Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas

Hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. We didn't get a white Christmas here, although driving home from church last night we saw some scattered snowflakes against the windshield. Not much more than that ever came down, and none of it stuck.

I got some wonderful gifts from the family. One of those "Frogger" arcade style joystick TV plug-in games. The Return of the King extended edition DVD. A new 12th Man jersey to replace my current, well-worn one. A couple of meadmaking books with lots of recipes (I suppose I should take that as a hint, eh?). A very lovely Christmas all around. It's nice to be settled in and not worried about moving or house-hunting or any of that stuff for a change.

Now Playing: The Chieftans The Bells of Dublin

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

If you can dodge a wrench...

Lisa and I rented Dodgeball the other night, simply because it was there and we didn't give ourselves time to think about how stupid the film would be. And stupid it was. Some of the most inane, slapstick, obvious jokes ever put to film. The plot, if you could call it that, was a color-by-numbers David vs. Goliath competition, which was old even when Bill Murray told Chris Makepeace to run like "Woody the Wabbit" in Meatballs. I literally felt my I.Q. dropping with each scene.

And so help me, I laughed my ass off. Lisa too. Sometimes everything that's wrong about a movie can still work. It's funny and it's dumb. So there you have it.

Now Playing: David Lee Roth A Little Ain't Enough

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Promotional procrastination

I'm somewhat ashamed of myself. I'd been pestering the folks at Nebraska about marketing for my book (in a nice way) so they finally said, "Go ahead and send us what you've got--we'll try and incorporate your suggestions." That was something like late October/early November. I just now got it off to them last night.

My bad.

Voices of Vision is an odd bird, as it's the first "original" published in the Bison Books Frontiers of the Imagination series, and is also the first non-fiction. I'm the first live SF author they've published that can go out and promote on the convention circuit. It crosses over the lines from straight genre to "literary criticism" to comics. There are a bunch of potential audiences for this book, all of them small. The difficulty lies in reaching them effectively, because even then it's going to have niche appeal.

My marketing list includes lots of science fiction and fantasy publications, both online and hard copy. Newspaper and talk radio in my immediate area (read: Austin to San Antonio). Half a dozen SF conventions or more that I have pencilled in on my calendar for 2005. A couple dozen independent reviewers that have proven themselves friendly to SF publications over the years. A handful of venues where I believe a limited investment in advertising will have an exponential impact. I also sent contact information for a dozen independent bookstores and small chain stores that are convenient for me to do signings at. The university bookstores at Texas State and Texas A&M are included--and the former has a special section featuring publications from faculty (which I'm technically not, but I hope to crash the party anyway). All in all, it turned out to be a very long list indeed.

We'll see if they utilize any of my suggestions. We'll see if there's any advertising budget at all. We'll see if they arrange any book signings (I expect they'll only manage to secure events in El Paso, Amarillo and Harlingen on back-to-back days, Murphy's Law being what it is). From discussions with other published writers, I expect I'll end up having to do 90 percent of the grunt work myself--I'm already committed to doing the cons, so that's a big chunk of promotional activity there--simply because publishers don't have the resources dedicated to marketing. And Nebraska is a university press, mind you, so they're starting out will less discretionary money from the get-go.

One area that I didn't devote much space to in my suggestion list are comics retailers. There are several comics-themed interviews in the book (Neil Gaiman, Brad Meltzer, Elliot S! Maggin and the duo of Scott Kurtz and Frank Cho) but as comic shops mostly buy through Diamond rather than Ingram or another traditional book distributor, I'm at a loss how to effectively target this market. Right now, I'm thinking directly targetting the local shops in Austin/San Antonio/New Braunfels/San Marcos. And there's the Lone Star Comics chain up in Dallas. But how do you effectively reach a market that's so scattered and fragmentted, particularly one that's not all that likely to be receptive to a book that falls only marginally within their product envelope? I suspect this is something I should take up more fully with the marketing folks at Nebraska. Hello, 1-800-MY-COMIC-SHOP.

On a completely unrelated note, I must be doing something right. Although I know that in an absolute sense, sales rankings mean absolutely nothing, currently Voices of Visions "boasts" a lofty ranking of 445,510. Nothing to write home about, since there's almost half a million books selling better than mine. But considering the fact that my book is coming from a university press, won't even be published for another four months and is still selling better than half a million or more other titles, well, allow me the luxury of feeling smug. Don't worry--grim reality will set in soon enough.

Now Playing: Eric Ringler & Scarlet Rivera Celtic Carols

Friday, December 17, 2004

Amazon ahoy!

Every day holds new wonders, it seems. In short, the great and mighty now recognizes my otherwise insignificant existance with its listing of Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak. Which means you can buy my book at a steep discount from that gigantic purveyor of bookish goodness. Buy through the link above, and this humble author gets a tiny cut through the Associates program. (Which is good, because my little girls need new shoes. Seriously.)

But what if you're British, and are one who prefers to support the economy of the empire, rather than propping up those insufferable colonies? Not a problem! It just so happens that the tea-and-crumpets online bookseller has one too.

But wait, you say. Mayhap I'm not British or American. What can I do? Well, you can hie yourself over to, as the French are also on the cutting edge of my book's availability. Wow. I am certifiably international.

Unfortunately, none of these sites yet have book descriptions or the cover art on display yet. For those, you'll have to go directly to the University of Nebraska Press website.

Now Playing: Hollyridge Strings The Best of Christmas

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Seems I'm an expert on anything

One of the interesting things I've found about having so many reviews and articles published online is that I get emails--on a surprisingly regular basis--asking for all sorts of help with this that or the other with matters the letter-writer assumes I'm some sort of authority on. A few years back, someone--the History Channel? BBC America?--contacted me about arranging an interview with Tolkien biographer Humphrey Carpenter for a documentary. Me, a guy in Texas. The funny thing is, I got them connected, although it took some doing. A Chinese publisher once asked for an introduction to Gardner Dozois, so they could negotiate reprint rights to his Year's Best anthologies. Just last month, a Portugese publisher asked if I knew how to get ahold of Patricia Anthony, as they were interested in Portugese language rights to her works.

Today, I got an email from a one Mrs. McGuire of Derbyshire. That's in England. Seems that she attended a local theatrical production of an Arthurian-themed play recently, and was quite surprised that the "original production" appeared to be based extensively on Mary Stewart's Arthurian cycle of books. She wanted to know if Lady Stewart was still alive, and if I had contact information. Again, I'm in Texas. As far as I know, she's still alive, but I don't have her phone number in my Rolodex or anything like that. After a bit of Googling, however, I determined that as of a decade or so back, she lived at House of Letterawe, Loch Awe, Scotland. Does this constitute a legitimate address in the U.K.?

In any event, plagiarism is bad. If the playwrite lifted whole sections and dialogue as Mrs. McGuire suspect, said playwrite should be sent to her room without any supper, among other things. However, I must confess a degree of sympathy. I've long felt that Lady Stewart's Arthurian cycle lends itself dramatic presentation. Way back in high school, I adapted scenes from The Wicked Day for solo and duet acting for drama competitions. They worked very, very well, despite my meager acting talent. I'd very much like to take a crack at a full-blow script of that book (as well as the others) some day, so if Lady Stewart is ever of a mind to test the Hollywood waters, I'm easy to get ahold of.

Now Playing: Vince Guaraldi Trio A Charlie Brown Christmas

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Wizard of Barfsea

Many fantasy fans out there who've become spoiled in recent years by excellent, fairly faithful adaptations of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films are reeling in shock at the treatment given Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea by the SciFi Channel. The kindest thing that can be said about the miniseries is that the cheap and superficial Harry Potter knockoff it turned out to be had a bigger budget than most of the other awful films produced by the SciFi Channel. Now, Ms. LeGuin has given up on the idea of biting her tongue, and sets the record straight on her thoughts regarding this "adaptation":
For people who wonder why I "sold out to Halmi," or "let them change the story" -- you may find some answers here.

The producers (not yet including Robert Halmi Sr.) approached us with a reasonable offer. My dramatic agency at that time was William Morris. The contract of course gave me only the standard status of "consultant" -- which means exactly what the producers want it to mean, almost always little or nothing. The agency could not improve this clause. But the purchasers talked as if they genuinely meant to respect the books and to ask for my input when planning the film.

Which, of course, means that the producers are going to remove the religious elements from His Dark Materials and Narnia adaptations, while turning the cerebral I, Robot into a slam-bang actioner regardless of what the authors think.

With the success of LOTR and Harry Potter, I expected a much larger flood of cheap fantasy films to hit the market before this. The fact that Earthsea is reduced to uninspired formula isn't surprising. What continues to baffle me, however, is the continued inability to see that LOTR and Harry Potter succeeded because of their respective faithfulness to the source material. Those books are popular for a reason. The idea that they're spending money to secure rights to novels they have no intention whatsoever of adapting in a remotely recognizable form is lunacy.

In any event, I doubt we'll see many more "adaptations" of LeGuin's work any time within the next century or so...

Now Playing: Various Artists A Classic Cartoon Christmas

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Return of the meadmaker

Recovery from the cold continues, but I'm on the upswing. Yesterday, in fact, I was able to make a run in to San Antonio and pick up some yeast to start a new batch of mead brewing.

Last week I opened a bottle of the mead I bottled back in June. It has a beautiful golden color that is gorgeous in the glass. It still had somewhat rough, medicinal highlights, but they've softened noticably over the last six months. The overall flavor is still bland, but a soft, honeyish aftertaste has developed. And it definitely has alcohol in it, as two glasses were enough to give me a slight buzz. I'll try another bottle again in six months and see how additional aging smooths it down.

The new batch is more ambitious. I'm using 15 pounds of honey for a five-gallon brew, in an attempt to retain more honey flavor and a bit of sweetness. The fermentation is already going very strong, and the sweet, yeasty scent is filling my office. When fermentation settles down, I'm going to rack the mead into my two smaller fermentation vessels--one 1.5 gallons and the other 2.5 gallons. The larger I'm going to attempt to craft into a "holiday metheglin," spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, which hopefully will be ready to drink by next Christmas. The other will probably become a fruit melomel of some sort--I'm debating whether to make it raspberry, passion fruit or something else. Since my current mead has such a weak core personality, I'm thinking these flavors will fill the gap. We'll see. Future projects include a jalapeno metheglin, pyment (mead/wine hybrid) and cyser (mead/cider hybrid). Experimentation is fun!

Now Playing: Sailor Moon Adventure Girls

Thursday, December 09, 2004


I woke up this morning with a sore throat. It went away, as they so often do, after I was active for a bit, so I thoought nothing more of it.

Now, however, I realize that I'm somewhat chilled, even though the temperature in my office is higher than it normally is. My joints are getting that faint ache that comes with all manner of virulent illness. My thoughts are sluggish. And the sore throat has returned.

I picked up a stupid virus somewhere. This might be as bad as it gets (which isn't bad at all, really) but I'm pretty much functionally useless at work. I'm calling it a day, and hopefully can sleep it off and feel better in the morning.

Now Playing: Altan The Best of Altan

Jack Chalker hospitalized

I've learned from the SFWA website that author Jack Chalker was hospitalized on December 7. His son, Steven, posted the following info to Jack's web site,

"Dad has had problems lately with his leg and yesterday he went into the hospital. This evening Mom (Eva Whitley) and me went into his room and he was sleeping. He is in Fair Condition according to the nurse, but I have bad news: He has congested heart failure. His heartbeat has been moderating between 50 bpm and 90 bpm but mostly in between 50 and 65. This does mean that his new book will be delayed but I have the feeling he will not die. Everyday I will be updating his condition and keep you posted. Click here to leave a "Get Well Soon" message/comment for Jack and I'll see to it he'll get all the messages from his fans. I've already got two."

At 2:27pm on the 8th, Steven added: "Condition: Critical Reason: Last night he was in fair condition, and last night he went downhill and got placed on a ventilator. Cannot get off it ever again. I don't think he's coming back to the house unless otherwise."

Now Playing: Jen Hamel Fine Small Storm

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Frustrations of carpentry

Our house has a small den in the front that I'm converting into a formal office for myself. It had an oversized, open walkway and an open "window" into the living room. A while back I put in doors, but other projects have prevented me from progressing further on the project. Until now. I put up some molding along the doors, and intend to put a nice, ornament crown molding construct over a remaining gap between the top of the doors and original walkway (which was taller than a regular doorway. The extra space serves as a CD storage shelf).

I don't have a miter saw, which would make all of the angle cutting quick and simple work. I do have an old Rockwell International table saw, inherited from my grandfather, who died six years back. It works well enough for my needs. Unfortunately, to my chagrin, I've just now realized that the miter gauge that came with the saw, also produced by Rockwell International, has several steel "stops" protruding from the protractor component of the gauge. What purpose they serve is beyond me, but the long and short of it is that the miter gauge I have cannot be adjusted to cut the angles I need. And both Lowe's and Home Depot do not, as policy, stock miter gauges of any sort. To get a miter gauge from them, you have to buy a new table saw. Which, as I've established, I don't need.

So now my project is stalled as I wait on eBay to come through for me. Which is annoying, as this weekend I'd intended to start on the ceiling-to-floor bookshelves which will close up the window into the living room, but can't, since again, there are angles that need to be cut which I cannot make.

That'll teach me to be industrious. I never run into this kind of frustration when I'm lazy...

Now Playing: Silly Wizard The Best of Silly Wizard

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

When bad ideas attack

From our friends over at the New York Post:
Plans are under way at Fox — which wants to make a "Lost" of its own — for a new series about a group of of astronauts who go missing after tracing a distress signal to the dark side of the moon.

When they arrive on the other side of moon — which is cloaked in perpetual darkness and beyond radio contact with earth — they discover a mysterious compound.

I'm guessing the "mysterious compound" is bullshittium, as carvorite would actually be a clever twist and imply that these morons had more than half a brain cell amongst the lot of 'em. (And yes, I know that "compound" refers to some sort of physical structure capable of supporting said castaways indefinitely. Moon Base Alpha? Nope. Again, it's that brain cell thing).

The supposed title for this shipwreck of a series is Darkside. I could make crude jokes about the anatomical "black hole" the series creator is pulling his ideas out of, but I won't.

Now Playing: Vince Guaraldi Trio A Charlie Brown Christmas

Monday, December 06, 2004

Mutual of Omaha's "Fiction Kingdom"

Four more stories set loose in the mail today, two others went out via email last night. That's about a dozen stories released into the wild in the past week. Some are strong, and may find themselves a home in the publishing wilderness. Others will come limping home. A few others, alas, will vanish into cruel month of December, never to be heard from again. Such is the fate of the captive-raised manuscript.

Now Playing: The Kinks Give the People What They Want

Sunday, December 05, 2004

A religious experience

There was a visiting priest at Saints Peter & Paul this morning, and I instantly knew it'd be an interesting mass. Firstly, the priest bore more than a passing resemblance to SF author Samuel R. Delany, complete with a thick white beard. He wore one of those black knit cuffy skull caps, and had an enthusiastic personality, literally bubbling over with energy.

When he began his homily, he caught my attention right away by discussing the creation of the universe during the Big Bang "13 billion years ago," and how the evolution of the universe is evidence of God's majesty. Rather than viewing science as an enemy of theology, he embraced it and used it as an ally. Then he did something I never expected to hear in church: He invoked Max Planck:
"All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this minute solar system of the atom together....We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. The mind is the matrix of all matter." --Max Planck

He finished his homily with a wonderful metaphore. If God is present in the subatomic, quantum physics level of matter (and the point of his arguement is that He is) then we are suffused and awash in God's presence as a fish is awash in water. Of course, his conveyance of these ideas were far more elegant and poetic than my feeble retelling.

Sadly, I did not get catch his name. But I would be more than happy were he to become a regular at my church. Max Planck! Whoda thunk it?

Now Playing: Brian Wilson Smile

Friday, December 03, 2004

Doing my part to clog the mail

I've fallen behind in my story submissions of late for a number of reasons, first and foremost being I'd run out of ink in my printer and hadn't had the cash on hand to buy a refill (what the heck do they make that stuff out of? Liquid gold?). But, this being the new part of the month, with the old paycheck not yet spent, I rectified that last night and printed out a number of pieces that'd been languishing.

This afternoon, I hied myself over to the local U.S. Postal establishment, and submitted five rather hefty short fiction manuscripts to the whims of holiday mail flurries. Actually, one of those five was in truth pretty lean, only seven pages or so. But as that's an anomaly for me, I'll just pretend it was my normal 30-40 page leviathan.

I also submitted a couple of other stories to markets via email, since those markets accept email submissions (conveniently enough). More email subs will follow tonight, and perhaps one or two traditional postal submissions come Monday. The long and short of it is that I haven't yet had my fill of editors telling me how much they like these stories of mine that they're regrettably not buying, for entirely understandable reasons such as, "The predominant color in your story is blue, and we're only featuring burnt sienna fiction for the next year. Alas." I mean, with encouragement like that, how can I resist another ride on the publish-go-round? ;-)

Now Playing: The Kinks Low Budget

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Postscripts 2

I just received my contributor's copies of Postscripts no. 2. This issue features my interview with Kage Baker, which is intelligent, entertaining and endlessly fascinating (more of a reflection on Ms. Baker than any meager skills I bring to the table). Published by PS Publishing, it really is a fine product. The standard edition is nice enough, reminding me somewhat of the old Aussie print version of Eidolon. What's really impressive, however, is that there is also a limited edition hardback, signed by all contributors to the issue. It brings to mind the long-gone Pulphouse: A Hardback Magazine, which unfortunately had gone the way of the dodo before I ever began publishing. But Postscripts is alive and kicking, and it is a lovingly crafted magazine. The production values are top-notch, printed on nice, heavy paper with clean, easily-read type. The interior black-and-white illustrations are well-done, reproducing clearly.

Kudos are definitely in order for Pete Crowther, who has shepherded this project (and PS Publishing as well) to fruition. It's only fitting that he won a World Fantasy Award a month or so back for his work with PS Publishing, in the "Special Award: Professional" category.

I haven't had a chance yet to read much of the content (instead, I'm mostly just gazing at it and occasionally stroking the spine lovingly) but already I can tell you that Jeff VanderMeer's story, "Shark Versus Octopus God" is a favorite. The title alone should clue most folks in that this one's right up my alley. Take the opening, for instance:
A long time ago, when Dakuwaqa the Shark God was young and not so wise, he made all who lived in or near the sea fear him. They feared him for his knives that posed as teeth. They feared him for his relentlessness. They feared him for his speed. They feared him because the bloodlust was buried so deep in him that he loved to fight.

Dakuwaqa could take many shapes, but he enjoyed the shape of the shark the best in those days. It fit him. It fit his aspirations.

A little later, we get introduced to the Octopus God:
The Octopus God had lived for a thousand years, and was said to be slightly mad. Sometimes, the ocean would strobe with emerald-ruby-gold-blue-green phosphorescence late at night and even Kadavu's many nocturnal fishers, from people to eels to crabs to herons, would retire for the evening. They were certain the Octopus God was having an episode. (Others thought he was merely perfecting the details of an underwater light opera he had been working on for centuries.)

It follows the traditional fable style, but VanderMeer throws in his unique brand of strangeness, as evidenced by the "light opera" reference in the above. For the most part, it works, and gloriously so. A few of the colloquial idioms are somewhat jarring and don't fit all that well with the tone and setting, but hey, one of my favorite Joe Lansdale stories is "Godzilla's 12-Step Program," which features a bisexual King Kong, so who am I to quibble?

Now Playing: Ray Davies The Storyteller

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Coming soon: Fender Crop

The December issue of the SF Site is now online, and features my review of Joe Lansdale's short story collection, Bumper Crop. The new collection isn't as good as his previous one, High Cotton, but that's not to say it isn't good. There are some interesting stories on display, and as always, Joe's writing is dazzling.

As I point out in my review, I don't normally read horror. Or watch it. I have written a couple of horror stories, but those were cases where the tale suddenly popped into my head and demanded immediate release. The rush of fear has never really done anything for me. Don't know why. Thrillers, yeah, those work for me. Suspense. And intellectual scares, sometimes. But visceral stuff, particularly gore and the "Gotcha!" approach to fright--nope. Which surprises me, since Joe's stories almost always have that stuff I don't like (Is it any surprise that Zeppelins West is my favorite book of his?) but he just strings words together is clever and interesting ways...

Now Playing: Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings and Food