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Monday, November 26, 2007

Speechless


The Writers' Strike continues. With time on their hands they've apparently taken to making short films, like this one on Brightcove.

There are also selections on YouTube.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Free Rice?

That can't be a bad thing, right? A while back a friend sent me this link to a charity program called FreeRice. (Click on the icon to go to it.) Since I'm still out of it post Fantasy Matters and Thanksgiving I thought I'd post a link to it. (By which I mean to say I'm tapped out of other news and ruminations, etc..)

The idea is that it's a word game through which you can hone your vocabulary, while at the same time donating grains of rice to countries in need. Here's the Wikipedia entry, if that has any persuasive power.

Seems legit. Tell me if it's not, but for the time being I'll be working on my vocab...

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Fantasy Matters Conference (or, Proof of the Growing Geek in Me)

I'm just back from the Fantasy Matters Conference at the University of Minnesota. It was good stuff. I liked this event the minute I heard about it because its a rare academic conference devoted to Fantasy Literature. Lots of papers, lots of panels, lots of readings, lots of authors!

I got to spend time quite a bit of time with Patrick Rothfuss. We'd just hung out a couple weeks back at World Fantasy, but it was nice to actually sit down and get to know each other. He's absolutely a great guy, an ambitious writer and really smart (and funny) in talking about literature. His debut, The Name of the Wind, has been kicking ass all year, but it hasn't gone to his head yet - and I don't think it will. He's taking his sophomore effort seriously, and I've no doubt he's going to be a fantasy star for a long time to come.

It was terrific to meet Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu. Her debut, Zahrah the Windseeker, was well-received, and her second novel, The Shadow Speaker, looks great too. (She's got blurbs on the new book from Tananarive Due, Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula K LeGuin!) And Drew Bowling (the absurdly young guy in the picture with Neil Gaiman below) was a ball of energy and enthusiasm. This kid was born when I was a junior in high school, and already his first book is out to strong reviews, and he's working on the next two of his trilogy as he works through college. He's got strong opinions on dragons. Jim C Hines was great to hang out with. He writes about Goblins and Princesses, and from what I heard his writing is sharp and witty. So that was all good fun. It was nice to meet Caitlin Kittredge and Bryan Thao Worra also.

One of the highlights, though, was meeting Neil Gaiman. I'd heard tales of the rock star effect Neil has on people. I knew he was suppose to have the biggest fan base in fantasy, but I hadn't thought much about it ahead of time. I'd been casual speaking with lots of famous authors just a couple week’s back, so why should Neil be any different?

I don't know. I really don't, but he is. When I first saw him, instead of running over with my book in hand I found myself lurking behind columns, strolling by nonchalantly, circling. I had a sudden fear of opening my mouth. What stupidity would jump out if I did?

I might not mention this reaction to anybody if it hadn't been so universally shared by all the other authors. Nnedi looked like she was going to faint after speaking to him. Drew, after debating buying a copy of American Gods, decided to buy three. Patrick was shocked and a bit unnerved to hear that Neil was actually waiting to meet him. When I did speak to him I was fairly close-mouthed, just covering the basics, getting the signatures, choosing to listen instead of talk much.

Perhaps part of the whole strangeness of his effect on people is that he's so terribly nice. He's also funny, yes. His intelligence is clear. He manages to mention everything from his friendships with all sorts of famous people to his various movie projects without the slightest pretension. But at the end of it all is just the fact that he seems an attentive, generous, nice person. He took a picture with anyone that asked. And was as courteous to the last person at the end of his massive signing line as he was to the first person. So not only is he a superstar in the comic world and a first rate novelist and a great short story writer and a wonderful children’s author and a scriptwriter and film producer and husband and father... he's also a model of how to contain all these gifts with class. I took notes.

Which leads me to conclude that - in addition to getting on with my work as an author - I want a black leather jacket for Christmas. Or something else to build my "signature" look... Suggestions?...

Oh, and, yes... I did manage to do my duty in self-promoting terms. Neil walked out of there with a signed copy of Acacia in hand. Hee hee.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Shame...

I've sat on this post for a little while, but I'll put it out there now. Awhile back I got a rather nasty response to my post on Meeting Hannibal. This was actually my first blog post ever, but I guess people still come across it. The response reminded me a lot of a few "reviews" I've received for the book on Amazon. I use those quotation marks because I question whether some of these "reviewers" ever read my book before forming their negative opinions of it. I don't like to respond to such reviews, but when somebody comes to me and makes the comments, I do feel free to dialog with them. So, let me give you an example of the type of thing I mean and the way I respond to it (when I get the chance).

So, here's what Mario said, unedited in any way...

Sir,

As an historian I am amazed at your irresponsibility in portraying this subject that you bill as a "European and African struggle". Firstly, it was a clash between two of the greatest powers of antiquity, driven by the usual motive, greed! Secondly, Hannibal was not black; he was a Carthaginian, therefore a Phoenician, therefore a Semite. There is ample documentation available that attests to this, up to and including DNA evidence that clearly links the Carthaginians to the modern inhabitants of present day Lebanon.


I for one do not doubt that Hannibal very likely had African troops in his army, but all historical accounts that I can personally think of are quite clear in describing his army as polyglot and largely mercenary in nature; it is a testament to Hannibal's genius as a military leader that he was able to turn so many different nationalities into an effective fighting force. It is in this respect that your depiction is largely off the mark.

Nonetheless, my biggest problem with your book is that you insist in portraying the Punic Wars as a racial struggle, and for that you should be ashamed of yourself. Whatever foibles the ancient Romans may have had, race based bigotry was not one of them. One of the biggest reasons why they were as successful as they were was because, generally speaking, when they did conquer a territory, they respected local customs and placed the locals in charge.

If your objective is to re-write history to further your own political agenda, I will personally thank you to avoid historical subject in the future.

Oh, yikes, scathing, huh? The shame. I should just hang my head and walk meekly into obscurity, having been unmasked... And I would if what Mario said was true. But it's not, neither in terms of the things he claims I included in the book or in terms of the things he thinks I overlooked.

I appreciated that he came to me personally, because it opened the door for me to respond. This is what I posted...

Mario,

Thanks for writing. I'm inclined to believe that your response here is based more on what you might think I've written in the book than what is actually in the book. I say that because you seem to think that I've asserted things in the book that I haven't. You seem to think that I disagree with you on things that I don't. Perhaps, also, some of the terminology I use troubles you. Let me clarify a few things.

When I say European and African I don't necessarily define African as black. I use the term more broadly, simply referring to the fact that Carthage was based in North Africa and had considerable support from other North African powers. I surely know that Carthage had Phoenician roots (and that's mentioned plenty in the book), but there is also a clear history of intermarriage (often political) with North African tribes. None of this converts Carthage to black African, but I do believe it mixed into their culture elements that complicated Carthage. After all, when Scipio conquered Carthage his honorific title was Africanus, conquerer of Africa. The ancients were okay with using this terminology. So am I.

You also seem to think that I make some strong case for Hannibal being black. I don't, though. I make a case, as mentioned above, that there was an Africanness in Carthagian culture, but I don't seek for that to replace the Phoenician or Semitic influences. I include them all. My Hannibal is brown skinned, but so are many, many people still living in the region. "Brown" is a wide category.

My book is all about how Hannibal managed his polyglot international and multi-ethnic army. It's about the issues he had dealing with his North African troops, and even more about the difficulties he had securing allies (and mercenaries) among the Iberians, Celts, Gauls and Latins once he's in Italy. I give a lot of detail to all of this. So I'm in complete agreement with your comment that it is "a testament to Hannibal's genius as a military leader that he was able to turn so many different nationalities into an effective fighting force". Absolutely. That's what my novel is about. When you follow it with "It is in this respect that your depiction is largely off the mark" I start to suspect that you haven't read my book at all. If you had you simply would not say that.

I continue to wonder when you write "my biggest problem with your book is that you insist in portraying the Punic Wars as a racial struggle, and for that you should be ashamed of yourself." If I HAD done that I would be ashamed of myself. I'd also be a bit confused, because all of my work (all of my work, sir!) is about looking at the complexities beyond our simplification of racial struggles.

Pride of Carthage is very much a novel about greed, pride, about defending your nation, about the toll of war and the damage it does to both sides. It's about ambition and large personalities and the callousness of fate. It is NOT about a racial struggle. No where in my book does Hannibal hate anybody for their race. He hates them for their nationality, you bet, but not because he has some modern conception of our racial biases. Also, no where in my book do any of the European powers look down on North African peoples for their race. This simply was NOT a dynamic in the book.

Mario, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to you. Next time, though, read the book that you're attacking first. I'm happy to say that a lot of people have. Including a lot of Italians. The Italian language edition of the book did very well in hardback, enough so that my publisher negotiated a nice contract to publish a mass-market paperback version as well.

At the moment I'm engaged in other projects, but it's quite possible I will return to historical subjects in the future. It's been rewarding for me so far, with three award-winning historical novels published in eight languages...

As for my "agenda"... I won't encourage you to read my work. Don't worry about it. That's fine. If you do read it, though, I believe you'll find it's pretty hard to put your finger on what my agenda is. In fact, I have considerably less of an "agenda" than most people. Strangely, I think that befuddles people with agendas somewhat...

Best,

David.

So that's what I said. I wasn't at all sure if I'd get any response. I didn't have to wait long. Mario came back later that day. This is what he said...

David,

I will take the time to read your novel, thoroughly, and I appreciate you taking the time to clear up some points. Having grown up in Italy, and being a product of their school system, albeit an older product, I must confess that I never had much love for Hannibal or Carthage, when I was growing up they were the enemy. Interestingly Italy and Tunisia actually signed a peace treaty formally ending the Punic Wars only about ten years ago as I recall.

I still get the impression however that you are looking at the subject a bit too much from a modern point of view. What the Romans did to Carthage and the Carthaginians may be horrific by our standards, but not terribly unusual in antiquity. The ancient Assyrians were by and far a far more blood thirsty lot than the Romans were, just witness their bas-reliefs depicting impaled prisoners on display in front of cities under siege, not to mention one of Genghis Khan's favorite hobbies was building pyramids with severed heads.

The one comment that I found particularly troubling on your web site was that the Punic Wars were a "struggle between European and African" civilizations; troubling because as you may be aware of from some of the blogs discussing the possible production of a Hannibal movie, a number of extremists from both sides of the color line are rearing their ugly heads.

I frankly have to say that comment leaves a great deal to be desired; a more correct and less inflammatory description of those horrible wars would have called them a gargantuan struggle between the two pre-eminent Mediterranean powers of the time, as both countries were along the Mediterranean coast.

With all of that being said, I must apologize to you for letting my hot Sicilian temper get the best of me, and not considering some of my comments a bit more carefully myself; as I was taught by the Ursuline nuns in my childhood, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Best regards,

Mario

Right. Okay. Well... When I showed my wife that she responded with disgust. How, she essentially asked, could anyone have the gall to attack you when they admit they haven't read the book (or read it "thoroughly")? How irresponsible! How annoying! How idiotic!

I don't disagree with any of that, but I'm a pretty easy going guy. I'm happy for that significant raising of the civility of the tone, and this is how I responded.

Mario,

Well, thanks for that. It's great, actually, that with just a little bit of dialog we can get a lot closer to understanding each other. Ideally, I'd hope that people taking me to task for things would do so after having read what they're taking me to task for, but moreover I appreciate the tone of your response and your willingness to give the book a shot. Thank you for that.

As for my looking at the conflict from too modern a perspective... Well, that's hard not to do. I am living now, and I am writing for readers living now, and those readers are sifting through the material from a modern perspective. I surely try to present things in context, but that's only ever going to be an attempt. I'll never get it exactly right. Nobody else will either.

I know the ancient world was a bloody place. My book never suggests otherwise, or gives any one side a higher measure of barbarity. All the salient plot points (at least in terms of the events of the war) I gathered from the ancient sources. Within that, there are plenty of instances of Roman treachery (as in instances when they violated their own conceptions of honor). There are plenty of instances of Carthaginian cruelty as well, and often Hannibal's success springs from his doing things that the Romans simply would not have considered accepted battle tactics. It's all in the book.

I don't imagine you'll love every aspect of it. At times you may disagree wholeheartedly with me. At other times you may just be skeptical. At others you may roll your eyes. But I think most of the time you'll find a good deal of balanced detail in the book. I've no doubt, having read your response to my response, that you will find things of worth in the book.

As for that line about the Punic Wars being a "struggle between European and African powers..." You make a good point. When I wrote that I defined both those categories in ways both more liberal and more specific than I imagine most readers will take them. By that I mean that statement doesn't equal the contemporary racial frictions that are part of our more recent history. I think people that read the book understand that, but the statement has to work for people that have not read the book also. With that in mind I think a revision is in order.

How about if I use some of your words and some of mine...

"a titanic clash of the two pre-eminent Mediterranean powers of the time".

That sounds good to me. I'll edit the original post.

I do think there are ways that the war and its results were shaped by (and then further shaped) the fates of European and African cultures, but I admit that's a much more subtle and complicated matter than our modern rhetoric acknowledges. It can't be explained in a sentence, that's for sure.

Oh, and I agree that the "debates" around whom should be cast in a Hannibal movie often show people at their worst. Very little of the strident arguments people have are really based on those distant historical times. Most of it is about our contemporary hangups, and it can get pretty ugly to listen to. In most cases, I find arguments on both sides based on limited and selective information - so limited and selective, in fact, that it hardly counts as information.

For my part, I've never offered a casting choice, except to say I'd hope they would find an actor that really had the gravitas to embody such a complicated character. Actually, I've mentioned the Japanese actor Ken Watanabe (from The Last Samurai) - not because I think he should be cast, but because he's the TYPE of actor they should be looking for, one that can contain the intelligence and cruelty, vision and perseverance and suffering of a figure like Hannibal. It's an amazing conflict that could merit an amazing film. I doubt we're going to get one, though.

Anyway, Mario, I do appreciate having this back and forth with you. It's easy to hot under the collar and shout at each other. It's a lot more substantive to talk things through a bit. Glad we got to do that.

Best,

David.

ps - Do you still read Italian? There is that Italian version of the book (Annibale), published by Piemme, if you're interested... The paperback version, by the way, went out with a first printing of 45,000. Which, ironically, is the largest first printing I've had anywhere...

I didn't get a response from this post, but that's alright. What do you think? Am I too nice? Too amenable? Sometimes I feel that way, but it's true to my nature. (My wife, on the other hand... She's got a temper. Man, you should have heard the way she tore into the gardeners the other day for blowing dust on the laundry...)

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Why We Fight


Hi ya. So you all know about the Writers Guild strike, I'm sure. I have to admit I have some vested interest in seeing this thing get sorted out soon. There are people from this guild that would quite like to be going to work on bringing some of my fiction to film, but at the moment that's on hold. Bummer!

I don't know what you all think of this, although I'm inclined to believe you likely support the idea that writers should get paid fairly for their work - even if you deem it to be of questionable quality. If you're interested, here's a link to a YouTube video that a colleague alerted me to. It's a sort of whimsical Guild explanation for the strike.

Also, you could check out this petition and voice your support, if you do, indeed, support them.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Maya Reviews

My daughter, Maya (8yrs), just wrote her first book review for Amazon.co.uk. The book was Cosmo and the Magic Sneeze, by Gwyneth Rees. I think she put it on the UK site because her mother picked up the book last time she was visiting family in Shetland. Anyway, Maya liked the book, and now she's an amateur reviewer...

The text is HERE.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

The Book Swede Quote of the Week

I'm about a week behind in announcing this. World Fantasy sort of took over, and then I came home to a host of emails and dropped right into my teaching duties. But anyway...

A little while back Chris, The Book Swede, asked me to help him start off a new series he's going to have on his blog. Each week he'll have an author pick a quote that means something to them and then write a bit about it. I was glad to do so, and after considering some Native American wisdom I looked to Ray Bradbury for the quote..

You can check it out here, if you're interested.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Ah, that ole' genre divide again...

I just wanted to mention two interesting posts about the genre divide debate. In some ways I have lots of things to say about this. It involves me in a variety of ways. But these guys do quite a good job bringing some light to the subject. I'll just point you toward them...

First up is Jeff Vandermeer writing in Clarkesworld Magazine.

Larry at OF Blog of the Fallen also addressed the topic, referencing Jeff's post.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2007!

PW recently announced its picks for the best books of the year. I know, the year's not over yet. But they will have read and considered books right up until the end of the year at this point. (Consider that their reviews run two or three months before a book actually publishes.) Still, a bit early, but maybe they want to set the tone a bit.

If so, no complaints from me - Acacia made the list! They report that they reviewed six thousand books this year and narrowed that done to just 150 for the list. Nice to have made the cut. I'd say that this means something to me, sure. I'm happy. But of course there were plenty of wonderful books that did not make this list. That's just the nature of lists, though. I'm glad to be here this time.

Here's what it looked like in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror category...

Inferno, edited by Ellen Datlow (Tor)
Acacia, by ME!
Ilario: The Lion's Eye, by Mary Gentle
In War Times, by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Bright of the Sky, by Kay Kenyon
The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
The Winds of Marble Arch, by Connie Willis

You can see the full list here.

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World Fantasy Hangover

Okay, so I went all the way to Saratoga Springs for the World Fantasy Conference. I talked, drank, talked, drank, and talked some more with a stunning array of writers, editors, artists and many that aspire to become the same. I took my camera with me, but (here’s the confession part) it never got out of my hotel room. I don’t know, my mind was always on something else at the time. I have seen one photo of me on Paul Witcover’s blog, though. It’s a snap of James Patrick Kelly, a guy called Flat Stephen and me. Jim Kelly is a great guy; Flat Stephen, however, well, he took some getting used to. (Although his eventual endorsement of "Acacia" wine sort of won me over. Photo evidence on Paul's blog.)

Anyway, all that’s a way of saying I won’t be offering any pictures here just now. And, honestly, coming off the thing I’m so drained it’s hard to know where to begin with writing about it. I'll say a little bit, though…

First off, I was struck immediately by how friendly and accessible everyone was. This may be old news to Con-goers, but coming from a literary side of things I’m used to writers of any stature placing some boundaries between themselves and their fans (including other writers). Not so in this case. I had an absolutely great time talking George RR Martin, for example. I’m pleased to say he knew of my book and said he’d heard good things about it, and we sat together during the signing portion of the evening. I’ve seen it mentioned on a couple of blogs that I had the unenviable task of sitting next to GRRM. I understand the sentiment. Who would possibly want to embarrass themselves by sitting line-less beside the most popular author in a very big room? Well, me, actually. I jumped at the chance. I knew it wouldn’t change the length of my line, but it did provide me the rare opportunity of chatting with someone I admire for about two hours. That was worth it.

Had a great time with Patrick Rothfuss. He’s a very good guy, lots of fun, solid sense of humor and wonderful humility with his very successful debut. I’m glad to say I’ll be hanging out with him (and Neil Gaiman!) in a couple of weeks at the Fantasy Matters Conference in Minnesota.

Enjoyed talking with Steven Erickson and Ian Cameron Esslemont (also of Malazan), Paul Park, Guy Gavriel Kay, John Kessels, just to name a few. I accosted Garth Nix outside the Orbit party. It was as geeky a moment as any for me considering that I really enjoyed The Abhorsen Trilogy, and I admire the trajectory of his career (selling millions now).

I'm leaving out a lot of people, but it's hard not to. It was such a full-on interactive experience. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention meeting the Angry Black Woman. For someone who is supposed to be so angry, she also manages to be great fun, smiles and wit and humor - and she knows everyone! Also, wouldn't have been the same without the myriad short conversations I had with Lou Anders of Pyr. He was the coolest guy in the room on every occasion I observed. John Picacio was kind enough to introduce me to a blur of folks. Much appreciated.

There were, of course, lots of interesting panels. I'm tempted to mention a low point, though, in the panel roster. I won't mention the panel specifically, especially because I missed the very beginning and the very end, so maybe there was something on either end to put it into context. The problem with this panel was that the moderator simply would not let the panel members really talk. He had an agenda that was at odds with the panelists, clearly. He seemed a bit like a Fox News host. He barely let any of the panelists speak before he'd be shaking his head and grabbing the conversation back. His agenda, by the way, was well-meaning. I think he likely thought he was being inclusive and broadly minded. Problem is, I think, his agenda was based on a limited understanding of the topic at hand. The panelists could have (and wanted to) helped to round out his awareness and provide him food for thought, but he never let go of the reins enough to let that happen - for himself or for the audience. Unfortunate. Happily, though, this was one of few sour notes.

On the more positive side, lots of people had heard of Acacia. Most of them hadn’t read it, but when they saw my name tag many people said, “Oh, Acacia, I’ve heard good things about that!” I’m pleased. And we’ll build on it!

I'll close just by congratulating those that did walk away with award recognition. If you're interested in the full list you can see it here at the Locus site.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Audio Acacia Contest Winner!

I'm about to head off for World Fantasy, but before I did I knew we had to have the big, official drawing for the Acacia Audiobook contest. So, documented below is the process, culminating in the winner!

Just to make sure all parties know of the procedures used, we've documented the proceedings. Thankfully, unofficial mediators - my kids - oversaw the drawing. First, we printed out the contestants names and put them on separate tickets.

Next, my son, Sage, placed the tickets into a bag...











And he shook them...
...vigorously... while making goofy faces.My daughter Maya stepped in to draw the lucky winner...















And that turned out to be...
So there you have it. Dave Bower, it's your lucky day! Kind of ironic, really, as Dave was the first person to sign up on the Forum. Well done. I'll be in touch.

Thanks to all the folks that participated. And thanks for joining the Forum to do so. Please feel free to come back to it and hang out anytime. I'm always happy to field questions there personally. Perhaps, in a little while I'll do another one of these giveaways, with some other random item...

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