March, 2005

This appeals to my grammar geek funnybone. Alien loves Predator isn’t always good so I fail to check it regularly, but occasionally it makes me guffaw, which is more than I can say for 95% of the webcomics people tell me to read.

I’ve been offline a couple of days, traveling, but I’m back. Happy Easter to all of you, and a real entry (if you consider the book reviews to be real entries, anyway) is coming up soon. Enjoy the silence while you can.

Continue reading

In: links | Tags:

So I went back and tried to dig up some more Bear stories. And I succeeded. I still think “One Eyed Jack and The Suicide King” and “This Tragic Glass” are the top of that heap, but I’ll go over the rest just to be thorough. Some of these are on her own site, and some of them are in online magazines. It would be interesting to know the order in which she wrote them. I’ll list them in the order of the copyright statement (and alphabetically underneath that) but of course that’s not a good indicator of when the pieces were written, as some that have been recently published may have been floating around in various submission piles for a while, and I’m pretty sure the copyright statements on her own site refer to when she threw them up there, not when they were written. This time fuzziness presents me with some uncertainty as to whether I dislike mostly her earlier stuff, or I dislike certain veins of her writing, or simply that some of her stories didn’t work for me. Oops, I guess that tells you before I even get good and started that I didn’t like everything I read.

  • The Banana Bread Poem” : Now I’ve done plenty of complaining about how much I hate my own poetry here. But see, now I have to face up to the fact that it’s not just my poems I hate. It’s everyone’s. There are people who get a pass in this category : Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Ruben Dario, and…hmmm, I’m sure there’s English language poets (or for that matter, women poets) whom I give a pass to, but none come to mind at the moment. At any rate, by and large I not only hate my own poetry, I don’t think much of anyone else’s either. I don’t think it’s an axe I’m grinding, or a peeve, or a prejudice, but maybe it is. I can say I didn’t hate this poem, but I didn’t love it either. Meh. It had moments – glimmerings – but it was way, way, way, too long. The line “Food is love” was too obvious, and as an attempt for effect she repeated it a bunch of times which near had me screaming, “Stop! I get it.” Still, a gem or two there, like this :

    “Fifty years, and three generations
    spot these pages like the backs of her hands,
    like the rinds of outworn fruit.”
    Nice, huh? It’s dated 1996, so it may be among the oldest things she has publicly available. Why is it that everyone thinks they can write poems? Why is that where people start? Is that something that comes from elementary school? I don’t mind if people express themselves, but most poetry is just drivel. Emotional sneezes, pages of green snot and phrases covered in germs. You wouldn’t show me your hanky after you’d done that to it. Why your words? I understand the desire to expel that stuff and I definitely indulge in purging myself the same way. That doesn’t make it less ugh, though. Ok, sorry, that turned into a kind of side rant not completely related to the poem itself. The poem itself : Meh. A few moments, lots of blather. Moving on.
  • The Dying of The Light“: Right, so this was a poem also, but I liked it considerably less than I liked “The Banana Bread Poem”. I give it a wholly indifferent shrug. I’m somewhat intrigued by the fact that it was a collaboration (as I always am) but it reads like two poems interlaced instead of a unit constructed together, so…ehhh, I’m not impressed.
  • The Company of Four“: Now, we’re talking. Back to stories, yay. Her notes indicate that this is one of her older pieces. I liked it. She made mention of it being written in present tense, and usually I’m not at all bothered by that, but since she mentioned it I kept kind of focusing on that and at the end I was wondering, like she did, why she had written in present tense. What did she think that was accomplishing? How did that help? I suppose it was trying to draw on the sense of never-endingness, of cycle, and of immediacy that the story was trying to speak to. I don’t think she needed it. Which made me reflect on my own stuff. I did a lot of present tense writing once upon a time. Not as much now, but I did it because I thought I was bringing a sort of immediacy to the work when I used present tense. I did so with deliberation, and it bugged the crap out of me that one of my writing professors always complained about my use of present tense. He complained about all kinds of things in my writing, primarily because I didn’t (and don’t) write like Hemingway, whom I hate, and he loved. So I disregarded out of hand most of what he told me, but it occurs to me that he may have been right about this present tense thing. I’m glad I can see that now. Right, this isn’t at all supposed to be about me, so let me get back to the story. It was good and it was engaging. If it had not been hers, in fact, I probably would have liked it better than I did but I already had the advantage of having read some of her really great stuff, so this suffered from being less polished and more beginnerly. It was no comparison to “The Tragic Glass” and “One Eyed Jack” which I loved, but the seeds are there. It is the same hand, though less practiced. She’s particularly good at plot, and that shows here. I liked her handling of names and the mystery of naming in this one as well. That’s well-covered ground and hard to tread with originality and interest, but she manages. There were elves, and I usually hate that, but I didn’t mind so much in this case. If you can win me over like that in a subject I usually reject out of hand then you’re doing something right.
  • The Devil You Don’t“: This was a solid story. The landscape was vivid and convincing, as were most of the characters. There was good tension. Some of the main character’s motivations are not as evident as I would have liked. The narrator arms herself early on in the story and dresses up in men’s clothes, but you’re not sure with what purpose in mind (though you’re in her mind, so it’s annoying that you aren’t shown the motivation). Perhaps Bear was aiming for extra tension but the uncertainty confuses, especially when nothing much happens as a result. I liked the way she weaved familiarity with threat – is the new arrival someone she knows or just someone whose motivations she recognizes? If it’s someone she knows, has he come to punish her or relieve her of the guilt she carries, and are these the same thing? Is he on her side? And what side would that be? All that interplay was superbly executed. The voice of the narrator was especially strong, and she gave her lead character some really great lines. Some of Bear’s sentences are a little heavy-handed : “He frowned–no, sneered at the world with lips that betrayed a certain sensuality, arrogance, and old pain.” and “His spurs made a little sound as he walked, reminding me of the sound made by a rattlesnake, or dried leaves blowing across stone.” Still, even the overwritten sentences are lyrical to some degree. I was pleased when one of the other pieces starred the same character as this one. In fact, this story and “Ice” work better if read together than either one does on its own, although there’s some repetition that becomes unnecessary, but I suppose that can’t be helped. There’s also a lovely contrast of landscapes between the two stories that adds a dimension to the character that otherwise isn’t explicit.
  • Ice“: Another great story. I’ll have to admit to some scarcity of knowledge of Norse myth that interfered with what I could take in on this one. I know who Loki is and all that, but I was a little lost on the hierarchy of heaven’s warriors. I gather that the protagonist is some kind of holy footsoldier, and not a full on valkyrie, but not much beyond that. I also wasn’t sure on the mechanics of the Light/not Light business, but I was willing to take what I was told at face value and roll with it. I’m generally a reasonably good suspender of disbelief that way. I like the way this story was just one person’s view of a huge cataclysmic event, and I really liked the author’s choices on the circumstances which allowed the narrator to survive. Great opening line. I’ve been looking at that a lot, great opening lines, because I so rarely have them.
  • The Chains That You Refuse“: This wasn’t one I liked. It was alright, I don’t mean to imply that it was dreadful or anything, but I didn’t like the ending. It came off a little too rainbowy for me. There were, perhaps, things I didn’t catch about the story, but I don’t have the interest level to give it a second reading. I’m not the most astute of readers and things sometimes slip past me or go over my head, but neither am I particularly slow. I figure I must have missed something because if I didn’t there’s nothing much there. While it’s true that authors should not have to dumb down for the sake of readers, it’s also true that if you want to reach a wide audience you have to speak to that wide audience and a substantial number of us are going to peg right on average for comprehension skills. It wasn’t a problem with the use of second person either. The story was just a little too, I don’t know, melodramatic, I guess. I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • Old Leatherwings“: This was probably the best of the lot. I think it’s just behind the favorites I reviewed earlier. Unlike “Chains” this one had a fantastic ending. Just great. And it seemed to have humor alongside its dose of drama, which in my opinion makes it more realistic. I loved all the characters in it. I loved the fairy tale twist, and the setting right of the things gone wrong for too long. It was eloquently written too, wonderful phrases like the wry “Maybe my hogs will butcher and smoke their own selves come fall.” and “A white tree thrust between the tumbled granite blocks of his rude shelter, an accusing finger pointed at the sky.” It was a delightful read and I can easily recommend it.

So that, in summary, is what I think of various and sundry of Elizabeth Bear‘s works. I checked my local bookstore for a used copy of Hammered but no luck, alas.

iTunes says I was listening to Satellite by BT when I posted this. I have it rated 4 stars.

Continue reading

There’s been a lot going on in the writing front, which is when I’m least likely to take the time to compose one of my writing about writing posts. Thus the result is often that I relay what I’m thinking about when I’m stuck but remain silent when things are going along less roughly, so that I fear my writing entries tend to be more negative than an objective review of my progress would show. This positive post will also hopefully serve as something to look fondly upon this next week, when Sophia is home on Spring Break and when writing time will be exceedingly hard to come by.

Yonder Wicket Gate, Yonder Shining Light stands at a little over forty thousand words as of Friday (42074, according to wc). That’s not a lot of words, necessarily, so I’m not going to start bragging about how well I’ve done, but it’s not nothing either. It may be half the novel. According to this entry, I first started working on the novel November 30, which was about 15 weeks ago. So that’s, what, ten thousand words a month or so? Ehhh. If the novel ends up being a hundred thousand or so words, which is kind of what I expect, and I can keep up the current pace it should take me about ten months, so I should be done before the end of the year. That would be excellent. Additionally, I have the entire novel outlined now. Well, I wouldn’t really call it an outline so much as a list of scenes that must happen. There may be other scenes, but the ones on the list are the ones I need to have, at minimum. Also included in this is a listing of scenes that have already happened, in which I discovered – much to my amazement – that the novel I thought was just interminably slow and endless scenes of exposition with no plot and boredom heaped upon a lack of tension spiced with nothing happening actually has quite a lot going on and even some white-knuckled moments. That, of course, is very pleasing.

Other rocketing good news : I finally submitted the first part of Yonder Wicket Gate, Yonder Shining Light to the crew at Viable Paradise. This was the impetus for the outline, actually. I normally write blind, so to speak, but I realize now that twenty thousand or thirty thousand words in is a good time for me to outline, and will probably try to do it that way in the future. It does not, as I feared, take away from the mystery of what’s going to happen. There’s still plenty of wiggle room. Instead, it just helps me make sure I don’t forget the things I know are going to happen. Since outlining includes writing up the scenes I’ve already done, it also reminds me of stuff and crystallizes the whole story in my head in a way a simple re-read doesn’t. However, this took me the better part of a dedicated day to do, and I do have to wonder how people write synopses and outlines as proposals for things they haven’t even started on. I mean it’s perfectly alright for me to diverge from an outline that I made and no one else will see, but if an editor expects a certain ending and the story ends a different way, what happens then? I suppose I’ll figure it out when I’m called upon to do it. At any rate, I do see the value of outlining when I’ve already set down a chunk of the novel, and I wonder if my lack of scene listings has caused me to lose focus and give up on things in the past. So if nothing else, I got that useful mechanics tidbit out of having to submit an outline with my prose to VP.

The folks at VP have written me email to say they’ve received my submission and are reviewing it. Of course, I’m on pins and needles about this, and way more invested in it than I should be. I’ve successfully set myself up for a no-win (if they accept me I have to come up with a thousand dollars to go, if they reject me then my stuff is not even good enough to be workshopped, much less published! Oh, the anguish.) So all in all, I’m just trying to put it out of my mind. It took me forever to prep the piece for submission. Kurt is convinced I’m using the wrong tool for formatting (I’m using groff). Still, the practice was worth it, it’s the first time I’ve had to prep and print something to send off. Even going to the post office was pretty exciting, but I imagine that will wear off.

In response to my unease about not having enough material for discards or unworthy stories, I’ve decided to comb through some of my older stuff and polish anything with promise to see if I can’t put a few things from the wayback into my repertoire of candidates for submission. This has led me back to two things : Tatiana and her friends, which I’m sure has no place in the market since everyone is probably tired of reading about vampires, and also back to Cualcotel, a story that I think there’s some real hope for, in a world that I find really interesting. So I’ve adopted Cualcotel as my big editing project, and the one I’m reading at my writer’s group for the foreseeable future. I’ve gotten some good critiques on the opening, and know of lots of places where the language needs to be tightened. I’ve even picked a couple of names for some of the characters that went unnamed for fifty thousand words! I’ve got real hope that when I’m done with a read through it will be manuscripty instead of first drafty. I love this little story, and I really want it to work. Can you imagine getting to the end of the year with two finished novels? That would be sooooooooo cool.

As a secondary response to my unease with the amount of stuff I have available for submission, I’ve decided that I’m going to try producing more short stories. I have noticed that there are moments when I’m just stuck on the novel, and I’ve realized that it isn’t against the rules if I work on something else simultaneously. I had previously thought that I’d need to just work on one thing at a time, sticking with it until I’m finished with it, but having started a novel has put me in the unpleasant position of working on the same thing for months and months at a time. Why did I think I wouldn’t need a break from that? Right, doesn’t make sense. So my friend Shas sent me to this martial arts guy’s blog. Steven Barnes is some kind judo/karate/yoga practicing writer. He puts the ninja into his writing, I guess. At first I was a little put off by everything about the man and his approach. The guy’s writing advice is a little rigid and – well, militaristic. He calls it his Year-Long Writing Program. The way it works is you follow his instructions for a year and then boom, you have as many black belts as he does. (Kidding, actually his promise is that you’ll be a published writer within the year). Then there’s all this yawntastic stuff about the Hero’s Journey (there’s more than just the one tale, ok?) and mumbo jumbo about using Chakras to write. He tosses out chewy cliches like “the meaning of a story is found in its ending“. And there’s that just keep at it and you will succeed stuff I find so annoying (despite needing to hear it from time to time). It was a little too infomercial and a little too gung-ho. But then I mulled over some of the things he said. That’s me, I’m a muller. I turn and turn and turn things over in my mind. In particular, he suggested an exercise for opening up the well of ideas. Now I’m not open to hopping on board with the year-long program necessarily, but I can give up 30 minutes for an exercise. So the gist of it is this : You sit down with a pen and plenty of paper and for half an hour you don’t move from that spot and you write every single idea that pops into your head down. He recommends trying to get a hundred ideas down, which is about 18 seconds per. So I tried it. And I came no where near getting a hundred ideas. I got about thirty four. So it takes me practically an entire minute to write down an idea for a story. But you know what? When I was done I had thirty four ideas for stories that I didn’t have (or didn’t know I had) when I started. And I had them somewhere other than floating on my back brain. I had them written down. Now I know this will probably have seemed like something obvious to do, but the truth is it hadn’t and wouldn’t have occurred to me. So now when I’m stuck on the novel I can just pick one of the ideas I wrote down and start writing on it. In a month or two, I can do the exercise again and see what else floats to the top. Because a bunch of these ideas are the total suck, but hey, not all of them have to be good, there just have to be enough good ones to keep me busy. And there are enough there, believe me. I had a problem while doing the exercise that kept me returning to like the first four or so ideas I’d written down, desperate to flesh them out. I think I might have worked along faster if I were better at letting go.

The other piece I’m going to try and take away from Barnes’ advice is the writing/submitting cycle. He says to write a story a week (or every two weeks, depending how long it takes you to write a story). And then on the third week (or whenever you get to the third story) you polish and re-edit the first story and mail it out that week. Now for me it may take longer to get through the first three stories because I’m also working on the novel, and it may be that three weeks is too quick for me to try my hand at edits and polishing. However, I like the idea of a fixed cycle, and of having a schedule on which to go back to the first story for edits and submission.

So this week, in addition to doing some words (admittedly not many) on YWGYSL, I wrote a new short story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a title, yet. But hey, new story! I kind of cheated, because I went back to the place where I’d written the only other story I’ve liked recently (“Ennui”). Still, maybe I’m just going with what works instead of being a retread and also yay, shiny, new, finished story. That’s gotta count for something.

One more thing before I close up here. I’ve been looking more closely at my writing, and I’ve noticed a stylistic quirk I have, which is that frequently my characters in monologue ask questions. They think in questions. Often these questions have no answer. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is, and I can’t think offhand of another writer that does this the way I do. If no one else does it, it’s almost certainly a bad thing. I discussed this with Kurt, and he says Stephen King does this with characters sometimes. I’ll have to wait on critiques and reviews, I suppose, before I know whether this is one of those things I’m going to have to unlearn or not. That could be a while. I hope I didn’t just make myself too self-conscious about that particular writing oddity. However, it’s not just a way I’m writing. It’s part of how my brain works too, because almost half my story “ideas” from the Barnes exercise are questions, such as “how does he react?” and “how do they touch?” and “what goes to the moon?” The blog, too, is full of unanswered questions. So is it genuine, a part of my voice, or is it just a weird, bad habit? Is it going to bug readers the way Kiernan‘s unspaced adjectives bugged me? The way some people can’t stand stories in present tense or in the second person?

Continue reading

You might think my getting around to my February Progress Report by mid-March is late, but my former boss can tell you I’ve always been bad about monthly reports, and a couple of weeks late is actually pretty prompt for me. Not that I’m not going to try and get these things done in the first week of the month from now on, I’m just saying.

To review, my resolutions are here and how I did in January is recorded here. I’m going to break this down into categories from now on, in an attempt to be more concise and not have to re-explain every month. The categories will be : writing, blogging, reviewing more of what I read, losing weight, walking Sergei, exercising, learning a new craft or hobby, simplifying my life, submitting for publication, listening for the voice of God.

Ten different resolutions! What was I thinking?

  • Writing – I’m still working on the novel YWGYSL. I gave “Loyal Companion” a reworking, but I’m still not pleased with it. I looked at “Egghead Kingdom” and started making cuts, but didn’t finish. There were a couple of poems written (terrible, as usual). As an experiment, I wrote part of “Loyal Companion” from a different point of view, hoping to clarify some things that way. I’m going to have another go at that story at some point. Other writings include three-quarters of an essay on a religious topic, but I’m not happy with it, and I’m letting it sit for a bit before I go back to it. February had 21 writing days, though Sophia was off for three of them, so that makes 18. My word count total for the month should have been 18,000 words, but alas, was only a pathetic, measly, pitiful 13,157. That’s very close to what I wrote in January, but in February this is a shortfall of only 4843 words, which is better than the over six thousand words I was short in January. I’m still hoping to do better this month.
  • Blogging – I surpassed myself here. February is a victory month in the blogging arena. I blogged at least three times every week (except the first week) and towards the end of the month I blogged five or six times a week. Strangely, I’m still massively behind in the things I’d like to blog about. I find that I almost always have more to blog about than time (or energy) with which to blog. I wonder if maybe some of these topics that I think I ought to blog on might be better suited to different incarnations, instead. Maybe essays. I don’t know. It’s also possible that this resolution may be left by the wayside due to my new internet time strictures. On the other hand, since I mostly blog in ecto and not in a browser window, I may decide blogging doesn’t count against internet vs. reading time allotments. I’m not sure yet.
  • Reviewing – This went well, especially given the feedback that I got from my reviews. Two notes from authors. Very cool. I again reviewed three books, but unlike January, they were all anthologies, which take quite a bit more work to review, in my opinion. I like reading (and reviewing) anthologies, and hope to keep at it. As an impetus to read more overall, which this is obliquely meant to be, it’s working well. If I do three books a month, I will have reviewed 36 books this year. That would rock.
  • Losing Weight – Good news here at last. I lost somewhere between 2 and 3 pounds in February. It’s hard to say which because my weight fluctuates kind of wildly. I think this is a fairly common thing for women. I have to weigh myself every day in order to see which way I’m trending. If I just hop on the scale once a week I’ll never get a good picture of what my actual weight is and whether it’s going up or down. I’m still a long way off the goal, but I have all year to do it, and am a lot less panicked now that I’m actually moving down along the scale instead of remaining more or less static (as was the case in January).
  • Walking Sergei – I didn’t do so well here. Most weeks I didn’t walk him more than once. He still got exercised, because for several days each week Sophia and I played outside in the yard and a neighboring dog came over and romped with Sergei. However, the purpose of walking him is twofold : one part is to get him a work out, but the other part is to get me one. Going to have to do better on this.
  • Exercising – I did my mini-yoga routine at least twice a week, but on no week did I do it the three times I intended to. I find I’m often skipping it on Wednesdays (after writing group) for the extra 10 minutes I can get of sleep. Two times may have to do it, and will seem less pathetic when I get a regular yoga session once a week as well as the two minis and do better about walking Sergei.
  • Learning a New Craft – A big nothing here, though I am messing around with planting an herb garden, which is a new thing for me. I’m usually a plant killer.
  • Simplifying my Life – I’m unsatisfied in this regard. I’m consistently unable to get our grocery bills where I want them to be. Expenses keep cropping up where I don’t expect them. Worse than that, I find myself often in the mindset of postponing purchases, and longing for the time when we won’t have such a financial squeeze so that I can buy some things. Stupid things : jeans for Kurt, a new lunch box for Sophia, a couple of books. Nothing is getting bought right now unless it is absolutely necessary (and sometimes not even then). That’s not living simply. I want to do without for the sake of having things be less complicated and being less consumption oriented, not just as a stopgap until our house sells. If there was some choice in the matter, where I could prioritize or elect which things I’m giving up and which things I’m going to go ahead and indulge in that might help, but as it is the answer to every potential purchase is no. I need to have a better mindset about this. I want to arrive at a point where I have less attachment to things and less desire for things. Huh. That sounded a little Buddhist, didn’t it?
  • Submitting for Publication – Nothing here either. I guess the bottom of this list gets less attention than the top. There’s only so much one person can do, right?
  • Listening for the Voice of God – I’m listening. Was that You saying all that Buddhist stuff about not wanting material things? Just wondering. Seriously, though, I’m doing some things in this category but I’m not comfortable discussing them yet. That in itself is a whole can of worms. How I got so private about my religious positions and my spirituality when I come from a family of proselytizing evangelicals is a bit of a mystery.

It’s worth it to look back over everything I told myself I wanted to do this year once a month or so, just to remind myself of things I mean to do and remain focused on what I want to get accomplished. I bet I get around to walking Sergei tomorrow after realizing how little he got walked last month.

As a completely unrelated to anything else in this post aside : happy birthday to my brother, who had a birthday earlier this week and who apparently reads my blog. Hi! Also, I owe plenty of you folks who read faithfully email (and some who don’t as well). You’ll have noticed by now, perhaps, that I’m really not very good at email. I find that I want to give people thoughtful and lengthy emails but rarely have the energy or words left to do so. Please forgive me, and trust it doesn’t mean I don’t love you and don’t relish the mail you send me. Thanks. Good night.

Continue reading

In: in my life | Tags:

I’ve been turning over in my mind something from one of Merrie Haskell‘s recent entries on writing, and it is this : “1) Internet (after work) shall not exceed reading. Reading shall exceed internet, in fact, by a 4:1 ratio.” I spend too much time on the internet. The internet is my TV. I have no TV to cut out in order to gain more writing time, because I don’t watch any. Oh, but I spend plenty of time on the internet. So that’s what’s getting fleeced next. I’m not a big ratio person, but I think I can roll with an hour of reading buying me 15 minutes of internet. I think I need an egg timer, though. Oh and btw, blogging? That counts as internet. Reading blogs and writing in blogs both count. Maybe that, if nothing else, will finally work to make my postings more concise. I’d actually be happy enough with a 2:1 ratio, but why not set my goals higher? This means that despite all the new blogs I’ve found that I want to read, I’m not going to add anything to my regular list right now. I’m also going to be ruthless about giving people the hatchet or not fully reading their posts if they meander too much. I hope you’ll do the same for me. Neil Gaiman, of course, gets a pass no matter how far afield he wanders in his ruminations. (But you already knew that, didn’t you?)

So because I have a contrary nature, I have to immediately think of ways to defeat any rules I come up with (or borrow) to improve myself. Call it my inner hacker. In some situations, this urge might be a good quality. Like in… or when… or… confound it. Good quality or not, it’s my leopard’s spots, and it’s not changing anytime soon. And so I’ve been poking at the rule, thinking about what can be exceptions. One of the things I’ve decided to make not count against my internet time, is reading actual stories. So if I join a critique group and start reading for credits, for example, that won’t count against my 4:1 ratio (and it might even count for it, hah!). Also, reading fiction from online magazines like Strange Horizons is still reading (and also research into markets!), so it doesn’t count either.

I hadn’t realized that I’d read that many online stories until I started trying to find one in particular for this review and was stumbling through my history. Was that it? No. How about that one? No. And that one? No. So now I’ve got a good handful of stories to review, where I was really only thinking about doing one or two. Where to start?

The toss-away, I guess. “Alien Animal Encounters” by John Scalzi was amusing, quick to read, and enjoyable but of no particular depth. I imagine he tossed this one together pretty quickly. If you want a quick ten minute break story, this will probably be your ticket. It will demand nothing of you and give you chuckles in return. It will be over in just the right number of words and leave you smiling. Like a clever commercial, or a funny piece out of an earlier incarnation of The Onion. Still, I do tend to like a tad more meat on my stories, as a general rule, which is what makes this one the toss-away.

Next I’m going to talk about Elizabeth Bear. She has a new book out called Hammered that various and sundry internet people keep saying good things about, but that for some reason I’ve not been particularly excited about and hadn’t felt any urge to buy. Still, I kept hearing her name all over the place, so when I found some of her stories online, I read them. I’d be exaggerating if I said my reaction was wow, totally blown away, that was incredible. Yet without going that far, I will assert that she’s truly a gifted writer. I read five stories in all:

I listed those in the order I read them. There was about a month between my reading of the first and second stories, and about three days passed in my reading of the next four. Once I’d read “One-Eyed Jack” I was hungry enough for more to try and hunt down anything she’d written online. I do now have a keen interest in reading Hammered (but alas, no cash to indulge on new books).

“One Eyed Jack” is hands down the best of those stories, and the one I would recommend vociferously and without caveat to anyone out there looking for a great read and a taste of Bear. I relished the premise. I loved what was funny and what was serious and how these were juxtaposed. There’s some archetypes that are so played out you think they can’t be used in new ways, and then someone like Bear picks them up and breathes new life in them and makes them all sparkly again. I liked the pacing, the opening line, the characterizations. In short, I liked everything about the piece and can’t really think of a single ding against it. Go read it now, and enjoy. Tell them I sent you.

Second prize would have to go, in my opinion, to “This Tragic Glass”. Bear succeeded in making this tale riveting even though it was filled with elements that I would have thought so cheesy had someone told me about them instead of my having read them. Everything just worked perfectly within the story. It was a happy little clockwork of cohesion and coherence. I love it when every aspect of a story, no matter how disparate, just serves to pull it more decisively together. This story was so polished. Bear has an undeniable gift for language. I could have used just a smidgen less bludgeoning on how touch averse one of the primary characters was, but other than that it was a wondrous, magical tale. She also very deftly managed a largeish ensemble (for a short story) of characters here. I knew who everyone was: they were all necessary to the plot, and quite easily distinguishable.

We go a little downhill from here but I want to make clear that downhill for Bear is more like a small slope. “Two Dreams on Trains” and “Follow Me Light” are both fine stories that would be well worth the time it takes to read them, they just didn’t have quite the luster of the other two. “Botticelli” is fanfic and I found it fine and even clever in parts but not as meaningful as some of the other stuff. In particular the worlds in all the stories (except “Botticelli” which obviously takes place in a pre-established world) are expertly crafted. Even when the characters are not as convincingly drawn as I might like, the worlds are. I guess that both “Two Dreams on Trains” and “Follow Me Light” left me a bit unsatisfied because at the end of them I still had questions about the world. There were things I wanted to know that I couldn’t let go of just because she’d stopped, if you know what I mean. And even though I’d gladly have read more of the worlds in “One Eyed Jack” and “This Tragic Glass” the story resolution was enough to satisfy me in both cases, so I wasn’t hung up on little unexplained details about the world.

In short, Bear’s a genuine talent, and someone to watch for. If you find stories of hers online that I’ve missed, be sure and point them out to me.

And lastly, I’m going to review another Joe Hill story. I visited his site after he’d left a comment, and discovered that he has a pdf of one of his stories available for download. It says something about being available for active members of the HWA yadda yadda which I’m clearly not, but heck, I couldn’t resist it, especially not after seeing the spooky artwork for it. It’s apparently been nominated for some kind of award, and I can easily see why. “The Black Phone” is one of those white-knuckled grip reads. You just cannot put it down. Of course, at the end you realize the horror of it all was mostly your own imaginings of all the terrible things that you were so sure must happen (not that terrible things don’t happen because duh, it’s horror, only what you think is always so much worse than what is and this story illustrates that really well). Great closing line too, and I won’t say anything else because I don’t want to spoiler a really prickly, gooseflesh inducing read. Good pacing, lots of tension, great visual imagery. Go on, you know you want to read it.

Continue reading

12 Mar 2005, by

As it turns out

Right. So as it turns out, I was (and still am) sick. Yesterday I was not only cold – freezing, layers of clothes and blankets and heater did nothing to help – but came down with pounding head, achy joints and a sore throat. I almost never have headaches, so the presence of one is a good, solid sign that I’m for real sick. If this entry is somewhat rambling and nonsensical, you can blame my illness, or the medicine I took to supress some of the symptoms, or just dispense with the blaming and skip to the next post.

Moving on. So, I’m encouraged to continue my work on reviewing books, especially anthologies, by the fact that another author has contacted me, thanking me for my thumbs up on his story (“20th Century Ghost” by Joe Hill from The Mammoth Book of New Horror Volume 14, which I reviewed here. Summary : I liked it very much.) Again there was that eerie “Oh, this is a pane of glass, not a one-way mirror” feeling to getting feedback from someone who wrote a story I read and then read the rather direct and unvarnished opinions I wrote about it. I won’t begin to panic, though, unless I get comments from Shirley Jackson or John Bunyan. I don’t know why I wouldn’t expect authors to regularly ego surf and find out what people are saying about them and/or their works. After all, I do read author John Scalzi’s blog, so I should know all about hunting for reviews but it still surprises me that I get found that way.

Speaking of Bunyan, I finally finished Pilgrim’s Progress today. I needed to read it, but man that was a lot less like pleasure reading and a lot more like work reading than I wanted it to be. It held me up on some of my other reading, but maybe I’ll be able to catch up some now, because I was determined to see it through to the end without getting distracted by other, more fun, books. The good thing about being sick like this, however, is the freedom to read. I’m not good for much else at the moment, and I can drift between naps and books without recrimination or reproach. I’m halfway through Bradbury’s The Cat’s Pajamas, which I started today, and though I find myself sometimes taking a critical eye to some of the stories, he’s still so delightful to read, so skilled, and there’s so much more here that’s wonderful and fabulous than what’s tiresome or broken. And if I read the intro right, these are some of his rejects! Stuff dug up out of his basement, discarded and half-forgotten! If only my rejects were as good (not that I have any, yet, but you know what I mean).

Ok, so I was going to review some really excellent online stories I’ve read recently, and that’s where this post was going, but I’m tired and would rather be reading than writing, so I guess you’ll have to wait on that. And with that teaser, goodbye and goodnight.

Continue reading

In: in my life | Tags:

I’m tired. Writing group, while both worthwhile and entertatining, takes a lot out of me. I’m not a night owl, so staying out so late that night makes me useless for writing (and most everything else) the next day. I’m not sure whether I’m going to get habituated enough to be able to write something useful on Wednesdays, or whether I just need to give that one day up as lost and try to get the time somewhere else in the week (the weekend would probably be the only possible place for that).

I’m troubled, too, though not by anything personal. This whole business with Giuliana Sgrena has me quite upset. Ever since I heard the description of the tape that was released when she was still held hostage (I haven’t seen the tape, of course, because as I have mentioned before, I don’t get moving images with my news) of her clutching her knees and saying her mental health was bad as well as her physical health, I have been thinking about her and praying for her. I know that she’s not anywhere near the only journalist taken hostage and all that but something about her story spoke to me, and so I’ve been thinking about her a lot, even before American troops tried to kill her when it had finally seemed she was free. So when I heard about the roadblock and the shooting this past weekend, and learned of the secret service man who died by literally covering her with his own body, I was really shaken up. I told my husband that this whole thing was really upsetting me and he shrugged and said it was par for the course, no more horrifying than everything else that was going on in Iraq and the sort of mistake one had to expect when one shoved weapons into the hands of eighteen-year-olds. And maybe he’s right. But that doesn’t change that I’m affected by this story, and that I find it terrible, and that no way I turn the facts (and allegations) around satisfies me. I feel no better if it was all just a horrible mistake, nor am I satisfied if this sheds light on dozens of cases a day of this sort of thing happening to civilian Iraqis that we never heard about because they aren’t famous journalists. I’m no closer to peace if it was a plot to kill her instead of a mistake, as her Arab captors intimated to her before her release, for what she knows. If this is the sort of thing our troops are told to do on purpose then I weep. If they did it as a knee-jerk reaction to the constant peril they undergo that has led them to overdeveloped trigger-fingers then I weep. If it’s incompetence, it’s the worst kind, the kind that costs lives and reputation. If it’s engineered, then it’s an evil I can hardly set my brain around. This situation is so terrible, on every side, and I can’t believe that denying the Italian government access to the information they seek could benefit anyone, not even the soldiers who’ve been involved.

Here‘s Orcinus on Sgrena.

Here‘s some depressing stuff on the number of dead and wounded soldiers coming out of Iraq that aren’t being tallied in the official government casualty count.

It’s also too cold. I know I’m dressing warmly enough, but I’m still cold all the time. Today I caved and bumped the heat a couple of notches because I was so miserable, but our heating bills are terrible and I can’t really be doing that often (or even infrequently, to be honest). It’s not even as cold as it was in December and January but I’m still wearing a ton of clothes and freezing. I think it’s just that my body has had all the cold it can handle for one season. Either that or I’m getting sick. I don’t think it’s me, though. C’mon, it shouldn’t snow in March, right? That’s just wrong.

Another interesting read : a blogger examines one of C.S. Lewis’s pieces on hate in light of increasingly strident eliminationist rhetoric that seems to be entering the public political discourse, moving from the realm of the far right into the mainstream right, and discusses how hate controls you, not the other way around. In the same vein, here’s another fascinating essay on the cognitive dissonance and projection involved in far right jargon tactics.

Continue reading

In: in my life | Tags:

I’m not sure what to make of this.

Continue reading

Powered by WordPress