Tuesday, August 30, 2011

ArmadilloCon Roundup

Alright! ArmadilloCon was this weekend, and it was both a hoot and a holler. Now we begin a veritable orgy of name-dropping and promotion.

The writer's workshop, organized by Stina Leicht, was fun. There were some great writers' workshop presentations: Lou Anders Hugo Award Winning Editor of Pyr Books gave very thorough talk on Hollywood story structure, and the panel on publishing traditionally vs. electronically (also including Mr. Anders) was very thought provoking. There was also a hack-for-hire group game where one of the editors on the panel went through our three sentence story ideas and "improved" them with ideas like "this would be better if it had mexican wrestlers" and "this needs a redemptive arc, and a mecha robot made of bread", which was a nice exercise in writing to spec.

(incidentally, mine is as follows: An overworked female baker trying to make a new cupcake flavor accidentally creates a highly addictive flour-based narcotic that, in excess, has effects much like leprosy. Before the side-effects come to light, the baker buys herself deeply into debt with a mansion, a yacht, a gold-plated dog, and a trophy husband. When her baking is outlawed she has to bake gingerbread men for the mafia to pay off her creditors, all while being pursued by a vigilante celiac hit squad (note: food fight over industrial ovens a la Terminator 2). The baker escapes by diving through an industrial mixer that chops off some of her limbs (in the original version she ended up in a cupcake rehab house, already creating a recipe for her next drug, but the editor said redemptive arc and bread mecha). At her lowest point she constructs herself a biscotti mech armor suit/prosthetic shell in order to go on a revenge killing spree. She defeats the mafia boss and his thugs, but is greviously wounded. Standing over the ill gotten fortune she helped create, she decides to use the last of her time for good, and bakes the money, prosthetic recipes, and instructions for a foundation into a stripper-sized cake to get it past the police. The story ends with her trophy husband receiving a cake delivery. (My guess is this would be about 5000 words, and I really should write it))

For my group instructors I got J M McDermott and Matthew Bey, both of whom were full of trenchant comments. I'm hoping to get the story edited and out tonight.

I also got to hang out a bit with Nate Southard, Scott A Johnson, and Marshall Ryan Maresca, all of whom are very sweet gentlemen.

The toast was also darling, and you can see it on Lou Anders webpage. No one can accuse the toastmaster of not being literal enough.

Of the panels, my favorite hands down was the one on Class with Maresca, Will Shetterly, Scott Lynch, and the fabulous, fabulous Joe R. Landsdale, who talked at length about his own childhood in poor East Texas. It doesn't hurt that I could sit for hours and listen to Landsdale, but everybody brought some interesting points to the panel, with Lynch making the point that he tried to set his fantasy full of con artists in the middle ages and then realized that the middle ages lacked the social mobility and range of classes that would be necessary for confidence crimes.

Also exceptional was the world post fossil fuels panel, in which guest of honor Paolo Bacigalupi really got to shine. He was also good in Building Societies from the Ground Up.

The Erotic Writing panel was a barrel of laughs, and I got to use the phrase "cock-holster" in appropriate context in public conversation (the question being worst/best genital circumlocution). I really enjoyed the poetry panel, even if it was a touch slim on attendance (I was not expecting McDermott to be as awesome as he was there, but I especially enjoyed, of all things, his football poem). The late night ghost story panel was creepy in the best possible way. Scott A Johnson is the kind of person you want to be around a campfire with, far enough away from civilization that no one can hear you scream. The Pyr books presentation was unexpectedly delightful, and I really want to get a copy of Black Dog by K. V. Johansen. I also wish I had a book to sell to Pyr, so that Anders could bubble over with enthusiasm about it the way he did about every one of the titles he was promoting. It's really awesome to watch someone enjoy books that much.

The Elizabeth Moon/Wiscon discussion was... interesting. I'm somewhere between Lee Thomas and Scott Lynch's positions (basically, Wiscon as an organization totally has the right to disinvite a guest over a public statement they feel either does not conform to their core principles or threatens the financial stability of the con, and Elizabeth Moon has a right to say what she likes on her personal blog, and both do have to accept the consequences of it. Frankly I really like Wiscon's new mission statement, and I feel like there's a big difference between telling Moon she's no longer welcome at Wiscon (which they did not do) and expressing that they are no longer comfortable having her specifically as a guest of honor), and it was kind of heartbreaking to see how discouraged Thomas got with how many people were putting Wiscon totally at fault as the bad guy.

That's ending the post on kind of a down note, which really wasn't my experience of the con. I had a great time, the panels were interesting, the readings were cool, and the people were, without exception, lovely to speak to and open to talking. It was a great time and I encourage everybody to get out and mingle with the fandom.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cosmos Latinos

Ohmigod, YES!

I've been looking for something exactly like this anthology. It's good to know it's out there.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Armadillocon

Woot. Got off work at 10 tonight, finishing up editorial comments on the stories for my critique group, then getting up bright and early to drive from San Antonio to North Austin for ArmadilloCon 33!

As such, unfortunately, no big blog post today. My heart weeps, as I know all of yours do, at such tragic tidings.

Still, Con, so that's awesome!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tilting at Asteroids

A fun science article about deflecting asteroids and a project the scientists elected to name after Don Quixote and his horse.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Thin Line Between Art and Voyeurism

You Are What You Eat is a series of portraits by Mark Menjivar of people in terms of what they keep in their refrigerator. I think it's interesting.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anecdote

My apologies to the gentleman in question, but I love this story.

When I was first beginning to write seriously, I dated a fellow I quite liked, but who was not per se in love with me. We had a lot of fun and we're still good friends, but during that time, he knew I wrote but I did not show him what I considered not to be adequately finished products. In my defense here, I didn't really show them to anyone.

A bit after we broke up, I got my first story published. I was ecstatic, and because we were still friends I called up to tell him about it. He said he was definitely going to read it, and I told him that was very sweet. He said yes, he was going to read it, and this time I couldn't stop him.

We talked a bit about it, and he mentioned how it had always kind of hurt him that this was something that I obviously really loved, but didn't share with him while we were together. I apologized. I really hadn't ever meant to hurt his feelings, I was just really self conscious about what I was doing. I promised to send him a couple of things I had written if he liked.

He said he would, and then, magnanimously, that it didn't even have to be one of the ones about him.

To which I said... well... none of them are about you, actually.

And he said surely some are.

I asked him if he was aware I wrote stories about zombies and unicorns and whatnot?

In the ensuing conversation I spent twenty minutes desperately trying to convince him that at no point had I modeled any characters off him, or written out any of our conversations verbatim, or populated my stories with relationships that were his and mine- because that's what writers do! he insisted. Copy real life and make fiction of it.

In the end, I did not send him the stories, because I was terribly worried he'd look at my murderers and evil gods rising from the floor of the ocean, and all he'd see was me nagging him about the hair in the drain.

the End.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Heinlein's Tea Party

A fun article about Heinlein and the American Conservative movement.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bright Publishing Statistics

To counter the doom and gloom, New York Times reports the publishing industry has expanded in the last two years.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Starbucking the System

I know it's not the sort of thing I generally post, but I actually think this is quite neat. This fellow has open sourced his Starbuck's card. People can pay in to buy other people coffee, or use the card for discounts on their own. I'm interested to see what happens with it all, and whether it ends up saying something beautiful and/or cynical about people in general.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Vivisecting Fiction

I have been accused at times of being overly analytical in my approach to writing- and all art, really- to the point that some people I know have trouble understanding how I haven't ground the entire process down to a joyless, exacting formula. For my own part, I don't really understand how they can possibly roll up their sleeves and set out into that far creative country without any idea where they're going or how they're going to get there. For me, an awful lot of the joy is in my apprehension of the process: figuring out how things work with each other and feeling giddy about the cleverness of the artist, and my own cleverness if I'm the one assembling a piece of art. If I like a movie on DVD, I'll often watch it straight through a second time with Director's Commentary on. I'll put my nose right up to an impressionist painting to look at the brush strokes and if it's a moment where I don't have a tight reign on my own enthusiasm, I'll say things like "do you see this? Do you see what this guy did? See this thick smear of red down here in the water, under the trees? I would not have thought of that, that's brilliant!" For me, it's the same in prose. I'll go back over a sentence and savor metaphor and word choice like they were made out of climax-flavored chocolate. I get the sense some of my more artsy (non-process oriented) friends have this feeling only in terms of gestalt- that they look at the whole and marvel at how it's more than the sum of its parts.

I have a project I'm beginning to work on where there's a specific effect I want to achieve, so I've spent the last couple of hours picking apart a work I thought did it well- making a scene by scene outline, noting out all the macguffin-juggling, paying attention to the careful way things were built up. I think I learned a lot from the exercise (in part I learned it's not precisely how I wanted to do things, but it sparked a few new ideas).

I've heard people say that after they start writing, they can't enjoy other people's books because they're too aware of what the author is doing. I've never had that experience, but then again, I enjoy learning new tricks, so for me the story and the process sort of run side by side as two discreet forms of entertainment. It certainly doesn't hurt me to be able to say "that character is going to die in this next scene because the hero has rejected the call to action and we've already seen foreshadowing with them hopping down into a grave" or whatnot. As a reader/viewer, you're SUPPOSED to notice those things, you're just generally not supposed to notice that you noticed. I don't mind having it at the conscious level.

When I write, I often start with a very fly be the seat of my pants approach when I'm setting up my initial scene, but things like try-fail cycles and chekov's gun are always there, just below the surface of my consciousness. You can see the ripples in the mental water as they roll beneath. (In talking to my friend about process, I once called it Chekov's Gun Rack- if you put in enough details and you can remember and reincorporate them later, it doesn't matter which one ends up being your plot detail and which ones are your setting or motiffs, as long as you make sure you pull one from the rack and fire it.) For quick stories, I know the forms well enough that it doesn't have to be conscious, but for anything ambitious, more and more I find myself outlining and thinking about form.

Far be it from me to say you have to do it one way or another, if you're naturally inclined to be less analytical. But I do think, if you're not sure, it's worth trying to sit down and think about WHY things work. I know for my own part, it ends up saving me a lot of trouble and frustration later.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

White on the Cover

Not just one excellent article about how non-white characters somehow mysteriously become white on the covers of books, but two. I remember when I was a kid reading books with Drizzt Do'Urden I was always perplexed about this, because here you had these books where the whole point, repeated over and over, was that the character's black skin marked him unfairly as an outcast and an enemy when he was actually a pretty groovy guy, but on the cover you have a dude who is egregiously white.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Dearth of Lady Contributors at Detective Comics?

A really good article talking about female creators and an industry whose historic consumers have been largely 8-15 year old boys.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Reading Family

My parents read to me very near religiously. They had kids books aplenty- the Night Kitchen, Where the Wild Things Are, The Girl Who Cried Flowers (with Tanith Lee!) and a book I wish I could find called (I think) the Muffin Muncher, which in retrospect was kind of a libertarian parable about how taxation strangles industry, told in the form of a muffin-eating dragon. Dad committed a fair bit of Shel Silverstein to memory- he can still do Sara Silvia Cynthia Stout. Mom read me all the Narnia books, plus the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings (in fact, I distinctly remember being so upset about the part with Shelob that I snuck the book to school the next day and read all during class and lunch just because I couldn't believe that had really happened to Frodo. It was one of the last books read to me before I was reading on my own.)

Mom is probably most directly responsible for my love of epic fantasy, though I'm sure there was some sort of feedback loop that went on there. She gave me the Belgariad and when I spent those years reading Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms she read them with me and we'd talk about them. She never put me in a corner about being a genre fan- in fact she encouraged it so thoroughly I wasn't really aware for a long time that there might be a stigma about it. She's since been a very reliable resource for all sorts of fabulous fiction. Not to long ago she put Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry in my hand and said it had always been one of her favorites. Now it's one of my favorites too. I also read Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake at her request.

My father is no slouch either. He's personally quite a good poet, and his favorites are The Brothers Karamazov (which was his grandmother's favorite when he was growing up), Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard), and the marvelous ouvre of Kurt Vonnegut (his favorite is Cat's Cradle, but I have to go with Slaughterhouse Five). He's also a fan of pithy quotes and humorous essays. I remember for years growing up he'd have a quote of the week pinned inside his office both at work and at home. What I learned from my father and the way he read was to appreciate language, word play, the melody of speech, and proper timing. He can memorize and recite all sorts of things, gives a hell of a speech, and taught me The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus one day just for something to do.

My mother's wife, of all my family, probably reads the most. She gravitates toward women's and queer fiction especially, and more or less all the nonfiction she consumes is highly political. She gave me my first copy of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. She also introduced me to Barbara Kingsolver, and I routinely raid her shelves where our interests overlap(or when I find myself at her house without a book of my own, which is how I read both Ape and Essence and Dogs of Babel). Currently I have her copy of Virginia Woolf's Orlando hostage. Our tastes don't always overlap- I tend to veer away from heart-rending tragedies and she doesn't generally go in for the speculative fiction (with the exception of Atwood who she reads both in genre and out of it- so far I've not had much patience with her non-genre novels, but she writes a fantastic short story). I've recently pushed Ursula Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness at her. I hope it sticks. She dug Reading Lolita in Tehran.

My little brother is an extensive reader. His favorites are Hemmingway, Hunter S. Thompson, and Vonnegut (so he and Dad and I can have a pretty lively discussion when we get together). Recently, I've gotten him hooked on comic books, where we both love Millar and Ellis (I've tried to point him at Gail Simone, but her best stuff is generally DC, and he's a Marvel guy right now). He's my go-to for literary literature, as for a while that was all he would take in. He insisted I read the Rum Diaries and I liked it quite a lot. I got him turned on to Tom Robbins and I think he may have read more of him than I have now. I tried to sell him on Neal Stephenson, but it didn't take. I also keep pushing him at Nabokov, which I think he'll like better, even though he's more of a bare prose man (he says he never could get through Faulkner). He's also a Harry Potter fanatic.

One of my stepsisters read a good bit of my penny dreadful dungeons and dragons fiction back in the day when I was doing that. She's since moved on to be a prolific reader of romance novels, which the whole family teases her about, though to be fair I've borrowed a couple of her regency romances and enjoyed them thoroughly if not without my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. We don't necessarily have a lot in common in our reading, but I do try to stick up for her literary choices in my own backhanded sort of way. It doesn't have to be Shakespeare to be fun. Her son is currently reading Percy Jackson the Lightning Thief, and I'm doing my best to cheer him on at every opportunity.

My other two sisters read somewhat less, but we still talk books every now and again. One of them put me to shame by reading Octavia Butler before I did, and we trade recommendations on those intermittent occasions when it's just us. Her husband and I once had a marathon (and slightly competitive) science fiction book off in terms of who of import we'd read and who we had on the shelf just waiting when we got home.

I have no idea what it's like to try to come into this business when one hasn't grown up surrounded by books and people who love them. Books haven't really ever been a lonely hobby to me. They've been something I could share over snacks with the people I love. We've always been able to have conversations about what we thought the point was or how we didn't see it that way, but we could see where they were coming from.

I guess the best advice I can give at the end of this is: if you do have kids, read to them, and let them know you like to read. It will make a huge difference.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Your Civic Duty to Science Fiction

Right now NPR is asking you to vote on your ten favorite science fiction and fantasy titles of all time. It just takes a few minutes and you should totally do it.

If you can only think of eight, may I suggest you put down your two spare votes on The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin and SnowCrash by Neal Stephenson?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Holy Blogging Linkspam, Batman!

Cat Rambo apparently teaches a class on blogging, and has graciously provided a jaw dropping list of articles about social media. Check it out, y'all.