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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Free Gareth Powell ebook (4 stories & 3 excerpts)

Free ebooks from Ruth Nestvold

The Destruction of Ys by Ruth Nestvold

Story Hunger: Short Fantasy Tales About the Power of the Word by Ruth Nestvold

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Science Articles (How to Read) pt 2

Here's a recent article you might want to use in the classroom to prove that science articles can be deceptive (see earlier "How to Read Science Articles"). This one overstates its case, from  "Earth Life Likely Came from Mars, Study Suggests"  If you know that no life has been found on Mars (as the article itself states), then the term "Likely" should set off red flags.  The article reads:
"No indigenous Red Planet organisms have ever been discovered. But it is possible that life on Mars — if it ever existed — may have made its way to Earth at some point, many scientists say." [emphases mine]

The "likely" term is chiseled away by the more realistic terms of possibilities.  It is interesting that the author chose the term "many" to describe scientists.  Why?  Perhaps, to give the possibility more weight than it deserves and lend credence to the use of the term "likely."

After reading the article, I wonder if the author should have stated "Some chemicals that life may require may have come from Mars."  Or maybe the author thinks, despite the lack of evidence for life on Mars, the conditions on Mars may have been more conducive to life and maybe it started there, survived a necessarily violent upheaval in order to fly it off Mars toward Earth, survived radiation and vacuum and atmospheric reentry and a crash landing to seed life on Earth.  Maybe.

If you read this for class, you might ask the students to come up with questions like:  Why is life "likely" to come from Mars?  How many is "many?"  What does it mean that scientists acknowledge the possibility of something?  Why do some scientists believe that life must have these chemicals to begin life?  Are they saying that life on Earth is unlikely to begin without rocks from Mars?  Is there evidence?

Science Articles (How to Read)

Whether students go on to work in science or not, it is important that they be knowledgeable consumers of science.  Sometimes scientific studies are flawed or has an agenda; sometimes the writer is flawed or has an agenda.  Claims get overstated or misinterpreted.  (See:  "Researchers have found that authors of "soft science" research papers tend to overstate results more often than researchers in other fields.") Students need to be able to think critically, to see for themselves what is reliable and what is not.

This is probably one of the easiest yet most useful, practical exercises I have done as a teacher.  Often I will introduce the topic by dissecting a flawed article.  There was one in about depression, and one in Scientific American about Facebook that we picked apart, sentence by sentence.  I'll see if I can find those (there's a newly released, problematic article which I will discuss today here).  But really any article will do, but it helps if the article is flawed so that students see that "Scientists found that" does not necessarily = the whole truth.

The rules are simple:

  1. Find a science article from a reliable source.  (Science News, Scientific American, etc.)  
    1. Length is unimportant.  (It just has to answer #3 below)
    2. I tend to let them read in any field because I want them to focus on their interests, which will help them engage in the activity.
  2. Read.
  3. Summarize in one to three sentences about what the scientists learned.  
    1. Focus them or they will ramble all over the place.  If they reach the end and cannot answer this question, they've read the wrong article.  Early on, you may have to repeat, "What did the scientists learn?" frequently.
    2. Also, this must be reported orally.  There's something soporific about students reading aloud their summaries (and it usually includes more information than they need).  No, they do not need to look up the exact name of the drug used.  (They can write it down for reference, especially if they're not going to report orally that day.)
  4. Finally, the most important part, ask a question about what the scientists learned.  Sometimes students need guidance.  Provide the question starters, "Who, what, when, where, why, and how."  It helps.  
The first day you do this will be unimpressive, but subsequent days tend to get more impressive--the questions they come up with. Many start to sound like well informed college students.  I have done this with seventh grade to twelfth grade students with success.  However, those times we only did it a few times during the year were only so-so--no matter what grade.  This, of course, will depend on what your administrators allow.  Some only want you to plow through the book or state standards, but hopefully the smarter ones will realize the value of such an exercise.

Sample questions:
  • Why did this happen?
  • What caused this?
  • What might result from this?
  • What aspects might the scientists have overlooked?  (proper controls, etc.)
  • What future experiments might result?
  • Would using X make a difference?
  • Would doing this to X produce the same result?
If you know the answer, chime in.  Or simply acknowledge the good question.

This may be a useful activity for spurring ideas for a science fair.  I plan to use this as an idea generator and a way to help them focus on what might interest them for projects:  What kinds of articles did you want to read?  Does this give an idea for a future experiment?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Intersections between Science Fact and Fiction

Gary Westfahl on Elysium and the space-station story

"Geoffrey Landis has proposed aerostat habitats followed by floating cities in the atmosphere of Venus."

Editors on Common Misconceptions About Science Fiction Publishing

Pacing:  Make fast events slow down, slow events speed up.

inkscrawl: short SF poems

Cat Rambo on emotional impact in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing

Dark Fuse anthology series submissions

"Medieval Knights on a Treadmill Put Historical Myths to the Test"
Popular Mechanics has been growing on me for some time.  Most get a subscription as funds become available.

Author (& Editor & Author-like) interviews elsewhere

Scott Nicholson

Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman in conversation

Douglas Lain

Richard Bowes (opening bit is free, but pay for rest)

Ellen Datlow

Harlan Ellison channel

Todd McCaffrey on mother Anne McCaffrey

Paul Di Filippo on "The End of Resistentialism" 

Rudy Rucker on Genemodding

free and low-priced ebooks (Michael Moorcock & Piers Anthony)

King of the City by Michael Moorcock  ($.99)

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem $1.99

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin $1.99

Several Piers Anthony titles on sale ($.99)

including Hugo- and Nebula-nominated novel Chthon 

as well as several free titles:
New York Review of Science Fiction #300

Jason Striker, Master of Martial Arts: Kiai! (Jason Striker Martial Arts) by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes

Jason Striker, Master of Martial Arts: Mistress of Death (Jason Striker Martial Arts) by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes

Aliena by Piers Anthony

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Free e-book of Leena Krohn's Tainaron

Free e-book of Leena Krohn's Tainaron until midnight EST (courtesy Jeff Vandermeer)

Preview of James Gunn's Transcendental

Grandmaster James Gunn's Transcendental has just been released. Fantasy Hotlist has an excerpt.

A taste of the novel (one of the more mysterious aliens on this Canterberian-Tales journey:

"A tank with treads, like a motorized coffin, stood in front of the window—a poor location for a creature whose fragile life-support system needed this kind of protection. The tank was decorated with engraved designs that Riley would have liked to examine more closely, but alien sensitivities were unpredictable. He had no desire to cause interspecies conflict, but the tank, for that’s what it most closely resembled, piqued his curiosity, if for no reason other than its unusual exterior. The tank had no windows, no obvious means of observing the outside world, as if the outside world was irrelevant or the occupant, if there was an occupant at all. It was impossible to discern anything at all about the interior of the tank. For all he knew, the tank itself might itself be the alien creature; or, if there was an alien within, it might already be dead or near-dead and being sustained by some high medical art."

Preview of Mike Allen's first novel, THE BLACK FIRE CONCERTO

Mike Allen's first novel, THE BLACK FIRE CONCERTO (a dark fantasy), was released.

You can read and listen to the beginning online.  There are two rather extensive excerpts (the one below and Black Gate excerpts a second).

This excerpt should indicate the feel of its traditional-fantasy style and whether it is to your taste:
“We thank you,” the Chef said, “whose life, made everlasting, shall become ours.” The etchings on the knife flared as he made the cuts required of the ritual. He partook of the first morsel before offering the next pieces to the patriarch and his wife on a small saucer. Together they spoke, “We thank you,” and then ate, nodding their satisfaction.

Dear Students, (a letter about your teacher's memory)

I ran into a former student--a sweetie in class, soft spoken with a nice smile. On a carpeted dais near the entrance of a church I was visiting, she popped out from behind someone and said, "Remember me?"  That old smile touched her lips.

"Of course. How's it going?"  My mind scoured year-and-a-half old seating charts.  I remembered where she sat, just not the name that went with the desk.

Her face fell.  "You don't remember my name." 

"I'm sorry.  No, I don't. It's at the beginning of the alphabet, no?" 

She circled the group, agitated. I asked her for her name and she said, "Emilia." Which was not her name. The others standing there acted like they didn't remember, either. Finally, it came. I said it and apologized again. She smiled and said that's all right. 

I'm abysmal with names.  Consider:  I get 60-80 students a year, for the past seven years.  I work hard to get the names down fast, poring over old yearbooks.  I practice their names as they enter, work in class, leave, pass me in the hall, play sports.  But I still stumble in remembering.  

I sometimes sit a half hour on the bus before I remember the driver's name whom I haven't seen for a week--not to mention a year and a half. 

A few years back, 
in the hometown post office, I bumped into an old teacher of mine and greeted her. She said she didn't remember me, not my face nor my name. What's more, she didn't really care to know either, nor what I was doing now, nor see all the photos of children I didn't have. She didn't say these things, but she might as well. 

Dear students, past, present and future, I promise to recognize your face--unless it changes or I'm hit by a truck or Larry, Curly and Moe poke my eyes out. I promise to want to know what's going on in your life--unless I'm headed to the hospital for emergency hernia repair. Seriously though, I love you guys--no matter what you do--unless you sniper-down innocent people for a living and eat puppies for breakfast. Please forgive my name-memory. It is flawed.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Lit Reactor articles on writing

How NOT to Get an Agent (And What to Do After You Get One)

Storyville: Ten Tips for Successfully Publishing Your Stories (interestingly suggests that writers simultaneously submit when possible)

15 Unconventional Story Methods

Finding Your Voice (A misnomer. It should be something like "How to Brand Your Work.")

Chuck Palahniuk: Nuts-and-Bolts: “thought”-verbs

36 more from Palahniuk (I'll be reading these that first was so juicy, half of it spilled out.  I'll have to eat it again)

Science Fair procedure

Here is my new science fair procedure.  It is probably good to introduce science fair with the scientific method so that 1) students can get a head start on projects, and 2) reinforce the scientific method with practice.  I also teach how to read and write lab reports at the same time.  My lab reports differ from science-fair models in that mine are based on what some scientists/journals actually use.  More on this later if I remember or if people express interest.

  1. Come up with a scientific field you enjoy.  (Class, subject:  i.e. Physics)  Or a favorite hobby, food, sports, game, etc.  Or read random science articles:  Which tend to capture our interest?  Are there local science interests?  (If you chose something more specific than a field, skip to #3)
  2. Come up with a topic you enjoyed within that subject. (i.e. magnetism)
  3. Study topic generally (i.e. read in book, or read general topic book).
  4. Based on study and brainstorming ideas about it, ask a question about said topic.  (i.e. Can magnets...?)
  5. Look up answer to question.  Does an answer exist?  If so, use study to come with a new study, one they did not investigate.  Rewrite question.
  6. Repeat the above until you have a unique question.
  7. Reexamine question.  Does it include/imply a method to incorporate numbers for purposes of graphs, etc.?  If not, rewrite.
  8. Follow your lab notebook procedure, writing down what you did each day AS you do it.

 Again, please let me know if you use this and what modifications you come up with.  I will pass on any modifications I come up with.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Experiment: Laboratory Notebook (Lab Notebook)

Because inquiry sounds wonderful but is too time-consuming, this is my concession.  Labs are conducted by questions that they have to answer.  They have to come up with everything after the problem or question.  However, some labs do require more guidance than others.  If possible, lead them with questions.  Some will be frustrated that they don't know what they should do, but this is part of the learning curve.  This should rate rather high on Bloom's taxonomy, including the upper register, requiring creativity, evaluation and analysis.

In general, I like to keep questions simple enough that students should be able to guess what to do next.  I have had success with this format from seventh to twelfth grade.  I also like having students encounter "mistakes" where what they're learning is met with some impediment.  For instance, "Problem:  What is the acceleration of gravity?" will force them to encounter air friction.  Or in chemistry, using something like vinegar with a base to examine why the reaction didn't go as planned (ah, the concentration is important).  As a scientist, error will be their constant companion.  Why do we take it out?

Another advantage is that this allows students to apply the scientific method, again and again.  They will be thoroughly familiar with the procedure by year's end.

The set-up:

  • Problem (question):
  • Hypothesis (possible answer to be explored):
  • Materials (what kinds of materials will you need to test question?):
  • Procedures/Observations (Make a “T”:  what you did on one-half of the page/what you noticed on the other):
  • Calculations (if any):
  • Conclusions (include possible errors, and future experiments):
  • Name/Date:
  • (scribbling, white out, pencil all lose points)
Let me know if you use this and any advantageous modifications you came up with.

On reviewing

Dave Wolverton/David Farland's recent post on reviewing spurred me to thoughts on reviewing.  Why do I review?

  1. I review for others:  to lead readers to  books they might like, to steer away those who may not like it, to keep in mind varying tastes.
  2. I review for me as a writer:  to make concrete what I learned from a book, assessing strengths and weaknesses.
  3. I review for me as a reader:  to give like-minded readers a full sense of the work.
  4. I review for the author:  to give the book or story it's best aspect, without over- or under-selling.
  5. I review as if all of the above were friends.  This means finding the right language, the honest yet tempered* language to give the book its proper audience.
One thing I always try to do is his fifth tip:  "A great review doesn’t just give praise but also offers a caveat or two."  I agree.  If it's all praise, is the author a buddy or the reviewer a lapdog?  Is the reviewer capable of analysis?  When I scan reviews, I look for an honest grappling--not all praise or condemnation.  Is there a perfect book?


The comments he wrote that sparked thought dealt with book blurbs:
"I’d much rather have a blurb that reads.... A good review often praises both the book and the author repeatedly, so that when an editor is selecting cover quotes, he has several options at hand."
"[The reviewer] writes... in short sentences that will easily fit on the cover of a book and capture’s the audience’s attention." 
I thought about blurbs early on, when I first started reviewing--not much since.  Some reviewers (rightly or wrongly) appeared blurb-whores, out to get their names on as many books as possible.  I purposefully wrote in a way that was not meant to be blurbed.  When my name popped up on a book or two, I was genuinely surprised.  They'd carved my prose into a blurb.  At first I thought I'd failed--had I unintentionally tried to get my name on books?--but I considered this part of the book-publishing game.  After all, I read blurbs, too, weighing them in my purchases.

The above quotes on first glance seem that reviewing is all about the author.  But if I, too, use blurbs as a book buyer, why do I not write them as a book reviewer?  

This will take some time to ponder.  If I agree, I may have to start reading book blurbs--a difficult prospect living in a foreign country.


A final comment:

"A good review will not just recommend a book but will also recommend the author."
This requires having read multiple works--perhaps short stories will work.  This is useful to both reviewer and readers, but this doubles the work load, if not more so.


* tempered but not wholly. Colorful language livens up an article, as above.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Free & low-priced ebooks

At The Virgin's Doorstep 
by David Farland

The Nemesis Worm 
by Guy Haley

Specters In Coal Dust 
edited by Michael Knost 

Strange Chemistry sale, including 
Gwenda Bond, 
Cassandra Rose Clarke, 
Sean Cummings, 
Kim Curran, 
and Jonathan L. Howard 

"Writers of the Future" by Charles Oberndorf

Originally appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2010

This story has been sold short by readers who may have read it too quickly.  The title is beautifully literal and metafictional.  These are writers of the future and about writing of the future [SF].

SF has (in the story's universe) gone away in this futuristic fiction, and literature has, like the culture itself, has stagnated.  The narrator attends a workshop with a famous author, Magnus Esner.

Books are now virtual/video game-like experiences where the reader is a literal participant:
"[W]hen it came my turn to read Suicide Missions, the anticipation I felt while putting the gear on...."  
Reading is now a technological event.
"Here I was, eight years old, a mere adolescent, a reader, and I was Rahul Valentine, who would have been alive hundreds of years ago, if he'd really existed..."
The new technology is much like the old, however.
"[W]hat made Esner... a great writer.  He knew where... a reader might want to let things go differently and he plotted for them.  In some books, if you disagreed, the book just went blank.  Other books were powerful enough that you could invent the rest, but often then the novel would have this dreamlike feel, as if reading the ghost of a book that might one day exist."
That last reminded me of this comment from Samuel R. Delany on true influence although it would be interesting if a modern author could anticipate different readers' desires for a certain plot (or theme) direction.  I suspect such would create a muddle or a choose-you-own-adventure and thus difficult to turn into art... unless it were someone's lifelong ambition to create one such work.

This shouldn't read as purely a metaphor for fiction, but what it can be, for better or for worse:
"[Y]ou're not proposing to write a tragedy.  Or a warning.  Your story would actually speculate what future conditions would be like if this were to happen....  It's been ages since anyone has written such a story."
Worth reading.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Another Life" by Charles Oberndorf

Originally appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction, Oct./Nov. 2009
Reprinted in David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer's Year's Best SF, and in Rich Horton and Sean Wallace's War and Space.

The narrator lives in a future world where people can be reborn into a new cloned life (perhaps "clone" is inaccurate as fingerprints can change).  He falls in love with one soldier woman, Noriko, and hopes to meet her again.  However, after death and rebirth--someone has paid for his revival but it's not the military--while waiting he runs into another man/woman, Amanda Sam, whom he lives with until he falls in love with him/her.

The most fascinating aspects of the story stem from its structure.  The narrator isn't quite as sure of the events as they occurred, partially due to memory but largely due to the fact that when you uploaded yourself before death can mask what happened in your life.  People can make claims about your history and you can't be certain what exactly occurred.

Worth reading (somewhat explicit--if this is not a problem, this should be one of your favorites).  One problem, though, is that it has to mask the identity of the person the narrator is with.  This is a cheat since the narrator would know and so should we.  Perhaps if the narrator were not clear on who "she" is (i.e. another transformation)...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Movement Moves (Genres and subgenres)

Charles Stross on worldbuilding for posthumans

Jane Lindskold on books that change your perspective (the article's strength, the explanation of "why", sadly disappears)

500 "new" old fairy tales

Rattle on Speculative Poetry

Omni arises with new fiction by Rudy Rucker

Jeffrey Ford on Tradition

Michael Swanwick on the fantasy traditional and how his novels navigate this

Charlie Hugh Smith predicts The Next American Revolution

James Patrick Kelly on Cyberpunk

Octavia E. Butler on Predicting The Future

Humorous bookcover cliches (although it doesn't hamper my appreciation of a few designs)

Career Moves (teaching, writing and otherwise)

"Said No Teacher Ever"  -- humorous video although I actually have said one or two of these.

20 tips on 10-min improvements on the classroom

Classic science demo--gravity with  parallel to siphoning--explained with video

A teacher opines on what makes a good teacher

The collapse of teachers preparing students for college (one teacher's lament of testing procedures)

How to be happy as a writer

Sci-Fi author gets date... in alternate universe (joke post)

James Van Pelt on David Jauss on Charles Baxter's ideas on the epiphany

Gareth Powell interview

James Gunn interview

Stuck?  David Farland offers suggestions
He also describes how to get an agent and how to brainstorm ideas.
7 elements of military SF

Aimee Bender on the habit of writing (writer's contract)

Michael Blumlein's limited edition of collected short fiction

Infinity Plus gets a face lift.

Extending your career through ghost writers

Writing and Otherwise
Tony Tost on transitioning from poetry to television scripts

Cross-fertilization of being a scientist and a writer (J.M. Sidorova)

Photos of the "invisible world" as art

Joss Whedon on being prolific:

  1. REWARD YOURSELF EARLY AND OFTEN (reward yourself for everything you accomplish)
  2. FILL THE TANKS (read widely for inspiration)
  3. ENLIST YOUR FRIENDS (mix social and work)
  4. TOUGH LOVE (no excuses--go do it)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Peering into the heaven/hell of human behavior: What makes humans tick?

Reading is good for ambiguity.

"children are more likely to condone harm between different social groups when the explicit rules are removed." 
What that means is in the air--learned from parents/peers? inherent in the human makeup? something else?
Forbes covers how, when people are jealous, 1 out of 5 times it's due to posts on Facebook...
but this misses the point.  A social network should allow people to celebrate with the celebrating, mourn with the mourners.
Another Facebook complaint -- this time about the users -- tries to set up boundaries about the (im)proper ways to post... 
but the blanket judgments can lead to poor conclusions about human behavior.  Rather, it seems one's decision to post should be based on whether it could be interesting to others.  Again, though, as it is social, "friends" should be able to be friends:  supporting and cheering you on, or (this latter assumes a privacy setting).
Is writing down emotions as healthy in the internet environment as Pennebaker's 1986 study showed?
Interesting discussion albeit without substantial new evidence.
Another advocating for privacy setting on Facebook (new graph search)

Forbes on why you shouldn't give stores your zip code

How to Identify and Avoid Spreading Misinformation

Jay Lake on the unknowing/knowing annoying glare.

The ineffable:  Miracle in traffic

This post on a Chinese zoo passing off a dog as a lion...
makes me wonder how cool would a whole zoo of such animals be?
De-cluttering the Brain

Win at Monopoly using statistics.

Science and Technology links

 What happens when you step into a black hole, revisited?
"If the firewall argument was right, one of three ideas that lie at the heart and soul of modern physics, had to be wrong. Either information can be lost after all; Einstein’s principle of equivalence is wrong; or quantum field theory, which describes how elementary particles and forces interact, is wrong and needs fixing. Abandoning any one of these would be revolutionary or appalling or both."
Locations for future cities

New habitable planets

Inspirational terraforming clip

Inspirational clip about trash into treasure in Paraguay

David Brin's positive view of technology changing the world (environmentally)

The "Hyperloop" -- 800-mile-per-hour travel  (or 4000mph)

Standing/walking on the job:
"What you need as well, the latest research suggests, is constant low-level activity."
Artificial Chromosomes (enthusiastic article that could use a few more words  of caution)

Jo Walton points to John Brunner as at forefront of the internet SF, but Gregory Benford points out his own predecessor story although he allows it may not be the best.

Flattening ebook sales growth
Fails to point out (as one reader says, that this is growth; moreover, no mention is made of the decision to get rid of low-cost books at Amazon (<$2.99) because of their lucrative lack for authors/publishers.
Ian R. MacLeod titles out in ebook formats

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Samuel Delany on improving your story -- with a verifying personal anecdote from Geoff Ryman

In About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews, Samuel R. Delany discusses lackluster graduate student stories.  When Delany called for better "structural richness and... richness of description of the various interiors, exteriors, and characters," one writer's work was improved with "incidents... [that] had thematic and structural resonances with one another, and the physical description of the places and characters was... richer."  He also mentions a novel situation, different from her classmates.  She replies:
"I made a geometric picture of how I wanted the parts of the story to relate to each other."
Rick Wilber recently linked to this article in the NY Times about writers doing actual architectural models of stories.

I reminded of Geoff Ryman generously allowing Julian Todd and I to read and critique an early draft of "Blocked," which we thought a step down from Ryman's usual work (I didn't directly state this at the time, but instead actively sought the theme and other working parts--as I would normally do in a critique).  The next draft was stunningly improved--largely by following the above--not in huge passages but little details that made the difference.  The same story was nominated for the Locus award and appeared in three Year's Best anthologies.

APB interview with Trent Zelazny, pt 1: Personal Life and Fiction

Reading your avid reviews and interviews, not to mention seeing how big a response I get whenever I post something about you, the response is so palpable that I find it difficult not to see you as a cult figure, if not quite at the level of Charles Bukowski, getting there.  Like Bukowski you’re not immediately part of the major presses.  To what can we chalk it up to? your famous father (even though you two write nothing alike and would be unlikely to attract many of the same readers)?  an unfortunate personal life (though you don’t exactly write memoir)? your particular flavor of contemporary noir? something else? 

I honestly don’t know.  I suppose there’s some truth in the cult status thing, though I’m not sure I could say how I’ve managed to achieve it, nor could I say why I’ve only achieved it.  So many things can play a part in somebody’s career, and often talent or lack thereof is only a small piece of the whole puzzle.  My father being who he was has helped in certain aspects and very much hurt in others.  People often comment or tell me I wouldn’t have a career had my father not been who he was.  I personally think that’s an ignorant and asinine statement.  One to which I can say, bullshit.  They haven’t had to experience the few ups and the multitude of downs that have come with it.  If I was writing Amber novels or something, a la Brian Herbert or someone like that, I think the statement would have a lot more validity.  But in my situation, I think it’s an easy dismissal for people who are threatened or jealous, or who just plain don’t like me.  But if you wanna get down to the simple core of the matter, if my father being who he was was really such a big help, then how come after over fifteen years in this business I don’t get better book deals?  If it’s because I’m not that good, then fine, but that also would cancel out the name being the reason I have a career.  Any angle I look at it from, it makes no sense.

As for my personal life, I think a lot of people want honest authors, but not too honest.

I think the noir angle is one reason I have a career at all.  I don’t wanna come off as a snobby prick, but like most any genre, noir is packed with stereotypes, and while I love the stereotypes and often use them, I think I also kind of break the mold, in the sense that I don’t really consider myself a noir writer.  I just think of myself as a writer (or, more accurately, a guy who writes) who happens to have been heavily influenced by noir and the old pulps.  So I’m just writing my stories.  I’m not telling myself that I need the tough guy, the femme fatale, etc.  I don’t sit down and say, “Okay, I’m gonna write a noir story.”  I’m just writing, and the cliches and stereotypes often jump in due to the influence, sometimes more strongly than others.

Long and short of it, really, I don’t know how I have a career at all, nor do I know why I’m not a best seller.  But you never know what’s gonna happen.  George R.R. Martin was a very well respected author for years and years and years, though certainly by no means a household name.  Then he wrote Game of Thrones.  Whoomp!  Pop culture phenomenon.  Conversely, Richard Bradford wrote the immensely popular 1968 novel, Red Sky at Morning, then a few years later he wrote So Far from Heaven and—whoomp!—career over.  Things can go any which way and can change at any moment, for better or worse or both simultaneously.

Easier said than done, of course, but I try to just write and not pay too much attention to what people say or think.  But let me reiterate that first part: easier said than done.

In most of your interviews, your interviewers are very keen on your personal life.  In some readers' minds, the two appear linked.  Is it in yours?  How do you feel about this? 

I think often—not always but often—my personal life is very linked to my work. Usually it’s the more introspective titles (Fractal Despondency, A Crack in Melancholy Time, Shadowboxer, Butterfly Potion) that are a direct result of my personal life.  Whatever I’m writing, I just do my best to be honest with and about myself.  There are direct facts from my life in my fiction, but I’ve found that, especially non-writers, often think I’m writing a biography.  “Did that really happen to you?” “Did you really do that?”  More often than not my answer is no.  While I base most of my stuff on my personal life, it’s still fiction.

So is "living life" your muse?  And/or is it wrestling with personal demons on the page as we humans often do in dreams?

A muse is an unexplainable thing that seems to border along the lines of something ethereal.  I’d say my muse is likely much closer to wrestling with personal demons than it is to living life, though they’re both in there, as are other things.

How does your real life inform your literary life?  Do you see this continuing to change?

The old adage, write what you know.  It changes all the time, sometimes from day to day or even hour to hour.  After my fiancé’s suicide and my own attempt and my battle with alcohol, my stuff was incredibly gloomy, but of course, it would be.  You never get over stuff like that, but you can eventually shift it from constant blistering pain to a constant dull ache.

Growing up loving dark fiction and movies and so forth, that’s usually gonna be a part of my work, because that’s what I most often love to read.  But as I’ve found more hope in my life, I’ve noticed that many of my characters are finding more, too.

With Aaron Smith, you said that the opening scene in A Crack in Melancholy Time began as a memoir.  Was that unusual or is there usually some reality blended into your fiction?

There are lots of bits of true events in my stories and books.  Sometimes little things—waking up with my ear filled with blood in Fractal Despondency, for example, and sometimes long scenes, like the part in A Crack in Melancholy Time that takes place in Ocala.  Getting out of jail in a town I’d never been in in my life, walking for at least a few miles in flip-flops just trying to find a motel, all the way down to the guy at the motel and the screwed up television in the room and the phone that didn’t work.  All of that stuff is complete fact.  But there is another scene that seems like I could have drawn very much from real life, when the main character drinks himself into a blackout while living with his fiancé.  That never happened, though it struck such a deep chord in me that it almost feels like it did.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Samuel R. Delany on What Story Is

"[W]hen the reader moves his or her eye from word to word on the page—that’s what a story actually is. What the language calls up in your mind can also make you think in a rich and vivid manner. How it makes you think about what it evokes, including its place in the world.... And how it makes you think about it must be supported by certain discourses. If those discursive models are rich enough, they inculcate the sophisticated idea of discourse itself.... 
"Frequently, those discursive models are in conflict with simpler discourses."
-- Samuel R. Delany, The Art of Fiction No. 210 [Paris Review Interview by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah]

Comment:  Interesting how one defines what story is, creates what one sees as value in writing.    It is by such definition that writers are dismissed as "Philip Dick, another entirely middlebrow writer."  I quote certain writers not always because I agree but because I find it interesting to ponder.  I often find myself having to switch gears in how I read certain writers because of what aspects of narrative they prize over another.

APB interview with Trent Zelazny, pt 2: Character, Place, and Education

The characterization of male baddies in To Sleep Gently impressed me.  What was your method of generating such characters?  Do they have a basis on reality?  Or did you generate them from scratch?  Has your process evolved? 

They pretty much just came from out of nowhere. That particular book was primarily inspired by two things: the Parker novels by Richard Stark (really Donald E. Westlake), and the movie (as well as the W.R. Burnett novel) High Sierra, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino.

The baddies came out of thin air, as far as I know, but not all of the characters did.  The protagonist’s old buddy is based on a friend of mine, while both of the leading women were based on the same girl I’d at one point had a very obsessive (both ways) femme fatale experience with.  Other than that I think all the characters just kind of walked into the scene and said hello.

You say, "I’m a character writer far more than I am a plot writer."  So do you spend time sketching down lives for characters, base them on experience, or just plunk them into a bad situation and have to dig themselves out?

Usually a character just comes along and says hello, and I say hi back.  Then the character usually says something like, “Wanna hear a story?” or “Hey, could you come here for a minute?”  When I say sure, why not, then it’s more often than not just like meeting any other person.  I learn more and more about them as I go along.

Many of your works take place where you have been.  Are you inspired by the arid lands of New Mexico, or is it the idea of writing what you know?

I think it’s both, really.  I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest and I’ve lived all up and down the western side of Florida, but I was born and raised in New Mexico, and I’m a desert rat at heart.  I love the desert.  Sometimes I make up cities or towns and sometimes they’re very specific.  Someone pointed out how geographically accurate Butterfly Potion was, taking place in Santa Fe.  But then my novel Destination Unknown needed things both deserty and mountainy and watery, so I made up a place called Watercrest, and I think it’s only named once in the book.  In my mind it was somewhere in California, but a friend said it reminded him of Pennsylvania.  Either works, because Watercrest doesn’t exist.  My Watercrest doesn’t, anyway.

How did you create Watercrest?  Did you make it first, or give it what the story needed?  Were you forced to draw up maps?

The story created Watercrest.  It is very rare that I create visual aids for myself, unless it’s something like a battle, one against ten or something like that.  Then I might do a quick little drawing, mostly so I can keep track of where each character is.

The world just forms in my mind.  For myself, I won’t believe my own story if I don’t believe the world it takes place in, and no plot or character can help that.  The main character, or characters, create the world for me, and if they stop building it, then it doesn’t matter what they do.  I no longer believe it, and when I don’t believe it the story stops, and usually gets filed away, unfinished.

You've spoken of poor education, lack of motivation, and class-clown-ism.  Since I'm a teacher who writes about teaching, how do you wish your teachers would have treated you so that you could have been more motivated?

Good question.  I honestly don’t know, to tell you the truth.  While I had some terrible teachers I also had some truly great ones—some I’m still friends with today.  One of my English teachers didn’t like me because she was a writer who couldn’t get published and my father was a multi-award-winning author.  Everybody knew that’s why she kind of picked on me.  But a lot of my school problems were really home problems masked as school problems, which I’d rather not get into at the moment.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Samuel R. Delany on the Modern Reader's Inability to Pick up on Suggestion

"Suggestion is a literary strategy.  [T]he age of innuendo and the coyly placed line of white space, as the hero envelops the heroine in his arms, ended [in 1968]....
"In Tiger! Tiger! the demonic antihero, Gully Foyle, invades Robin’s exploded apartment and stalks across her living room to where she cowers away from him on the couch. There is a line of white space ...
"At fifteen I knew perfectly well Gully went on to rape her....
"the climax of Heart of Darkness, when the pilgrims stand at the steamer’s rail, firing their rifles at the natives on the shore, fifteen or twenty feet away.... [W]ith a line of white space, the scene ends ... 
"Year after year, more than half my students fail to realize that the white men have just killed the black woman Kurtz has been sleeping with for several years."
-- Samuel R. Delany, The Art of Fiction No. 210 [Paris Review Interview by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah]

APB interview with Trent Zelazny, pt 3: Influence

You list existentialists as an influence on your work, as well you've spoken of depression, a lowered mood often linked to hopelessness.  Are the existentialists fuel for your fiction?  Or does their work erode your energy?  If fuel, what do you find inspiring in them to keep your fingers tapping on the keyboard?  

Usually they inspire, especially when I’m down.  I’ve had depression and severe anxiety for as long as I can remember.  Someone like Sartre, or Kierkegaard’s not-so-religious stuff, or Spinoza, can fuel me, can help me embrace the darkness and, even if abstract or unexplainable to anyone else, can help me make some kind of sense of certain things going on inside me. Something like the book 10,000 Things to be Happy About (I guess it’s now 14,000) just doesn’t cut it, and I don’t see how a book like that could really help anyone, honestly.  It certainly doesn’t pull me out of depression or suicidal ideation or any of the other issues I deal with, anyway.  The book itself, I guess, is a good idea, but it’s merely a list of random things.  I don’t mean to knock any book, and I’ve no doubt that book has been instrumental in helping people, but it isn’t the kind of thing for me.

I was just in the Boston Logan Airport and didn’t need a book like that in order to find one of those things and know it was one of those things.  From the airport I posted on Facebook: “I have to say, something that still melts my heart is seeing a small child's excitement about getting on an airplane.”  But I digress.

It’s also the language of the existentialist writers that often excites me.  The way the words are put together.  The prose is often so beautiful that sometimes I only need to read a paragraph or two and I get fueled.

How has your father or his writing shaped your own writing?

My father was very encouraging with anything any of his kids did, especially creative stuff.  I was a musician for a long time and he encouraged that.  When I got more serious about writing, he encouraged that.  He may have been a bit more encouraging with writing, but I think that’s only because it was what he did, and therefore he knew it a lot better and could be more helpful.  I’m a fan of his writing, there’s no question there.  The things that get me most about his work are his prose and the philosophy he’d incorporate.

You mention that Jane Lindskold was a mentor.  How did she help guide you?

She had the patience and the kindness to deal with me.  She knew my educational background and that I was trying to learn and figure out all this crazy writing stuff on my own.  She was always willing to look at whatever I wrote.  She’d mark them up, tell me what she felt worked and what didn’t.  The final edit of To Sleep Gently, actually, is the Jane Lindskold edit.  A lot of folks don’t know, I guess, that I wrote To Sleep Gently six or seven years before it was actually published.  The first full-length book I ever sold was the tenth full-length book I’d written.  Out of the first nine, the only one I still truly believed in was To Sleep Gently.  The last thing she read of mine, at least as a mentor, was Destination Unknown.  She told me it would sell, and she told me the exact moment in the book that was going to make it sell.  She was right.  While one of my lesser known books overall, it was the book I received my biggest advance for me to date.

What about Lindskold's method of editing did you come away with?

She taught me a lot about simplifying, that I was often making things far more complex than they needed to be, or should be.  In To Sleep Gently I had a fairly lengthy paragraph describing something on the Santa Fe Plaza.  She crossed out almost the entire thing and, in the side margin, wrote, “Just say it was an obelisk.”  She also, at length, lectured me on the comma.  It’s been quite a long time, but I know I wouldn’t be nearly as far along as I am had it not been for her help.

What is it about David Goodis' work that you admire?

Simple.  His prose and his honesty.  Really, his plots are rarely very memorable, and I think I’ve read pretty much everything at least twice, but his characters linger and make you think, his prose sings to some kind of jazz tune neither Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk would have been able to touch.  Even the books of his I consider to be the weak ones still profoundly move me.

Joe Lansdale, another favorite author of mine, showed me, or taught me, if you’d rather, to not be afraid or run away from what was going on inside me.  Goodis then came along and helped smooth that out for me, and got me more comfortable with being honest in exploring myself.

How so?

Any answer I could give here, if indeed I could give an answer at all, would be beyond nebulous.

Music, you say, is a mood enhancer for you, but not while you write.  So do you plan ahead the moods you will invoke or do you just change it up when necessary?  What are some of your book's soundtracks?

The book or story creates the soundtrack.  I never know what the music is going to be until the book tells me what it likes.  It’s pretty cool, actually.  I’ve been turned on to music I might never have given a chance if not for a specific book telling me that’s what it generally listened to.

I love music, but when I write I need silence.  So when I know the book’s soundtrack I make a mix on my iPod and play it pretty consistently during the entire first draft.  I was psyched when I watched an interview with Kevin Bacon and he said one thing he does to get into his character’s mind is to make a mix on his iPod of the kind of music that character listens to.  I was psyched because I was already doing that, I’m a big fan of Kevin Bacon, and he kind of validated that as a legit part of the creative process for me.

Not every book has a soundtrack, but most of them do.  Destination Unknown is pretty much all eighties pop, while Too Late to Call Texas is mostly country with a bit of seventies folk rock.  Fractal Despondency, Shadowboxer and A Crack in Melancholy Time were all pretty much Miles Davis and John Coltrane.  I wrote a book recently but decided to put it away (at least for now) in which the entire soundtrack was essentially one band: the Fleetwoods.

Cool. What advice would you give a new writer? and to a writer with some experience?

The same advice you’d probably get from most writers.  Read a lot, and write a lot.  Don’t only read in the field or genre you want to write in, though continue to read that most.  But also read at least a little in as many genres as you can.  It’ll help enrich your writing, whether you personally realize it or not.

For a writer with experience, do your best to stay confident.  Know you’re good but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re great.  There’s always so damn much to learn, and while you may think lots of things are great—as I do—time is the only lord of true greatness.

Ha, that sounds pretentious as hell!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Samuel R. Delany on maintaining a multipurpose literary mind

"To assume that 'putting all your talent into the service of a single idea' necessarily involves something fundamentally different from concentrating on the precision, energy, and ekphrastic force of the single sentence is to commit one of those logical slips Orwell described so well in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” the one he calls “operators” or “verbal false limbs,” assuming there are differences and oppositions where there are really developments and continuities."
-- Samuel R. Delany, The Art of Fiction No. 210 [Paris Review Interview by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah]

APB interview with Trent Zelazny, pt 4: Present and Future

What are you working on now? 

Finishing edits and so forth on my newest novel, Voiceless, which is scheduled for release from Evil Jester Press in May 2014.  Also a bit over a hundred pages into a novel tentatively titled Trust Me.

What can you tell us about Voiceless and Trust Me?

The best way to describe Voiceless is a crime drama, heavier on the drama than crime, I think.  To me, at its core, it’s a story about relationships and inner strength.  Of course there’s death and other tomfoolery as well.

Trust Me, which likely will not be the final title, is a fast-paced thriller, again about relationships, though this time more focused on parent/child relationships.  It moves fast.  Maybe too fast at times.  Guess we’ll see.

Despite negative experiences, what motivates you to keep writing screenplays?

The format.  I enjoy writing in many different formats, prose, stage, screen, comic.  I’ve written in all of those and sometimes a story will only allow itself to come out in another format.  At least initially.  And there’s also the “You never know” aspect of it, though I learned a long time ago to never get your hopes up.

Do you pay attention to the direction your writing is going and try to veer?  Or do you groove on your own style?

I tend to groove on my own style, but that doesn’t mean I never try to veer, or that I never get stuck.  I’m a character writer far more than I am a plot writer, which sometimes makes it easy and sometimes makes it, if I’m not careful… well, boring.  My characters usually know what to do, whether they are being smart or foolish.  But sometimes it takes a while to coax something out of them.  Sometimes they just don’t feel like playing, in which case I think on it, meditate on it, as it were, or try kicking them in the ass or throwing something at them to get them to freaking move.

What don't interviewers ask you about your writing that they should ask?

This is one of the best questions I’ve been asked, and one of the hardest to answer.

Why aren’t your books selling gazillions of copies?

Just kidding.  I don’t really think there’s anything they should ask, but I definitely prefer interviews when we can talk more about me and less about my father.  Maybe that’s a bit egotistical, and I don’t mind it coming up because it’s true.  I’m Roger Zelazny’s son.  But I’ve had that shadow forever, even though I typically write in another genre.  It’s gotten much better, though, and I’m guessing it’s because I’m getting better, or I at least like to think that.  But dealing with it for so long, while I’m comfortable with it, there can be times when even the most harmless little joke can be a bit offensive, though that’s really my issue.

Why aren’t your books selling gazillions of copies?

I’m sure there are many reasons.  Maybe gazillions.  If it was one or two problems, and they were fixable, I would put an awful lot of time and effort into fixing them.

Have you considered writing a memoir?  or Have you been inspired by any particular memoir.

I've often considered writing a memoir. Many times. It's something to add to my bucket list, I guess. Yes, I would very much like to.

Off the top of my head I can think of two rather different memoirs that really inspired me. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, and Life Is So Good by George Dawson. One is very much observational and quite heartbreaking. While the other has its down moments, for sure, I see it as an amazing piece of feel-good inspiration.  Both are tremendous examples of how anyone can do anything, if they want to, or if they need to. We have more power than we believe.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Samuel R. Delany on true influence

"When such books influence you... it’s what you imagine they do that they don’t do that you yourself then try to effect in your own work[.  T]he... things they might have accomplished expands your own palette of aesthetic possibilities in the ways that... will be your offering on the altar of originality.."
-- Samuel R. Delany, The Art of Fiction No. 210 [Paris Review Interview by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah]

Saturday, August 10, 2013

5 hours left to get Ray Bradbury ebooks for 1.99

5 hours left to get Ray Bradbury for 1.99

Samuel Delany on the power of writing about cities

"I grew up in Harlem, a block away from what was then.... [s]omething like ten thousand people lived in one city block.... The strong interactions only come into play when the particles [or people] are extremely close.... Those are the interactions readers want to see in novels. At the same time, paradoxically, cities can be dreadfully isolating places."
-- Samuel R. Delany, The Art of Fiction No. 210 [Paris Review Interview by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah]

Review: Who Killed Palomino Molero? by Mario Vargas Llosa

Palomino Molero [a name that means male palomino horse and miller--or possibly one who grinds (gets ground up?)], a young man who didn't have to enlist, enlists.  But he goes AWOL.  Later, he croon a woman Talara Air Force Base in  Peru although who he's crooning is a mystery, except to those who viciously killed him and most of the Air Base itself, which is out of the jurisdiction of the two detectives on the case:  Lieutenant Silva and Officer Lituma.  The colonel isn't cooperating and Silva suspects the colonel is involved somehow--perhaps involving his own out-of-control daughter.

Silva and Lituma cast their nets wider and come up with a drunken pilot who is slowly coming around to giving information when the MP pick him up and escort him away.

Many great Latin American moments shine through the text  which many outside their culture might miss:
"Lituma got up quickly and followed [Silva] out, forgetting to bid Doña Lupe farewell."
This is a breach of etiquette that glimpses Lituma's mental state.  Often, I walk into an office and must remind myself to greet everyone.  If I forget--the American way is to get business taken care of--my reception is greeted a little icily.  Therefore, Lituma is very preoccupied to have done so.

The novel treats love--what is it and what would you do to get it?--as well as trying to get work done in the midst of government corruption.  Even our heroes get involved in their corruption where the themes collide (Silva is in love with an older, married woman and invites Lituma to see why Silva's in love with her):
" 'My little Chubby belongs to a superior race of women:  those who don't wear panties.  Think of all the advantages....'
" Lieutenant Silva passed him the binoculars, but no matter how much he squinted,  he didn't really see to much.  Doña Adriana bathed right at the edge of the water."
This serves as a metaphor for the differences between the two men:  Silva can see the strength and desirability in this stout, older woman.  Lituma cannot.  Silva can also read between the lines in people's testimonies and get what he needs from them.  Silva is Sherlock Holmes; Lituma, the impressed if befuddled Watson.

Of course, they get caught:
" 'And what else?' said the girl, standing behind them.... 'You're not only pigs, but you abuse authority, too.  You call yourselves policemen?  You're even worse than people say you are."
Silva's reply is a genius lie, and unfortunately, too often occurs among those for whom lying is easy, even when you're clearly caught (something you hear a lot as a teacher):
"It's dangerous to surprise the police when they're involved in their work, [M]iss.  Suppose I turned around shooting?...  This point is a natural lookout.   We use it to keep track of boats bringing in contraband from Ecuador....  Besides,[M]iss..., insults from you are like roses to a gentleman."
Clearly, the book has not only a strong plot but also a strong character dynamic which helps if you are familiar with the culture.  It's a page-turner that also provokes thought and makes you squirm.  Worth checking out.

Friday, August 9, 2013

“[A] great story... return[s] to real life with a heightened sensitivity to its limitations and imperfections.”
-- Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa

Interesting if discursive meditations on the art of writing.

Charles Oberndorf links

  • Awards and Honors:
    --Two novels nominated for the Locus award [Sheltered Lives and Testing]
    --One long-listed for the Tiptree [Foragers]
    --Story in David Hartwell's and Kathryn Cramer's Year's Best 15 ["Another Life"]
  • SF-Encyclopedia entry
  • blog (rarely updated)
  • On art in Cuyahoga County (video, interesting if overly dramatic, distracting, unnecessary music and hand-held filming--better if you could mute the music and just listen)
  • Interview
  • Essay on Roberto Bolano

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Free ebook -- David Farland

A Rarefied View At Dawn by David Farland 
“What is the origin... of the literary vocation, for inventing beings and stories?  [R]ebellion.  [Writers] demonstrate indirectly their rejection and criticism of life as it is... and manifest their desire to substitute for it the creations of their imagination and dreams.” 
 -- Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa

Interesting if discursive meditations on the art of writing.

Review: Butterfly Potion by Trent Zelazny

Butterfly Potion stakes out similar territory as A Crack in Melancholy Time and Fractal Despondency (reviewed here).

"This particular day was sunny but there was an awful chill, and not a damn thing Perry could do about it."

Perry's not only lost his girlfriend but also everything he owned after a mugging he can't remember well due to his drinking himself into stupor the night before (a habit he's gotten into).  He's left with forty-five cents and Talia, a woman who's taken a liking to him.

Perry picks a fight with a friend before Perry encounters his muggers and must recover some of his stolen manhood.  Yet, even so, he struggles with his guilt, fleeing police patrol cars, as if he were the criminal.  Or is he?

The style, vision and writing here--at times reminiscent to Hemingway's Gatling-gun staccato--are superior to A Crack in Melancholy Time and Fractal Despondency.  It has the same visceral appeal that helped spur Zelazny's cult following. However, the narrative pulse has been stronger:  When Zelazny combines the improved style  with such darker suspense and tightly wound plots like To Sleep Gently, he will rake in the accolades.  Zelazny's upward climb continues....  

Another good quote:
"He turned his jacket collar up and huddled into himself.  The breeze was light but glacial.  The sunbeams and shadows made illusioned pockmarks on the sidewalk and street.  The cottonwood trees were all but dead.  He wished he had a heavier jacket.  He wished he had a lot of things, but... he walked.  He was heading into town.  He had forty-five cents in his pocket, which was enough to buy him nothing, and that was fine.  What he wanted was nothing."