Welcome to the Maze

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pride, Disastrous Pride, (or a brief review of a very long novel, INDEPENDENT PEOPLE by Haldor Laxness)

Late last night, far too late, I reached the end of a book and placed it on my nightstand and considered going to sleep, but I could not. I walked to the kitchen instead, nearly midnight, when I am usually in bed by 8:30, exhausted. But not that night. Weeks of slow, ponderous reading - drifting in and out of one book after another, but always returning to the Laxness - had finally culminated in a conclusion as inevitable as the winter in Iceland. A proud man, far too proud, loses everything to the whims of forces far beyond his control. Instead of mourning, he gathers up the only thing that mattered to him, his one, true love, and walked away into the moors to a new lease and a new life.

I have spoiled the ending for you. Sorry, but it's obvious from the moment the reader stands at the brink of Summerhouses, the small farm holding in the moors of Iceland, that the demon Kolumkilli will have her due and have it again and again. Independent men like the proud shepherd and farmer will never defeat the forces of nature and society and fate.

Bjartur takes his bride, and proudly declares his independence on his land, working for decades to buy it square from the mortgage, refusing all luxuries - even actively destroying some luxury - while the people around him on his land are wrapped into his pride, burned by it, basking in it like sinners in the hands of an angry god. This man who would refuse all aid, all comfort, all love if it comes at the cost of his pride, of course, will fall. The proud always fall.

And what a fall! A gorgeously written walk upon the moors, with lines of prose that reveal the poetry and beauty of a place where the characters can barely read and speak. Foreign nations are myths, not the fae of the moors. Religion is circumscribed into a breed of superior sheep brought to the land by a grumpy minister. Hope is work, and in the violent seasons of change, where great blizzards come to the mud house, and high summer hay mowing comes, all people bend and bow to the beautiful, astonishingly described landscape.

The politics jumps up in the final act with the sort of perfectly-shown finality of a master craftsman. It is never so abrupt, never so taut. It is a cynical thing, and almost hopeless, but where pride breaks, so too does hope spring up.

Particularly of interest in these modern times, of financial shenanigans, and great debts, this novel of a man who would do anything to climb out of debt and then falls victim to the very financiers he had so long attempted to escape, over and over again, destroyed by fate and man in equal turns, perfectly handled with a subtlety and grace that only a master craftsman musters, is a story of our own time of great inequality. Men who do not understand the financial instruments foisted upon them by the elite classes, who claim passionately to be reformers,  only recreate the same problem that has always existed. The poor crofters cannot work enough in one generation to pay off their debts, and lift their family up from poverty. The 30 year mortgage on a house, an education, anything at all that is debt, might as well be the myth of independence that fuels the proud into believing they are not what they are: enslaved to the system and land and fate, without real hope in anything but love and family, even when that family is a cobbled-together thing.

Also, definitely, go to America. Whatever you do, don't stay in Iceland on a crofthold if you can go to America!

Monday, April 21, 2014


Nine writers enter, only one remains!

It's like Thunderdome, but with flash fiction!


Everyone go here, and go read and go vote.

Hugo packet hasn't arrived, yet. It's going to be a doozy when it does with the entire WHEEL OF TIME series included... So, take a break and read flash fiction in a fun contest celebrating all things MADNESS and MAY.

Two writers square off, and enter the arena. Their topics are presented versus style. You, the reader, choose the winner. Zombie versus Vampire. Earth versus Mars. Parent versus Child.

The winners in each bracket, chosen by YOU the READERS, move on to the next round of awesome flash fiction!

Topics will be chosen from a random pile of topics, and selected and distributed on Friday. Stories will be delivered by Sunday. WINNERS WILL BE CHOSEN!

It's better than the Hugos, which is a popular award at a science fiction convention, because May Madness is a THUNDERDOME of speculative fiction for CHARITY!

Go read. Go vote. Go go go!

The winner wins a trophy, selected from the bookstore where I work. This is the trophy:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mail going out Tuesday

For those lucky few who participated in Friday's special, one day only offer, I will be mailing out books on Tuesday! Alas, I am chained to a desk all day, today, but tomorrow I can mail things out from the bookstore directly.

Thanks, everyone, and I hope you enjoy MAZE!

Friday, April 11, 2014

One Day Only

Today, Friday the 11th of April, until midnight, here us what I will do. I have a box of books in another room that is not getting any lighter.

If you purchase a print edition of MAZE from Apex Publications, directly, at this link: http://www.apexbookcompany.com/books/ then send me your e-mails receipt and address and I will send you a copy of any of my other titles, in print, until they are gone. I have some ebooks I can part with, as well, if the print books run out.

One day only.

Buy yourself something nice, get yourself something nice, as a bonus!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Reason to Garden: Food Security

People who have been to my house know that 1) I have a lot of fruit trees, and 2) We really try to garden as much as possible.

With the drought in California reaching Biblical proportions, I want to consider a moment why every single person with land or a sunny window should be doing this, too, right now, and expanding every season.

In America, we will have plenty to eat. We are a rich nation, and even as other parts of the world fall into decline, our industries and agriculture will find a way to trundle on for another few decades without concern. However, there are serious concerns. GMO fears are often overwrought at their face, but the dramatic impact this agricultural style that such crop systems promote is utterly destructive adn unsustainable and causing the death of the wild places of the world, and creating an arms against nature. Make no mistake: Nature always wins the arms race. In this case, our grain system is mostly secure. Corn, soybean, and wheat are all fairly secure and we have no serious concerns in America other than the system itself, which should trundle on destructively for another couple decades without serious problems.

But, vegetables, meat, fruit, and anything else agricultural? California is America's garden. It's where the almonds come from, the strawberries, the broccoli. Without California, most of the country will turn to local sources to meet some of their needs. In Texas, that means I can buy Texas watermelons, and Texas peaches, and even Texas pecans. However, it also means we get a lot of our produce up from Mexico. The fruit in our fruit section come primarily from New Zealand and Chili. Think about that, for a moment, about how far those fruits have traveled to get here. There are more Vietnamese fruit than Louisiana fruit in our fruit section, and Louisiana used to be famous for her Mandarin oranges and artichokes!

What it means when there's drought in California is that the places of the world that can support the needs of Wal-Mart and Kroger and Tom Thumb and all those huge chains are going to be large-scale corporations in inexpensive parts of the world that can grow food and ship it in cheaper than we could grow food and truck it in from the oil fields and gas fields and hay fields that surround our cities.

In these places of the world, particularly China, regulation will be lax and corrupt, and we will experience the myriad of problems that were, for a long time, relatively contained to the regions of the world where food was produced. Listeria and tainted meat have been our primary concerns, locally. Not lead. Not arsenic. Not mercury. Not typhoid or dysentery from improper sanitation among workers and working conditions.

And, regardless of our own food supply in the future, do you really want to be the one to feast while so many others famine to provide you your feast? Or, would you rather dig a few rows in the back yard, and dedicate two afternoons a week, and part of a weekend, doing what you can with what you have? Wouldn't you rather spray a plum tree once a week for a couple months with organic neem oil to kill the coddling moths, and eat what you harvest at low or no cost?

Permaculture landscapes are going to be a future for our country. Eating from your own soil, and knowing what you put into it and what you get out of it, is a future.

Do what you can, even if it is only a little bit, or as small as planting a single fruit tree for a single weekends' harvest. Maybe a few pots of fresh chard and lettuce and spinach, in a sunny window.  Maybe a row of onions among the rose bushes, where no one will even know that it isn't some sort of architectural ornamental thing.

Do what you can. Because the days are coming when you will probably want or need to do a little more, and the seasons under your fingers will be easier with practice.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Tower of Babel Crumbles As It Is Being Built

Pondering aimlessly on a prior post I wrote dedicated to "southern" fiction, wherein I decide that dealing with the original sins of a place, time, or culture are central to the defining aspect of whether that work of fiction can be categorized as "being" a work definitive to the place, linked here, I would like to turn my eye to science fiction, which I have been writing too much of late. Fiction is defined by conflicts. Every work of fiction has one, of which I am aware. And, fiction, by its nature, is also a systemic redefinition of places known already. The signifiers in fiction, words, ideas, places, etc., all exist together accumulated to be a reflection of reflections of the real world. Without realism, there is no fiction. And, in the real world, there are conflicts. Countries push against each other jockeying over resources real and imaginary. Neighborhoods make rules for neighborhoods. Households bicker. People suffer. People die. Conflict everywhere, always. Even in the future, science fiction is conflict. Asimov wrote of a house continuing on after the early demise of the owners in some nuclear apocalypse, but the house, itself, pushes against the chaos of time until winding down, in the end, to a kind of demise. Conflict, always conflict, people pushing against each other, against the order of the world, against the order of nature, and even against their own better/worse selves. In our times, with the fragmentary nature of influences rightfully scattering across genres, I don't necessarily want to pull the clouds of confusion away from the nature of things. I like the cloudy, ambiguous piles of books, each presuming to be exactly what it is meant to be. But, I can see a way of looking at what I'm writing, and knowing where it ought to be sent, that seems useful enough to mention. Sin is the center of the genre. Conflicts are moments of pain, moments of sin and suffering. Sin is the heart of fiction, and the recognition of society's sins, people's sins, and even the sins of a faceless deity upon our flesh and soul. The work that describes itself as science fictional deals in the sins that come to us wrapped in a gauze science. A work of literature, then, where a piece of technology is possible that changes the world is only mildly consistent with science fiction, as a genre, if such a thing exposes the sin at the center of the beating, guilty heart of the act of science itself. Occasionally, in hard science stories that are as hard as they come, the sin that is revealed is the sin of science, as an act. To presume to see the world as mere observor is a prideful thing, and an impossibility. We cannot ever achieve the necessary distance to be pure of the corruption of our own delusions. When the science gets hard, the people suffer, and it is the central sins of science - pride of self, jealousy of god, fear of the unknown Other beyond the known and accepted, annihilation of true self in the face of a machinery - that lead down the path towards such sins that translate into conflict. Writers are the whistlers of sinful songs. We are the jesters and puppeteers of fables. We see a little farther into the nature of things, even as we fail ourselves to our own self-blindness. No one sees the horizon spreading out forever. We just struggle to see a little more, is all. What makes us science fictionists? We've climbed up the tower where it is still being built, and we look up and imagine it a little farther on. We see all the whipping of slaves, the heavy work of carrying rocks higher up the walls, the sweat and blood and futility of doing all this - all this - for the sake of a larger tower. Maybe it is a brighter future we see, closer to the sun, where the laborers may rest. Maybe it is a crook in the stairs that will be hard for everyone to cross without falling. See whatever you see. Name it as you see it. The conflict, though, always, and the tower will crumble if we don't keep looking out ahead, imagining buttresses, steam-valves, and breakpoints and shouting at everyone to see what we see. Look there, and build carefully! For soon we all perish. Science fiction is the folly of climbing the tower. The timelessness never comes, because to look up at what might be is to lose the possibility when stone stands upon stone. Our work is lost as soon as the next month rolls over and new releases arrive. New magazines push away the old ones. New books push out the old ones on the shelves. Everyone pointing up, and that is us. We scream about the tower being built, in the middle of construction. It crumbles from the foundations, from below. Every tower will crumble into sand, and begins to fall the moment the first stone is placed upon another stone. When we build another one, after this one, we will point to the ruins and claim to know better this time. I think of this, and I write science fiction, and I am nearly done with it, for now, for other things that feel less temporary, and less futile, than shouting at rocks and sand.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Things That Are Pushing Against My Head Right Now...

Here are some songs, movies, books, all wandering in my head right now. I was singing this to myself all morning:
 Last night, I was singing this to myself:

I thought this movie was amazing, and it immediately leapt into my subconscious straight from the screen. There have been vivid dreams among pastel Bavarian mountains...

I have been slowly rereading these stories as the larger books I work upon require rest. I am a huge Jernigan fan, and recommend his work as I am able.

I am also reading this book, and it is thus far amazing. Just amazing.

This magazine was recommended to me by Jeff VanderMeer, and after two issues, I'm thoroughly hooked. I'll have to scrape together some change to renew my subscription.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Obligatory Hugo Post

I've done a few eligible things this year, but I'm only going to mention one of them here, because I like the magazine a lot, and I think other people would like it if they had a chance to read more of it, at the scale of the Hugo Awards. There's this story I published in 2013, called "I Will Trade With You" and it is viewable here: http://www.3lobedmag.com/issue23/3lbe23_story6.html [quote] The north star is still in my palm. North, I keep on, but there’s no way to know how far I walked before I stopped to rest on this lump of sand instead of that one. I need to rest to keep walking with these old, uncertain bones. When I’m ready to move again, I crawl a little, and wait for my legs to work right below me. When I can’t walk anymore, I drink my own blood from my boots and joints. I was not put together well, nor will I ever be again. I do not know how many days there were before this, but it has only been a few days while I walked, and then it was night, and I slept sometimes during the night. Then it was day again and I kept on, where my hand still leads me. My old right hand is still mine. It was my first trade. My legs are shorter than I remember and it is hard to walk on them when they are this worn down. The sand slips through the cracks of very old boots. I’m bleeding somewhere in there, but most of it stays in my boots and I can sip it later when I rest. It’s all I have to drink. Let this body be numb and unknown to me. There was little I could do about it in the middle of a desert. I licked what I could reach of my blisters and sores and ill-fashioned joints, drinking back my own fluids. It hurt, but it had to be done. [/quote] If you're aching to nominate something by me, there it is. If you hadn't seen it before, well, now you have. Have a great weekend!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Price Wiggling Is Not a Strategy, Glitz is not a Strategy, Shotgunning is Not a Strategy

The thing about books and eBooks is that there are tried and true methods of advertising that seem to reach diminishing returns as more people do them and more people do them and too many people are doing them. Being free on Amazon meant something, when there wasn't really that much that was free on Amazon. Now there's so much free stuff on Amazon people don't need to buy anything if they aren't particularly discerning. Most people aren't. Remember, Duck Dynasty is the most popular show on television, right now. Also, print ads used to mean something, and a presence at book fairs. But there's too many places people go to read things, now. It's impossible to return the investment outside of a few, very expensive, and very specific sorts of markets. Genres narrow interests down into tiny corners. Comics go to comics. LitFic goes to LitFic. Romance to romance. True consumers of wide ranging media are not spoken to by marketing folks, yet most of us are true consumers of wide-ranging media. The manliest biker dude will sit through and try to enjoy the girliest romance movie if their significant other gets to pick this week. In fact, many romances, when well-done, are enjoyable no matter how macho one happens to consider oneself. How does anyone get the ubiquity of saturation necessary to get people to pick up a book? At the moment, films seem to be the deciders. This is where the marketing is narrowed to a point where instead of shotgunning out a whole bunch of books in huge wads with boxes and boxes of books arriving at marketing centers, the few movies that are released are targeted like laserbeams and positioned to maximize revenues both spent and earned. But, there's a huge limitation, of course. For all the good that Hollywood does at marketing, and cross-platform saturation, the moment the limelight looks away, there are crickets in an empty wasteland of forgotten VHS bins in piles at the dollar racks, and DVDs on sale that are all so easily and quickly forgotten. Nothing works. The great challenge that needs to be solved, then, is how to narrowly target over time a core set of folks who would like a book. Let's say a book about redheaded teenagers surviving in the poor, rural Midwest, from upscale New York exists. This imaginary book would appeal to people who shared that experience. It would also appeal to parents of redheads looking for a book their kids can relate with. How do you reach that group? How do you do it once? How do you do it for forty years straight, refreshing the message continually that this thing exists, and the audience of redheads and new midwesterners might find it appealing? How do you find that same set of tools for marketing when the book's subject matter is obscure? Who can relate to the Demon Children of Dogsland? Who would even want a literary cut-up epic fantasy novel about worlds that never were? There's something missing in all the noise and techniques that used to work. There is precision that is missing. I work at a Christian Book Store, but you wouldn't know it from the promos that show up. It doesn't look anyone really knows what we're doing, and who are demographic is, no matter how much we tell people that we are a specialty retailer, we get the latest YA thing that we don't know what to do with because our audience is much older than YA and buys a lot of books about the Eucharist and spiritual journaling. Bird by Bird is our kind of book. Teen vampire romps are not. Anyway, beyond just shotgunning books. Fidgeting with pricing will only work until everyone does it. Then, the audience will grow wise, and it will face the same problem that free giveaways have. What's the actual target? Fidgeting to drum up business seems to have no relationship to the target desired, at the moment, most of the time. And, there's simply too much of it happening to have any impact beyond confusion, for me, as a consumer. Internet advertisements are a flashing, red and purple noise in my eyes. They don't really work most of the time. Nothing works. Technology, build me something that works. Build me a marketing mechanic that is better than just shotgunning giveaways on GoodReads. Let me make a list of traits of likely consumers. (For example, readers of my books are probably interested in art installations of the grotesque and surreal, enjoy Wes Anderson movies, and drink oolong tea.) How could I build a target for my readers out of that? How could I make the marketing as persistent as the file for sale on eBook servers? Our eBooks never go out of print. Our marketing efforts dissipate quickly when our advertisements roll over and another book or another author stands blinking in the limelight of the world. How can we make our marketing as persistent as our eBooks and books?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sunflowers to Save the World

Sunflowers are beautiful. They are also kind of huge, a little bit woody, and a favorite for all sorts of bees and bugs and birds impacted by climate change. Seriously, they are beautiful. They are amazing and beautiful. Just look at them.

(source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a5/Sonnenblumen_im_Bund.JPG) Now, look at the world around you. Everyone knows of a patch of ground. This patch of ground could be the corner of your yard. It could be a scrap of dirt left bare after some construction disaster. It could be just wild ground, hard-scrabble and rough. Sunflowers are rough. They like disturbed soil. Grab a shovel, disturb some soil. Plant some sunflowers. Seeds are cheap and plentiful. Soak them in rainwater for a few hours before planting, and then place them about one finger joint down into the soil. They have deep taproots that reach down and pull up nutrients all up and down their big stalks. They have big, wide, nitrogen-rich leaves that provide shade in hot weather, and shelter for bugs and small birds. Now, once the sunflower is done, and the seedheads turn down to the earth, and the plant begins to brown, chop it off right at the root line, leaving the roots in place to decompose inside the soil. Then, take that big, slightly wood-y stalk, and bury it in another patch of dead ground. Right there, in that disturbed soil with the buried sunflower stalks, plant more sunflower seeds. Where the sunflowers were once planted, nature will find something useful to do there. It will probably involve generations of sunflowers. This is a good thing. It is a beautiful thing. And it spreads. It spreads, and the decaying sunflowers provide shelter to worms underground, and the roots release all those deep nutrients as they decay. Bring back the soil, and save the world. Desertification is the enemy. Do your own little thing. Be the sunflower ninja. Bring beauty and peace and healing to the world.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

WE LEAVE TOGETHER set and loaded for June 2014

“Readers will be eager to return to Dogsland.” —Publishers Weekly I n a city where the rich stage decadent parties as the poor suffer in squalor, where assassins prowl and kings men keep order with truncheons and force, where gangs of children run like dogs and addicts die in the streets, a demonic strain has taken hold. The shape shifting priestess and priest of Erin have come to Dogsland stalking a fugitive, half-breed Senta Rachel Nolander, and plot to burn her to cleanse the world of her demon-tainted blood. Led ever onward by Rachel’s corrupted lover’s crying skull, Erin’s agents seek their hapless quarry, a frightened girl guided by one promise, one hope, one prayer... We Leave Together. News broke first on Twitter:

Watch for ARCs in the wild, people...

Spider in a Tree by Susan Stinson

The Great Awakening in American history was this moment in time, before we were a nation, before we were manifest destiny, where we found religion and it set our course all the way until today. In other lands on this planet, religion does not hold so much sway over public discourse. In ours, it does. For this reason, it is a very good idea to travel back and trace the source of the influence to those tiny towns in New England, that experienced a religious fervor that resonates with familiarity even to us, today.

Jonathan Edwards, famous for his sermon about sinners in the hand of an angry god, a fire and brimstone, unforgiving purist towards a faith that is fearful and trembling, and his tenure during the height of his fame at Northampton, Massachusetts. The little town of farmers and traders, at first, adores their famous preacher. Then, after the strict theology pushes too hard on the town's sense of public order, Edwards and his family are cast out. These are historical facts, not spoilers. Jonathan Edwards will be rejected by his parish. He makes bad choices that are theologically correct.

The light of this novel is not Jonathan Edwards, but the women of the town who endure the weight of the men upon them. Sara, the wife of the famous minister, is maybe holier than him. Their daughter, Jerusha, doomed to die young from consumption, embraces fully her father's faith. Martha Root, a young woman in the town, is seduced and abandoned with twins by a relative of Jonathan Edwards, who will not marry her. Their endurance, and acceptance, and quest for joy and union with God are magnificent in contrast to the arrogance of the men. Also, Jonathan Edwards was a slave owner. His slaves are the soul of the novel. Leah, Saul, and Bathsheba are all wrestling with faith in their own way, survivors of the middle passage and trapped between worlds. Leah converts with great faith and feeling, and carries her mother's memories in Africa, her painful middle passage, and her place in Northampton, while also falling into the realm of the spirit and faith. Saul quietly and stoically longs for freedom, and until the death of someone he loves, he does not find it. He flows out into the vast woods beyond civilized places, and is assumed by many in the novel to be going native with the Indians. Bathsheba remains with the family, enduring all that she has lost along the way, living with that haunting past inside of her, of her good friends gone, her place in the world narrowed, her future a stark and unforgiving place, without freedom from her burdens.

The men form the plot of the novel with posturing. In religious fervor, Edwards' brother-in-law commits suicide, and this man's sons become the future of the country, each betraying the Edwards clan that ultimately caused their father's darkness consumed. For this reason, I will not discuss them here. Just know that it is well-done, in the text, and forms what I would consider an excellent example of the "Great American Novel" form, wherein a hefty tome about America, containing a multitude of characters each representing some influence or direction of things to come, speaks to us from the shadows of history, illuminated by brilliant writing.

And, when Jonathan Edwards speaks to the world, steals the natural world for his metaphors and his certainty, the world itself looks back and speaks. Spiders correct the sermon, unheard. A mayfly speaks. Everything speaks. The clumsy tool of Edwards' theology is not enough to contain the wondrous beauty of the world, and his greatest failure is his inability to see exactly that. A tragic, beautiful novel, and highly recommended to anyone interested in American history, religious fiction, and/or fantastic writing.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A New Digital Short: VAST AND UNBROKEN

From the future, we travel back. We are not supposed to do it, but we do. When we do, we cannot be human, because it would put the future at risk. We have to do something else, then. We have to be something else. What's the point of all of this, in a vast and unbroken darkness?

Watch for it from your preferred eBook vendor...


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Two General Announcements, and One Announcement to Come

First, my gratitude goes out to Jason Sizemore and Sigrid Ellis, who have been so kind as to include an excerpt from MAZE in the latest issue of Apex Magazine's digital editions. If you are a reader of Apex, and a reader of here, which is terrifically likely, you do not need to know these things. You have MAZE, and you have Apex Magazine, and you are happy! Good for you! For those of you that do not have either of these things, pick up an eBook edition of Apex Magazine, with stories by Cat Hellison, Mari Ness, Sunny Moraine, Jacqueline Carey, and Claire Humphrey from the fine folks at Weightless Books for DRM-free eBooks. (http://weightlessbooks.com/format/apex-magazine-issue-58/) If you do so and encounter MAZE, and wonder at reading more of it, there is a simple way to do such a thing. Again, from Weightless Books, pick up a copy of MAZE DRM-free! (http://weightlessbooks.com/format/maze/)

Second, my story "Dolores, Big and Strong" is available in the latest April/May 2014 issue of Asimov's Magazine! I'm writing there as Joe M. McDermott, in part because I am going to need a new author name, soon, and, in part, because I'm tired of people calling me "Jim" when I'm out and about. I may have announced this already, but I am excited and it bears repeating!

There is a third thing. If you sign up for the newsletter, you will hear about it first, and even receive a special code of special-ness!

You still have time to sign up!