Friday, August 17, 2018

Good Fun at the KGB

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It was a grand night Wednesday at the KGB Bar science fiction reading series. The chief draw was Jeffrey Ford, who read two excerpts from his new novel, Ahab's Return: or, The Last Voyage to great acclaim. The premise -- that Captain Ahab survived the wreck of the Pequod and is now searching for his lost wife and child in New York City -- is exactly the kind of thing I never read. But, having heard Jeff read from it, I've resolved to buy the book in hardcover.

This is, incidentally, another good reason to attend readings. Aside from the fun of it, I mean. Learning about books you didn't know you wanted.

That's Jeff up top, reading.






And this next picture (photo credit: Marianne Porter) is of me. I also read two pieces. The first was "Ghost Ships," a short story that is radically different from anything I've written before. It got a very good reception, which I don't mind admitting was heartening.

I also read a slightly-condensed version of the ending of "The City of Men," the novella that Gardner Dozois and I were working on when he died. This is a sequel or continuation of "The City of God," published in 1995 in Omni Online and subsequently reprinted in Asimov's Science Fiction. The first novella was extremely dark and so, too, is the second -- until you come to the ending, which is unabashedly happy. Gardner had talked about that ending for decades and he almost got to write it. But at least it got written in the end, even if not by him.  Making the novella a fitting memorial to the man.

Then, because Gardner had always admired Robert Silverberg's innovation when John Brunner died, I asked if the crowd could honor Gardner with, not a moment of silence but a moment of applause.

The crowd did so. The applause seemed to go on forever. It's possible it's still going on now, even as you read these words.




Oh, and I should probably mention that the crowds that the KGB readings draw are made up of the cream of the New York science fiction scene: writers, editors, SF professionals and the like. All by themselves, they're reason enough for NYC residents who love science fiction to show up.

Up above: My rather blurry photo of the rather fine writer Richard Bowes, drinking a glass of uisce solais.


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Friday, August 3, 2018

A Simple Plot Diagram

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I drew up the above diagram last night as a tool to help me with a story I'm having some difficulty with. There are two main characters, Olav and Nahala, each represented by their middle initials. The main line shows their journey through the story. The small circles are particularly significant events in the story. And the arrows converging on the small circles are characters and forces introduced at that point.

Simple, yes?

So what, you ask, is the point? Well, I've got about 2,500 words written, including the first six pages which are pretty much final draft, and the final three or four paragraphs, also final draft. Plus a batch of stuff that falls somewhere in between. But while I know what must happen in the broadest outline (Olav must agree to work for a wizard, he must fight a dragon, and that fight must have a certain unexpected conclusion), the details of how the story will accomplish these things are not exactly clear. By sketching out what I know, I accomplish two things:

1) I discover aspects of the shape of the story I didn't know. For example, it turns out that the story falls into four distinct sections, which suggests alternating point of view between Olav and Nahala.

2) At the crucial plot points, as I'm tightly focused on them, I make marginal notes: snippets of dialog, observations about character and setting, and the like. These, when I go to write, can be expanded. So if I'm feeling uninspired, I can just go to the notes and start inserting them into the story.

Luckily, this is not a very complicated tale. It might be a short as 5,000 words. It's definitely going to be a short story, rather than a novella or a novelette.


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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Dream Diary: July 30, 2018

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I dreamed I dropped by Janis Ian's house for an unannounced visit -- which was pretty cheeky of me, considering she lives in a different region of the country from me. We chatted and she mentioned that that evening she was going to be in a music video with Hank Williams, for whom she'd written a song. Then she asked if I'd like to be an extra in the video.

I said yes, while reflecting on the irony that I'd had to beg off a similar invitation to appear in a music video from Neil Gaiman, because it conflicted with my visit to Janis.

(I do apologize for all the name-dropping. But that was the dream I had. The conversation, as I remember it, was a pleasant one.)


And does this mean I'll be posting here regularly again...?

I hope so. Then again, I've been intending to promise to do so for weeks, and things keep coming up. So we'll see. My intentions are good, even if the flesh is weak.


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Monday, July 9, 2018

Eight Pictures from the Gardner Dozois Memorial

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The memorial for Gardner Dozois was held Saturday at the Friends Center in Center City Philadelphia. Well over a hundred people showed up (I doubt anybody counted) to honor and remember a brilliant writer and editor and one of the best and kindest men I've ever known.

I've written many thousands of words of memorials and appreciations over he past month, so today I'll just post a few pictures with minimalist captions.

Above: Gardner's son, Christopher Casper. His words were the wisest and most heartfelt of the day.




Tess Kissinger sharing memories of Gardner.




"Look -- manatees!" George R. R. Martin tells a very funny story about the old days.



Left to right: Tom Purdom, Barbara Hearn, Margaret King.





Gregory Frost somehow looking both mischievous and elegant.




Joe Haldeman sharing a story with Chip Delany. Tess Kissinger is in the background.




Chip again.




And Jack Dann.

All in all, a very sad event, laced with laughter.


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Friday, June 22, 2018

Flogging the Time Machine!

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A decent respect for my editors and publishers requires that I mention that I will be making an appearance tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Rittenhouse Square Barnes & Noble. Along with other comix creators, of course. All in support of the Once Upon a Time Machine: Greek Gods & Legends anthology.

If you're in the area, why not drop by?


And last night in LIttle Narnia . . .





The American Martini Institute is often thought of as being solely about the Martini. It's the name, I suppose. But in fact, that august organization actively researches all manner of cocktails. In fact, the AMI met in solemn convocation last night for a taste-testing of Canadian Club's 100% Rye Whiskey. If one is to appreciate what American rye whiskey was and has become, this is , ironically enough, the place to start.

Why ironically? Because Canadian Rye Whisky and American Rye Whiskey are two different, though related cats -- and not just because the American version has an extra 'e' in its name. American rye, by law, just contain at least 51% rye in its mash, while the Canadian version only has to taste the way Canadians think a proper rye whisky should.

There was a time in the United States when 'whiskey' meant rye whiskey. Remember the Whiskey Rebellion? It was all about the rye. Pennsylvania and Maryland were the primary producers of rye whiskey, leaving bourbon, with its corn mash, for the Southern states -- Kentucky in particular. Allegheny County in Pennsylvania became the center for distilling Monongahela Rye. More on that in a later post.

But a funny thing happened. Rye fell out of flavor. The chief culprit was Prohibition, the mad experiment in social control which sent a generation of Americans to their bathtubs to concoct a witch's brew of alcoholic beverages that no civilized human being should have to imbibe.

During this nightmarish period, the best smuggled alcohol came from Canada -- and Canadians, as a whole, like their whisky smooth. By the time American drinkers emerged from the Age of Savagery, they had no choice but to acknowledge the superior sophistication of our brothers to the north.

Rye whiskey went into eclipse. And what could be bought pretty much uniformly hugged that 51% legal minimum. Even rye drinkers liked the flavor mellowed out with corn and malted barley in the mash.

Old Overholt, one of the most prominent of the Monongahela Ryes, was sold and reformulated. Now it's a high-corn whiskey made the Jim Beam distilleries in Kentucky.

But the winds of fashion are fickle things. Today, rye is back in favor again. Boutique distilleries are popping up everywhere. And Canadian Club, bless 'em, has put out an affordable single-rye whisky.

Now, as to the tasting...

The color is lovely, a rich amber. The nose and flavor both are strongly caramel with strong spice and notes of not English Walnut but, appropriately enough, American Black Walnut. The flavor is emphatic and, it has to be said, to the modern palate might seem just a touch harsh. This is not a sipping whisky. The caramel does tend to dominate.

But the proof of a good rye lies in how well it goes in a Manhattan. So Manhattans were made:

Manhattan
3 parts rye
1 part sweet vermouth
2 dashes cherry bitters
shake over ice
serve in a cocktail glass with spiced cherries

(Marianne spices our cherries in Maraschino liqueur, so as to avoid the horror of candied cherries.)

And the result?

It has to be said, this is a magnificent Manhattan. The rye's flavor is strong and emphatic -- in, I hasten to add, the very best way. The subtleties of the whisky come through. And the vermouth, bitters, and cherry tame the more rambunctious qualities of the naked whisky.

More research will be published here in future postings.


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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Bloomsday on Delancy

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Once a year the Rosenbach Museum and Library celebrates Bloomsday, the commemoration of June 15, 1904 on which all the action of James Joyce's mighty novel Ulysses occurs. Delancey Place is closed to cars and filled with chairs and a rotating schedule of local celebrities read the entire novel over the course of the event.

(That's possible, you know. In fact, the novel is nowhere near as daunting as some people make it out to be. If you've tried and bounced off it, try this trick: read it out loud. Joyce was all about the sound of words.)

So here I am with the cutout of Joyce:





And here's Samuel R. Delany, leaning into the "Wandering Rocks" section:

 


And another shot for good measure:





Also reading was boulevardier and bookman Henry Wessells:




And Fran Wilde read also. From the "Oxen of the Sun" section. Here she is Jimmy and me:





And I would be remiss if I didn't mention . . .




I'll be at the Rittenhouse Square Barnes & Noble this Friday at 7!

Several other comic book creators and I will be there to promote Once Upon A Time Machine: Greek Gods & Legends, an anthology of science-fictionalized Greek myths and legends.

This is my first comic-book story ever and I was extraordinarily pleased with how it came out. So I'd be delighted if somebody showed up for the event. If you happen to be in Philadelphia this Friday and don't have any other obligations, please consider coming.

End of hard sell.


Above: Pascale Spinney from the Academy of Vocal Arts being looked down on by Bloom himself, while Stephen Dedalus is so wrapped up in his own thoughts he fails to notice her. She was pretty magnificent.


Friday, June 8, 2018

A Few Words of Encouragement from Gardner Dozois

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Back in the day, when I was a scrawny gonnabe writer, Gardner Dozois used to offer me encouragement. We'd be sitting around in his apartment and he'd leaf through the new issue of Asimov's, suddenly stop, and say, "You know, Michael, this story is even suckier than yours."

"Gee, thanks, Gardner," I'd reply.

He'd leaf some more. "Here's another story that sucks worse than yours."

"I really appreciate that, Gardner."

Flip, flip, flip. "I don't see why that story of yours shouldn't sell. There are lots of stories here suckier than yours."

"God bless you for saying that, Gardner."

But, as time would prove, he had a point. There were indeed stories even suckier than mine and that meant that sooner or later mine was going to sell. As it did.

New writers should take this to heart. Your stories don't actually have to be good to be published. Just less sucky than the worst of what is already being published. The bar is set a lot lower than you thought.

You can always be good after you've made that first sale.


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