Thursday, January 31, 2008

GUD's special promotion

To promote issue 2 of GUD, they've sent a randomly selected story or poem from the issue to each person who has an account with them. My story was "Freight" by Joseph Love.

It's the story of a young boy, rural-poor, who's returning from the store with food. An old man with a bike offers to give him a ride home, and the family ends up inviting him in to join them for the meal, even though they don't have much. There's a feel of Southern fantastic to this. What's the word...Southern gothic. The grotesque. There's something absurd in the characters of the boy's family, and a wide-eyed acceptance that this is simply how people are in the narration (through the eyes of the boy). That's definitely the strength of the story, this vaguely unsettling presentation of poor, rural life (the dialogue is the only thing that seemed intended to indicate the story's Southern-ness...and even there, it wasn't so different from the speech of some people in West Michigan I heard growing up, so it seems to me more of a general rural-poor gothic than specifically Southern). It creates a strange and intriguing picture.

The shape of the story seemed its weakness to me--the ending didn't seem to fit well with the rest of the story. It sort of pointed toward a completely different direction the character would soon take that wasn't really a part of the story before while leaving others matters within the story unresolved. I tend to lean more toward the literary end of things with my tastes, but even so that seems to be a pattern with a certain style of literary stories, ie that I find things left too unresolved, the ending not quite right for the story (yes, and I've mentioned on my blog before that others especially more firmly in genre sometimes comment the same about my stories being too unresolved or hinting too obliquely at their resolutions...) so that could simply be me and not a fault of the story.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Niece #2

Congrats to my brother and his wife, whose baby girl Calista was born yesterday. This means my son has gone from being the only grandchild on either side to having a girl cousin on each side in a span of a week and a half.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Time

One of my pet peeves in epic fantasy is the way so often things seem to have been going on relatively unchanged for centuries, even millenia. I recently even saw a blurb about a fantasy work I haven't read that mentioned how something had lasted for 50k years. That's for us the year 48,000 BC...am I honestly supposed to believe anything would be accurately remembered from that long ago? That any dynasty or people or institution could have lasted that long with the same identity (and still end up in your standard pseudo-medieval culture)? We're talking something like 8 times as long as the amount of time between us today and the earliest Mesopotamian writings. And I don't know about this case, but too often it seems that the people of the earlier times lived pretty much the same pseudo-medieval-European lifestyles as those at the end.

Even a lesser time frame can be as ridiculous. George Martin, much as I love his Song of Ice & Fire series (before I discovered that I'd completely given up on recent epic fantasy and was only reading older stuff within the fantasy genre and newer stuff outside it), my recollection is of a 4,000-year span for a fairly stable identity to some of the kingdoms that became part of the Seven Kingdoms. And Bakker's excellent Prince of Nothing series has two 2,000-year spans, though in that case one of the things I like is that most of the people doubt the things Achamion and his school are able to remember because of their magic. (Clearly by mentioning those two, it should be clear that this isn't a deal-breaker by any means.)

But let's break it down even smaller. At various times I've researched different parts of the world and the succession of dynasties, kingdoms, ruling powers. India, SE Asia, the Americas. And it's struck me that often stable, influential powers last 200 years at the top of their region, and maybe double that or a little more to include the time leading up to their ascension and then what's left after they fall. So often what was a major city becomes an empty area (especially if weather patterns or water resources change), though of course it's more frequent for a subsequent power to build their own city on the same site if it remains a strategic location. I think we get fooled by how long-standing certain countries and national identities seem to be and forget those that are quickly supplanted.

Of course, I've been chided for the reverse--a crit partner from UK says it's a typical American thing to err in the other direction, giving a much shorter time span, shorter history and cultural memory. I mean, around here a 100-year-old house is something to point out, to tour when out-of-town guests come. We don't have tangible evidence of the centuries of history that predates such settlers, except as artifacts in the ground. In my first novel manuscript he commented on the fact that something which took place only 200 or 300 years earlier had been completely subsumed by its myth, the actual situation forgotten. Now in part that was intentional, as the winners enforced a certain way of remembering it. But it could be that I didn't give enough credit to the cultural memory or those who'd been on the winning side but not themselves rulers.

Well, my writing tends to flirt at most on the edge of epic fantasy anyway.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Review of Sporty Spec

The Fix has a review up now of Sporty Spec. The review doesn't go into great detail about most of the stories--understandably, since there are many and they're all short. Overall it's a positive review, and I like what she had to say of my story, including this:
Ausema’s wry humor and intriguing descriptions bring this paradoxical place to life.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Flash sale to Every Day Fiction

I learned yesterday that my 500-word flash "The Journey" has sold to Every Day Fiction. In the editor comments they worried that it might be more experimental than they usually go for and also commented on its poetic nature. That works for me--I'll be interested to see how it is received. And when it is published, I'll explain the origin of the story--it started with a form before it had any plot or characters or settings.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Story completed

After moaning last week about my struggles to get back into the groove of new writing, I was able to dive back into a story I'd started back in November and finished it a couple of days ago. It felt really good to get it done, though I'm unsure how the story itself will be received. It's definitely an experimental story in its own way--not, I think, in some way that people would have a hard time following what's going on, but in a way that it could certainly be accused of being more of a travelogue than a story. It also involved inventing two unique forms of minimalist poetry. Well, sort of--one form was only used once and by a character who isn't meant to be a poet, so it wasn't necessary for that to feel like an authentic form so much as true to his character.

I'll come back to the story in a couple of days and do a quick read for any silly consistency errors or wording things and then share it with my critique partners and see what they say.

Now I have to do a bunch more revisions stuff--I'm hoping to finish this last run-through of the novel by the end of January, and I have two stories I want to polish up by mid-February at the latest. So it'll be a little while before I see if finishing that story will help me next time I'm writing something new.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bar book club report for January

We met once again at Coopersmith's Pub last night to discuss John Irving's The Water-Method Man. Beer of choice: well, my son was with me because my wife was on call, and I wasn't sure when I arrived that he would necessarily let me stay for a long time or if he'd have a melt-down and force me to leave precipitously...so I decided I'd better stick with something non-alcoholic. Given the below-0 temperatures, hot chocolate seemed a good choice. Several others also chose non-beer items, which was strange. I only heard the explanation from one, that he was himself on call and might be called in anytime to deliver a baby. Others had the typical variety of beers--Albert Damm, Punjabi Pale, Horsetooth Stout, etc.

The book: not great. One person really liked it, though even he had some reservations. It wasn't awful, in my opinion, but certainly not great either. Irving can be funny, but it tended toward juvenile humor in this book. It also rests comfortably in the tradition of books about a male character who basically bucks all responsibility and makes a lot of stupid choices to throw his life away. I've read that before--it was called Tender is the Night by Fitzgerald or Rabbit Run by Updike or... Neither of those books was a great favorite of mine. The one thing that rescued it somewhat for me was that it was told non-linearly, as Irving tends to do, and I enjoyed seeing how he played all the parts together. This was only the second book Irving wrote, and it felt rather slight, perhaps because of that. Still, not a complete waste of time, and a relatively fast read.

I had to leave before the next book was chosen, so I'm not sure what will be next or when. Sounds like we won't get a chance to meet until mid March now. The books we were choosing between when I left were Catch-22, Ursula Under (which has been on my to-read list for long enough that I don't even remember exactly why I put it there), Forever, Lament for a Son, and...one other, ummm, Once Upon a Day maybe? Something like that. I voted for Ursula Under.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Review at The Fix

My review of the YA zine Shiny went up at The Fix over the weekend. This was interesting because of all the YA fantasy (and other) novels I've read, especially when I was teaching. So I enjoyed it, reading both for myself and with all my students in mind as well. I only taught for what...3 years, I guess, but I really enjoyed it and miss those kids.

Speaking of The Fix, a review of Farrago's Wainscot just went up as well...and it looks like for the reviewer at least, Finley's story that I mentioned a few posts ago didn't work on its own very well. The description of Jonathon Wood's "Between the Lines" makes it sound great, though, so I'll have to get to that soon. I love invented worlds that take something of ours and exaggerates it--a castle, a museum, a hedge, a group of trees, a manor. In this case an entire world is a library. Sounds fun.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

More recommendations

One of my favorite books that I read last year was Valente's In the Night Garden. I just finished In the Cities of Coin and Spice yesterday, and the conclusion of the two-book series is an excellent and fitting follow-up. You like lyrical writing? It's got it. Couldn't care less about the prose, but want strange and wonderful magic? It's all there, sprouting out from every corner of the book. More into interesting world-building, into fascinating and diverse cities and the societies that grow up in and around them? Oh yeah, lots of that here integrated in the stories. Like experimental approaches to storytelling? It's there too, but not in a way that should put off most who wouldn't usually go for experimentation either--nested stories within stories that circle back and connect with the other stories throughout the two books in surprising and satisfying ways.

This is a book I wish I'd thought of writing, one I can definitely recommend to most any reader of fantasy. Honestly, though, I don't know that I'd have been able to have the kind of mental organization and perseverance to pull off the way all these different stories end up falling together. It's an impressive feat...and sometimes impressive doesn't translate into enjoyable as well, but in this case it certainly does.

In other things, Jeremy Tolbert, fellow Fort Collinsian... Fort Collinsite... What's the word the local press uses to refer to us? Fortian, that's it (huh, ironic there, since Jeremy's the former editor of Fortean Bureau--funny confluence of sounds). Anyway, he has a story up at Fantasy Magazine: "The Yeti Behind You." It's a good story of the fantastic entering the everyday life of its characters.

Also, I received my copy of critique partner Michael Ehart's Servant of the Manthycore yesterday--I hadn't wanted to order it before our time up in Dillon, unsure if the delivery would get through. I'm still very impressed that he was able to get such a glowing intro from Michael Moorcock, and the book looks nice. It'll be a little while before I get a chance to read it since books I'd requested at various times from other libraries all seemed to arrive about the same time and created a massive pile of books (with a due-date deadline!). But I'm looking forward to it regardless.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I'm an uncle!

Congrats to my sister- and brother-in-law and baby Abigail (not to be confused with my brother and sister-in-law, whose baby should make me an uncle twice over within the next week or so). These are our relatives who followed us out here to Colorado about a year after we'd come, so we were already able to spend a while at the hospital this evening visiting with them. The sight of a crying baby seemed to make my son less sure he's ready to be a big brother though...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Oh yeah...

I'd meant to mention when I was linking to Farrago's Wainscot in the other post anyway that there was a story in their last issue of 2007 that tickled my fancy--Yoon Ha Lee's "Notes on the Necromantic Symphony." It's the supposed liner notes on the, what's it called...libretto? The program they give out at the symphony to introduce it anyway, for a symphony that by legend had resulted in its first performance in the death of the composer.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fuligin

In Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, Severian has a cloak that's described as fuligin, which Wolfe defines as the black that's deeper than black or the darkest black possible. Looks like scientists have now come as close to that as possible, a color that absorbs 99.9 percent of the light that strikes it, a significant improvement over the previous record-holder. Here's the article.
"Identified: Musings..."

One of my favorite stories last year was Toiya Kristen Finlay's "The Avatar of Background Noise" in Text:UR. She had another story in the same milieu last summer in Lone Star Stories. And now there's a new one in Farrago's Wainscot that I just noticed yesterday: "Identified: Musings (Attributed to Mardun, T.)."

Two central things combine in these stories, a secondary world that has developed alongside our own (or rather a geographical location within our world that has maintained itself nominally separate) and a sense of many settings or worlds connected by libraries that are fictional, all created by Our Mutual Author. It's like the book-jumping stuff of Jasper Fforde's work without the silliness (though still whimsical at times) with some of Borges thrown in.

I'm not sure how well this story would stand on its own--I enjoyed it, but some of that came from connections with the other stories. Still, it's worth checking out, and I hope someday Finlay collects a bunch of these stories in one place.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Following through

First, with a three-year-old, if you tell him what the plan is for a given day...you can't change it. I mean, if there's some national catastrophe that forces you to stay inside (if what you'd said included going out), then fine. But just changing your mind because something becomes inconvenient...I don't recommend it.

So with today's forecast of low- to mid-50s, I told my son we'd go running to the Gardens--it's a city-run children's garden that he's loved ever since last spring, and it's about 2 miles away, along the bike path (opposite direction from where we'd run last week when I talked about art in public places). No problem, even when I haven't been running as much in the winter as last fall.

Except I step outside to get the jogging stroller ready, and low-50s it's not. Cloudy it is, and cold. I can get him well bundled up, so that's not a problem, but it does make it less appealing to me. Still, it's what I said we'd do, so wearing a fleece over the rest of my running outfit and gloves, I ran. Berating myself at first, but my annoyance soon faded. There's not a lot at the Gardens this time of year, even in the greenhouse, but it was fun. And I'm at the point where I get back from a run and it just feels good. A twinge of muscle pain that only reminds me that I've been running but really doesn't rate as pain at all.

Of course, I step outside for a second later this afternoon...and it's sunny and probably close to 50.

I let you extrapolate your own writing lesson from this--following through on what you promise your readers? the value of exercising your writing muscles? the lack of impressive works of fiction during your own writing winter? Take what you will.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Revising on the brain

I've always claimed that revising is the hardest part of writing for me, that I'd rather push on to a new idea than do the more tricky work that real revising entails. But for the past half a year or more I've been really focusing hard on revisions--not just my novel, though that's a big part of it, but also on short stories, trying to develop the discipline to push them up that next notch instead of considering them good enough.

And now...writing anything new has been the challenge. Over the past few weeks I've been trying to get back into writing some new stories, some that were fragments I'd started in the past and realized were ready to be written, and some completely new. I'm still doing revisions too--reading through the entire novel at a faster pace, trying to catch any inconsistencies in descriptions and especially time of year references...and as I do that, polishing up things wording things I might have missed in the recent more thorough rewriting. So I frequently have one chapter of that open as well as one document for new writing. That's usually worked fairly well for me in the past, but I find myself bringing up the revising instead of the new writing, something I never would have expected a year ago.

A big part of it, I think, is that the inner editor has been given extensive rein during the revising process, and it's hard to turn that off now as I sit to write. So I agonize over the sentences like I used to several years ago. I question the entire story, second guess my choices, worry about wording and style--all things that are valuable in the revision stage, but need to be pulled back some now. I've typically ended up with fairly polished rough drafts because that's always been a part of how I typically write, but it's become overwhelming recently. There's always a point where you just have to let yourself write and not analyze too critically, and I'm at that point now. We'll see if I can do it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Art in public places

There's something bizarre about sculptures in public places. Wonderfully bizarre. I mean, a statue or three in the quaint downtown along the pedestrian walkway that passes among the shops, those are less surprising to me. I enjoy those as well, but I can see the council arguing that it adds to the atmosphere of the places, and therefore encourages people to visit from out of town and spend their money to support area businesses (a tax benefit to the city several times over). So no shock to find them there (and we really do have a great Old Town for you to come visit and spend your money in...).

But how random is it to find artsy signs and other sculptures along the bike trail that goes by my house? It's a new trail, one that I imagine gets much less traffic than some of the others (at least so it seems to me as I run or bike on all of them). And especially south from us, where the trail wanders a bit before ending at a park. In one stretch where I rarely see people, next to a trailhead parking lot that never has cars parked in it, are a series of giant, well-rusted metal shadow boxes. They've been up for a while (and seemed especially random when there was nothing in them), but this morning when I ran down there (in the crazy wind), I found they'd added some mosaic-covered figures, leaning out from the boxes to wave at those on the trail. I love them. There are others, more whimsical and impressive out on the other end of town where a different trail currently ends. But I can imagine some libertarian-minded neighbors complaining, assuming tax money paid for them...which I don't know for sure for the ones near here, though I know the others cost the city quite a bit. I mean, what do they do? How do they add to our city?

I think that's why I like them--they don't, not in any practical-minded, short-term way. I'd like to hope that in the long-term they enrich the lives of those who live here, which adds to the city in intangible ways. Even if not, they're adding to my life, even if it's in ways that will likely never result in added money for the city. Here's to art in public places then!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Another take on online narrative

I first saw this on FantasyBookSpot this morning: A group of writers whose names should be familiar to speculative readers--Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette & Will Shetterly--has begun their own new online experiment that supposedly (based on that post on FBS) will eventually have segments more akin to TV episodes and such: Shadow Unit. I've not read broadly of any of these writers, though I think I've read something at least of each of them. The story involves FBI agents of some sort, investigating what they call anomalous crimes--doesn't sound like it'll appeal to me that much, certainly less than some of the other such experiments I've mentioned earlier, but what I'll be especially interested in is the manner they use it.

Speaking of those others, Invisible Games hasn't been updated in nearly a month. Is it dead? Is that the end they were aiming for all along? I've been enjoying it, but that seems anti-climactic. My reading of it has been scattered, and I never tried to piece together any deeper mysteries, so maybe I just missed the underlying storyline or something. Or maybe the holidays have simply got the writers off track. We'll see. Roundbottom, on the other hand had a new entry just yesterday in which a mystery is revealed.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sale to Fictitious Force

I learned this morning that Fictitious Force, which published my flash "Poisoned Brush" last year, will be publishing my story "The Game." I'm very pleased by that--I think this story has received more personalized rejections and almost-but-not-quite rejections than any of my stories. And I can think of at least two of those from professional venues that included some very helpful suggestions for improving it. So it will be great to have the story published.

Also, Fictitious Force has its contributors write up a brief bit on the story behind the story. I didn't get to do that last time because they don't for flash, but I'm looking forward to telling the story of this one, as it's fun. It's a dark little, politically cynical story that I first wrote just over two years ago.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Open Office

With my new laptop, I didn't feel like buying another copy of Microsoft Office (and surprisingly, it didn't even have a trial version pre-installed). But I like the philosophy behind open-source anyway, so I decided to just use Open Office instead. Some things are great about it (not least its being free), and for the most part it's equal to anything I could do with Word and Excel. Already I've played around with the saving as .pdf option, something I couldn't do with Word (I think there's a free add-on you can download now to let the newer versions of Word save as .pdf, or at least that was the plan at one point).

But a couple things have cropped up to frustrate me, and I actually booted up my desktop today to tweak some things in Word.

First, columns--they work fine, but then when I save as .rtf or .doc (which I need to for submitting, since most places don't accept .odt), it messes up the formatting. Standard manuscript format has the two columns at the top of the first page, but when Open Office saves it in another format, I either end up with the entire first page in two columns with the story starting at the top of page 2, or no columns at all, and what should be in the right column simply underneath.

The other frustration is the search function--in Word it's so simple to search and replace italics for underlining (again for standard format) or to replace a single carriage return with a double carriage return (for typical internet format). But as far as I can find, Open Office doesn't let you search at all for a carriage return, and the functionality of the search for italics hasn't worked great--I can find them with it, but when I try to replace italics with underlining and no italics automatically, it hasn't worked. So I'm stuck going through and manually changing them. That's still better than before I figured out how to search for formatting in Word, when I'd scan the document and simply hope I caught all the italics, but still annoying.

So if anyone is familiar with Open Office and can enlighten me on anything I'm missing, let me know. Otherwise I suppose I could uninstall my Office 97 from my desktop and put it on here (if Vista even lets me do that), but I'm resisting that for now.

Edit: So as soon as I posted this, I decided to experiment a bit more...and figured out how to do both of these things related to the search function. It's certainly not as simple, not as intuitive, but it can be done. And it doesn't solve the issue with columns. Let's just hope I remember what I did...

Friday, January 04, 2008

Lulu

I received my copy of the final issue of Dragons, Knights & Angels the other day. It looks nice--there isn't a whole lot involved in design when you print something through Lulu, but DEP does a good job in taking advantage of what Lulu can do without over-cramming the pages or any other pitfalls that those using POD might fall to. It looks nice on the shelf of contributor copies, and I'm pleased to have it (the poem itself has also received a number of positive comments, so that makes me even happier than the contributor copy).

But I'm annoyed with Lulu. Specifically I find their packaging of books to be absolutely unconscionable. In this age when only a few blinders-on pockets of people deny the importance of caring for the environment, they go to ridiculous extremes with the amount of packaging. DKA (like the other magazines from DEP) has a nice size to it, paperback size more or less except for much thinner. But Lulu wraps it in a box too big to fit in my mailbox, easily big enough for a thick trade paperback with several inches to spare on every side even then. That's silly enough, especially as it must increase mailing, but then inside, the book is plastered to another piece of corrugated cardboard with heavy-duty plastic. What on earth for? What's the point of the plastic at all? Or the extra cardboard, for that matter? I often receive things in the mail, whether contributor copies or things to review, and there are much better ways to ship books and magazines that keep them perfectly safe.

Well, rant over. I just hope saner people within the organization can get them to use more environmentally friendly packaging.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Oh, by the way...

I'm still trying to get back into the groove of writing and everything now that we're back home. There's one thing I haven't really officially announced online yet that I figured I'd just take the time now to mention. We are expecting another baby. In just a few months actually--we've been telling people in real life ever since, oh, September I think, but I just never got around to announcing it online. So if I've seemed distracted or whatever at any time online or pulled away from tasks I was trying to complete, it could quite possibly have to do with all our preparations for the new baby, who is due on April 20.

So there's one of the things we're looking forward to in the new year. It's impossible to predict how being the at-home caregiver for two children will affect my writing, but I intend to still find plenty of time. It's exciting to imagine--we have a hard time looking at our three-year-old and remembering what he was like when he was so little. Probably because the lack of sleep meant those memories didn't get stored properly...

Anyway, hope you're all enjoying the new year!