Saturday, April 28, 2012

You Go, Mr. Gowers!

Alright, so I've griped before about the limiting of access to the wealth of human knowledge by charging crazy amounts for academic journals and the like. Well, apparently, I'm not alone, and some people are actually doing something about it.

Thanks to Cambridge mathematician Tim Gowers, who started a boycott that now includes over 9000 signatories.

Seriously, this is super cool. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Broken Arrow, Faded Giant

It's weird to me, given how much we thought about nuclear annihilation when I was growing up, that we really don't hear about it much anymore. Or at least nuclear meltdown, given that it's barely a year since Fukushima Daiichi.

Anyway, here's IO9's article on five times we nearly blew ourselves up. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Prose Stylists

As is my modus operandi whenever I want to know something, I punched "Best Prose Stylist in the English Language" into Google. What I got were a series of discussion boards, which seemed like the best place to start. It's a subjective evaluation anyway, and I figure self-appointed literati on the internet should be a good mix of what's taught in schools and what resonates with enthusiasts on their own time.


There did seem to be a lot of agreement.


James Joyce came out as the de facto winner, with most of his supporters not even bothering to argue his case past a "well, of course, Joyce."


Here is a bit from the first chapter of Ulysses:
  Warm sunshine merrying over the sea. The nickel shaving-bowl shone, forgotten, on the parapet. Why should I bring it down? Or leave it there all day, forgotten friendship?
He went over to it, held it in his hands awhile, feeling its coolness, smelling the clammy slaver of the lather in which the brush was stuck. So I carried the boat of incense then at Clongowes. I am another now and yet the same. A servant too. A server of a servant.
In the gloomy domed livingroom of the tower Buck Mulligan's gowned form moved briskly about the hearth to and fro, hiding and revealing its yellow glow. Two shafts of soft daylight fell across the flagged floor from the high barbicans: and at the meeting of their rays a cloud of coalsmoke and fumes of fried grease floated, turning.


Also enthusiastically represented was my man Vlad, which is to say Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov. Here's a bit from the infamous Lolita:
“And I still have other smothered memories, now unfolding themselves into limbless monsters of pain. Once, in a sunset-ending street of Beardsley, she turned to little Eva Rosen (I was taking both nymphets to a concert and walking behind them so close as almost to touch them with my person), she turned to Eva, and so very serenely and seriously, in answer to something the other had said about its being better to die than hear Milton Pinski; some local schoolboy she knew, talk about music, my Lolita remarked:
'You know what's so dreadful about dying is that you're completely on your own'; and it struck me, as my automaton knees went up and down, that I simply did not know a thing about my darling's mind and that quite possibly, behind the awful juvenile cliches, there was in her a garden and a twilight, and a palace gate - dim and adorable regions which happened to be lucidly and absolutely forbidden to me, in my polluted rags and miserable convulsions...”  
Joseph Conrad also got several points, plus bonuses for English being his third language. Here's a bit from Mirror of the Sea (I know, I should have put in something from Heart of Darkness, but I found this first):
Between the crowded houses of Gravesend and the monstrous red-brick pile on the Essex shore the ship is surrendered fairly to the grasp of the river. That hint of loneliness, that soul of the sea which had accompanied her as far as the Lower Hope Reach, abandons her at the turn of the first bend above. The salt, acrid flavour is gone out of the air, together with a sense of unlimited space opening free beyond the threshold of sandbanks below the Nore. The waters of the sea rush on past Gravesend, tumbling the big mooring buoys laid along the face of the town; but the sea-freedom stops short there, surrendering the salt tide to the needs, the artifices, the contrivances of toiling men. Wharves, landing-places, dock-gates, waterside stairs, follow each other continuously right up to London Bridge, and the hum of men’s work fills the river with a menacing, muttering note as of a breathless, ever-driving gale. The water-way, so fair above and wide below, flows oppressed by bricks and mortar and stone, by blackened timber and grimed glass and rusty iron, covered with black barges, whipped up by paddles and screws, overburdened with craft, overhung with chains, overshadowed by walls making a steep gorge for its bed, filled with a haze of smoke and dust.
Also well mentioned were T. C. Boyle, Evelyn Waugh, Mary Wollstonecraft, Rudyard Kipling, and about five times someone looked around and said "Why hasn't anyone mentioned Ernest Hemmingway yet?"


Anyway, I do believe in vivisecting prose. I'm going to be looking at these and more by these authors carefully, pulling off legs and seeing what makes them scream. I will learn how it works if I have to carve the life and magic out of every syllable. I will cut until it bleeds true.


Happy reading.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy International Pixel-Stained Techno-Peasant Wretches Day!

It's a thing. Really.

Personally, I'm torn on this one. Writers certainly have the right to be compensated for the their creative work, and market economics do dictate it's much harder to sell a thing next to someone else who's giving it away for free. On the other hand, as a reader, I love free fiction, and as a writer who hopes to reach a number of people, I like the breadth of audience you can get in exchange for not making money. So I guess I come down on the side of it being the author's individual prerogative to dictate the cost of their work, within a considered strategy for their own best career advancement. I don't think people should feel pressured, ideally, to give away things they worked hard on and feel are worth material compensation. There's no shame in that. But I also don't think they deserve to be called names for trying to reach an audience in a crowded market.

You do your best, you know?

Also, I've started putting up free stories here that are on permanent archive elsewhere. Because, really, why not?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Squeeeeeee!

My story, Wendigo Bake Sale, is out in Drabblecast Trifecta XXI, focusing on families. I got a Norm Sherman reading (yay!), and it finishes out on a really great musical cue. It's a podcast with consistently great audio engineering.

It's really a thrill to hear them say your name on a podcast you've been listening to this long.

Also in this trifecta: Dustin Reade and Brenda Stokes Barron. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Twelve Cities

I think I've mentioned before that I'm a fan of Benjamin Rosenbaum. This is a set of twelve flash pieces about fantastic cities. They're charming individually, and taken all together they're a lovely set. Published some time ago in Strange Horizons

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Less Tits and Ass

Yes, yes, it's more ladies in comic books stuff. Artists work to redraw comic book vixens as people with spines and internal organs. They don't really look less hot, just more human. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Problem With Writing Advice

The problem with writing advice is basically that we're all beautiful, individual little snowflakes who are determined to fail at writing in an infinity of different and creative ways. I, for example, tend to flap my hands and whinge impotently about how whatever I'm working on isn't ready for anyone to look at it yet. The advice I need as a writer tends to be in the form of "ways to know when it's good enough" and "just send it out there, tiger, it has to grow up someday." There are other people like me, certainly. But there are also a number of people who will pound out a first draft and put it into an e-mail without so much as running a spell check. The last thing they need is encouragement about submitting.

Writing involves dozens of discreet, albeit related, skills; grammar, rhythm, pacing, vocabulary, plot building, character, word play, formatting, market savvy, editing, world building, research, self-discipline, self-motivation, quality assessment, and so on. And each of us is probably on at least slightly different places on the road to perfection in each of these. Not to mention none of us have exactly the same temperament regarding the consumption of advice; I know some people whose principle motivation is spite against people who have dared to suggest a best way to do something. Generalized writing advice, no matter how well meaning, is often likely to either not really apply to you personally, or be so universal as to be true but not particularly helpful.

That said, I think you should probably read it all, and take it for what it's worth. The best thing, honestly, would be to have a talented, well-informed professional who had read your entire body of work and studied the market, and could give you tailored, useful feedback, but honestly, the ratio of professional authors to author hopefuls is soul-crushingly skewed, and professional writers are actually busy people who are not likely to have the time to read everything you've written. A group of peers can be helpful, but they're also likely to have about the same knowledge and market set you do; and as such they may not just be unsure, they run the risk, through no fault of their own and not for want of earnest good intentions, of being very much wrong.

In the end, I think you have to cultivate a certain capacity for self-assessment and careful reading. Know what you need and know how to recognize advice that might help you, then try it and see if it works. If it doesn't, have the self-awareness to know whether you're doing it wrong, or whether that just wasn't the advice for you. It's hard to do, but in the end, I think it works out better than looking outside for advice to write you a neat, concise little map. Advice written for a general audience doesn't know where you are, and as such it can't tell you the quickest way to where you're going. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Human Accrued Continuity Omnibus

Yes, I'm a dork, and if you catch the joke with the acronym, you have no room to throw stones.

Anyway. 

At irregular intervals, the imp of the perverse will scrabble the idea into the back of my skull that I really ought to try my hand at some sort of alternate history, which generally results in me doing forty straight hours of fascinating but ultimately inadequate research. Human events are connected in all sorts of weird, fun ways. One dude, albeit one powerful dude, William Randolph Hearst, near-single handedly drums up US sentiment against Spain and helps drag us into a war of colonial acquisition- a war which provides a backdrop against which an officer by the name of Theodore Roosevelt can distinguish himself on the national stage, ultimately making it possible for him to run for president and securing a legacy which aids to power other members of his family including his somethingth cousin/nephew-in-law Franklin Delano who nearly ends up president of the United States for life and creates the New Deal programs and so on. And less direct paths- the books and people that the powerful and the insane cite as inspiration.

I don't tend to think of history as the story of powerful charismatic dudes directing a horde of mindless chess pieces, but there are undeniable bottlenecks- places where things break if just one pieces is out of alignment. Maybe instead of Nietszsche's rants on will and superhuman men, what really breaks through the shell of a young, impressionable Adolph Hitler is a bit of translated Buddhism- or a little bit of Thoreau. Or maybe instead of quite so much Thoreau, Gandhi reads a little more Nietzsche and decides that what an oppressed India needs to get itself out from under the thumb of British oppression is a bit of the ol' triumph of will? 

At any rate, yeah, the small links that make up a long chain of events.

It's too much work for one person to chronicle that sort of thing- what inspires people, what leads to what.

But it's really not too much work for crowdsourcing.

This is just kind of a twinkle in the eye idea. I'm sure it's doable, likely with existing technology. An interlinked series of causes and consequences that you can click through and follow, maybe even in some sort of automatic graph ("magic box, I'd like to view a tree of consequences of the invention of rum, four iterations down, please"). 

Heck, it's possible somebody's already started doing it.

I'm just saying I think it would be cool. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Advice On Loving Things You're Embarrassed By

I actually started and then abandoned a post similar to this article, talking about how much I really enjoy the Conan mythos, but completely understand and respect how a great many other people would not. You know, what with all the racism. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why Don't You Just Sex It Up a Little?

So I was speaking to an older gentleman I know who also writes, and he was lamenting the fact that he had never been particularly good at networking- something he felt had cost him in his potential writing career. We got into talking a bit about conventions and meeting people, and he expressed the opinion that I had a bit of an advantage as a young, attractive woman.

Maybe, I said, but I really don't want to use that.

Grow up, he said, everyone does on some level, and it's not as if you would pick your nose in public, or deliberately spray when you talked, just because you felt like it gave you an unfair advantage over people who did.

From there we got into a discussion about the fact that because of some bad experiences (though certainly not as bad as it's gotten for some other people) I'm hesitant to put even flirtation, never mind actual sex, on the table. I don't want any more stalkers outside my door in the middle of the night leaving me phone messages that they know I'm home because they can hear me moving in my dark apartment and why won't I pick up the phone? I don't really want to get grabbed any more because my jeans were tight or my shirt was too low. I don't want any more perfectly nice guys who think we're going to be together forever because I smiled too wide or I laughed at their jokes. The last one's almost the worst, because they really are perfectly nice guys, who aren't doing anything wrong, really. Most times it's just a miscommunication. I've been on the other side of that and I feel terrible turning them down (admittedly, occasionally when you turn a perfectly nice guy down, he'll start with the passive aggressive recrimination, or even outright meanness and then I feel a little better about the whole thing, or at least about the choice, because he wasn't so perfectly nice after all).

So, you know, carry a jacket you can button closed over a low top, don't let people buy you drinks or dinner, take a step back and hope they don't close the gap, shut down conversations and escape them if they start drifting in that direction, that sort of stuff (because I don't really drink, I'll often just pick up someone's discarded bottle and carry it around with me, so that no one thinks I'm too much of a wet blanket, and if someone asks if I want a drink I can wave around my bottle as if I'm still working on one). One falls into patterns of being around folk.

I don't want to give the impression that I don't like people, or I'm afraid of people generally, or I don't try to be fun, maybe even a little flirty sometimes, and for what it's worth I like sex and don't feel obligated to pretend I don't,  but I feel pretty cognizant most of the time that it's very easy to get backed into a corner where either someone expects something from you physically or you're some kind of horrible tease (and before you the reading audience write in to say that's horrible, or that's not true, or that shouldn't be true, yes, yes, I know and I agree with you, but there's a very wide gulf between theory and practice, and I don't live in a hypothetical world.)

What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that flirting and giggling and dangling my body out like bacon on a string might indeed snag me some additional contact stuff, but it's perilous on so many levels, not the least of which is being tarred with the professional reputation of having either teased or outright slept my way into work- or even if I myself manage to get out not-at-fault in that scenario, having work dismissed as "oh, they just bought her story because they thought she was cute." Part of what I love about writing is that until I go to a convention, what I look like never enters into it. I have a feminine name, but for all anyone actually knows I could be 90 years old and 500 pounds. I don't have to post a picture on my blog if I don't want to, and I honestly don't think anyone cares about the physical body attached to a random name in the slush pile. It's beautiful and liberating.

And then there's the perhaps more lasting interpersonal level where people I could have been friends with become frustrated would-be boyfriends, and I lose out on a friend because the threat of sex came into it. I would so much rather just be one of the boys in possession of an incidental vagina. I want to be nice. I want to be your friend. I want to be your peer.  I want to laugh at your jokes because they're funny. I want to hang out in a group full of mutual respect with people who love the same things I do. I really, really, really want this, and anything else in my professional life, not to be about sex.

Because making it about sex makes it a no-win situation.