Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Writer's Clock


I'm in print again, and as always happy to be so.   This time it's in The Time Traveler's Almanac, a whomping big book of stories about... well, time travel.  It includes my story "Triceratops Summer,"which is set in and near the Winooski of my youth and is about the kind of people who lived there.  Were there really dinosaurs in Vermont when I was young?  Oh, yes.

All of which got me to doing a little mental time travel back to when I was first starting out as a science fiction writer.  I was visiting Jack Dann, who lived in Binghamton, York, back then, and we were talking about this, that, and the other thing.  Jack pointed to a set of bookshelves, floor to ceiling, and most of it crammed with his books:  Novels, collections, and anthologies containing first appearances or reprints of his stories.  "When I was a new writer like you, Anne McCaffrey pointed at her bookshelf and said, 'This is what yours will look like one day.'  It's a clock, and it will measure out the rest of your life."

At that time, I had a shelf of five or six books and magazines.  Now I have a wall-clock, with row after row of novels, foreign reprints, best of year volumes, magazines... all of it measuring out my life tick by tock, book by magazine.  Sometimes I look at it and it seems I can see it growing.  You're making good time, it seems to say.  Keep at it.

Back then, the monster library Jack had of his own work seemed so very far away.  Now it's only a few steps from my keyboard.  I pick up The Time Traveler's Almanac and add it to the shelf.



Monday, September 29, 2014

The Evolution of the Martini (Part 3)


The Nineteenth Century has gone down in the history books as the Age of Sticky-Sweet Cocktails.  But an interesting thing happened at the end of the 1880s and through the 1890s which revolutionized hard drinks forever:  America went mad for dryness.

Through most of the century, what was meant by "vermouth" was Italian Vermouth -- the sweet, red stuff.  Then French Vermouth came along -- pale, white-wine based, and determinedly dry.  This had two effects.  First, and less importantly, it produced an essentially transparent drink.  The warm orange color of the Manhattan gave way to a drink that, without its olive or twist, could easily be mistaken for a glass of water.

More significantly, taking a Martinez and substituting dry vermouth for sweet resulted in an utterly transformed drink.

The American Martini Laboratory recreated that first, Ur-Martini, using the recipe below:

One part Old Tom Gin
One part Dry Vermouth
Two dashes orange bitters
Shake over ice, then strain into a cocktail glass
Add a twist of lemon

Judging this drink is extremely difficult.  Taken as the next step in the evolution of the cocktail from its origins in the noble Manhattan, it is an eye-opener.  It does not taste at all like a Martinez with one ingredient changed.  It is an entirely new drink, and a significant step on the road to the Martini as we know it today.  So in this regard it must be considered a success.

Taken as a Martini, however...  It is extraordinarily wet, and the Old Tom Gin gives it a lingering touch of sweetness.  It is not the ne plus ultra of drinks that one goes to a Martini to experience.

Still, a good beginning.

Next:  The substitution of London Gin for Old Tom results in the Dry Martini.  Or perhaps that should be "Dry" Martini.  Stay tuned.


Friday, September 26, 2014

This Glitterati Life: The Owl and the Writer


Another day, another author appearance.  This time it was Jeff VanderMeer at the Free Library of Philadelphia.  He began by reading an excerpt from his Annihilation-Authority-Acceptance trilogy and then was interviewed by Chris Urie for Geekadelphia, which was the sponsoring organization for what will be a series of geek-related readings.

Chris hopes to makes the Geekadelphia series stand out from other local reading series by including something extra, something not normally seen at a reading, at each event.  This time, it was a barn owl from the Academy of Natural Sciences.  The owl was a whopping success, though it did threaten to upstage Jeff.

There was a good showing from Philadelphia's contingent of writers (Tom Purdom, Fran Wilde, and Eugene Myers, among others) and editors (Marianne Porter of Dragonstairs Press, Stephen H. Segal of Philadelphia Weekly), though as far as I could see -- but I didn't exactly poll the audience -- almost nobody from the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society.  Who showed up in force for John
Scalzi's appearance at Barnes and Noble a few days ago, so I can only presume they just didn't know.

Intra-genre communications in Philadelphia seem to be almost nonexistent.

Nevertheless, a splendid time was had by all, it turned out that I was having an allergy attack rather than (as I had feared) coming down with a cold, and the owl did not, in the end, upstage the writer.  Though it can be a fearsome thing to compete against one.

So I am content.  And so too, I hope, are you.

Above, top:  Jeff VanderMeer to the left, Chris Urie on the right.  Above, bottom:  Marianne Porter to the left, barn owl to the right.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"I Guess I'm Just Not GOOD Enough For Them!"


Today's post falls into the category of Hard Truths for New Writers.  I was at a convention some while back and heard a couple of new writers (a handful of stories, maybe a first novel but maybe not) complaining bitterly because they couldn't get on any panels on I forget which major convention -- the Worldcon, I think, or maybe the World Fantasy Con.  "I guess I'm just not good enough for them!" one said sarcastically.


At last year's Capclave, there was a terrific panel which consisted of George R. R. Martin, Howard Waldrop, and Gardner Dozois simply talking about anything that entered their heads.  It filled an enormous room, lasted over two hours, and was the most vividly entertaining piece of programming I'd seen for a long time.

One of many interesting observations made was that before MidAmericCon, the 1976 Worldcon, all conventions had single-track programming.  Either you went to the panel on Terraforming or you didn't.  You didn't have the option of going to the Gothic Lolita panel or the New Trends in Urban Fantasy panel.

As a result, the slots on the panels were reserved for the Big Kids -- Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, and the like.  Newbies like George or Gardner or Howard were consigned to the kids table -- the New Writers panel -- where they languished for year after year.

But MidAmeriCon was the largest science fiction convention ever held (at that time) and they had an innovation -- five or six track programming.  It was a big success.  So big that all the major regionals, conventions that then drew thousands of attendees, copied them.  Suddenly, there was room for everyone on the dais.  Multi-track programming spread to the smaller cons.  Over the decades, as attendance dwindled at SF conventions (for many reasons, not all of them bad), multi-track programming became the norm and nobody things of going back to single track.

That's why there's so much space for you at your local convention.  I cringe at the thought of the programming at one particular convention which has so many panels and so few attendees that a typical one will have nine panelists and an audience of five.

Worldcons, World Fantasy Conventions, and the like, however, have a huge pool of Big Name Writers to draw from, and not that many more panels that does, say, PodunkCon.  So, naturally, they are more likely to ask George or Howard or Gardner (or Connie or Kelly or Eileen) to be on the programming than the author of the The Verbing Noun: Volume 1 of the Nounword Trilogy.

This sounds harsh to you because you put your heart and soul into that book.  But it's a simple truth:  Conventions are going to give preference to the writers that readers most want to see and hear.

But nobody's growing any younger and everybody dies sooner or later.  Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke are long gone.  Your day will come.

Provided only that by the time you're their age, you've accomplished as much as Howard or George or Gardner.

End of sermon.  Go thou, and sin no more.

You can find the video of The Howard, George, and Gardner Show panel here.

Above:  I didn't have an appropriate picture to post, so I put up a snap of my back yard, taken using the SkyView app.


Monday, September 22, 2014

On The Shores of Little Narnia


Because I know a lot of folks are curious about what the creative process looks like, I thought I'd share this with you.

I ran across this manilla folder the other day.  Every so many months, I go into the back yard --"Little Narnia," I call it -- late at night with a glass of Scotch to organize my thoughts.  This night, apparently, I had only the folder to write upon and a scratchy pen to write with.

Here's what I wrote:


"On the Shores of Little Narnia"

What is magic?  At first blush this seems a self-evident piece of rhetoric along the lines of "what is love?" and "What is New Jersey?"  But on contemplation it proves harder to answer than might seem.


Wineglass garden.


War                  Hidden Emp.             Love

Three Armies
Coast.                      *
North.                     PS

* The Emperor knows all -- because he is consistently underestimated.

HE: all he issues a (something something) her death


It is almost a relief to stop.


1. The Dragon's Eye

"What did you expect?"

(Arc diagram with five notations:)



Every heart is broken

"Do you love me?"
"Majesty, who else?"

They surrender because they know your defeat in North will unite all



Was ever there an unlikelier triumph?

"Show me the mathematics of the human heart"

... Hveopt (?) & wept


"Oh!" she said."I think your intentions are not honorable and I am afraid"

"I promise I will remember your name as long as I can."

But his name, if she had ever heard it, was gone entirely.  So, as long as she could turned out to be not very long at all.  Fire Orchid felt guilty about this for the greater part of an afternoon.

Stab Story:

Stitch by stitch, page by page.  Fire Orchid did not ordinarily concern herself with the making of books.  She had a family to support. (?)

This time was different.

I do not have the freedom to contemplate truth/society/whatever free of the distractions of ordinary life.  Perhaps, freed of those distractions, they man nothing.


(Doodle of skull)

Barges pulled by canal serpents

And a few words of explanation . . .

Not all the context for the notes is obvious to me.  But the arc diagram is clearly an early attempt to organize the novel that later became Chasing the Phoenix, out next year from Tor Books.  HE is the Hidden Emperor, a major character in that novel.

The wineglass garden, in the tradition of rock gardens and Claes Oldenburg's rope garden, would probably work quite nicely.  Which reminds me that I have to get the shoe garden in shape for next spring.  I'm afraid it was badly neglected this year.

The Dragon's Eye was a reference to the notebook I keep for the third Iron Dragon novel.

Fire Orchid is possibly my favorite character in Chasing the Phoenix, other than Darger & Surplus themselves.  I'm sorry I never wrote this story, because I have no memory of what its plot was to be.  The "stab story" is a story written for a "stab book," which involves a particular style of hand stitching.  Marianne was planning to make a stab book for Dragonstairs Press, and wanted me to write something for it.  Later, she came up with a scheme for the book which didn't involve me writing a story.

The barges pulled by canal serpents were a detail for the Darger & Surplus story that later became "Tawny Petticoats."  Published in Rogues, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.

So that evening, I was working on two novels, at least two stories, and any number of notions.  The notes are schematic to a fault, but they were only meant to keep my thoughts retrievable for the next day.  Anything I didn't get around to doing serious work on by then would be as good as discarded.


Friday, September 19, 2014

The Evolution of the Martini (Part 2)


The Martinez

Last week we visited the ultimate ancestor of the Martini which, surprisingly enough, was the Manhattan -- or rather the Nineteenth Century version of the Manhattan.  Today, the Drink That Would Be King makes its first major mutation.  Somebody -- and there are many conflicting stories as to who it was -- made a Manhattan with gin instead of whiskey.  Thus changing history forever.

But first it has to be explained that just as "whiskey" a century-and-some years ago actually meant rye, so too "gin" did not mean London Dry Gin, which is the stuff we overwhelmingly drink today.  It meant either Genever Gin (the original, but of no relevance to today's post) or else Old Tom Gin.

Old Tom Gin is, simply enough, sweet gin.  It actually includes simple syrup in its formulation.  There are today, two commonly available Old Tom Gins -- Hayman's Old Tom Gin and Ransom Old Tom Gin -- and a slew of boutique Old Toms from craft distilleries, which will be ignored here simply because they're expensive and hard to find.

Embarrassingly enough, Hayman's and Ransom are very different-tasting gins.  That's because back in the heyday of Old Tom Gins, there was a great variety in the formulations, brand by brand.  No one knows which was used for the cocktail in question; presumably it varied from bartender to bartender.  For this experiment, Marianne and I bought a bottle of Ransom.

The new drink was promptly dubbed the Martinez and it caught on fast and hard.  There are many recipes for the Martinez, and while they are all, essentially, an old-style Manhattan made with Old Tom Gin rather than rye, we chose the following:

One part Old Tom Gin
One part sweet vermouth
two dashes orange bitters
one dash maraschino
shake over ice
strain into a glass
serve with a twist of lemon peel

And the result was . . . drum roll, please . . . a surprisingly good summer drink.  It's still sweet, of course.  But sweet in a pleasant way.  The flavor of the Old Tom gin dominates lightly, and the other flavors harmonize with it.  This is the sort of cocktail I think of as a "lady drink" -- provided one imagines the lady drinking it as being your sophisticated New York City aunt, the one with the expensive enamel cigarette case with matching lighter, which she kept in her Chanel purse, and the scandalous past she never regretted.

Really, quite an excellent tipple.  Lovely color too.  I'd recommend it to anyone.

But no matter how many of them you drink, you'll still never mistake a Martinez for a Martini.  There were still several crucial steps yet to go before that could happen.

The American Martini Laboratory will be recreating those steps and reviewing them for you here in the near future.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Secret Life of Books


Marianne and I drove to the Big Apple yesterday for a launch party hosted by bookman, small press entrepreneur, writer, and poet Henry Wessells.  It was held at James Cummins Bookseller, which is the perfect place to drop by when you happen to be in the mood to pick up the typescript of a book-length poem by W. H. Auden or a watercolor drawing of Madeleine by Ludwig Bemelmans.

The book being launched was a small press (Temporary Culture, Henry's own imprint) limited edition (226 copies) collection of six poems by Henry Wessells "on reading, memory, books, and the second law of thermodynamics," titled The Private Life of Books.  With photographs by Paul Sch├╝tze.

It's really quite a lovely book.

Unexpected traffic caused me to miss most of the party, but it was a glittery event nonetheless, and the milieu could not be improved upon.  Pictured above are Henry himself and Marianne Porter, founder, proprietor, designer, and creator of Dragonstairs Press.

Click here to find ordering information on The Private Life of Books.

Click here to browse Joseph Cummins Bookseller.

And click here to see The Endless Bookshelf, the blog of the only man in the world who enjoys books more than you do.

Above:  The powers behind the literary juggernauts of Temporary Culture and Dragonstairs Press.