Thursday, June 30, 2011

Autoapocryphal

I write myself a lot of notes. Very often, I'm driving, and I'll hold an idea in my head just long enough to get to the next red light and vomit it out (metaphorically) onto whatever paper is close enough to contain it. I tend to assume that as long as I have some hook to cling to, I'll be able to remember what I was thinking. I'm often wrong. Taken archaeologically, there are whole strata of things I've written down that are currently a mystery to me. Here are some of these:

"the mainspring of heaven"

"oneric?"

"The novel gypsies have a drum syllabary"

"Sequel, if needed, she starts school"

"Apocalypso- the steel drum of doom. Jerk sauce Ragnarok. End of Day-os"

"Zombie fruit"

"It was started by some famous dead guy"

"Rocket Surgeon"

"Catsploitation"

"Sex laws under Caesar Augustus"

"Look at underground railroad."

"Hawaiian fusion bone breaking art"

"The Gastronaut"

"When crossing the psychic music desert, one must rely on one's spirit rocker as a guide" (Joe Strummer is written in the margin)

"The Ever-After Machine"

"Mixed medium assemblage with electricity"

"Perpetual present"

"knife throwing, if you think about it, jesus"


I know I meant something when I wrote those things. I'm not above repurposing them, because some of them sound quite cool, but I wonder what the original impetus for them was.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Art Might

It's a site full of art. Please forgive me if you don't get anything done today.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tiny, Spectacular Art

Seriously. Impressive pencil art, and not in the sense you're probably thinking.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain

Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain by Yoon Ha Lee is just super fun, and I wanted to bring it to your attention. I had a big smile on my face throughout the whole thing, and I think it displaces The Pirate Captain's Daughter (which is gorgeous and whimsical in its own right) as my favorite of her stories.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

On Editing in June

As is perhaps not terribly surprising, I'm not per se sitting on top of 23 fully edited stories at the moment. Following from here are some scattered notes and observations from the "edit one story a day in June" experiment.

1. I'm rewriting a lot more than I anticipated. I thought I'd just tweak things a bit and they would be fine, or maybe I'd write in an extra scene and just shoehorn it between two previous ones. Except in cases where there was almost no editing needed, I couldn't find any way to do this that didn't queer everything it touched, especially in stories with a strong voice. I have a pretty strong forward momentum when I get going, and while working from a previous draft slows this down some, it still works out better than hopping around between untouched portions.

2. I have written a lot of things I've completely forgotten having written. Completely. I would come across them and be very surprised. It would take me a few minutes of flipping around and wracking my brain to remember the whole piece. I didn't work on many of those.

3. The stories I think are my best are not. Not even close. I have picked up so many things this month thinking "this will be a snap, I remember this was a really good story, I bet I hardly have to do anything." And I'm always wrong. There's usually a grain of a good idea there, but it's either woefully underdeveloped or I've let myself go running off on pace murdering tangents because I didn't have a clear idea what I was working towards.

4. I'm more comfortable with the editing I need to do on that mess of a novel, again, in part because I've given up on my dream of not completely rewriting things from scratch. Reading and listening to more literary fiction has also influenced what I want it to be, in a more ambitious and I think better direction. I have a real job, I'm not counting on this for money, I can indulge in delusions of grandeur.

5. I think my writing is in fact getting tighter from the practice of editing, which in and of itself makes this a worthwhile exercise, even if nothing more ever comes of it.

6. Things insist on taking multiple passes, even when I'm sick of them.

7. Editing takes much longer than writing, and when you're finished is far more ambiguous. I find this terribly vexing.

8. I do tend to edit things longer (word count wise) than the previous draft. The stories I'm thinking of are objectively better for this.

9. In part because of how I often write- without per se knowing where I'm going and under the duress of a rapidly approaching deadline- I very often lack a defining character scene in the front. This is a gross oversight on my part, and one I've been fixing in a lot of second drafts.

10. Often when I worried in the first draft I went to far, on editing I realize I did not go far enough.

11. I get much more done when I have print outs of the stories than when I'm working straight off the screen. I don't know what that's really about, but it feels easier to view the thing as a tangible whole.

12. I am terrible at prioritizing which piece to work on.

13. Reading out loud is spectacular. I should pick a story a night and read it to myself. This is probably not going to happen, but it would really help out.

14. I can line edit a couple of minutes at a time in a room with distractions, but this is very much not true for content and pace editing, or rewriting.

15. This is a lot of work, did I mention that?

16. I still don't like editing, but I no longer hate it, per se. We're uncomfortable friends- like that woman in the cubicle down the way, who you know is stealing paper and holding all sorts of opposite and offensive political beliefs, but damnit, you're here to get a job done and you're not going to let your feelings about her get in the way.

17. I still have a lot of stories to do if I hope to catch up, and I shouldn't put it off until this late at night, because I need more brain power than I'm packing at 11pm after a full day if I'm going to get these sorts of things done.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Carving

Yeah, you read that right.

I got to see one of Long Bin-Chen's phonebook Buddhas at the San Antonio Art Museum recently. This is a very cool fellow, who is thinking outside the box.

Edit: wow! I thought it was weird when the article said "you've probably seen book carving before" (as I, you know, hadn't), but apparently this is actually a thing. Check out one or two more examples.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rule Britannia?

Essay about race, post/colonialism, and steampunk.

My two cents is that I hardly think something has to be British to be steampunk, and when it is, I prefer a critical examination of Empire.

Silver Goggles seems to be a blog dedicated specifically to the topic of "hey, wasn't there more of the world than England?"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Authenticity and Appropriation

You could write a dissertation on the number of weird cultural constructions in this painting. In the interest of full disclosure, I am whiter than albino almond meringue. I come from an upperish middle class white Texas protestant liberal household, though my income over the last decade has danced coyly around the poverty line. I speak two languages besides English with varying degrees of competence, and I've done my best to get out and see the world, and hopefully bring home a better understanding of it.

The catalyst for this post is a gentleman named Tom MacMaster, who spent several months blogging under the guise of a Syrian lesbian activist named Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari. I'd been following the blog for a while, and when MacMaster wrote that Amina had been abducted, I put links up, bugged people I knew, wrote e-mails, and added my signature to things. In his apology for the hoax- which notably put real activists on the ground in Syria who tried to speak up for Amina at serious risk- MacMaster said that he wanted to draw attention to the story of what was happening in Syria. Actual middle-eastern women responded with a completely understandable "we don't need you speaking for us."

The thing is, and I'd like to say this, if I can, without sounding truly douchey, I understand MacMaster's position as well. Obviously he lied about who he was, and got the world all riled up about a fake problem that looked like but eclipsed in our consciousness ten thousand very really problems. It did succeed in drawing attention to the region, but it also had the assumably unforseen consequence of superceding the real voices of people on the ground. I don't think he ever meant for it to get as far as it did, and he made some truly stupid decisions, but I don't think he ever did it maliciously.

But.

Even if it had always been presented as a work of fiction (and I believe this whole thing started because he intended to write a book), there's still this dangerous water of being a white, Western man, defining, inventing, exoticizing, and romanticizing a middle eastern woman, isn't there? Even without any malice at all, there's that unspoken assumption that it's his place to speak, and that he's just as good a candidate to represent Syrian lesbians as any lesbian in Syria. Better even.

I bring this up because I would love to write about Syrian lesbians, if I thought I knew enough about the matter to do it well. (At the risk of being grossly reductionist, immediately after reading 1001 Arabian Nights and again after reading Reading Lolita in Tehran, I dashed off middle east inspired shorts- second world stuff in general, but trying to catch the flavor those works had for me.) I'd love to write about the Congolese, or the Zapatistas down in Chiapas. I'd like to write about Sumatra and Papua New Guinea. I've often thought when I get a bit better at crafting whole novels, I'd like to submit myself as a ghost writer for one of the abolitionist NGOs or something like the Somaly Mam foundation- to be able to take issues I think are genuinely important, and bring the stories of real people to the public eye.

There's a legitimate question of how much we can ever understand the inner workings of people from vastly disparate circumstances. Even when we're speaking the same language, it's almost impossible that all the connotations of the words- the years of memories, emotions, experiences, and arguments that shape our understanding of what "money", "shameful", "family", "God", and "love" mean, for example- will really jive. It's often different enough to cause misunderstandings even when you're speaking to someone raised in the same style, even within the same family. Ideally, as authors, our job is to be able to put on another person's skin and have a feel for what it means to walk in it, but I know I'm not the only one who's seen truly cringe-worthy examples of a writer who's said "yeah, I totally know how people from this group think."

So how does a white, middle-ish class, American from the bible belt walk that line with grace and respect?

Honestly, damned if I know. I do my best to understand what prejudices and privileges I bring to the table. While my writing tends toward the baroque and exaggerated, I do my best to make sure characters are never set pieces, just there for the exoticism of it. I try to paint worlds, whether imaginary or in imitation of this one, where people reflect a spectrum and either people get to say their piece, or have their enforced silence as a point of contention. It's hard to get a perspective on how well I've actually done.

I know there are times I'm terrified. I worry I've stepped all over somebody else's sandbox, or I've made some unforgivable error, overlooked something truly basic. Made a sock puppet out of a character who ought to have been real. I'm shy with some of these stories.

I guess what I want to be is a global citizen, but I'm terrified I'll always only be American.

Edit: As is so often the case, Benjamin Rosenbaum said it so much better.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Oh my goodness, Yes!

A lovely article about poetic voice in prose that ends with my favorite thing in the world- a big pile of links to free stories!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Aoife's Kiss

Sold a reprint to the March 2012 issue of Aoife's Kiss! The editor said it was quite possibly the strangest thing they'd ever bought, and that just delights me.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

V. S. Naipaul

That's not versus, those are his initials.

Anyway, Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul has apparently caused something of a kerfuffle by saying no woman is his writing equal, and that all women write sentimental, banal "feminine tosh", in part because they're not masters of the house.

A lot of women especially seem to be up in arms about this, but speaking as a person in possession of my own personal vagina, I have to say it feels a bit like the headline here is "one 79 year old writer makes sexist and self-aggrandizing remarks". I mean, he's one guy, and an older gentleman at that. I certainly don't see this as a pervasive sentiment. A lot of my favorite magazines have female editors and publish many excellent female authors. You can hardly throw a rock in science fiction without hitting a piece by Cat Rambo and as far as I'm concerned that's great. I've never read Mr. Naipaul's work, but the nobel committee tends to be pretty reliable about these sorts of things, so I trust he does have cracking good prose. His remarks seem to me like he appreciates a particular type of narrative, full of active characters who are masters of their own houses, and has little patience for much else. That's fine, really, that's his prerogative. It feels like there's a bit of a tautology there- women's fiction is banal and unengaging because it doesn't deal with sufficiently masculine issues.

For what it's worth, I think he's wrong on several counts. 1. That there aren't women out there writing unsentimental fiction with solid prose. 2. That sentimental fiction about the issues around not being the master of one's own house is by definition banal and not as good. 3. That women are never actually masters of the house. And so on.

But he gets to have an opinion and I get to disagree with him. That's how a free and open exchange of ideas works.

(My favorite quote of the article is as follows: "My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don't mean this in any unkind way." Here's to the kindest way you can mean it.)

Edit: and here is a link to the editor's response. Good to see she's not terribly hurt by it either.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fun With Pictures

"The Mighty God King Vs. His Adolescent Reading Habits" Parts One, Two, and Three.

Monday, June 6, 2011

If you can help

I don't usually post non-writerly stuff on here, but Amina Abdallah Arraf, the writer of A Gay Girl in Damascus is, as far as her family knows, in police custody in Syria. There are some links on this site to a campaign to pressure Syria to release her, or to pressure the US to weigh in because of her dual citizenship. I know it's just internet pressure, but if this matters to you, please take a moment to add your voice to the digital scream.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

More Podcasts!

Yet more podcasts. I've been listening quite a bit in the literary genre of late, and it's been quite lovely.

The New Yorker is doing a really lovely setup where one of their current authors gets to pick a story from across the prodigious whole of the New Yorker archives and read it aloud. So far my favorites have been "The Swimmer" by John Cheever and "My Russian Education" by Vladimir Nabokov (those who know me well know how much I adore Nabokov in general, and it's a nice story- autobiography presented as fiction).

Bound Off appears to be pretty much the Escape Pod of literary fiction. They have a very sizable back archive. My favorites so far have been "U-Boat", "The Cutting of Carrots", and the one whose name I can't remember where the guy shoots his dog in the head, which doesn't help anyone find it, but damn it was a well-written story.

Back into genre, I love the bejeezus out of Cast Macabre, which doesn't have that long of a back archive yet, but has a very solid selection of stories, including what I think is probably my favorite necrophilia story so far.

Lightspeed Magazine is another top notch science fiction magazine that's podcasting stories from its archives. There's beautiful, magical stuff in there, by some staggering names. Get in there and have a good time!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

SFF Mistress

Here is a list to a big giant list of great books written by women in Science Fiction, along with a blog dedicated entirely to reviewing them one by one.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

100th Post Extravaganza


First off, I sold another reprint of Sweepers to the fabulous folk at Neon- A Literary Magazine! Do go check out their stuff, and buy from them if you're so inclined.

Also, after much doodling, I finally have a skull I like. I had hoped to have some serious coloring of it done and to be able to post it as a background for my hundredth post. I try not to make a great many excuses to you fine people, but I just recently started a new job where I've been pulling 11 hour shifts at minimum, so that hasn't come together quite as much as I'd hoped. Soon though.

On the writing front, for a given definition each of "story", "a day", and "May", I have completed the story a day in May challenge with 31 pieces of fiction, many of them flash, the last ones finished on June 1st. My plan for June is to go through my catalogue and edit to submission quality one story per day. (I have to admit, I don't think I'll actually achieve that goal, but just trying should put me well ahead of what I had done before.)

I've also passed my 100,000 words written or edited for the year. That puts me not entirely on schedule for 2011, but not terribly behind either, and it's a delightfully round and large number, like a sort of arbitrary milestone Rubens.

The ads have been working out well, I think. They're not terribly obnoxious, or even, I think, too grabby or tacky. My contract states that I may not tell you what I am earning per click, but I am allowed to accurately represent how much money I've made from the program. I've been on them for about two months and I could very likely pay for a fast food combo meal for both myself and a friend. Which, when you think about the fact that I was planning on doing this for no money at all, is a nice little perk.

I admit, when I started blogging, it was with a great deal of reluctance. I was digging my heels in and shouting about how I didn't wanna go. But now that I've been at it a bit, I really enjoy it. I've gotten to say a thing or two, I've attracted the notice of Mr. Tim Pratt, and when I want to say "hang on, I think I had a link to that somewhere!" I can always come back to the blog and click to it quickly, which is really just great for me in casual laptop-out conversation. I enjoy watching the blog stats, seeing where people are from, getting the occasional comment here and there.

I like it. I plan to keep on it.

Goodnight out there, internet, until we meet again.