September, 2006

28 Sep 2006, by

Dream Entry # 94

References : Bachelet, Morales, da Silva, Chavez. Though only Bachelet is part of the dream.

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Low Red Moon is an enthralling tale of people backed into corners and making bad choices. Whether it be the irrevocable kiss that makes a professional relationship much more (or much less) than that or siding with murderers who may (or may not) be the lesser of two evils, everyone in this book is going the wrong way. Things go bad, reliably and (for the reader) rewardingly.

Joyfully, somewhere between Threshold and Low Red Moon Kiernan dropped the habit of mashing up adjectives, which I found distracting. Her prose, poetic and involving as ever, captures the horror and beauty of the world — often simultaneously. She is a complete mistress of mood and atmosphere. Reading her books is delightful and wrenching. I still admire the way she uses heat and light to evoke terror, the way lesser horror authors use darkness.

Low Red Moon improves upon Threshold with clarity in the sequence of events and a faster paced, more involving plot. So those people who complained of being confused by the “ambiguity” of Threshold need not be afraid of Low Red Moon. I respect that she moved toward specificity without sacrificing mystery. There were a couple of bits that confused, but I think that might have been a shortcoming of mine, as a reader. I felt like clues must have been set to tell me which of the people speaking was most unreliable, but I missed them, so I wasn’t sure who to believe. None of that was major, though.

However, there’s something that bothered me in Threshold that was a thousand times worse in Low Red Moon: the dialog. It’s not that people spoke particularly unrealistically (though I did roll my eyes a bit at the cheesiness) or out of character (though occasionally I was like zuwhaa?). No, in fact, the dialog is, if anything, too mundane to sit comfortably alongside the rest of her gorgeous writing. Whenever people talk in her books, they’re being complete assholes to one another. I’m supposed to believe this man and that woman are married, but they can’t stop bickering. I’m supposed to believe these natural enemies are going to team up against the bigger bad, but they’re confrontational, belligerent and provocative at every utterance. Not a single main character can ever say something nice to another. Minor characters who are polite or pleasant are unfailingly redshirts. There’s condescension, sarcasm, bitterness and accusations in spades, but never kindness or decency. Now, I realize everyone in the book is under a lot of stress. Belief systems are being shattered, horrible things are happening, and there’s even hormonal pregnancy craziness involved. Maybe the dialog is intended to reflect that. And maybe, once I noticed that I didn’t care for the dialog it became that thing I couldn’t ignore or look past, so that every new round of backbiting seemed worse than the last, even though – objectively – it may not have been. I don’t know. All I know is that these people seem unable to say please, thank you, I love you, I forgive you, anything like that. They’re unable to be emotionally honest with one another. They cannot confess any kind of weakness: not fear, not pain, not even that they have a raging migraine headache. Maybe the goal of all this vicious dialog is some kind of message about every person’s isolation. Maybe it was Kiernan’s way of turning up the tension (though I thought she did better with interior monologues on that score). To me, it was exaggerated to the point of caricature. I will probably read another book of hers, but I’m sensitized to the dialog thing now, so I hope her characters’ conversational mode changes in some of the later books. Additionally, I don’t recollect noticing any issues with dialog in the short stories I’ve read, so I’m encouraged by that, as well.

To sum up, I enjoyed the book, and was glad I read it. Sometimes I wished the characters would just shut up, true, but that’s no different than life, is it?

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Woken by my daughter calling me in the midst of a very involved dream, which I shall relate here. “Mama! There’s white in my window.” What…frost? It’s not that cold, is it? Oh, no. She means light.

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Merrie had recommended some podcasts about writing (and no, I’m not Elizabeth, but I can steal recommendations with the best of them), and because I already subscribe to more podcasts than I can reasonably listen to, I added some of the ones she pointed to. On Thursday, I listened to the first episode of Holly Lisle’s “On Writing” podcast. Her advice on this one is don’t start your book with weather. Amusingly, and this is probably an indicator of how limited my repertoire of beginnings is, it had never even occurred to me that one could do such. I thought over my openings. I couldn’t come up with a single one that has weather in it. I read a few, to make sure. Nope. No weather. Total absence of rain, snow, wind, clouds, sunshine. Well, I’ll be. I was doing something right and didn’t even know it. But here’s where we come to the peril of writing advice, especially when it comes to me. My Connerly woman genes dictate that if someone tells me I should not do something, I must then immediately find a way to do that forbidden thing. Start a story with weather…so tempting. Not only does Holly warn me away from such a course of action but (extra bonus plus) I’ve never done it before! Hmmm. This writing advice podcast business may not be for me.

I am doing a second (in some places third) draft of Cualcotel, have I mentioned that? I haven’t done a writing post in so long I forget what I’ve told you about. I’m still in the first quarter of the book, and I’ve discovered that I hate revision. This is part of why stuff languishes in my “to be fixed up before sending out” pile. There’s also the queasy feeling I don’t much like any of it and maybe it’s all terrible and I’m doing myself a kindness by not sending it out. If I don’t much care for it, how can I expect anyone else to? Though Gaiman said (on this very website, how cool is that?) that he doesn’t expect anyone to like everything he writes, including himself, so maybe it’s all pointless grumping on my part. Then again, he demonstrably doesn’t suck, while I…well, let’s just say I haven’t proved my not suckitude yet.

I sent “Hindsight” out again, which means I officially have something out there again. It had languished for about six months. So, that’s on its way to its sixth rejection. My goal is to get a second thing out before “Hindsight” comes back. I also already have the next market picked for “Hindsight”, which should help turnaround matters. Really, how am I ever going to get that 100 rejection party if I don’t snap to it?

The last thing I completed was a retelling of the Garden of Eden story. Snake’s point of view, of course. Yeah, I know, so done. Like the world needs another one of those. Stack of useless words. On the other hand, it’s what I had available to be written, so I wrote it, and it’s preferable to the alternative: no story and no words. I did another one of those idea generating exercises, which is kind of fun. I did actually write up some stories from the first iteration of that exercise (including the mournfully, grievously broken “Far From the Tree”) and I hadn’t done it this year, so I guess that’s useful. Spent about twenty minutes on it. About ten ideas, maybe about three or four of those usable. One that I thought was really cool.

I’ve had, lately, a lot of existential angst about my writing. Almost two years and I’m not anywhere, to speak of. I have a pile of words that I don’t know what to do with, I seem incapable of sending anything out, and my writing lacks any sort of luster, though I do try. This has led to me weighing down my friends and relatives with numerous “woe is me” discussions of my writing (sorry, guys). Thankfully, you can be spared the brunt of all that, and I can get straight to the funny parts. With one of my friends, I had this exchange :
11:41 AM me: This was better when I thought I was GREAT!
my friend: hahahaha
and hugs
11:42 AM i find your fiction to be markedly different from your conversations.
where you, in the words of admiral nelson, forget maneuvers and go right at ’em.
11:43 AM me: hmmm i’m digesting that. so my fiction is indirect?
11:45 AM my friend: i would say oblique without the payoff.
11:46 AM that the very best oblique writing can deliver.
me: i’m working on payoff! really, I am.
Then, with another friend, discussing a specific broken story:
“So of course I’m headed for the showdown so I have to put the caretaker in sooner.”
She, “Well, actually, I’m never sure which way you’re going with something. I find you often go in directions I didn’t expect.”
“Oh,” worried pause, “I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”
“No, no, no,” she assures me,”This can be a good thing.”

Right, so on my first book, the one where they excerpt reviews down to a single word because anything else would be damning, I’m having them put “oblique…” and “unexpected”. I’m sure my friends won’t mind blurbing me. Also, it appears I won’t have to turn in my internet bloggers member card, because I have managed to post a chat transcript. First memes, now chat transcripts, will my conformity never end?

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I rushed over to read Elizabeth Bear’s new story at Strange Horizons as soon as it became available. I liked it, it reminded me of “Old Leatherwings” (one of my favorites by her), probably because of its focus on setting. The chilly sea atmosphere and the loving descriptions of characters and place will take you all the way through before you realize that there’s not a whole lot of spec in this fiction (does the bargain really count?). If you like the melancholy of that Billy Joel song “Downeaster Alexa” (and I do), you’ll like this tale. Go, read, enjoy.

Now, in a complete aside, I cannot tell you how excited I am to see Bear selling fiction that’s only tangentially speculative. This is a gnawing worry for me; nothing I write has much shiny to it. Bruce Sterling would certainly deride all my stuff as “Abess Phone Home” (not that he’d ever actually read any of it, but you know what I mean). Can I take a further sidetrack here and let you know that I learned the Turkey City Lexicon term (at Viable Paradise) before I read the story which inspired this particular phrase? I was roughly two thirds of the way through the story (in The Locus Awards : Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy) last December before I said to myself “Holy cow! This is the abbess phone home story!” Sadly, I didn’t care for it, but not for its lack of sfnal elements.

Right, back to the main road. My next three reading recommendations are actually listening recommendations. They come from the ever-pleasing Escape Pod podcast. They may be available elsewhere (Escape Pod does a lot of reprints), but I heard them there and thought there was value add in the way they were read. One is Merrie Haskell’s flash piece “One Million Years B.F.E.“. I’ve listened to this at least three times, and it never fails to make me giggle. I’m sure I don’t even get all the anthro jokes, but there’s plenty to laugh for the layman. The next is “Aliens Love Oranges“. This is one of those stories that by rights should be in Stories of the New South, but they’d never take it because it’s not angsty enough and there are no references to the “War of Northern Aggression”. Catty of me, wasn’t that? I’d explain, but that would be yet another derail. Anyway, Sue Burke’s tale is sweet but has some serious meat to it, kind of like oranges do. Mur Lafferty, with her authentic but not stupid-sounding southern accent, is the perfect reader for this piece. The story is also comforting in the “tangentially speculative” way that Bear’s is, though I don’t expect that to be your reason for listening. Just listen because it’s well-written, touching and will make you smile. And last but not least, also in the very funny category, “The Uncanny Valley” by Jared Axelrod is well worth the time it takes to listen to it. I’d have cut the last line, but you know, still good.

Someone recently pointed me to Connie Willis’ Christmas story “Just Like The Ones That We Used To Know“. If you’re feeling in need of Christmas innoculation at this early date then make haste and read this engaging, well-woven story. You may want to save it for Thanksgiving, if you think that’s when your nerves will be most frayed. I especially love how deftly she handles the ensemble. I never would have believed you’d be able to have that many distinct characters in one story. But it works, so there you go.

One more thing, I usually rate the stuff I read (and like) online in Stumbleupon. Though there’s overlap between here and there, it’s not complete, so here’s my Stumbleupon page, and its feed.

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11 Sep 2006, by


Banksy rocks.

From the beeb : Artist Banksy targets Disneyland.

The brief version, for those not into the clicky clicky:

A life-size replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee has been placed in Disneyland by “guerrilla artist” Banksy.

Additionally, if you were curious about the “stencilled image, which showed a naked man hanging onto a window ledge” that locals voted to leave up, it’s viewable here.

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This is for my MDAH friends, provided any of you still read here. Imagine my shock, when catching up on blogs last night I read this Making Light entry, all about Mann’s book 1491 (which sounds like a good book, and I want to read it), and I get to this big blockquote with the following line in it : “In the view of Ramenofsky and Patricia Galloway, an anthropologist at the University of Texas, the source of the contagion was very likely not Soto’s army but its ambulatory meat locker…”

Reading that line made me see Pat’s contagious smile, her fluttering hands, her intensely interested eyes right there explaining how de Soto’s pigs had wiped out the Mississipi Valley civilizations. Wow.

I remembered that exhibit she’d worked on in the Old Capitol, with the funeral pyres. Do you remember the room with the jars of marbles? That was a simple display that elucidated holocaust and stunned me when I saw it.

She is one smart lady, and I’m glad when she turns up in places I didn’t expect to find her.

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