Thursday, April 27, 2017

Writing Advice Du Jour

There are days when you simply cannot find the right words to express what you want to say. How does one cope with that?

By writing the wrong words.

Write down as much as you can, as best you can, despite the fact that it comes out lousy. You can always rewrite. And you will. As many times as it takes to turn what you've written into something adequate.

Writers who rely on inspiration find that the muse visits at longer and longer intervals until one day they realize that she's never coming back again. The only way to avoid that is to write whether you're inspired or not. The muse will drop by eventually, just to lecture you on how you've gotten it wrong..

I'd be ashamed to let you see what my first drafts look like.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

As Good A Review As Any I've Had


Writers are touchy beasts. I see it in others and I see it in myself and consequently I've given some thought as to exactly why this should be.

My conclusion is that the ability to write good fiction is such a difficult skill to master that it's only possible to muster the discipline required ifC one believes that writing fiction is the single most important thing one could possibly be doing. Which makes the writer one of the most important people on earth. Which is an untenable opinion for any sane individual to hold. We all know ourselves too well to believe that one.

Can you say "cognitive dissonance," boys and girls?

My latest collection of short fiction, Not So Much Said the Cat, received a glowing review in Foundation the other day. So, being a writer, I'm torn over whether to share it with you.

On the one hand, getting such a review in Foundation is a big deal. The reviewers' remit is not to deliver consumer recommendations (buy this! don't bother with that!) but to provide insight into the book being discussed. So in a sense, this is exactly the sort of reaction I've been writing to get.

On the other hand, to reproduce sentences like The stories gathered here demonstrate the artistry and depth to which Swanwick is capable of discussing the structure of reality, questions of authenticity, and the nature of humanity and its relationships or His ability to continuously depict these themes well throughout these stories lends credence to his nature as a writer and his skill at depicting realistic sf worlds inhabited by realistic individuals would go far beyond the social bounds of modesty.

(Though, of course, in the name or promoting not myself, I hope, but my work, I have just done so.)

So instead of cherry-picking the review for praise, I'll note an insight that Molly Cobb, the reviewer, had about my work. She said that my fiction thematically discussed, "questioons of authenticity and the nature of humanity and its relationships." Oh, and also of free will. But I already knew that.

Marianne read that and said, "Still writing about identity, are you?"

It was some thirty years ago that Marianne floored me by pointing out that everything I wrote dealt with the question of identity. That thought had never occurred to me before. But when I looked at my stories in that light, it was inescapable.

Now, decades later, Ms Cobb has just said pretty much the same thing.

I recall that in an interview once I was asked if I could name any insights a critic had given me into my own work and could not. Obviously, I had not been reading the critics carefully enough.


Monday, April 24, 2017

The Witch Who Came In From The Cold


You may remember that some time back I wrote a guest episode for the first season of the serial novel, The Witch Who Came in from the Cold. This is one of several works published by Serial Box, which sold by subscription after the TV model: Every week a new episode, satisfying in its own right but moving the overall story arc forward. The first season ended and, in the ripeness of time it has been collected in book form with a June publication date by Saga.

Well, the book just received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Here it is:

Magic is real and neutrality is almost unheard of in this innovative spy thriller set in Cold War–era Prague. Two factions of covert operatives, Flame and Ice, are competing for the fate of the world via control of 36 unwitting people, known as Hosts, who are channels of elemental magic. The hefty book is divided into 13 novella-length episodes (originally serialized on the Serial Box website), each written by one or two of the five collaborating writers; the team manages an impressively cohesive effort, brilliantly conceptualized and executed. As in a TV drama, each episode has a satisfying and relatively complete arc that helps build upon an overarching story. The installments are easy to read one at a time, but the tangles of alliances, secrets, and shocking double-crosses will have readers up all night mumbling, “Just one more.” 

Which makes this a particularly good time to mention the  upcoming New York Review of Science Fiction Readings event, An Evening With Serial Box. Featuring:

Matthew Cody
Joel Derfner
Max Gladstone
Ellen Kushner
Lindsay Smith
Michael Swanwick

And Guest Curator Amy Goldschlager

Here's the official boilerplate:

Come meet the writers who are bringing genre to the forefront of digital publishing! Serial Box is a publisher of serialized fiction in text and audio with five current ongoing series. As with television, their serials are collaboratively written by author teams. On May 2nd, representatives from several of these "Writers' Rooms" will join us to read from their projects. With stories touching upon Urban Fantasy, Mannerpunk, Magical Espionage, and Young Adult Science Fiction, the evening will be a diverse showcase of one of today's most exciting publishing platforms.


May 2
7 p.m.
The Booklyn Commons
388 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, New York

I honestly expect this one to be a tremendous amount of fun.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Iron Dragon's Daughter Ebook Sale!


I'm of a generation that is really not comfortable with the whole self-promotion thing. However, a decent respect for my readers requires that when one of my publishers is promoting my work with a one-day sale I pass along the information. So...

The ebook of The Iron Dragon's Daughter will be featured in the Portalist's weekly deals newsletter on April 20th. That's on Thursday, two days from now. The ebook will be downpriced to $1.99 across all US retailers on that day.

And because my epublisher Open Road Media has made this possible I should mention that fact as well.

Um... and that's all The Iron Dragon's Daughter has proved to be the most popular fantasy novel I've ever written. So if you're a fantasy reader and an ebook reader and curious about my work, there's no better (or cheaper) place to begin.

You can sign up for the Portalist newsletter here.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Moonstone, Toast, and Chip


Spring is apparently when things turn literary. April 1, Samuel R. Delany turned 75 and The New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series held a reading and celebration in NYC. Alas, that same day I returned from a jaunt to Kitty Hawk and was too tired to make the 200-mile round trip drive so I missed it. Then, yesterday, Asimov's Science Fiction held a party celebrating its 40th anniversary. Again, for complicated reasons of plot, I didn't feel up for a drive that long.

So I made up for missing both events by going to the Moonstone Arts Center event held at Toast, a coffeehouse in the "Gayborhood" where Delany lives, to hear Chip (the name that his friends like to drop casually that he's known by) reading his latest essay.

Larry Robin put together both the event and a celebratory chapbook containing poems in Chip's honor by such luminaries as Lamont B. Steptoe and Gregory Frost. It's a lovely chapbook, which I was glad to have, Toast is an extremely pleasant place to spend a few hours, particularly with young bohemians coursing through the streets outside on a pleasant spring night, and of course Chip is famed for being an engaging speaker. The crowd was on the louche side (one young woman wore a shirt with the slogan Thank God for Abortion and another wore one emblazoned with I'm a Magical Motherfucker) and all either friends or people I wouldn't mind having for friends.

So, yes, it was an evening well wasted. If you haven't been to a literary event recently, I encourage you to do so at the very next opportunity.

Above: Chip is looking more and more like an Old Testament prophet with every passing year. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Darrell Schweitzer contributed a limerick to the chapbook.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Up the Rainbow


Gardner Dozois has just announced the forthcoming collection of fiction by Susan Casper. I've agreed to write the foreword and Andy Duncan will write an afterword.

Here's what Gardner posted on Faceboo:

I have signed the contracts for a memorial collection of Susan Casper's short stories, called UP THE RAINBOW: THE COMPLETE SHORT FICTION OF SUSAN CASPER. Gray Rabbit Books will do the physical edition, followed six months later by an ebook edition from Baen. Introduction by Michael Swanwick, Afterword by Andy Duncan. 
We're hoping to launch the physical edition at Readercon, but we'll see how that goes. 

 Susan wrote and published two dozen stories over the course of twenty years. A couple of those stories were instant cult classics. She had stuff.

When the physical and e-books become available, I'll post buying information here. In the meantime, it's back to work with me. I have an introduction to write.

And speaking of Susan...

There are three appreciations of Susan in the current (April 2017) issue of Locus. One is by Gardner, one by her old pal Jack Dann, and one by me. I don't think my friends at the magazine would want me posting what I wrote while the issue is still on the stands. But I'm sure they won't mind my posting the opening paragraph:

When Susan Casper was in high school, she would sneak out early so she could go to WFIL at 45th and Market Streets in Philadelphia to be one of the background dancers in American Bandstand. That was Susan in a nutshell: bold, brash, independent, no respecter of authority, and avid for the joys of life.

I offer this as a small gift to Susan's many friends: Hey, guys! Somebody you knew was on American Bandstand! Cool, innit?

Above: Portrait of Susan Casper and coffee mug by Jane Jewell.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

My Next Door Neighbor, Who Invaded France


Enid Hodkinson died today.  This means little or nothing to you, but only because you never knew her. Enid was Marianne's and my next-door neighbor for over thirty-six years She was the best of neighbors, bright and funny and friendly and upbeat. And in her youth she invaded France.

Enid was a communications tech in the Royal Air Force. She hit Normandy two days after D-Day and went with the armed forces across Europe. Immediately after the war, she met Albert Hodkinson, a young East-Ender who had started the war as a mechanic -- "Only gentlemen were allowed to fly airplanes," he told me -- but wound up, after the R.A.F. had run out of gentlemen, flying Lancasters over Berlin.

Albert and Enid were married for over seventy years, and it was only in the last two that she began to fade. After WWII, they came to America, where Albert worked as a contractor, and had children and then grandchildren and then great-grandchildren. If anyone ever had a good life it was Enid.

And now Enid is gone. I can only begin to tell you how devastated Marianne and Sean and I feel about that. She was one of those people who was always there and who always deserved to be there. The world is diminished by her passing.

Above: Enid with our then-thirteen-year-old son Sean after the blizzard of 1996. She'd been out shoveling snow, of course.


Monday, April 3, 2017

"No, River Ice Is Breaking..."


Yevgeny Yevtushenko has left the planet.

I speak and read no Russian, so I can't say I know his poetry, though I've read a great deal of it in translation. Having discussed poetry and the Russian language with Russians in Russia, I know that what you and I read in English is a pale shadow of the original.

Still. In 1961, Yevtushenko wrote a poem after a move to raise a memorial at Babi Yar, a ravine in Kiev, where 33,771 (Stop! Read that number out loud: Thirty-three thousand. Seven hundred. Seventy one) Jews were murdered by the Nazis, was blocked by anti-Semites. Speaking out like that was dangerous. But he loved Russia and knew that she was, or should be, better than that.

You can read "Babi Yar" here. And I really think you should.

Yevtushenko was a brilliant poet and almost as brilliant a politician, as witness the fact that he survived the Soviet Union when so many other brilliant poets did not. I vividly remember when he first came to the United States in the Sixties at the height of the Cold War. At that time, everything was seen as East-West competition and dissident poets were viewed in America as points for Our Side. So all officialdom was hoping he'd have harsh things to say about the USSR. Maybe he'd even defect!

And what did he do? Smile and nod, say nice things, and go drinking with fishermen in Alaska. Afterward, he said that was the best part of America.

To which I can only say:Damn straight, Yevgeny!

And since we're talking about Russian poets....

The second time I went to Yekaterinburg, I met the poet Evgeny Kasimov, who had written a poem with a hidden reference to my novel, The Iron Dragon's Daughter. I of course blogged about the experience. I had filmed his reading on my pocket camera and I threw that on the blog as well. So if you want some idea of the gulf between the poem and the translation, you can go here, read the poem, and then listen to it being read by Evgeny in Russian.