Friday, June 17, 2005

Dear Locus (and Locus Readers)

I'm pretty certain that isn't me standing behind Cory Doctorow and Diane A. Kelly on page 42. In fact, I'm pretty certain that it's James L. Cambias. But thanks for the name-check.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Milkshake and Honey, Yeah

Now I go to see Sleater-Kinney, who are IK in so many ways it's sick. Wish me tinnitis.

Me So Crazy (44)

I just spent an hour and a half using numerology to figure out the names of the principal characters for a new short story.

It's a form of madness.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Let's Hope He's Not Dumb Enough to Veto This


Six Blind Men Painting an Elephant

Matt Cheney AKA the Mumpsimus has a new post which examines the Dark Cabal's contention that the younger generation is writing pretty stories with very little substance. (My paraphrasing.) In a reflection of the synchronicity that seems to be at work in the genre all the time, this is something I've been thinking about in relation to my own work.

A couple of the short stories that I'm working on right now (the elephants is one, yes. Remember, a pachyderm's gestation period is twenty-two months. Don't rush me) involve a lot of research and planning, which is atypical of most of the short fiction I've written to this point. Many of the short stories I've sold in the last couple of years were written rather quickly, without little or no agonizing over anything except where to send them. Some of them were little experiments, written in a couple of days, as much for the fun as for any higher ideal. (And what's wrong with that?) But recently I've been writing longer stories, taking more time with them, agonizing a little more. This is not to say that I'm disavowing anything I've written before--not the published stuff, anyway. (Well, maybe the one.) It just means that, more than just being aware that there's room for me to improve, that I feel like I'm getting an idea of where that room is. For me, the work of becoming a better writer is like painting a wall blindfolded; I usually don't know I've missed a spot unless someone else points it out, and even then there's no guarantee I'm going to cover it on the next pass. Right now I'm feeling like the thing to do is to put on several coats, and try a few different colors.

If I understand what the Dark Cabalist (this one calls him- or herself Onyx) is getting at (and I'm not certain I do), then he or she is calling for more thoughtfulness and complexity in our stories. Onyx wants us to "Push a little harder" and I'm not going to say we shouldn't. Of course we should. But I don't see a negative in some of what is singled out in the post. For instance, the fact that themes of sexuality and self-actualization are still being explored by the younger generation. Well, yeah. Why shouldn't we write about the central preoccupations of sex and death and identity? Granted, we should write well about them, and perhaps that's Onyx's beef, but it's a bit unclear.

In some ways Onyx's point seems to be that we should eschew thematic pithiness, and I can't say I disagree. I personally tend to subscribe to the idea that Ben espouses at the bottom of this post, where he talks about Keats's Negative Capability--essentially, that the purpose of art is not to solve problems (by, for instance, drawing pithy conclusions and tying stories up neatly with them), but to explore them. No less a philosopher than Bruce Lee said that an intelligent mind is nourished by the search for answers, and not by conclusions. Maybe it's the postmodernist in me, but this is always my approach to my fiction; it might mean one thing, or it might mean another. I suspect that my coverage isn't all I would like it to be--the trouble with painting blindfolded is sometimes you don't realize when the paint's run out--but that's the goal.

My point--and I had one when I started this post--is that while I'm still writing the smaller, experimental pieces, lately I've been pressuring myself to write bigger, experimental pieces. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not. I'm aware that there's a part of me that thinks these stories are in some sense more "important," and that seems like part of a recipe for self-sabotage to me. I couldn't even say what it means, truthfully. I hope that it means simply I'm becoming a better writer and that these stories are going to be better than what I was able to write a year or six months ago, and that I may have a better chance for success with them.

Meh. Apologies for the self-indulgence. I'd intended to comment on some of what Cheney says, which I think is (as usual) very insightful and smart, so go read that. I'll be over here Googling myself.

Dear Mr. Blair

This is pretty devastating. It's a letter from the 14-year-old sister of a British soldier killed in Iraq to the British Prime Minister. An excerpt:

As I said everyone is hurting badly right now, but you would not know that because your sons are all tucked up nicely in bed at night, at the same time as there are mums and dads who still have sons over there, who can't sleep at night, wondering if their loved ones are coming home or are they going to be the next ones to be killed.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Voracious Readers Wanted

First, let me just say this: with certain markets, just the personalized rejection makes me pretty happy. Don't get me wrong, I think I'm good at this, and I'm trying to get better, and I really want to break into the Big Ones. But just the idea that certain folks thought, if only for a minute or two, that my story was funny or interesting or worth considering throwing money at, well, that makes me happy. Oh, and also the part where they ask me to send them more stuff. Heh heh heh. Be careful what you wish for.

I'm supposed to interview a voracious reader for Adult Pop Lit, and I think there are more than a few who stop by here from time to time, so I thought I'd post the questions here. Anyone who cares to respond, please do so in the comments. And thanks.

The questions:

1. How do you decide what to read next?
2. Do you exhaust the entire works of certain authors, or do you skip around?
3. How are much are you influenced by best-seller status, by reviews, by
conversations with friends, etc.?
4. Do you select materials by browsing, or do you search for known items?
5. If you browse in libraries, how do you go about it? Do you ever ask librarians for help?
6. How do you select books in bookstores? Do you ever ask bookstore
7. Do you order books on the Internet?
8. What frustrations do you encounter in selecting what to read next?

Drive Yourself Crazy

It's been quiet around these here parts because I've been gone. I decided, at the last minute, to take advantage of my Friday off to drive up and see the family for a couple of days. Chicago to St. Paul: 6.5 hours, with traffic and refueling stops.

I stayed until Sunday A.M. I must apologize to all the Twin Cities folks I know for not dropping a line; I haven't actually seen my folks since, well, Christmas, so mainly I just wanted to chill. I helped some around the house--my parents own a Queen Anne that was built just after the Civil War and has been much renovated in the past, but not so much in a loving way. About a year and a half ago they started redoing it themselves with the help of this carpenter fellow they've sort of adopted, and the house has been in various states of chaos ever since. My dad, who's retired, says he's ready to go back to work so he can relax. (My dad thinks jokes like that are pretty funny.) The parts that are done, though, look great--nearly the entire second floor is completely changed from the way it looked while I was growing up there. It's a bit odd. I used to know where all the creaky boards were in the hall, so I could sneak out of my room in the middle of the night without waking anyone. Now the boards don't creak, and I feel somehow cheated.

What else--I went to two book stores that were shutting down, one that sells new books and one that sells used. Cheap books all around. Twin Cities folks reading this probably know about Bound to Be Read shutting down (and it's hard for me to be sad about that, since it's right across the street from where my beloved and much-lamented Odegaard's used to be, and the two are connected in my mind as part of some vast Odegaard-slaying conspiracy spearheaded by Stanley Hubbard), but you might not know about Turn About Books, which is at 708 Southview Boulevard in South Saint Paul. The woman who owns the place is surly and the books aren't in the least organized, but they had a raft of paperback SF, some of which aren't easily found (I saw a few old Tim Powers books, for one, including Forsake the Sky), as well as lots of mysteries and romance novels, all for a dollar each. They're trying to sell the place out, and she said she had a bunch more in the basement, so if you've got a free afternoon it's worth checking out.

I listened to the Twins play Thursday night as I was approaching the Cities, the signal from WCCO gradually becoming clear as I navigated the hills around Eau Claire. Nowadays I listen more to NPR when I'm in town, but nothing feels more like home than listening to the ball game on 'CCO. I watched the boys play the Dodgers on Friday and Saturday, too; much was made of the fact that this was the first meeting between the two teams since the Drysdale/Koufax Dodgers beat the Killebrew/Versalles/Oliva/Allison/Battey/Kaat/Grant Twins in 1965. The Dodgers took this series as well, 2 games to 1. Damn that Hee Seop Choi!

Sunday we went to brunch and then I hit the road for Champaign with an audiobook. (More on that later.) St. Paul to Champaign: 8 hours, with stops. Then, of course, I couldn't sleep, and I had to be on campus at 8 AM yesterday for class. The class I'm taking this summer is Adult Popular Literature, AKA the genres class. Primarily we're covering mysteries, speculative fiction, romance, westerns, and narrative non-fiction. It's targeted towards Reader's Advisory needs, but part of the purpose of the course is also to eradicate snobbishness among librarians. Good luck. There were a few people who expressed a distaste for SF and/or horror, and I personally have a bit of an attitude when it comes to romance novels. (More on that later.) We had class sessions from 8 AM to 6 PM, with some breaks, and at that point I just wanted to be home. Champaign to Chicago: 2 hours plus, the plus being primarily spent in an attempt to find some road food that wasn't going to make me ill. I don't want to look at my car again for a month. I don't know how some people do it.