered later and read but I never did. I don't remember a lot more about them. I think when I read them I was a little older than the target audience, and while I have no problem today going back and reading books aimed at younger readers (assuming they're actually good books, you know), we probably all go through a bit where we want to prove that we're older and shy away from things that might seem too young.

Anyway, go out and pet a Gurgi in his honor today.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ten Commandments of the Perfect Short-Story Writer

Horacio Quiroga was a South American writer (born in Uruguay but he spent most of his life in Argentina) often compared to Edgar Allen Poe. He wrote strange and disturbing stories and led an equally dark life. Here's Answers.com's page on Quiroga. Supposedly one of my favorite writers, Borges, reacted strongly against Quiroga's writing, but oh well. He's often considered a very good short story craftsman, and one of the essays he wrote was "Decálogo del perfecto cuentista" or "Ten Commandments of the Perfect Short-Story Writer." I don't agree with every one of these (and especially the first half of number 5 is not how I usually write), but I don't think there's any of these that I'd say isn't worth at least considering for some stories. I haven't read any of his fiction since I was pretty early in my ability to read Spanish, so I'll make no comment on those right now (though reading about him on Answers makes me want to go re-read them). The last time I searched for an English translation of this online, I couldn't find any, so what follows is my own translation.

Ten Commandments of the Perfect Short-Story Writer

I. Believe in the masters—Poe, Maupassant, Kipling, Chekov—as in God himself.

II. Believe that your art is an inaccessible peak. Don't dream of conquering it. When you can do it, you'll achieve it within even knowing it.

III. As much as you can, resist imitation, but imitate if the influence is too strong. More than anything, the development of the personality is a long road. [Personality is a literal translation--today we'd say 'voice' I guess]

IV. Have blind faith, not in your ability to succeed, but in the zeal of your desire to. Love your art like a lover, giving it all your heart.

V. Don't begin to write without knowing from the first word where you're going. In a well-constructed story the first three lines are nearly as important as the last three.

VI. If you want to express with exactitude this—"From the river the cold wind blew"—there are no other words in the human language to express it. Once you've found the right words, don't worry about how they'll sound, if they're alliterative or assonant.

VII. Don't use adjectives unnecessarily. They will be useless tales of color on a weak noun. Once you find the precise word, it will have incomparable color; but you must find it.

VIII. Take your characters by the hand and bring them firmly to the end without seeing anything beyond the road you give them. Don't distract yourself with what they can't see or won't care about. Don't abuse the reader. A short story is a novel purified of padding. Take this as absolute truth, even though it may not be.

IX. Don't write under the influence of emotion. Let it die and then bring it back. If you're able to revive it exactly as it was, you're halfway down the road to art.

X. Don't think about your friends when you write, nor in what impression your story will create. Tell as if your story mattered only to the small group of your characters, of which you could have been one. There is no other way to bring your stories to life.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Kaleidotrope

My contributor copies of Kaleidotrope arrived the other day. I've read most of it and been enjoying it. First, it's important to realize how this magazine falls in with other magazines: the recent magazines I've received have been slicker--full-cover, glossy covers, perfect-bound, etc. That's not what this magazine aims for. It's lower budget, something you hold and feel like you could have put together yourself with a photo-copier and stapler. In this sense it's more like Shantytown Anomaly and Scifaikuest...but it's much bigger than either of those. And it's surprisingly enjoyable to read in that format--it has none of the feel of a collection from a high school creative writing class, as that description might have made it sound. It fits in with a tradition of other magazines from the small press that began this way, some of which have gone on to be highly regarded. Electric Velocipede comes to mind and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and Sybill's Garage for a newer one that seems headed that way quickly. Given those comparisons, I was expecting stories to be a bit more on the literary side than I've found, and in general I'd say I find the poems to be more in line with my tastes than most of the stories, but the highlight so far (with a few items to go), are the three very short stories by Beth Langford. They border on prose poetry, especially two of them. Several of the poems, also, I think I'll be returning to for a second read, including...well, I was going to list a couple, but really most of them seem to be worth a second look at least (I kept paging through and think, "Oh, and this one too," until the list got too long).

I've been writing about the origins of the stories I have published here. There isn't a lot to tell with this one. Some years ago I had an idea for a YA series of fantasies and one character in there was going to be something I called a living stump. About I year ago I was writing a tongue-in-cheek story for a challenge and decided my idea wasn't strange enough, so I threw in a few references to the living stumps. People in one of my critiquing groups loved it and wanted more of the stumps, so I wrote this...which is a lot darker than that first, a major change in tone. Not everyone liked it as much, but those whose literary tastes I respect most enjoyed it.

Anyway, so that's Kaleidotrope. Go check it out, give it a read, tell me how awful my story was but how great you found the rest of it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Give me a break

So a lot of the authors I enjoy most straddle the lines between what some might consider genre and what some might consider literary. Those who still need sharp dividing lines to organize their thoughts would probably put most of it within fantasy (while those who still only enjoy the types of fantasy I read when I was 12 probably wouldn't want what I read to be polluting their narrow confines of the genre). But I'm aware of the critical approaches to this literature that I enjoy, aware of academic thought about them. I like to defend the literary side of things, that there isn't nearly so much an anti-fantastic/speculative sentiment as some people within the genre like to claim--it seems especially those who think fantasy is only this narrow heroic segment who like to imagine vast forces of literary establishment arrayed against them while they're among the few brave defenders of a nobler sort of reading. Not at all, I say. Yes, there was a sharp divide back in the 60s...and one could argue that much of the writing at the time merited this divide. But the critical analysis of even those works and the ways the fantastic and speculative constantly push against the boundaries means that this silly sentiment of small minds has faded greatly today. I was allowed, even encouraged, by very literary professors to do my undergrad thesis on fantasy. It isn't the fantastic and speculative that draws a stigma, but a certain type of unaware writing that's intentionally divorced from anything intellectual. At least so I would argue.

But then...

I come across this. It's a review in Slate Magazine of Michael Chabon's new book. The tagline that appears on Slate's main page is "Michael Chabon's Tiresome Obsession With Genre Fiction," and the review begins "Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it." This is a review (mostly) in praise of the book. Is she even aware of the many writers who destroy such a ridiculous statement? Writers generally considered mainstream (and serious) who borrow genre elements (like Chabon, or since I'm currently reading it, books like The Time Traveler's Wife)? Writers identified as speculative who treat it as very serious literature (and do so successfully)?

I guess every once in a while I need to be reminded that there really are still small-minded people out there who cling to ridiculous ideas about sharp dividing lines around what they read and fetters of a narrow sense of what serious literature can be.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Variety of Shtuff

I haven't received my contributor copy yet, but apparently issue 2 of Kaleidotrope is out now.

The new issue of Allegory is up--it doesn't include any story of mine, but it does list my "Bridge of Lok Altor" as an honorable mention.

While I was away, my review of issue 11 of Neo-Opsis went up at Tangent.

I also received a free back issue of On Spec by responding to an ad in a book I'd bought...so between Neo-Opsis and that, I'm getting a nice fix of Canadian speculative fiction.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Done with driving

So I've been gone for a few days here. I know, you missed my frequent blog updates terribly. But I'm ready to not drive anywhere for a while. It took us over six hours of driving (including a traffic jam in Denver and stopping for lunch and a hike in Idaho Springs) to get to our cabin. Mountain driving, which is considerably more stressful than, say, Nebraska driving. And even at the cabin we had to drive a lot to get to the various hikes and my brother and sister-in-law's place. And then yesterday driving my parents to the airport in Denver right at rush hour. Yeah, I've had enough driving to last me a while. I'm glad I don't have long commutes every day.

But we had a lot of fun out there, and our cabin-curse seems to be lifted. We had afternoon thunderstorms several days, but no snow (and it's not that it's too late for there to be snow out there--there's a winter storm warning or watch or some such for the mountains this weekend). We got to cross the continental divide three times each way (Eisenhower Tunnel, Fremont Pass, and Monarch Pass). We did some good hiking within the Black Canyon and in various areas nearby. And of course got to spend some good time with family.

I didn't get much writing done. What's next for writing? I have a few short stories I'd like to do as well as some polishing work on earlier stuff. No major new projects for now...maybe. More on that if I do decide to start something big.