Wednesday, October 16, 2019

At the Lima Bean Festival


Marianne and I topped off our week down the Shore with a visit to the Lima Bean Festival in Cape May.

You may think that Teddy Roosevelt riding a moose is pretty damned American but there's nothing as authentically American as a Lima Bean Festival.  Cape May is a resort town but in October, most of the attendees are local. There are tents where people sell clothing, handmade jewelry, and clever art. Tables where the vendors are selling second-hand stuff less for the money than the conversation. And there are lima beans: Lima Bean Soup, Lima Bean Hummus, Lima Bean Chile, Lima Bean Empanadas... and some Lima Bean Pastries that I didn't dare look too closely at.

I thought that they'd given up on the Lima Bean Earrings but a jewelry lady told me they'd sold out early.

And The North Wind Speaks (part 16) . . .

A lost child?

(continued tomorrow)

And today's diagram . . .

The clearer the novel becomes in my head, the simpler the diagrams. Here, Caitlin's journey is boiled down into three seps:

1. Kill Dragon.

2. Recognize Guilt

3. Recognize Responsibility

Which was far too after-school special for what I had in mind. Kind of a failure in perception, this diagram.

Ths diagram is better. Cat slices through Avernus. At the center are her relationships with Narcisse, Grimalke, the pilots and the haints. The city is divided into the Ruling Class, the Elite, the Blue Collar and the Underlass. The people Cat interacts with include revenants, friends, at least one revolutinary, and servants.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The North Wind Speaks (part 15)


and kill him.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again. So it's possible tomorrow's post will be a little late. I'll do my darnedest, though.

And today's diagram . . .

At the top is a line spoken by Caitlin to Esme when they dine in La Ghoulerie: "You can have anything on the vegan menu." To which, of course, Esme's response would be a disappointed, "Awww."

Today's diagram shows all the major characters as they enter and leave the novel. Note how many are female. Only Fingolfinrhod, Ederkopp, and Rabbit are male. Rabbit is still being held out as a possible love interest. Little does he (or did I) know that he was about to get his ass resolved straight out of the plot.


Monday, October 14, 2019

"The North Wind Speaks" (episode 14)


the cad down

And today's diagram . . .

This diagram is labeled In the Ancient City, which means I had not yet determined the city was Avernus nort hat it was built inside the crater of a (probably) dormant volcano.

This is arelationship diagram not a plot one. At top are Cat, Narcisse and Attercop ("Counselor"). Esme is off by herself because... well, because she's Esme. Cat has a relationship with two pilots (Ysault and Sibyl) without Fata Narcisse knowing about it. Narcisse has a relationship with the Conspiracy as do the pilots.

In the ideas part of the page, I ask Carnival?  which is a good notion. I also suggest bringing in the witches who almost catch Will on the train to Babel in The Dragons of Babel. Which, while not actually a bad idea isn't a very interesting one. So I didn't use it.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

The North Wind Speaks (part 13)


We'll track

(continued tomorrow)

And today's diagram . . .

This is the diagram where I finally realized Helen V.'s importance to the plot. I drew diverging lines for what happens to all the characters (I've finally reached the point where all those who have come together begin to fly apart), and I realized that I hadn't included Helen. So I wrote her name large. Then circled it. Then saw.

Much as I'm trying to de-mystify the process of writing in this series, there are moments in the process that cannot be put into words.


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Texas Tommy's Wonderful Tornado


Pictured above is Texas Tommy who sells a variety of stuffed hot dogs from a hole-in-the-wall place in Cape May, NJ. He is, as you can guess, an eccentric guy with a good sense of humor. The kind of fellow you meet now and then who makes you feel cheerful for the rest of the day.

He is also a culture hero. For Mr. Tommy has created an entirely new and completely wonderful fast food--the Tornado.There's one pictured below:

And it tastes even better than it looks! What Texas Tommy did was to repurpose a soft ice cream machine to serve hot mashed potatoes. To which he added cheese, chili, hot peppers, salsa, and sour cream. The Five Basic Food Groups of Deliciousness.

It's a meal, it's a self-indulgence, and if the Catholic Church ever notices it, it will probably be declared a sin. That's how good it is.

Only in Cape May. And now that the tourist season is over, only on weekends.

And "The North Wind Speaks" (part 12) . . .

 Is it a faithless lover?

(continued tomorrow)

And today's diagram . . . 

This is kind of a mess, but have patience. The plot moves from top to middle, where it says CRASH. I'm trying to work out the implications of Olympia giving birth. Of Olympia herself, I write: A face of unconcern. A single un-winking eye. Hair like flaming oil. Olympia must be aloof, scornful, uncaring. "If I die, then so much the worse for you who were inadequate protectors.

Of the crone Grimka I write: The  crone is a brick of certainty & worth [therefore] se is a haint. Which, in the actual fact, is a false syllogism

Swooping lines represent the crone (Grimka) and Fata Narcisse. Of Narcisse, I ask: Does she die or live? Which is a much less interesting question than the one The Iron Dragon's Mother ultimately answers.


Friday, October 11, 2019

The American Phoenix


Here's a piece of American history that I wish everyone knew. George Henry White was the last African-American congressman of the Reconstruction era. The forces of racism and oppression systematically redrew legislative districts and enacted poll taxes, "literacy tests," and other laws to suppress black voters and one by one shut down politicians of color. On his last day in Congress, White delivered a speech in which he declared, "This is perhaps the Negroes' temporary farewell to the American Congress, but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised and bleeding but God-fearing people, faithful, industrious, loyal rising people--full of potential force."

Then he rolled up his sleeves and set to work building up the economic, social, and political power of his race. Whitesboro, NJ, where this marker stands, is part of his legacy.

Over a hundred years later, White's words proved prophetic when Barack Obama quoted them in his second inaugural address. What had been a sad tale of what America is capable of doing to its best and finest became one of vindication and triumph.

And today's episode of "The North Wind Speaks" . . .

. . . was accidentally posted with yesterday's. My bad. The series will continue tomorrow.

And today's diagram . . .

C is for Caitlin and Helen is H. The Heart stands for Romantic Lead who, in the end, never showed up. It turns out that there's no time for romance when you're running for your life. R is for Raven and of course Esme is E.

At this point, I know that Raven and Esme must eventually leave and I'm trying to figure out when Up top it says:

"I'll forget you," Esme promised. "Does that make it better?"
"Hush, monster," Raven said.

And below that, but written before:

Do they leave before the crisis? Of course they do.

Because Esme is Esme and Raven has things to do and a living to earn.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

The North Wind Speaks (part 10)


and we are all devoted

to her welfare.

And today's diagram . . .

You know how, in the wake of Dungeons & Dragons, the standard for modern fantasy became a lone adventurer slowly assembling a family about themselves? This diagram, read from top to bottom, shows the process of Caitlin becoming her own family. First Helen climbs inside her head. Then the dragon does the same. Esme and Raven become external members of the extended family (as do others). Here, I begin to look forward to the process of Caitlin's shedding of identities with the ultimate goal of becoming singular again.

In the middle, as usual, the ellipses (. . .) indicate the parts unwritten. Those that I'm trying to scry into existence with the diagram.

Ideas created by the diagram include that House Sans Merci is a majority stockholder in the Conspiracy, and the comment by one member of it, "You are representing your mother?" one asked politely.

So I haven't yet written the scene where Caitlin joins the Conspiracy under the nom de guerre Kate Gallowglass. Who becomes, come to think, yet another member of Caitlin's interior family.

I haven't said a word about sisters yet because it wasn't until very close to the end of the novel that I realized their importance to The Iron Dragon's Mother. 


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The North Wind Speaks (the story to date)

At Marianne's request, here is the text of The North Wind Speaks to date:

The North Wind Speaks

My sister comes rustling through the birch leaves. Gentle she is, but restless, aloof, and intent on her search. What is the East Wind looking for? If only she'd tell us!

Which brings us tidily up to the  present episode.

And The North Wind Speaks (part 9) . . .

She has a thousand brothers 

(continued tomorrow)

And today's diagram . . .

A very careful diagram here of the entire novel as I then understood it. On top, the introduction of characters and major events. Those to the left are the written parts of the novel. The dotted lines below indicate events happening that neither Caitlin nor the reader know anything about yet. The events to the right are those at the end which I had figured out, more or less correctly. The arc over it represents Fingolfinrhod's life between his disappearance and reappearance.


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The North Wind Speaks (part 8)


 If only

she'd tell us!

(continued tomorrow)

And today's diagram . . .

My first two efforts to clarify Caitlin's relationships with all six of her mothers. Each one, you'll note, crossed out as I failed to get them right.

And here's what it properly looks like... Caitlin's relationships with her mothers, Aerth, Faerie, the physical and the spiritual and of course her (adoptive, in some ways symbolic) daughter, Esme. Because to understand her mothers completely, she has to have a daughter herself. At this point, at last, the entire novel is so clear in my mind that I can encapsulate it in a single diagram.


Monday, October 7, 2019

Tales of Old Earth E-Book! On Sale for $1.99! Wednesday Only!


Good news for e-book readers who either like my short fiction and would like to give it a try. This Wednesday, for one day only, my collection Tales of Old Earth will be on sale for $1.99.

Here's the info that Open Road Media, my e-publisher gave me:

ISBN13TitleAuthorPromo TypeCountryStart DateEnd DatePromo Price
9781504036511Tales of Old EarthSwanwick, MichaelORM - Early Bird Books NLUS2019-10-092019-10-09$1.99

Open Road will promote the feature via social media. We hope you can share the deal with your network as well. You can subscribe to the newsletters at the links below so that you will get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears.

  Early Bird Books    Subscribe Now  
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Please let us know if you have any questions. We are thrilled to be part of this promotion; hope you are too!

(Michael again:) This book contains 19 stories, including some of my very best. Two ("The Very Pulse of the Machine" and "Scherzo with Tyrannosaur") won Hugos. One ("Ice Age") was animated for Love, Death, and Robots. Another ("The Dead"), almost became a TV series. And if your mother catches you reading "Midnight Express," you're in very big trouble.

All for less than two bucks. But, as I said, Wednesday only.

And only in the US. I'm sorry about that. But there are legal reasons.

And The North Wind Speaks (part 7) . . .

looking for?

(continued tomorrow)

And today's diagrams . . .

The sequence of events here is pretty much the same as in the last diagram. I've roughed out my understanding of the plot's direction and the introduction of characters in order to give myself space to throw out ideas.

And on the facing page (recto), are the thoughts thrown out. Some were used. Most were not. (A girlfriend named Pogue Mahoney? Really?) But buried in the middle is the very useful "Someone to make her fugitive status explicit to her."

Which became the reappearance of Ysault and Sibyl and once they appeared the novel turned a corner and started to resolve itself.

That's not a spoiler, incidentally. Those who have read the novel understand what I mean. Otherwise... no clue. I had no notion myself at that time.


Sunday, October 6, 2019

The North Wind Speaks (part 6)


 What is

the East Wind

(continued tomorrow)

And today's diagram . . .

You can tell when the writing's going well because the diagrams get slapdash. Here, Caitlin's left the hobo camp, jumped a train, and is about to play a major part in the birth of a locomotive (here labeled "fire birth." Fata Narcisse still has no name--she's just "elf." So I've come to the ride onward in a luxury coach and am speculating what happens next.

So... "elf betrays her" I speculate, and then "Esme enables escape." A question mark indicates that I haven't decided whether to use those elements. Also feeding into the luxury ride is "Raven?" and an attached note "Too early?" and attached to that, "No! Raven doesn't care about Cat's well-being."

All those elements later came into play but because there was so much else going on, they got pushed into later chapters.


Saturday, October 5, 2019

The North Wind Speaks (part 5)


and intent on

her search.

(continued tomorrow)

And today's diagram . . .

Back to the plot. Up top, the first section of the novel has been blocked out into innocence, persecution, escape, hobo camp, and train. With a great comment which, in the fact, nobody ever makes: "You've got a mother problem." 

With introduction of a new character. That might be Esme but is more likely Fata Narcisse.

I'm not sure why there's an upside-down blocking out of the first section of the novel below it.


Friday, October 4, 2019

The North Wind Speaks (part 4)


 but restless,

(continued tomorrow)

And today's diagram . . .

Here I have at last what looks to be a map of the entire novel from beginning (top) to end (bottom). The main characters are introduced in a flurry of activity. Caitlin is driven from the military. The dragon dies and disappears from the novel for most of its duration, only to reappear later [in those lines going off to the right, then down and back again to the main line]. She has encounters at the jungle and with the locomotive. Esme makes her appearance and then Raven.

BUT if you look carefully in the middle are two ellipses and in them is all the central matter of hte novel, which I don't know yet. However, as the plot has been moving forward, my understanding of how the book will end has been expanding backwards. So I know now that blood will tell, that Finn dies (or transcends), that House Sans Merci is a majority holder in the Conspiracy, have gotten a glimpse of the glass coffins and know that a great deal comes together in Ys.

So a great deal of progress is being made. All that needs to be understood is how Caitlin moves from crisis to resolution.


Thursday, October 3, 2019

"Ghost Ships" Interview for F&S's 70th Anniversary Issue


Because I had a story in the 70th Anniversary Issue of F&SF, I was interviewed by Stephen Mazur about that story and related matters for the F&SF website. The interview went up yesterday and I think it came out pretty well.

Here's the first question and my my response.
Tell us a bit about “Ghost Ships.”
“Ghost Ships” is one of those stories where the writer claims that “this story is different from all other ghost stories because it all really did happen to me.” Which, of course, nobody ever believes. But unlike all those other stories, every word of this one is true. I didn’t see the ships myself but I knew the people who did and I believed them. The ships were seen on the ocean in broad daylight on a calm and clear day, and I never came up with a rational explanation for them. The incident niggled at my imagination for over forty years before I found the right context for it.
You can read the entire interview here.

 And here's The North Wind Speaks (part 3)

 Gentle she is, 

(continued tomorrow) 

And today's diagram . . .

You can tell that I'm writing quickly because I don't take the time to draw out a careful diagram. So I put the major scenes of Chapter 3 (whose secret title is Clever Gretchen, incidentally) in boxes and connected them with arrows. So it begins with Caitlin's arrest, goes through the moot and a clinic(al) exam with various encounters with Rabbit and her Lawyer. It all leads to three forms of escape, all stacked on top of each other, though Caitlin only experiences them as one.

At this point, I was considering breaking the action into two separate chapters. The diagram helped show that, though a little cluttered with event, the sequence didn't contain enough detail to support two chapters.

Even at this late date, I'm still thinking of Rabbit as a love interest for Caitlin. Amazing how blind I was!

"Wake up!"  is good, though. Had I not scrawled it by the diagram, it might not have made it into the novel.



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Once and Future Rye - Chapter 1


The following is a lightly edited reprint of a blog post I did some while ago. I began a serial on the history of rye whiskey and then--mea culpa--got busy and abandoned it. It is my intention to continue this series up to the present day. And so here is the second installation (after the introduction, which can be found here) of the history of the Whiskey That Was America--the Once and Future Rye.)

If you and I are to explore the history of Rye Whiskey in America (and that is certainly my intention), we must begin at the beginning. And that beginning is, amazingly enough, Rum.

The American Colonies, before the War of Independence were not peopled by teetotalers. Far from it! Life was hard, pleasures were  few, and the water was dangerous to drink. So, from the earliest colonists on, American society was awash in beer, hard cider, applejack, and distilled spirits. Some even sank so low as to drink wine -- though American wine was dreadful and imported wine so expensive that only Thomas Jefferson could afford it regularly.

But while American would drink pretty much anything, in the Colonial era the tipple of choice was rum.  Not the smooth and delicious drink we now know but a cruder version distilled from the by-products of the molasses industry. Still, it was the best of a bad lot and prodigious amounts of it were made and sold.

There were two problems with rum.

The first was that it was a major component of the "triangular trade." The Americas sold sugar and rum to England, which sent cloth and manufactured good to Africa, which sent slaves to the Americas. So it was a part of our great nation's Original Sin. Not that this bothered many American at the time. Which is also a part of our collective national guilt.

The second problem is that rum at that time was pretty rough stuff. Which is why so many Colonial drink recipes involved massive amounts of fruit and sugar.

One of the best of these drinks was invented at a gentlemen's fishing club on the banks of the Schuylkill River, not far from the world headquarters of the American Martini Institute. It is named  Fish House Punch, after the august institution in which it was first concocted

Most recipes involve bottles of each ingredient and sacks of sugar, because they were meant to be served in enormous punch bowls to large groups of hard-drinking men and women who had no idea how soon they would become our Founding Fathers and Mothers. With perseverance, however, you can find more manageable recipes. Here's one:
Fish House Punch 
1 shot rum
1 shot cognac
3/4 shot peach brandy
1 1/2 shots simple syrup.
juice from 1 lemon 
directions: Mix, Chill, and serve with a spiced cherry. Serves two.
And the results? as you might guess, this is an intensely sweet drink. Also very, very fruity. But anyone mixing this cocktail is going to know that going in. At the taste test, Fish House Punch won over even the skeptics. It is flavorful, bright, and festive. A terrific party drink and far superior to the dreadful things that are usually served in punch bowls.

Also, it packs a punch. Our Colonial forebears certainly knew how to party!

So for one bright, warm moment, everything (if you could ignore the slavery part, that is) was good.

But then -- spoiler alert! -- came the American Revolution and everything changed, changed utterly. Including what kind of alcohol Americans drank.

More on this will be published here later.

And The North Wind Speaks (part 2) . . .

through the birch woods.

(continued tomorrow)

And today's diagram . . .

 This is an interesting one. Not a plot diagram per se, but an attempt to figure out exactly how many mothers Caitlin has. The top diagram was botched, so I began again. Starting at the top and going counterclockwise she has S (her stepmother, the dowager), D (her dragon), H (Helen V), M (Caitlin's birth mother), H (her nanny Hempie, who raised her), and G (the Goddess).

So Caitlin has six mothers. I want all my female readers to contemplate what a blessing that would be.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The North Wind Speaks


It's October,  which is to say that the season in which I write on leaves has begun. All month, I'll be serializing a flash fiction--or, more aptly--vignette, as I write it. The serialization of The North Wind Speaks begins here with the first four words:

My sister comes


(continued tomorrow)

And today's diagram is . . . 

This is a relatively clear one, putting all the incidents in Chapter 3 in order, from Caitlin's meeting with Rod, through the wailing of banshees and the near-fatal dinner all the way to Rod's escape. Which suggests that most of it is already written and included simply to make sure the chapter's balance is correct. 

As always, I scribbled thoughts about he plot that come to me while creating the diagram above and below it. Only the pure of heart can go to Kitezh, so that's where Rod disappears later turned out to be incorrect. Though I liked the notion that Fingolfinrhod, polymorphously perverse though he is, is essentially pure of heart. On the other hand, Have you tried the pâté? is wonderful and went right into the chapter.