Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

on the occasion of going 24 hours without caffeine

Between Friday morning and Sunday morning, I had a cup of coffee to start my workday, then drank herbal tea. As the day progressed, my headache grew slightly, like a numb ache behind the skull. The machine demanded more caffeine! Alas, having none, it made more noise.

Friday night, I passed out reading early. I had a long night of mares come to haunt my addiction's withdrawal. I woke late, around ten, and mustered only enough energy to go for a walk and clean up parts of the kitchen. (not all, alas). Then, I zoned out to Bioshock 2 on easy mode lacking the skill required to play a twitch shooter without dying repeatedly. As the headache increased late into the day, I tried reading and couldn't. I fell asleep around 7:30. I woke up a little when A____ called me, but only a little. The phone died, and I couldn't muster the energy to hunt for the plug.

In the morning, again with the waking up at 10:00. Immediately to a cafe for an Americano the size of a quality bucket. Already, I feel more like a human and less like a hibernating bear struggling to stay awake as the seasons turn.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

While all the cool cats are off at World fantasy convention I figured I would make the best approximation on it here. I will drink too much, and argue with my XBox about the true nature of fantasy narrative. I will stay up too late to drink. I will stagger in to work on Monday exhausted.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Fantasy, as a genre or subgenre, has this way of painting things in words and symbols that are often obtuse. I remember reading this book where the whole city existed inside some magical glass. I recall, as well, in other works a vague wall of various and diverse "gods" who are little removed from the way gods work in the world. I recall numerous tortured heroes doing things that are viscerally challenging, of marginal interest otherwise. As a reader, right this second, I find that annoying.

Did any of it have metaphoric value? Probably not. This was all, for the most part, elements of "shiny" that make something "awesome".

As I write more fantasy, and read more, I yearn for simplicity. There are enough strange things already in the world, and hopefully enough in your fantasy world to sustain real depth. Please, focus on the elements that matter metaphorically, artistically, etc., and simplify the things that are only in the way of narrative.

The Baroque is not my ideal. In epic fantasy, and entertainment-oriented fictions, I prefer to keep the lines clean. Do not wander down a path unless it serves the larger themes, please. I don't want just awesome. I want something where every element of awesome shown also ties to a larger system of symbols, and meaning that speaks to the artistic truth of the narrative.

That is my preference today. Tomorrow, who knows? I will probably turn my nose up at such clean simplicity, and devour something hefty and baroque, like an issue of Electric Velocipede. At the moment, I aim for simplicity, and I re-read Ellen Kushner's classic "Thomas the Rhymer".

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Awesome Bottle

Celebratory round of Champagne for success for both Angie and me. Bought the champagne with the coolest bottle. As it tasted pretty bad, we pulled out some OJ. But, look at this awesome bottle. Just look at it!

(Livejournal cats need to prowl over to the main site to see anything more than text:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


No longer the enemy, sleep and I are sending lots of quality time together. In fact, I'd say we're good pals.

After the deadline like that is met there's this period of time where all I can do is sleep, go for walks, clean, and read.

It isn't a bad recipe for a good life: sleep well, go for long walks, keep your living space clean, and read good books.

If I were mid-17th century physician, that would be my recipe for a life well-lived. I think it may still apply.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

give people what they want...

...thought about this a lot because editing Never Knew Another brings it back to me. I remember thinking right after Last Dragon that people don't know what they want. Basically, I thought, before I had a book out at all, and I was in the soulless sprawl in between Dallas and Fort Worth, that everyone was unhappy. They wandered book shops and libraries miserable because they didn't even know what they wanted. They knew what they didn't want, right? They know they didn't want a book like that, or with that kind of cover, or with that kind of story, or that was too much like what they read in school which was difficult. But, did they know what they wanted? No.

People don't know what they want. They want to be challenged, but not too much. They want to think, but they want to agree with it before they read it. They want to be thrilled, except that too much thrills are silly. They want to be scared, except they also want to sleep at night peacefully.

There is no such thing as satisfaction, only dissatisfaction, and success is found in the absence of dissatisfaction. Nothing broke the dream, to the reader. Nothing tore them away from what they expected to receive. They were told they would get something, they got, and thus were satisfied. At sci-fi conventions a vociferous individual casually and cheerfully told me how much  he hated my first novel because he could not read it quickly--could not just digest the dream like a film in his face. Breaking his dream was breaking his satisfaction. Never break a dream.

Except, of course, when a story lays a trap. The story had seemed like such a simple thing, with such an unassumingly fantasy cover, and it had seemed like the whole series was moving in this one direction, towards one thing, and then this burst of energy rises up in one moment's flash and the dream becomes a bubble in the mind too strong and proud for breaking, or perhaps breaking everything.

Afterwards, what seemed like just a simple thing, a story of plain thing, just another thing like the thing you read last week, has grown tentacles and hair. You want to put it away, but you also want to keep it. If it failed at its first impression, and did not lead you down the path you thought you were travelling upon, it won't really matter what you thought of that momentary, unsettling burst of broken expectations for good or ill. It will remain sour in  your memory, like biting into a sandwich and discovering a hard-boiled egg was in your palm all that time. But, the sour is good for you. It's like mind vegetables, that disturbs you into thinking longer and harder, and maybe realizing how much you liked it sour.

I think of that when I think of Dogsland. Let it be just a plain fantasy. Let it be just what you thought it should be, until the pieces don't line up, and the goal of it all becomes puzzling, and the next book will come and it will only get harder to place all the moving joints in a line. Then, the third book comes, and all lost highways remain lost, but the realization comes that they should be lost, for that's what life leaves inside our souls: too many trains, too many stations, too many lost things accumulating and what rises to the surface is as much a lie as it is a memory.

But people think they want a fantasy novel with a beginning, a middle, and an end. People think they want a simple story, with simple themes, that entertains them, just like the one they read last week that had such cute characters, like ciphers of modernism planted into an orchard of lost times in a valley between mountains.

In my defense with that statement I just made, about what people want, which is a gross generalization, at the time I had spent long years living in a town with more magazines dedicated to the care and feeding of Alpacas than the care and feeding of literature, where everyone kept telling me to write something easy that didn't make them think because making sure their kids were reading was more important than reading for oneself. I thought I'd give them something easy, something that seemed like it was so easy, and maybe there's a trap in it because it isn't so easy. Now it's coming and I'll finish what I started, and lay all the bones of that time in my life down to rest, burn the ground where the blood of it poisons the ground. There's nothing noble in poverty, in living somewhere that doesn't have a place for you anywhere with the skills it gave you once, that holds you in contempt if it heard you speak a while. Run while you can.

Me, I'm running through the sewers of something that looks like such a simple fantasy. I'm breathing in the stink of the killing floor, and pink demon smoke. That's where I'll be a long while, putting that time of my life to rest. There's post-modern fantasy, like LAST DRAGON and MAZE. Then there's "My elves are different" (or, in this case, demons), and the road will be familiar enough that people won't realize how different it gets by the end. It seemed like such a simple thing, didn't it? I thought I was going to get this simple story, and everything turned into something else and I don't even know where that happened to me.

And I was thinking about poverty, and urban loneliness, and the way GLBT people in suburban Texas were generally treated like pariahs for no good reason, and the people who needed to know what that felt like were people who would never read the memoirs of a gay or lesbian teen.

Why do any interviews, when I seem to be interviewing myself?

I'm done with one. I turned it in. I don't feel like talking about it anymore. Time to sleep, read, and write some more.

Monday, October 25, 2010

waiting for the caffeine to kick in

then i will be diving back into the wreck.

while i'm down, here's a lovely video of the kind of stuff that inspired me when i was writing MAZE

which, to me, feels like an artifact of a different time, a different world. dogsland is all pounding drums and a drone rising up out of the noise to drown us all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

sleep is the enemy

sleep is the enemy. batten down your hatches with caffeine and sugar-coma inducing combustibles and fruits and vegetables.

stay awake. just stay awake.

go, go, go! the end of the tunnel is coming on soon. don't waste a minute more here, when you have the deadline on your manuscript edits already rising in the morning like a gorilla-shark come to strike and rend and devour.

sleep is the enemy, not gorillasharks. sleep is the enemy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Went to bed at 10 last night...

Woke up around 11.

A___ came by and we ate Onion Quiche and watched Monty Python's "Meaning of Life", and it is both disgusting and hilarious and brilliant stuff.

You know it, you love it:

(for folks who can't see the link: )

Friday, October 22, 2010

yesterday when i was sitting at my desk at work, the room started spinning. i was so tired that the room was spinning.

i was fine with that. in fact, my only thought was how i was grateful that i hadn't been driving at the time.

will sleep tonight, clean dishes and clothes. tomorrow morning, dive back into the paper city.

wish me luck!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I regret to inform you...

...that there will be no update today. This is a sad fact related to how I have been up into the wee hours on an impossible deadline, whilst trying to hold down a full-time job. I've had enough espresso in the last two and a half weeks to kill a monkey. I'm going to be crossing over into noxious espresso-based energy drinks tonight, in all likelihood.

By the end of this week, I expect my skin will turn orange, and develop a fine mist of carpet fuzz from all the time spent passing out upon the floor with the laptop in front of me. I have managed to bathe at least once every 24 hours, and I'm living on vegetables and apples, for the most part, in the interest of not dying of some weird disease with my already weakened immune system.

I... Oh, I think I just updated this.

Well. There you go. Carryon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

no time for anything right but this

I am so proud to be an American, knowing that I am being defended by folks of all races, creeds, and sexual orientations.

I hope this decision sticks, forever.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

About NaNoWriMo

What I'm doing right this second makes me feel like NaNoWriMo would be a relaxing way to slow down and enjoy the whole novel thing.

I'm glad I have spent the last year or so actively working hard at getting faster.

I hope I can make it!

*diving back into the storm*

Monday, October 18, 2010

Heard what my deadline was on this manuscript edit...

Heard what my deadline was for the manuscript edits, and I nearly fell over.

So... I know what I'm going to be doing all day and night for a while.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spontaneous rambling journalling of suburbs

Every kid knows it, the suburbs have failed. Distant gated segregation towns hide their children from the dangers of the world in cars like shells of turtles, and insurance keeps us driving out past the decay. Burn petrol to burn midnight oil far from home to come back late at night after half an hour of driving where our children make their own dinner and do homework without us, or run through the lots alone, all these huge yards and empty night streets where no one is looking out for anybody. Kids running and skateboarding and insulated from all the dangers of the world because they never sleep without supper and all they ever do is build momentum for a future that may become a lie if they can't run into it. Through the future, where glittering midnight stars show in the sky out past where cities kill the night. Suburban churches where people confess to each other feelings they wish were true, shopping for an authentic life, wondering if their children will have all that we want for them: safety, joy, clean playgrounds, innocence. Innocence fades to dissolution, to depression as life we believed became the life we couldn't prove. Past the suburbs, keep running past them. Jump through fences to swim in stranger's pools with all your clothes on. Past the woods at the edge of the park are bears wandering away from the construction sites, returning to rummage through the dumpsters, and everybody is wearing a turtle shell, huddling into themselves, their children's friends become their friends, and work in the city all the days of your life to buy the dream of the suburbs, a place to call your own away from the fury and the sound of city life, the distant terror of rural life. A footbin either place destroying both.

God save us from suburbs.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"you hellwhich is ready"

two very, very annoying chatterbox girls talking all about in-jokes, fashion, and boyfriends in law firms were in line at the sandwhich chain store down below the office where i work. i was there for the cheapest vegetarian lunch for miles around. i'm in line behind them and they kind of stopped what they were talking about to refer to the "weird guy... ew...lower your voice..." (deep in way-over-the-deadline-through-no-fault-of-my-own manuscript edits, i'm mostly just happy i bathed today, and have clean clothes to wear. shaving is optional. deep bags under my eyes are not. i definitely fit the definition of "weird guy" right now.)

as they got through line, chattering on like sparrows on crack, the staff seemed to express their disdain for these ladies thusly. upon their sandwiches being ready, the lady behind the counter shouted their name, followed by "your hell-witch is ready!" The chattering voiceboxes never even noticed a thing. Mine was next. My "hot-wich" was ready.

You know what's weird about me? I was the only one who even noticed it. The lady behind the counter worked hard in the sandwich production line, hair a little frazzled from the pace, and hands probably uncomfortable in those gloves. For one moment, she was a person, not a production line.

Friday, October 15, 2010

about Never Knew Another...

It's coming. As I type this (in advance...) I've got just a little bit left to cover for this first round of editing.

This book hits close to home. Lots of ideas spinning in the head from when I wrote it. I was broke, living with my brother (like one of the characters), or living with my mom (like one of the characters), and I was working awful jobs that felt about as good as killing people for money.

And, I was reading this fantastic fantasy novel by Sara Monette, where all the trappings of epic fantasy, and the set pieces of it, were just window-dressing around what was, at heart, a story about the slow road back to mental health for a rape survivor.

Goddamn, I thought, that's the stuff that's going to be huge, this kind of fantasy (not quite so difficult-to-digest) as LAST DRAGON where all these things are really about the characters coming to terms with a reality that mostly sucks, and nobody's saving the world. Read a couple Jay Lake books, too, which were close, but still a little too epic for my taste. I didn't want to save the city. Cities don't need saving. They just need people inside of them. Where there's people inside of them, there will be poor people, scraping by, watching from the sidelines while other people are leading this fabulous life.

When I want to tell you what it was like to be poor, it felt like these righteous werewolves were hunting me all the time. They weren't just going to kill me, but they were right to do it. They were the police, the landlord, the bill collector, the pickpocket, the shyster, and all the people who look you in the face like you've got something they want when you ain't got a damn thing. 

It felt like they were nipping at my heels, all these werewolves, almost human but not human enough to really give a damn.

Is this a rite of passage for us American authors? Is the break and the drift a necessary step? It might be. It might be for every writer. How many times I heard a writer talking about their life after their divorce, drifting, or life after a job folded up into a paper shell? Plenty.

So, I wrote this book, trying to distill my experience of being broke and aimless and emotionally, intellectually starved into these characters in a fantasy setting, because I could do things in fantasy I don't get to do in life. I don't think it's the perfect representation of that -- nobody wants to read that -- but making it "shiny" makes the experience easier to swallow. 

Maybe people will like it. Maybe not. Doesn't matter.

So, it's coming. It's coming. (Not the werewolves, mind you: the manuscript).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

dreams are telling me to go back to bed

Had a dream the other night, where my alarm went off. I got up. I walked around the apartment trying to get the lights to turn on. None of them turned on. I walked into the closet, wondering if the lightbulbs needed changing, or maybe the electricity was out. I walked around the apartment trying to turn on the lights. It was darker than dark in there, like I could see enough to move around but I knew it was illusory, unformed.

I noticed the 12:00 flashing on an alarm clock I long ago retired from service. It was plugged, and working, and... completely out of place on the desk where my computer goes.

Logically, I deduced this was a dream. I figured the best thing to do was go back to bed, then, and hide under the covers and wait it out. I was exhausted, after all.

I am, still, exhausted, come to mention it.

But, edits continue. Closer than ever. A book takes shape out of the clay of a manuscript, and I think people will like it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

more ideas than time

The train runs through, always through, always, always through. The station platform out here on the edge are mostly empty. People stay in their habitats, if they can. Grains and vegetables, flash-freezed in large capsules, hook to the bottom of the monorail line where the train, always running into the city, will deposit them at their scheduled destination. The capsules form lines, waiting for their turn to get a ride on the train. Too many capsules, too much wind resistance, and it's hard to get the train to run real good.

People, too, on board the trains, reading newspapers and hand-painted scrolls. Jackboot had gotten on from the family farm. He had a brother in the big city, a graduate student in feudal Japanese cartography. He was going to visit. Past the bubble farms, glistening in the light, and up to the first station in city limits: suburbs. glass-eyed children with rainbow-colored hair as soft as kitten fur, all ringed by maternal shielding to keep them from touching anything that is not approved.

None of them could sit next to Jackboot. He was a farm worker, with electric shoes and a hand that integrates with tillers. He smelled like overturned sod. He didn't even try to wash it out of his clothes. The maternal shields pushed the children back. The train wasn't crowded, yet. Plenty of other places to sit.

[fragment ends here, abandoned until I have more time. Always, I have more ideas than time.]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Go Forth; Be Mighty

We had to drink it ourselves to work there, trading some part of ourselves in for the machines of industry. The bodmodders came to our cafe to get their whale oil fix mixed with espresso. Doppio Con Brava, or Cinnos with oil frothy from hot steam. We had to belike the customers to work there or we'd never know whether the oil had soured. I guess I never thought, growing up, I'd ever be mortgaged to a company for replacement parts.

My folks were management. They supported me long enough after I flunked out of grad school to believe that any job was good and there was no place for pride with some of their kids that weren't destined for management. They even bought my first mod so i wouldnt go in debt to the company store. I had my eye replaced with a scanner so I could keep my fingers safe from  the whirring gears of the oil machine. A couple months later, I had enough burn scars to give in to my boss' suggestion. I had my fingers replaced, too. My boss was a bastard about it before I had it done. Speed was everything. Accuracy and speed. Moving bodies through the line we were expected to besmiling to the customers and working like machines. Up until midnight for the late shifters. Up again at 5:00 am for the truck loaders with hands as thick as flippers.

My mom was worried about me all redeyed and metal edged, a broken gaze when she saw me all worn out and popping the pills an oils that keep the machinery from vein rejection. I was still living with them. They tried to support me at my first job. My mom got an inner ear fix so she wouldn't need to carry her tablet to answer the phone, and email. She got up with me early the next day, and drove me in for earlybird swing shift starting at 6:30. Line was out the door. I rushed in, clocked in, and jumped behind the whirring machines, grinding beans and keeping the oil hot and fluffy. Mom got up in line and saw us working. Tried to say hi to us, shake the bosses hand among the gears of the city. Boss didn't even look up. Her hands weren't any good for shaking anymore. Too much happening on the screen to stop and chat. I tried to introduce my mother to my boss, and my boss wouldn't even say hello and look my mother in the face. Got home that night and we didn't talk about it. It isn't the life she wanted for me, but she couldn't say anything about it because it was the life I had. She just looked at my hands funny sometimes and saw my burned, oily, steel fingers like they were an infection. I was too tired to say anything about her implant. I was just too tired.

There's an implant I can buy so I can turn my sleep cycle on and off. I've almost got enough saved up. Trying to do it without anymore debt.  Maybe I'll get my feet next, instead My feet hurt all the time.

And they come all day to drink whale oil and espresso. Work hard. More machine than man, in debt for the mods that pay off debts. That's how they get you, we all say.

Go forth; be mighty, they told me once.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Was There with "I'm Not There"

Last night, I finally saw "I'm Not There", the dreamscape narrative of Bob Dylan's music and mutability, with a series of actors performing the role, including a Brilliant find in a child actor who stole every scene and outshone a couple of the grizzled veterans. The movie is worth watching just to see this young man throw down the acting gauntlet and make something amazing happen.

That said, it's easy to let this film devolve into a discussion of the merits of any individual actor in the role of the artist at the heart of the world's changing relationship between the authentic, heartfelt convictions and an appropriation of those convictions by consumer culture. The only solution, it seems, is to descend into layers of masks and shields against the world--to stand alone against everyone and everything for the sake of standing alone. Marriages fail. The fame falls to shambles. The famous performer finds his true self on stage of a church, singing about the end of the world, in the crowd of a put-upon Depression-era town standing up for justice, riding the boxcars to Woody Guthrie's deathbed, and chasing after a wife and family far away from the public image of a superstar struggling to put the public face away to be a good husband and father. (Not to forget Cate Blanchett's staggering performance as a drugged-out superstar rambling across London spouting poetry as casually as breathing and calling to question the entire system of fame and glory with every step and word.)

It's a brilliant film, and a joy to watch. The energy of each scene, and the layers of things created with the dissonant forces of symbols and imagery, form a breathtaking non-linear narrative, that rises up above the career of Bob Dylan to tell the story of the Traditional American Music straight from the boxcars to the booing crowds that want either folk music to remain in the past in America, or folk musicians never to go back to the past in London. All the while, the performance moves on, focused on the arts and the sound and the story of the American Artist up from the bootstraps and boxcars to the elegant parties of swinging London, stylish New York, and back down again to the loner on the farm, Billy the Kid in hiding trying to deny what he is capable of becoming in the name of an authentic life.

Ignoring the fact for representations of the facades that Bob Dylan embraced turned what could have been a pedestrian, fanboyish biopic into a brilliant classic of cinema, and the identity of distinctively American Arts.

Brilliant stuff. I'm buying this film. I will watch it a lot.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Addendum about this morning's post...

You know, one could also say that child lit. awards should also broaden their boundaries to include "adult books" based on most of my reasoning below. This isn't a bad direction to take, eventually. Part of what makes some books so fantastic is that even though they aren't explicitly marketed to one age group, everyone across age groups reads them and enjoys them.

For instance, the recently-mentioned "Gone With the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell.

However, I would not want to codify such a thing or support it until some semblance of equality occurs, wherein a finely crafted children's book novel is held up and equal to all other novels without having to follow that expression with "...despite being a children's book novel."

And it's all moot, because the prize committees, especially Nobel ones, do not read my blog. Of that, I am certain.

Sour grapes leads me to much larger thoughts about Children's Literature and Comics

I don't think you need to hear it from me. It's big news all over. Mario Vargas Llosa won a Nobel Prize for something having to do with cartography.

Personally, I always preferred Garcia Marquez to Vargas Llosa, and I want to get that out there just because what I'm about to say probably will come across as sour grapes. And it is. Without the sour grapes, I don't think I would have thought more about this topic, in-depth. It's just that I can think of a few other writers I'd have preferred over Vargas Llosa.

My exposure to Vargas Llosa was ten years ago, and was not a complete representation of his large and important body of work. I read one thing, thought it was scattered, and that the magical "realism" was more about being clever than being expressive of deeper truths. Nothing wrong with that, but, for whatever reason, I was mostly indifferent to Vargas Llosa. I never picked his stuff up again after that impression, for good or ill. Part of how I know I didn't care for it is because it has left no meaningful mark in my memory beyond that sense of something scattered, something clever, something unenjoyed. I think it was something ekphrastic, but that's all I got. When I heard he won the award, I was disappointed and started thinking about who I would have liked to see win the award.

So, sour grapes.

But, it led me down a mental path that I think is worth mentioning. I was thinking about people I'd have liked to see win a Nobel, instead, and it occurred to me that some of the people most deserving of this prize are simply not qualified to win it. They don't write IMPORTANT works of POLITICAL narrative for SERIOUS READERS.

One of them retired from writing comics a while back. One of them's dead, god bless him for all he did in life. One of them would probably not show up to claim his prize, and--if he did--he'd give the best damn speech ever and look like a madman in a tuxedo doing it. One of them is so exceptionally rich there's almost nothing you can do at this point but stand back and watch how her books are classics and will continue to be classics and isn't there a movie coming out.

This strange line exists around certain awards. Hugos, for instance, generally do not go to authors who do not also go to sci-fi/fantasy conventions where this award is really decided. Nebulas, for instance, tend not to go to people who are not members of SFWA, that I can tell. Pulitzer Prizes tend to spark the mind with the sort of books that win these things. National Book Awards are a bit more eclectic, and it's an imprimatur I look for when I'm browsing around, but they still aren't really that eclectic. Other awards, established ones especially, create a clear image in the mind of what kind of book should win the award. The Nobel is this kind of golden seal upon a text and author, marking their life's work as important the way penicillin is important: inoculating the mind against the evil toxins of social sciences. It goes out to major scientific discoveries, and world peace makers, and books that are thereby deemed as important as scientific discoveries and world peace makers.

For this reason, when I think of the place where this major award has failed, I think of children's literature, especially. Kid's Lit is the stuff that shapes the future of humanity for good or ill, and it is often ignored when people talk about IMPORTANT books. I guess it's because the people making the lists have to reach way, way back into the past to remember these books. Maybe it's because they are too easy to read for the adults who look back upon them. Still, any list of the great books of the last few centuries will generally throw a few bones at YA with Harper Lee, or if the list is even smarter and more erudite, Judy Blume, but otherwise ignores an entire, important body of work. Yet, to compare the overall impact on human society and culture between something like  Judy Blume's "Are You There God? It's Me Margaret" and "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White, with something like "The Sound and the Fury" or "Finnegan's Wake"--books both famous for being unreadable as much as they are famous for being excellent classics--I wonder if the influence of young books is ignored. Those two kid's books are really, really important and shape the attitudes and ideas and compassions of generatons of young people. The vast and overwhelming majority of people who read "The Sound and the Fury" do so because school amde them, and consider it one of the reasons they don't read important books.

You know what the most important book I ever read was? "The First Two Lives of Lukas Kasha" by Lloyd Alexander. That was the first book that showed to me what it was really possible for a book to do. Before that, I just thought they were cartoons without pictures, or stories I could tell to myself. When I encountered something that gave me that feeling of art and thoughtfulness and meaning, it turned me forever. I do not propose offering an award to Mr. Alexander, who was, alas, passed on. I know that much of that was my experience of his book, and not shared by others. But, I do wonder at lists of however many number of important novels that do not include "The Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Paterson. For many children, their first meaningful guide to a terrible and important secret of adulthood, grief, happens through this little book. It is an excellent book, and a classic to this day. I doubt anyone has considered Katherine Paterson for a Nobel. How many maps has she drawn to all the troubles to come for all the young people that need really good maps, who have no real way of comprehending the days to come without these maps? Plenty.

I doubt, as well, that the cartographies of political power were ever mapped quite so successfully as was done by Dr Seuss. I doubt, as well, that the influence upon the cultures of the world that Dr Seuss represented is even remotely reflected by any of the winners of the Nobel Prize. His books are marvels of political understatement masked in zany rhymes and pictures so charming and distinguishable that "Seussian" is a word used to describe both the whimsical close rhymes he favored and the whimsical furry and feathery people he drew. He's passed on, alas, but it is a shame he was probably never in the running for such an award as a Nobel. His influence is wide and deep. His importance to the raising of proper, well-adjusted children cannot be understated.

I would also love to see Alan Moore up for a Nobel. His work is complex, very political, and so richly human. Has the Nobel Prize committee ever been exposed to "V"? Would they even know what to do with it if they did? Cartographies of power, anyone?

I doubt that even for a moment any member of the committee considered Bill Watterson. He wrote these incredible, funny, smart dialog poems of childhood imagination, and drew pictures to go beside them. Calvin & Hobbes' lonely little suburb near the woods is as rich a mythology as Macondo, or Faulkner's Mississippi (don't ask me to spell that county!), or Singer's joyfully impoverished Jewish community. His timeless work is deep and powerful.

J.K. Rowling is a billionaire, and needs no awards to increase her readership. (Which is, admittedly, one of my favorite things about the Nobel Prize: suddenly obscure authors like Gao Xingjiang or very regional ones like Orhan Pamuk explode across the world to be discovered by all.) However, the fact that she is probably not even in the running for a major award like a Nobel is kind of troubling to me. An entire generation of humanity dream of a world just beyond the wainscot, where the corruption of power must be constantly fought by good-hearted friends, and anyone who seems like an ordinary mother of a bunch of rowdy boys, for instance, is capable of saving the world. All these Imaginations are given permission to see the wondrous hidden place just behind the face of the everyday, and have gone on continuing to read and enjoy reading. Are her work as "good" as Vargas Llosa? It certainly isn't as dense as Vargas Llosa. But, I would argue that her books are a surprise in the field of megasellers in large part because they are so well-written, with prose as charming and delightful as the magical world she describes. Is it at least as important as Vargas Llosa, (no slouch in the importance-department with his politically conscious narratives)? I think it probably is. A bazillion eyeballs learning to love literature is a very important thing, indeed, and should--I hope--propel her to a level where she would be at least considered for the prize.

Part of me wonders if this isn't connected in some way to the larger debate happening--or perhaps having already happened -- of men being reviewed more than women, being taken more seriously. Children's literature is perceived as less-important, simpler, and easier to read. As a craftsman, I happen to know how difficult it is to make something read simpler for an audience that does not share my perception of importance with all the human truth of the great kingdom of Terabithia.

That's really all I'm saying here: the prize pool for some of these awards have carved out this narrow definition. This one, the Nobel, gives out awards to penicillin and test tube babies and mapping the DNA and world peace. When the committee selects a book, it subconsciously suggests that this book is as important as penicillin. This perception is part of the allure of the books. The books are always supposed to be "important". That sense of importance, I suspect, has inadvertantly carved away the true healers and miracle workers who do not exactly fit into the academy's notion of what mind penicillin ought to be. J.K. Rowling is medicine against the perils of an unimaginative life, where people are all ordinary, and her work is full of all this rich humanity, the need to end evil wherever it arises, in this world or in the wainscot one.

Part of me also genuinely wonders if she would be treated differently if she were just an internationally-acclaimed author, and not an internationally-acclaimed children's book author who is also a woman.

So, sour grapes, I admit, but it has led to other thoughts of wider things.

Children's Literature doesn't get enough credit, in general, when it comes time to talk about IMPORTANT things. Comics and graphic novels are still not considered equal of their un-illustrated brethren in story forms. This is not to the benefit of the awards, or the people who select to read books and authors based on who receives these awards.

I actually don't wish this to be considered an Anti-Nobel rant as much as it is a larger thought on the way critic's minds seem to work. The sour grapes I felt when I heard the winner of this year's prize led to a coherent concept of how to express part of what I felt when I heard the announcement.

And, sour grapes wouldn't exist if I didn't follow the award and genuinely want it to help me find more great books like the ones it has brought into translation, brought back into print, and kept relevant. "Iceland's Bell" by Halldor Laxness is a marvelous piece of writing, and probably would not exist in English translation if it wasn't for the Nobel. I am really pleased Gao Xingjiang was selected, a couple years back. Without that, I would have never discovered his amazing book, "Soul Mountain". Orhan Pamuk, as well, was obscure until the award gave him the international acclaim he so richly deserves. I doubt, as well, Marquez' amazing books would have been so readily available in English translation without that prize. I follow this award, like many of us do, because they tend to lead us to great works. So, it's not a Nobel rant, or a rant about Vargas Llosa. Congratulations, Mario Vargas Llosa, if you're poking around this way. It's mostly about how I think awards treat Children's Literature and Comics. I'll give the recent winner another chance to win me over when I have a chance to do so. I'm older, now, and maybe it'll strike a chord if I try something different from him, in a new translation.

(Back into deadline perdition for me... To My Poor, Overworked Editor, if you're reading this, I'm sorry that I fell asleep way early last night! I was exhausted! I've been up and working since 3 AM, and  I'll press on today before and after work, and we'll get this book done very soon! I don't think we'll win a Nobel for it, but I do think we'll have this great thing when we're done that people will read and love.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

so much to say...

the more i think about the blog-o-sphere, the more i wonder that there really is so much to say in the world.

i can see a post-singular future where no one has to say anything. they merely point to the place in the web of words and ideas where they find the perfect expression of what already has been said.

soon, within miliseconds, the recipients of this kind of communication will no longer even need to read the entries. they can just see the url and know enough to know what the response would be. you see, when placed in opposition, catherynne valente's response could only be one of a few things when posted after an entry by rick sanchez. soon, language will mute and dissolve around this notion. we will speak in urls of blogs, perhaps abbreviated to be just the name of the blogger involved.

soon, dictionaries will have their entries replaced by lifetimes in livejournal.

not so long after that, the servers will die, society will collapse, and we'll all walk around staggering into the earth we thought we transcended, muttering aich tee tee pee! aich tee tee pee! boingboing! gamasutra! io9! dot dot dot!

confused and forlorn, with only the memory of blogs to contain our thoughts, language will start up again on the ur-text of 4chan.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This has shown up...


So... We're actually editing that right now, and uh.... Yeah. February, you say Mr. Amazon?

Okay, then. I better, like... Get back to work editing. Or something.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Driving to work in the AM, I was thinking about how technology, properly distributed, could revolutionize voting if we let it happen.

Gerrymandering, corruption, lies, and all the piles of steaming soundbite we get right now are only moderately less corrupt than the sort of systems of government our nation was founded to prevent. I mean, our politicians don't take bribes. They take *political contributions to their campaign*. It's not a bribe! It's tax deductible! It must be reported to the public where anyone with the patience can sift through ream after ream of data searching for the corruption buried there in the ledgers by comparing it to public record things like voting records and government contract bid winners and stuff... Yeah.

Technology can only mitigate that so much. But, if everyone's on-line, there's another way.

I was thinking about how districts could be replaced by 100 person units of people, thereabouts, that each collectively count as one vote--average, ordinary citizens--and each live in the same state though are randomly selected from inside that state. This group get access to a special message board, where they operate behind handles they choose for themselves like every message board in the world. Voting happens through the board, itself. These 100 people get to openly debate amongst themselves about whatever they want. Rigorous debate right up to the deadline, with a vote cast that can be changed right up until the deadline.

This unit of 100 becomes just one vote. The votes tally across the states from these randomized "districts", which mutes the populist elements that could kill minority rights into a straight majority. 51-49 is an equal vote to 99-1.

Moderation duties are revolving board-by-board. Any issue can be sent up to a larger "judicial" system of independently-appointed, lifelong members of the UberMods.

Tally the votes, without gerrymandered districts. Tally the votes with rigorous debate done by the citizens themselves, if they choose to do so. (Or, they could just swing through, click their vote, and swing out.)

If I believed in a utopian voting system in the future, for any of my stories--and I don't believe politicians are going to be willing to make the system fair--then this is what I'd probably use.

Which is to say, I will never use it. I prefer ruinous despots for my stories.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

even when i am underwater, i dream of endless libraries....

Even when I am underwater, edits fast and deep and hard for contracts that wound up behind, behind, behind, for no one's fault but the way the schedules happened to happen, and I am underwater, and even when I am underwater, I breathe in the eternity of books. I think about how wonderful it would be to live in a large library, like in Doctor Who, where I can spend my long days on an endless hiking trip through the stacks, stopping at comfortable chairs to eat, and foraging among the supply closets for food and medical supplies as needed.

Imagine the scene, pushing on past the Egyptian heiroglyphic texts, which are written in languages lost to time, a puzzle for another adventurer to unravel, and seeing in the distance, a stack of books bound in leather suggesting that there might be European texts ahead, in languages known and unknown, but perhaps--mostly--known.

A quick swing through the nearest corridor reveals a treasure trove: a janitor's abandoned cache of snack foods and whiskey, still edible in the plastic coating after some unknown time spent here. The whiskey as aged as the books upon the shelves and smooth as dreaming.

Another treasure found: a map of the library written in sanskrit. You can't read anything, but you can make out the pictures. You see the shape ahead. In prior journeys, you found a rosetta stone in a card catalogue. You pull out the entries stolen there, an entry on the Literary Criticism of American/English Fiction of James Fennimore Cooper. Under the Sanskrit section, you think you can make out the symbols for English and Fiction, which you search the map to find. There, around a corner, up a ladder, and down a spiraling corridor that leads to a river. You leave behind the last book you read, as a marker of where you have already been. No need to walk in circles here, searching for something among familiar stacks. You can press onward, ever onward. Another hallway! Another landing! Another shelf! Another mystery of what may be next! Adventure novels! Memoirs! Fiction Textbooks from Many Centuries! Translations of Icelandic Novels of the Nineteenth Century! Onward, ever onward!

Even when I am underwater with deadlines, my mind wonders what book will be discovered next among the endless stacks of the libraries of the world. I don't have time to eat, or to blog, or to sleep, but my mind lingers on the question of what wonderful think I will find next.

Recent things I adored: Of Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen McHugh; The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi; Clarkesworld's Latest Issue; and more, always more.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

what is the difference between the mosaic novel and the traditional novel

Trying to address this question for school, and I have disconnected thoughts.

A mosaic novel exists when a creator calls it so. a mosaic novel exists when a reader feels it so.

No scientist would accept this boundary line. Elements of a mosaic, where the artist fractures the screen of narrative. Traditional novels often and ever have elements of a mosaic. Gaps emerge where the narrative threads cut away from the line of narrative, and subplots wander off down pathways that flesh out the world.

I think of a river, then. I think of a long, flowing river. Sometimes, maybe, it drops under a rock, and pops out again into the same flow. My thought on the mosaic, in general, is that there is a very fuzzy boundary line - and no clean delineation between the "traditional" narrative and the "mosaic" narrative. Of course, the obvious problem with what I just stated is the definition of the words "traditional narrative". The mosaic text is, then, defined by what it is not. It is not a traditional text. It is not a clean, straight, narrative line. It is not, perhaps, composed intentionally as a clean narrative line, but discovered later and gardened into form. As such, it is no different than a "traditional" narrative. As there is no such thing as a "traditional" narrative in any form, especially when disjointed, serialized, and otherwise broken-up texts existed since, at least, forever, the distinction needs to be found not between "traditional" narrative and mosaics, per my instructor's instructions, but with some other form of narrative .

I shall choose the Coming-Of-Age Tale. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, there are disjointed scenes of a life moving forward in time, following Stephen Dedalus up from diapers to raw adulthood. Though there are elements of a mosaic, wherein individual scenes, like tiles, form a story of a life, these tiles are all completely connected in the flow of the narrative lines. If the tiles were pipe-fittings, all the water flows only one way, even if the scenes are broken up. Pick another form, with multiple POVs, like James Clavell's Shogun, and the flow of water meanders, but never breaks that flow. Mosaics break that flow. Waters scatter, braid around pipes, and ultimately show a wider system of pipes.

Critics of the mosaic novel may suggest that this broken flow of one pipe makes them short story collections, I guess, because they look for that singular flow of water, instead of the fans of mosaics that like the flowing of waters that create a system of pipes.

Maybe that's what I think. Probably not. Needs citation. Back into the water, then...

Friday, October 1, 2010

who dead

Jiri was too old for it: they needed him with the cattle. Kuma was eleven, and she could do it. Chindri, as well, was really big for his age. Chindri could carry a cattle prod with one hand and swing it around, setting off all the lights and noise. I couldn't do that. And, it was my grandfather that died. I had to go, because it was my family. Chindra and Kuma were just coming along to help me.

We started at Chindra's family farm, just for practice. He swung the cattle prod into the air, and set it off. It screamed and sparked. I shouted out Who dead who dead Simsa Sandrallah Simsa Sandrallah Simsa Sandrallah who dead who dead Simsa Sandrallah Simsa Sandrallah... I shouted until someone came from the house with an apple.

It was Chindra's father. He handed it to me. Good to know. Good to know. Walk tall, and be a good boy for your grandpa. He was a good man.

I took the apple. The yellow flesh was still fresh, but it was out of season for apples. The skin was going to soften and wilt. Bruises and brown patches will rot out from the core. I wasn't hungry, yet, so I gave the apple to Chindra. I didn't want to eat it. I thought if I bit into it, I might be sick.

We took the footpath past Chindra's farm. When we got home, everyone would know my grandfather was dead. He was a war hero, and respected in the community, but I only knew him when he was sitting in the back of the kitchen, staring down his nose at the rest of the family. He didn't like to turn on his hearing aid. When he did, he never said anything nice. Who dead? He's been dead a long time, like that. He's been rotting like an apple, dead off the tree and slowly darkening from the inside.


the fragment ends here, and i know not if it will become something or if it will die on the vine.