Friday, August 19, 2005


My review of Stephen Koch's The Breaking Point is up at Matt Cheney's distinguished site. Check it out.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Pessimistic Post

Last night I rode my bike over to the Lakeshore Path and north to a hill just beyond Montrose Harbor to join a vigil for Cindy Sheehan. There was a decent crowd; between two-fifty and three-fifty, I'd guess. I arrived without a candle but was given one by one of the organizers. I lit it from someone else's, but in the wind off of Lake Michigan I couldn't keep it lit even with a highly flammable Dixie cup shielding it.

For a while after I arrived people continued to gather, climbing up the hillside in twos and threes. We were silent, just standing. Some people held signs. Some took pictures. There were several dogs. The crowd was diverse in age, but not as much in ethnicity.

As I said, for a while we just stood in silence. I thought the silence was very effective and moving, but after a while I guess people couldn't resist filling it. They sang a bunch of peace songs, which was fine but I didn't sing along. I just wanted to be there and hold my candle (which was out by this time) and imagine that there were people all over the place doing the same.

I have to confess something. I'll be 35 in a month and I've been more or less pissed off about something the government has been doing since at least high school, and yet this is the first time I've ever been to a political rally or protest or anything similar. (The closest I've come is probably the walkout we staged at our high school after the community voted down a referendum that would have funded extracurriculars like athletics and the band.) Why this is, I can't say. Possibly because my parents have never been protesters or anything of the sort. Both--particularly my mom--are pretty consistently Democratic (although I know my dad voted against Clinton once), but we've never talked about politics much. Mostly when we do it's my mom and I comisserating about how much we hate Bush. Sometimes we disagree on things, but rarely, and when we do we don't fight. We might argue briefly, but there isn't much shouting in my family, except for my sister Mary, and she does it for the attention. (Sad but true, Mare.)

I can't say exactly why I went to this event after failing to attend so many others, or why Cindy Sheehan has gotten me so engaged. Informed is one thing--I'm informed to the limits of my emotional capacity--but engaged is something else. This isn't a political blog. (I don't know what the hell kind of blog this is; stream-of-consciousness, maybe.) I'm not going to turn it into a political blog--there are enough of those, and while I have several of them on my RSS I weed through them pretty quickly, because they tend to depress me. The more I learn or suspect about what really happens behind what we're told, the more depressed and paranoid I get. But I guess that Cindy Sheehan has me hoping that public opinion will turn against Bush and the Republicans long enough for something to change. How that might work, I can't say, since I don't think the Democrats are interested in changing things either. It's just a hope.

Sunday evening my roommate Marianne played in a concert with a small regional orchestra. She plays cello--has since she was three--and it's an opportunity for her to keep those muscles developed, so to speak. It was a good concert, overall, but it had an odd flavour to it; they were supposed to be songs of freedom (nope, no Bob Marley), but in large part this turned out to mean patriotic songs. That's not terrible in and of itself--I happen to like the "Battle Hymn of the Republic"--but the conductor was slightly nuts. He said things like "We've been praying for this weather, and I think we know which God delivered it." When he introduced "America the Beautiful" he said he'd support a move to have it replace "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem because it was easier to sing (true) and "It gives credit where credit is due." (What does that even mean?)

We were almost home from the concert when my cell phone rang. It was my sister Mary's phone, but it turned out to be her boyfriend Palito on the other end. He was scheduled to leave for Fort McCoy to get ready for his second deployment to Iraq the next day, and he was calling to say goodbye. He said his unit was headed over in October, and he expected to be there a year. I told him to take care of himself and he said he'd be back. I didn't know what else to say. I asked him what he'd like to have sent to him while he's overseas. I asked him if he knew what he would be doing over there this time; last time he was driving supply convoys, mostly in the southern part of the country. He said he wasn't sure. After a few long pauses and his repeated assurance that he would be back, I told him I'd see him soon and we hung up.

By this time we were parked in the Dominick's parking lot. Marianne had run in to grab some groceries, so I was alone in the car, and I just lost it. I felt overwhelmed. I'm scared for Palito and I feel helpless to change what's happening. Palito believes the war in Iraq is justified and that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks, and more than once I've disagreed with him. But I think he needs to believe that if he's going to go over there and do what he's being asked to do. Even so, he's not as eager to go now as he was the first time. He knows things aren't working out the way they were supposed to. Meanwhile, Bush and his team are too stubborn to even look at what's already gone wrong, let alone correct their course.

As I was riding home from the vigil last night I felt sad. I was glad I'd gone but I didn't have any expectation that it would have much impact. I don't know what else to do, though. I can't change Bush's mind; at this point I don't think anyone can. I can't bring Palito or any of the other soldiers home. I can't make Iraq safe for the Iraqis. I don't have money and I don't have power. I only have one vote, and lately it seems like even that doesn't count. Really, the only thing I know how to do very well is tell stories, and I don't believe that stories change the world. I used to believe that, but not anymore.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Keep Wheatland Press Alive!

Deb Layne reports that Wheatland Press is in shortfall mode. She needs to sell some books.

Aside from the wonderful Polyphony anthology series (which is now available in a special hardcover format), Wheatland publishes collections by Steven Utley, Bruce Holland Rogers, Jay Lake, and Jerry Oltion; original anthologies like The Nine Muses and TEL; nonfiction by Lucius Shepard; and the All-Star anthologies, such as the wonderful All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories and the upcoming Twenty Epics (which will contain my story "Five Hundred and Forty Doors"). That last is no longer a certainty, however,* since if Deb doesn't sell some books Wheatland is going to be in dire straits. Help her out.

*David assures me that the book will happen regardless, but let's hope he doesn't have to look for another publisher at this point.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Weren't Jonathan and Victoria Bad Enough?

I'm afraid that the Amazing Race and I are about to have a falling out. I just really don't want to watch bratty kids argue over who has to do the roadblocks.

Nine-year-old Carissa Gaghan from Glastonbury, Connecticut, threw down the gauntlet to on Tuesday's The Early Show, which introduced the competitors. "Either you'll be a zero or you'll be a hero," she told her fellow racers.


Some Realizations

1. The reading period for Spicy Slipstream Stories opens in two weeks, and closes October 15! I'd better get writing on that genius idea I had. If it's still genius, that is.

2. Zero is a weird concept.

3. School is starting soon, and I will once again have to sigh and grumble and set aside the writing for now. Which means I dare not think of starting another novel at the moment, but with three manuscripts done I don't think I'm likely to be running a deficit all that quickly.

4. My financial aid cannot come too soon.

5. I've been approaching the elephant novel/story from the wrong direction. Literally, in fact; east to west instead of west to east. Figuratively, I've been conceiving of it as someone else's story. A stupid mistake that I don't usually make. However, it probably won't be written anytime soon (see #3 above).

6. Now that I've seen the entire series, I can say it with certainty: Carnivale should not have been cancelled.

7. Someone should make a movie or a TV series out of Scott Westerfeld's Midnighters. I just finished Book Two, and it's soooo good.

8. I don't really like to argue.

9. If, as is my plan, I live forever AND continue to get better at this writing thing, eventually I will be INFINITELY SUPER GOOD and change the world with a sentence. Maybe even a clause.

Vellum, the Book of All Hours: by Hal Duncan*

(Not really a review; more of a reaction, and an exhortation.)

I read a lot of good writing. I select for it, that's why. I know where to look for the kind of stuff I like. I often read something, a story or a novel, and am pleased. I may think, "That kicked ass." (Rudi Dornemann's story in the latest Rabid Transit, which I just read the other day, falls into that category.) I may think, "I wish I'd done that." Or I may think, "That's better than I could do." (Often it's more along the lines of "I would have never thought to have done that," and that often comes down to me being a particular sort of writer with particular concerns and interests when it comes to stories. So I usually don't get too worried about that.)

What happens much less often is that I read a story or a novel and think to myself, "Shit. I need to try harder."

Vellum is one of those books. It's so good that after I finished it, at 2 AM after a long day, I couldn't fall asleep. I felt so challenged by this book, as a reader and a writer, that I simply couldn't let it go that easily. And now, four days later, I still haven't digested it fully.

Vellum is an engrossing book. It's not a quick read or a page-turner. It requires attention. But when I was reading it, no matter where I was, you couldn't have distracted me with a ballpeen hammer to the skull. I was completely pulled into the mingling of myths and archetypes swaggering across the pages. Hal's not just creating characters; he's extracting all the blood and ink from the palimpsest of deep history and language, and walking it around and fucking with its memories. Time and identity stand still and flow backwards and are subject to change without notice. And the fight, of course. The fight is still going on, the one without beginning or end, the one where the bad guys and the good guys look and act pretty much alike and the only way to win is to not take sides.

Pan MacMillan makes it sound as though Hal Duncan has turned fantasy fiction inside out. It's more like he ran it over with a steamroller, stretched it over the hollow stump of an oak and recited epic poems while spanking out a punk rock beat. Aside from the dead and anonymous authors of world mythology, Vellum nods at Moorcock, Lovecraft, Burroughs, Moore, Peake (who makes a cameo appearance) and others, then leaves them behind. Hal Duncan's world is a book, but that doesn't give the whole picture; it's an atlas of stories, infinitely large, populated by gods and angels and legends. From the Sumerians to the Rolling Stones, from the No-Man's-Land of World War I to the storied confines of Asheville, North Carolina, from the familiar imaginary to the unimagined, sometimes within the space of a paragraph.

I have to confess that I read the first half of this book with a mix of wonder and worry. Four months ago I hadn't heard of Hal Duncan, and despite what I've learned of him since (that he writes killer short stories and can reel off maddeningly smart blog-ersation at the drop of a hat), I didn't know that he could pull this off. But the end of Book One of Vellum snapped everything together in such a way that I had to put the book down. He knows what he's doing, and with the number of balls he's juggling, that's damned impressive. There's been some talk about the use of the term self-indulgent lately, which is something that has always seemed to me to boil down to "I didn't care." That just doesn't apply here. Hal cares about sharing his vision of stories, and that passion is palpable. The story is tight and sprawling at the same time; it's big and small and old and new.

I can't say whether others will react to this book as I have, or whether they'll be marking their calendars for the next volume (Ink, August 2006) to appear. But I would suggest, if fantasy is something you care about, that you will want to read this book regardless of what I say. I won't be the only one saying it. Get it.

*(Note: Amazon USA does have a listing for this book, but my understanding is that it's not actually releasing here until next year: meanwhile, Amazon UK has it.)

Just Read It

First shotguns, now this.

Not In Texas

Nope. Turns out that sixteen hours is a lot of driving. And gas over $3.00 a gallon? I'm thinking of selling the car. (Seriously. I'm really damn broke.)

However, there are ways in which one can support Cindy Sheehan without leaving your own hometown. Or even your computer chair. I'm not a huge fan of's constant spamming, but they are doing something good this week in organizing Wednesday night vigils for Cindy and the end of the war. You can also donate to the Crawford Peace House which is supporting Cindy's stay.

End political commercial.

More soon, including book reviews and a list of revelations.