Monday, February 28, 2011

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 38


Okay, this one I like.  Admittedly, all the heavy lifting was done by real artists.  And it is a squids-in-space pic.  Still.  Kind of nifty for forty-five seconds' work.


Got Ten Million Dollars to Spend?


It's hard for an American to realize the devastation that fell upon the Soviet states in the wake of Perestroika.  "I was making five hundred dollars a month, which was good money then," a friend told told me.  "Then I woke up one morning to discover I was making fifty."  Literally overnight, one of the world's great nations was thrown into near-universal abject poverty.

For a couple of years there, it seemed like almost everything in Russia was up for sale.  Sevruga caviar, tsarist silver . . . and big chunks of Soviet space history.  You could buy historically significant space suits, capsules, you name it.  It was a painful period in their history.  Also one of the few times I've ever wished I were filthy rich.

Now I'm getting that feeling for a second time.  Because Sotheby's is offering up one of the most historically significant artifacts of the Age of Space ever to come on the open market, the Vostok 3KA-2 Space Capsule

This was the capsule that went up immediately before the launch that made Yuri Gagarin the first human being in space.  It carried an astronaut mannequin and a living dog, Zvezdochka ("Little Star"). This was the launch that convinced Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, the Great Engineer, that it was safe enough to risk one of his kosmonauts.

Sotheby's is estimating it will bring somewhere from two to ten million dollars.  I can imagine it going for much more.

Probably it will go to some fabulously wealthy entrepreneur and God bless him or her for knowing what to value.  But if it can't be in Russia (which still does have the absolute best items), then I wish somebody would buy it for the Smithsonian.  Some time back I took a Russian friend to the Uvdar-Hazy Center, the other half of their Air and Space Museum, and afterward he commented on how little there was about the Soviet Union's part in the history of space travel.  "It's as if it never happened," he said sadly.

You can read about the auction here.

Or you can go straight to Sotheby's detailed catalogue entry here.

And for those who fight shadows . . .

The estimable Gregory Frost got deep into the lore and history of shadow puppets when he was writing the fantasy classic Shadowbridge.  So is it any wonder he forwarded me the link to the following video with the note, "A performance after my own heart"?

No it is not.  Enjoy.

Hmmm.  The right hand side seems to be cropped.  You can find the uncropped version here.

And, holy cow, were you watching the Oscars . . . ?

The short animation award, whatever its official title might be, went to . . . Shaun Tan for The Lost Thing!  Quite frankly, I was expecting Madagascar to win.  It was visually innovative, flagrantly brilliant, and had a positive moral message.

But our guy won.  I'm delighted.  In spite of the fact that this award means that we can no longer claim him as one of ours.  He belongs to the world now.

I hope they treat him with the same love as we did.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spring is Coming!


Back when Sean still lived at home, there would be an inevitable morning, every spring, when Marianne called from the open back door, "Sean, come quick -- the slugs have returned!"

And there they would be, those hideous slimy, garden-eating pests, oozing through the yard like animated snot.  While Marianne and Sean jumped up and down and cheered them on.

I lead a hard life.

Me, I'm a snake man.  Love 'em.  So you can imagine how happy I was yesterday to see an early sign of the advent of spring -- a snake in the back yard.  This tiny darling looks to be a baby garter snake.  (Though I'm no herpetologist, alas, so I could be wrong.)  It was resting atop the bale of straw we bought for Halloween decoration and plan to spread over the garden soon.

So spring is coming, thank God.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Why We Need More Portuguese Restaurants


After Boskone, our friends Gail and Rob took Marianne and me to Antonio's Restaurant ("Uma Casa Portuguesa") in New Bedford, Massachussetts.   "The more Portuguese the dish sounds, the better it'll taste," they told us.

God yes.  I ordered the Carne à Ribatejana (marinated pork stewed with littlenecks and shrimp, topped with cubed fried potatoes) -- that's it up above -- and it was delicious.  Also huge.  Rob took a photo on his phone and sent it to his daughter, who texted back, "That's big enough to have its own zip code."

It turns out that the Portuguese expect their restaurants to provide an abundance of food.  So much that you're expected to bring the bulk of it home to eat later.  Gail mentioned one Portuguese-American friend of hers complaining that she'd gone to a restaurant and been given such skimpy portions that she only got two more meals out of it.

From our combined leftovers, Marianne and I got four dinners and two lunches.  Antonio's didn't skimp on the ingredients either.  Rob's paella had half a lobster buried in it.  That's why it cost eighteen dollars.  My own more modest meal cost fourteen.

Above:  Man, just look at that thing!


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 37


First, a touch of whimsy:

While the battle between good and evil was reaching its climax, that between truth and beauty was just getting nasty.

Then, serious for a moment:


What can you do to fight terrorism?  You yourself, I mean.  To fight real terrorism.
One thing.
Refuse to be terrorized.  Live your life as you would without terrorism.

This is an obvious truth, which may be why I never did anything with the thought.  On 9/11, all civilian air traffic in the US was grounded.  9/13 was the date it resumed.  I was on the first plane to leave Philadelphia that day.

Finally, a censored bit.  Nothing scandalous.  But I'd torn a small fantasy illo out of a magazine and written under it my analysis of its aesthetic faults.  I'm not about to hold somebody up for scorn publicly, however, when all they did was fail to be a better artist than they were.  Shakespeare was guilty of that too.  Though, admittedly, on a much higher level.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

From Boskone to the Stars


Okay, yes, I confess.  I had a great time at Boskone.  It's a violation of the Authors' Code of Silence to say so, but the Boston fans put on a good convention.

There I am, leftmost, followed by Marianne and our dear friends from Mattapoisett, none of whom have given me permission to divulge their names, so I won't.  Marianne and I like 'em a lot, though.  Some of our favorite people in the known universe.

Even in black and white you can tell we're having fun.

And lest you fail to listen . . .

The second installment of Darger & Surplus Teach You . . . How to Run a Con (brilliantly performed -- on the average -- by Gregory Frost and myself; my own performance being merely very good should tell you all you need to know about Greg's)  is up at StarShipSofa.  This week's episode is "You Can't Cheat An Honest Man."

Click here for StarShipSofa, and here for the permalink to the podcast.

Above:  Credit photo to Other Undisclosed Mattaspoissett Person.  If she wants, I'll edit this post to credit her by name.

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 36


Not a great doodle, but at least a lively one.  The many-eyeballed one appears to be horrified by the activities in the picture.  Which was taken from a Taschen catalog.  The tome it illustrated was a picture book about middle-aged lower-middle-class American swingers.  Taschen produces great art books at very low prices.  Its sex books are strictly a matter of taste.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Birth of the PostHuman Snow Monster!


When our gentle children, the machines, have outlived the last of us, will they carry on our traditions?  Will they make snow monsters?  Early indications are that they will.  As indicated by the above daytime video.

And for those who would like an explanation . . .

It snowed again, so Sean and I got an old TV set out of the basement, wrapped it in clear plastic and put it in the backyard.  We shoveled snow over it, added eyes and a mouth, and turned it on.  And, oh man, did it look great!

Filmed at night, it was even more sinister:


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 35


35.926 years
Jan 16, 2009 termination date
Jan 17, 2009 effective date

I wonder what that was about?

D & S -- Russets, reds, & umbers -- with here and there [intricacy?] of gold.  Needlework.  

Still at work on Dancing With Bears.  Here, I was designing  Zoësophia's Russian outfit.  Not surprisingly, it looks great on her.

The semi-bracketed bit next I'll leave untranslated, because it reveals a minor plot point.

And more from that scene:

"That was my first wife's dress."
She looked down on her admittedly admirable figure.  "It fits me perfectly.  She must have been a very beautiful woman."
From any other woman, the words would have sounded boastful.  [Something]
"Yes," he managed, "she was."

The doodle is just a doodle.  It's not meant to represent of any of the characters in the novel.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 34


Those crude shapes at the top are, believe it or not, blocking for a section of Dancing With Bears.  The leftmost word is Breakfast and the rightmost ones are confession booth.  So I'd reached the breakfast scene at the Gulagski mansion.  There is no such thing as a confession booth in an Orthodox church, but I found a way around that.

What the words are in the middle, I have no idea.

Bottom:  A suave cigarette.


Monday, February 21, 2011

I'm BAAAAAAaaack!


And I'm off the road!  It was fun to be at Boskone, but it's better to be home.

Not only am I back, but I'm in print.  The current (April/May) issue of Asimov's includes my story "An Empty House With Many Doors."  Which is, if I may dare say it aloud, a love letter to Marianne.  One which took five years to finish.  

What happened was that one evening I asked myself what I would do if Marianne were to die in a car accident or while fighting to turn back (and this is so typical of her) an objectivist invasion of the United States.  Well, I thought, I wouldn't be a drama queen about it.  I'd do the decent, manly thing and slowly drink myself to death.

That evening I wrote the first half of the story.

The second half, though . . .  How could I come up with a happy ending?  Keeping in mind that Marianne would settle for nothing less?  I was stymied for a long, long time.

But finally I found it.  The second half, I mean.

And hence the story.

Above:  My beautiful steampunk wife, with what T. S. Eliot called "Prester John's balloon."

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 33


November 21, 2008

The first line, He and his generation are weak as water appears in Chapter 2 of Dancing With Bears.  As does the line Opened his mouth, but Darger, quick-thinking as ever, slapped a hand over it.  So that's how far I'd gotten by then.

Significant lines, both of them.

It is good to see our old friend Cyrano back in writing form again is a first scribble toward a blurb.

The random words are now as inexplicable to me as they are to you.  Presumably, they did their work, though.

December 1, 2008

Random doodles.  I may have been thinking about writing a children's book.  I do that from time to time.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 32


An ugly stain, an uglier doodle, and my apologies.


Leaving Dakota at Boskone


This is cool.  Marianne and I are putting on an art exhibition.  Photographer Kyle Cassidy, has created a show of twenty-five strange and evocative images, very much like stills from an unmade movie.  The prints are snapshot-sized and the whole show can be fit into a brown envelope and mailed across the country and around the world for volunteers to put on . . . in community centers, in their garages, wherever.

Marianne and I are putting it on in our room at the Boston Westin Waterfront tonight from 8 p.m. through 10 p.m. and from 6 p.m. through 8 p.m. tomorrow.  If you're going to be at Boskone, why not drop by?  We'll be serving petrodoodles.

And, as always . . .

I'm on the road again.  On my way to the above-mentioned Boskone.  As I requested, I'm going to be on lots and lots of programming.  And at the exhibition, of course.

And I forgot to mention that . . . 

The title of the first Darger & Surplus StarShipSofa podcast on How to Run a Con is "First Lesson."  Next week's expisode is "You Can't Cheat an Honest Man."

And, yes, as a friend of mine observed, Gregory Frost and I were having far too good a time being Darger & Surplus.  Wouldn't you?

Oh, and because he asked . . . 

Mark asked about the new Darger & Surplus yarn ("Tawny Petticoats") I'm currently dream-deep in.  Is it set before or after Dancing With Bears he wondered?

Okay, here's the context:  Darger & Surplus are engaged on an inadvertent trip around the world.  After a great many adventures in Europe, some few of which I refer to in the stories to date, they finally arrive in Moscow.  There the novel occurs.  But afterward they continue onward, through Siberia, Tibet, China, maybe even Japan . . . and on to America.  They must inevitably visit the Demesne of Western Vermont, where the secret Surplus has been hiding will come to light,  Ultimately, they must return to England, where Darger was born. 

"Tawny Petticoats" is set in New Orleans.  So now you have some notion of where it lies within the (at this point non-existent) canon.

Mark also asked if the story was being written on commission.  No.  It is not true, as unpublished writers fear, that name writers can sell anything, however limp, to the magazines.   But after you've gone a hundred stories without a single rejection, you come to be confdent that the next story will sell, provided only that it is a good story, somewhere.  So I'm writing it without a current sponsor.

I say that not to brag, but to encourage you.  Write a good story.  It will sell.  This is the law and there is no other.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

If I May Say This Quietly . . .


There is another teapot tempest storming about now and, though I really have less than no interest in participating (my free time this week is taken up by Boskone and "Tawny Petticoats," a new Darger & Surplus story that's beginning to shape up on the page), I feel that I ought to say something about it, since, like it or not, I'm involved.

What happened was that some doofus took a dislike to Joe Abercrombie's fantasy novel The Heroes and wrote a long essay on his website attacking several books, one of which was my own The Iron Dragon's Daughter, as "a mockery and defilement of the mythopoeic splendor that true artists like Tolkien and [Robert E.] Howard willed into being with their life’s blood."

Okay, he didn't like my book.  "Of taste and scent no argument," as Avram Davidson used to say.  That's why there are so many different flavors of ice cream in the supermarket.  Some of the rhetoric was, to my mind, intemperate.  But that's simply the nature of a diatribe.

However, among the many reactions the blog post inspired was one from an honest-to-God published writer who called my novel "an elaborate and obsessive long-drawn-out paean of hatred and contempt of a cramped and unlit soul . . ." and then proceeded to get scatological.

Oh dear.

For the record, then:  No hatred, no contempt.  I wrote The Iron Dragon's Daughter out of love.  I love fantasy.  I loved Jane Alderberry, the heroine of the book.  Like all serious writers, I love truth.  And I'd love it if people who don't understand what I'm doing would express themselves a little less hatefully.

And, um, well, that's all I had to say.

Above:  Tiffany window.  Big one.  Philadelphia Museum of Art.  I love that stuff.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 31


The saga of Bob the Musician finished at last!

Bob told me he'd stopped by to say goodbye.  That he had a gig in California that could be the start of a real career and was leaving tomorrow.  That his band had achieved "every white rock band's dream and hired a black female back-up singer."  And that he'd retooled "I Am the Walrus" as a slow romantic number.
Back then, understand, nobody did covers of Beatles songs.  The very idea was blasphemous.  It was like writing your own American Constitution or revamping the Ten Commandments.  But Bob the Musician had done exactly that.
In heaven's name, I asked.  Why?
Bob the Musician smiled.  "I just wanted to see yuppies slow-dancing to me singing 'Yellow-matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye,'" he said.
Then he hoisted his guitar and left.
Thirty seconds later, the diner's owner came over and said, "Do you know that guy you were talking to? He left without paying his bill."
"I never saw him before in my life," I said.

That hideous ugly stain could be anything.  I spill things a lot.  But let's say it's wine.  More bohemian that way.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Let Darger & Surplus Teach You . . . How To Run A Con!


Great news today.  The top-secret project that Gregory Frost and I were working on is out! 

Darger & Surplus Teach You . . . How to Run a Con! is a series of short instructional podcasts on the art of the scam as narrated by the two foremost con men of the Postutopian Era.  Playing against type, I took the role of the optimistic dog of action, Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscairn de Plus Precieux -- Surplus, as he's known to his friends.  Gregory Frost, meanwhile, is simply magnificent as the indomitable Aubrey Darger.

There are twelve podcasts in all, and StarShipSofa will be running them once a week, from now to the publication of Dancing With Bears. Which, not coincidentally, stars Darger & Surplus.

You can find the first episode here in StarShipSofa No. 136.

Above:  Isn't that a great jug?  I saw it today in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 30


Another pic torn from a magazine, paired with a prediction from a mechanical fortune teller.  This page really demonstrates the validity of the "Magpie's Eye" moniker.

I've been to that tiled wall, incidentally.  It's in the Arbat, an artsy-bohemian section of Moscow that has a special place in the hearts of Muscovites.  The wall was put up in Soviet times and is made up of tiles made from pictures by children throughout the USSR, with flowers and rainbows and wishes for peace and the like.  It's a sweet idea, and it's scrawled over with graffiti.  Apparently, a lot of people think it was a very cynical piece of propaganda as well.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Saving the World, One Cat at a Time


God, did this take me back!  Saturday I took part in a protest.

Here's the situation.  There was a fire in a West Philadelphia apartment building a few weeks ago.  The tenants were cleared out, the building fenced off, and plans made to raze the thing to the ground asap.  However, there were still pet cats living in the building -- they were seen in the windows.  And, strangely enough, the building owners wouldn't let the Pennsylvania SPCA into the building to rescue them.

So it was out on the street again to do my small bit.

In fact, there were two mingled protests.  One, organized by the City Kitties rescue organization, was about the cats.  The other, put together by the local neighborhood organization, was about letting the tenants into the building to recover their possessions.  The latter produced the most primal protest chant I've ever heard (and, yes, children, I've heard my share):  Where's my stuff?  Where's my stuff?  Where's my stuff?

It really took me back to the Sixties.  Where the protests mostly consisted of people milling about while one or two individuals with bullhorns tried to get everyone to act in disciplined unison.  The times were certainly changing.  But they weren't as vivid as they're portrayed as being.

And since you asked my opinion of this year's Oscar-nominated short animated features . . .

I went to see an omnibus movie of Oscar-nominated animated shorts.  Tremendous fun, and I have to join in with pretty much everybody else in judging that the two chief contenders for the award are Madagascar A Travel Journal and The Lost Thing. 

How good are they?  So good that it's ridiculous to compare them.  Madagascar is beguiling, near-plotless, visually innovative, endlessly inventive, and great-souled.  The Lost Thing is, as we all know from Shaun Tan's book The Arrival, surreal, melancholy, hopeful, involving, well-plotted, endlessly inventive in a totally different manner from the first film, and humane in a way that we hope someday to achieve ourselves.  I'm a plot guy, so if I had to choose I'd give the edge to The Lost Thing.  But I don't have to choose.  I recommend them both.

And the film too, if you're lucky enough to be in a city where it plays.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 29


The story about Bob the Musician, continued.  So I wrote it out, after all!

... "Love Me, Do" in a slow and serene manner, and at the break genially scolded the audience for not getting that it was supposed to be funny.  
I can't speak for the rest of the audience -- maybe they were boobs, I don't know -- but personally I listened raptly because her rendition had an unearthly purity I found entrancing.  It put me in mind of another slowed-down Beatles standard which I've never actually heard but I've remembered fondly for decades.  
It was back in the Seventies -- probably '76 -- and I was sitting in a diner having a cup of coffee and a doughnut one afternoon when another diner moved his plate and cup and sat down beside me.  It was Bob the Musician.  I knew Bob's last name, mind you, and still do, but back then, when I as young, it was just sensible policy not to refer to anybody by their full, traceable moniker.  So Bob the Musician he was. ...

More to come.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Revisiting The Dragons of Babel


Those who have been visiting this blog from the beginning (if that includes you, then thanks!) will remember all the plot diagrams I drew to help chart out the plot of The Dragons of Babel.  Here's another, which I just found at the bottom of a box of loose papers I was weeding my way through.

From top to bottom, left to right:

Plot (Will)

               King Dragon          song of the scythe          (camps)

In the city, actuaries
know the price of every
life, setting wergeld for
negligence in strictest 
accord to their charts
of life expectancy, earnings
potential and ----

Obviously an early diagram.  I'm not sure why that scrap of idea (which I may or may not have used, eventually) was deemed significant enough to set down.  The sketch to the right is meant to suggest the Tower of Babel.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 28


Yet another extempore fiction!  Honest to Pete, I don't normally do this at all often.  But, as I said, I was working on Dancing With Bears, so all extraneous creative impulses went into stuff that was small, fast, and soon forgotten.

I enjoyed it.  She enjoyed it.  He enjoyed it too.  All eight of us enjoyed it.  In the morning Chuck made great mountains of scrambled eggs.  Then we broke out the champagne.  When Dan became a candidate for president, suddenly that evening became a big deal.
Listen.  We did it.  We're not ashamed.  We'd do it with anybody and not be ashamed.  Sex is natural.  Sex is beautiful.  There is nothing wrong with people pleasing each other with their bodies.  Let me repeat it:  We would do it with everybody.
Except you, of course.

The picture didn't come from a porn mag (or "girlie magazine," as we called them in my youth), but from some mainstream source.  The censored/torn-away bits contained coy swatches of prose, as I recall.

The snippet was inspired by that sweet smile on the woman's face.  


Friday, February 11, 2011

Spring is Coming!


Okay, so it's February, there's snow on the ground and all seems dreary.  Don't despair -- spring is on the way!

As proved by the snapshot above, taken in New York City when Marianne and I were there last week.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 27


What's with all this light verse?  It's not like I ever publish any of it.

Oh well.  Here is . . .

Silver Linings

The cockroach will outlive us all --
So everybody say.
Why I should care this, being dead,
Is more than I can -- hey!
When all the human race is gone
Extinct and am no more, 
Then surely no one can complain
That this poem neither scans nor rhymes.

And then I wrote:

There is always music in the house of love.  Sometimes it is so quiet that you have to close your eyes and still your heart to hear it.  Sometimes it is absolutely silent.  But it is always there.
Ships came and went in the harbor.  Jugglers sang in the street.

And also:

An Anecdote That Starts Out Looking Like It's Going to be About Janis Ian But Which is Actually About Bob the Musician
Last Friday I went to hear Janis perform at the Sellarsville Theatre.  Good show.  At one point, though, she began to say

Good God!  Am I going to find out what this anecdote was all about?  Stay tuned.  Though I warn you that in all probability the fraction stops there.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 26


This is a good one.  I came up with a five-panel web cartoon about myself.  Alas, I have not the cartooning skills to draw it myself.  But I wrote down the words for the cartoon and pasted in images as place markers for the panels.

The title is:  Michael Swanwick's Adventurous Career in Fairyland

1.  Mr. S. explains the workings of a Gatling gun to the Queen of the Fairies
2.  The Seely Court finds Swanwick guilty of crimes against the imagination
3.  A sad scene as Mr. S. is executed by a combination of electrocution and the ringing of church bells
4.  Acting on a tip, the Bunko Squad opens Swanwick's tomb and finds only a half-eaten bag of chips and an old Ace Special 
5.  The old trickster is spotted in a bar in Perth Amboy, enjoying a Boodles martini, very dry, straight up, with a twist, in the company of a certain redhead

That would be a great cartoon.  Especially for those of us who are me.


Why I Live in the City

You know what I love about living in Philadelphia?  It's so close to nature.

As witness the following:

And Brian Jacques is dead, alas . . .

I never met the man but I was a big fan of his work.  Particularly because he was writing at a time when I especially needed his books -- when my son, Sean, was first old enough for YA books.

There are a sufficiency of books for adults, and easily a bajillion books for children.  But for that in-between transition stage?  Not so many.  Especially when you want them to be the kind of books that will encourage a youngster to continue reading with pleasure.  So for several years I was constantly on the lookout.

One day I was in the Barnes and Noble in Bryn Mawr and cruised through the YA section.  I idly picked up a copy of Redwall to see if it might be worth reading the first page.  There was a ten-year old girl sitting quietly on the floor nearby, reading.  She glanced up from her book, saw what I was holding, and made an instant sale of that book and many subsequent volumes by solemnly saying, "Oh, that's an excellent book."

In my mind, that will stand forever as a worthy judgment of not only the book, but the life.  Well done, sir.  You wrote excellent books.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chopped, Shopped, and Gorgeous


I'm still on the road.  Specifically, I'm outside of Pittsburgh, where chopping hills in half and using the rubble to create new hills is a matter of civic pride.  Seriously, I can't think of anywhere in the world that has retained a smaller percentage of its original topography.

As witness the photo above of the parking lot of I forget exactly which mall, nestled into the artfully-chopped landscape of Washington, PA.  America is still a beautiful land.  But it's not the kind of beauty our ancestors would recognize.

And speaking of writing workshops . . .

I'm going to be online-lecturing at the StarShipSofa Online Writers Workshop.  This is the first of what is apparently going to be a semi-annual series.  Other lecturers include James Patrick Kelly, Sheila Williams, David Mercurio Rivera, and my good friend and sometime Aubrey Darger impersonator Gregory Frost, who suggested I participate in the first place.  Greg's judgment on such matters is sound, so I'm going to give it my best.

Here, clipped from the announcement, are the very basics:

StarShipSofa Online Writers Workshop

(Saturday 12th March 5pm to 7pm UK)
Pacific Time         09:00am
Mountain Time     10:00am
Central Time        11:00am
Eastern Time       12:00noon

What will be covered in the first workshop:
  • The Beginning – Gregory Frost
  • Plot Tricks From The Dark Side – James Patrick Kelly
  • How To Fix Your Story After Its Written and You Discover It Doesn’t Work – Michael Swanwick
  • Why Writing Groups – Mercurio D. Rivera
  • What An Editor Wants – Sheila Williams
  • Q&A – All

You can read about it in more detail here.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 25


A writing exercise.  I suspect that I was putting all my creative energy into writing Dancing With Bears, and so scribbled down short outbursts of Anything Else.

Here's what it says:

Open:  In a land mine field
Open:  In a birth control clinic
Open:  In the President's bedroom
Open:  On Europa
Open:  Seventeen hours into your shift as an intern
Open:  On Sixth Avenue, carrying a Shakespeare second folio
Open:  On a chicken ranch, weeping
Open:  Two feet off the side of a major bridge
Open:  In a war zone
Open:  In a high school
Open:  In the Recursive Postmodern School of Ironic Self-Metaphor

You can see me sweating to come up with these, and you can see the point where I got sick of the whole thing and tied it off at the end.  But  I think it would be a pretty good exercise for a new writer:  List eleven varied places or situations to open a story with.  Then write a one-page opening for each.  I'm sure that if I tried it myself, I'd find a live story before I reached the end of the list.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

And Guess Where I'm . . .


Yes, that's right.  I'm on the road again!  Thank God for The Learning Company and their massive courses-on-disks.  I'm currently working my way through the history of China.

Things really are happening, though.  I finished "The Dala Horse" yesterday and put it into the pie closet to cool down for a few weeks.  And I'm working on many, many other stories as well.  More on them -- and other cool projects -- as they heat up.

And a semi-private message to Zamzummim . . .

I haven't yet put together your box of books -- the box is only half-full and I have yet to brave the attic for the rest of the contents.  Mea culpa.  At least I feel guilty about it.  But -- scout's honor! -- I will.  Soon.  I promise.  Really.

Above:  The ice breaking up on the Schuylkill.  Nothing to do with today's post, really.  But very wintry.  The Market Street bridge looks great, dunnit?


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 24


I think this speaks for itself.

The drawing started out as an attempt at a self-doodle-portrait.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Snow Monsters of Somerville


You can never predict these things.  Last weekend, I took a snapshot of the snow pile in my backyard, with tea candles in its eyes and mouth.  Alert websurfer Rona Fischman asked permission to repost it, and then sent the link to the Somerville Patch.  Where it was posted along with her idea that lots of Somervilleans should create their own snow monsters all at once and turn it into a yearly event. 

A kind-of-rainy Saturday put a bit of a damper on the project,  but several people created snow monsters nonetheless.

You can see the Somerville photos here

I think we should all rent a bus next year when Somerville does this again, and descend upon the town with snow shovels and bushels of tea candles to create giant snow monsters out of the snow mountains at the edge of their mall parking lots.

Above:  The snow monster is delighted to discover that he's a role model.  Also, he grew another eye.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 23


For the most part, nothing terribly interesting.  Notes for a letter to a friend suggesting I have a signing in his/her hometown.  Maybe yes, I said, when I have a book to promote.  Though I'm sorry to tell you that the South did not [something something].  Marianne's retirement.  And I have no idea what those last two words are.  None whatsoever.

A list of things to do and people to write.

But down there at the bottom:  Puking up culture.  That's evocative.  That's what I do in my worst moments as a writer.  That's what most published writing is.  Not saying something interesting and new.  Just puking up received culture.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

And I'm in (Forthcoming) Print Again!


My pal, Jeffrey Ford, has just released the table of contents for Jonathan Strahan's anthology Eclipse (number) Four.  How he got it, I don't know.  But it was picked up by SF Signal, so it's not exactly a secret anymore.

And here it is:

Introduction, Jonathan Strahan

“Slow as a Bullet”, Andy Duncan
“Tidal Forces”, Caitlin R. Kiernan
“The Beancounter’s Cat”, Damien Broderick
“Story Kit”, Kij Johnson
“The Man in Grey”, Michael Swanwick
“Old Habits”, Nalo Hopkinson
“The Vicar of Mars”, Gwyneth Jones
“Fields of Gold”, Rachel Swirsky
“Thought Experiment”, Eileen Gunn
“The Double of My Double Is Not My Double”, Jeffrey Ford
“Nine Muses”, Emma Bull
“Dying Young”, Peter M Ball
“The Panda Coin”, Jo Walton
“Tourists”, James Patrick Kelly

That's one damn fine lineup.  But of all the stories in the anthology, "The Man in Grey" is best.  Because I wrote it.

The other authors may, of course, disagree.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Working Away on "The Dala Horse"


Friday!?  How the heck did it get to be Friday already?

I seem to have gotten into the rhythm of blogging every weekday . . .  Which rhythm ran splat into this past week.  For which I apologize.  What happened was that a couple of days ago I picked up a story I've been working on shortly after I was guest of honor at Swecon, let's see now, over ten years ago.  (And while we're at it, how the heck did it get to be 2011 already?)

The germ of the story comes from a pub meeting that Marianne and I attended a few days after the convention.  Swedish pub meetings are intensely enjoyable things, as it turns out, but that's beside the point.  I was drinking a gröna hissen and, appropriate to some conversational point or other, I pulled a small red dala horse which I'd bought that day out of my pocket.  There was an awkward silence and then somebody said, "My parents have a couple of those."

Dala horses are little wooden carvings, very simply, painted bright colors with a harness of flowers.  They're very Swedish.  And, as I learned, they are not at all cool.

One of the con people told me that when Ursula K. Le Guin learned there wasn't a story to go with the dala horse, she wrote one herself.  So, on the spot, I resolved that I could do not less.

Sometime later, I wrote:

 Something terrible had happened.  Linnea did not know what it was.  But her father had looked pale and worried, and her mother had told her, very fiercely, "Be brave!" and now she had to leave, and it was all the result of that terrible thing.

Slowly, terribly slowly, the story inched its way forward.  And then, last Friday, I picked it up and began writing.  I believe now I'm within a few days of finishing it.  So that's what I've been up to and why I haven't been blogging as much as usual.

Above:  I'm in print again!  In Poland.  My story Prawdziwy puls mazyny is in this translation of Mike Ashley's Mammoth Book of Science Fiction 2.  So I am happy, and hope the same for you.

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 23


A certain junior member of this household was called up for jury duty.  A year later, while cleaning, I lifted a rug and discovered that he hadn't bothered to cash the nine dollar check they gave him.  So I pasted it in my notebook and drew a dragon's head over it.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 21


Sadness rules the world.  The first time ever I found myself in New York City as an adult, I found myself cold and walking down the city streets, staring up at the hundreds of lighted windows above me and thinking that if you could lift the buildings and shake them, all the pain in the world would sift out.  The older you are, the more pain shows on your face.  When an old man smiles, it's all the sweeter for the melancholy beneath.
Today is the new yesterday.  Tuesday is the new tomorrow.

That's obviously first draft.  But since I had no publishable use for it, I didn't bother to rewrite it.  Every word is true.  That was an important moment for me.

With genetic engineering, sharks can not only walk on land, but go door to door selling cosmetics or encyclopedias.

Light though it is, the above entry shows one of the inherent dangers of writing science fiction.  It's perilously easy to find yourself writing in the past.  I can't remember the last time a door-to-door salesman came by.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Sleep of Reason Revisited


Monday, Marianne and I jaunted up to the Big Apple to visit my friend and sometime-publisher Henry Wessells, who works at that renowned occasion of sin, James Cummins, Bookseller.  (Click here to begin browsing and subsequently resolve to become so very rich that you can put the establishment on speed-dial.)

There are a lot of items there worthy of admiration.  (I particularly liked the unique book which Bill Mauldin had created by making erotic drawings in a collection of poetry, and three newly-discovered letters by Mervyn Peake.)  But what inspired out trip was a chance to see a bound set of first editions of all eighty etchings in Goya's Los Caprichos.

I didn't ask and so I can't even imagine how much such a thing cost (Goya himself only sold 27 sets before the series got him in such hot water that the king had to bail him out by buying all the remaining etchings and the plates as well).  But whoever winds up buying it will get his or her money's worth.

The first prints are always the cleanest, of course, and most of the reproductions you've seen are based on later editions.  (The last of which was in the twentieth century!)  Plus, there's details lost in even the finest reproductions.  So it was a treat to be able to turn the pages by hand -- such good paper! -- and pore over the fine work that Goya did.

Years ago, I created a series of flash fiction, one for each plate, for Eileen Gunn's late and lamented online SF e-zine The Infinite Matrix.  It was a revelation to lean close to the real thing and see all the fine detail I'd missed out on, working from a paperback.  In several of the plates, what looks like murky shadow revealed itself to be a shadowy, supernatural figure, possibly death, bending low over a cluster of oblivious fools and scoundrels.  If only I'd seen him then, I'd've worked him into the series.

It was a delightful experience,   Those who haven't seen The Sleep of Reason, can find it here.

Above:  Prick the Donkey at play.  Prick started out as a parody of a certain Republican president and quickly became the most lovable character in the series.  Go figure.


Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 20


Ah!  Remember what I said about my notebooks being a cruel practical joke?  Well, what I did here was to tear a picture from a magazine, paste it onto the page, and then compose extempore a very short story upon it.  It's an exercise in imagination and discipline.  As I recall it, the story worked.

But if the story worked, then why should I?  I look at the thing and my heart shrinks from the job.  It would be a lot of labor to decipher it.  So I shan't.

Feel free to do so yourself, though, if that's the way your inclinations bend.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Scribbledehobbledehoyden: The Magpie's Eye: Page 19


November 17, 2008

First a list of things to do and then . . .

I remember this.  I must have been reading something about the Dadaists because I determined to write extempore a nonsense poem in the form of a list.  As best I can reconstruct it:

1)  sun cros[s?]
2) [two arches]
3)  urh green angel
4)  orc
5)  [three arches] /"Hush"
6)  [picture of a house]
7)  sorrow in chains
8)  pleasant graveyard
9)  dark angel
10)  fireplace
11)  other dark angel
12)  bright angel

There never was any chance that something derived from this would get published.  I did it for the pleasure of the art and for what I might learn from it alone.

In item 7, "urh" might be the word "orc" crossed out so it could be placed one item deeper in the list.