Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Gallery of Vanquished Art" in Kaleidotrope

So a month or two ago, one of my favorite quirky print zines became an online zine (Electric Velocipede), and now another one has, Kaleidotrope. After 13 print issues (3 of which included stories of mine), Kaleidotrope is switching to being an e-zine, and the website went live today with its first e-issue. Rather than "issue 14," it's simply listed as "Winter 2012."

One of the stories in this first online issue is my flash fiction story "Gallery of Vanquished Art." This one began as a writing prompt. A group of us had been throwing out ideas for future writing prompts, rather, and someone suggested a monologue. That one wasn't the prompt chosen, but I decided I liked the idea and patterned this story very loosely on Robert Brownings' "My Last Duchess," where you gradually realize just what a monster the speaker of the poem is. The little hints and things he leaves unsaid make this a story I'm quite proud of.

Friday, December 30, 2011

New look

Well...it being nearly 2012, I figured it was probably time to update the look of this blog. The template was still from when I created the blog (back in...2006, wow). And it definitely looked like it was stuck in 2006. I don't know if this means I'll blog any more frequently than I have been, but it might. And I love having the ability to add a bibliography right here on the blog rather than on that old, ad-supported writing website I used to have.

Initially the bibliography was what started this change, actually. I hadn't updated the thing for over a year, which only left off the one 2010 publication, but left off everything from this year, which was quite a bit, as well as the few things I have forthcoming. But the thought of updating it always got pushed back, in part because of how primitive that old writing website looked, so I just didn't want to think about it. Updating it had been part of my goals for the month, though, so I finally got to it last night. The links should all work now, as far as I've been able to tell. Feel free to let me know if anything doesn't

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Twitter haiku and an interview

I have a few haiku coming out with @trapezemag, beginning today. I'm also the showcase poet, so there's an interview with me at the magazine's website.

One thing I didn't get into the interview is how addicting those kinds of things can be: whether it's twitter fiction or twitter poetry or other minimalist/micro forms of creative writing, I just find it very fun and rewarding to sit down and see how the words take shape. I can easily get very distracted from other writing (and, to be honest, other things I ought to be spending my time on) and spend a few days just playing with the form.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Novel complete*

I typed the words "The End" on my NaNo novel today.

Is it really complete? I don't know about that. It comes in a little on the short side--about 75k words. There were a few times when I went back and put something in brackets like [need a scene here to show XYZ] or [elaborate on ABC here], so that will boost the word count some. I'm sure there's layering and other things that will add to that, but there will also be tightening to make the prose stronger, so it's hard to say how that will even out. So that's one of several reasons that I can't say I feel some big thrill of accomplishment--it doesn't (and never has for previous novels either) quite feel real, like there's still some big thing I have to work on before I set it aside for a few months and then tackle the revisions. But there isn't.  There will be plenty of big things to work on when it comes time to revise. But for now, this draft is done.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Short Fiction Thursday

I've actually had a little more of a chance to read some short fiction this past week, and there were three that seemed especially worth noting.

First, I just discovered that Electric Velocipede's new incarnation as an ezine has already begun. That in itself merits mention--I liked EV's selections in print and am looking forward to the online version. After signing up for the newsletter so that I don't miss any future announcements, I picked one of the stories at random, "Dancing in the Winter Rooms" by David Tallerman, and I have to say that it was a good choice to begin on. It's the story of a generation ship and the doctor who realizes they've long since missed the planet they were sent to colonize. His attempts to change the customs of the small society on board the vast ship do not go over well.

Second, "Held Close in Syllables of Light" by Rose Lemberg in Beneath Ceaseless Skies is one of those where the richly imagined society is a large part of the pleasure of the story. That society has sprung up around trade and a form of magic that involves names and words and the making clockwork kinds of contraptions. In the course of the story, the heroine challenges social customs, uncovers mysteries, and is forced to take powerful action that will change her life. It's a rich story, and a setting I would love to revisit in other stories.

Finally, "How Maartje and Uppinder Terraformed Mars (Marsmen Trad.)" by Lisa Nohealani Morton in Lightspeed has a wonderful mythopoeic feel to its science fictional tale of the colonists on Mars and their rebellion against Earth control. It is, in essence, a creation myth for its people, and wonderfully written one.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Short Fiction Thursday

I'm not doing a lot of short story reading this month, with concentrating on novel writing (and admittedly starting to feel antsy at seeing so many stories showing up in various places and feeling like I'm getting left behind in not reading some of them...), but there was one story at Strange Horizons shortly before the month began that I felt deserved a mention here. I was intending to wait and find another story or two to recommend at the same time, but then got too wrapped up in NaNo to do so.

So, here is a delightful story: Shaenon K. Garrity's "Librarians in the Branch Library of Babel."

One rather extended quote from the story that, I think at least, makes it self-evident why I find this story so whimsically entertaining:

The Branch Library is infinite. All Libraries of Babel are infinite. The Branch Libraries are just smaller.

Which is larger: all possible numbers, or all possible even numbers? Logically, they're the same size. A fraction of an infinite set is still infinite, isn't it? By the same logic, it's possible for an infinite library in which every other book is, say, Stephen King's Cujo to still contain all possible books, same as the main library. It's just that you stand a 50% chance of getting Cujo.

I'm only using Cujo as an example. As you know, we did not work at an infinite library where every other book is Stephen King's Cujo. That library is in El Paso.

As the story goes on, the librarian ventures deep into the labyrinthine library, encountering the residents who've made their lives within the stacks after getting lost. But her worst dilemma might just be the city council.

And speaking of getting antsy as so many good-sounding stories (and nonfiction) get posted that I really want to read...Weird Fiction Review went live last week. There are already several stories and bunch of other content--columns, reflections, comics--and some interesting things lined up for the week ahead. Looks like a great hub for all kinds of cool stuff.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gearing up for NaNo

(apologies to Lesli for the abbreviation...)

Here we go again. Two years ago I decided near the end of October to give NaNo a try. At first I was thinking of doing a novel based on an image that had been growing in my mind for a while. I'd done a short story that summer based on what would have been a much earlier time period and liked the result, but I quickly decided that the story was one that needed more time to simmer in my subconscious. So instead I wrote a sequel to an earlier project I'd done, and was very pleased with the result. I finished the story right around the New Year and revised, got critiques, and revised again until I think it's ready for publication. Being a sequel, I need to first get a publisher on board for the first book, and I've sent that to one publisher and am still waiting to hear back.

Then last year I picked up the idea I'd intended to do the first year, and that really took off. The book, I think, is my most assured--a quirky and surreal story that I have high hopes for. The critiques have shown me some things that need revising, but nothing glaringly off at a deep level that would require major re-working. I've just finished what I intend to be the final revision pass of the first two chapters before querying agents. I'll need to continue that revision pass through the rest of the chapters first, though, and that's on hold for November. January is possible, though February probably more realistic.

And now it comes to this year...and this time I didn't have any kind of long-simmering idea to play with, though I started thinking more deliberately about it over a month ago. For a long time I've been wanting to do something ambitiously non-linear. My first inclination would be that NaNo probably isn't the best time to tackle something like that--my experience the first two years was that the social pressure/encouragement of NaNo really prodded me along, but I was glad to have relatively straight-forward stories I could race through. This time around, I'm looking at a variety of layers of narrative and structural intricacies. So this is going to be a different kind of challenge for me, but if there's one thing I carry with me from my experiential education days, it's that challenge is good...essential, even. So here's to a challenging, highly ambitious month of crazy writing (to squeeze in around all the usual day-to-day work)!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Short Fiction Thursday

For a thoroughly entertaining subversion of chosen-one fantasies, check out David J Schwartz's "Destiny, with a Blackberry Sauce" in Strange Horizons. Turns out fate is rather dim...

Kat Howard's "The Calendar of Saints" in Beneath Ceaseless Skies is well worth a read as well. It's a story of sword-dueling as a means of justice and of a society where the church honors scientists as saints...until a challenge comes through the courts that would undermine the esteem given scientific investigation and discoveries.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Nobel winner

In case you missed the news, Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer was awarded this year's Nobel Prize for literature. I found a couple of his poems online without even much searching: "Outskirts" and "After a Death" (both translated by Robert Bly). This was not a poet I was familiar with, but I liked these, especially the second poem, with its vaguely post-apocalyptic feel and the image of leaves as "pages torn from old telephone directories." There are a few more poems of his at the Poetry Foundation's page on him as well.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Penumbra issue 1 available

Be sure to check out Penumbra's inaugural issue. The official launch is today, so you can get your pdf right away if you order now. The issue includes my story "The Square That Hides a Thousand Stories," which is a whimsical fantasy story about a temple-worker sent to fetch an ancient relic. The issue's theme is art--in a broad sense--with mine playing with the idea of storytelling.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Funny quote

Arthur John became initialized early in life. Initialization is a Southern rite of passage akin to the Hebrew practice of circumcision, but it is sometimes less painful and does not always occur on the seventh day. So Arthur John Longstreet became A.J., and A.J. he has remained.

This is from The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. (R.L.?) Atkins, a book I somehow got a free copy of for my Nook. Not sure anything about it or if I'll enjoy it--this isn't a recommendation or review or anything--but just reading the opening, I came across that line and liked it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thoughtfulness

I was thinking, in part in response to a recent conversation on a writing forum, about how we as writers react to challenging or thought-provoking ideas. I've already noticed that some fellow writers react quite differently from how I do to articles about story construction or other writing advice kinds of essays. My initial reaction is, "Cool, someone's sharing some thoughts about writing. I wonder what I can learn from it." I don't always follow through and take those things I'd meant to learn to heart, but I try to be open, even if it might mean changing how I think about story structure or what kinds of things show up in my stories or whatever. It seems that some writers instead react negatively to that kind of thing, almost as if their initial thought is, "Ahhhh, someone's trying to tell me what to do. I just want to do it my own way."

There's definite value in finding what works for you and not blindly accepting what someone else suggests. I definitely agree with that. But I'll also strongly stand by the idea that the only way to grow is to keep challenging your assumptions, questioning what you've done, finding new ways to write (and new ways to think about story).

What really struck me was the umbrage one writer took when another said something about not trying to attack but to get us to think about the issue. The implication being, the first writer claimed, that everyone else hadn't thought about the issue. I can understand that as a knee-jerk reaction...but honestly, I don't care how many times I've thought about a thorny, tricky issue related to writing. I want to be challenged to think about it again. And each time I think about it, I'll come away reminded of what I've learned and challenged about things I've assumed...and my writing will be enriched because of it.

That's the thoughtfulness I want to have toward my writing (and politics, religion, science, justice...life in general).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Short Fiction Friday

This story has been up awhile, but I just got around to reading it: "A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel" by Yoon Ha Lee (whose stories have shown up as recommended reads here more than once). One of the comments on the bottom calls it "a great Calvino remix of hard-SF FTL handwaving," which really is as good of an explanation for why I like the story as any I could come up with.

I also remembered a pair of stories that I'd read this spring when I wasn't putting recommendations on the blog, both evocative and surreal stories by Genevieve Valentine: "Study, for Solo Piano" in Fantasy Magazine and "The Finest Spectacle Anywhere" in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The stories are linked by their setting, within a traveling circus in a post-apocalyptic world, that's also the setting for Valentine's novel Mechanique. At the time I read those stories, I hadn't started hearing any of the high praise the novel has since been getting, but I bought it right away on my Nook and have been reading it slowly, lingeringly (because that's the kind of book it is, the kind you want to savor as you go) between other books ever since. It looks as if there was an earlier Circus Tresaulti story in BCS, "Bread and Circuses," that I missed when it was published...but I will be remedying that shortly.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Strange Horizons fund drive

Don't forget that the annual fund drive at Strange Horizons is happening right now. There are a few online ezines that I'd have a difficult time picking between for a favorite, but Strange Horizons is definitely one of those few--weekly fiction, poetry, reviews, as well as articles, they do a great job balancing them all. There are also prizes to be had...


Friday, September 09, 2011

Short Fiction Friday

The name alone of Mari Ness's "Love in the Absence of Mosquitos" drew me in (and cool artwork, as well). The story relies on the unconventional (to us) marriage relationships of its imagined people, where a pod of people are married to each other (or sometimes to just one person within the pod) and their interactions carefully proscribed by contract. The opening paragraph sets the stage perfectly, and demonstrates the story's intriguing invention:

When Andrea brought her new wife to the pod, the family welcomed her, of course, quite properly. And then, not intentionally, ignored her. They had issues of their own: the main huswife, their pod's Second, was leaving, taking a significant amount of the household income, and one of the more minor husbands needed significant surgery, and then they had all of the other individual and family issues that a pod might have.

It's the story of Andrea and her new wife, an artist who does not fit the social norms of her society.

For some whimsy, I'll also recommend Megan Arkenberg's "Lessons from a Clockwork Queen." I'm a bit torn between finding it great fun and finding it perhaps a bit too cutesy in places...but for the most part its whimsy carries it through in a series of vignettes about a queendom ruled be a clockwork queen. Each vignette ends with an arch moral, which fits the comic tone of the story as a whole.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Fantasy names

I've read a lot more epic fantasy in the past half a year than I have in any similar span since in recent years. One thing I notice as I read secondary fantasies like that is that my mind seems to latch onto particular names--not for anything special in what that character or place means within the story, but just because I like the way it feels to say the word. Usually it's not a major character from the story, though I think "Otah-kvo" might have been on my tongue a lot this spring when I read the Long Price quartet. Just recently it was "Magnar of Thenn," a minor character in A Dance With Dragons. I seem to remember some of the place names of White Luck Warrior filling that role back a few months ago.

It's not only fantasy names that do this. Once a year or two ago I woke up with the word lepidoptera running through my mind for no reason I could tell--I even had to double-check that it really was a word relating to moths and butterflies and not just something my subconscious had created as I slept.

No grand wisdom to learn from this--I don't think there's even anything specific about the names that I end up latching onto, though I intend to pay some attention to which words end up striking me that way, see if there's anything to glean from it for coming up with my own names. But I'm definitely the type of reader who pronounces the words as I read, and I think this just reflects that fact.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Short Fiction Friday

I've been scrambling to finish a couple of books this past week and haven't read my usual array of short fiction magazines. However, my friend Lesli Wilder recommended a story the other day on Facebook, and as I trust her tastes, I'll put it up here as well: "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu. The title alone intrigues me (and makes me wonder how I missed it last spring). What I've read of it has a fun sense of whimsy, and I'll certainly be reading the rest once I get a chance.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Poetry sale to Illumen

I sold the poem "Haibun: Carved in Alien Stone" to Illumen. The haibun is a fun form to work with, combining as it does prose and minimalist poetry, so I'm happy this one found a home. I'll post a link when the issue is available.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Short Fiction Tuesday

It's probably worth revisiting why I do these short fiction call-outs. For more than a year and a half now I've been making note of particular stories I've found online. It's never been with the intent of doing a formal review, though. Rather, it's always been with the intent of a signal boost--these are (generally) free-to-read, online magazines, most of them pro-level. So I figure one way to support them is to talk about their stories and hopefully get other people to go read them. It's not necessarily a discussion here that I'm after...but I'm certainly willing to discuss them more, if there's any interest.

So this week I have three stories to mention. The first is from Daily Science Fiction, "Our Drunken Tjeng" by Nicky Drayden. Because of how DSF's subscription works, I was emailed the story and read it last week already, but it wasn't available online until this week. It is fiercely visceral and wildly imagination, a story of a people who live inside a huge human and take care of their host. Their drunken and aging host, which is seemingly also a spaceship, is not doing well, and the job of the caretakers (slicing away tumors, clearing arteries, making sure he doesn't thoughtlessly reproduce too often) is increasingly difficult. The ending is gut-wrenching and stone-heartedly pitch perfect.

Both stories in the most recent Beneath Ceaseless Skies stood out for me as well. "Bone Diamond" by Michael John Grist is a dark story of an ancient Egyptian who discovers a diamond in a crocodile skeleton, and of his logical and horrifying fall into cruelty.

"My Father's Wounds" by Ferret Steinmetz at first didn't draw me in as much as these other two. But after finishing it, it seems to keep drawing me back. It's the story of a woman who is expected to master the healing of her father, a form of healing he claims derives from a goddess, though she suspects it might be an inner ability...and fears it's one she lacks. The tension of faith and doubt, or the healers wishing to help and lamenting that they can't help everyone is just very well handled and memorable.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Story sale to Penumbra

My short story "The Square That Hides a Thousand Stories" has sold to this new ezine and will be appearing in their inaugural issue come October. I love that cover--it reminds me in some ways of cover art from 20-30 years ago, in magazines that I come across but wasn't at all aware of at the time...and yet not in a completely throwback way: it feels contemporary as well.

I'll write more about the story itself and give a link to the issue once it's released.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Twitter haiku

I have a trio of twitter haiku that were published today at @microcosms. There's something very addictive about twitter fiction and haiku--they're fun to do...and I spent quite a bit of time that I'd set aside for revision to play with these instead. But it's divine play, so that's OK, right?

I have another trio of twitter haiku plus a featured interview that will be appearing in @trapezemag in December.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Short Fiction Wednesday

I absolutely loved a story in Daily Science Fiction the other day...but that goes out to subscribers one week before it's available online, so I'll have to post the link to that next week.

For now, "Crossroads" by Laura Anne Gilman (in Fantasy Magazine) is well worth reading. It's a western fantasy hybrid that plays on gunslinger tropes in a way that I found charming.

Also, in this month's ChiZine is the story "Visions of Destruction Series, Mixed Media" by Polenth Blake. This one is more difficult to pin down, which is part of its enjoyment. An odd, at times unsettling series of short glimpses into what seem to be subversive works of art in a dangerous city. It's a story that will reward rereading.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch

Back in college I took a one-month class in improv. I wouldn't say that improv itself is something I'm especially skilled at, but the purpose of the class wasn't so much learning to perform improv as it was learning to use the concepts of improv to spark creativity in other venues, especially in writing. Some of the ideas of that class I still draw on consciously. Even more, though, I think it's been something I've absorbed into my approach to writing so that it comes through subconsciously.

One of our textbooks for the month was the book in the title of this post, Free Play. I remembered it the other day during an online conversation and decided to pull it back out. I can tell I'd actually considered rereading it more recently and had taken it up from the basement and put it on the desk up here...but hadn't gotten around to reading it. So this time I'm planning to actually reread it...

I've actually read the first few chapters, and I'm hoping to post occasional thoughts about it as I read it--I'll probably dip into it for a chapter or two at a time and then set it aside for a few days, so the posts may be scattered. For now I wanted to just put the opening quote from the book. I've said at various times that I find writing to be play...but play, to me, doesn't imply frivolous. There's something deep and deeply important about play. It's an idea that I can trace back to well before I read this book (the first poem I remember writing in high school was called "This LifeGame"), but I can tell that my thinking was definitely reinforced and likely shaped in part by the opening to this book:

There is an old Sanskrit word, lîla, which means play. Richer than our word, it means divine play, the play of creation, destruction, and re-creaction, the folding and unfolding of the cosmos.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Reviews of my "Tree Ring Anthology"

Des Lewis is collecting the links to all reviews on the HA of HA website. So far my story has been getting a lot of good comments, which as you can imagine is deeply gratifying. Karim Ghagwagi writes "The story is densely packed with rich, suggestive imagery. The original variation on the theme is refreshing, and the tale’s fantastical elements are also aptly employed to highlight environmental concerns." Matthew Fryer calls it his favorite in the book and writes, "Anthropomorphic, dark and strangely moving, this is a superb piece of unconventional storytelling and a great twist on the theme." Anthony Watson calls it "perhaps the most interesting" and says, "It's a clever story, beautifully written and even manages a sting in the tail." And the Stars at Noonday blog writes, "Daniel Ausema's 'Tree Ring Anthology' uses the description of the rings on a tree stump to recount a range of ecological nightmares with a science fiction edge, demonstrating again that perspective and voice can lend any subject a strange and disturbing atmosphere."

What really stands out as I read these reviews, though, is the high praise for the anthology as a whole. Not every reviewer liked every story, of course, but every reviewer (so far) comes away with a positive recommendation for the anthology. The anthology is not yet available from Amazon, but you can purchase it directly from Des Lewis (or from Lulu).

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Two moons

I've come across a number of fantasy and SF stories set on a planet with two moons. Some of the images you'll come across show a lack of understanding about how the phases of a moon would work, but that's really beside the point here...

Maybe it was those stories that made me take note of this article about a theory that the earth once had two moons. After that presumed early-Earth/Mars-sized-planet collision that likely created the moon, there might have actually been two moons, and there might have remained two moons for ten or a hundred million years before the second moon's orbit destabilized and it (eventually) crashed into the larger moon, creating some of the anomalies mentioned in the article.

It's an interesting parallel to one theory about that initial impact. One possibility is that the Mars-sized planet was at a Lagrange point with Earth and the sun for fifty million years or more until the orbit degraded, leading to the crash. If that crash led to a second moon at a Lagrange point for ten million years until its orbit was disturbed and they crashed...it's like chaos theory's fractals...

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Story available for purchase

I mentioned this on Facebook the other day but not here on my blog...

Issue two of One Buck Horror is available now for Kindle and Nook, and their associated reading apps/programs. For one buck you'll get five stories, including my flash fiction piece "What Swims These Waters."

This story was a one-hour writing exercise. I don't actually recall what the prompt was...maybe something as simple as the story had to be about water in some way. By the end of the hour I'd written most of the story already (which doesn't usually happen for me with those exercises, even something as short as a flash). It certainly required some significant revising after that, but that was primarily wording issues and didn't significantly change the core story.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Short Fiction Friday

During the months of May and June, ChiZine had a plethora of excellent stories and poems as part of their fund drive. Those stories went down once the month was over, but there's a new issue now. I quite enjoyed the first story that I read from it, "Linking Words" by Grace Seybold. The opening image of the rebels dancing into the city is a resonant one, and I liked the way it plays with expectations as it goes.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dog-like Crocodiles


I so want to use these crocodile offshoot creatures in a fantasy story...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bar Book Club

We met last night at Coopersmiths for our book club.

Beer of choice: Scottish Highland Ale--a new beer for them, as far as I can remember. From the description I was expecting a darker beer, but it was good. I also tried a sample of their blueberry mead, another new offering, and liked that a lot. And then they had a watermelon beer. Beer mixed with watermelon juice. Those two should not go together. When you actually order it, instead of the little sample we requested, they shove a slice of watermelon on the edge of the glass. There are so many things wrong with that... I tend to be intrigued by new and surprising pairings in my food and beverages and am willing to try a lot of things, but from the first smell I knew I wouldn't like it.

I didn't get my copy of the book, At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen, until last week when we had visitors. So I'd only finally found a chance to read in the past couple of days and didn't finish it. What I read set up for an interesting conflict between a missionary beginning to realize he'd rather be an anthropologist (to the consternation of his wife and colleagues) and a half-Cheyenne mercenary who'd found his way down to the same South American jungle.

Our next book is Tea With Hezbollah. The book comes from an evangelical press, which makes me somewhat leery, but the idea of going in among these groups that we in the West label as terrorist and actually learning how they see things and who they are sounds interesting, if it truly is done in an open-minded way.

There was some question if the person who was supposed to bring books could make it, so I grabbed a backpack full of books from the library right before hand...and now I have a bunch of books checked out that I'd really like to read (and just when A Dance With Dragons comes out...). I'll probably have to bring books next month, so I could return them and try to check them out again then, but they're calling to me...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Poetry Monday

Recovering from a few weeks of busy-ness here, culminating in family visiting through yesterday. So I haven't read a lot of the recent short fiction in my usual ezines (much less from the less frequent ones), but I was looking back at some recent poetry and enjoyed this one: "The Curator Speaks in the Department of Dead Languages" from Strange Horizons.

I also just recently discovered an ezine for minimalist poetry, Inkscrawl. Bruce Boston's "Surreal Wish List" is especially worth a read.

Friday, July 08, 2011

A pair of stories available


In what's an impressively quick turnaround, my story "LumberJill is already available in Flagship Issue 6. You can buy the issue in text-only, audio-only, and text-and-audio-both versions.

This story is one I wrote the first draft of several years ago. I was reading Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings, which includes a heading listing a number of tall-tale-ish animals that supposedly could be found in lumberjack camps. It put me in mind of Paul Bunyan stories, so I combined the two (without ever directly referencing Paul himself--the title character thinks about and refers to her uncle without it ever saying who exactly he was) in a fun riff. I'm very pleased for this story to be out there and available now.


The other story to have recently become available is "To Save a Hero" in Bards and Sages Quarterly's July 2011 issue (Amazon link).

This story came from a one-hour writing exercise where the prompt was something like "Your character is drunk because of something bad that just happened. A stranger offers to send him/her back in time to fix it, but when s/he goes back in time, s/he discovers that this time s/he's still wasted (making fixing anything problematic, much less trying to change the events)."

It's a twisty little tale that only gets revealed slowly. I gave it a sort of weird Western feel, which was fun to play with.

Monday, July 04, 2011

"Fall of the City" online now

As I mentioned last week, this story is available to read now to non-subscribers as well. It even has some nice artwork there to go with it.

This story was one of many that started as a one-hour writing exercise. I forget the exact prompt, but what I had in mind was the butterfly-flapping effect (which may have been the prompt, but I'm not sure) of small events having big consequences.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Changing characters

I've been sitting on a story for what seems a long time--really cool ideas in my head to stir into the mix, some intriguing characters and situations...but it was just never coming together. I would jot down notes, come up with new things to throw in the mix, get excited about the story, but then when I'd try to start writing, I could never find a way in to the story. It just felt flat, despite all the cool things flashing around my head.

While we were taking a mini-vacation this past weekend, it occurred to me that maybe I was focusing on the wrong character. The intriguing characters I'd planned to write about will probably still be fascinating, but fascinating (and perhaps somewhat terrifying) from the perspective of someone else. So I added a new character to the mix (at this point a pretty bland, undeveloped character, but hopefully that will change as I write), and writing the story from his perspective finally allowed me to get writing.

Now I haven't written much, and I can't promise that I won't flounder with him and decide a different tack is necessary. But at least I've started, which is something I'd been unable to say for the past month.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Fall of the City" at Daily Science Fiction

If you're a subscriber, you should have received this story this morning (actually, DSF stories always arrive at 11pm my time, so it would have been last night if you're in Mountain time or further west).

If you're not a subscriber (and why not?--it's free to subscribe), it'll be online in a week, and I'll post a link then, and say more about the story, if anything comes to mind.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Poem in Aoife's Kiss


I just received my contributor copy of this magazine, which includes my poem "Spell." The magazine is a lot bigger, more colorful, and more glossy than a lot of small-press zines--I haven't read much of what's inside yet, but I'm impressed with the presentation. The poem itself has actually been online for a couple of weeks as a teaser for the issue, so you can read that (for now) at the magazine's main site.

This poem plays on the homophone connection between spell as in magic and spell as in the letters that form a word.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Horns or Wings" at Every Day Fiction

One story that was published during my blog hiatus (actually accepted and published both) was "Horns and Wings" at Every Day Fiction. It's received some good comments, so that's always gratifying. The story came from one of my writing group's one-hour quick prompts. The topic was to write about a routine visit to a doctor, and I remember thinking that that didn't seem, on the surface, to fit very well with what I tend to write. A doctor for someone injured, perhaps, but... So then I decided to give it a surreal take, and with Mervyn Peake's Mr. Pye vaguely in mind, this is what came through.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book club

Last night we had our (roughly monthly) meeting at Coopersmiths to drink beer and talk books.

Beer of choice: I tried a sample of a Belgian Kriek Ale. It's a very sour beer, and wasn't worth paying extra to have a full glass of that. In the right mood, I probably would enjoy it, but last night I went with the Horsetooth Stout.

Book: Blindness by José Saramago. I enjoyed this book a lot. I'd read his The Cave some years ago and enjoyed it, but often heard people refer to Blindness as his masterpiece. The story felt...very European, though I struggled to pinpoint what it was that made it feel that way. First I wrote that the prose felt that way, and to a certain extent it did, but it was more the mindsets of the characters, the way they interacted. And it's not that the characters somehow fit some stereotype of how Europeans think, which would be ridiculous, but that the book itself felt very much like it fit into the broader context of other continental books in ways that US and UK books often don't.

We had a good discussion about the book, especially about the one seeing character's actions and if she could/should have done more or differently. The style of the book certainly stands out, and the reactions to that aspect of different people in the group varied, but in general we mostly found it very readable despite the unfamiliar style and a memorable book.

Our next book is At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen. The description sort of reminded me of the movie The Mission, which I've loved since I first saw it. Apparently this 1965 book was also made into a movie (in 1991), but I'd never heard of it before.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Review of my story "Cities of Nostalgia"

Kaleidotrope 11, which includes my flash fiction "Cities of Nostalgia," has been reviewed at SFRevu. Short reviews of each story, including this about mine (after a brief plot summary), "This was a lyrically-written little tale."

This is just one of a handful of stories and poems to be published or accepted while I've been taking a few-month blogging break. Now that I'm hoping to resume at least sporadic blogging, I'll make mention of those other stories and poems in the days ahead.

"Cities of Nostalgia" is of a series with two others that have been published, as well as a fourth that I recently wrote. I see them as homages to Calvino's Invisible Cities in part, with some touches of Dunsany and others as well. One little me-being-spacey moment I discovered after this was published: I originally wrote the first one with the intent of evoking Dunsany's short story "Idle Days on the Yann" about a river voyage and what awaits the narrator along that trip. In that first one, I named the railroad the Yahm Railroad, with the intent of reminding anyone familiar with Dunsany of his story without copying it. In the next two in the series, though, I meant to do the same and only now did I realize that I reverted to Dunsany's name instead. Oh well. The other two that have been published are "City of Games" in Sporty Spec and "City of Facades" in Cinema Spec.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bar Book Club

I haven't reported on these in awhile because I had to miss a couple (one because one of my wife's patients was in labor, another because my daughter chose that night to throw an hour-and-a-half tantrum, etc.). I was happy to finally make it back to one.

Beer of choice: They've opened the Existential Porter up--woo hoo! That's always been my favorite, and they only have it for a month or two before there's another long wait. It's a very dark beer.

Book: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. This is a memoir of a strange childhood, first out here in the West in some of the desolate towns you see in Nevada, Arizona, etc., and later in even more dire poverty in West Virginia coal country. Her father was seemingly brilliant but also an alcoholic who, along with the artsy, flighty mother, tried to make their unconventional life into a principled stand against convention. I was reading it as I traveled through some of those same places in Arizona (and with memories of last summer's trip through northern Nevada), so I found those parts especially interesting. The discussion was good.

Our next book will be The River Why by David James Duncan. This was a favorite book of mine in college--being more a baseball person than a fisherman, his The Brothers K was actually more up my alley, but I enjoyed this and pretty much everything by Duncan I could find. So I'm looking forward to revisiting it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I have a freakish tooth

Getting some final dentist visits out of the way these past few weeks, and I learned that one of my teeth came in reversed--spun around 180 degrees. It's one of the pre-molars, which supposedly isn't very different on the outer side than the inner one, so they weren't surprised that I'd never noticed it. But weird.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Travels

We've been back from our trip for about a week, but it's always crazy getting back into the swing of things. So I'm finally getting around to posting a blog entry. Here are some of the highlights:
  • Coming down through the mountains toward Santa Fe (my wife insisted on listening to the Newsies soundtrack...) with a thin-cloud snowstorm that showed the setting sun only slightly dimmed.
  • Albuquerque botanical gardens.
  • Snow-dotted cliffs outside Gallup, New Mexico.
  • Seeing a bit of the Painted Desert as we crossed Arizona.
  • A rainbow-colored cloud off to the side of Mt. Humphreys as we came toward Flagstaff. Of all the places we saw, Flagstaff seemed like the one I could see myself living in...though admittedly that's based mostly on the surroundings, as we didn't really see much of the city itself.
  • The Grand Canyon, with snow among the piñon trees along the edge.
  • Saguaro cacti and palm trees as we dropped down from Flagstaff to Phoenix.
  • Warm weather in Phoenix (almost too warm...but a nice break from winter).
  • The zoo and very cool children's museum in Phoenix.
There, that's my version of a you-gotta-see-my-vacation-photos blog post. Now back to my (I hope) regular blogging soon.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fighting for commitment while writing

I'm working on a short story at the moment. For some reason...it's been a struggle to get myself to focus on it. Not just on this story, actually--on any short story, it seems. I've been spending so much time on revising this past year-plus that I haven't done as much new writing anyway, but I'm trying to understand why short stories specifically have been more of a struggle. When I think about it, it seems that I really haven't been writing nearly as many short stories in the past year or two, so it's not just a recent thing.

Flash fiction has been easy, I think because I don't end up with as much invested in them. And the novel-length stuff I've done hasn't given me fits either, which perhaps is because of the manic NaNo kickstart that doesn't let me question. With a short story, though, I have dozens of fragments that came from writing exercises with no idea where they might end up going. A number of them are fragments that seem to hold good promise. Whenever I sit down to try to expand one of them, I either end up turning it into a flash story (don't get me wrong--I love flash, and I'm proud of the flash stories I've been sending out on submissions) or I end up doing revisions or getting distracted instead.

So, one of my goals over the next few months is to get a few decent short stories written. Perhaps they'll come from one of those writing exercise fragments, which is the case with the one I'm working on at the moment (and I think I've got it to the point where I'm past that uncertainty/unwillingness to commit), perhaps they'll be inspired by a themed anthology or writing prompt or something of the sort, and perhaps they'll just come out of nowhere. But whatever the case, I'd like to write at least one short story per month for the next three or four months, in addition to whatever revising I have planned, and see what that does for getting me past this sort-of block in my head.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Enchanted Conversation: a Fairy Tale Magazine

Enchanted Conversation - A Fairy Tale magazine Ralan's has had this new market listed for a little while now (not completely new, but an updated and revamped zine), but in case anyone hasn't had a chance to notice that, I thought I'd point it out here. Each issue will be themed around a particular fairy tale or fairy tale trope. There are certain fairy tales that I've seen turned into short stories so often over the past few years, that I'm hesitant about those particular stories...but I always like to be surprised by either a new, previously unfamiliar tale or a new take on one I'd thought I already knew too well to bother.

The word count is short, and the submission window even shorter, so if you're interested in writing something for it (the next theme is Rumpelstilkskin), check out their guidelines. The first issue of the year will come out on March 20.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Short Fiction Thursday

I've just finished reading "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong" by K. J. Parker, and it's a wonderful story. The narrator is a musician, accomplished and technically skilled, but so fearful of failure that his works never achieve the genius he aspires to...that is, until certain events conspire to twist his life around. The title really expresses where the story gets its power from: underlying what is a well told tale--with a complex character and arc and series of events--is that question of what price is great art worth. What cost, in life of others and freedom of self and dignity and truth, is too much to pay to create something of absolute genius?

This week I also enjoyed Corie Ralston's "Mamafield." A very different story from the other, it's a story told from the point of view of a sentient plant who (that?) is apparently capable of walking but so far has only ever known the area around its mother plant. One of the plant's siblings, though, has journeyed, and this has made that sibling anathema to both the mother and all those who had remained behind. After reading it and deciding it was worth mentioning here, I stumbled across Lois Tilton's review in Locus, and she took issue with the logic of the story. I can see her argument, but I tend to enjoy stories told from a strange perspective in general, and I think the strength of that voice still carries the story.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Whimsy

My favorite kind of whimsy has a bite. It skates playfully across the surface of the abyss with a subtext that refuses to let you forget the abyss is there, that the ice is thin, that water is deep, deep down to unimaginable darkness and weight.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Short Fiction Monday

As I mentioned last week, Abyss & Apex's latest issue converted perfectly to work on my Nook.

First thing worth pointing out is that my friend Lindsey Duncan has a story in there, "Twice Given." It's a story of a priestess's sister and the deep bond they share. (She also has a poem out this week in Strong Verse: "A Thousand Strips of Parchment.")

I haven't read the entire issue yet, but another story from Abyss & Apex that I really enjoyed was J. Kathleen Cheney's "Of Ambergris, Blood, and Brandy." It's the story of a mermaid who disguises herself as human, and about seal-people/selkies, about an industrializing city spreading out into the water, and about the intrigue of mysterious, sinister forces. I have to admit that if someone had said it was a story of mermaids and selkies, I would have been hesitant about it--fascinating as the folk tales of selkies may be, I've seen a lot of stories based on those tales, and they often seem to follow very closely to the same pattern. This one does not, and the story as a whole feels very fresh and alive.

Darby Harn's "News Right Fresh From Heaven" in Fantasy last week also stood out for me, a story about poetry and apple children.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Science Fiction article on Slate

I'm a frequent reader of Slate.com, so I was interested to see a science fiction article there today. It goes by the grandiose title "The Purpose of Science Fiction" and is by Robert Sawyer. Huh, I didn't realize there was only one purpose...but ok. Still cool to see an SF article there.

Except...not. The basic argument is that the essence and ultimate reason for SF is to prepare us for the future so that when things happen, when technology and new discoveries change our world, we won't be caught completely unprepared. Don't get me wrong, I think it's just peachy when one work or another happens to have that effect for some readers regarding this technology or that. But is that really it's main purpose? Seems a pretty limited mindset to me.

I know I've pointed before to Ursula LeGuin's essay that appeared as a forward to her science fiction classic The Left Hand of Darkness, but it's worth mentioning it again. I don't have it before me, so I won't quote verbatim. The gist of the article is that science fiction, for all its superficially futuristic appearance, really has nothing to do with the future. A science fiction writer claiming to predict the future is a charlatan, and even one claiming to predict a possible future if things continue XYZ...meh, that's not what it's about. What a science fiction writer does, LeGuin argues, is tell you about today, about her place in history, his life, what it's like to live here, now. And, ultimately, what it is to be human on a more universal level, as well. If they take a slant-wise, futuristic path to explore that, or a steampunk corridor, or a winding medieval road, or a completely mundane-seeming city street like the one just around the corner...well, that's all surface.

From the article,
George Orwell's science-fiction classic Nineteen Eighty-Four wasn't a failure because the future it predicted failed to come to pass. Rather, it was a resounding success because it helped us prevent that future.
I agree wholeheartedly with the first half of this quote, but disagree with the second--it was a resounding success because it told us something of the fears and dangers of the day...and fears and dangers that may have changed in many ways but remain a part of what it is to be human today as well, and into the future. Science fiction doesn't fail or succeed based, either, on whether it comes true nor whether it prevents something from coming true. It fails or succeeds based on the same metrics and rubrics and aesthetic approaches that we take toward judging any work of literature, or any art.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Using my Nook for short stories

I mentioned a month ago that I'd bought a Nook (hurray for credit card reward points!). I'm not going to go into a lot of the review kinds of details that you can easily find elsewhere. It's a good ereader for what I use it for, and I've been pleased with it.

One of the reasons I wanted to get an ereader was with the idea of reading the stories from places like Strange Horizons when I'm not at my computer--I could save computer time for writing and forums and such, and take those ezines with me to read when I couldn't be here at my computer. When I learned that the Nook has a basic web browser, I thought that'd be perfect. There wouldn't even be the hassle of converting files or anything.

Well...not quite. The basic web browser is a pain to use and not the least bit friendly for reading stories. So I had to convert the files after all. One way to do that is simply copy and paste into Open Office and safe the story as a pdf. That works, but I also got to discover the fun of Calibre to download and convert the web pages into epub format. Calibre downloads the rss feed and converts it into whatever format you want, but sometimes the rss has to be tweaked to work properly. So here are a few things I've discovered while playing around with this:

Calibre works great with Fantasy and Lightspeed. I have it scheduled to download the past week's updates every Monday morning. I had to tweak the format slightly for Fantasy's rss, because it was initially showing up with a black font on a dark background, but that was an easy fix. Abyss & Apex also worked great when I had Calibre convert its latest issue just the other day.

The rss for Beneath Ceaseless Skies only gives you the summaries of the stories, with links to the full text. There are fixes for that within Calibre, but BCS has each issue as an epub download already, so it's easier to just download that instead of using Calibre.

I'd have to play around with the recipe for downloading Clarkesworld some more to get that to work--the rss gave the pages with the audio as well, not a terrible thing but would be nice to get it to skip those pages. It also, this month, gave the entire texts (and audio pages) of the entire past year's worth of stories, because of the readers poll, which linked to them all. That'd actually be pretty cool for someone who hadn't had a chance to read it throughout the year...but it did make for a pretty big file. That wouldn't be a dilemma other months, of course. The biggest problem, though, was that the format didn't transfer very well, so I couldn't read the full lines. I think I could pretty easily fix that, but I'm thinking for now, at least, that for a zine that comes out with an issue once a month, it'd be better to just save and convert them manually.

Strange Horizons has no rss feed to subscribe to (that I know of), so I have to convert those manually. I'm pretty sure I've seen reports that a major upgrade is in the works for Strange Horizons' site, so I imagine that will be an option some point.

Some places I haven't taken a look at yet for, except to manually convert some myself, are Tor.com (I doubt they'd have an rss just for their fiction, and a full rss to their site would overwhelm me), Subterranean (also has an rss, but it's site-wide, it appears, not just the ezine), Chizine (which is going through a site redesign to be unveiled in April), and Ideomancer (has an rss, but that's next on my list for testing out).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Short fiction Tuesday

I love the opening line of last week's story from Fantasy, "Ghost Girl" by Lauren Beukes:

You think of a city as a map, all knotted up in the bondage of grid lines imposed by town planners. But really, it’s a language—alive, untidy, ungrammatical. The meaning of things rearranges. The scramble of the docks turns hipster cool and the inner city’s faded glamour gives way to tenement blocks rotting from the inside. It develops its own accent, its own slang.

The stories that especially stand out from this past week (well, as in I read them this past week--they're actually a bit older than that) were from Lightspeed. First, a few weeks ago it featured a story by Ursula LeGuin, "The Silence of the Asonu." It's a reprint, one that I'd read before, but I always love to return to her stories. It's about as far from plot-driven as stories usually get, so I won't try to give a summary of the events, but it's about a people on an alien planet who seemingly lose the (give up the) ability to speak, or communicate in any way, as they grow to maturity.

And two weeks ago, Lightspeed's story was Corey Mariani's "Postings from an Amorous Tomorrow," which was incredibly powerful. It begins with a future that shades toward parody of social networking, in which people receive augmented brains in order to be able to connect, communicate, love, and be in love with millions of people at once. The opening goes:

As of this second there are 3,236,728,909 people over the age of four living in the world, all of whom I am intimately familiar with. Of these, there are 876,852,003 that I love, and one that I am currently in love with. In ten years, when I am twenty, I hope to love everyone on the planet as Gordon did once for almost two minutes. He is my hero.

From there it takes a dark and heart-breaking turn that's only made more powerful by the light tone of the beginning. A most excellent story.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Feel free to mock me...

So, my NaNo novel summary that I posted a few weeks ago had one word that was wrong. See, the novel was already beginning to show glimmers of itself over a year ago, and I wrote a short story that was meant to take place long before the novel but in the same setting, to help solidify some of those images. In that story I included various references to factory smoke.

A factory. I had this image of a sprawling, early industrial factory, something like this:
Well, I started questioning if that was the image that people would get from the word "factory." If it were a steampunk novel, then probably, but it didn't seem to conjure that image for me as I was doing my last minute, pre-November planning. I started thinking that what I wanted was more along the lines of a coal-burning power plant (especially a particular one alone I-80 up in Cheyenne), mashed up with an oil refinery and a grain elevator, and other such industrial complexes.

Power plant didn't feel quite right, either, so I decided to call it the Refinery. Except...this was the scramble before NaNo, remember, and somehow when I wrote that down, changing "Factory" to "Refinery," I mixed the two words together instead of changing it, and ended up with "Refectory."

And I kept writing that throughout November. NaNo doesn't give time to question yourself. By the time November was done, I had convinced myself that a refectory really was some sort of general word that encompassed all the things I was picturing. It wasn't until mid-December (when my characters actually arrived there) that I paused to question myself. The dictionary shocked me. A dining room in a monastery? That's not what I wanted! The image had become so ingrained that it took me awhile to trust that I hadn't somehow been using some secondary definition or something.

Nope. Refinery it is. Or maybe I'll go back to Factory--I love that picture of the sugar factory that was just a little ways south of here. But not Refectory.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Short Fiction Wednesday...plus Happy New Year!

I've been traveling (and recovering from travels) but now I'm back. I hope everyone had good holidays and wish everyone a happy new year.

I'm still behind the most recent short fiction, but I've been catching up, and two that I read during my travels especially stood out for me for their interesting settings.

Matthew Johnson's "Holdfast" in Fantasy Magazine tells the story of a land where rhymes and simple spells--and most importantly, knots--hold real power, if performed correctly. Even more, it's the story of a person who has chosen that his deeply magical connection to his land is more important than whatever acclaim he might earn by leaving the place and becoming a famous wizard. I could see Wendell Berry enjoying the story, though I can't say I could see him writing it, per se.

"A Bounty Split Three Ways" by Peter Kovic (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) is a well-realized story of a country bumpkin sort who has decided to become a bounty hunter in order to pay a wizard a fee he'd promised, knowing he had no way to pay. No one thing stood out for why I enjoyed this story, but I just liked how it all worked together.

Looking up the link to that one, I remembered another Beneath Ceaseless Skies story that I'd read earlier while traveling and enjoyed a lot: "As Below, So Above" by Ferrett Steinmetz. This is the story of a squid (always good to get the cephalopods involved), the story of a monster whose job is to protect an evil wizard, written completely from his point of view and with his understanding of who and what humans are.