Thursday, May 31, 2007

Oh Pioneer!

I'm headed off to Taos, New Mexico tomorrow. Since New Mexico is the next state over, I though I'd drive. It turns out that when you live in Texas, 'the next state over' is quite a ways. It's fourteen hours to Taos and much of it looks as if it is the kind of place where you watch for 'last gas for 200 miles' kind of signs. I drive to Lubbock, Texas and then that's the last sign of civilization until Clovis. (Not counting Muleshoe. I don't know, can you count Muleshoe?)

My understanding is that if Lubbock is civilization, things are bad.

After Clovis I head for Las Vegas, New Mexico, and then take something called NM65 to NM518 through Sapello and, astonishingly enough, Cleveland, New Mexico.

I have my story ready for critique. I have my cookbooks packed and a bunch of ribeye steaks in a cooler and a 12 pack of Diet Pepsi if things get dicey. I've never seen West Texas but I think I'll see a lot of it. I'll have my computer and may actually check the internet from Taos. Then again, if I'm having a really good time, I may not.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

YouTube slash

I'll understand if you feel as if you need a long hot shower after this. (As found on Nathan Ballingrud's LJ.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

A New Market! For Novellas!

Please distribute far and wide.

Velocity Press Announces New Electrum Novella Series

Fans of the acclaimed Rabid Transit anthology series will be excited to hear that, here at Velocity Press, we’re evolving for your reading pleasure. Our purpose has always been to bring interesting and hard to classify fiction into print, work that might not otherwise be seen. Lately, we’re noticing a increase in short story markets, both in print and online, and have decided to move our focus away from shorter work. When we look at commercial magazines, literary journals, online magazines and the proliferation of ‘zines, we see a shortage of homes for novellas. With that in mind, we will be focusing on bringing a new, standalone novella to light each year, with the same level of top-flight, perfect-bound design and writing quality, under the new series line of Electrum Novellas.

Our guidelines for novellas don’t differ in any remarkable way from what we were looking for Rabid Transit. We want to publish novellas that push the boundaries of the form, novellas that question what the form can do in contrast to the short story and novel. We want novellas that forge something new out of disparate materials, like electrum itself, making something stronger and shinier than was there before. We want novellas that, in essence, rock and roll. Submission should be 17,500 to 40,000 words in length and sent electronically in standard submission format as a .rtf or .doc file to

Please only submit one novella a year. Expect to hear from us within three months on your submission. After that, feel free to inquire as to its status. Payment will be $150 dollars and ten contributor’s copies with the option to purchase more copies at reduced rates.

We hope new writers and past contributors to the Rabid Transit series will consider submitting their work to the Electrum series.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wiscon Bound

We leave tomorrow and come back on Sunday night. And I'm NOT taking a computer.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Door is A Jar

About a month ago, Bob mentioned that in this new house I always leave doors open. Pantry doors are not quite closed. Closet doors. All are left slightly ajar.

I scoffed. But it's true, I find behind me a trail of doors left off the latch. I get something from the pantry and when I am cleaning the kitchen, the pantry door is just barely open, like a girl with her slip showing. Now and again I catch myself, my fingers splayed against the door, having pushed it to the point of the catch and then letting go and then walking away, while the door, behind me, is left hesitantly cracked.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Food, Ritual, and What Were They Thinking?

You catch the ortolan with a net spread up in the forest canopy. Take it alive. Take it home. Poke out its eyes and put it in a small cage. Force-feed it oats and millet and figs until it has swollen to four times its normal size. Drown it in brandy. Roast it whole, in an oven at high heat, for six to eight minutes. Bring it to the table. Place a cloth—a napkin will do—over your head to hide your cruelty from the sight of God. Put the whole bird into your mouth, with only the beak protruding from your lips. Bite. Put the beak on your plate and begin chewing, gently. You will taste three things: First, the sweetness of the flesh and fat. This is God. Then, the bitterness of the guts will begin to overwhelm you. This is the suffering of Jesus. Finally, as your teeth break the small, delicate bones and they begin to lacerate your gums, you will taste the salt of your own blood, mingling with the richness of the fat and the bitterness of the organs. This is the Holy Spirit, the mystery of the Trinity—three united as one. It is cruel. And beautiful. According to Claude Souvenir, chewing the ortolan takes approximately 15 minutes.

The Urban Hunt as cited in the ortolan article on Wikipedia.

Lest you think this is some medieval ritual, the last meal Francois Mitterand ate (eight days before he died of cancer) was a lavish banquet with a large number of guests. The final course was ortolan. It's technically illegal in France to eat it. Mitterand passed in and out of consciousness during the meal, but apparently ate his ortolan.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


The stove in this house is old, and the door doesn't close all the way on the oven. This means that the oven temperature is really unstable. (Like as much as 200 degrees unstable according to my oven thermometer.) This means not much baking.

No cheesecake. No chocolate chip cookies.

Bob finds this very sad.

We went looking at stoves today, just to get an idea. I got really excited about power burners and started talking BTUs to Bob's amazement. Talking about how 11,000 BTUs was good, but really, 15,000 to 16,000 BTUs would be so much better. He looked at a stove with a simmer burner and said, "Is that for when you make your stock and you let it simmer for hours?"

"No," I said, "that's for tempering chocolate, that kind of thing." I was rummaging around looking for the paperwork on the stove to see what the power burner was rated. (16,000). I opened it up and he looked over my shoulder and said, "It says chocolate! It says just what you said! You know your stuff."

I think when I talk about BTUs, my husband the engineer finds it kinda sexy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Oh Man, Not Again

I have shingles. Again. Caught them early so they aren't awful. But jeez, enough already. My doctor said that even after successful treatment, people who have had Hodgkins always show some evidence that their immune systems are not quite as effective as average.

I was expecting Yoga to save me from this.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Signs of Horticultural Success

A Cowhorn pepper, growing on my deck.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Oh, and I Wrote a Short Story Yesterday

It's only 2,500 words long, but that has happened to me maybe three times in my life, that I sat down and wrote a short story.

It's called "Going to France".

This makes three short stories I have written this year. For me, that is blinding speed. The three stories are all at sort of different axis of my writing styles. One is kind of domestic fiction, a story of suburban life written as if it were a New Yorker article, about amnesia. It was fun because I wanted to sort of figure out what some of the differences were between nonfiction and fiction. (Of course, the obvious difference is that nonfiction is 'not fiction.' But there are other differences, too, in tone, in the material presented, all sorts of things.) So I wrote a fictional nonfiction and Jonathan Strahan accepted it for Eclipse, his original anthology coming out from Nightshade.

Then I wrote a zombie story for Adam. He had an idea for a story and he really thought it would be cool as a movie or a story so when he told me, I knew I would need a story for Rio Hondo so I wrote it. Writing for freelance projects I've had to develop voices which are a little outside of my usual writing style and one of them is something my employer calls my "Elmore Leonard voice." I'm not saying more than that about employer and freelance projects because I am covered, nay, buried, in nondisclosure agreements and corporate lawyers would come and smother me in my sleep if I talked more. But I wrote the zombie story in the Elmore Leonard voice, which was fun.

And then today I wrote a fantasy story which is elliptical and fantastical and, well, okay, I'm not actually sure it makes any sense. But I wrote the whole thing today and it's got a couple of great moments in it, so how bad can that be?

Bob has been saying he hoped the move would kind of shake me up and make me write. I think it has.

Plot, Thickening

I'm teaching a workshop at Write By The Lake in Madison, Wisconsin again this year. This one is about plot.

I find it very hard to actually talk about plot. In fact, I find it difficult to take all those topics, plot, setting, character, and separate them out like so many pieces of an assembly. But I figure that's just going to have to be my strength. Right now I have six students and even if I get a couple of more, that gives us a lot of time to figure out what people are doing, and what it is that they feel is missing. My working definition of plot is character in situation. That's a dicey definition because I think 'characterization' can rest of the flimsiest of textual tricks. A lot of what we think of as characterization comes from what cognitive psychologists call Theory of Mind. (That's part of what autistic people struggle with and to not have a Theory of Mind is to be Mindblind.) Humans are highly social creatures and we spend a lot of time assuming that other people are, in fact, other people. That they have intentionality, emotion, and that we have a sense of what they are about. That is, when I'm at the grocery store and I see you standing by the butcher counter (okay, we're at Whole Foods, where they actually have a butcher counter) and you're looking at the butcher, who is serving someone else, I will leap to the assumption that you are probably next in line. I assume that you intend to buy meat, or at least ask the butcher a question. I assume that you are waiting for your turn. I assume that my turn is after your turn. I assume that you, the butcher, and anyone else who was there before me, will be angry at me if I try to buy meat before you. And I do all that more or less instantaneously.

We are so hardwired to make assumptions about other people's interior states, that we make assumptions about all sorts of interior states. We personify stuff. We describe houses as 'happy' or 'gloomy'. We think that the grocery cart has it in for our car door. We think that characters in fiction are people. We can leap to rather complex assumptions about them on the basis of fairly flimsy details. The details that we find most telling tend to be their actions. So in fact, part of character is what I describe them doing, and if I think of situation and describe characters acting in the situation, I am in fact characterizing as much as I am generating plot.

But I can't help that. Life is just like that. The components of story do not disassemble as neatly as the brakes on a car. Okay, I'm not sure how neatly the brakes on a car disassemble, having only a hazy notion of how brakes specifically work. But I'm hoping the example makes sense.

After I make some caveats (like the one I just made) I think I'll have students generate events for sets of characters most of us are familiar with. Maybe set up a situation--someone walks into a room where someone is dead in a kitchen chair at the table--and generate what might happen next if the character is a detective, or if the character is a twenty-two year old governess who thinks of herself as plain, or if the character is a psychopathic killer, or if the character is a child. I'm very interested in the conventions we have established and in what reader expectations are in these situations, and how we deal with reader expectations. I think that a lot of plot is a tightrope walk between the cliche and the completely unexpected.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

No Really, It'll Be Fun

In Shooter, Vietnam war photographer David Hume Kennerly says that his most frightening wartime experiences were often preceded by a helicopter pilot saying, "Let me show you what this baby can do."

Yoga doesn't compare to being shot at, but the most frightening thing a yoga teacher can say is, "No, really, it'll be fun." Until that moment it had probably not occurred to me that it might or might not be fun, you know? I don't know the poses. You tell me we're going to do a handstand with our feet on the wall and as far as I know, it's no biggie. (Not like doing a real handstand at least.)

(Photograph stolen from web site of person who can actually do yoga. The difference between what she is doing and what we were doing is that she is on her forearms, and we were on our hands.)

Add the phrase, "No, really, it'll be fun," and I know instantly that this pose is going to kick my ass.

Which it did. We were supposed to hold it for 60 seconds. I lasted 30 the first time and 50 seconds the second time. We went immediately from the handstand to a sixty second downward facing dog.

The teacher said that downward facing dog is a resting pose.

The person who defined downward dog as 'resting' was probably the person who originally created the yoga definition of 'fun.'

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Yoga Tonight

I'm meeting a friend for a yoga class. It's not normally a class I would take since it's beyond my level of competency--this is my seventh week of yoga so 'competent' is a very relative term. The nice thing about yoga is that someone who has been practicing for ten years can do the same pose I can do and we can both get something out of it. The other nice thing about the yoga classes I take is that if you find something difficult or painful you're supposed to Not Do It. Do something else, or just go into a neutral pose called Child's Pose until they move on to something else. It's not supposed to hurt. Well, sometimes it hurts in that stretch a muscle way, and I'm often sore the next day, but it doesn't hurt in that hurting oneself way.

Since I started yoga, I feel as if I've gotten something back that I had lost, in terms of my relationship with the world. I bend better, move better, feel better, can do stuff I took for granted before I got sick. That's all really nice. It's also a cliche, but like sex, when it happens to you it's different, better, cooler. In fact, my whole experience of yoga is one big yoga cliche. Reduction in anxiety, improvements in general health, better workout than I expected, yadda yadda yadda. Except of course since it's my anxiety that's reduced, the experience is anything but cliche here at the micro level. Still it's hard to talk about without sounding like a dork. Yoga changed my life! Everyone should do yoga! My day to day existence is significantly altered in amazing ways!

They still say appalling new age things in yoga. I took a class where we concentrated on our back muscles. (That's a good thing, actually. When I told my doctor I was taking yoga he said he often tells men in their forties that if they want to avoid back surgery, they should start taking yoga right now.) The teacher started talking about how we would be lifting our palate. Yeah, we would be lifting the roof of our mouth. And when we did that, our breath energy (our prana) would circulate down our spine to our sitting bone and then come back up the front of our body to our heart. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But part of the practice for me is giving it a go no matter how loony it sounds, and that particular session taught me a great deal. I concentrated on lifting my palate and tried to feel the energy circulating. And I did the poses better. My back did better, I used my muscles in my back and stomach in a whole new way and stopped using my arms to support myself. Okay, trust me, without getting into specifics, I just found the idea of lifting my body from the roof of my mouth to be a really good way to get me to do stuff better. So I thought about it. Yoga is old and over the time its been practiced, people have found ways of thinking and talking that are very effective at communicating to other people how to do things that are kinesthetic and hard to describe. But when I listen, take these things seriously, and try to do them, when I practice yoga, I find myself feeling better and doing better and able to do all sorts of stuff I wouldn't have expected I could do.

In yoga, the teacher will often ask us to try something that I think, for good an obvious reasons, I may not be able to do. On Tuesday, the teacher asked us to perform a variation of Side Plank Pose. I can't do a push-up. But in yoga, I figure I'll just try. If I can't do it, I can't do it. If I look stupid, I look stupid. So I did it. Pretty? Probably not. Satisfying? Quite.

I'm kind of nervous about going to a more advanced class tonight, but I figure, I'll just try it. Hard for me to do that. I don't mind failure (or I wouldn't be a writer) but I prefer to do it in private. So hey, I'll have to face my own limitations and my ego and yadda yadda yadda. Like I said, it's a cliche, except when it's happening to me.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Oh God, Another Meme

Like many memes, this feels really profound when I do it. When I look at other people's soundtracks, I know a lot of the songs, but really, I'd have to see the movie. Feel free to skip this post or stop reading at any time.

IF YOUR LIFE WAS A MOVIE, WHAT WOULD THE SOUNDTRACK BE? (via Greg Van Eekhout from barthanderson)

1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question, type the song that’s playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
6. Don’t lie and try to pretend you’re cool…

Opening Credits: Under African Skies, Paul Simon, Graceland

Waking Up: Ain’t No Sunshine, Carol Duboc (jazz cover)

First Day At School: Same Situation, Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark

Enter The Villain: I Am What I See, Single Gun Theory, Like Start in My Hands

Falling In Love: After Hours (Twelve Bars Past Midnight) Rickie Lee Jones, Rickie Lee Jones

Breaking Up: All of Me, Lester Young (In a conventional movie, Falling in Love and Breaking Up would be reversed. My movie is heavy on cheap irony)

Prom: They are Zombies!!! They Are Neighbors!!! They Have Come back From the Dead!!! Sufjan Stevens, Come on Feel the Illinoise

The Big Game: Wild Blue Seas, Single Gun Theory, Like Stars in my Hands

Life is Good: Sister Jack, Spoon, Gimme Fiction

Mental Anguish: Car on a Hill, Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark

Driving: Out of Egypt, Into the Great Laugh of Mankind, Sufjan Stevens, Come Hear the Illinoise

Flashback: Beside You In Time, Nine Inch Nails, With Teeth

Getting Back Together: Any Major Dude Will Tell You, Steely Dan, Citizen Steely Dan

Meeting the Parents: Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles) The Arcade Fire, Funeral

Wedding: A Short Reprise for Mary Todd Lincoln, Sufjan Stevens (again!)

Paying the Dues: Behind Blue Eyes, The Who, Who’s Next

The Night Before The War: Crazy Love II, Paul Simon, Graceland

Chase Scene: The Caves of Altimera, Steely Dan

Final Battle: Black Friday, Steely Dan

Moment of Triumph: The Royal Scam, Steely Dan

Death Scene: Peg, Steely Dan

Funeral Song: Bad Reputation, Freedy Johnson, This Perfect World

End Credits: Blue Motel Room, Joni Mitchell, Blue

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Plea For Strangeness

I just read this in David Moles Chrononautic Log and of course it appealed to me greatly since I write mostly science fiction and almost none of it is interstellar. I don't remember hearing about Mundane SF (can I not have heard about it, or have I just forgotten?) But it seems to me that there's a lot of mileage left in interstellar galactic empires (which are never about interstellar galactic empires and are about all sorts of other things.) A Galaxy Spanning Empire seems to me a great place to talk about the difficulty of communication between cultures, about foreignness, about the impossible bigness of things, even, if you wanted, about watching a couple of billion people hurtle towards ecological disaster knowing that millions and millions would die of the ensuing climactic change.

(Side note to side comment after that post: I also now have a perverse desire to write a cool story featuring a white guy.)

I don't think using naturalistic techniques of characterization is a new thing in sf and fantasy. And, while there is a fair share of people writing, 'Would you like to have lunch, milady' genre prose, I think I'd like to see more stuff that was less like the way people I know speak and think. Patrick O'Brien wrote some really kick ass genre fiction about people who were astonishingly alien and who spoke in really odd ways, and they were just separated from us by about two hundred years. Which might as well have been 17 light years.

Since Geoff Ryman is one of the founders of the this movement, I know it is in fact far more interesting than it sounds in the Manifesto--The Child Garden is a book full of the incredibly strange. I would prefer to ask sf to be stranger, rather than more Mundane. I think that there should be a Strangeness Manifesto.

SF/Fantasy as a genre is, as much as anything about rocket ships and magic, about the tension between strangeness and the knowable about human nature. (Hey, a new definition of sf! Equally bad as the others, but useful for discussion.) Conventions allow readers to navigate the strange. Okay, this story may have dragons that speak telepathically, but it's also a coming of age story, and I know what that means. (Or a romance. Or a revenge story, although real revenge stories are not a strong part of our cultural baggage and so we tend to write really simple wish-fulfillment versions of them involving vigilante justice, probably because our stories are more about the restrictions a pretty functional social system of justice places on the need for personal satisfaction, rather than the ramifications of revenge in the more classic sense. But I digress.) Our appetite for strangeness is a little more jaded, probably because we've exposed so much that lots of things that used to be strange, like sexual subcultures, or postpartum depression, or the complex social life of meercats. (All of which are on television these days.)

I know that by asking for a Manifesto of Strangeness, I am in danger of misrepresenting this as the Manifesto for Mundane misrepresents the very strangeness of Ryman's stories and prose. I'm not going to write the manifesto. Because strangeness can happen in very mundane ways. Like seeing the little dirt floor dachas in Russia (the summer houses of the average person, not the big second homes of the elite) with bright red geraniums out front. Here I was, surrounded by a bunch of depressed people (this was the Soviet Union in the year it would end, when people in the north hadn't had meat for two years and the groceries had nothing in them but shriveled looking potatoes) speaking a language I didn't understand, all of them having pretty much nothing to do with me. I was on an AARP tour with my mother and fifty other elderly people (another strange situation.) The shocking thing was not those exotic little cottages with their careful trim, their lack of plumbing, their gardens, but the geraniums. It never occurred to me that there would be geraniums in Russia, which is of course in retrospect rather obvious. But the moment for me became very strange because geraniums were part of my life, and the culture of dachas isn't in my life, and yet, now the two had been brought together.

If that kind of every day strangeness (AARP, dachas, geraniums, the fall of Soviet Empire) can find its way in sf, fine. In fact, I guess a lot of time that's what I do. But what I want to read is White Queen by Gwyneth Jones, with its off stage interstellar empire. It's weird insect-symbiote ridden aliens. It's very blind and very human misreading of otherness. It was a cool book.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

It's Sort of Fanfic

Okay, it's really not. It's really a mash-up. But it's fun.

Bob sent it to me with the note, I BE DIGGIN DIS.

Sorry I couldn't do that in white letters with black outline.