Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Birder's Christmas Carol

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I was in Bombay Hook yesterday and it was a great day for birding. All told, Marianne and I saw nine bald eagles, including two in a tree (above) we could hear speaking to each other and a pair in courting flight. You really need to see two together to fully appreciate what spectacular fliers they are. Also several thousand snow geese, many great blue herons, some quite closeby, a variety of other birds, and a red fox!

So I am happy.

To celebrate, I took a classic Christmas carol and adopted it for birders. You know how the song goes, so I'm only going to give you the final round:


The Twelve Days of Christmas Birding

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love spotted these:
Twelve turkeys drumming
Eleven peeps a-piping
Ten lapwings larking
Nine quails a-dancing
Eight doves a-mourning
Seven mute swans swimming
Six geese a-laying
FIVE SNOWY OWLS!
Four peregrines
Three black ducks
Two godwits
And an eagle in a bare tree

                           -- Michael Swanwick


Above: Photo by M. C. Porter. Photo and poem are both issued under a Creative Commons license. You are free to use them for noncommercial purposes, so long as credit is retained. And you can change the words of the carol. That's how I came up with it myself.


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Friday, December 1, 2017

Two Roads Diverged...

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My friend and occasional editor, Gabrielle Wei, knowing of my fondness for writing on leaves, sent me the above picture of a ginkgo leaf. I was touched, of course, but also reminded of a true story.

This happened to a neighbor of my family's, back when we lived in Winooski, Vermont. She was out driving, one day, on a lonely country road, when she came to an intersection. She stopped at the stop sign and started forward.

Just then, a maniac driving far too fast for the road, blasted through the intersection, ignoring the stop sign entirely.

Both drivers slammed on their brakes. They missed colliding by inches. The driver who had been going too fast turned to look back and glared at my neighbor in fury. Then he put his foot on the accelerator and sped away.

And our neighbor recognized him.

She told us the next day that she sat in her car for several minutes, shivering, and reflecting on the headline that would have been printed the next day, had she not braked in time:

WINOOSKI WOMAN KILLS ROBERT FROST

Every word of this story is true. Had it been a fiction, I'm pretty sure there would have been an implicit moral to it.


And as long as we're talking about leaves...

Here's a picture I took of the water trough outside the thatched cottage of Du Fu in Chengdu. It looks like I left out a couple of strokes in the great poet's name, but that's just a trick of the light. I copied it out very carefully.



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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Foreword, A Season, An Afterword

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Monday's post on Dragonstairs Press's two new (and one old) chapbooks ran so long that I didn't have the chance to present any excerpts. A failing that I will correct right now.

The preface to Midwinter Fables:


That scandalous old slave, Aesop, having spent his youth as secretary to his master, and his middle years as the freed commercial ambassador of the same man, found himself living in a cold stone hut in the mountains. One day, his scribbling was interrupted by a woman who claimed to be his granddaughter, looking to discover what sort of man he was. 

“How do I know what you say is true?” Aesop asked. 

The woman cast a scornful glance at her surroundings. “My father is a successful wine merchant in Syracuse. Why would I lie?” 

“Very well,” the fabulist said. “Listen to these stories I have just now written.”

A season from 5 Seasons:


                                                           Winterthaw 

I crave thy pardon, mistress, that I did try to eat thee.  It were the Darkwinter, when we all do what we must to survive.  I understand why thou dost flinch from my touch.

Still.  Didst thou not kill thy sister, who did love thee, when the foodstuffs ran low?  Not that I disapprove.  It were the right thing to do, God wot.  Hunger knows no morals.  I did the same with my father, poor soul.

Those dire times are behind us.  The snows are melting at last.  We can scrabble in the mud for last year’s roots, and perhaps a small rodent or three.  We keep our knives sharp and close to hand, of course, because we each know what the other is capable of.

Now the ice turns back into pond water.  The air is warm.  Desperation falls a day, a second day, a third into the past.  Now at last – though I grip my blade as firmly as thou dost thine – I am free to say...

I do love thee.

And the afterword to Touchstones:


A touchstone, literally, is a stone used to test the purity of gold. Metaphorically, it is the test of the truth of any particular statement. But in the heart, a touchstone is whatever connects us to our deepest and truest values.

When you travel, you carry a little bit of your home with you as a sort of touchstone. For my third trip to Chengdu, I brought these three stories, which exist in physical form in my house. The first is written on a jar filled with keys and is partly true and partly not. The second is written on a framed sheet of paper behind a Mason jar filled with mineral oil, scrap electronic parts, and a rubber eyeball. It is an homage to Ray Bradbury and completely fictional. "Lovers and Lunatics" is written on a crescent moon shaped wall lamp. It is a love letter to my wife and every word of it is tru

"A Jarful of Keys" was published on my blog in 2009. The other two stories appear here for the first time.

Home, family, fantasy, and love. These stories are touchstones for what matter to me most. I hope they give you pleasure.

And since you asked . . .

The Dragonstairs chapbooks -- slim, elegant, and seriously underpriced -- can be found here.


Above: Winter leaves.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Three From Dragonstairs!

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There are two new chapbooks available from Dragonstairs Press, which is (this needs to be said occasionally) not my but Marianne Porter's tabletop publishing empire. These are handmade, hand-stitched labors of love. And if you go to the Dragonstairs website, you'll see that these things sell out pretty handily.

One reason for this is the price. When Marianne started making chapbooks, I asked around for how much she should charge and got two contradictory pieces of advice. Lawrence Person said, "Anything more than ten dollars and it stops being an impulse buy." But David Hartwell said, "Start at fifty dollars. Anything less and the serious collectors won't touch it." I relayed both remarks to Marianne who, horrified at the thought of soaking her customers, decided she would sell to frivolous collectors only. I personally harbor the belief that somewhere twenty or thirty years down the line, these will turn out to be very good investments indeed.

But mostly it's because they're lovely items.

They are:

Midwinter Fables by Michael Swanwick
Four of Aesop's fables, retold. Edition of 110 copies, signed and numbered.
Six dollars in the U. S. Seven dollars elsewhere.

This is my annual Solstice chapbook, created last December but only just now available to buy. The Dragonstairs site will tell you there are 34 copies available, but since they went on sale yesterday, there are actually only 24. These always sell out before Christmas so if you want one for that special bibliophile on your gift list, you'd best move fast.

And:

Touchstones by Michael Swanwick
Three personal stories (one previously published on Flogging Babel) and an afterword. Published in an edition of 50, to mark Swanwick's participation in the Fourth Chengdu International Science Fiction Conference.

Roughly half of these were given away to friends and colleagues in China. The Dragonstairs site says that 24 are available, but currently the number is 14.

Also still available is:

Five Seasons by Michael Swanwick. Five short short stories, independent but interrelated. Edition of 100, signed and numbered.

I don't ordinarily issue a caution about my own fiction, but since this is the holiday season, I ought to mention that these stories -- written to meet a challenge to divide the year into five seasons -- came out a little grim. That said, I think they're pretty damn glorious. Dragonstairs would have you believe that 28 are available. The actual number is 24.

You can find the Dragonstairs website here.  And while you're looking, why not scroll down to see all the cool stuff no longer available for sale?





Above top: All three publications on the Dragonstairs office rug. Immediately above: The Barefoot Publisher herself, assembling packages to be mailed out.

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Friday, November 24, 2017

The Season Begins

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When I was a boy in Winooski, Vermont, there was an unspoken rivalry in the neighborhood over who got their Christmas lights up first. Nobody, of course, put up lights before Thanksgiving. That would be rushing the season and absurd to boot.

But one year my mother, who had a strong artistic streak, carved our pumpkins and, instead of candles, put a colored electric bulb in each. The kind that went on Christmas trees, one orange and one yellow. They looked great. If you carve your own pumpkins, I recommend you try it some year.

We didn't know that down at the bottom of the street, a competitive soul looked up and, since it was too distant to see the pumpkins, saw only the colored lights.

The next year in early October, a week before we set out pumpkins, our competitive neighbor had his house covered with Christmas lights!

All of which is prelude to this:

Today we -- by which, of course, I mean Marianne -- put out our Christmas lights. That's a picture of some of them up above.

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Friday, November 3, 2017

And As Always...

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I'm on the road again! I'm off to the Fourth China International Science Fiction Conference in Chengdu. Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province and, not coincidentally, the home city of Science Fiction World. Which has, as its many friends like to point out, the largest readership of any science fiction magazine in the world.

I will do my best to keep in touch. But the winds of politics are fickle and the Great Firewall is no joke.  So I can guarantee nothing. I think I've found an honest and legal workaround. We shall see. If it doesn't work, I'll share my adventures with you upon my return.

With me safe travels!

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sales! Sales! Sales!

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Despite my blog's title, I don't flog my books all that often here. I have publishers to do that for me. But a good deal is a good deal, so when my stuff is put on sale, I figure I have an obligation to those who might want to read it. So here goes.

(I'll pause for a second to put on my straw hat and grab my cane. And...)

Good news for ebook bargain hunters!  Open Road Media, my favorite ebook publisher, has just announced a binge of one-day-only sales of my books. It begins with Vacuum Flowers being featured in The Portalist's weekly deals newsletter, on this coming Sunday, November 5. The ebook will be downpriced to 1.99 across all US retailers on that day.

But that’s only the beginning! Vacuum Flowers will be featured in Early Bird Books (EBB), Open Roads Media’s daily deals newsletter, on November 17. The ebook will be downpriced to 1.99 across all US retailers on that day and that day only.

And that’s still not all! Bones of the Earth, In the Drift, and Vacuum Flowers will be featured in The Portalist on November 19. Again, the ebooks will be downpriced to 1.99 across all US retailers on that day.

Remember, these are one-day-only deals. So if you read e-books and you’re curious about any of the above titles, mark it down on your e-calendars.


You can subscribe to EBB here so that you'll get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears in the newsletter.

You can subscribe to The Portalist, the premier digital destination for fans of science fiction and fantasy, here so that you’ll get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears in the newsletter.


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