Monday, April 30, 2007

A Word is Born!

Cake informs me that his new word:

Fillogy: A trilogy that starts out as one book and then is padded out to three, at the publisher's request.

has already hit Google!


That's pretty cool, Cake! Keep them new words coming...

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Could zoot suits be coming back into fashion?

Udo and I certainly hope so.

The Sticking Point

This is how it goes: you are motoring along on your story, and the words are just flying out your fingers, into the keyboard and then up onto the screen. The writing is going great and you are feeling oh-so-smug. This is so easy, you think, why don't I do this all the time, every-day, tra-la-la, I am Queen of the Polyverse.

And then, thunk.

Suddenly you aren't flying along anymore. In fact, you are mired down. Your fingers are wiggling helplessly, but no words are flying out. Your screen is half-empty. Your word count is stagnant.

You have reached the Sticking Point.

Where to go from here? What to do? Stupid story--stupidest story ever. Stupidest character. Dumbest plot. Hapless writer. Why do this at all? Surely scrubbing floors would be easier. I am the Queen of Nothing.

Starting a story is a rush. Finishing it is a downright bore.

I'm at 3400 words, give or take, and I got about 2500 left to go. I got the characters, setting, problem all introduced, but how to cleverly resolve those three things together, in such a way that the reader won't say, lip curling upward, yeah, I could see that coming.

Someone told me once when you get stuck in a story, you should have a man with a gun walk into the room. Maybe I'll try that. Maybe it will work.

Alas, I am fortune's fool.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Oldies but Goodies!

Barbarella: Completely idiotic, and yet should have won an Oscar for Best Use of Shag Carpet in a Spaceship. Which makes total sense if you think about it; you don't want to bump your head when you lose gravity do you? Jane Fonda goes through a myriad of costume changes, each outfit more psychedelic than the last, faces cannibal dolls, hungry birds, inept plot devices, Marcel Marceau and yet somehow remains a star. Oh, and there's Anita Pallenberg, too, the former Mrs. Keith Richards. The silliest SF movie ever made, yes, even sillier than The Ice Pirates. But 60s to the core, so worth the spot on the Netflix cue. (And where do you think Duran Duran got their name from, eh?)

Smokey and the Bandit: The 70s movie. Ah, black Trans Ams. Ah, high waisted jeans. Ah, Burt Reynolds. They just don't make 'em like that anymore. Name me the male movie star today who can get away with wearing turquoise jewelry and yet still come across macho? And be that macho, and yet good natured? And let's not forget the CB radio. Yeah, yeah, we all have cell phones now, but you just talk on a cell phone. To communicate on a CB you gotta master the art of trucker lingo, and what an art that was. How quaint. Also quaint--smuggling beer. Coors beer, too! Even quainter--doing real stuntwork! No computer effects here, just a real Trans Am hurtling across a real river or through a real hedge onto a real football field.

I gotta an ankle bitter on my tail and a cottonmouth. I'll catch you on the flipside, good buddy, ten four over and out.

Friday, April 27, 2007


  • Poor poor little mousie. I hope mousie is in heaven, and the guy who did this Elsewhere. (Don't click on link if you have strong friendly feelings towards mice or strong unfriendly feelings towards taxidermy.)
  • Puppy dog tails! The NYT reports scientists have discovered that dogs wag their tails to the right side of their hinders when they are happy. When they are not so happy, their tails wag to the left. I've been scientifically observing Bothwell and thus can verify these findings. (Why is the generic dog name Spot?)
  • New Caprica discovered!
  • Flora Segunda got a lovely review in this month's Realms of Fantasy magazine. (Which, judging from its adverts should maybe actually be called Realms of Romantic Vampire Fantasy. I had no idea neck-rippers were so popular.)
  • Cake invents a new word! Fillogy: a trilogy that started out as one book and was then filled out to become three at the publisher's request.
  • Think the TSA is gonna notice this?
  • We want an Urban Cocoon!
  • Eau de Chocolat! Everything you ever wanted to know about 18th century Nouvelle French cooking.

She is Still Writing Along...

I'm still motoring along on my story, which now has a title: Post Returns. (Anyone know what a post return is? Then you'll have an idea of what the story is about!)...but I've hit a small bump in the road which shall be called Malady. So I've been writing from the safety of the U.S.S. Martha Stewart (our sofa), and not as quickly as I would like. I've still got 2000 words or so to go. But I think I think I think I can do it--keep to the 7000 or under limit!

I'll try to post more here before the weekend. I'll try to post more OVER the weekend. I've always been one of those obnoxious blog readers who is annoyed that most blogs don't update over the weekend. And now I've become one of those blogs that don't update over the weekend, which means I am annoyed at myself.

Sic semper tyrannus.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Writing Along, She is Writing Along!

I have girt on my armour and I'm writing along, so I might not be posting much today. My brilliant idea has so far remained a brilliant idea, and I'm about 1600 words into it. Woo! Only another 5400 words to go!

People who know me well will be amazed that I agreed to write a story in 7,000 words or less, but it seemed like a good challenge. All my other stories have checked in at least 12,000 words and one of them was even more than that. I like my short fiction the way I like my novels: long long long.

Trying to keep it short is not my forte. But editors of anthologies are not always super keen on super long stuff--it means they don't have much room for variety. Plus, a writer should at least pretend to be versatile, and stretch once in a while. Or in my case, compress. A very clever writer of my acquaintance once told me: when you get good at what you write, better start writing something you are bad at. Good advice, but very ego-bruising. It's hard to let go of your strong points and risk failure.

Anyway, off I go. Wish me luck!

(And those who wanted more Buck will be pleased to know they are getting more Buck!)

Genre Rant!

Below is the first sentence of Joyce Carol Oates' New Yorker review of The Pesthouse by Jim Crace.

"Long the province of genre entertainments--science fiction, dystopian fantasy, post-apocalyptic movies--the future has been boldly explored in recent years by such writers as P.D. James (The Children of Men), John Updike (Toward the End of Time), Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake), Doris Lessing (Mara & Dann), and Cormac McCarthy (The Road)."

So what is Ms. Oates saying here? It sounds to me as though she's saying that if the writers she lists write about the future then their books are not genre because they are not genre writers. Even though these books are science fiction & dystopian fantasies--in fact all the books she lists are dystopian fantasies with science fiction elements.

Science fiction/fantasy is clearly considered by most people as genre literature (along with romances and westerns). Why then do the novels listed about--science fiction and fantasy all-- get to not be genre? Because their writers are too important? Because their authors have written novels without genre elements? Because their writers are too literary?

This is not the first time I've gnashed my teeth over this bias, and it won't be the last. And I'm not the only one gnashing either. Still, I would think that Joyce Carol Oates would know better. She has written many books that could clearly be labeled as genre (horror) and sometimes have been.

Madama Oates does not give The Pesthouse a glowing review, and from her comments it sounds very hackneyed, your standard future-where-the-world-is-poisoned--everything is rusting--
and-everyone-is-ignorant and have-forgotten-all-the-rules-of-humanity-law-and-
good-grammar. Still, thanks to the lit cred of its author, it was worthy of a review in the New Yorker, while Winterlong--my favorite dystopian future novel--wasn't. Elizabeth Hand, you know, is a genre writer.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More Technopeasent Stuff!

A list of more Technopeasant freebies can be found here, thanks to the volunteer ministrations of Dusk Peterson!

Best Book Ever Post Script!

Oh, and I totally agree with Ricky Bobby.

I think Highlander might actually be the Best Movie Ever!

Best Book Ever!

You know the part in Talledega Nights when Ricky Bobby mentions that Highlander won an Oscar, Jean Gerard asks him what for, and Ricky Bobby says: "Best Movie Ever Made!"?

Well, that's how I feel about Lonesome Dove. In my mind it won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Book Ever Written. They can quit giving out the award. No book will ever be better.

Now, when I have sung the praises of this book in the past, people have been skeptical. They hear its about a cattle drive and they think: oh a western. Then they think of all the westerns, both movies and books, they've ever seen--cowboys, cows, cavalrymen, criminals and Indians--and they lose interest. Also most people immediately think of the tv miniseries which starred Tommy Lee Jones (Woodrow) and Robert Duvall (Gus), and which was just a western. Westerns, though they are probably the most American of all literary traditions, are considered to be low-brow.

Lonesome Dove is a western, but it's so so much more.

Plot-wise, Lonesome Dove is deceptively simple. Retired Texas Rangers Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae decide to run a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana. It's the late 1870s, and no one has ever taken a herd so far north. With a motley assortment of cattle hands, horses, pigs, and one woman, they set off. A thousand pages later, they reach Montana. (That's not a spoiler; it's the details that count.)

Style-wise, Lonesome Dove is also deceptively simple. McMurtry is found of shifting points-of-view, something which every writing teacher in the world will tell you is a giant no-no. He doesn't favour elaborate descriptions. He lays out horrific events in simple prose. There's a certain Icelandic saga leanness to Lonesome Dove, the prose isn't stripped down as much as it is matter-of-fact. He lets characterization be revealed through the thoughts of his characters, and their actions. Never does he, the author, interject himself into the story. He just describes what is going on and leaves the rest up to the reader.

Because of all this simplicity it's easy to think that Lonesome Dove *is* actually just a book about a cattle drive. It first appears to a be celebration of cowboy culture, an "American Arthuriad."

It's not.

McMurtry himself has been quoted as saying that Lonesome Dove is an anti-western. It is about the destruction of the American West, not a celebration of it. It's about how evil grows out of weakness--weakness of character, weakness of intent, weakness of will. It's about how we destroy those things and people we love the most. And it is about how men and women, at some deep fundamental level, don't understand each other. It's about death. It's a tragedy.

I love the American West, and I love the Western, but I'm under no illusions about it as either a literary genre, a movie genre, an ideology, or geography. The American West is all that great is about this country and all that is bad. And Lonesome Dove encapsulates why.

I'm probably making Lonesome Dove sound rather ponderous, but that's a disservice to the book. It's wildly entertaining, too, and extremely fast-paced. The characters are wonderful. And it ends with the most devastating last sentence I've ever read.

Grocery Shopping.

Does anyone else feel that grocery shopping has become an exercise in anxiety? Every possible purchase is fraught with dilemma. What can you buy that is not exploitative, environmental unsound, or unhealthy?

Processed food is horrible for you, so there goes your yummy cookies, Chef-Boy-R-Dee, and almost everything else convenient. Soda is liquid corn. Diet Soda is liquid corn with toxic chemicals added. But white sugar rots your teeth and poisons your metabolism. Corn and wheat product prices are kept low via farm subsidies which negatively impact upon every non-American farmer in the world. Whole milk is full of fat and skim milk tasteless. Yogurt is good, but the best kind comes in tiny little cartons that just go straight into the trash. And let's not forget BGH.

Beef and chicken come from death farms, and even the stuff that claims to be naturally raised or vegetarian doesn't necessarily mean humanely raised. Ditto for eggs. Shrimp harvesting has been implicated in dolphin deaths and farmed salmon is environmentally unsound and a threat to wild salmon. Everything else from the sea (other than the sardine) is over-fished or full of mercury. Most sushi grade fish comes from a Japanese firm that also sells whale meat.

And then there's the fuel cost to ship out of season veggies; packaging costs; and when you finally have wheeled your cart full of Western Decadence to the front of the store, you have decide if the planet shall perish in Paper or Plastic.

Sometimes it seems like the only solution is to eat Goya black beans right out of the can. Yum.

Sure you can go to the farmer's market and buy direct from the source, but then you've just added to your carbon footprint by driving there, and of course the farmer drove there too, and his means of production is less fuel efficient then big Agribusiness, so you've just undone some of the good you just did, plus if everyone did that farm workers would starve. You can join a co-op or go to Whole Foods (Whole Paycheck), if there's one around or you can afford it, but that still doesn't obviate the issues of what food is healthy.

Too much fat! Not enough fat! Not enough whole grain! Too much sugar! Too processed! Covered in pesticide! Out of season! Too much grain! Too many chemicals! Too expensive!

If only I could just eat the air, promised crammed. But instead, I will go finish my can of beans and start on a box of Ding-dongs--thus covering both of my bases.

I think I hope I think

I might have had an idea for my story!

Now I'm afraid to touch it, for fear that the bloom will then be gone. But I must forge ahead anyway, and defeat my arch-enemy, the Blank Page.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy Birthday!

We have two birthday primates today:

William Shakespeare, the Poet Ape


Jiggs, the actor who played Cheeta in the Tarzan movies.

One is long dead, but the other is celebrating the ripe old age of 75!

In light of the Infinite Monkey theorem, the coincidence does seem odd, does it not? Of course, Jiggs is a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), not a monkey, but perhaps there's your error in the theory! Wrong species!

I could only find one Shakespeare quote that mentions primates, so here ya go:

"Man, proud man, Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assur'd,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep."

Measure for Measure, Act 2, Scene 2

Happy Birthday, boys!

Ps. Jiggs' website (yeah, even a chimp has a website these days) says his birthday is April 9th, but how can they be sure? Where they there? Does he have a birth certificate? I labored over this blog post and I'm sticking to it!

International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day!

I seem to be the last to have heard of this, but better late than never!

Jo Walton has declared today International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day and issued a call to all writers to give something written away today. This is a bandwagon I can totally get on. Many other fine writers have already gotten on this bandwagon including Gwenda Bond, Justine Larbalestier, Scott Westerfeld, an entire issue of The Electric Velocipede and many more. How could I not want to be in such esteemed company?

So check out THE BIOGRAPHY OF A BOUNCING BOY TERROR, or How Springheel Jack got his Boots. First published in Asimov's Magazine, but now free for all.


Blank Page!

Oh the hope of the blank page. It blinks before you, serene and white. Waiting to be covered with words. Oh the tyranny of the blank page. It hovers before you, bland and white. Demanding to be covered with words.

Oh the despair of the deadline. Never can your brain be so absolute empty and vacant as when you have a deadline.

Remember how when you were a kid, and you stood on the side of the swimming pool and the longer you looked at the water, the colder it got? You knew you must just jump right in and endure the quick flash of agony that was to come. Then, suddenly the water would be warm and you'd be having a great time, as long as some snapperdog didn't jump on your head? But despite knowing all this, still you just stood and stared and the water became like ice?

A blank page is just about the same. The more you stare at it, the blanker it gets, so blank that surely your pitiful little scratches could never make the slightest bit of impression. You know somewhere in your heart that if you just throw yourself at the blank page, it will give way, tear like tissue and you'll be on the other side, where the party is. But somehow the monolithic ominous blankness of the page keeps you rooted into place.

Which is a long elaborate way of saying that I am stuck in writer's block. With a deadline and no great ideas. And it's a sucky place to be: Blank Page Limbo.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

All Wet.

Most women hate swimsuits. Still, the history of female swim wear is very interesting and The London Times has a short overview.

Once upon a time, ladies were expected to wear woolen garments that differed only from streetwear in their lack of furbelows or metal underpinnings. Heaven forbid that the public might catch a glimpse of a lady's true figure, unsupported by stays or bustle! After several brave women put their liberty on the line for the cause of not wearing ten pounds of wool into the water, the simple one piece was born.

Next came the battle for the bikini, which proved just as long and arduous at the previous battle had been. Frankly, I think that particular battle could been just as easily been lost. The bikini ushered in a new kind of tyranny--that of the perfect figure.

Sometimes, in fashion, its hard to win.


Okay, so I was just persuaded (mentioning no names, but you know who you are!) to start a Livejournal account, so that I could, firstly, syndicate the CPG, and make it easier for the LJ community--which is quite large--to read, and secondly, not have to post anonymously, like a thief in the night, on other people's livejournals.

So, if you are so inclined you may find me there at yswilce. And if you have an LJ account, you can subscribe to the CPG there, as well. It's syndication name is flora_segunda. I have no idea why, but there you go.

I have to say that it's quite exhausting trying to keep up with all these different community thingies, blogger, myspace, amazon plogs, live journal, etc. Each one requires that you create a username, password (unique, of course--how many passwords can one human remember?), set up a profile, add friends, post entries. Can't someone write some fancy widget that lets you do all this one and then feeds your info into all various sites? The person who can do this will not only be a zillionaire, but a hero, too.


By the way, have you seen Craft Magazine? It's put out by the same whacky folks who do Make, the hacker's version of Popular Mechanics, only instead of instructions on how to build a robot out of Nintendo game-boy, Craft covers...well, it covers crafts.

But cool crafts...after all the mag's motto is "Transforming Traditional Crafts". So you might think crafting means scrapbooking, macrame plant-holders, and glitter. Craft thinks crafting means Tokoyo punk t-shirts, macrame i-pod holders, and wi-fi plushies.

Wi-fi plushies!

Where's my wi-fi plushie, howls Pig? (He might be a plushie, but he has no wi-fi.)

I wonder the same darn thing. I apply to my CTO to find out. But you should apply yourself to Craft. Even if you never actually craft anything out of the magazine, you'll enjoy the time you spent leafing through it and pretending that you shall.

Flora would have no truck with Craft, Valefor would be all over it. He's a crafty kind of denizen, after all.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Flora Segunda Crosses the Pond!

So, at long last, I'm happy to announce that Flora Segunda will be published in the UK in June!

There's been a small title change: gone is my baroque sub-title and in it's place we have: Flora Segunda of Crackpot Hall. I have it on good authority (mine and my British editor's!) that though the text will remain the same, there will be a few additions, including some supplemental material in the back, and a cast of characters listing. Plus, a lovely lovely blurb by the fantastic and fabulous Diana Wynne Jones.

Also, the cover will be different--much different. I do not post a link to the Amazon image here because really it doesn't do the cover justice at all. Firstly, there are two covers; an outside cover with little windows cut into it, through which you can just see the faces of several of the inhabitants of Crackpot Hall. Then when you lift that cover, you will have another cover with a full size of portrait of Flora herself (in a proper redingcote, I might add), as well as deliciously evocative portraits of Buck, Hotspur, Val, Udo and Flynn. Nowdon't expect photographic-type portraits, warts and all;these images are a bit more in the caricature line, but they are really wonderful, and very arresting. The whole package is marvelous and I'm quite excited about it.


PS. oh and the proper spelling has been restored. What have Americans got against the letter U?

Real Rangers...

I've recently been reading about the agents of the Special Operations Executive, a British agency set up during World War 2 to provide undercover assistance to advance the war efforts by non-military means. In other words, spies. More specifically I've been reading about the operatives of F Section who were sent to Occupied France to assist the French resistance.

The heroism of these agents is almost unimaginable. All of them were parachuted into Occupied France, armed with codes, radios and the knowledge that if they were caught they could expect torture and death. They were all volunteers, and some of them were women. Of the 39 female agents who were sent to France, thirteen were captured and killed. 91 male agents were willed as well.

Cyrptographer and screenwriter Leo Marks was in charge of agent codes for the SOE; his book, Between Silk and Cyanide, is a fascinating history of the agency. Marks was also a briefing agent who had personal friendships with many of the agents of F Section, including Violette Szabo, a 23 year old agent who was captured by the Nazis and executed in 1944, along with three other SOE agents, Denise Bloch, Cecily LeFort, and Lilian Rolfe.

Marks also knew Noor Inayat Khan, the first female radio operative to be sent to Occupied France. Khan was a member of a royal Indian family, whose father was a famous teacher of Sufism, and whose mother was an American. Prior to the war, she had studied music and had a successful career as a children's writer, but when the war broke out she joined the WAAF, and later the SOE. Khan spent four months in Occupied France before she was betrayed to the Germans, and in 1944 was executed.

Another famous SOE agent was Christine Granville, a Polish national who used her bravery and charm to win the release of several SOE agents when they were captured by the Nazis. She was the longest serving of SOE's female agents and survived the war only to be murdered by a lovesick sailor in 1952.

I highlight the female agents here, but of course there were many men who were equally as heroic, including the White Rabbit (F.F.E. Yeo-Thomas) , who was captured by the Germans, and escaped twice, once from the Buchenwald concentration camp. Recaptured after his last attempt, he managed to persuade his jailers that he was a French national, and thus avoided execution. Yeo-Thomas survived the war to testify at the Nuremberg War Trials.

Thanks to a myriad of movies and thrillers being a spy can seem like a lot of fun and games. The history of the SOE proves that there is little fun or much game in espionage. It takes guts and bravery to walk into a trap from which you may never be able to escape. I couldn't have done what they did. I can barely manage to summon up the bravery to leave the house sometimes, much less parachute into occupied territory, knowing that I'll probably be betrayed and die a lonely horrible hungry death. It's a pity now that most of these agents are known only by World War 2 aficionados and historians. I urge you to read search out their stories and remember them.

And for those who wonder about the courage of women and their suitability for dangerous work, I point to the women of the SOE and say, oh yeah?

Origin of the Brain

The human brain had its beginning in bugs and worms, say researchers . . .

Its ending too, says Poe.

The Conqueror Worm illustration © Gahan Wilson

Friday, April 20, 2007

I love the Internet!

So to make a long story short, some guy was getting weird phone calls from people who thought he owned a particular piece of derelict property in Lower Manhattan. He didn't own the building and was pretty annoyed at the calls; all he could figure was that someone had posted his phone number on the building, and that's why people were bugging him. But he couldn't get into Manhattan to check.

So he posted a request on Metafilter, asking if someone could swing by the building and check for him.

And someone did!

For those not familiar with Metafilter, it's a website where anyone can post a question--on anything--and anyone can answer the question. "Querying the hive mind," is the site's tag-line. For every question, there's someone out there with an answer, and Metafilter aims to bring the two together.

Now, this is what I love about the internet--yeah, sure there may be some pretty weird people lurking about the edges, trolls, and what-have-you, and you can get mired into a lot of trouble, should you not be careful. But on the other hand, it allows people to connect in ways never before possible. And I think that's pretty cool.

The Future of Books

Daffy futurism is always with us. It's been telling us that bookstores would be replaced by print-on-demand kiosks that could spit out a freshly produced and bound version of any book every published. Hasn't happened yet.

It's been predicting that books would be replaced by gadgets like the Sony e-book reader, allowing us to take hundreds of books in a package the size of a slender paperback. Hasn't happened yet. Although to be fair, E-ink is a legitimately intriguing technology, and will see useful application very soon.

But most of the discourse about technology and books circles around the idea of replacing books. I think the future is going to be more interesting than that. I think technology will enhance the book-as-artifact.

Genre literature is full of representations of books that transcend the static nature of dead ink on paper. In movies, both the Harry Potter movies and Minority Report featured newspapers with animated pictures. Much more interesting was Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books, where Greenaway used animation, the then brand-new technology of HDTV, and other tricks to bring alive the fact that magic books were, well, magic, and could do things normal books never would -- drip tar, show the heavens in motion, unfurl graceful swinging pendulums, or provide a traveling home for insects.

Despite Clarke's Third Law, technology isn't going to give us books that cool anytime soon. But consider pop-up books. There is a long history of movable books, and some of them are pretty f'ing impressive. But, as they say, that's old tech. It's just paper. But take this pop-up book, that incorporates LED lights to create a working pop-up street lamp. Now that's cool.

And -- on the technology side at least -- things have the possibility to get much cooler. Given advances in projector miniaturization -- they're planning to put them in cellphones -- one could easily build a pop-up book that unfolded a screen, a small working projector, and enough flash memory to hold sub-vga versions of a dozen movies. You could even put in pop-up cars and make it a drive-in. Think of a gorgeous coffee table book about 30's horror movies that incorporated that as its central feature -- who wouldn't want that in their living room?

Of course it's not just pop-ups. Think of a fantasy novel with an integrated display and a motion sensor. As you physically panned the book across the room, it would show you a moving view of the world, as if you were looking through a tiny window shifting across a vast landscape. Or a book on robots that sprouted legs and walked towards you if you called it. An epistolatory novel where a new letter emerged from the next blank page each night.

Will any of this happen? Who knows. But it's all possible -- possible right now.

Let me offer a very loose metaphor for the future of books: the watch industry. When digital watches hit, they could tell time -- the functional purpose of a watch -- far better than any mechanical watch ever could. Yet people still pay stupendous sums for mechanical watches, because they believe in the craftsmanship involved, in the metaphor that intricate watches provide for man's mastery over time. They're not bought for function. They're bought because they are beautiful, and because they represent something.

Eventually, technology will supplant the purely functional nature of books. But maybe, just maybe, the essence of books -- what makes us love them -- the imagination and the discovery and the joy of touching smooth paper and sturdy binding -- will be refracted through technology to create something new.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Another Special Guest Star!

My dear friend Cake, CTO for the CPG, has begged leave to post a few words here on technology and literature, and perhaps other topics that have taken his fancy. Having no blog of his own, he hopes to find useful employment here.

Since it is a difficult chore keeping a blog going all on my ownsome, and Sieur Witcover is currently blog-juggling elsewhere, I have graciously granted Cake the floor. I am opinionated, it is true, but not quite so much to keep the postings coming at a high clip. Frankly, I could use the help.

So, take it away, Cake...

Writer's Block!

What all writers dread: writer's block. Sitting at your desk, staring a blank piece of paper or a flickering white screen with nothing whatsoever to say. Your brain as empty as the proverbial cloud.

What to do?

The Guardian polls several famous writers to find out their solutions. These include squeaky chairs, magic talismans, hot baths, and chocolate.

I certainly espouse the chocolate solution, tho' it never inspires me, it does make me feel a little bit less anguished about the fact that I'm not getting anywhere. I find the greatest spurs to my creativity are lots and lots of coffee, and a deadline.

There's nothing like knowing that you must turn a story in in 24 hours to get the muse into gear! And if you've had lots and lots of coffee you can work through the night. Lack of sleep helps, too. Exhaustion and caffeine, mixed with desperation, make a potent speedball.

(Link lifted from Liz Hand!)

Lucius Leaves us Hanging...

Over at the Inferior4 + 1, Lucius Shepard starts a fascinating story about junkie grave-robbers in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, and a lampshade made of human skin--that came from Wisconsin.

But he doesn't finish it.

Argggg....she says, now sitting on the edge of her seat. Even Lucius' blog posts are brilliant. Who else could create such suspense and characterization in only a few short paragraphs?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

More Pontifications!

Cynthia Leitch Smith's blog Cynastions has just posted an interview with yours truly.

It's just chock-full of pearls of wisdom and bon mots.

Ayah so, not really, but maybe it will be of interest. Do check it out...

One Letter Off!

This is pretty amusing; is running a contest for movie posters where just one letter of the film title has been changed.

Think: Ratman instead of Batman or Allen vs. Predator instead of Alien vs. Predator.

The results are highly entertaining and very well-done. (Tho' a few of them are marginally Not Safe for Work.) Ain't photoshop cool?

Silver Whales!

Ah, the Airstream Trailer. Ever since we stayed in a trailer in the Shady Dell Motel & RV Park in Bisbee, Arizona, Devilman has been longing for his own land-yacht. Though his specific desire centers on a Spartan Mansion, an Airstream might do in a pinch.

Alas, we have no way to pull a land-yacht, nor anywhere to park it, so we must continue to dream, but there is something extremely seductive about the coziness of a vintage trailer. We went to the big RV show last fall and were not impressed with the current crop of trailers and rvs. They are all plastic wood and big screen tvs; formica and queen size beds. No comparison to the sleek silver lines of an Airstream or the real wood paneling of a Spartan mansion. Not to mention the futuristic mercury colored pod potty.

The trailers at the Shady Dell are all restored in period style, right on down to the chenille bedspreads and the old black and white tvs that have been cleverly retrofitted to play video tapes of old 50s tv shows. By far about the coolest place we've ever stayed. If you are ever anywhere near Bisbee, it's worth the detour.

I love the final quote of the Times article: "The Airstream can be seen as a symbol of the best and worst qualities of traveling Americans: the willingness to go anywhere tempered by the simultaneous wish never to leave home."

So true, but I prefer to consider that the best of both worlds. You can see the world and sleep in your own bed at night!

Ghost Writers!

The LA Times has an interesting article on ghost-writers.

No, not writers who write about ghosts, or writers who are real ghosts (tho' that would be cool), but writers who write stuff that is then published under someone else's name. Sometimes this someone pretends to have written the book; other times they don't even bother.

Viz., James Patterson. Among others.

The relationship between ghost writer and fake writer can be lucrative, the LA Times reports, but it can also go sour, particularly then the ghost writer realizes that they want some of that literary limelight. If I do all the work, a ghost writer might reason, shouldn't I get some of the glory? Well, if the name is more valuable than the talent, this reasoning can lead to real problems. On the other hand, when ghost writers strike out on their own, they often have a running start.

Not for me to cast judgment on ghost-writers--surely they are just trying to get by, to make a career in writing, and that's a pretty hard row to hoe. I do, however, often wonder at the hubris of people who use ghost-writers--who want the credit without having done the work. It's all about the brand, people. Bookstores like to sell brands, apparently, not books. Which can be a rather disheartening realization for any writer to have. What if you are not a brand? Does that mean you are nada?

Now, I have to admit that all that all my stories are ghost-written.

Who is that ghost?

Me! I am my own ghost. And pretty diaphanous sometimes, with a penchant for blood curdling screams. But a pretty good typist.

Literary Theme Parks!

Now of all the literary figures to have a theme park created around his works, I would choose Charles Dickens just about last. Sure, his books are classics, roiling with humanity and etc., but David Copperfield does not scream: roller-coaster!

However, some brave souls are just about to open Dicken's World, a theme park based upon the works of Charles Dickens. The park will feature the Haunted House of Ebenezer Scrooge (okay, that has some promise) and will recreate the "sounds and smells of the 19th century." Do you think they mean cholera, public hangings, and dead draft horses? No, neither do I. Well, I hope wish the owners luck and hope that they are putting more money into the park than they put into their website.

But this does beg the question, why not literary theme parks? Certainly Disney has used literature as a source of rollicking rides: the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, for example, with those horrible spinning tea cups. And who can ever forget Mr. Toad's Wild Ride? Yeah, so there is going to be a Harry Potter Theme Park in Florida, and I heard a rumour that there's a Muminland in Finland somewhere. But that's kid stuff.

What about Moby Dick Sea World? They'll call you Ishmael, and you alone shall live to tell the tale of Mad Ahab's search for the animatronic white whale. Or Kafka Land, where you wake up trapped in a cockroach suit, and are then arrested and taken to the Castle, though no one will tell you why. Heart of Darkness Land--like Disney's Jungle Boat Ride, only with the horror the horror instead of robot elephants, and the natives are really restless. Jane Austen Land: upon entry each visitor is given a card stating the amount of their dowry and has one day to find a husband. (Men too--it's an educational park.)

The possibilities are endless. I could go on all night: Bardlandia, Henry James Land (tho' that would like the Lawrence Welk of Literary Theme Parks), Ayn Rand Land--woo. I could go on all night, but I'm supposed to be writing to a deadline, so I'll leave other suggestions to you.


The New York Times has an interesting article on the rise of the Fembots, or as writer Daphne Merkin describes them: "Android Beauties."

Android Beauties are gorgeous women that seem to have nothing whatsoever in common with the rest of the human race. Women who are so polished and tall and blank that surely they were churned out from a factory somewhere on the backside of the Gamma Quadrant.

"The Platonic ideal of beauty is now as it never was: more humanoid than human, more the product of an art director’s digitalized pastiche of desirable features than a naturally occurring phenomenon," says Ms. Merkin.

In other words, cylons.

Cyborgs. Fembots.

The Fembots seem to get taller, and thinner, and smoother, while their eyes and lips and heads get bigger and bigger and their expressions get more and more vacant. They look like they were not born, but extruded. They seem to be from an entirely different species than the average lady you see on the street.

And they are horrifically juvenile. Child-like in their vacancy (though what healthy happy child looks vacant?), the Fembots have appropriated the visual cues of infancy--the big head, the big eyes, the round pouty mouth and grafted them onto attenuated adult female bodies. A mixed message indeed, and one which I shall let Ms. Merkin explain further, as she has done so far more fluently than I could.

Now, I'm all for the artifice of fashion and the fashion of artifice, but I do find Fembots to be pretty scary. Sure, they appear powerful, but it's a Terminator sort of power, the kind that crushes all before it. You might want a Fembot for a girl-friend, but I'm not sure you'd want one for a mother. The Fembots make the Robot-Maria from Metropolis seem downright cozy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Army of Califa ACP File.

Cyrenacia Sidonia Romney Brakespeare ov Haðraaða. Appointed Cadet, Bennica Barracks, 1413. Third Lieutenant, Provisional, Scouting Corps, 1415. Hurtle Champion, 1416, 1417. Graduated 1/123, Bennica Barracks 1417. Appointed First Lieutenant, Alacran, 1417. Promoted Captain, Alacran, 1418. Promoted Major, Alacran, 1433. Promoted Colonel, Alacran, 1434. Promoted Commanding General of the Army of Califa, 1435.


Fort Gehenna, Arivapia, 1417-1418 (AAQM, CS, AOO); Fort Jones, Trinity, 1420-1425. (AAQM, AAAG, AOO, CS); Border Paderoll Duty, 1425-1428. Prisoner of War, 1428-1429. On Leave, 1430. Quartermaster General of the Army of Califa, 1430-1433. Commander of the Line & Commanding General of the Army of Califa, 1435-1437. Died 1439.


Warlord’s Hammer 1418; Warlord’s Hammer 1425. Warlord’s Hammer 1430. 156 Scalps.

Residences: Bilskinir House; Building Fifty Six, Presidio of Califa.

Clubs: Army & Navy Club; Madam Rose's Flower Garden.

Spouse: Banastre Micajah Haðraaða ov Brakespeare. Leman: Reverdy Fyrdraaca ov Fyrdraaca. Issue: None.

Nicknames: La Azota, (The Whip), Butcher Brakespeare.

From Cullen's Register of Officers, Both Staff and Line, Army of Califa. Information taken from Appointment, Commission, and Promotion File, Adjutant General's Office, Army of Califa.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Chicago Tribune Review!

I've had several people contact me to say that they can't access the Chicago Tribune review--I think you need some kind of registration to view the page.

Anyway, here's the text of the review, which was by Mary Harris Russell.

Flora Segunda

By Ysabeau S. Wilce

Harcourt, $17

Ages 12-15 years

It takes a few pages to get the very funny feel of this teenage narrator. Her mother is the commanding general of the army. Her father is a loopy sort of post-hippie who must be prevented from trashing the kitchen of their home, Crackpot Hall. Flora cares neither about joining the army, as everyone else does, nor having her Catorcena, the coming-out party of her world. (Chicagoan Ysabeau Wilce's experience as a military historian provides her, apparently, with a great number of convincing inside jokes and asides.) She dreams of being a famous ranger and increasing her magical abilities. A dry wit combines with an adventure and fantasy plot that link up in unexpected directions.

End quote.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Eye of the Beholder!

My recent review in The Chicago Tribune has made me muse on how no matter what tone a writer strives for, or what a writer wants the reader to think, readers bring their own preconceptions to your work, and can read into it all sorts of things that you didn't intend. A classic example of this is The Lord of the Rings, which famously has been described by some critics as an allegory of the rise of Nazi Germany, and then World War II. But which Tolkien himself claimed was no such thing at all.

Of course it's possible to have undertones in your work that you are not aware of, a sort of subconscious thread that is completely invisible to you. We all have our own blind spots and we all have ideological viewpoints that we are too close to to actually see. But that's different--being unaware of your own subtext--than what I am thinking of here.

Here I'm thinking of how words can be very imprecise. With visual mediums like paintings or sculptures, everyone sees the exact same images. People may have different interpretations of these images, but if you paint a picture of a cow, everyone who looks at it sees the same cow. But writing depends upon words, and words can mean different things to different people. Cow may mean a bovine animal to us all, but say the word cow, and some people may picture a Holstein, others a Friesian. Even if the writer takes the time to describe the cow more specifically, a reader may have such a strong idea of what a cow looks like that he/she disregards your description completely.

And that's just physical descriptions. When it comes to characters people can bring very strong opinions to what they read. For example, I've had several readers have very negative reactions to Buck. They think she's a bad mother and very mean to Flora. I, on the other hand, have a great deal of sympathy for Buck--she's in a hard position and has to sometimes think of her duty before her family. Therefore I'm much more sympathetic to her. I've tried to convey a sympathetic impression, (even tho' Flora herself is not so sympathetic) but either I didn't do a good job, or some readers had such a strong negative reaction to Buck that they ignored my attempts to show her dilemma. They just flat didn't like her.

Now, I'm not trying to say that there is only one correct reading of a book, and that is the reading that the author intends. Nor am I trying to say that if the reader gets the wrong impression that's the reader's fault. You the writer might have down a crappy job in trying to communicate. I'm more thinking about how interesting it is that, for the writer every story begins completely in the your head. Then you write the story down. You try to write the story precisely to convey the meanings and descriptions that you have in your head. But once the story is on the page it takes a life of its own. The story that the writer thinks she is writing and the story that the reader thinks she is reading are not always the same story.

And what's really interesting is how different those two stories can be sometimes. I've read reviews of Flora where I've wondered if the reviewer read a completely different book. And I've read reviews in which I saw a glimmer of the story I thought I wrote, but the meaning assigned to that story was completely different. Then I've had reviews where the reviewer saw the story completely as I did. Same book, three different interpretations.

I guess this is one of the things that makes life interesting--differing points of view. Still, I find it fascinating how widely those interpretations can vary.

Another Review!

Flora was reviewed today in The Chicago Tribune.

Good review--but I'm not sure how the reviewer got the idea that Hotspur is a "post-hippie"! I suppose we all bring certain ideas to what we read, preconceptions you could call them, and these preconceptions can be pretty colourful sometimes.

Friday, April 13, 2007

House on the Rock.

Clearly, the man who built the House on the Rock, in Spring Green, WI, was crazy.

Crazy like a fox, or just plain crazy, I dunno. Perhaps a bit of both. He certainly had the collector's mania: a finer assemblage of spittoons, dolls, clocks, dentistry paraphernalia and carousel horses, (among others,) can be found no where else.

Not to mention the three story high diorama of a sea monster and a sperm whale locked in endless compact.

Or the three story doll carousel.

Or the red and gold Chinese temple that is also a life-size automatic music box.

Or the Infinity Bridge, which hangs out over an extremely deep gorge, nothing between you and infinity, other than a very narrow floor.

Or the life-size topless angels, or the red shag bachelor pad built into a giant rock...or...or...

I could go on forever trying to list all the fantastic aspects of this roadside attraction, but no matter how many superlatives, adverbs, gerunds, and adjectives I used, I would never ever even remotely be accurately describing the wild wonder of the House on the Rock.

You truly do gotta see it to believe it.

I suggest you do.

X-Files 2

Not sure that a new X-files movie is such a good idea.

Particularly if it's a stand-alone "supernatural horror" film. What are the X-Files without aliens, cigarette smoking men, and Rat-boy?

Would it be too much to hope that Darin Morgan might write the script for the movie?

Yes, I guess it would be.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Now it's hard to believe that a pastry that is shaped exactly like a toilet seat could be so delicious, but believe me when I say that there is no more delicious pastry in the world than a Kringle.

And you can only get a Kringle in Racine, Wisconsin.

I mean, okay, occasionally you might find a Kringle someplace other than Racine, Wisconsin, but buying a Kringle any place other than in Racine would be a mistake.

A big mistake.

Also, a mistake: not getting a cherry cheese Kringle. All the Kringles are good, but a cherry cheese Kringle is absolutely the Queen of Kringles, the best of the bunch.

Happy for me, I happen to have been to Racine Wisconsin this very day, and have now in my possession not ONE Kringle, but two.

Cherry Cheese and Blueberry.

Ah, frabjous day, callo calley, she chortled in her joy.

Kurt Vonnegut, RIP

"I work at home, and if I wanted to, I could have a computer right by my bed, and I'd never have to leave it. But I use a typewriter, and afterwards I mark up the pages with a pencil. Then I call up this woman named Carol out in Woodstock and say, 'Are you still doing typing?' Sure she is, and her husband is trying to track bluebirds out there and not having much luck, and so we chitchat back and forth, and I say, 'OK, I'll send you the pages.'

"Then I'm going down the steps, and my wife calls up, 'Where are you going?' I say, 'Well, I'm going to go buy an envelope.' And she says, 'You're not a poor man. Why don't you buy a thousand envelopes? They'll deliver them, and you can put them in a closet.' And I say, 'Hush.' So I go down the steps here, and I go out to this newsstand across the street where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery. I have to get in line because there are people buying candy and all that sort of thing, and I talk to them. The woman behind the counter has a jewel between her eyes, and when it's my turn, I ask her if there have been any big winners lately. I get my envelope and seal it up and go to the postal convenience center down the block at the corner of 47th Street and 2nd Avenue, where I'm secretly in love with the woman behind the counter. I keep absolutely poker-faced; I never let her know how I feel about her. One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it. Anyway, I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock. I stamp the envelope and mail it in a mailbox in front of the post office, and I go home. And I've had a hell of a good time. And I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you any different."-- Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Not So Great Harry!

Of course, when I first heard about Showtime's The Tudors miniseries, I knew that I wasn't going to get Shakespeare. But their approach seemed sound: the court of Henry VIII was full of sex, lies and intrigue, and the young Henry was pretty smoking hot. The miniseries promised to play up the rock and roll aspects of Tudor life, and, with Jonathon Rhys Myers as Henry, it all sounded pretty good, in a music video sort of way.

Alas, there's good-bad, and then there's bad, and then there's just blah.

The Tudors is just blah. Now, I know that it would seem impossible for JRM to play blah, but he seems to be phoning his performance in. Great Harry should be a larger than life character, pompous, yet charming; witty, yet brawling; educated, but lascivious. JRM gives the impression that Great Harry is spending all his time wishing he were fishing in Scotland. In other words, he's pretty disengaged from the rest of the action. Oh there's intrigue, and hot ladies-in-waiting, and scheming cardinals, and deer-hounds, jousting, etc. Everything you would expect a Tudor movie to have, but there's no fire. No spirit. No va-ba-boom. There's a certain clockwork quality to the show. Five minutes of scheming, five minutes of feasting, ten minutes of canoodling. Then back to the scheming. So, while I was expecting to be disappointed, at least I was hoping to be entertained by the awfulness of it all. Instead, I was just bored.

And also, everyone's super clean. Somehow I don't think people in Tudor England were quite that super-clean. Nor the roadways, or the hallways, or London Bridge, for that matter.

I think I'll go watch Velvet Goldmine again--a movie that's the very antithesis of blah.

Only Fair.

The only cutting I believe in is cutting my steak and cutting horses.

Man, I hate people who cut in line more than just about anything. It's a crime that, in my humble opinion, should be punished by the Pink Ribband.

Baring that, I'll make due with a $100 fine and back to the end of the queue for line cutters. Thus the law about to be passed in Washington, aimed at cars that cut in line for the ferry. I wish that law could be expanded to lines everywhere, whether they are lines people are standing in or standing on.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Almost as Cute...

As a babydoll sheep:

An alpaca.

Man, are they cute. They have such curious little faces, and the pouty lower lip gets me very time.

And their fur is so super soft.

(Today is all about the livestock.)

Is Nothing Sacred II

Regular readers will recall Madama Wilce's post about the sale of the irreverent site for TV obsessives, Television Without Pity, to Bravo . . .

Now, according to this post at Radar, it seems that indeed the corporate heart knows no pity, and no shame.

But you know? The original owners of TWP, Sarah Bunting and Tara Ariano, who cashed out, and probably quite nicely, too, should have made damn sure their writers (or recappers) were generously taken care of in the deal, when they still had some leverage to exercise.


Much cuter than the Jersey Devil, or a Galantine--

A Babydoll Southdown Sheep.

Bothwell and I are crying: wantie, wantie, wantie.

Well, more like bleating than crying. Alas, that we currently have no yard big enough, and grass does not grow inside the house.

But someday...


Hey--Valefor is in Wikipedia.

Ain't that gonna swell his head (neither donkey nor lion shaped) the size of a small country? Particularly the part about leading legions.

(And for the record I did not know there was any Valefor in any video game. I guess the vidgame people and I used the same source material.)

I am happy to have this be our first appearance in Wikipedia. But I hope it shall be our last.

Worse than a Blancmange!

A galantine.

Worse than the Jersey Devil.

The blancmange.

Speaking of Chupacabras...

And all their friends.

I'm certainly glad I don't live in New Jersey. First, they have the Jersey Devil.

Now they have this.

When you are on the Jersey Turnpike--best to keep on driving.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Heart Shaped Box!

Okay, so everyone else has pretty much adored Joe Hill's Heart Shaped Box, and I think the book is doing well enough that he won't be shattered if he gets one mediocre review. Alas, I fear that mediocre review must come from me.

I really loved Sieur Hill's short story compilation, Twentieth Century Ghosts. The stories contained therein were genuinely disturbing, horrific, and hard to forget. When I heard he had a novel coming out, I was pretty excited. It's hard to find good horror, I think. It's not a genre that I am super familiar with, but I do enjoy a good horror novel, but it seems to me that the mainstream horror bookshelves are not overloaded with really excellent stuff. Initial word of mouth on Heart Shaped Box was pretty strong, and I picked up a copy as soon it hit the stores.

The premise was promising: a heavy metal musician with exotic taste in women and collectibles buys a ghost over the internet (not from Ebay, but from some lesser auction site). Alas, the ghost proves to be a bit hard to handle, and quickly gets a little bit too personal in his haunting. Rock star, groupie girlfriend and two dogs end up in a duel to--not the death, but something worse.

But somehow the promising premise just didn't hit me where I live. I'm not sure why exactly--to go into details would be to give away too much of the plot, which I don't want to do here. Others loved it, so perhaps I'm just not attuned to that type of horror, but the various elements that were trotted out as horrific--even mixed with supernatural stuff--are, alas, too common in today's world--open any newspaper and you read the life-stories of most of Hill's characters on page 1. The banality of evil.

So maybe the problem is not me, or Joe Hill, perhaps the problem is today's world. You have to go further out on a limb if you want your horror to be rooted in reality. We are too jaded--I'm too jaded.

Perhaps you are not so jaded, in which case you'll probably like A Heart Shaped Box. I fear it's too late for me.

Back Again!

Those darn chupacabras.

Once they move in, it's pretty hard to get them to move out.

But, after a long strenuous weekend of Chupa-cleaning, I think I've done it, and can now get back to important things, like blogging.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Queries: In the Trunk?

A curious reader has asked me if I wrote any other novels previous to Flora Segunda.

The answer: kinda.

Before there was Flora, before there was Crackpot Hall, before there was Valefor, I wrote an exceedingly long epic that followed the life of she who you all know as Little Tiny Doom. I'm not sure that this epic could be called a novel, per say, for tho' it cracked in at over 100,000 words, it didn't really much of a structure. Or much of a plot, for that matter. It covered several different periods of Tiny Doom's life, both youth and adult-hood, and though many exciting things happened to her, these events were not thematically linked, nor did they really add up into a narrative arc. At the time, my model was the Norse saga; not the plot-heavy sagas like Njal's Saga, but the personal history saga, like Egil's Saga or King Harald's Saga. Lot of exciting incidents embroidered onto a biography. Which may have played great in a mead-hall, but today we want more of a story arc.

The meandering Brakespearesaga (as I called it) was good for me figuring establishing characters and basic chronology, as well as Califa world building, and, at one time, I had thought I would go back and retro fit enough of a plot that the saga could be considered an actual novel, but I never got around to it, and now I never will, I think. In style, the saga was also modeled on the Norse Saga, so the writing was exceedingly spare and terse, and my style has changed too much to go back to that. Also, the Saga was in first person, which POV I'd like to avoid in the future.

So, in a nutshell, I wrote a big long fat manuscript, but it wasn't really a novel. Just many words, words, words.

Who You Gonna Call?

I've told Bothwell perhaps it is time for him to get a job.

Since there aren't too many sheep in Porkopolis (it's not called Sheepopolis is it?), he might consider looking into becoming a member of the Geese Police? He reminded me that law enforcement is tough dangerous work and suggested he might, instead, become my official food taster. You can never be too careful, he pointed out; writers can make a lot of enemies.

I'll think about it, I said, while you practice your Stare.

He yawned in reply.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Under the Skin!

I've read Michel Faber's Under the Skin about four times now. I'm not entirely sure why I find this novel so compelling--don't get me wrong--it's an excellent book, extremely well written, with terrific plotting. But those things alone are not always enough to keep me coming back for more. But for some reason this book has got me.

I rarely reread books, but when I do, I find that if they are worth reading twice, they are worth reading a hundred times. I think I've read Lonesome Dove about six times; Lord of the Rings about twelve times (and I don't even like the book that much so I don't know why I keep going back), and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn maybe twenty times--once a year for that long. When you really love a book, re-reading it is like meeting an old friend. Comfortable.

Anyway, back to Under the Skin.

I don't want to be a Spoilerette, so I won't say too much about the plot, except that it concerns a young lady named Isserley, who drives around northern Scotland picking up hitch-hikers.

Pick up the book if you want to know more.

Oh, and if you go to Amazon to buy, don't read any of the reviews. Some people are not as careful as moi when it comes to trying not to Spoil, and you will enjoy the book more if you let the author lead you along. (I think I should start a movement: Authors Against Spoilers!)

I also note that Under the Skin is NOTHING at all like Sieur Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, which is best described as a post-modern Victorian melodrama. I liked that one, as well, but have found Under the Skin more compelling.

Pop up!

A pop-up book with a working streetlamp inside.

Super fabulous!

Poor little bird!

Some hipster guy with a book about hunting and cooking game animals is profiled in the Times. Now I got nothing against people who hunt to eat, and I got nothing against people who aren't to squeamish to kill their own food. (Those people are not me, alas.)

But it seems to me that trapping little sparrows in the backyard of your Brooklyn brownstone just to eat them is kinda mean. I suppose it's not that much more mean than commodity chicken farming, but that's pretty mean too. Sieur Rinella has a book he's promoting, The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine, within which you can find recipes for cooking black bear and moose, neither of which are (anymore) indigenous to Brownstone Brooklyn. Pigeons, however, are epidemic, and Sieur Rinella suggests trapping them behind air conditioner units before roasting them. He also points out, rightly so, that Americans have depersonalized their food (viz., my comment about commodity chicken farming) and are profoundly disconnected from what's on their plate, and how it actually got there.

This may well be true, but I still feel sorry for that poor little sparrow. I know, I know, it's hypocritical, but thus it is to be human. Hypocrisy is the original human condition, she says cynically.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


I've just been told that VOYA, a bimonthly journal for educators who work with young adults, has put Flora Segunda on their list of Best Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror of 2006. Apparently, at some point in the past, Flora was reviewed in VOYA, and earned a "prestigious" 5Q rating. I'm not sure exactly what 5Q means, but it sounds cool, eh?

Later: Poking around the VOYA website, I discover that 5Q means: "hard to imagine it being better written."

Thank you, VOYA!

April IS the Cruelist Month!

It's 29 degrees here in Porkopolis, and snowing.

The poor little daffodils.

The poor little desert flower (me).

Downward Dog!

Yoga for you *and* your dog!

Who needs one of those silly balance balls when you have a border collie?

Though I fear that Bothwell would not sit still for any of this. However, since we are supposed to honour our dogs' energy, as part of the yoga process, I guess that that whatever he did would be cool. It's all good.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

To Blog or not to Blog?

Over at the Hartford Courant, Elinor Lipman writes about her ambivalence towards blogging. "What do I have to say," Madama Lipman wonders, "that isn't already out there?"

I have often wondered the same thing myself. There's something very narcissistic about a blog; you gotta believe what you have to say is worth hearing, and frankly, most of the time it's not. Everyone's got an opinion these days--the world, blogosphere and meatspace--is alive with the chattering of zillions of opines. Why should anyone care what I think?

But, clearly, in my case, narcissism has won out.

Restoration Comedies!

So, over the weekend, I watched Stage Beauty and The Libertine back to back. Both films are set in Restoration England, both films concern the theatre both films were themselves once plays, and both have fantastic hair. (You think hair was BIG in the '80s? Restoration hair makes '80s hair look tiny teeny small.) And that's where their similarities end.

Stage Beauty is a Hollywood romance. Billy Cudrup plays Ned Kynaston, an actor who specializes in playing women. Claire Danes plays Maria, his dresser, who longs to be an actress. When Charles II lifts the ban on women players, Kynaston is out of a job, and Maria proves an over-night sensation. Problem: Maria is playing Kynaston playing a woman, and Kynaston can't act like a man. Love fixes them both: Maria teaches Kynaston how to be a real man, and Kynaston teaches Maria how to Method Act. Cue the cupids and drop the curtain.

Meanwhile, over at The Libertine, we have Johnny Depp playing The Earl of Rochester, a notorious English rake, who was probably the most repellent genius that England ever produced, determined to squander his talents in the most degrading and disgusting ways possible. (Note: The Libertine is firmly rated R. You think people swear today? Restoration England might just have been the Glory Days of English Vulgarity. They had words for stuff we've never even heard of today.)

Here's another way to explain how different the two films are. In Stage Beauty, Charles II is played by Rupert Everett. In The Libertine, by John Malkovich. Need I say more?

Of course I do.

So Charles II is one of England's most interesting kings. He underwent some horrific experiences as a young man (father executed, years of exile), yet he remained affable and kind, albeit hard to read. Everett plays him as a bit of a buffoon, at the mercy of his mistresses, a sort of Pythonesque Upper Class Twit, who ocassionally has a flash of wisdom. Malkovich plays him as an inscrutable man of action, busy busy busy, but ultimately hiding behind a mask of genialness. The truth of the man is probably somewhere in the middle--and forever lost to us now. Both portrayals are accompanied by the requisite pack of beribbanded spaniels.

But the two different Charles mark the two different versions of Restoration England. In Stage Beauty, there is actual beauty. Cudrup is beautiful, Danes is beautiful, the clothes are beautiful, the theatre is beautiful. It's all so clean and Hollywood.

The only thing beautiful about The Libertine is Johnny Depp, and some horrific stage make-up signifying the wages of sin soon takes care of that. Everything is knee deep in mud. You can practically see the vermin crawling on the wigs. Even the character's attitudes are ugly. Rochester is set on ruining himself--why is unclear--and there's no depth to which he will not stoop. Depp chews the scenery in this one; thanks to the hair and the rolling eyes, it's impossible not to think of Jack Sparrow as he does this, but Jack Sparrow is a harmless Hollywood pirate, who couldn't scare a goose. Rochester is the kind of guy that if you saw him coming you would cross not just the street, but maybe the entire town to avoid.

If there's a flaw in Depp's performance it's that the character is inscrutable. The desires of Kynaston and Maria are easy: they both want glory on the stage. What does Rochester want? He shilly-shallies with an actress, but it's clear that his involvement with her is more than just love--it's some sort of obsession, accompanied by much speech-a-fying, hard to parse. Clearly he's driven but by what remained, at least to me, unclear.

Ultimately the two films both fail, I think. Stage Beauty could have been an extremely interesting meditation on gender--what makes a man a man, a woman a woman? Is it behaviour? Society? Sex? Which is more real--what we see on the stage or what we see off it? Instead, it opted for the Hollywood ending. The Libertine, well, I'm not sure what it could have been. Johnny Depp's performance is amazing, but in the end, something was lacking. I'm not sure what, but it was something I needed.

But The Libertine has a monkey in it, so it wins.

NB: Like I said, The Libertine is a pretty strong film, so if you are under eighteen or hide-bound, probably best to skip it, and watch The Pirates of the Caribbean again.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Rock, Scissors, Alien!

Why play rock, scissors, paper when you can play nuke, dynamite, devil, alien, fire, wolf, monkey, snake, etc?

(via memepool--thanks riotnrrd)


You know what is delish?

Woodstock Water Buffalo Yogurt.

Especially the chai flavour. It's much thicker than regular yogurt (and usually I'm a kefir fan myself) but it's yummy delicious, almost like eating ice cream. But healthy.

Another Good Review!

So, I have just been given a sneak preview of Charles de Lint's review of Flora Segunda, which will be running in June's Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy, and I'm happy to say that it's very enthusiastic! Alas, there's no online version, so you'll have to hit the magazine rack if you want to read the whole review--but since F&SF is worth buying anyway, you should do that.

Sieur de Lint was kind enough to read an early draft of Flora, way back when, and he's been supportive of me and my work ever since. He's a real gentleman, and a great writer and musician, to boot.

Thank you, Sieur de Lint!



At least he doesn't have to worry about whether or not he is book hot.

Unlike poor Jane.

Book Hot.

It's bad enough that women writers today have to be good-looking, as well as talented, if they want to get anywhere in the market. This sad trend has been much debated and discussed over at Galleycat, and I shall not rehash that argument (at least not in terms of current authors) here.

But why should dead women writers have to be book hot, too? Surely once you are a. dead, and b. firmly entrenched in the English literary canon, it shouldn't matter what you look like, eh?

Alas, no.

Sunday's New York Times has an article on the recent attempts to prettify Jane Austen. Apparently Austen's genius, and her place in literary history, would be much more firm if only we knew what she looked like--that is to say, if we knew she was hot. Unfortunately, there are no extant authenticated portraits of Austen, and the one sketch that does exist, and that does seem to have some actual connection with the living breathing writer herself, is not flattering. But nothing that a little bit of photoshop can't fix. Because, of course, Austen's genius can only truly be meaningful if she is beautiful, too.

I note that (as far as I know) no one agonizes over what Shakespeare looked like. They might agonize over who he was, but whether his viz resembled Orlando Bloom or a street mug seems to matter not. With men, it's the talent that counts. With women, genius without beauty is incomplete.

Next up on the Fabulous Make-overs of Dead Female Literary Geniuses: Emily Dickinson.

April is the Cruelist Month!

Though the end of March wasn't so great, here.

Why no posts for so long?

1. I've been sick.
2. My internet connection has been squiggy.
3. It's been raining.
4. I'm really lame.
5. Chupacabra.

Take your pick.

I'll be back with more later.