Friday, February 29, 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Monday, February 25, 2008
Afterwards, as is traditional for Philly Fantastic, everybody went out to dinner together. After various small adventures, we wound up at the Pen and Pencil Club, a private club for journalists and their friends.
Now, when you think of a club -- of a Philadelphia club in particular, because this is an old, old club town -- you probably think brandy snifters, butlers, and leather armchairs. Not so for the Pen and Pencil. It serves a scruffier, more ink-stained ilk. Note the sign above. It reads:
NO RED BULL
I think I've found my home.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Friday, February 22, 2008
When I was young, Khrushchev was a terrifying figure, the man who thumped the table at the UN with his shoe and cried, "We will bury you!" He meant that economically the USSR would leave the West in the lurch, apparently, but it sure didn't feel like that at the time. So when I heard that his son, Professor Sergei N. Khrushchev, was giving a lecture at Rowan University's Glassboro campus on the Cold War, off I went.
I'm writing a novel set in Russia, after all.
The lecture was a benign history of his father and Detente, with an emphasis on the Cold War as a natural thing, countries competing for influence the way plants compete for sunlight. (One man, of about my age, in the audience, called his take "a fairy tale.") For those who lived through it, there were a number of familiar stories -- Brezhnev's Cadillac, and Kosygin discovering that the hot line was not a telephone but a teletype, for two -- and the sort of overview most of use to students unsure as to whether Kosygin was a novelist or a brand of vodka. But there were a couple of interesting tidbits to be gleaned from it:
Khrushchev (who was at Stalingrad, remember) could not stand to watch war movies. They gave him nightmares. He told his son that the movies lied -- that wars were dirtier, bloodier, more brutal, and more dangerous than that.
A young woman asked Sergei Nikitovich if he'd ever met Stalin, and he said that once when he was university student, he was in Red Square for a ceremony, and Stalin was on the reviewing stand atop Lenin's Tomb. He and his friends jumped up and down, shouting, "Comrade Stalin! Comrade Stalin!" and Stalin looked down and waved, saying, "Hello, there." Then the professor smiled down from the stage and said, "So you met me, I met him."
And I got to ask a question I've been wondering about for most of my life: Whether there was anybody in the upper levels of the Soviet Union lobbying for a preemptive first strike against the US, the way that Curtis LeMay and Edward Teller did here for one against the USSR. No, he said, because the United States had a numerical superiority in nuclear weapons of 9.5 to 1. Against those odds, even the hawks weren't willing to risk it.
Afterwards, I bought one of the professor's books and shook his hand. So I am now only two degrees of Kevin Bacon from Stalin.
And you, if you've met me, are at the very most three.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Diagram 27. This was going to be diagram 28, but when I looked at the one I had slotted for this week I couldn’t make heads nor tails of it. Sorry. With my handwriting, it’s a miracle I can decipher anything from my notebooks.
This diagram appears to map out Chapter 18, “In the Shadow of the Obsidian Throne.” Have I mentioned already that the Obsidian Throne, which in its earliest references was merely a signifier for the kingship, turned out to be something far nastier?
From bottom to top:
“The Midnight Garden
Yes, if I were mentally structuring this as a play, it should have been five scenes, rather than five acts. But I was chiefly putting myself in the right mindset here. Something formal and even stately was what I was looking for. I would’ve made it a gavotte, but I don’t have the vocabulary of dance at my fingertips. Note that four of the five sections begin with Will encountering a new character and four of the five end with that character’s departure.
The jumps of Dame Serena’s line over those for the fetch (Ff), and F indicate that she doesn’t directly interact with them.
Since the book is reaching toward its conclusion here, I’ll have to be coy. W is Will, as always, and X was surely Dame Serena, apparently at that point not yet given a name. The question mark indicates that I still had no idea of how she and Will were going to interact. But I knew that, as is so often the case with Will and women, he was going to be seriously out of his depth.
You can tell by how legibly this is written that I was in no hurry to start writing that day. You can tell by the tightness of the structure that I knew most of what was to be done. So, pretty obviously, I had written most of the Midnight Garden section and was mapping out the entirety of the chapter to see where my problem was. And, as it turned out, it was in that circled question mark, where awaited the encounter between Dame Serena and Will.
This diagram achieved two things: It identified the problem area of the chapter, and it held out the promise of smooth sailing and fast prose, once I got past it. Since I’m self-employed, you might think of it as a reprimand from the boss followed by the promise of a raise once the job got done.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
Friday, February 8, 2008
This is one:
So Leinster built a few wooden models, and experimented with them in his bathtub. Eventually, he determined that attaching long flexible strips of I forget exactly what (maybe aluminum) to the periscope would break up the wake. The info was passed back to Heinlein and so up the line.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Consider this my belated Groundhog Day present to you.
From the bottom:
1. Salem Toussaint’s Office
2. The Cluricauns
3. The Acclamation
4. The Burning Man
5. The Aftermath
The various initials stand for Will, Salem Toussaint, Jimi Begood, Ghostface, Vickie and/or Nate, and everybody's favorite fanatic, the Burning Man. You’ll note that this is an awfully quick sketch, basically a map of how much I hoped to accomplish that day if at all possible. Acclamation is misspelled and I drew a character line for the Burning Man next to the incident labeled “The Burning Man,” neither of which I would have done if I’d been paying much attention.
The line for Victoria (never call her Vickie) and/or Nate travels alongside Will's when they're together and darts away when they're apart. Note how suddenly and finally they separate. That's a major plot point right there.
Note also the scribbled-over “The Dragon’s Sermon.” I originally meant to give Will’s inner demon a voice, rather like Faust's sermon in Jack Faust. For artistic reasons, I decided to replace that with a revisionist history. Which may be just as well. It was alarming how many people thought that the caustic cynicism in Faust’s sermon was a naive reflection of my own true opinions. Reading is a dying art.
Monday, February 4, 2008
iii) near the end of the book, after young wotsisname has become king, an Umberto Eco-like list of the many denizens of the city, including Ukranians and... Ruthenians. Who the hell talks about Ruthenians? No one but Avram Davidson surely? Looking in the Avram Davidson treasury I find it mentioned in... the introduction by Michael Swanwick. Who is married to one.
Yes, absolutely right, I am fascinated by the strange plight of Rutheno-Americans, who seem to have almost entirely lost all sense of their ethnicity. Irish-Americans, among whom I count myself, are the exact opposite. We remember more about our history and native land than probably actually existed, and it's a great source of strength for us. Exactly how bad does your history have to be for an entire people to jettison it wholesale?
So there's a hard grain of mystery behind my decision to include Ruthenians among such mythological creatures as vodniks, milchdicks, clabbernappers, and igosha. And it was, of course, a nod to my wife, Marianne Porter (in some circles best known as "the M. C. Porter Endowment for the Arts"), that the very next category in the list was laboratory inspectors -- which was the position she held two promotions ago.
All that explication for one word! You can cram a lot of hidden stuff into a novel when you write as slowly as I do.
I also wrote the following short-short for The Periodic Table of Science Fiction, originally published in the late, lamented Sci Fiction and then in book format by PS Publishing:
Ah, Ruthenia! Has any land been ever so lost as thee? In America the Irish gather in bars to drink and grow maudlin about a land they've never seen. The Germans wax eloquent about the Rhine and about poets whose work they can only read in translation. African-Americans, whose history has been so thoroughly obliterated that not one out of ten knows from what land or tribe his ancestors came, hold a deep and abiding love for the continent of Africa.
But where are the Ruthenians? What history was theirs?
I met a Ruthenian-American girl in a bar who told me: "In Ruthenia of old, my ancestors greeted the dawn with one long blast from a great bronze horn. They scorned print and saddles as things that made men weak. A sprig of aspen summoned them to war. They rode bareback into battle.
"My Ruthenian ancestors drank fermented mare's milk and a mushroom wine so strong that outlanders could not finish even the first flagon. The men wore gold rings at the tips of their beards and mustaches. The women wore silver rings braided into their hair. In winter, they took baths in the snow. In summer, they fought knife-duels blindfolded and with their left hands bound together. It was considered a great disgrace for both opponents to survive a duel.
"In Ruthenia, the hunters could run fleeter than horses, pass through a bramble thicket without making a noise, and follow the day-old track of a salmon through a lake. The women wove cloth as light as silk and as strong as denim in patterns that dazzled the eye. When a garment was finished, it was held up for admiration, and if the admiration was less than its maker thought it deserved, she flung it in the fire.
"In Ruthenia, all the children were happy.
"It was the custom in Old Ruthenia that when a girl came of age, she would bathe naked in a mountain pool, and offer herself in marriage to the first man who came along. But in practice her father and brothers guarded the way to the pool with swords, and let through only that man who had already won her heart. Our national epic begins with a scoundrel who kills father and brothers and lover in order to marry a woman who is a symbol of our land, and ends with the death of that villain at the hands of his own children."
"Is this really true?" I asked her.
She finished her drink, and said, "Probably not. But it's a nice thing to think, isn't it?"
Friday, February 1, 2008
An admirable sentiment. But, strictly speaking, not true. There are many, many things I want other people to do that I wouldn't.
Case in point: Fast Forward, the Arlington-based monthly television show focusing on the triune genre of fantasy, SF, and horror, has just released onto the Web its January show featuring an interview with yours truly. And while I'm not going to watch it myself, I certainly hope other people do.
The interview can be seen on Fast Forward's home page here.
Et un amuse bouche . . .
Am I the only person who's noticed that the aliens in my February 2008 Asimov's story, "From Babel's Fall'n Glory They Fled . . ." and the aliens in Nancy Kress's "Sex and Violence," which is not only in the same issue but immediately follows, apparently speak the same language?
Coincidence or conspiracy? You judge.