Thursday, December 30, 2010

Story sale to Bards & Sages Quarterly

I mentioned this on Facebook last night--I sold a short (barely-longer-than-flash) story to Bards & Sages Quarterly. This is a fairly old one that came from a writing exercise prompt. I'm excited to see it in print. I'll post more about the story's origin and such when it gets published this coming July.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Short Fiction Thursday

I've been trying to catch up on the short fiction I missed during November (as of a few days ago, doing so on my new Nook...). I've read a bunch this past week, then, and one that stands out is "As Below, So Above" by Ferrett Steinmetz in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It's the story of a squid whose job is to protect a supposed god he's never seen but his father has. The story does a good job creating the feel of a non-human way of thinking, and it just stands out as being a wonderfully creative, sometimes brutal, and ultimately satisfying short story.

I'll probably post more about the Nook and my thoughts on it in a few days.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A December poem

This time of year I often find myself thinking about one of my favorite poems, a bleakly anti-war poem by the great William Carlos Williams:

These

are the desolate, dark weeks
when nature in its barrenness
equals the stupidity of man.

The year plunges into night
and the heart plunges
lower than night

to an empty, windswept place
without sun, stars or moon
but a peculiar light as of thought

that spins a dark fire--
whirling upon itself until,
in the cold, it kindles

to make a man aware of nothing
that he knows, not loneliness
itself--Not a ghost but

would be embraced--emptiness,
despair--(They
whine and whistle) among

the flashes and booms of war;
houses of whose rooms
the cold is greater than can be thought,

the people gone that we loved,
the beds lying empty, the couches
damp, the chairs unused--

Hide it away somewhere
out of the mind, let it get roots
and grow, unrelated to jealous

ears and eyes--for itself.
In this mine they come to dig--all.
Is this the counterfoil to sweetest

music? The source of poetry that
seeing the clock stopped, says,
The clock has stopped

that ticked yesterday so well?
and hears the sound of lakewater
splashing--that is now stone.


This was a poem I first came across in a high school creative writing class, and it's been a favorite ever since. The images--an empty windswept place; the whine and whistle of war; a peculiar light that spins a dark fire; the hidden truth that grows roots; the counterfoil to sweetest music; the lake that's now stone--they force themselves into my stories...probably even more than I'm consciously aware.

Once upon a time, I posted copies of this poem (alternating with copies of Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Apostrophe to Man") around the halls of my college to protest some sort of military action. Pretty weak as a protest, I admit, but it felt good to do something...

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Giant Storks!

One recurring thing in a lot of my stories is tall, stalking birds. Generally it's some variety of ratite-like terror bird (ratites are the birds that include ostriches, emus, the extinct moas, etc.; some prehistoric ratites in South America have been dubbed "terror birds" because they had huge beaks and could run down prey).

This article isn't about ratites, but still it caught my attention, even if it weren't for the Tolkien reference. The combination of dwarfism and giantism on this island makes for some very bizarre and cool juxtapositions.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Bar Book Club

I got so caught up in wrapping up NaNo stuff that I forgot to blog last week about our reading club.

So, beer of choice: a new one, Imperial Bruiser Brown. I liked it, a good brown ale, dark and flavorful. I also tried a sample of another new one they had called Mild Insanity. It was about as different from the brown as you could get, but I still liked it--sweet but not overly so, so light it was almost clear. If they still have it available next time, I might order that for something different.

We had a good discussion on The Picture of Dorian Gray. It wasn't quite what I was expecting in some ways, but I'm certainly glad to have read it and to be aware of cultural references and such. I think it makes a good foil/companion piece for Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Ethan Brand."

We had a number of good choices for the next time, including Daniel Wallace (who wrote Big Fish, which we read in this group a year or so ago) and Cormac McCarthy. We ended up picking Charles Portis' Dog of the South. Early on in this group we read his Masters of Atlantis, which is a madcap, hilarious farce, one that's led to many inside jokes in our group that more recent additions to the group feel left out of...so I'm looking forward to seeing how this one plays out. Watching out, as always, for the Jimmerson Lag.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thoughts on NaNo as it wraps up

I hit 50k last Tuesday--and very glad I did. Thanksgiving and everything else since then has made it much more difficult to keep up the pace I'd had earlier. Well...to be honest, part of that slower pace is due to having already met the 50k. I just hit 60k this evening, which was the goal I'd initially set for myself. I'm still hoping to get a little more over the last 24 hours, but it looks like the revised goals I'd set in the middle of the month were overly optimistic.

Enough about word counts.

I remain pleased with the story. I'm pulling in all kinds of wild and resonant images in a rather surreal way. The storyline itself, though, is pretty well grounded, which I think will keep it from the dangers of veering off into this-only-makes-sense-to-me surreality. As I think I wrote earlier this month, when I jotted down some ideas for the book, I realized I had two main turning points in addition to the final climactic scene, so I structured the book so that those would evenly divide the story into three acts, as it were. I just wrote that second turning point this afternoon (which would seem to put this right on track for a 90k-word novel). As with last time, I'm floundering a bit in this next section, but some of the things coming up that had been very vague are beginning to fall into place in my head.

I don't think I've posted here what I put on my NaNo novel info page, so here it is (and I still don't really know how that final confrontation will play out or what exactly she'll learn/discover/do in the ruins of the refectory):
In a sprawling, surreal city of inexplicable structures, ancient technology, and the mysterious rhymer-folk, where most people know only their immediate surroundings, Iymae is a guide, leading her clients through the alleys and tunnels of the city to their destinations. When a strange corporate boss hires her to travel to a part of the city even she doesn't know and guide his niece back to meet him, Iymae doesn't hesitate. The job, though, turns out to be more than she expected, shoving her into a mysterious culture of robotic constructs and arcane technology, and ultimately sending her beyond the city itself into the vast ruins of a pre-cataclysmic refectory where [...well, what happens there is part of what I'll discover as I NaNo this year...]

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thoughts on NaNo, week 3

I've had a very productive week. I don't want to bore anyone by just posting about word counts and such, so I'll just say that I'm pleased with where the story's going. My initial outline is still holding up fairly well, though some things have surprised me and some things have made me shift the focus of what I was planning to write.

I did have one point early in the week when I went blank for a while. I'd reached a big turning point in the story, and once I got past that, I realized that I'd been writing with that moment in mind for the past several chapters at least (since the beginning in some ways), but what was supposed to happen after that for the next few chapters was still very vague in my mind. I ended up getting through it, but I have a fear that the chapter will feel as full of floundering uncertainty to readers as it felt while I was writing. Well, those kinds of worries can wait until the first draft is done.

I went to my first in-person write-in today. Only very briefly--I was out doing some other errands (haircut, buying new running shoes, returning something for my wife) and finished them more quickly than I thought I might, so I stopped by for about a half hour. I wouldn't say I got to know the people much while I was there, but it was good to be able to show my face, however briefly. I wrote by hand, which is something I only rarely do. Got about 500 words written, as it turned out. Nothing too impressive, but a decent half-hour of writing.

Now to do some quick things around the house and then see about getting a bit more writing done...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Short Fiction Wednesday

I'm still not reading much short fiction this month, but you definitely should go check out this week's story in Fantasy. It's by my friend Barbara A. Barnett, and what I've read of it so far has made it a temptation to set aside writing so I can read the whole thing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thoughts on NaNo, week two

Almost 27k words here, which is about a thousand above my goal of 2k/day. I decided I would really like to get closer to 65k or even 70k by the end of the month, so that I'm closing in on the ending--I know from last year that once the social pressure is over, it's easy to let up a lot on the writing pace. Last year I only needed to get another 15k or 20k done to wrap up the story, and it took me through the first of the year. This year's novel is likely to be at least 10k longer, if not 20k, so I don't want to let the final chapters take me too long.

I'm pleased with how well the story seems to be going. Maybe I'll come back to this in a few months and realize I should have been more critical with myself as I went along, but I'm into it at the moment. In some ways the story's been brewing in my head for over a year, but there's still much I had no idea about, so it's nice to see those things coming together.

I've always felt that the biggest threat to writing a novel (whether in a month for NaNo or over 2 1/2 years like the first novel I wrote) is doubt--once you let doubt in, it can so easily derail the whole process. When I look at writer friends who fizzled out in NaNo last year or this year or outside of NaNo, losing confidence in the product seems to come up in what they say more than any other factor. I'm a strong believer in finishing a project once it's begun. There are definitely times to question a project, but that's not (for the most part) at this point. And there are projects where you get to a point that you really do need to step away for a while instead of just pressing ahead, but those are the exceptions. So while I may not be fully able to silence the inner editor that makes me go back and quick change a few wordings here and there or correct for an awkward sentence, I've so far been able to avoid entertaining any more serious questionings about the story as a whole. Which is a very good thing for getting the first draft down in a way that I'm happy with.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Strange Horizons

As I said at the beginning of the month, I won't be doing much short fiction reading during November. I have been glancing at new stories as they appear in my favorite zines so I have an idea of what stories to come back to come December.

In the meantime, big (though belated) congrats go to Susan Marie Groppi of Strange Horizons for winning a World Fantasy Award. And thanks go to her as she announces that she's stepping down from her work at SH, and best of luck Niall Harrison who will be the new editor in chief. Strange Horizons is easily a favorite of mine, so it's always good when it is recognized, and always exciting to see how it will continue to grow in the future.

Now back to NaNo-ing...

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Thoughts on NaNo-ing, week one

I hit 10k words last night, despite almost falling asleep while writing the last few hundred. So while I haven't written 2k words every single day, I've never ended a day with my cumulative total beneath the 2k-word average. So that's great, and I'm hoping to maintain that pace throughout the month. And I've managed to do that without cutting back on my running and biking or other stuff (a lot of raking this week, it seems).

The story itself...it's going well. In terms of narrative, it's pretty straightforward, which I think usually works better for something like NaNo. In terms of story and setting it's decidedly weird, which obviously was the intent all along with this story. In terms of character, I'm feeling good about the main character, feeling like I know pretty well how she'll respond to things, and the two supporting characters introduced so far are taking shape too--characters seem to often take awhile over the course of a book to reveal themselves fully to me, so it's still pretty early to have much more to say than that.

I still feel uncertain what to make of the whole NaNo culture. I respond well to having these publicly ambitious goals and an organized structure to support them. I've yet to make it to any in-person events, though, so my view of the culture itself is based on forum statements. There's someone in my local group who's already hit 50k...and I have to wonder how worthwhile those 50k words are. But then that's what people who haven't done NaNo say about NaNo in general, and I know for myself personally, I'm very confident in the 10k words I've written so far. They'll take revision, of course, but they're up to the same level as my first drafts usually are. I'm also not interested in the various competitions and challenges to see who can be the first to reach 50k or to see if people can whip out an addition 10k over this weekend, but that's just recognizing what works for me. Competitive as I am in some situations, I don't think that would be conducive to me writing a good first draft. But it's great if it works for others--I just fear sometimes that it encourages writing lots of stuff that's not worth its memory space...but then see my comment on the person who already reached 50k.

I'm still hoping to make it to an in-person event. Maybe this weekend? We'll see.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Flash fiction piece at Eschatology

My story "A Haunting of Birds" is up today at the new Eschatology ezine. It's a flash story that I wrote a few years ago, one of those that began with a one-hour prompt, though I forget the exact prompt. It's a second-person POV story, which is something I like to play around with and see what effect that has on the storytelling. I don't think I mentioned on this blog when this story was accepted a few weeks ago, so this can be my announcement of that as well.

Eschatology is a new ezine focusing on flash stories with a Lovecraftian or apocalyptic feel to them...though the apocalypse can be (as in this one) personal rather than culture-wide or world-wide.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Bar Book Club

So here's November 1 when we're supposed to be all crazy, nothing-but-NaNo writing...and I spend the evening at Coopersmiths chatting about a book and hanging out with a bunch of guys. Well...I'd already met my 2k-word goal, gone for a run, done some raking, etc., so I can justify it.

Beer of choice: Horsetooth Stout
Book: My God and I by Lewis Smedes

I admit I was leery about this book. A spiritual memoir? By a theologian? But OK, it was actually a lot more readable than I feared. I wasn't familiar with Smedes, but he grew up not far from where I did and about 15 or so years before my dad (who also grew up there). So it was interesting to get a feel for what that area was like back then. He also went to my alma mater for undergrad and had good things to say about that, which was cool. We agreed that Smedes had a sort of tortured soul quality that made him more approachable than you might think of a theologian. And he's very honest about himself, even about his doubts, which also made the book more accessible for a diverse group (though admittedly I think all of us who were there last night had grown up in some variety of christianity). It was not a dogmatic or preachy book at all, which was what I'd feared when it was selected last month. So I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

That said...I was ready for a work of fiction this time around, and it was my turn to bring the choices. I'd say my choices were quite different in many ways... I brought Nabakov's Lolita, The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti, Galapagos by Vonnegut, Lullaby by Chuck Paluhniuk, The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker, and (the book we ultimately chose) The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. All are books I haven't read and would like to read...but they're also all library books that I'll have to return sometime, and I'm thinking I won't have a ton of reading time this month. If I get a chance, though, I'd especially like to read the Nabakov and Vonnegut.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

NaNo 2010

Getting very close to November... I don't think I ever blogged about NaNo last year, but I had a great time participating last year and decided to do so again this year. Last year I wrote some 55k words on a sequel to my earlier serial fiction project, which is currently out on submission. So hopefully both the original and the NaNo sequel will turn into something people have a chance to read. What I didn't do at all last year was make it to any of the in-person events. And...I don't know if I will this year either, but I'd like to, if possible.

This year I'm working on a new novel, but one that's been bouncing around my head for well over a year--I'd actually considered doing it for NaNo last year before changing to the serial project. Even with all that time to let images and ideas simmer, I don't feel I know the characters nearly as well as I knew the characters last year--so it'll be much more a journey of discovery as I go this time around. There's a challenge to that I like, but a danger as well that I freeze up or lost confidence in what I'm writing.

I'm also not rearranging my life to do NaNo. I want to show myself I can do this while doing all the other things expected of me and other things I want to do. I'm sure some things will get pushed back to December or whatever, but for the most I'm committing myself to maintaining a clean house, doing the yard work, all the other work I need to do. And I've increased my activity level a lot over the past two months (having my son in kindergarten means it's so much easier to go running when I can just plop my daughter in the jogging stroller, rather than trying to have my son bike along next to me as I push the stroller). I need to make sure I continue that as well.

If you think about it, it shouldn't be that hard. Not even two thousand words a day? It requires discipline, of course. But as long as I can keep myself from getting distracted, it should be eminently do-able. (Check back to see if I still think that in a week or two...) I'm not a feast-and-famine kind of writer usually, so I'll be much better off if I can establish that kind of pace from the beginning, rather than trying for 5k one day and nothing the next. That said, this year has been mostly famine in terms of writing new fiction--I've been focusing on a ton of rewriting, editing, and revising. So hopefully that means I'll be rearing to go, come...a few hours from now, rather than it meaning I'm too rusty to stay focussed.

Well all I can say now is, we'll see. I'll probably not have the weekly short fiction posts (though maybe I'll have time to read some), but while I won't bore you with the minutiae of how the novel is going, I'll have some posts related to NaNo in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fantasy Magazine's "relaunch"

I just posted this on a forum for a crit group I'm part of, and then decided I might as well post it here as well:

I saw this news on Ralan's yesterday--there's a .pdf news release, if you missed it. Any thoughts on this? JJA has tons of experience, and I even met him at World Con two years ago, and he's a nice guy. The consistency between the two zines makes sense in a lot of ways.

At the same time, I've had encouraging comments from Cat Rambo in the past, so I'll be sad to see her leaving. And with two reprints a month, this essentially cuts in half the number of stories they'll be buying (which is a big disappointment). But it also sounds like a big change in style/format: instead of a blog, with an unpredictable but pretty frequent number of posts (articles, reviews, interviews, etc.) each week, it sounds like it'll be going back to a more issue-based magazine, with a set (rigid) schedule.

If you asked me a couple of years ago, I'd have said that the blog-based set-up is the future of online magazines, or at least the most likely way to succeed. Cultivate a regular readership, have them come back frequently--ideally every day/weekday, make them feel involved in the community of its readers. Originally Fantasy was more regular with its daily posts, and recently has dropped back to only about three a week (their once-weekly "Blog for a Beer" hasn't appeared in at least a year, I'd guess), so maybe that was just too much work for the editors. Even as infrequently as I commented, though, I did feel more invested in it than I am in some of the other online zines I read. When I visit Lightspeed or even my other favorites, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, etc. much as I obviously enjoy them all, I feel less like a participant and more like a consumer. (The blog model is essentially what Tor.com does...with, I'm sure, a much larger staff and resources...)

Maybe that's OK. Maybe the participant model was flawed--too much work, too little return. Maybe the rise of e-readers means a more issue-based format makes more sense. Or maybe this won't be as drastic a change as it appears in the release. I don't know. This announcement doesn't make me worried about Fantasy's future or anything, but it still makes me sad to see it seemingly abandoning what I had once thought was an exciting new approach.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Short Fiction Tuesday

I just returned a copy of Ted Chiang's "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" to the library and then discovered that Subterranean Online is posting the entire novella for free. Check it out. Chiang is always a worthwhile writer--Stories of Your Life & Others is one of the best collections I've read in recent years, and "Exhalation" (the link is to the Wikipedia article about the story and includes links to a pdf of the text and a link to Escape Pod's podcast of it) is an excellent more recent story that quite appropriately won a Hugo. This most recent story explores the idea of creating artificial intelligence more organically (so to speak)--instead of by programming all the factors the AI needs, by programming an entity to have the capacity to learn and presenting it with similar stimuli to what a human baby and child will encounter. From a storytelling standpoint, some of this one felt weaker than some of Chiang's other stories, but the ideas (and ideas are always a large part of the pleasure of Chiang's stories) are packed in and thought-provoking.

If that doesn't sound like what you like, I'll link to one more story, that's very different. Fantasy Magazine's "Bitterdark" by Eljay Daly takes an idea that wouldn't usually appeal to me--fairies and a very clear battle between good and evil--and tells a memorable and fascinating story with it. Part of what I like is just the idea of a former king and hero of the fairies who has left the faerie realm behind out of weariness--a hero's weariness has certainly been done before, but it still resonates with me. And the way the story turns out makes it noteworthy as well.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Inspiration--space travel and exploration

I don't write a lot of what probably first comes to mind when people (meaning your average, not-deeply-involved-in-SF-fandom kinds of people) think about science fiction--spaceships and grand explorations across space and that kind of thing. Neither do I often seek out that kind of thing to read, but I do find it fascinating to wonder and speculate about how that might take place.

If you're interested in writing about (or just thinking about) the near future possibilities of space travel, MSNBC has a couple of recent articles that explore a bit of what that might look like and what challenges lie in the way. "Can Starships Survive the Journey?" is a brief article that addresses the danger posed by even tiny bits of dust, once a spaceship got going fast enough. And then it moves from some theoretical systems to protect spaceships to wondering if we might observe evidence of aliens using those kinds of technologies. "The Best Options for Flying to Faraway Stars" tries to tackle a broad and technical topic in a pretty short space, so it's not likely to uncover anything new to those who are already interested in this...but it's good to get a sense of where exactly the current research and technology is.

Combine these two with the surprising amount of water found in a moon crater and the White House adviser's study of emergency response to an asteroid (all posted within the last 24 hours), and you've got quite a space-focused news day...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Short Fiction Wednesday

For a few weeks now I've had a Strange Horizons story open in a tab, a story that looked worth reading but for one reason or another I kept reading other things first. Then this week Fantasy featured a story by the same writer, Lavie Tidhar, so I decided it would be a good time to read them both.

The story in Fantasy, "Monsters," begins in a very self-aware way--something that often appeals to me, but I know some of my writer friends are less keen about--talking about stories as metaphors, spaceships and aliens as symbols. Then its narrator tells its own story, about the amphibian species it comes from and the planet left behind, and finally about the purpose of sending its message (something I'll leave for other readers to discover). I enjoyed the touches of non-Western cultures that are mirrored in the alien's culture (or at least the way it uses our non-Western cultures to explain itself), and the mood as the story wraps up creates a good effect.

The Strange Horizons story, "Aphrodisia," is also science fictional, though in this case more focused on the body adaptations people have taken, both in response to technology (so there's a definite cyberpunk feel) and to colonizing the Jupiter moons and other regions of the solar system. Those social touches are what stand out in this--the evocation of Earth society and the ways each of the main non-Earthborn characters feel in it. I'm less clear on why the narrator had been forced to seal his body data ports--at first mention, I'd guessed in was in response to some sort of crime, but later I wondered if it was more an intervention/rehab kind of thing to deal with addiction...though in that case I would have liked to see a stronger sense of the narrator's addiction earlier. Anyway, despite that, I enjoyed the story a lot.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gigantism's appeal one more time

A while back I did a series of posts on why I find myself drawn to stories where something is monstrously large--an impossibly large castle; a tree the size of a city; a mansion big enough to have many cultures within. Even the ribcage that surrounds the city of New Crobuzon in China Mieville's three Bas-Lang novels fits in here. Maybe especially that. I'd meant to do one more post on that topic, but never got around to it. I posted that it was simply something different, that it's a way of belonging yet not fully to the tradition of speculative fiction, and that it's a fantasy counterpart to SF's sensawunda.

As alluded to in that last post, this last one is the sense of wrong-ness that undermines the awe of big things. I was reading Danielewski's House of Leaves a few months ago, and one of Zampano's footnotes discusses the aesthetics of the uncanny. It apparently comes from Freud, and in German the various words translated as "uncanny" (the main one being unheimlich or literally "un-home-like") all have a root or connotation of something that's gigantic.

Given the way House of Leaves works, I can't say for certain that this claim is true, but it fits with what I'd been sensing about these kinds of stories. It's the juxtaposition, that sense of awe-and-yet-wrong-ness. Those two things working together, I think, is what gives these kinds of settings a strong power. Setting alone is not enough to make a great story, of course, but it's often the first thing that draws my attention.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Short Fiction Wednesday

"The Interior of Mister Bumblethorn's Coat" by Willow Fagan is a wildly imaginative story, one that began with a fascinating and mysterious setting and I began building a shape in my head for how the story would go...but then it twisted itself away from those expectations, and then did so again. It's weird in all the best senses of that word, a story of man trying to forget his past while living in a foreign and constantly unsettling city.

Very different, but also a story I enjoyed this week, is Sarah L. Edwards' "The Girl who Tasted the Sea." It's a much shorter story. Into that length she packs a well evoked setting and some broken taboos, giving a very satisfying, quick read.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Inspiration--Tree Bridges


I saw this link on Ideomancer's LJ the other day--living root bridges. They create these amazing bridges in northeast India, taking ten to fifteen years to coax them into usable bridges. Check out the blog post in the link for a bunch more pictures, a video, and info on how they're build. Very cool stuff.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Short Fiction Friday

I was up late the other night, waiting for my in-laws to arrive so I could let them in and get them settled, and I had a chance to read some stories. One that really struck me was Jacque Barcia's "Salvaging Gods." It's a story in which gods are physical objects full of inexplicable code that you can manipulate by wiring them in certain ways. The main character and her father find discarded gods and have learned how to reuse them in new constructs. Fascinating and highly imaginative piece.

Also worth noting in the context of short fiction, my writer friend Lindsey Duncan has a new story available for purchasing (as a pdf) at Gypsy Shadow Publishing: "Taming the Weald."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Vargas Llosa, Nobel winner

Congratulations to Mario Vargas Llosa on winning the Nobel for literature today! I'm pretty sure I've read some shorter stuff by him, including essays, but the thing that stands out the most is El Hablador (The Storyteller is what its English translation is called, I believe), which alternates between two storylines. One is an account of a storyteller traveling the (Peruvian, I imagine) Amazon rainforest, using his stories to maintain a sense of cultural identity among a dwindling group of forest wanderers. The second is of two university friends and the way their lives diverge. I probably shouldn't say more about that aspect, because while I'd guessed the connection between the two storylines fairly early, based in part on the back cover copy, I think it's supposed to be a kind of spoiler. But it's a story of the difficult question of cultural contact (especially in this context from both missionaries and anthropology professors), of "advancement" and the losses that entails...but not in any kind of one-sided or strident way. A wonderful book.

(La Señorita de Tacma, that's the other thing I read in college. A drama. I don't remember much about it at the moment. And I also found we own Llosa's Lituma en los Andes. I'm not sure if that was a thrift store find once that I never got around to reading, or if it was one of my wife's college books. I may have to pull those down and see about reading one or both.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Inspiration

I'm still not completely back to the schedule I used to follow, so there's no reason to wait until Friday to post this link. Linguists studying a pair of little-known languages in northeastern India discovered a third, previously undocumented language, Koro. What's especially fascinating is that the speakers of Koro consider themselves to be a part of the Aka, Aka being one of the two languages the linguists were studying. And culturally they really are clearly connected. The language, though, turned out to be completely different in vocabulary, sounds, and syntactical structure.

While in one sense, trying to work this level of detail into a secondary world fiction would likely just leave readers confused or else bore them with dry data...I think you can hint at this kind of complexity, and it's something I aim for in my stories, the sense that there are always more wrinkles to the diverse societies and micro-societies that make up a culture. When successful, this kind of detail makes the story itself far richer.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Short Fiction Wednesday

Just a quick note this week, as I'm still trying to work through a backlog of stories I've been meaning to read. Last week's Fantasy Magazine story, "Logovore" by Joseph F. Nacino stands out from what I've read. I love the concept of someone literally eating the words out of people's minds, and the wine-snob-ish descriptions of various words was delightfully whimsical. Fun story.

Friday, September 24, 2010

More pirate ponderings...

We continue to listen to the Pirates of the Caribbean Swashbuckling Songs (over and over...my son says, "We've listened to the pirates CD sixteen times!" but I think he's off by a factor of ten...). There's this great, ponderous pipe-organ song, and it got me wondering where the connection between pirates and pipe organs comes from.

Alas, Google has not answered my question. The closest I could come to an answer is the suggestion that the connection between the movie's Davy Jones and an organ is a tip of the hat to Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, where Captain Nemo has an organ on the Nautilus. The problem with that, though, is that I remember cartoons having the same trope of pipe organs on sunken ships and shipwrecks. Even Goonies has it, doesn't it? A booby-trapped pipe organ? So if the connection is to Verne, then it goes back much further, and the movie is only continuing that earlier trope.

Unless...hmmm. The movie is loosely based on the amusement park ride. I have no idea how old that ride is or if it has the same Davy Jones/Flying Dutchman character. But if the ride is old enough and has a pipe organ (as a nod to Verne), then that could be the source of the trope. Lauren, you know all about Disney World. Come to my rescue here. Or anyone else with knowledge about such things, of course.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Short Fiction Saturday

Well, since I'm still trying to get back into a regular pattern of blogging here, I figured I might as well post this today instead of waiting until the usual Tuesday/Wednesday. Yoon Ha Lee's "Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain" in Lightspeed is a mind-bending story of a universe where the ending is certain, but the past is fluid and undetermined. Well worth reading.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Reading Group

We met last night for our reading group. Every year a couple of the guys bid on a "Traditional High Tea" at a charity auction, so rather than the usual meeting at the pub, we met on the house of one of our members for Oolong and Black Pearl (yo ho ho?) tea and a couple of others, along with a big variety of scones and other foods. In past years we've combined it with a time to drink a variety of single malt Scotch whisky (my favorite last year was the Laphroaig), but this year our two experts on single malts were both out of town, so we decided to have that another night.

The person whose house we were at is also hosting a grad student in (micro-) finance/business who was born and grew up in a Tutsi refugee camp in Uganda. So he recommended the book Left to Tell by Immaculée Ilibagiza as a good way to understand the 1994 genocide. Immaculée's story is a powerful one, and I was especially struck by the way it was neighbors and childhood friends who, convinced by the wild propaganda, turned on her family and so many others. It also made me ashamed that more wasn't done internationally to try to stop it. The discussion of the book was good, as was the chance we had to hear the student's own story.

One of our members, a psychology professor, is fascinated with memoirs of theologians apparently...so our next book is Lewis Smede's My God and I.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Arrr, me maties

We like to check out CDs of kids music from the library (by which I mean, my kids like to listen to lots of kids music, and I'd rather not own lots of it...), and recently we've been listening over and over to a Disney CD of swashbuckling pirate songs. It's actually a lot of fun and makes me want to write a pirate story. What I find especially funny, though, is one very peppy, upbeat song about...how lots of pirates are dead and under the water. "All good pirates have a friend or two / down in Davy Jones' Locker..." Am I corrupting my children?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Short Fiction Thursday

I haven't done this (otherwise regular) feature for a few weeks now. I've still been reading the stories at my usual ezines, and I've enjoyed some of them as well. The silence shouldn't be taken as a sign that the stories haven't been good...though it's true that none has jumped out as definitely one I want to rave about. I haven't been reading quite as many, though, because I've also been reading short fiction in print, sometimes at times when I would otherwise be reading them online.

One anthology I'm making my way through is the John Klima-edited Logorrhea. I'd read several of the stories before, and some of them received well-due praise at the time (Daniel Abraham's Hugo-nominated "The Cambist and Lord Iron" certainly deserves its nomination). A couple from those I've read over the past week jumped out at me, though, in part because I don't recall any discussion of them at the time the book came out:

Neil Williamson's "The Euonymist" is actually a reprint, having appeared in Electric Velocipede originally (which, of course, is also edited by Klima). Euonym means an appropriate name for something, and the titular character's job is to decide how to name newly discovered things, from planets to plant species, within the context of the many competing intelligent species of a galaxy-wide Bloc. And having a name chosen from your own cultural history is a great point of pride. A very well-crafted and entertaining story.

Tim Pratt's "From Around Here" appears to have actually gotten some notice at the time, including being reprinted in a Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, but it escaped my notice. It's the story of supernatural spirits who are deeply tied to a particular location. The narrator, Reva, senses something wrong in the neighborhood he comes to and tries to figure out what it is so he can make it right. The story actually reminded me of Octavia Butler's Patternist stories, which is a very good thing to be reminded of.

These are far from the only good stories here, and I haven't even finished reading all of them, but these are two that jumped out at me over the past week. Next week I'm hoping to get back into mentioning some of the stories in online zines.

Friday, September 03, 2010

An old soccer t-shirt

I was digging through my old clothes for something to wear running this morning and came across a shirt that was my favorite back in high school. The front is a big block of text, each line fully justified, but with a big variation in font size to make it work. Just thought I'd copy it here for fun:

It's been 90 minutes.
The score is tied.
You're sucking wind
& resting with your hands on your knees.
I am smiling & laughing.
'Cuz while you were sitting in front of the TV,
I was training.
So don't hang your head...it's too late.
just listen to your coach read you the riot act.
I'll be thinking about
how I'm gonna score on you.
On second thought, maybe you should hang your head.
At least you'll be able to see the ball
as I push it through your wobbly legs.
But don't let it get to you...
It's only a game!

I can remember wearing it to Cedar Point (or was it 6 Flags Great America?) and having people constantly tell me not to move when the line moved so they could finish reading it.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Reading group

Sorry about the brief gap in posts, there. It's been quite an adjustment to get into the rhythm of school days, now that my son is in school all day. It means earlier mornings, which none of us here are used to.

Anyway, we met last week for our book club to discuss Falkner's Light in August. The intent was to meet at a different bar in a nearby town, where a couple of our members live (they live in the town, not the bar). The type of bar, supposedly, where you don't walk in the main entrance, or they know you're not a local. Which is bad. The kind of place with $1 PBRs. Unfortunately (?) a flood in the bar meant it was closed that night, so we went over to a nearby, non-chain Mexican restaurant.

So after all that...beer of choice: Modelo Negra, a dark beer imported from Mexico. It was a good beer, much better than what I was expecting to have to drink (though admittedly more expensive).

The discussion of the book was book. I had to miss the beginning of it, because I arrived late, but I enjoyed the book a lot, enjoyed Faulkner's writing style more than in other books of his (not that I'd disliked it in Go Down, Moses, for what it's worth). In all a good time.

Next time we've got a special guest, a CSU grad student who was born in a refugee camp as a result of the Rwanda Genocide. He's staying with one of our members for the current school year, so we asked him to suggest a book to read to help us understand that event and the cultural history that led up to it. He picked Left to Tell by Immaculée Ilibagiza.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Inspiration

"The most isolated man in the world" This article is a fascinating story about a man presumed to be the last survivor of an uncontacted tribe in Amazonian Brazil. You have to wonder how he sees these same events, what purpose the pits inside his huts serve, what the markings he makes on trees mean.

I'm reminded of Vargas Llosas' El Hablador, which is a novel about someone who leaves "civilization" to become the storyteller of the Machiguengua. What stories would this man tell? And how would those stories be different from the ones he would have heard before the destruction of his village and the rest of his tribe?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Short Fiction Tuesday

We missed this last week, didn't we? I, that is...

I love Bruce Holland Rogers' series of teaching/example pairs in Flash Fiction Online, where he has an essay about a particular flash fiction approach or advice and then has a story (or two) to illustrate what he means. The most recent was on the prose sonnet, which I thought would be fun to try sometime. Then I went back and found that I'd missed his essay on the prose villanelle, and the accompanying story, "Border Crossing" is stunningly beautiful. The repetition is just enough to give the piece unity, while the variations on those themes really deepens the whole thing. Besides, crossing borders is just a rich theme that brings all kinds of layers into the story.

On the theme of missing something when it first came out, I somehow neglected to check in at Clarkesworld when the August issue came up. It includes a Valente story, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time," which rather beautifully weaves together alternating sections of mythic, creation-type stories told with playfully scientific language on the one hand and seemingly autobiographical stories about a science fiction writer on the other.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ghazal

I just discovered this poetic form yesterday. There are good summaries of it on Poets.org (primarily on the English-language adaptation of the form) and Wikipedia (on the world-wide tradition). It's a fun form. I like the feel that the rhyme/refrain gives to the couplets.

So what do I do? I stayed up late (or...a little later than I'd intended to stay up, anyway) to throw together one, scribbling it onto a notecard. It came together nicely. I completely replaced one couplet this morning as I typed it up, which made it considerably better, and I posted it at a couple of critiquing sites, so I might easily be revising it again. But I think it definitely has good potential, even as is. Funny how a short story can take days of agonizing (I enjoy the process...but it can still be tedious at times) to get to that same point of feeling nearly ready.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Gigantism's appeal: Sensawunda

Continuing this series of posts on why I find myself drawn to story settings that are abnormally large--giant factories, giant castles, giant trees, giant cities, anything beyond comprehension. This is, I think, the big reason I'm drawn to this, and it's the fantasy counterpart to science fiction's sensawunda. Actually, reading that wikipedia article, perhaps it's more akin to the Gothic numinous, but I didn't think it's paired with fear in this case, as that article implies for the numinous. It's not Lovecraft's incomprehensible deities, but there's still a sense of something beyond understanding. There is a certain wrong-ness to it, which is something I'm intending to look into more in my next post in this series, but there's a sense of wonder too, a sense of dawning comprehension of the sheer size of...things. It's the sense of standing at the foot of a snow-capped mountain, at the edge of the Grand Canyon, on the ocean shore on a clear day. A sense of awe, I guess...except with that undercurrent of wrong-ness, which at the very least undermines the mystical leanings of this sense of wonder/awe/numinous. I'll say more about that next time.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Short Fiction Wednesday

A pair of stories this week from other ezines, which I don't always remember to read when new issues come out: ChiZine and Lightspeed.

Patricia Russo's "Turning, or Turning" manages to play on the zombie-story sense of humans changing into something else without actually being a zombie story. The sense of feeling left out that the protagonist feels is perfectly handled, the description of this non-zombie change (and Alberico's reaction to it) is engaging, and the ending adds the right kind of open-ended closure to the story. I'll admit that I was somewhat ambivalent about the story at first, as too much of a zombie story even if it's not (exactly) one...but the story won me over as I continued.

And then there's Catherynne Valente's "How to Become a Mars Overlord" which is beautiful. I'm biased, in that I've rarely read something of Valente's that I haven't fully enjoyed, but the concept of the many Marses, the inventiveness of the various overlords in history, and of course the melodic prose all combine to make memorable story. It's rather more fantastical that I was actually expecting to see in Lightspeed--science-fictional as well, of course, but more of a mythic, fantastical feel to the tone and mood of the story. Just an observation, though I'd say that it's a good thing that the new zine is casting a wide net. It certainly makes me want to do a better job of remembering to check for new stories there. And I definitely see this story as one I'll return to at the end of the year--it ought to at least be in the conversation of awards and Best-of lists.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Gigantism's appeal, question of belonging

Continuing this series of why immensely large objects seem to especially resonate with me. It's certainly a topic that's been on my mind, as we saw the Giant Redwoods (and even the oil distilleries and other sprawling industrial locations), but that will tie in more next time. For this post...well, this one's a bit out there, but it was something that occurred to me a while ago. It requires a bit of an explanation.

In college I became obsessed with the movie Zoot Suit. "It was the secret fantasy of every vato..."


Zoot Suits were not only a chicano thing--they essentially cut across most minority groups at the time, the common tie being people who grew up in the US and so felt themselves a part of it (so usually not immigrants themselves, but children and grandchildren of immigrants, as well as grandchildren of slaves), but at the same time weren't completely accepted by the greater US society that they identified with.

So one analysis I came across in several articles tied zoot suits--as a typical aspect of US society taken to an exaggerated, oversized extreme--with low-riders, which do essentially the same but with cars instead of clothing. The theory was that in both cases, the zoot suit and the low-rider were ways of participating in the dominant culture and yet maintaining their distance by making them their own.

So the connection with writing... A few years ago, shortly after I'd begun my stories set in the impossibly tall trees of Boskrea, I recalled that analysis of zoot suits, and it occurred to me that I might be doing the same. I was essentially taking what otherwise has become a cliche of fantasy--people living in very tall trees--and exaggerating that to the point where it no longer felt cliche. At the time I was becoming aware of some writers that have become among my favorites, but because I wasn't spending much time online paying attention to the wide range of speculative fiction, I was basically tied to what my local library had on their shelves, which was a wide selection but definitely weighted toward the pop/commercial fantasies that were wearing thin for me. So I think I felt a sense of not fully belonging (though unlike the analysis of zoot suits and low-riders, it was by my own choice and tastes, not by the opinions of others, which I think is an important distinction), but fantasy and especially secondary world fantasy were still where I felt most at home in my reading.

So for me at the time, the Boskrea stories served as a way of identifying with the secondary-world fantasies that I'd loved so much, but also distancing myself from what was most prominently available. Whether this is an explanation I can generalize to the other forms of exaggerated gigantism or not, I'm skeptical, but I think it does play a partial role, at least, in what drew me to those stories.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Short Fiction Wednesday

This week's Fantasy has "Perhaps This is Kushi's Story" by Swapna Kishore. What I liked about this one was the way the story within the story works, interesting in itself but also important for Kushi. Key to that was the end of the inner story where the Tribemother asks each girl to suggest how the story would go from there. The society within the story is certainly a strong part of its appeal as well, even though so little is spelled out in any detail.

Also worth mentioning this week is Yoon Ha Lee's "The Territorialist"...though to tell the truth I'm not completely sold on it. I love the sheer sense of imagination that's clear throughout, but I think this is one of those stories that would have benefited by being longer, more fleshed out. I hesitate to say that, because often when I come across comments along those lines, they seem to carry a sense of this-is-so-good-it-deserves-to-be-longer, as if longer itself were always better. Me, I like the concision and immediacy of a good short story. I love flash and even microfiction. But...while this story's imaginative society and complex tensions pulled me along, I felt lost for parts of it, and I think the ending would have been more affecting if I'd had more time to get to know Jershi, Wrack, and Armain, and if I'd had more time to understand what was at stake for this place and its people. But that criticism doesn't change the fact that it was an enjoyable read.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Back from our trip

It may not have been the most restful of vacations, but we've returned from our big road trip and are getting settled back in. We saw lots of cool things--the Earth does mountains in lots of different ways; Nevada is barren, even compared to Wyoming; the Great Salt Desert is weird and fascinating; the Giant Redwoods alone are worth the trip. That last one, of course, ties in to the gigantism series of posts...which I will be getting back in to shortly. I didn't do much actual writing while we were traveling, and it always takes a little while to get back into the swing of routine, but I've already gotten some good revising done since returning and looking forward to more writing-related things in the month ahead.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Vacation time

We're heading out early tomorrow (at least I hope it's still early-ish) to drive across mountains and desert and down to the ocean. So that will be my inspiration this week. Ocean, volcanic mudpots, mountains, and especially the giant redwoods. Less inspirational will be the extreme heat right until the last half hour or so, at which point the temperature will drop some 30-40 degrees.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Short Fiction...Thursday

Getting ready for a road trip here, so I haven't had a lot of time for blogging, but I just finished "The Isthmus Variation" by Kris Millering and loved it. It doesn't have the things I usually latch onto when I say I like a story--the setting isn't particularly distinct; the structure isn't experimental or innovative--but it's just a great story about treachery, intrigue, art (in the broadest sense...drama to be more precise), and story. The story is told by the player in a slowly unraveling form of drama, the Slow Game, which takes place over the course of an evening at what seems to be an innocent dinner party for the nobility. Really I'd have to say of all those I've been recommending here once a week all year, this is certainly among my favorites.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gigantism's appeal 1: something different

I'm going to start with the simplest explanation and move on to other reasons as I continue this series of posts. There's nothing intellectually deep about this one, but the simple fact that a setting where the characters live inside/within something vast is different from the more common medieval and classical settings found so often in fantasy...that appeals to me. Different isn't automatically a sign of greater literary merit or anything of the sort, but for me, being different is something I value in stories.

I'm a member of a few writing communities, and frequently the question comes up of whether an idea is over-used or something along those lines. The answer that generally comes back is that clichés become clichés because people respond to them, and that it's all in the execution. Good and useful answers for the most part...but at the same time there's a part of me that wants to say, "Yeah, but don't you want to branch out, discover something new, attempt something different?"

So even if it's not a reliable marker for a better story or greater merit, when I find something that has a different feel from things I've read before (not just in setting, though setting is what I'm talking about now), that's likely to catch my attention and make me want to read it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Gigantism

One of the things I enjoy about Mervyn Peake's Titus stories is the sheer Gothic size of Gormenghast Castle. The seemingly implausible way that the collection of buildings making up the castle becomes essentially an entire world for the people inside.

Another book I loved was Iain Banks's The Bridge, where the main character, while in a coma after a car accident, finds himself among a people who live in a bridge grown to such size that a single span of the bridge is basically a large neighborhood, if not an entire city, and no one knows where (or if) the bridge ends.

Tad Williams's Otherland series sends its characters through dozens of different (virtual) worlds, and I remember especially liking one where the whole world was a house, with different, societies claiming different wings or rooms.

I can think of short stories or novellas that are set in an endless, house-lined road; a house; a hedge; a factory; a web-lined chasm. For some reason these appeal to me greatly. Whether the story as a whole is completely successful or not, they stick with me.

In my own writing, I've found myself drawn to these kinds of extreme settings as well. A several-million-inhabitant city colonizing four implausibly giant trees. A post-apocalyptic playground where the playground equipment is impossibly big. A network of vines big enough to hold dozens of small villages and all the game and hunting space those villagers need. A wall so high no one has seen the land below or remembers what they're guarding or from whom.

The big-ness isn't used to the same effect in all of these stories, and I wouldn't want to create some sort of rigid term for this grouping, but what draws me, it seems, is this sense of the characters being very small in relation to the Big Object(s). (I've left it vague in my stories whether these things really are impossibly big, or whether the characters are actually incredibly small...but really it doesn't matter as long as the story remains within the confines of the imagined society.)

I've come up with a few reasons of why that seems to appeal to me, which I'll explore in some upcoming posts. Before that, if anyone knows of other stories that seem to play with the same size weirdness, let me know about them!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Bar Book Club

We had our reading group last night at Coopersmiths, discussing Why We Hate Us by Dick Meyer.

Beer of choice: Wayfarer Copper Ale, which is a new one, as far as I can recall.

I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book. I went in thinking it would be a rather facile list of all the things about our society that grate on us. Something that might be entertaining for an article in a magazine but not at book length. Instead I found it to be a thought-provoking book, all about how the societal shifts of the past decades have left us much less connected to, well, anything we can really identify with, and how that lack of connection leads to so much that annoys and frustrates us (about politics, media, Hollywood). It's not, though, a nostalgic, everything-was-better-in-the-50s book, to be clear. Rather it's how earlier society (including the 50s) for all the negative things there might have been part of that mindset, provided certain tools for countering this kind of selfish self-hatred. So now that we've left those times behind and enjoy all kinds of freedoms that weren't possible then...what new ways can we find of countering that?

In the end Meyer ties it in, somewhat at least, with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I found to be a very powerful book when I read it seven or eight years ago. The narrator's sense of Quality as a philosophical value, which is pretty much the same thing Meyer calls Authenticity, is what we need to forge for ourselves through our choices and actions.

Anyway, I don't mean to rehash the full argument, but I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed the book as much as I did, even if I didn't agree with everything he said. The discussion was good as well. Our next book is Faulkner's Light in August, which makes it the second Faulkner in about a year and a half. (There was some nashing of teeth on that count with someone who hadn't really appreciated Go Down Moses...)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Short Fiction Tuesday

Samantha Henderson's "The Red Bride" is a darkly wonderful story. It reveals that grim undercurrent of the story slowly, beginning in what seems a simple bedtime story told by an enslaved alien nurse to her human ward. The setup allows for some bits about how stories translate from one culture and language (and species) to another, and just in general it feels very skillfully handled. Beautiful story.

I also just discovered that Subterranean Online published a Peter Beagle story set in the same locale as his Innkeeper's Song and Giant Bones books, "Return." I haven't had a chance to read it all yet, and to tell the truth, I remember little from the book, apart from the fact that I really liked it on many levels when I read it some 10 years ago (I think...). Well, that's not quite true--I remember a lot of little snippets, brief scenes, images, but the underlying story that ties them together is largely forgotten. Anyway, that's next on my list to read, and I'll recommend it without even having read it.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Inspiration

(now with a new monkey and inkpot logo...though I wouldn't claim the two images ended up combining seamlessly)

Last week we went up into the mountains, up through Rocky Mountain National Park. Beautiful views of the mountains, the patches of snow, elk. Watched a marmot waddle off among the trees. Saw a nice waterfall. Even if Trail Ridge Road isn't the most remote and wild of places within the park, I always find it inspiring or at least invigorating to be out in places like that.

The trip back down was impressive in part for the ominously growing clouds of smoke rising before us. We'd seen what looked like haze earlier in the morning, and with how the road twisted, I thought it was well to the west of our route, but we kept coming closer and closer. The edge of the smoke filtered the sunlight in a strange way, almost as if it made a rainbow of the shades from the color of salmon through various reds until it became brown. The turned out to be a little north and west of Estes, where we came out, in a remote area that was little threat to people, even as it grew over the next couple of days. They say it was lightning-started, so the kind of wildfire that's often best for the forest if you allow it to burn itself out, though they did decide to do some fire-fighting so that it didn't spread too far. Last I heard it was still smoldering (a week later) but contained or mostly contained.

Now we're getting ready for a trip to northern California in a few weeks, to the Giant Redwoods area, so I'm sure I'll have plenty more to inspire me as we travel.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Return of Short Fiction Tuesday

Our guests just left this morning, so I can't say I've read a lot of online fiction this past week, but I did enjoy this week's Strange Horizons story, "Out of Sombra Canyon." It's a story of a couple who are scientists studying an elusive, possibly extinct, hummingbird in the American Southwest. It's not the first speculative fiction story I've read in recent years centering on a search for a species that might or might not be extinct, and I know I've found myself captivated with nonfiction reports of similar searches. I think it skirts the edge of that cryptozoology sense of adventure and the unknown while staying rooted in something more plausible--that's my theory at the moment for why it makes for an intriguing premise. A story is not merely premise, of course, and this story is otherwise completely different from the other one I'm remembering.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Guests in town

I have my in-laws out this week, which is why I didn't get a chance to post a "Short Fiction Tuesday" post. I don't know if I'll get to post tomorrow or not, but I am planning a series of blog posts, coming in the next week or so.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Inspiration

I haven't come across anything especially inspiring this week--in part because it's been one of those weeks when everything seems to be coming to a head at once, especially at the end of this week as we get ready for my in-laws to visit (as well as making preparations for a trip to northern California later this summer).

I have been learning about some pretty out-there political ideas that are apparently alive and well in Northern Colorado. Like conspiracy theorist out there. They tried to get one of our city council members recalled, accusing her of being a secret agent (seriously). Their main problem is apparently that she takes environmental factors into account as the city does its planning (horrors!). Fortunately they failed to get enough signatures, or we would have been footing the bill for a special election, less than a year before the regularly scheduled election. At times it's comical. At times it's disturbing that people buy into this. I haven't found any direct inspiration from this, but perhaps it'll work it's way into a story some day.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Short Fiction Tuesday

For a while now I've been seeing reviews, interviews, discussions of Apex Publishing's Dark Faith, and I've been quite curious about it. As the blurb puts it, "an anthology that explores, questions, and shatters the boundaries of faith."

So this week I found that Apex Online had published a story by one of the co-editors of the anthology, Jerry Gordon's "City of Refuge," as a sort of tie-in to the anthology's release. (There were several other stories in that issue that tied in to the theme, included Paul Jessup's story, which I believe I linked to already a month or two ago.) "City of Refuge" is a post-zombie-apocalypse story, but the focus (thankfully!) isn't on the zombies themselves but on the world that is developing in its wake. The church somehow managed to establish itself as a shield against the zombies, and it now exerts powerful influence over the remaining pockets of humans. There are some glimmers of Walter Miller's excellent SF mock-up A Canticle of Leibowitz here, though the focus is different. There are also hints of Joan of Arc. It's an original world Gordon imagines, though, and some of the comments there show that others have suggested he explore it in more depth. I'm perfectly happy with where it left off and find that satisfying, but if Gordon did decide to extend it into a novel, I would certainly check it out.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Monkey and the Inkpot

I haven't been reading much nonfiction for the past week or two. One things I have been reading is Danielewski's House of Leaves. I've been aware of the book and its high reputation for years, but finally was able to get my hands on a copy. I'm loving the intricate back and forth of the various storylines and the whimsical footnotes (though I have to admit I'm far more interested in Navidson's film and Zampano's commentary on it than on Johnny Truant's tangents and adventures).

I'm not sure that it's inspiring me to write more experimental stuff at the moment, but I do have a few stories that are intellectual experiments in somewhat similar ways, stories that I've either not submitted at all or submitted only a few places and not sent back out. So this is making me want to get those out again and see what markets they may be a good fit for.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Soccer

I must be getting close to the four-year anniversary of when I began this blog--I can remember that some of my early posts involved World Cup, watching the games on Univision since that was the only channel I could get with rabbit-ears that was showing the games live. Four years later, I still have the same TV set (9 years old, I guess--it was a wedding gift, so it's easy to remember when we got it...), the same rabbit ears, though a converter box is hooked up between the two. And I still have my blog...

Slate has an article up today on the secret history of soccer, about how soccer in the roaring 20s was actually very popular and growing in some parts of the US, with teams like the Brooklyn Wanderers, the Patterson Silk Sox, the New Bedford Whalers. Had events fallen differently, had childish infighting not plagued some of the owners and the like, perhaps it might have ended up rivaling the then nascent professional football and basketball leagues.

But then, as Dave Eggers points out in the excerpt (also on Slate) from his book The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, [EDIT: actually, it's an excerpt from that book, and it's by Eggers, but the book as a whole is a bunch of essays from many writers] would we soccer fans really want the sport to be that popular?:
If you were soccer, the sport of kings, would you want the adulation of a people who elected Bush and Cheney, not once but twice?
OK, maybe not... But it is interesting the very different connotation being a soccer fan in the US has vs. being a football fan in, say, the UK. The impression I get, anyway, is that football fans in the UK often end up with a similar stereotype to that of North American football fans here (a bit dense, dumb jock/fratboy/cheap beer mindset,etc.--not that I think US football fans really are all that way, as I sometimes enjoy the sport as well, but that's the stereotype that gets perpetuated on TV), whereas here being a soccer fan is usually associated with a more artsy and cultured, a sport, as Eggers' book implies, for thinking fans. More likely to enjoy a good microbrew or an expensive single-malt during the game, not a Bud Light. If soccer had enjoyed growing popularity through the Depression and ever since, I imagine that stereotype would be very different.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Short Fiction Tuesday

A few weeks ago I mentioned a rather long story I was reading (and enjoying) but hadn't yet finished, "And Other Such Delights" by James Leckey. I finished that the other day and found it to be a very good story, and especially enjoyed the Dying Earth feel to it (or the Moribund Sun, as Leckey calls it). Bopping around, then, I found that he has at least one more Moribund Sun story, "The Deathless Ones" in Fantastic Horror. It's a much shorter story, and horror is definitely the right classification, but it also does a good job of showcasing the decadent society Leckey has created. (There's also a hint of Dunsany in the mythology within the story, which I appreciated.)

In other reading, I also enjoyed Megan Arkenberg's "The Copperroof War" in Ideomancer. This isn't the first time I've mentioned one of her stories here. What I especially like here is the way the chronology plays out, starting when the war begins and then alternating sections with one continuing the war and its consequences, the other proceeding backwards to give the context. Cool structure that's keeping my interest and curiosity high. Plus, the story is set in a sprawling house so big it holds multiple kingdoms...one of these days I'm going to have to blog about why making things enormously big appeals to me so much, if for nothing else than so that I understand it myself...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Inspiration--Archaeology

In line with my post a few weeks ago about some cool archaeological articles, there was an article on MSNBC this week about a discovery of what appears to be large-scale ocher dye and glue production site...from 58,000 years ago. I'm always fascinated with early human society and what little we can piece together of their culture(s), so I thought that was pretty cool. I've done some stories meant to take place in prehistoric-type cultures, though probably nothing quite this ancient.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

No short story link this week

Oh yeah, it's Wednesday already, not Tuesday--Memorial Day seems to have messed me up. Anyway, I haven't had time this week to read any of the various short stories that I've come across (though I have several news ones open in tabs), so no recommendations this week.

But if anyone else has come across a story that they especially liked--something new, something old, doesn't matter--I'd love to have other suggestions here as well.

EDIT: Just a quick note to add that I've just discovered Lightspeed is now live, with its first short story, plus an interview and an editorial. I lean more toward the fantastic usually, but I certainly intend to pay attention to this zine as it gets running.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Up to my son's imagination

I was telling my son the story of the boy who cried wolf and ended it just at the point where no one came when he shouted the third time. "So, did he protect the sheep from the wolf all by himself?" he asked.

"The story doesn't say. It leaves that up to your imagination," I said.

After thinking for a moment, he said, "My imagination says that the wolf killed the boy, but then the main shepherd came and hit the wolf into space with his stick. That's what my imagination says."

That'll work.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Two Scans from Piranesi
Since I've mentioned Piranesi's Dark Prisons series of etchings a few times, I figure it makes sense to put in a couple of scans of them. These are two I haven't seen as often online, "The Staircase with Trophies" above, and "Prisoners on a Projecting Platform" below. (Actually Piranesi didn't name them, but those are the typical titles for them--they're numbers 8 and 10 in the revised sequence.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Short Fiction Tuesday

A couple of stories are staying with me this week. First is Carol Ermshwiller's "On Not Going Extinct." I loved the opening here, especially the bit about the word "ramekin" being a part of the narrator's subculture that has spread to the culture at large. (No red squiggle under ramekin tells me it's a real word...and wikipedia tells me it's from either Dutch or Low German, by way of French. Huh.) This sense of the narrator losing her culture, of her trying to find others like her, was nicely done. The ending seemed a bit, well, conventional I guess. Not storytelling-wise, but the choice she makes...it surprised how quickly she accepted it. But that's not a complaint...just an observation.

I'm also reading a longer story and haven't had time to finish, one that I'm enjoying so far. James Lecky's "And Other Such Delights." It's a Dying Earth kind of story with musician who creates music out of found sound that he records with a high-tech/sorcerous recording box. Parts of it, especially early on, feel a bit awkward on a storytelling level, but the imagination of it and the nature of the world he travels through is keeping me reading (except alas, I need to sleep now...so I'll have to finish it later and see how well the ending makes the story as a whole as good as those parts I'm liking so far).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Inspiration--more on Piranesi's Prisons of the Imagination

A month or two ago I blogged about discovering this series of etchings through a small side picture in a book on Goya. The etchings truly are stunning (perhaps I'll scan one of the pictures that are harder to find online and post that later...though it's much better to be able to hold a book of good quality images). In trying to find more about them, I discovered an essay by Aldous Huxley, reprinted on John Coulthart's blog. It sees in the pictures a sense of how society often forces us into mere mechanical roles (without stripping away our humanity, which would be kinder) as well as a sense of metaphysical alienation.

The blog post is a few years old, so this didn't exist yet then, but Dover Publications has just come out with a new edition of these etchings (as in, 2 days ago, according to the official publication date). I'm tempted to order it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

When things go right

I've been working on and off on this mosaic novel idea for the past year or so (or much longer for parts of it, actually...but a little less than a year on the longer story that weaves the rest of the pieces together). I go back and forth on whether it's a any good or not. Some parts of it, as I reread and revised it a few weeks ago, had me thrilled, but other parts just felt awkward and silly. But I couldn't seem to adjust things right during that revision pass, so I was still going back and forth between telling myself it was well on its way to being a great work of experimental imagination and cringing as I thought of it.

I've started a new pass through the story now, and for the past week I've been staring at the first chapter before flipping to one of the other things I'm working on. But then today a bunch of things came together. Partly inspired by some of the visual art things I've mentioned over the past few months, I had some specific things in mind to fine-tune the atmosphere of the piece. And doing that helped me see where I could cut some big sections of the opening out and replace them with something much more fitting.

I'm feeling good about the story again. No promises how long that will last, but for now...I like it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Short Fiction Wednesday

Something quite different today: Wendell Berry's children's story, "Whitefoot." I've been a fan of Berry's poetry ever since I discovered it some 14 years ago in a class on contemporary poetry. I later discovered his essays, and while I don't always agree with him, I do more often than not, and I admire the strongly pro-environment approach he takes. I've enjoyed his fiction...but it often seems lesser than either the essays or poems. Discovering this (published in 2007), though, was a pleasure. There's a calm, quiet wisdom to Berry's writing, which is there even in this story of a mouse caught in a flood. I kept expecting it to be somehow didactic or parable-ish, but it didn't veer that way. Instead it offered up a story that readers could react to as they would. Even so, it touches on some of Berry's big themes, especially in the way that Whitefoot the mouse knows the acre she calls home so intimately.

There are a few stories from the usual zines I read that I'm enjoying reading at the moment, but I think I'll leave this post just to Wendell Berry. I see that I've labeled other posts with his name before (or at least one other post, anyway), so I'd definitely recommend hopping back to those to see about his Mad Farmer poems and whatever else I might have written about him.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Beer Book Club

I just returned from Coopersmiths where we discussed the book The Wild Blue by Stephen Ambrose. (I'll do my weekly short fiction post tomorrow, I think.)

Beer of choice: Not Brown Ale. Some of the local brewers are also holding a special craft brewers' week and worked together on something they called "Collaboration Kriek." Sounds worth trying in theory... But after tasting a sample, we agreed the results weren't worth it. They basically just threw together three kinds of beer. Presumably they tried to match the three so they would complement each other... Almost 50% of it was New Belgium's La Folie beer, which is a very sour, vinegar-y beer. I don't mind it alone in the right circumstances--a beer to sip, I guess, when you want to appear refined. I'm in the minority of our group even in that opinion. The combination brought out the same disgust of those who don't like La Folie anyway, and wasn't really in its favor.

We had a good discussion of the book. It's about George McGovern and the B-24 crews of WWII. There were some parts that dwelt in far too much detail on the mechanical specs of the planes, but in all it was a good book. I've never counted myself among those who are fascinated with the minutiae of WWII--I certainly knew some people who were obsessed with that in college (and didn't really want to be like them...). So it didn't grab me like some books we've read in this group have. What stood out, though, was the incredible discomfort of the planes, the tremendous attrition rate, and the youth of the soldiers. That and the mention that during McGovern's later run for president (long before I was born, and not really a focus of the book), some far-right groups accused McGovern of having been a coward in the war, which made me pissed off at those groups even forty years later.

Our next book is Why We Hate Us by Dick Meyer.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Monkey and the Inkpot--Archaeology

I grabbed a couple of recent issues of the magazine Archaeology from the library this week. Archaeology has always seemed like a fascinating fusion of strict science (appealing to the SF writer in me) and romantic discovery of other cultures (appealing to the fantasist in me). I'm well aware that the reality of archaeological work is far from that romanticism...so I'm very happy there are those willing to do the tedious work so that I can keep my wide-eyed excitement with the things they uncover.

These two issues range everywhere from Paleolithic India (where some scientists think the evidence shows a continuity of human settlement that doesn't fit with the usual dating of certain events in the evolution of homo sapiens) to 19th century New Jersey (where Napoleon's older brother had a mansion). Sense of wonder stuff.

One especially interesting article is on the Salado style of pottery, which spread in the American Southwest from about AD 1275 to 1450. The pottery is strange in the way it crosses cultures, bringing particular patterns and motifs with them...but most of the rest of the cultures keep their own distinct aspects. So it's not a matter of these various peoples all suddenly becoming homogeneous. The writer argues that a surge in women refugees (their men having been slaughtered in a series of wars) led to a new, as the writer calls it, "poor women's religion" as a way of forming solidarity among these people of various cultures and incorporating them, eventually, into the community. The cultures they came to were often matrilineal, so the refugee couldn't just marry in to the community. Instead, then, this new religion served to diffuse tensions and bring the refugees in to the local society.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Short Fiction (and a poem) Tuesday

I enjoyed Tony Pi's "A Sweet Calling" this week for the whimsical candy-magic and what seemed to me a Chinese feel to the setting. (I'd love to be told if it seems meant to evoke a particular era or culture within China or elsewhere in Asia.) The dilemma of hiding his magic but wanting to help the people was also nicely done.

I also read (just this morning) Patricia Russo's "Wishes and Feathers" and enjoyed that, especially the little details that Lopi notices that identify a person's origin. It flirted with the Eddings-style everyone-from-X-country-behaves-thus silliness...but it never fell over that edge. Instead it seemed to be very aware of the little quirks we pick up from our peers wherever we happen to live.

And just for something different, I loved this week's poem in Strange Horizons, F. J. Bergmann's "The Planet of Ideal Readers." If you're like me, the title alone should intrigue you enough to go read it (and it's short, besides...).