Monday, January 31, 2011

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 18


A Bizarro cartoon.  I think and hope this is fair use, since I'm not using it to pump up my readership.  I was just struck by the beauty of the rendering.  A similar cartoon without those extraordinary color values wouldn't have been pasted into the notebook.

We fell down.  All of us.  There was no reason we should not, and so we did.
Our vision went black.  Sounds swam in our ears.  There was a very strange smell which we could not account for.  Our skin crawled.  We felt distinctly clammy.
We died.
By all possible standards, the world should have come to an end.
But it did not.  The meadows swam in the breeze.  The smell of buses [longed?] after them.  And the glow of my young wife lit up the world, the world, the world!

I have no memory of this whatsoever.  But I can tell it was written extempore.  I simply wrote the first sentence and forced myself to keep on writing, searching for an end, a meaning, a point, and all the while aware that it would all have to wrap up at the bottom of the page.

Marianne and I have been married for thirty years now, plus small change.  She still lights up the world.


When Animals Assault


Why do animals shag other species?  It's hard to say.  Evolutionarily speaking, there's no real point in it.
--Christie Wilcox

There is science and then there's Science for Mature Adults Only.  Click here to be offended.

This is the sort of science blog post one finds after being as-good-as-snowbound for a few days.

And I got boing-boing'd . . .

For, of all things, the picture I posted Sunday of the snow heap in my back yard.  Back when I was much younger and my son was a little boy, I used to make some wonderful stuff . . . snow forts with monster faces, sphinxes with saddles and so on.  But nothing I did could hold a patch to what my father did when I was a kid.

This was in Schenectady, New York, when there'd been a snowstorm so tremendous that the front yard filled up and my father had to pile up a lot of snow in the back.  Dad was originally a farm kid, 4-H ribbons and all, and knew some cool tricks.  So the next morning we woke up to discover he'd built a snow slide in the back yard, set a ladder up against one end, and then poured a bucket of water down the surface.  It was the best -- and fastest -- slide I was ever on.  Ever!

Thanks, Dad.  Half a century later, I'm still grateful for that.

And I'm on the road again . . .

. . . blogging from the Megabus on its way to NYC.  I'll report on the experience later.

Above:  The Monument to Dinosaur Sodomy in front of the Academy of Natural History, here in Philadelphia.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Great Humongous Snow Pile in the Back Yard


It's night.  I'm done shoveling.  I can go indoors and relax by the wood stove.

Knowing that the snow is outdoors, plotting against me.

Above:  The great humongous snow pile in the back yard.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Shoveling Snow in the City


 I almost got this blog written and posted in time to be Friday's post. The problem is that it's been a full day.  I spent the morning heroically shoveling the driveway, and then . . .

Oh, okay.  Shoveling a city driveway is not the simple task it would be out in the country where you can simply sling the snow to either side.  On one side of the driveway is the house.  On the other is our neighbors' drive.  So every shovelful has to be walked to the back yard and dumped. All told I'm guessing that a couple of miles' walk is involved.

So after a morning's heroic shoveling, we went to the Arden Theater to see our friend Jennifer Summerfield in the understudies' rehearsal of A Moon for the Misbegotten.  Which turns out to be a particularly intimate way of seeing a play.  The occasional instruction from the director only emphasized the artifice in a way that feels perfectly natural in this postmodern era.

Oh, and Jennifer was terrific, which was very satisfying.

From the Arden we went to a friend's house where a group assembled for a Restaurant Week meal at the Bistro St. Tropez.  Terrific food and when one of the party texted a friend about the event, his phone software autocorrected the name to Bistro St. Trapeze.

So I am happy, and hope you are too.  Sorry I'm a little late on this post.

Above:  Winter in the city.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 17


A panel from Dilbert and half of a picture of an expensive corkscrew.  Plus some very odd odds and ends.

1.  "Love me, do"  No idea why that's there.  Maybe it's the title for item two?  But if so, I forget exactly why.

2.  An anecdote which starts out looking like it's going to be about Janis Ian.  But which is actually about Bob the Musician.  B the M was a friend from my early poverty-drenched days in Philadelphia, back in the early 1970s.  I have a couple of stories about Bob the Musician.  I forget how I was going to use Janis as the lead-in, though.

I probably should have just written the whole thing down.  It sounds pretty good.

3.  The answer to a question that's vexed philosophers for milennia:

Q:  What is Art 4?
A.  One more than Art 3.

4.  Most drowned boaters, she said, are found with their flies open.  They were drunk, and they stood up to take a leak, and the rest -- well, the rest is marine boat insurance protocol.

Considering how many times Janis Ian comes up in this flurry of pages, I should probably mention that this factoid didn't come from her.

5.  Pity Jack Frost!  All the work he has to do!  And only a raft of nubile underage young women to help him do it.

There's probably a story in there somewhere.  Note that after I wrote it down, I very thoughtfully transcribed the unreadable parts.  Thanks, me!  I couldn't have read that item without your help.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Walkin' Through A Winter Wonderland


The fourth snow of the season ended and an hour later the fifth one began.  I feel like I'm back in Vermont!

Last night, Marianne and I went for a walk with our cameras to record what it was like in Roxborough, our neighborhood in Philadelphia.  Pictured above (photo by Marianne) is Ridge Avenue, a half-block from our house.  Ridge was originally an Indian trail.  During the American Revolution, George Washington and his troops walked up it on their retreat from Philadelphia and then after their defeat at the Battle of Germantown during the darkest hours of the war for independence. It was quite literally the road to Valley Forge.

As you can see, there wasn't much traffic.  Some city salt trucks, a bus, and rather a lot of people proving that their four wheel drive SUVs were sensible purchases.  But, oh my goodness, was the snow hard and driving and cold!   We were only out some fifteen or twenty minutes when we had to turn back.  Why?  Well, check out the photo of me smiling through the accumulated ice and snow.

And speaking of magnificent titles . . .

I just signed the Asimov's contracts for my latest story (not counting the one I wrote today), "For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I'll Not Be Back Again."

The Stone of Loneliness lies in the West of Ireland.  It's a fallen Sarsen stone and if you look closely, you can see the cup-marks on it.  There was an ancient belief that lying on it was a cure for heartbreak.  So, during the Starvation, emigrants would sleep on it their last night before leaving for America.

True story:  Twenty-eight years ago, on my first visit to Ireland, I hunted it up and lay down on it.  And I felt all the pain in the world flow into me.

I put that incident into the work in question, as well as my glancing encounter with Gerry Adams and much else as well.  In a strange way, it may be the most truthful story I've ever written.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 16


Another whimsy which came to nothing.  The reason so little in this notebook comes to fruition is that I was concurrently writing Dancing With Bears.  I simply didn't have the free time to work up essays or stories.  That didn't stop me looking for them, though.

Here, I was toying with writing an essay titled "The [Number] Basic Food Groups."  The number would have been filled in when I finished:

Chocolate, of course, though some of us believe that chocolate is not a food but a flavoring, like garlic or butter or salt.  And that eaten alone it is a sad commentary on the self – that one cannot afford a slice of apple, or nougat, or a lover’s body to slowly and lovingly pour it over.  But, by popular acclaim.
Then wine.  If soup is food and vichyssoise is soup and therefore food, then wine is equally food and in certain aspects far more nutritious than that thin, watery, cold stuff served out at that restaurant your mother likes so much.  Only, perhaps it should be alcohol – not that alcohol is good for you, it isn’t – but because then we could all have a second martini and chalk it up to good nutrition.  So, booze.
Then brie.  I know!  I know!  You want it to be cheese.  But cheeses are not interchangeable.  That is part of their charm.  

I probably could have made something of this essay.  But it wouldn't have been worth the effort.  So I dropped it.

In the first paragraph, "afford" would surely have been replaced by "arrange."


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Moment of Sad Reflection


It's so cold, there's snow on the Sun.  This is the fourth real snowfall this year, which is unheard-of for Philadelphia.  (You Canadians can stop giggling now.)  So I shall spend the day alternating between writing and shoveling.

And a moment of sad reflection . . .

Two days ago, some terrorist group or other exploded a bomb at Domodedovo Airport, outside of Moscow, murdering thirty-five people and grievously injuring many more.  They haven't even identified themselves or their cause.

You have to wonder what they -- whoever they are -- think they're accomplishing.

A bit of perspective:  IIn 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia with 690,000 men, at that time the largest European army ever assembled, and made it all the way to Moscow, which his forces accidentally torched.  Only ten thousand soldiers made it out of the country alive.  In 1941, Hitler invaded Russia with 4.5 million troops, in the largest military operation in human history.  The amount of destruction and suffering caused was almost unimaginable.  They were driven back from Moscow and out of the Soviet Union and back through their own nation whose cities were pretty thoroughly destroyed.  This is a country that's had more than its share of sorrow, and yet it's still there.

Russia is not going to be brought to its knees by people who are afraid even to say who they are.

Everybody is, or should be, familiar with the concept of "security theater" -- that all the inconveniences and petty humiliations we endure at the airport are not designed to catch terrorists but to make us feel safe enough to get on the airplane.  Those responsible for the Domodedovo bombing are engaged in terror theater.  They are accomplishing nothing, and they probably know it.  But it plays well to their local constituency.  And so thirty-five people are dead and many more lives have been ruined.

To achieve, literally, nothing.

My thoughts and sorrow are with the survivors and the families of those affected.  And with the people of Russia.  Who will endure, as they always have.

Above:  The back wall of my backyard.  The wall is somewhere between a hundred and a hundred and fifty years old, all that's left of the old police stables, now a parking lot.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 15


"Infinitely strange" indeed!  I've covered over the gist of what were notes toward a letter to a friend who had asked for my advice.  Again, nothing scandalous.  But private is private.

It was David Hartwell who told me, decades ago, that Nobody ever complained that a speech was too short.  It was good advice then, and it's good advice now.

The diagram at the bottom explaining the relationship between Father, Hank, and G. F.  Which probably stands for Girl Friend, though the woman in question had a name, Evelyn.  So that was a very early stage of stuck-edness for my Alien Worm Dissection story.  Which I'm still working away at, incidentally.  The working title for it is "Passage of Earth."


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The World's Smallest Stop-Motion Animation


As I mentioned the other day, I was at the Philadelphia Pen Show over the weekend.  And with a small fraction of the money I saved by not buying the hand-crafted pen I really really wanted, I was able to pick up a pen for public signings.

Eileen Gunn has surely recognized the pen as being an updated version of the one I wielded when I posed for my portrait with cutting-edge artist Francisco Goya.  You can compare and contrast here at the Infinite Matrix site.

And speaking of the world's smallest stop-motion animation . . .

This is so very, very cool.

And here's the mini-documentary on how it was done.  Even cooler.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 14


A theater ticket and a stunningly bad doodle of an armless robot.  Sometime later, I apparently came back and couldn't remember why I doodled the robot because I wrote in the margin, Who can read my mind?  Not I.

Later still, I returned again to annotate the annotation:  But it makes good sense to me!


Monday, January 24, 2011

How to Write Stations of the Tide


In the mail this past weekend,  I received my contributor's copies of the new Orb trade paperback reissue of Stations of the Tide with the moody and evocative Thom Tenery cover pictured above.  One of the signs that you've received a really good cover is that it contains a detail which you wish you'd thought of when you were writing the novel.

When I first saw this cover, I felt a tremendous regret that I hadn't specified that the bureaucrat was wearing a white suit and a Panama hat.

But now, of course, he is.  Because that's how he's shown on the cover, and I wrote nothing inside the book to indicate otherwise.

On occasion I'll teach one of the Clarion workshops and when I do the new writers inevitably want to know how to tell the reader how the protagonist looks.  "Tell 'em nothing!" I say.  "Or, if you can't manage that, as little as possible."

They're shocked and appalled.  They want to learn efficient techniques about conveying the facts that their heroine is 5'7", has violet eyes, flaring nostrils, a sprinkle of cinnamon freckles across her slightly bony shoulders, plump but attractive knees,a banana stuck in her ear, and ash-brown hair done up in a half-hitch.  And I'm telling them to look up exactly how many words Mark Twain wasted on Huckleberry Finn's physical description.

The simple truth is that you create an interesting character by having him or her behave in interesting ways.  The work of creating a physical image is subcontracted to the reader.  All literature being  essentially a collaboration between the writer and the reader, there's no reason for you to do all the work yourself.

And that, children, is how it's done.

So how, you ask, was my weekend?

Perfectly charming.  I went to see The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet's flawless and enchanting animation of an unproduced script by Jacques Tati), took in the Philadelphia Museum of Art after dark, and had dinner at the Pen & Pencil Club, went to the Philadelphia Pen Show and hung out with Gregory Frost and Kyle Cassidy (and we three had a business lunch to discuss various projects, including the Darger & Surplus podcasts), and had a long winter walk in the Morris Arboretum.

Above right:  It's called the Summer Palace, but this large-as-a-house built-of-sticks art installation at the Morris looks best in winter.  Go figure.  It's really got its hooks in my imagination, though.  Someday I'm going to write a story about it.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 13


November 14, 2008

I've taken out an item here because it was a reminder of a favor I was to do for a friend and I don't know if it was meant to be common knowledge or not.  Nothing scandalous or untoward, though.

Later that same day, I was in the Sellarsville Theater, long before the show, hanging out backstage with Janis Ian.  The X's (meant to be drawings of sutures or staples) mark where I tore the page in half, when I told Janis my Greer Gilman story.

Oh, okay, I'll tell it to you, too.  Years ago, I showed Greer one of the notebooks I'd made while writing The Iron Dragon's Daughter.  It was full of beautiful and strange stuff . . . collages and such . . . and Greer, who is not only a fantasist but a librarian, went through it reverently.  Handing it back to me, she said, "You really should have this conserved."

"Oh," I said, being at heart an evil person, "do you mean like this?"

And I ripped one of the pages in half!

I could do that, of course.  It was my notebook.  And by layering a story onto it, I'd only made it that much more valuable.  But it was still a cruel thing to do to a very dear friend.

Below the rip, I wrote, "Proof, if proof were needed, that I am not Anais Nin"

And -- look! look! -- notes for a scene in I think Chapter Two of Dancing With Bears:

Morning:  sense of hot house simmering
"I . . . made of it a kremlin"
A. sighed/ostentatiously/rolled his eyes
Those straight up-and-down lines mean that I'm offering myself alternative wordings.  Either Arkady "sighed" or "sighed ostentatiously" or "rolled his eyes."  The purpose of this passage is to fix it in my mind.  I know a lot more about what's going on than I've written down.  But these few sentences anchor the whole thing for me.

Below it, I've written that:

-- Arkady almost blurts it (2)
-- Ivan almost blurts it (1)
Then Z. appears.
Here, I'm working out not phrasing but plot.  The numbers indicate that Ivan should go first and Arkady second, rather than in the order I first jotted the actions down.  Over to the side is a notation that the daughters skimp Arkady when doling out breakfast.  These would be the cook Olga's daughters.  But that idea didn't survive into the final draft of that scene.

I probably had the notebook open in front of me as I was working on the novel with my computer and jotted down those fragments because they occurred to me while I was still some distance from where they would be used.

Down at the bottom is the rather obvious observation, There are so many economies -- and we tend to forget there's more than one!  Which is true; a genuinely poor man would starve to death playing by the same rules I do.  But I have no idea why I thought it worth jotting down.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Science Made Stupid!

Everybody remembers Tom Weller's wonderfully funny book Science Made Stupid, right?  It won a Hugo for Best Non-Fiction Book, and in his acceptance speech he said that he was really happy to hear he was nominated for the award until he saw what category it was, and had to wonder . . . were we aware of the literal meaning of the term "non-fiction?"

The next year, the category was re-named Best Related Book.

And Science Made Stupid was reissued with a blurb saying, "Winner of the 1986 Hugo -- you know, one of those small Yugoslavian cars?"

If you don't already know about the book, you can read an abridged version here, which will let you know whether you need to rush out to your local independent bookstore to buy a paper copy.

All of the above, however, is mere prologue to the YouTube video below.  Which demonstrates that Science didn't need Mr. Weller to make it stupid.  Science has people of its own to do that.



Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 12


An article from the Philadelphia Inquirer that caught my eye.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Night in the Commie Bar


If there's one thing experience has taught me, it's that nobody believes a word I say.  And yet I am the most honest of men!  There seems to be something inherently untrustworthy about my affect.

So I am compelled to present proof (above) that the KGB Bar is indeed a Communist dive and proud of it.

Marianne and I drove up to NYC last night for the Fantastic Fiction at KGB monthly reading, this one featuring Linda Addison and Gregory Frost.  An evening of booze and literature in a small but funky bar crammed with serious literary types (such as writer Richard Bowes, above right, listening to Linda read).  What's not to love?

To the left is Linda herself, looking candlelit and authorial.  Not pictured is Gregory Frost, because I didn't take any interesting snaps of him.  Except for the one in the stuffed-toy-tiger hat, smirking.  But I don't post undignified photos of friends.  Anyway, it came out blurry.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 11


Kind of a dull page, really.  I discovered the existence of Google Flu and Google Trends and made a note to check them out.  I compared prices for something or other.  And I doodled another story opening:

These were the last days of the American Empire.  The Empress still sat upon the throne, but everyone knew it would not last.

I'm not sure if Cinematica is a website or some fleeting notion that passed through my head.

Gotta give it to those transhumanists, though.  They know how to catch your attention.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Electrified by Claes Oldenburg


I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Sunday.  As a member, I get one hour's free parking in their garage . . . but of course I can never bring myself to leave within a single hour.

Wonderful stuff.  I've lost track of how many stories I've gotten out of that place.

And on the Best-of-Year front . . .

I was talking with Joe Haldeman about awards once and he said, "Fans ask me sometimes how many awards I have and I have to admit that I can't say.  I'm pretty sure it's eleven Hugos and Nebulas.  But whether it's six Nebulas and five Hugos or six Nebulas and five Hugos I don't know."  Then he leaned forward and said, "They hate it when you tell them that!"

Sometime later I told this story to Samuel R. Delany once and quick as a wink he said, "Four and two!"

Well, I haven't yet achieved Joe's great accomplishment (and I suspect he's the only one who has), but I've reached the junior varsity version of it in that I'm never sure how many best-of-year anthologies I'm scheduled to be in at any given time.

However, because the contracts came through last week, I know that "Steadfast Castle" will be in David Hartwell's volume and that "Libertarian Russia" will be in Gardner Dozois' book.  So this year, it's at least two.

He said modestly.

Above:  There I am in PMA's new outdoor sculpture garden.  The three-way plug behind me is a Claes Oldenburg sculpture, Philadelphia's third (after the magnificent clothespin near City Hall and the rather weak broken button on Penn campus); there'll be a fourth later this year, a monumental paintbrush commissioned for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  I'll show you it when it arrives.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 10


An alien that speaks credit card boilerplate, a drink coaster with a rather sinister looking logo, and something called . . .

The Upside-Down Story

In the upside-down world, where the sun is black, the night is white, and the sea is red as blood, a girl met a boy.
The girl, alas, was a commoner, and the boy was a princess.

Again, this is one of those ideas that look like they might work, but don't.  It didn't take me long to reach that conclusion.  One minute down the drain . . .  Sometimes, as C. S. Lewis once wrote, you have to build an altar in one place so that fire will fall from the sky somewhere else.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Smallest Periodic Table in Nottingham

My pal Jeffrey Ford sent me the link for the following YouTube video.

For his birthday, chemist Martyn Poliakoff received a periodical table of the elements 88 microns wide and 46 microns high engraved into one of his hairs.  It was a gift from his buddies at the University of Nottigham's Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Center.  They used a beam of gallium ions to carve the table on the hair in just seconds.

Oh, brave new world that has such tech in it.

Thanks, Jeff!  It's not my birthday, but I feel that you've just given a present.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 9


More notes for an article on my experiences when I was in Chengdu.  This was probably for a column for Science Fiction World, China's (and the world's) biggest science fiction magazine, back when I was a regular columnist for them.

As scribbled, there were three high points of the visit.  One was when I was taken to the panda breeding facility and, without prior warning, found myself with a real, live panda bear sitting on my lap.  One was the evening spent in a tea house, talking with Chinese science fiction writers.  And, as it says, "The third was our own idea."

Nancy Kress and Neil Gaiman and Rob Sawyer and I ganged up to convince our hosts that we'd really, really like to visit the offices of Science Fiction World.  So they took us there, and we snapped each other's photos, and it was a genuine thrill for us.

Not as big a thrill as the panda was.  But close.  Very, very close.


Monday, January 17, 2011

I've Got an ARC and We've Got a Winner!


Look what came in the mail!  I have an Advance Reading Copy (or ARC or, to use the term common in my youth, uncorrected proofs) of DANCING WITH BEARS.  One step closer to publication.

Which publication will occur on May 1st.  From Night Shade Books.

And speaking of the "Name My Novel" contest . . .

We have a winner!  Or, rather, an almost-winner.  I came up with the title Dancing With Bears in-house, in consultation with my Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family.  However, as you can probably tell from the photo above, Night Shade decided to use my suggested subtitle The Postutopian Adventures of Darger & Surplus.  Which was ultimately derived from a contest entry made last March.

Here it is:

Oh! This just came to me...
"Surplus and Darger: The Mailer-Daemons of Moscow"
You could throw "The Adventures/Exploits of..." in front of Surplus and Darger too, if you wanted as well. I think exploits is a better word for confidence tricksters, but they are adventurers too...

It is not exactly the subtitle I wound up using.  But, then again, nobody came up with exactly that subtitle.  And the one I used was derived from that suggestion.  Mostly, though, I feel that if I throw a contest, there should be a winner.  And that winner is . . .


Yes, mirabile dictu, the same woman who came up with the name serviles in an earlier contest also came up with (what became) the novel's subtitle.  Zamzummim, you have a way with words.

I'll start putting the Big Box O' Stuff together this week.  I promise to get it into the mail before February.

Congratulations, Ms Z!  Keep watching the mails.

Above:  Rather a blurry snapshot, I'm afraid.  My thumb was crisply in focus though.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 8


A collage.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Cool Stuff Is On Its Way!


Here's a snapshot, taken this morning, of Gregory Frost and myself recording the last five short podcasts in a series of a dozen tentatively titled Darger & Surplus Teach You . . . How To Run A Con!  As the hairier one, I, of course, play Surplus.  Greg is simply magnificent as Darger.

I'll be telling you where to find the podcasts just as soon as all the details are finalized.

As long as we were having fun -- and, trust me, it's grand fun being Darger & Surplus -- we made plans for a series of podcasts to promote one of Mr. Frost's future books.  Will it be as much fun as this series is?  Oh, yes, indeed.  I'm looking forward to it with glad anticipation.

And speaking of Gregory Frost . . .

The great fantasist will be reading at everybody's favorite Commie watering hole -- the KGB Bar -- in NYC on this coming Wednesday, January 19th at 7 p.m.   Also reading will be Linda D. Addison, whose latest collection of poetry Being Full of Light, Insubstantial, won a Bram Stoker Award.  Greg is a terrific reader and somebody you want to meet anyway.  But the Fantastic Fiction at KGB Bar series is an intrinsically pleasant experience in its own right.  (Alcohol and literature!  In an intimate setting!  With posters of Marxist heroes!  How can you go wrong?)  I'd be there every month, if only I lived in the Big Apple.

That's the KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street (just off 2nd Avenue, upstairs).  You can read about it here.

And speaking of podcasts . . .

I have, thanks to the good services of Jim Freund, an audio recording of my interview with Hope Mirrlees at the 2009 Readercon.  Not everybody could have arranged this interview.  Particularly since Miss Mirrlees died in 1978.

I'll be posting it here just as soon as I figure out what would be a good date to do so.

Above:  I appear to be in rather bad need of a haircut.  And that beard should be trimmed.  Greg looks good, though.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 7


First, notes toward "Robot":

Bring up the South American War . . . let it dominate
clouds black, turning grey, & then invisible

I've been trying to write "Robot" for something like a quarter of a century.  I began it immediately after Bill Gibson and I finished "Dogfight," to preserve some cool bits he kicked out.  It'll be a good story if ever I can find out what the heck it's missing.

Then an attempt to write a bit of doggerel titled "Recursive Poem":

This is a poem celebrating itself
In structure & meter & rhyme
It's not at all about anything else
Than its meaning, its author, its time

A successful piece of light verse would have gone on from there.  By now, however, I felt that my own feeble attempt had overstayed its welcome.

Those cryptic notes in the middle mean I was working on organizing the photos for "October Leaves."


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 6


The story opening from two pages ago continued:

incidents entailed. But her fiance had his orders, and at any rate she had done nothing to prevent them, and so could not feel morally superior to him.
Still . . .
The list of things I was not was for a blog entry, I think.  Or maybe a public appearance, or a panel at a science fiction convention.  Whatever and wherever it was, I explained why I was not a member of various movements and groups I might well have joined.  The list ran to something like twenty  distinct movements.  There are a lot of these things in science fiction and fantasy.

The clipping was a reminder to myself to read a book which sounded particularly interesting.  I haven't gotten around to reading it yet.  But I will.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In Which Charles Stross Goes Dumpster-Diving


Charlie Stross has invented a new vice!  Struck down by the flu and too ill to dash off another novel, he went to Amazon and looked up one-star reader reviews of great novels.  Here's one, for Catch-22:

I personally don't read that many books, but this is one of the worst books I ever read. First, they're are too many characters. This book has too many characters that I can't remember even one of them in my head. They include many minor characters that nobody cares so you get confused about it. Second, it has too many mini-stories. It has lots of short stories that doesn't relate to any of the other stories and they are usually pretty boring. Third this is none sense. It doesn't have a major theme or anything and it's just talking about air force men being board of the war and just being crazy.

He's posted a batch of ripe reviews ranging from Sense and Sensibility to The Lord of the Rings on his blog.  You can read them here.

Above:  That quiet building across the street from my house, nestled sideways between row houses, was built in Colonial times. If you didn't know that, you wouldn't look twice.  Oh, and it snowed!  Third time in two weeks, which is astonishing for Philadelphia.

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 5


A final note for Neil's appreciation.  Then another scrap of fiction: 

We brought in the female Jesuits from a parallel line.  They wore plain black dresses that fell straight from their dog collars to their heels, and wore their hair cropped close.  All of them, it seemed, were slim as
They were humorless, educated, and sure in their cause.
They were the most frightening ladies ever.

The fragment-opening is marked 10:46.  So I wrote it in less than a minute.

Then another story opening, which I rather like:

It was a night of Stars and Snowflakes.

The small notation to the bottom left suggests that instead of cassocks the female Jesuits would probably wear pantsuits.  They being no-nonsense types.

Finally, somebody’s suggestion that what we’d all like is destroy ourselves and replace ourselves with a new person exactly like ourselves in every way struck me as profound.  It still does.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 4


More notes for the Neil Gaiman appreciation.  Then, after a few scribbled items of no particular import, the beginning of a story I never wrote and cannot remember at all.  That’s one of the functions of the notebook, to start stories and see if they catch fire or not.

Here’s what I wrote:

She was an absolutely ordinary woman, which means that to any thinking man she was perfectly admirable, and, given her birth and status, it was inevitable that she should become engaged to a suitable officer in the Airship Corps. 
Her husband-to-be was a man of distinction.  He had set the firestorm of Humbleton, and dropped the troops that scoured Nix of all life.  She could not be happy with the deaths these

To be continued, not in the next post but the one after.

What a terrible doodle of the woman’s face, though!  Now you know why there are so many cut-outs and collages in my notebooks.  My drawing is almost as bad as my handwriting.


Monday, January 10, 2011

A Century Young and Still Going


I'm still on the road . . . but I'm coming home.  The past weekend was spent arranging for and then holding a 100th birthday celebration for Mary Ann (Mrs. William C.) Porter.  One hundred years!  A full century!  Even the President of the United States was impressed enough to send a card.

It was a weekend of reminiscences and family stories which, alas, I am too exhausted to share with you.  There were good times in Mrs. Porter's life (mostly involving Bill Porter) and bad (she is still convinced that WWII was a conspiracy on the part of a lot of men to get away from their wives and go gallivanting around the world).  There was also a daughter, Marianne Porter.  For whom I am and will always be unspeakably grateful

If you're planning to live to be 100 someday, be forewarned that there will be a party.  And if you want a good turnout, you'd better be nice to those you meet along the way.  There was a huge turnout for Mrs. Porter from family, friends, lawyers, church members, and grandson.  That speaks well for her.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 3


November 8, 2008

A rare journalistic entry:

Friday -- Art Crawl & dinner at the Pen & Pencil
Saturday -- Tom Purdom's literary salon, eagle-watching at the Oswego Dam, and dinner at Gene & Sarah's
Sunday -- dropped by Greg & Barbara's to give them a ham (from Gene) and then went wandering through a cemetery, writing on leaves, for "October Leaves"
So, a good weekend and good prep for when Marianne retires.

Then the conclusion to an appreciation of Neil Gaiman that was solicited by a website.  The story prior to this conclusion was about how, when we were both in Chengdu, I sometimes found it hard to slip in a story because Neil had already begun one himself:

And you know what I learned?  Two things.  First, that my well-known friend (possibly prompted by hunger) was wrong.  A compulsive storyteller is the best company in the world.  Second, that, given the choice, I'd rather listen to Neil's stories than tell my own, simply because I already know how mine come out.  So, in that respect, I guess Neil wins.
Not, as I said, that it's a competition.
Finally, notes toward one of my columns during the brief and pleasant year in which I inexplicably found myself a columnist for Science Fiction World, the single largest science fiction magazine on the planet.  Based in (by no coincidence) Chengdu:

Imagine you were born half a world away and had never been to China.  Now imagine that you suddenly found yourself in Chengdu, a guest of Science Fiction World at [NAME].

NAME is a place-holder for the 2007 International Science Fiction and Fantasy Conference in Chengdu, a title I always have trouble remembering.  If you're ever invited, incidentally, do go.  The good people at Science Fiction World are the very best hosts in the world.  Even now, I am smiling at the memory.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Still Travelin' . . .


Not sayin' what road I'm heading down . . .  but apparently they need a lot of hot molten sulfur there.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Snow Day Redux!


Two separate snowfalls and it's only January 7!  What an extraordinary winter to be in Philadelphia.

(And to my friends in New England:  Yes, yes, I know.  I used to live in Vermont.  Every winter I marvel at the fact that I don't even own any real winter clothes -- just parkas and such.)

I went out this morning in the snow to Gorgas Park to get a picture for the blog.  But the shot I ended up using was taken in my own tiny back yard.  Winter really is a lovely time of year.

And as (it often seems) always . . .

I'm on the road again!  This time, I'm off to Washington, PA for the social event of the season.

Which is (I hear you ask) exactly what?  Patience, good friends.  All shall be revealed.  On Monday.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 2


Left-hand pages are left blank at first, so I can scribble additions to or commentaries on the right-hand pages, if needed.  Then, when it becomes clear that I won't have to do so, I'll add whimsies.  Here, some offhand notes for a fictive essay, "A Brief History of M"

I wrote:

It is a purely [something] joke that the first M was Elric of Melnibone.  That august gentleman was a creature of myth or prehistory, depending on which Oxfordian you know and trust.  
The first M was a playwright named Marlow -- Kit, to his friends.

M is of course the head of MI5, British Intelligence, not only in the James Bond books and films but in real life as well.  As I recall, I had a number of really good historical figures to fill the role.  However, the inspiration for this was Alan Moore's quite splendid comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which there are two sequential M's -- Professor Moriarty and Mycroft Holmes.  I couldn't get around the fact that even if I came up with witty substitutes for those two gents, I'd still be ripping off Moore's idea.

Homey don't play that.  So, five minutes down the tubes.

The picture came out pretty good, though.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 1


Here's why I said my notebooks were a cruel prank on any academics who get interested in my work after I'm gone.  My handwriting is execrable.  Even I can't always read it.

I won't transcribe what I wrote because it's the very first notes for what I hope may someday be my third and final dragon novel -- the one that synthesizes and makes sense of the first two in a totally new manner.  Down at the bottom right is the annotation "12/22/08 First Stirrings"  -- that little spiral near the end of the second word means "ing."  It's a scrap from a shorthand system I started to learn decades ago and gave up after acquiring only a spattering of shortcuts.  / means "and" and \ means "the."  I believe they'll pop up a lot in this notebook.

You'll note that the not-sign pops up around the very first word.  That means that my protagonist's name is not Gail.  (I already used Abigail for a protagonist, and I try not to double-dip on names.)  But I wanted to jot down the ideas while they were still fresh, despite not having the right name for the character yet.

The piece of yellow paper explains itself.  Here's the transcription:

This is a piece of confetti snatched from the air
at the parade celebrating the Phillies' championship
in 2008!  I grabbed it myself.

Does it really say that?  Yes, it does.  I wouldn't lie to you about such a thing.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Goats of Christmas Past


Christmas is over, and New Year's Day, and all the pleasant if stressful round of parties and visits.  Now the Goats of January come, to eat all the unwanted detritus of the past.  Old ideas, old hopes, old failures, old despairs  . . . down they go, into the transformative alimentary canal of the winter months and out the anus of the past.

It's January!  A time to relax, take a break from self-improvement, and recuperate.  Enjoy.  Eat good food, watch good movies if you can find them, take some world-class naps.

I am with you in spirit.

Above:  One of the eponymous goats.  From the Morris Arboretum.  I have a weakness for the word eponymous.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 0


The notebook has almost begun!  This image is modified from a science magazine photo.  Not for any particular purpose.  But I try to create alien creatures now and again, just against the chance that I'll need one later.  So I don't find myself coming up with something that looks like a rabbit, only purple.  Or a crab, only very big.

The picture didn't fit on the page, so I clipped parts and let one part extend onto the next page.  No particular reason for that last, other than that I am constantly encouraging myself to (metaphorically) draw outside the lines.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Slow Tuesday


I've been working a lot, and partying a lot, and writing a lot, and  being sick a lot lately.  So this afternoon I played hooky.

First, Marianne and I went to the Woodmere Art Museum (our local; click here) for the John Folinsbee exhibit.  Then we darted off to the Morris Arboretum (click here) for a brief winter walk.  Then we hurried home, where Sean met us for a phone call to Marianne's mother, Mary Ann (Mrs. William C.) Porter on the occasion of her one hundredth birthday.  [Only a phone call?! you say.  No, no, no, the formal celebration in Washington, PA, is this weekend.  Cake!  Punch!  Guest lawyers!  If you're not there, then you are square.]   And then off to the Chestnut Grill (here), where, with a Vesper and a Millionaire's Cocktail, we toasted the great lady.

Then home to work, to blog, to build a fire, and to amuse Miss Mrrrlees.

This is, I blush to admit, rather a typical day around here.  May all your days be twice as happy as mine, but may mine first be twice as happy as whosever it is that you envy!

Above:  The Woodmere has a program where children come in and create art.  Here's a ceramic dinosaur created by one of those happy youngsters.  There were eight or so ceramic dinos on display and they were all great!


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Inside Front Cover Pages



There's not much of a pattern to what I stick onto the inside of the front cover.  When I find a sticker in my hands, that's where I normally place it.  Sometimes it all comes together; usually it doesn't.

The label comes from a package that Jason Van Hollander sent me.  I liked the graphic values so much that I decided to keep it permanently.  Here I've printed out a scan and censored the addresses, simply because you don't want to put your (or a friend's) street address out on the Web.  If anyone wants to send me physical mail, they can write me at P.O. Box 11807, Philadelphia, PA 19128.  USA.

The cloth flower is three-dimensional.  I forget where it came from.


Again, random stuff.  The TOW sticker was picked off the street.  My calling card has been censored, for exactly the same reason as above.  It was placed in a plastic envelope there against the chance that I lost the notebook and it fell into the hands of a civic-spirited individual.


Monday, January 3, 2011

This Glitterati Life

How do we glamorous writers live?  I spent the weekend going from party to party.  But of course the big event was the gathering at Gardner Dozois' and Susan Casper's place, where we exchanged knowledgeable commentary on the performances of the Mummers String Bands.  That's our particular snobbery.  We don't follow the Comics or the Fancies.  It's string bands all the way.

Those of you benighted souls unlucky enough to not live in Philadelphia have no clear idea what I'm talking about.  So let me share with you this year's winning performance by the Quaker City String Band.  After you've viewed it, you still won't understand.  But you'll be baffled on a higher intellectual level.

Here it is:

Kind of a minimalist/Mummers-unplugged kind of a performance for a string band.  Good, though.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Front Cover


Those who know me well know that I carry a notebook wherever I go.  "I've never seen him without one," editor John Douglas said to somebody who asked.  Long ago, because James Joyce named his notebook Scribbledehob, and because I was young and pretentious, I named one of mine Scribbledehobbledehoyden.  The name stuck, and became generic.  Back in 1997 I wrote a short essay about my notebooks under the plural title of Scribbledehobbledehoyenii.  You can read it here, if you wish.

Because people seem to be interested in the Scribbledehobbledehoydenii, I decided to scan one of them and post it, a page at a time, on this blog.  I'll be doing this every weekday from now to when the entire notebook is posted.  If I have time, I'll write a few words about the content.

That's in addition to my regular blog posts.  So you'll find these entries sandwiched between others.

Most of the notebooks have individual names as well.  This particular Scribbledehobbledehoyden is called The Magpie's Eye.  Most are spiral-bound notebooks.  This one, however, is in sewn signatures with black silk covered boards.  Ten dollars at Staples.

A few words on the notebooks themselves . . .

What they're not:  A diary, though I do date the entries often enough.  A workbook, except sometimes when they are.  A careful repository of writerly observations, though if only I had the discipline, they would be.

What they are:  A murky glimpse into the workings of my hind-brain, an aide memoire, frequently indecipherable, and a cruel joke on any academics who may become interested in my work after I am dead.  At their best, they are collectively a literary labyrinth.

And on this particular notebook . . .

It's not typical, because none of my notebooks are.  And because I always have two or three notebooks going at the same time (so I can grab one quickly on the way out of the house without having to search high and low for it), and because I'm more likely to carry the spiral bound notebooks with me when I leave the house (since they're smaller), this one is even less autobiographical than most.  Which means I won't have to censor much of it for the general reading public.

Finally, shown above . . .

I dipped a brush in bleach and drew this sign into the cover.  It looks a lot like the letter S and a little like a Celtic dragon but, though neither of those is unintentional, this is actually a symbol I invented while in college to help me while working rapidly on first drafts.  I don't have a name for it, but you might call it a not-so sign.  Rather than stop when the writing was flowing well to find the correct word, I'd simply slap down one of these signs to either side of the mot non juste and hurry along.

Later, I came to use the signs to denote things whose meaning was not literal.   Much, much later I read one of Samuel R. Delany's books and realized that I'd invented a symbol that he and his former wife, poet Marilyn Hacker, agreed the English language lacked and yet needed -- the "sarcasm mark."

Consider, then, the cover a warning:  Nothing in this notebook is meant to be trusted.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Attainable New Year's Resolutions


Happy New Year!  And 2011 going to be a great one!  Already it's a terrific improvement on 2010 because I'm almost fully recovered from whatever it was that laid me low for all of yesterday.  How sick was I then?  So sick I couldn't eat.  So sick I spent the day in a semi-comatose state of misery.  So sick I didn't even feel like reading.

So all those SF writers of the 50s were right -- the future is better.

This year I decided to make attainable resolutions.  But not the usual lame and uninteresting attainable resolutions.  Cool attainable resolutions.  Ones worth achieving.

Here goes.  I hereby resolve:

To sample all the new drinks that Christopher, the bartender at the Chestnut Grill, has created.  These are not your prissy, overelaborated and multicolored monstrosities that plagued the 'Oughts.  No.  They are knowing and sophisticated variants on classic cocktails  -- what we old hands refer to as real drinks.  The lime gimlet -- a vodka gimlet with Christopher's own homemade lime liqueur -- is superb.

To bus up to NYC for friends and museums and such at least twice a month.

To travel out of the country at least twice, and always to remarkable places.

To blog a lot of very interesting stuff in the run-up to the publication of Dancing With Bears (on May 1st -- have I mentioned that date sufficiently often lately?).

To write, write, write.

All attainable, all fun, and all worth looking forward to.

And if you noticed that bit about interesting blog posts . . .

You'll want to check in here on Monday.

Above:  Miss Helen Hope Mrrlees.  I know I promised not to flood this blog with pictures of her.  But I didn't have any appropriate pix for this entry, and she's a good example of all the fine things 2011 already contains.  Also, I'm a fiction writer.  My word isn't worth a golly-gosh-darn.