Monday, September 29, 2008

Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories

I borrowed this anthology from my library with high hopes: it has been nominated for a World Fantasy award for best anthology, as well as two nominations for individual short stories. I thought about posting my story-by-story impression of the anthology, but that got inconceivably blathery, so let's boil it down ...

The basic concept of Logorrhea is stories inspired by winning words from the Scripps National Spelling Bee. There were some excellent speculative stories, both in our contemporary world and others, that used their word to good effect. Overall ... I was disappointed that the great majority of the stories were modern earth in setting. This is a matter of personal taste, but one of my favorite things about speculative fiction is the worldbuilding. There were also only two science fiction stories in the anthology (both were fantastic,though).

This brings me to the more troubling point: several of the stories simply weren't speculative fiction. A few of them might be taken as slipstream, but the element seemed token to me, added just so it could be sold to a speculative anthology. A couple other stories didn't really use their word. This gets me wondering - is this the future of speculative fiction? Broadening the horizon is one thing, normalizing it is another.

Be that as may, some of the stories were excellent, much of the writing was superb, and I fully agree with the two award nominations. Points of note:

Highlights: Lyceum by Liz Williams (one of the aforementioned SF stories); The Cambist and Lord Iron by David Abraham (award nominee #1); From Around Here by Tim Pratt (autochthonous); Crossing The Seven by Jay Lake (transept - though I am not sure this is a "legal" use of the word); The Euonymist by Neil Williamson (the other SF story); Singing of Mount Abora by Theodora Goss (dulcimer; award nominee #2).
... since when is dulcimer hard to spell? Maybe I need to get out of the folk music world.
Low Points: A Portrait in Ivory by Michael Moorcook (insouciant); Logorrhea by Michelle Richmond (the irony abounds, I know); Vignette by Elizabeth Hand; The Last Elegy by Michael Cheney (elegiacal); Tsuris by Leslie What (psoriasis).
(Shoulda Been) Disqualified: Semaphore by Alex Irvine (not spec); A Portrait in Ivory by Michael Moorcook (bad use of word); Vignette by Elizabeth Hand (not spec); The Last Elegy by Michael Cheney (elegiacal - not spec); Softer by Paolo Baciagalupi (marcerate - not spec, tenuous use of word); Tsuris by Leslie What (psoriasis - not spec, bad use of word).

I note that I did enjoy both Semaphore and Softer in their own right, just didn't think they belonged in a speculative fiction anthology. If it were billed as a general anthology, that would be another thing.

Overall, I thought the anthology was a bit too heavy on style and the substance suffered, but there were also beautiful moments and stories that balanced the two perfectly. If you want to cherry-pick, I recommend skipping the low points and disqualifieds, with the possible exception of the two in the above paragraph. The rest of the anthology has something for every palette.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I've been listening to some new CDs to try and increase my music stash, and the most recent one I ripped songs from was "Wicked," a musical adaptation of the novel. In doing so, I smacked straight into the reason why I so much enjoy rhymed poetry: what I've grown up with, loved, and clung to in my musical listening is songs that play cleverly with meter and rhyme, most particularly musicals (1776, Kiss Me Kate, Camelot), but also individual artists (Kirsty MacColl is big on this; some of Gloria Estefan's lyrics from "Wrapped" in particular are amazing). So of course this internal musical voice is what I look for when I try to write poetry.

Also, I missed my exercise again yesterday. Wow, I am just off my game.

Monday, September 22, 2008


I completely forgot about my boot camp, missing two days - this would the third. Rather than do three exercises in a chunk or ignore the skip, I'm doing two today and two tomorrow to "catch up."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dreams of Unicorns

Yesterday, I saw Bladerunner for the first time. Yes, despite my interest in the genre, I'd never seen the movie before, and I quickly realized that I'd had some skewed ideas about the movie's subject. Before seeing it, I'd vaguely thought that the Deckard character was a fugitive ... and no, not just because he was being played by Harrison Ford.

The world in the movie really shines, or maybe "shines" is a bad word, given its character: dark, decaying, and jackdaw assembled from the remnants of humanity. The ambivalence under the storyline - do replicants have humanity? What are they rights? - are blurred and left quiet, to good effect. These individuals have killed twenty-three people and even if you believe they are fully human, yeah, they likely deserve to be shot on sight, and yet you come to feel for them.

Rutger Hauer is fantastic. The man is a hell of an actor. Why he seems to have done this movie and then Ladyhawke and dropped into mediocre-to-bad movie obscurity passes my understanding. Harrison Ford is average(sorry!), and both Sean Young (Rachael) and Daryl Hannah (Pris) are mesmerizing in completely different ways. Then again, Ford is our point of view character, and the eyes we look through need to be fairly normal ... so the rest of the world can be as strange as it needs to be.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Halfway through my Boot Camp (working through "Creating Character Emotions" by Ann Hood), and I've covered Anger, Anxiety, Apathy, Confusion, Contentment, Curiosity, Desire, Despair, Excitement, Fear, Fondness, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Grief, Guilt, Happiness, Hate and Hope.

As usual, my exercises run the gamut of completely new world/character concepts, familiar worlds with new characters, different time periods and/or locations, and occasionally, an extension from a current story.

The exercise for Hope involved writing a paragraph depicting hope, contrasted by a second after that hope has failed - despair. The exercise called for three Hope/Despair pairings. It also suggested trying other opposed emotions to show an arc of character growth. This was my third; here there is an implied time-lapse between the first and second paragraph:

Sedra held her arms in an awkward circle, holding her daughter in that mental grip. It did nothing to diminish the distance between them, and so she dropped them, laying her head against the stone wall. Rain drummed against the window, drummed with her heart, drummed with the sound of a messenger who was still – she knew – out of sight. Reports from the front, where her daughter had been badly injured … she closed her eyes, wet her lips, and pictured his face, the casual monotone – how many mothers had he given bad news? But not this time, she prayed, not to any of the gods but to the steady thrum of numbers rushing past. They were on her side. One in five didn’t survive the surgery, but she had only one daughter, not five …

Again, the awkward circle, this time convulsed, tightened, even shaking, though she fancied she jarred her daughter within the circumference. She pictured the face – not the captain she was now, but the child who had come to her side at night and keened for attention – screwed up with protest, batting her away … so far away that Sedra flew, out of the house, across the yard, through the shadow of the trees into some unknown, as if she were the one who had died. On the thought of death, she crumpled, broken of the fancy and tasting its ashes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Lights Go Down

On Sunday, September 14th, around two-thirty in the afternoon, Ike visited Ohio.

We had hurricane-force winds, gusts up to 84 mph, though only a few drops of rain. Trees came down with a crunch and a crack ... thankfully not hitting anything crucial in my immediate vicinity, though there is a house nearby more or less demolished by an old-growth tree.

A couple million people throughout the state, Indiana and Kentucky without power -- about ninety percent of Duke's customers. They had recently released a lot of their workers to aid down in Texas, which left us vulnerable when the lines went down.

Here, the neighborly thing: everyone pitched in, sawing limbs, hacking branches, trying to reduce the fallen to a manageable pile - and succeeding.

Power had come back to the commercial district by mid-morning yesterday. Ice was snatched as soon as it was unloaded; batteries, with the exception of double and triple As, were nowhere to be found. Panera, the most convenient source of wireless, was packed to the insulation in the walls ... so many people reaching out to a world that had abruptly gone dark.

My power returned about 4pm this afternoon ... I'm still in the minority ...

You never realize how many things depend, directly or indirectly, on a power-source until you have no access.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Another year ...

Another successful Cincinnati Celtic Fest. One set with Amy Roark-Oblak on the flute - White Orchid - and another with "Tri Werin," which means three folk and is a Welsh group. Technically, there are four of the latter, but the Welsh word for four is a sadistic tongue-twister.

I am exhausted, my fingers still feel like sausages, and I do not want to think about anything for a while.

But it was good.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Anatomy of an Idea: Ten Cities Down

Ten Cities Down initially started as a writing exercise. I took a handful of randomly generated names that intrigued me and wrote short scene snippets. Other names chosen include Kallistrate, Vasilka and Jory. Timur's included the core concept, the idea of a multi-tiered city and an escape from the afterlife. This piece sat for some time before I decided to write a story from it ...

I knew I needed another character to complicate the journey, and particularly a pretext to divert him back downwards. I decided to use his daughter, and things were never the same. Civine ... well, she took over, running my story and my narrator ragged.

I've always been fascinated by the wisdom and resilience of children ... while still, of course, showing the impatience and inexperience of their age. This is a story which is very muted at heart, with a repressed emotional tone. Were it left up to Timur, it might be cold. Civine provided (I hope) my balance.

Ten Cities Down

To my surprise, this story is already posted at Labyrinth Inhabitant, here:

Pleasurable sense data! Share and enjoy.

Also, the editor provides officially the best log-line for a story ever. I would not have thought of it, for certain!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Opposite of Despair

I just received word that Abyss & Apex want to reprint my story, "Hour By Hour" in their Best Of volume for 2007.

... well, of course I said yes!

But it gets better. They'll be launching the anthology at the World Fantasy Convention. Which means I'm there! Even if it's just the first time it sees sales, that's still pretty cool.

Cover art here:


One of the exercises for my boot camp today - the one I chose - was to contrast despair with a time of contentment. This is about three quarters of what I came up with. The implication is meant to be that she was in a political (albiet loveless) engagement, which was just broken:

Saerin turned the ring over in her fingers, the inscription catching against her nails. “To a fruitful union and two successful lives.” Not a romantic inscription, but the nexus of calculated hopes formed with a man who had understood her priorities. What had seemed very logical and reserved then now drew her down out of – so it seemed – all proportion with her loss.

If that round hollowness inside her crumbled, she worried what else would fall. Into it, she poured the memory of scattershot days, madcap days before she had been elevated to the rank of judge. Unreasoning hope like white-hot barbs kept her surging forward, sleepless, ceaseless, always championing someone for whom there could be no success.

Those were the days of her greatest pleasure.

She guided that foolishness down into the deep and had no idea whether it would ever emerge. The gridwork of ambition surrounded her, this action necessary, then this concession – a sound political marriage … the ring was the same shape as that space she was trying to fill, but her fondest recollections would not substitute for the chances she needed.

Standing in stasis, unfamiliar, balanced on a brink without a bridge – when she had once not cared about the width of the abyss. She whirled, dizzy, snatching at the moments. Happiness … but could she even hold onto why she had been happy? It seemed arcane now. What pleasure in meals that could not fill her, in learning to write by stars when she could no longer afford candles?

Saerin mocked her younger self as she buried the memories. She had known the carter was innocent of running over the young nobleman, but how grateful he would have been for a light sentence, to save face, to remember the dewey-eyed lawyer later. Never mind the twin sons who clung to him and his bustly wife who rubbed her almost-flat stomach anxiously.

She stopped her work of mental reconstruction. It was the blurry sensation of examining a stranger’s life, a woman she could not remember being. A woman who had been happy – and by that extension, she could not recall the emotion. It was a part of another existence. Was it something she could regain? Or, like a quirk of personality, out of reach the same way reshaping herself would be?

“To a fruitful union and two successful lives.” Saerin flicked the ring to the floor, watched it bounce, heard the final click of the gavel when she was not the one wielding it. The pounding of her heart. A wet, hot rush of absolute experience.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Mother of Lies

I just finished "Mother of Lies," the second in a duology by Dave Duncan (no relation), and I can wholeheartedly recommend both of them. In general, the story is intense and intriguing, with some enjoyable twists, realistic and flaw people, and - again - the sense that what occurs is less a plot as an organic exploration of events. Characters who have been hinted at and mentioned throughout the first book finally surface in solid portrayals. And once more, Duncan (no relation) manages to pull off showing an event I knew was coming while making it effective and surprising.

I did have some quibbles. One romantic relationship in the story just seems to happen out of nowhere. There were a couple bits in both dialogue and internal narrations that seemed like modernisms and thus out of place. One of the main antagonists was degraded in such a fashion that I thought it did a disservice to the entire storyline. I didn't want to see her reduced before the final showdown. In part due to this, in part just due to portrayal, this same showdown felt anticlimactic to me (though it wasn't the only showdown in the book, and the others were superb). One plot-thread was never resolved. And though the unusual physical design of the world was touched upon, it didn't seem enough - particularly as the book ends with an appendix discussing how the physical geography would (not) work.

That aside, I recommend these two books heartily. They're well worth the read.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Emotions ...

So far, my boot camp has included exercises on Anger, Anxiety, Apathy, Confusion and Contentment.

I really enjoy doing boot camps. They have several advantages: I get a secondary exercise fitting the parameters into fantasy (though in a couple cases, I haven't done that), I get to explore aspects of settings I've written in or am working on without dry summary or the obligation to write a full story, and I can play with ideas or concepts in snapshot - again without having to feel pressured to complete a work.

In the case of the script boot camp, I didn't have the "relaxation" of not having to create a finished work, but in compensation, I got to work with a new medium and compress stories into a (relatively) streamlined form.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How do ...

... dogs drink water?

Here's a link to a rather interesting video that answers that question:

It's not what you think.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Reading Recc Updated

I just added a new reading recommendation to my site: Children of Chaos, by Dave Duncan (no relation). I was going to comment more here, but I got most of what I wanted to say in the clip. Be warned, though - have Mother of Lies on hand before you read this one. I'm flailing because I need to go pick up book two now ...

Actually, I do have more to say! I was disappointed that Duncan (no relation) didn't do more with the unusual shape of his world, but given the course of events towards the sequel, I think that is on its way to being corrected. I also found myself consulting the glossary at the front of the book. Whoever green-lighted its inclusion was shrewd. The world isn't hard to understand, but for some reason, I found myself consulting a lot to make sure of terms.