Thursday, September 29, 2011

Best Chart Ever?

I think this might be the best flowchart in the history of flowcharts. Or it might be better than that, and be the best flow chart in both the history and the future of flowcharts. (And the present, of course. Mustn't forget the present.)

Daily Vocabulary

azure: a shade of blue, often likened to the upper reaches of the sky. I think that blue involves most of the loveliest color names: lapis is one that I'm very fond of the sound of, and azure of course. Cobalt just bursts out at you, vibrant and lively. Ultramarine seems mystical, far away, and suggests just what it is, the depths of blue in the midst of the wide sea. But maybe my fondest is cerulean, which, when spoken, caresses the tongue. I could have used any of those as the word of the day, but I'm looking at the sky, and seeing azure, and loving what I see. It's a beautiful day. But then, it always is, if you look right.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

anachronism: something which is out of place temporally. Usually this will mean something in a movie or book that you've spotted that's wrong. A wrist watch in a fantasy film, or the wrong armor in a historical book, or a hair style that just didn't exist. It also applies to people and attitudes, of course. There are those who willfully embrace the past, or are unable to come into the present. Those few who say still that they wouldn't let their child date a person of another race, for instance, are fully anachronistic. For that matter, those who think they can dictate who their child dates are pretty much in the same category. A house littered with antiques would be a lovely anachronism, or a collection of them, I suppose. And I've often wanted, sometimes desperately, to be able to spend a day, an hour, even just a minute, observing another time and place and seeing what it was really like. To have bubbles of anachronism floating about would be, well, horrible in practice really, but a nice idea.

Tapping the Zeitgeist III

Amazon announced the release of its new tablet / e-reader today.

The Kindle Fire.

Catchy, don't you think? To kindle, the verb, means to ignite something and set it aflame. Kindling, the noun, is small pieces of dry wood, useful for starting a much larger fire.

Kindle Fire. A fire, coming from small things - words - that set something much larger alight.

That is precisely what I was thinking of, just a few short months ago, when I came up with the idea for Kindling Press. We are small, but we're trying very hard to set our words on fire to make something much larger come of it. Our burning-page logo anticipated the Kindle Fire advertising campaign by just four months, and the release of the tablet by six.

It all makes me feel like I anticipated it, like I tapped into something - hmm, let's use the German here: Zeitgeistiche. Zeitgeisty.

With prices like these, they're giving them away

Not really, but it's getting close. The cheapest Kindle is now 79 dollars. Slog gives us a quick look at the facts of the matter, and notes (correctly, I would think) that Amazon isn't really making much on Kindles (esp. the low end ones), so that they're obviously counting on selling a lot of product. Volume has always been their strategy, and I think in this case it's really smart of them. I'm waiting for the just before Christmas announcement that the basic ad supported Kindle is 49.99 for a limited time, which I think they'll do just to try to get people using them, because they make a goodly amount, even with their very generous terms, on every ebook sale. This is really smart, and really great if you're self-publishing on the Kindle. Like, say, for an anthologie of Steampunk stories, or a fantastical Steampunk YA novel, or a sweet, sad tale of a lost and broken young man. Just saying.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

genealogy: the study and tracing of lines of birth and descent. In reading (again) The Shadow Over Innsmouth by the great H. P. Lovecraft, I was forced to ponder relations between the main character and his dark and shadowed ancestors. There's a couple of paragraphs in the last section piled thick with maternal grandparents and uncles and cousins and all of them referenced to each other, rather than to a common point like the main character. Which leads me to think that here in the United States we're not very good at genealogy. Sure, many of us look into our ancestry, and try to figure out how many generations back we come to a King of England or France (it's usually about 20, but results may vary). But most of us have little idea beyond say great grandparents, and we lose all track of collateral relatives: our third cousins, and that sort of thing. More than that, though, I think we lack much of the language to discuss genealogy. Lovecraft was writing in the 30s, mainly; Tolkien, in the 40s and 50s, had much the same command of various types of cousins and the like. But now, with our generally more limited families, we're pretty bad at using language to define where we lay in relation to family members. "Some sort of cousin", or "I think she was my great uncle's wife" or that sort of thing. We cannot figure out, though, that the great uncle's wife's brother's children are still some sort of cousin, or what sort. We cannot make these things work for us. We do not know, and in most cases do not care, how we relate. Which is fine and good, and very American, but can leave one a bit confused at times when someone who does know the lingo gets going.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

continuum:A continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct. What this really means is, a set in which one thing is slightly different form the one before it, and will be slightly different from the one after. Such as: sphere, globe, planet, world, reality, existence, life. Each one is reasonably synonymous with the ones beside it, but there's not much of a case to be made for life and sphere to be the same word. I like the idea of a continuum, of gradual changes sliding from one place to another. It's like taking a train in a way, and I like trains. Or a ship. Planes lose all sense of that continuity, taking you willy nilly from one place to another far distant in all senses. I'll take the plane, or the ship, if I have the time, thank you very much. Lacking time, of course, like anyone I love the convenience of a plane, and will get by with a continuum. But unhappily, I note. Unhappily indeed.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

headache: a continuous pain, or, a thing which causes worry or trouble or is a problem. I don't know that the or is necessary in that definition. An actual headache causes worry or trouble enough. I have one, and have had one for the last several days (hence sporadic appearances of Daily Vocabulary, mea culpa). It causes me no end of worry and trouble: I wonder what it is, I wonder what it might be, and with the febrile imagination of a writer, I assume the worst at all times. Well, perhaps not the worst: I don't think there's an alien crawling around in my brain, and I don't think that Athena is ready to burst loose from me, but other than that, yeah, I've imagined it. Headaches have been with us for at least that long, since Athena gave Zeus his big one, and they show no sign of going anywhere just yet. Hopefully mine at least will depart soon. We'll see.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tapping the Zeitgeist II

One of my books is historical fiction, Daughter of Cleopatra. It's about Cleopatra Selene, a pretty obscure historical figure. I wrote it a few years ago, and looked up what there was on her as a character in novels: the last thing written about her was in the 70s. Seemed pretty safe as a topic, not likely to be trampled on.

Well, that was wrong. A woman named Michelle Moran brought out Cleopatra's Daughter two years ago; there's a book called Cleopatra's Moon coming out right about now (Selene meaning Moon, you see); and in the last year about 5 or 6 fictions of Cleopatra have come out. Which is all kind of ridiculous, since it's been a fallow time for her for a while.

I don't know what started this all. I do know I was ahead of them all (at least from their author's notes and such, I was.) But I missed the magic moment when I could have sold it. So instead, I'll just float out there, as a backup as it were. It seems to be working okay.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

hypochondriac: a person who is abnormally anxious about their health. I think this isn't the way many (most?) people use the word; for me, at least, it tends to mean a person who imagines illnesses and illness vectors that aren't there, or vastly overestimates their degree of sickness. That last part of my definition is close to the real definition, I suppose.
I think the internet makes us all a bit hypochondriacal. We can look things up and see what our symptoms mean much more easily than was once the case, and so there's this tendency to think, "Oh, I have this incredibly rare disease" or "Well, it must be cancer" and then to freak out about it for a while. Until six hours later, you feel fine and realize that, in fact, you aren't dying. I assume a few people are actually helped by this. It allows them to diagnose that their bad feeling might actually be serious, and then get it checked out. But I really think Web MD and the like probably just make us worry more.
For the record, so far as I know, I don't have any rare diseases or cancer. But the internet has halfway convinced me of it in the last few days.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happy accidents

I recently had the thought, "A botched plot never boils."

It can happen to any writer. You have your setting, and your characters, and your mood/theme/soapbox. You have a plot arc, nice and neat, with interesting twists and character development along the way to the lovely, satisfying conclusion. You already have ideas for the sequel.

And then something throws you a curve ball.

Maybe one of your characters took it into his head to do something unplanned. Maybe what you had in mind didn't ring true to the motivations of the character. Maybe you got a better idea in the middle of writing the piece and brought in a new thread that suddenly dangled in front of your face, asking none too politely What are you going to do with me?

What happens when a writer writes himself into a corner?

The short answer is: profanity.

The longer answer is: re-writing. Sometimes you just have to give up on some words, cut them out with regret, and start over. It's often painful, but sometimes the original idea was the better one, and this Brilliant New Idea that crammed itself into your eyeballs was a red herring.

But sometimes...

There's a Mexican folk saying, No plan works out perfectly, but every plan works out. Once you take out the artificial need for perfection, for exact adherence to the original plan simply because it was the original, the writer is freed to pursue something more rare and evanescent in their writing than a dry, sterile plot arc or fever chart. The intangible, the unplanned is unpredictable and you cannot count on it - but if you embrace it, you can turn profanity into la découverte joyeuse - the happy accident.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Acts of Creation

One of the things most enjoyable about writing, to me, is creating. Making a world. Or at least a sliver of one. A whole world would be almost inconcievable, of course. Even the most well realized alternate worlds are pastiches of our world, liberally spiced with innovation but still closely hewing to what we know. It can't be much different, or else the reader wouldn't have anything to latch on to, the very words being used wouldn't have much meaning. But still, if one creates a world, it's a good thing.
Then there's using our own world, and merely (I say merely, as if it were easy) depicting some portion of it well and deeply. Still, even in dealing with real people and real places, one is making them over, recreating them. It's different, but an act of creation all the same.
The amount of work and effort is much the same either way, to be honest. There's more structure and less freedom in setting a story in a known place; you have to obey rules that are already determined for you before you begin, and you have to be true, or truthy at least, to known constants. But you can just look up those constants, and you have things to build on reasonably easily. Making something from whole cloth really lets your creativity run wild, and there are no rules but what you set up for yourself, which is nice. Only you have to make it all up; there's no further authority, nothing you can consult but your own muse. You end up, either way, with problems, and with delights.
I'm in the way of creating anew right now. Doing some serious making up, while, as noted, dragging bits of our world, our history, this or that culture, along with me and trying to put them in where they might be of use. Sometimes the bits fit well, and sometimes a little less well, and you try to make it all work. I've done the other way too, and I like it, but it's not as liberating. You get the sense when making it all up that really anything could happen. (That's not true, as I noted. Not anything at least. Many strange things, and wonderful, but not any and all.)
I guess I'm about 20% to the length I'd like to get to. Longer is fine, but shorter wouldn't really thrill me. And at a fifth of the work, I'd think it would be good to have some idea what I was aiming for, where the end might eventually be. As a writer I don't like going too far down that road, knowing secrets and endings. I like to be surprised as much as the next guy. But I usually have a general idea of what I want to get to, and I don't know even that much yet. There are so many options.
I'm concerned it will get away from me. That I'll end up someplace too terribly weird, or too terribly banal. That I'll build up too much junk that neither I nor any reader could care about. That I'll grow bored with the lack of action, or too much action, and just stop.
Memory suggests that I often have these fears, and I've often gotten by them without much trouble. So here's hoping.

Daily Vocabulary

constable: a police officer with limited authority, usually in a small town. I love the word constable. In the times when the family of Charlemagne was dropping out of power, fading and falling and ceasing to exist, many great officers rose from strange ranks: the Counts of the Stables, masters of horse. Comes Stabuli, which became eventually constable. Now there's no real relation, of course. They don't ride, they don't manage horses, they don't do much of anything related to equine matters. But that's fine. I still love the word, and the notion of a local policeman, working part time in a small town in the Midlands.

There's also the rather famous painter. He does lovely work, but I'm not an art historian, and I mainly know the name, not anything about him. The painting above is typical of his work: pastoral, excellent execution, but not likely to be anyone's favorite painting. Still, a lovely last name, right?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tapping the Zeitgeist

If any of you have already read Full Fathom Five, the novella I wrote for 20001: A Steampunk Odyssey, you will no doubt have noticed the heavy Shakespearean references and - being clever sorts - will no doubt have clued in to the fact that the story is an homage to his play, The Tempest.

It seems I am not the only one who saw potential in that play.

San Francisco director Jon Tracy has just presented his vision of Shakespeare's classic - and the costuming and sets are pure Steampunk. The reviewer was rapturous over the "eye candy" and the successful translation of Prospero's magical accoutrements into the scientific paraphrenalia of the Steampunk oeuvre.

Tapped in to the Zeitgeist? Perhaps. To quote Prospero, "We are such things as dreams are made of," and the dream of the Steampunk genre is still unfolding.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

cathedral: The principal church of a diocese, with which the bishop is officially associated. I like cathedrals, big glorious buildings that they traditionally are. Notre Dame is a magnificent place to walk into, and almost made me find God, but fortunately, I'm not like that. Notre Dame is a working cathedral still, as it were, housing the Archbishop of Paris's seat, which is kind of neat. I've been there a few times, and he wasn't around, but I'm sure he's a busy man. In any case, I'm a sucker for cathedrals in general; I can't resist them. One made its way into my work in progress, though I haven't used it yet. Soon, probably.

Where's Waldo?

Author sighting!

You'll find a couple of not so very flattering pics of Yours Truly in this photo gallery of the recent Steampunk Masquerade at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington. Images are courtesy of the Bellingham Herald.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

pier: a structure leading out from the shore into a body of water. If ever you're lived in a harbor town, river or lake or sound or ocean, what have you, you have seen piers.When I was young I saw this movie Orca in which, so far as I recollect, Bo Derek lived on a pier, in a house out over the water. After her father (played by Richard Harris) killed a pregnant mother orca causing a spontaneous birth of the baby which did not survive, the father orca sought revenge. Said revenge involved knocking the supports out from Bo Derek's pier, so that she fell into the water. Well, not all the way. Just enough to get her legs eaten off. Or so I recall; I was about 8 when I saw the movie, and it made me terrified of piers for a long while. Seattle being full of them, and my stepfather at the time working on boats, it made for an awkward year or so until the movie faded into hazy memories of terror, rather than actual fear. Perhaps it was replaced by the long period of Jaws II when there are many children on rafts and boats being picked off one by one by the shark. In any case, I now rather like a pier, any old pier. I like the nautical nature of them, the slap of water between them and boats, the seagulls, the rough wood. I just enjoy them terribly much. 
(Note: I almost listed Farah Fawcett as the daughter. How embarrassing that would have been, right?)

WIP it good

As my cohort Jason mentioned earlier, it's been a whirlwind journey getting our 20,001: A Steampunk Odyssey anthologie done. We started it in June with a call for submissions, stopped taking new submissions July 31, and cranked out a pretty darned nice product just last week. For two authors just getting started in their careers, that's pretty fast work. Needless to say, we're very pleased.

Also needless to say, we're ready for the next Thing. Both of us put our own writing largely on hold in order to focus on the anthologie, and I think that paid off handsomely. But now it's time to return to our own writing with a focus on finishing off some existing works in progress - WIPs - and maybe kicking off a new one or two.

While Jason is doing the latter, I have a novel called Disbelief that is about 85% done that I am returning to. It's a new genre for me: Paranormal Romance. No, it's not Twilight, and not even vampire-related (well, mostly). I'm actually quite excited to be getting back to it, since I invested two writing retreats into the work this summer, and seeing the result of those wonderful experiences come to fruition is very satisfying. I'm planning to finish it up here in the next few weeks.

And after that? While I always have more ideas than time to work on them, I've been dreaming of a full-on fantasy trilogy. It's a long row to hoe, but having both a novel and an anthologie to my name, I think it's time to set my own bar that much higher. Excelsior!

Free to a good home


Do you like to read? I will assume you do, since you are here, now, reading these words I am writing.

Do you like free reading material? I will further assume so, since you are reading these words, and have not given me any money (or at least, not lately).

Those two things being true or truish, I have two lovely Steampunk short stories for you to read. They are by good (or great) authors, and they are, as I mentioned, free.

The first is The Strange Case of Finley Jane, by Kady Cross. This prequel to her Steampunk Chronicles series (which is continued in The Girl in the Steel Corset) is a highly worthwhile bit of fiction: steamy and toothsome and full of potentiality. Kady Cross (better known as bestselling author Kathryn Smith) has crafted a tale of nefarious criminals, machine/human conflict, and a thoughtful exploration of what makes us truly human: form, or function?

The second is Clockwork Fagin, by the inimitable Cory Doctorow (activist, science fiction author and co-editor of the blog Boing Boing; you may have heard of it). In this tale, set in an alternate version of Canada, orphans use the puppet of a dead man to take control of their lives. The reference, Fagin, comes from Charles Dickens' classic tale Oliver Twist - and like the famous line of the title character of that story of an orphaned boy adrift in the world of the Industrial Revolution, we, too, want some more.

So there you have it. Two free ebooks in search of good homes. Maybe yours? You could do a lot worse than to take them in; goodness knows what might happen if you don't...

Setting out on a new path

We've spent seemingly forever on the anthologie. That's not true at all. We only came up with the idea back in June, were done with getting submissions by the end of July, and here it is, still technically summer, and it's a done deal. Not four months from start to finish, a really rapid turn around. What with all the work we had to cram into those months, though, and all the actually day-jobbery, and so on and so forth, it seems rather longer. So it's good to be able to put that behind me and move on.

I haven't been spending much time on my own writing. I put out a novella to add into the anthologie, sure, and I wrote a bit on this or that project, but nothing serious. I'm primarily now a novelist, and since June, I've done no novel writing on any notable level. Which is bad; even though I have a backlog of works, I should be producing new ones, no? So now I've started on that, hopefully. You never know what will amount to anything, even as your work count grows. Until you're done, you can't even guess if it'll be finished. I've gotten things to within thirty or so pages of completion (fifty? a hundred? being incomplete, I can't know) and then been unable or unwilling to finish them. So I don't count on anything. But I'm working on something now, that isn't for any anthology or project. Just for me, and my career, as it may be perhaps over-generously described. I'm not going to say much about it, and not going to post anything about it, but it's happening. And it feels good.

Less than four months for the anthologie. Let's see if it can be less than four months for this one, too.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

episodicContaining or consisting of a series of loosely connected parts or events. One could speak of Flash Gordon in the early radio serials, of Sherlock Holmes in the stories, even of the works of Dickens, published in parts every month, so that people waited at the docks in New York for the arrival of the latest portion, crying out "What happened to Little Nell?" Modern television is of course almost completely in this vein, as are web comics and almost all other cultural items consumed by the populace. But in fiction, much of the time there aren't episodes. A good number of books stand completely alone, including all of my currently available stuff. In speculative fiction, series of whatever nature are quite common, indeed expected; but episodic ones are not common. A Game of Thrones, currently terribly popular, isn't actually episodic. Or if it is, one could say it has two episodes, the first and second trilogies (using the word loosely, as the second trilogy will likely actually be five books). But there are a good number of fine episodic series: Discworld by Terry Pratchett; Xanth by Piers Anthony (I speak only of the first half dozen or so, after which I cannot defend it); the Garrett Files by Glen Cook. Many more exist, and I think they are a strong type, stronger, probably, than the endless march of trilogies. Trilogies so often let one down by the end; moreso if the series is longer still. But episodes, they do very well by themselves, one after another, and it is hard to hate them for failing you. They seldom do.

Daily Vocabulary

sexton: a person who looks after a church and churchyard, typically also acting as bell ringer and gravedigger. In larger communities, he would only have been the bell ringer, not the digger of graves. It is the ringing of bells I'm thinking about right now, and how lovely it must have been. Lovely, but loud: there would have been churches all over any given town with bells ringing, each calling a few hundred people to prayer, so that in any town you'd hear a few of them at once. Oranges and Lemons, say the Bells of St. Clements, and all that. You would know what bells were yours, but you'd hear others all the same. What a world it must have been, that the bells would peal out the hours, and you would know that now it was morning, that now it was lunch time, that now you should pray. Everyone, all the same. We lack any such thing now, any unifying marker. This is a good thing (we are free persons, able to make our own decisions) and a bad thing (we are barely reigned in, scarcely joined together). I have heard bells ring. Some have been real, but only one church at a time has rung out. Some have been false, as with the rather tinny carillon at the University of Washington. I don't know that I'd want to live my whole life under their domination. But I think I'd like to try it for a while, to have the chimes call out the hours, and shape my day. To resist, for a little while, the tyranny of clocks. I am charmed by the notion, impractical as it may be.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Goodnight, Borders

I haven't written on Borders Books in a bit; meanwhile they've been liquidating themselves into oblivion. It's now being reported that the last few stores still in existence will cease to be this weekend. I never really shopped there, and have no personal connection; also I work at a bookstore that isn't a Borders, and so had a general notion of disliking them for many years. But it doesn't matter. I am still a bit sad about this, as long as it has been brewing, still a touch moved by the disappearance of a huge chain that, in most places that it is leaving, will never be replaced. I have been reading a book called Empire of the Summer Moon, about the last days of the Comanches who were for a time the big power of the Southwest. They had a great number of rivals in their day. I wonder if the little tribes that had been oppressed and beaten by the Comanches paused for a moment as the last bands of that once proud nation rode into their degrading reservation life and out of the plains. I wonder if those tribes thought that it was a loss to their people for the Comanches to be gone. From what I've read, they wouldn't have, but of course their rivalries were things of blood and fire and terror, and in books, it's only sales and jobs. So I can feel sorrow, I suppose. And I do. Goodnight, Borders. You meant a lot to a lot of people, and I'm sorry that for large swaths of the nation, there will now be no bookstores at all. I'm sorry for all the people who lost their jobs. And that, I suppose, is the last I will write on this topic.

Airships, Authors and Ebooks (Oh My!)

Last night two Intrepid Authors essayed an odyssey of sorts in support of 20,001: A Steampunk Odyssey. Peter and Jason hitched up the hybrid electrovelocipede and hied themself to scenic Bellingham, Washingon, known to the world as The City of Subdued Excitement.

The suburb of Fairhaven is a hotbed of little shops, cafes, artists and above all, bookstores. It was to Village Books, a Fairhaven mainstay, that the two Intrepid Authors journeyed, there to partake of a gathering, nay, an Assemblage of August Personages of a Pro-Steam Sentiment. Organized by the lovely and talented Christina Claasen of Village Books, the event featured a Tesla coil demonstration (courtesy of the American Museum of Radio & Electricity), many fine members of the Bellingham Steampunk Society, and raffles for several fine books - including the not-to-be-released-until-October book Steampunk! This is especially fine, as the inimitable Cory Doctorow is among the authors (and the last link goes to his free story, Clockwork Fagin).

In this happy chaos of Steamkultur our Intrepid Authors shook many hands, traded barbs (and susans) with clever lads and lasses, and distributed Produckt in the form of literature: fliers for 20,001: A Steampunk Odyssey. There was a lot of interest, and discussions were had of a return to Village Books for a reading from the Anthologie later this fall.

Their travails completed, Our Heroes retired to The Archer Alehouse, a corner pub in Fairhaven, for a pint of the Author's Reward.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

road trip:A road trip is a journey via automobile, sometimes unplanned or impromptu. I love that there's a real definition for this. Road trips represent a quick freedom, a minor escape. They are in nature mainly American. We first invented the notion of taking yourself, a friend or the family, and driving along on horrid roads to camp here or there, see the great trees, the ocean, whatever it might be. I think we still have the culture most suited and dedicated to the notion of the road trip. If asked, I will almost always attempt to accompany on one. I don't drive, so I can't actually make one happen myself, but it is magnificent fun to see the world that way, windows down, sun in your eyes, endless little places with the same gas stations, same emptinesses between them, passing you by. The destination is almost incidental: a beach someplace too cold to splash into the surf, a view point, a petting zoo. It doesn't matter. For a road trip, the old saw about the journey being the destination is the truth.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

20,001: A Steampunk Odyssey Now Available

 Ladies and gentlemen, the fruits of our labors are now available. The anthologie is available for the Kindle right now, and on Smashwords for just about every other ereader. It's 10 great short stories, 75,000 words, and it's just $2.99. We here at Kindling Press are terribly proud to make it available to you, and we very much hope you enjoy it.

Daily Vocabulary

Odyssey, c.1600, from Latin Odyssea, from Gk. Odysseia. A Homeric epic poem of ancient Greece, relating the 10-year wanderings of Odysseus (Latin: Ulysses), king of Ithaca, after the Trojan War. Also, in the figurative sense, a long, adventurous journey. The adjective form, rarely seen, is Odyssean. The first recorded instance of the figurative usage was in 1889 - coincidentally, the year chosen for the Victorian science fiction roleplaying game Space: 1889.

"What a long, strange trip it's been." - Jerry Garcia, The Grateful Dead

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

completion: the action or process of finishing something. Which surely feels very good indeed. Sometimes some things don't go quite as you wish they would, but it doesn't much matter: one is still finished, yes? And yet, what we've done is not the biggest of deals. We put together a collection of stories, we got it ready, we will shortly upload it. This is nice and all, but it's not a major completion. Picture instead Columbus arriving in the new world, somewhere in the Bahamas. That was a completion. Picture the moment at which the early Muslims took over the farthest reaches of Persia, and knew they had overcome one of the world's great empires, and one that never returned. Picture when Jonas Salk finally had a successful vaccine for polio. How amazing that must have been. And we're not there, of course. But for my own self, for my own life, for my own goals, this feels very good.

Amazon starts ebook lending?

The Kindle may soon have ebook lending. A long time ago, this sort of thing was terribly common. There were a number of societies in the Industrial Age, comprised of eager persons mostly of the lower classes who paid a small fee to be able to check out books from a library put together by the society. This is much the same, I think, and may, in a while, serve the same purpose. Once Kindles have dropped to a nice, cheap price (I mean, they are already, but soon enough they will be affordable to the sort of person I was growing up) it is entirely likely that people who never had the means to afford expensive books (technical, historical, reference) will be able to access them cheaply and gain the same education that the industrial workers of the 1890s did. I like the idea, picturing reading groups devoted to historical writings, to genetics, to atmospheric sciences. It will be wonderful, I think. The past made into the future.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

fruition: the point at which a plan or project is realized. I do wish I had a plan that could come to fruition. I love the idea of being some sort of a mastermind, possibly criminal in nature (the criminal masterminds have more fun, at least until their inevitable demise). But it's not a plan, or at least, the plan was done with some time ago. Now it is the project, and very soon it will come to life. Or exist. Or something. In any case, the fruits of labors of a dozen people are about to manifest, and that's a good feeling for all of us, I should think.

A Very Short Record Heatwave

Seattle, where I live, is not a city noted for heat. Or cold. Or anything weather wise but clouds and slow steady rain. This is unjust, in that normally we have the best summers imaginable: long sunny days where the sky is punctuated by light clouds and breezes from the Sound, going on and on for months. This summer was an exception, and we have labored, most days, under hazy clouds, or with "highs" in the upper 60s. It has been a long, dull season. Until September came in, that is. Suddenly we had a summer, for a bit more than a week at least: 9 days with temperatures over 80. This may not seem like much, but it pretty much beats all the rest of 2011, and it bested our longest streak of over 80 in September by 1 day.

This would be completely unworthy of mention except that I use a laptop to get work done. It's not a big thing, and it's pretty efficient and all that, but there's the problem that as I use it, it produces heat. Heat that just accumulates, and makes my already reasonably toasty apartment become more and more unbearable. I would have just set it aside more often this last week, and not worried about it, only it is crunch time here in Kindling Press Land, when we try our damnedest to get the 20001 Anthologie ready to go in time for the planned launch date of 9/14/11. And we're almost there, but it took me working more time with a hot computer near me, or on me, than I would have liked.

Today, blessed cool has returned. But by now, I'm almost done. I've got maybe an hour or two of work left. And I'm not going to be upset to do that work in the cooler weather, of course. But I wish that if the weather had to get hot, it had done it around our schedule. I mean, this anthologie, it's a big deal, right?

From the Introduction: A 20,001 Teaser

Mere hours away from our release date, today we are pleased and honored to present a short section from the introduction to our anthologie 20,001: A Steampunk Odyssey, written by noted Steampunk author Ren Cummins.

"This anthology reflects, I believe, one of the true fascinations I feel towards Steampunk in general – that it is a flavor which goes so well with so many others; far more than just a simple exercise on technological awareness or cultural examination, but a framework and design which can function as a template for so many broader concepts, spanning the thematic spectrum. Are you a fan of high adventure? There’s a place for you here. Do you prefer a bit of Lovecraft in your literary tea? If so, you may be duly pleased as well. Or if your tastes run simply to the random; enjoying a good quality yarn where there are such to be savored, then I expect this tome will be to your pleasure."

Ren Cummins,
Author of the Chronicles of Aesirium

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

remembrance: the action of remembering something, especially the dead.

Strike Breakers: The final 20,001 teaser

We thought we had posted this teaser for the 20,001 anthologie, but we somehow missed it. A lot going on at this point.

There’s no work in Brentry Tor. The Wilder and Grimes Railway Company knows it and uses that fact to bring in droves of desperate men to work on the first ever transcontinental steam railway. But when the pay stops coming and the excuses pile up, the workers have no choice but to go on strike. Now it’s only a matter of time before Wilder and Grimes sends in strike breakers. Strike Breakers by R. S. Hunter is a bleak, socially aware story of an alternate world that could easily be our own.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

Sisyphean: an endless and repetitive labor, never to be completed. In Greek myth, Sisyphus was a terribly clever King who thought he could get away with anything, including spilling Zeus's secrets and tricking a wide variety of divine beings. It turned out that he was wrong. After his death (which he escaped from not once but twice) Zeus eventually had him tasked to roll a boulder to the top of a hill. Only when it got close to the top it would slip away, and roll back down the bottom, leaving the task uncompleted. Unlike poor Sisyphus, all of our works and tasks, no matter how long they might take, will eventually be completed. But at times it does not feel so. At times it feels like the whole hill stretches before you, and the boulder is very heavy indeed. Let us give it a shove, though, and see what we can do. The top isn't so far off as all that.

Full Fathom Five: A 20,001 Teaser

The tenth and final teaser for our upcoming anthologie is Full Fathom Five, a novella by Peter A. Smalley. 20,001: A Steampunk Odyssey releases on ebook next week, so look for that announcement!

Full Fathom Five, by Peter A. Smalley

The naval blockade of New Orleans has starved the city for years thanks to the Union's unmatched ironclad steamships. Now three contentious Confederate agents will risk everything to run the blockade in search of a secret weapon from across the sea that could turn the tide of the Civil War in the favor of the beleaguered South. But what they discover on that storm-tossed, tempestuous voyage will challenge their convictions and lay bare the darkest corners - and brightest peaks - of their souls.

Full Fathom Five, a novella by Peter A. Smalley, is a sweepin Civil War yarn of steam and sail, technology and truth - a thoughtful and thrilling tale combining the best of both Shakespeare and Steampunk.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What makes a classic?

In discussing "girls' books" last week, I mentioned that The Diary of Anne Frank is a classic that probably should be read by everyone. But that led me to think about classics, and what they are, and how they get to be that way.

There's a first, easy definition. Classics were once those books that survived the so-called Dark Ages, the works of Greek and Latin writers that managed to come into the light of the Renaissance and the modern era. If one were reading a classic once upon a time, it was Aristotle, or Galen, or Xenophon, or Tacitus. That was it. There were no other options. Chaucer and Dante and the Venerable Bede may have been around a while, but they were not classics. So this, I think, provides us with our first criteria: a classic is a book which has been around a while, possibly even a book from another era or age.

With that in place, we can eliminate all the "instant classics" that blurbs constantly mention. When someone proclaims say, Franzen's Freedom or Stoddard's The Help to be a classic, it should rightly be viewed as nothing but nonsensical hyperbole. I understand, of course, that blurbs are in general nonsense; I understand that even if not just given as a favor or in haste, the use of the word classic is meant to evoke the possibility, more than declare the certainty. Still, the word is thrown around too much for very recent works. What is needed is some age, certainly. To my mind, a classic cannot be thought so until the world has changed enough that people are reading it in a different mindset than when it was written. So at least a generation, I would think. And a full generation, 25 or 30 years. Which means that House of Leaves isn't a classic yet, nor Infinite Jest. Perhaps in time. Perhaps.

Time, then, is the first marker. But it is not the only one. In his day, Winston Churchill was a best selling novelist. He wrote a great number of books roughly a hundred years ago that were very well received and sold truckloads. Or wagonloads, it being the very beginning of automated travel. Yet not a one of them will you find on a book store shelf these days, except if you stumble upon a very old and worn used copy in some dark corner of musty shelving. His fiction though terribly popular has vanished almost without a trace. So age in itself is obviously not enough, when big novels from only a century ago cannot by any stretch be called classics.

What else, then? I think it's important, vital even, to write for the ages. Not that you need to be thinking of the future, and what readers in a century or two will be interested in. But that your stories need to be meaningful not just to whoever is reading them on the second Thursday of May in your current year, but in any year. Stories about real people, doing real things. Of the original classics, the Greeks and Romans, most have faded from memory. They are available, of course, if only in the Loeb Classical Library series, but they don't turn up in class reading lists, and no one has heard of them except specialists. But Euripides and Seutonius and the like are certainly still classics, and Homer is the granddaddy of classic authors. I can only assume it is because they still speak to us, even two or three millennia later, while no one much reads Sextus Empirius or Frontinius.

A simple way to write for the ages is to the be the first at something. This brings us Homer, and Euripides, and Herodotus. But it brings us also Lady Murasaki, and Cervantes, and Aphra Behn. But that's not always the case. Dr. Polidori, who was Byron's lover, wrote probably the first vampire novel. But who remembers it nowadays? No the vampire novel we all recall is Dracula, and that's the classic in the field. Again, it is because Stoker spoke to us in a way that still feels relevant, and Polidori did not, nor any of the handful that came between the two. But one could argue there are other classic vampire novels. Anne Rice is a contender, certainly. Twilight, one assumes, will not make the cut, but only time will make that clear.

So time is needed, and originality is a strong factor. Yet original works of great age have vanished time and again, preserved in the memory of scholars but otherwise ignored. Which brings me to the third and most obscure factor: dumb luck. It all starts with the real classics, and the dumb luck that brought them to us. We assume these were the best books of their time, because it is all we have. Yet there were thousands more, hundreds of thousands, perhaps. Fire and water and age and ignorance and willful hatred destroyed them all. Some were scraped clean to copy out Bibles onto; some were burned for warmth; some were just forgotten in dusty corners until they could no longer be read. Certainly one or two of those would be among the greatest works of the Classical Period, probably more than just one or two. Yet we'll never know what we're missing. Ill chance has taken them away from us.

But there's more than that. There's the fickle taste of the public. Chance will bring one book to the forefront, and another will vanish rapidly. While being a best seller is no measure of quality, few books that failed to sell have made it to be a classic. This is why some authors have only one classic book, or at least, less than their output. But all of Austen, and all of Dickens, even with his massive output, tend to be counted as classics. So there's no way to be sure.

I know that sounds like a copout. What makes a classic, he asks, and then answers himself with, I have no real idea. But it's true. I can point to some factors: time, quality, relevance. But I cannot say that there is a formula. I can tell a classic when I see one, but I cannot tell why it is so. Even adding up the skill of the writing, the reception that managed to let the work move forward at all, the luck and chance that kept it going, I cannot.

What is a classic? It is a book we have read, we are reading, we will read. It is something that tells us who we are, and why we are, and how we are. But it's something more than that which can't be named. It is a wonder and a mystery. I wish I knew, not so that I could write one (though that would be very nice, of course) but so that I could know what I should read. What they will be reading, in fifty years, in a hundred, when I'm dead and gone to dirt. What will the future remember of us, what books will tell them who we all were? I wish I knew that.

People speak of the death of books. It will not happen. They will change, books. But they will live on so long as we wonder at the past, at ourselves, at where we are headed. Classics can tell us that, and little else can.

Crush Depth: A 20001 Teaser

Kindling Press is pleased to bring you the next teaser from our soon to be released anthologie 20,001: A Steampunk Odyssey.

The experimental sous marin Ceto has everything it needs for a long test mission under the ocean: a single engineer, a single military officer, brass recording cylinders, automata, and a crystalline thinking engine.  As the weeks pass, one of the crew vanishes in the labyrinth of rooms and passages, and the lonely officer is left to wonder what has happened, and to suspect the worst. But perhaps it is worse than he can even imagine. Crush Depth by author Michael Farley is a chilling story of isolation and science gone awry.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

bowdlerize: to edit a work in order to remove passages believed to be improper, usually but not always sexually improper. Named for Thomas and Harriet Bowdler, who did a goodly bit of it. It's a mealy mouthed form of censorship, and it's bothersome. And it is being engaged in, in a strange form, by Orson Scott Card, a horrible and hateful bigot who wrote some very good books at one point but now is apparently producing an anti-gay retelling of Hamlet, revealing to us the "real" story. I'm bothered by this personally, as a gay man, professionally, as a writer, and fanboytastically, as someone who really very much liked Ender's Game and the next couple of books, and Seventh Son and those lot, and Memory of Earth, and the short fiction, and now has those books changed for me. Retroactively bowdlerized, if you will, by my own responses to the man who wrote them. I'm sad about that. I'm sadder that such a successful, talented person has to be so hateful and narrow minded.

Father of Project Gutenberg has died

Michael S. Hart, who created the very first primitive ebook and founded Project Gutenberg back when I was busy being born, has died at age 64. The godfather of the Kindle, in his way. I find fascinating the fact that the first document he typed up was the US Declaration of Independence. What a superb choice, in so many ways, not least because it has one of the best introductions, the preamble, of anything I've ever read.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

We're going rather obscure today: filioque, a Latin word meaning "and (from) the Son." It describes how the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father, and the Son. Which seems now rather an uncontroversial point, or rather, not a point anyone would really care about. But the insertion of the one little word drove apart the Western and Eastern churchs, and for a good four hundred years kept them apart. A last attempt was made to join them up, just before the Fall of Constantinople, and poor translation allowed the Greeks to agree to the use of the word, as meaning almost the same thing as their recently adopted notion of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father, then through the Son. Almost immediately after agreeing to this notion after three months of debate, the rather elderly Patriarch of Constantinople died. Which brings me to the point of this daily vocab listing. In writing about the poor old fellows death, one wag commented that of course he had died, as what other decent thing was to do after muddling up his pronouns so thoroughly? I find this line endlessly amusing, having read it in several different books now. A dry joke, encompassing grammar, history, and religion. What's not to like? So, although you will never use it unless writing historical fiction of the middle ages, there is your word: filioque.

Roderick Simons and the Engine Impossible: A 20001 Teaser

Kindling Press is pleased to bring you the next teaser in our anthologie 20,001: A Steampunk Odyssey - Roderick Simons and the Engine Impossible!

Roderick Simons could be called many things, but a typical everyday genius isn't one of them. Known to the world as a brilliant young engineer, special orders came in to his Cape Canaveral workshop from across the globe. But nothing could have prepared him to be hired to do the impossible: to build a sailing vessel that could cross the Atlantic in less than twenty-four hours. Can Roderick's genius ignite his crew into achieving what could be both the greatest triumph and the biggest folly of his young career?

In this tale of Cape Canaveral long before it was the Space Coast, writer Selena M. McDevitt combines the romance of Victorian fiction with the wonder and excitement of new discoveries in a story that not only embodies the spirit of invention and mystery, but the timeless spirit of the Cape itself.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Boys' Books of One Boy, Me

I wrote a bit about "girls' books" last week. What I wrote is about all I'm competent to write on the topic. I don't have a daughter, I didn't grow up with sisters, and I did not myself read the sorts of books I talked about. Part of the reason I didn't was because I was a very advanced reader, but still a child. By which I mean, I couldn't exactly appreciate Balzac or Waugh or Wharton or any of them because I was too young for nuance. But I wanted to read adult books anyway, and was inclined towards fantasy (and to a more limited extent scifi and horror), so that was what I read.

I don't want to imply that either a) fantasy and scifi are boys' topics (though I will discuss this below) or that there are no nuanced books in the field. I know there are nuanced books. It's just with fantasy, you can read the book at the surface level and not be missing anything if you don't get the nuance. That's a little less the case with a small percentage of fantasy, and a little less the case with more recent fantasy than it was when I was a wee lad, but in essence, one can read about wizards and cursed forests and dragons and suchlike without worrying about subtext. There is little in the way of literary analysis in the field. So when I was eight or ten or twelve, I devoured fantasy and related matters and felt like I was reading books that were at my level, and didn't feel I was missing much.

(I will note also that I've gone back and read many of the same books again as a grown person, and most of them have no more subtext than what I noticed at age 11. A delightful genre, but not the deepest.)

Now, on to my point a) above, that fantasy and scifi are or are not girls' topics. I will now place myself into immediate hot water by saying that they were, when I was young, the property of boys. There were girls who squatted on the territory, of course, but they were the exceptions, the invaders of a particularly nerdy, in-joke ridden, awkward land that was almost exclusively masculine for certain very young values of masculinity. As time has gone by, as the world has changed, as nerds have grown up and raised their daughters into nerdy ways, as fantasy has expanded and broadened, this has in large degree changed. There are as many, or almost as many, girl geeks as there are boy dorks. (My nomenclature will be vague here by choice. I realize that to use nerd, dork and geek interchangeably is a sin to some, but I will stand by my usage as one who is a bit of all three, thank you very much, and can thus bandy them about as much as I wish for essay purposes.) But this was certainly not the case when I was young, or if it was, the girls kept it very well hidden and used their disdain and complete incomprehension to make it clear that what we geeky boys were up to was nothing worthy of notice or mention.

So then, a bit back to the point, that as a youth I read a good deal of this boyish province of fantasy, now colonized and comfortably settled by girls. And I read a lot of fantasy with killing and fighting and spells and general stupidity in it, most of which has faded into merciful oblivion both in bookstores and in my mind. But now I will document a few of the titles that have endured, and why I think they weren't girls' books, and why I think they should or at least could be.

1)The Lord of the Rings. It always comes back to this. Fantasy grew from many springs, but it was in Tolkien's classic that they all came together, and the mighty waters raged over all the geeks yet unborn, and we grew up on the shores of the land and world that he built. I read this books at least two or three times a year, every year from the time I was about 8; I read them until their covers fell off, until they were stained and battered, until we had to get new copies (more than once). I practiced writing my name in runes, in elven languages. I knew the lines of the Kings, and the degrees of consanguinity of the hobbits, and all such notions. The LotR was my Bible, as much as I had one. My mother had read the books. She was a reader of all things, devouring print like most people drink water. Even now she normally has three books going at once, one for commuting with, and one for upstairs, and one for the bedside. So I know that women (and one must assume girls, though I didn't know of any) read the books. But they seemed an exclusively male domain. There were only a handful of named women, none of them major characters. The scope was vast and geopolitical. And the strongest relationships portrayed are of course manly, mostly the bonds of warriors one for another. Yet there are other traits that would suggest to me that it wasn't just a book for boys who wanted orcs and dragons and such. There is careful thought of culture and custom; there is at least one actual well thought out and deep relationship between Frodo and Sam; there is the universal appeal of a hopeless quest of good against evil. So why didn't I know any girls who read the books until quite a bit later? I can't say. But I didn't.

2) The Belgariad. When I was 13, I consumed this series in moments, or so it seemed. Five books about a boy chosen by fate to defeat an evil god. A cast of dozens of major characters; maps of various kingdoms; gods intervening and monsters attacking and magic spells and everything else a boy could want. David Eddings, who wrote the books, would later write them again and call them the Mallorean. And the Elenium. And the Tamuli. The fact that he had a good series in him and was willing to milk it multiple times is kind of horrible and kind of awe inspiring. In any case, I think it is a good series, for a young person. It has a very strong female character in Polgara. It has many other female characters of all types (I credit Eddings' wife, I think, for that, because it turned out years later that she had helped him with all his books, and she at last recieved credit for doing so on many of his later publications.) It has family dynamics, it has romance, it has slow moments to counter the endless battles and schemes and depictions of evil. All of this, I stupidly think, would make it seem like a good book for a child of 12 or so no matter their gender. But again, I only knew boys who read it (my mother didn't even touch these), and we all loved it.

3) Chronicles of Amber. I probably should do drugs if I want to fully understand these, especially the second series, which is not, in fact, what I'm talking about here. The first five books are strange, innovative, and filled with guys competing with guys to see who can be king of a magical realm. The women are femme fatales or disregarded; even the terribly scary Fiona is seen as a wicked child more than anything else. These books were written by a guy for guys, and as a boy I loved them greatly. I cannot say that these were boys' books, though. They were so obscure for a child that I don't know of anyone who read them in those years, except me and my brother. Adults, they read these books, not children of either gender.

4) Earthsea. One could make a strong case that these books shouldn't even count as "boys' books" with quotes or not. Only they start off so insularly boyish that one almost must. Though written by a great writer who happens to be a woman, they have no major female characters in the first book. It is to a boys' school that the main character goes, to perform boy dares and foolishly, boyishly curse himself. That there is a major female character in the second book is some redemption, and the later books in the series are much more "balanced" if one can use such a weighted term. But as a boy, the second book, with its girl and its strange labyrinths and grim dark service to unknown gods, did not appeal to me as much as the first, or the third with its land of the dead and its dragons. The second book was a bit of an aberration, then, to my young perspective, and in retrospect was a sign that it wasn't, as the first and third were, a "boys' book".

That's a few. I could go on at length about more. All of Michael Moorcock, perhaps. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I could mention a few scifi titles, too. Larry Niven's opus; Heinlein, though I came to him late, really. But I think this suffices. These are books that I know many women have read, and will read, and will enjoy, but in those days, I did not know them. I did not know, until I got to high school, a single girl my age who read such things, or even seemed to want to. Though if they had wanted to, I don't suppose, as a boy, I would have done anything to make it possible. Geekdom was very tribal (still is?) and my tribe was all boys. But these were some of my books, some of the books that the geeky boys I knew read, and that I couldn't picture any girl ever reading.

What were you boy books? What were your girl books? Why were they for boys, or for girls? Why shouldn't they have been?

Daily Vocabulary

eventual: occurring at the end of a series of events, as in, the eventual publication of a book. This comes after many intermediate stages, each with their own joys and frustrations. But it's not just to books that the word can be applied, and those happy and sad steps on the way. Marriage, child rearing, a job hunt, life as a whole, can all be fit into that pattern. Eventually, we will have a book out. Eventually, they will get married. Eventually, the child will grow up. Eventually, we will all die. Which is kind of conclusive, in that case, but true nonetheless. For the moment, though, the eventuality is tied into books, and so I can say: eventually, there will be a book. Eventually, there will be a contract.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

One of my many writing deficiencies, discussed

I don't really write series. I'm not built for it as a writer, I don't think. I have difficulty constructing and working with very long narratives. In truth, I like things short and lean and sleek, and a series aims for the opposite. As a reader, however, I like them well enough. I've torn through massive multivolume epics time and again, from my first great literary love The Lord of the Rings on to more modern fare like Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen. But in the main I agree strongly with this article, in that it's all too easy to go astray. A Game of Thrones is doing it; the Wheel of Time did it but might somehow still be salvaged (though I doubt it), and the Malazan series, clocking in at 10 books, should have stopped at 8. But I keep trying them, keep reading them and seeing if a writer can make it work. There are successes, yes, but I think they only work if they clock in at about three books; almost anything more manages to muddle things up. Perhaps some day I'll be bold or foolish enough to give it a try myself; I've had a notion here and there, but the execution always so far has failed me. If I do, though, I'll stick with tradition, and just do three books. Three is plenty.

Daily Vocabulary

Labor, or labour if one favors the Anglo spelling: productive work, especially physical toil done for wages; or those who perform such work. Also, the process of childbirth; and related, at least metaphorically, something done for pleasure rather than gain (as in a labor of love).

Few words run such a gamut of meanings and are yet so intimately tied to our everyday lives. Most of us labor for a living, yet few do so manually in this day and age because such activities are more often done more cheaply, and efficiently, by machines. Labor itself has changed. Our labor is often not of muscle but of intellect: 'knowledge workers' is a modern contrivance communicating this shift. Whether it is in the ephemeral transactions of customer service, the abstractions of finance and law, or the crafting of the written word, we labor as hard as previous generations ever did - if only in mind, rather than in body.

For writers this is especially true - many of us labor to bring ideas themselves into existence, partaking of both the 'childbirth' and 'labor of love' aspects of the word. We write to give birth to the fruits of our imaginations, and we love what we do despite the effort and dedication and patience it requires. No few of us would be far happier to dig a ditch or split logs for a few hours rather than go through another editing session! But of such timber are our word-temples built, and with such sweat do our words coalesce from the aether of imagination to appear, solid and substantial, from the amorphous mists of the creative process. And if anyone tells you this is not a labor - of love or otherwise - they may safely be called a stinkin' liar.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

gender the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex. There are other meanings. One can discuss the ending applies to words in various languages, all of which are based on gender associations within the particular language. Only there's not much basis for those gendered endings; some things make sense, but in Latin farmer is feminine, even though almost all Roman farmers would have been men. So let us discount that meaning, and stick with the listed one. Note that it mentions cultural. What is "manly" in one place is not going to be "manly" everywhere, and the same can be said for "womanly" behaviors. In Victorian England, a woman was meant to be pretty and pristine and tender (unless she was lower class and had to work). In some Native American tribes, they ruled the family. In Judaism, though women have low actual status, the line of descent is matrilineal. If you mother wasn't Jewish, neither are you, no matter how very Jewish your father might be, so your mother had better be pretty Jewish. So is Jewishness a gendered trait, then? Is fashion womanly? It didn't used to be. Once upon a time men's clothes were the only things anyone cared about, and their ornamentation was full of meaning and significance. But now, at least in the West, men's fashion is a small subset of the overall fashion world, which is bent entirely on women. Definitely a gender based construction, but purely cultural, a historical accident. So what is gender, except what we decide it is at any time and in any place?

It's nothing at all. It's an opinion we assert. Sometimes on ourselves. Sometimes on others. But it's just that: an opinion. Everyone has one. And there's no right or wrong ones.

The troubling topic of "girls' books"

It is a long established belief in the book industry that girls will read books with boys as main characters, but not the reverse. While not entirely true, in my experience both as a reader and as a bookseller of more than a decade, it's pretty much accurate. Girls, for reasons which can only be guessed at, do not mind boys as the heroes; boys on the other hand often actively avoid books with female protagonists, even if they're the sort that do "boy" things, like fighting and adventuring. All of which leads to the idea that while there is only a small set of "boys' books", there is a very large set of "girls books". 

"Boys' books" are such things as sports based fiction, which don't have much crossover appeal. Other than that rather small ghetto of literature, there isn't much that girls don't get to. On the other hand, there is a vast sea of "girls' books", including a great number of quite famous and perennially popular books that few boys ever read. I speak of such titles as Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret; the entire Ramona Quimby series; the Little House books in all their numbers and varieties; the extraordinarily plentiful American Girl series; and perhaps the largest and most famous of the them all, The Diary of Anne Frank.

Anne Frank's book is a peculiar case. It is not a novel, as the rest are. It is a work that examines an interesting and critical period in history from a crucial perspective. It is (as are many of the books listed above) a classic work, assigned in schools across the country. And yet, other than those school assignments, you will seldom if ever find a boy reading the book.

Recently, the employees at the Kids' Desk in my store made up lists of the their top ten books for kids. Everyone at the desk made one up, as did a good number of other employees. Almost all the people at the kids' desk are women, one of those things that just happens, and every one of them, I believe, put The Diary of Anne Frank on their list. Most often in the top five, even. Of the men who participated, not a one of us did. Not anywhere on the list at all. And most of us had never even read the book. Yet I can't deny that it would be a worthy book to read (I was among those who hadn't read it). It would inform us of things. It would reveal a part of the world. But I haven't, and the other men hadn't. And why?

Boys don't read that, was my answer. I could give no more reason than that. I didn't need to give more of a reason; it was like saying rain fell down from the clouds, or gravity pulls things toward each other. It is something that can be observed, and is generally speaking true, and thus does not need to be investigated. All the women were shocked at my statement, but it wasn't incorrect. Boys don't read that. We just don't. We don't read Little House, we don't read the Click, we don't read (much) even so big a thing as Twilight. We just don't. They are stories, we recognize, for girls, for women, but not for us boys. We know this without thought.

It's a shame that we know this. It limits us as readers. Not that I think we should read Pretty Little Liars (I don't really think anyone should read that), but that we should, more of us at least, read Laura Ingalls Wilder. We should more of us read the Brontes. We should, perhaps, even try to find out what makes Twilight tick for so many women of all ages. And we should certainly read The Diary of Anne Frank.

 But we don't. And we won't. And there is something problematic and troubling about that. I don't have a solution. I only know there is a problem.

Questioning Authors

If you could ask your favorite author any question just by highlighting a section of their ebook and sending them a Tweet straight from your Kindle...what would you ask?

That is what Amazon wants to know. Their newest program, @Author, features sixteen current authors who will, in fact, answer questions posed to them by readers through their Kindles.

There are some caveats, naturally: questions must be 100 characters or less, and yes, you have to have both a Kindle and a Twitter account for this to work. But those seem like fairly modest hurdles in this day and age; if you read ebooks, chances are good you have a Kindle, and likely have a Twitter (or aren't afraid to set one up). And if anything typifies this age of short attention spans, thinking in 100 characters would be it. (That last sentence was 99 characters including spaces, incidentally).

But what is really new and interesting about this program is not the ability to ask your favorite author a short question electronically. That is far from new. No, the innovative aspect of this is the immediacy of its accessibility. By making it easier than ever for readers and authors to engage one another, epublishing as a whole becomes a different and far more compelling experience than reading the same book in dead-plant-matter ("treebook") form. Remember when seeing a movie in the theater was a much more immersive experience than on a grainy VHS tape at home? As home entertainment technology advanced, the movie theater experience seemed less and less impressive - until the advent of 3D, which gave the movie-going public a reason to flock to theaters again. Notice how rapidly we've seen the signs of in-home 3D televisions coming our way!

Amazon is testing the epub waters with just that kind of strategy. The content is there, the technology is there, but the biggest question yet remains: if you could ask your favorite author a short question...would that affect your decision to buy their ebooks over those of other authors, and a Kindle over other e-readers? Amazon is betting it will.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Success! Level Up!

Is this the venue for this announcement? Well, why not? I just got an offer for my book Engines of the Broken World, which means very soon it will be bought by a publisher, which means that it will no longer be available. So if you should want to get a chance to read this worthy volume, head on over here and buy yourself a copy pronto.

Also, I get to now spell Author with a capital A. This was a big wad of XP to get all at once, and it totally leveled me.


We have a machine where I work, an Espresso Book Machine. It's job is to make books; it looks a bit Rube Goldberg, a bit Steampunk, a bit ridiculous. It makes sounds like a Willie Wonka machine. And in the end, after a few minutes, it gives you a book, much like any other paperback.

I work on the machine. Not maintenance, which I definitely do not do. Machines are complicated, and I do not well perform the job of fixing them. No, I print things. Which is really just a lot of pushing of buttons, of making sure the right things are loaded as far as paper and ink and suchlike, and of keeping an eye out for problems. We print up odds and ends, books that have long gone out of print, books that have been tossed out to Lightning Source (which is like a centralized Print on Demand clearing house), and increasingly, we print out self published books.

Some of them are interesting: a family cookbook thick and rich with memories. Some are curious: a translation of Gandaharan fragments to be taken with the author, in 800 page versions, to India. Some are slightly embarrassing: a collection of not terribly good poems with a horrid cover and very bad formatting. But each and every author is excited to see their book, to handle it, still warm from the presses. A few of the books we agree to carry in the store, but most of them are just for the authors. They may give them away, or sell them on their own time, or in one case sell them in a different store that is near their house but which does not, and never will, have an EBM.

We named ours Homer. I like to pretend it's because of the ancient blind poet, and that we fancy ourselves on some sort of odyssey. This isn't true. It's from a book about a donut machine, which was vaguely similar to our own contraption. But can we still stick with the lie about the poet? I like him better.

The machine has some problems. It's high strung and shows it by being picky about when it will and will not work perfectly. It's prone to running out of things all at the same time, so that you change out the paper, and five pages later must change out the toner, and five pages after that change out a color on the cover printer. It produces a smell compounded of toner and glue, which is potent and gives some people (myself included) headaches. All the same, I find it a wonder. That there could be such a device that would make a book, and millions of books no less, for a reasonable price and in a reasonable amount of time, is outlandish and as near to a miracle as I'm inclined to believe in. As much as I expect and assume that the future of the written word will be in digital form, it is terribly exciting still to hold a book hot from the presses and to put it in the hand of she what wrote it.

Today I'm working on Homer. I'm making books. I'm fulfilling dreams. It is a wonderful feeling, different in scale but the same in kind as was compiling the forthcoming 20001 anthologie. There, too, I made a few dreams come true, more immediately. Yet I can't deny the wonder of holding the book in hand, any book, which is fresh and a little tacky from the heat and still smells of ink. It is wonderful.

Daily Vocabulary

orthodox: conforming to what is accepted, esp. in religion; also, and unfortunately, unoriginal. I feel bad that the notion of being in the mainstream must also be considered unoriginal. And yet there's no real way around it. If one is a perfectly orthodox writer, one may sell millions of books, and be terribly popular. At the same time, such a person isn't likely to be noted as wild and creative. They are more likely to be thought of as workmanlike, competent, methodical. Not the worst words to use, I suppose, but compare them to these: groundbreaking, creative, original. I think I'd like the second. But I fear I'd be best described with the first. That's fine, of course. I can't hate the idea of being competent rather than wildly, erratically brilliant, which is what unorthodox suggests. I just wish the orthodoxy of writing included the idea of being incredibly strange a little more than it does.

Tapping the Admiral: A 20,001 Teaser

Our latest teaser from the upcoming anthologie 20,001: A Steampunk Odyssey brings a brilliantly realized alternate history take on the dangers awaiting polar explorers in the post-Napoleonic world:

Tapping the Admiral, by Anne Millar

Captain George Lucius Bixby is having a spot of bother: his exploratory vessel has been assigned to the trackless arctic wastes, his scientific collaborator is insisting on calling him Lucy, and - oh yes - he may have just discovered how the world is going to end... Ranging from black comedy to outright chills, liberally sprinkled with allusions to a history not quite our own, Anne Millar’s "Tapping the Admiral" offers steamships, an intrepid illustratrix and the fate of the post-Napoleonic world under the chill stars of polar night.