Sunday, May 29, 2005

Survived another couple of signings

I made it through my signings in Seguin and Round Rock relatively intact. Seguin had a surprisingly large number of pierced, high school skater folk come through, which is not the best crowd for me. When two asked what I was doing, I pitched a short concept of the whole book signing thing, then, figuring "What the heck?" asked if they'd read any Gaiman (Gaiman being the closest thing to "hip" these not-quite-goths might be interested in). The two looked as me in utter astonishment, blurted out "Reading!?" then laughed their way across the store. Fortunately, I sold a few books, passed out some more reading lists and met a number of nice people. The customers in Seguin seemed pleased in general that an author would do a signing in their town, because I had half a dozen people come up and congratulate me on my book--but none of those people were impressed enough to actually buy one. The staff was very nice as well, although they were somewhat confused when I arrived and tried to have me fill out a bunch of consignment paperwork. I corrected this notion (to their advantage) because with consignment, I'd have taken a direct cut of any sales at the end of the night, as well as packed up any unsold books and taken them with me. Since the store'd gotten then via their usual distribution channels, they'd have basically taken the whole thing as a loss. Fortunately for them, I'm an honest sort.

The Round Rock signing was unique in that more of the sales staff were science fiction and comics fans, and came up and talked to me. Some had already read my book and discussed particular interviews--in the few minutes they could spare while on the job. I also had more customers come up and talk to me for extended periods about my book, interviews and science fiction in general. The husband of a fan of Elizabeth Moon's (and also a fencing opponent of her on occasion) said hi, as did a fan of Charles de Lint. Intellectually, it was the most stimulating of the three signings I've done, but paradoxically, I sold fewer books there than at either of my previous two stops. Funny how that happens.

My next signing, I believe, is Friday, June 10 at the San Marcos Hastings. It will be interesting to see how that compares to the other three--particularly since most of the university students are gone for the summer.

By the by, I've got a lot of stuff going this week, so won't likely be posting much, if at all. So if the stream of Gibberish falls silent, you don't have to stay up at night worrying.

Now Playing: The Beach Boys Endless Summer

Friday, May 27, 2005

Booksignings today and tomorrow

Just in case I haven't beaten this horse to death yet, I've got book signings today from 6-8 p.m. at the Seguin Hastings, and tomorrow (that would be Saturday) at the Hastings in Round Rock from 6-9 p.m. I'm hoping they go as well as the one in New Braunfels. Going better would be, well, even better. Wish me luck!

Now Playing: Melissa Etheridge Your Little Secret

Yucca in bloom

Calista's school is way out in the middle of rural farmland. When I drive her to school in the mornings, there's a Z turn through some old pastureland. In the last couple of weeks, what was seemingly just an open, grassy field has exploded into a forest of yucca blooms:

Yuccas in bloom

The scene, as we come around the corner, is simply gorgeous in the morning sun. The light hits the yucca in just the right way, and they're luminous. On mornings where there's a slight fog or haze, it's even more otherworldly. The photo above doesn't do it justice. The yuccas are simply too widely spaced to allow for an effectively representative photo--this is maybe a quarter of the field, if that. Even so, it gives a little taste of one of my favorite roadside sights.

Yucca flower

And above is a closeup of one of the blooms. I've always thought the flowers of yucca and agave fascinating and beautiful. These are one of the reasons I love Texas so.

Now Playing: The Gipsy Kings Volare

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Guess what? No radio

It should be pretty obvious by now that I wasn't interviewed on the I-Sci-Fi internet radio program. I got a call around 6 p.m. from Cap'n T-Rex, and you gotta feel for the guy. Their computer system suffered an utter and complete meltdown. No only could they not have me as a guest, they couldn't broadcast any show in any form whatsoever.

We've tentatively rescheduled my dancing monkey show for June 9. That's two weeks from now, boys and girls, so mark your calendars. And go donate some pennies to Rex and the gang. They's good folks.

Now Playing: Howard Shore The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

I-Sci-Fi... maybe

Tonight you may or may not be able to fire up the ol' InterWeb and listen to me make an utter and complete fool of myself on one of those newfangled online radio programs. I'm supposed to be a guest on the I-Sci-Fi internet radio program this evening, from 8-10 p.m., or thereabouts. I've been talking with the show's head honcho, Cap'n T-Rex, for a couple of months now, and have all manner of schedule conflicts bump the date all over the calendar. But tonight is supposed to be showtime.

Except... I haven't gotten the final phone call from him, the pre-interview interview where we go over the general outline of the discussion before the phone lines are opened for callers to speak up and heckle me. This could be an interesting experience, or not. I suppose we shall see.

Now Playing: Jiggernaut In Search of More

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Office makeover

I've always wanted a library. I'm talking floor to ceiling bookcases with a rich, walnut finish, molding, trim and all the fixins. Since I'm by no means wealthy, there's never been an opportunity to get a house with a dedicated library room, so my office has been the focus of library planning. In Temple, my office (a converted garage) had a bare, 14-foot wall that just begged for a bookcase. I measured it out, drew up plans, and even bought a number of small cabinets to go along the floor, "anchoring" the bookcase, as it were. Then job and city changes intervened, and that plan went out the window.

The past few days, with other projects finally put to bed, I've turned my attention to my current office. I've been clearing the boxed books out for the better part of a week. Sunday I bought a bunch of wood--quarter inch and three-quarter inch sheets of birch to go up and form the back of the case. The thicker lumber is closing up the "window" into the living room, and to facilitate this I spent yesterday ripping out molding around the window as well as base boards, then used a power saw to trim things up. To my astonishment, there have been very few complications. I'm going to convert the living room side of the window into shelving for CDs and other small items, and hard to believe as it is, this looks like it might actually turn out to be simpler than I expected. Of course, once the paneling is up and those shelves are in place, the hard part starts. Instead of one long bookcase, I'm building an L-shaped one on two walls. And the cabinets I bought for Temple do not fit neatly in the new space provided. And there are other looming challenges I'll have to deal with before long.

But the important thing is that I can finally see the project taking shape, tangible progress. For someone who's had most of his book collection packed up in moving boxes for the better part of six years--to the point where I don't really remember all of what I have or not--that's a very exciting development.

Now Playing: Clandestine The Ale is Dear

Monday, May 23, 2005

The trouble with Sith

Okay, I said earlier that while I like Revenge of the Sith a great deal, there are flaws in the film. Some are little continuity annoyances, others are storytelling foul-up and missteps that Lucas consciously made for one reason or another. Many viewers may well look upon them as irrelevant, or even beneficial to the story. I’m not most viewers. These things stand out as beacons of wretched amateurism, and diminish my enjoyment of the film, so by golly, I paid my $7, and I’m not about to hold my tongue.

Most of the problems I had with the film are continuity errors, disconnects between Sith and the original trilogy that are the result, mostly, of Lucas shoehorning too many ideas together without clearly thinking things out. Personally, I wish he’d have hired a continuity monger such J.M. Straczynski or Joss Wheedon to map out the entire prequel trilogy before a single frame of film (or pixel of digital) was shot, but that’s something of a moot point at this point. I've known since Return of the Jedi that Lucas has a tendency to pull story ideas out of his ass on a whim, with little regard for how it fits into the overall picture. Most of the time this works out fine in the end, but this movie proves that sometimes that “inspiration” paints him into a corner.

Remember in Jedi, when Luke and Leia abruptly start talking about Leia's "adoption" as if it were common knowledge to the entire galaxy? That was a cheap trick on Lucas’ part, the equivalent of a murder mystery in which the murderer was exposed because he'd taken out a full-page ad in the NY Times announcing that he was going to kill the victim--only the audience isn't let in on this pertinent fact, only the hero of the story. The sum total of this trick is that the author gets to go, "Ha ha! Fooled you!" and feel impressed by how clever a mystery writer he is. That withholding of pertinent information--contrived, but pertinent--ruined Jedi for me more than even the cutesy-poo the ewoks did, although I don't like the ewoks either. But Leia responds to Luke's questions by saying (more or less), "I don't remember much about my mother. She died when I was very young. I remember she seemed sad." The trouble is, in Revenge of the Sith, Padme DIES IN FRELLING CHILDBIRTH! She dies of a bloody broken heart, which is quite possibly the worst cliche in tragic romances. That already-bad scene in Jedi is rendered even more ludicrous by the implication that Leia is very, very perceptive for a minutes-old infant, or Luke is just really dim. It's insulting on every level, and further evidence that Lucas didn't think things through way back when--the brother and sister device was simply a convenient way of breaking up the Luke-Leia-Han love triangle without anyone getting their feelings hurt.

Speaking of Padme, has there ever been a more pointless death in cinema? Forget that in Jedi the implication is given that she dies in exile/hiding. For as strong-willed a woman as the one-time Queen and Senator from Naboo to simply die of a “broken heart” after “losing the will to live” betrays everything about this character. She was strong. She was a fighter. Would Princess Leia die of a broken heart? I don’t think so--she’d kick the ass of the guy who broke it! And that’s what Padme should’ve done--fought Anakin. When it came time for a full-blown marital conflagration, Padme abruptly turned into a cowering, simpering victim. Pathetic. Lucas missed a tremendous opportunity to show the strength of her character by physically--or at least verbally--confronting Anakin, even though she was hopelessly outmatched. Instead of muttering half-hearted "Say it ain't so" variations, she should've unleashed the full fury of her verbal fury, letting Anakin know in no uncertain terms how he'd betrayed everything she ever believed in. She does this now, to a degree, but it's limp and weepy, not likely to leave an impression on anyone, let alone her Dark Side-corrupted husband. Similarly, the opportunity to show the depth of Anakin’s corruption was missed by not having Padme die from his attack. Making Padme the first victim of Vader’s “force choke” would’ve been tragic and poignant. Even had she not died immediately--she hung on through force of will to ensure her children were born safely--there were plenty of opportunities to make her demise relevant and meaningful, rather than abrupt and arbitrary. As it stands now, even her last words, “Obi-Wan, there’s still some good in him,” is undermined by her expiration. If she was dying because she’d lost faith, lost the will to live, then she really couldn’t have believed that Anakin was still worth saving. By dying as she did, her final words are rendered hollow and false.

And Palpatine's assertation that Padme died by Vader's hands... what's up with that? Does Palpatine just make up random things to get a rise out of his apprentices? Palpatine: "Darth Tyranus, your twin brother Saruman's attack on Helm's Deep failed because you wouldn't equip his Uruk-Hai with lightsabres. He's now dead, impaled on a spike." Darth Tyranus: "NOOOOOOOOOO!"

There are other nagging continuity glitches. In Star Wars, Kenobi tells Luke he hasn't gone by "Obi-Wan" since "before you were born," which implies that the Jedi were already in hiding at that time. There's nary a mention of "Ben" in the flick. That could be explained away by exaggeration on Kenobi’s part, but I don’t think so. In 1977 I believe that was a sincere line, that Kenobi had already slipped into exile prior to Luke’s birth.

At the end of Sith, C-3P0 has his memory wiped, but R2 doesn't. Which means that if R2 falls into the wrong hands, the bad guys have the whole story. That's a stupid continuity point, when secrecy is of essence. The implication is that 3P0 is too flighty to be trusted, which earns a cheap laugh in the film, but R2 should be a fountain of knowledge in the original “Star Wars” if this is the case, and he isn't. Sure, he's more devoted than other droids, but for a devoted droid he's sure stingy with relevant details, such as "Gosh, this holographic chick you're crushing on is really your sister, who's being held captive and tortured by your dad, who's is the evil enforcer for the Emperor." Viewed in that light, R2 is pretty much a fat metal prick. And Obi-Wan is pretty damn dense not to realize that this is the gold protocol droid built by the young Darth Vader and the astromech that belonged to Padme Amidala. Particularly the astromech that didn’t have his memory wiped. Obviously, in a rational universe, both robots would’ve had their memories erased for the safety of the twins.

At no point is it addressed why R2-D2 can fly in the prequels but not in the original films. I mean, if R2 was from a world with a red sun, and gained powers of flight under the influence of a yellow sun’s rays, that’d be one thing. But being able to fly in one movie and not the next? That’s just dumb.

And speaking of dumb, I understand that General Grievous is the big, bad new villain in this movie, who also happens to be a coward who will sacrifice his underlings to save his own skin. But was it really necessary to make him sound like Dark Helmet to drive this point home?

At the end of Sith, Vader, the Emperor and Moff Tarkin (who doesn't have any lines, tragically enough, so I suppose he’s not “Grand” yet) stand on a star destroyer’s bridge watching the construction of the Death Star, which is coming along at a pretty good clip, apparently. Which leads me to ask why the hell did it take 20 years for them to build the original Death Star, but only six or so to rebuild a bigger and badder one between Star Wars and Jedi? Don't give me baloney about "it's explained in the novels" or "it's a small prototype." The "Expanded Universe" is not canon in the film series--the books, comics and video games are merely tangential revenue streams for Lucasfilm, and have the same influence on the Star Wars movies as the Star Trek novels have on that series (which is zilch). In the context of the movie, this scene as presented makes it explicit that this is THE big, bad Death Star. Doesn't wash. Again, don’t tell me to read the novel spin-offs. Ain’t gonna happen.

But the single biggest problem I had with the movie is the Jedi’s use of the Force. A huge problem with it, had I. Remember back to 1980, with earnest, impatient Luke Skywalker sweating up a storm on Dagobah during his crash-course Jedi training. “A Jedi uses the force for knowledge and defense, never attack,” warns Yoda ominously. Down that path lies the Dark Side. Yoda doesn’t equivocate here: Use the Force to attack=Bad mojo. I saw this as a sign of Luke’s slipping toward the Dark Side in Jedi, when he Force-choked those Gamorean pig-guards to gain entrance to Jabba’s palace on Tattooine. Watch out, Luke, that’s five demerits! We knew Darth Vader was in thrall of the Dark Side in Empire because he flung all those kitchen appliances at Luke when they fought at Cloud City. That wasn’t cricket, old boy. In Clones, Anakin uses the Force to throw some industrial welder arms at bug warriors in the robot factory. I took this at the time to be a hint that he's disregarding his Jedi training and slipping over to the Dark Side--paralleling Luke’s slippage in Jedi. But suddenly, in Sith, Obi-Wan rips a big... well, it should have “Acme Anvil” stamped on the side... hunk of metal something out of the ceiling to crush his opponents when he’s chasing General Grievous. Golly, that sure looked like an attack to me. And Obi-Wan uses the Force to attack other times as well. As does Yoda. The green muppet pummels the Emperor’s bodyguards with the Force, then flings Palpatine across the chamber when they’re duking it out mano-a-mano. In the Senate Chamber, Yoda spins a “Senate Saucer” around and throws it at Palpatine. Granted, Palpatine started throwing things first, but somehow I don't think "He started it" holds much weight in the Jedi code of ethics. Does "attack" merely mean "Don't shoot wicked blue lighting out of your fingers at other people"? If so, that's a pretty narrow interpretation of "attack." And makes Yoda look even more like an unhelpful jerk in the original trilogy. I’m told that in the current spate of video games from Lucasarts, Jedi characters are allowed to attack using the Force, as long as it doesn’t amount to ripping someone’s lungs out or whathaveyou. You can use the Force to pick up a blaster and shoot your enemy dead, which is okay, but not choke them directly, which isn’t. Either way, the opponent is dead, and either way, the Force was used to do the deed. I find such lawyer-speak legalese definitions as to what kinds of Force attacks are kosher and which are evil and which are technically valid but just looked down upon as gauche in polite society downright demeaning. This kind of hair-splitting taints the original trilogy and the concept of the Force itself in a far more vile and corrosive way than even the much-loathed midi-chlorians. But then, since Lucas is surrounded by an army of copyright and trademark lawyers, I find the whole mood shift, and lack of respect for the property unsurprising.

Hell, maybe I am an old fogey that just doesn’t get it anymore. That’s fine. But I grew up with Star Wars--obsessed over it--and those movies are why I discovered science fiction and fantasy, and directly responsible for my being a science fiction writer today. I’ve been emotionally and intellectually invested in these films for close to 30 years now, and by my calculations, that gives me more than enough right to piss and moan.

All this for a movie I actually liked. Imagine the carnage if I’d hated it...

Now Playing: Clannad An Díolaim

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Book signing post-mortem

Well, that was interesting. I arrived at 5:30 for my 6 p.m. signing, armed for bear. I'd printed a poster of the cover via Cafe Press and had it mounted at Hobby Lobby for display on the signing table. I had 10 extra copies of the book in my car in case the store's order hadn't come in. And I was wearing my Voices of Vision "golf shirt", also courtesy of Cafe Press. The table was set up and ready for me, right where everyone coming into the store would pass by. They'd printed up flyers in advance, and even had a lobby poster up in a kiosk. The Hastings crew treated me first-rate.

Voices of Vision book signing

My fan club also showed up, as you can see in the photo above. Calista and Keela took the concept of "direct marketing" to heart, grabbing copies of my book and waving them in the air, encouraging passers-by to buy their daddy's book. They met with some degree of success, apparently, judging by the photo below:

Voices of Vision book signing

Mission accomplished, the girls quickly lost interest and headed off for some Chinese and sushi, leaving me to face the crowds alone. And alone I was. After a spate of initial sales, people coming in began to avoid even looking at my little setup.

I went into the signing without any illusions. I knew I wouldn't sell a lot of books. That would be nice, of course, but the main reason I was putting on the show was to give the store employees a face to connect with the name, and to ensure copies of my book found their way onto the store's bookshelves after the fact. Any additional sales generated by my presence were gravy.

Hastings is an "Entertainment Superstore," with its stock divided equally among books, music and movies. Friday and Saturday are big business for movie rentals, and as there is a cinema in the same shopping center, there was an influx from there as well. I realized that the number of people coming into the store was increasing as the hour grew later, so instead of ending the signing at 8 p.m. as planned, I stuck around until 9. That didn't result in many more sales, but oddly enough, the people that came in during that later hour were a lot more talkative and interested in me and my book. I passed out a bunch of business cards, a lot more advice to aspiring authors and plenty of reading lists (more on that below). My signings next weekend at the Hastings in Round Rock and Seguin will definitely be 6-9 p.m. affairs now, after having seen how the crowds pick up later in the evening. I might even push it to 10, if the booksellers don't mind. I wonder how that Hastings dynamic will compare or contrast with Borders, which doesn't have that rental crowd influx to deal with.

Since I didn't invest in bookmarks or postcards (as I couldn't see that being financially viable with this kind of book) I still wanted something I could hand out as a freebie giveaway that served as promotional material as well. But I didn't want to be gauche and just pass out "Buy my book!" flyers. So I worked up a half-sheet "Suggested reading list." I went through my book and listed the authors therein, and beneath their names included the titles of either their most recent publication or a particular volume discussed in their interview. And I included the respective ISBNs. On the flip side of the flyer I had the cover of my book, along with the URL for this here blog. I passed out a bunch of these, to the handful of people who bought my book, and also to those who declined to pony up. I'm not sure if that will result in any sales for the folks on the list, or if anyone will follow the link to this blog, but I don't see it hurting (and can't imagine the authors listed having complaints about it, either). As an experiment, it'll be interesting to see if there are any tangible results.

I also experienced some of those infamous "signing horror stories," although mine, thankfully, don't quite rise to the level of "horror." Awkward, maybe. There was one guy that came up and becan talking with me about the book. Several folks walked up, then moved on, because this fellow was monopolizing my time and I couldn't very well cut him off to begin conversation with these other folks, could I? Of course not. So imagine my chagrin when he abruptly walks off, saying "I don't really like this science fiction stuff." Then there was the couple that grew quite excited when they found out that not only had I interviewed Charles de Lint for the book, but that I knew the man fairly well and count him and his lovely wife MaryAnn as friends. Guaranteed sale if ever there was one, right? Not on this night, I'm afraid. One junior high student wanted to buy a copy for his father, a high school teacher who was a big science fiction fan, but his mother refused, declaring the cover art "Too scary." Ouch. I got that comment a couple of times. And a couple of times people asked if it was me on the cover. Ouch again. Several times during the night I had folks come up and ask who I was an what I was doing, and then argue with me when I explained I was the author. They simply refused to believe that someone who'd written a book would do a signing in New Braunfels--or rather, they seemed to have a hard time grasping the concept of signings in general. Next week I'm going to print up some "Meet the Author" signs to hopefully nip that little problem in the bud.

But I did meet some wonderful people. Several high school students were genuinely excited by the fact that a writer--even one as unheralded as I--lived in New Braunfels. I saw my daughter's t-ball coach, who was genuinely surprised to discover I was a writer. And I met another fine fellow who buys and sells rare and collectable science fiction books--since he bought a copy and had me sign it, I can only hope he sees a future for me.

All in all it was an enjoyable, if wearying, experience. Someone with a more fragile ego than I might not have fared as well, nor someone with higher expectations. I learned a lot, and think my career benefited from the effort to a very modest degree.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, Ballads, Bars & Beaches

Friday, May 20, 2005

Book signing today!

Not that anyone reading this blog lives within a 100 mile radius of me, but I feel oddly compelled to remind folks of the fact that I have a book signing this evening for Voices of Vision at the Hastings in New Braunfels from 6-9 p.m. Anyone who wants to drop by and offer me moral (or immoral) support is more than welcome.

Now Playing: SixMileBridge No Reason

Sith is a keeper

Well, the final and last Star Wars film forever (at least for now) has been seen and digested. I liked Revenge of the Sith. A lot. It's grim and dramatic, with something real and emotional at stake--an element lacking in the previous three films of the series. Lucas finally remember the whole Storytelling 101 mantra to "show, don't tell." I rank it third in the series overall, behind Empire and Star Wars, but ahead of Clones, Jedi and Menace.

It's not a perfect film by any means, and folks who are raving it's the best of the series are probably suffering from sensory overload. I won't go into my problems with the film right now, but will share what I thought worked well.

The opening battle is spectacular. Dazzling. And more importantly, well-plotted. The space fight in Jedi was impressive, yes, but it was chaotic. There was no direction to the fighting and it was hard to get any idea of the ebb and flow of combat. Not so, here. Sticking with Obi-Wan and Anakin gave the film an excellent and exciting anchor that put all the flash and bang into context. Good stuff.

Mace Windu is a baaad mo-fo. His death was the best of any Star Wars character, ever. He was no slouch. He was tough. He is a Jedi warrior supreme. Watching his battle with Sidious, it struck me how tenuous the Sith Lord's hold on power was, how risky his gambit was. There were multiple occasions throughout this final film where he almost--and should have--lost everything, but survived through chance or a longshot gamble paying off. But Jedi Master Windu did not go out like some punk, that's for sure.

Wookies at war! There was not enough of this, but it did make up a little for the travesty of ewoks in Jedi. What I really wanted to see was wookies ripping droid arms out of their sockets, as was graphically described in the original film. Sadly, there's no arm-ripping to be had.

The slaughter of the Jedi is powerful and effective. It's sad. It's galaxy-sweeping and epic. It played out exactly how it needed to, hitting all the right notes. The only misstep I could make a case for is that Yoda and Obi-Wan seem to be the only ones to survive the initial purge. I've always had the impression that there were several others that escaped but didn't survive for long because of Obi-Wan's remark that Vader helped "Hunt down and kill" the Jedi. Doesn't make the sequence any less arresting, but a less cut-and-dried conclusion would've been nice.

Yoda and Sidious' duel is one for the ages. Lots of power thrown around. It's no secret that Yoda loses, but it's interesting how the conflict winds down. Sidious isn't more powerful than Yoda--they're evenly matched, at least, and Windu got the best of the Sith Lord, more or less, during the earlier battle--but Yoda suffers from a bad tactical situation, bad luck and a steady erosion of his position.

The showpiece battle, however, is Obi-Wan and Vader on the volcano world. That is the single most intense combat of any of the movies. It's harsh. It's violent. It's got molten lava spewing everywhere--heck, it's got a giant lava version of Niagra freakin' Falls. That confrontation plays out very well indeed, and really lives up to the expectations of all of us fans who went ga-ga over Ralph McQuarrie's paintings all those years ago. It's epic and intimate all at once. I love it, and even if Lucas never returns to film the final "Future Trilogy" he once talked about when the series was to be nine films long, well, this is a fitting capstone to the franchise.

Now Playing: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Live at the Fillmore

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Let the carnage begin

Yes, the Dark Side holds sway over me. In four short hours, I shall wedge my fat butt into a darkened theater seat and watch with rapt attention as young Skywalker cleaves a path of destruction through the Jedi ranks in Revvenge of the Sith. And hopefully, I will enjoy it. I'm sure I'll let you folks know.

But until then, let me point you over to the Austin American-Statesman, which has a good interview up: The Force, and a sense of humor, is with Star Wars writer Aaron Allston.
RebelPilot: Have you ever considered when writing an X-Wing novel to throw a bunch of a, b, x and y wings together and calling them Alphabet Soup Squadron? (I reckon they would have been the real heroes of the rebellion.)

Aaron Allston: Ummm . . . no. I haven't.

I'm telling you, they just don't have quotes like that in The New York Times! Aaron's a good writer and all-around swell guy, so you should go check out his interview before the Statesman archives it.

Now Playing: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Live at the Fillmore

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Fermentation frivolity

Just so you folks don't think I spend all of my time doing intense, demanding and stressful writerly-like stuff, I present to you the lable I've designed for that metheglin I finally bottled the other night:

Holiday Spice Metheglin

This isn't the initial design I'd planned, but that proved to be a non-starter when the complex Photoshop compositing proved quite a bit more uncooperative than I'd expected. Still, this lable looks quite fetching on the green claret bottles, and I feel is nicely evocative.

Interestingly, the mead/metheglin has cleared out completely now. There is obvious sediment in the bottom of all the bottles. That doesn't look very attractive, but as the stuff is almost entirely composed of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger, I don't think it's going to hurt the final product any. I'm definitely looking forward to opening a bottle around Thanksgiving.

Now Playing: J.S. Bach Harpsicord Concertos 1

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Calista's first book

Calista wrote and illustrated a book last night titled The Solar System Has Planets. She designed the cover and stapled the pages together all on her own. Her spelling was a little creative in places, but then that's what copyeditors are for. The book featured Neptune, Mars and Pluto. She drew Mars with a pretty good rendition of that planet's polar ice caps, and pointed out that it has the "Biggest volcano in the whole world." Pluto was drawn in a cold and icy manner, smaller than the other two planets, because, well, Pluto is smaller than the other planets. Neptune was drawn larger than the others, and featured a school of fish swimming on it. She knows there are no fish there, she explained, but added them because "Neptune" sounds like it should have fish.

I have a wise and clever child.

Now Playing: Three Dog Night Joy to the World: Their Greatest Hits

Monday, May 16, 2005

Sex and the City=Rugrats?

Lisa and I are watching Sex and the City last night on DVD, specifically, the episode titled "Frenemies." The prudish Charlotte and sluttish Samantha have a falling out over each other's views on sex. Charlotte runs to her prudish, stuck up sorority sisters for support, and Samantha teams up with an older, outspoken southern spitfire. Charlotte is ostracized by her "sisters" when they're offended by her wanting to discuss her marital problems, while Samantha is scandalized by her new friend's giving a man she'd just met a blow job under a table in a crowded restaurant. Both estranged friends then make amends, with renewed respect and understanding of the other.

About halfway through, I started laughing my fool head off. Not because of any particular jokes, but because I'd seen this exact same episode played out on Rugrats about a week before--minus the nudity and sexual references, of course.

In the episode "Opposites Attract," Chuckie and Tommy have a falling out. Tommy's tired of Chuckie's fears and phobias interrupting all of their adventures, while Chuckie hates it that Tommy's schemes always seem to put them in harm's way. So they find other playmates. Tommy meets a girl (Samantha) who is a total and complete daredevil, convinced there is no injury too severe a bandage can't cure it. Chuckie meets a cowering child (Freddie) terrified of his own shadow. Soon, though, the kindred spirits begin to grate on the estranged friends. Samantha's reckless and dangerous stunts begin to scare even adventure-seeking Tommy, while Chuckie is disgusted by snivelling Freddie's insistence that grass is deadly, flowers are deadly, sunshine is deadly... Thus, both Tommy and Chuckie make amends, with renewed respect and understanding of the other.

The Rugrats episode originally aired in January of 1999 (Cananda) and March of 1999 (U.S.) while the Sex and the City episode bowed in October of 2000. Hmmm... coincidence?

I'm certain the fact that two of today's most popular children's and adult's television shows boast episodes that address similar issues with similar plot structures and dramatic devices says something deep and insightful about our culture and national psyche. But damned if I know what it is.

Now Playing: Sheena Easton No Strings

Friday, May 13, 2005

How to piss me off, part Darvin IV

Now, you folks know I'm going ga-ga over the Discovery Channel's upcoming movie, Alien Planet. I'm ga-ga because it's based on Expedition : Being and Account in Words and Artwork of the 2358 A.D. Voyage to Darwin IV by Wayne Douglas Barlowe, which is simply one of the most visionary science fictional creations I've ever had the joy of laying eyes upon. I'm taking the opportunity to evangelize the show at every opportunity. Until now.

I just got this SPAM in from one Angela Quan, apparently a hack PR flack at a hack PR outfit called Crew Creative Advertising. Prepackaged spam directed at me would be bad enough, but this wasn't directed at me. It was a broad-spectrum massivecast, apparently via relays and such, because my email appears not once in the header, or anywhere else for that matter. And the actual content pissed me off as well:
We just received some exciting new assets for our latest project, ALIEN PLANET that I thought you might be interested in.

ALIEN PLANET, a special two-hour program event will premiere (snip) on the Discovery Channel. Rooted in the latest scientific research, ALIEN PLANET takes viewers on a dramatic virtual mission of the future through the possibilities of life outside of our solar system and the deconstruction of the living form, based on the laws of evolution and physics.


I apologize for the short notice, but it would be awesome if you could possibly get both of this content up on your site to promote ALIEN PLANET. Please let me know if you would possibly be interested.

First of all, it sounds to me like some intern didn't follow through with obligations to cultivate the online community's interest, and so decided spamming would do the trick at a fraction of the effort. That intern (god forbid they actually pay this moron a salary) should be fed to a pack of rabid dagger-wrists. The quickest way to generate ill-will online is to spam. Witness me, an otherwise passionate supporter of this film.

But what really, really irritates me is the relentless, mind-numbing parrotting of the line "Rooted in the latest scientific research." Listen up Angela, Discovery and Crew Creative, because I'm only going to repeat this once: It's based on Barlowe's book, you microcephalic cretins! The latest scientific research has diddly-squat to do with the creatures here! The only thing these talking-head scientists "think" are the comments they make regarding what Barlowe already imagined! Are you all ethically and intellectually bankrupt?

Well, Angela sent out that spam hoping to generate some online buzz. I've certainly blogged about it, but removed her pretty links and references to the show's actual airing times as punishment for her gross incompetence. Does that count as mission accomplished?

Now Playing: The Kinks To the Bone

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Sometimes I amaze even myself

The final subset of my grand meadmaking adventure has been in desperate need of bottling, but I didn't have enough bottles, and for various reasons it's taken me far too long to get to San Antonion Homebrew Supply for another case. I went Friday after work, only to be greeted with a sign on the door saying "Closed Friday." Well, crap. So I go back Saturday. The store's closed. Again. Someone had taken down the sign and moved it to a table inside earlier in the day, but for the hour I sat there hoping maybe they'd stepped out for dinner, not a soul moved. Yesterday they were open, finally (yes, I called before going) and so set to work bottling the final two-and-a-half gallons of mead that's been aging since January.

This is my holiday spiced metheglin, boasting cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger (the raspberry melomel was bottled several months back). I also added additional honey along the way, with the intent of making it semi-dry (or semi-sweet, depending on your point of view). The sediments had filtered out fairly well, although there was some clouding as the bottling progressed, but all in all things progressed rapidly and without incident.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, so with some nervousness I sampled a wee nip. Wow. This is going to be some good stuff. There's still some of that harsh, medicinal mead-alcohol punch on the front end, although that is mellowing rapidly--the difference since January is apparent. The surprise was how much the spice flavors had blended and matured. There is a lovely aftertaste that lingers a long time after the fact, a pleasant surprise considering some of the less desireable aftertastes some alcohols have hit me with. I was so taken with it that I gave Lisa a sample, albeit with the caveat that the rough edges are still apparent on first sip. She approvingly likened it to pumpkin pie, although she said she wouldn't be inclined to drink any outside of the holiday season. Which is fine, as that's what it's been made for. By Thanksgiving it may well be ready to share with friends and family.

To celebrate, I opened a bottle of my traditional mead, bottled in June of last year. While I've come to the realization that as far as meads go, I like the melomel/metheglin and other flavor variants better than plain honey wine, I was pleased by the way this one's settled down. It's no longer got that rough front end punch that put me off back at bottling. Unfortunately, the back end is somewhat bland. If it wasn't for the strong alcohol content, I'm not sure it'd have much flavor at all. But it's definitely drinkable, like a very low-key white wine.

But the next time I make mead, it's going to have jalapeños in it. Lots of jalapeños.

Now Playing: Lynyrd Skynyrd Skynyrd's Innyrds

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

New (old) anthology

Last year my story "Simultas" was published in the e-anthology Kings of the Night 3. I was pleased with this, particularly since "Simultas" was the first fantasy story I ever wrote and holds a special place in my heart (a bleak and disturbing place, but special nonetheless). I'm happy to report now that the e-anthology has been reprinted in actual paper form. That's right: You too can now own my timeless prose--along with the timeless prose of other writers--printed in black ink on dead trees!

Kings of the Night 3

I've always toyed with the idea of writing a novel about poor old Caius, and have written a number of short stories about him that, while fine as stand-alones, work far better when read in sequence. I wonder if I'll ever get back to his tragic tale?

Now Playing: Emerson, Lake & Palmer Return of the Manticore

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Wow. Headrush.

I just got an email from the district marketing coordinator for Borders Books and Music. He thinks my book is great, and thinks he knows several stores in Austin, San Antonio and Houston where signings would do well. He's thinking July, to tie in with Harry Potter mania. He wants posters in the stores so those same buyers notice my book and signing dates in advance of my actual event.

To this, I can only swoon. Just earlier today I debated calling with the expectation that they would refuse to stock my book at all, much less schedule a signing. A happier development (other than my publisher announcing the first printing is sold out and they're going back to the presses) I can't imagine.

Now Playing: Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition

Return of the Shrine

Anyone who's ever talked comics with me knows I'm a huge fan of the DC Comics character Green Arrow. So much so that in 1998 or thereabouts I started the Green Arrow Shrine with reviews, commentary, art galleries and such. In 2001 I merged it with Scott McCullar's Green Arrow Compendium to form the extensive, expansive and exhaustive Unofficial Green Arrow Fansite. In the intervening years, Scott's work with Shooting Star Comics and mine with my writing and RevSF took up so much our time the site lay fallow for months. Then years. With the cost of maintaining the domain and such far outstripping its return, we made the decision to break the individual components back out into their original forms. So I present to you the return of the Green Arrow Fansite:

Green Arrow Shrine

Keep in mind that the Shrine's in pretty rough shape at the moment. Those same time issues that kept us from working on the Fansite are still at play. Most of the graphics are still missing, some formatting is off and I have no idea when I'll get around to reposting the interviews and galleries. But I'm working on returning the reviews sections up, and already have a few ready to go. So hey, enjoy.

Now Playing: Violent Femmes Why Do Birds Sing?

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Urn of Ulmadorn

Oh my goodness. What have we here? I'm clearing out the various boxes of books and other clutter from my office in preparation for the Great Bookshelf Construction Project, and I'm stumbling across all manner of interesting artifacts. Not least of which is a single sheet of typing paper, yellowing and tattered. The title The Urn of Ulmadorn is prouldly typed at the top, and the opening of Chapter 1 of my grand fantasy novel follows. As best as I can piece together, this work dates from circa 1985, a year or so, perhaps, after my initial foray into novel-writing ended roughly three sentences into the grand space adventure The Orion Project, and predating my first completed novel, the epic fantasy The Broken Balance.

Some writers hide away all their less-worthy material, lest its public display taint their current work or reputation. But, seeing as I have no shame, and got a kick out of reading the enthusiastic ravings of a devoted Dungeons & Dragons player who was convinced he'd hit the bestseller list before his senior year... well, I just had to share. For the record, I'v cleaned up some of the more egregious spelling blunders, but even so, I think you'll agree it worthy of a Travis Tea byline (were Travis one who dabbled in fantasy, of course):
Chapter 1

It was hot, that much was certain. Beyond that, it was anyone’s guess. The swamp’s mists were so thick that day couldn’t be distinguished from night, not that it mattered, though. Insects, twisted and grotesque, larger than should be possible, flew, buzzed and crawled, giving heartless testimony to the evil of the place. Giant, lumbering crocodiles with festering lesions patrolled the rank waters. The swamp was a single entity, and it was evil.

Yet there was something else, something that was not a part of the swamp, that should have no business there.

But they did have business there, and meant to complete it. Their quest had taken them the better part of two years, and had taken more than one of them within an inch of death. They had been hardened by their journeys, and this had enabled them to survive.

For a moment the fog broke to expose them. There were five in all, three humans, an elf and a halfling. The largest human was in the lead. He was carrying an old, battered shield and was sporting an ancient helm and a suit of tarnished chain mail. Only his drawn sword was clean and new looking, but even this he had had most of his life. Behind him came a second male human. This one was not as well built and wore no exposed armor, but the tell-tale clink of metal said he had more than skin under his swamp-stained blue robes. Next was the elf, the only female of the group. The grey hood was drawn tightly about her head, hiding it from view, but occasionally the cloak would slip open to reveal a supple, enticing figure.

Don't you now feel special, having peeled back the curtain of time to see from whence this grand and worth writer came? Hey, we all start somewhere, and judging by the prose in Ulmadorn, I started out in a gutter somewhat downstream of The Eye of Argon.

© 2005 Jayme Lynn Blaschke. Hee hee. It gives me no small degree of amusement to put my claim of copyright on this piece of enthusiastic cliché-mongering.

Now Playing: The Kinks One for the Road

Finn's game

Mark Finn has an interesting game going on over at his LiveJournal. Since I suck with placing faces to names, I'm not going to repeat the offer here, because the result would be too many awkward, "Uh, and I know you how...?" moments. But here's the gist of it:
01. Reply with your name and I will write something about you.
02. I will then tell what song/movie remind me of you.
03. If I were to apply an o'clock to you, it would be...
04. I will try to name a single word that best describes you.
05. I'll tell you the most memorable moment I've had with you.
06. I will tell you what animal you remind me of.
07. I'll then tell you something that I've always wondered about you.
08. Put this in your journal.

And here are Mark's responses to me:
"Science Fiction Double Feature" covered by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
1:00 AM
I think our drive to Wizard World cinches it, full of wonderfully-geeky comic book conversations. Or the ArmadilloCon-Chinese Buffet-Monkey Walk.
I wonder when you'll get back to your prose?

Mark, suffice to say, is a strange, strange man. And he left out the "animal" entry. What's up with that?

Now Playing: Marty Robbins Essential Marty Robbins

Friday, May 06, 2005

Hello, pot! Kettle calling!

Well, boo frellin' hoo. Via Bookslut: It looks like Texas Monthly is all upset that Boston magazine stole it's cover layout design:
Who hasn't placed distinguished politicians wearing suits in forboding poses with the look of a near-dead Marlon Brando on the front?

Well, we haven't, but Texas Monthly says they did all those things first (in the February issue, with state Speaker of the House Tom Craddick) and now Boston mag's current edition (with governor Mitt Romney) features something, uhm, similar.

Gee, I hate to break it to Texas Monthly, but the sad truth of the matter is that you can't copyright ideas. As I found out back in 1997 when Texas Monthly told me they weren't interested in a feature story on the San Antonio Worldcon, then turned around and gave my proposal and outline (which was required under their submission guidelines) to one of their in-house writers. Come to find out, that's standard operating procedure at Texas Monthly. Tom Knowles had three proposals poached by them before he noticed them appearing in the mag about six months later.

Cry me a river, Texas Monthly.

Now Playing: ZZ Top ZZ Top's First Album

Mostly Harmless

I saw Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy last night. It had some inspired bits of lunacy, and there were a few scenes that translated the book as perfectly as anyone could ask for. But I can't shake a persistent feeling of disappointment. It's wasn't a bad film, but it wasted a tremendous number of opportunities and made more than a few bad decisions.

Much has been made of the film's truncating much of Douglas Adams' jokes to the point where they lose most of their bite, or humorous scenes from the book playing out oddly on the screen. That's apparent, and unfortunate, but misfires are to be expected. These are readily counterbalanced by the wonderfully loony Infinite Improbability Drive sequences, the sperm whale and--ultimately--Slartibartfast on Magrathea. Slartibartfast is glorious, and the planetary assembly floor is "mind-boggling huge."

But to get to the good stuff you have to sit through one of the most mind-numbingly forced romances in all of cinematic history, that between Arthur Dent and Trillian. It's awful. It doesn't work, and every time the filmmakers return to this subplot everything grinds to a halt. There are tangents and digressions to the story inserted simply to show how madly and deeply these two care for each other, and how far they are willing to go for that love. Bollocks. Even the scene where the Vogons are feeding Trillian to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal comes off as limp and flaccid, with nary a towel to be seen in the scene. I ask you, what is the point of a Bugblatter scene is you don't include a towel? You lose the entire punchline! Which is, of course, the biggest problem with the film. Lots of jokes are set up, with the punchline never delivered. In a misplaced effort to develop some "character arcs" and inject a level of angst and poignancy to the story, there are new instances of Heartfelt Revelation from Trillian (oh, woe is me. I am woman, and Taken For Granted By Menfolk) and Arthur (All I need is love/love is all I need). There is much token anger and wringing of hands over the destruction of the Earth, but geeze, folks, trying to inject the post-cataclysmic depression angle popularized by the new Battlestar Galactica into Hitchhiker's is simply a bad, bad, bad idea. The books, as well as the radio show, worked because of heavy doses of irony, satire and irreverant cheekiness. When you try and add Deep Emotional Underpinnings--especially at the expense of those other elements--simply to try and make the film more accessable to mainstream audiences (which strikes me as the very obvious culprit at work here. I mean, Arthur and Trillian? Gimme a break!) then you eliminate what made the property successful in the first place.

And Adams also said the biggest problem with his book was that it had a very long beginning with an abrupt end. A movie needed a middle part. After seeing the aimless and nonsensical meanderings that made up the "middle bit" of this film--including a handful of extremely funny bits--I'll have to vote for extended beginnings if there's nothing better to replace them with.

In the end, it reminds me of those horticulturalists who are attempting to breed a new variety of habañero chili pepper that has no heat, so that people who don't like hot chili peppers will buy them, too. Sure, everyone could eat them, but why would they want to? What's the point?

Now Playing: ZZ Top Rio Grande Mud

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Darwin IV? An Expedition to Darwin IV!?

Okay, okay. Calm down. Breathe deeply. I cannot express the thunderstuck awe experience when I abruptly learned that the Discovery Channel will be premiering Alien Planet on May 14. How is it possible that this project escaped my notice? How did such a monumental event fly under my radar for so long? They've got Arrowtongues fer crying out loud:


Okay, a bit of breathless explanation. Back in 1991, at the Texas A&M Bookstore, I stumbled across a profoundly odd book, Expedition : Being and Account in Words and Artwork of the 2358 A.D. Voyage to Darwin IV, by Wayne Douglas Barlowe. It caused what can charitably can be called a seismic shift in my perceptions of what science fiction could--and should--be doing with the alien life populating the genre. Barlowe literally created a non-human ecosystem of an alien world and lavishly illustrating it as a wildlife naturalist. It effectively destroyed forever my acceptance of human analogues as viable alien races in my own work. It profoundly soured me on Star Trek, and many, many other works of science fiction. Why do all species humanity encounters have to be bipedal with bilateral symmetry and distinct male-female genders? Why do they all have to be the same as humans, with the exception of odd nose and brow ridges?

It is a stunning book. And I'm utterly floored by the faithful renditions of these bizarre alien creatures the production team has re-created. Sight-unseen I will be buying the DVD the instant it comes up for sale. You can seen more examples of the species from the book at Barlowe's web site. I simply cannot express what absurdly high esteem I hold this book in, nor how deeply its visuals and philosophy have affected me. I dashed off a maniacal email to him a little bit ago, asking if this Discovery Channel production means the original book is coming back into print, and (more importantly to my point of view) if his long-rumored follow-up volume might become a reality because of this. You see, in the storyline of Expedition, Darwin IV is an old, tired world that is becoming less vigorous and viable for the life that inhabits it. In the would-be companion book, the Expedition next visits a young, violent world where life is full of energy and fiercly competitive for every conceivable niche in the ecosystem. I desperately want to see that world, and wait (in vain?) for Barlowe's answer. But until then, damn, we're getting Darwin IV!

Now Playing: The Kinks Everybody's in Show-Biz

Robert Sheckley in a bad way

Very bad news from MosNews:
Sci-Fi Writer Robert Sheckley on Artificial Respiration in Ukrainian Hospital

Created: 05.05.2005 16:11 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 16:11 MSK,

Famous U.S. science-fiction writer Robert Sheckley is still in a Kiev hospital suffering respiratory failure after a week of treatment, the Ekho Moskvy Web site reported Thursday.

The 76-year-old writer was taken to hospital with a cold during his visit to the Ukrainian Sci-Fi Computer Week, an international event for science fiction writers, Itar Tass reports. His condition has deteriorated since.

Sheckley is now in one of Kiev’s private medical institutions, a clinic called Boris. He has also been examined by specialists from the Ukrainian State Pulmonology Institute and the National Medical University.

The writer is currently on artificial respiration and doctors describe his condition as grave, Ekho Moskvy adds.

Robert Sheckley is a star of the Golden Age of science fiction and one of the major creators of the genre itself.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey Sheckley began writing stories in the 1940s, soon becoming popular. He moved to the Spanish island of Ibiza in the 1970s and returned to the United States ten years later as fiction editor of the OMNI magazine.

Sheckley has written over sixty books to date, including twenty novels and nine collections of short stories. His major works include Immortality Inc and Status Civilization as well as several books written in collaboration with Roger Zelazny.

He won the Jupiter Award for the best science fiction story of 1974. In 1991, he received the Daniel F. Gallun award for contributions to the genre of science-fiction .

Now Playing: The Kinks To the Bone

Robert Sheckley in a bad way

Very bad news from MosNews:
Sci-Fi Writer Robert Sheckley on Artificial Respiration in Ukrainian Hospital

Created: 05.05.2005 16:11 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 16:11 MSK,

Famous U.S. science-fiction writer Robert Sheckley is still in a Kiev hospital suffering respiratory failure after a week of treatment, the Ekho Moskvy Web site reported Thursday.

The 76-year-old writer was taken to hospital with a cold during his visit to the Ukrainian Sci-Fi Computer Week, an international event for science fiction writers, Itar Tass reports. His condition has deteriorated since.

Sheckley is now in one of Kiev’s private medical institutions, a clinic called Boris. He has also been examined by specialists from the Ukrainian State Pulmonology Institute and the National Medical University.

The writer is currently on artificial respiration and doctors describe his condition as grave, Ekho Moskvy adds.

Robert Sheckley is a star of the Golden Age of science fiction and one of the major creators of the genre itself.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey Sheckley began writing stories in the 1940s, soon becoming popular. He moved to the Spanish island of Ibiza in the 1970s and returned to the United States ten years later as fiction editor of the OMNI magazine.

Sheckley has written over sixty books to date, including twenty novels and nine collections of short stories. His major works include Immortality Inc and Status Civilization as well as several books written in collaboration with Roger Zelazny.

He won the Jupiter Award for the best science fiction story of 1974. In 1991, he received the Daniel F. Gallun award for contributions to the genre of science-fiction .

Now Playing: The Kinks To the Bone

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Fiction, non-fiction, kids and reading

Jessa over at Bookslut has a post about how Tim Dowling tries to get his children interested in reading science books. It's an interesting issue. Most parents don't take an interest in getting their kids to read. My parents actively discouraged me from reading when I was growing up, because they though it unproductive and encouraged laziness. So the concept of a sub-set of parents trying to gatekeep the amount of fiction and non-fiction a child reads strikes me as something close to unfathomable.

A lot of kids view books as the enemy. I've seen it some of Calista's friends, and in kids in general. Their parents, too. In school, even I, a voracious reader, viewed any book listed on an assigned reading list as suspect at best. I hate Steinbeck with a passion to this day because of high school English. So Lisa and I decided as soon as we had children we'd do our best to foster a love of books and reading. But how to do this without making books the enemy?

Bribery, mostly. Manipulating our daughters' natural greed. If we go to a mall, we may refuse to by them something from KB Toys or flashing, noise-making shoes from one of the department stores, but they can always count on a book if there's a Waldenbooks or B.Dalton around. They've figured this out, and keep an eye peeled. And both Calista and Keela will grab half a dozen books they want, and we--usually--make them pare it down to one, or maybe two if it's a clearance book. Deciding which to keep and which to discard can be agonizing for the girls, but they certainly appreciate the book they walk away with. They're possessive, even. Granted, this approach isn't guaranteed to work for all children, or even most, but many parents strike me as akin to those of Ned Flanders': "We tried nothing, man, and we're all out of ideas!"

This doesn't address the fiction vs. non-fiction issues raised on Bookslut, though. But really, those issues don't exist in our house. The girls simply don't distinguish between the two. They are unaware of categories of books. There are simply books. Yes, Calista knows there are children's books and adult books. She can tell the difference between those with made-up stories (fiction) and facts (non-fiction). But there are no boundaries in place. She sees a book that interests her, she grabs it. Last week she brought home a book on fossils from the school library. She's keen right now on being a paleontologist when she grows up. Even found a rock with a fossilized seashell in it a couple of days ago. Several of the books she got from the book sale were on dinosaurs and the ice age. But she also chose one on the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, and a science fiction anthology that includes such genre classics as Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" and "The Large Ant" by Howard Fast. Interesting bedtime reading those will be!

For all that genre writers complain about the "Sci-Fi ghetto" and the division of bookstores into categories clearly segregating westerns from romances, mysteries from fantasies, their desire to see a category that blends all of these into a single vast section where genre and mainstream sit side-by-side on the shelves, they still leave one barrier erect: that between fiction and non-fiction. For my daughters, even that division is non-existant. Books are simply books. They all contain knowledge and excitement and entertainment, and those contents aren't mutually exclusive. As a reader, there is a purity in her view and selection of books that I admire greatly. I know I--and most other adult readers--lost that purity very, very long time ago. Sometimes I wish I could get it back, but I've got too much ghetto lit I haven't read yet as it is. Why add to the problem, you know?

Now Playing: The Kinks The Great Lost Kinks Album

Friends of the library

I love "Friends of the Library" book sales. Yes, there's invariably a lot of drek out on the tables, but there are also plenty of books that turn up I've never heard of. Some of these are real finds. There was one in San Marcos over the weekend, and the whole family stopped by for Sunday's $3 shopping bag sale. They had a tremendous children's section this year--they'd cleared out a huge swath of their older science and natural history collection at the library, apparently, and Calista grabbed quite a few space and astronomy books. They're written for mid- to upper-elementary reader levels, but they're still a good find for her. One book, about the possibility of life on other worlds, really captured Calista's attention. She insisted on reading the first page herself, and did a pretty good--if halting--job of working through the tougher words. Mars is currently her favorite planet, and if you ask her, she'll start talking about dry lakebeds, polar ice caps and the possibility of finding fossils there. For her, it's simple: If there was water there in the past, then there was life there, too. Cut and dried.

I found a few interesting books as well. Universe 4, a Galaxy reader and a Silverberg collection, as well as a couple of novels by Poul Anderson and Jack Vance. All long out of print, sadly. I also stumbled into two intriguing history books I'd not seen before: John Prebble's Mutiny: Highland regiments in revolt, 1743-1804 and La Popessa: The Controversial Biography of Sister Pascalina, the Most Powerful Woman in Vatican History by Paul I. Murphy and R. Rene Arlington. Not only are both of these obscure and out of print, they both bring to my attention elements of history I'd been ignorant of up to this point. Fascinating stuff here, which I'm certain will find its way into my writing sooner or later.

Have I mentioned how much I like library book sales?

Now Playing: The Kinks The Kink Kronikles

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The writer returns

I wrote last night. Tied up some nagging rewrite issues and finally came up with a version of "Prince Koindrindra Escapes" that, if I'm still not entirely happy with, at least has a consistent enough voice all the way through that I can trust an editor to point out any trouble spots that stand out. No piece of fiction is ever finished, only abandoned, and Koindrindra had reached the point of diminishing returns. It desperately needed to get out into the world, and by golly, Fantasy & Science Fiction can look forward to reading my timeless prose by the weekend.

With Koindrindra out of the way, I was startled to realize several other strong stories had dropped out of circulation, so I stayed up printing them out and subbing to new prospective markets. Sheila at Asimov's is getting the odd political/baseball meditation "Cathedral Field," Strange Horizons is getting "Heart of Gold," a particular favorite that's almost sold at every market I've subbed it to, and Aeon is getting a look-see at "Hern's Children," which may or may not serve as the foundation of a possible future contemporary fantasy novel. But what really counts as a good omen is the email I received this morning from Interzone assistant editor Jetse de Vries, regarding my submission of "Apostate Treasures, LTD.":
Good to see that yet another Interzone regular is trying out the new editorial team.

Hot damn! I'm a "regular." At Interzone. A "regular" at one of the most highly-regarded venues of top-quality speculative fiction in the world. Isn't it absurd how the most innocent of comments will be seized upon by fragile-egoed writers desperate for some form of validation? Guilty as charged. I'm a regular, and don't you forget it! ;-)

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Apostate is one of the strongest pieces I've ever written, a quiet, melancholy riff on certain theological elements. It, too, has garnered words of praise from editors who did not buy it, usually for reasons combining the fact that it's long (true) and an awkward fit for most genre markets (also true).

The important thing is that I'm suddenly riding a wave of productivity. Heck, at this rate, both the Europa story and "In the Second Year Following Apocalypse" should both rise out of their perpetual revision fuge and join Koindrindra out in the publishing wilds. And that, my friends, would be cool indeed.

Now Playing: The Kinks One for the Road

Monday, May 02, 2005

Put the burrito down, and nobody gets hurt (or, quasi-return of the celebrity pitchman)

Bill Crider beats me to all the best stories. Such as School Mistakes Huge Burrito for a Weapon:
Someone called authorities Thursday after seeing a boy carrying something long and wrapped into Marshall Junior High.

The drama ended two hours later when the suspicious item was identified as a 30-inch burrito filled with steak, guacamole, lettuce, salsa and jalapenos and wrapped inside tin foil and a white T-shirt.

"I didn't know whether to laugh or cry," school Principal Diana Russell said.

Of course, that got me thinking about Freebirds and how I haven't had one in far too long. That kid from New Mexico might have a future working at the 'Bird, methinks.

What's important now, however, is the fact that my Freebirds commercial is now online for your viewing pleasure! That's right, folks, and not only can you watch me make an utter and complete fool of myself (mine's the one with the goofy-looking guy holding the broom) you can actually vote on which commercial is the best! Come on, gang, help ensure me a long and viable 15 minutes of fame!

Now Playing: Ray Davies Storyteller