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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Oscar Wao

Just finished The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Really enjoyed it. Mr. Diaz doesn't need me to recommend him, of course. He's done very nicely for himself. This one walked away with the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was on tons of other top lists as well. (I wouldn't be surprised if we see his name linked to another award also...) I was a fan of his earlier collection of short stories, Drown. I've actually taught from it quite a bit, with an emphasis on his use of voice.

There's plenty of voice at play in Oscar Wao as well. Diaz's narrator is irreverent, profane, funny, over-sexed, learned, confessional, both a character in the book and overtly the writer of it. Diaz bends a lot of narrative rules here, but it works.

Partially, it works because he never looses sight of his characters and the power of their stories. Oscar Wao - fat, geeky, sci-fi/fantasy loving weirdo virgin at the center of this - is really just one character of importance. Diaz layers in the family history - particularly of the women - in a way that adds depth and complexity and unfolding surprises throughout.

It also works because of the historical/cultural setting that is so much a part of what this novel is about. What do you know about the Dominican Republic? Not much, huh? Do you know your fukú? Heard about President Rafael Leónidas Trujillo? Maybe a little? Well, reading this book provides a quick, subversive jaunt through that crazy time in a nation not really so far away from the Ole USA - a history we influenced in various unsavory ways.

And it works because... well, did I mention sci-fi and fantasy? Big part of this book. It often takes the form of asides that compare and contrast key moments with characters from genre classics like The Lord of the Rings and role playing games like and Dungeons and Dragons and Gamma World. It's clear the Diaz knows his stuff, and I'm happy to see what must have been early influences on him emerge in his writing. Will he ever really take the plunge and write sci-fi/fantasy - as opposed to just referencing sci-fi/fantasy? My guess is that's unlikely. A bit risky, you know...

Here's what the NY Times had to say.

And the Washington Post.

Here's a Bookslut interview with the author.

I came across this YouTube video also. It's long, but if you want to hear the guy talk a bit take a listen...

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Thanks for Those Thoughts

To folks that responded to my Saturday evening question, thank you. Thoughts and opinions noted and filed away, now I'll go off to ruminate. More later...

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

AudioFile Earphones Award

I just learned that the Audio version of Acacia has received a little love from Audiofile Magazine, in the shape of an Earphones Award. This isn't really an award for me (although I'm happy to have a little slice of it). It's one that goes to Dick Hill, the Golden Voiced narrator that brought it to life. Here's the snibbet I received on it:

ACACIA: Book One: The War With the Mein
David Anthony Durham

Read by Dick Hill


Written by noted historical fiction author David Anthony Durham (PRIDE OF CARTHAGE), this epic fantasy is rich with cultural detail. Against the backdrop of an imaginary world, the author explores the things that divide humanity, like race, language, culture, and religion. The story contains assassins and kings and children who grow up trying to make sense of it all. Dick Hill turns in a magnificent performance of this long novel, creating subtle yet distinct differences in the dialects of different peoples. The fluidity with which he is able to switch between these dialects is striking, and a perfectly timed sigh or pause further heightens the believability of the characters. S.D.D. ••• © AudioFile 2008


Congratulations Mr. Hill! (He's heard those words many time, of course, and he'll hear them many more, I'm sure.) If anyone out there wants to have a listen, think about requesting it from your library. Many of them will have it, but also many of them will buy it if you ask...

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bodyguards Wanted

I just came across this press release from Pyr regarding the two Hugo and two Campbell Award nominations they scored. (Congratulations, by the way. Well done.) Sounds like a good bunch of folks over there... Or so I thought until Joe Abercrombie let slip that:

"My Uruk Hai hit squad are already on their way to Wisconsin to 'dramatically reduce' the chance of a Scott Lynch victory. They may well stop by David Anthony Durham's house on the way back..."

And I thought this was a refined, gentile company I was entering! Now I'm thinking I might need bodyguards. From my understanding of these things Uruk Hai don't come cheap these days, and my budget doesn't really allow for that sort of expenditure, so I'm looking for volunteers. Anybody willing to defend me from the assassins? (Oh, geeze "Assassin" is the second word in Acacia. That was silly of me to put that juju out there...)

On another note, I liked Joe Sherry's Campbell piece at Adventures in Reading. (He was kind to me.)

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Friday, March 21, 2008

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Writer!

This year's list of finalists is out, and it includes me! Here's the gang...

Joe Abercrombie (2nd year of eligibility)
Jon Armstrong (1st year of eligibility)
David Anthony Durham (1st year of eligibility)
David Louis Edelman (2nd year of eligibility)
Mary Robinette Kowal (2nd year of eligibility)
Scott Lynch (2nd year of eligibility)

Just so you know, the Campbell is an award for the best new writer whose first work of science fiction or fantasy appeared during 2006 or 2007 in a professional publication. It's sponsored by Dell Magazines, but sort of managed and voted on along with the Hugo Awards. It's named after a prominent science fiction writer and editor of Astounding Science Fiction. He was a major figure in the "Golden Age" of Science Fiction, and he was a quirky character that seems to have riled some people with his opinions on several things. You can check his Wiki page for more information.

For my part, I'm thrilled by the nomination. I think it's quite a testament to the award and to science fiction readers that it's there to welcome such a broad range of writers into the community. (Click here for past winners.) I've got nothing but love for my fellow nominees - so check them out too, if you haven't already. Honestly. Winning would be great, but the nomination is reward enough...

Do you know what this means to me? It wasn't easy to shift from a pretty solid career as an historical novelist to try to break into another genre, seeking a largely new readership. It was risky - my agent and editors made that clear - and I didn't at all assume that I could just breeze in. So far, though, the reception has been terrific. And this award nomination makes me feel welcomed, part of the gang, and even invited to stay for a while. I love that. And, thank you, I will stay for a while. Maybe a long while.

The award winners will be announced at Denvention 3 this summer. Will I be there? You bet.

Oh, and I should mention that the entire Hugo Ballot has also been announced. Check it out here.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Reading Deutsch

The German copies of Acacia: The War with the Mein just arrived in the mail! I'm very pleased, and a bit aghast at how big the thing is in German. It's like Moby Dick sized... I hadn't quite expected that sort of heft. But it's lovely. The cover image works wonderfully, and it has nice inside flaps, even though it's a trade paperback. Even has the map of the Known World inside. That's quite cool because, of course, everything has been translated in to German. The League Platforms become Schwimmende Plattformen Der Gilde. The Gray Slopes are Die Grauen Hauge. Palishdock is Weisshafen, and Methalian Rim is Methalischer Rand. I like this. Makes it feel like the book has grown up, left home to travel and returned with a foreign fiancee. One wonders where the children will call home?...

My son, Sage, snatched the book up and promptly began reading. He's big into reading now, especially since he's begun Harry Potter. (Word by word, baby. It's no picnic, but he's getting it done.) He took a break from that and really seemed to get into Acacia Macht und Verrat. We reminded him that it was in German, but he didn't seem put off by that. He's homeschooled, you know, and not easily daunted by things like language barriers...

Having said that, much later in his reading, he did admit: "Man, this is hard to read."

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Pen/Faulkner Awards Announced

This is just a quicky post to mention that the Pen/Faulkner Awards have been announced. I keep an eye on all the literary awards, but P/F is of particular interest to me because I was judge a few years back. I think they consistently come up with pretty good lists, almost always more diverse than some other awards in the same category.

Anyway, Kate Christensen won for her novel, The Great Man, which was published by my publisher, Doubleday. The Finalists are Annie Dillard, The Maytree, David Leavitt, The Indian Clerk, T.M. McNally, The Gateway: Stories and Ron Rash, Chemistry and Other Stories.

If you're interested you can find out more about them at the Pen/Faulkner Website. I might need to do that myself, since I haven't read any of these books. I guess that last year my reading interests were... well, in other universes.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pride of Carthage, Russian Style

What's that cover to the left, you ask? Believe it or not, it's the Russian edition of Pride of Carthage! I've just "discovered" it, after a good deal of searching.

I know, why do I need to discover it or search for it? I'm the author, right? I should be getting care-packages directly from Moscow, yes? It doesn't really go that way, though.

My Russian publiser, Eksmo, bought the book years ago, but I never really knew what happened with it. Doubleday got paid. They paid a bit less to ICM. ICM paid bit less to me. (THAT'S the way it goes.) And that's about it. Every now and then I'd do a Google search, but I could never find a sign of it. Until now...

The crazy thing is that I can barely tell it's mine. Seems like my name, in Russian, is Дэвид Энтони Дарем. And Pride of Carthage is Гордость Карфагена. Now, can you see why I had trouble tracking it down? (Oh, that and the fact that I'd been spelling their name wrong for the last two years...)

Here's a site that has it.

And here's another one.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Terror

So here's a heartfelt, but qualified recommendation. I'll get to the heartfelt part later, but first the qualifications...

There are many reasons to read Dan Simmons' The Terror. Many. But don't - please, just don't - read it if you can't deal with multiple point of view characters. Don't read it if you have a problem with long books. Don't read it if you think historical novels have to follow some literal version of the truth. Don't read it if your such a buff on Sir John Franklin's last expedition that you're only looking to find fault in a novelist's version. And don't read it if you can't stomach scurvy, murder, amputations, cannibalism, and generally watching white guys flail...

And it's not that I look down on you if those things don't work for you in fiction. Honestly, I don't for a minute think that my wife would like this book. She gets my utmost respect, but the descriptions of scurvy alone would do her in. So, I'm just saying, if this book ain't for you it ain't for you...

Okay. If you're still here... The Terror is an amazing book. As a writer of historical fiction, I know exactly how complex and difficult it is to render historical material credibly. Simmons does that. Early on I forget that I'm reading an American author at all. His predominantly British characters are completely credible, rendered in a variety of formats, intimate third person, journal entries, omniscient and even fairly mystical moments.

This is, ostensibly, the tale of Franklin's 1840s expedition and its doomed search for the Northwest Passage. But Simmons doesn't let the sparsity of real historical detail - the fact that the expedition's two ships disappeared with very few signs of what might have happened to the crew - get in the way of his imagined history. Nor does he limit it to straight historical fiction.

Right from the start we are told of a "thing on the ice" that is tormenting the trapped ships. It's hard to know what it is exactly, but the wondering and speculating is part of what makes the novel so engaging.

No doubt, it is a long haul at 784 pages, but I'm not one to throw stones at large books. For me, this novel is a remarkable bit of detailed, nuanced historical fiction. It's also a work of Gothic horror. I'd argue that it's ultimately more mystical than horrific, but in order for that to make any sense you'd have to read it to the end. By the way, I rather liked the end. I won't say a thing about it, other than to note that I, for one, did not feel let down by how it all played out.

Okay, enough from me. I liked the book. If you want some other opinions there are many out there, including these...

Here's the New York Times Review.

Here's the Washington Post Review.

Here's the Agony Column Review.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

I Ribelli Mondo Oscuro

You know I'm a sucker for new covers. Love gettin em. Got one today. My Italian publisher, Piemme, has sent me what they've come up with for the first volume of Acacia. I do mean first, since they've actually broken the book in half. They'll be doing the first Acacia: The War with the Mein in two parts, ending this one at page 307 in the English hardback version. (It'll be longer than that in Italian, though.)

The title translates as The Dark World Rebels. I don't entirely get that, but it's not my language or my country, so I defer. I won't defer on the abbreviation of my name, however, but that can be fixed...

Anyway, what do you think?

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Drew Asked For It...

After my discussion about agents and the trials and tribulations of writing two unpublished novels, a few folks (Drew first) expressed interest in taking a look at my unpublished work. I figured what the hell. Take a look if you want. Aspiring writers may find some comfort in comparing their work with mine. Although, these are books that didn't get published, so perhaps comfort is not quite what these will provide...

Anyway, I've included portions of the first chapters of both books here. If you click on them they'll open as Pdf Files. Remember, now, that these were essentially my MFA novels, literary coming of age type stories that are neither fantasy or historical. That said, I'll otherwise let them speak for themselves...

Here's an excerpt from my first novel: Cicada

and

another from my second novel: AUGUST FURY.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Undiluted Scum?

I'm reading a book just now. I like it. It's by an author I've been interested in for awhile, but never read before. I'm sure I'll post something about this book (as it combines two fields that I love) in the near future, but I'm not done with it yet.

I bring it up because I've just had a reader experience with it. By that I mean I was emotionally and viscerally engaged as a reader should be, but in a way that I'm often not as a writer. Often I'm watching what and how other writers do what they do, which can be quite different than reading for the pure entertained experience of a reader. Anyway, yesterday some developments in this book got me, like hooked me, pulled my emotional guts out, pissed me off, made me want to flip back a few pages and rewrite. NOT because I didn't think what happened was perfect for the story at hand, but because I just wished it wasn't so. (Alright, I know, some people may have had the same experience with my books. A bit of my own medicine, I guess...)

But what actually interested me was that these unfortunate events unfolded because of a slimy bastard of a character, a weasel, a reprobate, a bit of scum that manages to inflict damage on a loved character while also stupidly putting many more in danger. Ach! But, but... it makes sense. Something like this happening was in the making for several hundred pages...

So, my thing is this. I don't know that in Acacia I had anybody that was evil for purely selfish, puerile or base reasons. Did I? Hanish can arrange your writhing demise. Maeander is a deadly bastard. The Numrek kick ass. Rialus might have done so, if he had the guts. The backstabbing and politically jockeying is considerable... but everyone has an objective - grievance - history - motivating factor that explains the things they do. They may be murderous, but they mostly do it for the betterment of someone other than themselves. Right?

This makes me wonder if I've had enough scumbags in play? Don't you love to hate a character? In a way I think I have more scumbags in my earlier novels than were at play in Acacia: The War with the Mein: Marshal and Caleb in Gabriel's Story, Humboldt in Walk Through Darkness, Monomachus in Pride of Carthage. (I've likely missed some...)

Maybe The Other Lands needs more undiluted scum. What do you think?

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