Friday, November 28, 2014

Let Herman Melville Teach You How To Sleep


Winter is coming.  The nights grow longer.  The days grow colder.  More and more, we find our thoughts turning to hibernation and the soft oblivion of sleep.  And the weekend is almost here!  It's possible -- indeed, almost a moral imperative -- to sleep late in the morning.

Here, from chapter 11 of Moby-Dick is Herman Melville's paean to sleep, and his recipe for enjoying it best.  It goes without saying that it involves cold weather:

Yes, we became very wakeful; so much so that our recumbent position began to grow wearisome, and by little and little we found ourselves sitting up; the clothes well tucked around us, leaning against the head-board with our four knees drawn up close together, and our two noses bending over them, as if our kneepans were warming-pans. We felt very nice and snug, the more so since it was so chilly out of doors; indeed out of bed-clothes too, seeing that there was no fire in the room. The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. But if, like Queequeg and me in the bed, the tip of your nose or the crown of your head be slightly chilled, why then, indeed, in the general consciousness you feel most delightfully and unmistakably warm. For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mark Your Calendars! Start Saving Your Shekels!


Apparently a date has been set for Chasing the Phoenix, my second Darger and Surplus novel, and it is... drum roll, please!... August 11, 2015.  That's the cover up above.  The big fella would have to be Vicious Brute.  And the little one?  Maybe Little Spider, possibly even Surplus.  Though that would make Vicious Brute very large indeed.

You can read an anticipatory review (based on the publicity material rather than the text, which is not available yet) over at Bibliosanctum by clicking here.

And at this very moment, I'm going over the copyediting . . .

Talk about a thankless job!  No writer enjoys having somebody second-guessing his or her long-labored-over prose.  And the fact that the copyeditor occasionally discovers actual typos doesn't make it any better.    One blushes, stammers, looks away.  (My least favorite?  I had a character "reigning" in a horse.  Twice.)

Still, it has to be done.  Because mistakes find their way into the most tightly-written prose.  They're like cockroaches in that respect -- they want in.  And once in, they have to be stomped flat.

So I will take the opportunity to say:  Thank you, Christopher.  I mean that sincerely.  Even if I do say it through gritted teeth.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Teaching At Clarions


I received a fund-raising appeal from Clarion West the other day and it got me to thinking about what it's like teaching at a Clarion -- West, South, or Old Original.  I've taught at all three and Lucius Shepard was right, years ago, when he urged me to consider the experience.  "It's a really satisfying thing to do, Michael," he said.  "It makes you feel like Mr. Chips."

I realize that you're having trouble picturing Lucius as Mr. Chips, but that's what he said.

It's very hard work, but when you can see students becoming better writers because of things you said, that pays for all.  The only negative I can think of is that no teacher can be what every student needs, and so there are students I did not help much.  That bothers me, and I apologize to each one of them.

Recently, two of my former students, Ellen Klages and Andy Duncan, won the World Fantasy Award for "Wakulla Springs," originally published by  Andy was a Clarion West student and Ellen was Clarion South.  I no longer remember their years (Andy came first), but I vividly remember their stories and what I said about them.  As do -- long story -- they both, I'm sure.

I have no idea what they said when they accepted the award but I am absolutely certain that neither thanked any of their CW or CS instructors.  This is proper because for all the help those instructors gave them, those students who go on to be published turn themselves into writers.  It's a long, difficult process and all credit belongs to them and them alone.  But this silence is particularly satisfying to a former teacher because because it emphasizes the selfless quality of teaching.  Writing is, alas, necessarily all tied up with the ego and that can be wearying.  Not so teaching, which is all about the students.  If anyone thought any of the credit for what they achieved belonged to me, it would taint the experience.

Mr. Chips would agree with me on this one.  As would Lucius Shepard.

You can read "Wakulla Springs" here.

You can go to and check out the potentially award-winning new fiction here.

And you can contribute to Clarion West here.

Above:  That's Ellen to the left and Andy to the right.  As if you needed to be told.


Friday, November 21, 2014

My Philcon Schedule (and Apology)


I have just set a record for this blog by missing two posts in a row.  Mea culpa!  (For those unfortunate enough to not have had a Roman Catholic upbringing, that's Latin for my bad.)  The reason for this was a combination of exhaustion and having lots of work to do.  But there is no excuse.

Kind people, I beg your pardon.

Clearly, I should keep a backload of entertaining posts on hand to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again.  And I promise to create exactly such a backload.  Just as soon as Philcon and Thanksgiving are over.

And speaking of Philcon . . .

The distinguished thing begins in only a few hours.  Here's my schedule:

Fri 7:00 PM in Executive Suite 623 (1 hour)

Fri 10:00 PM in Plaza II (Two) (1 hour)

    [Panelists: Anastasia Klimchynskaya (mod), Bernie Mojzes, Amy Fass,
    Meredith Schwartz, Michael Swanwick]

    Much fantasy fiction seems to concern kings, princes, princesses and
    an occasional guttersnipe on his way up.  What about the rest of
    society?  Where are the fantasies about regular folks

Sat 11:00 AM in Crystal Ballroom Three (1 hour)

    [Panelists: Michael Swanwick (mod), Michael F. Flynn, Tom Purdom,
    Bernie Mojzes, Anna Kashina]

    Is there a fundamental conflict between literary writing and getting
    the science right?  Is it too much to ask that language be used well
    and the realism of hard SF be extended to the characters

Sat 2:00 PM in Autograph Table (1 hour)

Sat 5:00 PM in Plaza IV (Four) (1 hour)

    [Panelists: Michael Swanwick (mod), Jack Hillman, Tom Purdom, Steve Wilson]

    William Patterson's two-volume authorized bio of Robert A. Heinlein
    is surely one of the most important works of SF scholarship in
    recent years. Our panelists will discuss it's strengths and
    limitations and what it tells us about one of the 20th century's
    great figures

Which is a good lineup of panels.  If you're at the con and see me, be sure to say hello.  Unless I killed your cat in a previous life.  Then you should snub me like the cur I was.

Above:  The beautiful Crowne Plaza Cherry Hill Hotel, where Philcon will be held.  Either that or Wawel Cathedral in Krakow.  I always get those two confused.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Monday Post

Okay, guys, here's the drill:

I'm tapping out this post from my phone in the Chopin Airport Marriott bar shortly before going to bed.  Five a.m. in the morning, I make my way to Lufthansa, fly to Frankfurt, fly to Philadelphia, am driven home, and then collapse.

Shortly after which, God willing, I will share with you:

1)  A free download of a song Janis Ian and I wrote.

2)  My Philcon schedule, which I received today.


3)  My opinion of the Polish version of Buffalo wings.

Any one of these would be worth tuning in for. Combined with the suspenseful question of whether I'll be able to rise up from the floor to post?



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Back to the Old Salt Mines


It's been quite a month for racking up World Heritage Sites.  A few weeks ago, I visited the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, and the Aztec Ruins -- which is actually a Pueblo ruin, but never mind that.  Here in Poland, we've seen Krakow Historic Center, Warsaw Historic Center, and -- just now --the Wieliczka Salt Mine.

Wieliczka Salt Mine gets over a million visitors a year.  Its first shaft was sunk in the 13th century, and it was in continuous operation until mining ceased in 2007. (They still pump out brine and produce salt by evaporation, in part because the water must be removed to make tourism viable anyway.). The hours-long tour takes the curious down two levels, out of nine, takes in several remarkable caverns that are artifacts of mining, along with a few pretty cheesy attractions, culminating in the astonishing chapel which miners dug out the salt and decorated largely with their own carvings.

Copernicus visited the mine, as did Goethe.  And now so have (among, as I said, over a million others a year) I.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Lady With an Ermine


Out of infinity she looms, more alive than the living.  She will not meet our eyes, this silent daughter of time, but gazes away, toward something worthy of her regard.  Nor will she share her thoughts.  Come Judgment Day we will know no more of them than we do now.

In the lady's arms is an ermine, which she touches affectionately, but does not seek to control.  She and it have freely chosen each other's company.

Her face holds the faintest of smiles.

Not for us.

And this morning . . . 

I saw Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine.  I hope your day was happy too.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Krakow After Dark


The world is turning on its hinges, all the leaves have fallen, and darkness falls in the afternoon.  If you're in Poland, anyway.  Your autumn may well differ.

A day mainly occupied with crossing the nation by train, deposited me at the heart of this lovely city, only a couple of blocks from the oldest part of town.   I've only spent a few hours wandering about, but already I can safely say that:

1. Hotel Maltanski is a lovely place to stay.  I'd recommend it to anyone physically capable of climbing one flight of stairs. (There is no elevator.)

2.  The city is full of great restaurants.  Well... I've only looked at the menus of a dozen or two and eaten at one, but they all looked good and the one tasted great, so statistically, it seems a good bet.  Foodie Tip:  When in Poland, order Polish food.  What are the odds you're going to find better elsewhere?

3.  The pierogies here are terrific.  (See item 2)

4.  There's a lot of amber for sale here.  I mean, cubic vulgarwordloads of it.  Shop after shop and, in the Cloth Hall, stand after stand, of amber in every plausible shade from deepest burgundy to palest yellow.  Some of it small, most of it pretty damn big, and a significant percentage simply ridiculous.  If you have too much money and like your jewelry LARGE, you're a fool to be living anywhere but here.

5.  I'm really, really tired, and even more looking forward to tomorrow.

'Night, all.

Above:  no image tonight becauseI'm having troubles uploading images.  I'll try again here tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On To Krakow!

"Oh, Krakow is so beautiful."

"You have to see Krakow!"

"Yes!  Krakow!  I'm so glad you'll see it."

These are the kind of things people say about Krakow in Warsaw!  So I expect we'll have a great time there.  Right now, though, we have to finish breakfast, pack, check out, take the train, check into a new hotel, and wander about, looking at things.  So it will be a while before today's update.

Eight hours, maybe?  See you then!




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Warsaw at Night


Last night I was wandering through Warsaw's Old City after dark.  It was a profound and moving experience because the Old City was destroyed, along with most of the rest of Poland after the Warsaw Uprising in WWII.  The beautiful medieval square, with its happy tourists and (last night, anyway) hurdy-gurdy player, is a reproduction.  Here and there in the surrounding streets are markers noting the locations where groups of Poles were murdered by the Nazis.

To make the evening even more extraordinary, it was November 11, National Independence Day, so great masses of joyous people were coursing through the streets, and there were musicians and buskers and balloon vendors and and happy, weary children everywhere.

So I am happy.  More soon, I hope.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Not Quite A Con Report


I've been in Poland for several days now.  Most of which I spent at Falkon, where I met David Weber and Marek Huberath, hung out with Konrad Walewski, had a terrific time, and was gobsmacked by the sight of a science fiction convention with an attendance of almost seven thousand people most of them young.Obviously, Polish fandom is doing something right.

But I also got to wander around Lublin, admire the Old City, stop for coffee and conversation in a rather swell store crammed with books I could not read, pass through the Jewish Gate and climb to the castle (a misnomer, for the castle was torn down and replaced by a prison where, during WWII, too many thousands of people murdered) wherein is preserved the Devil's handprint, from when he slammed a hand down on a table during the Middle Ages, in an incident I hope someday to write about.

I also climbed the hill above Kazimiersk Dolny, wandered among its Renaissance buildings, got a private art show, ate wonderful food and met yet more wonderful people.

Alas, I don't have the time or energy to go into any of that in detail.  But I wanted you to know that I'm well, and enjoying myself immensely.

And meanwhile back in the States . . .

The World Fantasy Awards have been announced and while of course, yes, congratulations to everyone, I should give a shout out to those winners who are particular pals of mine.

First of all to Ellen Datlow, editor extraordinaire, for Lifetime Achievement, one of the least controversial awards ever.  Then to Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages who were, respectively, Clarion West and Clarion South students of mine, and difficult ones, too, for "Wakulla Springs," named Best Novella.  Props to my problem children!  Also to Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin, who won Best Anthology for Dangerous Women.  I'm proud to say that I knew them back when I was unpublished and they were both ten feet tall.  And to Best Artist Charles Vess, who once upon a time made me ridiculously happy by creating the single best drawing ever based on Hope Mirrlees' Lud-in-theMist.

I must also acknowledge some professional colleagues:  Irene Gallo, who won Special Award: Professinal for art direction at and, not absolutely incidentally, assigned some very fine artists to stories I published there; William K. Schaeffer, also Special Award: Professional (it was a tie) for Subterranean Press, my occasional publisher; and Neile Clarke, Kate Baker, and Sam Wallace for Clarkesworld, which published my tale of life among the annelids, "Passage of Earth."

You can read the entire list here.

Above:  The Jewish Gate, Lublin.  I'll post it as soon as I get a better connection than mu hotel affords.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Road Trips, American and Otherwise


Some time back, a writer interviewed me for a series of short films he was making for the Copyright Alliance,  a group dedicated to preserving common-sense property rights for writers.  Long story short, there are a lot of politicians out there who don't know the difference between copyright and trademark and are under pressure to rewrite the copyright laws anyway.  So the Alliance works to make them aware that a few ill-chosen words could bankrupt a lot of hardworking word-based small businesses such as yours truly.

The writer, Patrick Ross, was journeying across the country, interviewing creative people and while he was at it making his version of the Great American Road Trip.  Most writers feel the urge to do this at least once in their lifetimes, and if they can find a good enough premise for a book a certain percentage of them do so.

I was not, therefore, surprised to learn that Ross had written up his journey and published it as Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.   Nor that he was on an intensely personal, it would be fair to say spiritual, journey in search of resolution for certain difficult aspects of his life and a way forward for his own writing.  Not that he seemed anything other than a pleasant and intelligent man when I met him.  But with age one comes to appreciate the unseen depths of those one meets, and to anticipate the unexpected.

I received a copy of the book today and of course immediately read the short chapter involving myself.  And in it I say at least one thing that is worth a new writer or other creator hearing.  So I am content.  I've dipped into it in a couple of places, and it looks interesting.  I expect to enjoy it.

Ordinarily, I would finish the entire book before posting anything about it.  But I leave for Lublin tomorrow (see below) and won't be back for two weeks.  So, early attention being important to all new books, I thought I'd mention its existence today.  I am, as I said, enjoying it so far.  And it seems like the sort of book a lot of you out there would be interested in.

You can find Patrick Ross's blog, The Artist's Road, with lots of writing advice, here.  You can find his page about the book, with lots of links, here.  And a radio interview here.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again!  To Lublin, Poland, this time for the Falkon Festival of the Fantastic.  After which, I plan to stay for a bit to explore Warsaw and Krakow.  I'll do my best to keep this blog updated on the usual schedule.  But if there's one thing travel teaches you, it's to make as few unequivocal promises as possible.

So I expect you'll be able to follow my adventures here -- the Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Dinosaur Channel TV!


Over on Kickstarter, my pals Robert Walters and Tess Kissinger of the Walters and Kissinger Studio are gathering backing for a Web channel of dinosaur-related programming.  This is, God knows, a worthy thing to do and something that's going to keep them stressed and sleepless for years to come.  But they are passionate about the need to educate both children and adults about the wonders of the deep past.

You can find the Dinosaur Channel TV Kickstarter campaign here.  Please consider donating.  Because the world needs more dinosaurs.

And as always . . .

I'm going on the road again.  For most of the next two weeks I'll be in Poland.  I'm a guest at Falkon this coming weekend, which I expect to be a (forgive me) fantastic experience.   After which, Marianne and I will stay over to explore a small fraction of that amazing country.

I'll do my best to keep you all posted.  With photos, I hope!  My son, Sean, gave me a quick seminar on how to work around the limitations of my iPad.

You can find Falkon's website here.