Friday, August 31, 2007

Editing a novel

My main writing at the moment is editing/revising/rewriting Silk Betrayal. I've only just started that, within the past, oh, two weeks. So for this novel my MO has been that I wrote the first draft of each chapter, and then once I finished 5, I went back for a quick scan of 1 (then chapter 2 after 6, etc.), mostly for glaring typos and any continuity stuff that might have come up in later chapters. But just a quick read that hardly counts as a revision. It worked well, though, for reminding myself of things I'd been planning to do but had half forgotten, as well as for working in whatever foreshadowing or character tweaking the next few chapters might have demanded. And then I'd share that version with my critique groups.

But now I'm in the serious rewrite phase. The print-it-out-and-fill-the-paper-with-ink phase. And it's getting filled with plenty of ink. The rework-major-sections-when-I'm-back-at-the-computer phase. What amazed me in the most recent chapter was how much waffling I did while writing. It got to the point where I was writing (in caps) "REPETITIVE!" in the margins. It was like every time I was wondering what to write next I simply had the character do the same thing. And it was a rough draft, fine. But then it made it through the next reread too. No one who critiqued it commented on it...or at least not directly. I think it may have played into some of those comments though.

Well, I'm pleased with how the rewriting of that chapter went, even if it seemed to take longer than I'd hoped. Now onto the next.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Maybe they should call it Mirkwood

All right, when I was thinking of calling this post "giant spider webs," the word giant referred to the webs, not the spiders. But still. I feel like large spiders have a role in many fantasy stories, but now I'm not coming up with many besides Tolkien. There's the Weaver in Mieville's work. And I've never read any of the Dark Elf and related books from Forgotten Realms, but even I know that spiders had some kind of prominent role for that society. Anyway, here's the real-world article about the spider webs.
Report on the bar book club

So a group of guys I know meet once a month or so at a local microbrewery/bar and discuss a different book each time. I just like how that sounds--yeah, honey, I'm heading to the bar to, umm, discuss a book. Yeah. Actually we do, and we can get into some pretty intense discussions. We've had fiction and non-fiction, classics and more recent stuff, humor, high-brow, low-brow... So far when it's been my turn to bring suggestions, we've done Jennifer Government, Italo Calvino's Baron in the Trees, and most recently, Lies of Locke Lamora. (Dictionary of the Khazars was actually my first choice last time, but they turned that down. I read it anyway and loved it).

So I think I'll put little reports here each month on that. Last night's beer of choice was Scottish Highland Ale. Our book, however, was set in Ireland--Paul Watkin's Promise of Light. It was a good, though not great, story of an American in 1921 who ends up stuck in the middle of the struggle for Irish independence. It did lead to some good discussions as we drank our beer. One thing that fascinated me was the way an absent person could become a symbol for those struggling. Less impressive was the way the story turned so much on coincidence, on lucky breaks.

Next month, or a little over a month from now, the Scottish Ale will be more apt, as we read a nonfiction book called How the Scots Invented the Modern World.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A new story in Reflection's Edge

I'm excited to announce that I'll be having a story soon in Reflection's Edge--in just a couple of days if I can get the paperwork and such filled out in time. This will be my second story with them--they printed one of my favorite stories, "The Ship of Silk on the Calmest Sea," back in February. I'll write more about this particular story once it's up, but for now do go check out the ezine--I was actually just reading some of the stories there the other day. I wouldn't say I've read enough to be able to categorize the entire editorial style and preferences, but the stories I've read create this sense in me that if Patricia McKillip were sending out short fiction (under a pseudonym, I suppose, otherwise it'd be snapped up by the big markets), this would be a place to find them. The stories seem to often have that feel to them, hazy and fairy-tale-ish without ever being actual retellings.

Monday, August 27, 2007

One Year Later

Just over a year ago I had my first story published (well, first speculative story as well as first story I actually got paid in more than copies anyway). I haven't counted recently, but I think I'm somewhere around twenty stories now, between those that have been published and the few that have been accepted but not yet published. For many things it seems like time flies, but it's hard to imagine that was only a year ago. It feels like my writing has changed and improved dramatically in that time.

I don't mean this to be a brag post (though I'm not above bragging when something warrants it!). Rather I see this as a wake-up to myself of just how early in my writing career I still am. So when I get frustrated that those pro sales and impressive novel advances aren't forthcoming yet, I have to remind myself--look where you were only a year ago. And then I have to push myself to improve myself, to grow in my writing as much in the year ahead. Suddenly this feels like a New Years Resolution post. So I'll just end it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Board games and thrift stores

I love board games--since my son was born we don't play nearly as often as we used to, but we have tons of games down in our basement (none, of course, suitable for a nearly-3-year-old). Back in college I was part of a historical simulations club where we'd play a strategy game that would take an entire semester (trust me, there's not much geekier than that). It seemed that for many the pinnacle of that type of gaming was World in Flames, a WWII game, but to me it always seemed like that game had players' hands very tied politically. So it was basically a game of planning the strategy of troop movements. The game I ended up playing each semester that I participated was Empires at Arms, a Napoleon-era game where political bargaining and manipulation and diplomacy determined most things. A great game.

My wife and I never play games like that--we'll play word games like UpWords and Boggle, shorter strategy games like Settlers of Catan (when we have a third player) and Carcassonne and such things as well as Blockus and others. So last night we went to a new Goodwill store and I found one game by the makers of Settlers and another by the makers of Carcassonne. For two bucks each I couldn't really turn that down. Rio Grande's game is King of Elfland, which looks like a pretty fun game of creating villages and collecting gold--far more elaborate than Carcassonne (part of what makes Carcassonne great is that it has relatively simple rules but that allow for fairly deep strategy and repeat playing), but still fun.

The other game (from Mayfair) reminds me much more of those semesters-long games in college. It's a fantasy game of trains and rails called Iron Dragon. The box says games take four hours... Yeah, little chance of us finding time to play a game like that, since we'd have to leave the game board up for multiple days and keep our son away from it. But still...it looks fun, and maybe someday I'll play it with my son. And set him on the road to geekdom (in case the types of stories I read to him haven't already done so).

I also picked up a copy of Gene Wolfe's The Wizard--I've read the first half of the series (The Knight), so I have been planning to read it. But it hadn't captured me as much as some of Wolfe's other books--I just finished the first two books of the Long Sun sequence, and I hope to get right to the last two soon, whereas it's been half a year since I read Knight, and I didn't feel the urge to pick it up from the library yet. But for thrift store prices, it's certainly worth it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Does this blog look funky in IE?

I usually use Firefox, but once in a while Blogger and Firefox don't seem to get along. I try to check my blog or others', and it just gets stuck loading--not actually freezing Firefox. I can still load other tabs. And it never gets to the "This page is unavailable" page. It just looks like it's loading without doing anything, and no amount of stopping and reloading seems to help (and I always have too many other tabs open to want to try restarting Firefox).

So anyway, when that happens, I open the page in Internet Explorer occasionally...and all the things in the sidebar get huge. Instead of the nice, normal-sized font for the links, they're suddenly childishly big. Thing is, I go to the blogs of other people (also on Blogger), and their sidebars don't look any different in IE than in Firefox.

So if anyone has any wisdom on this, I'd be grateful. I know html, but blogger templates seem to use a lot of things I'm not familiar with, and I don't feel like taking the time to learn just now. I'm willing to change templates if I must, as long as I can get something else I'm pleased with.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Quick correction/update on Monday's post

There is a new Strange Horizons issue this week--it showed up after I'd posted that. And even when it first posted, the coding was a bit funky, so there was no new fiction for the week. But that was later fixed.

Anyway, the Toiya Kristen Finley story was great--it had a distinct feel to it, quite different from the story in Text: UR, but it was certainly connected. I wouldn't say this story (or the other) is Borgesian exactly--the writing style is completely different, for one thing. But the ideas they explore are reminiscent of some of the obsessions of writers like Borges.

I haven't read all the fiction yet, but the poems are good--my favorite after one read through was Samantha Henderson's.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lone Star Stories

Check out the lineup for the current issue! I've read Lone Star in the past--and enjoyed a number of their stories--but I guess I hadn't actually looked at the most recent issue until I saw Tangent's review of it this morning. And that was only half of it (the fiction half). So for fiction it has Catherynne M. Valente--if you're not familiar with that name, then you're not paying attention to today's speculative fiction; Toiya Kristen Finley--less known as far as I can tell, but her story in Text: UR was my favorite in the anthology, and this seems to be connected with that one (according to the Tangent review); and Sarah Monette--I've blogged about how much I liked her "Draco Campestris" last year, and since then I've come across a number of her stories and enjoyed them.

And then the poetry--Samantha Henderson, David C. Kopaska-Merkel, and Mike Allen. All these names should be familiar to anyone who pays attention to speculative poetry. Two are editors of poetry magazines. At least one a Rhysling winner. And all three seem to be very active in the SF poetry circles.

Lone Star has hovered beneath the radar as far as I can tell. As I said, I've read and enjoyed some issues, but it isn't one that I remember to check every time a new issue comes out. And I've submitted a couple of stories to them over the past year or so. But it's not one that I hear others discuss a lot. I have to believe that with lineups like this that will change (both--people will discuss it and I'm more likely to remember to check back bimonthly to see what's new).

I have to run now and play with my son, but I intend to get to these stories and poems over the next few days--made easier by the fact that Strange Horizons doesn't seem to have a new issue up this week.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Foxes

I was out walking with my son at dusk, and we came very close to a good-sized fox. There's a natural area just down the street from us, so we see them occasionally there, but this wasn't even by that, just on the sidewalk and then in someone's yard. We stopped and looked at it, and it looked at us. And then we passed and it headed down the street toward the park.

There's just something cool about foxes. If you asked my favorite animal, cheetah would be the first that comes to mind, because they're runners like me. But foxes must be up there. (I had a roommate some years ago who always kept lists of his top 10 (or whatever) of everything--not just in his head, but written down on papers in his wallet. In case anyone asked him his favorite, I guess. I'm very much not that way, so I don't have an ordered list of my favorite animals, I'm afraid. Or of my favorite movies or musical groups or even books.)

I think it's that foxes are canines, so they appeal to that part of us that likes dogs, but they're cat-like too somehow. In their sneakiness, their silence. I know foxes play an important part in certain mythologies...especially, is it Japanese? I used to know my mythology better than I do right now. But this makes me want to go read some good myths and folk tales about foxes.

This has been your dose of randomness for the day.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

"Fort Collins, where renewal is a way of life"

Our city recently got the results back from a multi-year study to help give the city a brand, and it looks like this is the tagline they're going to use. Renewal--I like that. I think there are a bunch of different layers to that word that could be teased out.

The report (or at least the newspaper article on the report) has a few negatives the city needs to work on, but mostly it's a ra-ra, yay-for-Fort Collins report. So some of it, well, you get the sense it's written to please those who already believe great things about the city. So here are some of the things that are supposedly important to us: Green and pro-business; highly educated and down-to-earth; healthy/active and loves beer; arts/culture and outdoors. Does this really represent Fort Collins? Probably to a certain extent, but I think much more it represents what those who live here believe the city to be and want the city to represent to others. A slight distinction, perhaps, but it pushes the report toward what I feel about most astrology/horoscope type things: telling you vague things you want to believe about yourself.

Even so, saying we want to believe this about our city says something about us, I think.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Here we go again

Six rejections in under 48 hours. Once again that includes three poems from one market, so not quite as bad as it sounds. Bad Attitude Barnett ("Don't be a fool, you fool) calls them her Reject-a-thons. They do seem to come in waves, just as I was thinking I had a good number of stories out that I hadn't heard back on. Actually, I'm not too down about this--the stories were all at top-paying markets, and two of the three as well as the three poems garnered some pretty positive responses and even suggestions for improvement (while the other was basically a form response that at least encouraged me to submit more).

My favorite was this as a closing line (after some nicely specific advice as well as a suggestion for where to send it next): "Thanks again, though, and do send us more. You're pretty good." Now from many editors my reaction might have been, "Gee, thanks," but from this notoriously blunt editor, I was almost ready to go post that on brag threads on different forums. (I know, some people prefer 'fora' for the plural, but not me.)

Well, here's to this wave being limited to two days.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Plasma-based space life!

Here's a cool article. Yeah, they don't want to call it life, but imagine... Actually, I recently read Iain M. Banks's The Algebraist, and that had an intelligent life form that was exactly this (well, as far as I remember) and covered several AUs in diameter. You don't have to be a hard-SF-only, keep-the-fantasy-out-of-my-playground type to find this very cool as something to speculate about.

Monday, August 13, 2007

"Hope Games" at The Sword Review

Here's a new story of mine that's now available. "Hope Games" is a story set in the middle of a war-torn city--the details of what brought on the war and what the larger world around is like are left intentionally vague--is it a world of magic? Of steampunk? A modern world? What Avins and the other characters know is simply that their city is pounded by the weapons of some unknown enemy. And the absent city leaders repeatedly promise some grand event to entertain and distract the people, only to invariably cancel the plans at the last moment.

The announcement on TSR's forum says,
Today's update shows a different side of hope. When nothing seems right, is there reason to hope? This story is a little on the edge, a little disturbing, and perhaps a little too real for some people.
On the edge. Disturbing. For some reason that makes me smile. So where'd this story come from? It was written specifically for TSR's fiction contest last fall. The them of that was hope, and I thought that if I was going to do something hopeful, then it had better have some pretty dark surroundings to set it off. Otherwise I was afraid it would seem cheap. I'd also recently read VanderMeer's Shriek, which has a key scene that's an opera performance in the middle of a war (I think it was opera...), so I'm sure that affected the story that came out as well. Other than that, there's the steam-level technology that I find creeps into my fiction fairly often--my defaults probably swing between that and a primitive, bronze-age technology (skipping right over pseudo-medieval).

I didn't get a lot of time to do revisions and such on this because it was a contest entry, but I found myself still pleased with the story as I reviewed the copy edits earlier this week. So go check it out!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Another story to recommend

This time the story is from this month's Clarkesworld. "The Beacon" by Darja Malcolm-Clarke is great fun, very much something that's far outside reality, a society of insect-like creatures beneath a poisonous sun. Gender differences are big, with the females dominant...and because of that, Malcolm-Clarke flips the usage of wife and husband so the wives are the drastically weaker--and blind--males who stay home and care for the eggs, and husbands are the seeing females who control society. But...the wives know more about certain things than the main character ever guessed as she seeks a cure for the sun-poison that's in her blood and the milk she gives her young.

I've heard some people say that the term New Weird in certain uses seems to be transforming into Bugs & drugs as a counterpoint to Swords & sorcery--and if so, this certainly fits the bugs part of that equation. And it does seem to have a certain feeling to it that would make me place it near some of the New Weird works that I've read. Or maybe it's just far-out fantasy. Whatever it is, I like it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Reckoning of Asphodel

Here's a plug for a friend of mine. Celina Summers has been of tremendous help to me in reading and critiquing many of my first drafts, and she has her first book out now from Aspen Mountain Press: The Reckoning of Asphodel. It's available now as an ebook, and will come out in print in January (at least that's the current schedule). I have a link to her blog in the sidebar ("Elf-killing...")--here's her website.

Now, I've not read this book, except for the opening to the story a couple of times in draft form. But I've read enough of her writing to know it will be very readable (and I'm convinced that once her Darkshifters 2-book series is published, you'll be hearing her name all around, maybe even on the bestseller lists...).

Yes, this story has elves. Yes, you know my feeling about elves in fantasy. Even so, I'm plugging it...so that tells you something, right? It also riffs off of Greek mythology, something you don't often see combined with elves. So I'm confident it'll be a worthy read. I hope to get to it soon myself, but if you've read it, feel free to let me know what you thought.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

More Living Stumps goodness!

Back in April I had a story, "First Peeling," appear in Kaleidotrope #2. Right around that same time I was working on a stand-alone sequel to the story, and now that story has also been accepted by Kaleidotrope. This is the second story* involving the tambran, or living stumps, and I've also been dabbling with a YA novel involving them as I wait before doing first rewrites on my Eghsal novel. I ought to be getting to those rewrites soon, but I'm having fun with these living stumps, so I'm thinking I'll see if I can manage to do both at once, alternating as necessary between revising the earlier book and writing something new. They're very different in every way, so that should work for me, I think.

* actually they made a brief appearance in another story, but I'm not sure if I intend to try getting that one published.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

An odd-shaped magazine joins my shelf of contributor copies

I received my copies of Fictitious Force #4 in the mail yesterday. The first thing that jumps out at you is the shape--tall and skinny. In fact, it won't actually fit on the shelf with the rest of my contributor copies. But I like how that makes it stand out. So far I wouldn't say it really affects how I read it.

I've reread B. A. Barnett's story (reread because I'd read it in critique about a year ago) and and the various flash pieces, including Elizabeth Bear's, and enjoyed them. But I haven't read any of the other long pieces yet. My story, "A Poisoned Brush," is also a flash.

So let's see--where'd this story come from? One critique group I'm part of has weekly challenges where we're given an hour to write on a specific topic. The topic, I believe, was flower magic. Now I can be contrarian, and I often try to take a topic like this the opposite of what first comes to mind. So the first things I thought of were rather light and fluffy--definitely not what I tend to write. So I thought, "How can I make flower magic something dark?" And I came up with a poisonous flower that was a paintbrush for a dark and visceral painting. Yeah, that'll do on the story's origin, but I do have to mention that I'd been reading Gene Wolfe at the time and couldn't resist throwing in the word 'fuligin.'

That was only one of two things that arrived in the mail--but I'll mention the other things in another post.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Other Worlds

I have a pretty strong preference for alternate worlds. Fantasies that are set in decidedly not-earth places (especially if there's some aspect of it that borders on the absurd) rather than fantasies that reveal some supposed unknown magical underpinning to our own world. Science fiction that's set far away in distance or in time more than near-future pieces. I've certainly enjoyed stories that fit each of the latter halves of those two comparisons, so it's not that I dislike those. But give me a fiercely imagined alternate location, and you've caught my interest much more. It's a part of why I like Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris stories, a big part of what attracted me to China Mieville's New Crobuzon novels. And if you look at the things I've reviewed on Tangent, I think you'll see this preference played out.

This isn't a new realization to me, and probably isn't anything new to those who've read my stories. But it hit home in a book I'm reading now (though I'm unsure if I'll finish it)--Doris Lessing's Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta. The story is science-fictional, at least superficially--generally I'd say that under the surface there's no real difference between SF and fantasy, and those who like to maintain a fierce wall around their precious hard-SF would probably call this more fantasy. But the story is of an agent for a broad stellar empire of some sort who is making his second trip to the world Rohandan / Shikasta (its name chances in the course of the story). The first part of the story flashes back to his first visit. It isn't an easy story to get into, as it's a very distant report of the event rather than anything with immediacy. But eventually I found myself enjoying it as the agent deals with the forced exodus by some of the people who'd come down to guide the natives of the planet toward some sort of enlightenment.

Then the story moves to the second visit, and it's revealed that Shikasta is Earth, and the time is mid-20th century. There were certainly hints that Shikasta might be ancient Earth in the first part, but as soon as it became certain, I could feel myself groaning. Now part of that is an aversion to the various theories people have of aliens coming down and influencing the early development of humans--it seems overdone and often brings out crackpots ideas. But part is just that it's so here-and-now. I find myself wondering if I really want to use my reading time to continue with it.

Does that make me escapist? Maybe at some level, and maybe at that level I don't consider it a bad thing. But it's certainly not escapist in the sense that celebrity magazines are escapist. Or soap operas. I think often when people denigrate speculative fiction as escapist, they're only looking at the surface. For me, that very distance on the surface allows the story to speak in metaphorical ways, in images and structures, about here-and-now. I'm not trying to make a grand claim about speculative fiction being able to do this better than all other forms--that's not a dichotomy I'm interested in exploring. But I know that for me it often works better.

So will I keep reading this book? I'm undecided. It isn't awful, and it's one I'd like to be able to say I'm familiar with. But at the same time I have so many other books I'd like to read. I think I'll give it a few more pages, but then I'll move on to the second book of Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun (I just finished book one a week ago and am looking forward to continuing). Then when I finish that, I'll see what my thoughts are about this book.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Mad Farmer

One of the books I pulled right back off the bookshelves and have been paging through is Wendell Berry's Collected Poems 1957-1982. He has a series of poems in there about a character called the Mad Farmer, a wise but contrary eccentric. The first (in this collection at least) is "The Mad Farmer Revolution" followed by many others: "The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer," "The Mad Farmer and the City," "Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer," which includes a line I often quote, "Don't own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire" as well as a very appropriate saying for recent weather here: "Don't pray for the rain to stop. / Pray for good luck fishing / when the river floods."

But the highlight of these poems is "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer's Liberation Front."

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
Then you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
That's less than half the poem--I'm a bit leery of posting someone's entire poem without permission. Those final three lines of what I include here are really powerful to me (and were especially so when I worked for a summer camp that included the US pledge of allegiance as part of its daily routine). The poem goes on in the next bit to talk about planting sequoias and calling your profit the leaves that rot to enrich the earth, an image of a theme that resonates throughout his writings--Berry is a novelist and essayist as well, especially on matters of the environment, not in the abstract but in the particulars of how culture interacts with the world around us. And near the end he says, "As soon as the generals and politicos / can predict the motions of your mind, / lose it. [...] Be like the fox / who makes more tracks than necessary, / some in the wrong direction."

So take this as my encouragement to go find some Wendell Berry poems or essays. Or he would probably rather I say it's my encouragement to know the land around you, to be deeply invested in an authentic relationship with your place rather than a superficial consumer.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another story accepted

So, clearly this is a good week for me, with the two stories accepted plus winning a contest. The new story is called "The Mad Juggler." It's another older story, though again one that I've revised more recently. This one is mostly a mainstream, non-speculative story...but there are little hints of something speculative around the edges. I'll write more about it when it's published.

Oh yeah, guess I ought to mention that the place that accepted the story is The Written Word.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I win!

Woohoo! Very excited to get this--I've read and enjoyed most of these authors. So while, like many, I remain leery of the term New Weird, at least in any prescriptive way, from a descriptive point of view, there's a good chance I'll enjoy these stories.