LumaCon 2016; Artists and a Panel

Cosplay contest, 13-18 year olds

In addition to the Cosplay contest and the dealers’ room, LumaCon offered three panels during the day. I attended one, “Comics as Literature.” I attended largely because the Eisner-award-winning author (and my friend) Brian Fies was on it, and also because it’s my topic. I think the comics form can deliver literature. We already know it can deliver compelling, nuanced, complex characters, and address serious social issues. Books like Art Spiegelman’s Maus (Nazi concentration camps) March by John Lewis andAndrew Aydin (The American Civil Rights movement) and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast, about giving care to aging parents, demonstrate that the graphic technique can cover issues as well as pure text. And even in the more traditional comic-book field, writers like Frank Miller adopt noir, writing complicated, layered stories of corruption and redemption.

Brian Fies (l) and Alexis Fajardo, badly backlit.

The Comics as Literature panel was slated to have three presenters. Two were ready to go at 1:00, when the panel started; Brian Fies and Alexis E Fajardo, who writes Kid Beowulf.

When asked about their influences, Brian mentioned Classics Illustrated, which he said he felt taught him how to read. Lex Fajardo said that he was probably the only kid in high school who enjoyed reading Beowulf. “It’s got monsters, mead, wenches,” he said. “What’s not to like?” He said that comics seem like a great way to sneak in literature.

Brian and Lex both agreed that what helped them develop as cartoonists is that they “were the kids who continued to draw.”

The moderator asked what stories made them readers. Brian talked again about Classics Illustrated (a series that does not get enough credit). He then continued with science fiction — good and bad, he didn’t care — Shakespeare and science works. He says he still reads Richard the Third regularly. Brian said one of his most powerful influences was Pogo, written and drawn by Walt Kelly.

Lex read Greek and Norse mythology, but the eye-opener for him was Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Miller’s work showed him how to introduce cinematic storytelling into a comic.

There was a third panelist, named Tom, who showed up thirty minutes late for a forty-five minute panel, and then blamed a young fan for the delay. I don’t remember Tom’s last name. He did have a couple of interesting points to make, though. He is the one who said his mother gave him the book of Treasure Island with the words, “You’ll like it; it’s the extended version.” He also said that most of his work (he draws in the Marvel Comic Universe) focuses on the “glue that hold relationships together.”

Brian said he likes stories about hard choices to make. Lex said that while he doesn’t personally believe in destiny, all his work is about it.

Lex’s independently published Kid Beowulf will be coming out from a traditional publisher, Andrews McMeel in August, 2016

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Jousting! Cosplay! Comics! LumaCon, 2016

Brian Fies and Erin Coaass, who writes The Masked One. Erin also volunteers at the Schulz Center

Do you like comic books? Love live-action role play? Do you love cosplay? Jousting? Drawing? Then LumaCon, Petaluma’s own annual youth comic convention, is for you.

LumaCon is held the fourth weekend in January, in Petaluma, and this year it took place at Luccesi Park.  The convention’s founders include the Petaluma Library, Casa Grande High School, Friends of the Library and the Charles Schulz Museum and Education Center. Copperfield’s Books is also a great partner.

The inaugural event in 2015 overflowed its venue at the fairgrounds, and this year’s space was perfect; big enough for separation for quieter events like panels and a Magic; the Gathering tournament, cozy enough to feel like you could see everything and not get lost. The majority of the action took place in the large meeting space called the Assembly. I’ll have more, and more photos, in an upcoming post.

Live Action Role Play; Whack-a-Knight

If you, or your parents, signed a liability waiver, you could try to whack a medieval knight with a foam bat. You could dress up as your favorite superhero, manga character or television character, and participate in the Cosplay parade and the contest. You could write or draw; you could meet many successful comic book artists and writers who were present, and talk to them about their work. You could hang out in the Fandoms room, which left you the space to draw/write your own chapter in the life of a character, or, if you were very daring, you could enter the Fan Fiction Contest (which I think was new this year). In the oddly named Time Out Room, you could draw and show your drawing, and you never knew which successful comic artist might wander through and sit down

Shortly thereafter, the knight hobbled over to the sidelines, moaning, “My knees…”

next to you. What a great opportunity for a young artist.

You could also wander around the lobby and visit tables set up by Friends of the Library, Copperfield’s Books, or several Sonoma County comic book stores, including my favorite, Brian’s Comics.

I have to take a minute to credit the Sonoma County Library here, for their approach to comic books. They realize that for many young people, comics are a “gateway” to reading. As one panelist said, when he was a youngster, he read the Classics Illustrated version of Treasure Island. He really liked it. His mom handed him the book and said, “Here’s the extended version.” Far from treating comics, collections and graphic novels as the enemy, the library includes them as fiction, as poetry and as literature. It probably doesn’t hurt that we live in the county with the Charles Shulz Museum.

The helpful friendly owners and staff of Brian’s Comics.

The TARDIS and a Weeping Angel. The Angel won an award.

Definitely most of the 1500+ 3000 attendees were young. Many of the folks in the dealers room were young artists, creating and distributing comics via Tumblr and the internet, some the old-school way, via paper zines. This year’s clock tower logo was drawn by a teen artist who won the logo contest.

Some formerly independent writers, like Alexis E Fajardo, are seeing their work picked up by conventional publishers. Fajardo created Kid Beowulf, which uses the premise that Beowulf and Grendel were half-brothers. One thing you learn in an afternoon at LumaCon is that there are many paths to success.

I love the energy of this event. The planners have scaled it exactly right; it’s one day, it’s free admission (but there are donation boxes around, and you can donate. Check out the donation page on their website.) They are aiming at the right audience — youth. (Okay, and, well, me.) They are celebrating storytelling and creativity. And they are hosting fun.

 

 

 

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The Tale of the ARC

One really good thing about being a reviewer is that I get lots of free books. One really bad thing about being a reviewer is that I get lots of free books. Because I don’t use an e-reader, these are hard copy books that stack up in every corner and every horizontal surface of the house. At least three times a week Fed Ex or UPS leaves a package on my doorstep and there’s a book inside.

And I’m not complaining, really.

I get finished copies of books – many books – but I also get a lot of Advanced Readers Copies (ARCS).

Some of the books I get are ones I’ve requested. Fantasy Literature has a regular list of books that are coming out throughout the year, and we often request ARCS from the publisher. Many of the books I get, though, are not ones I’ve requested. There are a few irritating things about ARCs. One is that publicists see your name on a list and are happy to send you a new book, even if it’s Book Three of a trilogy and you have never read books One or Two. Last week, I got an ARC of a book by an author whose other work I’ve liked. This book, though, is Book Five of a series I haven’t read. Given the subject matter of the series, I don’t want to read Books One through Four. And so, I won’t read Book Five. I might offer it up to another reviewer on the site, though.

ARCS are always paper bound. The words “Advanced Reading Copy” or sometimes “Uncorrected Advanced Reading Copy” show somewhere on the front and back covers, along with the words Not For Sale. There will be no barcode, although the book does have an ISBN, which is handy for people who might want to preorder the book.

There are plenty of reasons why I wouldn’t sell an ARC anyway, mainly having to do with the author, who doesn’t get a royalty on an ARC. While I would ever sell an ARC myself, I have donated some to thrift shops that are fund-raisers for non-profits. Although, given the facts about ARCS, if you plunk down more than $2 for one, you’re overpaying.

So why am I okay with donating? First of all, I do it rarely. I do believe that in general, anything that gets a book into the hands of a reader can’t be all bad. Maybe the person buying an ARC at the VNA Hospice Thrift Store discovers a new writer for them, and goes out to buy new books by the same writer. For this reason, I will sometimes give an ARC to someone when I think they will like the book.

The word “Uncorrected” on the cover is accurate. ARCS are often filled with minor line editing problems, dropped words, misspellings and punctuation errors. Sometimes I find even bigger mistakes like continuity glitches or character name changes.

I don’t comment on this in my review, because while I’m diligently reading the ARC and making notes for that review, the author is frantically working with the publisher, in the final weeks before the book is released, to catch and correct exactly those problems. For this reason, very often one of those books UPS drops on my doorstep is the finished copy of the ARC I just read, and it’s my responsibility to check any quotations I might have used, to make sure they still live in the finished copy.

I like getting an ARC because I like beating deadlines rather than pushing them, and I enjoy having time to revise. This is even more important to me if I’m scheduling an interview with the author, because I want to be well-prepared.

On the other hand, an ARC and a finished copy mean two copies of a book I might not have loved. I do recycle ARCS, but given the accumulation of them around the house right now, not fast or diligently enough.

So, it’s a love-hate relationship, definitely, and one I hope to continue.

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I Read “The Algorithms of Value;” I Got Angry

Clarkesworld Issue 112 leads with a story by the prolific SFF writer Robert Reed, “The Algorithms of Value.” The story is set on Earth, probably less than one hundred years in the future. The planet is seriously overpopulated with humans, but thanks to “the algorithms” and helpful AIs, no human lacks safe shelter, clean water or nourishing food.
The AIs, working with the formulae of the algorithms, create “smart rooms” that whip up any food you desire, maintain your health, and display any environment you request.

Parchment, the main character, is an old woman, hugely wealthy, and famous because of her connections to the algorithms. When she leaves her own three spacious rooms to go for a walk in her neighborhood, she meets a defiant young beggar boy. Despite the “floor” of basic needs, people still crave things, or they still crave something. Parchment hands out diamond umbrellas on her walk – and she and the beggar boy both observe a “dumpster diver.” What the beggar boy wants isn’t stuff, and Parchment doesn’t want stuff either. An interesting conversation ensues.

It’s a good story, filled with lovely imagery and insights about human nature.

The story is about human needs that transcend the lower part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s also, in a way, a story about marriage, and this is where I started to get angry.

Parchment played a part – how big or important we’re never told – in the largest successful social engineering experiment in human history. Parchment is smart and apparently educated. She is probably a logician. It would seem, from the celebrity and the wealth, that Parchment was a successful woman in her own past, but she wasn’t.

Parchment didn’t earn wealth. She married it.

Clearly, Parchment’s contributions grew her husband’s fortune. The text makes that clear. It also tells us flat out that marrying money was Parchment’s choice and that she didn’t try to develop her own career. “The old man was never mild or sweet or decent. But he was useful.”  And later in the same paragraph, “Nobody offered a faster route to success…”

This story would have worked just fine if Parchment had amassed a fortune, or a successful business on her own, then joined her endeavor to the established plutocrat’s in her late thirties (as, in fact, more women are doing now). Instead, the point of the story is clearly that smart women marry money and take control of the marriage, and through the marriage, control the work.

“The Algorithms of Value” goes on to spend some time on the nature of Parchment’s marriage. She and her husband suit each other intellectually but grow apart; while the husband sucks up AI resources to create an imaginary world to meet his needs, decades of Parchment’s life are defined by loneliness.

Parchment is only allowed to be strong in the role of wife, even though people listen more closely to her than they do to him, and “the AIs respect her.” She’s only in the room because she is The Boss’s Spouse. In case we missed it, the story hammers home that Parchment, a smart, strong woman, is an exception; this isn’t a world filled with smart, strong women. In discussing her husband, the story tells us that, “… maybe the road map wasn’t obvious to anyone, including himself, but at least he had confidence in the men and those few bright girls who were better at details than a visionary such as himself.” (Italics mine.)

There are always only “a few bright girls,” and if they want to make a difference in the world, or even just in their own worlds, they’d better tether themselves to a powerful older man. That’s how women succeed. This is the “value” in “The Algorithms of Value.”

*

This story was in Clarkesworld. Clarkesworld.

*

Within the story, Parchment is a strong woman with agency, whose actions drive the plot. She’s an old woman; that makes her interesting too. She functions only as another stereotype, however; the wealthy widow. All her power, however well she wields it, comes from a dead husband. Furthermore, in her world, which is the future of our world, there aren’t many smart, strong, creative, innovative women. There are only a few “bright girls,” only a few “pretty golden girls” like Parchment. How fortunate that she is one.

Robert Reed is my age. He is prolific and acclaimed SFF writer with a Hugo and a Nebula to his name. Because he is my age, I assumed we share some cultural history. I can see I need to review that assumption.

I grew up struggling to find a place where my skills, my smarts and my strengths would be recognized and used well, regardless of my gender. Reed had a different experience.

I understand that smart, young, pretty women marry wealthy older men all the time. I also understand that one of the joys of SFF is that it lets us play with conventional models, and imagine worlds where things are different and even better. My anger with this tale stems from the fact that the exact same story could be told without subordinating Parchment. The writer went for a default setting; the editor let him.

I push and struggle with my writing every day to make sure that I am writing consciously; if I use a narrative convention, am I doing it with intent? I fight to create SFF stories that usually show confident, strong women as a given, not an exception. I fall into the stereotypes of the wealthy widow myself; the difference is that I try to examine whether that is the only trope that will tell the story.

For me, Clarkesworld has been a model for stories that aren’t bound to the unconscious narratives. Maybe I need to revisit that assumption too.

I said I was angry; probably more accurate words would be disappointed, disillusioned, bummed out. This story would work, even with the meditation on the nature of marriage, without diminishing Parchment to trophy bride and wealthy widow. There are more than a few “bright girls” in the world; in any world. I wish this story had been willing to let them in.

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A Devil’s Brew: Thoughts on The Witches, by Stacy Schiff

I’m still reading The Witches by Stacy Schiff. After the first third, I started to struggle, and set the book aside to read a few other things. Part of this choice is emotional. It’s difficult to be reminded, page after page, just how little women mattered; it’s hard to read a cool, scholarly accounting of an event that led to the community-sanctioned deaths of fifteen women for no good reason.

Part of it is Schiff’s writing. While the book is well-researched, it does not have the clarity and crispness that made Cleopatra such a joy to read. The Witches, like the events it covers, is a bit murky. Part of this is Schiff struggling with the dearth of records. Partly, though, even though I know this flies in the face of logic, I wish Stacy Schiff the scrupulous, meticulous historian would take a break and let the twenty-first century woman have a few minutes at the podium. I know that’s not the point; we’re not to let our twenty-first century sensibilities intrude on the seventeenth century mindset, but at the same time, I am a twenty-first century reader.

In some cases, Schiff leaves a fact on the table without comment; I wish she’d make a comment.

I’m hanging on, though. Two-thirds of the way through the book, some underlying factors that fed the Massachusetts Bay Colony witch-craze are obvious.

A Siege Mentality:

Life in the colony in the 1790s was tough. While families clawed out a living in a beautiful but harsh land, they also faced regular attacks, raids and ambushes from the local tribal peoples. During the period of the Salem trials, the colony was in a war with the Wabanaki Confederacy. Political leaders (often ministers) whipped up fear of the French. A bad harvest meant no crops; a harsh winter meant probably losing at least one child (and possibly an adult) to sickness. The Puritans may have seen themselves as “God’s Elect,” but God was not making their wilderness home welcoming.

For women, the siege was closer to home; much closer. This is one of the facts that Schiff lays out with no comment. Women were frequently sexually assaulted. Husbands had their rights and there is certainly no discussion of how vigorously some pursued that right, but a virtuous wife inside her own house was at risk of a sexual attack from a townsperson or a neighbor. Schiff relates a story of a man who attacked a woman while her husband was in the cellar getting more ale. Servant girls were unprotected, fair game; there is report after report of servants fighting off male servants or sons of the house, or strangers, where they are jumped as they go out to milk the cows or feed the pigs. This is noted in the diaries of the time (Puritans were great diarists, men and women), and not just in diaries. Landowners would file complaints against men who attacked servants; it was basically a form of property damage.

A constant sense of assault by the elements, by the hostile natives, by your national enemy, by your neighbors. That was life in Salem.

Post-Traumatic Stress:

The witch trials are famous for their cluster of young women, mostly teen-aged, who were the primary accusers and who held forth at each trial. Several of the accusers had survived ambushes and abductions. Some had seen family members slaughtered in front of them, or watched them die as the natives were dragging them off to a life of slavery. Is it likely that sensations of being paralyzed, of choking, of someone holding you down, pinching you, poking you, and being helpless to stop it, would be reasonable symptoms after a trauma?

No one knew what post-traumatic stress was. Survivors of abductions were either supposed to feel grateful that they had been allowed to survive, or search their souls to see what they had done that would have made a stern God inflict such a punishment on them.

Political Uncertainty:

Three years before the incidents in Salem, the Massachusetts Bay Colony revolted and overthrew its British governor (apparently the colony was always a problem child). In response, the King of England revoked their charter. This was not a good thing, and shortly before the witch-craze started, Increase Mather, a respected clergyman, sailed to England to negotiate a new charter with a still-unhappy monarch.

The colony had never liked England (they came to the Americas because they felt persecuted there), but they needed the economic and military protection of the crown. They were conflicted. They also knew that any new charter would have terms that were worse than the previous one. The colony’s success, identity, its very existence hung in question, in a state of limbo, and no one in the colony had any power in that situation.

A Surveillance State:

Puritans loved to tattle. No, that’s not fair, they felt spiritually obligated to tattle. The religion used pubic shaming, verbal and physical humiliation, and fear tactics as a spiritual tool. From an early age, young children were taught about horrible deaths and the vileness of hell so that they would fear a loss of virtue. Ministers, and others, used the Sunday Sabbath meetings to call attention to congregants’ failings.

Part of being a good neighbor, a devout person, meant not only monitoring your own behavior constantly, but watching your neighbors closely as well. There was nothing odd about a man heading home from the public house peering in a neighbor’s window (unless he was too busy hurrying inside to rape the woman who lived there), and they were encouraged to report what they saw.

Repression:

Just generally, this was a rigid, repressed community, using fear as a control, gossip as an intelligence system, and holding up calamities as proof that a stern, judging God was unhappy with you. One Boston minister preached a sermon about how the loss of settler lives in a Wabanaki attack was proof that God was punishing the colonists for their lack of devotion.

Clearly, one thing that had to be stuffed down and suffocated if at all possible was imagination. The Puritans had hymms, they liked instrumental music, it seems, and some wrote poetry (most of the poets were ministers, and most poems were devotional). Art only existed in service to utility; useful objects could be made beautiful, but, except for some clothing, making an object just for the sake of beauty, or, God forbid, whimsy, seems to have been unacceptable. As I mentioned earlier, children were encouraged to imagine horrifying deaths, isolated and fearful, and a terrifying hell.

So, you’re living in a land filled with shadows and terrors, your afterlife will be filled with terrors, your sleep is filled with the terror of an awful thing that happened to you earlier, and there is no avenue for expressing any of these fears, this anger, this helplessness. Your chest is tight and you can’t breathe. You can’t move. It’s not your fault. Somebody must be doing it to you. Who? Well, didn’t Abigail look at you funny, the other day? It must be her.

Alcohol:

Schiff doesn’t even mention this; it’s just too obvious to historians, I guess. There wasn’t a lot a drinkable water in the seventeenth century; and much of the water that was potable had a high mineral content and tasted bad. Most of the residents of Salem, except very young children, drank ale. The ale of their time didn’t have the alcohol content it does now, but it was a fermented beverage and it did have one. Folks drank ale during the day, and comfortably-well-off probably had wine with dinner. Basically, people were buzzed by mid-afternoon every single day. Maybe they built up some kind of a tolerance, but it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t a factor in the mysterious disappearances (and reappearances) of tools and farm animals, and some of the questionable encounters.

*

Another thing to remember is that this was a belief system, and a time, that accepted manifestations of the Devil. It was a reasonable belief for the time. The colonists were logical, intelligent, literate people, whose logic system allowed for situations where a woman could turn into a black dog or come into your house invisibly (while she was shackled in a jail cell several miles away) and choke you. It’s not that crazy when you look at it in context.

Once the trials got started, other motives began to appear. The girl accusers enjoyed a degree of freedom and power that they knew they would never have again in their lives. People took the opportunity to settle scores and advance their own fortunes. Magistrates and ministers did some house-cleaning; the first woman executed was a beggar, probably a thief and definitely of Irish descent, an undesirable. She was hanged. Problem solved.

But before all that, there was a devil’s brew bubbling below the surface of the town of Salem. It probably just wasn’t the devil they thought.

 

 

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Hugos, 2016; A Bit of Self-Promotion

I’m not great at self-promotion, but self-promotion is necessary these days, and this time it’s not all about me. I want to let people know that the site I review for, Fantasy Literature, is eligible to be nominated (and even win!) a Hugo Award. We qualify in the category of Best Fanzine.

There are 20 of us on Fantasy Literature’s staff. We live in the USA, Canada, Australia (our Australian reviewer won that country’s Best Fan Writer Award last years), the UK, Japan and Portugal. We have a handful – wait, a double handful! — of professionals; three lawyers, five academics and two editors. We are a smart, hard-working, irreverent bunch who love speculative fiction – we love reading it, playing games about it, watching movies and TV about it. And we love discussing it.

One thing that is special about us is our consistent review of audiobooks. With smart phones and apps like Audible from Amazon, many people have added books to their inventory along with podcasts and music. There are sites like The Guilded Earlobe (yes, I did spell it correctly) that only review audiobooks; we review both.

What I’ve liked best about the site, recently, is the number of author interviews we are doing; we’ve got in interview coming up with Robert Jackson Bennett, we just interviewed Daniel Jose Older about his wonderful new urban fantasy series. We’ve talked to Ann Leckie,  Scott Hawkins and Liu Cixin. And that’s just a sampler.

What do I love most about our site? Other than the wealth of books that come to my attention (and that’s kind of a love/hate thing, actually… so many books!) I love this wild, zany, smart, thoughtful, caring group of people. We read broadly and deeply; we read closely; we debate passionately and we write thoughtfully.

Bottom line, we have created an awesome website that is a genuine resource for people interested in speculative fiction. If you’re voting for the Hugos this year, keep us in mind.

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Now You See Me

I was so happy to see a trailer for this … and to see that Daniel Radcliffe is in it! According to IMDB.com, there is a Now You See Me 3 already in production.

Now You See Me, the first movie, is playing on TNT nearly continually right now. It makes me sad that I missed the theatrical release because the stage magic scenes would be awesome on a big screen.

I assumed it had been a box office failure, but apparently it earned back enough for a sequel (the ending set up a sequel perfectly). For the sequel, I’ll go to the cinema.

I’m a sucker for stage magic, and Now You See Me nailed the big, over-the-top Las Vegas extravaganzas we’ve all seen on TV. The “backstory,” actually, I’d say the “understory” in this case, was clever, and the banter among the four magicians, with the beleaguered FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) who hates magic, and the arrogant billionaire played by Michael Caine, sparkled. The visuals were great.

The story unspools economically; four independent magicians, each with a particular talent (two of them making a living criminally) are drawn together by a strange invitation. One year later, they are the act known as the Four Horsemen, performing at a major Las Vegas hotel/casino. In full view of an audience of a thousand, not to mention plenty of cameras, the Four Horsemen rob a bank vault… in Paris, France. And that, they tell the audience (and us) is only Act One.

Ruffalo’s character, Dylan, is assigned the case in the US, and is promptly saddled with Alma, a gorgeous blond French Interpol agent, because the money actually disappeared from France. Dylan hates magic and is a curmudgeon; Alma enjoys stage magic. It makes people smile, she says. Alma recognizes that we like moments when the laws of physics seem to upend (without hurting anything), and once in a while, in a safe way, we like being fooled. This is why Morgan Freeman’s character Thaddeus Bradley, who makes his living debunking stage magicians and exposing their tricks, is not portrayed as likeable.

As a fan of books like The Count of Monte Cristo, I’ve always loved the intricately developed revenge plot, and Now You See Me’s use of stage magic (mis-direction, distraction, etc.) added a nice layer to this story. It was even more satisfying when we got to the end. Alma never really worked for me. I knew she needed to be there, and she served a time-honored role in the magic-show set-up of the movie, but her character never convinced. I did like it though, when near the end she is still tugging on Dylan’s arm and saying, “Not that way, this way.”

And… the idea of The Eye, a secret society of stage magicians, working to make the world better? What’s not to love?

It will be interesting to see what develops in the sequel. Both of the Four Horsemen’s adversaries show up in the trailer. That’s interesting… and it might be misdirection.

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Setting; Map Your Home Town

Writing friend J.C. Ross lent me the Josip Nokakovich book Writing Fiction Step by Step. Nokakovich’s book has fourteen chapters; each chapter is a element of story, like Character, Plot, Point of View and so on. Nokakovich won the Man Booker prize for short stories, and has written a couple of books about writing.

In this one, Setting gets two entire chapters; one for exterior settings and one for interiors. Most exercises in the chapter on Exteriors involve field trips, as they should; sit on a bench in a city and observe; walk through a forest; take a trip over water. My favorite suggested exercise was to study your hometown, or any town, from an airplane and describe it.

I remember flying into Oakland airport once at night, coming in over San Francisco. I had a window seat, and it was the rarity of a clear night. I could not have mapped or outlined the city for you, but it looked like an undersea treasure of gems; sparkling loops and strings of lights; silver, white, blue, green, red, orange against velvety blackness. As the plane came in lower I watched the pulsing arteries of red and white light; traffic on city streets. It was memorable.

You don’t have to rent a plane to do this exercise, though, not with Google Earth and Google Maps, which show satellite footage. If you’re old school, you could use a paper map or an aerial photograph.

You can also draw your own map; a hobby of fantasy writers everywhere. Fantasy readers, particularly those who love long, multi-volume epics, also love to look at maps. If you’re inventing a city instead of borrowing one and changing the name, this is a worthwhile exercise.

(A little research is good too, just generally. I once set aside an urban fantasy book I’d been reading, and enjoying, because the author had his character head north out of San Francisco and stop at the toll booths on the Golden Gate Bridge to pay the toll. There is no northbound toll on the GGB.)

I’m intrigued by the idea of an aerial view of my home town. The town’s main north-south traffic is on two one-day streets. A new development in the eastern corner of town, hugging the laguna, has opened up the use of a set of thoroughfares. Between Main Street, which runs south, and Petaluma Avenue, which runs north and is one block east of Main, a series of streets connect the two like frets on a guitar neck. Several of these narrow lanes continue east past Petaluma Avenue, ending on the wetlands area served by the Laguna. You are three blocks from our bustling downtown (and we do have one, and it does bustle sometimes) and you overlook grass, marshland and oak trees; seeing herons, the occasional fox, and, far more frequently, raccoons.

I’m interested in the way the southern approach makes the transition from farm houses and odd businesses like equipment rentals, BBQ joints and palm readers to industrial-commercial – body-shops and warehouses; then plops you with no ceremony into a retail commercial sector. I like the way the laguna shapes the town’s eastern boundary.

I’m curious about the 1960s-era neighborhoods tucked into the hillside on the north side, across the street from the Safeway store, the title companies, the gas stations. The Joe Rodota Walking Trail traces its way through the town, and takes you through these neighborhoods.

This looks like a fun exercise. For me, a smaller town is easier to deal with, to figure out, and to study infrastructure. Sometime in the next few months, I’m going to do this exercise.

Can I attach a plot to it? Maye an intrepid, rebellious graffiti artist, who prowls the city in the pre-dawn hours, stumbles across something she’s not supposed to see, and the chase is on.

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American Alley

Tentacles (?) and ferns

I went to Petaluma to visit Kentucky Street, which holds Copperfield’s Books, Cafe Zazzle, and a couple of antique shops. I was looking for an end table I had seen the previous weekend, which, as it turned out, was in the antique store called Sienna, on Petaluma Boulevard, not Kentucky Street. Parking was in short supply with even the parking structure filled, so I ended up parking on Western Avenue, two blocks west of the boulevard.

Sienna had the table I wanted and it even fit in the trunk, so all was good. Taking it to the car and walking back meant I had two opportunities to look at the artwork in American Alley. American Alley is across the courtyard from Safety Alley, with which I am more familiar, but there’s some tasty stuff on these historical red brick walls too. If you walk all the way through you come out in a small courtyard with a fountain, some benches, American P.I.E. (a bakery specializing in… pie) and a Starbuck’s. Across the courtyard is Safety Alley.

Two London Foodies

Two London Foodies is a cafe and specialty store in American Alley (so much irony) next to — wait for it — the Prince Gallery.

The art is connected to another gallery, one that I couldn’t find an entrance to. There’s a story in the making.

Various art-works:

A closer look.

She is actually holding a sign saying “Migra.”

And we have found the boundary of the cool zone. It’s good to know, I guess.

The End.

 

 

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Integration?

This isn’t a story, it’s a passage. I found it when I was cleaning out—throwing out – tons of old notebooks, notecards, bookmarks, folders, pamphlets and pencil stubs that I’ve kept for decades in case I might need them sometime. Enough is enough, and with glacial slowness I have begun sorting through and mostly recycling this stuff.

I kind of liked this, though. I think it must have come from the early 1990s, or the late 1980s because I was still in the eligibility arena. I might have been having a bad day, and I might have just finished reading some William Gibson. Definitely the Gibson.

Here goes:

I print my fiction on paper recycled from work.

One side; the scripture of the Cult of Eligibility; on/off, yes/no, get/don’t get, right/wrong, the code and mystery of the bureaucracy, the illusion of objectivity. Words transparent, dogmas bleed through; if your life trips all the right switches, you too can Belong.

The other side holds the map and manifestation of noeveryplace; the bioelectric spark and dance through the gray meat tunnels of there and now, virtuously active, virtually actual, actually real.

Is this integration?

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