Cookie Envy; There’s this Guy…

There’s this guy and he hates science fiction writer John Scalzi. Scalzi is commercially successful as a writer and This Guy* isn’t. This Guy’s politics are different from Scalzi’s, too, and while This Guy writes about that a lot, I can’t believe that’s the sole cause of his problem with Scalzi.

He seems to dislike a lot of things, not just Scalzi. He doesn’t like lesbians, vaccinations, public education or women who don’t agree with him, either.

He flogs his own work – published by specialty presses, indie-press and self-published — on the blog, as well he should. What else is a blog for? He also dedicates some space to his friends’ books, and I hope they return the favor.

The blog is not particularly lively unless he is bashing some writer – usually those who have ovaries or dark skin, or both. He went off on N.K. Jemisin a few years back. In a speech at a science fiction conference, Jemisin called him a bigot, and This Guy responded with a venom-tinged hyperbolic tirade excoriating Jemisin’s race and gender, made on a public business-related comment board. This stunt got him expelled from the Science Fiction Writers of America, and Scalzi was the president of the association at the time, so that could be the germ of This Guy’s hatred, but it appears that it goes back farther than that.

In the best fashion of the weirdly obsessed, This Guy struggles to turn his fixation with Scalzi around, as if Scalzi is somehow after him. He haunts Scalzi’s blog, Twitter feed and probably online interviews to find something to mock or argue.

I read John Scalzi’s blog pretty much every day. I never used to read This Guy’s blog, but I spent some time on it because I was curious about this situation.  These figures are anecdotal and approximate, but on This Guy’s blog, he kvetches specifically about Scalzi about 30% of the time. This does not mean the entire post is dedicated to Scalzi, but Scalzi is mentioned in a negative way somewhere in the post. One more disclaimer; I looked through posts in August and September, which is after This Guy didn’t win a Hugo, and Scalzi is on a mega-book tour, so he may have been more bitter than usual.

This Guy shows up, unnamed, in Scalzi’s blog somewhere between 1%-3% of the time. Often, it is not Scalzi who brings him up, but a commenter. Recently, Scalzi brought him up twice, once in the context of a discussion of the Hugos, and later in a discussion of Lock In’s sales.

Perhaps Scalzi savages This Guy on a regular basis over on Twitter, right? Well, I follow Scalzi on Twitter. I’m not seeing the savaging.

To be fair, Scalzi does poke him back. He pokes back, but he does not initiate the encounters.  He did engage in a bit of baiting on Twitter after the Hugo winners were announced. Scalzi’s structure was to predict a rash of “I’m glad I didn’t win,” speeches, and it was accurate.

This is not a feud, then. The attention is disproportionate. I keep imagining John Scalzi walking around with a vicious teacup poodle, whose pin-like fangs are sunk deep into the cuff of Scalzi’s pant leg. It’s inconvenient, and the pants are probably ruined, but Scalzi’s mobility, safety and health are unaffected.

But why? Why Scalzi?

At the most cynical and conniving level, I could theorize that This Guy hopes to garner attention by picking a fight with a successful writer. Somehow he thinks that will reflect glory back on him. The attack on Jemisin seems to support the theory that magma-hot, murderous envy is a large part of his motivation.

I think the hatred of Scalzi is personal, though. I think it’s psychological, and I blame the Narrative.

This Guy is the son of a millionaire, the CEO of a corporation, a fundamentalist Christian. Dad was the Conservative White King and This Guy was a prince. Dad got in trouble for income tax evasion, went on the run, threatened the life of a federal judge, and is currently serving an eleven-year sentence. The millions of dollars This Guy surely planned to inherit went away.

Both the King and the prince wrote for World Net Daily, but I do wonder if it was the King’s influence who brought the prince into that fold, rather than his talent for the written word.

John Scalzi is very public about growing up poor. I have not read or heard much about the details of his family life, but in essays and posts he has written about his childhood he talks mostly about his mother. It’s easy to assume that his dad was not a large part of the picture. If I recall correctly, Scalzi got a scholarship to a private college-prep high school. Everything Scalzi has, he worked for. He is a best-selling writer with books optioned for both movies and TV shows. This Guy says that the TV and movies show that Scalzi is not a real speculative fiction writer (because no classic speculative fiction ever gets turned into a movie, right? Except for that Lord of the Rings thing).

This Guy’s Narrative of a Gleaming White Empire, where he is automatically afforded cars, houses, adulation, bowing, scraping and women, didn’t come to pass.

But can’t This Guy see that in most of America’s capitalist mythology, Scalzi is the poor-but-plucky hero, the secret prince who was hidden away to come into his power when the time was right? Dude, it never was you. Do some research.

Perhaps This Guy is the prince who loses his kingdom, goes off into the forest, gathers together a troop of loyal supporters, storms the capital city and wins the day. That isn’t happening either though. He isn’t strong or good enough, and neither are his loyal followers. He could probably manage to run a medium-sized village in the forest, but he will have to be content with that.

So, he’s the Prince of the Fallen, maybe? Dude, I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t even Draco Malfoy. You’re Crabbe.

I think This Guy is pathetic. I would say I feel sorry for him, but I stop short of that, because this Guy is mean. He doesn’t do mean things because he’s insensitive and indifferent; he works at being mean. He could work on developing his story-telling skills and win us over that way, but he has not. He could take some time, get honest, and reflect on his life without blaming others, but he has not done that either. He has chosen Being Mean as a way of getting attention.

Meanwhile, over in Chez Scalzi, his publisher just sent him Lock-In themed cookies since he made the best seller list. Cookies!

Who is winning this spot of asymmetrical warfare? Not This Guy.

*This Guy has a blog and must be on Twitter, but I’m not going to link to his blog or use his name. Most of you know who he is. There will be some citations in Comments.

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The Lurchers Meet the Queen

Nicki and two of her greyhound/deerhound hybrid lurchers met Queen Elizabeth I on Saturday, at Sebastopol’s mini-Renn-Faire, the Shakespeare Festival. The Queen demonstrated that she was as good with dogs as she was with the men in her life.

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Nicki (far left) Gwen, Mr. Morgan, Queen Elizabeth I

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The Queen wins a new loyal subject.

The two-day themed event is a fund-raiser for the Sebastopol schools. There is music, drama, comedy, juggling, magic, dancing and of course the royal court. Fairgoers can learn about crafts like spinning, weaving, soap-making, watch fencing exhibitions and learn about falconry.

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A young American kestrel eyes the crowd.

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For more information, or questions about next year’s event, go to muchadoaboutSebastopol.com. Yes, that really is the URL.

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A Great Reading Streak

Most of my book reviewing has been over on Fantasy Literature lately, but I want to take a moment and talk about the amazing streak of really good reading I’ve been doing. Perhaps Scott Hutchins’s A Working Theory of Love was the charm, because throughout August I read a number of brilliant books and the streak continues (for the most part) into September.

Here’s a sampling:

World of Trouble
by Ben H Winters. Winters completes his Last Policeman trilogy in the last week before the asteroid hits earth. Hank Palace’s mystery, in the final book, is personal. He is still searching for his sister Niko. Niko represents one kind of hope as the end of live on earth looms; Hank represents another. The mystery is a bit predictable; the characters, and Hank’s insights, are not. The book is filled with authentic moments, terrible moments, funny moments and a sense of connection and optimism even as the end arrives.

Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, by Joe Hill, drawing by Gabriel Rodriguez. Volume One of Hill’s mesmerizing dark fantasy opens with a murder of savage violence that leaves a fractured family in its wake. There is more going on than post-traumatic stress, though, as the Locke family moves from California to the island of Lovecraft in Massachusetts, trying to recover from the murder of Rendell Locke, husband and father. The return to the Locke family mansion, Keyhouse, sets a whole new series of events in motion. Hill’s characters are complex; Nina, the widowed mom, is compassionate, strong, and falling headlong into a bottle as she self-medicates. Tyler, the firstborn son, fights his specific guilt over an off-handed remark he made to a classmate before his father was murdered. It is a tribute to Hill’s characterizations that I feel sympathy for the murderer without ever taking his side; and that I empathize with Tyler while I worry that he is a bully. Gabriel Rodriguez’s gorgeous artwork is the perfect match to this dark, terrifying story.

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett
. So, Bennett wakes up one morning and goes, “What haven’t I written yet? I know, a second-world steampunk fantasy with biting social commentary and deep philosophical questions about divinity and faith. Oh, and maybe a totally awesome fight scene on a frozen river with a giant river monster. So I’ll write that.” And then he goes and nails it.

Lock In by John Scalzi
. It’s Scalzi; I went into Lock In prepared to like it. I’m not sure I was prepared to come out the other side thinking so hard about things, though. Scalzi uses a police procedural structure to explore how humanity would change if a sizeable part of the population functioned in a non-physical information-world, or used interchangeable robot suits to navigate in the physical realm. The “Hadens” exist because of a virus that creates changes in the human brain, basically locking people into their physical forms with no voluntary movement at all. The technological changes made to meet their needs have pushed humanity to a kind of crossroads. On one level, it’s a mystery and another body-swap book, and like World of Trouble, the mystery is pretty easy. Beyond that, however, are lots of big ideas, well expressed.

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest. On the heels of Lock In I read Maplecroft, a completely different kind of book. Priest takes on Lovecraft-gothic and her main character is famed in jump-rope rhymes; Lizzie Borden. Using a “found manuscript” approach, Priest creates a creepy Lovecraftian world with strong characters and strong conflict. She never misses a beat. This is her best book yet.

These are all reviewed at FanLit. I even got some gentle teasing from the other reviewers, since these were all 4.5-to-5.0 stars, and I’m not known on the site as an easy grader. It just seem like Christmas came early in 2014.

I will say, sadly, that right before Maplecroft I did read a book that broke the streak for me, but overall, it’s pretty hard to complain about what’s out there. Lots of great books. Go read them! You’ll thank me.

 

 

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Wonders of the North County: Midday at the Oasis


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I drove about a half mile into the village of Geyserville. I was going to write that I hadn’t been in Geyserville since high school. I think that would be incorrect. Although I did go to the geysers one time, I think I had never been in the village itself before Monday. Right on the approach, on your left, is the Isis Oasis, the retreat center founded by artist Loreon Vigne in the early 1980s.

(I feel uncomfortable even typing the word Isis into a blog these days. Thanks a lot, religious extremists!)

Isis is a mother goddess associated with the Egyptians. Her father was Ged the earth god and her mother was Nut, the sky goddess. (Ged and Nut, a little homespun, but… ) Her brother, later husband, was Osiris, who managed the souls of the dead. Isis packed some serious juice back in the day, including reanimating her dead husband once.

Vigne got her start as a stained glass and ceramics artist in San Francisco. She and her husband, the beat generation film maker Dion Vigne, were colorful characters. Vigne kept exotic cats; ocelots, bobcats and servals. When San Francisco eventually prohibited private ownership of exotic cats in the city limits, Vigne moved up to Geyserville.

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Vigne had several experiences that she believed were encounters with Isis. With all her felines, I’m a bit surprised that is wasn’t Sehkmet, the lion-headed goddess, or Bast, the cat-headed one, but there you go. It was Isis. Vigne took these experiences as a sign that she was to dedicate the property to Isis, and she did. There is a public temple and a larger theater. The public temple is open for personal worship of the goddess by the public every day. The theater holds a service every Sunday which is also open to the public.

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Vigne died in mid-June of this year, and I don’t know what that means for the property, but it is a non-profit organization and there is a board of directors, so I assume it will continue in some form or another.

The place welcomes visitors. I walked up the driveway, listening to the screeching of some bird in the background, and approached a woman who was walking down from the parking lot. I asked if I could walk around.

“Sure,” she said. “The only place that’s off limits is the cat-cages, because the catkeeper isn’t here right now.”  She led me over to show me the birds. Her name began with M, and I’m going to call her M, not out of any sense of secrecy but because I can’t remember her name. I do remember the macaw’s name, though. This is Charlie.

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M has been working on the cages of the larger birds (there are many) to make them less like cages and more like habitats. I think there are some bored avians on the property right now, but things are getting better. All the birds had shade, shelter, clean water, and some kind of toy, including a mirror for the peacocks.

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Meet Stanley. Lola, his friend, was napping in the nest box and did not want to be disturbed.

M showed me the pavilion, which is used for performances and events and includes a commerical kitchen, and pointed to the steps up to the theater. The walkway up is lined with cages of exotic pheasants.

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Chinese Golden Pheasant

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Blasted chicken wire!

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They have a tiny colony of peacocks, with two sets of chicks. Chicken wire, or any situation where you have two parallel planes, are anathema to auto-focus cameras. Or, maybe not — just to the photographers. The camera blithely focuses on the wire, no matter what you do. And if you’re like me and switch to manual focus, it doesn’t get much better.

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The retreat has 12 rooms and communal bathrooms. As of 2007 (the most recent review I found) the rooms did not have dial-up, wireless or TV, which makes sense since it’s a retreat center. I assume some meals are provided but I don’t know. By now everyone has their own wireless anyway, so that’s probably not a huge setback if you want to stay there. Or you could detox from the internet for a couple of days if you wanted.

The place includes a rambling organic garden. While I was wandering around taking pictures, a friendly young man pointed me toward the cherry tomatoes. “Please eat some,” he said. “They’re ripe. We call them Isis candy.” I found my way to the tomato patch and tried them. Sweet, sun-warmed, a big juicy pop of flavor. Candy indeed.

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Wonders of the North County: Part One, Highway Sculpture

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Monday — it’s photo jaunt day! Where? I didn’t know, but seemed like north was a good idea.

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I had a slight delay on Eastwide Road, but soon I was on my way to Healdsburg. Vineyard photos seemed the order of the day, after one short shopping trip. My stop at the kitchenware store was disappointing. A casserole that is stovetop ready; $249? Not today. Yes, it’s cast iron and enamel, and yes, it’s Le Creuset… and no, not today. I was at the north end of Healdsburg, though, and suddenly inspiration struck. I’d go to Geyserille! It was only about ten miles up the road.

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Actually, it was only seven, and as soon as I took the exit I saw my first wonder, the sculpture cluster.

The First Wonder:

This is part of 101 Sculpture Trail; right off the highway on the approach to the village of Geyserville. The stargate-looking one is interactive, with a walkway through the center. I loved it, but the fish/whale and the hands were my two favorites.

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I like my art narrative, and this sinuous creature carries with it a story; a story of a metal beast that absorbs wood and stones as well as found objects. The detail is captivating.

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All seeing eye?

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I think we need a bigger boat.

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Abstract isn’t my favorite type of art but I loved these squares and their apparently jumbled arrangement, framing a different view with each perspective.

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“Run 2013″ is this one’s name.

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Hand detail.

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And you thought Stargate was cancelled!

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I missed one sculpture, the Ahnk throne sponsored by the Isis Oasis in Geyserville. That’s okay though. The Oasis is my next wonder, and the photos there make up for it.

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John Scalzi: he sees all, he knows all.

From where I’m standing, I have a perfect profile shot of John Scalzi as he signs a book. I have the big camera too, the Canon, the one that with the zoom lens that takes crisp, clear pictures. I look through the viewfinder and press the button. Just as I do, Brian, ahead of me in line, shifts his position, moving his aloha-shirt clad arm into my frame. No worries. I shift slightly to the left and aim again. Brian, with an intuitive sense that beggars that of most stage psychics, moves directly into my shot again. Ray, the Copperfields employee who coordinated the Scalzi event, tries hard not to snicker. I contort my body, crawling halfway across the podium to get out of Brian’s range, and snap a photo, just as Scalzi gives me this look:

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John Scalzi got to the book tour event at Copperfield’s in Petaluma on time, which was mildly surprising, as we discovered. He had time to check out Petaluma PIE company, which several people (including me) recommended. He gave it a thumbs-up. John Scalzi has stated online that he enjoys pie; this recommendation is to be cherished.

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Scalzi did not read from Lock In, the book he was promoting. Instead he read to us from a top-secret project, and shared two columns from a humor column he used to write. He told stories about some of our favorite nerd celebrities; a great Alan Tudyk story and a story that involves Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, Roller Derby girls and butter-cream frosting. It’s hard for me, by any stretch, to consider Neil Gaiman a “nerd,” but still, somehow he fits just fine in that grouping.

*

Why is it surprising that Scalzi got to a scheduled event on time? Our first clue came when he said, “Man, you guys, that 580, it’s interesting, right?”

Highway 580? We’re thinking, “Why could anyone come up 580 from San Francisco, to get to Petaluma?” The town’s right on 101.  There’s no reason to take  580 unless the Golden Gate Bridge is closed, which it would never be on a Friday night in the summer… except when two deer wander down from the headlands, trot onto the bridge to play tourist, and close down the northbound lanes.

“We took the Richmond San Rafael Bridge!” Scalzi said. “We fought ninjas!”

*

Scalzi is on a four week tour for  Lock In. So far he’s been to Texas, North Carolina, Colorado (I think) and the state of Washington. And northern California. He was spending three days in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before Petaluma, he visited Mountain View, where he did a book store event but also visited a little company they have down there. It’s called Google, or something. On Friday night he visited Petaluma. Saturday he would be at Borderlands Books in SF. The good thing about his schedule is that his publisher has built in several breaks where he can go home and rest up.

After talking and reading, he answered questions from the audience. Most of them were about the new book, which, by the way, I recommend.

Lock In uses the plot of  a police procedural set in the near future on earth to explore questions of androids, neural nets that augment human brain function, non-physical realities, disabilities and human nature.

*

Before the event started, Brandy and I struck up a conversation with the man in front of us, Sheldon, who had driven over from Sacramento, because there were no central valley stops on the tour. A few minutes later I recognized Brian, from the Atlas Coffee writers group. It turns out he knew Brandy from the old Copperfield’s Used Book store she used to manage in Sebastopol.

Scalzi is a delight in person, a professional entertainer who is not only engaging but warm. He makes it very clear that this is The Scalzi Show, but not in a mean way. He is very animated and funny. If you get the chance to see him in person, take it.

He also makes sure he talks up independent bookstores.

*

When I got up to have him sign my book I said, “I’m not going to ask if I can take a picture, I’m just going to take one.”

“Yeah, like the one you took from the side? I know about that one,” he said.

“Of course you do. You know all,” I said.

Scalzi laughed. “I’m writing that in your book!” he said, and he did.

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No-Water Shollenberger is No Fun

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Shollenberger Park in Petaluma is one of the best places to see shore and water birds, including a colony of feral swans, once domesticated, then abandoned here. They thrived and I usually see two or three of them in the time it takes to walk around the first pond.

Not today.

Of course, there wasn’t any pond today, either. Ninety percent of the water is gone. California is in a drought. These images forcibly reminded me of that.

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There is still water in the Petaluma River and in the estuary due south of the big (former) pond, but the waterway looked like a salt flat. Most of the birds I saw were turkey vultures, circling slowly. That seemed appropriate.

I didn’t have a very pleasant walk, although I got some nice pictures. Deepening my disappointment was the rudeness of the bicyclists on the path. I don’t meant the ones in the biking suits, with helmets and water-bottles in the smalls of their backs. Those guys are pros. They know to say, “Coming up on your left,” and will even say, “Thanks,” when you step out of their path. No, I’m talking about those five other bike riders, the ones who looked like they were in office wear except for the shoes. The ones who don’t announce their presence, who ride so close to you that they brush you when you’re taking a picture, even though there is no one else on the path. You know who you are.  For you people, three things:

  1. Bicycle/pedestrian etiquette isn’t that hard. Learn it.
  2. People like you give all cyclists a bad name.
  3. Grow up.

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It’s still a good place to walk, but I worry what it’s going to be like for the fall migration.

LanMart:

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I rewarded myself by heading to the LanMart complex. I stopped at my favorite comic book store, Brian’s Comics, on 4th Street, in the basement of the Mystic Building. I don’t love the location, but I do love the store. Brian did not have the next volumes of Locke and Key or Saga that I wanted, but L&K is on order and he will e-mail me when they come in. He had some wonderful things that I bought, that I can’t discuss here, because they are birthday presents for a person who sometimes reads this blog.

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Has she always been there? If so, then… eeuww.

I wandered through LanMart, past the creepy statue, and went upstairs to have lunch at Old Chicago Pizza. They have the perfect lunch special; $6.75 for a mini pizza with 3 toppings, (deep dish) and a dinner salad. Their salad is not a “wow,” basically standard lettuce topped with some tomato and red onion, but everything is fresh. I ordered it with thousand island dressing, a nostalgia-hit for me because that’s what I used to order when I was a kid. Thick, tangy, ketchupy goodness. Not the kind of dressing I would want every day, but it hit the spot. The mini pizza is about five inches in diameter. I was in the mood for deep-dish because I like bread, and the fresh-yeasty dough was about half an inch thick; crusty, but chewy and moist inside, the top loaded with sauce and cheese. My only complaint is that it’s too small to eat gracefully. Mine had artichoke hearts that kept falling off so I had to pick them off and eat them with my fingers. A tragedy. Anyway, the value of this meal can’t be beaten.

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A final thought. I happen to be reading Maplecroft, Cherie Priest’s new book. It’s a Lizzie Borden meets Cthulhu chiller, an atmospheric epistolary work in which the ocean, and things from the ocean, figure prominently, and not in a good way. When you are reading Maplecroft, this window display is suddenly not so charming.

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Voices Carry

I stared at the spokes of light and shadow on my hotel room ceiling, wondering why I was awake.

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It was mostly rhetorical wonder. The Mendocino Coast Writers Conference finished that night, with the banquet, ending in a speech by Scott Hutchins that included a drinking game (a drinking game!), and a standing ovation for Maureen Eppstein. I missed the banquet, but got there in time for the last half of the speech, and the acknowledgment of Maureen. Always, the last night of the conference made me feel like my brain was a blender set to Puree, as I processed the previous three days.

I rolled over onto my side and looked at the clock radio. The crimson numbers glowed at 11:59. I closed my eyes and when I opened them again, the numbers had rearranged themselves to 12:02. It was Sunday. The conference was officially over. I wished I had opened my eyes right as the numbers mutated to 12:00. Writing this, I thought about crafting it that way, but 12:02 is better, more random, and that’s what really happened. Honest.

I got up. I pulled on my Extra Large MCWC hoodie, so large and snuggly it could double as a bathrobe, and, barefoot, went out onto the balcony. Below my knees, cool air sniffed around my ankles and feet. The bridge was alight. Red and green lights flashed along the side, and in the light from the wharf the south pylon’s reflection canted like a cooked lasagna noodle. Someone down at the harbor coughed. I scanned and found a human, far below me, a slender figure with a dark cap and a white shirt, who coughed again. The cough didn’t sound close, but it carried clearly and unmistakably, and when the person took out a cell phone and started talking, sauntering in a diagonal across the parking lot, I could hear the voice. I couldn’t make out the words, but I knew the speaker was female, and from the musical lift-and-descent of her voice I would guess the speaker was happy.

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The mist-laden night air smelled like old metal.

It got quiet, and in the quiet, I heard voices.

The mouth of the harbor and the split-level design of the Harbor Lite created an amphitheater effect, that narrow tongue of the Pacific Ocean a glistening reflective membrane, a drumhead driving sound as if with V-shaped hands toward the balconies. These voices came from speakers sitting in a little clearing alongside the bridge, almost underneath it. I had seen the spot, walking, and I had seen the backpack-toting, bundled-up, moccasin-wearing, often-smoking locals walking down there, or up from there in the mornings.

“Good morning,” I’d say.

“G’mornin,” they’d say back.

One afternoon one of them, a burly man in jeans and two puffy navy-blue jackets, with a nest of black curls and a black beard, was sitting on the very edge of the bridge, in the pedestrian space, smoking. He held his cigarette down, away from me, as I passed.

“Did you see the harbor seals?” he said.

“I did.”

“Get any good pictures?” “I think so. I hope so.”

“You have a good day now,” he said.

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The voices I heard now, at 12:11 AM on a Sunday in August, were both male. After a couple of exchanges, laughter wafted over to me. The conversation grew lively and the word “boat” emerged.

“… that boat… dude.”

“Oh, man! …”

Laughter.

Scott talked about why we write. This is a common topic among MCWC keynote speakers. It probably is at any writers conference, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s the fundamental question. From the bummed out, defeated, “Why am I even doing this?” that bursts out of us when the scene just doesn’t work, when fellow work-shoppers just don’t get it, when the agent says that our work just isn’t ready. It’s the question we ask ourselves about why we’ve chosen this particular style of communication, of imaginative inventiveness, of art, when we could have painted, or carved wood or decorated cakes.

Voices carry. They carry to us from far away, distant in time, distant in geography, distant in economic or social class, distant even in species. Sometimes we can’t completely make out the words. We just get the lilt, the musicality. Sometimes the words carry to us as sharply as smoke from a local’s cigarette.

Voices carry, and they are more than air expressed across vocal chords through a larynx, shaped by lips, teeth and tongue. They carry from the arguing couple at the table next to yours. They carry from that odd internet article you read. They carry from parking lots in harbors up to people on balconies and from bridges.

“Only connect,” Scott said, near the end of his speech, quoting E.M. Forster. We write, Scott suggested, for the same reasons we read – to dream, to experiment, to learn, to connect. Only connect.

In the 1980s, Til Tuesday had a hit song called “Voices Carry.” For a long time I thought the song’s title, and chorus, was “This is scary.” Maybe I wasn’t wrong.

I write to hear the voices. I write to be a voice. I write to share the idea – the story – of a young woman in a dark cap, coming off her shift in a restaurant in the harbor at midnight on a Saturday night, getting over a cold, maybe, calling her boyfriend on the way to her car. I write because, over near the bridge, two local guys are slugging back beers and talking about some dude’s boat. And maybe I just write to remember that I’m not alone in the vastness of midnight, at the edge of the world. I’m a voice, and voices carry.

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The Five Stages of Editing

One of the prizes that goes with second-place in the novel category is the publication of an excerpt of my work in the Noyo River Review. This week I had the mixed joy of editing my section for publication.

Editing your work, like any traumatic event—death of a loved one, a displacement, discovering that Lost Girl is in its last season—takes a powerful toll on the emotions, but it has definite stages and it can be managed. I’m here today to take you through those stages.

My piece was about 6,000 words long. They needed me to cut it to about 2,000 words, although they didn’t tell me that for a very long time. One editor had made line-by-line changes that she thought worked better.

For purposes of this post, because I am ranting about—I mean, addressing in a scholarly manner— a process, I am going to call the two editors with whom I worked Editor A and Editor B. In life, Editor A is a staff member of the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, a published writer of a lively and witty memoir and a beloved writing teacher. Editor B, also closely involved with the conference, edits and publishes a well-known magazine that covers personal narrative.

(Editor A is the kind of smart, thorough line editor whose work more published writers could use, in my opinion, and Editor B has an almost intuitive ability to make diverse narratives flow together in a publication.)

I’m a professional. I didn’t think I was going to have any problem. When I got their e-mail, I opened the document and plunged in.

Stage One:  Disbelief.

“You want me to… what?”

“That can’t be right. You realize if I cut that paragraph the whole story falls apart, right? You did read the story, didn’t you? Didn’t you?”

“Wait. The whole page. You want me to cut the whole page?”

“Is this the right document?”

Stage Two: Anger.

“No, I won’t change that word to your word. If I had wanted to use your word, I would have! This is fantasy. These people talk differently than you. Get over yourself.”

“How dare you suggest I cut that beautifully drafted sentence that, in one single dependent clause, gives the reader three vital pieces of information about this world and its people! What kind of barbarians are you?”

“This is outrageous! Outrageous!”

Stage Three: Pain.

“It’s okay. I’ll just walk away for a bit. Well, maybe down to the bar. For an hour. Yeah.”

(Reaches shakily for cell phone.) “…Hi, honey. No, I… just needed to hear your voice. Crying? No… maybe a little.”

“It’s okay. It’s only a flesh wound. I’m only stripping out everything that gives the story any meaning. That’s all.”

Stage Four: Snarkiness.

“Of course I’ll follow your suggestion, Ms. I-Don’t-Even-Know-How-a-Crossbow-Works! You’re such an expert.”

“I bet you didn’t take this tone with the lady who wrote the American-south-in-the-1960s story!”

“Yes, I’m sure this is just the kind of experience Stephen King faced with every single book. Oh, wait. No, I don’t.”

Stage Five: Acceptance.

“Well, wait a minute. They don’t plan to print the entire piece. It’s just an excerpt.”

“Nobody needs to know that the wharf collapsed. They’re not going to get to the wharf, or the earthquake, or the big hole in the ground. It’ll be fine.”

“Two thousand to twenty-five hundred words? I wish I’d known that; I’d have ended at an earlier point.”

*

I came in at about 2100 words. While I wish I had known from the get-go that the world limit was 2500 (that would have saved some pain), I did finally make peace with the process.

I’m here to say that with support, understanding and awareness, you can survive the editing process. At least, that’s what I think now. We’ll see how I do when the ‘zine comes out.

 

 

 

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I Should Get a Lollipop

I finished all three books in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy; Mistborn, The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages. I think I should get a lollipop, or a ribbon that says, “I Did It!”

I did a quick and dirty page-count calculation, and the trilogy checks in at slightly more than 2200 pages. For people who devour George RR Martin’s books, that’s a sprint, a snack, barely a brochure. For me, though, it’s still a commitment, and the books seemed longer because of Sanderson’s prose.

I wasn’t satisfied but I was intrigued. The story’s ideas almost balanced its deficits. When I reviewed the books for Fantasy Literature, I leaned more toward the positive overall. I think dedicated Role-Playing Gamers and Sanderson fanboys must have loved these.

Here’s my personal breakdown.

What I liked:

The Idea. Sanderson’s premise — a blighted world with a vague prophecy and no real promise of redemption; a rebellion, treachery and magic, is good. I admired the scope of these books. Severals of Sanderson’s characters wrestle with issues of faith, spirituality and ethics. The idea here is pretty original, a different take on a creation myth.

Vin, the main character. Whatever else I thought about this story, I really liked the street urchin Vin and her evolution into a magical superhero. Vin has access to magic and grows steadily more powerful throughout the books, but she remains engaging through the first two, at least, because of her flaws and self-doubts. In reality, all she ever really is to the story is a tool — a realization she has in the middle of Book Two — but she’s a darned good tool, kind of like an intricately machined watch. And here is a dandy plot twist with her that I appreciated.

The magical system. This will end up on both my lists. The magicians in the books use metals to activate magical abilities. They fall into two categories; allomancers and ferruchemists. Allomancers metabolize tiny bits of metal to create powers; tin enhances the senses; pewter increases strength; iron allows the magician to create a wall of energy by pushing; steel by “pulling” (imagine the poles of a magnet). Ferruchemists use metal, mostly in the form of jewelry, like a magical savings account; storing energy, speed, memories in metal and then drawing it out when they need it.

This was a truly different system, and as an added bonus, it inadvertently reflects 1960s drug culture, with allomancers taking little “hits” of metal throughout the books. That provided comic relief.

Secondary characters. A few were standouts, particularly Sazed, the thoughtful scholar and ferruchemist; Spook, an overlooked member of the rebellion and TenSoon, a shape-shifting kandra with strong opinions about humans.

What I didn’t like:

The magical system. Here was a clever idea that led to the worst thing in a fantasy novel, magic with no consequences. The magicians rely on an endless supply of an external substance for their power. They risk little or nothing to use it. More seriously, they never run out. You would think that their adversary, the near-immortal Lord Ruler, would  try to control the supply of various metals, but he never does except for one, the mystical McGuffin metal atium. People can OD on metals and hurt themselves, and they have metal hangovers (1960s drug culture again) but there are no real consequences. It’s not epic fantasy, it’s fantasy wish fulfillment, especially when the laws of physics become elastic.

The world-building. As far as I’m concerned there are two parts to world-building; the writer’s behind-the-scenes work, and the telling detail that makes it onto the page. The first one is important, but it doesn’t matter at all if the second one isn’t there. And it isn’t here until Book Three when Sanderson suddenly shovels in a lot of info with  a “oh, didn’t I mention…?” tone. He has clearly done most of the background work, as the voluminous appendices in each book attest, but on the page, there is too much hand-waving and making-it-up-as-you-go. Combined with his stilted prose this created an impression of an arrogant writer telling me, “Because I said so, that’s why.” This attitude does not lead me to the willing suspension of disbelief.

Sanderson gives us a thousand-year reign of a near-immortal tyrant, in a metal-rich land; he postulates  a late-middle-ages style society, colorful balls  and parties, stained glass windows, highly refined metals and a large slave population, with little foundation. The feudal world has 19th century flourishes when they are needed for the story, like canned goods. Highly refined metals and alloys with no discussion of whether alloys occur naturally or are created; no foundries, refineries, or forges seen until the third book; a weapon system that doesn’t go beyond arrow, staves and swords. The air is filled with ash from the constantly rumbling volcanoes (that never seem to erupt), but not a single person has any respiratory problems. There are no explanations for how metal, food, water or textiles are moved or traded (yes, there are canals; it’s a start). Near the end of the trilogy there is a reference to coal; before that there’s been talk of oil lamps but no source of the oil. Petrochemical? Plant based?  Not explained.

In The Hero of Ages, Sanderson uses the device of quoting passages from a written document gathered by a scholar to back-fill a lot of these questions — clumsily.

Elend, the Emperor. Elend is Vin’s love interest and the designated hero. Apparently he has to be the hero because in this universe a woman, no matter how super-powered, can’t lead. It isn’t explained or discussed — it just seems to work that way. Elend, however, never grows into characterhood in his own right. He is a type, and an all too common one. He is the Scholarly, Rebellious Young Noble. Everything, even his wardrobe, is given to him, and Vin gets him out of every pickle, all the while telling him that he is a “good man.” There is no indication that there’s anything particularly “good” about Elend.

The prose. Stilted paragraph after paragraph, telling-not-showing, (and telling us again, and again, and yet again…) enough use of the past perfect tense to win some kind of a prize.

“Sazed had had to load the memories onto his copperminds, from when the other Keepers had defied the Lord Ruler, who had had a plan to stop them. His plan had failed, and the Keepeers had recorded the information that other people had discovered… ” (Okay, I made that one up, but it is not exaggerated.)

The books cry out for a drinking game. Take a shot every time Vin is described as wearing trousers and a buttoned shirt. Sip a beer each time we see Elend in his white ash-resistant outfit; chug each time Breeze lifts a wine goblet. Here’s one; do a shot each time Sanderson stops the action, in mid-fight, to tell us, again, something about what the Lord Ruler did a thousand years ago, or how Vin feels about her magical powers, or how she wishes she could wear pretty dresses again… or how the Lord Ruler managed to control X, Y or Z.

The problem is not merely that the prose is bad, it’s that there are 2200 pages of it.

Good news though! After or during the writing of Mistborn, Sanderson wrote an award winning novella, The Emperor’s Soul, and a shorter book set in the Mistborn world, a few hundred years in the future (The Alloy of Law). While still a bit pedantic and stilted, the prose in each of those is much better; trusting the characters to reveal their traits through action, not lecture; using a more immediate style and concentrating the action. The Alloy of Law still suffers a bit too much from sitting-and-talking, but nowhere near as badly as the trilogy. Sanderson has clearly grown as a writer and a storyteller.

There is no questioning the man’s work ethic. He completed Mistborn and took on the significant task of completing Wheel of Time, and did so very well. He has started yet another series of his own. Unlike certain other fantasy writers, Sanderson completes a series when he starts it.

I still deserve a lollipop.

 

 

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