Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Are you reading the Fathomless Abyss series?

I am pleased to announce an exciting new story in the Fathomless Abyss cycle, called "Are You Listening?" that has been released as a Kindle Select Exclusive!

Go forth, fair folk of the world, and peruse your new fictional depths. Also, and this is important, the title is free to download for the next five days on the Kindle. Hurry!

PS: I will periodically and unreliably be uploading short stories to Kindle and Nook this year, as the mood strikes me. Keep an eye out, because I doubt seriously I will announce them in any meaningful fashion. It's more about clearing out ye ol' document box of the things that - though still good and quality - might not be right for the current market, and I'd just as soon let them go from my spreadsheets for more pressing, novel-length work. "Rocket" is one of those pieces, that was actually sliced off the back end of a work-in-progress novel. Look around. You can find it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Where Are Your Tribes

Tribalism happens. Being different from the tribe will get you voted off the island. Everyone is different from one another, but its sort of like how when you're driving and the cops are patrolling for speeders and no one's going the speed limit because its impossible, but you just want to look like you're not the fastest or the slowest.

Every thing about you that makes you a little different from others, a little more complicated or intense, holds you back. Everyone wants a company man, who is all in. Look like your boss. Maintain the status quo of how to live by looking around and seeing what everyone else is doing. Find a place where your natural way of being is not constrained too much by what you are expected to do.

Be different and everything that separates you from the center of expectation drives you closer to the edge where the tribe turns its back on you, and decides you aren't one of them.

Writing, thank goodness, is a way to change where the center flows and re-write the road maps of expectations. Where are your tribes? Are you writing to change the flow closer to a better, happier, more beautiful world among your tribe?

I'm trying to get very still, and very normal, and very much the person that everyone expects. I'm doing this to reach the center of the current flow patterns and push.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Beyond Literacy

In a society that has, for the most part, moved beyond literacy, what is the role of the writer?

We take reading for granted. It's something that you learn in school, and everyone learns it, and everyone reads and we want children to read for fun in the same way we want them to take piano and draw refrigerator art and do a sport. It's very important for children, but as adulthood comes, it becomes very important and... Most people don't really read in their free time. They know how. They probably did well in their English classes in college. But, the dishes stack up and the TV is easy and there are other, competing avenues for entertainment that require less intellectual and emotional investment. A book or two a year, when the mood strikes, maybe three or four, and we read so much for work and at work. We live at computer screens, reading. For us, mostly, we do not read enough.

Beyond literacy, then, is where I work. Authors already follow the poets and the painters into academia, where grants and tenure preserve something culturally important, even though few bother with it in their free time. I pursued my MFA,and wouldn't mind teaching one bit.

Beyond literacy, in a world where books are more like paintings that hang on a wall, or a few hour's peace on a plane, or the thing that's done because everyone is talking about a book and so it must be attempted.

What is our role, then? Where does the author fit, if at all, in a world where already the (for all practical, professional purposes) hobbyist and the teacher of aspiring hobbyists rule?

We cannot stop the shifts in the ground that have changed the way things are. We live beyond literacy, where reading and knowing how to read and doing it for pleasure has no meaningful cachet anymore. It is a thing that everyone does, that we take for granted, and for most reading is like piano lessons as a child - something learned once upon a time but mostly forgotten and isn't it important for all children to learn an instrument and occasionally an adult might sit down and pound out a half-remembered tune?

There is a liberation that comes from not mattering. There is a freedom, here,where we don't have to be concerned about what the grand, great world believes about our work.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Make a Mix Tape

Recently a book arrived in the post from a friend, whose novella recently arrived via Lazy Fascist Press, whose promotional team also managed to create a mix-tape of recent songs that recall the feelings and emotions of the book.

Recently, another friend with a book coming out brought a mix-tape to the wedding as a gift, and gave it to my wife and me as a wedding gift. (This is an awesome wedding gift, by the way.)

Make a mix tape, why don't you? Make a Dogsland mix tape.

For the Dogsland Books, the first, NEVER KNEW ANOTHER, is probably all Arcade Fire and Decemberists. Can you hear the lonely rhythm of the streets of the city?

With the second, WHEN WE WERE EXECUTIONERS, there was plenty of Fever Ray going down, and plenty of Metric. This is not a happy love story, is it?

With the third, WE LEAVE TOGETHER, I find that Tom Waits and Ladytron rule the streets, day and night. The simplifying urgency of Rachel's heartfelt need to run, the urgency of Jona to stay, and to keep, and to hold... Crystal Castles plus Tom Waits. (Frankly, if I were casting Nicola Calipari for a film, I'd be encouraging Tom Waits to whomever was around and listening.)

If I were looking for the sound of the narrator's voice howling in a song instead of an open field at night, it would be Bjork.

Generally speaking, if I were looking for a song to hold Rachel up and speak to her heart and her desires, I think it would be...

Walking that tightrope, and all the contradictions inside of her coming up all right, I reckon, even if she's on the run. (Janelle Monae wouldn't be a bad casting choice for Rachel, if she had an interest in acting and the knack, plus anyone was making a cinematic version of things, which I don't think anyone ever will.)

Rachel, Rachel, Rachel... Where are you running to and how are you running and how can you run from this? I'm working on the third book now - working on cleaning it up and getting her story straight and true. Jona's dead, but where are you?

Everyone's leaving the city, one way or another.

Make a mix tape, all ye writers and bloggers. What are the songs of your veiled, plasticine worlds?

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Things We Plant Last Longer Than Our Houses

A master gardener at this seminar I went to last weekend mentioned that there are homesteads in Texas where you can see the chimney that used to be a house, and see the fields open and barren, and there's a pear tree rising up above the ground, reaching wide arms out, like a memorial. Pears every year, for hundreds of years, to live and live long.

I drive around town and see these Texas oaks people plant in their yards. They're native trees and huge and beautiful. They will live a thousand years.

Can you honestly say in five hundred years that there will be a city here? Can anyone honestly believe that our land and lot and house is so permanent as a tree?

There's shrubs in our yard - Texas Sage - that seem so small compared to the house. Yet, they will live. When the roof caves in and the hard drought time comes, the sage will live.

Planting perrenials in the yard is the true mark we make. The rest is just ornamentation. Furniture and remodeling and painting and all the noise and activity that makes our houses lovely and warm in winter - all just trivial ornamentation compared to the trees we plant, and the perrenial things that will outlast us all.

My neighbor moved out here, once, when it was all forest to live in the forest. The houses came, he told us, all in a flash a decade ago, and he doesn't like that. He wants to move out and away into the woods again. The developers tore down the woods to build houses. Now it's a suburban place, stripped to the bone. This is a temporary thing. The land would prefer to be a forest. It remembers how to be a forest. My neighbors planted trees, all in a flood, to shade our houses and our barren lawns. We all planted trees. They grow tall.

Someday, our ghosts will haunt the trees. There will only be trees. Grasses that rise and fall with a ferocity that we can barely wrap our heads around with the long, slow, forgetful memory that ghosts have. We'll sit in the swooping branches and when the seedlings of our trees rise up tall and proud and strong, while the elder statesmen of the new forest bend down, we will sink into the earth with our trees and stare up and wonder the true legacy on the land of long, long life, a forest and a forest and a forest as far as the hills can roll away from us.

The things we plant last longer than our houses.

Choose well what you place upon the ground. You are just the temporary steward in service to something older than we can ever know.

Friday, January 18, 2013

things that have arrived recently...

Books and stories aren't particularly important in the grand scheme, where the bills must be paid and the comfort must come before old age lest we suffer and suffer, but a good story can hypnotize away a little suffering here and there, and it's nice to sit outside in the first nice weather of the year to read a little. Books are good for that tiny bit, at least.

Here are a few that have recently crossed our threshold and I have been poking at them with my eyes in an honest attempt to read them when I don't have a headache and the editing is in need of a break.

What I really want is the sort of book that grabs my face like a lonely octopus, longing to whisper the inhuman music of the deep sea like a siren for another species of prey animals. I haven't found that in a while, but I assume the wintry headache of editing the third Dogsland novel is contributing. I should be done with that soon, though, I hope. (At least done enough that I can pass it along to the editor for his notes and back at it upon its return.)

Anyway, here are some things that have arrived that I've poked at with my eyes, or read, or whatever.

Has been interesting enough so far, and I'll probably finish it soon, but I'm only a little bit into the PDF, and it's not the author's fault that I've had a headache on and off from staring at the computer too much whilst editing. I do want to mention that the price for the dead tree edition seems a bit high, to my eyes, and the price for the eBook seems a bit low, so probably pick up the eBook. The PDF I've been poking at seems well-formatted. 

One thing I'll miss about the future of books with POD and eBooks and all sorts of in-between books is the relatively standardized prices, so my buying decisions can be based on art desired and not dollars.

I read this quite nearly to the end. There came a moment in the book when I felt like it was dissembling into the drafts of things that weren't really supposed to be there, or belonged to another book entirely that were mixed up with the notes, and I was staring at the intellectual equivalent of a dead man in his underpants. It was some of the best line-by-line work I'd ever encountered about accountants and boredom, which are two things generally not known to be so interesting, yet it was very interesting. To me, the whole thing suffered because of the whole highly-publicized suicide thing. Too bad about DFW, but so it goes. So it goes. I do hope that if I ever make such a terrible, bad, selfish decision as he did that it doesn't become part and parcel of a media blitz promoting books I didn't finish writing.

I blurbed that book. It's coming out soon. Early copies might be showing up here and there. The blurb I provided will be on the back cover beside glowing blurbs by Elizabeth Hand, David Anthony Durham, Martha Wells, and James Patrick Kelly. So, you know, this might be the sort of thing that book-ish sorts should be pursuing quite seriously. It's an excellent book, and it's coming out soon.

If I could blurb Cat Rambo's novella, I would, but it's part of a shared world of which I am an active member, so that would be unseemly, but it's a great piece, and I hope that more people hear about it. Have you heard about it? Fall into the abyss, already! You won't regret it!

That came in yesterday, along with a mix tape. I'll snap a picture one of these moments, because it really did arrive with a mix-tape. Interesting fact: My wife and I don't own a tape deck, so the mix tape will have to wait for some trip to a flea market or something. The book, though, might not have to wait too long before I crack the pages. I was surprised at how short it was, but that's all right. In this case, unlike the first thing I mentioned, I think the print edition is the better deal. Get the print, if you do.

Anyway back to work...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

account for the manner in which you've lived your life

recently, sfwa sent their bulletin, and the cover is awful. there is a woman in the proverbial chain-mail bikini. she is standing like a pinup mostly nude in the middle of very cold-looking mountains having slain something that looks like a cold-weather monster. it is a throwback to a past that i thought we had all agreed was pretty awful and wrong and wouldn't that be very uncomfortable and impractical, anyway? it's a pandering fantasy thing, that speaks to our lowest impulses. and here it is, again, the bottom-dwelling marketplace that seems to do so surprisingly well, because people love to speak to the bottom of their shoes, and celebrate the terrible things, and swallow placebos of the mind. chainmail bikinis for everyone. chainmail bikinis forever. sfwa apparently wishes to remind us that without even thinking hard about it, what folks really want is chainmail bikinis.

and, sales of books that might as well be chainmail bikini books, and seeing the general success of books that speak to these impulses, and films based on them, and seeing the few bright lights squelched, squeezed, and altered away from distinction and rather watch the voices turn book-by-book towards a plain, unadorned, thriller-esque big tent before our eyes due to this cold, material reality of art as a commodity is the sort of thing that makes me want to shrivel up into a hole and pull the earth over me. the great voices of our age will bend to the market because the rent, the bills, the audience is greater there, and we can do more with a larger audience, etc... and chainmail bikini, or close enough to it, because why not? it's what people want, right? we want to make the audience happy, right?

sales are a good thing, right? writing the kind of books people actually want to read, instead of books that exist for the ego of the author, or something else soundbite-y and justifying. i've heard it explained away before, and the soundbites are all right, i guess, but they always seem to be used as a way to justify a chainmail bikini or its intellectual and spiritual equivalent, and i don't know about that. the proof is in the pudding, right? talk about it all you want, but there is your chainmail bikini and the rest is just excuses.

for a long time, i was able to just keep going and keep writing, but it's getting harder. it's hard to watch things do very well that are terrible, spiteful things that have no respect for audiences' intellects, and also to watch how little the world seems interested in the things that interest me.

some days i just stop and sit outside and look up at the sun and wonder what it will take to get me to give up - to really give up.

i think the cover of sfwa bulletin #200 is what giving up looks like, and surrendering to all the pieces of our world that want things to be terrible, easy, and the sort of art where you just throw shiny things in the air and some of them are fireworks that explode.

account for the manner in which you've lived your life, and what art you've made and pushed upon the world.

maybe my sales figures are terrible, but i came about them honorably.

Monday, January 14, 2013

a pretty naked full body verbal takedown of american cultural forces

i hope it really isn't as bad as all this, but the whole article is definitely worth reading because i think we've all seen things leaning this way from time-to-time...

As we think about what happened to Aaron, we need to recognize that it was not just prosecutorial overreach that killed him. That’s too easy, because that implies it’s one bad apple. We know that’s not true. What killed him was corruption. Corruption isn’t just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It’s also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or if you are truly dangerous and brilliantly subversive, as Aaron was, you are bankrupted and destroyed. There’s a reason whistleblowers get fired. There’s a reason Bradley Manning is in jail. There’s a reason the only CIA official who has gone to jail for torture is the person – John Kiriako - who told the world it was going on. There’s a reason those who destroyed the financial system “dine at the White House”, as Lawrence Lessig put it. There’s a reason former Senator Russ Feingold is a college professor whereas former Senator Chris Dodd is now a multi-millionaire. There’s a reason DOJ officials do not go after bankers who illegally foreclose, and then get jobs as partners in white collar criminal defense. There’s a reason no one has been held accountable for decisions leading to the financial crisis, or the war in Iraq. This reason is the modern ethic in American society that defines success as climbing up the ladder, consequences be damned. Corrupt self-interest, when it goes systemwide, demands that it protect rentiers from people like Aaron, that it intimidate, co-opt, humiliate, fire, destroy, and/or bankrupt those who stand for justice.
More prosaically, the person who warned about the downside in a meeting gets cut out of the loop, or the former politician who tries to reform an industry sector finds his or her job opportunities sparse and unappealing next to his soon to be millionaire go along get along colleagues. I’ve seen this happen to high level former officials who have done good, and among students who challenge power as their colleagues go to become junior analysts on Wall Street. And now we’ve seen these same forces kill our friend.

Read more at 

There's a petition you can sign about Aaron's death. I did not know of him until he was already gone, but I do think it is telling that the guy who posts JSTOR articles gets threatened with 30 years and more, while the banking and financial sector get their wrists slapped, and no criminal charges, with all the evil, evil shenanigans they were doing recently that took our way of living in this world to disaster's edge.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Living in a House

I was outside most of the last two days preparing for a season of gardening, trying to get all the heavy work done early so I won't have to do any heavy work later beyond just planting and watering. I'll be busy, later, with more books and more stories. Today and yesterday I needed sunlight, hard labor. I'd been cooped up at a computer too long, scribbling away at a new novel and a new short story for the Fathomless Abyss. Afterwards, I sat on the back deck, and looked up at the roof where my dad and I replaced the wooden slats with trellising a few weeks ago. I got to thinking about houses, and owning houses, and living in houses.

Someone built the deck before we got here, and now it's one of the best things about the house. Prior residents did things to this house. There's tile throughout the rooms, nice and cool on a hot, Texas summer day, instead of carpet. Someone added that. My brother installed a fancy thermostat for the AC unit. There's an island of plants in front, with drought-tolerant natives, that will probably be here forever because the plants live forever in all seasons, and it reduces the yard work greatly up there. I am doing things, too. I built concrete planters, planted trees that will grow large.

These marks we make on the building and the ground carry forward through time. We live in the house, but we don't live alone. We live with everyone that lived here, and everyone that will live here. We are a community of people living in the same house, separated by time. We all work to maintain the house, and to make changes to it that suit our character and our desire for the future of the house. We are responsible for a patch of ground, and we plant things and tear them down - build things and tear them down - repair, repair, repair, renovate, repair. We never know what marks we make will truly last. Someone built a deck in the back yard that is epic and one of the greatest things about the house and will probably last and be maintained forever, now. I sit on it, and love it, and we're sitting together, them and me. I changed the roof of the deck to trellis, to make my mark and sit with the people that will come after us. We took down a tree that was too large. We planted other things. There are trees planted that we keep, and trees that we don't keep, and trees that we keep but don't want to and maybe we'll never get around to cutting them down. Right now, I'm moving large shrubs from the front yard to the back yard. Perhaps the person who comes next will move them from the back to the front. The person before me planted them, and painted the walls different colors, and put nails and hooks in places for things my wife and I do not own. Sometimes the nails just sit there, empty, because I don't bother taking them out until I know what to do with the place that is empty. Maybe I will never know, and the next person will see the same empty hooks and nails.

We are all here toiling away at the domicile, a community of people trying to make the best marks we can, and to maintain the house for the future and repair where it breaks. We are haunted, just a little, by the people that came before and the people that will come soon enough, but hopefully not too soon.

This is a metaphor for life, for society, for so many things.

Even if you live alone in your house, you're never alone because you live with everyone else who has and will live there. Make the best marks in the ground that you can. Be a good roommate. Take the trash out, and don't let the dishes stack up or the bugs will get in.

Sometimes there's ghosts.