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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Ten Rules For Writing Fiction

I like this piece from the Guardian (which Mike Kimball pointed out to me). It starts with Elmore Leonard's tips, but then goes on with a grabbag of other authors, including Richard Ford, Margaret Atwood, Geoff Dyer, Neil Gaiman, PD James, Phillip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo, Zadie Smith, Jeanette Winterson and many others!

Take a look HERE.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Go To The Next Room

Random post, this one.

Okay, so you know I'm writing for George RR Martin's Wild Card series, right? A month or so ago, he responded to my three part Infamous Black Tongue story. Lots of edits, lots of things to change. My story has to jive with the work of like six other authors - and none of us have read the other author's work! Just George. Master of it all, he is. And good thing, too, because he's an awesome editor. Everything he asked for - either to fit with other stories, or just editorial in general - made sense to me. So I rewrote.

Thing is, as I approached revising the end of one of the climatic scenes, I realized I had to make a change that George hadn't mentioned. When IBT has beaten down a particular baddy, he punches him one last time. Seeing him go unconscious, he says, "Go the next room."

Go to the next room.

Made complete sense to me, but I doubt it would make sense to anybody else. Why'd I write that line? Well, let me take you back...

When I was a young, spritely, twenty something Outward Bound Instructor living and working in Baltimore I spent one summer doing a long course that was urban based. We worked in partnership with the Yale School of Forestry. Basically, I spent the summer doing urban forestry with at-risk kids from inner city Baltimore.

On one of those days, we worked at some sort of men's home/shelter. We were given a tour of a the facility by a charismatic, talkative resident of the place, a guy that had lived his own hard life to get to the relative stability the home offered him. He had a great cadence to his speech as he led us around, a combination of street-smart slang and no nonsense gruffness that he somehow delivered with spiritual equanimity.

When he was done talking about a room, he would always say the same thing. "Alright? Got it? Good. Go to the next room." It seemed a strange, loose, kinda funky mantra at the time. And over the years it's come to have spiritual significance for me. Like, he wasn't just saying move your body into the next room so we can carry on with this tour. It's become an invitation to a higher plane. "Go to the next room, where rewards - or karmic retribution - await you." I've never forgotten it, and every now and then that phrase pops into my head.

That, in some strange way, was what Infamous Black Tongue was laying down on the villain in question. But without context I understand that it would mean nothing to anybody but me. Oh, and you - now that you've read this far.

Still, though, it doesn't make that much sense in that moment, so I cut it. Perhaps one day I'll write a story in which I can build that line and let someone deliver it in context. Here's hoping, cause I need to get it out of my system...

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Are You Sure You Want To Say That? Just Wondering...

I recently noticed a blog post by an aspiring sf writer of African descent. She got turned on to the genre, apparently, by reading Harry Potter, and now she has a recently completed manuscript. Thinking she would look into what other black writers had accomplished in the genre, she looked for some titles to read, found Acacia: The War with the Mein, read it and... decided to blog about how lame it was. She didn't like it much. Found the characters mostly uninteresting, their names annoying, nothing much surprising in it and just way too many words for such a nothing story, that sort of thing.

Now, I have absolutely no problem with someone not liking a book of mine. She may think it's not a good book; I'd say it is, but it's not a good book for her. I wish people would understand that a bit more often. But so be it.

What I am interested in here is that she chose to write a blog post that included all the above information. Why, I'm inclined to ask, would an aspiring writer hoping to break into the genre and become one of very few black writers in the genre choose to begin by writing publically and negatively about one of the few other black writers to find success in the genre? Does that sound like the best career planning? Especially when they're writing on a personal blog that nobody is reading, but that the author in question is more likely to come across because it's their book being trashed. See what I mean? She's reaching very few people, but the one person she's most likely to reach is... me.

I'm not sure how much folks know this, but part of what it means that black writers are so few in this part of the literary world is that we tend to... ah, know each other. Go to a con and you're likely to connect with Nalo and Nnedi, with Alaya and Nora, with Steven and the Minister, Tananarive and Doselle and Tempest and... well, I was going to say Samuel, but the only time I was at a con with him I was too shy to say hello. But my point is that it's a small group, and the way we stand out in this community makes it easy to connect, strike up friendships, and find professional support. We don't all know each other, but in general we do know each others' work, and I reckon we keep an eye on each others' careers to some extent. None of these writers is doing exactly the same thing. None of us need love each other's writing without question (though I often do). But all of us benefit from looking out for each other. A blurb here, a recommendation there, a shout out on occasion, choosing a particular title for a course and thereby selling twenty books... It's small stuff, but it counts.

In my opinion, this aspiring writer has unintentionally demonstrated how little she knows about the industry she wants to be part of. After writing this negative review, what's she gonna do if she meets me at a con? It's fine if she says hi without commenting on my writing, but it's hardly a great opening to say, "Hi, I read your book and didn't like it and went out of my way to tell other people it wasn't that good. I'm hoping to be a writer myself, though. Can you help me get an agent?" Of course she never would introduce herself that way in person, but... that's exactly what she's done with her blog post!

Remember folks, when you post something on your blog people may read it. It may serve as your introduction to them. Just something to keep in mind...

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Barack/Barad the Lesser

I got an email from a kind fan recently. Let's call him V. He said nice things about the series, and then he asked me a question. It was about the character Barad the Lesser from The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2), a character who appears to be mentioned once in the first book - but only in passing - as Barack the Lesser.

Part of V's question was worded like this:

"I wondered when exactly you'd been working on the novel and how much Obama was on the national radar when you chose to name a character after him. I wondered if he was still a junior senator in Illinois, kind of a minor politician you were fond of and wanted to tip your cap to, or whether he was already gaining enough steam that you could imagine his becoming President... Maybe it was a coincidence that you used the name in the first novel, during the writing of which Obama might not have been very well known, but then you felt the need to change it now?"

And here's how I responded:

Great question. The funny thing is, you're the first person to ask it! I'm sure some others must have noticed, but none of mentioned it to me directly yet. Thanks for the careful reading, and I'm happy to answer.

So, it's like this... Yes, the character named Barack the Lesser in the first book became Barad the Lesser in the second. No, I didn't explain that anywhere in the text. Yes, Barack Obama is probably to blame for it, but no, the first name choice wasn't any direct homage or endorsement of him. I'm not a big fan of that sort of thing, and don't do it intentionally in my fiction. It's just one of those strange situations where life surprises you and throws chinks into your work.

I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but let's go back in time. First, note that the first book came out in 2007. Before the election. The text of the book was accepted and put into production a year before that, in 2006. And the book itself was written in 2004 and 2005. All of that is just to say that I wrote the thing before Barack Obama was president, and I wrote quite a bit of it before he was even a national political figure.

But I said he was to blame, right? Yes, I think that at some point when I was writing the book Obama made a speech, maybe at a Democratic convention in 2005 or something like that. I recall liking the speech, but moreover the name Barack seemed perfect for this minor character I had in mind. In the first book he's only a name mentioned once - literally
once on page 259 of The War With The Mein. That makes him a tiny character, and at that point Obama was a relatively unknown wannabee from Chicago. Nobody involved in the book's production even noticed or thought about the name. Not my early readers. Not my agent, not my editor or the copyeditor.

Fast forward a couple years... When I began writing
The Other Lands Obama was still a crazy long shot for the presidency. I'm sure I began it before he was even a candidate. But you know what happened with that... With my writing, I became more and more drawn to making Barack the Lesser a point of view character in the second book. I'd never thought of him as connected to Obama by anything other than the fact that I'd casually pinched his name, but still, I started to write more about him. You know how that went...

I honestly didn't think a thing about it until I delivered the book to my editor, in the winter of 2008. At that point - though even he had read much of the book earlier than that - he went, "Ah... wait a minute. You can't call this Barack anymore. Nobody is going to be able to read that without thinking of Obama." He was right, of course. Obama owns the name for all intents and purposes. My minor character had been named after a man that had suddenly become one of the most famous men on earth!

It was quite strange to face that. On one hand, my character felt to me like he inhabited that name. He was his own thing. On the other hand, I was fully involved in following the election. I was even an Obama supporter. But it didn't really occur to me until my editor pointed it out that I had a problem with that particular name.

So I changed it. I made it Barad so that it was close to the original, so that it felt similar to me but was still different. And that was that. Now, it's easy for me to think of him as Barad - and he's got nothing to do with Obama - at least not that I'm overtly aware of.

That's the story. Nothing like this had happened before with my previous novels. I doubt it ever will again. Thanks for the question. If you stick around for the third book you'll get to see what happens with Bara... With BARAD the Lesser. He's got a role in all the craziness, right up to the end!

And that's it. Now, dear reader, what do you think? Should I amend the name in future editions of The War With the Mein? (It is only a single word in the text, after all.) Or should it stay the way it is, a weird moment of real history intruding on an imagined world?


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Strange Things In Publishing

We all know these are strange times for publishing. I find it hard to get a handle on where the industry is going and if that destination is a good thing. I tend to be hopeful, confident fundamentally that people will always need stories, and therefore always need writers to produce them. The rest is just details, right?

But... I keep bumping up against strange, kinda unexpected twists.

There are the Kindle $9.99 protesters that go around leaving bad reviews on Amazon, really only saying that no Kindle book should cost more than that amount. Not sure how they came up with that, what amount of market research and analysis of production budgets and profit and lost calculations they've considered. I'm not saying what they should cost, I'm just wondering... I also think they might find that the price is only higher for a period of time - like the first year that the book is in hardback format. My Kindle version of Acacia: The War with the Mein is $6.39, and I figure The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) will drop in price too - once the print version heads into mass market paperback. I wonder if these folks that haven't read my books but have written negative "reviews" will come back then and remove them?

Or there's stuff like Amazon pulling Macmillan titles off because they couldn't come to terms on pricing/royalties for ebooks...

Here's a New York Times blog piece about it.

Here's a letter from Macmillan about it at Publishers Lunch.

What's up with this?

And then there are the folks that wrote protest "reviews" because my books weren't available for... ah... free. For free? (These reviews seem to have been removed, but still.) Just a question about that... How do people that advocate for free books explain how the author gets paid? Or does the author not need to get paid? That's absurd from my point of view, but that's because I know how many days, weeks, years of work writing a book is, how much it effects the circumstances of my family's life on a daily basis. Am I crazy for thinking that writing novels of 200k+ word length (that people want to read) is actually work? I don't make extravagant money writing. I make enough to sustain my family. If everything is free how can I do that? And if I can't do that, folks, I can't spend my life writing books. I just don't really understand this free book thing. If you do, please explain it to me.

And then there's the whole changing landscape thing. Independent bookstores gutted. The chain stores in trouble despite that. Newspapers not reviewing books much anymore. Lots of articles with titles like "The Death of Fiction". (That one is at Mother Jones. Kind of interesting, not just the article but the comment thread afterward.)

I'm not really advocating anything here. Just being dazed and confused...

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Publisher Presents 2

On this last day of 2009, I offer nothing profound. There's just too much. Too much.

So, instead, I'll just wish you all the best for the New Year. I have big things planned for it myself. Here's hoping I don't screw up. Tonight, I'll raise a glass of champagne to you. Actually, I'll raise a glass of this...

...which I recently received from my French publisher, Le Pre aux Clercs. They've got class, I tell you. Class.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Reader Question

A while back I got an email from a very kind person - one that liked my Acacia books! It began rather interestingly...

Hi David,

Excuse the personal nature of this email, but having finished your second book in the Acacia trilogy, something has awakened inside of me, a realization I've been waiting many years for.

Ah... Interesting beginning, the kind that could actually go anywhere. In this case, though, he went on to describe his college life and education, how he ended up with a very useful degree from a wonderful college, and then felt totally lost on graduation. He's now gainfully employed in a foreign land, but...

I still feel lost, incomplete and totally unsatisfied. Something's been tugging at my core, every day reminding me that I should be doing more, that there's a talent going to waste (like Dariel!)...

And what might that be?

Well, I finished The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) last night, and suddenly felt this connection. A spark was ignited and I sat there, trying to understand that feeling (perhaps you'd woven some spell from the Song of Elenet in there somewhere!?). It was more than just the thrill of having read such an amazing book, with characters that were so deep, so interesting, so much like me yet living in a richly fantastic world. It was the realization that I had parallel worlds like that living inside my head, with characters that had stories that needed to be told, that had been there all along, they'd just never met anyone like them before, like Corinne or Mena or Dariel.

Hey, I know the feeling. Actually, that's just why I started writing. I did have stories in my head that would come and go, and at some point it occurred to me that if I wrote them down they might stay and grow into something. They did.

What D is saying, essentially, is that he wants to be a writer.

I hope this is not too much to ask, but I was hoping for some guidance in terms of how to pursue this calling. I would love to pursue an MFA, so what are your thoughts on this. Is it necessary? Where could I go?...

More than anything though, I'd just like to thank you so very much for writing these two amazing novels. They are beautifully human, enticing and wholly absorbing works of literature that have inspired and awakened me to follow a new career path. I have no idea how to follow this path, but I see it now, and that's the most important thing. Thank you!


Wow. That's quite something to hear. I've had the "should I get an MFA" question before, but never framed with such specific mention of my own work. I'm honored. Although, with that, comes a certain sense of responsibility. Like, I don't want to be the cause of D leaving a good job for the perils and poverty of a literary career. Or do I?...

I checked with D that he didn't mind my sharing our interaction, and herewith I include my response.


Wow. Thanks for writing. I'm very pleased to hear how much you got from my books - and how it's prompted you to consider a new path in your own life.

You remind me of a very good writing student I had when I taught at Cal State. He was one of our top candidates, writing great stuff about his experiences in the military. I had no idea he had an interest in fantasy, but we were talking one night and he admitted that it was reading The Lord of the Rings (as an adult) that made him go, "Wow. Hey, this is amazing. This writing thing is what I want to do with my life." And he's doing it. Still in the MFA, but still writing and reading good stuff. (And, yes, he got a full fellowship, so it's his job for about three years.) So, that can happen...

I don't think anyone has to do an MFA to be a writer. The most important things are 1) that you write, 2) that you get feedback on what you write, 3) that you read and read and read, 4) that you persevere with it and stay patient. Getting a writing career going is usually a long endeavor. Even authors that may appear to arrive fully formed have likely been writing for six, eight, twelve years before the manage to break through in print. Patience is a must.

And it's also a must that you be able to live with uncertainty. There is no one best way to go about being a writer. There's no guarantee that it will happen, or that it will happen soon. I do, however, think that anyone that devotes enough time and effort to writing can make a life out of it. That may mean being a bestselling author, but odds are very much against it. It may mean being a modestly read author. It may mean being a teacher and lover of literature. It's impossible to predict ahead of time, but all those paths can lead to a rewarding life.

So what do I suggest? First off, I can't suggest that you quit your job and totally change your life around. That may be a great idea, but I wouldn't want you writing me in five years saying I hadn't warned you that making a life in the arts can be really hard. If you do really need to make a change, though, I mainly suggest that you find a way to make reading and writing nearer to the center of your life. That may mean doing it late at night after a day of work. It may mean joining some sort of writers group to get feedback from others. It may mean getting a different job, one that somehow allows you the free time to write. Or it may mean going for an MFA program.

MFA's offer three things that I think are important. 1) Joining one makes it clear to you and everybody else that you're going to focus on writing for at least a few years of your life. It's proof you're serious. 2) It means you'll get feedback and interaction with other aspiring authors. That's a good thing in lots of ways. 3) It gives you the credential to apply for teaching jobs. That's a path many writers take - teaching while they write.

If you're interested, start looking into programs. They all have websites these days. Look for programs that sound good to you. Apply to a variety, I'd say, in different areas and with different levels of competitiveness. The top programs are great, but you can also get a lot from more modest programs too - including financial aid. I wouldn't want to suggest any one program, because there are so many and they offer so many different things.

Best of luck with it all!


And that's that. What's the latest word on what D's going to do? Well, apparently he's going to get cracking on his writing and wade into the research about MFA programs. All good. I wish him the best.

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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.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Perks of Being a Novelist: Free Soap

This is a contentious point between my wife and me.

You see, I rather like coming home from cons/book events/festivals with a few bars of free hotel soap. As a publishing author that gets to do to events like these and stay in hotels, I don't know that I'll ever need never buy a bar of soap again. It's been years I tell you. Years. They just leave the stuff around, especially on those carts in the hallway...

Am I the only one that can't resist the temptation? Should I be as ashamed as my wife clearly thinks I should be?

Gudrun will have nothing to do with my ill-gotten spoils, so we still end up buying our share of expensive and fragrantly holistic bars, but so be it. I'm doing my part to keep our soap budget down. A small perk of being a novelist.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Me On Suvudu

I'm up with a mini-essay over there. It's called "Thoughts on Winning the John W Campbell Award". Please click over and take a look.

It's HERE.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

These Things Can Book

I'm just saying. Look at these guys. Like resting monsters....

These trains are fast and furious. I rode them the first time last spring. I was so delirious on my first ride from Paris to Epinal that I hardly noticed. Someone asked me if I'd been on high speed train and I was like, "Oh... I don't know. I didn't notice..."

But I paid attention coming back. It doesn't feel like it's going that fast. It's not loud or jolting or anything, but then again the landscape is slipping by at about 200 miles per hour. And then when you catch a view of a motorway running parallel and see how you zip by the cars like they're not even moving... Yep, I was impressed.

High speed rail in America? Duh. Of course. Let's get on with it!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Conversation About Health-care

This if from Fresh Air last night. I found it an interesting discussion. Terry Gross talks to author T.R. Reid, who has just written a book that looks at health-care comparatively between developed nations.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How Do You Combat Lies?

I don't know. Frankly, the effort feels a bit hopeless at the moment, considering the way things have evolved with cable and online "opinion" news. It's easy, these days, to express opinion as if it's fact, while at the same time feeling little or no responsibility to check those facts.

Today what frustrates me are the attacks being waged on the British health care system, the NHS. It's all about torpedoing healthcare reform here, of course. Some conservative groups have clearly decided that most Americans are misinformed enough to be lied directly to. They're probably right, and they're probably going to succeed at watering down our health care reform enough that it doesn't make things better for anyone. I find that rather depressing.

Take a listen to this NPR story on the subject.

My personal perspective... I've been part of a Scottish family for about twelve years now. I lived a good five years of that in the UK. I know the NHS isn't perfect, but I also know that I'd jump at the chance of a similar system here. Without it, Plan A for us in the event of a chronic illness is that we'll move back to the UK. We've thought a lot about it, and have felt that way for a long time. I've seen family members treated for chronic illnesses that required long term care in both countries. I've seen how family and friends have raised special needs children in both countries. My daughter was born in the UK, my son in the US. A close friend is a career nurse that's worked in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh and... in the US. She's seen the best and worst of the NHS; she's seen the same in the US. Guess which she'd pick?

I used the NHS myself. It's where I first learned to trust doctors and to look to them for preventive medical advice and assessment. And I've no problem believing the FACTS that life expectancy is longer in the UK (see this site from the CIA) and that the World Health Organization rank the US lower than the UK for quality of care.

All of this leads me to complete support of a single payer system - something which we're not even really talking about here. Again, it's not because I think such a system is perfect. I don't. It's not. But I do think it's less fatally and fundamentally and morally flawed than our current system. I can't stress how... right it feels to be able call on a physician without being asked about payment, without having to worry about how much your insurance will cover, without trying to do the math to figure out what deductibles and co pays really mean, without having to make life decisions solely because of insurance fears. Yes, you pay for it in taxes, but frankly we do that here anyway, whether we like to admit it or not.

Mostly, though, I've had a taste of (and find it hard to forget) knowing what it feels like for healthcare to be about healthcare. A taste of what it feels like for it be a right that's shared by an entire population provided as best as a bureaucracy can manage. If you haven't experienced it, you should try it sometime.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Can you answer a question for me if I don't actually explain what the question is?

That was the title of a post I did over a year ago, put up for a few hours, and then took down. It was from back in the spring of 08. At the time, we were living in Fresno. I was trying to settle into my job there, and my family was trying to settle in to life there. Thing is, that's never been easy for us. No matter where we live, we're always dreaming of someplace else. Gudrun and I do have this wandering bug, even though we also feel the pull of wanting to be settled. There's also the complicating factor that close family members are spread out throughout the world, from the wilds of the North Atlantic to the sunny Caribbean, from Europe to Middle Earth (well... Wellington NZ, I mean).

So this post happened late one evening, after too much talk of far flung places and perhaps a few too many beers. This is what was originally posted 3/29/08...

Friends, I have to ask you something. Simply put, I'm faced with a decision. There are compelling pros and cons. It's a family decision. My question to you... Should we do it? That's the question. I invite your opinions. Thing is, I can't say what it is I'm considering doing. Might be a while before we can talk about it. Actually, it's not a precipitous thing. It's more of a planning ahead thing. But still, I feel an impulse to ask... Should we? So you need more to go on?

Okay, here's the downside of a yes vote...

Dangerous voyage. Foreign lands. Readjustment of left/right orientation required in many instances. Culinary challenges. Linguistic difficulties likely. Weather challenging. Sports knowledge rendered useless. Thick skin required. Fungus a possible problem. Snarky presenters on tv shows likely. Lots of stone. Financial ruination possible.

Here's the upside...

Dangerous voyage. Foreign lands. Readjustment of left/right orientation required. Culinary challenges. Linguistic difficulties likely. Weather challenging. Sports knowledge rendered useless! Thick skin required. Fungus a culinary delight. Snarky presenters on tv shows likely. Lots of stone.
Financial ruination not inevitable... Added to that... Marital harmony. International perspectives.

And a yes vote is a shout for faith in gifts given and the call to use them...

"What's the worst that could happen?" says a voice in the room. (I'm not kidding. That just happened.)
So what do you think? Should I embrace... the possibilities?

That's what I wrote, and thing is I got a quick barrage of responses, which reminded me that, oh, this blog thing is public and maybe I shouldn't be ruminating out in the open in quite this way...

The destination in question was, of course, the Shetland Isles. You may recall that my father in lives there, in a cottage by the wind wracked sea. We didn't make that move. We stepped back from that particular precipice. Gudrun and the kids did spend fall of of 08 in Shetland, as documented on her blog, The Shetland Trader. A year on from this post, though, we'd decided on our move back to Massachusetts, which we just completed.

Why do I post this now? Oh... no reason. Honestly, we're happy and excited about being back in Western Massachusetts. We're in a good place and we'll be staying put for a while. Of course, nothing is permanent and you should you check in here in the years to come you might well find us asking a similar question sometime down the line...

(By the way, the first 11 or so comments on this came from that original post.)


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Note On Confident Humility

I spend a lot of time in workshops. A lot of time with aspiring writers. A lot of time with published writers that continue to struggle and grasp for more. Etc. In situations were artists are pressed together intensely lots of good stuff happens, certainly, but not everyone handles their successes or disappointments with equal grace. I'm aware that I spend more time noticing the lack of grace - strenuous self-promotion, aggressive criticism of others, defensiveness, genre elitism, those folks that use every occasion of public speaking to reference their recent successes - than I acknowledge when someone gets it right. So this post is meant to highlight a positive example.

I recently workshopped a very good student story. It convinced me from the first lines. It covered all the basic storytelling bases and then did a variety of further things with understated ease. No bells and whistles. No need to explain or obscure. Just very good writing and a substantive, quirky tale as well. This story was good enough, in fact, that my edits were light and my response included a declaration that I rarely make: that if I was the right editor at the right magazine I'd buy it.

The workshop went well, although I'm never sure that other students quite know what to make of it when I say a story is publishable. It must be a strange thing, considering that over a semester I may see two stories each from twelve different writers, but then only pull out that stamp of approval once. What gives? I don't entirely know how to explain it, but some stories just announce within their fabric that they've arrived. Their genetic code lines up. They exist, blemishes and all, and they exist in a way that for me feels ready for prime time.

Now, the part of this that has to do with humility is that I only discovered later that this particular story had been accepted for publication just before the workshop. Not only that, but another story the same writer submitted to another workshop (also given the stamp of ultimate approval by that workshop leader) had also been accepted. Two new stories. Two hits. Two publications that occurred between the writing of the stories and the workshop meant to tear them apart in critique. That's terribly rare. But it's also rare for a new author faced with the uncertainties of a workshop to withhold information like that. I've seen people try to shape the focus of a workshop before it's begun. Or who inflate their credentials ahead of time (often with self-referential things said while they're critiquing someone else's work). Or who would hold that publication information as a shield to be brandished to deflect all criticism.

The student in this case did none of that. He entered and exited the workshop without a word intended to bias or control the discussion, despite the fact that he had more than the usual ammunition to do so if he wished. Quiet confidence. Without distraction. Competence demonstrated where it matters - on the page.

What does that evoke from me? Respect.

(Yes, I'm saying that like Ali G, but I mean it.)

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Our Declaration

Yesterday on NPR they read aloud the Declaration of Independence. I quite enjoyed listening to it, and it reminded me of how grave America's grievances with Britain were, how long they'd tried to come to terms, and how visionary the language and objectives were. Yes, America screwed up a lot in the years to come, but still this Declaration does seem to me to be a hell of a document.

On this holiday, when I think of the people across the country citing revolutionary language because they still can't live with the outcome of the last election... Well, I just want to point to how substantially different the grievances the lead to America's founding were. If you haven't read the DOI recently, take a look...


The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, - That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. - Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. - And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.


Friday, June 05, 2009

How'd That Happen?

By mid-afternoon yesterday the plan for the day was:

Do a bit more packing.
Make fondue for dinner.
Head to the $3 cinema and watch Escape to Witch Mountain with the kids.

By the evening what really happened was:

I bought two Macbook computers.
I bought two iPod Touch thingies.
I bought a Nintendo Wii, a game for it, and accessories.

How'd that happen? I really can't figure it out...


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Air France

I feel like saying how sorry I am to hear about the Air France plane crash.

I just flew Air France to and from Charles de Gaulle Airport, and you all know how much I've had France of the brain the last few weeks. One of the downsides (and upsides) of travel is that it makes the world seem smaller in some ways, that it creates personal connections with tragedies in the lives of others...

Tonight I'm thinking a lot about the people that were on the planes with me, and the people that were on that plane from Rio de Jionero, and about the many people effected by it in France and Brazil and elsewhere.


Friday, May 08, 2009

Editorial Anonymous Has Good News

Came across this post last month and rather liked it. Here's good news and good news about reviews.

Thing is, I actually believe it. Not only do I believe it, but I also think that the more people read any book the more people are going to not like it. That's just reality. So would you rather have a handful of raves from a few folks, or bushels of mixed reviews from the masses?

I remember a few times when someone at a reading has said they got interested in a book of mine because of such and such review, and that's why they bought it and brought themselves out to meet me... Sounds normal enough, right? Funny thing is that the times I'm recalling are times that the review in question wasn't a good one.

I was like, "Really? You read that review and... I mean, did you notice that the reviewer hated me and thought my children were ugly and wrote that concluding paragraph about how my feet stink?"

And they were like, "Huh?"

I could only conclude that what most people take away from a review of a book is that they... well... read a review of that book. If they read it they're more likely to remember it - the book, that is, not the specifics of the review. If they remember it they're more likely to assume the attention was good.

So, win/win? I think so. Most of the time, at least.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

On A Different Italian Note...

I can't help but take a moment to acknowledge the earthquake in Italy. When I was writing Pride of Carthage, I had the great pleasure of taking several trips to the Mediterranean, including a long driving and camping tour of Italy. I loved it, of course, and have great memories of it. I fondly remember hilltop villages like the one in this BBC story. My heart goes out to those dealing with the destruction and loss of life.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Banal Evil or Fruit Basket Worthy?

This one leaves me scratching my head a bit.

It sounds - according to Jay Lake - that something very big and very unfortunate is happening in terms of copyright law, something that will eventually effect us all. He's a smart guy. I believe him. I also feel a bit powerless to do anything or to shape my feelings about this into a usable form. How about you? Take a look at Jay's post to see what I'm talking about...

Here's his post: The Banal Evil of the Google Copyright Settlement.

And then there's Cory Doctorow's take on the same thing. Seems a bit different. He's a smart guy too. I believe him. Hmm...

Here's Cory's post: Why Publishing Should Send Fruit-Baskets to Google.

And here's what the Authors Guild has to say about it...

A Brief Guide to the Benefits of the Authors Guild V. Google Settlement.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Shakespeare's Portrait

Have you seen this portrait? It's just been unveiled as possibly the only portrait of the Bard to have been painted during his lifetime.

It's not terribly different than other portraits I've seen, but there is a crispness to the details. This interests me not just because it's Shakespeare, but because I've come across the problem of attaching too much emphasis to particular images of historical figures that may not be true likenesses at all.

Hannibal, for example. I've always found it rather amazing that each book on Hannibal has images of him included, a coin, a sculpture, plenty of paintings. They all present them as if they are valid images, and people walk away thinking they are. But none of them are! Most of them were made hundreds (or thousands) of years after his death, by people that never saw him.

When I've pointed this out I've often have felt some reluctance to it. Like I'm making something vague that shouldn't be. It's like many would rather say, "I saw that bust of Hannibal, that's how I think of him. Don't know what your motives are for muddying the waters..."

I know what my motives are: being clear on the very limited certifiable facts of distant history, and being aware that imagery can redefine meaning in ways that aren't accurate - often intentionally so.

Anyway, I'm off post topic, but that's what I was reminded of when I saw this story. Here's a cat that was famous in his time, surrounded by artists in a culture in which portrait painting was big, studied by millions over the years. And only now might we be seeing the single portrait painted by someone that actually knew him in life? I don't see that the article below names the artist. Maybe they'll figure that out in another hundred years or so...

New York Times Article.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Chimp

I hesitate to do this since you've probably heard this talked about plenty already, but I realize I haven't discussed it with anyone yet, so I might as well. This cartoon from the New York Post...

There's been a lot of talk about whether or not it's racist, and a lot of time spent noting that Bush got caricatured as a chimp plenty of times and nobody complained. There are a variety of reasons for that, but I'll stick to the basic questions and my answers to them.

Question: Is this cartoon racist?

Answer: Yes.

Question: What? And what if it was referring to Bush? Would it be racist then?

Answer: No.

Question: What? Why not? Just cause Obama's black and Bush is white?

Answer: Yes.

Question: That's just perfect! Can't you see how hypocritical that is?

Answer: No, but I can see how you might think it's hypocritical. For me, though, I can't help but be cognizant that the same imagery means different things depending on the context in which is used. There is not the same historical baggage attached to a white man being caricatured as monkey as there is to a black man. It ain't the same. Same image; different meaning. Weird, huh?

I know that. The guy who drew this cartoon knows that. The paper that printed it knows that. At some level I even think the masses of people defending it know that. They may not understand that they know it, because complex self-examination - with all of its contradictions and overlapping truths - is not something we train for in American popular culture.

Question: So you'd be fine with this if it was about a white president?

Answer: No. I'd still think it in bad taste. Again, though, this image refers to more than just the assassination of a colorless president. This is a New York paper. New York - like many other cities in the country - has a clear and recent history of police killings of black males under questionable circumstances. This image is also playing with that connection. Not only is the president equated with a monkey. He's also being equated with other black men that have been shot down on the streets by law enforcement figures.

Question: So what, are you for censorship?

Answer: No.

Question: But you think they should apologize for the cartoon?

Answer: Not if they don't mean it.

Question: Are you insulted?

Answer: No, I'm fairly pleased with myself. This doesn't change that.

Question: Do you think the president should feel insulted?

Answer: I think the president has been insulted, but I'm sure he has better things to do than choose to feel insulted.

He is, after all, the president.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sunday Won't be the Same

In some ways this is a personal thing to me. I grew up largely in the DC metro area, and we always received The Washington Post. For that matter, I even delivered the paper myself for a while. Oh how I remember the heft of the Sunday edition. Oh how I remember all the stuffing of the special inserts in the pre-dawn hours out in my garage, loading up my bike and then making my wobbly way out into the still suburban streets...

Back then, and in the years to come as I went to college and grad school in the area, I took it for granted that The Book World insert was always going to be a part of that. Always had been. Always would be. Right? It told me that books were important, and that authors were interesting, and it was my go to source for knowing what literary events were on in the city each month. As a writer, I was reviewed in its pages. I watched it connect me with readers and get people out to events. Before long I also reviewed for them. It became one of my favorite sources of book news. Even now - as I've become more and more a part of the fantasy community - I was pleased to see reviews by writers like Elizabeth Hand and Jeff Vandermeer in those pages...

All of which is preamble to saying how disappointed I am that the Post has decided to drop the section. I know it's not the end of the world, and that they'll still be book coverage elsewhere in the paper, but it's no good sign.

Honestly, as I look back I realize that knowing that there was a special section on books placed an early awareness of the value of literature in me. I may not have been reading that stuff myself at the time, but I knew that books were an important enough part of people's lives that major papers made room for them. The ritual of my mom sitting on the couch on a Sunday morning with the book section folded open looked to me like part of ritual of what it meant to be an adult.

It's because of that nostalgia that I greet this news sadly. I believe the only two stand-alone book sections are now in the NY Times and the SF Chronicle. For a country this size, that seems rather pathetic. I know, though, I know... Times change. I'm all for embracing change. I just hope that it is change that's happening here - not something more dire.

It doesn't help either that Realms of Fantasy just announced it was folding completely a few days ago. Try going to their website: this is what you get.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Secretary of Arts Petition

What do you make of this - Quincy Jones' proposal that President Obama create a Secretary of Arts post? I heard about this the other day on NPR. The petition doesn't have anything in the way of details about what this position would entail. Still, though, I went over and signed it with a few mouse clicks. I'm not really that troubled by the details at this point. I just like the notion that our new administration will be more supportive of a lot of things that are important to me, including the arts.

I know critics of something like this will say that the government shouldn't be in the business of deciding what's art and/or that the market should decide what's of artistic worth and what's not... I don't buy either notion, though.

On the first point I think government can support a diverse and healthy artistic life without becoming an arbiter of taste and worth. Living in Scotland, I can't tell you how many times I saw the Scottish Arts Council logo supporting films, festivals, art shows, musicians, writers etc. It was wonderfully diverse group, and it's painful to imagine many of those projects struggling for funding. They weren't all projects that could turn a commercial profit, but so many worthy artistic endeavors aren't. It cost so little, but I can reward us with so much.

That's my thinking on it. What's yours?

By the way, the petition is Here if you're inclined to add your name to it.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thank You, Mr. Prez

If you know me you'll probably know I'm full of emotion today. Good ones. The kind that make my eyes water and the world go all squiggly. I'd try to blame it on the head cold I have right now, but that's not it. It's the fact that we have a new president, one that I remain amazed and inspired by. It's all too big and too multifaceted to talk about in depth. So let me just relate a small thing...

I've been trying to figure out why my kids are so amazingly happy about our new president. My son, Sage, said something to the effect that he couldn't believe we elected a black president in his life time. He's 7. Some of it, of course, is him reflecting back my enthusiasm, but there's more to it than that. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and realized another part of it.

When I was a kid in school I was always aware of the disconnect between the rhetoric of America and the reality. I heard that all men were created equal, and yet I knew from very early on that the words were true in a way our actualizing of them wasn't. All men were created equal, but not women. All men were created equal and had rights, oh but not black folks, not brown folks, not really. It was like there were two different dialogs going on the room. The teacher would say, "In America, anyone can grow up to be president". He'd smile and carry on talking, but each time it was like a separate, ghostly image detached itself, turned and spoke to me, saying, "Well, not you. Anyone, but not you. You understand that, right?" And then that ghost teacher would merge back with his/herself and carry on with the fine words, sure that they could be spoken with complete sincerity - and sure that a black kid like me really did understand that the words weren't entirely for me, not without clauses and footnotes and exceptions.

I felt that for all of my almost forty years, from what I experienced in life and from what I learned of the history of this nation. But I knew it as much as a child of 7 or 9 as I did as a father of children those ages. In many ways, it was a more savage knowledge then. It was part of the reason that my childhood was never as complete a childhood as one might hope for. There were never truly many days of innocence, because there was always that ghost-voice reminding me not to get my hopes up too high, not to confuse rhetoric with reality, not to forget that it really is a "white" house, after all. I'm sure that many, many people, whether because of race or gender or religion or sexual orientation or many other factors, live lives with their own versions of this disconnect...

Anyway, that was my childhood, my adulthood, and it's probably in my blood enough that I'll be surprised at Barack Obama's rise to the presidency over and over again for years to come. When I look at my kids this morning, though, it really does feel like they plucked a weight off and flicked it away on their fingers. Yes, of course they'd felt the weight too. I did. Why wouldn't they? But that was before today. Now, they live in a world were a mixed-race (African-American) person can be the most powerful person in the world. I think that changes everything for them. It changes how they see themselves. It changes how they see me...

Thank you for that, Mr. President. And good luck with the work to come. Lord knows I wouldn't actually want your job. It surely won't be a walk on the beach. Still, I'm glad you did, and glad you got it.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Why I May Never Be Able to Write Hard Sci/Fi

Thanks to Jay Lake for alerting me to this article: Our World May be a Giant Hologram in New Scientist. I'm not sure whether that's alarming news, good news, or just kinda weird. And I do mean I'm really not sure because... well, because I can't understand a word of what they're talking about. The article is written in English. No one word confounds me. But reading it the beginning of each sentence is draining out of my mind by the time I get to the end of it. Nothing sticks.

Like, can you follow this?

Crucially, this provides a deep physical insight: the 3D information about a precursor star can be completely encoded in the 2D horizon of the subsequent black hole - not unlike the 3D image of an object being encoded in a 2D hologram. Susskind and 't Hooft extended the insight to the universe as a whole on the basis that the cosmos has a horizon too - the boundary from beyond which light has not had time to reach us in the 13.7-billion-year lifespan of the universe...


The holographic principle radically changes our picture of space-time. Theoretical physicists have long believed that quantum effects will cause space-time to convulse wildly on the tiniest scales. At this magnification, the fabric of space-time becomes grainy and is ultimately made of tiny units rather like pixels, but a hundred billion billion times smaller than a proton. This distance is known as the Planck length, a mere 10-35 metres. The Planck length is far beyond the reach of any conceivable experiment, so nobody dared dream that the graininess of space-time might be discernable...

Space-time convulsing wildly? A hundred billion billion times smaller than anything? The graininess of space-time? Huh? I don't know... It's beyond me, and it's the awareness that such things are beyond me that make me doubt I'll ever be comfortable getting in a space ship. As much as I love reading sci/fi, it may be forever outside my ken to write it.

Strap me on a flying lizard instead...

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cesaria Evora

I also mentioned that we were listening to Cesaria Evora the other night in the cottage. Don't know if you've got a taste for the World Music scene, but if so you might want to check her out. Very cool. Good stuff to have in your quiver of musical options. At times you will hear Scottish fiddle music coming out of the cottage. At other times it the sounds of further flung places, like the Cape Verde Islands.

See video for the vibe...

Oh, and I haven't failed to notice that tomorrow is Christmas. My kids keep reminding me. Enjoying the build-up very much!

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Neil on Rejection

I'm on a plane, or train, or boat, or sitting in some transportational waiting space right now, so let me offer wisdom from another right now. You wanna be a writer. Well, get your ego on. Says Neil... (And, yes, I know this has been quoted many, many times. That doesn't mean I can't do it too, right? It is Neil I'm talking about here...)

"It does help, to be a writer, to have the sort of crazed ego that doesn't allow for failure. The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering "Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!" and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there's nothing left to write. Because the rejection slips will arrive. And, if the books are published, then you can pretty much guarantee that bad reviews will be as well. And you'll need to learn how to shrug and keep going. Or you stop, and get a real job."

--Neil Gaiman

It's true. All true. Smart guy.

(He, by the way, posted a one word comment on my blog a few days ago. "Hurrah!")

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Thursday, December 11, 2008


So, you think you've been in this business for awhile. You think you know how things work. You think that you can't be surprised anymore by the lengths to which people may go to puff themselves up shamelessly. And then... well then something sort of pops up and surprises you. I don't mean something totally new, but then again when you turn it a bit and look it in the face it's like... wtf?

I haven't spent too much time thinking about ghost writing. No big deal. It's celebs needing someone to "help" them right bios, right? Reasonable enough. We don't expect actors or sports stars or most politicians (Obama not included) to be able to put a series of sentences together to make a cohesive, honest or interesting narrative. The idea here is that the celeb - for better or worse - has experiences, charisma, fame, whatever - that people want to read about. They're bringing something to the bargain, and just getting a little help putting the sentences together. No problem.

Thing is, I recently heard some writer friends talking about ghostwriting fiction. That's right: fiction. Writing a novel, for example, by the terms of a contract, getting paid, and then having that novel published under some other actual person's name. I don't mean writing under a pseudonym. I'm talking: I write the book, I give it X, get paid, and then X pretends to all the world that he wrote it. Does this not sound fundamentally wrong? (The getting paid part is good, but still...)

Scott Westerfeld, the very successful sci/fi writer (who doesn't ghostwrite anymore) wrote about it in a blog post a while back. It's a great piece. Read it because he knows a lot more about all of this than I do.

(This crustacean, by the way, is a Ghost Crab. He looks kinda suspicious.)

I'm still left stunned, though... Have you or I read a "novel" not really written by the person named on the front? Makes you wonder...

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Oh My...

I don't know what to say, so I won't try to say too much.

I just saw this excerpt from Obama's acceptance speech over on The Swivet. Couldn't help but quote it here...

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled — Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states; we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

Wonderful. I'm a happy man today, in so, so many ways. Now, if I could just get my eyes to stop doing this strange watering thing. It's downright embarrassing...


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I Just Voted!

Man, was that easy! My sympathies to you if you have a long wait or other troubles, but my voting experience was a breeze. I just walked a few block on a lovely, breezy, cool but sunny Fresno morning. Arrived to find a line of, oh... three people. Got my ballot in about three minutes. Walked out of there about ten minutes later. I got to vote for my prez and to strike a blow at a discriminatory initiative. Felt nice.

How did it go for you?


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Spontaneous on Beginnings

Over at Spontaneous Derivation, Arachne Jericho has come up with a post about the beginnings of novels, looking at why the ones that work for her worked. Strangely enough, Acacia is on the list...

Glad to hear my "assassin on a mortal mission" beginning got the hooks in some folks. I'm aware, though, that I'm not a quick-grab sort of writer. I don't think I ever will be. Sure, I want readers to be intrigued by the beginning enough to keep going, but really it's not until about halfway through that I'm confident the different narrative threads I've been building are getting sufficiently tight and compelling. That's my hope at least, that readers are increasingly engaged as the book progresses. Certainly, I'd rather that be the case than that I hook them early and disappoint them later, which happens often enough.

Anyway, the Spontaneous Derivation piece is here.

What works for you all with a beginning? For me, one of the main things is just the quality of the writing. I felt that the first time I read A Game of Thrones. I'd started and then put down a few other fantasies prior to coming to Martin's, but from the first few lines I was, "Whoa, this guy's a pro." It was easy to read on just because of that, and I wasn't let down.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Word on Fan Mail

You know what I think of fan mail? (Drum roll...) I think it's great. Absolutely beautiful stuff. I thought I should take a moment to say so, since I took a moment out to talk about negativity a little while back...

I'm very happy to say that I've had the pleasure of receiving a steady flow of emails from folks over the last year or so. I'm not talking heaps of letters, but every few days somebody is kind enough to drop me a note saying a few nice things. Most often it's about Acacia, but Pride of Carthage gets a mention regularly, and even the early novels seem to still find readers every now and then. Part of why the correspondence is so nice is that it's a reminder of that - something I wouldn't really notice otherwise.

The last one to come in was this...

Hi David, I just finished Acacia tonight, I really enjoyed it thank you! I think this has to be the most amazing fantasy book I have read so far. I can't wait for the next installment and to find out where you take the story next. I couldn't put it down and had to take a day off work today so that I could finish it. Thanks for writing such a wonderful story!

DS - Blue Mountains Australia

Had to take a day off work to finish? Awesome. There's nothing like hearing that you've helped hamper productivity to make an author's day. To do so on foreign soil is even better! And, no, hearing such things doesn't go to my head. I've got a computer in front of me, deadlines, much, much work to do. There are plenty enough things to keep me grounded.

What it does do, however, is remind me why I write. That's much appreciated.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

On the Fortieth Review, and Negativity

A couple days ago I got review number 40 for Acacia on Amazon.com. That's sweet. Means a lot of people have read the book. Lots of them have liked it, too. Only... well, actually number 40 didn't like it. I may be wrong, but that's my interpretation of... "as flat as a piece of newsprint" and "David Anthony Durham's "Acacia" is an abysmal production" and "Oh, and by the way, Durham can't write women, either" and "worst of all is the flat predictability of the characters". Am I wrong, or does that sound a bit negative? (Number 39 wasn't a fan, either.)

So I say to myself... Ah well, what to do? You can't please everyone, right? All those emails of praise and encouragement count for much more, yeah? Don't forget that. Don't forget all the reviewers - professional and amateur - that loved it. Don't forget the foreign publishers that snapped it up and the film people that have big, expensive hopes for it. Remember the many insightful readers who have found meaning in the characters and actions that give it real depth. Good thing all that's out there. And since it is I can let negative opinions like number 40 (and 39) just slide off my Teflon skin, baby.

Or... Well... maybe not so much...

The crazy thing is that logic and reason and the vast numbers of encouraging readers and avowed fans don't hold up that well in the face of negativity. They are the bedrock of why and for whom I write, but negativity is a sly bastard, persistent. Odious. He lives somewhere in the nooks and crannies of my brain and - like a politician making the boldest of assertions - he doesn't feel any need to nod to other perspectives. All he needs is a little bit of encouragement and he'll say things like...

"Oh my god, you idiot. You complete idiot! You realize, don't you, that you're a horrible writer. That last person that wrote that review on Amazon proves it. You suck. Purple prose, dude. Anachronisms. Completely awkward and incoherent sentences. The kind of stupid plot tricks that will make any intelligent reader throw your book out their window... That's all you have to offer. How could you possibly think that readers would want to read 240k words in which absolutely nothing interesting happens? About characters that are totally flat and cardboard and completely predictable on each and every page? What were you thinking? You should really consider changing your name and never writing again. You better get tenure quick, dude, before your colleagues realize how crap you are. But mostly - stop inflicting your words on the world!"

Ah, yes, that's my friend. He's only dealing out tough love, you know? What can I say to refute that? Clearly number 40 (and 39) have unmasked me...

You know, the thing here is that I'm not entirely kidding. There's is a vastly uneven effect between positive and negative feedback. I can hear 100 great reactions and - while I'm pleased - such things tend to keep me on even keel. I mean, I work really hard to make my books good. So when a reader enjoys them I've not achieved more than I wanted; I've just hit the baseline I was expecting to get all along. But that 1 review that slams down on the other side of the scales has the power - temporarily, at least - to send those other 100 kind folks twirling through the air. It doesn't have to make sense. It also doesn't ever really go away, no matter how many books one puts behind them. Doubt, resistance, negativity; man, they're powerful.

So, I'll admit something to people that seem to enjoy writing really negative reviews. In case you wondered if your attacks have an effect on writers... I'll verify that they do. They do. Even if we think you're completely wrong or stupid or nuts. They still have an impact. You, writing from wherever you are in the world, have pushed an invisible finger through the ether and poked me in the chest. Perhaps that makes you feel good to know that. If so, enjoy it.

There is good news, though. For one, I can take a little poking. I'm a professional. I do know it comes with the territory. The other thing is more interesting, though. And that's that the haters actually play an important role in helping creators onward. That's what they probably don't understand. It's not what they say that matters. It's not that they're terribly insightful and have a lot to teach us about how to really write book. It's that they put out the negativity at all that matters. Creators - in whatever field - must face resistance. We must push through doubt. We must hear jeers and insults and must find a way to put them into their place. It's always been that way. It's part of why creative achievement isn't easy, and part of why it's so rare. Yes, many people don't get through the fears enough to get published, etc, but the ones that do are stronger because of it.

So... Glad I got my equilibrium back. I'm going to go work on the next book.

(Which means, number 40 and 39, that you lost. I know you'll try again soon, but today, right now, you've been trumped.)

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Just An Update

Hi, folks. I've not been blogging a ton the last couple of weeks. Had a lot going on. Some of it was some family stuff that's taken a good deal of time and energy. I've also been preparing - mostly mentally, really - for beginning of the new academic year. I'll be teaching two classes, an undergrad Beginning Fiction Writing course and a Graduate Writing Workshop. Not a bad schedule, really, but it's a readjustment.

Oh, the third thing that's been taking up a lot of my time, of course, is The Other Lands. I was trying to get as much of it done before the school year began as I could. I didn't make it all the way to the end, but I'm pretty happy with where I ended up. Not done yet, but the end is in sight. I've got all the story before me. I know all the scenes that are yet to be written. I know exactly how each narrative thread ends. (Suspect cliffhangers. It is a middle volume, you know.)

It's one of the funny things about writing novels that the process often requires living with uncertainty for years. I've had that with this one, as I've had it with each of my longer books. For example, even up until a few days ago there were... um... "problems" ahead of me in this book. Spaces that were blank. Storylines that seemed to dead end. Plot moves that I knew I had to make but wasn't sure how I was going to make them. It's kinda crazy if you think about it too much. Like - "David, you've been working on this book for how long? How could you not know by now how you were going to handle what happens when $%^& finds out about *(&)%? That's crazy!"

But that's part of the process. Those plot elements and connections and character growth and the surprises can't all by mapped out ahead of time. Some of them have to be lived - by the author as well as by the characters.

What I'm saying, though, is a good thing. The end of The Other Lands is firmly in my sights. I have to work toward it while I'm also doing some other stuff, (You know - LIFE!) but I will be at the end soon. I will get this to my publisher and (barring something unforeseen - like my editor hating how I finished) I'm confident this book can make the pub date that we've had in mind for a while now, which essentially is a year from now. And, just so you know, I'll be at work on the third book immediately, no delay in getting the engine revving between two and three. This is mainly because the narrative really does flow right into the next book. I'd like to say I'm finished with The Other Lands one day and start work on &%^$# the next day. So that's my plan.

BTW, don't forget that Acacia: The War With the Mein hits in paperback form in two days! August 26th is the release date. It's mass market, you know, perfectly priced for these difficult economic times...

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

I'd Take That Action

(Bear in mind, please, that I don't have a vendetta against spiders in general. I know they do much good in the world. But... this is personal, baby.)

If you said, "David, I'll bet you a negihamichi roll that you can't kill ten black widow spiders within the confines of the half acre or so of your house this very evening..."

I'd say, "I'll take that action. Start toasting the maki, my friend."

I'd say, "You're on, baby, and I won't even include the one I smashed in the garage earlier, or the two I squished on the walkway to my back office."

And then I'd say, "Yeah, but those three cheeky buggers hiding in the bushes beside the front steps... they're fair game. Sweetness. They're going down..."

Am I disturbed?... Another August evening in Fresno, CA... Who needs reality TV?

(I'd include pictures, but I've had enough of seeing these things. Honestly... yesterday, I dragged one of our kayaks from the side of the house. Figured I'd plop it in the pool and see if I could still hand roll. How many black widows had made it a home? Four. Four! It was a six foot, bright red plastic spider condo. Two had egg sacks. Planning for the future, I guess.)

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Kindles? Anybody Out There Using Them?

(I'm actually away from the internet for a few days, but I set this up to post in my absence. So if you write me and I don't respond it's just because I'm away for a bit. Be back soon!)
I guess somebody is buying them, considering that all of my books have a Kindle sales ranking on Amazon, but this bit of technology is hard for me to get my head around. I, admittedly, have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books. They're more important to me than any other household item, honestly. But is my favorite medium for the consumption of stories (by which I mean the stuff of life) on its way to obscurity?

I came across this post on the subject by a former student of mine, Allison Hartman Adams. Found it quite amusing: Prick Your Finger on the Kindle Spindle.

So, anybody out there with one of these? Like it?

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Jon Armstrong Exclusive Interview With... Me

Yep, it's my turn on If You're Just Joining Us. Jon has been interviewing all the Campbell Award Nominees. We had a talk a couple weeks back. I quite enjoyed it. We talked for over an hour, I think, but don't worry - the interview is cut down to about 20 minutes. (Ah, one might wonder what tidbits were cut out...)

Thing to remember with Jon is that he doesn't like to ask the standard writerly-type questions. He wants us thinking out of the box a bit, responding to some random promptings like, "I understand you spent four days fasting naked in the Arizona desert... was that by choice?"

Click here to have a listen.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Just What The Hell Is Wrong With Us?

That's a question Richard K Morgan asked a while back in a rather heated article about backbiting factionalism in Sci-Fi and Fantasy. If you've been reading my posts for a while you've heard me say lovely things about my fellow spec-fic writers. Things are good. I like these people. They like me, it seems. But that may be a new arrival's rosy-eyed view of things.

If you've visited here in the past you may also know that I respect Mr. Morgan as a writer. I dig what he does. I'm interested in what he has to say, and I'm aware that I'll be thinking about his complaints in this essay often as I navigate my upcoming sci-fi/fantasy events (ReaderCon in July and Denvention in August).

Anyway, here's the post if you're interested. Let me know what you think...

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