Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More narrative playfulness

Continuing on various earlier posts that I'm too lazy to find and link to now, I've found a couple more projects that are playing around with narrative in ways that I like.

First is Jeremy Tolbert's Clockpunk site, which follows the dispatches of a steampunk naturalist as he explores the strange creatures who inhabit the City he lives in. It includes the great photographs of these creatures and whimsical accounts from the naturalist himself, Dr. Julius T. Roundbottom. Funny thing is, I'd stumbled across the site a day or two ago without realizing Jeremy (who, if you missed that post, I recently discovered lives a couple miles away from me) was the one doing it and then this morning saw the interview with him about the project over at Fantasy.

The other is Invisible Games, which is created by CMV and DMZ (CMV is Catherynne Valente...but I'm not sure who DMZ is). This project is full of the accounts of various games that supposedly took place in the past. It also has a steampunk feel to it, more so in some entries than others, and it plays on the nature of games...and I love games. I'm not much of a video gamer (partly because I know that if I let myself, I'd quickly become addicted to them), but games were a big part of my work at various camps and in experiential educations, and that has leaked into my writing as well (in fact, one of the first poems I did years ago was called "LifeGame"--not at all based on the Game of Life, though). And that doesn't even mention all the piles of board games we have in the basement and all the hours I've spent playing things from Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne to UpWords and Boggle. Anyway, the project creates some wonderful games and game machines and uses them as you might expect Calvino to use games.

One thing I love about these kinds of projects, and especially Clockpunk of these two, is the way they immerse you in a different world--they're not trying to tell a story in the same way secondary-world fantasies are usually told, but they're simply assuming you're there with them and have the patience to explore the whimsical bits along with them. There's a sense that these bits will coalesce into more of a story, but it requires, or rather assumes a kind of patience that I don't find trying at all.

In a way both of these remind me a bit of Nick Bantock's Museum of Purgatory, a book whose concept I loved, and its individual parts included a lot of fun...though I found the overarching story that developed to be less successful.

Sort of related, I picked up a copy of Shaun Tan's The Arrival from the library the other day, and I found it as good as all the hype. I hadn't quite realized how whimsical it would be, so that in itself is a lot of fun. And the immigrant's story itself is powerful.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bar Book Club for November

Time once again to report on the doings of our monthly (or so) book club that meets in a local microbrewery. Beer of choice: no single one dominated, but I had Existential Porter, a very dark beer that I often choose, though several of the other guys find it too sweet.

Our book: Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders With America's Illegal Migrants. It was a fascinating book, a nonfiction account that was originally published in 1987 and recently reissued with a new forward. I've made no secret of the fact that I consider the arguments of Coloradan politician Tom Tancredo to be pure racism--his rhetoric and that of others of his ilk is all about playing on racist fears, some of it conscious but given the number of people supporting such extreme views, I have to believe a lot of it is subconscious. And that's when it's most dangerous, when we don't think we're being racist but there's an unacknowledged foundation that these ideas build on.

I'm not saying that all who advocate for immigration reform are racist, but at least the rhetoric being used should give us pause before suggesting what to do.

We had some good discussions on the book. Some of it's dated--today there are many more undocumented workers who aren't involved in agriculture at all, and there are many more women who come across as well. But the underlying images, the stories of these workers and their families back home are powerful, even twenty years later. Even with the time that has passed, we ended up agreeing that the book makes it pretty clear a fence on the border is pure silliness. And we also agreed that the public debate too often offers only very limited and opposite positions, where what seems needed is either in between or some sort of third option that's neither end.

Here's a quote from the afterword:
Like most previous waves of immigration, Mexican immigration leaves some citizens worried that there are becoming too many of "them," and not enough of "us," that we as a nation may drown in the tide of foreignness. But if there is any truism about immigration to America, it is that "they" soon become "us"... This is as true today as it was in the early 1920s, or during the previous century.
That matches my experience as a grandchild (and son-in-law) of immigrants from the Netherlands, of growing up in an agricultural community that attracted many migrants (and working side-by-side with them in the onion fields and Christmas tree fields), and in studying the issue in college and getting to know those in the Hispanic community around there.

So anyway, enough of a lecture. Our next book is a John Irving book, The Water Method Man. Probably not until mid-January.
Sporty Spec arrived!

Actually, it arrived right before Thanksgiving, but I wanted to wait at least until I'd read a few of the stories. This is the first time I'm in a publication where I've had interactions (here and elsewhere) with a number of the other contributors--I've had a couple of times where I'd met online one or two others, but this time the number is a half a dozen or so. So I made sure I read all those stories, and I enjoyed them all. Only negative to the anthology is that Lulu goes way overboard with the packaging for the book. How many extra trees must we cut down in addition to those needed for the book itself? But that has no bearing on the quality of the stories and poems, which so far have been very high.

I'll say it again, this is a very fun anthology with lots of short pieces that should appeal to many people. Add it to your Christmas list!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Grey Cup

Congrats to Saskatchewan Rough Riders in beating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

My college had a high proportion of Canadians in the student body, so our on-campus TV offerings always included CBC. I remember the ads for the Grey Cup one year especially when the announcer stating in his most apocalyptic voice about how the Grey Cup every year was "the day Canada stands still." Most of the Canadians I knew cared exactly as much as most of the USians--not at all. We had CBC when we moved to Dearborn as well, though, and I miss This Hour has 22 Minutes.
In a rejection yesterday...

I was chided for overusing sentences that begin with a conjunction. And I would never do something like that. Or at least not often. But sometimes it seems to fit the voice of a piece in my head to do so.

In all seriousness, it's quite possible I did overuse it in this piece, so I'm glad the editor pointed it out. There are times when the voice I have in my head seems to clamor for conjunctions, and at times those are just right. I have occasionally run into fellow writers who are so conditioned by the academic-writing style that frowns on conjunctions, so they argue you should never do so in fiction either. That's silly. It's a rule as divorced from natural writing as the rules against not ending a sentence in a preposition or not splitting an infinitive. Sometimes a conjunction is exactly right at the start of a sentence. But...sometimes I have in the past overdone that, so now I'll have to see if I did the same here in this story.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving

We spent the evening at friends' house and enjoyed ourselves. Despite the fact that it turned out all the guys there were Michigan expatriates who had watched the Lions lose earlier in the day... And to those Canadians who celebrated almost two months ago and others who don't have a Thanksgiving at all, well I hope it was a happy Thursday regardless.

And now...


Resist the impulse-buying consumerism of the day after Thanksgiving. I'm not some extremist who will chide you for purchasing gas or even for realizing that there really is a good deal for an item that you genuinely need. In fact I'm debating purchasing something from Amazon myself, trying to decide the best timing for getting it delivered since we'll be gone for most of the month of December. But do pause and make sure it's something you do need, that you're not just buying into mindless materialism. Take the time to swing by Adbusters's Buy Nothing Day site (and the rest of their site--I especially love the spoof ads). And while you're at it, here's my somewhat Adbuster's inspired story, "The Sports Fable Press," which appeared in Noneuclidean Café last spring.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

From air to snow

Monday was air-conditioning-in-the-car weather. This morning I shoveled 3 or so inches of snow off our driveway. Hmm.

Actually I love snow, so no complaints here. Give me some cross country skis and a stretch of trails (something I haven't done for a few winters), and I'm thrilled. And apart from last year's anomalous blizzard that kept us buried for a month and a half, snow in this part of Colorado doesn't last long enough for people to become tired of it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The cachet of being a dissenter

I'm fascinated with how people interact with each other. This certainly traces back to my work in outdoor education where a big portion of the experience was in participants becoming aware of such things...and an even bigger part of the facilitator's job was to notice the group dynamics and adjust the experiences based on what we saw. It was intriguing to see how completely different the approaches of two different groups might be to a given problem. And then to structure later challenges based on what we'd seen.

So sometimes I like to just observe things going on online and think of them in the same terms, the same frame of mind. And if you want especially childish behavior, check out sports articles that allow for comments, like those on Foxsports. There's plenty of other childishness around as well, of course, including in the spec fic communities. But it isn't really childishness I wanted to blog about today.

What I'm finding entertaining at the moment is how proudly some people single themselves out as having a different opinion. "Well, I guess I'll be the lone voice saying..." "Looks like I'm the dissenting voice..." "I suppose my preferences are different then..."

That's great--much better than sycophantism or taking pride in conforming. But what really had me laughing yesterday or the day before was a discussion where people were debating a certain aspect of writing. A number of people started speaking their preference for one side until someone came along and mentioned that they'd be a dissenting voice and argue the other way. A bunch of people then piled on in support of this person...to the point that a page or more of comments later, someone jumped in as the lone voice of dissension to argue on the side of the original preferences (apparently unaware of all those who'd already agreed...). Each of the two seemed to take almost a martyr's tone with their reply. And the dynamics that followed of what others had to say were great fun from an observer's seat.

Now with some things it does take genuine courage to speak a dissenting view, and I'm proud of those who do. But to claim the martyr's mantle in a topic like this was simply comical.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A non-writing weekend

That's not 100% true, as I did a bit of writing yesterday, but for the most part that's what the weekend was. Our big excitement of the weekend was getting my son into a big bed. He'd still been in his crib, and he wasn't climbing out or anything, but still it was time to switch. So he had fun helping take everything out of his room, including the pieces of the crib...and then I got to put the entire bunk bed together. Actually, I do like putting things like that together--I love things that come with "some assembly required" printed on the box because it's like a sort of puzzle. So I didn't mind--it was just time-consuming. And there's still plenty more to do before his room is fully set up.

The other thing we did was go to an auction for Habitat for Humanity. My sister-in-law has been working for them for the past year as part of Americorps (and I think will continue working for them part-time now that her year commitment is up, at least until her baby is born). The auction was a lot of fun--I got outbid on everything I tried to bid on, but it was just the atmosphere that was good. The auctioneer kept it very entertaining.

Also on the topic of Habitat, I've agreed to translate a few things for them into Spanish, so that's taking up some of my writing time as well. But again, it's fun--in fact this also has a bit of the puzzle to it, and I do love a good puzzle. But hopefully I'll be able to get back to more writing shortly. Or more revising rather.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Homage vs. Pastiche?

Where would you draw the line between these two? When does an homage to a particular writer/style/work become simply a pastiche?

Part of this comes from my thinking about the Boskrea stories, which some of you know. They're all unpublished so far, but those in a critique group with me should recognize them. From the beginning one of my main goals with these stories was to challenge myself, to experiment with a variety of ways of telling a story. Part of that has included some self-aware patterning after certain Borges stories or Lovecraft or Calvino. Not all the stories fit that mold, but it's something that's come up various times. If any of those crosses the line from homage to pastiche, it's probably the Lovecraft one--I probably have enough distance from it now I should reread it and see.

But now I'm playing with the idea of another, except this time instead of it harkening to any particular writer, it'll be a nod toward a certain non-Western work that's sort of a genre to itself. But a part of me worries about simply co-opting the form. As I see it there are two major pitfalls to avoid. The first is simply transplanting the work as close as possible into my Boskrea setting. In one sense that's faithful to the original work, the original intent...but the lack of creativity will show that it's merely a superficial resemblance. The other pitfall is to simply take a vague impression of the original and then plow on ahead with my Western eyes. It's a way of colonizing the unfamiliar, and artistically (as well as ethically) it seems just as bankrupt. So I guess I'm trying to understand the work better, to get down underneath it and know more than just its surface. The story that results will probably have some superficial resemblance as well as some jarring differences, but I hope that underneath it's a respectful homage to that other work.

We'll see (I'm still not focusing at all on creating new things, so I'm not sure even when I might get around to this). But I'd love to hear any other thoughts on this--homage vs. pastiche, broadening the sources of fantasy (etc.) vs. co-opting and colonizing them.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Nice things in the mailbox

I opened my mailbox yesterday and saw not one but two manila envelopes with books inside. I love getting new things in the mail like that. I was hoping one might be Sporty Spec, but not yet--I still have that to look forward to soon. One was a collection for review, so that's a little less exciting since it carries an obligation with it, but really one of the reasons I like to review is to get the copies of things I otherwise might not have picked up.

The other is the result of the book giveaway from Matthew Hughes, which I posted about a month or two ago. I was very excited to get a limited edition (#8 of 125) copy of "The Farouche Assemblage," published by Payseur & Schmidt. I've seen various references to this publisher as highly respected for its book design, and this definitely fits that bill. I look forward to reading it. By the way, according to his website, the collection of Guth Bander stories is now published by Robert Sawyer Books.

Speaking of reviews, I did have a recent review of mine posted at The Fix for the anthology Bandersnatch. I feel like I didn't enjoy this one as much as I was expecting to, though I'm willing to wonder if a part of that was that they sent me an electronic copy instead of a hard copy. But not all, I'm sure. There were certainly some good stories, but also a number that felt like they were trying too hard...to be something that just didn't quite jive. For me--always have to put that in there.

Random for this post, but I discovered I'm not the only speculative fiction writer in town recently, and last night had the pleasure to meet up with Jeremy Tolbert, who seems to know everyone in the field.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writing Goals

All this NaNo discussing has me thinking about writing goals. I haven't usually gone for specific short term goals, like 1000 words/day or whatever. When I've tried that, it usually hasn't gone well. I end up overly obsessed with the word count (or whatever) and the writing itself suffers. I do, however set a goal of working on my writing every day, and on that I'm pretty consistent. I wonder sometimes, though, if it's just a lazy reaction to the more specific goals. I'm not a glacial-paced writer--in the past 2 1/2 years I've fully revised two novel manuscripts, written a new one and am over halfway through the first revision (should be done by the end of the year), and I've written dozens of stories and poems. But I'm not anywhere near as prolific as some writers either. When I'm in full creating mode, my output varies from probably 500 to 4,000 or more words per day. And I'm revising 2-3 chapters per week lately, sometimes on top of other writing or revising.

I do believe firmly in being a disciplined writer, so at times I think such a specific word count goal might benefit me.

At the moment some writers on one forum have a weekly accountability group where we post a goal for the week ahead and report if we've reached it. I've been doing that for a few months now. At times it's been good, spurring me to stop wasting time and get to work. Other times, I'm afraid it's tempted me to skimp on the work (especially since of late my goal always involves revising a certain number of chapters or short stories), so that I rush through it. That's when a goal becomes a negative thing for me.

Long-term goals are good, though I keep them fluid, and apart from the goal I've had each of the past two years of having a professional sale (only a little over a month left for that...I think I have three stories out at the moment to qualifying places), I try to keep them tied only to what's under my control. So goals that inspire discipline, that's what I want, not goals that draw too much attention to themselves as goals, looming, shadowy monsters waiting for me to trip up...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

No NaNo

I feel at the least obligated to mention NaNoWriMo, simply because so many other writers I interact with are doing it. I'm not and haven't ever either. But that's not out of any dislike of the idea. In fact, there are times when I could benefit from doing more to turn off my inner editor and just write like mad. But for each of the past three years (which goes back to when I first learned of NaNo), I was in the middle of something else in November, something that seemed at least equally beneficial to my writing.

This year, of course, it's the revisions that's taking precedence, and revising is something I'm trying to become more diligent about, forcing myself to focus on making a piece its best instead of good enough and running off to the next great idea for a story. Mostly I've been focusing my revisions on my novel project, but occasionally I step away for a couple of days to rework a short story (and there's one short story that's calling for revision but I keep putting off because I know it'll be a lot of work). So anyway, I guess this is my NaNo(&ShoSto)RevMo.

But to all you out there actually doing the crazy writing of NaNo, best of luck!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Doctor Prunesquallor

I'm rereading Titus Groan at the moment, and I just have to point out how much I like the doctor. I can't help but laugh any time he comes onto the scene. His sister also is a big source of humor in the book, though in her case it's humor at her expense. She's so clueless about how sad she is as she tries desperately to get Steerpike's attention. Whereas with the doctor, as annoying as his laugh would likely be in real life, as a character in a book you can tell he's laughing along with you. Though that said, the part that had me laughing the hardest recently was when Cora and Clarice came to visit the Prunesquallors and started talking about why they like roofs...

The BBC production, by necessity misses some of the depth of the story, but I thought they did an excellent job casting both the Prunesquallors. So if you don't feel up for trying your hand at Peake's admittedly dense prose (but lovely!), you can always find your local library's copy of the mini-series and watch that.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Michael Ehart's The Servant of the Manthycore

Another bit of pimping for a friend--Michael Ehart's The Servant of the Manthycore is available for pre-order (it's also available at Amazon) and will be released in about a week It collects several of the stories (which appeared at The Sword Review) as well as an unpublished novella. I've read a number of the stories included, either in draft form in our critiquing group or in their original publication, and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing the final product.

Wait a second, you say...isn't that Michael Moorcock's name on the cover? Yup--he provided the introduction. How cool is that? So there's your assigned reading for December--get on it.

PS An update--the last time I pimped for a fellow writer it was for my friend Celina and her book The Reckoning of Asphodel. Things seem to be going well for her writing-wise, as she just mentioned a glowing review for the novel. I imagine the link will go up at her blog soon. And plans are moving ahead for the second in the series, and there's probably all kinds of hush-hush discussions about other projects too as she moves ahead on her plans to become the next household name. So if you haven't read that one yet, add it to your December reading as well...or even order it immediately and get it done before Thanksgiving. Before the Lions (gasp!) win...

Another Update: After posting this, I noticed an entire week's worth of interviews with Michael over at Scriptorius Rex.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sporty Spec is available!

I'm very much looking forward to getting my copy of this, and you can order it already now from Lulu. Or if you prefer, wait a couple of weeks and it'll be available from Amazon and other online vendors. There are even launch parties happening in a few weeks, one on the West Coast, one on the East (US, that is, by the way). So if you happen to live there or be traveling there then, you can see the details at the Sporty Spec page.

So now for the origin of this story... It's called "City of Games." I wrote it specifically for the anthology, and its tone is meant to evoke a couple of writers I like: Dunsany, especially some of his stories that are basically travelogues of intriguing places; and Calvino, especially his book Invisible Cities, which was my introduction to him and part of what led to his becoming one of my favorite authors. It was meant to have more of a Dunsany feel, with only touches of Calvino, but in my opinion by the time it was done that was reversed. The other source of this story is something I'd written in my writing notebook (the original "Twigs and Brambles") years ago about a city where laws and policies are decided by a soccer-like game. That same idea led to a much darker, more cynical story about two years ago, a story that I still like but haven't found a home for yet. This is a much more whimsical take on the same germ.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Errr, yeah--Fantasy Magazine

I mentioned about Fantasy's switch to online a little over a month ago, I'd guess, but then I still had in my mind that the switch was a ways off. Nope, it's up and running and has been for a little while, it seems. I was sure the original announcement said after WorldCon, which would mean this is still only the first week, but there are entries from last week as well--perhaps it was their chance to play around with the setup and all before everyone realized things were happening. Or maybe I'd just remembered wrong.

I haven't read any of the stories yet, but I just read the interview with Catherynne Valente. Her new book, the conclusion of the Orphan Tales duology is out this week--I'd just read the first book a couple of weeks ago, and it is certainly among the most memorable I've read this year. I have to admit a twinge of disappointment that it didn't win the World Fantasy Award last weekend...but of course Gene Wolfe is pretty tough competition. I haven't read Soldier of Sidon, so I can't comment more on that.

I guess I assume that most people are well aware of who won the awards--I was pleased that Strange Horizons ran reviews on all five of the nominees for best novel. But in case you missed it (Elliot!) Gene Wolfe won for best novel.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Nemonymous contest

Only about a month away from revealing which story belongs to which writer now in Nemonymous 7, and Des would like to encourage you to remember this contest for guessing how they match up. Even if you don't have a copy (yet), you can always go give it a shot and see how you do on blind luck. The more people who enter, the bigger the final prize is (even though there's no entry fee--he just wants to encourage many participants). I know at least one of you who reads this blog has already figured out which is mine...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Photos of Mars

Call me a geek if you want, but there's something so cool about the these pictures--they may not rival the scenic backgrounds taken here on earth that I download from Webshots (though even among those I have an earlier one taken by one of the rovers), but simply the realization that it was taken on another planet and yet looks so clear--not an artist's rendering but an actual photo taken on Mars. I just find that stunning and exciting at once:

This second one is digitally enhanced, which makes it clearer but a little less like what you'd actually see if you were there:
While we were hiking over the weekend, the son of one of our co-hikers asked his dad if they might climb Mt. Everest some day. Who knows, maybe climbing Olympus Mons will be the big adventure in some future generation.
Kaleidotrope #3

I've been meaning to post this for a while now, but keep getting distracted with other things. When I receive a contributor copy of something, there's always a balance I try to maintain between getting the info out that it's available and trying to find time to read some of the other things in the copy to be able to comment on them.

So I've had my copy of this for several weeks now, but things kept conspiring to keep me from reading anything. I read Bruce Holland Rogers's two stories right away as well as your story, Beth (the best, most amazing use of my absolute favorite superlatives...). As of now I've also read the first few stories and poems and quite enjoyed them--there's a bit of meta-fiction that I really liked, some good psychological horror, and a rather light-hearted ghost story among other things. I remember really liking the poetry of #2 but finding the fiction overall not as strong (though with some exceptions), but so far #3 exceeds #2 on that count. So do check it out.

I like to say a bit about the genesis of the stories I get published: this one is a sequel to the story I had in #2, so it shares its origin in a throw-away bit in another story that intrigued me enough to develop the Living Stumps some more. In this case, I'd already written "First Peeling" but it hadn't been accepted yet when a one-hour challenge topic was to devise a courting ritual for an invented society. "Stump Courtship" was the result, though at the time it wasn't all that strong a piece. It was only when "First Peeling" came out in Kaleidotrope #2 that I took that story kernel back out and revised it, polished it up, and sent it out.

In something of a further development, this summer as I was taking a break from my main novel between first draft and revisions, I started playing around with a YA novel that involves one of the Living Stumps. I finished the first half of a rough draft for that before deciding it was more important to focus on the revisions for now, but I do hope to come back to that at some point in the future.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Back from the mountains

OK, I can't blame the recent trip up to Estes for the lack of posts of late, since it was only a couple of days, but getting ready for it did cut out three or so posts I'd meant to do at some point last week and didn't. I'll do my best to get back in the habit of a daily something here now that we are back.

We had a good time up there. My son didn't sleep great, which affected how well he handled everything going on, so that was less fun. But otherwise it was good. Hanging out with my wife's coworkers and their families/significant others/large dogs (...). Hiking--we went on a short trail around one mountain lake with a group of maybe ten or so, and I did a solo hike up the mountain behind our cabin while my son and wife were napping. And we saw tons of elk, including having one meander across the road directly in front of our car. My wife saw big-horn sheep beside the road as we were driving up the canyon too, but she noticed too late for me to see them. And I even got some good revising in while sitting in our cabin--it seems I often have high hopes for doing just that but then don't get anywhere near what I'd planned done, so that was a pleasant development.

That's it--now I'll be unpacking and trying to catch up on sleep for the next few days.