Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bookshelf done!

We spent awhile last night putting books on the shelves--it's amazing how much more moved in it feels just to have them all up like that (and what, only a little more than 18 months after moving in...). Actually the entire bookshelf isn't quite done--I need my brother-in-law to bring his tools back for one last thing on the little side bookshelf. But we're planning to use that for all our stacks of board games, so it doesn't interfere with getting the books up. It looks really nice (of course I'd say that). I'll put a picture up sometime when I get around to it.

Of course, putting all those books up made me want to reread half of them. Books I read and loved in high school to see if they live up to my fond memories (on second thought, maybe I shouldn't reread those). Books from college lit classes that I loved--both those in English and those in Spanish. Even the anthologies look awfully attractive. Bring on Donne and Marvel! Bring on Quiroga and Carpentier. And then there are the books from around the same time that were either outside of class or part of my thesis on fantasy. I've already been rereading some from around that time--most recently the second book of McKillip's Riddlemaster trilogy. But I read so many of the classics of the field then. As well I have my collection of Italo Calvino books--I've reread both Invisible Cities (which was my introduction to Calvino) and If on a winter's night a traveler (which is my favorite). So next I hope to reread Castle of Crossed Destinies.

Ah, if only there were more time!

Monday, July 30, 2007

A great story in Strange Horizons

I've just read a great story--not this week's offering, but last week's, which I didn't get to until today: "Limits" by Donna Gee Williams. (Not saying that this week's story isn't great as well--I have haven't read it yet.) Partly this appeals to me because I have a bias toward anything that present a world completely different from the one we live in, especially if that world exaggerates something that exists here--an entire world in a castle, for example, an entire world that's a factory of mind-boggling size, an entire world that's a tree or a grove of a few trees. And then that shows, without over-explaining, how it is to live in that world.

So the world imagined here is steep, almost a cliff-side it seems. Most of the people who live here stay close to their home village, though as adolescents they explore up and down until they discover the limits of what their own personalities or psyches allow them to travel.

In a number of ways it reminds me of the story that was my favorite a couple of years ago when I read through two of the Writers of the Future anthologies to get a sense of what they like--the story was "Needle Child" by M. T. Reitan, which took place in a world of implausibly large hedges. A great story that I certainly recommend. That, however, was a story of a single event in the life of one person living in the hedges. This is more about an entire life as the point of view character (for most of the story) watches her son grow up, seemingly without ever discovering any limits to how far he's able to travel. And being about an entire life, it manages to be about life in general for everyone, even those who don't live on the side of cliff world above an impossibly distant ocean.

Go read it!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Every Day Fiction

Just a quick post to announce that I've had a 100-word story accepted by Every Day Fiction. This is a new market, one that will (starting in September) post a new story everyday, or even email it directly to you if you subscribe (for free). The stories can be of any genre and up to 1000 words long, so if you'd like a quick shot of some fiction during your lunch break or whenever, go sign up.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Tangent reviews Nemonymous

Ugh, it's been a tiring day, but I'm trying to get myself back into blogging, so I told myself I had to post an entry before the night's over.

So here's the link to Tangent's review of Nemonymous 7. Again I can't cheer or boo hiss about what he says about my particular story, but overall he recommends the anthology, identifying a number of them as gems. So I'll cheer for that and let everyone keep guessing which story is mine. This is fun--I keep looking at different comments and reviews to see what people think even more than if the story were identified as mine. So read the stories and guess away. I'm still flooded with different books and stories to read myself, so I'm only a handful of stories in, but I'm enjoying it. No guesses on my part just yet though.

More exciting news coming tomorrow (it's an easy way to give myself something to blog about as I get back into the hang of it).

Friday, July 27, 2007

My excuses

Well, I'll blame Harry Potter at least in part for my resent absence, though that only explains a couple days of it. I also couldn't seem to do a lot of writing/computer stuff in those times when my wife took Harry Potter and read it instead, so I got some other reading done as well (rereading a McKillip book and then starting a Gene Wolfe).

And staining the bookshelf has been taking a lot of time, as has trying to fix a leaky toilet. And I'm sure I could come up with other excuses if I wanted to--but really it comes done to blogging is a habit, and once you get out of that it can be hard to get back into it. Several times over the past few days I've had this New Post page up and just kept putting off writing anything.

In writing, I'm still playing around with my YA fantasy idea--I've written about five chapters so far. While I don't consider it much like Harry Potter except for also being YA, reading that did give me some ideas of what I need to improve on during rewrites. So here's hoping I can get back into blogging.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tangent review

Forgot to mention yesterday that another of my reviews went up at Tangent while my brother was out here. This one is a review of On Spec, Spring 2007--there are some good stories in there, so check it out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Drabblecast story up!

Yeah, I've been away for a bit. My brother came out to visit, so I've done little writing, no blogging and minimal participation in any forums. But I did a lot of hiking and other things--so that was great fun. I've also had a bit of problems with Blogger when I have been on, with my blog not loading in Firefox sometimes. Don't know what that's about.

Anyway, my story "The Metamorphosis of the Phosphorescent Avenger" is now live at Drabblecast--follow the link at the right or just listen here (requires Quicktime 7.0.2 or later). This is one strange story. It rose from a one-hour prompt in one of my critiquing groups where we had to come up with a story that included the line "I thought you brought the dolphin." (B. A. Barnett had her story from the same prompt publishing...at Tales from the Asylum, I believe.) So I decided to take it somewhere as bizarre as I could go. A jellyfish. On drugs. Driving a car across the ocean. OK, it's a start. And it got more bizarre from there. Funny thing was, I was reading a very surreal book at the time--The Troika by Stepan Chapman--and as soon as I'd finished with the prompt and with the brief critiques for the others who'd participated, I sat down to read the next chapter. And what was it? A strange memory of one of the characters from when she was once a sea animal, and of the bizarre society that exists under the sea. There had been no hint of this society or memory in earlier chapters, nothing to have influenced my mind to think about sea creatures...but there it was, as if backward causality exists.

So I'm off now to download a newer version of Quicktime so I can listen to it. You do so too!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Good for her!

Some weeks ago I blogged about the Slate review of Michael Chabon's latest and how ridiculously narrow-minded it was (or at least came across as) in regards to genre fiction. Well, Ursula LeGuin was rather put out by that as well--especially by the claim that "Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it."--and decided to write a wonderfully witty response, which was posted on Boing Boing:
Something woke her in the night. Was it steps she heard, coming up the stairs — somebody in wet training shoes, climbing the stairs very slowly … but who? And why wet shoes? It hadn’t rained. There, again, the heavy, soggy sound. But it hadn’t rained for weeks, it was only sultry, the air close, with a cloying hint of mildew or rot, sweet rot, like very old finiocchiona, or perhaps liverwurst gone green. There, again — the slow, squelching, sucking steps, and the foul smell was stronger. Something was climbing her stairs, coming closer to her door. As she heard the click of heel bones that had broken through rotting flesh, she knew what it was. But it was dead, dead!
Read the rest of it here.

Thanks to Matthew Kressel of Sybil's Garage and Senses Five Press for pointing it out.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Sanding, Zen, and Editing

My brother-in-law and I are building a bookshelf for the basement--a very large one that should hold a significant number of the books we have, though even so not all. Right now we're at the point where I'm sanding all the shelves...and sanding is tedious. It's not hard work, not with a power sander, but it's just tedious (actually less so now that I went out and bought coarser disks for the sander to do the initial work...but that's beside the point).

My temptation is to focus on how much more I have to get through, how much longer it's going to be. But you just can't do that, not without driving yourself crazy. I found, though, that if I just let go of that urge to be done, I can do it mindlessly for a while, aware of what I'm doing but without impatience or worrying about anything else. I'm likening that to Zen in the title (disclaimer: I'm no expert in Zen meditation, and I make no claims for the usefulness of power sanding to achieve a higher consciousness ;) --it's merely a comparison to the popular conception of Zen, and I'm sure the Christian mystics and the Muslim Sufis have a similar state, as well as other mystics of any stripe). I can't claim that I'm in this state for long or that even when I'm in it it's a perfect state of bliss or anything of the sort. But...

It got me thinking. I often find editing tedious as well. Not always, but right now I'm looking at a story that I think could be very good...once I get it revised. And I keep putting it off. So I think I need to find some way to get to that same Zen-like state while revising. Who knows, maybe tomorrow I'll come back with a wise koan to help others achieve editing bliss. Not likely--I'll probably get too impatient.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

"Jabberwocky" at 2 1/2

I don't often talk a lot about my son online--it would be far too easy to bore people with all the things I find funny or cute or whatever. But I do have to mention that at supper today he said out of the blue, "'Twas brillig." (We have a picture book version of Jabberwocky from the library that I picked out last time we were there.) By the end of the meal he was saying, "'Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble." But when I tried to continue on from there he told me, "No, that's not right." So far trying to call him my beamish boy hasn't caught on. Now I think of it, though, he was having fun with frabjous, callooh and callay the other day.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

23-Foot Wingspan!

The news in this article from MSN isn't really that this huge bird is a new discovery so much as new insight into how it flew, but it's just the existence of the bird that thrills me. The drawing makes it look like a raptor of some sort...but 23-foot wingspan, 150 pounds. It may not be big enough to lift an elephant (or even a human for that matter), but still, that's a roc. I love prehistoric animals, have ever since I was very young, and especially when that animal seems to tie into ancient oral traditions (though this bird lived millions of years before humans).

If the menu at the bottom hasn't changed, there's also a link to an article about hybrid oak trees in Utah that are between 5,000 and 7,000 years old. If there's something I like more than prehistoric animals, it's trees. Trees just fascinate me. So that article is almost as cool as the first. (In case the menu does change, here's the link directly to this second article.)

I forgot to post this here the other day, but I sold a story to Drabblecast. I'm rather illiterate when it comes to podcasting, so this was my first submission to such a venue. The story I sold them is bizarre, even compared to my usual work. Even compared to my turtle-car story. Well, a little bit more bizarre than that anyway. It's called "The Metamorphosis of the Phosphorescent Avenger." I'll post more about it and a link when it actually gets broadcast (issue #23, I believe, and the site is currently up to #19).

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Archetype vs. Cliche

I posted the following a week or two ago on a forum, and I thought it would follow nicely from the post the other day about running and writing new trails. The discussion was about archetypes and cliches, and much ground had already been covered, so this is by no means a complete essay on the topic. But I thought it might be interesting here too. I'm probably more forgiving of the idea of elves and dwarves and such in a non-comedic fantasy in this post than I might be on my blog, but that made sense within the original context:

In one of her essays in Language of the Night, Ursula LeGuin says the difference between cliche and archetype is that when you look closely at a cliche, you can see that it's just 2-dimensional cardboard, but when you look at an archetype, it looks back at you.

I always found that a helpful way to think of it (I discovered that collection of essays in late high school, and the way I understand fantasy hasn't been the same since). So I think a big part of it is investing the time to make something come to life--cliche says, "Fantasy (or whatever type of story it's writing) has to have elements XYZ, so here's my token bearded wizard and here are my token non-human-but-hardly-alien races and those are my token plot points I'll send the heroes out to accomplish. Hot dang, let's go!" And does that with no sense of irony (comedic and ironic writing can take cliche at face value and leave it 2-D for its own purposes, of course, and not really necessarily be cliche itself).

What elevates it above cliche (I'm not sure this will always make it archetype, but at least not-cliche) is when the writer digs deeper, explores what that will really mean. Why is this wizard the way he or she is? How will it change how readers understand it if I call them shamans or magickers or some other invented term? How will it change things if I tweak some other aspect--beardless? exaggerated beard to the point of absurdity? (Not that you have to change those things to make it non-cliche!--but understanding how those things affect readers helps move them beyond 2-D) How will these non-humans think? (elves and dwarves too often are far too human in their thinking in most things I've read--one of the things I thought Tad Williams overcame nicely with the elf-like race in Dragonbone Chair, etc., as does Greg Keyes in Briar King, etc.) What if I give them a different name or invent a new race? (Again, not that you have to, but that considering the questions and understanding how it affects things helps elevate the result.)

You know, when I looked back at Game of Thrones after reading it, I realized that most of the characters fit a pattern that if you'd asked me beforehand I would have said, "Avoid it--sounds cliche." So that really made me realize how much a good writer can take what would seem cliche and make it come alive through good writing and really doing the little things to make each character seem to be there for a purpose that isn't just token-whatever. Some things are going to be harder to overcome--orphaned farmboys and magic swords, elves and dwarves and vampires...these are all things that I admit to a pretty strong reaction against. So in writing that, you're pushing against that kind of resistance from many readers (though certainly not all). But I would never say that it's impossible to take any of those things or even all of them and make a compellingly rich, even archetypal story that doesn't feel cliche. But...you certainly have some work ahead of you.