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Friday, October 30, 2009

The Type Of Things That Keep Me Teaching...

I was supposed to be cutting down on the teaching. More time spent writing, getting Book 3 done, Jedi-Knight training, stuff like that. Leaving the tenure track has helped that a bit, but then again... I've continued to teach at the Stonecoast MFA Program. (What can I say? They let me teach pop fiction!) And then I got this offer to teach a fiction writing course at Hampshire College, topic of my choice. I came up with a focus on reading and writing from other cultural/ethnic perspectives. Kinda cool, but a one off, right?

Well… that would be until last week. The folks at Hampshire asked if I would like another course for the spring. Hmm. Topic of my own choosing? Hmmm...

I proposed something. They said sure. I said... "Ah... Okay, then." What else can you say when you ask for something and get an affirmative? Here's the description I came up with:

Speculative Fiction
Writing the Fantastic: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror

Robert A. Heinlein is often credited for coining the term "Speculative Fiction". The term has been redefined and debated ever since, but I'd argue it defines literary works that prominently feature fantastic elements. This course will explore that concept through the reading and writing of quality genre fiction. We'll read speculative works in a variety of sub-genres. Students will respond to the texts by writing short fictional pieces. Later, each student will focus on a longer story in the genre of their choosing. Authors may include: Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Elizabeth Bear, Octavia Butler, Michael Chabon, Ted Chiang, Neal Gaiman, Joe Hill, Jay Lake, Ursula K LeGuin, Kelly Link, James Patrick Kelly, Mary Robinette Kowal, Stephen King, George RR Martin, Cherie Priest, Dan Simmons, SM Stirling, David Niall Wilson.

Now, I came up with that list pretty darn quick, since once they said yes they wanted the course description yesterday. It's by no means what I'll actually use. Mostly, I recalled the stories/authors that I'd been able to slip into courses over the last few years - or wanted to slip in. It's all early days, though. I won't really know what I'll be using until a bit later. So... suggestions? Any stories/authors come to mind that would get your writing juices pumping?

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Interview: OF Blog Of The Fallen

The first part of a two part interview just went up at OF Blog of the Fallen. Larry asked great questions, substantive ones that range away from just talking about the book and get into lots of other stuff.

Check it out: HERE.

Also, his earlier review of The Other Lands is HERE.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Boston Reading

Hey, I'm doing a reading next month in Boston. It's a triple-header actually, arranged by Jeff VanderMeer and also featuring Paul Tremblay. If you happen to be in Boston on the night, here's the info...

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Thirteen

I know I should get back to publishing related posts, and I will soon. But considering the day I can't help post another Durham family related photo. We took this photo yesterday on a nice walk (Maya handling the camera.) That's me and Gudrun, of course. I post it today because this is our 13th wedding anniversary!

Feels like no time at all...

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Anybody Seen This Woman?


I'm just wondering because it's starting to seem like she's famous. The woman in question is, of course, my wife Gudrun. She's a knitwear designer and the talent behind the increasingly popular The Shetland Trader blog.

Things have been going well with her blog for a little while now, but recently her designs have really taken off, with people from all over the place buying her patterns and talking them up on the internet. Not only does she get mobbed at fiber-related conventions, but nowadays she's getting recognized... on the street in Northampton... in the checkout line at Whole Foods (which happened today)... in random places wherein people come up and say, "I just had to say how much I love your designs" or "Can I take a picture with you?"

I'm not sure that I can claim to be the celeb of the family anymore...

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nam Le

Herewith, another book recommendation. This one is in the literary fiction category, just in case you've got a hankering for some good short fiction...

The book is called The Boat and the author is Nam Le. I was lucky enough to meet Nam at BEA a couple years back. This was before his book came out. I enjoyed talking with him a bit late into an evening of fine food and free drink, but it was awhile before I got around to reading his collection. As is so often the case, I'm very glad I finally did!

So what do I like about his stories? Each and every one of them is an engaging character study, stories about people living their lives, but with enough happening in them that none of them feel like navel gazing. They're about things, and each story is a trip to a very different place in the world, featuring very different situations and characters.

And that, in a big way, is another thing I love about Nam's work. He's marvelously ambitious. He might - as is mentioned in the first seemingly autobiographical story in the collection - have cashed in on the "ethnic" thing. He's an Australian of Vietnamese origin, an interesting enough identity that he could have played that card effectively to liberally-minded literary readers. Instead, he does something very different. After that opening story about a character that is essentially him, he tells a tale of Colombian assassins, and then one about an aging and ill white artist, and then about a conflict and love story among Australian youths, and then about a Japanese girl during WWII, and then about an American woman caught up in politics and persecution in Iran...

See what I mean? He's all over the globe, and I'd argue he makes each jump with incredible style. At times his stories end with a bit of mystery to them, almost as if the subjects and themes he's working with are larger than he can fit on the page. Other stories - like the title story about Vietnamese refugees - he nails shut to devastating effect.

I got to hang out with him again last month at that Pen/Faulkner event. Good fun. He's working on a novel, and I, for one, am looking forward to it. And just so you know he's not without some interest in the genres... he's on the record as having written a lesbian vampire story! I haven't read it, and it's not in the book. Maybe one day, though...

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mind Meld

I just remembered that I forgot to link to a recent Mind Meld I took part in over at SF Signal! This one was about what "book first introduced you to fantasy". I'm in there with Brandon Sanderson and Pat Rothfuss and Kate Elliott and Ken Scholes and many more.

You can take a look HERE.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kindred

I'd read a bit of Kindred before, but recently I sat down with it again and read the whole thing. Very glad I did. It confirms yet again how marvelous I think Octavia Butler is/was.

I've said it before, but I think what I'm still most struck by is the feeling of empathy she seems to convey for all her characters. White or black, slave or free, noble or wicked or a complicated variation of both: no matter what I believe she grasps her characters humanity at it's core, and still manages to show them as living and breathing flawed individuals shaped by personal inclination and societal forces that make it impossible for those cores to remain unaltered.

(Just to warn you, I'm going to mention some plot details here.)

In this case, we have the story of a modern African-American woman, Dana, (who happens to be married to a white man) who gets mysteriously transported back in time to the American South in the early 1800's. She quickly learns that she's been brought back to save the life of a child that will eventually become her ancestor.

Complications? Well, there are many. For one, the ancestor is a white boy from a slave owning family. As a black woman the main character immediately has no rights that any white person needs to respect. It's a wonderful way to juxtapose modern perceptions with Antebellum realities. It doesn't matter how smart she is, how much history she knows, how well she can read: none of it is accepted at face value and all of it puts her in danger as much as it helps her.

I won't say too much more about the specific plot points, but I will aid this – that I love the way Butler's complicated characters defy the type of narrative progressions that we've come to expect in popular literature and film. Frankly, I can see this characteristic of her writing putting some people off. Does Dana's intelligence and insight and all the many things she offers change the perspective of her slave owning masters (and relatives)? Not by a long shot. Does her 20th Century smarts allow her to thrive? Not exactly.

And that's why I treasure Octavia Butler. She humbles me with the breadth of her intelligence and the clear-eye generosity with which she writes about human foibles. I wish she was around to write more, but at least I know I have many more titles of hers yet to read.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dusting of Snow

We woke up this morning to white stuff falling from the sky. Rather nice. Our first dusting of snow for the season. I took a short walk out to the lake, enjoying the quiet, the feeling of change in the air. Nice way to start the day.

This morning it's just me and the boy. Gudrun has taken Maya off to an art class, and Sage and I are hanging out at the library in Amherst. He's just tucked into Rick Riordan's The Sea of Monsters and seems immediately absorbed.

That reminds me to post a picture we took yesterday. I can't say he's quite as absorbed in this one, though he does seem to have his concentration on. It's a finished version of the UK edition of The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2).


Okay, gotta run. It's a few quick grocery stops for us, and then home to fire up the woodstove. And then... some time writing. All things considered, it's a day I'm enjoying very much.

Before I go, I offer a link to an article by Lyman Feero at The Feral Pages. It's about the old genre line thing, and - as Lyman mentioned in the comments on a recent post here - he mentions me! Oh, and since I'm linking to The Feral Pages, I should mention that another former student of mine (along with Lyman) has a story up there. Check out Patrick Shawn Bagley's "The Cove".

Maya Brushes Up On Her French

Just arrived, and Maya's already well into it...

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Audio TOL

I got some clarification about the status of the audio version of The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2). The disc version is, of course, available. (HERE, for example.) But it's the Audible.com version that people most often ask me about. I just learned from Tantor that they've sent the discs to them and they expect for the Audible version to be ready by the end of the month. Doesn't mean that will happen, but here's hoping.

I've also been a bit frustrated that neither the audio or the Kindle version show up on the main Amazon page along with the hardcover. Apparently, the titles were slightly different, and in Amazon's automated world it's not easy to get things like that fixed. But hopefully it will be eventually, and everything will be available on the same page!

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Monday, October 12, 2009

The Case Of The Three Butter Pats

I've been wondering about something that happened last weekend. Small thing. Definitely a small thing, but it stuck in my craw a bit..

We'd had friends over from Scotland for about two weeks. (That's not the part that stuck in my craw. That was good fun.) Last weekend, at the end of their stay, we drove over to Gloucester to spend a couple days by the sea. We went out for a big seafood dinner. All was going well. Meal was great. Our waiter was very professional, like a career service dude, very courteous. We ordered appetizers, three lobsters, two other main dishes, beer and wine. We were giving them good business, I'd say.

Toward the end, though, I got a bright idea. We were staying in a self-catering bungalow. We'd bought some stuff for breakfast, but we didn't have any butter. I thought, "Hey, they'll have a couple pats of butter to spare here at the restaurant, right?" So I explained the situation and asked the waiter if he bring us a few.

That's when things got strange. The waiter sort of got stiff, went a little awkward, didn't meet my eyes. He said, "I'll have to see what I can do about that." When he left I glanced around the table. Everyone agreed that something weird had just happened.

Meal continues. Got a little dessert. And as we're getting ready for the check the waiter asks how many pats of butter I wanted. I said, "Oh, three will do. Just to makes some eggs and toast tomorrow." He asks if that's really all I want. I say yes. Just three will do fine.

So now I'm thinking things aren't that weird after all. Musta just been me, right?

Well, when he brings out the bill he brings out a little sandwich box and says, kinda under his breath, "I put six in here cause I had to charge you a dollar."

I almost said, "What? A dollar? No, forget it, then. I didn't want to buy them. I just figured..." But the others at the table silenced me with mollifying words and gestures. I wasn't paying anyway, so I accepted it, grumpy and annoyed, but silent. When we left I opened the box and took the three pats I'd asked for, left the others. At the time this felt like a weighted gesture, heavy with import. Now I'm not so sure.

I am, however, still convinced that it would have been perfectly reasonable and easy for the guy to slide us three pats of butter without charge. More so because we'd been good customers, and that it would be the final icing on his earning a nice tip from us too. Am I wrong, though? Did I cross some line that nobody told me about? The don't ask for free butter line?

Please advise.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Nobel Laureate?

I was going to post a little self-absorbed piece about a dispute over three pats of butter today, but then I learned of Obama's Nobel Prize. Seems like a significantly bigger deal, enough so that I'll save my butter issues for later.

Wow. I'll have to think about this one a bit. You?

And aside: here a link to a short piece at Time.com. It's interesting because it features perspectives from two former Nobel Peace Prize winners, exactly the kind of folks that labored in relative obscurity for years before the Nobel brought them much-deserved world attention. And... they think it's great that Obama won. Read it HERE.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Dragon Page

Sorry to just be lobbing links to interviews and reviews at you these last couple of weeks, but this period will pass before long so I'd better make the best of it.

Here's another podcast! This time it's with the folks at The Dragon Page. These guys are fun, too. Not sure about the author in question, but still...

Check it out HERE.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Tidbits

Artist extraordinaire John Picacio has been nice enough to give The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) cover treatment a shout out at Missions Unknown! Take a look at the other choices that caught his HERE.

(By the way, the image here in one of John's, the cover of Subterranean's Muse of Fire, by Dan Simmons. Pretty cool, huh?)

Just got word that a new podcast interview I did recently with Jon Armstrong has gone up on his site, If You're Just Joining Us. It was a pleasure talking to him. I'd first done so a little over a year ago also, back when we were both up for the 2008 Campbell Award. (For the record, Jon did get more votes than me that time around. So the eventual win this year was definitely a come from behind deal.)

He's always fun to chat with. Oh, and you can listen and then tell me how I don't sound anything like you'd imagined... It's HERE.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Terres etranegres

I just realized that the French version of The Other Lands - Terres etrangeres - is officially on sale! Very happy about that. Remember the lovely time I had in France last spring? (I do.) Paris, Epinal, Reinnes... Ah, what a trip. Maybe they'll invite me back. Here's hoping.

Also, the good folks at Elbakin.net are doing a giveaway. I'm not sure what the rules are, but if you're hankering for the lovely French edition with artwork by Didier Graffet, please pop over and enter HERE.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Portuguese Acacia Books!

I've got a Portuguese deal for Acacia: The War with the Mein and The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2)!

The publisher is Saida de Emergencia. A quick glance at their website shows me that I'm there with authors like George RR Martin, Mervin Peake, Guy Gavriel Kay, Harry Turtledove, Robin Hobb, Dan Simmons and Tim Powers, just to name a few.

I had a different Portuguese publisher for Pride of Carthage, so this will be a new experience. Here's hoping it's a good one (and that it eventually leads to a visit to Portugal or Brazil - I'd love that!).

Very happy about this.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Two Tidbits

First, I'm happy to say that a long interview I did with Jeff VanderMeer has just gone up at the Omnivoracious Amazon Blog. Jeff asked great questions, as usual, and it was pleasure to chat with him. You can read it HERE.

Also, I got a "Debut Graduate" review over at Fantasy Debut! Tia was kind but very thorough with the first book, and I'm happy to say she gives another great review this time to The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2). She manages to avoid big spoilers (although she does give some specific plot details that you might not want if you to read if you prefer to read clean), but to also talk about the book in considerable depth. Oh, and she likes it! Actually, toward the end she writes, "This is now my favorite epic fantasy."

I'm all smiles. You can check it out HERE.

Tomorrow, news on a new foreign deal...

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